Saturday, May 31, 2008

College Teaching

As part of my position as Coordinator of a Teaching and Learning Center, I am reading or have read several books about college teaching. Some I recommend are:
  • What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain
  • Learner-Centered Assessment, by Mary Huba and Jan Freed
  • Becoming a Reflective Critically Reflective Teacher, by Stephen Brookfield
  • Teaching at Its Best, by Linda Nilson
  • Creating Significant Learning Experiences, by Dee Fink.

I have been privileged to hear the last two authors speak, and I would recommend them as well. For more information on resources in college teaching, go to:

I would like to develop a "workshop" of my own; I have a lot of wisdom about teaching although my own performance sometimes doesn't show it. My most recent epiphanies follow.

1. The affective domain matters more than the cognitive. Ten years ago, I wouldn't have said that. The way this generation has been raised makes it true. We must, at the least, use the affective domain to get to the cognitive. We can't ignore it.

2. Less is more.

3. The students do not read the textbook. My approach has been, "here's a study guide, this is what you need to know from the book, I'm going to spend class time with other material and experiences." It doesn't work with freshmen, and maybe not with older students. So, either don't use a textbook (not usually a bad idea) or use it in the class.

4. Anything students can do by themselves can be done collaboratively.

5. Less is more.

6. If they do something collaboratively, assign the groups, no matter how much they complain. Letting them pick their groups is a disaster.

7. Students need structure.

8. I used to say, "don't smile until Thanksgiving." I looked young and unimposing, so I took on a persona of intimidation. It really makes more sense to smile and act as pleasantly as possible, but make no exceptions for the con artists, of which there are many. As a former colleague says, "I will smile at you and be nice to you, but I will fail you."

9. Online education is great. I started teaching online and designing online courses ten years ago. I love it. The students love it. The administrators love it. But many teachers are reluctant to do it, and that's understandable, as it's an incredible amount of work for the first two semesters, and even after that.

10. Less is more. What is that about? The less you try to teach students in a class, a unit, or semester, the more likely they will truly learn it, deeply learn it, learn it to the point where it will change their paradigms and atitudes, which is really what we want to do, even though many would deny it. I don't want to teach people a lot of facts about public speaking. I want them to grasp opportunities to speak out when needed, to be engaged in civil civic discourse, because they are not scared to death by it and have the tools. So I have to find the minimal amount of learning necessary for them to really learn that. I used to be all about rigor. Now I'm all about effectiveness.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Turning Points (and no more talking points)

Last night marked an hour (or evening) of decision for me, related to TV. Like any baby boomer, TV is the warp and woof of my life. It just is; even when we decide to change our viewing habits, we know it's there, bigger and stronger than it ever was. We know our choice to boycott or turn it off really won't make any difference to anyone else, only to ourselves. But that is enough.

Specifically--it was the season finale of LOST, and anyone who reads this blog or knows me outside of my church self knows I'm a LOST nut. My husband makes fun of me, and the show. It is incredibly convoluted, and those of us who talk about it probably sound like cult members. But last night was the last night for me. No, I'll still watch next year's shows, but probably online. I'm not going to make time for it based on ABC's scheduling decisions.

That's not to say that I was disappointed. I felt like the plotlines I cared about were resolved. But the science fiction elements, if that's what they are, were not the plotlines I cared about. I mean, come on, Ben moves the island by pushing a big frozen cog? What is that about? We know what has happened. I just don't care if the characters all go back. Why would anybody in their right mind do that? And then there will be more of BEN (reminds me of the old movie about the rat), and while the actor is very good, I detest that character. And I'm glad Locke was in the coffin, or his evil twin. And that Penny and Desmond were reunited (Desmond was a good character). And that Sawyer turned out to be the good guy (he's a great character, played well, with the best lines.) And I'm sorry Jin died, but I'm ambivalent about Michael. So, enough.

