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The first full week of August typically comes with the realization that summer is waning, syllabi must be written, and the school year will be here soon. That is where I find myself this muggy Monday morning as I write this.

Most years there is also excitement about the new year starting. I am always much more excited about the "new year" in August/September than in January. I guess this is because my entire life has been dictated by an academic calendar, both as a student in school for oh-so-many years and as a professor for over 20.

But this year I feel a lot of trepidation, nervousness, and even some anxiety. There have been a lot of structural changes at my institution. Higher Education is going through some very difficult times as an industry and needs to change in very fundamental ways (and, as an industry, really doesn't like to change very much). I find myself feeling like I am standing on shifting sands because of these tumultuous times. And I'm not even talking here about the political world in which we find ourselves.

While I am still working on some writing (and likely will be until my first class meets in person on August 28), I find myself more and more looking to reconnect with students. Doing so always helps to ground me. One texted me last night about changing his major, and could I help him figure out the best first class in that major to take. (That major is not in my department, by the way). Another asked to talk to me on the phone last week because he broke up with his girlfriend and had a new idea for a business venture and he wanted my opinion. The football team will report for camp this coming Saturday and a week from today I plan to see them on the practice field.

I hope that the return of the students will re-ground me in what is important in my life. While I do enjoy the luxury of the summer, even though I have been working hard every day on my writing projects, I do miss the students, who are very much the reason that I write, read, and ultimately, teach. Perhaps I will feel less anxious when the students arrive on campus, since they are the reason that we have a college at all.

For me, it truly is all about the students.

Today I am thinking about jobs. Even though my job is to educate, I want my students, after they are educated, to be able to find good jobs. This article talks about 7 critical skills for jobs of the future and was published last summer. I'd like to focus on this one: Curiosity and Imagination, which is #7 on this list.

I have written a whole post about curiosity and its importance for developing keen minds. It’s part of the liberal arts spirit. It is when students ask questions about topics that I had not considered or when they ask about things I do not know. I LOVE IT when that happens. That did happen at the end of the Roman Art class in spring 2017. In one particular class near to the end of the semester, they were asking me all kinds of questions and I didn’t know the answers. Finally, I said, “you all have those phones. Let’s get ‘em out and look it up!” They did and we talked about the sources they were reading from. It was a good exercise in assessing and analyzing information as well as a way for them to use technology, and it satisfied their curiosity on the spot. And it was kind of fun, too.

I think that most of my active learning situations have some aspect of imagination and creativity built into them. They role-play as advisors to an emperor, or they must think like architects to design a building that reflects theological ideas, or they try to sell art at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris to buyers who are not clearly identified at the culmination of my Art in Paris Reacting to the Past game.

I think the final part of the article on the 7 critical skills sums up well my approach  in the classroom and by advocating for active learning:

“There is a stark contrast between these seven survival skills of the future and the focus of education today. Instead of teaching students to answer questions, we should teach them to ask them. Instead of preparing them for college, we should prepare them for life. Beyond creating better employees, we must aim to create better leaders and innovators.  Doing so will not only radically transform the future of education and the workforce, it will also transform the world we live in.”

I simply love it when my students are curious enough to ask questions. I would love to find a way for that to happen more. The Roman Art class in the spring of 2017 indicates that they will tend to do that if they have had a whole semester of active learning in which they are engaged in the material in different ways. And I'm still thinking and planning!

 

I'm taking some time off this week and I won't be posting again until August, so I thought I'd give an update on my book about supporting student athletes through the lens of my work with the football team at McDaniel College.

I had an interesting talk with the former chair of the NCAA Division III President's Council on Friday. He was able to give me some insights on how the NCAA works in that division and it was very eye-opening. Apparently each division has a governing board and he plans to get me in touch with the Vice President that oversees DIII governance. I hope that happens!

In the meantime, I have a seven-page book proposal that I aim to send out at the end of July that is about 3600 words. This is a note to the students out there: you gotta keep writing. And you have to edit. You all have things to say. You should think about editing as honing what you're saying so that it says what you mean for it to say. I don't think I ever really felt that way about the editing process until this project. But I feel so passionate about trying to bridge the worlds of athletics and academics at the DIII level that I take care with every word and every turn of phrase because it matters. I hope that students reading this will also think about their papers mattering so that you will take more care with your writing in the new school year.

So it's off to Maine for a week for some rest and relaxation and rumination! My favorite thing to do in Maine is read on the rocks like a seal (a literate seal, but a seal nonetheless).

Hope to all who read this blog that this finds you well.

At my institution, we moved the second semester writing class, which is usually about literature, out of the English department. Thus, each major decides what writing in their discipline looks like and what students need to know. The idea from research in the field is that students learn more about writing when they care about or are interested in the subjects about which they are writing.

