» Columns News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:58:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Part-Timers at This School Now Get a $1,000 Kill Fee for Cancelled Classes Mon, 19 Sep 2016 18:59:40 +0000 A contract between Champlain College and its unionized part-time professors was ratified and released Monday.

Champlain adjuncts have been unionized with the Service Employees International Union since last year. The union and the college have been hashing out a contract for months, and after a 10-hour negotiation session that went late into the night Aug. 24 they struck an agreement.

Adjuncts will see a pay raise across the board. Before the contract, adjuncts were being paid $3,499 per class if they had taught less than 10 semesters for Champlain, and $3,668 per class if they have taught more than 10.

Now, there are three tiers of adjunct professors on the new pay scale, organized by how many credit hours the professor has taught, not semesters. An average class at Champlain is three credit hours. This year, professors will be paid on the following scale:

  • Professors who have taught less than 60 credit hours — about 20 classes — will be paid $3,825 per class.
  • Professors who have taught from 61 to 120 credit hours — from 20 to 40 average classes — will be paid $4,100 per class.
  • Professors who have taught more than 120 credit hours — more than 40 average classes — will be paid $4,200 per class.

Pay increases are locked into the contract until 2018, when a new contract will be negotiated. If a class is canceled through no fault of the professor, like low enrollment, they will get $1,000 under the new contract.

“This tiered pay scale approach ensures that those adjunct faculty who successfully teach more of our students will receive increased levels of pay,” said Laurie Quinn provost of Champlain College in a news release. Quinn called the contract a “win-win” result.

The contract also devotes a section to the creation of a money pool specifically set up to benefit part-time professors. The Professional Development Fund, as it’s called in the contract, will start with $10,000 from the college, less than the $20,000 figure a union spokesperson told news media the day after the agreement had been struck. For the next two fiscal years, the college will contribute more money — $15,000 next year and $20,000 in 2018.

Professors can apply for up to $750 from the pool every year to spend on attending conferences, training or anything else that can help teachers do their jobs better. The money also has to be spent — it doesn’t roll over from one year to the next.

The contract also attempts to stop any possibility of a strike by union members, or a lockout by the college. If any union member decides to strike or do anything to purposefully impede the college, like withholding grades, Champlain College can fire the teacher and the union is required to distance itself from the action. In return, Champlain College will keep its doors open to the union members as long as the agreement stands.

“The contract we have created represents a solid first step toward the fair treatment of part-time faculty members at Champlain College,” said April Howard, an adjunct Latin American studies professor and member of the Champlain bargaining team, after negotiations ended Aug. 26.

Adjuncts at St. Michael’s College unionized in 2014 and adjuncts at Burlington College unionized at the same time; that school closed its doors earlier this year.

Champlain College Tentative CBA

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LIU-Brooklyn Faculty Lockout: Why Americans Don’t Care Fri, 16 Sep 2016 16:01:13 +0000 lesko-300x225by P.D. Lesko

From The Atlantic (Monthly) to the Pacific, newspapers, magazines, online education news sites, columnists, bloggers, pundits, activists, unionists, Facebook friends and Tweeps worked the “Je Suis Charlie” angle hard on behalf of the 400 faculty whom the President of Long Island University-Brooklyn (LIU-Brooklyn) locked out for 12 days in response to a contract dispute. The faculty lost their health and dental insurance, to boot, as well as access to school email accounts.

For LIU President Kimberly Cline, the lockout was a bad news buffet, in part because most mainstream media education reporters lack a fundamental understanding of the inner workings of higher education and higher education unions. The blind led the blind into the same ditch of simplistic reporting and rehashed stories.

Is it any wonder the American public was decidedly disinterested?

The education media coverage was predictably deep on hyperbole and frenzy and shallow on nuance. The coverage of the “battle,” the “conflict,” the “war” between LIU and the faculty union has been shrill and predictably partisan. This disconnect does a disservice to the public, particularly since higher education is a multi-trillion dollar industry that is reported on with infrequency by the mainstream media.

Such reporting does an even greater disservice to LIU’s adjunct faculty who are being used as puppets in a very public charade by their own union leaders.

Let me explain.

liu-lockoutAccording to a recent LIUFF union member update, adjuncts are “the group of faculty who teach the majority of classes at LIU.” To hear the union’s negotiators tell it, the proposal from the administration is “a regression that our part time members truly cannot endure.” That’s saying a lot because, as we know, adjunct faculty across the globe endure enormous pay gaps, lack of job security, administrative caprices and a level of professional disrespect that could be described as coming dangerously close to sadistic.

This dispute should have resulted in widespread news coverage of the lopsided union contract under which LIU’s adjunct union members toil (and for which they pay dues to the union for the privilege). The lockout ought have raised pointed questions about how these contractual disparities came to be and how they’ve been perpetuated and to whose advantage.

However, judging from the coverage thus far, mainstream media reporters have little appetite to wade through the LIUFF’s 165-page union contract. It’s a pity, because a much juicier, spicier and important news story awaits the reporter who spots the enormous gaps in pay, benefits and employment parity that separates the school’s full- and part-time faculty, despite a consolidated union local and long-time representation.

With that bit of backstory, the LIUFF’s insistence that, in large part, the 12-day stand-off was precipitated by the college’s outlandish proposals to cut the pay and “benefits” for adjunct faculty resembles more the Lady Doth Protest Too Much and much less We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers.

Before I criticize, it’s fair to first give LIU President Dr. Kimberly Cline her due. Shortly after her arrival in 2013, Dr. Cline took an axe to LIU’s administrative bloat: she condensed the PR department then fired administrators and staff in the Conolly College Dean’s office, Public Relations, Advertisement, Admissions, Registrar, Academic Reinforcement Center, ESL, Secretarial staff and Telephone Services. She also trimmed the ranks of the faculty. Dr. Cline made clear that at LIU-Brooklyn the sun did not revolve around the college’s administrative organizational flowchart. What she did was courageous and, yes, forward-thinking.

Alas, on the surface, the LIU president’s present proposals concerning cuts to adjunct teaching hours and benefits come off as having been devised by a magna cum laude graduate of the Ebenezer Scrooge School of Management & Parsimony. Here they are:

  • Cut the single hour of pay given to adjuncts for office hours;
  • Cut the $80,000 Adjunct Benefit Trust Fund (used by adjuncts to offset the cost of their self-funded health and dental insurance premiums);
  • Cut $65,000 seniority payment for adjuncts (which the union was using to provide a pension plan for part-timers).

“Are there no workhouses?” Dr. Cline might be expected to enquire.

Here’s where reading the union contract comes in handy in telling a more interesting, important and nuanced story. Think of it as the moment when we read of Scrooge coming face-to-face with the ghost of his long-dead partner Jacob Marley, whose long, heavy chain Marley wears around his body, forged during his life.

The contract is the long, heavy chain forged by LIU’s full-time faculty union leaders and wrapped tightly around the college’s adjuncts. That contract provides 60 minutes of office hour pay to adjunct faculty who teach ten or more credit hours in a given semester. LIU courses are normally three credit hours, and LIU adjunct faculty are contractually permitted to teach a maximum of 12 credit hours (4 classes). Thus, the ten credit hour minimum necessary to be paid for the single office hour is really little more than a bit of hotdog on a string with the majority of LIU adjuncts chasing it.

Likewise, the Adjunct Benefit Trust Fund cut sounds draconian—unless you remember that Obamacare offers very generous health insurance premium subsidies to people who earn less than $25,000 per year.

According to a 2013 piece by NPR, “Adjuncts typically earn between $20,000 and $25,000 annually.” There’s also this: Since 2011, the LIU has contributed $80,000 annually to the Adjunct Benefit Trust Fund, with no negotiated increases. The union contract “allows” adjunct faculty to self-insure under the auspices of the college’s health insurance program. Simply put, this means the lowest paid faculty fork over 100 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums. Per the contact, full-time faculty—whose salaries start at $80,000 and go up to $150,000—pay 18-25 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

LIU’s president wants to cut seniority payments for adjuncts. Wrong-headed, yes, but again, there’s more Jacob Marley’s chain in the details.

According to the contract, each year, LIU gave over $65,000 to the union for Adjunct Seniority Payments (approximately $300 per adjunct). This money was to be distributed “amongst the adjunct faculty in a manner to be determined by the Union.” The union used the money, according to its negotiators, “to provide a minimal sum to be used toward a pension plan.” To call such a sum for 250 people’s retirement minimal is taking unfair advantage of literary license.

