Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Taxonomy of Reflection

First, to reflect is NOT to communicate.  Reflection is metacognition, not communication.  When we ask students to write a reflection paper, we are asking them to communicate, not reflect.  They are two separate things.

Yes, writing can be and is usually an excellent reflective device (not for everyone), but we don't really grade them on the reflection, but on how they write it up.  If they use writing to reflect, the product will not be in a form that necessarily follows rhetorical forms and makes sense to a reader.  If the reflector is too concerned about making sense to another, he/she will miss out on the depth and truthfulness of the reflection.

Reflection must first examine the experience fully, then do something with it.  In reflection papers we really want students to evaluate, not reflect, so they are skipping the real steps of reflection.

When we think of reflection, we should think of a mirror.  How many of us have looked at every pore and wrinkle and freckle on our faces?  Not every time, but over time we have.  I know the brown patches and white spots on my forehead, and you do too.  Reflection is first close inspection.  The reflector must first look at an experience, either in real time or in retrospect, in detail.

And let me add, this reflection of our pores and wrinkles takes place in private!  (or should!)

Then the reflector can do something with it.  In fact, once the reflector has really examined the experience, what to do with it will be pretty clear, probably.  Such things as contrasting, comparing, taking apart, applying, predicting, assessing, evaluating, and creating something new can come from the examination, and will probably logically grow from it.

When we reflect on a text, we are reflecting on our experience of it as well as what is really in the text.

Deep reflection of one thing may be worth shallow reflection of five or more things.  Reflection takes time and we value output and speed rather than depth. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

What is College Good For? Linked article

One more voice in a repubtable publication calling for educating young people for technical careers rather than liberal arts education.  If that's all that college is about--getting a job--then it's foolish to send everyone to college.  Trust me, they aren't getting it and are wasting their time.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

College Pedagogy: Two fascinating articles on why it isn't working


My takeaways:
1.  Learning is individual in many ways, so an instructor should use more than one method for a "unit" or "lesson" or "concept." 
2.  Students must be empowered in their first years and continually with understanding the learning process for themselves and using it, and this is must more than their "learning style" (which is not supported by research anyway).
3.  Less is more.  In a world of growing research and knowledge explosion, we have to cull our disciplines down to the most essentials and perhaps restructure the curriculum or process of our fields.
4.  If one works in faculty development, as I do, one should make his/her dealings with instructors as individualized as the instructors will have to do with learners. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Biggest Detriment of Student Evaluations

I have written elsewhere on student evaluations.  This is the first day of final exams for my institution, so I had to remind my students this morning that it is also the last day for them to complete the online evaluations.

I could write a volume on this process, and perhaps one day I will, because I plan to write a book entitled Inspirational Teaching in an Age of Assessment. 

Student evals have their place.  They can be of value in quality improvement for the individual teacher if the instrument is good and comments are looked at more than numbers.  They also alert administrators (like me) to patterns of problems.  If one student says the professor is a jerk (as has happened to me), I don't care.  If ten do in a year, that means something.

There are many things wrong with student evals.  They commodify education, the opinions of 18-year-olds are given too much weight, and they should never be used as the primary method of assessment of an instructor.   But I want to mention here what I think is the worst.

They stifle innovation in teaching, and they cause us to teach from a position of fear.

An instructor with good evaluations knows that if he or she tries something different--high impact practices, for example--it may not work, and that might lead to student complaints and lower evals.

I say this because I led a session on high impact practices yesterday (I'm working on a guidebook about it with some colleagues).  Two professors who had piloted a high impact approach this semester talked about the major push back from students.  One had used collaborative learning in a basic psychology class, and it sounded like a well designed project; the other had used service learning in a social media communication class.  In the second, the students had resented having to help nonprofits with their social media strategies; however, by the end of the semester they had changed their tunes and saw how much their help was needed by these organizations.

In both cases the instructors (both women) expressed real concern about how this would affect their evals.  I believe this is a real issue for consideration by higher education administrators if they want innovation and course redesign. 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Very interesting article on disparity in higher education

For anyone who studies higher education trends, I found this interesting, including the comments.  I teach at one of the non-selective institutions and our funding is problematic (I wanted to say atrocious, but I won't). HeeHee.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Advice for (New) College Administrators

Let me start by saying I have an administrative job in a college and have had them in the past.  Let me also say this "advice" (re: warnings) is from wide experience and reading and not directed at any one institution.

First, I do not understand why administrators who are new to an organization think they know more about the institution than those who have spent their professional lives there.  Likewise, I don't understand why they would seek to change "things" (structures, programs, positions, etc.) in the institution until they have spent ample time knowing everything they can about the organization.  Listening is the first job of a new leader.

Sure, maybe a few of the organizational members will be crackpots, but most have a clear-eyed view of things from where they sit, and maybe of things as a whole.  A person who has worked at a institution for twenty years should be an asset, not an obstacle.

Second, follow (at least some of) that advice from the long-termers.  The faculty and staff are not your enemies.  If they are, maybe you are part of the problem because you did not do your first job of listening (i.e., gathering data).  Lest you forget, it is the faculty who are carrying out the mission of the college.  You will not be remembered by the students; the faculty member who offered tutoring after class will be. 

Third, "change for change's sake and growth for growth's sake is the philosophy of the cancer cell."  An administrator who wants to change a lot of things is perceived as resume building. 

Fourth, I used to be guilty (in my naivete) of thinking that administrators were just smarter than the non-administrators, as if they had learned the secret handshake or joined a secret club with all kinds of esoteric knowledge when they entered an administrative job.  Since I have been long taught to reject gnosticism in theology, I'll choose to reject it in higher education practice.  Nonadministrators have access to all the same policy information that administrators do.

Transparency would really help lessen that wall between administrators and faculty.  I perceive administrators as holding on to their secret knowledge as a power play and as a statement that they are inherently smarter than the faculty, who, by the way, have the same degrees as the administrators and are just as smart.

