• putting it all together

    Posted on April 25th, 2012 kr No comments

    At the end of the semester there is usually some sort of rush to the finish, some sort of final dash where students seem to become overwhelmed with the impending finals and deadlines for final projects and research papers.  Is this a problem? What is happening in the first 12 weeks of classes that leads to such an overload at the end of the semester?  I’d like to say it is not the students’ fault; that they cannot help it that large assignments are due all at the same time or that they have final exams in all of their classes. But really, what is the problem?  These assignments are most likely listed in the syllabus from the first week of classes. Hopefully information on them was also handed out early.  As for the exams, well, if you have a final exam odds are you have been having exams all semester, so why is the final such a stresser?

    Perhaps there are some things we as instructors could do to make the end of the semester a less stressful time; maybe we could require pieces of final papers be turned in at various stages through the semester. Maybe we could be sure to not weight the final too much more heavily than any other exam (unless it’s in an area where synthesis of the knowledge and skills learned through the course is crucial, in which case, I’d say it’s necessary.) But isn’t there a level of personal responsiblity on the part of the student? How can we motivate them to be responsible and engaged in their learning and see assignments as tools to help them instead of something meant to burden them in their already busy lives?

    Maybe this is where the learner centered approach to class development could come in handy.  If students felt that they had contributed to the schedule of the course and the due dates of assignments and materials and even helped develop or decide which assignments to keep in the course and which would be less useful perhaps they would be motivated to get the work done earlier, to enjoy it, or at least to own it.

  • exams

    Posted on April 20th, 2012 kr No comments

    So, it seems to be that time of the semester again; the time when everything is due and everyone seems so busy.  As a now well-seasoned graduate student I’ m accustomed to the lengthy papers being due at the end of each semester in the course I am taking and I have always been the type to schedule and finish these hefty projects earlier rather than later.  This semester is a tad bit different.  While I do have one research paper for a course, I also have an in-class final that will consist of both multiple choice and short answer questions.  This seems odd to me.  Do I mind? Not really. It’s a bit more stressful than a paper, but I plan to take my prelim exams next Spring so a tiny little multiple choice test doesn’t really seem like any big threat.  But, it does bother me for some reason.  And, after thinking about it, the reason it does is very relevent to our GEDI course. 

    A multiple choice tests seems, in essense, to be trying to figure out what we don’t know. What details we may have missed while reading our course materials.  Because the questions are short you can’t very well get at complex ideas or comprehensive understanding very well.  Short answer, that’s a little better, at least there you can tell what you do know and synthesize what you do understand. 

    In developing a course I have been going back and forth on the idea of using multiple choice exams.  I’ve decided they seem like a good tool for checking if students have read the material at all, using very topical questions.  But, after having been reminded through my own agitation why multiple choice tests are suboptimal, I will not be using them as a primary source of student evaluation.  Maybe it’s good that I was given this reminder. I think my class teaching experience and students’ experiences will benefit because of it.

  • teaching tough topics

    Posted on April 2nd, 2012 kr No comments

    I’ve been reading some interesting marriage and family literature lately, and I figured I could post some out on the “blogosphere” (I’m getting cooler by the minute!) and if someone happened across it then maybe they would find it interesting as well.  I’ll probably try to tie in something about teaching methodologies or something else that might tie it in with the GEDI course.

    Let’s start with something that is very controversial among students even on this very (privledged, white, heterosexual, right on the bible-belt) campus. Same-sex marriage.  Apparently, there are a few main themes of dissent that come up when discussing legalization of same-sex marriage and it’s possible effects on heterosexual marriage. 1) If same-sex marriage is legalized marriage and parenthood will become separate, and marital parenthood will become a minority. 2) this will be disastrous for children because cohabitors break-up at such high rates.  3) allowing gay marriage is both a cause and the effect of the separation of parenthood and marriage and 4) if same-sex couples can marry, then heterosexual people will stop marrying. These are all laid out by Badgett (2011) in “Briefing Paper: Will Providing Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples Undermine Heterosexual Marriage? Evidence from Scandinavia.” 

    To summarize the findings, basically, none of these accusations are true.  They all have links to partial truths or real occurrences, such as a growing separation of parenthood and marriage, but these trends had been in place long before same-sex marriage was legalized in certain European countries.  Likewise, while it is true that cohabitors are more likely to end relationships, in Scandinavia children born to cohabitors spend about 87 percent of their childhood living with both parents (70% of whom marry within five years of the child’s birth) compared to American children who spend on average, 67% of their childhood living with both parents…and the explanations of twisted rationalization continue.  Now, tying this back to teaching and education.

