The Flourishing Academic

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


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Fizzle or Finale: The Final Day of Class

by Steve Hansen, Director of Faculty Development at Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence

Many courses end with a fizzle.  Frank Heppner (2007) aptly says, “In most classes, The Last Lecture was about as memorable as the rest of the class had been – that is, not very.”  The final class should bring the course to an appropriate conclusion or finale.

“For many. . , the last day of class comes and goes without ceremony, yet it provides an opportunity to bring the student-teacher experience to a close in a way that students appreciate and enjoy” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008).

How can you make the final day into a finale?

Summarize the course content

“Ask students to create concept maps illustrating major aspects of course content and showing how they are interrelated” (Lucas and Bernstein, 2008).

Give a Memento

Mementos do not need to be expensive to be meaningful.  An instructor of Ecclesiastical Latin distributed postcard-size copies of da Vinci’s Last Supper to her students.  I still have the memento on a bookshelf in my home.

Pass the Torch

Invite your current students to pass on advice about the course by writing brief letters to students who will take the course in the future.  Instructors can use the letters to improve their teaching or excerpt the best advice into a section for future syllabi about “Succeeding in the Course: Advice from Former Students”

Make Emotional Connections

Christopher Uhl (2005) ends his large (400 students) Environmental Science course by inviting students to explore the emotions that they have encountered over the semester.  He organizes reflection around four ideas: acceptance, gratitude, integrity and hope.  In exploring acceptance, Uhl asks his students to be truthful about their performance during the semester and to think about how they will change their study habits for future classes.  “I invite my students to reflect on their disappointments.  Specifically, I ask: How did you let yourself down?  When did you hand in ‘BS’ instead of honest work?  In what ways did you fail to honor your own potential?”  Uhl then asks students to reflect on “what new action they might take in future courses to enhance their learning, given what they acknowledge as their shortfall in my class.”  Next, Uhl asks students to explore their feelings of gratitude.  He invites students to talk about what they might be thankful for because of the class.  After exploring acceptance and gratitude, Uhl invites his students to explore integrity.  He asks students to consider how taking the class will impact their future thinking, actions and behaviors.  Finally, Uhl concludes class by expressing his hopes for the students and asking them to share “their hopes for themselves and for each other.”

Encourage and Inspire

Frank Heppner (2007) describes Richard Eakin’s final lecture for a course in embryology: “Eakin’s Last Lecture was legendary, and students who had taken his course in previous years would come back to hear it again and be inspired.  The lecture was a reminiscence of a life in science and the joy and thrill of having the opportunity, as a young man, to work in laboratories where discoveries about the fundamental nature of life were being made.  He made a point of the fact that he had not been some sort of geeky super-genius as a youngster, but had instead been blessed with a strong sense of curiosity.  I can still recall being amazed by that – surely such a man must have been an exceptional student?  Why, that might mean that I might do such things some day.”

Celebrate Students’ Work

In writing-intensive courses, end the semester by celebrating the writing of your students.  Before the last day, assign students to select a piece of their work to read aloud in 2-3 minutes.  On the final day of class, each student reads the selection, and the class responds to each reading with applause. (http://teaching.berkeley.edu/newsletters0607/newsletter13.html)

Resources:

Heppner, F. (2007). Teaching the large class: a guidebook for instructors with multitudes. San Francisco: Joosey-Bass, 2007.

Lucas, S. and Bernstein, D. (2005). Teaching Psychology: a step by step guide. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Uhl, C. (2005). The last class. College Teaching 53(4): 165-166.

What do you do to end your course with a flourish? Leave a comment telling us what you do to make your last class of the semester something to remember. The Flourishing Academic and your colleagues would love to hear from you!

 

 


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Pedagogy and Micro-Resistance: A Strategy for the College Classroom

by Jess Dunn Instructional Consultant for TAs in the Center for Teaching Excellence at Duquesne University

The microcosm of the university can produce wonderful moments of introspection, encounter, and exchange but it can also produce terrible moments of oppression, aggression and interpersonal rupture. Often these terrible moments are not overt acts of racism, sexism, or heterosexism, but subtle expressions of these prejudices or microaggressions. When microaggressions occur in the context of the university classroom, professors and students alike are often frozen, unsure of what to do or if doing is even possible. One option is to respond to the microaggression with a form of micro-resistance.

