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A surprising success story has emerged at Xavier this semester in a service-learning course, and this time it's my course! Both the surprise and the success have come on several levels. The successes have been not just the level of student engagement in the community work, but the degree of ownership the students have taken in the work and its real-life positive effects. And the surprise has been theirs and mine, in the life of its own the course has taken on, and the directions that life has led us.

Education in Literature and in Action, XCOR 1011, has its roots in a composition and literature course I taught in the English Department.  I noticed that several of the short stories I taught had education as a theme, stories such as Toni Cade Bambara's "The Lesson," Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," and more recent stories such as Leila Aboulelea's "The Museum." Although I had taught this course as a service-learning course in the past, I hadn't lately for several reasons, none of which were particularly valid, yet my reasons were indicative of the types of reasons why teachers choose not to teach service-learning: time, pedagogical inertia, and the pull of a culture that supports service-learning largely on a theoretical level.

This situation changed, slightly, perhaps, with the redesigning of the core curriculum, and the creation of a new category of courses that would be three-credit-hour courses, 1000 level, whose main purpose was to explore the meaning of Xavier's social justice mission. While service-learning would not be required, the nature of the courses lent itself to service-learning, and it was expected that several among the first batch of offerings would be service-learning, thus ensuring a cohort of teachers operating under at least the same course prefix, if not within a department or division.

Most appealingly, though, the XCOR courses would be under the direction of one faculty member, who actively encouraged service-learning. This small organizational difference illuminated a key point about institutional service-learning culture for me: while "faculty-driven" is an ideal, in practice the active encouragement of faculty members in leadership positions is crucial, if for no other reason than the dissolution of ambiguity in faculty's minds. How likely is a faculty member to engage in service-learning, when she or he isn't even sure if the faculty leader in their area knows what it is? And if faculty leaders mention it never, rarely, or in passing, then it follows for faculty to translate ambiguity as lack of support, or at least indifference. Once faculty leaders begin to repeat service-learning as a point of action, then the layers of institutional support begin to reenforce each other: student affairs, academic affairs, departments and divisions, in a virtuous cycle that faculty can sense, even in its infancy.

These changes led me to rethink my literature and composition course as an XCOR, service-learning course. The premise was fairly simple: to study short stories and essays dealing with experiences in education, to tutor in a local elementary school, and to reflect on what the texts and the work, along with their own experience, tell us about education as an aspect of social justice. As with many of our best laid plans, the simplicity of the premise quickly proved illusory once class began. From a theoretical standpoint, to maintain a cohesive purpose between the strands I'd laid out proved more rhetorically challenging than I'd anticipated. From a practical standpoint, as mainly a writing teacher, I was underprepared to deliver a lecture course whose content didn't consist largely of close attention to student writing. In comp, half my "lectures" are delivered with student writing displayed on a screen. What would take the place of that half that would be of equivalent value to the purpose of the course?

Although the course was a bumpy ride over the first few weeks, as new courses or first-time-taught courses often are, what put the course on track, and opened it up in ways I hadn't anticipated, wan't simply the passage of time, but rather the start of  the community work. After-school tutoring in a local middle school became a kind of meta-text, a lens through which to "read" not just the other texts, but the entire first-year-experience at an HBCU with a social-justice mission.

In my next post, I will detail the project and my students' experiences with it. This next post will be my last contribution to this blog as Faculty-in-Residence for Service-Learning here at CAT+FD, a position I've held for five years. I hope it will serve as a fitting cap to my rewarding and enlightening work here.

A recent article in the Journal of Service-Learning in Higher Education makes an interesting case about differences in efficacy between "traditional" and "critical" service learning courses. In the article, authors Debra A. Harkins, Kathryn Kozak, and Sukanya Ray, of Suffolk University, draw on past definitions to distinguish between the two models. Traditional service-learning would involve activities such as working in a soup kitchen and reflecting on the conditions of homelessness and food scarcity, while a critical approach would make its primary goal to work toward dismantling and reconfiguring the underlying structures that create the conditions of homelessness and food scarcity. The work involved with this approach could be with an advocacy group working toward policy changes.

The authors go on to argue that critical benefits are difficult to measure in part because many service-learning faculty mistakenly believe they are engaging in critical models, while their own discourse about their projects reveals that they are actually employing traditional models. The authors cite as evidence language that situates faculty as authorities and students and community members as beneficiaries. A critical approach would instead situate all participants as stakeholders who stand to benefit from a transformative experience.

