Hard Conversations and Learning Moments

election_day-flintRegardless of what dot on the ballot you filled in for president, if you are in higher education, you are going to be dealing with discontent at levels not seen in many years. To say that this last presidential election cycle was divisive is an understatement. But if you are an educator in a community college, you may be looking at faces in your classroom that barely contain an underlying current of fear and anger.

Healing is on the horizon. But there is also a valid mistrust of the president-elect based upon the campaign rhetoric that permeated our 24/7 news cycles, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and seeped into daily conversations with colleagues, friends, and neighbors. The conversations, post-election, are no less difficult. In some ways, they are even harder. Mistrust, disbelief, anger, grief, fear…all are understandable responses to the apparent upset of these election results.

The college is a community leader, and we, as educators – often while processing our own emotions – are supposed to be leaders for our students. How do we move forward from here? How do we act as role models for our students, demonstrating the values we espouse – of kindness, caring, tolerance, inclusiveness, encouragement, and love?

Perhaps it will come to some of us sooner than others. If your candidate was the winner, you’re probably feeling pretty stung about the charges of racism and bigotry and hate, wondering why people seem to be “sore losers.” It is important to not invalidate people’s feelings. Just as we do it in the classroom, we should recognize that affect is reality. People’s fears are real, valid, and evidenced by the same hateful rhetoric and even behaviors they’ve seen emboldened. If you are feeling stung, perhaps the work will be yours to explain to co-workers who express their anger and fear how you were able to see past this hateful rhetoric and support this candidate. Or, perhaps you will need to really listen and learn from them.

The college should be a safe place for these kinds of discussion. This is especially true in the classroom where polarizing issues can often derail a lesson plan in seconds. Creating a calm, mindful, respectful atmosphere where learning can thrive is our challenge and our charge, even if the lessons of the day have been shifted from creating conceptual illustrations on the meanings and lessons from specific TedTalks, to more current and urgent conversations on the recent elections and what that may mean to the daily lives of our students.

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Therapy Baby to the rescue!

So I wondered…what were educators doing? In my own classroom, the students led the way by sitting down for the last hour to chat and watch satirical videos from George Carlin and then a more thoughtful commentary from Stephen Colbert. An impromptu visit from my own grown daughter with my 11-month-old grandson helped lighten the mood. As this smiling little guy wandered about the room, moving from student to student, barely hanging onto grandma’s fingertips, it seems that, in the absence of a therapy dog, this therapy baby served us just fine.

But how were these post-election conversations being handled in other classrooms across the country? Here are a few examples from an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education titled “Lesson Plans After the Shock: How Instructors Treated Trump’s Win in the Classroom”:

A planned discussion about Emily Dickinson was scrapped by an instructor at Butte College in California, and replaced with an open and honest conversation about the election results and how people in the room were dealing with that. It became apparent that even though this was an English class, the instructor felt it would become her responsibility to have even more conversations about race and racism.

Yet another instructor was quoted as saying:

“I have to discuss it because it’s the elephant in the room, but it is what teaching is,” Ms. Gueye said. “Talking about things that are uncomfortable.”

In another article found in the Cornell Sun, titled “Professors Cancel Class, Responding to ‘Shocking’ Election Results,” there were a wide range of responses.

In one example, a professor of Asian, Near Eastern and religious studies cancelled her class because she could not trust herself to remain neutral or emotionally steady while giving a lecture on shifts from master narratives to radical ideologies in her Intro to Japan and Religion class. Yet that same instructor was able to utilize the botanical gardens on her campus to provide a space where students could demonstrate care for each other amidst the natural beauty there.

For another Cornell instructor, cancelling his second class of the morning after the election seemed appropriate in order to allow students the opportunity to listen to both Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and President Obama’s speech about a peaceful transition of power. For future classes, this instructor hopes to “engage in more critical discourse with students.”

And that’s just it. Our challenge as educator is to help put context to events, provide opportunities for safe spaces for discussion, and demonstrate the actions, qualities and values that help shape a civil society.

Even as we help our students cope with the outcomes, self-care becomes vital, as well. That’s challenging when also trying to offer authentic heartfelt support for those around you who are suffering feelings of trauma.

For the educators among us, I would like to ask you this: what strategies are YOU using in your classroom to address the seismic shift that the president-elect’s ideologies have brought?

Share your thoughts in the comments here. Comments are moderated and foul language or political rants will not be allowed. Thank you!

 

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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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!

Community College – flipping the notion of second chances and self-worth

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Matt Reed, who blogs for Inside Higher Ed under the moniker “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” hit the nail on the head when he commented on the distinction between community colleges and four-year institutions. In “Standing Calvin on His Head” (Reed, 2/12/15), he discusses how community colleges provide opportunities for students who have often seen little respect (both external and internal) for their educational merit and personal value.

They [Community Colleges] assume that all students are worthy of respect, and that there’s enough success to go around.  They assume that you can’t tell who’s capable just by looking at them, so you have to give everyone a shot. You do that because the students are worth it. They’re worth it before they even get here. If anything, the burden is on the institution to prove itself worthy of the students.

Read the full article here.

Reed was responding to an editorial by Kristin O’Keefe (The Community College/’Real College’ Divide, 2/11/15, New York Times. O’Keefe’s editorial posed a sensitive response to an educator speaking about high school graduation criteria to parents and incoming high school freshman. She then went on to say that these were the minimums if your child would “go to real college – you know, not community college.”

Besides the absolute insensitivity to the real possibility that there were community college graduates in the room, her comments spoke to a divide that persists among attitudes towards those who make community college their choice for higher education. And a myriad of reasons – apart from being prepped for higher ed – may exist in making that choice. O’Keefe explains that community college students who succeed, or at least persist over long periods of time, have characteristics worthy of our respect.

To all those who had a college experience like mine: Imagine adding a full-time job, financial worries and family obligations to your mix of classes? Imagine if your bus is late or your babysitter didn’t show up? I know this: Any student who is able to juggle a multitude of responsibilities and earn a degree is impressive. Wouldn’t that be a person you’d want to hire?

Read the article in the New York Times by O’Keefe that precipitated Reed’s blog.

New Additions to the Offsite Conferences & Opportunities

Staff and Faculty should take advantage of local, regional and national opportunities to participate in conference and training that are of importance to their careers and the college.

Take a look at the updated list shared here.

In the meantime, hope the semester is going well for all our educators out there!

Some useful reflections on the Flipped classroom

Casting Out Nines

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.