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Conversation #57: Kim Vaz-Deville on Core Curriculum Enhancement

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Kim Marie Vaz, Ph.D., LPCA conversation with Kim Vaz-Deville of Xavier's College of Arts & Sciences on enhancing the core curriculum.

Kim Marie Vaz, Ph.D., LPC, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tulane University and her doctorate in educational psychology from Indiana University in Bloomington. Currently, she is a professor of education and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. She is the author of The ‘Baby Dolls’: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition published by Louisiana State University Press in 2013.


Dr. Jason Todd: Hi, I’m Jason Todd, associate director for the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana. Today I’m speaking with Dr. Kim Vaz Deville, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Education at Xavier University of Louisiana. Dr. Vaz-Deville received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tulane University and her doctorate in educational psychology from Indiana University in Bloomington. Her primary research has been on the use of expressive arts as a response to large group social trauma with attention to women gender and assurgency. She is the author of The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race of Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition which was published by LSU Press in 2013 and was a 2016 selection One Book One New Orleans program. Dr. Vaz Deville is also the principal investigator of a new initiative at Xavier called Faculty Development for Integrative Pedagogy and assessment practices, which is being funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Melon Foundation. That is some of what we will be discussing today. So, Dr. Vaz-Deville, thanks for speaking.

Dr. Vaz-Deville: Thanks Jay. I’m just excited that we’re able to have this conversation at a time when our college is undergoing a tremendous and exciting change. The grant came about because we were approached by Melon because the wanted to continue to work with Xavier. They had worked with the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development and were looking for other initiatives that Xavier would be undertaking. So, we proposed to them that we’d like assistance with our core curriculum because it had become something that was not reflecting where the current faculty feel the most instruction should be going for our students. I have gone through a core curriculum change at another university and it’s always exciting. It’s always challenging, but I was in a department that was really able to benefit from the inclusion of new categories.

We really should review our core curriculum at least every ten years because every decade we see new changes. At the time I went through the transformation of that general education curriculum, globalization was becoming a phenomenon that needed to be addressed. We needed to have our students ready to adapt to the new century, to diverse groups, to different modes that the economy was transitioning to. Our course work needed to reflect that and the tools that we needed to give to students needed to reflect that. So, today we find ourselves, again, at another c-change in our culture and globally. So we already understand ourselves as global citizens. What we now have to understand ourselves as technological citizens. We are completely attached to our mobile devices. We have generation coming up that does everything on its mobile device. So, integrating this new way of thinking, communicating, and learning is something that our faculty feel a need to address. In addition, our core had gotten very large. So, the dean’s office commissioned a group of faculty called the Core Curriculum work group to review our core and to come up with innovative pedagogical ideas. They selected the area that the grant is now funding. They felt that we needed more attention to writing. The writing program needed updating and revision. So, we’d like to introduce a new concept of writing across the curriculum and writing intensive courses. The faculty is excited about that. There is some interpretation about what that is going to be, but the grant is going to allow us to spend one entire year focusing on writing across the curriculum, intensive writing, and core courses.

We’ll have workshops. We will have four workshops next year. We’ll have a summer seminar dedicated to writing across the curriculum. We’re going to make use so the faculty that we have here and their expertise to be mentors to our faculty as they learn this new pedagogical technique and integrate it, not only into the core, but also into their major courses. I was speaking earlier of the digital revolution and so much of the grant is devoted to digital humanities. We’ve already had our first workshop for digital humanities with two local professors who are working on projects and have explained to us the different levels of technology that can be used by professors. We have an upcoming Saturday workshop and we have a summer seminar. This will be repeated for the three years of the entire grant, giving 30 faculty the opportunity to have intensive training and digital humanities and then, numerous faculty to have exposure to it.

This digital humanities methodology is not for the sciences only. It is really a collaboration between technology and humanities so that we can ask different questions and have projects that really align with the way that people work. We have multi-disciplined teams. Students are going to go into the work world in which they have to work with people who are trained differently than themselves and have to collaborate on a single project. Digital humanities is not the lone scholar model. It is heavily dependent on multiple players. It’s open and we’ve been advised to use only open stores, which means that we don’t have to pay fees, licensee fees for things. It’s iterative which means that we can have any number of variations on projects. We can solve problems. We can initiate new problems. We can plug in holes. So they’re a variety of ways professors can integrate a simple project into their core curriculum courses. We also have e-portfolios. As we understand the learning outcomes in individual courses for the core and for the major, we want students to see that as an integrated whole. E-portfolios are going to allow us to do that. We have one year in which we will dedicate to e-portfolios. The other area is inter-disciplinarity. We don’t solve problems anymore through one single discipline. It’s important to be grounded in a discipline, but it’s no longer enough. This semester we’re focusing on inter-disciplinarity. We have a lot of exciting presenters who are experts in having inter-disciplinarity in their courses, as projects, and assessment. We will be focusing one of our workshops on inter-disciplinarity and assessing inter-disciplinary courses. There are a lot of exciting opportunities for faculty to develop courses. We’re going to require revision of existing courses and encourage the development of new courses. They can use these three years to work with faculty, to ask questions, to come up with ideas, to approach us and ask what kind of programming will be helpful to them. We have the resources to support the development because one of the hardest things to do when you are teaching a full load is to find a new pedagogical technique. It also takes time to work out the kinks in introducing new pedagogical techniques and it takes at least three offerings of a course before you really understand whether or not it’s valuable and whether or not you have your sea legs with it. This grant will really allow us to transform our curriculum and have the faculty be able to look at what they are passionate about now, right now. That encourages our students to become lifelong learners because they see their faculty continually excited and new about things in their own field and things that they learned from talking to other professors in their fields. Part of what we’re also doing is establishing a vital, vibrant online presence. We have a Twitter account. We have a Facebook page. We will be encouraging constantly the live tweeting of our workshops. We will have the first workshop already videoed, archived, and accessible to faculty. We’ll continue that. Any handouts received in workshops, we’ll put those on the web.

