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Beyond Classroom Settings: Collaboration, Connectivity, and Learning with New Technologies

By Dr. Susana Sotillo, Associate Professor, Linguistics, Montclair State University.

 

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We achieve digital wisdom by enhancing our brain’s capacity through the appropriate use of technology. This is Marc Prensky’s major argument in Brain Gain (2012).  Although many of my generation continue to labor in the traditional classroom setting, with its emphasis on the transmission of knowledge through face-to-face (F2F) lectures, others are exploring the use of technology for teaching content as well as language skills.  In our continuously evolving high tech society, employment opportunities are being redefined as part of a global shift from an abundance of labor-intensive jobs to highly complex technology-driven occupations.  With this in mind, Prensky (2012) points out that today’s students need to master three major skills: “working in virtual communities, making videos (on both sides of the camera), and programming our increasingly powerful machines.” (p. 210).  Ironically, programming skills are what make a difference in Elysium, a recent Science Fiction action quest, where intelligent machines can indeed be reprogrammed to alter the power structure.  All these skills involve a high degree of collaboration and connectivity, whether face-to-face or virtual, which are themes other educational technologists emphasize in their writings.  Collaboration and connectivity also figure prominently among game designers, computer scientists, and high school and college classroom teachers.  These groups are keenly aware of the importance of immediate and effective connectivity.

Connectivity and flexibility are highly valued in any post-industrial society.  As Oblinger (2013) states, we have moved beyond the Information Age in every aspect of modern life, especially in education, industry, business, and health delivery systems.  We are now in the Connected Age.   In higher education today, whether we like it or not, students and faculty are strongly interconnected.  In my own field, linguistics and language learning and teaching, the focus has shifted from strictly teacher-centered traditional classrooms to student-centered online and hybrid instructional options.  For successful language and content learning to take place in virtual environments, student and instructor interconnectivity is essential.  Otherwise we are merely recycling the transmission model of education as online instruction with instructor designed objectives and assessment tools.

Uses of technology in areas other than language learning is extensively documented in professional journals and books.  For example, Niess (2005) investigated five case studies and documented the successes and difficulties encountered by student teachers developing pedagogical content knowledge and preparing to teach with technology in science and mathematics.   In the field of Geography, Armstrong & Bennett (2005), made a strong case for mobile, location-aware computing technology in teaching abstract geographic concepts by allowing teachers to take students into the field, thus  contextualizing geographic education.

Today, students who have limited access to resources for technology-driven learning at the college level can borrow laptops and iPads from their college libraries or Information Technology departments.  This would allow them to participate fully in collaborative assignments and field research with mobile learning tools.  In K-12 urban environments, efforts are underway to provide every child with access to a laptop or iPad (Warschauer, 2011).

In the traditional classroom setting, most faculty stay in touch with students by scheduling F2F office hours or via Email, an old technology in this rapidly evolving digital age.  Some of us prefer to use other tools in order to stay effectively connected with colleagues and students.  In my case, I use SMS texting and our virtual Blackboard Collaborate classroom for staying in touch with graduate and undergraduate students.  When I need to remind undergraduates of upcoming assignments, tests or projects, I text them and they in turn text me when they need clarification of course content or small-group projects. Students also text me to remind me about deadlines for letters of recommendation or to inform me that they will be late or absent from class.

In the field of language learning, extensive research has been carried out from a variety of theoretical perspectives on the use of technology and its impact on student achievement in foreign and second languages (Stanley, 2013; Stockwell, 2010, 2012, 2013).  Most recently, studies in second language acquisition have examined the impact of technology in the acquisition of intercultural competence (see Chun, 2011; Godwin-Jones, 2013; Kukulska-Hulme, 2010; O’Dowd & Ritter, 2006; Thorne, 2003).  This type of research is very important because it helps individuals working in a variety of professional and informal settings avoid serious intercultural miscommunication problems.

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Students in linguistics and teacher education programs who are seeking certification in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) often take courses in Methodology of TESL, Language and Culture, Structure of American English, and Language in Society.  In the past, teaching methodologies were offered exclusively in traditional classroom settings or community centers.  This has changed radically with the development of the Internet and video-conferencing software that allows teachers-in-training and students to learn and interact beyond the confines of localized physical spaces in both K12 and higher education.  Another useful technology is SMS texting.  As Stockwell (2010) has shown, SMS has proven to be very effective in teaching English as a Second-Language (ESL) students.  A simple way to help ESL students build up their vocabulary involves sending mini-lessons or true/false quizzes to their smartphones.  Other creative uses of technology in ESL classrooms involve the use of videos.  I have witnessed how technology-savvy ESL students have effectively collaborated with classmates in the creation of videos for classroom projects that were successfully uploaded to YouTube and shared with a wider audience.  This approach allows ESL students an opportunity to use their second language in context in order to effectively communicate with others and accomplish a variety of goals.

A successful classroom project for English language learners involved tutoring partnerships between students majoring in Linguistics and their counterparts in Shanghai, China.  I had remained in contact with Jie Chen, a professor of English at Shanghai Institute of Technology who was a student in a course that Shufa Li and I developed and taught in July 2012 for the Teaching in English Summer Program at MSU.  Jie and I decided to keep in touch via FaceTime since she plans to return to MSU as a visiting scholar in 2014.   We developed a project to encourage our students to greet and meet via FaceTime.  Five students who were doing well in three of the courses I was teaching in the spring of 2013 volunteered to tutor five English language learners attending college in Shanghai.  Technology played a significant role in these international exchanges, but there were some challenges tutors and tutees encountered.  For example, Internet connections in China were unreliable and the language learning applications used by our students were not available to Chinese students.  One of the most enthusiastic participants in this project, Gabrielle Napoli, expressed her views about this experience: “For 5 weeks I pursued an opportunity to connect with a student across the world. She told me to call her Mao, which was not her first name but her last. I asked why she asked me to call her by her last name and she explained that her first name would be too difficult for me to pronounce. When connecting with students who are not native to the English language, everything must be simplified, not only for them but for the native speaker as well. … I never thought we would become as close as we have. We still communicate and talk frequently over email and FaceTime.” (Gabrielle’s blog http://usatoshanghai.wordpress.com/ ).

ImageAnother project participant, Jonathan Williams, also found these language learning partnerships rewarding, though he chose to work with Skype rather than FaceTime and explore Google documents, slideshows, and occasionally screen sharing.  He writes:  “Working with foreign students on Skype was a fantastic experience, and it’s something that I’ve continued doing throughout the summer and hope to continue doing while studying and after graduation. Being face-to-face with a student, even though you may be miles apart (in this case across the globe) is invaluable for student-teacher dynamics and effective learning. Though there were internet connection issues and technical faults at times, the disturbances never significantly disrupted the sessions. In my opinion, what’s crucial about this is that learning sessions don’t lose anything by occurring online. Despite the distance, students and teachers are still able to convey things like tone and body language – each of which is lost in other media such as phone calls or emails.”  (Jon’s blog can be accessed at http://jwskypetutor.blogspot.com/ ).

Technology made these global projects possible.  It is also changing the dynamics of learning subject matter and languages.  Online and hybrid courses afford students and teachers opportunities to learn beyond the confines of the traditional classroom at convenient times for all involved.  In addition, mobile communication tools (i.e., notebooks, iPads, Tablets, smartphones, etc.)  have made it possible to learn anywhere and anytime, while at the same time increasing the strength of people-to-people connections locally and globally (see October 2013 issue of Language Learning and Technology).  We are indeed witnessing radical changes not just in modes of teaching-learning, but also in the degree of interconnectivity in multiple environments, which include school, work, neighborhoods, communities of practice, and nations. The future of education at all levels offers exciting opportunities for learning with technology and managing time wisely so that we can all eventually attain digital wisdom.

 

References

Armstrong, A. P., & Bennett, D.A. (2005).  A Manifesto on Mobile Computing in Geographic Education.  The Professional Geographer  57(4), 506-515.

Chun, D. (2011). Developing intercultural communicative competence thorough online exchanges.  CALICO Journal 28(2), 392-419.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2013).  Integrating intercultural competence into language learning through technology.  Language Learning & Technology, 17(2), 1-11.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/issues/june2013/emerging.pdf

Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010).  Learning cultures on the move: Where are we heading? Educational Technology & Society 13(4), 4-14.

Niess, M. L. (2005).  Preparing teachers to teach science and mathematics with technology: Developing a technology pedagogical content knowledge.  Teaching and Teacher Education 21(5), 509-523.

Oblinger, D. G. (March/April 2013).  Higher Education in the Connected Age.  EDUCAUSE review.

O’Dowd, R., & Ritter, J. (2006).  Understanding and working with ‘failed communication’ in telecollaborative exchanges. CALICO Journal 23(3), 623-642.

Prensky, M. (2012).  Brain Gain.  New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stanley, G. (2013).  Language Learning with Technology: Ideas for Integrating Technology in the Classroom.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stockwell, G. (2010).  Using mobile phones for vocabulary activities: Examining the effect of the platform.  Language Learning & Technology Language Learning & Technology 14(2), 95-110.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol14num2/stockwell.pdf

Stockwell, G. (Ed.). (2012). Computer Assisted Language Learning: Diversity in Research & Practice.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stockwell, G. (2013). Mobile-assisted language learning. In M. Thomas, H. Reinders & M. Warschauer (Eds.), Contemporary computer-assisted language learning. London & New York: Continuum Books.

Thorne, S. (2003).  Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication.  Language Learning & Technology 7(2), 38-67.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/pdf/thorne.pdf

Warschauer, M. (2011).  Learning in the Cloud. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Using Screencasting for Teaching, by Kirk McDermid

by Dr. Kirk McDermid, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Montclair State University

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Quick (boring) facts:

“Screencasting” is recording all or part of what’s happening on a computer’s display, to share with someone at a later date . It’s often used in software tutorials to give new users a visual aid to help familiarize them with the software . There are many different packages out there that can record screencasts, but I’ll be writing about a free service called “Jing” (techsmith.com/jing). Jing allows you to record a whole screen, a window, or a user-defined portion of a screen. It records up to 5 minutes of 10-frames-per-second video (so, not good for actual video, but just fine for showing mouse movements, etc.) and allows you to save them locally as swf (Flash) video files, or host them on screencast.com. (Techsmith also offers “Snagit,” which records more than 5 minutes and adds features, and Camtasia, an even more feature-filled screen-capture and video creator package.) Jing works on Windows (all contemporary versions) and Mac OS X 10 .6 .8 or later.

How I use it:

As with all teachers, I am constantly trying to find ways to improve communication with my students, and give them more effective feedback on their work—especially written work . And, of course, I’m lazy; I’d like to do it efficiently. (I’m also not the fastest typist, so I find that while typed feedback is an improvement over handwriting, it’s still very time consuming) . I do use rubrics or other ‘pre-made’ commentary for general or common feedback, but that just doesn’t cut it when you find something that doesn’t fit the categories you defined before reading student work. I also find that I’m not good at conveying nuance in my comments— students find it difficult to distinguish ‘minor’ comments or asides from central, fundamental feedback about their work.

(And it gets worse when I can’t control my sarcasm or humor. For some reason, students aren’t prepared to detect those when they’re reading evaluations of their work.)

