When Teachers Become Students Again

As many of us know, maintaining good communication with our students is of primary importance. Many teachers and professors have found that returning to school or learning a new skill gives renewed insight into what it means to be a student. Below are four instances of teachers learning that lesson.

The experience of being a student again was also used in a 1997 faculty retreat at Indiana University. James Mumford, emeritus Director of the Indiana University African American Choral Ensemble, took three days to turn twenty-four IU faculty members into a gospel choir. A video of this is below:

Thanks to Kathy Posey & Ron Akie for suggesting this topic!

Posted in Academic Development, Student Retention, Teaching Tips, Tools for teaching | Leave a comment

The Recent NEFDC Conference at NEIT

The conference at NEIT on Nov. 13 went very well. Everyone was jealous of the NEIT’s buildings. The one we were in was only five years old and featured lovely installed technology in the classrooms, frost glass stairs, and an indoor koi pond. Lovely!

The sessions that I attended were excellent (here’s the program). All of the presenters demonstrated a lot of energy, their presentations were organized, and they used a lot of audience participation. Active learning at work! Of the ones I attended, my favorite was the workshop by Myra Edelstein from Salve Regina University. The topic was
“The Pedagogy of Creativity & Innovation” and Myra gave me a number of new models to think about.

The keynoter was Justin Reich, the Executive Director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab. He supported more Web 3.0 teaching solutions, and moving student work out of the Learning Management Systems (LMS) into the public space of the web. That certainly should drive students to build networks that will last beyond graduation and should also encourage them to develop their personal brand, but I’m personally still in favor of LMS because it provides a safe space for them to do that. It is not easy getting something off the web once it is there, and students who are learning how to brand themselves often need oversight to reduce overexposure or self-disclosure that could prove embarrassing to them later.

Posted in NEFDC, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Survey of Martial Arts for Kids around Boston, MA

A friend asked me to look around town for martial arts programs for his daughter. This is the result. Please understand that I haven’t been to most of these schools or seen them in action. These are mostly my judgments on what I found on websites. My judgment is based on the twenty-five years I spent actively training in the martial arts. That training was pretty extensive, as I was lucky enough to encounter a lot of wonderful instructors. I earned black belt rank in taekwondo, hapkido, and iaido. I trained in taijiquan, silat, capoeira, t’aeggyeon, judo, Small Circle Jujitsu, fencing, and aikido. I had a passing acquaintance with spring-leg gongfu, Wing Chun, boxing, and wrestling. I even wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on the history of the martial arts. So I saw a lot more than most people. But again, all of this is just my opinion.

I’ve ignored karate, kempo, and taekwondo schools. They are great for getting into shape but may do air kicks (bad for the joints) or teach a lot of forms (not great for fighting). I should mention that I’m a 4th dan in tkd myself and ran a tkd for kids program for 20 years. It is still going 15 years later, now run by one of my students. The best things karate or tkd teach is movement, distance control, and effective kicks. Character is something you learn from your instructor, not from an art. Look at the instructor and trust your gut when it comes to judging character. But karate, tkd, or kempo would not be my first choice for kids.

Just so you can get a flavor for how I pick schools, let me give you an example of schools around Concord:

Marx Fencing Academy (http://marxfencingacademy.com/about-us/about-mfa/): Looks like a good school. There’s not a lot of fencing academies around, the art is aerobic and teaches skills that are applicable in self-defense, if indirectly. And you get to poke people with a foil, which is fun.

Wah Lum Kung Fu of Concord (http://www.wahlumconcord.com/): This is Praying Mantis style gongfu. It looks pretty whack at first glance — lots of weird forms and flashy weapons — and normally the kind of thing I would run from, but these folks are the real deal. Wah Lum Kung Fu has been in Boston for quite a while under the tutelage of Pui Chan, and while I don’t agree with everything the style does, it is a truly traditional Chinese art (rare in the U.S.), with an authentic lineage (even rarer!), and a depth of instruction. You only find this sort of place near a city with a Chinatown. The style has a lot of the same problems as the karate schools (air kicking, forms, etc.), but the cultural richness would outweigh that for me. Even better, some of these schools teach Lion Dance (very rare in the U.S.), and if this one in Concord did that, I’d sign my kid up in a second. There are photos of Lion Dancers up on their site, but they are from the Chinatown celebration of Pui Chan’s career about five years ago (I went, and learned a lot about the local schools that way), so I’m not sure if this school actually does them. The main school is on Edinboro Street in Boston (http://www.wahlumpai.us/).

