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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
October 22, 2007
DeKalb — Carole Minor was working on her doctorate at the University of Maryland when a column in the student newspaper caught her attention.
As the author complained about his professors of criminology, Minor saw beyond the criticism to recognize the theoretical implications of the student’s comments.
“What he said was, ‘The professors won’t give us the right answers. They present us with all these different kinds of theories, but they won’t tell us which one is right,’ ” Minor says.
“It was an illustration of dualism in the classroom and on campus. The student wanted the right and wrong answers, and he wanted the authority – the instructor – to give him the answers,” she adds. “The instructors were operating at a different level. They weren’t really connecting with the students.”
Minor believes a familiarity with late Harvard professor William G. Perry’s theory of intellectual and ethical development and teaching methods associated with it would have bridged that gap. The Distinguished Teaching Professor from the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education has employed that thinking in Northern Illinois University classrooms since her arrival in 1981.
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, she will share Perry’s ideas and their implications for developmental instruction in “Connecting with Students in the Classroom: Enhancing Cognitive Development,” a Presidential Teaching Seminar in Graham Hall 420.
The seminar is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. Refreshments will be served at 3:30 p.m. All are invited. Call (815) 753-1085 for more information.
“We want the people who receive the Presidential Teaching Professorships to share their experiences with other faculty. These people have been identified as our most outstanding teachers, and we’re always looking for how we can improve our teaching and our engagement with students,” says Vice Provost Earl “Gip” Seaver. “My experience with the seminars is that I always learn something valuable and interesting that I can incorporate into my own teaching.”
Those who attend Minor’s seminar will come away with a better grasp of how to communicate with students by recognizing and understanding the level of students’ intellectual development, the professor says.
Perry defined nine “positions” that can be collapsed into four “super positions,” including dualism, multiplicity, relativism and commitment within relativism.
The first, of course, is the Maryland student’s level: Black and white. Right and wrong. The instructor knows the two sides and should supply that information.
At the second level, students begin to accept that conflicting perspectives are legitimate, but only on the way to discovering “the truth.” In the third, they are ready to compare and relate ideas and put them into context. In the fourth, they recognize that context is important in understanding thoughts and theories but that they must make a choice of which to commit themselves.
“The theory suggests that students can only understand one position higher than where they are,” Minor says.
At the same time, she says, research has identified four variables that professors and teachers must consider in creating a positive learning environment: personalism, vicarious vs. direct learning experiences, structure and diversity of thought, which includes “learning about different ideas that you didn’t know about before, such as other cultures and religions.”
“You use those four variables to both support the students where they are and to challenge them to move beyond,” she says. “To increase their development, they have to have support and challenge. Too much support makes them stagnant. Too much challenge is overwhelming. You have to achieve a good balance.”
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