Saturday, October 18, 2014

The M Word

So what is your position on motivation?  Is it our job to motivate our students, or is it our job to educate our students while they motivate themselves?  I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic after reading Jeffrey Buller’s interesting article in  Academic Leader entitled “Academic Leadership and the M Word.”
Here’s a small excerpt:
These discussions about academic motivation often become heated because there’s such a strong case to be made on both sides of the issue. By the time they’re in college, students should be motivated by the ideas, skills, and principles that are going to be integral to their careers. At the same time, we as faculty members should recognize that effective teaching involves a great deal more than information transfer. The argument will never be resolved, because each perspective is correct. Some of us are just pulled a bit more by one side than the other.
Buller goes on to extend the motivation issue to academic leadership—chairs, deans and leaders on up the ladder. The main point of his article is that at the administrative level, “True academic leadership isn’t just about getting the decisions right; it’s also about getting the motivation right.”

What do you think?

As a teacher, how do you motivate your students, if you see that as part of your job? (In the MHS Program, one important motivation for our working adult students has always been “Learn the theory on Saturday, use it on Monday.”)  

When you are wearing your administrative hat, how do you motivate your colleagues to work toward a desired goal?

Friday, October 3, 2014

It could happen to anyone….REALLY!! The effects of engagement/disengagement from the matrix

Guest Blogger: James Wadley, MHS Program 
So I ventured into the classroom one Saturday afternoon (Yes, we Graduate Center faculty teach on Saturdays!) feeling excited about the wealth of teaching and learning opportunities in store for my class and me.  While walking into my educational sanctuary, my students and I exchanged midafternoon quips about the readings and lecture from the previous week as well as other reactionary conversational ventures about contemporary forms of life, love, and happiness.  I reached above me to turn the Smartboard projector on and then confidently moved over to the lectern which contained the computer monitor and hard drive underneath.  More students continued to walk into the room and began to chime in with their opinions about lunch, the 30th Street Megabus schedule, culinary delights and transgressions from the food trucks behind Drexel University and the like, while I gathered my materials in preparation for class.
Once I reached the “sweet spot” in front of the class behind the podium, I removed my flash drive which was attached to my lanyard necklace and casually inserted it into the hard drive of the computer.   I waited a moment for the system to boot up and nothing happened.  Turned the system off then on again; turned to monitor on, off, then on again; and fiddled with the keyboard--nothing happened.  I played around with the computer for a few more moments and slowly started to duck to an eventual crouch behind the podium looking for answers from the hard drive.  Simultaneously, I found myself ducking from imaginary stones hurled by my students because I thought that their anger was gaining strength as they waited for me to deliver my lecture.
My students continued to talk with one another and I eventually submitted that I was not going to get my computer on to start my transcendent Powerpoint lecture.  I struggled because I assumed and anticipated that this pivotal lecture would have enabled my students to become the change agents that they paid tuition for.  I could feel the temperature of body rising and my anxiety beginning to take over as I failed to have a backup teaching plan for that day besides my lecture (Shame on me!).  After several moments, I stood up and sheepishly offered the class the following, “It appears that I am unable to get the computer to work for me today; give me a few moments while I run to my office to pick up a few 3x5 index cards.” Some of my students said okay and three of them were so excited about the delay that they actually escorted me out the room.  I walked to the left and they walked to the right (towards the vending machines) and I overheard them laughingly mention that there was no need for class since I could not get the monitor to work.
I scurried to my office and found an unopened pack of 3x5 index cards in my desk.  SWEET!!  Because I had a few moments, I sat down at my desk and thought about what the next 2+ hours of teaching and learning could be.  This is what I came up with: 
  1. Pass out a 3x5 index card to all students in the classroom.
  2. Have them write out one thing that may have resonated for them in the previous lecture and/or reading from last week.
  3. Collect the cards and construct a thematic concept map using poster print (I keep always keep a large pad and Crayola markers available in my office for emergencies) about what they learned from the previous week.
  4. Separate the students into smaller groups (4-6 people) and have them take the conceptual themes and apply it to their workplace (The class is exclusively working adult learners). 
  5. Once they hear the similarities/differences of what is offered in their small groups, have them list the theoretical underpinnings that may drive the aforementioned themes. 
  6. In addition to listing the theoretical underpinnings, students list and discuss all limitations, potential consequences, and implications of the generated concepts. 
  7. Have students in their smaller groups create an educational program, workshop, or clinical initiative that may offer conceptual or pragmatic change within their agency or their community.
  8. Have students develop some sort of evaluation or assessment tool based upon the proposed action plan.
  9. Next, have students present their concept and plan of action to the class.
  10. Link what the students offer to the class to what I intended to discuss if I were able to utilize the SmartBoard and computer.
  11. Grading would be based upon completion of the index card, large and small group sharing, and classroom participation. 
The moral of this story is:  ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP TEACHING/LESSON PLAN!!!  Like all of us, machines are sometimes flawed and they can be unpredictable at the darndest times.  I would imagine that I am not the only one at The Lincoln University who has ever been challenged by the matrix.  Hmmm…  Perhaps the anxiety that I experienced while trying to get my computer to work before and during the first few moments of class was not real at all.  Maybe, just maybe, my anxiety and the inability to get my computer to work was all part of some larger force or higher power that wanted me think and teach outside the box/matrix*.  Maybe, the lesson that I planned on teaching was meant not for my students but as a teaching opportunity for me to learn how to manage my anxiety when unforeseen circumstances emerge in the matrix we call The Lincoln University…
Please share your thoughts to these questions:
  • What are some teaching strategies you use when you are unable to get your computer to work?
  • How do you know that your students are learning what they should be learning in class without waiting until the next test/exam?
  • How do you engage in ongoing assessment in your classroom?
*For your amusement, I include a clip from one of my favorite movies, The Matrix :) ENJOY!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Improving Student Performance Before the Course is Finished

