Author Archives: Leah Schanke

Posts: 11 (archived below)
Comments: 12

Post from Elisabeth Gareis: Benchmark-Milestone-Capstone

The following is a post from Elisabeth Gareis, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies at Baruch College. She can be reached at

Critical Thinking-Benchmark Level 1: “Specific position is stated, but is simplistic and obvious.”

Critical Thinking-Capstone Level 4: “Specific position is imaginative, taking into account the complexities of an issue. Limits of position are acknowledged. Others’ points of view are synthesized within position.”

These quotes are the AACU Critical Thinking VALUE Rubric, one of 15 AACU rubrics, designed to measure learning outcomes in higher education ( I recently participated in calibration scoring of three rubrics. The assignment was to score nine student essays, about three pages each. The allotted time for the nine samples was 4 hours.

The essays in the Level 3-4 range were all excellent. I have to admit that most of my students couldn’t compete. A current student, for example (let’s call him Joaquin) submitted a paper last week that was so elementary, it would have received zeros or ones on the critical-thinking as well as other rubrics (including written communication). Turns out the student arrived in the United States from Latin America at age 12 and, according to him, ³never really learned how to write.²

Scoring the rubrics reminded me of the results of a study on learning outcomes in higher education. The study ( showed that more than a third of students in the United States show no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and communication skills-even after four years of college.

I know we could help students like Joaquin, but would need time. Time to diagnose, work with him on multiple drafts, and provide individualized feedback. Standardized rubrics could help students and instructors keep the eye on the prize. At 28 students per class and as many as four classes per semester, however, the 27-minute allotment of the AACU for one paper would amount to more than 50 hours of reading and scoring alone. And that’s just the first draft of the paper.

To be effective, I believe this level of diligence is required. But the current course load conditions at the College make it impossible to do justice to it all: our students, scholarship, and service. The faculty at Baruch is exceptionally devoted. With decent workloads, we could make a true difference in our students’ lives . . . and raise Baruch’s national ranking in the process.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Announcement: Formation of Faculty Inquiry Group on Teaching Professional Writing

Faculty members interested in teaching different approaches to professional and workplace writing are invited to a meeting at the CUNY Graduate Center to establish a cross-disciplinary, cross-campus forum or “faculty inquiry group” focused on the unique challenges and opportunities of this effort.

DATE: Friday, April 23, 2010
TIME: 12-30 pm – 2:30 pm (Lunch will be served)
LOCATION: CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
219 West 40th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
Room 301

While there is ample evidence that students struggle with writing academic papers, many of us are also keenly aware of the special demands posed by workplace writing. Being able to complete workplace or professional documents usually requires knowledge of specific narrative conventions, formatting rules, and reasoning sequences-often taken-for-granted in various fields. In order to enter this very competitive job market, our new graduates are expected to hit the ground running and be competent in these writing styles. Emerging work on pedagogies of professional writing is laying some of the groundwork for addressing this gap in academic and career preparation. We hope that by bringing together faculty from a range of professional and academic fields, we can create a collaborative forum for sharing teaching approaches and piloting and identifying best practices to help students master these critical skills.

This effort is being led by Bonnie Oglensky, Associate Professor in the Social Work Program at York College. She has collaborated with colleagues on an approach to psychosocial assessment writing in social work called “Writing in the Field.” If you have questions about the upcoming meeting and the creation of this forum Bonnie can be reached by phone, 718-262-2612, or email:

Posted in Analytical Skills, Communication Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities | Comments Off on Announcement: Formation of Faculty Inquiry Group on Teaching Professional Writing

Guest Post: To Teach Or To Grade That Is The Question

The following is a guest post from Arthur Lewin, Associate Professor, Department of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College. He can be reached at

What does pedagogy and mathematical physics have in common? The Uncertainty Principle. Physics informs us it is impossible to accurately determine both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle. One can know its position, or its momentum, but never both.

Similarly, to the extent that we try to precisely measure “where each student stands” vis-à-vis the others in the class, we inhibit and retard the overall learning process. But to the extent that we focus on the overall learning of the group, the precise measurement of grades is neglected. A Hobbesian choice. But choose we must.

The American educational system, overall, seems to have chosen measurement over education of the group. For example, years ago prep courses for the SAT and grad school admission tests were optional, now they are almost mandatory. Since almost everyone is taking them, those who do not are at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, companies that make the tests, aware that virtually every one has been coached, make the tests ever more convoluted and abstruse, which only spurs students to spend more and more time in test preparation.

