Category Archives: Education: Research and Reflection

2 Videos of Faculty Advising Workshops

2 Faculty Advising Workshops – Fall 2016

 basic-advising-picture CETL Faculty Advising Basics

vod02.nvcc.edu

Faculty and Staff

CETL Faculty Advising Basics (1 Hour)

NOVA Video Services recorded Transfer Advising for Faculty Advisors by Mark Mannheimer Assistant Director of Student Success Initiatives & Jennifer Nelson Transfer Counselor This session covers the basic functions of faculty advisors and highlight tools and resources available to aid in an advising session. Topics covered include faculty advisor roles and expectations, the NOVA Catalog and advising resources, PeopleSoft (SIS) and the Student Success Planner (SSP).

Click to view the Workshop https://vod02.nvcc.edu/Watch/Bm58JkWn

 advising-picture-for-video  

CETL Transfer Advising

vod02.nvcc.edu

Faculty and Staff


CETL Transfer Advising
( 1 Hour)

NOVA Video Services recorded Transfer Advising for Faculty Advisors by Mark Mannheimer Assistant Director of Student Success Initiatives & Jennifer Nelson Transfer Counselor. The video covers the Roles & Expectations of Faculty Advisors, Important Terms, and Resources for Transfer Advising including, how to utilize the Transfer Center and Transfer Counselors,Guaranteed Admissions Agreement, Articulation Agreements and best practices/tips from Transfer Counselors. Plus how to get the most out of your Transfer Technology like the Advisement Report in PeopleSoft (SIS) and best practices on the NOVA Transfer Website.

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Click to view the workshop https://vod02.nvcc.edu/Watch/Xw5g4DMs

 

NISOD Free Webinar, Wednesday, October 12,2016 200-3:00

Empowering Faculty With Course-Level Data to Drive Institutional Change

Giving faculty access to all course-level data has been nothing short of revolutionary for the culture of Pierce College. We knew that sending student success data to faculty would not be enough. The college sought to provide faculty with direct access to their own data (and the data of their colleagues), with the ability to sort student achievement data by course, section, modality, timeframe, subsequent success, and a variety of demographic measures. To this end, Pierce’s Center for Engagement and Learning began providing frequent training to help faculty members understand their data. In this session, participants will learn not only why they might want to do something similar at their colleges, but how to achieve it with minimal cost and/or pushback.

Tom Broxson, District Dean, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Pierce College (WA)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Eastern: 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Contact Robin Muse ( rmuse@nvcc.edu )  for User and Password to access this FREE WEBINAR to all NOVA Faculty and Professional Staff

Northern Virginia Regional Center for Teaching Excellence Upcoming Events

                                                                                    

VCCS logo

Northern Virginia Regional Center
for Teaching Excellence
Save the Dates

 

The Northern Virginia Regional Center for Teaching Excellence (RCTE) offers professional development opportunities to faculty and staff at Germanna Community College, Lord Fairfax Community College, and Northern Virginia Community College.

Northern Virginia Regional Center events scheduled for fall 2016 are listed below. Unless otherwise stated, RCTE events are free to VCCS employees and open to all full- and part-time faculty, staff, and administrators.
For event details and registration information, click on the name of the event below, or email Camille Mustachio, Northern Virginia RCTE Chair, at cmustachio@germanna.edu.

Upcoming Northern Virginia Regional Center Events
The Impact of Socioeconomic Status on Student Success

Germanna Community College

Fredericksburg Campus

October 14, 2016
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Student Engagement: Proven Strategies That Work

Lord Fairfax Community College

Middletown Campus

October 28, 2016

10:00 am – 2:00 pm

A Truly Inclusive Classroom

Northern Virginia Community College
Woodbridge Campus

November 11, 2016

10:00 am – 2:00 pm

 

If you are interested in attending a Northern Virginia Regional Center event and are VCCS faculty, staff, or administration outside the Northern service region, please contact Northern Virginia RCTE Chair Camille Mustachio at cmustachio@germanna.edu.

