Posts tagged education

Posted 2 months ago

The Future of Higher Education is in Our Intention and Actions Today

The Future of Higher Education is in Our Intention and Actions Today

Copyright 2012 Favim.com - courtesy of Creative Commons.org/Google Images.

Copyright 2012 Favim.com – courtesy of Creative Commons.org/Google Images.

Part I (an opening)

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets

In systems that exhibit little to no change, prognostication is rather straightforward: a…

View On WordPress

Posted 1 year ago

The Scientific Imagination - Where Do Ideas Come From?

This month the Creative Research Center at Montclair State University filmed a one-hour virtual webcast, The Scientific Imagination - Where Do Ideas Come From?" as part of its Second Annual CRC Symposium.

The video, available here, presents a panel discussion on creativity and imagination, discussed among scientist educators working at MSU, to foster innovation, creative learning, and adaptive expertise in research and in the classroom. The discussion is moderated by Dr. Neil Baldwin, professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance in the College of the Arts and director of the CRC. He interviews Dr. Jennifer Adams Krumins, assistant professor, Department of Biology and Molecular Biology; Dr. Cigdem Talgar, director of Research and Programs and acting director of the Research Academy for University Learning (RAUL); Dr. William Thomas, director, New Jersey School of Conservation; Dr. Ashwin Vaidya, assistant professor of Physics in the Department of Mathematical Sciences; and Dr. Meiyin Wu, associate professor, Biology and Molecular Biology and director of the Passaic River Institute.

For educators, an essential struggle in any discipline lies in exciting our students’ imagination, getting them to think creatively about a problem or concept, and asking them to adapt to new knowledge and variable information in order to think more critically and deeply. This video highlights ways in which this is being done in the classroom, what role models and sources of inspiration have served our educators, how important engaging students in world views and creative thinking is to change, innovation, and adaptability, and much more. The conversation takes us into the specific profiles of each scientist educator, leads us into their world of development and experimentation, and models how they integrate their passion into their research and teaching.

I highly recommend that you watch this video, and share with your colleagues and students. There are numerous ways to approach creative thinking and imaginative learning; here are several of them packaged into an active and informative discussion.

The Scientific Imagination - Where Do Ideas Come From?

Posted 1 year ago

I welcome you, but I may not respond to you

Sending EmailTwo recent documents crossed my desk, one a study concerning sending welcoming emails to students one-week prior to the beginning of class (I know, this is a bit late for that, but still doable). The other discussed how to set boundaries on email communication, limiting digital clutter and establishing the rules and expectations on digital communication – which is probably especially important for those teaching hybrid/online courses. I thought I’d do a “welcome back!” post combining the strategies of these two studies, as a tip for setting the tone of out-of-class communication with your students, managing expectations and possibly limiting stereotypes and prejudices.

The study was conducted by Angela Legg and Janie Wilson in 2009. They found that sending a welcoming email to students one-week prior to class increased student’s motivation, fostered a positive attitude among students towards the instructor and the course, and increased student retention. Their study builds on existing research that indicates that building a rapport with students and keeping an open line of communication can increase motivation, participation, attendance, and learning (cf. Buskist & Saville, 2004; Christensen & Menzel, 1998; Frymier, 1994). Their research operates as an extension of theories of immediacy behaviors, and was expected to be most effective along gender lines, especially appreciated by female students more than male. To read about these theories more fully, I recommend you read the full study (available via the link below), it’s not long and it’s informative about student behaviors and how we can anticipate and forestall negative attitudes and perceptions.

First impressions can set the tone – good or bad – for the rest of the semester (Nilson, 2003; Wolcowitz, 1984). Traditionally, first impressions are made on the first day of class, but a welcoming email (the authors also suggest first contact can take other forms as well, such as using a social networking platform) can build a relationship before you ever meet your students. Tips for sending a welcoming email:

  • Personalize the message, rather than send a mass, blind cc email to all your students.
  • Provide your full contact information, office hours, and preferred method of contact (we’ll return to this item below).
  • Use a professional but approachable tone in your email, avoid excessive familiarity, attempts to be overly humorous, crude, or “hip”, stay on task by sticking to the connecting factor, your course. Striking just the right tone of friendly, open availability balanced with a professional, professorial air will carry over into your classroom environment.
  • Provide pre-reading opportunities (if applicable), list of texts, where they can be found (and publisher you prefer if applicable) and any other resources that may be helpful for students to get a jump on course work and/or come prepared to class.
  • Finally, invite questions! But, be sure you have the time and inclination to answer every email students may send your way. Let’s explore this question more now.

