We often have complaints and ideas in the middle of the semester.
- If only I had a tablet to keep track of attendance I would remember that student’s name.
- If I had a course release to work on this redesign it would make a difference, I just need some time.
- If my colleagues and I could get together and talk about this over the summer, we could solve this problem.
Then when opportunity knocks in the form of budget to be spent down or a request for proposals we find ourselves saying “I’m fine, I don’t really need anything.” Sometimes we say this because filling out another form seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Sometimes we cannot remember what we wished we had. Sometimes we figure other people have real needs and what we would ask for is not that important.
Not just one of those behaviors, stop all of them. Take the time to fill out the form, most of the time it is easier than it seems. Make a note to yourself using Evernote, google docs, or an old fashioned sticky note when you have an idea that would improve learning. The needs of your students are real and if you have a good idea, don’t let it linger in the back of your mind, get it done.
Investing a little time and energy into improving learning environments is almost always worth it.
On an immediate note take the time to apply for a Learning Enhancement Grant (announcement on Wednesday) to get course release, create a Faculty Learning Community, or buy needed materials, etc. This is our most flexible internal grant and one that can make a real difference for you and your students. You may have noticed that we have been working to streamline the application process for our programs and this is no exception. Have a look at the google form when it is published on Wednesday and the included directions to see just how easy it can be to apply for funding to increase student learning.
On Monday I did something uncharacteristic and came to work unprepared. I was caught up on emails and had not missed any deadlines, but I had the wrong socks. I bike to work whenever I can and keep clean clothes in my office to change into. However, on Friday I took home all my dress socks and forget to pack in more. Alone, I was left to face the horror of wearing white athletic socks with blue dress pants and brown shoes.
It was not quite on the level of Harry Potter staring down Voldemort, but it was close.
My clever wife suggested I buy some socks at the bookstore and my day was saved, but the episode gave me a moment to reflect on the things I do to stay prepared on campus (most of which I have borrowed from others) that have saved me classroom embarrassment more than once.
Here is my checklist:
- A neutral change of clothes. This way if something tears or stains you can swap out things that will work with most of what you are wearing.
- Shout wipes. These are essential and help salvage clothes with stains until they can be washed and keep clothes clean on campus. They even get Flamin-Hot Frito dust out of white dress shirts…or at least that is what I have heard.
- Something nutritious to eat. I like high-protein granola bars for the occasional forgotten lunch or late night. You really need to have something in your desk or backpack.
- A toothbrush. This was a more recent addition to my stash but a welcome one for anyone I work with who does not want to smell my coffee breath all day.
What are your must-have supplies for campus? Let us know so we can add them to the in-construction Tuesday Tip repository.
Soon to be on your list will be an audio device so you can listen to an exciting podcast. Check out this collaborative podcast on “Adulting” I put together with some campus partners. We will be doing a new podcast on life at Chico State every two weeks. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode on Greek Life, or better yet, subscribe so you never miss a podcast!
This time of the semester it is easy to think our experiences at work are unique to us. Nod in silence if you have said or overheard a colleague recently say
“I am so busy.”
“There is so much grading.”
“I don’t think (person X) understands how much work I have.”
“Why do I get so many annoying emails from CELT?”
These things might all be true, but it is important to remember they are true for everyone. Your colleagues are stressed and busy, students are scrambling to finish projects and study for exams, your chair and dean are grappling with their own issues, and the administrative assistant you work with all the time is probably getting the worst of it from all sides. Ask yourself how you would treat people if everyone were as busy as you are, and then do that, because they probably are.
Related to this piece of advice, here are a few more for the end of the semester.
- You would probably advise your students to abstain from ranting about their employers or coworkers on social media so take your own advice and do the same. What is posted on twitter lives forever in the memory of the internet. Think about how the student you are venting about would feel if you read your facebook post aloud in front of them.
- Yes it is the end of the term and ridiculous excuses are a part of our lives, but they can also be true. People do get sick during finals week and people we care about do go to the hospital. The fact that students may have been untruthful before does not mean the student who is emailing you asking for an extension is lying.
- Do something nice for someone. Bring your class donuts or ask your administrative support person how his/her day is without immediately cutting them off to ask for a rush order copy job. Sometimes simple kindness gets us through the most challenging times.
- Looking for some help and a quiet place to grade during finals week? Check out the Faculty Grading Oasis in MLIB 458. We are open 8-5 with hot coffee, snacks, and student support to help alphabetize exams and data entry (as long as it is FERPA compliant). There may even be spontaneous “Hotline Bling” inspired dance-offs, you just never know.
Thanksgiving break has always been my time to catch up and get ready for the close of the semester. For most of us, that can only mean one thing–grading. I have used turn-it-in for years to avoid dragging hundreds of pages of paper with me everywhere and as a tool to encourage academic honesty. A few years ago I found myself typing the same comments over-and-over again “this sentence does not make any sense, try reading it out loud to yourself” or “this is great analysis, but it does not fit well with the rest of the paper” and so on. My fingers were getting tired and so was my brain.
