Faculty Writing–the “P” Word

Writing for Inside HigherEd, consultant Peg Boyle Singleton observes that most of academic writers have developed a procrastination habit over years, so it’s unrealistic to expect that we can overcome it overnight with a resolution.  But we can unlearn it:

“While conceptually the remedy for procrastination is to make the transition into writing as smooth as possible, what does it look like? … I can ensure you that it will include some of the four elements used by every fluent writer I have ever met: prewriting, engaging in a regular writing routine, holding oneself accountable, and being part of a fellowship of writers.”

Click here to view the whole article.

Dangers of PowerPoint

PowerPoint critics complain that the format is overused and stifles synthesis.   “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.”  Quote from a professor?  Nope.  Quote from  Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, who banned PP presentations during a campaign in northern Iraq.

Click here to read a NY Times article about military discontent with PP.

Bring Back the Chautauqua

An interesting and interested MU graduate business student, Najwa Saad, has launched a monthly salon featuring a talk by a distinguished visitor and a catered meal for $35.

Georgetown government professor Patrick Deneen spoke to the group this month about de Toqueville and wrote this reflection piece for the Georgetown student newspaper.

Librarian Marcia Dursi says, ” I have attended several of Najwa’s salons. How she manages to get  such high caliber people I don’t know, but the salons are fantastic.”

I offered to post the salon schedule for Najwa:

Chez Nous Reston Salon


May 25th

“Cultural Quest: Modern Dance in China”

Alison Friedman, Beijing Modern Dance Co.

June 23rd

“Place making and the Power of Public Art”

Meridith McKinley, Via Partners

July 21st

“The Supreme Court and Campaign Finance”

Melanie Reed. Attorney Covington & Burling

August 18th

Beyond the Lens: A Photographer’s Journey”

Bruce Dale, National Geographic(i)

September 22nd

“Cultural Capitals: Envisioning the Future”

Martin Moeller, Sr. Vice President & Curator

The National Building Museum


“Art in Embassies: Showcasing American Art”

Virginia Shore, U.S. Department of State


“The Second White House & Lincoln’s Music”

Elizabeth Brownstein, Author


January 19th

“Cultural Diplomacy and the Islamic World”

Cynthia Schneider, Director, Arts & Cultural Section of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution; Professor, Former American Ambassador: Netherlands

February 20th

“The Future of Reporting in America”

SUNDAY Donna Leinwand, President, National Press Club (I) Reporter, USA Today

March 23rd

“Living Consciously”

Cynthia Way, Professional Executive Coach

(i) invited, all others confirmed


Past Programs


March 25th “Psychoneuroimmunology’

February 25th “A Violin and Piano Recital”

January 26th “Classical Swordsmanship”


November 18th “Listen Up Mr. President”  (Helen Thomas)

October 21st “Washington: City of Trees”

September 23rd “Update on the Universe—Really!”

August 19th “Coral Reefs: The Ocean’s Canary …”

July 22nd “Sound & Space: Music & Architecture”

June 30th “Exploring Indian Art  and Architecture”

May 20th “The $217 Billion Dollar Bee”

April 22nd “New Horizons In the Transit Future”

March 25th “DaVinci to PC: Anatomical Illustration”

February 25th “The Art & Science of Making Up Your Mind”

January 28th “My Walk from Paris to Berlin”


November 20th “Story of a Painting: A Conservator’s tale”

October 30th “The Power of Wind”

September 18th “The Other Angle: Titanic and Leadership”

August 20th “An Epicurean Evening” & Wine Tasting

July 29th “Black Gold and Fair Trade Coffee”

June 25th “A Conversation on Global Affairs

May 15th “The Mathematics of Beauty”

Speakers, all of whom  are experts in their fields, have included a leading art conservator, an art professor, the Chief of a NASA laboratory, a renowned expert in decision science, an ethicist, a distinguished mathematician, a medical illustrator, a pianist, a chef, an actor, an apiarist, A Multilateral negotiator on coral reefs, a classical swordsman, musicians and more…..

For more information about the Chez Nous Reston salon, contact: cheznousreston@gmail.com or Najwa Saad at 571-235-3556

Chez Nous Reston Salon

Thoughtful Entertainment®

Teaching Tip #13: Summertime and the living is EZ (er)

Can you see the light yet?  Right now, it may feel like that last big Light where your dear departed await, but it’s really just the end of the spring semester tunnel.  So, let’s look forward to planning your summer.   I hope you are including large dose of fun and relaxation; could some of that fun relate to your teaching?  Here are some ideas from the CTE:

Read: Not exactly beach reading, but if you’d like to stretch your thinking about teaching, here are some excellent choices.  The CTE has copies of all of these if you’d like to borrow one.

