Highlights from the 2015 Innovation in Pedagogy & Technology Symposium

Long time no see…regularly. Yes, my blog languished a good bit during the past semester and while I was away on research in Australia. (More on the latter later. But here’s a pic of me photo-bombing ↓ some roos for now to tide you over.)

The author in Australia
Dopey hat required at all times to protect my extremely pale skin from the tropical clime. I also did research while down under, I promise.

I also taught a class, History of the U.S. Present, my second course, in the Spring. I’ll admit I lose focus on blogging while teaching. Potential post topics don’t seem to percolate as easily, and the idea of blogging on what I’m learning about teaching while teaching makes me a little uncomfortable. Perhaps there’s a blog post there somewhere. At any rate I’m back, working on the introduction to my dissertation with the help of #writingpact and weekly writing support meetings with my #TeamPhinisheD teammates. And to begin my return to regular blogging I offer you the below highlights from three sessions I attended at the 2015 Innovation in Pedagogy and Technology Symposium, which was held in May here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Getting Your Digital Hands Dirty: Creating Interest and Engagement in an Online Course
by Dr. Valerie Jones, College of Journalism and Mass Communications, UNL

This first panel gave me a lot to think about when it comes to utilizing blogs in both online and traditional courses. I’ve used blogs quite successfully in past courses to promote the development and improvement of student writing via iterative, brief (250-word) posts with formal writing standards and citations. Dr. Jones’ guiding principles (below) were especially helpful, and offer additional strategies to increase student engagement with course content and objectives. I especially like her idea of student-produced short videos on an independent reading relevant to the course topics.

Panel notes:

Guiding Principles:

  • start w/ their interests
    • e.g. Jones teaching course on digital/web analytics so had students start a blog on their interests — then students had data on their blogs the class could use
  • make it matter
    • e.g. rewards for students who develop a following, highest return visits
    • some peer pressure to produce good content & get visits (public nature of blog)
  • provide purpose
    • e.g. bring in guest speakers (via free-trial version of Zoom video conferencing) to show students can apply knowledge in class to, for example, real-world jobs
      • zoom video conferencing has the added advantage of allowing you to build a digital library of recordings of these guest speakers
  • give them a promotion
    • e.g. had lots of reading on Blackboard; had students create a presentation/video of “fresh content” of something they’d read that was highly relevant to the class → something they wanted the other students to know
    • helps create a sense of responsibility and community in the class
      • peer feedback = part of this too^
      • e.g. on peer feedback: require 2 peer reviews throughout the semester of other students’ blog + MUST cite an article in support of their critique)
  • closing thoughts: find the insight, be brave, have fun

Technology Tools as Levers for Learning
by Faye Haggar, Technology Training Analyst, UNMC

This panel was the last one I attended at the symposium, but it really got my creative juices going. Ms. Haggar not only introduced a wide variety of digital tools with pedagogical potential; she also offered examples of ways each tool can be used to support established principles of good teaching practice. Many of the tools listed (in my notes below) were new to me, while some were tools or platforms I was familiar with but unaware of certain features. I will definitely be experimenting with a few of these tools in future courses.

Panel notes:

