A Game of Pedagogies

“The best pedagogical practices in the humanities draw attention to the fact that the knowledge being conveyed is questionable. This is not an invitation to rampant revisionism or postmodernism, but a simple recognition that historical, literary, political, and anthropological knowledge is not made up of equations or organic structures, but of perceptions, arguments, aesthetic effects, philosophical concepts, and other representations whose signification is subject to change. The words of Hamlet or of the Declaration of Independence may not vary, but their meaning can.”

Dan Edelstein, “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy”

Perhaps especially because I realize now that the meaning of so many things can change, it  great comfort to know that, as educators, we’re never re-inventing the wheel. It’s more like we’re improving the wheel, from the material used to make it (e.g. pedagogy)  to the laborers needed to produce it (e.g. teachers). (Wait… does this mean knowledge is like a car in this metaphor? Okay, well that makes students drivers. And maybe I’m the driver’s ed instructor. This is both exciting and terrifying.)

Going home and realizing you’re never done re-doing your assignments

When I think of what it means to be professional, though, I do agree with Parker Palmer’s overview of the “new professional” which is as follows:

(1) We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.
(2) We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.
(3) We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence. We must do more than affirm and harness the power of emotions to animate learning
(4) We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.
(5) We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.

It’s hard to question the state of things, and harder still to question a discipline. I think Palmer’s emphasis on emotional intelligence is essential… seriously. When I think of this course as a whole, I know that emotion is essential to teaching. A syllabus? Your personality as a teacher (which has emotion). A teaching philosophy? Your view of teaching as a person (which has emotion). A problem-based learning assignment? Your ability to let go and let students guide you as they demonstrate what they learned (which has emotion, y’all).

Thus, I think it might be best to end my final blog post for a course in contemporary pedagogy with this observation by Dan Edelstein: “To innovate is thus less to abandon the past than it is to tinker, transform, and revise what came before.”

MORE INPUT (Johnny 5 & the Struggle to Unplug)

“Read. Watch. Ponder. Post.”

I’ll admit I really liked the above prompt for this week, even though I’m a bit late to the game in finishing my post. There were a lot of “quotable quotes” from the readings from this week, although I’d like to start here, with Clive Thompson’s answer in his NYT interview.

When Thompson is asked what one piece of technology he would want with him were he stranded on a desert island, he responds: “I would probably take an e-reader loaded down with a gazillion books. (Making the assumption it has a solar ray so I can power that e-reader.) I am frankly really excited that modern technology allows us to read so many books in the way it does now. That was the dream of H. G. Wells and other science fiction writers, that all of knowledge could exist on a single device — which it does now. But, if I couldn’t bring electronics with me to my deserted island, I’d probably bring penicillin.”

I know I’m not alone in my amazement at the rate that technology improves. If you were to go back in time and tell 10-year old me that one day, you could fit endless books inside a device smaller than some of the books I was reading, I would wonder if you were crazy. If you told me you could fit books inside of a cell phone, I would be positive you were crazy.

As a result of this, I spent quite a bit of time pondering the nearly endless connectivity of our culture at this point in time, as “unplugging” is something I struggle with myself on occasion (okay, maybe a lot). After all, it can be hard to put down a device that gives you all the information you could ever want (and then some), right at your fingertips. It’s no wonder that, in response to “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, commenter Kevin Kelly makes the following observation:  “Question is, do you get off Google or stay on all the time? I think that even if the penalty is that you lose 20 points of your natural IQ when you get off Google AI, most of us will choose to keep the 40 IQ points we gain by jacking in all the time. At least I would.”

I liked this comment because I have definitely opted not to unplug from time to time, if “unplugging” meant losing access to information that seemed really critical at the time. Even when I’m supposed to relax, I find that access to a device (say, my smartphone) is often still a priority. That is, I often can’t relax without knowing that access point to information is there.

What can I say? I like to look up answers! I like information.

