Monday, September 28, 2009

Establishing the Positive Classroom Climate

I often find myself wondering how it is that we’ve come to where we are. By which I mean, I contrast my own experiences as a student in chiropractic college (1976-1979), my experiences in 2 master’s program taught by distance education (one using course packets, and one online), and that of my students in my 9th trimester course in Evidence-Based Chiropractic. Certainly, the world has changed; the technology is vastly different now. When I began teaching, in 1980, to project something to the class required me to first make a copy of the image, then transfer it using a copier onto a transparency sheet. It was a time heavy process, and I still have my originals acetates that I used back then. Today, of course, we can use PowerPoint to the same effect, and we have invested heavily in the infrastructure to host a variety of technological advances in our classrooms. But this simply affects the means of delivery; we still need to take learning style and expectation into account.

One of the ways we can help begin to do so is to set a classroom climate. According to Linda Hilsen (1), “connecting learning and living is the purpose of education. Establishing and sustaining a positive classroom climate will result in more effective teaching” as well as a more satisfying experience for students. To that end, she has produced information to help aid in setting that climate. Some of these suggestions are common sense, but all are designed to help set the stage for how you will conduct your class and what your expectations are. I offer but a few and refer you to the chapter for the full detail.

- Get to class early and speak with your students as they arrive. I do this every class.

- The first 15 minutes of your first class session is critically important in helping students decide what kind of teacher you are and what they will experience in your class. It is important here to demonstrate enthusiasm about your course. Be prepared and carefully structure that first session. I use a lot of humor in this first 15 minutes, in order to release tension, demonstrate that I know they work hard, and that I share their concerns and understand them.

- A small amount of self-disclosure can help humanize you in your students eyes. I do this by noting a few comments about my kids (who are the same age as my students now), and by noting my interest in cultural benchmarks such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, this seems silly, but what it does is show that I exist outside the classroom, that I have interests and am interesting and that I am willing to make fun of myself.

- Let your students know you are available. You can discuss your office hours, but also note that you are free at other times and are always willing to meet with them. Be flexible, and work out times for meetings.

- Describe your goals for the course and your expectations for your students. I do this, and I also spend some time with certain expectations regarding issues such as attendance, phones in the classroom, bringing children, needing to leave early, etc.

- Learn student names. This is a problem I have had because I have only a single session with my students each week, early on Thursday morning. But I work hard at attempting to link names with faces, and then address students by name. And it never hurts to ask a name.

- Hang around when class ends for those students who want to follow up on an issue. I simply do this each class session.

- Look students in the eye in the classroom as you lecture or as you discuss issues. Be positive.

As I said, this is all common sense, but is often forgotten. I can remember fondly those instructors I have had who took the time to know me, to treat me with respect, and to care about what I was learning. We have all been there, and even now, we are all still there. Keep up all the good work.


1. Hilsen LR. A helpful handout: establishing and maintaining a positive classroom climate. In: Gillespie KH, editor. A guide to faculty development: practical advices, examples and resources. San Francisco, CA; Anker Publishing, 2002:146-155

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The New York Times and “Cracking the Spine of Libel”

I thought I would diverge from discussing educational issues to look at a new article just posted in the New York Times, on the 16 September, 2009. The article, which is actually an entry in the blog by scientist Dr. Olivia Judson reports on efforts by the British Chiropractic Association to sue scientist and author Simon Singh for libel. You can read the full article here:

Singh is a co-author, along with Dr. Edzard Ernst of the University of Exeter, of a book entitled “Trick or treatment: alternative medicine on trial.” Singh is a particle physicist by training, and Ernst is a research scientist and also the editor for the journal Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies (Disclosure: I am on the editorial board for that publication). The suit revolves around comments that Singh made about claims he found on the BCA website regarding chiropractic treatment for pediatric conditions. I think you can likely infer a potential bias after reading that title.

At issue is a statement that Singh made. He said this, in an article published in The Guardian, one of England’s most respected newspapers: “The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments” The BCA complained about this comment to the Guardian, and asked that the comment be retracted. After this was refused, the Guardian offered the BCA a chance to publish a counterpoint to Singh's comments, which they turned down. The suit then ensued, under Britain’s libel laws, which differ from those here in the United States. The use of the word “bogus” seems to imply that the BCA knowingly lied to the public in its comments, and in fact, happily did so. Necessarily, people are looking to see how this case plays out, since it has implications related to the normal scientific criticism that is part of the world we live in; some feel it will have a chilling effect. I disagree.

I think the BCA was correct in not accepting the offer from the Guardian. From my perspective, all that would do is (a) keep the case in the public eye, similar to what we saw two weeks ago with Rep. Joe Wilson yelling “You lie” to the President, and (b) confuse the public with a “he said, she said” argument that they cannot help but not completely understand. What is patently clear is that even though Singh says there “is not a jot of evidence,” that appears factually incorrect. I know; I was editor for the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics when it published articles examining the effectiveness of chiropractic manipulation for conditions such as otitis media, infantile colic, and other conditions. Now, this research might be criticized on methodological grounds- all research can be- but it does comprise evidence. Singh likely meant to be making a hyperbolic statement, but doing so in a public setting does not necessarily let him off on free speech grounds, not when he potentially damages an entire profession by his factually incorrect words- the ruling was that he was offering a statmement of fact, not an opinion. Or, to be clear, this is how I feel; I cannot speak to the legality of what he said as it might be interpreted by British law. I am offering only my opinion here.

