What I Learned This Semester…

– Jeanne M. Slattery

My favorite classes and students are those that make me think and learn. One of my favorite times this semester was with a student who is not a psychology major. Christian Schill is in the honors program and has a major in molecular biology and a minor in chemistry. I’d had him in class a year ago, but have only occasionally exchanged words with him since then.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.57.38 AMEarlier this semester, Tina Horner sent an email describing ABLE’s work with the SNAP Challenge, which challenges us “to spend only the amount allotted to Pennsylvania residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.”

Tina’s email captured my attention. I thought for 30 seconds about what I would need to give up to eat on $4.73 per day before deciding against it.  We don’t buy prepared or processed foods, but we also don’t scrimp. We probably spend 30-50% more than the $66.22 per week we would be allotted – and that wouldn’t include eating out. Add another $75-100 for dinner Friday, lunch through the week, and lattes six days a week. No going out to eat EVER, no lattes.

My time in graduate school probably counts toward the SNAP Challenge, although that poverty was different. It was the exception rather than the rule; I knew my poverty – I lived on $3500 per year and couldn’t even afford milk – was a short-term problem.

But I wrote Christian an email, asking him to write for HiH – even though I know that he is very busy. (Yes, I do that.) He wrote me back and asked if I would attend the Community Potluck to “start a group conversation about not just the Challenge, but how, in Clarion County we can work to address the issue of food insecurity.” (Apparently, he does that, too.)

Poverty is a real issue in Clarion County. According to the US Census Bureau, Clarion County’s per capita income is $22,451; 15.2% of our residents live in poverty. Goldrick-Rab, Richardson, Schneider, Hernandez, and Cady (2018) concluded that, nationally, 36% of university students experienced food insecurity in the 30 days preceding their survey. Food insecurity is even more common for community college students. Homelessness is an issue for a similar number of college and community college students. How do these problems affect our students’ ability to come to class, engage successfully with the ideas raised there, and succeed?

This is a conversation we need to have. Although I teach most of the day – until shortly before the Potluck – and planned on donating blood during my “down time,” I said yes.

I wasn’t sure I made a good decision. This has been a good semester, but incredibly busy. I went, though, and was glad I did. About a dozen students and community members shared dinner, talked about their attempts at the SNAP Challenge, and considered the impact of poverty, as well as the privilege of being poverty-free, at least at present (if we were).

What did I learn?

  1. I learned that I don’t know my students as well as I’d thought. Three of the people around the table were former students. Another was a former student’s child who I’d watched grow up. I hadn’t recognized that any of them were involved in a project like this one. Christian’s grandmother hovered in the background, making food and cleaning up. I tend – wrongly, I know – to assume that my students’ activities and support system extend no further than my knowledge of these things. An alumna from another department, now working in the human services field, talked about her attempts to feed her family, how she made a range of decisions based on the cost of gas, of food. “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
  2. I saw passion and commitment. My generation has believed that we are the last passionate and socially-committed generation. The Parkland students are challenging this stereotype, as are our students performing the SNAP Challenge and those students I talked to about our presidential search. I enjoyed spending the evening of a too-busy day sitting with people as they talked about their attempts at the SNAP Challenge, how food insufficiency has affected them or how it might affect others, and what they wanted to do differently.
  3. I learned the power of a single email. Tina’s email announcement captured my imagination and, while I spent only 30 seconds deciding against engaging in the SNAP Challenge, I have thought about the Challenge off and on for three months now, and am considering making it an option when I talk about oppression and privilege in class next Spring. (The pot luck actually occurred right before my discussion of these issues this year and led to a pretty powerful discussion.)

One of the things that I most enjoy about teaching is being surprised regularly by my students. My students help me see new possibilities and approach my field and world in new ways. While we may not recognize the ways that we have touched our students’ lives, it’s probably also true that they do not recognize the ways that they have touched ours. This was one and only one such instance this semester.

References

Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., Schneider, J., Hernandez, A., & Cady, C. (2018). Still hungry and homeless in college. Wisconsin HOPE Lab. Retrieved from http://wihopelab.com/publications/Wisconsin-HOPE-Lab-Still-Hungry-and-Homeless.pdf


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She loves teaching and learning and describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has published three books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill; and most recently, Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice. She can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

Advertisements
Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I love my job, I hate my job, I love my job. I …

– Marilouise Michel

image1

Mel Michel

The classroom feeds me.

Well of course not literally. I guess my teaching in the classroom facilitates the paycheck that feeds me.

