The Commons is where you can find faculty-curated information, faculty profiles, resources for teaching and learning, and information about all Center activities. Faculty may submit news or resources to be considered for curation and dissemination to the University community. Contribute to the Commons.
Check back soon for Winter dates.
Welcome to Faculty Insights, an opportunity to meet some of our exceptional faculty outside the classroom. Insights offer an opportunity to get to know each guest as a person as well as a member of the faculty here at SOU.
Profile #11 — Kelly Szott, Associate Professor, Sociology, Human Services Coordinator
Meet Kelly Szott, a medical sociologist who uses qualitative methods to study drug use and addiction. Her current project focuses on opioid use and harm reduction responses in rural contexts. Her work comes from a concern for the ways people who use drugs are treated by institutions entrusted to care for them. In this interview, we discuss the concept of Harm Reduction as well as the difference between a sociological and a psychological perspective towards studying substance use.
Join us for an enlightening conversation (and a guest appearance by Chloe the Wonder Cat!).
Profile #10 — Erik Palmer, Associate Professor, Chair, Communication
Profile #9 — S. Anandavalli, Assistant Professor, Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Profile #8 — Karen Mager, Associate Professor, Environmental Science and Policy, Biology
Profile #7 — Shawn Patterson, Assistant Professor, Political Science
Profile #6 — Larry Gibbs, Professor, Sociology and Anthropology (SOAN)
Profile #5 — Marianne Golding, Professor, World Languages and Cultures
Profile #4 — Alison Burke, Professor, Criminology and Criminal Justice
Profile #3 — Craig Wright, Professor, Creative Writing
Profile #2 — Tiffany Morey, Senior Instructor, Criminology and Criminal Justice
Profile #1 — Clayton Austin, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning
Faculty Viewpoints is your place to get a guided tour of what your colleagues are doing to engage their students in meaningful learning. Each brief video will feature one of our faculty sharing great ideas and resources for teaching. Check back every few weeks for more ideas and inspiration. If you would like to take part in Faculty Viewpoints, drop Bill an email at email@example.com.
It is becoming more and more common to feel disconnected while working in isolation for students, faculty and staff. We reached out to Professor Craig Wright for some of his relaxed insights on what he is doing to deal with disconnection and what can be done to reconnect.
Last spring, Jacki and her students piloted Hypothes.is, a new annotation tool available in Moodle. Here she shares highlights of their experience, especially how the tool built collaboration and cooperation among her students.
Glean great ideas on using the built-in Moodle recording feature to create student introductions that build a learning community and help develop self-evaluation skills.
Join us to see how Professor Coker is working to draw her students into a sense of community in a Zoom environment. Her strategy involves taking a simple activity of gathering items in the real world then bringing them to class as photos. This multi-phase activity advances course learning outcomes and helps students learn more about each other.
In these segments, Prof. Maggie Vanderberg shares tips for supporting group work in Zoom. Learn about how she incorporates Google docs and slides to create a highly collaborative learning environment.
Ungrading, Part 3
The third session of the Ungrading Learning Circle again featured three small group discussions. We read the closing chapters of the book in preparation for this discussion, closing with John Warner's contribution, Wile E. Coyote, Hero of Ungrading, which uses the iconic road runner v. coyote dynamic as a great metaphor. In his telling, the road runner represents perfection in teaching—greatly desired and unattainable—and we're all acting in the role of the coyote, throwing everything we can think of into our quest to catch that bird. What marks the coyote for greatness is his tenacity, persistence, and belief that he'll get there in the end.
Ungrading, Part 2
We were very fortunate that for the second meeting of our Learning Circle, Susan Blum, the editor of Ungrading, was able to join us via Zoom and share her insights. She kicked things off by discussing how and why the book came together, and how its development was affected by the Covid outbreak and the resulting changes in the educational landscape. It was interesting to hear that while ungrading practices have been in use for many years, the pandemic has led to increased attention to human-centered teaching practices, like ungrading.
Ungrading, Part 1
The Winter/Spring Learning Circle held its first session on February 23. Ungrading, by Susan Blum, attracted our biggest turnout ever, with more than 30 people signed up to participate. The book features a series of articles from instructors using a variety of ungrading approaches: grade free zones, self assessment, process letters, minimal grading, authentic assessment, contract grading, portfolios, peer assessment, and student made rubrics, among others. Given the size of the group, we split into three discussion groups to talk about Part 1 of the book, one in LIB 352 and two others in Zoom breakouts. In our groups, we talked about different ungrading techniques that we’ve used, the challenges ungrading presents for both students and faculty, and the potential benefits of de-emphasizing traditional grading systems.
