Burnout: Keep the wolf at bay!

Jeanne M Slattery

– Jeanne M. Slattery

We’re now in our 20th month of the pandemic. Are you feeling burned out, unusually tired, overwhelmed, or more cynical? I know I am feeling stretched more than I like, and I don’t like the feeling.

It matters that we have high levels of burnout, fatigue, and feelimg overwhelmed and cynical. These factors lead to mistakes, irritability, complaints, decreased empathy, and exits from the field.

Burnout results from a combination of three factors: exhaustion, job-related negativity or cynicism, and decreased effectiveness at work (World Health Organization, 2019). The changes that we are under – teaching online, dealing with divisive politics, and consolidating – put us at risk of all three. We feel overworked, lack control over some aspects of our work, may not feel sufficiently appreciated, and struggle with conflicting values about how we approach our work (Norcross, 2021).

University faculty have always been at high risk for burnout (Fernández-Suárez et al., 2021), as have secondary school teachers (Molero et al., 2019). However, our world is now very different than just two years ago. I hear more complaints, reports of burnout, and problems with morale than I had in the past.

McMurtrie (2020) described a number of causes of the increasing feelings of burnout. Some of the people she spoke with complained about “a crushing workload combined with child-care challenges.” We have had to make significant shifts in our teaching strategies, learn new technologies at breakneck speed, teach our students what we just learned, and worry about our students’ and colleagues’ emotional health (e.g., Mheidly et al., 2020; Nolan, 2021). We have been considering issues of equity (e.g., Should we require students to keep their cameras on? Is our technology accessible and affordable? Are our new teaching strategies biased against some groups?). Finally, the US as a whole is becoming less education-friendly (see this report of recent discussions in Pennsylvania’s state legislature). In Pennsylvania, the western PASSHE universities are being consolidated, although we still lack clarity about the details. As a result of such attitudes and behaviors, faculty in the State System – and around the country – are more stressed about whether their positions and programs will still exist next semester or next year.

What can we do?

It is easier to prevent burnout that to recover from it, but awareness of the risk of burnout is a first step (Mheidly et al., 2020). I just went to a conference – in person! – where Norcross (2021) considered the irony that, on the one hand, many of us don’t have time to “sharpen the saw” (keep ourselves healthy to do our job), yet we have to do so to be effective. He identified 13 strategies to prevent burnout. These include valuing yourself and the work you do, refocusing on the rewards of the job while recognizing the hazards, taking care of your body, finding nurturing relationships, setting effective boundaries, challenging your negative self-thoughts, finding healthy escapes (e.g., hobbies, relaxation, exercise, and play), engaging mindfully, and fostering a sense of meaning, purpose, and growth.  (This was a three-hour workshop, so there was more. If you want more, I can send my notes)

Nolan (2021) suggested that we should regularly monitor how we are doing, notice when we are feeling more exhausted and cynical, and work to break the cycle. On a micro-level, take breaks, especially when you’re working online. Create in-person and virtual networks of colleagues, who support you and check in on you – and you them – even if it’s just with a quick email.

We can also do a number of things to prevent/reduce burnout for others. We can offer faculty and staff opportunities for professional development. We can provide support, perceived control, and positive feedback.

We can get through this, but we cannot do this alone, and we cannot just wish it better. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Start now!

References

Fernández-Suárez, I., García-González, M. A., Torrano, F., & García-González, G. (2021). Study of the prevalence of burnout in university professors in the period 2005–2020. Education Research International,2021, Article ID 7810659. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/7810659

McMurtrie, B. (2020, November 5). The pandemic is dragging on. Professors are burning out. Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-pandemic-is-dragging-on-professors-are-burning-out

Mheidly, N., Fares, M. Y., & Fares, J. (2020). Coping with stress and burnout associated with telecommunication and online learning.Frontiers in Public Health, 8, Article 574969. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.574969

Molero Jurado, M. D. M., Pérez-Fuentes, M. D. C., Atria, L., Oropesa Ruiz, N. F., & Gázquez Linares, J. J. (2019). Burnout, perceived efficacy, and job satisfaction: Perception of the educational context in high school teachers. BioMed Research International,2019, Article ID 1021408. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/1021408

Nolan, S. (2021, October 6). Pandemic burnout is real. Society for the Teaching of Psychology. http://teachpsych.org/

Norcross, J. C. (2021). Psychologist self-care: Now more than ever. Workshop at Pennsylvania Psychological Association Leadership Retreat.

World Health Organization. (2019). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases

Jeanne M. Slattery is professor and chair of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower, and can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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Changes: Danger or opportunity?

Paul Woodburne

– Paul Woodburne

I have had David Bowie’s “Changes” going through my head quite a lot lately.

We are confronting many real and anticipated changes as we start Fall 2021.  Perhaps to the greatest extent in all our collective teaching careers, the upcoming semesters bring the most uncertainty and angst.  Among the changes and challenges we face:

  1. The ongoing pandemic and the educational upheavals it has brought, and continues to bring.  (I was hoping to be done with masks and needing to use D2L this term.  Maybe in the Spring.)
  2. The continued decline in our incoming freshmen class and retention.
  3. The integration of Clarion with California and Edinboro Universities. 

It seems to me that the integration has caused more things to be in flux and full of uncertainty than that caused by any of the other issues we face.  Every aspect of our educational life: our students, departments, colleges, curriculum, Faculty Senate, Students Affairs, sports teams, Admissions, and administration, are all going to change. 

The future includes real things to worry about, but maybe it also includes some opportunities.

My Worries

Looking at the big picture overview first.  Most PASSHE schools are in financial distress.  The state legislature could solve most of the financial issues if it funded education as it did when most of the legislators were old enough to attend a  PASSHE school and if they desired a well-educated population.  In May, Chancellor Greenstein suggested that integration would help schools solve their financial distress, given that the legislature is not going to fund the PASSHE as it should (Snyder, 2021).  In an email in June, Joyce Overly, Clarion’s ASPCUF president, observed that PASSHE’s integration plan foresees budgetary shortfalls of $11 million in the next five years. I do not see how integration solves the financial issues at Clarion, California, or Edinboro Universities, and Chancellor Greenstein no longer raises this as an advantage in his interviews (Shackner, 2021; Whitford, 2021). 

Looking more microscopically, I am on a Working Group considering how our new Faculty Senate will work.  Faculty Senate at California has no input in curriculum, and their membership consists of at least one person from every department.  Faculty Senate at Edinboro has some input in curriculum, and composition of Senate membership is different from both Clarion and California, but largely driven by department membership.  Our Senate has quite a bit of say in curricular issues, and we elect our membership from ‘at large’ candidates.  My subcommittee has agreed that we would like the new Senate to have considerable input in curricular issues.  However, we cannot implement this proposal until there is a curricular committee of the New U, and until/unless each campus’ faculty vote in some manner and agree on the goal/purpose of a New U Faculty Senate, and develop an implementation plan to get there. 