As the robot Johnny 5 says in the film Short Circuit, “I NEED MORE INPUT.”

A Bio a Day…

…keeps the questions at bay? (Kidding!)

On a more serious note, I wanted to share the bio I wrote for my Global Perspectives Program experience. (Those of you in Contemporary Pedagogy may also be interested in this as you write your Teaching Philosophy and think of ways to talk about your work and research, which is why this post has also been shared with you.)

Oddly enough, I really struggle with this kind of writing, and it took me a long time just to write what follows below. (So if any of you readers out there have comments or suggestions, I’m all ears!)

And here it goes:

Rachel Kinzer Corell is a MA student in English with a focus in rhetoric and writing, in addition to completing the Preparing the Future Professoriate certificate as a GPP fellow. A word nerd with an eye toward helping others find ways to communicate in context, she is very interested in the practical application of technical writing strategies to “real world” experiences. Rachel is currently Lead GTA for the Engineering Communications Program, where she provides in-house writing feedback and technical writing instruction to students in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering. (To date, her biggest challenge has been convincing MSE students of the reasons why they need the keen eye of an English grad student to help them communicate.) She also holds a MA in English from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she focused on composition & rhetorical studies. Her research for her MA Capstone project at VT considers how professional writing consultants can use technical writing strategies through practical application, and how that writing instruction functions when it occurs outside its traditional home in English studies.

Prior to graduate school at Virginia Tech, Rachel worked in a number of administrative capacities both within and outside of higher education, although they all share a common thread with respect to professional communication. These experiences influenced her research interests regarding ways people use the means available to them to communicate more effectively, especially in professional contexts. In addition to teaching first-year composition as an adjunct faculty member for a community college and working as an online writing tutor, she has served as an office manager for a solo law practice, and worked in assessment and evaluation for a large, urban K-12 school system. She also has experience working as a communications assistant at a small art gallery, and as an administrative coordinator for an arts education nonprofit.

When she isn’t helping humans with her various professional pursuits, she spends time with her classy canine companion, Agent Margaret Carter. Those of you in and around the Blacksburg area may know her better as Peggy; she’s become quite the Avengers fan since her rescue in May 2013. You may also know Rachel as “Peggy’s person.” In her dream universe, when she is not at work helping humans in their quests to be better communicators, Rachel would have all the time and resources in the world to help rescue and train dogs.



“They wouldn’t even look at me” – Unexpected Insights on Inclusivity

“Stereotypes are valuable,” he said. “But only if you use them to your advantage. They present your readers with something they’ll recognize, and it pulls them into what appears to be familiar territory, a comfort zone. But once they’re in, you have to move them beyond the stereotype. You have to show them what’s real.”

“What’s real?” I asked.

Without hesitation, he said, “You.”

It was one of those things that you instantly recognize as profound, and then, because you don’t quite understand it, try to forget as quickly as you can. It was also one of those things that you cannot forget. And so it roamed freely in my subconscious, occasionally coming into sharp focus to remind me of its presence, but I allowed myself to be consumed by it no more than I would a housefly.”

—Jerald Walker, p. 55-56 of “Dragon Slayers

While the above excerpt is not from the “Inclusive Pedagogy” readings for the week, I couldn’t help but think of this short essay by Jerald Walker as I made my way through excerpts from Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. (If you haven’t read Walker’s piece, you really should; you can find it in Best American Essays 2007. I find it moving every time I read it. Anyway, moving along…)

In the introduction, Steele* doesn’t take long to get to the tough stuff; it’s only on page 6 where he first tells us the story of Brent Staples, the young black man who started whistling Vivaldi (classical music) to signal to people he passed on the streets of Chicago that he meant no harm:

By the end of this page, I was reminded of the different ways people experience being “othered” based on stereotypes, and I thought back to some personal experiences that have driven me to be a more inclusive person. All I could think of was the following sentence I had heard from two people on two different occasions: “They wouldn’t even look at me.”

