Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teaching Academic Integrity

Over the course of the past year I have had dozens of opportunities to speak to faculty and student groups about academic integrity, and present the research that I conducted on the subject for Cheating Lessons.  I have found all of those conversations immensely rewarding, and they have continued to spur my own thinking about the subject, and about future directions for research in this field.

At the moment I am writing a book about teaching and learning in higher education more generally, and digging deeply into the research coming out of the cognitive sciences about how people learn.  As we all probably know from that research, and from our experiences as teachers, learners need to actively engage with material in order to learn it most deeply.  While lectures and readings can provide important first exposure to content, true learning comes when students find ways to interact with the course material--to respond to it, to internalize it, to generate their own responses to it, and more.  Equally important, their interactions with the material need to happen frequently, at thoughtfully spaced intervals.  These may be the most fundamental and easily comprehensible learning principles we know.

So with that in mind, the question that seems most relevant for us moving forward in academic integrity research is a simple one: how are we creating such active learning experiences for our students around issues of academic integrity?

Think about academic integrity as a body of knowledge, a set of skills, and an overarching value that students must learn.  Knowledge: students must understand the rules of academic integrity. Skill: they must learn how to appropriate and properly credit the ideas of other people in their work.  Value: they must believe that completing their work with integrity matters.

If we think of academic integrity in this way, we have to ask ourselves how we are teaching it.  Are we doing the equivalent of lecturing to students from the front of the room, and never allowing them to ask questions or make their own meaning of the material?  If so, we are doing something that we would never do in our courses: giving students a single, passive exposure to the material and expecting them to internalize it for the next four years. This kind of passive exposure to academic integrity typically happens when we present "the rules" in orientation sessions, in our handbooks, or on our websites, or in our syllabi.  These steps are important and necessary; obviously students need first exposure to the content of academic integrity.  But if we know anything about learning, we know this is not enough.

So are we asking students to engage in active learning of academic integrity?  Or are we asking them to complete projects that would qualify as activity-based learning?  Are we asking to engage in community-service learning on academic integrity?  In short, are we doing anything but giving them the rule book and then wagging our fingers at them and saying “Don’t!”?

If we are not, then I don’t think we should find ourselves surprised at the consistently high rates of cheating that continue to plague secondary and higher education.  By limiting our teaching of academic integrity to infrequent, passive exposure, we are setting them up to fail.

In the recent meetings I have been having with faculty on other campuses, we have been spending time thinking about this issue, and taking the opportunity to brainstorm ways in which institutions can build active learning experiences around academic integrity—precisely the kind of learning experiences that we try to build around everything else we teach.  Last week I had a really terrific session with the faculty at King’s Academy outside of Amman, Jordan (pictured: a view of Amman from the Citadel)—their ideas about how to engage their students with academic integrity were smart and creative ones. 

In general I have found that faculty have good ideas about how to teach academic integrity, when we provide them the opportunity to think about it.  Hence I would love to see the process of developing academic integrity teaching initiatives begin to work its way outside of academic integrity researchers and dedicated integrity offices and into the profession as a whole.  The faculty who are designing active learning experiences for their students on a daily basis have to become part of this conversation, and contribute their expertise to the teaching and learning of academic integrity.  If we want students to learn academic integrity, we have to be willing to teach it.  And if we want to teach it effectively, we have to do more than lecture at students; in other words, we have to do more than provide that first, one-time exposure, and then walk away and wash our hands of it.  

We can do better than that—we know how to teach more effectively than that, and we owe it to our students to do so.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Notes Toward a Pedagogy of Presence

Last week my youngest daughter and I had the opportunity to help prepare and serve a meal at a local Catholic Worker House.  The meal was delivered to the 200 or so waiting people over a counter, behind which the volunteers worked in assembly-line fashion to fill plates with ham, potatoes, vegetables, salad, bread, and a brownie.  So as each plate came down the line, I plopped some salad on it and my daughter added a piece of bread and a brownie; from there I handed it to a server who passed it along to the folks in line.  Although this process only lasted forty-five minutes at most, it was intense; with so many hungry people standing in a long line stretching around the room, you wanted to get the plates filled and passed out as quickly as possible.

After fifteen or twenty minutes of concentrating intently on my task, vaguely aware that we were doing something good but mostly focused on getting salad on the plates and keeping an eye on my daughter, a man broke the invisible barrier that separated the volunteers from the recipients of our charity.

