Tag Archives: teaching in higher education

Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


The Rise of the Two-Tiered System in Higher Ed

Over the past several decades,  higher education has slowly developed into a two-tiered system made up of tenure-track/tenured faculty and contract faculty. The latter of which work increasingly long hours often without great compensation or benefits. However, contract faculty work in these conditions because “at least it’s work” and/or “it’s a foot in the door.” I’ve been there as have many of my colleagues with dreams of making a career of teaching in higher education contexts. In her blog post on Inside HigherEd, Carolyn Betensky tries to make sense of how the two-tier system came to be through her own experiences:

How did we let it happen? Speaking for myself, I was so busy trying to find a job after completing my doctorate in 1997 that I didn’t pay much attention to the bigger picture. All I could think about was my own situation. Even though I understood that the odds of getting a tenure-track position were against me, I spent my time trying everything I could think of to improve my chances. Getting a job was up to me, I told myself. Oblivious to the highly individualistic ethos implanted in me in graduate school, I figured that if I was good enough, I would succeed. I did not think of the many other graduates who were also desperate to find tenure-track jobs — except for when I wanted to make myself feel better about the jobs I didn’t get.

I found a job — a three-year term position that turned into a six-year term position — whereupon I devoted myself to becoming even more irresistible as a job candidate the next time I had to go on the market. When I finally got an assistant professorship at the institution that employs me today, my thoughts turned to getting tenure.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but even though I disapproved of the treatment of contingent faculty, I just wasn’t paying attention to the way the naturalization of their exploitation was taking place concurrently with my own professionalization. I never thought of myself as having any say in the matter: without a stable position from which to voice my opposition, I just looked on as administrations chipped and hacked away at humanities programs across the country, cutting costs by depleting programs of their tenure lines and replacing them with adjunct slots. Like most people I knew in the humanities, I felt helpless to do anything about the seemingly irreversible decline of the profession.

Betensky calls on tenure-stream faculty (since they have job security) to get “vocally involved at every level of governance in the ways that our institutions hire, compensate and retain educators.” She argues:

Tenured professors have considerably more leverage than graduate students or adjunct instructors in our institutions; it’s up to us to come together to put pressure on our administrations to make the many invisible positions we fill under the table into “real” jobs. We need to do it for all of our students, present and future, undergraduate and graduate, academe bound and otherwise. If many of us are already working under austerity conditions at our institutions and feel our own jobs imperiled, so much the more reason to act now to secure a living wage for all who teach at the university level. It is in the interest of all faculty members to band together to demand a future for higher education.

Betensky’s blog post has provided a lot of food for thought. What are your feelings on the rise of the two-tiered system in higher education?

Read Carolyn Betensky’s entire blog post here: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/06/28/tenured-faculty-should-help-battle-opportunities-graduate-students-and-adjuncts




Course Design and Development — Hoping the changes work out!


A poem I wrote today to try to relieve some first day jitters:

T’was the night before a new school year and all the through the house

Papers were flying and textbooks arouse

The course syllabi posted online with such care

In hopes that the students soon would be there

The readings updated and carefully writ

Ensuring inquiry, equity and technology fit

And I in excitement yet dutifully prudent

Wait for the joy of engaging with each student….


Revising university courses is not a simple task. I (Yiola) have spent several weeks reworking my courses and developing new ones for the coming year.  While my courses have been consistently well received by students I felt they needed updating: readings, perspective, pedagogy as though the domino effect could not be more evident.  Piecing together what to share and how to share it so that student learning is not only deeply enjoyable but also optimal is no easy feat. As teacher educators we need to model good practice — after all, how can you spend an entire 3 hour class talking about the importance of inquiry pedagogy with power point presentations and lecture notes and expect students to understand and transfer their learning to the classroom?  And then, on the other hand, how does a Masters level instructor justify spending hours having Masters level students “inquire” as children would in their elementary classrooms?

