Outdoor Classrooms

I love being outdoors. I spend as much time outdoors as I possibly can; some of you may have even noticed from our Zoom class sessions that I tend to be outdoors more often than not even during those meetings (no, those are not Zoom backgrounds). Generally, if I can be outdoors, I am. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I have always been interested in the idea of holding classes outdoors. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “To the sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air and scenery.” In light of what has happened in the world with COVID-19 this year, I think this quote takes on new meaning.

When I began thinking about this idea for a blog post, I did a quick search hoping to find an article or two discussing the benefits of having outdoor classes. I know that I learn better, pay attention better, and generally feel better outdoors, and I am sure I am not alone. However, instead, I came across an article written by Tracey Birdwell and Tripp Harris, both from Indiana State University, entitled “Outdoor classes hold promise for in-person learning amid COVID-19”. A link to the article can be found here. This was very interesting to me because it is something I had thought about when this situation first presented itself. However, I never gave the idea much credit. In my field of study (Forestry) I am sure there would be many people interested in the idea of outdoor classes. We already have labs outdoors in many of the classes, and students seem to be more engaged in those labs than they are in the indoor lectures. However, this is in a field about the outdoors. I assumed that the majority of people in other fields of study would not care for outdoor classes, at least long-term. However, this article seems to suggest different.

This article points out that while most colleges are focused on either in-person, online, or hybrid classes this fall, that outdoor classes pose a fourth option that is being widely overlooked. There are a few colleges, however, that are giving outdoor classes a go. Rice University in Houston, Texas has added five open-air tents and four temporary buildings for in-person outdoor classes this year. The tents can accommodate classes of 25-30 while the temporary buildings can accommodate classes of up to 50. These tents and buildings have been connected to electricity to support heating, cooling, lighting, and the use of electronics. While they have been constructed for use during the current pandemic, the university plans to use the spaces in the future as well. Similarly, Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts purchased and set up 20 tents for outdoor classes, hoping to have a near-normal fall semester at their small college. Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida encouraged outdoor instruction this fall, creating a map and reservation system for all available outdoor spaces with Wi-Fi access and appropriate shade and wind conditions. Other colleges and universities, including Claremont McKenna College and Arizona State University, have encouraged outdoor meetings and instruction when weather permits, adding outdoor infrastructure to accommodate.

As the article points out, several studies support that being outside helps students learn, and also suggest that there are positive associations between memory function and the emotions students experience while outside. Additionally, the article states that students’ mental health may benefit from more time outdoors. This is especially relevant during these times of COVID. I have always felt that I would enjoy making an effort in the future to host some of my classes outdoors. I believe it would be a nice change for both students and teachers. However, I recognize that there are often logistical issues, such as lack of infrastructure, weather constraints, large class sizes, etc. While these are real constraints, I think the benefits would be well worth the resources spent investigating outdoor instruction. It will be interesting to see the results from colleges like the ones mentioned above that have invested in outdoor instruction during this pandemic. I believe they might provide useful insights into the benefits and logistics of increased outdoor instruction in the future.

Birdwell, T., & Harris, T. (2020, August 21). Outdoor classes hold promise for in-person learning amid COVID-19. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/outdoor-classes-hold-promise-for-in-person-learning-amid-covid-19-144536

Blog Post 5: Is the “Banking” Model of Education All Bad?

For this blog post, I read about Paulo Freire’s “Banking” concept. This is basically where students are viewed as receptacles that teachers fill with knowledge. The students are expected to listen to the teacher and absorb all of the information the teacher gives them, and the teacher is expected to “deposit” this information. Freire views this as incorrect and advocates for “Problem-Posing Education” where students and teachers think critically about problems and learn together as they work towards solutions.  To me, this is similar to Problem-Based Learning in that the teacher’s role is more to facilitate good conversation and thought on real issues rather than providing the “correct” solutions to the students. While I understand what Freire is going for, I feel that there are certain times where the “Banking” model of education is still necessary.