Similarly, the new Curriculum working groups have to decide on the curriculum for each major and program.  At the same time, the General Education Working Group is thinking about the General Education program for the New U.  Again, we cannot implement any change to how the New U Senate will deal with curriculum until parties agree on the New U-wide curriculum committee.  As all of this is wholly outside of whatever is contemplated by our Collective Bargaining Agreement, we can implement nothing until management and ASPCUF agree to new rules and policies.  Management and ASPCUF have tentatively agreed on the structure for how these committees will be implemented, although this needs to be approved by Legislative Assembly.

Integration, as envisioned, will result in one university with three branch campuses (and an online college), but one collection of students who need to be educated.  It should eventually matter very little whether the student is at Clarion, California, or Edinboro University.  But, of course, it will matter.  In my department/discipline, we have sufficient faculty to teach introductory classes to our local students.  However, our individual departments do not have sufficient local students to fill upper-level classes.  Thus, for the foreseeable future, all of my upper-level classes will be multimodal or online, and will include students from the three campuses.  Thus, the culture at our sister branches campuses will impact our students.

The composition of the administration will change.  Departments will elect new chairs. Will the campus with the most disciplinary faculty always win?  Will a ‘departmental culture’ develop, making membership in a department primary, and location of the faculty secondary or will we remain three loosely connected universities?  The university will hire new Deans and a Provost, as well as necessary assistant- or vice- positions, as needed at each campus, which will have unanticipated consequences for the faculty, students, and programs. 

Some Opportunities

So, the point of this is. . .

I am 60 years old.  I started here in 1998, when I was about 37.  I have about 10 more years until I want to retire. 

I think a perfectly reasonable reaction to our looming issues is to get lost in the confusion, and to feel anxious.  I feel anxious about the job security and careers of my younger colleagues, those in their mid-30s to mid-40s.  I feel anxious about the future of Clarion as a town, and of Clarion as a viable university.  I feel impotent about what I can do about most of these circumstances. 

As anxious as I am about the above, I have to react and adjust to the pandemic-induced changes to education pedagogy, the falling enrollments, and the integration. I have no immediate control over these.  The issue is how I react and adjust.  The only way I can see for me to remain functional is to continue to do my job as I hope I always have, with an eye toward what is best for the students. 

I am actually excited about the idea that I can continue to have an Economics major, and to teach students interested in graduating with an Economics degree.  My Clarion-based department consists of 2¾ people, down from 11 or so in its heyday.  If this were all we had, we could not have a program or attract students pursuing our major.  I would be relegated to teaching Principles and Statistics for the rest of my career.  The New U seems to be comprised of nine or more Economics faculty in our new Economics, Finance and Accountancy department.  Members of each institution have expertise in fields they have never been able to teach.  This means that, when we revamp our major, our students will learn from more faculty than the three of us, and they will likely be exposed to more topics, perspectives, and ideas than they would have been exposed to when earning a degree from Clarion. All I can do is to work with my new department to develop new and innovative programming to attract students to New U. 

Conclusions

I am not a Pollyanna, and I hope I am not being fatuous.  The whole “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” thing is kind of irritating.  But, in this situation, where the integration is a done deal, for me, the only way forward is to truly view this as an opportunity rather than only as a likely danger.  I have to approach this with an open mind and a goal to do what I can to improve the student experience. 

References

Shackner, B. (2021, August 3). Merged universities could ‘turn the page’ on woes keeping Pennsylvania’s State System from educating more students. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. https://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2021/08/03/State-System-of-Higher-Education-Greenstein-Legislature-Pennsylvania-mergers-integration-enrollment-colleges/stories/202108030097

Snyder, S. (2021, May 4). Chancellor faces tough questions on university mergers at legislative hearing. Philadelphia Inquirer. https://www.inquirer.com/education/state-system-merger-university-chancellor-hearing-20210504.html

Whitford, E. (2021, August 16). Pennsylvania chancellor speaks on consolidation. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/08/16/pennsylvania-state-system-chancellor-discusses-consolidation


Paul Woodburne is a professor of Economics at Clarion University. He challenges his students to think critically and deeply about economic issues. He has written an intermediate money and banking text that he uses in his classes. About six years ago two freshmen in the dorms heard horror stories about how difficult his classes were and got together for mutual support and study. They found they liked each other and, having graduated and gotten good jobs, are now happily married.

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Creating a Virtual Exam Room Experience – How I changed my mind and embraced Zoom for proctoring exams

– Ron Craig

Ron Craig

I was fortunate that immediately before the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, I had given the second exam in my face-to-face courses. In the shift to online, my immediate focus was on creating materials and adapting assignments to the virtual setting. I revised and expanded my assessment methods, but I still needed exams and, as the next one was coming up fast, I wondered how I was going to handle it. How would I maintain academic integrity? How would I address any questions that a student might have while taking the exam? How do I keep from adding additional stressors to my students?

Colleagues and I began to correspond about what they were doing.  We began talking about using Zoom as a proctoring platform, but something didn’t sit right. As I started reading about Zoom, several concerns continued to be expressed. Sarah Eaton (2020) noted that using Zoom for exams might add additional barriers for student success. She also argued that students could take advantage of the platform’s limitations.  In addition, students hadn’t signed up to be watched on webcams (if they even had one), and many had internet access issues. Further, I was concerned about potential privacy issues as most of our students were in lockdown with their families.  Thus, I opted I for a different approach.

My summer courses were already scheduled to be online, and while they included multiple modes of assessment, one was exams. Traditionally, I required live proctored exams in my online classes (often by me).  Students would come to campus or work with me to identify a proctor where they were, but still, they took the exam in person.  As it became clear the face-to-face proctoring wasn’t going to be an option, I began to reflect on my initial reactions to Zoom as a proctoring platform. We’d had several months of “Zooming,” and both the students and I were getting more comfortable with it.  Plus, in evaluating what I had done in the Spring and considering other proctoring options I had seen, I still had this nagging concern about students having access to me in real-time during the exam.  In my face-to-face exams (even proctored ones), students had the means to ask me a question while taking the exam.  

An experiment with Zoom

Since I could establish the technology and private space needs upfront in the course syllabus, I decided to give the Zoom approach a try in my Psychology and Law course. I had used Zoom breakout rooms in my classes for group work, where I would “stop in” to check on how they were progressing. Putting students in their own breakout room while taking the exam would allow me to “check-in” on them randomly while taking the exam.  But what finally tipped the scales for me was the “ask for help” button in the breakout room that would allow students to request that I join their room.  Here was a way to mimic the classroom exam experience for students: if they have a question during the exam, they can easily ask me.  In addition, there was a way for me to communicate to all of my students, and thus, if I needed to let everyone know something about the exam, I could.  

