6 Simple Ways to Connect to College Students Online

photo credit: shixart1985 Young woman with laptop holding a hot coffee closeup. via photopin (license)

One of the things I’ve heard over the last 11 years as an online professor is that there’s no way that I could possibly be connecting with my students or developing real relationships in an online setting. I can understand why people would assume this; for many people, online learning calls up for them images of papers emailed to an unseen professor and endless discussion boards. If that was my brand of online learning, I’d agree with them!

But in this new world of social distancing, we have an opportunity to give real, human-centered online learning a try. Of course, we are still in a traumatic and stressful time, so new online courses aren’t going to be perfectly designed. But we CAN implement a few simple practices to allow for community building in online classes during a time of chaos.

  1. Build in community check-ins that have nothing to do with your course content. In my 3+ hour live classes, I build in 10 minutes at the beginning of each class session for students to just chat and see how their peers are doing. Sometimes I give them a suggested topic like “What podcasts are you listening to?” Sometimes I just let them talk about whatever comes to mind. I do not listen in on these conversations; this is time for my students to engage with each other. If you’re doing asynchronous instruction, you can use something like Slack to engage in conversations with students and allow students to engage in conversation with each other.
  2. Let your students talk to each other in private chat that you can’t see. I know, I can hear you loudly protesting this one. Isn’t this like letting students pass notes in class? Well, yes and no. Students might be talking about you, or talking about things that aren’t pertinent to class; they were going to do that anyway. But they also might be helping each other keep up with class, clarifying points, sharing resources, or numerous other things that a backchannel can support. You don’t need to control every aspect of how students interact. Let them be. We’re in a really stressful time, and it’s okay to let students connect.
  3. Be open with your students. Share who you are with them. My students know about my kids, my love of cooking, TV shows that I like, my impostor syndrome, my own struggles and victories in life and in my career. I’m a whole human being, and I want them to know that I see them as whole human beings too. I am vulnerable with my students, because I believe vulnerability is a requirement for real relationship building.
  4. Allow your students to be open with you. Let them tell you they need a little extra time on an assignment because they were worried about a family member without scolding them for not sucking it up and getting it done. Let them tell you they’re having a hard day and they might need to not be on camera during a class session. Let them share with you when they get a new job, or a family member recovers from the virus. There’s an argument that we need to be tough on students. Hold them to deadlines, because the real world won’t give them compassion. I’d argue, though, that if we ever want the real world to be compassionate, then we have to send people out into the world who have received compassion themselves and are prepared to build a compassionate world.
  5. Set norms in your virtual classroom that allow people to be human. In their space, they may want or need to hold children, cuddle pets, nurse babies, eat a snack, drink some coffee, pause to answer the door, etc. Students’ homes will never be the same as the austere and controlled on ground classroom. You cannot force that. Instead, work WITH these unique extensions of your virtual classroom, and trust students to manage their own learning space within the reasonable boundaries you set. Does it really hurt anyone’s learning if someone has a child on their lap? Of course not. I ask my students to make sure whatever is going on in their space isn’t loud, and if it is, to remain muted. I ask them to make sure we don’t see anyone naked in the background. I ask them to make sure that we can hear them when they speak, and if possible have their camera on. Outside of that, my students are adults, and I treat them as such. Not to mention, it brings joy to the classroom when we get to see someone’s adorable baby or cute dog. We wave at moms and dads who want to peek over shoulders and see what’s going on. Work with the student’s environment and not against it.
  6. Make yourself available for support. Your students might have to miss a class. They might not understand what’s going on in a class. They might need assignment support. They might want career advice. They’re more likely to need these things during this chaotic period; they’re going through trauma and living in uncertain times. You can support them by being available for support via virtual office hours. I use Calendly to allow students to automatically schedule office hours, which are added to my Google Calendar. I then meet with students via Zoom. I have no standard office hours, so I never sit in an empty Zoom room. Instead, all of my office hours are by appointment. I choose a couple of days a week where I make appointments available all day. I’m available for office hours for around 15-20 hours a week. However, I only actually end up with office hours appointments for an hour or two a week. Occasionally I will get very full days of meetings, but I can generally anticipate those (e.g. this week final projects are due for some summer courses, so I have had lots of meetings). But the fact that I am available if they need me is comforting to students and makes them feel more supported.