Freire seems to think that the “Banking” model is all bad, calling for its rejection in entirety. However, there are certain subjects I do not think his “Problem-Posing Education” would work for, or at least not efficiently. Take certain topics in higher level math for example. One could argue that math has been learned throughout history through a large-scale example of “Problem-Posing Education”. The mathematical concepts we know today were learned as a result of countless people’s problem solving throughout history. Mathematicians worked at figuring out these concepts through trial and error, and other mathematicians built on their work, and so on throughout history to get to where we are today. This discovery essentially is “Problem-Posing Education”, just at a large scale. So, obviously people can learn mathematics this way. However, it took years upon years and the efforts of many different people to develop those mathematical principles. If we were to try to teach mathematics to everyone solely through problem-posing trial and error approaches, no one would ever learn higher level maths, because everyone would have to figure out all of these complicated subjects over and over again for themselves.

While this is an extreme and simplistic example, it is nonetheless true. There are certain subjects that have correct solutions that have been learned from others, and the best way to learn those fundamentals is basically by using the Banking model. Teaching students the basics through this form of teaching allows them to benefit from the trial and error of countless people before them, so they can “get up to speed” in an efficient manner. This then allows them to use problem-posing approaches to explore subjects that are less concrete or known. This is how our current state of knowledge was developed, not from everyone starting from scratch every time.

Thus, I think this distinction needs to be made when applying these concepts to our teaching. Using Forestry as an example since that is my field, if I were to teach an introductory course to field measurements, I would not lead students out into the woods, tell them we need to know the diameter and height of all the trees on the tract, and leave them to figure out for themselves how to do that. Sure, they could figure out ways of doing it eventually. Someone could climb each tree and drop a tape down from the top, hopefully not falling out and getting killed in the process. Someone else may decide the best way to measure the diameters of the trees would be to cut them all down, then measure the bases of the trees. Someone else might put two and two together and realize they could measure both the diameter and the height easier with the trees on the ground. But obviously, this is not the most efficient or practical way of learning these concepts. Rather, the best way for them to learn would be for me to teach them how to use a diameter tape and clinometer to measure and calculate the diameter and height of the trees (with them still standing), allowing them to learn the process and complete the inventory in all of an hour or so.

If I were teaching a graduate level forest management class, however, the students may be better served by employing more of a problem-based learning method. For example, instead of lecturing constantly on the “best” management practices in various situations, I could provide examples of different situations they may encounter in the future, and allow them to arrive at the “best” management plan through thoughtful discussion amongst the class. This would allow them to examine the complexities of the situations in depth, and expose them to working with others towards a common goal. In other words, it would teach them to think critically to find innovative and unique solutions to their problems.

Though these examples are simplistic and seem obvious, they help make the point that both methods of teaching are necessary in a student’s education. The fundamentals are best taught through more traditional methods, where the teacher informs the students on what is currently considered to be the best solution for the problem. Without this form of teaching, students would be bogged down in the basics for too long and never get to move on to higher-level material. However, once the students have learned the basics, it is best to use problem-based approaches to allow the students to implement their knowledge, think critically, and come up with new and exciting developments of their own. Without the problem-based learning practices, the students would basically be kept at the same state of knowledge as those before them, and no progress would be made. Thus, a mix of both approaches is best to provide a complete education to students in the most efficient manner possible.

The High Costs of Higher Education

For this blog assignment, we were asked to write about one thing that we believe should change in higher education. For me, the first thing that comes to mind are the outrageously high costs that are typically associated with receiving a traditional higher education. According to an article in Forbes, which can be found here, the average student loan debt is $32, 731 dollars. This is the average debt, not even the average cost. Many people pay different amounts during college that are not reflected in the average debt. Additionally, when one considers the opportunity cost from not working over four years, the costs are even higher.

It is no wonder that people find it difficult to justify going to college given the extreme costs associated. While people who receive a college degree do end up making more money on average than those who do not, they have to get over a large financial hurtle of student loan debt. This debt is also expected to be paid at a very financially difficult time in many people’s lives. Many people who attend a four-year college are basically starting their independent lives as soon as they graduate college. At this time in their lives, they often are making several large purchases, such as cars, houses, furnishings, weddings, costs associated with having children, etc. While this is easier for some than others, and everyone has different situations and associated costs, it would be safe to say that people are spending more money than normal at this stage in their lives. Adding high student loans in on top of all of these other financial obligations can make it extremely difficult on these people who are just starting out.

