The CFI Blogs about … life in academia, CFI programs and events, the changing role of faculty, classroom experiences, scholarly questions, campus events that impact faculty, opportunities to enhance the JMU academic experience … and so much more. Join the conversation as the CFI explores the world of academic blogging.
by: Douglas R. Harrison It’s the Sunday afternoon before classes begin for the new academic year and, having reviewed and revised my lesson plans for the week, I realized that I’ve finally made my peace with PowerPoint. This has taken more than a little time. For nearly 15 years as a college teacher, I have …View full post
by: Andreas Broscheid At the end of every semester we want to – or are required to – find out how successful our classes were. Final papers, project reports, and exams are part of determining whether students achieved the goals we set for them, and student course evaluations give students the opportunity for class feedback …View full post
by: Ed Brantmeier Mutual understanding is a two-way street concept, particularly in the context of cross-cultural exchange and communication. The two-way street concept is about learning from one another in authentic, relational ways that foster perspective consciousness (Hanvey, 1976) and deepened self-awareness. It is not simply about learning about “others” — a one-way street approach. …View full post
by: Cara Meixner Next week’s workshop, led by an engaging panel of faculty who perform the gymnastic feat weekly – if not daily – will present participants with the unique opportunity to experience this pedagogy as if they were undergraduate or graduate students. Modeling each aspect of flipped pedagogy, the workshop facilitators have planned an …View full post
by: Elizabeth V. Berkeley A colleague (whom I respect) said to me, in response to my mention of an interest in assessment, “Americans are the only academics obsessed with assessment”. Well, as a relatively novice teacher, I want to know if what I’m doing is doing any good. Will my students be better scientists if …View full post
It’s the Sunday afternoon before classes begin for the new academic year and, having reviewed and revised my lesson plans for the week, I realized that I’ve finally made my peace with PowerPoint.
This has taken more than a little time. For nearly 15 years as a college teacher, I have rarely and always reluctantly used PPT presentations in my classes.
There are two main sources for my reluctance, and they’re related. The first is biographical. For several years before I was an academic, I was a newspaper designer and editor who came of age professionally in the mid-1990s. This was a time when Edward Tufte’s work on data visualization was exerting an enormous influence on the philosophy and design principles of an entire generation of designers and editors.
Specifically (and this is the second point), Tufte has written at length and with surgical precision about the epistemological dangers of surrendering to the facile representational logic of PowerPoint templates. In his famous case study of the corrosive effects of over-reliance on PPT among NASA administrators and managers, Tufte concludes that “slideware often reduces the analytic quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis.”
During the first-wave years of PPT adoption, Tufte’s conclusions seemed to be confirmed almost every time someone hit that little slide-deck launch button in the lower left corner of the screen and started a PPT presentation … even and especially in the classroom. PowerPoint too often seemed synonymous with “teacher’s giant teleprompter.”
For me, I vowed never to be the teacher who read from PowerPoint slides in the classroom, and so I effectively swore off PPT when I first started teaching in graduate school.
And that’s more or less where I stayed until a three or four years ago when some leadership and administrative responsibilities required me to use PowerPoint on a regular basis. But even though I’ve been working with PPT regularly for a while now, it’s only recently that my use of PPT stopped being shot through with ambivalence and misgivings.
What changed? First, I started getting to know people who knew how to really use PPT, as opposed to letting PPT call the heuristic shots of a presentation. Second, and more important, I realized that I had effectively overlearned the lessons of Tufte’s work.
So for the record: PowerPoint isn’t evil. Or rather, it’s no more or less effective than the PPT skills of the person using it. This means we all have to take responsibility for how we do – and don’t – use PPT (this was the underlying ethos of a CFI workshop a while back titled “Bullets Kill” … Tufte would have loved that, I think).
In that spirit, here are a few strategies to consider if you want or need to recalibrate the balance of power between PPT and your own thoughts, ideas, and pedagogical practices.
-Less is more and sometimes nothing is even better. Just because you can project something on the screen doesn’t mean it’s necessary or even a good idea. If students can get everything you want them to know off a PPT slide posted on Blackboard (or Canvas or a webpage), why should they come to (or pay attention in) class?
