Inside Mizzou: Classroom Innovation

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Illustration of Truman the Tiger at a chalkboardFebruary 11, 2020

At the University of Missouri, our students can get an exceptional, hands-on education with access to world-class faculty, state-of-the-art spaces and even a working preschool classroom. But a Mizzou education also goes beyond the classroom. Innovative teaching tools such as virtual reality, online programs and more create comprehensive and immersive learning opportunities that aren’t limited to our campus — or even to Missouri. These boundless resources inspire discovery and enable our community to excel across distances and disciplines.

On this week’s Inside Mizzou podcast, Chancellor Cartwright talks with Danielle Oprean, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s School of Information Science & Learning Technologies; and Celina Castleman, a junior majoring in human development and family science with an emphasis in child development and education who is minoring in psychology. Celina is also a student-teacher in MU’s Child Development Laboratory. Together, they discuss how Tigers transform our understanding of what makes a successful classroom.

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Moderator: [00:00:10] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community. Today’s episode is called “Classroom Innovation.” When you think of a university classroom, what do you picture? Perhaps a lecture hall or a whiteboard full of complicated equations. Across Mizzou’s 13 schools and colleges, our people are thinking critically and creatively about what makes a great place to learn. As a result, some of our classrooms are like none you’ve seen before. Our guests today are using two very different — but equally innovative — resources to serve our Mizzou community. In the process, they’re changing our collective understanding of what an education can be. Joining Chancellor Cartwright to talk more about their unique learning spaces are Danielle Oprean, assistant professor in the College of Education’s School of Information, Science and Learning Technologies. Dr. Oprean researches how to use immersive technologies, like virtual reality, to enhance learning experiences. And Celina Castleman, a junior human development and family science major with an emphasis in child development and education and a minor in psychology. Celina works in the Child Development Laboratory, a teaching and training lab-school affiliated with the MU Department of Human Development and Family Science. The CDL provides daytime care for small classes of infants, toddlers and preschool children. Thank you all for being here.

Everyone: [00:01:43] Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Moderator: [00:01:45] So I’ll start with you, Celina. The Child Development Lab provides an opportunity for students to earn hands-on experience as a teacher while still on campus. What’s it like balancing both of these roles?

Celina Castleman: [00:01:55] Honestly, the inclusivity of the Child Development Lab makes me feel like I was a part of the team just from walking in as a student. They are so welcoming, where it’s one of those that you don’t even feel like you’re switching roles. And a lot of times whenever I’m going from the student role to the subbing role, they just accept the fact that I’m there and the kids have recognized that I’m not a student. I’ve actually been told, “Teacher Selena doesn’t have classes. What are you doing? You can stay with us all day.” And so it’s one of those, that, it’s amazing just to be able to be a part of this kind of family.

Moderator: [00:02:31] Awesome. And so, kind of going further with that, how has the CDL helped you as a teacher? How do you make it a great learning environment for your students?

Celina Castleman: [00:02:42] They, like, built me as a teacher. Because it’s one of those, that they provide a mentorship which a lot of places around Columbia may not. And it’s one of those any questions that I have or any problems that I feel like maybe I’m not dealing with this correctly, they’ll walk you through every step of it. And they recognize the fact that if you need to take a step back, it’s so much better to help the kids understand their emotions whenever you are coming from a place of calm.

Moderator: [00:03:08] Okay. And then I’m not sure if you spoke to this, and if you have, you could reaffirm it for us. But what are some of your other responsibilities at the CDL, or for the CDL?

Celina Castleman: [00:03:17] So it depends on the clash in that I’m in. I work with kids age range from like six weeks to close to six years. And so like, if I’m in the infant side, I’m doing diapers, I’m giving bottles and putting kids down for a nap. I’m just being on the floor with them — maintaining, like, communication so they can build all those skills. Up to, if I am working with kids of the, getting ready to go into kindergarten, I’m working with their fine motor skills. I’m working with their imagination and their writing skills and language skills and working on helping them develop conflict management skills, things that some people may not realize is as important. But also facilitating their play because play is such an important part of it — like, early childhood development.