Recently, while attending the annual Professional and Organization Development Network (POD) Conference in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to participate in a brief but extremely helpful training session led by Cynthia Ganote, Floyd Chueng, and Tasha Souza on a model of micro-resistance called Opening the Front Door (OTFD). The phrase “opening the front door” is a mnemonic device for the four steps of this model:

Observe:  State in clear, unambiguous language what you see happening.

Think: Express what you think or what you imagine others might be thinking.

Feel: Express your feelings about the situation.

Desire: State what you would like to have happen.

This model was originally developed to help individuals who are the recipients of microaggressions and their allied colleagues to confront and resist these issues in the workplace, along and between various strata of power and hierarchy.  The strength of this model is that it encourages direct and transparent communication while offering clear goals and instructions for how to proceed after the problem has been stated. It is also an incredibly flexible model which allows for a range of responses that are more or less confrontational depending on the environment, the power dynamic, and the interpersonal style of the individual. As suggested by someone in the session who is much quicker on the draw than myself, this strength and flexibility make it ideal for the classroom environment.

The following is an example of what this method might look like employed by a professor in an undergraduate classroom:

Observe:

“I notice that, whenever we are talking about the impact of living in a low income environment on mental health a number of you refer to Brianna.” (Brianna is the only African American student in the class. She has mentioned in class, that she was inspired to go into psychology by her mother who is a neurologist.)

Think:

“I think that this might be happening because assumptions are being made about her background based on racial stereotypes that conflate socioeconomic status and race.”

Feel:

“I am frustrated that Brianna continues to be spoken about in a way that is inconsistent with her lived experience and I am concerned that important aspects of what we have explored in class so far have not been attended to.”

Desire:

“I want everyone in this class to be seen as a whole and complex person and treated thoughtfully and with respect. I would also like us all to be able to apply the information and ideas that we’ve discussed in class to our everyday lives and interactions.”

What this form of micro-resistance does is confront a classroom dynamic directly while minimizing embarrassment of individual students, including the recipient of the micro-aggression. It also takes the opportunity to couch the issues in terms of the specific content and over-reaching goals of the course. Finally, it expresses clear goals for how the problem will be addressed in the future as well as affirming a positive goal for the class as a whole, not just the individual student. Though this method by no means makes standing up and confronting microaggressions easy or risk-free, having tools at the ready makes us more likely to act and helps to promote intentional responses as opposed to knee-jerk reactions.

You’re invited to raise questions or give suggestions about resisting microaggressions in the classroom in the comments section. The Flourishing Academic wants to hear from you as do your colleagues!

References

Ganote, Cynthia, Cheung, Floyd, & Souza, Tasha, (2015) Don’t remain silent! Strategies for supporting colleagues via micro-resistance and ally development. Back to the Future: 40th Annual POD Conference.

Links to Other Relevant Posts

Engaging Race in the Classroom

Engaging Race in the Classroom Part 2: Writing About Race

Engaging Race in the Classroom Part 3: Exploring Race and Pedagogy at Out Predominantly White University

Breaking the Glass Slipper

Students as Moral Teachers

 

 

 

 


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From Observation to Quantification: A Reflection on Spiritan Pedagogy

by Matt Kostek, Assistant Professor at Duquesne University, Rangos School of Health Sciences, Physical Therapy Department$fullname

Begin with the end in mind is a mantra worthy of reflection before beginning any meaningful project.  Yet in teaching, as in life, there are times when we just observe.  If uncertain of the goal, observation not only yields discoveries but can help us learn the landscape or define the question.  In teaching, however, we are told that we need concise learning objectives.  Objectives can be measured as a learning outcome, which is important not just because the accrediting bodies tell us so, but because outcomes tells us if we are accomplishing our goal – student learning.  To improve outcomes, we can change our teaching:  modify presentation style or content, add new assignments, or use analogies to which students can relate.  This is something that all good professors are trying to accomplish to varying degrees in different classes.  This was my initial interest when I heard about discussions on campus regarding Spiritan Pedagogy.  I think it was an email that I normally would have just deleted, but because it seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn about the Spiritan Charism and about pedagogy I decided to attend.