But I’m sure I’m not the only one who, once I get in the classroom, feels like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. It’s about the sharing of my passion, the igniting of a passion in my students, opening eyes and changing perspectives. Not to my point of view, but to varieties of views and the realization of different perspectives.

And then, I am still scooping up cell phones and waking up students who slump, close their eyes, and cover up with their hoodies as much as they can. And when one of the students whose cell phone I pick up stands and says, nah, he’d rather leave class than not have his phone, I wonder, “Am I kidding myself? Does what I do make any kind of significant difference?”

Then there are always the students who “get it.” Who really seem connected to the material and the ways in which their eyes are opening.

I’m not kidding myself. I know Introduction to Theatre changes very few lives. For most kids it is filling in an Arts and Humanities slot that is required, and they really don’t care what class goes there. I use it as an opportunity to teach a set of skills about academia to the freshman and reinforce them with the older students. I know they don’t all do all the reading – heck they don’t all even buy the textbook. But getting papers that tell me in one form or another “I didn’t know this before and this is cool and I think I’ll keep looking into this further” is what feeds my soul.

In my other job as a Life Coach, I try to help people see that their job doesn’t have to be their life. It can be the thing that facilitates their life. For academics who initially go into this work because we love our fields of study, this can be a hard concept to grasp. When my job feels like only a job, it is sometimes hard to face.

Ultimately, even though I have to remind myself sometimes, I know I am blessed to be making a living doing the one thing I am really good at and really enjoy. I so want that for my students. If I can teach them anything I want it to be to keep looking and trying new things until they find that thing that really turns their key.

The creator of Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda, said in an interview that he owes his success to realizing he wasn’t as good as his peers at a lot of things, but that he “picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else” (Holiday, 2017, p. 45). With undergrads, helping them pick a lane where they can run free, uninhibited and with joyous abandon is the ultimate goal. Would I love it to be the theatre lane? Sure. But I want them to see that they have choices. I also want them to have the tools to change lanes without fear.

So, except when I’m scooping up cell phones (I forbid them in my classes – a long story for another article), I pretty much love my job. And sometimes it’s just what allows me to pay the bills, for which I am also grateful.

Is it summer yet?

References

Holiday, R. (2017). Perennial seller: The art of making and marketing work that lasts.. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin.


Marilouise “Mel” Michel is a Professor of Theatre, Holistic Life Coach, Certified Yoga Teacher and burgeoning writer. Her website is livelivelybewell.com

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Dear C is a Failing Grade

Dear Ms. Scholar, I recently saw the statistics on the numbers of As given in college classes nationwide. When more than 45% of students receive As, should we even give Ds and Fs? Perhaps C is a failing grade. Should we even attempt to retain students who earn below a 2.0 QPA? Should we begin telling students who earn a 2.5 or 3.0 that they are on academic suspension?

writing

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear C is a Failing Grade, In Ms. Scholar’s mind, a C continues to be an honorable, albeit average grade, although she suspects that many students, employers, and graduate programs disagree.

However, to an increasing degree, you are correct. In this graphic from Rojstaczer (n.d.), for example, over 45% of grades awarded nationwide in 2012 were As – up from 15% in 1940. See Figure 1. The other big change seen across time is in the number of Cs. Bs and Cs had been almost equal in frequency (with Cs having a slight edge); now Cs are awarded only half as often as Bs.

figure8

Figure 1. From Rojstaczer (n.d.)

Faculty have probably not become far superior instructors during this period – although Ms. Scholar believes that faculty are much more likely to consider effective teaching and student learning at this point in time than when she was in school. Instead, it seems that expectations have dropped, as has study time  (Babcock & Marks, 2010). Changes in study time, for example, have been observed across a range of institutions; study time is now about 2/3 of what it was in 1961. See Figure 2.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 8.39.37 PM

Figure 2. Average study time for full-time students at four-year US colleges by institution type and selectivity, 1961 and 2003 (Babcock & Marks, 2010)

If about 80% of students nationwide earned As or Bs in 2012, a C clearly has become a below average grade. Students now seem to be more aware of this underlying grade distribution and protest scores very different from what they would receive in another course or at another school. “Good courses” or “good professors” – from a student’s view – often seem to be those giving a disproportionate number of As.

Ms. Scholar’s grade distribution is well below that described by Rojstaczer (n.d.). See Figure 1. Still, she admits awarding Cs to students whose performance is below what she sees as average or acceptable. Even so, some students are not happy. For example, one student complained about his grade when he received 9/10 on a reflection paper, seeming to believe that the fact that he had turned it in and responded to the prompt should have been sufficient to earn him full credit. Another teared up when told that she could not earn a B in our course (she would need to earn more points than were still available and was barely earning a C).

