CETL Podcast - Episode 24: Earl Mulderink

Tony Pellegrini: Friends Good afternoon Tony Pellegrini here with the Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning here at SUU, doing our monthly teaching and learning at SUU podcast. I love it here at SUU and grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow along others, and we have a professor today, an associate of mine, Earl Mulderink in our history department, who has won the Distinguished Service Award this last year. I don't know about won- maybe earned- I don't know if there's a competition but I guess there were others. He certainly has earned, is certainly as service oriented we're going to talk more about that today but Earl, would you mind taking a moment or two and telling us a little about yourself, about your background. And then I've got some questions I just like to pose to you.

Earl Mulderink: Sure well thank you Tony I appreciate this invitation. I'm flattered that you would like to chat with me about teaching and learning. I have been at SUU now for more than a quarter of a century, which of course makes me feel old, but I've been here 25 plus years, and prior to coming to Cedar City I taught in a variety of capacities within the University of Wisconsin System, which is where I earned my graduate degrees at Madison. I came here not knowing how long I would stay. But in my field of history, it's always a challenge to get tenure track jobs, especially in the most recent years. And so I was offered a tenure track job here, and here I remain. I'm a first generation college student, and graduate, and I'm proud of that. I attended Northwestern University on a full scholarship. And then I went to the University of Wisconsin, as I said for my graduate degrees where I had a combination of student loans, employment, and a couple of scholarships. So I've tried to work my way through the educational system and I think that my background serves me well here at SUU because many of our students, as you know are balancing work and family obligations and many of them are also first generation students. And so I think that's one thing that I can bring to the classroom that helps me to better focus on our students' needs and, and also upholding the rigor of the discipline of history which I've been teaching, obviously for my entire career. Beyond that, I can say that I've been teaching a wide variety of history courses over the years but I've also had administrative roles that include department chair, and I was for a number of years, Director of the Community Engagement Center for the past couple of years I've returned full time to the faculty ranks, and I'm excited actually to be focused on teaching and learning more about history, these days, and I'm teaching entirely online in Canvas and I could talk more about that if you desire.

Tony Pellegrini: Earl thank you so very much. Thank you for sharing those- I'm gonna even say intimate details of your life. I think, as we were visiting the thought Robert Frost poem came to mind, the two roads diverged in a wood and I took the less traveled on. As you came to Cedar that may have been a lesson from Wisconsin, that'd be a very less traveled on road for you but what benefits and what joy you've enjoyed by taking that less traveled road. You know, the other thought that came to my mind. Oh my goodness 25 years. You have to really love something, don't you Earl, to be associated with it for 25 years, you have to really have a passion. I know you've expressed your passion about history, but what do you really love about teaching and you mentioned that love of getting back to your learner's. Getting back to students, even if it is online or through Canvas. What do you really love about connecting with and teaching here. 

Earl Mulderink: I've enjoyed having a lot of autonomy and opportunities to do different things, as a teacher, and I think back to my use of technology, or my promotion of service learning, or my opportunities to participate in programs like edge and jumpstart and University of the parks and service learning trips to places like Ghana and Kenya. These have all been great opportunities for our students, but also opportunities for me as an educator to always feel a sense of openness and a desire to innovate, and some flexibility in how I approach my teaching and I've continued to evolve as a teacher and I've really appreciated again, Tony, the, the autonomy that I've had to do that here at SUU. I also do appreciate our students who are earnest, most of them are hardworking, many of them, especially in history classes have a passion for history in the same way that I might. And so that's something that I do love about teaching at SUU. I've had pretty good colleagues over the years, I certainly believe that our discipline of history is well represented here at SUU by very accomplished teachers and scholars, and I feel proud of working in this discipline at SUU. Beyond that, next question.

Tony Pellegrini: Absolutely and I have- when you share it just gets me off track a little

bit but I love that. I love that. The thought came to me as you were sharing, particularly, you know, as a first generation college student, Earl, as a 16 year old even a 20 year old, could you even have imagined some of the opportunities that would have been available to you through your, your teaching and your learning here at SUU.

