Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer said something on this week’s Sunday Morning news show that caught my attention and put me on a reflective path.
Langer said that human beings are unique in their ability to think about the future, which leads us to be thinkers about our unique and collective futures (Weisfogel & Ross, 2020). While recognizing that plans create an illusion of control and that plans are guesses, these uncertain times call for us to contemplate and hope about what is to come. Langer goes on to say, “But what we need to recognize is that if something leads us in a different direction, that could end up even better for us.” So, in other words, by taking time to ponder, we each may be able to find a pathway toward a different but perhaps more enjoyable destination.
I thought about this all day.
Since returning to teaching four years ago, I have focused my research in three areas. First, I have continued my career-long work in critically assessing the impact of Strategic Enrolment Management on the twin goals of achieving institutional health and student success. Second, I renewed my interest in the international student experience by exploring student perspectives on the way we teach in our colleges and universities and how we can improve our teaching of culturally and linguistically diverse international students. Third, after coauthoring two open educational resource (OER) textbooks and making increasing use of OERs in my teaching, I am beginning to focus on how we can achieve deep and interdisciplinary learning by enhancing our use of OERs.
While each of these research threads are different, it occurred to me that there is common ground between them; namely, the amplification of the student voice. If ever there was a time to pay more attention to student views, it is now. The COVID-19 Pandemic has left so many of us questioning the future. This includes students, faculty and staff, and those who lead our postsecondary educational institutions.
Psychiatrist Pavan Madan, who was also interviewed on Sunday Morning, spoke about the anxiety that is impacting us all. Dr. Madan suggests that “we put our big dreams aside for now and focus on the small, more manageable details of daily life” (Weisfogel & Ross, 2020).
So, in this public space, let me say that during the balance of the time we have in the Pandemic and for the time to follow, I will commit to amplifying the student voice in all I do.
If this interests you, consider joining me (Clayton.Smith@uwindsor.ca). I am thinking that both the journey and the destination will be quite enjoyable.
Weisfogel, A. & Ross, C. (27 December 2020). Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out from under you. Sunday Morning. New York: CBS. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/going-to-plan-b-when-covid-pulls-the-rug-out-from-under-you/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab8c&linkId=108041071
At this year’s U.S. Democratic National Party Convention, empathy took centre stage as former vice-president Joe Biden accepted his party’s nomination to be its candidate for president of the United States. Each of his endorsers touted Biden’s “ability to connect with what someone else is feeling and pointed to that characteristic as making him uniquely qualified to lead the country, particularly during a time of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic” (Merica, 2020, para 2). Words like honesty, humility, empathy, and grace were heard from many of the convention speakers, including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama, both of whom know something about achieving change during a crisis.
While introducing my first-year fall 2018 EDUC 1199 Teaching and Learning (Part One) students to various perspectives on the year one classroom observation field experience, we heard Ms. Bridget Russo, a retired principal in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board say something that I have shared with each of my classes since. The question posed to the panel was this: “What advice do you have for first-year Concurrent Education students as they embark on their first field experience?” Ms. Russo said, “show empathy.” She reflected that of all the things that students bring to their field experience, the most important is empathy. With it, so much can be accomplished. Without it, nearly nothing can be achieved.
These two events, while vastly different, point to the importance of empathy in our time. But what is empathy and why is it so important?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as
“the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Sometimes there can be confusion between empathy and compassion. Compassion refers broadly to sympathetic understanding, while empathy is the ability to relate to another person’s pain as if one has experienced that pain themselves. It involves seeing their world, appreciating them as human beings, communicating understanding, and understanding feelings (Sahota and Lewitz, 2014).
So, in the case of the crises currently facing the U.S., empathy would be the ability to relate to being a victim of the coronavirus or racial inequality. In the case of teacher candidates attending their first field experience, empathy would be the ability to connect with students in or near the classroom setting, some of whom are experiencing significant challenges while others are impacted by various barriers to their own learning.
As the doors to the academy open this week, let me suggest that each of us reach deep within our hearts, minds, and souls to find empathy for all those we meet. Each of us faces our own challenges, and it is so important that those we come in contact understand a little of what each of us is going through.
