If a group of malicious social scientists were designing a societal petri dish to create mental health challenges, they would be hard pressed to come up with anything more effective than the US higher education system. For starters, consider the timing: students traditionally embark on their college experience during the very period in life when most mental health challenges initially manifest themselves, with nearly 75 percent of lifelong mental health challenges emerging by the midtwenties.
On top of that, many college students leave home and their established networks of support, often for the first time. Such disruption might unsettle the most emotionally seasoned among us, let alone eighteen-year-olds. “The college years are a period of often intense anxiety about belonging: Do I fit in?” observes Paul Tough in The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. “Can people like me feel at home here?”Read More »
West Virginia University Press is pleased to announce the publication of Picture a Professor, the latest book in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This excerpt is from the introduction by volume editor Jessamyn Neuhaus.
Look! Up at the lectern!
Is it a teacher? Is it an educator? No, it’s . . . Super Professor!
More charismatic than a Hollywood heartthrob! Able to win over the most reluctant, resistant student with a single quip or impactful PowerPoint slide!
During class, Super Professor delivers Oscar-worthy performances, scribbling formulas theatrically on a chalkboard or eloquently reciting lyric poetry to entranced students agog at the expertise on display. Super Professor always lectures brilliantly and entertainingly, effortlessly elucidating the most obscure subject. Students hang on Super Professor’s every spellbinding word, laughing at each joke and painlessly absorbing difficult academic material simply by listening to Super Professor talk about it. Students are routinely so overcome by admiration for Super Professor’s lectures that they spontaneously burst into applause.
Super Professor appears over and over again on our TV and movie screens, quite wrongly depicting learning as a purely top-down activity whereby knowledge is simply poured into students’ heads by an irrefutable expert. He’s also usually an able-bodied, cisgendered, heterosexual White man. In this way, popular culture reflects and reinforces the myriad of political, social, and cultural discourses that gender intellectual authority as male and support what Resmaa Menakem terms “white-body supremacy” by racializing knowledge and expertise as White. Socialized and enculturated by this imagery, all too often, Super Professor is who we think of when we picture a professor.Read More »
We met in a cramped conference room with a group of ten colleagues in a faculty learning community hosted by the teaching and learning center on our campus. One of our assignments was to observe each other teaching and then meet to discuss our pedagogy. Debriefing over coffee, we immediately identified many ideas we held in common: we were both feeling dissatisfied with aspects of our courses and we felt frustrated that being a funny, dynamic lecturer seemed to be the definition of effective teaching by students and colleagues. We didn’t see how an instructor’s personality equated to effective learning. Discovering we were both introverts, we affirmed each other’s thoughts that deep learning by students shouldn’t require us to become people we are not. We had discussions about what pedagogical strategies better fit our personalities and the intended student outcomes. If only Jessamyn Neuhaus, author of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers, had published her book earlier, we surely would have added it to the reading list for the faculty learning community. In her book, Neuhaus takes exception to “any hint of a suggestion that effective teaching requires a specific kind of innate personality quality or emotional state, rather than being a set of skills, attitudes, actions, abilities, and a reflective, intellectual approach that can be learned, applied, and improved with effort by anyone who wants to be an effective teacher.”
Frustration and introversion were not our only commonalities. Like so many instructors in higher education, neither of us had much pedagogy training in our graduate programs. Early in our careers, teaching workshops and education-based literature made big impressions on our development. Both scientists by training, we approached making changes to our courses through a scientific and data-driven lens. We believed that we could continually improve our abilities with teaching, a belief Carol Dweck defines as a growth mind-set. We assumed then, and still today, that effective teaching is a challenge that requires hard work, intent, practice, mistakes, reflection, and iteration. It was never a problem for us to admit to ourselves and each other when we faced challenges in our own teaching. Often, the first step to making change is to recognize that a problem exists. Because of our mind-sets and generally optimistic, change-maker attitudes, we embraced our teaching challenges and set out to overcome them.Read More »
In a book written directly for graduate students that includes graduate student voices and experiences, Aeron Haynie and Stephanie Spong establish why good teaching matters and offer a guide to helping instructors-in-training create inclusive and welcoming classrooms. We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Teaching Matters, new in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.
