This summer – Focus, Reflect, Learn!

Students sitting outside on campus

Students settle into campus, enjoying the last warm Fall days, September 2017.

It’s the start of a new semester and I realize that I’ve been a bit lax in keeping up a blog on new ideas in teaching and learning. Like the resolutions we make at the start of a new calendar year, I’m vowing to be a bit more active with my entries here. So, as is appropriate, I thought this first round would involve some reflections on how I spent my summer in and out of the Center for Teaching & Learning since May

By way of disclaimer, I am fulltime faculty who is beginning my fourth year being reassigned to the CTL as the Faculty Director. And I’ve come to enjoy some of the previously unknown gems of this experience. First and foremost, it has given me an opportunity to meet more of my colleagues – both faculty and staff – outside of my department or division. This may seem like a ho-hum concept. But in reality, we’re all on the same team, helping our students at this community college reach their educational goals. It’s all about student success. We do this (mostly) selflessly, with the main reward being the knowledge that you “might” have made a positive difference in someone’s life. So when I say that that this has allowed me to meet more of my co-workers around campus, I’m really saying that I’m getting to know more of my teammates on this big educational mission we’ve all signed on for.

These encounters with my colleagues occur in a variety of ways. Their attendance in our wide range of CTL sessions, serving on committees in and outside of the CTL, emails inquiring about or recommending new session ideas, or just dropping in to visit. When I’m wandering around campus I’m always thrilled to realize that – hey! I know you! And I’m getting better at names, too!

Summer Learning Moments

wood floor installation

Part of my summer apprenticeship building a house.

As the summer began in earnest for me in May, I scheduled myself to split time between CTL and apprenticing to my husband on our major building project – finishing our new home. In the spirit of being a lifelong learner, I took on fulfilling a personal goal to learn more hands-on skills in carpentry and finish work. On the days and many evenings when I wasn’t in the CTL, I was learning how to use a chop saw, impact driver, drill, installing cabinetry, creating a jig to install the many door/drawer handles, getting an introduction to installing light fixtures, electrical plates, and finally, installing flooring. Did I make mistakes? Of course! And, like we hope happens with our students, I learned from them. Most recently, after spending two days installing flooring in a couple of bedrooms, I stood there puzzled by my (very precision-driven) husband’s distress. Apparently, in a tired state of mind, I had not trimmed a starting piece in a row of the wood floor, throwing off the pattern for the next three rows that followed. Learning moment here: I learned how to carefully remove pieces of a wood floor so that they could still be reused once I corrected the errant board. The entire summer experience gave me much food for thought when applying it to my own classroom.

Learning is Teaching at Mott

During one of the college-wide conversation days, a group of faculty and staff came up with the idea of meeting and greeting students during the first week of classes. This idea was inspired by the stories shared by students about their own “first week” experiences not knowing their way around, feeling lost and abandoned. We were a bit stunned by the realization that this most basic of experiences – the experience of feeling welcome on campus – had somehow fallen through the cracks for many of our students, especially those who were the first in their families to go to college.

Mara in front of Mott Library

Meetin’ and greetin’ new students on campus this Fall 2017.

So at the start of this semester, after a dry (chilly) run last winter, we launched a college-wide initiative to sign up faculty and staff to wander the campus – inside and out – to meet and greet students, asking if they needed anything, if they needed help finding a building, or an office, or whatever. I think we all had a blast. It was wonderful to be able to bring a smile to the face of a nervous student, to brighten their day with the message “Welcome!” And it wasn’t something that took a lot of time out of our day. Everyone has a few minutes here and there. For me, it was an excellent way to get off my chair and step away from the computer, get some fresh air, and actually meet our students!

Another event we held last May, and one that will be repeated again this October, is a “free college day” on campus. Held on a Saturday, faculty volunteers provide an introduction to a topic of interest, usually something related to their area of teaching, while many staff are running around guiding groups of students, or manning tables stacked with information. For me, as professor in Graphic Design and Art, I love the blending of the creative and structural that happens when creating simple handmade books. The open-studio workshop that I ran last May had a steady stream of people of all ages from the community who sat down with me and learned to make, write, and illustrate a simple book with covers, a project that captured the applications of a variety of skill-sets across disciplines. My colleagues in other areas across campus enjoyed sharing their subject areas in fun ways with a new (and sometimes familiar) audience. Yes, even current students would drop in to see what it was all about, gaining insights into the passion of their current or potentially future instructors.

Design Thinking Applied

The path that led to these two events – free college day, and first week meet and greet – came from these college conversation days. But the process to discovery and idea generation was in many ways similar to the design thinking process that has been adopted from the design fields and is finding new applications in business and higher education. We began by asking the students about their stories, their experiences! And then we brainstormed! And then… over the months that followed, we implemented the ideas! You can read more about how Stanford’s d.school has taken the lead in helping educators apply design thinking in new ways.

