Category: Teaching


Excellence in Teaching

image

Excellence in teaching requires us to ENGAGE students in the learning process.  It also requires a lifelong pursuit of knowledge, a pursuit that deepens the knowledge we can share, as well as deepening our knowledge about approaches for helping students learn.

There was a time when PowerPoints were engaging because they were “bright and shiny” compared to overheads; however, the phrase “death by PowerPoint” is common in our vernacular these days for a reason. I remember when I was an undergraduate student and “dyed in the wool” lecturing professors would bring in their notes that had yellowed over the years. Back then, I used to wish they would at least put some Liquid Paper around the edges to make the notes look new; this was before computers when a fresh set of notes could be printed with the click of a button. PowerPoints don’t yellow, but if sound effects occur when text appears on the screen, that’s a hint of yellowing. If slides are still being read to students in class, that may be a technique that is yellowing if overused.

When I taught a graduate voice disorders class last fall, I experimented with a flipped classroom model. Students read assignments and slides before class. Clinical cases were presented in class and in the voice lab and therapy techniques were practiced. The students helped me find my balance by requesting I review highlights from slides they had access to on a course management system, Moodle in this case. After 25 years of teaching, this felt like one of the best classes I have taught. Students were engaged more deeply with the material and feedback was positive.

Since teaching that class, I’ve been reading a book loaned to me by the Chairperson of Expeditionary Studies entitled, Make It Stick by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014) that details better ways to help students retain material over longer periods of time. There are approaches to learning I would change the next time I teach based on information in this book. For example, I would place exercises on Moodle that required more retrieval of course content and I would increase quizzes and formative assessments in class. A few key points from the authors include:

“Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skills from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention”

“Effortful retrieval makes for stronger learning and retention.”

“After an initial test, delaying subsequent retrieval practice is more potent for reinforcing retention than immediate practice, because delayed retrieval requires more effort.”

“Repeated retrieval not only makes memories more durable but produces knowledge that can be retrieved more readily, in more varied settings, and applied to a wider variety of problems.”

Life-long learning by instructors and a willingness to try new approaches to engage students while teaching are crucial to achieving our highest shared value of Excellence in Teaching. It’s no coincidence that someone from Expeditionary Studies loaned me a book on learning so I could explore new territory for supporting students’ success. I am grateful to be in a community with colleagues who embrace this ongoing work.

Ask a few colleagues to share their most engaging teaching techniques with you this week. I suspect it will be an enlightening conversation.

Bonus: “Trying to come up with an answer rather than having it presented to you, or trying to solve a problem before being shown the solution, leads to better learning and longer retention of the correct answer or solution, even when your attempted response is wrong, so long as corrective feedback is provided” (Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel, p. 101)

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Excellence in Teaching
• Lifelong learning

 

References

Brown, P., Roediger, H., & McDaniel (2014). Make it stick. Cambridge, MA: The Belkbap Press of the Harvard University Press.

Image (n.d.) Retrieved on February 12, 2017 from: http://www.newspakistan.tv/high-fructose-diet-harms-brain-genes-study/

The Cost of Class Time

Lecture Cost

Have you ever thought about per hour rates students are paying to sit in your classes?  To compute this for a typical undergraduate student, you have to take 45 contact hours for a three-credit course x 5 classes per semester = 225 hours x 2 semesters = 450 total hours divided into the tuition rate; graduate would be 360 hours based on 12 credits per semester.  Using this formula, cost per hour of class time based on current tuition rates would be:

SUNY Plattsburgh In-state Out-of-state
Undergraduate $14.38 $36.26
Graduate $30.19 $61.69

Of course, the cost formula is not really this simple, but it makes a point about the monetary value of instruction time for students; payment for exceptional advisement and mentoring during office hours also can be considered.  For most classes, hundreds of dollars are on the table, so to speak, when a professor walks into the room.  Do students realize how much money is wasted when they skip a class?  Do professors think about how much money is being paid for a class if it is cancelled?  What if full payment of a professor’s salary was determined by ratings of teaching excellence?

From our Shared Values:

Excellence in Teaching

  • Clear expectations
  • Model passion and professionalism
  • Timely feedback
  • Effective assessment tools
  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to students’ needs

We strive to uphold our shared value of Excellence in Teaching, as stated above, with passion.  Bringing deep value to teaching has been an ongoing quest for me.  This is motivated in part by the responsibility students in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services will have for making a positive difference in the lives of those they will serve.  With this in mind, I share something I read last week entitled, Five Types of Quizzes That Deepen Engagement with Course Content, by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, that can bring additional value to the classroom.  She presents five approaches:

  • Mix up the structure
  • Collaborative quizzing
  • Quizzing with resources
  • Quizzing after questioning
  • Online quizzes completed before class

Take a few minutes to read about these techniques (click here) and try one you have not used before.  Once you do, let me know about the outcome.  There are many ways we can bring value to the classroom.  Let’s make sure the value students receive far exceeds the “dollars placed on the table” at the beginning of each class because not only are we touching their lives, we are indirectly touching the lives they will touch in the future.

