In but Not Of the (Academic) World

While Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach was an assigned reading for another class of mine, I still find it to be a good reminder of why we’re all doing what we’re doing. Especially towards the end of the semester, experiencing some burnout, I really needed the reminder. This is the time where the undergraduate students have sent about a million emails about their grades and how everything will be determined. And although it makes me want to scream, I’m sympathetic towards them (in some ways) as I don’t think I’ve received a single grade in any of my graduate courses. Parker Palmer always gives us a good reminder that we’re all human and that feelings matter. Why we try to tuck them away in academia is still puzzling and yet we’re so conditioned to do it. I love the description in Parker Palmer’s A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited – “in but not of” the academic world (or world in general). Personally, I’ve always heard this phrase used from a religious standpoint but feel that it is very fitting in this context as well.


I met with the professor I co-teach with this past week and this week’s readings/videos, along with the course in general, helped to guide some of the conversation that took place. Since I’ll be teaching 50% of the course next semester, I feel that I have a lot more say-so this time around. I offered my opinion that I thought the students needed to be encouraged to engage themselves more rather than answering multiple choice questions that come straight from the textbook – cue the lecture by night, homework by day comment from “What is School For?”. We both agreed that grading 120 short answer questions on a regular basis just wasn’t feasible so we took some time to brainstorm other options.

Our class conversations and this week’s readings/videos have helped me to shift my thinking about the purpose of my class. As an entry-level course, what do we want them to know? What do we want them to be able to do? This is a question I’ve held close to me the entire semester. I think it is most important for students to realize by way of this class that most things in the food world are not black and white. It is essential that students are able to see both sides of an argument and to be able to acknowledge (and be sympathetic to) opinions that to not align with their own. This could mean incorporating debates, small group discussions, opinion papers, etc. into the course. I also want this class to serve as a means of general interest in Food Science. There are numerous topics related to food that are equally controversial as interesting (GMOs, plant based meat products, organic versus conventional farming). Plus, food is part of everyone’s daily life so each person has to make food choices on a regular basis. This may mean changing some of the current course curriculum. Right now a textbook defines which topics we will be focusing on each week. The textbook isn’t bad, but it does leave out more current topics that are probably more relatable to this generation of students. Lastly, I want this course to serve as a means of connection. While we did have a few graduates students come in to talk about their research this semester, I would like students to be introduced to more opportunities outside of the classroom. I’m thinking this could be attendance to defenses or research seminars within the Food Science department. Attendance at Food Science Club meetings could also fill this void. Most importantly, I want the students in the classroom to get to know one another better. Right now there is little interaction between them all. I’m realizing more and more that learning communities are beneficial for all; that getting to know peers both inside and outside of your own major is invaluable on both a personal and academic level.



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Like Deer in Headlights

I am a teaching assistant for a professor that travels frequently. This has proven to have both pros and cons; this creates much more work than the average TA, however I have had the opportunity to hop right into teaching at the collegiate level. As I have begun to regularly sub for the professor, there have been challenges along the way. Especially as the students transition from one teaching style to the next, they tend to frequently have a “deer in headlights” look, especially when discussion is expected or questions are posed. Recently, there was such a lack of response when I asked the group as a whole if they understood the material that I literally had to say, “Are we shaking our heads yes or no”? In this course, students are able to bring their laptops and phones to class. Sometimes it seems as though students are much more engaged in what is being displayed on their laptops versus what is taking place in the classroom. The Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom article really resonated with me. Through my undergraduate career, I rarely brought my laptop to class because of how I knew I would be distracted by it.

I do see the argument that typing notes on laptops can be done much more quickly than taking notes by hand and can also be much more legible for both the student taking them and for others. This also serves as an easy way to consolidate notes, update them, and save them for later. Personally, I am an advocate for taking notes by hand, however I do not think it is my place to “choose” that for students as everyone learns differently. My stance at this point in time is that whatever route is chosen, it is essential that expectations be communicated the first day of class.