One reason the authors present for this lack of true critical models is an overall lack of institutional commitment to service-learning. Even within the relatively small number of schools committed to service-learning (Campus Compact, a leading service-learning advocacy group, reports around 1100 member schools, around 17% of higher learning institutions in the U.S.), service-learning offerings may be spotty, and many students complete their undergraduate education without taking service-learning courses. Many faculty, even those committed to the pedagogy, still cite concerns about time commitments and lack of recognition of service-learning toward tenure and promotion.

The authors then narrow their focus to an examination of one service-learning program at a mid-sized, urban university in New England. Their goal becomes to look at student outcomes and to "tease apart" those that promote improvement of student ability from those that promote transforming students' worldview and encourage participation in social change. Toward this they analyzed 487 student surveys collected over six semesters. (The review was of a program, and not of one particular course.) They conducted two phases of inquiry, the first being quantitative, which found a discrepancy between service-learning stated outcomes and actual impacts. The second, a qualitative study, sought evidence of transformative outcomes.

In the quantitative analysis, the authors found that while students indicated personal growth in responses to the Likert-type items, their narrative responses to the open-ended questions revealed the limited and specific nature of their individual experiences, without evidence connecting the experience to broader societal outcomes. As mitigating factors, the authors included service hours completed, professor, and service site. They found strong correlations between these factors and student responses to the Likert-type questions. But despite overall positive student outcomes, they found little evidence of change in world view or commitment to social change.

How do these conclusions relate to service-learning efforts here at Xavier? Our status as a school working to increase its service-learning efforts certainly results in some of the institutional challenges found by the study. A small percentage of faculty teach service-learning, although another segment also practices engaged pedagogy that includes work in the community, which is but one small step removed from formalized service-learning.

Yet Xavier has several factors working in its favor toward the desired, transformative model of service-learning - the major one being the school's historical mission of social justice, which situates the school squarely in the center of many past and present social justice movements within New Orleans, including the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The presence of Xavier graduates within many of the city's grassroots organizations, such as those working against mass incarceration and for neighborhood and cultural sustainability, not to mention the city's mayor, Latoya Cantrell, attests to the degree to which a Xavier education instills civic responsibility.

Also an exciting new core curriculum has opened the door for service-learning, already having produced new service-learning courses, which will grow in number. The move toward these courses, and student demand for them, which has been significant, will certainly contribute to a more rigorous culture of service-learning throughout the university going forward. And as we grow, it's important to remember studies such as this one from Suffolk, so that our efforts are toward the critical model, one in which students, faculty, and community members all benefit, and in which the students of today become the social change agents of tomorrow.

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encrypt

Every time you visit a website, information is flowing between your device and a server out there somewhere. In the early days of the internet, most all that information was transmitted "in the clear," also known as "cleartext," meaning unencrypted. Cleartext, if intercepted, can be easily read. That means a third party could monitor the content you're accessing. That's kind of like someone knowing what books you've checked out of the library, and even what chapters you've specifically looked at. Creepy! Ain't nobody's business but your own. If that doesn't concern you, consider what happens when the data transmitted includes sensitive information like usernames and passwords.

That's why, in recent years, we've seen more and more sites serving content over a secure connection. The mechanics of these transactions are quite fascinating, but the important point is that the information flowing between you and the server is encrypted. If it's intercepted, it's going to be difficult for that mysterious third party to figure out exactly what content was being transmitted. In short, encrypted sites are much more secure.

Encryption is so easy and so valuable, in fact, that it's becoming the rule rather than the exception. Google (the most popular search engine) gives preference in its search results to sites that serve their content securely. Chrome (the most popular web browser) flags insecure sites. The web is in transition. Truly pervasive encryption is not here yet, but it looks like the way of the future.

CAT+FD got with the program last year. With some help from our friends in ITC, we started encrypting all content from cat.xula.edu. You probably never noticed, but that makes our site a little more secure than it was.

So how do you tell? How can the average user distinguish a site that's encrypted from one that isn't? ...continue reading "Just Encryption Part 1: Web Basics"

This year Xavier rolls out a new core curriculum designed to give students more options to pursue their interests and to explore the breadth of a liberal arts education. While the overall core curriculum hours have been reduced, several new categories of core classes have given faculty an opportunity to create exciting new courses, several of which employ engaged pedagogy, civic-engagement outcomes, and service-learning.

