Showcase Interview

Renee Surdick

Renee Surdick

Faculty Profile
Email Address

Teaching Strategy Video(s)
Grounding Students in Theory: Preparing Them for the Real World
Using Case Studies to Help Students Understand Theory
Shift Teaching Style to Help Students Learn Theory

Renee Surdick teaches Organizational Leadership and Organizational Development at UW-Stout. Neither course is her favorite, rather both are her favorite because “you have to become passionate with your content and once you’re passionate about that, everything you do is enjoyable.”


Renee helps students “get it” by finding ways to involve them more closely in the activities of the class. “Students learn best by engagement,” says Renee. Because she believes in engagement, she tries to find creative ways to engage them. “The more creatively I can engage them in the content the more likely they are to retain it.” For instance, rather than lecturing on what the research shows are the most effective leadership traits, Renee has students actively develop a list of traits based on their own experience. First, students individually think of or recall the best leader that they have worked with and identify their top traits and characteristics. Then each individual in a team shares who they admire and then talks through the traits and characteristics. The team members rank the most prevalent 10-15 characteristics and write them on the board. All of those characteristics are “themed,” that is formed into categories of exact or similar concepts, into a list of top ten traits. Only after this experiential exercise does she show the traits that the research has found most effective. “They examine what they ranked versus the national research and often find their concepts are in the top ten. They learn that between their personal experiences and group experiences they do know more than they realize, and walk away with it differently.”

Renee also uses a team strategy that causes everyone in the class to compare their understanding of a concept. She breaks the class into teams providing each team a set of questions, and sets a specific amount of time for the team to create and write out answers. Then the answers rotate around the class so each team reads the questions and responds to them within, say, two minutes. Once all of the answers have circulated they go back to the team where they started. The original team figures out the most frequent five or ten answers, then rank orders the frequency for other themes and shares them on the board.” It’s a good way to make sure students understand the application of concepts in different situations.”

Renee’s goal is to have students take the theories, concepts, and practices and use them in different situations. When students realize that a theory or concept is usable, they are likely to draw on that theory in future applications. In order to cause this kind of “transferability,” she looks at teaching as creative. “We all have defined objectives and particular content essential for students to understand.” It’s up to us to look at how we convey or set the learning experiences for students. Sometimes I want them to be able to identify when a theory works and doesn’t; sometimes I want them to take content apart, apply the parts in different situations, and evaluate the effectiveness of applying just a part. Varying our activities is what assists in reaching the depth of the learning we seek. I also believe we have to be creative with using technology in our classrooms, as the laptops are valuable in the learning process.”