Residential College Spotlight

What is it?

                A collegiate residential environment in which live in faculty play an integral role in the programming and leadership of the community – Residential College Society

At VT

The mission for residential colleges at VT is to give students a place to belong, learn and give. This is embodied in the philosophy of VT residential colleges “know and be known.” While VT has 3 active residential programs and one more in development, they aren’t well advertised especially for students that enter the community in a non-traditional manner (transfer undergraduate students, non-traditional undergraduate students, or graduate students). I only recently discovered this on campus from an article in the Fall 2019 Virginia Tech Magazine which highlighted the Honors Residential College.

Residential colleges are an old model for university educations, where students live with or near their professors in order to learn from them and to aid professors. Residential colleges provide places for students to live and learn together but are different from “living learning programs” because in residential programs faculty leaders live with students and are responsible for cultivating the community through programs and or scholarly activities.

At VT residential colleges serve multigenerational communities, students at different years in their enrollment at VT. Incoming members of a residential college will sign a 2-year housing contract to give students a sense of roots in the university and helps to develop community. Oftentimes students that have stayed in the community longer serve as mentors to the new students. In addition to older students and the faculty principal, a student life coordinator is attached to the community to help with the community development and management as the university student affairs liaison. In residential colleges with strong scholarly components other faculty at the university can join the community as associated faculty members. These members can deliver guest lectures or host special activities for the community. Other residential programs offer certificates or minors for students to pursue to give students something tangible to show on their resumes or transcripts from their membership in the community.

VT has 3 established residential colleges:

  1. Honors Residential Commons – East Ambler Johnston Hall: serves students in the honors college
  2. The Residential College at West Ambler Johnston Hall: invites students of all academic programs to be together, not the same.
  3. Leadership and Social Change Residential College – O’Shaughnessy Hall: a 2-year academic program leadership studies and development program with 2 required courses; collaborating with the CALS department of agricultural, leadership, and community education

& 1 in development:

  1. The Creativity and Innovation district to be built on the Eastern edge of campus to be affiliated the Studio 72 and Innovate programs on VT’s campus.

What does it mean to be a faculty principal?

Faculty principals are responsible for coordinating educational and social programs to facilitate the development of the individual community. This role requires a principal to have a vision for the community, to build relationships with the members of the community as individuals and as part of the group. Furthermore, faculty principals will have a unique role in students lives as a mentor and advisor. So, what does this entail exactly? Since VT is developing a 4th residential college, they have a job posting for a new faculty principal that consolidates the information for prospective faculty.

  • Responsibilities: Live in the apartment with your family (pets allowed) for 12 months, encourage create of community, stimulate other faculty involvement, lead and work with the community leadership team, Host regular activities, lectures, informal gatherings with residents, participate in recruitment and admissions of new students
  • Benefits: 9 month appointment for 3 years (renewable once), $9,000 administrative stipend ($3,000 with negotiated 3 months of summer work), furnished apartment and partial meal allowance- expectation that meals allowance with be used to facilitate responsibilities, Ability to negotiate a one-course reduction in teaching load, annual programming budget provided
  • Qualifications: Tenured or Tenure-Track faculty member at VT

This still leaves me with the question of how would involvement as a faculty principal impact research productivity? I hate to say this, but it doesn’t seem very feasible for a STEM experimental scientist (mentoring graduate students) to serve as a faculty principal as they would be tied up significantly with community activities.  I also wonder if the faculty principal role could be expanded to include academic tract faculty. I don’t see why an academic faculty member should be excluded from this potential role.

My experiences

During my undergraduate program I was involved with residence education by working as a residential assistant at Michigan State University and during my freshman year I lived in a living learning community. Being a part of a living learning community was a wonderful experience for me I was able to live with people who had common interests, we also registered for most of the same sections in general education classes so we were able to spend a lot of time with each other. The program also had a seminar course every week that all participants were in and the RAs and professors created weekly events to further foster a sense of community. For me this program was essential for my success at college and while ultimately my interests diverged with the program causing me to leave the community but I am forever grateful for the program and am looking for a way to give back to such a program in the future.

My experience with residential life changed once I became a RA because I was involved in the not so fun part. For me I excelled at maintaining security and structure in the building, I struggled with the planning events and activities. I realized that the reason I flourished in the living learning community was because of the common interest or the learning component of the program. I wasn’t able to replicate that in my own RA experience because I couldn’t find a way to connect all my residents. Considering my past interest and understanding my personal life currently, I wouldn’t feel comfortable serving as a Faculty principal in a residential college. I would love to be involved in a residential program or living learning community as an associate faculty (as its known at VT) because I am so grateful for my own experience.

