Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Reason I Teach Grit to my Students

Guest Blogger: Brandi Berry

When I began teaching at a university, I thought I had an idea of how the student would respond to my classroom environment. I suspected that the achievers would care, the underachievers would not, and those in the middle would have a mixture of good and bad days. My prediction seemed to be spot on until the last three weeks of the semester. I observed a phenomenon that I call “The Hustle.” The hustle to get extra credit, make up missed days, turn in late work and produce documentation for excused absences. I asked myself, “Why would they work so hard to catch up? Why do they care now? Did they always care?” The catching up that they are no doubt doing for multiple classes is ten times harder than staying on track. First, it's time-consuming. Meeting with each professor, prepping a story, begging several times and falsifying documents is stressful. If the student is granted a “yes,” then they have to pull all-nighters or cheat to submit work. All this while also preparing for final exams. It's illogical. Why not drop out and go home? Why work so hard each semester to play catch up and be disappointed in their GPA? How come they weren't learning from their past mistakes?
One night I was watching a series of Ted Talks, and Angela Duckworth’s presentation came on. As she talked, I stood as if I was listening to the National Anthem and said, “That’s it.” At this time Duckworth’s research on Grit was fairly new. Her April 2013 Ted Talk is only six minutes. In it, she defines Grit as having the perseverance to stick with a goal day in and day out. Grit is seeing life as a marathon, not a sprint. The way I connected these six life-changing minutes with my students was by realizing as first-generation college students they already met their goal. Their entire life people repeated the statement, “You are going to college.” So now they made it.  Tada, goal achieved! For them, the momentum has slowed down. They can't go home because that equals “not going to college” which means goal not met. But without a new long-term goal to sustain them students were going through the motions. I believed that my students already had Grit they just didn't know how to focus their ability to stick with a long-term goal. So I decided to teach my students how to harness this Superpower.
The next semester I started using the Add/Drop period to teach Grit. I began with a lecture that explained college is a short-term goal. I touched one wall in the class and said, “This is the day you were born.” I pointed to the other wall and said, “That is you. 100 years old, happy, fulfilled and surrounded by loved ones.” Then I took one step away from the wall, point to the floor and said, “This is college. This is not the place to slow down if you want that ending.” I taught them about the brain, saying “Not Yet” instead of “I failed,” and how this practice allows them to see that failure is not a fixed condition. Not Yet is a concept mentioned in Duckworth’s Ted Talk and she credits Carol Dweck's research. In other lectures that week I taught about being addicted to cell phones, the power of meditation to strengthen the brain, and Amy Cuddy’s faking it until you become it research.
My Grit lessons have grown to include the psychological impact that stress can have on attendance, being high functioning depressed, delayed gratification (Marshmallow Test), and top-level thinking. Top level thinking is my newest addition. In the documentary, “The Distracted Mind” Dr. Adam Gazzaley explains why people lose focus. I learned from Carol Dweck's Ted Talk if you teach a student how the brain works they are more likely to succeed. So I like to teach students everything from “why they are addicted to their cell phones” to “why they oversleep” but always in relation to the brain. Referencing the brain means I am not attacking their character. It also gives them ownership of their behavior, the ability to change and how to change. I always see immediate changes in my students, and I am not surprised. I believe they want to be successful not only in my class but for the long term. With these lessons changing their behavior becomes the new long-term goal which puts them back on track. Practicing the changes results in improving as a college student.
Do you think higher education should incorporate mental well-being and self-care into the curriculum?
If you Google “Grit is bad for black students” you will find a variety of articles that contradict my enthusiasm. How do you feel about Grit at the HBCU?

Ted Talks
Angela Duckworth
Carol Dweck
Amy Cuddy
Distracted Mind (Not the documentary but same lecture)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Warm and fuzzy...

Guest Blogger: James Wadley

The faculty panel this past week was very special to many of the folks who attended.  It had been a long time since it felt like our university family "got it" and really tried to listen and understand each person's perspective.  It wasn't so much that during our discussion that everyone maintained the same opinion about the direction that the university should go in or that the faculty shared the same perspective about our history.  What made the afternoon symposium remarkable was that everyone shared without blaming and everyone had a chance to listen and grow in a manner that enabled folks to walk out feeling like, "This is pretty nice."  

