New faculty often come out of graduate programs that have trained them to be researchers but not teachers. The transition into full time teaching can be stressful and overwhelming for these colleagues. Maggie Schmuhl, a new faculty member in the Public Justice Department at SUNY-Oswego joins us to discuss how she has embraced evidence-based methods in her practice as a teacher.
- Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.
- Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons.
- LePore, Jill (2014). “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman.” The Smithsonian Magazine. October
- “12. The Active Learning Initiative at Cornell.” the 1/17/2018 Tea for Teaching podcast discussion with Doug McKee in which two-stage exams were discussed.
Rebecca: Today, our guest is Dr. Maggie Schmuhl, a first-year faculty member in Public Justice at SUNY Oswego. Her research focuses on structural inequality, violence against women, and punishment. At SUNY Oswego, Maggie has taught American Criminal Courts and Judicial Process and Women in Crime. Welcome.
John: Today our teas are…
Maggie: I have a green tea that’s mint.
Rebecca: I’m also drinking green tea today, but mine is jasmine green tea.
John: I’m drinking a custom blend of peppermint, spearmint, and tarragon.
Rebecca: Ooh, yum.
Rebecca: So, today we have a slightly different setup. We invited Maggie to come in and talk a little bit about the experience of a first-year faculty member and that transition from graduate school to teaching. Can you describe a little bit about what that transition’s been like? You’ve completed one full semester; you’re into your second semester. So, what’s that transition like? And what are some of the biggest hurdles?
Maggie: Yeah, the first year has been a lot of trial and error, a lot of learning curves and really just getting to know the university… getting to know the students… the department… and all of the intricacies of balancing research, balancing teaching, getting better at both of those things, and you know making time to explore a new place, a new city, it’s been good so far.
Rebecca: So in graduate school, was there a focus on teaching and developing curriculum, or was it more focused on research?
Maggie: Grad school was certainly more focused on research. It was about developing our research styles, our methodologies, our research interests. Teaching was not a major focus for a lot of reasons… but often teaching was a responsibility that we had, but not one that was explored as in-depth as our research. Since my first year in the program they have implemented third-year development seminars to talk about teaching, but for most of us, we had to really find our own way, we had to rely on upper cohort members to help guide us through our first time teaching, and we really had to spend our own time thinking about what kind of teachers we wanted to be, and how much effort we wanted to put into our teaching.
John: This is not uncommon in graduate programs. The faculty are focused on their research because they have to be if they want to keep their jobs. There are some programs that do more professional development, but they’re relatively rare… at least in my discipline.
Rebecca: I went to graduate school at Syracuse University and they actually had a development program for graduate students.
Maggie: Oh, that’s interesting.
Rebecca: So there was in the beginning, but then I also was in a fellowship program, where you actually put together teaching portfolios, and things, like you would if you were applying for teaching positions and things. That was part of the development and there was ongoing workshops.
Maggie: Yeah, so I think, for me, when I realized that I had a passion for teaching, I spent a lot of time seeking out professors that were engaged in wanting to make all of us into effective teachers… and so that drive, I think, that perhaps came from my desire to be a better teacher, helped me find better resources… within the program… within faculty… and I also served as the president of our doctoral association, and so when it came time to go on the job market, we sought out those faculty that were interested in helping us develop our teaching portfolios, and so we’d hold programs but a lot of it was student driven.
Rebecca: Did you find it challenging, when you were in graduate school. to balance that? When you have this interest and desire to explore teaching almost as a secondary research interest, right?
Rebecca: How did that work? and what challenges did you face because of that? Because I’m sure you had colleagues in the same position who weren’t as interested in teaching and just didn’t spend that much time on it.
Maggie: Sure…. and I think the demands of grad school really keeps any particular person from excelling at teaching… and spending the time that it takes to implement and learn about effective practices for most of us. We’re trying to finish our dissertations. We’re trying to publish on research, and while all of that’s important, there’s kind of a piece of the puzzle that gets neglected, and often it was teaching.
