Drawing-to-Learn: Beyond Visualization

Steven Volk, February 15, 2016

London is a city of museums, and I have had the good fortune to take my students to quite a few in my (still) short time here. Last week, for example, in class we studied the so-called “Glorious Revolution” (1688-89) in England (more on its glories, real or imagined, in another post!). And then on Friday we traveled up river to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see an exhibit on Samuel Pepys, the garrulous diarist who chronicled so much of the second half of the 17th century.

John Michael Wright, "Charles II in His Coronation Robes," c. 1687 (Charles II: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015)

John Michael Wright, “Charles II in His Coronation Robes,” c. 1687 (Charles II: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015).

There’s only so much I could say in class about Charles II, the man who restored the monarchy to England after a brief flirt with republicanism, without spiraling my students into a deep slumber. But, on entering the Pepys exhibition, the visitor is almost immediately confronted by a portrait of the monarch in his coronation robes painted by John Michael Wright (c. 1687). What the spectacular painting could say was infinitely more informative (not to mention entertaining) than anything I could cobble together.

Supporting the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand word, we know that images are remarkably generative texts. Perhaps this is because, as John Berger has argued in his hugely popular book, Ways of Seeing, published in 1972, and based on a BBC series of the same name, seeing and recognition come before words. We see, and then explain what we see with words. But, he continues, at the same time what we know or believe affects how we see. Our past knowledge or experience changes the way we see.

Nearly 40 years earlier, John Dewey, in Art as Experience, also considered the relationship between what we see and what we know. Dewey discussed the critical nature of seeing as experience, suggesting that “experience is a product, one might almost say bi-product, of continuous and cumulative interaction of an organic self with the world,” adding that this was the “foundation upon which esthetic [sic] theory and criticism can build” (220). For Dewey, the art object was the primary site for the dialectical processes of experience and the unifying occasion for these experiences.

In his 1934 study, Dewey challenged the assumption that art does not have a connection with outside content. Much as Berger will argue later, Dewey suggests that art can concentrate meanings found in the world. The difference between art and science, he argued, is that art expresses meanings, whereas science states them, giving us directions for obtaining the experience, but not supplying us with experience. So, to take a very recent example, Einstein gave us the “directions” for looking for gravitational waves resulting from the collision of black holes colliding, and now that we have “seen” them, it remains for artists (among others) to express the meanings of such an event.

Computer visualization of black holes colliding (BBC News, Feb. 11, 2016)

Computer visualization of black holes colliding (BBC News, Feb. 11, 2016)

This relation between words and images, science and art, and image and understanding was on my mind when I read an article (kindly sent me by Roger Laushman) by Kim Quillin (OC ’93) and Stephen Thomas, titled “Drawing-to-Learn: A Framework for Using Drawings to Promote Model-Based Reasoning in Biology,” [CBE Life Sciences Education, Vol. 14 (Spring 2015): 1-16].

Drawing of Michael Faraday's 1831 experiment showing electromagnetic induction: Arthur William Poyser (1892) Magnetism and electricity: A manual for students in advanced classes, Longmans, Green, & Co., New York, p.285, fig.248, public domain

Drawing of Michael Faraday’s 1831 experiment showing electromagnetic induction: Arthur William Poyser (1892) Magnetism and electricity: A manual for students in advanced classes, Longmans, Green, & Co., New York, p.285, fig.248, public domain

There is little question that visualizations are integral to scientific thinking and the teaching of science. Scientists rely not only on words to explain their findings, but on a host of visual materials: graphs, diagrams, charts, illustrations, etc. And they have long done so.

But visualizations are also, in a more Deweyian sense, a primary way to communicate complex science to the lay reader (and the everyday citizen) as experience, and so their importance in that realm should not be underestimated.

Scholars in the sciences and arts have published a considerable amount on how work to improve visual literacy can be leveraged to scaffold learning in the sciences. [For a good example of this, see Liliana Milkova, Colette Crossman, Stephanie Wiles and Taylor Allen, “Engagement and Skill Development in Biology Students through Analysis of Art,” CBE Life Sciences Education, Vol. 12 (Winter 2013): 687-700] Two intriguing papers have suggested that encouraging students to draw in science classes will not only improve their ability to understand underlying concepts, but to become engaged and active in their science classes.

Transmission cycle of Zika virus

Transmission cycle of Zika virus

Writing in Science [“Drawing to Learn in Science,” Vol. 333 (Aug. 26, 2011): 1096-97], Shaaron Ainsworth, Vaughan Prain and Russell Tytler suggested that there are multiple ways that teachers can bolster student (novice) learning in science classes by encouraging students to draw. Drawing, they argue, can do this by: enhancing engagement on the part of students who do poorly at rote learning or might have felt excluded in more traditional science classes; catering to individual learning approaches as different students will generate different visualizations; generating their own representations, through which students will deepen their understanding of the specific conventions of representations and their purposes (e.g., this is how a line graph works and why you want your representation to communicate the most information in the sparest way); helping students learn how to reason in a method other than argumentation (an approach that research has shown to have great success when student generate and refine models supported by their teachers); helping learners overcome limitations in presented material, organize their knowledge more effectively, and integrate new and existing understandings; and, finally, helping students learn how to communicate effectively.

Flea, from Robert Hooke, MICROGRAPHIA or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon (1665)

Flea, from Robert Hooke, MICROGRAPHIA or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon (1665)

Quillin and Thomas (“Drawing-to-Learn: A Framework for Using Drawings to Promote Model-Based Reasoning in Biology”) apply this model specifically to the biology classroom, lamenting that biology has lagged “behind physics and chemistry in acknowl­edging and explicitly teaching drawing as a skill, especially the drawing of abstract visual models as a tool for reasoning.” They argue that model-based reasoning is “a powerful tool for fostering conceptual change and meaningful learning in students.” Further, they suggest that when model-based learning is applied to science visual representations can be used to generate predictions and explanations. If many (most?) biology teachers use visual representations in their teaching, a much smaller number expect their students to draw or make models. “Drawing-to-Learn” is intended to “to distill the complexity of drawing into a ‘big picture’ framework that can serve as a launching point to facilitate future work in biology.”

Quillin and Thomas break their examination into three separate topics: They set out to: 1) define what they mean by drawing in the biology classroom; 2) articulate clearly the pedagogical goals of drawing-to-learn; and 3) propose a set of teaching interventions that can serve both as prompts for interested instructors and also as testable hypotheses for researchers. Here, I’ll examine only the second and third points while encouraging you to read the article in its entirety. Nevertheless, and to encourage you to dig further, they summarize their main pedagogical goals for assigning drawing exercises in the following chart:

ChartIt is important for faculty to have thought out the pedagogical goals of such a project from the start. Assigning drawing as a way to help students engage more actively in science learning (improve moti­vation) or to help them see more carefully (improve observation skills) are very different pedagogical goals than assigning drawings to help students understand concepts (lower-order cognitive skills) or solve a complex problem (higher-order cognitive skill). But each of these is important. “Like­wise,” the authors continue, “assigning drawings to students to help them learn (stu­dent-centered goal) and assigning drawings so that instruc­tors can assess learning (instructor-centered goal) are very different pedagogical goals, but both can be used to improve student learning. Finally, teaching drawing as a learning tool (such as the use of concept maps to help memorize content or see the big picture) is a different goal than teaching draw­ing as a science process skill (such as drawing models to design an experiment), but both are valid and worthwhile. Overall, the key is for instructors and researchers to artic­ulate goals clearly so that appropriate interventions can be designed and aligned between the formative and summative quadrants to achieve those goals.”

The authors conclude by suggesting various ways to scaffold drawing skills to address specific learning goals. The overall goal of our teaching is to move our students to more expert-like practices, and to do this most effectively we need to understand what can get in the way of learning, including whether we are placing too heavy a cognitive load on students, and therefore exercises can become unproductive (as per the theory of “cognitive capacity”).

In this light, they argue for three different kinds of faculty interventions, one based on improving student motivation and attitudes toward drawing (affect); one designed to teach the skills of translating information to a visual form within the field of biology (visual literacy), and one designed to give students the practice and feedback on the use of models as reasoning tools (model-based reasoning).

Here’s the chart they provide to summarize these points:

Chart2Quillin and Thomas conclude with a series of suggestions for further research on the application of such a model of learning to different students and classrooms. Among their questions:

  • Which types of interventions are most successful in improving students’ ability to draw and reason with their models?
  • What are the barriers that limit the utility of drawing exercises in class?
  • How do gender, ethnicity, background experience, and content knowledge influence student abilities and/or affect regarding drawing-to-learn?

As we answer these questions, it seems to me that the learning theory that informs model-based reasoning in biology can be applied not only in the other sciences, but in the social sciences and humanities as well. If you’re using model-based reasoning in your classes, share your findings with us.

Who Brings the Fight for Equality?

Steve Volk, February 8, 2016

Laura Redniss, Radioactive

Laura Redniss, Radioactive

The struggle for a greater representation of student, faculty, and staff of color in higher education has been a continual theme in protests of at least the past two years. Response to the protests have varied from place to place: at some universities, administrators have lost their jobs; at some, generous earmarked funds have been made available to spur diversity hiring, many new conversations have begun about how to create the conversations and the actions that can carry us forward. But, in general, the issues of race, racism, and growing inequality in higher education has been (and is being) brought to our doorsteps and our classrooms by students.

All of this was on my mind when my eyes fell on an op-ed in the January 31, 2016 Sunday Times (London) titled “Watch out, universities; I’m bringing the fight for equality in Britain to you.” It was by David Cameron… the Prime Minster…the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Not only was Cameron in a sense standing in for the students and their protests (co-opting is a word that also comes to mind), but this was the same David Cameron who jacked tuitions to their current level (which, at £9,000 [$13,000] a year are now higher than in-state rates at public universities in the United States ($9,139) and considerably higher than the £0 (!) which students paid prior to 1998). Regardless, in the article, Cameron relentlessly takes the universities to task for excluding BME (black and minority ethnic) students. “Consider this,” he wrote. “If you’re a young black man, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. Only one in 10 of the poorest white boys go into higher education at all.” Well yes, and the same is true in the United States. But who is the messenger of this information? We are in a strange world when the politician most responsible for policies that have led to growing inequality speaks as the person who will bring “the fight for equality” to the university.

Now, one doesn’t have to travel all the way across the pond to encounter politicians who say things that, not to put too fine a point on it, seem to stand reality on its head. But there is something in Cameron’s claim to be a fighter for social justice at the university that requires those who actually care about the state of higher education to pay attention. A recent article by Stephen Collini in the London Review of Books lent valuable insight into understanding why it is that some conservative leaders (whether in Britain or the United States) have presented themselves as the defenders of students seeking post-secondary education against a faculty and academic culture that they paint as archaic, change resistant, and devoted to useless knowledge.

Vladimir Radunsky, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

Vladimir Radunsky, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

Collini writes that “Much of our contemporary discourse about universities still draws on, or unwittingly presumes, [a] pattern of assumptions.” These include the idea that “the university is a partly protected space in which the search for deeper and wider understanding takes precedence over all more immediate goals; the belief that, in addition to preparing the young for future employment, the aim of developing analytical and creative human capacities is a worthwhile social purpose; the conviction that the existence of centres of disinterested inquiry and the transmission of a cultural and intellectual inheritance are self-evident public goods,” among others. In the United States, and particularly in state universities, these ideas have been under serious challenge for more than three decades.

If “doing well” is the main driver of our social life, then the primary role of education in general, and post secondary education in particular has become increasing economic growth and the generation of private wealth. Research is valued to the extent that it can increase economic growth; education in terms of its ability to produce employable subjects. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with employment. But we must ask to what extent the aim of higher education has largely sacrificed the goals of preparing citizens for democracy, increasing the graduate’s capacity to lead an examined life, or enabling people to partake in all that life has to offer.

