"our mission is to promote positive and successful working collaborations among students, staff and faculty"
Current and Interesting
-When Ideas Collide, Don't Duck
"Conflict shouldn't be taboo." says Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twiliom, a cloud communications company, in a recent NYTImes Corner Office interview. Early in his career as the leader of a fast-paced start-up company he noticed that it was hard to address things head-on. He and his coworkers would tend to set the issue aside and say "Let's get back to work and go. That didn't serve us well." At his current company he sees "resolving conflict as one of the key things companies do..." as a way to manage the many ideas that people have about how to proceed.
The Graduate and Professional Student Association (GAPSA) invited post-graduate students to nominate their outstanding adviser; five winners were chosen from among the nominees. The award recognizes the critical contributions made by an adviser to their student's success, and were presented at the November 4 President's Reception. Co-sponsored by Provost Karen Hanson, Dean of Graduate Education Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, and Jan Morse, Director, Student Conflict Resolution Center.
Do manners matter? Is there a correlation between kind behavior and successful completion of tasks ? Charles Duhigg, in his book “The Power of Habit” describes an experiment at the University of Albany. Student participants were asked to sit in a room with a plate of cookies. The first group was told that their willpower was being studied and were kindly asked to refrain from helping themselves to the cookies. They were also thanked and asked for their input on the experience. The other half of the group, however, was given only a rude order not to touch the cookies. In each case, the staff person left the room for five minutes. No students gave in to temptation.
Then things really got interesting. Following the “willpower” exercise students took a simple computer-based test. The results showed that those who had been treated kindly did well on the test. Those who had been treated rudely, however, did terribly -- they said they were tired and couldn’t focus.
The study shows that students (or employees) respond well to positive behavior. Giving people a sense of agency can significantly increase their energy and focus, and thereby improve their performance. How can this idea be used in our classrooms and the university community? Duhigg argues that making a habit of providing a positive and supportive environment increases peoples’ capacity to be successful.
End of Genius
Author Joshua Wolf Shenk disputes the common conception of the lone genius as the primary generator of creativity in a recent New York Times opinion article. Shenk points to a growing body of social psychology and social neuroscience research showing that individual agency is less important than interpersonal exchange. Shenk’s own study of pairs has led him to conclude that pairs are the primary creative unit.
Other research supports Shenk’s conclusion. While groups can create a sense of community, purpose and audience, sociologist Michael Farrell has found that social and artistic movements often resulted from the creative output of pairs. For example, the French Impressionist movement was largely started by the joint efforts of Monet and Renoir; the Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton partnership drove the American Suffragist movement.
Shenk contends that the creative process is generated by dialectical exchange between two entities, two cultures or two people. We are more likely to interact in a pair more openly and deeply than in a group. The pair is inherently fluid and flexible. Nobody can hide in a pair. Interestingly, Shenk notes that when partners experience interpersonal conflict, their differences may actually generate innovation.
Life is Like Soccer
In a recent NYTimes Op-Ed, columnist David Brooks says that most of us live our lives thinking that we are playing baseball when we are really playing soccer. Baseball games are won when players excel at individual activities such as pitching a strike or hitting a home run. Soccer games are won when players use the field and the positions of other players to best advantage.
Contrary to the common belief that we individually choose our views, career path and friends, Brooks posits that our choices are very much influenced by the people in our networks. For example, we absorb ideas and behaviors from each other the same way we catch a cold. Moreover, research shows that our job opportunities and capacity for innovation depend on the structure and size of our social networks. Research also shows that our behavior and conceptions of ourselves are shaped by the people around us. From this, Brooks concludes that "awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom.... Genius is in practice perceiving more than conscious reasoning."
