Social Is as Social Does: Lehman’s Second Year Faculty Workshops

Often, when I mention working with social media to my colleagues, the y respond with an uneasy blend of curiosity and anxiety. There is a fear of culture shock (What new norms will challenge me? Can I learn the language? Will I like the food?) and an eagerness to try new possibilities if they are low-risk and high-reward.

As an intermediate novice with social media, I try to work from the known to the unknown rather than the reverse. This past week, with our second year faculty workshops, we took this approach in exploring our research and teaching objectives and their potential social media partners.

We began with these questions: What are we already doing with our research that is social? In what ways do our classes engage students in social communications and practices? It’s unlikely for most of us to try something far afield from current methods: when we know what kinds of social creatures we are, then we can begin testing the media that reflect our preferred ways to connect.

Two of our Assistant Professors in the Leonard Lief Library, Rebecca Arzola and Robert Farrell, shared their current experiences as junior faculty of working with listservs and the CUNY Academic Commons in connection with face-to-face meetings with colleagues at Lehman and across CUNY. They feel well connected, and yet, as we looked more closely at their research goals for publication and representation, we noticed that there were places for designing and maintaining professional interest groups and portfolios online that could support their work at a deeper level.

Our Director of the Irish-American Studies Institute also lectures full-time for the English Department. Deirdre O’Boy has begun working with junior faculty in English to develop a promotion and tenure peer group: we suggested that this might become a CUNY-wide group for junior English faculty that could be connected through a CAC group as well as a Twitter feed.

In our discussions, e were more interested in connecting what we do now to social media rather than connecting the new or unfamiliar tools to what we might do. For some of us, Blackboard’s discussion board works as well as a Tumblr or WordPress blog; for others, a Google Site or Digication ePortfolio facilitates non-traditional course management more easily.

Following this line of thought, we took a quick run-through of a list of common class activities (skill-building, content knowledge, writing, and presentations, for example) and connected those with possible social media tools. For example, if incorporating critical thinking exercises form part of my course objectives, I can do a quick Google search for Bloom’s revised taxonomy and find quizzes and exercises that have been designed by other teachers. Hyperlinking (and citing!) these activities to my Blackboard, Moodle, Google, or other course site and asking students to comment on the activity and share their answers creates an  instant and self-designed social media resource.

We reluctantly left our conversation with reminders that our online presence matters: what we design, we must maintain. And we must continue to check on how we are presenting ourselves as well as how we supporting professional academic communications regardless of the depth of our social media investments.

Our handouts can be found in the Files section for the Lehman Faculty Professional Development group. It’s an open group: feel free to join, connect, and explore!

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Liking Follows Learning: Lehman’s New Faculty Seminar

Maybe it’s the wrong question, Dan. Why don’t students like school? “Like” may not be the word we want to use. In our new faculty seminar this week, we discussed replacing our assumptions that people do and don’t like learning with questions of process and capacity: Are we ready for school? Do we know how to learn?

This week, we took another look at the syllabus (see the Files section in the Lehman Professional Faculty Development group) and prioritized our individual pedagogical objectives for the seminar. A quick comparison with our boardwork from week 1 reminded us that the syllabus was following rather than leading our motivations to work together this term.

As a frame for this spring, we spent time in small groups discussing the key themes of the introductory and concluding chapters of Willingham’s book. We generated definitions of learning and teaching and found that our groups split perspectives between “left-brain” and “right-brain” approaches: one group listed practical outcomes and methods to learning and teaching; the other group described more relational and introspective experiences. As we transferred our discussions to the whiteboard, we started to see intersections between left and right that began to bridge the gaps between the sciences and humanities represented in the room.

Jennifer Poggiali, our new Assistant Professor in Library Sciences for Art History, reminded us that it feels good to learn. Glen Johnson, Associate Professor in Health Sciences, added that we feel a sense of power when we learn: adding to knowledge means adding to capacity. This seems to support the argument that liking or not liking to learn is not really the question; we resist or embrace learning based on our own senses of what we can take in and use (and of course, our senses of our own capacities and opportunities may be faulty!).