At the 1000 level, two new categories, the Xavier Experience and the New Orleans Experience, offer students unique opportunities to explore themes of Xavier's historic mission within the context of New Orleans and the particular social and economic histories of the communities that make up the city. While the categories are distinct in that one focuses on concepts of social justice and the other on reading New Orleans as text, they also overlap in that both ask students to think critically about connections between their education, their professional goals, and their communities. Xavier and its purpose as a place of learning for many future doctors and scientists, many from historically underserved populations, are not separate from, but rather are a part of, New Orleans and its history of socioeconomic segregation and oppression.  It's impossible to think of the history and success of Xavier without the context of the bitter struggle to integrate New Orleans schools in the 1950s and '60s, and the lasting effects of redlining and selective economic neglect that mark the city's poorest neighborhoods today. While Xavier has been noted as an engine of socioeconomic mobility, as in this study from 2017, New Orleans as a whole remains a hub of multigenerational poverty, as revealed in this 2018 report on "income diversity" in which New Orleans ranked 51st out of 60 large cities.

These courses in and of themselves may do little to close this gap, as I've written in the past about the limits of service-learning. But while many of the students will go on to live and work in other communities, many others will live and work in New Orleans, and in this regard, these courses can absolutely make a difference. For some of the students, addressing the city's needs in health care, education, housing, and employment will become their life's work. And these students may look back on the connections drawn in these courses between their education and their community as a major step stone along their path, if not their starting block.

Below are titles and descriptions of some of these courses:

FREEDOM DREAMS: SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE AFRICAN
AMERICAN IMAGINATION
Social justice in the African American imagination looks at the historical, ideological, and literary expressions of black liberation throughout their history in the US. We will seek to answer the question: How have people of African descent expressed their dreams for freedom, justice, and equality throughout their history in the US? We will answer this question by examining themes and movements, such as: African American acts of resistance, Black Christianity, African American emancipation, black anticolonialism and Negritude, black feminism, Black Power, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the historically black college and university.

COMMUNICATING SOCIAL JUSTICE
Communicating Social Justice examines selected social justice issues (theme to vary
each semester) in relation to communication activism. Using interdisciplinary
approaches, students will analyze the history, theory, and practice of communication activism. Students participate in a series of communication-based activities. Whenever possible, the course incorporates a service-learning project that directly engages students in a communication activism campaign.

PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION OF MARDI GRAS
Students will get hands-on and go behind the scenes to develop a deeper
understanding of diverse Mardi Gras practices and the corporations, cottage industries, professional and amateur artists, and clubs, krewes, gangs, and tribes that produce the Mardi Gras events that help New Orleanians celebrate traditions as well as drawing tourists from all over the world. In this context, students will conduct their own interview research to explore questions of Mardi Gras and parading culture participants' understanding of their roles as artists, producers, and consumers.

HOMELESSNESS IN NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans is one of many cities featuring a significant and visible homeless
population. Working from the premise that homelessness represents both a personal “trouble” and a public “issue”, this service- learning course will give students the opportunity to study the multi-faceted causes and consequences of homelessness in New Orleans. We will work to understand homelessness as not only a condition, but as a social concept and process, including its meaning in other U.S. and global contexts. Through service, reflection, discussion, selected readings, data analysis, and guest speakers, students will learn about and reflect upon a range of individual and collective choices and actions that might reduce homelessness. Students enrolled in this course should be prepared for trips off campus outside class time and be eager to serve and to engage in a respectful manner individuals at service learning sites.

Writing in the Journal of Service Learning in Higher Education in January of 2018, Dr. T. Andrew Carswell of Gannon University, a Catholic university in Erie, Pennsylvania, describes a research project undertaken to discover the capacity of service-learning courses to change student attitudes about poverty. His premise is that we know through other research that Americans are as likely to attribute poverty to lack of effort among the poor as to circumstances beyond their control. Attitudes of attribution also affect views of social programs to address poverty.

Meanwhile service-learning courses have been shown through research to improve student outcomes for citizenship, empathy, compassion, and understanding of social problems. Students are more likely to exhibit greater "efficacy to make the world a better place" (Carswell). Though this type of goal makes sense for a course at a Catholic university such as Gannon, or Xavier, and many liberal arts schools do include such goals in their missions, traditional-classroom courses often bypass such goals in favor of more academically assessable outcomes.

Students in Dr. Carswell's upper-level capstone psychology class engaged in 30 hours of community service working alongside underprivileged people, while studying poverty in the classroom. One of the outcomes of the course was that students would have a more positive view of people living in poverty, and Dr. Carswell set out to measure whether this was achieved.

Students in the course chose from four community groups to work with, including an after-school program, a food bank, a group that worked with immigrants and refugees, and a group that worked with recently released criminal offenders. The option let students decide what type of work they wanted to do, and many worked with more than one group. Classroom contact hours were reduced, (perhaps a luxury of a senior capstone course) and writing assignments asked students to draw connections between scholarly articles on poverty and experiences at the sites. Attitudes were gauged using pre and post-course completion of what's called the Undergraduate Perceptions of Poverty Tacking Survey.

