Campus Resources

I was thinking about how graduate students and faculty have a different relationship with campus than undergraduates, and how that might mean we have to do a little extra work if we want to be of most benefit possible to our students. I first came to Virginia Tech as a student in graduate school. My sister has been here since 2010, so I have visited and am vaguely familiar with aspects of campus and community life, but I, and I am sure many other graduate students, have a vastly different relationship to the university and town than undergraduate students. This is of concern to me when I think about preparing to teach my first course next year.

I want to be able to help my students not only succeed in my class but also college, overall, but I am concerned that I don’t know about the different resources available to them. If I don’t know what resources, services, etc. are available, I won’t be able to connect my students to the people, centers and services that might be of greatest help to them. I plan to spend some time this summer and over the fall semester visiting different buildings on campus to get a better sense of who and what is located where. I really want to incorporate campus resources into my classes (which will be comprised of primarily first-year students) so they can start off their college careers with a knowledge of where to turn when they need help.

Classroom Engagement

When I was in undergrad, I was a peer facilitator for a group of 10 students in a freshman year seminar  for the honors college. Each year, I had a variety of student personalities and strengths, including the exuberant and outgoing students and also the thoughtful and shy students.

I was fortunate to have such a small group because I was able to develop a system to gradually build shier students up to participating in group discussions without penalizing them for their personality and characteristics at the outset.

The first thing I did was set ground rules for our group. At the time, I had some quote or clip from The Daily Show or something similar, but now by rules are essentially “you are free to share a difference of opinion but will not be permitted to deny, denigrate or disrespect another individual’s identity or existence.” This helped to foster an open and inclusive conversation where everyone would feel comfortable sharing.

The purpose of grading class participation was as a means to gauge engagement with class topics and readings. So, for the first 3 weeks of class while everyone was still getting comfortable with one another, my shy students would have to take notes and email me their thoughts and places where they would have contributed in class. This way, I could ensure they were engaged, but they didn’t have to push themselves beyond their limits straightaway.

For the next 2-3 weeks, I would open class discussions by asking my shy students questions directly, so they were participating in group discussions but didn’t have to work themselves up right to find the breaks in conversation and courage to speak up or over other students.

After that sort of introductory period, I would have another face-to-face meeting with my students to check in and see how they were feeling and let them know that I would expect them to start actively participating in class. We would usually set a goal number of times per class that would increase over time.

I think this strategy works well with shy students, students with anxiety and could also work will for students who have a language barrier, with some adaptation. I know I will have to change some things to get this to work with the bigger classes at Tech, but I really want engaging all students to be a focus and area of success for me as an instructor.

Future of the University

I think that this sentiment has been made by my peers, but I am really hoping for a push toward more emphasis and respect for teaching positions and fields in the humanities and social sciences. Whether intentionally or not, often when we talk about the most highly respected or highly sought after positions, we assume that it’s the STEM fields. That assumption ignores not only the importance of the humanities and social sciences but also individual differences and preferences. Even though STEM fields might have a higher base salary, etc. not everyone prefers those fields, and if we don’t continue to encourage engagement in the humanities and social scientists, we’ll just have a lot of highly distinguished scholars with specialized research skills but no soft skills, which would honestly be terrible.

I would also like a shift toward recognizing the importance of teaching responsibilities, even at research-based institutions. If we focus too heavily on research and not on fostering education and passion within the next generations, there won’t be new cohorts of researchers to continue the work being done now.

Technology in the Classroom

Both of these infographics come from reports by the Babson Research Group 

in Massachusetts. I found the first infographic, from a 2013 study on Social Media for Teaching and Learning in an article from Inside Higher Ed. I found the second in an infographic published for 2015 when I was trying to find an updated report on Social Media for Teaching and Learning. While I didn’t find quite the same data for 2015, I think the two infographics are interesting. In 2013, according to the first infographic, most faculty considered online/mobile technology to be detrimental to learning environments, but the second infographic shows that while there were shifts in perspectives between 2013 and 2015, faculty showed similar ideas about blended courses (like our Preparing the Future Professoriate course, with both in class and online components). Specifically, faculty respondents primarily thought that blended courses have the same or better outcomes than only in-class courses, which seems to be in contrast to the data presented in the earlier infographic.

