Best Practices for Teachers with Students with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

I started my college journey six months after brain surgery and my subsequent release from the hospital and retirement from the military.  I was apprehensive and nervous going back to school as I realized I was not able to function at the same level I performed at even six short months before.  It took me four times longer to read a passage or text, my recall wasn’t nearly as immediate or robust as it was previously, I had difficulty sustaining focus on a single task, I was constantly searching for words and my speech was slowed, and I had to relearn how to learn.  The remnants of the incident had since healed, but the mental scars still lingered and manifested themselves on a near daily basis.  Unfortunately, my story is a fairly common tale.  As a student veteran who suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I know first-hand the struggles many individuals, especially veterans, face when entering a higher education setting after an injury.  However, as we are each unique in our own way, the specific manifestation of a TBI or PTSD is also unique to each individual.  As my exact condition might not be identical to another’s, the basic tenets of what I learned as both a student, and since then as an educator, have given me an invaluable perspective which I hope to share in this post.

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Definition of a TBI

For background, a TBI is a specific type of brain injury resultant of an external force via a bump, blow, jolt, or barometric wave of energy to the head causing either an open or closed injury that disrupts the function of the brain (Faul, 2010).  A TBI can occur when a head hits a windshield during a car accident, shrapnel enters the brain after a blast, or even from the pressure of a nearby explosive event.  Conversely, not all head injuries result in a TBI, and the severity can range from mild (brief loss of consciousness) to severe (extended period of unconsciousness and memory loss) (CDC, 2011).

The recent rise in instances of TBI over the past decade can be attributed to the growth of knowledge in the subject and the attention it is receiving from the media and sports industry.  Although TBIs are often undiagnosed and not reported, it is more prevalent than multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, and HIV combined (Leibson et al., 2011).  Unfortunately, there is a dichotomy in perception with TBI.  It is becoming more apparent and stressed upon by the medical community that TBIs need be to seen and treated as a disability, but the majority of the population still do not see the critical nature of having these injuries examined.  This creates the larger problem of individuals going undiagnosed, which is especially difficult in higher education as the most common age range for a TBI is 15-26, and these individuals are less likely to seek medical attention on their own (Novak & Bushnik, 2008).

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Building an Inclusive Classroom: Collaborating in the Classroom

This is the final installment of the six-part series on inclusivity in the classroom.  Other installments are: A Starting Place, Reflecting on Privileges, Knowing Your Students, Questioning Your Assumptions, and Challenging the Status Quo. You can also read more about the ways our faculty use inclusivity practices in their own classrooms in Inclusivity in Practice.

An inclusive classroom must be built on the foundations of collaboration.  When faculty members collaborate with students, they demonstrate their respect for the student experience by giving them a proverbial seat at the table.  In theory, many educators would agree that collaborative classrooms are ideal learning spaces.

Inclusion Blog3

In practice, however, faculty members (and some students) find relinquishing even some control over the course to be at best uncomfortable and at worst unfathomable.  For these faculty members, collaboration might mean starting small:

  • polling students on what is / isn’t working in the classroom
  • giving students a choice on the format or medium for an assignment
  • asking students to be the discussion leader
  • providing different options for questions types on an exam

Such gestures demonstrate that the faculty member explicitly respects the students’ learning experiences and understands their unique needs.  By establishing this conduit for communication, the faculty member works to bridge the divide between themselves and the students in the traditional classroom hierarchy.

For collaboration to work, it must be woven into the fabric of the course.  Collaboration and inclusivity cannot be merely an afterthought or an attempt at ‘good will’ between faculty and students.  Instead, it should be communicated to the students as an integral part of the course on par with the learning objectives.  There are many ways to communicate this commitment to inclusion:

  • include a collaboration statement in your syllabus and assignment prompts
  • create an weekly collaboration learning objective
  • link assessments to the collaboration learning objective
  • build in reflective moments or assignments that ask student to critique their own collaboration

While there are many methods to forefront collaboration in the classroom, I am particularly fond of the co-authoring model wherein the students and faculty member write the course’s foundational documents together.  I have found that such methods not only produce a shared learning environment that promotes inclusivity, but also increases student buy-in and accountability in ways that the top-down teaching method does not. Some examples of co-authoring include:

  • course policies and course schedule
  • classroom ‘bill of rights’ and ‘bill of responsibilities’
  • rubrics (or grading criteria) for major projects or exams
  • assignment prompts, including requirements

Collaboration in the classroom puts into practice many of the aims of inclusivity: establishing mutual respect, including multiple perspectives, demonstrating awareness of differences, and questioning inherited structures.  When we value collaboration, we model inclusivity for our students, and perhaps more importantly, they model it for us.