While I understand that there are different options which can be cheaper, and that these colleges and universities must make money, I feel that there could be several ways of cutting costs for many students. One example of this is the student fees many universities charge every semester. At Virginia Tech, these fees total about $1,300 dollars per semester. However, many of these fees that students pay may have nothing to do with them. For example, every semester, I pay an Athletic Fee, a Health Fee, a Rec Sports Fee, a Student Activity Fee, a Technology Fee, Student Cultural Activities fee, and a Transportation Services fee, all of which, to the best of my knowledge, I have never or have rarely reaped the benefits from. I do not use the gyms on campus, have only been to the on-campus health center once, do not play rec sports, do not participate in student activities, have never used the technology help center, don’t really know what the Student Cultural Activities fee is but I assume it has nothing to do with me, and do not use public transportation (and additionally have to pay $315.00 dollars per year for a parking permit). These fees total $1,115 dollars per semester (or 80% of the total fees that I have to pay in addition to tuition). This comes to $8,920.00 dollars over the four years that I will have been here that I have paid with no perceivable benefit to me. Not to mention the four years at my undergraduate college where I paid similar inapplicable fees.

$8,920.00 dollars (double that if you count undergrad) would go a long ways towards getting me started in life after college, and I am sure it would help other students as well. However, we are forced to hand that money over to the university, even though the fees have nothing to do with us. I believe that this should be changed. If I am paying that much money for something, I need to be receiving some perceivable benefits in return, because I am already paying an extremely high tuition just to be able to attend college (which is another topic for another day). The costs of attending college should be more transparent, and we should only have to pay for the services that are relevant to us. Making students pay these unnecessary outrageous sums just makes it that much more difficult on us during a financially vulnerable stage of our lives.


Friedman, Z. (2020, February 3). Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2020: A Record $1.6 Trillion. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2020/02/03/student-loan-debt-statistics/?sh=622987b1281f

The Trial and Error of Digital Pedagogy- Group Blog Post

This week in Contemporary Pedagogy, we discussed and wrote a group blog post via Zoom and Google Docs. Here is the resulting post.


The Trial and Error of Digital Pedagogy

Group post by Chris Clements, Austin Garren, Jazmin Jurkiewicz, Andrew Knight, Malle Schilling, and Brittany Shaughnessy


What do we mean by digital pedagogy?


Digital pedagogy presents a unique set of issues that one may not think of when first stepping foot in the classroom. Digital pedagogy hosts a myriad of definitions for different people. As with anything, digital pedagogy’s definition is situational–different disciplines could utilize digital pedagogy practices in unique ways. For us, digital pedagogy is where teaching practice and teaching philosophy intersect (Stommel, 2013), and the use of technology enhances the teaching and learning experience in our classrooms. Digital pedagogy can range from the utilization of laptops and phones to interact with a group assignment, or even responding to live polls regarding trivia or course content to engage all learners. It is vital to note the difference between digital pedagogy and online learning. Whereas online learning denotes the environment in which students and instructors interact, digital pedagogy focuses on the tools used to generate interaction and promote learning. It requires instructors to respond in real-time to their students noting engagement, adjusting as needed, and reflecting on what works and why.  


Students are able to shape the online learning experience and pedagogical philosophy by working with the instructor in real time to develop the most engaging and helpful class activities and assignments. Learning on the fly provides students with significant opportunities to give feedback and hopefully participate more in class that is based on their needs and interests. We believe that online pedagogy is constantly evolving to the students just like technology is constantly evolving and changing to the world’s demands. Furthermore, digital pedagogy is flexible and hopefully works toward including all students to have more confidence participating in more unique ways, such as through the chat, anonymous surveys, polls and comfort of being in their home space. If digital pedagogy is made for students to be more involved in class and feel supported, we believe that digital learning can be more interactive and lead to greater student growth!


One important aspect that also needs to be considered when thinking about the different types of technology to incorporate into the classroom is the instructor’s style of teaching. Some forms, such as online games, are meant to be fun for both the students and the teacher. However, some teachers prefer to convey a more serious or informational tone in the classroom. For this type of teacher, trying to conduct a game when they are not completely comfortable with that style of teaching may come across as insincere or even simply boring for everyone involved. Similarly, in some classes, games may not be appropriate for the topic being discussed or a competitive aspect may not encourage all students to participate. With the rapid adjustment to online learning, many instructors had no formal introduction to digital tools and their adaptation to digital pedagogy has been done on an individual basis in addition to changing course material and content to fit the new teaching format.


