An Appetite for English

By: Jenny Agnew

During the Fall 1, 2012 term, I had the opportunity to teach an English 150 class (“The Process of Composition”) in The Learning Studio as an Innovative Teaching Fellow.  The high-tech room—with its wall of screens, moveable furniture, and available tablets and iPads—is reason enough to want to teach in the space.  An added bonus includes collaborating with an instructional designer from the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning; I was fortunate to work with Michaella (Kella) Thornton, the Assistant Director of Instructional Design.

English 150 is often one of the first courses a student takes at SPS.  Some students have been out of school for a while and may not have written a formal essay in many years.  With these considerations in mind along with the potential of The Learning Studio, it was decided that I would pilot a special section of the writing course as theme based, wherein everything we read and wrote about would be related to food.   I had taught a similar course several years earlier while working at another university and had experienced the benefits of such a curriculum.  Not just something we  all must eat every day to survive, food offers a lens through which to examine politics, gender, class, race, identity, heritage, health, sustainability, agriculture, literature, film, and culture, to name only a few related concepts and disciplines.

As we prepared for the course, Kella and I determined that we would ask the students to participate in a course blog and Twitter.  I had never blogged before and had my doubts about Twitter, but since I was going to ask the students to be involved in these activities, I concluded that I needed to know how they worked.  Several months prior to the course’s start, I therefore started posting to a blog about food-related topics in and around St. Louis (I wrote about food years ago for CitySearch and often focus on how food and literature intersect in my academic writing, so this was not a new topic to me).  I also opened a Twitter account and started tweeting.  Shortly after I began tweeting my blog posts, George Mahe, St. Louis Magazine’s Dining Editor, contacted me about writing for the magazine.  I quickly changed my mind about Twitter ‘s usefulness.

The connections I made through writing for the magazine proved invaluable for the course.  I invited three members of the local food community into the class as guest speakers.  All three guests—Reine Bayoc, chef-owner of Sweet Art ; Maude Bauschard, owner of Maude’s Market; and George Mahe—spoke not only about food but also about writing, particularly how important effective communication is regardless of one’s job or major.  Bayoc, for example, is currently writing a memoir, so her appearance during our food memoir unit made perfect sense.  At the time, students were working on their own remembered person/event paper in which the memory had to be connected to food in some way.  Thanks to The Learning Studio’s design, we recorded all of the guest speakers’ presentations.

Academic writing can sometimes seem arbitrary, particularly in entry-level courses.  Students often wonder what the larger purpose of an assignment is and approach the course as something “to get out of the way” before moving on to their major courses.  The practice of writing in and of itself provides a great means of improving one’s skills, and that’s the implicit understanding often made explicit to the students.   When writing is tied to a larger purpose, however, and the instructor and members from the outside community participate in writing on a regular basis and reinforce the need for deliberate practice, the students come to understand how important writing is well beyond the classroom; ideally, they also come to value how a basic composition course can help to launch their studies.

For an overview of the course, click on this link to see a presentation outline that Kella and I used when we presented at the Focus on Teaching & Technology Conference at UMSL last November.

Reduced Tuition for Military: You’ve Served Your Country, Now Get Your Degree

Guest post by Terrence Kelly, Department Chair, Parks College of Engineering, Aviation & Technology
For the last three years, Saint Louis University has been listed as a military friendly school.  This is because SLU welcomes and embraces all military students as well as their dependents.

Currently we are looking for a few good men and women to enroll in our new online Aviation Management program through Parks College and School for Professional Studies here at Saint Louis University.  This degree provides education for the non-flying aviation professional.

Benefits for Military and Veterans

Active military, veterans, and eligible dependents who pursue this bachelor’s degree for online Aviation Management will receive a reduced tuition rate of $250 per credit hour. This is a great opportunity and a great way to expand your military background.

Why Are We Doing This?

We created this flexible program so busy military men and women everywhere can afford to earn a degree from our prestigious university in their spare time.

For more information please visit the website. Or apply now online.

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The Gothic

Posted by Jennifer Agnew

Monsters aren’t just for Halloween anymore . . . and haven’t been for a while.  Recent trends in literature—including Young Adult (YA)  literature—film, TV, and the fine arts reveal a renewed interest in vampires, zombies, ghosts, and serial killers.  All of these monsters and more fall under the larger category of “The Gothic.”  While many associate “Gothic” with “Goth,” a term that conjures up images of pale skin, black lipstick, and a melancholic mien, the word describes a literary style or genre dating back to late-eighteenth-century England.  Many believe Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, to be the first Gothic novel written in English.  With its haunted castle, family secrets, and murder, the novel set the stage for authors usually only read by English majors—Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, James Hogg—and those more universally recognized thanks to film adaptations and popular culture—Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Bram Stoker (Dracula), and Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

Like so many other literary genres, The Gothic quickly made its way across the Atlantic to the United States, with the publication of Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland in 1798.  Many critics believe that Edgar Allan Poe’s works turned the outer trappings of The Gothic (haunted houses, ghosts, and vampires) inside, within the tortured psyches of the mentally insane.  As The Gothic has evolved over the years, one thing remains the same: the monsters—whether external or internal—reflect our society’s fears and anxieties.  Consequently, the ends of centuries and unstable periods in history often see a resurgence in Gothic works.  Take, for example, the end of the 20th Century and millennium; Gothic films like The Blair Witch Project provided a safe outlet for viewers to purge their anxieties about Y2K.  More recently, vampires and zombies have overtaken literature and film.  One scholar, Diane Winston, the University of Southern California’s  Knight Chair in Media and Religion, argues that our current fascination with monsters reveals larger epistemological concerns.  That is, the monster, whether it’s a zombie, vampire, or serial killer, evokes basic questions of humanity.  Moreover, Winston and other scholars believe all things Gothic are emblematic of moral dilemmas and allow us a creative and entertaining means of solving these dilemmas.  Scary movie as therapy?  Perhaps, for some—as long as you can get to sleep.


Photo Credit: Coastal Carolina Univesity

Why Being a Scientist-Practitioner Matters

Posted by Matt Grawitch

I recently put together a proposal for a panel session that would bring a group of scholars and practitioners together to discuss issues related to the work-life interface. One of the experts on my proposed panel serves as an external consultant to organizations, and she mentioned that many people who work internally in organizations tend to have a very negative opinion of academics who conduct research in the area of the work-life interface. The argument is that many academics spend their time studying issues that have little to no practical value to organizations.

Of course, I would never put myself, or many other academics I work with, into that particular box. However, I know that there are an awful lot of academics who do fall into that stereotype of the “ivory tower” academic.

That got me thinking about my own philosophy and what I try to do as a professional. I was trained under the scientist-practitioner philosophy, which means that my work, whether it is consulting organizations or teaching students, is based in research, and, conversely, my research paradigm emphasizes the practical realities of organizational life.

None of this is to say that I lack an interest in understanding the inner workings of people – after all, I am a psychologist. I believe that basic research has led to many advances that have practical implications, but I also recognize that a lot of “applied” research has become so narrowly focused, and sometimes needlessly sophisticated, that it has the potential to render itself irrelevant to practitioners.

I know I’m not the only scientist-practitioner out there. I was trained to be a scientist-practitioner, so my teachers and mentors were scientist-practitioners themselves. I even work with several individuals that fit into that category, and I have a host of contacts whom I would identify as true scientist-practitioners as well. We do exist!

However, if applied psychology refuses to constantly pay attention to the “gap” between science and practice, then it runs the risk of rendering itself irrelevant to many people who deal with the day-to-day realities in organizations. And, if practitioners who deal with those day-to-day realities refuse to pay attention to solid research, then they run the risk of creating substantially less effective programs that are guided more by heuristics than sound science.

So, we have today the same struggle that has confronted applied psychology since its inception. We must constantly scrutinize the divide between scientific research and practical realities. Practitioners need to learn from researchers and utilize sound scientific processes when designing new initiatives and programs. Researchers, for their part, need to devote more resources toward the study of issues that concern practitioners and do a better job of communicating results in a way that is meaningful to people working in organizations. It sounds like a tall order, but if scientist-practitioners become more common in academia and in organizations, they can begin to diminish the gap and strengthen the relationship between science and practice.

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Match the Degree with the Desired Outcome!

Posted by Marita Malone

Students with criminal justice interests often wonder whether they should obtain a degree in Criminal Justice or a degree in Criminology. In fact, some students believe the two fields are the same, but they are not.

Criminology is the study of theory and behavior, just as other “-ology” subjects do. Similar to Sociology and Psychology, Criminology students will find a lot of their work based in science, theory, and the analysis of criminal behavior. Examples of courses to take are Theories of Crime, Crime Analysis, Psychology of the Criminal Mind, Children and Violence, Criminal Profiling, Decision Making and Problem Solving in Criminology, and Research Methodology.

Criminal Justice, on the other hand, is more of a study of procedures, processes, and structures of the criminal justice system. Examples of courses are Introduction to the Criminal Justice System, Constitutional Criminal Procedures and Issues, Criminal Law and Evidence, Criminal Investigations, Computer Crimes, and Introductions to Corrections, Courts, and Juvenile Justice System.

A BIG difference exists between the two degrees; know what you’re getting yourself into.

Which degree should you obtain? That depends on your proclivity. Do you want to be a researcher, college professor, correctional planner, or social worker (to name just a few options)? If so, go for the criminology degree. Do you want to work within the criminal justice system, social services, or private sector security? If so, go for the criminal justice degree. Decide what your initial career goals are, decide on a program that fits those needs, and pursue a program with an accredited university.

Some good questions to ask a university’s admissions team include: What courses are offered? Where have graduates found jobs after completing their degrees? Ask the right questions to ensure your degree matches your desired career!

Several online blogs allow for students to discuss their career questions and what programs are the best for what they wish to do. One of these, the Criminal Justice Online blog, gives students a place to ask questions. The author, a graduate of Boston University’s Masters in Criminal Justice, offers his opinions and tries to direct students with links to additional resources. He also offers a thread regarding the Criminal Justice or Criminology question.

When choosing Saint Louis University’s (SLU) School for Professional Studies (SPS) Criminal Justice and Security Management program, you are receiving not only a unique criminal justice/security education, but a degree from a university with a reputation for excellence. One of our professors notably stated that, in his business, “having a degree from SLU will get you noticed.” The faculty and staff at SPS work with students to learn about the students’ goals are, and they try to assist in creating connections to get students involved in the work they wish to be doing.

If you have questions regarding more differences as well as the styles of instruction, please visit the blog link in the previous paragraph or feel free to contact the Criminal Justice and Security Management program at

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Transfer of Training

Posted by Jason Tapp

As professionals in training and development, one of our greatest challenges is helping individuals and organizations transfer learning from the classroom to the job. The accountability for that learning transfer lies with the learner, the leader, and with the organization in which the learner works. A few months ago, there was a post on LinkedIn in the CLO magazine group entitled “In one sentence, what’s the number one barrier to transferring learning back to the job?” There have been over 250 responses to that question to date (most of which are much longer than one sentence!) The answers consist of all of the usual suspects: it’s the learner’s fault for not taking responsibility for making the change; it’s the supervisor’s fault for not holding the learner accountable for changing; it’s the training department’s fault for being so disconnected from the work and worker; it’s the organization’s fault for not having a culture of support and reinforcement for learning and behavior change, and on and on.

My position is simple. It must be the wrong learning solution. For example, have you ever tried to screw in a nail with a power drill? Probably not, because common sense tells you that it wouldn’t work! Ironically, when it comes to learning, organizations often use the wrong tool for the job. I’ve seen this happen in numerous organizations where there was a problem with the systems in place, and they kept trying to “fix” the people by sending them to more training. This created more frustration with the systems and the organization, the necessary changes didn’t occur, and everyone was pointing fingers at who was at fault for the system still being broken.

If you’ve taken our Training and Development course, then you learned about the ADDIE process, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. There are many organizational factors at play when it comes to transferring learning to the job. However, one of the most critical components of developing an effective learning intervention is conducting a thorough analysis of the gap and determining the best way to close the gap. One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen organizations make when it comes to closing a performance gap is to try and use training to “fix” the problem. Training will only be effective when the proper needs assessment indicates that training is the right solution. And of course training cannot happen in a vacuum, thus it needs to be integrated into a much larger talent management process.

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Writing Without A Safety Net

Guest Post by Dr. Paul Regan

As I encounter students who are new to writing, at least as a core part of a course, inevitably I see two types of writing emerge.

One type of writing that comes out is found in the discussion of a text. In discussing, as authors grow more comfortable with the course setting, the writing is soundly couched in that author’s personal reaction and understanding of the text. They “get” certain parts of the text and are able to go on at length about the meaning or intent of the author. The parts of the text that they don’t “get,” they can point to as well; often as they articulate why the text puzzled them, they come upon a solution of their own. Their words have the confidence that is born of understanding their own relation to the text. This writing comes from our need to be heard and understood. It is writing that takes risks and finds rewards.

The second kind of writing is what gets submitted as an essay on a text. Initially the writing is stilted. It overreaches itself in its attempt to sound informed. It often parrots what the student has read elsewhere, or what I have offered up in discussion. It is a form of writing that attempts to give the instructor what a student thinks the instructor wants. It is often shallow and lacks any voice whatsoever. This writing comes from a place of seeking approval. This is safe writing that never admits there is anything difficult about a text and never covers new ground.

In the best cases, by examining their discussion posts and their essay writing side by side, I can demonstrate to students that their best writing comes from a place of both understanding and trying to understand. Instead of filling their essays with safe certainties, they should be building, brick by brick, their own answer to a question that puzzles them. Even if they fall short of their ultimate premise, the journey will be instructive.

If there are no risks, there are no rewards. Students should be encouraged to take ownership of their own writing, to chart their own course and surprise us all.

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Is Trust Synonymous with Engagement?

Posted by Matt Grawitch

In my last post on this blog, I emphasized the importance of “presence” as the primary element of the engagement experience. I stand by that definition of engagement, but I was criticized by both a reader who informed me that I “missed an essential point to promoting engagement…trust” and another blog for “[absolving] management from making an effort” because I did not highlight the importance of trust in my blog posting. Of course, this author also criticized me for not having given people a step-by-step guide to creating engagement – which could never exist because every context is different.

I decided to play the part of the good professional and respond to these critiques. Here’s a newsflash for everyone out there: trust does NOT equal engagement. If you have major trust issues with your employees, then why in the world are you spending time reading my blog post on engagement? Engagement is the least of your worries!

Trust is a crucial antecedent of engagement. If people lack trust in their direct supervisor, then it will serve as a barrier to the engagement experience. Workers need to:

  • Trust that you will have their backs when needed;
  • Trust that you will make decisions that will be good for the department;
  • Trust that you will consider their well-being when making critical decisions;
  • Trust that you will provide honest and constructive feedback about their performance; and
  • Trust that you will not keep them in the dark regarding important issues.

And I’m sure there are many more things we need to trust about our supervisor.

Of course, developing trust takes time – lots and lots of time. It is easy to lose and difficult to gain. That, unfortunately, keeps deep mistrust from being much of an actionable issue. Sure, there are probably some things you can do to help improve the trusting relationship you have with your subordinates, but that assumes there is something there on which to build.

An Organizational Development perspective treats relationships as the primary unit of accomplishing goals. Establishing trust and rapport with your subordinates is the cornerstone of accomplishing anything – whether it is day-to-day performance or improving the engagement experience. However, don’t assume that establishing a trusting relationship with your subordinates is the solution. It is only the foundation on which to build an effective culture.

And if you have serious issues of mistrust between you and your subordinates, one of you may need to go. As in sports, though, the easiest way to change the culture of a work team or unit is to remove the person at the top: You.

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A Psychologically Healthy Workplace: Some Things to Keep in Mind

Posted by Matt Grawitch

The Organizational Health Initiative at Saint Louis University emphasizes the importance of a psychologically healthy workplace in overall organizational performance. As a way of contributing to the concept of a psychologically healthy workplace, I attended and presented at the recent Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference. It was probably the best conference experience I’ve ever had.

The topic of my particular talk focused on engagement. There are so many misconceptions out there about what it means to be engaged at work. Some people think it relates to your workplace friends or workplace relationships. To that I say being too social at work and having too many close friends sounds like the archenemy of performance.

Other people think that it means loving your organization and feeling connected to the organization’s mission. To that I respond that loving your organization can occur for a variety of reasons (such as great pay or benefits), and feeling connected to the organization’s mission means nothing if you can’t perform your job well.

I am not bashing the benefits that people can experience when they feel connected to the mission of the organization or have a few close friends at work. Both of those can be instrumental in an employee’s sense of well-being. It’s just that those two things are not engagement.

To really understand engagement, you have to go back to the original definition that Kahn presented in 1990. He argued that engagement was defined as “psychological presence.” That means that to be engaged in something – like a hobby or a sport – you need to be psychologically present in what you are doing at the time. In layman’s terms, it means you are harnessing every ounce of you – your energy, your concentration, your emotion – and applying it to what you are doing at the moment. That is the engagement experience.

I’m sure those of you who have heard me speak before will not be hugely surprised to find that my talk made a few waves. That’s because when I start talking about engagement, I start talking about the importance of understanding the unique engagement experience of individual employees. What do they feel like when they are engaged? What are the things that happen in the organization that facilitate that experience? What are the things that happen in the organization that inhibit it?

Now, that doesn’t sound controversial – until you realize that many consulting firms make a living providing people with misinformation about engagement. Engagement is about a best friend at work. Engagement is about what your boss does to engage you. Engagement is about feeling connected to the mission. If I were British, I would yell “Bollocks!”

Engagement isn’t about any of those things. Engagement is about feeling mentally, physically, and emotionally present while you are completing your work tasks. Being present means you’re not distracted by worries at home. Being present means you’re not thinking about something else you’d rather be doing. True, your boss can have a positive impact on the engagement experience, but there are many factors that can influence “presence.”

Being present means:

  1. Having sufficient personal resources (energy, time, skills) to meet work demands;
  2. Possessing sufficient interest in meeting those demands that you are willing to marshal your resources toward effectively responding to them; and
  3. Responding to demands in an environment that does not promote distractions and interruptions that might disrupt your flow.

That’s what being present means, and that’s what it means to be engaged at work. So, if you want to better manage your people, create an environment and a culture that promotes actual work engagement, not just one that promotes friendships or effective management.

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Need to Improve Your Work-Life Interface? Don’t Think Multitasking Is the Answer

Posted by Matt Grawitch

In today’s market landscape, creating an effective work-life interface is essential as a way of managing stress. A recent poll in the UK found that more people ranked work-life balance as a top priority when looking for a new job (at 36%, the highest result in the poll) than they did a competitive salary (at 31%). Similar polls in the US and around the world continue to find that people crave a better interface between the work and non-work lives.

What does this mean?

It means that many workers around the world are struggling to keep the stress and demands of their work lives from spilling over into their home lives. Some organizations provide greater levels of flexibility (such as flextime or telecommuting) that permit employees to better manage and juggle their work and personal life demands. That can be an effective tool, if you (a) have access to flexible workplace practices, and (b) possess the personality and competency necessary to utilize them effectively.

Instead, though, some people try to ‘get more done’ by working on two or more tasks at the same time. We see it all the time. People talk on the phone while checking their email. People will be an active participant in a meeting and shift their attention back and forth between the meeting and information coming in on their smartphones. We affectionately refer to this as multitasking.

Is multitasking really an effective way of ‘getting more done’? The research on this topic says, unequivocally, NO! For example, I recently posted elsewhere that multitasking can decrease performance by as much as 40%.

In a recent study my colleagues and I completed, we found that people who responded to emails while checking their voicemail messages responded to 19% fewer emails that people who did not have the distraction of checking their voicemail messages. Furthermore, the multitasking resulted in a decrease of 18% in the accuracy of email responses. So, not only did multitasking slow people down, it also lowered the quality of their work.

Perhaps even more damning was the fact that multitasking resulted in increased levels of stress and negative mood. So, not only did performance suffer, but so did multitaskers’ well-being.

The conclusion we can draw from all of this is that multitasking is not an effective way to ‘get more done.’ It also is not an effective way of decreasing the stress that results from a poor work-life interface. All you do is end up less efficient and more stressed. I’m pretty sure that is self-defeating!

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