The first time I heard someone make this observation was in a classroom at the community college where I used to teach first-year composition. One of my non-traditional students (picture a friendly, funny, average American white guy) shared with the class that he had been homeless for over a decade of his life, and that one of the worst parts of that experience was how often people would look through him like he wasn’t there or ignore him completely. “They would’t even look at me.” And at that moment, my eyes were opened to yet another injustice the homeless often suffer: a total lack of acknowledgment from other people, even through a kindness so small as the slightest eye contact.

(I was ashamed; as an introvert and a female, I avoid a great deal of eye contact with strangers, especially men. It’s likely I wouldn’t have looked at him either.)

The second time I heard this statement was no less surprising than the first, although it made just as much sense the second it was brought up. I was attending a professional development seminar here at VT and the speaker (picture an eloquent and educated black man in a nice suit with a pretty good proclivity for jokes) told us (a mix of graduate students, adjuncts, and faculty members) that we needed to remember to acknowledge one another. That we needed to look each other in the eye. He reminded us that, even as a well-educated man who was dressed in a suit and just walking a college campus, most people still wouldn’t make eye contact with him as he walked by. “The students,” he said, “They wouldn’t even look at me.”

(At this point, I made a mental note to work on this more, but it’s not easy; I could write an entire post on the complexities of making the mistake of making eye contact with the wrong person, especially if that person is a man. Alas.)

At any rate, that one sentence is the part of each story that’s stuck most with me over time, not just because its isolating and heartbreaking nature, but specifically because it speaks to our collective tendency to ostracize (or worse, dehumanize) that which we don’t understand. And here I am, with two different times in my life that demonstrate the need to be more inclusive, both at school and life in general. Here’s hoping for some good to come of it.

To close, I would like to refer to the end of Katherine Phillips’ piece “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” specifically because her conclusion really summarizes what I think we’re getting at when we think about this process.

That is, the task of working toward an inclusive pedagogy is a continual one where there is still more progress to be made:

This is how diversity works: by promoting hard work and creativity; by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place. The pain associated with diversity can be thought of as the pain of exercise. You have to push yourself to grow your muscles. The pain, as the old saw goes, produces the gain. In just the same way, we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.           

*Some of my other observations from various chapters of the Claude Steele readings are included below:

  • Chapter 1 – An Introduction: On the Root of Identity”
    • p. 4 – 5: Steele’s use of the term “identity contingencies” was an apt one. In summary, he’s referring to all the shit you have to deal with because of one (or more) aspect(s) of your identity. (This is how I defined it in my notes, and that’s how I would like to write here, because really, it is some shit.)
      • I couldn’t help but wonder if the term “stereotype threat” and Steele’s work on this issue would be under fire by the “this is overly PC” and “you’re just a bunch of whiny snowflakes” crowd. I don’t agree with that assessment, but I know those comments would occur.
    • p. 6 -7: Displaying knowledge of the dominant culture, especially examples of “high” culture, can help some individuals deal with stereotyping—even though they shouldn’t have to prove themselves—and that’s one of the themes that contributes to the main focus on the book:
      • “The stereotype in the air that threatened him is fended off. And the change in the behavior of those on the street, and in his own behavior, reveals the power that a mere stereotype—floating in the air like a cloud gathering the nation’s history—was having on everyone all along. Whistling Vivaldi is about the experience of living under such a cloud—an experience we all have—and the role such clouds play in shaping our lives and society.”
    • p. 14: Because everyone is capable of bias:
      • “We simply are not, and cannot be, all knowing and completely objective. Our understandings and views of the world are partial, and reflect the circumstances of our particular lives. This is where a discipline like science comes in. It doesn’t purge us of bias. But it extends what we can see and understand, while constraining bias.”
  • Chapter 9 – Reducing Identity and Stereotype Threat: A New Hope
    • p.190: “You should focus on making the identity less ‘inconvenient’” with respect to creating a classroom environment.
  • Chapter 11 – Conclusion: Identity as a Bridge Between Us
    • p. 218: We should use our multiple identities as bridges to get to know one another and work better together.

