Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching with bells and whistles?

This week I used short movie clips to illustrate concepts from the text. While I don't do this often, I try to add in some type of pop culture (music, print ad, movies, tv programs) for more difficult materials covered in the course. For example, for the Introduction to Public Speaking class I used clips from My Cousin Vinny to illustrate the concept of Ethos and Logos (Marisa Tomei court scene) in constructing arguments. I also incorporated a brief non-verbal analysis of candidates seeking election from CNN analysts to illustrate the idea that our bodies say more than our mouths. In the Advanced course, I relied on short clips from Lean on Me, A Time to Kill, and Inglourious Bastards to talk through the ideas of coercion and persuasion. I am quite blessed to say that my students are very engaged in most of the class sessions we have--they work to apply the text to daily life and to upcoming speeches. This week's classes went extremely well. Students were engaged and participating actively in discussions. I was thrilled the difficult concepts were absorbed easily and students were using academic vocabulary in the class discussion.

When I returned to my shared office, a colleague noted I lugged around a laptop, projector, speakers, and asked about the lesson for the day. When I described what we did the reaction was unexpected. My colleague noted that he doesn't like to teach with "bells and whistles" and that "of course the students would like it, but are they learning?" We are in separate disciplines and divided by 25 years of age, so it was interesting to explore the ideas of learning from one who views it in a more rote, solitary fashion and my own perception of teaching through connections and more democratically-based classrooms. It made me wonder about our perceptions of pedagogy and how we most often teach the way we liked to learn. While I enjoyed a good lecture, I really remembered/retained information when it was through some applied medium such as a class activity, a group project, or pop culture. Those classes were the ones I enjoyed the most because I knew that the material I read would be brought to life in some way during the class session. In the end, a productive and interesting discussion on pedagogy came out of the "bells and whistles" comment where we both reflected and examined our approaches in the classroom. Maintaining an open mind and sharing ideas on pedagogy across disciplines opens opportunities for educators which can enhance learning in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Motivation and retention

What is it that spurs your motivation? This semester has been an interesting mix of energetic opportunities and simple faculty fatigue. After 10 weeks, the semester is flying by and the TO DO list is static. Examining motivation in higher education is interesting. Why do we work such long hours? What keeps us at our institutions? What are we using as a source of energy to continue our efforts?

Oldham (2005) remarked that motivation within the teaching side of higher education depends greatly on the symbolic organizational behavior and sheer collegiality within the institution--this motivation was stronger than any bureaucratic or political organizational behavior in influencing faculty motivation around teaching. This is an important observation, noting that our perception of collegiality in the workplace can influence our personal motivation to meet our professional goals. Interpersonal and organizational communication carries a powerful oar in the way we navigate our professional journey within higher education--even across departments and campus. Drysdale (2005) commented that faculty at one institution were motivated to remain at their institution by three consistent factors: their families, their desire to remain in the geographic location, and their tenure status (achieved). This calls to question, what happens to retain faculty members when they are not tenured, not set on the geographic location, and do not face family pressure to remain? In short, how are many non-tenured faculty finding the motivation to remain at institutions?

Personally, my motivation to do work and to do work specifically at my institution continues to be highly impacted by my students. When they are engaged and excited, it is much easier to work (both on teaching elements, and on committees and research). As students lose energy, my own seems to fade. This means that the end of October has become a difficult time for me to self-motivate here on campus. However, the research shows that strong collegial ties and an institutional focus on need, emotions, and intellectual goals can help faculty members stay motivated to commit to their institution. Perhaps our institutions need to continue focusing on these areas to explore faculty retention, motivation, and ultimately the success faculty members are having in teaching, service, and research as they move through their careers. Institutions aren't the only place to look for assistance in maintaining a productive work environment. Faculty members would do well to reflect on motivation and retention while personally examining how they are shaping institutional culture, departmental culture, and that all-important sense of collegiality on today's college campuses.

In the mean time, my goal lies in finding a consistent level of motivation from which I can draw to stay productive-- A level of motivation that is not subject to the valleys and peaks of the semester timeline or the student energy base.

Drysdale, D. (2005). Faculty job satisfaction: Retaining faculty in the new millennium. Dissertation: Montana State University.
Oldham, B. (2005). Organizational behavior and faculty motivation in higher education. Dissertation: Peabody College for Teachers of Vanderbilt University.