My first choice for kids is a jūdō school that emphasizes “mutual benefit and welfare.” Judo was originally designed as a means of physical education, and because of that there is a better chance of finding an instructor who takes care of his/her student and partners. There’s a lot of falling, so don’t choose if the child already has back problems. And avoid schools that emphasize competition, as the number of student injuries will be higher. There’s a Sambo school in Woburn (http://sambo7.com/), which is a Russian art based on judo. I don’t know anything about the school but Sambo schools tend to be more aggressive than judo schools, with less depth of instruction, so for kids I would avoid them.

Newton Judo Club (http://www.newtonjudo.com/): This one looks good. The cost is $25 per month for kids, which indicates that this may be run by older judoka who still believe in judo as largely an amateur practice (in the best sense of the word) that is run for community benefit after one’s “real” job. Looks like a small group (might be better if there were more students). They roll on Swain mats set on a basketball floor, which is a little hard. It would be better if there was a suspended floor designed for falling. I can’t find much on the instructors, but Bullshido (http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=63031) only says good things.

Tohoku Judo Club (https://sites.google.com/a/tohokujudo.org/tohoku-judo-club/Home): It is run by Clark Edson (6th dan) and has several Japanese instructors (a good sign). They have a dedicated mat space with extra padding on the walls in case people get thrown there, which is great. It looks like a large school with a lot of depth of instruction. The cost is $35 per month for kids.

Pedro’s Judo (http://pedrosjudo.com/about-us): This Wakefield school looks to be the best competitive dojo in the area. The staff seem to be very qualified and the website demonstrates a good attitude. It is competitive, so I wouldn’t put my kid there, but if your child likes competition, these folks will get you where you want to go, and probably do it safely to boot.

Boston Judo Club (https://sites.google.com/site/bostonjudo/): This is a downtown competitive judo school with 3,000 square foot of dedicated mat space. Looks good, though I’d probably choose Pedro’s over them.

Around Boston, there is a wealth of Chinese martial arts, something that one doesn’t find elsewhere. That’s probably where I would send my child, just so they could experience something that is hard to find in the U.S.

Bow Sim Mark Tai Chi Arts Organization (http://www.taichi-arts.com/): Another fantastic resource. Bow Sim Mark was a wushu champion before she came to the States in 1976. She knows her stuff, and her son Donnie Yen (http://www.taichi-arts.com/article/donnie-yen/) is a martial arts movie star. Her students all perform the form identically, which I actually don’t like. If one has a different body type, I think the form should be modified, and watching a bunch of guys do exactly what a small woman is doing does not seem right to me. Shows too much instructor control for my taste, but she is a world expert, without a doubt, and one could do a lot worse than learn from her.

Wing Chun Kung Fu Academy (http://www.wckfa.com/): Wing Chun is a great system for close range boxing, as long as one has the strength to back it up. Expect to see muscular instructors. They concentrate on penetrating one’s defense and striking and do it well, but they don’t tend to move a lot and when one encounters weapons, that can be a problem. I don’t know anything about this Chinatown school though. If you are a strong guy who wants a good workout, this will do it for you.

Yang’s Martial Arts Association (http://www.ymaaboston.com/): Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming is an internationally known instructor and author, and has a lot to give. He teaches Shaolin wushu, which I don’t like much. It is a lot like the karate arts, and since the mainland Chinese killed or imprisoned most gongfu insturctors in the 1950s, I feel that the modern wushu does not have a legitimate lineage. That’s why I prefer the Wah Lum folks, because that is gongfu that came to the States before it got wiped out in mainland China. I much prefer Yang’s Chin-na, but that is more for adults than for kids.

