The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

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Rhetoric, Combs and Rhizomes: Q & A with Dr. Derek Hook (Part II)

hook-headshotarvin-simonby Derek Hook, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychology at Duquesne University & Arvin Simon, MA, Doctoral Student in Psychology at Duquesne University

Derek’s work focuses on psychoanalysis with expertise in the area of critical psychology and psychosocial studies. Arvin is an Instructional Consultant for Teaching Assistants at the Center for Teaching Excellence.

In response to Arvin’s generous characterization of the ‘rhizomatic’ nature of my approach to graduate teaching and in relation to his two direct questions, I (Derek Hook) would like to offer a few brief thoughts. watch

  • I am worried that I won’t have enough time to cover all the material! Is facilitating a discussion an efficient use of my lecture time?

Perhaps not always, but we could reverse the question: surely NOT facilitating a discussion in class is often a bad use of teaching time. This is often the case when the material is overly theoretical, when it contains much that is paradoxical or counter-intuitive, or simply when students (and professors!) are not sure they properly understand the texts in question. Discussions, particularly when paired with the tactic of asking students to frame the inquiry, can be a good way of ensuring that students read in the first place. Through student participation, systematic errors or questionable assumptions can be revealed, then engaged and worked with.

It is a good idea to work with ‘questions from the floor’ and use them to direct students to crucial facets of the text. ‘Preparing to be spontaneous’ is a nice oxymoronic way of framing this approach to teaching: I come prepared (perhaps with some possible talking-points, crucial debates, points of uncertainty, critical challenges, etc.), but keep these in the background until needed, precisely as a way of drawing out crucial facets from what emerges in more general discussion. I also make sure that students have access to scaffolding materials covering the main material (i.e. handouts with summaries of key arguments; schematic, diagrammatic depictions of the material; accessible secondary readings, etc.), which they have in front of them when one decides to risk a slightly more open-ended discussion. This is also the learning environment where I believe teachers learn the most; they are ‘unscripted times’ when teacher and student alike approach a set of ideas from a different set of problems or conceptual concerns.

Constantly asking for examples from students puts them to work on thinking how their lives are – in a manner of speaking – also a topic of learning.

Sometimes the best and most effective practical everyday examples of the ideas in question come from class discussions. I am always on the lookout for fresh examples of key ideas, because they are often what students remember best about a given theoretical notion. Constantly asking for examples from students puts them to work on thinking how their lives are – in a manner of speaking – also a topic of learning. It also means that the learning continues beyond the parameters of the classroom, to the movie theatre, the realm of earlier personal memories, to the realms of fiction and popular culture. Soliciting examples is a great way of prompting discussion and also, importantly, of isolating instructive counter-examples (i.e. pointing to why certain apparent ‘examples’ DON’T work).disc

  • I am concerned that if I lead discussions on difficult topics then students might get offended or offend one another. What can I do to create a conversation that does not shut people down?

in teaching, the basic unit of information should not (at graduate level, anyways) be a fact, an isolated assertion, but rather a tension, a dynamic, a contradiction, a pair of terms, a debate

Perhaps the obvious point is to concede that discussions can be a risk in certain student groups – especially when lengthy and gratuitous tangents seem a strong possibility – and yet they bring the dimension of ‘liveness’ to the classroom, and with it, a sense of the unpredictable and spontaneous. A great deal of emphasis should be placed first though on facilitating trust in a given student group, and avoiding the snooty or judgmental intellectual atmosphere and enabling an atmosphere where everyone can – and should – contribute.

One suggestion here is that in teaching, the basic unit of information should not (at graduate level, anyways) be a fact, an isolated assertion, but rather a tension, a dynamic, a contradiction, a pair of terms, a debate. This may not always be possible, but, this idea can at least frame discussions, so that views and counter-views are taught together in a way that prioritizes the spirit of intellectual debate, of hearing out, of considering unintended consequences, of Devil’s Advocate kinds of arguments. This type of framing also sometimes adds momentum to developing discussions.

It is often a very good move to acknowledge areas of uncertainty, indicating from time to time that one does not completely understand something. It lets students know that they too should be allowed to ‘think out loud’, to extrapolate, guess, take a stab at what some or other evasive or difficult conceptual formulation might mean.  If one can communicate a collaborative ethos or approach to working through materials, this often helps a great deal also. Signaling that we are explorers – and indeed, a team of explorers – of a given theory goes someway to dissipating counter-productive rivalries within a group of learners.