What does a C mean? Are those of us who attempt to maintain high expectations reasonable? Should our students expect that their work, regardless of quality, deserves a B or A?

Should we tell students – and the public – that our students’ work is acceptable when it clearly is not? To what degree is it fair when our individual norms and expectations vary significantly from national norms? Ms. Scholar does not have the answer for these and other questions.

Ms. Scholar’s senior year of high school was spent in a program that emphasized self-directed learning and did not give grades. Such a program changed the ways that she sees grades. What matters? Not grades, but her students’ learning and engagement.

To partially remind herself of this, Ms. Scholar has posted a copy of Tom Wayman’s (1993) poem, Did I Miss Anything?, on her door. At one point, Wayman concludes (tongue firmly in cheek):

None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose.

Your presence, your work does matter.

Ms. Scholar recognizes that she has responded only to the easiest of your questions. Briefly, she attempts to be realistic about what grades really mean, while also attempting to keep her finger in the dike against grade inflation.  Although it is unlikely that C will again become the modal grade, we should let students know when their work is below par.

Perhaps we should focus not so much on the grades we award, but on the expectations we set and the quality of work we are willing to accept. Ms. Scholar believes we should set our expectations high. – Ms. Scholar

References

Babcock, P., & Marks, M. (2010). Leisure College, USA: The decline in student study time. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Education Outlook, No. 7.
Retrieved from http://www.aei.org/publication/leisure-college-usa/

Rojstaczer, S. (n.d.). Grade inflation at American colleges and universities. Retrieved from http://www.gradeinflation.com/

Wayman, T. (1993). Did I miss anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/013.html


If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o MsScholarCU@gmail.com

 

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Distance Education? A Correspondence Course?

screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-10-41-32-am

Paul Woodburne

– Paul Woodburne

An event of potentially earthshaking importance occurred recently. This event was the “Western Governors Title IV” ruling (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General [USDOE-OIP], 2017). Essentially, this online university has to pay back over $700 million in federal student aid because the school’s online classes were more like ‘correspondence courses’ than good online, ‘distance education’ coursework.  A key issue was the 2008 amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 that required distance education programs to provide “regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor.” In this key component of education, the interaction needed to be initiated by the faculty member. From the report (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 14-15), regular and substantial interaction in synchronous or asynchronous courses should be:

  • Initiated by instructor (who is subject matter expert). Interactions should not always or only be student initiated.
  • Planned and outlined in the syllabus. Course materials did not describe regular interaction between students and course mentors and evaluators.
  • More than just feedback on assessment. Substantive interactions consisting only of evaluator feedback to students regarding performance task is more characteristic of a correspondence course rather than a course offered through distance education.

The US Department of Education defines distance education as (1) education that uses technology (e.g., the internet, one-way or two-way transmissions through open broadcast and other means, audio conferencing, or DVDs, CD-ROMs, etc., (2) to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor, and (3) to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 13). The technologies must support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor (emphasis mine).

The same regulation defines a correspondence course as “a course for which a school provides instructional materials, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor.  Correspondence courses are typically self-paced, with interaction between student and instructor being limited, not regular and substantive, and primarily initiated by the student. Correspondence courses are not distance education” (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 14). Schools will be found ineligible if ‘correspondence courses’ exceed 50 percent of the total course offerings, or student enrollment in ‘correspondence programs’ exceeds 50 percent of total enrollment. Auditing of Western Governors University revealed that 62 percent of students were enrolled in 1 or more of the 69 classes that the Department of Education found to be ‘correspondence’ classes (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 2).

The issue of prime importance is what constitutes regular and substantive interaction between students and instructor. Per the report, 69 of 102 courses were found to not be designed to offer substantive interaction. Specifically, 32 of the 69 offered no substantive interaction, 27 offered one substantive interaction, and 10 courses offered two substantive interactions (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 3). Thus, ‘substantive interaction’ appears to be interpreted as more than two interactions.