A 2014 piece in The Atlantic included this: “[A] report by the American Association of University Professors showed that adjuncts now constitute 76.4 percent of U.S. faculty across all institutional types, from liberal-arts colleges to research universities to community colleges. A study released by the U.S. House of Representatives in January reveals that the majority of these adjuncts live below the poverty line.”

Per the union contract, each full-time LIU retiree receives $50,000 to purchase retiree health insurance benefits through the university’s retiree health insurance program (adjunct faculty are barred from participation).

Add to this the fact that the full-time faculty at LIU are in up in arms because, according to union bargainers, “Full-time hires will receive lower contributions to TIAA/CREF (8% rather than 11%).” The union contract requires LIU to match pension contributions for full-time faculty up to 11 percent.

Is it any wonder, then, that the majority of adjuncts live and retire below the poverty line, including those who are unionized? The media should be asking pointed questions about why a union contract permits $65,000 in seniority pay to be used instead to provide a minimal sum toward a pension plan for the adjunct faculty as opposed to union leaders bargaining for pension plan parity.

So what’s really at the heart of the dispute between Dr. Cline and the 210 members of LIUFF whose expired contract was recently extended through May of 2017?

More pay for full-time faculty.

According to LIUFF union officials, full-time faculty at LIU-Brooklyn are paid starting salaries that are $16,000 less than those faculty on the LIU-Post campus, whose salaries start at $96,000. Full-time faculty on the Brooklyn campus want those starting salaries raised.

In addition, the full-timers object to the administration’s insistence on post-tenure review. Yet, the LIUFF contract requires adjunct faculty to reappointed based on annual “positive reviews.”

University officials propose to cut the maximum number of credit hours adjuncts are permitted to teach from 12 per semester to nine per semester. LIUFF union officials have framed this proposal as a heartless 25 percent reduction in adjunct pay. The truth is less altruistic: if adjuncts teach fewer classes, full-time faculty will be required to do so, because LIU’s president wants a new contract that increases class sizes.

Given the frequency with which some in higher education testify before state legislatures, comment, and publish essays in mainstream newspapers alleging (incorrectly) that adjunct faculty adversely impact student retention and success, it’s not a stretch to see why Dr. Cline wants more credit hours taught by full-time faculty.

The labor dispute at LIU-Brooklyn is a story of the 1 Percenters who teach less than half the credit hours, but whose salaries, perks and benefits amount to over 80 percent of the money allocated to faculty compensation, and the 99 Percenters. These faculty, despite union representation, are still sitting in Jim Crow’s upper balcony; they do not get equal pay for equal work.

Since women comprise the majority of faculty off the tenure-track, the dispute at LIU-Brooklyn illuminates the pernicious, growing pay and benefits gap between women and men in higher education.

Make no mistake, the LIU-Brooklyn dispute is about money. More than that, however, it’s about white, male privilege, power and the larger question of whether a higher education union local that has a consolidated membership of both full-time and part-time faculty can ever be forced to provide equal representation to both groups.

Adjunct faculty comprise almost 75 percent of the American professorate, and this lockout is a chapter in the untold story of institutionalized sex discrimination and economic apartheid that directly and indirectly impacts 20 million American college students each and every day.

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Adjunct Writes Guidebook on Thriving in the Online Classroom Tue, 13 Sep 2016 19:25:54 +0000 by Cindy O’Dell

Taking a completely online class can be a case of sink or swim, says Jeffrey M. Welch, an adjunct professor in the School of Education.

After more than nine years of teaching at Brandman in both blended and online classes, as well as seeing how online learning is moving into K-12 classrooms (Welch teaches history full time at Emilie J. Ross Middle School in Hughson, California, in the Central Valley), he decided it was time to share what he’s learned by writing a book.

outside-the-wallsOutside the Walls: A Practical Guidebook to Thriving in the Online Classroom is based on his experiences and the experiences of his students, but he’s tried to make it general enough to apply to any type of online learning. It’s available on

“I tried to write it so it wouldn’t be outdated by next week,” said Welch, explaining his focus on learning styles rather specific software. He does provide specific tips throughout the book on everything from time management to effective online presentations to crafting constructive arguments.

“Most of what I say was true five years ago and is still true today,” he said. He called writing the book a great experience and one he would recommend for anyone. “It took me longer than I thought it would but writing about the larger experience really helped me focus on my teaching.”

Welch earned his single-subject teaching credential at Brandman in the ‘90s, which brought him to Dr. Carla Piper‘s attention.

“Jeff was actually in my Educational Applications course in Modesto … He was such an outstanding student, I told him I’d love to have him teach for us,” said Piper. Welch decided he needed a little more teaching experience before taking her up on that proposal but returned to Brandman as an adjunct in 2007 to teach the applications course.

Over the years, the course has moved from blended to completely online. When that happened, Welch began to notice trends among students who struggled. Among them:

  • Not knowing how to use the internet effectively for research.
  • Not knowing how to add an email attachment
  • Difficulty managing time.
  • Thinking online would be “easier.”
  • Difficulty writing clear and specific answers.

“There’s a big group of students who are ready to go (fully online). But there’s also always a group that seems confused,” said Welch. That prompted the book.

It starts with students understanding of their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. It’s not that people can’t succeed online, it’s that it’s not always the best fit, said Welch.

Reading – either difficulty with the volume of reading required or difficulty understanding what’s being emphasized because there are no visual or auditory cues – is often at the root of the problems.  “Some students just need to see the professor face to face.”

Awareness about learning styles, which he details in the book, are useful at all levels of education, he said. Gaining that awareness can be particularly challenging for first-generation college students. Welch understands because he was one, too.

“I think I just got lucky. But some have a real struggle with understanding how the process works,” said Welch. “It’s people who naively think you don’t have to show up or that it’s no big deal who will have trouble.”


Welch also includes what the online environment looks like from the faculty perspective. Among his pet peeves are “zombie” students who never fully engage and those who seem to have the same excuses over and over for not being able to finish work on time.

“Education in general and college, in particular, are about what you bring to them,” he writes in his conclusion. “Engaging with human knowledge and your classroom community are the point.

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Contract Faculty Union Says Members Are “Free to Negotiate Individually for Better Terms” Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:57:03 +0000 by Max Moran

As the newly formed adjunct and contract-faculty union prepares for its fourth bargaining round with Brandeis University this month, officials on both sides say the negotiations thus far have been a positive experience. But the University has frozen wages and benefits for bargaining unit professors until a contract is reached, and the faculty union is publicizing part of their agenda online.

Currently, there are plans for five total negotiation meetings throughout the semester, following up on the three that have already taken place. Adjunct and contract faculty — who as a unit are called “contingent faculty” — organized a bargaining unit and joined the Service Employees International Union Local 509 last December.

In a Google Slides presentation shown at the first round of negotiations in May, Brandeis Faculty Forward — one of the organizing wings of the contingent faculty union — called for greater job security, intellectual property rights over their contributions to curriculum development, respect for their Union and a transparent evaluation system for gaining job security and promotions, among other topics.

Prof. Nina Kammerer (Heller), a union member, told the Justice in a phone interview that the negotiations thus far have been “cordial and open” and that she is optimistic about the course of future negotiations. “I’m speaking personally, but they have been productive, and we’ve been very pleased with the open dialogue,” Kammerer said.

The fourth bargaining session is set for Sept. 28, according to the Faculty Forward website. Two more will take place in October, in addition to one in November and one in December. All of the negotiating sessions are open to any contract faculty member and are all-day affairs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More will be scheduled if needed.

Interim Senior Vice President for Communications Judy Glasser wrote to the Justice, “The meetings, which began in the spring, have been productive. Now that the academic year has begun we look forward to continued good-faith negotiations.”

According to Prof. Christopher Abrams (FA), a spokesperson for the contingent faculty, some Faculty Forward members have reported that pay raises and benefits changes have been frozen for contingent faculty in their departments as the department heads wait to hear how the contract will affect working conditions. In an email to the Justice, Abrams called these choices a “mischaracterization” of the bargaining process, since bargaining doesn’t preclude individual agreements between professors and their departments.

“If faculty have been told that they cannot have a pay or benefits increase because departments have to wait for the outcome of the bargaining, that is simply not true,” Abrams wrote. Even after the bargaining concludes, contingent faculty will be free to negotiate individually for better terms, he wrote. “Our union is negotiating a floor, NOT a fixed set of conditions, for the terms of faculty employment,” Abrams explained.