A Positive Frame for Post-Tenure Review
Post-tenure review can be framed as a process of discussion and reflection among peers. Viewed through this lens, post-tenure review enriches faculty by encouraging ongoing professional development. At Westmont College, the review process builds connections and camaraderie among faculty. "All of us like to learn how to enrich what we do and we like having affirmation about what's going well" and like finding strategies to address what's not going so well. In contrast, Ball State and Suffolk Universities recently announced post-tenure review processes that identify unsatisfactory faculty performance and can lead to termination. Framed this way, post-tenure review stimulates controversy, rather than comraderie.
Connect with Your Learners
Mary Poppins was right -- a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. Rebecca Shuman, author of a recent article in 'Slate', suggests that faculty can learn from physicians about the importance of a good 'bedside', or in the classroom, 'deskside' manner. Shuman suggests that the positive health outcomes from improved physician/patient social interactions found in 13 recent clinical trials are applicable to teacher/student relationships.
Faculty can learn how to effectively connect with their students to engage them in the challenging and difficult work in their courses. Making eye contact, mingling during class, and welcoming students at office hours can shift the dynamic from anonymous adversaries to shared enterprise.
As Universities increasingly rely on adjunct and contract faculty to fulfill teaching missions, they confront challenges to their academic cultures. Adjunt faculty are generally paid lower salaries and have lesser governance rights than their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. At George Washington University the Board is facing into these challenges. They are asking whether there are bullying behaviors toward adjunct faculty that need correction. The Board is also exploring how academic frreedom rights and governance responsibilities could appropriately be extended to adjunct faculty. More information on the following insidehighered.com article here.
To Tell or Not to Tell?
You've made the decision to leave a toxic work environment or perhaps an abusive advising relationship. Should you tell someone why you are leaving? A recent - anonymous - article in the Chronicle of Higher Education asks this question. The author, "Female Science Professor," says that while it's tempting to just leave quietly, speaking up might help others who remain in the organization. Making others aware of the problem creates an opening to develop a plan to address problematic behavior, enlist the help of supportive administrators, and that "perhaps by revealing that reality, the place will change for the better."
Employee Engagement - Why Does It Matter?
Some clues to this question may be found in the 2012 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, which surveyed 32,000 employees across 30 countries. It concluded that the main factor in driving employee engagement and performance is "a work environment that fully energizes employees by promoting their physical, emotional and social well-being". Dramatic performance differences, by a margin of nearly three to one, distinguish companies with the most engaged employees and those with the least engaged employees. Stay tuned for the results of the latest UM employee engagement survey and what they might mean for our community.
Think you know the best methods for reducing cheating? Rather than changing classroom practices and techniques, the best solutions may require changes in the course design, according to a new Harvard University Press book by Professor James M. Lang, “Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty.” “If you force all students to jump through the same six hoops, you are sending the message that what matters are the hoops, not the learning.” says Lang in a recent Inside Higher Ed article. Intrinsic motivation is the most important factor in facilitating learning and reducing academic dishonesty. Building courses around problems, questions, and challenges rather than "covering content" are ways to engage students so they cheat less - and learn more.
Academic freedom, first amendment free speech rights and civil, respectful discourse are all core values in the academy. These can be prickly bedfellows. At the University of Oregon, administration’s attempts to rein in harsh discourse are generating competing proposals on academic freedom and civility. All agree that academic freedom protects statements in the context of teaching and research - but does academic freedom extend to statements critical of the administration? The challenge to recently unionized faculty and to the administration is to develop a contract that recognizes the importance of academic freedom as well as the value civility brings to the success of the institution.
Innovations take hold through a social process, writes Atul Gawande in a recent New Yorker article. "In our era of electronic communications, we've come to expect that important innovations will spread quickly". However, it takes effort to change established practices and usual behaviors. That effort can be assisted by knowledgeable 'early adopters' of innovation through conversation, encouragement, and positive social interaction.
The role of change agent can be played by a trusted coworker, mentor, or organizational leader - someone who is able to help us see the alternative solution and its advantages. We become 'part of the change' when we are motivated to make the change and have the confidence to do so.