The USDOE-OIP (2017) offered both positive and negative definitions of ‘regular and substantive interaction.’ The positive definition is if the syllabus and other course materials “described student interaction with a course mentor or required individual submission of a performance task for which an evaluator provided the student feedback” (p. 16). They did not see the following as substantive interactions between students and instructors:

  • Computer-generated feedback. Objective assessments that students submitted for evaluation were seen as problematic because feedback on these objective assessments was computer-generated, was not provided by instructors, and did not facilitate synchronous or asynchronous interaction between students and instructors.
  • No faculty/student interactions. Recorded webinars, videos, and readings materials were seen as problematic if the course design materials did not require the students to watch the webinars or videos and then interact with an instructor. Many course outlines stated only that course mentors were available to students for assistance. Had the course design materials indicated that the recorded webinars, videos, and reading materials facilitated synchronous or asynchronous interactions, such as requiring students to contact an instructor or participate in an online discussion moderated by an instructor, these would have been seen as substantive interactions. (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 16)

Further, the report concluded that classes that offered regular interaction with only student mentors, and only at the student’s initiation – and that the mentors did not provide instruction – also did not create regular and substantive interactions (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 16).

While there is clearly room for some interpretation and overlap between these two types of courses – distance education and correspondence courses – a university concerned with growing enrollments and that espouses quality education ought to be solidly on the side of the angels in this regard.

I have been approached by the major textbook publishers about using their “products and services for teaching” – as I am sure most of us have. These include interactive learning and assessment products, searchable e-textbooks, and “turnkey solutions” that “offer benefits like self-paced courses and outcomes-based learning” (quotes taken from Pearson Higher Education). McGraw-Hill and other publishers have essentially identical products with the same sales pitch.

I have used some of these products, and have found many to be the product of much time, effort, and expense. Much of the material is very well done and adapted to student learning, offering harder problems as easier material is mastered, and the like. These products offer case studies, video clips, newspaper articles, test banks, and homework assignments with randomized problems. The products can be used to offer an entire course, where, after the instructor sets up the structure, homework, reviews, examinations, and the like, the publisher will calculate and assign grades.

Unfortunately, faculty members who use supplemental materials provided by publishers – even when very well done – may create a pedagogically-sound course, which is also a ‘correspondence class,’ thus putting the university at risk for losing federal financial aid funds.

Using the Western Governor’s report as a guide, it appears that, unless there is actual interaction, feedback, ‘call and response,’ and the like, with accompanying faculty-generated feedback, then many exams, videos, and student mentors would NOT qualify a course as sufficiently interactive to be seen as a distance education course. On the other hand, things like announcements, discussion boards, Skype, chats, Zoom sessions, and emails could facilitate regular and substantive interactions.

Looking at my own classes: I record lectures for my online courses in my face-to-face classes using Media Site Live. I also assign required and optional texts and readings. The three exams are all essays. I also assign one or two other written assignments in a course that are essay responses to newspaper or magazine articles. In all instances, I provide specific written responses, which I send back to the students via email and via the US Mail. During a short term, such as 7-week Summer course or a Winter course, in order to accommodate work requirements or family obligations, I allow the students to work at their own pace.

From the discussion above, my online classes could be classified as ‘correspondence’ classes, because the USDOE-OIG says “correspondence courses are typically self-paced, with interaction between the student and instructor being limited, not regular and substantive, and primarily initiated by the student” (USDOE-OIG, 2017, pp. 9 and 14). In addition, the USDOE-OIG does not consider recorded lectures or webinars as contributing to “substantive interactions” if they did not require student to interact with an instructor (USDOE-OIG, 2017, p. 16). Had my course materials indicated that the recorded lectures facilitated synchronous or asynchronous interactions (e.g., required participation in a moderated discussion), the recordings would have been seen as fulfilling the requirement for substantive interaction.

On the other hand, the nature of my exams and feedback suggests that my courses would meet USDOE criteria. I provide significant feedback to exams and assignments by email and the US Mail. Unfortunately, I use my university email rather than D2L’s email, so would not have documentation of this feedback. The same is true for mailed essays.

Section 481(a) of the HEA, and 34 C.F.R. § 668.3 (USDOE-OIG, 2017, p 28) defines minimum instructional time. The USDOE-OIG found that Western Governors did not adequately show that students received the required minimum 30 weeks of instructional time and 24 credit hours in an academic year for their classes (USDOE-OIG, 2017, pp 28-30). In this regard, I think my online classes are fine. I record the actual lectures that I give in my face to face classes, and cover an identical amount of material as I do in a 15-week semester.

For self-preservation, if for no other reason, we need to think deeply about our online classes. We faculty ought to get ahead of this issue and develop a common set of minimum standards for all online classes.

As luck would have it, Clarion University is starting to define quality standards in our online education. Discussions have centered around the frequency of ‘substantive’ interactions. The OIG decision above (USDOE-OIP, 2017, p. 3) criticized Western Governor’s classes for having only 0, 1, or 2 ‘substantive interactions.’ However, it appears that rather than focusing on frequency, we should consider the nature of these interactions.

