IDEA Paper #54 Reflective Ethical Inquiry: Preparing Students for Life


Allegory with a portrait of a Venetian senator (Allegory of the morality of earthly things), attributed to Tintoretto, 1585. Courtesy of Creative Commons. Copyright Wikipedia:CC BY-SA.


Donna M. Qualters • Tufts University

Melissa McDaniels • Michigan State University

Perrin Cohen • Northeastern University

Reprinted by permission from The IDEA Center. May not be reproduced or used without prior written consent by The IDEA Center.


Although universities often teach ethics courses, they do not always teach students how to apply ethical course content to ethical dilemmas they encounter on a day-to-day basis. The Awareness-Investigation-Responding (AIR) model of ethical inquiry bridges this gap by scaffolding the reflective process and empowering students to make more caring, compassionate, ethical choices in their disciplines and in life. AIR can be adapted to any discipline and any learning environment.

During a class assignment to interview a former teacher, Jerry observes his friend making up the dialogue the night before the assignment is due. When Jerry inquires why his friend is doing this, his friend replies that life is too busy and the assignment is only worth 10 points, so no harm is done. While Jerry is uncomfortable with knowing this, he doesn’t say anything as he doesn’t want to confront his friend. In another instance, Amanda is student teaching and notices teachers and staff routinely taking school supplies home. She is uneasy knowing this but is afraid to talk to her supervisor for fear that it might affect her placement and any future references. These hypothetical situations are based on real occurrences that the authors have encountered as educators. A quick reaction for our students is often to ignore, disengage, or avoid dealing with these situations, leading to increased stress and sometimes costly mistakes.

Higher education institutions typically depend on specific disciplines to provide students with ethical grounding. There are courses in moral philosophy, religion, professional ethics, character education, and values clarification—all of which provide students with important content and critical thinking skills in a classroom environment. But, as in the examples above, this approach is often inadequate to help students face real-life ethical dilemmas that arise in their day-to-day lives. In fact, a study by Peppas and Diskin (2001) found no difference in ethical values between students who had taken an ethics course and those who had not. Although this finding is not surprising, it should be troubling. We all experience similar cases where our students encounter complex and ambiguous ethical challenges and often react uncritically. Their responses emerge from interactions with strong external influences in their lives such as peers, the media, family, or religious traditions.

Immanuel Kant, portrait. Unknown.

Immanuel Kant, portrait. Unknown.

Concurrently, there is also a misguided reluctance by discipline faculty to discuss ethical challenges in class. Sisola (2005) provides evidence of faculty feeling unqualified to respond to issues or not feeling that the issues are important. We have found in our own work that our colleagues are uncomfortable having these discussions for similar reasons

(Cohen, McDaniels, & Qualters, 2005). Faculty members are often torn because they struggle with advocacy and feel that their personal views should be kept out of the course (Hanson, 1996). Other reasons given include: (1) the belief that values are formed in childhood, and changing behavior or beliefs is impossible; (2) the assertion that faculty cannot themselves agree on what is “ethical,” and (3) the belief that no one has the “right” to tell anyone else what is ethical or not ethical (Mathieson & Tyler, 2008). Hanson warns that the methodologically neutral teacher can often create the opposite effect by making the material so boring as to not engage students, leaving them with no new tools and forcing them to solve issues through their current uncritical lens.

As educators, we struggle with how to address this delicate area with students. Do we leave our students adrift in dealing with ethical issues? Do we hope they will “do the right thing” when faced with ethical quandaries in our fields and in life? How do we prevent students from becoming desensitized to ethical issues and thus avoid them? If we do take action, how do we address students’ perceptions that they have the responsibility to address ethical concerns but not the knowledge, resources, and support to do so? We suggest faculty incorporate reflective ethical thinking into their course, using the Awareness, Investigation, and Responding (AIR) model of ethical inquiry. This approach encourages students to address authentic ethical issues that exist in the discipline or are encountered in real-world situations within and outside the university context.

Neoptolemos kills Priam. Courtesy of Creative Commons, Wikipedia WP:CC BY-SA.

Neoptolemos kills Priam. Courtesy of Creative Commons, Wikipedia WP:CC BY-SA.