The Avatar (2009) film captures this well when Neytiri says to Jake and Jake says to Neytiri “I see you.” This means when you see me you bring me into existence.
I’ve got to think that by seeing the people we meet, we can make a difference in their lives and in our lives too.
So, empathy really matters!
Merica, D. (2020, April 15). ‘Empathy matters’: Joe Biden’s endorsers highlight the same trait. CNN Politics. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/15/politics/joe-biden-empathy/index.html
Sahota, M., & Lewitz, O. (2014). Co-aching: How to use compassion to transform your effectiveness. Agile Alliance Conference, Orlando, FL.
Have you ever started writing on a topic and then something happens that changes everything? Well, that just happened to me. About a month prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was writing on the growing interest in and support for open and online learning in postsecondary education. Then poof! COVID-19 changed everything. Today I will share with you some of my initial thoughts on this topic and then reflect on how the events of the last month changed some of my thinking.
Here are some of my initial thoughts.
Following completion of the University of Windsor Office of Open Learning’s Certificate of Online and Open Learning and attendance at eCampusOntario’s Technology + Education Seminar + Showcase (TESS) conference, I initiated a study to explore the connection between the promising practices for teaching online linguistically and culturally diverse international students and student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning, which has recently received research ethics approval but is now paused. An overview of this study is available on my faculty web page. Also, working with two University of Windsor colleagues (Mark Lubrick and Carson Babich), I oversaw the writing of my first Open Educational Resource textbook (Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations), which we hope to publish in the next few months. All of this opened my eyes to the possibilities of online learning within the higher education sector.
And then, just before the pandemic broke, I enjoyed reading the Wiley Education Services study, “Student Perspectives of Online Programs: A Survey of Learners Supported by Wiley Education Services” (Magda & Smalec, 2020), in which student satisfaction with online learning was explored at 19 institutions where students were enrolled in Wiley-supported programs. The study provided some fascinating insights that showed ways to better meet student needs and expectations, including examine the complete student journey to remove barriers to flexibility, create a consistent learning experience to alleviate unneeded stress, and empower faculty to engage with students to improve the learning experience.
And here is a little of what we knew about online learning in North America before COVID-19.
North American online education has seen a rise in popularity in recent years. The Canadian Digital Learning Research Association reported that Canadian postsecondary online course registrations grew by 10 percent in 2018 and 2019, and most institutions expect enrollments to increase in the coming year (Johnson, 2019). The U.S.-based National Center for Education Statistics (Ginder, Kelly-Reid, & Mann, 2017) reported that the number of students who take at least some of their courses online grew by 5.7 percent in 2017. More than 25 percent of students take at least one online course during their time at university of college (Cook, 2018). Undergraduate international students attending Canadian institutions are increasingly choosing to take online courses (Best Colleges, 2019; Thomson, & Esses, 2016).
And here is some of my thinking since COVID-19 joined our world.
Like most faculty, I found myself scrambling a bit to convert my in-person courses, some of which were hybrid courses, to fully online courses. With lots of support from our Office of Open Learning and Centre for Teaching and Learning, as well as experienced colleagues, I made the leap. It was a bit scary, but also fascinating.
On the scary side, there is me. While I had recently acquired professional development in open and online learning, I am an in-person educator who greatly enjoys the interaction with students. Seeing their smiles and their fears is a big part of how I ensure a learning-centred classroom environment. When this all moved to being digital, I, like many of my colleagues, was petrified. Then there are my students, who were equally scared since all of this happened within the last three weeks of the semester. Fortunately, our university put in place a flexible approach that included assessments and grades, which allayed many of their fears. But not all.
When I had my students online, I asked them about their experience. Here is what an international graduate student said:
While we miss the in-person connections with other students and our professors, going online was not really a problem. When I delivered a facilitated reading discussion, I found that I had more confidence due to my comfort with digital technology. I also found that there was more participation in class. Although in-person instruction is my preference, I found aspects of my online classes to be better than expected. In some cases, preferable to my in-person experience!
