The Lyric – Dear White People

Hello all!

I just wanted to share that Dear White People will be playing at the Lyric in December (6-11). You can go to the event information page to see more about specific times.

Posted in Diversity Tagged

How To Edit in Bias

This video is making the rounds on the Internet again (a more complete version here). It shows a news station interviewing a 4-year-old black boy after a shooting in a neighborhood. The news station cuts away from the interview before the boy finished his thought (his reasoning for wanting a gun when he grows up is that he wants to be a police officer). The news station seems to have apologized (see here), but the damage is already done. The “damage is already done” and as they are stereotyping race. Considering our recent discussions in class about potential misquoting out of context, I think this underscores our need to always have a healthy dose of doubt and a critical lens when reading or hearing anything. What checks are in place to keep the media accurate and ethical?

Posted in Diversity Tagged

Inclusion: Walking the Walk

I like the word inclusion. It means action. It forces needed change to take place. I think we can understand the importance of diversity and multiculturalism. We should assume heterogeneity. It is necessary to be knowledgeable of differences and prejudice and bias. But, inclusion is tougher. It requires work and discomfort and time to do. One cannot claim they are an ally for a certain group without doing something to demonstrate allyship. (See this article for a commentary).

As instructors, it is our duty to recognize and respect diversity in the classroom and to promote inclusion. The Diversity in a Global Perspective course at Virginia Tech and the Connected Courses have overlapped with the latest Unit (Unit 4), so we’ve had many discussions and ideas come up lately that I think are very applicable. One of the best ways that came up is to first recognize our own privileges as teachers. I recognize I am a white, cisgender male from a middle class background. My students come from completely different backgrounds. So, I need to recognize and acknowledge what I have and address it with the class. Once I am able to do that, I can also educate myself on diversity issues within a class in order to know how I can be inclusive. What are the historical difficulties of being a woman in engineering? How does socioeconomic status influence our ideas of technology and innovation? What does culture or race/ethnicity mean in the field of psychology?

Once I know more, then I need to bring it up in the classroom. Will it be easy to do? Absolutely not. But it should be an ongoing conversation that is interwoven throughout the semester. I have a lot of problems with the “Diversity Lecture” aka the one day where you bring up these topics and never talk about it again. That is unnatural and unrealistic. To be truly inclusive, diversity issues should be consistent and continual.

I recognize that people are trained to just “teach the material.” What can we do to encourage inclusion in all settings? What incentives are there, because of the way the system is built most people just want to teach the discipline? That is something we need to examine and change.

One idea is to have a mentoring system, where people work with others on recognizing microaggressions in the classroom and learning how to address them. Or to learn ways to be disappointed and have disagreement and to make mistakes related to inclusion. Absolutely nobody is perfect, but it is being okay with knowing we don’t know everything related to differences. We could model for our students what inclusion looks like so they can take that away into their lives. Having a mentoring system could allow us to model making mistakes or changing out minds in the classroom without having to be the “all-knowing professor.”

I obviously don’t have all the answers to how we can be inclusive, but it is our responsibility as instructors to do as much as we can. Educate ourselves, recognize our own privileges and position, and constantly address diversity are just a few ways to be inclusive.

For some other ideas, definitely check out the University of Wisconsin Washington page on inclusivity in the classroom.


Posted in CoLearning, connectedcourses, Diversity Tagged , ,

“What I Did For Love”

A Chorus Line had a huge impact on me the first time I saw it. It resonated so deeply with me, because it told the hidden stories we all have inside. Our desires, our hopes, our fears. The song What I Did For Love is sung when the chorus line is asked how they would feel if they could no longer dance. That is their life. That is what they love. Give it a listen if you have never heard it. Thinking about the lyrics and the message, I think it can apply to reasons I teach.

Why do I teach? I believe that autonomy and agency are the most important values that should be instilled in learners. By feeling as though one has the ability to influence what knowledge is acquired and how that information is applied, it is my hope that my students will become excited and active scholars. I believe my role as the instructor is to foster this enthusiasm for learning in a student-centered, supportive manner.

One way I like to do this is to provide choices related to assignments and exams. On my tests, I have open-ended, written response questions where students can pick five of fifteen options. I want my students to succeed and to argue their points on topics they feel comfortable responding to. They have choice, and I notice they tend to be much more considered when given the chance.

Why do I teach? I teach because I get excited at the prospect of seeing people be analytical. Or they challenge and surprise themselves. I enjoy seeing others succeed and believe in constantly improving oneself. I also like not knowing, because then we can discover possible answers together. I try to be adaptable in the classroom. Of course I have a plan, but if something interesting happens or is brought up, then I go with it and encourage natural inquiry. An inquisitive nature compelled me, so why shouldn’t I spur interest. My best mentors and teachers were those who constantly pushed me and sought to develop me as a whole person. They didn’t expect me to waste away my time idly, but to push me to constantly improve myself and to self-reflect. I try to do this same thing in the classroom.

