Engaging Students in Research

By Courtney Lappas

At LVC, we strive to provide students with an education that does not merely introduce them to vast bodies of information with which they must become familiar, but also endows them with the ability to approach with confidence that which is not yet known.  B.F. Skinner once said that “education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.”  Many of the facts, figures, and methodologies that we teach our students will be rapidly forgotten or become obsolete as scientific, technological, and theoretical advances propel our disciplines forward. What cannot be forgotten or become obsolete, however, is the ability to think logically, the capacity to ask and answer significant questions.  These skills are not innate.  They are learned through experience, and a central component of these experiences is the opportunity to conduct original research.  By engaging students in research, we provide them with a vehicle for personal and professional growth–to become “world-ready.”  Many of our students publish peer-reviewed papers with faculty members and present research projects at local, regional, and national conferences. Through these experiences, students learn to be critical thinker who are persistent, resourceful, and objective.

Mentoring undergraduates is not easy.  To the contrary, it is often difficult.  It requires significant time outside of our already heavy teaching load, and may even impede our own scholarly endeavors. It is, however, an integral component of our role as educators, and can be exceedingly rewarding.  I have observed a student beam with pride at a national meeting as he realized that our poster, which bore the LVC logo, was sandwiched between those that bore the emblems of Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. I have watched a student excitedly rush into my office to show me the journal issue in which our research paper was published.  And I have seen summer research students begin the fall semester with a new found sense of confidence and purpose.

LVC is not unique in its efforts to engage students in research:  liberal arts colleges across the country offer similar opportunities.  This fact does not diminish our efforts, but rather underscores their importance.  The opportunity to participate in research experiences is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity if our students are to be “world-ready,” able to compete in the job and graduate school markets.  If we truly seek to empower students to pursue a life of learning, citizenship, and success, we must continue to teach them.

Leveling the Playing Field by Using Assistive Technology

At the risk of giving away my true age (which a lady never tells by-the-way), I remember saving information to 5 ¼” floppy disks rather than the Cloud, wasting hours playing Pac Man, not Pokémon, and the excitement of beaming information with my PALM Pilot, instead of Instant Messaging.  I’ve always been fascinated with personal devices that could help keep me organized, make my workload less cumbersome, and just simply give me access to information on the fly.  Some days, I’m not sure if having technology so readily available is a curse or cure; but I do know there are devices and applications that I’d find very hard to live without.   I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t use some sort of personalized technology consistently, on a daily basis.  Whether it’s smart phones, GPS apps, or Fitbits, most of us rely on technology to simplify and enhance our fast-paced, social, and informational lifestyles.  Apple coined the phrase, “There’s an app for that” with release of the iPhone 3G in 2009, and now owns those five little words with a U.S. Patent–boasting over $20 Billion in gross revenue from the App Store alone in 2015.

Now imagine having a disability and reliance on those apps and technological gismos is not a choice, but your means to survival.  According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, anywhere from 9-11% of undergraduates served by post-secondary institutions have a disability that significantly impacts the ability to learn.  These are the students who may take twice as long to read a chapter in a textbook, and then have no idea what they’ve read after struggling through each paragraph.  These are the students who take medications for a chronic health impairment that impairs their ability to capture key points from a course lecture.  These are the students whose inability to spell makes writing an essay for their FYE course about as enjoyable as a root canal.

College is the time for these students to prepare for the workplace, where there will likely be no extended time to complete projects, no volunteer note-takers, and no one reminding them of meetings or appointments.  However, assistive technology can take the place of these things—mitigating the effects of the disability and helping students become more independent learners, and later more independent employees.

Students with disabilities can learn how to use assistive technologies such as text-to-speech software that reduces the amount of time to “read” an assigned chapter.  Speech-to-text apps that allow a student with dysgraphia to get his thoughts onto paper.  Voice-over applications that allow a visually impaired student to navigate CANVAS. And even a smart pen, not much larger than a Sharpie, assists a student with ADHD to focus during a lecture while writing, recording audio, and then bookmarking notes for retrieval later while studying.  Each of these items, and many more, do not provide an unfair advantage to students with disabilities, but rather level the playing field where persons with disabilities can compete in today’s world—a world where nearly everyone is already using technology to his or her “advantage.”

At LVC, assistive technology is not just for the disabled community.  Any student, faculty, or staff member has the opportunity to explore assistive technology via short-term loan from our AT Lab housed in the Center for Disability Resources—a place where you can learn more about the technology that is helping our students and maybe even inspire an idea or two to add to your instructional repertoire.

And if you still have a solar powered calculator in your desk drawer—stop by the AT Lab.  We probably have “an app for that.”  If not, I’ll loan you my abacus.

Dr. Dawn Showers is the Director of Disability Resources at Lebanon Valley College  dshowers@lvc.edu

 

Why Global Education Matters at LVC

Global Learning and Engagement

by Treva Clark

Global Learning is a holistic, educational process that develops one’s knowledge about the world, advances one’s curiosity about the world’s diverse cultures, enhances one’s intercultural competencies, and demonstrably embraces the values endorsed by inclusive excellence.  Fully consistent with and inextricably linked to Lebanon Valley College’s (LVC) commitment to deliver a transformative education built on the liberal arts,  global learning is essential to the development of students who think critically and creatively across boundaries, who solve complex problems, who communicate effectively, and who value differences among human beings.

