Fred Glennon, Ph.D. (Home)
Since coming to Le Moyne my teaching responsibilities have included teaching courses in religion and religious ethics in the core curriculum, and advising freshmen. The courses I have developed and taught include:
REL 200: Religious Perspectives on the Human Situation. This is a freshmen/sophomore level, introductory, core course of approximately 30 students per section in the discipline of religious studies that seeks to acquaint students with the basic concepts expressed in most religious traditions past and present, including myth, ritual, ethics, symbol, conceptions of the sacred, and the relationship between religion and society.
REL 300: Religion and Healing. This was a core course for students studying to become Physicians’ Assistants that introduces them to the interrelationship between religion, healing, and medicine. As I developed it, the course enabled students to appreciate the religious and spiritual dimensions of illness and healing, and to explore their implications for medical practice. The course for the PA program is now part of the Medical Humanities seminar. I have developed the course for undergraduates with the first offering in Spring 2004.
REL 314: Church and State. This is a junior level course that looks at the social and legal relationship between church and state, religion and politics. One new wrinkle is that I have added a comparative perspective and will teach part of the course in Florence, Italy.
REL 336: Comparative Religious Ethics and Social Concerns. This is a junior level core course that looks at a variety of Eastern, Western, and Indigenous religious traditions and the theological and ethical frameworks from which they seek to address some of our world’s most pressing social issues, including sexuality, violence, economic justice, and environmental relations. I am currently developing it into an online course.
REL 337: Christian Social Ethics. This is a junior level core course that takes an in depth look at mainline Christian (Catholic and Protestant) ethical positions on such issues as sexuality, marriage, family, death and dying, distributive justice, economic justice, violence, war, politics, and the environment.
REL 405: Ethics from the Perspective of the Oppressed. This is a senior level core course that analyzes oppression and injustice from an interdisciplinary and multicultural perspective, seeking to give voice to the ethical positions advocated by oppressed persons in our culture, including women, persons of color, the poor, gays and lesbians, and Native Americans.
Because our department has so few majors, I have never taught a course that consisted only of majors, minors, or interested parties save for the Colloquium classes. I mention this because it shapes how I approach the courses I teach. Because my courses are core courses and required, I realize that I have to address a wide variety of students, many of whom are hostile to the idea of taking courses in religious studies. This has shaped in some ways my educational approach and perspective.
In his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer makes two important assertions which reflect my educational philosophy. First, he contends that we cannot reduce good teaching to technique. Instead, good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher (10). What he means is that as we come to grips with our selfhood as teachers–the forces that shape us, the values we hold, the commitments we make–we can learn techniques that reveal our personhood as teachers. Second, Palmer argues that community is at the heart of reality and thus at the heart of education (97). Education occurs within a teaching-learning community which acknowledges the interrelationship between teachers, students, and the truths we seek together.
I have published two essays, “Promoting Freedom, Responsibility, and Learning in the Classroom: the Learning Covenant a Decade Later” and "Assessment for the Right Reason: The Ethics of Outcomes Assessment." These essays reflect my understanding of myself as a teacher and my vision of the teaching-learning community as a covenant community, a community that affirms the value of all persons, and enables and requires the participation and contributions of all members. Rather than repeat what I have written, I encourage reviewers of my portfolio to read the essays to get a complete picture of what I mean by covenant community. My purpose in noting it briefly here is to make the committee aware that this vision of self and community underlies my educational philosophy. (For a review of the assessment article, see http://www.prs-ltsn.leeds.ac.uk/relig_studies/reviews/ttr2/ttr2_1_1999_glennon.html).
There is little consensus in our society on the purpose of higher education. Sometimes we are asked to fulfill what seem like conflicting goals, such as social mobility and social efficiency. In my view, however, higher education is not simply some product students and society consume, a degree to use as a credential for better employment or a tool to make employees more productive and employable. Good higher education, as Parker Palmer points out, "is always more process than product" (94). Higher education is a process in which participants learn and practice the virtues and values of citizenship, responsibility, democratic equality, and thinking critically about themselves and our society in a search for truth.
This view of higher education has pedagogical implications for my role as professor and for my treatment of students within and without the classroom. First, by affirming that education includes both process and product, I accept that as a teacher my function is not simply to transmit knowledge. More importantly, as a fellow seeker in the search for truth, I am a guide and facilitator in the learning process. I must respect the experiences and resources which students bring to the table and construct an environment that is conducive to learning for all of us.
Second, promoting citizenship and responsibility demands that I enable students to be active participants in the learning process while I continue to improve as a teacher. To facilitate student involvement I cannot conduct my classes in an authoritarian manner. Rather, I must honor student freedom and provide them voice and say in the direction of their learning. At the same time, students must learn to exercise their freedom responsibly. Students have an obligation to us and to one another to engage the learning process, to make learning challenging and exciting. They must take responsibility for their own learning and be mindful of their obligations to others, especially their peers, in the teaching-learning community. I also have a duty to explore who I am as a teacher, and to further my knowledge about the subjects I teach and about appropriate pedagogies to teach my discipline.
