Using “I” and the vulnerability of opening up

This is the dilemma that this student, Alexandra Gold, a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at Boston University discussed on her article. She brought up many interesting points that I agreed with, such as this statement:  

I know you’ve heard a version of this stolid formulation: “This paper will analyze”; “This article shows.” No expression makes me bristle quite as much. I have to fight an immediate urge to shout: THIS PAPER DIDN’T ANALYZE ANYTHING! YOU DID. Why are we so afraid to say “I”?

I think this is particularly a struggle I phase today. I have gotten so used to the formal academic writing style that blogging actually feels a bit weird sometimes. The freedom that we have in blogging is unique and awesome but takes some time to get use to. At least it did for me. Alexandra describes this as “a strange paradox of the traditional academic essay that as much as we tell students to write in their own words, we ask them to couch these words behind an inactive or tacit authorial subjectivity”.

Blogging is actually one of her suggestions of an assignment in a genre beyond the traditional academic essay. She believes we should do this at least once during the semester. I agree with this because it does truly allow us as students to connect to what we are learning and express freely our feelings and reactions to it. Blogging for other classes and now this one has definitely allowed me to feel more comfortable using “I” again and truly expressing my opinions in writing, getting creative, while connecting it to my personal experiences.

But a new dilemma I am facing now is how it can also put me in vulnerable situations by opening up. I noticed that when I get the most out of my blogs is when I am able to connect them to my personal experiences. It not only allows me to reflect on my own opinions but it also shows my readers how I came about to having those views. As a future student affairs professional,  having a public blog where my opinions are being shared, makes me a little nervous that they can one day be used against me. We have seen in other schools faculty being fired for having certain beliefs such as white supremacy and we have even seen the controversies here at VT with the GTA. Although, those are more extreme examples of beliefs, they what we are facing today. Therefore, in student affairs we are supposed to be inclusive for all students and by taking a stand on one certain side sometimes makes me worry if that it can affect my career in the future. Therefore, when it comes to blogging specially knowing how this one is very public and is tweeted. It makes me a little hesitant to truly express my opinions but at the same time I still plan to do it because I think people need to hear and learn about different perspectives. I am a first generation, from a low-income family, Latina and I am sure that my experiences and interactions with pedagogical practices growing up can be unique based on my salient identities.

Cultivating learners

This weeks readings were interesting because they presented learning more as something that is grown through multiple methods rather than through a static method such as lectures. I think of this as if we are farmers growing crops, we need to cycle the crops so that the soil remains fertile. If we continually try to grow the same crop using the same methods in the same place, eventually it will not work anymore because of the deterioration of the soil. I am not a farmer but I do know that creativity fosters more opportunity for yourself and others. Education needs to be accessible to everyone that wants it, however, I think everyone should not go to college because it is “expected”.

This, in my opinion, is wrong and robs from the cultivation of creative minds by placing individuals in preconceived constructs of society. If we tell people they have to go to college in order to succeed, what message are we sending? “Be creative, but you have to suffer in college for four years while you fall into debt, whether you like it or not.” I do not like that narrative, and I think that individuals that want to go to college should be able to without massive debt perspectives, but not because it is expected. Teachers, instructors, parents, and everyone else should be creative in everything they set out to do, and that will help all aspects of life for all in involved. Creative thinking is about thinking outside of the box, providing resources to help grow intellectually, but in order to do that we cannot place others in the categories we criticize. Maybe I am hypocritical, but I chose college because I wanted to get a job doing something in politics, but say I wanted to make stuff, why do I need a degree when I can get the skills I need through practice? The degree offers some safety, but after college people seemingly cannot find jobs because those that skipped college or got an associates degree are years ahead in the field. Call me skeptical, but I think teaching creatively is good, albeit hypocritical.


Patrick Salmons

Looking at the story from a different point of view…or…. a useful Model!