It will also be illustrative to read the comments that follow. Initially, they start out generally negative toward chiropractic, but then switch to speak more in favor; however, the negative comments are really negative- one refers to “chiroquaxtery” and another to “chiropractry.” I commented under the screen name Dana5140, and others in our profession have added words as well. I would say “enjoy,” but that may be the wrong word here; however, please do read this and get a sense of the issues that arise.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Palmer Institutional Review Board Website

Over the past few weeks, I have had a number of conversations designed to help faculty plan small-scale projects such as surveys, in preparation of the upcoming ACC-RAC conference in March 2010. Because of these interactions, I can see some areas where a little guidance can help you prepare IRB applications and plan for your projects. I wanted to therefore discuss what is present on our IRB website.

The website is located at, and as I write this I should note that the IRB is undergoing some change after its move from the Research Department to the Office of Strategic Development, where it is part of the overall college compliance function. Thus, some additional changes to the site may occur in the near future. When you log on to the home page, you will see a list of personnel to contact for information, as well as a set of links on the left side of the page. These links are to (1) IRB forms, (2) IRB meeting schedule, (3) IRB member’s toolkit, (4) Policies and procedures, and (5) Researcher’s Toolkit. In addition, there is a link to frequently asked questions (FAQs- this link has yet to be populated with information). Let me hold for a moment on the forms link, since that is the one you need for submitting an application. The meeting schedule will be useful for you in planning; you will need to submit your completed application 2 weeks ahead of a meeting for it to be included in that meeting. Plan accordingly. The IRB member’s toolkit provides some information for IRB members, including links to the CONSORT document, the online training program at NIH for IRB members, and a set of other links about proper IRB function and law. It is still under construction at present. Policies and procedures is a link to PCC policies about research, as well as a link to the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP). The researcher’s toolkit provides a set of links that can be of help to the novice researcher, including a link to the NIH training program in clinical research that should take if you desire to conduct research.

But of main interest is the link to the IRB forms. If you wish to conduct a study on campus, such as survey of students in a course you teach, you must complete the IRB application form, which is listed as the first link in the material on this page. When you click that link, it will allow you download a form that makes it possible for you to input information. Take this form very seriously and think about the questions it asks you. You will need to provide some detail, and you will have to provide a thoughtful plan for what you plan to do. This includes information on how you will recruit your participants, how you will analyze data, how you will protect confidentiality and let people know they do not have to participate in what you are doing, what methods you are using, and so on. Each question must be answered on the form. Question 5 is critically important, and it has many sub-questions (5a-5i). Questions 8, 9 and 11 are also quite important. Note also that the final page requires your signature as well as that of your supervisor.

I know that this seems burdensome, but it is not. It is designed to ensure that (1)all participants in research at Palmer College are properly protected, (2) Palmer College is in compliance with 45CFR46, the so-called “Common Rule” governing the use of human subjects in research, and (3) you have thought through your project and can complete it with success. It is part of the process of conducting research. As always I am ready to help you in this regard. Look over the material and let me know any questions you have.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Designing a Website

Few us working in academia are trained to be web designers. But most of us can visit a website and decide whether or not we feel that the site is designed intelligently or not. We may now even know what criteria we use to make that decision. And even there we know that many of these sites use professional designers to create the site. So what can we do?

Bell (1) starts with one thought in mind: content before design. By this he means that you should gather all the content you want to place on your site and use that to guide your design decisions. So if you are building a site for your class, consider the content first. What information do you want your students to have? Would you include your syllabus, background readings, links to pertinent websites, study guides, even your CV? All of this will guide how you design your site.

One suggestion offered by Bell is to visit sites that link to winners of web designer awards, to provide you new ideas you can incorporate into your own website. All of these will link you to sites that are creative and easy to use. He suggests you look at:

- Webby Awards:
- Website Design awards:
- LevelTen Interactive:
- Avenue A/

Bell discusses the importance of color. Color creates mood and can make a site interesting and bold or dull and boring. Beyond that, our eye will find some color combinations more appealing and easier to read than others; also, some of your students may potentially be color blind. I will not mention here how to locate the Html hex color, but will note that what you want to have is a color scheme, a set of colors on your site that complement one another. There are websites which can aid you in developing color schemes, and among them are:

- Colorcombos:
- Color Palette Generator:
- ColorBlender:

As for fonts, Bell recommends that you avoid all fancy fonts and select system fonts that display well on web pages. I know that some of us like to use fancy fonts because they are different, but remember that different does not necessarily mean good or better. It is still best to use black text on white backgrounds; moving to the use of color here can easily make your text harder to read unless you ensure a reasonable amount of contrast (such as green text on a black background, instead of yellow text on an orange background).

A few short rules: include images, but not an excess amount. Keep the design simple so you don’t overwhelm your visitors. Don’t use attention grabbers, such as flashing text. And be consistent from page to page. This is just a start on good design, which is critical to usability.

1. Bell M. Build a Website for Free. Indianapolis, IN; Que Books, 2009