Monthly Archives: September 2014

Mentorship and Connection

This semester as I am a part of the Connected Courses series at the international level as well as our group at Virginia Tech, best practices and transformative education has been on my mind even more. Additionally, I frequently read Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle. Today on Inside Higher Ed this was posted, which then led to this and this. I am sure I saw the studies findings when they were first published last spring but it did not really resonate with me until today. This is due in part to the conversation we had this week within our group at Tech.

These articles and findings discuss what is important for students to be engaged in the workplace post-graduation. What Gallup found was that students who had support and experiential learning had the most engagement in the workplace. Support can be shown through having a professor who made them excited about learning; professors caring about the student as a person; and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. Experiential was shown by working on a project that took a semester or more to complete; an internship or job that allowed students to apply what they were learning; and being extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while attending the college. Looking back, I believe I had all six experiences, which I am eternally grateful for.

We had been discussing projects for students and how the most beneficial ones may not be the short-term projects that we frequently see and assign in classes. How might undergraduate research or undergraduate theses actually benefit students in the long-term?

Then again, when we have 80-500 students in a class at a time, how do we show that we care about each student individually? Especially when they do not seek us out? This is something as someone fairly new to teaching is still grappling with.

Overall, how do we work towards being able to provide these sorts of transformative educational experiences for all students, not just the 3% that said they had all six experiences during their undergraduate career that led to support and experiential and deep learning?

Gender pronouns and Assumptions

As I was processing our last class I kept coming back to how people make assumptions about us based on how they “read” us. There are so many things that people around us believe about us that may or may not be true, especially true to ourselves. I remembered this article that was posted last week from Inside Higher Ed. It was written by a faculty member at Howard University on how she made one small change without too much forethought on the first day of class about not making assumptions and how it turned out to be a great experience for her and the students. It reiterates how important, even when awkward, to simply ask rather than make assumptions about people.

The Why

So, the big question that we are discussing in the Connected Course, that I am participating in, is the Why of teaching and the Why of your course.  This is a bit of a complicated question on many fronts.

First, why do I teach? I am not 100% sure why I teach. It is something that I have always felt a calling to do. Teaching in higher education was not always what I had in mind but the fact that I love research and learning as much as I do, higher education is the best fit. Plus, I love undergraduate students, especially first years. There is an excitement there that is unmatched. I don’t have a more philosophical reason behind why I teach other than I love it. Maybe one day I will realize what it is but right now I know I love it and that I want to do the best job that I can do.

Second, the why of the course. Something to keep in mind about this is the fact that I am a graduate student instructor. I am the instructor of record for a course on child and adolescent development, which at my institution is a course that covers a general education (known here as CLE) requirement. It is also a course that is required of majors in my discipline. So, I am responsible for ~80 students from all four class years and from across campus. In fact, I have a surprising number of engineers in my section. Given these facts, I have limited control over the why of the course. The course description and outcomes are dictated to me.

However, the why of the course means something different to every person. During The End of Higher Education video chat, there was a lot of discussion about the purpose of education and the purpose of certain courses. Finding the purpose and finding the why in many ways are the same thing. I was told going into my current course (my first time teaching this particular course) that many students would be taking it as first-years to get their requirement out of the way. And yes, I have many taking the course to get the requirement finished (though very few first-years). However, many have said that the reason they are taking the course over others offered that would count is to become better parents when the time comes. Even in assignments they have turned in so far the students are making connections to their own lives from the material covered. Time and time again I am seeing these students looking for the purpose and the why of this course outside of the direction I would think they would.

White Privilege in America

As I mentioned in class before, my social media sites have slowly become ways for me to get the sort of news I want and ignore what I don’t want to read about. Whether that is from the links I click on or the friends that post pieces that I agree with, I’m not sure. But anyways, this morning as I was looking at what people had posted on Facebook I came across this piece:

This organization writes and posts many items that tie in to this piece, but this one caught my attention due to the topic we are moving towards in class. It discusses many of the statistics about the privilege White Americans have throughout their life. By no means is it an exhaustive list, however.

Unintended Bias In the Classroom

As we were reading about and discussing bias both intentional and unintentional I had a moment of reflection about catching some of my own biases.

This is my third semester being a graduate teaching instructor, second of which is online. One challenge I have realized that I have with online teaching is your only impression of most of the students is based on what and how they write–about themselves, in their assignments, and in their forum posts. Many people when writing and posting things online have much less filter than when discussing something in person–for good and bad.

I consider myself a very open person. To many different lifestyles, beliefs, backgrounds, etc. However, that openness I think has led to an unintended bias on my part. I have had a few students write in posts and assignments about their strongly held religious beliefs (particularly Christian). Each time I noticed myself negatively reacting. I was consistently having to take a step back and think precisely why I was reacting that way. Were the students answering questions wrongly? No, not at all. It was just that they were writing something that I do not feel as strongly about as they do. I think context had something to do with it as well. When the students were not asked anything about religious beliefs and brought it in to their assignments I seemed to initially be less accepting of it. However, when I covered religious beliefs and human sexuality, anything the students said about religious beliefs I was open to. It is something I continuously have to think about and be aware of about myself and my teaching as I continue in my schooling and career.

This topic also brings to mind the Steven Salaita case that has been in the Higher Education news recently (if you haven’t heard about it, I encourage you to look it up). Dr. Salaita finally made a public statement this week for the first time since he found out that he was not going to be starting work at the University of Illinois last month. One thing that he said stood out to me about biases in and outside of the classroom. What he said was that while he was here at Virginia Tech, students never complained about his teaching and had very good reviews about his teaching. This is in contrast to University of Illinois’ concerns that he would create a hostile atmosphere in the classroom because of his beliefs. This stands out as a good example that even when you have strong personal beliefs about something political, religious, etc. you can leave it at the door and create an environment of mutual respect without bigotry.

Racial Biases

This week we have been reading about and watching videos that touch upon intentional and unintentional biases, particularly about race. As I was reading and watching the provided videos I came across this story from Huffington Post:

It is a story about a young man who changes his name on his resume (simply dropping one letter from his legal name) to try and obtain a job. He changed his name to sound more Anglican and was getting responses finally from potential employers. This is yet another example of bias on the part of so many people who came into contact with this man’s resume. They might not have even been conscious about their bias but it plays out in so many big and little ways.



Diversity test

This is a test to make sure the Diversity category works.