Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Learning Works

This book, I believe published in 2011, and written by Michelle Dipietro et al, is fabulous.  New teachers and veteran teachers both must read it.  Unfortunately, it is expensive; I got mine through interlibrary loan.

I am applying to an Ed.D. program at UGA.  I hope . . ..  .

Monday, October 31, 2011

Speaking Engagement

I will be speaking on creative fiction writing and my own writing journey at the Catoosa County Library on Sunday, November 13, at 2:00.  I will also read from my work and sign books.

Different look at Millennials

The article below is from Chuck Colson's organization, Breakpoint Ministry.  It is a totally different look at Millennials.
I have sat through, and read, countless presentations on the Millennial generation, the good and bad.  Usually these presentations revolve around Millennials' use of (dependence on) technologies, their different views of knowledge and knowledge acquisition (learning), their different work ethic (not bad, just differently motivated), and other issues related to college classroom pedagogy.  It is important information, and I would encourage anyone unfamiliar with it to get cracking.  

I have a Millennial at home, and some of what I hear is true of him, some of it is not, because he was raised by two old farts who didn't want him to be a product of his generation.  We didn't have cable till he was 17, and he was expected to work and pay his own bills, etc.  But what is below is true of him and his work situation, and it is causing his some angst, as well as me.

Generation Limbo
Hope for Struggling Young People
October 31, 2011
The poet Gertrude Stein called the young survivors of the First World War the “Lost Generation.” Now the media have noticed an updated “Lost Generation” — or what The New York Times calls “Generation Limbo”: Young people generally between the ages of 18 and 29 have lost all hope because of the current economic crisis.
Also called Millennials, they have “literally lost their future,” according to columnist Elise Jordan. She bases this conclusion on just-released data from the U.S. Census. And the data is grim.
The employment rate for this age group is at its lowest level since World War II, falling 12 percentage points just since the year 2000. The number of Americans aged 25 to 34 who are living with their parents has jumped by over 14 percent since the Great Recession began, to a total of 5.9 million.
Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies found that one in three young families is below the poverty line. Of those with children, 36 percent are in poverty.
And, as I’ve mentioned before, the economic meltdown is driving down the marriage rates of working-class young people, while driving up the rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births.
And the problem reaches all economic and social levels. The New York Times speaks of “Highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.”
This Generation Limbo is in desperate need of hope. Jordan notes that today’s shell-shocked Millennials, “rather than turning to literature or the arts or even booze, dull the pain by worshipping the cult of celebrity, wondering why their own specialness doesn’t translate into hefty paychecks.”
Quite a picture! But we know what they need, don’t we?
This economic crisis can be a great spiritual opportunity for the Church. Think about it: Man doesn’t live by bread — or economic prospects — alone. We must not only preach this kind of lifestyle, but model it before a watching world. We need to show young neighbors that faith in Christ makes sense during the good times and the bad times.
No, I haven’t forgotten that many young people today, according to the book UnChristian, look on evangelical Christians with suspicion. One reason is that they often accuse us of talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
But that’s why our witness has to be authentic — and tangible. I can’t help but think of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Folks banded together, helped their neighbors, fed and clothed the down and out. Well, when young people see us engaged in such visible signs of love in Christ’s name, it will make an impression.
Here are a few questions to consider: Do you know any young non-Christians? If any were to visit your church, would they feel welcome? How can your church tailor its ministries to help struggling members of Generation Limbo in practical ways?
The answers will be different whatever context in which you find yourself in. But don’t wait for members of the Millennial Generation to walk through your church doors. Maybe you should go find them.
So why not take a simple first step? Invite a young non-believer over for coffee and just listen.

Learning: Not a Zero Sum Game

I think this word sums up what is wrong with a lot of people's thinking.

The economy is not a zero sum game.  It is not one big pie that has to be cut up into more and more smaller pieces.  We create more pies; we can create more and more pies to feed more and more people.

Now, I know the response--this is capitalism, and capitalism exploits the environment by using up resources.  But capitalism as a way of thinking can find ways not to use resources and still create wealth.  It happens all the time.  Capitalism frees people to use their creativity and innovation to create wealth and by doing so create jobs.

Learning is not a zero sum game.  My students think their brains are only so big and that they must protect their brain capacity.   But neuroscience has proven that learning creates more synapses.  However, as capitalism creates wealth through hard work, learning creates more "brain capacity" for knowledge through hard work.   Learning takes effort, something no one wants to admit to; "LEARNING SHOULD BE FUN!" (where did that come from?  Disney, the people who have used capitalism to sell fun.)

Life is not a zero sum game.  If the land is too small to grow crops, either find a way to produce more crops from seed or start using towers to grow food.  I think if we see life as a zero sum game, we only fear want when it doesn't have to exist.

It all depends if you believe we live in an open system or closed system.  I believe we are in an open system.

Grades: So bad as motivation?

Some colleagues and I got into a discussion about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation the other day.  We were in a discussion group about course redesign.  Most expressed a negative sense about grades and using them as motivators.  To be contrary, I disagree.

Grades are good motivators.  Why should a student strive for the highest grade he/she can get in a class?  I am not even sure I consider a grade an extrinsic motivator, for a couple of reasons.  It doesn't always translate into money, a real extrinsic motivator (I'm not sure it ever did for me), and often the grade is earned because the student is engaged and also wants to please the instructor and himself/herself (all intrinsic). 

To me, it is bad teaching if the student can earn the grade without the kind of deep, engaged, paradigm-changing-learning that we want for them.  Why are you giving good grades to students who haven't experienced this kind of engagement?  is the question I would ask.  The fault lies in our assessment methods (multiple-choice tests), not in the students' desire for good grades.  Asian students get awesome grades--do we assume they are motivated wrongly?  They are simply motivated, holistically. 

Because our students come to class with different levels of ability, grades sometimes reflect the deficiencies in their backgrounds.  But so would level of engagement.  We can't just measure how excited a student gets about a class period, either; not all of us wear our excitement on our fields.  This is why writing assignments, reflective practice, collaboration, etc.  are so important.  And what I am learning is that less is more.  Maybe by the time I retire I will finally understand that concept.  At the same time, read my Zero Sum Game post.  I think the students should, and could, work twice as hard as they do.  All the research says they spend much less time on class preparation and study than they should; the old rule of two hours for every one in class is not anywhere near what they do.  People rise to the level of (reasonable) expectations and responsibilities we place on them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MaryEllen Weimer thought

I have not posted to this blog in a long time, but as my blogging is a ministry, I need to come to it with that attitude.  I received this email (article posted on website) from Faculty Focus this morning.  I hope it's ok to post this.  I found it just what I needed this morning.  It is from MaryEllen Weimer, who writes a lot about learner-centered teaching.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Attempting to Use New Technology

I want my students to use MovieMaker for their Humanities projects, so I have to learn it.  Last year I got the technologist to do it, but she moved on to a new job.  But it was a lot of fun to learn, although time-consuming.

Here is my attempt; it does double-duty as a trailer for my novel.  It's not perfect, though, to say the least.


