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Feb 02

What it Means to be Connected

October was Connected Educator Month. Started by the U.S. Department of Education in 2012, CEM has gone global and in 2013 reached 14 million educators through twitter alone.

As a college writing teacher and dues-paying member of the National Council of Teaches of English, I was involved this October with CEM, specifically attending (live or remotely; via webcam or twitter) events connected to CEM and curating the conversations via twitter, blogs, Storify, or through other digital platforms.

As we head into the spring semester, I find myself reflecting on a webinar I attended held live in Norway. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, an educational consultant based in Brazil, provided the keynote address titled “The Globally Connected Educator.” In her presentation, she argued that if the desired outcome is globally connected students, teachers need to be connected globally connected first. This connection happens when teachers communicate, collaborate, and connect with experts and peers from around the world.

We work at a university which prides itself on establishing global connections. We have an active Center for Global Engagement. We have a strong relationship with Liaocheng University in China, as well as the Summer Language Institute’s inclusion of Chinese and Korean languages.

But here at the beginning of a new semester, I encourage us to consider individually and collectively how we can remain connected to educators in generalm, as well as our disciplines — and even subdisciplines. Connecting and remaining connected to our field improves the quality of instruction we offer our students.

Tolisano pushes digital connections via contributing to twitter conversations and webinars. Yet, these connections do not have to be reserved for the technologically savvy.

We connect through attending local, regional, and national conferences, sitting in on sessions or meeting people in the hallways (that is where the “real” conference happens, I believe, and it is blogged about here).

We connect through browsing recent journals in our field, scanning the table of contents and remembering author names and what she, he, they wrote about.

We connect through bringing in guest-speakers, and by being aware of who the president is of our leading professional organization.

As Tolisano said, our students need a connected teacher.

This connection does not have to occur during the weekly #whatisschool twitter chat, though it certainly could.

But this connection needs to happen for the betterment of our own professional development, but more importantly, for the betterment of our students.

Additional Resources

Connected Educator Month: Get Involved

Powerful Learning Practice: Professional Learning for Connected Educators


Dec 02

From a Research-Focused R1 to a Teaching-Focused Master’s L

On Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET, twitter lights up with an hour-long chat categorized under the hashtag #FYCchat, with FYC short for first-year composition.  Various higher ed stakeholders launch into topics on teaching, writing, and higher education.

The conversation on November 13 was on textbooks: why do we use them? how do we—or the Governing Bodies—determine which textbooks to use?

@ComPOSITIONblog wondered in writing “Were you ever taught how to use texts/textbooks, or were you just thrown into teaching and expected to know how? #fycchat

@jmrifenburg’s (my) answer: @comPOSITIONblog I was never taught. Given a book and given a blessing.

@readywriting’s answer: @comPOSITIONblog Oh, goodness, no! Here’s a book, figure it out! This was before online “teacher guides” #FYCchat

@abbyandhercat’s answer: @comPOSITIONblog Nope. One week of training and a “Here’s a textbook. Good luck!” #Fycchat

As the conversation veered and took sharp turns—ever followed a hashtag convo?  It’s whiplash inducing—my mind keep returning to a recent Chronicle piece written by Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard and author of Universities in the Marketplace and a other books on higher ed.  In “We Must Prepare Ph.D. Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching,” Bok shines a spotlight on a prevalent issue, especially in R1 universities: producing sharp scholars and under-prepared teachers.  Bok argues, “The most glaring defect of our [the United States’] graduate programs . . . is how little they do to prepare students to teach.”

Bok ultimately encourages deans and provosts to take initiative and “recruit instructors from across the university who are capable of teaching graduate students what they need to know [in terms of teaching].”

So what does this have to do with UNG, where we are not a classified as a Carnegie Foundation RU/VH, RU/H, or even a DRU?  We are a Master’s L.  Many of us are not working closely with graduate students, helping sketch general exam questions, offering feedback on theses and dissertations, coordinating lectures and grading with a TA.

But many of come from these places and remember (vividly? vaguely?) being tossed into our first classroom as a grad student with little experience, guidance, or assistance, and can relate to the twitter posts above.

Now at UNG, teaching is our focus.  P & T guidelines stress teaching; my own position designates 60% of my role to teaching.  When I applied to UNG, I sent in a teaching philosophy and when I had my campus visit I did a teaching demonstration.

I guess I performed well enough; I am here now, but I still don’t feel fully prepared, still feel I have much to learn and am intimidated when I step foot into the classroom and students turn their attention to me, poised to take notes.

During my short time at UNG, I have tried to take advantage of the numerous resources geared toward faculty teaching development.  The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership holds new faculty orientation and the new faculty institute; both touch on the nuts and bolts of teaching as well as theory behind these nuts and bolts.

