Week 7: Everything I learned about inclusivity, I learned from Uncle Sam

This week’s readings on inclusivity in the class room and hidden biases made me think about my time in the Navy. Much like the university setting the Navy brings together people from all walks of life. All races, all genders, all sexualities and all religions were represented in the Navy. From day one we were taking good ol’ boys from Alabama and black kids from Detroit and saying that not only are you going to sleep in the rack above this guy, but you are going shower with him, eat with him, work with him and depend upon him doing his job to keep you alive when things get bad. The situation that these young men and women were put in seemed unlikely to work– people from such different backgrounds obviously couldn’t come together to create a cohesive team, and yet overwhelmingly the Navy has been successful in bringing people together.

I think Uncle Sam has developed some skills which might be applicable in the college classroom.

  1. There is ongoing training that sailors are exposed to on dealing with people from a different background. Whether that is a sailor of a different race gender or sexuality, the Navy gives lots and lots of training about the importance of inclusivity.
  2. There is a clear point to the training and inclusive behavior. Sailors learned that hidden biases or bigoted behavior made them less safe, affected the quality of their work and the work of their shipmates, and created an environment where the Navy couldn’t fully take advantage of everyone’s strengths and talents. Nobody was expected to do participate in these programs just for the sake of doing them.
  3. Finally, I think that sailors were given a new identity that became more important that their backgrounds. We became sailors, we became members of a specific community, we joined a 200 year old fraternity of men and women. I think the esprit de corps that developed, helped people not discount the differences between themselves but realize that the similarities were more important.
The Navy like the University is certainly not perfect and there is a lot of work left to do in creating more inclusive communities. But whether it is giving students more training, letting them know the practical benefits of the training, or creating a Hokie identity that unites all of our students, the lessons created to keep men and women safe at sea can be used to keep our community safe in Blacksburg.

 

Blog Post 5: Ethics and Professionalism

I thought the readings this week were all very interesting and thought provoking. Specifically the UNC scandal involving “paper classes”. Reading the report on how UNC student athletes were put into classes that were academically not sound to boost their GPAs, is such an obvious and egregious example of the types of challenges universities face everyday. Even though Deborah Crowder was the main culprit in this crime, it is pretty clear from the report that she was working within a culture at  UNC that was, if not permissive at a minimum ambivalent, to what was going on. From advisors suggesting these classes to students, to her supervisor, to the students themselves there appears to have been a culture where ethics and professionalism took a back seat to other goals.

It seems unthinkable that a situation like that could occur at Virginia Tech, but when you think of all of the different goals that the school tries to balance, it is not impossible that something like this could happen unless an ethical and professional culture is actively maintained to fight it.

I think that there will always be bad actors in an organization as large as a university; people who willfully choose to act in inappropriate ways. Having these actors, like Deborah Crowder, is impossible to avoid. Having a culture which allows them to continue operating however, is not at all inevitable. It takes proper training and oversight but with the right program we can ensure that incidents like this are caught and corrected.

Discovering my authentic teaching voice

Finding my authentic teaching voice is I think easier said than done. I have had a number of instructor positions in my life. Each one has in some way contributed to my actions and behaviors in the classroom. And yet I do not believe that I have truly found my voice in the classroom yet.

The questions in the reading forced me to rethink how I am in the classroom. Specifically “how can I be genuine, sincere, and fully present in the classroom”? Today I was in the classroom and I had roughly ten minutes of non-stop lecture. I had the thought that I had been rather robotically talking, and I looked at the students and noticed that they were rather robotically taking notes. Without getting to metaphysical, I felt like I wasn’t present in the classroom.

I immediately started to ask the students questions and try to engage them in discourse. The shift in tactics seemed to refocus the class and reengage them. I think that as much as I admired my professors who would give these great lectures, their voice is not mine. I had a Professor Saladino who would lecture for two hours with no powerpoints and no notes and the students would sit spellbound listening. I think that the longer I am in the classroom the more I realize that my real strength lies in facilitating a discussion.

I am excited to see the evolution of this process. As I gain more confidence and experience, I hope that my voice becomes more natural and authentic in the classroom.

