Ethics is a complex subject that is given minimal, if any, place in most school curriculae.  Indeed, even when ethics is studied as a subject, as it is occasionally in fields such as medicine and law, the purpose is primarily one of theoretical knowledge, rather than as a prescriptive or prohibitive guide to immediate behavior.

Aristotle, through his Nicomachean Ethics and Magna Moralia, integrates the concepts of morality and personal character into his ideal of childhood education.  He admits that opinions vary as to “right” and “wrong,” but the search for eudaimonia (happiness, “human flourishing”) that is untainted by guilt remains his highest goal.  He finds this through a rational approach to virtuous activity of the soul.  This ability sets humans apart from animals.

Confucius in his Great Learning and Analects also taught a virtue based ethics (as opposed to deontological and consequential). He also, was concerned with establishing behavioral and mental guidelines that would result in a fulfilling existence. His teachings were directed to the concepts of loyalty, propriety, etiquette, filial piety, and the beneficent use of political power, as well as ideas of social (often hierarchical) interaction.

The study of these two traditional, and to a great degree, timeless and practical ethical designs, is both illuminating and fascinating.  And when combined with Abrahamic religion based ethics, Spinoza’s 17th Century Ethics and Kant’s 18th Century Metaphysics of Morals, not to mention the consequential or karmic ethics of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, there is certainly no shortage of moral/ethical architecture to be referenced for thought provoking classroom discussion, as well as practical application.

Yet, we barely touch upon such subjects in the elementary and high school years, and the place of ethics in colleges and universities is most often limited to philosophy classes or specific issues of the day, such as euthanasia, abortion, and LGBT marriage. The result is a lack of foundational guidelines for students.  Cheating and plagiarizing have morphed into an excusable form of expedient necessity — an “end justifies the means” form of consequentialism.  In past years there used to be “honor codes” enforced through the integrity of collective condemnation of dishonest or unethical student conduct.  These nostalgic visions have been abandoned for a Faustian syndrome of ethical sacrifice in pursuit of a chimera of knowledge.

Of course, societal examples of ethical behavior and rectitude are often lacking, and their opposites are exalted — the disreputable yet wealthy banker, the ethically challenged but successful politician, the PED bound athlete with the multimillion dollar contract, the gangsta rapper with a palatial home in South Beach.  Such are the examples that students are exposed to –- with little or no guidance toward ideals of personal responsibility, fairness and ethical correctness.

It is, of course, the purview of the teacher to remind the student of basic academic ethics, but precious little can be done to alter imbued behavior patterns; and the policing of assignments, while offering a short term “fix,” does little to alter a moral mindset that is lacking perhaps more from ignorance than intent.  This, indeed, is a societal issue, not one reserved for academic environs.  It is a long road to tread, but as Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

Webinar 4 Blog Post: [In Joey Voice] How You Doin’?

We're standing outside of Waffles 'n' More, my friend gives me a hug, we exchange the obligatory "how are you"s, and then she asks, "How was this week at school?"

My response: "I had some really awesome moments, and I had moments of living hell. So, I guess it averaged out to okay?"

This week's blog prompt is the following: How are you feeling emotionally, physically? Do you feel that you're getting through to your most difficult students? What strategies are working? What strategies are not? What are your next steps with student engagement in your classroom?

I could focus on the parts that made my week a living hell --but I won't. We've all dealt with them: students who have to come to grips with the fact that it's October and they're failing. In the k-12 world, we have a special monster: the parents who have to come to grips with their child failing. Unfortunately, though parents have high-school-aged students, they often can't fix their student's problems as easy as they once did. Talking to the teacher can be a temporary fix, maybe for one assignment, but the overall problem is that their student is making a series of bad choices, and high school is the eve of the college and career world. Are those bad choices going to mean success for your child outside of this classroom? Nope. Sorry. I'm not going to sugar-coat it for you. I'm not going to sugar-coat it for your student. We might be moving toward a world of "safe zones" but the straight up truth is that some kids aren't ready for the world --and, yes, sometimes I bear the brunt of being that news. Whatever. No one became an English teacher because they wanted to be the most popular kid in the class.

I don't want to chat about that in this blog post. We see enough of that as it is --at both the high school and college level. What I do want to talk about is the overwhelming exhaustion of making class great for your kids. Last Tuesday, I had a new one for my repertoire: I rapped "Alexander Hamilton" for my Junior English class, and in case you've been living under a rock for the last 11 months, it's from Hamilton: The Musical, a Broadway Tony-winner (they won 11 Tony's recently?) where Lin-Manuel Miranda argues that our first Treasurer of the Secretary embodies all of the essential elements of a hip-hop lifestyle. I know. It's conceptual. And it's amazing.