So, I set to it.  During the Summer of 2020, most of what I was coming across online about using Zoom to proctor was debating whether it should or shouldn’t be used.  So, I began by conceptualizing how the process would work from the students’ perspective. I ran simulations (i.e., bugged my colleagues and friends to be mock students) and developed a protocol.  Once I had the process in place, I thought about how I wanted to inform the students about the process to reduce any stress or anxiety that using the Zoom Virtual Exam Room could create.  I felt the best way to do this was a three-step system:

  1. clearly state how the exams would take place, the technology requirements, and private space needs in the course syllabus;
  2. prepare a one-page document that gave clear directions on how to take part in what I termed the Virtual Exam Room; and
  3. schedule a practice run where, as a carrot, students earned extra credit for participating.

In my syllabus, I provide a clear explanation of the Virtual Exam Room process and how I intend it to mimic the traditional classroom exam experience. I include that using Zoom was both a way to make sure students follow the rules and that it allows students a way to communicate with me during the exam.  I provide a list of necessary equipment/technology (computer, webcam, microphone, and internet connection) and emphasize that they will need a quiet private space to take the exam.

I then developed a directions sheet that included a more detailed explanation of the process and expectations (i.e., quiet space, at table/desk, instructions on how to “Ask for Help,” what to do if you need to use the bathroom…). I also elaborated on expectations for virtual exam behavior that will or will not be of concern to me during the exam (i.e., not using phone, texting, or email…).  Finally, I included a FAQ section for things like what to do if the internet goes down.

Having had several opportunities to use the Virtual Exam Room now, I feel it is a viable solution for proctoring an exam online.  It is not a panacea, there are still MANY ways a student could beat the system (just Google how to cheat in a Zoom exam); glitches can happen.  But it does allow for faculty to maintain some level of academic integrity during the exam and is not technically difficult for either the student or the instructor. In addition, it allows for real-time engagement between the instructor and the students during the exam, something I haven’t see present in the proctoring services, either AI or staffed.

So, what do students think about the Virtual Exam Room?  

I surveyed some of my classes about the Virtual Exam Room, in addition to asking for anecdotal feedback.  Overall, students were positive, particularly about their ability to easily communicate with me in real-time.  Very few had technical difficulties or limitations, and students respected my desire to maintain accountability. This is consistent with some initial research on using Zoom to proctor exams, where Linden and Gonzalez (2021) found that it was seen as a more student-friendly approach than methods where support was less accessible.  They also found no differences in student performance using an online meeting approach compared to traditional classroom-based testing. 

At the end of the day, multiple modes of assessment are critical in all courses, but one of those modes often needs to be exams.  The Virtual Exam Room is the closest analog to a face-to-face exam experience I have been able to find. While I was initially opposed to the approach, I feel it is one of the better options currently on the table for proctoring online exams. 

References

Eaton, S. (2020, March 31). 3 Reasons why proctoring an exam using Zoom is a bad idea. Learning, Teaching and Leadership: A blog for educators, researchers and other thinkers by Sarah Elaine Eaton, Ph.D. https://drsaraheaton.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/3-reasons-why-proctoring-an-exam-using-zoom-is-a-bad-idea/

Linden, K., & Gonzalez, P. (2021). Zoom invigilated exams: A protocol for rapid adoption to remote examinations. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(4), 1323-1337. https://bera-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjet.13109?af=R



Dr. Ron Craig joined Edinboro University in 1997 after earning his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Utah. His research interests are in forensic developmental psychology, including interviewing children, detection of deception in juveniles, and the role of technology in the courtroom. He has an active undergraduate research program resulting in numerous presentations and publications with undergraduate collaborators. Dr. Craig was named Edinboro University Advisor of the Year (2014) and was the 2009 recipient (with University of Utah research group) of APA’s John E. Reid Memorial Award for distinguished achievement in polygraph research, teaching, or writing. In Spring 2021, Dr. Craig became the Director of the Edinboro University Center for Faculty Excellence.

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Discussing COVID in the classroom

– Jeanne M. Slattery

Jeanne Slattery

As I am writing, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that my county is experiencing “substantial” transmission. They recommend that both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people “wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission,” such as ours (CDC, 2021). Yesterday, we were told that faculty and students will be wearing masks in the classroom.

For some of us, masking and getting vaccinated has been relatively easy, as it may connote a return to normalcy, a commitment to protect loved ones and our communities, and a willingness to trust science and physicians. For others, vaccinations are perceived as unnecessary infringements on personal liberties to address an issue that is no more dangerous than the common flu (Knapp et al., 2021). For some people, decisions to mask or vaccinate may reflect mistrust of science or the medical establishment. Not surprisingly, these differences in attitudes are related to race, educational levels, and political affiliation (Leonhardt, 2021).

Nonetheless, willingness to be vaccinated occurs on a continuum (Abad, 2021). Between these extreme poles, there are many people on the fence. The “wait and see” group has significantly declined in size since December 2020 (KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 2021). An influential family member, a work or travel requirement, or perceptions of increased safety can make a difference in people’s decisions about choosing to be vaccinated (Bosman, 2021; Brewer et al., 2017). People are also more likely to follow the current guidance about masking and vaccinations when they see fewer barriers to getting vaccinated or identify new incentives for doing so. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Social and behavioral factors influencing vaccinations (Abad, 2021)

The coming year

This coming school year has the potential for being full of strife, as faculty and students speak from their fears, anger, and distrust – or relatively calm and cooperative. There are things that you can do to make your classroom safer and less strife-filled as you discuss these issues.

Talk about the elephant in the room. It can feel risky, but talking about current issues is almost always an effective pedagogical strategy, as it makes students see our discussions as relevant, timely, and related to real-world issues. Talking about COVID can be as effective as discussing other items in the news, although how you do so in an English class may be different from how you do so in Mathematics or Psychology. I plan to discuss COVID as I discuss drawing inferences about correlations, consider mediation between variables (Why are African Americans and Latinx groups less likely to get vaccinated than whites?), and as we talk about helping people make change.

In these discussions, validate credible information, address mis- or dis-information if raised, and identify strategies for keeping the discussion going (Abad, 2021). The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020) recommends avoiding repeating misinformation, even to debunk it, as this may unintentionally strengthen that myth.

Listen actively. Regardless of what you feel about vaccinations, a kind, nonjudgmental tone will be accepted better than a bullying or judgmental one. Listening carefully and nonjudgmentally can help students reflect on their attitudes and behaviors (Knapp et al., 2021). Students will be more likely to continue talking and listening when they perceive you as receptive, respectful, willing to listen to them, and acknowledging the veracity of their argument (at least part of their argument). This cooperation can occur even when both parties disagree, especially when we frame our ideas positively; explicitly acknowledge our understanding; find points of agreement; and hedge our claims, as what we know best is that this virus is unpredictable (Yeomans et al., 2020).

As Pascale (1670) observed, “When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him…” I’m not saying that we want to agree with our students’ misinformation, but that we should use our agreement to open the door for a fuller discussion. As Pascale continued, people are more open to our arguments under these conditions “for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.”

Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true. (p. 4)

Listen, with a sense of generosity, of kindness, even a sense of humor. Bullying is rarely effective, but instead causes people to become further entrenched in ever more extreme perspectives.

Set rules you can live with and communicate these clearly. What are your expectations for the coming semester? Clearly, calmly, and transparently identify these in class and in your syllabus. Give your students decision trees like Edinboro University of Pennsylvania’s, which can guide their decisions about when to stop coming to class and for how long.

Let your students know you plan to enforce the mask requirement and let them know why. Use transparent and candid language, frame messages positively, encourage prosocial values like empathy and responsibility to the larger community, and discuss socially-desirable behavior as normative (Knapp et al., 2021).

Given our mask mandate for the fall, I will use this message in my classes.

The university now says that “masks are mandatory in all classrooms and academic buildings.” You will be asked to leave and marked absent if you do not wear a mask or shield covering your mouth and nose in class. If you don’t have a mask, you can receive one from the Psychology Office (226 H). The only exception to this policy is for students with an exemption from Disability Support Services (x2095).

Why masks? Use of masks or shields is consistent with several of our class values: humility, kindness, and community. I am vaccinated, but I don’t know whether I can transmit COVID, as people can spread the disease even when they don’t have symptoms (humility). My mask protects you and yours protects me. I don’t know whether you are immunocompromised, have a child battling cancer, or are caring for an elderly grandparent. I want to keep you and your family safe (kindness). I want our community to thrive, businesses to stay open, and employees to stay healthy (community). Controlling COVID helps all of us!

If you set rules that you can live with from the beginning – and express them using warm and collaborative language – you are less likely to feel taken advantage of. Your students will be clearer about your expectations and decisions and will be more likely to see you as collaborators than adversaries.

Conclusions 

Regardless of your position on masking and vaccinations, we will need to talk about COVID this coming year. When you do, choose to do so as a discussion characterized by curiosity and humility. As Bruni (2021) wrote:

The messaging to the holdouts shouldn’t be: You’re crazy! You’re selfish! You’re reckless! It should be: Look at all the people you know who’ve been vaccinated and show me which of them has grown an 11th toe. Consider how much more easily you’ll move through the world with proof that you’ve been vaccinated. Know that the road to normalcy — economically, socially — runs through a vaccination rate much higher than the current one, so if you want the prepandemic days back, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeve. (para. 17)

And listen with kindness.

References

Abad, N. (2021, June 21). Vaccination status/vaccine hesitancy. In “White House conversation: Mental Health Professionals and the COVID-19 Vaccinations Effort.” Webinar

Bosman, J. (2021, July 24). They waited, they worried, they stalled. this week, they got the shot. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/24/us/covid-vaccine-hesitant.html

Brewer, N. T., Chapman, G. B., Rothman, A. J., Leask, J., & Kempe, A. (2017). Increasing vaccination: Putting psychological science Into action. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 18(3), 149–207.

Bruni, F. (2021, July 29). Here’s how to deal with unvaccinated Americans. New York Times.

Knapp, S., Gottlieb, M., & Handelsman, M. M. (2021). Talking to patients who fail to follow public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic: A principle-based approach. Practice Innovations. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/pri0000144

Leonhardt, D. (2021, May 24). The vaccine class gap. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/24/briefing/vaccination-class-gap-us.html

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Encouraging adoption of protective behaviors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19: Strategies for behavior change. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25881

Yeomans, M., Minson, J., Collins, H., Chen, F., & Gino, F. (2020). Conversational receptiveness: Improving engagement with opposing views. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process, 160, 131-148.


Jeanne M. Slattery is professor and chair of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower, and can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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Not Your Typical First Day of Class

– Jeanne M. Slattery and Ron Craig

Ron Craig and Jeanne Slattery

There are always things to think about in a new school year, but this new year looks different and more challenging in several ways. Our first- and second-year students have largely been taking classes online – against their preferences – for the last three semesters. Returning to school will have all the normal associated problems (e.g., homesickness, periods of loneliness and isolation, depression), but these feelings will likely be more pervasive and apply to a larger proportion of our student population. These students will need help in (again) feeling connected and that they belong.

Not only will our first- and second-year students need support, but even our more seasoned students may need a refresher in the basics of face-to-face classroom skills that they haven’t needed for the last three semesters: waking up more than five minutes before class, getting dressed in something other than pajamas, and attending class in chairs rather than their bed. During this period online, students had to develop new strategies helpful in succeeding in the virtual environment.

Although some of those approaches may transfer well to the traditional classroom setting, others may not. Some students may have developed poor learning and test-taking skills (e.g., scrolling the internet during class, multitasking, treating online exams as open book exams, and asking “Dr. Google” when struggling with a question). Students who have approached classes using these strategies will struggle when they enter formal lectures, cannot use their phones in class, take closed-book exams, cannot pause or rewind the lecture, and discover they need to study for exams. Students who have gotten used to being passive recipients of information on Zoom may struggle when asked to become more active contributors to classroom discussions.

What can we do?

Although this semester is likely to be more challenging, there are things that we can do that can be helpful. We can:

Discuss these concerns with our students. In all of Ron’s face-to-face courses, there will be a discussion on the first day of class that highlights how student’s approaches to the virtual and traditional classrooms might be a bit different: coming prepared for class (and what that means), taking good notes, being on time (or even a bit early) for class, classroom etiquette, and civility. In this discussion, Ron plans to highlight how some skills critical in virtual classes are also important in the traditional classroom (e.g., time management), although some may not be (e.g., re-watching Zoom lectures).

However, some things from the virtual experience may also benefit students.  Although most of Jeanne’s students, when surveyed in Fall 2020, reported doing more poorly online than when face-to-face (63%), almost a quarter reported doing either a little or a lot better (23%). Some talked about being less distracted and having to take more responsibility for their learning. They appreciated being asked how they were doing – both through my survey and a thumbs up/down at the beginning of class. Some students found it easier to ask questions or share opinions in chats or on discussion boards than speaking up in class.  Thus, it may be beneficial for faculty to explore ways to augment the classroom with virtual opportunities or other things that we have learned in the last year.  

We can acknowledge the problems that our students have experienced, help those who struggled get back on track, and recognize that some flourished online. In her Psychology of Personal Growth class, Jeanne plans to ask her students what feelings they have about the old and new semesters. Some of the concerns described in this article are likely to be voiced spontaneously and, if they aren’t, she can raise them as potential concerns. When we talk about the elephant in the room, when we name it, our students are less likely to feel alone and without resources to turn to. These are first-day concerns, but they are likely to be ongoing issues that can be returned to throughout the semester.

Help students feel more connected on campus and with peers. Without having been in classrooms or on campus for a significant period, students (and faculty, for that matter) are likely to feel more disconnected than usual. It can be difficult for students to feel a sense of connectedness and community in the online environment (Berry, 2019).  Considerable research indicates, however, that college students are both more likely to persist and to perform at high academic levels when they perceive themselves as members of a cooperative and supportive learning community (Kuh, 2009; Tinto, 2006; Zhao & Kuh, 2004).