Other discussion focused on defining substantive interactions. These seem to include written responses to exams and/or quizzes (e.g., beyond “Nice job!”), and moderated Discussion Boards. No precise definition of ‘substantive interaction is given in the Western Governor’s decision. Thus, whether a written response to an exam, a single post, or a response to a student’s post meets the definition of substantive interaction is unclear.

Looking for a definition of regular and substantive that simply focuses on the number of interactions may be too formulaic and inflexible. Perhaps more useful is thinking about these interactions as on a continuum, as given below.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 8.53.42 PM

Because my courses are asynchronous, and, particularly in the short courses students can complete the course at their own rate, they would probably be identified as ‘Level 1.’ I do offer meaningful individualized feedback, but only for three exams and a couple of other written assignments. I do have a class that has eight quizzes in lieu of exams and some written assignments, and I write and mail good feedback on these (Level 2).

Closing Thoughts: As a result of the excellent recent workshop on “Regular and Substantive Interactions in Online Classes” organized by Darla Ausel and Suzanne Homan that I attended, I am revising my online classes. While the substance of the modifications is relatively minor, the process of making modifications feels fairly major. I am adding questions that are specific to given recorded lectures that students have to respond to, and I am adding discussion boards, as appropriate.

Principles or Intermediate level Economics courses often focus on abstract theory, and are less open to interpretive discussion. It is hard to discuss how you have dealt with people who have differing marginal rates of time preference, for example. Many people teach economics via math problems. Neither coverage of abstract theory nor math problems lend themselves to discussion boards.

However, a colleague is revamping his online classes by adding discussion boards. His field has many opportunities for good discussion boards, as his area is heavy on discussion and discourse: they can discuss whether they see themselves as a Theory X or Theory Y type of person. Courses in his field are often taught via case studies. This is a natural home for discussion boards. Seeing what he is doing, I can begin to visualize ways of using discussion boards in my classes, especially during the ‘application’ chapters or with respect to supplemental readings.

I have conversed with several people in the course of writing this article. I have been reminded that discussion boards are not the only way to ensure regular and substantive interactions. Skype, Virtual Office Hours, and the chat feature are all ways to help our classes offer regular and substantive interactions between students and faculty, and ensure our classes offer meaningful educational experiences.

Nonetheless, the part that feels most overwhelming stems from the actual mechanics of changing my D2L site. I do not use D2L for non-online classes, and so am unfamiliar with much of its functionality, perhaps even more so after its revision. I’m also overwhelmed by the push to ensure that our class content is accessible to people with disabilities: many documents now need to be updated.

I need and appreciate the support of people who understand the mechanics of D2L better than I do. I really appreciate Darla and Suzanne, who have been and continue to be very supportive and generous with their time.

References

US Department of Education, Office of Inspector General. (2017, September). Western Governors University was not eligible to participate in the Title IV Programs: Final Audit Report (ED-OIG/A05M0009). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/auditreports/fy2017/a05m0009.pdf


Paul Woodburne is an associate 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.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What is a Leader?

– Jeanne M. Slattery

JMS 0814

Jeanne Slattery

As I write this, I am in Harrisburg. I am on the executive committee of my state organization, a group with almost 3000 members and a budget of more than $1m per year (when our foundation and Political Action Committee are included).

We are hiring a new executive director for our organization, which has me thinking about who we want to hire. We want (in no particular order) someone who:

Manages the business well

  • Understands and appreciates psychologists and their values, goals, and perspectives on the world
  • Is widely read, recognizing problems in management and organizations, as well as strategic ways to respond to such problems
  • Identifies problems early, thinks critically and logically about them, and responds to problems before they become PROBLEMS
  • Thinks outside the box rather than doing something because we – or he or she – has always done it that way
  • Manages our finances conservatively, yet not overly so
  • Recognizes the resources, products, and services that will make our organization more effective at its job
  • Responds to problems ethically, recognizing that both means and ends matter

Communicates effectively

  • Meets and talks easily with new people and diverse constituencies with differing goals and perspectives
  • Listens well to people of diverse values and goals and is willing to be influenced by new perspectives
  • Writes well, thoughtfully, and quickly
  • Speaks easily in small groups and larger ones, both when all is going well or when the agency under fire
  • Assertively expresses concerns, thoughts, and proposed solutions

Handles people well

  • Builds a strong and creative team and healthy alliances, both within our organization and outside it
  • Delegates well, while maintaining appropriate oversight
  • Handles dissent well and can listen to different perspectives without taking differing opinions personally – even welcoming different perspectives
  • Identifies others’ strengths and helps build them further
  • Recognizes others’ weaknesses and helps them and the organization accommodate to these
  • Creates a strong, cohesive, growth-oriented organization that has little destructive conflict (as opposed to constructive conflict)

Has strong self-management skills

  • Is confident, while recognizing that many problems are not simple and easily-solved
  • Handles stress and others’ stress well
  • Enjoys – or doesn’t mind – travel
  • Adapts to and uses new technologies readily
  • Seeks and finds opportunities to grow

No small task! Most of us, no matter our strengths, can do some of these things well and would have difficulties with others.