Moderator: [00:04:07] Awesome. Okay. And so, moving on to Chancellor Cartwright. You and your wife, Melinda, have hosted students and student-teachers from the Child Development Lab at the Residence. How does Mizzou build a community where students of all types — and ages — can have an immersive learning experience?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:04:23] You know, we’re very lucky here at Mizzou in that this is part of what we do, right? Is we believe very strongly that giving people real-world experiences is the best way to educate. The Child Development Lab is just one of those experiences. And yeah, they get to do everything. You heard Celina talking about it, I mean, they do everything related to this job, but it’s a learning experience. We have professors that are overseeing it. We have people working with them explaining, you know, what’s the best way to encourage and help to develop young people. And it’s just terrific that they’re able to come and see the residence and they typically come around the holidays. So they wanted to see what’s actually the decorations in the residence. And it’s wonderful to see the future of what’s possible. When we look across our campus, we see this everywhere. We see it at KOMU, we see it at KBIA, we see it certainly in Tiger Garden and all of the opportunities that we give our students to interact in a real world, and it is about what we believe in, which is collaborating with our community and being part of this community and making sure that we do everything we can to ensure that our students are really ready to go out and serve and make sure that they do everything possible to make to make our society a better place.

Moderator: [00:05:54] Awesome. Awesome. And so I’ll move to Dr. Oprean. So, the CDL lets Mizzou students experience a working preschool classroom, but you’re using virtual reality to provide a different kind of comprehensive learning environment. Can you tell us a little bit more about your research?

Danielle Oprean: [00:06:10] Certainly. So with with my research, with virtual reality, it really stems back to my days here as an alumni getting to work with the Architectural Studies, Immersive Visualization Lab, which they called the iLab and in there’s where I actually developed a lot of skills with understanding user experience, how people understand the virtual space in the virtual environments. And in my move in transition to becoming faculty here in the College of Education, I’ve started to realize that I’m seeing this virtual reality technology pop up in education all over, not just here at Mizzou. And we don’t fundamentally understand how we need to look at the pedagological value of these tools, essentially. And because there’s a myriad of different pieces to it, one of the core focuses of my research is on place-based education. How do we instill place back into the actual learning environment? Which ties right into what Chancellor Cartwright brought up with the idea that we’re connecting the real world back to the education of our students. So, how do we use that to expand what the classroom can be? And this started out very small with the idea of the virtual field trip, which is not necessarily a new concept, but with the newer technology and trying to keep up with everything that’s happening with technological advancements, we’re seeing that it is actually changing. It’s transforming into something that is more accessible, more usable. And we’re finding that now we need to really pick up the pace with integrating it into our core courses.

Moderator: [00:07:47] Definitely. And so you spoke to your transition from doing architectural studies as an undergrad and then, it was undergrad or for?

Danielle Oprean: [00:07:53] It was my PhD.

Moderator: [00:07:53] Okay, for your PhD. And then you transitioned into teaching for the College of Education.

Danielle Oprean: [00:08:01] Yes.

Moderator: [00:08:01] So can you speak on how that transition has shaped your understanding and how you teach? How technology can actually expand our sense of what a classroom can be? I know you just spoke to that, but how does that transition kind of play a role in your understanding of it?

Danielle Oprean: [00:08:15] Certainly. So one of the key takeaways I received during my time here as a PhD student in Architectural Studies is the role of space and how important it is to have a place with an identity that you can attach and link information to. So you learn information, often times memories are highly linked to the places and spaces in which you’ve learned it. And this kind of crossover with some of the coursework I actually took over in the College of Ed during my PhD. And so coming back, I’m highly involved in the Adroit Studios Gaming Lab, which is a wonderful lab space for designing serious games in my own department and looking at how we can connect these different things where there’s activity that takes place inside of virtual spaces now and being able to connect those two. Now that that there is this, I guess a sort of a foundation that comes out of my architectural background to go into education. And so when we can link these two pieces together and hopefully come up with something that’s going to be really terrific for classes to be able to use in the future.