The Smarter Than You Think reading by Clive Thompson adds to this conversation by shining light on the fact that we don’t have to rely solely on humans or technology; there can be a healthy combination of both. In fact, the integration of the two is often the most beneficial option. Therefore, maybe allowing students to use their computers and phones to perform certain tasks, but asking them to put them away otherwise could be a way to accomplish this. This article brought up a good point that being aware of how technology affects our daily lives (sometimes inhibiting us) is key. As instructors, we can help students to reflect on this concept and be more mindful about technology being a distraction/how technology is a distraction from a personal standpoint. When I peer reviewed Debjit’s course syllabus in class, his statement about the usage of technology in the classroom impressed me. It was like a friendly forewarning about how technology can serve as both a beneficial tool in the classroom or a distraction. He stressed that it was important for students to be able to recognize the role it played for them personally, putting the responsibility on the students, but still allowing freedom of choice.



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The Authentic Teaching Self – Always a Work in Progress

It is almost absurd to think that the majority of teachers teaching below the collegiate level typically have years of training, whereas some collegiate teachers merely have a class handed over to them even though they may have zero teaching qualifications. Similar to what was said in Finding My Teaching Voice, I feel that many collegiate professors only know about teaching what they have experienced themselves. This can be both a good thing and bad thing. Some of the practices used by my teachers and professors throughout the years have really stuck with me and are applied into my own teaching. However, I would say with confidence that we have all had what I would consider to be bad teachers, or at least ones that implemented bad teaching practices.

The whole “being a well-liked female professor while still maintaining authority” thing really resonated with me. Especially being fairly close in age to the students, I find it important that they respect me as an authoritative figure, while still feeling comfortable enough to have authentic conversations with me. After all, I feel like I’m there to help them in whatever academic capacity I can. This is what I told my students the other day when I subbed my professor’s class – that I am here to talk with them about internships, graduate school, etc. in addition to the class itself.

For my Graduate Teaching Scholars class, one assignment required students to read Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. Although at times a bit monotonous, this book did a great job at discussing one’s authentic self and the importance of this in the scope of teaching and shares a few ideas with Sarah Deel’s article. How cool is it that while our students are trying to figure out who they are, we, as teachers, are also doing the same? The past couple of years I have become more reflective as I read more and more about authenticity in teaching. I think that authenticity requires vulnerability. Lately, I’ve been more ok with being vulnerable in academic life and life in general. Sometimes it is seen as such a bad thing when I’m beginning to learn that it is actually very powerful.

Although some of these points may seem self-explanatory, The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills document provides concrete examples of how to improve teaching. Through the years I’ve begun to appreciate and become more tuned in to the physical aspects of good teaching. I find myself “hiding” behind the podium sometimes when giving presentations. I’ve worked my way up to walking around a bit. It helps me to relax and typically contributes to having better rapport with students. This is not something I’ve been able to achieve over night. I have been both figuratively and literally taking baby steps. But I promise that practice helps. Good teaching truly is a process where you’re always re-evaluating yourself. It is easy to be hard on oneself through this continuous process, but you just have to be ok with the fact that doing something wrong is fine; you’ll try to do better the next time.

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I hope I get a good grade on this post

Within my teaching program, we have talked a lot about the differences in assessment versus grades. Typically, they are generally thought of as being interchangeable, but they actually mean two very different things. I believe that we should use assessment as a means of seeing where people are at with the material and the concepts being taught. Maybe that is complimented with a grade and maybe it isn’t. However, I don’t think that assessment should always have a grade attached to it. Assessment also may look a lot of different ways. It could be as simple as “write down two things you learned today” or as casual as walking by student groups and listening to what they are discussing.

When it comes to grades, we get into this conversation of what is fair and what is not? I have had classes where the professor curved the class and just as many students got curved down as those that benefited from the curve. Should a student’s grade ever suffer because of how others in the class perform? It can especially be difficult to not incorporate generality into grading when you have a larger class. It isn’t possible to get to know each of the students and to witness their efforts (or lack thereof). When grades are involved, you also take away a person’s ability to freely make mistakes. And that is disappointing when we often learn the very most from our mistakes.

My favorite point made in The Case Against Grades is “grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.” I find myself experiencing this on a regular basis. If the assignment says, “write five pages,” there may be times when I literally write five pages because that is merely what I need to do to get the assignment done. I have to admit that although I wasn’t too keen on blogging for this class, Dr. Nelson has kept her promise that we have freedom within the assignment. This has made it a lot more enjoyable and I find myself not dreading my homework Sundays.