The narrowing of the conception of higher education into the production of an individual who can be hired in an available job has been paralleled by the push at all levels of pre-university education to produce students who are “college and career ready.” Nor is this the driving slogan only for high school. You can read a self-help pamphlet for parents prepared by the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota that offers advice on “College Prep from Infancy through High School.” Or you can take a quick trip to the Estes Elementary School where kindergartners in the Owensboro, Kentucky, school work on math equation as they ride pedal desks. Let me quote at length from the news article reporting this lest you think that I need to replace the aluminum antennae fastened to the top of my head:

Kindergarten students do math problems at their peddle desks. Jenny Sevcik /The Messenger-Inquirer via AP , January 27, 2016.

Kindergarten students do math problems at their peddle desks. Jenny Sevcik /The Messenger-Inquirer via AP , January 27, 2016.

At Estes Elementary School, kindergarten teacher Faith Harralson won a $12,000 grant from the school system to install “pedal desks” in her classroom.

The top looks like a traditional desk. But there are bicycle pedals down where the students’ feet are.

Students can pedal while they work.

Harralson said the pedal desks allow the students to move more, which she said is good for the mind and body “because it activates cells in the brain.”

It also helps when kindergartners get tired of sitting still.

Harralson said, “I’ve seen a shift in my students’ behavior and engagement since the bikes arrived. Thanks to good engineering, the pedals are essentially noiseless and don’t interfere with instruction or activities.”

OK, two things: these are 5-year olds who sit at their desks all day, doing paper and pencil work and solving math problems in order to be (all together now) College and Career Ready. And, whatever happened to recess?

But I digress: If K-12 is about getting students ready for college, college in the United States as well as the UK is about preparing students for careers and only careers. The quotations that back this up are well known by now, but they keep coming:

  • In 2011, Governor Rick Scott of Florida slammed the study of anthropology, arguing “If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs. So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.” A task force in Florida has recommended that public universities there charge more for “non-strategic majors” such as history and English, which it says are in less demand than “strategic” degrees in science, technology, engineering, math, and the health professions. Those majors would cost students less.
  • In North Carolina, Patrick McCrory questioned whether taxpayers should underwrite programs devised by what he called an “educational elite” that don’t lead to employment. “If you want to take gender studies, that’s fine. Go to a private school and take it,” McCrory said. “But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”
  • Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has said that public colleges should be judged on whether “young people [are] getting degrees in jobs that are open and needed today, not just the jobs that the universities want to give us.”
  • More recently, the new governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, charged that the state’s universities are not turning out degrees of the “things people want.” “There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors. There just will,” Bevin told reporters this week when announcing his two-year state spending proposal. “All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer.” While we remain unclear as to exactly that “things people want,” Bevin has introduced a budget plan where colleges and universities would get state tax dollars based on criteria such as graduation rates of certain degree programs.

Kentucky is apparently not alone, as 32 states already have some form of performance-based education funding, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Avarice,Penitential Psalms (The Dunois Hours), France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 174r

Avarice,Penitential Psalms (The Dunois Hours), France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 174r

It’s not hard to see where this argument comes from. If we believe that people in general, and our students in particular, are only economic agents, that the only social relationships that matter are between buyers and sellers, that our students are consumers and our job is simply to give them what they ask for, then we have lost.

And so we return to the notion of this world turned on its head, where, according to Stephan Collini, we encounter “the curious spectacle of a right-wing government championing students. If students will set aside vague, old-fashioned notions of getting an education, and focus instead on finding the least expensive course that will get them the highest-paying job,” he argues, then the government wants them to know that it will go to bat for them.”

“We should all be blessed enough to pursue life’s passion, but not everybody is,” says Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, who says that the economy cannot support more art-history or philosophy majors. Perhaps it is those of us who value the fullness of a liberal arts education who have failed to carry our message that to be educated is not the same thing as to be hired after graduation, that education that only prepares students for their first job is not education, that education can be, must be, transformative, and that we sell our students and our profession short if we give in to the short-sided notion that such a view of education is really not for everyone. We certainly failed in the case of Governor Bevin, a graduate of Washington and Lee where he majored in East Asian Studies and spent time abroad in Japan.

(Thanks to Marc Blecher for tipping the Collini article to me and to Dinah Volk for information on the peddling kindergarteners.)

 

The Five Minutes BEFORE Class Begins

Steve Volk, February 1, 2016

Michael Ayrton illustration (Radio Times, January 24, 1947)

Michael Ayrton illustration (Radio Times, January 24, 1947)

Early last month, James Lang, an English professor at Assumption College and a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote a lovely piece on how to best use the first five minutes of class. In it he argued that, much like the opening sentence of a novel (“Call me Ishmael!”), how you begin your class can make a difference in your ability to capture and hold student interest. (We can push this even further and paraphrase Tolstoy by noting that “Happy classes are all alike; every unhappy class is unhappy in its own way!”) In any case, I couldn’t agree more. Instead of the basic kinds of housekeeping that often take up the start of a class, think about saving those for later and launching the class in a more engaging way. Among Lang’s suggestions:

  • Open with questions (on a slide, the board, or just spoken) that point to the heart of what it is you want the students to engage with in that class. What are the questions that students should be able to answer by the end of the class?
  • Ask them to review the material covered in the last class: What were the main points? What key things were learned? Have them answer without consulting their notes, from memory. This kind of exercise helps spur the “retrieval effect”:  if we want to remember something, we have to practice. Frequent, low-stakes quizzes can do the same thing.
  • Ask them what they already know about the topic you are going to be examining in the day’s class. It is important to know if they have any misconceptions so that they can be addressed (or, alternatively, if you need to pitch the class at a higher level).
Medieval scribe Jean Miélot (AKA Jehan), , ca. mid 1400s. Image published: 1885.

Medieval scribe Jean Miélot (AKA Jehan), , ca. mid 1400s. Image published: 1885.

To these I would emphasize another point that Lang mentions: have students write down answers to these early questions. If you begin with a questions that is too broad or complex, you’ll often get few answers or, more likely, the same students will answer each time. Try questions that are easier to address and give the students a minute or two to write their answers. This allows you to begin the class by calling on students who don’t often speak in class and encourages them to prepare for the class by doing the reading.

The Five Minutes Before Class

five-minutes-to-twelve-closeup-hands-wall-clock-face-60667099Besides what Lang has suggested, I would argue equally that the first five minutes before class are just as important. A bit of background: I’ve come to the realization that there are basically only two kinds of people in the world: those who get to the airport ridiculously early, and those who arrive when the plane is already boarding. I’m in the first category and I’ve stopped fighting it (or, I should say that my travel companions have stopped fighting it). I’m like that in everything, from arriving at movies (who doesn’t enjoy watching the 20 minutes of commercial nonsense they screen before they start the 20 minutes of previews before they start the film?), to going to parties, to getting to class.

From my earliest teaching days I have arrived at class early (and since I often teach the first class in the morning or at night, that usually means 10-15 minutes early). I used to think it was a matter of courtesy to the students to be able to start on time even though I went to school under the “old rules” regime: you wait 5 minutes for an assistant professor, 10 for an associate professor, 15 for a full professor before it’s OK to leave. (I knew they rules even though I had no idea what those terms meant and which category my current teachers inhabited. Do students still do this?)

What has changed over time is what I do with those before-class minutes. Part of this is technology driven: there is probably no quicker way to lose a class than spending the first five minutes trying to get your slides to appear or the video clip to play, so it’s good to get there ahead of time to set up. (And if something fatal with the projector has occurred, it still gives you a bit of time to get AV to rushing over before all is lost.)

Salesforce_CRM_Integration_05

But once your technology is set up, I’ve found that few remaining minutes are incredibly useful for establishing the proper environment for the class. Whether you are lecturing or leading a discussion, the room needs to be “warmed up,” to feel lived in, and the best way to do that is to get people talking: to each other or to you. If the room remains quiet before the start of class, the chances are that students will be more reluctant to speak, less likely to engage in discussion or answer questions. I have no particular data on this that can confirm this thesis – I just know it to be the case from years of observing my own classes and those of others. The more lively the class is before its formal beginning, the more participation you’re likely to generate during the class.

This most often occurs naturally as students get to know each other and feel more comfortable in the setting – and often the problem is how to settle them down in order to start the class. Sometimes students will use the time to ask you questions or to clarify assignments or issues, which is often better done before the class begins rather than at the end when they’re running off. But you can also engage the discussion by asking them how they are, what they did over the weekend, if they saw the film showing at the Apollo, or attended some lecture you had recommended. If there was a speaker on campus or a film or performance particularly appropriate for that class, you can ask them what they thought and link it in to the beginning of class. All of this can help prepare your students for the class about to begin.

My own trick for creating the right atmosphere (and getting the students away from their individual worlds) is easy enough: I play music, usually themed to the particular class. I’ll put together a short playlist of songs or other music (which I’ll credit on the first slide) which they hear as they come in. (My entire play list, which I give out at the end of the semester, is probably the most popular handout of the course.) Not only does it “warm” the room, but it also encourages some students get to class early, and others to remove their individual headsets/earbuds and become part of the larger group. (It’s also a great way to have students contribute their own favorites.) And — added benefit — it gets me up for class. It’s 9:00 AM, I’ve been up for a while: what better than Calle 13 or Astor Pizzolla to get me ready to teach!

Music is also a fine way to transition into the class: toggle the volume down, greet your students, and you’re ready to start your “First Five Minutes” of class!

Do you have other ways to prepare your students for the beginning of class? Share them with us.

Do We Feel Safe?

Steven Volk, December 13, 2015

Time Magazine, May 20, 2013

Much has been written, including in this space, about what I have called a “culture of safety” that seems to have taken root on college and university campuses. As Judith Shulevitz wrote in a much-cited ­ New York Times article, “Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints.” It has proven considerably easier for many in the media to ridicule students as “coddled” and “self-infantilizing” than to ponder why so many of their grievances are located in the discourse of “safety.”

I have suggested before that we shouldn’t be surprised at the rise of a “safety” narrative in a time of a recognized high-level of sexual violence on campus or at a moment when gun violence, terrorism, and police killing of blacks, among other acts of brutality, are endemic. A lot of triggers are, indeed, being pulled.

I’ve also become more aware, in conversations with students, about how social media, in its most addictive aspects, impacts their feelings of safety. Yik Yak may be the contemporary equivalent of graffiti on the bathroom wall in the 1990s (a practice that is still around, by the way), but now you don’t have to go to the bathroom to read the nastiness and threats; you can just pull out your phone, as students do in compulsive fashion, and this can increase a student’s sense of fear and isolation. Even if the vicious comments are a minority of the posts, the things people say on Yik Yak “are real thoughts,” according to Francesca Tripodi, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Virginia who is completing a dissertation on this particular social media outlet. Students can feel more vulnerable because “[t]here are people on campus with those thoughts.” And one obvious remedy – don’t use the ap – is not a solution for those who either use it to stay “in the loop” or who, like most of us, can’t turn away from a car crash.

A Teacher’s Vulnerability                                 

Dick Vos, "The Teacher," Creative Commons Flickr

Dick Vos, “The Teacher,” Creative Commons Flickr

So perhaps it is not unusual that I would frame my own growing concerns as a teacher within this same discourse of safety. The fact of the matter is that I feel increasingly vulnerable in a country in which a large and vocal minority, many leaders of one of the two major political parties, and some critical media outlets, have all turned their back on history (a subject I deal in) and no longer believe that facts are a way to resolve debates or disagreements (a subject that all of us deal in).

Yes, I worry when some of our students get it wrong and overstep. To invoke a hunger strike to the death over an offensive tweet (as two students did at Claremont McKenna College) suggests a lack of nuance, to say the least. To call for the reestablishment of internment camps as the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, Donald Trump, and retired general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark did, is an act of stunning ignorance by those who (unlike our undergraduates) are actually in positions of power to act on their beliefs. To rebuff the humanitarian plight of refugees from Syria, a position taken by 34 governors, or to call for them to be placed in “camps” in order to stop “the potential Islamization of Missouri,” as did the Speaker of the House in that state, should be a cause for anxiety. It is deeply troubling for any student of history, not to mention anyone with a shred of compassion. that 53% of the U.S. population favor slamming the door on Syrian refugees, much as the United States previously refused any action to protect European Jews prior to 1944.