John: …and so, you’re now at a four-year school and you’ve been really active in some of our workshops. We had a reading group last semester that focused on Small Teaching and you attended that workshop regularly… and read through that… and then you implemented some things. How did that go?
Maggie: Yes, I really enjoyed those Small Teaching reading group that we did,0 mostly because it gave me the time and in place to really explore what I wanted to be in the classroom and how I wanted my students to interact with me in the classroom. In that group, I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with other faculty members who have this experience and have the kind of classrooms that I want to emulate and to get to learn. I really enjoyed the Small Teaching reading group. It gave me a place and a regular time to work into my schedule to sit down, talk about the kind of teacher I wanted to be, to listen to teachers with a lot more experience and how they develop their classroom, and implement these effective learning strategies to create a more productive learning environment, and to teach students and to challenge them to think critically about the world.
Rebecca: I think sometimes carving out time is one of the most difficult things, right? To think about teaching.
Rebecca: So the fact that you said that the reading group provides this regular way of holding you accountable to think about these things…
Maggie: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think being a first semester faculty member I wanted to get involved in the campus community… to get to know other faculty members… to see how they’ve been successful in and outside of the classroom… and for me to try to broaden my perspectives on teaching… try to learn about the techniques that are important to facilitate learning… and to carry on to help students become valuable members in the justice system and whatever career paths they they choose.
John: Now a little bit of background on the reading group, we had a hundred and two faculty and staff members who participated in it, a large proportion were faculty. We met multiple times a week, and one of the things that happened there is people from different disciplines got a chance to talk about issues they’ve had in the classrooms, and how they’ve worked on it, and they got suggestions from other people in different departments. How did you find that experience getting to work with faculty from the sciences, from the humanities, from art and so forth?
Maggie: What I really liked about the diversity of the faculty there was… especially the math teachers. Every time they would talk about their experience in the classroom, I remember my own struggles and successes at learning something like math. And to think of a discipline that we wouldn’t normally consider has (or can) benefit (maybe) from a variety of teaching methods. I think that hearing their experiences throughout their teaching careers gives some important insight I can carry on to my own classes.
John: Could you tell us a little bit about the courses that you teach, how big they are and what the subjects are?
Maggie: Yes, so currently I teach… well, and last semester I also taught American Criminal Courts and Judicial Process. These classes ranged anywhere from fifteen students to about forty students, depending on the time of day and the enrollment. The other class that I currently teach this semester is Women and Crime, and that is about thirty-five students.
John: …and what techniques have you tried that were new to you?
Maggie: So, one of the challenges I had in my first semester here was teaching at an 8 a.m. section, and trying to…
John: There are no good solutions…
Rebecca: Was it trying to teaching at 8 am or was it the students trying to take a class at 8 am?
Maggie: I think it was the students trying to take a class at 8 am… for sure. It’s hard…
John: It’s hard to stay up that late…
MAGIE: It is.
John: …they get tired and they need to get some sleep.
Maggie: Yes, that’s the end of their day, as opposed to the beginning of most of ours… and so, the 8:00 a.m. class… it was like pulling teeth trying to get them engaged and participating. In the first semester, I think I carried a lot of the same methods and practices that I had developed in grad school, and some of them… through the Small Teaching reading group, I found that I have names for all of that practice… like retrieval practices… and summarizing and recapping at the beginning of courses and at the end of a lecture… and holding small discussion groups. But, somehow none of that was quite enough to bring the 8 a.m. students back to thinking critically about the judicial system. Recently, in my current semester, I’ve started pairing up the students… and I can’t remember exactly what we called this, but pairing up the students to… after they’ve completed a mini pop quiz in class (which they all freak out about, but eventually I tell them that it’s not being graded). So, I’ve paired them up and they discussed their answers and then as a group they present their new answers and…
John: …a think-pair-share method.
Maggie: Yeah, a think-pair-share method. Yeah, so I’ve been implementing think-pair-share and a lot of the 8AM students, especially the ones that were falling asleep, they’re now forced to you know really think about this material right off the bat, and it’s helped keep them engaged throughout the rest of the course. I’ve really enjoyed taking that method and seeing them wake up a little bit more.
