Learning CenterED Blog

Teaching Empathy


by Alice Jensen

As a nursing professor, I teach empathy in psychosocial nursing by incorporating music, art, short stories, poetry, and film in the classroom. Students in psychosocial nursing gain the opportunity to appreciate how mental illness permeates life in the United States and begin to understand mental illness through the experiences of real or fictionalized people. Two research studies that I conducted and disseminated about this approach can be found here and here.

In some cases, I choose the music to fuel empathetic thought processes, but at times, students bring music to me. With a “think, pair, and share” approach, students begin to listen to their favorite music with new ears. Examples of music include: Unwell by Matchbox Twenty, Lithium by Nirvana, Whiskey Lullaby by Brad Paisley, I am a Rock by Simon & Garfunkel, and Sullen Girl by Fiona Apple. I often use the same “think, pair, and share” approach with familiar artistic images, including works by Picasso, Munch, Dali, and Toulouse-Lautrec.


Degas, “The Plum”

Analysis of a movie, book, or visual images can incorporate the major concepts of the course and provide students the opportunity to bring it all together related to a real or fictionalized character. We all analyze A Beautiful Mind as a group before students choose a move or book themselves from an approved list. (Click here for my syllabus for N302 Psychosocial Nursing as well as specific assignments that help students develop empathy)

Because students in psychosocial nursing have a clinical component that exposes them to hospitalized clients with mental illness, this empathetic element is very important for students to consider. Students work with adolescents, adults, and geriatric clients with varying degrees of illness and substance abuse. Here students often experience the feeling of “There but for the grace of God go I,” meaning that we are all at the mercy of our environment and our genetics.

Can you assess empathy? Yes. There are available survey tools for those with a strictly quantitative bend. But I have found the qualitative method to be quite effective. Please see the research articles on the TLC page if you are interested in the depth and breadth of student responses (PowerPoint Caring conf presentation ).

An effective short assignment has been to write a critical incident reflection for the last day of clinical:

  • “Think of a specific event from your clinical experience in psychosocial nursing which
    was a highlight or even a low point.
  • Describe the experience in detail (without names).
  • What did you learn from this experience and how did it reveal what psychosocial nursing is all about?
  • What are your feelings about this event and how do your feelings influence your nursing care?
  • How did this experience live up to your expectations or did it challenge existing assumptions about psychiatric clients?”

When I read these reflection responses, more often than not, I find evidence of newfound empathy.

Alice Jensen is a Professor of Nursing in the College of Health Professions at Maryville University. Find out more about her here.

Adjunct Support from the TLC

by Michelle Carter

I have been Adjunct Faculty at Maryville University just a short time, three years. However, in that time I have learned plenty, not only through actual teaching but also through the wealth of support and knowledge of those who have been doing this much longer. I have experienced nothing but support from the full time faculty here at Maryville and especially from the Teaching Learning Colleague Services.

I initially thought that TLC meant someone coming in to observe a class and then giving helpful feedback. Honestly, that scared me—and knowing how I learn, I wasn’t sure it would be helpful. So, I approached Mike Kiener and asked if I could observe him teaching one of his classes. What a great experience and extremely helpful! Mike spent time with me beforehand, asking me what my experiences have been, what my concerns were, and what would be helpful for me. I felt like he really listened to what I had to say, and through that conversation and then observation of his class, Mike was able to guide me and support me. Mike also spent time with me after the observation to discuss what I saw and what I thought would be helpful in my own classroom. Seeing him teach helped me realize that my teaching is headed in the right direction. I loved that he took time out of his schedule to speak with me both before and after the observation. I truly felt like I received practical feedback from Mike, not only about teaching, but he also shared stories from his own teaching. He told me that TLC members even continue to observe each other. So, it isn’t just the new teachers, but all teachers can use that kind of support and guidance.

I would not hesitate to use Teaching Learning Colleague services again and hope to do so very soon. I found the experience invaluable. For more information on TLC please see our webpage or contact Michael Kiener at 314-529-9443 or mkiener@maryville.edu.

Curiosity, part I

by Jesse Kavadlo

We all know that curiosity killed the cat. But the real question is, How can we keep curiosity alive?

In order to explore many questions about curiosity, the Center for Teaching and Learning convened a panel of curious professors from across disciplines.

Steve Coxon, Education, pondered, “What is curiosity, and how does it develop?,” focusing on the ways in which schooling and culture can inadvertently diminish children’s curiosity and potential ways that the empirical study of curiosity can help teachers to foster it.

Photographer Scott Angus discussed ways in which curiosity can lead to outward discovery—including his journey to the Great Wall of China—while poet Dana Levin examined how her curiosity led to inner connections, discussing the unlikely path from a beautiful yet mysterious image on Facebook to the imaginary framework she devised to compose a poem about it.

Psychologist Brian Bergstrom analyzed what curiosity is capable of, using the metaphor of water’s freezing point as the moment where everything suddenly changes and crystalizes, while designer Cherie Fister asked how people experience curiosity, focusing on the combination of function and wonder that goes into making flowerpots from unlikely receptacles. Science Education professor Nadine Ball talked about the unlikely intellectual paths her curiosity has taken her, including questions about tree excretions. (Maybe you had to be there.)