But LOST is only part of it. I also tune in to watch the O'Reilly Factor and Hannity and Colmes, although in the case of the latter, it was more habit, a nasty one, than for information's sake. But I'm turning FOX News off. O'Reilly went ballistic last night, and I don't have to watch maniacs. I feel very strongly about civil discourse and debate in this country, and that was the opposite. So, enough.

But that doesn't mean I'll watch MSNBC or even CNN (maybe some). I'm still reeling from the fact that Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary and it got barely a mention in the mainstream media. They obviously do not get it, or choose not to get it, or do get it and don't want anyone to know. Israel's existence is such a miracle. Here is a democracy (though it could do better on some civil rights issues), a prosperous one, that was created against all odds and survives surrounded by enemies, and the only thing we hear is snarky remarks about Bush's speech (which is interpreted as snarky remarks about Obama. Actually, although I agree with Bush, it was pretty clearly aimed at Obama, but heh, since when is he above criticism?)

I am reminded of the weekend John Kennedy, Jr., died due to his own negligence, in a plane crash. Hours open hours of coverage. Why? Because it made any difference to any of us? Because we can't handle "real news?" Because the MSM has to serve itself to the Kennedy establishment or whatever it represents? Because they really believe the Kennedys are American royalty? (My students this last semester were not in on that mythology.)

TV News is simply laughable in terms of objectivity, completeness, editorial content, or quality of writing. I have a stack of twenty books by my bed to read; I have a novel to finish and others to start; I have people who need communicating with, Sunday School members who need encouragement, a Teaching and learning center to run, and far more. I can now save two or more hours a night and my sanity, and I can get my news from the Internet, which allows more variety. I wish I had back the years I have wasted watching bad television. So, enough.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


My last post, below, was rather "random" as the young people say today. That's one of those rare (but overused) slang words that really means something, that works. I am always frustrated by judicial activism. But in keeping with randomness, I will make some disparate observations.

1. We did not have cable TV until two years ago. We chose not to expose our son to it when he was growing up. It is not worth the money although I enjoy Turner Classic Movies.

2. Hannity and Colmes is getting old. Why in the world do they interview Dick Morris? Wasn't he disgraced.

3. Barack Obama scored a point with me by telling people to leave his wife alone. However, he's still behind by several hundred points in my book. I found this article in the Wall Street Journal enlightening and frightening.

4. If one seeks to live one's life in accordance to God's word and the calling one believes one has, people will notice. It won't be immediate, but one will see that one's life matters.

5. I believe in conservative political principles but not conservative politicians. Ethically I don't see much difference between conservative and liberal politicians.

6. Obama benefits from the fact that Hillary Clinton is herself. The Democrats found an alternative to inevitability in Obama. I can't blame them.

7. I heard Harry Reid interviewed by Bob Edwards on NPR. I was appalled by the things he said about the president, not that those were his opinions but that he said them so freely, in such a morally superior fashion.

8. Heaven help us if we have a government-run health care system.

9. I am wearing a heart monitor for 24 hours, the fifth time I have done so. It's annoying.

10. Our interim pastor, Dr. Richard Land, is an amazing speaker. How he got to be our interim pastor, I can't figure. But I'm glad.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


This post may get a reaction from people, but I can't let the California ruling on gay marriage go by without a comment, or two, or more.
1. Why should our fear of (and I mean fear of offending, or fear of litigation from) 2% of the population make us redefine the meaning of a tradition, a relationship, a word, a sacrament (for the Catholics), a covenant (for the Reformed), a legal contract, a reality that is thousands of years old?
2. What does a civil union or domestic partnership not do that marriage does for a gay couple?
3. Why do we think marriage is essentially about love? It was only about love in the last 300 years, by that I mean, who one married was about other considerations than just affection, and affection was often an afterthought. Marriage is an institution for the good of all, not just two people in the marriage. This argument flies in the face of, no, it's incomprehensible to us today. We marry because we love someone, right? Uh, not traditionally.
4. Furthermore, why do we run our government, not just our lives, on emotion rather than principle? I recently heard something about the government being "compassionate?" Where is it written that government should be compassionate? Just, yes. Compassionate is another matter. Do we want the government to be compassionate so that we don't have to be individually? Is this why liberals give less money to charities than conservatives?
5. So, yes, I disagree with the ruling, think it's pathetic, actually. This is a test of free speech. Others have argued these points more persuasively, and with more evidence, than I have here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto

Here is a link that looks interesting. I've not come to a conclusion on it, but it's the kind of thing that interests me. I invite comment.

