Why Ungrade?: An excerpt from Susan D. Blum’s forthcoming book Ungrading

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With universities pivoting quickly to online instruction in response to public health concerns, many teachers are considering new approaches to grading, including the prospect of ungrading—the topic of Susan D. Blum’s forthcoming edited volume in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Here we share an excerpt from the introduction to her book Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead).

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.

And many of us believe we should.Read More »

“If we surrender to cynicism, we abandon the allies and tools with which we can make things better”: An interview with Kevin Gannon

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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 »

The ends we seek in higher education: An excerpt from Kevin Gannon’s Radical Hope

Kevin Gannon’s Radical 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?

And if it’s possible, should it be?Read More »

Nerd alert! Reflections on quoting geek culture in Geeky Pedagogy

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Jessamyn Neuhaus is a professor of US history and popular culture at SUNY Plattsburgh, a scholar of teaching and learning, and a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her book Geeky Pedagogy is new in WVU Press’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

When I first began thinking about writing a book on teaching and learning in higher education, I knew who I most wanted to reach: geeks, introverts, and nerds (GINs) like me—the eggheads and experts who are fluent in studying, pondering, thinking, and researching but for whom teaching effectively doesn’t come naturally or easily. As I state in the introduction of Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers: “Emulating other writers and commentators today who are proudly self-identifying as geeks and nerds, expanding the definition of geek culture, and challenging negative stereotypes about nerds, I use ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ as an occasionally self-deprecating, but also affirming and celebratory way of describing certain characteristics we in higher education often share and which have an impact on teaching” (3). Because I am a professor and lifelong consumer of popular culture, I leapt at the chance to pay homage in the book and chapter epigraphs to my favorite geeky books, movies, and entertainment franchises. In this post, I reflect on a few of these geek culture touchstones.

“Grade me. Look at me! Evaluate and rank me. Oh, I’m good, good, good, and ohso smart! Grade me!!!!” –Lisa Simpson, “The PTA Disbands,” The Simpsons

Lisa Simpson is one of the most widely viewed popular depictions of a nerd. In “The PTA Disbands,” a teacher’s strike cancels classes and soon brainy, straight-A student Lisa goes into academic withdrawal. I chose this quote for Geeky Pedagogy’s book epigraph in part because I love that one of pop culture’s most famous nerds of all time is a socially awkward little girl who (most of the time) finds enormous satisfaction in her intellectual prowess. Additionally, in the book I argue that many super-smart people teaching college classes started out as students like Lisa, which makes us great scholars but can hamper our teaching efficacy, since most people don’t especially love school and especially dislike being graded. In Geeky Pedagogy, I explore how awareness of and preparing to bridge this potential gulf between GIN professors and our students is essential for effective teaching, and it can start with acknowledging all the traits we may very well share with little bookworms and brainiacs like Lisa Simpson.Read More »

How do you grade a poem? An excerpt from Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts

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Meaningful Grading: A Guide for Faculty in the Arts, by Natasha Haugnes, Hoag Holmgren, and Martin Springborg, was published this summer by WVU Press. Written as a guide for postsecondary arts instructors in all stages of their careers, the book addresses issues of perennial importance in all arts disciplines.

These are the three main questions that drive Meaningful Grading

  • How can faculty in the arts grade student work in ways that improve learning and support artistic  development? 
  • What does effective grading in the arts look like?
  • How can faculty in the arts develop and  improve their teaching and grading over the course of their careers?

The contents are written in tip form, and arranged to mirror the flow of an academic semester, so that information can be located and implemented quickly and easily. Here we share an excerpt from the section “During the Semester.”Read More »

Author gallery: Meet the experts in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

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Authors in WVU Press’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by James M. Lang, have given successful talks and workshops around the world and are available for a variety of programming on topics ranging from small teaching interventions to universal design to neuroscience. When you bring a WVU Press author to your campus or conference, we’ll work with you to get books in the hands of your audience or participants; we offer bulk discounts for all-conference reads, faculty reading groups, or even just a few books for raffle prizes. Contact Derek Krissoff for details, and get to know our authors below.

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Series editor James M. Lang is a professor of English and the director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. He is the author of five books, the most recent of which are Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016), Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Harvard, 2013), and On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Harvard, 2008). He is coeditor of Teaching the Literature Survey Course, published by WVU Press, and his next book, Teaching Distracted Minds, will be published by Basic Books in the fall of 2020. Lang writes a monthly column on teaching and learning for The Chronicle of Higher Education; his work has been appearing in the Chronicle since 1999. His book reviews and public scholarship on higher education have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Time. He has conducted workshops on teaching for faculty at more than a hundred colleges or universities in the US and abroad.  In September of 2016 he received a Fulbright Specialist grant to work with three universities in Colombia on the creation of a MOOC on teaching and learning in STEM education. He has a BA in English and philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, an MA in English from St. Louis University, and a Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University.Read More »

Shallow learning? The promises and perils of the literature survey course

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James M. Lang edits WVU Press’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and is also coeditor of the latest series book, Teaching the Literature Survey CourseWith a new semester and the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association both on the near horizon, Jim agreed to share a version of the book’s introduction.

When I was an undergraduate in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I took the three literature survey courses that were required of all English majors at my university, and that remain a staple feature of English majors today: two surveys of British literature, divided somewhere between the Restoration and Romantic periods, and one survey of American literature. All proceeded as usual throughout the American and early British surveys, but early in the semester some tragedy befell the professor of the second half of the British literature survey, and the university had to scramble to find a replacement for him to allow the course to continue. The faculty member who took over the course was a political scientist. As an undergraduate, I had no glimpse into whatever internal processes led to this outcome, which now strikes me as exceedingly strange, especially given that this was a moderate-sized research university, which likely had plenty of graduate students and adjuncts on the English Department roster already.Read More »