Catalytic Opportunities

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

Continuing my experiment in public writing along the way, this post on Medium outlines the contours of what I’ve been thinking about as “catalytic opportunities.”

Catalytic Opportunities

I’ve begun thinking about strategic initiatives as catalytic.

In chemistry, a catalyst causes a chemical reaction without itself being affected. But this isn’t exactly what I have in mind, because I don’t mind if the catalyst itself is enriched by its own activity. Rather, I am thinking about initiatives that, when they are undertaken, infuse multiple strategic priorities with enriching energy.

Perhaps that is too abstract. Here is an example of what I would like to call a catalytic opportunity.

My predecessor, Karin Wurst, established a Technology Teaching Assistantship for graduate students in the arts and humanities that provides one assistantship to each graduate program in the College. My colleagues, Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Dean for Graduate Education, and Scott Schopieray, Assistant Dean for Technology and Innovation, have integrated these Tech Teaching Assistants into a wider Graduate Certificate in College Teaching program. The certificate is designed to mentor and train the next generation of undergraduate teachers. Graduate students with a Tech TA are able to use the certificate curriculum to focus on basic principles of instructional design and best practices for teaching and learning with technology.

The Tech TA initiative already had a catalytic dimension insofar as it advanced two priorities at once: 1) to enhance the competitive advantage of our graduate students as they enter a very tight job market and 2) to provide our graduate programs with sustainable support that would allow them to reallocate program resources in strategic ways.

The graduate focus of the Tech TA initiative is shifted by the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching, which catalyzes that energy by advancing an important undergraduate priority: to improve the quality of our undergraduate teaching. The catalytic energy of these two initiatives, however, also position us to strategically address another undergraduate priority: to improve our time to degree rates. By training graduate students to design compelling summer online courses that are strategically targeted at those courses students need to complete their majors or minors in a program, students are better able to take full advantage of the summer as they progress toward graduation.

These summer courses, in turn, generate some revenue back to the College and the programs that can be used to further enhance and support the catalytic initiatives. This is why, in addition to thinking about them as “catalytic initiatives,” I also talk about them as creating a virtuous circle in which resources are generated to support the main graduate and undergraduate mission of the College.

So as I talk to faculty and colleagues across the campus, I am listening for what might be called “catalytic opportunities” that will allow us to improve the quality of the education we offer and the research we undertake.

What catalytic opportunities have you encountered? Are there ways we in the College of Arts and Letters at MSU can help further catalyze them?

Habits of Public Writing

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | One Comment

This post on Medium initiates an experiment in public writing designed to facilitate transparency and refine my thinking in relation to issues I face in my role as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University.

I welcome engagement here on the Long Road or there on Medium.

Habits of Public Writing

When I write regularly, I think I’m a better administrator — probably a better husband and father, certainly a better scholar.

Writing affords me an opportunity to slow down and reflect, to craft a thought or articulate an idea. It gives me pause, and it opens a space for me to think holistically and strategically. Writing pulls me out of the busy-ness that captures so much of the time each day.

In a scholarly context, I have long understood that my own position only really emerges when I begin to write in earnest. Prior to that, I am a gatherer. My mind is open to possibilities and widely varying interpretations — or it is at least on my good days.

But writing brings things into focus.

Of course, as Socrates famously reminds Phaedrus, writing also has a tendency to calcify ideas. If in writing, my position finds its voice, in writing too, that voice becomes inert.
Yet, the affordances of digital modes of public writing can breathe life into those ideas that, in being written, too easily calcify into doctrine.

In my role as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, I am all too aware of how my words are parsed each day, as colleagues attempt to discern what my position is and where they stand in relation to it.

We have, of course, many ways of communicating with a variety of different audiences associated with the College. The good work of Ryan Kilcoyne and his communication team ensure that the material we share publicly is carefully crafted and strategically designed. Our blog, the Long View, enables us to highlight and share more fully polished ideas and initiatives.

But what I am missing is a way to think out loud without each word being received as College doctrine, as The Position of the Dean. What I hope to open here on @Medium is a space in which to cultivate the habit of reflective writing along the way, even in the messiness of the everyday work of being a Dean at a major research university.