-When people hear hoofbeats, they usually don’t think zebras. A corollary to “less is more,” the point here (and really, this shouldn’t surprise us) is that the biggest stuff in the room gets all the attention. Overhead digital projection in the classroom can too easily create the pedagogical equivalent of a movie theater: it often turns active learners into audiences or transcriptionists, either passively spectating or frantically trying to write down every word on the screen. Either way, the overheard dwarfs everything else going on around it. Even if teachers intend for PPT to be a supplement to other approaches and strategies, even if we say this over and over in class, most of the eyes and energy in the room are going to gravitate to the giant, brightly lit screen in the front of the room.
-It’s often the notes you don’t play that make the best music. One good strategy for preventing PPT from hijacking our classes is for teachers to think about and use PPT slide decks as visual grace notes to in-class lectures, discussions, and other learning activities. Rather than putting the prose definition of a key term on a PPT slide and reading it off the screen, find a helpful visual representation of a complex idea to supplement the discussion of the concept. For multi-part group work, keep a slide up overhead with the sequence of activities and a timer. Get a handheld presentation clicker that allows you to unobtrusively black out the screen without having to walk to the podium while meaningful discussions are developing.
-Know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em. “How is it,” Tufte asks rhetorically in one of his most cogent critiques of PPT as it’s commonly used, “that the elaborate architecture of thought always fits exactly on one slide?” Our classrooms are – because they must be – places where the level of complexity and difficulty regularly exceeds the representational capacity of any mass-market slideware program. Or, to borrow from the Madison Collaborative, “it’s complicated,” and the best pedagogies are the ones that let it be so, that don’t use PPT slides to prematurely summarize, synthesize, or otherwise impose exploration-stunting resolution on productive tensions.
There are ways to make PowerPoint slides that are as visually dazzling as they are intellectually sophisticated. But this takes considerable time and talent. So just as it’s important to admit the limits of our knowledge in the classroom, it’s important to recognize those pedagogical moments when the best use of PowerPoint may be not to use it at all. That way, when PPT makes an appearance, you and your students can be sure it’s worth everyone’s time.
More teaching tips: Check out the CFI Teaching Programs for opportunities to expand your pedagogical reach.
At the end of every semester we want to – or are required to – find out how successful our classes were. Final papers, project reports, and exams are part of determining whether students achieved the goals we set for them, and student course evaluations give students the opportunity for class feedback (tune in James Brown’s “Payback”). All of these ways to evaluate our courses are important, but they’re not without limitations. Final exams, taken at a time when students are tired from studying and mentally already out at the beach or on the slopes, are unlikely to represent the most valid picture of what students know. Furthermore, usually there are no final exam pre-tests at the beginning of the semester that let us gauge whether student knowledge increased throughout the semester.
Knowledge surveys are an interesting addition to the toolbox that we use to find out whether students learn in our classes. Students are asked how much they know about various course objectives at the beginning and at the end of the semester, and the responses help us understand what (and to what extent) students think they have learned in the class. Steven Harper of JMU’s School of Engineering has developed a sophisticated way of conducting and using knowledge surveys, which he is presenting in a hands-on workshop during the upcoming May Symposium.
You can still sign up.
by: Ed Brantmeier
Mutual understanding is a two-way street concept, particularly in the context of cross-cultural exchange and communication. The two-way street concept is about learning from one another in authentic, relational ways that foster perspective consciousness (Hanvey, 1976) and deepened self-awareness. It is not simply about learning about “others” — a one-way street approach. In a two-way street approach, people with different primary cultures learn about “self” in the context of “other.” “Self”understanding and “other” understanding emerge from meaningful engagement over the course of time in cross-cultural exchange. Inner conflict and cultural conflict provide possibilities for transformative learning given the boundaries of “self” and “other” expand and contract by frolicking in one’s zone of disequilibrium.
Several May Symposium sessions offer two-way street and mutual understanding opportunities this year. Learn about the classroom and campus experiences of African-American students at JMU; brainstorm ways to be culturally engaging in your classrooms. The core mission of the Fulbright Program is to promote mutual understanding via citizen diplomacy; teach, research, and/or learn in another country. The Getting Serious with Your Fulbright session will give you the information and space you need to begin your Fulbright application process. The Noftsinger Celebration of Madison Scholarship will highlight scholarship from across campus and feature a “Diversity and Scholarship” table at the social mixer that will follow faculty performances from our colleagues in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Dispel myths and misconceptions in the Fact Vs. Fiction: Perceptions of Faculty, Students, and Disability Services session. Ask questions, brainstorm strategies, and learn about campus resources in this workshop.
