Recently I’ve been thinking about the role of pauses in my classroom and in my own teaching practice. My ENG 236A – British Literature Survey from Beowulf to Jonathan Swift has been reading Othello this week. Last Thursday, we each took a different character and read Scene I in Act IV out loud. After we finished reading, I asked students to freewrite about how reading aloud changed their experience of the play compared to when they read on their own. Students observed that they understood and felt the emotions within the lines more when we read out loud. After the discussion, I showed them a YouTube clip of the same scene we read in class. I then asked how their understanding of the scene changed again when seeing a film version. One perceptive student noticed that Iago’s character used pauses for emphasis in the film. We all agreed that the scene made more sense when characters/actors used silence between lines for effect.
My student’s observation about Iago’s use of pauses in turn gave me pause. It made me reflect on my own use of quiet breaks or silence in the classroom. When I first started teaching as a master’s student in 2004, I was terrified of silence in my classroom. I used to think that silence meant I failed to engage my students. While that might be partly true, strategic silences can also be an effective teaching tool. Many of our students haven’t had the opportunity to think about the questions we ask, much less have an answer in several seconds. I sometimes find myself talking too much or waxing poetic on a specific question they should really answer. Today, I’ll try to remember that my students might benefit from a few silent pauses to ponder the critical questions I raise.
Many professors abhor attendance policies. There are many sound arguments against them ranging from an economic libertarianism, conscription model failures, anti-infantilism, and classroom control curbing disruptions. But I don’t care about any of this. I take attendance. It comes out of my own experience and time spent in law school where the American Bar Association requires attendance. Of course, there’s likely a bit of selection bias in the profile of law students who have a penchant to enjoy paperwork, love knowing the rules of everything, and read big, bad books for fun. My justification in requiring attendance is because business, as career area, has a quotidian component of conformity baked in to the rank-and-file professions. Besides, we are all expected to show up for work, why not show up for class? (“Adulting” as I have heard said.) Honestly, it’s mostly selfish; it’s my method of engagement of students and get to know them and make lectures fun, which I genuinely enjoy.
As I understand it, the real exasperation of most professors on attendance requirements is that of excuses for absences. Sports, illness, sleeping in (in the afternoon classes, this is always strange), snow, and death seem to top the excuse list; and all these reasons deem exception to an attendance policy. It’s the latter that spurns skeptical ire from professors with calls to produce obituaries or even death certificates for evidence. I’ve never questioned anyone on this but a recent event in my own life has caused me to look at any student giving me notice of death in their life with a new empathy.
I lost a member of my family very recently. She was one of a handful of cousins that I deem as my own; as anyone in large families knows that every other family-member has their own family-members partitioned from the larger whole. In fact, she was my God-sister (hija de mi madrina) and we grew up together since children, raised by our grandmother since our parents worked; thus, making us siblings even more so. Time passed and my Aunt’s family moved but I ended going to college with her at the University of Utah and we reconnected solidly. Life and time went on, like it does, and she got a dog, married her high school sweetheart, and had two children: happily ever after. Sadly, she had a serious health condition since birth that ultimately took her from us and her own family. I loved her very much and I’ve been heart-broken at her loss.
Connecting this back to my own teaching, I have found a new empathy for anyone dealing with loss. For myself, after hearing of my cousin’s passing, I know that I didn’t sleep well, lost my appetite, and I can’t forget the tears; I just couldn’t focus. And I’m 38-years old where the inure of progressive losses isn’t anything too new. But imagine a young student that may have not had the experience of loss in equivalency or may be more sensitive. Further, think of the loss of a grandparent or an aunt or uncle. I know that for many Mexican-Americans, families are bit more fluid; like me, my grandmother is in every one of my earliest memories, even more than my parents. A young student may not have the skills to cope with the loss. The emotions on a young mind of a student away from family and support is undeniably serious.