Monday, September 26, 2011


I have several copies of my novel that I will sell for $10.00 a piece, signed.  I'll ship or hand-deliver.  Send me a comment and it will come to my email.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Higher Education by Hacker and Dreifuss

I finished this book last night, although I have to be honest and say I skipped the chapter on athletics.  No one has to convince me that college athletics is a big problem all the way around, for the athletes, the non-athlete students, and the college system.   The only winners are the over-paid coaches and the maniacal boosters. 

The book questions whether higher education in this country really is higher education (thus the ? in the title).  To some extent the writers come at the question as I interpreted it—is what’s going on in colleges and universities really higher than, say, high school, in terms of intellectual activity, thinking processes, challenges, etc?  More about that below. 
They, however, are more concerned with the bang for the buck end of it.  Students, or their families, may pay over $100,00 for a college education, but why, and what is the value added?  The why is due to sports, fancy dorms that don’t look anything like the barracks we had back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, ridiculous pay for presidents (why should a college president make more than the President of the U.S.?), and escalation of non-instructional faculty on campuses, with directors of diversity, etc.  Another big culprit is tenure, which is supposed to protect us from encroachments on academic freedom and free speech, but is unnecessary for that and only allows tenured faculty to stay around past their usefulness and/or get lazy and less and less productive. 

Now, I am tenured, although  some would argue I don’t deserve it or qualify for it (limited research, no doctorate).  And occasionally I say to myself, stop knocking yourself out, you have tenure and can’t get another promotion, so what’s the point?  And I do plan to work until I’m 70, which may be past my prime, but I don’t know what Social Security will do in ten years.  And I still would like to finish the doctorate so I can get an administrative position.   So I sort of buy their tenure argument and think something new should take its place.  On the other hand, I have it, and worked hard for it, and tenure is very hard to get in many places, more because of politics and infighting than quality of performance.  The old timers control it, and can sabotage anyone whom they don’t like or think is ideologically in the right direction.  Ending tenure might bring new and fresh ideas in to the academy (and get rid of a lot of old-style left-wingers).   It might mean a college has to work to get good faculty because there is more mobility—an assistant professor doesn’t feel like he or she has to stay somewhere to get the golden ring of tenure.

As for whether college adds anything, as my son said today, it shows you can learn.  It shows a certain level of independence, of initiative, or stick-to-itiveness, and yes, intelligence.  It shows a certain level of exposure and awareness.  It does not show moral reasoning or living, as it should, however.  It doesn’t necessarily show good writing or critical thinking skills, although it should (here, I refer you to Academically Adrift).  There’s a reason only one-third of the population has a bachelor’s degree.  It demands something of you.  But I would agree that for some reason, it’s not doing all it should, and just like the dollar has devalued over the past fifty years, so has a college education.  My son, even in this economy, should not have had to apply for 250 jobs in the last four months and find that his best offer is in retail sales. 

Another concern is whether college creates any social mobility, especially for minorities.  It has for women and Asians, but not so much for African-Americans, American Indians, and Latinos, at least not yet and not to the extent it has for white females and Asians of both genders.   This is also the argument behind Academically Adrift (Higher Education? is in many ways a just more breezily-written version of Academically Adrift).

Hacker and Dreifuss also go after the lifestyles of presidents and tenured faculty and students of the private colleges that are considered elite, Williams, Davidson, the Ivies, etc.  The schools cost too much, the families who send their children there are wealthy, the presidents make too much, and so do the faculty, who get sabbaticals.  They go on and on quite a bit about these matters before they get to the reality of higher education:  community college and state colleges, where instructors teach 5-5 or 5-4, where there is really no faculty governance, where there is no such thing as a sabbatical, and where salaries are dependent on state legislators and faculty are in danger of furlough. 

My main fight with the book is that it presents the elites as the norm and rule rather than the exception, although they admit that the vast majority of students  are in the “salt mines of higher education” (my phrase).  However, they don’t talk about what’s going on in these places, where tuitions are pretty low and teaching is the goal and instructors work 40-50 hours a week and there is no prestige, but we like our jobs anyway and there’s some great teaching going on.    It’s a lot sexier and divisive to talk about six-figure salaries at Hofstra and Princeton. 

So, I’ve read the book, but I can’t recommend it to anyone outside of academia because it perpetuates myths when we “real” college instructors need to do some P.R. about our job requirements. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What I am Reading and How It Affects Teaching

I have not posted in a while.  I am overwhelmed with work.  I am tempted to start posting about the realities of teaching in a state, open-access college.  The reason is what I am reading, both for personal enjoyment and for professional readings, and I'd like to comment on it right now.

Detour:  On this beautiful Saturday afternoon, I am inside, although I plan to remedy that later and walk the dogs.  However, I started taking an anti-inflammatory medicine called Torodal (sounds like a Spanish bullfighter) that has more warnings than the hormones I used to take.  I am only supposed to take it with food, only for five days, and with nothing else, and it may causes bleeding ulcers and all kinds of horrible things.  It definitely causes upset stomach, although it's better today than last night.  I am going to take it today and see if it helps the pain I'm in, mostly joint and muscle in my feet and hand.  But it's supposed to make me drowsy and I don't want to drive very far while taking it, thus I'm in and blogging, something I'm very far behind on with both my blogs.

The first book that is sitting beside my chair, face down, is Sway, by the Brafman brothers.  It is a lot like Cialdini's book, Influence, but with different examples.  I just read two chapters that made a lot of sense about teaching.  In one, they recount an experiment where people were paired with a partner, whom they could not see, and asked to split a sum of money.  If person A (initiator) offered 50/50 split, almost always Person B would take that.  If person A offered at 55/45, or more lopsided split, when the experiment was done in American, almost no one ever took the money.  We Americans have our own definition of fairness; we also have a sense that we shouldn't have to take stuff from others, I think.  But the Brafmans rightly focus on the fairness, and use other examples to show that we are often more "irrationally" focused on the process than the outcome.  Rationally, we would still get the money, just a little less, but that doesn't matter to us.  Of course, in other cultures it didn't always work out like this.

This clicked with me because I have found that students are far more concerned with the process than the final grade in evaluating an instructor.  Now, that may seem contradictory; of course the student doesn't want to get a lower grade from an instructor, but they won't dislike or dismiss one just because of the low grade.  They are more interested in the fairness of the process of the low grade, in their minds.  This means to me that an instructor cannot be arbitrary and go with her gut to assign grades.  Good instructors are process oriented; they provide clear directions and clear indications up front of how they will evaluate.  Call them rubrics if you like.  It also is a matter of giving a student a fair hearing, a truly fair and sincere one, not an "I'll listen to you but ignore what you are saying."  I find the best response I can give a student when he or she complains or asks for special treatment is "the other students are being held to a standard you are asking not to be held to.  I can't do that.  It would be unfair."  If it's a matter of I don't want to, it's what's best for you, the course has to be rigorous, you won't learn if I'm not being hard on you, etc., they don't much care. 