Crowd of people

Courtesy of National Geographic, 2003

How much communication is too much? We have to be aware that, if we open the door to digital communication and invite a relationship via email or any digital platform, there may be other expectations set. The second piece I read was called “The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate E-Mail Overload & Triple Productivity in 24 Hours” by entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week (Crown, 2009). Though geared for a business audience, I found that many of the themes and suggestions of the article seemed particularly useful in relation to the study on welcoming emails and digital communication with students. It’s one thing to say, “I want my students to feel welcome to email me and ask questions”, but what limits do you set on your time, willingness to answer every minor email from students, and willingness to be available and expected to reply quickly? In an age where instant access and instant response are the standards, it is a wise move to set some boundaries and let students know what they can expect in their digital communications with you. By sending a welcoming email, you can influence attitudes, motivation, and even control some preconceived stereotypes or prejudices, but it’s worth limiting these communications – not at the expense of the student or relationship, but to strengthen them.

Ferriss calls email “the single biggest time waster in modern life” (4). He provides the following tips for setting boundaries for your email communications:

  • “Batching” Check email only once or twice a day, at set times. Turn off auto-alerts when you get a new email; it distracts you and interrupts productivity. Establish this rule of access in a template that is replicated (like a signature line) in each email – set up as an autoresponder or as an automatic amendment to each outgoing email. Here is a template [modified for educators]:

Greetings,

Due to a high courseload and pending deadlines [or research/teaching obligations], I am currently responding to email twice daily at 12pm EST [be sure to indicate your time zone] and 4pm EST.

If you require help with something that can’t wait until either 12pm or 4pm, please call me on my [cell/office phone] at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding. I look forward to working with you this semester.

  • Either in your course syllabus or in your welcoming email, set expectations of what you will or will not respond to.
    • This means letting students know that if there isn’t a question to be answered, you won’t respond to email. This can be helpful for colleagues as well. It cuts down on the back-and-forth correspondence that plagues us all.
    • Here is a template [language modified for educators, particularly those that supervise others]:

Thank you so much for your message. I make every attempt to personally respond to each person who contacts me, but due to the high volume of e-mail I receive, this is sometimes impossible. Please be assured that I have received and have read your email. If your email requires a response, I will reply between the hours of [your email schedule]. Thank you for understanding and have a wonderful day!

Ferriss addresses several other tactics for limiting or eliminating digital clutter and the consequent demands on our time that accompany digital correspondence. The full report is available via the link listed below.

By first establishing a relationship through a welcoming email, and making sure to define the expectations and parameters of that relationship, you could increase positive student attitudes about you and your course, increase retention rates, and increase student motivation. As well, you are making sure that you can maintain that digital relationship by setting communication expectations, so you aren’t disappointing or failing to respond to a student, which we all know, can sour the attitude of many a frantic student. It’s equally important to follow through on what you say. If you establish a schedule, stick to it.

I hope this proves helpful for your course and your relationship with students. I’m eager to hear your experience, so please comment or write and tell me what works for you. Have a wonderful semester!

References:

Legg, A. M. & Wilson, J.H. (2009). E-Mail From Professor Enhances Student Motivation and Attitudes. Teaching of Psychology, 36(3), 205-211. Available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00986280902960034

Buskist, W., & Saville, B. K. (2004). Rapport-building: Creating positive emotional contexts for enhancing teaching and learning. In B. Perlman, L. I. McCann, & S. H. McFadden (Eds.), Lessons learned: Practical advice for the teaching of psychology, 2, 149–155. Washington, DC: American Psychological Society.

Ferriss, T. (2007). The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate E-Mail Overload & Triple Productivity in 24 Hours. ChangeThis, 34(4). Retrieved from http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/34.04.LowInfo.

Posted 2 years ago

Our Worst Teaching Moments

Our Worst Teaching Moment

Siddhartha Bautama by Suta Sila Dham. Courtesy of Fotopedia.