While reading the  New Culture of Learning I really enjoyed the story of Teaching in a galaxy far, far away. A year ago, I was enrolled in a course called Motivation and Education offered by the Educational Psychology department. Dr. Brett Jones, the instructor of this course, developed a model called the MUSIC Model of  Motivation. This model is designed to make the current motivation research and theories applicable to teachers and educators. Based on this model, there are five factors that contribute to students’ motivation in a learning environment.  These factors are eMpowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring. According to Dr. Jones, students’ will be motivated to learn if they perceive that:

  1. They are eMpowered. In other words, if they perceive that they have autonomy and control over their learning experience.
  2. The material is Useful to them.
  3. They can Succeed in meeting the objectives.
  4. The material is Interesting to them.
  5. They perceive a sense of Caring from the all the members of the community (teacher and peers)

Incorporate these factors into your course design or any learning experience and your students will be motivated and eager to get engaged and learn. Looking at the story of Teaching in a galaxy far, far away through the glasses of the MUSIC model, the main two factors that made the students incredibly engaged and made the course a very fun experience for them are the U and I of the model, Usefulness and Interest. The design of the course was in a way to make the material relevant and interesting to the students. Also, allowing the students to decide about the order and the timing of the tasks and activities of each session probably gave them a sense of eMpowerment.


Whose Imagination Is This?

Among the descriptions of various engagement tools such as games, social media, and other digital methods, we may be yet still be losing sight of a problem in education dating back well before these options could even be mentally conceived: what are these tools supposed to be accomplishing and why is it important for students to use them?

As instructors, we can communicate amongst ourselves quite easily – this game is meant to establish collaborative learning initiatives or this design simulation will help our students attach visuals to the information – but have we ever communicated these ideas to our students? At what point do we as instructors take the 30 seconds to a minute to ask our classes, what do you expect to get out of playing this game? Why do you think these activities are valuable? Do you enjoy using digital tools more/less than written or oral methods of teaching?

Inspiring and engaging students of the 21st century digital population is paramount, I agree. Students do not have the same bond with physical novels and pen-and-paper writing that those before them did. In short, the classroom should indeed meet the digital literacy of its new students. However, we cannot simply swap these methods out and expect different results. The approach is still the same, and reiterates the definition of insanity if we persist without further reasoning.

If we as educators swap out those methods that we propose or expect to be more imaginative, without the transparency to and feedback from our students, we are merely imposing our imaginations and passions in new more creative ways than the impositions that preceded us. We do know that today’s students enjoy gaming, and we may find them to be a more appropriate form of communicating information. Yet, we should not be the ones to decide if drawing or programmed design is “the” way in which to inspire imagination and interest in our students. They are intelligent enough to tell us themselves. Simply asking them why this design game may be more helpful or fun is a tactic that allows them to explore different methods with an understanding of why they matter and why some may be more effective than others.

This, I believe, empowers students to think about what they enjoy just as much as what they are skilled at. Knowing why programming and design services their interests differently than drawing or writing is a key step that we must not miss. Understanding the objectives and skills latent in the gaming process informs students of how they may want to use the technology in the future. In short, imposing our imaginations or projecting student interests is flawed and repeats our past failures. Swapping out learning tools is also not an effective enough strategy on its own. Investing the energy to discuss and ask why technology is useful as we are integrating these tools is more essential.

Simulation and Technology for Active Learning

Advancing technology creates new opportunities for learning—new points of view, new mediums for inquiry, and new modes of expression. Technology is advancing in a way that it is increasingly immersive. I think that this can be a bridge for experiential learning to adapt to advancing technology.

Experiential learning, I think, is a form of simulation. High-ropes courses, for example, are built to facilitate the learning of problem-solving skills, emotional coping skills, and team-building. The completion of the course simulates challenges one may face in other scenarios in life, and facilitates learning and growth by allowing one to develop skills for coping with those situations in a safer environment.

Simulation can be used in many other ways for learning. After talking with one of my colleagues, Ezgi, I was inspired to develop a lesson plan centered on simulation to facilitate learning on research ethics.

