Thursday, December 23, 2010

To Online or Not to Online #3: Getting Started

Before you teach online,here is some advice from an old pro:

1. Understand fully how the system works. What system? First, the pay system, the release time system, the rewards system, etc. at your institution. Second, the learning management system, which leads to . . .

2. Get good tech training. Take advantage of whatever your institution provides. Now, to be honest, I taught myself a lot of what I learned, but I wasted a lot of time doing so.

3. Have a mentor/coach/helper/somebody who can and will patiently answer your questions because you will forget a lot of the tech training from the sessions you attend. We have an awesome instructional technologist at our college. No one else can have her!

4. Look at your class from the end backward, not as a day-to-day experience as you design the online section. And don't even think about teaching a class you haven't taught traditionally. It's possible, and I've done it, but it isn't wise because you have to create even more materials from scratch.

As to this point, Dee Fink's Creating Significant Learning Experiences is a must-read, because it is about backward design, or teaching for outcomes. And that is what you must ask as you design an online course: not, "how can I put what I do in the traditional class on a screen?" but "What is necessary to meet the learning outcomes of the course and how can I best create a learning environment and experiences for it (since you will not be physically present)?" You may find that what you do in the traditional class isn't really meeting learning outcomes either! We do a lot of things in class because we are comfortable with them and have held on to them, way past their usefulness.

This is in no way saying to dumb-down the online version. It is saying that some of your course and teaching will need to be rethought. The online environment is heavily text-oriented, while the traditional class can reach all modalities. Any way you can find to breach the text-only divide will help.

For example, I teach my traditional class in public speaking with a heavy emphasis on group and collaborative learning. I can't do that in the hybrid version. It is not, however, one of the learning outcomes of the class (as decided upon by our departmental faculty).

The next post will continue in this vein.

Monday, December 20, 2010

To Online or Not to Online #2

So, why should you teach online, if you have a choice?

1. There are some neat tools out there to learn about.
2. It will open you up to some possibilities and revitalize your thinking about higher ed, if you let it.
3. You can teach from home, on the road, etc. Some institutions allow much more flexibility about scheduling.
4. You can structure assignments in ways that simplify grading.
5. After the first two semesters, it gets easier.
6. The best news is that the half online option--hybrid--is really best. You still see the students but they are responsible for lecture material and the class time can be spent more usefully.
7. Your colleagues will think you are "on the cutting edge." (well, maybe) Your administrators will probably like you better.
8. For the altruistic, it really does help nontraditional students.

Not convinced? Then you probably won't be.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Online or Not to Online

As hard as it is to believe, there are many, many college professors who have had no experience with online courses, and who plan never to have any. I find this stunning, having taught online since 1998. Although I read some of the research on higher ed and online pedagogy, have been to many workshops and conferences, and have even presented at teaching conferences and at League for Innovation on the subject, I find that my own experience is usually corroborated by what others tell me, rather than challenged. So I am going to post on that subject for a while.

First, to teach online or not to. I think the first question to be considered is how supportive one's institution is (or forceful in demanding online course development and teaching). If it's an option and no more "brownie points" are given in regard to tenure or promotion for online teaching as opposed to traditional teaching, I wouldn't do it unless you just have a craving to do so. But it's not going to go away, so don't bet on it being a fad. In this day of cost-cutting, online teaching is one of the best ways to cut costs. At a recent meeting with George Mehaffey of the AACSU, I was told that "experts" now consider online as good or better than traditional for instructional purposes. I have to find out where that information came from, since it might be based on student perceptions of their learning and we all know how questionable that can be. My point is that the forces behind higher ed funding consider online instruction a more than viable option and it's only going to get bigger.

A second consideration is whether your institution rewards you more for research and/or service or for teaching and student contact. If the former two, stay clear of online teaching. If the latter, it might be for you.

A third consideration is how much time you like to spend on a computer and learning new technologies, such as Wimba or learning management systems (Angel, Blackboard) because you are going to be expected to be online a lot and your students will expect you to be much smarter than they about the software, etc.

Fourth, if you think online teaching will be easier and a way to avoid students, don't even consider online teaching. It's very time-consuming, at least the first two semesters. I taught a new hybrid course this semester and had to record myself giving the lectures to PowerPoint for the auditory learners. It took up much more time than I expected because of false starts, phones ringing, and knocks at the door along with creating a verbatim script of my lectures (for the print learners).

Fifth, it's really necessary to think in terms of whole course design. The course should be in place on day one, not as you go. So it should be a course you have already taught many times traditionally, one where all the lectures and assignments and rubrics are ready.

Sixth, your institution should give you training and some kind of compensation. I can say that my college did--I have this great laptop, for example.

Seventh, the old "plug in something from the textbook" is an option nowadays, but it doesn't make everything easy. The textbook package may be very different from what you want to emphasize in the course, the institution's learning outcomes, and the needs of your students.

All these may sound negative, so next time I'll blog on the good stuff of teaching online. There are some.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Teaching Tip #23

What is collaborative learning? It is not putting students into groups to ding some ideas around, a la buzz groups. Not that that's a bad idea. Some students are just so plain shy, they can't speak out in a group of 25 or 35 or 55 peers. They just can't do it. I teach public speaking, a class in which the most introverted of students must get up and talk. It has taken me years to be willing to give the introverts a break. So small groups can help these people (so can online, but that's too easy.)

But that's not collaborative learning. For collaborative learning to take place, I believe there has to be a true outcome that is assessable. There has to be a common responsibility; however, there also has to be a clear way for those who perform well to be rewarded accordingly and for those who are dead weight to be punished accordingly. I use a rubric that the students must use to grade each other's performance as a group member (but not on the outcome of the project).

I have used this assignment for over twenty years and the students learn more about just plain working together than giving a speech. More on this later.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching Tip #22

Years ago I heard an "award-winning" teacher say he had one rule, "Whatever is easiest for me."

Now, you can take that for what it's worth, but there is more than a seed of wisdom there. Some of us more "motivated" (or obsessed) instructors sometimes seem to like to do it the hardest--and most time-consuming, emotion-inducing--way. I know I have been that way.

On top of that, some of us dedicated teachers spend more time and psychic energy worrying about our students' success than they do.

It's like online classes. Students don't really care about the bells and whistles. They care that the technology is accessible and that the class is laid out well.

Teaching Tip #21

Most colleges are in finals or in the last week of classes. And I see a lot of frantic instructors at my college with foot-high stacks of papers/essays to grade. Why? Final exams should be easy to grade, easy to post, and a short step before adding them up to turn them in.

Make sure your major presentations/research papers are due two weeks before finals. The students will prefer it and you won't be stressed during the finals. Also, if your institution is like mine, there are all sorts of reports to get finished at the end of the semester. And it's Christmas!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Facebook and Teaching

Should an instructor have his/her students on Facebook? I think probably he/she should have a separate, private account for student issues and a separate personal account for real friends and family. Not that students can't be friends, but it's not the same. And then set your privacy settings carefully.

That being said, on either one, a professional demeanor must be maintained. Too much nonsense on Facebook.

I have a few students on Facebook, mostly BCM students. I don't post there much, but really don't want the whole world in my business.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Teaching Tip #20

Keep in contact with students. Nowadays we have email to do so. Yes, they can ignore the email, and often do, but it helps you cover your trail, if nothing else.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching Tip Number 19

I often hear "80% of life is showing up." I say 90% of success is organization.

If I have learned anything in 33 years of teaching, it's that students like structure. It even trumps a groovy personality. They like to know the teacher has a plan, works the plan, gets the papers graded, gets the grades up, doesn't lose papers, and doesn't forget what the assignments are or how they are set up. Students today have a very low tolerance for confusion. Since their own mental schema are so faulty, we can't afford to confuse them anymore.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Teaching Tip #18

I had a very wise professor in my first graduate program. "If you want people to learn something, tell them what you want them to learn," he said. Now, he wasn't himself the greatest teacher who ever lived, and to be honest (this was the 70s) he actually smoked in class! But his advice was sage..

I have never understood how professors say, "Read the five chapters and there will be a test on it in two weeks." How would anyone know how to study for that? How would anyone know what's important? Even if all the Cornell notetaking methods, etc, are used, it still doesn't tell the students what the teacher thinks is priority.

I am a firm believer in reading and study guides. I don't think they have to be considered spoon feeding. Nothing in a study guide says, "You don't have to think critically" or "you don't have to learn very much." Study guides do not have to be pablum. They can be rigorous, but clear.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teaching Tip Number 17

Teaching is a full-time job. Don't try to mix it with a lot of other stuff.

