Posts Tagged ‘ teach ’

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:

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:

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…

Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literacy Practice

Note: Link opens as a PDF.

This new research article explores how Twitter, and other social media technologies, contributes to new and traditional literacy practices. It offers models of using Twitter as a learning tool, explores how Twitter is used by students and peers, and offers new suggestions for continuing research.

Experiments in Creative Approaches to Science Education

Experiments in Creative Approaches to Science Education,

by Mika Munakata and Ashwin Vaidya

By Dr. Mika Munakata, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montclair State University
and Dr. Ashwin Vaidya, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montclair State University

“Newton’s second law of motion states…”

In reconsidering the effectiveness of this typical script in any beginning physics course, it strikes us that while the standard method of conveying scientific information may work for the scientifically gifted and motivated student, it leaves behind the majority of the already scientifically alienated. Presenting a discipline such as physics as something external to oneself is therefore akin to alienating oneself from nature. Our understanding and description of nature is intricately tied to our experiences and sensations of the world around us; the Descartian approach of reducing nature to a set of mental rules, while powerful, is insufficient as a pedagogical tool. Along with a recounting of the historical reconstruction of scientific laws, students would benefit from (re)creating science. The rest of this article describes some of our experiments along these lines.

Students’ perception of creativity and science

Not so long ago, we administered a survey to over 200 MSU undergraduate and master’s science and mathematics students (Munakata and Vaidya, 2012). The aim of the survey was to assess students’ perceptions of the role of creativity in the sciences. The questionnaire, using a Likert- scale measurement from 1 to 5, asked students to indicate the degree to which various disciplines encouraged creativity.

Figure 1: Creativity ratings for different disciplines by CSAM students

Figure 1: Creativity ratings for different disciplines by CSAM students

It first asked students to describe the most creative activity they have been engaged in and to compare various disciplines, events and skills against their standard of creativity. Our data (Figure 1) revealed that even among science and mathematics students, arts-related disciplines were deemed to be more creative than sciences. Further, among the science disciplines, those that were more applied (medicine, engineering, physics) were rated as being more creative than the theory-based disciplines. The somewhat favorable ratings received by these scientific disciplines may not be random or coincidental; several of the students taking the survey were aspiring medical students and enrolled in a physics course taught by one of the authors . These results were also confirmed by other sections of the survey that asked students to describe the most creative activity they have engaged in. The results clearly illustrate the perception that creativity does not play a role in scientific and mathematical endeavors.

Though the results of this survey are not surprising, they are nevertheless disturbing to the science educator and pose a challenge for those of us who encourage our students to be innovative and try to equip them with the tools necessary towards this accomplishment. If we strive to engage students in science in the same way that a scientist approaches it—that is, creatively— it is imperative that we expose students to opportunities to engage in the creative process early on during their education. This is not so easy. Unfortunately, creativity and imagination are seldom emphasized in STEM learning (NRC, 2005) with rote and dry instructional practices often leading to students dropping out of STEM fields (Goldberg, 2008). By and large, students, especially in introductory courses, are taught by lecture and their laboratory experiments are usually predetermined. This may be the case in other disciplines as well.

Some institutions have made a deliberate attempt at revamping their curricula; traditional lecture-style teaching has been replaced by inquiry-based teaching, often encouraging students to fully engage in the scientific process . Others have proposed refocusing introductory science courses to reflect two aims: promote conceptual understanding and showcase the process of scientific inquiry (Meinwald & Hildebrand, 2011). These aims can be achieved by making courses student-centered and encouraging exploration and dialogue (see DeHaan (11)). Yet another way we propose is to engage STEM students in activities that merge science with creativity.

The Art of Science experiments

The Art of Science Project: We recently initiated an experiment in our classroom with the help of a grant from the American Physical Society. The project, which began in the fall of 2012, involves undergraduate physics and arts students in the exploration and development of a hand crank camera and in the subsequent production of sustainability-themed short movies . This innovative activity, or performance, will capitalize on the public’s passion for movies. The moving image occupies an increasingly demanding place in contemporary life.