Other schools of interest around Boston (but not necessarily ones for kids) include:

Capoeira Gerais Boston (http://capoeirageraisboston.com/): Capoeira is a very athletic art. If you are looking for something gymnastic, this is it. There’s a lot of handstands and flips, lots of kicking, and normally no punching. This group looks small but capoeira can be fun and it is hard to find in the States.

Castoldi’s Jujitsu (http://www.castoldijujitsu.com/): Dave’s dad Al brought jujitsu to New England around 1945, so the lineage is excellent. Ed Melaugh also runs a school around town. Small Circle Jujutsu schools are not Brazilian Jujutsu (BJJ). Instead, they teach an American style of standing jujutsu, and were originally linked to Hawaiian jujutsu and judo. I’m sure they train on the ground as well; most people do these days. I trained with Wally Jay and those guys for about 4 years, and I like a lot of what they do, but the Boston guys tend to be rougher and better for adults. Watch out for finger locks, because dislocations on small joints like that are easy to get. I saw several of these in training. I dislocated fingers on two guys myself, so I moved away from that sort of training. If you are an adult looking for self-defense effective training, this is a good place for you, but I probably wouldn’t send my kids.

Martial Arts Research Institute (http://www.combatkalisilat.com/): This downtown Boston school teaches Pencak Silat, an Indonesian art. I don’t know anything about the instructors, but Silat is a fun art for adults and they trained in Harimau, which is a blast. If you want to learn Filipino knife and stick, they do that too.

There is a LOT in the area I didn’t mention. That means I wouldn’t bother with them. They might be fine, but they don’t shine as much as the ones I did mention. There’s only two groups that I would actively warn people away from.

Oom Yung Doe: The one website I went to was dead, and I haven’t seen the local instructors, but this group has a legendarily bad reputation. They are known for cultish behavior and poor technique, so my advice would be to avoid them at all costs! See Bullshido (http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=13572) if you want more details.

Anything with the name Elite, Premier, or Cadre in the name: This sort of marketing indicates arrogance at least and too much control over students at worst. If they offer free uniforms, require long-term student contracts, and have flashy web pages, run. There are a lot of commercial schools that look like this, and seem very professional, but a lot of their effort is going into marketing their school and that is the wrong attitude for a martial artist, in my view. I had a friend who ran his school this way, one of the guys I tested with as a matter of fact. He made a lot of money off of it but alienated a lot of his instructors by not treating them right. He’s now facing several felony charges for fraud (from his real estate business, not the martial arts). You need to be able to trust the school where you leave your kid, and these schools are not always ones you can trust, unfortunately. There are some (I’m thinking of another friend now) but the percentage is not good.

Posted in Martial arts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not the Worst Learning Theory I’ve Ever Seen

From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a consistently entertaining and thoughtful comic.

Hmm… Stage 3 is a lot like cognitive dissonance.

Kubler-Ross Model of Grief, from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teaching Center with Key & Peele

Key & Peele? Really? Those guys are great! They already put out some hilarious videos on substitute teachers. The first two emphasized the differences between urban and suburban schools with Mr. Garvey, the Substitute Teacher.

The third was on the difficulty of establishing control in a class as a substitute teacher with Mr. Nostrand.

Finally, there was the issues involved with dealing with Jimmy the Class Clown.

So I was really looking forward to the new Teaching Center skit. But their idea of a great teacher was a lecturer who occasionally asks the kid without his hand up. The question she asks is not even challenging, just “Remembering” level on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Our expectations of teachers is apparently WAY too low.

Posted in comedy | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The NEFDC/Fairfield University CAE Conference, May 29, 2015

Last week’s conference at Fairfield, CT, went very well. Kudos to Fairfield University in hosting the event — everything was exceptionally well organized. Katie Novak gave an exciting and informative keynote on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), filled with analogies and activities. No lecture on active learning, thank goodness! All of the sessions I was in were very informative and thoughtful. If you missed the conference, a number of the presentations are available at Fairfield University’s Digital Commons. Check them out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lessons from the Closing of the CTE at Endicott College