When we reside near the edges of our own experiences and ways of knowing, new identities, opportunities, and synchronicities follow. Change is inevitable. Being open and hopeful in the face of change is promising.
In peace, Ed
by: Cara Meixner
Next week’s workshop, led by an engaging panel of faculty who perform the gymnastic feat weekly – if not daily – will present participants with the unique opportunity to experience this pedagogy as if they were undergraduate or graduate students. Modeling each aspect of flipped pedagogy, the workshop facilitators have planned an innovative experience for registrants. Scintillating pre-workshop content will be delivered to registrants via an innovative, easy-to-use platform called TedEd. The face-to-face workshop, thus, will provide an environment within which learners can apply, integrate, and synthesize what they’ve learned, all in the context of courses they teach or will teach in the future. Faculty and representatives from both the CFI and the CIT will serve as guides, coaching participants on ways to integrate facets of flipped pedagogy into any university-level course.
Don’t miss out on what is sure to be a unique workshop experience!
A colleague (whom I respect) said to me, in response to my mention of an interest in assessment, “Americans are the only academics obsessed with assessment”.
Well, as a relatively novice teacher, I want to know if what I’m doing is doing any good. Will my students be better scientists if I offer more pre-lab quizzes? Will they be more turned off to science if I offer more pre-lab quizzes?
Last night at our Shenandoah Valley STEM Collaborative, I led a discussion on the topic of “how to assess student learning?” I asked everyone to read a couple papers and to come prepared to discuss the following questions. The first paper is on applying Bloom’s taxonomy in the biology classroom. The second paper is on applying Bloom’s taxonomy to mathematics. I like using Bloom’s taxonomy, as it gives us a common language to organize our thoughts around learning.
a) How do you currently assess your students’ learning according to Bloom’s taxonomy?
b) Can you think of ways to incorporate higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy into your existing curriculum?
One of the key points that resulted from this discussion is that you need to assess at the same level of Bloom’s that you are teaching. Also that these levels need to match the course objective or successful learning will not occur. For example, if you are asking students to memorize a number of word definitions but testing them on how to analyze the concepts that use these definitions, they will not have the skills to do so and will find the class too difficult.
Conversely, if you are assessing student learning by using multiple choice questions but are asking the students to evaluate, synthesize, and create in class, they will not find the class challenging enough.
This may seem obvious to more experienced academics but I find discussing these ideas with more experienced colleagues both useful and reassuring.
I’ll end with this question to you: “How do you know you are effective in your teaching practice?”
1. Alison Crowe, Clarissa Dirks, and Mary Pat Wenderoth. Biology in Bloom: Implementing Bloom’s Taxonomy to Enhance Student Learning in Biology. CBE Life Sci Educ 2008 7:368-381; doi:10.1187/cbe.08-05-0024
2. Shorser, Lindsey. Bloom’s Taxonomy interpreted for Mathematics. http://www.math.toronto.edu/writing/BloomsTaxonomy.pdf
3. Draga Vidakovic, Jean Bevis, and Margo Alexander. Bloom’s Taxonomy in Developing Assessment. Journal of Online Mathematics and Its Applications, 2013. http://mathdl.maa.org/mathDL/4/?pa=content&sa=viewDocument&nodeId=504&bodyId=728
by: Carol Hurney
At first I wasn’t sure why so many faculty flocked to the “Bootcamp for Scholarly Writers” offered by the CFI during January and May Symposium. But now I know. I know because about 2 years ago I attended my first bootcamp/lockdown experience. Here is what I learned.
