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Campus Beat

Faculty Findings

A Hit With StudentsA Show of HandsSpell it Out Poetic Inspiration


A Hit With Students

The 1919 Chicago White Sox became infamous for taking money from gamblers in exchange for throwing the World Series, but were there mitigating circumstances, Mark Sigmon asks his students. Could anything have made the scam OK?


“Fans are paying to watch an honest game,” one responds. Another counters by arguing the players, notoriously underpaid by their wealthy owners, were doing what anyone in their situation would have done. The discussion highlights one of the reasons Sigmon, a lecturer in history, is teaching “The History and Literature of Baseball.”


A baseball and a bat

“It’s one thing to talk about industrialism and the rise of the robber baron era, but to talk about the baseball owners and the way they exploited players to the point they were willing to throw the World Series, that’s an important insight,” he says.


It was an insight of his own that led Sigmon to recreate a class originally taught by baseball historian Jules Tygiel, who died in 2008. While preparing a lecture on housing discrimination in California, Sigmon considered that when the Giants first moved to San Francisco in 1958, star player Willie Mays’ skin color barred him from home ownership in some neighborhoods. He began to think about the many other ways baseball history has both illuminated and shaped American history.


“Baseball is the perfect analogy of America because there’s baseball in the idea, where everyone gets three outs and nine innings. It’s all perfectly fair in theory, just like in America, where all men are created equal,” he says. “But in practice, in both baseball and America, that is often not the case.”


Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, long before the country was fully integrated. Babe Ruth’s popularization of the home run in the 1920s spurred backlash from those who felt it was a selfish and gaudy way to play the game, mirroring a country where speakeasies and jazz battled with social conservatives and the temperance movement.


Seats in the class, which aims to give students a new way of examining the nation’s past, have filled up quickly. “There’s just something about baseball that demands to be taught,” Sigmon says. “It engages the mind and the heart.”


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A Show of Hands

The children in Patricia Miller’s latest study were given a task that might seem simple: sort a group of cards first by color, and then by shape. But the switch from color to shape can be tricky for children younger than 5, says the professor of psychology.


Together with graduate student Gina O’Neill, Miller found that young children who used gestures were more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately. In fact, gesturing seemed to trump age when it came to the sorting performance of the children, who ranged from 2 and a half to 5 years old.


A baby playing with toddler toys

The study, published in the Aug. 13 issue of Developmental Psychology, revealed that young children who gestured often were more accurate in their choices than older children who gestured less. The children’s gestures included rotating their hands to show the orientation of a card or using their hands to illustrate the image on the card (such as gesturing the shape of two long ears for a rabbit).


Is it the gesturing itself that helps children perform the task or are the children who use a lot of gestures simply at a more advanced cognitive level than their peers? Miller will seek answers in further studies.




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Spell it Out

A new study has found that video captions, often used for students with learning disabilities, can be beneficial to everyone in the classroom.


Robert Keith Collins, assistant professor of American Indian studies, was inspired to start his research while serving on a faculty committee seeking ways to make the classroom more accessible to all students. First, he showed students educational videos without captions to establish a baseline of their comprehension. In the second year of his study he turned captions on and began to see improvements.


Robert Collins smiling in front of a film screening. Photo by Paul Asper.


“Not only were students talking about how much having the captions helped them as they took notes, their test scores went up,” says Collins, citing grades that went from the lower half to the top of the grading scale. Class discussions also became livelier and more detailed, with students recalling specific information shown in the videos such as names of people and places.


“We’re living in an age where our students are so distracted by technology that they sometimes forget where they should focus their attention when engaged with technology or media,” he says. “Turning on captions seems to enable students to focus on specific information.”


Collins’ results were published Aug. 9 in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal.


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Poetic Inspiration

What inspired noted slam and spoken word performer Javon Johnson, one of SF State’s newest faculty members, to start writing poetry?


“This girl in high school I was attracted to was like, ‘Hey Javon, I heard you write poetry.’ And I didn’t, so I go, ‘What?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, that’s so sexy that you write poetry.’ And I was like, ‘I totally write poetry,’” recalls the communications studies professor. “That night, I wrote her a poem. She loved it. I think it was the worst thing written in human history.”


Johnson’s performance at this year’s National Poetry Slam, captured in a video that has gone viral on the Internet with more than a half-million YouTube views, proves his skills have since improved. Check it out on YouTube.


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