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.

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.

CommLab
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.

http://countingmyspoons.com/2016/08/5811/

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.

Blog Post 4 – Tech and Innovation in Higher Ed

In an article on the Inside Higher Ed website, Dr. Joshua Kim continued the conversation around MOOCs and how “Professors Have Taken Over the MOOCs”, as his article is titled. In his opening statement, he states that he believes people need to start opening their minds to what MOOCs can do; as the  Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, Dr. Kim has experience in the rise of “disruptive” media such as MOOCs, and I found his perspective to be one that I could relate to.

A little background about my own life experiences: when I finished my undergraduate degree, I didn’t have the money to immediately continue my education. I took a gap year to work locally and save money to pursue my masters, but felt the need and the desire to keep learning. I personally relied on MOOCs (specifically, I used this website) to expand my knowledge in certain areas, because I couldn’t afford to simply enroll in a local community college class. By having access to a free, easily accessible classes on things like digital marketing and grant writing, I was able to add to my own education as well as improve my performance at the job I had (I was a development and marketing assistant for a non-profit at the time). However, with this personal experience with MOOCs I had not yet considered how individuals in the Higher Education field may feel about access to free education, and I quickly learned that not everybody was as big of a fan as I was.

Dr. Kim’s article outlined that professors had a widely held belief that MOOCs were “just another overhyped educational technology”, but that he wanted to introduce a new perspective. Rather than look at MOOCs as disruptive to traditional university education, they could be used as a resource for educators themselves to have a say in the narrative. Rather than turn away in disgust of this everyday level education, Dr. Kim suggests that “professors want to teach open online courses for the same reason that they teach traditional courses, write articles and books and opinion pieces, and give talks to diverse audiences”, saying that MOOCs are “another platform to share their love of their discipline, their passion for the methods and concepts in their field, and their own contributions to growing knowledge in their area of scholarship”.

I really loved that perspective, and it made me feel a little better about utilizing the resources myself. After all, if we only value education that breaks the bank, so to speak, we are turning our backs on a large amount of different perspectives, experiences, and really cool learning opportunities. I think that higher education can sometimes have a pretentious undertone that really holds students and educators back, and by embracing MOOCs the way that Dr. Kim suggests, faculty can share their knowledge with people who otherwise would not have access to education in a traditional setting.

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, isn’t it our job as educators to teach, after all? Why should we restrict our expertise to specific groups, and what gives us the right to decide who “deserves” education? I for one agree with Dr. Kim’s emphasis on “the devotion and commitment of professors”, because while I recognize how higher education creates stable income for faculty, I also recognize that going to college is not an achievable goal for everybody. I for one have enjoyed classes the most when the instructor was engaged and truly loved the material they were teaching, so by having these kinds of professors create their own content for a larger audience, I think we could all benefit. Personally, I would love to be involved in MOOCs from the other side, and I hope that these continue to spread knowledge and opportunities to individuals everywhere, regardless of circumstance.

 

Blog Post 3- Open Access Research

This week’s readings on open access really opened my eyes to the world of easily accessible research for everybody. One particular subject that intrigued me was the conversation surrounding the intersection between social media and higher education. I know that I personally follow most of the Virginia Tech Facebook pages and twitter handles that relate to my own graduate experience. I feel like these routes encourage learning in “down time”, or when students are not currently engaged in academia for a grade. For example, I found myself reading an article about environmental conservation that was shared online, regardless of the fact that my own research is not related. I think the open sharing of research is extremely beneficial to the academic world, and may even encourage people to stop being so anal about their own findings.

The journal I chose to look at was the American Communication Journal, the Summer 2017 issue (Volume 19, Issue 2). It is registered with the Library of Congress, and focuses on communication analysis in an open access format. Their website states that the journal was  “commissioned by the American Communication Association’s Board of Directors in 1996”.

The following statement is on their “Aim and Scope” page of the website:
“The American Communication Journal (ACJ) is the official publication of the American Communication Association (ACA). ACJ is committed to publishing interdisciplinary scholarship on communication. Appreciating the diversity of research agendas and methodologies in the study of communication, the Editorial Board of ACJ welcome submissions on any topic related to the discipline.”

I took this to mean that the journal’s scope is wide reaching, with a focus on the journal connecting readers across a wide variety of subjects within the communication field. Likewise, I like how the goal of diversity was highlighted in the statement.

Overall, the journal does not go into too much detail about what open access is; the only statement I could find was with information on copywriting, “The ACJ is dedicated to the open exchange of information. ACJ is freely available to individuals and institutions. Copies of this journal of articles in this journal may be distributed for research or educational purposes free of charge and without permission.”