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

The amount of energy spent on both the production and consumption of media nowadays is enormous; cinema itself, however, was born of modest mechanical means. Just over a century ago, hand- cranked cameras and bioscopes harnessed human energy to present the visual illusions that still hold our attentions today. This project is a collaboration between the disciplines of physics and art at MSU and is being conducted with the collaboration of faculty and artists from across and outside the campus with the hope of bringing the playful side of science to the forefront of the student consciousness. The project is being conducted in three distinct phases:

  • Development of new technology: In the fall of 2012, physics students from an upper- level course worked together to investigate the mechanics of a working hand-crank video camera as a special project in MSU’s “Classical Mechanics” (Physics 210). The exercise involved discussions about energy generation, the conversion of mechanical to electrical energy and sustainable energy practices . In the laboratory, we took apart hand-crank units, analyzed their parts and worked on putting together one of our own (see figure 2).
  • The second part of the technical project, which is currently underway with the help of students from the physics club, involves the development of a bicycle-powered generator. Power generated by operating the bicycles will be stored in the generator for later use in projecting. With the assistance of a visiting artist, Anuj Vaidya, students from MSU’s art department will soon begin to work with the physics students to create a series of short videos that explore issues of ecology and sustainability. They will use the hand-crank cameras to record images for their work. In addition to these images, students will be able to use recycled sounds and images to complete their short pieces.
  • The culminating event for the Art of Making Science project will be an exhibition and workshop held on the campus and open to the public. The physics and art students will present their product (both the machinery and the movie) to students and faculty during a special presentation at the 4th Annual University Teaching and Learning Showcase event, sponsored by the Research Academy.
Photo credit Anthony DeStefano, 2012.

Photo credit Anthony DeStefano, 2012.

The RAUL Showcase will also feature the Physics and Art exhibition which we initiated as an experiment in informal education to have students see the ubiquity and beauty of science. The exhibition showcases students’ photographs on any theme but with an aesthetic eye.

Students from CSAM are asked to submit photographs and to identify and elaborate on the science behind the art . These are mounted on posters and showcased during the exhibition. In all, more than 100 photographs have been submitted to date. Each year, a group of faculty from CSAM and CART award prizes to three student photographers.

The idea behind the events of the day are twofold: the art exhibition which is student- oriented gives the students a chance to participate in an art-science creation and get the audience in the right frame of mind to discuss the deep connections between art and science, and to reveal the sciences as a very creative enterprise. In the true sense of creativity, these events provide the opportunity for students to shift their paradigms about the nature of science learning. More often than not, we found the students pleasantly surprised to find physics hidden in the pictures that they took.

Photo credit Ashley LaRose, 2012.

Photo credit Ashley LaRose, 2012.

Reactions to these events:

We are in the process of assessing the impact of these events on students’ perceptions of the role of creativity in the sciences. Our hope is to distinguish the effective elements of these types of activities to share with STEM colleagues.

Conversations and the general public mood during the physics and art event clearly indicated excitement over the photographs and appreciation for the theme of the day.

Students in the upper level physics class were asked for reflections on their experiences with the Art of Making Science project and their classroom experience. Students recognized that the structure of the course was different from the typical day-long science laboratory exercises. They commented that the ongoing nature of the project provided incentive to prepare between class meetings and also stated that as opposed to the question-and-answer structure that is common in other classes, this class was open-ended and allowed for the student to ask their own questions and to try to formulate answers to them. One student saw this as good preparation for science after graduation, when textbooks won’t be available to provide answers.

Students also enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the project . They learned how to work on their own piece of the project while keeping the big picture of the group project in mind. Teamwork allowed them to combine their knowledge and to share ideas . For example, some in the group were “better with their hands” while others had “deeper theoretical knowledge .” Although some alluded to different starting points within the group, groups were able to find their rhythm and learn to communicate efficiently and effectively. Students enjoyed that they got to know each other well due to the focused time they spent outside of class.

The importance of such experiments and informal events cannot be underestimated. They can be extremely beneficial in conveying essential ideas which might be difficult in the traditional classroom due to pressures associated with grades. Additionally, even the elementary mathematical treatments of topics in physics is seen by many students as being very burdensome due to previously instilled fears about mathematics and science. Our experiments have proved to be a revelation to students and faculty alike; it has allowed us to provide a forum where talking about science and creating science are both possible and equally valued . It has allowed students to see that science and in fact, even art, are not created in isolation; there is a strong tie between them that often goes unnoticed . In becoming comfortable with failure, we have given ourselves a greater chance of success. The roots of the notion of creativity lie in creation, after all, and our collective consciousness have been shaped by our students’ creation. As our project races to completion with the creation of the short film, we look forward to more shifts in our thinking of what science or art really mean. We invite you to join us for the culmination of this experience on May 3.


DeHaan, R. L. (2005). The impending revolution in undergraduate science education. Journal of Sci. Educ. and Tech., 14(2), 253-269.

Meinwald, J. & Hildebrand, J. G. (2010). Introduction. In J. Meinwald & J. G. Hildebrand (Eds .), Science and the educated American: A core component of liberal education (pp. 1-8). Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Munakata, M. and Vaidya, A. (2012) . Encouraging Creativity in Mathematics and Science Through Photography. Teaching Mathematics and its Applications. 31(3). 121-132.

Goldberg, D. E. (2008). Last word: Bury the Cold War curriculum. ASEE PRISM, 17(8).