We have discussed the trial and error aspect of digital pedagogy in the sense that teachers may have been thrust into the digital platform of teaching during this Covid-19 pandemic and have to ‘learn on the fly’ what works for both the teachers and the students. Three of us teach public speaking, with forty students in each section. In March, like every other faculty member in the United States, we had to take a public speaking course and move it online. Granted, this was an easier task than most, as the course was already using a hybrid model, but there was a lot of trial and error involved. Before we had started teaching after “second spring break,” we had a meeting that lasted all afternoon, brainstorming how we could keep students engaged when we were having a tough time engaging ourselves. I’m not sure if we ever found a “best practice” last semester, as it was trying to make the best of the worst possible situation. This semester, it looks like each of us have crafted our own digital pedagogy practices, each providing our own voice and teaching style to the online classroom. 



Stommel, J. (2013). Decoding digital pedagogy pt. 2: (Un)mapping the terrain. Hybrid Pedagogy. https://hybridpedagogy.org/decoding-digital-pedagogy-pt-2-unmapping-the-terrain/

Disruptive Technologies: Online Learning

For this blog post, I decided to read the article “The top 5 disruptive technologies in higher ed” found on eCampus News. A link to the article can be found here. First on that list of disruptive technologies was online learning. Since online learning has become the method of choice during the pandemic, I thought this would be interesting to discuss.

The article points out that online learning allows people who previously were unable to attend classes at colleges or universities to do so. I believe that this is an incredibly important benefit of online education. All throughout high school I was warned that it is better to continue straight into college, because people who “took a break” and/or went into the workforce for a while tended not to go back to school. People graduate high school, get a job, start making a little bit of money, establish roots, start lives, and afterwards either do not want to or cannot go back and get a higher education. Then, several years down the road, they often wish they had went to college, because it can be hard to rise through the ranks of the workforce or develop a meaningful career without a college degree. Online higher education is able to reach these people who previously would have had to put their entire lives on hold to receive an education. The flexibility of online classes allows these people to work their education around their already-established life, and often even continue working. This also allows more people who may have struggled financially to attend college before to do so while still having an income. Online learning also allows people who are in the same type of situation, where they received an associate’s or bachelor’s degree but now realize they need to receive a higher degree, to do so.

Another advantage of online learning is the drastically lower cost. With online learning, similar to an online business vs. a business with physical stores, there are much fewer associated overhead costs. There is no campus that needs to be built or maintained, buildings to be furnished, much less equipment to be bought and maintained, fewer staff members required to keep everything running, etc. This translates to drastically lower costs for the education overall. With the prices of a traditional higher education so high and seemingly continuing to rise, this is a large advantage to students. Not only this, but a hot-button issue lately has been whether student loans should be reduced, forgiven, or whether college should be free of cost all together. Online education may play an important role in the feasibility of any of these options being discussed. While it is probably pretty unrealistic for the US government to send everyone to a four-year university for free, it is easier to envision some degree of financial support for cheaper online alternatives.

Not only is online leaning important in these types of situations, but it is especially important during the current pandemic. It is hard to imagine what would have happened with higher education without the ability for everything to be online. Without this option, colleges and universities would have had to decide between having in-person classes anyway, or canceling classes all together. That would have been an extremely large decision to make, because this pandemic is beginning to look like a multiple-year ordeal. What would these colleges and universities have done? Could they realistically go one or two years without revenue? Alternatively, could they really expect everyone to come to class and risk exposure to a deadly disease? Even if they did expect this, would enough students register to make it worth it? There are endless what-if scenarios one could think through, but one thing is clear: the ability for higher education to move online during this pandemic was a life-saver (no pun intended.)

It is hard to imagine the world today without online learning. Even before the pandemic, online higher education was becoming incredibly popular. Now, with the pandemic, the increased need for a degree to remain competitive in the workforce, the high costs of an in-person education, and countless other reasons, online education is more popular than ever before, and likely is the way of the future. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important that higher education adapt to this disruptive technology.

M. Leigh, & Goldrick, Thomas. (2017, June 5). The top 5 disruptive technologies in higher ed. eCampus News. https://www.ecampusnews.com/2017/06/05/disruptive-technologies-higher-ed/

Blog Post 3: Case-Based Pedagogy

For this week’s blog post on case-based pedagogy, I decided to review a case related to my study area to see what this type of pedagogy would look like in Forestry. I found a case on oak clearcutting provided by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. A link to this case can be found here. This was an interesting case and is very typical of some common cases a forestry student may encounter in their real-life future careers.