I also found the whole process fascinating. What we know is that our classes are filled with digital natives; that is, students who have always had technology in their lives. Taking ourselves, who might be described as digital immigrants, out of our comfort zone and letting students be our guides through this new digital world I found exciting and a little fun. It provided a flipped classroom of sorts where the students were doing some of the teaching, and we became the students. What could be more exciting?
Like many other postsecondary institutions, my university is offering its summer courses fully-online. There is also the likely possibility that fall classes similarly will be fully-online. Finishing off a term with online lectures is one thing. Moving to all courses, from beginning to end, being online is something all together different. The good news is we will all be doing it together.
Scary but fascinating!
Best Colleges (2019). 2019 Online Education Trends Report. https://res.cloudinary.com/highereducation/image/upload/v1556050834/BestColleges.com/edutrends/2019-Online-Trends-in-Education-Report-BestColleges.pdf
Cook, J. (2018). Online education and the emotional experience of the teacher. New Directions for Teaching and Emotion. DOI: 10.1002/tl.20282
Ginder, S. A., Kelly-Reid, J. E., & Mann, F. B. (2017). Enrollment and employees in postsecondary institutions, fall 2016; and financial statistics and academic libraries, fiscal year 2016. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018002.pdf
Johnson, N. (2019). Tracking online education in Canadian universities and colleges: National survey of online and digital learning 2019 national report. https://onlinelearningsurveycanada.ca/publications-2019/
Magda, S. J., & Smalec, J.S. (2020). Student perspectives on online programs: A survey of learners supported by Wiley Education Services. Louisville, KY: Wiley edu, LLC. https://edservices.wiley.com/student-perspectives-on-online-programs/
Thomson, C., & Esses, V. (2016). Helping the transition: mentorship to support international students in Canada. Journal of International Students, 6(4), 873-886. http://ojed.org/index.php/jis/article/view/323/247
In idealistic-pragmatist, Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline (1990), one of the five disciplines is personal mastery (the others are systems thinking, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning). Senge writes, “Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs” (p. 139) So, for our institutions to grow, each of us must find our own path to personal mastery.
Senge describes personal mastery as “the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively” (Ibid, p. 7).
For enrollment managers, one of the ways of achieving personal mastery is through developing professional competencies and proficiencies in Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM). For those new to SEM, here is one of my favorite definitions:
Enrollment management is a comprehensive and coordinated process that enables a college [or university] to identify enrollment goals that are allied with its mission, its strategic plan, its environment, and its resources, and to reach those goals through the effective integration of administrative processes, student services, curriculum planning, and market analysis.” (Kerlin, 2008)
This can be achieved by reading some of the SEM classics and the SEM Quarterly journal, or by continuing the development of personal mastery by engaging with colleagues engaged in their own professional development.
Some will choose graduate programs or courses/experiences that culminate in a certification of some type. But for many of us, it is about coming to the AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Conference, which is celebrating this year its 30th conference in Las Vegas on October 25-28, 2020. Topics typically include: SEM culture, leveraging technology and data, career development, student success, and reaching optimal enrollment.
An important way to contribute to your own personal mastery in SEM is to actively participate in the conference. Currently, conference planners are promoting a Call for Proposals, where you can submit proposals for a best practice session, a poster, round-table, or a stop and share discussion on SEM hot topics, SEM research, or innovative ways institutions are implementing SEM. Proposals from multiple institutions or types of institutions are encouraged, as are proposals from Canadian and international institutions.
If you are thinking of submitting a proposal and want to discuss some ideas, send me an email at Clayton.Smith@uwindsor.ca (I am the director of the AACRAO SEM Conference!).
Whether you submit a proposal or not, let me encourage you to join us in Las Vegas this fall to enhance your personal mastery with SEM.
Kerlin, C. (2008). Community college roadmap for the enrollment management journey. College and University, 83(4,), p. 11.
Seng. P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Currency, Doubleday.