Dr. Carswell found that student attitudes improved toward social welfare programs, and toward their own willingness to take action to help those in poverty. Student belief that people in poverty have limited access to valuable resources also increased. However, there was no real change in student attitudes toward perceived differences between the poor and non-poor. Nor was there an increase in belief in rights to basic necessities. Dr. Carswell discusses several possible reasons for the non-change in perceptions of in-group/out-group differences, including research that suggests this type of intergroup contact best affects intergroup attitudes when the groups are of equal status and the contact is cooperative in nature.

This last point relates to the ongoing movement within service-learning to effect meaningful change and to avoid perpetuating a classist, "service"-based hierarchy. This broad goal may prove service-learning's most elusive. (See my interview with Dr. Randy Stoecker on this problem http://cat.xula.edu/food/conversation-63/.) And we should also keep in mind that Dr. Carswell's sample was 18 students in one class. Yet, his results are encouraging when we consider the degree to which misperceptions about the poor permeate our society and drive public policy. Dr. Carswell's students and many others who complete courses like these will go on to shape policy and help shift perceptions as they move into professional society.

Though there is much work to be done, examples like these affirm the vital work of service-learning and higher education.

Last month, I wrote about setting up my classes in Brightspace before the semester had begun, in part because I was in the process of gamifying my advanced grammar class. I've had a few people ask me about that, so I thought I'd provide an update here with plans to provide more as the semester progresses. ...continue reading "Gamifying Grammar, Part I"

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When I read this article from Sara Goldrick-Rab "Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus" from August of last year, it really resonated with me, due to several projects I'm currently working on that have somehow converged--it is that time of year when faculty are asking for tips on creating their syllabi or feedback on items they should perhaps add, I'm collaborating on initiatives to try to save students money on textbooks, our office has been working with graduate students since 2017, and of course, we are always conscious of our mission here at XULA.

Professor Goldrick-Rab decided to include the following statement in her syllabus for a Master's higher education course:

Any student who faces challenges securing their food or housing and believes this may affect their performance in the course is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support.  Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable in doing so.  This will enable her to provide any resources that she may possess.

empty plate between fork and spoon

Professor Goldrick-Rab said that she decided to add this to her graduate syllabus to acknowledge that students face financial challenges that could affect their performance in their courses, to let them know that she cares about them, and to try to point them in the right direction for resources.

It makes me wonder how many of our own students are threatened with basic needs security.  Would you, as an instructor, add similar verbiage to your own syllabus?  Do you know any students who are hungry or homeless?  I don't, but just yesterday, a parent called me to say that they couldn't afford to send their son back to XULA for the fall--it was just too expensive.  She wanted to find out if there were enough online courses offered so that he could continue his studies while they tried to save and perhaps he could attend in person again in the spring.  Many of our students and their families are struggling, and perhaps they would appreciate it if we do acknowledge their challenges, even in a small way, such as adding a statement to our syllabus and providing resources for them.

On February 25, students in the Freshman Seminar class of Ms. Shu Peng participated in a Chinese New Year celebration as part of their service-learning project to explore the theme of global leadership. The event, hosted by the Confucius Institute along with the Metairie Business District, provided students an opportunity to observe and critique the internal leadership and organization involved in putting on such an event. They also were assigned to interview students, parents, and other participants to promote cross-cultural awareness. And for some fun and cross-cultural experience of their own, students got to dance two huge dragons to start the event.

The event attracted nearly 1000 people, despite heavy rain at the start, and featured short speeches by Drs. Verret and McCall of Xavier, Jefferson Parrish President Mike Yenni, and Education Counselor Long Jie, from the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Houston. Students were fully engaged in the service, rotating through six work stations throughout the day, and their formal reflective writing is about the event from the perspective of an organizer.

In addition to teaching the Freshman Seminar, Ms. Peng works as Assistant Director of the Confucius Institute at Xavier. This unique office, part of a non-profit organization affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, has a mission to teach and promote Chinese language and culture around the globe. Founded in 2012, Xavier's Confucius Institute was awarded the Institute of the Year in 2016, out of over 500 Institutes worldwide. Ms. Peng's engagement with the Freshman Seminar program demonstrates the degree to which the institute is represented in the teaching faculty. And her unique expertise (she holds an M.S. in Communications from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, an M.A. in applied linguistics from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and an B.A in English from Xiangtan University) offers Xavier students a unique, global perspective on cultural awareness.

