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Today’s post is about curiosity. It’s a word I’ve been thinking about a lot as it keeps coming up in books and podcasts.

First, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about curiosity in her book Big Magic. I read that book awhile ago, but I keep coming back to her explanation that curiosity is more important to follow than “passion.” Curiosity is questioning. It can be a niggling to know more about something, or a real search for a Big Answer to a Big Question. I am curious about so many things, something I think I inherited from my Also-An-Aquarius Dad (thanks, Dad!).

Right now, I am curious about two interrelated things: how student athletes learn best, and more specifically what it is about the combination of Reacting to the Past role-playing games and D3 football players that gets so much engagement in the classroom. I use Reacting games, as I’ve posted here many times, but I’ve noticed increasing engagement over the past two years from the football players that take my classes (many of them enroll because I am the academic mentor to the D3 McDaniel College football team – go Green Terror!). And because so many of them enroll (fourteen players were in my 24-person Roman art and architecture class), I get a front-row seat to observe what inspires them, moves them to do more and better work academically, and gets them excited in the classroom. And it has led me to want to research more deeply to find out what is going on, rather than simply watching it and taking anecdotal notes. So, that is where curiosity is leading me right now.

I am also thinking about curiosity from the student side.

When students sign up for an elective course, there must be some element of interest there, some amount of curiosity about the topic to make them choose that course over another that fulfills the same general education requirement. Even if the course is a required course for the major, and the students “must” take it, their choice of that major was likely sparked by some element of curiosity about that discipline or the career to which they hope it will lead.

This leads me to the question for faculty: how can you keep that curiosity going?

I really believe that keeping students actively engaged in the classroom can keep that initial curiosity alive, or rekindle it in the case of a required class in a major. I firmly believe that we must allow students to actively engage in the material of the major, or the course, or the topic, for them to really feel an affinity with the subject and learn it deeply and well. Of course, they might not be able to do everything an accomplished art historian, biologist, sociologist, or poet does when taking such a class. Some of them may never have the zeal to stay with that discipline, let alone profession. Truly: how many of our college students are really going to major and go on for an advanced degree in our disciplines? How many should?

Continuing on for an advanced degree should not be the main or only metric of success for all students. When they signed up for a class, there was something, some amount of curiosity, that led them to that course or that major. How can we keep it going?

I would argue that it’s engagement that will keep the curiosity going, that kindle of interest burning. This reminds me of my blog post from November of 2015  in which I pondered, “What is a faculty member’s role in student engagement?” That post garnered a lot of comments, some of them from students themselves who were in my Roman Art and Architecture class in the fall of 2015.

I am still committed to reaching every student, because I believe that finding a way to keep that curiosity kindled is the way to keep students engaged and ultimately learn skills and content to be successful in the world, regardless of major. That is what general education requirements are all about at a liberal arts college.

In my teaching, blog and workshops, I am committed to helping others to find ways to engage students to continue to keep the curiosity alive and help them succeed in their chosen classes and majors.

How do you keep students' curiosity kindled as a faculty member in the classroom?


The first days back to campus are upon us all. I was on campus a few times this summer with different meetings and projects with which I am involved that required my presence. But of course, the students were not there.

When I look back on the summer related to work, the best days were when some of the students I was helping to appeal their financial aid suspensions were on campus. I met one mother, too. Those were the best days because I really do miss the students in the summer. I noticed on Twitter and Facebook in late July and early August that there were more posts from students about missing campus, wanting to get back into the groove, and the football players were itching for camp that started August 12.

I have a new crop of first year students who will be in my First Year Seminar this fall and we will be playing three Reacting to the Past role-playing games. First up is the Athens Game, about what to do in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War. Then the students will play Bishops who are tasked with coming up with a creed that everyone can sign in the Council of Nicaea game. And our final one is The Second Crusade Game that is still in development.

I know these games will be great and I will be excited to meet these new students and help them start their college adventure.