"Hey, thank you," he said, speaking loudly and directly across the counter to us.  "I really appreciate what you guys are doing. Without folks like you, there wouldn't be . . . "

And then he trailed off, hustled along by the volunteer server and the crush of people in line behind him.  I paused and stood there listening for just a moment, clump of salad in my (sanitary-gloved) hand.  A wave of something that felt like shame passed over me. This man wanted--and deserved--more than a plate of food.  He wanted to acknowledge the transaction between us: that we had prepared food for him, and that he was grateful for it.  But more deeply it struck me that what he wanted with his meal was a moment of human connection.  That seemed as important to him as the meal.  After he passed I made more of an effort to look up from my task and observe the people in line, and I was surprised to note how many of them were watching us, waiting to make eye contact, and say a word or two of thanks.  And I realized how many people had passed before me already and seen nothing but the top of my head and a plate of food.

In January I will be leading a group of students at my college on a service trip to Ecuador, but we won't be handing out plates of food or building houses or digging wells.  Instead, we will be engaged in what our campus ministry coordinator calls the "ministry of presence."  Our job will be to meet people in the neighborhood, at hospitals, and schools, and sit with them and play games and share meals and hear their stories--and let them hear ours.  We will be present to them.  In service to that end, we'll be severed from our usual ties to the world: no phones, no internet, no contact with our families back home.  By choice and by constraint, we will be present to each other and to our neighbors in the slums of Guayaquil.

As I have been preparing for this trip, and learning about the ministry of presence, it has occurred to me that I had been neglecting that dimension of service when I was handing out meals with my daughter.  I was providing food but was not really present to the people in that line--at least until after the man broke the barrier between us and called me into his presence.  Ever since that day I have been experimenting with trying to make myself more present to the people in my life--to my children, my spouse, and even the people I encounter every day in the coffee shop where I write.  And while I can't measure this concretely in any way, life seems a little more joyful to me.  We are laughing and speaking more than usual at our family dinner table.  I have had a bunch of good conversations recently with people I with whom I once might have exchanged only a passing greeting.

And all of this, finally, has led me to reflect upon the extent to which we should think more about the pedagogy of presence in higher education--on the value that comes from humans being present to one another in moments of learning.  I wholeheartedly embrace the general swing in higher education toward better articulating and measuring learning outcomes.  We didn't do anything like this for a very long time, and we need it.  But in the last year or two, the more I read the literature on learning outcomes and assessment, the more I feel like it misses something fundamental--something that can perhaps never be measured completely, but that books like How College Works seem to articulate: that personal relationships are what students document as the most profound and memorable aspects of their college experience.

I wonder now how much I have been really present in my classrooms over the past fifteen years, how often I have been focused on the material, on the passing of the hour, on a meeting I had later that day.  I wonder how much our plans for the future of higher education account for the value of presence in the lives of our students.  I wonder how we make ourselves more present in online environments, but also how we do so in face-to-face classrooms--and even in the feedback we give to students on their work.  I wonder how often we hand out plates of knowledge without offering that human connection.  And I wonder whether students are sitting out there in the seats, while we stand at the front of the room talking, and watching for us to step into their presence.  

I have no answers for any of these questions, which is why I titled this blog post "Notes Toward a Pedagogy of Presence," and why I've written it here rather than following my usual path--namely, attempting to publish every thought that pops into my head.  I hope my time in Ecuador, and my continued reflections on the ministry of presence and its role in my life, will help me return from sabbatical next year with a better understanding of how to engage in a pedagogy of presence for my students--and I welcome your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

(Almost) Free Faculty Development!

This blog post is a quick reminder that non-U.S. institutions interested in several weeks of (almost) free faculty development from yours truly should contact me about a possible collaborative project under the auspices of the Fulbright Specialist Program.  The Fulbright Specialist Program provides funding to support U.S. scholars who partner with non-U.S. institutions on projects or programs in their areas of greatest need.

Practically, this means that a Fulbright Specialist grant would pay for my travel and time to visit a non-U.S. institution for a two- to six-week grant period to help provide faculty development in whatever form the institution might need.  This could take the form of providing workshops on teaching and learning for faculty and graduate students at your institution and/or in the region; helping to establish or refine a local faculty development program on your campus; providing consulting on creating or assessing a center for teaching and learning; working on the development of academic integrity initiatives or even the establishment of honors programs.  These are all areas in which I have extensive experience both on my own campus and from my visits to several dozen other campuses in the U.S. and abroad.