The difference is that faculty prefer, in general, to deal first-hand with students and to develop their discipline.  I love being in the classroom and working with students more than I love sitting in another meeting, so for now I choose to do both; I do like to make a difference at the institutional level and work cross-disciplinarily, which is discouraged in most colleges.

My point is that in my years in higher ed we have often quipped "He went to the dark side" about someone who became an administrator.   Granted, administrators work longer hours and put up with more crap.  They also make a lot more money (I know from experience; I made close to six digits one year as an administrator, and going back to faculty was a significant pay cut).  Faculty and administration should grow past this "dark side"/us-them mentality.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Prescription for College Student Retention and Graduation

My institution's faculty and staff were treated to a very good presentation from a system bigwig on Friday.  He prescribed the following recipe for retention and graduation (this is my version of his prescriptions).

1.  Nine hours of major-related courses in first year.
2.  Growth mindset (not just that the student has a growth mindset but that he/she perceived the faculty believes he/she has a growth mindset)
3.  30 hours finished in first year (can include summer school)
4.  Students' understanding their major choices
5.  Complete required English and Math (because they won't go any further without them).  Mathematician organizations all support that students take the math relevant to their discipline.
6.  Feeling connected to the institution and that they belong (how many students feel that "they just don't belong here" for whatever reasons?)
7.  Give them confidence to interact with faculty and staff.
8.  Ensure they understand the purposes of courses they are taking to their major/careers.

I am a firm believer in faculty development (to ensure #2, #4, #8, primarily, but the others are connected) and in high-quality onboarding of students before Day 1 in the classroom. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Don't Send Your Kid to College

Yes, that is my title.  It is my firm belief, too.  Read the whole thing before getting mad.

And it may seem strange from someone who has worked in higher education for forty years and has three graduate degrees. I don't write this post because I am against higher education or because it hasn't had a place in my life.  It's central to who I am (but not the core).  I love what I do, where I work, the blessing of working with my students and colleagues, and the exploration of ideas.

I believe in  higher education's promise for America and for individuals.  

But I still believe in the advice in the title, and I will deal with this topic in two parts:

First, don't send your kid to COLLEGE.

Second, don't SEND your kid to college.

First.  College is not for everyone.  It's definitely not for everyone at 18 years of age.  In my 40 years in the classroom and as an administrator, in all types of institutions, I have seen two phenomena.     The first is the late twenty- or thirty-something who comes back to college and confesses that they tried college at 18 and "flunked out" or had some other reason that it just didn't work out for them.

Sometimes they were athletes who couldn't keep with the lifestyle of performing athletically and scholastically at the college level.  (To say nothing of the other issues we could address here about college sports).  Sometimes they got pregnant.  Sometimes they had family responsibilities.  Sometimes they were having too much fun at "away" college and their parents said, "enough"  Sometimes they just realized college wasn't for them, that the bang wasn't worth the buck.  Good old ROI.  Sometimes (more than we want to admit), they just couldn't afford it any longer even if they wanted to.  Sometimes they just failed too many classes and lost financial aid.  Sometimes they find themselves at an institution whose values overwhelm them, and they can't deal with the concept of "micro-agressions" for asking an innocent question.

Let me state quickly that I don't think that last is really that prevalent in the vast majority of colleges.  College professors like to be provocative--I've done it myself.  But the extremes of "trigger warnings," "micro-agressions," and "safe spaces" are over-reported and mostly confined to a certain type of college.  See my advice below. 

The second is the younger version of that thirty-something who has been told they have to go to college but have no goals, or no realistic ones, for why they are there.  They have a high school GPA of 2 and were admitted to an open-access college to be a nursing major, which requires usually something close to a 4.0 for entrance to the program.  They enter the private college dependent on loans that they and their parents don't realize will haunt them for decades, whether they graduate or not.  They choose a major because it sounds like fun (my favorite being fashion merchandising) but don't realize they will have to move 500 miles away from home to find a career in that field.

I attribute these two phenomena to a number of sources.  The mythology that a college education is the best way to get to the middle class.  The lies told by recruiters (athletic and otherwise).  The lack of transparency about the reality of college, especially funding it.  The  poor quality of teaching and advising in some institutions and the systems that allow it (I'm not specifically speaking of tenure here, which can do great good but also follows the law of unintended consequences).

And let me say, unequivocably here (that's a big word for make no mistake), I don't consider these the problems of the institution, not always.  And I except my institution from it, because we are extremely reasonably priced and do a fine job of educating the students we are sent, and I mean that with all my heart and not because I get a paycheck. 

Primarily, though, I think much of the phenomenon can simply come from the fact that people who don't work in higher education do not understand it.  It is a black box to a large portion of the population.

There are simply other options for 18-year olds.  Get a job.  Military.  Government or non-profit service (VISTA, for example). Trade school (yes, trade school.  It really doesn't hurt anyone to have a trade and make some decent money for a few years before deciding on what you really want to do for the next forty years.) In other words, don't inflict a goal-less 18-year old on the college of your choice.  You will waste your money.  You will waste your government's money and your student's potential financial aid (Pell is not forever; current regulations limit to ten semesters, assuming those are ten successful semesters).


I had an interesting conversation with an old friend who was visiting our town recently.  She teaches in a Christian Academy out west.  She mentions that one of the parents in the school sent their daughter to a certain very large Christian university (I'll not name it, but they love President Trump there) because that institution teaches a literal six-day creationism.

That has been bugging me for weeks.  Not because of the institution or the creationism (those are  other issues) but because of the idea of "sending" your child to a college.  How much agency does the student have in the decision?

This is part of a larger discussion about helicopter parenting.  Teenagers today seem to have a very different relationship with their parents than we did; I went 600 miles away to college and saw my family two or three times a year. I chose the college.  Whether it was a good choice is another matter, but I chose it.  I knew it was all on me.

Of course, I know of 20-year-olds who haven't bothered to get their drivers' licenses yet, a mystery to me.  Being protected, dependent, and driven around by mom and dad or friends seems more important to them than the autonomy of being able to drive a car?  How could that be? 