Earl Mulderink: Well, it's interesting you asked that because when I was in college, I had an opportunity to go to Australia, where I did an independent history project and that is what motivated me most to stay as a history major, and then to pursue graduate study in history, and instead of going to law school, which I could have, I opted to pursue an academic career, and so that experience in my college years, is one that I think continues to shape my approach to teaching and learning that I really encourage students to get out of the classroom, to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting, to travel abroad if they can, to do summer study programs if they can to do service learning or community engaged learning outside the classroom. Those are things that I enjoyed. As a student, and which I still love to do as a teacher here at SUU.

Tony Pellegrini: It's a wonderful opportunity both for teachers, but for the learners that we get to engage with as well. I have to just giggle a little bit. I'll try not to go too much off topic but I just giggle just a little bit. One of my children, my son, my oldest son was going to be a math teacher,  got out of student teaching and decided, you know, this just really isn't for me, and went on to become a lawyer and I told him I shook him just a little bit and said, the world does not need more lawyers we need more teachers.

Earl Mulderink: Especially smart teachers like your son. I recall him from one of my classes. He was very accomplished and yes, we could use more smart teachers, that's for sure. 

Tony Pellegrini: It's, it's wonderful. That's why we love to be here, you talked a little bit already, but I wanted to at least give you a little bit more time to  to address how you connect your lessons in your classroom in an online classroom to the real world, how do you deal with the content of history and the history that your learners are experiencing. Oh my goodness we've had a couple of good years of history. That's last to talk about but what are some things that you do to connect your lessons to the real world and Earl can you share some for us. 

Earl Mulderink: Sure, early on I promoted service learning and integrated that into several of my history courses where students were required to do projects outside the classroom with an organization or nonprofit or family activity in which they implied some historical skills and knowledge in doing a project that benefited someone else. And so service learning or community engaged learning, I think is a really strong way to apply lessons to the so called real world and subsequent to that I promoted committee engaged learning across the entire university in promoting the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification which SUU obtained in 2010 and again in 2020. So community engaged learning in my mind is one of the better applications of real world lessons and it's a pedagogical approach that can be used in any discipline in virtually any class by practitioners who want their students to learn beyond the classroom. In addition, I will say that in most of my history classes I have assignments and activities that encourage students to look beyond our readings and to think about parallels between events in the past and today's world and contemporary issues and so that's another way that at least history doesn't feel like a dead subject but it feels like it's something that informs the present, and perhaps students can learn that way through it. So those are a couple of ways that I approached that issue.

Tony Pellegrini: Well, it is certainly easy for me to see and to feel and sense your enthusiasm, even your passion for history for community engaged learning, and as a student of yours I could see it very easy to be connected with these concepts and principles that you've shared. Tell us, have you ever had a reluctant learner?  Someone who maybe drags their heels just a little bit? How do you reach out and engage that reluctant learner.

Earl Mulderink: Well I’m laughing, Tony because I have seen reluctant learners in, especially our introductory history survey classes such as history 1700 American civilization. That's a course that students can take to fulfill a basic degree requirement. And some students are reluctant especially if they've had poor experiences with history classes in the K-12 system. With reluctant learners, I really tried to have a variety of assignments in my classes that might appeal to different types of learning styles or strategies. I try to mix it up between individual and group activities between writing activities and web based or movie based learning activities. With some students though, they will probably always be reluctant. And I can only say to them, which I do, perhaps more than I should, is that they will probably appreciate history more as they mature and become older, in fact, some of my favorite learners are non traditional students because they often have said they didn't like history when they're in high school or in college, but now that they're a little older, they really appreciate history as a discipline and something that informs their own lives, so I often think that reluctant learners may be less reluctant as they grow themselves, and experience a little bit of life beyond college. Otherwise, with reluctant learners I also do try to encourage them to select projects or select learning opportunities that have some personal meaning for them. So, within the structures of the course, I give students a fair amount of latitude in picking projects and ways to present their historical inquiry, in ways that I hope cater to their interests and their skills.