Rebecca: That’s great…
Rebecca: …it’s not a super difficult thing to employ…
Maggie: It’s really easy.
Rebecca: …but it makes a huge difference.
Maggie: Right, Absolutely.
Rebecca: …and something that may work across all class periods, but sometimes you just have that particular class that’s got a slightly different personality…
Maggie: Right, yeah.
Rebecca: Sometimes due to the time or sometimes just the makeup of the group, that …employing different things in that situation… sometimes you have to troubleshoot like that.
Maggie: Yeah, absolutely and I think…often when you do have big personalities in the classroom, they’re so much fun… and they really they bring the other students into the discussion. But when you don’t have that, if you have students who are maybe a little more timid in the classroom, I think that think-pair-share is a good way to bring each and every one of our students into the discussion.
John: What were some of the other techniques that you may have tried?
Maggie: I’ve also implemented some low-stakes testing for my American Criminal Courts class and that has been going well so far. We’ll see how everything continues in this semester. I’m hoping that this will leave them more prepared for their midterm and their final exams by continually asking them… and then asking them questions from prior lectures… a lot of interleaving… also give them bonus questions on those quizzes to help them predict what we’re talking about next week, so I think there’s going to be a tangible difference in their grades when midterms roll around.
Rebecca: I was really surprised when I implemented more testing. You always hear conversations about test anxiety and nobody likes tests… nobody wants to take tests… and I’m in a discipline where tests are not that common. But I’ve been surprised historically, that the students maybe grumble at the beginning about it…
Rebecca: …but over time they actually really appreciate it… and if you didn’t have one, like “what’s going on, why don’t we have one today?” They find it helpful and useful to keep them on point. How are students responding to this regular testing?
Maggie: I was actually really surprised when I got an evaluation last semester where a student asked if they could have more tests in the class. Because the format of the exams was four exams a semester, they were longer and they were, I think, looking for something that kept them accountable for the readings… something that kept them accountable for paying attention in class… and so far everyone has been… I don’t think they’re thrilled with it, but I think they understand the reason for having the tests… because I took time at the beginning of our class to talk about why having these low-stakes testings are important for their learning, but important also as they prepare for exams… and to really get this foundational information to build on in future classes.
John: …just simply reminding them that, making a mistake on a quiz that an infinitesimally small part of their grade is much better than making that mistake on a major exam…. and reminding them that this is, in large part, for formative purposes can really help, I think.
Maggie: Yeah, and for some students – who are perhaps a little more on the perfectionist side – I’ve had a couple of them pretty concerned when they miss a quiz but I tell them that I’ve dropped the lowest quiz score…maybe it’ll be the lowest two quiz scores… we’ll see how the semester goes… but to keep them accountable, but also to remind them that they’re human and things happens… they miss a quiz… they forget… and they have the opportunity to learn from that mistake, but to have not such a detrimental effect on their on their grade.
Rebecca: One thing that came up in our reading group frequently, was that faculty had much more success in their classes with this particular technique, if you took the time in class to talk to your students about why you’re doing it and how that’s helping their learning. I think that most faculty who’ve implemented it like you, and have spent the time to share that information with students, have found far more success than faculty who have just implemented the technique without explaining it .
Maggie: Yeah, and that’s one thing I’d really took from the reading group too, is that if we explain to students why the things that they typically hate are actually important and are beneficial to them, there’s a lot more buy-in from them.
John: It’s helpful in general, because students have habits of learning that we know aren’t as effective as they could be, and they tend to resist things like testing for learning. They much prefer rereading things or highlighting things, and after the second re-reading the evidence is pretty clear that there is virtually no increase in the amount that they’ll remember later… but it doesn’t feel that way. When they take a test on something and they get things wrong, it doesn’t feel as good. So, it’s important to help set it up and prime them so that they understand that this is really useful for them.
