Podcast Junkie – Is This Working?

img-nmclogoI admit it, I am a podcast junkie.  In particular I am obsessed with “This American Life” which comes out every Monday morning.  For me, it makes Monday my favorite day of the week!  Last Monday’s episode was particularly gripping for me as it was about all the different types of discipline used in the K-12 schools.

It brought me back to the very issue I struggle with most as an instructor.  Where do you draw the line with students?  As a social worker, I suppose it’s more of a grey area than it is for most.  We all struggle with students that come in late for class, excuses as to why work is late, needing to make up exams, etc.  I am not talking about the students that this is a common practice, but the outliers that have things happening in their lives that they share with you either because they trust you or they are forced to share.

Recently I have had students bring in documents to prove why they were not in class or needed extra time for test taking.  These ranged from needing to appear in court to another that was hosDogs and their ownerpitalized for anxiety to another student gave me a letter from her doctor that she had had a miscarriage.  These horrified me but because these students said they, “had to have proof as to why they were not in class.”

I wondered howit would feel to have to share something in our own lives with others that may be something so personal, so embarrassing and maybe shameful.  Are we adding a level of hurt or shame that isn’t necessary?  Am I too ‘soft’ and not holding students accountable enough?  It’s an issue that I struggle with every semester and probably will throughout my life.  I was hoping to find a concrete answer in This American Life episode, “Is This Working?” but no such luck.  In the end, none of the teachers or the students that were interviewed provided any definite answers as to the best approach of discipline in the classroom.  I suppose it’s as unique as our students and the all the baggage that we bring to the table as well.

How Much is That Worth?

img-nmclogo This is a phrase that makes chills go down my spine. Typically it means to an instructor that if you don’t assign points to an assignment, then the student will not see value in it. Many pieces of research have shown that if you are motivated externally (i.e. money or grades), you just won’t do as well at a given task (or persist). If you are motivated internally (I want to learn), then you will persist even in the face of resistance, for instance a poor score.

What does this mean? To me, it means we have to shift the focus on grades to a focus on learning. Maybe students will persist in our classes longer if we don’t over-emphasize grades. If we place emphasis on good grades, rather than good learning, then a poor score can become devastating.

How can we shift the focus? I’m not saying grades are bad, but maybe we can help de-empasize them in our students’ minds to help them focus on what is important – learning. We could try to collect some assignments as Formative Assessment. We can give students feedback as to how they did, but don’t assign a grade. “What’s the purpose of that?” a student may ask. What formative assessment allows you to do as an instructor is to gauge how the student is doing and correct them, without penalty. And, you are preparing them for the high-stakes Summative Assessment to come.

Allow the students to practice in a safe environment without penalty. Give them feedback as to how to create better answers. Then, test them after they have had that time to practice. You may have to explain to students what you are trying to accomplish, but I would bet that as long as you have a good reason, students will appreciate the opportunity to practice.

Encouraging Every Student to Talk

img-nmclogoI have a very quiet ENG 99 class this semester. Even still at week three or four, they were very reluctant to speak up in front of the whole class or even in small groups. So I decided to try something that I had learned at a Reading Apprenticeship workshop several of us attended in May.

I couldn’t remember what they called the activity, but I called it “Hold the Floor.”  I put students into groups of four. Each student had  a minute or two to review the writing they had done for homework and then starting with the person with the longest commute in the group, each student had to speak about what they had written for homework for two minutes. Before they began, I explained that, for those two minutes, only the speaker can speak–the listeners cannot ask questions, add ideas or give examples. Additionally, the speaker must speak for the entire two minutes.Kristen Salathiel I also suggested the types of things they might want to talk about and explained what good listening looked like.  I used my phone to time the two minutes exactly. It was fascinating to watch. Many got off to a slow start but once they realized that no one was going to jump in and save them or interrupt them, they actually picked up some momentum.

It turned out to be the best activity we had done thus far, and we have done it several times since. I think it also was a sort of break-out moment for some of the students. Looking back now from here in week nine, I can see there are a number of quieter, more introverted students in the class who at the time were definitely not used to speaking so long–or ever–in class about their own ideas. Rather than being mortified by it, however, I think they felt honored to be listened to.


There are many items that contribute and determine a student’s success, but I’m only going to touch a few that can help further define a success.  Just to be clear, there are many and diverse items that help determine a student’s success.  These are just a chosen few.

Scholarship being defined as a fund of knowledge and learning is a key with regards to a student’s success in life and career.  When an individual comes into the classroom, their focus should be directed to the learning process and how that learning can be benefiting them in their career and life.  One of the exercises in my career and personal development class is designed to help them consider what their values are and how they match the various roles they have in their life.  From that they need to sort them in a quadrant of roles that are required or self-directed and fulfilling or unfulfilling.  In some cases, I find that students have placed items in the self-directed and unfulfilling quadrant.  I have to ask the question why?  I have found that some students do understand how the acquiring knowledge and learning can serve them well and help them succeed.

Talent is a special ability to something well.  We have all seen students that have “talent.”  We have also seen students that have talent and never seem to fulfill their talent.  As a teacher, we need to encourage students to stretch themselves and use their talent for success.  We also need to remember that as a teacher, we also have talent that we need to exercise and stretch and grow.  Never become complacent.

Understanding is the power to make an experience intelligible by applying concepts and categories.  Teaching is helping students not only understand, but also helping them understand on how to apply their knowledge and learning.  This could be the greatest challenge, but also the most important.

Determination is a quality that makes an individual continue trying to or achieve something that is difficult.  As a teacher, we are also cheerleaders, provocateurs, and drivers for students.  We have to engage and challenge them in the learning process.  Help create their determination to succeed, not only in the course they are taking, but also in their personal life.

Employment can be defined as the occupation by which a person earns a living; work; or business.   From my perspective as a career coach over the last 20-years, employment is the success individuals usually use as a measure of their success.  When we meet someone for the first time, the first question typically is what do you do for a living?  Or what’s your sign?   Students are taking classes to better themselves and increase their standard of living.  Hopefully, they are taking classes that help them grow in their career.  Our curriculum should be aimed at helping them reach their goal of why they are taking classes.

Nurturing is as simple as supporting and encouraging students during their period of training and development.   I feel that all students need support and encouragement – both in the classroom and, at times, with their personal choices.  We should be in a position to direct them to the help they need when they are in need.  We need to be aware of what services are available to help students so they can succeed. Transitioning is moving from one state or form to another.  We need to be aware of our student’s individual needs when they transition into the classroom environment and be prepared to help them as they transition into the next phase of their life.  In some cases, remaining a mentor, in other cases, helping them manage their new career outside of the safety of the classroom.  In rare cases, helping them survive their own success.

Playing with Clay in College

Studying anatomy can be pretty straight forward when you have a list of things you must know and identify. Physiology starts to warp their minds when they have to figure out how things work. Anatomy can be difficult when all the things look the same and are the same shade of tan or grey. I am talking about a brain. A preserved sheep brain, specifically. It looks like a squiggly blob and then they get a list of things they have to identify and know what it does.

So we are actually talking about ‘brain surgery’ here. Where can you cut or if you cut what will you affect?

To get my students to really figure out the brain in a 3-D way I have them play with clay.