The discussion groups and panel presentations were informative and intriguing and upon reflection, led to new insights.  I thought I found something useful but was not sure what to do with it.  Some of the concepts like openness to the spirit, global concern, and concern for the poor seemed like noble topics and ideas that would be good to instill in this generation of college students.  But I didn’t see how I was going to use these ideas in my basic life-science lecture class of over 100 students.   The discussion groups, for me, were an idea generator.   I set out to trial a few of these ideas with my large lecture class.

I attempted to incorporate physiologic descriptions of organ function with new examples– Spiritan inspired examples.  For instance, I described kidney or pulmonary (lung) function coupled with the fact that most insurance companies do not pay for pulmonary rehabilitation or that a disproportionate number of African Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease and that their socioeconomic status is likely contributing to disease severity.  Keep in mind, these issues are not typically discussed when teaching cellular organ function at this level.  So these stories were mostly side notes to the main lecture topics.  My idea was to bring awareness of current situations that affect the poor and under-served in a context that relates to human physiology.  The lectures seemed to go well and I received some positive feedback in the form of questions and discussion during and after those lectures.  I did not attempt, however, to quantify outcomes, it was exploratory and I was observing.  There were no test questions relating to these topics and no request to address this on my SES (student evaluation survey) reports.  Yet, I did receive a few comments expressing confusion as to why these topics were even mentioned, they seemed distracting, and didn’t appear on tests.  Thus, while stimulating thought I was unable to convey with clarity the import of these issues in the context of human physiology.

What I observed using Spiritan pedagogy inspired techniques is that they are feasible in a large classroom.  But if I want to know about the effectiveness of these techniques, I will need to consider what I am trying to accomplish.  If I want students to understand and assimilate these ideas or, at the very least, not confuse them then I need them on board with the idea and the intended outcome.  If the examples are to be seen as important and relevant, then they should be evaluated (e.g. test or quiz questions).  Evaluation emphasizes the importance, encourages understanding through study, and gives a quantifiable result.  The result can be used to modify the approach.  This “closes the loop” as our accreditors might like to say.  Spiritan pedagogical techniques can, I think, be incorporated into any classroom but until we know what we are trying to accomplish, it will be difficult for us or our students to know when we have reached the goal.

 


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From the Director: Possibility and Promise

Laurel

By Laurel Willingham-McLain
Director of Faculty Development and Teaching Excellence at Duquesne’s Center for Teaching Excellence

I love this time of year – when we are privileged to welcome dozens of new faculty and TAs to our campus. I take this responsibility very seriously because it’s important to set the right tone from the beginning. So, it takes a lot of work. But in return, I receive joy and energy from the new colleagues I meet.

Every year I think, “wow, this is an amazing group of people.” Marathon runners, kayakers, singers, dancers, quilters, gardeners, chefs, bakers, parents and partners… and teachers and researchers. And that’s just this year! At faculty orientation, I listened for themes. I noticed shared academic interests in adolescents among some faculty, and research on mobility and community in others. How good it was to watch people listen to one another and make connections their first day together – across the disciplines.

At the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), we have come to focus on community building. I learned from my mentor, Dorothy Frayer, to focus on people. To encourage them and congratulate them. To take time for a walk or a cup of tea. And in the last five years or so, we at CTE have intentionally shifted our central focus away from teaching technique to teacher identity. When faculty ask us how to lead better discussions and engage students in active learning, for example, we spend time getting to know them. We ask about their interests and concerns, their successes and obstacles, their teaching contexts and aspirations, and out of that conversation emerge strategies for getting better at teaching.

One thing I’m confident of is that the best teachers are avid learners. That’s an identity we all need to share. In fact, when I consider Duquesne’s teacher-scholar model, the primary pursuit that teachers and researchers have in common is deep learning. Brew and Boud (1995) point out that teaching and research require rather different skills, but they share the importance of learning. At the heart of both endeavors is an exploration of existing knowledge and the desire to go beyond it. Both involve the human act of making meaning, of making sense of phenomena in the world (pp. 267-268).

I see energetic learning – in both teaching and research spheres – occurring within community at Duquesne. At CTE we witness motivation and productivity among informal peer-mentors, creative teaching award teams, research partners, workshop panelists, and even committee members (!) – who inspire one another to learn and make that learning public to their students and peers. Who guide students in engaging deeply in their learning, and in turn, sharing their learning beyond the classroom.

Brew, A., & Boud, D.  (1995).  Teaching and research: Establishing the vital link with learning.  Higher Education, 29 (3), 261-273.