Tag Archives: higher education

What is Your Sophomore Year?

What is Your Sophomore Year?

dragon from galway

Over the rest of 2016, my top writing project will be the completion of a book covering a year of significant change.  In my art and my writing, I often choose places of significant conflict. This is not always negative but it does capture the struggle between competing ideas or paths. For example, when I was laid off from my super cool full time college professor job, I faced a choice:  Double down on the life changes so far and modify them to work in the new schedule. Or, jump off this teacher track, chalk up this as an interesting life experience and hustle my butt back into an administrative role at another college.  The choice my wife and I settled upon resembles option one.  Which aligned with my writing goal to complete a book on the second year of a new experience.

Why the second year? And why call it the Sophomore Year?

The Sophomore Year appears following a year of significant change in life circumstances or approach.  Adding a member to the family can count, as could losing a family member.  Marriage could hearken a sophomore year. After a year of excitement and announcement and pomp and ritual, that second year can feel flat.  For that wedding year, prior to that you have the engagement.  And before that you have plenty of talk about the engagement. There is so much to look forward to. We create milestones and products to wear/buy and things to do and say to one another – “I take thee” “I do”.  More people than ever take part in that ritual and enjoy that initial feeling of goodness. That feeling generates internally and externally. Internally, we feel validated and part of the community because we can take part in a common shared ritual that we all accept and understand.  The external motivation comes from the universal positive reinforcement of our choice.  Note that even the government will confer benefits for choosing marriage, perhaps they even provide some sophomore solutions themselves, such as long term investment in shared property and child raising.

Emily Post even gives you up to a year to get out those thank you letters after the wedding. They know just how fun filled and activity ridden that first year can be.  But after a year, usually a routine has set in. In 2015, I left a decade of college administration leadership to blaze a new trail down the academic side of the hill. A perfect new baby came into my life at the end of 2014. By the Summer of 2016, I was laid off from my job, moving me back into an Associate Professor role. By mid-summer, I was one of 33 artists in a 2 month long installation of new artists at Riverside Art Museum. At the end of 2016, I will celebrate five years of marriage to my second (or last, or current as I sometimes say) wife. Needless to say, my second year has been full of peaks and valleys. The paths leading to and from these milestones can be good or bad for my growth.

What is the second year routine? That is a question worthy of exploration.  The topics under this large umbrella are many – work, philosophy, friendship, love, parenting, teaching, volunteering – so the trick is to find ways these weave together in a way that provides greater understanding of what some of us are trying to do, or become, or merely learn, as we toddle our way towards new milestones.

 

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Filed under art, college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, Uncategorized, writing

Looking for Stories

Metrics!  No matter your job, there are data available to validate, educate, or eliminate you!  A solid organization will utilize all three purposes while managing the people side of the operation. During my decade in higher education, “educate” would seem a natural fit, but metrics applied in higher education can make people wonder just what they taught us at our alma maters.

If you were ever a college student, you know that the preferred method of gathering metrics from students is through the end of course survey.  One concern is that they tend to attract your most ardent supporters and frustrated detractors.  To be fair, that is an unscientific opinion supported by personal experience over several years.  I would be pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, so if there is good evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

A second concern has to do with the psychological effect looking at my scores has on me.  As much as I say and believe that I am not competitive, I sure find plenty of evidence to the contrary. Since I teach a class on thinking critically about data, I should know better. Actually, I do know better.  I also know that if Vegas ever offers betting options on what motivates decisions – emotions or evidence – put your kid’s college fund on “emotion”. But I look at the score, then immediately see how my score compares with the University average. Above average means I have been validated and I am a great teacher and should keep on keepin’ on. Below average and I may need to revise my syllabus, dust off the CV, or both.

Now that I teach several times per week instead of a few times per year, I am on campus a good deal. Which means I get to run into students from my early courses on a regular basis.  I like these student interactions because they tell a story better than the data sets.  As someone who teachers with a philosophy that we all enjoy stories and should tailor our communications to that reality, it makes sense for me.

Recently I ran into three students from three different classes on the same day!  First, I enjoyed the fact that enough of my students persisted through their early coursework in order for me to run into them!  Second, I remembered two of their names!  More importantly, the short conversations we had between classes left me feeling that I am making a difference.  One talked about his tough but survivable Math class, and how it related to some of our discussion topics in English. The other warned me that there are still plenty of teachers still doing the “Death by PowerPoint” thing.  He said if the military could not break him with months of jargon-filled slides, an occasional four hour session of them was not going to stop him either.  The third conversation was the most supportive and it came from a student that really did not like my class all that much.  We talked about work stuff and parted with a friendly handshake.