The case is about a landowner who wants to clearcut 20 acres of white oak trees. The students assume one of six roles: landowners, deer control specialists, local tree farmers, loggers/forest products specialists, state foresters, and state soil conservation specialists. The six roles represent a few typical stakeholders in an issue such as this. The landowners present their side of the story, then a debate follows in which the other stakeholders attempt to convince them of the best forest management practice for the tract. Each role has a differing agenda, and through the debate, common aspects of the issue are discussed. At the end, a decision is made on whether or not the timber will be clearcut, and an explanation is developed defending that position.

Being in forestry, this case is intriguing to me because I could see forestry students assuming these roles, or any number of other roles that are similar to these, in their future careers. These are the types of problems we will be facing every day, and we will need to know how to handle them. I believe that an exercise such as this one would be an excellent way of teaching the students how to develop and defend their positions on an issue like this. However, I think this method of teaching should not be used exclusively.

The big problem that I can see with exclusively using case-based pedagogy, especially in a field such as forestry, is that some important issues or pieces of information may not be discussed or learned adequately. Using this case as an example, what if the students already had a negative opinion of clearcutting when they entered the class? True, some would have to play devil’s advocate and defend the position of the “pro-clearcutters”, but they may not do so effectively or passionately since they already have a pre-formed negative opinion. Because this side was poorly defended, the class may decide that clearcutting is bad, period, and move on. However, clearcuts are actually the best option in many scenarios. Performed correctly, clearcuts are a valid, sustainable, scientific silvicultural system that have many benefits, both to landowners and industry professionals as well as environmentalists and others.

Because of this, especially in a field like forestry, I think it is important to have some “traditional” classes, such as silviculture, forest ecology, forest management, forest harvesting, etc. where all aspects of the issues are presented objectively before students choose sides and defend their positions. Current research and all relevant information should be presented, and the students should become familiar with all sides of the issues, regardless of their initial opinions. Then, after they have learned the facts, I think an exercise such as this one would be very useful. I also believe that presenting the information beforehand as described above would facilitate a better and more informational debate than the students having no prior knowledge of the issue.

I believe that together, these two pedagogical methods would make for a very good way of students learning about forestry. Both methods have their disadvantages, and employing both in a forestry class may be the best way of teaching the students both the foundational knowledge they need to have, as well as how to deal with these types of situations in their future careers. This idea is one that excites me, and one I will explore further in my future teaching career.


Davis, Thomas A. (2006, February 19). Oak Clearcutting: To Cut or Not to Cut. National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. https://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/collection/detail.html?case_id=463&id=463

Blog Post 3: Open Access Journals

For this blog post I chose to focus on the Journal Forests.  A link to the homepage can be found here. This is the journal that published my master’s paper on tethered (cable-assisted) logging in Brazil. A link to that journal article can be found here. Forests is a peer-reviewed open access journal for forestry-related research. It is among a wide range of journals under the umbrella of MDPI, who claims to be a pioneer in scholarly open access publishing. The editorial office for this journal is in Switzerland. Since the journal is open access, the articles are free to readers. The authors or their institutions pay article processing charges to publish their articles in this journal.

Forests‘ aim is to “encourage scientists to publish their experimental and theoretical research in as much detail as possible.” They do this by having no length restrictions on the articles. In addition, the journal encourages authors to provide “supplementary material” which includes things such as data sets, pictures, figures, and other files. All of this is to provide as much detail on the research as possible to the readers. They also pride themselves on their high visibility and rapid publication rate. The median time from receipt to peer review and first decision is 15.2 days, and the median time from acceptance till publication is 2.6 days. The scope of the journal encompasses a wide range of aspects of forestry and forest ecology, such as forest management, silviculture, entomology and pathology, genetics, forest engineering, environmental impacts, economics, etc.

