Opening the Gates for First-Generation College Students

With the changing demographics of higher education, we are beginning to really grapple with questions about the first-generation college student: what defines them, what drives them, and what gets them to graduation. First-generation college students lack a legacy of information or the institutional knowledge about college passed down through generations of familial and communal college graduates. Without informational sources and support, first-generation students find themselves wandering through a labyrinth of linguist and cultural barriers that define them as “others” in a system dominated by insiders. Like most cultural institutions, some of these barriers were created over time and out of convenience for the ultimate insiders—faculty, staff, and administration—to improve their ability to navigate the system. While other barriers were created as gatekeeping devices precisely to bar the way for these educational “others.”  Admissions processes, “weed out” courses, and academese are all part of the artificially created barriers meant to deter students who “shouldn’t be here.”

Wehler Blog

As a first-generation college student, many of my micro-barriers centered on asking for help whether it on a homework assignment, a graduate school application, or a letter of recommendation. It had little to do with people’s willingness to help me—when I ultimately did ask, people were delighted to offer their assistance—and more to do with my own insecurities about my place in the academic system. Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I see this same scenario play out with my first-generation students who would rather send me an email to ask a question than raise their hands during class. I say this not out of frustration, but truly, out of envy. If email had been the preferred method of contact (or a method of contact) for any of my professors, I would have certainly taken the same path (of less resistance). That is why I hold such a hope for the ways that technology and online teaching can help us reach, retain, and graduate the first-generation college student. Read More

On Failure and Fear in the Classroom

In a recent blog post, Nicole Matos, an English professor who writes extensively on student experience and pedagogy, shares valuable feedback from students in her developmental writing courses. Matos (2017) prompted this feedback by asking them a deceptively simple question: “What do you really, really wish your professors understood?” (para. 1).

Among the several answers students provided, one strikes me as particularly powerful and especially relevant to any instructor who encounters at-risk or “breakaway” (Jaschik, 2017, para. 1) students: “Don’t take our failures personally.”

Vickless Blog

Matos (2017) identifies the cognitive dissonance this situation creates: “[students] recognized — but also somewhat resented — that we [instructors] tend to hold a deep love for our subject, and unconsciously affirm it above all other demands. But students have fragmented, split lives, with many competing priorities, including finding transportation, maintaining housing, and putting food on the table.” (para. 13).

Matos’s point isn’t always easy for us to accept, especially if we see it as our duty to pre-professionalize students by holding them to the norms and mores of workplace culture.

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Reuse vs. Recycle: The Ethics of “Double-Dipping”

A few years ago, an article from Chronicle of Higher Ed posed the question, “Can scholars plagiarize themselves?” (Lang 2010).  Lang argues that despite academic policies that penalize students for “double-dipping” or self-plagiarism, this practice is frequent among academics. We recycle parts of conference presentations or adapt pieces of an article or book for different purposes. We may have sliced up a dissertation chapter into a few different articles or conference presentations, or we may even use a previously published article in a published book (depending on the copyright provisions of each publication).  With this in mind, Lang questions whether it is hypocritical of us to suggest that students should not reuse their writing from one class to another.  Lang argues that there is value in adapting and revising work for different audiences and contexts.  Our students may not make such polished arguments about the ethics of “double-dipping,” but they, too, will often protest, “How can I plagiarize myself?”

 

Rovan Blog

Lang makes a valuable point, but his argument overlooks an important distinction between ethical and unethical recycling of ideas. This distinction is key in explaining these issues to our students.  When academics reuse ideas, we do not simply present the same paper at multiple conferences or republish the same article in two different journals.  We adapt, revise, reframe, and restructure our ideas. We may recycle research, combing through file folders for an article we read years ago that will help to illustrate our point. We may return to earlier ideas with a new perspective or new research that helps us to reexamine those ideas.  But each time we reuse material, we turn it into something new. We do not merely reuse, we recycle.

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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 PlaceReflecting on Privileges, and Knowing Your Students.

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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Powerpoint Top 10

Top 10 Best Practices for PowerPoint

During our training today, we created a top ten best practices for using PowerPoint.  The faculty and staff who attended the training would like to share this crowd-sourced list with you. 

Powerpoint Top 10

Start with instructions and objectives.  The first few slides of a presentation should include the learning outcomes you are going to address.  These outcomes provide students with a “map” to the following presentation.  You should also give instructions on what you want students to do with the information (note-taking reminders, critical thinking questions, and the like) to give students guidance on how they will use the information.

