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Office of the Provost Teaching at WSU

Converse: ”Motivating Students to come to class prepared”

Sheila Converse addresses the audience at convocation in August.
Sheila Converse addresses the audience at convocation in August.

Music instructor offers inspiration at Faculty-led Workshop

Spend five minutes with Sheila Converse and its easy to see that a single-minded vocation could not contain her enthusiasm. She tried.

Converse was a professional singer on the rise, but after considering the relative monotony of singing, and traveling, and singing, and traveling, she reconsidered.

Her position as a professor at WSU gives her the opportunity to wear many hats, and delve into many different areas as she strives to motivate students.

Converse addressed, “Motivating students to come to class prepared,” at a Faculty-led Workshop earlier this year.

Converse has won numerous awards, including the 2014-15 Samuel H. Smith Leadership Award from the WSU Association for Faculty Women. But she says she was certain she would never teach, until she got her first taste.

“I totally loved it,” Converse says. “I just thought it was so interesting and creative and fascinating.”

Motivating students to attend class is a challenge facing faculty all over campus. Numerous studies show that class attendance is a key to student success, but some students fail to make attendance a priority. Converse has taught a variety of courses and in each of them, she’s tried to find ways to both engage students and keep them accountable.

“I always taught upper division classes and students just came, but then I taught a 100-level class and that was eye-opening,” Converse says. “So I started having homework they’d turn in every class, and quizzes, and I found that to be marginally successful. And I’ve just done a ton of reading, I go to workshops, talk to friends and ask other instructors what they do. I don’t think I’m an expert, but more of an explorer on the topic.”

Converse has collected many tips and tricks on the subject. It sometimes takes extra effort for instructors to make classes more engaging, but in her experience, Converse says it’s well worth it.”

“Making the class interesting is the big challenge,” she says. “Some of it is using techniques to encourage discussion and go beyond the book and there’s really not a way for them to do that outside the class. And I love to lecture – I’m a performer – but I think when I lecture less, they’re learning more, even though it’s really hard for me. I’m experimenting with a new format and they seem to be understanding the ideas pretty well.”

The faculty-led workshop series is designed to arm instructors with techniques and tools they can apply to engage students, whether it’s through technology or practical advice. Converse says the workshops are especially valuable, as many instructors aren’t well-versed in teaching.

“There are a lot of faculty members who really care about teaching and want to be better,” Converse says. “College faculty aren’t taught to teach, they’re taught the topic. But a lot of times if you give people ideas, they’ll take the ball and run with it. That’s why making this information available is really valuable.”

Register for Converse’s Faculty-led Workshop, and others in the series, here.