During my brain lab, I begin with asking students to build a brain. They are using clay and have to build a three dimensional brain including all the features they have to know about. My online students have to do the same thing. All my students build a brain. When they are done, they have to tell their classmates about it. In class, each student group (they sit at round-ish tables) will have one representative that ‘presents’ their brain. Then the class votes for the best one. Online students do this individually. They have to make a brain with clay and post a video to their blog pointing out each of the features Fellow students then comment on their colleague’s brain.

Students laugh when I first present this assignment, but then are excited to get to work. Some of them are fantastic and very detailed. The activity forces every student to do something and get involved in the learning as they each have to make different parts of the brain, even if there is one person putting it together. It is very much a collaborative project.

After students complete their clay brain and have presented it to the class (or video) then they "get to dissect" a preserved sheep brain. Students then show me the same features from their list that they had to know and make for their clay brain. I have found that students do so much better on learning the brain features and functions when they do the clay brain activity first. I noticed a significant improvement in brain identification and regional understanding when the clay brain project was incorporated compared to previous semesters when I was not using the clay activity. The purchase of clay is included in my syllabus class requirements now and I have expanded it to also make a clay model of any eye before dissecting a cow eye.

there’s a class for this?

I teach  Stretch and Flex.


PHE 110A. Stretch and Flex (1). Flexibility and stretching exercises to improve posture, increase joint flexibility, and reduce stress reactions.

Oh the joy of teaching this class!  We warm up with about 12 minutes of cardio.   This all important step will gently increase our heart rate to get more blood flow to the muscles, tendons & ligaments and prepare our body for what’s to come.  We sometimes giggle, sing, and shout out happy birthdays…  We get comfy and back into our bodies after being out of the classroom for a few days.

Then I bring our heart rate back down with some dynamic stretching.  Dynamic / moving stretches activate our muscles while  improving range of motion and body awareness.  The energy in the classroom comes down and goes within.  We get out of our happy, cardio head and begin feeling the body.  I’ll incorporate balance & slow strength during this segment which can sometimes be as sweaty as our warm-up because we are so focused.

Some days we use weights.  Hand weights.  We ‘throw’ these around to enhance our muscular control and endurance.  Some days we use the big fitness balls.  These are great for accentuating our entire core.  Ever try a push up or plank on the fitness ball?  It’s a great workout :)

I really like to sense the energy of each class and go from there.  So much of our life is full throttle so the  simplicity of rediscovering our parasympathetic  nervous system is a real treat. Taking the time to deeply relax and go within can add years to our life.  After integrating a relaxing experience, the students will look around with a softened gaze.  They feel soooo relaxed.  “This is good”, I tell them. “Take the time to enjoy this.   ahhh”~

When was the last time you felt amazingly relaxed?


Giving Away our Pizza for . . . Wait for It . . . Partnership!?! – An Allegory

“What do you want Barry?" Tony asked brusquely. Barry just stared back at Tony with his impish little grin which often meant that he was about to ask for something he shouldn’t. This time, Tony was more than prepared to take a hard line against Barry and his ludicrous demands.

“You know what I want Tony" Barry said imperiously. “I want your recipe. I want to sell your pizza, right here in my shop, and I want you to give it to me for free."

Fat chance of that, Tony thought. Even if the little wimp had my recipe, he couldn’t deliver my service, my quality and he can’t even get his hands on my ingredients. I’ve worked with these suppliers for years, getting the best ingredients at the best prices and it’s been a win-win for everybody, now he wants in on the action, just like that, in the name of “partnership". I don’t think so. Not to mention, his under-qualified staff could never pull-off our product. Tony forced a smile. Got to keep it civil though, Corporate wants things civil between us, although I don’t know why.

“I don’t know Barry, that’s a tall order. Let me check with corporate and see if there is anything that I can do for you."

Tony’s astonishment at Barry’s nervy request betrayed itself in his stammering gait as he exited Barry’s dinky little Prescott Pizzeria with its dingy paint job and dilapidated eighties-something dining room, complete with chipped Formica tables and hideous orange indoor/outdoor carpeting.

“Can you believe the nerve of that guy?" Tony muttered to himself as he stopped by Yavapai Pizzeria, ‘Prescott’s pizza exploration station—pizza explored’, to pick up the daily sales report. Corporate is never going to go for it. Prescott Pizzeria, how ridiculous. They don’t even have a sales slogan. “Pizza explored," now that’s going to sell some pizzas.

. . . .

“Well, if we don’t partner with Barry, someone else will. So, I think we should just give him what he wants." It was Don Andersen, corporate lackey, on the other end of the Skype conference.

Let him partner with someone else! We have the best pizza in town, for the best prices. The mark-up on another partnership will push his prices too high and none of his clients will want to pay it, especially when they could get the quality of Yavapai Pizza from us, for much less. Besides, I’ve ran the numbers. If we give him our recipe, we’ll lose money on each and every pizza he sells. How is that good for US; a partnership is supposed to benefit both parties, not just bonehead Barry!"

“Let’s just give it a try Tony. All the other big pizza joints are partnering with the public pizza joints like Barry’s Prescott Pizzeria. There might be future clients in it for us one day".

“So let me get this straight, we’re going to give Barry our recipe for free, to start making our pizzas with unqualified chefs and low quality ingredients, then he’s going to slap Yavapai’s label on the box and sell it out of his shop. And to top it all off, each time Barry sells a pizza, we lose money?"

“Yes, and don’t forget that we’ll be paying Barry to make our pizza, so he’ll be taking home a little extra in his paycheck each month, not to mention the fact that he will also see a stark increase in his clientele, because word will spread quickly that Prescott Pizzeria is going to be making our pizza now, and giving it to the public for free."

“Wait, wait, wait; he’s going to be giving our pizza away for free?" Tony asked as he tried to pick his jaw up off the floor.

“Yep. But don’t worry; his target market is just high schoolers. You know, the annoying little adolescent types. His clientele isn’t as refined as ours. His increased revenue shouldn’t short change us . . . much anyway."

“How is that fair to our clients who pay good money for our pizza. If he gives it away for free, what’s in it for him?"

“He markets that he sells Yavapai Pizza and his clientele instantly shoots up for all his other products."

“No offense sir, but it might be slightly difficult to compete with someone who gives our pizza away for free, even if he doesn’t get the recipe perfect, like we do here at Yavapai Pizzeria. Close enough is good enough when you are getting a version of our product for free. How in the world will we recover our losses?"

“Well, when they get a taste for our pizza through Barry, they’ll be hooked and have to come to us."

“What if they get their fill of pizza and want to move right into the higher priced restaurants, like Northern Arizona Stake House, in Flagstaff? Do we have any proof that they’ll come to our pizzeria after Barry?" Tony wanted to know.

“Well no, we don’t actually have any proof of that."

“So, wait, one more time. We are going to give our pizza to Prescott for free. Barry, who will earn a stipend, paid by us, for his efforts, will use underqualified staff and cheap ingredients to produce a counterfeit version of our pizza which he will slap in a box with a Yavapai label on it, and in turn, give away to his customers for free; we’ll lose money on all of his pizzas, and to top it all off, we have no way of knowing if we will ever pick-up some of his clientele, due to our new found ‘partnership’?"

