Sunday, December 1, 2013

World AIDS Day - 2013

The following is a posting that I emailed to the MCNY faculty:

As I sit here on December 1, 2013, I think about all the friends, colleagues, students and clients I have lost due to HIV/AIDS and renew my resolution to include HIV/AIDS education in all my classes. This week seems like an appropriate time to do it and I invite all of you to please add content on HIV/AIDS into your classes also. Certainly HIV/AIDS remains relevant to  the lives of our students and to the professional disciplines they are studying at MCNY.

"On December 1, people throughout the world observe World AIDS Day. The theme—"Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation"—highlights the global commitment needed to achieve that goal" ( "UNAIDS reports a 52% reduction in new HIV infections among children and a combined 33% reduction among adults and children since 2001. World closing in on Millennium Development Goal 6, globally the AIDS epidemic has been halted and reversed—race is on to reach universal access to HIV treatment" (

The following are some resources that might help you incorporate HIV/AIDS content into your classes:

     US - (
     UK - World AIDS Day (
     UN - World AIDS Day (
     UNAIDS (
     Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (

After sending out this email, I thought of many more Resources for Teaching about HIV/AIDS and so I created a pinterest board on this topic. I will continue to update these resources and it will replace my World AIDS Day web page. I have also created a public and reusable prezi using infographics from the web.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Using Pinterest for Educational Projects

Pinterest ( is a social networking site through which users share their favorite images of interests, hobbies, and activities.  It is estimated to be the fastest growing and third largest social media site, only behind only Facebook and Twitter, with over 48 million users as of April 2013. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 12% of online adults and nearly a fifth of online women (19%) use Pinterest. 

The user space is the equivalent of virtual bulletin boards, within which one can pin or collate images from all across the Internet. Users can have multiple boards for different topics or themes. Postings are called “pins” and users can either use Pinterest buttons embedded by owners in their web sites or a “Pin It” button in their web browser to create a pin. Each pin includes a caption, a short descriptions of the image, and links back to the site from which it originated. Other users can comment on pins and also repin items to their own boards.

While many hobbyists and retailers use pinterest to collate pictures of projects from the internet, pinterest can be used to support teaching and educational functions. Students can use it to collect resources for a project by pinning them to a board, adding captions and writing comments. These boards can be public or private. For a private board the only person who can see the board is the creator and individuals who are invited. Thus a student could collate a collection of pictures and resources that might only be available to a teacher or other students. Pinterest boards can also be group boards that allow all the members of a group to work together on a board that can either be public or private. Basic directions for setting up a pinterest boards can be found here.

All kinds of student projects can be supported by pinterest. For example, an earth science class might ask students to prepare presentations on different weather phenomenon and each student can create a board for their topic and share it with the class. Current events lend themselves easily to pinterest projects. Student assignments may want to include directions for a certain number of original pins rather than them simply repining from other boards. Students may be required to do in-class or online presentations using their pinterest boards.

In Purpose 5 Systems, MCNY Human Services students are required to develop a website for education, prevention and outreach. The development of a pinterest board can provide a preliminary step to this project and can be developed in an earlier purpose. For example, in Purpose 2 Systems, I  have my students develop and post to moodle fact sheets with internet images and resources based on their readings in Trattner's From Poor Law to Welfare State. This assignment could easily use pinterest boards. Students can provide captions that explain the images used and other class members may be required to comment. For additional ideas you might wish to look at  Using Pinterest in Education.

While learning management systems used in schools may be limited to use by students, faculty and staff, pinterest boards can be shared with others. A Constructive action project might include the development of a a board with community resources that could be linked to an agency's web site.
Faculty can use boards to to collect and share resources with others. For an example of these, check out my boards:

The first board is clearly to collect resources for myself and share with other faculty. I often find myself going to my pinterest board to find to locate a resource. The last three are listed as resources for students on all my moodle shells and the last two boards were in response to students asking me about books to read or films to use in presentations or their agencies.

