Archive for January, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men…. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. –MLK

A tall order. But in some ways my downfall is that I believe this with my whole heart. And I also believe that education is key to getting there. Not education as in standards and tests and rhetoric, but the kind I hope to support: communities where conversation about ideas can happen in safety, where people grow into their potential by asking daring questions and tapping into their passions to fuel discovery, and where all members of the community value one another and listen to one another. I think that is what love looks like in a classroom, and I think that is our calling as educators: to create such spaces.

It is slow work and important work, and the only way I know of to prepare people to wake up to The Dream.

A Way Out of No Way
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” This is for hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow with a cosmic past tense, “We have overcome, we have overcome, deep in my heart, I did believe we would overcome.”

Source: Final speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, August 16, 1967, in I Have A Dream, edited by James Washington

(thanks to Inward/Outward for posting these quotes)


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So there I was last fall, idealistic and righteous and inspired by the best. I was going to have my students do “real” blogging, the kind where they take off on their own and find themselves writing everyday and transforming their lives. I wrote this in a draft post that I never posted:

I am thinking a lot about learning and technology, as usual. The Core blogs have been slow to take off with my students and I have been trying to figure out why. I guess I should say first what I mean by “take off.” I had 2 goals for them: that the blogs would be a place where they write informally so as to better understand these hard books we read AND that they would read each others’ blogs and so increase the community, facilitating in-class discussion. And then I had a third, secret ninja goal: I hoped they would get creative, use visuals, explore the internet… Instead, they only started really writing at all when I finally agreed to quantify a “grade” for posting–something I am absolutely against. I made it part of their class participation grade and advised that 3-4 short posts/week would be “A-Level.” They seem to read each others but don’t comment very often. And a few of them are linking to the occasional video on the internet.

At that point in the semester, all I could see was that it wasn’t working. By the end of the semester when the students wrote about which blog posts were good illustrations of “learning happening” I felt better about the blogs. I also really liked the class covnersation we had when they said “how do we know when learning happened?” A good question for us all! So they showed me their connections being made, and their struggles and, most impressively, times when they changed their minds. They also wrote about things they read on other students blogs that helped them see things differently, to understand more fully how 2 people could read the same passage and come up with equally logical but differing interpretations.

I always love reading blog reflection portfolios: )

But then I read their end of semester requests for how we would change the class next semester (it is a 2 semester class). Most of them said the blogging requirements were too high and that they wished more things from the blogs had been brought up in class. It was a hard pill for me to swallow at first. I wrote in the class blog:

Blogs: you seem to want to post less frequently and/or to bring the blog writings into class more. I think this means that not all of you found the blogs to be as useful for personal reflections on the texts and for making connections on your own. No–I think that is not accurate. I think maybe what you mean is that the blogging felt like a lot of work, and you didn’t see how it counted much in the grade. (Although–it did, as part of that blog paper which really helped the grades of many people–have your opinions changed about that since you did the reflection paper?)
Many of you said that you would like to perhaps have 3 required blog entries per week, due 24 hours or so before class, and that would then be used in class. It does seem to me that the writing is a useful way for people to get prepared for class. YOu could write about the topic that is your group’s topic, but then some of that nice freedom to explore on your own is lost…hmmmm…

But then I had to ask myself: Am I just being a blogsnob? Do I have some preconceived notion of what “good blogging” is, and is it keeping me from using this web 2.0 phenomenon to its full potential for this class? Um, yeah. I think I was.

I did some more thinking, this time about what the biggest challenges of this class are: long, hard to read texts, preparing well for class discussion, development of an intellectual community that matters to the students. And then I listened to them. Here is what I came up with (from the class syllabus):
“…This semester, you can use your blog as a way to prepare for class. Post at least twice a week on any of the 3 readings for the week. You should post by Wednesday’s class time each week. You can post more than 2x.

Post of the Week (POW) award: You will also be reading the blogs of your classmates. Each week you should leave a comment in one of your fellow students’ blogs, telling WHY you want to nominate this particular post. I’ll count the votes on Friday, and we will feature this post in class. Winning POW awards will give you more points toward your Community Contributions grade…”

So–we’ll just see where this leads. I am framing the blogs more as a blogging community where they share their thoughts-in-progress with each other. It is only a subtle difference, but I think it could be profound. It places more emphasis on reading and responding to other blogs. It also gives them a way to respond, since many of them said they just didn’t know how to “write on someone else’s blog.” And I think the effect of getting positive feedback from their peers will have a great effect on the community. It also is a way to reward excellence of many different kinds. I am excited about this!