The What Motivates Us video was very interesting. The statement about treating people like people rather than machines and horses really stuck with me. I feel like that is how to be a successful teacher in the classroom. Students typically want to be seen as humans rather than just another body in a seat. Although students have responsibilities they need to be held accountable for, it is still important that a professor recognizes that students have real lives outside of the classroom. Exploring one’s purpose is not an easy feat. The word “purpose” goes so far beyond the classroom.


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There is Nothing Permanent Except Change

When I first heard we would be focusing on mindfulness this week, I was pretty stoked. During the CIDER Conference held at Virginia Tech this past year, I was able to attend a “Mindfulness in the Classroom” session. While I thought we would only be learning about how the presenters implemented mindfulness in their classrooms, attendees actually got to participate in a mindfulness activity themselves. It is amazing what closing your eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and refocusing can do. We, especially as graduate students, are continuously in a state of chaos trying to run around and do all of the things that we do. Sometimes it is even stressful just making it to a class on time. You’ve powerwalked carrying multiple textbooks from one side of campus to the next, hustled up multiple flights of stairs, and then weaseled your way through the aisles of students to find a seat. As soon as you sit down, you’re scrambling to dig through your stuff to find a pen and paper to begin taking notes. Its been an ordeal just to get to class, let alone begin to take in all of the material that is being thrown at you at light speed. Its like we’re programmed to go through the motions rather than genuinely think about and dwell on the information coming our way. Ellen Langer’s Mindful Learning article describes being mindless as when we are governed by rule and routine. I like how she says that if you are aware that you’re mindless, and then you’re no longer being mindless and instead practicing mindfulness. I appreciate professors who spend the first five minutes of class sort of regrouping; reiterating assignment due dates, recapping previous material, or just talking about what is in the news related to the class. This way, it gives students a few moments to wind down and get themselves focused for what is to come.

A New Culture of Learning made me think about change related to knowledge and technology in a completely different way. I never put thought into the fact that there was a period of time where “stability, continuity, and maintaining the status quo” was what was sought after. Nowadays we almost don’t have a choice but to change continuously. Its sink or swim. This article was both enlightening and inspiring. Just because something doesn’t seem cool or novel right now, doesn’t mean that it can’t be in the future. If you have an idea, you should run with it. I’ve also never recognized just how essential learning communities are. Not everything is black and white and I just loved how the authors went into detail about how in an encyclopedia, we don’t get to see the thought behind why something got chosen and something else didn’t’. My previous PI and I would often talk about how published journal articles are such a small snapshot of the entire process of a study. We don’t get to see the details and sometimes they help to tell a much more thorough story. There are both pros and cons to having open information sites. Although Wikipedia tends to sometimes have a negative reputation, when you compare it to a textbook that may be decades old, it actually becomes a lot more appealing. The statement from the article “Making knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game” really stood out to me. If the world is continuously changing, then knowledge must do the same.

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Digital Learning – What was I doing again?

As a student in the CALS Graduate Teaching Scholar program, I have been assigned many readings about the dependency on lecturing within higher education. Us teaching scholars are taught that the attention span of adults is only somewhere between fifteen to twenty minutes. Therefore transitions must be made after this amount of time goes by. These transitions can be minor such as switching to a different topic or performing in-class questions. Even a short break can do the trick.

What I dislike about the Four Things Lecture is Good For article is that it does not provide alternative suggestions for lecturing. While I do agree that “covering material” is not an excuse for lecturing, it can be often be difficult to get students to go through material on their own. I believe it is an instructor’s job to make sure that students are set up to at least have the chance to be successful. For introductory level classes there should be plenty of materials discussed in the class itself so that students pretty much don’t have a choice but to be introduced to concepts for the first time. I was also not keen on the drastic distinction between being inspired versus being taught. In my opinion the two go hand in hand. If students are not feeling inspired then they may be less likely to be open to learning. Moral of the story – I am not much of a Robert Talbert fan.

