University of Central Florida professors returned to the classroom at the end of the spring semester not to teach, but to learn.

More than 200 faculty members this week came together for the 2011 Summer Faculty Development Conference. This year’s conference theme is “Ethics, Access, and Excellence: The Faculty Challenge.”

Attendees are discussing ways of helping students achieve academic excellence, strategies for implementing new teaching technologies in the classroom and ideas for conducting their own academic research.

“This is a wonderful chance for faculty to learn from each other,” said Hakan Ozoglu, an associate professor of Middle Eastern history. “You learn some practical information from each other, and it is a great, great chance for faculty to improve ourselves.”

The conference began Tuesday morning with a session led by UCF Assistant Professor of Philosophy Michael Strawser and the award-winning UCF Ethics Bowl Team. The five-student team placed first in a national competition last March.

Part of the ethics debate was devoted to discussing the newly established “Z” grade for students who are found cheating or plagiarizing. Faculty questioned the ethics team about the potential consequences of assigning the designation to students’ transcripts.

“I think opening the session with students was a great start,” said Greg Thompson, an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures.  “It reminds us who the focus of a lot of our projects is and also shows student excellence.”

The conference offers nearly 90 different sessions primarily led by UCF faculty and staff, covering topics such as implementing service-learning courses, strategies for helping students in distress and using social media in the classroom.

“I learned how to ‘tweet,’” said Ozoglu, who Wednesday morning attended “Twitter Talk,” a session on how to use the popular social media website for teaching.

Vicky Zygouris-Coe, an associate professor in the College of Education, said she attended a session on data mining to see how she might use the strategy to improve assessments of student learning.

“I think the conference is modeling what we preach,” she said. “We are deeply concerned about student learning and seek to find ways to continue to learn as instructors.”

In addition to providing learning opportunities, the conference allows faculty to voice concerns about and suggest solutions for addressing student access, ethical issues and their own challenges in meeting their professional development goals.

Wednesday afternoon, a student-faculty panel that included UCF Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Tony Waldrop addressed issues relating to UCF’s rapid enrollment growth and community building in large classes.

The conference closes Friday with a showcase of faculty poster presentations at the UCF Library.

The annual conference is organized by the Karen L. Smith Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning in collaboration with the Office of Experiential Learning, the Office of Diversity Initiatives, the QEP/Information Fluency Initiative, Student Development and Enrollment Services and the Office of International Studies.