 

VCCS REGIONAL CENTERS FOR
TEACHING EXCELLENCE
VCCS OFFICE OF PROFESSIONAL
DEVELOPMENT
www.opd.vccs.edu

NISOD- Innovation Abstracts- Transforming Classrooms Into Active Learning Zones

Innovation Abstracts

Volume XXXVIII, No. 16 | August 26, 2016

Transforming Classrooms Into Active Learning Zones

While student response systems (SRS) have been around well over a decade, it was not until recently that I began to take advantage of their pedagogical benefits. In the span of time since my first implementation of SRS-associated peer-instruction approaches (about five years ago), SRS technology has greatly evolved from hand-held clickers to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) cloud-based classroom interaction systems. Undeniably, the evolution of cloud-based has opened the door to teaching and learning approaches that were previously impossible to implement or were limiting in nature, especially in large enrollment courses.

For example, the ability to ask students questions using varying types of formats, including short-answer questions, image quizzes, and ordering, in addition to multiple choice questions via the cloud-based system, support the efforts of educators to enhance the learning experience in diverse ways. Additionally, built-in features such as “ask an anonymous question” and the “confused flag” give students additional opportunities to communicate with their professor during class time and empower professors to build a stronger learning community by creating seamless links between students and themselves.

Most research on the benefits of using SRSs in the classroom has shown that the wise use of such systems can help assess prior knowledge, poll student attitudes, confront common misconceptions, transform the way you demonstrate, test students’ understanding and retention, test conceptual understanding, facilitate discussion and peer instruction, and increase classroom attendance. Research also shows that students become engaged and enjoy using the technology. I certainly had that experience after implementing the Echo360-ALP for the first time in my second-year large enrollment course (three sections of approximately 200 students each). Indeed, the experience has transformed my classroom into an active learning zone and continues to do so to this day.

For example, analytics provided by the Echo360-ALP showed that:

  • The participation rate (based on the number of students submitting answers to questions I asked in class during a given class) was nearly 99 percent on a per-lecture basis.
  • Approximately 70 percent of students, on a per-lecture basis, took class notes via the notetaking features of the program—350-500 words during lectures that were more traditional in nature, and fewer words on days where active engagement activities (e.g. many SRS questions were asked) were the primary mode of instruction.
  • Students submitted 5-10 questions (using the “ask an anonymous question” feature) per class and indicated confusion (using the confusion flag) during problematic concepts. The questions that were submitted were answered either during class time or soon after.

Based on classroom observations, student comments, and efforts by our Teaching and Learning Support Services (TLSS) team to deploy the Echo360-ALP on our campus, factors that appear to contribute to the high rate of student engagement in my classroom include:

  • Low cost: Echo360-ALP is offered to students free of charge at the University of Ottawa. Thanks to efforts by our TLSS team, this effectively takes advantage of the BYOD movement and eliminates additional costs students may have incurred had they been required to purchase access to the cloud-based system or physical clickers.
  • Low-stakes participation: Approximately 15 percent of the overall grade was dedicated to participation marks. If students answered (correctly or incorrectly) 80 percent of the total questions asked throughout the term, they received full participation marks. If they participated less than 80 percent, their participation mark was calculated as a percent of the submission rate divided by 80. This approach provided flexibility by allowing for absences or malfunctioning issues related to their devices, for example. With the solution being cloud-based, some students also valued the flexibility of being able to participate from a different location. Though I did not originally intend to use the solution in that way, I must admit that they are engaged in some manner!

This technology provides many mechanisms to help educators break out of the traditional mold and establish learning communities within their classroom to fulfill their teaching and learning objectives. For me, these include actively engaging students during class periods, facilitating low-stakes testing and enabling anonymous participation, providing and receiving real-time feedback and insights based on students’ questions and answers, and questioning students using a multitude of question types.

Does Fearless Engagement Translate Into Class Performance?
To answer this question, I share below my observations of trends in class performance through the lens of final exam average scores, as well as learning gains and item analysis scores from a validated concept assessment test. Overall, these assessments are designed to measure a series of prescribed course-level learning outcomes.

The final exam average has been steadily increasing (about 68 percent to about 75 percent) compared to the years prior to introducing SRSs into my classroom (about 65 percent). Concomitantly, the proportion of students in the A and B ranges of our letter grade system increased and the proportion of students in the C and D ranges decreased. Moreover, failing rates decreased from five percent of the class to one percent.

Because exam questions and difficulty may differ from year to year along with group abilities, and despite all the good intentions to formulate thoughtful and useful questions to assess student learning, final exam scores may not necessarily serve as good indicators of class success. An alternative way to assess classroom performance is through the use of pre-validated concept inventories. Concept inventories are tools designed to help educators evaluate students’ understanding of a specific set of concepts and identify misconceptions. Unlike typical multiple choice question tests, both questions and response choices are the subject of extensive research designed to determine what a range of people think a particular question is asking and what the most common answers are. In its final form, the concept questions present correct answers and distractors that are based on commonly held misconceptions. If valid and reliable, concept inventory data can be used to measure student learning over the duration of the course and provide educators data that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom interventions and, thus, learning.