One time a student approached me (in front of class, of course) to ask why he got an 85 on a speech.  I thought that was a reasonable grade, but this student was under the impression he was supposed to get all As; his father, I learned later, was a high school principal.  Interestingly also, he and three female friends (one a girlfriend, one her sister) ganged up to give me miserable ratings on my evaluations (here you can tell patterns like that).  Anyway, after listening to the student complain about his grade, I said, "Do you feel like some sort of injustice was done here."  Although he deserved that kind of remark, I regret it.  It was snarky.  I really didn't care about his complaint; I just wanted to put it back in his court and say, "you know, it's just a few points.  Suck it up.  It's not the end of the world."  He was going on like he was persecuted, but my saying tat wasn't appropriate.  Of course, it shut him up, and I don't know what else I would have said.

In Sway they also deal with the inadequacy of extrinsic motivators, particularly money.  In short, the pleasure centers of the brain, which are motivated by money, are in conflict with the altruistic part of the brain.  People will do things to help others more readily than for money.  Bringing money into the equation is activates the pleasure center, and then it has to have continual stimulation (like cocaine, they claim). 

The other day I used some of this information, somewhat unwittingly, in my class.  I have been told that I need to get my D/W/F rates down, from 36%.  I chose a realistic goal of 30% for my performance evaluation.  But I told my class I needed their help.  I just came right out and said that on my performance evaluation I will be expected to have higher completion rates in the course, and that not only would their sticking around and finishing out the class be to their benefit (because obviously it would--the class is not going away for them and they have already spent time and done work, another concept in the Sway book, that is, the longer a commitment the more difficult it is to change) but it would help me out to.  Some of them were not doing well but I said they still had time to make a new start and stick with it, and almost all my students get As or Bs if they just do the work.  Plus, I said, you're going to have much harder courses than this, like Math 1111 and Biology 1107.  One student (albeit a nontrad) wrote me a note and handed it to me after class, telling me that she enjoyed the class and how I taught and that people didn't drop out because of me.  That was nice.

So what else am I reading, which I will post on later?

Academically Adrift (faculty reading group)

Blumberg's book on Learning-Centered Teaching (faculty learning community)
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
One.Life by Scot McKnight
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris (for literary reading group at the college)
Higher Education?  by Hacker and Dreyfuss (the one that is making me want to rant about the real world of higher education--it ain't Harvard and Yale, baby.)
There are several others on my bedstand--A Mill on the Floss, Elizabeth McCracken's book on the death of her baby, A Diary of a Country Priest, and my own novel which has been set aside; Calvin's Institutes, and some works on presidential rhetoric. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Frittata, the Perfect Dish

I am not a cook, and rarely write about food.  My latest novel is going to have food as a theme, though, so I am going to throw something in here about a very easy dish for summer or anytime, the frittata.

Basically, a frittata is a glorified omelet, but it's easier to make.  You can throw anything you want into it, let it cook 5-10 minutes in a skillet, and there it is, to be eaten with a salad, soup, vegetables, or alone.

Start with a potato.  Dice it up and fry it in olive oil in a pan that is at least 10 inches side and preferably nonstick.  Thrown in some onions, peppers, jalapenos, olives, etc. to saute with the potatoes.  When the potatoes, which should be small, are cooked enough that they are edible (soft), beat about 8 eggs very well and pour on top of what's in the pan.  You can throw in chopped chicken, shrimp, sausage, bacon, or ham (I wouldn't suggest beef).  Then top with whatever kind of cheese you like, feta, mozarella, colby.  The cheese should be grated or crumbled fine.  Cover it and let it cook for 5 to ten minutes, when the middle of the frittata is done (use the old knife comes out clean trick).  Flip it onto a plate and slice like a pizza. 

I am putting this recipe here for a couple of reasons.  One, I haven't posted in a while and thought it was time.  Second, this is practical, and too often my blog is about me whining.  Third, to prove a point.  Yesterday our college's webmaster came in and said I had to put a disclaimer on my blog or take the link off the school's webpage.  At first I said I would take the links off, and then I changed my mind.  So I am putting something entirely innocuous here in case someone checks it to see if I am writing subversive stuff.  By the way, this was not the webmaster's fault, he was just the messenger; I am not criticizing him.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

QEP: Writing

A friend who is leading the QEP at another college sent me a somewhat desperate email the other day about how were we doing the writing of the QEP?  Well, this is what I told her. 

We didn't start writing until the whole thing was hashed out. We're still hashing a bit, but the main points are done. 

We split into four subcommittees to do the sections:  Introduction/Rationale/Objectives/Student Learning OUtcomes + Lit review on best practices + Actual Plan and Budget + Assessment.  The Editor is doing the executive summary and we are all responsible for the references.  I did not want any one person to do all the writing; on top of that, we have a lot of English faculty on the team, and we are supposed to be decent writers.  

I want to get the first draft to the liaison early--within a month from now.  I despise procrastination. 

I wrote a big section of it (the first one) to get the rest of them inspired and started (I'm being facetious on the inspired part.  QEP does not engender inspirational emotions.)  I write--it's what I do best, so it was fun for me but that's pretty strange, I realize.

Extremely Important Update on Copyright Law Infringement Case in Georgia


I tried to put on a copyright workshop for our faculty.  Three people showed up (I'm not exaggerating).  I strongly believe instructors need to get a grip on this matter.  I see people photocopying randomly out of books all the time.  As an author of textbooks and novels, I resent that, first of all, because it says "your work is good enough for me to use in the classroom but not good enough to credit and definitely not worth paying for."  It is an insidious form of plagiarism, and then we tell our students not to plagiarize! 

Great Online Journal on Teaching and Learning

Alan Altany at Georgia Southern U. puts on a super conference, too.


News Items on Higher Education and Social Networking

This was sent from our Board of Regents office.

Court Backs Right of University to Discipline for Facebook Comments

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld the right of the University of Minnesota to discipline a student in a mortuary sciences program who posted jokes about a cadaver on a Facebook page, Minnesota Public Radioreported. The student argued that the First Amendment protects the posts, but the appeals court found that the university could take action if it could "reasonably conclude" that the Facebook postings would "materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ivory towers of academia? When was that?

Update: I have been teaching summer school, two classes in a 20-day period, so it takes up most of my energy. QEP has been put aside but must be resurrected. I am concerned about fatigue. Today I am wearing a heart monitor (I do once a year) because of a past procedures; it may tell me something.

Whoever said college professors live in ivory towers? That was long before my time. We are as affected by the market as anyone. I work, grocery shop, pay taxes, deal with personalities and deadlines, cut my grass, clean toilets, just like everyone else. The only difference I see is that my job is not 9-5. Sometimes it's 10-12; sometimes it's 7:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. I don't get a lunch break. And we make much less money than is thought. I may be in the minority, but at our school even some Ph.D.s make less than I do, which isn't much, and we might be furloughed.

But I have the greatest job in the world, and I work at a wonderful institution. I truly mean that.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tips on QEP

Embrace the process. It does no good to whine about it. See it as getting something done at your college that wouldn't have been done otherwise.