I currently do a lot of non-teaching activities. It drains my energy from teaching. I like the non-teaching "stuff." In fact, I've applied for an administrative position. But I am ambivalent about leaving teaching--very ambivalent.

Maybe I am bored by teaching and that's why I do the other. Don't know. But I know it doesn't really help my teaching.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Teaching Tip #16

Give out snacks before doing SET (student evaluation of teaching).

Ha, I'm kidding.

Not really. The research shows those things are largely based on personality (friendly, helpful, etc.) rather than competency as a teacher or knowledge of subject matter.

Of course, it can be very well argued that teaching is an interpersonal activity more than an intellectual one. So personality-based factors in evaluation are not irrelevant. They can, however, carry too much weight. A "cool" professor will get a good evaluation even if the students learn less.

Teaching Tip #15

Ideally, you should lecture/instruct for 20-25 minutes and then have an activity, a break-out, video, pair and share, something like that. Hard to do, but almost necessary. I had to finish up lecture Thursday morning and I was pouring my heart out, had PowerPoint, asked questions, gave the students a handout to take notes on, but they were still nodding off. Of course, it's an 8:00 class and the room was too warm (they can't get the heat and air right in our building), but still, I could have done better. I did promise them this was the last day of lecture.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching Tip #14

Always work ahead. Remind students of the semester schedule frequently. Post it on the board when you come in. Post an agenda of the class' activities for that day on the board, too. This assumes getting to class early, another tip.

I went to observe a colleague, who was kind enough to let me do so to see his/her technique for teaching literature to freshman. But he/she was ten minutes late to class. I have to say I was appalled. I am always five to ten minutes early, getting the technology set up, taking roll, being able to deal with students ahead of time.

It is said C.S. Lewis would lecture this way: he entered the door, right on time, started to talk at the door, still taking off his coat, and put on his coat and continued lecturing as he walked out the door. Far be it from me to criticize Lewis, obviously a brilliant man. But that's not good pedagogy in the 21st century.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teaching Tip #13

"Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape."

Hello, my name is Barbara, and I have been an inflexible teacher/instructor.

Seriously, there is great power in flexibility. If we focus on less is more, we have the time to be flexible--not to waste time, but to take time with students. I have so often been frustrated with students for slowing me down. Who was I to be that way?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Teaching Tip #12

Be flexible. Less is more. Unless you are teaching a class for some sort of certification, focus on clear objectives as opposed to what you might think is important.

This is tricky. I am afraid the days of pure academic freedom are over. Too many SACS (or other accrediting bodies) or state or professional regulations. Too many prerequisite requirements. So we have to forgo what we might like to teach to be "outcome" centered. Oh, well.

Teaching Tip #11

Admit when you are wrong. Nobody made you infallible because you earned a graduate degree.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Teaching Tip #10

Instead of letting your students out early, give them a day off. A lot of faculty members cut it short ten minutes early. Why do that? The students are already there, have had to get up and use the gas. They really like a day off.

Of course, this means that the whole class time is not being used anyway, which is not a good thing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I couldn't say it better myself This blog has a pitch perfect essay on male and female teachers and expectations. I felt like I had written it myself.

Teaching Tip Number 9

It's a very good idea to periodically ask students for informal feedback. It's better, probably if it's anonymous; however, I personally think people should own their opinions and views rather than sniping from behind anonymity. Linda Nilson suggests the students answer these simple questions: What should I stop doing? What should I start doing? What should I continue doing? ... to help you learn better in this class.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Teaching Tip #8

Use less technology, more face-to-face.

Big thing on my campus now is "the clickers." They are a fun gadget. But they don't encourage critical thinking and they don't encourage social interaction, the two primary goals of college. (Filling one's head with random facts is not really one of them, although many of us succeed there).

Teaching tip #7

Take roll.

Seriously. Make being there matter. Yes, I know we can argue, if they need to be there, if they want to be there, they will be. I don't disagree. But we are not dealing with intrinsically motivated people, all the time. Some extrinsic reminders help.

Of course, if one's goal is to keep the riff-raff out, to gatekeep one's discipline, and to lose students so that there are fewer papers to grade, then taking attendance is not a good idea.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Teaching Tip Number 6

I make sure I learn my students' names by the second week. For my English 1101 students, I have them come in for a conference over their first paper (an easy diagnostic essay). We chat. I know everyone can't do that, but it helps with smaller classes. (I give them a day off for the conferences, too.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tip of the Day Five

In the classrooms, you meet all kinds. You can never really know the struggles, baggage, challenges, your students are having. So kindness always beats rigor; charity always triumphs over rightness. Believe it or not, this took me a long time to learn, because I felt like students were taking advantage of me (and some probably were) and because I thought it was my job to teach them life skills such as responsibility and respect. In other words, I had too high a view of my own importance.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tip of the Day Four

I asked my son, a college student at a private college three hours from here, how he thought I could relate to my students better. He told me to stress that the students could come by my office during my office hours, and make it seem more welcoming, thus me more welcoming.

I have taken his advice. They aren't beating my door down, but my sweetness factor is going up a bit, I think.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tip of the Day Three: Spoonfeeding

What is spoonfeeding? That term has always bothered me. What one person considers spoonfeeding another considers scaffolding, a fancy term for providing the background the students need to build future learning on.

I teach freshmen for the most part, and many are unprepared for the college classroom environment. So I feel it is my job to teach them to be college students, at least in my class. That does not mean whole lectures on learning skills. It does mean occasional tips on how best to takes notes in my class. It does mean having very organized lectures (maybe too organized, for some people's views, but I am left-brained and like the structure of typical outlines.) It does mean reminding them of the learning outcomes of the class occasionally. It foes mean providing an agenda of the class period at the beginning.

Coming from a rhetoric and communication background, I learned early on about the research that audiences are not very adept at creating a structure for a speaker's message--that is the speaker's job. So I take that to heart. It doesn't make my class less rigorous.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tip of the Day Two

I like to use a lot of collaborative assignments. They don't need to listen to me lecture anyway. But, here's a tip: NEVER, NEVER let them pick their own groups. Never say, "You guys just get in groups." This is not the playground. In the work force they won't be able to pick their own groups, so they shouldn't in the classroom.

I micromanage groups for diversity and balance. I see no other way. And no, I'm not usually this dogmatic about everything. But random doesn't work.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Shallows Review

I don’t think I am the only one to whom this has happened. (And you can tell from the opener I am an English professor very concerned with the correct use of pronouns.)

I have before me, on a bright and sunny day, a stack of essays to grade for my English 1101 class. They need to be graded; they need my full attention; the students need helpful, solid feedback. I pull out my pen and start. Ah, but first, let me see if I have any messages on Facebook. That is important because, well, that is the way I communicate with the students in the Registered Student Organization I sponsor. So off to Facebook. No, no messages. Well, let me check the “Who’s Online” function because my son might be on and I have a prompting (from the Holy Spirit, I can argue) to see how he is and give him a word of encouragement. He is three hours away at college and has said his senior year is kicking his rear. No, he’s not online; that’s good, he should be working, and normally his Facebook account is always up. Oh, wait a minute; I am expecting an email on my Yahoo account from someone. Let me go over there. No, it’s not there, but on the Yahoo main page is an article on a certain subject, and I was going to check on Amazon for a book about that I had read a review about on the Christianity Today/Books and Culture website. So off to Amazon; oh, yes, better check my book while I am over there, to see if it moved up in ranking—no, it’s still higher than two million. Oh, well. Now what about that book? OK, well, it’s still more than I want to pay right now, but that book’s ranking is about 600. I need to stop buying books anyway. Uh, did I actually check my Yahoo email? No. Back to Yahoo. I notice that William Shatner is at the top of the list on “Who’s Trending Now.” Did he die? (as if I care or he’s a personal acquaintance). No, he’s going to be on some new show or something. Well, before I get into these essays on my desk that are crying to be read, I’d better check my email and my online courses website again. Oh, here’s a couple of emails I‘d better answer.

Sometime later, I have to go to the bathroom, and the coffee pot calls as well as nature. I come back from that adventure down the hall, but not before congratulating myself that I am getting away from my screen and my office chair to take a break. In fact, when I emerge from my office, I stretch and say to the passer-by, “I’m coming out of my hole.” When I return, the essays are still there. I start to grade them, and do finish, but then the grades have to be posted—where else, online.

