Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category


But You Never Told Me!

March 25, 2008

If you are anything like me, odds are there’s been a time (or 20) when you swore that “No one told me about the ___,” only to find out later that indeed you were told, but you hadn’t listened to the message. Why does this happen? There could be myriad reasons.

Perhaps the short video clip below will provide one of the reasons. NOTE: This video is safe to play at work or around your young children.

So what are some tips you can use to become a better listener, especially during International Listening Awareness Month (sponsored by the International Listening Association)?


Edelman Digital Bootcamp: Exhausting AND Energizing

March 2, 2008

Social bookmarking is

February 18, 2008

This afternoon, we explored the wonders of social bookmarking. Put simply, it’s a great way to store your bookmarks online, access them from any computer, and share them with others easily. The Common Craft Show video “Social Bookmarking in Plain English” below shows how works in a fun way.

Here’s how describes itself: is a collection of favorites – yours and everyone else’s. You can use to:

  • Keep links to your favorite articles, blogs, music, reviews, recipes, and more, and access them from any computer on the web.
  • Share favorites with friends, family, coworkers, and the community.
  • Discover new things. Everything on is someone’s favorite — they’ve already done the work of finding it. So is full of bookmarks about technology, entertainment, useful information, and more. Explore and enjoy.

Want to see my bookmarks? Visit


Toward a Research Philosophy

January 29, 2008

Recently, I was asked what my research philosophy was. An intriguing question, I thought, and one that I didn’t have a ready answer for. I’d spent considerable time developing my teaching and learning philosophy, and I’d honed it over the twenty-plus years that I’ve been teaching college. But no one had ever asked me about my research philosophy, or at least that’s what I thought.

So, I did what most people would do these days. I googled “research philosophy,” and I came up with nearly 100,000 hits. Perusing a few dozen, I discovered that people addressed this concept in myriad ways. Whereas there seemed to be some consistency among teaching and learning philosophies that I’d read, there was more variety than consistency in research philosophies.

I also asked several trusted colleagues and former professors about their research philosophies. Surprisingly, only one had a statement prepared. Most of the others said that was a question they had not been asked about before, either.

Then I took some time to search back through my papers I wrote during my doctoral program in Training & Performance Improvement. Lo and behold, I had even written my own research philosophy at one time! A special thanks goes to Paul Hardt, Ed.D., (Capella University) for helping me focus my thinking on this topic. As he reminded me today, “The research question must drive the choice of research methods, and the researcher should not let their own personal biases influence their choice of methods.” Here is what I wrote as part of a paper on the application of a mixed methods approach to evaluating leadership development:

In order to “make informed choices and reflect critically on their own work,” a researcher must “understand the theories of knowledge (the epistemologies) underlying the methods” (Spratt, Walker, & Robinson, 2004, p. 13). Distinctions about the formation of knowledge exist between quantitative and qualitative researchers. Krauss made the following observation about qualitative research: “In general, qualitative research is based on a relativistic, constructivist ontology that posits that there is no objective reality. Rather, there are multiple realities constructed by human beings who experience a phenomenon of interest” (2005, p. 760). On the other hand, Healy & Perry (2000) note that “positivism predominates in science and assumes that science quantitatively measures independent facts about a single apprehensible reality” (as cited in Krauss, 2005, p. 760). “In other words, the data and its analysis are value-free, and data do not change because they are being observed” (Krauss, 2005, p. 760).

William Trochim, at his Research Methods Knowledgebase, notes “I’ve seen many a graduate student get lost in the maze of philosophical assumptions that contemporary philosophers of science argue about” (2002, Positivism & post-positivism section, para. 7). I can echo this sentiment fully. Based on my limited exposure to epistemology, I would say that my general bent is toward post-positivism; Trochim described my tendencies accurately when he said:

Post-positivists reject the idea that any individual can see the world perfectly as it really is. We are all biased and all of our observations are affected . . . . Our best hope for achieving objectivity is to triangulate across multiple fallible perspectives! (Positivism & post-positivism section, para. 6)

However, as I have learned more about the mixed methods approach, I have warmed to the pragmatist point of view, which stresses to use what works to determine my view of the world. This is a diverse blend of ways to understand what is going on around me, rather than relying on just one concrete view. As Creswell states it, “For mixed methods researchers, pragmatism opens the door to multiple methods, different worldviews and different assumptions as well as different forms of data collection and analysis” (2003, p. 12). More than a dozen other researchers concur that pragmatism and mixed methods complement each other (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998).


Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Spratt, C., Walker, R., & Robinson, B. (2004). Mixed research methods. Practitioner Research and Evaluation Skills Training in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from

Tashakkori, A., & Teddlie, C. (1998). Mixed methodology: Combining qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Trochim, W. (2002, January 16, 2005). Research methods knowledge base. Retrieved October 1, 2005, from

Okay, I thought, now I have something to start with. Let’s get rid of the fancy words and boil it down . . .

Let the research question drive the methodology.

That’s it . . . that’s my research philosophy! I will first determine the specific research question, then (and only then) will I determine what the next steps are. Based on the question, I will determine which methodology will best answer the question for my audience. I am not locked into the “I am a qualitative researcher” or “I am a quantitative researcher” mode.


How to Fail a Class (Without Really Trying)

January 19, 2008

Now that winter semester is well on its way, I took some time to reminisce about all the ways that students can do well in my classes. But instead of sharing those with you today, I’ll instead offer the flip-side: what you should do if your goal is to FAIL a class. I promise you that I’ve had a student at one time or another who has done every one of these things. Luckily, there is no one student who has done all of them . . . yet. (Please don’t take this as a challenge ) )


  1. Think of the assignment guidelines provided by your professor as mere suggestions, not requirements for success.
  2. Consider each assignment as discrete entities. Don’t apply the constructive criticism you’ve received from your previous assignment to your next one.
  3. Since Microsoft Word will catch all your mistakes (grammar, APA style, Associated Press style, etc.), there’s no need to proofread your assignments before turning them in.
  4. Plagiarize often and flagrantly. After all, your professor won’t think to check the Internet (or other sources) to see if you’ve copied anything.
  5. Reading homework assignments before the class when they will be discussed? Why bother?


  1. Don’t bother to check your grades in WebCT Vista, even though they’re posted in there throughout the semester. And don’t bother to keep your graded papers to doublecheck the grade’s accuracy.
  2. If you have a concern about your grade, wait until the last week of class to ask your professor for ideas on how to raise it.
  3. Ask in class every day, “Can we get extra credit for this?” Or, when or if extra credit is offered, turn it down. It won’t make that much difference in your final grade anyway.
  4. If you’re pretty sure you won’t pass the class (or get the grade you’re hoping for) before the Withdraw Date, go ahead and stay in the class anyway, but just don’t bother showing up anymore.

WebCT Vista

  1. Wait until five minutes before an assignment is due on WebCT Vista before trying to log in to submit it.
  2. When there’s a discussion question posted on WebCT Vista, don’t answer it. Or answer it superficially with one or two sentences. Or say, “I totally agree with what Kyle said in his response.”

Classroom Decorum

  1. When in a class in a PC lab, check your Facebook or e-mail, or surf the web, while class is in session, even if your professor has said that it’s time to turn all monitors off.
  2. Wait until you get to your classroom to consider printing something that is needed for class that day.
  3. Be the first one to answer every question in class, every time. (I will tend to call this student Horshack, either behind or in front of his or her back.)
  4. Attend class only when you feel like it, and be sure that others know you have better things you could be doing with your time.


  1. Don’t check your e-mail for messages from your professor. Or mark your professor’s e-mail as that of a known spammer, so his or her messages automatically are delivered into your bulk mail or spam folder.
  2. When you’re confused, assume that you’re the only one, so don’t ask for clarification or explanation.
  3. Avoid your professor’s office at all costs.
  4. Only discuss grade-related information with your professor. Or even better, only talk to your professor to ask, “Did we talk about anything important in class the last time we met? I wasn’t here.”
  5. Don’t listen, and that means don’t listen to your professor, your classmates, your advisor . . . What you think and feel is way more important.

Creative Commons License
How to Fail a Class by Barbara Nixon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


A Teaching & Learning Philosophy

December 11, 2007

Several years ago, a colleague shared with me this quotation by longshoreman and philosopher Eric Hoffer:

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

This quotation struck a chord with me. Put simply, my overarching goal in teaching is to ensure that our world has more learners than learned. I am fortunate to be in a role in life where I can have an impact on our future world leaders.