DETI offers training in online teaching and provides assistance as faculty step from brick and mortar classroom to the wired classroom. CURCA offers grants for faculty and students to work together, a practice the National Survey of Student Engagement highlights in their most recent annual report.

President Jacobs announced the Presidential Academic Innovation Award winners, and CTLL announced winners for the Scholarship in Teaching and Learning Award, the Best Practices in Service-Learning, among others.

Additionally, CTLL offers UNG Faculty Academies, designed, again, for improving the quality of teaching offered to our students.

And there are many others.

Collectively, then, these efforts provide us with the opportunity to hone our teaching, to find better ways to convey information to our students, and to construct knowledge with our students.  No matter if our graduate program equipped us or not to step into the classroom, we are surrounded by resources.

So I am not sure if deans and provosts at UNG necessarily need to take the initiative of better preparing freshly minted Ph.D.s to teach, as Bok suggests.  But then again, it is always helpful to be marching to the same beat as your dean and our provost.

Luckily, the beat we are all marching to is one of teaching.




Nov 06

Introverts and the teaching of writing

I first read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking sitting by a pool in Las Vegas.  I remember moving along nicely through the book when I came across a (philosophical? pedagogical? intellectual?) speed bump: chapter 3 titled “Collaboration Kills Creativity.”  See, I was in Vegas for the Conference on College Composition and Communication, an annual gathering of roughly 5,000 professionals dedicated to the teaching of writing at the college level. But more importantly, an annual gathering of a community which has long hailed the pedagogical wonder of collaboration.

At the annual gathering was one of dissertation members who largely wrote and taught collaboratively and even co-authored a book on co-authoring: (First Person)2: A Study of Co-Authoring in the AcademyAlso at the gathering were the editors of Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice.

Collaboration killing creativity? Can’t be right.

I perked up in my lounge chair by the pool. Admittedly, I had been drowsing a bit.

I read closely.

Cain pushes against what she calls “New Groupthink,” which “elevates teamwork above all else.”  This approach manifests itself through many guises, one being brainstorming groups which emphasis the power of working together over the power of working alone. Fresh innovative ideas are best born, so the line of thinking goes, through the people working together.

Yet here is the problem for Cain: psychologists have repeatedly found that “conventional brainstorming groups don’t work.”  These groups especially don’t work for introverts who value solitude, quiet reflection, and thinking before talking—all elements that don’t mix with dynamic group brainstorming.

While Cain does conclude her chapter, not by outright dismissing collaboration, but by suggesting we “refine the way we do it” to account for the full spectrum of personalities in any organization, the damage, for me, was done.

I felt my field, which has long praised collaboration, had let me down.

I felt I had let my students down for implementing collaboration.

As a writing teacher, I hailed collaborative brainstorming, embraced the pedagogical move of providing my students with a challenging task and having them work collaboratively through the task before working alone.  I had even gotten all theoretical about it, reading about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and the scaffolding metaphor seen in scholarship on writing centers, particularly the work of Isabelle Thompson.

I felt I knew my stuff.   I felt I had a strong teaching philosophy.

With my blue pen, I began making marginal comments as dusk set on Vegas, and the neon lights warmed up for the evening.

When I ran out of room on the margins, I turned to my notebook.  I scribbled phrases, doodled images, wrote paragraphs.

Night came on full. I felt (philosophically? pedagogically? intellectually?) defeated.

I looked up from my lounge chair and saw my dissertation committee member, the one who co-authored a book on co-authoring, sitting poolside with a glass of Jameson.

I made my way over to her, ordered a glass myself, and we talked Cain, collaboration, introversion, teaching, and writing.  All five topics together and all five topics separately.

A chill came in the desert air, and the mechanical chirping of the slot machines in the hotel lobby bounced through the desert air.

As I reflect back on that conversation, I see the power of Cain’s argument: for many, introverts especially, face-to-face collaboration cannot be the initial brainstorming step. When I enter the classroom, I should expect to encounter a full range of personalities; some ready for dynamic, collaborative, high-impact practices, some hoping to listen, absorb, and reflect on the material in solitude.

All too often I find myself gravitating toward classroom activities that look dynamic and high-impact. Put students in groups, I tell myself, that looks innovative and they are talking, so they must be learning!  Quiet reflection? I tell myself that isn’t going to work.  Too quiet, too boring, too, well, staid.

But what Vegas taught me that March evening was the need for quiet reflection, the need for individually wrestling with provoking material. But also the need to talk through ideas with another person.

Ideally with a glass of Jameson and in Vegas.


Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Broadway: New York, 2012. Print.

Day, Kami, and Michele Eodice. (First Person)2: A Study of Co-Authoring in the Academy. Logan: Utah State UP, 2001. Print.

Lunsford, Andrea, and Lisa Ede, eds. Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. Print.

Thompson, Isabelle. “Scaffolding in the Writing Center.” Written Communication 26.4 (2009): 417-453. Print.

Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.