However, the University characterizes these freezes as status quo for negotiations. Glasser wrote to the Justice, “Once the SEIU was elected to serve as the exclusive bargaining agent of the University’s part-time contract faculty union, the NLRB rules prohibited the University from changing union members’ wages, hours or working conditions without bargaining with the SEIU. This is known as the ‘status quo’ period and is the reason why the University has not changed the pay of bargaining unit members since the election. Union members’ wages will be negotiated as part of the collective bargaining process.”

brandeis-faculty-forwardIn a newsletter distributed to union members — entitled the “Faculty Justice” — Brandeis Faculty Forward informs readers that “the union will not object or demand bargaining” if the University wants to improve contract terms for any of its members who are up for reappointment this spring, “provided the candidate for reappointment is otherwise held harmless and accepts the improved term(s).” The newsletter states it is “neither fair nor accurate” to blame the union for the University withholding improvements to individuals’ contracts.

In the Google Slides presentation Brandeis Faculty Forward showed at their first round of negotiations, the group outlined hopes for the union to garner respect as a body at Brandeis, including having a role at new employee orientation and creating “an effective grievance and arbitration structure and procedure.” They hope for greater participation in faculty governance and participation in departmental conversations on pedagogy and curricula, according to the presentation.

Adjunct and contract faculty are allowed to participate in the Faculty Senate, including holding office, but repeatedly expressed frustration about intra-departmental relations throughout unionization last semester.

Some contract faculty don’t receive any health care coverage from the University or adequate coverage for their families. According to a Jan. 16 Justice article, the University grants health insurance benefits to professors working half-time or more for at least one semester, but the standards for fulfilling this requirement vary across departments. For example, some departments offer health insurance to professors teaching two courses or more, but other departments require more courses. Faculty Forward calls for “expanded access to health and dental insurance” in their presentation.

Graduate Professional Studies faculty, who teach online master’s degree programs through the Rabb School for Continuing Studies, are called “the most vulnerable contingent faculty at Brandeis” in the Google Slides. “Rabb instructors are expected to cede the right to teach courses they develop after the initial offering,” the slide presentation says.

GPS Executive Director Anne Marando denied in an email to the Justice that Rabb instructors are expected to cede the right to teach courses after the initial offering. Rabb instructors continue teaching courses they developed until departing, or until they are unable to teach the course due to health or personal reasons. If there is high demand for a course, the University may offer multiple sections of it with different professors. Marando wrote that faculty contributions to courses “remain the intellectual property of the faculty member. Faculty may use their contributions in ways not affiliated with the University, including but not limited to using the contribution to teach a course elsewhere and publishing an article or book based on the contribution. This has always been the policy regarding intellectual property rights of the faculty’s contributions.”

Prof. Amy Todd (Rabb) wrote to the Justice that in agreements she’s seen, the professor retains the right to publish materials like class notes and assignments but must also give the University “non-exclusive” rights to use the course content or create “derivative works” for the next five years. She says that through unionization, professors may now be able to work with the University to reach mutually agreed-upon language in these contracts. “What is really at stake here is giving the faculty who are actually creating and teaching these classes a voice in the contract,” Todd wrote. She added that there isn’t any one standard in higher education for what rights are given to whom in these contracts and that the negotiators may look at other models throughout the negotiation. She called the process thus far “rewarding for both sides.”

Greater job security is a broader issue on which the Brandeis Faculty Forward movement hopes to take action. Adjunct and contract faculty are not entitled to tenure.

For most adjuncts and contract faculty, student evaluations are the only evaluatory documents they receive, according to Faculty Forward. These documents can emphasize a professor’s personality over their teaching style and “often downgrade rigorous instructors for being rigorous,” according to the slide presentation. About 37 percent of adjunct and contract faculty have received formal evaluations, according to a Faculty Forward survey cited in the slide presentation.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Kim Godsoe affirmed in an email to the Justice that “[p]revious research from other institutions have shown that societal biases do show up in course evaluations. Much of this research focuses on the role of gender in course evaluations. At Brandeis, we have not examined the data to see if the same patterns of bias are occurring in our course evaluations.”

“The difficulty of a class may or may not impact course ratings. Several faculty members who have received teaching awards regularly teach classes that are considered very challenging,” Godsoe wrote.

Also significant last year was professorial compensation. The slide presentation alleges that contract faculty face low pay that is declining in real dollars and that some professors don’t receive raises for years on end. Citing statistics attributed to “Brandeis University, 2015-2016,” the slide indicates that part-time Arts and Sciences adjuncts teaching six courses receive an average of $60,200 annually, which is 60 percent of what full-time lecturers receive. Both lecturers and adjuncts are contingent faculty, who are represented by the University. Another slide indicates that compensation in real dollars for Rabb GPS faculty has declined by 30 percent over the last ten academic years, even as tuition for a three-credit course in the program rose by 43 percent.

Many contract faculty hold multiple teaching jobs at universities and colleges across the greater Boston area. In their presentation, Faculty Forward calls on the University to “define equity” and offer “equal value of teaching for all faculty.” This includes a guarantee of annual increases for all faculty and creating clear pay structures for non-teaching work.

Other major issues include space for office hours, as well as greater support for scholarship, grants and professional academic opportunities.

In a separate email, Abrams also affirmed that he’s optimistic about the course of future negotiations. Abrams is a member of the Contract Action Team, an open-to-all committee that has participated in the actual negotiations.

He said that participating in the earlier negotiations made him feel “greatly empowered, and that our concerns have been legitimized. It feels like we’re finally taken seriously as we sit down with the Brandeis Administration!”

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New Study: College Students Taught by Good-looking Lecturers Learn More Tue, 13 Sep 2016 16:43:24 +0000 By Daniel Akst

“Effects of Instructor Attractiveness on Learning,” R. Shane Westfall, Murray Millar and Mandy Walsh, Journal of General Psychology (July 13)

How to help students do better in school? Maybe we should try hiring better-looking teachers. Or subsidize gym memberships and makeovers for the teachers we already have.

Those, at least, are the implications of a new study from researchers at the University of Nevada, who designed a simple but revealing experiment using college students to see whether a lecturer’s attractiveness has any impact on how much of the lecture students retain. If you guessed that the answer is yes, go to the head of the class. Extra credit if you intuited that teacher attractiveness had other effects as well.

Students found the attractive instructors more motivating, easier to follow and possessed of greater health, intelligence and competence.

Students found the attractive instructors more motivating, easier to follow and possessed of greater health, intelligence and competence.

More surprising: The researchers don’t think that sexual interest explains the results, which held up whether the teacher and students were of the same sex or not. This suggests, they write, that the improved student performance was “driven by processes independent from human sexual attraction, such as attention and motivation.” Or, as one of them put it, it’s just human nature.

Here’s how the experiment worked. The researchers asked 131 college students to listen to a recording of a 20-minute introductory physics lecture. The students were randomly assigned to a male or female lecturer, each of whom read an identical text. While the lecture was playing, a computer displayed what the volunteers were told was a photo of the lecturer—who was highly attractive in some cases and not as fetching in others. (Earlier volunteers had rated some photos of possible “lecturers” for attractiveness, enabling the researchers to pick the best- and worst-looking.) Taking notes was barred.

After the lecture, participants got a 25-item quiz on the material. For those with the attractive instructor, the average score was 18.27; for those with an unattractive one, the average was 16.68. That gap isn’t huge, but it is statistically significant, the researchers said.

After being quizzed on the material, participants were asked to evaluate the lecturers. Sure enough, students found the attractive instructors more motivating, easier to follow and possessed of greater health, intelligence and competence. They also generally agreed about the attractiveness of the lecturers.

Overall, the findings are consistent with a mountain of previous research about the effects of physical attractiveness. Earlier studies have found that good-looking people are considered more capable, intelligent, persuasive and socially skilled.

R. Shane Westfall, the lead author of the new paper, says that jurors are more likely to acquit accused murderers who are better looking. The benefits of good looks start early, he notes: Mothers pay more attention to good-looking babies (and babies pay more attention to better-looking adults). There is also evidence that more attractive people get paid better at work, have an edge in winning political campaigns and are more likely to be helped by others when in distress.

 So do the new findings mean that schools should hire better-looking teachers? Mr. Westfall notes that the performance differences in his study amounted to about half of a letter grade; teacher training, experience and dedication would probably make a bigger difference. Besides, he says, good-looking people are more likely to get hired in almost any context—suggesting that schools have preferred to hire more attractive teachers all along.

