By: William Gorden, Professor Emeritus of the School of Communication at Kent State University. He served as Coordinator of the Commission on Free Speech of the Speech Communication Association (now the Freedom of Expression Division of the National Communication Association.
Upload Date: October 23, 2023
Inside and Beyond the Classroom Walls of Higher Education
Teaching in higher education should enable collaborative learning. In this essay, I will focus on value-based topics: First, bringing inside the classroom walls what’s important outside. Second, make what you want understood memorable. Last, and perhaps most importantly, answering Why questions–why you, why me, and why this matters. These thoughts spring from teaching interpersonal, public and organizational communication–a field that is well suited for collaborative learning.
Bringing Inside the Classroom Walls What’s Important Outside
When I was a college student, my most enriching times were beyond campus. For example, at the urging of my debate coach, I competed in our college, state, and national oratorical contests. My senior year topic was death and my title was Buried Treasure. One of my resources for that speech was The Cleveland Memorial Society–that arranged for modestly priced funerals. More importantly, what appealed to my Scotch values was no burial costs by transferring my body to medical research at the Cleveland Clinic–a commitment I made and have kept. Years later, when my daughter Gloria learned I might someday become a cadaver for doctor’s education, she asked, “Daddy, how much money would I save if I did that?” I told her, “Anywhere from several to ten thousand.” She had an immediate reply, “Could I have that money saved now? I want to buy a pony.” Good lessons learned beyond the classroom are personal, practical, and they last.
As an undergraduate, one boring education course convinced me I didn’t want another. In grad school, I was an instructor. That meant I was a graduate assistant teaching two classes per semester–the kind of instructor-grader role commonly assigned by many universities. It was not collaborative teaching-learning. I graduated after surviving a course in the small, smoke filled office of the department head, Allen Monroe, who lectured out both sides of a Chesterfield clenched between his teeth, and after five years I defended a dissertation.
My first job was at Berry College in northwest Georgia. I taught speech construction and delivery, argumentation, discussion and theater. I coached debate and directed plays. I received funding to build a theater in-the-round in an abandoned boiler room and I took on organizing one-act plays off campus. Because I hadn’t had much course work in theater, one summer I learned more about acting at the University of Virginia and in another I acted in summer stock at Tufts in Boston, with such actors as Stacy Keach, who later was a prolific professional success.
Berry College is a beautiful gated-campus of 30,000 acres, located on the edge of Rome. I was asked to direct Carousel for the city. I cast a popular local radio personality as an angel. He was tall, handsome, and had white hair. No matter how much I tried, I could not get him to speak beyond his conversational radio volume. The angel role had to be recast. Another unexpected problem occurred when my assistant director criticized the daughter of a local pharmacist for dancing too sexy, and the daughter in her defense criticized the assistant director for drinking too much. I didn’t ask the young dancer to be less sexy. The night of rehearsal, two makeup teams arrived. Apparently unbeknownst to me, the assistant director had invited a different group of her friends to do makeup. To stop their criticism of my assigned team, I had to dismiss them. Two nights of Carousel, in spite of such snafus, were a success; however, the next day I was taken to dinner by the vice president of our college. He informed me that the makeup team I had dismissed was headed by a member of the Berry family that founded our college. I was to apologize. Beyond classroom walls has its problems. I found that directing Carousel for the city was far more difficult than taking student-casted plays off campus.
Another beyond the classroom experience emerged because I felt guilty that our gated campus with 800+ student body and faculty was all-white. Therefore, I met with Rome’s local NAACP. That caused no problem because it was unknown. And on a return trip from a debate tournament at Louisiana University, I took students to visit the Freedom Riders’ headquarters on Lynch Street near Jackson State University. Two freedom riders displayed Jail Without Bail certificates they had sketched on towels for three weeks incarceration. In Atlanta, just 60 miles southeast from our campus, black students led sit-ins and boycotts of Atlanta businesses. I arranged for an art professor to join me in transporting two carloads of white students to Pascal’s restaurant, the only restaurant in Atlanta that permitted both black and white individuals. While there, they met The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. I arranged to send our white students recorded discussion of the sit-ins and boycotts to Morehouse, Spellman and other African American colleges student leaders. On their first response to our students, those African American student leaders sang We Shall Overcome and proposed that we should invite them to Berry. We did. (Newsom & Gorden, 1962; Newsom & Gorden, 1963; Gorden, 1964; Gorden, 1965; Gorden, 1969; Gorden 1972).
