Are Baltimore City Schools At Risk?


This January 28th Baltimore Sun editorial states that Baltimore City schools are expected to lose millions in state aid. “That’s not a reduction in the expected increase, it’s an actual honest-to-God cut, and it is in dollar terms more than six times greater than what any other jurisdiction is experiencing.”

The proposed fiscal cut to public education is multifaceted and we don’t have a crystal ball to see the consequences, if fully executed. But one could infer that laying off teachers, increasing the student to teacher ratio, and slowing school construction may result. Baltimore’s four-year graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent (still not on par with the national average, but a steady improvement over the past decade), according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Do these proposed cuts make sense just as Baltimore City schools are finally starting to rebound? What could the impact be on academic innovation, student success, and educational access?

What do you think?

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Syllabus Design Aimed at Meeting Deadlines

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  Why do some students fail our classes? Usually, in my courses, students don’t pass because they don’t complete all the assignments. It is possible that the work is too hard for them, but in most cases students fail to turn in a paper … Continue reading

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Best of SoTL Articles


Dr. Maryellen Weimer from the Teaching Professor Blog has compiled a list of top SoTL articles from her constant scan of pedagogical resources. You might not find all of these journals via our campus library, but they are worth looking for. Here is her list and rationale for why you should take the time to read each:

Boud, D., Lawson, R., and Thompson, D. G. (2013). Does student engagement in self-assessment calibrate their judgment over time?  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38 (8), 941-956.
Why read it: Despite its importance, self-assessment is not a skill that’s taught explicitly in most curricular programs. What more can we be doing?

Burgess-Proctor, A., Cassano, G., Condron, D. J., Lyons, H. A., and Sanders, G. (2014). A collective effort to improve sociology students’ writing skills.  Teaching Sociology, 42 (2), 130-139.
Why read it: Five faculty members decide they can do more to improve student writing collectively than they can individually.

Burkholder, P., (2014). A content means to a critical thinking end: Group quizzing in history survey.  The History Teacher, 47 (4), 551-578.
Why read it: Offers a quizzing strategy with substantial impact for learning and raises questions about content that we aren’t asking often enough.

Carmichael, A. M. and Krueger, L. E. (2014). An examination of factors and attitudes that influence reporting fraudulent claims in an academic environment.  Active Learning in Higher Education, 15 (2), 173-185.
Why read it: Prepare to be stunned by how easily and readily students reported making up excuses.

Corrigan, H. and Craciun, G. (2013). Asking the right questions: Using Student-Written Exams as an innovative approach to learning and evaluation.  Marketing Education Review, 23 (1), 31-35.
Why read it: Students write their own exams using a well-designed approach that grades their questions and answers.

Offerdahl, E. G., and Montplaisir, L., (2014). Student-generated reading questions: Diagnosing student thinking with diverse formative assessments.  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 42 (1), 29-38.
Why read it: Want your students doing the reading and asking better questions? Here’s an approach that accomplishes both.

Rublee, M. R. (2014). Rubrics in the political science classroom: Packing a serious analytical punch.  PS, Political Science and Politics, 47 (1), 199-203.
Why read it: Rubrics can do so much more than expedite grading. You don’t have to teach political science to benefit from this article.

Seidel, S. B. and Tanner, K. D. (2013). “What if students revolt?”—Considering student resistance: origins, options and opportunities for investigation.  Cell Biology Education—Life Sciences Education, 12 (Winter), 586-595.
Why read it: Find here a veritable cache of wisdom on dealing with student resistance.

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Risk and Innovation: The Most Important Elements of Honors Education


imageI’m attending the National Collegiate Honors Council annual meeting in Denver today, and I just participated in a workshop on faculty development in honors. Honors directors from across the US and Europe asked ourselves “How do we communicate what honors teaching is?” “How can we convince our faculty that honors teaching does not mean more, it means different?”

Workshop leaders Donnie Nobles, of Auburn University-Montgomery and John Zubbizarreta of Columbia College, South Carolina distributed a list of elements involved in learning-centered teaching:
Intellectual Engagement
Motivation, Self-Direction
Experiential Learning
Challenge (quality and process over quantity and products)
Risk, innovation
Discussion-based classes
Undergraduate Research
Freedom and flexibility

The honors directors in the room agreed that the most important element, and the most difficult one to implement, would be risk and innovation. These notions challenge both students and instructors. Students want to maintain a high GPA, so they avoid risk. Professors need good student evaluations, so any new assignment is inherently risky. Both groups are uncomfortable with ambiguity or even chaos.

