Word of the week: mindfulness

Mindful learning. It’s such a powerful concept. As one of the last blog posts going up this week, I had the pleasure of reading the reflections of so many of my classmates before I composed this post. I have to say that was probably the best thing for me as I have been struggling with what mindful learning should/could look like for an educator in the design field. I enjoyed reading my classmate’s stories because I realized that we all have a shared experience of classrooms/learning environments that are not actually designed for student learning. Each story I read was different, some students shared stories of triumph over the obstacles that stood between them and accomplishment; others were sadder: reflections on surviving in an educational system that wasn’t designed to educate but to test.

In the end, I realized it’s not what you teach, but how you teach. Dissecting “how you teach” for me became another series of questions I’m asking myself: what will my lessons be like if I’m going to encourage mindful learning? How do I create a culture and environment in the classroom that can facilitate the learning outcomes I want for my students? What small changes can I begin to incorporate so that I can systematically overhaul my teaching style to reflect the kind of educator I want to be for my students? What can I do to make sure that every student leaves my class feeling like they gained something beneficial?

For any readers that are new to this concept, here is the link to the TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley.” It’s a 19 minutes well-spent.

So here’s the honest truth: there’s a learner in each of us. It’s human nature to be able to grow as learners. To suggest that some people are just incapable or don’t want to–well, to me, that’s just preposterous. To give up on a difficult student is a failure of the educator and the system that the student is in. Sir Robinson is right: “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.”

Coming up, I could tell the difference from day 1 in the classroom whether or not the class was going to be fun, exciting, and something to look forward to or if it was going to be difficult in the sense that I was going to have to force myself to survive it until the term was over.  Even today, I can generally tell on the first day of class what my experience is probably going to be like over the upcoming semester. And despite there being all of these awesome resources out there-seminars, TED talks, workshops, and the like–we still seem to have a large population of our educators who either don’t know or just don’t get it. I’m a class right now that I find super-fascinating and I’m excited to be learning the topic–but the lectures—well, they’re fast, full of jargon, and truth be told, after the hour and a half is up, I find myself thinking “what in the hell just happened?” Because I don’t remember a bit of what he just said. Thankfully, I’ve learned to develop an independent reading list from the sources that get cited on the PowerPoint or else I would be completely lost. I’m determined to make it through the course, but it’s proving to be a rough ride. So then I think about it in the context of this course, and I wonder: why isn’t it fun for me? What can I do as the student to make this more fun? I don’t have an answer to those questions yet.

But learning IS fun and exciting (I wouldn’t have chosen to spend my life learning new things if it wasn’t!) And learning IS an adventure (Thank you Dr. Nelson!) So why, if these ideas about changing the way we approach teaching and learning are we still running into educators (and administrators) who don’t appreciate that there is a difference and there is room for they themselves to grow?

Again, I don’t have an answer to this question, but I’m working on a philosophy. In the meantime, I am working hard to change how I choose to think, act, and react in the classroom (and out of it). Bringing mindfulness to every aspect of my life has been a real challenge–I’m having to step outside of myself and learn to view the world with a new perspective. I’m fighting falling into the trap of automatic behavior, thinking, and responses. Just because we were trained in our formative years to be good little students doesn’t mean that we were actually being trained to be good learners and thinkers.

For me, the real challenge is learning how to see the difference and then changing my approach so that I can be a facilitator instead of a road-block in my own classroom and learning environments. I’m grateful for this experience in Contemporary Pedagogy–every week, there are new seeds planted and I am eager to support this personal growth.

I’m late writing my blog this week because we had a family emergency over the weekend. I have a 9-month old who has been very ill the last few weeks. Friday night was pretty difficult. She spiked a fever, so we returned to the doctor Saturday morning and we ended up spending the night in the Pediatric wing at Carilion in Radford for her to undergo some testing and receive IV fluids. Lucky for all of us, she had a positive response to the new medication they placed her on and we were able to return home Sunday to continue her care. After a sleepless weekend I am finally starting to catch up with my academic life (as I put everything on the back burner for a couple of days), but I’m still feeling pretty scatter-brained from the mental and physical exhaustion. The lessons on mindfulness were extremely helpful in coping with the ups and downs of the last few days. Interesting how that works.

Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks OR Reminding New Dogs Old Tricks are No Good: Striving for Quality in Higher Ed

I have a past that I once considered dark. I was embarrassed to admit to any new friends I made that I had once been a hardcore gamer. For about 3 years during my undergraduate years (a decade ago), mostly summers and over holiday breaks when I wasn’t working, I spent my time plugged into World of Warcraft (WoW)… not casually playing–grinding for resources, completing quests, raiding, and participating in team PvP combat. It was never dull! I had multiple top-level characters-my favorites were a human warlock and a Draenai priest, that I played with friends in real life and with friends I had met online. I was embarrassed to talk about my gaming past because of the reactions I would get from people. If I wasn’t getting a blank, yet horrified stare, the person I was talking to might be laughing or snickering at me for my juvenile, time-wasting hobby. But I never saw it as a waste of time. I learned a lot in those games about social interaction, team work, planning, communication, and problem solving that I don’t think I would have had an equivalent opportunity to experience in real life. Especially in an age where communication and learning is increasingly happening online and in the digital realm, I believe it is increasingly important that we all practice our skills so that we are ready to engage with other people/learners whom we might not be working with face-to-face. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in “A New Culture of Learning” talk about how gaming is a highly social activity that can bring together and engage multiple generations while also allowing the players to direct themselves in the play. I think this is an insightful way to look at WoW and other games like it. It is a simulation of a fantasy world, sure–but that doesn’t make the learning outcomes any less real or valuable. Jumping into a “traditional” classroom, we think of a teacher in front of a class full of students and what are they doing? Well, they might be doing something out-of-the-box that’s fun and engaging, but more than likely, they’re doing the same thing we teachers have always been doing–they’re lecturing their class to death and they’re wondering “what is it about the students these days?” News flash: it’s not the students. It’s you. It’s me. It’s us. It’s educators who have been so focused on career development/their own learning/whatever, you name it–that they’ve forgotten what it was like to be a student having to struggle through another exhausting lecture-based class. Just last week, I had to give a presentation to a class that I’m the Research Assistant for and since I was in a relative hurry and the information wasn’t exactly “interesting” per se, I created a basic PowerPoint to deliver the information and at first, was satisfied with my work/preparation. During the 20 minute presentation, though, I discovered quickly that I had made a mistake. I was the only one that talked. No one really asked any questions. I was trying hard not to read the slides, but found myself stumbling through the information.  I was probably 4 minutes into it when I noticed I “lost” my first student, and I was only half way through before one of the professors on record walked out because what I was doing/delivering was clearly a waste of his time. In retrospect, especially after the readings this week, I realize that I would have done them a better service to send the class an email with links to the websites where I pulled the information from and then spent that same 20 minutes discussing the case studies rather than boring everyone to death with policy discussion. The big question I’ve been asking myself since then is: “How am I going to do it better next time?” and “What am I going to do differently?” From Jean Lacoste’s Teaching Innovation Statement, I pulled this quote because it really resonated with me: “I want to reach every single student in the class. I want each student to feel important, and I want each to know I care about his or her education.”  And it’s true. I really do care about each and every one of my students. I want them to get the most out of our time together, yet when given the opportunity to really help them, I feel like I set myself up for failure by following the same model for classroom interactions every week. (But that’s why I’m in this course now–so that I can learn to be better. One of my personal mantras is “Know Better, Do Better” and pedagogy is no exception. I decided to go into education because I LOVE learning, yet I realize that I don’t know all that much about teaching, yet. I am going to wrap this blog post with an excerpt from the Robert Talbert reading:

“Notice also that I do not count whether a lecture is inspiring or not. No doubt many lectures are inspiring, but being inspired and being taught are not the same thing, and just having one’s thoughts provoked doesn’t mean that one has interacted with the lecturer in any real way.”