Get good writers on your team. In general, pick your team for expertise, not just "broad-based-ness" (although that's important too).

Proactivity. Talk to your liaison. Get it done.

Someone wise once told me, "Go to your boss with solutions, not problems." Great advice. When you go into the provost with "issues," go in with resolutions to those issues.

Topics should be focused. Critical thinking for a college of 8,000 students may be impossible to get consistent assessment on. Also, it must be student learning outcome focused, not "start a program we always wanted" focused.

Expect that external forces will throw you a major curve while you're in the process. WE picked learning support (developmental education) and the state agency/government made two huge changes that totally knocked us for a loop.

Hire a QEP Director/Coordinator who is going to stick around. Obviously, some people leave or pass away, but it's best to hire someone who is a sure bet.

To find an evaluator, start by going to the SACS site and finding schools that did their QEP on your topic or a similar one. Then find out who their QEP Director or the chair of the QEP Committee was. Another method is to contact leaders in professional organizations.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Christians in Academia: Read this


This is a long but very interesting article on human origins, i.e, the historical Adam and Eve. Did God use evolution to bring "creation" to a point where He could endow it with His image, and then it rebelled? Can we reconcile Christian theology of the gospel with a view that billions of years of death and decay led to the Fall?

Will the church separate over this, with the scholars going one way and the laity going another?

Let's talk about it, as my old pastor Ben Haden used to say.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

QEP: Enough to make me return to blogging

A lot has been going on in my life the last month or so. Our town was devastated by tornado, I watched my brother die and buried him, I've got new responsibilities with my mother, my son graduated from college, a close family member has agressive breast cancer. I have posted to my other blog but not this one, and few have visited it.

However, I have a job, too, and although I don't start teaching summer session til June 15, I have the weighty responsibility of chairing the QEP committee at our college. For those of you who know about QEP, you have my condolences. If you have been the leader of the committee, you have my pity. It's a huge job, and some days I really don't know what I'm doing. Other days, I feel more secure, but then another tentacle comes up and grabs me around the neck. It is truly an octopus. This is from a woman who chaired another self-study, who has written three novels, who balances a full life, who raised a great kid, ran a teacher and learning center, ran an awards program and a department, ran a forensics program..... This QEP thing is absolutely the toughest job I've ever had.

What is QEP? It is the Quality Enhancement Plan, a requirement for reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College. It is a five-year plan to improve delivery and assessment of some aspect of teaching (must be related to student learning outcomes). It takes at least two years to put one together; fortunately our school started early and before I was the chair.

Part of me would say it's the biggest nuisance that an accrediting association ever came up with. HOWEVER (before someone happens to read this and it gets back to my boss!) I also see it as a way to "get what you want fixed" at a college. That's putting in the simplest, and most self-serving, terms possible, but I don't think I'm off base with it. I have chosen to think of it that way. In our case, it's a way to improve instruction in a specific area and get the money to do it, under the banner of "SACS says we have to."

In more professional terms, the QEP allows a college to improve assessment, the word of the decade, maybe the century. What I have found is that a college can be "data rich and information poor." We can have everything counted but not do anything with all of it, not make sense of it, not use it to improve or make a case for it. I don't even think a lot of decisions in American higher education are made based on data, but on whim, self-promotion, and usually, budget constraints (which is a big one to consider, of course. If the money isn't there, it's not there).

I'm going to be posting on QEP here. I am going to post some thoughts on getting started, what I've learned, etc. Maybe it will help someone.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Scarey Copyright Case


This is a breakdown of a case in court now between some textbook/academic publishers and Georgia State University, my alma mater for one semester. It is troubling. I will be the first to admit that some teachers violate the fair use laws--knowingly or unknowingly, and when unknowingly, intentionally unknowingly, just choosing not to bother to know what is legal and illegal. But what the plaintiffs want is pretty unbearable and unbelievable.

I have not posted to this blog for a while, but will stop. I will probably use it more for references to other materials on the Internet than for my own writing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

Recently we (i.e., the faculty at our college) had to redo all of our student learning outcomes to conform to our authorizing agency. To some extent we had to put the SLOs in a format that showed our classes taught Global Perspectives, U.S. Perspectives, and Critical Thinking. It was, as many things are, tedious, but it got done, and we are satisfied with it. But the process raised a number of questions for me, as did a project I am working on with a colleague in another discipline.

Critical thinking is the buzz word for the ages in higher education, but do we even know what we are talking about? Below are my musings about the subject, which I put out here in cyber space to see if anyone want to comment upon them.

First, critical thinking is a process, not an outcome. It is a system for getting to a conclusion, not the conclusion. The best definition I've read is this one, from the website critical thinking.com, "the skillful application of a repertoire of validated general techniques for deciding the level of confidence you should have in a proposition in the light of available evidence."

However, I don't think everyone would agree with that definition, because it seems to me to be grounded in a certain discipline (natural or social sciences) and not everyone thinks like a hard or social scientist. But there is another possible objection.

Any educated person thinks he or she is a critical thinker. The attitude goes something like this: "I'm smart. I used critical thinking to come to conclusion X. Therefore conclusion X is right and anyone who does not come to conclusion X has not used critical thinking."

I'm not 100% sure, but I think there is a flaw in this conditional syllogism, although I am still working on it. Maybe it's just a flaw in the major premise.

If a person uses critical thinking, then he will come to conclusion X.

If a person does not use critical thinking, then he will not come to conclusion X.

If a person does not come to conclusion X, then he did not use critical thinking.

If a person comes to conclusion X, he did use critical thinking.

Are we confirming the antecedent or denying the consequent? Like I said, I'm working on it, which is the whole point of critical thinking--it's a work in progress.

My point is (and I don't blame anyone if the point was missed) that there is a lot of pride involved in what we call critical thinking.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A little pretentious but . . .

I have to mention that my colleagues in the Humanities Department at Dalton State College nominated me for two awards yesterday. One is Excellence in Service and one is Excellence in Professional Development. I am very thankful for such thoughtful folks to work with.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weigh In on This One


I am conflicted on this one. As long as names aren't given, it's not a confidentiality issue. However, it's less than professional in general.

I have had a similar experience, where students didn't like what I posted and responded as if I didn't have a right to my opinion or free speech. However, I am not sure what I posted was overly appropriate. Measure twice, cut once; think three times, post to your blog once.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome in the Basic Communication Course

Barbara G. Tucker
Associate Professor, Communication
Dalton State College


The growing awareness of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and the improved early intervention strategies for those affected by the disorders mean that the college instructor is more likely to deal with neurodiverse students in the classroom. Neurodiverse students face particular challenges in the college classroom, especially one where the focus is oral communication skills. The college instructor should understand the disorders and how effective teaching and learning strategies can be used. The writer interviewed six male college students, three with autism and three with Asperger’s, to ascertain what would help them learn.