The practice of democratic equality means that I must respect the rights of students to be treated fairly, to receive prompt response, and to know the basis upon which they will be evaluated. I must appreciate their differences in both learning styles and needs. In addition, members of the community must listen to and respect one another. Students must respect the diverse perspectives and opinions expressed by their peers; and they must provide opportunity for everyone to reason together in free and open dialogue in their common search for truth.
I implement this philosophical understanding of higher education and the values it embodies into my teaching in four main ways: the learning covenant, the cooperative classroom, the democratic classroom, and classroom assessment. Let me detail briefly what I mean by them.
The learning covenant is an explicit, written agreement between the student, the professor, and other students concerning the involvement of the student in the class. As such, it sets down the formal requirements for the student’s participation in the course. It lists the learning objectives the student will seek to achieve, the activities the student will perform to meet those objectives, and explicitly identifies the criteria which will be used to evaluate the student's learning. It has the following advantages over more traditional methods of evaluation: (1) it allows for greater individual flexibility and freedom on the part of the student to select those activities which she or he finds of most interest; (2) it states everything clearly and explicitly so that there is no confusion or ambiguity about what is expected; and (3) it allows the student an opportunity to take responsibility for his or her own learning.
The covenanting process is continuous; however, the bulk of it ends within the first two-three weeks. On the first day of class, in addition to the syllabus, I provide students with copies of the learning covenant guidelines, a list of learning activity options, and the covenant itself (to view these on each course, check my courses page). The guidelines specify what the covenant process is and how to develop their own covenant. It explains the importance of identifying their learning needs and how to write objectives to meet those needs. The activity options include detailed descriptions of a variety of learning activities students might use to meet their learning objectives. Although they are suggestive not exhaustive, the activities do encompass a wide range of learning styles and provide opportunity for students to meet their learning objectives using different media (oral, visual, written, etc.). Each activity option includes explicit evaluation criteria so students know what to expect. Any differences can be discussed and negotiated on an individual basis. Students record their objectives, the activities they will do to meet them, the weight each activity will have, and their due dates on the learning covenant provided. After consulting with their peers, students turn in an initial covenant which I then approve or negotiate revisions. Students can modify most components of their covenants throughout the semester as their learning needs or interests change.
In addition to the covenanting process, I structure the class on a cooperative learning model to encourage mutuality among students as they learn together. In doing this, I make a pedagogical assumption: people learn best in cooperation with one another. Individual learning may take place between the ears, but the resources one draws upon to make that learning happen come mostly from a cooperative context. Because learning is a cooperative venture, learners have the potential and the obligation to contribute to the learning of others. To promote such cooperative behavior, students and I work collaboratively during every class and a significant portion of student evaluations are based upon the collective results of group work as well as individual participation in those groups. Although I experiment with a variety of formal and informal cooperative learning activities, two cooperative task structures are central: developing home groups and promoting positive interdependence.
Home groups are semester-long, heterogeneous cooperative learning groups of 4-5 students with stable membership whose primary responsibility is to provide each student the support, encouragement, and assistance he or she needs. Home groups personalize the work required and the course learning experiences, providing opportunities or students to listen to, engage with, and learn from one another. These groups provide help with the content of the course, but also report on the process of participating in groups as well. I select home groups randomly at first, but eventually try to develop the most heterogeneous groups possible according to race, gender, interests, etc. The groups become permanent within the first few weeks and students meet in these groups on a daily basis.
Positive interdependence involves creating a situation (and an awareness) where students are linked with one another in ways that they can only meet their mutually shared goal by sharing resources and fulfilling their responsibilities. In other words, they sink or swim together. I use a variety of methods to generate this positive interdependence among students, but the three most common are jigsaw, expert groups, and group finals. In using jigsaw and expert groups, I give one copy of each essay I want students to review. The groups divide the essays among group members to read and analyze. During the next class students who have readings in common meet together to form expert groups. These students review their essay to insure that each person understands the key elements then they return to their home groups to teach the contents of each essay to every member of the group. Since each student will be held accountable for the ideas in each essay, students must listen attentively to one another. Group finals are similar in that each student in the home group takes responsibility for preparing an essay question or case that covers a segment of the course content. The purpose of the final is to have a thorough, intellectually stimulating, and useful discussion of course materials. The students meet together for two hours to share and discuss their essays. Each student uses this discussion/feedback to revise his or her essay/case. In addition, students evaluate each other’s participation in the group process. The final product consists of the revised essays compiled together and the group evaluations. The grade a student receives for the final is comprised by averaging the grade for the individual essay, the group of essays, and the group participation evaluations.
Using cooperative strategies to teach much of the course content has implications for my role in the classroom. I seek to minimize student perceptions of me as an authority figure and to enhance their understanding that I am there to facilitate and guide their learning. Thus, I play a key role as a resource person. I attempt to create a context for them to learn together and for them to assume responsibility for their learning. This role has been far more demanding because, while I must insure that learning is taking place, I must do so in ways that invite ideas and perspectives different from my own.