This was about the time turn-it-in started supporting audio feedback. I decided to take a chance and give it a try. Then I explored the different options within the platform: pre-loaded comments to drag and drop onto digital papers, embedded rubrics for easy grading, and a wide variety of other options. It turns out there are built in options to grade a wide variety of assignments from calculus equations to creative writing with feedback from peers. There is also local support through TLP to help get you started. I found the initial investment in time to set-up the remarks for each assignment substantial, but worth it. Eventually, I ended up saving tons to time and the students loved the audio feedback as it contained more information than written feedback.
This is not a great solution for everyone, but the take away from this experience for me was not “turn-it-in is amazing!” Instead, I realized investing in the long-term and learning a few new tools can save you time and enhance the student experience. It can be worth it, even when you are at your busiest.
Looking for inspiration? Don’t forget about our 20 minute mentor subscription.
STEP 1: Activate your 20 Minute Mentor Commons subscription
- Go to www.magnapubs.com/sitelicense/registration.html?v=magna61715
- Enter information in each of the required fields. In the Authorization Code box, enter our group Authorization Code CSUCHICO587and click Submit
Please note: entering the Authorization Code is done only once.
STEP 2: Access the 20 Minute Mentor Commons library
- Go to www.magnapubs.com/profile
- Enter your email address & password & click Submit. If you do not know or remember your account password, use “Forget your password?” to reset it.
- On the left side of the screen, under My Account, My Online Access, select Subscriptions. The online content you have access to will be listed to the right. Click the appropriate link to view the content.
Access to 20 Minute Mentor Commons is also available to registered members at www.mentorcommons.com.
Come visit us in MLIB 458 we are open 8-5 five days a week while school is in session and have space for you to spread out and do work.
My academic training is in communication. I am reminded of all the things I do not know every time I have a conversation with my father-in-law who is an engineer or my friend who works as a recreational therapist with physically challenged youth. I like to think of myself as well rounded, but the most important life/academic lesson I have learned is when to ask for help.
This lesson is most important when dealing with students in crisis. We are teachers, mentors, and field area experts, but rarely possess the training or experience to properly assist a student in a time of deep psychological distress. There are as many different profiles of students in distress as there are students. The young man who is away from home for the first time and feels crushed by responsibility, the student who was been the victim of sexual assault, the young women poised to be the first family member to graduate, but riddled with anxiety about what happens next, the high achieving student who appears confident but is actually struggling through a family crisis, and an infinite number of other variations and combinations. The one thing these hypotheticals have in common is that we as faculty members are only a part of the puzzle in supporting the student, not the whole picture.
There are so many places where students and faculty can find support when dealing with these difficult scenarios. The Counseling Center is the resource we most often think of, but in many situations Student Judicial Affairs, The Health Center, University Police, or an Associated Students organization like the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center may also be able to offer help.
The first move often falls to you as the faculty member, you need to pick up the phone and ask for help. Even if you call the wrong unit, you can be directed to the right one. When students confide in us or seek guidance about an issue putting them in crisis. What we have to realize is that most often they are doing so because they need some help, and while we may not be the ones to provide it, we can help them get it.
For most of my time at Chico I have taught a course in Freedom of Speech. For the last few years I incorporated a mini-unit on the Innocence of Muslims trailer/movie that inspired worldwide riots in 2012. I would usually let my students know in advance we would be watching the movie since it was the source of such outrage and controversy. In addition, to start each semester I would let students know the topics in the class were controversial by definition and even assigned a rating of “NC-17” to the course in order to give students fair warning. While I was not familiar with the concept to start, I was providing my students with a trigger warning.
Providing the trigger warning was a mistake.
The mistake was not the warning itself, it was making an uninformed decision about whether the warning was appropriate. There are good reasons for warning students in advance about topics which might compel distress. There are also good reasons why mandated warnings are a threat to academic freedom and the intellectual development of students.
I am not going to tell you about your obligation to protect your students from controversy, or expose them to unpopular ideas. I am not going to tell you about how you are ruining the academy by giving your students advance warning about material that might recreate trauma from assault or war, nor am I am going to tell you about your complicity in violence by failing to do so.
I am going to pass on the same advice you likely give your students. Do some research and make an informed decision about trigger warnings rather than simply trusting that what you are doing is right.
For some further reading check out these pieces.
Huffington Post blog on balancing warnings with good content.
Washington Post piece on trigger warnings and guest speakers on campuses.
New Republic essay or trigger warnings and mental health.
US News Debate Club on trigger warnings.
Last week I shared with you some of what I have learned from when things go sideways in the classroom, when mistakes are made and you have the opportunity to be a role model in working through a problem. Today we deal with the 2nd part, a more sensitive issue, what happens when someone, even you, says something terrible. Maybe a student referred to another student by a sexist name under his/her breath. Maybe a slip of the tongue resulted in you saying something racist. Maybe you realized what you thought was good-natured candor, turned out to a pattern of homophobic harassment directed at another student. Maybe you realize a student does not speak up because they are being bullied away from the classroom.
What do you do now?
There are lots of options, but you can probably guess my first piece of advice will not be “pretend like it never happened.”