Our group this week included health sciences, languages, and library faculty with specializations in biostatistics, community health, Spanish languages and literature, art history, philosophy, and health systems management. As we shared our responses to a teaching self-assessment survey, we began to share anecdotes of changing our teaching methods (and assumptions) in response to particular student needs.  Our library faculty teach numerous workshops each term in addition to one-on-one consultations with faculty and students. The workshop audiences change as faculty bring in their classes for one or two sessions, and the workshop goals remain consistent, incorporating the latest research techniques and resources to teach students how to match finding and citing appropriate evidence for class projects with the assignments and their instructors’ expectations.

This differs from faculty who teach semester-long courses to consistent audiences, with individual session content that changes throughout the term. The conversations between our library and discipline faculty are thus filled with discoveries and distinct pedagogical concerns. We began to address these by designing our own logic models for teaching objectives that begin this term and continue through next spring. Emma Tsui, Assistant Professor in Health Sciences, did a great job of walking us through the concept and process of logic modeling. As we began to share our short-term objectives, Poggiali and Johnson found common ground in field trips for art history and biostatics students: next fall, Johnson’s undergraduate students may be traveling to the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, and his graduate students may be taking water samples upstate in the Poconos.

We debriefed with a quick review of our discussions and activities, and yes, just like our students, found we had forgotten much of what we’d done. Using our meeting agenda helped us to recover group memory and fill in gaps in our notes. Sharing notes online and engaging in regular debriefing exercises seems to be good strategies for improving our learning!

Over the next weeks, we will take on Willingham’s 9 principles and begin to share our teaching challenges with each other. Each week, we post seminar handouts, notes, and pictures on our Google site and share selections with our CUNY Academic Commons groups for those who want “distance” participation.


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A little Monday morning social media quarterbacking…

A few bits of information about social media and the ‘big game’ yesterday to smile through Monday…Twitter reported today that in the final (exciting) 3 minutes of Sunday night’s 2012 Super Bowl game, there were an astonishing 10,000 tweets per second! In those three minutes that’s number with a whole lot of zeros in it. For those of you that haven’t yet gotten the Twitter logic quite down, Twitter is a world-wide social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to post their latest updates in 140 characters or less (and can be posted through three methods: web, text message, or instant message). Think of text messages on global steroids. The little-birdie-told-me concept T’was founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams (they launched publicly in July 2006).

Now if you even think America is even near tops in this field, think again…Sina Weibo tech (China’s Twitter-alike) is reporting that on the start of the Chinese dragon new year, sina weibo got 32312 messages per second on January 23rd, 2012 which, in China is 7000 higher than twitter’s recent record on January 13, when the TV movie ‘Laupita: Castle in the sky’ aired in Japan and garnered 25,088 tweets-per-second’s worth of attention…It seems they were tweeting along to a pivotal line in a television broadcast of a 25 year old movie. Compare these stats to last August when Beyoncé unveiled her pregnant belly at the MTV VMAs that boasted 8,800 tweets per itty-bitty second; the US is well…tame in comparison!

The advertisers just couldn’t wait for the big day to ‘unveil’ their latest babies, a 30 second shot at making YouTube history a week earlier than the hyped up day…a 30 second commercial began at $3.5 million so according to Pamorama: “This has moved the next-day buzz and the discussion everyone usually has (which ads were great, which weren’t) to the weeks leading up to when the game is actually played.”

Talk about a buzz kill! I’m glad I held out. Since Sunday was my first look-see I figure that the dogs snapped up the attention-getting quotient by 2-1  (by my own completely unscientific personal count). The mangiest (and cutest) among them had the biggest doggie moment since the Golden Globes when Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier in “The Artist,” ‘upstaged’ his co-stars with puppy-like enthusiasm while they accepted their Globe for best comedy movie. 

All these people have something to discuss and share with one another, right? So why do we educators still not believe this kind of sharing is applicable for educational matters as well as the doggone entertaining ones?




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CUNY Commons, Now What?

When people first join the Commons they frequently ask me, now what? With the wealth of opportunities to learn and exchange with like minded colleagues, its understandable to feel overwhelmed… For starters, take a look at the slideshow on the Commons homepage where you’ll find tips on searches to fit your academic or personal interest. From the most recent posts you can see the list of ‘most actives’ as well.