I know that I’m not a counselor and I am not advocating for anything more serious than kindness. I personally know how hard it can be to even breathe after a serious loss. Please extend understanding to anyone that’s lost a family member, a friend, or even a pet. Please be empathetic. For myself, I know that I will not just blithely excuse the absence but follow up with the student. Perhaps, them talking about the loss is its own plea for help, and I don’t want to miss it; especially, for a mere attendance policy.
 Marshall, K. (October 12, 2017) Why I Don’t Take Attendance, The Chronicle of Higher Education, retrieved from: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-I-Don-t-Take-Attendance/241428
 ABA Standards 2017-2018 (2017) Standard 311(a) Academic Program and Academic Calendar https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/misc/legal_education/Standards/2017-2018ABAStandardsforApprovalofLawSchools/2017_2018_aba_standards_rules_approval_law_schools_final.authcheckdam.pdf
Kerr, E. (May 7, 2018) Professors Are Talking About Students’ Dead Grandparents Again, The Chronicle of Higher Education, retrieved from: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Professors-Are-Talking-About/243353
Hirschler, C. (June 19, 2011) What if Her Grandmother Really Did Die? The Chronicle of Higher Education, retrieved from: https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-if-Her-Grandmother-Really/127927?cid=rclink
“Words are like stars,” my sixth-grade teacher, Miss Madden, would tell us, “and you should always reach for them.” She believed that words led to ideas that often led to questions. She’d lower her voice to almost a whisper and follow with, “It’s the answers to these questions that lead to new ways of thinking and that’s something for which you should strive.” And wouldn’t you know, she made ‘strive’ a look-up word almost every week until everyone had made it their own.
While teaching at Chadron State College for the past six years, the words I’ve been reaching for have led me to deeper contemplation of such topics as teaching, learning, and social work. I’ve been asking questions… lots of them. They clock in during my lesson plan prep time. “How will I teach this?” Then, “Why should I teach it this way?” The questions pop up in the classroom. I’ll ask a student, “How did you learn that?” To another, “How do you know you’ve learned it?” In my social work classes, I ask about the challenges of diversity, fairness, and social justice.
My work in words is an examination of the answers to these questions, heartfelt reflections that often result in poems, essays, and memoirs. Words lead to writing- my way of learning, my way of thinking in fresh perspective. Inspiring my students to think in new ways is what I strive for, a lofty endeavor sparked by a sixth-grade teacher who believed in stars and the glitter of words…
Sort of, anyway. At least, taking it off the campus. I’m talking about my Social Work 332 class—Elderly and Differently-Abled. Up until four years ago, I taught this class in Miller Hall every Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. It has always been one of my favorite classes. As a social worker before taking up teaching, I spent many hours, days, weeks, months, and years working for hospitals, long-term cares, home health agencies, and hospice organizations. The even let me be the boss in most of those places. So, teaching about elderly and differently-abled was pretty comfortable for me. I sat in Miller 202 and told the students what I had learned over the years. They dutifully took notes. Every once in a while, though, I would think, “Wouldn’t it be great if in this room right now were sitting elderly and differently-abled people?”
That voice, though, had a point. Students need to experience. They need to hear, see, and feel. They need to learn more than I can possibly ever teach them on my own. If the elderly and differently-abled could not be in the classroom, then the students would go where they were. (And, no, I would not be satisfied with some computerized image on a screen at the front of the room.) I wanted the real flesh, the real blood.
So now SW 332 is taught every Wednesday during the fall semester at Crest View Care Center. In the class with the students sit elderly residents. And differently-abled residents. They talk to the students, and the students talk to them.
Me? Oh, I say a word here and there, but mostly I just watch the students learn without me. It’s the best teaching I have ever done.
Eric Rapp shares an example of a workflow that works well for him to efficiently grade assignments and quickly return feedback to students on their assignment submissions in CSC Online. As learning is more effective when students receive frequent, substantive, and timely feedback, Eric has found this workflow helpful in providing students with the informative feedback necessary to help them gauge their learning progress.