AIR: Teaching Awareness (A), Investigation (I), and Responding (R)

As in the examples given, students who experience pressure to succeed often avoid dealing with everyday ethical concerns, particularly gray areas related to cheating, harassment, privacy, and injustice. Although this disengagement with ethical concerns allows students to meet short-term goals and deadlines, it comes with long-term costs that often go unnoticed. Examples include increased mistrust, damage to reputations and careers, inefficient use of time and resources, and increased “mistakes.” The AIR model of reflective ethical inquiry (Cohen et al., 2005) is an antidote for this ethical disengagement and for minimizing its costs. The model provides students with three types of reflective ethical activities—Awareness, Investigation, and Responding—that they can learn to incorporate into their everyday lives. When these AIR reflections are put into practice, they keep students ethically curious, empathic, and ethically engaged in an ongoing way. This reflective process empowers an ethical “mindfulness” that sustains trust and goodwill and that maintains students’ ethical bearings in the face of daily pressures.

Implementing AIR

The first step in implementing AIR is to prepare students for the type of conversation that will occur. According to Perry (1970), college-age students are often in the duality mode, looking for either a right or wrong answer. The goal of AIR is not to determine the “right” answers but to provide a framework for considering resources and options for making the “right” decisions. AIR prepares students for the richness and diversity of the discussion that often leads to multiple solutions.

In order to effectively implement the AIR model, faculty need to create a learning environment where students are able to access their own visceral and emotional experiences. Students need to resist the urge to immediately “respond” or “fix” ethical situations they encounter. They must embrace ethical inquiry PRIOR to ethical action and respond to ethical situations in compassionate and sensitive ways.

Prior to developing AIR, we repeatedly heard students describe moments in their cooperative education placements and lives where they had a “gut” feeling that something was not quite right. Students often discounted these visceral reactions because they did not yet intellectually understand the situation that prompted this feeling of unease. Implementation of the AIR model requires faculty to support students in engaging in “embodied or somatic learning” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). This approach embraces the idea of the body as a place for learning or source of knowledge in its own right. While this is counter to western approaches to learning that favor the mind as the primary place for learning and source of knowledge, acknowledging the emotional components of learning allows for subject matter content to become more meaningful for students (Dirkx, 2001).

Because this type of learning may be threatening to both students and faculty members, it is important for the instructor to create a safe space in the classroom, characterized by four general principles:

(1)  Establish clear ground rules regarding confidentiality and group interactions: Instructors should engage students in defining what makes a safe environment for discussing complex and uncomfortable topics. Faculty can help students to discern what and how to share experiences they find confusing or troubling.

(2)  Provide an overview of the characteristics and aims of reflective discussion: Some students have never been given the tools to engage in active listening and reflective response. Instructors can ask students how they hope others would listen and respond. In keeping with the embodied approach, we introduced students to the concepts of active and generative listening. Active listening requires you to reflect back what was heard, while generative listening requires reflecting what you have felt as well as heard as the conversation advances.

(3)  Model and heighten awareness of the ground rules: As soon as students observe an instructor interrupting or breaking confidentiality, they will be less inclined to uphold these principles themselves. We have found that posting the guidelines during discussions reminds and reinforces them for everyone.

(4)  Serve a facilitative teaching role: Instructors must empower students to think about ethical issues in creative and empowered ways. By acting as a facilitator rather than an authority, the teacher validates student feelings and concerns, challenges them to think more systematically about the issue they are examining, and guides them to critically assess all aspects of possible solutions. The AIR model was specifically designed to guide teachers in this type of practice.

Employing the Pedagogical Tool Kit

A faculty member can draw upon a variety of pedagogical tools designed to cultivate questioning and inquiry and to prevent students from reacting to an ethical situation. We have guided students through the following prompts to help them gain clarity (building upon their “gut” responses) about the dilemma they are facing.

