Effective Learning

A number of posts this week have discussed various themes that have emerged since beginning this class, its readings and discussions. For me, each week, I consider balance to be the theme applied in different contexts.

I think the idea of engaged and mindful learning is noble, but like this post I also acknowledge that we can’t always do that. I think we, as educators, need to spend meaningful time examining our course content and finding the places where we can effectively engage technology, mindful learning and other more innovative methods of education, to balance out the places where we might have to give a basic lecture.

This post mentioned GTAs who are thrown into teaching without adequate preparation, and I agree that’s a huge problem and likely contributes to the less effective (mindless) learning that we see in some areas more than others. My department has a really great teaching apprenticeship program, wherein the semester before GTAs become instructors of record, they shadow and act as TAs for the course they will eventually teach. Our introductory course uses an online textbook with integrated quizzes, as well as other helpful resources, such as flash cards, glossaries and interactive material, that students are required to read. When preparing my first guest lecture, my apprenticeship supervisor told me that students, on average, only retain 10% of course material in a lecture that goes broad but not deep. He advised me to go over the material from the book, find the concepts that would be most challenging to students and focus my lecture on 20-30% of the textbook material, then work on ways to engage students so they might take away 90% of the content from my lecture. I still won’t be covering everything, but I’ll hopefully engage their learning, build on their previous readings and help them to come away with more than if I had just done a lecture that covered everything in the textbook over again.

Practicalities of digital and integrative learning

I had a lot of thoughts watching the TED talk by by Michael Wesch, so that is what I’m choosing to focus on in this blog, with some general comments about required blogging below. My perspective may be different than other students’ because I come from the psychology and then human development fields and so I have insight into socio-emotional and cognitive development and context and individual differences are integral considerations in our fields and research. Secondly, I’m also a cynical person by nature and am hard-pressed to be inspired by content that is often intended to be inspirational. At one point, Dr. Wesch quoted faculty members who said “some people are not cut out for school,” though I think he meant for college, and that translated to those people saying “some people are not cut out for learning. I get what he’s trying to say; however, school (specifically college) is for very specific kinds of learning and while educators can and should change and adapt their teaching style to meet the needs of their students, there is also a reason that some people go to college while others go to vocational school or train on the job, etc. One of my biggest hang ups to the inspirational aspect of what he said was one kind of throw-away comment about a student pursuing accounting even though she hated it. There is also the very real thing that people need to make money to survive and while people can and should be encouraged to follow their passions, it seems inspirational but can often be dismissive to tell people to follow their passions in lieu of finding security in the real world. Maybe Dr. Wesch didn’t even mean to inspire or give something to which educators should aspire, and he just wanted to share his experience, which is also valid. He was a well-known, tenured faculty member with a lot more resources than first- or second-year faculty, who won’t be able to take two hour lunches with their students each day and tailor their content to each student. My takeaway was to not always continue traditional methods of teaching but to also acknowledge that faculty members have different resources/skills/practices and it’s okay if some professors, especially early career and those with large introductory classes, can’t completely adapt and individualize their courses. I took the Future Professoriate course last semester and in my final journal, this is what I wrote about blogging:
Due to the size and structure of this class, having both a journal assignment and blogging assignments felt limiting and redundant at the same time. The blog assignment didn’t really increase communication between students in the class because of the sheer number of posts and how daunting it was search through and find ones that might be interesting to comment on. The assignment didn’t seem to make a fruitful contribution to class conversation or effective method of reflection. Also, because I was required to do both a blog and a journal, I would limit what I wrote in each area so that I didn’t repeat myself by writing the same thought in two places, which would have been a lot of work for little to no benefit. I think I would have preferred to only do the journal, even with an expectation that some journal entries would be read aloud in class or in small groups to facilitate conversation.
I have heard that this course is more interactive as far as incorporating blogs into the course content; however, I am still skeptical of the fruitfulness of the required comments for the course. I can appreciate the intent and I am sure that engaging digital learning in a  classroom is a challenge and a constant give-and-take; however, I think the balance between wanting to engage in the newest teaching methods and opportunities and what is actually meaningfully contributing to the experience of individual students and classes as a whole is difficult to manage and should be constantly reevaluated. As a last note, just from an ethical perspective, I thought it was interesting that the #1 recommended blogging format was a paid platform for which the instructor of the course has a coupon code. While the gesture is nice for students, and I’m sure nothing was done with ill intent, I know that the general nature of these types of coupon codes is that the one offering the code also receives some sort of benefit each time the code is used and that was not disclosed to students at the time of presentation.  