So, what can we do? We can actively mentor our students, encourage them to talk to each other before or after class (as well as during group work), and call our students by name. We can, when appropriate, give them assignments to go to lectures on campus, attend meetings of clubs in their discipline, go to Career Services, etc. Faculty can be a platform for keeping students informed about campus and departmental events, activities, and opportunities. In addition, we can facilitate connecting students with resources they might need as they transition back to campus and the classroom.   

It may also be helpful to discuss and model how to have a civil discourse. We continue to see the decline of civility in discourse, particularly with the more online, anonymous, and self-selective nature.  Our students may need support as they transition back to having discussions in a face-to-face setting, reminding students that it is okay to disagree or have different perspectives and viewpoints. But we also need to remind them that it is not okay to personalize, name call, interrupt, fail to listen, or be disrespectful (American Bar Association, n.d.).  

Address issues before they become problems. Before the first day of class, consider whether there are areas of your course that are likely to become issues and how you can help students address them. Ron thinks that some students may need support, or at least a reminder, regarding class-based note-taking. To address this, he plans to discuss good note-taking during the first class and then be more vigilant in identifying students who may not be taking good notes in class. Jeanne has embedded discussions of study skills in her lectures for years and, when we were online, made videos describing these skills for her online classes. She will continue to share these weekly videos with her classes. And, because she knows that multitasking and texting during class interfere with her students’ learning – and she knows that her students don’t believe her – she specifically discusses multitasking in one of these videos (below).

There are other ways that we can prevent problems. Both of us also plan to address anticipated concerns in our syllabi.

As most of us have been taking virtual classes for the past year and a half, it may be helpful to remind ourselves of how to take a face-to-face class. While many of the key elements are the same (Go to class, be on time, take notes…), there are some behaviors that may not transfer well. [These include…] – Ron Craig, Academic Advising Syllabus

Jeanne uses a variety of “Pro Tips” throughout her syllabi. Here are two examples:

Pro Tip: In Spring 2021, students who studied more, read the chapters regularly, took the quizzes, and considered whether they understood the material they were reading (metacognition) performed better on the exams. Try these things yourself!

Pro Tip: You will get the most out of assignments when you make them your own. What are your goals? What do you want to learn? Where do you need help? (This tip applies to any assignment, not just our career assignments.) – Jeanne Slattery, Abnormal Psychology

Recognize and address problems as they occur. Despite our best efforts, some of our students will struggle this semester. Some will begin to miss class. Others will struggle on a first exam. As always, it is helpful to reach out to those who need extra support.  This support will likely go beyond your specific class; a student may be struggling in other courses, having difficulty establishing effective balances for work, family, or social engagement. Many of our students have been overwhelmed by the hours and demands of work. Having been virtual for the past year-plus, they may also be finding it more challenging to separate school and family. It is important to ask students how they are doing and have conversations about how the semester is going. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is just listen.

With all the demands on our time, adding more may seem daunting. Even with the best of intentions, finding time may be an issue for many of us. However, some resources help streamline the process and make a difference for our students as they transition back to campus. It is essential to reach out early to students who may not be performing well with ideas for enhancing their performance. To help identify students who may be having difficulty, you may want to use D2L’s Intelligent Agent feature. The Intelligent Agent feature can be set to notify you when a student meets some specified criterion (e.g., days without entering D2L, poor exam scores); in addition, you can set it so that D2L will notify the student with targeted information you have established (e.g., a reminder to be in class, a request to contact you about their score).

Conclusions

Reach out to your peers. Talking with your peers about these problems can be a source of strength during difficult times. It can be helpful to talk with others who validate your concerns, help you identify or reframe problems, and develop solutions. Identify a good support group for discussing your teaching and your students’ learning. Know what resources are there for you, including centers for teaching, technology support, and self-care options. Find people who encourage you to try new things and to become your best self in and out of the classroom.

Conversations about these issues are taking place at our university and nationwide (Supiano, 2021). We are all at least somewhat anxious about the fall – faculty and students alike – but there are things that we can do to address anticipated problems. Having thought about and prepared for some of these challenges can help to alleviate our anxiety and allow us to better serve our students.

Teaching during a pandemic has been a challenge for all of us, but it has also been an opportunity to try something new and different. This fall is likely to present more challenges, but also more opportunities. Enjoy the opportunities!

References

American Bar Association. (n.d.). Ground rules for ensuring a civil conversation. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/american_jury/resources/dialogue_on_the_american_jury/ground_rules/

Berry, S. (2019). Teaching to connect: Community-building strategies for the virtual classroom. Online Learning, 23(1), 164-183.

Kuh, G. D. (2009). The national survey of student engagement: Conceptual and empirical foundations. New Directions for Institutional Research141, 5-20.

Supiano, B. (2021, July 29). Teaching: The support instructors will need this fall. Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2021-07-29

Tinto, V. (2006). Research and practice of student retention: What next? Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice8(1), 1-19.

Zhao, C. M., & Kuh, G. D. (2004). Adding value: Learning communities and student engagement. Research in Higher Education45, 115-138.


Jeanne M. Slattery is professor and chair of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published widely including several books: Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower, and can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

Dr. Ron Craig joined Edinboro University in 1997 after earning his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Utah. His research interests are in forensic developmental psychology, including interviewing children, detection of deception in juveniles, and the role of technology in the courtroom. He has an active undergraduate research program resulting in numerous presentations and publications with undergraduate collaborators. Dr. Craig was named Edinboro University Advisor of the Year (2014) and was the 2009 recipient (with University of Utah research group) of APA’s John E. Reid Memorial Award for distinguished achievement in polygraph research, teaching, or writing. In Spring 2021, Dr. Craig became the Director of the Edinboro University Center for Faculty Excellence.

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How does consolidation impact our students, families, and community?

– Jackie Knaust (Chemistry)

The following comments reflect Dr. Knaust’s full comments, so include a section deleted to meet the requested 2-3 minute time limit.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today to express my concerns about the consolidation plan. My name is Jacqueline Knaust. I am an assistant professor of Chemistry at Clarion University.

Like many of my Clarion students I come from a rural background, a working-class family, and am a first-generation college graduate.  I am here today to ask you vote no or to delay consolidation.

Chancellor Greenstein made the following comments in his July 2020 remarks to the Board of Governors on the importance of our regional institutions: He stated:

“We need to maintain or expand high quality educational opportunities for students across Pennsylvania. It’s our mission. Not just any student; it’s a particular kind of student, the low and middle income students that we were born to serve. Those who are not served elsewhere, the underserved.” (Board of Governors, July 2020)

And he also stated:

“there is evidence in rural America, including our part of rural America, that students who are unable to attend their regional universities aren’t just getting in the car or on a plane. They don’t go to college.” (Board of Governors, July 2020)

I understand that the goal of consolidation is to

“increase opportunities for students while ensuring our institutions are here to serve for decades to come.”  (Board of Governors, July 2020).

