What Do We Want? Swamp Drainage!

In the following post, the names have been changed to protect the innocent…


As an ecologist, I was aware of the potentially disastrous consequences of ‘draining the swamp’ even prior to the emergence of a rogue twitter feed, captained by one Blonald J. Rump. Still, I reassured myself that this was politics; sweeping hyperbole and ‘catchphrase’ rhetoric are to be expected, if history is any judge. I don’t give it a second thought, and neither should you.

What does worry me though, is a similar rallying cry emanating from inside my own clique of higher education.  Teaching at all levels is getting an overhaul, and it seems to be WiFi-way or the highway. The attitude of young-career academics can be paraphrased thus: ‘If only the old fusty lecturers of a bygone era would hurry up and retire, we could all get on with fixing this mess’. Or in other words: ‘drain the swamp!’ In the absence of any comment from Mr Blump on the subject, I would like to offer my own reservations concerning this dissent.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the future. I direct any skeptics to my previous revelry for the technological revolution we live amidst. Soon, you will be able to browse the internet directly through your brain, read any book ever written, and instantly communicate with anyone around the globe. A brave new world perhaps, but one that I welcome with open arms.

Support for the new however, does not necessitate disdain for the old. For instance when I teach, I still make a point to move over to the chalkboard for noting equations and figures. Anachronistic perhaps, but I would argue that this is the period of the lecture when my students pay the most attention! They suddenly sit bolt upright, startled by the piercing noise of chalk on slate, perplexed by the white powdery drawing tool. As you might imagine, they have no trouble recollecting the equations (or such and such a figure) for their exam when the time comes, because they have vivid images of me fumbling around with this mysterious, antiquated technology; we wade through the swamp.

It is in its novelty that the chalkboard continues to succeed in engaging the students of today. One would assume that this phenomenon only magnifies in effect as it becomes rarer and rarer. This is why I implore young people to reconcile their ideologies with  traditional pedagogical practices; we are stood on the shoulders of giants after all, best not antagonize them. I support traditional methods not because they are tradition, but because they work! They have after all, got us this far.

Swamp drainage is irrevocable.  Swamps are delicate ecosystems, with each component being honed over millions of years to perfectly suit its role within the system. It is usually our own ignorance to blame, not the swamp, when things seem flawed or sub-optimal. We can modify the ecosystem for our own comfort, or we can be one with nature, the choice is ours. However if we turn our collective backs on the grand history of higher education, we risk throwing out the baby with the swamp-water.

Can I Really be Messy? Please, Please?

Can I really be messy? Can I really?

Gardner Campbell asserts in his article, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning,” that “Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond “schooling.”” And in my world, implementing networked learning in my classroom would indeed be “messy.” (Just to give a little perspective, when I went through high school algebra, we still learned log tables to actually use them in computing answers. ) I didn’t grow up in the computer age. Google is my best friend when it comes to navigating my steep learning curve of technology. And I struggle to understand and effectively use basic apps like Facebook.

Okay, the cards are on the table. I am a messy proposition for networked learning. But…I see my granddaughter daily interact in networks she created on many different fronts. She actively learns daily from these networks, with connections that span the country. Also, as I read Tim Hitchcock’s article, I was like “yeah, preach it!” when he advocated taking academic conversations further than the conventional direction of  “having small (vociferous) conversations amongst ourselves…” While these conversations can be engaging, I can’t help but think, “Is this the biggest audience you envision for your work? For your knowledge? Do you always want to put your work in terms only a few will ever understand? Do you not care that the wider world learns from your knowledge?” Hitchcock pointed to blogging as a way to reach a much wider audience and network with those interested in your research, academics or those outside of the academy.

So…in light of the wisdom I’ve gained from my granddaughter and Tim Hitchcock, I become particularly pricked/intrigued/troubled/challenged by Michael Wesch’s question “How do I take my students from getting by to learning?” I too see many students in “getting by” mode not “learning mode”. Right now, I just can’t help but think, wow, what a challenge…. especially in a freshman level survey class. So as a start for this course in our discussion of network learning I would begin by thinking “Can network learning be a possible avenue to help students go from “getting by” mode to “learning mode”? If so, what would work? Would something like the hypothe.is platform be helpful? How could I use such a platform to encourage critical thinking? To encourage asking broader questions? Would blogging create experiential learning? If so, what questions, types of posts, etc. would do that?”

All the above questions aside, in reality, any pedagogical statement of purpose or philosophy of teaching, I believe, starts with a desire – a mission to implement something such as “learning” rather than “getting by”. I also believe that beginning any such mission would be messy. Me, as an instructor of record, could look messy…Is that okay? Is it?

