The Flourishing Academic

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


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Happy New Year…

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Erin Rentschler, Center for Teaching Excellence
at Duquesne University

 

It’s not too late to wish everyone a happy new year, right? Of course not, especially with the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat being celebrated this week.  My children and I are learning together about this festival. Tu B’Shevat, also called the New Year for Trees, celebrates the initial awakening of the earliest blooming trees, which have been dormant in the winter. It provides an opportunity to appreciate what the trees provide us: beauty, clean air, fruit — the list goes on. While we in Pittsburgh are still very much in the thick of winter whites and greys, thinking of the green that will emerge in the months ahead is energizing. After the hustle and bustle of the winter holidays and the start of a new semester, reflecting on what is to come can help put and keep our goals in perspective. The buds on the trees will surface and we will celebrate the longer, sunnier days;  however, pausing to think about that eventual emergence is pretty inspiring, too.

Don’t worry — The Flourishing Academic won’t be dormant for too long. We’re on a break right now as we at CTE settle into our new location in Duquesne’s Fisher Hall (where we have a view of the trees gearing up for the spring from our new conference room!).

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a sneak peek of CTE’s new space!

We are also busy preparing for this semester’s micro-workshops and for the first Pittsburgh Regional Faculty Symposium on Friday, March 16, 2018. In April, we’ll be ready for our annual Celebration of Teaching Excellence, where we recognize winners of teaching awards for faculty and graduate students, recipients of the Certificate of University Teaching, workshop presenters, committee members, faculty near-peer mentors, blog writers, and orientation volunteers. Checking out the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Research and Scholarship Symposiums is on our agenda, too.

These upcoming events are comparable to seeing those beautiful trees in bloom, as this is a time to showcase and appreciate the hard work of our faculty and students alike.

It’s an exciting year ahead, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

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Winter Break: Rediscovering What Brings You Joy

Steve-Hansen-Duquesne-2016

 

by Steve Hansen, Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

 

 

Duquesne’s new Strategic Plan envisions “a vibrant campus community” through making “available to faculty and staff ample and fulfilling opportunities for personal and professional growth.”  While this is a worthy institutional commitment, we need to remember that personal and professional growth also takes place off the Duquesne bluff by discovering what enriches us in our private lives away from work.  Current research shows that time spent away from campus plays a crucial role in your overall wellbeing.

The time you spend socializing, playing and sleeping reduces burnout

In a study of faculty burnout at doctoral institutions, Padilla and Thompson (2016) say, “As expected, more social support, hours spent with family, hours spent on leisure activities and hours spent sleeping are related to a decrease in burnout.”

Among faculty, the temptation to let work replace everything else is pervasive

Sorcinelli and Near (1989) recount one faculty member’s recollection: “Since I’ve come here I’ve worked all the time and I can’t even remember activities I used to take great pleasure in, because it’s so long since I’ve let myself do that . . .  I don’t like particularly what it’s done to me and I feel very strongly that I need some balance in my life.”

The happiness you find in an activity determines its contribution to your recovery from stress

In a study examining work-related, household, social and physical activities, Oerlemans, Bakker and Demerouti (2014) found that “it is not just time spent on off-work activities but the subjective experience of such activities that plays a pivotal role in the way they are linked to recovery.”  In other words, the personal joy that an activity brings you contributes to the reduction of stress and the promotion of your well being.

As winter break approaches, try to spend a little time doing things that bring personal pleasure to you. Give yourself permission to play, sleep, and socialize.  You will find that discovering joy in your private life will help you ultimately in your personal and professional growth.

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10 activities that might bring you joy over the winter break…

  1. Sleep in! Your grades are finished.
  2. Read a book unrelated to your academic work.
  3. See a movie with a friend or loved one.
  4. Get outside. Take a walk, ski, snowshoe, window shop, walk the dog, take a bike ride, etc.
  5. Do something unexpected for someone. Visit a shut-in, give to a food pantry, etc.
  6. Spend time with family and friends.
  7. Be realistic about your work agenda. You can accomplish a lot by regularly setting aside brief times for writing, grant proposals and projects.
  8. Simplify holiday preparations by remembering that things do not need to be elaborate to be enjoyable.
  9. Take time to look at the holiday decorations.
  10. Revisit an abandoned hobby, talent or interest!

