Category Archive: Teaching and Learning

Feb 13

Priorities and Pedagogies: Reflections on Writing Instruction

Teaching composition is often compared to drudgery because the grading load can be intense and because writing pedagogy seems stuck in a rut. In the minds of many instructors, the only way out of the rut is through trickery: special topics courses, special genre courses, and so on. In an essay entitled “Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong,” Joseph Teller dares to shake up the proverbial apple cart with some tough questions and some intriguing answers. Posted at the Chronicle of Higher Education website last month, Teller’s essay has generated a bit of chatter.

He emphasizes a number of significant ideas:

  • Composition courses must focus on process, not just product.
  • Students should compose essays that tackle complex issues rather than imitate rhetorical modes (as in the much-maligned “current-traditional” pedagogy of years past).
  • Writing and reading instruction should be combined in the same course.

Teller identifies these ideas as examples of “pedagogical orthodoxy,” ideas that composition theorists and practitioners rarely if ever call into question. While I agree that composition instructors would benefit from heightened self-reflection, I disagree with his assertion that these principles are impractical, that they don’t hold up to experience in the classroom. Based on my experience, Teller presents a false choice between addressing “complex issues” and imitation – these practices are distinct and may represent contrasting pedagogical assumptions, but they are hardly mutually exclusive.

On the other hand, Teller is correct that too many instructors focus more on reading than on writing. Themed courses may well be taught as composition courses, but they may also be taught as literature courses masquerading as writing courses. The pet interests of an instructor (theoretical, political, etc.) may also prove a distraction from writing instruction. For years, I was guilty of talking much more about the readings during class meetings than giving the focus where it belonged, on writing. Only after long reflection did I begin to reprioritize my first-year composition (FYC) courses, and I’m still working on that issue. Many composition instructors were trained in literature programs, so their tendency is to focus more on reading than on writing. Only through careful reflection and solid training in FYC pedagogy may we avoid this familiar pitfall. In A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, Erika Lindemann shows how instructors may construct courses that provide balance between content (reading) and writing activities and assignments (252-80).

Perhaps more surprisingly, Teller seems to underestimate the possibilities for revision. In fact, he asserts that revision does not really happen that often. From my experience, that is true only part of the time. Many students in my FYC classes do attempt to revise, and some of their revisions prove effective. They are often not as effective as the revisions produced by more experienced writers, but they are a start. But for students to succeed in revision, instructors must prioritize iterative feedback. It’s one thing to offer summative commentary on the grade for a final draft of an assignment, but it is another to offer clear and helpful advice to a student during the revision process.

Teller also seems content to believe that workshopping is by and large a waste of time. While I don’t doubt that many students give too little attention to workshops, this strikes me as an overreaction to the tendency of many FYC students to misunderstand the role a reader may have in shaping the priorities of revision. Some students may not take the workshop exercise as seriously as they should, but that is no reason to abandon the practice. A thoughtfully structured workshop will help to maximize its potential. Richard Straub offers excellent guidance on this issue in his article “Responding-Really Responding- to Other Students’ Writing.” A peer review workshop may not in fact result in obvious improvement of a specific piece of writing, but this activity introduces students to reading practices that will enable them to evaluate their own work within the context of a course and in the future. While not as efficient as an instructor’s feedback, the workshop still has many benefits for student writers.

As a writing instructor, I know all too well the ruts of pedagogy. I do not agree with all of the solutions that Teller has offered to the problems that he identifies, but he is to be commended for encouraging his colleagues to take nothing for granted.

 

Works Cited

Lindemann, Erika. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th edition. Oxford UP, 2001.

Straub, Richard. “Responding – Really Responding – to Other Students’ Writing.” The Subject is
Writing, edited by Wendy Bishop, Heinemann, 1999. pp. 136-46.

Teller, Joseph. “Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong?” The Chronicle of Higher
Education
, 3 October 2016, http://www.chronicle.com/article/Are-We-Teaching-
Composition/237969. Accessed 25 November 2016

Feb 01

Enabling ALL Students via Analytics

Eric Westervelt, an educational correspondent for NPR, wrote a very interesting article in the Learning & Tech section entitled “The Higher Ed learning Revolution: Tracking Each Student’s Every Move.” In the article, he makes points normally found in discussions regarding the use of data to identify at-risk students in time to help them.