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About the Author

Wehler 2Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences at Central Penn College.  Her publications include book chapters in a variety of edited collections where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture. She also has a forthcoming article on the television adaptation of Jessica Jones and is the co-editor for an upcoming collection on Supergirl.  She has published on topics of teaching, pedagogy, and student success and has recently launched an open access resource, The Online Lecture Toolkit, developed to support the needs of educators who want to create effective online video content with co-creator, Judith Dutill. She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Building an Inclusive Classroom: Questioning Your Assumptions

This is the fourth installment of the six-part series on inclusivity in the classroom.  Other installments are: A Starting Place, Reflecting on Privileges, and  Knowing Your Students.  You can also read more about the ways our faculty use inclusivity practices in their own classrooms in Inclusivity in Practice.

Reading the news, you will learn one thing for certain: millennials are dangerous.  They seem to destroy, ruin, or kill everything, even things that I didn’t realize were so very precious to our existence.  Of course, these accusations are not anything new.  Older generations have long maligned the youth with indictments of bringing the end to civil society.  What they do reveal, however, is the persistence of the generational divide and the lines on which such divides are drawn.  They intimate the presumed values of an older generation giving way to the equally presumed values of a younger generation.  They provide a context for understanding, explaining, justifying, and defending a changing cultural landscape.

Millennials

In the classroom, these debates often serve as an obstacle to building inclusivity in the classroom.  First, their seeming frivolousness belies a more serious conversation about changing social mores. It’s easy to scoff at the death of cereal, but less so when it comes to paradigm shifts in the workplace.  The classroom is not immune to such changes, and in fact, is often the incubator of them.  Second, these debates consciously and unconsciously create and reinforce assumptions we have about our students.  They presume to tell us about who are students are: their values, beliefs, goals, habits, and attitudes.  And, if we do not get to know our students, we may rely on these external narratives to influence our classrooms and the relationships with them.

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You DO Have Time For This! Incorporating Video into Your Classes

By Maria Thiaw, M.F.A., Professor, English and Communication

Every new technology has its benefits and its pitfalls, and throughout history, as new inventions have emerged, traditional industries have shown reluctance before coming to acceptance. Teaching, an ancient art, is no different. All of the new bells and whistles coming our way from CPC’s CTE can be overwhelming and under a challenging course load, learning new technologies can seem impossible. That being said, today’s students have been raised on multimedia and in order to lasso them long enough to get our points across, we need a 21st-century approach. This is why I was an early adopter of all that the CTE has to offer.  In the process of using the CTE to create videos through Screencast-O-Matic and the One Button Studio, I have learned a few things that have made using technology in the classroom easier.

First, you have to approach this with an open mind and understand that it is a process. Look at your schedule for places where you can squeeze in some practice time. Come in on a Monday or use one free hour during each day to learn how to use the programs. The biggest time commitment is in the beginning when you are learning. I found that it took a couple of days of practice, but they are very user-friendly and Kim and Judith were there to help. Once I mastered them, things went much faster. Now that I know how to use the programs, I find that I need about 2 – 3 hours to prepare a PowerPoint video for a class. 1 hour to prep it, 1 hour or less to record it and 1 hour to edit it. This is why it’s best to learn and plan over break, have a script ready, and plan time throughout each week to build your inventory of lessons. Notice the word I am repeating here is PLAN.

Secondly, you must edit your expectations. Don’t expect to have an entire class, let alone 4, completed over a two-week break. This isn’t a week long project; it’s a term-long project. It might take longer than that to feel like your class is perfect. Take your time and get through each lesson. Eventually, the class will be where you want it to be and you’ll be proud of it.

Lastly, don’t worry! You don’t need 44 hours of video, even if it is an online class. It is best to use a variety of teaching methods. Attention spans are short these days so think about keeping your videos less than ten minutes. If you are lecturing for an hour, you can break it up into five or six segments, which helps to promote student focus.

Now that I can handle Screencast-O-Matic, I can create and edit short videos at home.  Even under our intense schedule, with some planning and patience we can work some of these technologies into our pedagogy.

Take-Aways from Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

By Melissa Wehler, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

On June 5, 2017, I had the pleasure of representing Central Penn College at the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning in Bethesda, Maryland. My presentation, co-written and co-presented with Judith Dutill, Instructional Designer at Millersville University, was entitled “Pause Procedure and Reflecting Learning in the Online Classroom” and was presented to a crowd of more than thirty educators from institutions of higher education around the country.