Our last Teaching Circle meeting, I decided to try a more guided discussion, and asked guests to bring their worst teaching moment to share with the group. I have to admit, I think we probably had worse ones than the ones we actually shared, but that’s okay, because the point was two-fold:

  • Build community through stories;
  • Identify our weaknesses as teachers and how they’ve made (or can make us) better.

The reason for sharing our worst stories first is so we can – right out of the gate – admit that we are all human and that every educator has moments, or days, possibly a full week, when they don’t, exactly…shine.

Sharing our stories was cool, and I mean that in the sense of Chester Cheetos-like cool, because we laughed at ourselves without feeling our stories diminished us at all as educators. How we handle these moments became the take-away from this meeting, and how they can form, and inform, us as educators became teaching philosophy fodder. Because this is the point: none of us is perfect and it’s important for us, and our students, to know that. Don’t lose your cool! Students love it when they can bond with you over a little SNAFU in class, come to your assistance, or otherwise pull together as a group to solve a problem (I’m quite surprised technology implosions didn’t feature much more largely in our discussion – we did have one instructor discuss her experience with full system failure though). Though some students may view it as an opportunity to dismiss you as an authority with knowledge to share, most students will rally around you if you show a sense of humor and some humility about life’s little jokes.

Here is a brief rundown of the funny and humble stories featuring times we felt less than great about our teaching or inter-action with students, with each of us presenting different moments revealing our unique yet 0h-so-common teaching bonds. No matter how long you’ve been teaching, how well you know your topic, how utterly fabulous you are as an instructor, you will at some time have the teaching gods frown upon you. I began by owning up to a particular lesson in a high-school economics class, where my students ended up schooling me on a simple math equation. Don’t remember the context, the exact lesson, or the math I couldn’t do that day, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment. We then talked about how to handle these situations; I handled it badly by NOT addressing it with my students and pretending I wasn’t a complete math ignoramus, but it was okay, because eventually I could look back and recognize how I should have handled it, and how I would be better prepared for these moments in the future. Something to write about in my teaching statement, which I have done. Nothing says, “I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them” than an honest story that reveals what we don’t know about teaching and what we want to learn, yes?

Next came stories of language barriers – especially relevant for our international scholars and professors who struggle with accents and pronunciations in front of American students ( and for the record, I myself have practiced pronouncing many words that I don’t speak regularly but are difficult for any English speaker; for example, homogeneous is often mispronounced, still can’t confidently say the names of Tacitus or Aeschylus; just about any word with a lot of vowels…); “things students say in class” that catch us unawares -forcing some quick thinking and instant ability to react wisely! (“Oh, prof, I won’t be here for that class; I’m going to Coachella.”; “Oh, okay. <long pause> Have fun.” = awkward!); lapses in basic knowledge (see my math freeze above), inability to answer a student’s question coherently, razing by jerky students who know you are “fresh” – this WILL happen to you as a new or younger teacher. We heard a story about a mathematician of renown, possibly still teaching, but the story is of old, who simply shrugged off his calculation errors in front of students, and put the onus of knowledge on the students (that is, he let them figure out the problem; he already knew how to do it, why should he do it for the students?). Would that we all had that confidence and aloofness, yes? We discussed our frustration when students don’t “get it” and how we struggle to make meaning for them – is it us? them? How can we make it clearer? It seems so OBVIOUS!  We decided that we – yes, us teachers – are of the homo sapiens species after all, thus prone to error. We were able to turn these mini-crises into really pivotal and critical teaching and learning moments, ones that we ALL share as educators.

We also talked about the Flipped Classroom, Google+ versus Facebook, whether or not we should interact with students on social media sites (that was a resounding NO as I recall, but we did agree that setting up professional “teacher/colleague” profiles were a good idea when you did want to create a space online with your students). We ran out of time before we got to some writing exercises for tying all of this into our teaching philosophies, but I hope we can get to that next time.

For our next meeting, I plan to guide us to the flip side of the teaching coin-  our best teaching moment – that one (or more) class where everything just “clicked. I think we can all remember a day where the students talked, where our lesson was BOSS and our delivery was award-worthy, where students “got it” and time ran over but no one cared (or something along those lines), and we pictured Cate Blanchett playing us in the Oscar-winning movie of 2026 on inspiring teaching stories that bring a tear to the eye (dream sequence)…so, I thought, let’s end our semester with some positive stories and experiences, and what they can tell us about our teaching, about our students, and how these experiences (good and bad), are integral parts of being awesome educators.