  • #1: good practice encourages contacts between students and faculty
    • students want to feel a connection → scores go up when this happens
    • try Blackboard collaborate → virtual office hours
    • Remind 101 → send updates, reminders, other important information
      • used a lot in K-12
      • does NOT require you to give out your personal information (phone number) & is one-way communication
      • goes straight to their device
    • Screencastomatic → easy to use for an introductory video @ start of semester, set & articulate your expectations
      • up to 15 minutes
      • gives mp4
      • beta version may require download
  • #2: good practice develops reciprocity
    • document collaboration & sharing: Google docs, Office 365
    • Popplet → collaborative brainstorming (concept mapping)
      • can add links, files, images, videos, audio
      • updated in real time
    • FB class groups – “cringe” + “it’s where our students are”
      • not accessing any of their personal information this way (not friend-ing one another)
  • #3: good practice uses active learning techniques
    • TodaysMeet → “back channeling”
      • works much like Twitter but is PRIVATE
      • log in with a url
      • students can ask questions and/or leave a comment
      • can return to after class (both you AND the students can)
    • audience response: Socrative
      • similar to a clicker device
      • this^ = free and open source (currently, as are most all of the tools being discussed)
      • allows for multiple choice and short answer questions
      • students given a class poll to go to and answer Q’s
      • can do it in real time (so instructor can use during lecture)
      • can also have student-run poll to take at any time
      • Excel-format spreadsheet offered → students can be anonymous or require names (e.g. anonymous if want to show results in class to illustrate where everyone is)
      • can be set up to be taken just once or multiple times
    • Google formsexit tickets
      • can use to ask students questions at the very end of lecture (or provide most important thing they learned today)
      • students will receive a URL (you’ll need to shorten this for them)
      • *good to use to have students pick out important themes for the day (check how well picking these things out)
      • delivered to the instructor in the form of a spreadsheet → students don’t see this
      • you create the fields SO you can make it anonymous if you want
  • #4: good practice gives prompt feedback
    • consider making students use the following tools before submitting a paper (w/o checking the first submission)
    • Soundcloud → record a podcast
      • idea for audio feedback
      • free
      • sound clip can be private → can e-mail link to students or attach to an assignment on Blackboard
      • not sure what the limit is on this…
    • Adobe PDF → you can leave an audio message
      • on Adobe Pro ONLY
        • although students can listen in Adobe Reader
      • 1 minute-long limit
      • can click anywhere on the paper to add a 1-minute chunk message
    • Kaizena → works with Google Docs
      • recording audio
      • requires sign-up but is free
      • right click in Google Docs & say “open with Kaizena”
      • time limit is around 5-minute chunks → again, anywhere in the text
      • you can also type comments
      • students DO need to download Kaizena; need to tell them to do this (no e-mail sent)
      • works with any file in Google Drive
  • #5: good practice emphasizes time on task
    • TedEd → interactive presentation
      • can also create interactive quizzes
      • works with videos on YouTube
        • then insert questions into
        • give students questions to ponder & discuss
        • students can provide questions and/or feedback
        • can provide additional resources for students to look at
    • eduCanon → interactive videos
      • can use any mp4
      • load video, choose places to pause video and insert question to check for understanding, can tell it to “self-score” so students instantly know how they did
      • no limit to questions
      • get spreadsheet @ end w/ student name, score, what answers they offered
      • students cannot download the video (can always screen-capture though)
      • you can leave feedback for the students if they get a wrong answer (a prompt will come up WHEN they answer)
    • Evernote → shared notes
      • can share notebooks
      • different students assigned to take notes on different days → then can grade how students are taking notes
      • can leave feedback
  • #6: good practice communicates high expectations
    • Rubrics → Blackboard
    • (can also just google “rubrics” for some free platforms that students can download and print)
    • Google docs → group work and revision history
      • e.g. when group work is done, instructor can see via the revision history who did what revisions
    • thinglink → consider using to build an interactive syllabus
      • takes some time to build
      • build an infographic (Piktochart or Google “make my own infographic”) THEN, via thinglink, you add pop-outs that open when students click on (or hover over, scroll to ?) content (e.g. hyperlinks)
  • #7: good practice respects diversity and the different ways students learn
    • Random Name Picker → uses these for calling on students at random
      • so that “everyone gets a chance to respond”
    • Post It Plus → Digital Post-it notes
      • gives you a jpeg
      • app will “clean up” the notes
      • can group things together differently (could have the students do this in groups) → costs an extra 99 cents right now
        • has text recognition now
    • paper.li → curate material
      • students collect & build their own content
      • e.g. have students search topics (she does this in groups first) & find content (she assigns content for them to search through)
      • supplement to a class topic/theme

“Teaching Gender and Sexuality” workshop notes

“Teaching Gender and Sexuality” Workshop

with Professors Rose Holz, Margaret Jacobs, and Laura Muñoz

What challenges have you had in teaching these subjects and how have you dealt with these challenges?

Holz: don’t really think of challenges as such – teach matter of fact-ly; no need to tip-toe: just put it in there

  • let them start reading it and find out about it on their own
  • true, there will always be some disgruntled students but no need to be limited by this

Munoz: make it part of the knowing of, history of, intellectual exercise, the more students will grab on to it

  • be aware that you are a transmitter, a model of how you approach these kinds of conversations → without it being heightened, fearful
  • + often uses humor to deflect some of the fear of talking about these things

Jacobs: different if the course is specifically geared toward these topics versus working with these topics in a general course, basic history survey

  • demographics will be different depending on the course
  • being upfront with students about the reasons you are taking a certain approach
  • + students also come to classes with certain narratives already in their head (about what women’s and gender history is, what the story contains, how you will treat it)
  • likes to use humor as well to deflect any student discomfort, defensiveness

Munoz: agrees with telling students about your training and how it will impact the way they will approach the course

  • your training will come out naturally in the way you organize lectures anyway

Questions opened to attendees:

What about large courses and how to counter narratives students bring in with them (and particularly resistance to having these narratives complicated)?