Robert Talbert “Four things lecture is good for” (2012)

As I look to the future and imagine opportunities where I will be able to make a difference to my students, I will start by not “teaching” with the same stale lecture and exhausting PowerPoint that I have elected to use in the past. These methods are outdated by contemporary standards, and we owe it to our students to do a better job at meeting their educational, social, and creative needs. There are so many different innovative, exciting, and engaging examples of how educators are out there today, providing a completely new and inspiring educational experience. So how will I be different in the future? Well, I’m going to start by slowing down a little bit. I’m going to slow down and start paying closer attention to the things that inspire me and capture my attention–and then I’m going to study those methods. I’m going to be mindful about my own learning experiences and see if there are things from my past that I can draw on in order to grow into a better version of myself (who is actually an amazing educator!) I will be thoughtful and thorough when it comes to my course material because I owe it to my students to provide them the best education that I possibly can–and that if they’re going to show up ready to be taught, then I am certainly going to meet them on their terms. //

Inspired on the First Day

Inspired by people and enabled by technology. I believe we’re looking at a revolution in academic information sharing.

A good research topic might be to trace the history of the Blog and describe its evolution as a platform for discourse. I had my first blog in 2002, when I was a high school student and the cool thing to do was create a space to talk about ourselves and life in general.

Fast forward 15 years and blogging is making waves as a cutting edge tool for learning and engagement in the classroom. This year alone, I have had blogging requirements in 3 courses I have taken and a class blog is being developed in the course I am a research assistant for. There are so many different applications for blogs: hobbyists, artists, and poets need a place to share as much as any academic driven by their research. Maybe blogging’s most important benefit is that it provides a space for people to be able to share, collaborate, and discuss the things in their lives that they are most passionate about, as Tim Hitchcock, academic humanist, writes in his article about new technologies like blogs and Twitter benefit the academia. Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin gives a compelling argument in under two minutes in this interview with Tom Peters: there is no better time to be writing than right now. We could all use the practice at communicating ourselves. With a little bit of time and effort, anyone can develop a rich and detailed website.

But it’s more than that, there are droves of experts who have made their life’s work communications and how to utilize them effectively in these modern times.

One of my biggest blogging challenges is myself. I get in my own way, second-guessing and attempting to perfect every piece of writing before publishing. I often spend so much time worrying over how I am trying to make a point, that I waste valuable working minutes (hours) staring at a computer screen and a pile of hand-written notes. I would be better off to just get the words and ideas out–no matter how rough they are–and then take time afterwards to refine. It’s easier to edit if you have something TO edit.

While reading Doug Belshaw’s Working openly on the web: a manifesto I was thinking about my own challenges to blogging and I was surprised because this manifesto was so simplistic. In 3 short points, Belshaw sets up a recipe for effective writing online: 1 control your own digital capital, 2 work openly, 3 create content that both humans and machines can read. Here I am worrying about style, and there are experts who are advising for writers to consider robots who mine the internet for content. And then this got me thinking: what does a robot look for, anyways?

The first day of class was an amazing experience. I am beginning to think of teaching in new ways and we haven’t even dug deep into the course content yet! I see the trend in academia emphasizing blogs more and more–as well as other technologies–instead of solely relying on peer-reviewed published works, I see academics using these platforms as a way to jump right to the point, sharing ideas as they happen in near-real time. There are new, innovative ways to share information and study that are hitting the market every day. Take for instance, Hypothes.is a tool designed to annotate the web! With this program, collaborators can take and share notes and ideas right on a webpage! This is the real beauty of Networked Learning, where technology allows students, faculty, and learners alike to all come together in the same sphere to read, comment, write, and share ideas-digitally.