Revise, Resubmit … and Rewind

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.

May Symposium 2013: 7 Years in the Making…

by: Carol Hurney

may_symposiumI 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.

Looking Forward – jmUDESIGN 2013

by: Cara Meixner

From time to time, we rearrange and redesign our homes – applying fresh paint, shuffling our furniture, or collecting novel accouterments. While such changes take time, the outcomes often justify the means. Ultimately, we feel better about our dwelling spaces, however small or large-scale the change may have been.

We can apply a similar practice to the courses we teach, recalibrating our objectives and applying changes – slight or sweeping – that bring students’ learning to life and reengage our own passions for teaching. Just as it may prove essential to have a designer or contractor on hand to guide us through the messy, chaotic phases of home redesign, it is likewise helpful to engage in a guided redesign of one’s course or curriculum. That’s why jmUDESIGN exists.

Held from June 10-14, jmUDESIGN is a 5-day institute that provides part- and full-time instructional faculty with the skills, knowledge and support necessary to foster a learning environment within which all facets of the course – lesson plans, assignments, assessment structures, pedagogies and learning activities – map to significant learning outcomes. In small teams guided by JMU faculty schooled in the tents of redesign, participants develop innovative blueprints, ultimately laying new foundations and building new facets of their courses. For some participants, jmUDESIGN constitutes an opportunity to fundamentally flip their courses. Others revel in the chance provided to network with other professors, applying and sharing new skills in a supportive, innovative and nonjudgmental environment.

Applications for the jmUDESIGN 2013 Summer Institute will be available on March 1 and are due by March 18, 2013.

Sparks of Expertise and Engagement – CFI Faculty Flashpoint Series

by: Ed Brantmeier

FFSFlashpoints arose as an initiative to support academic culture on JMU campus by highlighting faculty expertise in relation to pressing local and global problems, concerns, and/or issues. If flash mobs can mobilize people in public spaces, why can’t Flashpoints mobilize faculty, students, and community members to assemble en mass at our university? Flashpoints are about building community through intellectual engagement via dialogue that highlights the expertise and interest of JMU faculty, as well as guest experts on given topics. Flashpoints Arab Spring, Japan, Racism, War on Women, School Violence, and others have drawn anywhere from thirty to one hundred and seventy people together to learn more about a pressing events. As the person who leads the Flashpoint program for CFI, I have attended all of them and have learned something intriguing about the topic and about the high quality of our academic community at each event. We have a rich wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise at JMU and we are well positioned to “Be the change we wish to see for the world” as Gandhi once embodied in his own life choices.

The coolest thing about the Flashpoint Series is that ideas are generated from the grassroots upward. So propose a Flashpoint topic today….

Designing Group Activities that Engage Everyone

by: Stephanie Stockwell

Ok, so you’ve come to the conclusion that incorporating team or group work into your class will enhance learning gains.  You’ve figured out the logistics—set time aside, formed teams, and mapped out grade determinations—but now what?

After attending a workshop on team learning some years ago, this is where I was left hanging.  What will my students actually DO in their teams?  How will I design or select pre-made activities what will reinforce MY course content while promoting universal engagement and the development of critical thinking and communication skills? –This is a very tall order!  Being a both-feet-in kind of person, I assured myself that I’d figure it out as I went along… and so began my experiments with what makes an effective team learning experience.  Since then, I’ve mixed literature review with lots of trial, error, creativity, and tenacity to figure out what team learning models really work in my classroom.

In the workshop, “Designing Group Activities that Engage Everyone” that I will facilitate on Thursday, February 14 and Friday, February 15, we will explore together what makes an effective group activity—and why.  I’ll walk participants through the method I’ve developed for transforming basic course concepts into learner-relevant simulation activities to promote critical thinking and content reinforcement.  Participants will apply aspects of this design process to an activity of their own.

