Saturday, November 21, 2015


As you celebrate the holiday with family and friends, I hope that you have much to give thanks for. In the spirit of the season, this pre-Thanksgiving blog asks you to pause a minute and think why you are thankful to be working with the students you teach here at Lincoln.

I know that we more often talk about what we are unhappy with--what Lincoln doesn't do, what our students don't do-- and there is merit in that, since until problems are defined they cannot be solved.  But just for now, let's focus on the positive: what makes you most thankful as you think about your teaching experiences?

My answer, I guess, would be that I am grateful that I almost always leave my classroom and my  students with more energy than I had when I entered, having been challenged,  impressed, confused, enlightened, surprised, confronted, affirmed... the list could go on and on. It's a never-ending learning experience for me, and--frustrating as it can be at times-- it's fun.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may you all, as the Native American saying goes, "give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Faculty Attitudes toward Technology

On Thursday I viewed a webinar discussing the results of a recent Inside Higher Ed survey of faculty attitudes on technology; 2075 faculty and 105 administrators had been surveyed.  (If you would like to view the PowerPoint from the webinar or the webinar itself, you'll find it at )

Four issues stood out for me:
1. When asked “Did use of educational technology lead to improved student outcomes?” only 20% of the faculty and 35% of the administrators said outcomes were improved significantly.  Tenured faculty were somewhat more skeptical than non-tenured but most were in the middle, agreeing that technology somewhat improved student outcomes. The majority of both faculty and administrators felt that the cost was worthwhile.
2. However, when asked “Do for-credit online courses achieve outcomes at least equivalent to in-person courses?” only 17% of the faculty said yes, while 62% administrators said yes.  One of the narrators made the point that it might be that the comparison faculty have in their minds is an idealized picture of a small group of interested, motivated, high-achieving students sitting around a seminar table discussing complex issues rather than, for instance, a big lecture hall in an introductory course.
3. With respect to Plagiarism Detection Software (like Turnitin), most faculty liked it.    The moderator, however, was concerned that students often don’t know what plagiarism is and pointed out that this is something teachers need to address and not just have a false sense of security that if students run their papers through the software they will understand the complicated issue of plagiarism.
4. Finally, there was one issue on which everyone agreed: 93% of faculty said textbooks are priced too high, and 92% thought professors should assign more open educational resources.  Here, the moderator pointed out how much time was needed to find and incorporate open educational resources into a class and, more worrisome, how much time is needed to change those resources as times change, serving as a possible disincentive for course improvement.
What do you think?  Any reaction to any of these points with respect to your own attitudes and your classes here at Lincoln?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Diversity at Lincoln

In advance of our upcoming November 19 faculty brownbag discussion on diversity, I thought I might “flip” the brownbag a bit by asking for some of your preliminary thoughts on the topic.

A quick Google search for "diversity in the college classroom" turns up a vast store of information, mostly from the viewpoint of Majority White Institutions seeking to expand the diversity of their student populations: the top six are tips for inclusive teaching from Vanderbilt, Columbia, Harvard,  Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, rounded out by the AAUP’s Does Diversity Make a Difference: Three Research Studies on Diversity in College Classrooms.“  

What does it mean to Lincoln, do you think, to have “Diversity and Globalization” as one of our strategic imperatives?  On the conceptual level, how should a more diverse Lincoln look? What kinds of, and how much, diversity should we be aiming for?  Why do we want it?  Bringing the issue down to ground level, how might having a more diverse student body change what we do in our classrooms?  How might it change what we assign as textbooks and readings, the kinds of assignments we make, the way we structure group projects and discussions?   What potential problems should we be aware of and thus prepared for? What will we be able to do better as a result of having a more diverse student body?