The institution's only costs for this work would be in-country room and board; the Fulbright provides all other funding, including transportation and stipend.  So this would be an excellent opportunity for non-U.S. institutions on a budget to have a dedicated expert in higher education teaching and learning (i.e., me) spend a month or more on your campus helping you with whatever you need.  The Fulbright allows and even encourages institutions to work together with grantees to develop a plan for the grant.  The institution does have to submit the grant, but I can help provide guidance for completing the application process.

Please help me spread the word about this opportunity, and if you are interested in speaking with me about a possible collaboration on a grant application, contact me at lang (at) assumption.edu.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer 2014 Update

Just a quick update on new work, new ventures, and new events.  I am on a (mostly) sabbatical for the 2014-2015 academic year, with a full release from my teaching responsibilities.  I will still continue to helm our Center for Teaching Excellence, but otherwise will focus on my writing projects.

In addition to continuing my regular monthly column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, I have two book projects in the works.  The first is a book on teaching and learning that focuses on small interventions we can make in any type of teaching environment in order to maximize student learning.  These interventions are based on the research in learning theory I have been doing for the past several years, and are designed to stretch across teaching formats and institution types.  For a preview of this approach, you can see my recent essay in Faculty Focus on the learning activities of predicting and retrieving. The book is scheduled for completion in spring of 2015, with an expected publication date of early 2016.

I am also working on a book project in my home discipline of British literature.  I am still tightening up my sense of the audience and focus of this book, but essentially it will analyze the nonfiction writings of George Orwell on poverty, explore how those early writings shaped his later (much more famous) fiction, and consider the relevance of his insights into poverty to the 21st century global economy.  I've begun publishing bits and pieces of my journey with Orwell in various places, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, America Magazine, Notre Dame Magazine, and even over at Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour.

The 2013-2014 academic year has been my busiest year by far in terms of opportunities to travel and speak to faculty, graduate students, and students on other campuses.  Much of that has been driven by Cheating Lessons, as institutions at every level seek to instill academic integrity among their students.  Last year included visits to the American University of Armenia, Ohio State, North Carolina State, Lamar University, Columbus State Community College, and more.  I was also privileged to deliver keynotes at several conferences, including the annual conference of the International Center for Academic Integrity.

Fall of 2014 is shaping up to be equally busy, with currently scheduled visits including Georgia Tech, Bucknell, Rice, Indiana State, and Notre Dame.  Most exciting for me, though, has been the opportunity to speak and work with faculty at international institutions.  In addition to leading a service trip for Assumption College students to Ecuador in January, I will be paying visits to institutions in Canada, Jordan, Columbia, and Scotland.  I count international travel as one of the greatest joys in my life--so this promises to be a joyful year!

Life at home continues apace.  The eldest will be entering her sophomore year of college, while the twins down at the end of the batting order will be entering fifth grade.  On our visit to Washington DC this year I managed to catch a nice unscripted moment with the girl getting some inspiration at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.

Enjoy these final weeks of summer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

(Re-)Discovering George Orwell

Last summer I began doing research for a new book project which explores the nonfiction writings of George Orwell, especially those which focus on depicting the poorest and most marginalized members of modern industrial societies.  I will argue that Orwell's insights into poverty, and its causes and effects, remain vitally relevant for us today.

You can read the opening salvo of that argument, which describes my (re-) discovery of Orwell's work in a Paris bookshop, in an essay in a new series from Notre Dame Magazine called "What I'm Reading."

So here's what I'm reading.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Academic Integrity Campaigns--Involve Your Students!

One of the most consistent findings from the research on cheating in higher education is that students are more likely to cheat if they see that cheating is both common and approved of by their peers.  This makes perfect sense when we consider that in most cases we are working with students in their late teens, a time when peer approval matters in almost every aspect of their lives.

The obvious implication of this finding, for me, is that we have to involve student leaders, student athletes, and students more generally in academic integrity campaigns.  We need students to be the ones who demonstrate to others that they do not approve of cheating.  On my campus we are working with a marketing class next semester to help design a campaign that features our most visible students on campus talking about the importance of academic integrity.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of giving the keynote address at a campus academic integrity event at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX.  Hung around the room in which the event took place were an outstanding series of posters that had been designed by student in a graphic design class at Lamar.  It was inspiring to speak with faculty about academic integrity in the presence of these absolutely gorgeous, student-designed posters.  Kudos both to the students and their professors and to Melissa Hudler at Lamar for organizing the event and helping to publicize the posters.