The staff at the Center for Teaching Excellence

wish you an enjoyable winter break and happy new year!

Resources
Oerlemans, W. G., Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2014). How feeling happy during off-job activities helps successful recovery from work: A day reconstruction study. Work & Stress28(2), 198-216.
Padilla, M. A., & Thompson, J. N. (2016). Burning Out Faculty at Doctoral Research Universities. Stress and Health32(5), 551-558.
Sorcinelli, M., & Near, J. (1989). Relations between Work and Life Away from Work among University Faculty. The Journal of Higher Education, 60(1), 59-81. doi:10.2307/1982111


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Just a TAD – Transparent Assignment Design

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


Imagine
a simple practice you can do that strongly promotes student performance on assignments.

In several national studies of courses using transparency in learning and teaching, students report in pre/post surveys significantly increased academic confidence and sense of belonging compared to students in courses not using the transparent assignment design.  This finding is statistically more significant for students from underserved populations. Prior research connects academic confidence and sense of belonging with student persistence and grades (Winkelmes et al., 2016).

Transparent assignment design is a systematic way to be transparent about the purpose, task and criteria of assignments to promote students’ learning.  It can apply to all kinds of assignments, small and big.  Focusing on these three components of assignments is beneficial to both faculty and students.

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We invited Duquesne faculty who have implemented transparency over the past year or so to provide insights.  Rebecca Cepek reflected on it in a recent post, Parallelograms and Poetry.

Some faculty told us they embrace transparent design because it builds on what they already do: “Smaller changes seem far better! They don’t lead to destroying things that are here, but build upon them. It’s not the ‘throw out’ culture and making change just for change sake.” “I can utilize the ideas I have and combine them with things others have already tried and validated. [This] gives me the language to discuss and understand the techniques I try in class.”

Transparent assignment design can help instructors develop confidence because it provides both structure and flexibility. One faculty member said this is “a very practical method to structure assignments.” Prior she had just been “trying to replicate assignments that other instructors had created.” By using the transparency framework, this instructor began to find her own teaching identity.

Students want to connect learning to their lives. One instructor noted that by explicitly calling attention to “how an assignment will relate to [students] now and in their future careers,” she can better demonstrate the meaning, value, and relevance of assignments. Another wrote: “Transparent assignment design has helped me make clear how exactly the assignments they complete in my class will prepare them for the future.”

Faculty noted that the exercise of implementing transparency helped them recognize how sometimes they weren’t even sure themselves what they expected students to get out of an assignment: “I haven’t always consciously stated (to myself) exactly why I want students to do certain assignments/tasks. […] I have come to better understand how each individual assignment I give contributes to the course’s learning goals.”

Respondents talked about imagining student perspectives: one person reported trying “to escape my own perspective more when designing even ‘straightforward’ (or so I think!) assignments.”  Another reflected that “This design process has really helped me put myself in my students’ places so that I can make it crystal clear what I’m looking for in their work.”

Transparency surfaces confusion and knowledge/skill gaps. For instance, “when students complain about something I ask them to do, it isn’t necessarily because they don’t want to be challenged to learn new material; rather, it’s more likely they don’t understand either how to do the assignment or how the assignment contributes to their learning.” At first the instructor equated transparency with hand-holding, but she now sees how being more explicit in helping students with the what, how, and why of an assignment can foster more rigorous learning, because transparency has “removed the obstacle of figuring out why an assignment is important and opened the door to the real obstacle of learning the material.”

Finally, re-writing one or two assignments and seeing the resultant changes in students’ attitudes and performance energizes faculty to integrate transparency into other assignments, as well as into their communications with students during class, lab, and lectures.

Steve Hansen, Erin Rentschler and I recently submitted a chapter expanding on these perspectives for the forthcoming book,  Transparent Design in Higher Education Teaching and Leadership (edited by Mary-Ann. Winkelmes, Allison Boye and Suzanne Tapp, Stylus Publishing).

Learn more


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Giving Thanks

Dear Colleagues,

We at CTE all have a lot to be grateful for as we approach the season of holidays, but this thankfulness is also part of our every day. From our house at 20 Chatham to your classrooms, offices, and homes —

Thank you

for being committed to student learning. 

for bringing your ideas and energy to CTE.

for serving as peer leaders.

for taking risks in your teaching.

for reflecting on your own learning.

for being dedicated teacher-scholars. 