Bonus: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image (February 23, 2015).  Retrieved April 3, 2016 from: http://pbrnews.com/recommendations-for-raising-tuition-effectively/

Weimer, M. (2016, March, 30) Five Types of Quizzes That Deepen Engagement with Course Content.  [Web Log Post].  Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/five-types-of-quizzes-deepen-engagement-course-content/

The Lecture: What Are You Willing to Risk?

Lecturing

Faculty members at SUNY Plattsburgh, as at other institutions of higher learning, are professors, full/part-time lecturers, and adjunct lecturers.  These titles conjure up images of experts in their fields standing in front of students, speaking and professing (AKA: lecturing). Lecturing commences with the hope of being inspiring enough to keep students engaged for three hours each week for 15 weeks.  The reality of doing this in our short-attention-span-society is challenging, even for the most engaging speakers.

I recently read a post from The Teaching Professor Blog by Maryellen Weimer (2016) entitled, Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  She shared the results of a survey from 275 faculty members in the area of economics who reported that, “they lectured 70 percent of the class time, led discussion 20 percent of the time, and had students doing activities for 10 percent of the time.”  She wrote about continuing reliance on lecturing in many fields and resistance to changing other aspects of the profession including course design, approaches to testing, assignments, and grading.  There are, of course, some who have become comfortable with change and they embrace new approaches that have a long-lasting impact on students’ learning.  These reflective teachers use a continuous improvement model and are always seeking new, effective teaching approaches through workshops, the Center for Teaching Excellence, collaboration with colleagues, and reading.

CTE-main-image

 

I tried new approaches to teaching after discussions with colleagues that were inspired by reading Ken Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do.” I  became much more democratic and involved my students in decisions about how they wanted to learn material.  I changed the way I used class time and took a different approach to testing with help from The Center for Teaching Excellence. Hanging around with professors from Teacher Education also gave me a few new teaching techniques.  Changing my approach to teaching was a huge risk in my mind because I had high ratings on my Course Opinion Surveys.   I was comfortable with lecturing – something I later labeled, “Death by PowerPoint” after changing to approaches that required deeper engagement by students.  I knew I was presenting the information my students needed to be successful in clinical settings with clients.   So why change?

The students had changed.  They had grown up in a world where they had immediate access to information.  No card catalogs, no waiting weeks for research articles to arrive, and reduced time standing at copiers to make information from the library mobile; now, it’s all just a click away.  These students obtained and worked with their information in new ways compared to the recent past.  I had made many of these changes too, but started asking if my progression of change matched changes in their way of learning.  Another reason was based on the question, “Given all of the tools available to me, what teaching approaches would have the greatest long-lasting effect on deep learning?  I became much more interested in how my students thought about course content rather than learning a lot of content.  I knew they might forget some of the information I taught them, however, they had instant access to information; they didn’t have instant access to good thinking.

FishThinkBigger-Copy-300x187

Is it time to consider new titles for those who teach in higher education?  In the K-12 environment, we still have teachers, an honorable title that encompasses more than lecturing and professing.  Notice the blog I quoted earlier that came from “The Teaching Professor.”  When considering teaching, there are a few questions to ask.

  • What risks need to be taken to employ new teaching strategies that maximize learning and are you willing to take the risks?
  • What teaching environment would encourage the willingness to take risks with new teaching approaches?
  • What are the best ways to take student learning objectives from a Master Course Outline and backplan learning for students with varying abilities? How do we assess these learning objectives to ensure learning has occurred?
  • What role might project-based or case-based learning play in curriculum design to promote deep learning?
  • What if you lectured for half or even one quarter of class time and planned activities to engage active learning the remainder of the time? If you did this, how might students gain information about content in ways that don’t require as much lecturing?

There are so many possibilities these days that provide good answers to these questions.  The bar of change that must be jumped is set by a willingness to take risks.  The beauty of making this jump in higher education is that you don’t have to do it alone.