In general, these tools involve asking students to describe an ethical dilemma/concern in-depth. We do this by probing students for a description of the full context of the dilemma, their affective reaction and feeling at the time (and later), and the reactions/feelings of others present. Next, we ask students to create a stakeholder map—identifying who is impacted by this dilemma and which stakeholders are involved. Similar to a concept map, this type of mapping puts those who are directly involved in the situation in the middle, but then continues to probe students to think about who else not directly involved in the situation might be affected by how the student proceeds. For example, in the hypothetical school case mentioned in the opening, families of those who have been taking supplies are added to the map, as is the school principal, as both may be affected if this issue comes to a public forum like the school committee. We follow by asking students what they perceive are the specific underlying ethical issues. Then—and this is the most challenging component—we ask students to reflect on the assumptions/beliefs that trigger their reactions to and feelings about the situation. Raising tacit beliefs is never easy, but we have found through practicing this model that students become more facile at identifying their own belief systems. This progression naturally leads to asking what steps can be taken to investigate these assumptions and beliefs.

The instructor can support the students in continuing to be in a reflective space, moving on to investigate other perspectives, beliefs, and assumptions about the situation. There are many interdisciplinary resources and tools available for investigation. We often direct students to professional guidelines or codes of conduct within the discipline. Although some of these have mandated response protocols, we also encourage students to consult with a variety of legal and policy position papers, scholarly resources such as journals or reports, family members, and spiritual sources, if appropriate, to clarify and refine their thinking.

Once students have investigated an ethical dilemma and are aware of its impact on stakeholders and their own beliefs and assumptions, faculty members can model how AIR can prepare them for practical action. Too often, students only identify two options: non-response or formally reporting incidents within a bureaucratic structure. Although these are two equally valid responses, reflective learning occurs when students and faculty are aware that a much wider variety of responses are possible and that practical action can take many forms. We call this identifying the “third” option, including self-care, sharing and conversing with a trusted family member or peers, learning more about an issue, re-evaluating career plans, removing oneself from a situation, or reporting an incident.

Applying AIR

The following exemplifies how the three reflective elements have been incorporated into a course for psychology and behavioral neuroscience majors, Ethics and Psychology: Maintaining Ethical Bearings (Cohen, 2013), offered in the Psychology Department at Northeastern University.

Reflective Awareness

Teaching Example: The instructor introduces reflective ethical awareness by telling the class: “For the next class, identify one or two ethical concerns/issues related to research, teaching, or another professional activity. It should be something that is of particular interest to you and that you are uncertain or unclear how to address. The issue(s) should be something that is fairly specific and has personal meaning. As part of this written exercise, include a brief description of a possible scenario of the conditions under which you are likely to experience such a concern; bodily sensations, assumptions, thoughts and feelings that are likely to arise in that moment; and the possible short- and long-term impact of the experience on you and others. During our next class, everyone will have a chance to reflectively discuss their issue(s) so we can use them as a starting point for reflectively understanding and responding to ethical concerns that you experience on and off campus.”

Teaching Guideposts: Instructors help students to agree on ground rules that support reflective ethical awareness and discussion. This includes “active and generative listening” mentioned above, respect for confidentiality, and use of “I” statements. For example, instead of students saying “your example is biased” to a classmate, a student would say “I feel uncomfortable with your example and wonder if we can explore it more.” Instructors also help students to acknowledge everyday ethical uncertainties and confusions in their lives by pausing and reflectively “befriending” concerns. In this way, students learn to step back and identify, accept, talk about, and rest with the concern before judging oneself or others or doing anything about it (see Figure 1).

Reflective Investigation

Teaching Example: Habermas’s (1984) three “domains of knowledge” are used as a framework for helping students empathically explore what is knowable about a particular issue in technical (e.g., scientific and analytic approaches/information), social (e.g., social/cultural values, spiritual/religious teachings), and emancipatory ways (self-understanding, including personal biases and aspirations). Consider, for example, the hypothetical situation of witnessing cheating which was presented at the beginning of the paper. A student exploring what to do would be encouraged to: (a) look at the university or class codes of conduct, student handbooks, and research on the consequences of cheating; (b) have discussions with trustworthy sources such as family or clergy, or consult academic pieces on society values around cheating; and (c) examine their own assumptions and beliefs about the role of cheating in education. Students culminate their investigations with a scholarly research paper that concludes with their “best” ethical thinking at that time.

Teaching Guideposts: Students reflect on what is knowable about their issue and what would allow them to empathically explore it in an interdisciplinary way. They use tools and resources to help explore their concern from different angles; they do so in a way that cultivates trust and goodwill and honors their individual strengths and interests.