But it should be even more disturbing to those of us whose stock-in-trade is education that large parts of the discussions on these and other of our most troubling issues are taking place in a fact-free zone. This campaign season, probably more than any other in the past century, has seen a wholesale slippage from “spin” (casting your opponents’ positions in the worst possible light), to “untruths” (guilt-by-association assertions), to outright, pants-on-fire fabrications (claiming as fact something that simply never occurred). You are probably familiar with the many examples that seem to appear daily; Donald Trump is responsible for a large number of them, as in his assertion that “I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering” as the World Trade Center collapsed. Nope, sorry, never happened. Carly Fiorina, when asked recently as to the difference between politics and business, replied, “Here’s the difference: Politics is a fact-free zone. People just say things.” And she should know, as her claims about what she saw on a Planned Parenthood sting video were not actually on the tape, as even the National Review was forced to admit. (“The exact scene, exactly as Fiorina describes it, is not on the videos,” Jonah Goldberg explains before going on to defend her argument anyway. It’s as if, by adding “exact” enough times, you absolve yourself of a need to be…exact.)

Truthiness

Stephen Colbert coined the expression “truthiness” in 2005 to refer to someone who will claim something is true because he or she just knows it is true; it feels right in their gut. (“I don’t trust books,” Colbert’s on-screen persona proclaims, “they’re all fact and no heart!”) As Colbert later expanded in an interview, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” I just wish this were still funny rather than threatening.

                  Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central

Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central

According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 42% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. Most Americans now accept that the climate is changing, but majorities in almost 80% of U.S. counties deny that it is “caused mostly by human activities.” Majorities in 97% of the counties in the United States disagree with the statement that “most scientists think global warming is happening,” whereas, in fact, 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.

Jenny McCarthy was invited onto Oprah Winfrey’s massively popular show where she repeated (without any Oprah-pushback) the truthiness that vaccines and mercury cause autism. And where does she get her information? “The University of Google,” she said to Oprah, “is where I got my degree from.” One in four parents believe that vaccines cause autism. (This past week, Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday, spoke with the neuroscientist, Stuart Firestein, the author of Failure: Why Science is So Successful. Most people don’t have any idea how science works, Firestein argued, and think that since it is often revised, it is no better than any layperson’s opinions.)

At least one reason (and there are many) why the public via their elected state legislators has withdrawn its support of higher education, according to Randy Martin’s perceptive study, Under New Management: Universities, Administrative Labor, and the Professional Turn (Temple University Press, 2012), is that “experts” are now everywhere. Why pay for the hard-won knowledge that universities have always provided when Google can tell you what you need to know…right now…for nothing?

Judy Baxter, Creative Commons Flickr

Judy Baxter, Creative Commons Flickr

So why am I frightened? Why does this make me feel vulnerable and unsafe? To answer that, we have to reaffirm what it is that we do here and (hopefully, fingers crossed, please, please) at all institutions of higher education. At Oberlin we’ve just completed a process of identifying the outcomes we want all Arts & Sciences students to have achieved during their time here. Here are the first three in a list of nine:

We want our student to (1) deepen their understanding of specific fields while building their capacity to create new knowledge, approaches or creative work in those areas; (2) to broaden their knowledge of and appreciation for the variety of ways, including but not limited to the scientific, humanistic, aesthetic, and behavioral, that knowledge is, and has been, constructed; and (3) to analyze arguments on the basis of evidence and an understanding of the context in which evidence is produced.

At the root of all of these learning outcomes (and the others on the full list) is an understanding that, as an educational and intellectual community, we live by rational argument, we understand the value of serious investigation and the difficulties it holds, and we maintain the undeniable significance of evidence in analysis. We will disagree on many points and in many contexts, and those disputes can be painful and heated. But, at the heart of it all, we are committed to engaging in a process whose rules are known to us and which have mattered in intellectual disputes for hundreds of years because we can see their results. To use an example close to the moment, what the Black Lives Matter movement is telling us is not just that “you must recognize our pain,” but that their pain is the product of a history that can and must be examined. It has taken their anger to get many of us to investigate that history, but the history is there to be investigated, it is not made up out of whole cloth.

If I feel unmoored in the world we are entering, it is because I am defenseless, with no conceivable means of engaging those with whom I disagree, in a world where facts do not exist. I have no way to interact with those who say that we will all be safer if everyone carries a weapon even if the limited research shows the opposite. (Speaking of fact-free, the research is limited because the Centers for Disease Control has been prohibited by Congress since 1996 from engaging the topic.) How can I hope to dialogue with those who say that climate change isn’t happening, or isn’t a product of human action, or won’t affect us if no facts can enter the conversation? My replies to those who insist that vaccines cause autism, that all Mexicans are rapists and all Muslims are terrorists are like so much sand to the wind. I do not feel safe in that world.

Know Nothing Party ("Native Americans" in this context are white Protestants)

Know Nothing Party (“Native Americans” in this context are white Protestants)

If this is nothing new in the United States – the “Know Nothing Party” didn’t get its name for nothing – the moment nonetheless should be massively troubling for those of us charged with helping our students know something! As Martin argues, education is at once “central to the social enterprise” and degraded for what it offers; even as the world outside our campuses relies on the knowledge produced by those who have passed through our gates, the very basis of what we do is under attack.

So yes, I feel unsafe, vulnerable, and anxious. But the only way forward is not to abandon what has been core to our values, but to redouble our efforts, to be aware of the world in which we live, and never to lose sight of the critical role we can play in the shaping of the future. We will disagree on many things; hopefully we will agree on the importance of instilling in our students an appreciation for the work that is involved in reaching a complex understanding of a difficult issue, as well as the value that is inherent in compassion and empathetic engagement.

So, I’m anxious, but, as Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk from Austria, recently observed, “You have to have anxiety to be courageous. Without anxiety there is no courage.”

Evaluation Time!

Steven Volk, December 6, 2015

The debate over the value of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) is a long one, which I have reported on a number of times (see here and here, among others). As we move into the last week of the semester, I’d like to suggest two additional approaches to end-of-semester evaluations that can help both you and your students think about the learning that occurred in your classes. I’ll also include a “guide” I wrote in 2010 for reading your SETs when they are returned to you after grades are in.

What Helped Your Learning?

Students enter the "Natio Germanica Bononiae,“ University of Bologna (15th century). Public domain. Wikimedia

Students enter the “Natio Germanica Bononiae,“ University of Bologna (15th century). Public domain. Wikimedia

SETs are largely about how students experienced your course, and so the questions focus on issues of organization, pacing, clarity, grading, etc. As numerous articles have pointed out, Student Evaluations of Teaching don’t tell you about student learning, and they provide very little information to suggest what it is you are doing to support (or hinder) the leaning that goes on in the class. Linda Shadiow and Maryellen Weimer, writing in Faculty Focus on Nov. 23, suggest a series of questions that can help foreground student learning issues. They offer a series of fairly simple sentence stems for students to complete. For example,

  • It most helped my learning of the content when…because…
  • It would have helped my learning of the content if…because…
  • The assignment that contributed most to my learning was…because…
  • The reading that contributed the most to my learning was…because…
  • The kinds of homework problems that contributed most to my learning were…because…
  • The approach I took to my own learning that contributed the most for me was…because…
  • The biggest obstacle for me in my learning the material was…because…
  • A resource I know about that you might consider using is…because…
  • I was most willing to take risks with learning new material when…because…
  • During the first day, I remember thinking…because…
  • What I think I will remember five years from now is…because…

Shadiow and Weimer recommend that faculty also complete the same sentences. Having (almost) completed the semester, we probably have a good idea which assignments worked from our point of view and which didn’t; what readings brought out the most in discussion, and what didn’t; what homework assignments stretched student learning and what brought basically “meh” responses. Comparing our answers to the students can be revealing (or, perhaps, horrifying!).

These questions can be added to the bottom of the current SETs that you will be handing out. You can simply add an additional sheet with these questions which, still anonymously, can be returned directly to you rather than being tabulated by the department AA’s or becoming a part of your official file. Once you have you have let some time pass (see “SETs for Beginners,” below), you can look at them, particularly before preparing classes for next semester.

Student Self-Assessment

Cours de philosophie à Paris Grandes chroniques de France; Castres, bibliothèque municipale – late 14th century. Public domain. Wikimedia

Cours de philosophie à Paris Grandes chroniques de France; Castres, bibliothèque municipale – late 14th century. Public domain. Wikimedia

David Gooblar, in his “Pedagogy Unbound” blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education, recently wrote a very useful post on student self-assessment. [Note: For a good introduction to student self-assessment, see Heidi Andrade & Anna Valtcheva, “Promoting Learning and Achievement Through Self-Assessment,” Theory Into Practice 48:1 (2009): 12-19.] Ask your students to reflect upon the learning strategies they used over the course of the semester, and to consider their own habits of thinking. “Explain that the act of reflection is itself a valuable learning strategy,” he writes. Ask them how they studied for tests or what they did to prepare for their assignments; what worked for them and what didn’t? The answers you get may be quite basic, but the more often we ask students to reflect on their own learning, the more practiced at it they will become.

Gooblar calls attention to the work on metacognition undertaken by Kimberly D. Tanner, a professor of biology at San Francisco State University, particularly the “retrospective postassessments” she uses. Tanner asks students to think about what they now know about the subject (in general terms) compared to what they knew at the start of the semester. (For example: “Before this course, I thought neoliberalism was _____. Now, I think neoliberalism is _____.”) You can ask students to write about the specific ways they have changed their thinking about the topics you covered. Or you can have them write a letter to a future student of the course, to reflect on its high and low points, and tell incoming students what they wished they would have had known going in to the class and what they wish they would have done differently over the course of the semester?

Since I have my students set out their learning goals in a short paper at the start of the class – which I collect and keep – I return these to them at the end of the semester and have them reflect, one final time, on which of these goals they feel they have achieved, and which they didn’t, what they did to reach their goals and what they will do differently in their next classes. Whatever method you chose, the end of the semester is a good time to encourage students to reflect on the journey they have undertaken with you and how they are different at the end of the trip.

“SETs for Beginners” (first written Feb. 7, 2010 and slightly updated here)

800px-Meeting_of_doctors_at_the_university_of_Paris

A meeting of doctors at the university of Paris. From the “Chants royaux” manuscript, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

By now, as you well know, there is a very large literature on student evaluations of teaching (SETs). A lot of the research points to the validity and reliability of these instruments in terms of measuring very specific areas of a student’s experience in a completed class. Some writers continue to argue that they are a worthless exercise, citing evidence that evaluations handed out after the first day of a class will yield strikingly similar results to surveys conducted at the end of the semester, that they are a measure of the entertainment-value of a class, not any value added in terms of student learning, or that they can be easily influenced (just hand out doughnuts with the questionnaires). I have come to accept three basic realities about the use of SETs:

(1) on a broad level, they help to identify outliers – a class which seems to have been extremely successful or highly troubled; (2) they should not be used as the only evaluation of teaching (informed peer evaluation following a standard observation protocol and an examination of course syllabi by experts in the field are strongly recommended as well); and (3) SETs are not a substitute for an assessment of student learning in a course. But, when read carefully, they can tell you something about your teaching on a very specific level. The question is how to read them to get that specific information, and on that score, there is very little literature.

So here’s a first attempt at this question, a kind of “SETs for Beginners.”

Because of college rules, which are likely similar everywhere, we receive our teaching evaluations back only after grades are turned in. (You should consult with your department chairs for information as to how and when to hand out SETs, whether your students can complete them online or only in class, and how they are to be collected if you do them in-class.) At some point by mid-January or mid-June, after our hard-working administrative assistants have tabulated and organized the data, we are informed that our SETs are ready to be picked up!

First decision: do you rush in to get them, play it cool, like a cat walking around a particularly lovely kibble before pouncing, or pretend that they aren’t there until, sure enough, you have forgotten all about them? I usually take the middle route on this, but, in any case, I certainly won’t pick them up on a day when the auto shop called to tell me that the problem’s in the drive train or the best journal just rejected my article. Another hit that day, I just don’t need.

