Learning Circles

STEM Learning Circle

Learning circles are groups of 6-12 participants who meet to discuss topics or books consistent with the mission of the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Open to faculty and staff, groups typically meet on a regular schedule for 3-6 sessions over the course of a semester.  

Learning circles may be facilitated by the CTL Director or by faculty or staff volunteers. Facilitators, like participants, are learners; a central principle of learning circles is that no one is, or need be, an expert. All members are encouraged to share, listen, and reflect, connecting with colleagues from all areas of campus.  

Learning circles meet in Ramsey Library's Whitman Room. The CTL will purchase books or supply readings for learning circle members, and tea is always available. Upcoming learning circles are typically announced via campus-wide email immediately before or at the beginning of each semester, including summer.  

Interested in starting or proposing a learning circle? Please complete this brief learning circle proposal and email to himelein@unca.edu.


Learning Circles, 2017-2018

Rethinking Grading (Brian Graves & Melissa Himelein)

Tuesdays, 3:30-4:30 pm (1/23, 1/30, 2/6, & 2/13)

“Our grading system is broken, yet we educators keep using it,” maintains Linda Nilson, the retired director of Clemson’s faculty development center. Nilson argues that grading requires an overwhelming amount of time from faculty and creates significant anxiety in students, while producing few benefits for the world outside of academia. In Specifications Grading (2015), she proposes a modern, more rigorous version of pass/fail that she believes will enhance student motivation. Short and highly readable, this book is ideal for anyone struggling with the theory or practice of grading. To better understand her ideas, see this essay in Inside Higher Ed.

Mentoring Underrepresented Students in STEM (Jen Rhode Ward)

Wednesdays, 3:30-4:30 pm (1/24, 1/31, & 2/7)

Why is it important to broaden participation in STEM? What are barriers to STEM participation? How can we as faculty best support the needs of students of color, women, and other underrepresented groups? Join your colleagues to discuss Becky Wai-Ling Parkard’s (2015) succinct and well-written treatise, Successful STEM Mentoring Initiatives for Underrepresented Students, and to draft concrete plans for yourself, your research group, or your department.

Best Practices in Capstone Courses (Melissa Himelein & Ashley Moraguez)

Thursdays, 10-11 am (1/25, 2/1, 2/8, & 2/15)

Capstone courses have been named a “high-impact practice” in higher education, and yet the format, expectations, and student activities of such classes vary widely. What can we learn from research about ideal capstone characteristics, what works and what doesn’t, and exemplary models? Focused on Designing and Teaching Undergraduate Capstone Courses (Hauhart & Grahe, 2015), this learning circle is ideal for anyone teaching or planning to teach a capstone course, or for faculty in departments considering a curriculum revision.

Doing the Liberal Arts Behind Bars (Patrick Bahls & Regine Criser)

Thursdays, 1:20-2:20 pm (2/1, 2/8, 2/15, 2/22, & 3/1)

This learning circle will use Daniel Karpowitz’s account of Bard College’s successful prison education program, College in Prison (2017), as a starting point to reflect on the transformative power of a liberal arts education and its crucial role in a functioning democracy. In preparation for a hoped-for launch of UNC Asheville’s prison education program in the fall 2018 semester, Karpowitz’s book will also guide us in reflecting about the ethics involved in teaching in the modern penitentiary.

Getting Ready for the Queer Studies Conference (Scott Branson & Lorena Russell)

Thursdays, 1:20-2:20 pm, to begin March 8 (3/8, 3/22, & 3/29)

The Queer Studies Conference co-chairs will lead conversations focusing on the Queer Abolitionist Movement, with selections from conference keynote speaker Mimi Thi Nguyen as well as from the book, Captive Genders (Stanley & Smith, Eds.). This reading circle is designed to help offer context and an introduction to speakers and ideas featured at the 2018 Queer Studies Conference on April 5-7. No background in queer or gender/sexualities studies necessary.