Before that could happen, however, one evening about 100 white students from the male dorms marched in protest at my home. About a half-block from our house, the dean surprised them with his photoflash and ordered them back to their dorms. Dr. John Bertrand, president of Berry, canceled our invitation and called a campus-wide gathering of faculty and students. We were told that the FBI was in the audience and that for now there would be no African Americans coming to campus. Integration of our college would be gradual, and several years later that occurred by first enrolling black town-students as day students. I wrote a play about that experience in which I included excerpts of rhetoric I refer to as antiphonal preaching from protest rallies, e.g.
Responses by individuals in the Congregation are in italics:
Preacher You who’ve got backbone, (Yes)
Preacher You who’ve got character, (Yes)
Preacher You know the way God is moving, (Yes)
Preacher Keep on moving. (Yes, keep on moving.)
Preacher You’ve got a song to sing, (Yes)
Preacher Don’t let nobody (Yes)
Preacher Turn you around. (Applause)
Preacher Nobody, (Nobody)
Preacher Nobody, (Nobody)
Preacher Know your rights. (Stay there)
Preacher Stay there (Stay there)
Preacher Stay there (Stay there)
Preacher Stay there (Stay there)
Preacher If mamma don’t like it, (Like it)
Preacher Well, I’m sorry. (Shout it, Shout it!)
Preacher Stay there, (Stay there)
Preacher Stay there (Stay there)
Preacher Till heaven gets happy (Yes)
Preacher And hell gets sad. (Yes)
Preacher Stay there. (Stay there.)
Preacher If you have to stand there by yourself, (Yeah)
Preacher Don’t let nobody turn you around. (Applause)
Preacher God forbid (Yes sir, yes sir) (Newsom & Gorden 1962, 1963).
Living through a significant experience and acquiring information about the subject of it makes it possible to write a partially fictional account. I learned that. Years later when I was coordinating graduate studies of organizational communication and advising students, I suggested to them that once you knew a subject well that you could then compose fiction on that theme. Robin Clair was one of those students. Years later, Clair (2013) who made her name in ethnographic studies, proved that proposition with her novel Zombie Seed and Butterfly Blues: a case study of social justice.
I wasn’t fired, but I applied and was hired at Southwest Texas University. This was at the time when Lyndon Baines Johnson was President. We bought a house on Lyndon Baines Johnson Avenue, a block away from the University. President Johnson had been a student and editor of the university newspaper that was housed in the building where I would teach. In this job, I was not to know what was a flat or a theater in-the-round. One of my students was a returned veteran who told of his submarine-life just off-shore of Vietnam. I insisted to students who mocked Jim, we should respect his defense of that war. It was the mid sixties, a time of changing sexual attitudes. My job was to coach forensics. Yet it seemed to me that to only focus on rhetoric was an abdication of civic responsibility. Consequently, I expanded exchange of student recorded discussions to other venues–labor unions, military personnel and pacifists, and different aged persons. I assigned students to speak in coffee houses and to present round-table discussions at our local radio station.
One of the topics of discussion was the sex revolution. The radio station manager told President John McCrocklin of our university that she would not air it. He ordered me to meet with him. In that session he stated I had written FUCK on the blackboard and told me he’d never had to use shock language to teach. I told him that as an illustration in a semantics lecture, I had printed FOCK from a cartoon with the caption, graffiti of a college dropout. He then ordered my students to be confined to the classroom, suspended my promotion to full professor that had been approved, and assigned a committee to investigate me. I saw teaching as a quest for learning. I rejected the safe proposition that a professor should limit topics to one’s discipline and not involve students in controversial matters. The order that my students speak only within my classroom and that my promotion was suspended, prompted me to challenge the assumption that the classroom is the practice field and not the stadium. The message of the speech instructor, I concluded, should be the free play of the spirit in “sensitive areas.” I resigned in protest. I argued then and do now what matters in the classroom extends beyond its four walls. (Gorden, 1969; Dugger, April 28, 1967).