Originally published in the Wall Street Journal. Used here with permission. 

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Paradigm Shift: More than 40 Percent of College Students Now Adult Learners Tue, 13 Sep 2016 16:16:57 +0000 By Joseph Dussault

Each year, legions of adult learners – that is, students who are 25 years old or older – take a first or second chance at higher education. This growing demographic tends to be ambitious, capable, and eager to learn. But until now, there was no large-scale ranking of colleges that cater to the group.

On Sept. 12, Washington Monthly released the first-ever list of best colleges for adult learners. The ranking considers factors such as ease of transfer, tuition cost, and program flexibility. According to these metrics, the top schools tend to be smaller public universities, rather than big-name private colleges.

More than 40 percent of Americans enrolled in colleges are adult learners. Nevertheless, they’re often considered “nontraditional” students, with many colleges and universities just starting to consider their diverse needs, and how they differ from the 18-21 year-old crowd.

Frequently, however, online and for-profit colleges jumping into the gap with flexible programs aimed at part-time students and working parents have met with mixed results. Several such schools have come under fire, and even indictment, for issuing empty degrees and for encouraging students to take on predatory loans. Washington Monthly’s rankings not only offer adult learners a way to vet schools they might be considering attending, but could also elevate the needs older students in the eyes of traditional colleges.

“I would argue that adult learners are the single most under-served group in higher education, both by their sheer numbers and their importance to the economy in this country,” Paul Glastris, the editor in chief of Washington Monthly, says in a phone interview.

the-non-traditional-studentMany adult learners have never attended a higher learning institution before, and enroll in hope of job advancement. Others had brief stints at colleges but didn’t graduate – college enrollment numbers have gone up, even as graduation rates stagnate or fall. Across the nation, the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students at four-year institutions is just 60 percent.

“The [enrollment] numbers have been growing steadily for quite a few years, and are predicted to continue growing,” Mr. Glastris says. “The value of a post-secondary credential has become more and more apparent – it’s virtually a requirement for a shot at a middle-class wage.”

Adult learners are eager to get their degrees, Glastris says, but they want to earn them on their own terms. Many of these students have families and work full-time jobs.

“One of my biggest challenges has been trying to manage everything. Being a single mom is hard, but it is even harder when I add being a student, teacher, and the head of the household,” said Maria Cochran, an education major at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in an article on the school’s adult learning initiatives. Calvin ranks fifth in Washington Monthly’s overall rankings for bachelor degree-granting programs at national universities.

Ms. Cochran talked about the importance of connecting with other students like her at dedicated adult learner lunches, “people who have busy lives outside of school, but are still motivated to continue with their goals.”

Students like Cochran also tend to want flexible class schedules – evening, weekend, and online classes so they can graduate in a reasonable time frame – and credit for previous experience, whether they earned it inside or outside the classroom. Returning students want an easy way to transfer their previously-earned credits. Some have already worked in their chosen field of study, and want credit for their on-the-job knowledge. A seasoned bookkeeper, for example, may deserve a chance to test out of Accounting 101, Glastris suggests.

Adaptations like that often go overlooked at colleges that just aren’t in the business of educating adults, however. “Traditional” institutions typically require SAT or ACT scores for admission, and focus on the stereotypical, adolescent-oriented images of what college meant: not just classes, but living in a dorm, being immersed in clubs and sports, and taking the first steps away from home. Their degrees are earned five days a week through four year programs and come with hefty price tags, putting a so-called traditional experience further out of reach for many adult learners.

At Park University, a private non-profit college in Missouri, 78 percent of students are adult learners. The college offers up to 75 hours of transfer credits from two-year schools, as well as online classes and reduced pricing for military personnel. It earned the number three spot on Washington Monthly’s list, the only private institution in the top five.

“We’re very proud of our liberal arts core, but the adult learner isn’t wanting or ready to come back and study philosophy or English or history,” Doug Fiore, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Park University, tells the Monitor in a phone interview. “They really want to get into a curriculum that helps them secure a job.”

As both Dr. Fiore and Glastris point out, adult learners tend to be well-motivated, and positioned to make good use of their degrees.

“You have this highly motivated, highly capable population that could be bringing in more income for their families, rising in their careers and adding value to the economy,” Glastris says. “But only if we can figure out better ways to make higher education more affordable for them.”

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Why Not Every Student (or Prof) Deserves a Letter of Recommendation Fri, 20 May 2016 19:11:06 +0000 Jackie Jones is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Multimedia Journalism at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism. In her essay for the Morgan Global Journalism Review, Jones tackles the subject of letters of recommendation. She writes, “My decision about whether to write a recommendation is also guided by the four principles of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent.” In addition, Jones discusses why not all students who ask should be given letters of recommendation.

I am very particular about writing letters of recommendation. I must know the student and his/her performance well and I will not write letters for students whose performance and reputations are wanting.  I am polite, but I don’t hold back and will explain why I am refusing to submit a recommendation.

I once warned a student even before he asked not to approach me because I could not in good conscience say anything positive on his behalf.

This doesn’t happen only with journalism students. Get together with a bunch of professors from a wide variety of disciplines and the war stories flow like whisky at an open bar. Faculty can’t tell whether it’s a sense of entitlement, status-seeking or just plain cluelessness on the part of students.


Jones’s comprehensive list of tips, aimed at students, are applicable to anyone—faculty included—who seek letters of recommendation.

AdjunctNation Freeway Flyer blogger Jenny Ortiz writes that adjuncts who write letters of recommendation can face open discrimination. Ortiz writes in her blog entry When Letters of Recommendation Written by Freeway Flyers Are Discounted: 

Letters of recommendation aren’t things I write on the fly (Freeway humor!); I took my time and showcased the student’s talents. I also explained my qualifications in order to show why my opinion on the matter could be trusted. It was a great letter, if I do say so myself. However, a few days after I sent it to the people in charge of the Writing Center (my former bosses), the student was to solicit a recommendation from a full-time writing professor.

Ortiz goes on to ask: “So, how do we change this perspective? It’s a well known that at most institutions, the faculty students interact with the most are adjuncts and a high percentage are Freeway Flyers.”

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From Koala to Kangaroo—Getting Your Students Hopping With Active Learning Tue, 26 Apr 2016 19:06:43 +0000 by Shawn Orr, Digital Educator

 You’ve probably seen this chart or another many times over the course of your teaching. Basically, it’s saying that we remember very little of what somebody talks to us about. We remember more if we can see it. We remember much more if we can actually practice it and experience it. Dottie Walters and her book Speak and Grow Rich and William Glasser and his Choice Theory both say that our students will learn and retain 90-95% of what they teach each other and what they are actually involved in the creation process. Who doesn’t want their students to know 90-95% of the course content? It’s not about earning the A, right? We don’t use grades to prove learning; that proves content mastery.

What can I do so that my students are actively involved, so they are learning and retaining? I look at the classes that I taught 22 years ago and I thought “Man, if I can pair my knowledge of the subject today, 22 years later, to what I knew then—I can’t believe how much more I know.” Certainly, that should be the way it is. Not only is new information coming in, but I’m teaching it. I’m learning and retaining and coming up with new ways to apply it every day. That is ultimately the goal. That’s what we’re looking at.

We’re going to look at 7 Icebreakers and 11 Active Learning Strategies to really engage your students in the classroom. My goal for you is that you walk away with one or two. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you see the things that I’m doing and I’m using, just pick one or two that will really resonate with your students and would really make a difference. Or pick one lecture that you’re saying “I know this is the lecture that my students really struggle with or it causes them boredom” and find one activity that you can use in there.

Icebreakers are any tool that we use to facilitate interaction, stimulate creative thinking and introduce new concepts and material. Usually when we think of icebreakers, we think of them as social ways to build connection. But, icebreakers are so much more than that. They also can be educational and topical. A way that we can introduce new content, we can help make ideas relevant, and help students think in the way that we need to that day. If I know I need my students to think creatively, I might start out my course with an icebreaker where they have to engage in a lot of creative thinking. Even something as easy as a Sudoku puzzle up on the Smartboard when they walk in. They start to think creatively and critically as we move into the content.

Active learning is any activity that gets students involved in the learning process with the goal of them constructing meaning. When they construct meaning, when they draw conclusions, when they collaborate with their peers, they will learn and retain the information.

Icebreaker #1: Create a “Name Card”

I do this in all my courses, and mine might be smaller than what some of you are. They range from 12-25 students, my largest class in 45. I have the goal that I will know every single student’s name by the end of the first week. If I want to increase retention, my students have to feel like they’re a part of a community and part of group that cares about them.

