Originally, I was going to use this title for a pithy list of challenges and opportunities related to the dissertation process for the Spring semester (which is, indeed, no disco). Upon reading feedback from my students for the Fall semester, I decided to take this title in a different direction, and that is expectations of work and readings in college. College is serious business, and while there are so many opportunities to enjoy in college, there is still a deeper meaning for why you have dedicated four years and many economic resources to undertaking this education. The title is not meant to be dismissive, but rather a unifying lyric for the amount of work it takes to get through it all. What you will find below is some honest and helpful advice to manage expectations for students entering the world of higher education for the first time. Sometimes it seems daunting, and even overwhelming, when faced with the syllabus and reading list for the first time. There are also some protocol lessons that you just do not realize as a newbie. Here are my best “lessons learned” to share with you:
This semester, I am teaching a course on Global Systems and Societies that is completely online. Previously, I taught it as a blended class with in-person and online portion. Having struggled in the first semester with communication and sorting out the line between in-person/online expectations, moving to the all-online format allowed for a clear delineation of assignments and mediums for communication. On the other hand, it also meant that these students would not be interfacing in a way that lead to natural learning community-feeling and ability to have discussions in a traditional format. I knew that I had to be careful and cognizant of the ways in which I would engage the class and foster that kind of participation.
Anyone who has taken an online class knows this and that lack of interaction contributes to some of the dissatisfaction with online learning. Some surveys suggest that online courses with clear online communication streams are preferred by students. Others conclude that discussions are not particularly preferred or favored, but consistent homework and assignments are cited as the greatest learning vehicles. Yet, from Dewey to Bandura to Hatton & Smith, educational theorists and researchers have proven that when students have the opportunity to reflect and construct their own perceptions of experiences and material, they learn more. Thus, maybe it is the type of reflection and discussion offered that matters and not the mere existence of it in the coursework.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach. This shouldn’t sound like such a scary proposition, given that I am a former elementary and middle school teacher, as well as a certified second language teacher (French, not English, but that’s another story). But I wasn’t teaching eager-eyed first graders or even those steely-eyed arbiters of cool (read 7th graders). No, I was teaching adults, professional ones with considerable expertise and experience with the topic I was planning to teach. I only briefly felt like an imposter, as Brookfield termed adults who go back to school and feel they have no right to be there. After all, as a former principal, I had some expertise and experience of my own to share. Adult students, however, present challenges and opportunities unique to their ages and stages. As educators themselves, they have a keen eye for good teaching and are in an excellent position to evaluate bad teaching. And while they probably won’t act out if they experience the former, they can disengage from the whole process so politely that you won’t even notice the energy drain until it’s too late.
I am adjuncting a course this semester called Global Systems and Societies. The course provides a nice wide umbrella to discuss all things related to globalization, politics, societal shifts, and other forces of global change. One theme that I have been consistently emphasizing is the danger of only hearing one perspective, one voice. Whether it is developing students’ media literacy, exposing them to opposing viewpoints, or merely showing students that there are different facets of our world, educators play an invaluable role in developing the next generation of critical reasoners and leaders. It is also essential to show students that in those varied voices, they can find their own and feel included. Finally, as researchers, we must value the many voices that gives us differing perspectives of phenomena and lived experience to make our research as complete as possible. One of my favorite TED talks is from Chimamanda Adichie, who warns of the danger of only hearing one narrative in a world of billions.
This weekend, I am participating in the SUNY COIL Institute’s workshop on human societies and digital learning. The purpose of this weekend is to bring together institutions who are participating in the human societies track of the institute who are working to develop online learning modules with partner institutions around the world. The program which I support as a graduate assistant is working with a partner in Ghana to create a module that integrates global citizenship into business, education, and first year learning. As a result, I had the opportunity to participate in this fantastic workshop and gain perspectives on these themes, as well as the innovative and practical applications of technology to create the most meaningful learning experience possible. Two large themes that I want to concentrate on for this blog post are both the opportunities that online learning afford and the need for global citizenship education to be integrated into our teaching.
Research has demonstrated that short breaks can increase overall productivity. Next time you take a break, instead of playing Angry Birds, try Sporcle. Sometimes, playing ten rounds of Angry Birds feels relaxing, but at other times, it can seem too mindless and not fulfilling. Using Sporcle, one could instead spend five minutes matching countries and flags, identifying elements of the periodic table from their symbols, and determining which lines of dialogue come from Space Balls and which come from Star Wars, which can feel like time well (or better) spent.
Sporcle has the appropriate tagline “Mentally Stimulating Diversions”, which seems very appropriate. Use of Sporcle will not bring you any closer to finishing that paper or blog post you’re supposed to be writing or knocking items off your lengthy to-do list. However, when combined with self-control, it can provide a few much-needed minutes of entertainment that won’t leave you feeling as though you’ve killed brain cells unnecessarily. You didn’t waste time, you tested your general or subject-specific knowledge and improved the likelihood that you, too, will have what it takes to more successfully compete in pub quizzes.
We are about to kick off the new academic year and I will be doing a session at TA training here at Lehigh to orient new graduate students and TAs to the different technologies to utilize in and out of the classroom. It will be the first time doing an edtech-specific presentation for students, so I have been going through my favorite tools to figure out what to share with them and what they hopefully will share with their students. While I’ve been working through this PowerPoint (yeah, PowerPoint, what are you going to say about it?), I have been thinking a lot about the tool delicious and how underutilized it is.
As an educator of global studies and education, I see collaboration as an essential feature to hearing different voices, learning new resources, and establishing best practices within an emerging, but essential, field of study. For my own work, I love to use delicious as both an organizational tool to get resources to students and as a way to share resources that I find with colleagues. I have found other education professionals with similar interests, and by following their finds, it has given me a richer set of resources to read. Beyond that, my hope is that the resources I share would be helpful to another global citizenship/education professional.