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: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/education/active-learning-study.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3As%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A5%22%7D&_r=0.

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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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The “Making” Process


Audubon Bird Habitat in LS Planting Team

I’ve always had a passion for volunteering, but living in Charm City has completely challenged my previous concept of volunteerism. Serving a community is not equal to being a member of a community. There is no motivation like realizing your well-being relies on positive change and that you are going to have to play a leading role to make it happen.

Exposition: I bought my first home in a neighborhood that had hundreds of boarded up houses, five on my block alone. To give you a clear image, HBO’s The Wire filmed location shots in my community. I’ve also had a front-row ticket to more than a few crime scene investigations. I bought what I could afford. In 2005 the price tag was steep to live amidst crime and grime, but much more expensive even just a block south so the potential return on investment made the short-term discomfort seem worth it. Many other new homeowners had the same thought; crime and grime were on the decline and development, quality of life, and property values were on a steady and dramatic upswing.

Then the unthinkable happened, all progress stopped dead during the 2008 economic bust and our up-and-coming community was on dangerous footing. Things got bad again, worse even, and morale began to fail. To add insult to injury, those that bought into the dream were stuck in a nightmare of negative equity. Most wanted out, myself included, but couldn’t leave and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. You know, the saying, “bloom where you are planted?” Cliché as it may be, it is one-hundred percent true. I and other community members became leaders, dedicated to making our streets more clean, green, safe and vibrant. Amid countless meetings, collaborations, clean-ups, 311 calls, tree plantings, and activities to engage neighbors, there is undeniable improvement.

Because I live adjacent to a public square and focus much of my effort on its revitalization, I unintentionally have become a citizen placemaker. Rooted in community-based participation, “placemaking  is an innovative approach to transforming communities by creating and revitalizing open, public spaces around the needs and desires of the community.” My academic background in community studies certainly provided a solid foundation (thank you, UB), but nothing can prepare one for the complexity of trying to transform a physical place with the long-term goal of connecting a somewhat fragmented community. It’s a unique challenge and there is no singular solution. It has to be an integrative approach that offers meaningful opportunities for people to deliberate, disagree, cooperate and execute along the way.

Just as we strive for cross-disciplinary collaborations in higher education, those dedicated to community development strive for the same. It is the process of ongoing engagement and inclusion, a grass roots approach that “builds connections, creates civic engagement, and empowers citizens—in short, it builds social capital.” Social capital builds community and community builds place. Obviously, we need to involve professionals, but the narrow fields of expertise often lack the awareness of context and consequence on a broad scale. Not to mention that comprehensive and sustainable success requires community support. To gain backing, the public needs to be meaningfully engaged in the “making” process.

I cannot be more thrilled that the importance of the “making” process in benefiting relationships and place was recognized in a recent white paper, Places in the Making by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The white paper challenges the idea of the expert and argues for the significance of mutual stewardship between community and place –named the “virtuous cycle of placemaking” – as a vital component, rather than a fuzzy extra. As the University of Baltimore continues to define its role as an anchor institution committed to being a regional steward, let’s strive to continually keep one theory front and center.
It takes place to create community and community to create place.


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Blueprint for Tomorrow



Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning by Prakash Nair (http://www.fieldingnair.com/index.php/news/)will be release this upcoming October. To get a better idea regarding the theme of this book I found a commentary by Prakash Nair in Education Week (July 2011). Nair’s basic argument is that the traditional classroom setting is an obsolete relic of the industrial revolution. This position is not a new or revolutionary claim, but a message that seems to need to be repeated because most colleges and universities seem to just keep constructing buildings that merely reinforce an obsolete paradigm that will not prepare students for real world challenges. The dominant pedagogy still adheres to a lecture based system. Nair makes the claim that educators can try to be more efficient in this type of content delivery, but that does not necessarily translate into effective learning. Standardizing curriculum does not necessarily create autonomous learners that can critically think and articulate their ideas. What I like about the article is that it does not present an either/or fallacy regarding classroom space, but instead challenges the reader to rethink how time and space intertwines with past and present experiences. For example, in the 21st century we seem to be trapped in thinking that learning needs to adhere to arbitrary fixed patterns of time in particular spaces, whereas we ought to think about the real purpose of education.

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A Bridge to Belize – Experiential Learning


Tricia Sindel-Arrington, Ph.D.