I really appreciated how the journal provides research in an open access format simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do, and encourage other to do so as well. In a perfect world, I would hope that open access could loosen the pressures surrounding professors needed to publish the “hot, new research” in the field. Instead of hiding stimulus materials or data pools, individuals could collaborate for the greater good.

Blog Post 2- Ethical Gray Areas & The Need for Perfection

I was excited about this week’s topic, as I am currently enrolled in GRAD 5014: Academic Integrity and Plagiarism. This class (which I highly recommend!) has given me what I like to consider a crash course in ethics, particularly navigating the “gray areas” that can appear in scholarship fields. Phrases like “academic bullying” were not familiar to me, and I felt like the class really has opened my eyes to the work of academic integrity as it pertains to GTA’s, students, and faculty.

The National Association of Communication released a code of ethics in 1999 that I feel outlines expectations clearly. It can be found here, and some of my favorite highlights are the emphasis on ethical teaching, the importance of integrity in research and publications, and the development of professional relationships within and outside of the field.

Ethics can feel like a confusing area for those who have not studied the terminology- take academic bullying, for example. I have a friend in another department who has told me that on multiple occasions, her superior has required her to stay late for work without compensation, since it is “for a grade”. She feels such pressure to do whatever she is told for fear that her grade will be affected or her supervisor will spread rumors about how she is “a bad student”, or “lazy”. Until I had the words for it, I just considered this to be weird behavior from another department that left a bad taste in my mouth- however after learning about academic bullying, I had a conversation with her about what her rights as a student and as a student employee were. I feel like this should be outlined clearly not only to students (we discussed it a bit in GTA training), but also to faculty! Some may feel like that’s just the way it is, because that’s how their own experience was. However, students should NEVER be made to feel that they have to do something they are uncomfortable with for fear of being reprimanded academically or gossiped about by superiors. Faculty needs to promote ethical behavior, scholarly integrity, and professional standards by educating themselves, educating their students, and upholding those standards even when it’s difficult or easier to look the other way.

(Found on the VT website) 

When I visited the ORI website (which I’m embarrassed to admit was my first time!), I was intrigued to find some updates on an educational project they launched in 2017. In addition to the various written cases of academic misconduct, they have developed Video Case Studies that give the viewer a more personal experience in the world of research integrity. I found this so interesting because in the Academic Integrity class, one of our most recent assignments included an interactive case study in which you could actually choose the next action to take and watch the resulting fallout. For example, I decided to play the “game” as the ORI officer at the fictional university, and was surprised when a decision I made about halfway through the game led to a huge roadblock! It really helped me see how important the ORI officer’s job is, as well as educating myself on proper policies and smart ways to talk about suspicions of research misconduct. All in all, I think this is a great resource that the ORI website provides, and I feel it would be really helpful in future trainings.

“That’s Not My Job. . . Is It?”

Additional Blog Post #2

I found this week’s reading extremely interesting as I had never before heard to term academic freedom. I initially thought it means the ability to study whatever we wanted, but the reading from the AAUP website defined academic freedom as “the indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education.” (Protecting Academic Freedom, retrieved Feb 26, 2017 from https://www.aaup.org/our-work/protecting-academic-freedom). I appreciated how they emphasized the quality of work and the ability to have equal access. I have seen before how certain professors put their interests above individuals, or put the university’s reputation over giving their students high quality classes. I think that the ferocious need for tenure can really hold instructors back by making that the priority, and actually teaching students a secondary goal. After all, why call yourself a teacher if you don’t even care about teaching?

One of the readings that I found most interesting was that of trigger warnings. I agree with the assessment that they can sometimes be counterproductive to the classroom. While I understand the need in certain situations, if we consider everything to be a trigger, how can we be challenged by differing viewpoints and grow as individuals and academics? I think that faculty need to take their own personal opinions into consideration and try to create a space that is free of blatant bias one way or another, and help foster creativity, academic expression, and still keep necessary safe spaces for at-risk students without “babying” them. As faculty, I think our job is to help students learn, and if we are cutting off information because it could be considered inflammatory, we are hindering that process.

Take into consideration past implications of the word “queer”. Twenty years ago, that would be considered a derogatory term and would likely be something “triggering”. However, it is integral to the LGBTQ+ community to understand the history of the word, as well as how the community effectively took the word back, and took ownership of something perviously considered offensive. Rather than being triggered, we as a community challenged the current state of the word, learned about the circumstances, and used our abilities to change the societal meanings. I think that this can be applied in future circumstances to address certain triggers- this is not to say that an individual with PTSD doesn’t deserve a heads up before we show a screening of Saving Private Ryan, however I think that open discussions about tough topics will help students enter an uncomfortable space where they are challenged.