Finding the balance between theory and practice, between scholarship and the “daily grind” of classroom life, between academic rigour and child centred practice is, for me, an exceptional challenge.  I want student teachers to know what to do when they enter their elementary classrooms and I want to model it for them in our class (i.e. small group activities, equitable practices, varied experiences, and direct instruction) and I also want students to understand WHY we do it (i.e. research based literature and engaging discourse). I want students to be self-directed learners (to share their ideas, to bring news to the classroom, to extend their own learning outside our class time) and I also want to provide students with connections between best practice and what they see out there (use of technology, positive learning environments, etc…)

Some changes I have made to my courses this year:

  • more use of technology (in my teaching, in my teaching of, and in students experience with)
  • lessened the number of assignments but deepened the expectations of the ones included
  • varied the nature of the assignments (included presentations, group and individual assignments, concept maps, papers)
  • updated my methods of assessment: to reflect/model practices used in our school system, to include students in the process itself
  •  continue to invite guests to the class (classroom teachers, doctoral students, school administrators) as co-presenters as a means for sharing knowledge and modelling collaborative practice
  • Updated the readings to better reflect the issues of 21st century teaching

Researching teaching education, speaking with colleagues who are deeply invested in teacher education and knowing what other great educators are doing not only keeps me motivated but is one of the best professional development tools out there.

I wish all teachers and teacher educators and wonderful school year!

A Blog About Blogging

I (Clare) cannot get over how much I enjoy blogging! I found this great article on Teachers College Record about using blogging in the classroom. Since we have a blog I thought I would share the link with you. http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=18070

An excerpt of the article is below.

Advances in Technology Pave the Path to Actual Learning: Using Blogging as a Learning Tool

by Toni Ann Brzeski — August 17, 2015

Do you know what the most common electronic device that college student’s possess? According to Joshua Bolkan, a multimedia editor for Campus Technology and The Journal, “85% of college students own laptops while smartphones come in second at 65%”. If technology is becoming a common practice among our students, what are we doing as professors to incorporate it into our classrooms? How can students use technology to reflect on their work? How can instructors use technology as a supplement in reading and writing courses? How can technology be used to deepen our student’s critical thinking skills? These are questions we should be asking ourselves in a world where technology is paving the way to learning.


After attending school, working at part time jobs and internships, participating in extracurricular activities and spending time with family, it might seem that college students are too busy to fit all of their activities into the hours of the day. Given the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, most students simply do not have the time to reflect on any part of their day, let alone what they learned in their college courses (Sharkov, 2012). It is our responsibility as educators to keep up with our students, to understand them, and to make reflection on course work a priority. If our students are not reflecting on their learning as a part of their everyday lives, then we are not really doing our jobs as educators.

In order to get to the bottom of this issue, and make reflection a priority, we must ask ourselves what we are we doing inside of our classrooms to promote reflection outside of the classroom. What are we doing in our classes to develop better reading, writing, and critical thinking skills?


Each semester, students step foot into my classroom with needs and interests different from those students with whom I worked before. Every semester, it is my job to take needs and interests and learn how to integrate them into my courses. While every semester is different and challenging, I have found that today’s advances in technology have been the key to bridging the gap between my students’ needs and the course curriculum.

Four years ago, during my first semester at Bronx Community College, I asked my reading students to purchase the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. At that time my students purchased the book from an actual bookstore or an online source and came to class with a paperback copy. In the fall of 2012 I asked my students to purchase the same book. What they did next surprised me: my students took out their Kindles and iPads and immediately purchased the book. It was simple: given the speed with which these electronic devices allowed my students to purchase the book, we were prepared to start reading it the following week.

There was not one student waiting on a delivery or taking time out of their busy lives to purchase it at the bookstore. What I learned from this experience is that we are in a world where our daily activities are rooted in our electronic devices. Kindles, iPads, and smartphones are devices that our students are not only actively using, but using comfortably. This is just about the time when I discovered blogging.