Make it Happen!

In the meantime, I hope your semester is off to a great start! And I hope you’ll consider making a more concerted effort to meet and greet more of your colleagues and students across campus. You never know what a real difference it makes until you try!

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Summer & Time to Catch Up on Reading

apple sits on stack of books

Summer reading for educators can lead to new ideas for Fall!

At our college, the Spring session is winding down and the heat of summer has been unencumbered by the calendar’s official start. So I find myself thankful for the days in the office when I can enjoy some AC and catch up on the work that always seems to be put by the wayside during busier times. That includes catching up on the stack of reading in my field of graphic design and art, and especially in teaching and learning.

To that end, as I read through some of the articles, I find myself saying “Yes!” I can relate to this situation. How can I adapt some of the suggestions they’re making to my own classroom?

Here are some samples:

  • Lessons from Improv acting for the classroom – Using the phrase “Yes, and…” the author, Kevin Brown from Lee University, suggests this technique from improv theatre for allowing a freer exchange and discussion in the classroom. The issue is that often, when a professor asks an open-ended question, they’re often focused on a defined answer that they already have in mind. This can lead to student shut-down. They know the teacher has an answer in mind, and the discussion is stilted and uncertain. However, by saying “Yes, and…” you can encourage a conversation that can lead to new possibilities and engage students more in the topic at hand. Read more here in the June/July 2017 issue of The Teaching Professor (subscription required – Mott employees should contact me).
  • New Group Approaches to Oral Exams – Tod Outlaw of Wayland Baptist University in Hawai’i has a rather unique approach he’s developed for helping students learn material in a more effective way through the use of oral exams. His concern was how to overcome both anxiety and the braindump effect where students simply don’t remember the material after the test. Employing a series of steps he’s developed, he is able to create an environment where students effectively are tested several times but in ways that don’t seem obvious until the day of the actual scheduled test. The groups work together to research information on the topics list he provides, they engage online via Blackboard, and then also have a brief but furious discussion prior to the oral exam. The results, he says, is that students actually retain the information and understand it better than just having them study for a standard written test. Read more here in the June/July 2017 issue of The Teaching Professor (subscription required – Mott employees should contact me).

For both of the above, I can easily see ways in which I could adapt them to my classroom in Art/Design where we normally do not see traditional written tests for primary grading. However, there are definitely details and topics where an oral exam built similar to the article’s outline could be useful in helping students retain information that’s important for their future development.

I’m looking forward to trying them both ideas in my classroom this fall! How about you? Have you come across some interesting articles with techniques that you intend to build on for your classroom? Share in the comments below, or email me!

Tension, Misfires, Trigger Warnings & Civil Discourse

 

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It can’t be missed, the challenges of civility in everyday discourse that have been heightened by the current election cycle. But politics alone haven’t brought about the issues of discomfort in verbal exchanges in the classroom. The concept of the “trigger warning” has been around for a few years as a way of alerting students to conversations or course material that may lead to their discomfort, or even re-trigger some painful memories from a prior traumatic life experience. According to a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, some have used it as  “heads up” and a “basic courtesy” to the students in the room. Others claim that it is “political correctness run amok” and could actually inhibit deeper discussions in the classroom, hindering intellectual conversations, and create a shadow of censorship in the academic environment. In a backlash, the University of Chicago went so far as to inform incoming students:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces,’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

But the topic of trigger warnings is not alone in the conversation on creating spaces where challenging classroom and college discourse can make students uncomfortable. Embracing Tension in the Classroom was the title of a short article by Geniece Crawford Mondé in a recent issue of The Teaching Professor. In that article, Mondé describes the difference between positive and negative tension and how, by embracing the former, one can avoid the latter and create an engaging learning environment. Mondé goes on to use the term “hot moments” to describe the potential for discussions that can go off the rails leading to disrespectful and acrimonious discussions. By contrast, positive tension serves the learning objectives and is carefully guided, often built from reading material that sparks discussion. She suggests that the use of fictitious narratives can help avoid hot moments by “stripping an issue of its real-world status.”

Of course, the alternative challenge to educators is to help build a connection, empathy, and understanding of a subject, something that other educators have described as creating truly deep learning. Transferring that knowledge gained through deeper learning becomes a key 21st Century skill. How does one take their understanding of a pivotal historical moment and transfer that to a modern day situation? That is part of the conversation that happens in the classroom, and sometimes that conversation can be heated, the “hot moment” described by Mondé. The challenge is to identify the difference between a “heated” exchange and a “passionate” one.