My other class will be the introduction to Western Art part one, which I will be teaching in a blended manner. First contact with the material will be through art history videos that are housed at Kahn Academy.

After viewing the videos there are discussion boards in which students must participate and they must also reflect on their learning in private learning journals. The idea is that when we meet face to face as a class, we engage in activities that can’t be easily replicated online. Conveying information online is a good way to transmit knowledge. But in class is where I want them to engage with art, ideas and each other. On the days that we meet in person, students will be engaging in case studies, debates, and Reacting-style games.

My newest activity for this course will be student curation of a digital exhibit of works of in one module that will include one “real” work of art that groups will be assigned from our college's small collection. I am excited to try this assignment, that will be a new addition to my bag of tricks this semester.

What are you excited to be doing in your classes this fall?


Today’s post is about mentorship and advising. And what, if anything, is the difference between them. If you  know me well, I don't need to tell you, but for those who do not, I am the academic mentor to the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team. I love my role with this Division Three team. Beyond attending home games to cheer on the team (and tweeting like a nut during away games that I watch on livestream), my role includes meeting with students for a variety of reasons, all academic in nature. In some cases, I help students who are in academic difficulty. We talk about study skills and what is troubling them in certain classes. I offer them suggestions on how to approach professors for help, which they are often very nervous to do.

I have also found that many of them are bewildered by the financial systems and offices at our college, and so I often find myself navigating those offices to find out basic information for them, and find out to whom I should send them for answers if I don’t know them myself. I often advocate for them on issues that seem unfair, as I did when we found out that there was a policy at the college to put a “hold” on making them unable to register for classes because of overdue bills. When I found out the amount of stress and anxiety this was causing students who were already struggling academically, I requested that this be a discussion topic at a faculty meeting and the policy was changed for the next academic semester.

I thought today about my role as the mentor to the team and how I advise students. As an academic advisor, I often help students figure out courses of study. We sometimes also talk about career choices, though there is often not a lot of time for that, and students are not often not sure about what they want to do, anyway, and so we end up talking about courses for the future, as well.

So, what is the difference between mentoring and advising? (and then there is even "cognitive coaching" see this piece by José Antontio Bowen, but that's for another day).

Because I sense that there is a difference.

When I think about the students I have advised and mentored, in general I would say that that I know more about those who I am mentoring. I share more about myself, and my own struggles, compared to those who are my academic advisees. That is not to say I do not have strong relationships with my advisees. I do.

But the nature of the relationship is different. My football team players confide in me about things that they might not want their academic advisors to know about. They don’t want the professors who are teaching them (who are also often their advisors) to know how they struggle, or why they do. They feel that their difficulties could be perceived by their academic advisors, or professors, as a sign that they do not really belong in college. Thus, they are reluctant to talk to their advisors for fear that their predicament will reinforce the incorrect perceptions that they should not be in college anyway.

From my perspective, as a mentor, I am more like a coach who finds ways to support a player to do his or her job better. But my field is academic. But I still feel like what I do as a mentor is different than what I do as an advisor.

What do you think? And students I would LOVE to hear from you! What do you think of mentor versus the advisor? Is it the same thing, or are there differences? Does it matter to you what they are called?

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I am a crazy person because the summer is in full swing, yesterday was the first full day of summer, and I’m missing my students. I miss the interaction with them. I read something recently about good classes take students on a journey. I hadn’t ever thought of my classes that way, but they are. I try to get them to follow the breadcrumbs that I lay out for them until they see the interpretation I want to them to know. And then we talk about others. But the journey to that idea is really fun.

I am already thinking about the first day of class. I get so nervous. I am already nervous (!) thinking about it. I know that many say to not go over the syllabus, to have a quiz on it, but I still feel like it’s a good idea to go over it. Because my syllabi state the goals I have for the students. I want them to know what prioritize in terms of their learning. I got some push-back about that from the tenure/promotion committee that these were not in alignment with assessment protocols of student learning.