A Bridge to Belize – Almost as Good as a Magic School Bus
John Dewey has been noted as saying, “There is a need of forming a theory of experience in order that education may be intelligently conducted upon the basis of experience.” Recent efforts to improve higher education have focused on improving the learning process in education through the application of research. One focus of the current research is the concept of experiential learning. Experiential learning is often misunderstood as a set of tools and techniques to provide learners with experiences from which they can learn. Others have used the term to describe learning as a mindless recording of experience. Yet experiential learning is above all a philosophy of education based upon what Dewey called a “theory of experience,” (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). He argued that while traditional education had little need for theory since practice was determined by tradition, the new experiential approach to education needed a sound theory of experience to guide its conduct. Experiential learning draws on the work of 20th century scholars, such as, Dewey, Lewin, Jung, Piaget, James, Rogers, etc., who gave experience a central role in their theories of human learning and development.
According to Kolb and Kolb (2005), the theory is built upon six propositions: 1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes; 2. All learning is relearning; 3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world; 4. Learning is a holistically process of adaptation to the world; 5. Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment; 6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge. Therefore, experiential learning theory defines learning as the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Kolb and Kolb (2005) noted that knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience. This process of learning can be portrayed through an idealized learning cycle where learners experience, reflect, think and act in a recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learned.
The enhancement of learning in higher education can be achieved through the creation of learning spaces that promote growth-producing experiences for learners. According to Dewey, the central problem of an education based on experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences. To learn experientially, learners must first own and value their own experience (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Therefore, the effective teacher builds on the exploration of what students already know and believe. Beginning with these or related concrete experiences allows the learner to re-examine and modify their previous sense making in light of the new ideas.
To learn also requires facing and embracing differences. These differences can be challenging and threatening, requiring a learning space that encourages the expression of differences and the safety to support the learner in facing these new challenges. People grow best where they experience a blend of challenge and support.
One interesting view of experiential learning is what Wassermann (1992) calls “serious play.” She describes serious play as creative and inventive activities that promote autonomy and a spirit of adventure, and that achieve mental engagement through active involvement with the physical world. Serious play is built on experience, and is inextricably linked to it. Wassermann believes that learners of all ages create meaning through serious play (Harkins, 2000). The goal of education is to prepare students for the future. A curriculum that places its greatest emphasis on abstract paper and pencil tasks will not provide them an adequate preparation. What students need is to develop work-readiness skills through the integration of knowledge acquisition and its practical application, a process that should start in the early grades. An education that will effectively prepare young people for future careers is one that connects the world of childhood play and the adult workplace within the context of experiential learning. Experiential tasks build higher-order thought patterns by providing data for knowledge assimilation and the accommodation of cognitive structures.
The Bridge to Belize study abroad program embodies the essential elements necessary for students to have a rich learning experience. The program is a perfect example of experiential learning. Commonly, most college classes task students to work in isolation, often completing assignments that have little relation to their daily lives and pursuing academic disciplines that are ends unto themselves. Most professors only ask their students to regurgitate information from an expensive text instead of making their course alive and rich with experience opportunities. In the Bridge to Belize, novels and academic articles were used as a springboard for learning. Students were asked not only to understand and dissect the reading, but to analyze, reflect, and discuss with teams of classmates. Safe, conversational spaces were created throughout the course where students could benefit enormously. Students were more engaged, became far better prepared, and learned significantly more because they shared not only their ideas, but also listened and connected with others throughout multiple spaces created for reflection. Students were asked to engage through Facebook, Skype, bus rides, and outdoor meeting spaces as a means of conversational safe places where each person had an opportunity to share and feel validated.
Important terms and key concepts were learned through reading, discussion, experiences, observations, and travel. In a traditional class, students read a boring text filled with vocabulary (pertinent concepts and terms necessary to learn the curriculum). Usually, they are then tasked with memorizing the terms in order to answer multiple choice test questions. Unfortunately, a week later, the students will have most likely forgotten the terms entirely because no meaning was ever made with the terms. The students were learning in isolation without the means of experiencing the concepts. They did not have the opportunity to connect the class concepts with real life or to make connections with other subjects or experiences. Dr. James Gee notes that students must first “play the game,” then they can make sense of the vocabulary or concepts associated with the textbook (2007). In order for the students in the Bridge to Belize course to make meaning they had to “play the game.” The group traveled to Belize whereupon they were immersed in the culture and landscape. Activities which showcased the different ecosystems, culture, and history of the country further helped students to experience everything they had read and discussed before leaving for Belize. Afterwards, not only did the students have a thorough understanding of the concepts, but they were able to apply the ideas to their own lives. Learners were able to transfer the interpreted experiences and explanations of other people, including both peers and experts in the field. This social interaction, as well as, mentoring from more advanced learners was important. The debriefing further continued their meaning making. Students were constantly challenged to think and rethink their previous and new beliefs.
Team building was acutely important for students to make meaning of their learning while experiencing Belize. The course required students to work in teams, whereupon they were necessitated to apply their newfound knowledge in learning tasks, which either required students to teach the entire class or to conduct an actual evaluation of the conservation and sustainability of their lodging. These types of student learning teams have proven to be highly effectively. For example, in a study of student learning at Harvard, Richard Light (2001) found specifically that students, who work outside of class in small groups of four to six, even just once a week, benefit enormously. When meetings are organized around discussions of the curriculum, as a result those students are far more engaged, far better prepared, and learn significantly more (Kayes, Kayes, & Kolb, 2005).
The Bridge to Belize course serves as a real-life model of a successful experiential learning course. Not only did it encompass the required elements needed to create a positive learning experience for students, but it further validates that educators need to rethink their lecture formatted courses where a textbook serves as the hallmark of the class. If the goal of a college education is to create well-rounded, open minded critical thinkers who are prepared to work with teams in the workplace, then more experiential learning courses should be constructed.

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