Download Conversation #48

Jane Compson

A conversation with Dr. Jane Compson of UW-Tacoma, on implementing a contemplative pedagogy in an online course.

Dr. Compson got her PhD in Comparative Religion from the University of Bristol, and more recently got her second Masters in Philosophy, concentrating on bioethics, from Colorado State. She currently teaches classes in Comparative Religion; Philosophy, Religion and the Environment; Environmental Ethics; Biomedical Ethics and Introduction to Ethics. She’s working on projects related to self-care and stress management for healthcare professionals as well as documenting local efforts for environmental justice, as well as mindfulness theory.

Links for this episode:

by Tiera S. Coston

colorful-world-globe-human-family-300px

"Colorful World Globe Human Family" by GDJ is licensed under CC BY.

The idea of diversity has been a popular theme in every aspect of society from sports and politics to  economics and education. And, it should be. Countless studies have shown that diverse groups make better decisions and obtain better results than uniform groups. The nature of the diversity includes everything from ethnicity, gender, and the type of work performed to  sexual orientation,  geographic location and religion. Richard Freeman and Wei Huang specifically demonstrated this phenomenon in the area of research. Through an analysis of 2.5 million research papers, the duo revealed that papers with a more ethnically diverse group of authors were published in higher-impact journals and were cited more often than papers whose authors were of the same ethnicity.1 There are many possible reasons for this effect, but some cited by Freeman and Wei include: 1) a greater variety of perspectives addressing the problem; 2) extra effort or work put in by group members to overcome possible cultural or communication barriers; 3) exposure of the group's work to diverse networks because of the makeup of the group; and 4) exposure of the group to various tools and languages to address the problem. Despite these advantages, we, as individuals in society, tend to collaborate most with those with whom we have similarities on some level. Studies like the one conducted by Freeman and Huang provide us a glimpse of potential successes, breakthroughs and triumphs that are possible when we engage in problem-solving with diverse teams. We are called upon to use this information as an impetus to purposefully seek out collaborative relationships with those whose background, outlook, and professional and personal circles are different from our own.

1. Freeman RB, Huang W. Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-Authorship within the U.S. Journal of Labor Economics, Special Issue on High Skill Immigration [Internet]. 2015;33 (3):S289-S318.

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This fall Xavier's first-year students are reading Aimee Phan's We Should Never Meet, a collection of short stories tied together thematically and with some common characters. The stories deal with the experiences of Vietnamese people during what America calls the Vietnam War, in the 1960's and 70's, as well during the immediate aftermath, in the 1980's, when children orphaned by the war (and often fathered by American soldiers) attempted to forge lives in southern California.

The students read this book as part of the Freshman Seminar course, a required, one-credit-hour course, whose objectives include introducing first-year students to Xavier's mission of contributing to a more just and humane society. The course has much in common with other required, first-year seminars at other schools around the country, including many other liberal arts schools and HBCUs. But with Xavier being the nation's only historically black, Catholic school, Xavier's version may be more particularly tied to the school's historical mission.

The common reading is a major feature of the course, and the course also includes a service-learning component, in which students are asked to consider the meaning and relevance of the mission through engaging in community actions and addressing social needs, needs that fairness and justice might otherwise negate. Thus, students are asked to consider the meanings of justice, fairness, humanity, through multiple perspectives, including their own, those their various communities, and, perhaps most difficultly, those of the characters in the short stories.

While in the past the common readings have been works of nonfiction, some memoir and some third-person, last year was the first time a novel was offered as a common reading (Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones) and this year marks the first time a collection of short stories has been used. Drawing thematic connections between the readings and community needs addressed by service-learning is always a challenge in the course, both for the students and the teachers. But drawing connections between our experiences in, and perceptions of, our communities and the experiences of fictional characters in short stories set in and around the Vietnam War proves exceptionally challenging.

The first, and maybe most basic, common theme to point to is the shared humanity of us all, which gets neglected, overlooked, devalued in both war-torn times and places, and in communities where systemic unfairness and injustice exists. The characters in the book are marginalized, segregated, cast away, thought of as "others" and as not our problem, much in the way Americans living in pockets of deep, multigenerational poverty are. Both groups are seen at times as hopeless and irredeemable, without inherent worthiness, and in some cases individual actions confirm and reinforce these perceptions. The book's presentation of a young, male character in Los Angeles, Vinh, as a mostly unrepentant violent criminal is especially complicating for readers as they attempt to situate him within a highly oppressive and marginalizing context.