I don't suggest my experience is the best, but I think the idea of "sending" your student to college, as if it were the same as sending your 6-year-old to kindergarten, needs to be reframed.  At best, the parent should facilitate the decision of the student and consult on it, but not make the decision.  It seems like breaking the apron strings at 18 is what college is about.

Many parents, especially conservative Christian parents, don't want their students exposed to the "evils" of the secular campus.  I definitely agree, so discussion is needed.  I consider most of the big state universities unfit for human consumption.  Parents would need to start working on their students' responsibility and agency long before senior year anyway.  I just fear the practice of using the nonsense and sin that goes on on most campuses as an excuse to shelter the young persons from reality. I teach at a state institution and there are good and negative influencers; however, we are small and also have the opportunities for small classes, input from faculty, and clubs that help a student's faith journey. My real issue is with campuses of 40,000 where the student can get lost.

This is not to address for-profit institutions, the complications and vagaries of  financial aid (as a faculty member, I do not address this issue with students because I simply don't want to misinform), athletics scholarships and other types, how to choose a major, or a number of other issues.

The diatribe against humanities and liberal arts majors is founded in two problems:  the myth that a degree automatically opens all kinds of doors for the graduate, and the failure of students, their parents, and the institutions to look for opportunities for developing work skills, a resume, and networking.  An English major can take a minor in computer science, combining a love of writing and literature with their analytic abilities to code and develop websites.  It's a false dichotomy to think that a major in one disciplines can dance into a career while another one doesn't have a prayer.

I'm adding this piece on November 18, 2017:


Once a student goes to college, he/she is a young adult.  Remember that.  They are not twelve years old.  They are legally responsible for everything at 18 (except drinking, which doesn't stop them from doing it).  They are not kids.  This is a whole post in itself, but I often shake my head at the way young people are overprotected by their parents who are so afraid their child will make a mistake or something that they don't allow them to be adults.

My advice:
1.  look for reasonably priced colleges.  Higher price does not mean better education in the long run.
2.  If a young person is dying to go to University of X, think about going to reasonable state college for undergrad and the big impressive place for grad school.
3.  Know what you are getting into.  Do the research.
4. Don't overspecialize in a major unless you really know that's what you want.

I imagine I will get some blowback for this post, but maybe that's what blogs are for. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Open Education Resource Public Speaking Text

My huge summer project has been to complete this major revision.  It is available on our libguides and at the OER repository for the Georgia System. 

I don't think you will find a better one, unless you are looking for more of a hybrid book (that is, that deals with interpersonal communication and small groups.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Learning how to teach online through an online course

Two weeks ago I posted this:
I am taking a two-week course from a well known and reputable organization that credentials online courses (no names, but if you don't know who they are, you should).  When I finish I will have some thoughts.  On the good side, I plan to take the subsequent courses from the organization. 

Now I am finished and will finish my reflection on it.

I don't want to use the name of the organization.  Anyone familiar  with online education knows who it is; hint--it's out of the University of Maryland, originally.

This organization has a certain philosophy and system of online education.  It took me a couple of assignments to "align" myself with its philosophy.  At first I was a little snarky about it.  "I've taught online for 19 years. I was teaching online at the beginning and before online was cool.  I used to create my own courses in Front Page, before there were Learning Management System programs, for Pete's sake!"  After being told to redo an assignment, I said, "Ok, I'll play it your way, I get it."  By the end I said, "Ok, yes, this system makes sense, I see why it works and what they are doing."

What I get from this is:
1.  the concept of unlearning.  This does not mean forgetting, because obviously we can't erase memories.  I think of unlearning as "making space for a different schema or framework."  We can hold different schema in our heads at the same time.  I understand this organization's schema now.  I think it is very good and worthwhile, although rigid and granular when I might look at a course more holistically.
2. the need for humility in learning.  Humility is not a popular concept, but the act of putting yourself into a position to learn inherently means you submit to an authority, at least temporarily, for a larger purpose, and opening your mind to the value of what is taught.  I took classes during my doctorate from people I thought were in left field and still do, but I submitted myself to them for the larger purpose of getting a doctorate.  I learned valuable things from these people although I still differ from them philosophically.
3.  the experience of being a student.  Oh, I didn't like being told I did something wrong!  It reminded me to be empathetic for my online students, whom I often tell they are wrong in some way!  On the other hand, I am dealing with an online student who keeps plagiarizing and told me it was my fault and that I was ridiculous.  I take lots of online MOOC type courses (which didn't pan out as the end-all of higher ed but are very useful) but this one was more tied to work so I wanted to get a perfect grade.
4.  I learned about some new technologies and I saw how important alignment is.
5.  The facilitators did a fine job.  One of them teaches at a nearby institution and I already know her, so I think that helped.
6.  I plan to take two more courses and be fully credentialed by this organization.

Now, the downsides.  The LMS that this organization uses is inferior to what I am used to.  I think it is open source but it shows.  I really struggled with its layout and navigation, and this is from a person who has used two versions of Blackboard, Canvas, and D2L/Brightspace quite a bit.  Consequently, the course was not visually rich at all. I can appreciate some of that because I have often warned about over rich-courses that require too much bandwidth, but this course was just plain boring visually.

Secondly, it was intense and time-consuming, but that's really a good thing.  It makes it worthwhile and they don't want to give away their credentials. I noticed that most of the students did not keep up with the daily assignments.  I spent good money on the course and wanted my money's worth. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why we don't change as instructors: data vs. emotion

Mary Ellen Weimer writes provocative things about teaching.  Here is one of her articles:

Here she is dealing with one of my favorite topics, faculty resistance to improving teaching even when we know there are better ways.  As one of her sources states, faculty approach faculty development the way our students approach learning in the classroom, although we fuss about how students do that.  I saw myself there.  See my post above on my current online learning experience.   

Monday, June 19, 2017

Academic Freedom, Marble Statues, and General Insanity

OK.  Is is getting to the point that anyone who says anything publicly gets death threats?  What exactly is a death threat?  (A generally, "You should die for your viewpoint" or "I know where you live and work and am coming there to kill you soon"?)