Normally this is a dry conversation, in my opinion: “don’t plagiarize, get IRB approval, etc.” Additionally, I think that going over many of the academic policies related to research ethics does not really teach students about research ethics. In other words, there seems to be little room for reflection why we value what we value, and what our research ethics ought to be.

For my simulation on research ethics I divided my class into three groups. Group 1: The Stardew Valley Farmers (this is actually from a video game I like ?), Group 2: Researchers from Volcano Labs, Group 3: Student Researchers from Virginia Tech

Groups 2 and 3 were assigned to research Group 1. The students from Groups 2 and 3 had to report the methods they wanted to use to research Group 1, what information they wanted to gather, and how they planned to use the information. Group 1 was then given the opportunity to respond to both groups, as well as decide whether they consent to Groups 2 and/or 3 conducting research.

Importantly, this same lesson can be conducted online in Canvas with the feature that allows students to work in groups and submit collaborative essays. Instructors can track who contributed content, as well as the progression of the edits to the content.

The simulation is meant to facilitate students’ critical thinking on the relationship between the researchers and the researched—something that is often undermined in research and writing text books even.

By considering the interests of the Stardew Valley Farmers, whose farming techniques had sustained their communities’ economy for decades, as well as how it may feel to be in the position of the researched, the students could reflect more on the bigger picture behind the ethics of research, rather than just the rules that refer to those ethics.

Lacoste Teaching Statement

After reading Jean Lacoste’s teaching statement I was really pleased to see that she took an active approach to make the best out of having such a large class. I think that redesigning her class to have multiple avenues for her students to have the ability to decide the best way for them to learn. From they way she decribes it, her students have adjusted well to the new layout of the class and they are benefitting from it.

However, the bigger issue for me is the size of her class in the first place. I’m not understanding why her classes are so huge. Are there not enough faculty in the department? Is this particular class not offered enough? I feel that even with this new model of the class, that students at some point are going to lose out because the instructor is going to burn out eventually having to manage such a large class.

This reminds me of what is currently happening within my own program where we don’t have enough faculty to support the amount of students that are applying for both a Master’s and Ph.D degree. Due to this issue, the program is limiting the number of students they will accept for the next cohort. This is unfortunate because this program is really good and should be supported.

For Jean Lacoste, I do applaud her for the approach she has taken, however I still believe that the students are eventually going to lose out on a quality education due to class size being to big and causing a lack of attention to individual students.

Rethinking digital lifelong learning

The higher we stand on the pyramid of knowledge, reaching the boundary of human knowledge, the more we need to learn out of classroom lectures and from much broader sources. Especially in this digital era, rethinking how to properly introduce technology into teaching is very important. I watched a video from MIT Professor Mitchel Resnick, director of MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten initiative [1], on how we must use technology to transform our model of education. The video is entitled with “rethinking education: lifelong learning in the digital age” [2].

The main opinion by Prof. Resnick that triggered my thinking is that “even many classes have included new technologies, a lot of times the whole approach education hasn’t changed very much… they were holding on to old ways of teaching and learning even though we’re starting to be surrounded by these new technologies. So it is important to rethink our approaches to learning and education to fit with the new possibilities of the digital age.” We should also think about how to avoid too information centric view of education. And instead of using technologies to simply deliver information, we can view technologies as tools of active construction of knowledge. This is also something I hope to refer to to evaluate my own teaching in the future.



A Prison or A Democracy?

A recent American Psychological Association report alarms about sharp rises in serious mental health problems on campus. Depression and anxiety, as the most common mental disorders, are typically associated with eating disorders, drug abuse, and self-injury in the U.S. universities (Eiser, 2011). In “Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education” Gray (2018) refers to the fact that students normally have no or little power in creating the rules that they are forced to follow. Also, little differences in shallow accomplishments (e.g., an A versus a B) could lead to a great sense of shame, intense anxiety and fear in a classroom, which more or less works like a real society.

