Teaching Critical Thinking

by Kristen Abell

We are almost constantly surrounded by reports of what is happening in the world today, what with everyone being a reporter on social media. As I paged through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today and saw all that was going on in Baltimore, it became increasingly apparent to me that the one thing we’re not exposed to is critical thinking. What does this mean?

In my opinion, critical thinking is the ability to view differing perspectives and identify what is most likely the truth in the information that is being provided, and then evaluating that information to come up with your own opinion about the events taking place. (Although if someone has another definition of critical thinking, I’d be open to hearing it).

If I depended solely on the media to provide my news, I might see that several police have been injured in Baltimore (but no mention of citizens), there have been massive riots and looting, and this is all occurring over the death of Freddie Gray. If I look further, I can see that it’s likely there have also been citizens hurt – whether by police or other rioters, that there were peaceful protests happening, as well, and this is most likely a result of a much longer systemic oppression of the African-American community in Baltimore (and the United States), and not just the death of one man. But the question remains – how did I come to learn to look deeper, to apply critical thinking to the reports with which I’m surrounded? How do we teach this to our students?

I think there are a number of ways we can do this – discussing current events with students, asking them to report from differing perspectives, etc. – but I’m interested in how our student affairs colleagues specifically are doing this. Are you having these conversations with your students? Are you engaging them in discussion that pushes them to think outside their possibly limited viewpoint? More importantly, are you engaging in these practices yourself so that you can role model this for them?

Please share in the comments below if you are using innovative ways of teaching critical thinking – I’d love to find out more about how we’re teaching this very necessary skill in today’s world.

Teaching Critical Thinking

Productivity Tech Tip: Images that POP off the page!

by Jess Samuels

In the business of student affairs you wear many hats.  For those of you who sometimes find yourself making flyers for events, you are likely looking for the quickest way to get something done without sacrificing visual appeal.  As someone who regularly makes graphics for my office, non-profits, and the NEACUHO Navigator newsletter one of my most utilized tricks has been Instant Alpha.

Instant Alpha is a Mac only trick, so you PC folks can do things the long old fashioned way in photoshop (or you can buy a Mac 😉 )

Here’s how it works:

1. You find a image you want to go on your flyer that doesn’t have a transparent background.  White or black backgrounds works best, but anything without a lot of variation can work.


2. In Mac Pages, Keynote, or Preview you select “Instant Alpha” from the format menu.


3. Select the space around the object and expand the circle to to make the area transparent.


4. Voilà! You have a wonderful image that really POPS off the page.

Instant alpha 0

Productivity Tech Tip: Images that POP off the page!

Can Twitter be Used to Assess Student Learning?

by Niki Messmore

Tweeting. Is it unprofessional? Is it possible to glean student learning outcomes from social media?

This thought has been on my mind since attending ACPA and realizing that some of my graduate student colleagues at other institutions had been informed by faculty that tweeting is ‘unprofessional’ and it was recommended that they not tweet at the conference. Ironically, ACPA’s 2014 Convention’s theme was ‘Reinvention’, with technology and social media integrated within the entire event.

Last year I wrote “Promoting Live Tweeting as an Educational Tool“. I promise this isn’t a ‘retweet’ of the topic but it can be considered a follow-up. Recently when I broached the topic of Twitter and professionalism online some of my student affairs colleagues had a lot to say on the subject.

Courtney Rousseau is a current graduate student in my cohort at Indiana University and full-time employee at Butler University as the Student Employee Coordinator. She experienced resistance in the classroom to using Twitter in one class due to the concept that using social media in the classroom only distracts from learning rather than contributes to learning. In order to demonstrate that Twitter can be used as a tool to assess student learning, Courtney live tweeted class sessions and created a Storify of her tweets. The documentation of these tweets resulted in a conversation with Courtney’s professor on the opportunity to assess student learning outcomes using social media.

Consider this: As an instructor or program presenter, wouldn’t it be nice to see what students found relevant about a class or event in a real time format? If a hashtag is constructed and students are comfortable with tweeting, tweets could be collected and coded in order to identify key takeaways. Since this assessment model is continuous and takes place in real time, teaching and learning could be restructured to best meet student learning needs throughout the course. However, it must be noted that students are not digital natives – prior to enacting this teaching tool there should be an orientation on how to use Twitter logistically (i.e., what does it mean to make an account and live tweet) and professionally (how does one conduct oneself in a pubic online sphere).