So, to begin, let’s agree, that if you read it here, it is unfinished. If it is written here, it is open to revision. And if you are interested in helping to shape the thinking you encounter here, you are invited to comment and to lend your voice in writing to what I write here.
So with more than a little trepidation, and with some concern that I will now have publicly committed to do something I am ultimately unable to accomplish, I’d like to try to use @Medium as a platform for this sort of public reflective writing along the way.

I welcome fellow travelers in this endeavor, but I ask for your patience and generosity. This is an experiment, an attempt to write publicly in a way that will help me continue to focus on what is most important to me: to cultivate a culture of excellence in the College of Arts and Letters, to embody dialogical transparency, and to live out a commitment to the transformative power of education.

Philosophy and the Art of Live-Blogging

By | Blogging and Social Media, The Long Road | One Comment

As a discipline, philosophy is struggling to come to terms with the public affordances of social media. This is a bit surprising given that Socrates himself never shied away from publicly engaging those he encountered in philosophical discussion.

But that was a long time ago, and philosophy has long since established itself as a profession.

The forces of professionalization seem to recoil as audiences dare to publicly share through social media ideas heard at academic conferences and scholarly presentations.

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General Education Reform and the Art of Listening

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 12 Comments

By the time we took the stage as the final panel of the day, we had heard the voices of expert educators, faculty, administrators, employers and alums speak about the value and importance of general education. Now it was our turn.

But this panel was to be reversed, with panelists asking questions of the audience and listening attentively in response.

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A New Path on the Long Road

By | Blogging and Social Media, The Long Road | 3 Comments

I began blogging in earnest shortly after my arrival at Penn State in 2004, but it was not until June 2007 that I created this blog, the Long Road, to reflect on my experiences share my work with a wider public.

Shortly after meeting @ColeCamplese, then the Director of Education Technology Services at Penn State, in 2006, I agreed to beta test an early version of the Blogs at Penn State platform in one of my courses in Ancient Greek Philosophy.

In that class, and those that followed, I began to develop a cooperative approach to teaching and learning with technology in which students are empowered to give voice to their own experience with the assigned readings and to share these experiences with a wider public audience. This pedagogical approach meant cultivating my students the same commitment to regular public writing that I was myself trying to develop on The Long Road.

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Blogging and the Business Classroom

By | Presentation: Other, Presentations, Vita | 2 Comments

July 2010 029

Originally uploaded by Penn State Smeal MBA

Today I venture outside of my comfort zone in talking about teaching and learning with technology in the Liberal Arts to address a group of faculty from the Smeal College of Business. In so doing, I am been thinking about how to translate the teaching and learning philosophy that has guided my teaching of Philosophy courses into the context of the Business classroom.

This led me to the embedded video below, in which Professor Debbie Ettington says:

“I think of learning as an active process, as a social process … we try to use lots of different ways to engage different learning styles, to engage students in working with each other …” (see: 0:45-1:03 in the video).

Professor Ettington’s words resonate with my own attempts to put a genuinely cooperative approach to education into practice in my teaching. They also give me the courage to share the story of how I use blogs in my Philosophy courses in order to open a discussion about how this model might be adapted to the particular contours of the environment in a Business classroom.

Below is a link to the presentation that lays out the model, but how precisely this might be taken up by professors in Business will, I hope, be part of our discussion we have in the session and perhaps here on the blog.

Digital Dialogue 26: Blogging Philosophy

By | Digital Dialogue Podcast | No Comments

Episode 26 of the Digital Dialogue is a special edition in which Jaimie Oberdick, Associate Editor for Publications at Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) at Penn State, turns the tables on me and interviews me about the way I have used blogs in my Philosophy courses.

The Digital Dialogue podcast itself grew out of my 2009 Summer Faculty Fellowship at TLT on Socratic Politics in Digital Dialogue. This interview is part of an article Jaimie has written and a video TLT is putting together to highlight the way I am using blogs to cultivate community in my classroom.

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Digital Dialogue 22: Transformative Dialogue

By | Digital Dialogue Podcast | No Comments

A group of students from my Philosophy 200, Ancient Greek Philosophy, course join me for episode 22 of the Digital Dialogue.