We’d love to hear from you out there: what was your best or worst teaching moment? What did it teach you about yourself as an educator? Join us!

Posted 2 years ago

The Power of Simple Words

The Power of Simple Words – Reblog

I gravitate towards all things writing, especially the how and why. A rather excellent blog, Brain Pickings, often has very insightful posts on a broad range of topics, mainly creativity, arts and science, and words of wisdom for the masters who came before us.  The truth is, you never know what they will send you, but it is always superbly written and insightful. Plus, they always have the coolest images breaking up their text, and they know how to direct your attention from words to images and back to words in a seamless style. They aren’t afraid to mix up the modalities, and it makes for good reading/viewing/listening.

This morning I had a chance to read their latest newsletter and the feature article, The Happiness of Pursuit: What Science and Philosophy Can Teach Us About the Holy Grail of Existence, by Maria Popova. You can read the piece for yourself, but what stuck with me most was the last line:

“When fishing for happiness, catch and release.” – Shimon Edelman. Very simple, right? When we find happiness, we should let everyone else around us experience it as well. I strongly recommend you read this entire post – it’s just a lovely way to start the day.

Nestled cozily within this brilliant morning read was this little gem: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/03/20/the-power-of-simple-words-ted-ed/

This brief snippet led to viewing this, a short 2-minute video on using simple words and knowing your audience:

For writing teachers, I think having students view this brief video is a great way to introduce rhetoric, and styles of writing. Often students confuse big words with good writing or sound argument. This video, which integrates contemporary culture to makes its point- “Ambulate this direction!”- is short but meaningful: we don’t always have to “sound smart” in order to leave a huge impression. Sometimes the simplest of phrases can capture national attention.

Posted 2 years ago

Is your child an Innovator?

cmrubinworld:

“There is no competitive advantage today to knowing more than the person sitting next to you.” — Tony Wagner

By C. M. Rubin with Harry Rubin and Michael Freeborn

How do you train an Innovator?

We are born curious. We are born with imagination. The first challenge is to ensure that these very human qualities are not schooled out of us, as Sir Ken Robinson says. Beyond that, in my research, I identified five essential education and parenting practices that develop young people’s capacities to innovate:

1. Learning to work collaboratively (innovation is a team sport!).

2. Learning to understand problems from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

3. Learning to take risks and learn from mistakes.

4. Focusing on creating versus consuming.

5. Reinforcing the intrinsic motivations of play, passion, and purpose versus the extrinsic carrots and sticks.

Posted 2 years ago

Mid Term Evaluations - Checking in with students

Part II of Teaching Circles Discussion Review

As I finished up my post on student failure, I remembered that amidst all of our discussion on attendance, setting expectations, letting students fail, and more, I forgot to talk about mid-term evaluations. Yes, we fit this in! In fact, we started our conversation talking about conducting mid-term evals in order to gauge where students were, whether they felt they were learning, and what suggestions they had for improving their learning. For those of you who have never performed a mid-term eval, it’s worth looking at why we do these and how they help us continually enhance our teaching and “check in” with our students’ learning.

Mid-term evaluations give us a chance to adjust our courses based on feedback from students on what’s working and what could be changed to help students learn - changing horses mid-stream, if you like metaphors. Coincidentally, one of my favorite teaching and learning blogs (ProfHacker, sponsored by the Chronicle of Higher Education) had a post about mid-term evals, as well as a promotion through a really excellent higher ed forum, POD. See below.


For those of you considering mid term evaluations, this is an excellent list of resources, combined with an idea of how to conduct evaluations collaboratively with your students, that is, invest them in the process.

We also offer this service through the Research Academy, called SGA’s. Go here to learn more: http://www.montclair.edu/academy/services/sga.html


Conducting Your Midterm Evaluations Publicly with Google Docs

http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/make-your-midterm-evaluations-public-with-google-docs/38680

Croxall uses GoogleDocs to have students collaboratively do a midterm evaluation answering two questions: “What is working well so far?” and “What could be done better?”

The post links to other ProfHacker entries on the same topic.

From POD:

Anderson, Joan, Gary Brown, and Stephen Spaeth.  “Online Student Evaluations and

Response Rates Reconsidered.”  Innovate 2, no. 6 (2006). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=301 (accessed January 8, 2011).

