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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
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!
Throughout the summer, it has been my pleasure to enjoy working with two wonderful undergraduate students, Miranda Pecoraro and Renan Paulino. Each contributed in meaningful ways to our ongoing research projects that are examining student views on the promising practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse post-secondary international students.
Miranda Pecoraro is a third-year Social Work student from Windsor, Ontario who is in our Outstanding Scholars program. She has been working with me for the past three semesters. The Outstanding Scholars program “provides an exceptional and supportive undergraduate learning experience for high-achieving students, emphasizing depth and breadth of research-based academic inquiry, strong and ongoing faculty/student mentorship, effective communication of research achievement, and achievement of external recognition of academic excellence.” Check out this video where Outstanding Scholar students explain the OS program in their own words.
Renan Paulino is a third-year Education student from Brazil who joined us as part of the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship program, which places undergraduate students at Canadian universities from a wide variety of countries (e.g., Brazil, China, European Union, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico, UK, US) to engage in faculty-led research projects. The focus of the Mitacs program is to create awareness of the leading research being done at Canadian universities and to enhance linkages between top international students and Canadian university faculty members. Here is a video on the Mitacs Canada Globalink Research Internship program. Interestingly, this is Renan’s second international exchange in Canada (the first was in St. Johns, Newfoundland while he was a high school exchange student), and he is considering returning for graduate education in the near future…hopefully with us!
Undergraduate research is one of the “high-impact practices,” originally identified by George Kuh (2008), that can be life-changing. They “demand considerable time and effort, facilitate learning outside of the classroom, require meaningful interactions with faculty and students, encourage collaboration with diverse others, and provide frequent and substantial feedback.” Students who participate in high-impact practices experience a more complete university student experience. Those that engage in undergraduate research frequently develop strong relationships with student peers and faculty members.
Our students participated in writing projects that led to a peer-reviewed published book chapter and research poster, and a journal article in press on the topic of “Variability by Individual Student Characteristics of Student Satisfaction with Promising International Student Teaching Practices.” They also developed a workshop on this topic for our upcoming University of Windsor GATAcademy. Further, they are facilitating an international student-learning community project that is continuing to investigate the difference in student opinions between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and non-STEM students on this topic.
They really take my breath away!
I cannot wait to welcome more undergraduate students into our research group!
Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Smith, C., Zhou, G., Potter, M., & Wang, D. (2019). Connecting best practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse international students with international student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning. In James, W. B., & Cobonoglu, C. (Eds.), Advances in Global Education and Research Volume 3, (252-265). Sarasota, FL: Association of North America Higher Education International. https://scholar.uwindsor.ca/educationpub/24/
Smith, C., Zhou, G., Potter, M., & Wang, D. (2019). Connecting best practices for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse international students with international student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning. Poster presented at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference, Winnipeg, MB.
While in Ireland last week, I became aware of the concept of “take-aways” rather than the North American term “to-go,” and so I thought I would reflect on a few take-aways from our recent, mostly sunny, trip to Ireland.
Let me start with my reason for visiting the emerald isle.
I had the pleasure of presenting a paper on some research my research team has recently completed on “Connecting Best Practices for Teaching Linguistically and Culturally-Diverse International Students with International Student Satisfaction and Student Perceptions of Learning” at the Ireland International Conference on Education, which was held in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, a short distance from Dublin. It was well received and left me reflecting on how I might collaborate with researchers in other countries on this topic. So many are interested in learning more about how we might provide a student voice in our research on the practices for teaching international students.
This is a small conference (about 100 participants) that left me with a developing network of research colleagues from around the world–all with an interest in enhancing education within the post-secondary education sector. Here are a few highlights:
- Gabriel-Miro Muntean, from Dublin City University spoke about the EU Horizon 2020 NEWTON Project’s use of innovative technologies and enhanced learning methods and tools to create or inter-connect existing state-of-the-art teaching labs and to build a pan-European learning network platform to encourage more students to consider STEM careers. While only a few years in, it shows great potential for turning on a new generation or STEM scientists and practitioners.
- Michael Plummer, from MAPco Education Consultant Group, shared a bit about misguided public criticism of education, and special education in particular. Findings from his study revealed that there is a continuing lack of knowledge by the public on the issues around special education. He also said “You can teach about the profession, but you cannot teach someone how to be a teacher. Teaching is a complex art, and not everyone can do it.” Very powerful stuff. Really made me think about the individual characteristics that contribute to inspired teaching.