I have only been a GTA for a semester and a half, yet I have already had about five students that consistently came to my office hours to discuss academic concerns as well as personal ones. While I tried my best to always direct them to the proper resource (Cook Counseling, for example), I think that there is a certain duty to GTA’s to recognize our own limits. So how can we, as professionals in higher education, truly build a strong community, mentor students, and still maintain a sense of individual growth? I’m glad you asked! In addition to traditional safe spaces, I think we as faculty we should be encouraging safe “challenge zones” where students can consider new perspectives, learn about studies in other fields, and expand their current worldview.

Understanding the Complex: Communicating Science

Additional Blog Post #1

When I was first looking into getting the Preparing Future Professoriate certificate at Virginia Tech, I remember pulling up all the class options and stopping at “Communicating Science”. What could that possibly mean, i thought to myself, is it not straightforward? Turns out I had a lot to learn!

Through the readings, I felt like I developed a deeper understanding about the difficulties surrounding sharing scholarly research with a wide variety of audiences. Not only is there the issue of complicated, field-specific jargon attached to research, but often times there is the public speaking aspect that trips researchers up. As a Public Speaking GTA, I feel that it is important for the “hard sciences” to have exposure to public speaking practices, in order to better prepare for sharing their research in the future.

Communicating your research is important because it gives individuals the opportunity to spread knowledge, further interest, and develop confidence in one’s own work. I have found that one of the best ways to learn, is to teach. That is to say, the more experience somebody has with explaining a difficult concept or complicated research study, the easier it is to understand and process.

The university must engage with society- not only because it is the mission of higher education to produce better citizens and scholars, but also because innovating research is much less useful if it is not shared with the community. By collaborating and growing together in academia, we can develop better ways to “make science easier to understand” as well as foster a deeper appreciation for knowledge from society at large.

Blog Post 1- Mission Statements

In choosing my mission statements, I decided on my alma mater, Christopher Newport University, and one of my potential PhD program schools, George Mason University.

CNU’s mission statement is quite long, as follows:
“The mission of Christopher Newport University is to provide educational and cultural opportunities that benefit CNU students, the residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation. Christopher Newport provides outstanding academic programs, encourages service and leadership within the community, and provides opportunities for student involvement in nationally and regionally recognized research and arts programs. Our primary focus is excellence in teaching, inspired by sound scholarship. At CNU, personal attention in small classes creates a student-centered environment where creativity and excellence can flourish. Our primary emphasis is to provide outstanding undergraduate education. We also serve the Commonwealth with master’s degree programs that provide intellectual and professional development for graduate-level students. We are committed to providing a liberal arts education that stimulates intellectual inquiry and fosters social and civic values. Christopher Newport students acquire the qualities of mind and spirit that prepare them to lead lives with meaning and purpose. As a state university, we are committed to service that shapes the economic, civic, and cultural life of our community and Commonwealth.”

This school is in Newport News, VA in the United States. It is a liberal arts state university, and on the smaller side with around 5,000 students. Some things that I noticed in reading the mission statement are the emphasis on teaching, commitment to students, and commitment to the Commonwealth as a whole. I particularly appreciated the line “education that intellectual inquiry and fosters social and civic value”, as that is something that I definitely experienced in my time at CNU. Everybody on campus is so ready to help students engage in their passions, and there is a drive to help the community as well as develop individual scholarship. 

George Mason University’s mission statement is as follows:
“A public, comprehensive, research university established by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the National Capital Region, we are an innovative and inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world”

Likewise, they then break down into individual characteristics of the university: innovative, diverse, entrepreneurial, and accessible. They list their values as: our students come first, diversity is our strength, innovation is our tradition, we honor freedom of thought and expression, we are careful stewards, we act with integrity, and we thrive together.

GMU is located in Fairfax, Virginia in the United States. It is the largest public research university in the state, and I was intrigued by their emphasis on diversity and innovation. Particularly, their mission statement focused on “innovative and inclusive” educational experience, which I feel aligns with my own personal beliefs well. I liked that they seemed to have a grip on the pulse of current events, particularly the debate over freedom of thought and how that intersects with social justice issues. I would be interested to see how the average student interacts with the various programs they have available, or if the focus is simply on marketing to a diverse student body rather that retaining it.