Brinko, Kathleen T.  “The Interactions of Teaching Improvement.”  In Practically

Speaking: A Sourcebook for Instructional Consultants in Higher Education,3-8.  Edited by Kathleen T. Brinko and Robert J. Menges.  Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press, 1997. 

Coffman, Sara Jane.  “Small Group Instructional Evaluation Across the Disciplines.” 

College Teaching 46, no. 3 (1998): 106-111. 

Creed, Tom.  “Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID).”  The National Teaching &

Learning Forum 6, no. 4 (1997). http://www.ntlf.com/html/pi/9705/sgid.htm (accessed December 12, 2010).

Diamond, Miriam R.  “The Usefulness of Structured Mid-Term Feedback as a Catalyst

for Change in Higher Education Classes.”  Active Learning in Higher Education 5, no. 3 (2004): 217-231.

Diamond, Nancy A. “Small Group Instructional Diagnosis: Tapping Student

Perceptions of Teaching.”  In A Guide to Faculty Development: Practical Advice, Examples, and Resource, 82-91. Edited by Kay Herr Gillespie, Linda R. Hilsen, and Emily C. Wadsworth.  Boston: Anker Press, 2002.

Lewis, Karron G.  “The Process of Individual Consultation.” In A Guide to Faculty

Development: Practical Advice, Examples, and Resources, 59-73. Edited by Kay HerrGillespie, Linda R. Hilsen, and Emily C. Wadsworth.  Boston: Anker Press. 2002.  59-73.

Penny, Angela R., and Robert Coe.  “Effectiveness of Consultation on Student Ratings

Feedback: A Meta-Analysis.”  Review of Educational Research 74, no. 2 (2004): 215-253.

Seldin, Peter.  “Using Student Feedback to Improve Teaching.”  To Improve the

Academy 16 (1997): 335-346.

Smuts, Bridget.  “Using Class Interviews to Evaluate Teaching and Courses in Higher

Education.”  SouthAfrican Journal of Higher Education 19, no. 5 (2005): 943-955.

Theall, Michael.  “Student Ratings: Myths vs. Research Evidence.”  Focus on Faculty

10, no. 3 (2002): 2-3.  http://studentratings.byu.edu/info/faculty/myths.asp (accessed December 12 2010).

White, Ken.  “Mid-Course Adjustments: Using Small Group Instructional Diagnoses

To Improve Teaching and Learning.”  In Assessment in and of Collaborative Learning.  Edited by The Washington Center’s EvaluationCommittee, Evergreen State University. http://www.evergreen.edu/washcenter/resources/acl/c4.html (accessed December 12, 2010).

Posted 2 years ago

Can we talk? …about teaching communities

One of the most consistent comments I’ve heard about being a teacher in higher education is the lack of community. Oh sure, there’s departmental meetings, college meetings, trainings and workshops, but very few occasions to converse with colleagues on what’s happening in our classrooms. Every time we held a meeting for our teaching fellows and mentors, I always received happy chatter on how uplifting it was to talk about teaching with other educators experiencing the same things in class.

Many times, our new faculty find few opportunities to talk about teaching, especially in the hectic race and stress-filled years leading up to tenure. The focus on research, publishing, sitting on committees, soliciting letters of recommendation and documentation of student evaluations, among other things, leaves little time for a casual conversation on how to get students to put down their iPhones, stop checking their Facebook, be more engaged in classroom discussion and group work, and be enthralled by discovery and creativity in our classes. In addition, few higher ed teachers want to admit to their senior colleagues that they need this outlet, or have questions.

As a high school history teacher, when I entered the world of higher education I found this lack of community and daily sharing surprising. Us secondary school educators do little else but talk about our students, classrooms, teaching techniques, how to get our students to do the reading, write a decent essay, participate in class. We share battle stories and successes, send each other articles and tips we’ve found, lesson plans we experimented with that worked, and what to avoid. Classroom management is a huge conversation starter, and most between class periods are spent chuckling over how many cell phones we confiscated that day. Collaboration is the way to stay sane in the teaching game.

Though there are marked differences between teaching high school and teaching college level, the students aren’t much different. We all inherit the academic habits (mostly bad), the absorption with social media, texting, personal drama, and lack of engagement. We all think about how to overcome these obstacles and be able to TEACH. We all want to light a fire in our students, show them the beauty of our disciplines. Community collegial support is critical to learning from each other, and knowing that we aren’t alone.