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Rhetoric, Combs and Rhizomes: Q & A with Dr. Derek Hook (Part I)

hook-headshotarvin-simonby Derek Hook, PhD, Associate Professor in Psychology at Duquesne University & Arvin Simon, MA, Doctoral Student in Psychology at Duquesne University

Derek’s work focuses on psychoanalysis with expertise in the area of critical psychology and psychosocial studies. Arvin is an Instructional Consultant for Teaching Assistants at the Center for Teaching Excellence.

For the past four years, I (Arvin Simon) have taken coursework towards my doctorate in clinical psychology. I have also enjoyed wonderful courses on philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Martin Buber to name a few. Each of my instructors found creative ways of presenting course material to students who did not have a background in philosophy. Dr. Derek Hook was one such instructor who stood out to me in the way he was able to lead instructional, collaborative and engaging discussions.

With Derek’s permission, I have written a reflection on how I experienced his class discussions. Derek was then invited to read my manuscript and respond with his own comments. This intertextual exchange might serve to illustrate how relations of power and knowledge were negotiated both as an object of study in our class (on Michel Foucault) and as a pedagogical discourse that was enacted between instructor and students.

My mentor, Dr. Steve Hansen, shared with me three types of conversations that can occur in a classroom.

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A comb conversation

First, there are what he called rhetorical conversations. These are basically instances where the instructor is lecturing at students without giving them the opportunity to meaningfully critique the text or initiate discussions on a topic that interests them. The second type of conversation, comb conversations, frequently occur in classes where personal material is shared. Here, the instructor invites students to respond to the text but conversations are restricted between the instructor and an individual student. Because of mutual vulnerabilities (e.g. not wanting to seem ignorant; sharing personal opinions) the student and instructor may feel safer having a private conversation in the context of a classroom discussion. The third, and most difficult type of conversation to initiate, is a rhizomatic conversation. Eponymously named, the rhizome conversation does not stay fixed between an individual student and instructor. In fact, the conversation may extend in several different directions and involve multiple layers of interactions. These conversations are geared at getting students to engage with a) the material (instructional) b) the instructor (collaborative) and c) each other (engaging). Dr. Kathryn Strom has written extensively about applying the philosophical concept of the rhizome in the classroom.

rhizomeThere were a few things that Derek did very well to create rhizome conversations.

1) He clearly modelled a willingness to learn from both the text and his students. When discussing difficult passages of text, Derek wondered aloud about the ambiguities and contradictions in the text and even shared his own uncertainties as to the meanings. He invited us to collaboratively engage with him in making sense of dense material while also scaffolding our hermeneutics within social and historical contexts. This is consistent with rhizomatic conversations that aim to be transparent about the way that knowledge is formulated and the effects that it has within academia and the broader social-cultural context.

2) By incorporating written reflections with close, textual analysis Derek was able to invite students who would not ordinarily speak in class to share their thoughts. Derek seemed to always hear student opinions in a generous light and recognized that we might not be experts on the material but we had very worthy ideas that could be fruitfully related to the class. Rhizomatic conversations are horizontal (vs. hierarchical, vertical) in nature and invite collaborative and open-ended inquiry into complex subject matter where linear, authoritative knowledge is often subjective or incomplete.

3) Derek encouraged us to make the material our own by relating it to examples of our own clinical work or scholarship. Rhizomatic conversations are often interdisciplinary and recognize multiple intersecting lines (e.g. politics, economics, ecology) that each bring a different perspective to bear.

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Part I of this post concludes by inviting Derek to respond, in Part II, to two common concerns instructors might have in leading rhizomatic conversations:

  • I am worried that I won’t have enough time to cover all the material! Is facilitating a discussion an efficient use of my lecture time?
  • I am concerned that if I lead discussions on difficult topics then students might get offended or offend one another. What can I do to create a conversation that does not shut people down?


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Using Academic Posters in the Classroom

by Steven A. Perry, PhD student in Systematic Theology at Duquesne University. His work focuses on theological anthropology and the intersection betwheadshot-2een theology and contemporary life.