Ms. Peng (pictured here at left) hopes to make the Chinese New Year event an annual event, in order to serve the Xavier and New Orleans communities. Engaging first-year students as leaders and organizers in this event offers them valuable experience to reflect on, in order to achieve outcomes of civic engagement.

 

Open Educational Resources are more important than ever, and XULA is making an effort to spread the word to faculty and students. We're planning daily events to inform and engage everyone during OER's official week. Here's our schedule and we hope you will be able to join us for at least some of the activities:

OER Week  2018 at XULA

Monday, March 5 Podcast: Dr. Moustapha Diack on Open Educational Resources , Southern University Baton Rouge.  Use the link above to join the podcast or type in this URL: https://cat.xula.edu/food/conversation-62/

Tuesday March 6 Webinar: “Faculty Experiences on Teaching with OERs”, 11 am Hosted in the Library Resource Center, 417B

Wednesday March 7 Invited Faculty Panel: “Developing and Using OER – a XU Perspective”, 12 pm Library Resource Center, 601.  Boxed lunches—email knichola@xula.edu by March 6

Webinar: “Collaborating across Institutions to Advance OE”, 1pm Hosted in the Library Resource Center, 417B

Thursday March 8 Student Workshop: Finding Affordable Textbooks and Supplemental Materials, 1 pm Hosted in the Library Resource Center, 417B

Friday March 9 Website Reveal: Meet xula4ed.org!”, 12:15 pm Hosted online by Karen Nichols. Use link above to join the meeting Friday, March 9th at 12:15 pm or type in this URL: https://zoom.us/j/439846786

xula4ed.org is our new OER website, developed in partnership with MERLOT and a grant from Hewlett.  It's okay to check it out now instead of waiting until Friday, March 9--happy searching!

New Orleans celebrates its 300th year as a city in 2018, and as part of the festivities, Xavier history professor Dr. Sharlene Senegal DeCuir is leading her Freshman Seminar class in a special service-learning project.

Part of the city's planned activities for the tricentennial includes a four-day symposium called "Making New Orleans Home," to be held March 8 - 11 at various locations around the city. The symposium, presented by the city in partnership with The Historic New Orleans Collection, is free to attend and open to the public. Saturday's program is to be held on Xavier's campus, in the McCaffrey Ballroom of the University Center, from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it's here that Dr. Senegal-DeCuir and her students will participate. The day's featured speaker is Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. Other speakers on the day include distinguished professor of history Kathleen Duval, of the University of North Carolina, Nick Spitzer of the radio program American Roots, and Xavier's own endowed chair in the humanities, Dr. Michael White.

The Freshman Seminar course is part of Xavier's First Year Experience program and is designed to introduce students to concepts of social justice, the purpose of a liberal arts education, and how the two concepts meet in Xavier's historic mission to prepare students to contribute to a more just and humane society. Each teacher of this course brings his or her own areas of expertise to the basic structure and approaches the purpose through a particular theme. Dr. Senegal DeCuir's theme aligns with the theme of the symposium, Making New Orleans Home. Through this theme students will examine the social, political and economic injustice that cripples New Orleans along with many communities nationally, while they explore important issues that can help raise hope and awareness for a brighter future.

For perspective on this theme students are reading The Coldest Winter Ever, the 1999 best-selling novel by Sister Solujah. This cautionary tale set in Brooklyn explores themes of wealth and poverty, criminal justice, and the often fraught and limited avenues toward the American Dream available to those in Americas inner-cities. In addition to reading and writing about, and discussing these themes, students will participate in the Saturday symposium both as volunteers, assisting guests and speakers and helping things run smoothly, and as attendees of panel discussions. Thus, students gain opportunity to consider themes of the novel and of the course through discussion of New Orleans' particular past and present, and to synthesize the material through reflective writings, discussions, and presentations.

Sharlene Sinegal DeCuir received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1999. She received her Masters of Art degree in 2001 and her PhD. in 2009 from Louisiana State University. Her areas of concentration are in American, African-American, and Latin American history.  Throughout her academic career, she has focused on the New South period of American history through the Civil Rights Movement, with particular interest on African American activism in Louisiana. In 2014, Dr. Sinegal DeCuir was honored as the first faculty alumni to receive the Xavier University 40 under 40 Young Alumni Award. She has been featured in WBOK New Orleans Talk Radio, The New Orleans Times-Picayune and Health Issues with Christopher Sylvain.  Her article “Nothing Is to Be Feared: Norman C. Francis, Civil Rights Activism, and the Black Catholic Movement" appears in The Journal of African-American History, and she has been interviewed for an upcoming documentary titled Monochrome: Black, White And Blue, by Cardinal Releasing.