So, I screencast.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

It’s simple: I set up a Jing window to record an area of a few lines’ worth of their paper, and I record myself reading it . (Yes, I almost entirely accept coursework in electronic form. I always have a copy; we have email records (or other means) to validate submissions, and the writing is always legible.) I skip over the dull parts (the dull parts of my reading, that is) by pressing a “pause recording” button, so it appears that I’ve read sections very fast sometimes, but then the whole screencast is full of commentary from me. (You can see times when I do that in the example screencasts, as my mouse flicks down to the left where the pause button is located outside the recording frame.) Sometimes it takes two or even three five-minute videos to read and respond to an entire paper, but if it’s one-two pages, one video does the trick . Then, just a brief typewritten summary at the end of the paper (mostly to remind myself of the evaluation I just gave in video form) and it’s returned to the student with a link to the screencast. (Total elapsed time is more than just the five-minute video that’s produced; if you screw up something or get interrupted, Jing doesn’t let you edit—you have to start over. But generally I get videos done in a single take, with only a few minutes of paused reading time, so a five-minute video might take 6-10 minutes to produce.)

Here is an example of a short essay that took me two five-minute videos to read: screencast.com/t/6rSmcB9o and screencast.com/t/qN1uIwcEjC .

But essays aren’t the only student work that visual and verbal feedback can help with. I use screencasts in a critical thinking/ informal logic course, where students have to do things like reconstruct an argument into a structured format for analysis. There are many moving parts, and it’s a nightmare to give good feedback just by typing, as your focus shifts from premise to premise as you critique their work. Another benefit: it’s easy to post screencast links as part of a discussion thread, and other students can easily follow along and benefit, too . Here’s an example: screencast.com/t/k6sdQhJ05o1S.

How do students respond? I haven’t done a formal study, so all I have are anecdotes which are generally very positive. I’ve had students describe it as having me “read their paper over their shoulder.” Yes, I thought that sounded creepy too, but they intended it as an endorsement. I find that students can understand me better, as they can hear my tone and emphasis. They can also replay the video whenever they want . (Another under-appreciated benefit, in my view, is that they have to listen to the whole thing to understand my evaluation— they can’t skip to the end or just find “the grade” to see what I thought of the paper.) Like any assignment and feedback, what you put in a Jing screencast is only as good as your feedback, and the structure of your assignment. I typically assign papers that can be revised and resubmitted; students have a good motive to listen to my feedback in that case (whether it was a Jing, or not). I also find that students have fewer misunderstandings about what I’m referring to in my feedback—some errors or problems can’t be easily located using a pen on paper (arrows, circles, everywhere!!) but with a Jing, they can see you draw or scroll to the areas you’re focused on. (See the logic screencast above for a good example of that .) I used to screencast on a convertible tablet, using a pen to scribble on documents as I read and talked (awesome); now I have a plain laptop, but I can indicate passages clearly just by moving the mouse (great, not awesome).

I do also use Jing to screencast tutorials; if you’ve ever had students complain they don’t know where to find something on Blackboard, use a screencast to answer that once, then post it somewhere you know they can find it. I also run an off-campus hosted wiki as a coursework site for students; Jing eases the learning curve, since it’s something they’ve never done before . (It’s a unique type of wiki.) Here’s an example: screencast.com/t/0yUQrYYQYvM.

About the author:

Kirk McDermid is an assistant professor of philosophy at Montclair State University. As a philosopher and physicist (BSc in physics from UBC, MSc and PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics and the University of Western Ontario, respectively) interested in the philosophy of science and epistemology, he has published in Physics Letters A, Religious Studies and Teaching Philosophy. He is also associate faculty at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, team teaching a course on critical thinking for Justice Studies students with a law enforcement veteran. He is always interested in exploring innovative pedagogy and instructional technology as ways to increase student engagement and make differentiated, student-driven learning manageable for instructors. His current research interests center on developing an epistemology of student plagiarism, examining the philosophical import of variational methods in physics, and implementing a semantic wiki to manage student learning and collaboration.

Performing Arts as Pedagogy

by Christopher Parker

Part of my Classical Mythology course requires students to attend a live dramatic or artistic performance. Not only are my students benefitting from the rich mythology themes often present in live performance, but most theater offerings and arts performances are rich with conceptual undertones of psychology, language, literature, physics, biology, technology, history, religion, philosophy and mathematics. I think it is clear how psychology, language and literature are present in drama. It takes a deeper analysis, but one can analyze performances for the elements of physics in narrative—such as I demonstrate in some of the examples below—as well as the actual physical science used in choreography, sound and special effects . Performing arts allow for analyzing biology, not only for performances that incorporate biology in the narrative, but by scrutiny of the bodies of the dancers, musicians and actors as well as in the imagery present in scrims. Math is present in the meter of poetry (cf. Birken, M., Coon, A. C. (2008). Discovering patterns in mathematics and poetry. Amsterdam, New York: Rondopi). Religion and philosophy are there in story, imagery and conversation. Of course there are more connections . Furthermore, preparation for attending performing arts, and discussions about them, assist in developing skills for critical thinking, writing, philosophical inquiry and reasoning.

That is why each semester my syllabus includes attendance at a performing arts piece on campus, hopefully together as a class. At Montclair State, student attendance is free because it is included in the their activities fees.

To select a show and time for each course per semester, I begin by researching upcoming offerings with the staff and curators in the Office of Arts and Cultural Programming (ACP) at Montclair State. The ACP often schedules these performances in collaboration with the departments of music, and theatre and dance, and help me arrange for conversations between my students and the artists. Then, once a show is selected for its relevance to my course material and appropriate timing, we fine-tune our collective attendance at the show.

First, timing: The exam period at the end of the semester usually means reduced attendance. The day before spring break doesn’t always work well either. So experience has shown that the best time to schedule performance attendance is early in the semester. Once we pick a good week we discuss, in class, the best night to attend the performance for the majority of students. Those students who may not be able to come with the rest of the class are invited to go on their own, another night . For a few, it may be impossible to see the chosen show at all, so they are advised to attend a different show. I may make some suggestions for other options currently available, and, for those who do not meet the performance requirement, I meet with them individually to discuss any conflicts.

Students are told that they will be writing a review of the event as well as developing questions for discussion with the people responsible for the performance (directors, performing artists, producers, etc.). We also may read some of the original sources of the theater piece. The syllabus clearly articulates the expected participation in live performances, and lays out what students can expect tied to the course learning goals.

Examples of Campus Arts and Cultural Programming

Most recently, two of my Mythology classes attended On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God, from the Italian company Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio. More than 60 Mythology students from two classes were given the opportunity to meet with the director, Romeo Castellucci, earlier in the day of our chosen showtime. Then, directly before the performance, all my students and other guests were invited to a pre-show conversation with scholar Annalisa Sacchi, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University. This helped us to pre- prepare by understanding the context of the creation of the show and a scholarly approach to analyzing its meaning. These pre-show experiences develop an entire aesthetic: intellectual, international and historical context within which students could then absorb the experience of the performance.

Other examples of performances have been:

Sweeney Todd, which features a classic tragic hero;

1001, a re-creation of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of myths and folk legends from Arabian antiquity;

Prometheus–Landscape 2, a wild modern interpretation of the behaviors and personalities of the Greek gods;

Trojan Women, directly applicable to our course work, and performed using several languages (subtitled in English);

Kiss of the Spider Woman, linked to the myth of Arachne and the archetype of the classic Greek tragic hero;

But, while we were lucky to have such relevant performance pieces to choose from —directly tied to classical mythology—not all arts events are classic theater.

For instance, one semester a dance event coproduced by Peak Performances and Liz Lerman, called The Matter of Origins, told an interpretative story of the Manhattan Project and the development of the nuclear bomb. To connect more modern narratives with classical mythology, we explored the connections between this dance and the story of Prometheus, the end of the world and other deities of war and conflict. Act Two invited the audience on stage for conversation, inquiry, food and art at tables hosted by “provocateurs,” which was reminiscent of the Greek Chorus, representing people from the community . Insula, a dance-media-music-theater piece developed through the Department of Theatre and Dance, was conceived through collaboration with Artist-in-Residence Kari Margolis and MSU BFA students . Insula was rich with connections to Greek and Roman mythology from Odysseus to the apartment complexes of ancient Rome called “insula.”

We were able to experience Polynesian mythology through the narrative and hula presentation of Na Kinimakalehua, a Hawaiian company of hula artists. The company provided a study guide on Polynesian mythology that accompanied the hula performance. It is always useful to connect Greek mythology and its archetypes to other cultural or ethnic mythology and how they are, in fact, related by similar archetypes.

Pedagogy of Arts and Cultural Programming and the Class Subject Matter

The Review: A week before any performance I will give a workshop on how to write a play review. I am a regular reader of the arts critics of The New York Times and other newspaper’s theater critics, and over the years I have developed a basic format for how to structure a theater review. I give these format directions to the students and we read aloud a very recent theater review from a newspaper. We analyze the correlation between a recent review and our basic format . Reviews on the Internet tend to be different in style. And even though the Internet form of writing contributes a different style and format from more old-fashioned newspaper theater critiques, I find the print format works best for the objectives of this assignment: assisting in better perception of the entire performance in relation to the pre-defined objectives that writing a review calls for; understanding the creative process and how art is conceived; developing critical thinking; attentively addressing source information correctly and making knowledgeable and researched connections of the show to themes in classical mythology.

Communities of Inquiry: Conversations with the production professionals for On the Concept of the Face were readily available during their time on campus, but this is not always the case . It takes effort to bring together actors, directors and a dramaturge to discuss meaning behind a theater piece . The ACP helps me every semester by organizing and arranging schedules so students have access to the artists. I always try to arrange these talks for students so that not only is mythology suggestively brought before them in performance by people of their time or even their peers, but that real conversations of meaning and intent can occur .

To first-year students, such conversations and the ability to develop rich inquiry may not be immediate and natural . So I prepare students in multiple ways: before meeting the production artists, we hold a workshop on how to ask good questions—that go beyond questions such as “when did you start acting?”—to get deeper answers, and we practice identifying where we find classical mythology in the modern day. We explore the Greek poets, their forms and narratives . Then, for example, when poet Tracy Smith was at Montclair State, we reach an inquiry level like this:

I read in your poem “My God, Its Filled with Stars,” what appeared to me to be strong links to mythology (however you look at that). You seem to carry the mythology from what appears to be Gaea, though you don’t use that name in the poem, to the Odyssey, which of course is in the references you make to 2001 a Space Odyssey and then the follow up story of 2010 a Space Odyssey. You must think myth still works in poetry. Do you? And why do you evoke the ancient gods, does your father’s affiliation with Hubble bring in any revelations for you from the divine, at least metaphorically?

The point here is for us to experience the presence of ancient myth, or almost any class topic, through the artists of our time. In this way concepts cease to be old stories in old books and something we live now. I ask the students to embrace this and recognize it and learn better by actually experiencing mythology in the world of successful and talented artists, including their peers.

But learning and practicing critical questioning takes some consideration and thought. We evoke these thoughts in small communities of inquiry with the goal of developing a pool of questions to ask our artists. We experiment with Socratic questioning, and its relationship to Greek mythology and other Greek philosophers and their methods of examining knowledge. Each small team then assigns one or two members to actually present their questions during our conversations with the artists.