Ask the typical college student today about their media intake and you will get a bevy of responses: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix…and the list goes on.

Technology has become ubiquitous in our society. A quick glance at the modern college classroom shows that instructors have a DVD player, a computer and/or a projector at their disposal.  However, these teaching tools only become useful if we use them wisely.  The question for the contemporary educator is this: how can we capitalize on our students’ media savvy to engage the content and skills of our course? While the pervasiveness of technology presents new challenges to the pedagogical task (ah hem…cell phones anyone?), I believe one way teachers can tap into their students’ digital aptitude is by assigning academic poster projects in the classroom.perry-poster

Images are powerful—and educators can capitalize on students’ creative impulses by inviting them to put their digital skills to work in the service of their grades.

Academic posters offer students the opportunity to apply their aesthetic sensibility and mental acuity to a specific research problem. By choosing thought-provoking course material and encouraging students to ask questions, educators can position the academic poster assignment to be a significant form of active learning. The advantage is that it forces students to present their ideas visually. Translating ideas from simple text into an interactive format requires a strong grasp of the research question and fosters critical thinking skills.

Interaction can take multiple forms: the presenter and people viewing the poster can engage the ideas together.  The poster can also open up interactive media capabilities, for example, through QR codes enabling viewers to view a related video on their own device.

Done well, the act of creating an academic poster necessitates that students ask deeper questions. As a bonus, students can submit their course work to research symposia or conferences.  Academic posters have become common in humanities conferences in recent years, influenced in part by the sciences.  These visual displays of learning can tap into students’ natural media instincts.

Assigning as part of a final research paper or project the requirement for students to visually present their findings in front of the class helps students develop real world skills for the workplace. Presenting and organizing information by communicating through images and text gives students the opportunity to take research and make it their own—putting their own unique stamp on issues presented in the class. Utilizing PowerPoint as a simple presentation format or even poster boards with text boxes and pictures cut out and pasted can help students avoid the pricey printing fees of producing one large poster.

Using academic posters in the classroom helps students learn to communicate visually in an image-dominant culture. If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then it is vital for us teach our students when and how to use the right ones.

Student experience

by Emtinan Alqurashi, doctoral candidate, Instructional Technology and Leadership at Duquesne University.  Her research interests include onlineemtinan-alqurashi-headshot teaching and learning, students’ learning experience, and instructional technology.

As a student, I created an academic poster presentation in the Qualitative Research course (Education, Duquesne University). In order to prepare for the poster research presentation, students were asked to write and submit four draft sections for review and feedback.

  1. Title and brief description
  2. Introduction and literature review
  3. Entire draft
  4. Final proposal and poster presentation

My project, “An analysis of motivational beliefs, expectancies, and goals and their impact on learners’ satisfaction in online learning environments in higher education,” focused on students’ online learning experience with an emphasis on self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, goal setting and their relation to student satisfaction. I went on to present this poster at the 2015 International Education Conference in Orlando.  The course assignment had prepared me for this opportunity.  alqurashi-poster-title-abstract

The benefit of the poster session as a final assignment is that students are forced to think critically and get feedback to improve their ideas, research questions, methodology, analysis, and more. Preparing a visual presentation that summarizes written research is not a skill that students come with; I had to learn how to visually present my learning.  The peer interaction helps you see how far can you take your idea, that your idea may need a twist, maybe the problem is not clear, or there’s related research you didn’t know about. Also, by listening tocam05569 other presentations, you learn to improve your own research skills and knowledge.

The poster presentation helped me not only to develop a strong research proposal, but also gave me the chance to interact with peers, talk about my research, and receive constructive feedback.

Examples and tips on making academic posters:

  1. Duquesne University Undergraduate Research Symposium  http://www.duq.edu/research/student-research/undergraduate-research/urss
  2. NYU Library: How to Create a Research Poster: Poster Basics  http://guides.nyu.edu/posters
  1. YouTube Video: How to create a Poster in PowerPoint  https://youtu.be/1c9Kd_mUFDM

 

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Creating a Welcoming Classroom Community

by Deborah Scigliano, Ed.D., Department of Foundations and Leadership, School of Education, Duquesne Universityscigliano-headshot

Setting the tone for learning is important to creating the most effective learning environment possible. We are more motivated to learn when we feel connected to the instructor and class colleagues. This applies face-to-face as well as online. Indeed, online courses need special attention to make sure all students feel connected. Here are some ideas to spark your inner learning host.

