How is your balance?
For the last four days, I returned to college. I stayed in the dorms with a roommate, ate food in a communal college setting, and attended classes. We explored themes of learning through oral tradition and storytelling, awe and wonder in ourselves and our students, and our balance.
The four day workshop started with a beautiful winding drive through the driftless region of southwest Wisconsin. I twisted my way through the hills and bluffs between my home in Dubuque all the way to Richland Center. The weather was a mildly oppressive heat and my AC was on just high enough to prevent me from sweating. Once I found myself in Richland Center, I kept my eye out for trails peaking off the sides of the roads for my later walks/runs. I found my way to the set of dorms on UW-RC’s campus. All of them were located in one area, in a cluster, just across the street from campus. I checked in to my room where I found three chocolate hershey kisses neatly laid on my pillow.
Per my usual routine, I was early/on time. I was one of the first people to arrive, aside from the scholars/fellows. I wandered around awkwardly for a little while, and eventually started to bump into fellow faculty and conversation began. We ate dinner (fish) at around 5:00. Here, I met a fellow UW-Platteville faculty member who I hadn’t met before and chatted with several faculty from other UW campuses. A professor of chemistry from UW-GB taught me to write my name (Kameko) in Japanese. This professor (Franklin) was a model of awe and balance for the entirety of faculty college.
After dinner, we moved into the Coppertop Theatre for opening remarks and plenary. During this time, we listened to the stories of Napos and Lisa Poupart and learned about the First Nation traditions of oral histories and story telling. Napos shared his childhood of sitting and listening to the stories of his elders and how he learned – what it meant to him. He forced us to put away our notebooks and listen. He described his path to education and how, for him, tests are a way to figure out what you don’t know yet (so why study?). Lisa shared her worldview, too. She described how humans were created last, after maggots. Maggots, after all, give back to the Earth by decomposing. What do we, humans, give back?
We were asked, why is it important to reflect on our own well being & why this is important in the context of teaching/higher ed/the bigger picture? I wrote, “It’s important to reflect on my own well being because my well being – my mood, my energy, my vibe – emits itself to my students – it affects them. And if I’m well (or unwell), this will reflect in my teaching and interactions with them and ripple (maybe) across the community. I also find it important to reflect on my own well being so I can step back and make sure I’m pursuing all my interests that allow me to maintain a positive energy. Also, having a sense of purpose/meaningfulness, which is found in wellness, gives me an opportunity to view my work as a calling rather than a job.”
Then, as a group we reflected on what we do to maintain our balance (Gwayahkooshkawin). I reflected on running in the bluffs and forests, yoga, and reading for fun.
Napos taught us about the bear (north, white), the wolf (east, yellow), the buffalo (south, red, warrior), and the eagle (west, black).
We concluded the evening in conversation, connecting with each other over beer and sharing our fields of study, research, teaching, and histories with each other. I learned about my colleague Marcia’s “rejection therapy” learning activity that she uses in one of her courses.
Wednesday I woke up and set out for a walk just south of campus along a path. I encountered a park interlaced with a disc golf course winding along the Pine River (which seemed like an odd choice…). I walked along the paved part of the trail and then made my way down to a fishing dock. I found my way onto a semi-mowed/sandy trail adjacent to the creek but pretty quickly turned back to the paved trail as the mosquitoes ascended on me. I continued my walk along Pine River and through a watershed area where I watched red crowned? crane suffer the attacks of swooping red-winged black birds.
At breakfast, I connected with more faculty in the UW system. I learned about an amazing teaching project pulled off by Kayoung using gamification in her psychology of discrimination course. Her entire semester centered around houses earning points and concluded with a full-costume enactment, with Kayoung as the game master, at the end of the semester. Listening to her ideas (and again later on her amazing conference on diversity) was both inspiring and motivating.
After breakfast, we had the honor of hearing from MacArthur Fellow Anne Basting. She began by asking us to text someone what “awed” them. We discussed how wonder is a byproduct of awe. Awe grabs our attention and sparks our curiosity. She shared with us the three main access points to awe and wonder: nature, art, and spirituality. She then went on to share with us her “cultural cure” for dementia, where she has developed a phenomenal project (timeslips.org) centered on creative engagement with older adults using improv to facilitate awe. Dr. Bastings talk certainly inspired ideas to implement timeslips in my future course on adulthood and aging. I won’t be teaching this course until Fall 2019, but I’m already getting excited to possibly bring timeslips to the Platteville/Dubuque community. In our breakout groups, we continued to discuss the idea of harnessing awe in our classes to motivate students. How can we help our students experience awe? In my group, we also discussed the concept of humility and how humility may be a prerequisite to awe, which then produces wonder (and curiosity).
