Blog Post 5: Changes in Higher Education

The main thing that I think should chance in higher education is the process of getting tenure. In addition to causes stress on the faculty, I believe that tenure-track has the ability to make students feel uncomfortable in their own classrooms. As somebody who has taken classes from both tenured and non-tenured faculty, I’ve noticed that most of my professors who are currently tenure-track are so focused on their own research projects that my projects and classroom experience seem to come second. This can also lead to ethical issues of crass faculty who feel protected by tenure. I don’t believe that anybody should ever feel like they are untouchable in a department, as that can turn into a teacher acting inappropriately. Likewise, I believe that sometimes tenure-track lends itself to sexism.  I know of a Virginia Tech professor who is currently being paid less than another tenure-track professor who started at the exact same time, with the same credentials.

Another issue lies in the decision making process- who decides who gets tenure? I feel like there is the underlying issue of various power plays, in which professors feel the need to pander to whomever is deciding which professionals get tenure. If you are only publishing a quantitative paper because you know the decision committee likes quantitative research, I think it’s missing the point of research itself. I believe that if professors were less focused on pumping out publications and conference papers, they could shift the focus from research to actually teaching their students. I have been discouraged by the push to value research over teaching- why become a professor if you aren’t going to value teaching and developing relationships with your students? One of the readings for the last week, focused on this very topic, was one that I agreed with a lot. They emphasized the importance of finding a balance between being well-researched in your field of study and having the skills to properly teach these concepts to students.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in tenure at all. As a whole, I think it’s a really important process that can provide job security to hard-working academics who have a passion for their field; I am just suggesting that the process to get tenure should focus less on simply cranking out publication after publication, and should further take into consideration how the professor is with students. After all, professors are there to teach students, not just be the best in their field. There needs to be a balance, and I just don’t think we are there yet.

Week 13: My Ethics and Personal Ethos

When considering my own personal ethics, I think it’s really important to take the time to consider who I am as a person in addition to who I am as a scholar. Yes, one of my greatest passions is studying communication, but the core behind that is my passion for people. One thing that I kept coming back to was the Strengths Test I took prior to my first semester teaching at Virginia Tech. The test told me that my top strengths were 1) Empathy, 2) Developer, 3) Positivity, 4) Connectedness, and 5) Intellection. Looking at these, the test suggested jobs that work directly with others- one of the first suggestions was as a teacher! As a GTA, I am living that role currently, so I think it’s important for me to remember on hard days that I am acting as both authority and mentor, and I have to be aware of the ethics involved in that duel-role.

Within my experience in grad school, I have noticed a huge push for publishing work and attending conferences. However, I feel that the networking aspect has been more of an afterthought. Considering my own strengths (which are overwhelmingly relational in nature), I think that my beliefs and values lie in developing positive, intellectual connections with others. My focus has always been on finding ways to connect with people, so my own personal code of conduct is more focused on the people I work with rather than the physical work I am producing. I hope that, moving forward, I can utilize my relational strengths while still maintaining my own sense of professionalism. Likewise, I hope to see over time more acceptance of relational strengths as equally valid as technical strengths.

Week 12: Declining by Degrees

The first video, which was posted in 2007, I think gives a clear snapshot into what academic life was like at the time. However, I think some of the concerns raised are still applicable to life today- for example, I liked how one of the students pointed out the huge number of readings required in classes, as well as the fact that very few of them apply to students’ daily lives. Likewise, the debt that college students faces is staggering- a friend of mine is considering joining the armed forces after she finished nursing school just to get some of her loans paid off.

The film Declining by Degrees was a PBS documentary that I found both eye-opening  and frustrating. As somebody who now works as a GTA, I can definitely tell when my students aren’t doing work in my class, or are trying to just skate by. Ethically, this is an issue; if we are just trying to get through in order to get a degree without really trying, doesn’t that diminish the value of our degrees?

Considering my own experiences, I feel that the film leaves out the experiences of some non-traditional students. One of my roommates in undergrad was an out-of-state student who worked two jobs to pay for her own education and graduated early. Her experience, even though we were at the same school, in the same program (and living in the same room!), her experience was totally different from mine. If I were to remake the film, I would like to get the perspectives of students working, students who change majors, and students handling personal struggles in addition to academic ones.