If my students were using technology to complete very ordinary tasks, such as buying a book for their college course, I then asked myself what other ordinary tasks my students are using technology for. At first I was hesitant—call me old fashioned—but I didn’t believe students would become better readers and writers by posting their reflections online. I continued to question myself. What good is this? Aren’t journals a place for reflecting and expression?



As stated by George Couros, the Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning at Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada, “We want students to think critically about what they write. They are more likely to do this when they write for a larger audience as opposed to simply [writing] for the teacher. [Blogging] gives students the ability to archive their work for many years to come.” Therefore, having the “ability to [blog] [and] write for a worldwide audience has made an impact on many of our students” (Couros, 2013). Like Couros, I have found that blogging has had a significant impact. In fact, blogging is the very form of technology that has helped bridge the gap between my students’ interests and required course work.

Blogging gives those students an outlet for expressing their own ideas and reflecting on what they learned in class from the comfort of their own homes. As less interactive students continue to exercise their writing skills through blogging, re-reading, and building on their blog posts, their writing gradually improves over the semester. The fact that students can go back to previous blog posts and add thoughts or reflect on their own blogs—thereby, revising their work on their own without being told to do so by their teacher—is extremely beneficial and rewarding (Sharkov, 2012).

Blogging can be done on a train, bus, or even in a student’s own bedroom. Blogging doesn’t require the school library, or even pen and paper. A student can simply use a smartphone to connect to the world through blogging. When you present this type of accessibility to the busy student, he or she has the opportunity to engage with classmates beyond the short period of time that the student spends sitting in the classroom before heading out to a job or internship.

I have witnessed the benefits of blogging first hand. Last semester, I posted a question as a homework assignment on my blog site regarding a reading on Edgar Allan Poe. Within an hour of my students leaving class, they started to write blog posts on the site. My students were responding to my question, expressing their views, and in turn completing their homework assignment, while commuting home from school.

As I read my students’ blog posts, I was amazed at the level of insight that they were expressing in their entries. I had created a place where my students’ voices could be heard, and a place where they were able to interact and discuss a topic outside of the classroom using information that they learned while inside of the classroom. In essence, my students were taking time to reflect on what they learned in class, even with their busy schedules. In the past I would have taken a more conventional approach to this homework assignment by passing out comprehension questions on white paper and telling students to answer and bring them back to class the following week.

Blogging is beneficial to the teacher as well. For example, in my EDU 10 class, our class blog page contains all our work and posts can be found in one place with easy access. I find my students accessing our blog page from their cellphones, which tells me that they are able to complete assignments from anywhere—very convenient for them.

As a professor, I can easily assess my students’ reading, writing, and critical thinking progress by observing the improvement in their blog entries. This also keeps the line of communication open between my students and myself, which is helpful since our class only meets twice a week for a little over an hour. This blogging platform keeps the reflection ongoing throughout the week. Further, blogging allows me to learn my students’ point of view on certain topics and demonstrates their level of comprehension on what we are learning in class, in turn, helping me to create a lesson plan for the next class.

A hard cold truth about teaching and teachers at Canadian universities

An article I (Yiola) came across on Canadian news, the CBC.


The increasing numbers of contract employees in academia is not new. We have known for quite some time that many faculty members, usually teaching faculty, have part-time contract positions.

The organizational process to hire well-qualified academic faculty as part-time and contract employees is complex and has many implications:

– funding: it seems universities receive little funding for the renewal or development of permanent or tenure stream faculty and other resources

– work/life conditions for contract faculty:  the article describes the challenges contract faculty experience both at work and in their personal lives (low wages, job instability, heavy workloads)

– culture/work environment: the tensions between tenure and non-tenure, permanent and contract, faculty

– quality of teaching: with the aforementioned stresses placed on teaching and teachers at the university, is there an effect on the quality of teaching?

Clare and Clive have explored and written on the topic. For example:

Kosnik, C., & Beck, C. (2008). In the shadows: Non-tenure-line instructors in preservice teacher education. European Journal of Teacher Education, 31(2), 185-202.

Beck, C., & Kosnik, C. (2003). Contract staff in preservice teacher education. Teaching Education, 14(2), 187-200.

