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Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: Backchannel Conversations?

[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX  as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On two ways to see our Twitter conversations, and then a third level.
As the conference went along, an interesting running joke developed: that the Twitter feed was “unhappy with X”; that presenter Y was worried that he/she was “not doing well on Twitter” (and/or was reassured by another presenter that “Twitter likes you”); that, in short, the “backchannel conversations” (as such conference Twitter feeds and other electronic responses to in-person presentations have come to be known) offered consistent counter-arguments and challenges to the presentations and presenters. I think that’s an accurate assessment of much of the Twitter response, as provided both by us Social Media Fellows and by others (at the conference and elsewhere) weighing in, and that thread culminated in a very specific moment during the conference’s final panel, which featured six of the prior keynote speakers and moderators: I raised issues of contingent faculty, faculty with heavy teaching loads (such as my own 4/4), and related questions of academic labor; and when the panelists acknowledged but offered no thoughts on those issues, the Twitter feed more or less exploded.
As it did so, however, another conference attendee and frequent Tweeter, Dr. Derek Bruff (director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching), rose and asked the question again; after Bruff’s follow up (which, to be fair to the panel, was more of a question than my own series of statements), most of the panel did respond, and did so with some interesting perspectives to be sure. Moreover, I’m not sure that my phrasing in that prior sentence was quite right—it’s perhaps more accurate to say that because the Twitter feed erupted, Bruff raised the question a second time (at the very least, he was engaging with his fellow Tweeters while waiting in line to ask his question), and thus that in a key way the panel conversation proceeded as a result of, not just in response to but literally because of, the Twitter conversation. And if we see the conversation as unfolding in that way, it casts a different light on the running jokes about the Twitter feed—which, seen in this light, offered a humorous but clear and striking recognition of the way in which the Twitter conversations were contributing to the in-person ones (as well as vice versa, which is the more obvious direction).
I would argue that both of these perspectives—the Twitter feed as backchannel challenge to the presentations; the feed and presentations as codependent conversations—have validity and value. But I would also take a step back and make one more connection. The Twitter conversations included not only us Social Media Fellows and many other conference attendees, but also a number of colleagues around the country and world; some of these colleagues commented throughout the conference, others added their voices at particular moments, and (I’m quite sure) others never Tweeted but followed the hashtag and conversations nonetheless. Virtually all of the conference’s presenters highlighted the role that technology and online spaces/communities will play in the future of higher education, not (as I noted in Wednesday’s post) as an alternative to traditional in-person institutions, but rather as a complementary part of those institutions. And in every way, the presence, role, and relationship of our conference Twitter feed helped model the complexity, challenge, and value of such in-person and online hybridity.
Special post on my fellow Social Media Fellows this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think?

PPS. For the perspective of one of my co-Social Media Fellows, Dr. Jason Jones, on many of these same questions, see this ProfHacker post of his.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: Pedagogy Sessions

