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MnWE News Back to School Issue
July-August 2021
Next Conference: Minnesota Humanities Center in St. Paul and on Zoom, Thur.-Fri., Apr. 7-8, 2022

In this issue:




4.  BOOK REVIEW: David Treuer’s The Rez 

5.  Free Teaching/Learning E-Newsletters (listed in each issue)

6.  About MnWE (in each issue)

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        The Chronicle’s free Teaching e-newsletter recently offered suggestions on “Assessing Students” in the first week of class in these unusual times. Here is Teaching’s summary of what Kelly Hogan, a professor of biology at UNC-Chapel Hill and associate dean of instructional innovation, is doing:
        Send out a survey before the first day of class. This is a good opportunity to ask students about two things: what experience they have with the content of your course and how they feel about returning to in-person learning. ...[F]or example, Hogan asks students when they last took biology. She already knows the answer: It was usually ninth grade. But this gives students the chance to tell her that they haven’t studied biology in a *really* long time, which helps reassure them that she now knows this. She also asks what they’re nervous about.... Understanding students’ concerns, Hogan says, can help instructors think about how to adapt their teaching this fall.
        Give a nongraded assessment. Sometimes, Hogan notes, if you give students an assessment before the course starts they might Google the answers. But if you do this during the first or second day of class, you’ll get a more accurate view of what students know and remember. Then, use the results to adjust your course goals as needed. Let students know that you’re not testing them in a formal sense, but are simply trying to figure out where they are....
        Provide resources to review. Many instructors taped their lectures this past year, so they could consider offering relevant ones to incoming students looking for review material. Or if your department has a suite of videos, could use those, or materials found on YouTube. Hogan is also planning to give her students a first assignment that is something of a how-to: how to use the technology, an introduction to the textbook, and where to go to find other study resources.
        Set clear expectations. Hogan ties this back to the student survey. Many students have already expressed anxiety about a return to face-to-face teaching. So on your syllabus, let them know what to expect in terms of deadlines, assignments, and tests. Hogan plans to keep open-note tests in the course she is co-teaching this fall. And she will continue to offer flexibility with deadlines by giving students tokens that allow them to turn things in late on occasion.”

Full article in Teaching

        In 1998, the Boyer Commission, an influential research group, provided a report on the future of undergraduate education. Its recommendations were cutting edge but mostly have become incorporated as best practices by now. A new Boyer Commission is about to be formed. According to a recent Teaching e-newsletter from the Chronicle, some of the issues this new group will examine may include
        - “Advances in learning science” (neuroscience and “effective ways to teach”)
        - “Advances in technology” (“Smartphones and social media...omnipresent”)
        - “Greater awareness of nontraditional students” as “lifelong learners”
        - “[I]ncreased concerns about equity” (vs. “weed[ing] out the underprepared”)
        Related to these issues, Teaching mentions six “free advice guides” offered by the Chronicle that are written by teaching experts and offer concrete advice and resources about many of the key elements of good teaching”:  
         How to Create a Syllabus, by Kevin Gannon
How to Teach a Good First Day of Class, by James M. Lang

          How to Make Your Teaching More Engaging, by Sarah Rose Cavanagh

          How to Hold a Better Class Discussion, by Jay Howard

          How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive, by Viji Sathy & Kelly A. Hogan

          How to Be a Better Online Teacher, by Flower Darby
Would you like to comment on these future trends relating, especially, to research universities? Teaching invites you to email your thoughts to its editor:


Is a significant shift in higher education happening now? Pundits such as Thomas Friedman have argued this for years. Recent dramatic shifts in teaching during the pandemic have increased such expectations.
        Doug Lederman, editor of Inside Higher Ed, has summarized likely changes using a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) in his “Foreword” to A Guide for Leaders in Higher Education by Ruben, De Lisi, and Gigliotti (Stylus, 2017). He shows how higher administrators and businesses often perceive our educational institutions.
        Our strengths, says Lederman, lie in our “incredibly diverse constellation...of institutions,” our “History of Excellence,” “Democratization,” “Relative Independence,” “Tradition of Liberal Education,” and our “Colleges as Community Anchors.” In addition, we are “a destination for many of the world’s best students and scholars.”
        Our weaknesses, he says, include perceptions in the U.S. that we are “underperforming.” One reason is that we are perceived as too expensive: “as much as three fourths of the operating expenditures...are in employee costs,” causing unfortunate high prices for an education, which “is blamed on the professoriate,” even though “recent growth in employee numbers has come on the administrative side.”
        Other weaknesses, perhaps especially perceived by business people, are our “Complacency and Resistance to Change,” “Lack of Measurement and Evidence of Performance,” excessive “Decentralization,” and too many “missions” that sometimes conflict.
       Our opportunities, Lederman tells us, include our new (for over a decade, now) “Completion Agenda” to convince students they should finish a degree. Another important opportunity is the “Global Democratization of Higher Education” that the U.S. has triggered. A third opportunity is our “Innovation Technology.”
        Our threats, he states, are many. One is especially important, our “Changing Demographics.” This means not only a “decadelong decline...of traditional college-age residents” but also, just as important, our difficulty in serving a newer–and growing–population: students who are “academically underprepared, financially struggling, [and] culturally unaccustomed to going to college.”
        Two other threats harrying colleges and universities are “political trends” of “lower taxes and smaller government” that significantly diminish government payment for higher ed, and the public’s increasing doubt about the value of having a degree. In addition, politically, “some government officials” increasingly are legislating “performance measures” for “affordability and value” and even, sometimes, teaching content (an increasing trend, already, in secondary schools).
        A significant internal threat, Lederman indicates, is the changing faculty workforce. “25 years ago,” most “instruction professors [with] tenure or reasonable hopes of earning it.” Now, though, “the proportion of instructors working on the tenure track has eroded from about three quarters to roughly a fourth, a trend...unlikely to be reversed....”
        What does Lederman conclude? Combining all of this, “you end up, I believe, with an industry that is under significant pressure from many angles, but that is not many commentators and futurists would suggest.”
        However, he argues, “The significant.... And I do believe we will see more colleges and universities–particularly the undifferentiated, less wealthy private and public institutions without a clear niche–struggle and close or be merged.”
“Foreword” available at