Friday, May 09, 2008

On Teaching

I have taught professionally for thirty years. I started in January 1978. That hard to believe; I started at 22. I'm pretty good at it (but have lots of room for improvement), and I teach something difficult for people to like: public speaking.

Interestingly, for the last year I have been serving as the Coordinator for the college's Teaching and Learning Center and will be doing the same in the upcoming academic year. I know much more now about teaching and learning than I did a year ago, and part of that, of course, is learning how much I do not know. It would be best if I had a doctorate in the field; perhaps one day I will, but the motivation is not there, nor the money right now. Probably in twelve months someone else will take over the Center and it will be my legacy; I'll get my promotion and fade into the background.

Therefore, some of these posts will also be about teaching, which to be honest I see as a subset of public speaking anyway. (Maybe more like a Venn diagram). College teachers should be good public speakers; public speakers do a lot of teaching. Not all college professors would agree with me, and I am woefully aware that college professors (myself included) can be very sensitive about anyone intruding into their classrooms or classroom actions. As I have often said, college professors are like gods in their classrooms--at best, dictators (if usually benevolent). And of course, there is the old bromide, "The reason the battles in academia are so bitter is that the stakes are so low." We sometimes put a lot more value on what we do than anyone else does. However, I do not do research; I work at a teaching institution; I care about good teaching. Good teaching may be an obvious entity, but, alas, it is not.

What is good teaching? Is it discipline specific? (i.e., what's good teaching in English is not good teaching in biology?) Is it largely affective, or cognitive? Can a teacher do everything right and still not really teach the students anything? Is good teaching only measured by how much is learned? and where does the student responsibility to dig and study and work come in?

Good students think I'm a good teacher. Bad students do not. My goal is to get the poor students to think I'm a good teacher and see the fault lies not in their stars, but in themselves.

All this being said, the first sign of good teaching is organization. Organization of individual lectures and organization of the course as a whole. The students I work with simply don't have the skills to organize for themselves yet; I see it as my job to do that, to give them structure and underpinning for future college learning.

The first sign of good learning is being there. The myth remains that college students don't have to attend class. The only truth to that myth is that there are no truancy laws in college. No one will come and bring your parents before a judge. Otherwise, students who miss class are putting a gun to their grade.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Free Speech

Probably because of the field I teach in, I am an advocate of free speech. And I'm pretty absolute about it. That's why I am puzzled by attempts to restrict it. However, I only fear attempts to restrict it that originate from the government, and while I am not a lawyer or expert on this, that doesn't seem to be the problem, although I realize an argument could perhaps be made that the Patriot Act is a form of censorship. The argument against the Patriot Act seems to be more in the realm of the fourth amendment. That's another one I'm absolute about even though I don't believe the right to privacy is necessarily in the constitution or the basis of a right to abortion, despite what the Supreme Court claimed. But back to the original thought, it really doesn't seem to me that the federal government is restricting anyone's talk nowadays. But someone is.

I am puzzled by the Far Left's denunciation of Obama for talking to a Fox News pundit. What is that about? Who do they think they are? Aren't people on the left supposed to be for unlimited civil liberties? Can't anybody talk to anybody they want? There is something vaguely racist in this; the smart white lefties have to reign the charismatic but misguided half-black guy, so they pressure him.

As I said, I'm perplexed by this, not even to thinking it's funny. The state of civil public discourse is in bad shape in this country, but the people who should make it better are trying hard not to, on both the left and right.

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...