Dr. Todd: We’ll provide links on our website for the podcast users.

Dr. Vaz Deville: Excellent. As we become a more integrated online presence with each other, we can carry out those dialogues started in the workshop to our social media platforms with each other. Then, we can allow our students to have a window into what it is that we’re doing. Students often think, “How does this information come to us?” Well, it’s a process. It’s a living and changing process and our students can have access to that by looking at the social media content of their professors.

Dr. Todd: It seems like a lot of what you’re doing with this grant, along with how we’re starting to rethink the core, is breaking down, or trying to get past some of these disciplinary silos that we’ve all grown up professionally experiencing, but also, as you said, not just for our own benefit, but also for our students’ benefit. So, they can see how this stuff works in the background. Is that an accurate way to kind of think about some of what we’re trying to do?

Dr. Vaz Deville: Absolutely. One of the greatest gifts that we give to students who come to college is to have models of complex thinking and problem solving. Our faculty modeled that for our students so they can take that into their own lives and their own professional lives to solve the problems that they feel are important or that they’re challenged with. We will model for them how to work across disciplines and the excitement of constantly learning from each other. The classroom has changed from a solely one-way flow where the teacher departs knowledge to the students to one of mutuality where students learn and interpret things differently from professors and offer professors a different view from the material that they’re delivering. Also, pushing professors with different kinds of questions, students face different realities so they want answers to questions that affect their world and their future. By seeing knowledge creation as a two way street, we become responsive to what are the problems now and what are the emerging problems.

Dr. Todd: That’s one of the big focuses just a little bit on one of these areas, which is the digital humanities. I think that of the components in your grant, that’s one of the ones that people may be least familiar with and I think you’ve given good production to it. It sounds like it’s going to work pretty well with the focus that CAT plus it’s going to have for the next year with our focus of sharing knowledge through technology. So, can you talk a little bit more about the goals of the digital humanities? A little more about the goals of some of those projects.

Dr. Vaz Deville: Well, we don’t know what the faculty projects are going to be yet. That’s one way that I really like to work. I like to work by what will emerge based on what faculty interests are and what student interests are. The presentations that we saw were things that can easily be done right now, but one of our presenters told us about a web presence where material is archived of hand bills of so-called runaway slaves and so the students are able to do an analysis of the hand bills, and not only analyzing the handbills, what information is included, what are the descriptors, but you can also get into the history and the historical aspect of an enslaved person. Having the material right there is probably the most accessible ways that people can get into digital humanities. The other professor has a growing collaboration with many institutions to look at the culture of New Orleans and the culture of Louisiana. Denise Frazier taught an African American Diaspora and Studies course for us and looked at West African music traditions. So, her students archived their material on that particular site, NOLAV. I have that in our social media content that people can refer to. Those are just two very basic ways. Another way that faculty can have students participate in existing digital media projects is to find a hole that’s there. Suppose one project only focuses on a particular race or a particular gender, the students can come in, begin to collect, and fill in the knowledge gap there about whatever the topic is focusing on another group or asking the question differently. There are thousands and thousands of ways that faculty can interface and incorporate digital platforms into a course or assignment.

Dr. Todd: It sounds like one option or possibility is to have for students and faculty who’ve done the work with them to put their work online and make that accessible like e-portfolios. That can actually become beneficial for the students as they look for jobs. They can provide links and show possible employers not that they learned something, but the work they actually did.

Dr. Vaz Deville: Exactly. It’s exciting because then you can work with professors all across the country in collaboration and deepen the learning experiences in students.

Dr. Todd: So, they’re more walls that their kind of pushing through. That’s great. I guess ultimately this a grant that’s focused on faculty development?

Dr. Vaz Deville: Solely faculty development.

Dr. Todd: Solely faculty development. Ultimately, when this grant is up in three years, how do you hope to see the culture of Xavier pedagogical technique change?

Dr. Vaz Deville: Yes, I think that we will see much more collaborative learning and teaching among faculty, topics that are well understood from their disciplinary perspective, new ways of thinking about it. You know they will be taken into consideration inter-disciplinary problems. A more engaged student body. We have switched many to active learning techniques. This is an additional active learning technique that calls for greater engagement and emersion of students into disciplinary realms. There also going to be a faculty of staff who understand the pedagogical method of writing across the curriculum which is going to be a change. Sometimes, we have a tendency, because it’s easier and more efficient, to rely on scan-trons but we still, especially in this digital age, have a responsibility to our students to require that they can think out of thought in very complex terms and so writing is still the best method which we can demonstrate that and have them develop that skill. We also want faculty to not be afraid of the assessment process, not look at it as something that’s not useful. So, we’re going to have a workshop this semester on course embedded assessments and the more useful these assessments can be the better faculty will be able to use them to reflect on change and keep pushing their own boundaries. You know, helping students learn the material more effectively. You know we’re a very close-knit faculty community. I’m hoping that we will continue to have those bonds increased across new conversations across the areas as they gather together as a community of learners as well as teachers.

Dr. Todd: I think that’s a great way to wrap it up. I’ve been speaking with Dr. Kim Vaz Deville, associate dean at the college of arts and sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. Once again, Dr. Vaz Deville thanks so much for speaking with us today.

Dr. Vaz Deville: Thank you.


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