Mine was not a Tony-winning performance. Here, check it out:

So how am I feeling physically? Um, let's try exhausted. It takes a lot to be able to rap at that pace and at that volume for a room full of kids, let alone the stress of anticipation, let alone stage fright, let alone the excitement of the starved theater kid, let alone all of the other work for all of my other classes I put in on top of it. I've been singing this song at the top of my lungs in drives from point A to point B for months hoping that it would be amazing. Guess what: the first time I performed this for 4th hour (not filmed), it was horrendous. There's a kind of defeat that goes into anticipation failing (which I might add resembled my failing breath control halfway through the song. Whatever.). But there's also a kind of "whatever" energy that goes into this performance in 5th hour. After all, it can only be better.

So how am I feeling emotionally? Pretty amazing --because all of those other questions about reaching students? Yeah. I did that. This year's juniors are of a particular brand of apathetic, a particular brand of quiet, a particular brand of withdrawn. To make things worse, each Junior English class has 30 kids in it, which means while I have one half of the room spellbound, the other half isn't paying attention and class is therefore a juggling act of which half I'm engaging.

But this --I got them with this. The kids that couldn't connect to me before do now. The kids that were apathetic before pay attention now. I don't think mine is their favorite class (or even that they have a favorite class), but at least now when they sit down, I have their attention. Maybe it's temporary, maybe I'll only have their attention for the next few days as long as they wonder when I'll pop out with a rap again, but that's okay. I have a few days to strike while the iron's hot, to talk about the Age of Enlightenment like it's important --because it is, because it is something they can relate to whether they know it or not, because individualism is important and their voice is important.

So am I tired? Yep, but welcome to the life of a teacher. I can handle it, and if it takes rapping for the kids to get their attention, I'm down. It won't be great, but who says it has to be? They could see that I was real with them, and that I was authentic in wanting to connect with them. I did it. Isn't that enough?

Part of my week were a living hell. You'll never make some people happy. But there are some weeks when you will make people happy, and it's okay to revel in that moment. And because I'm feeling the hip-hop vibe, boom.

Where is Your Frontier?

Last week the person the Quality Matters Twitter account direct messaged me three questions. They said, “We want to know what YOU think! Help set the stage for our intrepid, seasoned panelists who will engage with a set of questions about our future and your own responses to these questions.” Nice. It would be good for the speakers to have some ideas about the interests and concerns of the people they are talking to.


I wondered what that looks like in classrooms. I suppose it is the teachers asking a “Why are you here?” sort of question at the outset of the course. I like that. It is good to know who wants to go where, and why.

I think these are good questions to wonder about. I will share the questions and my answers here for this post.

Q1: What is YOUR vision of the future for teaching and learning? What’s the prize we are looking for – once we get where we are going?

That teaching and learning will be engrained within the community and the roles of students and teachers become blurred into the many roles people play in communities. Students will be responsible for doing important tasks within our communities. There will be more adventure. Not just adventure of the brain, but of the body. Of the soul. Schooling will become messier. It will be harder to define lines between the “school” and “life.” Fewer people will say, “When I get out into the real world…” There will be more teachers because the profession will become one that many aspire to be a part of. For many reasons. But the schools themselves, the buildings and “things” of school, will become more engrained in the way communities function.

We are looking for people who have a broad range of experiences behind them and know how to place themselves in places that make them work. Make them think. And make them questions their existing ideas. Not just people who know stuff, but people who can imagine things and have the desire to make those things realities.

We are going to create healthy and happy people. People who have confidence in their capabilities. People who are honest and hard working. People who want to be more and are capable of getting it.

Q2: What will that path look like? What should we expect to see?

Students and schooling will become more visible. You will see them outside of school buildings more often. The “students” will play larger roles in doing things that are necessary for communities to function. They will be given work in school that requires more than mental effort. It will require physical effort and lots of it.

— on a side note here, I am sort of reminded of our current infatuation and longing for qualities like “grit” and “perseverance” and “completion” and how we assess those things simply by the quantity of numbers/letters on a piece of paper. There are better ways to learn how to keep going. The world is full of opportunities to literally dig into or walk though spaces that challenge our endurance. That make us sweat and work for a goal. Largely, we have reduced those options to some test scores.


Anyway, in the future, when schooling is on a more amazing path, we will find that we have created in students a resource for our community. One that contributes directly to our shared daily life beyond amassing piles of worksheets and PowerPoint files. The students and teachers will be doing “service learning” every day. They will find mentors in adults in the community and create relationships that bridge the age lines we drew with social promotion as the only indicator of capacity. Students will be away from home more often. They will travel to places to touch the things they currently only read about. There will be more field trips.

Q3: What obstacles can we expect along the way?

Our history.

Not that what we have accomplished is nothing short of miraculous, but that we have made errors and that we must be willing to remedy them. That will take more advocacy from parents, teachers, and local communities and federal and state government. That of course, will take time.