There are some limitations for using pinterest for projects. For example not all web sources have good quality items that can be pinned. I have sometimes been known to find a picture from one website and use a URL in the caption to go to another site. I often had to do this with the book and film boards since I wanted a picture of the book or film, which did not appear on the page with the review or article about the material. Also pins can not easily be rearranged on a board, so it requires planning and or sometimes removing and repining. Captions are limited to 500 characters so that students have to write clearly and succinctly, but it is significantly more characters than a twitter posting. Students will have to add a "Pin It" button to their web browser or use the "Pin It" app on their phones and tablets. Faculty will need to decide if they want to set up a class account that can have a board for each student or group. Faculty will own these boards, will need to add students as pinners using student email and can delete them these boards. If students are required to have individual accounts they can be asked to add faculty to their boards as editors and a method will need to be devised so that other members of the class can view the boards. If others are required to view the boards online, I suggest using a moodle forum to have students post the links to their project boards. And currently analytics are only available for business accounts.

Pinterest offers a tool for helping students and faculty to collate and share resources from across the web and is only limited by one's imagination. I would love to hear how others are using pinterest in their classes.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Using Blogs to Create Life-Long Learners: Sample Student Blog

I assign blogs in some of my classes, and believe that blogs fill some of the goals of this college's mission of Purpose Centered Education.  Blogging invites students to form their own opinions, reflect on their experiences and the material, and craft responses that are then published in a public forum.  Recent scholarship shows that blogging promotes active learning and accountability.  Ellison and Wu found that students “attend more carefully to online writing opportunities (as opposed to papers submitted to an instructor),” and that they “read these texts [assigned] more carefully when they know their interpretations will be online and therefore accountable to a larger audience.”  In their study, Ellison and Wu identify some of the positive outcomes of student-generated, new media enhanced assignments such as blogs and E-portfolios, including:  increase student engagement, enhance informational technology skills, harness intrinsic student interest and involvement, promote ubiquitous and asynchronistic learning, provide evidence of student progress and teaching effectiveness. 

Scholarship shows that blogs help students become better writers and more invested in their work both inside and outside the classroom.  Further, it has been suggested that writing a blog can become a productive, life-long process, one that helps students to develop a voice as they express issues of concern to them in a public forum.  Some students who are introduced to blogging in my class continue to do it outside of the classroom setting.  One of these student blogs received the attention of the college and eventually local media as he was featured in an ad campaign promoting the college's Purpose-Centered Education model.  Blogs, and social media more generally, can lead to "Education that Works," as they invite students to become citizens who actively participate in a democratic society.  I have written more fully on this here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Go Paperless! Turn your Handouts into PDFs

As we turn increasingly towards online delivery of content, and students and faculty alike become accustomed to reading content on electronic devices, the traditional photocopy may becoming obsolete.  Luckily, our photocopier allows you to turn paper copies into PDF files.  PDF files can then be easily uploaded to Moodle, or sent directly via email to students.  Simply follow these easy steps:
·       Enter security Code
·      Select Tab labeled “Image Send” (located on top of screen)
·       Select Tab labeled “Address Entry” (located on left of screen)
·      Select “Email”
·      Select “To”
·       Type in your full email address and press “OK”
·      Place document to be scanned in the feeder and press the Copy button (the largest button to the right of the numeric keypad)
·      After document feeds, press the “*” (or “Logout”)
·      Go to your email, and the PDF of your file will be there!

The many advantages to this include:  saving time for faculty, decreasing paper waste, allowing student access to materials if they are absent from class, etc.  Of course copywrite laws must be enforced, but for those of us who deliver original contact in class via handouts, this is a great way to deliver that content more efficiently in a media-rich world.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Helping Students "Construct" Their Constructive Action Documents

Approximately two weeks before the end of every semester at Metropolitan College, I see the same long gray lines begin to form. No, these students are not waiting at Student Services counters to re-enroll. These students are merely trying to survive their current semester. 