Original Sources: In many cases, we will review the original sources from which theater has emerged, such as the short story “Dog Days” which inspired the creation of a new opera piece co-produced at Montclair State, also called Dog Days. Dog Days is apocalyptic, which is a common theme in Greek and other mythologies . The show also explores the animal in the man and the feminine power of the heroine . Reading the short story that inspired the opera helped us develop valuable questions for the librettist and director, understand the narrative of the opera, and the meaning of the musical score itself.

My more than 10 years of experience working with artists on campus has enriched my pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. Infusing my courses with live performance experiences gives students a chance to find the relevance to the classical archetypes, evokes an enthusiastic desire for philosophical inquiry and critical thinking, builds (literally) critical writing skills, gives practical useful reasons for research on mythology or any subject, fosters public inquiry and speaking, and enriches the connection of the modern aesthetic with the literature of the past.

About the Author:

Christopher Parker teaches Mythology in the Classics and General Humanities department at Montclair State University and is also a poet and poet-in-the-schools with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Columbia University and is completing an EdD in pedagogy and philosophy at Montclair State.

Experiments in Creative Approaches to Science Education, by Mika Munakata and Ashwin Vaidya

By Dr. Mika Munakata, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montclair State University
and Dr. Ashwin Vaidya, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montclair State University

“Newton’s second law of motion states…”

In reconsidering the effectiveness of this typical script in any beginning physics course, it strikes us that while the standard method of conveying scientific information may work for the scientifically gifted and motivated student, it leaves behind the majority of the already scientifically alienated . Presenting a discipline such as physics as something external to oneself is therefore akin to alienating oneself from nature. Our understanding and description of nature is intricately tied to our experiences and sensations of the world around us; the Descartian approach of reducing nature to a set of mental rules, while powerful, is insufficient as a pedagogical tool . Along with a recounting of the historical reconstruction of scientific laws, students would benefit from (re)creating science. The rest of this article describes some of our experiments along these lines.

Students’ perception of creativity and science

Not so long ago, we administered a survey to over 200 MSU undergraduate and master’s science and mathematics students (Munakata and Vaidya, 2012). The aim of the survey was to assess students’ perceptions of the role of creativity in the sciences. The questionnaire, using a Likert- scale measurement from 1 to 5, asked students to indicate the degree to which various disciplines encouraged creativity.

Figure 1: Creativity ratings for different disciplines by CSAM students

Figure 1: Creativity ratings for different disciplines by CSAM students

It first asked students to describe the most creative activity they have been engaged in and to compare various disciplines, events and skills against their standard of creativity. Our data (Figure 1) revealed that even among science and mathematics students, arts-related disciplines were deemed to be more creative than sciences. Further, among the science disciplines, those that were more applied (medicine, engineering, physics) were rated as being more creative than the theory-based disciplines. The somewhat favorable ratings received by these scientific disciplines may not be random or coincidental; several of the students taking the survey were aspiring medical students and enrolled in a physics course taught by one of the authors . These results were also confirmed by other sections of the survey that asked students to describe the most creative activity they have engaged in. The results clearly illustrate the perception that creativity does not play a role in scientific and mathematical endeavors.

Though the results of this survey are not surprising, they are nevertheless disturbing to the science educator and pose a challenge for those of us who encourage our students to be innovative and try to equip them with the tools necessary towards this accomplishment. If we strive to engage students in science in the same way that a scientist approaches it—that is, creatively— it is imperative that we expose students to opportunities to engage in the creative process early on during their education. This is not so easy. Unfortunately, creativity and imagination are seldom emphasized in STEM learning (NRC, 2005) with rote and dry instructional practices often leading to students dropping out of STEM fields (Goldberg, 2008). By and large, students, especially in introductory courses, are taught by lecture and their laboratory experiments are usually predetermined. This may be the case in other disciplines as well.

Some institutions have made a deliberate attempt at revamping their curricula; traditional lecture-style teaching has been replaced by inquiry-based teaching, often encouraging students to fully engage in the scientific process . Others have proposed refocusing introductory science courses to reflect two aims: promote conceptual understanding and showcase the process of scientific inquiry (Meinwald & Hildebrand, 2011). These aims can be achieved by making courses student-centered and encouraging exploration and dialogue (see DeHaan (11)). Yet another way we propose is to engage STEM students in activities that merge science with creativity.

The Art of Science experiments

The Art of Science Project: We recently initiated an experiment in our classroom with the help of a grant from the American Physical Society. The project, which began in the fall of 2012, involves undergraduate physics and arts students in the exploration and development of a hand crank camera and in the subsequent production of sustainability-themed short movies . This innovative activity, or performance, will capitalize on the public’s passion for movies. The moving image occupies an increasingly demanding place in contemporary life.

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

The amount of energy spent on both the production and consumption of media nowadays is enormous; cinema itself, however, was born of modest mechanical means. Just over a century ago, hand- cranked cameras and bioscopes harnessed human energy to present the visual illusions that still hold our attentions today. This project is a collaboration between the disciplines of physics and art at MSU and is being conducted with the collaboration of faculty and artists from across and outside the campus with the hope of bringing the playful side of science to the forefront of the student consciousness. The project is being conducted in three distinct phases:

  • Development of new technology: In the fall of 2012, physics students from an upper- level course worked together to investigate the mechanics of a working hand-crank video camera as a special project in MSU’s “Classical Mechanics” (Physics 210). The exercise involved discussions about energy generation, the conversion of mechanical to electrical energy and sustainable energy practices . In the laboratory, we took apart hand-crank units, analyzed their parts and worked on putting together one of our own (see figure 2).
  • The second part of the technical project, which is currently underway with the help of students from the physics club, involves the development of a bicycle-powered generator. Power generated by operating the bicycles will be stored in the generator for later use in projecting. With the assistance of a visiting artist, Anuj Vaidya, students from MSU’s art department will soon begin to work with the physics students to create a series of short videos that explore issues of ecology and sustainability. They will use the hand-crank cameras to record images for their work. In addition to these images, students will be able to use recycled sounds and images to complete their short pieces.
  • The culminating event for the Art of Making Science project will be an exhibition and workshop held on the campus and open to the public. The physics and art students will present their product (both the machinery and the movie) to students and faculty during a special presentation at the 4th Annual University Teaching and Learning Showcase event, sponsored by the Research Academy.
Photo credit Anthony DeStefano, 2012.

Photo credit Anthony DeStefano, 2012.

The RAUL Showcase will also feature the Physics and Art exhibition which we initiated as an experiment in informal education to have students see the ubiquity and beauty of science. The exhibition showcases students’ photographs on any theme but with an aesthetic eye.

Students from CSAM are asked to submit photographs and to identify and elaborate on the science behind the art . These are mounted on posters and showcased during the exhibition. In all, more than 100 photographs have been submitted to date. Each year, a group of faculty from CSAM and CART award prizes to three student photographers.

The idea behind the events of the day are twofold: the art exhibition which is student- oriented gives the students a chance to participate in an art-science creation and get the audience in the right frame of mind to discuss the deep connections between art and science, and to reveal the sciences as a very creative enterprise. In the true sense of creativity, these events provide the opportunity for students to shift their paradigms about the nature of science learning . More often than not, we found the students pleasantly surprised to find physics hidden in the pictures that they took.

Photo credit Ashley LaRose, 2012.

Photo credit Ashley LaRose, 2012.

Reactions to these events:

We are in the process of assessing the impact of these events on students’ perceptions of the role of creativity in the sciences. Our hope is to distinguish the effective elements of these types of activities to share with STEM colleagues.

Conversations and the general public mood during the physics and art event clearly indicated excitement over the photographs and appreciation for the theme of the day.

Students in the upper level physics class were asked for reflections on their experiences with the Art of Making Science project and their classroom experience. Students recognized that the structure of the course was different from the typical day-long science laboratory exercises. They commented that the ongoing nature of the project provided incentive to prepare between class meetings and also stated that as opposed to the question-and-answer structure that is common in other classes, this class was open-ended and allowed for the student to ask their own questions and to try to formulate answers to them. One student saw this as good preparation for science after graduation, when textbooks won’t be available to provide answers.

Students also enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the project . They learned how to work on their own piece of the project while keeping the big picture of the group project in mind. Teamwork allowed them to combine their knowledge and to share ideas . For example, some in the group were “better with their hands” while others had “deeper theoretical knowledge .” Although some alluded to different starting points within the group, groups were able to find their rhythm and learn to communicate efficiently and effectively. Students enjoyed that they got to know each other well due to the focused time they spent outside of class.

The importance of such experiments and informal events cannot be underestimated. They can be extremely beneficial in conveying essential ideas which might be difficult in the traditional classroom due to pressures associated with grades. Additionally, even the elementary mathematical treatments of topics in physics is seen by many students as being very burdensome due to previously instilled fears about mathematics and science . Our experiments have proved to be a revelation to students and faculty alike; it has allowed us to provide a forum where talking about science and creating science are both possible and equally valued . It has allowed students to see that science and in fact, even art, are not created in isolation; there is a strong tie between them that often goes unnoticed . In becoming comfortable with failure, we have given ourselves a greater chance of success. The roots of the notion of creativity lie in creation, after all, and our collective consciousness have been shaped by our students’ creation . As our project races to completion with the creation of the short film, we look forward to more shifts in our thinking of what science or art really mean. We invite you to join us for the culmination of this experience on May 3.

References:

DeHaan, R. L. (2005). The impending revolution in undergraduate science education. Journal of Sci. Educ. and Tech., 14(2), 253-269.

Meinwald, J. & Hildebrand, J. G. (2010). Introduction. In J. Meinwald & J. G. Hildebrand (Eds .), Science and the educated American: A core component of liberal education (pp. 1-8). Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Munakata, M. and Vaidya, A. (2012) . Encouraging Creativity in Mathematics and Science Through Photography. Teaching Mathematics and its Applications. 31(3). 121-132.

Goldberg, D. E. (2008). Last word: Bury the Cold War curriculum. ASEE PRISM, 17(8).

National Research Council. (2005). S. Donovan & J. Bransford (Eds .) . How students learn: History, mathematics, and science in the classroom. Washington, D .C .: National Academies Press.

Creativity Research and Learning Around the Nation

Creativity Research and Scholarship

Researchers at Harvard and Vanderbilt misplaced gems from the best thinkers in have identified six “latent” types of our global history.
creative environments for students that move beyond the conventions of creative thinking that are measured and judged in a classroom. These are Networking, Nurturing, Idealistic, Renaissance, Social Media and Gregarious creativities. 5 Student narratives were collected and analyzed to determine when students—often unknowingly—“perceived their own creative contributions to campus life,” including hanging out with friends, working in a student organization, volunteering and other routine aspects of campus life . These findings suggest that students can be encouraged to build awareness of what environments best foster their creative thinking, how they can make connections to these environments through their course work and how scholars and students can “refocus attention from the intellectual rewards of the classroom toward the creative management of students’ extracurricular lives.”

