Posts Tagged ‘Education’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

About a month ago, Salon.com ran a video/story that depicted today’s college students in a pretty negative light.  As explained in the short article beneath the video, a group of politically active students went around Texas Tech University asking their classmates simple questions about American history.  ‘Who won the Civil War’, ‘Who did downloadAmerica gain it’s independence from?’, ‘When did we gain our independence?’ and ‘Who is the Vice President of the US?’ were a couple of these softballs.  It wouldn’t be newsworthy if the students answered correctly, so you can guess how they responded. In the hyperbolic language of the Facebook scroll, Salon by-lined the video by warning it’s readers that it would be ‘the most terrifying thing you will see today’.

Now as a history teacher, I am appalled that any American over the age 12, much less college students, would not know these simple facts. But I try to keep an important point in mind: This video is edited to peddle the groups’ agenda.  As Stephen Colbert illustrated in his mocking of a similar series of videos done by Fox News, you really need to take these experiments with a grain of salt. People seem to love laughing at their fellow citizens’ ignorance, so, of course, you only see the most blatantly absurd respondents. But how many of the people asked these questions actually know the answers (what percentage is that?), and hence, don’t get on camera, compared to the ones who did not know the answers (the minority?).  We never will get the true numbers, and so we are left believing Americans are the most laughably ignorant of people.

And it is comedic. The students and Bill O’Reilly have political points to make, but as far as I know, Jay Leno’s ‘Tonight Show’ was the first to really practice these question/answer maxresdefaultsessions with unsuspecting strangers.  His cringe-worthy experiment of interviewing ignorant Americans has been taken up recently by Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show. Interestingly though, the fact that these skits are so popular and funny illustrate an important paradox. The audience find humor in these videos because we understand how absurd it is to not know these facts; in other words, the majority of the audience know the right answer to these questions, and can laugh at those who do not. If the audience was similarly clueless as the interviewees, these videos wouldn’t be entertaining.

So, these videos are no big whoop, right?  Not so fast! As I ponder these interviews, I find something much more disturbing than the obliviousness of a couple poor rubes.  I ask myself: Why is it a sign of historical intelligence to simply restate facts? Why do millions of viewers believe knowing trivia makes you ‘smart’, or well-versed in history?  What is the end-game here?

These videos hint at a much more important issue; the ignorance of the interviewees are not nearly as troubling as the assumptions made by the questioners, and thus, their audience. Jimmy Kimmel and the sunglass-wearing college girl asking questions are only symptomatic of our education culture.  Their concern with rote memorization and trivial fact retention are central to our education system, where test results are all that matter.  These results have come at the expense of understanding larger processes. We ask, ‘what were your test scores’. We rarely ask, ‘do you actually understand the subject that you were tested upon?’

In the study of history, such quantification of ‘knowledge’ is inherently destructive. When history results are graphed by the number of facts you can remember, the meaning of the subject has lost MTE4MDAzNDEwNjEwMzI1MDA2it’s central importance. Think about it: If these kids knew who won the Civil War, would it be all that edifying in regards to their knowledge regarding the event?  If they could identify a picture of James Madison, would that tell us anything in regards to their ability to be good ‘citizens’?  This seems to be the notion behind such recorded questionnaires.  If you can recognize Madison, if you can say who won the Civil War, if you can identify what country America gained independence from, then you are one of the enlightened, and our education system is working. But, this is a ridiculous assumption.  Rote memorization or facial recognition does little to illustrate your understanding of a topic.

I have an anecdote I like to tell my students that illustrates my point.

I took American history in 11th grade.  My history teacher was fine. He was funny, and the-elusive-gettysbur-newh1jpg-bb1c896ba697396dlikable. But, his notions of what proved your knowledge of history was sometimes questionable. For instance, in his course, each student was required to memorize an important speech that shaped American History.  Like many others, I recited the Gettysburg Address.  One day, I sat at his desk and repeated verbatim the words of Lincoln’s revolutionary 2 minute masterpiece.  I did this with no hesitation, and knew every word, and hence, I received an A on the assignment.  Repetition was the only thing necessary for memorization. Memorization was the only thing necessary for an A.

Though I was able to repeat Lincoln’s political poetry back word for word, I actually gained no understanding as to why the words were so important!  My teacher never dealt with WHY Lincoln’s call for a ‘second birth of freedom’ was radical in comparison to the first ‘four score and seven years’ of the American Republic. For that A,  I recited each word robotically. I was asked to be an automaton, and automatons don’t make ‘good citizens’.  Not until college did I realize that history is not only about the who, what and when questions. The litany of facts mean little compared to understanding the larger concerns: HOW and WHY.  Like so many American school kids, I rarely got either.