My goal for this workshop is to arm participants with 1) a clear understanding of what makes a team activity a success, and 2) concrete strategies for how to finally tackle that inevitable question—What will my students DO?faculty_wks_series

My Exam Academic Journey

by: Carol Hurney

The other day my students took their first exam and as I watched them scratch out answers, some furiously, others tentatively, I was reminded of my academic exam journey.   As an undergraduate, exams were my thing.  I developed a rather extensive exam preparation process and it worked to perfection.  Well, most of the time…  I was an obsessive note-taker, often to the point where I wasn’t really listening or processing information, I was just writing it all down.  Then, I would backwards plan from the exam date and begin decoding and rewriting my class notes.  This is when I would read the textbook because this is when I had questions.  I would seek answers from friends and TAs but rarely from the professor.  I would write, re-write, practice problems, attend every review session offered, but I never once asked a question during class or rarely talked with my professors.  Yet, I was successful … at getting good grades.  But years later, I as sit here and watch my students taking my exam, I am not so sure how much of my coding, decoding, and note re-writing actually resulted in long term learning.  Oh I am certain that I learned some things, especially if I had reinforcement from other classes, but I am not so sure I learned things in the disciplinary areas where I only took one class.  Ah, my dilemma.  My students are non-majors and they will only take this one biology class during their college experience.  Yikes!  How do I make learning stick??  How do I promote deep approaches to learning, so that most of my students can be informed citizens and understand the role of science in their world?  Well this story starts with the exam my students are taking …

Actually it started about 12 years ago when I was watching my students take the comprehensive final exam I “wrote” using a test bank and some other resources.  I was so proud of this neat, long, multiple-choice exam.  I was even more proud that after about 20 minutes none of the students came down to tell me they had found a typo or other problem.  Oh, those were the good old days… Because right after I came down from my “happy exam cloud” I started to realize that this exam bore little resemblance to the skills I wanted my students to have 5 to 10 years down the road.  In fact, I stood there horrified with the realization that I could care less whether my students knew the answers to most of the questions on the exam.  I almost got up to grab the exams away from my students. But I didn’t.  I knew at that moment that I couldn’t fix this educational dilemma with this group of students.  But I could start with the next group of students.  And I did… So, check out my next post, where I will reflect on ways I changed the exams I gave in my non-majors course and how this process is similar to the journey many other faculty take at some point in their academic journey.  My kindred soul from the previous post will be nodding his head in support as he reads my musings… at some point we both realized that what it really means to assess student learning.

Riding the Academic Wave

by: Carol Hurney

I had a wonderful opportunity the other day to spend time talking about teaching with a kindred soul. We began our conversation getting to know each other – mostly I was interested in hearing about his 38-year teaching career at JMU. In particular, I wanted to know how this professor had fed his passion for teaching over the years and how he reacted to changes in the academy. His answers to these questions prompted both of us to spend the next hour or so reflecting on both of our teaching careers. What I soon realized was that although we taught in very different disciplines – biology and business – our careers and approaches to teaching had more in common than you might expect. Over the next few Blog posts, I will provide glimpses into his career and mine. More importantly, I hope to reveal some of the essential landmarks we each encountered on our separate journeys. Landmarks that continue to fuel our passion and marvel for the art of teaching and learning.

Let’s begin at the heart of the matter. It was clear after sharing stories about our classes and students that we really love teaching. We think that being a professor is the best career. We thrive with the freedoms, opportunities, and prospects we have as faculty even though navigating and selecting the right avenues to explore is a challenge. Early in our careers, summer teaching opportunities appealed to us financially and philosophically. Since we both love being in the classroom, summer teaching gave us more time with students, more conversations about our disciplines. At first summer teaching was a good thing. However, after spending a few years ramping up our energy to teach through the summer, we ultimately realized that summer teaching took too much out of us and left us unprepared emotionally and intellectually for the fall semester. Summer teaching may work for some faculty, but we both laughed heartily when I suggested that when I was teaching summer courses, I had no energy left to ride the big wave of excitement in the fall semester. And he wholeheartedly agreed – being a professor during the fall semester is the BEST!!! And we secretly long for it. From our vantage point teaching during the rest of the year pales in comparison to riding the big wave that hits the campus every fall. Oh yes, we also enjoy riding the spring semester wave and relish the quiet times paddling around in between semesters. But there is something special about the ebbs and flows of academic life that has helped keep both of our passions for teaching ready for the next wave of students, topics, assignments, and other surprises that we encounter in the ever-changing ocean of higher education that we live, teach, and thrive in. So, as we ease into the lull of the holiday season, we are both secretly refueling and dreaming of dusting off our textbooks and syllabi, ready to jump on to the spring semester wave with new faces, challenges, and unexpected side trips. Unexpected side trips?? More on that in my next post… Have a restful holiday. Jingle, Jingle