“Yep, that about sums it up. We’ll also keep our losses low by not paying you anything extra for going out to train Barry and his staff to make our pizzas" Don said, with an upbeat tone.

“Oh, well that’s reassuring. So, other than the fact that we lose money and likely lose clientele, what’s in it for us again?" Tony asked.

“Partnership, Tony! Aren’t you looking forward to working with Barry? Spending all your extra time coming up with common final recipes, training his staff and overseeing his production? What a great bonding exercise."

“To be honest, we had a pretty good partnership prior, but now Barry’s developed the most annoyingly smug laugh and he’s a nightmare to be around. Plus, he’s cancelled all of the monthly workshops we used to do with the other little pizza shops in the area because he’s afraid they’ll get wind of our partnership and want to partner with us too. To be honest, I’ve never felt more distant from Barry. So besides partnership, is there anything else?"

“Well, we also have the peace of mind that we’re doing what all the other county pizzerias are doing."

“You mean, the ones that are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and the ones who have slashed their pizza making departments?"

“Yep, those ones. They’re all doing it, so maybe we should too."

“Don, did your mother ever ask you a question about what everyone else was doing and a bridge?"

“What are you talking about Tony?"

“Never mind, Yavapai Pizzeria, over and out".

. . . .

In the coming months, Tony spent most of his free time with Barry who was becoming richer and richer with the increased clientele, and of course, he was becoming subsequently more and more smug.

“Hey Tony, is that your Vespa in the parking lot? I think that I accidently ran over it with my new Hummer. Don’t worry, I’m sure my platinum-level insurance will cover it! Danny’s going to hold down the fort for me again today. I’m headed to Cancun with my new girlfriend, her purse dog and her new surgically enhanced body! Call me if you have any trouble babe!" then he formed his right thumb and forefinger into a gun, clicked his tongue as he pulled the trigger and winked at Tony over the top of his brand-new Ray Ban aviators.

“Gosh that guy is getting on my nerves" Tony said.

Danny, Barry’s protégé, just shrugged his shoulders and went back to grating the mozzarella. Tony had to admit though, Barry was doing a fair job with his pizza. Despite his annoying demeanor, Barry had done some culinary studies and his pizza was improving, with painstaking efforts by Tony. The problem was Danny. Danny was a good guy and he meant well, but he was left making the pizza more and more often and Danny, well, Danny was horrible. When Danny was left alone, the pizza looked and tasted bad, nevertheless, he’d shove it in the Yavapai box and some people thought it was Tony’s pizza. Tony and Yavapai Pizzeria were starting to get a bad reputation, mostly because of poor Danny.

“He means well, he’s just never made pizza before and he’s only had the most basic culinary training. There’s not a lot that I can do with him. He just doesn’t have the skills" Tony complained to Don Andersen via Skype. “What can I do? His pizza is horrible and he’s making us look bad."

“Just be patient with him. You’ll have to. I just got a Tweet from Barry. He’s not coming back from Cancun. He’s started working for Amway in Mexico. Apparently, they haven’t heard much about multi-level marketing down there and the Poblanos are buying into it, hook, line and sinker. Barry’s making money hand-over-fist down there. He’s going to be bigger than the cartels, lucky son-of-a-buck! He’s making Danny the new store manager."

“Danny! He’s not even qualified to make our pizza."

“According to Barry he is and that’s good enough for us. We really don’t have a say in the matter."

“Why not?!! It’s our pizza, isn’t it?" Tony was furious. “Don’t we have a say in who makes it. We’d never hire the likes of Danny to make our pizza here at Yavapai, yet he’s at Barry’s making horrid pizza and putting our name on it. What is Norther Arizona Stake House hears about this? They’ll never consider my application!" Tony was shouting now and that little vein was coming out on his forheas that looked like the Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future.

“Calm down Tony! You’re a great chef and trainer. I’m sure you’ll make it all alright. How’s that pay increase treating you? Three percent this year, not bad, right?"

. . . .

But things didn’t turn out alright. Danny continued to pump out horrible Yavapai pizza at the Prescott shop. He continued catering to adolescents, but most of them already had eaten all of their required pizza by the time they wanted to come see Tony and if by some miracle they weren’t ruined for pizza consumption by Danny, most would-be customers figured that they’d already had Tony’s pizza, because “it’s all Yavapai Pizza anyway, right?" Eventually there weren’t enough clients for Tony and Danny to both stay open, so Yavapai Pizza closed down. Danny still pumped out his version of Yavapai Pizza, but community members were locked out entirely because they didn’t feel comfortable picking through the hormones and SnapChat messages in order to actually pick-up Yavapai Pizza at Danny’s shop.

So, Tony packed up his “Top Cheff" and “Cheff of the Year" medallions and trophies and loaded them onto his beat-up Vespa and turned the lights off on his beloved little pizza shop for the last time. As legend has it, he carved out a pint-sized life teaching Italian at a quaint little community college in Arizona somewhere. Those culinary trips abroad finally paid off for something, but unfortunately for Tony, it wasn’t for really great pizza at an affordable price. It’s a shame too, Italian professors are a dime a dozen, what the world needs more than anything though, is a really great pizza chef.

Two Reasons SmartMat’s Second Promotional Video Ain’t Too Smart

After watching SmartMat’s first promotional video, as a Yoga instructor, the first thing I felt was “WOW!”

SmartMat’s First Promotional Video on Youtube

Then all my thoughts got jumbled in my head as I tried to make sense of what I just watched. So, like any ‘SmartPerson,’ I went to SmartMat’s website, googled around, and looked on Youtube, and then, I saw SmartMat’s second promotional video.
SmartMat’s Second Promotional Video on Youtube

Honestly, SmartMat’s second promotional video just ‘ain’t too smart,’ and it probably hurts their promotion more than helps. The video shows people putting down in-class Yoga instructors. I get it. It’s a business, and as a business, they think they know their competition, but they don’t, and they think it’s a smart business tactic, but it’s not. Here are two simple reasons why:

Reason 1: Technological modes of how to do Yoga from a VHS Yoga tape to Yoga on the Wii Fit have never been in direct competition with in-class Yoga Instructors. The reason is simple. People who want an in-class Yoga class, take an in-class Yoga class. The people who don’t, guess what, they don’t. Rather, they do Yoga by watching an old VHS Yoga tape they may have, a Yoga DVD they just got on Christmas, an Online Yoga video they saw on Youtube, Yoga on Netflix or Wii Fit, and so on. These technological modes of how to do Yoga is SmartMat’s direct competition, not the in-class Yoga instructor.

Reason 2: The world of in-class Yoga instructors is huge and extremely influential in promoting any Yoga product. So, as a business, SmartMat should want the in-class Yoga instructors on their side. SmartMat needs to be smart, creative and get these instructors on their side. For example, for me, when I get my SmartMat, I may include the SmartMat into my college Yoga courses, allowing my online Yoga students to use it, encouraging my onsite Yoga students to use it, and who knows, I may even end up teaching a SmartMat Yoga college course all online or all onsite.

Now, I know the crowdfunding for the SmartMat is just awesome, raising double the amount asked, $110,000 to $233,646, as I write this. So, yes, people have faith in the product. But the Yoga industry is a billion dollar business, and I mean, billions, with millions of people who practice Yoga, and I mean millions. So why not simply make more money by knowing who’s who in the World of Yoga, and by simply enlisting the 70+ thousand Yoga instructors and not rejecting them.