Postsecondary presidents and administrators are concerned about the rising cost of textbooks, with 85% of leaders supporting the use of OER’s (Lederman, 2019, March 13). Many education faculty members are increasingly looking to make use of OERs to customize their teaching resources to ensure that they are a good fit for the courses they are teaching. This is especially true for instructors engaged in teaching interdisciplinary courses in educational administration, policy, and leadership where there is no currently available open or online textbook.
At this year’s Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education Conference, which will be held May 31-June 2, 2020 at Western University in London, Ontario, I will be joined by two of my University of Windsor colleagues (Mark Lubrick and Carson Babich) as cochairs for the panel, “Connecting Today’s Postsecondary Classroom to the Open Future: Open Education Resources (OER’s) Empower the Teaching of Educational Administration, Policy, and Leadership,” which will focus on the use of OER’s to teach interdisciplinary courses through the exploration of new pedagogical approaches.
This panel will focus on two main research questions. How are postsecondary faculty making use of OER’s to teach interdisciplinary courses in educational administration, policy, and leadership with a particular focus on learning organizations? What specific factors should be considered when using OER’s to teach interdisciplinary courses?
Consider submitting a proposal. Some possible topics that you may want to consider could include: accessibility, class discussions, connection from one discipline to another, epistemology, equity, ethics evaluating/choosing a resource, experiential learning, flipped teaching, online collaborative teaching (OCT), pedagogical innovation, and research done around OER use in interdisciplinary courses
For more information contact me at Clayton.Smith@uwindsor.ca.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 6th Annual International Conference on West-East Reciprocal Learning in Education held at the University of Windsor. It was a spectacular event!
Reflecting on the event, co-director Dr. Shijing Xu, said “one tree does not make a forest.” By this she meant that it takes many partners to achieve success. And what a success it has been.
Statistics tell us that 233 students from Southwest University in Chongqing, China and 100 students from the University of Windsor have participated in the joint Reciprocal Learning Program that sees teacher candidates travel to China or Canada to experience the way teaching is done in another country, and to take in a little culture.
I can remember when it all started 10 years ago. Drs. Xu and Connelly were so hopeful. They believed that a peaceful world could be created by getting to know each other better.
The alumni couldn’t agree more. David Potocek said it was “stepping out of our comfort zone.” Taylor Paré agreed by saying we were “voices heard around the world” and “no matter where in the world you find yourself, its all about getting a child to smile at you.”
Last week we remembered. And now it is time to ensure that more teacher candidates in China and Canada benefit from this outstanding program. Let’s continue planting more trees!
At this week’s UWindsor GATAcademy, I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop on “Connecting Best Practices for Teaching Linguistically-Diverse International Students with International Student Satisfaction.” While we presented some of the findings from our recent research on this topic, we did it with a bit of a student spin, which made it fascinating to present.
First, let me acknowledge the work of two students. Miranda Pecoraro, an Outstanding Scholar and 3rd year Social Work student, and Renan Paulino, a MITACS intern from Brazil. They took our research and developed it into a game that permitted participants to engage in both constructivism and experiential learning as they learned about ways we can enhance the teaching and learning of international students. This was the first time we tried it, and from all reports, it went well.
I would also like to commend three other students who served on our expert panel for the game. These students included Victor Sam (Computer Science, Ghana), Sumeet Kaur (Bachelor of Arts-Criminology, India), and Ahuying Zhuo (Law, China). And, of course, our international student advisor, Deena Wang, who was instrumental in organizing the day.
What we did was to build 5 personas representing international students at the University of Windsor and then provide the related teaching practices for each persona to a groups of participants. Each group was asked to select 10 practices (they were given an average of 20 to select from) they thought fit the assigned persona and then defend one of these to the wider group. The expert panel, using green (agree), red (disagree), and yellow (not sure) lollipop signs helped us understand how each teaching practice may or may not be appropriate for the persona. It was a wonderful display of constructivism and experiential learning.
In the end, the GAs and TAs came away from the workshop with a key point. As we approach our students, we need to learn enough about each student to determine what teaching practice will enhance learning, both inside and outside of the classroom. Factors such as country of origin, area of study, length of time studying abroad, and level of study all lead to better understanding of the learning preferences of international students.
This was fun!