We continued the day with workshops on model teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Regan Gurung shared with us evidence for effective teaching/learning strategies. We started by recognizing that there is evidence for and against almost any teaching method. We then progressed to what constitutes evidence that we can/should consider using and what evidence may demand more scrutiny before we snag up that tool for our teaching arsenal.
David Voelker helped us think about how we can begin to discover what our students are actually getting from their learning experiences through SOTL. He provided a great handout and guide for beginning SOTL research. There are a number of projects I’m interested in working on in my courses. The problem I identified in our SOTL workshop is that students struggle to distinguish valid evidence from “fluff” or “myths in psychology.” This is especially a problem in general psychology because psychology and neuroscience are 1) in the media a lot, 2) inherently interesting because it’s US, and 3) we like simple answers to solve our problems and often times the simple answer is not the correct one (i.e., “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong” Mencken). From this problem, I’d like to explore an individual activity that takes place within a class period and a longer-term assignment the students complete. Within a class period, I am interested in whether experiential learning increases student understanding of myths in psychology (and actually getting that it is a MYTH). I also interested in whether actively myth busting in an assignment helps them to understand valid evidence relative to “fluff.”
In the evening we watched Wachanga’s inspirational documentary on Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Ngugi’s story pushed us to think of what language means to us, our identity, and our culture.
Thursday, I woke up and went for a pretty fast 5.5 mile run along the Pine Creek Trail. I wandered into a neighborhood and found a small hill to get at least some hill training in 🙂
After breakfast, we took a quiz about teaching/learning myths and Bill Cerbin presented on the science of learning. Some of my favorite snippets of his talk included “the bog of best practices” and how multitasking has a “corrosive effect on selective attention” and “students subvert the value of flashcards.” Some of the key takeaways from Bill Cerbin’s talk were retrieval practice, using worked out problems in early learning to reduce the demands on working memory, and creating desirable difficulty. In our breakout groups we discussed some of our strategies we use in courses. One great suggestion I received for increasing retrieval practice into my upper level research methods course was small writing tasks (e.g., explainers or minute-theses style writing) where the students write about their research to a specific audience, which I could vary from time to time and have them repeat the task a few times throughout the semester.
We continued the day with workshops on oral history and story telling. We witnessed some of Micere Mugo’s story and discussed the relationship between an interviewer and interviewee. One thing that stood out to me is whether an interviewer should proceed when the interviewee is vulnerable (e.g., personal life or health or otherwise). Is the information and/or story of your interviewee more important than the possibility of compromising the well being of your interviewee in that moment? I also was moved by the ideas that oppression “doesn’t know geography” and is “like a tsunami.” Micere’s story was shared with us by Wachanga, who later also shared with me a story of Samuel Wanjiru, who he met at the Chicago Marathon in 2010 (I think). Wanjiru was a Kenyan runner who won the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and went on to win the London and Chicago marathons the following year (which is incredibly hard to do!). Wachanga spoke with Wanjiru after the Chicago marathon by reaching out to him in Swahili. Wachanga was interested in his story. However, Wanjiru was not prepared for the lifestyle that came with his early success and the transition to the U.S. and ultimately fell/jumped/? from a balcony and died in 2010 under uncertain circumstances.
Thursday evening, I connected with Traci after we participated in a story telling activity and discovered the value of nonverbal feedback. She told me about the Wisconsin Women in Science meetings. Later that evening we played several intense games of volleyball (and now I’m sore!). In the background, other faculty jammed to classic rock hits with new lyrics relaying the trials and tribulations of higher education.
Friday morning I connected with Vipavee, Hector, Doug, Carey, and Ross for an 11 mile run. We bonded over our passion for running long distances and found our balance. I’ll be forever sorry to Ross for stealing the very last banana Thursday night. Our run took us along a path through and out of Richland Center. We passed through woods, prairie, and (mainly) cornfields. Eventually the paved path gave way to a gravel path. We shared great conversation.
Faculty college ended with a song, some acting, and a picture. After breakfast, a group of faculty played a song they wrote for us. Then the theater workshop engaged us in an improv activity, forcing us to confront the challenges our students face in a powerful demonstration that used four archetypes (sovereign, warrior, magician, lover).
I’m leaving faculty college inspired, with some wonderful takeaways and far too many ideas. I’m in awe of the wonderful faculty I met who share my passion for teaching and learning with students. Thank you to everyone I got the chance to talk with for your conversation and inspiration!
So remember, ask yourself – how is your balance?