A "CA Plague" has suddenly descended upon many of them and has afflicted them, as in Biblical land of Egypt. Lambs before the slaughter, like a rows of blanched vegetables ready to be sliced and diced by the Grim CA Professor/Reaper, their drawn faces made colorless by fatigue, their weary bodies made to sit motionless for hours at a time, worried, panicked, they huddle closely together behind MCNY home pages, desperately asking: "What Is A Plan of Action?" "How Many Critical Incidents Do I Need?" "Where Does My Abstract Go?"  "What Goes Into My Table of Content?" What Is A Needs Analysis?" or, most plaintively, "Is My Setting Analysis The Same As My Situation Analysis?"

I have been privileged to teach at Metropolitan College since 2003, and I have seen this phenomenon too often.  It became too painful for me to watch.  I decided to take some constructive action of my own, to alleviate the unnecessary suffering.  My simple remedy: have my students format their CA documents as blank shells first, and then populate each section, one week at a time (their Abstracts, last of all). 

What was also helpful in this process?  With permission, I distributed an example of a beautifully crafted and thoughtful CA from one of their predecessors, who had graduated with honors. My students saw the Gestalt at work: how the whole became greater than the sum of all the parts, and understood the value of the Constructive Action process at firsthand.  Armed with a model to go on, they developed confidence that they, too, could master high-stakes writing.

The result: the melee of desperation and confusion became an elegant ballet.  Once freed from the tyranny of simultaneously formatting AND writing their documents, students were able to focus upon uncovering real needs, and developing real solutions.  Immediately, my students took real ownership of their CA's, and made them living documents.  The documents they created reflected their real interests and the emergent in curriculum, rather than some practiced form or their 'going through "the motions," ' for another semester.

I wanted to share my experiences with my colleagues.  Might this procedure work for you?  I welcome your feedback.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Using Skype to Increase Student-Faculty Interaction

Has this happened to you? You sit in your office for three hours between classes and no one shows up for office hours. Then five minutes before class students show up and want to talk with you about their papers or assignments.

Now it is true that our students lead very busy lives with family, school and work responsibilities. In addition, they are all commuter students so that none of them reside on campus and can simply pop over to our offices.

So how do we increase the opportunities for them to have discussions with faculty. Email offers some opportunity for additional interaction, but email is not a totally adequate solution for holding deep academic discussions. It is possible to have a back and forth discussion, but it is a longer process and is dependent on writing skills. Text might also offer some options, but I don't text. :)

This semester I am offering students the opportunity for online Skype appointments. Skype is a free internet video conferencing service that allows both individual and group web conferencing. It requires all the parties to have a webcam, microphone and internet connection and runs on smart phones, tablets laptops and desktops. I have set up a separate account for my school work and only open it when I am expecting to meet with a student. A premium account is required hold group videoconferencing. And if you are in your pajamas or haven't taken your shower yet, you can turn off the video portion and just talk online. This allows faculty and students to talk without disclosing personal phone numbers.

I have been opening this account during my real life office hours and leave it on in the background. Since my office computer has neither a webcam or and microphone, I use my ipad. 

To increase opportunities for students, I have also been offering them the opportunity to email me so that we can set up a specific time and place for us to have a skype appointment. Again I open my school skype account when I have a scheduled meeting. I am not available 24/7 on skype, but have blocks of time when I am willing to talk with students in addition to my posted office hours. So when they ask if I have office hours on Wednesday, I can say "No, but I can talk with you on Wednesday between 3-5 pm on skype. Would you like to make an appointment?"

So far no students have taken the opportunity. I wonder if anyone else has been using skype to increase their office hours.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Promoting the Democractic Classroom: Having Students Write Their Own Midterm

In class midterms and finals have never been an assumed component of my syllabi.  I have always questioned whether tests allow students to demonstrate integrative knowledge and the ability to apply concepts.  Students can sink their teeth into an experiential fieldtrip or a reflective essay – tests simply measure a student’s ability to regurgitate information.  Furthermore, quantitative assessment of qualitative methodologies seems at odds, almost an oxymoron. 