I think as technology continues to grow and develop, faculty will be presented with fewer non-technology/blended options, so it is good that they are starting to get on board and recognize productive ways technology can benefit the classroom and learning outcomes.

More on Technology in the Classroom

I think technology in the classroom has come up a few times in our class discussions. I have had conversations about with faculty and peers within my department, as well, and in fact it was a topic I had considered for my scholarly essay in this class.

I think as we move forward and technology becomes more advanced, more affordable and more accessible, we, as future instructors, are going to need to give some serious thought to the role of technology in our classrooms and how to balance the line between informational aid and cognitive distraction. Some research has shown that one individual using Facebook in a classroom negatively impacts not only their engagement and performace but also the engagement and performance of other students around them.

I think we’ll see more and more research examining the role of technology in the classroom and hope that faculty moving forward will follow the research and create intentional technology policies for themselves and their students.

Open Access

It wasn’t necessarily difficult to find an open access in my field (Human Development) but it wasn’t as easy as searching through the databases offered through the library. Before I landed on this article, I found a different article in a journal that “supports Open Access,” but the specific article I chose was not open access.

The article I chose for this post is Personality, Family Correlates and Emotion Regulation as Wellbeing Predictors.  When looking for this article, I went through ScienceDirect’s subject filter option within their Open Access articles and databases. I was struck, but not surprised, that most of the Open Access journals were from other countries than the United States. Many contained articles published in languages other than English.

This specific article came from a university in Romania and is clearly labeled on the digital access page as Open Access. Another article that I considered but didn’t choose specifically noted that funding for Open Access was given by Dutch Universities. The article came from the journal Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, which is copyrighted by Elsevier. This journal is a subset (focusing on the social and behavioral sciences) of the larger Procedia collection, which highlights free access to users and author-retained copyrights as some of its key features. The article itself was clearly labeled as Open Access with direct links to access and rights, as well as information about the Creative Commons license.

The larger/parent ScienceDirect touted its over 250,000 open access articles in a large banner at the bottom of the homepage, so it did seem to want to assert itself as in the Open Access movement, but the specific information about open access seemed to vary by journal/article and was thus nested within specific links rather than openly available from any site I saw.




It took me a little longer to find the “fun,” hypothetical case studies instead of the relatively more boring academic/research misconduct case studies. I chose this one because I’m really interested in the anti-academic bullying push at our school and this seemed to be a really good example of the type of thing that might happen.

I think the first thing I noticed was that while the case study clearly got the crux of the situation across, the author is by no means a professional writer. But once I got over that, I was struck by the gender distribution of power in this case study. Beyond the mentor/mentee dynamic, there is also the complicated gender dynamics. No racial or ethnicity factors were described, so that additional complicated layer can’t be considered.

The way the questions were framed were also awkward and leaned in the direction of blaming the victim. For example, “Why do you suppose Kara has let things get to this point? Has she been exploited in any way?” Like, why couldn’t the question be “What systems were in place that allowed this advisor to take advantage of the work provided by graduate students for so long that he doesn’t give a second thought to overloading a new student?”

On Privilege

Every individual is an intersection of identities and just as many identities run along spectrums, each identity is also associated with a certain degree of privilege. Privilege is not inherently or necessarily a bad thing; it is just something that we must acknowledge and to which we can choose to respond. 

I think a lot of the resistance to the concept of privilege comes from an introduction to privilege that floated around the internet and within certain social justice communities that privilege was Bad and those who had it were inherently discriminatory, but that’s not the case. When someone says “check your privilege,” they’re not necessarily attacking you or accusing you of anything, but rather they are asking you to call into question the systems of power in place that might have led to your assumptions, behavior, choices, etc. 

A common argument against the concept of privilege, let’s take white privilege as an example, is “I didn’t ask to be born white,” which may be true, but it’s important to consider is that just as I did not ask for white privilege or class privilege, people of color and individuals from lower socioeconomic statuses didn’t ask for their position in society either.

Another response to privilege is a complaint about identity politics or an accusation of certain groups playing the victim. But minority groups aren’t Taylor Swift. Their perceptions of slights against them on a societal scale aren’t imagined. There are studies upon studies about the different ways that white and assumed non-white people are considered in this country. Simple things like the type of complimentary hair and skincare products provided in hotels and spas show preference for white bodies over bodies of color. Accessibility is not a priority for all newly constructed or renovated buildings. Feminine traits are still often considered weaker or less desirable. Though subjective, the life experiences if individuals at varying points on the spectrum of privileges will be different. 