Bonus:  As Dean, I have spent many hours over the last month reviewing faculty evaluation files.  One of the things I appreciated was when someone shared a self-reflective statement that addressed how a new approach did or did not work in class.  What I appreciated most was the vulnerability shared when something did not work and what would be tried next time; this is where wisdom is born.  Evaluation files, to me, are about growth, not judgment and this is what supports an environment in which risks can be taken.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
Excellence in Teaching
Lifelong Learning/Growth
Collaboration

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Weimer, M. (2016, February, 3) Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?  [Web Log Post].  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/why-are-we-so-slow-to-change-the-way-we-teach/

Lecturing Image (April 27, 2012). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  https://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/change11-cck12-is-lecturing-the-cream-of-teaching-at-the-mercy-of-learning/

Teaching Excellence Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from: http://academics.lmu.edu/cte/

Fish Image (February 19, 2013). Retrieved March 20, 2016 from:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2013/02/19/four-risks-you-need-to-take/#761d40044d36

Leadership Skills: Hitting the Jackpot in Vegas

 

Developing Leadership Skills

I attended a TEDx talk recently at SUNY Plattsburgh by Dr. Steve Trombulak, Dean of Sciences at Middlebury College entitled, Reclaiming the Soul of Higher Education: Experiential Education for Sustainability.  Dean Trombulak spoke about an experiential summer program that embeds leadership skills in its curriculum.  Some of the skills he highlighted included:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Persuasive communication
  4. Negotiation
  5. Crisis management
  6. Idea creation
  7. Networking
  8. Empathy
  9. Ethical decision making
  10. Failing forward

Dean Trombulak talked about teaching these skills (find the full list here) as students participate in various learning activities related to sustainability.  Leadership skills are important because he wants students to, “have the tools to do something with that information.”  We often talk about our students acquiring the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be successful in their fields.  How often do we think about leaderships skills under the category of skills?  How much more effective would our students be in their fields if we placed a stronger focus on the development of leadership skills?

I was at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) conference in Las Vegas last week and was amazed at how many times the leadership skills mentioned above were part of the conversation.  Dr. Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York System, talked about employees of P-12 schools and higher education collaborating in new ways to achieve our common goals.  This conversation took place in a session on Striving Together; the initiative in our region is called North County Thrive.  Chancellor Zimpher emphasized failing forward by learning from each other’s mistakes as we make progress.  Another session I attended was for deans where the focus was on leadership skills most used by deans.  These included:

  1. Be Vigilant
  2. Remain calm
  3. Value relationships and others’ achievements
  4. Be strategic
  5. Provide guidance an coaching
  6. Plan ahead
  7. Seek help and learn from others
  8. Solve problems creatively
  9. Follow through
  10. Set limits
  11. Trust in yourself
  12. Persist
  13. Be prepared to deal with the consequences of difficult decisions
  14. Don’t assume

In a survey sponsored by AACTE of 110 deans, leadership skills were rated revealing several of the highest rated skills to be in the area of pragmatics.  The four highest-rated leadership skills included: follow through, vigilance, calmness, and relationships (Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S., 2016).   Additional leadership skills discussed by deans attending the meeting included communication, cultural competence, creativity, and vision.

After the conference concluded, I spent the remainder of the afternoon hiking/climbing in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with my lifelong friend, who is a math professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas; this is the same friend I have mentioned in most of the other mountain climbing stories on this blog site.

Red Rocks 1

The relative peace and desolation of the desert was welcomed after the cacophony of Las Vegas.  One of the topics we spent the most time discussing while hiking was the importance of reframing what we do as professors in a classroom to address leadership skills.  There were times we stopped and sat on boulders to enter into deeper discussion.  I told him about the TEDx talk by Dean Trombulak that focused on students learning leadership skills along with the content of a course.  I also detailed the leadership skills addressed in the deans’ meeting.  We discussed the development of our own leadership skills and the importance of good mentors.  Our discussion revealed many opportunities we have each day as professors, mentors, and advisors to model and teach leadership skills.

You can teach leadership skills:

  • as you have students collaborate in group projects;
  • as you discuss and demonstrate the importance of relationships, particularly with regard to developing cultural competence;
  • as you display empathy by asking students how they are doing beyond the context of the classroom;
  • as you assist students to “dig deeper” and persist with their learning;
  • as you talk with students about failing forward (learning from mistakes) in order to do better; and
  • as you provide guidance for students by helping them gain insight into leadership development.

The examples could go on and on, but I will let you examine the leadership skills provided above to develop additional associations to your own work.  We are responsible for deep development of these skills in ourselves if we are expected to model them for and teach them to students.  Imagine what we and our students will accomplish if we do this!

I don’t enjoy gambling in casinos, but I felt like I hit the jackpot in Las Vegas when coalescing thoughts on the mountain about deeper development and teaching of leadership skills.  I am happy to share the wealth with you.  Which leadership skills are you going to work on and teach today?

