Unsuccessful Critique Experiences

Critique experiences play a significant role in students’ learning process as students can get useful feedback which they can implement in their projects in order to improve their research. There are a lot of reasons which determine if a critique will end up being successful or not for students.

First of all, professors often try to push their visions on their students’ projects without really hearing their ideas. Such an event does not help students to engage with the course as professors do not give them the initiative to get a deeper knowledge in the sector that they are more interested in.

Furthermore, a fact which all the participants should take into account is the language and the tone that is being used during that process. Critiques should be focused on generosity. Both students’ and professors’ goal should be to help the presenters. This does not mean that participants should avoid mentioning the aspects of the work which did not work out, but they should always keep in their minds that they can not be rude and their goal is to help their peers and not to make them feel bad for their efforts. Moreover, all participants should be willing to accept their classmates’ critiques.

Because of the limited time, sometimes presenters do not have the opportunity to inform the audience about the insights of their works or to analyze the details of their research.  Critiques are more concentrated on giving feedback. The lack of conversation may do not help the audience to understand the project that is being presented and as a result the given feedback will not be helpful and to-the-point.

Lastly, one more reason that may determine critique’s outcome is the willingness of students to share their thoughts. All the participants should be active and lively instead of just being passive listeners.

Successful Workshops

Many departments offer workshops in order to help students to excel their skills, even by exposing them to new topics or by repeating curriculum that students need to know in order to increase their professionalism.  Moreover, there are those workshops whose purpose is to help students to engage more with the university, courses, or their peers.  There are many facts which can determine how successful a workshop can be.

To begin with, if students know each other they feel more confident to ask questions, participate, receive, and give feedback to their classmates about their projects. Additionally, when the size of the workshops remain small, it is easier for the instructor to be more specific and detail-oriented with his feedback and guidance.

Furthermore, instructors should save some time in order to ask if anyone is having any issues. Due to the fact that many students do not feel comfortable by interrupting a workshop, instructors should ensure that students are able to follow them and that they understand all the new information that they give.

Lastly, the instructors’ knowledge on the topic that is presented is very important. Even if they can not answer all of the questions, their willingness to look for more information and come back with answers to students’ questions can make a big difference.

Share of Funding

One thing that I would like to be changed in higher education is how the funding is shared among different departments. From my experience, the departments with the higher number of students and the best positions in rankings take most of the universities’ funding.

On one hand, this technique sounds logical. When you have a good program, you try to make it even better, and especially when this program brings you money, you put all of your efforts to support it. On the other hand, following this strategy means that you deny to equally support all the other faculties and students. You do not focus on how you will make the rest of the departments/schools strong, how you will advertise them, and how you will help students to feel that they made the right decision by selecting your university among others.

What we see here, is a typical example of discrimination. How universities speak about inclusion and diversity when they do not implement these basic values on their operational structure?  It is ironic when students in some departments have personal spaces to work, while at the same time there are students who do not have even a common place or the needed tools to complete their projects. In my opinion, universities should be more wise regarding their decisions, especially when they are advertised as places which enhance diversity and inclusion on their mission.

The Greek Educational System

Greece is a very small country with a population of 10-11 millions. Regarding education, there is the preschool that children go to for 2 years, then the primary school which lasts 6 years, the gymnasium that is 3 years and the high school that is 3 years too.

In order to enter a university you give final exams at the last year of high school. The exams’ curriculum is the same for the whole country and students need to decide if they will be examined on 5 or 6 courses, depending on what kind of undergraduate studies they want to pursue.  When they finish with those exams, they give their regular high school exams for the rest of the courses that they attended during the year, in order for their graduated grade to be defined. 

The country’s exams are extremely difficult. An example is that mathematics that are being taught in the second year of US universities, they are being taught in Greece in the 2nd and 3rd year of high school. When you get the grades of the exams you apply to the universities that you want and after a month the government informs a national online platform with the names of students that entered each university.

All of the universities are public and free. But because the exams are very difficult, all of the students except from those that are very poor, they do private lessons on the courses that they will be examined on. 

There are few educational institutions that are private which are called mostly colleges and not universities. There is the stereotype which is actually true most of the time that people who pursue their undergraduate studies in private colleges are not that clever to get accepted to a public university and they just spend their parents’ money. 

In general, undergraduate studies in Greece are free, while students have to pay for most of the masters. For example, when I pursued my master in International Marketing in the best university that we have for this sector the cost was 7000 euros for 1.5 year which is $7639.

Greek educational system has two main characteristics, the education is free and until 2 months ago there was asylum in the educational institutions. In other words, police could not enter the universities under any circumstances.

This might sound strange for some people, but this asylum has a great meaning for Greek students. Its purpose was to protect protest students and the freedom of ideas. This law passed when in 1973 a military tank burst through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic, killing dozens. Students were protesting against junta.

