Current Issue

April 2015 Banner Image

March/April 2015, Vol. 3, No. 10/11
Theme: Bottlenecks and Student Learning


Bottlenecks and Student Learning
Teaching Tip - The "Mastery Mindset"
Publishing Opportunity: Teaching Naked Handbook

March Upcoming Events

  • Efficiently & Effectively Commenting on Student Writing - Webinar - Friday, April 10, noon-12:30
  • How to Create Video/Audio Recordings for Learning -
    Workshop - Wednesday, April 15, 
    6:00-9:00. CELT Faculty Commons (LSH 50)
  • Blackboards Skills - Workshop - Wednesday, April 22, 6:00-9:00pm. CELT Faculty Commons (LSH 50)
  • Decoding Your Discipline - Spring Learning Series Kickoff - Workshop - Saturday, April 25 9:00-12:00pm. Saint Mary's Event Center.
Want to register for a Faculty Development Workshop? SIGN UP HERE.

Teaching Tip - Helping Students Develop a "Mastery Mindset"
By Jane Littlefield

After reading Alex's article, I thought "how does one "become" a professional or know when "mastery" is achieved (or at least some level of it is reached)? Besides time, experience, energy, and a reflective aha moment one day, I'm not sure!

Help your students become professionals. Below are tips and tools for faculty to use in the classroom to encourage students to outgrow the "I'm but a Padawan" attitude, and guide them on their journeys toward (Jedi) mastery.

Publish your Pedagogy in the Teaching Naked Handbook

Here is an excellent opportunity to share your experience, expertise, and tried-and-true practices without having to write an entire book chapter or article! C. Edward Watson, PhD (Director, UGA Center for Teaching and Learning) and José Antonio Bowen PhD (President, Goucher College, Partners in Learning Fall Conference presenter), are inviting faculty to submit content for a Teaching Naked Handbook to be published by Wiley in 2016.

The handbook will contain "practical advice for faculty, but also lots of discipline-specific EXAMPLES of how faculty are flipping classes, preparing new pre-class assignments and assessments, using video or cognitive wrappers or designing new in-class activities." Learn more about the handbook and submit your proposal for a contribution!

Bottlenecks and the 1 in 20 Student
By Alex Urquhart

Whenever I write an article for this newsletter, I begin with a topic. More specifically, I begin with a problem that might resonate with faculty as identified by the CELT committee. This month’s "problem" is the student that is only after the grade: the person in the class who cannot connect his learning experiences to his own career development; the extrinsic reward seeker; or the student who is not invested in her own learning process.

Like clockwork and if by Fortuna’s divine guidance, immediately after we identify the topic, examples of this issue begin to trickle in around me.  This time, that search for resonance quickly turned from trickle to flood. I saw frustration, resignation, and even anger from faculty. Emotions I am not used to seeing.

One professor described a student who completely ignored his comments and in an almost abusive fashion contested the grade he received. The student only slightly relented when the professor pointed out that the student was confused and actually received an A and was just reading the point-total incorrectly. This faculty member was upset by the way he was treated, but I sensed he was more upset that the student did not care about the thoughtful and instructive comments provided. The student had only cared about the grade and completely ignored the larger picture behind the grade, learning.

To be clear, most of the stories professors have are of students working hard, often under adverse conditions, and of gratitude and achievement. The contradictions to this more common and positive narrative, however, seem to viscerally stand out to faculty. They are an exception at the same they stand out as exceptional. Faculty I spoke with, however, focused on the one negative voice instead of the 20 positive ones. This seems to always be the case. Faculty members always seem to remember the student that does not care and the student who was insulting instead of the 20 students who were positive.

I do not have a simple solution to this issue. There is, of course, wonderful literature on using intrinsic motivators, classroom engagement strategies, and creating community, but even faculty who use these strategies—the very ones who shared these stories—were not immune to having these students. Therefore, instead of offering a solution, I want to posit a new understanding. Instead of thinking of the non-invested student as non-invested, perhaps the student is highly invested just invested in the wrong things.

I say this because when I delved deeper, the faculty with whom I spoke actually expressed evidence to investment when discussing their "non-invested" students: long phone calls, lengthy emails, and constant questions in class. In a student that loved their class, I believe most faculty would call this evidence of investment.

The hypothesis I offer now, and one I would love to discuss further, is that these students are invested; they are just invested in the wrong thing. They are invested in being a student but only as a student. Rather than focusing on being a student, faculty want, and rightfully so, their students to be focused on becoming a professional within their chosen discipline. This is the frustration I believe faculty were expressing to me, and it is one that is echoed in the literature. Dressen-Hammouda (2008) and Jacobowitz (2014) argued the one of the most significant transformations a student must make, especially in graduate school,  is that from novice (student) to one of disciplinary master. It is in this transformation that students take ownership and identity of a profession rooted in the production and application of knowledge as opposed to merely its consumption. At schools like Saint Mary’s which deal with “newly” created academic professional disciplines,  Findlow (2012) argued that this transformation is often more challenging but also more important. As such, faculty must take an active role in not only instructing content, but fostering this new identity if students are to be successful.  

Perhaps the best way to think about this problem is to understand disciplinary mastery and identity as a bottleneck to learning (Pace & Middendorf, 2004). It is one of the harder things for students to learn but something that we as faculty and professionals in our fields often take for granted. Perhaps the non-engaged students just see themselves as students first, and we as a faculty need to do more to engender the professional identity that we see as necessary.  In other words, we need to do more to overcome this bottleneck.

I have just begun to think about this hypothesis. Luckily, Middendorf will be on campus this month to further the discussion. If you are interested in discussing this bottleneck, or another you find occurs in your classroom, you can register here for the upcoming Decoding Your Discipline on April 25th. Just keep in mind you must register by April 15th. I look forward to seeing you there.

You received this message as a current instructor of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota | Faculty Portal
Questions? Comments?  Please email