Goodbye August, Hello September!
CTLM Newsletter Issue #2
We Are All Learners Now
By Dr. Ellen Skilton
I write to you after my first week of being a student since 1997, having just completed the first residency for the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Arcadia. And wow, it was amazing—even though we were on Zoom instead of face-to-face. We learned so much, we were taught so well, we created a new community of learners led by fantastic faculty, and we left the residency wanting more. It was the best of Arcadia and the best kind of learning—in the worst of times.
All summer, CTLM has been hearing questions about what kinds of guidelines the university would provide concerning expectations for online learning: What are Zoom classroom expectations?” Do students have to use their cameras? And in these questions, I’ve heard our central challenge: how do we create the most engaging, equitable environment for learning possible in the context of student and faculty trauma, upheaval, exhaustion, and longing to connect face-to-face? I’ve started and crumpled many drafts after the CTLM Fellows leading Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and I decided that what we wanted to share was a set of principles for “setting the stage” for a successful fall semester.
Listening to all of you this summer and hearing from the wider higher ed community about how to build inclusive, equitable structures for online learning, here are some principles I’d like us to keep central in our minds this fall and beyond as we set the stage for an online semester.
1. CREATE CLASSROOM CONNECTIONS AND COMMUNITY AS WE ENGAGE WITH NEW CONTENT.
2. KNOW THAT THERE IS DIFFERENTIAL ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY AND DIFFERING LIFE, LEARNING, AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS THAT MIGHT MAKE CAMERA USE UNTENABLE.
3. ENSURE THAT STUDENTS WHO ARE NOT ABLE TO JOIN IN SYNCHRONOUS ACTIVITIES STILL HAVE A WAY TO PARTICIPATE AND ENGAGE FULLY IN THE COURSE.
4. ACKNOWLEDGE OUR SHARED HUMAN EXPERIENCE IN THIS MOMENT AND THAT WE ALSO DO NOT ENTER THE SEMESTER WITH THE SAME SET OF EXPERIENCES OR ACCESS TO RESOURCES.
5. DISTILL WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT FOR OUR COURSES AND LET THE REST GO: LESS IS MORE—REALLY.
What I will remember most from this summer is that after doing the same 90 minute workshop 7 times about student-centered teaching online and using Jamboard to collaborate, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I came away with new ideas to try in my own teaching, new meaningful connections to my colleagues who teach, and a resounding reminder of immense creative energy and dynamic engagement about teaching and learning that I and we have gotten to be part of in preparing for Fall 2020 and beyond. I’m not lying at all when I say that the best conversations I’ve ever had about teaching, learning & mentoring in my 20+ years in higher ed, the most innovation happening across this campus is happening RIGHT NOW.
Jodi Bornstein (a CTLM Fellow from Education) reminded me yesterday that as we start the fall we need to remember that we are beginning something new and that in spite of all the work we've done, there's no way to be completely prepared. That's both exciting and daunting, but I hope we can lean into this new beginning with our students as fellow learners, fellow travelers in this uncertain world.
Some Aforementioned & Additional Resources:
By Ryan Hiemenz
Around the world, millions of individuals avoid their neuroses at all costs. Keeping busy, being around others, and leaving no time for darkness helps me and many others to cope with the thoughts that we deal with on the daily. It's certainly not easy, but it is often manageable. However, what happens if all of our coping mechanisms are stripped from us? What if we aren't able to leave our homes? What if we are trapped in our minds with nothing but an occasional zoom call to save us? Well, Covid-19 helped us to answer these questions.
I never thought that I would have to worry about a global pandemic keeping me away from any face to face human interaction, but here we are. Six months into a total lockdown, and only very recently has the country begun to reopen. To many, reopening the country solves all of the problems we faced throughout the quarantine, allowing us to go back to normal. However, I feel very changed after spending six months alone with my thoughts, and I know that I am not the only one.
As someone who thrives in a busy environment surrounded by my peers, I had an immense amount of difficulty adjusting to those hellish social-distancing rules. I wanted nothing more than to kick down my front door, drive over to campus, and hug all of my closest friends. But alas, I was locked down in my bedroom, staring at the ceiling for what seemed like ages. Not even music or movies could adequately distract me from my thoughts.I was forced to think about every little thing that haunts me, survive anxiety attacks alone, and pick myself up from depressive episodes. I was isolated. Just like everyone else.
While yes, I was forced to face and ultimately overcome many of the traumas that plague my life, battling one’s demons is no easy feat. Personally, I had to close myself off from much of the very little interaction I was getting to focus completely on bettering myself so I would not lose myself in my solitude. I have learned many new things about myself and healed quite a bit, but this journey is far from over. Though my story has been successful, I know many others who were not as lucky. They have not yet been liberated from their individual traumas and it may take a while before they can say they have done so. They are still suffering. It is very important to remember that as we work towards coming back to campus in the fall.