The Center for Teaching Excellence at Endicott College closed in 2014 due to budget cuts. I had been its Director for five years, having originally been hired to complete a three year grant from the Davis Educational Foundation after the previous director had resigned. The grant ended very successfully, so much so that we got a second grant from Davis to continue the work. The Center had excellent buy-in with the faculty and was doing great work that admittedly was often unseen by the upper administration. That the CTE was valued by the faculty is demonstrated by their many warm recommendations on my LinkedIn profile. Right up to the end, I was told that the Center was doing a fantastic job and that my work was excellent. So why wasn’t I surprised when it was cut from the budget? Because as the Historian for the national organization for faculty development (the POD Network), I had conducted over sixty oral history interviews with both leading faculty developers and with early leaders in the field who had left academia. I learned through those interviews that teaching centers often closed in times of financial difficulty. In Endicott’s case, there had been a faculty hiring freeze for a year and a half, the renovation of the student center had proved more expensive that planned, a new indoor hockey rink was being constructed, and we had brought in so many students that they had to be housed in rented housing in nearby Beverly. When funds are short, teaching centers are an easy target for cuts on campus. I’ve seen a number of excellent centers cut over the years — at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, at the University of Western Kentucky, at the University of Washington — the list goes on and on.

I has also been involved in a similar cut when I was Associate Director at the Teaching Resource Center (TRC) at Indiana University at Bloomington. That center had over twenty years of work with the faculty but it was eliminated and the staff merged with Campus Instructional Consulting (CIC) to avoid “duplication of services.” Not a straight budget cut — it was the result of internal politics. But painful nonetheless. In the move, the extensive TRC library was cut in half. The TRC had been housed in a classroom building, while the CIC was in the administrative building, so the move also meant moving further from the people I considered our clients, the faculty. So my most poignant memory of that move was a faculty member coming down to the TRC specifically to tell me, “they can let you folks go, but you have to leave the copier.” Now, it was a good copier. This was back when instructors were still using overhead projectors and although copy machines had once been able to run transparencies, by that time none of the copiers had a straight path, which meant that overhead transparencies could not be run (the transparencies tended to melt and jam the machine). At this particular faculty member’s request, I had just successfully found a straight path copier that had not been in production for three years, and purchased a “new” one from a supplier for the center. So he could continue using transparencies for a few more years, but I do wish he had been a bit more diplomatic about his concerns.

So the closing of the CTE fit my understanding of the life of such centers. Still, I had hoped for better. My boss had told me when I was hired that Endicott looked out for its own, and I knew that the previous director had been kept on in another capacity for a year while she looked for another job. I had remained cynical because of my knowledge of the history of centers, but ironically, the day before the CTE closed, I had told myself, “Well, I’ve been here for five years. Maybe Endicott does look after its own.” The next day, I was given notice that the CTE was being closed. Ouch.

Endicott College was a nice place to work and I actually still work with a number of their faculty. I wish the administration had valued the CTE more. When I left, there was little concern with what happened to the center’s holdings and records. The books I sent to the campus library; the records were simply discarded. Faculty I was working with to change their teaching styles lost that support. The CTE vanished as if it had never existed, and that’s a shame.

So what are the lessons learned (by me anyways)?

  1. Teaching Centers are among the first departments targeted in budget cuts. That was more of a confirmation than a lesson, really.
  2. Be sure that the Chief Academic Officer and the Deans know your work and value it. And that means working closely with them. This won’t protect you from cuts, but it helps.
  3. If possible, get a faculty appointment when you take a Director position. That gives you someplace from which to regroup, and ensures you aren’t left unemployed while searching for a new position.

PS: The Endicott website still lists the CTE but eventually someone will remove that reference. Then the last remnant of the CTE on the web will be my Flickr page about the CTE, which is still available. There is a video game shown there called the Endicade, a remodeled Simpsons arcade game for which the Computer Science students practice developing games. That’s still one of my proudest projects. I found the artist — Simon Stafsnes Andersen, an artist in Norway who specializes in game art — and the machine was refurbished by Michael Ocean for use by his students. The funding came from that second Davis grant, which supported local Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).

Two other stories that comment on the closing of Endicott’s CTE are:

Posted in Teaching Centers | Leave a comment