How can we encourage risk-taking in our classes? Possibly by assigning ungraded activities that encourage risk? Possibly by encouraging peer review for professors so less emphasis is placed on student course evaluations? Maybe by embracing a culture of freedom and flexibility?

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Work. Play. Profit


As I sipped my coffee, watched Sunday Morning on CBS, and glanced through the Business section of the Washington Post (how elitist does that sound?); I could not help but notice a photo of some surfers with the headline, Work. Play. Profit.   It turns out the article was about Patagonia the sportswear company that I was familiar with because of their socially aware ways of doing business. The article focused on Patagonia’s flexible work-life culture, which is an idea that caught my eye given that in the Office of Academic Innovation, we like to think creatively about ways to motivate individuals to learn. Work, or learning for what it is worth, ought not be looked at as Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill. The article went on to note that Patagonia employees were encouraged to bring their children to the on-site day-care center, have lunch at company picnic tables, and go surfing in the middle of the day.   The company’s relaxed climate has led to happier employees who are less willing to leave the company, while profits have tripled in the past 5 years. Interestingly enough our own Dean Bryan and Dr. Wilson explore similar ideas in their book Shaping Work-Life Culture in Higher Education, which was published this past year. So, the article is not exactly noting a new concept. But, the Washington Post article made me question why such progressive ideas like daycare, telecommuting, and flexible work weeks are not the norm, and 1940’s ideas of manufacturing still cling to the popular workplace paradigm even in progressive institutions.

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A Grad Students’ Wonderings into Global Affairs & Wanderlust


A Grad Students’Wonderings into Global Affairs & Wanderlust

By: Janine Branch

My name is Janine Branch. I am a citizen diplomat, a change maker, a logistics coordinator, a mentor and coach, a trainer, a event planner, and a storyteller. This summer I traveled to Dominican Republic and Haiti for a experiential learning trip. I knew a long time ago from hearing stories from my grandmother of her worldly travels, that I wanted to travel through unique opportunities to be immersed into a different culture; educating my whole person through experience-based learning.

The primary purpose of my trip was to gain insight into the Haiti culture, with a short stop in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic to gain an understanding into the one island with two with worlds. After the day layover in Dominican Republic, I spent six days traveling to Cap-Haïtien, Port-au-Prince, Plaisance, and Labadee by way of bus, tap tap, and on foot throughout the country.

Traveling to Haiti was a rich, eye-opening, and perspective-building cultural experience. There is an awareness that is produced after an extensive experience (no matter how short), particularly when traveling to the developing world. The conditions of life most Americans get to enjoy—the immaculate streets, the broad array of stores, and the outright comfort of life, in my opinion, are taken for grated. And as another blogger, Tim Urban observes “suddenly the immense wealth of the First World is blatantly apparent everywhere you look and you remember that everyone you know lives like a king without realizing it.”

Despite the contrasts in values, there was a vibrancy and rhythm throughout the streets of Haiti. The beat was fast-paced, a structured chaos. The allure of dust kicking up from underneath tap-taps, piles of trash burning, mothers on the way to the market, the elitist traveling up the mountain to their mansions in Land Rovers, and men hustling to sell bags of water at the hottest part of the day. Even among the rhythm, varying levels of poverty were evident immediately as I crossed the border of Dominican Republic and Haiti. In the major towns and highways of Haiti; everything looks hungry – the mountains, the trash piles, the trees, goats, and people. The degradation of the land was very evident, and reflective of the tumultuous past of razing plantations after the slave revolt. Yet, the citizens of Haiti were proud of the valuables they have in possession. Laziness or taking a break was not an option or a way of thinking. Everyone had a hustle. Whether it was to sell water, shine shoes, suggesting restaurants, grounding cacao into powder, prostitution, or studying for school, etc. Everyone is doing something.

There are immeasurable observations that I made while I was in Haiti. Some of which I get to explore in my Individualized Study course, “Sustainable Development and Aid Effectiveness in Haiti.”Questions such as, why do women not drive? Where are the hospitals? Where does racism stem from and how does it affect global security? Where do donations really go? Why dont more blacks not travel or volunteer? Nonetheless, I realize there is so much to the world that I do not understand or have yet to learn. I am curious to explore these questions and more through the development of my curriculum.