[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX  as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On my specific and broader takeaways from the conference’s wonderful breakout sessions.
While the conference’s keynote addresses, on which my last two posts have focused, generally engaged with sweeping issues related to the future of higher education, the complementary breakout sessions did something very distinct and much more immediately applicable: highlighted pedagogical ideas and strategies, and presented in-depth examinations of why and how educators can make them part of their own teaching and courses. I had the chance to hear and learn from Music Professor Karim Al-Zand on an individualized critique model of feedback-giving, from English Professor J. Dennis Huston on how he works to engage each and every student in his course discussions, and from Communications Professors Tracy Volz and Jennifer Wilson on strategies for teaching speech and communication. I took valuable lessons away from each presentation, but by far the most eye-opening of those I attended was offered by Rice CTE Director and conference organizer Joshua Eyler.
Eyler’s session focused on the subject of his current book project: “The Science of Learning and Why It Matters.” We humanities types (Eyler was a medievalist before he moved into his current gig) love to throw around the term “science” far too loosely, but that’s not the case with Eyler’s work; he means it, and discussed what such disciplines as neuroscience, cognitive psychology, human development, and evolutionary biology/biological anthropology can help us understand about how we learn and what that might mean for our teaching practices and strategies. Among many other topics about which I learned a great deal from Eyler’s talk, he got me thinking about neuroplasticity (the way the brain changes when we learn things); the role of curiosity and play in human development, and how our teaching practices can tap into them; and the connection of gestures to language and learning, and how we can work to maximize those relationships. He highlighted and engaged with relevant research, noted controversies and limitations, and even featured cute pictures of his daughter—all while guiding us through a number of broad and complex topics.
In the question and answer period, I asked Eyler to expand a bit on one of his final points: that fuller engagement with these ideas could help produce higher ed reforms. His main answer was simple but vital: that we could, and need to, do a much better job putting this kind of research and information in front of teachers. And indeed, I would say the same about all these pedagogical breakout sessions, both specifically and generally: that the more we teachers share such ideas and issues, the stronger and more successful our work will be, collectively as well as individually. Partly that’s about preparing future teachers for their careers in the field, as is the overt goal of the Cross-Sector Partnership initiative here in Massachusetts. But honestly, we current teachers need those conversations just as much, and the more we make such engagement a shared, supported, and incentivized part of our work (rather than, as often happens with Centers for Teaching, an opportunity offered to those self-selected faculty who choose to pursue it), the stronger our collective efforts will be.
Last follow up tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: Keynote Speakers

[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX  as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On three provocative questions raised by the conference’s keynote addresses (not including Ruth Simmons’, about which I blogged yesterday). To be clear, I don’t have any answers to any of today’s questions, but I wanted to make sure to highlight them here, so we can all continue to think about them!
1)      What we can learn from MOOCs?: All of Tuesday’s keynotes (by Anant Agarwal, Kevin Guthrie, Daphne Koller, and David Pritchard) focused on one or another aspect of MOOCs, the open-access online courses that have become such a central part of 21st century higher education. I’ll admit that I have considered MOOCs entirely as an alternative to, and thus competition for, traditional universities. But all of these speakers argued for versions of the opposite, that instead we can and must learn from MOOCs, find ways to make some of their work part of ours, bridge the gap between these two modes. If you’ve taken or taught a MOOC, and/or otherwise have any thoughts on whether and how we might connect these modes, I’d love to hear them!
2)      How do administrations and faculties best work together?: Many of our speakers were current or former university presidents: José Antonio Bowen, William Bowen, Nancy Cantor, George Rupp, and Ruth Simmons. So it’s probably no surprise that a frequent topic was shared governance, and more specifically the challenges that such governance (especially as it often plays out) seems to present to changing, reforming, and improving universities. It’s fair to say that all of the speakers called upon faculty to accept changes to such models in one way or another, although with greatly varied emphases (William Bowen’s the most overtly critical of faculty inaction and intransigence, for example). I understand that position, but would also emphasize the need for administrations to be equally willing to accept changes and new options. What do you think?
3)      How do we change external perceptions of higher ed?: The first two questions are about internal conversations, in one way or another; but I think it’s fair to say, as many of our speakers did (especially Nancy Cantor in her Monday lunch address), that addressing increasingly negative external perceptions of higher ed (especially its costs, but also its separation from the rest of society and other related issues) presents at least as vital a challenge for the universities of tomorrow. Cantor focuses specifically on building fuller connections to and relationships with local communities, which is an ongoing goal and passion of mine as well. But there’s no one or right answer for how we impact these perceptions and narratives, I don’t think. So I’d love to hear some of your thoughts, as with all these questions!
Next follow up tomorrow,
Ben
PS. So what do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: Ruth Simmons