The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer

Not a “how-to” book, but a reflection on the spirit, art, pain and passion of teaching.  We have multiple copies if several folks would like to read this together and discuss it.

Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher by Stephen Brookfield

Brookfield encourages us to examine our work in the classroom critically through the four key “lenses” of self, students, colleagues, and theory.  Great examples and a sense of humor.

Our Underachieving Colleges by Derek Bok

Bok’s critique of current higher education will raise questions and make you uncomfortable at times.  Isn’t that what a good challenge is all about?  Another good group read!

The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull

Neuroscience for all, as applied to teaching.  Clear, interesting and helps you understand how to apply what we know to your teaching.

Learner Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer

What are the ramifications of focusing closely on what students learn as opposed to what teachers teach?  Maryellen Weimer lays it out for you clearly and compellingly.

And one more book that I can’t recommend yet but plan to read this summer:

Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham.  Although this book is not specifically for higher education settings, it’s gotten rave reviews and I’m looking forward to it.  Care to join me?

Talk: It’s a good time to stop by the CTE and chat about including more inquiry in your courses, using technology, course design or other topics.  We have lots of information as well as suggestions taken from classroom practice, and we’re around pretty much all summer.  Stop by, call or email!

Write: Join a summer writing group.  Peer review isn’t just for students! Start working on a grant proposal or your application for sabbatical.  Finish up that article or start a new one.  We’re happy to host writing groups and help you get organized.  Email teaching@marymount.edu to express interest.

Play with Tech Toys: The CTE has clickers you can check out and Sympodia you can play with.  E-learning services will be offering BB 9 training regularly.  Go to https://www.marymount.edu/itstraining/ to check for group training or contact elearning services if you need individual training.

Take a workshop: WI workshops will be offered through the summer; even if you’re not teaching a WI courses you will learn how to incorporate writing into ANY course in ANY discipline!  Contact Sylvia Whitman at Sylvia.whitman@marymount.edu for more information and to sign up.

Plan a course portfolio: Join a few colleagues and plan to design a course portfolio for one of your classes next year.  Why would you want to do that?  A course portfolio can help you improve the course for yourself and your students, it can provide evidence of your teaching skills and your commitment to teaching excellence and you can hang out with like-minded colleagues and share ideas.

We will have an organizational lunch meeting on May 26th at noon on the Main Campus.  Please email Carolyn.oxenford@marymount.edu or teaching@marymount.edu if you are interested (whether or not you can make it on May 26).

So, what are you doing this summer?  What would you like to try? Share the fun!

Note: This will be the last regular teaching tip post until August.  I would love to hear suggestions for topics you like and things you’re bored with.  Guest bloggers are also welcome!

Fired for Tough Grading

Louisiana State has removed a demanding biology professor from an intro course midsemester and raised the grades in the class, reports Inside HigherEd.  Did administrators violate the prof’s academic freedom or rescue students from an untenable classroom situation?

For a data-driven review of grade inflation in higher ed, check out the splendid graphs at  Stuart Rojstaczer’s GradeInflation.com.

Teaching Tip #12 Situational despair: The end of semester paper

So, you gave a written assignment, with some directions and maybe even a rubric.  Now you’re sitting in your favorite grading spot and reading your students’ work.   The MIA thesis, the failing logic, the absent evidence, the atrocious editing – where did it all go so wrong?  Unfortunately it’s probably too late for this semester’s batch but how can you avoid repeating this experience?

First of all, realize that you’re not alone; I’ve experienced it and my conversations with faculty suggest that most of them have too.  I think that most of our despair stems from a common set of assumptions that many of us learned when we were students.  They go something like this:  Professor assigns paper with due date at the end of the semester and basic instructions.  No other communication is necessary.  Student hands in final paper; professor makes pithy and insightful comments.  Student internalizes said comments and applies them to papers at the end of the next semester, never making the same mistakes again.   Writing improves in a steady upward spiral. Grateful students send their donations and their children to the University.

So what’s wrong with this picture?  Quite a lot, as it turns out.  Research on transfer of learning from course to course shows that it does not happen easily or automatically.  Many students who are told to provide more supporting evidence in History 211 are unlikely to provide it in Marketing 301.  They may not even provide it in History 212 without a reminder.  Students need your help understanding the requirements of the discipline and the requirements of your particular assignment before they can meet them.  Passing EN 101-102 is not sufficient preparation for writing papers in every other course.

