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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.

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!

I am currently using a game set in 1148 at the War Council of Acre, at which knights, kings, and the church hierarchy gathered to decide if there should be a Second Crusade and if so, where it should be aimed. I have thirty students in this class, and twenty of them are on the football team at McDaniel College. Their engagement has been profound and at times frankly astounding. One such moment of their utter engagement is captured here in this photograph I took during the class debate about where the Crusade should be targeted:

In this picture, the student is an offensive lineman for the Green Terror. In the game, however, he is playing Patriarch Fulcher, the individual who found the True Cross in the first crusade, and is credited with having won back Jerusalem for the Latin Crusaders. In this image he is standing in front of a projected image of the different cities in the region. For two days, as he says here, they talked about how their war was just because the city of Edessa being taken by Zengi in 1144. But moments before I took this picture, King Louis suggested they attack Damascus instead. The Patriarch was confused, baffled and even outraged.

This was a moment when the class ceased to be at McDaniel in 2018 and was clearly in the city of Acre in 1148. They had left the building. They were experiencing flow. They were so in the moment that, as I talked to some of them afterwards, they forgot about practice. They forgot about their other classes. I am attempting to get a certain general education tag for my Reacting courses and asked them for some help answering questions. Some of their quotations can say better than I can how much they experience in a Reacting game:

"It's immersive. Because you have to put your all into your role. You have to dive in and see how you are going to argue these points of view for this person, how to back it up with research. You have to research in a way you may not typically do so, focus on your role vs personal feelings on the role."

"You can't just BS your way through it. You have to find enough material for your role in the game and be able to rebut anything anyone else throws at you. You need to understand their roles too and how they might come at you."

"When you get stuck into this game, you are here and you are your character. You call each other by your character role names, you are that person and their beliefs (not you and your own personal beliefs)."

"When you are arguing it is super easy to get caught up, and you forget 'oh i have to go to practice today'. Taking on the persona makes you argue better and focus on the game."

"When you go up to the podium, you have to convince yourself/faction and rest of room of what you are arguing. You have to embody the role and its unlike any other class activity. It gives you more skills as a student rather than just looking at a PowerPoint and taking notes. It helps you experience the class differently and take on roles you normally wouldn't."

Reacting is great for every student, but I would argue that for student athletes, these immersive role-playing games make them enjoy the class more than at other times in their education. They see research as a means to a win. They see a role as a chance to argue and help their team (or faction). But they also note that it is work. It takes time. They all laughed when I asked them if a Reacting game would count for the 15 hours required for this tag. They said that they had all put that much time in already and the game was not over.

Faculty: try Reacting to the Past. It is often said that athletes care more about their sport than their classes. But if they have a chance to win in a classroom as well as the playing field, you will see a different student performance entirely. The Annual Institute for Reacting to the Past games will be held this year at Barnard College from June 14-17 and I urge faculty to check it out.

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For those of you who haven't read this blog before, I am the faculty mentor to the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team. I am a tenured Professor of Art History, and have been in my role with the team for about a year and a half. During the season I attend practices and games, and when I am not able to get to an away game I watch on live-stream and to the likely amusement of the players, tweet during all four quarters of the game. But most of my work is helping students become more successfully academically. This can include helping them with time management, study skills, securing a tutor, or even sometimes helping them connect with various resources at the institution.

I have learned a lot through this academic mentor role. By being willing to listen to them before attempting to "fix everything," I have learned a lot about what higher education does well for students, and where it falls short. Thus, I have decided to write a book about what these football players are teaching me and can teach other institutions. I have a vague outline of the book in mind, but the working title is: Understanding and Supporting the Student Athlete: A Guide for Institutions of Higher Education from a Faculty Mentor of a Division Three Football Team. I realize that is quite the mouthful, and it may change as the book takes shape. However, I'm very passionate about this topic and was just on the campus of the Maine Maritime Academy, holding conversations with coaches, staff, and faculty about supporting student athletes.

Among the issues I hear from both students and faculty across institutions, including my own, is a statement faculty often make: "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 really: to say they are "not here to play X sport" is not fully true.

Unbeknownst to most faculty (or at least this one) is the role coaches play in recruiting every incoming class. For a college like mine, which is dependent on tuition revenue to pay the bills and make an annual budget, student recruitment is key. Oftentimes a student is only made aware of the institution because of a coach's approach. Thus, if that student then enrolls in the institution, and they play the sport, to say that the student is not there to play the sport is disingenuous. They are there to play their sport, but also to get an education.

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 "why are you here" that the whole cohort gave. Yes, they were first recruited to play their sport by the coaching staff. But they understand what is at stake. In a future post I will write about the the importance of sports as an identity marker, an issue that is particularly true for minority and/or first-generation students. I am still researching that particular idea.