Any college instructor knows that sometimes students will reveal information that is, to say the least, unplanned. This type of incident happened to me in Spring 2010, but it has had fortuitous results. In a lecture on audience perceptions of public messages, I mentioned, somewhat off-topic, that I had recently learned that persons who have autism actually perceive stimuli more intensely than other folks do, so that their behavior is a way of tuning out the stimuli. (The source of this information was, among others, an interview of Temple Grandin by Terri Gross on National Public Radio.) One male student in the class raised his hand and spoke immediately, “I know that’s true, because I have autism.” Not ready for this news, and having been trained to be leery of too much self-disclosure, especially in regard to disabilities, I was still fascinated. “Do you have Asperger’s Syndrome?” I asked. “Yes,” he affirmed, and another student’s reaction indicated that he was also affected in this way.

At first, I was surprised by this student’s admission because nothing in his behavior to that point would have led me to think he had an Autism Spectrum Disorder. My own brother, who is now 44, has autism (very low-functioning) and lives in a group home for adults with disabilities, so I was raised with a certain set of expectations about persons with this diagnosis. However, as I began my research on the struggles and needs of college students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome (also sometimes referred to as Asperger’s Disorder), I realized that the student’s behavior, especially in terms of communication, clearly validated his diagnosis. For example, Asperger’s Syndrome is often referred to as involving a “triad of impairment”—nonverbal communication, verbal communication, and an intense, consuming area of interest.

The student, whom I will call Cameron (not his name) always had the same facial expression. He smiled constantly, and since smiling is more acceptable than scowling or staring, he fit in. He also tended to stand by while others talked, entering in but not really sensitive to the play of his classmates’ words, and he didn’t seem to realize when a conversation was over. In fact, sensitivity to others and nonverbal communication was visibly lacking when we did a group critique of introductions to persuasive speeches. Unfortunately, he was assigned to critique the shyest student in the class, and in classic pedantic, “little professor” mode that those with Asperger’s are known for, especially as children, he told the other student exactly what was wrong with his introduction in a direct, condescending way no other college student would talk to a peer. Additionally, when Cameron spoke, he started and stopped on time—without introduction and conclusion. At the time I attributed it to nerves or lack of knowledge, although he claimed to have done a lot of public speaking in high school and Boy Scouts. Now I realize it was part of the diagnosis. Finally, in terms of the last area of the triad, Cameron loved to talk about guns. He told me at length one day about how he had a carry permit. He gave two speeches about guns, one a tribute about the inventor of the Browning pistol and a persuasive speech on why students should be allowed to have guns on campus.

Working with Cameron was a learning experience for me and an impetus for the research within this paper. I wanted to know the following: How do these college students learn? How do they learn differently from other college students? What struggles would be particular for them in a basic communication or public speaking class? How can an instructor facilitate their learning? However, I quickly realized that just reading about Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s was only a start. To answer my questions and provide answers for other instructors, I would need to speak to students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s myself, collaborate with our college’s Coordinator of Disability Support Services, and survey my faculty colleagues about their knowledge and concerns about this topic. The rest of this paper will address the literature I reviewed, the methods I used, the findings, and suggestions for college instructors who will be teaching these students now or in the future.

What We Know—Or Think We Know—About Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism has recently received much press because of high-profile persons who have children dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders. One of the most contentious discussions has been over whether vaccines, which allegedly contain mercury, cause autism. With increased public awareness of autism have also come increased public misconceptions about autism. Hollywood films such as Rain Man and The Temple Grandin Story influence many to believe autism is a monolithic mental “disease” that causes those afflicted with it to be able to memorize the phone book and do other superhuman feats while failing to have a coherent conversation. The addition of Asperger’s Syndrome into the mix has further complicated matters. A recent review of The Social Network by a well known film critic (who should have known better) began with the speculation that Mark Zuckerberg must have Asperger’s Syndrome. Why? Because he acts like a jerk; therefore, the myth that Asperger’s is just a personality quirk, and a particularly unpleasant one, is perpetuated.

Since there is no lack of books on the subject of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s, it is not the intention of this paper to elucidate all of the research, only to correct some common misconceptions and direct the reader to other sources. Primarily, we will look at information that will help the college instructor. First, both conditions are referred to by the DSM-IV (1994 and 2003 edition, the DSM-IV-TR) as pervasive developmental disorders. The diagnosed person will not outgrow the disorders, cannot be medicated out of them, and will not be counseled out of them. However, many people with Asperger’s or autism have high IQs and are capable of advancing far beyond what was expected thirty or forty years ago when the term autism was coming into the forefront.

Several questions face us. First, is Asperger’s simply a light, less severe version of autism? This question is one over which volumes have been written. When the Austrian-American psychiatrist Leo Kanner first recognized and named autism in 1940, he was unaware of the work of Austrian physician Hans Asperger’s concurrent work with children who exhibited social, verbal, and behavioral impairments. However, there were some distinct differences between the children with whom Asperger was working. It was not until 1981 that British psychiatrist Lorna Wing popularized Asperger’s work and made the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” a category distinct from autism. At about the same time, the term “high-functioning autism” began to be used to describe those who displayed typical signs of autism as very young children but later developed greater cognitive, social, and behavioral skills than others diagnosed with autism (Atwood, 2007).

The DSM-IV lays the foundation for both disorders. As for autism, it states that the criteria for diagnosis are:
• Qualitative impairment in social interaction (marked)
• Qualitative impairments in communication (marked or total)
• Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities
• Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years:
(1) social interaction,
(2) language as used in social communication, or
(3) symbolic or imaginative play (2003, p. 75).

In laying out the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome, the DSM-IV duplicates the criteria, but uses language that seems less severe. It also notes that one of the distinguishing features is that adaptive behavior and verbal development are normal in early childhood.
• Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
• Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors, such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
• Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
• A lack of spontaneous seeing to share enjoyment, interests, or achievement with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
• Lack of social and emotional reciprocity
• Restrictive repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
• Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped or restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
• Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
• Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
• Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
• The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
• There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)
• There is NO clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
• Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia (2003, p. 84)

The International Classification of Disease of the World Health Organization follows the DSM-IV-TR. However, there are currently more than 13 scales or assessment tools for diagnosing Asperger’s. One is Gillberg’s, which lists the following as diagnostic criteria:
• Social impairment (extreme egocentricity)
• Narrow interest (possibly more rote than understanding)
• Compulsive need for introducing routines and interests
• Speech and language peculiarities (superficially expressive but impairment with implied or ironic meanings; odd prosody
• Nonverbal communication problems – limited use of gestures; clumsy body language; limited, stiff, or inappropriate facial expression and/or gaze
• Motor clumsiness (Atwood, 2007, p. 37)

Other criteria used in diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome are a pedantic, overly-detailed, and self-based style of speaking, a lack of theory of mind, and a lack of executive function. “Theory of mind” is a term coined by Simon Baron-Cohen which denotes an inability to see or imagine that another person thinks differently from one’s self and is also related to problems with ambiguity and imaginative language and play. However, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders suffer from a lack of “theory of mind” to a greater extent; perhaps the better linguistic skills of those with Asperger’s explains the difference (Bartlett, Armstrong, and Roberts, 2005). Executive functioning refers to being able to plan for future events and manage time. Finally, the issue of extreme sensitivity to auditory and visual stimuli is debated; some researchers posit that faulty memories and language impairments in describing the experiences may be unduly influencing the literature (O’Neill & Jones, 1997).
Asperger’s scholars at Yale University, Klim and Volkmar (2000), state “the validity of Asperger’s Syndrome as a distinctive diagnostic concept remains to be adequately addressed.” It is then the position of this paper that the disorders overlap in many of their traits but that Asperger’s is not just a variation of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The college instructor, especially in a communication skills class, will face similar challenges but should not conflate the two diagnoses; instead, he or she should be knowledgeable about both. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion, in this context I will speak of these as separate diagnoses.