Campus Resources

Additional blog Post #5

As the topic for my final paper, I wanted to use the conversation around campus resources as my final additional blog post prompt. Virginia Tech is the second university I have attended, and I noticed that the campus resources available to students varies from school to school. Within the context of higher education, I feel like campuses exist as their own small communities, and in a way are almost self-sufficient by providing resources to the members of the area. I will cover these in more detail in my final paper, but I wanted to give a quick overview of the three I have heard mentioned by my students the most often. The deep need for comprehensive physical and mental health resources on campus led me to a search of what Virginia Tech had to offer, so I wanted to discuss a few found on campus here in Blacksburg.

Cook Counseling
Virginia Tech’s counseling center, Cook Counseling, provides both individual and group counseling to students on site. From groups focusing on eating disorders, depression, and anxiety to individual sessions addressing home life and academic performance, there is a little bit of everything at Cook. One thing that I always remind my students is that mental health is just as important as physical health, and therefore if they need to take a day for their mental health, Cook Counseling can provide a note to excuse them from class. I would always want my students to be proactive about their health rather than let their struggles spiral into a more serious issue, so I often refer students in distress to Cook for help.

Schiffert Health Center
Something new to me was the concept of a health center that could provide actual medical help! It sounds strange now, but my undergraduate experience was that if I felt sick, going to the on-campus center wouldn’t help much at all. However at Virginia Tech, Schiffert serves students with services from allergies and immunizations to a women’s clinic, and even nutrition guidance! I didn’t realize how many services they offered, and in my research I was reassured that a campus of VT’s size was providing adequate resources to their students. While a few of my own students have mentioned it can get pretty crowded around flu season, I think a well-run health center is vital to any higher education institution of this size.

As a public speaking GTA, I spend at least one hour every week in the library working in CommLab. This is a resource that helps students with any and all public speaking assignments or personal projects. From listening to practice speeches to helping construct speech outlines, CommLab is a wonderful resource for Virginia Tech, especially considering how many majors have a public speaking requirement. I am well aware of how many students with speaking anxiety or a general distaste for standing in front of a group of people for a presentation, so CommLab can help every step of the way, giving students the skills and ability to craft a well-researched speech and practice it until they are fully confident.

With these (and many, many more!) resources available on campus, I am proud to be a GTA for Virginia Tech. When a student comes to me with a problem, I feel more confident in my abilities to refer them to the proper organization, and I feel like access to a variety of campus and community resources can help a university become a stronger institution of higher education.


Global Perspectives and Education

Additional Blog Post #4

Considering my own ignorance about higher education around the world, I believe that the value of a strong global perspective of higher education lies in the ability to connect with people from different backgrounds. In addition to developing relationships with other people, conversations about others’ experiences can open eyes to see the bigger picture; it is so easy to get wrapped up in what is happening in our own little corner of the world (or our own little corner of the United States!). The world does not begin and end in the Commonwealth of Virginia, so it is important to broaden students’ horizons and understandings of others’ experiences.

Likewise, I feel like international students bring perspective, fresh ideas, and a dedication to education that I really respect. I am always so excited to learn about their experiences in their home countries, and am continually impressed by the work ethic of many of my international students. Likewise, I hope that by having open conversations I can develop a deeper empathy for all of my students, and treat all of them with the respect that they deserve.

I know that during our last PFP class, I learned so much about the countries we spoke about, and even ended up looking up some popular media from a few of the countries discussed (I somehow found myself four episodes deep in a Korean drama on Netflix that has become my new obsession). By sharing our lived experience with people who would otherwise not know (I had no idea it was illegal to sell gum in Singapore!), I think it improves both educational and relation dimensions in class. I hope to continue to learn about my classmates’ backgrounds, and hope that I can be an educated, attentive peer.