Then, he moves on to say something astounding in its obviousness: “A lot of times, the discussion will be about students who might be behind or at-risk, but it’s also true for students who are really excelling academically. They also need special kinds of attention.” In other words, if we’re concerned (as we should be) with the impact of one-size-fits-all education on those students who are at-risk, why don’t we use the same models to look for students who are outliers at the other end of the distribution? Those of us who have been in the classroom know the students I’m talking about – the quiet ones that sit in the back of the room, volunteer little, and represent a challenge as you can’t remember them until you hand that first A back in class four weeks into the semester. If our role as both teacher and mentor is important to the formation of our students, we are just as responsible for identifying students with special abilities that stay quiet as we are with those who are at-risk. Westervelt provides an interesting look into this topic.

On a closing note, I also want to take a moment and encourage our LEAP team’s work with High Impact Practice dissemination and the opportunities provided for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. My particular background in machine learning has included application of modeling techniques to discovering heart issues. The same techniques can be applied to the data sources mentioned by Westervelt to provide fairly deep models of student behavior. Here’s hoping that deep modeling of student behavior and predicted outcomes will share the same academic acceptance as work done in other fields. It should, as a focus on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning will help bring to fruition the ideas discussed by Westervelt.

Jan 09

Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program

Two faculty from the University of North Georgia (UNG) participated in the selective 2016-2017 cohort of the Governor’s Teaching Fellows (GTF) Program, a statewide initiative advancing instructional excellence in Georgia’s colleges and universities. Michallene McDaniel, Associate Professor of Sociology, is part of the 2016-2017 cohort, and David Smith, Associate Professor of Media Studies, completed the summer 2016 program.

“Although I have been in teaching for almost 20 years, I believe there is always something new to learn about this profession,” said McDaniel. “I view my participation in the Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program as an opportunity to brush up on changes in technology that benefit teaching, and to become familiar with the latest findings on effective teaching methods that lead to better student learning.”

Established in 1995 by Zell Miller, governor of Georgia (1991-1999), GTF provides Georgia’s higher education faculty with expanded opportunities for in-depth study of research-based pedagogies. The program is offered through the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia (UGA). More than 75 different disciplines, professions, and teaching areas have been represented, and they have come from over 45 institutions statewide: large and small, public and private, everywhere from the northern mountains to the Florida state line and between the Atlantic coast and the Alabama border. To date, 32 Fellows have represented UNG in the GTF Program.

“I was introduced to new ideas and tools like Nearpod, which I found to be interesting and helpful. Throughout this semester during my Film Appreciation courses, I will be putting into practice the ideas I developed during GTF,” Smith said.

According to the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education’s website, a candidate’s selection is based upon “the basis of their teaching experience, their interest in continuing instructional and professional development, their ability to make positive impact on their own campus, and a strong commitment by their home institution.”

“I consider myself to be very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in GTF this academic year, and lucky to work at an institution and for a department that supports professional development opportunities for educators,” said McDaniel.

Other recent UNG fellows in the program have been Rosaria Meek, Assistant Professor of Spanish; Laura Ng, Associate Profesor of English; and, Jennifer Graff, Associate Department Head and Assistant Professor of Visual Arts.

Applications for the UNG GTF 2017 Summer Symposia and 2017-2018 Academic Year Symposia is now open. For more information, please visit the CTLL GTF webpage.

Sep 02

Write@UNG

The Write@UNG is a new multifaceted faculty development program that stretches across five campuses and enriches scholarly productivity through a focus on research and writing skills. Workshops are facilitated by Dr. Michael Rifenburg, Department of English, CTLL Faculty Fellow for Scholarly Writing and sponsored by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership.

Click on the image below to enlarge.

Write@UNG_Page_2

To register, please here to view all the upcoming Write@UNG workshops.

Aug 31

Research-Based Teaching Series – Call for Proposals

Faculty and teaching staff are invited to submit a proposal for doing a presentation in the Research-Based Teaching Series (RBTS) Spring 2017 series.

RBTS is co-sponsored by the University of North Georgia Department of English and Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership (CTLL). RBTS seeks to support the work of faculty from all disciplines, colleges, and campuses by offering faculty presentations and workshops on best practices in teaching and learning. These workshops not only provide information and resources for faculty seeking to enhance their own pedagogical practices, but also give faculty an opportunity to present their work to peers.