The cycle continues.

And I’m exhausted.

Did I say it was a bright and sunny day? Why wasn’t I more tempted to go outside and listen to birds sing and feel the sun on my face?

Recently I checked out Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows from the campus library (I had to wait for it; someone else had it before me. I hate waiting for books from the library. How slow is that?) I found out I am not alone in my cycle of exhaustion created by the endless number of online sites I feel compelled to visit. I found out why. I found out that my brain is being restructured because of my use, nay, my dependence on the Internet. I have long suspected I had ADD, but, since I was born in 1955, it was back when nobody cared about it, and I learned to cope. And I have long suspected that my use of the Internet has exacerbated any ADD I might have.

It turns out I am right, Nicholas Carr tells me. In this immensely readable book, he explains how our brains are not machine-like information processors, but organic and adaptable creators; how our bodies and brains become one with our tools; how McLuhan was prescient about “the medium is the message;” how our memories cannot be outsourced to Google (my suspicions about the sinister nature of Google were somewhat confirmed); how we anthropomorphize computers and computer interactions; how user-friendly software makes us less likely to solve problems ourselves. This is just a taste of the topics in the book.

As a college instructor, I was especially interested in what he says about reading. While some Internet enthusiasts extol the virtues of our new-found ability to skip about, multi-task, and skim, our abilities and opportunities to do “deep-reading” are diminishing. This bothers me the most. I have long known that I did not read off of a screen well; I always attributed it to eyesight issues and lighting. But there is more to it than that. We are starting, Carr says, to read down a page in an F pattern. The first couple of lines fully, then skip a few lines, then a shorter part of the succeeding lines, then skip to the bottom. This analysis resonated with me. Whether this pattern is due to the visual difficulty of reading from a screen or the information overload and frenetic (that word or sense of that word appears a great deal in The Shallows) bombardment of visual sensations from the Internet, we are starting to apply that kind of “skimming” to reading from paper.

Carr delves into subjects of memory and mindfulness, among many others, in this book. I cannot do The Shallows justice in this review. It was as good as a futuristic horror story, a glimpse into a sort of dystopian culture like that of Brave New World. At least it was for me. Others will not be bothered by it. I don’t consider myself a Luddite, but I would like to stop the clock as far as the effects of the Internet are concerned (he writes about clocks, too, and maps, and how they affected our individual and collective brains).

What he doesn’t delve into, and this is a subject for a different study, is how the Internet is affecting our social relationships. The ability of Facebook to bring people together is a fiction, as far as I am concerned. Yes, it is nice to hear from old friends, and it is nice to chat with a few friends through that little box at the bottom of the screen. Nice—a vague word, a substitute word. However, I think we are just fooling ourselves. We can assuage our consciences that we have “communicated” when we have taken a few minutes to do what would have taken real commitment in the past. I know for me, I have become lax about sending greeting cards because I easily type “Happy birthday” on someone’s “wall.” Isn’t it the same? And I have saved myself the $3.00 that would have gone to Hallmark or American Greetings, and the 44-cent stamp. Efficient and cost-effective, and the person receiving the greetings should be just as happy.

Beyond this example, Facebook and other social media—just like emails and cell phones, do not expand our sense of connection to other people. They give us a false feeling of having done so. My son has over 1,000 friends on Facebook. He knows this is a joke; even worse, he doesn’t really care about the people on his “friends” list. I have “friends” whom I allowed on because I thought they were someone else (I have a mere 304 at this count.) Social media force us, I believe, through directing our attention to a computer screen, to narrow our social relationships.

As I have said before, I think Facebook is aptly named because it enhances our narcissism. As the character Narcissus died from admiring himself in a pond, Facebook lets us admire our trivial and ethereal posts, forever. It is a mirror, not a window to others. I love it when a Facebook friend can report on the last morning spent with his dying wife. I enjoy the pictures of a child’s first birthday. I laugh at crazy videos people post (and cringe at some of the others). I wonder who those people are in the pictures where my son is “tagged.” But--I loathe the “don’t know what to eat for lunch” posts. I get visceral reactions to “Having a bad hair day” updates. The old cartoon showed two dogs with their paws on mouses, one saying, “On the Internet no one knows you are a dog.” On the Internet, it is almost impossible to distinguish between worthwhile information and fluff.

Finally, and I know this to be the case, the Internet allows us to be even more selective about the information we access. If I just want to read right-wing websites, I can. I don’t have to be exposed to an alternative viewpoint. I think an argument could be made that as the media have proliferated, sources of the media have become more and more extremist, left or right. If I get all my news from MSNBC or CNN or Fox, but don’t overlap (and why should I?), I am limiting my vision, despite the fact there are more and more sources available. The availability of choices does not mean we use more choices. Furthermore, limiting of sources of information will only limit critical thinking because we do not have to sift and judge as to why the two or three versions of a story might be different.

I know, I know. Women are not supposed to be curmudgeons, and I would like to think I am not old enough to be one yet. I am a hypocrite because I am posting this to a blog. But I am deeply concerned that we are losing mindfulness, attentiveness, reflection, openness to human experience, awareness of the person standing beside us in line, empathy, and perseverance. The Shallows has forced me to examine where I get my information, how much time I spend online, how I depend on electronic devices to communicate, and even my time management decisions. If a book does that, I have to recommend it enthusiastically.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Teaching Students or a Subject

This is not a particular new question, but. . . how do you answer the question, "What do you teach?" Of course, most of us will say our discipline. Do you ever say, "Students?"

This hit me again the other day after listening to an exchange between a colleague and one of her students. Life is like that--a glimpse, a smell, a sound, a touch--can evoke deep and broad connections.

I like my students, but I don't see my job as teaching them as much as teaching a subject. This is probably because I am a firm believer in self-learning. WE learn best what we learn ourselves, in motion, not as passive sponges.

What do you think? Does it really matter how we answer that question?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Calling all College Instructors

I had an interesting experience last semester. In a lecture on perception, I mentioned (because I had been reading so) that people with autism (my brother has it) do not perceive less than others, but they perceive more and that their behaviors are to block out or filter or deal with the overload. One boy in the back of the room said, "I know that's true because I'm autistic and .... "

That's one of those "moments of truth." I often do not handle them well, but this one I did. Since the young man had not done anything that indicated autism to me (other than being nerdy), after he talked about himself I said, "Do you have Asperger's?" to which he said, "Yes, and ADD." Another young man in the class was giving me signals that he was in the same boat.

There is something ironic and yet appropriate about this incident--only a student with Asperger's or Austism Spectrum Disorder would just announce it so boldly in class. Later in the class, now that I was forewarned, I started to see his behavior differently, especially in one instance (maybe I'll write about it later) when he was particularly insensitive to a classmate and a social situation.

But this got me thinking, and I believe I have found an untapped research area, and one that really matters to students and instructors. How does average Joe or Joan college instructor--adjunct, instructor, tenure track, veteran--especially in an open-access college--deal with the autistic students who are going to start entering our classes, if the numbers are growing and if more and more access to education will be granted them?. I know I dealt with at least four this last year. And what about those in skill classes, especially a communication skills class, when that is the main area that distinguishes autistic students from typical ones?

There are two definitional problems. Labeling a student autistic is not really acceptable, but other labels are long and awkward. And normal is not a "good word" either. That aside, this is a real problem and I am going to study it, interview professionals and students, to see where it can go.

If you have any insights, let me know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thoughts to Explain Where We Are

The 18th and 19th Centuries

As usual, the text does what it does very well but eliminates some crucial elements of this period, called The Age of Reason or The Age of Enlightenment. This study guide is designed to guide you through what in the book you will be held responsible to know (that is, what I want to emphasize) and will at the end do the same in reference to the PowerPoint, which as you see is simplified but still important.

The Age of Reason actually started about 1680 with Isaac Newton’s work called Principia Mathematica and with the English Glorious Revolution. One of the ideas Newton and his contemporaries proposed was that the world, nature, or natural phenomena were measurable and could be recorded in mathematical formulas. If measurable, then it was understandable and controllable. Nature was now the primary field of study, as opposed to human beings alone; human beings were increasingly being seen as a part of nature, not separate from it (as Christianity taught). Nature was an extremely important word to the Enlightenment. Nature was seen as orderly and rational, as well as understandable and controllable.

