Is this blog post for a grade?

The first time I heard about a college that didn’t give out grades, I had a knee jerk, dismissive and appalled reaction. My friend told me about a college in Scotland where students were graded only on a pass/fail basis; it seemed so odd. How do they measure students? Would the students even come to class if they weren’t being regularly measured on their understanding of the concepts? Would they learn anything?

In the readings for this week, we were introduced to the concept of grade-free learning. To be fair, this differs a bit from the college which I mentioned earlier. The college based their pass/fail decision on an end of semester test with a minimum score that demonstrated proficiency. The concepts we were introduced to were much more comprehensive in their measurement standards, but my initial reaction was the same. Would this actually work? Will they really learn?

Then, I watched the video from Dan Pink about how motivation works. In his TED talk, he explained how the carrot and stick model of motivation, which companies use quite often to motivate their employees, often stifles creativity and lowers productivity. Afterwards, I watched a video by Sir Kennith Robinson. In which, he talks about how we educate our children from the waist up until we are only focused on educating their right brain. He then argues that this sort of education is limits students in their creativity and ability to overcome being wrong. He also argues that the model of education worked to train pupils for factory work but is inadequate for preparing students for the modern era.

The other reading that stuck out to me from this week was the one by Alfie Kohn. He argues that we have known the grading system to be problematic since the 1930s, yet we have continued to use it.

My initial negative reaction to the grade free system can be boiled down into two parts. One is the aversion to change, and two is the lack of a clear picture of what grading does to the student. I had this idea that we must be using this system for so long because it works and is the best option we have available. Why would we change something that doesn’t need changing? I’m realizing now the naivety of that viewpoint. If our goals as educators is to provide an education that engages the whole student, then it seems that change is what is necessary.

The Case Against Grades (##)

The technology balancing act

At the end of class last week, our discussion revolved around the idea that technology in a classroom was either a good or a bad thing. As we jostled with this issue, the last student to speak (sorry, I can’t remember your name)  proposed the idea that technology wasn’t the problem it was how it was utilized in a classroom setting that created issues.

The NPR article from this week had an professor, Jesse Stomel, who expressed similar sentiment.

“There may also be times, he says, that the phone or computer can be an in-class tool. “We can also ask students to use their devices in ways that help them and the rest of the class, looking up a confusing term, polling their friends on Facebook about a topic we’re discussing or taking collaborative notes in an open document.”

On the other hand, says Stommel, there may be times and places to shut it down, too: “We can ask students to close their laptops at particular moments, recognizing that it is useful to learn different things, at different times, in different ways.””

It is easy to say there can be times when technology is acting as a learning aid and times where is is distracting. What I see as a learning curve, as a first time TA this semester and a potential future professor, is finding the balance .

I’m curious what your experience, as students and educators, is on achieving this balance. Outside of testing environments, are there other situations where you limit technology? Alternatively, what are the ways in which you saw it as an aid in learning?

NPR Article:

Blogging…the running of the internet

Based on the readings from this week, creating a digital presence is one of the best ways to engage yourself and your audience with your materials whether it be research or coursework. One of the ways we’re practicing a well rounded digital presence this semester is through blogging.

If I’m being honest, blogging is not something that comes easy to me. As an entomology PhD student, most of my written communication about my own research is in passive voice, and that is far from engaging for a general audience. Considering my lack of experience, my plan for this semester is to treat blogging like running.

Image result for everything hurts and i'm dying gif

I have been an runner on and off for the better part of four years, and running for the first time or starting back after a break is always difficult and uncomfortable. It’s hard to know when to breathe and what pace works, but at some point, usually about a month into it, an internal flip switches. The discomfort gets replaced by a steady rhythm. There are still days where it’s difficult, but for the most part, it becomes a second nature.

I’m hoping that blogging will follow a similar pattern. The first few weeks might feel a bit shaky and strained. Finding my voice might feel a bit like finding a rhythm and building up strength, but at some point, I’m hoping for that internal switch.

By the end of the course, I want to take the practice of blogging about classroom topics and expand it into blogging about my own research. Building a foundation of digital engagement as a graduate student would hopefully provide for a smooth transition of digital engagement as a professor.