The Ac-ron-y-mous B.I.G.

This post is actually inspired by a comment I left on a classmate’s post (for the Contemporary Pedagogy course I’m taking this semester) that I really liked. (See Elizabeth Clark’s “What’s in a Name” if you’re interested.) It’s a great example of using an acronym as a starting point for outlining one’s teacher “voice” or identity, and I thought it would also be a good starting point/crossover for my initial Global Perspectives Program blog post since we’re all still in the process of getting to know one another/defining ourselves within the contexts of higher education. At first, her use of an acronym reminded me of an episode of the TV show 30 Rock, where Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy is trying to make a decision regarding the two women he has romantic feelings toward. “All right, Donaghy,” he says to himself. “Follow your heart.”
Follow your HEART: Hard Equations And Rational Thinking
Source via llemonliz.tumblr.com It’s never not funny to me, and it’s a reference I tend to make any time I notice someone having a mind/heart decision-making struggle. At any rate, her post then got me thinking about how I would make my own acronym to describe my teaching voice. It’s an interesting challenge, to be sure. In the spirit of sharing, here’s what I came up with for myself: RACHEL = Real: I am my real self around my students… because I want them to feel comfortable being their real selves in my classroom. (See also: And in life!) Aware: I am aware… that my students have different goals and needs with respect to writing instruction. (This means I do everything I can to help them meet their goals in the context of their own lives, not just my classroom.) Charmingly Self-Deprecating: I am charmingly self-deprecating… which means I’m always one to poke fun at my self to remind my students that no one is perfect. And that’s okay by me. (This one came from a student during my first round of student evaluations way-back-when, and it’s something I’m oddly proud of, I guess.) Humorous: I am humorous… because a well-timed quip or comment during class is one of my favorite ways to reach students. (This is inspired by all the teachers I have had over the years; each one found ways to teach us to learn and to laugh, and sometimes how to do both at once. It doesn’t have to be all seriousness and rigid structure for a learning environment to exist.) Empowered: I am empowered… by those who taught me in the past, and by the students I teach now, to share knowledge and help others. (I got this one from her post; I think it’s an important one.) Loyal: I am loyal to the idea that we can all be lifelong learners (e.g. our ongoing self-education through the lives we live), to the focus of my discipline (e.g. effective communication), and to my students (e.g. supporting their goals and identities while pushing them to learn as much as they can). …By the time I got to the end of this, I felt like a pro at the whole acronym game, hence the cheesy title of “The Ac-ron-y-mous B.I.G.” But I can’t be the only one. What’s your acronym for your teaching identity?  

What Harry Potter Taught Me About Teaching: Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart.

Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart. Be a Dumbledore, not an Umbridge. And even though he turns it around in the end, when it comes to teaching, probably don’t be a Snape.

I’m a mega Harry Potter fan, right down to noticing (and sometimes loving) the slight differences between the books and the movies. Like most people who grew up reading the series, I can’t quite put into words how much these stories impacted my life. I can only tell you that I loved them as a kid, and I love them still. And with respect to both the books and the movies, my favorite Minerva McGonagall moment on film comes as the Battle of Hogwarts is about to begin in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (While the filmmakers did add a little bit to the existing plot line for this scene, I will emphatically defend the added line of dialogue, but that’s not the point of this post.)

Some of you may know the scene I’m referring to, but if not, please watch it courtesy of YouTube:

When McGonagall transforms the statues into soldiers ready to fight for Hogwarts, tensions are climbing. Everyone is afraid of what is to come and uncertain whether or not any good will come of their efforts. (Yes, I was crying through this scene, as McGonagall brought the castle to life. I really felt for her, a teacher trying to protect her students and save her school, even if saving it meant destroying it.) Then she said it.

“I’ve always wanted to use that spell.”