Furthermore, in the Enlightenment view, Nature can be “divided up.” It was during the Enlightenment that Linnaeus broke down nature into species, classes, phyla, and orders, etc. Remember that this is before Darwin and evolutionary theory. Nature is also friendly, not the source of evil or misfortune, and because it is created by God to be perfect and orderly, it is the source of law. It is very common to hear in the Enlightenment discussion “Law of Nature” or “Natural Law.” Those terms did not originate in the Enlightenment but were used a great deal to explain the world and also to defend the “natural order,” such as kings, poverty, and lack of social concern. However, others used the idea of “natural law” to defend a moral order that came from within man’s ability to reason and think, and to defend human and civil rights as “natural.” A good example is found in the Declaration of Independence, where “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them” is seen as basic to all humans.

The textbook writers are correct in saying that this was an age of diversity, but I’m not sure they explain that fully. There were basically two ways of looking at the world in the Enlightenment. First was the conservative, defending how things were, defending that kings should hold all the power (Thomas Hobbes, enlightened despots/absolutism), defending that situations like war and famine were good for population control (Malthus), defending that free market capitalism should not be restrained (Adam Smith, laissez-faire), defending that the past has the best answers (Edmund Burke, the “Father of Conservatism), and defending that the Roman Republic should be idealized.

A common religion of the Enlightenment period was Deism, which has been described as “clock theology.” Deism says, “The universe, or Nature, is a clock. It has been designed perfectly; there has not been a fall of man, as Christian theology teaches, that has affected both human beings and nature and caused it to decay. It has been designed to keep ticking forever. God made the clock, wound it up, put it on the shelf, and walked away. It ticks; God doesn’t come back and intervene, nor does God need to, so there are no miracles or divine acts.” The Deists of the Enlightenment would not have rejected the morality of Christianity, but they would have rejected its belief basis, its cultus.

There is a line from Alexander Pope that symbolizes this view; at the same time, because the primary literary form of the period was irony or satire, he may have been making fun of it. “Whatever is, is right.” We often say, “It is what it is,” as a sort of resignation or “whatever,” but they were saying, “It is what it is, and it is what it is supposed to be.” You can see how this philosophy could be used to justify many unjust social conditions. It was not until the 1800s that solving social problems really became a major secular concern, although charitable acts had been important to some extent in the church. One exception, and a perfect example of the irony/satire of the period and the mixture of past-looking and forward-looking views, is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, which you can read and post about on the discussion page. Another exception was Fragonard’s painting, The Swing, which we will discuss in class.

The second view was the more progressive, revolutionary, or forward thinking; it did not reject all of the ideas I just mentioned but saw human reason and potential as capable of something better. John Locke, who actually lived in the 1600s, wrote the most important works on political theory as far as the United States is concerned. He argued that all humans have natural rights from God simply by virtue of being human and created in God’s image. Contrary to popular belief, Locke was actually a religious person and wrote on theology as well as politics, science, and psychology. In order to secure or protect those rights, people get together and form “social compacts;” governments are compacts that do not give the rights (we already have them) but make sure there is law and order so that we can exercise our rights. The basic rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. Obviously, Thomas Jefferson and the other “founding fathers” took his ideas, but modified the last of the three basic rights to “pursuit of happiness.”

Locke’s ideas were revolutionary. Other forward-thinking philosophers and writers who influenced the politics of this time were Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, and Diderot. Unfortunately, because the kings had so much power, these “revolutionaries” were often met with opposition. Revolutionaries promise to bring a new order where all citizens will be treated justly and where there is representative government, and rule of law, but it doesn’t always work that way.

By the end of the 18th century, there were two revolutions based on these Enlightenment ideals. One was successful, and one was less so. Why? Probably because of five reasons. First, the American colonists had 150 years of self-government already. Second, the American colonists saw themselves as Englishmen, and the English already had a parliamentary form of government. Third, there is something to be said for distance—the American colonists had less money and resources but were fighting on their own land, and the British were going to have increasing trouble controlling people thousands of miles away, although they eventually learned to be pretty good at it. Fourth, the revolution was being led by the wealthy, the educated, and the elite in the colonies, for the most part. Fifth, the religious difference comes into play (Protestant vs. Catholic), but that is a more complex argument. Protestantism has a less hierarchical idea, and some of the churches in the colonies were democratic or representative in the polity (church government). On the other hand, the French revolutionaries did not have a history of self-government, they were fighting on their own land and against their own people, and they were trying to get rid of the elite, not being led by them. In fact, their leadership grew more and more violent.

Furthermore, the book almost totally leaves out the Industrial Revolution (I.R), which began in England in 1750, not in the 1800s as the book states. The I.R. was transported to the U.S. and other parts of Europe in the 1800s, but the English were the first beneficiaries of it and also its first victims. Because the I.R. started there, so did the Romantic Movement, which was a protest against the I.R. The Industrial Revolution started because the English had a more open economic and banking system (capitalism), because they had a good navy for trade, because they had extensive colonies, because they excluded certain hard-working and profit-motivated religious groups from the professions and those people (called Dissenters, such as Quakers, Baptists, and Presbyterians) went into trade and commerce, because they were ahead of the game on the scientific principles needed for mass production (such as steam power), and because they had representative government and a more open view of political power.

The main thing I want you to get out of this unit is where it fits in the big picture, and how it affects our everyday lives. The Enlightenment Project, or modernism, is what we live with today. Modernism, started in this period, believes reason and the scientific method will champion the day and make mankind better, solving social problems. We don’t really question that as a culture, although some voices do (those called “postmodern”). It provides a “metanarrative” of human progress, as the Christian religion provides an overarching interpretative story of “redemption” from a fall into sin. We expect science to find more cures for diseases, for example. Of course it will, given enough time and money and smarts. Science equals progress and progress equals science and they both equal good.

Secondly, each period has its own “aesthetic” or “sensibility.” The Baroque was over-the-top, dramatic. Rococo was a sort of blip, like Mannerism, but its sensibility was also over-the-top, sort of a decadent Baroque. The Enlightenment and Neoclassicism were a return to a cool, calm, rational, universal, poised style, like the Renaissance. What we are seeing then, are two overall trends: each period is becoming more diverse and complex, and the pendulum is swinging between two human extremes of emotion and rationality, universalism vs. nationalism, the group vs. the individual, and emphasis on the objective vs. emphasis on the subjective.

Finally, what we will see in this unit, as the last, is the end of “culture as cultus.” At the beginning of the class, we saw how culture originally meant a shared belief system. The participants in a culture not only share dress, customs, language, resources, and geography, but they also share belief about many basic concepts: higher powers, education, family, power, politics, and even artistic expression. As we progress through the 18th and especially the 19th centuries, it is obvious that commonality in culture is disappearing. Diversity becomes the norm.

The expression in William Butler Yeats poem, “The Second Coming,” “Things fall apart, the centre does not hold.” What holds culture together is gone. So, the question is, can a culture continue if there is no center? What holds our U.S. culture together in 2010? What beliefs? Are those being challenged? It’s an interesting thought. But as we look at the various art (and if you look at the art in chapters 21 and 22), we see many “-isms.” That is, we see many different schools and ways of doing art, which reflect the many philosophically diverse views that begin in the 18th century, where man’s mind and experience, rather than a delivered religious revelation, become the guide to truth and reality.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The End--for Now

Thursday was my last official Teaching and Learning Center activity. For me, it's all over but the shouting--and the annual report. But not the end of this blog, which will chronicle my teaching experiences and put out questions in case people want to respond.

I have a policy. I am all business for the first 8-10 weeks of my COMM 1110 class, the one I teach the most. By then, I have "run off" (don't take that literally) the students who aren't going to stick around, either because they never planned to in the first place, or they have had personal issues (which I never condemn them for--it happened to me in a Ph.D. program), or they can't (choose not to) do the work. After that, I lighten up and shift the burden to the student. I bloviate less, leave the learning up to them, have more fun.

The nature of our students makes it unwise to lighten up any earlier than that.

What about you? do you follow a similar pattern? Or are you warm and fun all the way through? Or do you never alter your classroom demeanor (neither of which would I accuse anyone--we have far too little professionalism in the world now.)

Monday, April 12, 2010


Do you take attendance in your class? I can't imagine not, for the following reasons:

1. We are responsible for knowing when the students stopped attending, etc. for financial aid purposes.
2. I want them there to participate and listen to other students' speeches.
3. I can't trust them to make the right decision about attendance without an external motivator. I'm not proud of this one, but I do know about our current generation of students is that they do very little without an external motivator. We have created them, so we have no reason to blame them.
4. It motivates me to learn their names. After the second week I do not call role. I find that demeaning and a waste of time, and there are ways to get around it.