- Deborah Patterson and Susan Carlile, from Portland State University, intrigued us with a session called “Nags, Bitches and Beauties: Women in Leadership” in which they shared the challenges facing women leaders, and recommended development of formal and informal mentoring program, use of a network of support within and outside the organization, and increased training for allies. I have seen many of these challenges first hand, and was impressed with their body of research. Hopefully, it will lead to action in the academy to enhance the way we support women along the way to leadership roles.
- Adam Unwin, from University College London, spoke about some themes from his book with John Yandell, Rethinking Education: Whose Knowledge is it Anyway? In particular Unwin stressed the challenges associated with the impact of Neoliberal measurement approaches, which have done a lot to “deform the landscape of schooling” in the United Kingdom. It made me reflect on how we can address this approach as the Ontario Government pushes performance funding within the post-secondary sector in the next several years. He even gave me a copy of his book!
But you can’t just go to Ireland for work, so we also took in some of the sights.
We toured the Wicklow Mountains, otherwise known locally as the Dublin Mountains, which borders the counties of Dublin, Wexford, and Carlow. Of course, they really are not mountains. Our tour guide told us at 561 meters, they are not tall enough to be mountains. But are they ever beautiful and mountain-like!
We also visited the western part of the country and took in side trips to Cliffs of Moher and the City of Galway. The Cliffs of Moher are really impressive. They stretch eight kilometers, reaching a height of 214 meters, with a vista embracing the Aran Islands. Almost thought I was in Newfoundland. The warm–we were told they are not always warm–winds whipping across the landscape took us back to the Harry Potter films, one of which was filmed here.
Galway is wonderful. Full of cultural charm, with lots of shopping and, of course, more restaurants and pubs than one can count.
Then there is Dublin itself. So much history with the experience of nationhood so near the surface of many conversations. Some of what tops the list include Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church, the National Museum of Ireland, St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, and the huge Phoenix Park that includes the Dublin Zoo, home to some very famous lions.
Our tour guides (two of the three were named John) used a wonderful style of speaking that I think I will try to use more in my teaching. Basically, they introduced what we would do, then told a story or two about what we would see, and then summarized before moving on to a new slice of the tour. Then, at the end, they shared some of the highlights. While it may be something that is just present in the Irish approach to interpersonal communications, it really worked, and was enjoyed by everyone.
Perhaps our true take-aways centre on the people, including the colleagues we met at the conference along with the native Irish we came to embrace through our travels in this breath-taking land.
I think we will be coming back.
At this week’s Canadian Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) Summit, we discussed SEM leadership in times of disruption. We focused on how changes in institutional leadership, governments, and technologies affect SEM performance. In particular, we discussed the impact of disruption on building community and international engagement.
Some of our discussion points included:
- Who should be around the table when a disruption occurs? Are groups already formed, or is there a need to develop new groups?
- How do we get the data needed for decision-making? Some may already exist, but new data may also be needed.
- While disruption can leave us perplexed, we need to find ways to keep our sense of purpose while managing SEM during challenging and distracting times.
- Disruption can be an opportunity to try something new or to focus the institution more clearly on its educational values and aspirations.
- The growing challenge of maintaining data privacy and security in turbulent times.
- The opportunity disruption provides to move from competition to collaboration across the higher education sector.
For many, we are already in disruptive times in the area of international student enrolment and engagement. Some talked about the near explosion of international student enrolment in recent years, especially for students from India. We heard about how this challenge might be a way of bringing together budget and SEM; that sometimes disruption can be internal; that budget drives culture; and opportunities flow from effective brainstorming across institutional silos. We were reminded of the importance of supporting international students, both personally and academically, as they enrich our institutions.
Jason Hunter, Vice President, Student and Community Engagement, at Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning put it well when he said the Summit helped us “to frame critical issues” and “to build capacity” by developing a strong SEM network of administrators and educators across Canada. We all experienced a little SEM therapy.
For me the key take away is the importance of encouraging collaborative dialogue and planning for disruption as we work to enhance institutional health and student success through our SEM work.
This week I, along with Windsor colleagues (Dr. Ken Montgomery, Dean, Faculty of Education; Ryan Flannagan, Associate Vice-President, Student Experience), welcomed graduate students and faculty to the University of Windsor from Western Michigan University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership program during their study abroad trip through Ontario. As a dual citizen (both US and Canadian), it was my pleasure to share a bit about Canadian higher education.