I must confess that over the past eight years that I have been a faculty member at Lincoln, there have been a number of occasions that our discussions have felt bogged down in our monthly meetings.  Moreover, some of our email exchanges on the list serve have been nothing short of dysfunctional (if not toxic).  Some of my colleagues have asserted how they they have felt invisible and discouraged over the years.  The faculty panel last Tuesday afternoon was different because not only did the individuals on the panel offer their perspective, but there was time and space allotted for the audience to share their sentiments about the direction of the university.  We definitely owe ourselves a pat on the back for being able to initiate conversations about complex issues AND being able to maintain a sense of openness with others who had opposing ideas.  Can you believe it?  When I walked out of the symposium, I felt pretty warm, fuzzy, and proud about being a faculty member here at Lincoln (Am I allowed to say "warm, fuzzy, and proud" in an academic environment? lol) In any case, it was a really cool experience and I hope that we can have another faculty panel discussion soon that involves a healthy exchange of ideas.     
From the heart,

Questions to ponder:
1.  If you attended the afternoon faculty panel, do you think that we can have this kind of discussion again soon?  If so, what are some items that you would like to address?
2.  If you did not attend the Tuesday afternoon faculty panel, please share one experience that you have had during your time at Lincoln University that you felt warm, fuzzy, and proud to be a faculty member during a department, college, or university meeting.  :-)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Evaluation Evaluation

Guest Blogger: Bill Donohue

Why should students complete course evaluations every semester? Are they even looked at? Are the questions even producing worthwhile information? Both students and faculty members appear to have asked themselves these questions from time to time. The low response rates for the course evaluations the last few semesters have led some to believe that students do not care much for the end-of the semester opportunity to give feedback on their instructors and courses. Others think they care, but don’t feel that their voices are heard. Technical glitches haven’t helped matters.
So what are we to do? Over the last year, the Committee on Assessment and Evaluation has been considering different options. Soon, all faculty will be asked to participate in a survey about the course evaluations, which means that now is a good time to start thinking about what we really want to accomplish with the instructor/course evaluation.
In my research on how to revise the  Instructor/Course Evaluation instrument, I came across this report from the Hanover Research Council. The report addressed some key questions about course evaluations:
  •          Can and should one survey instrument be used for all courses?
  •      What standard questions should be asked?
  •      Should students be required to complete course evaluations?
  •      Who should see the course evaluation results?
  •      Should all courses be evaluated every delivery cycle?
  •      Should evaluations be administered online or in paper format?

      Here are my thoughts on the matter:
Can and should one survey instrument be used for all courses? I have heard enough from faculty who teach lab courses to believe that a separate evaluation is needed from the standard form every course currently uses. The committee would like to develop a lab specific evaluation. Beyond that, we need to decide where we draw the line. A mixed survey that has some standard questions and some course specific questions may be doable and valuable in the age of assessment and learner outcomes.
What standard questions should be asked? Overall evaluation, difficulty of course/workload, teaching effectiveness, perception of volume of learning…
Should students be required to complete course evaluations? No. The major limitation would be the seriousness of the reposes if it is required. I would not want my tenure or promotion decisions to depend on how seriously a student took the evaluation if they were quickly filling it out so they could see their grades.
Who should see the course evaluation results? The faculty person being evaluated, the chair, and whomever the faculty person authorizes, such as PTS. Beyond that, generalized results for the University community would be beneficial. Those results could inform actions, such as CETL workshops, and demonstrate to the students that we take those evaluations seriously.
Should all courses be evaluated every delivery cycle? I don’t see a reason to stop our current practice of evaluating at least every course offered each semester. A question raised in the report is should the courses be evaluated more than once a semester. Facilitation of a mid-semester evaluation would be beneficial. I’ve liked it when I have done that, and some structure might get me to do it more often.
Should evaluations be administered online or in paper format? Online. Especially if we are going to have a mix of standard and custom questions. The major drawback, of course, is participation. But I have had some encouraging conversations about how we can increase our response rate even before we have a conversation about incentives or requirements.
What is your response to one or all of the questions about course evaluations?