Practicalities of digital and integrative learning

I had a lot of thoughts watching the TED talk by by Michael Wesch, so that is what I’m choosing to focus on in this blog, with some general comments about required blogging below. My perspective may be different than other students’ because I come from the psychology and then human development fields and so I have insight into socio-emotional and cognitive development and context and individual differences are integral considerations in our fields and research. Secondly, I’m also a cynical person by nature and am hard-pressed to be inspired by content that is often intended to be inspirational. At one point, Dr. Wesch quoted faculty members who said “some people are not cut out for school,” though I think he meant for college, and that translated to those people saying “some people are not cut out for learning. I get what he’s trying to say; however, school (specifically college) is for very specific kinds of learning and while educators can and should change and adapt their teaching style to meet the needs of their students, there is also a reason that some people go to college while others go to vocational school or train on the job, etc. One of my biggest hang ups to the inspirational aspect of what he said was one kind of throw-away comment about a student pursuing accounting even though she hated it. There is also the very real thing that people need to make money to survive and while people can and should be encouraged to follow their passions, it seems inspirational but can often be dismissive to tell people to follow their passions in lieu of finding security in the real world. Maybe Dr. Wesch didn’t even mean to inspire or give something to which educators should aspire, and he just wanted to share his experience, which is also valid. He was a well-known, tenured faculty member with a lot more resources than first- or second-year faculty, who won’t be able to take two hour lunches with their students each day and tailor their content to each student. My takeaway was to not always continue traditional methods of teaching but to also acknowledge that faculty members have different resources/skills/practices and it’s okay if some professors, especially early career and those with large introductory classes, can’t completely adapt and individualize their courses. I took the Future Professoriate course last semester and in my final journal, this is what I wrote about blogging:
Due to the size and structure of this class, having both a journal assignment and blogging assignments felt limiting and redundant at the same time. The blog assignment didn’t really increase communication between students in the class because of the sheer number of posts and how daunting it was search through and find ones that might be interesting to comment on. The assignment didn’t seem to make a fruitful contribution to class conversation or effective method of reflection. Also, because I was required to do both a blog and a journal, I would limit what I wrote in each area so that I didn’t repeat myself by writing the same thought in two places, which would have been a lot of work for little to no benefit. I think I would have preferred to only do the journal, even with an expectation that some journal entries would be read aloud in class or in small groups to facilitate conversation.
I have heard that this course is more interactive as far as incorporating blogs into the course content; however, I am still skeptical of the fruitfulness of the required comments for the course. I can appreciate the intent and I am sure that engaging digital learning in a  classroom is a challenge and a constant give-and-take; however, I think the balance between wanting to engage in the newest teaching methods and opportunities and what is actually meaningfully contributing to the experience of individual students and classes as a whole is difficult to manage and should be constantly reevaluated. As a last note, just from an ethical perspective, I thought it was interesting that the #1 recommended blogging format was a paid platform for which the instructor of the course has a coupon code. While the gesture is nice for students, and I’m sure nothing was done with ill intent, I know that the general nature of these types of coupon codes is that the one offering the code also receives some sort of benefit each time the code is used and that was not disclosed to students at the time of presentation.  

Engineering and Networked Learning

For this first post I wanted to start with a brief background of myself for anyone reading. I'm an Environmental Engineering grad student at Virginia Tech with an undergraduate degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Michigan. I've taken one English class since high school and I can say that course was the most connected to the concept of networked learning and online engagement of any of the math or engineering courses I've taken. I think coming from a very technical background I have had countless "traditionally" taught lectured - at courses and while I don't think they are the best idea, I haven't quite understood a better one. A key topic of this week's readings was the idea of incorporating the internet and computer literacy into the classroom and I will admit, as an engineer, I am a bit confused. I found it very hard to understand quite what the writers and members of videos were saying meaning when they used this term and the vagueness of using the "network" made it hard for me to visualize what this might look like practically in a classroom. I think I probably come from one of the least connected fields both in industry and in the classroom. Sure we've tried having online quizzes, homework that you upload and the occasional youtube video shown to impress on us the importance of taking your job seriously, but I wouldn't say I understand the idea of "networked learning". I agree with Gardner Campbell’s article on Networked Learning as Experiential Learning in that I believe computer literacy and understanding basic elements of coding are vital to surviving in this day and age and that I honestly don't think I was ever taught these elements. This may be predominantly a factor of my age and the fact that I learned with the world on how social media develops and basic web etiquette. But I don't necessarily disagree with my field and the luddite approach I've been predominantly taught with thus far. I feel strongly you must understand a lot of key concepts, equations and applications to be educated in becoming an engineer, which is essentially a vocation and I'm not sure would even qualify as "true learning" even though I can design my way around a water treatment plant. My current understanding of teaching and I suppose learning is, I believe, very traditional. Most of my classes have assigned weekly problem sets with varying degrees of graded weight and then we were tested on the topics presented. I can count on one hand the number of classes that have deferred from this model but I can't say I think its entirely bad. I never had the opportunity to participate in the "flipped classroom" but all I've heard about is that students were completely lost throughout and there was little guidance. I know that for me, the most meaningful instructors have been readily accessible and excited when I came to them with questions. They kept their doors open at all hours and would thoroughly try to answer questions or would point you to someone who could. The engaged professor has been the most helpful to me but I don't think it actually helped me learn the material. I think the goal of teaching course with the idea of imparting knowledge drastically changes depending on the type of course you are responsible for. When thinking of the kind of instructor I hope to be, I struggle with wanted to be innovative but also effective. I think being accessible to students is vital but I struggle with the idea of how to engage struggling students. I'm excited for what this semester has to bring in terms of thinking on these ideas and I hope there is some time spent not only on contemporary pedagogy and how to connect the internet into the classroom but also just on pedagogy because a lot of professors can get to the classroom without ever having been taught about teaching.