President McCrockin of our university was also appointed as undersecretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare by President Lyndon B. Johsnon. The year after I resigned in 1967, the news broke that dozens of paragraphs were identical to President McCrocklin’s dissertation and his wife’s master’s thesis, much of which was drawn from an old Marine Corps report. Some faculty, with whom I had associated, scheduled a campus event in which audience members could call out page numbers and the identical portions from the dissertation and thesis were read aloud. McCrocklin resigned in April 1969. The University of Texas regents declared McCrocklin’s degree “null, void, and of no effect” to remove his name from Ph.D. recipients (Haurwitz, 2019). Not to have his name lost to San Marcos, home of the university for which he was president, McCrocklin founded a real estate agency and his son heads it now.
Without a job, I sent dozens of letters of application. I was invited to only two interviews. One at the University of Oklahoma facilities struck me as unpleasant and the other was at Kansas State University where I was not offered a job. Therefore, I arranged to do postdoctoral studies with two scholars I admired. The fall semester was with Theodore Clevenger, Chair of the Speech Department at Florida State University and in the spring it was with Franklyn Haiman at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
In addition to observing Clevenger in the classroom, with his approval, I assigned 40 students in groups of 8 to five breakout rooms. A sixth room was filled with source materials. The rule of this experiment was that I, the instructor, would not enter any group’s room without being invited. Individual grades would be based on two video recorded symposium presentations and a midterm and final exam. Students were on their own. I made resources available, but they were responsible. It was the first time most of them had to confront not being treated as children. But it was not the first nor last time I made the students responsible for their own learning. Throughout my career, in small groups and teams courses, I have engaged students in activities in which they must take responsibility for learning: in quality circles, PERT, T-group, Tavistock, and test training (Gorden, 1979).
In my second semester of post-doc study, I did no teaching. Rather I took courses taught by Franklyn Haiman, who was active with the American Civil Liberties Union, and other faculty at Northwestern University. When studying freedom of speech and press with Haiman, I did research for a simulation-game on cases decided by the Supreme Court (Gorden, 1971).
After a year of postgraduate study, I was employed at Kent State. I was assigned to coordinate and monitor 40 sections of the basic communication course, a responsibility I continued for ten years. Graduate students and part-time instructors of that course were pretty much on their own. I didn’t provide a set of assignments nor did I require a course-wide examination as is now a practice. A tightly structured curriculum makes instructors often of large classes more graders than teachers of collaborative learning. Grade-conscious competition, a practice in medical and military schools, is far from collaborative learning.
During my first years at Kent, I helped found and lead a chapter of the ACLU and initiated a course titled Speech and a Free Society. What was going on beyond the four walls of the classroom was in the rhetoric of the streets, and I participated in marches against the Vietnam War. I hung a large U.S. flag on the wall behind my desk to signal I was patriotic and co-authored with a grad student an article on the rhetoric of desecration (Goodman & Gorden, 1971).
With my older daughter Gay, I joined six busloads of people from our area to Washington D.C. to protest the war. On the return trip, at a stop in Breezewood, some of those people from the bus complained about the food and service in the restaurant. They were chased out by its manager armed with mace and his large black dog. On the rush to leave, apparently a lamp was knocked over. My daughter and I had not gone into the restaurant. The bus driver was ordered not to leave until money was raised to pay for the lamp. I was designated to confront the managers of the restaurant with guns drawn to settle the problem.
That routing was just before the May 4, 1970 shootings. The Kent campus was closed, and I taught graduate students in our barn. Our ACLU chapter recorded 150 testimonies of students whose rooms had been searched without warrants by law officers. Those then were instrumental in the wrongful death suit. The tragic deaths on campus and bringing freedom of speech cases to court, such as against 25 students who had protested, announcing the burning of a dog to raise awareness of napalming in Vietnam, and rhetoric of the fire symbol, brought the outside inside our classrooms (Gorden, 2019; Kelley and Gorden, 1974; Gordon and Kelley, 2019).