It may not be feasible for you to do the above things, depending on your situation. We can all only do the best we can with what we have. However, I hope that we can try to build connections with our learners in whatever way works for us as we progress into the fall. What have you done during the pandemic to support your students? Do you have ideas to add? Share below!

Listening to Learn: Equity and Education

I’m blown away by the variety and depth of the podcasts available that examine critical issues related to equity and education.  These podcasts address history, current events, policy, personal stories, and best practices.  If you haven’t checked them out, give them a listen!  Here is a curated playlist:

Dr. Hyde’s Podcast Playlist

photo credit: add1sun 007: Podcasting via photopin (license)

Let EDUCATORS Guide Education!

Aaliyah Samuel penned a piece on U.S. News and World Report today about how state governors are the right choice to guide education, and she offered a set of guidelines to do so:

As we as a nation pursue effective education for all, it is paramount we commit to these three foundational principles:

  1. Equity. Ensure every child, from birth through college and career, receives a high-quality education and has access to the tools and resources they need to succeed.
  2. Alignment. Create coherence across disparate systems and connect education to economic opportunity to ensure a seamless pipeline from birth through college and career.
  3. Data-driven. Harness high-quality data to support students and improve schools, programs and educator quality with a fact-based approach.

On the whole, I agree with Samuel.  A top-down, one size fits all approach to teaching and learning doesn’t work.  However, having state governors guide education is STILL a top-down, one size fits all approach to education, just on the state level instead of the national level.  She argues for equity and alignment, which I think are admirable goals, but her third guideline, that education be data-driven, doesn’t work in conjunction with her first guideline.  If we want education to be equitable, then we can’t rely on what has been called “high-quality data.”  Standardized test results are NOT high quality data, and yet they have been used to make significant, sweeping decisions about education.  Test results tell us that schools in low income communities are almost universally failing, and that students, teachers, and schools there need to be fixed.

If we truly want equitable education, then we need to return control of education to individual schools, boost support and compensation for teachers, increase funding to schools in high need areas, and rely on information about schools that includes not just test scores, but observations of teachers, community, student, and teacher feedback, artifacts of student learning, and real world outcomes.

The best place to get that information, and the best place for decisions about education to occur is at the school level.  Districts and states can and should provide guidelines, but when it comes to decisions about instructional methods and measuring instructional quality, educators MUST be in charge.

Teaching About Charlottesville

photo credit: Bob Mical 20200203_071306 via photopin (license)

If you are teaching your students about Charlottesville, and want to function as an anti-racist educator for your students, please see the following brilliant resource compiled by @JulieBoulton12.  This document lists a variety of sources that may be of use.  If you have additional sources, please comment.  Please also share so that teachers have access to the resources they need.  If you would like one on one assistance working with students regarding these issues, please reach out.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1afj_R5ZjDcChmLQnQ-6PigVdPHu_VKFOCOThLDn7xyU/mobilebasic

Where do we go from here? A guide for teachers in the Trump administration


As someone who works with preservice teachers daily, I’ve gotten lots of questions from my current and former students about the future of public education. Some are worried about whether their jobs will exist, and others are worried about what those jobs will look like. Some worry about k-12 students being deported, or about students becoming the victims of police brutality. They wonder about what their role is in the murky present in which we find ourselves.

So I attempt here to share a guide for the educator trying to serve students and maintain the profession in the next few years. What follows are certainly my own opinions, based on my years of experience working with students and teachers in all manner of settings. I won’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I hope that, if nothing else, this guide serves to make you think about your own plans for the next few years.