The Ocean in the School, Part 4
The final session of the Fall Learning Circle featured a virtual visit from Dr. Rick Bonus, chair of the Department of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington and author of The Ocean in the School. Dr. Bonus described how efforts to document how the University supported Pacific Island students instead revealed how little support the students actually felt. Thus began his work with these students to transform the University into an environment where they could thrive.
The Ocean in the School, Part 3
For the third meeting of the Fall Learning Circle, participants welcomed Soteria "Ria" Galo, SOU’s multicultural retention specialist. Ria was specifically recruited to improve retention among our American Samoan students. She was invited to meet with the Learning Circle to talk about retention efforts that are already in place and to provide her perspective on what American Samoan students need to thrive at SOU.
Ria was born in American Samoa but moved to the States when she was a small child. She shared her personal journey as a way of informing the group about how her own identity and experiences have played a significant role in her ability to identify with SOU students from American Samoa, and as a way of also acknowledging that she does not speak for an entire population or community.
The Ocean in the School, Part 2
Vasa, the word for “ocean” in the Samoan indigenous language, was something taught to me mainly by Tavita as a deeply meaningful expression that students used and primarily referred to a geographical and metaphorical location of an ancestral or primordial home, a space that surrounded and connected multiple locations, and a place of comfort, sacredness, and sustenance, where one was loved and nurtured. To speak of being in the vasa was to exist in a place of reassuring familiarity and connection, so that one felt secure, knowledgeable, and respected in such a place. For these students, vasa was place, process, and relationships. And to be able to find and sustain community in a place that was alien or alienating to them, they invoked the holistic and evocative spirit of the vasa. To understand and engage with their surroundings and the conditions they faced as underrepresented minority students, they looked to the vasa as a repository of meaningful traditions, teachings, and valuable practices of resilience, respect, and illumination from as well as revered for sacred beings and ancestors. And by regarding school or aspects of school as if they were part of a living ocean, the vasa, these students were able to treat and infuse meaning into their school as if it were one’s place of love, respect, and belonging. In other words, for students, to transact school as vasa was to render it as if it were one’s indigenous and sacred home.
From The Ocean in the School: Pacific Islander Students Transforming Their University, Rick Bonus (27)
In the second American Samoan Students at SOU Learning Circle meeting, there was a general acknowledgement that the ocean/vasa metaphor described by Rick Bonus is rich and beautiful. Despite this, the group was grappling with how we might apply the vasa concept to SOU in order to create belonging. As a way to better understand the metaphor, Cherstin Lyon guided the group into a reframing opportunity. The reframe was meant to move us from a mainland viewpoint of Polynesia as peripheral and perhaps backward to a viewpoint of Polynesia as the center of the world. Through this presentation, we learned geography, about the interconnectedness of the islands, about the robust navigation system developed by Polynesian peoples, and about their successful explorations of the ocean and the world.
Another reframing opportunity was presented by Merrilyne Lundahl and Margaret Perrow. They presented on asset-based versus deficit-based pedagogical approaches. This shift might also facilitate the ocean metaphor as an operational concept.
Some questions we continue to ponder: what are practical, applied solutions? How do we speak to professors only interested in approaches that center individualism? How do we work with other campus entities like TRIO to best serve our American Samoan students?
The Ocean in the School, Part 1
The Fall term 2021 Learning Circle is reading The Ocean in the School: Pacific Islander Students Transforming Their University by Rick Bonus. This book tells the stories of Pacific Islander students as they and their allies struggled to transform a university they believed did not value their presence. Drawing on dozens of interviews with students he taught, advised, and mentored between 2004 and 2018 at the University of Washington, Bonus outlines how, despite the university's promotion of diversity and student success programs, these students often did not find their education to be meaningful, leading some to leave the university. As these students note, they weren't failing school; the school was failing them.
Several questions were posed to the group including:
- Why did the students argue that the university had failed them?
- What did the students see was missing in their education and what did they do to address those missing pieces?
- Are there lessons here that relate to our experiences at SOU?
At the initial gathering of the Learning Circle on October 13, participants were joined by Elizabeth, past President and current VP of the Samoan Student Club at SOU. Read about her visit and the great conversation that ensued.