Please make sure you click through to view the posters, and if you know about or have been involved with academic integrity campaigns that enlist the help of your students, post a link in the comments or send me an e-mail so I can let others know about it.  We should continue to share great models like Lamar's in order to work together to promote academic integrity in education at all levels.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Teaching Naked: A Review

“The new classroom,” declares Jose Antonio Bowen, “ is a flat screen.”  Provocative statements like these, and plenty of research and arguments to support them, fill the pages of his 2012 book Teaching Naked:How Moving Technology out of Your Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass).  I have been meaning to read this book for quite some time, and finally got around to it on the plane ride back and forth from giving a lecture and faculty workshop at North Carolina State University earlier this week.

The book’s title make Bowen sound like a cranky Luddite, a chalk-and-talk professor who wants the kids to put away their smart phones and get their noses back into the books, and then sit up straight and listen to the professor in class.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Bowen actually celebrates the ability of technology to move much of our traditional teaching work out of the classroom, and wholeheartedly embraces a wide range of educational technologies as capable of doing the work of teaching content more effectively than professors.

The flip side to that argument, though, is that once we actually get students to interact with those technologies outside of the classroom, we should be spending our time in the classroom engaging in more frequent face-to-face interaction with them. Bowen sees the classroom as the space where we prove our value as educators to students, and argues that we should not be wasting that valuable space by lecturing students on basic content.  Let them gain first exposure to that content through podcasts, videos, e-mails, Google searches, and so on.  Then let them deepen the exposure in the classroom through human interaction.

This of course is the basic argument for the flipped classroom, although Bowen has gone beyond the usual calls for that educational strategy by immersing himself in the range of technologies available to us today, and thinking smartly about how they can be used to teach a wide variety of subjects and topics. 

He also frames his argument in an interesting way by asking us to see higher education as on the cusp of changes that have occurred in other industries, such as music sales and journalism.  The underlying analogy is a simple one:  changes in technology made consumers realize that the packaging offered by the industry was distinct from the product they wanted.  What people want are songs, not records (or CDs, etc.).  Likewise, he argues, what students want is learning, not necessarily the fancy packaging of the conventional college campus.

I found much of the book provocative and convincing.  Bowen is an excellent writer, a creative thinker, and a passionate advocate for his subject.  It’s hard to argue too much with statements like this one, which are big and visionary: “We need to adjust our classrooms to focus less on content and more on application of material to new contexts, development of intellectual curiosity, investment in the material, evaluation, synthesis, challenging personal beliefs, development of higher-level cognitive processing, oral and written communication skills, construction and negotiation of meaning, information literacy, connection of information across disciplines, teamwork, and reflection on the significance of content.”  Absolutely.

I picked up some excellent ideas for my own classroom along the way.  This semester I know the students in my British Literature Survey class have been struggling with many of my readings, like the short stories of James Joyce of essays of Virginia Woolf.  I usually begin class, then, by going over some of the basics with them, providing context that will help them understand the course readings more effectively.  This takes away much of the time I would like to have reserved for discussion. But why not, as Bowen suggests, send them an e-mail the day before the reading is due in which I provide that context in advance of their reading?  Doing so will ensure they can understand the reading more easily, and will enable us to jump into discussion more quickly.  I’ll be doing this for the final two weeks of the semester, and am grateful to Bowen for encouraging me to think more deeply about the use of my class time.

Mixed in with excellent suggestions like this one, though, are another set of claims and recommendations that I find much less convincing. 

A consistent thread throughout the book suggests that faculty can spend a lot less of their time teaching students basic content.  But Bowen goes beyond that to argue that knowing content will become less and less important in the digital age.  Here are two representative quotes, both on the folly of asking students to take tests that require memorization of content:

“Why bother?  The real world is ‘open book.’ Instead of asking directly for the information—what is the difference between British parliamentary democracy and American republican democracy, which can be easily Googled—ask instead why the information matters.” (155)

“Today, it is hard to argue that doing well on closed-book tests prepares you for anything except more testing.” (183)

Here is where I part company with Bowen—and where I believe most of the scientists who study human learning would part ways with him as well.  There are three problems with Bowen’s way of thinking here.