A couple of months ago, the current government decided to abolish this law. In general, it is the worst government that we have had the last 20 years and it has been elected only the past 6 months. This decision caused a lot of protests and disagreements. Their argument was that this law is a cover for lawlessness. It was supposed that the government wanted to stop drugs in the universities, but in reality they just passed the law in order to have the opportunity to control educational systems. They have done nothing about the drug issue. And do not plan to do anything in the future too.

Social Media as a measurement of Success

Social media are being used a lot from the faculty of my field. I am a student at the School of Visual Arts, so our faculty except from  professors, they are professional artists as well. 

I found an interesting article on Educause review which analyzed the continuous raise of social media use by higher education faculty. The article mentioned three main reasons that have impacted this change. First of all, faculty use social media in order to announce some triumphs that they have in their field. For example, they communicate not only papers that they publish, but positive reviews from their students as well.

Additionally, social media are used as a measurement of faculty productivity. For instance, many academics post on the internet their scholarships and their scheduled talks. Moreover, faculty often decide to announce their memberships on institutional committees on social media too.

What triggered my attention in this article is the comment that faculty often prefer social media because they find it easier to communicate there their professional successes. They think that social media are more approachable than Traditional Scholarly measurements like Google Scholar.

From my point of view, I think this approach is totally understandable from the faculty in my department. In the art field, it is not very common to have a lot of published papers and journals in order to be successful. Many times the number of exhibitions, the personal work and the participation in festivals are the facts that make a difference in a CV. Based on that, social media in combination with personal websites are the most favorable means to communicate successes in my field.

Online Course Difficulties

In my previous blog post I said that I am a TA in Advance Art Theories and Processes class and that we face a lot of difficulties in our try to change our class into an online course.

First of all, we have a number of students that leave in rural areas with a really bad internet connection, while some of them they have access to only spotty internet. This means that those students can not attend zoom meetings and it is extremely difficult for them to even watch the recorded meetings after class ends. Based on that, I am really concerned about how you can engage a student to your class only via email or phone call.  Automatically, the quality of your class has dropped almost to zero for them.

During our class we had a lot of discussions in groups and then each group informed the rest of the class about its conclusions. This fact is very difficult to happen in Zoom. The professor can create multiple rooms, but still there are a lot of students who do not feel comfortable to speak in online conversations. Based on the survey that our students filled out, some of them do not have webcams too.

Additionally, one of the most serious problems that we have to face is their final projects. This semester the class would have an exhibition at the Moss Art Center. Most of the students had developed their ideas based on that fact. It is very difficult to have an exhibition at the Moss Art Center and it is something that would happen for the first time, since ICAT is a “partner” of this class. For our students the potential of this exhibition was a life dream. Now, all of them are very disappointing and probably they do not have the  appetite to create something else. To get an idea, on an artist’s CV the number of exhibitions has the same importance as the number of papers for the other fields.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in general experience abusive home environments. I have peers who considered Blacksburg as their way out of home. Up to now, only one of our students said that experiences a stressful environment, while some others said that it is very difficult to find a quite place at their homes or they have obligations which make it difficult for them to get concentrated.

My question is how can you help those students? Is there anything that you can actually do? In two classes that I have taken from graduate school so far, we always consider the best case scenario. A student who has internet access and that is it. This has been logical so far, because the western world had not experienced a similar situation before. The thing is what can we do now? How professors can fight for inclusion under these circumstances? The easier part is to avoid all these problems, but unfortunately they are here and our ethical principles shouldn’t let us to turn our backs on these students.

 

How online courses ended up to be the best solution?

This semester is my first one as a TA.  I am pursuing a master at the School of Visual Arts, so the class that I am a TA is called Advance Art Theories and Processes. In this class they are 36 students, two professors and two TAs. For Art departments, such a class is considered to be big. Also, the students who are enrolled they are from both art and poetry departments.

About the specific difficulties that we are facing on transition the class into an online course, I will talk on a different blog post because they are numerous. I want to say that I feel very disappointed by this semester. I totally understand why the university decided to transfer all classes into online courses, but unfortunately for some students this decision has a negative impact.

In our department we have classes like painting, video, sculpture, photography etc. We get inspired from each other and our peer’s as well as our professors’ feedback is the most valuable help that we can have to develop our creative process. Additionally, how can you inspire a student to keep doing sculpture if he doesn’t have access to the tools, the space, the money? Although  professors or TAs  can be more flexible with their grading or the quality of students’ final projects, the goal here for everyone should not be only to pass the class or to take their degree.