Another effort to bring in what’s beyond is demonstrated by the site I founded and maintained 25 years ago, Ask the Workplace Doctors. Its thousands of Q&As informed students of opportunities and frustrations they might face in their careers. Many of them pertained to restriction of communication: incivility, discrimination, religious advocacy, etc. (Gorden 2018). By introducing students and readers at large to employees’ concerns, they are forewarned about what to expect and are able to forearm themselves with coping skills.
Tina Lewis Rowe, a police officer and U.S. Marshal, submitted a question to that site. I invited her to be a guest respondent and then came to appreciate her savvy insight, so much so that I invited her to join me as an Associate Workplace Doctor. Rowe responded to questions for two decades in addition to advising police departments and thousands of churches about safety (Rowe, 2019; Rowe 2018). Our trove of Q&As includes topics on bullying, incivility, space, sex, religion, discrimination, team building, etc. (Gorden, 2016). Additionally, we published anonymously specific feel good moments submitted by employees.
Questions were submitted from near and afar. One was by an expatriate of what at one time was Yugoslavian; he worked for a British Airline based in the United Arab Emirates. He was assigned to a psychiatric examination because he had complained management was not following rules they had made. After a series of emails, he reported that he had been given a clean bill of mental health. He explained that the favorable verdict resulted because the psychiatrist appointed to examine him was from Australia and didn’t like the British. I don’t know if that was the correct explanation for his good fortune, but he was pleased he was not fired.
One topic of many question submitted was on sexual harassment, e.g. “About two weeks ago, this male coworker started touching, poking, and pretending to punch me in the jaw. He actually asked me to talk dirty to him about a week ago. In anger, I told some coworkers about my experience. They completely supported me but explained that I should have told him on the spot to stop. I don’t disagree but was shocked by his behavior so I didn’t react the way I should have!” Dozens of such descriptions, with our advice, were made available on that site. I had accepted articles on employee sexual attraction/distraction, freedom of speech on Communication Currents, and posted articles on LinkedIn (Gorden April 15, 2019; Gorden, September 9, 2016; Gorden, February 22, 2019; Clair, et. al. 2019). Ask the Workplace Doctors with its archive is now housed at CommLab ASU, but is currently not activated.
During a sabbatical, I did on-site interviews with those who were assigned to quality improvement of products and services in over 50 companies and nonprofit organizations, e.g. in Washington D.C, I met with personnel in the Smithsonian Museums, United Way, the Navy, counterintelligence in the Pentagon, and three different Homeless shelters, run by a former student. In order to bring in what’s beyond the classroom walls, I felt I needed to learn what was going out there. I wrote to CEO Robert D. Kennedy of Union Carbide after the 1984 accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. He arranged for me an interview with training, safety, and quality managers at a Carbide plant in Cleveland. I was an audience of one while these three described their efforts to avoid any accident in the future. Their presentation was not just to avoid accidents, but to cut waste–wasted energy, wasted supplies, wasted effort, and wasted money.
LinkedIn posts are a way to acquaint students with my thinking. For example, a colleague invited me to speak to her class on culture and aging. That prompted me to compose a series of LinkedIn Posts I titled, “Profiling You Can’t Outlive.” I have been careful not to advocate or tell my own story of religious beliefs, but if asked, I am willing to refer students to questions, and my answers, on religious discrimination on my site Ask the Workplace Doctors. I’ve never assigned students to read what I wrote for my daughters titled Our Father Not in Heaven or its more academic version Embracing Uncertainty: the Rhetoric of Faith and Doubt (both unpublished). I like, but have never shared favorite quotations about faith, such as “If the gods listened to the prayers of men, all humankind would quickly perish since they constantly pray for many evils to befall one another.” – Epicurus.