First, you can’t think creatively about information unless you have information in your head to think about.  We have to know things in order to think critically about them.  Without any information readily available to you in your brain, you will see new facts (from your Google search) in isolated, non-contextual ways that lead to shallow thinking.  Facts are related to other facts, and the more of those relationships we can see, the more we will prove capable of critical analysis and creative thinking.  Students who don’t bother to memorize anything will never get much beyond skating over the surface of a topic.

Second, when we learn new facts, we are building up mental structures that enable us to process and organize the next set of new facts more effectively.  Knowledge is foundational; we won’t have the structures in place to do deep thinking if we haven’t spent time mastering a body of knowledge (although there is evidence to suggest that we can do both of those things at the same time). 

Finally, a large body of evidence suggests that taking closed-book tests on things we are trying to remember is an incredibly effective way of sealing up knowledge in our long-term memories, and having it available to us when we need it for critical and creative thinking.  Bowen makes no acknowledgment of this well-documented phenomenon, known as either the” testing effect” or the “retrieval effect.” 

For more information on this cognitive gap in Bowen’s thinking, see either Daniel Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School  (2009) or Make it Stick (2014) by Henry Roediger et al.  These books have a grounding in the learning sciences that I think is missing from Bowen’s argument.  (You can read a little bit about the "testing effect" in a Chronicle column of mine here, and in another one coming out on April 24th.)

With that said, I found Bowen’s book an enlightening and pleasurable read. It made me think, even if I didn’t always agree, and I am confident that it will have a positive impact on my teaching in the coming semesters.  I’m not sure I’m ready to go completely naked in the classroom, but I’m convinced enough to start shedding some technology and focus more frequently on the kind of substantive interaction that he advocates. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Scheduling (and a New Book!)

Lots of campuses seem to want to have a conversation about cheating and academic integrity--unsurprising--which means I have received lots of invitations this year to visit other colleges and universities (and even some high schools) to share the research from Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty.  I enjoy doing this, and try to accommodate as many invitations as possible.  This spring I'll be visiting Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and even a high school in Guatemala, among other places.  I am looking forward to them all.

However, I am booked solid at this point for the entire spring semester, given that I also have to teach my classes etc.  If you are interested in having me come help start a conversation about cheating on your campus, don't hesitate to contact me (look down and to the right for the e-mail address) but I am scheduling for the summer and beyond at this point.  I will be on sabbatical next year so will have more flexibility in my schedule.

I am also working on a new book project, and will be looking to get out and about next year to present some of those ideas and get feedback from working faculty.  Tentatively entitled On the Clock, the book argues that we can learn from recent research in cognitive theory how to make timely interventions throughout a standard class period to maximize learning.  These interventions stem from some basic ideas that seem to be emerging from the learning research right now, are quick and easy to apply at set points throughout a class period (i.e., in the first five minutes, at the thirty-minute mark, in the last fifteen minutes), and will work in almost any type of classroom environment, from lectures to collaborative learning classes.  

I will provide periodic updates on the project here, as well as sneaking some of the research into my upcoming Chronicle columns.

Have a great semester!  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Teaching with Twitter

Last fall I wrote one of my monthly columns for The Chronicle of Higher Education about how I was experimenting with the use of Twitter in one of my courses.  The impetus for the assignment came from some of the research I had done on cognitive theory for my book Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty, in a chapter called "On Original Work."  At the time I wrote the Chronicle piece, the assignment seemed to me to be working really well--but I was slightly anxious about publishing the column before the end of the semester.  What if it turned out that the students really hated the use of Twitter as part of their course work?

Course evaluations for the fall 2013 semester arrived last week, and happily the students' verdict matched mine--almost every evaluation mentioned the course Twitter assignment as one of the "most effective teaching methods of the instructor."

"I loved the class Twitter feed!" one student wrote.  "I learned so much about British culture and found a lot of research for my papers and Colloquium on the feed.  Please keep it for your other courses."

When students, talk, I listen.  (Sometimes, anyway.)  So I'll be using Twitter again this semester.  This time around I am trying it out in my Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop.  To give you some idea about what a Twitter assignment looks like, I've reproduced the assignment sheet below.

Twitter Assignment

Good writers are readers; they read not only for pleasure, but also with an eye on how the sentences and paragraphs and pages of their fellow writers work.  So part of my goal in this course is to help you become a more discerning reader of nonfiction writing, someone who can spot a great sentence and understand what makes it tick.  That won’t happen if you confine your critical reading of creative nonfiction to the five texts we are reading this semester, and to two seventy-five minute class periods per week.  You need to become more attuned to the language that confronts you every day, in both your academic and your social environments.  You need to get in the habit of noticing good writing.