A second major question is, “How many persons are affected by autism and Asperger’s?” That question has been answered more fully as years have passed. According to a CDC report (2009), "For the 2006 surveillance year, 2,757 (0.9%) of 308,038 children aged 8 years residing in the 11 ADDM sites were identified as having an ASD, indicating an overall average prevalence of 9.0 per 1,000 population.” This is an increase from .66% in a 2002 CDC study. Interestingly, the 2006 report states, "Before the 1980s, the term ‘autism’ was used primarily to refer to autistic disorder and was thought to be rare, affecting approximately one in every 2,000 (0.05%) children.” Much ink has been used to discuss whether this higher percentage is due to a medical cause or just better, more thorough diagnosis.

However, the follow-up question would be, “How many college students in 2011 have an Autism Spectrum Disorder?” In a sense, there is no way of knowing exactly. One source of statistical information would be how many students ask for accommodations from disability services, but it is my experience that students don’t always ask for accommodations, for whatever reason. Cameron, mentioned earlier in this essay, did not have them. After my mentioning in class that I was researching this subject, a student approached me and told me he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s; he did not have accommodations either. On the other hand, a female student informed me she had Asperger’s, but the Coordinator of Disability Support Services told me that was not true. Interestingly, in doing my research at Dalton State College, I have come in contact with eight male students with a diagnosis, and only one female, which matches the numbers in the general population. My experience was corroborated by our Coordinator of Disability Support Services.

The third major question about Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome is “What do we know about their etiology?” In this era of “live action” MRIs and increasing knowledge of brain anatomy and physiology, Autism Spectrum Disorders have come to be called neuropsychological disorders. Some Asperger’s and autism activists call themselves “neurodiverse” in contrast to the “neurotypical.” (Some with Asperger’s also call themselves “aspies.”) Brain scans show that the connective tissue between the two hemispheres of the brains of those with ASD is thinner, and that the brains are larger. This condition has led to speculation that the communication between the two hemispheres is impaired. Also, other studies have found that differences in the amygdala that “may represent a curtailment of neurodevelopment and a state of relative functional immaturity” (Schultz, Romanski, & Tsatsanis, 2000, p. 190). The abnormality in the amygdala may lead to an inability to read the relevance of nonverbal signals and the importance of emotional input.

There also seems to be a strong genetic component. Folstein and Santangelo (2000) report that there is a higher incidence of Asperger’s, ASD, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in the parents and siblings of those diagnosed with Asperger’s and ASD than in the general population. Of course, this research is somewhat hampered by the fact that many people who should have been diagnosed with Asperger’s prior to the 1980s simply were not. They grew up, managed to cope, found employment (often in the computer professions), and even married and had children, but were always considered odd or socially impaired. Much of the research depends on family members remembering certain behaviors of other family members long after the fact; even some of the research on the verbal development and auditory/visual sensitivity of children is dependent on memories from several years past. The genetic component is still being explored.

This has been a brief summary of more recent research on the diagnoses, prevalence, and causes of ASD and Asperger’s. We will now move on to the research I conducted at my institution.

Getting to Know You

With the help of our Coordinator of Disability Support Services, I convened two focus groups of students with ASD and Asperger’s. These groups met on February 15 and 16, 2011. I generated a series of questions for the students, based on the literature I had read and on other questions I had about their experience as students. The Coordinator approved these questions, as did the Human Subjects Institutional Review Board. The questions are available in the appendix. The questions centered around three major areas: What were their lives as students at our institution like? What challenges did they face as learners? And what could instructors do to help them learn?

A total of six students, all male, all traditional-age college students, participated in the focus group. They received lunch for their time. They were filmed and signed consent forms. The Coordinator joined us for the second group. Three of the students have a diagnosis of Asperger’s; three have a diagnosis of autism. All are students in good standing at our institution. In the following discussion, I will refer to the students as A, B, and C (those with a diagnosis of ASD), and D, E, and F (those with a diagnosis of Asperger’s). All the students live with family in the community, which is not unusual since our college population is 95% commuter. Also, all of them had attended the local public schools.

Subject A and B were highly verbal and eager to talk. Subject A manifested the common trait of a strong, intense preoccupation with a certain area, in this case, trains, both model and real. He reverted to the topic of trains several times, and even said that was what he really wanted to talk about, in the focus group and in class. He tried to divert the topic of the focus group to trains as well. He also had been involved in a local “Extreme Home Makeover” that was going on in our area that week, so he wanted us to see his pictures on his computer. He was the most talkative and outgoing of the two groups, often interrupting and dominating the conversation; he was also the most conscious of his own condition and willing to talk about his own needs as a learner. He could almost be called an “activist;” he mentioned that his mother was a special education teacher in the local public schools, and when I asked, “Who helps you with your advising and scheduling,” he said, “My mother.” Interestingly, only one of the six males mentioned a father during the discussions.

Since he was so willing to talk, Subject A gave me the most insights into his learning. He really was unhappy with a required class such as Music Appreciation, since he is a visual, not auditory, learner. He believed “no one listens to classical music today anyway.” He also complained about history, although this was not true of the other students with whom I spoke; however, math, particularly algebra, was a problem for the students. They all mentioned struggles with developmental and college algebra. At times with Subject A I wondered if he was engaging in certain behaviors because he knew it was expected of him. He had a sense of humor about himself and his desire to talk about trains, for example, indicating that he was trying to turn the topic to his interest. He spoke readily, even when I was trying to get more responses from the three other participants.

Subject B, with whom I met on the first day, was also highly verbal but not as “activist” about his needs as a neurodiverse learner. He was very polite in his nonverbal behavior and his speech, always calling me “ma’am.” He did not interrupt and had a more rapid-fire, sometimes stammering form of speech, but not to the point that he was hard to understand. His vocabulary was the most advanced of all the students with whom I talked. He was the only one who mentioned having worked for pay at any time, and also the only one who mentioned his father, who lives in a distant state. He stated that he had worked with his father and brother the previous summer doing stock work at a large grocery store chain. He is a history major. He also has the highest GPA, at 3.09. My impression of Subject B was that he was trying very hard to fit in and was reluctant to admit to difference. He said that he drove to school on his moped. He did not yet have a driver’s license, but expected to get one soon. He had some trouble with maintaining eye contact and exhibited some repetitive motions.