Aside from the comic relief that moment brought, I can also say that it was a defining moment for me not just as a Harry Potter fan, but as a student and a teacher. There was something about her momentary joy in a moment of looming terror that struck me as important. And I was reminded once again that even though she would have been strict, I know McGonagall would have been my favorite teacher. In that moment, I saw a teacher who knew exactly who she was, and I saw a teacher excited to try new things.

Of course, that reminds me of some of the readings for this week, including this observation by Sarah Deel: “I hadn’t considered that certain qualities described me (like my earnestness or attention to detail) could be a legitimate part of my teaching voice.”

Of course, I’m not here asking, “What would McGonagall do?” because that isn’t how my brain works; I have to find my own teaching path, my own voice. The are many ways to be a good teacher (or a bad one). McGonagall’s to-the-point, no-nonsense, strict but fair attitude was always something I liked about her in the HP series, even though I never would have wanted to replicate it myself, at least not to the same degree. Granted, my first semester teaching was full of confusion and uncertainty and seemingly endless questions about my identity as a teacher: How should I act? How can I be myself? Should I? How do I keep it professional yet lighthearted? How would I describe myself?

(The answer has been the same since I was eight: I’m a little bit weird, thankyouverymuch.)

Again, with respect to Deel’s piece, what stuck with me especially was the most important commonality she noted among good teachers in her life: “They explained their strategies to their students. The context of the particular classroom was very important; since the students in each class understood their teacher’s philosophy and evaluation style, they were able to learn from the teacher’s responses to their writing.”

And it makes sense; students want to understand why they work they’ve been assigned is relevant to their own lives. Granted, I’m not McGonagall tasking Neville Longbottom with finding a way to blow up part of Hogwarts in order to protect it, but I do want my students to feel like the work they’re doing means something and is useful to them.

And this, of course, is where I turn from McGonagall to Gilderoy Lockhart.


First, let me admit that my favorite student comment from my first semester of teaching evaluations is as follows:  “Rachel is the most charmingly self-deprecating teacher I’ve ever met.” If you’ve read Harry Potter, then you know this puts me about as far from Gilderoy Lockhart as I can get, and I’m pretty proud of that. Usually, if I’m toeing the line of being too professional and reserved, I tend to back away from it if it means I think I can help my students.

Where Gilderoy Lockhart would embellish and lie about his experiences to make himself look better, I’m willing to throw myself under the bus when it comes to explaining to students terrified of giving presentations that I too used to have a massive fear of public speaking. I’m willing to tell them I didn’t particularly enjoy math, and that my success with it was largely dependent on a college professor who understood that her course was only good to most of us if it could be useful in our daily lives. From full-on stuttering and sweating at the front of a room to barely making it through a statistics class, I’m willing to share my experiences with students whether they’re the good, the bad, or the ugly, so long as I think it might engage them and leave them more open to the work I’m asking them to complete.

So even though I’m still defining my identity as a teacher, and even though I’m still developing my own understanding of my “authentic teaching voice,” I like to think that I’m on the right track. Maybe I’m a combination of some parts Dumbledore, McGonagall, Lupin, and even a little bit of Snape… I am a Slytherin, after all. These Hogwarts professors are not afraid to be themselves and they are open, at least to some extent, to sharing their experiences in order to help students learn.

Seeing as my story is not finished yet, it feels like a pretty good start.

(Learning About) Digital Learning

Instead of a regular blog post this week, I decided to work on something new: a video where I both learn to use software enabling said video creation and convey some of my impressions from this week’s readings* and video resources. Speaking of the resources for this week, here’s a screen shot from the New Learners of the 21st Century where I paused at the most perfect moment, if “perfect moment” is defined as the opportunity to make a meme of James Gee:

*The class readings I refer to in the video are Robert Talbert’s “Four Things Lecture is Good For” and James Gee’s “What Video Games Have to Teach Us.”

A++ (Would Grade Again)

What’s a liberal arts, writing-focused nerd to do?

