Connecting the Dots

This semester has really been an eye opening one for me. To be completely honest, one of the main drivers in taking some of these GRAD courses has been to give me a competitive edge when applying for jobs.  However, I have really learned a lot in this course especially about myself and my own assumptions about teaching and pedagogical practice.  I find myself sort of straddling a line when it comes to my thoughts and opinions on the future of teaching and my own personal teaching philosophy.  One of the things I am most proud of is that even before taking these courses, I have always found myself questioning how I could improve (in my case) veterinary medical education.  As discussed in the readings for this week by Palmer and others, I see so many students only concerned about the grade, lacking empathy, and forgetting that there are real lives and real patients on the other end of all this.  However, I also find parts of me still deeply rooted in many traditional ways of thinking.  Even though I can see the shortcomings, I still feel that many of the traditional ways of teaching the –ologies (physiology, neurology, nephrology, etc.) by just rote memorization of facts may still be a necessary part of the curriculum.  Thankfully, I don’t think anyone has ALL the right answers and it is going to take some pushing and pulling from both sides (traditional and contemporary) to work together to find better alternatives.

Narrative learning

The readings from this week reflected the need for students to experience learning as opposed to being given knowledge such as in the banking model as discussed in Paulo Freire’s, Chapter 2 from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I definitely understand the need to create students that are constantly questioning information and not just receptacles with which to fill, however, I feel like somewhere there needs to a “baseline” of facts that we all take at face value (at least initially) in order for us to later build our narrative and critical thinking.  Moreover, there seem to be different kinds of questions we can ask.  For example, in young children, the questions we can ask involve getting them curious about words, numbers, nature, etc. so that they learn to not necessarily question what they learn but ask questions to learn.  Whereas in older students (high school/college), these questions may be better spent questioning what they learned and from where the information came.  This is why I really like the idea of “narrative learning”.  This reflects teaching/learning as more of a facilitated discussion led by a “teacher” but participated in by all.  This is opposed to the “lecturing at” situation or the situation where students to learn to ask questions but have no basis on which to ask their questions.

Just be yourself . . .

I really enjoyed all the readings from this week, particularly Sarah Deel’s “Finding My Teaching Voice” and Shelli Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills”. Both discuss the idea that though we are all interested in improving the current system, there is no “one way” to teach. I especially liked the reading by Sarah Deel as it reflects the thought processes through which I would assume a lot of people interested in being good teachers go. And the ultimate conclusions were that the best teachers bring their true selves into their teaching. I think this is an interesting point. I myself sort of fell into teaching. It was never something I thought of myself doing. However, during my residency, I was thrown into teaching some didactic lectures and labs. I had no idea what I was doing but decided the best way to deal with the situation was to be completely honest with my students. I was honest about myself (I too am pretty uncool and not interested in making any great sacrifices to change that) and what I knew and didn’t know. I ended up receiving some great accolades from students and even won a teaching award while there. Though I am learning and continue to learn new ways to improve my teaching style, I think my abilities to be honest are a great foundation. Like Deel, the more “myself” I am with the students, the more comfortable I am with teaching. Both readings discuss the idea that there are some common techniques that one might find useful to adopt, but there is no “perfect” or “ideal” teaching style. They are all a little different and can be equally as beneficial.

Why learn when you can memorize?

In reading Alfie Kohn’s piece, “The Case Against Grades”, I feel like a lot of what he is saying makes innate sense. When we know we are being assessed, we always want to be the best and come out on top.  I think it is in most of our nature to be competitive and strive to be the best.  However, as mentioned in his piece as well as the piece by Dan Pink, this most often inhibits any chances of learning or thinking.

