Tag Archive: Learning

Excellence in Teaching


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



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/

Beyond Groupthink


The pursuit of innovation and deeper answers requires a mix of approaches that allows groups to access new ways of thinking. I’ve shared information in the past from Tim Hurson about brainstorming in groups, a process he says is usually “brain drizzle.” His approach to deeper thinking was shared in a previous blog entitled, A Penny for Your Thoughts. I encourage you to read that blog again or for the first time if you are new to our community within the past two years.

Our most creative and transformative answers in groups, from Tim Hurson’s perspective, come when we exhaust initial ideas and are encouraged to go deeper in our thinking. This avoids acceptance of an early idea that groupthink may be quick to accept; the innovative answer is deeper and takes more effort, especially when there may be a few people in the room who are not comfortable speaking.

Susan Cain addressed getting to new ways of thinking in her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. She said, “introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.” She shared examples where group process was undeniably powerful in the creative process, but there was emphasis on individual process too. One example she gave was how the computer operating system Linux was developed. This was an open-source process where many individuals contributed to its development from the quiet of their homes. She hypothesized that the operating system would not be as complex and innovative had all of the individuals been brought together in one place with a goal of developing the system. I suspect Tim Hurson’s approach to thinking deeper within groups gets to some of the individual, more solitary process because it moves beyond the typical cognitive gyrations of groupthink and into the deeper recesses of individuals’ minds. How can we best honor group and individual processes to discover innovative approaches and answers? There is a flexibility of patience that is needed to allow this to happen.

Discovering innovative answers happens best when there is trust and a willingness to be vulnerable in a group.  What can each of us do to deepen trust?   This necessary ingredient to healthy growth provides a basis to maneuver various levels of conflict.  Patrick Lencioni’s addressed this in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In a speech about this book, he emphasized the importance of vulnerability-based trust within groups. He said, “Without vulnerability-based trust, conflict becomes politics. With [vulnerability-based] trust, conflict is nothing but the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer.” A trusting environment that allows for healthy conflict around issues is essential for doing the work that leads to finding better answers.

I am excited about the evolution of our collective efforts and our ability to come together in trusting environments, where all voices are valued, to find the best possible way to serve our students, our EHHS community, and the college.

Bonus: “The hard truth is, bad meetings almost always lead to bad decisions, which is the best recipe for mediocrity.” Patrick Lencioni

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a would that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.

Hurson, T. (2007). Think Better: An innovator’s guide to productive thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Image (February 2, 2015). Retrieved January 26, 2017 from: http://www.corpgov.net/2015/02/groupthink-boardroom-context/


There were many moments over the past week that provided individual growth for colleagues, students, and me. While “individual” is emphasized, growth is something we often do together, especially through our relationships.

Curiosity also is a key ingredient for growth. When discussing Piaget, W.C Crain stated, “Children develop not because they are shaped through external reinforcements but because their curiosity is aroused. They become interested in information that does not quite fit into their existing cognitive structures and are thereby motivated to revise their thinking.” As professors, we know increasing curiosity with others opens the door to deeper learning.

Last week, curiosities were heightened before and during a “Teach In” that focused on social justice. We were invited to attend engaging sessions by faculty and a presentation by the keynote speaker, Dr. Jonathan Kozol, entitled, Savage Inequities: The Struggle Goes On. Some of the sessions were standing-room-only events. In a room filled beyond capacity, there were moments you could have heard a pin drop when Dr. Marco Turco was sharing Lessons From Apartheid South Africa, lessons based on his experience of living in South Africa during that time. Butterly Blaise and Dinai Robertson presented on, Intersectionality of Identity on a College Campus.  Group work around intersectionality engaged individuals from many levels of the college in conversations about assumptions and the absolute necessity of getting to know others on a deeper level. Think about this by expanding the metaphor of walking in someone else’s shoes and understanding that she/he has more than one pair of shoes. Many faculty and staff contributed to the success of the Teach In, creating a proud moment for SUNY Plattsburgh that was captured in a group picture by the pond.


Often, it is not an overpacked room with an expert speaker who helps you see the world in a new way or even a small classroom where individual growth might be easier to achieve, rather, it is one-on-one interactions. As a student walked into my office last week asking to drop a class, my intuition told me to ask, “How are you doing?” More than an hour later, the world looked different to both of us. I had a number of individual meetings with students over the past week where deep discussions lead to new understanding, renewed motivation, and steps to obtainable goals. I came away asking how we can be more intentional about taking time to do this individual work because it is imperative to the success of many students. While advisement provides a platform for these discussions, it is not enough to meet the day-to-day needs of our students.

