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

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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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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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Welcome to the 2017-2018 Academic Year!

CTE had a busy summer, but we’re thrilled that the academic year is underway. Here are just a few highlights of the exciting work we did over the summer:

  • CTE hosted and participated in seven orientations for new faculty and graduate students. What a way to usher in the new year!
  • Laurel Willingham-McLain prepared an article on CTE’s Near Peer Mentoring Exchange  with colleagues from the School of Education using data from recent focus groups.
  • Steve Hansen was busy as co-program chair for the upcoming conference of the POD Network.
  • Erin Rentschler attended the Project-Based Learning Institute at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts with faculty members from the history and English departments.
  • CTE welcomed two new graduate students to our staff. Christina Frasher joined us as the new Instructional Consultant for Teaching Assistants and Nikki Klingler started as our Program Assistant. We couldn’t be happier to introduce them to you.
  • We’ve been planning for the first Pittsburgh Regional Faculty Symposium at Duquesne University on Friday, March 16, 2018.  The symposium is a regional collaboration of colleges and universities with support from the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education and will feature  a keynote address by James Lang, author of Small Teaching: Every Day Lessons from the Science of Learning (check out some of Lang’s writings for The Chronicle of Higher Education).  Stayed tuned for more information, including a call for proposals. 

We are thrilled to have the students and faculty back with us for what we hope will be an exciting year full of learning. The Flourishing Academic will soon feature new posts by CTE staff and members of the Duquesne community. If you’re interested in writing for us, please email cte@duq.edu. In the meantime, check out the Teaching and Learning Tips on our Duquesne website.

happy new year


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Summer Break

The Flourishing Academic will be taking a break for the summer. We look forward to new posts starting in August.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out CTE’s website for teaching and learning tips.   As always, CTE staff are available throughout the summer as you plan courses and write syllabi.

And while you’re at it, check out this essay from Faculty Focus on “Taking Time to Refresh, Recharge, and Recommit.” In it, Maryellen Weimer posits summer as a time to reflect on the past to re-energize for what’s coming up next. She suggests using “a planned and purposeful set of activities that renews your commitment to and passion for teaching. This is not the kind of refresh that comes from revising a syllabus, choosing a new textbook, or working out the details of a group project. This needs to be about you and what will enable you to stand excitedly before students the next time you teach.”

 

 


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Preparing for “Exploring Race and Pedagogy at our Predominantly White University III”

 By Erin Rentschler, Center for Teaching Excellence

In preparation for CTE’s upcoming workshop on Race and Pedagogy, I’ve been reflecting on how the role of comfort has emerged in prior years as a key theme. Last year, for example, Darius Prier encouraged the participants to “get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about race in the classroom.” The previous year, participants and I discussed how growth comes with discomfort and I emphasized the potential of productive vulnerability.  But now I’m wondering how productive that vulnerability is if, leading up to this third annual event, I still feel the same sense of discomfort (maybe even more so in this political climate) about engaging in this dialogue.  Does this mean that I haven’t grown?  Is it that race and racism have gotten more complex? Or is it because we’re not really talking about theories or concepts in this dialogue, but instead talking about human beings and very real lived experience?

I would like to think that it’s not me, but I know that it’s a combination of all these factors. I still have growing to do, and that’s one of the reasons that we’ll turn to student voices again this year: if we are going to help our students to learn, we need to know who they are, what they care about, and what empowers them in their learning. I hope you’ll join us on March 21 with open ears and a willingness to be a little vulnerable. 

For now, though, I want to focus on how we can apply some of the theories and practices that enable us to be better at teaching the humans in our classrooms.

The authors of How Learning Works remind us that student development and course climate contribute to powerful learning. They maintain that as much as we prioritize fostering the creativity and intellect of our students, we must also be mindful of how the social and emotional dimensions of learning “interact within classroom climate to influence learning and performance” (156).  They emphasize research that points to social and emotional growth of college students being considerably greater than intellectual growth, and as such claim that “if we understand [students’ developmental processes], we can shape the classroom climate in developmentally appropriate ways” (157). Specifically, the authors point to Chickering’s model of development, which posits seven dimensions in which students grow during the college years.  How Learning Works examines development theories, treating social identity as something that is “continually negotiated” rather than fixed (166).

Students’ ability to balance the various aspects of their development can be hindered or propelled by classroom climate. In reviewing the research on climate, the authors suggest that most classrooms fall at the midpoint on a continuum of climates that ranges from explicitly exclusive to explicitly inclusive. I’m not sure that the midpoint is a good place to be on this particular continuum.  The authors draw upon four aspects of climate and how these impact student learning. I outline briefly some of these below to help us think through ways we can move our classroom climates to the explicitly inclusive end of the continuum.

  • Stereotypes: Most of us know that stereotypes can alienate. Stereotype threat, however, addresses the complexities of marginalized groups’ feelings of tension and discomfort when they fear that they will be judged according to stereotypes of their identity group. Students who are exposed to even unintentional stereotyping show lower self-esteem and self-efficacy.  Fear of living up to a stereotype can distract or even paralyze a student in his/her academic performance. Promoting an open mind-set about learning can be beneficial for all students, particularly those facing stereotype threat.
  • Tone: How welcoming and inclusive is the language used in course documents and conversations? Is feedback focused on the work or on the student? Approachability of the instructor is key in students’ willingness to take risks and to seek help.
  • Faculty-Student and Student-Student Interactions: Again, students are more willing to learn when they see that their instructors care about their progress and treat students with respect and dignity. Students are more likely to persist in challenging situations when faculty intervene in a positive way in individual students’ learning and in interactions between students, especially in moments of tension or controversy.
  • Content: To what extent do students find a representation of themselves and their interests in course content (readings, examples, images, etc.)? Relevance of material to students’ sense of identity can empower students or marginalize them in their learning.

The research on race and learning is more complex than this, of course. But I hope that reflecting on where learning, student development, and climate intersect can help prepare us for working with our students at the 2017 Race and Pedagogy session.

Resources:

Ambrose, S. A. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching.

Boysen, G. A. (2012). “Teacher and Student Perceptions of Microaggressions in College Classrooms.” College Teaching

Branche, J., Mullennix, J. W., & Cohn, E. R. (2007). Diversity across the curriculum: A guide for faculty in higher education.

Chickering, A. W., & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dweck, C. S. (2010). “Mind-Sets and Equitable Education.” Principal Leadership

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success.

Doyle, T. (2011). Learner-centered teaching: Putting the research on learning into practice.

Guerrero, Lisa (2008). Teaching race in the twenty-first century: college teachers talk about their fears, risks, and rewards.

Killpack, T. L., & Melón, L. C. (2016). Toward Inclusive STEM Classrooms: What Personal Role Do Faculty Play?

Shaw, S. (2009). “Infusing Diversity in the Sciences and Professional Disciplines” Diversity and Democracy

Sue, D. W. (2015). Race talk and the conspiracy of silence: understanding and facilitating difficult dialogues on race

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Sue, D. W. et al. (2007). Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice.

Tochluk, S. (2010). Witnessing whiteness: the need to talk about race and how to do it

Thomas, C. (2014). Inclusive teaching: Presence in the classroom.

Yancy, G., & Davidson, M. G. (2014). Exploring race in predominantly white classrooms: scholars of color reflect.


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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.