Before students arrive, send them a welcome email. Let them know a bit about their upcoming course. More importantly, let them know how glad you are that you will be learning together.

Welcome messages are an engaging way to greet students before the class begins on the first day and before each subsequent class or unit. In face-to-face classes write a message either on the whiteboard or a slide to welcome students and set a focus for the class. In Duquesne’s Flex Tech classrooms, students can see the message at their own learning group table.

To welcome students in an online course, record an audio welcome message or post a visual welcome message on the course site. Be sure to emphasize the welcome and leave the “nuts and bolts” to another message.

Warm-ups are short ways to get to know one another. They provide a transition from where students were before class started to where they are now going to be in class. They serve as “head-clearers” as well as community builders.

Examples of warm-ups: tell 3 things about your day, what is your favorite _______? and the ever-popular M & M warm-up. The M & M warm-up involves passing around a bag of M & M’s and inviting each person to take as many as they want. To a hungry student, this sounds great! Those who are new to this warm-up often take a handful.  scigliano-mmNext, each person needs to say one positive thing about themselves for each M & M. That is when the whole-handful people tend to regret their decision because they find it difficult to identify that many positive attributes in themselves. However, it is a great way to learn about the people in the class, including the instructor. Also, it encourages people to think about the qualities that they have. This is not an easy reflection. We tend to see our flaws much more readily than our gifts.

The M & M warm-up can be adapted to online use.  One week, ask each student to pick a number from one to ten. The next week, ask each student to post as many positive qualities as the number they selected. To encourage online learners to read the qualities of their class colleagues, have a Treasure Hunt where students gather one treasure from each student and instructor to compile a list of the qualities participants bring to the group.

Whether you teach face-to-face or online, be sure your students know you are glad they are hescigliano-flextech-message-welcomere. Design opportunities to learn about each class member in order to build a welcoming classroom community.

Here’s wishing you a year full of learning that is welcoming and includes opportunities to learn more about your classroom community!

Bio: Dr. Scigliano teaches in the School of Education, Department of Foundations and Leadership. Her research interests include telementoring, online learning, self-efficacy, and peer coaching. Creating a classroom community, in face-to-face and online classes, is a priority in her teaching.


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SCALE: Small Changes Advancing LEarning

by Laurel Willingham-McLain, Director, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University laurel-2013

At a recent faculty reception, a colleague recounted how a simple change he had made in his teaching was making a big difference for both him and his students. He had been experimenting with ways for students to “internalize” the content by describing a related personal experience and noting personal lessons they had learned.  Students find it an engaging learning experience and seem to like relating and contributing to the course content, he told me.

Another faculty colleague and I have been chatting about how she has begun using exam wrappers to help students learn from the exam experience itself and take more responsibility for their learning.

These are just two examples of “small” approaches that are known to deepen student learning.

At CTE (Duquesne), we will be focusing on small teaching approaches through an initiative called SCALE: Small Changes Advancing LEarning.

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We are inspired by many colleagues, but in particular by James Lang’s Small Changes in Teaching series, and his book, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (2016). Using a “small ball” metaphor from baseball, Lang  writes, “I became convinced… that fundamental pedagogical improvement was possible through incremental change—in the same way that winning the World Series was possible through stealing bases and hitting sacrifice fly balls” (p. 5).  Lang offers well researched teaching approaches that require minimal preparation and grading and can be adapted by teachers in varied contexts.  They take three basic forms:

  • Brief (5-10 minute) classroom or online learning activities
  • One-time interventions in a course
  • Small modifications in course design or communication with students

Stay tuned for CTE Small Teaching book studies over the next few semesters.

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Another example of small teaching is the “transparent assignment design,” promoted by Mary-Ann Winkelmes and colleagues in the Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project.  Their research shows demonstrable gains in learning, especially among underserved student populations, when faculty simply revise course assignments to clearly articulate purpose, task, and criteria.  Dr. Winkelmes led Duquesne faculty in a hands-on workshop in April 2016, and the video and materials are available online (with a Duquesne multipass).  CTE offers an adapted version of this workshop again on September 28, 2016.