Think like a designer. Presentations are a visual medium, which means you need to take full advantage of this delivery method.  Create slides that forefront visual learning with icons, infographics, and other visual elements.  Visuals provide another point of entry into the material and give students another opportunity to understand, remember, and apply the information.

Build in pauses.  When building a presentation, you should strategically incorporate places that prompt discussion, reflection, and critical thinking.  These “pauses” will allow students an opportunity to work with the materials you just presented, ask follow-up questions, and actively engage with their peers.  Pauses can take the form of 1-minute papers, a series of reflective questions, or a quick poll.

Grab their attention.  Professional presenters know how to grab your attention at the beginning of a talk by giving you a startling statistic, asking a provocative question, or providing an anecdote.  Beginning your own presentation with an attention grabber engages students and readies them for the material.

7 x 7 Rule. No more than seven lines per slide and seven words per line.  This rule helps to reduce the amount of text per slide, so that students can focus on your instruction rather than trying to read from the slide.  It will also prevent you from using the slide as crutch (rather than as a tool!).

Remember the white board.  Slides can be like whiteboards in the sense that they offer you a space for publicly displaying ideas.  Like whiteboards, you don’t need to / want to write down everything you say—and you especially don’t do it in long form.  Instead, keep your slides clutter free and use bulleted lists to provide talking points.

Think before you animate.  Animation has many useful applications, but it can also be a distraction if it is overused or used incorrectly.  Students might be watching text flying in from all sides while trying to learn a new theory or concept.  Before animating a slide or an element, think about your purpose in doing so: do you need to control the flow of information? do you want to emphasize a point?  draw attention to a particular visual?  These questions will help you make good choices when choosing to animate.

Make use speaker’s notes.  The speaker’s notes (located at the bottom of each slide) will help you in a variety of ways, including providing yourself with important presentation reminders and using later as a transcript for the presentation.  Students may also avail themselves of your notes (if you provide them) while studying or trying to learn (or re-learn) a concept.

Get to know “presenter mode.”  Presenter mode (located under Slideshow>Set Up Slide Show) provides faculty with an opportunity to see their notes during presentation.  This mode will help you to stay on track with your presentation and focused on achieving your stated outcomes.

Say no to karaoke.  While you may be encouraged to read from the screen at your local karaoke bar, you don’t want to bring that same habit into the classroom.   Reading from a slide can undermine your ethos in the classroom by suggesting to students that you need to read from the slide in order to be certain of what you are discussing.  It also suggests to the students that you don’t see them as capable of reading the information for themselves.  And, finally, it’s just plain boring.

Stay tuned for upcoming training sessions on this and other tech topics!

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A special thank you to those in attendance, including Dr. Matthew Ademola, Kim Bateman, Dr. Brant Ellsworth, Ben Lipschutz, Dr. Marcie Rovan, and Dr. Melissa Wehler.

Counseling Services and Student Referrals

By Megan Cline, Counselor at Central Penn College

Lunch & Learn on Classroom Management & Student Referrals
Image from the Winter Lunch & Learn
Presented by CPC’s counselors,
Candace Johnson & Megan Cline

After completing our first ever Lunch & Learn presentation, Candace and I would like to share a brief recap of important information from the faculty training session! First, let me start by introducing Candace and I, as well as inform you of what services are available through our counseling offices. Candace Johnson, MS, is our part-time counselor and her office hours are Wednesdays 5-8pm and Fridays 12:30-3:30pm. I, Megan Cline, LSW, am the full-time counselor, and my office hours can range from 9am-5pm or 10am-6pm, but both Candace and I are flexible with our appointment times. We are located upstairs in Bollinger Hall, rooms 52B and 52C, beside the Cultural Diversity Office.

As far as our services go, appointments with a counselor can be done in person, via phone, or virtually by email or webcam. The maximum number of sessions students can have is 11 per term (i.e. one session per week). If it is believed by the counselor that the student needs more intensive care, the counselor will make a referral for the student to another local outpatient office. Not only are counseling services free, but they are confidential as well; however, in the event that a student voices harm to self or others, confidentiality is broken and reported to the appropriate party. Further, as employees of the college, we are unable to provide similar services to faculty and staff. So while working at Central Penn, if you would like to access support services for yourself, those are available to you through Human Resources.

