Monday, September 15, 2014

Growing Pains

Change is the only constant in life. -Heraclitus

My 88-year-old great aunt, the longest living member of our entire extended family (still going strong), has experienced profound changes and challenges throughout her lifetime. Once when I faced a life-defining challenge, she advised, “Life is a grand adventure full of choices…either you grow or you die.”

I choose to grow.

Growth requires change, and growth results in change. Given that change is inevitable, why are people so resistant to change? Why are we not more naturally inclined to embrace change and contribute to growing in productive and positive ways? Why do people dig in their heels defensively when presented with opportunities for growth? Why is change perceived as such a threat?

It has been my observation that fear, insecurity, and ego breeds such ugly defensive behavior and counterproductive resistance to change. Yet, is the fight or flight survival response the only option we have when faced with change? Are the only two options to leave or to behave in a less than collegial manner?

What do we do in times of change? How do we respond to uncertainty, instability, insecurity, bruised morale, loss, a sense of powerlessness, vulnerability and an unknown future? Rather than every man for himself/every woman for herself abandon ship or fight for your turf at all costs, I suggest we all consider an alternative, more productive and collegial approach to challenging changing times.

Here is my 12-step therapy for embracing growing pains in times of change:

         1. Focus on teaching
         2. Provide the highest quality education for students
         3. Invest energy in creating positive learning environments for all involved
         4. Learning makes a difference in everyone’s lives-make a difference daily
         5. Focus on research
         6. Seek out partnerships, collaborations and meaningful projects
         7. Take the initiative to work with integrity with colleagues
         8. Seek first to understand…then to be understood (Stephen Covey)
         9. Focus on service
       10. Extend an attitude of unconditional positive regard to all (Dr. Wayne Dyer)
       11. Seek opportunities to contribute while exemplifying the Golden Rule-it is in giving that we receive (St. Francis Assisi)
       12. Practice random acts of kindness

Let’s embrace change, choose to grow, and navigate this grand adventure together with a spirit of collegiality and integrity. Fight or flight are not our only options.

Thanks to Karin Lewis, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology & Leadership for her contribution to the CTL Blog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What are we doing here?

Good question.  Timely question.  

With each generation educators must look at their mission with an eye on what our graduates should look like.  Gone are the days that colleges were for clergy, doctors and teachers.  Gone are the days when college was for young gentleman to kill (waste, idle by) four years.  Gone is the MRS degree.  Gone is dodging the draft.  Gone is the Cold War and the race for space. 

So, what do we do now?  Just why are kids in college? Information literacy. 

Information is at our fingertips.  The Good information, The Bad information and The Ugly.  The Internet does not supply answers, only information.  There is a huge disconnect on how this factors into our students’ future careers and life ways.

Technology has advanced world cultures in many ways.  However it is not the answer.  Look at Iraq.

 Technology was to make wars different: fast, efficient, easy wins.  We would be the victors in two weeks.  We were not.  Want to know if space aliens built large primitive structures like Stonehenge?  Lots of Internet sources can not only tell you "Yepper", but show pictures of space people busily building them.  Is the world warming?  The Internet shows you “Nope, it is not” and, with another click, shows you “Yah, it sure is”.  Who is right?
Memorizing the planets in order is information.  Figuring out logically, with facts, why space aliens did not, could not, build Stonehenge requires one to identify valid resources and logic it out.  What would the life sustaining requirements be for a space alien to travel to earth, for them to breath our air, find nourishing food to eat, poop and get rid of it, and power the 'dozers they brought?  What is the probability of Earth meeting their life sustaining resources?  The nearest planet we might live on is generations away.  How did they get here?

We are here to make them think.  Not memorize.  Not recite.  Not  passport their way through college.

Their diploma gets their resume on the career application pile.  Their skills win the job and retain them in their career: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

Let's see they get these!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Are We Headed Back to the 60's?

The 1960's education was commonly remembered for student sit-in's, human rights, peace not war, bell bottom pants and a free, whopii, student lifestyle and control.
However the 1960's brought about a lot of innovation in teaching and learning.  It embraced individuality, self paced learning and it was very student centered.  We are headed to that again.

Like most educational trends, it fell away as expectations of students, popular opinion, technology, needs of industry and politics marched toward standardized testing as proof of student learning.    The public schools are now entrenched in a very teacher centered educational system as teachers struggle with measuring learning that more resembles testing the probability of a student becoming a physicist.

Higher education has not been a part of that accountability until recently.  Nationally the
accreditation agencies have pushed colleges to measure student learning.  The State of Texas is pushing aggressively, beyond the accreditation agency standards, to measure student learning and hold colleges responsible if it is not there.  They have also added employability as a measurement.  According to spell check, I think they also made employability a new word.

As we progress toward UTRGV we are designing the college of tomorrow, today; right now.  Our design of classrooms and teaching methods is leaning towards the successes of the 1960's open learning.  Classrooms are flexible for group learning and discussion.  Faculty will no longer be stuck behind a podium barrier, lording over the students.  They will be facilitating learning by using electronic tools and facilities designed to have them working among the students.

Open learning in the 1960's stumbled for two reasons.  One is that education has always been in search for a silver bullet.  All students learn best by _________.  Many solid teaching techniques were thrown out with the bathwater in search of a one-size fits all method.

Educators are smarter now.  We have learned that not all students learn best by one method and not all teachers teach best by one method.  Facilities need to be flexible for all styles of learning and teaching.  Faculty need lots of pedagogical and technical support to produce active, experiential learning.

The second reason is that open learning was introduced like the Beatles.  It was a mad, catastrophic push from England; flashy, new and exciting.  Today we know to investigate new teaching ideas using formative evaluation as we discover and weigh the pros and cons and fine tune our methods.  Teaching is an ongoing process as industry, politics and popular culture expectations grow and change.  We will always be searching for new pedagogical ideas, adjusting for the workforce and exploring new technology.    

Our lessons learned over the years is to be flexible, not only for the ways students learn but for methods faculty teach.  The second is that measurements are diagnostic for improvement of teaching and students learning.  Checking standardized classes off a list is not an effective passport to graduation.

Oh, and the 1960's student centered learning terminology was often misinterpreted.  The term was mistakenly confused with submissive teaching toward student whims.  We are smarter now.  It is student interactive learning firmly guided by faculty.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Gets to Graduate?

According to a New York Times article, it is the rich.  They get to graduate from college.

Those who are less likely to graduate are students from lower socioeconomic areas, less rigorous pre-college schools and whose parents are naive or inexperienced in what they need to do to help their child succeed.   According to the article, only about one quarter of  the students in the lower economic scale will graduate in 6 years.

Compare this with rich students - ninety percent graduate.  Yes, that is 90%.

So, where are we in understanding what we need to do for student success?  We have learned a lot in the last fifty plus years.  As affirmative action and civil rights slowly kicked in, we created an entire new culture of rich.  Rich people became a diverse group of ethnicity as minorities entered into high paying jobs,  per-college schools improved and colleges began actively targeting and nurturing  all smart students.

Ethnicity was once the culprit of preventing students from graduating.  However ethnicity also defined what a population was allowed to do.  We have made a great deal of progress since 1954.

We now realize that ethnicity has much less to do with success as we once perceived.  We can no longer point at a person of color or ethnicity and say they are poor or they have a special way of learning.  Eugenics is out; economics is in.  We can still see differences in ethnic groups, however this gap is closing as more and more make it into the rich category.

The major finding is that students who are rich are more likely to graduate than poor students.  We, as educators, are now able to act on something we can tackle.  Poverty and the lack of educational advantages it fosters.

Read the article, Who Gets to Graduate?,  about one Texas professor who successfully did the numbers and made a difference.

At UTB we have many success stories to share also.

We have fostered first generation, migrant workers, and students from the poorest area in the US and nurtured them on to graduate.

We need to communicate our successful methods to all faculty here and everywhere.

Written by Betsy Price, Director, CTL.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What are you doing with your time?

The stereotype of faculty is often that they are so involved with research, they have little time for anything else.  Students take a second or third seat to more important issues while faculty selfishly slave away in the lab. Weekends, days not teaching and breaks are for lounging in a tan jacket with patches, feet up on the footstool, smoking a pipe and reading poetry.  Ahhhhh.h.h.h

Not so, says a study from Boise State University.  Boise State took the challenge to document faculty's time to learn how they actually spend it.  For those of us already in teaching, we are not surprised when they unveiled their findings.

First we have to look at their days.  The stereotype is correct, faculty do not work five days a week.  They work seven.   Yep, Seven (7).

They also spend much more time with teaching, planning, mentoring, including students in research, creating activities and grading than any
other task.  Boise State is a research university and it is surprising how little time faculty actually devote toward their research.

New teaching interactive teaching styles with many alternative resources take time to create and time to implement.  Class sizes continue to grow as the budgets shrink.  Learning new technology, creating electronic materials, and supplementing over priced textbooks takes time.

Read the article and weep for those of you who went into higher education to do research!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Scoring Students’ Written Assignments: Do They Even Read My Remarks?

During my last ten years in higher education, I have listened to my colleagues consistently bemoan the quality (or lack thereof) of their students’ writing and the time spent providing feedback. As a former high school English teacher, and now as a college professor, I too have spent countless hours reading students’ papers and carefully writing thoughtful comments and suggestions for improvement without correcting their work. 

Yet, I suspect that I spend more time on their papers than they do!

On occasion, I encourage students to revise a written assignment, based on my remarks, and then re-submit the paper.  Nevertheless, frequently the suggestions for improvements that I made have been ignored, overlooked, or misunderstood.  

Recently, with the trend of going “green,” I embraced the challenge of teaching both face-to-face and online courses “paperless.” No, that does not mean I stopped assigning papers, albeit tempting.  I decided to have all of my students submit all written assignments electronically. After reviewing the papers with open track changes and comments, I return them electronically.  Unfortunately, that process has proven no less time consuming, and I am still not convinced that my students read my comments or pay any attention to the track changes.  When I am working harder than my students, I know I need to change something!

How do I save time, trees AND provide more meaningful feedback to my students? Recently, a student in my 100% online asynchronous graduate course suggested using recorded screen captures to provide each
student with verbal feedback on their papers.  Much like a one to one conference to go over a paper, this personalized walk-through/talk-through approach seems to be very well received by my students. 

I am able to explain verbally what I used to indicate with cryptic symbols, proof-editing marks, and vague question marks or exclamation marks to convey my point. Remarkably, it is actually less time consuming!

I have said for years that as educators we need to meet our students where they are and coach them to where we want them to be.  Well, apparently it is time I joined the digital age and meet my digital natives in a YouTube recording!

Check out this YouTube demonstration of how to use QuickTime to record a screen capture of a student’s written work while providing feedback and then upload it to YouTube for your student to view:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Where Can You Get Information About Your Career?

That is a good question.  

Social media has provided entertainment for our students, but it also provides just in time resources for learning about teaching, grant writing and research.

In our busy lives, career development and goal setting is paramount to keep ahead, but it can be time consuming to take a course or read a book.  Social media provides information in bite sized chunks that will fit into any busy schedule, especially if you are plugged into your mobile device or tablet.

Online Training - YouTube, the time sink for students has many excellent resources that are quick and easy to use.  The Grantsmanship Center provides a five video series on successful grant writing.  Download these videos on your cell or tablet and watch them between classes or while waiting in the grocery check out line.

Online Discussions - LinkedIn has a discussion group for you.  Go to their main page and create an account and complete your profile.  LinkedIn then matches your profile with discussion groups you may be interested in.  Join a couple to learn if that group is right for you.  You also have an option to create your own group.    

Facebook - Like pages in Facebook are for professional use.  Join the UTB Center for Teaching and Learning's Facebook Like page to be updated on what is happening locally and nationally in higher education.

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