Campus Resources

I was thinking about how graduate students and faculty have a different relationship with campus than undergraduates, and how that might mean we have to do a little extra work if we want to be of most benefit possible to our students. I first came to Virginia Tech as a student in graduate school. My sister has been here since 2010, so I have visited and am vaguely familiar with aspects of campus and community life, but I, and I am sure many other graduate students, have a vastly different relationship to the university and town than undergraduate students. This is of concern to me when I think about preparing to teach my first course next year.

I want to be able to help my students not only succeed in my class but also college, overall, but I am concerned that I don’t know about the different resources available to them. If I don’t know what resources, services, etc. are available, I won’t be able to connect my students to the people, centers and services that might be of greatest help to them. I plan to spend some time this summer and over the fall semester visiting different buildings on campus to get a better sense of who and what is located where. I really want to incorporate campus resources into my classes (which will be comprised of primarily first-year students) so they can start off their college careers with a knowledge of where to turn when they need help.

Classroom Engagement

When I was in undergrad, I was a peer facilitator for a group of 10 students in a freshman year seminar  for the honors college. Each year, I had a variety of student personalities and strengths, including the exuberant and outgoing students and also the thoughtful and shy students.

I was fortunate to have such a small group because I was able to develop a system to gradually build shier students up to participating in group discussions without penalizing them for their personality and characteristics at the outset.

The first thing I did was set ground rules for our group. At the time, I had some quote or clip from The Daily Show or something similar, but now by rules are essentially “you are free to share a difference of opinion but will not be permitted to deny, denigrate or disrespect another individual’s identity or existence.” This helped to foster an open and inclusive conversation where everyone would feel comfortable sharing.

The purpose of grading class participation was as a means to gauge engagement with class topics and readings. So, for the first 3 weeks of class while everyone was still getting comfortable with one another, my shy students would have to take notes and email me their thoughts and places where they would have contributed in class. This way, I could ensure they were engaged, but they didn’t have to push themselves beyond their limits straightaway.

For the next 2-3 weeks, I would open class discussions by asking my shy students questions directly, so they were participating in group discussions but didn’t have to work themselves up right to find the breaks in conversation and courage to speak up or over other students.

After that sort of introductory period, I would have another face-to-face meeting with my students to check in and see how they were feeling and let them know that I would expect them to start actively participating in class. We would usually set a goal number of times per class that would increase over time.

I think this strategy works well with shy students, students with anxiety and could also work will for students who have a language barrier, with some adaptation. I know I will have to change some things to get this to work with the bigger classes at Tech, but I really want engaging all students to be a focus and area of success for me as an instructor.

Future of the University

I think that this sentiment has been made by my peers, but I am really hoping for a push toward more emphasis and respect for teaching positions and fields in the humanities and social sciences. Whether intentionally or not, often when we talk about the most highly respected or highly sought after positions, we assume that it’s the STEM fields. That assumption ignores not only the importance of the humanities and social sciences but also individual differences and preferences. Even though STEM fields might have a higher base salary, etc. not everyone prefers those fields, and if we don’t continue to encourage engagement in the humanities and social scientists, we’ll just have a lot of highly distinguished scholars with specialized research skills but no soft skills, which would honestly be terrible.

I would also like a shift toward recognizing the importance of teaching responsibilities, even at research-based institutions. If we focus too heavily on research and not on fostering education and passion within the next generations, there won’t be new cohorts of researchers to continue the work being done now.