Moderator: [00:09:23] Okay. Oh, that sounds awesome. So coming back to Chancellor Cartwright, these unique spaces show how a classroom can be much more than just a room on campus. Why is this approach to learning and teaching so central to the university’s mission of service?

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:09:37] You know, I love what Dr. Oprean was saying in terms of connecting what you’re learning to a space. I think that’s really is what this is about, right? Is that you remember so much more when you actually can identify with something else. It’s that connection that makes it easier for you to remember. And from the experiences, we see that across the whole campus, right? Is that, you know, when we have our simulation labs for medicine, we’re allowing, you know, future doctors and nurses and health professions to all get together through interprofessional education, where they get an opportunity to, in a virtual space, to talk about how they work together and to learn more. So when they go into the actual space, they’re more ready, more prepared. The same thing with architecture and certainly we see that in other places around the campus. We also look to our students and want them to experience beyond just our walls in our classrooms. So the things that are happening in Mizzou Alternative Breaks where they go out and they’re not actually necessarily working on a particular project for a class, but they still are learning so many skills, so many things that are necessary for them to be successful and be prepared as they move out into whatever they continue to do in their careers. We also work with industry. We have a coffee shop in our Trulaske College of Business that’s completely run by the professors and students. The whole business is run. Those are the types of things that make for an experience that you don’t get very easily in other institutions. And I think it’s this idea of innovation through collaboration and that innovation is in also the education and how we teach and recognizing that there’s so much value in connecting people in that way and allowing them to to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. And so the more you can do it in a real world setting, the better for everybody.

Moderator: [00:11:45] Definitely. I think understanding that mistakes are going to happen and that mistakes are also very necessary. I think it’s just key to life, but definitely key to teaching as well. And so a question for everyone to kind of end things off. What would all of you say is essential to being a great educator or providing a great education? And how does this principle apply to your work at Mizzou?

Celina Castleman: [00:12:09] So I believe that to be a great teacher is to be able to understand and just be compassionate for everybody you’re working with. You don’t know what they go home to. You don’t know what they’re bringing back with them, to your classroom. So if you can provide a space for them and just love them unconditionally, because that’s all people really want is just to be loved.

Danielle Oprean: [00:12:28] I’m going to follow along with that same response and add to it with the idea that educators really need to listen. They need to be able to listen to what their students are planning to do and what the takeaway skills from what they’re being taught is going to be. What are they aspiring to use the information you’re communicating with them and instructing them in to what’s the next step for them, essentially. So I think that’s one of the big things with educators is being able to listen and be open with your students.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:13:00] I mean, I couldn’t say it any better than than Celina and Professor Oprean. When you when you look at how you educate, the same things that you do in education, it applies to how you lead it is that it’s about that emotional intelligence and understanding how you encourage people. Right? And I heard someone say before that, you know, the one, for every negative thing that you say to someone, you need to say at least five or six positive things to balance it out. And I think we need to do more of that. We need to be encouraging. We need to recognize and, of course, there’s opportunities where you’re shaping what they’re doing and helping them to become better. But it’s a partnership. It’s about how we work together. It’s about how we help everybody to just be even better and to achieve their maximum potential. Steven, you heard me say this before, you know, as your, your performance is equal to your potential minus those interferences.

Moderator: [00:13:57] Of course.

Chancellor Cartwright: [00:13:57] The more that we can remove those interferences, the thoughts that maybe you can’t do this, right? If we can remove that. Making sure people understand that they belong and they have all of the ability to be exceptional. The better that we are as educators. So, I think you heard some really great advice from our two guests today.

Moderator: [00:14:23] Naturally. And I think that’s a great way to end it. Well, again, thank you all for being with us today. Now, there’s just one more thing to do before we leave. Where do hamburgers go to dance?

Moderator: [00:14:41] The meat ball.

Everyone: [00:14:41] (Laughter)

Moderator: [00:14:51] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is composed by MU master’s student Niko D. Schroeder and performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet. You can find more information about Niko, the Quartet and their piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode. See you around the Columns!