Social distancing has profoundly impacted how we interact with others, making the art of gathering students as a learning community—physically or virtually, synchronously or asynchronously—even more critical. 

In fall 2020, instructors from across the University of Iowa participated in a Center for Teaching led reading group to discuss Priya Parker's "The Art of Gathering." The group examined how themes from the book might shape how we facilitate students' learning.  

We asked participants to share their experiences with us and reflect on the book.  

“This offered valuable perspectives and techniques that were easily transferable to the classroom. In my Medical Device Design Studio course, we had a conversation regarding bias in design and engineering. I was able to facilitate an insightful discussion about the unintentional consequences of bias in device and technology development. The students provided thoughtful and respectful responses while also sharing how they could combat bias in engineering in the future.” Colleen Bringman, lecturer, Biomedical Engineering 

"The FLC helped me carefully think through aspects of teaching and meeting that I took for granted: why we meet, how we meet, and how we conclude our time together. Discussing these questions with fellow participants made me a more intentional and flexible teacher and leader. It was a supportive community that allowed us to share openly and be vulnerable, which led to productive and exciting conversations.” Kimberly Datchuk, curator of learning & engagement, Stanley Museum of Art. Thank you, Kimberly, for bringing the book to the Center for Teaching’s attention. 

“Teaching online required me to rethink, revise, and renew pedagogical efforts. Within the first five minutes of my fall 2020 course via Zoom, I stated, 'If we were on campus, I would have you ….' I found myself saying this phrase multiple times and realized that it was situating my students in a way I did not intend. The book forced me to realize within my own teaching that I was trying to replicate the 'old' course. Taking time to consider the 'whys' within my course has truly been a transformative process that I hope impacts future teachers and their future students." Anne Estapa, assistant professor, Mathematics Education 

“These meetings were some of the only opportunities I had to engage with my colleagues and share my experiences. Through this, I realized how important sharing stories is to being human, so I incorporated short stories into my classes. It reminded me how important it is to enjoy being human and to embrace my mistakes whenever possible in the classroom—doing this will encourage students to embrace their humanity, too.” Maricelle Pinto-Tomas, lecturer, Spanish & Portuguese  

“Teaching virtually highlighted the need to use class time as effectively as possible. Applying the principles outlined in the book and our discussions, I took a more deliberate approach to communicating my goals for each class and instructions for each classroom exercise. I also moved some lectures into short asynchronous videos. This allowed me to give students more time and mental space to work through problems, applying course content in our synchronous class time.” June Tai, clinical associate professor, Law 

"Not only did I learn how to improve the organization of meetings, but I also learned about human dynamics and how to make a gathering meet underlying needs. I had a great chance to apply some of the ideas to my own family’s Thanksgiving gathering, with great results. It turned a sad break in a long tradition into a fun experiment that was more impactful than any of us imagined.” Geb Thomas, professor and DEO, Industrial and Systems Engineering  

"It was valuable to learn from a diverse group of colleagues from across the university. An important insight I took from one of our meetings is that on a platform like Zoom, there are no backrow seats, and everyone is front and center as soon as they start to talk. This is extremely uncomfortable for some students and dramatically changes the dynamic in discussions. I am still considering how best to manage this new dynamic in my classroom.” Newell Ann Van Auken, lecturer, Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures


Other Reading Group Opportunities

The Center for Teaching will offer a reading group in spring 2021 to discuss “Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College” by Peter Felten and Leo Lambert. Participants will have an opportunity to meet virtually with Peter Felten. The deadline for the brief application is Thursday, Feb. 4.