But I am not convinced that this plan assures my students – those “underserved students who will not just get in a car or on a plane to attend elsewhere” – the same opportunities as a students who can attend one of our sister schools not slated for consolidation, a state related school or a private institution (Board of Governors, July 2020). 

I am concerned that this plan does not fully outline economic and social impacts on local communities. Have you considered what happens when just one faculty member leaves the community? Like many faculty members, I am a transplant to the area and my only tie to the community is the university. I love my Clarion Community, and would happily devote my entire career to teaching here, but if my job goes away so do I. I will not be able to stay in this community that I love. I will do a nationwide search for a new teaching position or job in industry, and I will move away.

But it will not be just me leaving. With me go my husband and our three children. Luckily, my husband is not also an academic so we won’t deal with a two-body search problem, but when he leaves the area, a mental health professional, and religious education director at a local church are lost. My 16-year old son will have to give up his job as a host at the local microbrewery, and my family will no longer be patronizing that establishment or any of the other local eateries. My 15-year old daughter will give up her job at the local ice-cream shop, and we won’t be shopping at the local clothing boutique where she used her first paycheck yesterday to buy a new outfit. If my family leaves the area, we won’t be buying cars from the local dealership like we did in 2019 and 2020. If my family leaves the area so does the monthly rent I pay…rent because even as a tenured faculty member with 10 years invested in this community my husband and I are hesitant to purchase a house that might be difficult to sell if I suddenly need to do a national search for employment.

Again, I ask that you vote no or to delay consolidation. The concerns raised by students, faculty, staff, and community members in these public hearings are more than just “Issues of Clarity and Points of Confusion.”  While I know that the Board of Governors are not at liberty to answer questions at this time, I would ask if the public comments are used to change or improve the plan itself, or only to change how the plan is communicated to us? 

Using the public comments to substantially improve a hastily prepared plan would support the Chancellor’s narrative that this is a transparent, consultative and course correcting process.  However, using the comments only to try to explain the plan better leaves me wondering if the public comment period and public hearing are just theater? 

Thank you.

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Is Consolidation Good for our Students?

– Jeanne M. Slattery (Psychology)

Jeanne Slattery and students, celebrating the semester

Last summer, Chancellor Dan Greenstein of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) proposed integrating Clarion, California, and Edinboro Universities into one new university. A similar consolidation of Lock Haven, Mansfield, and Bloomsburg universities is also underway. Planning is currently underway and moving very quickly; a final proposal will be voted on by the Board of Governors in July 2021.

If this plan is approved, there will be an enormous disruption to our students and their communities, with very little expected payoff. The proposed plan will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $11 million over five years. The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) published a detailed look at the economic impact of workforce reductions across the PASSHE system, comparing the impact on a county with having a local plant close (Ash et al., 2021). In total, PASSHE plans to eliminate 1,531 jobs by 2023 as part of its system-wide redesign (Whitford, 2021).

Increased access???

Chancellor Greenstein argues that the proposed consolidation will expand opportunities for students. Students will have more access to courses from other schools when they are offered online or multimodally. Chancellor Greenstein expects:

  • robust dual enrollment strategies that strengthen high school pipelines while strengthening the academic preparedness of incoming students and improving their chance of completion;
  • strategies for providing targeted supplemental instruction to students who require it without impeding progress towards their degree;
  • fully online undergraduate degree and degree completion options for students whose life circumstances don’t permit a residential program; [and]
  • non-degree programs that support adults looking to reskill and upskill in the job market (Greenstein, 2021, para. 31-35)

As Chancellor Greenstein notes here and elsewhere, integration will serve some of our students well.

Problems with consolidation

Despite Chancellor Greenstein’s optimism about consolidation, students’ options will be restricted, not expanded by integration, with many programs being either eliminated or available only online. If the major of your dreams is offered at a school close to your home or if it is available at the school you started at, you’re in luck, but many students change majors in their first two years. They are likely to be locked out of their preferred major.

Students in many “face-to-face” programs will need to become heavily reliant on courses offered from their sister schools. My students, for example, will be able to take Evolutionary Psychology and Psychology of Creativity, courses unavailable at Clarion for the foreseeable future. This is a win for our students and our program. However, our university and department are being squeezed so much that we are also unable to offer Statistics, a foundations course for our major that does not easily translate to online. I worry that students who need more support will struggle in taking Statistics under these circumstances.

Some students do well online and can even excel under these circumstances. Eric Mazur, for example, concluded “online teaching is better” (McMurtrie, 2021, para. 4). However, Harvard students are different than most students nationwide, and Mazur offered a much more intensive and immersive experience than is typical of most online – or face-to-face courses. I would argue, online teaching can be better under ideal situations for some subjects, students, and faculty.

Students who do well online – and most of our students will need to be online some – need to have relatively strong study and organizational skills, good motivation for the material, and focus. They must set aside enough time to succeed. In short, they will behave more like Harvard students.

Students who struggle online tend to be overextended – working several jobs, parenting children and stepchildren – and are often weakly motivated. They may not understand the importance of college or the purpose of class assignments (cf. Anderson, 2021). When face-to-face, they can obtain the support they need. When online, they may fall through the cracks: multi-tasking when synchronous remote, forgetting or overlooking assignments when online.

What do students want?

Last Fall, during COVID, I asked my students how they would like me to offer my courses in the Spring. Of students responding, 24% asked that their classes be taught online, 34% that they be taught online synchronously, and 41% – in the midst of COVID – asked that their courses be taught face-to-face. My classes, of course, are not representative of all Psychology majors or students at Clarion university as a whole.

Interestingly, 23.33% of these students reported doing a little or much better remotely, while almost three times as many students reported doing a little or much worse (63%).

In sum, some students do prefer online classes or at least appreciate their convenience, but many are unhappy with remote classes, feeling that they are impersonal and less effective for them.

What do students need that they might not find online?

Many of our students need to be known. They need to know that their faculty see them as able to succeed. They often need people who will hold out their hand when they’re sinking. They need faculty who help them make the connections between assignments and “after college” (Anderson, 2021). They need people who actively mentor them and inform them of internships, jobs, graduate school, etc. They need faculty who know them and who can write meaningful letters of recommendation for them.

  • Can some students find these things in online classes or when their courses are spread across three campuses? Yes.
  • Is doing so as easy as when face-to-face? No.
  • Will consolidation hurt those students who don’t know how to find the things they need? Absolutely.

What should PASSHE do?

All of us agree that alignment or consolidation can offer some opportunities for our students. I am concerned about the speed with which consolidation is taking place and the plan’s lack of clarity. How are we going to offer all students in the state of Pennsylvania a quality education?