Subject C, on the other hand, exhibited very shy behavior. He did not contribute much to the conversation, except when questions were directed at him, at which time he took some time to answer them. He spoke in a quiet voice, but politely. His major is graphic design, which fits with the visual learning style and strengths of those with ASD.

As for the three students who had diagnoses of Asperger’s, they too represented a variety of points on the spectrum. The students with Asperger’s were quieter and answered my questions politely but without any elaboration unless I pursued it. Subject D is a current student of mine, the one who approached me after class. He said his major is general studies and that he wanted to change it but was unsure as to what. He did not indicate that any one class was difficult for him. Subject D’s facial expression is constant, somewhat blank. He will smile, but rarely. His prosody, a word for emphasis, inflection, and vocal variety, is fairly constant as well. Significantly, Subject D was responsible for consuming a whole large pizza. One of the traits of Asperger’s is not understanding social conventions or thinking about how others may be impacted by behavior. After eating three pieces in the session, he piled five more pieces on his plate before he left.

Subject E is a tall, very thin, young man. He smiled throughout our interview but avoided eye contact. He spoke quietly and exhibited some repetitive hand motions. In his case, as in the others, I had to approach him in the hallway outside our meeting place; they did not recognize me as a professor until I initiated contact. Subject E just recently earned his driver’s license. He said he had been a communication major (A.A.) at one time, but he didn’t do well in a communication course that required analysis of a movie, so he changed his major. This information matches literature on the poor ability of those with Asperger’s to deal with fiction and imaginary scenarios.

Subject F, as it turns out, (I did not know it at the time) is the nephew of our Coordinator of Disability Support Services. I learned this because I questioned his being in the group afterward, since his behavior was distinct from the other participants. He wants to study art at a prestigious college in another city, and our college does not offer an art major. So he has a strong visual learning style. He was clear in his answers but not longwinded. He did not really exhibit any nonverbal behaviors in our session that would mark him as having Asperger’s to most observers, but his aunt assured me that “if you are around him very long, you will see it.”

It must be remembered that one trait of Asperger’s is a lack of “theory of mind.” The fact that the students did not offer me examples, elaboration, or context, without my prodding, fit into this facet of Asperger’s. Another trait is lack of executive functioning. I asked the subjects about planning and their assignments. They were slow to discuss this aspect and gave limited answers; however, Subject F uses a calendar.

When I asked if these students were involved in any clubs, they said no. As to hobbies, other than subject A’s love of trains, they didn’t express any strong preoccupations other than video games and surfing the Internet, which is a typical and safe answer. They may have felt uncomfortable discussing those areas, and I did not pursue them, since the focus of the research was their experience as learners. One of the characteristics of ASD and Asperger’s is intense preoccupations, but they were not forthcoming about those.

In reflecting on the focus groups with these students, I would like to have interviewed a female student. I know of one female student on our campus who has ASD and one who has Asperger’s, and I would like to interview them in the future. I also conducted an online survey of the faculty of our institution. The results are in the appendix. I was pleased to know that our faculty members were relatively knowledgeable about the traits of ASD and Asperger’s and that they wanted, for the most part, to learn more.


In this section I will summarize what I learned about these students and their diagnoses beyond what I have encountered in the literature. First, they were all excessively polite or tried to be. Perceptions of persons with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism as rude, mean-spirited, or violent, are unfortunate. Student A did show a tendency to interrupt, but not with inappropriate comments. The students admitted to struggling with math, specifically algebra, indicating that the idea that persons with ASD are math whizzes is often incorrect. They stated a strong preference for any class that used PowerPoint and included much visual work or teaching methods.

The students also mentioned, repeatedly, that instructors spoke too fast and they wished that all instructors would speak more slowly and clearly. They also expressed a general dislike for group projects and assignments. They are at a disadvantage in groups in two ways: in a group there is a multiplicity of communication channels; neurodiverse students do not always understand the banter and humor and slang of their peers (and are often socially awkward); and they do not always perceive the nonverbal signals of one person, much less several. However, many of us use groups extensively and do not want to exclude the neurodiverse student. Since many basic communication courses involve group discussions, the instructor may want to assign the neurodiverse student to a group with another student with whom he or she feels comfortable.

The students were asked if they preferred giving speeches to writing papers. They prefer to write papers, which should not be surprising. Although many of the assignments that these students will encounter in college will be difficult or seemingly inappropriate for them, they should not be sold short. A colleague of mine who teaches public speaking had three students with either Asperger’s or an ASD in his class last year. All three were successful in the class because he creates a supportive and accepting environment.

The six male students whom I interviewed also stressed that instructors should understand their conditions and that they learn differently. In fact, one said that teachers should understand that everybody learns differently and that some students in the class might not even be learning by the instructor’s methods. They mentioned that they would like to see concern from their instructors. Admittedly, these comments from the students are hard to digest; college is to a large extent a place where students are to be responsible for their own learning, and an instructor can be showing concern even though a student can miss it (and a neurodiverse student may be even more likely to mistake it). On a more practical note, they did suggest that longer lectures be broken up periodically with short periods of application, a technique also suggested by the leading scholars in college pedagogy (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

As a final note, the students in the focus group admitted to “bad handwriting.” This may be related to the motor clumsiness of Asperger’s and is also mentioned in the literature. They preferred not to handwrite assignments because it took them longer and because of the results. This stipulation may be of value to instructors who require essay tests or writing in class.

Suggestions for Instructors

We have already seen that not all students with Asperger’s or an ASD in the college environment ask for, believe they need, or know how to obtain the best learning environment for themselves. They may not have self-advocacy skills; on the other hand, some neurodiverse students have been taught to advocate for themselves and will be very open about their diagnoses. The college instructor needs to be empathetic, flexible, and knowledgeable—and realistic. While it is not our job to advocate for the neurodiverse student, or any student with a learning or physical disability, it is our responsibility to send them to the campus resources where they can obtain services to enhance their learning, especially if they self-identify but are not receiving accommodations. Until the paperwork is accomplished, it is unwise to provide any accommodations. Students will probably self-identify and come to you with expectations of help; at the same time, they will not seem to be self-conscious about their diagnosis.

The campus ADA Coordinator is not your adversary; he or she is your ally in teaching. However, he or she has limitations. If the student has the paperwork to prove the diagnosis, the Coordinator can guide the student to ask for a variety of accommodations such as note-taker, extended testing time, audio-recording of lectures, priority classroom seating, distraction-free testing environment (Bedrossian & Pennamon, 2007). Some of these may not be the most necessary. Since students with Asperger’s and ASDs are visual learners, a tape recording of the lecture may not fit their learning style as well as other accommodations.