Reflective Responding

Teaching Example: Students are asked to use their “best ethical thinking at this time” to develop a detailed, skillful response to their ethical concern (e.g., social networking, social action plan, a practical alternative, artistic communication, self-care). They are also asked to describe how that response evolved from their reflective investigation, why they think it is a good first step in addressing the issue, and how the response might be used in a practical way.

Teaching Guideposts: Students consider how their “best ethical thinking at the time” might be converted into a skillful action that is as harmless, honest, fair, and respectful as possible. Given the context, they reflect on possible responses and how they draw upon personal strengths and interests (e.g., creative, social, analytical, spiritual). Students are reminded that self-care (e.g., stress reduction, yoga, meditation, and talking with friends) is also a legitimate response.

Faculty can apply AIR to provide students experience in analyzing authentic ethical issues and dilemmas within a discipline. For example, in teacher education we created cases that ranged in seriousness from teacher gossip to potential child abuse. In engineering, faculty created situations that had students grapple with the ethics of creating products that could potentially cause hearing damage or might not meet code specifications. Using the AIR tool kit, faculty walked students through the case, asking the reflective questions listed above and creating a stakeholder map. For the investigation or “I” component, students were asked to find as many sources as possible to assist the potential teacher or engineer in making the decision. The next day the class discussed what they found and then worked together to generate as many possible ways to handle the situation that reflected their beliefs, respected those involved, and provided a caring, compassionate response. Additionally, AIR has been used successfully by discipline faculty in a hybrid model class. In this format, students were able to engage collaboratively in reflective ethical thinking while still in the field (Cohen, 2010).


While discipline faculty are not ethicists, they do have the pedagogical tools necessary to guide students in translating the theories and practices of ethics courses to real-life situations. Awareness, Investigation, and Response (AIR) is a practical and simple three-step process that provides students with a lifelong tool and framework to think through challenging ethical dilemmas. AIR is not about ethics but is about ethical inquiry, and it serves as a means to transfer ethical knowledge from course work, family, and experience to life situations. By having students think deeply about authentic or simulated situations, faculty provide a concrete method for students to respond to their “gut” feelings of unease and to prevent them from ethical disengagement or a quick ethical fix, especially when they encounter situations directly related to the discipline. Helping students to understand the ethical challenge they face (Awareness), demonstrate the many resources available to process the dilemma (Investigation), and review the pros and cons of the possible outcome give students the ability to make the most caring and compassionate choices of the difficult situations they will face in their careers and in life.

Donna Qualters is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching at Tufts University; Melissa McDaniels is Assistant Dean, The Graduate School, and Director, Teaching Assistant Programs, at Michigan State University; and Perrin Cohen is Associate Professor of Psychology and founder and past director of the Northeastern University Ethics Education Center (NUCASE). They began working together on ethical inquiry while at Northeastern University and as members of NUCASE when the issues discussed in the paper were arising with more frequency for students on their cooperative education placements. The model received its name of AIR when a student in one of the first cohorts using this reflective inquiry tool told us that, after using this model to understand issues in his workplace, he felt like he had “come up for air.”

© 2013 IDEA Center


Cohen, P. (2010). Empowering reflective ethical engagement in field settings. In D. M. Qualters (Ed.), Experiential education: Making the most of learning outside the classroom (pp. 47-54). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, P. (2012). Ethics in psychology syllabus (PSYC4652). Retrieved from

Cohen, P., McDaniels, M., & Qualters, D. M. (2005). AIR model: A teaching tool for cultivating reflective ethical inquiry. College Teaching, 53(3), 120-127.

Dirkx, J. M. (2001). The power of feeling: Emotion, imagination, and the construction of meaning in adult learning. In S. B. Merriam (Ed.), The new update on adult learning theory (pp. 63-72). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action, Vol. 1: Reason and rationalization of society (T. McCarthy, Trans.). Boston: Beacon Press.

Hanson, K. (1996). Between apathy and advocacy: Teaching and modeling ethical reflection. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 66, 33-36.

