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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
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.
While attending the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference recently, I attended a session in which Melanie Hamilton and Bonnie Farries, from Lethbridge College, spoke about the intersection of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM).
These are two areas that rarely find their way to the same platform, either at a professional or an academic gathering.
Hamilton and Farries introduced a model to show how each of these desparate activities support overall student and institutional success. The model they shared at the conference is below. Hamilton and Farries argued that SEM focuses on macro level decision-making without sufficient attention to the micro level and SoTL focuses on the micro level with little attention paid to macro level priorities. Through effective coordination, SEM and SoTL can enhance macro and micro activities to achieve greater levels of student success.
My take away is that both SoTL and SEM play an important and effective role in institutional effectiveness and student success.
The maxim of “playing your position” seems appropo to the intersection between SEM and SoTL. Many have written about the importance of playing your position within the context of team. Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Andrew Carnegie commented, “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” And Helen Keller professed “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” All could be said to endorse the notion of each of us playing our position well; that by performing our role effectively, we can achieve great things.
If enrolment professionals and the instructors who teach our classes each perform their respective roles well, it is likely that we will achieve much institutional and student success.
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.
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!
This year, I began teaching and advising first- and second-year students in our Concurrent Education program. This program allows students to earn two bachelor degrees in five years, one in an academic major, and the other in education. Education courses are taught in each year of the program.
One of the outcomes early on in this program is the creation of an educational portfolio or ePortfolio.
Students document their learning throughout the program using an ePortfolio. When finished, they will have an ePortfolio that shows how they meet the Ontario College of Teachers’ (OCT) professional standards. It will also contain their teaching philosophy, and resume/cv. Rather than the customary cover letter, an ePortfolio helps students to present a bit of themselves in a visually appealing format. This is something that is becoming an essential part of the process of becoming a professional teacher.
But it is much more than that.
I know this because I created my own ePortfolio. In it, you will find this blog, as well as other blogs I have written on teaching and related topics. You will also see that my focus is on teaching and research in a postsecondary educational setting, and so it has a slightly different feel than what my students are doing. I thought it was important that I develop one so that I would know some of the challenges in creating an ePortfolio. I also wanted to experience some of the fun too!
What I learned along the way is magical.
While much of what students do is to assemble artifacts (e.g., photos, documents, videos) that show how they meet the OCT professional standards. The magic arrives when they write reflections about these artifacts and share how they use them in their teaching.
Teachers, like most professionals, are all about doing.
They prepare lesson plans, design courses, conduct student assessments, lecture, and facilitate student learning in lots of wonderful ways. They are, put simply, busy with the practice of their craft.
What we are learning, however, is that the practice of reflective thought is essential for teachers to grow as educators, and to ensure they connect with their students.
Well-written ePortfolios include a reflective bit of writing (usually a paragraph or two) for each artifact. It is in writing reflections that students take a deep dive into their values, ethics, and ways of knowing that support their teaching. I am greatly enjoying reading the ePortfolios my students are creating.
This helped me understand what I have achieved with my teaching. It also helped me to establish some goals for where I want my teaching to go. Most importantly, it allowed me the freedom to dream about why I teach and how I help to make the world a little bit better by “teaching for learning.”
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.
George Kuh (2008) tells us that there are 11 teaching practices that have high impact on student learning. These include: first-year experiences, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity/global learning, service learning/community-based learning, internships, capstone courses/projects, and ePortfolios. Students who benefit from these teaching practices “earn higher grades and retain, integrate, and transfer information at higher rates” (p. 14). Some of the common characteristics of these HIPs:
- Demand that students commit considerable time and effort to” purposeful tasks”;
- Demand they interact with faculty and peers about academic matters over extended periods of time;
- Increase the likelihood that students will experience diversity through contact with people who are different from themselves;
- Provide students with frequent feedback about their performance;
- Provide opportunities for students to see how what they are learning works in different settings, both on and off campus; and
- Provide life changing experiences for students
William Cronon (1999) captured the essence of HIPs when he wrote:
More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways. Every one of the qualities I have described here–listening, reading, talking, writing, puzzle solving, truth seeking, seeing through other people’s eyes, leading, working in a community–is finally about connecting (p. 12).
Today I would like to focus on one of the HIPs, undergraduate research. Universities are increasingly providing research experiences for undergraduates that engages students with “actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions” (Kuh, 2008, p. 10). This leads students to benefit from each of the HIP common characteristics noted above. For a long time, this educational activity was limited to graduate students. But now, we are seeing undergraduates also benefit from research as learning by “listening, reading, talking, writing, puzzle solving, truth seeking, seeing through other people’s eyes, leading, working in a community”; all of which results in them connecting to each other and the world in some very meaningful ways.
