Barks and wags blog
COMING UP: EDUCATION AND CIVIL RIGHTS CONFERENCE, JUNE 6-7 2014 (January 2014)
This conference at Penn State University in State College will explore the most effective strategies to expand quality access to, and meaningful integration within, educational settings for students of color — what worked in the past, what holds promise for the future.
The event will feature invited speakers, such as federal government officials working in civil rights and education, educators who are currently implementing integration or affirmative action plans, and long-time scholars in the field. We plan to hold a graduate symposium on Friday morning, a dinner Friday evening with a major speaker, and a day-and-a-half–long conference beginning on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday.
Early registration deadline is May 1. To register, visit http://www.outreach.psu.edu/civil-rights/
ENCOURAGING STUDENT PARTICIPATION IN CLASS DISCUSSIONS - WHAT MORE CAN FACULTY DO? (January 2014)
For the past couple of semesters I have decided to reduce the number of professional skills that I encourage students to develop in my courses to help them better focus on one or two. One of the skills I am emphasizing more now is verbal communication. I have increased the weight of the class discussion grade and am devoting more time in class to discussing readings and current topics to help students find their "professional voice" that they will one day use in their careers for meetings, conferences, and presentations. I explain why this skill is necessary and how practicing in the classroom simulates the way they will speak in the "real career world." But is there more I can do to help reticent students overcome their fear of speaking in front of their peers?
According to a recent article in the Journal of Higher Education ("Classroom Organization and Participation: College Students' Perceptions" by Robert R. Weaver and Jiang Qi, Sept/Oct 2005), there are many well-studied factors that influence student participation, including class size, student age and gender, and student preparation, many of which are outside faculty control.
Another factor to consider is the time faculty spend with students outside of the classroom. Creating small learning communities that counter the formal structure of the classroom can encourage student engagement in regular class discussions.
Weaver and Qi recognize that devoting extra time to students outside of class diverts faculty time from activities such as research that are better rewarded by administrators, and is therefore risky. But perhaps there are other ways that I can reach out to students individually or in small learning groups, such as by creating online discussion pods where I can communicate more informally with a few students at a time, and make a more meaningful connection. I plan to implement this in my summer courses.
USING HUMOR ON COLLEGE TESTS - DOES IT IMPROVE STUDENTS' PERFORMANCE BY LESSENING TEST ANXIETY? (November 2013)
I give extensive and challenging multiple-choice, true/false exams in most of my courses, designed to encourage reading the assigned texts and to assess reading comprehension skills. I typically add a few silly questions to the pool, sometimes marking the correct response with the hint, "This is the right answer!" just for a laugh. Recently, I also added some stand-up comedy clips about race relations in America to my unit on Reconstruction, to help ease students into a serious discussion comparing discrimination in the post-Civil-War era to the present.
I would like to know what researchers have found about the effects of humor on helping students relax and perform with greater confidence on challenging course requirements. According to a 2000 article from College Teaching, there is no simple, proven correlation between humorous test items and lower student anxiety. However, "the findings of the six-year study reported in this article indicate that undergraduate and graduate students feel humor is effective in reducing their anxiety and making it possible to perform their best on exams."
The article suggests different strategies for using humor and that the instructor collect feedback from students on their reactions to the spoof questions. For those who want to read more, see “Does Humor in Course Tests Reduce Anxiety and Improve Performance?” Berk, Ronald A. College Teaching, 2000, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp. 151 – 58.
BI-PARTISANSHIP IN THE REAGAN YEARS AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM IT (October 2013)
Chris Matthews (host of MSNBC's Hardball) has recently been touting his new book, Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked (Simon and Schuster, 2013).
I have long referenced the example of the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill in my unit on the 1980s as a contrast to today's aggressive brinkmanship in Washington. I am delighted to now have first-hand accounts of a former top aide to the House Speaker to enhance this class discussion.
There are several brief, readable anecdotes to chose from, accessible to undergraduates with no expertise on the period, that provide vivid accounts of mature, visionary senior statesmanship by both men. I look forward to adding this exciting new source to this unit in December.
LEICESTER CONFERENCE A SUCCESS! (July 2013)
I was delighted to attend the International Association of Media and History conference in England at the University of Leicester (about two hours north of London). My session was well attended (on a Friday afternoon, no less!) and I received excellent questions and comments on my presentation, "Can a Warrior Wear a Tiara? The Pressures and Possibilities of Disney Princessdom for Mulan and Merida." I will soon be writing it up for publication - my first article based on my long-time experience of teaching a course on Disney animated film in American history.
WHAT I'M DOING NOW
After our successful appearance at the York Emporium Bookstore to play a set of spoof tunes for an Inappropriate Christmas Concert, we will be returning on February 7 for an Inappropriate Valentine's Day gig. We will reprise some of these tunes at the Wagon Shed Open Mic in New Freedom, PA on February 15. The rehearsals are so much fun we can hardly stop laughing. We will also be playing some traditional Irish and classic rockabilly tunes when the Boomers band takes their break at the Altland House in Abbotstown, PA on February 8. I am happy to have so many opportunities to work on our sound and have a great time doing it.
In January, we left for a week-long tour of Texas to see my family in San Antonio, Austin, and Ft. Worth. The weather was warm and the food delicious. I got to see more family members than usual and was happy to find everyone doing well. I played my first round of golf, where I posed next to an attractive Santa pig lawn ornament and matching pink tree. See more pics under the "My Life Off Campus" link.
This is the first year I have participated in an indoor tennis league. I am hoping to improve my consistency and forehand shots before the spring season begins. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to meet more players and get some much-needed winter exercise.
WHAT I'M READING NOW
A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-First Century by John Buehrens and Rebecca Ann Parker, Beacon Press, 2011.Constructs a theological framework that faith communities can apply to stimulate reflection and reform, communal hope, discipline, and activism. Explores progressive theology's deep roots in relation to the themes of eschatology, salvation, and sin.
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (actually J. K. Rowling), Audio CD, 2013. I am thrilled to read what I hope will be a new series by Rowling. Although this lacks the humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone of the Harry Potter books that I enjoyed so much, I like this smart, grown-up new world that Rowling has created with an intriguing plot and well-defined characters.
WHAT I'M WATCHING NOW
2012. A bizarre black comedy, my favorite genre. Especially outstanding performances by Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, and Tom Waits.
2013. We don't get to see all of the Oscar contenders in our small city, so I am especially grateful that this one came through. The smartest movie I've seen all year. Gripping for its costume designs, plot twists, intense characters and biting humor. We talked about it for weeks afterward.
2009-2013. We are Netflixing this well-made series about the LAPD. I especially like the detective character played by Regina King. Actors I've seen before who make noteworthy appearances in this series include C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) and Sean Hatosy (from the movie In and Out).
1959. This is up next in our Netflix queue. It's an award-winning courtroom drama starring Orson Wells, based on the 1924 Leopold-Loeb murder trial.
I am an Assistant Professor of History at Penn State York. Please browse my blog below and the links to the left for more information on my teaching, research, and other interests. Feel free to contact me any time. I welcome your questions and comments! Thanks for visiting, and come back soon. I update my content every week or so.