The crowdfunding for the SmartMat – Indiegogo, Inc.


Keeping It Relevant

discussions (1)How do we know that the online student is really grasping the subject matter, I mean really grasping it?  We can assess and grade the assignments submitted in Blackboard, or monitor the quiz results. This gives us a sense of their understanding of the material, but how about that investment in the learning or that enthusiasm in participating in the class.  At the end of each semester, I send out class evaluations to my online students. I’m curious about their online class experience and ask questions that focus more on their sense of connection to the class. I ask students to rate their answers from 1 (very poor) to 5 (Excellent).

A few examples are;

How would you rate your feeling of being connected to the class?

Did you feel safe in expressing your views in the discussion board?

Did you feel the subject material presented was relevant and interesting?

Rate your overall online class experience.

At the end of the survey, I ask students to make any comments they would like to make regarding their personal online experience. Comments have varied; a few comments seem common with students such as;

Discussions that are relevant to the student in their everyday lives are really appreciated by the students.

Keeping the discussions open ended so students can keep discussions ongoing an allow students to not only explore the topic, but learn other opinions and attitudes of others students.

Making students feel safe in the online environment. Maintaining an open honest environment.

So I have maintained a format for all my online classes. All discussion board post as well as any written assignments should relate more to the personal experiences and attitudes of the student. Discussions are not based on the textbook, but rather personal life experiences related to the questions that are up for discussion. This does require monitoring and setting the tone from the beginning of the class. This can be done by setting the example of how we respond and perhaps challenge our students in the way we ask additional questions. The quickest way to shut down a discussion is to make a student fell put down our feel attacked.  Students need to feel safe in any online discussion.

All questions should be presented in such a way that each student should be able to relate to each question and how it may relate to their current lives or how they would see it relating to their future lives. What makes a question interesting is relevancy. If I can relate to it, then I have something to say about it. Personalizing the online experience in the discussion board seems to allow the students investment in the class and brings the students closer to each other. I tell students from the beginning of class that there is no right or wrong answer in these online discussions, but students always need to explain their thinking in justifying their opinions and comments.

So what have I learned about online discussions, especially in keeping the online class energized and engaged?

  1. Create a safe environment
  2. Make your topic relevant to the student
  3. Keep the questions open-ended to encourage a more open dialogue
  4. Make expectations clear to students from the beginning
  5. Make you presence known to students by posting announcements, reminders, and providing feedback to comments and assignments.

The best way in learning what is working in your class and what’s not working is to ask your students for feedback. I sometimes ask students questions about the questions I present in the discussion board. Did they feel it helped in their understanding of the chapter that is being reviewed that week? Asking students for feedback could be the best possible way of better understanding the question we always ask ourselves; are my students understanding the information as well as having a positive online experience?

Sharing – The Google Way


The Google belt.

Setting up collaborative teams and putting a project in place that encourages collaboration is just the start. The pressures of work, schedules, and family commitments conspire to draw student into a silent shell. They only care about getting homework assignments and papers done…collaborating is the furthest thing from their mind.

In the middle of a stressful semester, returning emails from fellow teammates are not the highest priority. Trying to collaborate on a document via email is even more challenging. If several students are working on the same document simultaneously and making changes, it is a nightmare to keep track of the changes. This is where a shared document can help.

On the first project my student complete in College Algebra, they complete several assignments on a shared spreadsheet. I start by creating the shared spreadsheet in Google Sheets. It contains a sheet with each group members name and email. It also contains my name and email. A second sheet within the shared spreadsheet is the beginning of a team log where each team member documents what changes they have made and on what date. When I am satisfied with this document, I name it with a name unique to the team like “p2_team1″. Now I need to share the spreadsheet with the team members.

In the upper right corner of the browser window of any Google tools is a button that says “Share”.

share_buttonSelecting this button opens a window that allows you to specify who will have access to the document.


Enter the email addresses of each team member. I also like to limit who they can share the document with. To do this, select “Advanced” in the lower right corner.


Above and to the right of the Done button, select “Change”.


Choose “Only the owner can change permissions” followed by Save. Since I am the owner of the document, I am now the only one who can share the document. This help to make sure no team member is sharing the document outside the team. It also limits the number of names that appear in the edit…they must use the Google account corresponding to their YC email account.

share_windowOnce you have entered the email addresses, you also have the option to add a note to the email sent out to each student. It is a good idea to let them know what you are sharing, how it is to be used, and the assignments they will use it for.

In my College Algebra course, each student uses this shared spreadsheet to graph a data set of college costs and graph the equation of the line passing through a pair of points. Each team member can see the work of the other team members. And the changes occur as they are made. As long as they are not made in offline mode, they made be viewed by other team members almost instantly. If something does not look right, they are quick to ask questions of me or the other team members. In my next post, I’ll describe how they can use the Note and Comment feature in Google Sheets to communicate with me and other group members.

The Road Most Traveled: Kleinman/Shelley Prescott Valley to Phoenix by Bike

18 Miles Out of PV, Curtis broke a spoke
For the third year in a row, Professor Kleinman and I execute our own "Fall Classic."  Two years ago we rode from Prescott to Phoenix via Wickenburg (113 miles).  Last year we inaugurated the "Tour de YC," cycling to all of YC's campuses: Chino Valley to CTEC to Prescott to Prescott Valley to Verde Valley to Sedona in one day (85 miles, over Mingus Mountain).  (See http://theachingthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-tour-de-yc-over-mountain-and.html.)

This year, Curtis suggested we ride from his home in Prescott Valley to Phoenix to tour the new Mormon Temple on Happy Valley Road.  I was honored that he invited me on the tour, and suggested we make it a two day affair, overnighting in Arcosanti.  Curtis is a Prescott native and I've been in Arizona since 2000, but neither us had been to Paolo Soleri's "urban experiment" just north of Cordes Junction.

We left Curtis' house at 1:45 PM, and were cruising strong until about 18 miles out, when Curtis's "classic" (ancient?) Specialized bike evoked a rubbing noise.  On closer inspection,we discovered a brokeb spoke on his rear wheel, which bent the rim.  We tried straightening it, but it only ended up worse.  Curtis's faithful wife and three sons came to the rescue.  We popped the wheels off our frames and loaded all into the minivan and headed back to the Kleinman home.

It was pushing 5:00, and we needed to make it to the bike shop by 5:30.  We transferred our gear into my truck, and made it to High Gear just before closing.  They found us a stronger wheel that would work, Curtis purchased a couple of tires that fit, and we were set.  After stopping by my house, we headed out--bikes in tow--to Arcosanti to spend the night. Professor Kleinman suggested we grab the new Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy's; probably the best decision of the day!

We arrived at Arcosanti; it was pitch dark with millions of stars flooding the desert sky. Few lights were on at the comples, but we managed to find our key and received directions to our Guest Room.  We were glad we were in a truck and not on bikes!  The road to Arcosanti is not paved and has been an obvious victim of the torrential rains of late.  Room D was spartan--basically a concrete cube with two twin beds and a shower that sprayed on a tile floor next to the toilet (sans shower doors).  After rinsing off the sweat and grime, we talked about school, the trip, family and life until the late hours.  It was sweet fellowship.