Dear Faculty and Staff:
The annual Campus Leadership Luncheon (9 October 2018) brought together students, faculty and staff leadership to focus on student success. Table discussions sought to better understand barriers to student engagement and belongingness. This event also furnishes the opportunity for campus leaders to meet one another and put a face with a name. Leadership contributions are very much appreciated and valued.
- Chadron State 2020 — http://www.csc.edu/president/2020/index.csc
- MAP Priorities & Sub-Priorities – http://csc.edu/library/mapsupport/index.csc
- MAP Overview and Purpose: click on overview within About CSC’s Master Academic Plan (MAP) — http://csc.edu/library/mapsupport/index.csc
- 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: click on Campus-Wide Committee in left column — http://csc.edu/president/2020/index.csc
New Nebraska State College System (NSCS) Chancellor
Earlier this month the NSCS Board of Trustees named the new NSCS Chancellor Paul Turman. Dr. Turman begins 2 January 2019 (10 October 2018 NSCS, http://www.csc.edu/modules/news/public_news/view/11915). Various news reports provide further details, 1 October 2018:
- Omaha-World Herald: https://www.omaha.com/news/education/highereducation/nebraska-s-state-college-system-has-a-new-leader/article_9cb14381-72b45e06-86f8-7a6b3786ea27.html
- NSCS Office: http://www.csc.edu/modules/news/public_news/view/11909
During October and November 2018 President Rhine is conducting listening sessions with community leaders in Western Nebraska: Alliance, Scottsbluff, Sidney, Chadron, North Platte, and Broken Bow. The feedback is sought to assist in ways that CSC may contribute to the region, enhance or cultivate collaboration, and assist with CSC planning. For instance, the information will help with development of the Master Academic Plan (MAP) 2019-2023 that is currently being crafted during the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters.
Average Tuition and Fees as a Share of Median Household Income
Average tuition and fees at a public four-year university as a share of 2017 median household income varies by state from 8.4% in Wyoming to 27.1% in Vermont. Nebraska is on the lower end of the share of median household income at 13.2% — 11th lowest percentage of the 50 states.
For the surrounding Nebraska states the percentage is the following: Colorado = 14.9%; Iowa = 14.1%; Kansas = 15.8%; Missouri = 16.1%; South Dakota = 14.4%; Wyoming = 8.4%. Nationwide in 2008 the average was 14% of median household income whereas by 2017 it accounted for 16.5% (4 October 2018 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
Importance of Public Higher Education
A recent analysis on selective and for-profit higher education institutions also suggests the importance of public higher education. “The analysis shows that public colleges and universities act as an equalizing force and help shrink the earnings gap between those in the top and bottom rungs of the income ladder,” said Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). “Public colleges and universities are a force for economic mobility.” Harnisch noted the six and 10-year earnings time segment analyzed in the study is a portion of lifetime potential earnings; students attending public institutions pay less tuition and typically have less debt (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/09/06/analysis-finds-benefits-attending-selectivecollege-and-penalties-attending-profit).
A recent article citing Education Department data and the Brookings Institute indicated the student loan default rate has “more than doubled between 2003 and 2011, and 40 percent of borrowers are expected to fall behind on their loans by 2023” (Nova 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/21/the-student-loan-bubble.html). It’s going to be very consequential for the future of the country,” says Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations at AASCU. The average college debt is over $30,000; according to the Department of Education, the average debt for CSC graduates is $17,786. The importance of public higher education is another example that what you do everyday makes a difference in the lives of students and communities. Thanks for contributing to the betterment of the region and world.
CSC is a member of AASCU. AASCU has been at the forefront of many higher education issues. For instance, it currently is arranging a February 2019 pre-conference on Rural Serving Institutions (RSIs). One aspect of the pre-conference is to better understand RSI and rural regions – the similarities and differences. Within the AASCU membership there are 147 RSIs. CSC is participating in the development of the sessions.