Just as it’s tempting to teach the way you were taught, your graduate professors may be preparing you for the research jobs they have, jobs that don’t necessarily emphasize teaching. If they advise you to place research first, they are giving you the strategies that worked well for them. However, most graduate students will not follow that path. According to the Digest of Educational Statistics, less than one-third of those instructors who have secured full-time positions work at research universities. Many fields in the humanities, such as history, are facing record low numbers of tenure track positions and fewer than 20% of those positions are at R1 institutions. Whereas it may be your goal to become a professor at a research university, most full-time academic positions are ones that value sound teaching—in different ways and with different corresponding research expectations. For example, positions at select small liberal arts colleges expect active research agendas, good teaching, and student advisement and mentoring. Regional comprehensives are similar but may allow some latitude in where and what one publishes. Community colleges have heavy teaching loads and don’t require publications, though some community college teachers publish, nonetheless.
Research universities, too, are becoming increasingly concerned with undergraduate retention and graduation rates, which are significantly influenced by the quality of undergraduate teaching. The mode of your teaching may also be quite different than your graduate professors have experienced. Even before the 2020–2021 COVID-19 health crisis, colleges and universities were very interested in growing ranks of online faculty who could develop flexible programs to increase enrollment without incurring the additional cost of expanding physical classroom spaces. However the current global health crisis resolves, online teaching will remain an increasingly important part of higher education. Teaching may also be where you find the greatest professional satisfaction. In a survey of more than 1,000 tenured and nontenured faculty across institutional types, the aspect of the job that garnered the most satisfied responses was “teaching students” at 91% with a close second in “mentoring students or junior faculty” at 87%; “conducting research” came in at only 68%.Read More »
Starting from new research on the body—aptly summarized as “sitting is the new smoking”—Minding Bodies aims to help instructors improve their students’ knowledge and skills through physical movement, attention to the spatial environment, and sensitivity to humans as more than “brains on sticks.” Susan Hrach’s book, excerpted here, is the latest title in WVU Press’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by James Lang and Michelle Miller. It ships now when ordered from our site.
What if faculty members required students to sign the following waiver prior to enrollment in a traditional college course?
I understand that over the next 15 weeks, this course will require me to remain seated in class for 37.5 hours, plus an anticipated requirement of 75 hours for homework, to total an anticipated 112.5 hours. Sitting for this length of time has been linked to the following adverse health outcomes, for which I will not hold responsible the instructor or the institution: anxiety, depression, heart disease, breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and back pain.
It may seem unfair to link these conditions directly to taking a single college course. These ailments are linked to sets of other complex factors and may only develop over decades, but the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” feels like an important twenty-first-century reckoning. The widely discussed and unanticipated epidemic of mental illness on campuses coincides with increased sedentary habits and time spent indoors, behind electronic screens. The vaunted human brain is turning out, as neuroscience probes it, to have some evolutionary vulnerabilities that can work against our well-being. We cannot deny our distance from the evolutionary physical conditions that shaped our embodied brains’ expectations for continual daily movement, a natural and varied diet, and sleep patterns regulated by natural light. Our embodied brains are crying for help in “the age of the chair,” as British author and academic Vybarr Cregan-Reid has termed it. In the course of writing a book about how bodies impact learning, it’s been impossible for me to ignore the implications of bodily health. I aim to bring the body into focus with an inclusive vision of wellness in the college classroom for bodies of all types and abilities.Read More »
I hope this message finds you well, and that the coming of spring and vaccines means we can all find reason to be hopeful about the future. I write with some exciting news about the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education series from West Virginia University Press.
For the past couple of years WVU Press director Derek Krissoff and I have been thinking about adding a coeditor to the series. With close to a dozen books published now, and approximately that many in the pipeline, the workload has really grown too much for me to handle on my own. More importantly, we wanted to expand the vision of the series by engaging a series coeditor who could balance out some of my experiences and interests, but who would still have the same passion for what I view as the primary strength of our series: excellent writing. When the manuscript for Michelle Miller’s new book came in a couple of months ago, and I sat down to read it, I was floored both by the elegance of the writing and by Michelle’s ability to digest complex areas of research into accessible recommendations for college faculty. I realized too that Michelle’s background in cognitive psychology, and her work with diverse student populations at Northern Arizona University, would provide some important balance to my own background teaching English at a liberal arts institution in New England. Derek and I agreed that she would be our ideal coeditor for the series, and she has happily accepted our invitation.Read More »
After years—literally, years—of advocating, negotiating, and campus-politicking, each of us got some exciting news this spring: we were appointed director of our colleges’ small teaching and learning center. In Cyndi’s case, the position came concurrently with the creation of the center itself, while Jessamyn assumed leadership of a center sorely in need of revitalization.
