Thursday, November 14, 2013

Using Blogs to Promote Purpose Centered Education

I assign blogs in some of my classes, and believe that blogs fill some of the goals of this college's mission of Purpose Centered Education.  Blogging invites students to form their own opinions, reflect on their experiences and the material, and craft responses that are then published in a public forum.  Recent scholarship shows that blogging promotes active learning and accountability.  Ellison and Wu found that students “attend more carefully to online writing opportunities (as opposed to papers submitted to an instructor),” and that they “read these texts [assigned] more carefully when they know their interpretations will be online and therefore accountable to a larger audience.”  In their study, Ellison and Wu identify some of the positive outcomes of student-generated, new media enhanced assignments such as blogs and E-portfolios, including:  increase student engagement, enhance informational technology skills, harness intrinsic student interest and involvement, promote ubiquitous and asynchronistic learning, provide evidence of student progress and teaching effectiveness. 

Scholarship shows that blogs help students become better writers and more invested in their work both inside and outside the classroom.  Further, it has been suggested that writing a blog can become a productive, life-long process, one that helps students to develop a voice as they express issues of concern to them in a public forum.  Some students who are introduced to blogging in my class continue to do it outside of the classroom setting.  One of these student blogs received the attention of the college and eventually local media as he was featured in an ad campaign promoting the college's Purpose-Centered Education model.  Blogs, and social media more generally, can lead to "Education that Works," as they invite students to become citizens who actively participate in a democratic society.  I have written more fully on this here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

CFP: Theatre & Performance Studies Area (Southwest PCA/ACA)


CFP:  Theatre & Performance Studies
Abstracts Due November 15, 2013

35th Annual Southwest PCA/ACA Conference
February 19-21, 2014, Albuquerque, NM
http://www.southwestpca.or
Hyatt Regency Albuquerque
300 Tijeras Avenue NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

Conference Theme, "Popular and American Culture Studies: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow"
 
Panels are now being formed on topics related to Theatre & Performance Studies in its various forms and approaches.  This Special Topics Area encourages dialogue between varied fields of performance scholarship (i.e., performance studies; theatre, dance, and cultural studies; as well as queer and post-colonial theory), and exploration of critiques of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, technology, and nation.  Papers across performance modes, cultural contexts, and historical periods are welcome.
 
Topics might include but are not limited to:
  • Performativity and theatricality
  • Traditional and nontraditional modes of performance
  • Rituals and the everyday as performance
  • The globalization of culture
  • Commodification of culture and the culture of commodification in local and global contexts
  • New technologies and social media as performance
  • Mainstream popular dance and music:  fan culture, pop culture, etc.
  • Explorations of highbrow, midbrow, and lowbrow culture(s)
  • The relationship between food, the body, and performance
  • Performance for and in protest movements
  • Rehabilitation through theatre and other art forms
  • Limits, failures, and the impossibility of theatre
  • Gender Performativity
  • Performance of the body, real and imagined
  • Contested boundaries between performance, theatre and other art forms
  • Historical approaches and theoretical analyses of musical theatre, Broadway, and other mainstream theatrical forms
  • Popular representations of performance in film, television, and media
  • Popular and avant garde approaches to theatre
Special consideration will be given to papers that address this year’s theme, "Popular and American Culture Studies: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow."  Panels and presentation proposals from graduate students, artists, and independent scholars are welcome, as are non-traditional presentations, roundtables, and performances.  Southwest PCA/ACA awards a number of prizes for outstanding graduate student papers.  Abstracts for proposals should be submitted to the database system at http://conference2014.southwestpca.org/. Questions should me emailed to the Area Chair, lsally@mcny.edu.

Lynn Sally
Theatre & Performance Studies Area Chair
Metropolitan College of New York
Assistant Professor, American Urban Studies
lsally@mcny.edu

Please visit the Southwest PCA/ACA website for complete information about the organization, areas of study, conference information, exhibitors, affiliated organizations, and graduate student awards.  Feel free to share this CFP with friends and colleagues engaged in all aspects of theatre and performance studies.




