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.

 

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.

Technology and its Softer side to Learning

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Much has been written on the topic of incorporating technology into the classroom, all in the name of increasing student success through increased engagement. Technology has been an important factor in the concept of the flipped classroom and “teaching naked” (José Bowen) where the students are responsible for viewing lectures and doing the readings beforehand so that the classroom can become more activity-focused and engaging.

It has been an established part of online learning where both access to, and preparation for, the use of technology is critical to learning and participation in this digital environment, especially as a way of reducing the distance between students – each other or between them and the faculty. The results are mixed with many claiming that MOOCs are the new egalitarian education. But the results are mixed, especially when applying this to credit-bearing courses. The engagement of both learner and educator become critical and results often depend upon the increased fortitude from highly prepared students and faculty who are both committed to successful completion.

But technology can also play an important pedagogical role in the area of personal narratives as a tool for increased student engagement. Digital storytelling is the subject of a brief guide published by Educause that provides some food for thought on how to incorporate the digital medium effectively and accessibly without requiring a high mastery of advanced digital tools. Today, students and faculty have access to a digital movie studio in their telephones, and can easily edit on mobile devices or their desktop and save it in a format that can be viewed for free online.

The goal, however, is not just to create another way to utilize technology in the classroom. The real objective is to instill passion in the topic leading to the successful achievement in the learning outcome. Humans are natural storytellers. We can ask students to incorporate research and resources into their projects. But by also allowing them to make it personal, they become more engaged. This becomes not just something they have to study, but something they are immediately making relevant to their own worlds.

Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, would call this deeper learning, something that may be achieved through a series of “goal-based scenarios.” His follow-up book What the Best College Students do addresses the passion that students can find within to motivate their own learning. Hear Ken Bain in this recent NPR interview from May 2015.

What does all this have in common? It is the combination of inspiring student passion and the ability to express a personal connection to the material that creates passion for learning. This makes digital storytelling a powerful tool for student engagement that can be applied within any discipline we teach. To learn more, follow some of the links provided above and discover more ways to be inspired to apply this in your own classroom!

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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Good Reads on Community Colleges

Diversifying the student body is on the academic radar when examining the student population at colleges and universities across the nation. But diversity is not just about race. It involves the whole sector of students we see on the campuses of community colleges across the nation.

These students may include ones who are first generation college students, ones who dropped out or were not encouraged to continue their education beyond high school. It includes students who come from poverty, crime-ridden urban areas, or depressed rural spaces. It may include working adults returning to school to try and improve their income potential, a stay-at-home mother who needed to develop job skills to return to the workforce, or the factory worker whose job was outsourced to China. And it also includes students whose parents may be concerned about their child’s ability to stand up on their own far from the family support system. Whatever the reason that brings a student here, community colleges provide educational opportunities for some of the most diverse learners in higher education.

With that in mind, three recent articles are worthy of your attention and are shared with you here.

Why Elite Institutions Need to Welcome Students From Community Colleges

This is an opinion piece written by Laura Huober who made the auspicious transfer from Santa Monica (Community) College to Amherst College, an elite private liberal arts college. Her story demonstrates how, with the right supports, community college transfer students not only can thrive, they can make a valuable contribution to the learning environment.

The Challenge of the First-Generation Student

In this article, the First Generation student includes many who are also first generation Americans, as well as the first in their families to go to college. The article examines the tension regarding the stories of first-generation students who reach elite institutions, and the majority who are served by community colleges.

When elite institutions like Smith, Amherst College, or Harvard University enroll significant numbers of first-generation students, their stories are often splashed across the news. But regional state universities and community colleges have been identifying and supporting these students for decades, through federal TRIO programs, a collection of outreach and student-services efforts geared toward low-income students.”

Looking Beyond the Data to Help Students Succeed

In this article, Katherine Mangan addresses one of the hottest topics at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention held this week – predictive analytics and retention strategies. What makes this article a good read is the recognition that numbers alone don’t tell us what to do and are only part of the equation on predicting success. Examining best practices, reinventing success strategies to work with our community college student demographics, and implementing them in a thoughtful way – these all help frame data as a reference tool to inform the choices made on how to support students. Those choices may include mentoring, i.e. creating a social connection to help support the student, addressing grit and other noncognitive traits that can make or break a student’s ability to succeed. Tools such as SuccessNavigator can help identify the characteristics that can undermine a student as they manage the intricate balance of academics and life.

Perspectives on the role of the CTL at the Community College

Ultimately, our success in the CTL is measured by how we support those who make student success possible!

Ultimately, our success in Mott Community College’s Center for Teaching & Learning is measured by how we support those who make student success possible!

By Mara Jevera Fulmer, Ed.D., MFA

As Faculty Director for Mott Community College’s Center for Teaching & Learning, I  had a bit of a learning curve  in order to fully embrace the role the CTL has on our campus. So I thought that with this entry in our blog I would share both the general idea of CTLs and how we have utilized this center at our community college.

What IS a CTL?

This is a conversation that usually begins when someone asks me where I work. In Summer 2014, I was offered the opportunity to be reassigned to Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning on a fulltime basis. Previously, I served as the Program Coordinator for Graphic Design and a fulltime professor for the program that I had developed over 18 years ago. It was my baby and, just like a young adult, it needed a new direction which happily came through the leadership from one of my former students – now a fulltime colleague in the department.