Curtis enjoying his breakfast before our tour and ride to Phoenix.
The next morning we enjoyed a continental breakfast at the cafe, then took a one hour tour of the "arcology" (architecture + ecology).  EVERY STRUCTURE, down to the minutest detail, is designed to be functional.  There is no heating or air conditioning in the entire village, but the temperature remained comfortable due to "passive solar heating and cooling."  This is truly a visionary place.  When (if) the entire complex is completed, it will be a self-sustaining city of 5,000 people.  Currently about 100 people live and work in Arcosanti.  [One of the great take-aways from this trip is the real possibility of incorporating a tour of Arcosanti into one or more of my sociology classes.]

Among other things, we were able to witness the pouring of bronze into compacted sand molds to fashion bells, for which this place is famous.  Evidently, Arcosanti's founder and architect, Paolo Soleri (who also apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright) was able to make enough money from the crafting of these bells to finance the initial construction of his habitat.
Pouring of the bronze for the casting of the bells in Arcosanti.

After the tour, we drove to Cordes Junction, parked the car, and commenced our 53 mile ride to Phoenix.  More than half our ride would be on the shoulder of I-17--the only paved route to our destination.  The shoulder was wide and fairly safe, except it was littered with all kinds of "treasures"--and "alligators" (the name given to those pieces of steel tire belts shed from semi trucks).  There was no way to miss all of these (especially going downhill at 40 mph!), and these items would be the cause of some consternation.

I experienced the first flat just as we pulled off I-17 at Black Canyon City.  I thought I had located the culprit, but several miles later my rear tire went flat yet again.  I located the offending wire fragment (from an alligator), and with a pair of vice grips and Curtis' help was able to extract the pointy thing from my tire casing.  About 10 miles down the road, Curtis was struck with the same curse.  He fixed the flat and we moved on.

At New River we were running low on fuel (meaning we needed nourishment), so we stopped at "El Pizzaria" (which Curtis quickly pointed out was grammatically incorrect--it should have been named "La Pizzaria") for several tall glasses of ice water (it was now in the mid 90s), a cheese quesadilla and breadsticks. Sufficiently stoked with carbs, we were now off the freeway and raced our last 18 miles to where Courtney and the boys were once again waiting for us.

We ducked into Circle K's restroom and transformed ourselves from sweaty cyclists to civil citizens (but probably still a bit smelly).  After parking at Wet 'n Wild's lot,  we were shuttled on a tour bus to the Temple a mile away.  The tour was definitely a treat--a reward for the hard work we'd put in.  It was easy for me to appreciate the architecture, art and symbolism of this religious sanctuary.  And it was great to have an expert (Curtis) with me, to explain the "ins and outs" of the massive structure.

Three tours--Arcosanti, a bike tour, and the Temple--in one day!  I think it's safe to say we were 'toured out."

So what does this have to do with teaching and learning?  EVERYTHING!  This was real life.  This is where learning counts.  I learned about architecture, religion and mechanics on this day.  And I was able to do so with a close friend and colleague.
Mark and Curtis and the Mormon Temple i Phoenix


1206_At the Plaza with Oliver

This first perspective is for part-time online educating, perhaps for more than one institution at a time.  There are a number of individual reasons why a professor may be in this life situation.  I am in one such as an Army retiree, a bit disabled, and living at home, happily enough, as a rule with no structured employment as yet.  This is about to change, as I received good news that one university has decided to hire me full-time, and the paperwork is enroute.  From my discussion with the Dean, this means lots of computer time to mentor and grade, to the tune of 600 students a year, to earn that salary so it is worthwhile to the school.  A description of that experience will have to wait until I live it, though I have been severely backed up on tests or papers to grade before.

To focus, then – how do we do part-time professoring work?  A previous blog described investing some time to design your course and make it a good experience for the enrolled students – certainly no one strives for purposely dry and dull.  So let us say that is done, as is also attending your local college’s gatherings and department meetings.  I recommend investing this time as well, to stay connected with the others in the faculty and staff, even if you are not full-time as they are.  In our local Yavapai College, we have adjunct professor gatherings as well, often with cafe coupons for a meal, or a catered meal in the meeting classroom.  I considered how they do this, and realized I was happy whether paid or fed, and if the College offers either in a mix over time, it is still good enough for me.  Of course, the remark I made about visiting the campus is feasible especially if the campus is local to you – but if you can travel to it, even once in a great while, I believe the effort to be worthwhile.

If you follow this practice, then, some of the Mondays-through-Fridays of your week will be blocked off to “come in” to the institution.  If you volunteer or have other activities (or work), there may be a number of other periods “blocked off” in your week.  In between these travel/attend times, we have our online classrooms to open and work on!  So, some time budgeting is obviously required.

I take the approach that some items – hard-to-get health appointments, much-anticipated repair block times for plumbing and heating/cooling – are priorities and not to be missed or changed, and other things have to be performed around them.  Even so, I also have a mental category of “things I am paid to do” and I put a primary importance on doing these with quality.  So, I open class sites frequently and work to keep current.  As a consequence, some activities – house repair or cleaning, writing – wait and may get pushed to the next day – maybe several times.  I do note I am writing this on a Sunday, as I have on the last day of submission for at least three weeks.

For this blog, we have established that a conscientious professor who wants to do well in online classes for the ethics of their own sake, and to build a professional reputation of reliability and industry, will need to find time here and there throughout the day to open his/her courses and post, adjust, communicate, and grade-grade-grade, all to keep pace with the courses’ progress.  These courses do seem to end suddenly!  And it doesn’t help if students are allowed to, and do, submit the entire course requirements right at the end.  But this topic, and the description of the details on how to do all this, are in the next blog!

What If

You’re into an explanation or demonstration. I mean deep. Students appear interested a dialog has developed, you are mixing with the group. There is interaction. Then you see it, a student unabashedly swiping and typing on a tablet. You assume all should be transfixed on what you think is the most important part of the moment: the discussion. “Please not here,” you say or more strongly “Put that away.” Then the reply, “I was just looking up the definition of a word.” Wow, isn’t that what we want students to do, find answers, be proactive, enhance their learning experience, use resources?

Doodles by Samantha Wilson of Southborough, Mass. Samantha Wilson

Since the day that happened to me, I wanted to develop something more democratic. But what is it? Asking students what they want? Hmmm…I am not sure that is the answer. I think many students are what could be called “old fashioned” meaning they do not understand or want to understand and use electronics in an educational setting. The experience of the serious learners can and is certainly enhanced with resources literally at their fingertips. These questions arise in my mind and are followed by my opinion concerning them.

  1. Is the use of electronic devices by some students detrimentally distracting to other students?
  2. Does the use of electronic devices in class enhance the learning of students and influence high achievement?
  3. Does the use of electronic devices divert students from focusing on class activities and influence low achievement?
  4. Is manipulation of devices in class (in some cases) the same as doodling? Is doodling beneficial to learning?
  5. Should I attempt to control this?

First, yes, the use of electronic devices by some students can be distracting to other students. Tapping pencils, fidgeting in chairs, noises outside the classroom, and funny smells in lab, in my experience,  can have the same effect.