Truth is, I devote a portion of each day right here to garner information that seems to not only closely cater to my interests but I find that the relevance is as fresh as information I can get from the headlines of my morning newspaper!

One of the most recent examples of the power of social media to effect change can be found latest headline in this afternoon’s New York Times: Cancer Group, Reversing Course, Says It Will Maintain Planned Parenthood Funding. After only a few days via the blogosphere, Twitter and facebook, it was discovered just how unpopular their move to cut funding to Planned parenthood was:

“According to the Times: Susan G. Komen for the Cure said on Friday it was retreating from a decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion and birth control services, and apologized for a move that thrust the breast cancer charity into a deeply politicized controversy.”

Pure and simple illustration of the voice of the people in action and you’re reading it here just shortly after the turnaround was announced. Ten minutes after this announcement, no fewer than 15 mentions were made on my facebook and that list included NPR, New York Magazine, a professor colleague of mine and my 21 year old daughter’s best friend.

Read More:


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Why Don’t Students Like School? Lehman’s New Faculty Seminar

10 of Lehman’s new faculty members met yesterday to begin a semester-long exploration of Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School? in connection with their own teaching and learning practices. Partnered with a Google site to facilitate a hybrid approach to the seminar, the weekly meetings ask faculty members to read, discuss, and share their experiences as students and instructors across disciplines and to examine the research Willingham presents as evidence of cognitive science principles that affect successful learning.

We began with a quick free-writing response to the question, “why don’t teachers like to grade?” Our partner discussions and whiteboard word pool revealed that there is a feeling of disconnection between the products of our work with students (what we grade) and the qualities of our interactions during class times and office hours. We also shared a general sense of concern about the difference between the significance we give to grades and the importance that students place on grades (we’re interested in what and how they learned, but the students are often more interested in numeric and letter values).

We then passed stories back and forth to share why we like to learn and what we’ve been most excited to learn in the past few weeks. Anne Marie Marshall, Assistant Professor in the Childhood Graduate Program, demonstrated an unusual method of calculating the product of two digit numbers. Beatríz Lado, Assistant Professor of Spanish Languages and Literatures, spoke about discovering new uses of language with her students and the social interactions that energize learning for her.

After a review of the seminar materials and Google site, we took time to look at Willingham’s 9 principles (see the Files section in the Lehman Faculty Professional Development group) and identified those we felt most counter-intuitive. Willingham’s challenge to learning styles as well as emphasis on factual knowledge preceding skill are two principles we anticipate debating at length!

Over the next few months, we will be sharing our teaching challenges, identifying objectives for this term and the next year, and co-constructing the Google site to better suit our needs. Next week, self-assessment and objectives will help us begin to match how we learn and teach with our readings and conversations.

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Is Collaboration a Dirty Word?

This is Part 1 of a 3-part post on
“Is Collaboration a Dirty Word?”

With memories of some well-conceived collaborative projects from my own graduate studies programs still fresh in my mind, I have something to add to the “New Groupthink” discussion surrounding a recent NY Times article written by Susan Cain (“The Rise of the New Groupthink,” Sunday Review, Jan. 15). In this controversial article Ms. Cain writes that it’s ‘highly likely’ that the most creative people (she cites mainly computer programmers and Picasso-like artists) are introverts; and that if we want students to learn, educators better leave them to themselves and their creativity. She argues: “research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption, and the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted.” She then goes on to cite two such researchers, psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist who claim to be “extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.” While it’s not a stretch to believe that many researchers do see themselves as ‘independent and individualistic’ since these particular researchers are said to be ‘extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas,’ that should end the negative stereotyping about collaboration right there. But why shouldn’t we as educators be thinking that excellent models of creative collaboration make for an exceptional learning environment?