Students benefit most from feedback that is provided BEFORE the final paper is turned in.  This is a form of “just-in-time” teaching i.e. providing instruction at the moment it is most relevant and helpful.  Requiring drafts and revision allows you to catch errors before students get too far afield, and you also can direct students who need extra help to the LRC before it’s too late.  If you do this up front, the final papers will have fewer problems and you’ll probably be able to grade them faster.  In addition, plagiarism becomes much more difficult when drafts are required, which minimizes another end-of-semester nightmare.  If you’re allowing drafts but not requiring them, you are probably noticing that the students who need the most feedback don’t submit.  That’s why I strongly suggest requiring them.

When it comes to encouraging students to use what they learned in their earlier classes, start by asking/reminding them about what they already know.  Then encourage them to think about how they can apply what they know to THIS assignment, and what they will need to do differently.  Students do not know automatically that the passive voice they’ve been hunting down and killing in English class is required for science writing.  As an added benefit, when you model the transfer of knowledge and skills between courses, students may learn to do it themselves.  **Promotion alert**   If you’d like to improve your quality of (grading) life by helping your students write better, consider attending a Writing Intensive workshop.  You’ll learn lots of helpful strategies that can be used in any class, not just WI.  Contact Sylvia Whitman for details at Sylvia.whitman@marymount.edu.

Now, you may wondering —  what has happened to students today?  After all, you WERE able to transfer information and you DID improve your writing with relatively little feedback and without what some would characterize as “hand-holding”.    And we all have at least a couple of students in each class who DO get it; who think critically, write well and make us feel so much better about our teaching.  Why can’t they all be like that?

As many of you have heard me say, our students are not us.  I sometimes think back to my own undergraduate years (yes, it’s increasingly difficult).  I would have been horrified to turn in poorly written work, but I wonder how many of my classmates were that picky.  For the most part, we who stayed in academia WERE those few students who did the outstanding work.  What was everyone else doing?  I have a feeling that many of them were like the majority of our students now, stumbling along but in need of much more support than they got.  Those students did not have the benefit of what we have learned about teaching and learning over the last 30 years.  Our students can get the benefit of that knowledge, if we are brave enough to try something different, and willing to meet them where they are and not where we think they should be or wish they were.

As a follow up to last week’s post about  final exams,  I couldn’t possibly write a better entry than this one from the Center for Teaching and Learning at Brigham Young University:


As always, looking forward to your thoughts.  Procrastinate on that grading and post a few!

Peer-Reviewed Journal Wants Rhetoric Scholarship across the Curriculum

Noted from a listserv:

Announcing a new journal in rhetoric studies.

Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society
(http://www.presenttensejournal.org/) is a peer-reviewed, blind-refereed, online
journal dedicated to exploring contemporary social, cultural, political and
economic issues through a rhetorical lens. In addition to examining these
subjects as found in written, oral and visual texts, we wish to provide a forum
for calls to action in academia, education and national policy. Seeking to
address current or presently unfolding issues, we publish short articles of no
more than 2,000 words, the length of a conference paper.

Conference presentations on topics related to the journal’s focus lend
themselves particularly well to this publishing format. Authors who address the
most current issues may find a lengthy submission and application process
disadvantageous. We seek to overcome this issue through our shortened response
time and by publishing individual articles as they are accepted. We also
encourage conference-length multimedia submissions such as short documentaries,
flash videos, slidecasts and podcasts.

In order to foster dialogue, our journal features a Reader Response section in
which both contributors and readers are welcome to discuss the publications’
content in a public, digital space

Sample Submission Topics:

Present Tense is interested in submissions dealing with theory, criticism,
production, pedagogy and empirical research.

•        Social justice issues involving language, power, and the body: How do
institutional rhetorics shape economic policy, the treatment of bodies, and the
architecture of resistance movements? How do displaced peoples and refugees use
rhetorical resources? How do institutions exercise power? How do sovereign
powers operate in the midst of institutional and control societies?

•        Minority issues and minority rhetorics: How has Obama’s presidency
affected our notions of racism? How has the immigration debate changed in the
last decade? How are people of color and queer people portrayed by the media?
How do we negotiate the needs of women of color with those of feminism?

•        Green Rhetoric: How is rhetoric being used within and against
environmental movements? How is the green movement being portrayed by the media,
pop culture, corporations and the government? How does the language used to
frame environmental issues on either side have an effect on personal choices?

•        Rhetoric in national and international politics: How are attitudes
about domestic and foreign policies formed by various media outlets? How do
technologies shape our dialogue about foreign and domestic issues? How do public
speeches by prominent political figures seek to shape the ethos of the
individual, organization, and/or country they represent?