The readings for this week acknowledge a number of issues circling around the way we educate and assess that education after it occurs, up to and including the reality that we assess the things that we find valuable. By the wayside are other aspects of education (e.g. lifelong learning, professionalism, global context, etc). But one’s math ability and knowledge are not removed from these concepts (indeed, it seems quite the opposite) any more than lab report writing is removed from issues beyond the engineering context I’m currently grading in this semester.

I’m a GTA with a liberal arts/English background and I am not the lead instructor for the lab course I am grading for this semester. The lead instructor, an engineering professor, is present for my workshops, so I don’t want to rock the boat too much when I’m around to discuss writing lab reports. That is, I feel compelled to keep it basic and simple. In the 40 minutes I’m allotted for one writing workshop that’s supposed to impart on these students everything they need to know about about lab reporting writing, there’s a lot of ground to cover. We’re supposed to introduce the concept of science writing since this lab is their first major lab course in their engineering major and discuss how to write effective lab reports. And that’s it. The engineering instructor grades the technical aspects of the course. The grade I assign is averaged with his grade, and the student then has a graded lab report with technical engineering feedback and technical writing feedback.

With respect to assessment of student work and assigning grades, it’s hard to acknowledge that the system in place that I found so boring and ineffective as a child is still equally boring and ineffective (perhaps more so, seeing as we didn’t even know of the technologies that would eventually exist to distract us… or serve as tools, depending on your view) in 2017.

It certainly leaves me in a place where I wish I didn’t provide any grades, but instead could just give writing feedback. There are some who would argue writing assignments are better off within English departments where they belong, and I wouldn’t agree at all unless it meant we could somehow change up our grading system for our engineering communications program. But that’s not the case, and honestly I think in-house writing instruction is an amazing way to work with engineering students.

A Post Script

I’ve mulled over the next part of this long enough, so I have decided to include it since it highlights my agreement with the concept that our classes, however removed from current events, are not removed from social responsibility and political context. Specifically, with the Muslim ban weighing heavy on my mind, I found myself wanting to make clear to all my students that I am there to provide instruction (and grades too, for that matter) no matter where my students come from. I’m there for all of them, up to and including assessing them equally. Does that mean that I don’t have my own implicit biases to work against? No. I know this. But I’m trying.

In the end, I waited until the end of our class and made a simple enough statement:

“I just want you all to know that no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you think your inherent writing ability is, I am here to work with all of you. And if you’re worried in these complicated political times if that’s a political statement, please know that it is. It absolutely is.”

Yes, I wanted to be (a tiny bit) political to prove a point, with that point being that while I’m there to try and grade them all as individual writers, I’ll do everything in my power to be equal in the kinds of feedback I provide students and the treatment I give them as people. I’ll do everything I can to assess them fairly and accurately, whether it’s grading a memo or a lab report.

We have a lot of work to do.

Better Late Than Never (Or, Reflections on Mindfulness in Academia)





1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something, “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition.”

2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. 

Thanks, Obama.

(Kidding, kidding. Thanks, Google.)

I wanted to start with a definition of mindfulness (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) because I am repeatedly told I should be more mindful and that I should practice mindfulness for my own wellbeing. And boy oh boy, did (do) I find that irritating.

The first time I heard this, I felt that I paid plenty of mind to my body, thank you very much. I did yoga. (Don’t do a desk job if you hate that.) I did physical therapy. (Don’t break your pelvis if you’re not into that either.) I loved all the doggles and sought to keep them active. (Don’t think a fenced in yard is a substitute for the quality bonding time of walking your dog. It’s not; it’s just a bonus for your dog.)

And I think the issue for me here is that I associated this with the whole mind/body connection, and I (believed that I) accepted my bodily sensations. Many of these sensations involved pain, from working desk jobs and recovering from past injuries – not to mention… keeping up with the dogs dashing on. (I know, bad pun, I know, but I couldn’t help it. They run around the yard like maniacs. There’s a connection there, right?)

