Individual Growth and Development

Team and Institutional Context »

The Faculty as Change Agents program sought to support faculty Change Agents' growth as instructors and leaders so that they could have a greater impact on their students and in their programs, departments, institutions, and regional networks.

Melvin Arthur Johnson, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay / Manitowoc campus

Since I began working on this grant as a change agent, I have noticed that my usual teaching methods were working but needed to be "tweaked" for each class. For example, depending upon class size and subject, they are adjusted to reflect the make-up of the class. I believe this is necessary if I am to continue being an effective professor. I have endeavored to interact with my students in a High Context manner rather the usual Low Context manner. Below are some examples of what I am addressing:

1. My initial activities on class days 1 and 2 focus on the student. Specifically I still require the students to participate in my "Psycho-Out the Professor activity." But to get them to ask questions I use their student profiles which they first completed and ask them a question to begin the conversation. First I try to pick a student who appears to interact with other students more freely then continue around the room. The second class period, the students are expected to write one or two paragraphs about their goals and expectations for the class. With these two activities I get to know my students better and they become more comfortable with me. By the end of the second or third week of classes I have also completed a 15 minute interview with each student. As preparation for the interview they are required to answer three questions about what they want for their future.

2. I schedule their first examination at the end of the second week. The exam is over the syllabus and is purely objective (multiple choice and fill in the blank). I grade it quickly so I may return it the next class period and at that time I present a lecture over Bloom's taxonomy, metacognition, and study tips for my exams. This was a little challenging at first, but appears to be more successful this year. I have more participants in the study sessions I offer and they are also working in study groups.

3. I have also changed my testing style to be more in line with High Context teaching methods. In an area which is experiencing declining male enrollments and which is also below parity levels of identified ethnic minority and life style groups, I have developed examinations which are not just multiple choice or matching (Low Context methods) to a broader arrangement of problems, essays, some multiple choice and matching, and drawings (maps, etc.) I am a visual learner and found these to be very helpful when I completed my doctoral comprehensives. My students, although many say they cannot draw, have responded rather well. So I will continue to develop those skills.

4. When applying a "think-pair-share," I have modified that with a "tandem story" approach, where the students not only write their own response, but then exchange and respond in writing to their partner's response. I continue this back and forth a few times until the class members appear ready to share with everyone else. I have found that it helps to begin any class activity with a reminder that what is shared in the class stays in the class. So far that has been successful. This approach also allows my students to tell a story which applies their understanding of the material to their lives. Because I am an humanist, this narrative/qualitative approach rather than purely quantitative approach is quite important in engaging those students further in the material and also achieving interest for future endeavors.

In terms of my own research concerning enrollments, etc., I have concentrated my efforts in the realm of declining male enrollments in public colleges and universities. As the US population at the traditional college age (18-24) is predominately (51%) male, I want to know why men (of all ethnic groups) are choosing not to go to college. This research has pushed me into other areas, more so than my previous geographical training did. I now spend more time referring to articles and journals in sociology, psychology, economics, higher education administration, secondary education delivery, and English. I am now pursuing research/reading in the areas of material delivery, such as High Context teaching versus Low Context teaching. Retaining males, regardless of ethnic identity or sexual orientation, is just as important as getting them in the door.

Keith West, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay / Marinette campus

I do this work because it is enjoyable and I thought I was good at it. Becoming involved with the SAGE 2YC: Faculty as Change Agents project has shifted my point of view considerably. I hadn't realized how complacent I had become at this stage in my career and how willing I was to continue doing things a certain way because that was the way that felt "comfortable" to me. Now I know I was confusing "comfort" with stagnation. My attitude was one of "If it ain't broke . . .", but I now realize that it was broke, just not in the way I was assessing success. Students who put in the effort learned a lot in my classes and most of the successful ones really enjoyed my teaching style. I hadn't seen that my regard and concern for those who weren't successful had diminished to almost nothing. Once I started to see this, I became less "comfortable" with what I was doing.

That's the change I've accomplished since I joined this project. It is almost entirely internal. That kind of change is hard for me. It is difficult to explain why because I consider myself open-minded and willing to accept alternate perspectives, but once I feel like I've fully analyzed a problem from all angles and have developed a solution, I tend to become very protective of it. Anyone who challenges it had better be ready for a struggle. My wife picked out this character trait very early in our relationship. She called me an "early-onset curmudgeon."

In summation, involvement in this project has led me to realize that I have developed some good practices for student engagement, but I need to develop ways to engage a broader audience. That has become my primary focus as my thinking has evolved (it didn't happen all at once and it definitely isn't finished). I'm still a work in progress, but I sincerely believe that I am moving in the right direction.

While I remain an advocate of cross-disciplinary cooperation, it is sometimes important to interact with people who are responsible for subject matter similar to one's own. Whenever possible, the conversation should be held face-to-face. The challenge will be maintaining these ties and establishing new ones after the project has concluded.