I understand why some instructors do not take roll, however. Yes, it's really the students' responsibilities to learn, absolutely. I agree with all that but don't plan on stopping my practice.

Next post: millennials--a myth?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cross Disciplinary Thoughts

The biggest advantage of Teaching and Learning programs is that it causes, or allows, professors in different disciplines to leave their buildings, their wings, or departments, and talk to people who teach--and more importantly, think--in terms of different disciplines. I had a great book discussion today with a biology professor, who was the only other one who showed up. On top of that, she was from another culture. Fascinating. I learned so much. But I have also found that many academics are either unwilling to learn or listen to someone in another discipline, or frightened by the prospect of it. Or just plain intellectually lazy, or afraid some turf will be surrendered by talking to someone from across campus.

I have read the research that professors are more loyal or committed to their disciplines than to their institutions. I understand some of that. But that shouldn't prevent us from (and here's the cliche I have come to disdain) "thinking outside the box" when it comes to teaching the same students. We can learn a lot from each other.

In fact, I am having a paper published on that subject, and will perhaps put the link here soon for it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Research on Student Evaluation of Teaching

Perhaps no practice in higher education pushes veteran faculty to cynicism and younger faculty to frustration more than SET—student evaluation of teaching. If you have ever received SETs that left you angry, scratching your head, or laughing at the irony of it all; if you have ever wished there were other ways to evaluate your teaching; if you have ever wondered about the reliability and validity of the SET process, you are not alone.

Although over thirty journal articles went into the preparation of this essay, that number represents only about 1% of all that have been published on the subject. According to Al-Isa & Suleiman (2007), 2988 journal articles on SET in higher education appeared in professional journals from 1990 to 2005. Furthermore, the ones published 30 years ago address the same concerns as the ones written in the last few years. As many of the articles echoed, faculty members routinely question the practice of SET.

Until I came to DSC, my experience with SET at five other institutions led me to conclude that SET was used to weed out the really poor teachers, but not to reward the better ones. Here I found out that I would need to earn a certain level of SET score to achieve my professional goals. I also learned it is possible to raise one’s SET scores. Few would disagree; the questions that puzzle and frustrate are whether raising one’s SET levels (1) constitutes pandering to the students and/or (2) reflects in any way that one’s teaching is actually getting better and whether the students have actually learned anything more.

Further questions revolve around whether SETs are the best way to evaluate teaching (other than being the cheapest and fastest); if the forms are reliable and, if so, reliable for what (generally, they focus on teacher behaviors, not teacher efficacy); and if students are really wise or aware enough to evaluate teaching in the first place.
Below I have attempted to summarize some of the research and bring to the surface the concerns the research addresses, or at least the concerns which motivate the research.

One of the most difficult questions to research is the correlation of student evaluation scores with real learning in the classroom. Jon Nussbaum researched communication styles of professors, specifically communication professors, at the University of West Virginia in the late ‘80s. He concluded that certain communication styles, most notably a “dramatic” one, create more affinity for a teacher, which leads to higher evaluation scores, and that this affinity leads to higher likelihood that the students would view their learning positively and change their behavior. However, he did not find that the higher affinity (popularity) resulted in more cognitive learning. After a certain level of affinity was reached, the amount of cognitive learning seemed to go down.

Richmond, Gorham, and McCroskey (1987) found the same in terms of immediacy: low immediacy correlated to low amounts of learning, moderate immediacy to moderate amounts of learning, but high immediacy did not get past the level of moderate amounts of learning, leading them to wonder if there is such a thing as too much immediacy. (Immediacy is discussed more fully below.)

But Nussbaum admits what we all suspect. If students are self-reporting on what they learned, that may not reflect what they actually learn, only what they think they have learned. It is extremely difficult to connect real learning to the scores on teacher evaluations; our methods are too “crudely measured” and the matter too “complex,” it is often argued in the literature. All anonymity would have to cease, and much of the value of SET is linked to its anonymity.

Some studies tried to get around this obstacle by focusing on perceptions of “value added” to the students’ cognitive learning rather than “raw amounts” of learning, or by assessing students’ performance in later classes. However, the concern that perception of learning has little relation to reality of learning remains.Of course, the question of correlation assumes the forms themselves ask the right questions in the right way. And of course, not everyone agrees on that point.

Another concern is that instructors will make a class easier in order to please students into giving them higher evaluations. The research conclusions are mixed on this point. Hessler and Humphreys explain,

Centra (2003) discovered that even after student outcomes of learning were controlled, expected grades generally did not affect students' evaluations of their instructors. In fact, particularly in the natural sciences, students who expected an "A" in the course rated the instructors consistently lower. In addition, the low rating of courses was due to students' perception of coursework as too elementary or too difficult. Courses rated as "just right" in difficulty level received the highest course evaluations. (2008, p. 187)

Along the same line, Yunker and Yunker (2004) found that students who had a highly rated professor for one accounting course actually did less well in the next accounting course than students who had a less popular teacher. In contrast, Ikegulu and Burham (2001) concluded that students' expectation of their course grades significantly affected the ratings of their instructors. The lower the expected course grade, the less favorable the faculty evaluation.

Therefore, the perception that popular teachers are easier teachers remains, and as long as some instructors get lower scores, will probably continue. “In brief, many university teachers believe that lenient grading produces higher SET scores and they tend to act on this belief” (Pounder, 2007, p. 185)

Related to the concern about “dumbing” down is that of discipline-specific issues in teacher evaluations. Although SET research has been done in specific fields, cross-disciplinary research and applying the findings on SET from one discipline to another is not a predominant theme in the literature. In 1982 Doyle wrote, “It seems most unlikely that any one set of characteristics will apply with equal force to teaching of all kinds of material to all kinds of students under all kinds of circumstance. . . . To try to prepare such a list entails substantial risk” (p. 27, ctd. in Stake and Cohernour, 2000, p. 68).

Further related to the concern about pandering to students is that faculty might be dissuaded from using innovative procedures or teaching methods because of students’ reactions. Many students expect the teachers to do most of the work in the classroom. Most teaching and learning experts advocate challenging that expectation and changing the practice based on it; that is, the writers advise that instructors should move from straight lecture to more learning-centered models. Those approaches don’t make it easier on the teacher, but young students may perceive them as cop-outs for the instructors, or we may simply suspect the students do, keeping us from changing to methods that make students responsible for their own learning.

A third major concern in the literature, one not really solved but one that probably motivates the biggest part of the research, is the use of the SETs for tenure and promotion. Most institutions utilize them significantly to make such decisions. Perhaps many faculty members, when hired, do not understand the place these evaluations will have in the overall process of promotion at those particular institutions, leading to quite a bit of resentment after the fact. Some faculty members truly fear the SET process. Theoretically, the forms, which began on a widespread basis in the ‘70s but go back to the ‘30s at a few large universities such as Purdue, should be used for improvement of teaching, not punitively. But many professors believe otherwise.

A fourth concern addressed in the research is the value that students put on the SETs, and how that value translates to effort and care in completing them. Whenever many of us conduct a SET for a colleague, we preface it with remarks about how important the process is to the institution. Does the message get across? Do the students really believe us, or are they so surveyed in this generation that it’s just another exercise in opinion-giving?

A fifth, but not unrelated concern, has to do with what preconceptions the students enter the classroom and how those affect the evaluation process. One word that pops up often in SET research is “immediacy.” Or as one source calls it, “an instructor's "warmth-inducing" behavior”. In fact, the research on “warmth inducing behaviors” is the most probative and frustrating, depending on one’s perspective. Research indicates that students expect these personal qualities, and sometimes at a very high level. Chonko, Tanner, and Davis (2002) surveyed business students and found that the following percentages of students expressed these expectations:
Interesting 11.9
Helps students 11.6
Communicates well 10.7
Easy to talk to 10.3
Good personality 7.9
Kind 6.0
Understanding 4.7
Interested in subject 4.0
Knowledgeable 3.4
Challenging 2.7
Enthusiastic 2.7
Fair 2.5
Loves to teach 1.9
Sense of humor 1.5
Wants students to learn 1.4
Easy-going teaching style 1.2
Experienced 1.1
Organized 1.1
Open-minded 1.1
Other 8.7
Items in the “other” category include
making class fun, listening, admitting
expenses, not belittling students, doesn’t
like to hear self talk, dynamic, easy, high
energy, gives walks, intelligent, reliable,
respectable, teaches at a reasonable pace,
well-rounded, does not make things hard. (p. 272)

Even in relation to teaching methods, student expectations may be off-kilter with our own. Kember, Jenkins, and White (2004) studied the perception of teaching methods based on the students’ orientation toward learning: students who were self-determining in their learning and viewed it as transformative vs. those who viewed learning as reproduction and teacher-based. Students judged their teachers not on the basis of their methods, but on the basis of what the students preferred. As many other studies indicated, expertise in one’s field ranked fairly low, but personal characteristics and what might be considered “communication style” characteristics ranked more highly.