Students cannot learn democratic equality by reading alone; they must also practice it. Learning covenants, which provide students freedom and voice in the direction of their learning, and cooperative classes, which emphasize that students have responsibilities to one another, are two opportunities to practice democratic equality. I take it a step further, however, by developing a class covenant that involves students in decision-making about curriculum, evaluation, and future classroom deliberations.
The class covenant process generally involves two class meetings (although additional meetings can be added). I provide groups of students with four basic elements of the syllabus: course content and objectives, student rights and responsibilities, evaluation, and ground rules for discussion. Attached to each area is a set of questions to spark student thinking and deliberation. The students are to look at the elements and make comments about them, including what they like and what they would like to change. For example, in my Comparative Religious Ethics class (REL 336), one section felt they had more than enough experience with Christian Ethics and wanted to focus instead on the ethical traditions of other faiths. This required some reworking of the syllabus, but it provided more opportunity to focus on the traditions we covered. In the area of evaluation, students will sometimes make different decisions about who will evaluate their work and the weight each evaluation will carry. For some classes, having students evaluate their work with the professor is welcomed; others prefer the evaluations come from me. The ground rules for discussion (which I sometimes call a classroom covenant) list the principles which will guide our interactions together in the course of classroom deliberations and interactions. These usually include such rules as showing respect by listening and not interrupting each other, making sure everyone has an opportunity to participate, and prohibiting put downs of any sort.
Some people question this process arguing that it takes away from course content. As I stated above, however, I believe higher education is as much process as it is content. This is especially true of my ethics classes. In my view, this process is the essence of ethics: a group of people coming together to deliberate about what is appropriate and inappropriate, laying out the foundations for their relationships with one another, and holding one another accountable for keeping their promises. Students not only learn what ethics is, but practice being ethical in the process.
As noted above, in order to keep my covenant with my students and my colleagues to cultivate my craft as a teacher, it is imperative for me to assess how well I am doing and to discern what I need to do to improve. I want to know that what I am intending in the courses I teach, the knowledge, skills, and values objectives, are actually being learned. To research this I engage in a variety of classroom assessment activities only four of which I will discuss here: mid-term evaluations, teaching assessment groups, student self-assessment of learning essays, and moral reflection papers.
Many members of Le Moyne faculty use a mid-term evaluation these days. My reason for using it is to provide students opportunity to provide feedback for the course they are currently taking so that changes I might make can benefit them as well as future students. I incorporate evaluation surveys into the learning management system (currently Canvas). The survey I use has some standard opinion of teaching questions, but they are coupled with questions asking students to assess the time and effort they are putting into the course. My hope is that as they reflect on what needs to change they will also think about the role they can play in making the changes happen. Students can submit the survey (with their name or anonymously) any time they would like to say something to me about the course, but at least once at mid-term. In conjunction with a group of student volunteers, I review the evaluations and generate a list of possible improvements (either for this course or when I teach it next time). I will then discuss what I learned from the surveys in class to allow the class to comment as a whole. For example, this past semester students wanted me to incorporate more visual (video primarily) illustrations of the issues addressed in class. I used this feedback to use short and medium size clips as discussion starters for the readings.
Teaching assessment groups include those students who have chosen teaching assistant or process analyst as a learning activity. We meet weekly to discuss what occurred in the previous week’s classes and what will happen in the week ahead. I provide students with copies of my objectives and selected activities for each class ahead of time so that they can write comments as the class proceeds. In particular, I ask students to note if the objective for the class was achieved or not and what helped or hindered its achievement. At our weekly meetings, we discuss their comments and make suggestions for how the class might be improved upon and what I need to do in classes ahead to insure that the material is learned better. I keep their comments and notes on our discussions in a file to use as I prepare to teach the given material at a future time.
Students seldom have opportunity to take stock of the learning that occurred during the course of a semester. Student self-assessment of learning essays are short, two-four page essays that students write at the end of the semester to provide students the opportunity to do just that. The essays are not graded, but are factored in as a component of their participation grade. Aside from asking students to reflect upon what they have learned, the essays also ask them to note those things in the class that helped or hindered their learning. In addition to what these essays enable students to do, they also provide me with an additional source of information on ways to improve the courses I teach.