All three interactions came about by chance.  A chance that happened only because they chose to stick with the program and I chose to be out and about at my campus.  For me, it was validating.  To see them still at it, to see they wanted to continue the conversation long after they had to, helps me understand my goal as a professor.  It is not to get a higher score than my peers. If I truly wish to help them “Rise”, I must make it a point to see them, and hear them, long after they have passed my class.

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Filed under college teaching, critical thinking, higher education, metrics, UOPX

How We Teach Students About Values

College campuses are getting a good deal of attention these days. In fact, we always have something to bemoan about our school systems. Why? One reason is because it is a generally shared experience. However, on close inspection, the education experience will vary for people based upon things that may not align with our values.

One of our values is enshrined in our Declaration of Independance: the “pursuit of Happiness”. The assumption is that this is our own happiness, but we often pursue the happiness of others. Sometimes this is good, such as when we help someone rise and they take us with them. Or we work under someone, help them be successful, then we get to have their job when they promote or move on.  Too often, we allow systems to impede that happiness. If we value the pursuit of happiness, we are obligated to remove as many obstacles as we can. Doing so benefits ourselves and others.

With the holidays at hand (some would argue that we have been in the holiday season since Halloween), and New Year’s nipping at its heels, it is natural and healthy to reflect on our schools. I would recommend this activity with a caveat – ignore your campus mission statement. Those will always align with your values.  Choose a bigger challenge; you are a seasoned professional and are up to the task.

I recently spoke with a student in an accelerated master’s program.  He loved his teachers and felt the peers in the class were great to work alongside.  However, when he signed up for his evening program, no one mentioned he would need to take day classes to fulfill his electives.  No small obstacle when your target market is working adults.  Now, did the college commit a lie of omission, or did the student selectively not hear that detail?  Reasonable people will disagree here.

Thank goodness we are not trying to solve THAT problem.  Instead, take this example and apply it to your school. Why? Because most of us cannot change the big things at our schools, but we can affect the little things.  How we communicate, what we communicate, and when we share all will either keep a student on track or contribute to his or her failure.   Whatever we pursue in our careers, it is usually in our interest to find ways to improve the path for others.  At the very least, we should not knowingly set traps for those who rely upon us to teach them from a place of truth.  We can do this, we can live this.

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Great TED Talk for Critical Thinking

I like to think of my classroom as a place for solid infotainment, to steal an idea from television news.  Students need new content to dissect and discuss constantly.  Like it or not, we live in a fast paced society, and that lifestyle has found its way into the classroom. Better to embrace it and adapt then to “fight the good fight” to the bitter end.  The fact is, students need teachers to look for many different ways to facilitate open communication and expose new college students to a wide range of ideas.

Which is why this talk comes in handy during week one.  Why People Believe Weird Things from @michaelshermer is the perfect antidote to the clock-watching and smartphone searching that begins in earnest as we start the fourth hour of class together.  It’s funny, moves from point to point with purpose, and uses so many cultural references (UFO’s, drugs, music, religion) that almost anyone can find a part to enjoy.  I particularly love the backward-masking section because in high school, we actually studied how to find all the hidden satanic messages in heavy metal 80’s rock.

The title gets people talking. Students come to understand the joke in the title…what we consider weird is usually a matter of perspective. What I think is normal; what you think is weird.  Five weeks of critical thinking will cure most of that illness.  A video that makes people laugh, makes people think, and provides dozens of discussion topics, is certainly worthy of any educator’s attention.

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Filed under belief, classroom management, college teaching, critical thinking

Let’s Get to Work

In the Introductory Course Sequence, my students and I face reality head on. We do not leave our families, our jobs, and our fears-hopes-dreams behind when we cross the threshold and enter the class environment. This is no day spa where we can forget our troubles and catch up with friends. It’s no cone of silence – our needy cell phones and responsibilities check in on us constantly.

Reality? Attending classes at night, before or after a full day of work, students tell me it feels like they’ve taken on a part-time job. For nearly every student in this situation, it is a job that only pays at the end of the project…if that project gets completed. Statistically, many don’t make it to payday. Who Doesn’t Make it? For our purposes, way too many.

Meaning? It means the environment matters. The way we construct and safeguard our class space – consider the technology we choose, to relatively sound-proof rooms, even the trashcan must be considered – creates the desired head-space so we can all think critically, write clearly, and plan effectively.

Those colleges that choose to be the best, to be the college of choice and not the college of last resort, will put a priority on productive space.  I’m saying the classroom environment is very much a work space.Let’s get to work is an apt phrase, precisely describing our space and collective attitude. A good work space seeks appropriate light (more natural=more better), places to stand and sit (and options to move seats and tables quickly) and cool air when it is hot/hot air when it is not.

Making good use of the clock counts big. Having more than enough activities and discussion topics and exercises shows respect for the work space. Students deserve engaging content.  Colleges must create and deliver on this requirement to survive.