Teaching for me is a matter of sharing concepts and values that have captured my attention. For example, in many courses I present ethical concepts that apply to communication such as Garrett Hardin’s economic theory that spawned his article Tragedy of the Commons–which states that individuals acting independently and rationally according to self-interest, behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group, by depleting resources, such as land, water, and money. In short, selfishness must be cut-short and prevented by policing so that our lands are not overgrazed, our forests clear-cut, and our waters overfished (Hardin, 1968).
Another ethical concept I pose is John Rawls’ Theory of Justice. Rawls asks us to imagine a group of people planning their future, hammering out the rules for themselves–a Social Contract. Rawls argued that to make fair rules, you must not know if you will be born poor or rich. Only then will you make the rules fair for all. Rawls calls this a Veil Of Ignorance (Rawls, 1971). I’ve challenged students to apply Hardin’s and Rawls’ concepts when making do and don’t rules of workplace communication.
Learning while teaching takes varied turns, in similar ways to Frost’s poem about Two Roads: “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” I co-instructed an intercultural communication course with an instructor from Korea and another from India. Our students were a mix from Africa, the middle-east, Asia, and the states. It was a course in listening to one another’s stories. Moreover, I participated in intercultural seminars in Great Britain and Sweden. On a third trip, I researched the democracy of the Swedish workplace (Gorden, Holmberg & Heisey, 1994). Add to this, a summer with my family living in the home of a family in the village of Ocotlan, Mexico, and years later visiting my daughter studying in Japan, another year meeting former graduate students in South Korea, studying business in Hong Kong and touring business in China led by its major newspaper, and presenting a teachers’ seminar on academic games for the Department of Defense School in Bahrain, at the invitation of the student I had I defended when he spoke about his service in Vietnam in Texas years prior.
Making What You Want Understood is Memorable
The philosopher Kant created the categorical imperative: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. Perhaps the most memorable and practical maxims are far from academic, such as Yogi Berra’s “If I can’t think of it, and nobody else can think of it, it ain’t gonna happen” or a Duck Dynasty kind of maxim that I heard actor Kevin Spacey say, “Don’t slap someone chewing tobacco.”
Some maxims come with stories. Bernard A. Polek, at age 30, while employed at a savings and loan bank, won a Five-Minute Speech Contest sponsored by the American Savings and Loan Institute. Bernard began his speech just as you might do by looking around the room in which you are at this moment.
Pointing to the walls and ceiling in the room in which he was, he said,
Look at this room where we sit now. For a moment, let’s not take it for granted—let’s look at it. Those lights—tubes of glass, apparently empty, yet they glow! That ceiling—what a load it can carry, yet how easily. . . .Now let me ask you a question about this room: When did it first exist—was it when the roof and walls enclosed this space? Was it when the foundation was laid, or when the plumbing and electrical wiring was put in…or was it when the builder signed the contract or did it first begin by someone who saw it in his mind’s eye and turned a dream into a sketch and then into something tangible?
This you have to see it first speech illustrates an interactive communicative process from within the first moments one faces an audience to engage it collaboratively.
I published Polek’s speech in Communication: Personal and Public—the one with images on its cover of Chagall’s Four Seasons (Gorden, 1978). That gigantic art object is located in Chase Tower Plaza in the Loop district of Chicago, Illinois. It’s an awesome depiction of ordinary life as Chagall saw it: street sweeper, peddler, drunken soldiers, fiddler, birds, fish, flowers, suns, lovers on a picnic, and peasants listening to the village storyteller. These images shine forth in the thousands of inlaid chips in over 250 colors in a gigantic, four-sided, rectangular mosaic– 70 feet long, 14 feet high, 10 feet wide. This work of art titled Four Seasons was dedicated on September 27, 1974. That giant Chagall creation came about on the Chase plaza because someone first saw this great artist’s work elsewhere. And because I saw it first there and saved it in my head for a time when I could share it, it’s pictured on the cover of my text published four years after Four Seasons’ dedication.
Not incidentally, the act of me now reaching out to you, who read these words, is a psychological-communication technique known as immediacy. Immediacy connects teachers and learners –shaking hands, meeting eyes, applauding someone or thing, using we and our pronouns, and us together answering a question such as, “What maxims motivate us?” Teaching and learning in higher education, at its best, brings the outside inside our classroom walls by making what matters memorable.