So, to teach or to grade, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to err on the side of individual measurement or overall education of the group, for we simply cannot do both equally well, no matter how hard we try to.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Guest Post: Why Not Tell Them about Grad School?

The following is a guest post from Arthur Lewin, Associate Professor, Department of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College. He can be reached at

We all have been there, and we would all like our students to go. Most, however, know next to nothing about graduate school since they are quite often the first in their families to go to college.

Why not set up a panel discussion in which five or six students each research, and make 5 to 7 minute presentations, in a “How 2 Go 2 Grad School” session on such topics as: the application process, cost and financing, entrance exams, and the years of school and average income for a variety of professions. Alternately, you could have each student on the panel present the application process, cost and financing, and the entrance exam, for say the MBA, JD, PhD and Masters degree. Or you might invite a Baruch alum, who is a professional, come and address your students about their particular profession and how to follow in their footsteps.

In all cases, however, after the panel presents or the visitor speaks, they would then field questions from the class. And the professional visitor might come to the class and witness the panel presentation and discussion and then chime in with their own insights.

Which students would you select? Ask for volunteers. Students deeply interested in grad school, especially those already researching the application process, will likely come forward. In fact, if your class requirements already include group projects, why not make this an option? You’ll be surprised at how little students know about graduate school or even choosing a profession. And you’ll be gratified at how much they learn about both.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Guest Post: Why Not Tap into Our Greatest Asset?

The following is a guest post from Arthur Lewin, Associate Professor, Department of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College. He can be reached at

Why not tap into our great strength and distinction, our diversity? From 2001 to 2009 Baruch College has been ranked number one in the nation, in terms of student body diversity, by U.S. News and World Report. Early in each semester why not schedule a Cultural Exchange Day? I have, and it has proved quite a learning tool. . .

For Cultural Exchange Day each student is asked to bring in at least one item, of any kind, that represents their nation of origin, religion, ethnic group or any other aspect of what they consider to be their culture. During the session each student is required to talk with at least a dozen of their fellow students carefully making note of each other’s (1) name (2) culture (3) item that they brought to class and (4) its significance. (Stack up some of the chairs, and rearrange the others, to provide room to walk around.)

I have found that oftentimes students, who normally do not talk at all, become the center of attention as they briskly discuss, display and explain a wide array of fascinating artifacts from dozens of countries around the world. Some even come dressed in their traditional garb. Knots will periodically form and disperse around elaborate, or particularly intriguing, items and their presenters. This exercise is not just an ice breaker, but also an eye opener to the richly varied ways humanity has adapted, survived and thrived in every corner of the globe.

Cultural Exchange Day can be held in any course. If you like a focused approach, require that the items brought in be relevant to the subject matter of the course be it music, history, religion, business, or whatever. With this approach, in particular, observations made during Cultural Exchange Day tend to resonate later in the term. Since cultural diversity is our great strength and truly unique distinction, why not tap into it in this and in other ways?

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Guest Post: Orpheus in the Businessworld ossia Thinking Outside the Box

The following is a guest post from Dennis Slavin, Associate Provost for Faculty Development at Baruch College. He can be reached at

About ten years ago the (then) executive director of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Harvey Seifter, approached me with a novel idea: a residency for Orpheus at Baruch College. Those of you who know about the longtime residency here of the Alexander String Quartet might question the novelty, but this was a different concept. Instead of bringing music to arts and science classes and demonstrating links-to classical or romantic styles, or to narrative techniques or mathematical relationships etc.-the idea was to have business students sit in on an actual Orpheus rehearsal.

If you don’t know Orpheus, my point is obscure. Orpheus is an orchestra that functions (wonderfully) without a conductor. The idea was (and still is) to demonstrate the actual working of a “flat management system” in real time. There’s nothing staged: these are real rehearsals for upcoming performances. Sitting in on these sessions, we heard many serious discussions about significant matters of interpretation; there were lots of conflicts, lots of resolutions, and lots of lessons to be learned by our MBA students.

Ten years on, Orpheus continues to be in residence with our MBA program and honors undergraduates. I haven’t been involved in years, but the Zicklin School keeps asking them back.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What Will You Do Differently?