As matter of habit to assess teaching and learning, a genetic concept inventory (Smith et al., 2008), which comprises a set of 25 multiple-choice questions designed to measure the aforementioned course learning outcomes is administered at the beginning (pre-assessment) to get a baseline level of student understanding and again at the end of the course (post-assessment). Analyses of the results of the student performance on the concept assessment test administered to my classes prior and after my use of SRSs revealed the following:

  • Students do better on almost all the questions in the post-assessment phase when compared to years where SRSs were not used.
  • Learning gains have progressively increased (yr1= 48%, yr2=53%, yr3=60%, yr4=60%) compared to 30-36% prior to using SRS-linked peer instruction methods.

Here, I make no claim that the data provide convincing arguments for a causal relationship between student engagement and success in the classroom. Using evidence-based student focused activities in my classroom, the data presented above are consistent with investigations that demonstrate that educational conditions and practices that foster student engagement contribute to student success. So, does leveraging the features of the Echo360-ALP translate into classroom success? I will let you be the judge of that.

Strategic Uses of Echo360 Classroom Solutions to Enhance Teaching and Learning Effectiveness in the Classroom

Through my use of this tool, I am consistently finding new ways to leverage its features to maximise the student learning experience—and let’s not forget the educator’s teaching experience! Insofar as concept inventory data are concerned, they cannot only be used to evaluate the effectiveness of classroom interventions, but also can be used to identify student misconceptions and problematic concepts, allowing for pedagogical approaches to be designed to address them. In my genetics course, student difficulties that are often identified are typically related to misconceptions and application of analytical thinking to formulate hypotheses to solve problems. Indeed, data from the item analysis of student answers on the concept assessment test not only serve as a catalyst for reflection and designing approaches to address the difficulties, but also to evaluate their effectiveness.

Implementing approaches to address problematic concepts and misconceptions is not a trivial task, especially in large enrollment courses. In this respect, Echo360-ALP features, such as the different ways to ask your class a question, have paved the way for facilitating the integration of teaching and learning approaches to mitigate difficult concepts and misconceptions. With the identification of the common misconceptions and the concepts that are most difficult to the students, the Echo360-ALP facilitates active learning and formative assessment opportunities to improve student performance by offering a diversity of approaches to set-up instruction and reflections on prior knowledge (to provoke thinking, stimulate discussions, and induce cognitive conflicts); to develop knowledge (tackle misconceptions, exercise skills, and conceptual understanding, judging, etc.); communicate (asking questions, answer questions); and assess learning (exit polls, probe limits of understanding, demonstrate success, and review). Indeed, while the Echo360-ALP offers educators endless ways to engage students’ intellectual domains, I find it also offers diverse opportunities to reach out to their affective domain and metacognition.

So, this brings us back full circle to student engagement. Does student engagement translate into successful learning? I believe the Echo360 classroom solution offers educators opportunities to engage students in fearless reflection, interactivity, collaboration, community, discovery, and exchange—hallmarks of academes—regardless of class size!

Colin Montpetit, Assistant Professor, Biology

For further information, contact the author at the University of Ottawa, 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5. Email:colin.montpetit@uottawa.ca

New Faculty Class of 2016-2017 Start Strong!

 

NOVA welcomed thirty-four new teaching faculty this semester.

NFO 2016-17 classFullSizeRender

The Center for Teaching & Learning (CETL) hosted a New Faculty Orientation seminar on Wed, August 17th with jammed pack sessions geared to help new faculty start strong. Topics included; student services, advising, CARES, disability services, Title IX, educational technology and assessment. College president, Dr. Scott Ralls welcomed the group and highlighted the uniqueness and importance of NOVA and the students we serve.  CETL will be bringing back the year long New Faculty First Year Experience this year.  The faculty cohort will meet on a monthly basis. Fourteen faculty hired last year also attended the day long orientation. For more information, go to https://blogs.nvcc.edu/cetl

NFO 2016-17 Dr. Ralls

Attached:

  1. Group picture
  2. Dr. Ralls welcomes new faculty to NOVA photo by Kevin Mattingly

Electronic Learning Community Journal

The Learning Communities Journal is now available online for free download at the Journal website.