When I do finally make the move, I take them to my office, put them on my desk, pretend that they aren’t there while I take a look at my email which I already checked 90 seconds earlier. Enough, already. I open the folders and read, rapidly, the overall numbers: not what I hoped for, better than it could have been, whatever… Then I put them away for at least a day or two. I don’t think I’m ready to take them on-board just yet, whether the numbers are good, bad, or indifferent. I go back to the email, the article, the gym, until I’ve absorbed the larger quantitative landscape and feel mentally prepared to explore the terrain a bit more carefully.

When I do return to the SETs, I give myself the time (and space) to read them carefully (and privately). I don’t pay much attention to any individual numbers – those have been summarized for me, but I read the comments with care… and a mixture of interest, confusion, skepticism, and wonder. How is it that the student who wrote “Volk is probably the most disorganized professor I’ve ever encountered” attended the same class as the one who commented, “This was a marvel of organization and precision”? What is one to make of such clearly cancelling comments? So here are my tricks for trying to give my SETs the kind of close reading that I think they merit:

  • Do not dwell on the angry outliers. That’s advice more easily given than taken. I have read enough teaching evaluations, my own as well as others, to know that there are some students who just didn’t like our classes and have not figured out any helpful or gracious way to say that. The fact that these are (hopefully) a tiny minority and are directly contradicted by the great majority of other comments doesn’t seem to decrease their impact, or the fact that we continue to obsess about them. (I can still quote, verbatim, comments that were written in 1987!) These bitter communiqués probably serve a purpose for the student, but they really don’t help you think at all usefully about your teaching. Let ’em go.
  • Evaluate the “cancellers”. What do you do when three students thought you were able to organize and facilitate discussions with a high degree of skill and three thought you couldn’t organize a discussion to save your life? These are harder to deal with and can add to the cynicism of those who think that the whole SET adventure is a waste of time. For the “cancellers,” I try to figure out a bit more about them to see if they represent some legitimate (i.e., widespread) concern about the class or not. Is one side of the debate generally supported by the numbers? Do I score lower in the discussion-oriented questions than in other areas, lower than in previous iterations of the course, or lower than I would have really wanted? Does the demographic information that I know about the student evaluator add context that is useful and that I should take on board? I am more likely to trust comments from seniors than from first-years. Does it appear that there is a striking gender or racial difference in terms of how students respond to specific questions? That is extremely important information to lean from and it is why we collect demographic information from our student respondents. A careful reading of this information can help us understand what is going on in our classes on a more granular level.
Brian Carson, Backyard Flowers in Black and White, No. 2. Flickr Creative Commons

Brian Carson, Backyard Flowers in Black and White, No. 2. Flickr Creative Commons

And, if none of the above helps me think about why something I have done works for some and not others, I make a note to myself to ask students explicitly about it the next time I offer the class: Please, tell me if you don’t think these (discussions, paper assignments, readings, etc.) are working so that I can consider other approaches.

  • Focus on those areas that seem to be generating the most amount of concern from students. Are they having a hard time trying to figure out how the assignments relate to the reading? Do a considerable number worry that they aren’t getting timely or useful feedback from you? Is there a widespread upset that classes run too long and students don’t have enough time to get to their next class? For each of the areas where I find a concern that has reached a “critical mass” level and is not just an angry-outlier grievance, I consider what I think about their criticism and whether, given my own goals in the course, I find it legitimate. For example, I will pay no attention to students who complain about the early hour of my class. Getting work back on time depends on the size of the class and what I have promised: in a 50-person class if I say I’ll return work within two weeks, and do so, then I won’t think much about students who complain that I only returned their work two weeks after they turned it in.

Other issues force me to think more about how I teach and what impact that has on student learning. What of students who protest that “there’s too much work for a 100-level class”? I get a lot of those comments, and it makes me think: why do students think a 100-level class should involve less work than a 300-level class? Do we, the faculty, think that a 100-level class should be less work than a senior seminar? Certainly, upper-level classes will be more “difficult” than 100-level classes (i.e., they demand that the students have acquired significant prior knowledge and skills needed to engage at a higher level), but should there be any less work involved in the entry-level class? I, for one, don’t think so – and so I won’t change that aspect of the course.

But, ultimately, when student comments suggest what is a real area of concern, when they point to something I am doing in the class that negatively impacts how students are able to learn, than I need to regard that issue with the seriousness it deserves. I will think about how I might correct the problem, and, often, the best way to do that is to talk to my colleagues and find someone in my department or outside who can read my SETs with me. That has served me well every time, and it does point to the ultimate utility of SETs for the individual faculty member on a formative level: they can help us to design our teaching to more effectively promote student learning.

  • Finally, since Oberlin really does attract faculty who care about their students and the challenges of student learning, then my guess is that your evaluations are generally good, and you need to take great satisfaction in that (see: “Don’t dwell on the angry outliers”). I have never failed to find some comments on my own evaluations that remind me yet again about how perceptive our students can be and how fortunate I am to be here.

Listening, Hearing, Changing

Steven Volk, November 30, 2015

Some people find this moment of  ferment on our nation’s campuses confusing, particularly as important principles that have defined the academic community are seemingly under assault. Safe space competes with academic freedom, intellectual diversity with political orthodoxy, and so on and so forth. It will take some time to sort it all out, particularly as not every protest seems well thought out and students, like all of us, are learning from their mistakes. But tumultuous moments such as the present also provide a way to hear things that, previously, we might have ignored. This week’s “Article of the Week” offers two such learning moments, one arising from the protest demands and the second, from a teacher’s reflections on her own practice.

Renaming: The Case of Woodrow Wilson

I am no longer surprised with how quickly protests have jumped from one one campus to another, for the underlying causes of concern and anger have been present – and unheard – for a long time. Student protests that recently have called our attention to the stubborn persistence of racial injustice both on campus and off have hopscotched from Yale to Ithaca,  Occidental to Princeton, Amherst to Brandeis, Lewis and Clark, and Western Washington. What started at the University of Missouri did not stay at Mizzou, as students, faculty and staff seized on potentially the most promising opening for change in a generation. Among demands that have been raised by students of color are for the renaming of buildings that honor individuals who were particularly notable in their defense of slavery or, after the Civil War, segregation and racism.

Protesters at Princeton University  (Photo by Mary Hui for The Washington Post)

Protesters at Princeton University (Photo by Mary Hui for The Washington Post)I

Among these, the case of Woodrow Wilson and Princeton stands out. President Wilson’s relationship to Princeton was anything but casual. He was an undergraduate (class of 1879), a professor (hired in 1890), and finally the university’s 13th president (1902). The deep identification of the university with Wilson can be seen all over the campus. Now, many students are questioning this relationship.

Wilson’s well known reputation as “the architect of a lot of modern liberalism” stands in stark contrast to his record on race relations which, in the muted terms of PBS’s “American Experience,” was “not very good.” In point of fact, it was a lot worse than that. Wilson was an unrepentant racist, a segregationist whose actions as President reversed the halting advances made by Black Americans in the years after Reconstruction. (For more on this see Eric S. Yellin, Racism in the Nation’s Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson’s America (Univ. of North Carolina, 2013).

With this history in mind, in mid-November, the Black Justice League, a year-old group of concerned students at Princeton, announced that they would occupy the office of Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber until he agreed to a set of demands, including the following:

“WE DEMAND the university administration publicly acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and how he impacted campus policy and culture. We also demand that steps be made to rename Wilson residential college, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, and any other building named after him. Furthermore, we would like the mural of Wilson to be removed from the Wilcox dining hall. We understand that a name change does not dismantle racism, but also know that the way we lionize legacies set precedents.”

Calhoun College, Yale University

Calhoun College, Yale University

This call at Princeton was preceded by a similar demand at Yale that Calhoun College (i.e., residence hall), named for John C. Calhoun, a congressman, senator, vice president, secretary of state and war, as well as a staunch defender of states’ rights and an outspoken advocate of slavery, be retitled. A similar call was issued at Amherst College to retire Lord Jeffery Amherst as the college’s sports mascot. It was Amherst who wrote, in 1763: “Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them.”

There is no simple answer to how colleges (or countries, for that matter) should deal with a past that is less than exemplary, and I don’t propose one here. But if some agreed that it was time for Yale to remove Calhoun’s name, the parallel demand to oust Wilson from Princeton seemed a bridge too far for many. Where, after all, would it all end. The editors at the New Jersey Star Ledger seemed to have this in mind when they wrote in their November 22 editorial that individuals such as Wilson were only part of the times in which they lived. “If we were to erase tributes to every historical figure with a repellent quality,” the editorial continued, “there would be no names left on any building, bridge, airport, school, river, park, statue or boulevard in the land.” Perhaps we should pause for a moment to let the full weight of that sink in. In any case, the editorial concluded, “The students at Princeton are right to acknowledge that the 28th President was a fierce segregationist, but to expunge the entire legacy of this transformative figure is historical myopia at its worst.”

Yet what students and their supporters at Yale and Princeton are saying is not that the “entire legacy” of these figures be “expunged,” but rather that the universities should stop and consider exactly what it means for the children of slavery and segregation, who you have invited to become a part of your community, to have to live, study, and work in buildings that celebrate the figures who were not just “at one” with their times, but staunch, active and outspoken proponents of slavery and segregation. This is not, in the end, a debate about whether the “repellent” acts of the past are to be deleted from historical memory, but whether those responsible for them are to continue to be honored in the present.

Was anyone listening to what the students are saying?

John Abraham Davis, center, and his family at their farm in the early 1900s (New York Times)

John Abraham Davis, center, and his family at their farm in the early 1900s (New York Times)

Yes. On November 24, the New York Times published an informative and moving op-ed by Gordon J. Davis, a lawyer and the grandson of John Abraham Davis. In “What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather,” Davis describes how, early in the last century, his grandfather rose from being a laborer to a mid-level manager at the Government Printing Office only to be demoted, with countless other African Americans, by Wilson’s systematic purge of the African Americans from the Federal civil service. As Davis concluded, “Wilson was not just a racist. He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere policy change; in doing so, he ruined the lives of countless talented African-Americans and their families.”

The same day, the Times editorial board threw in their lot with Princeton’s Black Justice League. “The overwhelming weight of the evidence argues for rescinding the honor that the university bestowed decades ago on an unrepentant racist,” the Times wrote. This is not about removing those aspects of history which current undergraduates find abhorrent; it is about no longer honoring those individuals for such actions. While the Times is hardly the avatar of progressive thinking, it is gratifying that its editors could hear.

Emily E. Smith

Emily E. Smith is a fifth-grade teacher at the Cunningham Elementary School in Austin, TX. She was hired as a language arts and social studies teacher, although she now calls herself a “teacher of social justice and the art of communication with words.” The journey she took to her new identity was one that involved considerable listening.

Smith was just awarded the 2015 Donald H. Graves Excellence in the Teaching of Writing award given at the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English held in Minneapolis. (My wife, Dinah, a professor of early childhood education, was at the conference, heard Smith’s acceptance speech, and brought it to my attention. Strike that: insisted that I read it.) Parts of Smith’s acceptance speech circulated in an article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, and I quote from that article here.

Emily Elizabeth Smith, fifth-grade teacher at Cunningham Elementary School in Austin, Tex. (Erich Schlegel, Washington Post)

Emily Elizabeth Smith, fifth-grade teacher at Cunningham Elementary School in Austin, Tex. (Erich Schlegel, Washington Post)

“I’m white,” Smith began. “My classroom is not. Sure, it’s been my dream to work at an ‘urban’ school. To work with kids whose challenges I could never even fathom at such a young age. And changing at-risk lives through literature is almost a media cliché by now. These were, however, how I identified myself at the beginning of my teaching career. I was a great teacher. I taught children how to truly write for the first time and share meaningful connections on a cozy carpet.”

Yet Smith also understood that “something was missing.” Slightly more than 80 percent of K-12 teachers in the United States today are white. About half of public school students aren’t white. “That means,” she observed, “America’s children of color will, for the majority of their school years, not have a teacher who is a reflection of their own image. Most of their school life they will be told what to do and how to do it by someone who is white, and most likely female. Except for a few themed weeks, America’s children of color will read books, watch videos, analyze documents and study historical figures who are also not in their image.”