4. BOOK REVIEW: David Treuer’s The Rez             
    Nonfiction, Grove Press, 2013. Reviewed by Steve Wiley
        David Treuer's 2013 Rez Lifehis first nonfiction book after establishing a successful career in fiction–arranges profiles, history, memories, and events into a gripping account of growing up on Minnesota's Leech Lake Indian Reservation. Treuer, a recent National Book Award and Carnegie Medal finalist and USC Professor, brings to life a series of remarkable people in Rez Life, and amplifies their contexts between stories. His Leech Lake family and friends have endured–in courage, inventiveness, and humor–as individuals and as a deeply-rooted community.

              For example, Chapter Three on Indian justice opens with David and his mother, Margaret Seelye, entering her courtroom. Having grown up dirt poor and becoming a tribal judge, she sizes up each accused and pronounces sentences that give them second chances. She recalls a long-ago day when a state warden stole her family's just-harvested wild rice, a mainstay then of the Ojibwe economy. David's father, Robert, also has been a strong influence. Robert fled the Holocaust as a youth and settled at Leech Lake. 
        Its destitution prompted him to write a letter to the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs; as a result, he began working for the BIA. He adapted union-organizing tactics that empowered Ojibwe reservations to press their demands effectively. But poverty and desperation led to drug dealers profiting on Ojibwe reservations, a problem that Margaret must adjudicate.
        Each chapter in Rez Life is a conversation between Treuer and his readers. He talks; we listen–as we are able. His people who frame the chapters have strong connections with their families and communities, as do dozens of others whose briefer appearances add texture and nuance. The book itself is framed by David's grandfather Seelye, a World War II combat veteran. In the Introduction, Seelye commits suicide, and his grandmother puts David in charge of cleanup. In the epilogue, Seelye is buried.
        Chapters move more or less chronologically, but each is more thematic than narrative. In addition to his chapter on Indian justice, Treuer highlights themes of fishing and its legal complications regarding sovereignty, the long struggle to restore treaty fishing rights, and the great range in size and success of Indian casinos and their consequences for reservation life. He also showcases the recent tribal-identity revival: Indian communities practicing their historical culture and traditional languages, which now are passed down in families and schools.        
        Treuer makes it clear that the centuries-long U.S. racism project to exterminate Indigenous people and, more recently, their cultures has been over-matched by tribes’ tenacity and insistence on living on their own terms. His descriptions of treaties (371 broken by the U.S.), boarding-school horrors, science manipulated to depress tribal enrollments, and resulting substance abuse and violence are all familiar and intense on reservations. Rez Life's great strength is its detail of how Ojibwe people nurture and encourage each other in community as they work every day to be realistic yet true to themselves.   
        In the epilogue, “Eulogies,” David honors his grandfather and other people and places he carries deep within himself. His meditations–on family, friends, and ancestors who have shaped him and his Leech Lake Reservation–still breathe optimism and love.  
        The long-term Indigenous issues in Rez Life could be assigned as a chapter per week to develop lively student discussion. The book, though emotionally and intellectually challenging, is easy to read. Treuer’s evocative testimony leads anyone inexperienced with rez life to a new understanding of the world of Native Americans through his vivid portraits and themes.
Publisher's Weekly Review

Grove Atlantic Review and Rez Life Excerpt
Native American/Indigenous Literature:                       

50 Native American Bestseller Books
32 Native American Authors
Minn. Hum. Center’s BIPOC Resources

Wikipedia Native Am. Lit., List of Writers
Minn. Hist. Society Native American Books
Indigenous Graphic Literature

5. Free Teaching/Learning E-Newsletters (listed in each issue)

      Do you feel out of touch with colleagues or seek ideas from other networks? Connect by subscribing to these free email newsletters. You may start or stop a subscription at any time.

NEA HigherEd, National Education Association. Weekly political and labor news update:

Subscribe           Sample

Race on Campus from Chronicle of Higher Education. Weekly briefs and information:
Sample and Free Subscription

Diversity Insider
, National Education Assoc. Weekly news, essays, and advice:

          Subscribe           Sample

The Source: Updates, MLA Style Center. Weekly pedagogy and readings updates:

          Subscribe (scroll to bottom)   Sample        Other free Style Center e-letters
          Always available online, the Style Center’s "Works Cited: A Quick Guide"

Teaching from Chronicle of Higher Education. Weekly brief advice on general methods:

          Subscribe           Samples      

Tomorrow’s Professor, Stanford University. Twice-weekly reprint of a pedagogy article:
Subscribe           Sample e-letter and online version

The Campus View, Minnesota Private Colleges (17 colleges). Monthly private college news:

          Subscribe             Past issues

6. About MnWE: Old Issues, Joining, Who We Are, Grad Credit, Unsubscribing
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Richard Jewell, Editor

MnWE News   
Minnesota Writing and English

Heidi Burns, Minn. State Univ.-Mankato, Web and Docs Coordinator
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Format updated 13 May 2021