It is refreshing to hear that former president, Barack Obama, experienced a season of life where he “went through the motions” in school. Although I’m now in the second year of a PhD program (I’m going to assume that you must like school if you have endured it for that long) I still remember a time in undergrad where I was much less interested in and dedicated to Food Science. I was filled with the excitement of being a freshman and had just recently joined a sorority. Food engineering was not my first priority to say the least. It took time for me to become passionate about my field of work. It is important that we don’t give up on students that do not seem as engaged as we would like them to be. Maybe it just hasn’t “clicked” for them yet. While I did like the concept behind getting students more involved, I also believe that school in general was not designed to be fun. For instance graduate school is rewarding and I enjoy it very much, but I would be lying if I said every aspect of it is fun. However, I think that’s ok.

The New Learners of the 21st Century video changed my perspective on a few things. I’m not much of a video game person. In fact, I sort of dislike them and find them to be a waste of time. With that being said, a wonderful point was made in regards to negative perceptions about addiction and video games. The point was that a child who stays up all night to read a book is praised, whereas a kid that stays up to play video games may not be. Similarly if a child puts in an extensive amount of work related to sports, that is seen as dedication. These conflicting ideals highlight what is deemed as valued to the population. I found these comments to be very convicting. How true!



Peanuts and barfblog: Influential in Networked Learning

Before classes began last Monday, I decided to take a pre-fall course where I traveled to various farms, processing facilities, and Agricultural Research Centers (ARECs) throughout Virginia. Being a bit new to the state, I thought what a better way to get more familiar with what Virginia agriculture has to offer than by being physically present and seeing it with my own eyes. As a Food Scientist, my classmates and I are often taught about how to excel within the food industry in a classroom setting, however, it is not uncommon for Food Science students to have never set foot in a food processing environment. Through this course I was able to take peanuts right off of the line and watch them be packaged into their containers. This was experiential learning at its finest. I probably got more of out of this three-day course than I would have a course lasting the duration of the semester. I was also able to meet Weed Scientists and Plant Pathologists that I otherwise would have probably never crossed paths with. These individuals serve as microbiologists in some capacities and therefore our work intersects quite frequently although collaboration is just beginning between departments.

Gardner Campbell’s “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” article connects both experiential learning with facets of the Wide World Web. I enjoyed the comment that “one does not need permission to make a hyperlink.” This is true. It takes intrinsic motivation to go out and do this on one’s own. Some things like this just can’t be taught and it often takes trial and error rather than reading from a manual.

My previous Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Ben Chapman, runs a food safety blog titled barfblog. This blog works to communicate food safety news and information to the general public in a way in which is quick and easily understood. Dr. Chapman first began to construct the blog format when he was a student himself. Him and his PI have since grown the blog to have about 60,000 followers. The blog posts are converted into tweets and other forms of social media outputs. Dr. Chapman is able to use the analytics to support receiving funding to continue to run the blog as the way we communicate our research findings is changing. In return, Dr. Chapman always encouraged his students to pursue these types of their endeavors on their own. I currently write for the Institute of Food Technologist Student Association blog, Science Meets Food, and additionally contribute to Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience, a science-based seeks to workgroup that seeks to make food easier to understand for everybody in a fun, personable, and relatable manner using videos and social media platforms.

This might be one of my favorite statements of all times.

[“The best (and most successful) academics  are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.”]  -Tim Hitchcock

I will be honest in the fact that I Snapchat-ed this quote to my group of peers that I collaborative with on research. Even one of the individuals responded with “this is so us.” Hitchcock is spot on when he says that we become better and more successful researchers when we align with others. Through conference networking and being introduced via other students, we have created a small group of food science students involved in food safety work that remain virtually connected pretty much at all times. We have friends from across the nation and even in other parts of the world that I often call on when I get questions that I cannot answer.

I also enjoyed when Hitchcock acknowledged that social media provides an audience that is ready to “cite” your work. The work typically does itself when people become interested in the work you post on social media. Shares and retweets are simple and are almost second nature to the majority of individuals. Although Hitchcock seems to get it, there are still many researchers, especially in the hard sciences, that may not fully accept the idea of implementing social media and using daily life in general to promote research. It can sometimes be deemed as being unprofessional although I believe that these ideals are beginning to catch on.