Drew Bullard, Jordan Sanford, Cody Yashinsky, Anthony Zirpoli, Tony Arnold, Pam Doran and Joni Noggle discuss some of the themes that have emerged over the course of this semester as we investigated the nature of Socratic Politics by reading four Platonic dialogues: Protagoras, Gorgias, Phaedrus and Symposium.

Digital Dialogue 22 with Students from PHIL200: Transformative Dialogue

This episode of the digital dialogue is particularly important to me because it grew organically out of the work the students and I did together this semester. It was initiated by Cody Yashinsky who thought it would be nice to do a semester round-up podcast as way to highlight a number of themes that have emerged on the blog and in the course of our weekly round-up podcasts.

What we have done together this semester in the classroom, on the blog and through podcast is a testimony to the transformative power of digital dialogue.


The Ethics of Blogging Ethics

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita | No Comments

“… we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.”

Andrea Lunsford, in Wired article “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy

The web log, or blog, opens up new possibilities for teaching and learning by cultivating social communities of education. The power of blogging as a pedagogical practice is rooted in the recognition that meaning is made and knowledge created in social interaction. As Dewey put it in Democracy and Education:

“Schools require for their full efficiency more opportunity for conjoint activities in which those instructed take part, so that they may acquire a social sense of their own powers and of the materials and applications used” (Democracy and Education, 37).

As a sophisticated yet simple publishing platform, the blog offers a powerful opportunity for conjoint activities of learning.  By opening a rich, diverse and broadly accessible site of dialogical engagement, a blog is able to cultivate dynamic social contexts of communication in which a symbiotic relationship between teaching and learning becomes possible.

The Pedagogy of Blogging
This presentation is illustrates the power of blogging as a pedagogical practice by focusing first on what a blog is, second, on the dynamic structure of a blog, and third, on how this dynamic structure can be leveraged to cultivate robust learning communities. 
In the context of ethics education, this presentation seeks to articulate how blogging allows faculty not merely to deliver content to students about ethical theory and practice, but also to perform the virtues of inter-human ethical interaction with students in light of the theories and practices under consideration.

Blogging thus allows us to perform the ethics we teach.

The Virtues of Blogging

Some Examples/Possibilities

The Ethics, from the Rock blog seeks to engage in public deliberation concerning pressing ethical questions with students, faculty, alumni and the broader local and global community:

Diversity of Expression 

Other Resources

Designs on e-Learning

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita | One Comment

This September I will be presenting at the Designs on e-Learning Conference held here at Penn State.  My presentation is entitled Blogging and Podcasting the Liberal Arts (the link is to the blog post on which the presentation is based).

The abstract is as follows:

Over the past two years, I have worked to incorporate podcasting and blogging into my First-Year seminars in Philosophy. This session will present some of the best practices I have found to be particularly effective in the effort to use technology to expand the classroom experience and encourage the active engagement of my students in their own education. The presentation will touch upon my valiant failures as well as substantive successes. Some of the issues discussed will include: integrating podcasting and blogging, using RSS feeds to facilitate online community, example blog and podcast assignments and a discussion of the place of technology in the classroom. Attendees should come prepared to engage in a substantive discussion of both the concrete, practical issues associated with blogging and podcasting in the classroom and the more theoretical questions surrounding the use of technology in the pedagogical process.

About the Long Road

By | Announcement, The Long Road | 2 Comments

The title of this web log is more than a play on the name of its author. It refers specifically to Socrates’ insistence in the Republic (at 435d and 503c-d) that the path to truth, the path of genuine philosophy, is a lifelong endeavor oriented by the insistent desire to pursue truth, justice and beauty in a world that all too often shows itself as false, unjust and ugly.

Philosophy is not an academic discipline; it is deeply human activity that requires a heightened sensitivity to the world we inhabit, a commitment to engage honestly the people we meet, and an ability to articulate thoughtful criticism with an eye toward the true, the just and the beautiful. This web log endeavors to give voice to a philosophical life in its rich complexity.

To that end, you will find here information for my students and my philosophy classes, but also reflections on my family, politics, technology and other issues that present themselves as worthy of reflection.