Growing as a community of life-long learners, where we spend the extra time to do the individual work, for us and our students, ensures a brighter future for everyone. This is a daily approach to our work that can be energizing if done mindfully. This energy can come from a place of joy.


In The Book of Joy, a recently published book containing conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, there is a passage about helping others that says, “The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Joy can be a powerful motivator for our collective work. So, here’s to another week where we have more opportunities to embrace and inspire curiosity in an inclusive learning environment and to create moments of joy from growth in ourselves, our students, and our learning community.

Bonus:  Here is the short video about intersectionality that was shown in the session mentioned above.  Please take the time to watch it if this is a new concept for you.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
– Lifelong Learning/Growth
– Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
– Social Justice
– Helping Students Achieve Goals
– Collaboration
Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

Curiosity Image (n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: http://theconversation.com/curiosity-changes-the-brain-to-boost-memory-and-learning-32296

Group Picture: SUNY Plattsburgh Facebook

W.C. Crain (1985). Theories of development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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.



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



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/

“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

Engaging Learning: What Students are Saying

Engaged Learning

Last week, I attended an event hosted by the ODK Leadership Honor Society.  The topic was education and the event started with showing a speech by Ken Robinson entitled Changing Education Paradigms that an animator illustrated as he spoke; EHHS faculty and staff watched a select portion of this video during our fall 2011 community gathering.  It was good to hear Ken Robinson’s talk again, but most importantly it was exciting to hear students’ responses.  There was some discussion about the pitfalls of standardized testing.  Most students didn’t feel standardized tests represented their true ability.  One student cited a study that found high school GPA to be the best predictor of college academic success.  I shared results from studies I helped conduct that showed GRE scores did not predict success of graduate speech-language pathology students unless scores were very high or very low (Ryan, W., Morgan. M, & Wacker-Mundy, R., 1998, 2002).  Given the rapid growth of information, a number of the students felt it was the job of professors to teaching them how to learn rather than just teaching them information.  Critical thinking and problem solving were discussed in contrast to educational methods that prepared this no-child-left-behind-generation to pass tests.  It was a lively discussion that touched on the core of students’ beliefs about their educational journey and expectations of employers.  

The discussion then turned to what constitutes a good education.  The students agreed that experiential work had to be part of a good education.  This is in line with employers’ responses for a survey in The Chronicle of Higher Education that showed, “employers prefer experience over academic record” (Berrett, p. A29).  One student stated that the worst classes are the ones where professors just lecture.  There was agreement that engagement is low and learning is minimal if students are only listening to lectures.  Engaging students’ learning is highlighted in a powerful video entitled 5 Steps to Overhaul Teaching by Dr. Christopher Emdin, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University (Dr. Emdin is a graduate professor of one of SUNY Plattsburgh’s former students, Edmund Adjapong, who sent me the video). 

I hope you click on the link to Dr. Emdin’s video.  He speaks passionately about engaging urban youth in their education, particularly in the areas of science and math.   I feel his points are valid for all youth.  He speaks directly to our shared value of Excellence in Teaching and our commitment to engage our students.  Chickering and Gamson (1987) stated, “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves” (See Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.)     

Our commitment to engaging students in deep learning is paramount.  Making the acquisition of knowledge and skills come alive in and out of the classroom requires deep engagement and planning with each other.  The quality of our work together makes the achievement of all other “standards” possible.   If you have ideas or need support from me to do this work, please let me know.



Berrett, D. (2013, March 8).  Internships offer tickets to jobs and lessons in unpredictability.  The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. A29, A30.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 3-7.

Emdin, C. (2013). Retrieved March 10, 2013 from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS85liJHVeo

Image (2011). Retrieved March 10, 2013 from: http://ni.oc.edu/2011/03/what-does-student-engagement-mean-to-you/

Robinson, K. (2010). RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved March 10, 2013 from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

Ryan, W.J., Morgan., & Wacker-Mundy, R. (2002).  Graduate admissions in speech-language pathology: Predicting outcomes from selected preadmission criteria. Texas Journal of Audiology and Speech Pathology, 26, 28-31. 

Ryan, W.J., Morgan, M.D., & Wacker-Mundy, R. (1998).  Pre-admission criteria as
predictors of selected outcome measures for speech-language pathology graduate students.  Contemporary Issues in Communication Sciences and Disorders, 25, 54-61.

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