One of the objectives of all of my ethics classes is to improve the ethical reasoning capabilities of my students. To discern where students’ ethical reasoning needs improvement and to assess how well the class has contributed to it, I ask students to write moral reflection papers in which they make an argument about a specific moral issue or problem. In two page essays, students are to state their conclusions about the issue and to support that conclusion with reasonable and clear arguments. I collect these essays and review them before the next class meeting. I divide the essays into three piles: good, needs work, and poor, depending upon how well students have developed their arguments but the essays are not graded. I will look for common problems in their reasoning as well as strengths. I will report at the next class meeting the results of what I found, using examples from the essays (without names, of course) to illustrate the points I want to make. At some future class meeting, I will spend additional time on ethical reasoning and ways to construct a moral argument. At the end of the semester, students will write a graded moral reflection paper. These papers will also be reviewed according to the same categories as before: good, needs work, and poor, and I will note how the numbers compare to the earlier effort to see if my interventions were enough. For example, if most of the essays I grade at the end move from the poor and needs work piles to the good pile, then this indicates that the efforts I made in class to work on moral reasoning are working. If there is no change, then other interventions are needed the next time I teach the class. The following chart reflects my findings over the past 3 years.
Below is a chart of my student evaluations over the past several years. As you will note, I have consistently averaged between 1 and 1.5 on student evaluations even though most of the students in my classes would rather not take a core course in Religious Studies.
The comments on the written forms suggest repeatedly that they were surprised that the course was as good as it was and that they learned as much as they did. Moreover, I have earned this high rating in light of the fact that my teaching philosophy and style has evolved continuously since coming to Le Moyne. Students rate me as an excellent professor even though I have reworked course materials and approach--partly in response to changes in my pedagogical approach, partly in response to suggestions made by students in formal and informal evaluations. Another measure of student appreciation has been the number of students who have been closed out of my courses over the years.
Like other faculty members at Le Moyne College, I see the intricate connection between scholarship and teaching. At one level, the skills needed for scholarship and teaching overlap. Both require the ability to discern the connectedness of ideas, data, and concepts, to organize them in meaningful ways, and to communicate them clearly and concisely. Yet scholarship and teaching overlap in other significant ways as well. They demand attentiveness to questions and problems in a search for truth. They require a determination to stay with them until you have found satisfactory answers. They necessitate a commitment to work collaboratively, to trust your colleagues, whether peer or student, and to be faithful to one’s responsibilities. Since coming to Le Moyne College, I have tried to develop and embody these skills and traits in both my scholarship and teaching, as the following examples illustrate.
- Introduction to the Study of Religion (Orbis Books, 1998, revised 2012). My colleagues and I spent over three years researching and publishing this textbook in religious studies. Our goal was to write a textbook that not only covered the field, but was helpful to both teachers and students as they explored the world of religion. Although there were five contributors, we wrote the textbook with one voice, which required countless hours of reviewing and revising each other’s work to make it our own. We also wrote the book with our students in mind, both as a target audience but also to reflect the concerns and issues they raised with us as we taught. They read and commented upon earlier drafts. With these in hand, we carefully explained every concept, used illustrations and pictures where possible, and provided a variety of pedagogical helps along the way. The most noteworthy is that we included in the text boxes which ask students to think about what they were reading and how it relates to their own lives. Response to the book by both students and colleagues has been quite favorable. At an Upper Midwest regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion, a colleague indicated to a panel on teaching the introductory course that she had decided to use our book because it is "more human" than other texts she has reviewed.
For me individually, this project provided opportunity not only to broaden my research in my own field, religious ethics, but also to branch out into another sub-discipline in religion, ritual studies. The research in religious ethics allowed me to develop and teach a course in Comparative Religious Ethics. Moreover, although I have taught about ritual and its importance in human life for years, this project allowed me to deepen my understanding of ritual and to bring the insights I had learned from students in the classroom into the text. As such, it represents one of the best examples of the blending of scholarship and teaching I have ever experienced.
- "The Learning Covenant: Promoting Freedom and Responsibility in the Religious Studies Classroom" (CSSR Bulletin vol. 24, no. 2 (April 1995): 32-37). As I noted previously, this essay reflects a culmination of some of my research in pedagogical theory and the research that comes from experimentation in the classroom. It also reflects my commitment to work collaboratively with colleagues and students and to take my responsibilities to them seriously. When I first came to Le Moyne, I wanted to develop a classroom environment that would engage students, especially those who viewed core courses as a waste of time, and would reflect the values of freedom, responsibility, and community. I talked extensively with colleagues at Le Moyne and elsewhere about pedagogy. My discussions led me to research and explore two contemporary learning theories in particular: John Freie (Political Science) introduced me to the freedom and flexibility inherent in contract learning and the adult learning theory that supports it; and Cathy Leogrande (Education) showed me the potential of cooperative learning to build community in the classroom. What I discovered through my pedagogical experimentation is that a combination of these learning theories, what I call the "learning covenant," has helped me to promote the kind of classroom environment I seek. The learning covenant promotes student freedom and creativity, while it also encourages students to work cooperatively and to take responsibility for their learning (individually and corporately).
I first wrote this essay for presentation at the Academic Teaching Section during the annual meeting of the
of Religion (AAR). The purpose of that section is to promote the importance of teaching within the academy and to share ideas and resources with colleagues. Three other people presented papers at that session which was attended by over 75 people. The dialogue and discussion the papers generated were incredible. One of the attendees was the editor of the Council of Societies for the Study of Religion’s publication, Bulletin, a bi-monthly publication that was distributed to over 10,000 people engaged in research and teaching religious studies. He invited me to share my research and pedagogy with others by publishing it. I agreed. Since that publication, I have had numerous discussions with colleagues throughout the American Academy AARon the learning covenant, many of whom have experimented with various components of it.