www.miamioh.edu/lcj/

Volume 8, Number 2 (2016), a complimentary bonus, online-only issue, focuses on The Community of Practice Initiative at Hong Kong Baptist University. As the Editors’ message describes it, “This special online-only issue of the Learning Communities Journal includes noteworthy contributions—indeed, breakthroughs—in the field of faculty learning communities (FLCs) and communities of practice (CoPs). For the first time, a hybrid model of an FLC/CoP has been designed, implemented, and assessed. The survey designed and implemented by Beach and Cox (2009), which has assessed the impacts of FLCs on members’ educational development and their students’
learning in the U.S., has been used again to measure the impacts of this hybrid FLC/CoP model. Direct comparisons have been made between FLC and hybrid FLC/CoP outcomes, and they are published in this issue.
In addition, this issue contains the robust scholarship of teaching and learning that these hybrid FLC/CoPs have generated. Also of note, this project has taken place in Hong Kong, providing an international perspective and application of the FLC model in a different culture.”

The articles in the new issue are as follows:

Establishing Communities of Practice to Enhance Teaching and Learning:
The      Case at Hong Kong Baptist University
Eva Wong et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Networked Learning Communities: A Perspective Arising From a
Multidisciplinary         Community of Practice on Student ePortfolios
Tushar Chaudhuri & Chan Wai Yin, Hong Kong Baptist University
Designing and Implementing a Two-Level Community of Practice Project
to         Develop a Teaching Portfolio Framework
Atara Sivan et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Using a Community of Practice to Enhance Undergraduate Students’
Graduate         Attributes Through Problem-Based Learning
Siu Yin Cheung & Kevin K. M. Yue et al., Hong Kong Baptist
University
A Community of Practice to Assess Students’ Teamwork Skills in a
Team-Based    Learning Setting
Peter Lau & Theresa Kwong, Hong Kong Baptist University

The Impact of Peer Tutoring in a University Language Classroom
Angela Ng & Peter Lau, Hong Kong Baptist University
A CoP Project Enhancing Student Learning Through a Holistic Mentoring
Program in the Sciences
Karen Ka Wai Mak et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Service Learning for Whole Person Education in Chinese Medicine
Developed by a Community of Practice
Hong Qi Zheng et al., Hong Kong Baptist University
Assessing the Effect of Communities of Practice in Higher Education:
The Case         at Hong Kong Baptist University
Theresa Kwong et al., Hong Kong Baptist University

Click “Issue Archive” to access all issues of the Journal; to
locate learning communities topics you wish to research, click on
“Search Archive.”

For information about submitting manuscripts or other inquiries, click
“Submitting Manuscripts” or contact Gregg Wentzell, Managing
Editor, at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Miami University,
Oxford, OH 45056 (telephone: 513-529-9265; e-mail:
wentzegw@miamioh.edu).

Enjoy reading, and watch for Volume 8.1 of the Journal, our regular
annual issue, in Fall 2016.

Best regards,

Gregg Wentzell, Ph.D.
Managing Editor

Do not reply to this automated message. If you have any questions or
problems, contact the subscription manager:

Matthew Evins, Circulation Manager
Learning Communities Journal
c/o Mevins Consulting
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Monroe, OH 45050
United States
Telephone: 513-360-8120
Fax: 513-529-9984
Email: journals@mevinsconsulting.com

Faculty Focus-Personal Narratives: Perfect for Summer Reading

 May 4, 2016
www.facultyfocus.com
Personal Narratives: Perfect for Summer Reading

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Right before the end of the academic year when the promise of summer stretches warmly ahead, many of us are making lists that anticipate other kinds of tasks. If you’re considering some pedagogical reading, I’ve got just the recommendation.

I am a huge fan of personal narratives—those first-person, experienced-based pieces of scholarship in which faculty explore what they’ve learned from an experience (or several of them). Narratives aren’t all that popular right now. We’re preoccupied with all things evidence-based. I do heartily endorse empirical explorations of various sorts, and I recognize that a lot of experience-based scholarship didn’t used to be all that scholarly.

But a good personal narrative has a lot going for it. It provides an in-depth analysis of an experience. In the best narratives the author looks deeply at what happened, with brutal honesty.  Personal narratives show how understanding why or how something happened, and what can be learned from it, has great value. Those who write them benefit tremendously, but personal narratives are equally beneficial to those of us who read them.