If the PASSHE schools align or consolidate and a significant number of courses must be taken online, the universities will need to increase our investment in and support of our students. We will need to increase the number of support staff – advisors, success coaches, online librarians, tutors, financial aid counselors, and career coaches. As we discovered during the pandemic, we need to strengthen Pennsylvania’s infrastructure; students need access to more reliable broadband (Schackner, 2021). Faculty made a huge leap in skills in online teaching during the pandemic, but they will need additional support in being as “present” with their online students as they are with their face-to-face students (Slattery, 2018).

What can you do?

If you are concerned about integration (its impact on our students and their success, possible inequities in education, and the impact on our communities), if you are concerned that the proposed plan is unclear and does not seem likely to positively impact Pennsylvanians, contact your legislators, the governor, or email the Board of Governors <board@passhe.edu>. Speak out! Speak out now.

References

Anderson, G. (2021, May 26). Survey: College graduates don’t feel employable. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2021/05/26/survey-college-graduates-dont-feel-employable

Ash, M., Chakraborty, S., & Pollin, R. (2021, April 26). The economic impact of the PASSHE employment reductions. PERI. https://www.peri.umass.edu/component/k2/item/1439-the-economic-impact-of-the-passhe-employment-reductions

Greenstein, D. (2021, Feb. 18). Facts are stubborn things. Chancellor’s Blog. https://chancellorgreenstein.blogspot.com/2021/02/facts-are-stubborn-things.html

McMurtrie, B. (2021, May 27). Teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/2021-05-27

Schackner, B. (2021). Economic uncertainty, unreliable broadband add worry to state-owned university mergers in northwest Pa. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. https://www.post-gazette.com/business/career-workplace/2021/05/28/State-System-of-Higher-Education-merger-broadband-Clarion-University-APSCUF-Greenstein-Overly/stories/202105280079

Slattery, J. M. (2018). “Regular and substantive” interactions in online courses. Hand in Hand. https://handinhandclarion.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/regular-and-substantive-interactions-in-online-courses/

Whitford, E. (2021, May 3). Pennsylvania consolidation plans spark confusion, criticism. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/05/03/pennsylvania-plan-consolidate-and-redesign-system-could-lead-1500-jobs-lost



Jeanne M. Slattery is professor and chair of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower, and can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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Engaging Freshmen

Inquiry seminar students trying to organize and reorganize factors related to job satisfaction

Inquiry seminar students organizing factors related to job satisfaction

– Jeanne M. Slattery

Part of the fun of teaching freshmen is the opportunity to watch them identify their own learning and skills, develop the skills that will make them successful in the future, and reconsider who they are and what they are capable of doing.

I wish I could say my freshmen do these things every day, but they don’t always naturally engage with material, even that which I see as fun and exciting. They may not share my passion. In addition, many have been silenced at previous points in their education and believe that being quiet is the right approach to class. Finally, students face many barriers outside the classroom that interfere with their schoolwork. Many freshman are homesick or depressed. They are often tired from chronically getting too little sleep – because they are up studying, playing video games, or talking to a friend in distress at 3am, which they see as a normal and appropriate event.

Rather than being frustrated by this mismatch between my goals and their abilities on any given day, in my inquiry seminar (Living Life Well), I often looked for “hooks” to engage them with the course ideas and skills.

One Wednesday we were considering what factors lead to job satisfaction. My hook was to ask what was the most important factor to consider in choosing a career. One student answered money. His groupmate asked, “Even if it makes you miserable?” “Yes, even if it makes me miserable.” (He did agree that money shouldnt be most important.) His groupmate, who was thinking of the Wellness Wheel that we’d discussed at an earlier point in the semester, teased that he hadn’t learned anything. I smiled.

Still, I like to ask questions and discuss ideas more than most of my freshmen do. They are noticeably different than my upperclassmen, too, and have more difficulty sitting still while struggling with the abstract ideas raised by our class.

Mismatched goals

The finished product.

The finished product.

One thing I’m trying to do to address this mismatch between my goals and their difficulties in working with abstract ideas is to build in more experiential activities. As we discussed job satisfaction, they wrote down what they liked and didn’t like about jobs they’ve had: things they didn’t like on yellow Post-it notes, things they did on green. Then they began categorizing their Post-its on the chalkboard, developing new categories as they became dissatisfied with the old categories. Their categories included many of the same things often raised in my lectures on job satisfaction.

I try to be transparent in my teaching and often ask my students to reflect on why we’ve done what we’ve done – to further develop their strategies of self-reflection, but also to help them identify a sense of purposefulness that may facilitate engagement with the material. And, in this class? They observed how we were identifying factors contributing to job satisfaction, learning to make connections among ideas, and developing a style of thinking and working that they can use as they write their papers.

Okay, they didn’t spontaneously identify the third of these three goals. But we talked about why we might want to reorganize their ideas in their writing, that early drafts may present ideas in the order that come to mind, rather than in an order that makes most sense. Most of my students said that they hadn’t been encouraged to move and reorganize ideas in their high school English classes.

On Friday of that same week, we discussed flow, a very positive experience that Csikszentmihalyi (1990) described as occurring when “a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (p. 3). When people experience flow, they are absorbed and challenged by a task, but feel that they can be successful with it. Creating flow can make work – or college – a more satisfying and enjoyable experience. I want them to consider ways that they can experience flow in their work, their classes, their schoolwork.

One winning marshmallow challenge.

One winning marshmallow challenge.

In that class, my students responded to the Marshmallow Challenge: build the highest structure you can in 18 minutes with 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and a marshmallow (for the top of their structure). This task is challenging, highly engaging, and difficult to perform alone, thus creating flow for many students – as well as building the teamwork skills I want them to develop. And, several groups thought outside the box (or my limited instructions), by using the bag containing their ingredients or taping their structure to the wall. In debriefing this assignment we discussed their experience of flow and why they might experience flow in this task. We then discussed their teamwork (and most groups reported very effective teamwork in this situation).

I’m still struggling to meet my freshmen where they are rather than where I want them to be. Nonetheless, when I start with concrete tasks rather than abstract discussions of those tasks, I can help my students access the motivation to further understand the class content and develop the higher-order skills we’ve been building this semester (e.g., critical thinking, teamwork, analysis). In my book, this approach has been a win/win solution.

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.


Jeanne M. Slattery is professor and chair of psychology at Clarion University. She is a student-centered teacher, who loves her students, teaching, and learning. She has published Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice; and Empathic counseling: Building skills to empower, and can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

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Dear Feeling Alone and Overwhelmed

Dear Ms. Scholar, One of my courses was cancelled last semester, and I was given a new prep. I emphasize critical thinking in my teaching, so every assignment requires significant writing. I had 50 online students with an essay a week, 50 students with eight essays over the course of the semester, and a writing intensive course with 15 students. CRAZY. This semester my schedule was again changed at the last minute. This semester is even more challenging. Needless to say, I am not happy.

