Episode PA023: The Illusion of Rigor

by Jim and Beth Harger | The Professional Adjunct Podcast

A common thought from instructors is if we make learning so easy for the knowledge to get into the brain, maybe we’re doing the students a disservice. Dr. Shibley’s response is,

“My job as a teacher is to help students learn [the subject matter] in as efficient a manner possible so that they can put it in long-term memory and they can then use that in subsequent courses.”

Part of the challenge is an inconsistency among classes. Dr. Shibley talks about how the faculty at Penn State Berks have gotten together to come up with similar learning activities that help the students feel more at ease in every class. When students do not have to learn a new technology in every class, they have more “cognitive space” to learn the subject of the class. The result is consistency in teaching, which results in more learning and higher graduation rates.

Ivan A. Shibley, Jr. (Ike) is associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Berks, a small four-year college within the Penn State system. He has won both local and university-wide awards for his teaching including the Eisenhower Award presented to a tenured Penn State faculty member who exhibits excellent teaching as well as mentoring other teachers. He received his B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from East Carolina University. Between undergraduate and graduate school he spent four years in the Navy where he taught nuclear physics and radiation safety. He now teaches introductory chemistry, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, philosophy of science courses, first-year bioethics seminar, and senior science seminar.

Ike became involved in blended learning as part of an 18-month project to completely redesign the general chemistry course at Berks. As part of a team of six professionals who invested over 1,000 man-hours in the redesign Ike helped provide the pedagogical and subject matter expertise to help guide the redesign. The course has now been delivered in a blended format for three years with an average GPA almost 25% higher than previous years. Ike has taught the three sections of the course and is currently co-authoring a manuscript about the results.