The article speak to all faculties and departments across the university. This holds true for teacher education as well. Upon reading the article and listening to the interview http://www.cbc.ca/news/class-struggle-1.2756899   I cannot help but feel sad for the state of teaching and learning at the University level.  University teachers deserve better… students deserve better.


10 Things Every College Professor Hates

I (Clare) read this amazing blog by Lisa Wade about “things” students do that drive students standing at a wallprofessors crazy! I particularly laughed when I read # 2 – Did I miss anything important?  I know that I will get questions like these ones this year – and plenty of other inappropriate ones (e.g., do you mind if I miss class next week?)
As many of us are gearing up for the school year, you might want to share this blog with your students. The full article can be found in the Business Insider:  http://www.businessinsider.com/10-things-every-college-professor-hates-2014-8?&platform=bi-androidapp

I got this email from an Ivy League student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:

Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my s–t together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!

To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.

I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves. I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves. Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant. For what it’s worth, No. 2 was by far the most common complaint.

  1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.

Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate. You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.

  1. Don’t ask the professor if you “missed anything important” during an absence.

No, you didn’t miss anything important. We spent the whole hour watching cats play the theremin on YouTube!

Of course you missed something important! We’re college professors! Thinking everything we do is important is an occupational hazard. Here’s an alternative way to phrase it: “I’m so sorry I missed class. I’m sure it was awesome.”

If you’re concerned about what you missed, try this instead: Do the reading, get notes from a classmate (if you don’t have any friends in class, ask the professor if they’ll send an email to help you find a partner to swap notes with), read them over, and drop by office hours to discuss anything you didn’t understand.

  1. Don’t pack up your things as the class is ending.

We get it. The minute hand is closing in on the end of class, there’s a shift in the instructor’s voice, and you hear something like “For next time …” That’s the cue for the students to start putting their stuff away. Once one person does it, it’s like an avalanche of notebooks slapping closed, backpack zippers zipping, and cell phones coming out.

Don’t do it.

Just wait 10 more seconds until the class is actually over. If you don’t, it makes it seem as if you are dying to get out of there and, hey, that hurts our feelings!

  1. Don’t ask a question about the readings or assignments until checking the syllabus first.

It’s easy to send off an email asking your instructor a quick question, but that person put a lot of effort into the syllabus for a reason. Remember, each professor has dozens or hundreds of students. What seems like a small thing on your end can add up to death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts on our end. Make a good-faith effort to figure out the answer before you ask the professor.

  1. Don’t get mad if you receive critical feedback.

If an instructor takes a red pen and massacres your writing, that’s a sign that they care. Giving negative feedback is hard work, so the red ink means that we’re taking an interest in you and your future. Moreover, we know it’s going to make some students angry with us. We do it anyway because we care enough about you to try to help you become a stronger thinker and writer. It’s counterintuitive, but lots of red ink is probably a sign that the instructor thinks you have a lot of potential.

  1. Don’t grade grub.

Definitely go into office hours to find out how to study better or improve your performance, but don’t go in expecting to change your instructor’s mind about the grade. Put your energy into studying harder on the next exam, bringing your paper idea to the professor or teaching assistant in office hours, doing the reading, and raising your hand in class. That will have more of a payoff in the long run.

  1. Don’t futz with paper formatting.

Paper isn’t long enough? Think you can make the font a teensy bit bigger or the margins a tad bit wider? Think we won’t notice if you use a 12-point font that’s just a little more widely spaced? Don’t do it. We’ve been staring at the printed page for thousands of hours. We have an eagle eye for these kinds of things. Whatever your motivation, here’s what they say to us: “Hi Prof!, I’m trying to trick you into thinking that I’m fulfilling the assignment requirements. I’m lazy and you’re stupid!” Work on the assignment, not the document settings.