Tough crap.

When I lay out the goals for students, they ARE learning outcomes; they are just not written in the jargon-laced assessment language that as a leader in our reaccreditation work know all too well. But when the students read them like that, they see what I prioritize.

Then I ask them to write on a notecard what THEY want to work on. What are their goals for the class? I collect them and (if I remember and have not had the health-plagued semester like I did this past spring) I hand them out at mid-term for a self-assessment of how they are doing. Then I can write how I think they are doing on those goals as well.

It gives students a chance to self-reflect, which has been shown to be a very important part of blended and online learning. It helps students identify how they are learning, not just what they are learning. I think we need to do that more in face-to-face classes. Because students learn from their reflections; studies demonstrate this.

So, I wait for the first day of class. If after 20 years of teaching I still get nervous, I guess that feeling will never stop.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

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I don't quite know how to explain what I am seeing in my classes with male students, particularly football players, when I employ a type of game in a class.

I am teaching my introductory art history survey course in a hybrid manner. The students access the content of the course online; they watch videos that are ably created and narrated by two art historians which can be found on The students then comment in discussion boards about what they read. The are also required to write papers and carry on reflections on their learning in journals in Blackboard. When we do meet F2F in the classroom, rather than lecturing or quizzing them, I have an active learning scenario planned.

We just finished the module on Greek art, and the active learning technique I employed in the F2F portion of our class was a debate/game mechanism on whether or not the Elgin/Parthenon marbles should be returned to Greece. I gave out roles via email. I had one day F2F in class where students mingled in character at a "party" at the Acropolis Museum. Then we had the debate.

The students that I expected to do well, did. But six of my male student-athletes in the class, who quite frankly have been fairly lackluster so far this semester, really stood out. Their speeches and their comments and questions hit it out of the park. Five of them happened to be football players. If you have been following my blog, you will know that this is becoming something of a theme.

What is it about changing the dynamic of the class that brings about those students who ordinarily fade as much as they can into the background (often, literally, sitting in the back of the room) suddenly rise up and are the stars of the class? I saw it again with this class activity.

I also had a colleague of mine run a focus group with the five football players from my fall 2015 semester of Roman art in order to start to gathering some data about what is happening in my classes, not just with Reacting, but with the other forms of active learning that I employ. I hope to post that information sometime soon.

But this short game in the introductory class provides another piece of evidence that changing it up, what I call "activizing" the classroom, can bring new students to the fore, and have them actively participate in class. They find their voices and they find their power for learning. If we can find a way to shake it up, I find students, some of whom, I would not expect to do so, will rise to the challenge.

I posted this to Facebook last night, and I decided to add it here, to my blog. It was inspired by a win by our McDaniel "Green Terror" Football team, after a very long non-winning streak.

I believe it is largely my responsibility to engage my students. I believe that students in the middle of the pack often get the shaft. Faculty tend to gravitate to those students "like them" - the high achievers. And I love those students, too. And students with extra needs tend to get a ton of attention. And just ask SASS how often I call them to help a student.

I view myself as the Champion of the Middle. Football players tend to be in the middle. They are not the best, nor the worst, students I encounter. I had six of them last fall in Roman Art and decided I was going to make them love the course. By the middle of it, they did (and I have assessments to prove it thanks to Peggy Fosdick). I followed their horrible zero win season last fall, tweeting "My Romans," as I came to call them, before every game to support them. They even inspired me to propose a talk at an international art conference that has been accepted: "A Tale of Six Football Players (and others) and Roman Art."

I have six more players this fall and they have lost three games this year. BUT TODAY THEY WON! I simply love them and their dedication and am so happy today I could bust. This is why I teach. The BEST PART OF MY YEAR (and yes I did just go to Greece) was standing at the top of the stairs, waiting for each of them to come up. A few of them started up the stairs, and looked up when they heard me yell their name. In a few cases, their faces lit up when they saw that I was standing there. I hugged every sweaty one of them, still in pads and uniform. My heart swelled and it was The Best. It made me remember why I do what I do and how much I LOVE IT. I can't wait to go to Homecoming and cheer them on again and greet them at the stairs again, too.