I have them do nametags. The nametags are obviously for me, but I bring in markers and poster board. It’s amazing how your tactile learners immediately are drawn to doing this project and start to talk to each other. Rather than having them just put their name, I have them put something on their card that’s relevant or interesting to them.

I always make myself a cheerleader because I’m always making fun of myself and my students will laugh with me because I always say “I am your biggest cheerleader. I will be so excited and there will be tears of joy that day you walk across that stage and graduate—I can hardly wait for that day. Know that I am in your corner. You’re responsible for your learning, but I am your biggest supporter.” My students will put everything. They’ll put guitars, pictures of computers, pictures of their kids, and their animals. All of a sudden, we are having a conversation about what is meaningful and important to them.

Now, I don’t have my students introduce them this way, but when I call on someone, I’ll ask “What is that on your card? I can’t make that out. You are the worst drawer I have ever seen. Explain that to me.” Then they’ll laugh and suddenly they are talking about something that’s relevant to them and pretty soon we’ve formed that sense of community. This is purely a social icebreaker.

Icebreaker #2: The Five Finger Introduction

This is my favorite icebreaker to do on the second day of classes called “The Five Finger Introduction.” I always tell my students it’s not the one finger introduction I get on the highway all the time because I’m a very slow driver, but this is the Five Finger Introduction. I poorly draw a hand on the board and then I say “You’re going to get with the person next to you and introduce these 5 Things:

  • Pointer finger: Tell them about yourself, your major, and what’s a one-word description of you as a student. Maybe they might say motivated or energetic or nervous.
  • Middle finger: Who is someone you look up to? Who is a mentor or somebody that you admire? Or, who is someone that you want to emulate you career after? And for many of my students, that’s the first time that think “What do I want my career to look like and who would be a great mentor?”
  • Ring finger: Who is someone you love? Somebody that’s going to be in your corner and really love and support you.
  • Pinky finger: Something you need to be a little more of or a little less of. Like, I could be a little more patient or I could be a little less of a procrastinator.
  • Thumb: What’s “thumb-thing” you would really love to discuss or learn? On the first day of class, I might make this about the topic in general. What is something you’re really excited to learn about Business? What is something that you really think is going to relevant to make you more marketable in this course? What are you excited about?

I’ve also done this activity halfway through the semester and just changed up some of these things. Like, what is something you need to do a little bit more in this class? Or, what is something you need me to do a little more in this class? What’s a learning style that you really hope I continue to do. There’s lots of ways you can change this up. This is also a great one to do online because it’s very visual.

Icebreaker #3: Teaching a blended or online class?

I’ve used this activity several times for my all-online courses. At Adrian College, we use Blackboard. I’ll post an image in the discussion forum and say “Introduce yourself to us, tell me why you’re taking this course, and then I want you to put a digital image that tells us something about who you are or what’s important to you.”

This is a picture that I might put up and I might say that I live on a farm, I’m passionate about horses, and this is my best friend and share a little bit about myself. Here is the reason this is a great an effective strategy in an online course: I like to frontload my courses in my blended courses. That means that anything that I’m going to have my students using over the term, I want them to try out in the first week. So if I want them to upload a paper, I want them to do it in a very low stakes assignment during the first part of the first couple weeks of class. If they’re going to be using the discussion board, if they’re going to be working in UCU on a group project, I want them to get in a try it out.


This right away tells me something about my students. If they cannot figure out how to attach a digital image, it tells me something about their computer skills, it gives me the opportunity to intervene early — before the first big paper is due, when they can’t figure out how to get it uploaded, and that frustration overwhelms them. It tells me a lot about their skills, plus it gives me a chance to really engage with them right away and talk about their pictures and share.

Icebreaker #4: Commonality

Commonality is not just a social icebreaker, but also an educational icebreaker. This could be a great way to start your course out or a great way to start a specific lesson out. I actually found this one on a science website and my students love this. I download these pictures from Google and click the boxes that are free to use, even commercially, and I pass them out as students walk in.

I always greet my students at the door when they walk in to help create that connection. They then have to get together, I’ll say in groups of four, and they have to figure out who their groups are. The group on the right-hand side is the Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, which I do have to tell you, most of my students don’t know what Little House on the Prairie is. I grew up with that show and they don’t even know who Paul Ingalls is. It’s a very very sad state of society right now. But if I put the Simpsons up there or something like that, they might right away know who they were. You can put it in groups and then you can have them introduce each other in groups and you can also ask relevant questions.

Let’s say it’s the first day of a nursing class or a medical assisting class. Maybe I would use those pictures on the bottom. If we were able to chat and I could ask you who those were, I’m sure you’d be able to identify those right away as historically famous nurses. Florence Nightingale, who wrote books on nursing and still shapes the industry of nursing today; Mary Mahoney, the first African American Registered Nurse; Mary Breckinridge, who was part of the frontier nursing service and rode a horse to do her nursing. Sometimes if they don’t know who they are, but they also notice the have nursing caps, they’ll get together for nursing hats and ask for a hint. And then I’ll have them look up the history of these important people. You can do this in so many different ways. You can put four terms that go together. So maybe I would put “Planning,” “Organizing,” “Leading,” and “Controlling,” and the students that have those would have to figure out that those are the Four Functions of Management. There are lots of ways that you can make this relevant to your content area. The neat thing is, is that students tend to congregate in groups and teams of who they know. I want my students to know everyone in the classroom. I want them to feel like they have somebody to side beside somebody that they have to connect with. This is a great activity for that.

Another one that plays off this is that when I put my students into groups or teams, I use playing cards. When they walk in the classroom, they pull a playing card off the deck from the table. All my Kings go together, all my Aces go together, and that way they’re in a different group and a different team every time. It’s a really terrific way to get different students together.

I can also tell you sometimes I stack the groups the way I want them. I use MindTap, so I’m able to go in and look at how engaged my students are in a course. Not just how well they’re doing, but how much time they’re spending in their reading and how much time they’re spending in their activities. I can take my students that are highly engaged and pair them with my students that aren’t quite as engaged and might be struggling with some of the concepts. It’s a terrific way to create formative groups to help my students be successful. 

Icebreaker #5: Candy

I’m sure you’ve probably given little bags of M&Ms and for every one M&M you ate, you have to tell us one thing about yourself. That’s a social icebreaker. Let me tell you how to make it educational or topical. I’ll bring in the bags of M&Ms, but then I’ll say “For however many green M&Ms you have, that’s how many times you have to participate in class today.” If you have 3 M&Ms, 1 M&M, 4M&Ms, that’s how many of my questions you have to answer, that’s how many of my activities you have to participate in.

Until everyone has participated their number of times, that’s when we’ll be done for the day. Or, if everyone can participate their number of times before the halfway point, we’ll have an extra five minutes during the break. Students feel a sense of obligation to participate and can gauge when they’re being called out. They hold each other accountable for it.

Another cool way to do this, is to say “You have to share three things from this week’s lectures, or three facts from last week’s lectures, based on how many M&Ms you have, and tell us why they are important.”

This is a neat way to take this social icebreaker and make it so that’s it relevant to the content area.

Icebreaker #6: How many items can you remember?

I want everyone to grab a piece of scrap paper or something that’s sitting right there. What we’re going to do right now is we’re going to do an icebreaker. I had a colleague tell me, “Oh Shawn, I love your idea of doing icebreakers in class to engage your students, but I’m teaching PC repair. This isn’t really a great course to be able to do an icebreaker in.” I said, you know, what, I bet I could, I bet I could design an icebreaker that you could use in your class this coming week. This is the icebreaker I designed for him and it was wildly successful. It actually turned into the entire lecture for the class.

I’m going to show you something on the screen, and I’m going to just show it to you for a few seconds. Then I’m going to take it off and I want you to see how many of the items you can remember. Write them down, but don’t write anything down until I take the picture off the screen. Alright, here we go. Write down as many of those items as you can remember from what was on the screen. Here’s a hint: there are eight items.