Mathieson, K., & Tyler, C. (2008). We don’t need no stinking ethics: The struggle continues. Journal of College and Character, IX(4), 1-12.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Peppas, S. C., & Diskin, B. A. (2001). College courses in ethics: Do they really make a difference? The International Journal of Educational Management, 15(6/7), 347-353.

Perry, W. G. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Sisola, S. W. (2005). Integrating theories and practice of adult teaching and learning: Implications for ethics education. In R. B. Putilo, F. M. Jensen, & C. B. Royeen (Eds.), Educating for moral action: A source book in health and rehabilitation ethics. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis.


The Future of Higher Education is in Our Intention and Actions Today

Copyright 2012 - courtesy of Creative Images.

Copyright 2012 – courtesy of Creative Images.

Part I (an opening)

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets

In systems that exhibit little to no change, prognostication is rather straightforward: a living-out of Newton’s first law of motion. Unless poked somehow, stuff does as it does. However, in systems moving very quickly with larger and more chaotic changes, what comes along next is increasingly difficult to predict. As environments and questions become so complex, all we have is our own current stance: the guidance of our intention.

No one, not even Ray Kurzweil himself, knows what the platforms available to higher education will be, what job markets will look like, or what the implications of global change will be to learning, teaching, and living. No one. Whatever claim is made about the “future of higher education,” we must face this realization.

However, we do not need to know the future. Attending to and challenging our current intention guides our response to change and, moreover, provides the means to foster what arises next. Our actions have planet-wide consequences. If we only develop and teach techniques and do not cultivate an active inquiry into their implications, how can we ever expect to produce outcomes that foster systemic flourishing? As we think about the future of education, we must keep our focus on questions of “why” rather than simply “how.”

Our intention is the anchor we develop, the ground from which we respond, no matter what comes along. It is not merely reactive: since we are cultivating an ongoing inquiry into what is meaningful, challenging and deepening our intention is a living process which develops as we see what is created and fostered in this world. This process requires the support of a contemplative practice that sustains our courageous willingness to act in accordance with our beliefs.

Our intention is vibrant and alive, yet grounding and guiding. It is from this stance, here and now in the present, informed by our actions, that we must confront and create the future of higher education. This is what we must be cultivating in ourselves and in our institutions if we want to transform education and society.

Change is guided by intention and vision. In articulating and examining our mission, we will have a perspective to address questions like, “Should we use MOOCs?” Of course, the real question is: “What should we use MOOCs for?” For certain goals, MOOCs are just peachy; for others, rancid compost. And let’s face it: MOOCs are the first baby steps toward the radical changes coming for education transmission. What’s coming soon will be beyond our current imagination but can, and should, be formed and framed by our values and beliefs. It is our obligation to articulate our vision clearly and strongly, to act in accordance with our vision, and to foster this process of ongoing inquiry in our educational institutions.

Without this foundation, we will lurch in reaction to changes brought about by those with the most market and political power.

When students, teachers, staff and administration join together to articulate a vision for higher education in a united effort to create meaning and direction, every act becomes curricular:  an opportunity for learning through questioning, “does this act cultivate a world consistent with my true intention?”

Our educational institutions should be environments which foster the realization that our actions shape the world into a reflection of what is most deeply meaningful to us. Information, theory, and innovation then become grounded in a process of living out meaning–no longer simply unleashed for any purpose. In this regard, higher education can lead the process of societal change and transformation.

It is only through a process of cultivating awareness and discernment that we can develop this sense of engaged meaning and action. This process must form the core of education, affecting political and social policies, technological development, and global awareness. It is essential for a vibrant society. Let’s all work together to create these environments and forge the future of higher education together–without succumbing to calls for narrow training and social control.

The future of higher education is in our intentions and actions today.

In part II, I will suggest ways to implement this inquiry and develop our intentions and actions.

Dr. Daniel Barbezat, Professor of Economics, Amherst; Executive Director, the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society.

Dr. Daniel Barbezat, Professor of Economics, Amherst; Executive Director, the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society.

Daniel P. Barbezat is Professor of Economics at Amherst College. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern University and Yale University and has taught in the summer program at Harvard University. In 2004, he won the J. T. Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching Economic History from the Economic History Association.