References

Residential College Society. (n.d.). Definition. Retrieved from https://residentialcollegesociety.org/definition/

Residential Colleges at Virginia Tech. Retrieved from https://llc.vt.edu/residential_colleges.html

Barlow, M. (2019). Living, Learning, and Loving It. Virginia Tech Magazine Fall 2019. Vol 42, No 1. p:42-46

Augmented Reality for Animal Science Laboratory Classes

In the age of online teaching as  a result of COVID-19 integrating technology into the classroom has been a hot topic for consideration. I work with the introductory laboratory class in the APSC department at VT and have been thinking about ways to give students a realistic learning experience online. I have settled on the opinion that we can’t achieve our main learning outcome

for students demonstrate the ability to safely work around livestock

while teaching solely online. I feel that safety around livestock requires students to physically interact with the animals and a recreation in virtual reality would not be able to substitute.

However, I do feel that as professors at a university we should integrate technology into our teaching as we are preparing students to enter the agricultural industries that are embracing technology at breakneck speed. Looking ahead to the day that I am teaching my own laboratory courses ( a dream of mine), I have contemplated how I could integrate new technology into the classroom. I have been intrigued by augmented reality ( for those not sure what AR is check out the infographic borrowed from EdTechReview [1] below). I would like to integrate AR into the laboratory by designing environmental pop ups while touring farms (both on campus and off), and working in wet labs (doing dissections, practicing injections or working with feed ingredients for example).  I foresee these working through smart phone apps and maybe someday including a wearable technology such as Google Glass. I think this would allow me to let students work in a more hands off and exploratory way during the class which most closely aligns with my teaching philosophy for laboratory classes/units. The goal is that students take ownership over their time in the lab and work at their own pace exploring the available materials to achieve the learning objectives. I see AR as helping to achieve this goal by giving students extra input while interacting with the supplied lab material and hopefully inspiring curiosity in students. I do worry that including AR in laboratories would distract students by allowing their phones out but one goal I have for all of my classes is to prepare students in workplace competencies such as figuring out how to work in the face of distractions (such as the cell phone).  I also need to work out if including AR puts students safety at risk- this is always a concern when working around animals and allowing distractions is a further concern.

I haven’t heard of many professors integrating AR into many classes especially laboratories but it is fairly new and still quite expensive [2]. I do see effort expended to integrating virtual reality (such as through headsets) in higher ed frequently discussed. For example VT has a virtual reality program with the library. I think that virtual reality is a cool technology especially for laboratories but I don’t see it being feasible on farm which is how I would prefer to teach animal science laboratories. I would like to use virtual reality in place of real world experiences if I was unable to bring students to a location such as a commercial farm or a place that could pose  health hazard to students or if a location is physically inaccessible to my students.

Does anyone have experience working with AR and any insights to share? What do you think of my idea?

  1. Editorial Team EdTechReview. (2017, July 4). Augmented and Virtual Reality Are Revolutionizing Education and Student Learning. Retrieved from  https://edtechreview.in/data-statistics/2844-augmented-virtual-reality-education-classroom-learning
  2.    Roll, N. (2017, July 12). More Than Just Cool? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/07/12/vr-and-ar-more-just-cool

10 Simple Rules for surviving grad school during COVID-19

In an attempt at humor in this stressful time I have decided to take a stab at the PLOS Computational Biology “10 simple rules” for this blog. The 10 simple rules collection was started in 2005 with the article “10 simple rules for getting published”[1]. Since then it has grown to a Quick Tips section in the journal and has covered many topics relevant to academics in all career stages. I have found the collection to be a valuable starting place for seeking advice on most aspects of graduate school and academia: writing, presenting, job applications, grant applications, designing research projects, etc. I highly  recommend many of these articles to anyone who comes to me for advice or to talk about graduate school life. With that being said here is my 10 simple rules for surviving grad school during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.

  1. Bourne PE, Lewitter F, Markel S, Papin JA (2018) One thousand simple rules. PLoS Comput Biol 14(12): e1006670. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006670

Rule 1 Wash your hands

Why soap works against the coronavirus from coolguides

Really the infographic says it all but remember that CDC guidelines recommend washing your hands for 20 seconds before rinsing them off with water. You should wash your hands much more often than normal in times of viral disease circulation.

Rule 2 Check your webcam and microphone status before any virtual meetings

In general double checking your technology before presenting live is always a good habit. If you are helping coordinate a class online you have my well wishes, be patient it will all work out eventually (or it will be over and forgotten).