QM – does it really matter?

Does quality matter in online instruction?  That’s a question those of us who teach anything, but especially online, should ask ourselves periodically.  As community college instructors, we are working with students who have a variety of educational experiences and abilities, and as such, I would argue that we cannot expect students to always be self-motivated, capable learners. Students in graduate programs are probably a little more able to navigate various kinds of educational situations independently.  While quality matters in any kind of instructional setting, it matters most with students who are just figuring out how this higher education thing works.  While old (2006), according to a survey distributed by Recruitment and Retention in Higher Education, students indicate that quality of instruction, faculty availability and feedback could improve.

If we really believe that quality matters in education, then we need to be clear about what quality instruction is.  While most of us have a pretty good idea of what good teaching looks like in person since we’ve all spent years inside classrooms, I’d argue that the online platform is a little trickier to navigate.  I haven’t had many online learning experiences, and those I have had have varied greatly.  Because students are expected to do so much independently and can’t get questions immediately answered, I think it’s more important in online courses than in any other teaching platform to consider clarity and quality beforehand.

Luckily, the Quality Matters model provides an outline for not only developing courses, but also monitoring them and collaborating with others.  If we all truly want our online and traditional courses to be quality, we need to commit to following QM guidelines for both ourselves and our students.  We also need to be communicating with and supporting others who endeavor to create quality courses.  Can our courses be quality without QM?  Of course, but QM can formalize the process of identifying good practice in online education and provide a structure from which we can support one another.


Quality of Instruction Needs Improvement, Online Learners Say. (2006). Recruitment & Retention in Higher Education, 20(6), 3-8.

A Tale of Four Classrooms

As I walked through the hallway, I glanced into a classroom.  Students were sitting in rows, blurry eyed.  No one had books or paper out.  No one was taking notes.  Honestly, no one was doing anything.  The instructor was standing behind the computer podium talking.  Students were nodding off.

The next classroom looked like a behive.  Students were in small groups conversing, standing up writing on white boards, examining and critiquing each others work.  Periodically, attention would focus on the instructor, who was moving about from group to group.  A whole class discussion would briefly occur, then students would go back to interacting with their groups.  Toward the end of the class, the groups were rotating around the classroom, taking notes off the whiteboards that other groups had created.

In a third classroom, the instructor had moved the tables in a large rectangle.  Students were sitting around the table, interacting with each other in a "popcorn" fashion.  A few raised their hands, but most of all the students spoke up when they had something to say, while still being respectful of the group.  And their was a lot being said.  It was difficult to tell exactly who the instructor was--the students seemed to be instructing each other.

No one, except the professor, was in the last classroom,  although books and backpacks littered the place.  Come to find out that the students were in a different building examining a set of posters for which they were assigned questions.  After a while, teams of two students trickled in, each set of partners conversing rapidly about their discoveries.  When everyone returned, they went over the questions and shared their answers together.

"We've been conditioned to sit in rows, look at the back of peoples' heads, not turn around, to sit quietly, not talk and not think," a student told me this week.  No wonder discussion can be difficult: Education is not "supposed" to involve the free, energetic and some chaotic exchange of ideas (at least not in the minds of many of our students).

But they really do want to discuss.  They want to try out ideas.  They want to be challenged.  But both the physical set up of most of our classrooms and many of our pedagogical techniques are not very conducive to creating curious, expressive and excited scholars.  And WE need to break out of the "passive learning" mold.  If you need some inspiration and instruction, head over the the Family Enrichment Center next to Building 1.  They'll be glad to let you look through the glass as those preschoolers "learn."  Look at how their classrooms are set up.  Observe the interaction between teacher and student, and student-to-student.  We could learn a few lessons.

I smile to myself each time I see the signs posted our classrooms, "It is COLLEGE POLICY to return the furniture to its original arrangement."  As if "the original arrangement" is some kind of "sacred seating," and also the best arrangment for learning.  For one, it's NOT "college policy" (though it may be the "preferred procedure").  And secondly, it's probably not even good pedagogy.  But it IS great for dulling the mind.

Fall Online Course Visit

olcvfa2016Dr. Wills recently went on a virtual tour of one of Yavapai College’s online classes that was developed using Quality Matters (QM) principles.  Professor Lindsay Henning demonstrated how QM guidelines can help students more easily navigate their way through the online environment; a fundamental contribution to successful student retention.  “QM is a nationally recognized, faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online course design and online components.”

Week 5 – See a Need and Fill It!!

Hey there and welcome to another great week at YC – what a fun time on campus with homecoming spirit in the air!!!   WooHooo!!!

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a conference for Arizmatic (lots of good stuff) but the main idea I picked up was about an amazing program that Gateway CC implemented.   A math teacher and tutoring lab instructor took grant funding for a bridge program and built a placement test preparation program.  They noticed lower scores on placement and wanted to offer the students a way to brush up on skills prior to taking the Accuplacer.