  1. Determine which lines you will not cross. This one requires a lot of introspection. You need to think deeply about what things you’re willing to live with and what things you will not stand for. Will you step in if ICE shows up for a student? For the parent of a student? If the police overstep their authority or are needlessly violent with a student? What if stepping in means you lose your job? What if it means you get arrested? You need to make these decision NOW, when you have a cool head, so that you aren’t frozen in a moment of injustice. I strongly recommend that you actually sit down and discuss these issues with an educator you trust, and write out your plan for these scenarios.
  2. Engage in the public discussion about things that are relevant to the profession, as well as larger injustices. Be aware that whatever you post on social media can be shared or screenshotted; only post it online if you would stand on a street corner with a sign stating the same thing. That said, stand up for public education! Speak out when bad policy decisions are made. Exercise your right to free speech and your right to protest. Just be aware of item 1 above: you need to know where you draw the line. Be sure to post from your personal devices on your personal network on your personal time.
  3. Show up for your students every day. More than anything else, students need you to be a constant, caring presence in their lives. This doesn’t mean you can’t show them when you are upset; if something scary or upsetting happens, process through it together. Listen to their fears. Help them answer questions. Reassure them that you are on THEIR side, no matter what else happens. Offer age-appropriate discussions of current events. If you sense that they are upset by an event, start by asking them what they’re feeling and what they know about what happened. Reassure them that in that moment, in your classroom, they are safe; make that be true.
  4. Run for office or get involved in someone’s campaign. Not everyone is interested in holding public office, but you are more qualified than you may realize. If you are a public school teacher or administrator, you typically are not eligible to serve on a school board in an elected capacity. Using public resources or funds to campaign or advocate for or against particular ballot measures, etc. is typically not allowed. However, you can get involved in campaigns on your own time and your own dime. Go door to door, make calls, or consider running for an office that doesn’t conflict with your teaching job.
  5. Remember that while bad decisions may be made at the top, YOU are the one in control of your classroom 99% of the time. You choose how a lesson is taught. You choose what type of classroom climate you cultivate. You choose how to address misbehavior. You choose how to engage with parents. You choose, so always choose in favor of your students’ needs, no matter what anyone else tells you. That one might get you in hot water; but then that goes back to my first point. You have to know where you, personally, draw the line. When I was a classroom teacher, I taught at a high needs, “failing” school. I was instructed to take 20 minutes each day out of the 50 minutes I was supposed to spend on math instruction, and use it to complete pages in a standardized test prep workbook with my students. I said “Okay!” to my principal, and then I engaged in a little educational disobedience. Those test prep books never left the shelves. We spent our full 50 minutes each day instead on inquiry-based math instruction. I knew based on research findings and based on my own experience that pulling 20 minutes a day away from math instruction to do test prep worksheets would be a serious disservice to my students, and so I did instead what I knew to be sound instructional practice. I was willing to do that, and to be disciplined if it came to that, because as the teacher, I was the primary line of defense against bad instruction for my students.
  6. Build a network of like-minded educators. I encourage my students to build a Personal Learning Network of peers, mentors, and role models in the field of education, as a way of continuing their professional development when they leave their credentialing program. I think this is crucial for all educators, and now it is even more important that this network include other educators who are resisting bad educational practice and who are teaching in transformative ways. Surround yourself on social media with people who are fighting for the things you believe in as an educator. Read articles and watch video about how to improve your instruction and be an advocate for your students’ needs.
  7. Be well read and well informed. Follow people on social media who make you feel uncomfortable. Follow the ones you disagree with. Follow those who seem too radical. I’m not talking about the trolls, and you don’t have to actually click “follow” and boost anyone’s ego. There are quite a few people who I don’t “follow” but whose tweets and posts I regularly read. If you really want to be informed, you can’t stay in your bubble. You have to listen to what the other side is saying, even if you disagree. Read the arguments for AND against vouchers, charters, standardized testing, and all of the other controversial educational issues. Look for reliable sources on all sides. Be aware of what unreliable information is being spread as well. Read the current peer reviewed literature on important issues in the field of education.
  8. Last, and perhaps most importantly, TEACH YOUR HEART OUT. Teach them to distinguish real news from fake news. Teach them what a reliable source looks like. Teach them to critically think and to evaluate data. Teach them statistics. Teach them to eloquently make arguments. Teach them to avoid logical fallacies. Teach them about what it means to be a citizen, and the rights and responsibilities they hold. Teach them about historical injustices, and how easily nationalism becomes fascism. Teach them to critically examine their own biases. Teach them to be bold. Teach them to be kind.  This election was possible in large part because we have a significant portion of the electorate that was unable to do the above. Teach a generation that can make things better.