But what, then, are misfires? From a pure communications standpoint, misfires can occur when an educator presents a behavior that undermines their own effectiveness in the classroom. We’ve all done it. We’re all human. There are behaviors, however, that we can modify to overcome the likelihood of misfires. Then, when one occurs, its impact is lessened on successful learning. Jennifer Waldeck suggests that our own attitude can project a lack of commitment to teaching that can undermine our effectiveness. Who wants to learn from someone who acts as if they hate being there? Verbal abuse, lazy behavior, and incompetence are just a few of the things she mentions as something we might be guilty of in the classroom. A student may even challenge an educator (or vice versa) with the refrain “you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” And, of course, many educators are offended by a challenge to what a student may call “an opinion” in regards to course content or even grading and assessment.

So what is an educator to do? First… don’t take it personally. Take a deep breath. Make it a partnership with the student from the very start. You are on an educational journey, one that should be built upon a partnership of trust and respect. Encourage challenges and provide guidance on how to shape conclusions based on discerning research and reliable resources. Review your syllabus and the tone that you take in it. Is the entire document written in terms of a threat? Is everything negative and punitive? Sometimes, just rewriting the content in a way that frames the educational experience as a positive one can make all the difference. Do your projects have rubrics that are fair and understandable? Consider having the students take a stab at grading their own work. In my experience, given this challenge, they are often harder on themselves than I would be. And the end result is they have a renewed appreciation for how difficult your job can be when it comes to assessing a student’s work.

All in all, just put your best foot forward. Show students your passion for the subject, not your disdain for their lack of understanding it. Share your own stories of how you came to understand the material, your “ah-ha!” moments. Learn from your students, from every challenge, awkward experience, and difficult conversation. Remember that, in the end, you are the grown-up who can astutely guide the student as they navigate new knowledge and its impact on their life’s view. And you can do that in a way that helps them make their own discoveries and resolutions.

Remember also that, as you get older, the students get younger – their experiences grow farther and farther away from your own. Listen and learn from them. Ask them to provide the thoughtful insights connecting the material to their own experiences. Show that you are learning from them, too.

Trigger warnings can provide a heads up. Tension can be a useful tool in the classroom. And occasional misfires can happen. But challenging conversations can also provide amazing opportunities to create true connections that make learning more meaningful and longlasting.

 

Updated list of Professional Development Opportunities

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Are you looking for an opportunity to expand your experiences, knowledge and understanding of what’s happening in your field in the realm of education? Want to see what other innovations are going on in our field? Or do you have some great ideas you want to share on a larger stage with colleagues?

Visit our page of off-site professional development and conference opportunities for the latest list of activities from this month through 2017, with some advance notice on important conferences into 2018!

Read more!

Photo above: “1913 – Trying out the new assembly line”
By an unknown photographer, Detroit, Michigan, 1913

National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Bureau of Public Roads

Mott CTL Tech, Paula Harris, and the Multigenerational Classroom

Community Colleges are known for enrolling a wide range of demographics within their student body. This creates further challenges to faculty as we try to engage learners with a broader range of experiences in technology. In an article titled “Video: The Answer to Your Multigenerational Classroom,” Paula Harris, Mott’s CTL Technology Consultant and Associate Professor of Nursing, begins to address this question.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 3.07.13 PMRead the full article here in the special technology supplement to the March 21st issue of Community College Week.

Reflections on Dream 2016

 

hope_graphicLate last month, more than 2000 people descended upon Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency for the Dream 2016 conference, a forum where community college educators, administrators, researchers, policy-makers, and thought-leaders come together to share in the conversation that began with the Achieving the Dream movement. To say it was an inspirational event would be an understatement. For colleagues who have attended this in prior years, they warned me that it would be informative, overwhelming and inspiring. I was not disappointed. If there was ever a place where one felt part of a much larger mission, one that existed to help better mankind through the education of some of our most vulnerable and under-served populations, this was it.

Our learning lies in the telling of our stories.
~ David Price, Open: How we will work, live and learn in the future (quoted at Dream 2016)

Digesting it all has taken awhile. Like most of you, I’m sure, when you return from an academic conference that hits in the middle of a busy semester, you are running from the moment you return, catching up with all the important emails that required a more thoughtful response, answering questions and reviewing student assignments (if you also teach, as I do), refocusing on the backlog of reading needed for the next committee meeting. It can seem like a lifetime ago when you were there, among all those people who shared an excited commitment to the mission at hand.

Expand knowledge beyond the shores of wonder…
~ heard during one of the sessions, Dream 2016

And then you realize it… at least I did…that I was DOING the work that we were all talking about. As I would occasionally fall into the haze of recovery from travel or just plain mid-semester overload – you know, that feeling where you know there is something you should be doing but your brain is stuck in neutral – it would dawn on me as my next move was decided, that I was framing my responses in light of the lessons I’d learned from the many presentations I had attended at the Dream conference.