Blog Post 4: Tech innovation in higher ed

The prompt this week asks us to look at how higher education is using social media. When researching this subject I noticed a discussion about how higher education is using social media as a way to further monitor students and at time faculty. This is slightly a different spin than most of the other post, but I think it is an important topic for students and faculty.

In Nico Perrino’s article “Universities: where you go to learn – and be monitored”, Universities new ability to “snoop” on student’s e-mails, Facebook and other social media pages. In the enhanced security environment we live and work in these actions by administrators are justified as safe guarding students. But in reality, these actions are often just heavy-handed strategies colleges use to control their public image – at students’ expense.

The article cites incidents of potential over reach by college administrators across the country, including a recent e-mail scandal at Harvard University. It is clear that social media offers students and faculty an excellent way to communicate and enhance the learning experience, as well as strengthen security around our often vulnerable college campuses; but, it is also clear that more discussions are needed on how Universities are using social media to ensure that the rights and privacy of students and faculty are protected.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/22/online-social-media-surveillance-university-campuses

 

 

 

Week 5 prompt: The why and how of imagination

One of the things that we have discussed this semester is the value of unquantifiable learning. Before this class, I just assumed that all the things that fall into that category such as, motivation for life long learning, creativity, and imagination, were just the product of “good teachers”. What I mean is that they were things that you could not formulaically develop in students, they were just fostered in students who just intuitively knew how to do it.

Non-quantifiable learning, like we learned about in class, was the domain of superior teachers. As we delved deeper into these topics I’m not entirely sure this is not true. Maybe it really takes a special person to stir up a students imagination and that is a skill that can not be taught.

What I am sure about at this point is, that we can very formulaically and systematically dampen a students imagination and creativity. The type of factory school that the general public is cycled through appears to have just that effect. Students overwhelmingly have more trouble connecting to the creative and imaginative pieces of their brain after a public education, than before.

While I keep working on trying  to find that elusive magic to inspire the students I teach, I realize that sometimes on the tough days the best I can do is to not diminish the passion that they already have within them.

Open Access Journals

Open access journals can be an important part of connecting the academic world with the rest of society. These connections are important in many fields including my area of study international relations. The journal I found was E-IR ( E- International Relations). They call themselves “the world’s leading open access website for students and scholars of international politics”.

I was familiar with this resource before the assignment. I use it when I’m looking for ideas in international politics or if I need a very basic overview of an issue to refresh my memory. Because it is aimed at reaching students and individuals who may not have a lot of literacy in this discipline, the articles are written simply without the abundance of acronyms often found in IR literature.

The journal is based out of Bristol, UK and is staffed with a largely volunteer staff made up of academics, international relations practitioners, and some students. Dr. Stephen McGlinchey the Editor-in-Chief  of the journal is a senior lecturer  in IR at the University of the West of England, Bristol. The journal writes about current events and politics shaping the world today, but it also includes some articles about IR in general to help readers better understand the events they’re reading about. I think that these articles and open access journals in general, fill an important gap. Too often academic research is just reported to the same small community, they are yelling into an echo chamber. These types or resources can help give relevance and influence to research by connecting it to the general public.

Third Prompt: Assessing the problems with Assessments.

I should confess from the beginning of this post that I am not an engineer. I have never taken an engineering class, I don’t even have any engineers in my family. But when reading Donna Riley’s  paper about engineering assessments I new exactly what she was talking about. She argues “that this immediate crisis in engineering education is the logical result of an outcomes-based approach if what we value is assessable outcomes, then anything that appears difficult to assess (whether or not it is actually difficult to assess) will be devalued, and will ultimately drop off our list of educational goals”. This is certainly true in my field of political science as well.

A study a few years back asked graduates students in the political science department to create a political utopia. They were supposed to be unhindered by any material considerations. This hypothetical exercise was meant was supposed to leverage the creativity and innovative spirit of young scholars. The results were dismal. Not one of them was able to even hypothetically propose a system that differed from the one in which they lived. Their answers instead described minor tweaks in areas like healthcare, welfare programs, and education. This example highlights that overwhelmingly student’s creativity is hindered by something much more foundational. They’re natural problem solving abilities are being crippled by a system which is weighted too much on an “outcome-based approach”. Assessments are changing what we value in the academic world and creating students with a fear of failure. Assessments are an educational tool– a tool that now dictates how we educate students. This is a ludicrous as a hammer that informs the carpenter what he can and cannot build.