While I’m still scratching my head about the stretch Cain makes in aligning genuine collaboration with ‘groupthink,’ I’ll acknowledge her audacity for maligning teamwork, innovation, creativity, brainstorming and public school collaboration all in the same commentary. I admit I was initially disheartened by Cain’s claim that while “SOME teamwork is fine and offers a fun, stimulating, useful way to exchange ideas, manage information and build trust,” solitude is seen as the way to ‘achieve creativity and transcendence’ in our society. To budding artists, inventors and engineers she counsels: “I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Fortunately her threat of “The New Groupthink” engulfing “our companies, our schools and our culture” didn’t make me stop what I’ve been doing here at Lehman for the past 2 years to declare teamwork a dying pedagogical strategy. In my role as faculty developer I follow the lead of professors who want to add hybrid course planning to their strengths as lecturers. Hybrid, or blended courses are courses wherein 33-67% of instruction occurs online and the rest in-person, so our attention also focuses heavily on collaboration as a tool to build community in the somewhat isolating space of online learning. Learning and developing through boundary-crossing activities is an important concept in transformative pedagogy as well as some forms of project-oriented learning instructional design models. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) describes the difference between what a learner can do independently and what can be accomplished cognitively with scaffolding from more knowledgeable others including peers. His work emphasizes the deliberate use of discourse and cooperative learning in the classroom and theories of assistance or scaffolding to help students learn.

Most of the educators I’ve worked with have naturally gravitated to offering a combination of collaborative work and independent study but have struggled with coordinating the two online into a cogent package that rings true with their students. The buy-in they need to offer their students comes from Lawrence H. Summers (What You Really Need to Know, January 20, New York Times) who speculates on the future of undergraduate education: “Suppose the education system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn?” He reminds us that “most companies look nothing like they did 50 years ago” so why should education?

One predictable outcome of the ubiquitous access we have to this knowledge, he says, “is that tasks will be carried out with far more collaboration.” He cites that co-authored economics papers have doubled in the last 30 years of his career, so students who set their sights on academics certainly need to become more involved in the collaborative journal article process in their undergraduate years. But the simplest bombshell he throws in the direction of Ms. Cain’s argument is that far from cultivating loners, for the benefit of our country’s workforce “collaboration is a much greater part of what workers do, what businesses do and what governments do.” He reminds us that for most people, school will be “the last time they are evaluated on an individual effort.” While the words ‘last time’ takes the notion of being individually evaluated too far, he does illustrate a growing business practice in investment banking and elsewhere: at one investment bank in particular, the hiring process requires candidates to interview with upwards of 60 members of the firm who determine their ability to work well with others before an offer is made, so clearly a priority for communicating with and to one another is a growing priority!

Ms. Cain’s sweeping generalizations speak to “the most spectacularly creative people” who “are often introverted,” and “are comfortable working alone,” but discount the many other learning styles that comprise today’s classrooms. Summers notes that not enough students are “asked to actively use the knowledge they are acquiring” and he calls for “active learning classrooms” — that group students around portable technologies — to “help professors interact with their students through the use of media and collaborative experiences.”

Paul Hawkin, author of Natural Capitalism states that ‘good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.’ If classroom collaboration stressed the ‘interesting’ and ‘working together’ part of working together toward a common goal, there might be more positive constructive things to say about collaboration, and the argument would be about ‘how’ rather than ‘whether’ we as educators need to actively engage students by playing to their passions.

If I were offering students advice about the next ten years I’d counsel them this way: “I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Do not focus your energies on working alone… Join a committee. Manage a team.”

Author’s note: Author Dan Pink will be interviewing Ms. Cain this Friday January 27 via iTunes: Office Hours is a radio-type program, available on iTunes.

You can listen in live, and ask a question, by calling (703) 344-2171 at the appointed day and time — and entering this passcode: 203373.

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iBooks will create textbook- like material for your classes

Apple gives us yet another good reason for us to buy an iPad; they say even technologically green teachers will be able to develop customized coursework companions for their curricula through their new iBook app that might wind up being the iMovie of textbook creation.

Read more at their site: http://www.apple.com/education/ipad/

This video looks at the highlights from Apple’s announcement (Apple has to announce everything doesn’t it?!), including video analysis from Mashable:


I’ll be testing this free app over the coming weeks- schedule some time with me to demo it!

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Collaboration and peer editing using buddy press docs and Google Docs

I hope you are all enjoying the winter break along with the balmy temps… I’ve barely pulled on my gloves this winter!

I’ve been working with several of you during the break on incorporating collaborative documents into your coursework. Imagine adopting a peer editing program where much of the edit and revision process of major papers, projects and course writing is being collaborated on and facilitated by your students!