  1. Don’t pad your introductions and conclusions with fluff.

Never start off a paper with the phrase, “Since the beginning of time …” “Since the beginning of time, men have engaged in war.” Wait, what? Like, the big bang? And, anyway, how the heck do you know? You better have a damn strong citation for that! “Historically,” “Traditionally,” and “Throughout history” are equally bad offenders. Strike them from your vocabulary now.

In your conclusion, say something smart. Or, barring that, just say what you said. But never say: “Hopefully someday there will be no war.” Duh. We’d all like that, but unless you’ve got ideas as to how to make it that way, such statements are simple hopefulness and inappropriate in an academic paper.

  1. Don’t misrepresent facts as opinions and opinions as facts.

Figure out the difference. Here’s an example of how not to represent a fact, via CNN:

Considering that Clinton’s departure will leave only 16 women in the Senate out of 100 senators, many feminists believe women are underrepresented on Capitol Hill.

  1. Feminists “believe”? Given that women are 51% of the population, 16 out of 100 means that women areunderrepresented on Capitol Hill. This is a social fact, yeah? Now, you can agree or disagree with feminists that this is a problem, but don’t suggest, as CNN does, that the fact itself is an opinion.

This is a common mistake, and it’s frustrating for both instructors and students to get past. Life will be much easier if you know the difference.

  1. Don’t be too cool for school.

You know the student who sits at the back of the class, hunches down in his or her chair, and makes an art of looking bored? Don’t be that person. Professors and teaching assistants are the top 3% of students. They most likely spent more than a decade in college. For better or worse, they value education. To stay on their good side, you should show them that you care, too. And, if you don’t, pretend as if you do.

Using Pinterest in the Classroom

While wedding planning, I (Pooja) used Pinterest, the social media application, for the first time. People from all over the world create and share virtual pin boards. These pin boards are a collection of one’s interests essentially. It’s a great way to gather, organize, and share ideas. It has become very popular for cost-saving DIY (do-it-yourself) ideas for events like weddings, birthday, showers, etc.

However, I recently cam across an article which highlighted ways in which university instructors are using Pinterest in their higher ed courses. Below is an infographic explaining how it is being used (in the U.S. context):

Source: http://www.edudemic.com/guides/the-teachers-guide-to-pinterest/

New Moms: We Are Here for You

Leah McLarenLeah McLaren, a columnist for the Globe and Mail (our national newspaper), wrote an open letter to the wife of Peter McKay (Canadian Justice Ministry). McKay has been embroiled in a scandal regarding leaked emails he sent to his staff for Mother’s and Father’s day:

“The Mother’s Day email hailed women for the home and childcare duties they perform before arriving at the office, while the Father’s Day message made no mention of diapers or school lunches, and instead praised them for “shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.” http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/mackay-enough-has-been-said-about-sexism-controversy-1.1889490

In McLaren’s article she talks about the challenges of being a new mother (McKay’s wife, Busy MomNazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay) recently had a baby. On our research teams we (Clare and Clive) have a number of new Moms who are juggling work, study, childcare, and …. Although they do not complain I (Clare) can see the exhaustion written all over their faces. I witness how their confidence ebbs as they so often feel like they are not doing enough, they are not carrying their weight on the team, they are not spending sufficient time on their research, and on and on. McLaren advises Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay:

No matter how overwhelming it feels now, while your son is small and dependent, remember that one day it will change. The former you – the activist and author and tireless campaigner who never had spit up in her hair or a soother in her handbag – is still there, lurking at the back of your neglected shoe closet. She might have receded for the moment, but she will emerge again. And in the meantime, here’s a tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your husband to do more. I know he’s busy.

Check out the full article are: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article19344705.ece

Given the way careers unfold many female doctoral students and new faculty are new Moms. Take heart – you are doing plenty and do not forget that that you are smart women who deserve to be in academia. Brush that guilt off your shoulders. The exhaustion will pass and you will be stronger and wiser. Remember, we are here for you and will continue to be here for you because you are our valued colleague and friend. Print off McLaren’s article and when you need a boost, read it (mind you it might be at 2:00 a.m.).