As readers, we get to see models of how experience can be analyzed—the questions that need to be asked, how answers must be subjected to logical analysis and verified with evidence. They encourage us by demonstrating that even negative experiences can be faced and learned from. If you’ve had a class that went poorly, discovered a policy resting on questionable assumptions, received a set of rank ratings, your personal narrative lets us as readers borrow the questions asked, the methods of analysis, and the ways of dealing with the results. We find ourselves using your methods to explore own our narratives.

Personal narratives fuse the personal and the professional, the emotional and the analytical. They touch us because emotions are a part of meaningful teaching experiences—we respond to them as humans and follow up as professors. It concerns me that the affective dimensions of teaching are so overshadowed by the rational and the intellectual. Both have a place in teaching, and the absence of one diminishes the power of the other.

While you’re putting together your post-semester to-do list, we do hope attending the 13th annual Teaching Professor Conference makes the cut. Whether you’re a first-time attendee or among the many who join us every year, it’s energizing to be together with a large group of faculty—all committed to teaching, all wanting new and better ideas to promote learning, and all willing to share freely. Learn More »

And finally, good personal narratives are fun to read, and that can’t be said of a lot of scholarship. Summer and personal narratives seem made for each other. Some of my favorite narratives you’ve seen in previous posts. I’m opting here to recommend ones mentioned less often, and I’ll let the authors introduce their own work.

Delgado, T. (2015). Metaphor for teaching: Good teaching is like good sex. Teaching Theology & Religion, 18 (3), 224–232.

“I know it is unconventional to equate teaching and sex, much less good teaching and good sex. However, this teaching metaphor emerged from a real experience in the classroom that became revelatory: about the incongruence of my teaching approach to the subject matter, the assumptions I made regarding my students, and the need to examine my pedagogy regularly as a matter of practice. Here’s the story of that experience” (p. 224).

Mulnix, A. B. (2016). What my cadaver dog taught me about teaching and learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 27 (1), 5­­­–21.

“College educators need to tell more stories about their own learning experiences, not just to their students but also to other faculty. Personal stories that describe learning are rare in my experience, yet I think they have real potential to help faculty intellectually grab hold of the new realities in teaching and learning” (p. 8).

Cohan, M. (2009). Bad apple: The social production and subsequent re-education of a bad teacher. Change Magazine, November-December, 32–36.

“I have a confession to make. I was a bad teacher. I was not mean or abusive to students, and I didn’t make capricious demands, ignore my syllabus, grade while under the influence, or test students on material I had not taught….” But a clear sign of bad teaching, Cohan says, was the way he thought about students. “They were enigmas to me, and I didn’t know how to deal with the varying levels of interest, commitment, and ability they brought to class. All I knew how to do was to expect of them what I had always expected of myself—not perfection, exactly, but something close to it” (p. 32).

Albers, C. (2009). Teaching: From disappointment to ecstasy. Teaching Sociology, 37 (July), 269–282.

“Unintended outcomes can derail the best of intentions in the classroom. Designing a new course for Honors students provided an opportunity to change my traditional teaching style. I envisioned a classroom where students enthusiastically became more self-directed learners. I was perplexed with mixed reactions from students; while some joined me and adopted the model of teaching and learning I proposed, far more than I expected resisted the change” (p. 269).

NISOD webinars free to NOVA faculty

 

NISOD

Contact Robin Muse ( rmuse@nvcc.edu)  for the Password to Register!

 

May 11, 1:00-2:00 p.m. (CST)

An Entrepreneurial Mindset for Student Success

This webinar offers an inside look at a promising new approach to student success designed to harness the power of entrepreneurial thinking as a skill all students need to thrive in the 21st century, regardless of their chosen path.

May 12, 1:00-2:00 p.m. (CST)

The QUEST: The Completion Project for Males of Color in Community Colleges

This webinar highlights the design, development, and delivery of a quality educational program for males of color using a zero-dollar budget.

Webinar Archives

All webinars are recorded and available for later viewing on the members-only section of our website.

Innovation Abstracts- week of April 8, 2016

Volume XXXVIII, No. 11 | April 8, 2016

NISOD

Download PDF version

In Their Own Voices: Community College Students Address “Revolution”   

In our country there needs to be a revolution. This revolution must start with our thinking. We are a society of boastfulness, when very few of us really have anything to be boastful about. We hang onto our capitalist ideas and ideology as if any other way would surely send us spiraling out of control. We very rarely see or care about the needs of others or the needs of the whole. We are a ‘me first’ society and a ‘look at me’ society. This manner of thinking has taken us down the rabbit hole.