Becoming and Being Retired (Bruce Larson)

Fridays, 2-3 pm (2/2, 2/9, 2/16, 2/23, & 3/2)

Much has been written about the challenges and changing nature of faculty roles. Yet, as noted in one essay in Faculty Retirement: Best Practices for Navigating the Transition (2014), “Retirement represents a critical career state for any academic, but one that has been woefully ignored. It is a stage that involves major transitions in identity, community, and economic security.” In that case, what does it mean to retire well? Members of this learning circle will reflect upon retirement from academia, drawing upon personal experiences and those of colleagues at colleges and universities featured in the book. Ideal for faculty considering or planning retirement who aspire not only to retire well, but also to consider how UNC Asheville might create the conditions for our colleagues to retire well, too.

Contemplative Inquiry (Ameena Batada & Melissa Mahoney) – meets in meditation room, Sherrill Center

Fridays, 3:30-5 pm (1/19, 2/2, 2/16, 3/2, 3/23, 4/6, & 4/20)

This learning circle offers participants opportunities to engage in contemplative practices and to explore ways in which these practices can be integrated into campus life: from the classroom to the quad and beyond. This semester we will focus some sessions on how we can cultivate additional opportunities for introspection in our courses and interactions with others, using a recent UNCA study of unnamed contemplative teaching strategies as a springboard. As in previous semesters, this learning circle will meet for an optional 30 minutes of meditation at 3:30 pm, followed by a formal learning circle at 4 pm, which includes 10 minutes of meditation at the beginning and a brief meditation at the end.

WNC Postcolonial Reading Group (Anne Jansen & Lorena Russell)

Saturday, February 10, 10:00-11:30 am

This one-session learning circle is aimed at faculty and staff who enjoy literature and interesting discussion with colleagues; we also encourage participation from colleagues at Warren Wilson College and Western Carolina University. We convene once per semester but welcome new members at any time. Our spring meeting will focus on a discussion of Man Booker Prize-winning Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy's long awaited and highly anticipated second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. A Boston Globe review states, “Once a decade, if we are lucky, a novel emerges from the cinder pit of living that asks the urgent question of our global era. Roy's novel is this decade's ecstatic and necessary answer." Please note: Because this book is currently available only in hardcover, books are limited. Please do not enroll if you cannot attend the discussion on February 10th.

Contemplative Inquiry (Melissa Mahoney)

Fridays, 3:30-5 pm: 8/25 (for this session only, 3:30-4:30 pm), 9/8, 9/22, 10/13, 10/27, 11/10, & 12/1

This learning circle offers participants opportunities to engage in contemplative practices and to explore ways in which these practices can be integrated into campus life: from the classroom to the quad and beyond. We will hear from faculty teaching in the new certificate in contemplative inquiry (see https://www.unca.edu/interdisciplinary-certificate-contemplative-inquiry) about work they are doing in their classes. We will also learn about research conducted on our campus on the use of contemplative practices by faculty who do not necessarily view the strategies as contemplative. As in previous years, this learning circle will continue to be informal and, we believe, restorative. Following an optional 30 minutes of meditation, the formal learning circle will meet at 4 pm, including 10 minutes of meditation at the beginning and a brief meditation at the end. This circle meets in the meditation room in the Sherrill Center.

Cultivating Character (Melissa Burchard & Ann Dunn)

Tuesdays, 3:30-4:30 pm: 8/29, 9/5, & 9/12

In preparation for New York Times columnist David Brooks’ visit to campus on Tuesday, 9/12, members of this learning circle will read The Road to Character (2015). An exploration of character development in modern society, Brooks considers how moral virtue can be cultivated and celebrated. According to one reviewer, the book “provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth.” (Note: If necessary, we will form two groups, with the second facilitated by Elizabeth Porter & Melissa Himelein).

Slowing Down in a Fast-Paced World (Rodger Payne & Melissa Himelein)

Wednesdays, 4-5 pm: 9/6, 10/4, 11/1, & 12/6

Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or burned out? Has the speed of the academy diminished the quality of your work life? This learning circle will revisit last fall’s learning circle on The Slow Professor (2016), in which authors Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber invite faculty to adopt a “Slow” philosophy in the attempt to cope with the fast pace of modern university work. We will meet once per month, in the spirit of building time for reflection, reading selections from the book and other resources. Whether you participated in last fall’s group or are new to the concept of “slowness,” we invite your involvement.