Why do I teach? I recently implemented a flipped classroom on the topic of Gender and Sexuality in my Abnormal Psychology class. Students reflected about their experiences before, during, and after class. One student wrote:

“One of the major issues brought up was whether or not certain “disorders” were in fact disorders. Specifically, listening to the 81 words radio broadcast [student is referring to 81 Words in case you are wondering] and discussing how homosexuality was considered a disorder for such a long amount of time was very enlightening. Moreover, I was shocked to hear that sodomy was illegal in Virginia until so recently. […] There is still a long way to go before equal rights and a complete acceptance of homosexuality, but I do feel that younger individuals would be surprised to learn about how recently these policies have been changed. I did some more research […]


How I react (usually in my office) when a student thinks critically

Not only is the student trying to understand more on their own, but also questioning definitions and classifications (i.e., mental disorders) and realizing that there are certain prejudices still in place that need to be challenged. What now is the student able to do to better the world and help others? What now is this student capable of doing armed with this knowledge? Please note, I do say armed for a reason.

These same questions were sparked in other students. Another noted “Some of the time where we talked about the classification of some sexual disorders such as fetishes and things of that nature was really interesting and not only sparked a conversation with my group but also sparked an inner debate with myself; meaning I’m still not sure if some of these things should be classified as disorders or diseases.”

Yet another wrote “It was fun and really enlightening to look up different specific identities and find out more about them. Our group spent a good while on the Internet looking up different ones and discussing them.”

And I reacted like this:

“Did that really just happen? Have I actually understood?” (Bonus points if you know what musical that line comes from)

The entire group discussed! What a great way to share different values, cultures, and beliefs. They learn through their own research and learned about each other. Double whammy in terms of expanding one’s worldview.

Why do I teach? The fact that these students went above and beyond, no matter what the topic was, makes me so happy to be a teacher. That is what gives it worth. A former student sent me an email recently that was very long, but ended with “I could talk for days, but what this email response was really getting at is thank you. For educating me and really getting me excited for all the possibilities and pointing out what I don’t know so I can learn more! I hope the more I learn, the more I can understand and pass on.”

So why do I teach? I teach because I love it. One day, I will no longer teach, just like those dancers on that stage, standing in a straight line. As a lifelong scholar and one with an insatiable thirst for information, I teach so my students can be prepared to and desire to teach themselves long after we learned together.

Posted in CoLearning, connectedcourses Tagged ,

Recognizing Privilege

I thought I would share some links that I have found helpful when discussing prejudice and privilege in my classroom. These are topics that come up so often, especially when discussing mental health issues.

First, an interesting video here that suggests that babies are born with prejudice and hatred ingrained. Definitely opens up an interesting dialogue about the nature of morality and the “isms.” Or, are experiences more important? Very hard to say. I have not read the full study, so I am doubtful (always have a healthy amount Smilie: :-D), so I definitely want to look into it more.

After our discussion last class, I began thinking of times outside of the possible biological nature of prejudice and more in terms of experiences. When do we receive messages that could lead to judgments?  I think cartoons played a huge role in what we believe, which is why shows like Sesame Street push for a wide range of characters.

Mere exposure to the “other” reduces hatred and misunderstandings. It is amazing to look back on the old cartoons and to realize how racist they truly were. Most older cartoons begin with this warning now. It is good to acknowledge that these cartoons were wrong, but not to censor them. They exist, and we can still learn from them.

Finally, here are several links to how to discuss privilege and how to recognize privilege when it happens.

I value these lists, because it helps me to realize what I have and what others do not. It motivates me to do something about it and to speak out.

Finally, I end on a positive note. For those who haven’t seen it yet, Progress Does Happen!


Posted in Diversity Tagged

Excited to Start

I’m excited to learn more through Connected Courses!

Posted in CoLearning, connectedcourses, Diversity Tagged , ,

Dinner with Students

As a student, a lot of the best discussions I’ve had related to research or education has been with friends at a restaurant. We have a couple of drinks and soon we are talking about the meaning of life (42, in case you didn’t know) or how to define a certain construct. Or, we converse about the importance of social justice and what can be done, both realistically and ideally. We recently held a “Beerstorm” where the different psychology areas (who traditionally don’t interact that much with each) came together and shared ideas in a very informal setting. It was FANTASTIC! So many great ideas thrown around, and potential research collaborations are likely going to occur.

In graduate school, it is common for parties to be held at the homes of professors, or for people to drink and eat and then to discuss projects or something else. In fact, it is expected and encouraged. Technically, we are crossing “boundaries” in some sense.

I wonder if i would be acceptable to have a more informal meeting with students outside of the classroom. Maybe not necessarily drinks and dinner, but why not tell students to meet at a coffee bar. I can obviously see all the potential issues, but why shouldn’t learning take place in a more natural settings. I think it makes a lot of sense.

I’d love to hear thoughts.

Posted in PFP14S

Change (Thanks, Obama!)