A Call to "Indigenize" the Classroom
Here is an insightful article that relays how the traditional teaching methods of indigenous people are well-aligned with contemporary reforms in education: Old ways are the new way forward: How Indigenous pedagogy can benefit everyone. The authors underscore that "learning can’t happen by simply Googling it. It has to be developed through relationships." They suggest "indigenizing the classroom also means using a more student-focused teaching style, such as providing a space for students to speak honestly while also respecting student silence, and encouraging students to really listen to each other." Many examples of using stories and metaphors are described in detail.
Learning from Small Teaching, Final Session
The final session of the Small Teaching Learning Circle focused on Chapters 8 and 9: Growing and Expanding. The discussion led off with a comparison of the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset, detailing the well-known research of Carol Dweck describing the positive benefits of having a growth mindset — believing that one’s abilities can change with effort — versus the learning challenges involved in having a fixed mindset — thinking that one’s abilities are inherent and static.
Melissa Anderson and Clay Austin both echoed the concept of a child reporting a grade, “I got a 95 on the test!” with the teacher responding, “Yes, but what did you learn?”. This was a theme that became a common thread for the rest of the session as participants focused on how we can develop a growth mindset. Clay Austin suggested recording audio feedback for students to make for a more positive experience for both student and teacher. “You can share so much more positive feedback.” Melissa brought up that, “Long delays on returning tests and papers is stressful for students” because they have no feedback on their progress.
Jamie Hickner shared her message to students, “It’s OK to try and fail without it being the end of the world.” Jacki Strenio shared a technique she uses where, “Students write a letter to each other to review and share comments.” She feels it helps the students who don't like to talk in class. This makes it more personal yet less stressful for many. This carried us into the topic of grades and reviewing work. Everyone shared stories of students admitting they were there only for the grade, not the information.
Danielle Hammer pointed out the importance of student presentations and how they can help students differentiate between, “...working towards performance goals instead of learning goals” and highlighted the importance of that difference.
The final area of discussion was “Big Teaching,” ideas around activity-based, team-based, and service-based learning. Jacki compared the lessons of the trip students take to Mexico with shorter term role-based lessons. Closing thoughts dealt with the value of focusing on the real world instead of just the classroom to give the content more personal value and relevance to our students.
This Learning Circle is complete. If you liked this book and are teaching online or may be doing so in the future, we recommend the companion book, Small Teaching Online.
Small Teaching, Session 3
The third Learning Circle session on Small Teaching focused on the concepts of Self-Explaining and Motivating our students, generating a discussion that produced both self-awareness and new viewpoints. There was consensus on the importance of self-growth as teachers as well as student growth.
Self-explaining refers to the process of having students explain aloud or in writing their thinking processes as they solve problems. Clay Austin began by asking, “Why do we think it works for people to explain things to themselves? The group went on to point out the difference experience makes in presenting information to a new learner. “You as the expert might think it is a ten-step process. But the truth is, for the novice it is perhaps 20 steps. So when students self-explain, they actually fill in the gaps of your examples.”
Melissa Anderson shared an example of students presenting to others students, “That means you have to have thought through it and thought it through. So you do have to engage with [the topic] at that point, instead of just letting it wash over you.” Brian Fedorek added, “I remember being told in grad school that if you really want to learn something, teach it, which is what I was looking at with the self-explain.” He went on to point out a potential problem with asking students to self-explain, “I've seen some faculty use this. Just saying. ‘Why, why are you thinking that?’ can be seen as pseudo-aggressive.”
Leslie Eldridge looked at it from another viewpoint, “When I was reading the chapter on Self-Explaining I thought, wow, my child is in first grade and that’s all they do is ask ‘Why?’.” She pointed out that at the 100-level especially, faculty do need to prevent misconceptions. In reporting the results of a group project, she said, “I was still kind of horrified at the end result. Roughly 60% of the small groups came up with something that showed me that they are reinforcing something completely mistaken.”
What is the purpose of motivation and how does it impact students? Is it more than just capturing attention? Do we entertain, guide forward or do both? Leslie’s response was, “That's why I teach. I want them to get excited and inspired by the content.” Melissa added, “I've had students who had that sort of intrinsic motivation to learn and they were interested in that topic, but they were terrible at turning in assignments.” A common thread was that some students will stay under the radar and turn in great work while others will fade out if not engaged.