—Young African-American female community college student

Four- and two-year educational matters are frequently in the headlines these days. A regular topic is whether higher education should be tuition-free, much like it is with public schools. While I believe it should be free, for the purpose of this article, I want to focus on the content of that education.

The concept “critical” seems key here. We pay lip service to critical thinking; yet perhaps the Bernie Sanders political campaign, popular with students, should prompt us to reconsider what counts as being critical. Surely the hallmarks of being critical about something include being able to question premises, to turn a question around, and to refuse drop-down choices. To illustrate, let me go back two and a half years to what I call my “revolutionary semester.”

“Feel the Bern” may have arisen swiftly and unexpectedly. However, in 2013-14, there were already precursors of the movement in my community college classes. If other professors at that time were conducting their classes as I was mine, maybe our combined student populations were the start of a ripple toward the tide we see today. During that year, I tried radical experiments that I hadn’t dare try since my first years of teaching. (See “Remediation for a Democratic Society,” Innovation Abstracts, NISOD, The University of Texas at Austin, Vol. 5, No. 28, Oct. 7, 1983.)

By spring 2013, I couldn’t go on. I was entering into what would become my last year and a half of teaching, and I had lost the sense that I was contributing to something good. Convince my students to work hard in liberal arts to join the elite? How distasteful, especially in the year of Robert Reich’s film Inequality for All, a seemingly endless war, ecological alarm and impasse, and the year Elizabeth Warren said in an interview on CNN Tonight, “Let’s just be real clear—the game is rigged and it’s rigged in favor of those who have money and who have power.”

Moreover, community colleges have changed. A few decades ago community colleges were in significant ways intellectual spaces. Several features made this possible: pluralist educational philosophy, empowered faculty, adequate public funding, organic administration, and less severe income inequality. However, a “culture of outcomes” was imposed as structural re-adjustment. Contrary to classical and critical pedagogy, learning was narrowed to workforce preparation, faculty were disempowered, public funding was gutted, and administration was corporatized. As a result, inequality widened.

My last year and a half would, as it happened, be a young administrator’s first year and a half as our liberal arts dean. As a result of our respective positions, we should have been on opposite sides of many issues. One of us “reported to” the other, in the language of corporations. However, our personalities and characters were very similar. Our collaboration was based not on political, but humane agreement.

The approaching fresh air of retirement made me about as free as a person can be under a neoliberal regime, protected from the market’s unregulated brutality four different ways, which included tenure, the union, civil service laws, and by being able to say at any time, “I’m out of here.” However, whereas I felt I could say and do what I wanted, our liberal arts dean was restrained. At the beginning of her professional career, for which she had gone back to school after a Ph.D. in literature, she was hemmed in by the full onslaught of “professional correctness” rules that had descended upon community colleges in the anxiety-ridden period of “outcomes,” “accountability,” “uniform goals,” and “standardized syllabi.”

So, during the week of the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, I was teaching Philosophy 101 for the 75th time. Our liberal arts dean was conducting a routine professional classroom observation, and 100 students, whose names by mutual agreement were to remain confidential, were sharing drafts of an in-class essay. I first shared my own draft of a possible letter to the editor that raised critical questions about JFK’s death. Then 100 students—ethnically diverse and majority lower-middle class—discussed their own drafts. My handout stipulated that they write a philosophy for a revolution that would bring about more liberty and justice for all. The guidelines were as follows:

  • Interpret the word “revolution” broadly. It could refer not only to the old Marxist change from a capitalist society to a socialist society, but also to:
    • Deep-reaching cultural change;
    • The process of decolonization;
    • The emergence of the feminine;
    • Deep changes in a particular institution, such as education;
    • Scientific or epistemological revolution (i.e., revolution in the classic sense);
    • Deep nonviolent social change;
    • Small radical steps, such as civil disobedience; and
    • Even to a renewal of the original revolution of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, such as in the way libertarians have used the word revolution.
  • Feel free to fight with the word itself; perhaps you prefer “revolt” (a more postmodern word), “rebellion,” or “resistance.”
  • Feel free even to reject the whole premise of the question. In other words, you might want to argue that we now have plenty of liberty and justice for all. However, don’t change the topic completely.
  • Realize that you have been offered this question, appropriate to philosophy, as an invitation to step outside some of the boundaries you may usually set for yourself. You may think you are supposed to investigate carefully what “they” want you to say and then just say it. This is your chance to go beyond that. You may transgress, but be civil.