The conclusion that I made, is that even with my resourcefulness – is that experiential learning is challenging. It is easy enough to travel the globe as a tourist, but it is not always easy to work and spend an extended time abroad so that you get to know another country in a way a tourist never does. While I was in Haiti, I was unable to gain the trust of the community members to due racial, cultural, and gender barriers. Or participate in the thorough volunteer experience that I desired, but I’ve learned how I want to contribute in the future. When I return to Haiti next summer, I would like to become involved in a sustainable development effort a cacao and vanilla processing farm and factory, called DeLaSol Haiti. I would like to fully integrating myself into the community –an opportunity that a typical vacation could never provide. By applying the educational philosophies and practical experiences gained in the work place and during graduate school–I hope to make a contribution to improve the lives of others. I am continually motivated by the responsibility to engage the rest of the world in a mutually beneficial dialogue.


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Motivating Students


My job puts me in the unique position of being both student and faculty facing. In a perfect classroom, the professor and student play on the same team and are equally enthusiastic to participate in the process of teaching and learning. Let’s face it though, Utopian ideals aren’t always reality. At times, students blame their lack of academic success on “boring” lectures whereas disengaged students are often a faculty complaint. Some believe the student should come to class motivated while others affirm it is the professors’ job to motivate their students during class. According to Jeffrey L. Buller, Ph.D., “the argument will never be resolved, because each perspective is correct. Some of us are just pulled a bit more by one side than the other.”

It is easy to be pulled to one extreme for the reason that it’s difficult to quantify motivation. Motivation is subjective. There are over achievers that flip out if they fall short of a coveted 4.0 and there are others that are self-congratulatory because they retained the motivation to graduate with a 2.0. The reality is that many students can be motivated by extrinsic factors (i.e. rewards, grades, course completion) but never learn the intrinsic self-motivation skills in order to achieve a passion for life-long learning, which is part of UB’s mission.

Regardless of whose responsibility it is, professors do make a difference, for better or for worse, in motivating students to learn. After all, the classroom is an ideal opportunity to practice and develop self-motivation skills and much like a performer and their audience there is a mutually dependent exchange taking place between professor and student. A motivated class makes for a motivated professor and vice-versa. The key may be to combine both intrinsic and extrinsic learning principles in order to motivate students. The Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University provides a useful outline to help get started.

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Active Learning Can Narrow the Achievement Gap



Our office promotes innovation in higher education and encourages professors to try out new methods of active learning in their classrooms. Instead of always lecturing to students who spend the class time taking notes, we support team learning, debates, role-playing and working with community partners. We have seen students at the University of Baltimore respond with enthusiasm to these active approaches to instruction, and now data backs up these practices.

A recent study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has shown that this type of instruction is particularly effective for first-generation college students and students of color. Kelly Hogan, a professor of an introductory biology course, taught her 400-person sections in different ways over the course of six terms. She gave traditional lectures in three terms, and then switched things up. In three terms instead of lecturing,  she included team work in class and assigned for homework on-line activities that encouraged collaboration outside of class. She found that all the students who were in the more active classes were much more likely to come to class having done the reading, mainly because the lectures were not simply her overview of their reading assignments. Test scores for the whole class rose 3 percent.

In addition, Hogan’s active approach to instruction narrowed the achievement gap. Among first-generation students and black students, scores went up six percent. That rise halved the disparity between test scores of black students compared to whites and completely eliminated the distance between first  generation students and the rest of the class.

The New York Times published a story on the study just as the new school year was beginning:

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University of Baltimore Experiential Learning Project of The Month


“Being allowed to have this opportunity has helped me change my negative views towards those who are incarcerated.”


Dr. Andrea Cantora

Course: Contemporary Corrections

The course included a 5-week pilot of the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an opportunity for a small group of students from University of Baltimore and group of residents of the Jessup Correctional Institution to exchange ideas and perceptions about crime, corrections, and the reentry process.

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Take note of this interesting data



laptops in classroomsThe June issue of Psychological Science included a study of the use of laptops in classrooms and examined whether note taking was best done with the pen or the keyboard.

Laptops have always raised the ire of faculty. Competing against Facebook and Pinterest is humbling when you’re standing in the front of the room. We know that students want good grades and see the laptop as a self-destructive distraction to their own success. Even those who are actually taking notes may not be as productive as those who are writing down their notes.

This study provides initial experimental evidence that laptops may harm academic performance even when used as intended. Participants using laptops are more likely to take lengthier transcription-like notes with greater verbatim overlap with the lecture. Although taking more notes, thereby having more information, is beneficial, mindless transcription seems to offset the benefit of the increased content, at least when there is no opportunity for review.  (Mueller & Oppenheimer)

Synthesizing and summarizing ideas instead of trying to capture every word can translate to more knowledge retained. What do you do with laptops in your classroom?

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