But this semester I assigned a midterm in a class called “Everyday Life in Urban Settings,” a class that introduces the students to qualitative methodologies and asks them to explore, through experiential field experiences, neighborhoods in the city through the lens of theories about New York City’s changing urban landscape.  In addition to a midterm, students are also asked to keep a weekly blog where they post their responses to the readings and fieldtrips.  For their final, students are asked to create a “walking tour” of their neighborhood, or of the “cultural scene” they have chosen for their Constructive Action class. 

The fact is, students take a test more “seriously” than they do some of the more qualitative methodologies that may better represent course content.  Though the midterm was only worth 20% of their grade, all the students came to class, on time, with the readings and notes from the class semester.  All had prepared.  All stayed and worked for the majority of the 2 and ½ hour class.  What made this test “different” was that I asked students to write the midterm (and post their ideas on a Moodle Forum):  “Imagine you were writing the test for this class.  What questions would you include?”  I explained to the students that the purpose of this was two-fold: 1) it would allow them to review the material, and to identify the most important ideas; and 2) particularly good questions would become part of the midterm.  If they wrote the question, they would know the answer to the question; furthermore, if they read each other’s posts, they could prepare answers ahead of time. 

Almost all of the students posted questions by the Sunday deadline even though the class wasn’t until the following Thursday.  One wrote in all caps:  “PAY ATTENTION CLASSMATES!” as her forum post title.  She introduced her questions with an excellent reminder:  she hoped the test would be more an “overview”, a best hits of sorts, than a “boring midterm.”  Many of her questions, as well as those of others, ended up on the midterm.  The questions overall showed innovation as well as knowledge of the major concepts we had covered.  Before handing out the test, I congratulated them on the questions they came up with.  They said they really enjoyed the process, and that all tests should be like this.  It allowed them to study and reflect, to contribute to the assessment tool in real ways.  They were excited to see their questions on the test, empowering the students and helping put them in charge of their own learning. 

This represents the notion of a “democratic classroom” where “classroom engagement techniques are designed to help students take personal responsibility for their learning appreciate the value of participating in the life of a community, while also developing a sense of self-confidence, empowerment, and efficacy” (Spiezio in Jacob, Civic Engagement in Higher Education, 91)  Asking the students to write questions for the midterm provided them “with authentic opportunities to participate collectively in decision-making processes relating to the administration of a course, including syllabus construction, assessment procedures, and the specification of classroom protocols that both students and faculty are expected to observe (Spiezio, 90).  According to Spiezio, the democratic classroom is a central feature of the democratic academy.  (For more on the democratic classroom, see Kim Zpiezio, “Engaging General Education” in Barbara Jacobi’s Civic Engagement in Higher Education (2009)).

Because students were part of the test-making process, they had a higher investment in the course material.  They knew what to expect.  There were no major “surprises.”  And in my eyes, students had already passed, as they took the time to review the material and apply their inductive reasoning skills to identify the main points of the semester overall.  If in class midterms and tests do make it into my syallbi in the future, so will this democratic test-writing activity.

The students, overall, did well on the midterm.  (Interestingly, the students who posted the most thorough questions on the Moodle forum also earned the highest grades on the midterm.)  When I handed back the midterm, I asked students to reflect on the process.  They said many things that surprised me.  They said they still had to work and prepare, but that they knew what to expect, and that this helped alleviate test-taking anxieties.  They helped each other:  If one student posted a question that another did not know the answer to, they could get the answer ahead of time; in this way, the midterm promoted collaboration and students as “information sources”.  Students actually enjoyed the midterm (yes, you read that right!) because they felt they were part of the process.  I invite you to try this technique with your next midterm or quiz, and post your (and your students’) experiences with this process here.