Data Breaches, Cybersecurity, and Proactive Security Protection
Unfortunately, data breaches are on the rise in all sectors, including higher education. A recent report published by cybersecurity firm Shape Security showed that 80% to 90% of the people that log into a retailer’s e-commerce site are hackers using stolen data. This is the highest percentage of any sector. https://www.businessinsider.com/data-breaches-2018-4. Last year, over 2.3 billion credentials from 51 different organizations were reported compromised (http://info.shapesecurity.com/rs/935-ZAM-778/images/Shape_Credential_Spill_Report_2018.pdf). According to a survey based on the responses of IT professionals working in the federal sector, 57 percent of federal agencies experienced a data breach in the past year. This is a vast jump from an estimated 34 percent in 2016-2017, and 18 percent in 2015-2016 (https://www.zdnet.com/article/us-suffers-highest-databreaches-of-government-agencies-worldwide/).
However, human error is also a major threat and is on the rise. In a survey of its attendees, organizers of the annual Black Hat security conference showed that 84 percent of cyberattacks reported had been due to human error, Computer Weekly reported. This could include failing to apply a patch, using easy-to-guess passwords or leaving physical devices in an unsafe area. The 2017 IT Risks Report from Netwrix found that 100 percent of government workers surveyed saw their own employees as the most likely culprits during a security breach. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean malicious activity — 41 percent said such incidents are likely the result of human error. Infosecurity Magazine pointed first to improving the way staff are educated about data protection, no matter what device or application they may be using for work purposes. Policies that limit access, combined with employee education, are important (https://securityintelligence.com/news/insider-threats-account-for-nearly-75-percent-of-securitybreach-incidents/).
A recent report (Samantha Menlo, Spring 2018) explores data breaches in higher education institutions (https://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1407&context=honors). From a data security perspective, higher education institutions are important because they hold vast amounts of data belonging to a large portion of the population. In fact, the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) reports that higher education institutions enroll approximately 20.4 million students and 1.6 million faculty members. In many cases, while in college, students begin to prepare themselves, financially, for the rest of their lives. They apply for jobs, rent apartments, and purchase vehicles. Such endeavors require financial stability; therefore, having personal data stolen could be detrimental. A current study on government data breaches found that human and software incompetence were the most common breach type. Higher education institutions with stricter data protection policies are less susceptible to a data breach (Menlo 2018).
This is a follow-up to the VPAA Update from 24 September 2018: Administrative Level Rights to Computers Changed. The Educational Technology Committee (ETC), a faculty senate committee, has worked with the Information Technology (IT) Department in this process. In the world today balancing security with innovative learning environments is challenging. The efforts of ETC and IT are greatly appreciated.
Graves Lecture Series
The Graves Lectures Series began on 29 August 2006 with Dorset Graves as the first speaker. Since its inception 107 presentations have been conducted on a vast array of subjects. The variety of areas is illustrated in the three remaining presentations for the Graves Lecture Series this semester: Tuesday, 30 October: Nathaniel Doherty, “Equanimity Among the Ruins: The Doubtful Value of Humanity in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One”; Tuesday, 13 November: Mathew Brust, “Current Conversation Status of Rare Butterflies and Grasshoppers in the
Nebraska Panhandle”; Tuesday, 27 November: Markus Jones, “The Shaping of the Story”. These presentations begin at 7:00 pm in the Sandoz High Plains Atrium. Contact Shawn Hartman (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information on the Spring 2019 presentations.
I wonder where we as a society steer people wrong a lot—where we as teachers could do more to serve our students. What are the unintended consequences of good intentions? The news these last many months is more an indictment of our society in totality than it is of a specific political trend or system. Kids are growing up on reality TV where stars are made for just being lucky enough to be born in the right town, at the right time, to the right people. Education and hard work are so easily trumped by the allure of fame and fortune—even when for everyone I know it’s just an allure. Many of my friends still dream about that big break.
How do we go about fixing the fractured sense of personhood or the recent decline of out-in-the-open civility when our sights are set on just making it through another meeting-filled day so we can work toward paying next month’s credit card bill? My friends and family and coworkers all seem tired. We are pushed to do more with less, but I wonder when the cost of trimming fat becomes unhealthy and I wonder when we will realize a need to reprioritize our basic needs.