Over the past decade, he has become interested in how self-awareness and introspection can be used in post-secondary education, economic decision-making and creating and sustaining well-being. With the support of a Contemplative Practice Fellowship in 2008, he has developed courses that integrate contemplative exercises designed to enable students to gain deeper understanding and insight. His approach to these economic classes has been featured in the Boston Globe, the U.S. News & World Report, as well as on the NPR program “Here & Now.”

Dr. Barbezat has worked with the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society–the national hub for contemplative teaching and learning, committed to the positive transformation of the higher education system by supporting the use of contemplative/introspective practices to create engaged learning environments–as a Board Member, Treasurer and Associate Director of the Academic Program since 2009. In 2012, he became the Executive Director of the Center. He has lectured and led workshops on contemplative learning and pedagogy throughout the United States and Canada and is actively working to expand and deepen the Center’s programs, making its work more accessible and transformative for all.

Along with his experimental research on choice and awareness, he is currently editing a group of papers on examples of contemplative pedagogy across the disciplines with Arthur Zajonc to be published by Routledge, and writing (and thinking, thinking, thinking about…) a book entitled Wanting. His latest book (co-written with Mirabai Bush), Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning, was released by Jossey-Bass in October 2013.

Reprinted by permission of the author, Spring 2014. For more articles and blogs published by the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society, please visit:

23 media-rich projects

Great resource for planning your courses for Spring. For myself, I have to consider the technology access of students, so I choose assignments that don’t require them to have access beyond what is available on campus.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

Twitter Logo, courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

Twitter Logo, courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

by Reynol Junco

The following article was originally published in Leadership Exchange, Vol. 10, Summer 2011, pp. 34. Reprinted with permission by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Because of my research on social media, people often assume I am a cheerleader of these technologies. While I clearly see the benefit of using social technologies to connect with colleagues for professional development and for increasing student engagement, it is clear that these services are not for everyone.

As a senior student affairs officer (SSAO), no doubt you have been exposed to multiple pleas to join Twitter. The 2011 NASPA Annual Conference featured sessions designed to explain Twitter and what an SSAO can do with it, Twitter tutorials, and colleagues sporting “Tweet Me” ribbons. If that exposure to Twitter was not enough, a close friend or a col- league may be cajoling you into setting up an account.

All of these circumstances might have you thinking: “Should I be on Twitter? I am a senior leader in the field, after all.” The honest-to-goodness truth is that you might not be ready to engage on Twitter, and that’s okay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. While you have heard the cheerleaders telling you why you should use Twitter, let me present some reasons why you should not:

  • It is yet another thing you have to do. You are busy with meeting after meeting, an inbox that you can barely con- trol, reports to write, and people to supervise, all of which does not leave much time in your busy schedule. Twitter has a steep learning curve and once you are comfortable with the technical aspects of the platform, it requires ongoing attention.
  • It will make you uncomfortable. Twitter is an environment very different from the world of an SSAO. From the start, the Twitter platform has democratized roles and relationships. For instance, it is not uncommon for a famous author to communicate directly with readers. Twitter blurs the boundaries of hierarchies and allows “the little people” to have as strong a voice as those in leadership positions. Generally, this is not how the workplace operates. The student affairs office has a fine delineation between the entry-level work- force, mid-level managers, senior professionals, and students. Imagine the ramifications of such a technology on cam- pus—students can have both individual and collective voices stronger than your own. Whoa!
  • You will do it wrong. Twitter is a tool better utilized to interact and engage with students, faculty, staff, and other SSAOs, not to broadcast messages. SSAOs who are currently on Twitter are less likely to engage in conversations with their followers than mid- and entry-level professionals. You do not need feedback from your “fans,” and they probably do not want to engage with you in that manner, either. Leave that side of social networking to celebrities.
  • You will be challenged to consider, and in many cases respond to, new perspectives that have very little to do with your substantive work. While that sounds like a good thing in principle, imagine the cognitive dissonance it  will create as well as extra work. I’m sure that when you were in graduate school, Sanford’s notion of challenge and support really resonated with you; however, these days, the challenges you receive are more often related to strategic planning or budget cuts. Engaging with others on Twitter might challenge you in insufferable personal and professional ways. That’s just not fun.
  • Backchannel communications are time killers. A backchannel is a running public dialogue on Twitter aggregated around a specific topic. It is called a backchannel for a reason—it is in the background and not typically noticeable. On top of all of your other responsibilities as an SSAO such as meetings, supervision, strategic planning, and possibly even fundraising, Twitter can open the flood gates for communication with students and other constituents. Most universities have a backchannel, but students rarely share any feedback that a student affairs division could use constructively.
Twitter brand page. Courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