Bonus Picture:

Red Rock Canyon is part of the Mojave Desert.  This area is 17 miles west of Las Vegas.

Red Rock 3

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Excellence in Teaching
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth
  • Helping Students Achieve Goals

Learn Lead Image (2015). Retrieved February 28, 2016 from: http://edmundrichtoh.com/mlm-personal-development/how-to-develop-your-mlm-leadership-skills/

Henk, W., Lovell, S., Madison, J., & Wepner, S. (2016, February).  Deans academy: Teacher prep and the importance of the dean – Part 1. Presentation at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Las Vegas, NV.

The Heart and Soul of Teaching

Heart 3

Over the past five years, I have had the privilege of interviewing many people for teaching positions.  Hearing their life experiences and perspectives always is enlightening and often inspiring.  Their application packets typically contain a document detailing their teaching philosophies.  Theorists are often mentioned and the multiple ways in which students can learn and we can teach are discussed.  I always pay close attention to whether the applicant is student-focused rather than self-focused.

A recent example from popular media that demonstrated being student-focused came from Kyle Schwartz, an elementary teacher in Denver.  She passed out Post-it notes to her elementary students with a sentence to be completed that read, “I wish my teacher knew…”  As you may have seen, there was an amazing response to what the children wrote.  Many of them read their responses aloud in class, something Ms. Schwartz said created a deeper sense of community.  There were statements that often spoke to their struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Teachers across the country now are using this approach with their students and using the information to guide ways to better teach their students.  This approach by Ms. Schwartz speaks to the heart and soul of teaching.   Her holistic approach is a good example of heart, something else I look for in job applicants.

Make a difference John-F.-Kennedy

 

A recent applicant’s teaching philosophy addressed the holistic perspective of the learner; it was a student-focused philosophy with heart.  This applicant spoke to educating the whole person and stated, “…this type of learning depends on the creation of a space where adult learners can bring their experiences into conversation with the content.  Effective teaching offers a holding space for crisis in one’s assumptive world.”  Powerful discussions can challenge believe systems and cause disequilibrium; this is in addition to any disequilibrium that may already exist due to a student’s life circumstances.  As we come to the last weeks of the semester, instances of disequilibrium experienced by students get amplified under the pressure and stress of finishing the semester.  The disequilibrium provides powerful teaching moments that can help students improve problem solving, inner strength, persistence, and ability to push beyond perceived limits (AKA grit).  Are we seizing these teaching moments in our day-to-day interactions to help our students improve their grit?

The job applicant who sparked the idea for this blog quoted Henri Nouwen (1997) to support the position of working holistically with learners.

Teaching means the creation of the space in which the validity of the questions does not depend on the availability of answers, but on their capability to open us to new perspectives and horizons.  Teaching means to allow all the daily experiences of life such as loneliness, fear, anxiety, insecurity, doubt, ignorance, need for affection, support, and understanding, and the long cry for love to be recognized as and essential part of the quest for meaning.  This quest, precisely because it does not lead to ready answers but to new questions, is extremely painful and at times even excruciating.  But when we ignore, and thus deny, this pain in our students, we deprive them of their humanity.  The pain of the human search is a growing pain (p. 99).

The first sentence of the quote is powerful by itself.  The whole statement by Nouwen poignantly reminds us about the complexity of learning where the inner-self struggles with growth, thus leading to more questions.  In our standardized test society, our students may be more used to focusing on answers than questions, something that can result in greater struggle.  We know for some of our students, if not all, the path to the mind is often through the heart.  This is a path that allows for the persistence necessary to explore unanswered questions.

As we come to the end of the semester, we are faced with our own struggles to reach goals and meet student learning objectives.  As you focus on completing the semester, please take time with your students to “check in” and see how they are doing.  Not a “How are you doing?” with an expected, habitual, socially-polite response of “fine,” but a sincere inquiry into their well-being as they approach the end-of-semester challenges.  This holistic approach respects students’ hearts and souls.  It also will improve their ability to learn and discover deeper levels of grit.

Bonus:  Imagine if you handed your college students a Post-it note that said, “I wish my professor knew….”

EHHS Shared Values Addressed:
Respect and Empathy
Excellence in Teaching

 

Nouwen, H. (1997). Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader. R. Durbank (Ed.). New York, NY: Doubleday.