But to answer the question: What IS a CTL? That required MY understanding to grow as I, among many people on campus, did not fully understand the CTL’s connection to professional development. Although I occasionally attended events or offered a workshop through the CTL, I did not understand the center’s more comprehensive objectives and the role it played. I was truly ignorant of its potential utilization. Guilty as charged. What I learned was that the CTL at campuses across the USA have a variety of names, but generally focus on supporting faculty – new and experienced – in improving their teaching effectiveness in order to improve student success. It all comes under the heading of Professional Development.

Everything is framed with two main goals: to improve ALL employees’ effectiveness in doing their job, so that ALL of us can work together to improve student success.

I spent my first few months learning all about Mott’s CTL and what role I might play in its activities. Professional Development seems like such a formal and “enforced” activity rather than the organic nature in which a faculty member usually seeks to “develop” in their discipline, especially in the arts where my roots lie. But at Mott, the CTL does much more than offer PD activities for faculty. There is a concerted effort to reach out to staff from all levels across the campus for their PD needs, to provide a center for gathering for college employee conversations, and to create opportunities for enrichment that can help open up creative and innovative thinking for all of our employees, all of which will lead to improving our job effectiveness.

At Mott, as I’m sure is the case at most community colleges, students, after all, are the reason we are here.

Bridging Departments & Disciplines through Hosted Meetings, Workshops & Special Events

The CTL at the community college becomes an effective tool for bridging departments and disciplines, creating peer-to-peer support, and introducing new techniques and learning theories that can help us with our most challenging students. At Mott, the CTL focuses on faculty and staff, bringing people together to share their expertise, discoveries, and insights in order to help each of us become more effective.

We also host special events coordinated with other local higher ed institutions to bring in nationally recognized leaders in teaching and learning. These events are used to tip off a year-long conversation, additional workshops, and peer-to-peer explorations. To help offset the costs of these speakers, Mott is a member of a local Quad POD with three other post-secondary institutions who share in the planning and programming of these special events.

To connect our work to students, we’ve utilized techniques such as a “Human Library” where individuals with historical and personal experience on an important topic share their stories and help bring history to life. Students attend as part of their coursework because their instructors have coordinated with the CTL to create an experience that will help bring depth and breadth to their learning.

Embracing Service & Experiential Learning

As a CTL at a community college in an urban area, we also facilitate Service and Experiential learning opportunities, including having a reassigned faculty member with leadership in this area. Not only do we offer support for faculty to incorporate S&E into their courses, we also coordinate with community organizations to involve faculty, staff, and even students for Service Saturdays. These special Saturdays can involve anything from building a home with Habitat for Humanity, to cleaning up the Flint Riverfront or Durant Park. And just because we are now into our “slower” Summer season for regular faculty activities, it doesn’t mean we have any fewer volunteer opportunities and participation. Beginning with a Volunteer Fair that occurred near the end of the Winter semester in April, we identified organizations that would fit well with the Service Saturday theme and have promoted these and other community events to encourage college staff, and the faculty still on campus, to be involved in the college’s community. In our regular 2014 Fall/Winter semesters, our Service Saturdays alone included over 900 man hours of volunteer time.

Technology & Work Productivity

Of course, the CTL at Mott offers a wide variety of workshops on technology and work productivity. We have reassigned faculty experts who are available to help their peers get the most out of our Learning Management Systems. Our staff IT experts use the CTL to share broader-based technology content, and there are occasional external experts who share their specific knowledge on a subject. As opportunities and interest arise, we connect with expertise in the community and region to offer training in everything from activities for personal enrichment, to new theoretical teaching models and their applications to improving student success. And, not to ignore health and wellness, the CTL provides a venue for workshops that improve the health and wellbeing of our campus community.

Adapting for Future Needs

The CTL at Mott is continuously updating their approach, scanning the environment for where we can best serve our audience – the faculty and staff of the college. Recently, after hosting a series of large task force meetings on student and employee experiences, we began to address those meeting outcomes in our programming plans for Summer and Fall. In addition, our college is part of the first Cohort in Michigan to implement Guided Pathways, and the CTL has risen to the challenge of providing support for that effort through workshops that help faculty and staff create and understand how to work with students using the Guided Pathways.

The exciting part of working in Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning is that it never stays the same. We have the ability to seek out opportunities to support all members of the college community in ways that can truly have a positive impact. Yes, it can be challenging to find ways to improve attendance amidst the hugely busy schedules of our audience. But that is but one challenge among many, one that we don’t take lightly and are continuously examining ways to deliver our services to help improve access for our programs. Whether we hit it right, or fail miserably, we try and learn from it. Our goal, however, is to be the best resource possible to support our college faculty and staff so that, ultimately, our students will be the true winners. That’s the best way I can think of to measure our success.

Now Some Questions for you!

Do you ever attend programs at your college’s Center for Teaching & Learning (or it’s name variety)?

Are you involved in developing programs for a CTL?

How does your CTL attract/schedule/plan in order to achieve the best attendance and effectiveness?

Write back in the comments to share your thoughts about the questions above, or other things you’d like to share.

Thank you!

Some good reflections on the Flipped classroom

Math professor and Chronicle blogger (Casting Out Nines) Robert Talbert had some great reflections on the concept of the Flipped Classroom in his post –Three evolving thoughts about flipped learning – from January 22, 2015. He reflects on how his thinking has changed from a more structured approach, to a more thoughtful one that doesn’t abandon lectures, doesn’t abandon assessment, but he has modified it to meet his students where they are, rather than create stress that doesn’t improve learning.

I wish more of us would … transcend the shopworn “lecture sucks” narrative and instead try to craft the best pedagogy that combines the most effective uses of several modalities.

Read the full article here.