Many of these attributes are also ones that Clarion will want in our new president. We also want our new president to recognize the healing that our university still needs to do. Our new president will, of course, do some of these things well and will have difficulties with others. We hope our new president can play to his or her strengths, while finding ways to compensate for weaknesses. (Everyone has weaknesses.)

Many of these are also skills that we want to see in our students, although different fields may require additional specific skills. Frequently, my psychology students believe that all they will need to do is listen and “give advice.” I need to help my students recognize the range of skills that they will need, build the skills that are currently relative weaknesses, and strengthen those that are relative strengths. Those of my students who have difficulties with paperwork or finances, for example, will need to hire staff who can help them be successful in these areas. They will need to find ways to handle stress well without distancing themselves from the problems they will face.

Clearly applicants need to have specific knowledge about the organization they hope to join. Our future president will need to know our university. Nonetheless, many of these skills are built in the course of a strong General Education: careful, critical thinking; understanding and appreciating a diversity of perspectives, values, and approaches; written and oral communication skills; and ethical thinking (Slattery, 2018). We need to help our students and other constituencies recognize the ways that our General Education curriculum helps our students build these skills and helps prepare them for future challenges and responsibilities both inside and outside the workplace.

The US has increasingly emphasized job training at the university level; however, the national conversations on job training have focused on specific skills needed in a job/profession/career, not the more general skills that are also needed (e.g., empathy, critical thinking, ethical thinking, problem solving under pressure). As we hire a president, as we prepare to graduate another class of seniors, as we network with our community, let’s make sure that we consider, require, and build ALL of the job-related skills needed.

References

Slattery, J. M. (2018, Spring). “I don’t work in the field.” Eye on Psi Chi, 22(3), 14-16. Retrieved from https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.psichi.org/resource/resmgr/eye_pdf/22_3SpringEye-Web.pdf


Jeanne M. Slattery is a professor of psychology at Clarion University. She loves teaching and learning and describes herself as a learner-centered teacher. She has published three books, Counseling diverse clients: Bringing context into therapy; Empathic counseling: Meaning, context, ethics, and skill; and most recently, Trauma, meaning, and spirituality: Translating research into clinical practice. She can be contacted at jslattery@clarion.edu

 

Posted in State of the university, Teaching | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflecting on Reflection

– Melissa K. Downes

Children's Reading 1

Melissa Downes reading poetry to an audience of children and adults.

When I first started teaching, my enthusiasm, content knowledge, emphasis on discussion, and strong emphasis on reflection were my primary teaching strengths. It took me some time to realize that reflection was not something that every novice teacher did. I would define reflection as the time and practice taken to think about thinking (metacognition) and about feelings and to review what one has done (and why) and what one has learned. Such reflection reinforces both content and skills and makes students more aware of their own learning. Similar reflection on a teacher’s part helps build a stronger teacher. From my perspective, such reflection forms an essential part of good teaching in my discipline.

Many of the assignments I create (especially team assignments and presentations) have, as a final part of the assignment, a required two-to-three-page reflection. In these essays, students describe their strengths and weaknesses as tied to the assignment, what they learned, what they valued, and what they would do differently if faced with a similar challenge. Here’s an excerpt from such a reflection assignment (for a College Writing  team paper studying Clarion University students):

Consider the strengths, and weaknesses of both your process and your product in terms of your team-built essay, your primary research, your scholarly research, and your group skills. Reflect on and discuss your own work and performance and reflect on the work of the group as a whole. What were the hard parts of the research? Of building the essay? Of working as a group? Did everyone share the work equally? Was there a leader in the group or did you share out leadership roles? Did the leadership work or were there difficulties? What were the strong parts of what you did? What were the valuable things about the experience? What did you learn about Clarion University students? About your chosen topic? About the skills you had to practice to be successful for this paper/project? Do you have new or different insights after the experience? If you could go back and do the paper/project again, what would you do differently? Concrete details, please.