In my department, Art and Art History, our disciplinary writing course introduces students to different forms of art writing: catalog entries for art history, exhibitions review from galleries for both studio and art history majors, and visual analysis pieces. We also have them spend some time on writing their resumes and cover letters, and if they are visual artists, an artist statement. Since part of the expectation of this course is the completion of a catalog of works that the students choose, I decided to add a piece on digital writing and included some pieces of the assignment that were web-based. While students were required to keep a digital portfolio for their work, they were also asked to take part in a Wikipedia editing session on the work of art that they were working on for our class catalog. [I also created an online exhibition of the works of art that they wrote about, but that is another post you can read here.]

The Wikipedia edit session was co-taught with the director of our Writing Center. He spent some time taking them through an exercise about what they knew and thought about Wikipedia going into the exercise. After that discussion, students were asked to start to edit their entry. To facilitate this session that was held in one of our computer labs, students were required to come with an account already established. The people at WikiEdu are great about support and help, and they helped all my students get registered for this edit session. https://wikiedu.org/teach-with-wikipedia/

Once the session began, one student began to fret. She realized she was writing for the public and that “people will be reading this!” This made me think about how we teach writing, and how the students are trained to think about how they are writing only for the instructor. Suddenly in this exercise they realized that they were writing for people that they did not know!

This was a great teaching moment. Not only did this student step up her game, but it initiated a conversation about audience, and how writing for people who would actually read the work made the students take it more seriously. They started thinking more about word choices, comma placement. It was eye-opening for me, as a professor, to see the shift that was taking place. It made me think that papers read only by me and written by them was a waste of time for teaching about audience.

A friend of mine was talking to me the other day about one of the things he loves about my classes is that I have them “doing things.” I totally agree. This was one of those watershed moments that made me realize that active learning in the classroom is very important.

But it can’t just be an engaging technique for the sake of engagement. There needs to be a reason for that engaging activity. In this case, the reason was teaching about audience and having the students realize that people outside of the institution would be reading their work.

In one case, a student had a very creative and evocative description of her work of art which is a panel painting of the Virgin and Child by the late medieval Italian artist Berlinghieri. The student felt her depiction of the painting was too flowery, and we spent time talking about ekphrasis, the art of description that is traced back to Greek aesthetics. She felt that her description was based too much in ekphrastic writing, and not based in more fact-centered prose of Wikipedia. As a lark, we have checked back, now over a year since she wrote her entry, and her eloquent description of one of his painting remains: “Her soulful eyes are large and intensely focused, lending her visage a particular elegance.”

When I teach this course again, which is coming up this fall, I will use this Wikipedia editing project again. I may even use it in a future art history class because the difference in audience – and for students to think about creating content for the web – is so important as they leave and enter the work force.

Writing on the web make students better writers and connects them with the outside world, providing them with an opportunity to impact the world, one Wikipedia entry at a time.

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I have been thinking this summer about my introductory art course. It is meant to be a “survey” of the art of the west (I recognize there are problems with that approach, and we have a World Art course I'd like to teach as well). But for now, I am stuck with the survey of western art course.

And I say stuck because I am not sure that it teaches about art history because it’s really a survey as the title of the course implies of art and culture. It's the "greatest hits." I think there is value to that, but it just doesn’t feel like an introduction to the discipline. In my upper level courses, I do try to have students interpret art, visually dissect a painting and pose a possible thesis of its meaning, which is more inline with the discipline itself.

But in the survey class it is a bit harder to do that. Even having limited the number of works that I talk about, it is still challenging to find a way to have them engage in the art historical inquiry that is the backbone of our discipline.

However, I am teaching the course in a hybrid manner this coming fall, as I have the past two years. The students were overall positive about the experience. I’m going to do it again, putting in some suggestions that they made to hopefully make the course better. This will give me more time to try some new things that might have them engage in the art a bit more, and perhaps help them engage in the works as an art historian might, albeit on a very general level.

For instance, I am thinking of have them all work as advisors to a pharaoh or leader from the Near East. Each group is tasked with creating a museum for their leader/pharaoh that has art from all the periods we cover in that module (of ancient Near East and Egyptian art) but work cannot be ones we have covered. They must search for other examples. And I plan to also “surprise” each group with an image that they then research. They must explain their choices and why the work is one from the culture that it represents.

What do you think? Does this engage students for a purpose that connects to the discipline of art history?

 

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One of my favorite movies is The King's Speech. I am pretty sure I went to see it at least two times when it was out in the theaters. It's out on Netflix now, and I was watching it the other night and a scene popped out at me. It was about helping the king, who has a stammer, find his voice. I thought about it, and think I am helping the football team have a voice.