Patience means everything to someone struggling with their own mental health. Many of us have adjusted to our lonely lives through this pandemic, and while the world is ready to reopen, it is going to take us just as long to readjust to “normal” life. We may be suffering intensely, but due to being alone for so long we might not know how to ask for help. It is incredibly damaging to feel alone while surrounded by others, purely because you can't remember how to use your voice as a defense against the darkness. This is where everyone can unite and battle mental illnesses together. Be there for one another! Try to help out in any way that you can! And most of all, choose kindness above everything else!
Walking the Walk
By Daniel Pieczkolon
In a summer where I’ve put more time, effort, & deep consideration into my syllabi than any previous summer, I haven’t given a second thought to my brief description of “Academic Integrity” floating somewhere between “Classroom Decorum” and “Campus Resources.” Re-reading it now, I’m not even sure where it originated. It doesn’t feel like my language with its military-father-tone and reliance on direct modal statements. (There isn’t a single--not one!--appositive or parenthetical aside.) I probably copy & pasted it from some university policy, or maybe a generous senior faculty member shared it with me as I scrambled to compose that first syllabus several years ago. It feels so punitive though, so presumptive of student nefariousness, so at odds with the rest of the syllabus in which it lives, where I’ve carefully described the importance of trust & vulnerability in service of communal progress. It doesn’t have to be this way though.
And, thankfully, Dr. Steve Robbins, Professor of Psychology, has provided a template for us to think through more compassionate & humane ways to uphold academic integrity. Rather than approach academic integrity punitively, Dr. Robbins has adopted an Honor Code pledge system that was first introduced to him at Haverford College (where he studied as an undergraduate). In his courses, students are given “take-home exams that are closed-book, closed notes, limited time” and taken on a strictly honor code basis. Prior to the first exam--and not at the beginning of the semester when professor & students are less familiar with each other--students are asked to sign a pledge that prohibits them from consulting other people, the book, or their notes during the exam, revealing exam content to other students, and seeking out exam content prior to taking it. This concept seems fairly straightforward, but it’s a gesture that completely redefines the relationship between professor and student. It demonstrates trust before it seeks it; it presupposes integrity rather than duplicity.
Of course, Dr. Robbins understands that this approach may not be for everyone: “I don't think you can use an Honor Code system unless you're willing to accept that some people could abuse it and accept that cost against the much larger benefit of having people practice being honorable. I don't think you can get good at things without practice, and honesty is included. So you have to give students the opportunity to cheat without being caught in order to force them to practice honesty.” And despite the “opportunity to cheat,” it seems students are using this experience as an opportunity to “practice honesty.” Comparing in-class exams and take-home exams from the same course, Dr. Robbins notes no dramatic score changes that would be indicative of widespread cheating. Moreover, individual students who have abused the policy have documented “that they’ve gone over time” and “some have even admitted that they broke down and looked up an answer and felt so guilty they had to disclose.”
After speaking with Dr. Robbins, I kept thinking about our lived values, and how it’s easier to describe & prescribe them than actually live them. Living them requires a vulnerability that doesn’t come natural to most people. Of course, with our students returning for a fall semester unlike any other, it may be worthwhile for everyone to enter the classroom unnaturally vulnerable.
A White Perspective on How We Can Start Treating People of Color Better
By Brit Shorette
You are learning to identify and talk about racism, and that takes time, patience, and humility with yourself. This is going to be a new skill. You will be wrong at first, a lot. Learning how to accept your failures is a big part of social advocacy that doesn’t get discussed enough.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong; accept when someone tells you did something wrong. They are telling you of the pain you’ve caused because ultimately, they care enough to try to teach you to do better.
Here are three steps to help us respond when we’ve been told that we’ve erred:
1. Verbally admit that I was wrong/I need to do better.
Yes, they already know we are ignorant—they need us to acknowledge that we know it, too. If someone says we have done something wrong, it is not an attack. Nor is it something debatable, searchable, or desirable. Your education, no matter the level, has not given you the authority to know more than they do about how they've been treated their entire lives. Don't make it a monologue. Try: "That was ignorant," or better yet, "I am ignorant."
This should be any time that we are accused of a social offense, period. When we are addressed by a person of color for what we did, respect what has been perceived—perception is the only truth that matters. Your intention? They don’t matter. They are not what was perceived.
No one needs a long-winded explanation of why that wasn't our intention. We’ve all done this. We cannot stop listening as we become uncomfortable, we must lean into it. By internally acknowledging our discomfort and continuing through it, we build a tolerance to that discomfort—and through that, we learn to tolerate our own ignorance, accept our shame, and be willing to have courageous conversations about race and racism with the white people we live and work with every day.
3. State your accountability.
"Yes, I did this. I don't want to do this again."
If we don't know why what happened hurt, we can try to ask honestly how we can be better to them. You MUST ask for permission because it's a big ask for someone to teach you about their trauma.
Those are three separate steps—do not merge an apology with ignorance and do not excuse your sincerity. Remember: listening to someone talk about trauma is a privilege, not something that we are ever, ever entitled to. If someone chooses to honor your consideration of them and address their trauma, listen. We accepted our discomfort when we accepted our accountability and ignorance.