Second Prompt: Breaking out of the factory school

Ken Robinson’s video on the state of the US education system was inspiring and terrifying. He takes a cold, hard look at a system where children are diagnosed with mental diseases, when they are actually only suffering from “childhood”. The prognosis for these children is not good. They are the raw material being inserted into a factory system, meant to produce consistent, subdued workers. It is impossible to know the exact motives of the people who designed this system, since it has been a gradual progression over forty years. But if we try to glean the end product from what they’re doing to the raw material, it seems like they are looking for a group of young men and women who can sit at a desk for 8 hours a day, disconnected from their peers or the world around them and not go crazy.

Thinking back to my experience in grade school I realize how poorly I turned out relative to these standards. I certainly went crazy. I was labeled a class clown, a bad student and a troublemaker. The only label I wasn’t given, because it had not become so fashionable, was ADHD. I have no doubt that if I had been 5 or 10 years younger, I would have been heavily medicated because of my behavior.

The greatest irony of this horrible joke, is that I love to learn. I have been a reader and explorer my entire life. There are actually few subjects which don’t interest me, at least a little. I went to college, traveled the world with the Navy, and then came back because I missed the constant ability to learn new ideas that college provides. Luckily, the US grade school system didn’t totally ruin my relationship to education, but I think the students that are being churned out today will have a much tougher time protecting their academic curiosity. It is time for a massive break out of the factory school!

First Blog Prompt: Connected Learning

I am hoping to enter a career in Academia, so the idea of more connected learning is not only an abstract theory, but a practical tool to better educate students. In the readings this week, the author described the need for new models of learning. Models where learning is “powerful, relevant and engaging”. In some ways these three things have always been the hallmarks of effective learning, I think the renewed emphasis on them reflects the challenges instructors face when trying to overcome student’s conditioning to only learning for a standardized test. The “cram and dump” style of learning is really not learning at all (at least not in any classical meaning of the word).

Besides this systemic conditioning of students in grade school, instructors at the college level also have to contend with all the other technological distractions that are bombarding their classrooms. Students in my class, with only their smart phones, have access to almost all of the media, knowledge and online social networks in the world. That is pretty stiff competition to fight for their attention and focus.

Connected learning really resonated with me as a way that I could leverage this enormous technical ability to overcome the disconnectedness in the classroom. It is a way to connect students to “academics, a learner’s interest, inspiring mentors and peers”.

I recently changed my first written assignment from an essay on the material to a policy paper that will be sent to the student’s representative. This is a direct result of trying to connect the material we’re learning about to the real world in which they live. Because this is my first time doing this I’m not sure how it will work, but here’s hoping for a more connected world!

Mission Statements

I remember listening to my more privileged high school friends recount their experiences traveling from college to college during their junior or senior summers.In those days the only real way to investigate universities was to go there; so they would pack into a car and take a road trip. The internet existed at that time, but it was a pretty rudimentary tool. It certainly didn’t have the capacity to adequately inform  a prospective student about campus life, dining options or places to listen to cool bands. A little over a decade later we live in a very different environment. Students are able to pull up in just a few minutes enormous amounts of information about the school, its academics and the places they’re located.

In this environment attracting students has become much more competitive and schools have to spend considerable resources marketing themselves. I looked at the mission statements from two schools in fairly close proximity to Virginia Tech to see how they compared. The first was UVA, whose statement highlighted it’s commitment to academics and a set of “foundational” ideals. This short statement painted a picture of an environment where serious scholarship could take place in a place dedicated to excellence. Next I looked at Radford University’s mission statement. Radford’s statement was written in a more informal tone; besides giving some basic information about degrees, they chose to highlight the athletics at the school.

These mission statements may have highlighted some important differences in both priorities and philosophy between the schools. I think the different statements were also meant to attract different groups of potential students. While UVA may have been aimed at students whose main aim is achieving academic goals, RU may be trying to attract students who are looking for colleges based on academics, as well as sports or career programs.