So, interesting article below from Inside Higher Ed about a common fact, a conclusion about that fact, the publication in popular media about that conclusion, and the response from people who take things too seriously.  Yes, everyone who has ever taken a humanities course knows the Greeks and Romans painted their statues.  But . . . does that mean they weren't racist? (are you serious?)  Does that mean that the beauty of white marble (which would have been normalized by the Renaissance and Baroque artists, not the 18th century) is a white supremacist statement?

If racism is only framed as black (African, dark-skinned) vs. white (Northern European, pink skin toned) then the discussion is over.  There are other "phenotypes" who have historically hated each other and tried to kill the other off.  (We need only go back to World War II, China and Japan, to see that, or 1994, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda.) Racism is far bigger than one country's historical struggle with slavery.  Not to minimize that; it is the U.S.'s unique and tragic problem and legacy. It just isn't the only instance of racism in world history.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Shout-out to ed2go

This summer I am engaging in two significant professional development activities.

I am going to get certification as a Quality Matters reviewer.  For those who don't know, that is an organization that credentials online courses.  It's about time, since I was an early adopter (1998) of online teaching.  My institution pays for most of it. 

Secondly, I am taking four courses with ed2go, which is affiliated with Cengage (Pearson) on teaching English as Second Language.  Right now I am taking two of them concurrently.  They are well done; not exactly graduate level, of course, or even undergrad, but informative and well designed. The assignments are easy, but the readings are at the right level for both a lay person and a professional with advanced degrees, as am I.

These are not without costs, but I found them very reasonable.  I had taken an ed2go class on epublishing several years ago.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Another Reason for College Instructors to Stay Off Social Media

From my go-to of the day, (along with Christianity Today), Inside Higher Ed:    

(I realize it is better to "hide" the link under a word but I want this to be transparent.)

My take on this:
1.  I tend to side with the student, for once, although she is only 51% right overall.
2.  The instructor lost my support when she went to social media.  Cardinal rule of teaching:  Never, ever, ever discuss classroom issues on social media.  It violates privacy, it will bite you on the butt,  it's nobody's business, and it makes the instructor look childish.  Just wrong. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

How to Melt Snowflakes--or maybe harden them up

Good interview of a person I just learned about.  This is the kind of Republican and republican we need.  Not whatever passes for one in Washington now.


The other day one of my students was talking about his job at Walmart.  He said customers bring their dogs into Walmart all the time.

"You mean service dogs, right?" I tried to clarify.

"No, just dogs.  I just leave them alone," he answered. 

"Are you serious?" I asked.

"Walmart just lets them, and we leave them alone.  I'm not getting in trouble over someone's dog."

I was flabbergasted.  What are these people thinking?  Why would you think bringing a dog into a grocery store is your right or need?

First, I grew up when dogs, except for what was called "seeing-eye dogs" never went anywhere.  Second, dogs are not all house-trained and might go when they feel the urge.  Yuck.  Who gets to clean that up?  Third, children often walk up to dogs they don't know and get friendly--they shouldn't but they do.  As the owner and daily walker of a pitbull, I am extremely vigilant about children who have not been trained that all dogs are not sweet puppies and they should give strange dogs a wide berth.  Fourth, dogs are still ultimately wide animals; yes, they are thousands of years removed from wolves, but they are still genetically very, very, very close.  They sometimes just do crazy, wild things.

Even more, can these people not live without their dogs for the time it takes to go into Walmart (which, admittedly, can sometimes be long and is never pleasant, for people or dogs?)

But . . . now I have been told that students can bring pets to class not because of a clear disability (I had such a student last year, and her beautiful dog was a joy to behold), but because of a need for comfort. 

Add to this the most bizarre article I've read on Breakpoint in a while: Dog boomers 

I truly am afraid that not just the twenty-somethings but older people are becoming totally unable to cope with life and find alternatives that would have been scoffed at forty years ago.  Self-medicating, not being able to go anywhere without a pet, trigger warnings, seeing offense in everything, microagressions.  Is it going to get worse or are we going to get real?

I read that 28 Coptic Christians were killed today in Egypt.  Yet Americans have to have their puppies with them all the time.  Nowhere have I ever been so confronted with the differences in the West and the rest of the world. 

I'm going to write my Compassion Child in Rwanda now and be reminded of reality.

The Socratic Method and Getting in Trouble as a Professor

Excellent article in Inside Higher Education, which I read more than The Chronicle of Higher Education simply because IHE comes to my box everyday for free, but I also find the articles valuable.

This writer works in the same system I do and I know his situation.  I also have had the same kind of thing happening.

Sometimes when we play "devil's advocate" we are both trying to challenge critical reflection and expressing a viewpoint, or a half-way one.  I had a student skewer me on a student evaluation a few years back because I had the nerve to suggest that being a stripper was not a good career choice for women.

What I get from this is the granularity and care we must take with our language.  I am very guilty of letting my subconscious speak.  Sometimes this serves me well with some amazingly creative insights.  Other times I put my foot in it, and I'm not talking about my mouth.

At the same time, I agree with his syllabus disclaimer, and it should be common practice.  The students must be clearly told that their perception of a racist or sexist or otherwise offensive comment may be totally and only their perception and based on their own experiential biases. I will be doing that for my next f2f syllabus. 

It is odd to me that we encourage the students to express their own viewpoints and allow them to do so  but they would get upset in a discussion if the instructor does it, assuming the instructor (and this is important) frames it as his/her viewpoint and not as absolute, finalized truth.  Such a reaction on their parts is both a function of their immaturity and the snowflake condition, which is my next post. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Myth of Easy

Having recently finished leading a (small) book group with colleagues on Mindset by Carol Dweck, I have a few thoughts--well, more than a few, but I'll just share the most useful, in my thinking.