With the bridge students, they were allowed intensive, 2 hours for 3 weeks sessions that taught them study skill and the math to help them place higher.  Many of the students not only needed the review, but also needs some math confidence.  The data was astounding; students in the second and third cohort were placing 2 or 3 levels higher than initial testing!  Most importantly, they were also succeeding at higher rates than the average students in their enrolled college course.  Anecdotally, the students also said they felt more comfortable on campus once they started in the fall as well as kept attending the tutoring center for help when needed.  They started with cohorts of 30 and now are up to 60.

They decided the success of the bridge program should extend to their current students, so created two programs for remediation prior to coursework or placement tests.  The first program allows for the students to re-mediate online, walking them through test-taking strategies as well as skill work.  They are given videos as well as examples for frequently asked or missed concepts.  So awesome because it is free!!  The second program is on-campus series of review sessions.  The morning session covers the basics and the afternoon is more advanced algebraic concepts.  The students can attend one or  both.  The students were able to get much information in a small amount of time, and the great benefit is that they had a math tutor available to work with them one on one if they got stuck through the electronic review.

The part of the presentation that resonated with me was the heart and soul the creators put into the program.  They obviously had a great love for what they created, who they were working with, and mostly student success.  Both told us the important part was getting to know the students on a personal level, letting them know you care, and providing a support system both through the program and beyond.  Once the student felt you cared, they had more buy in.

When asked about personal compensation, both presenters stated it was just part of their job.  The summer program was funded, but the on campus program is a free service they created for the school without any additional compensation.  They did it because they saw a need and wanted to fill it.  This is inspiring – if each of us focuses on one small way we can help our students be successful, we can have a big impact like these two ladies.

Week 5 – Reflection as a Learning Tool

When we are teaching new students about a whole new world- like nursing, we forget how much of a change the student has to go through to get to that new world. For example, there are students in my 1st semester classes that have never laid hands on a patient. Within 4 weeks, we are starting our clinical rotations- meaning we go with the student to a facility- usually hospital or long term care facility, where we assign them to care for a patient. Yikes! Now those of you who are, as we say, “lay people” or “civilians”- don’t panic- we don’t allow new students to perform skills they haven’t learned about, and/or practiced. However, the culture shock for the student is sometimes overwhelming.  The student has the opportunity and the responsibility to care for that patient and keep them safe during the time where we are in the clinical setting.

The first time I asked a student how her client was doing- I almost had a student in tears!  On another occasion, I was approached by a student in the facility dining room, where the student asked me- “how do I approach my patient?”  So, after we discussed introductions and how to converse with patients- then I asked- so when are you going to perform their physical assessment?  That student looked at me in a panic!  By the end of the semester students are so much more comfortable in assessing their patients, engaging them in conversation, teaching them about their medications, disease processes, safety, and are starting to put together the connections between symptoms, and disease progression. Why the patient with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) has a barrel chest, etc.

So why did I title this entry as reflection- One of the key pieces of information that I ask students to submit with their homework is a written reflection of their experience that day.  Going back to Patricia Benner, she writes, “The teacher’s dedication to feedback on students’ reflections promotes a rich clinical learning environment, highly valuable to students because it focuses on concrete ways they can improve their practice.” (Benner,2010).

In fact, there has been a whole theory developed about reflection in clinical practice. John Driscoll developed the What? Model of structured Reflection. In Driscoll’s model, he separates reflection into stages where the reflector (noun) asks questions which facilitates analysis of the experience about which they are reflecting.

From “SAGE Key Concepts Series: Key Concepts in Healthcare Education” © SAGE Publications Ltd 2010:

KEY POINTS Reflection is a strategy that helps the practitioner to bring theory to practice. A reflective practitioner is a person who constantly moves and changes practice. Reflective learning involves actively thinking about and learning from experience. Critical analysis is fundamental to reflection. Models of reflection are tools that provide a framework.

(I wanted to insert a graphic here- but am apparently severely media challenged- copy and paste just won’t work)


The benefit to this process is that the learner can look at the experience and determine what if anything could have been done better or improved. In terms of student learning this model allows the student to reflect over their own practice and discover how they feel about their performance and or errors, and make some determinations.  And so, I encourage (also known as require), my students to write a reflective paragraph each week after clinical. In addition, they must write up 2 patient education worksheets and 2 therapeutic communication worksheets throughout the semester. These are structured ways that the student must analyze their interactions, evaluate their effectiveness in teaching, and perform self-critique.  I can see this type of learning tool used for civic engagement activities, sporting event participation- my daughter (the math teacher) even uses a form of reflection in her class. I hope that someone out there may consider using reflection to help their students look within and self-critique their way to better performance and self- awareness.