Communicating Identity- Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education

Additional blog Post #3

I was so excited to write on this topic in particular, especially considering the importance of diversity I have seen from both sides of higher education. Now that I have been both a student and a teacher, I feel like I have a better understanding of why higher education needs to move forward with diversity initiatives and emphasize the importance of full inclusion for everyone. In both my personal life and my professional life, I have seen the ways that true inclusion is beneficial to everyone.

As a woman with an invisible illness who is in an interracial relationship, I was blind to a lot of my own problematic assumptions about others, and I really credit my significant other with opening my eyes to these with some respectful, eye-opening conversations over the past three years. I always got angry when somebody would ask him “where are you really from?”, and yet I would insert my own assumptions about his life in conversations from time to time without even realizing it. Likewise, as an undergraduate at Christopher Newport University, I was an orientation leader for the Presidents Leadership Program (PLP) and that program gave me experiences with true diversity as well. Over two summers I was in charge of facilitating an orientation for  a group of about twenty students, introducing them to the university as well as the leadership minor curriculum. Part of my training included extensive analysis of micro aggressions and biases, and I was so shocked and hurt to find that I was contributing to an exclusive environment at times due to micro aggressions I didn’t even realize.

I feel like the conversations with my partner about little things I was saying, as well as the exercises in my training for orientation really contributed to my education about my own privileges, and helped me have deeper conversations with individuals in the PLP who had different experiences than my own. If universities want to be more diverse and inclusive, they need to first address their own biases and have open conversations about how to improve these behaviors. I hope that in my classroom, my students feel respected and like I want to develop a true understanding of their experiences at Virginia Tech.

For example, when I first showed this photo to a friend, one of the first things they asked is “I know he’s biracial, but what exactly is he?”. That was something I found extremely rude, but I could tell they hadn’t meant it that way. This led to an open conversation about micro aggressions with a close friend, and it went better than i had expected! When he showed the photo to a friend, they commented “well, she doesn’t look sick”. He then had to explain to them about my history with debilitating migraines, and how people don’t have to look sick to be in a lot of pain.

Considering all of these things, I believe that difference does matter. To suggest that somebody does not see color, or background, or sex, or ability, or any combination of these identities is either naive or ignorant. Rather than pretend we do not see others for who they are, I think there should be an emphasis on celebrating our differences, as well as how we can use these differences to teach one another about empathy and collaboration. Within the academic world, I have seen far too often the push toward diversity for diversity sake- I think that is a bit of a misstep. If I got into a program just because the program wanted more women, they are missing out on the various experiences and thoughts and ideas that I have as a result of my intersectional identity. I think if a university is trying to be inclusive and globally diverse, the first way to know if they are succeeding is to ask the students- ALL of the students. Having to explain an invisible illness to a professor is a deeply uncomfortable experience for me, as I often worry they either won’t believe me or will dismiss it as not a big deal. Likewise, individuals with identities considered to be in the minority may have their own challenges communicating their identity in class. Differences matter because, no matter where I am, the person sitting next to me undoubtedly has a completely different life experience that is just as valuable and valid as my own. It is only by sharing our experiences that we can grow, learn, and become better citizens.

Week 11: Codes of Conduct in Communication

I have noticed that a lot of subjects that we cover in my Preparing Future Professoriate class are covered here as well, so I was excited about the opportunity to again talk about the National Communication Association’s Code of Professional Ethics for the field.

By analyzing the fields of teaching, research, publication, and professional relationships, I feel that the 1999 statement clearly outlines ethical concerns specific to communication. As I spend more time in the program, I find myself more concerned with networking and developing those professional relationships within the field that can help guide me in my own future research. I appreciate the emphasis on power relationships between faculty and students, as well as understanding the role of a teacher.

Communication deeply values – you guessed it- good communication! It is extremely important to have open lines of communication between those in power and individuals breaking into the field for the first time, as well as those between teachers and their students. I think that the communication field values research than furthers theory, which I see time and time again in my own classes. There is a deep focus on the latest research within a particular subset of the field, so I appreciate how they emphasized that “there are ethical principles that apply to a communication researcher, no matter what form of research is utilized”(p.2).

