Monthly Archives: September 2012

CIPs Teaching Tips – Fall 2012 #6 “Don’t be an inadvertent ass”

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of someone acting like an ass? Perhaps stubbornly insisting that they and only they (and perhaps a small group of elite others) have the answers about a particular something, if not everything. Annoying? Of course it is. Pompously braying about how much you know or how little your students know would earn any teacher donkey ears. Fortunately very few academics (at least around here) are guilty of such overt “asinine” behaviors.

But what message are you sending to your students about what it means to be smart, to be educated? Are you inviting them to learn while encouraging them to push and challenge themselves? Are you guiding them to understand the power of new knowledge and integrative thinking? Are you passionately displaying your own love of learning and intellectual curiosity? Are you portraying mistakes as part of the learning process? Are you encouraging and designing iteration and improvement into their learning so they learn to assess, reject, refine and perfect?

It’s a good point in the semester for checking your outgoing messages, especially your inadvertent ones. Make sure you are modeling what you want your students to learn. If we want them to be curious lifelong learners who strive for excellence in an ethical manner, we better choose actions and create a classroom tone that reflect this.

Here’s a good article about plagiarism that demonstrates modeling what we want to teach. (Thanks to Ellen Zeman for the discovery.)

Remember, we’re helping to create tomorrow’s adults. Scary but true.

“Small (group) Changes – Big Reward”

Learning activities that require students to discuss and explore concepts in small groups can be very effective. Sometimes, however, students end up talking about what they did last night instead. Here are two small design changes that can have a positive impact on the success of small group work:

Be strategic about the amount of time you allot: Make sure you don’t give groups too much time. Figure out how long it will take for most of the students to accomplish the outcome requested. Tell them how much time they have to work – perhaps 5 or 10 minutes, depending on the outcome. Let them know when half their time is gone. If everyone isn’t done when you call time, tell them that you want them to present as much as they were able to accomplish. If you do choose to give them a little more time to finish up, make sure it’s only about 2 minutes. This will send the message that they need to work more efficiently to deliver a finished product next time. They will notice that others were able to finish.

Be highly specific about the requested outcome: Nonspecific instructions usually beget nonspecific results. While it’s important to allow small groups the liberty to process in their own way – taking turns talking fully one at a time or an animated discussion for example, it is equally important to provide details about what you want them to deliver at the end of their process.  Here are a few examples of not-so specific (NS) and more specific (MS) outcomes:

(NS):  Look at these two images and decide as a group which one uses color placement more successfully.
(MS): Look at these two images and decide as a group which one uses color placement more successfully. Write down a suggestion for how the not as successful image could be changed to make better use of color placement.

(NS):  Discuss the reading and determine the author’s purpose.
(MS): Discuss the reading and write a group statement that describes your interpretation of the author’s purpose. Each person in the group should also be prepared to point to evidence of this interpretation within the text.

(NS):  Discuss the given scenario and determine how power and word choice affected communication.
(MS): Discuss the given scenario and as a group write what you think each person in the scenario would say about how power and word choice affected communication for them.

Wishing you big results from small group learning activities,

Digest: a journal of foodways and culture

Mike Lange is launching a new academic journal: Digest: a journal of foodways and culture at

The journal covers any scholarly work that deals with food, culture, and identity (in our Articles, Reviews, and/or Research Notes sections), as well as other pieces, such as photo essays, poetry, or heritage recipes (in our “Amuse Bouche” section). If you or someone you know does such work, please keep the journal in mind as an avenue for publication. We are peer-reviewed, our publication times are short, and (as Digest is the official journal of the American Folklore Society’s foodways section) we have academic legitimacy for those lines on the CV . I have informational cards with more details and contact information for the journal. I put a handful of the informational cards on the shelf in front of the Aiken mailboxes for Core folks. If anyone else across campus would like some, let me know. Please look them over, take one, give them to friends and colleagues. I have plenty of cards, so feel free to request one or more.

This journal is a collaborative effort with Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada. The content work is done by the Folklore Department at MUN, while the technical and design work for the site is done by Champlain students. Thanks go to Emily Snyder, GDD ’12 for the site design, as well as to President Finney, who supports the journal by subsidizing server space and upkeep so that we can house the journal right here at Champlain.

Endangered Alphabets

A year ago, many Champlainers offered generous support to the Endangered Alphabets fundraising campaign through Kickstarter. Last night Kickstarter II went live: we’re working with people from Bangladesh and colleagues from Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and RISD to save 13 endangered languages in the Chittagong Hill Tracts district of Bangladesh. Check us out at

Also, visit and contact Tim Brookes for more details.

“What’s the big IDEA?”

Many instructors have asked me, over the course of numerous semesters, how they can improve their numbers (as shown on page 3 of the IDEA evaluation report) for #11 which is: “Related course material to real life situations.”

Of course, what they are really asking me is what they can do in class to help students understand how the concepts taught in the course are applicable to real life situations. These professors would be delighted to receive higher numbers on the IDEA evaluations, but they truly want their students to get why the concepts taught in the course matter. Number 4 on the IDEA evaluations: “Demonstrated the importance and significance of the subject matter” is related to #11 above and is often accomplished through similar activities.
Tying information and concepts in a course to a future career and to one day living in the world as a global citizen already happens in many classrooms. This connection to career and future social and political life is important. But even when instructors demonstrate these connections, students often lose them or don’t transfer them. What to do? Two things can help:

  1. Make these connections more “real” to the students by asking them to imagine themselves in particular situations in which they would use course concepts to make choices or form opinions. Research shows that examples that include emotions increase the stickiness of their understanding.
  2. Use real life “out of the discipline” examples to demonstrate and introduce course concepts before presenting them within the discipline. For instance, if you are discussing reliable resources, you might ask the students to name four people from their lives who together would give the most comprehensive report on their kindness (or any other trait). Emphasize that the goal would be for the report to me as accurate as possible, not as favorable as possible. Then ask them to come up with four people whose report would represent an overly negative or positive report. Use this information to springboard to talking about the purpose of and knowledge behind different resources. Research shows that examples that activate memories increase the stickiness of their understanding.

I’m always happy to help you design learning activities that fit into either of these categories.

Happy teaching –

Playing Dead with Steve Wehmeyer

Steve Wehmeyer’s article “Playing Dead: New Orleans’ Northside Skull and Bone Gang,” which explores the Haitian roots of subaltern African-American carnival traditions and their function as responses to collective crisis, is being published in an edited volume accompanying a landmark museum exhibit opening this weekend in Los Angeles.  In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art examines the ways contemporary Haitian and Haitian-American “visual artists have responded to a tumultuous 21st century, an era punctuated by political upheaval, a cataclysmic earthquake, devastating hurricanes, epidemics, and continuing instability.”

Wehmeyer will be attending the exhibit opening along with other contributors and curators, including Donald J. Cosentino (UCLA), Patrick Polk (UCLA)  Katherine Smith (Brown University), and Leah Gordon (UK).  He wishes to ensure his colleagues at Champlain that he’s not going merely to take part in the rum tasting.