Sunday, March 17, 2013

Promoting the Democratic Classroom: Students Write their Midterm


In class midterms and finals have never been an assumed component of my syllabi.  I have always questioned whether tests allow students to demonstrate integrative knowledge and the ability to apply concepts.  Students can sink their teeth into an experiential fieldtrip or a reflective essay – tests simply measure a student’s ability to regurgitate information.  Furthermore, quantitative assessment of qualitative methodologies seems at odds, almost an oxymoron. 

But this semester I assigned a midterm in a class called “Everyday Life in Urban Settings,” a class that introduces the students to qualitative methodologies and asks them to explore, through experiential field experiences, neighborhoods in the city through the lens of theories about New York City’s changing urban landscape.  In addition to a midterm, students are also asked to keep a weekly blog where they post their responses to the readings and fieldtrips.  For their final, students are asked to create a “walking tour” of their neighborhood, or of the “cultural scene” they have chosen for their Constructive Action class. 

The fact is, students take a test more “seriously” than they do some of the more qualitative methodologies that may better represent course content.  Though the midterm was only worth 20% of their grade, all the students came to class, on time, with the readings and notes from the class semester.  All had prepared.  All stayed and worked for the majority of the 2 and ½ hour class.  What made this test “different” was that I asked students to write the midterm (and post their ideas on a Moodle Forum):  “Imagine you were writing the test for this class.  What questions would you include?”  I explained to the students that the purpose of this was two-fold: 1) it would allow them to review the material, and to identify the most important ideas; and 2) particularly good questions would become part of the midterm.  If they wrote the question, they would know the answer to the question; furthermore, if they read each other’s posts, they could prepare answers ahead of time. 

Almost all of the students posted questions by the Sunday deadline even though the class wasn’t until the following Thursday.  One wrote in all caps:  “PAY ATTENTION CLASSMATES!” as her forum post title.  She introduced her questions with an excellent reminder:  she hoped the test would be more an “overview”, a best hits of sorts, than a “boring midterm.”  Many of her questions, as well as those of others, ended up on the midterm.  The questions overall showed innovation as well as knowledge of the major concepts we had covered.  Before handing out the test, I congratulated them on the questions they came up with.  They said they really enjoyed the process, and that all tests should be like this.  It allowed them to study and reflect, to contribute to the assessment tool in real ways.  They were excited to see their questions on the test, empowering the students and helping put them in charge of their own learning. 

This represents the notion of a “democratic classroom” where “classroom engagement techniques are designed to help students take personal responsibility for their learning appreciate the value of participating in the life of a community, while also developing a sense of self-confidence, empowerment, and efficacy” (Spiezio in Jacob, Civic Engagement in Higher Education, 91)  Asking the students to write questions for the midterm provided them “with authentic opportunities to participate collectively in decision-making processes relating to the administration of a course, including syllabus construction, assessment procedures, and the specification of classroom protocols that both students and faculty are expected to observe (Spiezio, 90).  According to Spiezio, the democratic classroom is a central feature of the democratic academy.  (For more on the democratic classroom, see Kim Zpiezio, “Engaging General Education” in Barbara Jacobi’s Civic Engagement in Higher Education (2009)).

Because students were part of the test-making process, they had a higher investment in the course material.  They knew what to expect.  There were no major “surprises.”  And in my eyes, students had already passed, as they took the time to review the material and apply their inductive reasoning skills to identify the main points of the semester overall.  If in class midterms and tests do make it into my syallbi in the future, so will this democratic test-writing activity.

