Plenary Sessions 2023


11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. on Zoom

The Call Is Coming from Inside the House: How Grades Undermine Learning and Jeopardize Student Wellbeing

Joshua Eyler, Ph.D.

Getting a good grade is supposed to be a marker of excellence, but research shows that grades diminish our intrinsic motivation and emphasize the outcome rather than the process that leads to what researchers refer to as deep learning. Grades also mirror and magnify many of the systemic inequities that are a part of higher education. Further still, rates of anxiety and depression have spiked dramatically for teens and young adults, and academic stress tied to grades is a leading cause of this escalation. 

In this presentation, Dr. Eyler will lead attendees through a structured reflection exercise designed to spark our thinking about the connections between our grading practices, our values, and our beliefs about education. He will then explore some of the research on grades and offer a range of strategies we can try, both in our classrooms and at the institutional level, in order to be more equitable in our classrooms by mitigating the damaging effects of grades.


Joshua Eyler, Ph.D. is Director of Faculty Development and Director of the Think Forward Quality Enhancement Plan at the University of Mississippi, where he is also Clinical Assistant Professor of Teacher Education. He previously worked on teaching and learning initiatives at Columbus State University, George Mason University, and Rice University. Eyler is the author of the acclaimed book How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching, which Book Authority named “100 Best Education Books of All Time”. Called a “splendid repository of ways to rethink how we teach college” by the Los Angeles Review of Books, it was named a “Book of the Year” in the Chicago Tribune. His forthcoming book, Scarlet Letters: How Grades are Harming Children and Young Adults, and What We Can Do about It is about one of the most urgent issues in education today: grading and alternative assessment.

Tuesday, May 23

12:20 p.m. - 1:40 p.m. in the Healey Family Student Center

Toward Reparative Humanism in Higher Ed: Recasting Teaching and Learning Agreements

Mays Imad, Ph.D.

This keynote will examine the neuroscience of psychological trauma and how the cyclical nature of trauma impacts our human experience. Specifically, Dr. Imad will deliberate on our collective need to reflect on the things from which trauma alienates us–including our inherent humanity. She will also consider the things healing from trauma requires that we not shy away from–in order to re-member and re-embrace our human wholeness. She will examine the concept of reparative humanism, a philosophical framework that aims to repair or restore the human condition through the application of humanistic principles. These principles emphasize the importance of seeing the “whole” person and include a focus on personal autonomy, self-determination, interconnectedness, social responsibility, and the inherent goodness, value, and dignity of all people. 

By considering these aspects, the overarching goal of the session is to foster a deeper understanding of trauma and its consequences and to cultivate a greater appreciation for the importance of healing, humanism, and the transformative power of education in shaping a more compassionate, empathetic, and beautiful world.


Mays Imad, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Physiology and Equity Pedagogy at Connecticut College. Prior to that, she taught in the department of life and physical science at Pima Community College where she also founded the teaching and learning center. A Gardner Institute Fellow, an AAC&U Senior Fellow, and a Mind & Life Institute Fellow, Imad’s research focuses on biofeedback, stress, self-regulation, advocacy, and classroom community, and how these impact student learning and success. A nationally-recognized expert on trauma-informed teaching and learning, Imad is interested in understanding the social determinants of wellbeing and their effects on students’ ability to learn and thrive. She works with faculty across disciplines and institutions to promote inclusive, equitable, and contextual education–all rooted in the latest research on the neurobiology of learning.

Wednesday, May 24

12:20 p.m. - 1:40 p.m. in the Healey Family Student Center

Care as Praxis and Method in Digital Research and the Classroom

Catherine Knight Steele, Ph.D.

In this keynote talk, Dr. Steele will discuss how interdisciplinary scholars and instructors increasingly use digital tools and texts for their work. As we consider the impact of artificial intelligence, big data, and social media on our students and in our research, this talk focuses on how we might restructure our courses and design new research projects for the digital age. Taken from her work constructing Digital Humanities programming and her research on Digital Black Feminism, Steele argues for bringing a Black Feminist praxis of care to the classroom and our method.


Catherine Knight Steele, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. There she directs the Black Communication and Technology lab and the graduate program in Digital Studies in the Arts and Humanities. Steele studies race and media, specifically focusing on Black discourse, technology, and social media. Her research on the Black blogosphere, digital discourses of resistance and joy, and digital Black feminism has been published in such journals as Social Media + Society, Information, Communication and Society, and Feminist Media Studies. She is the author of Doing Black Digital Humanities with Radical Intentionality (forthcoming April 2023, Routledge) and Digital Black Feminism (NYU Press 2021), which examines the relationship between Black women and technology as a centuries-long gendered and racial project in the U.S and was the 2022 winner of the Association of Internet Research Nancy Baym Book Award and Diamond Anniversary Book Award for the National Communication Association.

Thursday, May 25

11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. in the Healey Family Student Center

Learning About Learning with Dr. Abigail Marsh

Abigail Marsh, Ph.D. and Edward Maloney, Ph.D.

Building on the conversation about supporting academic excellence featured in the CNDLS podcast What We’re Learning About Learning on “Inspiring Academic Excellence,” we invited Georgetown Professor Abigail Marsh (Psychology) to discuss her work on the science of learning with us. Dr. Marsh and Edward Maloney, Ph.D., Executive Director of CNDLS, will discuss the relationship between academic excellence and flexibility, leaving room for questions from the audience.


Abigail Marsh, Ph.D., is Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at Georgetown University. She received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University in 2004 and afterward conducted post-doctoral research at the National Institute of Mental Health until 2008.

Marsh directs the Laboratory on Social & Affective Neuroscience, researching questions that include: How do people understand what others think and feel? What drives us to help other people? What prevents us from harming them? Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the S&R Kuno Foundation, and the Mind & Life Institute. Her lab’s work has received awards that include the Wyatt Memorial Award for translational research from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Cozzarelli Prize for scientific excellence and originality from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.