I learned that sitting in your office trying to write or do other scholarly work just doesn’t compare to sitting in a room with 20 of your colleagues who are trying to accomplish the same thing. Why is the lockdown more fun and productive than working in your office? From the outside looking in the lockdown doesn’t seem fun or productive. Although the participants appear to be writing, they also appear to be staring off into space searching for a reason why they signed up to drag their computer, notes, and other research materials to Rose Library during a perfectly wonderful spring or winter day. But until you sit down in a lockdown and commit to making progress on your writing goals you will never know that there is ENERGY in that room. During all of the lockdowns I have attended I felt a sense of electricity or some other force in the room. This force compelled me to shut off my email, limit my Internet use, and write. And then write some more. When I found myself losing focus, I would simply look around and see my colleagues typing away and BAM I was back to the writing business. Of course I would get stuck, but when I did the energy would push me on. At the end of each lockdown day I had compiled pages of research notes or writing to show for my day of silent work. From my perspective, I have the other participants to thank for my productivity. I wanted them to see me typing. I wanted my actions to add energy to their work. I wanted all of us to write our hearts out. And I think we did. I have had two papers published that I worked on during a writing lockdown. I didn’t finish an entire manuscript during the lockdown, but I did get the process started or made huge strides toward completion. My work during the lockdowns provided the foundation that allowed me to successfully weave shorter writing blocks into my schedule during the summer and on into the semester.
So what are you waiting for? This year at May Symposium you can get locked down to work on finishing your grades, designing assignments, finishing the APT report for your department, or working on your scholarly writing. Take advantage of the energy you will find in these lockdowns and get a jump start on your summer work goals.
When I read the CFI announcement for the Shenandoah Valley STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Collaboration, I immediately signed up. This pilot group, meeting 6 times over spring semester, invited faculty from STEM or STEM teacher education disciplines from JMU, Blue Ridge Community College, Eastern Mennonite University and Bridgewater College. The purpose of the group is to meet on issues in foundation STEM classes.
Eight people showed up for the first meeting, representing all four institutions. The group represents a breadth and depth of STEM interests: three faculty members teach physiology, three teach math, one teaches psychology research methods, one teaches science education and one teaches computer science.
As has been my previous experience with CFI groups, we were given a general agenda and left to self-organize around the following topics (from the CFI website):
• Build a community of instructors of foundational courses in STEM disciplines.
• Share and learn pedagogical ideas and/or strategies that are used in these courses to create a rigorous learning environment.
• Explore ways that foundational courses can strengthen core competencies (programming student learning objectives).
• Implement different pedagogical ideas and/or strategies that support the previous goals in their own course(s).
We are a lively bunch and over the first two hour meeting quickly came up with several topics that address the second objective. We will present and study on these topics over the next few meetings: 1) what is academic rigor? 2) how to motivate students? and 3) how to assess student learning?
I offered to lead the discussion on assessing student learning, which I will write about in a future blog entry.
I have visions of grand multi-million dollar federal grant proposals and streamlining higher education in the Valley while still maintaining our respective academic cultures. That may happen in the future. But for now, I think it’s a great start that we have motivated faculty from all the institutions gathering together to trade ideas. I look forward to seeing what unfolds from our meetings. If anyone is interested in participating in future iterations of this collaborative, please contact the CFI for more details.
by: Ed Brantmeier
Sharing elements of your life story with your students to deepen their learning and to model positive self-reflection is tricky business given the interpersonal boundaries typical of student and teacher relationships. We will explore those boundaries with some assumptions, guidelines, and ways of applying concepts of vulnerability in positive ways to create openings for deep learning in your classroom. In conversation about our workshop, Art Dean relayed, “Being vulnerable is bringing your whole self to the table….” As diversity educators, Art and I discussed that when we share our story, we admit we fail, and when we do not pretend we know everything, opportunities for authentic dialogue appear in our classrooms. However, a pedagogy of vulnerability is not just for diversity educators; anyone can use their lived curriculum and invite students to do so in their classroom.
When developing taxonomy of learning outcomes, Bloom (1956) and colleagues decided to leave the emotional outcomes for another day for further development. Cognitive outcomes and behavioral outcomes were easier to define, observe, measure, codify. Emotional outcomes presented more difficulty. Vulnerability brings emotional outcomes to the fore by calling upon the teacher and student to examine their lived curriculum in relationship to classroom content. Come explore definitions, assumptions, and applications of a pedagogy of vulnerability at this interactive workshop. Walk away with clarity on the role of self-disclosure and vulnerability in the classroom and some learning activities you might use this semester in your class.
by: Cara Meixner
Earlier in my career, I was fortunate to have experienced a healthy dose of what I can only consider beginner’s luck: the publication of two research pieces, both accepted with minor revisions and published within a year of submission. I celebrated these successes in relative solitude waiting for the slow, steady ‘creeping in’ of reader feedback. To my novice researcher’s mind, the silence was deafening; I had not accepted fanfare, of course, but I’d hoped someone other than my husband, parents, and best friends would perform a close read. After all, I wondered, isn’t the purpose of scholarship also the promise it holds to open and advance dialogue? And shouldn’t I, the author, be somehow privy to such conversations?