[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX  as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On two vital conference contributions from the most inspiring keynote speaker.
As I’ll note in tomorrow’s post, each of the conference’s speakers offered provocative contributions to our ongoing conversations; but one presentation definitely stood out, to me and it seemed to many of the attendees: Thursday’s pre-lunch keynote address by Dr. Ruth Simmons. I’ll admit that my initial knowledge of Simmons was based mostly on one problematic fact: that during her long and successful tenure as President of Brown University, she vocally opposed the efforts of Brown’s graduate students to unionize. While it’s certainly important not to forget those kinds of labor issues and realities—as the conference speakers too often did, on which more later this week—Simmons is of course defined by much more than that fact; and in her keynote address, she used a couple other complex aspects of her life and story to add crucial contributions to our conversations.
For one thing, Simmons connected the conference to our Houston setting in potent and provocative ways. Like most elite private universities, Rice exists in many ways separate from the city in which it is located, or at least it is easy to perceive the two settings as separate. Yet as Simmons talked about her experiences growing up in and then subsequently returning to Houston’s segregrated Fifth Ward—known, for obvious but still complex historical and social reasons, as the “bloody Fifth” or “bloody nickel”—she reminded us, forcefully, not only of the presence and interconnection of multiple communities within any American city and space, but also of the vital need to consider our more impoverished and threatened communities in any conversations about higher education, education in general, and the American future. For example, Simmons remarked on a painful perception of hers as she returned to the Fifth Ward in recent years—that not only do its young people have no more options (educational or otherwise) than did she and her peers half a century ago, but in many ways they seem to have fewer such possible paths.
Such significant, sobering perspectives were not all that Simmons contributed to our conversations, however. She also made the case for higher education’s transformative potential, its ability in particular to broader and deepen our perspectives (individual and communal) of other communities and cultures, other stories and histories, our fellow citizens of America and the world. And she did so in inspiring ways through her own story—of her arrival at New Orleans’ Dillard University as a young woman defined in part by both understandable anger and a concurrent, circumscribed worldview (both natural results of a childhood in the segregrated South); and of the ways in which her educational experiences, beginning with those undergraduate years and continuing into her graduate studies at Harvard University and the rest of her academic career, effected sea-changes in those perspectives. Simmons used current events such as those in Ferguson, Missouri to make an entirely convincing case that it is education—and perhaps only education—which can help change our historical, cultural, and communal understandings, just as it broadened and strengthened her own. I can’t think of a more important goal for the future of American higher education.
Next follow up tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think?

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: The Rice CTE

[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX  as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On the impressive and important work being done at Rice’s Center for Teaching Excellence.
I attended the De Lange Conference because of an invitation from Dr. Joshua Eyler, the Director of Rice’s new Center for Teaching Excellence. The CTE, through Eyler’s voice and presence along with those of his colleagues Dr. Robin Paige and Dr. Elizabeth Barre, was literally everywhere at the conference: sharing their work in a poster in the events hall, leading thought-provoking breakout sessions on pedagogy (on which more later this week), participating actively and critically in the backchannel conversations on Twitter (ditto), and much more. In all those ways, Eyler and his CTE colleagues illustrated not just the colleagiality and support, but also the ground-breaking research in teaching and learning, that an organization like the CTE can provide and produce.
My ten years at Fitchburg State have corresponded almost exactly with the development of our own Center for Teaching & Learning, from its initial creation by Dr. Sean Goodlett through its many faculty directors since, up to its current leadership by my English Studies colleague Dr. Kisha Tracy. The FSU CTL has truly exemplified the aforementioned kinds of collegiality and support that such institutions can offer, on every level: from the more informal (providing a comfortable space for faculty to gather, celebrating faculty publications and successes) to the more structured (an annual summer institute offering talks and workshops on teaching and learning, year-long series of talks, workshops, and reading groups on such issues). But because our CTL has not (at least not yet) been able to employ an administrative staff outside of our academic departments—that is, our faculty directors to date have maintained their roles and much of their teaching and service responsibilities within their home departments—it does not quite allow for the kinds of in-depth research projects and work that Rice’s CTE features.
There are understandable and perhaps inevitable factors at FSU (financial, contractual, institutional) that make it unlikely that our CTL would ever be able to employ a full-time director and two associate directors like Eyler, Paige, and Barre at Rice’s CTE. But throughout the De Lange Conference, Eyler and many other presenters made a compelling case for why faculty need to engage more consistently with the research and scholarship of teaching and learning, for the vital benefits that such engagement can provide for not just our individual or departmental efforts but for the future of higher education in America. And while the FSU CTL’s efforts certainly allow for such engagement for those individual faculty who attend and participate, there’s simply no substitute for an institution like the CTE, one that provides sufficient space, resources, and opportunity for more sustained and in-depth research and engagement with these issues. Not every college and university will be able to support such an institution, of course—indeed, most will not—but that just means that we all should be paying close attention to, and learning as much as we can from, the efforts at Rice’s CTE.
Next follow up tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October 18-19, 2014: My Own Current Projects!