MUST READ: MCNY Library Acquires Civic Engagement & Higher Educatioon

Jacoby, Barbara & Associates. Civic Engagement in Higher Education. Jossey-Bass, 2009

This collection of essays focuses on the increased role that civic engagement takes in modern colleges/universities.  The authors spend considerable effort proving how new models of education are necessary to prepare students for the new demands of the 21st century, such as interdisciplinary approaches, integration between classes, and connection between the real world and the classroom.  Many of these ideas have been forwarded by Purpose Centered Education for decades.  

That said, it is important to understand and contextualize that advancements being made in higher education to promote civic engagement are not counter to what is being done here at MCNY.  Instead, this volume will help place our college’s unique approach to education in the context of a larger conversation. Lionizing one approach while vilifying another serves no one; I believe the purpose should be quite simple: create better classes, empower students to make changes in their lives and communities, and engage them to become better students and citizens.  We are not alone in this mission.  We can maintain Purpose Centered Education while educating ourselves about the innovative pedagogy occurring across the country.

This brief overview cuts to some of the highlights of the text.  The Introduction (Chapter 1) provides excellent overview, history of service learning/civic engagement in higher education, as well as substantial resources. (This chapter can be found online, and the full text is now available in the MCNY library)  

Points of interest, particularly for our emerging “First Year Experience” program, include the descriptions of innovative first year programming at colleges in “Civic Engagement in the First College Year” by Mary Stuart Hunter and Blaire L. Moody, especially pages 74-78,   The “Chapter on Engaging General Education” provides illuminating descriptions and applications of the “Democratic Academy” – “premised on a theory of civic education that can be combined with service-learning and other pedagogies of engagement to support an evolutionary process of character and education” (Spiezio, 85) -- which represents quite closely the goals of MCNY’s Purpose Centered Education.  This chapter includes both practical steps and an empirical case study.  In “Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility,” the authors show how three intersecting education reform movements have laid the groundwork for the exponential growth of programs geared towards civic engagement:  U.S. diversity, global learning, and civic engagement.

“Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility” provides perhaps the most compelling evidence that Audrey Cohen’s model of education has in fact become a major component of higher education in the 21st century, though no one in the literature credits her for such.  (Do a quick database search on one of the major academic databases for “Purpose Centered Education” and then “Service Learning.”  You’ll see what I mean.)  This chapter outlines the work Part of AAC&U’s 5-year initiative, “Greater Expectations:  Goals for Learning as a Nation Goes to College”, a working group whose task was to identify possible “arc” from elementary to college of cumulative civic learning.  Their findings were published in Purposeful Pathways:  Helping Students Achieve Key Learning Outcomes.  The article shows how the working group developed a “new model of civic learning that could be applied from elementary school through college and, in the process, establish the habit of lifelong engagement as an empowered, informed, and socially responsible citizen” (Musil [in Jacoby], 59).  The “six elements (or “braids”)” of Civic Learning Spiral bear a striking resemblance to Cohen’s 5 Dimensions:  1) Self; 2) Communication & cultures; 3) Knowledge; 4) Skills; 5) Values; and 6) Public Action.  Though Cohen is not credited in such models, we can instantly recognize the connection between the six braids and the 5 dimensions in Purpose Centered Education.

Jacoby is one of the leading scholars on the progress classroom, and her collection represents the best of the best of educators doing work that would make Audrey Cohen proud.  As we move forward, I think the greatest tribute we can make to Cohen and her innovative approach to education is to let it live, and I think part of that life depends on understanding the many intersections between Purpose Centered Education and other models of education.  I invite you to peruse the offerings in Civic Engagement and Higher Education.  I think you will be as blown away as I am.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Helping Students Evaluate Internet Materials

Many students now use the internet to find materials for their papers, which would be fine if they used valid, reliable sources. Despite me explaining to students the difference between peer-reviewed journal articles and everything else, and a very explicit, written policy on my syllabus about using Wikipedia, they continue to use any old thing they find including Wikipedia. In fact studies have found that students use the first things they find, rather than assess their quality. In Spring 2012, I added to my HS5 Systems course a unit on “Evaluating Web Resources” since they have to use material to create their own web page.