What is meant by communication style? Norton defined it as “the way one verbally and paraverbally interacts to signal how literal meaning should be taken, interpreted, filtered, or understood” (1978). Communication style can be seen as part of “selling the product” and “setting it up” for students—not only how the teaching of the class’s materials and skills, but how you set up or “frame” the SET process. Many times the instructor is performing the behaviors listed on the form, but the students aren’t noticing. However, we can make them notice.

This need to prepare the students, at least a little, for the SET process is also borne out in the literature, which proposes that some students just don’t understand the questions. Their reading ability and general maturity level precludes their being able to complete the forms adequately. On top of the reading ability, the SET process is not always sensitive to cultural concerns. Does a 40-year-old Latino student view the form the same way a middle-class, white 18-year-old does? What about a student from an even more traditional cultural background ? Does a female student complete the form with the same frame of reference as a male student?

Furthermore, are the gender, race, age, accent, and fashion-consciousness of the instructor immaterial to the process? Centra and Gaubatz (2000), among many others, argue strongly for gender and ethnic bias in SET process. Does a senior approach it the way a freshman does? And are there significant generational differences in how the SETs are perceived and completed, for example, between how boomers and Gen Xers did compared to how Millennials do?

Other researchers concern themselves more about how to improve the process, either by communicating more clearly with students about the forms, by changing the forms, by controlling the timing of administration, or by using formative and not just summative assessment. Formative assessment involves asking the students for feedback earlier in the semester than at the official evaluation time.

Much of this advice is not based on hardcore data as much as on the writer’s conjecture. The thinking goes, “If I get negative evaluations, maybe it was because of when I gave them, so next time I’ll change the timing.” And does anyone really know if a teacher who uses midterm evaluations/feedback of their teaching really gets higher SET scores? Can we know, given with the multiplicity of factors involved? And does the use of midterm evaluations work because the instructor improves or because the students perceive an instructor who uses midterm feedback mechanisms as more immediate?

So, what do we do with this information? In some cases, the research supports our intuitions, experience, and prejudices about SET; in other cases, it debunks them. As mentioned before, the advice on SET is not based in research as much as it could or should be, but writers make the suggestions nonetheless. And this article will follow the same pattern, in the knowledge that an easy course does not automatically mean high scores, that students are often uninformed about SET and its goals and even the meaning of the questions, and that the expectations of the students when I walk in the classroom are sometimes wildly different from mine.

First, how should the faculty member respond to and use the forms? I have to admit to frustration with student comments and their inconsistency. Everyone reading this has had the same experience. We’ve all read those student comments that intimate the responsibility for their earning a college degree is largely ours, not theirs. It is probably best to look for trends over a couple of semesters; otherwise an instructor will become even more frustrated trying to change based on any one semester’s comments. But what really matters is separating the wheat from the chaff. If it’s a stray comment about your personality—or theirs--or a complaint about the fact that class is required, we just have to develop a tough skin. If it’s about pedagogical practice—too much PowerPoint day after day, for instance, or unclear tests, or regular but unexpected changes to the syllabus, or it’s a repeated comment, that’s something to consider.

It’s pretty clear that few faculty really like SET. But is there realistically any other way to evaluate teaching, other than more classroom observations? So my parting shots on strategies for improving SET scores revolve around making the best of the situation.

1. Teach to the test. It will help not only you but other instructors who will now have students prepared for the questions they will be answering. For example, I found students were writing that I didn’t let them ask questions when I knew I did. Now I draw their attention to it early in and throughout the semester: “You might evaluate me during this class, and it will ask if I (fill in the blank), well, I’m doing that right now.”
2. Timing is everything. Do your best to administer your forms as far away from a major test or giving back a major paper as possible. Should you do it at the beginning or the end of class? They will not be motivated to be thoughtful at the end of class, and will rush to leave, so the beginning might be better. (Of course, this suggestion depends on the availability of colleagues). Also, administer the forms as late in the semester as possible so that those who are going to fail or drop out are not there. Sometimes procrastination is helpful.
3. Pick a colleague to administer it that you know will be positive and give a nice little introduction.
4. If the form doesn’t ask what you want to know—do your own in addition. SALG—Student Assessment of Learning Gains ( is a useful online tool for finding out what students are learning--or not—and why. And you can use midterm (or earlier) evaluations or feedback, being sure you utilize the feedback in class and point it out to the students. Ignoring feedback after asking for it will only hurt your immediacy scores. (Linda Nilson suggested a simple form with the three words: Stop ____, Keep ____, and Start ____ .)
5. Give out snacks or chocolate the week and class before. Nothing spells immediacy like Little Debbies and Hershey’s Kisses. I’m kidding, of course, but not in essence. Immediacy is important, but of course it means more than sweets. Immediacy is communicated verbally and nonverbally, but the nonverbal controls the reception of the verbal strategies. Mehrabian (1967, 1971), the guru of nonverbal communication, said it is demonstrated by nonverbal behaviors of approach—forward body leaning, purposeful gestures, eye contact--leading to perception of warmth, friendliness, and liking. Kearney and Plax (1991) concluded that immediacy trumps many aspects of the classroom, such as how the instructor might try to get the students to comply with certain policies of the classroom or certain challenges of the material.

Why does immediacy work? There are two theories, according to McCroskey and Richmond (1992): (1) Arousal comes from the immediacy; the arousal leads to more attention to the learning task, which leads to more openness and thus more learning and memory; this theory relates to cognitive realm. On the other hand, (2) immediacy stimulates more motivation to learn in the student (largely because of identification and affinity) and thus to more learning, related to the affective realm. Which one is right? Does it matter? Immediacy works.

That could be a frustrating conclusion, especially for us Type-A personalities who want to get the material covered and move on, or for those who feel that the students are too needy, want a mother figure, and should just buck up and buckle down. But it’s really a liberating idea, when you think about it, and what your kindergarten told you: nice matters, even in SET.


Al-Isa, A. & Suleiman, H. (2007). Student evaluations of teaching:
Perceptions and biasing factors. Quality Assurance in Education, 15(3), 302-317.

Centra, J. A. (2003) Will teachers receive higher student evaluations by giving higher grades and less course work? Research in Higher Education, 44, 495-518.

Centra, J.A. & Gaubatz, N. B. (2000). Is there gender bias in student evaluation of teaching. Journal of Higher Education, 71(1), p. 17 ff.

Chonko, L.B., Tanner, J,F. & Davis, R. (2002, May/June). What Are They Thinking?
Students’ Expectations and Self-Assessments. Journal of Business Education, pps. 271-281.

Hessler, K. & Humphrey, J. (April 2008). Student evaluations: Advice for novice faculty. Journal of Nursing Education, 47(4), 187.

Ikegulu, T.N., & Burham, W.A. (2001). Gender roles, final course grades, and faculty evaluation. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education, 17(2), 53-65.

Kearney, P. & Plax. T. G. (1992). Student resistance to control. In Power in the Classroom: Communication, Control, and Concern. Edited by Richmond, V. P. and McCroskey, J. C. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Pps. 85-100.

Kember, D., Jenkins, W., Ng, K.C. (March 2004). Adult students perceptions of good teaching as a function of their conceptions of learning—Part 2. Implications for the evaluation of teaching. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(1),pps. 81-97.

McCroskey, J. C. & Richmond, V.P. (1992). Increasing Teacher Influence Through Immediacy. In Power in the Classroom: Communication, Control, and Concern. Edited by Richmond, V. P. and McCroskey, J. C. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Pps. 101-119

Nussbaum, J. F. (1992). Communicator style and teacher influence. In Power in the Classroom: Communication, Control, and Concern. Edited by Richmond, V. P. and McCroskey, J. C. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Pps. 145-158

Stake, R. E. & Cisneros-Cohernour, E.J. (Fall 2000 ) Situational evaluaton of teaching on campus. In Evaluating Teaching in Higher Education. Jossey-Bass. P. 51-72

Plax, T. G. & Kearney, P. (1992). Teacher power in the classroom: Defining and advancing a program of research. In Power in the Classroom: Communication, Control, and Concern. Edited by Richmond, V. P. and McCroskey, J. C. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Pps. 67-84.

