Round Peg, Square Hole???? I Don’t Think So.

Have you ever tried to fit a round peg into a square hole? Me either, however, the concept grabs your imagination and immediately communicates that trying to do so, won’t work well, if at all. Many people have that same impression about the inclusion of a Christian worldview focus in higher education coursework. The thought is that any attempt to incorporate a Christian worldview into such subjects as accounting, business, psychology, etc. is like trying to fit that round peg into a square hole. From my experience working at other universities, some of them Christian, I discovered that perspective is more common than not.

I think what contributes to this perspective is that most faculty have never themselves been exposed to educational experiences which challenged them to defend and articulate faith in relation to their professional area of study/expertise. Because of this lack, I find that sometimes our faculty are hesitant to raise the issue or open the class up to genuine dialogue about the Christian worldview. They feel uncomfortable talking about their own faith and worldview and so it is glossed over. Belhaven’s curriculum is written with the goal of challenging students to think about the intersection of their course content with their faith and be able to articulate a Christian worldview. But, that assumes the active participation of the Instructor for the full benefit to be achieved.

Earlier today I spoke with a recent graduate of our MBA program. She had also been an undergraduate student with Belhaven. As we talked she expressed the impact the discussions on Christian worldview had on her, and how impactful it was in her education and personal development. This isn’t the first or even the fiftieth time I’ve heard such comments from our students and alumni. I’ve heard it enough that I’ve become a full convert to the importance of having these discussions in the classroom, regardless of subject, and the need to challenge our students to self-examination and growth in their personal worldview.

So, round peg in a square hole? I DON’T THINK SO. I think the dicussion of a Christian worldview related to any subject is a perfect fit. If you struggle in this area, let’s get together and discuss ways to make it work and connect with others in your subject area to help with teaching ideas and strategies.

If you feel you do this well, let me know, perhaps we can arrange a webinar or a blog post to share your success in this important area.

Using Google Doc/Slides for Team Collaboration

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, collaboration on team projects can be challenging. Getting everyone together to work on the project is part of the problem. Trying to arrange schedules so that all those involved can participate and get on the same page can be difficult if not impossible. When you can’t get everyone together you run the risk of miscommunication and misaligned goals and responsibilities, leading to frustration and possible failure.

The other major problem is tracking the deliverables of everyone on the team to make sure they are getting their work done and submitted in a timely manner.  When you can’t track how the other team members are progressing on their part of the project it can create a great deal of anxiety for the rest of the team, and when it is discovered that an important part of the project hasn’t been delivered on time, anger and finger-pointing follow.

Here is a process which I believe will prove effective for moving your team project through to completion.

  1. Once the group members have been identified, agree on one individual to take the point in communication and logistics.  The point person should immediately set up a google doc with the file name Course#-Covenant and invite everyone to share editing privileges with the team.  The Instructor should also be invited to share the document to view participation by the whole team.
  2. The first week, either meet as a group to discuss the Covenant, or the point person sets up a Zoom conference, using the link in Canvas, with the whole team at an agreed upon time to dicsuss the team covenant and finalize it.
  3. No later than week two the group meets again to parcel out the responsibilities of the group for the project. I would include those at the bottom of the team covenant on the google doc for everyone to see.
  4. Still in week two, the point person should now create a google doc for the project: Course #-Project Name and share it with the group and the instructor.  The point person should also create a google slide for the project: Course #-Project Name.  The google doc will be the working document for those who are writing the paper and doing the research.  The google slide will be the presentation document for the in-class presentation.  The benefit of this document and slide presentation is that it is easy to see who has added what, and when.  It will be easy for the whole group to work on the document/slide at the same time or separately, so everyone will know the status of the entire project at all times.
  5. Each week the point person should set up a regular meeting either in person, or through Zoom, or by chat while in the document or the slide to discuss the progress and potential areas for improvement. If you see someone is not keeping up with their area of responsibility, make sure to call them on it based on the covenant early-on.
  6. Every team member should take responsibility for enforcing the covenant and confronting stragglers. If you follow this process you will not only have a better chance of submitting a superior project, it will also improve your skills in working across a distance on team projects, which can be cited on your resume.

OK, now it is your turn – what does this process miss and what do you recommend as a solution?

Classroom Activity

Incorporating collaborative classroom activities which are both instructive and engaging can be challenging. One way to do that is to use an activity similar to the one I describe below.