The website for Forests doesn’t say a whole lot about their status as open access. However, the parent website for MDPI has a page explaining open access journals and their advantages. They define open access as being free to use/access, immediately released, and that the material can be re-used without obtaining permission as long as the material is cited. Some advantages of open-access journals listed are high availability and visibility of research, more resulting citations, lower publishing costs, and faster publication. They say “open access publishing fosters the exchange of research results amongst scientists from different disciplines, thus facilitating interdisciplinary research. Open access publishing also provides access to research results to researchers worldwide, including those from developing countries, and to an interested general public. Although MDPI publishes all of its journals under the open access model, we believe that open access is an enriching part of the scholarly communication process that can and should co-exist with other forms of communication and publication, such as society-based publishing and conferencing activities.”

These statements about open-access journals make sense to me. We conduct research to further knowledge on various topics. This research is supposed to build on research conducted by others, and is supposed to benefit society as a whole. However, if journals limit access to the research, it can hinder these efforts. I also see the value in providing access to research for “researchers worldwide, including those from developing countries”. Forests are a natural resource, and natural resources tend to be abused in developing countries. Countries need industry and resources to grow, and they need to be able to use their natural resources. Open access research allows researchers in these developing countries to see the most current research, which may allow them to use the resources in a more sustainable and efficient way. This in turn helps the rest of the world. If access to this research is limited, then people in developing countries may have to resort to less-than-ideal management and use. MDPI seems to recognize that there is a place for both types of journals, and they seem to fill their role as an open access publisher well.

MDPI. (2020, October 12). Forests — Open Access Journal. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/journal/forests

MDPI. (2020, October 12). MDPI Open Access Information and Policy. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/openaccess

Blog Post 2: On the Topic of Generalizations

As I have read through readings and blog posts for this class, other classes, perused news articles and listened to conversations and debates recently, one thing has stood out to me. Everyone, whether by choice or involuntarily, is placed into groups by people from all sides. These groups are based on a vast number of different things, including, but definitely not limited to, religion, race, gender, social status, region, ideals, etc. This holds true in the reading “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. While I have a few other problems with some of the ideas presented in this paper, I believe that a much broader and pervasive problem, and one that must be dealt with first, is the widespread tendency for people to make generalizations about groups of people. This is a huge topic, and one blog post inherently will not be able to provide the depth necessary to thoroughly discuss it. However, I believe this topic is extremely relevant to the times; therefore, I want to just express one or two main points that I believe need to be discussed.

As I said, there are all kinds of groups. Much of the time people choose to identify with these groups because they are proud of the group, agree with what it stands for, are born into it, etc. For example, I was born in Appalachia, am proud to be from there and am proud to be considered “Appalachian”. People identify with groups because they share some of the same opinions, ideals, it creates a sense of community, and/or they feel part of something. Unless the group as a whole stands for or is founded on something bad, there is nothing wrong with this; it is human nature. Some of the main problems we face arise when:

  1. Generalizations are made about groups.
  2. People are forced into groups for the purpose of making generalizations about that group.


Every person within a group has a unique identity and are different in many ways from others within that group. The fact that I identify as Appalachian does not make me the exact same as every other Appalachian person there is. We may vary wildly on almost every topic out there. Our single connection may be just that we are from the same region. So our Appalachian identity means one thing only: that we are from Appalachia. However, there are many common generalizations that people like to apply to people from Appalachia such as political views, education, religion, status, and so on. There is also a saying “there are a few bad apples in every bunch.” Groups as a whole should not be held accountable for the actions of a few, because, as I said, many members of the group may have nothing else in common with others in the group except that one characteristic. Generalizations such as these are made with all groups, and these generalizations are often harmful to people within those groups, because everyone within the group is different. There is no possible way someone can accurately claim to know my political views, religion, social status, level of education, etc. just from knowing that I am from Appalachia.

Forcing People Into Groups for the Purpose of Making Generalizations

When people are forced into groups, especially broad groups, it adds to the original problems. By labeling someone as a group, you are making a generalization about them based off of your perception. You may have no idea who that person actually is, but by making that one generalization about them, you are then able to apply a wide variety of other generalizations to them, regardless of whether or not any of them are true. This is a problem because the identifying characteristic that you picked out may not be true, may not be important to the individual, or may even be something the individual tries to distance themselves from because they are aware of the negative generalizations associated with that characteristic. In this case, you have not even given the person the chance to establish their identity; you have established it for them. Then you have continued to stack other generalizations onto this false foundation.