First, I would recommend the work of Angela Duckworth and David Yeager.  This video on YouTube is a good start: 

This is one of many you could find (Angela has done Ted Talks and is the "grit" lady) but I think this one combines them in a coherent way.  I heard David Yeager speak at AASCU last year and he has a lot to say to serious college teachers.  By serious college teachers I mean those who really want to attain student learning outcomes and are willing to set aside ego and biases to achieve that goal.

My major take away from Mindset: the myth of easy

Learning is supposed to be fun, right?  And everyone can be whatever they want to be, right?  And everyone should have great self-esteem on the basis of just being, right?  Without having actually achieved anything, right?

Self-worth and self-esteem are two different things, by the way, and from a theological standpoint the first comes from the IMAGO DEI.  I mean, where else would it come from?  The other narrative is that we are biological products of natural selection anyway,  with no intelligence behind that selection other than the process itself.

Self-esteem needs a basis.  And that gets into the myth of easy.

If learning is easy, than it can't be hard.  If learning is hard, than I must not be good at something.  If I am not naturally good at something, there is no reason for me to spend time on it.

Math is hard.  Biology is hard.  Learning to write cogently is hard.  Because they are hard, I must not be good at them, because they would come easily to me if I were good at it.  So, I shouldn't have to do it.

Anyone who has taught difficult classes to freshmen (Writing, Public speaking, algebra, biology, a foreign language) has heard some variation on this.  Since I teach the first twp, especially public speaking, I heard versions of it quite a bit.

The fault lies in the presupposition that LEARNING IS EASY.  It is not. It was never intended to be easy and is in fact not, not from a psychological, biological, or social standpoint.

Duckworth points out that learning comes from powering through (that's the grit) periods of confusion.  Without the confusion, there has been no learning because it's already known.  This parallels Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, which I think is an important theoretical perspective.

We need to stop portraying learning, at any age, as easy.  It is hard and it's hardness has nothing to do with one's ability to do it or its value.

I am reminded of the research about people who believe in soul mates having more divorces.  Your soul mate is not supposed to present any challenges or problems in the marriage.  If there is a problem, the person is not your soulmate; you made a mistake, so you must divorce that person and go find the real soulmate.  This is the plot of almost every Hollywood rom-com, where the protagonists are in relationships with others but break up  to be with the right ones. The "break up' partner is always clearly flawed in some way and the "right one" is always perfect, unflawed.

The point is that since love with your soulmate (a strange concept, really), see here is supposed to be easy and not hard, it's just right to jump ship than to work through relationship problems like an adult.

Years ago my husband wanted to get into snow skiing.  I learned it.  It was hard.  I did get to a minimal proficiency.  There was some enjoyment in it, but not really.  I mean seriously--it's cold, the boots are painful, the likelihood of injury is high, and it's darn expensive.  So, ultimately, despite the learning, I don't ski any more and don't plan to, especially the way my back is now (which may have gotten bad from the skiing).  Learning is not easy.

Now, in terms of the Mindset book, we decided in the group that it was too black and white, that it portrayed people as either being in a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.  This is way simplistic.  I think it's a range, and it's contextual/situational, and it's a tendency rather than an "always reaction."  I may have a growth mindset and have failure set backs but find that resiliency after a period of time.  I may be growth about somethings and fixed about others.  I may be 75% growth and 25% fixed.  Life is not as simple as this book portrays.

If I know anything, life is complicated.  And the myth of easy doesn't help.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tribal Leadership

Reading this book because it was recommended by a higher up at the college who wanted to lead a book group on it, and the book group is this week.  I am slow to recommend books like this, but I found it helpful.  It took me a while to get into it, and it’s pretty anecdotal and of course, like all these books presents its ideas as the salvation of the organizational world. 
Essentially, it posits five levels for organizations.
Stage 1 – Members say, “Life sucks.”
Stage 2 – Members say, “My life sucks.”
Stage 3 – Some members say, “My life is great.”  Here we have people performing well but only for themselves.
Stage 4 – Members say, “We are great,” which is an us-them mentality but is preferable to Stage 3, where everyone is about themselves and their own success.  At this stage the leaders have had epiphanies that show them the organization is bigger than individual members, etc.  Sort of a Jack Mezirow transformative learning thing.
Stage  5 – We don’t have to worry about being great because we are not about ourselves or beating the competition, but about serving the greater good, the globe, etc.  Sort of like Maslow’s self-actualization level. 
Since I recently read Carol Dweck’ Mindset, I couldn’t help seeing the connections with that book, which I do recommend although I wish she had put more scholarship into it.   

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Academic Freedom

I take a very conservative view of Academic Freedom.  By that I mean that as far as free speech for the faculty member in the classroom, the less the better.  This is odd for me because I am libertarian in regard to free speech, but I also know the issues of power in the classroom and that the classroom has one goal, and that is not to allow the professor to spout off and pontificate.

The goal of the classroom is student learning, not indocrination into a faculty member's viewpoints.   There is too much to do in a classroom to spend time on your own tangents. 

Does this mean the faculty member is a blank slate, with not opportunities for self-expression?  Of course not.  We should be and are free to state our opinions, as long as we present them as such.  And we all know faculty who state their opinions as facts and as the sum total of the issue.  Admit it.  Just because you agree with someone's viewpoint doesn't mean it isn't their viewpoint.

Likewise, self-disclosure must be minimal, and that includes the use of foul language.  While some students will think a faculty member who uses profanity is "cool," more or many will think it unwise, intemperate, or unnecessary. And of course, some won't even notice.   Some might, reasonably, find the use of the f word sexist and violating.  

I will probably make some mad with this, but too many college professors treat the classroom as a floorshow about themselves or their ideas rather than engaging the students in real learning, and then we complain when the students don't meet the learning outcomes.

Am I a hypocrite in this regard?  My only violation might be to tell personal stories that have a point in the content, and I imagine some of those stories work and others don't.  It was hard during this last election not to say both candidates were horrendous.  Actually, I probably did.  So,yes, I am human and probably hypocritical, but I don't think academic freedom protects me. 