Betsy DeVos is Right about the Bears: One Educator’s Harrowing Experience

I teach online from my home in Louisiana for the groundbreaking MAT@USC program, which prepares highly qualified individuals to devote their lives to teaching young people around the world.  I have students spread across the United States and across the globe.  Because I teach online, my classroom extends into the virtual realm, and even into students’ homes.  As students and faculty learn to navigate this new educational medium, I’ve seen the odd and the occasionally hilarious. A student attending class with a parrot on her shoulder.  A student’s husband inadvertently walking through the background in his boxers.  A paused camera accompanied by a toilet flush.  Needless to say, I learned early on in this online teaching endeavor to establish norms related to what should and shouldn’t occur during class time.

A few years ago, I was teaching a class, and my students were broken up into small groups.  They were collaborating on a response to a case study, and I was virtually jumping from room to room to observe and provide feedback.  Things were going relatively smoothly until I heard one student yell “A bear!” My ears perked up at this, of course, which is not something normally yelled during my class sessions.  The student disappeared off camera for a moment, and then returned.  She informed us that there was a bear in her backyard trying to get at one of her fruit trees, and her dogs were out back.  I enthusiastically gave her permission to go save her dogs, and she headed out back to bring them inside and presumably shoo away the bear.  She returned to class a few minutes later, a little breathless, but with the dogs safely indoors.  She lived somewhere in that great expanse in the center of our country where bears are commonplace; apparently her home backed up to a nature preserve, and her fruit trees were just too tempting for her ursine neighbors.

So clearly, Betsy DeVos is right about one thing.  Bears can and do disrupt the educational experience.

Unfortunately, there ends the list of things Betsy Devos is right about.

Here’s where I stop trying to amuse you and start trying to get you fired up.  Betsy DeVos is an unqualified, uninformed billionaire, who doesn’t believe in public schools, didn’t go to a public school, and doesn’t send her kids to public schools (though only the first of those is an absolute prerequisite for this position).  She failed her confirmation hearing, in which she wouldn’t commit to protecting the federally guaranteed rights of students with disabilities, she couldn’t stand strong against guns in schools,  and she couldn’t answer simple questions about educational policy and practice.  She clearly purchased herself a spot in Trump’s cabinet by donating ridiculous amounts of money to both his campaign and to the politicians voting in her favor.

I spend my life teaching preservice teachers.  My students read hundreds and hundreds of pages of research on the science of learning and on proper pedagogy.  They write lesson plan after lesson plan, and they practice their craft in real classrooms.  They take challenging certification tests and prepare portfolios of their work to prove that they are qualified to stand in front of, and make educational decisions, for just one classroom.  And I mostly teach a first term, foundational course on learning theory; one of the first things my students learn is the difference between growth and proficiency.  They even go one step further and have to be able to explain and begin to apply criterion referenced, norm referenced, and ipsative assessment in their second week of class. Any one of my students is more qualified to be Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos.  The fact that someone with so little educational understanding and experience is poised to lead our Department of Education is a travesty.

Trump himself showed his true opinion of our educational system during his inauguration speech, when he called it “An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” With that simple statement, he showed us exactly why he nominated Betsy DeVos.  They are both completely out of touch with what is actually happening in our public schools, and believe that those without elite private school backgrounds are ignorant and uneducated.

Can our public school system improve?  Absolutely.  There are many faults in the system, and many students are not being properly served.  But to propose that the coffers of local public schools are overflowing and that students are deprived of ALL knowledge is a blatant falsehood.  Our educational system is full of bright young people with reams of knowledge and highly qualified and passionate educators devoted to helping young people learn, even as they are under-paid and under-appreciated.

What these students and teachers need is not a nation of false-choice school systems like Betsy DeVos supported in Michigan, where top schools often either do not participate in the choice program or students who depend on public transportation live too far from these schools to benefit.  They don’t need unregulated charter school expansion.  They don’t need for-profit charters.

What they do need is freedom to pursue innovative educational approaches within the public school system, freed from the incessant and ineffective standardized testing.  They need well regulated, nonprofit charters.  They need money for better teacher salaries and better school facilities and resources.  They need safe campuses and equitable treatment.  They need a staunch supporter of public education as Secretary of Education, not an unqualified billionaire like Betsy DeVos.

