Monday, March 28, 2011

Civility Revisited

Civility is an issue on campuses across the country. I’ve attended meetings in the past few weeks that have helped put the ongoing dialogue regarding civility at MVCC in context for me.

Campus-based incivility in America is taking many forms, including subtle disrespect; overt bullying; intimidation; and even instances of outright campus violence– each one having its own unique twist of breathtaking tragedy. While no college can ever fully guarantee the prevention of such events, we can do much more to foster an environment of civility.

I often come back to John Zogby’s book, The Way We’ll Be, when thinking about the notion of respecting others. He writes about trends he’s witnessed through the last twenty-five years of polling data, which indicate we Americans are shifting our thinking about what matters most to us. Where twenty years ago polls showed that Americans were still chasing material dreams under the mantra “whoever dies with the most toys wins,” recent polls across all age groups show Americans valuing material things less and less, while increasingly identifying “being respected for who I am as a person” as the driving force in their lives.

As a college, with learning and personal growth as our primary purpose, the ability to share and consider the ideas of others is paramount. In order to fulfill our vision of providing an innovative learning environment, each member of the MVCC family (student, faculty,and staff) and every visitor must first feel safe and respected. Discussions related to civility on campus range from meeting the basic standard of mutual respect between faculty, staff, and students, to improving the levels of courtesy, respect and professional interaction among offices, units, and Centers.

Today’s discussions of civility go beyond the notion of “these kids today” that surfaces with every generation of young adults. Demonstrations of incivility, on campus, are not confined to one particular group. I think civility issues are on the rise in the society, as a whole, and are certainly more than strictly a college campus issue. We are increasingly seeing the stressors and challenges of everyday life find their way to our campuses. As a result issues of increasing incivility are, unfortunately, a sign of our times.

In response to a previous post on civility, one of our many talented adjunct faculty members responded with the following insight (I’m paraphrasing) – Not to excuse behavior, but when one considers the number of mass media messages that talk about the current generation as the first to be worse off than their parents; the pervasiveness of reinforcing messages on individual shortcomings versus personal strengths; limited options and mobility due to the economy; a dearth of employment opportunities; and complex family situations with associated responsibilities, we’re all carrying a lot of “stuff” around with us every day. It doesn’t take much to set some people off and prompt others to make unkind comments or take actions without thinking.

I see much truth there and believe we must draw upon the strength of our institutional purpose to come together to reinforce what makes any college – and MVCC in particular – unique. In order to maintain ourselves as a community of learners committed to personal growth and improvement, we must amplify the importance of civility as a pre-requisite for membership! We must rededicate ourselves to growing and modeling a culture in which values of respect, tolerance, and kindness permeate the very core of all of our interactions with each other. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More Than ipods and iphones

I recently purchased an iphone. I feel so 21st Century, multi-tasking like a modern day teenager; knowing what apps are; accessing information instantly; doing all kinds of things I couldn’t do before now. And I know that I really don’t know everything about my new phone (read camera, video recorder, web browser, iPod, email machine, flashlight, etc.). Indeed, the possibilities seem endless! Technology is advancing so quickly, I’m always looking for ways to better understand what’s happening. I came across a video that synthesizes some of the effects of technology on young learners – best titled “Digital Learners.” It’ll only take you four minutes to view at this link that might put the rest of this post in perspective for you.

My tour of every school district in Oneida County last year confirmed that local bond measures have helped area schools upgrade their technology infrastructures. By the time Oneida County students finish high school and enroll at MVCC (30% of the entire OC cohort does so each autumn!), they are more than primed to expect access to technology. In addition, the vast majority long for an active learning environment that most have experienced in high school. And, our experience has shown, they all know it when they see it.

MVCC’s technology initiatives are not simply about throwing money at the newest hardware and software solutions for the sake of it. Rather, they’re about ensuring that the College’s infrastructure can support what is needed to increase student success. They’re about moving students along the continuum of an active, technology-enhanced learning environment through appropriate technology that’s integrated into the student experience, inside and outside of class.

One of the key challenges we face, in this regard, is to work hard to communicate with each other about how the rapid pace of technological change is affecting our operation and the teaching and learning process; provide employee enrichment experiences to maintain faculty and staff skill levels in the use of emerging technologies; and evolve our systems to enable effective deployment of those technologies, while maximizing access to the most relevant among them.

Although it’s not often shouted from the highest hilltops, MVCC has done a very good job, building upon our roots as a technical institute and keeping pace with technological change. Although both campuses have been wireless for a couple years, we expanded our IT network in 2009 from 20MB to 100MB (don’t worry about the numbers, just know it was a five-fold increase in network capacity). When market prices dropped, we once again expanded from 100MB to 500MB this year – another five-fold increase! In the past three years, we’ve added presentation technology to 37 more classrooms (including 23 with smartboards). With only 14 classroom upgrades remaining, 83% of all MVCC classrooms are well-equipped to accommodate a broad range of teaching and learning styles. Admittedly, some internal communications, training, and systems shortcomings have inhibited our ability to maximize available technology (e.g., faculty who want smartboards scheduled to teach in rooms without smartboards and vice versa, etc.), but those issues are solvable and are being addressed every day.

I get most anxious when I consider the magnitude and scope of the impacts of technological change across the institution. At the same time, we need to be sure to welcome the rising number of adult students coming to us with varying levels of technological comfort, meeting their needs without making them feel isolated.

Technology also effects the student experience outside the classroom – from admissions to graduation. MVCC has initiatives underway to electronically image student records, expand our use of social media, and automate various student processes to increase response time and service. Trying to keep pace with changing technology may feel futile, but it’s increasingly becoming part of who we are and how we will be. We need to continue recreating this environment for those who can use it to model the way and bring the rest of us along in ways we haven’t even considered yet as possible. It’s the belief in those possibilities that interests and inspires me most.

If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thoughts on Civility

In several conversations lately, I’ve been saying that the challenges and issues we see in our community, and society as a whole, are manifesting themselves on our campuses. From economic constraints, to the slow disintegration of the nuclear family unit, to flashes of incivility gone unchecked– we see the impact of those challenges and issues at MVCC along with every other college and university in this country. The one that concerns me most is the issue of civility, or lack thereof, and the fact that on college campuses – in this day and age – we are dealing with incivility like no other time in the past.

You see it mostly focused on government – from the Johns Hopkins Civility Institute to the National Institute for Civil Discourse that was announced just last month at the University of Arizona – and the role models politicians often provide during election years that demonstrate behavior that was unthinkable twenty years ago. We, as faculty and staff, must recognize that we are role models as well. The manner in which we conduct ourselves and voice our opinions sets the bar for acceptable student behavior. If we don’t care enough to show up for work on time, why should they? If we continually arrive late to meetings, why should they have to get to class on time? If we treat our colleagues disrespectfully, why should students treat us any differently?

It’s amazing to me that on a college campus (whether MVCC or any of the 7,300 college campuses in the U.S.) – a place where respect for others and their ideas is at the core of learning – civility has become such an issue. For the past ten years, I’ve been involved in conversation and programs related to “the new general education” that involves weaving skills many learn at home into college-level curriculum – punctuality, communication skills, ethics, responsibility and other basics. Civility was always lumped in with communication skills, but now it seems it demands its own attention.

At MVCC, the Board of Trustees recently passed a workplace violence policy. We’ve also tried to expand communication and dissemination of the student code of conduct. In addition, we’ve made multiple enhancements to our campus safety operations.

I was so proud to see the thoughtful manner in which our College Senate addressed the issues of civility and violence at their meeting last week. The courage and insight provided by our two student representatives to Senate would have made anyone proud. Our Strategic Plan includes initiatives that revisit and redevelop codes of conduct for students and employees alike. Work is underway to address these important issues and minimize the distractions associated with unacceptable behavior. In the meantime, it is incumbent on faculty and staff member to model appropriate behavior, report acts of incivility, and address incivility (within reason and safety) wherever and whenever we encounter it.

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.