Resident Advisor Training For All

I began this week’s resources with The Hidden Brain (because I love me some NPR) and was immediately reminded of my resident advisor training at NC State. It was during this class that I learned of my own implicit biases, through our discussions/activities there as well as through an online quiz similar to those that we took in class last week. It was then that I first got a look at my own “hidden brain.” I learned that just by being aware of these unconscious biases, I could “turn the autopilot off” in order to best serve my residents and guide them to the resources they needed.

The association I made about my “hidden brain” and RA training actually turned out to be rather convenient as I moved on to another resource for this week–the case study in the chapter entitled “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces” from Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. Their discussion of the the “One Step Forward, One Step Backward”definitely rang a bell; I think we did that activity in my class! Curious about the RA training class at NC State now, I looked up a more current syllabus. Though I cannot know for sure if “One Step Forward, One Step Backward” has stopped being done in the class, it seems that at least a major part of the “Personal Cultural Analysis” portion now takes place through a written assignment. The syllabus is explicit in that the assignment “will not be shared…publicly or with your peers” so students can be “open and honest” about their personal identities. I hope that this type of activity has a similar eye-opening experience for the current students in the class as they, too, begin to understand their “hidden brains.”

It seems like a shame to me that even this precursory training in social awareness and inclusivity only reaches a small number of students each year. I think it would be very interesting to see the repercussions of making it a required freshman course at the university level. Does anyone have any knowledge of a program/requirement like this? What do you all think the pros and cons of such a requirement would be?


My Authentic Teaching Selves

I have little teaching experience to date. The extent of it is ~2 years tutoring math at a private company where I was working with kindergarteners to high schoolers (four at a time) and one day doing labs with high school students (~20 students at a time), teaching them about the tools of my research. The little I know about my teaching voice thus far is this:

  1. In small groups or one-on-one, I am easy-going, attentive, patient and not afraid to show my inner nerd,
  2. In front of larger groups, I am hyper, nervous, and over-the-top geeky no matter how prepared I am (I definitely could relate to Professor Sarah Deel with this).

Judging from these perhaps preliminary teaching personas, I would much rather my future students be exposed to the former, no matter the size of the classroom.  However, according to the document by Dr. Shelli Fowler, you should “not be someone you are not in your classroom.”

My question is, if both of these teachers are “my authentic teaching self,” just in different settings, would it be “posing” is I try to be teacher #1? Does anyone have a similar dual-authentic-teaching-self situation, as I seem to have? Does anyone know if these two teaching voices will perhaps reconcile themselves with more experience?

Beyond the teaching voice, one thing I know for sure is that I would like to style my classroom in such a fashion that I do not receive the questions brilliantly compiled by PhD Comics below:


Here’s to hoping!

Concerns Re: Digital Learning

Firstly, I am completely on board for finding new ways to engage children in grade school and teaching them how to become lifelong learners, not just parrots or test-taking machines. Therefore, one would think that I would be a strong advocate of the teaching strategies demonstrated and discussed in “Digital Media–New Learners of the 21st Century,” right? I thought so too. Then I watched the video.

I have to say I had two major concerns from the get-go that completely distracted me from the pedagogical practices that were being employed. They were:

  1. How is all this additional screen time affecting the health of these children?
  2. Much of the equipment shown seems rather pricey; would it really be possible for all schools to afford such digital resources? What about the kids who’s schools can’t afford the equipment?

Because I am far from an expert on either of these topics, I looked up a couple news videos and articles to see what the media and scholars have to say about these issues. As you might imagine, the news, literally and metaphorically, is not good.

Effects of screen time:

Ability of low-income schools to access digital resources:

Therefore, call me old-fashioned, but I am on the fence about programs such as those shown in the “Digital Media–New Learners of the 21st Century ” video. Do I think getting kids engaged is important? Absolutely. Do I find technology a valuable resource? Definitely. Do I think programs completely dedicated to digital learning are the way of the future? I’m not so sure. Especially not without making it safe for kids first (e.g. regular breaks, eye protection, ergonomic controls, outdoor time, etc.). However, I do think that digital tools and connected learning could offer great learning opportunities for students when used in moderation, and I definitely think we need to give students in all communities access to connected learning opportunities, especially those with little or none of that access currently.


Diving into the Grade-less Abyss

Schools that don’t assign grades has always intrigued me. I had many questions regarding the administration of such programs, such as:

How do such programs ascertain that students have mastered the material? How are such programs certified/analyzed by governing bodies of education? How are teachers treated/rewarded for student achievement? How do students progress to higher education and/or careers?

So, as you might imagine, the article by Alfie Kohn was the most engrossing for me. I thought he did an excellent job building his case based on the research as well as bringing the research into the real world by detailing examples from teacher’s classrooms.

However, looking into this topic a little more to satisfy my curiosity, I came across a couple of more articles that discuss grade-less programs in the real world. The first talks about a high school that has done away with grades and the second about universities. Below is an example rubric for the grade-less high school program:

  The rubric used to grade the final assessment for a freshman history class at Sanborn High School. Students don't get a number or letter grade.
From a WGBH news article by Mallory Noe-Payne

Judging by these articles, in the “competency-based learning” high school system, students pass a class by demonstrating proficiency in a set of skills laid out at the beginning of the course and assessment during the course of the class comes in the form of teacher feedback. In the university, it seems competency in a course is ascertained by observation of demonstration of skills, such as a nursing student taking patient vitals. Though I can certainly see the value in “going grade-less,” I am still not certain how grade-less university courses in particular may be efficiently implemented in all courses being that the demands on professors’ time are already at a breaking point. Anyone have more ideas on this? Maybe there are more TA-ships in our future?