The students, overall, did well on the midterm.  (Interestingly, the students who posted the most thorough questions on the Moodle forum also earned the highest grades on the midterm.)  When I handed back the midterm, I asked students to reflect on the process.  They said many things that surprised me.  They said they still had to work and prepare, but that they knew what to expect, and that this helped alleviate test-taking anxieties.  They helped each other:  If one student posted a question that another did not know the answer to, they could get the answer ahead of time; in this way, the midterm promoted collaboration and students as “information sources”.  Students actually enjoyed the midterm (yes, you read that right!) because they felt they were part of the process.  I invite you to try this technique with your next midterm or quiz, and post your (and your students’) experiences with this process here.

Review of Civic Engagement & Higher Eduation


Jacoby, Barbara & Associates. Civic Engagement in Higher Education. Jossey-Bass, 2009

This collection of essays focuses on the increased role that civic engagement takes in modern colleges/universities.  The authors spend considerable effort proving how new models of education are necessary to prepare students for the new demands of the 21st century, such as interdisciplinary approaches, integration between classes, and connection between the real world and the classroom.  Many of these ideas have been forwarded by Purpose Centered Education for decades.  

That said, it is important to understand and contextualize that advancements being made in higher education to promote civic engagement are not counter to what is being done here at MCNY.  Instead, this volume will help place our college’s unique approach to education in the context of a larger conversation. Lionizing one approach while vilifying another serves no one; I believe the purpose should e quite simple: create better classes, empower students to make changes in their lives and communities, and engage them to become better students and citizens.  We are not alone in this mission.  We can maintain Purpose Centered Education while educating ourselves about the innovative pedagogy occurring across the country.

This brief overview cuts to some of the highlights of the text.  The Introduction (Chapter 1) provides excellent overview, history of service learning/civic engagement in higher education, as well as substantial resources. (This chapter can be found online, and the full text is now available in the MCNY library)  

Points of interest, particularly for our emerging “First Year Experience” program, include the descriptions of innovative first year programming at colleges in “Civic Engagement in the First College Year” by Mary Stuart Hunter and Blaire L. Moody, especially pages 74-78,   The “Chapter on Engaging General Education” provides illuminating descriptions and applications of the “Democratic Academy” – “premised on a theory of civic education that can be combined with service-learning and other pedagogies of engagement to support an evolutionary process of character and education” (Spiezio, 85) -- which represents quite closely the goals of MCNY’s Purpose Centered Education.  This chapter includes both practical steps and an empirical case study.  In “Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility,” the authors show how three intersecting education reform movements have laid the groundwork for the exponential growth of programs geared towards civic engagement:  U.S. diversity, global learning, and civic engagement.

“Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility” provides perhaps the most compelling evidence that Audrey Cohen’s model of education has in fact become a major component of higher education in the 21st century, though no one in the literature credits her for such.  (Do a quick database search on one of the major academic databases for “Purpose Centered Education” and then “Service Learning.”  You’ll see what I mean.)  This chapter outlines the work Part of AAC&U’s 5-year initiative, “Greater Expectations:  Goals for Learning as a Nation Goes to College”, a working group whose task was to identify possible “arc” from elementary to college of cumulative civic learning.  Their findings were published in Purposeful Pathways:  Helping Students Achieve Key Learning Outcomes.  The article shows how the working group developed a “new model of civic learning that could be applied from elementary school through college and, in the process, establish the habit of lifelong engagement as an empowered, informed, and socially responsible citizen” (Musil [in Jacoby], 59).  The “six elements (or “braids”)” of Civic Learning Spiral bear a striking resemblance to Cohen’s 5 Dimensions:  1) Self; 2) Communication & cultures; 3) Knowledge; 4) Skills; 5) Values; and 6) Public Action.  Though Cohen is not credited in such models, we can instantly recognize the connection between the six braids and the 5 dimensions in Purpose Centered Education.