Image (2013). Retrieved April 19, 2015 from: http://br1ana01.deviantart.com/art/Flaming-Heart-352586111

Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2015 from: http://emilysquotes.com/one-person-can-make-a-difference-and-everyone-should-try/

Google Chip for Your Brain: Technology and Learning

Digital Human 2

In today’s world, we are overwhelmed with information from email, text messages, social media notifications, and news media, to name a few.  According to experts at IBM, “Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion [2,500,000,000,000,000,000] bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.”  Satellites, cell towers, high-speed internet, Wi-Fi, and search engines help us access this data in almost magical ways. Social conditioning for the use of technology that creates and accesses the data comes in the form of non-stop announcements from tech companies about the newest devices and gadgets that will provide us with even more data; yes, many of us now know how many steps we take each day.

Quick facts and constant streams of data rarely get stored in long-term memory because the associative memory that comes with deep learning is absent.  Reinforcement of neural pathways necessary for long-term memory also is absent in a world of quick access to data.  Why commit information to memory when you can just Google it?

It is tempting to think that a Google Chip in our brains and digitally-connected contact lenses for readouts would be beneficial, but information would need to be stored in long-term memory for a Google Chip to access.  Once information is organized and placed in long-term memory, then our brains are faster than Google at accessing the information, not to mention the added benefit of being able to apply this information to the contexts in which we need it to solve problems, complete complex motor tasks, or think about meaning.

One of our shared values in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services at SUNY Plattsburgh is excellence in teaching.  Building new neural pathways and more complex synaptic connections takes dedication from faculty members who design engaging approaches to students’ learning.  Current students in our quick-access world may find the discipline necessary to build these pathways and connections more challenging than past students, in part, due to the myth of multitasking.

B0005204 Neurons in the brain

Pyramidal neurons forming a network in the brain.
Credit: Dr. Jonathan Clarke, Wellcome Images

I walked around the crowded library last semester during finals to see how students were studying and there was rarely a student who was not distracted by multiple devices.  Text messages, a quick click on a site unrelated to what was being studying came as easily as working a one-armed bandit in a casino; the psychological reinforcement principles are not that different between these things.  I could not help but think of George in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s short story, Harrison Bergeron, where George and his spouse live in a future society when everyone has been made equal.  Regarding George, the author wrote,

And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

Bringing greater focus to learning is a skill that is developed through discipline and requires a thoughtful use of technology.  I am not a Luddite; I do believe technology has a place in learning if used well.  Here are a few considerations:

  1. Emails come screaming in with bells like a three-alarm fire and distract thinking. Consider turning off the email notification on your computer and then only check email during specific times of the day.
  1. Consider not sitting in front of your computer for more than an hour at a time. Cognitive function improves during exercise (Ogoh, et.al., 2014).  If you have a problem to solve, take a walk as you think about it. Even better: walk with a colleague who can add a new perspective to solving the problem.
  1. Multitasking is not possible if you are using the same part of your brain for similar tasks (e.g., reading a book and reading text messages). You can only serial task in these instances by completing one task at a time (see more here).  Consider removing all distractions that compete with the same part of your brain needed to do the task at hand.
  1. Amid today’s vast sea of information, consider carving out time(s) each week for deep learning without any distractions. Close your email program, turn off your phone, put a sign on your door saying you are working on research, and give yourself the gift of deep concentration and learning.  Talk with your students about discovering this gift for themselves, it will not feel natural to most.

Disciplining the mind in a hyper-informational, high-tech society takes practice.  We can’t assume our students will develop this skill without some encouragement and guidance.  Technology does have its place.  In contrast to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s story, there are times when I am trying to remember something and a Google Chip in my brain would be nice.

 

References

IBM. What is Big Data? Retrieved from http://www-01.ibm.com/software/data/bigdata/what-is-big-data.html

Ogoh, S., Tsukamoto, H., Hirasawa, A., Hasegawa, H., Hirose, N., & Hashimoto, T. (2014). The effect of changes in cerebral blood flow on cognitive function during exercise. Physiological Reports, Vol. 2 no. e12163. Retrieved from http://physreports.physiology.org/content/2/9/e12163

Vonnegut , K. (1961). Harrison Bergeron. Retrieved from http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

 

Images

Digital Human Image (2014). Retrieved March 1, 2015 from: https://cliaoliveira.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/1512371_10202776268986474_571367483_n.jpg

Neuron Image (2011). Retrieved March 1, 2015 from: http://blog.wellcome.ac.uk/2011/12/07/feature-stroke-restructuring-the-brain/

Generational Footsteps

Windmill 3

When I tell people I grew up on a farm in Kansas, there are a number of reactions from Wizard of Oz jokes to curiosity about the path that led me to my current role in higher education as a Dean.  The thread of education has been woven prominently throughout the generational tapestry of my family.  In this respect, there were many footsteps to follow.  My great, great grandfather from my father’s side came to the United States with his wife from Ireland in the 1880s and moved to Kansas from Boston.  The land he purchased contained apple orchards and he sold the apples to buy lumber for the house in which I was eventually raised; I was the fifth generation to grow up in the Kansas farm house.  I am privileged to have deep roots and a rich knowledge of my family’s history, some of which came from watching very old movies of previous generations living in the house where my parents still live.

