Admiral Ackbar Says


I’m going to try and mix attending the CIDER conference this past week with the blog topic for this week. They might mix like oil and water, but like one of the presenters said, “We use prompts to focus discussion; but, if someone wants to speak what is on their mind, they will have no problem ignoring the prompt to do so.”

I was happy to see the readings were mentioning Parker Palmer. As part of another class, we read Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. He talks about being an authentic teacher and showing your passion for the subject. After all, it is the subject that we are teaching that we are truly passionate about. It is how we express that passion to our students that matters. Not everyone can be that super energetic and charismatic in front of a class. It is important to find a teaching style that maximizes how one expresses that passion. If you can carry the attention of a class through a lecture, have at it. If you’re more of a reserved person, then finding a student centered style of teaching is perfect. It creates less of a focus on you, and more of one the subject. When looking for a new pedagogy to use, it is easy to get caught up in how cool they are.

This past week I was at the CIDER and there were a lot of really cool pedagogies presented there. The most engaging one that I experienced was reacting to the past. It is a role playing game using specific events in the past. You are given character sheets with information on your position and objectives for you to be successful. There are reading associated with event that help to explain the context of the event and the significance it had. You’re going to have to trust me it was fun trying to get people to believe that cholera was being spread through the water in 19th century London, and that it wasn’t literally falling from the sky. It was easy to want to do everything presented, just for the sake of being cool. That’s where I had to stop myself and ask, “Is this appropriate for this class?” I am all in on gamification, but the reality is that it isn’t a fit for the class I teach. What makes it even harder is knowing that I could make my own version of a game that would work for what I need. However, that takes time, and time not dedicated to my research is precious. I get the trap that is set by wanting to take the easy way out and just give students the information to have them spit it back.

This isn’t the blog post you’re looking for

It’s time for some wise words from Yoda.

The wisdom of Yoda is so true. He says the dark side is quicker, easier, and more seductive. For the sake of this blog post, that means giving out grades. It is quicker and easier to do. Here is a rubric and here is a score. That can be really seducing to do if you are a tenure track professor with a million other things to do. Take your grade and move on. Why did you get that grade? Please consult the rubric. We could probably figure out how to do everything on ScanTron bubble sheets so assignments practically grade themselves. I was skeptical when I saw the titles of the readings about doing away with grades. How else are we supposed to assess student performance? It is how I was assessed, and I turned out fine (That’s a favorite argument of mine for things). Besides, isn’t it important to have quantitative measures of assessment in this metric obsessed world we live in? That way we can prove we are good teachers, and students have a way to measure their growth? If we want to try not giving grades in earnest, we need to truly buy into it. This means we have to give up our biggest student motivator, the fear of a bad grade.

As I have recently been informed by those couple of videos that carrot and stick motivators only work for mostly mechanical tasks, then we would continue to operate this way? In the class I was a TA for last semester, there were lots of writing assignments and a final presentation. There were no tests or quizzes, which are, in my opinion, the primary motivator to look at the information. However, with everything they turned it was easy to tell they were writing to regurgitate information to get their grade. I am open to believing that if there weren’t grades on these assignments, they might have been more thoughtful in their responses. It would also make me feel better because I provided a lot of feedback on those assignments to help them to that end, which apparently is largely ignored. It makes me believe that to truly move away from information regurgitation learning, we have to go all in and not have a mix of. Unlike many of the other things, I think going gradeless is an all-or-nothing affair. So get your grading gum and patches, because it is time to go cold turkey on grades.


Is there really a dark side?

Here is your weekly dose of Star Wars related content for a blog.

It hurts my pride to agree with Langer so much on mindful learning ideas, because I despise her examples so much. I can get around her wad of gum example by saying it depends on who you ask and how they determine what a wads of is. It is to the point that facts are context dependent. One of my favorite subjects as a kid was history, and I was an eager pupil. Many years later, I started reading different perspectives on the history of the United States. It makes me sad to realize how distorted the narrative that I learned was, and probably still is. I know full well that I believed what I read was fact. It was in the textbook, it was on the worksheets, I wrote reports on it, and it was on the tests. I always got those answers right, always. I appreciate having read other perspectives of U.S. history, as it has reengaged me in a topic that I once loved. For me personally, it has helped me realize that other perspectives need to be listened to.