How do students respond? Here’s a student response from one of my inquiry seminars:

I learned that inquiry is all about asking a lot of questions. Some questions may not be as solid as you hope they are, but with practice you can fine-tune your questions. I think that inquiry is about trying out your ideas in the form of a question and then re-asking that question in a different way to see if you get different answers.

I learned that research comes in many forms, some more credible than others. I now know that looking over a journal or website before using it is important to do so that you know the material is useful and proves your topic.

Sometimes they tell me what I should do differently, which itself requires reflection and some metacognition on their part and also encourages it in their teacher:

I wish I would have spent a little more time on really connecting and relating both my primary and secondary research together. I asked a lot of questions in my interviews and gathered a lot of information in my secondary research that I wish I would have had more time to elaborate on. I feel like connecting my research together is important, I think I did the best with the time that I had but I would have liked to spend more time presenting this.

I learned the importance of using primary research alongside secondary research to help prove a thesis. Analyzing and comparing results from both secondary and primary research make your point stronger.

I like helping my students think about how an assignment might apply outside of the classroom or outside college. I also believe that reflecting on feelings helps my students intellectually. I am delighted when I get responses like this:

From this project, I learned some new things about my family and friends. Based on my interview questions, I learned what makes them laugh and how laughing makes them feel. I never realized how laughter can make someone feel, or how much of an impact laughter had on people’s attitudes.

While I was finishing up my project I was thinking about how important laughter is in life, it makes you focus on the little things and to not take things so serious sometimes. I realized that I need more laughter in my life, I need that little laugh every now and then to boost my mood and make my day better.

I think that this project has helped me academically, by introducing a new way to research as [well] as personally, by showing me to enjoy life and laugh.

I also have students practice personal reflection as an early assignment in a number of my classes. For example, my Introduction to English Studies students write personal narratives/reflections on why they have chosen to be English majors and what they think that means. I want my students to think about their choice of the major and to expand their understanding of the discipline they have chosen to study. I ask them to write a focused personal essay reflecting on the issues at the heart of questions like the following: What does it mean to study English? How would you define the field? How did you come to this field? What events and experiences motivated you? What do you think being a student of English is and why do you value it? Do you? My students write an initial version of this essay early in the term, but they return to it and revise it after they have had more experience with being an English major. Thus, they get to revise the essay not only to build better sentences or a stronger thesis but also in light of what they have learned about being an English major in a semester of being an English major

While I like the more extended and insightful  responses that come from a reflection essay, I have been practicing doing more with short-answer reflections turned in at various points during projects. Such short reflections prompt metacognition, but they also hold my students accountable for keeping up with their work and alert me to possible difficulties or misunderstandings.

Reflection works well in many of my courses and fits well with my discipline, but I believe it must be a valuable component in many courses and many fields. What are you already doing in your classes to promote student reflection and metacognition? What would you like to do? If you want to bounce around some ideas, I’m happy to have coffee and a conversation.


Melissa K. Downes is an associate professor of English at Clarion University. She loves teaching. She is interested in talking about how people teach and enjoys sharing how she teaches. She is an 18th century specialist, an Anglophile, a cat lover, and a poet. She can be contacted at mdownes@clarion.edu

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Dear Best Intentions

Dear Ms. Scholar, Last semester, despite my best intentions, I had some real problems with cheating. I had a student who plagiarized on a paper, another who repeatedly took exams late, and students in an online course who requested much longer testing times than my face-to-face students receive, yet felt rushed (presumably because they were looking up all of the answers). Any suggestions?

writing

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Best Intentions, You are not alone. All of us have been affected. We have had either minor cheating/plagiarism problems (e.g., phrases “stolen” without attribution) or major forms (e.g., the same answers given by two students or, my “favorite,” a student who turned in a Science article as a research proposal).

All of us have heard and use a variety of suggestions. These include:

  • Developing a positive rather than a confrontational relationship with students;
  • Educating students about what plagiarism and cheating are;
  • Building assignments and exams that make plagiarism and cheating more difficult;
  • Creating scaffolding exercises that build toward major projects. Good design of these can relieve some of the stresses that can lead to cheating, make cheating more difficult, and allow one to discover it early in the process, when one can use it as a teaching moment without necessarily making it a failing moment;
  • Setting manageable and developmentally-appropriate tasks in class and building intermediate skills to teach complex tasks over the course of the semester or their undergraduate degree;
  • Discussing growth mindset with students (Dweck, 2006), so they recognize that they can develop the skills to succeed in a course, and continue to use “growth language” over the course of the semester;
  • Teaching study and time management skills in a course so that students have the skills to succeed. Ms. Scholar likes and uses the skills described in McGuire’s (2015) book.