This is why if I had a student who showed up on one of Jimmy Kimmel’s or Bill O’Reilly’s videos, I wouldn’t really care if they could not tell you when the Civil War ended. But, I would hope beyond hope that he would be able to explain to the interviewer why it was fought.  I am sure such critical explication wouldn’t make for the greatest news blurb for viewers to laughingly cringe at, but it would be much more telling of the interviewee’s knowledge.

 

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By Ellen Mannos, Career Management Faculty/Curriculum Chair. 

Dear Students,

In ancient Greek times, learning existed in the streets  of Piraeus where you would have found Socrates roaming around encouraging youthful inquiring minds to think, question and argue. A more modern day version of this collective gathering would have existed,  for example, during the 60’s and 70’s where a cluster of  students could be found sitting on a floor outside an overcrowded classroom, or standing in the back of that  classroom at Loyola University. There, students would have been listening to a certain Professor Szemler, sans PowerPoint, notes or book, preaching of Ancient and Medieval  History and his own personal flee from Hungary in the 1950’s; executed in mesmerizing, operatic, and lyrical non-stop fashion fully armed with historical knowledge;  in live performance never to be duplicated through podcast. He may have opened with something like, ”ladies and gentlemen, what is the etymological meaning of the word Pleistocene”, after which you knew you were on a wild adventure. Intense discussion  would have taken place afterwards across the street at Connelly’s Bar over freshly brewed beer accompanied by cage-free organic hard-boiled eggs.

Today, you can now “toadie” on up to suite 624, circle on to your left and head east slowly toward the desks of Professors 25197_1299799297567_2935835_n (1)Michael Stelzer Jocks and Peter Stern for yet another kind of adventure.  Just follow the smells of the ”specials of the day” coming from either Stelzer-Jocks’ organic cumin infused home grown barley-quinoa dish, or Stern’s leftover bone-in boutique cut veal chop with wild dandelion greens! (and the Michelin award goes to….)

Ah, but listen carefully – so put down your smart phones, please! You’ll hear them discuss the WW2 Battles of Kursk, Normandy or Stalingrad, or observe them watching some old photofootage of Russian Cossack’s,  accompanied by a background of a Fredrick Chopin piano concerto which captures  the then reality of historical pain & suffering.

Periodically, of course,  Professors Stern and Stelzer Jocks would get up from their seats, stretch a bit and  head  due west to Professor Paul Gaszak’s desk for an impromptu discussion on sports where you might hear something as exhausting as listening to Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” , only  the topic would be  – “Das Deflatable  Football”.

So, whoever said a liberal arts education is dead has not meandered up to Suite 624. But, ya gotta’ put your smart phones down, dear students………or you’ll miss the performances. Oh, and bring your lunch. There’s  plenty of soft seating, tables, kossaksand ottomans; and you just might learn something about the “Ottoman Empire”, listen to a little Chopin in the background, watch the Cossacks on video crossing over to Istanbul, hear the discussions, friendly disagreements; and yes, even professors inquire about things they don’t’ know.  After all, is not learning that which you do not know or question?

So put down your smart phones – please!  Oh, and forget the elevator and take the stairs! If you question what all this has to do with your degrees in computer networking, sports fitness, medical assisting, pharm tech, etc., then you’d better run up those stairs. Come on, be a Spartan!

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I’ve been thinking about circles lately, those of man-made origin, built to provide a place for interaction, engagement, and celebration. The mystical togetherness inherent in the circle pervades all cultures and traditions.bonfire

 

 

A circle promotes intimacy

A circle promotes unity

A circle promotes equality

 

 

While I’ve been busy training to be a conservatory docent, a separate group has been training at The Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, an impressive outdoor space complete with a “Council Ring,” a circular meeting space modeled on Native American custom and reminiscent of many highly fraught, circular gathering spots in the woods I frequented in my youth.

CouncilRing

I encountered wonderful, glorious campfire traditions as a girl at YMCA sleep-away and Girl Scout camp. Fortunately, my family’s home also had a generous property that allowed for bonfire parties throughout our later school years, which between me and my six siblings lasted about three decades.

La_danseMatisse

La danse (I), by Henri Matisse

The circle remains ever-present in interactions with my family and friends. On Christmas, we (Mom, four sisters, two brothers, four brothers-in-law, two sisters-in-law, ten nieces and five nephews and I) form a circle, hold hands, and pause to give thanks and ask for future blessings: a phenomenal moment, imperfect though it may be. All of my friend groups form circles, around countless tables, on a thousand dance floors. Many of my favorite friend circles are shaped by folding chairs pulled together on a lawn, ideally with a fire pit at the center.