Kansas Farm House

Amid the family stories are ones that focus on education, stories that dispel some people’s preconceived ideas about growing up on a farm.  My grandfather and his two siblings were born in the farm house and grew up working the farm in ways that were even more difficult than when my immediate family had that responsibility; a strong work ethic was another prominent theme in my family.  My grandfather, his brother and his sister all went to college as did all of their children years later.  My grandmother and my mother, both of whom grew up on farms, also went to college.  Correct grammar, whether speaking or writing, was a requirement growing up in my house.  My sister and I never doubted we would go to college because it was an expectation, not a choice.  My grandmother, valedictorian of her high school class, told me many times growing up, “When you get an education, no one can take that away from you.”

The day I graduated with my undergraduate degree, my parents were in my dorm room and made reference to all of my books.  While many of the books I read and the classes I took set a strong foundation for my eventual profession in speech-language pathology, I turned to my parents and said, “Most of what I learned in college did not come from books.”  The professors challenged me to grow as a person as much as they challenged me to gain academic knowledge.   Two additional degrees and a career that now spans 23 years at SUNY Plattsburgh have only deepened my commitment to the value of education.

A number of students coming to SUNY Plattsburgh each year are the first generation in their family to attend college.  The student-focused approach we have at SUNY Plattsburgh creates a great place for all students to learn and grow, but especially for first-generation students.  I know our students will learn a tremendous amount of academic knowledge in the years they are in college, but I also know they will develop into strong citizens through mentoring and through participating in campus activities.

We have the privilege at SUNY Plattsburgh of being in positions that can have a powerful, positive influence on the lives of young adults.  We challenge them to push beyond their comfort zones and to explore who they can be in this world.  Our Shared Values, along with clear expectations in a supportive environment, provide students with challenges to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will positively influence their generation as well as future generations.  No one will ever be able to take these things away from them.

The picture below is of a young woman who graduated from the Teacher Education program last semester.  It was a touching moment when the audience realized there was a little soul in yellow regalia walking in the footsteps of her mother.  This touched the hearts of all who were watching.  There were cheers from previous generations.  Future generations will be inspired by the stories of this time and will have footsteps to follow.

Graduation

Ensuring Students’ Success

Student Success

A new academic year has begun!  Students have removed belongings from burgeoning vehicles to fill now burgeoning dorm rooms.  Parents and family members have entrusted their children with their hopes, dreams, and goals, to our hallowed halls of higher learning.  A cycle that repeats itself like the cycles of time; yet, each cycle is never the same.  Progress and change bring new perspectives and new approaches, even to the education of students.  Our students think, learn and process the world differently than students from even a few years ago.  We enthusiastically accept the challenge of growing and educating our students in ways that appreciate these changes and in ways that will ground them in the future.

 

At our beginning-of-the-year Community Gathering for the faculty of Education, Health, and Human Services, we examined how language in the field of education has evolved over the past 20 years.  We saw a current emphasis on problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, technology literacy, and personal and social responsibility.  While individual success is still lauded in our society, 21st century learning skills place a stronger emphasis on our ability to work together.  In the context of educating college students, theses skill areas provide lenses through which to view the ways we can enhance our teaching and our work together.

 

Our mission and vision are focused on academic, professional, and personal student success.  It is our responsibility to ensure that 21st century learning skills are embedded in our instructional approaches.  In addition, we know our shared values give us a strong foundation on which to do this work.