Smith’s understanding of what she was doing in her own classroom changed the day one of her students told her she “couldn’t understand because [she] was a white lady.” I don’t know why we are able to hear things at particular moments when the same messages has probably been delivered countless times without any effect. But sometimes we just do, and at that moment Smith heard. As she describes it, she went home “and cried, because my children knew about white privilege before I did. The closest I could ever come was empathy.”

From then on, she wrote, she chose to shift the curriculum she taught her class. Her 5th graders now are reading the issues that they want to explore. As they studied Sandra Cisneros, Pam Muñoz Ryan and Gary Soto, she saw a “light in their eyes I had never seen before.” TamalesThey read Langston Hughes’s “Let America be America Again” from “the lens of both historical and current events and realized that the United States is still the land that has never been. The land that my kids, after reading an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s letter to his son that connected so deeply to their personal experiences, decided they still wanted to believe in. The land they decided to still hope for. The land that one of my kids quietly said would be changed by her generation. A generation of empathy.”

After reading about the Syrian crisis, Smith’s students “wrote poetry of hope, despair and compassion from the perspectives of the migrants. Many of my kids asked to write about their own journeys across the border and their [dreams] for a better future. One child cried and told me he never had a teacher who honored the journey his family took to the United States. He told me he was not ashamed anymore, but instead proud of the sacrifice his parents made for him.”

Smith concluded, “So as I stand here today I can declare that I am no longer a language arts and social studies teacher, but a self-proclaimed teacher of social justice and the art of communication with words.”

“Looking back,” she continued,

I think that my prior hesitation to talk about race stemmed from a lack of social education in the classroom. A lack of diversity in my own life that is, by no means, the fault of my progressive parents, but rather a broken and still segregated school system. Now that I’m an educator in that system, I’ve decided to stand unflinching when it comes to the real issues facing our children today, I’ve decided to be unafraid to question injustice, unafraid to take risks in the classroom — I am changed. And so has my role as a teacher.

I can’t change the color of my skin or where I come from or what the teacher workforce looks like at this moment, but I can change the way I teach. So I am going to soapbox about something after all. Be the teacher your children of color deserve. In fact, even if you don’t teach children of color, be the teacher America’s children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.

Put aside your anxieties and accept your natural biases. Donald Graves once said, ‘Children need to hang around a teacher who is asking bigger questions of herself than she is asking of them.’ I know I’m going to continue to ask the bigger questions of myself and seek the answers that sometimes feel impossible, because my kids deserve it … you’re welcome to join me.

The Honor Code: Time for a Conversation?

Steven Volk, November 22, 2015

Where would we be without Wikipedia? The online, crowd-sourced encyclopedia which faculty have found to be at the root of many an honor code violation, can also inform us about the origins of the honor code. So here it is, duly cited, even though it is actually incorrect. (Memo to students: Just because the internet says it doesn’t mean it’s true!)

John Davis, University of Virginia

John Davis, University of Virginia

John Davis, the dean of the faculty and a law professor at the University of Virginia, was shot on campus on November 12, 1840, the culmination of some “contentious relations” between students and faculty. He would succumb to his wounds two days later, but before he shuffled off this mortal coil, authorities asked him to name his (presumably undergraduate) assailant. He refused, arguing that if the man in question were honorable, he would step forward of his own accord. (Cribbing from the student sitting next to you at an exam seems small beer in comparison! Davis’ murderer, in case you’re wondering, was later identified as eighteen-year-old Joseph Semmes, a member of a wealthy Georgia family. Semmes posted a huge bail, skipped town, and never stood trial.)

Henry St. George Tucker, Sr., Davis’ replacement, recommended the institutionalization of a code of “honorable” behavior in 1842, arguing that, in the future, students be required to sign the following statement on their exams: “I, [name], do hereby certify on my honour that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any source whatsoever.” The students, for their part, seemed to like the idea. But the linking of Davis’ murder and the creation of the UVA honor code seems to have been a nice, if imaginative, 20th century addition. As Coy Barefoot, the author of “The Evolution of Honor” wrote in 2008, “It can be argued that the beginning of the Honor System at the University dates rather to March 1825, when the first student had his name entered in the matriculation book. By entering his name, the student pledged to support the University’s principles, ideals and regulations—rules that forbade lying to professors and cheating on tests.”

In any case, the Honor Code became a part of UVA’s undergraduate life, and was soon expanded to cover a myriad of issues both there and at different institutions: rules about smoking, cheating at card games, honor within relationships, etc.

historyofoberlin01flet_0009A quick look through Robert Samuel Fletcher’s A History of Oberlin College from its Foundation through the Civil War has not disclosed any evidence of an Oberlin honor code that predates UVA’s, so I’ll assume that Oberlin’s adoption of such a code came later. (Help me out, colleagues: any information on when it originated?) What we do know is that, according to the Honor Code Charter, “The student body of Oberlin College, with the approval of the General Faculty, originated and adopted the Honor System, which places full responsibility for academic integrity on students.”

In a discussion of the Honor Code at a 1997 faculty meeting, one student proudly noted that “The Oberlin honor code is a really special and rare thing. Only a few small liberal arts colleges have something like this.” Which is nice, even if it isn’t accurate. Quite a few liberal arts colleges have honor codes, and at some, like Haverford or Bryn Mawr, the honor system is an more integral part of campus identity. Haverford, for example, highlights its Honor Code, created in 1896, as “one of [its] oldest and greatest traditions.” Students at Haverford, gathered in a “Plenary” meeting, debate, revise, and vote on their honor code every year. Haverford credits it Honor Code with helping students “enjoy a bond of trust and mutual respect that shapes all aspects of their academic and community lives.”

Furthermore, the Haverford Honor Code

“encompasses both the academic and social spheres of life, influencing everything from the spirit of intellectual inquiry to personal interactions. The Honor Code is not a set of rules, but rather an articulation of ideals and expectations emphasizing genuine connection and engagement with one another, and the creation of an atmosphere of trust, concern, and respect. The Honor Code is also completely student-run — one of the clearest demonstrations of this trust.”

The Honor Code at Oberlin

Oberlin’s Honor Code, while an important part of our academic and student life culture, nevertheless does not reach such Haverfordian heights. The charter, last revised in 2008, calls for the creation of a Student Honor Committee (SHC) which, in turn, “allows for the student body to be accountable to each other based on the principles of academic integrity. The SHC ensures that trust and academic freedom are maintained for the scholarly pursuits of the Oberlin College community.” The purposes of the system, as stated in the Charter, are “to maintain a high standard of academic integrity in all curricular work, to respect students’ ability to adhere to this standard, and to encourage further development of this ability through the efforts of faculty, administration, and students.” Finally, the Honor Code

provides the foundation for the intellectual freedom that is encouraged and shared by all members of the academic community and embodies the belief that true academic freedom and discourse can only exist within a framework of honesty, integrity, and responsibility. With the privilege of pursuing an Oberlin education comes the responsibility of supporting both the expectations and the spirit of the Honor Code. This requires each individual to respect all fellow members of the Oberlin community and to vigorously support the protected nature of intellectual property.”

In sum, the Honor Code operates with the three following expectations, responsibilities and requirements:

  1. Students signal their adherence to this set of principles by signing “honor code” pledges on all their work: “I have adhered to the Honor Code in this assignment.” Furthermore, students also
  2. Take responsibility for the “maintenance of academic freedom in the community” by pledging to “report possible infractions potentially harming the community.” Thus the responsibilities of the Honor Code, while shared by faculty and students, are by design mostly the responsibility of students, since
  3. Faculty, based on these presumptions, “do not proctor exams, but trust that students adhere to the Honor Code.”

Questions, anyone?

Final exams at Hamilton College, 1950

A few weeks ago, a number of faculty members, including many newer members of our community, met in a Brown Bag Pedagogy session to discuss the Honor Code, its operations, potential short comings, and steps that might be taken to strengthen it. What became clear is that, unlike their counterparts at Haverford, for example, new faculty are rarely socialized into the workings of the Honor Code at Oberlin, either in terms of how it operates or what its underlying assumptions are. Thus, to cite just one example, newer faculty might find out about the “no-proctoring” rule when they give their first exam and are told, in no uncertain terms, to leave the room. Not a good way to find out about it.

Still, in the course of the Brown Bag session, it became clear that there are a number of aspects of the Honor Code that need to be discussed among the faculty (and perhaps among students as well), if not updated.

Underlying assumptions. The primary reason that the Honor Code exists is to place students in the position of responsibility for upholding the integrity needed for an academic institution to thrive… and to recognize that, since this will not always happen, rules and regulations are necessary. (I often ask students in my colonial Latin American history class why they think laws were written in 17th century Lima that dealt with children of nuns.) As the Honor Code charter states, students are a part of the College’s “community of scholars” and, as such, they need to be “accountable to each other based on the principles of academic integrity.”

I have no doubt that the vast majority of our students adhere to this, that the responsibility we give them by leaving the room during exams is well placed. But, of course, rules are most often written for a tiny minority of individuals who do not adhere to our aspirational goals. Of the 10 pages of the Honor Code Charter, a little more than 9 pages are devoted what happens in the relatively few reported Honor Code violations that arise every year.

Four questions have come up in this regard: (1) Is it fair or reasonable to expect students to “police,” monitor or otherwise be responsible for each others’ behavior. Isn’t it enough for them just to take their own exams without looking around to see who is consulting his smart phone? (2) Are the actual procedures of the Honor Code working? What are faculty to make of the fact that many Honor Code violations are not resolved before they have to give assignment or final grades? (3) As pedagogy shifts increasingly toward student collaboration, peer study groups, peer work-shopping of papers, and other elements of constructivist pedagogy that encourage student-to-student learning, are the rules of what is allowable within the terms of the Honor Code clear? And, (4) as more international students join our community, can we expect that everyone has the same preparation and understanding of what integrity in academic work means?

Exams at Hamline University, 1930s. Wikimedia

Let’s take these one at a time. My purpose here is not to answer the questions that have arisen, but to suggest that if the basic rules of the Honor Code are unclear to faculty (and perhaps students), the time is ripe for a broader discussion. [Added Nov. 23: Faculty should also be aware that further information on many of these points is available here. Of particular interest are clarifications on grading of student work when an Honor Code violation is under review.]

  1. Student responsibility under the Honor Code. The basic principle of the Honor Code couldn’t be clearer: students have asked to be the most responsible agents of their own academic integrity. This is not a burden that the faculty have placed on the students, and my guess would be that if the students wanted to be relieved of this responsibility, we would accept it as a faculty. Therefore, if we think that there are problems with how the system is run, it is incumbent on us to raise these.

At the same time, to quote a former U.S. president (oh, how it pains me to say it!): as faculty, we both trust and verify. When papers come in that have all the hallmarks of plagiarism, we will follow up to the extent of our time and abilities. It is harder to do this on in-class exams, and even harder if a student has been given an accommodation to take an exam in another room.

Technology has changed some of our assumptions here. We can state clearly what the rules of a closed-book exam are, but short of frisking students to remove their smart phones, we will have to rely on, well, their honor. The new question is whether technology, specifically the ubiquitous presence of smart phones, requires us to reexamine any assumptions here, particular in terms of in-class exams and accommodations for students to take an exam in a room unmonitored by either students or faculty. Perhaps, at the end of the day, we will agree that technology has not changed anything and that we expect all our students to hold themselves to required standards of integrity; but we do need to have the conversation.

  1. Procedures. Faculty have complained that, as currently run, the Student Honor Code Committee is slow, does not report back on suspected infractions of the Honor Code that have been filed, and most often comes to a conclusion long after faculty have had to give a student a final grade in a course. Certainly steps should be taken to expedite and improve communications in the system.

But other issues have been raised with the operations of the Honor Code that suggest some limitations as it is currently written. Section F.1. of the Code states that “All members of the Oberlin College community are required to report potential violations of the Honor Code when they suspect one has occurred.” Perhaps I am putting myself in violation of the Honor Code by suggesting that this is a rule that is more honored in the breach. (Always the hamletpedant, I note that the phrase “honour’d in the breach,” which comes from Hamlet, meant just the opposite of what we now mean by it.) In point of fact and based on my own behavior, I suspect many faculty (and probably many students) have observed “potential” violations of the Code and did not report them. Faculty often use those opportunities to talk personally to students who we think either don’t understand that what they have done is a violation of the Honor Code or who we think would get more out of a one-to-one discussion with us than being entered into a formal proceeding. In either case, to have a requirement that is more often than not ignored does not make for a good legislation.

