Bush Faculty Development Committee
Four members of the Augustana faculty, Rich Bowman, Christina DeVita, Nancy Dickinson, and Richard Swanson, attended the Collaboration Conference "Rites of Passage: Students Learning From and In Transition" February 18-19 in Minneapolis. We include reports from sessions they found valuable.
On the Frontiers of Teaching
When a keynote speaker uses a vignette you told her, it is easy to identify the most significant sessions of the conference. That's right, Dr. Jane Tompkins used a bit of my biography to illustrate her thesis that who we are as teachers emerges from who we were as children, that our childhood experiences of life and of education influence both positively and negatively the way we teach today, and that recognizing these influences helps us become better teachers.
In a preconference workshop, Dr. Tompkins, a literature professor and literary critic of some renown, led participants through several guided meditations and writing exercises designed to help us recover long forgotten grade school experiences and then connect these experiences with who we are as teachers today. These exercises in educational autobiography were brief samples of a process Tompkins used to write her own educational biography "A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned." Her personal reflections freed her to engage in a variety of educational experiments in her classes at Duke University. Her keynote address then encouraged participants to undertake similar experiments. Both the preconference workshop and the keynote address were stimulating and encouraging experiences. Here is what this teacher learned about himself: Growing up as a grade schooler in the late 1950s, I was a fan of TV westerns. A budding academic even then, I wanted to know more so I checked out books from the school library about western heroes and pioneers. Not satisfied with just reading about the exploits of these colorful characters, I would organize the neighborhood kids after school in a variety of experiential adventures as cowboys. Pretending to be these heroes of the Old West, we would look for buried treasure, fight bad guys, and generally make our imagined West safe for democracy. That was then; this is now. In my classes I often use role plays and dramatizations of biblical stories as an interpretive tool, as a way of making familiar stories come alive and take on new meanings.
Until the workshop, I had not realized the now obvious connection between my youthful zeal for playing cowboys and my favorite pedagogical technique. Dr. Tompkins convinced me that the seeds of who we are as teachers today were planted long ago when we were children.
She also entertained the conference with the story of a biblical scholar who encourages his students to role play the story of David and Goliath and who as a child became Paladin, his favorite TV hero, and made business cards reading "Have Gun, Will Travel."
Jane Tompkins will be the presenter at the Augustana Fall Faculty Seminar on August 25.
The Writing Curriculum as a "Rite of Passage"
The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) has recently undergone an intensive review and revision of the institution's writing program, the results of which were presented at this session. The six-year study and curriculum review had the support of all top administration, including the president. The goal of the restructured writing curriculum at MIAD is to consider all students from first year to graduating seniors as writers who will be able to "successfully complete any writing situation they may encounter in their lives." This broad goal is supported by the write-to-learn model adopted by the MIAD faculty. All writing courses at MIAD are process-centered and inquiry-based. Writing courses in the MIAD revised curriculum involve portfolio assessment and employ strategies such as writing groups, directed group work, and student presentation of writing, as well as seminar style presentations.
I was particularly interested in hearing about the Senior Writing Seminar, which serves as the capstone course for MIAD. Each graduating senior is required to write a senior thesis of 15-20 pages, the culmination of a semester-long exploration of self-directed questions appropriate to the student's major and the professional issues, as well as the historical and cultural context of the student's artistic work. The senior seminar requires many writing experiences that will culminate in a thesis and oral presentation of that thesis.
As a workshop activity, participants responded to a writing prompt that asked us to deliberate about our own student writers and the competencies and abilities that they should possess as writers upon graduation. Individually, we considered the missions of our colleges as we constructed a graduate profile based on skills, characteristics, abilities, and competencies necessary to graduating writers. The resulting discussion was both valuable and enlightening. The exercise allowed participants to begin to experience in twenty minutes a process that took five years for that college to complete. Furthermore, despite the broad scope of higher education institutions represented -- community colleges, public four-year, private, or technical -- the expectations for graduating writers that participants listed were remarkably similar.
NSO/NSS: Are We Doing Our Best?
The recent faculty development conference sponsored by The Collaboration focused on students learning from and in times of transition. Many of the concurrent sessions presented models for helping new students transition to college life. Three such programs are described below and compared to Augustana's New Student Orientation and New Student Seminar. Colleagues, please read on. There are many more possibilities than our own. Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA uses an orientation only model. Its five-day long program incorporates aspects similar to NSO, such as help with moving in, new students placed in small groups (of 6-8) with one upperclass peer counselor, and various activities designed to build group spirit, get acquainted with others, and become familiar with campus facilities, including computer and library usage, etc. In addition, Dordt involves faculty in "required" socializing with parents on move-in day and has new students participate in sessions assessing learning styles, discussing time management and exploring teacher expectations in college life. The small student groups are placed together by intended major or "undecided" and meet both as a group and individually with their assigned faculty advisor. The Dordt model was not representative of most presentations which seemed to be moving away from orientation only or one-credit models toward required first-year courses designed, in various ways, to support student transitions.
The new program at Augsburg attempts to combine a regular, freshmen level course with specific (extra) sessions that deal with various transition issues. Students are again placed into groups but these are formed after students have registered. If we were to put this into Augustana terms, let's say that someone who teaches English 110 were willing to be a faculty mentor. Some of the students in that mentor's ENGL 110 course would become a group, be assigned an upperclass student mentor, go through orientation activities together, and have one extra session for each of the first six weeks which addresses issues typical of our current NSS.
Loras College (Dubuque, Iowa) uses an approach similar to the special, topical courses we teach during Interim. Faculty mentors teach a three-credit, non-disciplinary course designed to investigate a topic using active/interactive methods of learning that expose students to the FIRE model of thinking (Factual, Insightful, Rational, and Evaluative/Ethical thinking). Each course/group of students is also paired with an upperclass student assistant and a student development staff person who conducts special classroom sessions on NSS-like transition issues. Loras has the luxury of striving to maintain a 15:1 student/faculty ratio in these special Modes of Inquiry classes which focus more on the process of the course rather than on course content. Some course topics from the past two years: "Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Assisted Suicide...," "Bloody Sunday, Bloody Ireland: Can Northern Ireland find a path to peace...," "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse...," "Toy Story: How do Toys such as G.I. Joe, Barbie, and Teddy Bears Affect Human Development?".
Please contact me with your responses to the models presented above. As we continually seek excellence, let us consider what we can do.
* * * Program Grant Approved * * *
The Bush Steering Committee was delighted to hear from the Bush Foundation Board of Directors that they have approved our three-year $300,000 Program Grant for faculty development. This is a new Bush Grant cycle for Augustana with new objectives and new language. The goal of the grant is to increase collaboration amongst faculty and between faculty and students, both on campus and beyond the boundaries of the campus as the best way to improve student learning. As part of this grant, funds will be available for both Course Enhancement Project Grants and cell groups of faculty wishing to explore further one of the grant's four main areas of emphasis. These key areas, known as "vectors," will consist of the following:
Vector 1: Diversified Teaching Methods
Funding will also be available for conference attendance and the annual Fall Faculty Seminar.
Guidelines for submitting Course Enhancement Project Grants have been distributed to the faculty. If you need a copy or if you have questions, please contact Karin Lindell at ext. 4808 or e-mail klindell.