I recently updated this essay in light of further pedagogical inquiry and experience in experimenting with this approach (see below).
- "Assessment for the Right Reason: The Ethics of Outcomes Assessment" (Teaching Theology and Religion vol. 2, no. 1 (February 1999): 14-25). This brings together my scholarship and research in ethics, pedagogy, and the classroom. Three events drew me to this project: my experimentation with assessment techniques as a way to improve my teaching and student learning, my participation on the Core Evaluation Team, and the Middle States review. In the first instance, I needed to know if the pedagogy I used actually contributed to the goals and objectives both students and I had for the course. If not, what changes did we need to make? Classroom assessment techniques promised to provide me with this information. In the second, the Core Evaluation Team had the responsibility of evaluating the effectiveness of the current core curriculum with an eye toward making suggestions for change. This became difficult when we discovered that there were no stated goals or objectives for the core written in the college catalogue. What we found were rather vague and difficult to measure meaningfully. Moreover, there was no body of information available that indicated how well the core was doing. As a result, we had to develop surveys and wade through data to come to some conclusions (one of which was that we needed objectives for the core curriculum and a system of assessment). At the same time,
indicated that we needed to engage in assessment college-wide if we were going to keep our accreditation. Middle State
These three events were the catalyst for my exploration of the assessment movement. In my research, I discovered that there were different reasons being given for why we should do assessment (and a host of reasons why not). While the arguments differed, they had a moral ring to them. This led me to wonder if the moral reasoning they used squared with my own sense of the ethical issues raised by assessment. I first presented my research and reflections on this topic at the Academic Teaching Section at the annual meeting of the
AAR. That first draft spoke of the reasons why faculty resisted doing assessment and argued that, while I believed we had a moral obligation to do assessment, it had to be done right and in keeping with the values of the institution. I then listed a few ways how I thought assessment ought to be done in my courses at Le Moyne College. A number of people came up to me after the presentation to tell how they were being forced to do assessment, the how and why were assumed, and they had concerns about some of the measures being asked of them.
This discussion led me to revise the paper to its current form, which looks at the two primary moral arguments for assessment, notes their strengths and weaknesses, and argues for a third possibility; assessment as covenant obligation. The paper ends with a discussion of the ethical principles that ought to guide assessment from this perspective. Thus, the research and writing reflected in the published form of this essay bring together all facets of my scholarship and teaching. It uses the tools of ethics to analyze the moral arguments in favor of assessment. It furthers my desire to discuss critical pedagogical issues with my colleagues at Le Moyne and beyond that affect our work. It reflects the educational philosophy I have developed and explores its implementation in the classroom. Finally, the essay is another expression of my commitment to further the relationship between my scholarship and my teaching.
- "Service Learning and the Dilemma of Religious Studies: Descriptive or Normative?" part of a collection of essays on service learning for publication in the AAHE series on service learning ?" (in From Cloister to Commons: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Religious Studies, Richard Devine, Joseph A. Favazza, and F. Michael McLain, eds. (
Washington, DC: AAHE, 2002), 9-24). In addition, an excerpt from this essay was published in the CSSR Bulletin, November 2000, at the invitation of the editor of that journal. This essay has a theoretical and empirical component. On the one hand, it reviews the literature on service learning and looks at the debate about the most appropriate epistemological starting-point for the discipline of Religious Studies. The paper then analyzes responses to a survey of professors who use service learning. The paper concludes that service learning is an appropriate pedagogy for teachers of religion who see experience as essential to learning, and who affirm higher education should not only seek knowledge, but also contribute to the moral development of students and the well-being of society.
- "Experiential Learning and Social Justice Action: An Experiment in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning" (Teaching Theology and Religion, Vol. 7, no. 1, February 2004, 30-37). This essay discusses the process and findings of an experiment on the scholarship of teaching and learning conducted in a religious ethics classroom that utilized an experiential approach to teaching and learning about social justice. The first part lays out the focus of the investigation and the pedagogical principles drawn from experiential learning theory that provided the foundation for the experiment. The second part describes all of the components of the pedagogical strategy used in the experiment, the social justice action project. The third part discusses the qualitative methodology used to gather evidence and the findings drawn from that evidence. What the evidence shows is that an experiential approach to teaching and learning about social justice can be quite effective. The essay concludes with discussions of areas for further study and the implications for the practice of others. (The index described in this article can be found on the Wabash Center Web site: http://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/journal/glennon.html).