Jacoby is one of the leading scholars on the progress classroom, and her collection represents the best of the best of educators doing work that would make Audrey Cohen proud.  As we move forward, I think the greatest tribute we can make to Cohen and her innovative approach to education is to let it live, and I think part of that life depends on understanding the many intersections between Purpose Centered Education and other models of education.  I invite you to peruse the offerings in Civic Engagement and Higher Education.  I think you will be as blown away as I am.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

CFP: Theatre & Performance Studies

CFP: Theatre & Performance Studies
Abstracts Due December 2, 2012
Conference Theme:
"Celebrating Popular/American Culture(s) in a Global Context”


34th Annual SWTX PCA/ACA Conference
February 13-16, 2013
Albuquerque, NM
http://swtxpca.org

Hyatt Regency Albuquerque
300 Tijeras Avenue NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Deadlines
Submission: 12/2/12
Notification: 12/15/12
Early Bird Reg: 12/30/12

Panels are now being formed on topics related to Theatre & Performance Studies in its various forms and approaches. This Special Topics Area encourages dialogue between varied fields of performance scholarship (i.e., performance studies; theatre, dance, and cultural studies; as well as queer and post-colonial theory), and exploration of critiques of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, technology, and nation. Papers across performance modes, cultural contexts, and historical periods are welcome. Topics might include but are not limited to:

• Performativity and theatricality
• Traditional and nontraditional modes of performance
• Rituals and the everyday as performance
• The globalization of culture
• Commodification of culture and the culture of commodification in local and global contexts
• New technologies and social media as performance
• Mainstream popular dance and music: fan culture, pop culture, etc.
• Explorations of highbrow, midbrow, and lowbrow culture(s)
• The relationship between food, the body, and performance
• Performance for and in protest movements
• Rehabilitation through theatre and other art forms
• Limits, failures, and the impossibility of theatre
• Gender Performativity
• Performance of the body, real and imagined
• Contested boundaries between performance, theatre and other art forms
• Historical approaches and theoretical analyses of musical theatre, Broadway, and other mainstream theatrical forms
• Popular representations of performance in film, television, and media
• Popular and avant garde approaches to theatre

Panels and presentation proposals from graduate students, artists, and independent scholars are welcome, as are non-traditional presentations, roundtables, and performances. SWTX PCA/ACA awards a number of prizes for outstanding graduate student papers; for a list, please go to http://www.swtxpca.org/documents/48.html. Abstracts for single paper proposals should be submitted to the database system at http://conference2013.swtxpca.org (preferred); alternative presentations or panels should be sent by email to the Area Chair, Lynn Sally at lsally@mcny.edu.

Lynn Sally, Assistant Professor
Theatre & Performance Studies Area Chair
Metropolitan College of New York, Department of American Urban Studies
lsally@mcny.edu

Please visit the SWTX PCA website (http://swtxpca.org) for complete information about the organization, areas of study, conference information, exhibitors, affiliated organizations, and graduate student awards. Feel free to share this CFP with friends and colleagues engaged in all aspects of theatre and performance studies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Convering Your Old PowerPoints to Prezis

If you are like me, you resisted MySpace as a waste of time. If you are like me, you refused – for years -- to convert over to Facebook even when it had become the dominant social media site for personal and professional use. So when the “newest” technology touts to replace an “old” one, I wait to see if it “sticks” before jumping on the bandwagon. I have changed my tune, thanks to new technologies, like Prezi, which are far superior to their predecessors.


Prezi is a visual spatial way to create dynamic presentations. When a colleague, Adele Weiner, introduced it a few years ago, I instantly could see the advantages of moving away from a linear slide presentation mode. PowerPoint is to Prezi what slides are to digital images, what Friendster is to Facebook… You get the idea.

