Friday, October 14, 2016

A Homecoming of the Activist Spirit: Students’ Rallying Cry for Faculty Support

Guest Blogger: Jamila Cupid

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 – Student at Howard University protest to increase awareness of rape culture at the institution, after a female student brought forth rape allegations. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016 – North Carolina students and Michigan State football players raise their fists in protest of the national anthem, following NFL football player Colin Kaepernick’s lead, after the murder of an unarmed Black man in Tulsa, OK. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016 – The Boston University School of Social Work Student Organization led students, faculty, and staff in a rally to support the Black Lives Matter movement.   

Monday, October 10, 2016 – Students at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa staged a massive protest to demand free education
These are only a few examples of the student activism taking place on college campuses this year.  As students seek improvements in their institutions and the society at large, they find their voices and ignite change.  Over the past couple of weeks, at Lincoln University, we have watched our own students take a stand when they staged a sit-in and launched a campaign calling for improved conditions on campus.  The students have repeatedly expressed concern over their academic experience as well as the quality of campus living.  They are insisting on answers from the university’s president and board of trustees.  Customized announcements, such as the one pictured below, have been posted throughout academic buildings and dormitories to inform the entire community of their efforts. 
When I first came across the message on my office door, I noted something rather peculiar in the wording.  Students seemed to anticipate that their faculty would “threaten” their movement.  We are a faculty body at the first degree-granting historically black university.  We come from various eras of activism, from the Civil Rights to Black Power to Black Lives Matter Movements.  Collectively, we understand what it means to demand what we need in order to thrive in our environment.  I could not understand why our students would suspect that we, their educators, would not support them.  So, I held informal chats with a handful of them.  To categorize their responses, they expressed the following:

o   Students believe faculty are on the side of the administration, so it is unlikely faculty will support them.
o   It seems faculty are facing many of the same challenges and feel disempowered.
o   Students believe some faculty strongly support the students, but it’s not enough without the support from the administration and board of trustees.
o   Students feel that most faculty have not addressed any of the academic problems in front of the student body.

These conversations with students raise the questions of how Lincoln University faculty could become more in tune with the resurgence of student activism in our world and, particularly, the current efforts of our students right in our back yard.  I do not doubt that there is support for them among the faculty body, as many of us constantly assess and revise curricula for improvement, implement new programs, fight for more academic resources for student development, call for excellence and more.  Yet, we must hear them when they say that support has not been widely revealed to them.  How do we ensure those who look to us for guidance know we are here for them in their plight?  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lincoln Excellence Returns

A while back I posed the question “What is Lincoln Excellence?” and encouraged you, dear readers, to chime in by taking a survey that asked “How do you practice excellence in your classroom? Give an example of a practice or teaching technique that you feel promotes excellence in teaching and learning.  I promised to share the answers, so here I go:
Seven people answered the question and there were a few common themes:
  •  Emphasize problem solving and teach students how to think, not what to think
  •  Combine some lecture or theory with group work that allows student to solve problems and discuss issues in groups
  • Know the students and respect their opinions – teach students how to respect each other’s opinions
  • Draw on same reading material and sources that are used at other reputable universities.
  • Focus on learning and application rather than route memorization
  • Push students to develop and grow by continually questioning everything
  • Begin on time, use lessons plans to follow a well-developed syllabus, return assignments promptly 
According to the above list, we are absolutely amazing! I would send my child to a school that advertised the above as their goals for teaching and learning.
In the above list, there is one point that jumps out at me the most: Focus on learning and application rather than route memorization. This intrigues me, not only because I think it is extremely important – and probably the underlying reason why I use a lot of problem solving and discussion in all my classes, but because I think it is the most difficult to do well. It is so easy to ask students to memorize facts and then quiz them on those facts. It is much more difficult to come up with good assignments that includes the memorization, but then goes a step further and helps students find meaning in the memorized facts through real world application that helps them expand their learning and hopefully encourages them to become life-long learners. I would love to hear if anybody out there has figured out how to do this well! 
What is your greatest challenge in achieving teaching and learning excellence?
If you intended to reply to the survey three weeks ago, but let it slip too far down into the abyss of your inbox or to-do list, here is another opportunity:
If you prefer to share directly in this blog, please go ahead and add your thoughts on Lincoln Excellence below.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Teaching unplugged

During my lunch date with the latest issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday, an article titled “Why all humanists should go to prison” caught my attention. The author, Alex Tipei, describes how teaching at a women’s prison in Indiana has made her question if the high-tech model of higher education that incorporates social media, PowerPoints, YouTube, Google Maps etc. into nearly every class has trapped us in a technology driven, money spending, training intense model of education that has lost the essence of good teaching and learning somewhere along the way. She writes:
“At the prison, however, technology-driven pedagogy wasn’t an option. I had to eliminate the technologies I already relied on, rather than introduce new ones. I began to question why I had used specific tools in the first place. Had I depended on lecture slides to help my students follow along? Or were they there to keep me on point? Did videos add to the course content or simply fill up discussion time? If they did augment the material, were there other ways to arrive at the same place — means that refrained from directing everyone’s attention to a screen rather than to one another?”
Do you know why you use certain classroom technologies? Sometimes I feel like the PowerPoint slides that I recycle from year to year with a few updates here and there are a crutch for both me and the students – I use them to keep the lecture on track and students know that all the most important information that will be on the test can be found in those slides. Does my reliance on this simple tool prevent me from developing more interesting, interactive, engaging, and thought provoking discussion tools for the classroom? Maybe I would be a better teacher if I chose to unplug every now and then and instead tried to focus my energy and prep time to be ready to facilitate classroom discussions that encouraged participation by all students. 
What would it look like if all the money we spend on technology and training for how to use that technology was instead spent on true faculty development that helped us become outstanding teachers that could teach anywhere - unplugged or connected to the world?

What does your teaching look like? Is it unplugged or do you rely on technology in the classroom? What are the advantages and disadvantages of either approach?