Any thoughts on any of those questions?  Any ideas on other important questions to be asking?  Jump in!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

7 Ways of Learning

If you haven’t read Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning:  A Resource for More Purposeful, Effective, and Enjoyable College Teaching by Davis and Arend, I highly recommend it. (We've ordered it for the library but I would be happy to lend my copy to anyone who wants to take a look at it right away.)
Their thesis is that we learn in different ways depending on which of seven desired outcomes we are targeting: building skills; acquiring knowledge; developing critical, creative and dialogic thinking; cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities; exploring attitudes, feelings and perspectives; practicing professional judgment; or reflecting on experience). Each way of learning, they believe, requires different ways of teaching. Teachers who don't use a variety of teaching methods, therefore, are teaching too narrowly. 

If we simply want our students to acquire knowledge of a topic, for instance, we can teach via lecture and readings.  If we want them to learn specific skills, on the other hand, we can’t lecture that skill- building knowledge into existence; we need to provide practice exercises and set tasks for students to work through. If our desired outcome instead is for students to become good problem solvers, we can’t just provide canned practice exercises—we need to help them work through real-life problems, case studies, labs, projects.
It was eye-opening to consider the differences in learning outcomes, the related theories of learning associated with each, and the common teaching methodologies (See table with summary below) that lead to the desired outcomes.  Here, though, is the passage that made me stop and think hardest:
Almost anything that once required class time can be done outside class electronically, technologies can often perform educational tasks more efficiently than humans, and information is readily available for free to anyone with Internet access.  So the fundamental question arises:  What is class time for?
How would you answer that question?

Summary of Seven Ways of Learning
Intended Learning Outcomes
(What Students Learn)
Way of Learning
(Origins and Theory)
Common Methods
(What the Teacher Provides)

Skill building
(Physical and procedural skills where accuracy, precision, & efficiency are important)
1.       Behavioral learning
(behavioral psychology, operant conditioning)
·         Tasks and procedures
·         Practice exercises
Acquiring Knowledge
(basic information, concepts, and terminology of a discipline or field of study)
2.       Cognitive learning
(cognitive psychology, attention, information processing  memory)
·         Presentations
·         Explanations
Developing critical, creative, & dialogical thinking
(Improved thinking & reasoning processes)
3.       Learning through inquiry
(Logic, critical and creative thinking theory, classical philosophy)
·         Question-driven inquiries
·         Discussions
Cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities
(Mental strategies for finding solutions & making choices)
4.       Learning with mental models
(Gestalt psychology, problem solving, & decision theory)
·         Problems
·         Case studies
·         Labs
·         Projects
Exploring attitudes, feelings, & perspectives
(Awareness of attitudes, biases, & other perspectives; ability to collaborate)
5.       Learning through groups and teams
(Human communication theory, group counseling theory)
·         Group activities
·         Team projects
Practicing professional judgment
(Sound judgment  & appropriate professional action  in complex, context-dependent situations)
6.       Learning through virtual realities
(Psychodrama, sociodrama, gaming theory)
·         Role playing
·         Simulations
·         Dramatic scenarios
·         Games
Reflecting on experience
(Self-discovery & personal growth from real-world experience)
7.       Experiential learning
(Experiential learning, cognitive neuroscience, constructivism)
·         Internships
·         Service-learning
·         Study abroad

Davis, James R., & Arend, Bridget D. (2013). Facilitating seven ways of learning:  A resource for more purposeful, effective, and enjoyable college teaching.  Stylus: Sterling, VA.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Lincoln's Tenure and Promotion Policy

This week’s blog narrows its focus from general teaching issues to one specific—and extremely important—policy at Lincoln:  Promotion and Tenure.  

The PTS committee, in its effort to ensure the integrity of a stellar professorate at Lincoln University, has reviewed the current promotion, tenure, and sabbatical processes. As a result it is circulating this recommended modification for faculty review and input
At the request of the PTS Committee, I am asking you, whatever your rank and years of service at Lincoln, to read the revised PTS policy first presented in March of 2015 for faculty review

and make suggestions for improvement.   
What, for you, are the essential issues this policy should include? Are they included?  Do you agree with the rating categories for promotion and with the separation of tenure and promotion? I look forward to a spirited debate.