But what about all those PowerPoint Presentations you labored over? All those transitions perfectly timed, original backgrounds created, hypertext links fixed? You don’t want to redo all that work. Recently-ish (we are talking technology after all), Prezi added a new “import PowerPoint” tool. Here’s a link on how to convert your PowerPoints to Prezis. http://youtu.be/X7PKkYX_458. Yes, there’s still some back work required once the conversion happens, but it’s not as laborious as all that work it took to update your MySpace background with shooting stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Using Social Media for Social Change

At the regional PCA/ACA this week, I presented a paper on my experiment with using Twitter in a Common Curriculum Course, Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature, and a BAUS first semester course, Self-Assessment through Writing and Technology.  I presented my paper, “Writing & Thinking in 140 Characters or Less:  Twitter as Purpose-Centered Education,” on a panel with a Carol Bernard who presented on a study she did using a Facebook teacher page and Lindsay Illich who presented on using Word Clouds to help teach composition. 

You can create a word cloud out of a text through the website www.wordle.net, and the image that is produced will show you the primary words used in a particular text.  This could be an interesting exercise for analyzing the differences between two political speeches, for example, and it made me think that Word Clouds would be a great inclusion in the Public Speaking common curriculum course which is currently being developed at my college.  It is exciting to see other educators’ use of technology to enhance the classroom experience, and I was interested in the ways that colleagues have thought so deeply about how to teach students to think and write through these technologies.  It also got me to thinking about whether I practice what I preach.
As MCNY promotes Purpose-Centered Education that fosters students to become socially engaged change agents, this seemed a logical extension to move towards using Twitter and social media more broadly for productive ends.  Social activism does not have to happen simply in the traditional “internship” model on which the college – in the past – has been based.  As a cursory glance at revolutions around the world indicate, social media has been central to many – if not most – of our modern movements for change. 

This semester, I assigned Twitter for the Critical Thinking Signature Assignment, and asked the students to create a project called “Using Social Media for Social Change.”  They were asked to research a topic that was either 1) connected to their Constructive Action or 2) of political or personal interest to them.  They were then asked to follow that topic through their involvement with Twitter, by following leaders and organizations, retweeting, and generally getting involved in a topic through social media sight.  As they researched, read, and got involved, at the end of the semester they are asked to use social media to sum up their findings, and to recirculate that through a social media sight such as YouTube, Tumblr, Prezi, or a host of other options.  The idea is that their research would then be recirculated through the social media that they did their project.

I realized, perhaps too late, that asking students to bring about some type of social change – despite the medium – is daunting.  It’s not that using Twitter or using Twitter for productive ends is beyond students, but rather that I don’t know if I succeeded in breaking that down – just like one would break down a research paper in a composition class – into steps.  Some of the questions that have arisen include:  how do we get students to use social media critically?  What type of additive assignments can be given to help students establish, research, and develop their topics? In short, how do we get students to “start a revolution” or movement online?
Here are some ideas of how I will update this assignment in the future:

1)       Suggest Topics.  Though it may seem limiting, I realized that giving students possible topics may be useful for some.  “If you could change the world, what would you change?” question is admittedly both daunting and seemingly impossible.  Suggesting topics will give options to those students who find difficulties coming up with their own.  It also allows us to connect to what is happening politically and socially both locally and globally, and to place our conversations in class in a larger context.  The topics can give students options, and can help them brainstorm their own take on the suggested topics.
2)      Show Examples.  I tried to model in class how I was using social media for productive ends by showing students who I was following, and what I had learned about current events or topics of interest to me through Twitter.  But a don’t know if this was entirely successful.  In hindsight, I think a list of concrete examples of others using social media for social change would have helped students understand the concept.  These concrete examples could include
a.       celebrities who use Twitter to support causes;
b.      individual or organization who use  their Twitter feeds for activism;
c.       examples of viral videos, etc. that have helped broadast social issues;
d.      online “boycotts” and “buycotts” as strategies for supporting issues important to students as consumers;
e.      examples of revolutions and movements around the globe broadcast on social media
This list could, in turn, be placed on a collaborative editing cloud such as Google Docs, so that students and instructors could contribute examples that they come across.
It may be the end of the semester, but it’s never too late to think about and implement changes in the classroom.  I will run this by students this week in class, and see what they think.  I am sure they will have suggestions that will improve the classroom for all.