Pounder, J. S. (2007). Is student evaluation of teaching worthwhile. Quality Assurance in Education 15(2), pps. 178-191.

Yunker, P. J. & Yunker, J.A. (July/August 2003). Are student evaluations of teaching valid?: Evidence from an analytic business core course. Journal of Education for Business, pps. 313-317.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Being a Christian in Academia

I was praying today for the other Christian faculty members on my campus. Not that I don't pray for the nonChristians--I do--but I pray that the Christians would be strong and winsome and wise. The ones I know are nice people and good colleagues and, while perhaps not the coolest people on campus, have good reputations. I would hope for more than just a good reputation, though, but spiritual influence.

Being a Christian on a secular campus means conflict in a couple of areas. Sometimes it's in terms of politics, but it shouldn't be. I really try to keep my conservatism under raps because I don't want it confused with my faith. While there are connections between the two, I don't have a "what would Jesus do" view of how I vote. Perhaps I should, but I don't, at least not totally. I don't know how Jesus would vote on health care reform. I suspect He would prefer a fiscally solvent government system, no way for irresponsible women to kill their babies, but also that poor people who are trying to work and make a living and care for their families are not excluded from reasonable medical care. But my suspicions may be really off; they often are.

I try to keep my politics to myself, but I haven't done a good job this week; I even admitted in class to voting Republican most of the time (although I have voted for democrats). Since I teach about political rhetoric, it's hard. However, one of the other teachers, a rabid Democrat and a Christian also, makes no bones about it. I have tenure now, so I'm not so afraid for my status. I just don't think it's ethical to be vocal about your politics in the classroom.

Related to the political one is sexual orientation. I'm good about this one, because I respect people and don't want any derogatory statements made in my class (one boy, not too bright, referred to "queers" the other day, which got a "watch-it" look from me). I oppose same-sex marriage; however, I don't mind a speech on it if it's done well (not one of those "people should be free to love whoever they want" kind of ditties).

More to the point, the other major issue is evolution. It's the elephant in the room. Many disciplines are influenced by it. I am not a biologist, so it doesn't directly affect me, but I know any credibility I have gained in the last six years would plummet if I told some of the biology teachers that I don't accept a 6 billion year old earth (nor do I accept a 6,000 year old earth). More on this later.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Differences in Disciplines

I work at a relatively small college that has grown rather quickly in the last few years with the addition of four-year programs and the influx of unemployed mill workers (the bulk of whom probably won't stick around when the mill reopen--sorry for the cynicism, but we have many students who sign up just to get the initial Pell check and then stop coming. They of course ruin their chances of ever getting any more scholarship money, but they waste a chunk of my taxes in the process, thank you very much.)

Because of the size of the college, we have the opportunity to speak and socialize and collaborate across disciplines. It's a service-oriented college, so we often work on committees, in the Advising Center, that kind of thing. So, the historians can work with the nursing faculty who can work with the computer science faculty. It's quite nice. I am working on a project with a Social Work faculty member, for example.

I would not like to work in a college where I could only work and associate with other speech or English professors. However, working with those in other disciplines allows us to see "how it's done" in other disciplines--how they approach teaching, data, problem-solving, students, and, for my purposes, communication.

On top of that, I teach English and communication. On the surface, one might say, "what's the big deal, aren't they really the same?" But they aren't. For one, the communication field uses APA documentation, not MLA. When I announced in an English meeting that the communication field uses APA, one professor acted appalled. "Why?" Because it's considered more of a social science, I said. Now, to an nonacademic it might seem like the difference between where to put some commas and periods, but it's really a difference of how to interpret data and what's important in research.

When I go to speech meetings, we have a good time. It's a bunch of fun-loving extroverts. We meet, get the business over with, and talk. When I go to English meetings, we probe ideas. Slowly. We analyze. It takes . . . time. And the ideas are of minimal importance in the long run, but they mean a lot at the time to the people involved.

The most recent example of this difference in disciplines was in a meeting yesterday. The combined departments put on a "this is what you can do with a liberal arts major" kind of program. When the English profs talked, it was, well,long-winded, narrative, and about them. I know they believe they were sharing, but after a couple of them it had relatively little value. When the communication profs talked, it was boom, boom, boom, to the point, short, and audience-centered. the program went on two hours, although I had left early, thankfully.

Now, I don't like to talk about my past and my journey to where I am, especially not in front of students. I used to be involved in a fundamentalistic group and don't want people to judge me now based on what I was twenty years ago. Odd, perhaps for a novelist. Anyway, I was a little surprised by the self-focused but well-meaning rambling of my colleagues. Ironically, my job was to get students to take my course in learning to communicate in the business world--boom, boom, to the point, short, and audience-centered.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Conference Update

My conference went great, thanks to the wonderful teachers at Dalton State College who presented. The PowerPoints will be available at by March 25.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Conference

If anyone reads this, come to Dalton State College, the Brown Center, firs floor, Friday morning, March 19, at 8:30. It's a conference on college teaching and learning. I'm very pleased. It will be awesome.

Book Recommendation

Over the weekend I read P.M. Forni's two books on Civility. They are book club selections for the Teaching and Learning Center I am in charge of (but not for much longer). They were chosen because teachers were interested, or concerned, about student incivility and many colleges are reading them. Not too many of our faculty are reading them, but I have to read all the selections to lead the discussions.

I learned a few things, and can say I'm not sorry I took the time to read the books. But they are the kind of book that will have an impact on you if you have an open mind. He's not heavy handed, actually he's rather winsome, although a little preachy at times. We can't remember all the rules, but we can remember the basic principles of attention, awareness, and respect, among others.

I am not sure why someone would want to follow his advice, though. His motivation is that if everyone did, society would be more, well, civilized. And there may be some truth to that. However, I think the motivation has to be much deeper, either from a sense of the glory of God or a sense of moral rectitude toward other people no matter what, or a recognition of the imago dei.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Back To Work

I have been on spring break (kind of early--the rest of the universe is starting theirs now or next week) but tomorrow must go back to the real world of 5:30 a.m alarm clock ringing. At least I don't have to drive in the dark now.

I made the mistake (well, I was trying to be gracious and give them more time, but it meant more work for me) of having my students who needed extra time send in their outlines half-way through the week. I didn't get a good response--only about half got them in on time. On top of that, it had to be submitted to One student flagged 82%. I wrote her a pretty scathing email. I wanted to say, "Do I have stupid written on my forehead," but instead made it about her, and that I could have her taken up before the disciplinary committee and fail the class or worse. I wanted to put them fear in them. Most had less than 15%, which I don't worry about.

What's your opinion of turnitin? I don't like it, but is it a necessary evil?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Life as a Teacher

Am I the only person who teaches who sees all of life as fodder for the classroom? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The bad part of it is that as I get older and still have to teach to pay the bills (because people my age will not get Social Security til they are ninety, well, I'm kidding, maybe 70 or 72)--what a detour, anyway, as I get older my personal examples from life or movies may grow more and more irrelevant and doddering. I already have grieved over the death of my sense of humor. I thought I had one, but alas, my students don't think so. (Again, kidding a little, but they just don't get my jokes, they don't watch the TV shows I do, they don't go to the movies I do--I refuse to watch Twilight just because.....I feel so old!) The other bad part is that even if my humor and references were hip, that doesn't mean they really add anything to the task at hand, that is, learning the class concepts, instead of being a pleasant distraction and heaven knows our students don't need any more distractions!

The good part of it is that it gives one's life a holistic feel, and I am really into holism as long as I can still enjoy what I eat.

I bring this up because a friend and I went to the see The Last Station this afternoon at the only theater in town that shows artsy-fartsy movies about people like Tolstoy (as opposed to movies about oversexed teenagers, vampires, sports heroes, and Jason Bourne). I enjoyed the movie--very good acting and script and visuals--although I could have done without that actress's boobs ten feet long on a big screen, and I learned something about Tolstoy I didn't know and will read more about him. So I'm trying to figure out where this will fit into a class I teach, perhaps the one on Humanities? Or introduction to literature? (No, don't bring out Tolstoy; they'll freak.) Anyway, it will come up somewhere, but my life was enriched anyway by learning about Russian literary history, and maybe I'll break down and read War and Peace and find out what a real novel is like, since mine seems to be ignored by most people.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Governor Perdue to the Rescue

The governor of Georgia has stepped in and told the legislators to quit fearmongering about massive budget cuts and 35% tuition. Thank goodness. Maybe we will get some soundness in this debate.