National Research Council. (2005). S. Donovan & J. Bransford (Eds .) . How students learn: History, mathematics, and science in the classroom. Washington, D .C .: National Academies Press.

Performing Arts as Pedagogy, by Christopher Parker

Performing Arts as Pedagogy

by Christopher Parker

Dog Days Peak Performances

Lauren Worsham in Dog Days (photo by James Matthew Daniel).

Part of my Classical Mythology course requires students to attend a live dramatic or artistic performance. Not only are my students benefitting from the rich mythology themes often present in live performance, but most theater offerings and arts performances are rich with conceptual undertones of psychology, language, literature, physics, biology, technology, history, religion, philosophy and mathematics. I think it is clear how psychology, language and literature are present in drama. It takes a deeper analysis, but one can analyze performances for the elements of physics in narrative—such as I demonstrate in some of the examples below—as well as the actual physical science used in choreography, sound and special effects . Performing arts allow for analyzing biology, not only for performances that incorporate biology in the narrative, but by scrutiny of the bodies of the dancers, musicians and actors as well as in the imagery present in scrims. Math is present in the meter of poetry (cf. Birken, M., Coon, A. C. (2008). Discovering patterns in mathematics and poetry. Amsterdam, New York: Rondopi). Religion and philosophy are there in story, imagery and conversation. Of course there are more connections . Furthermore, preparation for attending performing arts, and discussions about them, assist in developing skills for critical thinking, writing, philosophical inquiry and reasoning.

That is why each semester my syllabus includes attendance at a performing arts piece on campus, hopefully together as a class. At Montclair State, student attendance is free because it is included in the their activities fees.

To select a show and time for each course per semester, I begin by researching upcoming offerings with the staff and curators in the Office of Arts and Cultural Programming (ACP) at Montclair State. The ACP often schedules these performances in collaboration with the departments of music, and theatre and dance, and help me arrange for conversations between my students and the artists. Then, once a show is selected for its relevance to my course material and appropriate timing, we fine-tune our collective attendance at the show.

First, timing: The exam period at the end of the semester usually means reduced attendance. The day before spring break doesn’t always work well either. So experience has shown that the best time to schedule performance attendance is early in the semester. Once we pick a good week we discuss, in class, the best night to attend the performance for the majority of students. Those students who may not be able to come with the rest of the class are invited to go on their own, another night . For a few, it may be impossible to see the chosen show at all, so they are advised to attend a different show. I may make some suggestions for other options currently available, and, for those who do not meet the performance requirement, I meet with them individually to discuss any conflicts.

Event poster, Kiss of the Spider Woman. Peak Performances, Montclair State University

Event poster, Kiss of the Spider Woman. Peak Performances, Montclair State University

Students are told that they will be writing a review of the event as well as developing questions for discussion with the people responsible for the performance (directors, performing artists, producers, etc.). We also may read some of the original sources of the theater piece. The syllabus clearly articulates the expected participation in live performances, and lays out what students can expect tied to the course learning goals.

Examples of Campus Arts and Cultural Programming

Most recently, two of my Mythology classes attended On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God, from the Italian company Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio. More than 60 Mythology students from two classes were given the opportunity to meet with the director, Romeo Castellucci, earlier in the day of our chosen showtime. Then, directly before the performance, all my students and other guests were invited to a pre-show conversation with scholar Annalisa Sacchi, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University. This helped us to pre- prepare by understanding the context of the creation of the show and a scholarly approach to analyzing its meaning. These pre-show experiences develop an entire aesthetic: intellectual, international and historical context within which students could then absorb the experience of the performance.

Other examples of performances have been:

Sweeney Todd, which features a classic tragic hero;

1001, a re-creation of One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of myths and folk legends from Arabian antiquity;

Prometheus–Landscape 2, a wild modern interpretation of the behaviors and personalities of the Greek gods;

Trojan Women, directly applicable to our course work, and performed using several languages (subtitled in English);

Kiss of the Spider Woman, linked to the myth of Arachne and the archetype of the classic Greek tragic hero;

But, while we were lucky to have such relevant performance pieces to choose from —directly tied to classical mythology—not all arts events are classic theater.

For instance, one semester a dance event coproduced by Peak Performances and Liz Lerman, called The Matter of Origins, told an interpretative story of the Manhattan Project and the development of the nuclear bomb. To connect more modern narratives with classical mythology, we explored the connections between this dance and the story of Prometheus, the end of the world and other deities of war and conflict. Act Two invited the audience on stage for conversation, inquiry, food and art at tables hosted by “provocateurs,” which was reminiscent of the Greek Chorus, representing people from the community . Insula, a dance-media-music-theater piece developed through the Department of Theatre and Dance, was conceived through collaboration with Artist-in-Residence Kari Margolis and MSU BFA students . Insula was rich with connections to Greek and Roman mythology from Odysseus to the apartment complexes of ancient Rome called “insula.”