The session reviewed methods and techniques that online teaching faculty can use to engage their online students. First, we discussed the challenges faced by online teaching faculty in designing effective instruction for the online modality and promoted the use of microlectures and pause procedure techniques. Next, we defined the elements of a microlecture and discussed the relevant research on the considerations faculty should make before endeavoring to develop their own microlecture. Finally, we discussed methods for incorporating pause procedure into video lectures and introduced some technical tools to assist with this implementation. Specifically, we reviewed some of the software techniques being used at Central Penn, including Play Posit, Voice Thread, and Office Mix.

In addition to my own session, I attended sessions on:

  • What Lies Beneath: Rethinking Major Issues in Teaching and Learning
  • Radically Inclusive Classrooms: Promoting and Protesting a Diverse Learning Environment
  • #InteractiveLearning: Technology Tools to Engage and Support All Learners
  • Advising Online: An Orientation Module to Support Faculty Student Interactions
  • Improving Academic Integrity: Evidenced-Based Strategies

 

While there were many take-aways from the conference, here are a few that resonated with me:

Teaching-oriented versus learning-oriented. During the opening session, Todd Zakrajsek made an excellent point about this issue by asking: “does your lesson change if there are no students in the room?”  The question addresses the fundamental difference between teaching and learning.  If you can deliver the same presentation, run through the same information, and provide the same talking points to a room of thirty as you can to an empty room, you are probably teaching-oriented.  If your lesson plan so thoroughly addresses, integrates, and engages students that you could not possibly proceed, then you are probably learning oriented.

Understand and respect cognitive load.  There comes a point where students (and frankly, us as well) reach a point where we cannot take in any more information.  Rather than continue past this point-of-no-return, find ways to break up the material.  Incorporate reflective breaks to give students a chance to work with the information.  Think about the ways to manage the class so that there is some thinking and some doing.  Understand that no matter how brilliant the lesson, students can only retain so much.

Ends over means.  The role of lecture in the classroom was a hot topic this year, but overall, the sessions I attended seemed to reiterate the same point: engaged students are better than disengaged students no matter the method.  Sometimes, lecturing is necessary; sometimes, it’s not.  The key is that you know your own strengths and weaknesses as an educator, play to those strengths, and engage your students.

About the Author

13240559_10101056173646389_348591978591550789_nDr. Melissa Wehler serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Wehler Publishes Article on Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Dr. Melissa WehlerOn June 5, 2017, Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences and CTE@CPC blog contributor, published an article entitled “Students’ Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Five Ways to Break the Cycle” in Faculty Focus, an online teaching newsletter. Faculty Focus is published by Magna Commons and reaches an international audience of higher education professionals.  The article provides educators with practical tips on how to help students break negative self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom, including providing opportunities for metacognition, flipping roles, creating check-in points, building in moments for dialogue, and pointing it out.

Wehler’s other publications include book chapters in various edited collections, including “”The Haunted Hero: The Performance of Trauma in Jessica Jones” in Jessica Jones Anthology (McFarland, 2017, forthcoming), ‘Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky’: Neil Gaiman’s Extraordinarily Ordinary Coraline,’” in A Quest of Her Own: The Female Hero in Modern Fantasy (McFarland, 2014) and “The Haunted Transatlantic Libertine: Edmund Kean’s American Tour” in Transnational Gothic: Literary and Social Exchanges in the Long Nineteenth Century (Ashgate Publishing, 2013) where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture. She also will be co-editing a collection about CW’s adaptation of Supergirl (McFarland, 2018, forthcoming). She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Prep for Your Courses Using Library Resources!

By Emily Reed, Instruction and Reference Librarian; Adjunct Faculty

Whether you are building a course from scratch or using a preexisting course shell, supplying your students with supportive learning materials will enhance your students’ academic success. There are many ways that adding specific articles and/or videos to your course content can help engage your students and learn more effectively. Articles, ebooks, and/or educational videos:

  • Make for good discussion board questions
  • Encourage students to read higher quality materials than they may be currently comfortable with
  • Get students used to the interacting with a large research database
  • Instill the value of using the library’s online resources for research
  • Provide a variety of content delivery modes

Did you know that it’s never been easier to link to journal articles, ebooks, and digital films provided by our Charles “T.” Jones Leadership Library to your course in Blackboard? You can access all of the following resources at this link. (If you are using this link off campus, you will be prompted to enter your Blackboard username and password to authenticate your account.)

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