Rule 3 Practice social distancing

Don’t go out to eat or drink in public. VT has cancelled most public events and recent guidance from the CDC has suggested avoiding crowds of more than 50 people. The goal of social distancing is to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our medical infrastructure from being overwhelmed.

Rule 4 Check out academic social media – for solidarity and a laugh

During this time it is very easy to feel overly isolated from your colleagues. As easy as it is for me to say that I miss you and that you are definitely missed, it is understandable to feel like you are alone and far removed from the academic community (even if you are still on campus). I like @AcadmicsSay because their posts are by real academics about normal life and are really relatable and fun. The point of the exercise is not to follow academic social media but instead to find a way to reengage with the community that has been altered in recent days.

Rule 5 Find out what this means for your specific situation

The past few days has been crazy with regards to the many surprising changes at the university, state, and federal level. Since the situation is still developing changes are guaranteed. Follow VT’s COVID-19 page for updates related to VT and have an open conversation with your faculty advisor about what their exceptions are for you. Make sure you understand what is being asked of you and that you are comfortable with all of the expectations.

Rule 6 Stay hydrated and well rested

All of the change and uncertainty creates an environment ripe for stress and anxiety. Stress can impair your immune function and make you more susceptible to disease. To counter the effects of stress make sure you are sleeping enough (8 hours a night is recommended by experts) and staying hydrated (typically drinking at least 64 oz ~1.9 liters). If you are able spend some time outside relaxing or taking walks. Fresh air and sunlight can improve your mood, reduce stress levels, and staying active can boost your immune system. Basically take time for yourself during this period.

Rule 7 Keep writing

While taking time for yourself also remember to get your work done. Most programs require some form of writing for completion of your degree program. Writing is an excellent activity for academics practicing social distancing during a pandemic. If you are in need of something to write feel free to reach out to me to help with my writing list.

Rule 8 Don’t hoard supplies

The news has been full of stories of shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and cleaning agents. Most of these shortages are a direct result of panic buying and have resulted in some people- typically vulnerable populations- not being able to get needed household items. In keeping with the mindset that We are All Hokies  we should remember that We are All Humans and act in the best interest of the community not ourselves.

Rule 9 Don’t touch your face

Again going back to protecting yourself, remember to wash your hands and don’t touch your face (eyes, nose, mouth). Your face is the main entrance site for this virus to get into your body. If you are washing your hands often the risk of accidentally catching the virus by touching your face is minimized but still try not to do it.

Rule 10 Remember this isn’t going to be forever

As unsettling a time as it currently is eventually our lives will return to normal. Remember to take care of yourself and to teat everyone as you want to be treated. If we all remember that the crisis should blow over sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

This is not designed to be a comprehensive guide but to promote a sense of solidarity among graduate students, especially at VT. I hope you got a chuckle out of this at least.  Stay healthy everyone!

 

Expanding student access to CHEP at VT

This week I attended the 12th annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy (CHEP) put on by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at VT. I am very appreciative to have had the opportunity to attend the conference- as my registration was arranged and paid by the graduate teaching scholars program that I am involved in. This conference gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with faculty members of other institutions that shared a common interest- higher education teaching. It was also notable to me that most of the attendees were faculty with primarily teaching roles and many from non-research institutions. I have only ever attended land grant research institutions, so this was a valuable opportunity for me. Additionally, this was the conference I have attended that was outside my discipline.

I am privileged to get the opportunity to attend this conference because 1) I was made aware of this conference and 2) my $50 registration fee was covered. I noticed that the only other students I met (who weren’t presenting at the conference) were those in my program. I worry that this conference is missing out on having students attend and giving them opportunities to attend. I think developing a student-oriented activity or session would enhance the conference. They could invite graduate students involved in higher education programs at VT (such as the GTS program I’m involved in, those enrolled in the future professoriate certificate programs, the Engineering Ed department, and programs in the school of education) and other Virginia universities. To enable more students to attend I would ask that the conference lowers the registration price for students- by targeting more students and creating programing for them specifically I think you would be able to offset the cost of lowering registration. If the conference is still concerned, they could make one of the student activities at a separate lunch time activity and offer a simpler lunch (like pizza or sandwiches)- I’m guessing here that the nice buffet lunch was one of the largest expense to justify the registration cost. I would love to see the conference add a networking & careers program for students because there is so much that a graduate student misses in learning about careers in higher education while siloed at their own institution. Also providing graduate students a place to interact with peers that share a common interest in higher education is an invaluable experience.

Altogether I appreciate the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at VT for putting on the annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy and am hoping to continue attending in the future- even though I have ideas for expansion.

-SE