Tony Pellegrini: Thank you, thank you so very much. Certainly, I want to just take a moment and talk a little about the Canvas instruction, the online distance instruction that you mentioned. It's got to be a different world that we live in, that it's not a history 1700 from nine to 10 on Monday Wednesday Friday. Now with Canvas and Zoom and all these tools that we have available to us. What are some things that you do in this new world in which we live in to make yourself available, accessible to the learners that you connect with?

Earl Mulderink: Well certainly, within my Canvas courses, I’m pretty active with sharing announcements and messages and making it clear that students can contact me at any time through Canvas. I make myself available through Zoom office hours. I try to respond quickly to students concerns and messages, I try to turn around grading assignments within a short period of time so they get feedback that is prompt and hopefully helpful, I try to use rubrics in grading many of my assignments that are clear to understand, but then in addition to the rubric, I also provide written comments. And something that I've done in the recent years, that has been extremely helpful I think, is share exemplary work by other students- I remove the students names, but I share exemplary work, like essays or journal submissions or final projects, and that helps students to realize that there are students doing high quality work and I think sometimes students can learn betters from others that way. So those are just a few of the ways that I try to try to do that. 

Tony Pellegrini: That is wonderful, they're very very helpful. Just kind of one final question for you and then I promise I'll let you address any questions that maybe I haven't asked that you'd really love to answer, but I certainly and I think our listeners will feel the same that you're absolutely a wonderful model in lifelong learning and being a lifelong learner. What is something that maybe you haven't really figured out about teaching and learning here at SUU. What are some things that you'd like to continue to study and grow over the remainder of your career here.

Earl Mulderink: That's a really good question, Tony.

Tony Pellegrini: Take a deep breath. Take a deep breath.

Earl Mulderink: I think one area that I don't think I've mastered, in fact I've yet to really explore, is how to use social media, more effectively in teaching history and I do have colleagues who have done a much better job than I have in using things like Instagram or Twitter accounts or Facebook. And so I have not embraced those forms of social media. And so I think that's probably one area where I could learn more, and I think by learning more about social media and the teaching applications of those, I could probably better understand where our students are coming from in terms of their approach to learning, where they gain their information and how they know what they know about the world or about the past through the discipline of history, so that would be, I think one area that I would probably feel a need to explore more is that social media and the teaching applications of those.

Tony Pellegrini: Exciting I expect to see your name on a thesis associated with that in the next couple years. We live in a different world today don't we. Earl I sure wanted to leave the last word, absolutely with you. Anything with your wisdom here at SUU that I haven't asked or that you'd like to share about teaching and learning from your perspective- words of wisdom to us.

Earl Mulderink: As I think back on my experiences at SUU I think I can say that SUU continues to be impressive as a dynamic institution. I've seen a lot of changes here with leaders and faculty approaches to pedagogy, and I think the fact that we are an evolving and dynamic institution, suggests that we're doing well in confronting the challenges of the 21st century. I think that, well, faculty always would like to have more of a say in how a University is managed. I do think that by and large, SUU is very well poised for the next few years or decades of tremendous change within the arena of higher education. Certainly Tony given your experiences in mind we've seen a lot of things happen in higher ed, and I think SUU has done well to protect itself and even to thrive and what is a very competitive and challenging environment for higher education. SO perhaps I'll end on that happy note.

Tony Pellegrini: That is a wonderful note that the future's so bright I think Earl even you and I need shades. We've got some wonderful opportunities before us. Earl thank you so much. What a dear friend you are, and I'm grateful for your willingness to participate. Friends, if you have a moment, and you see Earl give him a high five or an elbow bump whatever is socially appropriate-

Earl Mulderink: Let’s keep our distance.

Tony Pellegrini: -but at least give him a good wave and a smile and a wink for his support and effort, you're sure appreciated Earl. Thank you for all you do and we'll see you next month everyone in our continuing series. Thanks Earl! 

Earl Mulderink: Thank you Tony. Take care.

Tony Pellegrini: You too, bye bye now.


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