A few weeks ago, I attended a webinar about challenges for women in the academic workplace and two things really stuck out to me. The first was that one woman from the medical science field repeatedly insisted that if you did the work, it would be recognized and you would get “a seat at the table,” but the thing about privileges, power and stereotypes is that hard work is often not acknowledged or respected the same way for people in different groups. Especially because the panel was about women being overlooked for certain positions, it was just such an odd thing for that particular scholar to repeat, even when presented with cases where hardworking women were particularly looked over. The other thing I noted was that while the panelists did discuss the intersections between race and gender and the additional challenges faced in “getting a seat at the table” or being recognized in those intersections, the three panelists were white women from Western cultures. So even in a conversation about how difficult it can be to get a seat at the table, seats weren’t offered to those whose experiences were being discussed. 

As a well-educated, middle class white woman, I have (what I consider to be) a responsibility to recognize the relation between the way the world views me and my experiences, as well as a duty to consider how I can combat systems of privilege or use my privilege to advocate for and create space for those whose identities aren’t granted the same privilege.

Frances McDormand mentioned inclusion riders at an award show recently and there were outpourings of both agreement and complaint. Many said that inclusion riders (a requirement that a certain percentage of cast and crew be diverse in an actor’s contract) were a great way to even the playing field, advocate for representation and combat existing systems of power. Others suggested that the idea of an inclusion rider was insulting and said things like “I want people hired for their skill not their skin color.” But a huge problem, as with women in academia, is that many people of color with skills are being overlooked because of their skin color, while many white people are being hired because of their skin color and not their skills but no one has a problem with that, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 

On Academic Freedom and Inclusive Education

I found this article on Inside Higher Ed the other day and thought there were interesting conversations going on in the comments section.

Someone pointed out that Sweden doesn’t have the same standards for academic freedom as the United States, so while Ringmar is perfectly entitled to his personal opinions about the role and power of the institution over his courses, he doesn’t necessarily have any rights regarding course construction that were violated in this case.

Others pointed out that if Ringmar was so hardpressed to find sources written by women, he might not be as expert in his field as he claims, highlighting that in cases where women were silenced or ignored in their time, their work might be of special import from an analytic sense.

Others, still, suggested that the issue was not that Ringmar removed one of few women from the course readings, but rather that he had an approved course syllabus and reading list and changed it after students had signed up for the course such that they were not getting the educational experiences for which they enrolled.

I just thought this case brought up the interesting balance between academic freedom and balanced and inclusive education. For example, is a professor simply advocating for their own academic freedom by ignoring a perspective in their course readings and teachings? Does that not negatively impact the students’ educational experience? Isn’t that kind of how we got to a point where a lot of public school students didn’t realize the misogyny and racism rampant in all of the American forefathers until university? I guess I am just wondering how we might balance a fair and inclusive educational experience while respecting faculty rights to academic freedom.

A Tale of Two Statements

I decided to look at the mission statements of my universities (current and previous) and their honors colleges.

I was in the Honors program at College of Charleston for undergrad and one thing I noticed was how the Honors program sought to emphasize itself as separate from the college at-large. I was curious about whether Virginia Tech‘s honors college did the same.

College of Charleston is a mid-size liberal arts university in Charleston, South Carolina compared to Tech’s large, science-focused program.

The first thing I noticed was that CofC’s mission statement was the Board Approved and seemed very corporate, whereas the Honors statement appeared corporate because of the formatting of the website but was actually very student- and values-oriented.

Tech’s mission statement was much less corporate than CofC’s and had the same feel as both honors statements. The Tech honors statement was saturated with adjectives (a little too much) .

While the Tech statement mentioned transdisciplinary (?) study, the CofC Honors statement made specific mention of the “world,” which goes along with the Cortés-Sánchez article that found an increase in global references in university mission statements.

Overall, I was unsurprised at the student and success focus of the honors program statements. I was actually very surprised at CofC’s sterile sort of mission statement, especially given that it’s smaller and has a liberal arts approach to education, which is usually associated with more openness for exploration that science universities.