Second, certainly access to internet is amazingly beneficial. I use it all the time spontaneously and as a result, model this to my students. I really do see this as particular “regulars” enhance our discussion with details on a topic. I consider the willingness for on the spot research a component of success.

Third, students who use technology in class for “outside” material (games, social media, etc.) can and are diverted from focusing on course content. I can see what I consider correlations with low lab and exam scores.

Forth, I think device usage can be compared (in some cases) to doodling. I think it is an outlet that can keep students focused rather like listening to music or doing homework in a public place can be to some. You can see a discussion on the benefits of doodling (focus, memory) in the  Wall Street Journal.

Fifth, I really dislike policing the use of electronic devices. It goes against my philosophy of encouraging critical thinking and independence in my students. My wish it that the natural consequence of misusing the privilege could be instantaneously apparent, for instance if I could administer an on-the-spot quiz over what we were just discussing. Worth it?

What if this was just not an issue? If the “war” stopped, would instructors fear losing control of the class because something inside says, “This cannot be allowed. It is bad.” Or could we all just relax….

My strategy for now? Let ‘em out,  give ‘em plenty reason to use, and keep ‘em busy.

Dual Enrollment or AP English?

I have been pondering the impact of dual enrollment for years and have heard all of the arguments for and against.  I know the dividing line. It seems that those who express concern or suggest alternatives are not heard over the roar of the dual enrollment train as it speeds ahead at breakneck speed. Many see it as the only train on the only track available for linking lower and higher educational systems. 

The Department of Education declared in its report "Other attempts to help students enter and succeed in college are based on a body of research demonstrating that postsecondary success is predicated on both rigorous academic preparation and a clear understanding of the expectations in college (cf. Venezia, Kirst, and Antonio, 2003). This approach suggests that high schools and colleges should work together, and that blurring the distinction between the two education sectors may help students to be more successful. As such, policymakers should seek to promote programs and policies that help link secondary and postsecondary education.  Dual enrollment is one type of program that does just this, and which appears to have grown rapidly at the program level." ("State Dual Enrollment Policies: Addressing Access and Quality," 2004) (italics added for emphasis)

Here at Yavapai College, it is full speed ahead with our dual enrollment classes, with more and more disciplines being asked, or forced, to get on board. Our website says that dual enrollment allows "college ready students to participate in accelerated college level coursework." But is that true? Are our offerings on high school campuses truly "accelerated"?  Our website says we offer the "same challenging college curriculum." What I see in ENG 101 and ENG 102 offerings is more of what the Department of Education calls "blurring the distinction between the two education sectors," rather than promoting "a clear understanding of the expectations of college."

I am not opposed to allowing high school students to attempt college credit courses, but is that what we are offering?  I did some basic math. The students on our college campus receive 37.5 hours of seat time in ENG 101 classes to achieve our learning outcomes. Students on the high school campuses are receiving more like 72 hours of seat time (18 weeks x 4 hours/week, plus or minus), nearly double the amount of time to achieve the same outcomes. Yes, these high school students assess at the same level as on-campus students. Of course they do! They have twice the amount of time to learn what they need to learn. Would those students be as successful in 15 weeks on our campus? I wonder. Would our on-campus students be more successful with twice the amount of class time? Surely they would.

Are we are giving these high school students "college experience" in the true sense of the word? No. We need to be honest about what we are doing: we are giving them an AP writing course that receives college credit. Even the atmosphere speaks to a high school class.  The students are sitting in high school rooms, with high school instructors, taking ENG 101 during regular high school hours. And ENG 101 is linked to senior English. If the students don't pass ENG 101, they have lost high school credit as well. How much pressure does this put on those high school English instructors? Are they able to maintain the rigor, or do they find themselves trying to help students pass at all cost in order to meet graduation requirements?

How many high school seniors are actually ready for college?  According to my estimates based upon the numbers of seniors in our high schools and the number of ENG 101 sections we are offering (18 throughout the county), about 1/4 of our high school seniors are ready to take college-level writing classes. That is 25% of all the students who have completed their junior year. Perhaps, if so many are ready for college courses, we should let them graduate after their junior year and come on over to Yavapai. This would be the "accelerated" approach we promise on our website. 

As the Department of Education says, "Dual enrollment, particularly when it is located at the high school, is often criticized for not offering students a true postsecondary experience. Policymakers must find ways to address this criticism and ensure that dual enrollment courses are more than watered-down college courses. Although some states seek to do this by regulating course offerings, requiring dual enrollment teachers to undergo professional development or by requiring that high school students attend class with matriculated college students, such regulations are not common. Ensuring the quality of students’ dual enrollment experiences is important not only for the students themselves, but because it serves to maintain the integrity of postsecondary education throughout the state system. Dilution of quality may reflect poorly on postsecondary credit generally." (italics added for emphasis) This is our dilemma here at Yavapai College. If the high school students have twice the time to achieve the same outcomes, is that not "watered down"? Is that truly as rigorous as a regular college class? We seem to be promoting the old "Yavapai High" reputation in these classes. 

One of the past arguments for promoting dual enrollment was that our college needed to offer this valuable service to our taxpayers. I never sensed an angry mob outside our doors demanding dual enrollment, but somehow the state legislature decided that the outcry was so strong it mandated it. Even so, every college gets to decide what will be offered and how, and yet, the college faculty concerns go unheard or ignored. For example, we in the English department have argued for having the high school students who take ENG 101 on their own campus come to our campuses to take ENG 102 to ensure a real college experience. This has been met with resistance year after year as being inconvenient for the students. What is a little inconvenience in comparison with maintaining the "integrity of postsecondary education"? This argument borders on a entitlement mentality.  They want it their way, so we have to accommodate, even at the risk of our own reputation. And we have lost a valuable opportunity to "link secondary and postsecondary education" in a way that students get accustomed to the "rigors" of higher education.

We were also told in the beginning that dual enrollment would encourage more students to continue their education at Yavapai College. The Verde Independent reporter Yvonne Gonzalez reported, "The college donates more than $100,000 yearly in foregone tuition to dual enrollment high school students,...Dual enrollment on both the east and west sides of the county have increased by 40 and 27 percent respectively, according to Hughes' numbers." (7/1/2014) This must be a huge benefit to our taxpayers but at what cost to us and to our reputation? Will these students continue their education at Yavapai College? The article went on to say, "Hughes said these kids are 'a little more likely,' by about a handful of percentage points, to attend Yavapai College as students....'There are probably greater numbers from those schools too that are going on and choosing other institutions.'" Basically, we are offering tuition-free courses to students who are already planning to go to college and who will most likely choose a four-year institution.

Isn't this like giving tax advantages to the rich? We have not furthered the cause of higher education; we have not encouraged the underprivileged to experience college. Instead, we have subsidized students who are already planning to go to college. And if this is truly a service to our taxpayers, then shouldn't we be offering free tuition to all local high school graduates who pass the Compass test? That would be true equality of access.

While we focus all these resources on high school students who are already planning to go to college, who is focusing on the lower 25% of Arizona high school students, the ones who drop out? Yes, we are offering the top 25% of the senior class free tuition while the lower 25% are shuffled out the back door. Wouldn't our resources go a lot further in helping these students to obtain a better education leading to better careers? That was the original vision for community colleges.