Perhaps most importantly, thank you for walking alongside one another and helping us all to learners. 

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving break,

Laurel, Steve, Erin, Christina, Nikki, and Kiara

 


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What makes the military and veteran population students unique?

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 Lee Wagner, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
This blog post is a collaboration between Lee Wagner and Erin Rentschler.

Over the past year, I have had the honor of learning from Lee Wagner, Duquesne University School of Nursing’s out-going Veterans to BSN Academic Coach. Lee also chaired the Veterans’ Engagement Consortium, a group of faculty and staff from across the University who are interested in helping to better serve our veteran and military students through targeted engagement focused on academic success and career preparation.

I asked Lee to reflect on how instructors can enhance the learning experience of this population of students—whose pathways to higher education and future directions both have a lot to offer both within and outside of the University. Over the course of the year, we hope to continue reflecting on how military and veteran students contribute to and diversify our campus community.  Lee’s thoughts are below. We wish him well in his new role as Veterans Program Outreach Specialist for the White Oak Vet Center.

I am often asked by faculty, “What makes the military/veteran population students unique?” That seems like a simple question to answer, but it can quickly become a rabbit hole of assumptions and speculation.  There are two simple answers, one is, “their life experience” and the other is that a majority of veteran students are first generation college students.  This unique life experience and a lack of exposure to traditional university life can leave the veteran student feeling isolated and confused.  In order for an instructor to understand this student population best, they must first have a better understanding of what that unique life experience is, what it is not, and how it differs from traditional college life.  This post will focus on the military experience, but a later post may center on the intersection of first generation and military and veteran students. 

Let us start with what it is not.  Not all military and veteran students have a service-connected disability, have seen combat trauma, or want to talk about their time in the military. There are hundreds of military occupation specialties that a man or woman can serve in.  Some members serve in the infantry, which has a higher likelihood of experiencing combat, while others serve in clerical administration positions that have a lesser chance of seeing action.  However, both can serve in a combat zone. Other occupation specialties include cooks, medics, reporters, truck drivers and helicopter mechanics–the list goes on.  Having assumptions about one’s service can limit the potential of the student and can greatly diminish the connection they make with the faculty member or University. 

Second, what it is.  Military experience, is just that, experience!  Our society often places an unnecessarily high value on military service. Today’s military services members are all volunteers who have willfully entered into a contract with the US government.  Of course, their service needs to be respected and honored; however, it should not lead us to blind patriotic beliefs that all military and veteran students are the same.  Those are assumptions that should not be made.

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Lastly, how does military service experience differ from traditional college life?  The best way to understand this question is to ask the student veteran directly, yourself.  My point being that all service members are people (individuals) first and how they see their experience is based off their core values and beliefs, not our own assumptions or generalizations about what military life is/service is like. 

Here is a tip to help get you started: when speaking with any veteran, not just a student, incorporate these kinds of opened-ended questions into your conversation.

  • Can you tell me more about why you decided to serve in the military?
  • Why did you choose the branch you served in?

The answers to these questions will give you insight into how that particular student’s military experience shapes who they are as a person and how they differ from a traditional college student. From there, you can begin taking steps for engaging this unique individual in an engaging learning experience.

Lee’s reflection begins thinking through how we might both serve and be served by our veteran and military students in our teaching and learning endeavors. I hope you’ll join me in considering this population as one of many that make Duquesne University a unique place to teach, learn, and work.

One place to continue this conversation is at the upcoming talk by Elizabeth R. Barker, who will present Military and Veteran Culture across the Education, Practice, and Research Continuum.” Details and additional resources below.

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For more information about how Duquesne engages and supports military and veteran students, see the following resources.
Miller, R. S., Accamando, D., & Wagner, L. (May 12, 2017). Collaboration between an Academic Library and Campus Partners to Connect with Military and Veteran Students. Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice, 5, 1, 35-41.
Support Services for Military and Veteran  Students at Duquesne University

 

 

 


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Office Hours: Meeting Students Where They Are

This post is drawn from CTE’s Teaching & Learning Tip on Effective Office Hours, written by Erin Rentschler.