One of the most interesting suggestions Ms. Scholar has seen comes from Maryellen Weimer (2018). She sends her students a memo to help them consider the personal consequences of cheating and recognize how cheating hurts them. She encourages faculty to revise this memo, make the language their own, and use it as they see fit. I’d encourage you to do the same. The following memo is my version of her ideas.

To: My Students
From: Ms. Scholar
Re: Cheating

You’ve heard it before: Don’t cheat. Yet despite knowing that it’s wrong, many students still cheat. Why? In response to a survey about cheating, one student compared it to speeding: “Everybody knows you shouldn’t speed, but most of us do. And when the weather is good and the road is clear, there is only a small risk of an accident. I might get caught, but that risk is also low.” This student reasoned, cheating is like speeding.

No, it’s not!!! Here are seven reasons why you shouldn’t cheat that you may not have considered. Getting caught isn’t one of them (you already know this).

  1. I don’t know what you really know. When you cheat on an exam, it looks like you know the content. When you’re confronted with that material again, you’ll have to fake it. Because I think you understand it, I move on. Because knowledge in one part of a course affects later sections – and later courses – you’ll either be unprepared or need to work twice as hard later. 
  2. You don’t develop the skills you need. When you cheat, skills that employers assume college graduates have remain undeveloped or underdeveloped. You learn problem-solving skills by solving problems, not by copying answers. Your writing strengthens as you write, not when you recycle someone else’s paper. Your abilities to think critically, analyze arguments, and speak persuasively develop as you practice these skills, not when you parrot the thinking, arguments, and persuasive ploys of others. Standing around exercise equipment does not build muscle mass, borrowing others’ work does not build mental muscle.
  3. Cheating can become a bad habit. Don’t kid yourself, a small cheating problem seldom stays that size. It’s more like a malignant tumor that starts small and quietly grows into something big and ugly. The research is clear. Students who cheat generally don’t do it just one time or in just one course.
  4. Cheating can become a bad habit, not only in college. Cheating in college sets you up for cheating in life. Maybe you’re telling yourself you’ll stop when you graduate. The research says otherwise. People who cheated in college are more likely to cheat their employers or employees, fudge their taxes, and use unethical business practices. Cheating becomes a lifetime habit right – along with the lying to cover it up.
  5. You can accomplish what you need to without cheating. Some students cheat because it’s easier than working for the grades. This is a short-sighted rationale with serious consequences. Others cheat because they don’t think they have what it takes to get the grades they need. Success in college is a function of your study habits, not your brain size. You can develop and use good study habits. Start with one course – this one – and try an experiment. See if regular class attendance; short, regular study times alone and with a friend; and daily work on your classes make a difference. Use the study skills we discuss in class. Bottom line: you are probably smarter than you think.
  6. Cheating puts your personal integrity at risk. What kind of person do you want to be? The actions you take now are defining who you are and what you will become. Consider how you feel when people you care about lie to or cheat on you. Do you hold them in high esteem? You wear your personal integrity every day of your life. You can wear it with pride… or not.
  7. Cheating doesn’t just hurt you, but hurts your professor, fellow students, and the larger community. Faculty who discover students cheating often become more cynical about students and education. Your classmates who “followed the rules” are hurt by your cheating, particularly if your professor grades on a curve or creates a more difficult test for future classes. The community as a whole is hurt when one of us does anything that hurts any of the rest of us: we trust less, become more cynical, and withdraw from each other. As someone said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’ll do the same.

Ms. Scholar particularly likes this type of response to preventing cheating, as it addresses the real issue: cheating is not just about the grade, but how it affects you and the people around you. We can use our start to the semester to remind students to reflect on who they are and who they want to be.

Ms. Scholar doesn’t read Faculty Focus and other teaching resources daily (e.g., Inside Higher Ed, Chronicle of Higher Education), but she does read them regularly. You can sign up to receive a regular newsletter from Faculty Focus filled with great ideas in your email by completing the form on the top right of the Faculty Focus page. Or you could wait and read our next issue of Hand in Hand. Have a good week! – Ms. Scholar

References

Dweck, C. J. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Balantine Books.

McGuire, S. Y. (2015). Teach students how to learn: Strategies you can incorporate into any course to improve student metacognition, study skills, and motivation. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Weimer, M. (2018, January 17). A memo to students on cheating. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://tiny.cc/jg3cqy

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , | Leave a comment