Why I Love Scholarship: A January Symposium Musing

by: Ed Brantmeier

I love scholarship because when doing it, I don’t feel so alone. What I mean is that when I dialogue with a community of scholars in my field, I feel connected to world of ideas, obstacles, hope, and potential. In essence, scholarship allows me to connect with great ideas and great people across space and time.

If we ask good questions, we are sent on a QUEST, a journey of loss and discovery, of knowing, of belonging, of being, of becoming. On the journey, on the quest, we encounter great challenges—not knowing, knowing too much, not knowing how or who to ask for help. In essence, we are sojourners on a quest in the face of multiple mountains and valleys. And we need guides to help us through those mountains and valleys. Good mentors on our scholarly journey allow us to ask innocent, naïve, and deep questions.

I love inquiry because it affords me the opportunity to ask big, deep questions, the kind that matter for personal and collective meaning-making. As inquirers, we measure, number, assess, probe, crunch, analyze, synthesize and in the process, we make sense and meaning of subjective truths, normative truths, and empirical truths. We understand individuals, groups, and the empirical world in new, richly complex and simply profound ways. I love scholarship because I can ask deep questions and find the methods to deepen my understanding of the answers and the further questions a good line of inquiry creates.

Come to January Symposium and continue your scholarly journey!

January Symposium 2013 – Your Scholarly Journey

by: Ed Brantmeier

Many of us need time and encouragement to pursue ongoing research and writing, to focus on a new scholarly project, or to hone our research and scholarship skills. Some of us want to network with others or to simply learn more about what our JMU colleagues are doing. Held on Thursday, January 3 and Friday, January 4 this year, the 4th annual January Symposium meets needs in various phases of your scholarly journey through programs that will help you envision your scholarly process, design your study, analyze existing results, and/or produce and publish your scholarly work.

The 2013 January Symposium features sessions on data management, scholarship agendas, understanding statistics, analyzing data, designing surveys, the institutional review board, and more. A writing lockdown or an institutional review board lockdown will provide you with space and motivation to dive into your work! Join a Voices of Scholarship lunch talk – Chris Andt, The Future of Digital Humanities: Scholarship or the Latest Fad? (1/3, 12p.m. – 1p.m.) and/or Gary Freeburg and George Johnson, An Artist’s Journey to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes (1/4, 12p.m. – 1p.m.).

The Center for Faculty Innovation is grateful to our financial sponsors this year—the Center for Instructional Technology and the Office of Research and Public Service.

We are also grateful to our authentic partners for this event: Office of Sponsored Programs, Center for Instructional Technology, JMU Learning Centers, University Writing Center, and the Center for Assessment and Research Studies.

Voices of Experience

by: Sam Prins

CFI’s Faculty Voices of Experiences (FVOE) program offers us (as faculty) a chance to listen to and learn from the experiences of our colleagues. These colleagues will speak about their own expertise and experience in teaching, scholarship and/or service. Each of the 30-45 minute academic talks (not workshops) are offered on the last Tuesday of every month beginning at 3PM.

I have heard that faculty are more likely to want to listen or make the effort to listen to experts brought in from outside their own institutions. Why is this? Experienced faculty at our own institutions are without doubt more likely to understand our institution’s culture, student body, and the current concerns/issues that we are concerned about. Is it that we think that our colleagues cannot “teach” us anything we do not already know? If so, what does that say about our own expertise?

JMU faculty have diverse areas of scholarly expertise and experience. I challenge you to come out on the last Tuesday of each month to listen to them! The upcoming schedule can be found here.