Technology in the Classroom

Both of these infographics come from reports by the Babson Research Group 

in Massachusetts. I found the first infographic, from a 2013 study on Social Media for Teaching and Learning in an article from Inside Higher Ed. I found the second in an infographic published for 2015 when I was trying to find an updated report on Social Media for Teaching and Learning. While I didn’t find quite the same data for 2015, I think the two infographics are interesting. In 2013, according to the first infographic, most faculty considered online/mobile technology to be detrimental to learning environments, but the second infographic shows that while there were shifts in perspectives between 2013 and 2015, faculty showed similar ideas about blended courses (like our Preparing the Future Professoriate course, with both in class and online components). Specifically, faculty respondents primarily thought that blended courses have the same or better outcomes than only in-class courses, which seems to be in contrast to the data presented in the earlier infographic.

I think as technology continues to grow and develop, faculty will be presented with fewer non-technology/blended options, so it is good that they are starting to get on board and recognize productive ways technology can benefit the classroom and learning outcomes.

More on Technology in the Classroom

I think technology in the classroom has come up a few times in our class discussions. I have had conversations about with faculty and peers within my department, as well, and in fact it was a topic I had considered for my scholarly essay in this class.

I think as we move forward and technology becomes more advanced, more affordable and more accessible, we, as future instructors, are going to need to give some serious thought to the role of technology in our classrooms and how to balance the line between informational aid and cognitive distraction. Some research has shown that one individual using Facebook in a classroom negatively impacts not only their engagement and performace but also the engagement and performance of other students around them.

I think we’ll see more and more research examining the role of technology in the classroom and hope that faculty moving forward will follow the research and create intentional technology policies for themselves and their students.

Open Access

It wasn’t necessarily difficult to find an open access in my field (Human Development) but it wasn’t as easy as searching through the databases offered through the library. Before I landed on this article, I found a different article in a journal that “supports Open Access,” but the specific article I chose was not open access.

The article I chose for this post is Personality, Family Correlates and Emotion Regulation as Wellbeing Predictors.  When looking for this article, I went through ScienceDirect’s subject filter option within their Open Access articles and databases. I was struck, but not surprised, that most of the Open Access journals were from other countries than the United States. Many contained articles published in languages other than English.

This specific article came from a university in Romania and is clearly labeled on the digital access page as Open Access. Another article that I considered but didn’t choose specifically noted that funding for Open Access was given by Dutch Universities. The article came from the journal Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, which is copyrighted by Elsevier. This journal is a subset (focusing on the social and behavioral sciences) of the larger Procedia collection, which highlights free access to users and author-retained copyrights as some of its key features. The article itself was clearly labeled as Open Access with direct links to access and rights, as well as information about the Creative Commons license.

The larger/parent ScienceDirect touted its over 250,000 open access articles in a large banner at the bottom of the homepage, so it did seem to want to assert itself as in the Open Access movement, but the specific information about open access seemed to vary by journal/article and was thus nested within specific links rather than openly available from any site I saw.




It took me a little longer to find the “fun,” hypothetical case studies instead of the relatively more boring academic/research misconduct case studies. I chose this one because I’m really interested in the anti-academic bullying push at our school and this seemed to be a really good example of the type of thing that might happen.

I think the first thing I noticed was that while the case study clearly got the crux of the situation across, the author is by no means a professional writer. But once I got over that, I was struck by the gender distribution of power in this case study. Beyond the mentor/mentee dynamic, there is also the complicated gender dynamics. No racial or ethnicity factors were described, so that additional complicated layer can’t be considered.

The way the questions were framed were also awkward and leaned in the direction of blaming the victim. For example, “Why do you suppose Kara has let things get to this point? Has she been exploited in any way?” Like, why couldn’t the question be “What systems were in place that allowed this advisor to take advantage of the work provided by graduate students for so long that he doesn’t give a second thought to overloading a new student?”

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