Elizabeth Long Lingo and Stephen J . Tepper of Vanderbilt wrote in 2010 about the rising consciousness yet fragmented approach in higher education towards creativity and learning, stating in their Chronicle of Higher Education article, “The creative turn in higher education, however, remains only a series of ad hoc experiments.” Still, researchers are claiming creativity, or something like it, can be measured, and some creative campus programs are leveraging this research, which suggests that creativity is,

[R]ooted in a set of teachable competencies, which include idea generation, improvisation, metaphorical and analogical reasoning, divergent thinking that explores many possible solutions, counter factual reasoning, and synthesis of competing solutions. Creativity also requires an ability to communicate and persuade, and the skills and leadership to apply diverse and specialized expertise.6

Despite a renewed focus on what conditions in teaching and learning can foster creativity, what makes us creative and how we identify creative thinking is a question that has burned in our cultural consciousness for a long time. Maria Popova’s blog Brainpickings is an example of a public resource devoted to culling creative ideas and thinkers throughout history . Recently featured in The New York Times7 as a “big thinker,” Popova’s blog has generated a large readership simply by aggregating forgotten or misplaced gems from the best thinkers in history.

The Association of Performing Arts Presenters recently released a new white paper detailing the outcomes from all their Creative Campus Innovations grant recipients . The paper serves as a means of furthering the dialogue on how arts programming and teaching, and learning can merge on campus to profoundly impact student learning and creativity . The paper is balanced in its recognition of the challenges both artists and instructors can face when trying to integrate interdisciplinary projects and programs on campus: “Budgets, facilities, selection processes, and professional norms all work against innovative programming that places other goals (learning, engagement, conversation, community building) above more narrowly conceived notions of curatorial excellence . Furthermore, institutional structures and academic practices, from tenure to course review and scheduling and budgetary silos, also discourage faculty and other campus partners from embracing arts-based interdisciplinary inquiry .” However, the paper goes on to discuss the unique value of collaboration with performing arts presenters on campus, because they often,

[C]reate what scholars call “trading zones”—spaces where people can exchange ideas and learn from one another without the same external pressures tied to extrinsic rewards and strict disciplinary practices. The arts contribute to these trading zones in unique ways—they build “play” and improvisation into the creative process; they embrace ambiguity and uncertainty; they use story and metaphor to produce mutual understanding and bridge cultural differences. Moreover, artists are often project driven rather than discipline driven and process oriented rather than product oriented.8

The authors make the argument that arts programming can be an essential and critical part of infusing courses and campus communities with an appreciation and discourse on creativity and its many forms. It’s well worth reading the full report, available at: apap365.org/KNOWLEDGE/Seminars/Documents/Creative Campus White Paper w Exec Sum.pdf.

5. Pachucki, M. A., S. J. Tepper & J.C. Lena. “Creativity Narratives Among College Students: Sociability and Everyday Creativity .” The Sociological Quarterly 51 (2010): pp. 122-149.
6. Lingo, Elizabeth Long & Steven J. Tepper. “The Creative Campus: Time for ‘C’ Change.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 Oct. 2010. Web. Available at: http://chronicle .com/article/The- Creative-Campus-Time-for/124860/?viewMobile=1 .
7. Feiler, Bruce. “She’s Got Some Big Ideas.” The New York Times, 30 Nov . 2012. Web. Available at: nytimes .com/2012/12/02/fashion/maria-popova-has-some-big-ideas.html.
8. Brown, Alan S. & Steven J. Tepper. “Placing the Arts at the Heart of the Creative Campus: A White Paper Taking Stock of the Creative Campus Innovations Grant Program.” Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dec . 2012.

 


Creativity and Arts Integration: Around the Nation

Many of the programs listed below were underwritten by the Creative Campus Innovations Grant to “support exemplary campus-based performing arts presenters to develop and implement programs and strategies beyond conventional practice that integrate their work across the academy.”

It’s important to note that you don’t need to be funded or flush with budget money to infuse your course(s) with creative approaches to learning; this entire issue is presented to give educators ideas on how creativity can be explored at the course delivery level, as well as by leveraging programming that may already exist on your campus. For example, talk to your campus’ arts programming staff and discuss ways you can integrate visiting artists, on-campus performances and cultural events with your course teaching and learning goals. Here, we provide you with some inspiring snippets of what’s happening nationally in creativity and teaching and learning:

• Creative Thinking, a new undergraduate course offered by Montclair State University, developed by the Office of Arts and Cultural Programming and the Research Academy for University Learning. The course is the first of its kind in American university learning, which incorporates the creative processes of visiting artists and faculty instructors from multiple disciplines, who expose students to unique approaches to design and idea generation. Currently the lead instructor is Dr . Iain Kerr (see sidebar p. 4) who infuses the course with a revolving and evolving set of creative exercises and projects co-developed by MSU faculty from Math, Physics, Music, Theatre, Computer Science, Marketing, Art and Design, and Philosophy to present interdisciplinary approaches to creative problem-solving, perspectives and learning.

• The Creative Process, a University of Michigan undergraduate course: artsonearth .umich .edu/creativeprocess.php. This course seeks to “de-mystify creativity for students in all U-M units and years: to teach students that creativity is not a character trait or an event, but a process—one that will challenge their sense of competence and mastery, but that they can understand and eventually master, transforming both themselves and their work.” Like the Creative Thinking course at Montclair State, Creative Process is taught by a cohort of faculty from many disciplines and models how the creative process can be developed through various interdisciplinary approaches.

• The Scientific Imagination: a virtual symposium discussing creative learning in the sciences—with specific examples of course content and teaching practices, sponsored by the Creative Research Center at Montclair State University. The video is available for free online via the CRC website montclair.edu/arts/ creative-research-center.

• Envisioning the Practice: Montreal International Symposium on Curating the Performing Arts, April 2014: acaq.ca.

• Vanderbilt University’s The CURB Center: For Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy . Vanderbilt’s program to promote a national conversation on arts and education to promote creative thinking and learning is a prototype for campuses that want to connect arts programming, research, community projects, and creative teaching and learning . The seven core principles that inform their mission include a critical observation that “Creative insight and critical assessments are not solely the purview of the lone genius—instead they emerge through bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise.”

• Feet to the Fire: Exploring Global Climate Change from Science to Art. Another project funded by the Creative Campus grant initiative, Wesleyan University developed and presented a unique creative project that “included research and learning opportunities for students and faculty to explore the effects of global warming and the intersections between scientific and artistic approaches to the issue, and to foster a deeper understanding of issues surrounding global climate change through multiple lenses.”

• Class Divide: The HOP at Dartmouth . The Hopkins Center for the Arts (HOP) at Dartmouth was the recipient of a Round 1 Grant from Creative Campus Innovation Grant. The HOP developed a multi- dimensional approach to integrating the creative arts in community outreach and campus initiatives. Watch their documentary on Youtube (some excellent ideas on how to merge your course goals with creative arts programming here); search for “The Class Divide.”

We hope you enjoy and are inspired by the articles presented here. To learn more about how Montclair State is leading a growing initiative to focus pedagogy on creative teaching and learning, please contact the Research Academy for University Learning at teach-learn@montclair.edu, or visit montclair.edu/academy.

The Intersection of Arts Programming and Teaching and Learning: Creative Thinking

IMG_0757

Liz Lerman with the Creative Thinking students from Summer 2012.

by Julie Dalley

In a studio classroom, 12 students sit in a circle, look around themselves and at each other, and peer curiously at a gang of course instructors milling about the room. They are the inaugural class members of Creative Thinking,1 an experimental new course offered at Montclair State University designed to generate unique opportunities for students to explore how creativity happens. Their instructors, led by Dr. Ashwin Vaidya, a physicist of Mathematics and Physical Science, included Dr. Mika Munakata of Mathematical Sciences, Dr. Tiger Roholt of Philosophy and Religion, Dr. Marissa Silverman of the John J . Cali School of Music, Dr. Debbie Saivetz of Theatre and Dance, Dr. Jerry Fails of Computer Science and Dr. Yawei Wang of Marketing. The students will spend the next four weeks immersed in exploring their own creative abilities, perspectives and approaches.

The students were exposed to multiple approaches to creative processes. They observed rehearsals for the opera, Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter, directed by Robert Wilson. They spoke with the visionary stage director,2 asked him questions about inspiration, structure, design and practice. They participated in a two-day workshop with choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Liz Lerman. Lerman led them through a series of simple movement and naming exercises designed to focus awareness on their own thinking patterns—a process she called “harvesting .”3 They spent two class sessions with artist and visiting professor Iain Kerr, called “Worldmaking.” They discussed creativity from the perspective of the individual’s role as part of a collaborative process within a system, to dispel the idea that creativity is a mysterious, intangible element.

Though the ability to interact with creative artists—brought to campus as part of the Peak Performances series programmed by Arts and Cultural Programming (ACP)—and explore artistic processes was critical to the course design, the students went far beyond artistic expression. Under the guidance of their seven instructors, they played logic games; wrote and acted out stories about themselves; discussed, debated and learned to speculate solutions to complex conceptual problems; tested out approaches; and reflected on and journaled their thoughts and ideas. They conceived of and probed their own interests, how new perspectives could challenge their ingrained or habitual approaches to problem solving or course assignments, and even the constraints of thinking disciplinarily, i.e. “this is how we structure scientific questioning” or “this is how we approach this issue through writing.” The students learned to question convention and understand their own individuality as able to uniquely contribute to the world. In the words of one student, “This course changed my life.”

Students from the Creative Thinking Summer 2012 course.

Students from the Creative Thinking Summer 2012 course.

When the course was over the students had produced their own piece of creative work—an oil painting set to music, a pencil sketch showing the students’ transformation as he went through the course (a very good one), a comic book idea, a short story, a documentary, and an innovative idea (and demonstration) of a spherical projection system for film . But the objective of the course was not to produce a singular “thing” that others might evaluate as creative but to experiment with processes that can lead to creativity. Thus, a primary function of the course was to ask, “what is creativity?” and to expose students to myriad ways that creativity can be interpreted, as well as have meaning for them personally.

The idea that creativity is an inherent trait, something we are born with or that happens mystically due to genetic makeup, is a persistent myth in our culture . The faculty developers of the Creative Thinking course, in collaboration with ACP and the Research Academy for University Learning, came together in the summer of 2010 to find ways to disrupt this myth and create a course that both inspired creativity and provided opportunities for experiencing how creativity happens across disciplines. The foundational work behind the course was inspired by Dr . Paul Baker, professor and artist, and author of Integration of Abilities, a book Baker wrote in 1967 to document the set of exercises he used in his own courses “to inspire creative growth.”4

The course developers, in addition to bringing their own practices, disciplinary expertise and experience, went beyond the core knowledge of their group and
also spent time with artists, dancers, filmmakers, musicians and scientists, and consulted emerging research on creativity to inform the evolution of the course, making it both structured around central ideas and fluid to new creative influences . They were curious how students would adapt their understanding of intelligence and how we define knowledge, how the course would affect their lives both on and off campus, and how they could shift their approaches to their own learning (deep, surface, strategic) and recognize opportunities for creativity . The student’s (summer 2012) were surveyed pre- and post-course using an Adaptive Expertise questionnaire (Fisher and Peterson) and a Study Process questionnaire (Biggs). While the results of that data are pending further analysis and comparison to the full-term version of the course, preliminary results indicate that students showed positive changes in how well they confronted challenging tasks and how likely they were to use the skills learned in the course in other areas of their lives, and it had a positive impact on their ability to handle failure . Students showed the likelihood to take deeper approaches to their learning, they better understood their own learning processes, and they grew more comfortable with the belief that knowledge is flexible, built through collaboration and open to change . Thus, the work of the faculty and the multi and interdisciplinary approach to the course has seemed to heighten student’s awareness of creative opportunities, their own learning and the collaborative nature of knowledge-making.