Recruiting a Diverse Faculty: Alumni, Cluster, and Proactive Hiring Practices (Tracey Rizzo)

Fridays, 4-5 pm: 9/8, 9/15, & 9/22 

Participants will read a variety of articles and book chapters which highlight best practices in diversity recruitment. The circle will culminate with a provost’s forum on this topic, facilitated by Richard Reddick of UT Austin and alums Cerise Glenn and Aldo Garcia Guevara. To deepen our professional development, Reddick will also give a public lecture on Thursday, 9/21.

Discussing Food Sovereignty: Who Really Feeds the World? (Amy Lanou & Elizabeth Porter)

Wednesdays, 4:15 to 5:15 pm; 9/13, 9/27, 10/18 (optional, day of author’s visit), & 10/25 (post-visit debrief and reflection) Scholar, author, and activist Vandana Shiva will visit UNC Asheville October 17-19, presenting a public lecture on 10/18. In preparation for her visit the members of this learning circle will read, Who Really Feeds the World? (2016) and discuss this and other work of Dr. Shiva. This book is described as “a powerful manifesto calling for agricultural justice and genuine sustainability.” According to the publisher, in it she “lays out the networks of people and processes that feed the world, exploring issues of diversity, the needs of small farmers, the importance of seed saving, the movement toward localization, and the role of women in producing the world's food.”

Faculty Careers in Public Liberal Arts (Melissa Himelein with guests Bill Spellman & Joe Urgo)

Thursdays, 12-1 pm: 9/14, 9/21, & 9/28

Most faculty earned their terminal degrees at large research institutions, where they were advised by mentors who taught one or two classes a semester and organized their time around scholarship goals. How does work life differ at a public liberal arts college? We will read essays from Roads Taken: The Professorial Life, Scholarship in Place, and the Public Good (2014), edited by Roger Epp and UNC Asheville’s own Bill Spellman. This learning circle is aimed at new faculty members or early-career faculty who weren’t able to participate last year.

Motivating Students (Melissa Himelein)

Fridays, 2-3 pm: 9/15, 9/29, 10/13, & 10/20

Based on extensive research with college students, educational psychologist Brett Jones developed a model of motivation based on five evidence-based strategies. In this brief primer (just over 100 pages!), Jones explains how to integrate the principles into course design and pedagogy in the effort to enhance student engagement and learning. Jones’ ideas are thoughtful and practical, ideal for faculty disheartened by student inattentiveness, passivity, or discouragement - or anyone looking to implement even small changes in teaching. 

WNC Postcolonial Reading Group: Homegoing (Lorena Russell)

Saturday, 9/23: 10:00-11:30am

This one-session learning circle is aimed at faculty and staff who enjoy literature and interesting discussion with colleagues; we also encourage participation from colleagues at Warren Wilson College, Mars Hill, ABTech, and Western Carolina University. We convene once per semester but welcome new members at any time. Our fall meeting will focus on a discussion of Ghanaian-American novelist Yaa Gyasi’s award-winning, bestselling debut novel Homegoing, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a panoramic portrait of the slave trade and its reverberations, told through the travails of one family that carries the scars of that legacy.” National Book Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of Gyasi’s novel that “She does not excuse. And she does not romanticize. […] Homegoing is an inspiration.” Join us for a morning of lively discussion of Homegoing on Homecoming Weekend!

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Patrick Bahls and others)

Tuesdays, 1:30-2:30 pm:

Group 1: 9/26, 10/17, 10/31, & 11/14

Group 2: 10/3, 10/24, 11/7, & 11/21

Civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, will be speaking at our campus on Thursday, January 18, 2018. Ms. Alexander's work shines light on racial inequities in the criminal justice system, with particular attention paid to racial biases in arrest, arraignment, prosecution, and sentencing. Further, her work highlights the effect that felony conviction has on inmates' lives after prison, profoundly affecting their ability to secure employment, housing, or even assistance in feeding their families. This work is both powerful and timely, given the ongoing racial tensions we face as a nation. These learning circles will help faculty to prepare for Ms. Alexander’s visit as we discuss this critical text.

Learning Circles, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017

Past Learning Circles, 2010-2011 through 2014-2015

See lists of learning circles conducted during previous academic years: 2014-20152013-20142012-20132011-2012, and 2010-2011