 

At the community gathering, small groups of professors participated in a fifteen-minute activity.  They were asked to agree on two strategies or approaches, for each mission/vision goal area, that can be used this academic year to ensure students’ success.  Here is what they said:

 

Strategies to Ensure Academic Success

  • Provide a safe learning environment with clear learning targets
  • Creating a safe environment where students can express themselves
  • Challenge and support
  • Meaningful, candid, frequent feedback
  • Balance quality with quantity feedback/data
  • Use student feedback to inform instruction
  • Use case Studies
  • Use case studies to developing higher thinking/critical thinking skills
  • Help them develop thinking patterns
  • Improve connections/relationships with students. Reduce distance – don’t talking at them
  • Increase application of learning. It’s important also to know the ‘why’
  • Use quick writes to gain a sense of what students are thinking/learning
  • Use analogies
  • Be consistent with expectations
  • Maintaining high academic standards (across the board)
  • Flagging students of concern early and addressing the concerns

 

Strategies to Ensure Professional Success

  • Engaging them experientially
  • Make connections with others – teach/mentor professional behaviors
  • Case studies
  • Challenge and support
  • Mentoring
  • Accountability
  • Demonstrate professionalism:
    • collaboration with peers
    • group work
    • receiving positive criticism
    • moving towards self-reflection
  • Being a good role model (i.e., professional organization standards)
  • Thinking holistically – this integrates authenticity and learning critical skills
  • Ask students to develop action plans/growth plans for professional growth
  • Ask students to attend professional meetings in their field in local, state and federal levels
  • Encourage active participation in professional conferences
  • Model/share our professional growth strategies
  • Continue to reinforce ethical standards

 

Strategies to Ensure Personal Success

  • Directing to resources on campus
  • Coaching in priority setting, value clarification – encouraging, guiding, communication
  • Challenge and support
  • Reflective writing
  • Model respect, empathy, and listen
  • Help students increase multicultural competencies
  • Being accessible and approachable
  • Build relationships
  • Find ways to connect with students outside the academic realm
  • Validate students as people
  • Get to know your students
  • Use a “Me bag” activity – bring in a bag of tangible items to indicate who you are
  • Learning targets
  • Giving students choices and helping them be accountable
  • Have one-on-one conferences that address students’ strengths and weaknesses. Students can help determine how to develop their strengths and address their weaknesses.
  • Identify long/short term goals as they work through program
  • Help students work through “issues” and concerns outside the classroom

 

I wish you and your students a dynamic, productive, and successful academic year!

 

 

Image (March 1, 2013). Retrieved August 31, 2014 from:  http://www.gallaudet.edu/Images/Academic/FYE/SSnewlogo2.jpg

Faster Isn’t Always Better

Mindful Speed

It is that time in the semester where one week remains before finals.  There is a temptation to pack more information into the last week compared to previous weeks just to get material covered.  Students are feeling overwhelmed by finishing projects, papers, and by getting ready for finals; faculty feel the pressure too.  The element of motivation is critical for students and faculty amid the frenetic pace that can consume the academic culture this time of the year.  Will going faster result in students knowing more?  Intuitively, we know the answer even if we are motivated to provide as much information as possible to our students.  This is a good time to focus on our shared value of engaging students and on finding a renewed sense of motivation to complete the semester by giving our best effort.

As many of you know, Margaret Wheatley is one of my favorite leadership authors.  In a five-minute video where she discusses motivation, she says, “We need to develop new eyes through which to see our experience and we need to be much more engaged to learn from our experience and to develop those new eyes.”  She spoke about leadership teams that keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result by going faster; this doesn’t work well.  She said the missing element for increasing motivation is not speed, but people’s engagement.  Transferring this into the world of academia, we can understand that the depth of our motivation is found in the positive engagement we have with each other and our students.

Consider again the question in the first paragraph.  Based on our shared value of engaging students and on what Dr. Wheatley said, it may be best to “develop new eyes through which to see our experience.”  In essence, the amount of information conveyed is not as important as the depth to which we are able to engage the students with the information.

I wish you and your students well as we finish this semester.

Bonus: Reminder of what students say engages their learning.

Wheatley, M. (2013).  Co-creating possibilities.  Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.letgoandlead.com/meg-wheatley/

Image (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2013 from: http://www.santabanta.com/sms/quotes/life/74/?page=6

“Has the University as an Institution Had its Day?”

online face to face

The New York Times held a Schools for Tomorrow Conference in New York City on September 17th 2013 entitled Virtual U: The Coming of Age of Online Education.  I share five quotes from national leaders with you, four of which were from a discussion entitled, “Has the University as an Institution Had its Day?” and one from a discussion entitled, “Increasing Higher Education Affordability and Completion through Online Innovations.” (Scroll through the presentations on the above link to find these titles).

Has the University as an Institution Had its Day?

Anant Agarwal,  President of edX (edX is an online learning initiative of MIT and Harvard)
“We can do much better in terms of quality of education by bringing in the best of online technologies and in person technologies on campuses.  Replacing the traditional lecture with learning sequences…where you bring the Socratic Method into practice where students watch videos and interactive exercises before coming to class and have discussions with the professors.”