The Creative Thinking course at Montclair State is not the only course in higher education to explore and foster creativity as a curricular goal. It is, however, the first of its kind to be uniquely designed to shift and change depending on the disciplinary makeup of the instructors and students, and to be offered to all students, no matter what major . In an effort to instill a spirit of creative experimentation that moves beyond novelty to sustainable and enduring ideas, it promotes an openness to diverse perspectives for problem-solving, and a holistic understanding of where we find inspiration. The underlying concept of the course lies in the idea of taking risks and of embracing failure to achieve new and exciting, as well as personally satisfying, creations. The integration of visiting artists, who bring fresh perspectives and creative insights from a range of performing mediums, and may change from semester to semester, is made possible through the ACP and the Peak Performances series, which curates a steady and diverse field of artists from across the globe to visit and perform on campus each year. Along with the artists, student’s exposure to creative ideas across a spectrum of disciplines, brought by a multidisciplinary instructor pool, offers students in all majors a chance to see creativity in action, and to understand that artistry, innovation and inspiration are informed by more than some sort of innate and mysterious talent, but by concepts and processes related to science, math, literature, writing, education and more.

1. The Creative Thinking course was initially funded by a Creative Campus Innovations Grant, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and administered by the Association for Performing Arts Presenters. For more information about this grant and the programs and projects it has funded, please visit: apap365 .org
2. From Robert Wilson’s Peak Performances profile: The New York Times described Robert Wilson as “a towering figure in the world of experimental theater.” Wilson’s works integrate a wide variety of artistic media, combining movement, dance, lighting, furniture design, sculpture, music and text into a unified whole . His images are aesthetically striking and emotionally charged, and his productions have earned the acclaim of audiences and critics worldwide .
3. Liz Lerman’s approach is rooted in the use of movement and the body as a resource for learning . Her techniques are drawn from her years of experience creating new choreographic work with communities of non-dancers, as well as dance professionals . A “toolbox” that she’s developed with her former company, Dance Exchange, can be found at d-lab .org .
4. Taken from The Baker Idea Institute website. For the full range of Baker’s work and ongoing programs and projects based on his ideas, visit bakeridea .org .

Waking the Contemplative Mind on Campus

Waking the Contemplative Mind on Campus

by David Lee Keiser

What is contemplative practice?

Contemplative practices are activities that can quiet the mind in order to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration and insight. While many of us think of silent meditation as the main contemplative practice, other examples include contemplative prayer, mindful walking and other intentional experiences in nature, yoga and other contemporary physical or artistic practices. Secular practices also include those appropriate for classroom use; the Tree of Contemplative Practices, accessible at the Center for Contemplative Mind website, provide many examples.

Contemplative pedagogy, a relatively new academic term, indicates teaching and curriculum steeped in a contemplative perspective. Respecting the sanctity of the separation of church and state, as well as the secular needs of a public university make the transition from practice to pedagogy especially important.

While contemplative practice has the potential to bring different aspects of one’s self into focus, to help develop personal goodness and compassion, and to awaken an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life, within college and university curricula, such potential needs to be steeped in academic courses and programs. And they are. In prestigious universities such as Michigan and Brown, full academic programs (in Music and Contemplative Practices, respectfully) incorporate and cultivate contemplative competencies, and literally hundreds of college and university instructors throughout the U.S. and the World use contemplative pedagogies to teach within their content areas. Examples can be found by visiting www.contemplativemind.org

Throughout history, Contemplative Practices have helped people develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and concentration, reduce stress, and enhance creativity. Most contemplative practitioners feel that over time, these practices can cultivate insight, inspiration, and a loving and compassionate approach to life. In and out of the classroom, they can be practical, radical, and transformative, and help people improve relationships. Practically speaking, such transformation can lead to sharpening focus, concentration, and insight, and improving listening skills.

Throughout the world, there is both quantitative and qualitative research underway regarding the results of contemplative teaching and practice. For example, at Richard Davidson’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at UW Madison, they are doing trial studies both in the brain-imaging lab and in local schools. CARE for Teachers (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education), offered by the Garrison Institute continues to receive Federal education grant money to design, implement, and assess a social-emotional learning program designed to help teachers sustain care and compassion in the classroom.

For more information on Contemplative Practice Programs and Resources, please visit: www.montclair.edu/academy/programs/contemplativepedagogy

 

Silence as a Teaching Tool: Meditation in the Classroom

Silence as a teaching tool

Teachers fill their classes with sound. A lecture or assignment that excites a lively class discussion is deemed successful. It is also productive to fill them occasionally with silence. There is no exercise that my students enjoy more than silent meditation. They say they are under a lot of pressure, and a few minutes of quiet with the lights low is refreshing, calming, and settles their minds.

My pedagogic specialty is the application of the principles of linguistics to the writing classroom, and one area of linguistics concerns how ideas are created before they are voiced or written down. Ideas come as plentifully from silence as they do from discussion.

The three meditation-based exercises below give students a creative tool which most of them have never used before.

I.    Meditation Before Writing.

Meditation is a sophisticated practice which requires a long time to master. The better title for this exercise may be “quiet concentration” or “pure thinking.”

Exercise: Provide an in-class assignment; it could be a simple description (“What would the ideal classroom look like?”), or a more philosophical question (“What is the right way to discipline young children?”). It could also be a memory question (“What is your earliest memory?”). The question can be tailored to current class work.

Turn the lights off, ask them to silence their electronic devices, tell them to get comfortable, and announce that the meditation will last five minutes.

When the five minutes are up, give them time to write a paragraph on the assigned subject. You could then ask them to read the paragraphs aloud, but that is not required. Ask them to share their reactions to the meditation process.

The payoff would be that the process results in a better final paper, but there is no good method to test that.

It’s a simple exercise, but provides a memorable and often empowering experience for the students.

II.  Guided Meditation.

One of the pitfalls of learning is the frequent assumption by students that their view of the world is universally held.  In my classes recent statements have ranged from “Everyone serves lasagna on Christmas,” to “Everyone loves their parents,” to “There were no abortions before Roe v. Wade.”

Exercise: Ask students to close their eyes.  Ask them to breathe comfortably in and out, and then instruct them to relax their feet, ankles, knees, hips, stomach, throat, eyes, etc.  Then guide them in a meditation.  This has as many permutations as there are people, but I often use this one:

Imagine you are walking along and you come upon a gate in a fence.

You walk through the gate, and across a wide field. 

You come to a body of water, where you stay for a while. 

Now turn around and come back to where you started.

You can also use this one:

Imagine you stop your car by the side of the road and walk to a lake 100 yards away

What is on the surface of the lake?

Descend lower into the water. What do you see there?

Descend to the bottom of the lake. What do you see there?

Now rise back to the top and walk to your car.

This part of the exercise should take 5-10 minutes. It takes time for images and impressions to develop, so leave plenty of time between each phase of the imagined experience.

After it is over, ask the students to tell the rest of the class what their fence/field/body of water looked like, what they did while they were walking.

Some students are alone, some with others. For some the field is full of flowers, which they pick, others play soccer with their team. Some go swimming in the water; others dip their toe in, and some just look at it. On their return, some lock the gate behind them; others walk through and leave it open. Some have friends awaiting them on the other side of the gate; others are alone. The imagined experiences are utterly different from one another, and students are amused, amazed, and delighted at the variety.

(As an aside, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to demonstrate similar diversity on a more practical level. In the first class after the break, I ask each student write down what they ate on Thanksgiving. I have done this three years in a row and there is no single food that “everyone” has served, not even turkey and pumpkin pie. One such real-life example of natural diversity is worth any number of lectures on the subject.)

This is a counter-linguistic exercise in that it involves no language at all until the class reviews what they have imagined – the experience takes place on another level. It is a good opportunity to question where ideas come from, how creativity works, and what our “minds” are.

The dazzling array of different experiences speaks for itself in demonstrating that no two minds think alike. The point can be underlined by noting that their imaginings proceeded from different experiences and expectations, and that this diversity should be assumed in every area of the human experience.

III. Talking Stick:

This exercise is based on tribal ceremonies to resolve differences and hash through issues. It can be used in any discipline to dig deep into a specific area of inquiry. It is nonthreatening, egalitarian, and always interesting. I participate too when the Talking Stick comes into my hand.

Example: In my writing class this semester, the essays are based on the Ages of Man, beginning with “before birth, childbirth, and early childhood.”  We are reading poetry, essays, and fictional works which portray or discuss this period in life, and inspiration can be gleaned from these readings, but it is still a daunting challenge to narrow the focus to a specific claim. This semi-meditative exercise provides a rich lode of issues and experiences to enrich the thinking of all members of the class.

Exercise:  The teacher must find a “talking stick” of some sort, which is simply an interesting stick. You can tie a ribbon around an ordinary stick from your yard, or use, as I have, a colorful carved walking cane. Some stick-like object decorated by your imagination suffices.

The role of the teacher is to guide the discussion and regulate the timing.  The students should understand clearly the issue they are to address. Instruct them to give complete attention to the person holding the Talking Stick – no laughter, no commentary, no questions. Students self-regulate the length of their comments so each participant has time to speak, but the teacher should be ready to cut off a time-hog. The teacher will also judge how long the sharing should go on, giving each student a chance to speak the same number of times. In a class of 18 students, two times around with the Talking Stick took 40 minutes.

The class sits in a circle and the Talking Stick is placed in the middle.  The group sits in silence until someone is moved to pick up the stick and share a thought about the subject at hand. He or she speaks for as long as necessary to express his or her thought and then passes the stick to the left. The next person speaks, and passes it to the left, and so on. Students who can’t think of anything to say can pass it without speaking, but the teacher should come back to them later.

The Talking Stick is powerful. As each participant sees it coming closer and closer, a sense of excitement grows, and often the thoughts expressed when the Talking Stick arrives are freighted with deep commitment. It is a cathartic and informative experience for everyone involved.

This exercise works for both introverted and extroverted students. There is plenty of time to compose a thought, and a flexible amount of time to present it.

Ann Evans is an Adjunct Professor in the award-winning First Year Writing Program at Montclair State University.  She has an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from Montclair State, and an M.A. in English from New York University.  She writes a monthly column, Language Bits, in The Sussex Newspaper and her blog, “Linguistics in the Writing Classroom” (http://www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com) is read around the world. An article, “Beyond Grammar: Linguistics in the Writing Classroom” was published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Duke University journal, Pedagogy.

Learning How to Learn: A Mandate for Change in Today’s College Classroom

 “It is not the subject per se that is educative or conducive to growth…There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract.”
– John Dewey, “Criteria of Experience,” in Experience & Education, 1938.