Encouraging people to voice their concerns is a key value of healthy organizations. Over 50 years ago, economist Albert Hirschman theorized that people have two strategies for dealing with serious organizational problems —“exit” and “voice”. “Exit” is voting with your feet and taking your skills and energy elsewhere. “Voice” is staying put and speaking up for reform.
Hirschman, a contemporary of Milton Friedman, critiqued Friedman's bias for "exit" over "voice". Hirschman argued that ‘exit’ is passive and leaves the underperforming organization in place, whereas ‘voice’ is active and can stimulate creative responses in organizations. See Malcolm Gladwell's article “The gift of Doubt: Albert O. Hirschman and the power of failure” in The New Yorker, June 24, 2013.
Minding Your Online Manners
Want your students to "respectfully disagree" on Moodle forums or online course posts? Instructor Brian Goedde, in a recent Chronicle article, gives high marks to students in his online Composition class who support their arguments with evidence...and skip the snarky comments. Goedde's students realize fast that respectful disagreement - instead of dismissing views different from their own - helps make their argument more informed and convincing.
While strongly expressed differences of opinion can be a "teaching moment' in the classroom, it can also be disruptive and toxic. With online students, however, the grade depends on quality and tone of written interaction, and students learn to work respectfully with each other online, building stronger sense of professionalism. Want to learn more? A Course in Online Civility offers a case in point of creating a positive learning environment online.
The 'feedback sandwich' may be giving workers a bit of indigestion, and may not be as effective as you think, according to some research reported in a recent NYTimes article. The common wisdom has been to begin and end feedback to employees with positive observations, sandwiching the negative comments in the middle.
Tim Harford, author of "Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure," takes issue with this. His research finds that labeling feedback as positive or negative is not useful. When the feedback sandwich is used, people often hear only the praise. Co-author Ayelet Fishbach, a professor at the University of Chicago, notes that expert employees value direct negative feedback as a way to improve. Negative feedback should be offered in clear manner that allows for creativity to flourish.
One method to do this constructively is "plussing"—using words like "and" or "what if" instead of "but" when offering criticisms. For example, you might try saying "I really like ____, and what if ____?" Ultimately, this method can be effective in making somebody's work better, not just to making them feel better.
"What you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know" says Tony Wagner, a Harvard educational specialist interviewed in a recent NYTimes column by Thomas Friedman. With facts at everyone's fingertips, employers are more often looking for applicants who are curious, persistent, and willing to take risks. Students still need basic knowledge, of course, but shift the focus from 'teach and test' to learning concepts and creativity. Teaching students to be motivated life-long learners of skills that promote innovation -- critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration -- is a better strategy. Want to learn more? The Hewlett Foundation is a resource on teaching Deeper Learning, as is EdLeader2.
Try a Little Tenderness
Want to spend less time 'policing and punishing' your students and more time helping them engage with course material? Prof. Jonathan Sterne of McGill University suggests a different approach in the Chronicle of Higher Educations.
Rather than prohibiting the use of any materials during tests, Prof. Sterne invites his students to write anything they wish on a single sheet of paper. Students can use these notes during the exam, then turn in the notes along with their test.
He also designs multiple choice exams that measure comprehension rather than recognition and he enlists students to help with writing exam questions. These methods help students understand, synthesize, and retain the material they are learning, all things that lead to a more satisfying and effective experience for faculty and students.
Give your colleagues a break
Do you get irritated when your colleagues don't work at the same non-stop multi-taskinging pace you do? Surprisingly, workers who know how to take breaks and 'unplug' are often more productive than those who are connected 24/7. Multidisciplinary research is showing that human beings are not designed to expend energy continuously. Strategic renewal of energy-- naps, lunch away from your desk, exercise, sleep time, and regular vacations--boosts job performance, productivity and health. If the prevailing work ethic recognized this, there might be more harmony, as well as productivity, in the workplace.