The college instructor should start with good pedagogy: use all learning modalities; emphasize structure of lectures, providing previews and transitional statements; break longer assignments such as papers and projects down into steps. Since the visual modality is strongest for those with Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD, use PowerPoint to the extent that you can. It is often suggested that the students in these situations be afforded the PowerPoints prior to the actual class. Find or create visual representations of theoretical where possible. Since this can add to the instructor’s burden and does not place responsibility for learning on the student, perhaps an arrangement can be made by which the student finds visual representations of processes or theories on the Internet.

An instructor may find that he or she will need to spend some time in the office conferencing with the neurodiverse student. A revealing article by Ann Jurecic (2007) chronicles her multiple meetings with a neurodiverse student in her composition class. His lack of theory of mind led to frustrations on both sides; he worked very hard to revise papers to have a stronger sense of audience along the way she directed, but seemed unable to imagine an audience himself. When dealing with such a student in a one-on-one context, do not use sarcasm or irony, even for innocent reasons. The student probably will not understand it but may still feel hurt. While the instructor should be open to holding conferences with all students, the student should be encouraged to use all the campus resources and not become dependent on just one personality.
Frith and Happe (1999) have written on the self-consciousness of persons with autism. If Baron-Cohen is correct about the lack of “theory of mind” in persons with ASD, and therefore they are impaired in attributing thoughts, feelings, and motivations to others, then they are probably impaired in doing so for themselves, and they would see their belief as reality, not a belief. They could conflate it with fact or not see the difference between them. Therefore introspection may be severely impaired. Additionally, the literal-mindedness of persons with ASDs will make understanding literary techniques (symbolism, imagery, metaphor) very difficult. This might be an area where a student will need to spend some conference time with an instructor. Other researchers have found that persons with Autism and especially persons with Asperger’s can learn to be self-conscious and introspective, but must work hard at it. Consequently, assignments in which students must engage in introspection might present a close- to-insurmountable challenge. Some have suggested that these students should be allowed to do a more “literally minded” and factual type of research assignments in lieu of an exercise in introspection or self-analysis.
So far, we have focused on instructional strategies. However, some behaviors of students with ASDs may become problematic in the classroom. Graetz and Spampinato (2008)) mention the story of a student who often yelled at a professor during class when she became frustrated at her inability to keep up. These situations do happen, but are not typical. A student may interrupt in discussion, however. Furthermore, as with Cameron, a neurodiverse student may want to give all his speeches or write all the papers on the same subject. Perhaps a general rule prohibiting this practice in general could be written into the syllabus. I have know neurotypical students who wanted to give all their speeches on the same subject, and requiring a variety in subjects and picking topics based on audience and purpose makes sense.


You may never have a student with Asperger’s or an Autism Spectrum Disorder in your class. If you teach in a highly selective college with a primarily residential population, the odds are low. If you teach in a more open access environment or at a college with primarily commuter students, the odds are higher. Either way, all college teachers should remember that they are teaching students, not diagnoses. Just because a student doesn’t have the paperwork, that doesn’t mean that he/she is “neurotypical.” And remember, your student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s may have the highest IQ in the class as well as many other hidden gifts.
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Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders --- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2002. (2007, February 9). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5601a2.htm.
Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders --- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2006. (2009, December 18). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5810a1.htm.
Schultz, R. T., Romanski, L.M., & Tsatsanis, K. D. (2000). Neurofunctional models of autistic disorder and Asperger Syndrome: Clues from neuroimaging. Asperger Syndrome, ed. by Klim, A., Volkmar, F. R., & Sparrow, S. S. New York: The Guilford Press.
Volkmar, F. R. & Klim, A. (2000) Diagnostic issues in Asperger Syndrome. Asperger Syndrome, ed. by Klim, A., Volkmar, F. R., & Sparrow, S. S. New York: The Guilford Press.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Must Read if You Plan to be in Higher Education Much Longer

DIY U by Anya Kamenetz.

I like her analysis of the problem but not her solution. (Throw more federal money at the problem). Any one who works in an open access environment knows many students waste a lot of money by not being successful, and some actually scam the system. By many, of course, I don't mean most. Most are hard working people. But the system needs more than money thrown at it. It needs better teachers and methodologies and a reality check for all involved. I think this book does this.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Last word on Jesus as Model Teacher


Evaluations revisited

I have really nice students this semester. That is usually the case. I like where I work very very much.

However, I got a memo from our VP today about the averages on teacher evaluations. There are faculty in my department that actually get perfect scores on those things! I don't see how that is possible, how every student in a class would rate any instructor perfectly on every category! I average about 4.6 out of 5, which I think is pretty good, but not in my department. So I really don't know what the problem is. The students' comments are very positive, except that I may be too demanding, and some think they should get As on their speeches. So this is a little bit of a downer, My average is the departmental average. Well, I guess I shouldn't think that's so bad. But I'd like to think after 33 years that my teaching is a little bit better than average.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

To Online or Not to Online, Part 6

Just a little tip I learned by accident. Because of the snow here, I have yet to meet my Monday only hybrid public speaking class. I used a discussion board (asynchronous) to get the students talking about the subject of public speaking and their experiences. It really helped. They were honest and supportive of one another, and since they will have to give a short introductory speech the first day (finally), they feel more settled.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Teaching Tip #26

Is a number of small assignments better than a few heavily-weighted ones?

It depends on the level of student (level of preparedness), the discipline, and the learning outcomes. However, all things considered, it seems wiser to not "put all the eggs in one basket." When I hear a project is worth 50% in a freshman class, I cringe. The freshmen I know can't handle such a thing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flexibility Revisited

We met for class three days, then a powerful storm closed the college for four days, and we have Monday off for the Martin Luther Kig, Jr., holiday. More than ever flexibility will be necessary. Flexibility assumes a posture about life, a "I'll do the best I can but you know, I just don't control very much that goes on anyway" attitude. Perhaps flexibility works in inverse proportion to how important you think you are. If so, I must have thought myself very important in the past, because I wasn't very flexible!

However, we will be trying to get caught up all semester!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Asperger's Revisited: Input

I'm doing research on teaching Asperger's students in communication classes. I found this post on the Christianity Today website blog Hermeneutics, which has a good article about the church and persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I found this post from a person with AS very important; I hope I am not breaking any copyright laws here.

Without exception, every discussion I've seen of autistics in church is about low-functioning autistic children and teenagers, and is directed at their parents or at other adults in their lives. What happens to these autistics when they grow up--do they grow out of it? Do they die? Or are they institutionalized, never to darken a church door again?
And what about high-functioning autistics? I am an adult with Asperger's syndrome, i.e. a high-functioning autistic adult. I go to church, humanly speaking, of my own accord. I have yet to see anything, in books or the Christian media, that addresses the problems faced by Christian Aspies.
We hear all the time that family and friends are everything, the only thing in life of real value. We as Christians know that Christ is everything, but we are still told that it is in our personal relationships that the Christian life is lived out. But what if you don't have any social skills or social life to speak of? And what if you have a pretty good idea of what you're missing, and are lonely? Has anyone thought about that? And has anyone thought of speaking to us, rather than our relatives?
In asking if your church is open to autism, please ask if it is open to Asperger's syndrome.