Science & Religion: Eternal Enemies?

I’m nearing the completion of my reading of Stephen Jay Gould’s Rocks of Ages and have been thinking a lot about the compatibility of science and religion in our society.  It is Gould’s central thesis that there is no necessary conflict between the two realms of human experience as long as each stays within its boundaries in terms of what it tries to explain about the world.  Scholars both current and historical have disagreed with this view (for example, see works by Jerry Coyne, a prominent evolutionary biologist who wrote a book entitled Faith versus fact: why science and religion are incompatible).  Gould also points out that a common tendency in debate is to automatically lump a person into this simple dichotomy—either he/she is for religion or for science.

To illustrate this, Gould tells the story of the co-founder of Cornell University, Andrew Dickinson White.  White was a devoutly religious man who warned that dogmatic theology and overly literal interpretations of the Bible stymie the science that improves the lives of all humanity.  As a result, he wrote much on the subject and pushed hard that Cornell open as a secular (religiously unaffiliated) institution.  According to Gould, White’s works have been widely cited to show that there is a war between science and religion and that they cannot coexist, when White himself most certainly would have disagreed.

Gould further discusses the common myth that Christopher Columbus was the scientific hero that refused to accept the prevailing notion at the time that the world was flat.  The story goes that the religious influences among scholarly society during the Dark Ages had caused European thinkers to turn away from the scientific notions of the Earth’s sphericity and accept the concept of a flat stage for the Earth over which the Heavens watched.  Columbus heroically lifted us from this religious oppression by doing science (experimenting by sailing towards the supposed ends of the Earth).  The problem is, Gould points out, this legend simply isn’t true.  While a flat conception of the Earth existed among the uneducated during Columbus’s time (and ours!), the prevailing view among scholars was that the Earth was indeed round, as surmised already by the ancient Greeks.  Yet another example of the tendency to automatically make enemies of religion and science.

This notion that religion and science are necessarily at odds is a problematic one for science educators because students sometimes feel that their entire faith hinges on their intellectual participation in class.  When I teach biology students about evolution, some of them are dealing with this incredibly powerful tension in their minds and hearts.  This discussion needs to be addressed somewhere in our educational system.  When I think back on my own educational experience however, I am forced to admit that I cannot really remember a time ever that this was discussed!  Not in public school, not in my undergraduate science classes, maybe once or twice in my undergraduate general education courses, but not in my graduate training in biology either.  I’m not sure exactly how the topic of science and religion might be appropriately inserted, but I am a big proponent anyway of introducing more basic philosophy into a high school curriculum.  There is so much knowledge to be learned out there these days—it seems to me that we ought to be sending students off to college with some training in how to think for the sake of thinking.  This might be a good time to include some discussion on the nature of knowledge, and the different methods (science, religion, etc…) by which knowledge is derived.  Any thoughts?

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First Generation Students (@heatherzmartin)

This is a topic that spans k-12 and higher ed. I know the importance of having instructors that reflect the students’ own identities has been discussed in both educational settings. However, the conversation, as I’ve heard it, usually centers around race. The University of California is making an effort to show first generation college students that their demographic is represented in the faculty.

The initiative began due to the experiences of a psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz. She had been a first generation student and had difficulty navigating the college environment. Her experience caused her to want to help other students that are facing the same obstacles she faced.

The initiative encourages instructors on campus to identify themselves as the first members of their families to graduate from a four-year institution by wearing t-shirts or buttons stating so. In the entire UC’s nine campus system, there are roughly 800 faculty participants expected to wear their First-Gen Faculty shirts and share their experiences during the first week of fall classes. The hope is that first generation students will seek out those professors as role models or mentors.

Hopefully, a followup article will be written next year and there will be some data on the impact of identifying with first generation students.

 

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/02/university-california-plan-links-first-generation-students-similar-professors

The Evils of Technology :) (@heatherzmartin)

Ok, so maybe that title was a bit dramatic, but I found an amazing article called Hey Computer Scientists! Stop Hating Humanities (linked below) that really hits on a lot of what I think worries us about the growing use of technology.

The article is written by a computer science PhD student. She starts off by discussing the dynamic in Silicon Valley and the emphasis placed on computer engineering. She then goes on to discuss some chilling coding projects she’s been given while explaining the danger of isolating these projects from their greater context. For example, she discusses military scientists who design new weapons with great enthusiasm but never think about who the weapons are being used on or whether or not they even believe those weapons should be used. Here’s a passage that really resonated with me:

“Should I write a computer program that will download the communications of thousands of teenagers suffering from eating disorders posted on an anorexia advice website? Write a program to post anonymous, suicidal messages on hundreds of college forums to see which colleges offer the most support? My answer to these questions, incidentally, was “no”. But I considered it. And the glory and peril of computers is that they magnify the impact of your whims: an impulse becomes a program that can hurt thousands of people.”

She contacted the top 8 undergrad programs in computer science and found that most do not have any requirements on ethical or social issues in computer science, although some do offer them. She suggests that a more socially conscious curriculum would make coders less likely to do harm, and, ideally, more likely to do good. I thought this was also interesting since, in our higher ed cohort, we’ve often discussed whether students should be “made” to take classes. She also suggests more diversity in hiring processes. Specifically, she states that companies should hire people that their products typically harm or exclude. She also suggests hiring non-computer scientists to come in and give talks.

So, while this article was definitely a stark contrast from my last post and I found that passage rather terrifying, the fact that the author is exploring these societal problems within the context of coding was encouraging. I think this is really extreme version of what we’ve been saying all along: technology is great, as long as it’s supplemental and not in place of human interaction. The human component seems even more important on such a large scale.

https://www.wired.com/2017/04/hey-computer-scientists-stop-hating-humanities

Successful Use of Tech in Higher Ed(@heatherzmartin)

For the majority of this course, I feel like whenever questions came up about the use of technology in classes (or lack of technology in classes) we’ve brought up teacher training. It turns out Maryville University in MO decided to provide extensive training to their faculty on iPads and the results have been pretty interesting.

Maryville unrolled their iPad plan in 2015. They began with a smaller group of faculty and trained them on the iPads for use in their classrooms. Today, all of their 500+ professors, some adjuncts, and some staff have iPads provided by the institution. The institution offers intensive in-person instruction. They offer 90-minute training sessions every other week for a full semester. They also lengthened all faculty contracts by two weeks per academic year (costing them $476,000) for professional development. The majority of that PD centers around the iPads. They also offer a week in the spring where there are faculty-led on-campus conferences where the professors can share their experiences and learn about apps and best practices and create content. Overall, the university spent over $2 million on the technology and over $4 million for more bandwidth for the institution.

So, what did all of this iPad training get them? Well, their retention of freshmen and sophomores has topped 88%. Their retention was in the mid 80s when they implemented the iPad program. Total enrollment has increased. 52% of students said that the program was a major decision factor in their university choice.

One instructor taught 2 sections of the same course and only used the iPads for one of the sections. He said 81% of all students using the iPads said that the technology contributed “somewhat” or “a lot” to their learning experience. Grades for students in iPad-enhanced section were 9% higher than those in the other section.

So, I guess we’ll give that point to technology. While we’ve definitely established some of the evils, I think it’s safe to say that Maryville’s program and the results they’ve achieved definitely shows that technology can enhance the learning experience and be a major benefit for institutions.

https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/05/31/maryville-u-offers-intensive-ipad-training-faculty-members

Reflections on this past year @rebew_lindsey

For my final blog post, I want to take a minute to reflect upon this past year.  It is surreal to me that we are almost through our first year doctoral coursework; it is also slightly unnerving as I still feel like I lack direction (but let’s not dwell on that for now)!  By the end of this month, most of us will have completed 21 credit hours worth of course work.  If that’s not insane enough, I know I am still in awe by it, it is also rigorous work.  We all have day jobs, families, and other major commitments but we managed to complete a little under half of the coursework within 9 months time.  So kuddos to everyone for making it through this year (mostly…we’re almost there); and more importantly I want to thank everyone for helping me through this process.  My experience through my master’s degree and this program have really made me appreciate my choice to choose AU with regard to continuing my education!  I look forward to the stressful, fun-times ahead of us!!

Cheers everyone, to a successful year! 🙂

Animal Assisted Therapy @rebew_lindsey

Most of my focus this week has been on anxiety.  I mentioned in my earlier blog post about neurotic perfectionism and the links to anxiety.  I also talked a little bit about one statistic from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  This organization states that “Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2016).”  I would like to say that I am surprised by this statistic, but in all honesty I’m not.  So, I thought about what those treatments might look like, and I came up with drugs (because I mean really, when are drugs not the answer?) and talk therapy.  But I was curious about other alternatives besides doping up or talking about your feelings; and then I recalled a news clip I had seen several years ago about therapy animals.  So can Pet therapy work?  I was curious, I remember seeing the video and it mostly focused on shelter animals being linked with students that struggled with reading (hopefully I can find the clip and attach it at the end of this!).  But the news clip reported positive results from these students having the ability to read to animals.

I read an article by Goddard and Gilmer (2015) titled The Role and Impact of Animals with Pediatric Patients which I found to be very interesting.  Prior to the publication of this article there was limited research on the impact that Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal Facilitated Therapy (AFT) with pediatric patients.  While this article is more clinical in nature, it had me thinking about some of my students within the school setting.  Some of my students have severe anxiety, and this article made me think about the potential positive impact that this kind of therapy could have on students within the school setting.  Would it be possible to have a therapy dog at school all year?  What types of benefits could we see in student engagement?  Would it decrease school anxiety for some students?  The more I think about this concept, the more I would love to pursue doing some type of study to assess how animal-based therapy(ies) could be beneficial in the school setting.  Logisitically, I’m not sure how I could make this work though :/

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Facts & statistics. Retrieved from https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

Goddard, A.T. & Gilmer, M.J. (2015). The role and impact of animals with pediatric patients. Pediatric Nursing, 41(2), 65-71.

Topic Ideas… @rebew_lindsey

So last semester, during our Intro to Research class, I started reading more about Perfectionism and I talked a little bit about how I am fascinated by it within my presentation/brainstorming session at the end of the semester; especially this idea of neurotic or “mal-adaptive” perfectionism (Pirbaglou, M, Cribbie, R., Irvine, J., Radhu, N., Vora, K, & Ritvo, P., 2013).  I recently read an article/study titled Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Depressive Distress: Evidence for the Mediating Role of Negative Automatic Thoughts and Anxiety Sensitivity by Pirbaglou, Cribbie, Irvine, Radhu, Vora, and Ritvo (2013) which really piqued my interest. To summarize the study, the authors found that there is support for the ideation that “mal-adaptive” perfectionism is linked with depressive and anxiety type disorders; particularly when students are predisposed to anxiety and/or depressive tendencies.

From a personal standpoint, I know that I have perfectionistic tendencies, as I’m sure most of us do and/or recognize that within ourselves.  While I recognize these characteristics within myself, I am often left thinking what can I do combat these feelings of needing to be perfect?  I also wonder where I go this idea that being perfect is the only way to be?  Has it been there forever?  I don’t remember feeling this way as a child or even a young adult; but now as an adult I feel more inclined to gravitate toward these feelings.   The majority of the research I have done has linked perfectionism to anxiety.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2016), 18 percent of the adult population suffer from Anxiety type disorders and it is “the most common mental illness in the U.S.”  So with statistics that significant for the adult population, can you imagine what this looks like for our student population (i.e., students 17 years old and younger)?  With the rate of anxiety and depression type disorders affecting a large part of the population, this really has me thinking about ways in which mental health support can be addressed in schools.  Typically, we notice and/or refer to students with externalizing behaviors (i.e., ADHD, conduct disorders, etc.) as our behavior kids and do not necessarily give the same support or attention to our students who have internalizing behaviors.  Just some food for thought!

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). Facts and statistics. Retrieved from https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

Pirbaglou, M, Cribbie, R., Irvine, J., Radhu, N., Vora, K, & Ritvo, P. (2013). Perfectionism, anxiety, and depressive distress: Evidence for the mediating role of negative automatic thoughts and anxiety sensitivity. Journal of American College Health, 61(8), 477-483.

Cultural Competence

One of the primary reasons I choose not to teach in in a public school after receiving my teaching licensures (then called Type 03 and 04) was because I was not adequately prepared.

Specifically, I was not prepared to support diverse populations or their social and emotional needs.  I didn’t know how to support children’s home language, I didn’t know how to authentically connect with families from multiple backgrounds or structures, and I did not recognize the underpinnings of challenging behavior (often feelings of hunger and insecurity).    On the continuum of cultural competence, I was blind (apparently, as was the institution where I received my education).

I knew I was doing a disservice to my students and that I would never succeed as an educator without this knowledge and ability. I spent the next 10+ years learning, practicing, and teaching myself what supporting the WHOLE child truly looked like in education.

Fast forward to my first year of teaching in higher education, and eventually to a nationwide teaching structure.    I found myself supporting different generations, but similar diverse needs resurfaced.  How do I provide a curriculum that is culturally relevant and celebrates diverse perspectives?  How do I ensure my teaching strategies are bias free?  How do I help students navigate life beyond the classroom?  Had I not worked so diligently to become culturally competent, I would not have known.    I again would have taught the content but not the individual.

To be fair, my current institution has offered tremendous resources and opportunities for training around this topic, but the initiative has been relatively recent.  For K-12 and others, I am wondering about the curriculum or training experiences you have received for supporting learners from diverse backgrounds.

For folks in higher education, I realize there is often zero preparation for instructors but have you been offered support or training for learners from diverse backgrounds? @kwalley_au

Ghostery, anyone?

-by David Taylor (@SaraGFunk4)

If you’re like me, you’re a little freaked out about all of the tracking that is done on the internet.  The whole act of utilizing one’s personal computer to search the internet in one’s own house creates the illusion of privacy and security when, in fact, those features are absent.  Whatever you type into Google now belongs to Google, to share with whomever they see fit.  Google’s business model is basically to give away free stuff (gmail, search engine, etc..) and then sell the personal data to companies willing to pay for it.  So you spend the morning on Google searching for hotels near white-water rivers and that afternoon ads are targeting you to sell kayaks.  My own mother finds this kind of advertising “quite clever”, but I have to admit I find it quite freaky.

In the case of advertising, this kind of tracking and information gathering is typically benign.  But it doesn’t have to be.  I was reading a story about a man convicted for murder recently and the article included information on what the man had searched for on the internet that day.  In this case I certainly hope that the police got the right man and that his personal data helped build the case, but what if it didn’t?  What kind of crime could be pegged onto an innocent person or shift the minds of a jury by revealing private internet activity?  Edward Snowden, whether you like or loathe his politics, revealed a few years ago just how encompassing standard NSA internet surveillance procedures had become.  Again, what’s the harm in the NSA storing all of your internet searches, page clicks, and video activity.  Nothing, typically.  Until suddenly it is.  Imagine what Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, or Senator McCarthy would have done with unlimited access to your internet activity?

One small tool that is free and simple to download that you can use to partially protect yourself is the Ghostery tool.  Ghostery is a small company that vows to protect your internet surfing privacy no matter what.  They have small plug-ins to download that work on most major web browsers. including those on iOS and android devices.  Whenever you visit a web-site, Ghostery will identify and block (you can customize which are blocked and unblocked) all 3rd-party entities trying to communicate with your computer at that moment.  This includes common tracking tools like Google or Twitter analytics and advertising trackers like those from Amazon.  Using Ghostery actually tends to speed up your internet experience because all those 3rd-party entities take some time to load on each page you visit.  If interested, you can check out the free download at ghostery.com.

Civic Engagement meets Higher Education @AU_Junker

As I’ve immersed myself more into the world of civic engagement and service learning, I am finding more information that interests me. As of late, I have identified a book that outlines competencies for the Community Engaged Professional and a podcast that outlines the lack of empirical information on these professionals. Tada- another hole I could fill!

I’ve been looking into blogs written by these professionals as well.  I want to understand their perspective and drive and learn about their experiences. One that I ran across today was about the crossroad between civic engagement and higher education. The section I was most drawn to hypothesized that one of the reasons we have not yet fully instituted civic engagement on campuses is because it threatens our understanding of where knowledge comes from. Interestingly enough, this is the same sentiment that was shared by a founder of service learning that I was able to hear at a conference a couple of months ago.

Civic engagement/ community engagement means relying on the professionals within the community to provide the expertise to teach our students (and us) about social justice issues. In addition, when our students engage in these opportunities, they also learn real life skills. We have been taught that the institutions of higher education hold all of the knowledge; that is where you go to become education. Civic engagement “threatens” that belief because we are sending our students out to the community to become educated.

It seems like such a stupid concern- but one that I am seeing cited more and more.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-moore-mcbride/civic-engagement-and-higher-education_b_4218389.html