Jacobs: example of Native American women, students often come in thinking Native American women were very oppressed

  • starts with a very general discussion of what students think women’s autonomy is → how are they autonomous? What is freedom? What are women’s roles?
    • Students come to understand the roles and status of Native American women = very different from that of European women at the time
  • Often MUCH easier for students to think about these issues within the context of the past

Munoz: need to tell students that everyone’s opinion matters and counts → over the course of the class move into interrogating students during discussion about how evidence supports their opinion(s)

How to make men feel welcome when teaching a mostly female course?

Holz: often jokes about this, lets them know they have a place in her course; has been told she’s “guy friendly”, not entirely sure what this means

Munoz: teaches at a regional university, had a particular course that was mostly white males

  • saw these students as interested in the lives of their female relatives → moves in to build personal connections to the material in this way, esp. using oral history interviews (as assignments)

Jacobs: interesting question – often only think about it when notice classroom composition “outside the norm”

  • a little discomfort is okay → learning experience to suddenly find yourself a minority in your classes
  • gets point of question re: wanting to make students feel welcome, able to participate

What happens when discussing women and gender and a “bomb gets thrown” during discussion in a large class, with very limit time? Don’t want to seem “un-gentle.”

Holz: when it’s issues of women, gender, sexuality = “way simpler” than dealing with issues of race

  • usually opens the floor to see what the rest of the course thinks, leave a heavy pause

Jacobs: often leaves space in class for correctives – so doesn’t feel so rushed

Munoz: depends on your style

  • tends to be pretty casual in her lectures
  • slows down, stops to have the conversation, since it’s important
    • interrogate the student, while emphasizing that you are open to conversation
    • forces student to “stand up to their own flippancy” when/if it comes out

Holz: admits to liking when students have a “backbone” and will question, debate

What about questions, comments that weren’t meant to be flippant or offensive?

Jacobs: classroom should “be a place of dialogue,” even when people say something offensive

Munoz: need to create a culture in the classroom where the students feel like they can share their ideas with you – even when they aren’t certain how to deal with them

Holz: emphasize to students that we need a space in which we can disagree with one another, yet still like each other

Breakout sessions
“Historicizing the Body” with Dr. Jeannette Jones

  • have students respond to a single question in advance of in-class discussion (online, Blackboard) → helps students deal with their tension, discomfort before class
    • “free-writes” for students → things that come to their mind first when see a particular image
  • Anne Fausto-Sterling, “Gender, Race, and Nation: The Comparative Anatomy of ‘Hottentot’ Women in Europe, 1815-1817” in Deviant Bodies, pp. 19-48; Janell Hobson, “Venus and the Hottentot: The Emergence of an Icon” and “The Hottentot Venus Revisited: The Politics of Reclamation” in Venus in the Dark, 19-86
    • + Punch cartoons
    • discuss values white people of the time ascribed to these “deviant” bodies → bestiality, ignorance, hyper-sexuality
  • + case studies re: deviance in female bodies
    • Jacqueline Urla and Jennifer Terry, “Introduction: Mapping Embodied Deviance,” pp. 1-18 and David G. Horn, “this Norm Which Is Note One: Reading the Female Body in Lombroso’s Anthropology,” pp. 109-128 in Deviant Bodies
    • Janell Hobson, “Re-presenting the Female Black Body” (title?) [makes arguments here about influence of the female body on fashion – e.g. the bustle]
  • using a syllabus for Women and Gender Reading Seminar (taught twice in the past)
  • studies American History, also interested in the history of science
  • “intersexed” – hermaphrodites as way to open discussion with students about biological sex as a construction
    • e.g. readings on intersexed children having gender assigned to them through surgery early in life → ideas about what it means to give the choice to the parents rather than the child + why we have this idea that one must “be one or the other”
    • Jones starts with the biological then moves forward from there into other “murky categories” that have nothing to do with biological (inheritance, voting rights, citizenship…)

How do you bring the body into a very basic, introductory history class?