    As a student in an area that deals with many different “touchy” or very personal subjects, it is not unusual to have to expose students to information that questions or undermines their own personal beliefs about morality or  what they consider”reality.”  How can student’s experience this jolt of being faced “facts” that do not coincide with what they consider to be the “truth,” whether it be based on religion, personal experience, or whatever.  Do we expose them to this knowledge then invite them to open discussion and share responses and understandings? How can we invite to students to engage but still hold them accountable to the prejudices they may hold? 

    I myself am still grappling with how to invite students to learn when I am aware that some of them will not want to engage in a productive discussion but instead, a moral battle.  No matter how a topic is prefaced with “this isn’t about personal beliefs or one person or one religion, this is about larger social processes of inequality and misunderstanding and power and discrimination, etc…” it seems someone always wants it to be a moral judgement.  For me, personally, being acutely familiar with the moral arguments that are likely to arise in this specific area makes it easier to deal with questions and comments; they loose the element of surprise.  I’ve also found that understanding the literature of the area inside and out is essential to explaining what is and what is not being argued. From there it’s easy to guide discussion to productive areas. Of course, this is not to say discussions of morals cannot be important, in fact they are incredibly important, but maintaining the balance in the discussion that may be personal, but also detached from the individual is more difficult that one might think…

  • conferencing

    Posted on March 26th, 2012 kr No comments

    Today was a beautiful day! But, a high in the lower 60s is chilly compared to the 80s I just left behind in New Orleans, Louisiana.  I left for New Orleans last Wednesday to attend and present a paper at the Southern Sociological Society of the South’s 75th annual conference.  Oh, conferences…a time for networking, sharing our research, and hearing about our peers most exciting new projects! And, of course, to visit a new city and consume copious amounts of alcohol…

    This was my second regional conference as a graduate student and I must say, even “conferencing” requires the development of a certain set of skills and personal responsibility.  Firstly, it can be a bit intimidating to meet or talk with professionals in your field who are moderately well-know.  During my first conference of graduate school I hardly spoke with any “adults” i.e. established faculty from institutions other than my own.  I met many different graduate students studying topics that were interesting, but in the end, didn’t keep up contact.  This year, I reframed the experience.  Somewhere along the line a VT faculty member mentioned that researchers always like it when you find their work interesting.  They go to conferences to share it with others, so you might as well engage with them! I was able to meet a top upcoming scholar in the area of work and family and while I will probably not keep in contact, I feel that having made contact was a great first step in my integration into the professional world outside VT. 

     Secondly, graduate students are adults, we manage our own time (of course facutly also have a heavy influence on the time usage of  us GTAs…) and we are ultimately responsible for ourselves.  It’s important to make the most of our conferences, but it definitely doesn’t help that they hold them in such alluring destinations!  While I may have skipped out on quite a bit last year, this year I was sure to make the most of my trip and attend the sessions that seemed most interesting and relevent to my studies. And, I must say, I am glad I did. Besides, there was always the night 😉

    While I feel like confereces are an important part of socialization into a professional field, I can’t help but feel a little burdened by them.  As graduate students we are expected to go out into the world and present our research and network and hear about others’ work. But, time for grad students is already tight; add in 2 days of travel and 3 days of conference and it spells overwhelming disaster.  I suppose I have yet to learn the balancing act of “conferenceing.” At least I’m getting more comfortable with the networking part.

  • Just another regular student?

    Posted on February 29th, 2012 kr 1 comment

    I just finished reading through some of the HRC blogs and commenting on one of them. I was surprised by a couple of things. One,  just how many contributors there were! and how few actually interested me personally…and two, how creative and informative some of the posts were.  I stumbled upon one student who didn’t include a lot of text, but briefly described a type of art they found ineresting and then uploaded a bunch of examples.  This was actually really cool! But, as it was, I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to leave what I would consider a substantial comment about the art blog.  I came across many students talking about the immense amounts of work they have to do and catch up on over Spring Break and all of the tests they have to study for in order to apply for *insert some sort of higher education insitution here.*  It’s funny, because the stress really does start early.  These student’s are incredibly busy now, and, if they do continue, they will only have less free time… I’m begining to think the kinds of people who continue on in education are a bit masochistic…I suppose I’m including myself here.

    I continued reading and stumbled across a blog that was talking about the possibility of studying abroad and short trip they had recently taken with their family to visit a family member in the Peace Corps in Africa.  This took me back to the place in and experiences of formal education that are not so formal and so very enriching.  I was privileged undergraduate student, I was on a full scholarship, I had a close knit cohort of fellow Honor’s Scholars and faculty advisers who provided support to those who were truly interested and guidance even for those who were not. I was able to study abroad and spend six months on the tiny island of Malta (among other places I wandered around Europe).   All of these factors and experiences have almost pulled me down my current educational path.  It’s true that I took initiative and worked and applied and went through all of the turmoil and stress that accompanies not knowing exactly where you will be in life, but in the end, it worked out for me.  How different would my college experience have been if I had not gotten into the program I did? Did not receive the scholarship I did? Did not have access to faculty members who were seriously interested in my success for no reason other than because they admitted me? To not register for classes early, to wait and register for classes with everyone else? If I did not have my close group of “other special students?”  How would my experience be different if I were “just another regular student?”