- "Religion and Healing for Physicians’ Assistants" (Teaching Religion and Healing, Linda Barnes and Inés Talamantez, eds. AAR Series on Teaching Religion, Oxford University Press, 2006, 293-306). This essay is a reflective analysis of the content and context of the course I taught for the Physicians' Assistants program for six years. This course is now part of the Medical Humanities course offered at the Masters level PA program. In addition to discussing the rationale for the course as it developed, the essay discusses the research, readings, and practices the course employed.
- "Promoting Freedom, Responsibility, and Learning in a General Education Religious Studies Course: The Learning Covenant a Decade Later,” Teaching Theology and Religion (February 2008). This essay discusses an approach to teaching Religious Studies in a general education or core curriculum that I have experimented with for the last decade, which I call the 'Learning Covenant.' The Learning Covenant brings together various pedagogical theories, including transformational, experiential, contract, and cooperative learning, in an attempt to address diverse learning styles, multiple intelligences, and student learning assessment.
- “The Footprints I Follow: A Personal Essay on Why I Teach,” Ethicsmuse.blogspot.com (January 2014) (click here for a podcast version). As part of a writing group with colleagues at Le Moyne College, I wrote this essay as a way of reflecting on how it was I got into the business of teaching and how I approach the students in my classroom.
- “Competency Assessment in Distributed Education (CADE) Seminar,” Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY, Spring 2014.
- “Using Social Media in the Religious Studies Classroom,” sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, Baltimore, MD, November 2013.
- “Workshop on Writing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion,” sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, San Francisco, CA, November 2011
- “Religious Commitments in the Undergraduate Classroom,”colloquy sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, Crawfordsville, IN, 2010-2011.
- Pedagogy and the Environment,” with Bobbi Patterson (Emory University), sponsored by the O’Connell Professorship and the Faculty Excellence Program, Le Moyne College, March 2009.
- Institute for New and Experienced Faculty Learning Communities Developers/Facilitators,
Claremont Graduate University, , June 2008. Claremont, CA
- “Using Mid-Semester Evaluations to Improve Teaching,” with Fred Glennon, Faculty workshops sponsored by the Faculty Excellence Program, Le Moyne College, November 2007.
- Professional and Organization Developers Network Annual Conference,
, October 2007. Pittsburgh, PA
- International Institute for New Faculty Developers,
Universityof Ottawa, , June 2007. Ottawa, Ontario
- "Active Learning Strategies," with Fred Glennon (Le Moyne College), Faculty workshop sponsored by the Faculty Excellence Program, February 2007.
- "Teaching Social Justice Across the Curriculum," Social Justice Conference, Le Moyne College, April 2006.
- "Commitment to Justice in Jesuit Higher Education,"
, October 2005. John Carroll University
- “Assessment-Driven Course Design,” with Fred Glennon, Le Moyne College,
, February 2005 , Syracuse New York
- "Teaching a Key Concept," sponsored by the Academic Teaching Section of the
of Religion, November 2003. American Academy
- "Writing Across the Curriculum," Le Moyne College, September 2003.
- "Experiential Learning and Social Justice Action: Inquiry into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning," U.K./U.S. Conference on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,
, May 2002. London, England
- "The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning," Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning," a two-week conference that brought together 31 faculty from around the country to discuss and engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning, Menlo Park, CA, June 2001 and 2002.
- "Active Learning Strategies," with Fred Glennon (Le Moyne College), Faculty seminar sponsored by the O'Connell Professorship, Le Moyne College, November 2000.
- "Collaboration on Active Learning in the Religious Studies Classroom," sponsored by the
Wabash Centerfor Teaching and Learning, , June 2000. Minneapolis, MN
- "Using Portfolios in Assessing Student Learning," with Phil Doughty (
), Le Moyne College, May 2000. Syracuse University
- "The Scholarship of Teaching," with Jeff Chin (Le Moyne College), Faculty seminar sponsored by the O’Connell Professorship, Le Moyne College, April 2000.
- "Using Teaching Portfolios," with Fred Glennon (Le Moyne College), Faculty seminar sponsored by the O’Connell Professorship, Le Moyne College, April 2000
- "Workshop on Learning Contracts," with John Freie (Le Moyne College), Faculty seminar sponsored by the O’Connell Professorship, Le Moyne College, March 2000.
- "The Future of Service Learning in Religious Studies," sponsored by the
Wabash Centerfor Teaching and Learning, , MA, November 1999. Boston
- "Teaching Faith and Justice in
Jesuit Collegesand Universities," , October 1999. Boston College
- "The Courage To Teach," Faculty seminar on Parker Palmer’s, The Courage To Teach, Fall 1999, which culminated in a 3-hour workshop with Parker Palmer, January 2000.
- "The Vocation of Teaching in the Twenty-First Century: Exploring a New Paradigm for the Study of Religion," a year-long AAR/Lilly Teaching Workshop, Upper Midwest Region, 1998-1999
- "Technology and Pedagogy," sponsored by CAPHE committee, Le Moyne College, March 1998
- "Developing Teaching Portfolios," with Peter Seldin (
), Le Moyne College, September 1997. Pace University
- "Conference on Faculty Roles, Rewards, and Priorities," sponsored by the Consortium for the Advancement of Private Higher Education (CAPHE), Baltimore, MD, June 1997
- "Education and Public Policy," a week-long Summer Institute, sponsored by the Values Program, Le Moyne College, June 1997.