What, wondered artist John Baltrushunas, using a series of images, is the relationship of creativity to curiosity, and how can we foster both? Yet what are potential unintended consequences of curiosity? Oboist Laura Ross played a recording (included in the video) that displays her present-day virtuosity, even as she recounted the way in which a director’s discouragement—he told her that she “didn’t have what it takes” to make it in music—only pushed her harder. And Johannes Wich-Schwarz, who studies literature and theology, analyzed the etymology of the German word “Neugier,” which translates as curiosity but literally means greed for the new, suggesting a philosophical flipside and conclusion to Steve Coxon’s American empirical studies.

Maybe curiosity doesn’t just lead to dead cats. After all, we shouldn’t ignore the seldom-stated second half of the proverb: Curiosity killed the cat, of course.

But satisfaction brought it back.

Still curious? The next part of the series takes place February 11, 2016, at the St Louis Science Center, where we will talk about the ways in which space travel may allow us to understand life on Earth. We’ll see you then!


by Laura Ross

Welcome Adjuncts!

The Center for Teaching and Learning wants to extend the invitation for you to work with us to improve your courses, receive an observation without evaluation, or add technology into your teaching. As early as Spring 2015, the Teaching and Learning Colleagues will be launching an Adjunct Teaching Group. This will be a place for adjuncts to meet with one another, other professionals in their fields, and can work with full-time faculty.

The CTL has added adjunct members to its advisory council and would like to feature adjunct faculty members during panel discussions and other programming throughout the year. Please let us know if you would like to be more involved. In order to make positive change, we need your input!

We recognize that adjuncts do not earn additional funds to for involvement at any University. With this said, we know that many of you still wish to be involved to improve your own teaching, your relationships with your colleagues, and to make suggestions on the direction of your departments. Adjunct, part-time, or full-time, we are all here because we want to teach. So, please, become a part of our community.

-Jesse and Laura, the CTL team

Write Club

by Jesse Kavadlo

Talk about Write Club

As professors, we need to write all the time. And while the books, articles, presentations, and grant applications within our fields seem to get most of the attention, we also write for our students
and classes: syllabuses, modules, assignments, classroom materials, responses to students, and more. We write as part of university service—memos, agendas, reports—and self-evaluation: teaching philosophies, promotion portfolios, annual faculty activities reports. Mainly, we write alone, accountable only to ourselves and our deadlines, with the first person reading the work also the intended audience and, sometimes unfortunately, its assessor.writeclubimage

What if there were another way?

That’s what the Finch Center for Teaching and Learning has in mind with Write Club: peer groups where members hold each other accountable for deadlines and provide workshop-style responses
for any writing project no matter how big or small.

The first rule of Write Club is: You do talk about Write Club.

Talk. Share. Read. Evaluate. Having an audience of peers provides writers with incentives to be productive and fosters effective writing habits. Receiving reactions and support can be beneficial, but the act of reading and responding to peers also promotes better writing as well.

The second rule of Write Club is: You do not talk about Write Club.

Not, at least, outside of meetings. What people work on remains confidential.

The third rule of Write Club: Someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the write is over.

Actually… it will never get to that point. We will maintain conventions of civility. The goal is to evaluate the writing, not the writer, and make sure that comments are objective and constructive.

And the fourth and final rule: If you’re at Write Club, you have to write.writeclubimage

Participants evaluate, but will also have their work evaluated in turn. There are no tourists at Write Club.

So, whatever you’re working on, from an academic paper to a PowerPoint for class, Write Club can help you maintain a regular writing schedule and improve your process, connect with colleagues, and practice and improve your writing product before it goes off to its audience.

SoTL 2015 Conference

We are pleased to invite you to our 7th Annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference at Maryville University, October 9-10, 2015. Within our overarching focus of Integrating the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning into Academic Culture, this year’s specific theme will be:

Creating a More Inclusive Learning Community: Awareness, Action, Inquiry

The twin goals of diversity and inclusion are central components of most college and university strategic plans today.These commitments recognize a striking new reality in demographics and an uncompromising belief that our nation’s future depends largely on higher education’s capacity to effectively serve a more diversified student body. In support of this critical agenda, our conference goal is for all participants to leave with:

Increased awareness of the exclusionary practices and prejudices that have had a negative learning impact on students of different backgrounds and abilities
A repertoire of new actions and strategies for building a more inclusive learning community for all students
A commitment to try new approaches and examine their impact through SoTL inquiry.


Tips for Fostering Better Classroom Discussion

March 24, 2015

Discussions are a valuable way to engage students in their own learning. Through thoughtful contribution, students get interested in the topic and begin to delve deeper in processing information. It also invites them to come prepared to class, formulate their own ideas and build on their peers’ contributions, fostering deeper thinking and collaboration.

Before diving deep into student discussion, be sure YOU are ready. That might mean talking less! Remember that you are the guide for their learning. For example, when giving a prompt for discussion, resist the temptation to say anything until they have had a chance to speak.

One way to get students involved is with low stakes exercises like “Think, Pair, Share” where students are giving a discussion point to ponder alone. Then they pair with another student and share. Students can be shy about talking in front of a large class, but with one other classmate, sharing is easier and it also gives each the affirmation that their thoughts are right on target! Once they have shared with peers, invite them to share with the whole class.

Below are a few links on benefits and on encouraging student discussion: