The first meeting with an applied lessons student is always exciting. This is the first opportunity to interact with a person that I will get to know well over the course of the next several years and for whom I will hopefully be a motivating and positive influence. Who is this person and what is his or her background? What knowledge and skills do they already possess? Where are they on the paths of artistic development and personal achievement? Does this person seem open or is there a sense of hesitancy?
Of course, the first meeting does not reveal all answers. A student may be shy and reserved at first, but eventually develop the ability to be more expressive and convivial. Or a student may be seemingly extroverted but reveal a more restrained and introspective side later on. In those first encounters, however, it is important to understand where the student is on the long path and to meet that student there, wherever he or she happens to be.
Students may arrive with underdeveloped skills, limited knowledge of music notation, inefficient or incorrect technical habits, an aversion to regular practice, etc. As an instructor at an open enrollment institution, I strive to assist all of my applied students in improving their skills and progressing toward their musical goals, both professional and personal. From those first few lessons I seek to foresee the long-term development of this student over the course of 4 years of study with me. I have to be realistic with the student and with myself in determining what the students’ strengths and weaknesses are and how to address them.
Students arrive at CSC having already started along the long path. I simply join them.
The modular teaching I try and facilitate asks students for constant reflection and the dreaded criticism that accompanies such reflection. If I am honest it asks reflection of me as the teacher as well.
There is a similar aspect to writing. When I finish a project, I regularly experience a feeling of euphoria. I’m a genius! The next morning, after a cursory read to solidify my newfound intellectual status, the feelings of euphoria are beaten back. And quickly. A despair sets camp in my heart, and in my brain, and I realize how worthless I am, and I should stop writing immediately to save everyone the embarrassment of having covered for me all these years.
Reflection points to failure often. It is the truth behind criticism. Without an honest and a critical eye towards improvement, it is difficult to improve. I can’t just pat myself on the back and say, good enough is good enough. I need to prove myself to my colleagues, to my students, to myself.
So goes teaching reflection. Wow, today was a great class! I nailed it. I am getting better at explaining concepts while being that dancing bear in the front of the classroom who keeps students entertained enough to follow the concepts I am breaking down. Then I get back quizzes or essays and I realize what an utter failure I am. Entire elements and whole chapters stay forgotten, and that thing I explained so precisely, while spinning plates in the air standing on one foot, was never mentioned.
The thing is that in both examples there is little failure. Both writing and teaching engage in a process. Learning is a process. Both failure and success exist within the boundaries of process, but we tend to fixate on failure.
Students often fixate on grades. It’s the process that matters though. The problems with the above examples aren’t the self-critical realizations of failure. That’s part of the process. The problems are the pronouns. The pronoun I wormed its way into the first two paragraphs more than twenty times. It’s fine. We can use that pronoun again, even in academic writing, you may be saying to yourself. You bet, but that’s not the problem. Teaching isn’t about what we need from students. Teaching isn’t about how we feel. Teaching is about facilitating the process of learning in a class room setting. The Socratic seminar is a template for teaching that’s been around since, well, Socrates at least. Guiding discussion so that critical self-discovery happens with our students is certainly a process, and it is difficult, but it is not a reflection of us as much as it is our students. We should accept that they, our students, are on a path of discovery, that they are in the middle of process, and that they deserve the time it takes to reach potential. In the very same way we teachers adjust and readjust our expectations, our students exist in this exploratory space where the idea of failure really shouldn’t be the point. The grade isn’t the point. The process of learning, and the fact that we all continue to do it no matter what the activity, should be our focus in education.
Edit: It is the next morning now, and I am a day late already for the submission deadline of this post. This piece of brilliant, late-night writing is terrible. I have failed myself, my colleagues, and my students. What am I trying to say? Why can’t I be more succinct? Why do I, after all these years, complicate such simple ideas and mash them together all the while expecting my students to engage in organized and controlled writing. Writing is messy. If we are honest with ourselves teaching is always messy – this truth may showcase success instead of failure. If we facilitate a focus of process over product then we all succeed because of . . . pronouns? I’ve lost the thread here. I am such a failure, and it feels great! I, just as you, as does everybody (that’s an all-inclusive indefinite pronoun) exist and thrive in the middle of process!
I have secret powers, yes, I dare say super powers. Nothing as feckless as being bulletproof, outrunning speeding trains, or bending steel; these powers are of the mind.
First, I can focus. “Pfffft.” You may sneer, but I assure you that I have capabilities to down 70 pages of Tolstoy in a single sitting in the zoo of the ATL terminals. My dean could kick open my basement office door (as he is apt to do) and order through gritted teeth to read the phone book by week’s end summarizing it in a report. I’d happily turn it in a day early with fancy graphs and flashy pastel colored thumb tabs thrown down like a tomahawk jam. In a world of foxes that worship at the altars of multitasking, my demure hedgehog-ness power goes unrecognized.
My second power borders on the angelic/demonic: it is an ostensible photographic memory. No, don’t confuse this with a visual memory where learning is best done with visual aids that hook concepts – although I must confess some ability here as well. Nope, this is the full-on freak mode to look at a paper, a tableau, an address, a face, and see it after. I almost confessed ethical issues on my bar exam with memorizing my outlines.
And third, my magnum potentium might be best called obsessive anxiety. Odd? Some may say that my nightly logging of pages (exactly 33) from a panoply of war histories, English literature, economic theory, the Holy Bible, and a select style and grammar manual is circumstantial evidence of a personality disorder. However, from a distance, one would see that the professional skill of executive function was mastered in grade school.
Lo, do not envy these powers, this magic, as the rose has thorns. Though I can quote the 7 axioms of a perfectly competitive market or the nine justices of the Supreme Court, alphabetically (Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, Gorsuch, Kagaen, Kennedy, Roberts, Soto-Mayor, and Thomas) at a rock concert, memorize entire prayers in Latin, and check off (Chekov ;)) dead Russian authors’ works rivalrous of Netflix binge-watching, but there’s a caveat wrapped in this reflection: be super cautious with superpowers. I expose my favor to certain modes of learning in my teaching. This is bias in every sense of the definition; blind spots. For instance, I know I personally despise group work, hate it passionately, but by building my courses with avoiding this method, I risk dusting those students that may excel with it. Thus, my secret superpowers that allowed me to conquer my own higher education challenge, may obstruct another student’s experience. So, be careful with your own powers.
Sometimes in the chaos of grading papers, going to meetings, planning for class, and doing committee work, it can be difficult to stop and check-in with our students. My mentor during my Master’s program at Appalachian State University, Georgia Rhoades, taught me the value of reflective writing activities in the Composition classroom. 13 years later, I continue to prompt my students to reflect on their own writing process after completing assignments. For example, I write the following questions on the board:
- What are you most proud of in this essay?
- If you had more time, what would you work on and why?
- What did you learn about yourself during this project?
I take these up, read them while I evaluate the final draft of their essays (ideally, though sometimes it’s much later), and then hand them back with a few personal comments. These reflective writings about writing are not graded. They are merely a kind of check-in for the students and for me to gauge what and if they are learning.
Even outside these meta-writing exercises though, the nature of English courses often asks students to connect with material in personal ways, and instructors in these classes learn things about their students which can be concerning.
Lately, however, I find that reflective writing is not the only way to check-in. When a student misses a few days in a row or when I notice a forlorn expression, I make a mental note. I used to e-mail students if they were absent to remind them of attendance policies or remind them to turn in missing assignments. Just prompting them to turn in late work does not always translate that I am concerned about their well-being. More recently, I email them to ask how they are. When they return, I ask to see them after class, making sure to add, “you aren’t in trouble.” I find that when I take a few extra minutes to ask, “how are things,” they are more inclined to share.
Just last week, one student told me she went to her grandfather’s funeral, and when she got back home, her brother was missing. She later found out he was having suicidal thoughts. She missed assignments because she was dealing with the incredible pressure of taking care of her family, but she was afraid to tell me because she assumed I would think she was irresponsible. Another student revealed that her grandmother was dying. I cannot claim to reach every student, and it keeps me up at night. I cannot pretend to be a therapist. However, I can work on being an empathetic human who recognizes the suffering of other humans near me. I can try to listen and be compassionate, and sometimes I can give an extension on an assignment.
The Teaching and Learning Center recently hosted Meetings in CSC Online: Latest Updates and Hands-on Work Session in partnership with Blindside Networks. The Meetings tool is based on BigBlueButton, the open-source, web conferencing platform originally created by Blindside Networks developers. The tool is focused on facilitating instructor-to-student and student-to-student interaction in online learning environments.
Tara McDonald of Blindside Networks provided a thorough overview of the latest features and functionality available within Meetings. The overview was conducted virtually and included remote attendees as well as a small group located in Admin 031 of the Teaching and Learning Center. Links to the 2 unique, hour-long event recordings and other workshop referenced material are included below.
Please contact the Teaching and Learning Center staff if you are interested in more information on how to use the Meetings Tool to increase engagement opportunities with students inside your courses. We encourage you to work with us to setup virtual practice sessions either individually or in small groups to further explore and develop skills in utilizing this online community-building platform.
Imagine an opinion belly-side-up on a dissecting tray next to forceps and teasing needles. Now, imagine a scalpel blade. What happens next? Truth is, no one knows until the slicing begins. So… in we go, messy or clean, with FYI Matters of Opinion.
It’s not a class for the queasy. The good thing is each student gets a lab coat, albeit metaphorical. It’s the most essential learning tool I can give them for they are the lab coats of critical thinking. Without them, all probes are futile.
Since teaching the course, I’ve learned a lot about the opinions, ones well-informed and otherwise. Most importantly, though, I’ve learned about lab coats and how no one should be without one as evidenced in this poem, “Biology of Opinion” (Kenney, 2016).
Biology of Opinion
I tell them
once you start slicing
you cannot stop,
that it’s the only way in,
the single-most path to the core.
I ask them to look
for sacs of plausibility,
organs of honest objectivity
but warn them not to be surprised
by the sour bleed of prejudice,
the curdled ooze of rumor.
I brace them for a likely surge
of assumptions, the splash of gamy
gut feelings but urge them
to probe for the cavities
that store expanded
points of view.
At the sight of dissecting pans
and opinions belly-side-up,
a few students leave.
The rest are squeamish,
their opinions still
very much alive
yet, strangely, some
won’t need anesthesia –
so numb they are with bias
and heavy fumes of hearsay.
The cutting begins –
a critical journey for the stuff
in which they believe
they are entitled.
Kenney, R. (2016). Biology of opinion. In A. Braun (Ed.), Steam ticket (p. 90). La Crosse, WI: University of Wisconsin.
For all the years of training and preparations that we professors go through to get to where we are, it’s kind of crazy to think that we can, and often do, have first years that are so overwhelming and present with so many new challenges. I have been instructing undergraduates since I was one myself way back in 2008. I’ve run a wide range of labs…even created my own in-house manual for one class. I’ve guest lectured and served as a teaching assistant in both traditional classrooms and field settings. I’ve mentored students working on numerous research projects, many of which culminated in peer-reviewed scientific publications. I’ve chatted with students about career goals, personal and professional stresses that interfere with their educations, time management, and navigating the maze that is institutional bureaucracy. I’ve seen tears and angry outbursts and been called names and given scathing teaching evaluations, including reviews that attack my appearance or character rather than my actual teaching abilities. You develop a thick skin over time and learn how to sort the useful critiques from the bitter ones that often correlate with students who demonstrate the poorest performances in your classes.
Coming to CSC with these experiences made me feel prepared for the job even though the role and subject that I would be teaching was all shiny and new to me. Week one as an assistant professor went well. Week two and beyond has seen a barrage of disappointed faces, students trying not to cry as they ask for help, and some outright crying out of exasperation. Anatomy is hard. It’s a hard subject to learn and a hard subject to teach. To adapt an analogy from Dr. John Janovy who once gave a lecture titled, “Islands of Understanding in a Sea of Ignorance”, I would liken the content of an anatomy course to a sea of information. A vast, horizon of knowledge that seems stable but is really dynamic beneath the typically calm surface. You learn about your own anatomy throughout your life as small waves, gently break onto your little islands of understanding. I have a heart. It pumps blood throughout my body. I should make decisions that benefit this important organ….and so these islands of understanding are constructed one sand grain at a time.
Some students then are fortunate enough to take anatomy courses in high school, where they continue to build their islands popping up here and there and sprinkling the seascape with palm trees arising from solid foundations of what it means to be human. Fast forward to college where I am standing in a room full of students, many of whom have only a few sandbars on which to build. I’m talking to them about the intricacies of how our heart is constructed of chambers and valves and vessels going in all different directions before branching and branching and branching again into tiny streams feeding our muscles and internal organs.
This tsunami of anatomical data hits them unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. They stand in my carefully constructed ring of fire taking notes, asking questions, and spending hours studying to build their islands. These disjointed factoids poking out of the vastness with few connections to the greater land mass that we try to help our students build are small consolations given the tremendous efforts that students feel they are putting into the process.
So how do I help these students lay more of that earthen foundation? How do I help them form mountains on the open landscapes created from their prerequisites? How do we as educators build land bridges across those islands so that students can see the broader relevance of synthesizing their knowledge? How do we motivate students to explore new regions and build their own continents of knowledge autonomously? How do we help them use the sea to their advantage rather than drowning in it?
I don’t have the answers yet, but I think the important piece is for us to continue to ask questions…to continue to provide the raw materials necessary for students to make sense of and properly utilize the resources at their disposal. I can’t make the subject of anatomy easier. I won’t insult the intelligence of my students by dumbing the content down and leaving them under-prepared for professional programs beyond their time here at CSC. However, through all the tears, breakdowns, existential crises, and defensive reactions to their grades and to my expectations for them, I hope that they see that I am doing my best to throw out life preservers attached to ropes secured to my own island. From here, they must make the choice whether or not to grab on and pull themselves to safety.
I have learned as a teacher that students enter the classroom with an expectation that I will teach them something that they need to know as they journey towards a degree. I say that I will ‘teach” them something rather that they expect to “learn” something because I have found that their expectations are that if they will listen to me, the classroom will become a place where learning will occur. Looking back on my own education, I understand why they feel this way. Most of my time in classrooms was spent listening to the teacher. It was a pretty straight forward method of instruction that seemed to get the job done—after all, I did manage to get through school, which was the point, I guess.
But now I believe the point has to be more than that. Now as a teacher and not as a student, I go into the classroom and think, “What is it that I can do today that will cause these students to learn this lesson without my firm hand on the rudder? I suppose if the dean heard that he might begin to wonder why they are paying me…. But it is what I think works best: the students have the potential to learn more in a classroom where much of the class time is unscripted than they can from my binder of old worn lecture notes. I accept that I must do something productive in the classroom, so to that end I throw out topics, ideas, theories, often purposely distorting them, letting them crash and bang provocatively against the four stoic walls of the classroom, and then I sit back and listen, moving the rudder ever so slightly here and there to keep the ship going in the right direction….
The bottom line for me is this: never underestimate the abilities students have to steer the boat on a new and adventurous—and educational–course. If I always steer the boat, the boat will go only where I want it to go. It will not go into those uncharted waters that the students want to discover and explore if given the chance. On some days the boat should certainly dock safely, and on those days I keep the rudder firmly in my hands…but on many more days I want the boat to rock and lurch wildly, smashing into rocks here and there, as it charges towards who knows where. Hang on!
It takes courage on those days to keep my hands off the rudder.
The Teaching and Learning Center has recently added 14 new books to their current library. These books are readily available for you to check out from the Teaching & Learning Center Collection! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in doing some light reading. New books include:
Dear Faculty and Staff:
The loss of Dr. Janice Haynes this past week provides a moment for reflection. David Hume expressed the following: Nothing endears so much a friend as sorrow for his death. The pleasure of his company has not so powerful an influence.
As a small organization, many of us become life-long friends. Please take a moment and let your friends know how much you value them. Our sympathies go out to Dr. Haynes’ family and to her close colleagues in Old Admin.
- Chadron State 2020 — http://www.csc.edu/president/2020/index.csc
- MAP Purpose & Priorities — http://www.csc.edu/library/mapsupport/#tab2
- MAP Priorities & Sub-Priorities – click on “Priorities”
- Visit the VPAA Update archive versions on the VPAA website: http://csc.edu/vpaa/snaresreleases/index.csc
- Presidential Committees — http://www.csc.edu/president/index.csc
- Campus-Wide Committees — http://www.csc.edu/president/index.csc
Searches in Academic Affairs
Academic Affairs searches in progress for 2017-18: Director for the Office of Academic Success; Office Assistant II (Memorial Hall)
Academic Affairs searches in progress for 2018-19: Music (2), Education, and Business (Accounting and Finance/Economics) faculty; Director of Assessment
Minor revisions have been made to the Presidential and Campus-Wide Committees.
12 October 2017 All-Campus Work Session
Advising @ CSC: A Campus-Wide Discussion was the focus of the All-Campus work session. The discussion was organized by the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee and the President’s Executive Council assisted as table facilitators. An all-campus approach for advising is necessary to move the needle on this complex challenge. Thanks for your participation.
The focus on advising is one feature of the student engagement, retention, and recruitment efforts. The 18 and 29 September VPAA Updates provide more details. Advising is a key component within priority #4 of the Master Academic Plan (MAP). At the implementation level, the Strategic Enrollment Management Committee has initiated the action item to provide advisors with a list of advisees who have more than one grade of ‘D” or “F.”
Community College Connection
One aspect of the Strategic Enrollment Management efforts is enhancing, re-establishing, or reenvisioning CSC’s relationships with the community colleges of the region. Faculty and staff have arranged visits to Sheridan College, Eastern Wyoming College, Casper College, Laramie CCC, Mid-Plains Community College, and WNCC. In some cases, faculty members within programs have reached out. This year CSC has pursued an intentional community college focus with the goal of increasing student transfers to CSC. Nationally, transfer students perform very well at four-year institutions.
During early October, I met with department chairs to discuss collaboration with community colleges. There was strong consensus among the department chairs regarding the importance of community college transfer students; students with AA degrees perform well academically and are successful. Other notable points were reformulating marketing, incentives for transfer students, and use of technology to connect to community college faculty, staff and students. The feedback provided will assist the Enrollment Management Committee.
All-Campus Information Fair
For the 2017-18 AY the Information Fair is scheduled for 9 November 2017. Previously, the Information Fair has been held in February. This change is based upon feedback provided by the February 2017 participants. Please contact Paula Perlinski (email@example.com) to reserve your table.
Sandoz High Plains Center
The 29 September 2017 VPAA update furnished information on the Center. Laure Sinn, Rangeland Program Coordinator, will begin assisting with the Sandoz High Plains Center, starting on 20 October. She will not be serving in an interim director capacity. Instead, she will continue with many of her current duties associated with her position as Rangeland Program Coordinator and will be physically located in the Sandoz High Plains Center. Within the Center Laure will perform the following tasks:
- Coordinate volunteer and other staffing of the Sandoz High Plains Center
- Collect visitor and other building use data
- Monitor the Center’s email and contracts
- Communicate and promote events taking place in the Center
- Begin to document processes related to the Center.
This effort represents the next step in keeping the Center open during normal business hours and obtaining necessary data and information regarding the Center’s processes, so that CSC and others can begin to reimagine the Center for the future.
The next call for Research Institute proposals is 10 January 2018. Send proposals to Paula Perlinski (firstname.lastname@example.org). Approximately $3000 of the $25,000 allocated amount remains available. If IRB approval is needed contact Shafiq Rahman, Mary Jo Carnot, or Jim Margetts.
Sakai Learning Management System Upgrade
From 11:00 am to 3 pm (MST), 20 December 2017, CSC Online will be upgraded to bring necessary updates and enhancements to the Sakai learning management system. The Teaching and Learning Center’s (TLC) IT specialist will implement the upgrade that offers greater performance and stability, including…
- A revamped user interface with a modern look and feel
- Learning on the go: A mobile-friendly user experience where students and faculty can access, prepare, and submit coursework using any major mobile browser without installing an app
- A new gradebook (the old gradebook will still be available) Improvements to the Lessons tool for enhanced teaching and learning
- Quick migration of content from Modules (old lessons) to Lessons.
Learn of the new changes from the comfort of your own work area or device. TLC’s Sam Ballard will offer live informational webinars for all faculty, adjuncts, and staff during the month of November. Feel free to participate and ask questions or log in to the recorded sessions at any time. In addition to the overview webinars, Elizabeth Ledbetter will conduct hands-on workshops on how to effectively use the Lessons tool in Sakai. Please sign up for the Lessons workshops as they become available and direct questions to the TLC at x6273 or TLCtech@CSC.edu.
Examity proctoring tool
CSC is currently piloting the proctoring tool, Examity, throughout the 2017-2018 academic year. Examity is tightly integrated with CSC Online-Sakai and offers a user-friendly platform for proctoring online assessments. Authentication of student users and the academic honesty in assessment through exams, particularly in the online environment, are being addressed at numerous institutions in higher education. CSC’s faculty who are test piloting the product will implement the tool in select courses and determine its value in the institution’s pursuit of academic integrity. For questions and concerns, contact David Kendrick at x6494 or email@example.com.