- "Teaching Writing in Religious Studies," sponsored by the Eastern International Region,
of Religion, and Le Moyne College, May 1996. American Academy
- "Service Learning and Citizenship," with Benjamin Barber (
), Le Moyne College, Fall 1994. Rutgers University
- "Cooperative Learning in Religious Studies," sponsored by the Departments of Education and Religious Studies, Le Moyne College, Spring 1993
My effort to engage students to be active participants in the teaching-learning process has led me to experiment with a variety of course formats, teaching strategies, and assessment techniques. I have already discussed several innovative teaching methods above, including the learning covenant, cooperative learning strategies, and assessment techniques. As further evidence of meeting this criteria I will discuss five additional examples: extensive course syllabi, learning autobiographies, use of information technology, the use of simulations, and activity options.
- Course Syllabi. Treating students fairly is a central value for me. One way I do this is by providing students with an extensive course syllabus that lays out clearly what I expect to achieve in the course and what students can expect from me. Not only do I describe the course, I also state the objectives I hope to accomplish with the readings and the activities I require. (I also expect students to develop their own objectives for the course which are stated in their learning covenants.) This way students know where we are headed and can assess with me whether or not we got there. Student rights and responsibilities are listed as is the basis upon which I will evaluate their work. I provide a detailed course and reading schedule that indicates what topics we will address on a given day and the readings expected on that day. As indicated above, the students have opportunity to revise the syllabus with me to develop a sense of ownership of the course. Yet even the revised syllabus encompasses each of these areas. In addition, because I teach in the core and the subject matter I teach, primarily religious ethics primarily, my approach to the content in my courses is interdisciplinary which allows students to connect the courses with their majors. For example, enclosed you will find a copy of a syllabus from REL 405: Ethics from the Perspective of the Oppressed, a senior seminar in the core. If you review the reading list, you will note that I use materials from a variety of disciplines to enable students to see the interrelationship between sources of knowledge that impinge upon understanding oppression and what to do about it: sociology, ethics, religious studies, women’s studies, literature, philosophy, and political science.
- Learning Autobiographies. To teach effectively and to treat students fairly, it is important that I have some sense of how students learn. The best source of that information is my students. That is why I have students write a reflective essay at the beginning of the semester in which they tell me about themselves as learners. It is a part of their participation grade. I realize that students are not always asked to do this so I provide a series of questions to prompt their thinking, such as: What kind of environment best enables you to learn? Do you learn best by visual aids? Or are you an auditory learning, learning through listening? What motivates you to learn? Are you self-motivated or do you need certain kinds of prompts and incentives? What kind of classroom environments have helped you learn the most over the years? What kind of classroom environments have hindered your learning? In addition, this essay provides learning disabled students opportunity to identify their disabilities confidentially so that I can accommodate their needs. I use the information I gather from these essays to generate a profile of the class which I use as I structure classroom activities and assignments.
- Information Technology. The college has invested resources in providing access to information technology with the assumption that an educated person in today’s world must be familiar with this technology. For this reason, I have incorporated the use of information technology into my classes in a variety of ways. First, I develop all my courses on Canvas for information sharing and discussion purposes. Assignments will be placed there and students will have opportunity to develop discussions on this medium. Second, as a way to get students to understand that, while the Internet is a valuable research tool, they must use it critically, students can do a Web Analysis in which they research a topic using a variety of web sites to compare and contrast different points of view. In addition, they critique the web sites according to their breadth, openness, and fairness in presenting information. Third, on my Home Page, I place information on various sites related to the topics we discuss in class which students can use to research those topics or expand their reading. I am moving in the direction of including as many of the readings for my courses as possible online. Fourth, as more, I utilize a variety of social media in the classroom and encourage my students to do the same. Finally, because I want to provide students feedback on their papers and activities, students submit all their work electronically. I review it, making comments and noting various changes to improve their writing and their critical thinking.