Presentations/workshops should be 45 minutes long, allow time for Q&A, and include the following:

  • the pedagogical principles upon which the classroom material and practices are based
  • information about the practical applications of these principles in your own classroom work/research
  • 3 – 5 scholarly sources that participants can consult for further research

As a partnering institution for the AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), we encourage submissions that support the principles of this initative. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Essential learning outcomes such as creativity, teamwork, and problem solving
  • High-impact educational practices such as collaborative assignments, intensive writing, and service learning
  • Authenthic assessments such as faculty-validated rubrics
  • Students’ signature work such as internships, capstone sources, and community-based research

Benefits:

  • Counts as university-wide service on your vitae and faculty annual review
  • Prepares you to present at professional conferences
  • Provides groundwork and support for contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning
  • Creates mentoring and collaboration opportunities across campuses and disciplines

Submit the following:

  • Name, contact information, primary campus, and A/V requirements
  • Title, 300-word abstract, list of 3 – 5 sources in the citation style of your choice
  • Date(s) available (from the list below). You can choose more than one.
    • Wednesday, Januarary 18, 2017, 12 – 1 p.m.
    • Monday, March 27, 2017, 12 – 1 p.m.
    • Monday, April 24, 2017, 12 – 1 p.m.

Deadline:

October 31, 2016 by 5 p.m. Selections will be made and participants contacted by January 9, 2017, the first day of spring classes.

Please email Diana Edelman-Young, Coordinator of RBTS at diana.edelman-young@ung.edu. Questions can also be addressed to this email. Please include subject line: RBTS CFP.

Mar 10

Finding Government Information

This article is the fourth part of a series by UNG Libraries covering some of the newest and most exciting additions to our GALILEO Database collections. A new post will appear on the last Monday of every month of Academic year 2015-2016. Please note: login required for off-campus access to some links.


 

Information created by the United States federal government seems appealingly useful because it is authoritative and much of it seems reliable; finding the government information you need, however, isn’t always easy. Sure, you can do a Google search or you can search USA.gov (the official web portal of the United States government), but you may have to sift through many – even hundreds of thousands of results to find a particular document or information resource. Even after you’ve drilled through all the results, you still may come up empty-handed. Fortunately, there are some governmental databases that are especially useful for locating U.S. government information.

Catalog of U.S. Government Publications

CatalogofUSpubsOne of the most user-friendly federal government databases is the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). Sponsored by the Government Publishing Office (GPO), the CGP creates records of print and digitized government information that is distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program. Users can choose from basic, advanced, and expert search options—although most people start with the basic search and type one or two keywords in the search box. Recent government publications are often fully digitized and the CGP provides links that will connect the user to digitized information resources.(figure 1)

 

ListofLinkedDocuments

figure 1


MetaLib

metalibIn addition to the CGP, the Government Publishing Office created MetaLib, a search engine that searches over 60 governmental resources. MetaLib allow users to select and search up to ten databases at once. These include “catalogs, reference databases, digital repositories or subject-based Web gateways.” Once the results are generated, then the search can be narrowed by clicking on one of the facets (e.g. topics, dates, authors, etc.) on the right side of the search results page (see figure 2 below). People accustomed to getting search results at the speed of a Google search may become frustrated using MetaLib. Users may have to perform multiple searches to locate the desired information resources and that can get to be a bit tedious. As is true with all database searches–the better your search terms, the better your results.

authors

figure 2


Federal Digital System (FDsys)

FDSYS

Another tool from the Government Publishing Office is the Federal Digital System, or FDsys. The emphasis of FDsys is on “authentic government information.” Because digital text and images can be manipulated, it isn’t always easy to determine if the information presented is both original and legitimate. FDsys provides authentic, verified, and digitally signed PDF documents that mitigate those concerns. In addition, the GPO guarantees “permanent public access to all FDsys resources.” FDsys include around 50 collections from the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Federal Government.

 


Google: Effective .gov Searches

CGP ix

figure 3

The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, MetaLib, and FDsys are important tools for discovering government information. These tools work well for researchers and advanced students. But some students are going perform a Google search, almost by instinct. For these students – and anyone else seeking government information – there’s a way to search Google more effectively. One can limit the domains that Google searches by typing the word site followed by a colon and then dot gov. (In other words, type:  site:.gov,) followed by your specific search terms. Google will only search website with a .gov domain (see figure 3).

 

cgp X

figure 4

 

These searches will also pull in government information authored by the state legislatures, departments, agencies, and so on. If you want to limit your search to just information from Georgia state governmental and regulatory bodies, simply type site:.ga.gov followed by your search terms (see figure 4).

If you have any questions about finding government information, please ask the UNG librarians. We’d love to help you.

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