Perhaps, instructors need the freedom to be like baby George, strike out, fall down, get up again, learn and try again.

I’m sure though, that we wouldn’t be quite as cute as George.



Long time lurker… reluctant first time poster

I am the definition of a lurker, barely ever generating content and when I do its rarely of substance more than a picture. But my social media feeds are flooded by subscriptions to professional outlets, researchers and others of interest (plus the obligatory connections who provide reprieve with pets and food). I only recently came to the realization that my social network subscriptions are my professional network data stream. The prominent researchers and organizations in healthcare informatics are all quick to announce their latest projects and publication. As a new researcher, getting their attention and having them post/comment about your work is almost more important than any journal impact factor.

This networked experience bypasses the traditional peer review process. But in reality the review process has just transformed. Instead of the mysterious “reviewer 3” who never likes anything we submit and always has required changes, the reviewers have to own their comments, and be prepared to defend themselves not only from the author but from others who share the authors views. With the pace of developments to healthcare informatics the networked approach speeds up dissemination, allowing all of the industry to work together to address healthcare issues and improve patient safety. It definitely is a benefit to the industry, but as a reticent participant in the social networking world, I wonder if it will reach a point where the focus shifts on maintaining a social media based persona more than the research itself.

Week 1: From fine artist to digital designer

As we all know that 21st century is the digital world. But, individuals are rarely to understand the purpose and impact of the network for the life. Internet is one of the essential parts of our social life even is hard for us to imagine in the couple-decades ago. It is also a platform for people to communicate, sharing the sources, learning and interactive with others. People, who may not know each other and have the different experience and interdisciplinary background, would discuss a topic through intellectual and/or emotional activities ideas. The blog is a basic form to collect all kinds of voice in the virtual world. Blog change our life, not the blog itself. Actually, the variety of ideas and concepts post on the blog effective our daily life. My educational experience is an example to show this point.

There is a gap between traditional art and the digital art. As the student graduate from fine art, I unable to understand why scholar define the digital artworks is an important part of contemporary art history. However, after I saw the artwork created by Detuch digital artist Daan Roosegaarde, my perspective changed. After I posted my thoughts on my blog and lot of friends added comments, which included positive and negative voice. We try to persuade the individuals who have the different understanding. In my opinion, it is the key to blog exists, or in other words, it is the respectability the blog play in the modern world.

Networked Learning for Teaching/Advising Students?

Reading: Gardner Campbell, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” (2016)

Networked learning has various avenues for researchers. For example, the Research Gate allows us to create a project and post our publication online. People who are interested in our projects can follow us and ask questions through this social media. As compared to the past when people need to attend conferences to obtain the latest knowledge and exchange ideas, our social networks nowadays has significantly accelerated the diffusion of knowledge. An idea that came to my mind is that I may ask my students who are doing research with me to constantly post their latest results on the web like facebook newsfeed, so that they can receive feedback right away. Also, as an advisor, I will know they are working :p. But to be honest, in my area where there are tons of math, it’s pretty difficult to post sth unless the results are plotted. Oh well… I will try to figure a way to do it..

On the other hand, I think networked learning cannot replace traditional classroom type of study, at least in the area of engineering. Though online courses websites such as MOOC and Coursera make knowledge easily accessible to everyone, interacting with teachers is still very important for students who has no self-learning ability, at least including freshman and sophomore students in my opinion.  Nevertheless, networked learning systems like Canvas used at VT is a very good learning assistance for students. They can start a discussion with their classmates and teachers. They can easily form a study group to exchange ideas and learn from each other. But it seems to me that only a few instructors at VT really use those website functions to assist their lecture.


Teach to learn & Learn to teach 


Education is a continuous process that involves teaching and learning. Professors are in charge of educate students at different levels by teaching to learn. In addition, a broadly view of human capacity is crucial for the development of professional contributors to our society is needed.

Infinite teaching and learning materials and methods have emerged during the last centuries.  Now a days, digital media has become one of the most innovative and powerful tools that can  impact students, teachers, professors and other academic actors. Internet make accesible all kind of valuable topics, communication channels, and networks.

Using technology and nontraditional materials (blogs, twitter, video clips) to teach is controversial. First, the steady flow of million of users can question the quality of content that can be reached. Second,  the constant updates, variety of versions, softwares, devices and such makes it a real challenge for some professors with lacking skills of technological literacy. However, these tools engage, builds and create new networks that can be use to improve the educational process. As future professiorates, it is critical to learn and adapt ourselves to new technologies. Being aware of what is going around, and being up to date to be sure that we are not falling behind is part of the “Learn to teach” process.