Last year, I initiated faculty teaching circles, a series of informal discussion groups of faculty from a variety of disciplines who sat around a table, munched on crudités, sipped on coffee and tea, and talked teaching. I discovered several common threads that were on the forefront of our conversations.

  • Adjuncts feel all alone. While tenured and tenure track full time faculty have more access to their colleagues and professional support, adjuncts are adrift at sea with no Wilson ball to bounce off ideas, experiences, or questions. Adjuncts are the wall flowers of higher ed, and most institutions count adjuncts as nearly half their teaching faculty.
  • Everyone struggles with lecture versus group work pedagogy. There are dozens of situations in which lecture trumps group work, in which group work is preferable to lecture, and the variance from discipline to discipline of which technique is more effective is a persistent question faculty struggle with. Often times if they aren’t lecturing, they feel guilty, like they should be lecturing. When they do group work, they worry about the lack of balance and often disgruntled feedback they receive from students, and yet, the research says, do more group work! Discussing these feelings and listening to senior faculty share their experience and tactics help enormously in relieving anxiety and offering solutions.
  • Technology is frustrating. This common thread has so many points of contention for faculty, that it is refreshing to find the teacher who has a good grasp of technology, knows what can deliver curriculum most effectively, and is able to drown out the constant barrage of new bells and updated whistles. The complaints run as such: instability (Blackboard is down AGAIN!), confusing and complicated implementation, the mistaken belief that our students are tech savvy and can figure out simple instructions, unreliable IT support, instructional designers who believe all pedagogical goals can be met with a new “tool”. And this doesn’t even begin to address the “technology” that our students bring to class. That falls under…
  • Student behavior. We often circle around to the students, and our inability to figure them out. Why aren’t they all like we were, i.e. model students with an inbred excitement for learning? How come we have to convince them that our course is necessary, this information is useful, that concepts are more important than what’s on the test? How many sad stories do we accept before we stop allowing absences, make up work, deadline extensions? To laptop, or not to laptop? Make an issue of the phone, or try to integrate it into content delivery and response (clickers anyone?)?

The point of all of this is, we need each other. We need to talk and collaborate on teaching. The relief from anxiety and ego boost that comes with knowing that we belong to a community with shared goals and experiences cannot be overstated. Let’s converse about teaching at university, as my contention is (there’s tons of research) that a support system in place that values all teachers, provides validation and opportunities for sharing and questions, leads to better teachers, which leads to…better student learning. Though a discussion group can’t promise solutions, as there aren’t always easy solutions to the challenges of teaching, it can offer collaboration, commiseration, and avenues to searching for solutions that might not otherwise be available.

I can’t take credit for thinking up the teaching circles, which invites all faculty and staff involved with student learning to drop in and talk, talk, talk. I borrowed the suggestion from a POD post (Professional and Organizational Network listserv). Even virtual conversations can provide a strong network of colleagues who can be counted on to answer your question, tap your experience, and provide an outlet.

PS. A colleague recently shared this humorous article on attempting to corral faculty: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/researchcentered/2011/09/23/advanced-faculty-wrangling-techniques/

A few pointers from my experience concerning trying to get faculty to join:

  • Establish that these meetings are informal conversations, not gripe sessions and not evaluative. They are non-judgmental (everyone has concerns about their teaching!), constructive, informational, and collegial.
  • Bring your own talking points -suggest articles, discuss recent headlines or research, or share an anecdote from a colleague, e.g. “someone I know had this happen to them…”
  • Provide food and drink. Self-explanatory.
  • Offer several dates and times. Schedules are never complementary; faculty will come when they can, in between all their other commitments. Assume they want to be there, so be flexible with the when.
  • Follow up! Recommend research or contacts that may be able to address specific topics post-meeting.
Posted 3 years ago

Being a Student

by Steve Markoff

Assistant Professor,

Accounting, Law, and Taxation

Montclair State University

As a good friend of mine (and excellent teacher) Joe Hoyle of University of Richmond says, “If you are always the king, it is very difficult to understand what it is like to be a peasant.”  Sometimes it is oh so easy for us to forget what it’s like to be sitting in one of those chairs facing the front of the room, listening to someone spout knowledge about a topic that he or she has been an expert in for perhaps 30 years or more.  Being in charge is a very comfortable feeling.   Sometimes, the only way to understand what it’s like is to literally walk a mile in their moccasins.  So, that’s what I did, and I made some very interesting observations not just about my students, but about my own teaching that I feel are worth sharing.