Assessment models are beginning to take notice of using social media as a tool to gauge outcomes and more scholarship is being developed. As the field continues to evolve, I’m curious: Who else is using social media to assess student learning and what capacity are you using it in? Please chime in via the comment section or send a tweet to @NikiMessmore!

Can Twitter be Used to Assess Student Learning?

Promoting Live Tweeting as an Educational Tool

by Niki Messmore

There’s a new plague.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is keeping it quiet, but fortunately I’m here to inform you on the symptoms.

Do your hands clench at the thought of technology in the classroom? Do your lips involuntarily curl into a sneer when you witness students on their phones, tablets, or laptops? Are you unable to prevent yourself from grumbling under your breath about “kids nowadays”?

Well, you just may have #BackinMyDayitis (yes, the medical definition begins with a hashtag).

Those afflicted with #BackinMyDayitis get twitchy at the sight of students texting on electronic devices, aggravated that students (typically of the Millennial generation) are ‘not paying attention’ to the class discussion. The creeping thought of ‘lazy’, ‘tech-obsessed’, ‘disrespectful’, and ‘narcissistic’ travels through the mind.

Fortunately, #BackinMyDayitis has a cure! The cure is simple, quite honestly. All that must be done is for the ill person to recover is…just get over it.

Although many articles lambasting the Millennial generation would have us believe that young college students are disengaged from the world, they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Time spent on electronic devices to access social media is just another method for Millennial students to connect to the world.

And therein lies academia’s opportunity to increase student knowledge.

There are plenty of scholarly and practitioner-based articles citing that students learn best when engaged within the classroom. But what about engaging students beyond the classroom – and into social media?

This concept is nothing new. An increasing number of university instructors are using social media platforms to engage their students. To narrow the field of thought, let’s consider how to engage student affairs graduate students in the classroom utilizing social media as a tool.

Student Affairs tech blogger Eric Stoller incited a Twitter discussion on how SA grad programs need to incorporate technology into the programs. Some observers pointed out that many grad programs are not utilizing technology. Of course, without those pesky APA citations, we can’t be sure of who is not including technology into their programs.

What we can talk about are the student affairs graduate programs that are incorporating technology into their classroom – specifically through “live tweeting” on Twitter during the class.

Twitter defines live tweeting: “to engage on Twitter for a continuous period of time—anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours—with a sequence of focused Tweets”.

To some this engagement tool appears too risky to implement, citing the possibility for distraction. But other educators cite that it’s an opportunity to engage students in order to fully realize the academic goal of creating a conversation instead of a lecture. A 2010 study in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning stated that students who tweet have a higher GPA and “showed that students and faculty were both highly engaged in the learning process in ways that transcended traditional classroom activities” (p.119).

A survey of different student affairs graduate programs shows that live tweeting is utilized as a classroom engagement tool. Two examples examples:

1.) Indiana University, Higher Education & Student Affairs: The HESA program live tweeted in several first-year classes this past spring utilizing a hashtag for the course that students and faculty created. Students were then able to engage with guest speakers who were video conferenced for those days.The general hashtag #IUHESA is used as well as course-specific hashtags have carried over for fall 2013 courses.

2.) Florida State University, Higher Education & Student Affairs: First years last month used the hashtag #AmColStu to live tweet their class. They even took 7th place in the Top20 of Tallahassee’s Twitter Trends on 8/28!

Special recognition goes to Bowling Green State University’s program – while I did not see examples of live tweeting courses during my research online, they are actively engaging their students with the hashtag #HESAnation.

Do you have other examples of SA programs that engage in live tweeting tactics? Let me know in the comments! Or better yet, tweet me at @NikiMessmore 🙂

For further consideration: What are the ways in which can live tweeting be incorporated to campus programs and events in order to engage students?

Promoting Live Tweeting as an Educational Tool

Considering the Classroom Technology Policy

By Anitra Cottledge

Somehow mid-July has creeped up on us, and I am beginning to think about teaching in the fall, and useful ways to integrate technology into my course curriculum. This is a conversation that I’ve been having with a number of people; I even had one conversation recently where a group of people contemplated the feasibility of building an entire curriculum around TED talks. (What do you think? Do you think that could work?)