•        Popular culture and media analysis: How do rhetorical concepts help us
better understand today’s media and pop culture? How do networking sites affect
the way in which humans relate to one another? How are sites like YouTube,
Wikipedia and Creative Commons changing creative agency as well as the way we
share knowledge in our culture?

•        Rhetorics of Everyday Life and Technology: How might different
understandings of everyday things change our lives? How do the things which make
up our everyday world help shape our work, leisure time, social lives, emotions
and/or mobilities? What technologies mediate these interactions and how do their
rhetorical features affect our respective communities?

•        Non-Western Rhetorics: How do rhetorical practices in non-Western
contexts intersect with issues of education, justice, and power in those
communities and cultures? How are discursive practices used to negotiate
difference and conflict throughout the world? How do non-Western discursive
practices challenge or broaden traditional Western rhetorical concepts and

•        Public Rhetorics and Rhetoric in Action: How is the field of rhetoric
uniquely positioned to help us understand and engage the public? How can issues
of community-based research and service learning be informed by rhetorical
theory? How can historical, hermeneutic, and empirical research be used to study
and encourage public participation?

•        Rhetoric, Teaching, and Literacy: How are new composing practices
shaping our approaches to writing instruction? What emergent language paradigms
affect how we compose, argue, and design? How are new discourse technologies and
composing contexts mediating what it means to be a rhetor in the 21st century?

Please email questions or submission to: editors@presenttensejournal.org

Calling All Faculty: Poetry across the Disciplines

In honor of National Poetry Month, the Chronicle of Higher Ed is sponsoring a contest inspired (in the broadest sense of the word) by Keats’s “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”  Deadlines is April 20, dawn; length should be no more than 28 lines.  Reward is very limited glory and publication online and perhaps in print.  Click here for more information.

One Way to Save Time Grading: Outsource

Too busy to comment on student papers?  Master’s students in India stand ready to take on the job, according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed

Cost for giving feedback to 20 students on six assignments: $1,440.

Teaching Tip #11: The End Is Near

Spring is here; final classes and exams can’t be far behind.   Planning for the end of a course often gets left until, well, the end.  In Tools for Teaching, Barbara Gross Davis discusses three tasks you may want to think about as your classes wind down:  helping students prepare for final exams; giving students a sense of closure; and conducting an end-of-course rating.

Not everyone who requires an in-class final exam holds review sessions, nor does Davis suggest that you should.  She points out that review sessions can help students reduce their anxiety, practice skills and gauge the amount of studying they need to do to prepare effectively.   If you do decide to hold a review session, here are some questions to consider:

  • Will the session be required?  If so, you will probably need to conduct it during a class period, although you could schedule two sessions and require students to attend one of them. Davis’ research indicates that scheduling a review two or three days before the final seems to be particularly helpful since students will have done some preliminary studying already, but our exam schedule may preclude this.
  • How will you structure the review?  Obviously you don’t want it to be a 75 minute summary of the course.  Options include giving a short simulated test with discussion, a game show format, or asking students to create a study guide or questions.   The more actively engaged the students are in the session, the more helpful it is likely to be both as a learning experience and as preparation for the exam.
  • Be sure to provide the basic information about the exam e.g. need for bluebooks, pencils, open-vs. closed book  as well as any advice you can give about the best way to prepare.

Whether or not you conduct a review session, think about ways to give your class a sense of closure. Many faculty members have some type of celebration, but there are other options as well.  Davis suggests asking students to write to each other or to you.  These notes could be about what they learned, what they think they will remember most, or what they liked and disliked.  Or you might ask students what they will regret not saying or doing in/for your class, or recommendations they would give to someone taking the class in the future.  Discussing what students have learned and how they will apply it in other classes or in their lives engages students effectively as well.  These types of reflection can give you and your students a sense of accomplishment and closure.

Closure is not just for students.  Particularly if it’s been a tough semester or a tough class, you may want to talk with a colleague or reflect in writing about what you learned and what you will do differently next time.  Challenging experiences can be the stimulus we need to make positive change, if we are willing to reflect on the experience and then let it go.  Of course, reflecting on those classes that went well (and why) also helps you improve your teaching and your attitude.

End of course student evaluations can go beyond the MU online variety.  The University evaluations are important, and research suggests that students are more likely to fill them out in a thoughtful manner if you stress their importance in class.  However, if you also use your own assessment, you can ask more specific questions that will help you evaluate changes you need to make.  If you give a pre-assessment survey of student knowledge at the beginning of class, it’s easy to re-administer the same survey to see how much students feel they have learned.  They are often surprised and pleased to see how much they have done in your class.

What are your end-of-course rituals?  Please share them with us!