Finally, as a faculty member, you will come into contact with a variety of student personalities. One thing that we at the counseling office ask of you is to please report any concerning student behaviors that you might observe. Throughout the term weeks, you will get to know your students well and be able to identify if a student is displaying concerning or unusual behavior. If it is troubling to you, chances are it is something that should be investigated further. If you do not feel comfortable checking in with the student yourself, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the counseling staff or your supervisor to discuss the student further.

For more information about our services, please visit our web page at http://www.centralpenn.edu/college-services/counseling-services/

Email Megan Cline or Candace Johnson

Building an Inclusive Classroom: A Starting Place

By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

In recent years, conversations about diversity in the college classroom have necessarily focused on the inclusive learning space.  For many in higher education, inclusivity is the natural progression for colleges who are working towards practical applications of diversity initiatives, some of which have come under criticism for being well-intentioned but not concrete.  The rise of campus ‘safe spaces’—itself not without critique— has extended into the classroom, prompting further discussions about the definition, role, and best practices of inclusivity in higher education.

Inclusivity, in its academic methodology, means building a classroom (and campus) environment wherein faculty members and students share in the creation of a learning space in a way that respects all of the constituents, their lived experiences, and learning needs.  The constituents of the classroom (and again, we can extend to this to the campus) are encouraged to engage in constructive, challenging dialogue and to support others who are sharing their lived experiences.

The role of the faculty in an inclusive classroom is to act as a model for the types of behavior, engagement, and collaboration required of the space.  Faculty members should be transparent about their processes and policies and establish guidelines for engagement.  The course content, moreover, should reflect a variety of experiences and perspectives and mirror those of the students in the course.  The challenge for the faculty member is not to shy away from academic rigor in such environments, but rather to communicate the parameters of that rigor.

Throughout this series, when talking about inclusivity in the classroom, I will use the word ‘build’ rather than ‘create.’ Inclusivity is a creative process, certainly, but to use the word ‘create’ elides the work—by students, faculty members, and the even the institution—it takes to establish an inclusive learning space.  It also suggests that such learning spaces are mysteriously self-generating and that some students, faculty, courses ‘have it’ and that others ‘don’t.’ The idea of ‘creating,’ moreover, implies that students and faculty members are somehow inherently inclusive, which ignores the realities of different lived experiences.

‘Building,’ on the other hand, accounts for the time and effort of students and faculty, connotes the necessary collaborative efforts, and forefronts the conversation of inclusivity as one that requires deep engagement.  Students and faculty members must confront privileges and assumptions, they must learn (but not co-opt) the lived experiences of others, and they must work collaboratively towards a shared, mutual goal.

Throughout this series, we will be working on ‘building’ a definition of the inclusive classroom, its elements, and its practices.  The other parts of the series will cover the following:

  • Reflecting on privileges.
  • Knowing your students.
  • Questioning your assumptions.
  • Challenging the status quo.
  • Collaborating in the classroom.

As we continue with this series, we hope that you will ‘build’ along with us in the comments.  Please share your thoughts, fears, and hopes about inclusivity in the classroom as well as your own experiences and best practices.

References

Bart, M. (2012). Strategies for creating a more inclusive classroom. Faculty focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/strategies-for-creating-a-more-inclusive-classroom/ Retrieved: 2/10/17

Busteed, B. (2016). Inclusivity means opinions count. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/12/06/colleges-must-move-simply-asking-peoples-opinions-making-them-count-essay Retrieved: 2/10/17

Hammond, R. (2016). Setting the Tone for Inclusion on Campus Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president, Trinity College. The chronicle of higher education. http://www.chronicle.com/article/Video-Setting-the-Tone-for/238304 Retrieved: 2/1/17

Turner, S. (2016). Dear higher education – This is why your diversity initiatives are failing. Advancing diversity. http://www.advancingdiversity.com/dear-higher-education-this-is-why-your-diversity-initiatives-are-failing/ Retrieved: 2/10/17

Zhang, Y. and K. Mansouri. (2016). Point/Counterpoint: Do safe spaces belong on college campuses? USA Today College. http://college.usatoday.com/2016/11/22/viewpoint-point-counterpoint-do-safe-spaces-belong-on-college-campuses/ Retrieved: 2/1/17

Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. 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 including Demons of the Body and Mind,  Transnational Gothic,  and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy 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.

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