But these same aspects of the text, which make it so challenging for readers, and for students and teachers in this course, also prove its biggest strengths. The characters are absolutely other-ized, seen as outsiders, rejected not just by American society but within traditional Vietnamese culture as well. Their individual actions do not and cannot change that. Their actions cannot be completely removed from the characters' segregated contexts, nor can the characters be excused from, or relieved of, all personal responsibility, life choices, accountability.

In other words, the characters cannot be put into an easy box, or used to simplistically support some ideological bent or political agenda. The issues are more complex. The problems are more complex. In this way these fictional characters are made real, as their complexity, and the complexity of their situations, mirrors that of the people in our communities and the problems they face.

There is unfairness, injustice, and inhumanity in our society. Those at the bottom of our socioeconomic systems face oppression that must be met and fought against by all those who wish to live in a more just and humane society. Recognizing the humanity of others is a beginning, whether in fictional characters of a foreign culture or in our own backyards.  A beginning, but certainly not an end.

-Jeremy Tuman

by Janice Florent

laptop computer and cup of coffee on the top of a desk

Are you thinking about how to deliver your online course for maximum success? In an Inside Higher Ed blog post, Andrea Zellner provided some strategies to make your online teaching better. Andrea's strategies are:

Technology should help and not hinder.

Expect things to go wrong, and do as much as you can to help your students help themselves. For example, provide links to help and how-to documents so that students do not have to go on a wild goose chase to find this information. You can minimize your time answering student questions by using the “three-before-me” rule, which pushes the responsibility of locating an answer to frequently asked questions to the student.

Anticipate difficulties.

Learning in an online environment can be a lot more difficult than learning it in a face-to-face class. Students report that taking an online course can be an isolating experience. Avoid straight lecturing as lectures can be dull when delivered online. Here are a few ideas to keep your online course interesting.

Incorporate synchronous opportunities.

This follows directly from anticipating difficulties. You should find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. Additionally, be sure to include well-timed synchronous virtual office hours. Include the virtual office hours during weeks when you know the content is likely to be confusing.

Don’t be stingy with your feedback.

Students want detailed feedback and the feedback needs to be timely. You should give students feedback that helps them learn and you should be as effective as a fitness band.

Humanize your course.

Humanize your course by adding a little personality. This can go a long way in making students feel comfortable approaching you for help and can make them feel more engaged with the course.

Encourage self-directed learning.

Research on self-directed learning has shown that people who take the initiative in learning, learn more things and learn better than people who sit at the feet of teachers passively waiting to be taught.

Use gamification in your course.

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is a motivation tool. Here is some information on using gamification in your courses.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more in Andrea's Strategies to Make Your Online Teaching Better and my Seven Deadly Sins of Online Course Design blog posts.

Photo credit: computer and coffee | Creative Commons CC0

By J. Todd

The ePortfolio Process: Collection-Reflection-Interaction
The ePortfolio Process: Collection-Reflection-Interaction

The use of portfolios as an educational tool is not a new idea. Nor, in fact, is the idea of making portfolios digital. A quick literature search will find numerous articles discussing the benefits of using either traditional or digital portfolios, often focusing on the impact in discipline-specific settings. Portfolios are not only effective teaching tools, but also effective assessment tools. As the need to conduct college- or even university-wide assessment becomes more common, we've seen renewed and increased interest in digital portfolios — or ePortfolios as a way to assess a student's learning over the course of his or her academic career. ...continue reading "Empowerment through ePortfolios"

Download Conversation #47

Anne McCall

A conversation with Dr. Anne McCall, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Xavier University of Louisiana, on the future of HBCUs.

Prior to coming to Xavier, Dr. McCall served as Dean of the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences at Binghamton University, New York’s top-ranked public university. Dr. McCall has also served as Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Denver and as Associate Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Science at Tulane University. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in French and in German with highest distinction from the University of Virginia and the degree of docteur ès lettres from the Université Strasbourg. An authority on the work of the 19th-century French novelist, playwright, and memoirist George Sand, she is past president of the George Sand Association and has authored and edited books and published more than 25 scholarly articles on nineteenth-century French literature and related topics.

(At the time of this interview, Dr. McCall has been in her current position as provost for less than two months, so we are especially appreciative of her time.)

...continue reading "Conversation #47: Anne McCall on the Future of HBCUs"

by Tiera S. Coston

As teachers, we all want to encourage the development and enhancement of the problem-solving skills of our students.  However, we may have to tap into some problem-solving skill of our own when attempting to create a classroom environment that is engaging, informational and effective in meeting the objectives of our courses.  Many times, this is easier said than done.  But, fear not.  The Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University has created an excellent resource that may help you to effectively address teaching issues that are commonly encountered in the classroom.  This Solve a Teaching Problem tool works as an easy-to-use, three-step process.  First, you identify the problem that is occurring in your teaching from a listing of issues that are divided into broadly-themed categories.  These categories include: Attitudes & Motivation; Prerequisite Knowledge and Preparedness; Critical Thinking & Applying Knowledge; Group Skills and Dynamics; Classroom Behavior & Etiquette; and Grading and Assessment.