Enabling students to manage communication apprehension can be taught by providing access to models. My first graduate advisee Rich Breiner’s dissertation involved analysis of roles played by anchors on our major networks. It was no walk in the park. Rich had to write and rewrite and revise and rewrite. I was embarrassed to tell him that so many times and would soften it with the maxim Getting a PhD is like running a marathon. I knew he knew what that meant. I had seen him come across the goal line of his fourth marathon. At last, he successfully defended his dissertation. The morning of graduation, I, in my robe, came around the corner of the building in which we were to gather and was surprised to see Rich in his running togs. He had run from his home 50 miles away. Emblazoned on the front of his t-shirt was Getting a PhD and on its back was Is like running a marathon. If you access Rich Breiner’s site today, you will see he has run 76 marathons and 20 ultra marathons.
Rich has won several national Toastmasters’ contests. To illustrate managing communication apprehension when facing an audience, I play his winning speech titled The Other Side Of Fear. In that speech, Rich describes listening to Ralph Nader struggling to interest his John Carroll University audience of 1,100 about stopping the pollution of Lake Erie. Nader’s scratchy voice made listening difficult. Rich thought Mr. Nader needed water. There was none on the table beside the lectern. Sensing someone should get him water, Rich slipped out of his seat and worked his way to the foyer and brought back a glass of water and fearfully made his way to the podium and placed it there–knowing 2,200 eyeballs were on this fool bringing water to the stage. Rich slunk back to his seat and listened to Ralph Nader continue in his raspy voice.
Rich kept hoping Mr. Nader would pick up that glass of water, but he didn’t. At last when the time came for questions, Rich hesitantly raised his hand and asked, “Mr. Nader, it seemed to me you needed water to help clear your throat, why didn’t you drink it?” No answer, Rich continued, “Was it because you thought it came from Lake Erie?” The audience exploded in laughter and applause–applause for scared Rich, who had dared to deal with his fear at the expense of making a fool of himself.
Answering Why Questions–Why You, Why Me, and What is This
In graduate school, I was assigned a course in voice science that entailed anatomical drawings of the head, throat, and chest. Dr. Theodore Hadley taught the course. I remember responding to a question he posed, ending my answer with the tagline, “But I don’t know why it’s important to know this.” That sparked an immediate reply to my question by Professor Hadley, “Young man, it’s my job to teach voice science, not to justify you learning it.” Perhaps recalling this incident prompts me to understand it’s my responsibility as a communicator to address the ever-present why questions in the minds of those with whom I speak.
Richard Branson, in The Virgin Way, describes a non-speech speech he uses to cope with nervousness in delivering a speech, “I have become (so I am told) one of the world’s most highly paid ’speakers’ and as a result have been raising around $10 million per year for charity” (Branson, 2014). Those of us, who have achieved far less than Branson, can not get by with a non-speech approach. But we should answer the questions in the minds of our audience–of why you, why me, and why this matters. I confess Why Questions were not foremost in my textbook’s list of design formats of a speech or alongside Chronological Sequence, Spacial Partition, and Process of Elimination formats. Despite my smart-ass confrontation with Doctor Hadley, I didn’t consciously make answering Why Questions a semester ongoing concern while teaching during much of my teaching career. That I think was a mistake. Why? Because we all want answers to why you, why me, and why this matters in an ongoing relationship–especially as student-teachers. Satisfying our needs for purpose and meaning are as important as are our needs for food and safety.
Students learn to know who we are by the kind of words that play in our own heads. I share words I’ve memorized that give me a sense of belonging. Having been born on a small planet with 8 billion beings in a universe that burst forth some 13-14 billion years ago, I lead them in the words of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, “I am a child of the universe. No less than the trees and the stars, I have a right to be here.”
Sometimes I use those from the movie Advance to the Rear with verses and music by The New Christy Minstrels’ leader, Randy Sparks:
I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glory
I can’t live on promises winter to spring (winter to spring)
Today is my moment and now is my story
I ́ll laugh and I ́ll cry and I ́ll sing
Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I’ll taste your strawberries, I ́ll drink your sweet wine
A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joy that is mi-uh-ine today.