I am wondering if I am alone in this situation and how others are facing this increasingly-daunting workload. Any suggestions? — Feeling Alone and Overwhelmed

Ms. Scholar at her desk.
Ms. Scholar at her desk.

Dear Feeling Alone and Overwhelmed, Unfortunately,  your experience is more and more typical, both here and at universities across the country.  The increasing workload of college and university instructors is the result of a perfect storm where many forces are merging: decreased funding from state governments, financial obligations stemming from “upscale” learning and housing environments, the demands for institutions to keep tuition down, and a cultural shift devaluing education (Mintz, 2016). These processes have been further escalated by COVID, as in September 2020, its financial impact on higher education was expected to significantly exceed $120 billion nationwide (Nietzel, 2020). Those estimates are likely higher now. Many faculty across the country are being asked to do more with less and are, like you, feeling alone and overwhelmed.

One of the things that you allude to is that these demands are not evenly distributed, either within your department or across campus. In some cases that is because managers do not understand — or possibly value — the work you do. Maybe they think your subject area is one that can be taught well in large classes. Maybe they think that you would translate well to a larger classroom. If these assumptions are inaccurate, you can educate them and advocate. Politely and respectfully, of course.

In other cases, work is not distributed equally because of politics, habit, “the way it’s always been done,” etc. Again, I’d argue that you should advocate for the value of what you do. Consider the ways that your work adds value to your program and the university. Be concrete and specific. If you don’t tell them, they will not know.

Advising our students requires that we advocate for them. Help your department chair, curriculum committee, and dean understand how your teaching fosters your students’ success. Describe how your assignments meet your program’s assessment goals and why they are an important part of your curriculum.

Administrators may not listen or, if they do, may not change their decisions because their hands are tied. Nonetheless, if you haven’t advocated for your students and your program, you might feel that you are compromising your integrity. Such a feeling may make it more difficult for you to sleep at night and may lead to burnout. Burnout is more frequent when work loads are heavy, work conditions are poor, and workers are unable to see positive change (Rupert et al., 2015).

An easy solution to this dilemma would be to cave and move to multiple choice exams; however, you clearly put your students first and maintain high standards for what you ask of yourself and them. Compromising in this manner may leave you unhappy and foster a cynical approach to teaching. We need and appreciate student-focused, thoughtful, and challenging faculty like you. Instead, prevent burnout by recognizing when and where you have control, developing support in the workplace, and entering situations where you can experience a sense of personal accomplishment and job satisfaction (Rupert et al., 2015).

Nonetheless, you can only be stretched in so many ways without giving up your standards for quality — that is, if you continue doing things the same old way. Consider rethinking your approach to teaching. Which assignments best serve your students and learning goals? Can some of these be performed in groups? peer reviewed? left ungraded? Are there other instructional strategies that will be less labor-intensive?

Like you, I emphasize critical thinking and writing in my teaching. Lois Green, the director of our Writing Center when I first came here, developed a strong Writing Across the Curriculum effort on our campus. She argued that writing should be a central pillar of a student’s learning, but that we should look for ways to work more efficiently in our teaching rather than harder. She said we don’t need to heavily edit everything that our students write, and argued that we should focus our assessments, use peer review more effectively, consider whether reading and responding to every journal entry is necessary (as I had been doing), and identify more efficient ways of grading and giving feedback (e.g., rubrics). Wise woman!

Like you, I continue to struggle with these issues. Still, many days I’m finding a good balance in performing the work in a way that feels good to me. I’ve had to shift my assignments and grading – in ways that feel good rather than cynical. I’ve refocused my attention from some things that were fulfilling in the past to tasks where I feel a greater sense of appreciation and accomplishment. These shifts allow me to continue to experience the sense of meaning and purpose that I want and need from my professional life. Talking to trusted colleagues about your experiences and concerns, as you are doing here, can provide you with new ways of approaching our profession, as well as lighten the load. Please, keep in touch! — Ms. Scholar

References

Mintz, S. (2016). Navigating the perfect storm. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-gamma/navigating-perfect-storm

Nietzel, M. T. (2020). Pandemic’s impact on higher education grows larger; now estimated to exceed $120 billion. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2020/09/29/pandemics-impact-on-higher-education-grows-larger-now-estimated-to-exceed-120-billion/

Rupert, P. A., Miller, A. O., & Dorociak, K. E. (2015). Preventing burnout: What does the research tell us? Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 46(3), 168-174.


If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: jslattery@clarion.edu

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Gauging Understanding Using a Generic Zoom Poll

– Brandon Packard

The past year has brought many trials and tribulations for us all, but I would like to take a moment to focus on a positive change that it has made in my classes. Zoom has actually made my exam-review sessions more productive and informative than ever!  Zoom has the option for creating polls ahead of time, that you can then “pull up” (pun intended) at any time to gauge your students’ understanding of a topic.

Figure 1. The generic poll in action.

For those of you who have used Zoom’s polls before, you likely found that creating a poll of anything more than a couple of questions is incredibly time consuming due to Zoom’s awkward interface. (This video can help you develop basic polling skills.) Further, that I know of, there is no way to copy polls from one Zoom room to another if you have multiple sections of the same course!

Instead, what I suggest is that you make just one poll – a generic one that just has options A, B, C, and D (or the like).  Then, instead of programming questions into the poll, put them in your slides or other lecture materials.  You can start the generic poll at any time you want in order to review or gauge understanding.  To ask multiple questions in a same session with just one generic one-question poll, simply close and re-open the poll to reset it. Note that closing any poll will lose the previous set of results, so this strategy is primarily good for “live” feedback rather than long term feedback to be analyzed later.

Personally, I have been using this strategy on exam review days, where we may cover 30 multiple choice review questions in a single day.  I have all the questions in my PowerPoint, and I use the generic poll to allow the students to answer them.  By marking the poll anonymous, students (usually) aren’t afraid to try to answer the questions, and I get real time (albeit short-term) results on how many people understand a question or concept. This lets me know how much time I need to invest in additional discussions of a concept (for example, there is clearly some confusion between two answers in Figure 1).

Figure 2. An example of a review question in PowerPoint.

However, this strategy could also work really well for putting an occasional multiple-choice question in your PowerPoints to gauge understanding of something you just reviewed, or to get anonymous opinions about topics on which you think students may be afraid to share their feelings! See Figure 2.

I hope that you find this strategy for using polls helpful for your courses; I know I will continue to integrate polls into mine!


Brandon Packard is a faculty member in the Computer Information Science department at Clarion University. He earned a doctorate in Computer Science from Drexel University in 2018 and received his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Bachelor of the Arts in Philosophy from Clarion University in 2013. He is the co-advisor for two student groups (Techfloor and AITP), co-chair of the CIS recruiting committee, and the coordinator of the new Video Game Programming Concentration. He says that he attended grad school with the sole purpose of returning to Clarion University to teach one day. His research interests focus on Video Games, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning – as well as the ethical questions raised by these areas – but teaching is his true passion.

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