Reflective Practice as a High Impact Practice

The following is an excerpt from a guidebook I am co-authoring with colleagues on implementing High Impact Practices in a classroom.  I wrote this part so I think it's ok to post; our final book is going to be an open resource anyway and under Creative Commons.  This section is under the part on one of the quality matrices, "Periodic and structured opportunities to reflect and integrate learning."

 One of the examples of this essential element, provided by the AAC&U literature, is “A capstone course in which students submit a portfolio and explain the relative contributions of the artifacts contained therein that represent the knowledge and proficiencies attained at various points during their program of study.”  Although this is one way to use reflection in a significant way, there are many ways that reflection can be used.  Unfortunately, reflection is a word more talked about than understood and done, as Shakespeare would say, “a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance.

Reflection is a buzz word today but little is said about how to facilitate reflection.  If we are to follow David Kolb’s model of learning, based on Dewey’s, there must first be something to reflect upon, specifically, an experience.  (see Image 2). Reflection does not exist for its own sake, but for future experience and use of the learning. 

Students should also be educated to use reflection that is critical, in the sense that the student should be using the reflective episode to question prior assumptions he/she held about the content of learning, about him/herself, and about the discipline and knowledge construction (learning).   Reflection is a method that can aid the student not only to assimilate the knowledge into existing frameworks of understand but also to accommodate or transform existing frameworks to the new knowledge (as per Piaget’s theory of assimilation and accommodation in learning).  Reflection can therefore aid the student in moving up the hierarchy of Bloom’s/Krathwohl’s taxonomy of learning.

The Western practice of and belief in the power of reflection is based in the Socratic advice to know oneself and that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  It is a way of helping students find their places in and response to the world.  Reflection has a strong subjective component, and unfortunately the student often interprets the task of “reflection” as focusing mainly or totally on the subjective, personal experience and not the objective, corporate experience.  In other words, the emphasis is “I,” not “it” or “we” or “others.”  The personal is part of reflection, but not all.  Periodic, structured opportunities to reflect and integrate learning should not be interpreted as an expectation that the students should wallow in or privilege their own opinions, but that they should think deeply and critically about various facets of an experience, not just their immediate emotional, ethical, or cultural reaction.

Students, especially college students in their first two years, are usually unaware of methods for reflecting.  Sometimes their “reflections” are skeletal and superficial, although in my experiences some students who are more verbal or more introverted will produce more in-depth or at least verbose reflections. Some students mistake “giving my opinion or personal response to something” as reflection on an experience or classroom event.  It is common practice to use prefabricated prompts from a textbook or other sources to instigate the reflection.  It might be a valuable long-term project to instill in students a taxonomy of reflection, or methodology, so that when they are told to “reflect” they have the tools to do so.

Such taxonomies exist.  A good grounding in Bloom’s taxonomy and Krathwohl’s and Anderson’s revision of it is a basis. Peter Pappas takes Bloom’s as his inspiration for his taxonomy of reflection (Image 3).  Although Pappas works mostly with public secondary students and teachers, the model gives a sense of how reflection could be structured, and therefore more assessable.

The word “assessable” brings us to the real gist of the matter and the essential element.  What does the faculty member do with the reflection? How is it “graded?” It is not unusual for faculty to read reflections, make a few comments as needed, give a check mark, and move on.  There is nothing wrong with this, but it should not be the goal, especially in upper division courses.  A reflection paper of any length should be expected to follow a structure that examines various aspects and is graded with a rubric and sufficiently weighted in terms of grades, since the writing and revision task itself is iterative, reflective, and basic to critical thinking. 

And of course, not all reflective tasks are equal.  If an instructor shows a controversial video in class wherein a filmmaker or speaker makes an argument, the reflective task there might focus on rhetorical elements.  On the other hand, if in a psychology course the instructor enacts a role play of a famous experiment, that reflective task may look different.  However, in referring to Pappas and Kolb, the first step would be to get students to clearly, nonjudgmentally review what really happened and the facets of its meaning before moving on to the validity of the claims, the biases of the speaker or the audience, and the connection or application to reality.  Image 4 gives an example of a taxonomy that might be useful for a rhetorical video.

Question 1
Question 3
What is being said (and not?) (understanding)
What does it mean? (interpretation)
What can I do with this information or insight? (application)
Why is this important? (value)
Why should I accept his position? (logic of his arguments)
Why would I be biased against this position? (questioning my assumptions)
How did the speaker get to this position/idea/view? (is he/she honest about it?)
Could the speaker be leaving out something? (his/her biases)
How does the speaker support his/her ideas? (persuade us?)

Another, element of reflection is the communication mode.  Is it best for the student to do reflection in written form for only the instructor and him/herself, in written form only for self, in written form for others, in oral mode to the whole class or to just a small group, or simply internal?  This is a difficult question, related to the level of the controversy involved, perceived threat of retaliation in a grade, perception of the subjective nature of reflection, introversion-extroversion of the student, cultural experiences of the students, and diversity in processing modes or learning styles.  Being asked to reflect doesn’t mean that the student will come to fully formed conclusions in a few minutes.  It might make more sense to focus on the process of reflection than the outcomes or conclusions.

Writing or stating something publicly in our culture is seen as a commitment one is held to and judged by.  A student expected to reflect out loud or in a public way might still be processing and unready to commit to a viewpoint; it’s still tentative, nascent, and undeveloped. At the same time, we could argue that telling students to reflect without a permanent record of it is truly as waste of time. They might as well be told to plan what they are going to eat for lunch or what Netflix show they will watch that evening.  Writing, even for the self, involves the brain actively far more than just speaking or keeping one’s thoughts to oneself.  The weight of the assignment and relationship to the course’s student learning outcomes also enter into the communication mode chosen.  

Related to this question is whether the instructor himself or herself is willing to engage in the same type of reflection and honesty and to recognize his/her assumptions that might need testing.  If the instructor’s goal in reflective assignments is to get the students ultimately to agree with his/her viewpoints, then there is a problem.  Students often perceive the reflective task this way and decide that the best method is to give the instructor what is wanted for a grade rather than be honest.