I’m not unaware of the other side of the argument, which is that if no report is filed, students who are repeat offenders cannot be identified. Still, and in particular reference to many international students who are still learning about the principles of academic integrity in a U.S. setting, the requirement that all members of the community report all potential violations seems in need of further clarification.

  1. Pedagogical shifts towards collaborative learning. Most of the aspects of the Honor Code are quite clear: plagiarism, falsification of sources, copying from your neighbor’s exam paper, using outside sources in a closed-book examination, etc. While some (plagiarism) might require further explanation, particularly for international students, most are fairly obvious. Still, others seem to be open to interpretation or, at the very least, could serve as the basis of an interesting discussion. I refer in particular to the following “example of cheating”: “Collaborating on a project that was to be completed individually.” Obviously this doesn’t apply to projects that are expected to be completed with other students. But, at the same time, many of us routinely encourage students to speak to each other about their projects, to share drafts of a paper, to work with writing tutors or get help from the OWLs. Where does “cheating” start?

The Honor Code has taken this into account:

“The default assumption covering all academic exercises is that students are required to do their own work only utilizing the help and resources considered appropriate for each academic exercise, including sources of assistance routinely offered by the college to students, such as reference librarians and writing tutors. Notwithstanding, in all cases, the professor in a specific course may further restrict or expand what resources are approved or not approved for use in a particular course or assignment.”

But confusions abound and one way to deal with this is to be explicit in your own instructions about what is allowed and what isn’t. For example: “I expect you to take your draft to the Writing Center, but you are not allowed to send it to your mother or elsewhere off campus.”

Will we know if said mother had a hand in the final draft? Probably not, but at least we can be clear in our expectations. On the other hand, many of us have gotten papers with WTMI (way too much information), footnoting every conversation with a classmate or pearl of wisdom that we have dropped in an off-handed manner in class.

What I would suggest is that these can all be teachable moments. Our ideas are always grounded in other ideas. As faculty, we have learned to collaborate widely; we wouldn’t think of sending an article to a journal or a manuscript to a press without having friends and colleagues read it first and give us their feedback (and which, if all goes well, we will acknowledge in the article or book). To talk about the value of collaboration in scholarly work is to engage our students in the heart of how knowledge is created and can move any discussion of the Honor Code away from its disciplinary moorings and towards a more engaging conversation about epistemology, creativity, and the values of collaboration.

  1. International students and the Honor Code. In “Teaching International Students: Opportunities and Challenges,” an “Article of the Week” from a few weeks ago, I raised some particular concerns about how the Honor Code works for our growing number of international students: “International students may come from academic cultures that have different standards for citation of sources, different expectations for when collaboration is permitted, and a different sense of the limits of what kind of collaboration is permissible.” I suggested, and will repeat here, that thinking about how we approach the Honor Code with international students can only help us to think about how we apply the Honor Code in general. “The more we can be clear and explicit about citation practices,” I argued, “how certain kinds of paraphrasing can be the equivalent of copying, what materials should carry citations, etc., the more we will help not only our international students, but all our students.”

Release_flier_for_THE_CODE_OF_HONOR,_1911But I also raised the issue of the very term we use to talk about expected academic conduct, “honor,” and how we need to be aware of different meanings the word holds in different cultures. If our intent is to build a culturally responsive environment at Oberlin, we need to think about these issues. Since the Honor Code is essentially about both “integrity” and “accountability,” perhaps we could devise a new name for it that is not as freighted as our current one.

In all, even if we see no reason to update our Honor Code system, with many new faculty coming on board every year (not to mention a quarter of our students), this would be a good time to engage a discussion of its meaning, principles, and functioning.

 

The Lessons of Mizzou

Steven Volk, November 15, 2015

From the University of Missouri to Yale to Ithaca College and campuses beyond, this has been a momentous week of protest. While many of us are still processing these events, it’s not too early to ask: What have we learned from them? What are the lessons of Mizzou?

For this week’s “Article of the Week,” I’ve curated a number of articles and other resources to provide context and framing for a few of the issues that surfaced in the past few days and weeks. While far from exhaustive – and I encourage you to add others via the “comment” function below – hopefully these can inform and encourage a broader conversation.

The lessons to be learned from Missouri and elsewhere are broadly applicable on all our campuses. Resources aren’t actions, but they can frame and inform actions.

Separate-Unequal-CoverDiversity: Racial Disparities in Higher Education

Race and racism were at the center of the uprising at the University of Missouri-Columbia and other campuses. Protests by students, faculty, and staff of color highlighted not only the fact that stark disparities persist at white-majority colleges and universities decades after the formal end of Jim Crow, but that, as Faulkner reminded in Requiem for a Nun, “The past isn’t over. It isn’t even past.” Will black students feel truly a part of Yale when they walk by Calhoun College every day? To suggest that no college would imagine hosting a “Himmler Hall,” as one writer cited below has argued, is a fair analogy and underscores the nature of the protests.

Each fall, the Chronicle of Higher Education publishes a special report on “Diversity in Academe.” The latest, which includes a searchable data base on “Race, Ethnicity, and Gender of Full-Time Faculty at More Than 4,000 Institutions” can be found here. For data on students, see: “Student Diversity at 4,725 Institutions,” Chronicle of Higher Education (Oct. 27, 2014).

Beckie Supiano highlighted some important parts of that larger data set which help illuminate campus protests in “Racial Disparities in Higher Education: An Overview,” published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov. 10, 2015). The article points out, among other things, that African Americans make up just 7 percent of students who enter a college or university ranked in the top three tiers of selectivity. On the other hand, more than half of football players at colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision are African-American and 90 percent of their head coaches are white, as are nearly 90 percent of recently hired college and university presidents.

Separate-Unequal-Admissions_9For a fuller background on racial disparities in higher education, see Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl’s highly useful report, Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege, published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce in 2013.

Finally, for the latest data weighing in on the debate over how testing shapes admissions, see Saul Geiser’s work at Berkeley: “The Growing Correlation between Race and SAT Scores: New Findings from California,” Center for the Studies of Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley (Oct. 2015).

The Impact of Black Lives Matter

There is little doubt that the Black Lives Matter movement had a tremendous impact on shaping the protests at the University of Missouri, so close were they to the events at Ferguson.

Professor Frank Leon Roberts is offering a course on Black Lives Matter at NYU’s Gallatin School. The syllabus is online (and most of the links are hot) and can provide essential background: Black Lives Matter Syllabus (Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest), Fall 2015. Frank Leon Roberts is a professor, sociopolitical commentator, and veteran community organizer based in New York.

An earlier “Article of the Week” (“Black Lives Matter and the Start of Classes”) called attention to a Penn State website, “The Fire This Time: Understanding Ferguson. Learning from Faculty, Students, and Community Members, from Penn State and Beyond as they Engage the Events in Ferguson, MO,” and, on Twitter, the #FergusonSyllabus and the follow-up #CharlestonSyllabus that was put together by Chad Williams at Brandeis. See, as well, the #Charlestonyyllabus produced by the African American Intellectual History Society.

The University of Missouri

The events which led up to the resignations on November 9 of Timothy Wolfe, the system president of the University of Missouri, and R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of its flagship campus in Columbia, have been widely reported, even though most reports tend to focus on the impact of the football players’ decision to boycott all football related activities until Wolfe left his position and the hunger strike begun by graduate student Jonathan Butler on November 2. Both are important (see below), but the history that informs the Missouri protests stretches further back and includes the fact that Wolfe, as one article put it, “should never have been president of the University of Missouri.” As with an increasing number of presidential hires (e.g., Iowa), Wolfe was a corporate executive with no advanced degrees or experience with students or academic governance. One of his first decisions on coming to Missouri was to close the University of Missouri Press, the press responsible, among other notable publications, for the definitive edition of Langston Hughes’ collected works (a move that, he stressed, would save the university an estimated $400,000). At the start of this academic year, he announced a plan to end subsidies to the health insurance plans of graduate students, also a cost-saving move. And yet, at the same time, he championed a $200 million plan to bolster Missouri’s athletics facilities.

Here are two accounts that provide a background on race and racism at Missouri.

Marcia Chatelain, “What Mizzou Taught Me,” The Chronicle Review (November 12, 2015). Chatelain begins her article, “As the chair of the women’s- and gender-studies department introduced me to the audience gathered at the University of Missouri’s Ellis Auditorium, I tried to hold back tears. Eighteen years earlier, I had enrolled at Mizzou as a bookish teenager. On this spring day, I was now a tenured professor and a published author returning to my alma mater to talk about my new book. The sight of an audience full of old classmates, former mentors, and the current students I had met through social media was so overwhelming I had to take a deep breath and steady myself as I approached the podium…”

Eyder Peralta, “READ: Two Personal Statements That Help Explain The Situation At Mizzou,NPR: The Two-Way (Nov. 8, 2015). Peralta includes accounts by Alexis G. Ditaway, a Missouri student majoring in journalism, and Dr. Cynthia M. Frisby, who teaches strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Sports and the Role of the Missouri Football Team:

Pinkel-Tweet-FootballOne of the most widely publicized aspects of the Missouri protest was the decision by football players and coaches to boycott activities until Wolfe was no longer president of the university system. It was a stunning turn, but not the first time that sports teams have put forward political demands and, according to many sports writers, probably not the last. As mentioned above, nearly 60% of football players at colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision are African-American. Of $83.6 million in median total revenues at the highest-resource schools in the five highest resources athletic conferences, 89 percent was generated by the athletic department. In other words, high revenue-generating teams can command a lot of attention. Sports writers and others are looking at Missouri to predict whether their success (both in maintaining unity and in achieving their goals) will make players, particularly in the biggest conferences, more likely to use strikes as a bargaining tool, much as it is used by labor unions.

Thabiti Lewis, “Enter the Real Power of College Sports,” Chronicle of Higher Education (Nov. 11, 2015). Lewis is an associate professor of English at Washington State University and the author of Ballers of the New School: Race and Sports in America (Third World Press, 2010).

Bill Littlefield, “Only the Beginning? College Athletes Unite Against Racism,” Only a Game (NPR), Nov. 14, 2015). NPR’s weekly sports broadcast.

Dave Zirin, “The Missouri Tigers and the Hidden History of Black College Football Activists,” The Nation (Nov. 12, 2015). The strike against racism by Mizzou football players was brave, historic, and profoundly significant—but it wasn’t unprecedented. Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation.

Dave Zirin, “Why They Refused to Play: Read the Grievance Letter of the Grambling State Tigers Football Team,” The Nation (Oct. 21, 2013). The grievance letter sent out by the Grambling State Tigers football team reveals the conditions they faced two years ago.

Louis Moore, “Players Strike Back: Howard’s 11 Goes on Strike,” The Professor and the Pugilist Blog (Louis Moore), Sept. 22, 2013. Louis Moore is a professor of history at Grand Valley State University.

Media and the Free Speech Question

no-mediaWhen Tim Tai, a student photographer at Missouri, was blocked by protesters from taking pictures of a protest encampment on the campus quad, the issue of a reporter’s First Amendment right to report on events entered the discussion. Because many saw this as another example of protesters’ “totalitarian” tendencies to shut down free speech and to control what can and can’t be said on campuses, the photographer’s story became part of that larger, on-going debate. Here are a few articles that offer additional perspective on the question. One can also find a helpful framing on this question in Jennifer S. Simpson, Longing for Justice: Higher Education and Democracy’s Agenda (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Simpson points out how liberal theory and critical race theory will approach this question in very different ways.

Jelani Cobb, “Race and the Free-Speech Diversion,” The New Yorker (Nov. 10, 2015). Jelani Cobb has been a contributor to The New Yorker and newyorker.com since 2013, writing frequently about race, politics, history, and culture.