The most popular of these collaborative document exchange tools are right here in the Commons (called buddy press docs) and in Google (Google docs). With the Commons and Google groups it makes it highly possible for you to work entirely outside of the Blackboard domain. While these docs are incredibly easy to create, collaborate on and share I’ve created some instructional tutorials complete with photo illustrations so that even novices can be up and running in only a few minutes. You can find these documents in our files section and within the links below.

I hope you get use out of them and I look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions!
Signing Up For and Using Google Docs
How to use buddy press docs

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Latest faculty hybrid teaching and learning workshops began!

Our new fall 2011 hybrid workshop series began Friday December 9th with 10 faculty participating and who are looking to convert their in-person courses to hybrid. One instructor hopes to convert from fully online back to hybrid! We hope to accomplish several goals through these workshops that provide content that includes emphasis on educational philosophies, effective online pedagogy, and scaffolded project design for blended online and in-person teaching:

1. Designing the Syllabus as a means to Developing a Sense of Community: Participant buy-in to hybrid teaching and learning

2. Creating activities that support expected outcomes; activities that when completed, illustrate levels of student understanding of stated educational goals and objectives.

3. Setting Clear Expectations: (Workshop-Faculty and Faculty-Student) Provide support for using blackboard effectively, offering information such as participation guidelines, procedures, classroom/discussion board etiquette, support for group work etc.

4. Offering a Supportive and Reflective Teaching and Learning Environment- faculty will be able to voice concerns and work towards solutions in a small group setting.

5. Providing Access to Technology, Support & Resources to help faculty develop the knowledge of when to use materials, web 2.0 sites and software appropriately

Though we are meeting in a sequential order over a period of months its not too late to join us in the series. (though our offer of remuneration is no longer available).

Early reviews are in and Friday’s group seemed to benefit greatly from the collaboration! Contact me for details.

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Not quite the second coming for the LMS universe(ity)

In mid October I caught an article on the Wired Campus blog belonging to The Chronicle of Higher Education declaring in a strongly worded headline: “Pearson and Google Jump Into Learning Management With a New, Free System.”

Reading through it, the declaration that Pearson has

“teamed up with the software giant Google to launch OpenClass, a free LMS (think Blackboard) that combines standard course-management tools with advanced social networking and community-building, and an open architecture that allows instructors to import whatever material they want, from e-books to YouTube videos”

…got me thinking; “Could LMS Nirvana be near with Google at the helm- imagine what CUNY could do with all the money they wouldn’t have to invest in Bb?’… In fact, a competing LMS provider offered this quote: “Anytime Pearson and Google are used in the same sentence, it’s going to get people’s attention”… yes, well the announcement at a major conference did what it was designed to do, get attention. What I realized soon after was that I was at the mercy of the blazing headline from an over-excited blogger at the Chronicle- the supposed higher ed ‘tech news’ organization. Media literacy issues aside, the article did use strong language, declaring that the two media giants are “upending services that affect just about every instructor, student, and college in the country”. Whew, they are planning to have big shoes to fill this need for open source courseware!

Well luckily for me I mentioned it to CUNYs George Otte via email and he pointed me in the direction of a few posts that had circulated on the Commons earlier in the week that were linked that to the story that came out at Educause. Joe Ugoretz from McCauley Honors posted some excellent clarifications behind this alleged ‘teaming.’ The social networking portion he declares ‘meh’ at this early stage (we have plenty of ‘meh’ right now in Bb!) and the discussion board features are not what you would call “real” online discussion (we ought to have the discussion platform down cold by now, no?). This made the article Wired Campus first posted all the more disappointing… were they basically shilling for Pearson with a load of propaganda?

Fast forward a whole week because it took 7 days in this world of ‘blogging immediacy’ for Wired Campus to recognize they’d been ‘had.’ By perpetrating Pearson’s misleading declaration that they were ‘teaming up with Google’ they followed with a scathing-of-Pearson clarification, which to me doesn’t negate their laissez faire rush to toss the original press release without the due diligence of even contacting Google or testing the thing (which Joe performed and posted here with great immediacy -Thanks Joe!):

Here are Joe Ugoretz’s early impressions-thanks for the timely and important first look. What do you think about this new, free resource? https://prestidigitation.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2011/10/27/early-thoughts-on-pearsons-openclass/#comment-150

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