When Did You First Want to Become a Teacher?

Earlier in the week, I asked my First Year Experience students, “When did you first want to become a _________ (their career choice)?” The responses proved wonderfully diverse. One student said “since I was like two or four,” and another called out an answer akin to “since last week.” The other answers fell somewhere in between.

When did you first want to become a teacher? The answer to this question matters. I’m not sure that someone who has possessed this dream since childhood is necessarily a better teacher than someone who didn’t decide until, say, graduate school. But the depth of the roots of self-identification do seem do appear to be significant. Deep roots uphold tall trees.

Some of you may have come to education later in your life, and that, of course, is perfectly acceptable. It just may have taken you a while to realize where you wanted to be in the world. It really is more a matter of intensity than time.

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade, so that would have been about age nine. I didn’t share this dream with any of my peers at the time. Oh, no. Teachers were the enemy. It was way too uncool to want to be a teacher to tell anybody about it. I kept quiet, until, at least, high school.

4th grade really did change my life and set me on the path on which I still walk. And Mrs. Lynda Juencke (pronounced Yankee) was my first guide. She made learning fun. She made learning important. She made learning a source of personal pride. She taught me my multiplication tables, the wonders of geography (including how to memorize the capital of Iceland), and all of the presidents in order (up through Jimmy Carter, the prez at the time). This love of learning has never left me, and today, my successful days as an instructor are counted by those in which I manage to pass on this love to my students.

My personal (and, by extension, professional) Pedagogical Hall of Fame has many entries. Three more are worth mentioning here. Professor Alan Bernstein taught me how to think like a scholar, and, even more importantly, he was the one who finally convinced me that I was smart. This was no small undertaking, and I now strive to do the same with my students, for a strong sense of intelligence leads to a powerful self-efficacy.

Professor Donald Worster showed me that one can be a teacher and still change the world. Education is a powerful weapon in the fight against the many injustices of this world.

And, lastly, the character Robin Williams plays in Dead Poet’s Society inspired me to inspire others. Every once in a while, a teacher can brighten our souls. And every time I see this movie, or even a clip from it, I remember why I do what I do.

When did you first want to become a teacher? How deep are your roots? I know some of you are mighty oaks in the forest of education. Who planted your acorn, and who nourished your growth?

I wish I’d known then what I know now!

First, information for you: I talked to a friend who is a psychologist, and she says that the name of the disorder that I described in my 10/14/14 post is borderline personality disorder. There are no meds for this disorder, but with cognitive behavior therapy, people can have better relationships.

This brings me to my next post: graduate programs need to include information not only about content areas, but about teaching strategies and psychology (or social work) as well.

As with any job, there’s a lot of on-the-job learning that comes with being a community college instructor. Sure, I’d spent a lot of time in classrooms, observing instructors, getting to know what I liked and disliked, but I never took courses that taught me how to prepare a balanced, semester-long course. I never took a course that brought up issues like classroom civility. And I don’t think it’s just me: when I presented on the topic of classroom civility at a Winter Institute, I had a full house of instructors who were grappling with the same issue.

I feel pretty embarrassed about the classes I taught during my first few years. There was so much trial and error, and I’m afraid students got shortchanged as I learned to do my job..

Reading articles from journals like The Teaching Professor is helpful. Talking with colleagues and sharing solutions is helpful. But I think a class about 21st century classroom realities and fundamentals should be required for most graduate programs. I’d like to teach that class. I’d like to talk about

Planning a semester and planning one class.

Dealing with student issues: motivation, discipline, crises.

Avoiding burnout

Even with this class, there would still be plenty of on-the-job learning: times change, and this profession changes. But a solid foundation would be a great help for both instructors and students.

(As an aside, I think that our new faculty orientation covers this material, and I think that it’s a good thing. I wish that our adjunct received the same information.)

I guess that’s all for now. Have a great week.

Pushing a big, giant boulder up hill!

Two issues have collided as of late! At first glance, they may seem unrelated, but the more these events percolated in my thoughts, the more the connection became clear.  First, I had one of those ‘accidental’ teaching moments that became a very powerful moment.  A few weeks back, I was holding a ‘quiz review’ session for a class. I had previously given out a study guide for the students to complete to help them prepare. (Yes, they did ask if I would simply provide them with a guide, with answers and concepts included…NOT!!!!…but that’s a different topic) A few days later, we met for a quiz review session.  Being ‘early childhood me’, I had chosen to utilize a game setting for the review.  Digging back into my elementary teaching days, I pulled out the old ‘baseball game’. I had prepared questions that were worth a single, double or triple. Students divided up in teams, scorekeepers were chosen to sit at the white board.  Then, me, the umpire, set the rules….After going over the time allowed to answer and make clear that” the other team can’t steal,” I said that there was really only one other rule.  “While we play, you can sit anywhere in the room, except in a chair”.   This ‘rule’ was met with enthusiasm for sure. The students rearranged themselves, and we were off and playing. After several  minutes of playing (aka reviewing), students realized that they hadn’t scored too many points.  The  ‘triple question’ was harder to achieve than they thought. It was then, after an especially tough question was asked, I saw a student trying to ‘sneak’ some notes or words from their study guide to the ‘up to bat’ student…..and then things got hilarious! With a collective guilty look, I saw my students look over at me.

Then someone sheepishly asked,  “Wait-can we look at our notes?”, I responded by simply saying, “We have one rule: While we play, you can sit anywhere in the room except in a chair”.  Bedlam followed, the notes came out, the study guides (some complete and some not) came out.  From that point on, the game took on new life. Actually reviewing the material became the focus. Students helped each other, clarifications and new explanations were asked for and shared.  The results of the quiz were decent, but that wasn’t my ah-ha.  It was the process that had me thinking.

We talk a lot about critical thinking skills. This unexpected critical thinking lesson reminded me of how often we like to think that we’ve taught them how to do it….however, it’s the application that is so often missing!

The unrelated event had to do with a conversation I had with some colleagues in the field of early childhood. These good-hearted, hard-working folks oversee several early childhood programs that serve children daily. They are committed to increasing the quality of their programs. They support their teachers in the pursuit of certificates and degrees in ECE through scholarships and are receiving ‘coaching’ from a separate agency to improve daily practice to prepare for a quality assessment.   What troubled me was hearing that a blanket statement had been made in regards to ‘not being allowed’ to use Berenstein Bears or Dr. Seuss books in their preschools.   Now, I am not arguing that there aren’t thousands of quality and appropriate children’s books to use with children. I’m not even defending Dr. Seuss! (Some of his books are LONG and beyond a whole group of 16 -3 year olds to sit through during a circle time). But…..there are wonderful pages full of rhymes, nonsense, creativity and biblio-theraputic possibilities with the Berenstein Bears. What bothered me the most was that those teachers and caregivers were just ‘told’.  These professionals were not valued enough to talk about how to be discriminating when choosing children’s books. They weren’t exposed to a criteria for selecting appropriate children’s books for THEIR children,  children they work with each and every day.  No, they were simply told a rule.  No questioning assumptions, no problem-solving….. no opportunity to draw their own conclusions.  What scares me the most? If there is an expectation for educators to promote critical thinking in even our youngest children, then why can’t we model that with those that are working with them? Yes, I have a plan to bring this up to those that can help resolve, or at least reflect on it. Another reminder of our need to constantly collaborate.