But to get to this place, I had to give up my notion of the genius blog writer, giving expression to her most profound thoughts and pusing the limits of what Blogger could do! The students remind me that they are just that: students. Blogging is new to them. Even if I want to pretend that they are doing it for themselves, on their own, they aren’t! They are doing it for our class. And now I see that that’s ok. In fact, it is great. They want to use the blogs to the service of the class, not the other way around. Once again, the students are the teachers…

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I want to ask a question: is faculty development in information technology the same as faculty development in general?
Here is the unnamed pachyderm: university faculty are not trained as educators. As Ken Bain wrote in his book, great educators do exist in higher ed, but they have found their own way there through instinct and hard work, often without much support.
What is it we do when we work with faculty in relation to technology? I find that most programs assume that faculty have more pedagogical knowledge than they do. I don’t find that much of ELI’s materials on faculty development go very deep. I looked at Virginia Tech’s award winning program and here is what I saw: in 2007 they offered 170 sessions for faculty. Of those, 46 were about teaching and technology (others were web development training, research and technology, etc.) OF those 46, 9 were Blackboard training, 4 were training on other VT systems. That leaves about 33 ( or less than 20%) that were on topics that I think of as faculty development , topics like “Motivating Your Students: Strategies for Design and Implementation.” So, about 80% were actually training, focussed on the tool and not on students and learning.

Training is a neccessary and good thing. It can be done poorly or well, and I think Tech does it very well. In fact, it is in the title of their group who does this important work:
Faculty Development Institute: Year-round technology training

But the issue is: how deep can you go with faculty when you are training them on a new system or software? It turns out, this is not the only placec on Tech’s campus where there is development for teaching. I had to search the site to find it, but indeed there is a traditional teaching center . I don’t know anything about how these two campus units relate to one another, but presumably, faculty on that campus do have a place to go to more in-depth formative work.

I just want to focus on what I mean by “in-depth formative work” and problematize ELI’s statement about the Tech program:

“Overall, this exemplary set of activities at Virginia Tech has expanded the university’s leadership role in the effective integration of instructional technology with pedagogy and enabled the university to serve as a model and a resource for other institutions across the state and the nation.”

I want to find out more about what exactly that means. How do they do integration of the two, especially if the faculty don’t bring much pedagogical background to the table?

Let me explain what I mean by “going deep.”

The way I work with faculty is a slow process. First, I have to develop a relationship with the faculty member so that she trusts me. Part of this is that I make clear that I am NOT going to tell her there is a right way to teach. Instead, my goal is to help the faculty member reflect on her own experiences and create her own goals. One way to do this is by taking the TGI Then we look at a syllabus and try to see where the syllabus matches her stated values and goals. This is a lightbulb opportunity and it is so cool to see! Then the teacher is ready: she wants to know how she can teach more in line with her values. I help her by showing her lots of options and opportunities that match up with her needs. In the process, I get her to think about the students: what are they learning? how do you know what they are learning? what do you want them to learn? This is a new way of considering the classroom for many in postsecondary ed. But I have seen the power of thinking of the classroom this way. It improves learning and it also makes for more satisfied faculty and students. (Anyone interested in learning more about this should check out Angelo and Cross’s outstanding text.)

The new area that I have been working in this year has been SOTL. I didn’t realize that it is a natural piece of this process, but it really can be. For SOTL, the teacher identifies a specific problem to study, lays out a change they want to make in their class as an experiment to see how it affects the “problem” and then gathers information about the results. This has two nice results: one is that it forces us to not try too many changes all at once, and this is crucial for successful classes. Second, it produces results that are ready to turn into something presentable or publishable. I believe that this raises the status of working on your teaching because this model of scholarship is something faculty understand and respect. Math and sciences and social sciences especially seem to respond to this. For Humanities people, the text-and-big-idea people, the reflection parts that we do early on are often the most satisfying pieces, and that can often be enough.

And here is, to me, the final piece in this puzzle: creating communities that support this. I now think that this doesn’t happen at an institutional level, but in the small group model of Faculty Learning Communities. I have come to realize that organizations are not moral or immoral, they just are about their goal of surviving. If part of the university’s survival is happy teachers, happy students, then I might be able to get institutional support for what I do. Creating rules and “Centers” is not the end in and of itself. The magic happens with human interaction, and that happens in small groups. It just does. There have to be relationships that make people feel secure enough to face change, and there has to be give and take participation, and there has to be the accountabilitiy that a group of peers can provide and still maintain a sense of saftey (as opposed to mandated workshops or departmental functions or the participation of anyone who controls your paycheck!)

So–organizations are not moral beings, but moral things– good, happy and life-giving things — can happen in them–IF the institution will let it happen. And institutions will only let it happen if it sees them as in the best interest of the survival of the institution.

I challenge my ELI friends, then: is this the same thing you mean when you talk about “faculty development”?

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