Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Heading into the Home Stretch – Fall 2016

My name is Dr. Heather Hether and I am a faculty member in the Department of Communication at UC, Davis.

This term I’ve been teaching Health Communication (CMN 161) — and it’s been a wonderful course. Even though the course is taught in the evenings, my students show up, ready to engage. We’ve had a productive term discussing the major areas of health communication, including doctor-patient communication, health campaigns, media advocacy, health disparities, social marketing, crisis and risk communication, and more.

I’ve also been busy writing, working on a chapter for an upcoming digital pedagogy textbook — a topic I’m passionate about, and also writing a case study on a media advocacy campaign. More details to follow.

This term I also attended two conferences: the Public Relations Society of America conference in Indianapolis, as well as the National Communication Association conference in Philadelphia. At both conferences, I was able to share my work with colleagues and exchange ideas related to both research and teaching. They were great trips — although both were too quick!

I wish you all the best as we push toward the end of the term!


Cultivating Internship Partners

Next weekend I’m heading to San Diego for Western States Communication Association’s annual conference. I’m looking forward to going and participating on a panel with several colleagues from other colleges to discuss internship programs.

At Pacific, I’ve assumed the role of internship coordinator for the Department of Communication. In this capacity, I’m working with both students and organizations alike to identify opportunities for students to apply what they’ve been learning in the classroom in a professional environment. I believe in the value of internships because of the opportunity they provide students to gain hands-on experience in a context that interests them. As much as I connect my course material to the “real-world” environment, there really is no substitute for first-hand experience.

Recently, we’ve had students intern with the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office (SJDA), the American Cancer Society (ACS), public relations firms, on-campus units, and more. We’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful organizational partners like these who are so supportive of our students. As we move forward, I’m particularly interested in identifying organizations — like the SJDA and ACS —  with whom we can develop long-term relationships where our students can contribute to the success of the organization and, in exchange, students gain valuable experience.

And this is the focus of my presentation at Western next week: how to develop collaborative partnerships to support students’ experiential learning. It’s an initiative I’m committed to and, as a department, we’ve made significant progress toward this end. I’m looking forward to sharing our experience at the conference and, with you, when I return.

Meanwhile, we had some great weather this past week:


A spring-time interlude.


Team-based learning – my new soap box

Last week I co-presented a “lunch and learn” seminar at our on-campus Center for Teaching and Learning on the topic of team-based learning. A small group of us had a good conversation about how this teaching method can be used to facilitate active learning in our courses. While I’m fairly new to this teaching method, I have become such an evangelist for it by taking every opportunity I can to speak about how I’ve applied it in my courses.

What I like most about this teaching method is how it energizes the classroom environment and shifts the dynamic away from students passively receiving knowledge to the application of such knowledge. There is a ton of information on the web about team-based learning (tbl) so I won’t describe it in too much detail here, except to say that this approach emphasizes student prep work at home, with class time shifting to first testing students’ comprehension of key concepts through “readiness assessment tests” followed by the bulk of class time focusing on application of concepts and ideas through, what is essentially, team-based problem solving.

This method works really well by requiring students to complete the assigned prep work at home and then reinforcing that acquired knowledge in the classroom through application. So, classroom time moves away from the instructor-led lecture to more of a “bottom-up” approach with students participating in discussion with me and their classmates about the decisions they made in solving the assigned problems.

For my part, I also really like the more spontaneous, “mini” lectures that arise from this class structure. Rather than preparing lengthy lecture notes, I use the learning objectives as a guide for what students should get out of the assigned material, and the assessment test and the application activities help inform me of the gaps in student learning. I can then address these gaps immediately and more “organicly” — i.e. in a more “off-the-cuff” explanation/lecture and discussion.

Team-based learning is really an innovative way for students to learn and I’m looking forward to deepening my knowledge of this method both through continued application of it, as well as  through future research studies in which I would like to examine more carefully the variables that may support, or hinder, its success application.