Twitter brand page. Courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

My Twitter followers agree, providing the following comments when I asked them why SSAOs may want to avoid Twitter:

“All of the information sharing from other institutions and colleagues will just complicate things.”

“Why waste your time on Twitter when you can ask the same question in a meeting you attend with 20 people— who needs Twitter?”

“[Y]ou’ll find yourself wanting to consult your network for a better answer than the one you’re getting in person.”

“You may have your way of thinking challenged and be forced to consider new, previously unconsidered perspectives.”

“You won’t like getting instant feedback from students.”

So, my advice is to keep a level head and stay off of Twitter. Your e-mails are waiting.

Rey Junco is a social media scholar and an associate professor in academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University. You can try to reach Rey on Twitter, but odds are that he won’t respond.

If, after all the above admonitions, you still want to try Twitter, the following is a good starting point:

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

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



Image courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

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

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

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

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



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

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

Godwin-Jones, R. (2013).  Integrating intercultural competence into language learning through technology.  Language Learning & Technology, 17(2), 1-11.  Retrieved from

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stockwell, G. (2010).  Using mobile phones for vocabulary activities: Examining the effect of the platform.  Language Learning & Technology Language Learning & Technology 14(2), 95-110.  Retrieved from

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

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

Thorne, S. (2003).  Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication.  Language Learning & Technology 7(2), 38-67.  Retrieved from

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

Start with an Appetizer

This exercise is predicated on the integration and application of technology as a learning tool. However, for my freshman FYW students, I find that their access and knowledge of technology is very limited, and I don’t have the proper technology in the classroom to demonstrate and allow them to practice this method. However, the key idea behind this assignment idea is good and can provide instructors with ways to introduce tiny chunks of course concepts in such a way that student’s are able to test out what they know, what they need to know, and get peer-feedback in a low-stakes activity.


For those of us who teaching writing, it seems to me that freewriting prompts on particular topics that students will be covering in their former essays is a great way to start them off with an “appetizer.” You could break essay assignments into three or more in-class writing prompts that asks them to freewrite on their

  • claim (what is your claim? what assertion or idea are you arguing for? what position have you taken to argue this claim? what issue do you want to bring to your audience’s attention? Is this a claim of fact, value, policy?;
  • the next one on the evidence they might use to support the claim (what is your personal experience with this issue? what is open to dispute? how will you support your argument? what counterarguments might you address? what types of evidence would best support your claim?;
  • the third on audience (what do people already know about this? what don’t they know? what groups would be most interested in this issue? what do you want your audience to do, think, or feel as a result of reading your essay?);

Once they’ve completed a freewrite, they would discuss their choices and strategies in small groups before applying their ideas to their essay. These steps will give them writing that can be formalized in their essay, gives them in-class writing time, and allow them to discuss their choices with their peers before committing them to paper. I like this idea especially because I find that once a student writes down an idea or takes a stand in their essay, they are loathe to change it. Positioning freewriting prompts around elements of an essay has them test out ideas before fully writing them, get feedback, and then leaves them with the core components of their formal piece. Worth trying!

How Teachers Are Turning to Social Media to Extend Learning

[Reblog from Education Week; original story written by Laura Heinauer Mellett on September 18, 2013 9:57 AM]

“Social media is one of the trendiest ways teachers are enhancing lessons and engaging students both in and out of the classroom.

With just a smartphone, iPad, laptop, or a home computer, social media can improve teaching and extend learning time in a way students get excited about. Through social media, students can log on any time or any place to do their work, allowing more interaction beyond the school day. It’s also something, when harnessed creatively and effectively, that students enjoy doing, which increases the chances they will spend more time engaged in their work.”

Read more…

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