In conclusion, reflection has many values and should be an integral part of whatever High Impact Practice utilized in the course; however, its use should be strategic, intentional, assessable, and facilitated with training students with ways to reflect. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A few thoughts on college teaching: Lecturing and Academic Freedom

I was reading an interesting (although in need of proofreading) article called "Lecture is Not a Dirty Word."  One of the big reasons faculty don't like faculty or educational development is that they feel that lecturing is characterized as a horrible method in favor of "active learning strategies."  As a colleague says, it's a straw man because presenters often show the hilarious clips of Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (it is quite funny, but in no means the reality of lecturing for most professors I know).

One of the thoughts in this article is that students don't want to waste time in class on activities, discussions, etc. that do not help them learn directly and get a good grade.  Oh, woe is us, these writers say--the students should not be so extrinsic and should want to learn for the sake of learning, should be socially constructing knowledge and not just passing a test.

To that I say, get real.  None of the faculty members wanted to waste time on activities that would not get them grades in college.  I wouldn't. Time is precious.  If an active learning strategy is just a trendy thing to do and doesn't help the student get a better grade, there are two problems:  the assessment methods are not good and probably there are learning outcomes problems in the class design; a good grade should only prove the student learned, and therefore the point of the class was met.

Now, that is not to say I am in favor of 75-minute lectures, 2 times a week for 15 weeks.  I am in favor of short lectures with breaks (both physical and mental; students should have to get up and move during that period).  Some things in classes just need to be explained in lectures, which should be at most 20 minutes long followed by something to apply or reflect or discuss or write about or practice the knowledge.  A college teacher should be a good lecturer in the sense of (a) a clear explainer of concepts (b) having a loud and energetic enough voice, and (c) being able to add some entertaining examples and rhetorical variety. A good lecturer needs to be organized (organization goes a long way).  PowerPoint is a very good organizational tool, but busy notes on the slides is generally not that good because it discourages note-taking.

Obviously lecturing can have a number of bad characteristics, but other than poor rhetorical and nonverbal aspects, the worst is lecturing that gets the students off the hook for reading the material and working outside of class.  That is where students take responsibility for their own learning.  If a student can pass a class based on the PowerPoints and lectures, then a book should not be assigned (or bought).  But this is not an advisable strategy, since the classroom time limits who much material can be explained.  In my opinion, the textbook should cover the basics and the lectures the more advanced or specialized knowledge.

Another point in the article is that students don't like class discussions as much as instructors think they do.  This is a tough point.  What is the point of the discussion?  To let students express their opinions?  Why?  Seriously, why?  So the others can hear other points of view?  Why?  Do the students really think their peers know anything worth listening to?  If what matters is the content of the course and learning the concepts to pass the class, why would Joe Doe's opinion matter?

Before you get excited, there is a value in the students having to hear a diversity of viewpoints in some contexts (such as interpretation of an art work) and there is also value in their learning to listen in a civil and respectful manner.  But I would encourage the discussion to be directed to facts and experience rather than opinion.  Not that I am the expert on this (who is?), but yesterday I wanted students to talk about their experiences in job interviews as a way to draw out how their experiences were typical of today's workforce climate, how they responded to it and how they could have, what they learned from it, etc.  

This post has gone on too long so I'll get to academic freedom next time. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Starting a Teaching and Learning Center in a College

This article appeared in Inside Higher Ed (a favorite publication of mine).  I think it has some valid information.

Having started a teaching and learning center myself, I have a lot of opinions on the process.  I also wrote my doctoral dissertation on faculty (educational) development, so I kind of know a little about this.

The T and L director (or whatever other title has been given to the lead professional development person) has to be winsome about bringing faculty--from all disciplines, not just the one that the director may represent--into the center.  Part of this winsomeness is balancing evangelism of a particular pedagogy or even trendy practice with appreciation of what the faculty are already doing.  Any time you ask a person to change you must guarantee that the benefit of the change will be greater than the cost.

If a teacher who primarily lectures (oh, my, no!) has good results from the students in terms of learning outcomes and test results (or licensure, etc.) and student evaluations, why would he or she feel a need to flip the classroom or do full course redesign?  Granted, there are a lot of reasons psychologically and pedagogically that we probably should, but it's a hard sell.  In my experience, telling the faculty member they will be a better teacher if they change pedagogy, stop lecturing, and adopt a new approach is first telling the faculty member that in the developer's judgment, the faculty member is not doing his/her job.

Now, think about that.  Who is the developer to make that judgment? And why would the faculty member in question be persuaded?

I used the term "evangelism" above.  We Christians know that conversion to Christ is impossible without recognition of spiritual need.  Conversion to course redesign is unlikely if the faculty member sees no need.

That doesn't mean the faculty member has to be doing emotional mea culpas about his/her teaching failures before the developer can help.  Sometimes a faculty member is just tired of what he/she is doing and wants a valid change.  I just mean that the developer must be a diplomat about introducing change.

There is also the matter of bringing in speakers.  My research showed that faculty appreciated the speakers coming in because it shows a commitment of the administration to the faculty's professional development.  Otherwise, it depends on the outside speaker's approach.  I have heard many speakers who say, "don't lecture" yet spend the whole session lecturing.  This discrepancy is not lost on faculty.  Remember, these are smart people with doctoral degrees.  Don't treat them like undergrads (really, please!)

Sometimes the faculty member doesn't need full redesign, but small tweaks to improve his/her teaching.  

My last point, for now, is that we should find out what the faculty are doing and focus on interdisciplinary sharing, as well as intradisciplinary sharing.  The faculty are probably doing some interesting and exciting things in the classroom that can help others. They might be studying aspects of teaching (especially in terms of technology) on their own, self-directed, that others can grow by knowing about.