[It had been a while since I spent a week highlighting the amazing work done by my fellow AmericanStudies scholars, so for this week’s series I highlighted five recent books by scholars with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working on the NEASA Council. This special addendum to that series is an update on some of my own ongoing writing projects!]
The updated on my latest book project that I promised yesterday isn’t quite ready to be shared yet, although I’m hoping for news soon and you’ll be among the first to know if and when it comes! In the meantime, I wanted to highlight three other spaces in which I have shared or will soon share my writing and ideas:
1)      The Good Men Project: Thanks to my colleague and friend Steve Edwards, I’ve had a chance to write four pieces to date for this important website and project. I hadn’t shared them before because they’re not AmericanStudying so much as, well, ParentingStudying and DivorceStudying. But there’s a reason why I’ve had that pic of my boys atop this blog since day one—part of public scholarship is, to my mind, recognizing how much our own identities and lives are tied to our work and analyses. So I’m happy to share the GMP pieces here, and would love to hear your thoughts on them, as ever.
2)      We’re History: This brand spankin’ new online history magazine is the brainchild of Heather Richardson, and promises to be a wonderful resource for public history-writing. My first piece, on attacks on the White House in American pop culture and history, has just appeared, and I look forwad to contributing a lot more to—and reading even more of others’ contributions on—this equal parts historical and 21st century resource and community. Make sure to check out all the great current content on the site, and to keep an eye on it as more is launched soon.
3)      The Conversation: This great British and Australian site is about to launch an American version, and I’m excited to be a contributor to that new site, with my first piece (on alliances across and between oppressed communities, both historical and contemporary) forthcoming soon. I’ll make sure to share it here when it appears, and will be exploring the new American Conversation in the weeks to come—as should you!
Next series starts Monday,
Ben

PS. Other projects, books, or scholars you’d share, including your own work? I’d love to hear about them!

Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17, 2014: New NEASA Books: A History of Spiritualism and the Occult in Salem

[It’s been a while since I spent a week highlighting the amazing work done by my fellow AmericanStudies scholars. So for this week’s series I thought I’d highlight five recent books by scholars with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working on the NEASA Council. I’d love to hear in comments about books and scholars, recent or otherwise, that have inspired you!]
On the great book about a great topic by a great AmericanStudier.
I’ve written a good deal in this space about Salem, and for good reason: it’s my favorite public, historical space in Massachusetts (and perhaps in America—sorry native Virginia!), features my single favorite memorial/piece of public art, is full of complex and evocative American histories and stories, represents some of the worst yet also some of the best of what we have been and can be in America. I think there’s a great deal more for us to say and think about Salem than we have yet, and I can’t imagine a better person to help us continue to say and think about the city than Maggi Smith-Dalton.
I’ve also featured Maggi a fair amount in this space: not only in that above linked post, but also in this post on her performance with her husband Jim Dalton at the 2012 NEASA Colloquium; and these posts on my pieces for the Salem History Time series that Maggi edits. In her writing and editing, as well as those musical and educational performances and programs with Jim, Maggi exemplifies public AmericanStudying to me, and is just as closely linked in my mind to her home city of Salem. And one of her latest contributions to the AmericanStudying of that city is her recent book, A History of Spiritualism and the Occult in Salem: The Rise of Witch City (The History Press, 2012).
I could write another paragraph here about History of Spiritualism, but I’ll just say this: it’s only 10 bucks on the Kindle (and 20 in paperback)! All of the books I’ve featured in this week’s series are well worth your time and investment, and will more than pay you back in what they can add to your sense of American culture, history, literature, and society. Check ‘em out, and please share your thoughts on them here if you do (as well as any other books or authors you’d share)!
An update on my own next book this weekend,
Ben
PS. Books or scholars you'd share? I'd love to hear about them!