I encourage students to memorize poems that have special meaning. I tell them that talking to yourself is sound business.
The last three decades of my career entailed research and graduate instruction. I headed up coursework in organizational communication and advised masters theses and doctoral dissertations. My research theme was workplace effective vs. dysfunctional communication–of assertive civility vs. aggressive incivility. I’ve shared this theme on a sabbatical where I taught graduate students in Leuven University, Belgium. I interviewed Geert Hofstede, author of Cultures Consequences, in his home and workplace in the Netherlands.
A special topics seminar I taught was on academic communication games. A text resulting from one such seminar is The team trainer: Winning tools and tactics for successful workouts, sponsored by the American Society of Training and Development (Gorden, Negal, Scott & Barbato, 1996). The product of another games seminar demonstrates the theory of uncertainty reduction–an I think, you think, I think interpersonal collaborative process. First, it was a board game; then it evolved into Internet Prediction: a game of hunches and intuition (Gorden, 2014, not now available). This is to illustrate that my work with academic games extended across much of my career, from my simulation game of the Supreme Court free speech and free press cases: on censorship, defamation, sedition, etc. (Gorden, 1971).
Game learning can introduce students to major concerns such as world hunger. Free Rice’s new site as of July, 2019, (freerice.com) is a vocabulary game with 60+ levels of difficulty and introduced users to an abundance of other topics. For every correct answer you choose, 10 grains of rice are added to help end world hunger through the World Food Programme. Freerice feeds our soul’s hunger to do what is good and to connect with those in need. The kind of assignments we make displays our values. They answer an instructor’s Who am I? Question.
I suggest that students refer to me as Coach. That minimizes seeing me as a grader of performance. I have no doubt that a liberal education is more important than one focused solely on career-focused higher learning. But I also know students’ major reason for higher education is to qualify for a career. In Business and Professional Communication courses, therefore, I include a career-direction semester-long assignment in which each student is to create their Profile on LinkedIn and to start to build a network. I kick off each class with an agenda. My agenda, posted on the whiteboard, is headed with a four-letter word, such as name or team, to illustrate what we are to do in class that day. The four-letter word n a m e is meant to raise awareness to the importance of saying one’s name clearly and firmly, as well as others’ names. I named one class Team Guts and Grit based on the story of two women with the same last name: Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, who lost her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq, was the first woman to give birth as a senator, incidentally this birth happened during a semester when I had a class (a photo of me with this class is at the heading of this essay). The second woman is Angela Duckworth, professor of Psychology, who developed Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Scale. Each student takes the Grit Scale and self-scores it.
Posting an agenda before each class is a ritual. It signals what I plan for a particular class. Usually in the first session of class, I scan the syllabus and have students in small clusters to compose an agenda of what they want covered in the course. This exercise signals that I want to address the questions and topics they can help create and collaboratively prioritize our agenda. Rituals are teaching-learning aids. The rite of an agenda and kick off four-letter word come to be something they come to expect. I close by leading the class in my signature: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Such rituals no doubt strike some who read this essay as beneath learning at the higher education level, but for me, they made learning more effective.
Rituals enlist both the psychological and cognitive values of repetition. Repetition is important both in becoming well-acquainted with knowledge and becoming competent in skills (Gladwell, 2008). I like to tell students that “Good writing is bad writing edited, edited, edited.” Repetition should not be dismissed by those in higher education.
At the beginning of a semester, I state my optimistic goals for each class are that their learning will be engaging, easy, enjoyable, entertaining, enlightening, efficient, effective, and enriching. Not everyone of these learning adjectives can be achieved within a class period, but they should be over a semester.