Guest Blogger: Brenda Snider

I have just finished a class on analysis and design, which has sparked my interest. As a professor, you are evaluating each student’s performance. I think it would be beneficial if the students learned to evaluate their own performance in addition to the professor’s evaluation.

After each of my classes, we have to complete an evaluation form. In my opinion, there should be two class evaluations, one in the middle of the course and one at the end.  If you complete an evaluation in the middle (or a few weeks in) of the course, you may gain an understanding of how the students are feeling about the course.  You could include questions such as “Do you think you are gaining a complete understanding of the material?”  “Do you need assistance/tutoring in any area?” “Are the class presentations interesting enough to keep your attention?”

The survey can be developed and completed online at Survey Monkey ( The results will be tabulated for you without much effort on your part.

Are professors here at Lincoln doing class evaluations in the middle of the course? Do you think this would be beneficial?  What other questions would you include in an evaluation to pique student interest in the class?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

When It's One of Those Days...

Sometimes we teachers just need to put things in perspective and smile. To that purpose: snippets from a new academic satire (Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, Doubleday, 2014) that is presented as a series of letters of recommendations written by a beleaguered English professor. (If you have favorite academic novels to recommend, please share the titles.)

From a letter to his department chair:
By the by:  I noticed in your departmental plan...that you intend to schedule two faculty meetings this year for the purpose of revising the department constitution. …Fair warning:  As a body we tried, in a plenary/horror session when Sarah Lempert was chair, to revise the momentous founding document on which our department depends. We argued for weeks about the existence and then the location of a particular semicolon, two senior members of the faculty--true, one of them retired and left for rehab that same semester--abandoning the penultimate meeting in tears. (If you'd like to see it, I've been keeping a log of department meetings ranked according to level of trauma, with a 1 indicating mild contentiousness, a 3 indicating uncontrolled shouting, and a 5 leading to at least one nervous breakdown and/or immediate referral to the crisis center run by the Office of Mental Health.) (p. 35-36)
From a letter to the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs:
... Finally, as for your recent memo on financial prudence:  Good lord, man. We know about the funding crunch, we aren't idiots; but we also know that your fiscal fix is being applied selectively.  For those in the sciences and social sciences, sacrifice will come in the form of fewer varieties of pâté on their lunch trays. For English: seven defections/retirements in three years and not one replaced; two graduate programs no longer permitted to accept new students; and a Captain Queeg-like sociologist at the helm. The junior faculty in our department will surely abandon their posts at the first opportunity, while the elder statesmen--I speak here for myself--may exact a more punishing revenge by refusing to retire. (p. 43)
From a letter to the HR director of an IT company to which one of the computer techs at the university has applied:
I am a professor in an English department whose members consult Tech Help…only in moments of desperation. For example, let us imagine that a computer screen, on the penultimate page of a lengthy document, winks coyly, twice, and before the "save" button can be deployed adopts a Stygian facade.  In such a circumstance one's only recourse--unpalatable though it may be--is to plead for assistance from a yawning adolescent who will roll his eyes at the prospect of one's limited capabilities and helpless despair. I often imagine that in olden days people like myself would crawl to the doorway of Tech Help on our knees, bearing baskets of food, offerings of the harvest, the inner organs of neighbors and friends--all in exchange for a tenuous promises from these careless and inattentive gods that the thoughts we entrusted to our computers will be restored unharmed. (p. 109-10)
From a letter to his dean:
I have been tapped, once again and for reasons that defy human understanding, to write a letter--during the final crisis-ridden week of the semester--on behalf of my colleague Franklin Kentrell, who has nominated himself for chair of the university curriculum committee.  Given your own recent, crucial work on the selection of dirges for the all-campus picnic, you may not have had time to grasp or appreciate the nature of Kentrell's contributions.  He is, to put it mildly, insane.  If you must allow him to self-nominate his way into a position of authority, please god let it be the faculty senate.  There, his eccentricities, though they may thrive and increase, will at least be harmless. The faculty senate, our own Tower of Babel, has not reached a decision of any import for a dozen years. (p. 164)