One thing that surprised me about the statement is that there was no mention of graduate teaching assistants, or teaching assistants in general. I would add in a statement about the proper preparation of GTA’s within the field, as I feel that it is an important ethical concern to make sure that TA’s are well prepared. Since their academic integrity can directly impact undergraduate students, I think this addition would be beneficial to the field.

Week 10: Copyright Issues

As a public speaking GTA, I have students that create PowerPoint presentations to use as visual aids in their speeches. Often, they want to use photos, graphs, and charts that they find online. Therefore, I feel like the most common copyright issue I experience is properly explaining to students how they need to cite their sources properly in order to avoid plagiarism issues. Rather than simply grab a graphic from google images, they need to properly cite the image, its source material, and make sure it’s up to VT standards. The “Can I Use It?” test is something I had never seen before, and I am considering implementing it into my course next semester when I explain copyright!

Likewise, Creative Commons was a resource I had never used before, so I had a lot of fun exploring the site and the available works. The tutorial video was really helpful for someone like me who is a total newbie to the media site. The idea that individuals would spend so much time working on something and then give it to the public for free is really beautiful idea, and I appreciated the plethora of subjects and types of work available. I know where I will be going when I need an image in future presentations!

As far as open source work, it’s a topic that we have been discussing quite a lot in my Preparing Future Professoriate class. I think that open source is a really good concept, as it makes research available to everyone, rather than holding onto data in the hopes of publishing before others. I think there is such a competitive nature in academia, and I would hope that the normalization and celebration of open source research could make scholastic work more collaborative.

Week 9: Final Project Reflection

For my final project, I decided to focus on a presentation to help teach future GTA’s about teaching for the first time. I chose this project because, as a first-year GTA, my very first class was something that gave me a LOT of anxiety. I feel like the more information one has about a subject, the more confident I would feel in my skills and abilities. I want to clearly explain the resources on campus (such as Cook Counseling, the Writing Center, etc.) in the hopes of preparing GTA’s to be more knowledgable about the campus options.

I hope to learn more about teaching, higher education power structures, and the work-life balance of GTA’s within the communication department. I feel like there is a lot of pressure on GTA’s from all fields to represent their respective departments well, and that can lead to anxiety and stress. Likewise, it’s important that GTA’s feel well prepared and confident in front of their students in case they have to deal with any issues of academic misconduct. By knowing the resources and policies on campus, a GTA can be better equip to deal with problems, as well as referring students to the proper campus resources.

Week 8: Authorship

I feel like, within communication, it is a bit normal for faculty to collaborate with students on work in order to produce more publications. However, when looking at what it means to be an author, I looked toward the readings for some clarification. In reading about the different definitions of authorship, I was frustrated to find that the table on page 5 describing different definitions did not include any section for communication scholars. The closest to my field was through the “American Educational Research Association”, and was defined as “all those, regardless of status, who have made substantive creative contribution to the generation of an intellectual product are entitled to be listed as authors of that product”.

I would consider this to translate well into communication scholarship; there seems to be an emphasis on recognizing the work of others, especially for published articles that include graduate students working with faculty.  There are definitely come humanities-specific issues with authorship that I have you encountered in graduate school so far- I had a professor want to work on a research project with me, but insist on clarifying the age-old “first author” issue. I was so confused and anxious about who got first author that I ended up not even pursuing the project further.

After reading the articles, I feel like I have a better understanding: I think that anybody who is hands-on involved with the creation of the project, research, methodology, analysis, and discussion of the project deserve some sort of authorship. As a qualitative researcher, I don’t have to worry less about funding or lab spaces. However, I find that pressure to publish is a recurring theme in higher education, and I find that really problematic. As a GTA, I feel like most of my focus in my classroom is on teaching well, rather than latching on to students’ ideas in order to get a publication.

I feel as though authorship within the arts, as well as humanities, is possibly harder to define than in scientific fields. For example, if I come up with a really interesting research idea in class and my professor does a project on it, I would not get any sort of credit unless I was included on the project in writing, researching, or carrying out the study. It can be difficult as a graduate student to feel confident standing up for our ideas, asking for credit, and backing up these requests with knowledge about proper authorship.