Meet Our ProVisions Fellows!

James D. Allen

James graduated from the University of Cincinnati with degrees in Secondary Education and Mathematics, received his Masters in Eductional Foundations from the University of Cincinnati and his Ph.D. in Eductional Psychology from the University of California.  James has been a professor of Educational Psychology at The College of Saint Rose since 1988.

James’ Interest in the “Teaching Critical Thinking” Theme:

As an educational psychologist I have focused my professional endeavors primarily in the areas of learning, motivation and instruction with a particular interest in promoting reflective and critical thinking among students.  I have conducted and published research that has focused on the constructivist and generative student-centered pedagogies that I use in my classes and I am continually reviewing the learning and instructional literature for research that demonstrates effective practices for promoting these skills and then integrating them into my own teaching. I see this as the essence of the scholarship of teaching and learning. Literature suggests that instructional strategies that require students to generate their own understanding of academic content, either through interactive discussions or analytic writing, promotes not only greater depth of content learning, but also increases critical and analytical thinking skills, as well as increases motivation and positive affect to learn.

Stephanie A. Bennett

Stephanie received her BA, MA, and Ph.D. from SUNY Albany, and is now an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department here at Saint Rose.  Stephanie has been at St. Rose since 2008.  Prior to coming here, she was a tenure track faculty at SUNY Oneonta and before that SUNY Oswego, choosing to come to St. Rose because of the small class size and the emphasis on teaching.

Stephanie’s Interest in the “Teaching Critical Thinking” Theme:

My interest in critical thinking has been with me as long as I have been in the classroom.  I have always worked to make students see the world from various points of view as it is one of the tenants of the Sociological Imagination in Sociology.  My interest has been most currently peaked with my participation in FLEP American City here at St. Rose.  We as a group have tried to emphasize critical thinking and the measurement of critical thinking into the First Year Experience.  I hope to walk away from this fellowship with a greater understanding of what Critical Thinking means in a wider academic sense and have more tools to instill Critical Thinking to my students.

Amina Eladaddi

Amina received her PhD in Applied Mathematics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2006, and she has been a professor in the Mathematics Department here at The College of Saint Rose since 2009.  Eladdadi’s research and teaching are interdisciplinary in nature and are at the interface of mathematics and biological, medical and financial sciences. Of particular interest to her, is cancer research. She is also very active in the undergraduate research in Applied Mathematics where she incorporates critical thinking in her project-based teaching/learning.

Amina’s Interest in the “Teaching Critical Thinking” Theme:

Critical thinking is a not only a fundamental focus in modern education, but is a vital skill in this fast-paced and global economy we live and work in today.

The skill to “think critically” is always listed as one of the important outcomes of undergraduate education.  Most of the time, this teaching is done “indirectly” or “implicitly” that students do not pick up the signals of critical thinking skills. In my field of mathematics, critical thinking and problem solving go hand in hand. I believe that teaching critical thinking in mathematics or any other discipline is essential in the development of successful students; though not easy for the instructors (or the students) to develop critical thinking skills from the first attempt of teaching (or learning).  I would like to explore questions such as: why is it so hard to teach critical thinking? Does critical thinking vary from one discipline to another?  Are instructors trained in critical thinking to teach it to their students?

One of the main challenges that lay ahead is how to implement and integrate critical thinking “effectively” into classroom instruction?  I envision this new Provisions activity to be an open forum where the CSR faculty can share ideas on how to teach critical thinking, and possibly develop programs for promoting critical thinking skills in their classrooms.

April Provisions: Signature Pedagogies and Saint Rose

The April ProVisions session focused on the topic of Signature Pedagogies and The College of Saint Rose.  The presenters included Dr. David Sczerbacki, president, Dr. Margaret Kirwin, provost, and Steve Black, Librarian.

Dr. Sczerbacki began the presentations by discussing what he terms is Saint Rose’s “pedagogical pluralism,” where there is a deep commitment to academic freedom that recognizes that there is no one best way, rather that there are multiple contingencies at work, always remembering that different people learn differently.  Dr. Sczerbacki was sure to point out that for any pedagogy to be a signature pedagogy, it must pass the test.  In other words, we must have “proof points” where we can demonstrate where and how our pedagogies make a difference.  Here is the useful handout that Dr. Sczerbacki provided, which looks at both the components of successful high-impact practices and essential learning outcomes:

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Steve Black followed Dr. Sczerbacki, defining signature pedagogy as a distinctive model of teaching and learning that focuses on what students are able to do.  He focused on Lendol Calder’s “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey,” from the Journal of American History, and presented the following insights that he gained from the article:

  • Desired result is for students to do, think, and value what practitioners in the discipline do, think, and value. The resulting values, knowledge, and manner of thinking form a disciplinary world view.
  • Emphasis on covering material in introductory courses is grounded on a false “attic theory” of cognition, which assumes that we need to furnish the mind with a collection of facts in order to think critically. But “facts are not like furniture at all; they are more like dry ice, disappearing at room temperature” (p.1361).  Facts disembodied from a problem will fade away.
  • Better to become perplexed by a problem, then use facts to achieve a solution.
  • Uncoverage–instead of emphasizing facts, uncover what the discipline is. Why bother studying it, what problems do practitioners grapple with, what is the discipline all about?