  • Male and female bodies, free versus un-free bodies within the context of slavery → get students to understand the body as a site for inscribing power
  • coverture
  • Native American + white women’s bodies, differences, similarities
  • the gentleman body versus the workingman’s body → primary sources from the 18th century re: workingmen’s bodies – central to way early American and modern Americans thought about the body

history of medicine and science, “well they just didn’t know then,” couldn’t understand the way we understand the body now, how to get students to think historically about the body

  • bring in the social and cultural history of medicine and science → WHO are the people who are making these statements, who is being excluded
  • science’s understanding of certain topics change over time – “science as situated knowledge”
    • show was knowledge not superstition, was “common knowledge”


“Teaching About Race in History: New Perspectives and Pedagogies,” workshop notes

“Teaching About Race in History: New Perspectives and Pedagogies”, 4.5.2014

Dr. Jeannette Jones:

  • early modern period = critical to understanding ideas about race
    • as developed in the 18th & 19th century, Enlightenment & European thinkers
      • + colonial America
    • race as a social construct, with a history of its own → necessary for students to understand this
    • must understand role of gender in perpetuating ideas about race (e.g. slavery perpetuated through the race & status of the mother)
  • searches for primary sources to introduce students to these ideas^
    • pay attention to accessibility of the sources here
    • when get to the 19th century, pay attention to legislation (citizenship, property rights, expansion, movements attempting to challenging ideas about race + some peoples using ideas about race to forge identity and organize resistance against repression and slavery)
      • must consider the Dred Scott decision
  • finds that most students respond well to the above^ BUT are often surprised that people haven’t always thought about race as do now
  • when arrive at post-bellum period & the early 20th century, census records = very useful sources to use in conjunction with anti-miscegenation laws
  • 20th century includes a discussion of the Civil Rights movement, LGBTQ, Black Power movement
    • e.g. [MISSING word] River Collective Statement, National Black Feminist Association + some personal narratives & excerpts about people contemplating their racial identities
    • Vine Deloria, Desert Exile
    • uses some newspaper articles too

Dr. Kenneth Winkle:

  • emphasizing U.S. History, his area of specialization
  • 3 responsibilities to our students:
    • (1) teaching diversity through course content → non-European perspectives must be incorporated as part of the foundation & structure of our classes (NOT just sporadically interjected as an “add-on”)
      • lectures, readings, discussions
      • e.g. requires three readings: 1 on African Americans, 1 on Native Americans, 1 on women (& hopefully some documents written by diverse groups of peoples)
      • choice of textbook = critical → looks for a textbook with a broad focus
        • e.g. Mary Beth Norton’s A People & A Nation
    • (2) creating & maintaining a classroom environment in which everyone feels welcome and valued
      • faculty respecting students, students respecting faculty, students respecting each other
      • must make time to listen, not just talk (lecture)
      • respond thoroughly & thoughtfully to students’ questions and comments & incorporate thoughtfully into the lecture & classroom discussion
      • insist that students do the same with one another^
      • two questions on teaching evaluation mandated by the Board of Regents: Did the instructor treat the students with fairness & respect? Did the students treat the instructor fairly and respectfully?
        • Only two questions mandated → critical to the classroom environment
        • student writing = another crucial indicator of what’s going on in the classroom, what the instructor is bringing & how the students are responding
    • (3) representing a role model for our students → be a model of fairness & respect for our students
      • one thing to say it, another to live it
      • not just about teaching diversity – being diversity
      • also need to be aware of “red-flagging” diversity → diversity of perspectives should be a seamless component of our teaching & course content
      • diversity = not something we “hired someone else to do”; something that we all address in our work
        • not A.C.E. 9 requirement – it’s a part of history & part of the professional practice of history

Dr. Gerald Steinacher:

  • agrees with previous comments, particularly regarding listening to the students
  • teaching modern Jewish History, History of the Holocaust, History of Germany to a U.S. audience in Lincoln, Nebraska
    • first time he heard of Lincoln = within the context of Nazi propaganda in the 1970s and 80’s, being printed in Lincoln and smuggled into Austria to be used to support neo-Nazi groups
  • first, must learn where the students are coming from → cannot begin teaching wherever you like, need to know where the students are beginning
    • changes what he teaches based upon what he observes, learns about his student audience
    • pay particular attention to the first year’s teaching evaluations
  • uses primary sources, but ALSO people: survivors of the Holocaust to come speak to the class → “this really makes a difference”
    • much more impact than just reading a chapter in a textbook → dispels notions of the Holocaust as “long ago and far away”
  • also puts a great deal of effort into emphasizing the connections between nationalism and racism
    • 19th century European ideas about race based on language (rather than physical markers)
      • scientific racism
      • U.S. history connected to European history (e.g. clarified via eugenics, Charles Davenport in New York → Germany, West Africa) (forced sterilization)
      • for most students, this^ is very enlightening, something they are very surprised to learn
        • after the first year of teaching, learned needed to spend a good deal of time dispelling myths about the “Elders of Zion” → examine the history of this propaganda

Break-out sessions followed:

  • “Teaching About Racism in History,” with Jared Leighton and Dawne Curry
  • “Teaching About Whiteness in History,” with Jake Friefeld and Waskar Ari
  • “Teaching About the Origins of Race,” with Paul Strauss and James Coltrain

“Effective teaching statements and teaching portfolios” workshop notes

Below are my notes from another of UNL’s Office of Graduate Studies workshops, this time on the subject of creating an effective teaching statement and a teaching portfolio. The workshop was held on Thursday, February 20th.

A teaching portfolio = “a coherent set of materials including work samples and reflective commentary on them compiled by a faculty member [or graduate student] to represent his or her teaching practice as related to student learning and development.” (Hutchings, 1996)

  • a useful tool for…
    • identifying areas for improvement
    • developing your teaching methods/approach
    • documenting your teaching experience
    • preparing for academic interviews
  • focus today = preparing for the academic job interview
    • “the product of preparing a teaching portfolio may not be as useful to you in the long-run as the process

Portfolio content:

  • depends on the purpose
    • job search
    • awards application
    • promotion & tenure
  • varies across disciplines
  • linked to your goals for teaching & learning
  • three primary components:
    • roles & responsibilities
    • teaching statement
    • evidence of effective teaching

(1) Teaching responsibilities:

  • include: course number, course title, brief course description, course level (first year undergraduates/sophomores/juniors), date(s) taught, enrollment (number of students in course, maximum number allowed), description of your role in the course (recitation leader, instructor)
    • list these in reverse chronological order
      • be sure to update constantly, just as you would your C.V.
    • if haven’t taught courses, think about including very specific information on courses you would like to teach
    • a good option for your portfolio = to list these courses in table format (for easy browsing of your experience)

(2) Teaching statement:

  • need to get to the point where you can articulate “why you teach the way you teach” within a 30-second “elevator speech”
  • 1-2 page (single-spaced) statement that addresses:
    • What do you want students to do/learn? (learning objectives)
      • e.g. “I want students to become effective writers. I want them to formulate and articulate a stance through and in their writing.”
    • How do you help them learn? (methods)
      • e.g. “I use brief, in-class writing assignments to help students synthesize and critically evaluate information.”
    • How do you know if they’ve learned it? (assessment)
      • e.g. “I evaluate students’ blog posts in terms of content, synthesis, and relevance. Students are given examples of good posts and the grading criteria prior to the assignment.”
    • How do you measure your effectiveness?
      • e.g. “Every three to four weeks, I end the class by asking students to respond briefly to two questions: What’s the most important thing you learned today? and What questions still remain unanswered? Their responses help me identify what they understood from the discussion and what concepts are still unclear.”
  • NOT about telling your general “teaching philosophy” –> show, don’t just tell
    • the person(s) reading this statement are interested in what you’ve accomplished, learned, thought about more than simply what you think/believe
  • Keep in mind that a good teaching statement is:
    • concrete, personal/individualized, vivid, discipline specific, somewhat humble, all about student learning
  • Remember: Not all teaching takes place in the classroom. Think broadly about your contributions to student learning.
    • e.g. mentoring of undergraduate students can be included because it IS teaching; same for tutoring, for example

(3) Evidence of effective teaching:

  • include materials from:
    • oneself: syllabus, teaching sample, narrative reflection
    • colleagues: observation notes/summary, syllabus or material reviews/letters by recommenders
      • letters by faculty/other recommenders can be a particularly strong part of your teaching portfolio IF they are specific about your teaching
    • students: course ratings, comments, products/evidence of learning outcomes, letters, individual samples and aggregated summaries (anonymized & showing progress over the course of the semester)
      • offer raw data from course evaluations (to offer a fuller representation of your evaluations by students) BUT include samples that promote you as a teacher
  • other examples of evidence: list of courses taught, sample syllabi, sample assignments, sample quizzes/exams, teaching awards, evaluations by peers
  • when including student ratings/evaluationsbe selective:
    • choose items that link to your major claims
    • use a matrix/table to display and organize the evaluation questions you are using
    • provide mean (and median) ratings
    • include narrative commentary –> write about some of the feedback you’ve received to respond to criticism and/or illustrate ways you’ve responded to criticism and changed your teaching as a result
    • include selection of student comments that relate back to some of your major teaching goals
    • if appropriate, include complete evaluations in appendices (depends on the discipline)

Portfolio organization: (physical copy)

  • narrative description of teaching roles & responsibility
  • teaching statement
    • description of select teaching methods and strategies
    • highlighted teaching outcomes
    • insights/reflections and new goals
  • appedices (supporting data, documents, letters, etc.)
  • could maintain a physical copy to take with you to a job interview, although it will probably be infrequent that you will be asked to provide a physical copy

Qualities of a “strong” portfolio:

  • readability: format, headings, coherent, cohesive
  • storyline or “picture”: memorable fact/image, clear examples given
  • linked system of objectives, efforts, outcomes, adjustments: evidence that efforts do pay off or are changed

Revise, revise, revise:

  • remember your teaching statement = a work in progress
  • consider the suggestions of others and rewrite your statement over time
  • proofread carefully
    • remember that your statement is a writing sample –> you will be judged on the quality of your writing as much as the content

Final tips:

  • start now
  • be selective
  • don’t make any claims about your teaching you can’t document
  • don’t create your portfolio in isolation
  • consider it a work in progress
  • make cumulative tables & annual review narratives

Don’t be a snob: “How people use language is how language works”

The quote above is one of the central points Mary Rolf makes in her excellent Medium.com post, “Why I Stopped Being a Grammar Snob.” In the post Rolf, a self-described recovering English major and former grammar snob, discusses the major lessons she learned from a course entitled “Introduction to the English Language.” Rolf’s shift in perspective is something anyone who aspires to maintain a healthy level of behavioral self-regulation and humility can take to heart. But her arguments about the hierarchies inherent in grammar and the negative impact of grammar snobbery strike me as particularly crucial for those of us who are educators to bear in mind as we encourage our students to learn to express their ideas and arguments in writing. Below are some of the highlights from Rolf’s initial post, as well as from a follow-up post in which Rolf addresses the “grammar police” directly.

The most important thing I learned, though, was that there is no such thing as ‘standard English’ with a capital E. Instead there are many ‘englishes’ with a lower case E. There is the english of the Caribbean and the english of the southern United States and the english of Oxbridge and the english rappers use in their music.

A prescriptivist believes in the idea of standard English and sees mistakes everywhere. A descriptivist sees many englishes, and none of them are standard.

The way people speak and write is based on a lot of factors. Geography, for one. The various communities you belong to are also a big influence. Most of us belong to several communities and speak a little differently in the context of each one, whether that community is found at work, on a sports team, in a particular ethnic group, or in a religious community. We’re all fluent in more than one english, for example the language of our peer group and the language of our parents’ generation.

When you judge people for what you consider to be poor grammar, you’re judging them for not being as good as you at something that might be a challenge because they didn’t have the advantages or experience you did. Maybe they haven’t had the luxury of worrying about their grammar. Maybe their use of language is right in line with their community.

We don’t live in a grammar police state. Vigilantism clobbers the creative and communicative intention of language because it derails the conversation. And who are you to pass judgement on other people at all? Language belongs to all of us.

Language and grammar seem to be one of the few areas we still celebrate intolerance. Grammar Police, you can be so self-righteous that you’ve managed to warp grammar into a moral thing. You’re right or you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong you’re not just stupid, but also bad and the Grammar Police has license to judge you accordingly. No. This is denies the very essence of language, which is that it’s organic and continually evolving.