A personally relevant example of this is how fourth year veterinary students are assessed. The first three years of veterinary school (here) are primarily didactic in nature.  You spend all day in a classroom learning lots of facts and a few ways to problem solve.  However, in your fourth year, you get the opportunity to use everything you have learned and rotate through the veterinary teaching hospital.  Here, at Virginia Tech, fourth year rotations are graded pass-fail (well, at least they were when I went through 5 years ago).  This was exceptionally relieving to me.  As a lifelong overachiever and fact-memorizer, I was just as Alfie Kohn discusses in his essay.  I was completely fixated on grades and would do whatever it took (ethically of course) to get the grade.  If I needed to pull an all-nighter to memorize a bunch of facts, spit them out the next day and forget them forever, I would.  When I had to write an essay, I would sit the rubric right next to my computer making sure to address each point whether it related to my topic or not.  (In fact, I once got an A on a paper with a note from the professor stating this was almost the worst paper he had ever read as it made absolutely no sense.  However, I had earned an A based on the criteria laid out in the rubric.  If THAT’S not suggestive of a problem in the system, I don’t know WHAT is!)  But, in my eyes, I needed the good grade to get into the good college to get a good job.  I kept this mentality through vet school (although now, looking back-it seems so silly).  When I got to my fourth year clinical rotations, I finally felt like I could take a breath and use what I had learned.  I wasn’t concerned with making the highest grade or knowing the most factoids.  The beauty of it was that I could focus on my patient, learn my case, and integrate facts with real world situations.

I think this generally applies to most disciplines. In real life, there is typically not a “right” or “wrong” answer.  You take what you have learned, integrate it into the problem you have in front of you and create a solution.  In my case, not being graded on an A-F scale in my fourth year allowed me more freedom to feel comfortable learning.  I’m sure many would agree that, I afforded the opportunity, they would find this just as freeing.

Is anti-teaching the answer?

Mike Wesch’s piece on Anti-teaching is a very interesting reading. I have to say that I was intrigued by the reference to contemporary techniques in teaching as “anti-teaching” and then traditional teaching as “teaching”.  He suggests that traditional teaching is a “hindrance to learning”.  I definitely see where this feel could come from.  Especially in the last decade, a lot has changed and such an emphasis on testing has made teaching about conveying facts and teaching to the test.  I completely agree that this is (ineffective) teaching as it takes away ALL interesting subject matter and only focuses on what is necessary to “know for the test”.  However, there is some value to didactic learning which I think is falling into this category of (ineffective) “teaching”.  Some students do actually respond to lectures and ppts though I agree not everyone.  Each student learns a little bit differently.  The nice think about the more contemporary approach (or anti-teaching) is that it gets students to think.  There is still a place for facts and figures but getting our future generations to think and problem solve is where contemporary pedagagy will be have such an advantage.

Connected learning: Reconciling the old with the new?

Up until the first class, I had never heard of connected learning. Though I wouldn’t consider myself “old” per se, I would consider myself old-fashioned.  I use a computer when I have to, I really don’t care for blogging, and I do not have a Twitter account.  For me, a technologically inept person, the learning curve is just too steep for me to see a lot of reward in it.  However, the introduction of the connected learning concept really reminded me of how important the internet is and how much I take it for granted; especially the accessibility of information.  In the not so distant past, the best way to access academic knowledge was to go to a library.  Now, especially with open access, we can sit at our computers and have almost anything at our fingertips.  And the students of today (and yesterday too) have benefitted greatly from this technology.  But this has also made their learning experiences a little different.  Sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher (or professor) provide knowledge on a subject in which they were experienced used to be the best way to gain skills and knowledge in a particular topic.  Now, students have access to knowledge in just as many (arguably more) subject areas at the touch of a button.  So how do we reconcile this in a classroom?  It seems this is where the connected learning comes into play.  As I understand it, the idea is to get students interested and excited to go out and experience knowledge the way in which they would like as opposed to sitting in a classroom being lectured.  I think this is a really interesting concept and could really change the way people learn and get excited about learning.

Just a little tenure humor

I found this comic on while procrastinating studying for finals.


