The Common Read, Service Learning, and Social Justice: Forging Connections

August 29th, 2014

There’s a harrowing scene in chapter 1 of this year’s common read, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, in which young, shaloq-weilding Taliban “enforcers” beat a woman in the street for appearing in public without a proper chadri, the full-length garment that covers the head and face. This and other descriptions of the Taliban in the early parts of the book bring to mind images of an oppressive totalitarian regime more similar to 1984 or Farenheit 451 than to the free society in which most of our freshmen have grown up. That is, these images should remind students of the vast gulf between life in the U.S. and that in a strange, far-away place halfway around the globe. Unfortunately, these images instead bring to mind other images that happen to be saturating the news at the start of the semester: those of heavily armed and armored police confronting protestors in Ferguson, Missouri. Timing here proves to be everything, as a poll of my Freshman Seminar students on what they feel are our most pressing social problems reveals police brutality, racial profiling, and racial bias in our law enforcement and criminal justice systems at the top of the list. And with numbers like 1 in 12 black males age 18-64 spending time in prison, compared to 1 in 87 whites, blacks overall incarcerated at a rate of 6 times that of whites, and blacks comprising 40% of the total prison population, while making up 12% of the U.S. population, it’s easy to see why our students are concerned.

In order to work toward social justice, we must first identify where social injustice exists. And with disparities based on race, gender, class, ethnicity existing across the spectrum of our social systems, from education to health care to employment to criminal justice, identifying injustice is as easy now as at any point in our history, and, unfortunately, as easy as idetifying it under systems like the Taliban. But while these gaps are easy to see, to those who simply wish to open their eyes, they also remain equally difficult to address, to reconcile, to alleviate, to end. For every pious organization out on the streets fighting to alleviate suffering, to mend communities, to help people, there are powerful historical realities, political forces, and financial interests at work to keep the status quo in place, to keep reality fixed and unchangeable.

A discussion of life under the Taliban is a perfectly suitable way to begin a dialogue with students about the society in which we are preparing them to inhabit roles of leadership, our own society. And as we move toward our service learning projects in the sping, it’s worth remebering the underlying imbalances at the heart of any attempt to help improve our community. Ultimately, if our service is effective, then we will have eliminated the very need for our services. Those being “served” will inhabit their rightful place as equals in our society, wanting for nothing that others have only because of the conditions of their birth. This type of transformation, both of our society and within the mindset our students, can never come solely from doing, but through thinking as well. Hence, the learning in service learning. Learning comes through teaching, and fortunately for them, that is what we are here to do.

J. Tuman

CAT Support for Online/Hybrid Instruction

August 29th, 2014

by Karen Nichols
Hi Everyone and welcome back for the fall 2014 semester! Here is a timely reminder of the various ways CAT can support your online/hybrid courses (and even technology-infused face to face courses).

  • One to one sessions on using technology such as Blackboard, plus one to one sessions on the pedagogy of online teaching–please contact Janice Florent,, for Blackboard help and Karen Nichols,, for pedagogical assistance with your courses
  • Workshops, presentations and panel discussions about online teaching including accessibility, student conduct and providing quality feedback–please see our CAT events
  • CAT’s Online Faculty Resource Center, an organization in Blackboard to which you can subscribe by emailing Janice Florent, jflorent@xula.aedu, or Karen Nichols,  (If you use the Bb Mobile app on your mobile device, you’ll be notified each time new content is added)
  • ETC (Educational Technology Community), Xavier’s special interest group that meets virtually throughout the academic year and which you can join by emailing Karen Nichols,
  • Camtasia Studio–please contact Bart Everson,, for more information
  • Books on best practices of teaching online that can be checked out–please ask Ms. Olivia Crum,, to check them out
  • Resources on this blog page dedicated to Blackboard and other technology used

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these items, please contact us:; 504-520-7512  We’ll be delighted to assist you–wishing everyone a great fall semester!

CAT's Online Faculty Resource Center

CAT’s Online Faculty Resource Center

Meet Your New Host

August 27th, 2014

CAT is pleased to announce our new podcast host, Dr. Megan Osterbur. Look forward to her first episode of Teaching, Learning & Everything Else in this space next month.