Now, go look up your Senator’s contact information and give them a call.  Let them know how you feel about Betsy DeVos.  You could say something like this, if you so choose:

“Hi, my name is ____________. I am a constituent of [insert name of Senator here].  I am calling in regard to the potential confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.  She is completely unqualified for this position and has only been selected because of the massive amount of money she and her family have donated to politicians.  Our public schools deserve better than this.  I’m calling to see if [insert name of Senator here] plans to stand against the idea that an unqualified billionaire can purchase a cabinet seat and vote AGAINST confirming Betsy DeVos?”

The Dems are all against her, and 2 Republicans have jumped ship.  We just need one more Republican Senator to stand up for public education, and stand against a billionaire donor purchasing a cabinet seat she is wholly unqualified to fill.

photo credit: vpickering Protest of Betsy DeVos via photopin (license)

Talking EdTech

TALKING EDTECH

Technology isn’t going to become any less omnipresent in our lives; with the rate at which technology advances, we actually have no idea what type of world our current students will enter when they are ready to pursue careers and make big decisions.  So how on earth do we prepare them for that?  How can we even begin to teach students about technology or prepare teachers to teach technology when we don’t know what technology will look like even a few years from now?

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to be able to engage in lots of great conversations with other professors, classroom teachers, and policy makers around educational technology, in an attempt to answer these questions.  A couple of months ago, I was invited to participate in a summit on innovation in educational technology in teacher preparation. There, I made connections and began conversations with other innovators and experts at all levels from k-16 and beyond. Those conversations have continued at a distance since then, up through this week. On Monday, I led a Twitter chat for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, centered around the active use of technology in teacher preparation. Yesterday I had an amazing conversation on the TeacherCast podcast about educational technology, social media, and a host of other related topics. These conversations are absolutely critical to improving both the teaching practice and teacher preparation programs.  It’s no secret that, while we do have plenty of rockstar teachers and professors out there using technology in active and transformative ways, we also have a lot of schools, teachers, and professors still approaching technology from an old-school mentality (pun very intended).

I want to share with you some of the key points that emerged, repeatedly, from these conversations.

Teaching and learning with technology should be a tool to enhance the active engagement of students.  Tech certainly doesn’t have to be integrated into every lesson, but there are many ways in which tech can expand the classroom outside of the 4 brick and mortar walls, can provide more interactive and relevant learning experiences, and can teach students the valuable technology skills that they are most likely to need in the future.

But wait, didn’t I just say we don’t know what technology will look like even a few years from now? I sure did. So that’s why technology needs to look less like:

  1. Teaching students to type on a keyboard.
  2. Teaching students to use PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.
  3. Having students use a sanitized and heavily blocked version of the Internet.

And more like:

  1. Exposing students to many different types of technology.
  2. Modeling how to learn a new technology by networking, searching, and transferring knowledge.
  3. Teaching students good judgment for who to interact with online and how much and what types of information to share.
  4. Teaching students about the various things that contribute to their digital identity.

The difference here is that one approach teaches specific technologies, while the other teaches skills that will (probably) transfer to any type of technology that is developed. We must teach students and preservice teachers how to learn about technology and how to have good judgment around technology.

Another major point that I want to emphasize after having had these conversations this week, is that we in the field of education need to have these active conversations regularly, and we need to be talking across disciplines and across institutions and grade levels. Professors need to be engaged in conversations with classroom teachers who are actually implementing this transformative, active technology. Classroom teachers need to be modeling for and supporting each other in their implementation of active, transformative tech. We need to all listen to k-12 students; we need to know how they are using the technology, what they would like to use the technology for, and how they imagine the technology growing.

I want to make the final point that we have passed the point at which implementing technology in every subject area is optional. The Common Core standards require technology implementation and instruction. The U.S. Department of Education expects that schools implement and instruct in transformative, active use of technology. Living and working in the modern United States practically requires the use of technology. Teachers and professors who avoid teaching with technology are doing a disservice to k-12 students and preservice teachers; we can no more decide to avoid teaching with technology than we can decide not to teach kids math or language arts.

The future is here. We must be prepared to teach in and for the future.