So let me go ahead, show you what the items are then, and see how many you were actually able to remember. So obviously, there’s a flashlight. There’s a pair of tweezers. There’s a screwdriver, a jump drive. The band with the yellow on it is an anti-static band, and anti-shock band. There’s compressed air. That’s what that thing is supposed to be at the bottom. There is cable ties, an outlet. I asked my students, “How many can you remember?” We had a competition and I gave out a candy bar for whoever remembered the most. I asked, “What do all these items have in common?” One student raised their hand they said, “Well, that’s what this chapter was about. It was about all the items you should have available for you in your PC repair kit if somebody calls you to say there’s a problem with their computer, and they don’t believe it’s a software problem.” I’m like, brilliant. Let’s talk about each of these items then. What kind of screwdrivers and what does the textbook say? How many types did you have? What is the anti-static band for? It’s so you don’t shock yourself. And they’re like, “Oh Professor Orr, you’re so silly. It’s not for you. It’s so you don’t shock the computer. So that if you have static in you, it doesn’t shock the computer and ruin the data.” I’m like, oh that’s so brilliant.

Well who’s doing the teaching, right? Who’s doing the pushups? They’re teaching me what each of these tools are for and why you might need them. They look and go cable ties. Why in the heck would we need cable ties? All of a sudden they’re flipping through the pages of their book, looking it up and saying why do the experts say I need to have that in my tool kit. They’re doing the teaching. While this is a great icebreaker, a way to start out, it’s also a terrific way to lead right into the lecture and teach.

Think of the ways that you could adapt this. You could, if you were teaching a medical course, you could have a picture of a tray of everything you need to have for a specific blood draw. If you were teaching a business course, you could have all of the elements you have to have together if you want to do a flow chart. There’s a lot of different ways that you could do this. Obviously, it works better for classes that are very tactile and hands-on, but once again, just another really neat icebreaker.

Icebreaker #7: Reflection

Finally, my last icebreaker I want to share is an assessment icebreaker. I do a lot of informative and summative assessments and I really like Cross and Angelo’s Classroom Assessment Techniques. It’s one of the leading industry standards on really doing great classroom assessment, both formative and summative. It’s one of my coveted, cherished books that I use all the time as I look at how my students are doing within each class and what I can change to help them learn more effectively. Then summative assessment: How can I summarize how my students did at the end of a unit?

I love this reflections icebreaker. I do this one at the end of class. I’ll put these statements up: I liked this unit… It got me thinking about… Something that surprised me today…. Sometimes I’ll do PNI: what was one positive thing that happened today, one negative thing that happened, and something interesting that you learned. I usually have my students do these on note cards and then turn them in as they’re leaving. They hand them to me and there’s several ways that I use these. Sometimes I use them as formative assessments. So if I had a lot of students that say, I’m concerned about the steps to put together a title page. Or, I still don’t completely understand which side of the t-cell a debit goes on and which side a credit goes on. That informs my teaching. I know right away where to start my next class. Sometimes I use those as discussion board questions. So several students say I learned this interesting thing or I was surprised by this. I can put a great discussion board question up to get all of the students talking about that concept or that idea. So there’s lots of different ways. You can start your class off with this saying based on the reading or based on the homework, and have them do this and then flip through them during the break. I love doing these and I love doing this at the end.

Let me tell you one other quick way that I like to modify this. I give my students sticky notes, and on each side of the white board I’ll say write one thing that you really enjoyed in this first half of the course, one thing that you’re really clear on, and one thing you’re going to use. On the other side of the board, I want you to write down one thing that you’re concerned about and one question you wish I would answer in the second half of the class. Then when they go on break, I can flip through those post-it notes. If I have six questions, or six students all ask the same question, I know exactly where to start my learning. They’re engaged, they’re doing something, and they’re providing feedback.

Alright, those are seven icebreaker activities. I hope that you picked out one of those that you might be able to use in your course.

Let’s go ahead and jump forward, and look at what additional things we could do during our class time to really get my students active and engaged, really get them involved in the learning process. I found this interesting statistic about kangaroos. Much like T-Rexes, from Jurassic Park, kangaroos have really good eyesight, but they only respond to objects that are moving. So if I want my students to see the importance of the course content, I’ve got to get them moving. I’ve got to get them doing something with that content. If they’re just sitting back and taking it in, I don’t know if they’re really getting it until I do an assessment. If that midterm assessment they get a D on, it doesn’t mean they can’t still be successful, but it means we’ve got a long way to go versus getting them active and involved every single day in every single course.

Let me give you 11 more great activities and strategies that I’m using in my course. And before I jump into these, Britany, are there any specific questions that somebody needs addressed right now before we jump into active learning strategies?

>> Jackie asked earlier when you were first talking about your class, do you have a lot of first generation college students in your courses? Can you give us a little bit more about the demographics of your courses?

>> I taught at a small private college, a technical school for 19 years in Toledo. It was predominantly first generation college students. I had a lot of students that did not have role models for college that weren’t raised around the ideology of the importance of education. One of the things that I really tried to stress with them is that education is a great equalizer. It is the only thing that is really ever going to change someone’s socioeconomic status. If they’re hoping for the lottery to do that, it’s not going to happen. Education is the thing that’s going to make a difference in their lives and their children’s lives. Right now, I teach at Adrian College. We don’t have a lot of first generation college students. Adrian College is a private college in Adrian, Michigan. We have around 3,000 students. A bit of a different demographic there, but yes, I definitely have taught to a very wide variety of students. I also taught at Bowling Green State University as well for two years when I was a graduate assistant and then after I graduated.

Active Learning Strategy #1: Identify the “Gold Nuggets”

So lecturing. Do I lecture in my classes? I absolutely lecture. I think students need direct instruction. They need to know what’s important in the content. If they could just take the chapter and read it and understand the key points, they probably wouldn’t need me. However, I will tell you there’s several things that I do. One of the things that I do for my students. I use MindTap e-books, so I’m actually able to annotate the chapters for my students. I’m able to go in and highlight the first chapter and leave them post-it notes, and then it pushes right into their electronic book, the e-book. When the students get their e-book, the first chapters highlighted for them list post-it notes I’ve left them throughout. This is why this concept is important. This is how this is going to be relevant. We’re going to be talking about this in class. Remember when Matt made a comment in class about this? Here it is.

When I lecture, I lecture on what I like to consider the “gold nuggets”—the few key concepts that every single student in my course must know in order to be successful. Then, we do a lot of active learning strategies and activities. In a 75-minute course, I’m going to lecture at the most 15 to 20 minutes. The key most important points. Then we’re going to take the gold nuggets and then the silver nuggets, the five or six additional pieces of information that students should know, and we’re going to do active learning strategies. We’re going to do activities. We’re going to do application. We’re going to do case studies. We’re going to do all these kinds of 11 activities that I’m getting ready to share with you in class. And then those bronze nuggets, the things that the students could know, those extras, those things that our A students are going to be able to pick out and are going to know as well, those are the things that are going to also be part of the homework for after. We’re really extending the line. The gold nuggets and lecture, then the gold and silver nuggets and activity and practice, and then the gold, silver and bronze nuggets in their homework.

As we look at some of these active learning, I think we should lecture, but it needs to be limited. This is a whole other webinar series, but I really, really love teaching a flipped classroom where my students watch their lectures outside of the class. I record 15-minute lectures with something that they have to deal with the first time I get a flipped class. I didn’t have my students do anything. I just sent them an electronic version of the lecture, and almost nobody watched it. My students don’t really do optional. I don’t either, right. If my grades are due Wednesday at noon, I’m probably still working on them Wednesday morning. We’re busy, and our students are busy. If I send a lecture out, there’s also a worksheet that goes with it. There’s the discussion posts they have to answer based on the lecture. There’s a quiz that accompanies it. I’m not saying don’t lecture, but we just want to limit what we’re actually lecturing on.

Active Learning Strategy #2: Plickers

Alright, here’s a really cool new active learning strategy. I actually heard about this from one of my peers and it’s called Plickers. Now probably many of you use polling in your classroom. My favorite site for polling is I love Poll Everywhere. Students can use their cell phones. I ask poll questions. They use their cell phones to put responses in. It can be an A, B, C, D. I can have them text in their response, and what answer did you get to number seven and everybody text in their answers.

However, inevitably I get a student that says, “Oh, I don’t have a phone,” or, “The internet’s so slow I can’t get it to work.” So one of my colleagues introduced me to this. It’s called Plickers. You go to and you download these free squares. They look kind of like QR codes and each side of the square has a letter on it, A, B, C and D. So I ask a question like, “Joe is writing a new job description. Which level of management is he engaging in? If you think it’s planning, say A. If you think it’s leading, say B. If you think it’s controlling, say D.” Then the student holds up their Plicker, their paper Plicker for whichever side they think is correct. If they think it’s A, they hold the side up that says A and nobody can see which side they’re holding up. I take my device, my phone or my iPad, and I scan the room with it. All of the data pops up on the board for them to see. It’s live polling, but the only person that has to have an electronic device is me the teacher. You could actually also take attendance this way because each of those cards also has a number on it. Number one can be Mary, number two can be Joe, and number three can be Sally. I can scan the room and take attendance. I can scan the room again after the break and see who came back on time. I can scan the room again at the end to make sure everybody’s still there.