For those that have not seen it, The King's Speech is about King George VI, who had a very bad stammer. He never thought he would be the king of England, being that he was the second son of King George V. But his brother, who became King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936 (the same year he became king). Complicated laws and morality regarding the king of England also being the head of the Church of England required Edward to abdicate when he took up with a twice-divorced American woman. And this puts George VI, also known in his family as "Bertie," on the throne.

In the movie, the reluctant "king-to-be" seeks help for his stammer from a speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who is a wanna-be actor from Australia. They work together on the physical problems of George/Bertie's stammer, but it is the work they do about his family, the pains and hurts he endured as a child, that helps him step up and assume the role of King.

In my opinion, the best scene, and the one that inspired this post, is when the speech therapist is with the soon-to-be-crowned King George in Westminster Abbey. George is complaining that the speech therapist does not have credentials to be treating him, even though none was ever claimed. And then the speech therapist sits in the throne of King Edward, the throne upon which every monarch is crowned in England. George/Bertie goes nuts, yelling and telling the speech therapist him to get up! The  therapist then goads George/Bertie by saying, "What right do you tell me that I can't sit on this throne?" (paraphrased) George/Bertie then says that the therapist must listen to him, the king, because he has a right; he has a voice.

He has a voice.

The therapist responds, "Yes you do." And he gets up from the famous seat of King Edward and says to King George, about to crowned, "You have such perseverance, Bertie. You're the bravest man I know."

This scene (you can watch it here) resonated with me. Earlier this month I helped several students, a number of whom are on the football team, with letters of appeal for their academic dismissal to the college. Most of them had their appeals granted and are coming back. They will return to college. They are very brave students. They are facing issues and problems that have been dogging them in their pursuit of an education. They were brave enough to face these problems and issues, to "man up" to their failed situations and make a vow to do better.

I feel like the speech therapist, in the movie because I have helped give voice to these students, these brave young men, who have had to restate with assurance that some of them may not feel, that they have a voice and a right to return to the college.

Indeed, they all do. And I'll be there to help them develop and use their voices for as long as I'm able.

I just got back from my eleventh Reacting to the Past conference. I had a great time as usual. I saw wonderful teachers learning a pedagogy that can transform their teaching, and even their life, as it has mine. I made new friends and met up with ones I have made over the years. And ran my now -published game Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89, which was published by North Carolina University Press. After that, I played the artist Paolo Uccello in my friend Paula Lazrus' game about the building of the Duomo in Florence when a competition was announced on how the work would be completed in 1418. Here I am in the game, leading a procession with a palio that represents my guild of painters and sculptors: And later, Uccello gives a lesson on the newly discovered linear perspective, which I did in the game:

And yet even though I come back from this conference more convinced than ever that Reacting is a powerful teaching tool and I hope I encouraged many to use it, I had the odd feeling the entire weekend that this "run" had come to an end. I will always use Reacting and have posted here many times about how it has worked in my classroom. I served on the Reacting Consortium board for six years, I chaired the board for about a year. I co-authored a game. I use a game in nearly every class.

But I am called to put energies elsewhere now, and it seemed somehow important to note this as a sort of ending, so that I could take in, enjoy, and appreciate every minute of the conference experience. And I did.

Now I feel a real urge to do more with the student athletes, specifically those on the Green Terror Football team, for whom I act as a faculty mentor. The creativity embedded in Reacting I will take with me to this new endeavor. I am clearing the decks mentally, physically, and even emotionally to make room for this new work and this new "calling." I am excited to meet new student athletes and help them to become their best selves both as players on the field and students in the classroom. While sometimes I am not sure how it will all work out, I didn't know how to write a Reacting game, either, and I figured that out.

With the help of the Green Terror football team (and the great coaches!) I'm betting I figure out how to mentor a team to the best of my ability, too.

Among the issues I hear from both students and faculty across institutions, including my own, is a statement faculty often make to student athletes who take their classes: “You are not here to play football” (or fill in whatever sport). Faculty say it when players have to miss their class for sports games. Students say they hear it from faculty often. But the truth is, to say they are “not here to play [insert sport here]” is not fully true.

Coaches play an important role in recruiting every incoming class. I knew that intellectually, but I really did not understand how the coaches play an integral role in the recruitment of an incoming class. Until I began to mentor the football team and took a front row seat to the academic cycle of the team and a coach’s life, I did not realize how vital they are to the admissions enterprise. For a college like mine, which is dependent on tuition revenue, student recruitment is key. While we have lots of outreach and marketing, it is often through a coach that a student first learns about an institution and has his or her “first touch.” Coaches want talent for their teams, and they spend a lot of time in high schools recruiting top students. Thus, many times the student’s first interaction with a college institution is through the coach.