Transformative change requires three kinds of change at the same time: Structural, Process, and Attitudinal. And it must happen on multiple levels.
~ notes from presentation on iPASS, Dream 2016

Panicky students sent emails about assignments after two snow days fell on two consecutive Wednesdays that was then followed by Spring break. Taking a deep breath, I reflected upon the best way to diffuse their panic while making the best of the learning objectives for the course.

[We are] not just a community college, but THE COMMUNITY’s college.
~ Jim Jacobs, president, Macomb Community College, heard at Dream 2016

Over the next 10 days, I responded and reviewed and reassured students. I sent out pro-active emails and announcements from Blackboard. I offered to meet with students outside of class. I offered to look over their work in progress and provide feedback. And, for the most part, it seemed to work. About 1/3 of the class was ready with the several assignments that were due. And another third was nearly ready.

It’s important to remember the stories. People will forget the numbers (data). But they will not forget the stories. History can promote thought. But…humanity promotes action.
~ Wes Moore, author, speaking at Dream 2016

There were still those students who could not complete their goals to catch up over the Spring break in spite of the availability of technology to work on assignments, in spite of my availability to help guide them. There were other factors that challenged them – those life issues faced by many of our community college students that we often talk about. But we made a pact and set some new goals together, including new deadlines with high expectations while not leading these students out the door. I believe in them and let them know it. I believe each and every student can succeed to the best of their ability and potential. And I share that with them, too, so that they can begin to believe in themselves.

Change your lens…by addressing each student as a Dream Scholar.
~ Tamika Narvaez-Payne, Dream Scholar student from Bakersfield College

Hope is a powerful tool.

Loving the hustle and bustle of a new academic year!

Info_Channel-02I don’t know about you, but even though classes don’t officially start until next Tuesday, 9/8/15, at Mott, things are really hopping here on campus. It’s Kick-Off Week at the college, and faculty who have been away doing whatever it is faculty do (which – believe it or not – is a lot!) are converging on campus to celebrate the start of the new academic year. Although it has its moments of stress as things gear up, I love all the new energy bubbling around campus!

Our campus has been very busy with a number of initiatives over the summer, many of which have involved faculty in the development of Guided Pathways. If you’re not familiar with this topic, here’s the short version: Guided Pathways involves a multi-faceted approach to helping more students graduate, but beginning with the development of clear, semester-by-semester outlines of how to move through an occupational program or transfer discipline. To support this, other areas of student support are addressed including intake, orientation, advising, etc. It is an effort to use best practices supported by data to lay a strong foundation for success as students enter, progress, and complete their time at the community college, culminating in a degree or certificate. Some background reading can be found here and here, lead by Rob Johnstone and Davis Jenkins who are considered among the leaders in this movement.

Another big project was taken on by myself and a colleague, Jim Shurter, far outside of our regular duties, in the form of a marketing campaign for the college. “Mott. My Path to Excellence.” – The tagline and campaign aimed to reposition our college as a “first choice” in the Greater Flint area and surrounding counties, and not simply a more affordable one. We used the voice of millennials to speak for what they wanted from an education, and how they wanted to shape it for themselves. The inference here is that Mott can not only help make that happen, but by choosing Mott over, say, a “name” university, we have redefined the community college as a truly valuable option that is on par with their other choices. We are empowering these potential students to say that Mott really IS their path to excellence!

Now… for some of you, it may have occurred to you that these two initiatives are at odds with each other. Why would we create Guided Pathways that seem to “remove” choice, and then seemingly try to entice students to Mott as a way of shaping their own choices in education? Believe it or not, it makes sense when you look at how many of our students want those choices in the specific educational program they’re choosing to be determined. Today’s students, according to the research by Jenkins, et al, want a more defined path to get them to their destination. But these pathways are not rigid and inflexible. When it comes to non-CTE programs, they are simply a guide to help make the most of their brief time here before transferring to a university. The other part of the Guided Pathways Initiative depends heavily on advising and a case management system that would involve faculty and others in working with students to help guide them towards their goals. In this way, exploration is still possible for the student who wants to veer off the proscribed path.

As for the campaign itself, it seems to have touched the audience effectively. Rather than the 7% drop in Fall enrollment that was originally anticipated, we are currently hovering at around 3% above last year’s Fall numbers. I’ve run into many new students in the out-county areas where we were especially focused who – once they learned I worked at Mott – have proudly announced to me that they were starting there in the Fall. It was exciting to hear!

Now, as we launch the new academic year, I see our CTL as playing a vital role in helping our college employees help support that message that we are all here to help students make their future possible!

To our Mott employees, alumni, and students, be sure to share your story using our hashtag – #mott4me!

Here’s to a great semester for everyone!

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