08 December 2008

Highlights of the Fall 2008 Semester

While I was working on my last post, I started to think about all of the cool things that happened during the semester. I feel like I need to write them down because some of them are pretty good memories. I also want to share them in an effort to elaborate on why I love my job so much. So, in no particular order, here are some of the highlights of the 2008 fall semester.

Diversity in LinC

One of the activity/discussions that occurred in my LinC class was focused on diversity and our own biases, as well as tolerance for differences. Basically, the students were placed in small groups and were told they were going to create a society from their group, as well as choosing some participants from a list of people who came from diverse groups with some issues. One of the people on the list was a 60 year old male who was a retired mechanic and a nudist. He was also very promiscuous because of his religious beliefs and was considered to be very religious.

Anyways, in a class discussion, we were deciding whether or not to keep this man to develop our new society. One of my more vocal students said, "No, he's probably Mormon." Well, if you don't know and this student didn't know, I am a Mormon. I smiled and asked him why he thought this man was a Mormon and said something like, "Well, that's what Mormons believe." I smiled and said, "I'm a Mormon and that's not at all what I believe." Of course, the student was embarrassed and it was a little awkward, but because of this, as a class, we were able to have an amazing discussion on diversity, differences, and assumptions. We had a perfect example of what happens when we make assumptions and when we are ignorant regarding the beliefs of groups and individuals.

This was one of those light bulb or teaching moments that I hope my students will remember. We were able to see the principle we were discussing in action. I'm not sure that I could have created a better example of the situation in class, so I was pretty excited.

Muscle Contraction Presentations
In my A&P course, one of the assignments is to have the students creatively present parts of the muscle contraction. I've been doing this assignment for a few years and its always an enjoyable day in class for me, as well as a good learning experience for my students. I'm always so impressed at the creativity of some of the groups. This semester, I had a group of students who sat in the back of the class and who seemed less engaged during class. They were assigned to present the "action potential". I wasn't sure how this presentation would go, but this group far exceeded my expectations.

The group consisted of about 8 guys who showed up for class in football jerseys and with a football. They created a football play that mimicked the steps of the action potential. This play included all of the steps in a very visual and memorable way. The students impressed me and taught their fellow students very effectively about the action potential. It was definitely memorable for me and I was so impressed by their ability to apply the principles we learned in class to a situation that made sense for them.

Early Exams
A few weeks ago, one of my students came to see me about taking his exams early. Usually the answer to this question is a "No," but this student had a pretty compelling reason. His story bears repeating, so I'll share it here.

Apparently, his girlfriend has been completing her student teaching or internship out in Colorado. My student wanted to propose to her, so he sold his boat, bought a ring, and started planning. Apparently, he wanted to fly out to Colorado, surprise her and propose on the last day of her student teaching. After making arrangements to take his exams early (how could I say no to that story?), he finalized his plans. Anyways, he took his exam last week and he proposed last Friday night and I'm fairly certain he's engaged. Before he left, he sent me a very nice e-mail thanking me for being flexible and understanding. He also thanked me for being a good professor, which was nice to hear.

Poster Presentation Acceptance
This highlight is really not such a big deal and I'll actually write more about it in February, but it does bear mentioning. During the spring, I submitted a proposal to present my dissertation at the NATA Educators Conference in February 2009. At some point this semester, I received a letter saying that my proposal had been accepted for a poster presentation, so I will be presenting my dissertation in Washington, DC in February.

Stem Cell Debate
Another one of the assignments and discussions I give my A&P course is a short paper on the stem cell research and use, followed by an in class discussion and debate on the topic. The assignment allows the student to gain some background information on the topic. Before class, the students are assigned to a "perspective" regarding stem cell research, meaning they need to look at the topic from a variety of perspectives that are usually controversial and generally don't line up with their personal views.

The discussion and debate is always interesting and a vast majority of the students participate and share their views. Towards the end of class, I always ask my students why they think I give them this assignment. I explain to them that I want them to learn how to develop their own views on controversial topics and that I want them to learn that there are always different perspectives and views from their own. I want them to be respectful of others' views and to have reasons for believing why they do. I always end the class by asking the students if they learned anything and if their views on the topic have changed or become more informed. I'm always pleased by the number of hands that are raised.

I always enjoy this activity, but this semester there were a few things that happened to make it especially rewarding. During class, a student expressed his views and brought up religion. He made several comments that helped to drive the discussion. Towards the end of class, he expressed his appreciation to his peers for being respectful of his views and for allowing him to express his views very candidly. I also had several students come up to me after class and thank me for giving them this assignment, for allowing them to discover more about the topic, and for having a civil discussion during class. I was so impressed with my students and their insight, respect, and willingness to look at their views critically. It was also cool to hear my students acknowledge that the assignment was a good one and that they enjoyed it.

Bowling with LinC
Because my LinC class finished back in October, we decided as a class to do an out of class activity towards the end of the semester. The students wanted to go bowling and since we have a bowling activity here on campus, we decided to get together on a Sunday evening in November. I was pleasantly surprised when about half of the class showed up to bowl and eat Oreo cake. The event was very kicked back and I was surprised that my students were happy to see me. I was able to spend some time with each of them and heard about their experiences during the second half of the season. They talked about their sports (they were all athletes) and other stuff that was happening in their lives. It turned out to be a fun evening and I think the students enjoyed it as well. Although, I really dislike bowling, I would definitely do this event again.

Thank You Note
Except for my course evaluations, I rarely know how my students feel about me as a professor. I kind of figure that they must like me okay since they do show up for class. I don't worry too much about it because I also figure that I would be hearing about it if I weren't doing a good job. Anyways, over Thanksgiving break, I received a very nice e-mail from one of my students. He said,

"I want to take this opportunity to thank you for being a really great professor. It is really evident in the way that you conduct yourself that you actually care about your students and the material you present. That means a lot to me, and I am sure I'm not the only person that takes notice. Have a great Holiday season, and thanks once again for everything!"

I was so surprised and touched. Apparently, someone thinks I'm doing okay.

Red Tassel Mortarboard Reception
One of my least favorite things to do is to attend award receptions or banquets. I've hated going to them since high school, so its nothing new. In spite of my dislike for these types of events, when my students invite me to attend, I say yes. Earlier this semester, one of my students invited me to the Red Tassel Mortarboard Faculty Appreciation Reception. I have known the student since she was a freshman and have had her in several courses. She was also involved with Team in Training and we have actually done races together.

Anyways, I was invited to this reception, along with other athletic training faculty members. The student who invited me was ill, so she wasn't able to attend. There was good food and a surprisingly good speaker on the history of mentors. Finally, the students had written a short paragraph about their invited faculty members, which was read to the group.

If you know me at all, you know that I really don't like being in front of people (in spite of the fact that I stand in front of a classroom every day) being praised or whatever. So, when it was my turn to stand up and listen to my paragraph, I was just hoping that the time would go by quickly and I could sit down. When my paragraph was being read, I was incredibly touched and I actually got goosebumps because it felt like someone had completely nailed my teaching philosophy. Because it was so cool, I asked the student for a copy of what she wrote. Here it is for your reading enjoyment...

"The first time I had Dr. Hansen as my professor freshman year for anatomy lecture, I had no idea of the impact she was about to make on the rest of my time here at Illinois State. Dr Hansen's passion and dedication to our education and success through the Athletic Training program and beyond is exposed both inside and outside the classroom. In addition, she encourages and helps others become more involved with the campus and the community. As she has watched us grow throughout the years, we in return, have had the opportunity to witness her evolvement from a driven doctoral student to a well-respected professor and a well-liked person. I know to Dr. Hansen it probably seems like I have been around forever after these past four years, but I am very thankful for the time, effort, and encouragement she has provided to help me excel and become a better person in all that I do."

I'm not really sure what to say after that, except that this was definitely one of the highlights of my teaching career.

Spring Race
When I raced in the ISU Homecoming 5k, I saw several of my students and was surprised that they were runners. While I was running, I remember thinking to myself that it would be fun to race with more of my students. A couple of weeks later, I raced with Katie and Carolyn on Halloween and had the same thought. So, in class and at the AT Club meeting, I through out the idea that maybe we should all do a spring race together. My students were surprisingly receptive and interested. So, we've decided to do a 5k that is walker-friendly. I'm sure I'll have more to write about this later, but I'm pretty excited about it and hope that we can pull it off.

So, those are a few of the highlights of this past semester. It was a pretty good semester and as I said earlier, I feel like I'm finally settling into a positive teaching experience. I'm hopeful that I'll continue to have more semesters like this and that I can keep improving my teaching and maybe even impacting my students' lives.