Steve sees Saint Rose’s unusually broad range of liberal education requirements as a possible signature pedagogy of Saint Rose, where these courses have the strength of introducing students to a wide array of disciplinary ways of seeing the world.  He also provided some examples of what he sees as Saint Rose’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to signature pedagogies, noting possible opportunities for success:

 

Strengths:Highly qualified and dedicated professionals within the disciplinesSmall class sizes

Strong support systems (service learning, learning center, library)

Successful problem-based learning

Weaknesses:Reliance on adjuncts(?)Inherent limitations of one semester courses taught primarily to freshmen

Difficult to maintain constructive dialogue across disciplines

Opportunities:Engender conversation about the degree to which our lib ed offerings should focus on “uncoverage,” how to achieve that, what supports are needed, and how to maximize students’ ability to make connections among disciplinary approaches to problems. Threats:How much can students learn about the workings of a discipline in one course?In the courses our students take, how often does coverage take precedence over uncoverage?

Why should faculty be concerned about coverage vs. uncoverage beyond their disciplinary boundaries?

 

Last but not least, Dr. Kirwin focused on service learning as a signature pedagogy and argued that if the signature pedagogy does not involve active learning, we must rethink it as a signature.  Dr. Kirwin sees Saint Rose’s mission statement as a hint towards a mission-centric signature, a goal for Saint Rose Service Learning:

“The College delivers distinctive and comprehensive liberal arts and professional programs that inspire our graduates to be productive adults, critical thinkers, and motivated caring citizens.  Our engagement with the urban environment expands the setting for educational opportunities and encourages the Saint Rose community’s energetic involvement and effective leadership in society.”

In her presentation, Dr. Kirwin explained emphasized that the connection to learning standards is what distinguishes service learning from community service, where the activity also requires that students make decisions, act under conditions of unavoidable uncertainty, and socializes them to the conditions of practice.

Take a look at Kirwin’s PowerPoint presentation: Kriwin – April ProVisions.

To listen to Tuesday’s session about Signature Pedagogies and Saint Rose, click here!!

The Polarized Debate on Internet Distraction: An Alternative

In “You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help.,” Marc Parry discusses Professor David Levy’s unique teaching practices when it comes to his class “Information and Contemplation,” where students scrutinize their use of technology (i.e. how much time they spend with it, how it affects their emotions, how it fragments their attention), write guidelines for improving their habits, and practice in-class meditation to sharpen their attention.

The conversation that Levy is intervening in is composed of two camps, defined by Parry as those camps that “duke it out over whether the Internet will unleash vast reservoirs of human potential (Clay Shirky) or destroy our capacity for concentration and contemplation (Nicholas Carr).”   Parry notes, however, “Mr. Levy hopes to open a fresh window on the polarized cultural debate about Internet distraction and information abundance.”

You're Distracted

Mr. Levy, a professor in the Information School at University of Washington, “sees a problem with many discussions about what technology is doing to our minds.”  “So many of those debates fail to even acknowledge or realize that we can educate ourselves, even in the digital era, to be more attentive,” he says. “What’s crucial is education.”

Mr. Levy believes that part of this education is teaching the benefits of meditation, and he begins each of his classes with a short meditation session in an effort to sharpen their focus.  Parry describes Mr. Levy’s meditation practice as repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breathing as the mind wanders away, training the mind to focus on the present.

“As digital tools gained momentum in the 90s, he [Levy] started to wonder whether technologies sold as tools of connection were also disconnecting people from themselves and one another. Cellphones, e-mail, Internet—all of it accelerated life. That contrasted with the stillness and focus Mr. Levy cultivated in meditation.”

The question of how people could live balanced lives in the middle of these technologies is what Levy took to the classroom.

Parry explains a sample assignment of Levy’s, where the students are required to spend 15 minutes to half an hour each day observing and logging their e-mail behavior.  Parry writes that the idea, an outgrowth of meditation, is to note what happens in the mind and body, and Levy is curious to see: Can they notice the initial impulse to check e-mail? What are they thinking and feeling at that point? What emotional reactions do they have the moment they set eyes on the inbox? How does their posture and breathing change as they e-mail?  After observing their own behavior for a week, students write a two- to three-page reflection on what they saw.

In the process, Levy finds that students tend to discover what works for them, learning how strong their attention is at different times and seeing how e-mail provokes pleasure, anxiety, even hatred.  Parry also explains the follow-up assignment: “e-mail meditation,” meaning concentrating only on e-mail for 15 minutes or so at a stretch (i.e. no answering the phone, no texting).

Mr. Levy even has his students use Camtasia, a program that records what happens on the computer screen as students use the computer as well as uses a Web cam to film the students’ postures, expressions;, and physical environments.  Levy’s students use the software to record 15-minute multitasking sessions, “an exercise designed to teach them to multitask more mindfully, by noticing the desire to switch activities and deciding whether to follow it.”

Parry wraps his article up by highlighting Ulrich Mayr, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, whose research is concerned with the cognitive costs of not paying attention.  Mayr defines multitasking as “rapid task switching, since the human brain does just one thing at a time.”  Parry provides an example of Mayr’s definition using the circumstances of watching television while doing homework from a textbook. He quotes Mayr’s conclusion that, “While you’re trying to follow a story on television, you won’t be doing your homework, he says, and while doing your homework, you won’t get the TV story. Simple as that.”  Mayr says that as a result of multitasking, one is left with moments of mental “dead time” that are unproductive for either task, carrying the implication for teaching that the cost of classroom multitasking can be a failure to learn.  Mr. Mayr, however, does caution against drawing the conclusion that multitasking weakens attention, with the big question of whether or not multitasking changes how our brains work remaining unanswered.

Mr. Levy, meanwhile, is encouraging other colleges to bring age-old contemplative practices to their wired campuses.  You can check out Parry’s article for quotes from Levy’s students, more on Mayr, and a sample reading list for Levy’s course!