I thought this might make the fodder for a blog post.  We have discussed the many problems with tenure (achieving it as well as learning from it) in class and I thought I would use this comic as a brief reminder of some of the things we have discussed in class.  This cartoon reflects a general lackadaisical attitude toward attending a meeting on time, however one can extend this context to include other aspects of being a professor such as teaching responsibilities or potentially research accomplishments or publicatios.  This is certainly not true in all cases, however, the accountability for tenured professors is often questionable.  Tenured professors, at least historically, are looked at as untouchable.  But this is not entirely true.  According to the NEA (National Education Association), about 2% of tenured professors are dismissed each year.  They discuss the fact that it is difficult to fire a tenured professor (though it does happen), but it is arguably just as difficult to become one.  They also address the fact that most tenured professors apparently came teaching as one of their favorite responsibilities.  For more on the NEA’s brochure on “The Truth About Tenure in Higher Education”, please see the included link.

Hunger and homelessness in community college students

While looking through the Motherblog (I love that name), I spotted an article in the Chronicle that caught my eye.  This article discusses a study looking at the incredibly shocking rates of community college students that experience, what they term, ‘food insecurity’ (aka either decreased access to food, hunger, etc.) as well as homelessness.

Link to article

This headline caught me completely off guard.  Though I more often have my head stuck in an Immunology textbook or manual discussing rodent techniques to prepare for my next experiment, I do not consider myself completely oblivious to world problems.  But I was, in fact, completely oblivious to hunger and homelessness being issues experienced by community college students.  This study looked at 4,000 students representing 10 different institutions.  Almost half (HALF!) of all respondents reported having marginal food insecurity in the past 30 days.  Marginal food insecurity was defined as having anxiety over shortness of food.  HALF!  I know we as students all struggle with money but to see a statistic where people are actually concerned about where their next meal might come from is heart breaking.  Similar numbers had experienced home insecurity represented by difficulty paying for rent and utilities.  How can one properly obtain an education and focus on studying when their bellies are growling and they are not sure if they will make rent this month??

Additionally the article points out that many students facing these issues do not take advantage of programs currently available to help them.  I wonder though, if this is more likely due to a lack of knowledge about these programs as opposed to any other reason.

Finally, the article posits many ways in which these statistics can be addressed and changed.  They discuss public policy changes, increasing public awareness of programs to assist in acquiring food and shelter, and expanding support programs (including mental health programs) on community college campuses.  I found this article interesting as well as important in highlighting a problem to which I have unfortunately been blissfully ignorant.

If I could have one wish . . . what would it be . . .

One thing I would like to change about higher education . . . I would like to see an improvement in the work-life balance.  This is one topic that I address in my scholarly essay.  Unfortunately, from here on, I can only mostly comment on the female experience with respect to work-life balance, as my essay focuses mostly on the role of women in academic medicine.


One really interesting article I read was written by Tessie W. October and found in Frontiers in pediatrics this year.  I won’t go into too much detail as I discuss this further in my essay but basically this is an article discussing a woman’s various thoughts during maternity leave for each of her three children.  It chronicles some of the really important bias and stereotypes that women in academic medicine, who also have families, face.  It discusses the bias she has of herself when she tries to be the perfect mother as well as the perfect academic physician.  Also it discusses the biases of society when they chastise her for utilizing her maternity leave in a way they feel is unmotherly.  I really enjoyed the article (and will include a link at the end of this blog) as a way to capture many of the reasons, in my opinion, women feel that they are constantly failing at work-life balance . . . especially in academic medicine.


I feel like an improvement in this aspect is important to not only maintaining women in academic medicine (and likely higher education), but too also simply improving the institution as a workplace.  Again, I am biased towards the female aspect as that what what my paper focused on, but many of the studies I looked at evaluated both men and women.  In general, women generally were more dissatisfied with work-life balance then men.  So, if we as an institution can make it easier to achieve such a balance through the use of emergency daycare options, flexible maternity leave, work-at-home options, lactation rooms, etc., I think we can improve the working capabilities of women in academic medicine (and higher education).