Many students, especially freshmen, do not realize the value of one-on-one interaction with their instructors.  When done well, instruction during office hours benefits both students and instructors. Office hours help improve teaching and learning by:

  1. Facilitating deeper learning by sharing additional resources and engaging in dialogue with students, especially those who might be excelling in your course.
  2. Coaching students before they have performance problems to help them grasp key concepts or clarify assignment expectations.
  3. Working with students who are performing poorly to learn how to guide or assist them.
  4. Fostering  important “critical connections” between student, instructor, and material by providing an opportunity to get to know one another—not for the sake of personal relationships, but to create “a positive and productive working relationship” (Kreizinger 2006).connecting puzzle pieces

So…how to make this happen? Read on for some tips on effective office hours.

Get Them There

  • Explain what office hours are on the first day of class, but remind students throughout the semester where and when they can find you. Post your hours and location on the course syllabus and consider publicizing office hours on Blackboard and/or in your email’s “signature” so that students see this information regularly.
  • Group sessions can ease some pressure, establish rapport between students (increasing class time collaboration), and streamline providing feedback. Topic-based office hours model productive individual sessions.
  • Consider requiring students to meet with you early in the semester, especially if you have smaller classes. Once they surpass initial anxiety, students are likely to come on their own. While it’s wise to have students schedule these visits around a course assignment, a brief meeting to discuss their personal goals for the class can also be effective. Other ideas for required visits
    • Davis (1993) suggests that writing “see me about this during office hours” gets a 75% response rate. However, you can avoid making office hours punitive by centering the requested visit on both praise and constructive criticism.
    • Nilson (2010) suggests having students drop off or pick up assignments during office hours rather than during class time.
  • Consider alternative “office spaces
    • “neutral spaces” may alleviate anxiety, and meeting in a working space, like the library, provides space to model learning or disciplinary practices.
    • Walk and talk. Requests for general information or clarification can be addressed “on the fly,” as you walk from one class to the next.
    • Supplement office hours with technology. Email, discussion boards, twitter or other online spaces “are most efficient when communications are brief and to the point and offer ‘easy answers to easy questions.’” (LASTA).
  • Allow time spent in office hours to count toward the course participation grade.
  • Plan office hours carefully. Avoid what James Lang calls “the Early Bird approach” (or variations of it) by
    • waiting, if you can, until the semester begins and polling your students to see when  a majority of them will be free. When teaching in one of Duquesne’s Learning Communities, for example, it doesn’t make sense to schedule office hours during the time slot during one of the other courses.
    • Holding office hours after class, so that “questions and concerns can be  addressed immediately” (LASTA).

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      What not to do when scheduling office hours. 

Be Productive Once They’re There

  • Instruct students on how to prepare, and ask them to reschedule if they haven’t.
  • Segment your office hours and ask students to come during a particular time slot; the new Starfish calendaring tool in Blackboard could be helpful in managing time slots. Set clear guidelines as to what can and cannot be accomplished within the specified time frame.
  • If students come to office hours eager to inform you of their latest dormitory exploits, set clear boundaries without dismissing the students entirely. LASTA suggests “reflect[ing] on the role you can play in students’ lives.” Remember that your primary responsibility is to foster learning, but be empathetic. Provide students with additional campus resources (Writing Center, Wellbeing Center, etc.), but make certain that they understand you aren’t ignoring them or denying a request for help.
  • “To maximize the value of your consultation, make it as student-active as possible” and make it clear to students that office hours are not a condensed version of class (Nilson 2003).

Get them to Come Back

  • Follow up with students on issues raised during office hours. Send an email with an additional resource that might be of interest or ask about an exam/event mentioned in passing.
  • Make students feel welcome and comfortable: “Interact with students with intentional time and depth” (Robertson). Close your books, silence your phone, and turn off the computer.

  • Validate the points students make in office hours. In Tools for Teaching Barbara Gross Davis (1993) suggests bringing students’ outside comments into the classroom: “If they make a good comment, check with them first to see whether they are willing to raise the idea in class, then say: ‘Jana, you were saying something about that in the hall yesterday. Would you repeat it for the rest of the class?’”

Learn from Students during Office Hours

While taking advantage of office hours to work on research or grading may sound appealing, not meeting with students can actually put you at a disadvantage. Once you have students visiting your office hours, you’re likely to learn from your students. Use the time to solicit feedback about the course and instructional materials. Ask students what they like about the course and what confuses or challenges them. Students are more likely to be honest if you demonstrate genuine interest in hearing what is working well and what needs improvement.