The case for extra credit at the college level

In discussions of pedagogical practices at the university level the issue of extra credit can be a contentious one. Sooner or later one is bound to hear some stern-toned iteration of the statement “I don’t believe in extra credit.” Somehow this statement has always brought to my mind the mental image of a puffed-up politician, declaring his intention to be “tough on crime” once he assumes office. One is never really sure about the specifics of what he means, but could still be moved to rally behind him by the sheer force of confidence with which he expresses his “tough” (i.e. anti-“soft”) stance. But even if the anti-extra credit statement is issued in one such self-assured tone, accompanied by a hostile, arms-crossed posture, it would be unfair to dismiss some of the anti-extra credit camp’s arguments. We should expect our students to work hard, do their best, behave professionally, and not try to invoke the pity of professors to make up for their own mistakes. They are in training to be career-holding adults after all, and the so-called real world is a difficult place. What we shouldn’t do, though, is let our fear of being or appearing “soft” make us expect our students to be just like us.

Some of the students who come to us will be just like us. As a self-professed nerd I like to say to my family and to others outside the academy, as a way of explaining what the culture of the academy is like, that you could think of most academics as the nerdiest of the nerds you knew in high school. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way. Academics love learning. We work hard to pay attention to what our mentors have to say, we constantly seek out new information, strive to be as productive as possible, and consider self-improvement a favorite pastime. Many of our students share these traits and, as a member of the human species, it’s natural to feel greater affinity for those most like us.

But many of our students won’t be like us. Many take our classes only because they have to, are much more interested in the college party scene than productivity, and genuinely believe other aspects of life should come before learning. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to instill the qualities of responsibility, attentiveness, and accountability in our students that we know they’ll need as they move forward in life. Of course we should. We should demand they achieve a certain level of proficiency in the content and methodology of our given fields as well. But since one of our basic responsibilities as educators is to ensure we serve all of our students, we must strive to move beyond our natural-born affinity for students like us and recognize the different interests, goals, backgrounds, and challenges our students come to us with. Consider some of the below recent data.

[R]ich kids without a college degree are 2.5 times more likely to end up rich than poor kids who graduate from college.

[O]nly 34 percent of high-achieving, low-income [what I like to call our “walk on water”] students attend a selective college versus 78 percent for high-achieving, high-income students.

The average Black student attends a school where the percentage of low-income students is 59 percent. The average White student attends a school where the percentage of low-income students is 32 percent.

The average high school graduation rate for Black students is 62 percent, compared to 81 percent for White students.

Low-income students are less likely to graduate from high school than more affluent students, less likely to enroll in college after high school and less likely to graduate from college after enrolling. Only about 1 out of 10 Americans whose parents were in the lowest income quartile held four-year college degrees by age 24 in 2011; the comparable share for people from the highest quartile was about 7 in 10.

Just 29 percent of the poorest students ever enroll, and only 9 percent ever finish.

These are just a few examples of the challenges and realities our students face. Yes, some students might choose to use extra credit to pad their already amazing midterm score, or, as an excuse not to study as hard for the final exam. But extra credit can also provide disadvantaged students the opportunity to repair the damage that late-night family emergency did to their attendance score, give them some breathing room for those two part-time jobs they have to work after they leave your class, or let them know you recognize that it might have been difficult for them to pay attention to your lecture while their brother, mother, or aunt is struggling with substance addiction. Maybe students with an anxiety disorder will take advantage of your extra credit to show you that although their disorder often inhibits them from speaking up a lot in class discussions, they really can work hard and are just as intelligent as their peers.

Perhaps you won’t decide to offer extra credit to your students for any of these reasons but instead as an acknowledgement that you, as their instructor, don’t always communicate everything perfectly, that you sometimes make mistakes, have bad days, and get distracted too. Awareness and recognition of your students as people who are often much different from you won’t make you “soft.” It will make you a better educator. When thinking about how to best serve your students consider the case for extra credit carefully.

white noise reduction

Ground rules for civil discourse

white noise reduction

As I look toward the freshman survey I’ll be teaching in the Fall and reflect upon my experiences leading recitation sections, serving as a teaching assistant, participating in graduate seminars, and arguing politics with relatives, a handout for my students with some basic guidelines for civil discourse seems ever more like a good idea. Below is a pdf of the document I developed, which I plan to discuss with the students in the first days of the course. The survey, which will be capped at 25 students, will be heavily discussion-oriented and should therefore provide many excellent opportunities for the students to practice civil discourse and learn its value in everyday life. As always, I welcome comments and recommendations.