In any case, I am definitely guilty in my own educational career of wishing for such a grade-less world. I vividly remember sitting in my dorm room wishing that I could just learn on the job, learn the skills that I knew I use in my career and be done with it (though, at this point, I do appreciate the well-rounded education I received). It seems strange and strangely appropriate to me that competency-based education is now becoming such a hot topic because, it seems to me, that this system is eerily reminiscent of apprenticeship. The days when one could study a subject for as long as they desired and demonstrate mastery not by an A+ stamp on a test, but by performing the skills that they learned through their dedication. Sounds like competency-based education to me! So, in short (and to probably oversimplify a bit), one of the ‘newest’ trends in education began in the Middle Ages. I guess what goes around, truly does comes around.


A medieval baker with his apprentice. The Boleian Library, Oxford. From Wikipedia.

Mindfully learning about mindful learning

I am definitely on board for encouraging mindful learning. Just as I expressed in my last post, the value in inspiring learners to want to learn, engaging them in the material and encouraging them to reach out on their own in a connected learning experience, is not something that can be underestimated. According to Sir Ken Robinson, it is only when an education allows learners to be diverse, creative, and curious (that which is stifled by today’s systems) that they will be engaged and will flourish. Similar sentiments are expressed by Ellen Langer in The Power of Mindful Learning; Langer blames myths in our current mindset on the learning process for, to paraphrase, ‘stifling creativity’ and ‘silencing our questions’ [1]. Both of these underscore the importance of allowing learners to learn individually, creatively and based on their own curiosity. I agree that when someone is allowed to use their natural abilities to pursue an understanding about that which they are passionate, it is a wonderful thing. The question is: how can we inspire such learning in the systems of today or even in the systems of tomorrow? Is it physically, temporally, and economically possible to give each child the attention they need in order to help them find and pursue their passions? Sir Ken Robinson speaks to a well-rounded education, but are there enough hours in a day for a true mindful learning experience in each of requisite topics he describes? One sort of answer to these questions may be found in Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance by Mike Wesch, in which his entire class was restructured to promote “good questions” or, in his view, questions in which the only appropriate response is another question. At least in the time he had with his students, he had a success in immersing them in the topic and engaging them in mindful learning. So, for at least one college course, it is possible. How I would set up an engineering or physiology course to utilize similar immersive techniques as those Dr. Wesch implemented, I am not sure (anybody have any ideas?). Could this system be replicated to some degree at the grade school level? It may be tricky. In all, I think that the most important theme and my take-away from these resources is that one must be mindful of why they are teaching the material before they can find how best to teach it. Is it really the facts and equations that are important or is it the inspiration and skills that come from engaging with the material? In that vein, two examples from my own education come to mind: 1) In my own undergraduate physiology course (which was a typical lecture format), the most memorable moment for me was when someone asked a question and the professor answered, “I don’t know. Nobody knows, so far. People are doing research on that, but that is the boundary of our knowledge.” That small remark helped inspire me to pursue research. 2) In my Statics course, it was required that we format the answers to our homework questions in a very specific way: defining the problem, the “knowns,” and the “unknowns,” drawing a diagram, and then pursuing the solution. Do I remember any specific problems I solved this way from that class? No. But I do remember the problem solving technique and, to this day, if I have a problem to solve, it still gives me clarity when I approach the problem in this way. Whether or not we can have each of our students partake in creating the history of the world as Dr. Wesch did, maybe one small thing we as teachers can do to foster “mindful learning” is have our students know that there are boundaries to our current knowledge and that it is the point of education to gain the perspectives and tools required to tackle pushing the boundaries of that knowledge further. [1] Langer, Ellen J. The power of mindful learning. Addison-Wesley/Addison Wesley Longman, 1997.

Connected Learning: A Preliminary Understanding

Though I did not know what it was called before last week, from the videos we watched last class and the discussion that followed, I realized that my childhood was full of connected learning.

I was lucky enough to have parents and grandparents that really inspired in me a hunger for education through experiential learning. As I showed interest in various subjects, my parents would do their best to give me hands-on experience in that field. Whether they fostered my interest by books, at-home science experiments, or a trip to the local zoo or museum, they sought to show me that learning was about so much more than memorizing facts or studying for a test. Rather my parents encouraged in me a true desire to learn more about the world at a deeper level, and taught me to never stop asking questions. I truly believe that it is this curiosity, that which developed out of my extracurricular activities and hands-on learning experiences as a child, that has inspired and allowed me to pursue a career in higher education.

This is my personal understanding of connected learning, at least at the grade school level, as it stands now. In honor of my parents and grandparents, and all the connected learning opportunities with which they provided me as a child, I have included the following sites that list hands-on learning activities for children of all ages:

These experiences may not be what everyone thinks of as “connected” since, in these examples, there is no connection to the network of people and information available on the World Wide Web. But insomuch as these learning experiences inspired in me a desire to dig deeper into the world around me by connecting me deeper with a subject, I think that they truly can be considered connected learning experiences. I believe that the Internet, and all it has to offer in this digital age, is just another tool parents can offer their children so they may dig deeper into their academic interests, another way for children to gain that hunger for learning.

I’m looking forward to learning more and broadening my understanding to connected learning in higher education! And if anyone had a “hands-on” connected learning experience in a university course, I would love to hear about it!