In a focus group a few months ago, football players at my institution from a range of years and ethnicity, were asked about why they are at college. They all emphasized that they wanted to get an education. That was the first answer to the question, “Why are you here/Why did you come to college?” Yes, they were first recruited to play their sport by the coaching staff. But they understand what is at stake. They emphasized that they very much love their sport, and to play, but they also want an education.

"Playing football" was not among the answers. Not one single student answered the question “Why are you here/Why did you come to college?” with “to play football” as their first answer. While football may be the reason they looked at this particular college, and while the sport may offer them opportunities through alumni connections, each of these students had their eyes on a larger prize: a college education and a pathway to a job and career. A follow up question about where they might be in five years, students answered by saying “I want to be a spokesman for a company” or “have a steady income.” Other students answered, “having independence financially,” and “finding a career and maybe starting a family.”

Thus, by their own answers, football was not the primary reason that they were in school, and yet, as the book I am currently writing will hopefully demonstrate, playing football is an important identity marker for them, and it is often their ticket to college. Without the team in high school, a coach’s interest, they may not have found a path to college as easily as they did through their sport.

Faculty, perhaps we should be a bit more reflective and interested in our students' sports identity and be more willing to help them make the most out of their four years, in the classroom and on the field.

I try to employ active learning in every one of my classes. This past spring semester in my Medieval Art history class that I've blogged about before, we played both a short Reacting game on the use of icons in the church and a longer game on the Second Crusade, I used several case studies in which they had to solve an art historical problem, conducted several in-class writing assignments in addition to out-of-class papers, and students wrote a weekly blog post.

However, at one point in the semester, when we were reviewing material that I thought they had learned, they could not remember details. It was so disheartening. I worry nearly all the time about what they are learning. Many of my colleagues would probably say I obsess over it. One weekend during the past semester, during a Twitter exchange, I noted that I worry they are having a "grand time," but that I wonder if they are learning anything.

Cathy N. Davidson was talking about assessment, and how our assessment right now is giving us information on the twentieth-century products we are producing through our educational system. I agree so much with her and want to tell everyone to read her book, The New Education. It is inspiring and so important. During the twitter exchange she noted to me:

"As long as I go to the meta level and then they can (I use Think-Pair-Share a lot for this) I feel sure they are learning. Focusing on what you want think they need to learn on a meta level is great."

She also sent me a link to her blog post from June 18, 2015, entitled "Why Start with Pedagogy? 4 Good Reasons, 4 Good Solutions."

This has me pondering. Yes, I can "Think-Pair-Share" my way through each class, but how do I know any of that is sticking after the class? The students may have learned the material during the 90-minute class period, but what about a few weeks later? Do they still remember it?

I'm considering more "in-class assessment instruments" for the fall semester (but would like to call it something else...not quiz...not exam). I do not want it to be high-stakes and stressful, but I also feel an obligation to them to ensure that their education is leading them to know new things and remember them. This past spring when I was feeling this way I put them in groups and had them prepare questions that then two groups answered, and the group who created the question decided who answered better. So, some competition in there, as well as ownership. That worked fairly well, though I was making up a lot of it as I went. I might try to do something like that again, but with a bit more pre-planning.

Readers: if you employ active learning, how do you ensure learning is taking place? How can you tell? By what means do you check to see if learning manifests?

Students: how would you like to prove that you have learned? I hear all the time how you hate tests - so what are some alternatives so we can know if you're learning?

[I am trying really hard not to use the words assessment, metrics, rubrics...or any of the buzzwords for teaching and learning right now - and it's hard!!]

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Texas Lutheran Engaging Pedagogy Conference as their keynote speaker. Details of the conference can be viewed here. I am very thankful to their organizer, Dr. Chris Bollinger, and their Provost, Dr. Debbi Cottrell, for inviting me down and giving me this opportunity.

My talk centered around active learning in my art history classes.  There were a few tweets with images during my talk, including this one:

I have already written about this idea of creating classes where it is "OK to be wrong." You can read about it in this blog post from this past fall. This is an important concept that I am still thinking about with my teaching. If everything is about high stakes tests, and then we say we want our students to take risks, how can we achieve that when making a mistake on a test has such huge consequences today? Even something as basic as funding for schools is dependent on test scores. When such thinking is ingrained in students, it's hard for them to think creatively and problem-solve. Creating an environment where it is OK to be wrong becomes very important, otherwise, we do not teach students that failure is often what leads to the greatest discoveries and creative solutions.

While at the conference, I also had the audience participate in some active learning themselves, which you can see in this "tweet" from Dr. Steven Vrooman who helped me with tech and took the video.

It was great to be in a room with so much energy and enthusiastic professors. If you'd like me to speak at your event contact me at gkreahlingmckay@yahoo.com or leave a message!

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