Catherine R. Squires, “Young Black People See the News Media’s Double Standard,” New York Times – Room for Debate, Nov. 12, 2015. Catherine R. Squires is a professor of communication studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is also the director of the Race, Indigeneity, Gender and Sexuality Studies Initiative.

Anzel Herst, “A Few Thoughts About Those Missouri Protesters Blocking that Student Photographer,” The Stranger (Nov. 10, 2015). Anzel Herst is a staff writer at The Stranger, Seattle’s independent newspaper.

Terrell Jermaine Starr, “There’s a Good Reason Protesters at the University of Missouri Didn’t Want the Media Around,” The Washington Post (Nov. 11, 2015). Terrell Jermain Starr is a New York City-based freelance journalist who writes about U.S. and Russian politics.

Lydia Polgreen, “What’s bugging me about the media chest-thumping.”  Twitter feed from Lydia Polgreen, the Johannesburg bureau chief for the New York Times, covering southern Africa.

Karen Grisby Bates, “Hands Up Don’t Shoot: Thoughts From The Mizzou Photog Blocked During Protest,” NPR Code Switch (Nov. 13, 2015). Karen Grisby Bates is the Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News. She contributed commentaries to All Things Considered for about 10 years before she joined NPR in 2002.

Yale University

Arnold Gold/AP

Arnold Gold/AP

Events at Yale University were touched off by an email sent by the university’s Intercultural Affairs Council suggesting students avoid culturally insensitive costumes for Halloween and the response by a professor, who is the wife of the “master” (yes, that’s what they are called) of Silliman College, who observed that culturally insensitive costumes should be allowed because they spark healthy, intellectual dialogue. What the articles below point out is that the costumes controversy — catnip for most of the media that portrays undergraduates at selective colleges as largely infantile and coddled — may have been the latest incident on that campus, but it was hardly the first or, for that matter, the most important.

Bruce Shapiro, “Don’t Tell the Students at Yale to ‘Grow Up’,” The Nation (Nov. 13, 2015). Bruce Shapiro, a contributing editor to The Nation, is executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, ”Injustices at Universities Run Deeper Than Names,” The Atlantic (Oct. 26, 2015). Tressie McMillan Cottom is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Rachel Wilkinson, “Trying Times,” Yale Daily News, November 9, 2015. Rachel Wilkinson is a senior at Silliman College, Yale.

Aaron Lewis, “What You Don’t Know About the Protests at Yale,” Huffington Post, Nov. 9, 2015. Aaron Lewis is a senior at Yale studying cognitive science and design.

William Jennings, “To Be a Christian Intellectual,” Yale University: Notes from the Quad, Yale Divinity School (Oct. 30, 2015).

Courtney McKinney, “I’m a Black Yale Grad, and Its Racial Firestorm Doesn’t Surprise Me. Now It’s Time for the Administration to Act,” Salon (Nov. 11, 2015). Courtney McKinney is a Yale graduate working at a public policy center focusing on legal and social justice in the United States.

Gillian B. White, “The Vilification of Student Activists at Yale,” The Atlantic (Nov. 10, 2015). Gillian B. White is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Hunger Strikes

Hunger strikes as a political weapon are hardly new, although Jonathan Butler’s decision to adopt the tactic until Missouri’s president step down was unusual. Here’s one article about a hunger strike and education in Chicago from this past summer.

Eve L. Ewing, “We Shall Not Be Moved”: A Hunger Strike, Education, and Housing in Chicago,” New Yorker (Sept. 21, 2015). Eve L. Ewing is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and a doctoral candidate at Harvard University.

Beruit-Paris-Syria

 

Grading: Fairer? Better? Utopia?

Steven Volk, November 8, 2015

Seth Anderson, "Violate This Parking Dibb," CC

Seth Anderson, “Violate This Parking Dibb,” CC

Clark Kerr, the former Chancellor of the University of California-Berkeley, in one of his many flashes of wit and wisdom, once observed, “I have sometimes thought of the modern university as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.” The same could probably be said about grading. If there is one thing that we agree upon as faculty, it is an aversion to grading. I am no longer surprised when colleagues tell me that not having to grade papers is what finally convinced them to hang up their spurs and retire.

And it’s not just faculty who complain: grading is an equal opportunity grievance. Grading is not particularly high up on the students’ ten-best list of what they like about a college education. They certainly press us to explain what, precisely, it would take to turn a B+ into an A-. The “why-can’t-they-be-like-we-were” lobby outside of the academy see grade inflation as an indication of how faculty have caved to student demands. The media portray us as spineless, liberal wimps for not dolling out a hefty portion of C’s and D’s. And deans? Well, perhaps the day has passed when they attempted, subtly or not, to make a point by sending around a memo illustrating how the grades we gave compared with others in our department, division, and college.

Besides the fact that grading, if taken seriously, takes a huge amount of time, we struggle with it because (outside of multiple choice exams), grading is almost always more subjective than we’re comfortable with, and certainly more subjective than students expect it to be. What, precisely, would a student have to do to turn a B+ into an A-?. That’s a fair question to be asking, but, even if we grade with a rubric, we are still making fine shades of distinction that the starkness of the B+ simply can’t capture.

Image credit: John Tenniel‘s illustration for Lewis Carroll‘s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Image credit: John Tenniel‘s illustration for Lewis Carroll‘s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Nor does this take into account the fact that we’re humans, not machines. Are you a bit more generous with the first paper you read in the morning because you’re fresh and nicely caffeinated? Or are you a bit less charitable…because you’re fresh and nicely caffeinated? Our eyes cross by the 15th paper, and sometimes that will mean the student gets the A- (dear lord, anything to get me finished with this mountainous stack), and sometimes the B+ (don’t you have anything original to say? I’ve read the same idea 14 times already). It may all even out in the end, but try explaining that to the concerned student sitting across the desk from you.

Is There a Fairer Way?

We, of course, are a college that gives final grades, and even if we resist that by giving out Hampshire-College-style narratives rather than grades throughout the semester, we’re going to face the grading dilemma at the end of the semester. Is there any way to make that process fairer if not better?

David Gooblar, in his always-interesting “Pedagogy Unbound” column, recently looked at one aspect of fairness in grading: removing the “halo effect,” a specific kind of confirmation bias where favorable impressions in one area carry over to others. Those who worry about fairness in grading might wonder if, without their conscious knowledge, they are grading students higher if they did well on earlier work. B+ or A-? She got an “A” on her first two papers, so A- it is. Some would argue that we should be grading students’ work “blind,” with randomly assigned numbers replacing the names – much like an orchestra audition where the candidate performs from behind a screen. That way we won’t know what grades “33” or “7” got on their prior work.

There is some literature on “blind” grading and its impact on the halo effect as well as whether knowing the gender or race of the student influences grading, but it is hardly definitive. In a 2013 article in the Teaching of Psychology, John M. Malouff, Ashley J. Emmerton and Nicola S. Schutte, reported on a study of 126 instructors who were randomly assigned to grade a student giving a poor oral presentation or the same student giving a good oral presentation. All graders then assessed an unrelated piece of written work by the student. As hypothesized, the graders assigned significantly higher scores to written work following the better oral presentation.

On the other hand, studies looking for correlations between gender and grading have not been able to find much evidence to bolster their case (see here and here). Similar studies conducted in medical school also suggested that there was no widespread gender or racial bias in the grading of freshman medical students, although one can fairly question whether the same results would have obtained if the context were not medical school but rather a sophomore writing class or an 8th grade geometry setting. (And, to be clear, race has been shown to be a significant factor in the outcomes of standardized testing as bias is often built directly into the test.)

As Gooblar also points out, there also is much to be lost when we don’t know whose paper we are reading. Not only does it make it harder for students to come talk to you as they are working on their papers, but you have no way of knowing whether a particular student has made progress in a specific area you identified in some earlier work. And while much of our feedback is paper- specific, much is also person-specific, geared to issues that you have been discussing with the student.

"Skilled and unskilled laborers taking the TVA examination at the highschool building, Clinton, Tennessee." - NARA - 532813. Wikimedia public domain

“Skilled and unskilled laborers taking the TVA examination at the highschool building, Clinton, Tennessee.” – NARA – 532813. Wikimedia public domain

Is There a Better Way?

Certainly. I would recommend bringing a good 18-year old single malt scotch with you when you sit down to grade. Well, maybe not for those first papers in the morning. But, seriously, there are some things to keep in mind. What are we looking for in any grading system? The following 15 criteria are taken from Linda B. Nilson, Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time (Stylus Publishing, 2015). Nilson directs the Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation (OTEI) at Clemson University. Grading systems, for Nilson, should embody the following criteria, although she will argue that they rarely do.

  1. Uphold high academic standards.
  2. Reflect student learning outcomes.
  3. Motivate students to learn.
  4. Motivate students to excel.
  5. Discourage cheating.
  6. Reduce student stress.
  7. Make students feel responsible for their grades.
  8. Minimize conflict between faculty and students.
  9. Save faculty time.
  10. Give students feedback they will use.
  11. Make expectations clear.
  12. Foster higher-order cognitive development and creativity.
  13. Assess authentically.
  14. Have high interrater agreement
  15. Be simple.

When reading the list the first time, I thought: Right, and why not add “bring peace to the Middle East” to the list? They all seem impossible tasks. But Nilson’s book sets out an argument for an alternative which, even if I’m not fully convinced at the end of the day, is worth a look. Nilson argues in favor of what she calls “specifications grading,” a type of grading that is similar to “contract grading” already implemented at Oberlin by a number of faculty. The basic idea is that in the class syllabus the instructor discusses precisely what students must do to get a particular grade, and that they can decide on this basis what specific grade, from an A to a D, they will be attempting to earn. Nilson discussed three central aspects of this grading system in an interview with Robert Talbert of the “Casting Out Nines” blog a year ago.

First, you grade all assignments and tests satisfactory/unsatisfactory, pass/fail, where you set “pass” at B or better work. Students earn full credit or no credit depending on whether their work meets the specs that you laid out for it. No partial credit. Think of the specs as a one-level, one-dimensional rubric, as simple as “completeness” – for instance, all the questions are answered or all the problems attempted in good faith, or the work satisfies the assignments (follows the directions) and meets a required length. Or the specs may be more complex – a description of, for example, the characteristics of a good literature review or the contents of each section of a proposal. You must write the specs very carefully and clearly. They must describe exactly what features in the work you are going to look for. You might include that the work be submitted on time. For the students, it’s all or nothing. No sliding by. No blowing off the directions. No betting on partial credit for sloppy, last-minute work.

Second, specs grading adds “second chances” and flexibility with a token system. Students start the course with 1, 2, or 3 virtual tokens that they can exchange to revise an unsatisfactory assignment or test or get a 24-hour extension on an assignment. […]

Third, specs grading trades in the point system for “bundles” of assignments and tests associated with final course grades. Students choose the grade they want to earn. To get above an F, they must complete all the assignments and tests in a given bundle at a satisfactory level. For higher grades, they complete bundles of more work, more challenging work, or both. In addition, each bundle marks the achievement of certain learning outcomes. The book contains many variations on bundles from real courses.

pencilSpecs grading, according to Nilson, assumes that there is no reason why students shouldn’t be able to achieve the outcome(s) the specs describe. Specifications are basically directions on how to produce a B-level-or-better work or the parameters within which students create a product. If students don’t understand them, they have to ask questions.

In a workshop for the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, Nilson explained that the key to specifications grading is shifting the burden from grading to developing clear explanations for desired outcomes. Under specifications grading, students will (hopefully) fully understand faculty expectations, and the research confirms that when students know what faculty are looking for, they are more likely to do better.

Further, specification grading can also shift the way that faculty think about their students. Students taking a course in a non-major field “might decide they have better things to do this semester [than spend most of their time with that course]. What grade they wind up with says nothing about their capabilities, to me. It might say something about their time schedule,” Nilson added.

I’m not fully convinced that specifications grading is for me (and the faculty at the Pittsburgh workshop raised just the sort of questions I would have). But the points Nilson raises – the value of explaining clearly what students should be doing in an assignment, the determination of high standards, the placing of more responsibility in students’ hands – all of these points encourage me to study her approach further.