When I think like a teacher (which I frequently do), I know circles encourage engagement and provide a powerful tool for education.

I’m launching a seriously fabulous class this term, Summer 1, 2014, at RMU. The class is terrific largely because the students are willing to get into a circle and discuss ideas. Therein lays all the great mysteries of meaningful human interaction: cooperation and communication.

More important than all of the lofty, grandiose promises of the circle is students’ willingness to participate. If students don’t show up, really show up—physically and intellectually—learning just will not happen.

Engaged RMU Students!

My RMU Students engaging in conversation!

Thus, I ask my students to get into a circle, to join the circle, to make a circle: all requests for their active involvement. Teachers need students to join in the process to make education happen. When students comply, when they truly form a circle, a “community of scholars” as I have come to call it, I gratefully seize the opportunity to enjoy the pinnacle of shared experiences, honest dialogue undertaken with the intent of mutual understanding. Another mystical moment, brought about through the magic of the earliest of human knowledge, sensing in that circle, we can all belong, we can all be heard.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I’m over 30 and I still eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. I like them. They’re delicious, cheap, and easy.

To make one, I follow a routine: first I place two slices of bread on the plate with the bottom edges touching, then I spread the peanut butter onto one slice.

PBJ

When I first started making PB&J by myself as a kid, my next step was to clean the knife off with paper towel so I wouldn’t get any peanut butter in the jelly jar. Then I would spread the jelly, slap the bread together, cut it in half, and enjoy.

My mom eventually took notice of this routine and stopped me as I went to clean the knife. To save me time, and to keep me from wasting all the paper towel, she instructed me to simply wipe the knife on the clean, soon-to-be-jellied slice.

So I did. Voila. Clean knife. No paper wasted.

This was revolutionary peanut butter & jelly engineering. It was the best thing since sliced bread, happening ON sliced bread.

My little mind was blown.

More than 20 years later, I remember that moment every time I wipe the knife on the bread.

It certainly wasn’t the biggest or most important lesson I learned from my parents; it wouldn’t even sniff the top 10. But as we navigate our lives through education, milestones, and epiphanies, it is nice to remember that the tiniest slice of a moment can teach us a lesson that lasts forever.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Here is the dark secret of the crisis in higher education: many students just don’t put forth the effort required to succeed.

Writing the above makes me a little nervous, mostly because implying that students are anything but ideal causes concern, raises Imageeyebrows, suggests insensitivity. Often at the end of the term, professors are asked to explain why a certain percentage of students failed to successfully complete the class. The reasons are contained in this post. In fifteen years as a college instructor, I have never failed a student who did the work and came to class. Never. Success and failure is the direct result of student work. If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. The 21st century world requires a complex network of knowledge and skills, and too many students are failing behind of their own volition.

There are critical skills for success in academic life, and all professors routinely attempt to impress upon their students the vital behaviors for scholastic achievement. Recently, I created a “Student Empowerment Treatise” that I distribute and discuss at the beginning of the term in all my classes. Item #2 reads, “I understand that if I fulfill the required assignments and attend and participate in class, I can expect to earn a C or better in class.” Therein lays the mystery of success: show up and do the work.

I can encourage students to wake up in the morning, but they themselves must use their own power to get out of bed, and undertake whatever it is they hope to accomplish. I want my students to learn, but they alone must do the work of learning.

Attending class

I was fortunate that when I went off to college, I had six older siblings who shared with me the paramount importance of going to class. Students who attend class regularly succeed at a much higher rate. Also, it is likely that if students come to class, they actually might learn something interesting, or meet someone exciting, or hear about an event on campus, or any other wonderful occurrence that is directly tied to actively engaging in education.

 Focusing in class

Many of my more generous colleagues will blame themselves for students’ inattention, striving to be more charming or inventive. I strive to be entertaining and student-centered, but the notion that learning can always be fun is simply ridiculous. Learning is complicated, and frequently arduous. Granted, it is hard to pay attention, but accomplishing anything requires focus. Even doing the dishes entails addressing the nature and scope of the task at hand. When a student forces himself or herself to pay attention to what is going on in the lecture, the text, or the discussion, he or she is exerting the self-discipline necessary to realizing any goal.

Completing course work

These are the smaller tasks that involve the practice of skills associated with a subject or discipline. These are assignments for whichImage a student can earn 100% just for completing the work. The work need not be perfect or completely correct. It just needs to be done. Each week, there are typically short readings assigned, Discussion Board posts related to readings, and in-class written responses on a variety of topics, either covered in lectures or other content areas. If I did the statistical analysis of the percentage of students who actually accomplish these weekly tasks, it would be horrifying.