TED talks and their ubiquitous awesomeness aside, I am wondering about the utility of having some sort of technology policy in an age of smartphones, iPads and tablets. I have a faculty acquaintance who is real serious about the use of technology during class. For them, the act of Student A texting during class is both rude and akin to that student flushing their discussion/participation points for that day down the toilet. How can one participate in a class discussion if they’re playing Candy Crush Saga on their iPad?

I get that approach and am in favor of stating expectations around technology usage upfront and in the syllabus. The sticky wicket is, how do you formulate a tech policy that allows for some use of technology that may help students engage with a topic or idea? What if you want the whole class to experiment with Twitter during class time? What if you have a great idea for students using Facebook as a means of sociopolitical engagement?

Of course, engaging in some of these experiments during class time comes with an assumption that every student has access to the tools (i.e., phone, laptop, etc.) that will enable them to participate and/or that you have access to the resources that will allow you to provide those tools to everyone. There’s ways around this, of course, and possibilities that take into consideration both accessibility and creativity.

So, to those of us who teach, how do you manage all of these issues? Do you have a technology policy? I would love to hear your ideas and reflections in the comments.

Considering the Classroom Technology Policy

New Year = New Organizational Systems

by Jess Faulk

I’ve started the New Year with a renewed excitement for organization and project management.  By the nature of our profession, we work within a strict cycle of the academic year. In January this means the welcoming of new students and the same student leadership processes, sometimes even the same programs.

Yet despite the benefit of knowing almost exactly what to expect for the upcoming year, many times we are forced to recreate the wheel.  While the department’s shared drive is full of flyers and timelines from the previous year, it does not contain all of the day to day details that helped us get from point A to point B just a year ago.  This may be because the staff member who is working on the process knew they would be working on it again – so they didn’t document every detail along the way. Given the high turn in some Student Affairs positions, it’s also likely that the staff member who worked on this process has left to another position.   Either way, we are doing ourselves a disservice by not creating a more detailed record of the tasks to be completed and the week to week schedule we will follow to bring the project to fruition.

In the coming semester I am delighted to be working with my staff to comprehensively document everything we do and how we do it.  It’s part GTD (David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”), part Stephen Covey, and based on a simple to use “real world” project management system created by event guru Robbie Samuels. It will capture not only the task, but also the context (email, call, etc.), the week it will be completed, the number of weeks in advance of the DOE (Day of Event), and an easy way to update, sort, and filter.

While there are certainly systems you can buy that allow you to document this level of detail, I believe in the power and simplicity of excel.  Not only does it mean that everyone can access it without any extra installation or cost, but it also means that this system will be transferable, and is a resource that my staff can take with them wherever they go next.

It ‘s going to be extra tough in this first year as we create the structure for us to work from, but as my staff has acknowledged, in a Residence Life system that is largely staffed by short-term graduate students, it is imperative that we don’t let all of the information and experience leave with our staff who are moving on and up in the field.

Which systems does your office use to document processes?  Are there any avid GTD devotees out there?  How do you use these philosophies in your Student Affairs context?  I am anxious to hear from others that have similarly committed themselves or their office to a new way of approaching organization and how you made it work.  I look forward to posting a follow up to report back on the success of my team.



New Year = New Organizational Systems

Financially Fierce for 2013

by Jess Faulk

Aged jessfaulkI have a few things I get on a soapbox about with friends and co-workers.  As you imagine, many of those things fall under my geek pursuits, like fonts, apple products, etc.  Another one of the things I really get excited to talk to folks about is retirement savings.  I suppose that falls into a geek category in a whole other way.  I get excited to talk about retirement savings because I have read enough to know how much time really is so very important in the whole equation, and I think younger professionals don’t hear enough about retirement savings to really value getting a head start.

Young student affairs professionals in particular may not be thinking forward to retirement because they are not always earning a significant amount of money in their first or second job out of school.  However, it is in these positions, particularly live-on positions, that new grads have so much savings power.  Putting away as much money as you can while you are not paying rent will do so much more for you in the long run than waiting until you are in a higher paying position years later – even if you begin putting more away for retirement.  It’s all about compound interest!  A 35 year old who just begins investing will never catch up to her 25-year-old self, even contributing twice as much (see example below).  The decision is clear – if you aren’t already contributing to your retirement savings – make a plan to do so as soon as possible.  Also, if your institution offers matching and you aren’t signed up for the match, you are literally passing up on free money.