-NY Times, Feb 10, 2013, Sunday Review section
Bad Apples in the Laboratory
What kinds of bad apple behavior are the biggest problems for a group trying to complete a task? Listen to Will Felps, a professor at the Rotterdam School of Business talk about his research with Ira Glass on This American Life.
"Minnesota Nice" makes for successful communities. "Civic Life in America," a study of over 80,000 Americans, found that Minnesotans benefitted from residents working better together. Besides having the top rates of volunteerism and civic engagement, there is a sense that "we're all in this together" reports Mark Snyder, UM Psychology professor. Building a strong community means that when we need help, it's available....and that's a nice feeling.
"The Heart Grows Smarter"
What makes for a successful life -- social class, good genes, birth order? According to the Grant Study, highlighted in David Brooks' NYT column on 11/6/12, none of these variables were able to explain the success of the men whose lives were studied for over 70 years.
What did matter was the capacity for close personal relationships. This capacity for intimacy was a powerful predictor of a flourishing life. Another finding is that men changed over their life span in their capacity for close relationships. Brooks notes that this improvement in emotional intelligence among men over the decades "...might be one of the greatest contributors to progress and well-being that we've experienced in our lifetime".
Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn
We’re taught as children to work individually and to focus, but brain science shows that the brain is simply unable to pay attention. It chatters to itself 80% of the time. Because the brain is the ultimate multi-tasker, its attention is selective and it misses things. This is the basis for Cathy Davidson’s call for “collaboration by difference.” The potential for stumbling onto creative discoveries is increased when people are not trying to focus on the same goal, since each of us will attend to different things. Collaboration is a key to creative discoveries.
Former provost at Duke Cathy Davidson was interviewed on “To the Best of Our Knowledge” on October 14, 2012. She is leading the movement to use technological and scientific innovations to reform education for the 21st century.
Check out the non-profit Hastac.org for ideas about collaboration and educational reform.
Restauranteurs Can Teach us a Thing or Two
"Good ideas take an appallingly long time to trickle down" says Atul Gawande in the August 13/20 issue of The New Yorker magazine. He argues that the practice of medicine would be more efficient, less costly and of higher quality--if it were to operate like a Cheesecake Factory restaurant. The Cheesecake Factory analogy can be also be applied to delivery of higher education. Gawande finds promise in a collaborative and supportive environment where leaders model and reinforce best practices -- greater standardization, centralized oversight, remote and virtual technology to bridge geographical distance and ongoing retraining. And he suggests ways to strategically disseminate good ideas to gain support from the reluctant.
"Why We Help"
In a July 2012 Scientific American article, "Why We Help," Martin Nowak, author and professor of Biology and Mathematics at Harvard University, suggests that when a group of people are faced with a common problem or task, there are five mechanisms that can help the group move from competitive individuals to cooperative allies. His research has found that when group members are given authoritative information about the scope and nature of the problem, they are more persuaded of the importance of cooperation to achieve optimal results. People also act in a more generous manner when their contributions are made publicly and noted by others.
"The July Effect"
New evidence supports the reality of a “July Effect” when newly minted M.D.s begin their training as residents. Two recent articles cited in a NY Times blog describe the uptick of medical errors as first year residents learn how to care for patients. “Learning means making mistakes” says author Teresa Brown. She relates an incident in which she had to go over a first-year resident’s head when he denied her request to increase pain medication for a dying patient. Her recommendation as an experienced oncology nurse is for more collaboration among staff as respectful allies, recognizing the shared responsibility of all for proper and compassionate treatment of patients.
UMN Launches New Academic Civility Website
With the efforts of The Student Conflict Resolution Center and Office for Conflict Resolution, a new website focusing on civility and the University of Minnesota was launched. Content of the website aggregates media and materials addressing civility on campus as well as solutions and tools for everyone in the campus community to work better together.
Don't be a Bad Apple, Take the Good Apple Pledge!
Think you're a Bad Apple*, don't fret and take the good apple quiz to check and see. Then take the Good Apple* Pledge on the upcoming Civility website called "Working Better Together."