In short, a faculty developer has to approach the peers with humility.  Most of us who come to faculty development are entrenched in our own disciplinary ways of thinking and cannot assume to know how to teach a different one in the actual day-to-day of a classroom.  I am fascinated to know how math teachers teach math.  I don't pretend to know about that (mostly because higher level math is a mystery to me, anything beyond algebra and statistics).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Just so you know . . .

For anyone who stumbles across this blog and cares to know, this is who I am:  Professor of Communication at Dalton State College and Chair of the Department of Communication, which in our case encompasses performing arts (theatre and music), foreign languages (French and Spanish), and communication.  I am also

Open Educational Resources: A Bibliography

Yesterday I spoke at a conference (very good one!) on Faculty Creation of Open Educational Resources because a colleague and I wrote a textbook for a basic public speaking course.  I will be posting about it and my talk in the future (working on lengthy article which I'll post in parts) but I wanted to post this list of references for those who need help with the question of research that has been done on student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, and achievement of learning outcomes with open educational resources.  
Azevedo, A.  (2013, February 1).  Pay nothing?  Easier said than done.  Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(21), A18-A19.

Allen, G., Guzman-Alvarez, A., Smith, A., Gamage, A., Molinaro, M., & Larsen, D. S. (2015). Evaluating the effectiveness of the open-access ChemWiki resource as a replacement for traditional general chemistry textbooks. Chemistry Education Research And Practice, 16(4), 939.

Allen, I.E. & Seaman, J. (2014).  Opening the curriculum:  Open educational resources in U.S. higher education.  Pearson:  Babson Survey Research Group. 

Baek, E., & Monaghan, J. (2013). Journey to textbook affordability: An investigation of students' use of eTextbooks at multiple campuses. International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(3), 1-26.

Belikov, O. M. & Bodily, R.  (2016). Incentives and barriers to OER adoption: A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions. Open Praxis, 8Idoi:10.5944/openpraxis.8.3.308

Bliss, T. J., Robinson, T. J., Hilton, J., & Wiley, D. A. (2013). An OER COUP: College teacher and student perceptions of open educational resources. Journal Of Interactive Media In Education, 2013(1).  DOI:

Bolkan, J.  (2015, September 1).  Survey: Most students prefer traditional texts over e-Books.  Campus  Retrieved from

Burgess, M. L., Price, D. P.,  & Caverly, D. C. (2012, Fall).   Digital literacies in multiuser virtual environments among college-level developmental readers.  Journal of College Reading and Learning, 43(1), 13-30.  

Ciampa, M., Thrasher, E., Marston, S., & Revels, M. (2013). Is acceptance of E-textbooks discipline-dependent? Comparing business and non-business student perceptions. Research In Higher Education Journal, 20.

Downes, S. (2007). Models for sustainable open educational resources.Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 3, 29-44. Retrieved from

Clarke, V. (2015). Experience factors related to students’ perceptions of eTexts: extending the Technology Acceptance Model. Retrieved from 

Farrow, R., Pitt, R., Arcos, B. l., Perryman, L., Weller, M., & McAndrew, P. (2015). Impact of OER use on teaching and learning: Data from OER Research Hub (2013-2014). British Journal Of Educational Technology, 46(5), 972-976. doi:10.1111/bjet.12310
Fischer, L., Hilton, J. I., Robinson, T. J., & Wiley, D. A. (2015). A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students. Journal Of Computing In Higher Education, 27(3), 159-172.

Hilton, J. I., Gaudet, D., Clark, P., Robinson, J., & Wiley., D. (2013). The adoption of open educational resources by one community college math department. International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(4), 37-50.

Hsu, L. S., Walsh, E., & Malhotra, R. (2014). What Technology Do Students Use: Implications for Faculty Development. Digital Commons@Georgia Southern.

Judith, K.,& Bull, D. (2016 March).  Assessing the potential for openness:
framework for examining course-level OER implementation in higher education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(42), 1-19.

Knox, J. (2013). Five critiques of the open educational resources movement. Teaching In Higher Education, 18(8), 821-832.

Krämer, B. J., Neugebauer, J., Magenheim, J., & Huppertz, H. (2015). New ways of learning: Comparing the effectiveness of interactive online media in distance education with the European textbook tradition. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 46(5), 965-971.

Liu, H. (2011). What do the college millennial learners say about an open source digital textbook for a teacher education course?  Journal Of Technology Integration In The Classroom, 3(1), 17.

Liu, Z.  (2005).  Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years.  Journal of Documentation, 61( 6), 700-712.

McKerlich, R., Ives, C., & McGreal, R. (2013). Measuring use and creation of open educational resources in higher education. International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 14(4), 90-103.

Ngafeeson, M. N. & Sun, J. (2015).  The effects of technology innovativeness and system exposure on student acceptance of E-textbooks.  Journal of Information Technology Education:  Research, 14, 55-71.  Retrieved from

Ngafeeson, M.N.  Sun, J.  (2015). "E-Book acceptance among undergraduate students: A look at the moderating role of technology innovativeness" International Journal of Web-Based Learning and Teaching Technologies, 10(3).  Retrieved from

 Nicholas, A. J., & Lewis, J. K. (2011). Is free really cost-effective? A case study of open access e-textbook usage in several undergraduate business courses. Proceedings Of The Northeast Business & Economics Association, 350-354.

Robinson, T. J., Fischer, L., Wiley, D., & Hilton, J. I. (2014). The impact of open textbooks on secondary science learning outcomes. Educational Researcher, 43(7), 341-351.

Sutton, S.C. & Chadwell, F. A.  (2014).  Open textbooks at Oregon State University:  A case study on new opportunities for academic libraries and university presses.  Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 2(4), 34-48.  doi:  10.7710/2162-3309.1174

Weisberg, M. (2011). Student Attitudes and Behaviors Towards Digital Textbooks. Publishing Research Quarterly, 27(2), 188-196. doi:10.1007/s12109-011-9217-4

Woody, W. D., Daniel,  D. B.,  Baker, C. A.  (2010, November). E-books or textbooks:  Students prefer textbooks.  Computers and Education, 55(3), 945-948.  doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.04.005