Submitting projects on time

Each term, a few large projects are assigned per course. The nature of these projects depends on the class, but all courses require larger, more polished work that illustrates an advanced understanding of central skills and concepts. For example, HUM 120 (Introduction to Literature), consists of three course sections: poetry, short fiction, and drama. Each segment of the course culminates in an essay, exam, or presentation. I do not take late work (unless there is a documented illness) mostly because it would devastate my own grading schedule to let students submit work whenever they wish to do so. To those students who protest that they have paid for the class and should be able to submit late work, I remind them that simply purchasing a plane ticket does not guarantee the plane won’t leave without them if they fail to show up on time. Deadlines are a part of every endeavor, and time management is expected in every professional field.

Using available resources

There are scores of people working at every college in the United States whose job it is to help students in every possible way. There are tutors, administrators, librarians, advisors, counselors, coaches, and professors who are present throughout the week for consultation. Students who utilize the available resources quickly learn that spending thirty minutes with any one of these mentors can radically improve their understanding. I wish more students utilized support services.

Persevering, even when faced with difficult challenges and unthinkable obstacles

Students face day-to-day struggles that make completing studies extremely difficult, which is always the case for everyone. Every student endures a unique set of hardships. College graduates are those individuals who found the power within to complete coursework despite the overwhelming challenges that are a part of life.

I’ve Been There; I’m Still Here

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I learned to practice the behaviors associated with scholastic advancement. I was not a perfect student; I struggled in many classes; I earned bad grades; I went to tutoring. All of my skills improved with time. My academic performance developed as my professors continually pressured me to create meaningful work. I hope my current work in the classroom serves the same fundamental purpose. I do not expect my students to be perfect learners. However, I hope my students begin to achieve their highest potential through consistent and significant effort.

As long as I am teaching, I will continue to require the practice of the fundamentals of academic success in the hopes that students are listening. There are two more ideas I share with my students on the first day of class.

I tell them, “I want you to thrive.”

I also entreat them to stop considering higher education something they buy; a product-based description is scarcely useful. I do not want them to invest in an education.

I say, “Invest in Yourself.”

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I’ve taught thousands of students over my fifteen years of teaching. I’ve forgotten nearly all of their names. If they remember my name, I’d be surprised. I’d rather them remember something I taught them, though I prefer the verb “share” to describe what happens in the classroom because share is the most accurate verb for what teaching encompasses. Teachers share their passion, their intensity, their curiosity, their perspective, and their (frequently groan-worthy) jokes. Teaching is the act of sharing ideas—a wonderfully generous act, and teachers devote their lives to it. Teachers share facts, information, and, ideally, knowledge. How magnificent that ideas are not depleted but expanded through the act of sharing. Ideas are meant to be taken and shared, like bread passed along and across an endless table filled with teachers and learners.

I think about the countless ideas shared with me over the years by my patient, brilliant teachers, my talented, supportive colleagues, and my engaged, enthusiastic students. One of the most fantastic aspects of my teaching career is Teach-New-Conceptsthe time spent with students. What a fantastic way to spend the day, surrounded by unique individuals who challenge and surprise and delight me every day. My students push me to explain myself more clearly, to think from a different perspective; my students bring new, unexpected ideas and experiences to the classroom. My students regularly make me laugh. My students are generous, and I gain an immense amount through knowing them. I elicit book, film, and music recommendations.  Some students have offered even more amazing treasures. An eager student in my literature class created compilation CD’s to accompany his essays on Kafka and Existentialism. One student was inspired by my poetry lessons and wrote a sonnet (a sonnet!). Since college terms move quickly (especially at RMU), the years and students cycle by me at an alarming rate. I will encounter students and assume a year has passed, only to learn they have already finished graduate school. Some things that my students have shared with me in the past have become a part of my courses. One remarkable idea—a gift from a student whose name I have forgotten—continues to inform my teaching and learning: “Progress is success.”

I’m lucky to be a teacher, happy to be a teacher. One of my favorite “games” to play when I was young was “school.” My older sister Theresa pretended to be the teacher while I was the diligent student, listening attentively, working hard. Was that nature or nurture at play? In any case, I have spent the majority of my life happily learning, reading, and writing. I talk to my students about the necessity of investing in themselves. When teachers do all the things that make teaching—that is, sharing ideas—possible, we are investing in the education process. I believe in education as a means of individual and, consequentially, social empowerment.