One of the things I do at the end of my training classes is hand out a post assessment. Instead of asking what faculty and staff participants think of me as an instructor, I ask what they feel they are taking away with them as a result of attending the class. The goal is to measure learning, not my level of popularity (participants can and still do tell me what they think of my teaching). You may know that I am a fan of Stephen Brookfield, and my post-assessment form is based upon a chapter in his book, The Skillful Teacher, on improving lectures. I would like to apply this to our Teaching Blog. Please comment with your response to one or more of the following questions:

What point(s) made in any of the posts or comments thus far stand(s) out most to you?

What do you know now that you did not know before?

What will you do differently now as a result of participating in the Teaching Blog? (I am defining “participating” broadly – reading, commenting on, or writing posts.)

What issues have been raised that need further discussion or most need addressing by the College?

Posted in Students' Skills and Abilities, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Usefulness of Tests

When the idea for a general teaching blog was first formed, David Birdsell, Dean of the School of Public Affairs here at Baruch College, made a great suggestion – writing posts on the face-to-face faculty development events such as our Master Teacher Series. Last week, Edward L. Deci, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and founder of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), conducted a session for the Master Teacher Series entitled, “Motivation for Teaching and Learning at the College Level:Facilitating Autonomous Motivation.”

While Edward Deci’s presentation was geared towards college teaching, he stated how motivation is very broadly relevant, for example, in parenting, sports, etc. He talked about the three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competency, and relatedness) and their importance in extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. For this post, I will focus a only a small portion of his thought-provoking presentation – the usefulness of tests.

I liked what he said about the usefulness of tests. He explained that tests can be useful when we focus on the “primary function… to assess whether students have learned and can perform.” Therefore, “tests can provide meaningful feedback to students, teachers, and administrators.” One key point was to “minimize rigidity” in testing, for example, having students grade their own quizzes for feedback on how well they are learning the course material. He emphasized the importance of being respectful and responsive to students and to provide a choice whenever possible.

I have discussed with students how well the class is doing as a group on the tests and even changed the format of the final exam based upon those discussions. For example, in one class, I noticed that my students performed best on short essay questions in my assessing their knowledge and understanding of the course material. We came to an agreement that the final exam would be all short essay questions – students had to choose 20 out of 30 short essay questions to answer. I felt the outcome from this change was a better measure of what students had learned.

This leads me to ask:

Are you open to renegotiating the learning contract (the syllabus if we’re focusing on the explicit part) with your students?

What other adjustments have you made in your courses based upon students’ input in order to enhance learning and assessment?

Posted in Assessing Learning, Grading, Syllabi | 3 Comments

Increasing Student Participation – the Response Sheet

For those of us who were painfully shy as children – “painful” really is the right word – we recall our teachers telling us that we must participate in class discussions. I still have my high school report cards – the most frequent comment is “needs to participate more.” I remember even being very shy around my parents. When I wanted to tell them something really important, I wrote them a note. Some of us are just more comfortable writing than speaking.

Students’ speaking in class is highly valued and rightly so. Those of us who practice student-centered instruction don’t want to be the only one speaking during the class session. We also don’t want only a handful of our students participating in discussions. Therefore, I appreciated when Mel Silberman, author of several books on active training, conducted a session at the Baruch College Faculty Orientation in August in which he offered some tips on how to increase participation – tips included “pre-discussion” and students’ calling on the next speaker. And I have to say his methods worked; he increased participation in the session. My concern is the narrow focus on speaking without giving students an alternative to expressing themselves. An alternative that may embolden students to speak in class later in the course or down the road in other courses.

When I first started teaching, I was particularly sensitive to students who are not comfortable speaking in class regardless of the reason. I wanted to give students an alternative way of participating. While I was looking at sample syllabi, I came across a syllabus that incorporated another method of participation, a response sheet. I am sorry to say I do not have a record of the source of this way of using response sheets and have only one copy of a syllabus with my directions to students- with a few years away from work as a full-time mom, crashed hard drives and flooded basements – more than a few things have been lost. As I have stated, participation in class discussion is highly valued and often represents a portion of each student’s final grade. So why do we appear to only value oral participation? Could we not have written participation? The response sheet is an alternative avenue of participation for students that has worked well in my classes.


Posted in Communication Skills, Student Participation | 9 Comments

Getting a Grip on Traditions

Dennis Slavin, Associate Provost, is to be credited for this blog post’s title. We would like to direct you to a conversation between Dennis Slavin and Mikhail Gershovich, Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute at Baruch College, about teaching traditional essay structures at:

Below is a link to information on Student Writing at Baruch College from the Faculty Handbook:

What is your view of the traditional introduction-body-conclusion approach in teaching composition?

Posted in Communication Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities | 1 Comment