For many years, we have had a wonderful program at the University of Windsor, Outstanding Scholars, which sees undergraduate students engage with faculty members on important research projects outside of the classroom. Students are paid to work in a research placement for up to six semesters. During that time they have the opportunity to be mentored in their discipline, and to get to know faculty much better than they would in the classroom only. This semester I have had an opportunity to work with one of our scholars on a project involving supporting an international student learning community research project on finding the connection between student satisfaction and perceptions of learning with the promising teaching for teaching international students. Miranda Pecoraro has worked closely with graduate and undergraduate students, faculty members, and research staff as she developed enhanced collaboration, communication, and quantitative knowledge with regard to developing a research project. It has been a pleasure watching her challenge herself and grow both personally and professionally throughout the semester. I am especially pleased that she will be continuing with the project.
This week I had the pleasure of participating as a judge in the University of Windsor’s UWILLDiscover Conference. This is a conference that takes undergraduate research a step further by combining it with the research output of graduate students. At this year’s conference, we saw Faculty of Education undergraduates present on their experiences traveling to China as part of our Reciprocal Learning Program. There were posters presented on a range of topics where undergraduates, graduate students, and staff/faculty supervisors presented with undergraduate students. And we also saw separate but equally well developed presentations made throughout the four days of the conference by both undergraduate and graduate students. Added to all of this, the conference was managed by a large group of student volunteers working under the guidance of Dr. Phil Wernette.
Perhaps the next step is to find ways to combine in-class learning with research engagement in ways that remove the lines for student learning in between the classroom and the extracurriculum. If this interests you, drop me a comment. I would be interested in how you are creating dynamic research-based learning experiences for undergraduate students across the student experience.
Cronon, W. (1999). Only connect: The goals of a liberal education. Liberal Education, 85(1),
Kuh, G. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada are increasingly becoming ethnoculturally and linguistically diverse which is partially due to increasing enrolment of international students. Currently, 1.4 million international students choose to study at Canadian and U.S. post-secondary educational institutions, which increased by 7.1 percent between 2015 and 2016 (Canadian Bureau of International Education, 2016; Institute of International Education, 2016).
Currently, campus internationalization initiatives focus primarily on external areas including education abroad and student exchange, recruiting international students, and institutional partnerships. However, this is expected to change as more institutions are developing academic-related internationalization initiatives (e.g., international or global student learning outcomes, related general education requirements, foreign language requirements). A growing number of institutions are increasing faculty engagement in internationalization efforts. To do this, faculty will need to critically examine their role in campus internationalization and implement teaching strategies that address international student success factors.
In a recent study, we explored the promising teaching practices for teaching linguistically and culturally-diverse international students by identifying the teaching practices that have high levels of international student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning. This study is based on the belief that the most effective teaching practices are where promising teaching practices, student satisfaction, and student perceptions of learning meet.
We found that the promising teaching practices identified as having high levels of student satisfaction also have medium/high student perception levels of learning. We also found a positive correlation between student satisfaction and student perceptions of learning for each of the promising teaching practices. In particular, fourteen correlations were reported at the .700 level or higher, suggesting a strong positive correlation, including assessing needs, assignments, clarifying expectations, class preparation, culturally-responsive teaching, feedback, and language proficiency. Our hope is that faculty who engage in these teaching practices will become more engaged in campus internationalization and improve international student success on their campuses.
We are currently engaged in a student-informed research project that will see us compare international student satisfaction for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and non-STEM international students to learn more about why STEM and non-STEM students have different views on the effectiveness of the promising teaching practices.
For more information and to follow our project, here is the link to our research web page.
Canadian Bureau of International Education (2016). A world of learning: Canada’s performance and potential in International education. Ottawa: CBIE.
Institute of International Education (2016). Open doors 2016. New York, NY: IIE.
After more than 30 years engaged in higher education administration in the U.S. and Canada, I took the plunge and returned to my teaching roots. And what an adventure it has been!
I took nearly everything that our Centre for Teaching and Learning offered as a way of rebooting and modernizing my approach to teaching. This took me through the Certificate in University Teaching, Blackboard Boot Camp, the Teaching Dossier Academy, and lots more. I learned about SoTL and scholarly teaching. It resulted in me adopting “teaching for learning” as my teaching style, which, of course, was a perfect match to my dean of students’ experiences putting students first in all we do.
More recently, I have explored the open practice world with the help of our Office of Open Learning. It has left me inspired to move away from traditional pedagogies and adopt a more open path to teaching and learning. This led me to explore educational technologies, curation, collaboration, experimentation, and scholarship related to open practice. I am even currently considering the development of an Open Educational Resource for one of my courses and have now created an ePortfolio!
The combination of “teaching for learning” and entering the open learning world has led me to want to learn more about how we as educators, teachers, researchers, and supporters of student learning can more fully centre our work on enhancing student learning.
Where this adventure will lead me, I do not know. What I hope is that it will make me a better teacher, facilitator, mentor, and coach for my students.
I cannot wait to experience what is next on my journey.
From time to time, I will write in this blog about my experiences. Maybe you will tune in and reflect with me about how you incorporate “teaching for learning” and open learning pedagogies in your teaching.