Finally, we are drawing on AAC&U research of ten high-impact practices and their common key elements.  On September 16, AAC&U Vice President, Terrel Rhodes, will present an open session for faculty and graduate students TAs titled, Better Together: Highly Effective Practices for Engaged Learning (Read more here).

Join us in discovering the power of small changes in teaching and learning that are:

  • Known to benefit students equitably
  • Achievable by instructors in varied contexts
  • Open to creativity
  • Based on principles of learning


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Have a Great Summer

 

Thanks to everyone who wrote for, commented on, or simply read and enjoyed our blog throughout the academic year! We are taking a break for the summer but The Flourishing Academic will resume posts as of August 22nd, 2016.


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Representation Matters

IMG_4948by Taylor Cavalovitch, a recent graduate from Duquesne University’s School of Education. Taylor was this year’s recipient of the Award for Undergraduate Research offered through the Center for Teaching Excellence.  He was recognized for is research project, “Representation Matters: How Representation in Children’s Literature Influences Children of Different Ethnicities,” presented at the 2016 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium.

Representation Matters

In a society where all students are subjected to watching and reading the same stories about white men, why and how can educators break past this single story narrative and share the manifold stories of our diverse student population? As a future educator, I have seen firsthand the lack of a diverse curriculum being taught in our schools. Through this realization and reflecting on my own schooling, I wanted to gain insight on how I can better serve my students, understanding that they too come from various backgrounds.  With the help of my professor, Dr. Sandra Quiñones, I was able to develop an action research project that I hoped would improve the engagement of a student from a non-dominant population. The idea for this project was cultivated over the course of an eight-week field placement in a first grade classroom at a suburban Pittsburgh school.

Through my initial observations, I noticed that my host teacher was selecting literature that represented the dominant population: the white students. While this was not a conscious decision my host teacher made, I could tell that three students who were part of non-dominant groups, Venezuelan, Korean, and Chinese, were tired of hearing the stories of one group. In particular, I noticed that my student participant, the student from Venezuela, was much more disengaged than his fellow classmates. I believed it was because this was his first year in the United States and his first experience being under-represented in a classroom. To test my hunch that under-representation and internalized oppression might be the reason for his disengagement, I showed my student participant two pictures, one of Joe Biden and the other of Leopoldo López, and asked him who he thought the smart man was. He selected Joe Biden; although, he was unable to provide a rational reason for his selection.

To positively impact his engagement and self-perception, I decided to read children’s literature that represented this student during the read-aloud portion of the day. As I was searching for appropriate literature, I found texts about Venezuelan culture but had difficulty finding a text that focused on a Venezuelan main character. Therefore, I decided to select the children’s book Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales; a book about a boy from Mexico pretending to wrestle his toys as his twin sisters slept. I thought this title would be a perfect choice due to it mostly being about the imagination of a young boy. However, I did make the decision to adapt the book to make the boy from Venezuela instead of Mexico. During my reading, the student was unable to take his eyes off me. When I asked a discussion question, his hand was the first hand raised.

The following week, I decided to read the book Dream Carver by Diana Cohn; once again, I needed to adapt this book to better represent my student participant. As with my previous read-aloud, the student was much more engaged with the text because the book acted as a mirror, my student participant could see himself in the text.  I then revisited my “Who is smarter?” question. This time, however, he selected Leopoldo López to be the smarter man. I believe that since my student participant was able to see himself represented in the classroom, he then in turn believed that Leopoldo López could be smarter than Joe Biden. My student participant and I developed what I would call an authentic relationship, because he could tell that I took a genuine interest in his culture; therefore, validating his existence in the classroom.

But my student participant was not the only one who benefited from this exposure these books. The other students were able to experience a perspective other than their own, and truly appreciate a different story. I believe that representation encompasses many facets of students’ lives: their linguistic and cultural background, gender identity, sexuality, differences in physical and mental abilities, family dynamics, etc. No student should feel lesser because they may appear to be different. As educators it is our responsibility to value and validate each and every one of our students. Representation matters, and it does play a pivotal role in students’ self-worth and engagement.