What do I expect from my students?

  • Students should be fully read on all of the chapters (or other reading assignments) and to be ready to discuss any part of the readings.
  • Students should raise questions when they are uncertain of the material we are discussing, including questions that I will have no easy (“pat”) answer for.
  • Students should make every effort to gain the most value that they can from the class. They should want to become independent learners.
  • Students should become aware of not only how what happens in the world (current events) impacts them, but also how what they do impacts the world. Campus is not a cocoon.

And what can my students expect from me?

  • Because I am aware that students learn in many different ways, I will not lecture at my students daily from behind a raised podium. Instead, I will provide instruction to them in an interactive manner. In a typical week, students will experience partner discussions, small group discussions, Internet scavenger hunts, and even crossword puzzles, in addition to short (less than 20 minute) lecturettes. “Death by PowerPoint” will not happen in my class.
  • I will provide them with the most current information I have available. I stay current on topics and trends in the industry.
  • I will stay abreast of current technology and apply it in the classroom whenever it adds to the learning experience. (Examples include current software, Vista, podcasts and blogging, to name a few.)
  • I will make every effort to help guide students through the issues that they raise, and we will seek resolution together.
  • I will make every effort I can to make sure that students understand the issues and concepts my courses present.
  • When I have positive feedback to share, I will share it openly in the classroom and call attention to students by name in the process. My goal in this is to enhance or maintain the students’ self-esteem, not to break it down. There are plenty of other places in the world where their self-esteem may be diminished. Constructive criticism will still be provided to students, but not by name in front of a whole class.
  • I expect for us to have fun in class. Laughter and learning go hand in hand in my book. If we are not enjoying ourselves in class, there’s something amiss.
  • And perhaps most importantly, I will listen to my students so that I can learn from them, too.

10 Ways Educators Can Listen Better to Their Students

December 7, 2007

This week, my semester ended at Georgia Southern University. And as I do with the end of almost everything that I’m involved in, I like to take some time to analyze my successes and also determine what I might want to do differently the next time. One thing I plan to focus on for spring semester is listening better to my students. Oh, sure, like most people, I think I’m a pretty good listener. And I also know that this is something that I can improve upon. I remembered reading a list that a former board member at the International Listening Association wrote about listening to his students. Daryl Vander Kooi shared with me 10 ways that teachers can listen better to their students. Let’s see what he had to say:

  1. WAIT. Wait-time is important for students to analyze, to evaluate potential response, and to formulate that response. If you want to listen, wait. If you really want to listen, wait even longer; try to wait at least five seconds after a student finishes talking before responding.
  2. SIT. Place yourself in the physical position that encourages the student; sit at his/her level. This is important not only for teachers of young students, but also those who teach high school and college.
  3. TALK OFTEN. In order for students to recognize that you are indeed interested in what they say, talk with them frequently, and not only about school-related information.
  4. ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS. Many discussions with students can lead to important information about them, but those discussions need questions that promote discussion, not end it.
  5. REMEMBER JANIE . . Remember the student and the student’s background so that you can listen for more than the surface comment and immediate answer.
  6. REMEMBER JOHNNIE CAN’T READ. The point is that, if the student is unable to communicate well in reading and writing, you might have to listen more carefully—go beyond the stumbling style and disheveled syntax.
  7. PUSH FOR CLARITY. Good speech style encourages good listening. Help your students improve style including clarity by paraphrasing and restating. You can help his/her future listeners.
  8. LISTENING IS MORE THAN HEARING. It includes seeing and reading. Many assume that listening is the mental parallel to the physical activity of hearing, but all listeners should continually remind themselves that they should see the speaker’s actions and other movement; they should see the facial expressions; they should see the visual aid. Listen beyond simply hearing.
  9. REMEMBER GEOGRAPHY. Just as the teacher should remember geography when teaching geography—know the content area; so too remember also the content area, the context, when listening to students. However, also recognize that students are likely to shift the content or topic without announcement. Catch the shift and remember the prior information about that topic. This is especially important when working with students with ADHD or similar disabilities.
  10. WATCH FOR BEEN THERE; DONE THAT. It’s easy to think that this issue has been discussed many times before; but remember that those were different times and different students. Your present student probably wasn’t there and didn’t do that.

— Daryl Vander Kooi, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, Dordt College