Later that week, students in three sections penned two- to three-page responses. What follows is a representative sample of their work.

Many focused on the socioeconomic system:

‘A’: Society under capitalism, or any other suppressive system, is like a wounded dog that is so obedient to its master that it will hide its ailments, or wounds, to continue its life as it already is… Many people today are sick and tired of the current system of a life of servitude to the super rich, but at the same time most people are too scared to show it. They are scared of change. They are surrounded by slogans, commercials… More people must realize that it is in our makeup that we are a cooperative species….

‘B’: In this era, there is a growing gap of inequality in everything…. I believe that all should be more equal by making the start of life be at the same level… use small radical steps to initiate a gradual rebellion…. The people in society must be allowed to become accustomed to the changes gradually… a person should be given the same education as everyone else, and as Marx wanted it, it is to be a free education…. Ultimately I know that as humans we cannot be equal all the time… So, after you had been given all equal education, the equality would come to an end…. As Mill and Locke pointed out, to you would be given the liberties to do what you want…. You will have to earn everything you believe you deserve.

Some focused on education:

‘C’: Although there are many issues within America that I would like to tackle, I firmly believe it all begins with education. It is apparent to me that our society has taken the delectable fruit of knowledge and smashed it down to be spoon-fed to our youth. I observe our youth today, sitting in their square desks as their teachers rant about Columbus, the great hero who “found” America…. Our educational system is nothing more than a cave of darkness…we are fooled by the shadows which our government places before us. Today we measure the knowledge of our young students in numbers and test scores…. Students should be taught to utilize their problem solving, creativity, and comprehension skills without heavy aid from the teachers….

‘D’: My personality or determined mindset did not get me to the place I am today, only my GPA did…. The educational system alarms me…ever since Descartes’ idea of mechanical thinking…this quantitative and/or mechanical way of thinking has turned potentially honorable students into stressed-out, overworked human beings who will never feel good enough…. My soul does not belong to the average of how many A’s and B’s I’ve received…. With enough people and time, this could be the end of numbers, and the beginning of a soulful generation….

Others focused on gender:

‘E’: The disempowerment of women not only harms the quality of life of women, but men and non-binary genders as well…. A feminist social revolution can cure our world of female oppression and allow for everyone to have liberty and justice.

Women have been wrongly accused of being irrational and thinking not with logic, but with uncontrollable emotions. As (feminist epistemologist) Allison Jaggar points out, “Women appear to be more emotional than men because they, along with some groups of people of color, are permitted and even required to express emotion more openly….” The patriarchy has taught everyone that feminists are man-hating radicals. Much to the contrary, a feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of all…. Actual feminists can be women, men, or anything in-between.

Some focused on race:

‘F’: Racism has really not (disappeared) over the years. There are so many children suffering because of it…people are so ignorant and keep revoking certain rights away that people thought they had…. My neighbors won’t let their grandchildren play (with) my children because their stepfather is black…. When they go to school the black girls pick on my two white daughters…. I do not see color. My children do not either. So why are parents still teaching children this? The other issue is the cops always pick up Spanish and black people before they will arrest a white person. This is ridiculous and unacceptable….

Our liberal arts dean in her official observation that day commended me by saying, “Dr. Conroy’s compassion is palpable; students respond well to his supportive, safe classroom environment,” and “Dr. Conroy utilizes open-ended questions throughout his lesson, encouraging students to apply critical-thinking skills. His examples from the assigned readings helped students understand how to build support and lines of reasoning for their essays.”

Is such a “revolutionary semester” replicable? Millennial instructors, of course, do not share the luxury of being near retirement. Yet, imagine not only philosophers, but sociologists, political scientists, geographers, historians, and writing teachers uniting in a movement to create problem-oriented courses like “Interdisciplinary Seminar 101: Systemic Change,” which perhaps are not as shrill, but are even more effective. Imagine such a course at every community college.

Remaking community college along such lines—call it public critical—might actually rekindle “a future we can believe in.”

France H. Conroy, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy

For further information, contact the author at Rowan College at Burlington County, 601 Pemberton Browns Mills Road, Pemberton, NJ 08068. Email: rustyconroy@gmail.com