In Business and Professional Communication courses, I require students to compose a past, present, and future section of their career assignment. The past section of the career-direction focused on those experiences that shape values. For example, Adreanna explained and introduced her maxim that would echo throughout her speech:
My parents had me when they were still kids themselves, so everything has been a growing and learning experience for me and my parents as well. We basically grew up together. Being young parents with a new born daughter in a rough neighborhood really lit a fire in my parents to work hard to move to a better neighborhood so their kids could have better educations and opportunities than they had growing up. Seeing my parents work so hard their whole lives not for themselves, but for the future of my brothers and myself was really inspiring, though they were still young and growing and learning. So, at a young age I learned to work hard for what I want, and to never give up. Doors can’t open up if you’re shut off, so open up and so will the world. This is my maxim, and it to me basically says don’t be afraid to live life open-heartedly. Open yourself up to new opportunities, new experiences, new places, and new people. You may just find your new favorite thing! So open up and let life in.
A resource I recommend is the 80,000 hours site, housed at the Centre for Effective Altruism in England and Wales, to generate debate whether it is better to choose a high paying career in order to be able to contribute to causes that support the common good or to find lower pay work that does that.
I emphasize that this career-direction assignment should include attention to what makes life purposeful, happy, and ethical. Biography lecturettes help that happen: Ben Franklin, Russell Conwell’s Acres of Diamonds, The Rev. Martin Luther King, etc. Career achievement, too often, is thought of as big pay and a high position, but I stress that that does not necessarily make this world a better place. My LinkedIn posts aid instruction, such as Dream Job? No! But a Career-Direction in the Making (Gorden, 2018) and Voices of Dissent Are Shaping the Public Agenda (2019, July 10), WeToo and Breaking the Silence with #MeToo (Gorden, 2019, April 15). Add to these what I play in class, one or more, of TED’s most transformative talks.
Our hope as teachers is to enable students to find mentors, but we want more than that. We want them to find in us, and in their classmates, collaborative learning relationships and more. “Our relationships can not only help us feel good,” as James McConnchie recently opined, “they can also help us be good,” (McConnchie, 2019). The ever-present challenge to teaching and learning is to answer the Why Question: why you, why me, why this matters inside and beyond the four walls of the classroom? I provide each student the name and email of an alum who has agreed to mentor. Alum Laura Mazur, who for seven years coordinated community dinners for our Kent community, mentored Kara Durbin. Kara played forward that mentoring she has gotten from Laura. Not long ago, Kara updated me:
Thank you for your efforts in connecting current and past students with the University and the community. It is something that falls to the side many times, but is extremely important.
I wanted to give you an update on where I am with Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio. It’s been an interesting, wonderful, and human-centered experience so far. I interviewed two times for the Community Outreach Position at Habitat, and immediately after the second interview, I was offered the job. Afterwards, I spoke with the receptionist and she said that it was “two thumbs up” from the beginning, but what really sealed the deal was the thank-you card I sent. The receptionist said that they have never had anyone send a thank you card-especially one that showed appreciation to the receptionist as well (I included her in the note).
Then, five days into my job, the Executive Director and Director of Community Outreach walked into our office together and asked if we could talk. It didn’t sound cheerful, and I was nervous. They kept skirting around what they wanted to say and finally, the ED said, “Why don’t you just tell her what’s going on.” Claire, the Director of Community Outreach, said that she and her boyfriend were planning to move to South Carolina for his job and would leave in about a month and a half. That meant that I would only have a month to learn as much as possible. . .
During the initial interviews, Habitat mentioned that I would need to be flexible in my position because things change rapidly in the workplace. I didn’t realize that I would need to be REALLY flexible and learn so quickly! ha! It has been amazing so far and it is a true testament of the staff’s good nature and love of humanity. They gave me a real chance to succeed, trusted their gut, and helped me grow into the position (very quickly).
One thing that I mention all of the time at work is the first day of your class when you had us make an oath to the garbage men out in the world. I consistently remind others and myself that we couldn’t function without the collaboration of all types of people and that we are all to be garbage men sometimes. We all need to do the dirty work when necessary and nothing should be too small for us to do if it helps the greater good of the organization or community. Have a great day, – Kara
Kara updated again when I donated paintings taken from my gallery to be given to individuals when they got their houses built. She sent me photos of those who chose each painting to hang on the wall of their new home. More recently, she emailed me that their district celebrated the completion of their 500th home. Her note is a snapshot of what I’ve tried to say about Inside and Beyond.
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