The first thing to realize is that you are not alone. The Cross Cultural Leadership Center, the University Diversity Council, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Student Judicial Affairs, the California Faculty Association, the Title IX contacts, and your colleagues are all resources to help you figure out what you need to do to help your students.
The second thing is not a course of action as much as it is a mentality. Realize you might be partially to blame. We all have work to do in creating an atmosphere of inclusion in the classroom and no one ever “has it down.” Open your mind to what you might do differently in the future and make a note of it, maybe even share it with the class.
The third thing to do is realize that, unfortunately, this happens all the time. A 2013 publication in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education reports on great research and highlights some best practices. Click here for the short version or here for the full version. Some great starting points include “Reactive usage: Turning overt conflict into a learning opportunity” and “Proactive usage: surfacing underlying or covert conflicts for learning.”
We would never give our students the problem solving advice “ignore it and it will go away,” so let us practice what we preach and engage the difficult problems in our classrooms, even when they make us feel uncomfortable.
Prior to this year, I taught the large lecture public speaking class which includes a live streamed/recorded version of the lecture. Everything I said was public and viewable in an archive. We had a string of technical problems until one day I thought everything was going well, I even commented on how well things were going in the lecture. Then I realized no one was complaining because all the online students were locked out. There was no one to complain because they could not get in.
I lost it.
I got red in the face and let loose a stream of profanity more befitting an Oakland Raiders practice or 1970s basic training. I did this in the middle of a recorded lecture, a lecture on public speaking. We have all said things in the classroom we wish we could take back. The question is: What do you do next?
Fortunately I have done something like this enough times (I am not kidding; it is a bit of a problem for me) to have developed a system for this:
- Realize your class is looking at you to model behavior for them. Mistakes are made and the wrong words come out all the time. Think of what you would want them to do and let that inform your subsequent behavior.
- Acknowledge that something happened in the moment if you collect yourself in time. This is one of the best ways to defuse a situation and sometimes turns into a teachable moment where you can reflect on a mistake with the class.
- Follow up with a class announcement through Blackboard if the situation warrants it. This is an easy way to document your response to a mistake and model good behavior for your class by dealing with it rather than ignoring it.
- Follow up with your chair or supervisor if necessary. If what you said is likely to result in a student complaint or if you would like some advice, get in touch with the people you work with and let them know.
- Move on. We have all caught ourselves dwelling on that one bad student evaluation or that one mistake. The students are here because they want an education and you can help them with that. Deal with the problem and move on; don’t spend your semester reliving one moment.
Got a great teaching idea of your own? Showcase at the CELT Conference in a SLAM session (10/8 at 9:30am) facilitated by Ben Seipel or be on the lookout for a poster session invitation. Remember to Register!
Got an idea for a tip? Pass it on to us!
This tip is brought to you from our partners in the Office of Civic Engagement.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the discussion led by Ellie Ertle at the CELT Conference at 2pm on Friday the 9th. While you are thinking about, be sure to register for the conference!
“In the end, higher education should be devoted not just to the spread of knowledge but to the pursuit of virtuous action. It should have an impact on how students make the important choices that shape their lives.” – Thomas Ehrlich, Civic and Moral Learning
What did you see on your way to work this morning? Perhaps on your drive you struggled with traffic as high school students crossed a busy intersection, crossed the bridge on campus and saw the dry creek bed or saw someone sleeping in Children’s Park. As faculty, we are fortunate to live and work in a beautiful place that, like communities everywhere, has wonderful assets along with real problems to address. Fortunately, Chico State brings a bounty of intellectual resources and people-power that can be channeled to positively impact our community while expanding student learning.
Simply put, civic engagement is about connecting students with real problems and opportunities in the community and world in which they live. Chico State faculty have a rich history of helping students be solutionaries – whether it is working with community leaders to address local issues, teaching lessons in schools, or engaging students in service learning projects. In doing so, we create space for students to learn more about themselves as well as about how they can use their unique talents to impact the world for the better.
Chico State values civic engagement and education for the public good. It may seem intimidating, but there are resources on campus to facilitate these opportunities for your courses. The Office of Civic Engagement (OCE) can help you incorporate civic engagement into your curriculum in a way that works for you, your class and your students. Visit OCE’s website for more information or email us at email@example.com.
Exams have been central to higher education for as long as there has been higher education. We often take them as a given in our course planning and structure the end of the semester around a comprehensive final. Take a moment to ask yourself why you give exams.
Got an answer?
It may be a very good answer. Sometimes accrediting bodies demand specific objectives be met through exams or the exams may prepare students for a particular goal. However, for many of us, we do not have a good answer or we may give exams assuming they assure students learn concepts. A growing community is questioning the relationship between exams and learning (Jaffee, 2012; Struyven, Dochy, & Janssens, 2005) while proposing alternatives like low-stakes assignments and clicker quizzes (Dobson, 2008; Leeming, 2002; Weimer, 2011). These are not great fits for all classrooms, but we should take a minute and ask ourselves: Why do I keep doing that?
A more creative take on a similar topic appeared recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Follow the link if you want to make a choice: Final Exams or Epic Finales