Dr. Megan Osterbur Dr. Megan Osterbur is a Political Science faculty member in the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences. In addition to Political Science courses, Dr. Osterbur teaches courses in the Women’s Studies program as well as Black Politics, a part of the African American and Diaspora Studies at Xavier. Her research on teaching pedagogy includes “Does Mechanism Matter? Student Recall of Electronic versus Handwritten Feedback,” which she co-authored with Dr. Elizabeth Yost Hammer and Dr. Elliott Hammer. In the summer of 2014 she also participated in the National Women’s Studies Association Curriculum Institute.

Bb Tip #101: Are You Ready?

August 21st, 2014

image showing various disasters

Course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies.

Here are a few things you can do in Blackboard to help you prepare should the need arise.

  • Understanding and Building Your Course
    • Getting Started with Course Environment (Video) (PDF)
    • Getting Started with Course Content (PDF)
  • Utilize Blackboard’s Communication Tools
  • Collecting Student Work
    • Getting Started with Assignments (PDF)
  • Utilize Blackboard’s Collaboration Tools
    • Blogs, Wikis, Journals, & Discussion Boards Explained (PDF)
  • Posting Grades
    • Getting Started with the Grade Center (PDF)

Additionally, you should consider developing an instructional continuity plan to help you to be ready to continue teaching with minimal interruption. More information about instructional continuity plans can be found on our Instructional Continuity web page. There you will find planning guides, resources, and a link to our April 2014 Instructional Continuity workshop presentation.

Want more information?
Get more information about instructional continuity plans.
Sign up for Blackboard workshops or request one-on-one help.
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.

Bb Tip #100: Blackboard Collaborate Launcher

August 19th, 2014

A new Blackboard Collaborate Launcher utility is available for Windows users. A Collaborate Launcher utility was released last summer for Mac users and now the utility is available for Windows users.


The Blackboard Collaborate Launcher simplifies the process for joining Blackboard Collaborate web conferencing sessions and recordings. When you click ‘Join Room’ on the Room Details page or a recording link in the Recordings table, Blackboard Collaborate checks to see if you have the launcher installed. If you do not, Blackboard Collaborate prompts you to download it.

Using the Blackboard Collaborate Launcher:

- When a participant clicks on a session or recording link, Blackboard Collaborate checks to see if you have the launcher installed and, if you don’t, prompts you to download it.
- When the launcher is installed, clicking a session or recording link triggers the download of a .collab file. This .collab file will be used to launch your session or recording.
- The launcher download can be done in advance or just prior to attending the Collaborate session.

Want more information?
Bb Collaborate Launcher
Visit the Collaborate On Demand Learning Center
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Dopamine and Learning

August 18th, 2014

by Bart Everson

What is the connection between gambling, cocaine, and your classroom?

No, wait, I’m serious!

The answer is a little thing called dopamine, and it’s released in the brain when we are rewarded.


Dopamine accounts in part for the thrill of gambling, the euphoria of certain drugs, the rush of adventure, and even — yes, it’s true — the pleasure of learning something new in a college course.

It has to do with memory. Simply put, when dopamine is present, we remember; when it’s not, we don’t. We remember and return to the things that we find rewarding, the things we find pleasurable, the things that stimulate the release of dopamine.

So clearly, we want our students to have massive amounts of dopamine coursing through their brains as they participate in the classes we teach. How can we do this? By making the class fun, by presenting the content in an interesting fashion, by making the whole experience new and interesting and exciting.

Many of the best teachers already do this, of course. It’s sheer instinct. If you are reading this post, there’s a very high probability that you are already devoting effort in that direction.

Dr. Martha Burns uses the mnemonic NEAR as a key to successful teaching. NEAR stands for “New, Exciting And Rewarding.” These are the keys to keeping dopamine levels high, which correlates with better memory and increased retention.

And, let’s face it, learning is probably better for our overall well-being than gambling or illicit drugs.

You can read more from Dr. Burns in the article, “Dopamine and Learning: What the Brain’s Reward Center Can Teach Educators.” Photo credit: Work found at Dopamine / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Art of Effectively Managing Discussion Board Posts

August 18th, 2014

by Karen Nichols
A recent edition of Faculty Focus includes an article on successful discussions conducted online. There is after all an art to effective online communication. These considerations include the necessity to communicate with all students in the discussion forum. Personally, I respond to each of my students’ original postings, but I do not intrude in subsequent conversations between the students. (I do monitor them however, to ensure that the students are communicating appropriately.)