Pinterest for Educators

pinterest-feature-imagePublished today on the Getting Smart! website, my new article:

How To Effectively Integrate Pinterest Into Your Classroom

Check it out for useful information on how to actively use educational technology in your classroom!  In it, I give some tips for using Pinterest in your classroom, as well as a link to the USC Rossier School of Education’s fantastic Pinterest Guide!

The Quandary of the Female Professor

cooke
Harriette J. Cooke, the first female full professor in the U.S., in 1871.

It’s that time again for a new term to begin.  I’m meeting all of my master’s and doctoral students in these first couple of weeks, and I’m faced with the same dilemma I’ve faced since I began as a professor 6.5 years ago.  Do I change my teaching style to deal with the inherent sexism and internalized oppression of my students?

This might seem like a dramatic claim.  Most of my students are women, after all, so how can sexism be impacting my teaching?  Unfortunately, it’s the sad truth.  I’m a teaching professor, so the vast majority of my performance evaluation is based on student course evaluations.  Those little bubbles that students fill in at the end of the course are significant.  I usually do quite well on these evaluations.  Only a handful of my students every year rate me anything other than Above Average or Excellent.  What I find to be the most interesting, though, and the most telling, is the qualitative remarks that students make on my evaluations.  Generally, if I receive a lower quantitative mark, it is accompanied by a qualitative remark about how I’m not warm enough.  I’m intimidating.  I should present myself as more of a coach instead of a professor.  My comments on papers should be more kind.

I’m by no means a perfect professor.  Sometimes I forget to respond to emails.  I make mistakes in grading now and again.  Some students don’t like my low-lecture, high-collaborative-work teaching style.  I’m not for everyone, and that’s okay.  What does bother me, though, is when I see comments like I described above.  Perhaps as a bisexual professor of varying levels of “femininity,” this bothers me even more.

It bothers me because I care deeply about my students.  I have very high expectations of them, but I also spend an average of 23 hours a week meeting one on one with students so that I can provide feedback on their assignments in advance.  I remind them in every class session to take some time for self care in the upcoming week.  I reiterate weekly that I will provide them with as much support as needed in order for them to be successful, even after the course has ended.  I tell them I’ll meet with them daily if that’s what they need, and they should feel free to ask anything at any time, even if it’s something they “should already know.” I close every class session with a “benediction,” – an inspirational video about teaching designed to keep the wind in my students’ sails.

My care, though, doesn’t only manifest as kindness and inspiration.  I have very high standards for student work, and I expect those standards to be met. I expect that students will read the instructions on assignments and be proactive about asking questions if they don’t understand something. I give clear and straightforward feedback on assignments.  Once they choose to submit a final version, I don’t allow additional rewrites.  I often dispense with small talk in emails, simply because I’m answering hundreds.

When I see an article published like this one, Bias Against Female Instructors in Inside Higher Ed, it resonates with me.  This article reports on a 5 year long study that examined over 23,000 student evaluations of teaching, and found that:

““In two very different universities and in a broad range of course topics, SET [student evaluations of teaching] measure students’ gender biases better than they measure the instructor’s teaching effectiveness,” the paper says. “Overall, SET disadvantage female instructors. There is no evidence that this is the exception rather than the rule.”

Accordingly, the “onus should be on universities that rely on SET for employment decisions to provide convincing affirmative evidence that such reliance does not have disparate impact on women, underrepresented minorities, or other protected groups,” the paper says. Absent such specific evidence, “SET should not be used for personnel decisions.””

The results of the study indicate that for US instructors:

“perceived male instructors were rated significantly more highly not by male students but by female students. Male students rated the perceived male instructor somewhat significantly higher on only one criterion — fairness (p-value 0.09). But female students in the U.S. sample rated the perceived male instructor higher on overall satisfaction (p-value 0.11) and most aspects of teaching. Those include praise (p-value 0.01), enthusiasm (p-value 0.05) and fairness (p-value 0.04).”

Female students aren’t immune to the societal expectations of female behavior.  The fact that most of my students are female doesn’t protect me from feeling the impact of this systemic issue; internalized oppression is incredibly difficult to deal with, and it has taken me decades to even begin to address my own.