Rebecca: …and I think when you take class time to talk about evidence-based practices, not just on the first day, but a few times throughout the semester, those same students who are struggling with other parts of learning will speak up and ask more questions. I had a student today who just called me over and was asking like “I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to structure my files, so I don’t lose stuff.” Just a basic organizational thing… but in my field that’s quite detrimental, actually, if you can’t figure out how to do it. …and so, it’s kind of funny. Now they see you as a resource of someone who can help me learn better, not just in this class, but in other classes too…
Rebecca: …which is kind of a nice feeling sometimes.
Maggie: Yeah, and I’ve also found that even beyond pedagogical discussions with students, that some of these concepts actually can apply to a lot of the content that we’ve learned. So, in my Women in Crime classroom we’re talking about labeling theory, and what it does to a person when they think they’ve reached the limit of their identity, if they’ve….
John: …issues of stereotype threat.
Maggie: Yeah, right. Exactly. If they fit the stereotype, how do they… can they learn to move beyond that… and so I talk to them about how, when they’re journaling I write all of my comments to reflect the work that they’ve done, and not the person that they are. …and so, I had them to think back about some of those comments that I do make and I tell them that this was purposeful on my end… Because I want them to know that they can do better in some cases… and in other cases that work has reflected some of their best effort… and that’s a good thing, right? And that their effort is just as important as, perhaps more important as, who they are as a person.
John: So it helps build a growth mindset ..
John: …of the sort that Carol Dweck talks about. and that’s really helpful, because if they can learn that they can learn and improve their work, they become much more effective.
Rebecca: One of the things that I’ve found, implementing some of these techniques (especially in the first couple of tries), is that, when it doesn’t feel good to learn, right? [LAUGHTER]… we sometimes have this illusion that we know something, but we don’t actually know it. The students can get a little downtrodden, right? … a little down on themselves… and so then you have to remember to monitor for that a little bit…. which I’ve learned over time, and then you got to kind of just stop and allow for an opportunity to show success. So, for example, in my classes, I started breaking my first project assignment into very small pieces, so everything was low stakes. But, I could see that at some point they just maxed out, and they’re “I can’t do any of this, like I don’t know any of this.” I was like “well, actually you do know most of it, you’re just panicking for no reason.” So, we stopped one day, and we just did we just did a brand new little thing that demonstrated to them that they could actually do the entire project that we’d been doing… in two hours, despite the fact that we’ve spent three weeks on it… and yes, there was a couple little hurdles that they had, but the hurdles they had were minor, and they could do it. I think to allow for that growth mindset… yes, you need them to fail and realize that they can do better, but then also allow for some opportunities where they get some real success too. It seems like you’re interested in this growth mindset idea, so have you been experimenting with any of these sorts of things in your classes?
Maggie: When I started doing the mini pop quizzes, because not only do I throw in a mini pop quiz occasionally, but I also have them doing low stakes quizzing over the weekends on Blackboard. So, I think they start to get a little overwhelmed. We were able to do this on our quiz, when we had everything in front of us, but now that we don’t have anything in front of us, you know, I can see it in their faces. They’re freaking out. They’re upset with themselves, because they knew that they had this information somewhere, they just hadn’t had the time to actually recall it without their notes. I think that, hopefully, the more we do this, the more they’ll take their quizzes maybe a little more seriously and try to really push themselves to do it without without their notes.
Rebecca: So, actually trying to recall the information as opposed to look it up.
Maggie: Right, yeah, right.
Rebecca: Yeah, sometimes students do things out of convenience and meeting a deadline as opposed to valuing the …
Rebecca: …learning and the more we demonstrate to them that we value that they’ve learned, the better. This semester, I just… for some reason my class is just full of anxiety in a way that maybe even last semester it wasn’t… I didn’t change anything… it’s the same thing… but I spent the time, I felt it…. this big ball of anxiety is not going to move forward… because the anxiety is getting in the way of learning now…. to just stop and recognize that you’re observing something… and then make a change…. this is what the syllabus says, but I’m feeling this and I see this. Do you guys agree? Yeah, great! How about we do this instead? Does that make sense to everyone? And then all of a sudden… buy-in again.