We were able to experience Polynesian mythology through the narrative and hula presentation of Na Kinimakalehua, a Hawaiian company of hula artists. The company provided a study guide on Polynesian mythology that accompanied the hula performance. It is always useful to connect Greek mythology and its archetypes to other cultural or ethnic mythology and how they are, in fact, related by similar archetypes.

Pedagogy of Arts and Cultural Programming and the Class Subject Matter

The Review: A week before any performance I will give a workshop on how to write a play review. I am a regular reader of the arts critics of The New York Times and other newspaper’s theater critics, and over the years I have developed a basic format for how to structure a theater review. I give these format directions to the students and we read aloud a very recent theater review from a newspaper. We analyze the correlation between a recent review and our basic format . Reviews on the Internet tend to be different in style. And even though the Internet form of writing contributes a different style and format from more old-fashioned newspaper theater critiques, I find the print format works best for the objectives of this assignment: assisting in better perception of the entire performance in relation to the pre-defined objectives that writing a review calls for; understanding the creative process and how art is conceived; developing critical thinking; attentively addressing source information correctly and making knowledgeable and researched connections of the show to themes in classical mythology.

Peak Performances presents Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project performing "Quintett (1993) choreography by William Forsythe at Montclair State University, New Jersey. Credit: Stephanie Berger

Peak Performances presents Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project performing “Quintett (1993) choreography by William Forsythe
at Montclair State University, New Jersey.
Credit: Stephanie Berger

Communities of Inquiry: Conversations with the production professionals for On the Concept of the Face were readily available during their time on campus, but this is not always the case . It takes effort to bring together actors, directors and a dramaturge to discuss meaning behind a theater piece . The ACP helps me every semester by organizing and arranging schedules so students have access to the artists. I always try to arrange these talks for students so that not only is mythology suggestively brought before them in performance by people of their time or even their peers, but that real conversations of meaning and intent can occur .

To first-year students, such conversations and the ability to develop rich inquiry may not be immediate and natural . So I prepare students in multiple ways: before meeting the production artists, we hold a workshop on how to ask good questions—that go beyond questions such as “when did you start acting?”—to get deeper answers, and we practice identifying where we find classical mythology in the modern day. We explore the Greek poets, their forms and narratives . Then, for example, when poet Tracy Smith was at Montclair State, we reach an inquiry level like this:

I read in your poem “My God, Its Filled with Stars,” what appeared to me to be strong links to mythology (however you look at that). You seem to carry the mythology from what appears to be Gaea, though you don’t use that name in the poem, to the Odyssey, which of course is in the references you make to 2001 a Space Odyssey and then the follow up story of 2010 a Space Odyssey. You must think myth still works in poetry. Do you? And why do you evoke the ancient gods, does your father’s affiliation with Hubble bring in any revelations for you from the divine, at least metaphorically?

The point here is for us to experience the presence of ancient myth, or almost any class topic, through the artists of our time. In this way concepts cease to be old stories in old books and something we live now. I ask the students to embrace this and recognize it and learn better by actually experiencing mythology in the world of successful and talented artists, including their peers.

But learning and practicing critical questioning takes some consideration and thought. We evoke these thoughts in small communities of inquiry with the goal of developing a pool of questions to ask our artists. We experiment with Socratic questioning, and its relationship to Greek mythology and other Greek philosophers and their methods of examining knowledge. Each small team then assigns one or two members to actually present their questions during our conversations with the artists.

Original Sources: In many cases, we will review the original sources from which theater has emerged, such as the short story “Dog Days” which inspired the creation of a new opera piece co-produced at Montclair State, also called Dog Days. Dog Days is apocalyptic, which is a common theme in Greek and other mythologies . The show also explores the animal in the man and the feminine power of the heroine . Reading the short story that inspired the opera helped us develop valuable questions for the librettist and director, understand the narrative of the opera, and the meaning of the musical score itself.

My more than 10 years of experience working with artists on campus has enriched my pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. Infusing my courses with live performance experiences gives students a chance to find the relevance to the classical archetypes, evokes an enthusiastic desire for philosophical inquiry and critical thinking, builds (literally) critical writing skills, gives practical useful reasons for research on mythology or any subject, fosters public inquiry and speaking, and enriches the connection of the modern aesthetic with the literature of the past.

About the Author:

Christopher Parker teaches Mythology in the Classics and General Humanities department at Montclair State University and is also a poet and poet-in-the-schools with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Columbia University and is completing an EdD in pedagogy and philosophy at Montclair State.

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