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Filed under career, college teaching, higher education

Your Career Memoir

Going into the final weeks of my University Studies course, career development gets some well deserved attention. One of the skills a successful student (and student of teaching) must have is intrapersonal intelligence.  For me, it’s the ability dial in your GPS career coordinates in the now.  Then, look back to understand the motivations, people, and circumstances that brought you to this moment. Then use that data to glimpse potential futures.

I’ve had my fair share of juicy plot twists along the way.

I worked for my first employer from ’86 to ’96. In ’93 I had my first son and took three weeks vacation to be home with him and my wife. Result? My old-school boss wrote me up for “lack of dedication” to my job. Human Resources helped my boss understand that the world had changed since he worked for Sterling Cooper.

Lesson learned? Take nothing for granted – not your legal work rights and certainly never assume your employer has your best interests in mind.

In 1996, I cashed in my 401(k), left the only company I ever worked for, and joined the entrepreneur-class. I was a third generation printer; what could go wrong? Eighteen months later, I joined the ranks of the failed business owner. I even sold my car to keep the business alive a few more months.

Lessons learned? One, don’t go into a business just because you think it can make money. I did not like printing but it was all I knew. I probably would have failed in another business though because I also learned…I prefer to work for other people. There! I have outed myself. In this vague period of self-directed and self-employed and completely empowered version of work we see today, I say “no thanks”.

I like being part of a group, I like not having to make all the decisions, and I really like a dependable paycheck!

The rest of the 90’s and early 2000’s were various sales jobs. Good jobs sure, but the limited jobs available to a person with hustle, the ability to wear a tie, and NO COLLEGE degree. So just like in 1992, when I realized how much more career advancement was possible in an office vs a production line, I leveraged my relationships and experience and vaulted onto a new path.

Frogger

My volunteer efforts landed me an interview for a Director of Career Services job with a 9-month certification school.  I was not qualified but got the job anyway (see previous paragraph, re: Hustle). This was six months after earning my English degree. Then I did some calculated jumping, similar to what James Citrin advises in his blog, How to Move From Job to Job.  My goal? To get a job at a degree granting college.

Over the next ten years, I stayed in the same role (Director), in the same field (Career Development) in the same industry (Post Secondary Education). But I learned about the many ways education is delivered. I worked at nationally accredited colleges, market-driven colleges, and a state college. It was not always pretty, but I also was fortunate to serve a similar student cohort everywhere I worked – first generation college students from Inland Southern California.

So, flipping to the last chapter, I gear up to break into a new career in Summer 2014. My gift arrives, just at the top of the story arc, 3 days after Christmas: An interview to teach first year college students full time. I get the job! How? Patient and deliberate (somewhat) planning. It was the culmination of my effort and intentions over the last two decades. It was setting up a SMART goal. It was using the tools at hand.

I wrote, revised, and edited that story for years.  Lots of blank pages left. Time to get to class and write some more.

What’s your career story? Ready to tell it? Better yet, are you ready to live it? If not, today is a great day to start.

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Filed under career, college teaching, employment, higher education, training

Using the “F” Word in First Year Student Experience

Like the other popular “F” word, feedback can be used in many ways during a college students’ first year. A mindful conversation about how to make the most of this complex word may improve the classroom experience.  Contextual feedback fans a burning interest in the material. Timely feedback provides encouragement to keep going! But specific feedback improves the lives of students and faculty members in equal measure.

My students and I just completed week 4 of our 7 week University Studies class.  We use the time in class to get to know each other. A variety of in class assignments provide chances to craft and deliver a message that engages the learning and listening styles of your audience. Learning about the styles is one thing. Putting them into practice is a true achievement that furthers the goal to earn a Bachelor degree.

feedback-heads1

Learning curve item of the week – Weaving reminders of what was covered in class into the written feedback to students may improve retention. For example, instead of saying something bland like “Good progress on applying the learning styles to your note-taking“, a better sentence may read –  “When the tech support person came into class to help us hook the laptop to the projector, creating the chart of the steps she used is an example of Visual-Spatial Intelligence.”

The halfway point is a great place to provide feedback. Since feedback must be timely, it is a good thing we started the practice of feedback on Day 1. That way, the feedback now can be compared to last month and progress can be clearly measured. Two encouraging signs at this point:

1. Students are modeling in class behavior to the reading and activities. Many have written plans of study and as a result, assignments are getting in on time and properly formatted.

2. The feedback they give me is also contextual, timely and specific! What they are sharing with me shapes how the next 3 weeks will go.

Returning to the title of this post, overusing the “F” word, both of ’em, makes communication boring and less effective. Being mindful of when it is time to speak, when it is time to listen, and when it is time to act improves the first year experience significantly.

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