There’s lots of fun ways you can do this. I have a mixture of students. I find that some of my older students often have really, really strong critical thinking skills and my younger students are really comfortable with technology. Often when I use these, I put them in groups and teams and I’ll ask questions and give them a chance to work together on the answer. Then I’ll have the hold up their answers as a group.

Here’s the best thing. This formative assessment, if everyone in my group gets the correct answer or 90% of the class answers it correctly, I know, “Move on in the lecture Shawn. They’ve got it.” If half my class gets it wrong, it’s a red flag for me. Stop, reengage, let’s talk about this concept. Let’s give them a new example, and then let’s ask another question and try again. So very, very easy to use. You go to You type in your questions. You print out these free sheets. You can actually buy them if you want as well. They come laminated and all that. And then you just pass them out in class and use them just like Plickers. Very, very cool tool. I hope somebody can use those in your class.

There are lots of neat ways that you can use that active learning strategy, but once again, instead of my students just sitting back and one or two students answering all the questions, everybody is contributing. Because their answers are anonymous, nobody knows if you’re the one that said A and everybody else say D.

Active Learning Strategy #3: Flyswatter Trivia (low-tech clickers)

If you don’t like Poll Everywhere where your students have devices and you don’t like Plickers where you have the device, here’s another one. This is called Flyswatter Trivia. My students love this. I never let them out of class early, not even ten minutes. You know, I’m trying to teach them work ethic, right, and marketability. So if we even have 10 or 15 minutes, they beg me to get out the Flyswatters. They get in teams, usually based on playing cards, and I ask them a question from the chapter. If I can do a 20 minute lecture, we have time to play and use activities and have them use this. They’re not all easy. It’s not like lowest level knowledge thinking. I might ask a case study question: What would be the best leadership style to use if somebody fell down the stairs? They have to know what the leadership styles are and they have to be able to apply it. They slap their flyswatter down and whoever’s on the bottom, closest to the X taped to the table, get to answer first. If they say, “Oh, the best leadership style would be participatory.” I’m like shoot, I’m sorry. That was a great guess. You’re right, there is a place for that, but we’ll talk about that in a second. Who is the next color? The next color will get a chance to answer.

Now if nobody on the team gets it right, the question goes back to their team. While they’re trying to answer, everyone else in the room is furiously scrolling through their e-book or flipping through their book or their notes trying to find the answers. They’re active. They’re engaged. I’m not up there saying, “In a crisis, don’t ever use the participatory.” You definitely need to use the leadership style where you make a decision and you come right in and do it. My students are doing the pushups here.

There’s 100 different ways that you can use this. I have learned that with active learning, you’ve got to learn to embrace a little chaos. My boys will sometimes beat each other with those flyswatters and we have fun with it.

I’ve learned to embrace chaos, because if my students are talking, especially about the content and engaging and flipping through pages, they’re doing the pushups, and they’re learning.

Active Learning Strategy #4: Treasure Hunting Definitions (Card Split)

Here’s another one: Treasure hunt. I told you I always greet my students when they come in the door. Sometimes I make up flashcards, and my books come with fabulous flashcards. We can make custom flashcards. I can add flashcards and send them out and I can print the flashcards out. What I’ll do is I’ll print them out, cut them out, and as they come in, I give them. So one person gets operational planning, the next person gets strategic planning, and then other people get definitions. They have to go and pair up, much like that commonality where they had to find if they were part of the Ingalls family. They have to find who has the definition to their word or who has the term to their definition. Then, they sit together in class forming connections.

There’s two ways that I’ve used this. I either do my lecture and when I get to operational planning I say “Who has that card?” Those two stand up and give us the definition. Or, I just say “Today, there’s 20 key definitions that we need to go through and when it comes to your definition you’re going to stand up and give us a definition. You’re going to explain it, and you’re going to give us a relevant example.” They would stand up and say, “Oh, operational planning. It’s the day-to-day operations. I work at Chipotle, and when my manager is doing operational planning she’s making a schedule for the week.” All of a sudden they’re standing up and making it relevant to them. They’re teaching each other. They’re giving a lecture. I’m providing the lecture and the guidance, but they’re the ones that are creating a lecture.

Active Learning Strategy #5: Text Your Thoughts

On days that I allow my students to use technology, I really love these two free texting apps. What students do is they download one of these two free texting apps, Text Now or Text Plus, and it gives them a generic telephone number. Now, they don’t have to download the free app. If they want to give out their telephone number, they can. Then, they pick somebody’s telephone number, and I’ll ask a question, and I’ll say text your answer.

If it was a college success course, and I was teaching note taking, I might ask the question, “What would happen if you use the Cornell notetaking method and you had an instructor that talked really fast? What’s likely to happen. Predict.” That is a very high level of thinking. So they text their answer to somebody. I always tell them to use an emoji. If you’re sure your answer is right, give it a thumbs up. If you have no idea if you’re right, give it a thumbs down. Let them know how sure you are. Then, I’ll have some people share their answers. It’s safe to share because it wasn’t their answer. They didn’t say if the person’s wrong, that’s on them, not them, and they don’t know who the person is. Because they have a generic number.

There’s lots of ways you can use it. What answer did you get to number seven on the homework? Kind of like the phone a friend for Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Why should you put important information in the beginning of a memo? Oh, because often the only part of a memo people read. So all of a sudden I have my students engage with the content. They’re texting each other. They’re talking.

Now, I love technology. I embrace and I use it. I will let you know I kind of went into the technology generation kicking and screaming a little bit. Now, I’ve realized if we’re not talking about technology for the sake of the bells and whistles, if we’re really talking about it for how we can engage our students, there are amazing technologies that we can use to engage students. I love texting. I also have my technology-free Tuesdays where we don’t use any technology in class. That’s a day where we really focus on interpersonal skills and talking things out and doing case studies. However, on a day that we’re using technology, my students love doing this. Do I know that they’re not texting their boyfriend or checking on their kids? No, probably not, but I’m always walking around. If they are the person that didn’t get a text answer back, you know they’re holding up their phone going, “Hey, my person didn’t text me yet. I don’t have an answer to share.” And you could also put them in small groups.

To learn more (and to hear about Shawn’s icebreakers and active learning strategies), access the webinar recording, part of the Striving for Excellence* series.

*The Striving for Excellence Series a collaboration between Cengage Learning and the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), a membership organization committed to promoting and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership at community and technical colleges. Recognizing the growing need for adjunct support, Cengage Learning and NISOD are partnering to co-host a series of webinars, podcasts, and blog posts covering professional development topics for adjunct faculty and administrators. To learn more about this partnership, visit

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EdTech: Engaging Students, Increasing Productivity, and Impacting Success Thu, 14 Apr 2016 20:21:03 +0000 by Greg Rivera, Senior Digital Educator

We can’t deny that technology is here to stay. However, that is definitely not a bad thing! In fact, using educational technology can help engage students, improve retention, and help students succeed. There are several educational technologies, including free or almost-free ones, that can help you with these endeavors.

Think about our contemporary (millennial) students and some of their characteristics when it comes to technology. First of all, they embrace technology. That doesn’t mean they’re good at all technologies, but they’ve grown up with them. So, technology has always been a part of their lives. Face it, our students have probably never popped popcorn except in a microwave, never changed the channel on a TV without a remote control, and probably never ridden in a car without a seat belt. Second, they expect immediacy. They want it and they want it now. That includes answers to homework activities and an immediate answer to an email about an issue they may be having. Third, you the professor are not the only expert, and students deem all sources of information as equally valid (i.e., Wikipedia, YouTube, and even what their friends tell them).

Technology has changed how we communicate with students, how we share information in class, how students read and use textbooks, how students find and process information, and how they do class work and homework. If you’re over 40 years old, think about how you had to plan when writing a research paper. First, you had to check the hours at the library, plan that trip, go to the card catalog, and go to the book stacks or the dreaded microfiche. Then you had to photocopy your materials and inevitably forget to write down a resource and have to go back the next day! Today our students can wake up the morning—I mean wake up the afternoon that the paper is due—and write it from the comfort of their homes!