Sal Kahn, founder of The Khan Academy
“The hyperbole around this is not justified, it is not like the tsunami is going to hit in five years and [residential] education is going to go away.  People always make technology the issue, but I think the real issue is cost.  Anything that grows 3-4-5% faster than the rate of inflation will reach a breaking point.  Education is always going to exist, but this is an opportunity to think about how it can be done in more interesting ways.  What is the best way to run a lecture? MIT has been running classrooms with 300 students and a professor in the front for hundreds of years without thinking, is this the best way for students to learn.  Just as everyone should be skeptical about online education, they should say, ‘How do we know this works?  Does this improve outcomes? Does this improve retention?’ Those same questions start to be reflected on the physical experience.”

Biddy Martin, President of Amherst College
“The hype is not warranted and the universities and colleges as we know them are not about to end. Teaching has changed over the past 300 years.  Everyone in higher education should want online education, the best forms of it, to succeed.  Why, because of the extraordinary need for education and knowledge in the world and the intense hunger that is being revealed by the success of online education.  We also should want it to succeed because of how residential education can be improved in significant ways.  I want residential education to integrate what makes sense to integrate.”

Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY
“What we are really thinking about is that market, that for a whole host of reasons, can’t come to the campus, does not prefer to come to the campus, is too old to think about the campus experience but needs to be educated or reeducated to the workforce of today and tomorrow…and we’ve got to do a lot better job of how to package an online experience that speaks to that market.  And, I think higher education has to think about enrollment strategies beyond the margins. Most of our campuses might grow enrollment by 1 or 2% might decline by 1 or 2%. There is a changing high school demography that will cause our enrollments to flatten.  But there are so many other thousands and thousands who are seeking what we have and we have to find a new distribution system that draws on the talents of our faculty and meets the needs of the market.”

Later in the discussion when talking about the assessment of learning, Chancellor Zimpher said, “We’re beginning to translate learning and success as ability to have an applied learning experience.  Higher education has talked about this and uses it in service learning, but now increasingly we’re talking about internships (supervised and hopefully paid internships) and co-op experiences where you get to test out whether what you have learned has application in the job market.”

There was another panel discussion entitled,
Increasing Higher Education Affordability and Completion through Online InnovationsHere is one quote from that presentation:

Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University
“When we think about technology and how do we innovate, the fundamental question is, how do we increasingly personalize the student experience in a large institution? I once heard that the original MOOC was the 400 student lecture class.  The issue we look at, when you have 24,000 undergraduates and 8,000 graduate students on your campus, how do you scale up the personal experience so that students are more successful?  The reality today is that only about half of the students who begin college actually graduate and really it should be that everyone who starts college graduates.  Part of that is actually having an environment where students stay engaged and learn much more consistently.  Is the MOOC, tablet or some online format the replacement for textbooks?   How do you use technology so that you disrupt by replacing that which is routine with technology but still use humans in ways where they actually do what they have done better than anything else forever?”

I share these quotes with you as an invitation to think about what we must do now and in the near future to evolve education in a way that best serves our students and our college.  The last two graduate programs we initiated in the EHHS Division are hybrid by design involving online instruction, face-to-face instruction, and extensive hands-on field work/internships.  Several programs in the design phase will use this model too.  Based on the above comments, we are in line with the thinking of national experts who are considering best models for education.  The challenge we have before us is how to update our existing programs and classes to use best practice for online learning and face-to-face learning.  Face-to-face learning in residential colleges/universities and online learning are not dichotomous.  I feel it is the blended best of each that will be most successful.  Sal Kahn said, “The gold standard will be leveraging the online to get the global voice and then bringing that in – you can call that flipping – so we can have a face-to-face conversation about it.”

What do you or can you do to support your face-to-face classes with online materials?  What do you do or can you do in your online classes to make the experience more personal?

Tonight, when I teach my face-to-face graduate class, my students will have already reviewed information I put online, that in years past, I used to spend three hours presenting in class.  I will hold the face-to-face portion of my class in the CDS Voice Lab where learning to think like a Speech-Language Pathologist, by applying the material learned online, will be the focus through case presentations of my former clients.  The presentations are engaging and required application of knowledge learned online.

I look forward to discussing how your face-to-face and online teaching have evolved to improve learning through the blending of best practices from multiple formats.

EHHS Shared value emphasized:   Excellence in Teaching

  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to student needs

The New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference in New York City on September 17th entitled Virtual U: The Coming of Age of Online Education.  http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/conferences/schoolsfortomorrow/2013-09-17/index.html

Image (2011). Retrieved September 29, 2013 from: http://www.independentcollegian.com/online-vs-face-to-face-1.2551319#.UkgkgtJ02So

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