These new resources included:
Student response to these resources were so positive that I added them to the CA8 Moodle shell in the Spring 2012 and they appeared on all my course shells beginning with the Fall 2012.

In HS5 Systems course one of the questions on their assignment asks them to explain how they evaluated the sources they included on their web page. This question might be included in other course assignments to encourage students to evaluate the web resources they use.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing Relief Blog

“Business as usual” after Hurricane Sandy quickly became an oxymoron.  Campus was closed; Moodle was down.  Entire communities:  gone.  Neighborhoods ravished.  There was need everywhere.  I, like many others, volunteered.  The tasks were overwhelming.  But I knew I could not continue on with the semester without acknowledging, and attempting to do something about, the many communities that were ravished. 
I "did something" both in my own practice and in my classes.  I designed a creative writing assignment to help make up some missed class time, an assignment I used in three of my classes.  I assigned my Creative Writing class to do Hurricane Relief work, and asked students to reflect on their experiences on a public blog.  They could have posted the assignment in Moodle, but I was hoping to create a resource that could extend outside of our classroom walls. 
To help achive this goal, I created a Tumblr Blog which allows outsiders to post without requiring them to have an account.  As the semester progressed, I asked those Creative Writing students to create lesson plans, using the power of writing and the arts more broadly to help facilitate service learning to affected communities.  I shared the blog and resources with faculty, encouraging them to use any of the material, and inviting them to share their lesson plans, make up classes, writings, etc.  I offered the blog as a space for their students to post, too, and as possible resource of makeup work needed due to college closure.
The site never went viral.  But the students created some stellar work.  Furthermore, students told me that publishing their writing in a public forum felt like it had higher stakes.  They knew the world was looking, not just me.

Update (2/13).  I have decided to extend the concept of the Hurricane Sandy Relief blog to Creative Writing Relief more generally, and to continue the use of that blog to archive exceptional student work, as well as to provide a space for students and faculty alike to think and write about Service Learning.  I am thinking about a few things:  how can technology promote service learning?   And how can we teach the use of social media to bring about social change?  Can you be a change agent through technology, or does activism still require face to face collaborations?  What would an all "E-learning" (including M-Learning and U-Learning) "internship" look like?  As the focus of the blog has changed slightly, so has the title and the text.  What you see in the link above is the result of this new shift  I invite comments and suggestions.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Free Online Texts with Boundless

For the Spring semester, I worked with Boundless ( to create a FREE, online text for the HS6 Systems "Social, Political & Economic Dimensions of Community" course. This course currently uses three text books, two online and one paperbound. One of the online texts had been a free open source text from Flatworld Knowledge, for which they are now charging $19.99 or $34.99, depending on the package of tools the student purchases. I am not sure how students who receive book vouchers can purchase these resources.

Boundless uses open source material (including wikipedia) which it curates using experts (many of whom are graduate and doctoral students) to ensure the accuracy of the content. Usually a student goes to them, tells them the text assigned by the faculty and receives a customized boundless book that covers the same content. Many standardized texts are in their system. In this case, I went to boundless with the three texts for this course and the course outline. With a staff person from boundless, I looked through their content in political science, sociology and economics and indicated the text that I needed and they placed it in a easily accessible online packet, that matches the course outline, for the students. If you want to look at it go to: You will have to set up a free account. Students will also be able to highlight, take notes, create study guides.

While it currently is designed to work only online, I have discovered that on a mac I can print to pdf to get pages in printed form. I have also recommended to boundless staff that they develop a means of downloading so that students can read when offline. Some of the student tools can be mailed to them as pdf files.

Some more traditional courses may be able to use Boundless content out of the box. You can check out the subjects and content available on the educators page:

Now I have to go and update the syllabus and the moodle shell for Monday's class.

I will be soliciting feedback from students throughout the semester about their use of this tool and would like to hear from others about their experience with this tool.

(Please note, this content was previously sent as an email to faculty and administrators on 1/5/13)