I’ve always loved learning as much as teaching.  I rarely read a book or watch a TV show unless there is something I can learn.  So, one thing I did to segue into full-time university teaching, was to go back to school and take a college course or two.  Of course, I first chose something that I always loved and wanted to learn more about – astronomy.  I took this course for credit and for a grade, not auditing.  Of course, it did not take much in the way of teacher motivation to get me to tear into the textbook as I was super interested.  Yet I found it kind of odd to be sitting on the other side.  I would wonder “why did the professor say this or skip that?”  I felt some degree of anxiety about raising my hand to ask a question if I wanted to engage in some additional learning.  Oh, and let’s not forget the stress of studying for and taking the two midterms!   I was so nervous to walk up to the front of the lecture hall to get my Scantron card in front of all the students when the professor called my name.  And the heartbreak of getting a 98% and immediately turning to the question I got wrong to see if it was a mistake!  I was determined to get 100% on the next midterm and the final.  And while it was interesting to emotionally and physically get back into what the undergraduate students are facing, something was missing, and I knew what it was – I was taking a course in a subject that I really loved and had wanted to learn even more about for decades!  Preparing for lectures and reading every single word in the textbook, along with the optional software, was an absolute joy.  I figured that, in order to get a real picture of what a typical student goes through, I was going to do what they have to do -  take a course in a subject that I had no background in, had little working knowledge of and which I really didn’t find interesting in the least.  So I chose a physics course. Accounting and physics, what a combo!

The joy I had felt opening up my textbook to do the assigned readings suddenly became laborious work.  I kept asking myself “why was I even doing this?”.  Instead of being prepared ahead of time, I rushed at the last moment to do the assigned work for class.  In fact, I even showed up once without having done it.  I considered not going to class that day. 

I became easily confused as the textbook presented what seemed to be a never-ending group of formulas.  The lectures didn’t help either.  The professor proceeded to turn the lights down as we listened and watched the PowerPoint.  Oh my, staying awake was very hard.  If I had some popcorn, I would be all set!  When I raised my hand to ask a question, I felt almost silly.  Was I the only one with this question?  Why did others seem to understand this and not me?  The professor’s explanation rarely helped, but I didn’t want to hold up the class. I remember being so confused that I wouldn’t even ask a question.

When it came to the test, I wasn’t wondering if I got 100% either.  Finding time to study seemed difficult – everything else seemed more important.  It’s amazing how many other things there are to do when the alternative is studying for a class in a subject that isn’t interesting and that you don’t really want to learn.

If all this kind of sounds familiar, but from the other side of the podium, take heart.  From this exercise – by being a student – the one without the knowledge – I came away with some very important things that have improved my teaching:

  1.  Respecting my students for what they are, rather than being frustrated that they aren’t what I think they should be.  It’s very easy when I am the expert in the classroom.  Things that are obvious to me might be total mysteries to my students.  Sometimes, they might appear to be unable to make what seems to be the simplest connections.
  2.  The importance of creating a big enough “WHY”.  The big difference between the astronomy and the physics was my personal “WHY” – in the first case I understood at a very deep level why I wanted to learn the material in the course.  In the physics course, I wasn’t there to really learn it.  From this, I’ve discovered that, as the leader of the group, I have tremendous power over how my students perceive the material.  Getting them to become engaged and really WANT TO soak up the knowledge is my most important task from day one.
  3.  The importance of stepping stones and sequencing.  In the physics course, I noticed a definite pattern in the class.  When the pace moved too slow, more people seemed bored – even me!  Sometimes though, it seemed like things were moving too fast, and then it became frustrating.  Furthermore, I noticed quite a few times that I couldn’t follow something, only to find the missing link a little while later.  As an expert in my own area, it’s often difficult to know what the proper spacing of the key learning points is for the students, and what the proper sequence should be.

I now look at my students with much more awareness.  I learned a bit more patience if they don’t grasp the concepts immediately, and that I have to be flexible in this area.  I learned to respect them for what they ARE, and see them as they CAN BE.   And I’m a lot more careful about putting together the learning steps and trying to be aware about how far apart they are, and what order they are in.