YouTube – Campus Voices: Forging an honest dialogue

YouTube – Campus Voices: Forging an honest dialogue

Susan Evans pointed me in the direction of this student produced-video on the situation at William and Mary campus. I think it’s a very effective piece of student work that captures a much better sense of what’s actually happening on campus than what I’ve seen in the “mainstream” media. The video itself is a potent argument for why having the right media tools in the hands of students is so effective–particularly with the support of folks like Sharon Zuber and Troy Davis.

Several folks from the BOV will be on campus this afternoon to meet with staff, faculty and students. You can follow the action from the student perspective on or Wrengate.


Harvard Research to Be Free Online

Harvard Research to Be Free Online – New York Times

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard has voted to create a free digital repository that would include articles and monographs that previously would have been restricted to scholarly journals that charge extraordinarily high prices to very small readerships. The move was described as the first step in freeing knowledge from the “stranglehold of commercial publishers:

In place of a closed, privileged and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn,” said Robert Darnton, director of the university library. “It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository.

The repository which was created as part of a set of recommendations from a provost’s committee on Scholarly publishing, would include all articles unless the author opts out of having the included. Opponents of the measure argue that the digital repository system may diminish the quality of research by bypassing rigorous peer reviews provided by the journals or by eliminating the subsidy of less popular journals by income from more popular ones.

Physics, among other disciplines, has been freely distributing research papers for more than a decade without any detrimental effects to the field’s major journals.

The Rules of Engagement: Socializing College Students for the New Century

Tomorrow’s Professor Blog: 844. The Rules of Engagement: Socializing College Students for the New Century

One of the few listservs that I still subscribe to is the Tomorrows-Professor Mailing List, The TP Mailing List seeks to “foster a diverse, world-wide teaching and learning ecology” and goes out to over 25,000 subscribers at over 600 institutions and organizations in over 108 countries around the world. To date there have been over 750 postings by author and engineering professor Rick Ries.

The pieces posted are often thought provoking, like the one entitled Death to the Syllabus. I taught my last course without a syllabus–using a prospectus instead that I think avoided some of the baggage that has become intertwined with the syllabus in far too many courses:

It is time to declare war on the traditional course syllabus. If there is one single artifact that pinpoints the degradation of liberal education, it is the rule-infested, punitive, controlling syllabus that is handed out to students on the first day of class.

The most recent post to capture my attention probably won’t find its way into my practice anytime soon. Extracted from the subscription only National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, the thrust of the article is that students are becoming ruder and more inappropriate in their behavior and that many arrive at college with no understanding of the basic standards of classroom civility, etiquette, and socialization that make a class run smoothly. Professor Neil Williams from East Connecticut State has developed an elaborate set of classroom Rules of Engagement to ensure that students live up to those standards. The rules include greeting the professor by name when arriving and leaving class, taking personal responsibility for errors in personal and academic judgement and my personal favorite:

When you yawn, cover it completely with an entire hand. When the event has passed, mouth the words ‘Pardon me’ or ‘Excuse me.’ An open-mouthed or uncovered yawn is about as insensitive, rude, and inappropriate as it gets. There is almost no instance in which a yawn arrives without some sort of internal biological warning, and all that is being asked is for students to cover their mouths out of respect for the person who is forced to look at them and their dental history.

According to Williams, the rules work as long as everything is done with a smile. When the rules work, the students can become better people, better citizens, and eminently more employable or acceptable to graduate school. What more could a teacher ask for?

Now I Know: Why Humanists Read Their Papers

Why Humanists Read Their Papers

I’d always wondered about this. Some years ago, I was invited by one of my colleagues to attend an American Studies conference on campus. When I went to his paper session, I was aghast–here was this talented, enthusiastic, master-of-multiple-technologies standing at the lectern, head bowed, reading a paper out loud. What’s more, the program that afternoon was filled with scores of other historians, literary scholars and theorists all doing the same thing.

Cathy Davidson’s contents that the practice isn’t just a bad habit, but rather, is the result of “deep epistemological assumptions about how we know and what is worth knowing.”

First, what the scientific method is to scientists, what such things as standard deviation are to statisticians and quantifying social scientists, rhetoric and logic are to humanists…Every humanist endures years of writing long papers and having them corrected not just for their content but for the micro-logics of each new twist and turn of the argument. Critics who challenge one another often do so based on small differentiations among big ideas. Often, in our field, we seemingly agree with one another on a whole list of major convictions and assumptions–but that doesn’t seem to prevent us from going at one another with both barrels over some logical mis-step.

For the humanist, the argument is the core of the discipline–taking on an importance that those of us who labor in the “professional schools” will probably never comprehend. Carefully crafted arguments are important to me, but only as a method for stimulating or bringing about some sort of action–an improvement of practice.

It is, admittedly, very difficult to listen to a densely packed essay, with many twists and turns, with a thesis,and then a deliberate modification of that thesis, and then generalizations that account for both the thesis and its exemptions…And when someone is reading a densely argued paper there are really only two things one, as a member of the audience, can do: listen atttentively (honing one’s interpretive and critical skills) . . . or fall asleep!

This is a great reminder of how dramatically different the teaching and learning perspectives are among our various disciplines. Our approaches to pedagogy have to be as rich and varied as the disciplines we support.

Students Aren’t Fish

Splash Frown Town Evasion

One theme that I keep finding myself returning to this semester is the need for a better understanding of how students make sense of their college experience. At ELI I had a chance to meet up a couple of times with Serena Epstein, a junior at Mary Washington, who has written a great essay providing a glimpse into her world:

As a student (perhaps a “damn idiot” one), it’s always a little surreal hearing professors debate over how best to reach students. The main question seemed to be “how can we use games to get students actively involved in their learning?” On one level, I’m genuinely impressed that these instructors are brave enough to approach this problem….

I think the most important—and often overlooked—question to be asking is not “How can I use this to hook students?” but “How can we do this together?” We’re not fish; we’re (mostly) discerning, intelligent individuals who can certainly tell when professors are introducing a classroom activity simply as an attempt to ensnare us.

Serena suggests that students respond best when faculty are as passionate about using the technologies as they expect their students to be. She sees learning as something contagious–spread from teacher to student by passion, inspiration, and engagement. Since she knows how busy faculty are, she provides a “handy numbered list”. (Hopefully reproducing her entire list still constitutes fair use…)

  1. Care! Care so much that every waking moment is spent obsessing over course content, student discussions, and all the possibilities for what’s next.
  2. Engage your students! Class discussions are the best way to reinforce and expand learning. Students should be interacting with one another in the classroom, not just you. Have students create content for each other.
  3. Give them more creative freedom. Consider assignments that allow students to exploit their own strengths. A piece of artwork or a video mash-up, for example, can demonstrate the same degree of learning as a traditional paper. (Often, these are even more effective.) Allow for flexibility in your assignments and encourage students to suggest their own ideas for how the content should be handled.
  4. Take your class outside the classroom, both physically and figuratively. Play with different learning spaces, like outdoor areas or different types of rooms. Also try different setups within the classroom. Never have discussions with the entire class facing the front of the room. And encourage students to apply learning from the class to other areas of their life or coursework. Have them blog, tweet, photograph, film, paint, type, innovate.
  5. As unbearably cliché as this sounds, don’t be afraid to try new things. Yes, sometimes it will fail miserably. Sometimes it will be a waste of time. But there’s also the chance that you and your students will discover something incredible. Don’t just try until you find one thing that works… keep trying.

Serena’s blog has earned a place on my RSS reader.