Maggie: Right, yeah. They feel like they have the ability to structure the class themselves right? ..that it’s not just you sitting there saying “This is what we’re doing.” You’re asking them: “If we change this, will this be better for our class?” I think that’s cool, and does keep them invested in the class itself.
Rebecca: What other kinds of supports do you feel a new faculty member needs in place to be successful as a teacher?
Maggie: So, I think that for me, because in grad school I sought out different faculty members and helped create some of the programs that I thought were missing… I think for those faculty members who haven’t put as much emphasis on their teaching, perhaps to reach out to them and maybe have a friend bring them along to activities and in workshops at the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching holds.
John: …and it’s not surprising though that some people, when they first start teaching would not put that much weight on teaching because they’ve just come from an R1 institution, where their focus is often entirely, or nearly entirely, on research … and most people start by teaching the way they’ve learned …and the way they’ve learned is often just simply lectures and exams…
John: One of the things I’ve observed as a chair of our recruitment committee (for the last couple of decades) is that, in economics at least, a very large proportion of faculty have no background in teaching while they’re in grad school. In our last search, we had, I think, three or four people who had actually some knowledge of effective teaching practices… and actually three of them made it to our top five list of candidates, but they were by far the exception… and it’s a tough adjustment …and it takes a while, especially when you have to start your research very quickly in order to meet tenure requirements …it’s a difficult adjustment.
Rebecca: I think the first semester, in general, is a tough adjustment. You’re at a new institution… there’s institutional memory that you’re not privy to… there’s all kinds of acronyms that you don’t understand. It takes a lot of time to figure out who this student population is… and you might not think that between institutions the students change very much, but man they’re really different… and you have to adjust your teaching to the population that you’re dealing with. As a designer, I would always jump on my soapbox to say you have to design for your audience, and I don’t think designing your classroom experiences is any different.
Maggie: I’d say in grad school, most of the courses I took were very heavy with reading…. and a lot of discussion based classes. But a lot of students don’t have the time to do the kind of reading we did… and that’s why it was grad school and this is undergrad…. and for them who are just learning… and I think we talked about this in the Small Teaching reading group… that we have the ability to make connections across different concepts and how they interrelate to each other, but the students aren’t there yet …and so, when you’re going from one institution where you have gauged where these students are and what kind of connections they’re able to make, because you know a little bit more about their experience, and then you move to a new university and those experiences… some of them are similar, but a lot of them are vastly different… and to gauge where they’re able to make these connections and how much I have to draw out those connections certainly changes on that university.
Rebecca: It isn’t just university, it’s sometimes like semester to semester….
Rebecca: …or group to group. You almost need to build in a way in your classes to figure out… some sort of little survey or something… like, who are these people? what do they already know?
Maggie: Yeah, yeah.
Rebecca: So that you can make those connections… so that you have a better understanding of what your class’s mental model looks like versus your own.
John: …and there’s a number of ways of doing it… some people will give a pretest at the beginning… just asking what people had, or some general questions about the discipline or their prior knowledge. Others will use clickers and other things throughout the term to assess knowledge before moving on. …and, as you said, just asking students to reflect on what they know and perhaps write it down or at least bring it to the discussion, is another good way to help determine the level, so you can do more just-in-time teaching and deal with what students come in with rather than what you think they should come in with.
Rebecca: What’s your favorite way of handling that John, in your classes?
John: It varies a lot by class. I use clickers regularly in actually nearly all of my classes. I don’t use it in the seminar class I’m teaching, but I’m using them in my econometrics class which is, I think, about 35 to 40 students, somewhere in that range… and I use it in my large class where I have somewhere between 360 and 420 students every fall… and it’s a good way of getting that sort of information. I’ve also sometimes used pre-tests on basic math skills or other things in my large intro class. Sometimes in a smaller class I’ll just ask them what classes they’ve had in the past. When I’m teaching econometrics, for example, I have some students who are math majors who’ve already had multivariable calculus and three or four stat classes. Other students come in who took, sometime in the last three or four years, a very basic stat class… and they come in with very different backgrounds and very different information. Some of the people in the class are math majors who just want to pick up a course and they haven’t had that many economic classes and so finding out what they know helps me determine how much emphasis I need to focus. One of the problems though is that students have such diverse that it’s difficult, but the more we can get them working together with peer instruction, the more they can help each other fill in those gaps.
Rebecca: I think one of the things that I like about what you were saying is that students, in some of those methods, it’s revealed what other students know too, so that they can see that “I have a different mental model, but it matches up with some other people, and here’s some other students and they have this other kind of information.” I find it helpful, and I think the students find it helpful to recognize that people come with different expertise and that we can lean on those expertise at different times. Do you have any strategies that you’ve been using to figure out who’s in the room yet or is that something that you’re still kind of experimenting with?
Maggie: It’s something that I’m still experimenting with. Last semester, I did a pretest and it was helpful for gauging what they knew about criminal justice, but not necessarily what they knew about courts and how those concepts in criminal justice relate to the court system… and this semester I did not do a pretest, but another thing that, I think has been an interesting way to see what they know when they know it is I’ve had them write down for a minute the important things we’ve talked about last class and then I go around the room and every person has to say at least one thing… and everything they know about that thing… but it has to be different from the other person and so that challenges them… and of course the people in the very back corner of the class are freaking out because they’re afraid everything’s gonna be said… but then it turns out that we only get to half of the topics that we actually discussed in the class. So, I think that giving them the opportunity to actually see what they know, I think is important for them in the classroom moving forward.
Rebecca: Yeah, a lot of students don’t have good metacognitive skills, in general. They have no idea what they know. So, if you take the time to get them to even stop and think about what they know, it’s more time than they probably spent on it…
Maggie: Right. Yeah.
Rebecca: …giving them the time and demonstrating that you think it’s valuable for them to spend time thinking about what they know… by you even spending two or three minutes in class on it… all of a sudden lets them know that that’s something that’s valuable.
John: …and actually I’m going to be trying something new this semester to help build on those skills with something that Doug McKee talked about in an earlier podcast, which is the use of two-stage exams. I’m giving an exam in my econometrics class next week next Wednesday and then they’ll all take it individually. Then I will grade them, and then the next class they’re going to work on subset of the questions in small groups… and then they’ll submit group responses which will be weighted as a portion of their overall score. So, basically, they get the opportunity to improve their scores on some of the more challenging questions by sharing their knowledge and in places where that’s been done they found some fairly significant learning gains from leveraging the knowledge of their peers.
Rebecca: Sounds very similar to Maggie’s strategy for some of her quizzes.
Maggie: Yeah. that’s exactly what the mini pop quiz that I’ve been implementing… that they can try to figure out their answers on their own, but then they can really talk with another student… see where their strengths are where… perhaps the other students strengths are and builds from there.
Rebecca: I think what’s nice about pointing out those two examples is that both emphasize peer instruction… but ones in a high-stakes situation… ones in a low-stakes situation. The fact that there’s kind of two graded parts in the in the two-stage exam is a way to demonstrate a way of doing it in a higher stakes situation and then a nice low stakes situation where they try it on their own but then they can collaborate before they’re ever graded is a different scenario and a different level of pressure, etc.
John: …and adding one more level complexity to mine… it’s actually a little lower stakes than it might sound because, while they have three exams (I’ve told them this at the beginning of the term but I’ll have to remind them after they get their test scores back), I have a series of exams that are progressively cumulative, and if they do better on the second exam it will replace the first; if they do better on the third exam it will replace either of the first two… because they’re tested on all the material again. So, they get another chance. It does make the subsequent exams a little bit higher stakes if they didn’t do well, but they have the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from that, and improve their scores.
John: …and thanks to Doug for the suggestion about the the two-stage exams!
Now, you’re also going to be trying something new next year. Oswego is introducing some new signature courses for students in their first year. You, very graciously, were one of the new faculty who chose to participate in that. Could you tell us a little bit about the course that you’re going to be doing?
Maggie: There’s a group of faculty who have been asked to teach very small seminar like courses that are really aimed at engaging students in their very first year… their very first semester at Oswego and with the intent to get them connected to the University and to get them really excited about their coursework and uncover some of their interests. The class that I’ll be teaching is called the Injustice League. It’s on crime, inequalities, and injustice in comic books… and so, in the class we’re going to read a lot of comic books and some graphic novels… and we will have the chance to talk about how those comic books reflect inequalities that exist in society… how they reinforce some of those inequalities… and how comic books are used today to deliver how comic books are used today to facilitate discussions on race, gender, class inequalities.
John: That sounds like a lot of fun
Maggie:Yeah, it’s gonna be…
Rebecca: Yeah, can I sign up?
John: I wish I could take many of these class but that one in particular sounded really interesting.
Maggie: Yeah, it’s gonna be fun, I think, for students who perhaps don’t have an interest in comic books… or those who do, they can share their interests and we can learn a lot of things about the worlds on our way.
Rebecca: What I like about that is using something that’s more popular media and then using it as a tool to apply critical lenses…
Rebecca: …and really getting students to think critically. We don’t have to always think so abstractly to think critically…
Rebecca: …a comic book is a nice tangible thing that you can look at and analyze and evaluate.
Maggie: Yeah, and apply to other discussions that we have going on in society. So if it’s examining gender and equality, and the way female superheroes are portrayed in their dress, and how we, as a society, have developed gendered expectations of women and of women of color and all of those intersecting identities.
John: …and Wonder Woman was developed in large part to help correct some of those gender imbalances, right? …it was developed by a psychologist who wanted to help provide a better gender…
Rebecca: Have you seen what she wears?
John: Well, there was that, too… and and there were some other issues there, but that was the rationale…
Rebecca: Yeah, of course, it was a male psychologist.
John: It was, but…
…in any case…. Okay, never mind.
Rebecca: I was just having a conversation with another one of our colleagues the other day about some of the topics that are really intangible like race, gender, and inequality. There are things that we talk about, but they’re abstract or conceptual, and so sometimes students have a really hard time getting their finger on it and finding a doorway in. So, I like the idea of the comic book as a really specific physical object… a really tangible space to enter into those discussions rather than thinking up in the air….
Rebecca: …where it’s not always easy to digest that if you don’t have a good mental model of what you’re talking about.
John: …and it may also make it easier for students to separate themselves from those issues, because of course they don’t have any biased views themselves… but when they start seeing it perhaps in the comic books it might be help them identify it more generally in society and in themselves and in the world around them.
Maggie: Yeah, it helps them uncover where their biases do lie.
John: Right, but they’re implicit biases in part because they’re not aware of them so…
Maggie: Right. Yeah, they discover where these gendered expectations that they have been surrounded by throughout their growth as children and adolescents… and in why those expectations are problematic, and through comic books they can actually see it. We can actually point to why wealth inequality can create a superhero or it can create a villain.
John: …and it’s also perhaps less threatening that way, because it’s a comic book. It’s not their life directly, but it’s a nice lens by which they can start seeing these issues better.
Rebecca: Sounds like you had a lot of exciting teaching things on the horizon, what else are you gonna do next?
Maggie: I would like to develop a class that looks at punishment and the historical development of punishment and how sexism and racism in society have influenced that development in our society. …and I think for classes, we’re talking about really tough subjects that it’s important for them to be engaged and to feel comfortable having these conversations, because they are so necessary… and through these techniques, I think it gives them a level of comfort in the classroom to be themselves and to understand their positionality in society and how their experiences have impacted the way they view these social issues, and how they can resist against some of those preconceived ideas.
John: …and I think this could be a great topic for a future podcast…
Rebecca: Yeah, we’ll follow up on that
John: …when your class is underway.
Rebecca: Absolutely. Definitely. Well, thank you so much for joining us Maggie and sharing your perspective. I think a lot of faculty can relate and have had similar struggles and also similar successes, but it’s really nice to see your journey. So, thanks for sharing it with us today.
John: Thanks a lot. It’s great having you here at Oswego.
Maggie: Thank you. It’s good being here.