In service to that end, all students in the course will be required to use Twitter to share with the class three outstanding phrases or sentences they have encountered each week.  These sentences can come from the assigned reading in the course, from work you have read in other courses, from material you read outside of your courses, and even from the social media postings of your friends and followers.  The only requirement will be that you are prepared to explain, once a week in class, what makes those phrases or sentences worthy of our attention.

Your three required tweets must be posted every Tuesday by 10:00 am (no tweets required for the week of spring break, the two weeks on either side of Easter break, and the last week of the semester).  Spread them out over the week by simply posting great phrases and sentences when you see them, rather than by trying to do them all Tuesday morning.  All tweets most include the hashtag #CNFAC14, and an indication of the writer whose work you are tweeting.  You can use shorthand that our class would easily understand, as in “LAM” for a quote from Last American Man. We will begin class each Tuesday by talking about what we see on the course Twitter feed, and how your tweets exemplify principles we have discussed in class or how they point us in new directions. 

As the semester progresses, the Twitter feed will become an excellent resource of exemplary nonfiction writing.  So not only should you write to the Twitter feed, but you should also read it! Notice what your classmates are noticing.  Do not repeat the same sentences that your classmates have posted—which means that you should look beyond the required course reading for at least some of your tweets.

Your weekly tweets are worth ten points, and will be checked every Tuesday before class.  If you have a Twitter account that you would prefer to keep private, simply open a separate one for this course, and close it out when we are done.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Selling the Course

While I was doing the research and writing for Cheating Lessons, one of the subjects that continued to arise was motivation, especially as it relates to course design.  Too often, it seemed to me, we provide our course content as an answer.  The faculty member always recognizes that some big question lurks behind the answer his course provides, but doesn't always take the time to share that with the students.  So the students walk into the course, and the faculty member presents a fifteen-week answer to a question that nobody has asked.

Over the past year or two, then, I have worked hard on thinking about how to frame my courses, both on the syllabus and in the opening weeks of the semester, in ways that should help students see how the course will provide them with answers to interesting questions, or will offer them the opportunity to improve their lives in some substantive ways.  I don't think it's enough anymore--if it ever was--to say to students: "I have some important stuff here on offer, you can take my word for it; now sit down and start learning." To foster the kind of intrinsic motivation that will lead to deeper learning, we have to give students more help than that in understanding why our courses matter in their lives.

So I thought I would post here the two paragraphs in my course descriptions that try to help students understand the bigger picture of the course, and how it will help improve their lives in some substantial way.  Would love to see and hear examples from others!

For Creative Nonfiction, an upper-level writing workshop:

When Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Renin published the paperback version of Three Cups of Tea in 2007, the book shot to the top of the national bestseller lists, earned millions of dollars for their nonprofit organization, and inspired countless individuals to help build schools for girls halfway around the world.  How did they inspire such changes through the simple act of organizing words on paper?  My goal in this course is to help you understand what techniques and strategies of nonfiction writing—such as the ones used by Mortenson and Renin—can help change the minds and hearts of readers about issues that matter to you.  Whatever writing you end up doing after you graduate—whether published books or essays, tweets or Facebook updates, advertising copy or notes to friends—I want you to understand what forms and techniques of writing grab the attention of readers, win them to your side, and inspire them to think differently.    

For British Literature Survey II, a mid-level requirement for our majors:

This course is designed to help you better understand the world in which we live today—culturally, socially, politically—by tracing contemporary issues and cultural phenomenon back to their sources or to previous considerations of them in British literature and culture.  By the end of this semester, for example, you will have a much clearer understanding of why J.K. Rowling writes about mudbloods and muggles in Harry Potter, or how the Spice Girls fit within a broader context of debates about women and sexuality; you will gain a fuller appreciation of the complexities involved when debates arise about the clash between new technologies or expanding industry and the environment; you will have a richer awareness of the sacrifice we ask of our soldiers, and the trauma they experience in war; you will have deepened your ability to talk about the relationship between humans and the (possible) divine. In short, this class, like any literature class, should both enrich your understanding of the human condition and your understanding of the historical and literary heritage of the English language that continues to impact our American lives today.