To fully embrace global learning and engagement at LVC, it must be understood that global learning is much more than study abroad, languages, and exchange programs.  While all are necessary components of a comprehensive global learning campus strategy, LVC stakeholders must acknowledge that in order to succeed professionally, students in all disciplines will face mandates to thrive in environments defined by cultural interdependence, diversity, and rapid change.  To fulfill our mission and maintain the health of the institution, both financially and philosophically, LVC must place a new emphasis on the indispensable techniques achieved by understanding multiple global perspectives of the human experience.

Global learning is a process comprised of many parts, players, and variables requiring the intentional coordination of resources aligned with both our institutional goals and the shifting market conditions.  While initiatives have been successfully implemented at LVC in support of global learning across multiple disciplinary and institutional boundaries, the absence of coordinated implementation and disparate programming have limited their effectiveness to transform the institution.  We are now compelled to leverage successful programs that exist at LVC and transform others in order to achieve the outcomes consistent with our re-envisioned future.

As articulated in Envision 2020, LVC is committed to being student-centered, learning-focused, and outcomes-based.  In order to fulfill these promises to our students, faculty, alumni, and the broader campus community, we are obligated to advance global learning and engagement throughout the institution in curricular as well as non-curricular ways, with the assignment of appropriate and sufficient resources, to the pursuit of specifically defined institutional goals and objectives.  Without this, we simply will not prepare our students effectively nor achieve the standards of inclusive excellence we espouse at LVC.

Global learning and engagement is possible at The Valley … but only with a shared commitment to its value, purpose, and benefit as part of the LVC educational experience.

 

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 1990, p.4).

What is mindfulness?

The practice of being mindful involves paying attention to the present moment and being in a non-reactive state—meaning that there is no judgment about the right or wrong ways to feel about the events we are experiencing. When we are mindful, we stay in the present moment without rehashing the past or living in the future. When we pay attention on purpose, we have a “conscious direction of our awareness” in the present (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4).

Why does LVC need mindful education?

The current generation of emerging adults (18-29) report high levels of stress, significant levels of anxiety and depression, and a host of physical and mental health problems that range from sleep disturbances to suicidal and self-harm behavior. Additionally, American workers in all fields report a high prevalence of stress-related physical and mental health problems, especially those who face emotionally demanding and challenging circumstances—circumstances that exist in all institutions of higher education (IHE’s).

In the past 20 years, there has been an exponential increase in the appearance of the words “meditation,” “mindfulness” and “yoga” in peer-reviewed journals, many of which demonstrate that mindfulness produces a host of positive outcomes including, but not limited to, reduced stress and negative emotions, reduced depression, improved focus and attention, increased empathy, reduced obesity, and overall enhanced well-being. Benefits of learned mindfulness skills are experienced in as little as 8-weeks of practice; some report overnight relief from a few practices (Ragoonaden, 2015)

Because of the evidence of the far ranging benefits of mindfulness, a growing number of institutions of higher education (IHE’s)  have incorporated a contemplative, secular mindfulness dimension within their curriculum including the University of Virginia, Redlands, Emory, Brown, Rice, Amherst, Smith, Michigan, Naropa, etc.. These IHE’s   incorporate mindful practices throughout the organizational culture.  They recognize that professional success within the high performing culture of the IHE, and the world of work that awaits graduates, demands that we provide the tools for faculty, staff and students to focus on self-care that enhances workplace productivity and well-being.

Presidents Innovation Fund to Introduce Mindfulness to LVC

            During the 2016-2017 academic year, programming will be undertaken to introduce mindfulness into the campus culture. The first phase will primarily target faculty and staff. The goal is to prepare participants to bring mindful education into the classroom and cocurricular environment—phase 2. A second goal of phase one is to enhance faculty and staff work satisfaction and productivity—another byproduct of mindfulness.

To achieve phase 1 goals, friend of the college Michael Carroll, author of Awake at Work (2005) and The Mindful Leader (2008) the will kick-off the effort in mid-September with a keynote event. This event will be followed with both fall and spring CETL workshops as well as a one-day mindfulness retreat.

Although the benefits of mindful practice are well established, successful integration of these practices into the college culture and pedagogy requires a commitment to practice.

Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it (Salzberg, 2010).

All mindfulness programming sponsored by the Presidents Innovation Fund will embody a commitment to practice.  Please join us in the effort to make LVC a more mindful learning community.

References

Carroll, M. (2005).Awake at Work: Facing the Challenges of Life on the Job. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications.

Carroll, M. (2007). The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation. Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books.

Ragoonaden, K. (2015). Mindful Teaching and Learning: Developing a Pedagogy of Well-Being. New York: Lexington Books.

Salzberg, S (2010). Real Happiness: the Power of Meditation. New York: Workman.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994).Wherever you go, there you are. New York: Hyperion.