Brian discussed working with his peers and designing transparent assignments. Referring to an assignment, he will say to his class: “Here's why I want you to do this. And so it wasn't just busy work. It wasn't just memorization and it was, you know, I want you to apply the ideas.”
The rest of the session dealt with ways students can self-motivate and how to nurture that in a variety of disciplines. Melissa offered the example of asking students to “Write down what you think makes a great student. How do you plan to put those things into action for yourself?” The goal is to avoid the student self-blaming or saying they are inherently good or bad at something, but starting them off in the right direction.
It's the Little Things, Session 2
Our Learning Circle met for the second time on November 6 in LIB 329. The topics were Predicting and Connecting as part of the Small Teaching process. Rediscovery was the main thread of the day as Jamie Hickner shared, “I liked the reminder of some of the teaching practices we used to do, but may have gotten away from over time.”
In Chapter 3: Predicting the author describes reasons and strategies for asking students to make predictions on course content. For example, giving students a non-graded pretest on the material before they actually are exposed to it can lead to greater memory and understanding. It can also help disrupt what the author calls “fluency illusions” (p. 51), showing students that they may actually be less fluent with learning concepts than they believe.
Relating to the effect of predictions and memory, Brian Fedorek pointed out that “...memory is the residue of thought.” He also shared that he is “...learning how people learn.” Jackie Strenio added that she liked the prediction chapter a lot. “It seemed to reinforce that if you think about a topic in advance, that will help you retain it.”
Chapter 4, which discusses Connecting, begins by referencing an obscure George Orwell novel in which the protagonist, a teacher, asserts that her students’ knowledge consists of “small disconnected islets” in a vast sea of ignorance (A Clergyman's Daughter, 1986, p. 209). An example of helping students form connections is to use concept maps — graphic organizers that illustrate how ideas are related, for example in hierarchies or process flows. Another strategy is to help students make connections by asking them to write what they already know before a lesson in one column of a page, and what they learned after the lesson in the second column. Shanell Sanchez made a connection as we spoke, pointing out that she didn’t first learn about the prediction method from the book — “I got it from visiting my daughter’s elementary classroom.”
The Learning Circle is all about relating theories to our practice. The topics at our next meeting on November 20 will be Chapter 6: Self-Explaining and Chapter 7: Motivating.
Does ‘High-Impact’ Teaching Cause High-Impact Fatigue?
Colleges that care about teaching often promote the value of "high-impact practices" and "transformative" learning. That could mean a writing-intensive course, a small seminar for freshmen, a service-learning project, or even something as simple as an informal meal in a faculty member’s home.
Not only are these courses intense for students, but they can be exhausting for the faculty who teach them. As the authors put it, “Designing and managing these efforts can be all-consuming and energy-draining. You may need a manageable case of obsessive-compulsive disorder just to survive the experience.” They offer 11 concrete suggestions for reducing your load even while you’re implementing “HIPs” in your classroom.
It's the Little Things That Count!
The Fall 2019 Learning Circle held its initial gathering on October 23 to begin discussing Small Teaching by James Lang. Lang advocates “small teaching” techniques — small changes in our practices that lead to big gains in student learning. Information retrieval was the group’s first topic — the idea that simply asking students to recall from memory previously learned material actually increases the strength and durability of that memory, thereby reinforcing the learning.
The author provided examples such as asking the class, “Before we start, can anyone remind me what we talked about in class on Monday? How about what we talked about last week?” Erin Wilder helped kick off the discussion by sharing, “I actually tried something new this morning based on the reading that I was pretty excited about.” She described using polleverywhere.com to ask her students review questions which they answered on their cell phones. In the discussion that followed, we had a question from Elizabeth Whitman, “Does Moodle do polling?” Moodle does accommodate classroom polling and a recently installed plugin allows students to enroll in groups based on choices made in a poll.
It was a room full of ideas and energy with a range of topics. Clay Austin suggested a quick way to check student understanding using “exit tickets” — asking students to write what they learned on a scrap of paper to leave with the instructor on their way out of class. Shanell Sanchez agreed with the author and the Circle that there are all kinds of ways to practice information retrieval other than traditional quizzes or testing.
Next session? We will discuss having students use prediction and connection strategies in small ways for big results.
Using Technology to Help First-Gen Students
Colleges should put digital tools at the center of their programs for ensuring the academic success of students who are the first in their families to go to college, write Ana M. Martinez Aleman, Heather Rowan-Kenyon and Mandy Savitz-Romer. In this Inside Higher Ed article, the authors describe how technology can support first generation students by providing support for learning and for building social connections. (October 10, 2018)
For One Professor, How a Course on Evil Gave Students Hope
Sometimes your best ideas come from a moment of desperation. That happened to Scott P. Roberts, and both his course, and his teaching, were transformed as a result.