One of the things that technology has done is taken us from a culture of standardization to a culture of customization, and I don’t think we can argue that that is a bad thing. Not every student is created equal and not every student prefers to learn the same way. Technology has helped us shake this up. It is not fair for us to think that our students are going to be engaged and learn the same way that we did!

Research overwhelmingly concludes that educational technology can impact learning in the following ways:

  1. Engage students
  2. Enhance student success
  3. Improve efficiency and save time
  4. Create a student-centered classroom
  5. Provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking
  6. Provide convenience
  7. Increase productivity
  8. Provide individual and total class assessment data
  9. Enhance flexibility

Who doesn’t want to achieve all of the above outcomes?

So, you do not have to be tech-savvy to incorporate technology into your course! I always tell people to start with baby steps. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. The best start is using publisher-created content like interactive multimedia e-books and learning solutions like MindTap. You can always customize the content to include the content/materials that are important to you and you can always hide/delete unneeded content.

If you want to go a step further or if you want to create your own edtech presentations or activities, I recommend the following:

1. Jing allows you to capture a screen shot or record a video of your screen to help you communicate with more clarity and have a greater impact than you can with written words alone. (

  • Record procedures or tutorials and answer frequently asked questions.
  • Give students audiovisual feedback, the next best thing to a one-on-one conversation.
  • Record lessons that students can access anytime, anywhere.
  • Make a video to help a guest teacher or students if you have to miss class.

2. GoAnimate allows users to quickly and easily make videos consisting of animated characters. It features easy-to-use drag and drop tools and libraries filled with a variety of characters, props, backgrounds, and music. (

GoAnimate can be used to:

  • Explain or review a concept and make it more memorable.
  • Summarize a reading.
  • Provide remediation.
  • Give directions or instructions sessions.
  • Practice language skills (writing and listening).
  • Allow students to express creativity.
  • Flip your classroom.

3. Padlet is a web space where you can add files, links, videos, and more and then share the content publicly or privately. Imagine having students go up to a wall and sticking stuff to it. Well, that’s Padlet, only virtual! (

Use Padlet to:

  • Create a KWL chart, which tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic.
  • Have students collaborate group work or group research.
  • Post content for students in flipped classrooms.
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Assess student knowledge.
  • Showcase students’ work.

If you need some one-on-one help, there are several groups within Cengage Learning that can help you. In fact, they’d LOVE to help you! On a local level, we have Implementation Technology Specialists who visit your campus and train instructors on Cengage Learning technologies in groups or one-on-one. We also have Digital Solutions Coordinators who work at a desk, are just a quick phone call or email away, and who can usually help you that same day! And finally, my group, the Digital Educators (DE), go a step further. Not only do DEs know how to use technologies, but since we are all educators in this group, we always frame technology from a pedagogical standpoint. In other words, along with showing you how to use the technology, we will also give you best practices from a first-hand perspective. Your first step should be to call one of us here at Cengage Learning. We are eager to help you learn and succeed!

Read more on EdTech here.

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Just as Union Contract Set to Expire, GW Prez Announces Push to Cut PTers’ Jobs Mon, 07 Mar 2016 20:18:39 +0000 by Janna Paramore

It took seven years for the over 1,000 adjunct faculty at George Washington University to force the college’s president to recognize their SEIU-affiliated local. Adjuncts at GW unionized in 2007 against a groundswell of administrative opposition, including a legal battle. Since then, they have negotiated three contracts to raise adjunct salaries by more than $1,300 per course.

According to the Contract Highlights posted to SEIU local 500’s website: “Part-time faculty at GW ratified their first union contract in January 2008, their second agreement in the summer of 2010, and their third in the summer of 2012. Along with the gains made below, part-time professors (adjuncts) at GW now enjoy a productive, collaborative relationship with the GW administration….”

The union’s present contract expires in June of 2016. The administration has been cutting down on some part-time faculty positions in favor of hiring full-time, tenure-track faculty members, University President Steven Knapp said. Faculty say while tenured faculty with top job security may be the most committed to GW, departments have also lost long-term adjunct faculty members through the shift.

Phd_work_for_foodThe adjunct faculty members’ most recent contract permits part-timers’ courses to be taken away from them by, “Creation of a full time position that absorbs existing courses taught by part time faculty, or any other circumstance in which the course will be taught by a full-time faculty member, but the impact shall be limited to the relevant course(s) taught by the Faculty member.”

The contract goes on to state: “In the circumstances set forth in subparagraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7, the Department Chair/Program Director shall reasonably consider appointing the impacted faculty member to an available scheduled course that the Faculty member is qualified to teach.”

Since GW administrators have openly stated that they are eliminating part-time faculty and their jobs, it’s unclear whether Department Chairs and Program Directors are finding other courses for part-time faculty whose employment is impacted by the administrative push to hire more full-time faculty.

Knapp said moving toward hiring more tenured faculty members and fewer adjuncts is a goal of the University’s decade-long strategic plan. He said the move toward the long-term faculty members would improve programs and give professors and researchers a chance to permanently establish their careers at GW.

“We are trying to strengthen academic programs by bringing in faculty who are ready to further their careers here,” Knapp said in an interview last month.

He added that the shift from part-time to full-time faculty is happening within the schools, not from the administrative level.

Knapp said most peer institutions are replacing full-time faculty with part-time faculty to save money, while GW made the choice to invest in more tenured faculty. This decision, which comes with an expensive investment to bring the professors to the University, can pay off over time as those faculty bring more research money into the schools.

Dianne Martin, the vice provost for faculty affairs, said more than 170 of the 400 faculty who have been hired since 2008 are in full-time, tenure-track positions. She said some of those full-time positions have replaced part-time positions in certain schools or departments.

“In some cases, as we bring new full-time faculty into our community, these newly created positions have led to less reliance on part-time faculty in some departments,” Martin said in an email.

Martin added that the number of part-time faculty members fluctuates depending on whether or not they are brought to GW to teach courses, sometimes for one semester at a time.

The women’s studies and creative writing departments have both lost adjunct faculty members this year due to budget restrictions, though Knapp said the decision to focus on full-time faculty now is not budget-related. Ben Vinson, the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said the creative writing and women’s studies positions would all be replaced with full-time, tenure-track positions.

Clay Warren, the chair of the organizational sciences and communication department, said cutting positions can improve how a department functions, but sometimes takes away from students’ experiences because of the unique positions those adjuncts have held.

“The problem with cutting part-time faculty is who gets cut and for what reason,” Warren said in an email. “Many departments could not operate without vigorous use of part-time faculty, including ours.”

He added that departments have not been consulted on eliminating part-time positions, and the decisions have been “more announcement than conversation.”

David Guthrie, an associate professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University, said the part-time versus full-time debate “isn’t as simple as saying part-time is bad and full-time is good.”

“Among part-timers, there are some fabulous teachers and mentors. Among full-time faculty, there are probably some lousy teachers,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie added that GW’s shift to hiring more full-time faculty is “pretty unique” because peer universities have been clearly shifting to part-time faculty over the past decade as a cost-cutting method. Adjuncts can be paid on a contract basis and aren’t required to be hired for more than a semester at a time. A tenured faculty member will earn about $2 million over the course of their career at GW.

Todd Ramlow, an adjunct professor of women’s studies, said he was informed late last semester that his contract would end at the end of this academic year.

Ramlow said the loss of his position doesn’t seem to justify the University’s new policy of promoting full-time faculty because the women’s studies department will actually be understaffed after his and fellow women’s studies professor Bonnie Morris’s positions are cut.

“It’s unclear how exactly full-time faculty are actually taking over,” Ramlow said, adding that two full-time, tenure-track positions in the women’s studies department have become vacant within the past year.

Ramlow, who has been at GW for more than 10 years, taught five classes at GW for the women’s studies program, as did Morris. He said that without them, the program will lose some of its course offerings because other department members are responsible for teaching courses in multiple CCAS departments.

“Those courses seem to be left up in the air,” Ramlow said.

Ramlow added that he hasn’t heard of the University making attempts to find replacement professors or announced which full-time faculty will begin teaching these courses.

Robert Donaldson, the chair of the biology department, said his department has not seen any overt cuts in adjunct faculty positions, but part-timers’ roles have been reduced or shifted.

Donaldson said some adjunct professors in his department have been “displaced, not exactly replaced,” with some part-time faculty’s classes and duties shifting without them actually losing their jobs.

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