“Students’ long-term success does not depend upon short-term business cycles or the technical demands of the latest ‘hot’ industry.”
– Carol Geary Schneider, President, American Association of Colleges and Universities, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2011.

Author Neil Baldwin

Author and Professor Neil Baldwin

I. What kind of essay this is; and to whom addressed. 

Learning How to Learn is a wake-up call directed at those who care about the perplexing challenges involved with educating today’s college youth in our interconnected world: Where is the common ground? How should we be talking to — and with — these mercurial young people? And how can we convince them that learning how to learn should be their ultimate goal?

This essay avoids the debilitating ideological “war” between utilitarian education for a job (vocational), and general education for well-rounded citizenship (liberal arts) fueling the crisis mentality that pervades media conversations, blogs, and articles about American higher education.  The time has come to focus the scatter-shot, overheated debate about what is “wrong” with college and “the system,” and to bear down instead upon the most intimate arena in which education actually occurs: the classroom.

Learning How to Learn encourages teachers to draw upon what they know, with confidence — their expertise — then take a crucial step beyond, making use of common sense pedagogy that recognizes the unique mind-set of their generational audience, aged 17-22.

This is not a utopian dream about what could happen if we had all the money in the world.  We must work with what we have been given. The American public higher education landscape is commonly portrayed as impoverished and out of balance financially and intellectually. Therefore, what can the everyday classroom teacher be expected, supported — and inspired — to do, without sacrificing standards and ideals?

Let me also say at the outset that Learning How to Learn is not predicated upon any authoritative, longitudinal studies. It is documented with a rich and varied bibliography of current literature on American higher education that I have been tracking down, reading, writing about, and commenting upon from the web-based vantage point of the virtual Creative Research Center at Montclair State University.

As a tenured full professor and classroom teacher with a “3-3” curricular load of undergraduate introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses as well as graduate seminars, I have given deep thought to what should be going on “on the ground;” why, and toward what desired ends.

II. The Current Crisis. 

My simmering contemplation of the current crisis was crystallized by two chance readings that, on the surface, seemed unrelated. The first began as a conversation about teaching I was enjoying with a friend in the Philosophy Department who glancingly referred to “the only essay on education that Hannah Arendt ever wrote – and it’s all about the American educational system” — did I know of it?  I raced home and pulled Arendt’s classic collection, Between Past and Future, from my shelves.

Arendt’s major concern in her essay “The Crisis in Education” (1954) was that our much-vaunted school system, at all levels, was “helpless before the individual child,” that we were in danger of forsaking the “obligation that the existence of children –  human beings in the process of becoming — entails for every human society…One cannot educate without at the same time teaching,” she wrote, but “an education without learning is empty.” The ultimate iteration of freedom as action — in Hannah Arendt’s hopeful words — would be only through education to inspire and encourage “care for a world that can survive us, and remain a place fit to live in, for those who come after us.”

Soon thereafter, I was rushing through Newark Airport when a headline on the cover of The Atlantic caught my eye – Scenes from the Class Struggle, by Joel Klein, recently retired chancellor of the New York City public school system.  I grabbed the magazine and read the piece on the plane. “President Obama was on to something in 2008,” Klein wrote, “when he said, ‘The single most important factor in determining student achievement is not the color of their skin or where they came from. It is not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.’ ”  Klein warned that, “Time is running out. Without a citizenry willing to insist upon reform, our schools will continue to decline…Shocking as it may sound, the cost in human terms, to our nation, and to the kind of people we aspire to become, will be even greater.”

Fifty-seven years apart…and yet, both Arendt and Klein are saying the same thing: Our educational system, designed in another time for other purposes, is in a state of emergency; and something needs to be done right away, or we will suffer the loss of future human capital.

The urgency of the language in both cases emanates from fear on the most personal level that we as teachers and parents are in danger of literally losing our youth – abandoning them – by not serving them as well as we should; and that we, as a society, on the largest level, are neglecting our mission as adults, forsaking our obligations to the young, chastising ourselves for being unresponsive to what Arendt calls “The New Ones,” the newest generation — new at whatever stage they may be, from pre-school toddlers to college freshmen.

A powerful element at the core of the current cultural crisis is the intensified pressure upon higher education professors as “content-deliverers” who must justify and quantify the ultimate applications and uses of the information and knowledge acquired (or not) by their students.

But remember: Information is not knowledge.

My vigilant classroom anthropological “fieldwork” has led me to try to come up with new ways to elicit and legitimize the affect of college students, encouraging them to take enduring values and morals to heart that originate in content and subject-based arenas, and extend beyond them.

III. The American Idealist Tradition and Its Pedagogical Legacy. 

As an historian and biographer steeped in American culture (works on William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford) my current teaching behavior and beliefs grow out of decades of writing books that identify and elucidate redemptive qualities in our native imagination, most recently The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War. 

This American chronicle [see  http://www.neilbaldwinbooks.com], combined with immersion in teaching, inspired me to revisit — with rejuvenated appreciation — our mainstream pragmatist pioneer, John Dewey (1859-1952). No self-respecting examination of American higher education can be complete without (re)encountering Dewey – prolific public intellectual, exemplar of progressivism, hailed by The New York Times as “America’s philosopher.” As Chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago, Dewey founded an experimental elementary school and launched his quest to “define democracy in all its phases – political, economic, social, and cultural.”

The pragmatic philosopher celebrated what makes us most human. Dewey encouraged every American student to explore his literal and figurative neighborhood, “just local, just human, just where we live.”  Indeed, the original name for pragmatism, as coined in 1898 by Dewey’s faithful correspondent and friend, William James, was “practicalism.”

Henry Steele Commager praised Dewey as “the guide, mentor, and conscience of the American people.” Here was a teacher who predicated his life’s work upon empiricism, the supreme value of experience in all domains of life, spanning from primary education to the imperative social contract that connects every one of us to each other.

My affinities as a classroom teacher resonate with Dewey’s lifelong intention to “reach beyond the academy and speak to a wide range of citizens…[in] the general march of events…outleadings into the wide world of nature and man… of knowledge and of social interests…”

I am impelled forward by John Dewey’s endorsement of ways of knowing that carry across the boundaries between disciplines; his melding of the ethical and the practical; his conceptualization of teacher-as-learner (particularly pertinent today); his faith in process before product; his view of the institution of the school as the proper spawning-ground for moral sensibility and the development of role models; his healthy opinion of the child’s affection for the teacher as a suitable foundation for learning; his belief in the organic relationship of disparate subjects to each other; his conviction that art is a form of praxis and that the quality of the thing made far outweighs quantity; his insistence that the “machinery of thought” must be kept moving for reflection to exercise its greatest influence; and that the teacher demonstrate correct learning through daily behavior – not only through what he says, but what he does.

John Dewey’s greatest follower, Jane Addams (1860-1935), declared, “The sphere of knowledge is the sphere of action.” In that same spirit, I endorse converting pedagogical thought into purposeful action.  Dewey’s vintage writings have much to tell us now about remedying systemic problems in higher education. America’s philosopher is due for a vigorous revival.  His prescient and seminal studies including Experience & Education and Art as Experience provide timely reading for today’s teachers, parents — and millennials.

Social MedaIV.  The Challenge of Social Media.

College professors are constantly reminded of our obligation to teach – to be “exposed to” — the many (as expressed through calculation of Student Semester Hours, or, colloquially, “butts in seats”).

I am constantly asking, “how I can get to know my students as individuals?”

The administrative/economic-productivity mandate to reach more college undergraduates is at odds with a constant succession of observed behaviors in our students – resentment of high school and the legacy of No Child Left Behind of teaching to the test; individual and quirky cognitive gaps and lapses; continuous partial attention; vicissitudes and inconsistencies over the course of a semester, during which time a teacher occasionally finds himself wondering why some of his students are even there in the first place.

We read nowadays about how teachers are trying to incorporate social media into the classroom instead of heading in the other direction, which is to outlaw it.  Every teacher needs to ask himself, when in front of the class, how he honestly feels about looking out over the students and seeing them on their laptops, wondering if they are texting, tweeting, or Facebooking.

One short year ago, the girls used to hide their phones inside their purses on their desks, and text with one hand; and guys in the back of the room leaned against the wall, baseball cap brim pulled down, and cradled the phone just below the edge of their desks.  Now, they are unabashedly overt, nestling the phone in their laps or laying it in plain view on the top of the desk and texting “unobtrusively.”

What does this behavior signify? Insouciance? Rebellion? Habituation? Ignorance? Instinct? How are teachers supposed to interpret and act upon such behavior? Are students conscious of what they are doing when they do it? Do they understand (or care) that their habituated mediations infringe upon the pedagogical atmosphere? What does it mean if, in fact, they are not conscious and/or do not see anything wrong with incessant electronic chat?

The virtual is real to this distracted and (self-characterized) omniscient generation (i.e., “It’s all on the Web whenever we need anything).  The great danger for the teacher is automatically reading such multi-tasked immersion as indicating that students are not paying attention. Could it be that their mode of situated cognition has conjured up an utterly different definition than mine of what it actually means to “pay attention?”

To what degree should teachers be willing to accommodate the technology? To what degree should we resist or (even) criticize it? When I start to call them out I feel a twinge, as if I am acting like a high school teacher or disciplinary monitor. When I tell the class how awkward I feel, they may tone it down for a day, but texting and surfing invariably return.

When the investment of the teacher and the mental disengagement of the student are at odds, my going-around-in-circles with the dilemma is compounded by reluctance to downgrade my status at the front of the room, which is, after all, where I belong. Each disciplinary comment I put out there is one more incremental departure from the reasons we are supposed to be in the room.

My inner monologue goes something like this: They are in my class, well-aware that they, or their parents, are paying to be there; they are experiencing first-hand contact with a noted author, and making a choice to do what they do. If it is impossible for students to stay off their phones for an hour and fifteen minutes, or to sit in the seat without getting up, eating, drinking Starbucks, going to the bathroom, dropping their highlighters and hand-held devices, and other random gestures, then what is to be gained by my trying to stop them coercively, as opposed to permitting them to behave in customary ways?

This past year marked Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday. His dictum that “the medium is the message” applies to this pedagogical dilemma. Case in point: To discuss my ideas — and assuage my apprehensions — about the format of an online graduate course I agreed to teach, I met with a well-meaning instructional designer.  It was self-evident to him that anything I taught face to face could be accomplished and executed equally well through technology. It was going to be a matter of my providing learning objectives for the course and the structure of the syllabus; then he would work with me to devise the technology that would “best convey the desired content.”

He used a container-analogy, explaining that teaching a class online was just like choosing between a “truck or a van or a car” to “deliver” a package. I countered that this translation did not hold up.  Learning is a cognitive process of uncertain duration that transpires between the time a concept or idea is launched and whether (or not) it lands in the student’s mind in a way that will be sustained beyond the moment.

V. The teacher as mentor.

Arthur Levine’s trenchant observation in The Chronicle of Higher Education strikes a responsive chord: “Graduate-level teacher training programs created by schools and school districts tend to emphasize practice over theory, clinical education over academic instruction, pedagogy over content, and faculties of expert teachers over university professors.”