Roberts, then director of undergraduate studies in psychology, had introduced a course at the University of Maryland called The Psychology of Evil — part of a general education series designed to encourage undergraduates to think about life’s big questions. But he was also flying by the seat of his pants.
Having put the syllabus together on a tight deadline, Roberts found himself creating course content just a week ahead of schedule. By the eighth week, he was burned out. “I was literally sitting at the dining room table with my head in my hands,” he recalls, wondering what sort of assignment he could devise quickly. He posted a note to students on the class website: You’ve all learned a lot about good and evil, he wrote. Now here’s an opportunity to reflect. Do some random act of kindness, and next class, tell me what you did.
Roberts went to sleep, having no idea of what he had just unleashed.
Read the rest of Roberts' story at The Chronicle of Higher Education. (August 29, 2019)
The Nuance of Note Taking
Feel strongly about the heated debate on whether students should take notes by hand or on their laptops? If so, this may not be the read for you.
Faculty developer Karen Costa makes the case that most students should practice doing both, and neurodiverse students may really be best served by one or the other. Lesson 1: Avoid mandating the use or nonuse of technology. Lesson 2: Emphasize note-taking methods such as Cornell Notes or concept mapping that can be done with or without technology aids.
How to Hold a Better Class Discussion: Advice Guide
Most of us value the role of discussion in learning, but may be vague on the why to or how to of it all. This is a breezy, if long, attempt to give advice. It includes an interesting discussion of “civil attention” — the norm of note-taking and nodding, and how to move toward “paid attention” by using Nerf balls and poker chips.
Making Office Hours Less Scary
Ask just about any college student — office hours are scary. NPR Education reporter Elissa Nadworny reminds us that “students often don't know what office hours are – or what they're for, or how they're different from class time.”
It’s easy to see how office hours are “part of what some students say is a hidden curriculum – the set of rules on a college campus that no one ever tells you about.” Nadworny offers this guide to taking the fear out of office hours.
Laptops and Phones in the Classroom: Yea, Nay or a Third Way?
The ongoing question of student use of laptops and phones in the classroom in the continuing battle for our students' attention gets a refresher in this article from Learning and Tech via the NPR website. Faculty interviewed espouse the full range of approaches to dealing with student devices, from a total classroom ban to fully incorporating these tools in learning activities.
According to one interviewee, use of these devices offers an opportunity for discussion with students, leading to “enhanced metacognition” about attention and learning. One alternative to an outright ban on cell phones is the use of Flipd, an app that students can use to shut off all functionality except for texting and phone calls during class in exchange for extra credit.
The competition for our students' attention is a problem that is not going away and there are a variety of ways to address it. If you are looking for new solutions, you might find some ideas here.
How To Teach a Good First Day of Class
You can never have a second first day of class, so it is worth getting some good ideas to start your course off right. See this advice guide from James Lang at the Chronicle of Higher Education, to remind you of things you already know (“Don’t start with the syllabus”) and things you might not (“What you wear matters”). But if you’re tight on time, scroll down for some great practices, like the one from Vanderbilt’s Derek Bruff, who gives his math students two problems, one they can do now, and one they cannot but will be able to solve at the course’s end, to show them what they will learn in the class. Brilliant.
3 Ways to Transform a Lecture Class
Cathy Davidson makes the case that "even in the most constrained institutional situation — and even when, as a beginning professor, you might feel the most powerless — there are easy yet constructive ways to make a difference in a standard lecture format and to make learning your objective. Some of those ways might focus less on the actual lecturing you do and more on how you introduce and frame the course."
The Best and Worst Ways to Respond to Student Anxiety
Depending on who you talk to “it” can be caused by any number of things. Or said simply, anyone's fault. One thing everyone does agree on is that the problem is an epidemic or tsunami, to quote the article. We just can't agree how to deal with it. The “it” in this case is student anxiety and it is seeping into every area of the system.
Part of the overall problem is how personal it can become. Each of us has our personal experiences and biases. The symptoms and potential difficulties are very real. But the discussion around it can be influenced by Twitter and Facebook, and that is almost always less than helpful. I found some interesting perspectives here to challenge me and think you might as well.