Driven By Fear by Jerry Moore

Surrounded by thickets of pedagogy, learning theories, and political rhetoric, teaching remains a remarkably personal enterprise.  Although we want similar results from our students—intellectual engagement, mastery of knowledge, and connective thinking—we walk into our classrooms as individuals.  We enter as individuals with varying levels of expertise, varied expectations, and different motivations for what we want to accomplish in the classroom, struggling between what we hope occurs and what actually does.  In turn, our shared commitment to teaching is shaped by personal experiences and distinct aspirations.

What drives me?  I am driven by fear.  Let me tell you a story.

About twenty years ago I landed in LAX coming back from an anthropology conference.  The conference had lasted several days, so I left my car in Lot C, the long-term parking.  I came out of the airport terminal and waited for the shuttle.  It was late at night and I was tired, so I climbed on board the shuttle, said “Good evening” to the driver, shoved my suitcase in the rack, and slumped into a seat.

The shuttle pulled away from the curb.  I glanced forward and read the driver’s name plate.  I recognized the name.  He had been a student of mine at Dominguez Hills.

I remembered this young man.  He was a studio art major enrolled in my lower division GE course in archaeology.  One afternoon, I was looking at an exhibit in the gallery at LaCorte Hall, and this young man was working there, sitting in the information booth just inside the entrance.

We chatted.  He was really excited because he was interested in sculpture.  He was making the transition from sculpting by shaping clay into ceramic objects to learning how to sculpt stone.  We got into a long conversation about this new stage in his art, moving from the additive process of creating ceramic forms to the challenge of discovering the hidden forms within stone, an tactile exploration that Michelangelo described as, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

This student was really excited about this challenge, and we talked for a half hour or so.  Later that week in my archaeology class, I was discussing a similar transition that occurred during the Upper Paleolithic of Europe, when people realized that instead of making a core of stone into a single hand-axe, they could take the core and use it as raw materials for different kinds of tools—spear points, awls, knife blades, and so on—discovering the hidden possibilities latent in the stone.  I asked this young man to describe for the class his own transformation from ceramics to stone and the process of discovering hidden patterns in his art.  He shared his experiences and his excitement with the class.  It was a great “teaching moment.”

I remembered all of this that night on the shuttle bus, so I stood up and went to the front of the bus as we swerved through traffic.

“Hi there,” I said.  “I know you!  You were my student at Cal State Dominguez Hills!”

He glanced over his shoulder, nodded and let out a deep sigh.  “That was a long, long time ago.”

There was nothing more to say.  I went back to my seat.

In fact, it had only been a couple of years.  Yet, spending his nights driving the shuttle around and around LAX, it must have seemed like a long time had passed between who he was that afternoon in my class—excited by the possibilities of discovery—and where he was that night.

There is nothing wrong with honest work.  Who knows how his life has changed since that night?

We pulled into Lot C.  I grabbed my bag and said “Good bye.”  He drove away.  I have never seen him again.

But as I walked to my car, I was overcome by a dark fear that somehow I had failed that man, my student.  And I swore that I would do everything I could to never have that dark fear again.

It has been more than twenty years, but not a week passes when I don’t think about that night on the shuttle bus.  And since that night, I have done everything I could do to teach better, to motivate, mentor, and challenge my students—because I do not want to have that dark fear of failure ever again.

In my teaching, I am fundamentally driven by fear.

 

This blog series is entitled, Aun Aprendo: Random Notes from a CSUDH Professor.”

Professor Jerry D. Moore is an archaeologist and has taught at CSUDH since 1991.  His archaeological research centers on prehistoric cultural landscapes and the development of complex societies in Andean South America. His 2012 book, The Prehistory of Home, received the Society for American Archaeology’s 2014 Award for a book written for a popular audience.

Keeping Students Engaged In an Online Learning Environment by Lu Ann Kondor

The most powerful aspect to online learning is flexibility. The majority of students I have in my online courses want to be able to work when they have time and resources available. As an online instructor and experienced with online, hybrid and traditional teaching methods I have found effective communication, interaction and context are key components to keeping students engaged in online learning. These three components are necessary in any learning environment.

Out of communication, interaction and context the most important of these factors for keeping students engaged is communication. I have several tips to keep students engaged in quality learning. First I keep students apprised of any changes to the course in one place, usually the course announcements area. I post what week it is in the course with any links needed like help desk, course start and end dates, reminders etc. Easy to find information really makes a course go smoother. I highly recommend including assignment due dates here, especially an end-of-course date.

Second I add as much information as necessary to the syllabus. It does increase the size of the syllabus a little but with simple headings, the document is easily searchable. I require students read the syllabus the first week and ask questions. I get them to engage early allowing me to detect any issues and identify students that may be at risk for difficulties in the course. If a student can’t log on during a particular week, they can email me and in many cases are able to finish the assignment due, as I list all assignments in the back of the syllabus. This is great tool for the first two weeks in a course when some students may have computer difficulties. The syllabus provides a way for students to look ahead and post questions on future assignments before the due date.

On key projects I provide a grading matrix with plenty of details on how each section is graded. I also point out on the original document any details on how to improve their writing. I use comments tool in the student’s file and then refer to the page number in the grading rubric. An online course is missing face-to-face interaction so detailed written feedback is crucial. Remember to provide meaningful feedback and a positive critique. When a student does a great job on something I let them know.

I want to stress that I respond within 48 hours to email. Personally I try to answer within 24 hours and usually do. I use the 48-hour rule for those few times I just can’t check my email. Timely answers are important for students, who are experiencing frustration or fear on class assignments, to know I am available for them. I also respond to every student’s email even if it is a ‘you are welcome’ for a thank you. If a student needs more direct communication than email I offer to chat online or videoconferencing. I have found that asking students to let me know when they can chat is more beneficial than having office hours since some students are located in other time zones and can’t make specific hours each week.

Other basic communication techniques I use are a mandatory student introduction forum posting during week 1. I make sure I always have my contact information updated with a photo and all my social media links so I am accessible on various platforms. Getting students to post about themselves can be very difficult so if they see my information updated, they are motivated to post an introduction about themselves.

Finally I stress that I want students responding to other student work posted. Based on feedback from past course evaluations I have concluded the more students interact with each other as well as the instructor, the more they like the course. I like to give credit for students posting links and images related to the topics being discussed to increase discussions and interaction online. Recorded lectures and plenty of examples enhance information and communication on course topics and provide a context for questions, upbeat interactions and student observations.

 

This blog series is entitled, “The Challenge of Facilitating Successful Online Learning .“

Lu Kondor has worked in engineering and technical writing at major visual motion picture and visual effects studios with more than 25 years of experience in the entertainment industry. She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Society for Technical Communication, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and Delta Mu Delta International Honor Society in Business. Lu has a doctorate in business management and has taught as adjunct faculty at CSUDH since 2007.