As Canadians often do, we opened our dialogue on the state of the weather, which was 9 degrees Celsius and with a forecast of light snow mixed with rain. Keep in mind this was April 10th! We then talked about geography. Some were surprised that they had traveled south as they came into Canada and that Windsor is the southern most part of Canada, with a good portion of the US north of us.
I was, of course, glad to see some adventurous students try poutine in our cafeteria, a made-for-students delicacy composed of fresh-cut french-fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. They loved it!
The visiting students and faculty were very interested in the similarities and differences between the educational systems and the challenges and opportunities facing the Canadian and Ontario higher education systems. This, of course, led to some discussion of the political system in Canada since higher education is mostly funded and controlled by the provinces.
Our conversation touched on many topics, but two were of particular interest: international education and student mental health.
On international education, we discussed the growing international student population on Canadian campuses, including the University of Windsor, and the stalled and declining enrolment of international students at many American colleges and universities.
Mental health for both American and Canadian institutions is a growing concern. Some were surprised to learn that mental health support at our campus is greater than it is in the community.
We then took a short tour of our student services, snapped a picture, and wished them well as they travelld to other Ontario colleges and universities.
My guess is they will head home with a richer understanding of Canadian higher education and a sense of some of the things we can do together in the years to come.
For the past few semesters, I have ended my smaller classes with potluck food and beverage sharing, a poster fair, and a chance to end the semester with loads of fun. I thought I’d share a bit about this in case this may be something other teachers might want to try.
The students plan the potluck. I just ask that they try to mix it up a bit so we don’t get all chips and poutine! This year students brought food items in from their home culture, as well as what could readily be found in nearby bakeries and grocery stores. What is important is that everyone contribute. The added benefit is that there is almost always food left over, and this results in the sharing continuing even after class finishes. I see the potluck as a key outcome of the course. Students will engage with each other (and me!) around the potluck table in some wonderfully engaging ways.
The poster fair is a great match for any class in which a major project is completed. I have done it for my Research in Education Class, a first-year graduate level class in which students prepare a research proposal. Students in my Theories of Individual and Collective Learning, an undergraduate course in our Minor in Organizational Learning and Teaching, also prepare posters. During the poster fair, students listen to each other’s poster presentations and provide peer review at the end, including an opportunity to engage collectively in a topic of the individual students’ choice. It is a great reflective experience that provides students with a truly authentic learning experience.
The loads of fun part comes as we engage each other, take a class photo, and then assemble an end-of-class mind map on the class topic. Lots of moving around, wonderful smiles, and a chance to put the course into practice.
You might think this approach is best with one type of student or class. Actually, it works for undergraduate and graduate classes. Size matters, with the best results being when the students know each other. But my guess is it could also work in a larger class. Maybe I will try that next year!
In my Teaching and Learning, Part 1 class (EDUC119B), I recently used Mentimeter (www.menti.com) in a large class (110 students), which meets in our large lecture hall in the Education Building. This class is recorded for students unable to make class.
Students created a class-wide word cloud in response to the question, “what are the current educational issues facing teachers today? This was done as a follow-up to a guest lecture presented by Dr. Lyndsey Jaber, a school psychologist with the Greater Essex County District School Board, on the topic “Bullying: Definition and Implications.”
They then held two group discussions that included: a) identify the top 5 issues facing teachers today and indicate your reason for selected these iss
ues, and b) select one of your issues and discuss how you would handle this issue during your classroom observation. A short Blackboard quiz was used to assess student learning.
Here is a link to the word cloud students created, which I subsequently posted to our Blackboard course page.
After being empowered by Dr. Jaber’s presentation, students were able to bring it into their area of interests by way of the creation of the Mentimeter word cloud and the subsequent discussions we had during the second part of class. What made this work particularly well was the speed by which the cloud developed and the observation that others in the class picked some of the same issues, which led to the group discussions that followed. So rather than lecturing about the educational issues facing teachers, the class was able to discover these issues and then share their thoughts about the top vote getters. Very powerful and impactful!
Probably the only issues we faced were that not everyone had a phone or laptop so some students partnered up, and the focus of the group discussions were probably impacted by the extroverts in the group, and may have resulted in some students not weighing in on their top issues of concern.
In reflection, when I do this again I am thinking about asking students to write a one minute essay on an issue they believe strongly about, which they can upload to Blackboard during class. That way I can be sure to give voice to all students on this important topic.