Rather than legislate abstract, over-arching national curricular standards for the common core, the best way to improve our educational system is to start at the classroom level, with teacher preparation that bridges the metaphorical “widest street in the world” between colleges of education and colleges of arts and sciences. Classroom teachers should be singled out and trained based upon their commitment to developing a positive classroom ambience and emotional climate; at the same time, the affective quality of classroom life must be enhanced in support of the teacher’s level of expertise in a specialist subject area.

Teachers need to reallocate their energies, draw upon empathy rather than cultivate resistance, and re-evaluate how subject matter is conveyed.  In the classroom, at that point where the expert meets the novice, there needs to be an unforced lamination of subject matter onto meaningful engagement.

Students expect the classroom teacher to place greater demands upon himself.  This is a message many professors do not like to hear. The contrarian dimension of my manifesto is an appeal to change our ways, as difficult as that may be for those of us further along in years.

Today’s college teacher needs to be a guide and a coach — not a judge. He must learn a new cognitive language when he steps into the classroom. He must muster up the energy to leap over the generation gap; possess behavior-modification strategies of other-directedness, empathy, patience; understand the students’ brains and accept that they operate differently than ours.

In the ideal classroom environment, students will notice and emulate thoughtful, well-considered, authentic modeling behaviors. The fact is that until teachers are committed to adaptive behavior (as distinguished from the dangerous pitfalls of trying to act “cool” or to talk like the students; and not unlike insisting upon speaking English in Paris) we will never be able to convey any “major” or subject matter successfully.

More importantly, again invoking the precedent of John Dewey, any useful praxis must continue beyond the limits of a semester. We must pay more attention to the definition, cultivation and reinforcement of lasting epistemic virtues that cross subject boundaries – attentiveness, benevolence, creativity, compassion, curiosity, inclusion, objectivity, tenacity, and wisdom.

Today’s college teacher, whatever his specialty, must inculcate and encourage in his students an inquisitive, associational, imaginative mentality through habits of mind dedicated to – yes, even obsessed with — the continuous pursuit of knowledge, linked to the positive implications of that pursuit for the greater society.

This broad path supercedes particular courses for which students have willingly and/or unwillingly registered. As I tell my (required) Play Script Interpretation class on the first day of the term, “It doesn’t matter to me what subject I teach.”

The student needs to understand that memorizing is not learning. Neither, for that matter, is abstract intellectualizing. Giving a quiz to make sure that everybody has at least read the assignment works on the reductive, essential level.  The only way for a teacher to find out if students are learning is to ask them to apply principles or themes or ideas from a wide range of perspectives to creatively devised hypothetical situations, challenges and prompts.

Unless students feel emotionally comfortable with the teacher, they will not learn in a sustained fashion; they will only acquire information expediently and transiently. They must be reminded by the strategically self-conscious teacher about the ongoing narrative/through-line of the course, where they are located within it, and how the course will eventually pertain to their lives in the day to day larger society.

Students need to trust from the first class meeting that the teacher knows the syllabus-as-narrative best of all, because he has conceived of it and written it, and will keep writing it as it goes along. The teacher must remain confident of this classroom “story,” welcoming the students in on it from time to time, so that they begin to think of themselves as co-conspirators.

Hence, what I call…

VI. …the Existential Curriculum.

When I reference “existential” I am drawing upon aspects of the empathic theory of Hannah Arendt’s student, Maxine Greene. I envision a curriculum created with the understanding that, although it is purported to be and presented as a plan, it will still be in a state of continuous formation. The existential curriculum exists to be modified, elaborated and clarified as you forge ahead through the term.

The decisive, adaptable, aware, questing/questioning and observant teacher — active observation being among the desired attributes for any nimble teacher of young people – will be the most effective bearer of any subject embedded in the fluid, evolving situation of the classroom that he/she must be mindful of and control.

Once the plan is in place, teacher and students, together, construct and make the course.

The teacher’s performative cues must be presented openly so the class will perceive what they value (in their words) as the teacher’s “passion” and “caring about / respecting the students.”  The reciprocal degree to which students feel the passion and trust the teacher’s feelings as being sincere will have a salutary influence upon the depth and extent to which the subject-matter is learned.

John Dewey distinguishes illuminatingly between content-value and form-value. Students in the throes of an existential curriculum must be made aware that their sentient teacher has not only a pedagogical methodology but also a moral stance. The behavioral medium is one in which the teacher projects confidence that the students have the capacity to take on and learn difficult concepts. In such an environment, the subject matter will have the optimal chance to traverse the distance from the teacher.

The existential curriculum coalesced in my imagination when I was trying to arrive at a more methodical, “not-rushing,” self-regulating, better-paced way to move through the syllabus as a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle and end. The existential curriculum had roots in the realization that, as is my nature, I had been pushing through recent semesters at a high metabolic level, putting forth one intense idea after another without respite.  I became anxious that, even though my intention was to challenge them, the students were having trouble keeping up.  Conceding that it sounded somewhat “hokey,” I told them, “We are all on the same journey.”  This was a metaphor I had actually learned from them; they approved of my epiphany and began to relax somewhat.

My personal strategies of behavioral self-modification include, for example, but not definitively:  “show and tell,” talking the class out loud through whatever I am doing — even something as simple as using chalk to write on the blackboard; conscientious avoidance of flashy media in the classroom, such as Powerpoint (of which students are quite critical); handing out questionnaires halfway through the term to get their feedback and establish mid-course corrections; encouraging legitimized confusion by trying out new questions, experimenting, and readily admitting when they do not work; pointedly acknowledging my mistakes; using constant interrogation as a primary mode of discourse; accepting all student answers as valid perceptual and learning moments; collapsing the readings syllabus into fewer required works in order to spend more time on each one; impromptu elimination of an exam or exams; shifting emphasis to reading aloud; and establishing a final, collective project embracing contributions from the entire class, such as http://www.montclair.edu/creativeresearch/studentcenter/index.html

VII. Pure epistemology.

Transitioning from the existential curriculum that advocates intellectual and affective development in the college classroom, I propose initiating a conversation about learning at the outset of every class, every semester.

The subject matter of the conversation is heightened awareness of the nature of learning itself – “pure epistemology.”

Start a course – any course — by reading and talking about how learning occurs, and what it means.  Use the discussion of the actual meaning of learning as the common denominator, the obligatory entrée.

This initial conversation requires an accompanying assessment of the students’ “knowledge base.”  Take informational inventory, coming to terms with their prior knowledge of whatever book or subject you are discussing, without placing a value-judgment on the discrepancies different students bring to class from varied high school days and real-life experiences.

Through this collective exercise in metacognition, the teacher helps the students confront the meaning of learning and draw out its connotations.

I frame learning – it should be obvious by now – as an inherent asset, something desirable. The incoming student often needs to be convinced of this value.  Maybe you “have to take” this course, I say to the class, because it is required (as so many general education courses are). Instead of resisting, I continue, you might think about looking at the class as an opportunity to develop your learning skills beyond what the catalog says the course is about. You may end up discovering that there are classes you have to take that you actually end up liking. With more than one-half of the typical college curriculum made up of general education classes, shouldn’t all such classes embody some useful meaning?

In the process of teaching students to learn how to learn, we must revisit the unresolved debate about Liberal Arts education – the oft-invoked canon: what belongs, what doesn’t, according to whom, and how this gatekeeping stricture can be adjusted – not sacrificed, not jettisoned — to reflect the times in which we live and the fragmented mentalities of our students.   In the enlightened future I want for my students, and never stop trying to articulate, there will be skills, attributes, and qualities they will always need out in the world.

It is also a fallacy to decide that a teacher absolutely must cover everything laid out in the proposed curricular terrain. The millennial mind finds it tedious to bear the pedagogical burden of an over-regulated syllabus. Up-front, we should be wary of the oversold or pre-packaged promise of a course because, by the end of the term, what we really want to generate is the realization that.

VIII. …Pedagogy is for Life. 

The college professor and his students face pressures to show documented, measurable outcomes. I am not discounting these out of hand; however, we must also seek to get beyond the hermetic idea that when a course runs, it de facto serves its purpose when it is over.  We must demonstrate greater permeability between the higher education world and the rest of the students’ worlds.

We must guide today’s students toward the understanding that their college education is an opportunity for them to develop and to become indoctrinated to new, better, humanistic, more valuable and sustained mentalities — beyond utilitarianism, choice of majors, getting that piece of paper, and the need for a job.

By the time they graduate, students’ self-centered attentions and energies should be applied outward and forward, to a sense of social responsibility for the collective and common weal, an understanding of the democratic experiment — engagement with their society, their Zeitgeist – because it will be theirs to inhabit, survive, and ameliorate.

“I do not wish to close, however,” John Dewey emphasized in the final pages of Experience & Education, “without recording my firm belief that the fundamental issue is not of ‘new’ versus ‘old’ education, nor of ‘progressive’ against ‘traditional’ education, but a question of what anything whatever must be to be worthy of the name education.”

As Hannah Arendt wrote so movingly, “School is not the world, but it represents the world for the child when he is there.”

The “existentials” need to find better ways to aim for and reach the moving target of the “millennials.” Abandonment of authority will not help teach anybody anything. Nor will free-floating theory divorced from grounded real-life application. From where I stand as a classroom teacher, detached abstraction is of little interest to the average college student.

Rather, learning how to learn is the most urgent higher education challenge in the twenty-first century.

IX. Selected Bibliography.

Arendt, Hannah. The Crisis in Education (1954)

Dewey, John. “A College Course: What Should I Expect from It?” (1890).  In The Early Works, (Vol.3, pp.51-55). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.

—-. Art as Experience. New York: Perigee Books, 1934, 2005.

—-. Experience & Education. New York: Touchstone Books, 1938, 1997.

Greene, Maxine. The Dialectic of Freedom. New York: Teachers College Press, 1988.

Hickman, Larry A., ed. Reading Dewey: Interpretations for a Postmodern Generation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Klein, Joel. Scenes from the Class Struggle. The Atlantic, June, 2011.

Levine, Arthur. The New Normal of Teacher Education. Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13, 2011.

Mirel, Jeffrey. “Bridging the ‘Widest Street in the World’: Reflections on the History of Teacher Education.” American Educator, 35.2, Summer 2011.

Webster, Scott. “Existentialism: Providing an ideal framework for educational research in times of uncertainty.” In AARE 2002: Problematic Futures. Coldstream, Victoria, NSW, pp.1-15.

[Note: The central theme of this essay originated in my Keynote Speech presented at the Montclair State University Student Research Symposium, April 16, 2011. I express grateful appreciation to my first readers, Susan Albertine, Vice-President for Engagement, Inclusion, and Success, and Karen Kalla, Director, Network for Academic Renewal, Association of American Colleges and Universities; and for their generous critique and editorial commentary through successive drafts of Learning How to Learn over the past twelve months, I would like to thank Ada Beth Cutler, Dean, College of Education and Human Services; Jennifer Robinson, Executive Director, Center of Pedagogy;  Linda Davidson, Associate Dean, College of the Arts; Erhard Rom, Professor, Department of Theatre & Dance, College of the Arts; Cigdem Talgar, Acting Director, Research Academy for University Learning and Julie R. Dalley, Assistant Director, Research Academy for University Learning -- all of Montclair State University.]