Resources
Davis, Barbara Gross (1993). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Kreizinger, Joe (2006). “Critical Connections for the First Day of Class” The Teaching Professor. 20.5
Lang, James M. (2003). “Putting in the Hours: You Can Tell a lot about Faculty Members by How They Set Up Their Office Hours.” The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Academy (LASTA). University of Illinois. “Making the Most of Office Hours”
Nilson, Linda (2010). Teaching at its Best. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Robertson, Douglas (2003). Making Time, Making Change: Avoiding Overload in College Teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.


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One Small Thing…

headshotErin Rentschler, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University

If you could make one small change to your teaching repertoire and create the potential for significant impact on student learning, would you try it?

Over the past year or so, several colleagues at Duquesne University have been exploring just this notion of small teaching, a concept presented by James Lang in Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning.  Lang argues, that You can create powerful learning for your students through the small, everyday decisions you make in designing your courses, engaging in classroom practice, communicating with your students, and addressing any challenges that arise.”

small ballComparing the notion of small teaching to baseball’s small ball (that idea that ball games are won through “simple, incremental strategies” that get players from base to base), Lang writes that it’s unrealistic to think that instructors have time for “sudden and dramatic transformation” of their teaching when they have so many responsibilities. The result? His book of small teaching strategies that can be implemented with minor, if any disruption, to your course design.

This notion aligns with CTE’s SCALE initiative (Small Changes Advancing Learning).  Our Fall 2017 SCALE UP micro workshops highlighted Lang’s strategies for helping students retrieve knowledge, connect information for greater understanding, and foster a growth mindset. At each 30 minute workshop, CTE staff highlighted key points from the respective sections of Small Teaching, and provided faculty and graduate student participants with opportunities to design a strategy for a small change that they could implement later in the semester, the week – or even later that day!

Here are some examples of the small changes faculty at Duquesne envision.

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Faculty statements of the “one small thing” they might try to increase student learning

Spending just a few minutes of class time to focus on the process of learning can have a significant impact on student learning because it fosters a growth mindset.  Carol Dweck describes growth mindset as a state of mind that helps students take risks, challenge themselves, and persist in their learning, because they believe that intelligence is not a fixed trait, but one that can increase with practice and hard work.process-of-learning-resized1.jpg

Another method is to provide feedback that fosters growth. Think: “This topic is challenging, but by continuing to work with it, you’ll grow your brain and have a better understanding” rather than “Perhaps you should change your topic.” Yet another method for fostering growth? Promote success strategies by having experienced students write tips for succeeding in the course and sharing them with new students. These strategies reinforce that learning is a process that develops over time.

Likewise, giving “quizlets” in class provides students with low stakes opportunities to practice retrieving knowledge. This is important because, as Lang writes, “the more times any of us practice remembering something we are trying to learn, the more firmly we lodge it in our memories for the long term.”  Quizzes and tests not only measure learning; they are valuable tools that “help students exercise their memory muscles to improve and solidify their knowledge base.” Reconceiving of quizzes and tests as “retrieval practice” can decrease anxiety and places emphasis on how learning happens.

And guess what! These activities can also help students to discover connections between old knowledge and new knowledge. Calling attention to these connections helps students fortify their foundations. Because students don’t always see the larger organizational picture that we can see as experts in our fields, our helping them retrieve old knowledge and map new knowledge networks deepens learning.   A small teaching strategy for helping students connect information is to draw concept maps, visual depictions that identify connections between ideas in succinct ways.

Like the sound of some of these strategies? Hungry for more? Check out Lang’s book or – better yet – join the author and regional faculty who have been exploring small teaching strategies at the first annual Pittsburgh Regional Faculty Symposium on March 16, 2018.  Think you have a small teaching strategy that could help your colleagues? Submit a proposal by November 1! Details below.

Call for Proposals

The Pittsburgh Regional Faculty Symposium welcomes proposals across four session types from all faculty, graduate students, librarians, instructional designers, and others involved in teaching and learning or educational development:

  • Concurrent Interactive Workshops
  • Steal My Idea / Pecha Kucha
  • Recipes for Success
  • Posters

Sessions may be presented by individuals or small groups. The proposals will be blind reviewed by colleagues from across the region.

For details on session types, click here.

To submit a proposal, click here.

We look forward to hearing about your small teaching ideas. CTE staff are available to consult on your proposals.