In time, I learned that feedback comes to junior scholars like myself at a slow and unpredictable pace. At first, most of the comments I received were in the form of innocuous, judicious questions – such as whether my ideas might transfer to a context unlike that I had studied. In other cases, feedback was awfully uncomfortable, like the time I attended a national conference and a presenter cited my work aloud, thus proceeding to interpret it utterly and inalienably out of its context. My face reddened, and pulse quickened as a bevy of audience members nodded, fastidiously scribbling notes on what this “Meixner person” had discovered. (I set the record straight, but I felt awful for having called out the presenter’s misstep.)
Cumulatively, the impact of these early experiences sensitized me to the quirky, haphazard world of eliciting feedback on one’s research. I grew disenfranchised, first subtly then with a bit more stout. What’s the point of spending hundreds of hours on a manuscript when one may never hear an utterance of feedback? (At one point, I would have preferred destructive criticism to the sound of crickets that inhabited my head.) Yes, we may have created inroads through our publications for our own careers, be that promotion or grant-related opportunities. Do we presume that our readers actually read our contribution – in close ways? And as a research community, what level of feedback should we anticipate – especially for those of us who are more junior to this world?
The more I thought about this, the more insight I gained into my own behavior as a teacher, scholar and practitioner. Like many of you, I read all of the time; yet seldom do I do so with the sagacity I expect of my readers. Mostly, I skim – and generally, I am doing so to gain ideas and applications that benefit my teaching and practice. I have devoted mindful effort to what I call a “cautious, capricious consumption” of at least one research piece per month that culminates in a note of acknowledgement to its author or authors. Needless to say, this practice has been a mutually beneficial venture.
Trusting my own instincts, I have also realized that I function well as neither solo researcher nor solo author. While it takes more time to collaborate with others, it soothes my need for feedback throughout all stages of the inquiry process – especially once a manuscript is under review. Collaborating with others has also helped me cope with the murkiness of blind peer review, resubmissions and copy editing.
by: Carol Hurney
I can hardly believe the CFI is on the verge opening registration for the 7th Annual May Symposium. [cue celebratory trumpets] … It only seems like yesterday when I walked into Karen Santos’ office and posed a crazy idea. [cue flashback music]
I told her that the CFI should offer repeat performances of successful and popular workshops during the week after spring semester finals. I felt that many faculty members just couldn’t squeeze in CFI activities while teaching classes, so we should take advantage of this break to welcome faculty to our services. “Sure,” she said, “make it happen.” [cue mission impossible theme]. And so May Symposium planning slipped into gear – during the first year the CFI offered 4 sessions. Over the next 5 years, May Symposium grew from 13 sessions in 2008 to close to 50 sessions in 2012. I definitely felt like the CFI hit a groove [cue Hawaii 5-O theme] working collaboratively with a variety of JMU offices, centers, and faculty to offer a sessions ranging from the Grant Writing Institute to Active Learning Workshops to Scholarly Writing Lockdowns.
From my vantage point, May Symposium has been a huge success. Why? Because May Symposium provides faculty what they need – time – time to focus on their teaching, scholarship, service, or leadership roles. May Symposium sessions offer faculty a holistic approach to professional development – an approach that supports the unique goals and aspirations of faculty as they navigate the complex waters of academia. And so, this year [cue drumroll] coming tomorrow, March 13th, the CFI is proud to rollout the 7th Annual May Symposium schedule filled with sessions that you and/or your colleagues submitted during the first “open-call” for May Symposium sessions. We are so excited that so many members of the JMU community rallied in response to the challenge to form authentic partnerships with the CFI so we could work together offer a rich diverse set of offerings that help us realize our goal of holistic faculty development. And so, I trust you will take a moment to look at the future of May Symposium. [cue Star Wars theme] A future where the JMU academic community, in partnership with the Center for Faculty Innovation, goes where no campus has gone before to seek out ways to make an impact on faculty life and to boldly explore effective ways to support successful career development.