When they are finished, thank them. Remember that every time we ask someone why, we are asking them to re-experience their trauma, and it's not our right to know it. It wasn't their job to enlighten you, they chose to inconvenience themselves to help you understand something. Furthermore, someone taught you something. You should just always thank someone that takes time out of their day to do that, as a general practice. It should look like: "That was really ignorant of me. I'm sorry. Thank you for telling me. I want to do better by you, please call me out when you have the energy to do so."
Do not inject your personal experiences with diversity or injustice or whatever you might think is similar to try to find common ground—no experience you have is anything close to their experience. Every single one of us has done this at one point or another. Every time we do this, we invalidate their experience as a person of color, and it denies the point being made in the first place: we caused someone pain.
Do not patronize them by being overly thankful or kind, because you wouldn't do that to your boss. Right now, they're your boss and you've been told you've done wrong. If you patronize your boss, they won’t like you and you’ll get fired. It’s the same principle, but you must apply it outside of your standard of professional practice.
We are from a people that have thrown every minority group into a pit, used their backs to get to the ground level, then said, "figure it out yourselves." Stop throwing olive branches down into a pit.
The recognition of these principles will help us to be more effective when approaching our own discomfort and ignorance and to help us better respond to our fellows when they choose to address what our ignorance has done to them. We cannot overcome our differences unless we can gracefully acknowledge our flaws and learn from our mistakes. We don’t need a written policy to create social change. We only require humility to become less ignorant, and generally speaking, better towards all of our peers.
5 Creative Mask Options to Suit Your Every Need
By Ryan Hiemenz
1. The Organic Option
2. The Aromatic Option
3. The Vitamin C Option
4. The Water Tank Option
5. The Breathable Option
A Poet, a Physicist, and an Accountant Walk Into a Zoom Room...
By Daniel Pieczkolon
This isn’t the setup for a joke--although that didn’t stop me from spending hours trying to develop a punchline for it; I think it has something to do with the multiverse and tax & line breaks, but I couldn’t quite get there. Instead, it’s a description of one of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring’s new Professional Learning Communities.
In late June, the Center launched five Professional Learning Communities with the goal of bringing together faculty & staff to work and think through teaching strategies in a communal setting. Each PLC is facilitated by a summer fellow from the CTLM and is composed of 10-15 participants, including senior, junior, & part-time faculty and staff from a wide range of departments & programs across campus. They meet, on average, for an hour and a half each week.
These logistic descriptors don’t really do justice to the kinds of work & community-building taking place in these sessions though. Dr. Matt Heitzman, Assistant Professor of English, refers to his experience in the PLC as “energizing and healing” and a way to remember that “I’m not alone as I prepare for the Fall.” Lisa Jo Epstein, Adjunct Professor of Education, describes her experience as “a gift” and the first meaningful interaction she’s had with her colleagues at Arcadia.
I’ve had the pleasure of facilitating one PLC and serving as a participant in another, and the thing that has struck me most is the distinct nature of each group. While each group started from a similar place, their unique needs, concerns, and intelligences have led them to evolve distinctly. One may be considering granular aspects of syllabus construction while another discusses broader and more philosophical concerns of campus equity & inclusion. As Dr. Heitzman points out though, their diversity necessitates a shared framework through which to consider these disparate ideas: “One of the luxuries of collaborating with colleagues from other parts of the University is that by necessity, we as a group have shifted from focusing on the content of our courses—what we’re teaching—to focusing on the delivery of that content—how we’re teaching. Our discussions have put the student learning-experience front and center.”
Like so many things that happen to be starting now, the PLCs are taking shape in the shadow of COVID-19, but I can’t help but consider the potential they have beyond this context. What can these groups accomplish when they aren’t staring so squarely at a Rubik’s Cube of forced online instruction in a moment of historic civil unrest and a global pandemic? A poet, a physicist, and an accountant walk into a Zoom Room, and a campus culture is changed forever.
The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring
The CTLM Team
Dr. Ellen Skilton, Professor of Education
Faculty & Staff Fellows
Dr. Jodi Bornstein, Associate Professor of Education
Chanae Brown, Program Manager, TCGS
Dr. Jonathan Church, Director of Cultural Anthropology Program
Shannon Diallo, Assistant Professor, Medical Sciences
Lindsay McGann, Administrative Manager, Graduate & Undergraduate Studies and
Professional Faculty, Public Health
Dr. Katherine Moore, Associate Professor of Psychology
Daniel Pieczkolon, Adjunct Professor of English
Monica Anna Day, MA ‘20
Siobhan Dougherty, ‘21
Eleanor Doughton, ‘22
Ryan Hiemenz, ‘23
Riti Kamath '21
Rebecca Kirk, ‘21
Allie Nye, ‘20
Stephanie Quarshie '22
Mikayla Raggi '21
Brit Shorette, ‘21
Karan Singh '21
Barbara St. Fleur, ‘22