And those of you who use some form of “contract” or alternative grading? What has been your experience?

Teaching International Students: Opportunities and Challenges

Steven Volk, November 1, 2015

The number of international students* at U.S. institutions of higher education continues to multiply. According to UNESCO, at least 4 million students went abroad to study in 2012, up from 2 million in 2000. If these students were a country, they would be the 125th largest in the world (out of 257). Students are on the move, and many are headed to one of five destination countries: the United States (hosting 18% of the total), United Kingdom (11%), France (7%), Australia (6%), and Germany (5%).

According to a report published earlier this year by the Department of Homeland Security, 1.13 million international students, using an F (academic) or M (vocational) visa, were enrolled at nearly 8,979 U.S. schools in 2015, the vast majority in college-degree programs. That represents a 14% increase over 2014, nearly 50% more than in 2010 and 85% more than in 2005.

Credit: Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2015

Credit: Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2015

These students are coming from all parts of the world, but a few countries dominate the charts. In 2012, China sent about 712,000 students abroad to study. India, the Republic of Korea, Germany, and Saudi Arabia also send significant numbers of students to study abroad.

Indeed, international students are reshaping student demographics on many campuses. Fully one-third of the students at Florida International University are classified as international. The University of Southern California enrolled over 12,000 foreign students this year, and Columbia, New York University, Purdue, and the University of Illinois are hosting more than 10,000 each.

Nor are large research universities the only ones receiving significant numbers of internationally mobile students; liberal arts colleges are becoming a frequent destination as well. In the last few years international students made up about a quarter of the student population at two women’s colleges: Mount Holyoke (673) and Bryn Mawr (346).

Our numbers are smaller at Oberlin, but we have also seen the international student population rise as you well might have noticed in your classes or when walking around campus. In fact Oberlin’s international student population has surged by nearly 40% since 2011. We currently enroll 265 international students; 53% (141) hail from China. What you might not know is that the majority of those students (90 plus two double degrees) are studying in the College of Arts & Sciences, not in the Conservatory. In all, it is our great privilege to host students from 42 nations, with about three-quarters coming from Asia (including South Asia).

International Student Meeting, Oberlin College. Photo: William Rieter

International Student Meeting, Oberlin College. Photo: William Rieter

Opportunities and Challenges

It’s hard to fully describe all the benefits of an international presence on campus. To have students from Malaysia, China, Tunisia, Chile or Iraq, among other countries, in our classes gives faculty an extraordinary opportunity to expand classroom conversations and tap into a pool of knowledge gained through a wide range of lived experiences and cultural traditions. Students, for their part, have a chance to study and live with peers from all over the world and to locate their own interests and concerns within a much broader context.

But the rapidly growing number of international students can present faculty with some challenges, and this was the subject of an informative workshop last Thursday sponsored by the Office of International Student Services and the Department of Rhetoric and Composition. As Ann Deppman, Associate Dean and Director of International Student Services, explained, “while most international students settle in quickly and thrive at Oberlin, some may need time to adjust to Oberlin’s academic culture.” Deppman and Amy Moniot, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Coordinator and Instructor, suggested that a number of cultural differences may impact academics and advising.

In terms of the former, faculty might experience some difficulties of cultural adaptation experienced by international students as manifested in writing assignments, critical thinking expectations, classroom participation, and the way in which we recommend external sources of support. International students may come from a culture in which writing assignments were primarily used as a means to report or describe rather than to develop and analyze information. Besides providing our own feedback on their papers and being aware of these differences in prior writing experiences, we can support these students by connecting students with the Writing Associates program or Student Academic Services (more on this below). When it seems appropriate we might recommend that they enroll in 100-level courses in Rhetoric and Composition, which are particularly attentive to the skills and prior preparation of international students.

Editing a Paper. Photo Nic McPhee, Flickr CC.

Editing a Paper. Photo Nic McPhee, Flickr CC.

International students might not be accustomed to receiving any feedback on assignments other than a grade, and so can be unsure what is expected of them when they receive a paper filled with comments or red-penciled with (usually grammatical) corrections. Particularly on early papers, it’s a good idea to speak with these students individually, explaining the purpose of your comments and what they are expected to learn from them. (You might even think about going easy on the red pencil while these students become more acclimatized to the expectations of writing assignments at Oberlin: help them understand the larger framework of writing papers before pointing out every grammatical infelicity.) And, when possible, scaffold their writing skills by assigning multiple drafts. When we understand that, for many students from other cultural traditions, a good paper is not supposed to be perfectly straightforward and logical, but rather the reader is expected to uncover the meaning in a more circular and twisting route, we can work more effectively with them to produce the kind of writing that we expect.

International students may also come out of educational backgrounds that put considerable emphasis on memorization; indeed, you might have noticed their remarkable strengths in that regard. But it also may mean that they will struggle with open-ended assignments (“write on any topic of interest that we have covered in the first part of the semester”) or loosely defined topics. If you prefer to have students select their own topics, work individually with international students to help them define a topic, particularly in their first or second year of college. Similarly, if they come from an academic background in which students were expected to produce a single “correct” answer or interpretation, these students can encounter difficulties developing a thesis or addressing topics that accommodate multiple readings.

Infinity and Me - Kate Hosford

Infinity and Me – Kate Hosford

Class participation can also pose challenges for international students educated in settings where active responses were discouraged. Some come from cultures where silence is a comfortable and even expected response and is seen as a sign of respect. They may be surprised to find that participation is often highly encouraged in our classrooms and that many courses grade class participation. Often, these students find that they don’t understand the criteria by which their interventions in the class will be graded.

Finally, and relating back to a recommendation that I gave above, many international students may think that they will be judged negatively if they seek out the support services and resources available to them on campus. They may be reluctant to go to peer instruction or tutoring sessions (the Writing Associates or the OWLs program in the sciences and math, for example), to form study groups with other students, or to seek the support of Student Academic Services. Our understanding and encouragement can be vital in that regard.

The Lessons of Universal Design

As I heard the workshop facilitators explain many of these points, what became clear to me (as it was to the presenters) is that by helping our international students in many of these areas, we will be helping all of our students. This, after all, is the basic principle of “universal design,” which calls on us to design instruction (e.g., delivery methods, physical spaces, information resources, technology, personal interactions, assessments) to maximize the learning of all students. The support we provide for any specific student population, international students in this example, can help many of our (domestic) students who might have been reluctant to ask for help. This is a topic the “Article of the Week” has taken up before, most recently in “Revealing the Secret Handshakes: The Rules of Clear Assignment Design.” Our students are smart and creative, but not all are familiar with many of the unwritten rules that determine what goes on in the classroom. International students, in particular, have excelled in their home countries by mastering a completely different set of “handshakes,” but, as one put it recently in an article in the Oberlin Review, many “feel like outcasts in a new culture.” When faculty make expectations clear, guidelines obvious, sources of support not just available but bolstered by the observation that it is quite often the very best students who take advantage of them…then we are helping not just international students, but all our students.

Three examples can illustrate this point further:

(1) Participation. We often note in our syllabi that class participation will be graded but, quite often, provide no further indication as to the criteria that will determine the grade. Is it quantity? If so, how much participation is required? Is it quality? What determines good interventions? Are we putting “slower” responders (often those students who think before answering!) at a disadvantage by only calling on the first hands that shoot up? And, if we grade participation, do we give students some indication as to how they are doing in that regard as the course progresses? Clearer expectations would help everyone in the class, and certainly international students. As many international students will take longer to process language as well as content, when we ask questions it is important to give students time to answer rather than calling on the students who are quick out of the gate: suggest that they write their answers, break students into groups so that all students – including international students – can rehearse their ideas, and their voices, in a small group setting.

Alumno Participando by Ivonne M.O.; Flickr CC

Alumno Participando by Ivonne M.O.; Flickr CC

(2) Getting help, revising, editing. International students in particular can be wary of using many of the resources that are available to them, including peer instructors, student support services, or counseling. (As a group of international students reported to the Board of Trustees’ forum in early October, often when they do go to those services, they find them less than helpful or culturally sensitive, a different and troubling issue). International students may assume that the best students don’t need help and that it is a form of weakness (or a signal that you are not smart) if you ask for help. They might assume that the best students write brilliant papers on their first try, so it is a sign of incompetence if you have to write many drafts. The opposite, of course, is true, and I often tell my students how many drafts I churn out before I’m ready to submit an article to a journal, or how I have come to rely on colleagues for advice, editing, or ideas when I’m stuck. Again, this is advice that international students will find useful – but so will all our students. We are role models. By making clear just how often we seek, and get, help, we’re sending an important message. By encouraging students (international and domestic) to find their own sources of support — friends,  instructors, peers, advisors — we help them connect with those who will help them do their best.

(3). Reading assignments. How much is too much? One of the most frequently heard concerns from international students is how hard it is to keep up with lengthy reading assignments. College junior Hengxuan Wu recently told the Review, “I feel like people just expect me to be really good at writing and reading when I take a lot of Politics classes, and they just assume that I can totally do 80 pages of reading in English in one night.” We are always pondering the quantity of reading that feels appropriate to assign to our students (see, for example, “Size Matters: How Much Reading to Assign (and other imponderables” and “Active Reading Documents: Scaffolding Students’ Reading Skills”). There is certainly no one answer as to how much reading we can reasonably assign (not to mention how we still that hectoring voice in the back of our heads that reminds us, “When I was an undergraduate, I read 400 pages a night and never complained!” Yeah, right.). But thinking about how all our students can get the most out of our classes can help us address this question and come up with answers that are appropriate. Quite likely, it’s not just the international students who aren’t getting all they can out of 80 pages of Marx or Derrida.

Particular concerns:

There are, of course, issues that impact international students differently than domestic students, and we should be aware of them whether or not they impact student performance in our classes.

(1) The Major: While many of our students will fret over the choice of a major, often seeing it as an essential definition of their identity more than a collection of courses, international students need to pay particular attention to the selection of a major because, if they want to stay in the United States after they complete their degree, visa regulations will determine that their employment be directly linked to their major. I94-F1-VisaSimilarly, off-campus employment (only available after they have completed two full academic semesters) must be directly connected to their declared major. As advisors, it is important to be aware of these requirements, although international students will be well briefed on this by the Office of International Student Services.

(2) Rules and behaviors. International students may come from a culture where the expectation is that rules are less important than relationships; that who you know is more important than following established regulations which are always be applied inequitably. It’s important, particularly for advisors of international students, to help them understand that the rules we have are actually there for a purpose: that they can’t turn in final assignments without an incomplete after the final due date, that major requirements are major requirements, that class attendance rules actually mean you are expected to be in class and not just do well on the exams.

(3) The honor code. International students may come from academic cultures that have different standards for citation of sources, different expectations for when collaboration is permitted, and a different sense of the limits of what kind of collaboration is permissible. The very term we use to talk about expected academic conduct (“honor”) can cause confusion and distress among some international students. A student who uses the same standards to write a paper at Oberlin as she did in China, for example, can be horrified to find her behavior termed “dishonorable” when material wasn’t cited appropriately. The more we can be clear and explicit about citation practices, how certain kinds of paraphrasing can be the equivalent of copying, what materials should carry citations, etc., the more we will help not only our international students, but all our students. (The next CTIE Brown Bag discussion, November 13 at 12:15 in Mudd 052, will be on the honor code.)

Conclusion

We are fortunate to live in an increasingly globalized community. This has impacted the curriculum we offer, the opportunities we give our students to study abroad, and, increasingly, the demographics of our own campus. The increasing number of international students who apply to, and matriculate at, Oberlin and other liberal arts colleges are an indication of the value of the kind of education we provide. We have much to learn from them, and by being attentive to their particular concerns, we can help them, and all of our students, do that much better.


*Note: numbers of international students tends to vary depending on definitions. For most institutions, including Oberlin, an international student is considered to be one who has crossed a border to enter a host country, and, in the case of the United States, carries an F1 visa; they are often called “internationally mobile students.” “Foreign” students is a slightly broader category which also includes those who have permanent residency in the host country.  The category of international students doesn’t include U.S. citizens who may have lived abroad their entire lives or those who hold dual citizenship.