Archives—February 2018

Dean’s Teaching Showcase: Joshua Ellis

Ellis was mentioned recently in Seely’s article about Cécile Piret (Math). He was, and is, her partner in studying how students learn in Calculus 3 by adding 3-D printers to class exercises. Seely indicates Ellis merits recognition in the Showcase in his own right, saying, “We expect CLS faculty to integrates research on education and learning with his classroom endeavors, but Josh’s approaches merit special attention.”
Ellis began his career as a K-12 teacher in Minneapolis, and knew from the beginning that he was expected to actively consider how a teacher’s decisions affected students. He elaborates, “I asked myself questions every day: How do I know when learning is happening in my classroom? How do my students learn best? What’s my role as the instructor?”
Importantly, he found that the answers to these questions often changed, leading him to adopt a research-like approach. “I sought to identify what helped my students succeed and what inhibited their growth as learners.”
He also entered the STEM Education doctoral program at the University of Minnesota, where faculty embraced this connection between research and educational practice. “I learned how to rigorously analyze teaching through a research lens, and I also learned how to conduct more meaningful research through the teaching lens. I firmly believe that I need both research and teaching to do it.”
This synthesis is embedded in Ellis’ research and classroom instruction at Michigan Tech, where he teaches future K-16 educators. His approach is especially useful when exploring how educational technology can support student learning. This might be best shown by a comment Ellis shared from B.W. Seibert: “Teachers will never be replaced by technology … but teachers who use technology effectively will replace those who do not.”
Ellis considers this perspective “both a warning and an opportunity for education students at Tech eager to use the incredible technological tools of our age to push the boundaries of what we think learning is.” He applies Seibert in his instructional technology course (ED3100) and in his work developing the new foundations of online teaching (ED5101) course. Both courses help educators learn to reach broader audiences, engage diverse participants and empower people of all abilities and backgrounds to achieve more. Students “learn how technology can lower barriers to finding information and more quickly allow students to seek knowledge and understanding.”
This insight explains Ellis’s enthusiasm for 3-D printers as tools that can create solution spaces for mathematics problems. He added that he feels a responsibility to model himself those practices he hopes his students will adopt within their future classrooms. “Educators who engage in these practices are poised to inspire interest, creativity and excellence in their students. I’m incredibly proud of the work that I do as an educational researcher and as an instructor to create these opportunities for our students.”
Seely agrees, and that is why he chose Ellis as this week’s Dean’s Teaching Showcase member. Ellis will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with 11 other showcase members, and is now eligible for one of three new teaching awards to be given by the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning this summer recognizing introductory or large class teaching, innovative or outside-the-classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.
by Michael Meyer, Director, William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning