Institutional Transformation

Pete Miller

Spring 2022

I’ve been told that I’d make a good teacher at various points in my life. My participation in the CPLC has given me a little more confidence that this may be or become true, although it’s taken a long time for me to get to this point.

My mother was a classroom teacher, but I didn’t see the appeal beyond good benefits and vacation time. A friend in college was an ed major initially, and I clearly remember her storming out of an ed class with a few choice words when she decided it wasn’t for her. She’s had a long career in statistical research, where theory takes on different dimensions.

I had an epiphany while serving as director of media relations at Vermont Law School, when a professor arranged a workshop for colleagues on teaching methods. He explained that while they had great backgrounds in the law most had little to no training in how to teach, as it was neither an expectation nor requirement. This hadn’t been expressed so plainly to me before.

My wife, a former professor of education who has taught every level from preschool to graduate school, has been a constant source of feedback. She’s often more interested in discussing my teaching strategies than I am because she can categorize what I’m doing—which is sometimes done by the seat of my pants—and provide useful suggestions.

My college teaching career had a rough start. It began in my first year at PSU with a fall Gen Ed course, Creating Arguments. I spent the summer beforehand learning the subject and reading a book on teaching writing suggested by my English department sensei, Elliott Gruner. Three weeks into the fall, I was confronted by a family crisis of the first magnitude and had to continue the in-person course remotely for several sessions. The teaching commitment provided very welcome and necessary structure while I was out of state and untethered in many respects. Then my mother passed at the end of the semester when I was trying to figure out grading and finals for the first time. I remain very grateful for Elliott’s compassion and flexibility and that of my day-job supervisor, Marlin Collingwood. Both taught me a lot by modeling PSU’s supportive culture.

I’m a lifelong learner who welcomes challenges, and as a teaching lecturer I’ve benefited from both ACES and CPLC and continually seek opportunities to improve my skills. I have benefited from others in the CM department, including Scott Coykendall, who taught my current course, Journalism in the Digital Age, for a dozen years before I took it over, and Metty Woldemariam, who has provided good feedback on my syllabus and encouragement when I have been unsure. I recently scheduled a 1:1 with Cathie LeBlanc, who as a CM faculty member, Gen Ed coordinator, and CL thought leader will undoubtedly provide useful suggestions as I refine things for the fall.

Perhaps instinctively I’ve incorporated several foundational aspects of Cluster Learning into my course, which features project-based work and interdisciplinarity. These are organic and essential aspects of journalism. I often refer to self-directed learning in class and at times leave students to their own devices to figure things out. For example, in group reporting projects, the members need to determine which roles they will take (reporter, editor, or executive editor), what stories to cover, what the production schedule should be, etc. Regarding OE, I checked a listing that I saw somewhere for appropriate texts but didn’t find one that fit this course. However, I only assign one textbook, which I feel is a good and important reference, and otherwise make use of free web materials and guest presentations.

As a CPLC storyteller/ambassador I advanced knowledge of CL campuswide in concrete ways that were within my power. As Plymouth Magazine’s editor I devoted a substantial portion of the previous issue to a multipart CL feature, and as staff speaker I centered a monthly staff meeting on CL as well. While I was joined by one CPLC alumna in my presentation, I was surprised by not receiving more assistance in introducing the concepts to PSU’s staff. Did that mean that others were confident that I had mastered all the nuances of CL? I certainly didn’t feel that way. Or that making the best possible presentation to PSU staff wasn’t seen as a top priority by others? I hoped that wasn’t the case. More likely, it was probably because others were just busy and stressed, a topic for consideration in another essay perhaps.

In my day job in PSU’s communications and marketing shop, my goal is to learn as much as possible about all aspects of the University so I can better present and synthesize this information. This is a never-ending process, and even after four years here I’m constantly finding new rocks to turn over.

Joining the CPLC and participating in discussions has opened a worthwhile window a little wider regarding faculty concerns and pedagogical topics. On a basic level, PSU is a school, and our product is educated students. The CPLC has brought me closer to the factory floor and given me a chance to eyeball what determines how well the conveyor belt is moving, and what might smooth its progress. Abby Goode’s “Slow Interdisciplinarity” piece sends a cautionary note about hastily speeding things up, which is good to keep in mind when confronted with the demands presented by predicted demographic declines of prospective students, the financial tightrope that PSU is walking, and expectations of so many parties that are invested in our survival and success.

Thank you CPLC, CoLab, and faculty and staff colleagues for welcoming me into your world this year. I greatly appreciate the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie that PSU affords and will do my best to continue anteing up my share.


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