  • Public Health Models and School Success?

    Posted on February 27th, 2012 kr No comments

    Over the past decades epidemiologists have been successful at raising public awareness about risk factors or disease, such as smoking and inadequate exercise. However, they have been less successful about addressing social factors, which tend to be more proximal and less direct, that also influence or fundamentally “cause” diseases or negative health outcomes. Researchers have suggested when looking at the social causes of a disease we need to be sure to avoid the possible “pitfall” of focusing too much on a single relationship between a single disease and linear, single-cause explanations and links to social influences.  The development of an inclusive model for health and health outcomes would require a clear theoretical understanding of a number of different possible social influences on health, such as SES, health behaviors prior to marriage, family history of health behaviors, possible regional or cultural influences, possible genetic predispositions for certain emotional/psychological disorders (based on family history or past experiences); the list is almost infinite.

    How does this relate to student success? Simply.  It seems that in the U.S. our policies and evaluation of students’ performances and school success are largely viewed from an individual motivation/responsibility view point.   We have standardized tests aimed to provide an “unbiased” metric by which students can evaluated.  If the student does not succeed, they did not try hard enough; less relevant to evaluators minds (though it is highly know to both parents, students, and educators/educational board members alike) is the role of school districting and funding, the SES composition of students, school location and culture, and a number of other macro-level characteristics that all influence the chances of individual or patterned success or failure.  This is why separate could never be equal. This is why something in the current system has got to give.

  • Just breathe.

    Posted on February 18th, 2012 kr No comments

    I’ve decided that I am going to treat this blog like a nice mix between and online journal full of academic rantings and…well…maybe something more thought provoking? But, then again, rantings can sometimes lead to some of the most interesting types of thought…

    I’m in my 3rd year of graduate studies toward a Ph.d, and what I’m finally becoming acutely aware of (not that I wasn’t moderately aware in the past), is the difficult situation or obstacle it can be to try to balance school work, work-work, extra school work, studying for prelims, and life in general (which to me entails trying to squeeze in exercise, eating healthy, being social maybe once a month, paying bills, grocery shopping for said healthy food, giving time to personal relationships, and oh, did I mention? Finding time to breathe.)

    Well, I guess it’s true, life is what we make of it.  Last week was an over-load and half. Proctoring two exams, grading those exams as a TA (this is what made things most difficult because I got them on Monday around 5pm and was expected to have them graded by Wed. morning…it is no easy task trying to find 8 hours to grade in one day. Grading in itself is bad enough, but having such a short window to find that kind of time…that’s the kicker. Sadly, I’m sure many fellow grad students can relate.) , putting together a lit review as  RA, preparing a presentation for a qualitative methodology course, readings and assignments for two other courses…and the list continues. In one word: Overwhelming.  But, on the brighter side, I have a similar amount of tasks this week, but it’s not as overwhelming. The difference?  I’m refusing to be overwhelmed and being sure to take time to move, not being chained to my desk, to go for a jog, to eat dinner in peace, not while trying to continue grading, and to just take a minute every now and then to breath.

    As new graduate students we are told to be sure to enjoy life and not get too caught up in our work.  It seems that the closer you come to a major stepping stone–defending a Master’s Thesis, preparing for prelim exams, finishing coursework, teaching your first solo course, etc– the more true and vital this little piece of advice becomes.

  • So, about creativity and knowledge…

    Posted on February 8th, 2012 kr No comments

    When thinking about devloping an education-oriented blog, three starting point quotes immediately came to my mind, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new,” We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” and ““Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  All three of these quotes seem to speak to similar aspects of our current educational methods that may be less than desirable. We have become masters of reproducing “knowledge,” of regurgitating facts, and of jumping through hoops. But when it comes to the creation of new knowledge, new perspectives, new inspiration, and new forms of understanding, have we disadvantaged ourselves?

    My almost automatic response is to say “yes!” of course we have. The entire structured system of formal education is designed in  a way that recreates a society that is able to follow orders, to think “creatively” only within certain known and established boundaries, and to fear repercussion for thinking or completing tasks “the wrong way.”  I start thinking here about the essence of knowledge itself.  Feminist scholars and other social theorists have been relentless in the call to understand the epistemological origins and development what we accept as true science, true knowledge, and ever discernible fact.  Every piece of knowledge, every acceptable methodology and science, has its origins in human creation and understanding.  This knowledge has simply been reified into self-sufficient “facts” that may rarely be challenged in new ways.  We can always try to build on what we already “know,” to make this more and more complicated, but, as has been said, “any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.  It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction. “