I use an RSS feed to pull together posts from various blogs across the internet that I find interesting.  One of those is from Lolly Daskal. She usually posts interesting material, but it is often light on application.  One of her more recent posts was titled: 10 Vital Traits to Look for in People You Hire. As you can imagine, the points she lists are accurate but too shallow to make an application.  As a classroom activity, however, I could use this list in a couple of ways:

  1. I could emphasize the importance to setting up an RSS feed (I use Bloglovin but there are many which do the same thing and almost all are free) and to pull together some favorite blogs for collection. This promotes self-development and ongoing-learning, a skill that will be vital for everyone in the days ahead. Check out this post about these feeders.
  2. I would use a specific post like the one above and parcel it out to groups in the class and ask them to explain how to determine whether or not a trait exists in a job candidate. For instance, one of her 10 vital traits was that the individual must have a growth mindset. You may be aware of the book Mindset in which Carol Dweck explains the virtues of the growth mindset and the differences and advantages over the fixed mindset (excellent book and I highly recommend it). I would challenge the group with this assignment to find out about the growth mindset, if they don’t already know, and then determine ways in an interview to discover if the candidate had a growth mindset.
  3. Alternately, you could post large pages of paper around the room and list the 10 traits on per page and have the groups rotate from page to page every couple of minutes adding their thoughts to how to find out if that trait is present.

There are a LOT of good resources available to draw upon to enrich your class and engage your students.  If you would like to know more or have questions, please contact me (rupchurch@belhaven.edu) or Dr, Kim Priesmeyer, Dean of the Center for Teaching and Learning (kpriesmeyer@belhaven.edu).

Zoom Video Conference – Why and How

You probably are already aware that you have access to a powerful video conference tool from inside Canvas, titled Zoom.  I’ve included a picture of the link.  Zoom is very easy to use and intuitive, meaning that you should be able to use it with only a little trial and error. Below I’m going to discuss Why you might want to use Zoom, and How to set it up and use it.

WHY

I’m going to list several scenarios in which you might benefit from using Zoom:

  • As “office hour(s)” – Designate a time each week when you know you’ll be at your computer and start a zoom conference, posting the link in an announcement on the course-site in Canvas.  One of the things I love about Zoom is that if
    you minimize it, a small window stays active in the upper corner of your screen and you can easily see if anyone joins the conference and you can maximize Zoom.  You can also post an announcement that “Office hours” are by appointment and set up your Zoom specific to any student who schedules an appointment
  • To record a presentation or tutorial.  Zoom is perfect for recording a presentation or tutorial of some computer application.  Whatever you can see on your desktop can be shown through Zoom and recorded and made available to students.  This might be particularly useful for some of the trickier formulas or math related problems.
  • To set up an optional (strictly voluntary) class meeting relative to a specific event, e.g. you could set up a Zoom to discuss political debates following the debates while everyone is still fresh.
  • To bring in a guest lecturer to your class session.  While you would still need to let the Dean know and get approval, this is a perfect way to bring someone into your class that you know can bring some specialized knowledge or a powerful story to connect with your students. This way your guest could be literally anywhere in the world and still present in your classroom.
  • These are only a few ideas, but I’m sure you are getting the idea.

HOW

Starting a Zoom is very easy, all you will need is your Belhaven login and password.  Once you click on the Zoom link you will want to “Host” a meeting after you enter your credentials.  To invite others, either email them the link or post the link in an announcement on your course site.  I’ve included a video below which walks you through the process.

Let me know how it works for you.

 

Creating a Team Project Covenant

This is a repost with updated links

Many of the courses in the Adult Studies Programs for Belhaven University include a Team Project.  The inclusion of the Team Project is valuable on many fronts:  It provides the opportunity to learn to work together, maximizes group resources, allows for synergistic achievement, just to mention a few.  It is also one of the most frustrating experiences for many students who complain about “freeloaders” who don’t do the work and either drag everyone’s grade down or force others to carry the extra load, often without the Instructor noticing or seeming to care.

The best solution to this and one which falls in line with our goals and mission is the Team Project Charter.  Unfortunately, it is often ignored because it takes time to work out and many Instructors and even team members fail to see the value, wanting to jump straight into the project.  This is almost always a mistake leading inevitably to the complaints mentioned above.

The Team Project Covenant is important because it outlines the basic expectations and is signed by each member of the team.  The basic parts include:

  • Group goals and/or purpose.
  • Planned meeting time, place, and agenda.
  • Clearly understood attendance requirements and penalties for absences.
  • Discussion of responsibilities of members within teams.
  • Discussion plan for meetings.
  • Conflict management and resolution, penalties for constitutional covenant breaches, and plan for constitutional covenant changes.

When these items are spelled out it is much easier to pull the document back out at the beginning of a Team meeting and address any problems and the potential penalties for covenant breaches.  It empowers teams to function smoothly and to stay focused, while avoiding freeloading.

There is an example of the Team Project Covenant on Blazenet under Student Live/Services – you can find it HERE  (you must have a Belhaven login to access this document).

If you haven’t wanted to take time for this in the past, I strongly encourage you to make time going forward.  It will provide a better experience for the students, less frustration and grousing for you to deal with, and, more importantly, allows students to see how to deal with situations if a positive format that they can use in the future.