The issue of faculty members on facebook has come up again at

Again, why I don't want students on my facebook page, but this story goes deeper into issues of privacy, professionalism, and public speech of faculty members. I have two blogs to publish my own thoughts and sometimes they are not "politically correct," and some of my colleagues and students wouldn't like, but there's a line you don't cross on the Internet. That line is talking about your students in a public forum. In my book, you don't talk to students about other students or about colleagues, no matter how much they might try to bait you into it ("Professor X is not fair because ....."). And you also don't talk about students where other people can see it.

On the other hand, there is way, way too much sensitivity about everything nowadays. Toughen up, people. Life's going to get rough before it gets easier, and it doesn't pay to be so thin-skinned.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Promise I Won't Do This Much

However, this entry, although also posted to my other blog, was too priceless, and it's very related to college teaching.

From a student. This is why I shouldn't let students on my Facebook page.

so this weekend,I was in D'iberville mississippi in Target. I was walkin to the bathroom when i received a call from NAMED FRIEND. As I walked in the restroom I finished my call and hung up the phone. Took a REDICULOUS dump, Then I got up to was my hands realizing a young attractive lady was standing beside me. t...urn around 2 find NO urinals on the wall.thanks Bro for "just wanting to talk"

This tops the one I got a few weeks ago from a former co-church member who was fussing and whining about people posting about their kids' vomit. And this from a woman who posted a picture of her husband's butt crack.

Do you let students on your facebook page? Why or why not? Do you have a separate page for them as friends versus others? I figure I am available through email on two separate platforms, so I'd personally like to keep my friends my friends and my students my students in cyberspace, although there is a lot of overlap in real space.

Hot topic: Civility

The big hot topic in college teaching and learning is classroom incivility. That's an unfortunate choice of words, as I have been quoted in a video as saying, because I think "incivility" assumes intent and a great deal of stupid behavior called incivility is plain cluelessness. I prefer to call it unproductive behavior and assume most of if comes from lack of skill and knowledge of the academic culture, or from lack of ability to deal with the stressors of college life. I truly believe that.

I also truly believe some of it is a power play and intentional. The challenge is for college instructors (not those elitists, teach-one-class-a-semester types who produce research nobody reads, but real instructors and assistant and associate professors) to be able to slow down, proactively think it through, and respond based on a judgment of whether the behavior is stress-related (often the case at my college), cluelessness (more and more common because young people are not being taught at home), or an intentional attempt to disrupt the class for narcissistic reasons.

Monday, March 1, 2010


As part of my (almost former) job as TLC Coordinator, I have led a number of book discussions. We have read over the past three years:
Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do
Huba and Freed, Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses
bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
Gabe Lyon, UnChristian
Rebekah Nathan, My Freshman Year
MaryEllen Weimer, Learner-Centered Teaching
Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences
Jean Twenge, Generation Me
Kathleen Gabriel, Teaching Unprepared Students
P. M. Forni, Civility books
John Bean, Engaging Ideas
Rebecca Cox, The College Fear Factor

We read two other books that were only tangentially related to teaching and learning.

Would I recommend some of these books over others? Yes. bell hooks is interesting but unpractical. Generation Me is depressing. The College Fear Factor, Teaching Unprepared Students, and some of the learning-centered books are practical for those who teach in open-access. Bain's book is one of the best but almost all his examples are from elite institutions. Gabe Lyon's book is a religious version of Generation Me.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

One more and I'll get off this subject ....

I spoke with my representative this morning. (We go to church together, but in another state; I voted for him, so I was off the hook on that count. If you're trying to figure out how we go to church in a different state, it's because we live on the border near a big city, another clue.) He didn't know that tuition hikes were off the table. I think they are going to have to raise tuition, but raising taxes is another matter. I would be against raising taxes, fiscal conservative that I am. The long-term effects would be bad. And I think USG students should pay the price for their education, even if it means brown-bagging (which would take care of it for most of our students.) It might thin our ranks some more; we have an inordinate number of students who are in our classes only because they have nothing better to do and have to be on parents' insurance.

Finally, if my pay is going to be diminished by $250 or more a month, I don't see why students shouldn't pay $50.00 a month more.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

This link is a discussion of GA higher ed. budget cuts. As a colleague wrote, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

Education is always the red-headed stepchild of the budget wars. Legislators want to protect their jobs, and can always play off the stereotype of "pointy-headed, ivory tower academics." Yeah, right. I defy anyone to work as hard as I do for the money I make, as a general ed prof in an open-access public college.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Georgia Budget Cuts, Revisited

OK, now I'm giving away that I work in a public college in GEORGIA. Yesterday we received a fright-inducing email from our president that our governing body, the Board of Regents, is going to expect us to cut our budget 2.4 million dollars more for FY2011. That may not sound like a lot, but our budget two years ago was only 15 million and now with accumulated cuts will be less than 11 million, despite the fact we have had explosive growth rates.

The email stated that the administration may have to call for financial exigency, which means tenured faculty can get fired. It then stated there would be a meeting today to talk about it; the crowds came out. It seems that firing faculty is going to happen at our college, no matter how vociferously we complain. I do not feel insecure about my own job; I have tenure, am on the SACS committee, teach two necessary disciplines, and don't make that much in the first place! But perhaps up to ten faculty members could be let go, at a time too late for them to look for jobs. This is unethical, especially for Ph.D.s who have left other positions across the country. But it happens. There will be lots of other cuts, some of which are probably reasonable.

The irony, and this is my point, is that the legislature is not going to allow tuition and fee increases. That is bizarre. It is incomprehensible to me. We are saying "we have excellent education but you don't have to pay for it." A credit hour at my college is $84.00; a full load of 14 hours is less than $1400.00. (My son goes to a private college where the tuition is between $8 and 9,000).

The only reason the tuition is not being raised, say, to $2,000 a year, is that the legislators don't want to take the hit on this. So we do. My pay will be reduced by 5% next year because we will be taking ten furlough days; this year we had six. But the legislators want to come out smelling like roses by not raising taxes and tuition/fees, when Georgia has one of the lowest tuition rates in the country. Forty-five states have higher. Check out Sounds fishy to me.

I know things are tough all over. I know more taxes is not always the answer. I know, I know. I only ask that students pay for what they are getting.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


One of the "hottest" topics in the college pedagogy world is "diversity" and/or "multiculturalism." The follower of Christ who works in a college environment, especially as an instructor or professor, is both blessed and challenged in terms of this subject.

On one side, we know our faith and world view transcends culture and we should be (I say should be) able to see beyond cultural limitations and not be affected by prejudices. We know Revelation 5, where people of every tribe and tongue and nation will worship at the throne of God in the future kingdom. We know that God is love and our first job, before we even think of professionalism, is to love our students, to treat those students sitting in our class as God treats us. We know the beautiful, quiet, dark complected girl in the head scarf is as loved by God and as worthwhile to Him as the little blonde cheerleader.

On the other side, the philosophical implications and the practical applications of the "diversity talk" is a problem for us. I will explore this later; I want to stay positive on this blog. But I will end with an experience I had today. It reminds me how complicated the subject of diversity and multiculturalism and sensitivity can be.

I have a student from a South American country. She came to my office for help with her informative speech because she is very new to the country and her English is really not where it needs to be for her to take college courses. She's bright, she'll get there, but why she's in my speech class I don't know (well, I do know, but that's another matter, too.) I asked her how she ended up at our college in our area, and she said she was in Atlanta but had friends in this town. I mentioned that at least here, there were many Latinos and she would at least be around people who spoke her language (the population of the town my college is in has over 50% Latino population, almost entirely Mexican). "Of course," I said, "I know most of them are from a different country, a different culture."

I detected a little offense in her response. You see, she is not Mexican. "I do not want to be around poor people." Her idea of Mexicans, the predominant Latinos in our area, was negative. Spanish or no Spanish (and her version of Spanish is definitely not a Mexican version, even I can tell that), she preferred not to be around the Mexicans even if it did mean someone to speak her mother tongue with.

No matter how hard we try, there's no accounting for human nature's propensity to be suspicious of those who are not our kind. And no amount of multicultural and diversity training is going to free us from it.