Step 1.

Step 1

Once you identify the problem, the second step is to identify the possible reasons that the problem is occurring.

Step 2.

Step 2

Once you understand why the problem may be occurring, the final step is to explore the strategies provided to determine what may be effective in addressing the problem.

Step 3.

Step 3

It is important to note that these strategies are both evidence-based and practical.  However, as with any strategies, certain ones may work for some while being ineffective for others.  The idea is to think critically about what is happening in your particular class and use the strategies as a guide to create a plan of action for your specific situation.  Happy problem-solving.

Turnitin document viewer

The new Turnitin Feedback Studio is currently available with our Blackboard integration. Turnitin Feedback Studio offers all the functionalities of Turnitin, but with a simplified, more intuitive interface. Turnitin Feedback Studio’s simplified, more intuitive user experience brings together the grading, feedback, and similarity checking services in one view. Additionally, the contextual marking approach of the iPad app allows educators to click anywhere on the paper and leave a comment, QuickMark Comment, or text comment at any time.

Turnitin Feedback Studio vertical toolbar

In the Feedback Studio interface, the GradeMark and Originality Report tools are integrated in one vertical toolbar. New features include the ability to view the Originality Report with different filters turned off and on.

Ultimately, Turnitin Feedback Studio will make it faster and easier than ever to promote academic integrity, provide actionable feedback, and evaluate student learning.

You will see the new interface when you open a student’s paper in Turnitin. Your students will also experience this new and improved interface when viewing Similarity Reports and receiving feedback.

Want more information?

Turnitin Feedback Studio Walkthrough video [2:56]
Feedback Studio Instructor User Manual
Feedback Studio Student User Manual
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Check out help for instructors at help.blackboard.com.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Visit our Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

wall of binary numbers with robot in forground

As an instructor, you want to be confident that your course is well designed and functions as intended—before your students see it.

With Student Preview, instructors can navigate their courses just as their students would. While in Student Preview mode, instructors can perform student activities such as:

  • Submit assignments
  • Take tests
  • Create blog and discussion posts
  • Create journal and wiki entries
  • View student tools, such as My Grades

You can use Student Preview to review the course content and validate the course behaviors, such as those that control the availability of course content or require a particular interaction from the student to be triggered.

The Student Preview feature provides a new button that appears in the breadcrumb bar next to the course Themes and Edit Mode buttons and is shaped like an eye.

Note: Now with the new Student Preview feature available, test students are no longer needed. The “Add Test Student” course tool was removed as well as all test student accounts.

Follow these steps to do it.

To Enter Student Preview Mode:

  1. Select the Enter Student Preview function. You will see a student preview bar at the top of every page letting you know you are in student preview mode.

student preview button

To Exit Student Preview Mode:

  1. Press the Exit button on the student preview bar that appears at the top of the page.

exit student preview button

Want more information?

Watch a video about Student Preview [2:23].
Using Student Preview.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Visit our Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

1

By Jay Todd

Photo of a parking meter that says, FAIL, instead of 0.
"Parking Meter Fail" by Jeramey Jannene / CC BY 2.0

I'll be honest: I can't remember the last time I penalized a student for turning in a late assignment. I used to be very strict about this. I was taught, in fact, to be very strict about deadlines. Make your policy clear in your syllabus and never deviate from it, I was told. Don't let the students take advantage. So I used to deduct one letter grade for each day a major assignment was late. Small assignments couldn't be late at all.

At some point though, I started to wonder about the effectiveness of this approach. Mostly, I started to worry, as a writing teacher, that I was hindering good writing by making the deadline some important. A few times, because of my clearly stated policy, I had to give an A paper -- I mean a truly excellent paper -- a C, simply because it was late.

I still have a policy in my syllabus that says, clearly, that a deadline is a deadline, but I follow that up with a statement that says, "If you anticipate having difficulty meeting a deadline, please speak to me about it." Basically, to an astute reader, I'm negating my policy right there.

Ellen Boucher discusses this a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: It's Time to Ditch Our Deadlines. Her new policy is that all assignments come with an automatic two-day grace period. If a student needs still more time, all that's required is a meeting. As a result, she says, she's seen higher quality work and less stress from her students. She makes a good argument, especially by focusing on how this helps under-prepared college students.

I should say though that so far, I've only taken this approach with big assignments -- essays and research papers. Daily homework, quizzes, and such still come with fairly rigid deadlines.