It’s the “calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts” part that I’m not so great at, I guess, but that’s a story for another post. For this post, I want to talk about mindfulness in teaching. Ellen Langer’s article “Mindful Learning” emphasizes just how much existing methods of teaching can render students mindless, immobile in their own boredom, locked away from the parts of their minds that would build creativity and critical thinking skills. (If we’re being honest, this was me for the better part of my K-12 educational experience. I was intelligent enough to do well, and without paying much attention to the subjects I didn’t particularly care for.)

Where boredom could have run rampant, I liked school enough to try and push toward the creativity on my own… as long as it was a subject that interested me. If not, I merely attempted to perform well enough for a good grade. So my experience with a mindful education was hit and miss, I’d say. I still enjoy reading and writing, but don’t hold your breath if you want me to draw anything better than a stick figure. Don’t even ask me to do any math. (What a snoooooozefest that was for me. Alas! We have much work to do if we want to engage our students.)

By the time I got to college, I realized I was disconnected from some opportunities in my higher education experience because I hadn’t embraced technology fast enough. (How was I to know that the Facebook posts and Tweets that I derided as time-wasters would end up being qualities desired for some positions?) This was, in part, because I completed my undergraduate education during a time in which professors were often getting on board with (often imperfect) technologies themselves. We didn’t get a computer until I was 12, which wasn’t bad given that it was 1998, but my parents lacked the skills necessary to really give me any ideas about how it would be useful. I wouldn’t really encounter this until graduate school. (Now, Canvas is my life. It’s my favorite LMS that I have so far encountered, whether as student or as a teacher.)

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk also touched on this in some ways, and it particularly resonated with me when he said “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.” This is true. I also thought he was spot on when he reminded us that “Education is a human system.” These are two things we as educators certainly claim to know, two ideas our pedagogies are supposed to embody. Despite that, however, we live in a world of mass testing and curriculum objectives identical for all students, no matter their individual interests or needs. (No wonder 60% of students drop out of high school in some parts of the US, as Robinson notes in his TED Talk.) Somehow we’re supposed to just “take it all in.”

Thinking about this “human system” that now often seems as obstructed by technology as it is advanced by it, I want to go back to the Langer piece to address a comment she makes near her conclusion:

The simple process of mindful learning, of actively drawing distinctions and noticing new things, seeing the familiar in the novel and the novel in the familiar is a way to ensure that our minds are active, that we are involved, and that we are situated in the present. The result is that we are then able to avert the danger not yet arisen and take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves. Teaching mindfully not only sets students up for these advantages, but has advantages for teachers as well.”

Here, I know she’s speaking in the context of education, but as education affects one’s whole life, I would assert she’s making a much larger connection overall. Being mindful, being situated in the present, provides opportunities in all sorts of contexts. The key is representing this by demonstrating it to students through better pedagogical practices, in addition to showing them the ways that being engaged improves other aspects of their lives.

Not One for PDA (Public Displays of Academia)

“If you would not say it in an academic review, or in the questions following a public lecture, don’t say it on Twitter.”

This line about three-quarters of the way through Tim Hitchcock’s piece stuck out to me as something I thought I might discuss in a blog post, even though I was ready to be on board with him before that, about halfway through this sentence: “Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.”

As one who rarely tweets (or as one whose tweets tend to meander slowly alongside a course during an academic semester) I was interested in reading another perspective on the usefulness of social media for higher education. Because I agree with the idea that the role of an academic is in many ways a public one, it’s somewhat hard for me to admit the truth:

…This grad student is wary of PDA (Public Displays of Academics) when that public exists in the digital realm of social media.

There. I said it. Conference proposals? Class lectures? I’m all in. But the second you ask me to Tweet about it, I’m done.

Hitchcock’s idea that a blog can end in an academic output with an audience ready to cite it seems (in some ways) a bit ambitious, but I know there’s some truth to this. Sharing the information provides that opportunity, and it’s something I aim to work on myself this semester.

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