One concept very simple but powerful that can inspire use is: “individuals best adapted to their environments are more likely to survive“.

Finally, “Teach to learn & Learn to teach is a continuous cycle that needs to include the adaptation of new tools such as technology. This approach might help us to contribute to the development of future professionals with human capacity.

About the Author

Sofia Rincon Gallardo Patino, is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise department of Virginia Tech. 

Avatar: The Last Blogger

How does one start a blog? With a Hello World? With an overview of my life culminated into under 300 words, like an abstract? With a series of gifs whose captions tell my dialogue?

Hello World!

Okay now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss blogging for academia. Obviously, I’ve never owned a blog, though I do know quite a lot about the English language so I think that makes me a novice, a padawan, if you will. I’m a generally private person, so asking me to share my thoughts online is a little boggling and I’m trying to come to terms with opening up to virtual strangers (yes both meanings of the word virtual).

After reading Tom Hitchcock’s blog about using social media as a tool to connect with other research professionals and share ideas, I can find value in a blog. Blogs seemed like a very shallow, whiny diary of sorts to me. But, I can choose what to share or not share. I can divulge my first kiss from the 8th grade or talk about my research involving molecular simulations of proteins involved in Type 2 Diabetes (I’ve been doing that for the past three years and it really is a hobby of mine). I guess I could make it a whiny lab journal talking about all the trials and tribulations while conducting this research.

I can choose who I correspond with and what we choose to talk about. I’m having this epiphany while I type  that I haven’t really used the Internet to its true potential, sharing only memes and cute animal pictures with my friends and family.

My name is Megan Richardson and I am a Lurker. I like to lurk, I like anonymity, though I’m going to have to give that up if I want to make use of this newfound tool.

Blogging, or even communicating via forums is a good thing (this is really odd to say after I have avidly sworn off social media through my teenage years and young adulthood). I can’t easily travel to places but I can easily send messages to people in those places. Online translations have become a wonderful tool and I can culminate a group of collaborators and friends worldwide who share my interests that I may have never gotten to meet otherwise. I’d have to depend on getting accepted to present at the same conference or be introduced by mutual acquaintances. There is too much chance and the likely end result would be me and this other researcher being passing ships in the night. I was really enthralled by co-writing a blog with other researchers like The Many Headed Monster that Hitchcock mentioned.

All in all, I have a lot to learn before I’m ready to collaborate with anyone. But I believe, one day I can collaborate with the world…

Falling GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY





Yes, I do not want to blog. This assignment has required tons of effort and bravery from me. It is not easy to start formulating my ideas into a coherent message for the class to discuss; or to build the confidence to write them as discussion generators and to contrast them with my classmates’ ideas to produce knowledge…. instead, I am afraid of what I am writing, and how people will react to the way I am expressing my ideas. I am feeling tempted to find pieces of information to share rather than expose my creative and deep thinking to my classmates and instructors’ frameworks of judging. I am also afraid that my ideas may be so poorly expressed that people don’t want to read this and therefore, they won’t comment. Which can be hurtful.

Having this feelings about this blogging assignments reflects very close to Gardner Campbell’s article and Michael Wesch TEDx talk. The article is about experiential learning in the digital era and how we are not only not taking the fullest advantage of it but we are rather falling in the same vicious habit of traditional learning: forgetting about inquiry or awareness of self-learning experiences. We are succumbing into Ku’hs prediction that learning is turning into syllabi program of how to continue the path towards a career, rather than seeing objectives to achieve by following a syllabus. We are forgetting that learning is a process that involves failure but also recovering and continuing pass that failing event. Like Michael Wesh TEDx’s lessons from baby George, who enjoyed and learned from every failing step, but continued to master taking that step down the stair.

Experiential learning is becoming an unknown process for students, at least in my personal experience in STEM/Engineering majors. Not even studying abroad, a popular activity among colleges, is an experience that students in these technical fields consider useful in their future careers. Education in engineering focuses in technical education, with little room for failure. And the use of the internet is following the same path, becoming more of a tool to transcribe knowledge rather than an experiential learning instrument.

Writing this blog not only required to bring my known information out, but to go through creative thinking, using self-judgment frameworks and learning from information. In other words, implementing a rational process of reflection and knowledge production. This process took place in the connections of the digital web, reaching out to other “places” to gain information for me to process with my own ideas, and also reaching out to my classmates for contrasting of ideas and learning generation. I am still nervous to read the reactions that my post can generate, but I am thinking it is a normal feeling when network experiential learning is not familiar field.

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