Compound Interest

Full example from Russell.com

Whether you have been putting off thinking about retirement savings, or have savings on your horizon for a 2013 resolution, you can check out the sites below for more information and guidance on how to get started!

OEDB30 Best Blogs for Recent Grads Saddled With Debt

A list of blogs covering managing your finances, dealing with student loan debt, and giving you inspiration to meet your financial goals.


Money under 30

Money under 30

Personal finance blog featuring money tips on budgeting, saving, credit, investing, and getting out of debt in your twenties.




Budgeting tool, resources and a free fun daily newsletter to help women better understand their finances.  I met the woman who started this website while at an internet week conference in New York City a few years ago.  I like their mission and beautiful layout.



Compare credit card, savings and CD rates. Access to dozens of calculators from debt management to retirement.



Face Retirement


Not yet inspired to save? Visit Merrill Edge’s Face Retirement App to get you thinking more seriously about what retirement might LOOK like for you.  Take a snapshot of  you today and see what you will look like 20, 30, or 40 years away.  My own photo (top) certainly was a surprise!

Financially Fierce for 2013

Robin Williams: The Designer for Non-Designers

by Valerie Heruska

I recently picked up some fabulous books on graphic design. They are:  The Non-Designer’s InDesign Book, The Non-Designer’s Photoshop Book, and  The Non-Designer’s Illustrator Book. What I like about them is that they explain the basics of each program and really act as a springboard for any person looking to get into graphic design.

These three books are written by Robin Williams. Born in California in the 50s, Robin was a free spirit: she traveled Europe and hitchhiked across the country. A friend introduced her to graphic design during her time at Santa Rosa Community College.

On her website she writes:

In 1984, of course, the Macintosh was invented. I was very resistant to computers. “I’m going to let computers pass me by. By the time they can do what I do in graphic design, I will be ninety years old and won’t care.” Well, was that stupid, of course. One of my students, Brad Mager insisted I could not be computer-illiterate. He brought over his Mac Plus and plopped it on my kitchen table, which was the only flat surface in the house clear enough to set anything on. We clicked. The Mac made perfect sense to me. Even the Font/DA Mover made sense. I was teaching 8 hours a week but running the entire graphic design program, which took about 30 hours a week. I got paid for 8. So I quit the design program and asked to teach a HyperCard class. Oh my that was fun. I asked if I could teach any other Macintosh classes. They said, “Can you teach spreadsheets and databases?” “Oh sure,” I said. I ran home and looked up “spreadsheet” and “database.” I discovered that I love spreadsheets and databases–such clear, logical, and oh so useful programs. Taught Microsoft Works, Intro to Macintosh, PageMaker. (http://www.ratz.com/robin/realbio.html)

Robin’s books are very user-friendly, and I can tell that she really enjoys writing and teaching graphic design. If you are interested in wanting to know more about how to use these programs, I suggest that you pick up some of her books. I think that Robin’s passion for teaching us about graphic design really puts her at the forefront of the graphic design world.

You can pick up Robin’s books at  Peach Pit Press.

Robin Williams: The Designer for Non-Designers

Linkage Love: Design, Marketing, & Connection

by Jess Faulk

When I write a linkage love blog I usually like to connect it to a theme.  This is the same as when you give a present; all blue, all relaxation items, all baseball related, etc.  It gives a reader a sense of connectedness with what you are talking about.  This week, my theme is merely ‘my life.’  The only connecting thread is what I am experiencing in my world, what I am learning, and what I want to share with you.

As many folks in my life know, I have always been attracted to beautiful design.  For years I have collected books, magazine clippings, and website links to pages with fabulous design layouts.  I’ve never thought of it as much more than a hobby, something I do in my “spare” time, that also comes in handy in my ResLife day job.  But now, since being accepted into Simmons College Master of Communication Management program, I can blend the practical knowledge of this program with my passion for learning. I am on cloud 9, finally learning the technical side of design in my visual communication class.

Below are several links inspired by this class.  I hope to share much more of what I learn throughout the semester with the SAWTT community, as I believe many of you, whether design fans or not, will find the lessons I am learning as helpful in your day job as I am in mine.

Adobe Kuler ImageAdobe® Kuler®

The web-hosted application for generating color themes that can inspire any project

Tonight in class, my professor Jane Hayward showed us this website that helps you pick out matching colors for your project.  Sure, many of us will just stick with the template provided for us by Microsoft or Apple, or even pick out colors at random hoping they look good, but this website will help you create those color palates that really make your design pop.  The best part of this site is its “create” feature, which allows you to upload a photo and pull out specific colors from that photo.  This is especially helpful if you are planning a poster or a creating an infographic around a large image.

FutureM Boston & The 10 rules of Modern Marketing: Creating “Customer Love” in the Digital Age

Future-MToday I received an email from The Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX) about an upcoming event in Boston, the FutureM conference, bringing “together marketing and technology innovators to contemplate and celebrate the future of Marketing.”  The conference will integrate debates, demos, hackathons, meet-ups, presentations, unconferences, and every other sort of learning style.  The idea of stepping outside of student affairs and learning something new that I can bring back into the field is exciting for me.  It helps me break out of one way of thinking, gets me excited about innovation, and helps me network with professionals outside of the student affairs field.  The article I linked to above is one of the conference advertising pieces that shares a perspective on using modern marketing to create customer connection.  I invite you to read it and think of what you are doing to create connection between your office and the students you serve.  Are you creating “Customer Love”? Note: FutureM is FREE for students!  Share the link if you work in the Boston area, or want to visit for the week!

Campus to Community: A project of Socializing for Justice (SoJust.org)


SOJUST.ORGGetting out of my Student Affairs bubble is a huge value of mine.  Not only because it expands my knowledge base, and gives me fresh new ideas, but it also gives me perspective on the work that I do.  There are wonderful, caring, interesting activists out in the non-university world who are doing the work that we do with students on a much larger scale – like the entire city of Boston.  Campus2Community is a project born out of Socializing for Justice (SoJust.org) as a retention initiative for engaged and motivated recent grads to find new communities, a way for faculty and staff at various universities to meet, and as an opportunity to create a web of connection for progressive faculty and staff in the Boston area.  While the organization is Boston specific, the idea can be replicated anywhere in the country.  Yes, it requires time and dedication to organize, but it can start simply as a happy hour at a bar or coffee shop.  Make it open and welcoming, give it room to grow into whatever its regulars want to make it, and do it regularly.  I hope some of you in the Boston area will join me at the next Campus2Community Happy Hour for Progressive Faculty, Staff and Grad Students on Wednesday, October 17th at Lir, or at one of SoJust’s upcoming skillshares or socials.

Linkage Love: Design, Marketing, & Connection

Linkage Love: Women in the Military

By Anitra Cottledge

I’m convinced that some of the best ideas come to me while watching #nerdland. I usually come away from watching the Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP) show with some inkling of a topic I want to know more about, or some tidbit of information that I want to further research.

Today, I came away wanting to learn more about sexual assault and military women. Working in a women’s center, I’m no stranger to advocacy and education regarding sexual assault (although on our campus, an office other than the Women’s Center is charged with doing the primary response, advocacy and education related to sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking).

However, I am amazed (and pleased) at how people use technology to continue to draw attention to this important social justice issue.

This morning on the MHP show, actress Jennifer Beals spoke about a YouTube series (on the Where It Gets Interesting, or WIGS channel) she’s starring in about sexual assault in the military. A brief synopsis of the webseries, entitled “Lauren:”

When a soldier reports an assault, she is forced to choose between what she loves and what’s right.

People can also help support the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) by purchasing a WIGS tote. A note on SWAN and how sometimes the Internets are a playground for connecting random experiences and bits of information (which is one of the things I love about the Internet): I first learned about SWAN through reading Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists (which I plan on using when I teach next semester) written by Courtney E. Martin. One of the activists she profiled in the book is Maricela Guzman, who was part of the creation of SWAN.

As always, I am excited by the potential of technology to help facilitate awareness, action and change — in ourselves, our workplaces, campuses and communities.

Linkage Love: Women in the Military