But faculty reading this post: if you have student athletes in your classes, know this: they want to play their sport. They were most likely recruited for your institution by a coach to play their sport. But they are very much interested in their education and want to do well and succeed. They just need a little understanding and support.

Today I’d like to write about a specific activity in hopes that it might encourage other faculty members to think about how to present material to students that get them actively engaged in the topic, rather than passively listening to a lecture. This is not to say that lecturing is bad; only that there are other ways to present material to engage students and keep them at the edge of their seat.

In my Roman Art and Architecture class, we must cover the Tetrarchy, which was a “Rule of Four,” instituted by the Emperor Diocletian when the Empire was divided in half and two rulers were chosen to rule both halves.  Diocletian built a palace in modern-day Croatia, Split, and it reflected the idea of the Tetrarchy’s rule by four.

Instead of showing the palace and telling them about it, I introduce the idea of the Tetrarchy as a political system, and we talk about how equality and similarity were two important concepts that had to be embraced in order for the rule by four to work. This all comes from a wonderful book Art Forms and Civic Life in the Late Roman Empire by L’Orange that I still remember – and use – from my graduate school days. But I have adapted that book and the ideas engendered in it for my current students and active engagement.

After this brief introduction, the students are sorted into groups. They are given a sheet that describes the Tetrarchy briefly and then they are given this charge:

You are architects for the Emperor Diocletian who desires a new palace to be built that will express the ideas of the Tetrarchy. You must design a plan for a palace, sketch it out onto a large piece of paper, and present your plan to the emperor (the class), explaining how your plan represents the ideas of the Tetrarchy.

It is interesting to me that each time I use this assignment, which I have run about three times since I developed it, the plans are very different. I suppose it should not be surprising, since the students are different and all bring their own notions and ideas to the table when they meet over this in-class assignment. It is not meant to be a research assignment, but rather one in which they are applying information to demonstrate to me that they are grappling with or understanding the concepts. Sometimes the plans don’t adhere to the concepts at all – and we talk about that when the plans are presented at the end of the class period. But often some come close to the idea of equality and similarity in the palace itself, a photo of which is here:

During their final exam period in which the students are asked in part to reflect on their experience and learning in the course, I ask them this question: “I tried to offer you a multitude of learning activities this semester. Which one or ones do you think helped you learn the most? Why? Please explain.” Two students chose this day’s activity as the one that helped them the most after I used it this past spring 2017 semester. My guess is they’ll likely remember it a lot longer, too.

What class you could turn over to students to figure out, rather than just telling them the answer?

I have wanted to write a piece for McDaniel College Green Terror Football team coaches for awhile. Now that the season is over, I think it’s a good time to do so.

I am amazed at how hard all of them work: the head coach, the position coaches, the assistant coaches. I don’t fully understand the hierarchy there, but I do know they all work super hard to get the best out of the students on the field, while they simultaneously emphasize the need to keep to the books and graduate.

Our record this year was 3-7, which was the record as last season. But don’t let that record fool you: they are not the same team.

They are much more poised and focused. They play very much more as a unit than I saw in any game in the 2016 season. Their Twitter hashtag, #AsOne, is felt and expressed by all. The refrain I heard at training camp: “Do Your Job!” was taken to heart by the players and they did that for the most part.

There were some key injuries. But there always are.

Yet, the Coaches kept getting them back into it, keeping student/players’ eyes both on the next game as well as reminding them about classes. It’s a really tough balancing act, and one I would have no idea how to achieve.

That is why when some of my colleagues and friends jokingly call me “Coach McKay,” I wince.

Because I am not a coach. I do not know the first thing about coaching. I am still smarting over the loss at Franklin and Marshall, and that was Week 3!! I am still learning the mentoring gig; coach I am not.

Now the Coaches go onto the next phase of their operation: recruiting. The amount of time and commitment this part of their job requires is immense, which hardly anyone understands, particularly faculty. Last year, I contacted the Coach after the last game of the season, naively thinking that he would have all the time in the world now that the season was over. How wrong I was! He and the other coaches will now be on the road until the winter break. In January, they host busloads of potential student/players on campus, many of whom they saw in high school games every Friday night of the regular season. They then have a bit of a lull before March and “spring ball” starts. Then prepare for camp to start in August! It took me awhile, but now I get the drill.

So, this post is for the Green Terror Coaches. Their support of me has been wonderful and I want to send the same to them.  Go get us some great players, and thank you for all you do! I will be holding down the fort, meeting with the guys to make sure they finish the semester strong.

From a grateful faculty mentor, thank you, coaches, for all that you do!

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?

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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?

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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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