That little social preamble leads me to this observation. Not too long ago I overheard an interaction with a little boy and his young mother. The boy’s shaggy hair covered his eyebrows and he blew at it to keep it out of his eyes. He grinned when he talked. That grin opened into a bright smile when he skipped up to his mother. He, unlike me, was not burdened with supreme court hearings or tribal politics or the tears of students’ anxiety and distress that spill into my office on a weekly basis.
“You’re not a girl,” his mama said.
“That’s for girls.”
“But it’s pretty.”
“I’m not buying that hat,” she said, “Do you hear me?”
“Girls get to have more fun than boys,” the little boy said without the irony of today’s #metoo framework rattling around in his head. His immediate interest was simple. He liked, for whatever reason, this all too innocuous, even if it was pink, cowboy hat.
His mother snatched the hat from his hand. She leaned down and hissed, “Shut your mouth, son.”
“Shut up. We’re done talking about that hat,” she said. She tossed the hat to the top of a clothes rack and grabbed her son by the upper arm, dragging him from the dressing room.
Girls need all the mobility of today’s social focus. It’s time I stop hearing my students discuss where they keep their pepper sprays and what time of night it’s still safe to go shopping on their own. It is way time for that nonsense to be shelved in a history book. Here’s a thing though. Maybe it’s time we be gentle with our boys too. Our social norms are arbitrary, but we all desire something greater than our own experiences. Let boys be boys and girls be girls in whatever ways they deem okay. Let experience be okay. Even in the classroom, experience might be what a student needs over whatever lesson I deem so important that week.
Let your boys, if they want to crown their shaggy bowl cuts with pink cowboy hats for whatever mysterious reasons, let your boys walk out of a clothing store proudly wearing whatever color of cowboy hat they choose. Let’s not minimize those choices. What could it hurt if we focus on good experience rather than forced expectations? It’s a thought I’m tinkering with that maybe college for some is about repairing hurts and pains from childhood—and maybe that experience is worth having even if it misses the point of earning whatever grade on whatever day.
Let your students be students. They are working on some really tough stuff, the stuff of life. It doesn’t mean just granting everyone a passing grade, but maybe it means realizing when a student just needs someone to support a crazy dream or a silly idea or a pink cowboy hat.
As teachers, we hear this saying a lot. It comes from the mouths of administrators, teacher-scholars, colleagues, and accrediting bodies. Yet, I get the sneaking suspicion it means something different out of each mouth. What does it even mean?
I asked myself this question today as I talked with my sister-in-law who teaches English to university students, CEOs, and professionals alike. As I listened to her experience of leading an intensive four-day English training, my answer to this question emerged. She told me that her students varied from beginner to expert, and this made her work that much more difficult because as she moved from student to student, she had to constantly shift her responses according to the needs of each individual.
While I do not teach English as a second language (at the moment), I do teach critical thinking, reading, and writing, and it is no easy task. Each of my students is at a different cognitive level and joins my class with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. There is no sign posted to their foreheads and no advance copy of their skills is sent to me. Sure, they were accepted to college and have grades and test scores, but none of these numbers or letters illuminates how well they understand my assignments, the readings in my class, or their ability to process concepts or theories and apply them in their own projects. No student is a cookie cutout. There is no one mold or template, and so when I practice the mantra of meeting students where they are, it looks a lot like this: asking a pointed question, listening to answers, asking follow-up questions, repeating the instructions, defining terms, answering more questions, rephrasing questions, listening to what they say, saying back to them to make sure I understand what they say, redirecting the question, coming up with a more pointed question, offering suggestions, reading drafts, providing feedback, reading another draft, answering the same question again.
I’m not sure if this process described above is what other pedagogues mean when they say meet students where they are, but it is the best answer I came up with today. We first have to gauge where each (usually one of about 24) person really is in their thinking ability, contrary to where they think they might be. Then, we must point to a place we want them to be. Meeting students where they are is an improvisational dance that I must do with each student in each class four times a day.