Let me tell you,  I love my job…but sometimes I feel like I’m pushing a big, giant boulder up hill!

What Does “A Culture of Learning” Look Like?

I want you to describe for me the elements that are active in a college where there is a clear “culture of learning” among faculty. Ok, go ahead.

 (time passes and you think about the question above and even have some answers)

What are the expectations of the faculty about their role in learning about teaching and learning? How would faculty respond to, “Tell me what you do to improve your skills as an educator?” I imagine many would say I attend workshops. I imagine many would say I talk to my colleagues. I imagine some would say I attend conferences about teaching. I imagine a few might say I read books about teaching and learning.

How does the institution support the professional growth of the faculty? Well, we have workshops, day long workshops, we bring in some guest speakers. We have monies available to send faculty to conferences. We have yearly evaluations that include professional growth activities.

How to deans support the faculty when it comes to developing a group of faculty who are literate in current educational practices and skills. Do they share books about the profession with them? Do they recommend conferences to attend? Do they send them off to confer with colleagues at other institutions to share best practices with? Do they sit in front of each faculty member and ask, “What can I do to help you?”

Finally, what is the role of each faculty member in this culture of learning? How do they share the valuable things they discover as educators? What venues are available to them to share the ideas and what opportunities might they create to share them? Are they visibly supported to be innovative and experimental in their approach to the work they do?

What can we do for ourselves as professionals in the field of learning?
  • Attend a conference that is about teaching, not a particular subject.
  • Read a book about teaching and learning.
  • Watch a movie about teaching and learning.
  • Have a conversation longer than a few minutes about specific practices in the classroom or online.
  • Take a faculty member you admire out to lunch and ask them 100 questions about how and why they do what they do.
  • Call a faculty member from another college in the state and ask them about how they teach and what works for them.
  • And most importantly, share what you read or discovered with your colleagues.
  • Go visit a local college and just see who is there and what they think about teaching and learning. There are lots of faculty sitting in offices. Some busy, some not so.
  • Take an entire class period to ask students what they need and want when it comes to learning stuff. And make sure to ask them how they know those things are actually true.
  • Pick a portion of a book or a favorite quote about teaching and put it on your office wall. Make sure everyone who comes into your office reads it and shares their thoughts about it with you. No matter what.
Here is mine. words Now, I ask you if your classes have all these same elements? They should because they also should be surrounded by a culture of learning.

Week Whatever

Thought it would never happen “BUT” I have BURNOUT!

It stems from too many pots in the fire. It sucks really. I enjoy everything I do. It’s just that too many things have been placed upon my plate.

Yes. I keep a calendar and follow pretty closely with what can be done and when. It just sometimes does not work out as it should. I think I just need another vacation to rest from the last vacation and then I’ll be on top of everything.

retro_robot_thinking_1600_clr_11439As many of you know, or maybe not, I am in the process of building two online classes for the Spring Semester. I actually LOVE doing this. The process of Story-boarding, Writing Syllabus, Calendars and Lectures stimulates my poor, feeble brain. It’s almost like a high for me. Am I a Geek or What?!

For the Storyboard aspect of design, I have chosen to pay a small monthly fee and utilize the great SpiderScribe (http://www.spiderscribe.net/). I really like how you can add to this with click and drag style. This can also be used to share with students and create group projects.

I know some of your eyes glaze over at the mention of technology and have some have even expressed this to me vehemently. I am told you do not need or would not use technology and you are tired of hearing about it. I think the words were, “Another post on technology. I can do without that. Give me something real to read”. If you are one of these persons, stop reading my posts now. My hopes are to continually add technology “stuff” in shape or form, somehow, some way, and for some use.

So let’s go back to the SpiderScribe (http://www.spiderscribe.net/). Even the name sounds cool. This site could be used to add text, files, images, maps, and calendars. It really has some great qualities.

For myself, as I have stated, I pay a small $5.00 a month fee to create maps on courses I work with. These keep me on target and I can show anyone at any time where I am in the process. This can be done by sharing or saving an image as I have here.

VGD 282

So now I have been distracted for a brief moment on my BURNOUT. This is probably best as I reflect on this feeling. Maybe I not really at that point. Maybe I just needed to write a little.
For this feeling of calmness I am grateful.
I thank you all for listening.

New Developmental Education White Paper Coming Soon

The TYCA (Two-Year College English Association)  conference brought to my attention a new Developmental Education white paper that is coming out soon. I will devote this blog to information about that document. Be watching for it in the TETYC or other NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) journals.

The first topic broached in this session was that the national completion agenda "rests on good intentions but flawed assumptions." Reform is imposed, under resourced, and hasty. Such institutional and disciplinary divisions often lead to disarray and difficulty.

A Case Study: Florida SB1720 is one such hastily drawn piece of legislation set into effect in 2013. This law imposes the following, according to the white paper:
  • exempts recent high school graduates and others from being required to take developmental education courses and from mandatory placement testing
  • forbids standard semester format for developmental courses
  • impacts curriculum, advising, workload, departmental structures, college-level instruction. Colleges were forced to hire more advisers and left no funding to hire more faculty.
Other Program Responses to  Legislative Interventions
  • Some California admissions departments have turned developmental students away.
  • Placement has been impacted.
  • Program design has been impacted:
    • mainstreaming with accelerated learning
    • module courses developed
    • studio courses developed
    • stretch courses developed
    • compression of programs
Recommendations for Institutional Administration and Educators
  1. Include developmental instructors in designing reform.
  2. Initiate improvement to developmental education programs and course through research-based pilots.
  3. Prioritize evidence from local assessments and research on student success. (What works in Kansas may not work in Arizona.)
  4. Assess students' needs for developmental education and readiness for credit-bearing courses based on multiple pieces of evidence including student writing.
  5. Eliminate multiple-choice exit tests.
  6. Fund and develop strong developmental education departments.
  7. Support professional development for developmental educators.
  8. More ideas were offered, but I didn't capture them all. Please eagerly await the real completed report for full and accurate information.

Anyone interested in the NCTE's Policy Analysis Initiative can follow this Web site for further information.  Also, the CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication) has a statement on preparing teachers of college writing. They ask, "How do we teach full-time and adjunct faculty how to teach for our institution?" The CCCC recommend that colleges offer training to show all English faculty how our institution approaches writing.

As a college, English teachers here can read the list and see areas of strength and places for continued growth opportunity at Yavapai College. Personally, I feel we are doing better than many colleges, and am grateful for thse potential of hiring a Developmental Education administrator in the near future. Colleges need to ask, "What issues are most pressing here?"

One state represented at the conference, Texas, said they have Reverse Transfer Agreements in their state (RMAs). When I asked for clarification on what an RMA is, I was told that their college tracks down students who transfer to another institution before they graduate from the university. The college gives credit for classes taken at the university toward completing a community college degree. They transfer back, and in so doing, students earn associates degrees, and the community college gets credit for completion. Do we have a system like this in Arizona? If not, perhaps this is an idea that Arizona colleges can seek to get instituted into our system.