At last, here was the professional opportunity for which we’d worked so hard! Passionate about teaching and learning and about the scholarship of teaching and learning, we relished the chance to facilitate educational development efforts with our faculty.
Humans, in recent memory, invented a way of looking at students’ learning. We in the United States call it grading; in Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, they distinguish between marking on particular assignments and final grading. Though grading seems natural, inevitable, a part of the very fabric of school, it isn’t. It was created at a certain moment, for certain reasons not entirely well thought out, and then became embedded in the structures of schools for most students.
But because we invented it, we can uninvent it. We can remove it.
Kevin Gannon will launch his book Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto at West Virginia University on April 1. Here we share a conversation with Gannon conducted by Jeremy Wang-Iverson of Vesto PR. [Edit: The IRL book launch has been postponed, but watch for details on a virtual event.]
Why did you decide to write this book now?
I’ve had this book in me for quite a while, to be honest. It’s the product of about 20 years of teaching in higher education, as well as my own journey as a student (in the heady days before the internet was a thing, thankfully). But in the last few years, it became less a matter of “hey, I might write something,” to “hey, I need to write something.” The manifesto had its origins in a blog post I wrote in the summer of 2016, and it resonated with enough people that I was encouraged to turn it into a book. Writing a book on hope has been . . . a journey, in these last few years, that’s for sure.
How has your experience teaching at a small, teaching-focused institution like Grand View University shaped your views on pedagogy and higher education?
So often our public conversations about higher ed are shaped by a handful of folks at elite institutions (educational or otherwise) who work with a pretty narrow subset of students, and do that work much more sporadically and infrequently than someone at a “teaching university.” Yet those of us at the schools with 4-4 (or higher) class loads, as opposed to the 1-1 or 2-2 at R1 and Ivy League schools, are by far the majority of practitioners in this space, and our experiences and perspectives are often quite different from the ill-informed caricatures we see from the scolds in the op-ed pages of the New York Times, for example. Schools like mine—small, under-resourced, access-oriented, student-focused—are where the real work of higher education often takes place, and this environment has profoundly shaped the way I look at teaching, learning, and higher ed at large. We don’t have a lot of 4.0 academic superstars applying for admission, but we do have students who come out of a variety of experiences and have overcome a lot of obstacles to join our academic community. And these are the students who push me to be a better teacher every day.Read More »
Kevin Gannon’sRadical Hope, new in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, is shipping now when ordered from our website. Here we share an excerpt from the book, which Gannon will launch officially at West Virginia University on April 1.
In August 2017, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saw a range of white supremacist, alt-right, and neo-Nazi groups converge on the town, ostensibly to protest the removal of Confederate monuments. The rally’s true purpose, however, was racist fear-mongering and violence. The night before the rally, a throng of white men carrying tiki torches and shouting such slogans as “Jews will not replace us” wound its way through the University of Virginia’s grounds. The rally itself was marked by dozens of attacks instigated by the alt-right and white nationalist groups, including the severe beating of an African American man in a nearby parking garage as well as the death of one counterprotester (and injury of several more) when a white supremacist sped his car through a crowd of antiracist demonstrators. One of the most emblematic images from this orgy of hate and violence was a close-up photograph of a rank of the tiki-torch marchers, in the center of which walked a young man wearing a polo shirt with the logo of the white nationalist group “Identity Europa,” face contorted in anger while screaming whatever slogan the marchers happened to be proclaiming at that moment. Social media users quickly identified him as a current student at the University of Nevada–Reno. Within days, other college students at the rally were identified on social media, including the president of Washington State University’s College Republicans. In the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville, these institutions struggled mightily with both the backlash against these students and fallout within their campus communities. Lost in the immediate hubbub over whether those students would be allowed to graduate or if they could even be safely enrolled in classes with students of color, however, was any reckoning with the fundamental question at issue here: are these the ends we seek in higher education? To put it bluntly, is it possible for a learner to both successfully move through the academic and intellectual spaces of a college or university and march in support of violent white nationalism?