Can't wait to continue to find ways to engage students in the coming days, months, and years.



I have been asked to share some thoughts with the faculty and administrators who will be starting the second CIC Online Humanities Consortium, funded by the Mellon Foundation. We just finished the concluding workshop of the first consortium yesterday. I've gathered some thoughts.

We carried out assessments of about the efficacy of online learning with the great folks at Ithaka S+R. One finding was that students say that what they liked best about their online courses was flexibility. This was their number one issue.

I will admit that this made me a bit sad. I scoured the internet for digital information and projects to enliven my course – to make it collaborative and up to date and exciting. And for that I get a “thumbs up for flexibility?!”

But I also understand this. The demographics for college students have changed even since when I started teaching more than 15 years ago. Students are busier than ever; they have jobs, or two or even three. They often have obligations to family. And they may not be the magical age of 18-22, which we sort of assume the students will be. So, sure, I can see how flexibility may be the main issue for them. But that also doesn’t mean it’s the only reason we need to offer these types of courses.

At the first Consortium's concluding workshop, we talked about how our digital/online courses introduced students to how to use media/the digital for something other than selfies and social media exposure. I believe that these type of courses help us to harness the digital world and make it work for education and student learning. These are skills that are essential for our students. And I completely reject the notion that they are “digital natives.” They are “digital consumers” like most of us, but they - like the rest of us - need to learn how to harness the power of the digital world for their future jobs and lives. From my experience, being IN an online course can help students learn these lessons.

Thus, I believe it is imperative that faculty become familiar and comfortable with digital pedagogy. This online consortium, and through it my work with Steve Kerby, who is an Instructional Technologist/Guru, has taught me a few things that I find are influencing my teaching, in all its formats:

START WITH LEARNING OBJECTIVES. Everything is about that. Not content – not topics. It’s about learning objectives.

Think about the learning objectives and "chunk" the course into modules that make sense together.

Then think backwards:

  • Make sure you have the right activities for students to do/read/watch to get to those learning objectives for that “chunk” of the course?
  • Make sure there is adequate time to reflect and THINK about the module. They may need time to circle back after answering a question, but then reading others’ comments on the discussion boards.
  • Make sure you have adequate and appropriate assessments to see if they learned that which you hoped/intended.

I now approach every class this way: what do I want them to learn from this course, from this topic, from this reading, from this particular class meeting period. And I then build accordingly. I think it's made me a better teacher, and I'm very grateful to the CIC and my colleagues that were part of the first consortium for teaching me so much.

What are your thoughts on online teaching?

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In September I will be delivering a plenary address at the American College of Greece in Athens about active learning and gamification in higher education. I'm immersing myself in as much on this topic as possible and would love to hear others' thoughts on the issue.

I have been "gaming" since 2007, when I first started using the pedagogy Reacting to the Past. Just about anyone who knows me also knows that I am committed to the Reacting pedagogy. Reacting consists of highly immersive role-playing games, set in a historical period. Each student has his or her own role that comes with a  character sheet with victory objectives, strategy, and key ideas. Students must read primary texts from the time period (for instance Plato's Republic for Athens game set in 403 BCE and Rosseau's Social Contract for the French Revolution game) and use references from those works in speeches to persuade people to their side of the issues in order to WIN. And students really do want to win; their competitive natures come out. Because reading and writing can help you to win, students realize that doing "work" can lead to something worthwhile - and even fun.

This is what the gamification movement seems to promise, but it appears to be mostly tied to the realm of video games. Reacting seems to be on the fringe or the edge of this movement, because it's not a video game. Although Reacting games can be played online, and have been used that way successfully by some of my colleagues, the pedagogy essentially is a face-to-face active learning technique and is one of my favorite options when I incorporate the flipped classroom paradigm.