There is nothing better than a good day teaching. A good day teaching is wildly exhilarating; it is a ride on a luck dragon

“A good day teaching” is about one thing: connectivity. I am overly fond of quotes, especially the simple, beautiful command from E. M. Foster to “only connect.”  A good day teaching is about confluence and culmination and ultimately an arrival at a point of connection between ideas and people that results in insight. This moment of insight sparks a remarkable phenomenon: the student’s face will actually, noticeably light up (and what a lovely light).

“We do not remember days, we remember moments,” says Italian writer Cesare Pavese.  And so it is that “a good day teaching” consists merely of moments. A good day at school has been captured in many inspiring films. I’ve cried watching every one of those films which elevate the classroom experience, but the subtle accomplishments in the excellent documentary The Class reveal a more perfect truth. Extraordinary moments of learning are fleeting, like the sighting of a rare a astonishing bird. In reality, “a good day teaching” entails, perhaps, one brief hour on the luck dragon, the other seven hours  (or more) are spent preparing course materials, reading ancillary documents, researching curriculum, grading assignments, updating course materials, attending meetings, holding office hours, and other necessary aspects of education.  This does not mean that all the other aspects of teaching are drudgery. They are the things that must be done in order to get a ticket for a brief, yet glorious ride.

by Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty & Chair of the Sustainability Council

“Education should reflect the world we live in.” Who said that? Some famous educator? A successful business person? Oh, it obviously comes from the back wall in Room 303, right?

Nope. It was said by my student, Kayla Moore.

This quarter, I’m doing something new. Not because I, as a professional educator, thought of something new to do with all of my “education” or “experience.” Not because I read about it in a pedagogical periodical or went to a brown bag workshop or webinar. I’m doing something new because my student, Kayla Moore, approached me and said. “I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about education. It must be changed and I think I know how to do it!” Now, as the “professor” in this situation, my professionally acceptable responses would be as follows:

(1) “Well, focus on graduating first. Answer all of the questions, write all of the papers, and take all of the tests, then we’ll talk.” [Subtext: “Think the way I want you to first. Then, and only then, should you start thinking differently.”]

(2) “Change education? You need to be formally educated to understand what needs to change in education!” [Subtext: “Join us here in ‘the system.’ You’ll see.”]

(3) “That’s nice, dear.” [Subtext: “That’s nice, dear.”]

I’m a professor, right? I’m supposed to be doing the educating. I’m supposed to have the answers. I’m supposed to teach my students how to, when to, and what to think, right? Before you quickly (and smugly) claim “I don’t teach them what to think! I teach them critical thinking!” (as I did), consider these ideas, that I’ve been lucky enough to explore with Kayla in our independent study this quarter:

We’ve explored different “landscapes” for education, instead of the classroom.

We’ve explored teaching students to think of terms in the unexpected, instead of anticipating “what’s on the test”.

We’ve explored embracing social media and welcoming it in the classroom, instead of forcing students into a “phone-free” zone.

We’ve explored technology in a way that pushes education forward, letting it evolve into something beyond software that prevents “cheating” and facilitates “course management.”

We’ve explored changing the focus of education from “They need to get these ‘fundamentals’ down,” to “They need to learn how to innovate and develop new ‘fundamentals’ themselves.”

We’ve explored switching up the teacher-student relationship, and that is exactly what happened for me with this experience. I’ve learned that I don’t have all of the answers, or the best career advice, or the right opinion to hold. I’ve learned that there are innovative ways to get students engaged (like microblogging! Yes, Tweeting, in class!). I’ve learned that there are different ways for me to share the awesome stuff that I learn with my students (by interacting with them through social bookmarking, like we are peers who respect each other or something. Imagine that!)

I, a “professional educator,” have learned more about educating from my weekly discussions with Kayla than I have from most of my 11 years of experience because, for once, I relinquished the control.  I didn’t set up “objectives” or “learning outcomes” or “assignments” or “tests” for this independent study. I invited my colleagues to join in our conversation and (gasp) learn from Kayla’s insights as well (Thanks, Paul Gaszak, Gerry Dedera, and Tricia Lunt!). Instead of “teaching” her, I let Kayla’s ideas guide us, and she will be ending this quarter with an active blog on innovative thinking, a video that communicates her blog and draws the world to her ideas, a thesis that is evolving as we speak, focused on changing the educational system to help students become innovative and creative thinkers, on using what she calls “Academic Networking” to get students to learn in ways that mimic the world they have embraced and live in, and a formal plan and proposal for educators, to help us decide that, even though we are the “professionals,” it is time for US to get inspired: to let our students lead the way.