- Simulations. Because of my commitment in scholarship and teaching to make ideas relevant and concrete, (and because of the challenge of teaching in the core curriculum where students view core courses as secondary to their education), I have worked diligently to develop teaching methods to interest students and to enable them to connect their learning with their lives. I have used various media to make presentation of course material interesting. Students who come to my class may find me wearing a dress to talk about the social construction of gender roles, may get a visit from Martin Luther to begin a segment on the Reformation, or may be locked out of their classroom as they try to understand homelessness in
. I have also created numerous games, reading and discussion exercises, and simulations to motivate them to learn the content of the course. One simulation I have developed for my Christian Social Ethics course is the "Wheel of Misfortune." The purpose of this simulation is to get students to understand the financial insecurity most people experience and to evaluate various courses of action to minimize the risks associated with it (see write up of the exercise). I am pleased when students note in their journals, their evaluations, or on course bulletin boards the success these strategies have had. America
- Activity Options. Under each course on my web page, you will find a copy of the various options I provide for students as learning activities to meet personal and course learning objectives. While I have borrowed many of these options from colleagues at Le Moyne and elsewhere, even some from students, I have also developed quite a few and I am constantly revising and adding new ones. Let me discuss two of these activities in particular: analysis of a social justice organization and environmental action. Teaching ethical themes in the classroom through simulations, cases, and other methods helps students get a sense of the significance of ethics in their lives. The practice of ethics, by others or by themselves, however, takes the significance a step further. By analyzing a social justice organization, students must make contact with the organization and speak with representatives not only about what they do but also about why they do what they do (the value commitments that motivate them). As a result, they begin to see the connections between theory and practice which good ethics involves. Moreover, they have to make some report about this to me or their peers which pushes students to think critically about the connections they see. An environmental action project involves analyzing an environmental problem and taking appropriate action to try to improve it. Thus, students not only see what others are doing about ethical problems, they are doing something they think is morally right. The projects students have done include recycling projects, videotaping environmental problems on campus and in Syracuse and educating others about them through presentation, and generating letter campaigns on behalf of some environmental legislation. This is not merely action, but it is informed action, so it has a research component, a strategic component, and an action component. As a result, students are able to see the complexity of the ethical issues they address and to make connections between their own actions and values systems.
Over the past several years, my commitment to teaching has been recognized by students and by colleagues at Le Moyne and within the
of Religion. A listing of that recognition follows. American Academy
- Co-Editor, Spotlight on Teaching, American Academy of Religion (2014-2017). The American Academy of Religion has asked me to co-edit this publication which is published twice per year and focuses on theory, content, and practices in the teaching of Religion and Theology. This appointment also includes ex-officio service on the Committee on Teaching and Learning (see below for more detail on what that entails).
- Excellence in Teaching Award, American Academy of Religion (2008). The
of Religion gives a teaching award to one of its members (over 11,000) based upon nominations and materials submitted to the committee from colleagues and former students. The best part of this award is that the recipient has a session at the annual meeting where people come to talk with the recipient to share ideas. It was quite an honor. American Academy
- Director of Faculty Development, Le Moyne College (2006-2010). Because of my efforts over the years to promote faculty excellence in teaching and learning, the college made me the first appointee in this position.
- Teacher of the Year, Physicians' Assistants Program, Le Moyne College (2003). Each year students in the PA program select one of their faculty members for this honor. The citation they read indicated that they chose me for this award because they found my classroom challenging and a place of refuge in a very fast-paced program.
- Carnegie Scholar,
for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) (2001-2002). I was one of 31 faculty chosen nationwide to participate in a two-year cohort of scholars who worked on projects related to the scholarship of teaching and learning. My project focused on teaching and learning about social justice and was entitled, "Experiential Learning and Social Justice Action." Carnegie Academy
- Kevin G. O’Connell, S.J., Distinguished Professor in the Humanities (1999-2002). This is the only endowed professorship in the area of teaching that Le Moyne College offers. My nomination and award of this professorship indicates that my peers at Le Moyne College see me as an excellent teacher.
- 1996-1997 Rev. Msgr. A. Robert Casey Teacher of the Year. The award and the citation that was read when I received this teaching award, written by Dr. Nancy Ring, both the attest to my ability as a teacher. I am particularly pleased with receiving the award when I did because, according to members of the committee, my nomination came from both faculty and students.
- Induction into Alpha Sigma Nu. In the Spring of 1998, I was inducted into Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society. I note this here because my nomination came from students who felt that I had contributed significantly to student learning and life on campus.
- Staff Member,
AAR/Lilly Teaching Workshop. I was invited to be a staff member of this teaching workshop that brought together 20 teachers of religion to explore the vocation of teaching religious studies in the next century. The emphasis of this workshop was to explore the implications of an active learning paradigm and new technologies for how we teach Religious Studies. I provided leadership not only on techniques, but led participants in several workshops on the theory behind active learning strategies and on assessment. I also consulted with participants as they worked on their projects individually and in small groups.
- Committee on Teaching and Learning. For three years (1997-2000), I served as a member of the
of Religion (AAR) Committee on Teaching and Learning. During my tenure, we had several projects. Spotlight on Teaching is distributed twice a year to all members of the American Academy AAR. This publication highlights critical issues related to the teaching of religion. The Syllabus Project provides syllabi on-line for members seeking insight into course development. These syllabi not only include course requirements, they also note the pedagogical reasons the professors construct the course the way they did. We have co-sponsored the development of a new journal, Teaching Theology and Religion, which provides a forum for discussion of theory and practice in the teaching of religion. We develop Special Topics Forums at the annual meeting which focus on teaching. Finally, we have developed an academy-wide Excellence in Teaching Award to be presented at the annual meeting to emphasize the importance of recognizing teaching at the academy level.