Not only are traditional lectures and classroom settings boring, politically speaking, they are comparable with a monarchy in which the ruler may or may not follow a written constitution. The way a classroom is governed typically represents the broader patterns of the governance of its context. Thus, there is no surprise that in more democratized countries, students gain a little more power. Because we spend so many years in school and university, shaping a small scale monarchy in classroom impairs the quality of student life by creating perpetual, toxic anxiety (Lee, 2015) and making a prison out of school. Transforming this monarchy to a democracy may address the aforementioned issues of mental health, and better prepare students for the future.

Traditional lectures are the legacy of our ancestors who had no medium other than their tongue to deliver the course content, and no means other than standard exams to assess student achievement. The legacy, which persists in the form of today’s crowded classrooms with a single source of information, is somehow responsible for killing students’ creativity, motivation, and critical thinking, especially at younger ages. With a decrease in these positive student characteristics, there is an increase in the lack of interest, sense of forced education, and anxiety. There are national initiatives, such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, that address mental health crisis on campus. However, except in pioneering institutions, there seems to be a general lack of interest in planning for and integrating new approaches to education and technology to help address life quality issues and to prepare students for the complexities of the 21st century. Oltermann (2016) described ESBC, a school in Germany, as a prototype of such efforts with the mission of re-inventing “school” based on free learning and bottom-up decision making. In ESBC student work is not graded until the age of 15. The school fully abandoned lecture-style instructions and timetables. Instead, the teachers let their students decide what to learn and when to take an exam. Due to ESBC’s success, more schools in Germany are now adopting the free-learning methodology.

Despite the fact that a great amount of flexibility and options could be offered to students, discipline is commonly enforced by required contents and schedules in passive education systems. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and pioneering institutions, such as ESBC, call for the democratization of the classroom by transferring the power of decision making from teachers to students. There is evidence that moving toward this power transfer by planning for flexibility and the proper use of technology prepares students for the future life, improves their motivation, retention rate, communication abilities, and helps them learn at their own pace (Cox, 2017). The ESBC experience showed that this change in mission and strategies, which is not necessarily expensive, improves students’ health and quality of life.


Setting Students Minds on Fire

“When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts”. Dalai Lama

Teachers play a vital role in a student’s education.  Not just academically, but as a whole individual. The classroom learning environment is cultivated by the teacher. This environment often plays a major role in the success or failure of a student.

  • Teachers must meet students where they are. K-12 education is taught by 85% white females. Many of these teachers are teaching in urban school districts. There have been debates over the last few years regarding white teachers teaching minority students and it’s effectiveness. As previously stated, teachers must be willing to meet students where they are regardless of who they are and their cultural background.

Building relationships are the most important thing a teacher can do in the classroom. When students feel as though the teacher genuinely cares and is concerned, the student will go above and beyond in and outside of the classroom for the teacher. Academics will soar and behavior will improve.

Building rapport and knowing your students will allow teachers to connect and  create educational experiences that are not only enriching, but relateable to their own life experiences. This will allow students to become more engaged in their learning. When students feel confident about what they are doing, engagement and motivation will increase in the classroom.

It’s not the Machines, it’s Us.

The question of what role should digital technologies play in pedagogy resulted in a wave of wonderful/thoughtful commentaries last week during class discussion. As the reading assignments for this week suggest, the subject is still relevant. I want to jot a few thoughts:

It seems to me that what is sounding the alarms is not the dizzying rate at which our modern relationship with information is evolving. It is the side effects that are consequential : Students — in the broadest meaning of the term, all who aspire to learn, but specifically learners of the younger generation — spend less time and effort in recognizing and utilizing human-interaction a learning tool.

For the first generation fully immersed in technology, having access to unlimited information through an electronic device, strengthens the enlightenment notion that knowledge, much like a commodity, can be acquired from an all-knowing all-powerful source. This is in contrast with a more relativistic view that knowledge is multitude, constructed often through team-work and collaboration.


ideas to add to this post:

Identifying Fake News, critical thinking


peril due to lack of understanding of the impact of the … information on even adults. Our picture is nit clear, yet we have to start setting the rules for the children




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