I am saying all that because I am very concerned about the quality of knowledge and experience that students get during these periods of time. I know that some of my students experience stressful family environments and some of them do not afford to pay WiFi access. How these students are going to focus on their courses? How professors can actually help them? For some of them staying to Blacksburg was their way out of their homes. For those who are first-generation students, the graduation ceremony was their life dream.

Things are more complicated than they look. The last week I am constantly reading articles about ways that you can help students to engage with online courses. But how can you help students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? How can you help the students who do not have access to the internet? I do not know if there is any better solution than online courses right now. But at the same time it very disappointing for me that this solution is the best that we have.

 

Arts – Open Access Journal

Arts is an international open access journal that exists only online. It is published 4 times a year. People can find it online and out of charge, but authors have to pay 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs) if their papers got accepted. Considering that, I am not sure how this cost align with the mentality of open access. It is a journal of the Academic Open Access Publishing (MDPI) which exists from 1996.

The journal accepts papers that address fundamental issues in the arts. More specifically, its publications are contemporary research on all aspects of the visual and performing arts. Journal’s subject areas are Visual Arts, Musical Arts and Theatre Applied Arts, and New Media. Additionally, its purpose is to start dialogue and to enhance critical inquiry.

The journal positions itself within the open access movement by noting that it can reach the desired audiences faster because of its online presence.

 

The importance of Integrity

The program which caught my eye was the Research on Research Integrity Program (RRI.) The goal of the program is to to investigate the factors that impact positively or negatively the research’s integrity.

We live in a society that most of the people are trained to fight for the top position of their job, for a bigger salary, for a more prestigious social class. The problem is not to be ambitious. The problem is what you are capable to do in order to meet your goals.

The same issue exists to the academia. If people have not developed the value of integrity since they were children, it is extremely difficult to change their behavioral characteristics when they are getting older. Due to the fact that most of the working environments are stressful by promoting individualistic behaviors, the existence of programs which check integrity in research is crucial.

There are numerous examples of fraud which show that the power of the institution or college does not play any role in studies’ integrity. Individuals who conduct research should follow all the regulations or else there is going to be a chaos. Last year a had to go through an IRB protocol for my research. To be honest, it was really unnecessary all the amount of time that it needed in order to complete the whole process. One the one hand researchers should follow all the protocols, but also institutions should make their processes easier and less time consuming in order to not discourage people from following all the regulations and guidelines.

 

The trend of Inclusion

Mission Statement of Virginia Tech
Inspired by our land-grant identity and guided by our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech is an inclusive community of knowledge, discovery, and creativity dedicated to improving the quality of life and the human condition within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world.
2019 Mission Statement adopted by the Board of Visitors

Mission Statement of Radford
As a mid-sized, comprehensive public institution dedicated to the creation and dissemination of knowledge, Radford University empowers students from diverse backgrounds by providing transformative educational experiences, from the undergraduate to the doctoral level, within and beyond the classroom. As an inclusive university community, we specialize in cultivating relationships among students, faculty, staff, alumni and other partners, and in providing a culture of service, support and engagement. We embrace innovation and tradition and instill students with purpose and the ability to think creatively and critically. We provide an educational environment and the tools to address the social, economic and environmental issues confronting our region, nation and the world.

 

I am from Greece where unfortunately our universities still do not pay a lot of attention in values, diversity and mission statements. Coming to US it was a surprise for me when I realized how important these statements are here. I decided to read Virginia Tech’s and Radford’s mission statements because they are the US universities that I am the most familiar with.

To begin with, it is fascinating for me how similar these two statements are. I do believe that they describe exactly the same things, but with different approaches. Virginia Tech’s statement is shorter and more formal, while Radford’s statement is more descriptive. This realization made me consider if universities actually try to implement the values to which they are referred, or if this is just a well-played strategy, guided by the current “trend” words of inclusion and diversity.

I might criticize Virginia Tech’s effort harshly,  but from my experience it might have tried to reinforce its diversity, but surely not its inclusion. My department is not one of those that brings money to the university and as a result we have many operational issues. For example, we are MFA students and until the previous semester we did not even have available studios. The room that they finally offered us is a room under construction and empty, while next year due to the fact that they will destroy one of our buildings we will not have even that.

This is only one of the issues that we have to face. Additionally, I think it is inappropriate to keep accepting a bigger number of students from what Blacksburg can handle right now. Did they ever think that house owners could took advantage of this situation and that they could raise their rent up to 30-40%? And yes, this is a true story. Do not even start talking about our transportation difficulties.

Unfortunately, universities think and act like businesses, which I understand but I do not accept. This is the reason why I cannot accept that our university fights for inclusion, a fact which has been a big disappointment for me. By taking the contemporary pedagogy and future professoriate classes, I have realized how academics and institutions should work, which automatically changed the expectations that I have not only from my professors but from the academic institutions as well.