The Faculty Focus article also describes how you should communicate with your students depending on their individual needs. For example, if a student actively and fully participates in the discussions, you may wish to challenge him/her, while students who express confusion may need more direction and time spent in explaining the goals of the discussion assignments.

Further, try to be open to a variety of responses and lengths. More is not always better so be sure to give shorter postings and unexpected opinions and answers due consideration. Along these lines, there is an art to knowing when to lead the discussions and when to gently guide them along in order for the students to feel comfortable taking the lead themselves and/or expressing their sentiments even if they may differ from those of the instructor.

Last year, Blackboard sponsored a discussion on breathing new life into Discussion Boards:

Do you use online discussions? If so, what are some of your best practices and suggestions?

Bb Tip #99: Beginning of Semester Tasks

August 15th, 2014

As you prepare for the start of the semester, it is a good time to get started setting up your Blackboard courses. Blackboard courses are automatically created using the course information in Banner a few weeks before the start of the semester. You can post your syllabus, course documents, and announcements to your Blackboard courses. You can also customize your course menu and/or add a course banner.

If you teach a course that is cross listed you will have a Blackboard course for each cross listing. You can combine the cross listed courses into one Blackboard course so that you can post course materials and grades to one combined Blackboard course. Combining courses may also work for you if you are teaching different sections of the same course and would like to have the different sections combined into one Blackboard course so that you can post course documents and grades in the one combined course. The beginning of the semester is the best time to combine your Blackboard courses before you add course material or grades to the courses.

Follow these steps to do it.

Listed below are links with instructions for

  • Merging courses [Web page]
  • Hiding old courses from view [Web page]
  • Getting started with the course environment [PDF] [Video]
  • Course structures and course themes [Web page] [Video]
  • Changing the display name for your course [Web page]
  • Adding a course banner [Web page]
  • Adding items to the course menu [PDF]
  • Posting announcements [Web page]
  • Copying content into another course [Web page]
  • Using date management to update dates after course copy [Web page]

Want more information?

Attend a drop-in session to get one-on-one help.
Explore Blackboard’s On Demand Learning Center.
Try these Blackboard How-To documents.
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or schedule a one-on-one session, email, or
call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418.

Host Our Podcast

August 7th, 2014

Follow the Arrow

CAT is seeking a new host for the next season of our podcast, Teaching, Learning, and Everything Else (a finalist for the POD Network Innovation Award). Each episode features a conversation with a teacher in higher education, and topics have ranged from humor in the classroom to grade inflation.

A well-qualified host is someone who is:

  • passionate about teaching and learning,
  • interested in the practices and philosophies of colleagues around the world,
  • comfortable speaking on the phone with strangers, and
  • not afraid to hear his or her own voice on a recording.

Responsibilities include:

  • working with CAT’s Media Artist, Bart Everson, to identify potential interviewees,
  • contacting candidates to arrange interviews, and
  • recording eight interviews over the course of the academic year.

Rewards are many. The podcast host will learn a lot about the current state of the art of teaching. A $500 honorarium will be awarded.

Past hosts have included Ray Lang, Alexios Moore, and Elizabeth Hammer. If you are interested in joining these illustrious ranks, apply today. Simply drop a line to CAT’s Media Artist indicating your interest.

My 1 Year Anniversary!

July 31st, 2014

by Karen Nichols

Greetings! I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for this incredible first year in CAT as Xavier’s Distance Education Coordinator. I have learned so much and feel so privileged to be part of such an extraordinary team. CAT has an exciting calendar of events and workshops for the upcoming academic year and I’m looking forward to presenting a few as well as participating in them.

It would be easy to look back at this past year or to look around at the current state of distance education at Xavier, but I prefer to use the opportunity to look beyond our campus instead. My professional reading has led me to a positive report on the state of distance education in Africa.

The eLearning Africa Report 2014 contains several interesting articles, from a retrospective of Nelson Mandela’s contributions in the field of education to a focus on distance education in three arenas–agriculture, health and tourism. 55 countries in Africa are included in the various data analyses. I highly recommend the editorial at the beginning in order to give you an idea of the scope and fairly optimistic tone of the report.

With the beginning of the fall semester right around the corner, I’m busily making preparations for our faculty and students but I’m glad that I took the time to learn about our distance education colleagues in Africa and the hope and vision they have for the future and their students. I believe I’ll celebrate my future anniversaries by “looking outward” as well.