Neil Baldwin, a widely-published cultural historian and critic, is a Professor in the Department of Theatre & Dance, and Director of the Creative Research Center http://www.montclair.edu/creativeresearch in the College of the Arts. Prior to joining the faculty of Montclair State University, he was the Founding Executive Director of The National Book Foundation, sponsor of The National Book Awards. His teaching interests cover the span from dramaturgy and danceaturgy at the undergraduate level to arts management at the graduate level. His current areas of research include interdisciplinarity, the history of the imagination, Web-based modern dance documentation and archival practice, and the pedagogical centrality of the arts in American liberal education.  Dr. Baldwin also serves as co-chair of the NYU Biography Seminar. His Web site is http://www.neilbaldwinbooks.com

Science in the Weave – A Proposal. By Robert S. Prezant

An opinion article in the New York Times by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (Professor of Sociology and Education at NYU and Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Virginia respectively; New York Times15 May 2011) paints a very bleak picture of our higher education system.  The authors, who also wrote Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011) cast serious “doubts about the quality of undergraduate learning in the United States.”  These doubts reflect remarkably poor performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment tests that show a large percentage of students making little progress in college.  The authors focus their blame on too many adjuncts, excess interest in non-critical college accessories (i.e. “deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers, and expensive gyms”), a diminution of teacher authority, and the growth of the students as “clients” approach.  Their solutions include a refocus on course rigor with rewards for quality teaching, a move away from valuing “institutional rankings and fiscal concerns” in line with a move to hold administrators “accountable for assessing and improving learning,” and a plea for parents and students to ignore the superficial and focus on “educational substance” when considering what college to attend.

These are all sound recommendations, in some cases a bit more easily said than done. No doubt the focus, above all else, needs to be on rigorous and serious (deep) learning and we know enough about how students learn to also know that a strong, interwoven curriculum that helps students understand how to learn, how to question, how to put pieces of a shrinking-earth puzzle together, will be of equal and perhaps greater importance in the long run.  So, how to achieve a goal that creates a curriculum that at once is made from an array of disciplines and yet teaches our students to actually learn? How do we weave whole cloth from an array of disciplinary threads?  Here I argue that science can act as the unifier across our curriculum and across our disciplines  –a sort of e pluribus unum of college education.

Between 1984 and 1990 biologist John A. Moore wrote and edited a series of essays for American Zoologist entitled “Science as a Way of Knowing.”  In this series, covering a range of biological disciplines, Moore pinpoints a critical, in fact, essential, notion: “rationality was not forever the hallmark of human thought.”  Indeed throughout human history people have been quite creative in seeking explanations to understand the world about them, a world of otherwise mysterious sights, sounds, and beasts.  These explanations have leant themselves to the wealth of oral traditions and written literature reflected in mythology, xenophobic social and anthropological works, and a good deal of religion. All of this makes for outstanding, important and interesting literature but when learned (or taught) outside of a deep understanding of how to interpret this bounty of text, can also lead to a superficial or erroneous way of knowing. Is it not what we think we know that in turn begets our behavior?  These weakly mined approaches can lead to a domino-effect of misconceptions in all that follows, can lead to shallow or misdirected or, even worse, unyielding views with little room for digesting reality.

In recent years, although hardly a new phenomenon, bitter politics have emerged in parallel with an abundance of divisive issues.  We’ve seen arguments, sometimes outright falsehoods, concerning climate change, global warming, evolution, the economy, and health care that bear little relevance to reality and yet are accepted by an alarming number of citizens including our students. How can such large numbers of an otherwise educated populace accept so readily things so far from the truth or views based on premises that are so evidently flawed?  Can this be a reflection of the continued emphasis on discrete, non-overlapping course work and programs in our educational system?  Are we doing a disservice to our students when we continue to offer a “general education” or “liberal studies” program that in essence is just a lasso that tries to ensnare a number of diverse silos?  Just where are we modeling or teaching the long sought chalice, the holy grail of critical thinking blended with interdisciplinarity?

It seems we might be graduating students who remain locked into Meno’s Paradox.  If we know what we are looking for, there is no need for inquiry. If we don’t know what we seek, how can we inquire?  Thus, there is no need for inquiry and in fact inquiry might not be possible.  The error of this logic (equivocation) is quickly discerned but if we contemplate even for a moment the disciplines that truly make such illogic impossible we turn immediately to the sciences.  Inquiry is the heart of science.  In fact if we cannot ask a question (aka hypothesis) then the topic cannot be science. If we cannot test a concept, it is not science.  If we cannot design an appropriate experiment that will help gather data to either lend support or not to that hypothesis, it is not science.  Think for a moment what this mindset would mean to those who doubt literally world changing issues if they understand what science is, how it functions, and, perhaps most importantly, the neutrality of it.  Science does not take sides, science has no prejudice, no bias, no preconceived notions. What would it mean to have a feel for science, a basic understanding of why a science mindset could help in seeking the “truth” in all of our disciplines?

We’ve seen two major fronts in the ongoing debate about what is truly best in terms of reaching our students and offering them the fullest measure of learning possible:  General Education (aka Liberal Studies) and Interdisciplinary Studies. General Education, having long been fodder for academic discussions, is most typically an approach that entails multiple disciplines in social sciences, arts, humanities, and the sciences designed to effectively expose students to the array of ways of looking at the world and secondarily to open diverse paths for future studies or careers. Interdisciplinary studies, on the other hand, are considered a “twenty first-century imperative” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and Project Kaleidoscope (AACU 2011).

Efforts are frequently made to create an interdisciplinary component that all too often is little more than multiple disciplinary efforts, usually taught by separate faculty members with relevant but separate expertise, to focus on some broadly defined unifying topic.  Examples from actual courses (using real titles but without institutions noted) blending and listed as “interdisciplinary” include:  “Medical Science” (for health profession majors and integrating life science, mathematics, social studies, language arts, arts, humanities, vocational studies, and health); “Seasons of Life” (a study of human development from biosocial, psycho social, and cognitive views); “Victorian Garbage: Disgust and Desire in British Literature and Culture” (a review of Victorian garbage as revealed in literature; review of notions as they pertain to gender, social class and economics, relevance to physiological and conceptual parameters, and
history; “HIV/AIDS: Cultural, Social, and Scientific Aspects of the Pandemic” (survey of HIV pandemic from perspective of biology, therapy, epidemiology, social costs and issues, behavior, artistic visualizations); and “Life in the Universe” (introduction to astrobiology and the search for life outside of earth; cultural, science, and philosophical aspects).

There’s a common link in each of these interdisciplinary courses, a backbone that links and holds erect the topics that all emerge from a basic platform.  Medical Science, Seasons of Life, Victorian Garbage, HIV/AIDS, and Life in the Universe are all rooted in science.  Science emerges though cultural and social responses to a virus, to the notion that there is life on another planet, to the diseases that have their origins in human and other waste, to questions about infinity.  Be it religion or social values, pigments found in the paint on the tip of an artist’s brush or in the paint used by tribal warriors to intimidate enemies, or in the concept of a vengeful deity conceived to “understand” many disasters, each and every such product or event is thoroughly rooted in science. In each discipline are we not continually asking where an event or object fit into our understandings?  How much deeper will learning be if content is linked with insuring that students have a solid underpinning in the process of science?  We understand what happens when individuals ignore the reality of science, when what science is and how it functions and yes, its’ limitations, are ignored, misconstrued or purposefully twisted.  We see this as the populace buys into false arguments and views and we see the consequences in ongoing global environmental disasters and the economic and cultural turmoil that results (see Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Steel and Germs: The Fate of Human Societies” (1997) for a sobering look at what happens when we ignore science or the clues nature has to offer).  Can we help our students better understand history, economics, business, sociology, music, art, politics, and linguistics if there is an ever-questioning approach that mimics scientific inquiry? I suspect after some introspection many teachers will recognize that this is in part a pedagogical approach they already broach. So, how do we move science and science methodology across our curriculum?  This is really an effort to instill what John Moore would have called rational inquiry.  We can best insure a deep and long lasting learning if our students can understand from whence knowledge emerged.  How are discoveries made?  What is the process of science and how does it parallel discoveries in all fields?  Is knowledge of the scientific method the game plan for innovation and creativity or vice versa?  Just what is it in the human brain that brought us to this point in our evolutionary history where we can use science and a deep understanding of how science plays a role in searching for truth?

In science there is no effort to judge, no good and no bad, not even a right and wrong.  There just “is”.  Our search for the latter drives research and inquiry.  And research and inquiry moves all of our disciplines forward.  The question is do we gain by moving our disparate disciplines forward in parallel, asymptotically, do we blend them via interdisciplinary efforts, or can we bring a better appreciation to the array of fields we all study by bringing a bit of science or scientific method into every discussion?  Is the occasional interdisciplinary course that attempts to blend science with other disciplines sufficient?  Can the power of scientific inquiry be infused within curricula across the university to allow for deeper learning?  The National Academy of Sciences has argued that universities must take an approach that is more comprehensive in blending disciplines.  I agree.  However, the required but still multidisciplinary (not interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary) course does not set a student on a path to critical thinking where the thread of science can help fine tune their learning.  Nor is this an argument to enhance “scientific literacy”.  The enhancement of scientific literacy is critical and the past decade saw a push by major scientific and United Nation agencies in encouraging a curriculum that better serves this goal (see Hodson, 2006).  However most of these efforts resulted in  independent courses that focused on the fundamental ideas of science,  how science is done and how STEM disciplines interweave with society.  This is exactly the goal sought here but the idea that a course  in Scientific Literacy will make “the” difference is at best a gamble and  at worst delusional.  As the next generation attempts to consider  history so as not to repeat mistakes, as they consider the next tones of  music or the cerebral dwellings of philosophy, it might be beneficial to  bring a scientific approach to their thought processes and entwine the  thread of science into their own cognitive evaluations within their  entire curriculum.

There’s a reason we hear so much about the need for more and  improved STEM education and it’s not just about creating more scientists.  It is likely that citizens of this country, and I suspect globally, might be well served by a basic understanding of scientific  tenets that can better inform political decisions.  The rhetoric and false  arguments might dissolve under the light of science.  Let’s agree, even without a complete makeover of our curriculum, to at least put a little more science into our courses, our majors, and our student’s way of thinking and learning.

Bibliography:
AACU Summary Report 2011. What Works in Facilitating Interdisciplinary Learning in Science and Mathematics. Association of American College and Universities and Project Kaleidoscope. AAC&U Publications, Washington, D.C. 20pp.

Diamond, J. 1997. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.  W.W. Norton & Company

Hodson, D. 2006. Why we should prioritize learning about science. Canadian Journal of  Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. 6(3):293-311.

Robert Prezant is Dean of the College of Science and  Mathematics and Professor of Biology and Molecular Biology.  He maintains an active research laboratory  that focuses on environmental perturbations of reproductive ecology in aquatic invertebrates.  Well published in journals that range from the The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology to Science, Dr. Prezant has also been the lead on numerous research grants as well as grants that focus on student learning and scholarship. He served as Editor-in-Chief of a major malacological journal for ten years, is University Professor from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the New Jersey R&D Council, N.J. Sea Grant Consortium, and is on the Advisory Council on Science Teaching and Learning for the Liberty Science Center.