With that said though, I have difficulty in listening to everyone’s perspective. The class I was a TA for in the fall involved a lot of reading papers and having discussions in class. We would be sailing along smoothly then, inevitably, one particular student would say something that could have only made sense to him. We could ask follow-up questions, but I don’t think they helped us better understand where he was coming from. For me, my internal reaction was always why would you say that, and what are we supposed to do with this nonsense now? It was very difficult to ever offer any validity to the things he said, but we couldn’t ignore him. He was making an effort to be part of the conversation, and you can’t be mad at him for trying. We never really figured out what to do in responding to him. We waited out the semester, and were done with it.

New aged learning, the death of a master

Obi wan says “strike me down and I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”  I might be playing around with the context and the full delivery of the line, but maybe that is what we need. We need to be struck down, metaphorically, to allow our pupils to grow and flourish.

The crux of every reason why we should like lecture revolves around the lecturer themselves. The person has all this knowledge, wisdom, and insight into the topic at hand. Because of these things, they know how to transmit that knowledge to eager learners in a way that makes sense. I do believe there are times when lecturing is appropriate. However,  as we strive to change the way we teach, we have to let go or minimize the need to lecture. I don’t think that is easy to do as it is say. I can feel the offense that Douglas Thomas took when his class largely phased him out of lecturing. He spent years studying this stuff, and now they should listen to his wisdom on it. Or another scenario being, hey everyone I have this really great lesson. Oh never mind, y’all want to about your experiences in the game. I can also sense the uncertainty he may have in letting go of control of the classroom. It seemed that he had failed since nobody wanted to receive his thoughts in lecture. Lo and behold it worked.

I think letting go of that control and experiencing some uncertainty are the biggest challenges in trying to become a more student centered teacher. Not every case will be as instantly successful as this one. Thomas had a unique mechanism to work with by using Star Wars Galaxies. I do worry that instructors would have to go through multiple iterations of a class before they are able to find something that works. In this age of accountability, that may not be a luxury instructors are afforded. I don’t believe it needs to as dramatic as Thomas’ class, where he was nearly phased out of his own classroom, but it needs to be better than a straight lecture. Borrowing an idea from Parker Palmer, I think we need to hold the tension between the two to make it work. Maybe death of a master was a bit dramatic, but it worked well for the video.

Networked Learning

As future academics, we are encouraged to produce work that gets published in academic journals. Research papers are a powerful tool to communicate scientific findings. They help to showcase the latest in scientific research. In its own way, academic journals support the theory of networked learning as it communicates knowledge and information between individuals. However, there are a number of other tools that apply to the networked learning theory.

The readings touch on blogging a tool for disseminating knowledge. Micro-publishing platform, such blogs, can grant higher visibility and engage a wider audience outside of academia. It can also bring the audience through the research process. Due to the interactive nature of blogging, it can extract useful feedback. Blogging fall under the umbrella of networked learning by maintaining communications between individuals, and information.

I see blogging to be a useful avenue in which ideas can be expressed. It helps build relations between like-minded people outside of the rigorous of scientific publication. Communication in blogging build relationship to other and relationship to scientific outlets which can establish further apatite to it.

The Last Gedi

The timing of everything is too perfect to not include this short bootlegged video. Basically sums up blogging for me. Maybe I will also change like Luke did in the movie.  Anyway, the real thought provoking content begins below. Please push play on the video though, it might give you a good chuckle.


If you are curious as to what Kuh’s high-impact practices are, please follow this link. I like the ideas presented. It seems like it would make for an undergraduate experience that would actually feel like you did something, rather than simply getting a degree to check a box on applications. The one idea I want to focus on is collaborative assignments/projects. The class I TA for, ecological agriculture, could benefit greatly if we practiced that more. There are many writing prompts to be completed, but everyone does them on their own. Then when we have class discussions about them, it is the few strong voices in the room that continue to dominate discussions. By having a collaborative writing environment, it could be possible to get more people to participate in classroom discussions since they have had to express their ideas to at least one other person.

Likewise, the tool seems like a good way to get ideas flowing for the papers that are assigned to the class. We read a lot of science literature in the class, and not everyone is familiar with those types of articles. It could be helpful in creating a better understanding. While it isn’t anonymous, it might be easier to ask questions when one isn’t in front of the class. Maybe that provides an opportunity for a student to answer a question rather than wait for the instructor.  I know it is about building the network and sharing ideas and experiences, but I also see it as a way off accountability for actually doing the readings that doesn’t involve the instructor threatening to take off points for not doing an assignment. I see myself incorporating this into the class and it seems to be a worthwhile use of technology.