Here is another article which also describes the importance of the Team Project Charter:  Creating an Effective Team Charter

Team Projects – Student Actions

I posted the material below to the Adult Learner Blog but I thought you would like to see it as well. If you use this process you can hopefully cut down on the problems which arise from team projects.  Note the italicized comments which were not included in the post the Adult Learner Blog. 

Team Projects are often the most dreaded part of a course. While not all our courses include a Team Project, there are still several which do. So, the question is, “What can I do, personally, to make the team experience a positive one (and also get a good grade)?”  I’m glad you asked. Here are several ideas for improving the outcome of your team project:

  1. Make sure you complete the Team Covenant the first meeting of your team. This can be found on Blazenet under StudentLife/Services in the Documents. While completing this may take a few minutes, the value comes in having everyone on the same page – especially when it seems like some in the group are dropping the ball. Calling out those who aren’t complying with the Covenant expectations may be necessary, but it is much easier if the Covenant exists. If you make time for this in the first or second class session it can help the whole group succeed.
  2. Make sure everyone has a copy of the Team Evaluation rubric. This can be found in the same place on Blazenet. The important thing here is to make clear to everyone up front that you are going to be brutally honest in completing this form at the end of the project. Help the students understand that you are going to pay attention to these evaluations.
  3. Do your best to stay engaged in the Project, completing the expectations assigned to you. Don’t hesitate to check in with other team members on their progress.
  4. I HIGHLY recommend you use either a Google Doc and/or Google Slides for your project and include the Instructor.  Both of these are free, and it can easily be determined who contributed and how much they contributed.  The team leader should start the Document/Slides and then share it with the rest of the team members.  That way you can all work from different locations at the same time on the same presentation or document. Both also have chat capabilities built in so you can “talk” in real time about the project.
  5. You may not have tried it before, but Canvas has a Zoom link on the left panel which can be used for video conferencing and screen sharing. This means you don’t have to set up another time to get together, you can video conference. This is a simple product and it works great – you can also record the session to further prove who participated and who didn’t. Just identify who will be setting up the meetings.

Team projects, when done effectively, can enhance your knowledge and skills. If you incorporate group software like I describe above it can also make you more valuable at work.

Poll Everywhere – What, Why, How

WHAT?

Poll Everywhere is a web-based tool which easily builds into powerpoint presentations to allow students to respond from their mobile devices. It presents the results in real time, allowing for evaluation of knowledge, or as a prompt for discussion.

Here is a short video which demonstrates it’s use.

WHY?

Using Polleverywhere is relatively simple and can definitely liven up a presentation.  It also allows individuals who rarely speak in class to contribute in a low threat environment. Using this type of tool makes the discussion more relevant and students experience a greater sense of understanding the material

HOW?

The video above describes the process pretty clearly, but here is an article which also goes into detail about how to use Poll Everywhere:

Great ways to use Poll Everywhere in the classroom

Student Testimonial

Sent by a Chattanooga Student:

To my esteemed instructors & staff at Belhaven,

I want to thank you for the significant impact you have had on my heart, my mind, and my spiritual growth over the past four years during my undergraduate studies.  You inspired me to take each subject into my heart, infusing each one with a biblical application that brought meaning and importance never before seen.  You helped me to assign words to my Christian worldview, and to embrace my biblical beliefs boldly.  You pointed the way for me to look back at my life, to identify how my worldview was formed and to appreciate the gifts I was given in my upbringing.  You were patient when life got tough and I needed Grace on a deadline here and there.  You directed me to the One who would provide exactly what I needed in every course, every day, and every week.  You helped to identify the talents God gave me and encouraged me to believe it is never too late to become the person He planned for me to be.  You gave me a safe place to be in community each week, in prayer, in vulnerability with one another, and in trusting friendships.

Because of you, I became a more effective employee, a more compassionate friend and a closer-walking disciple of Jesus.  The BSM diploma and the James W. Park award are humbling honors I will always cherish, but they hold more meaning because of the many ways my life was enriched by you.

Thank you, and God bless you,
Susan (Scarbeck) Anderson

APA – Preparing your Students for Success

Dr. Darrell Baughn, a Full-Time Instructor at Jackson/Lefleur shared with me a powerpoint presentation he uses during all his courses to introduce students to writing expectations. You can find the file here if you would like to use it: APA GUIDE.

A week ago I heard about a student complaining that the Instructor was grading too hard on the writing, instead of focusing on the content.  Obviously, the Instructor, in this case, has made the important connection that unless the writing is done right, the content likely won’t even be read in a real-world context.  We have to reinforce an emphasis upon writing across the curriculum and ALL of us have to hold this line.  To do less is to graduate students who simply won’t succeed in the workplace because they cannot write clearly and with appropriate grammar.

Whether you use Dr. Barnes material above or the other resources which have been shared through these blogs and webinars, please make sure in EVERY course you teach that you set the standard, and then hold the students to that standard. To do anything else is to let them down, and to fail in our mission.

If you have something that you use to reinforce the importance of writing with your students, please share that in reply to this post.