While all of this may seem very basic, it still happens all the time, and in all different types of settings. Using the reading mentioned above as an example, the authors mention numerous groups of people, including white, people of color, men, women, gender normative, transgender, target and agent groups, dominant groups, etc. They also imply basically two levels of privilege based off of those broad groups, which would be privileged vs. not. However, as I said, people within each group are vastly different. While some believe certain groups carry certain types and levels of privilege, that is still only one aspect of who they are, and there is no quantitative value assigned to that “privilege.” For example, some may assume that since I am white, I have “privilege” associated with that. However, I was raised on a small farm in Appalachia. I have had to work hard since I was old enough to walk for everything that I got, and my family has always had to do the same. I would not consider myself to be “privileged” when compared with a white person raised in a 10 million dollar mansion. However, because I am white, I am generalized as having the same “privilege” as them. I am not saying that I have no level of privilege. I understand that there are many people less fortunate than me. What I am saying is that there are all kinds and levels of “privilege”, and I would argue that everyone has a certain amount of privilege, no matter what group they identify with or are classified as by others.

This is just one example of how generalizations against any group of people are wrong. Speaking personally about my example, it is very disheartening for me, someone who was raised on a small farm in Appalachia, worked for everything I ever got, wasn’t even going to go to college, then worked through college to eventually be here earning my PhD, to be told that I am where I am today because of my privilege. They have summed up everything about me and everything I have worked hard for into one generalization. As I said, these types of generalizations are made about all groups of people. I don’t know exactly why, it seems that it is just something humans tend to do. However, the solution doesn’t involve making more generalizations about, as the article puts it, the “agent” or “dominant” groups. I believe that until we stop making generalizations of all kinds about groups of people and start focusing on people as individuals, we will never overcome the problems we are facing today, both in our society as well as our classrooms.

Austin Garren

Ethics Blog Post: Case Summary From Texas Tech University Health Science Center

For this blog post, I decided to discuss a case summary from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of research misconduct that happened at Texas Tech University Health Science Center. The case summary can be found here. In short, Rahul Dev Jayant, Ph.D., who was an Assistant Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, intentionally plagiarized, falsified, and/or fabricated several images, graphs, figures, and data that were used in several grant applications. As a result of this, Dr. Jayant entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement where his research will have to be supervised by a committee of 2-3 senior faculty members familiar with his field. This supervision includes reviewing data, preparing reports, reviewing grant applications and manuscripts, etc. The institution employing him will also have to submit certifications to ORI for basically anything he does saying that it is legitimate. Finally, he is not allowed to serve in any advisory capacity to the Public Health Service. All of this is required for a period of three years. These case summaries only provide what happened and what was done about it. They do not provide any background on the reasons why, or what happened after the fact. I skimmed through a few other summaries, and they are all the same.

This makes me curious about several things. First, why would an assistant professor, someone who has done research presumably for several years, plagiarize images and graphs intentionally? I feel as though that is something that would be relatively easy to check out, especially for someone with knowledge of the current research in that field. The consequences seem pretty severe to take that kind of risk. This person likely now is pretty unattractive to employers, and his reputation is stained for the rest of his career. Was it something he considered to be unimportant, and didn’t want to spend time on?

Also, how do they know for sure that he did that all of these things intentionally? I read through the report carefully but could find nothing saying he admitted to doing it intentionally. It just says that he settled, but this could just be because he didn’t want to put in the time or resources to fight the charges. Is it possible, using the plagiarism as an example, that he just accidently left off the citation, or cited it wrong? I don’t know these answers, and I am not saying I think he is innocent. I am just curious how they came to the conclusion that everything was intentional. I assume if someone was really curious, there is a full report available somewhere. However, it would be nice to have a little context from these reports.

Regardless, it demonstrates the high price to be paid for dishonest or even careless actions such as these. Someone’s entire career could be ended because of one case such as this. It highlights how important it is to always provide clean and honest work, even if it takes longer to do. It also highlights how important it is to be diligent when citing other’s work, as carelessness can lead to severe consequences as well. It is, however, nice to see that there is a group watching for things like this, especially in the medical field. With much of the research in the medical field, people’s lives depend on the accuracy and integrity of that research. However, regardless of the consequences, there will always be people who break the rules or are too careless with their work. With a group such as this watching out for cases like those, I feel we can put much more trust in the research findings. After all, that is the purpose of doing the research in the first place.