I need to learn more about gamification in other arenas beyond Reacting. From what I have learned so far, it seems to me that students will see right through the idea of "levels" and "badges." I am concerned that adding those particular elements as part of a course won't really make it any more "fun." I was watching a video of Gabe Zichermann talking about gamification (October 26, 2010), and the speaker had this image up:

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He was suggesting that the bottom words are not associated very much with fun - but the words above in color are associated more often with fun. It seems that the move towards gamification in higher education is an effort to make school more fun.

This gets to the heart of what I think about day in and day out: I teach because I want my students to learn. But I also want my classes to be engaging places where students are active. I wish I had more evidence to back this up (does anyone out there have such studies?), but I do think that students who are engaged in classes also learn more. I think the flipped classroom has allowed my students to be more engaged, and yes, have more fun. I know that I have a lot of fun right alongside them when they are involved in the class. And I am learning from them, too.

I know I need to do more research, reading and study to better understand this arena of gamification in higher education. I am hoping that some wise sages out there can point me in some directions about what to read, and tell me whether or not the levels and badges really lead to deeper learning. Maybe I am just cynical, but if I were to call "learning about the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial" a "Quest" I would get some eye-rolls. And this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by (October 29, 2015) seems to suggest that we should not give in to where students are. But I wonder, is the alternative to leave them behind if they don't ever learn like they are "supposed" to?

I am planning to incorporate some "leveled" quizzes and will incorporate the idea of adaptive release in my hybrid class History of Western Art this coming fall semester. Students will have a randomly selected set of images that are fairly easy to identify for art history survey in each module. After that, a second quiz will include more difficult images. Is that gamification? Somehow I think the Reacting games, case studies and peer review sessions that I am planning for the face-to-face portions of that class are going to make more of an impact, but I am set to give it a try.

Readers: what else should I read and learn about as I work through this new area of teaching?



It seems that I only ever have time to post to this blog, that is supposed to be all about teaching, when I am finished with a semester. Once again, I am finished with a semester, and I find myself thinking over my immediate past experiences with my students.

What I am thinking about the most now, two days after graduating the Class of 2016 at McDaniel College, are all the students that I was most excited about seeing graduate. I won't post their names, but some of them (if they see this post) will know who they are. They are the students who did not get awards. They didn't write the best papers. They didn't have high GPAs; as a matter of fact in a few instances, I'm betting that they just squeaked by with a high enough GPA to graduate.

But these are the students that speak to me. They move me and inspire me. These are the students that I love to teach.

Right now I am pondering, why? Why is this the group that makes me want to be a better professor? Why is it not the top students? We have some stellar students who are very high-achieving. I had the privilege of teaching one of the students who won the top writing award at graduation and one of the students who won the award for the highest GPA is in my major, and we're very proud of her.

And yet. I kept thinking of my middle of the road students: my baseball players from my FYS.  The student in my class this semester whose friend died and who stepped up with her friends to make sure requirements were met so her departed friend would be awarded her degree, albeit posthumously.

I wonder if my focus on the middle is because the way we set up graduation and even education is so hierarchical. Of course I want to commend the very best students. But sometimes I worry that doing so gives the middle students a feeling of futility. I wonder if they feel that since they likely are never going to reach those lofty heights of a 4.0 GPA, they just disengage. Do our expectations of precision in citations (something that is probably anathema to admit but  drives me crazy as a scholar in the field), drive students to just give up? The top students master it, sure. But what about the vast majority of the others? Where are they?

All of this has led me to embrace active learning pedagogies in my classes. They debate, read, discuss, analyze, write, meet, present, and lead. I would love to hear from them through this post. Because I want to know:

Did this make you want to learn? Do you think you learned? More? The same? Did it "stick"?

What about my colleagues? What say you? Are the middle of the pack students worthy of some love? If so, in what form?