Thankfully, USC, where I teach in the Rossier School of Education’s stellar online programs, is quite progressive when it comes to the treatment of NTT (non tenure track) faculty.  Rossier even more so.  Active steps are being taken to improve evaluation of all faculty members’ teaching efforts, and to balance student evaluations with other measures of teaching.

In the meantime, however, I face the same decision I’ve always faced.  Do I change how I teach and interact with my students to try to balance out the inherent bias that may be applied to my student evaluations? I shared an early version of this post with a colleague and mentor of mine, and she had some brilliant insight.  She connected this dilemma I’m in (we’re in) with the issues that face women on a larger scale.  How women are perceived in the workplace continues to be a major challenge to women at all levels, in all careers.  We tiptoe along on a balance beam of perception; if you’re sweet and kind, you’ll be seen as weak, but if you’re assertive and decisive, you’re seen as hostile.  It’s often a no-win situation.  Even in writing this piece, I struggled.  Do I share my own teaching evaluation scores? Do I explain what I do for students to try to build a community of care?  If I include these things, some will say I’m being defensive and overreacting (another common way that women’s voices are dismissed).  If I don’t include them, some will say I’m really just a terrible professor who is bitter about her teaching evaluations.  I elected to be open, and let the Internet judge me as it may, hoping that those who are in the same situation as I am will find it resonant, and knowing that no matter what I write, some will dismiss it.

I hope that these findings spur a larger conversation about not only how we evaluate instructors, but how we can support and challenge our female students as they begin to unpack the internalized oppression that many of them carry as a result of being raised in what is still a deeply sexist society.  These findings give me hope that things can change, and give me support when I speak up to ask that things be done differently. I can and will use my voice as a female professor to challenge these systems of oppression.

As for my courses, I’ll continue to do what I have done in the past; I’ll continue to hold my students to high standards and give clear feedback.  I won’t try to adjust my demeanor to be more “feminine.”  I stand by my teaching practices as being what students need even if it’s not always what they want. Student evaluations will be what they will be.

Coding Instead of Cursive

codingThere’s a great deal of debate in the education world about the death of cursive writing instruction.  Cursive lovers bemoan the excision of cursive from the curriculum, and are horrified at the thought that someday, these children will grow up and not be able to read their grandparents’ letters (nevermind that their grandparents are now Tweeting, Instagramming, and Snapchatting).

But what do they really need cursive for?  Important documents are no longer written in cursive.  When applying for most jobs, no one will ever see your handwriting until you’re hired, and even then they may never see it.  Signatures are generally written in cursive, but it’s generally a stylized, bastardized version of cursive.  So why are we clawing at cursive in a vain attempt to keep it in the curriculum?

My guess is that it’s a symbol of something larger.  A symbol of the death of letter writing, and handwritten Christmas cards. A last gasp of a slower, simpler time.  But the times, they are a changin’, and we need to face reality and change along with them.  Yes, knowing how to write in cursive is nice.  Nice, but not necessary.

So instead of allowing the instructional minutes that used to be devoted to teaching cursive to be co-opted into standardized test prep minutes, let’s do something innovative with them!  Let’s make cursive time into coding time.  Teachers, you don’t need to know how to code; you can learn along with your students.  No, making cursive time into coding time won’t turn your students into little professional programmers.  But what it WILL do is strengthen their math and logic skills, give them opportunities for creativity, and perhaps spark their interest in a future career.

Here are some outstanding resources for getting your students involved in coding:
Code.org

Code.org’s goal is to give every kid (especially females and students of color) the opportunity to learn computer science, especially coding. They have lots of great resources for educators who want to get involved.

Pluralsight

Pluralsight provides online coding training courses for adults, but has a special free section devoted to teaching coding to kids for free.

Code Avengers

Code Avengers provides teachers with free access to coding courses, and provides students with 12 free hours of basic coding instruction, plus a free level 1 course.

Lightbot

Lightbot produces paid apps that teach coding skills through games for kids as young as 4 years old.  BUT, they also offer a free web-based game for Hour of Code, an initiative to provide all students with one hour of coding instruction.  Find the game here: Lightbot Hour of Code Game

CodeCombat

Code Combat teaches coding through gaming!  There are 110+ free levels of the game for students, and teachers get free access as well.