For those who don’t know, check out the meme Thanks, Obama! here for the reference. It is always nice to have somebody to blame for your issues, no matter how ridiculous the target is.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what I would want to see change about higher education all throughout this semester. Naturally, there isn’t an easy answer. I could make a Case Against Grades like Alfie Kohn, as I hate it when students stress over their grades. “No! I want you to think critically, knowing that there isn’t a correct answer. Stop asking me for grading criteria!” (This hasn’t happened exactly like this, but students seem so concerned with “getting it right” that they miss out on the exact reason for assignments, namely, critical thought and effective communication). We live in a culture where students expect there to be an answer, when in reality there is not.

Or, I could advocate for more problem-based learning, as these skills are going to take most students further than other form of learning, in my humble opinion.

Or, I could argue for a greater use of technology to reach students. Blogs, twitter, facebook, or texts are all ways to keep conversations going outside of the classroom.

In the end, I realize that all of these areas revolve around one main theme: teaching. I think teaching needs to be given more of a priority in higher education, especially at research institutions. At Virginia Tech, teaching is expected to take a back seat while research or other work is raised on a pedestal. This is definitely the perception that I have from the majority of faculty, save for a few. I love to teach. Plain and simple. And, considering we are all graduate students (probably a little bit too into perfection), we are not going to accept mediocrity in anything, including teaching. So, when the message is that teaching does not matter as much as research, we become conflicted. Of course it matters!

The reality is that most of the undergraduate students that go through Virginia Tech are not going to be researchers. It is a huge disservice to not give teaching the time of day. When teaching seems like a chore, students are going to pick up on that and not take their education seriously. I wouldn’t be engaged in a topic where the professor seemed tortured for being there. Or was not willing to explore or adapt depending on how the class went. That is when higher education has failed, and I am afraid that we have been on a path of outcome over process for far too long.

I think higher education could do a much better job celebrating teaching and training educators. Make teaching just as important as other areas. Provide classes or didactic seminars or workshops about teaching, and make sure professors have the time and resources to attend. Promote teaching observations or practicum about teaching. Talking about different styles of teaching or how education differs is fascinating, and should be made known. Share resources and have somebody present with experience, rather than assuming graduate students or professors will just get it. Should new teachers be thrown in the deep end? Perhaps. But, there should be a lifeguard present. The only way to be a better teacher is to practice, so letting there be opportunities for practice would ideal. I think teaching, especially at a research institution, needs to be given more importance.

Posted in PFP14S

How to Silence the Classroom Once and For All

While the title of this post was just to get your attention, I do think that failures can occur in trying to spread education to as wide an audience as possible. The Boston Globe posted this article back in March about students being asked to remain quiet while in class so that their class can be recorded for HarvardX, a free education platform. I know the exact details are unknown and somebody very likely overstepped their boundaries. But, I think the idea of silencing anybody is ridiculous and uncalled for. Yes, there is a difference between silencing questions and limiting disruptions. But, asking for students not to engage is going to prevent both.

There is an update provided at the end of the article:

UPDATE 3/12: I heard from Elisa New, who explained that this is an approach she has used in class before- “I have often (though not always) preferred to give my complete lecture and to entertain discussion afterwards,” she wrote- and that the decision to ask students not to ask question during lectures that were being filmed for HarvardX applied to just a “few” lectures and was not a policy in any strict sense.”

If we want to have real student engagement, forcing students to wait until the end of discussion is going to discourage that. I know I often forget questions when listening to research presentations and while I write them down, it is unrealistic to think all people will. I think questions need to be asked in person and when they are first thought up. That way, more time is given to both the instructor and the student to solve the question together. Natural curiosity is key.

Posted in PFP14S

Tweeting/Texting/Facebook in Class?!? Go For It!

For the 4th Blog Prompt, I first have to say I am a big fan of Twitter. That was not always the case, as I assumed it was used by the histrionic type (for lack of a better word). I have since found that it is a quick way to spread ideas after class hours, but it doesn’t always work in the classroom at the moment. For example, it isn’t necessarily “instantaneous,” so a student may ask question and I’ve already moved on in a sense. Granted, I can go back, but the student might have asked something about a particular slide and not been specific enough. Further, if a student has their tweets restricted, I would not be able to see Tweets from them unless I follow them as well. This could create some privacy concerns. To get around that, students could create a “class” Twitter account.

In this article posted in March 2013, some pros and cons of using Twitter in higher education were highlighted. I think that debates can occur, such as what happened here, which would be fantastic to see in the class. It isn’t perfect in any sense and only so much can be said in 140 characters. Still, it does increase student engagement. I also like the idea that using Twitter is a way for students to understand the need to filter what they post and to make posts “matter” and be important for the discussion at hand.

I also think some students are not seeing the material posted on Twitter. I am considering making it a “requirement” of class. More students are using these forms of technology, and higher education needs to keep up with the changes. If students post or text or Facebook in class, and it is relevant to class, I say go for it. What is next? Time will tell.

Posted in PFP14S