Austin Garren

Response to “Leave Your Laptops at the Door of My Classroom”

The reading from the New York Times, “Leave Your Laptops at the Door of My Classroom”, was adamantly against allowing students to use laptops during class. I have had professors in the past who feel the same, and have “no electronics” policies. As someone who uses their laptop in class to take notes exclusively, I have many problems with these policies.

I have always had an extreme amount of trouble with two things in school: paying attention in class, and keeping my class-related materials organized. Throughout high school, we were not allowed to have any sort of electronics in class. It was an eternal battle between the teacher and the student; the students would hide their phones behind books, under tables, in hoodies, etc., and the teachers would constantly walk and scan the room to see who they could catch in the act. Then, the teacher would make a big example out of the person they caught with their phone, and class would be held up for several minutes while the teacher took the phone and lectured the class on their “no-electronics” policy and what the consequences were when they caught someone using their phone. From personal observation, this had two effects: it wasted class time,  and it made the students find new and exciting ways to use their phones during class. It did not increase focus or decrease electronics use during class.

Because of these “no electronics” policies, the students were, however, forced to make a choice between handwriting notes, or taking no notes at all. This is where my second problem came in. If I took notes, after class, they would be shoved into the front of my binder or backpack, mixed in with all of my other classes’ notes and materials, and midway through the semester, I had essentially a ream’s worth of notes and handouts in a jumbled stack. Then I would go through it all trying to remember what was important, end up throwing half of what I needed away, and, bottom-line, not have what I needed to study. If I opted instead to not take notes, I would not have a stack of papers to go through, and, bottom-line, I would not have what I needed to study. So, I generally chose this option since the end result was the same. No matter what I tried, whether it was files, fancy binders, dividers, or “focusing really hard on being organized” as teachers and parents would tell me to do, I was hopelessly disorganized with paper.

When I went to college, one thing changed: we were allowed to have laptops in class. At the time, I generally hated computers and had never taken notes using a laptop. However, given the fresh start and new policies, I figured I would give it a try. Slowly, I began to realize how much easier it was for me to be organized on my computer. Suddenly I could find the notes I took during class quickly and use them to study later on, so I started paying attention and taking notes. I could search for things I didn’t know the exact location of. Everything had its place; it was almost magical. After this, I was set. I was a much better student, because I had finally found a system that worked for me. Then, one day, I entered a classroom on the first day of the semester and saw “NO CELL PHONES OR LAPTOPS” written on the whiteboard at the front of the room.

I tried, I really did. For the first few weeks of the semester, I reasoned with myself, saying “filing paper in paper files is no different than putting everything in files on a computer.” However, I became more and more disorganized to the point where I eventually stopped taking notes and stopped paying attention. I had regressed back to my high school self. As I looked around, it seemed others had too. True, the no-laptops policy had gotten students to leave their laptops at home. In place, there were phones behind books, under tables, and in hoodies, and class time was wasted when someone was caught with a phone.

I understand that some get distracted with electronics in classrooms, and that is a problem. I understand the problem well. I used to get distracted all the time for the opposite reason. However, the difference is that I worked until I found a solution for my problem. It is a solution that works well for me and many other students I have known. However, when a teacher makes a “no electronics” policy, it takes away that option for students like me, and hurts our learning potential. Who decided that those other students’ problem was more important than mine?

The truth is, the difference comes down to the level of care and determination the student has to fix their own problems. I had a problem, and I found a solution that worked for me. I cared enough about my education that I put in that work. For a teacher to come along and mandate that I cannot practice my solution because they are trying to force other students to fix theirs, it is problematic for me. As I pointed out before, from personal experience, these policies do not effect most people who just don’t care to begin with. It just forces them to be sneakier.

I think a big contributing problem is the “this is the way it has always been done” mentality. Many teachers believe that since they didn’t take notes on laptops when they were in school, and they found ways to deal with it, that we should too. However, it is 2020, and electronics are not going away. And while I do believe hard work, care, and determination from the students is required to overcome their own problems, the solution(s) to the problem do not involve forcing all students to remain in the previous century. The solution(s) involve finding ways to help students care more about the subject matter and their education. Regardless of policies, students are always going to be distracted by electronics. The choice teachers have to make is whether they will allow the students that put in the work to solve their own problems to succeed, or force them to remain in mediocrity.