Week 5: Making the Grade

The material for this week brought to my attention many aspects that I may be aware of, but don’t necessarily question mainly because that is just the “norm”. In Dan Pink’s video of “The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us”, I  definitely felt that the 3 factors he described as leading to better performance were accurate in autonomy, mastery and purpose. Although, he described it in terms of an industrial or professional setting, I think those factors are similarly shared by future members of academia. Especially for those involved in research, I am certain that a lot of their motivation comes from research questions they are personally interested and invested in. I think this may be why the tenure track position is so competitive and desired by a future professor. Where the first years in academia may feel like meeting the requirement check boxes to prove that you are valuable to your institution, reaching the tenured levels finally opens up a bit of freedom to dive into what your personal interests are really about and the 3 factors of autonomy, mastery and purpose are more easily attainable.

Similarly, I felt Alife Kohn’s article on “The Case Against Grades” presents an interesting argument to how grades may effect or influence learning. I suppose from a personal experience, there were many courses that I struggled with and was always frightened of the grade I would receive or embarrassed to share my grade with my classmates.  This occurred while I was enrolled in a certain class. However, after revisiting the course material at a later date without the pressure of grades hanging over my head I was able to understand the material in a much clearer way. I wouldn’t say that worrying about the grade caused me to perform to a lower capacity, but it was my first time learning  and seeing the course material in my life. I’ve often thought about this, and realized that the overall objective of the institution is to make sure that I learn what I am required to know for my professional development. And although I may have done poorly in some classes in the past, that does not take away from the fact that I know the material now at present time. So in a sense, the institution did complete their objective by pressuring me and making me worry about trying to learn something  (by trying to get a good grade), and not realizing how much I was actually learning.  I’ve recently been involved with courses that adapt qualitative and quantitative assessments and feel that there are pro’s and con’s to both. However, I do agree that as long as the instructors provide the adequate resources the students need to show self discipline and motivation to truly understand the subject matter, and sometimes they need a bit of motivation by attaching a grade to it.

Lastly, in Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon’s Imagination First reading,  I certainly agree that imagination is a unique tool that can help us in many ways. A lot of our interactions with technology in present day may have been pushed a side as early as 20 years ago. Even in smaller tasks that require repetition, imagination and opening your mind to a different approach can lead to not only a more creative or different solution, but also a more efficient one. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take a couple of minutes to truly examine and think about a number of different ways you can approach a problem.




In reviewing the material for this week I began with the TedTalk by Sir Ken Robinson. His interpretation of the no child left behind law and the comparison to other European education systems was insightful, and listening to his discussion resonates with other critiques of the standardized testing approach used in the USA.  I certainly agree with most of his points, that our current approach to the educational system can be improved and that those in the education system need to be considered in a higher regard. What hit me the strongest was his identification of the three things that humans need to flourish that the educational system contradicts with standardization; that we as humans are,

  1. Naturally different and diverse
  2. Naturally curios (Natural learners)
  3. Creative

I think we as future professors have a responsibility to understand these characteristics and be able to identify methods in which students can learn the material. One of the points I took away, is that we can teach all we want, but if there is no learning happening then we are not meeting our objective. One of my favorite quotes was Sir Ken Robinson’s statement that Education is not a mechanical system its a human system. And in an In an organic system, life/learning is inevitable under the right conditions.

In A New Culture of Learning CULTIVATING THE  IMAGINATION FOR A WORLD  OF CONSTANT CHANGE By Douglas Thomas, the embracing change chapter was in my opinion very accurate. In the discipline of Civil Engineering, I feel that we are now more than ever required to become multidisciplinary to not-only solve current issues but also be more efficient in solving traditional problems. For example, the field of transportation engineering is seeing a significant change in adapting to new available technologies and preparing or anticipated future technologies. Thus adapting to and understanding the constructs of new technologies that will soon be available requires an understanding of the discipline that are generating them. In my opinion, for transportation engineers to remain relevant in the incoming future we must have a strong understanding of our own discipline, but also in the multidisciplinary, open minded and remain informed of the fields of electrical, computer, mechanical, statistical and machine learning fields. In my opinion having the ability to be open minded to change certainly opens up many opportunities and abilities to pick up new skills useful for your current discipline and make yourself of higher value to the organization that you represent.

The paper by Dr. Langer, brought forth the idea of mindfulness. I certainly agree that being mindful at the task at hand is necessary for learning and also for work tasks or general tasks. If we are not mindful, we may not even be able recall taking part in whatever task or action we were involved in. Personally, I feel that we need to balance our day between mindful and mindless activities. In a research setting, mindfulness is extremely important as we are in what I refer to as sponge mode, aware of what we are reading and truly trying to understand what we are involved with. Mindlessness is also nice when a repetitive task is being taken on, or during a leisure activity or exercise and just gives your brain some time to relax.

Week 3 – Digital Learning and Imagination

In watching and reading the material for this week, it is my personal opinion that digital learning and imagination in the way we present material is required in the incoming era of education. We discussed in class how some students presently at Virginia Tech do not feel like going to class lecture is necessary, that they can gain just as much from finding videos online to understand concepts.  While I do not agree that is best method, I also do not disagree. As students in the curriculum that we are in, we are expected to learn topics in the time-frame that the class is being offered and be expected to have mastered the material by the time of the test. I cannot negatively judge a student who goes to class, fails to grasp the concept, seeks other resources (online digital learning) and decides that method is what works best for him and sticks with it.

However, as a doctoral candidate considering a future career in academia. I can’t help but feel negatively if my student’s would rather obtain the information the University has entrusted in me to provide for them, elsewhere or online. Personally, I would feel like I am not being efficient in my teaching if students found it necessary to seek other resources as the primary source of the material I cover. For this reason, I believe the pedagogy approach needs to include more resources than just the standard lecture and handout of slides presentations.

Luckily coming from the Civil Engineering discipline, I feel that most of the material we learn can be adapted to a digital platform. In my area specially of traffic systems analysis, simulation and data visualization are commonly used in class and students are tasked with solving problems in such software, thus enhancing their understanding.  Additionally, during my first two years I had access to Virinia Tech’s echo system for various courses taught in NOVA and broadcast  in Blacksburg. Having the option to rewatch, play and pause the lecture helped greatly in my learning. Especially on days where I was just too tired to focus on the class during it’s actual scheduled time.

The approach implemented at “Quest to learn” school is one that I completely agree with. Through the interviews, one can see that the students are incredibly intelligent, motivated and always have a goal while constantly thinking about improving previous ideas. That type of engagement is what I have similarly noticed when presenting labs that require the use of hands-on software or simulation. By providing students a goal, a stage and the tools to develop their learning we truly serve as the “catalyst of learning, rather than a conduit of information” as descried by John Warner of College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Networked Learning

After seeing the TEDxKC discussion by Dr. Wesch titled “What Baby George Taught Me About Learning” in class, I noticed that the message he provided regarding questions that were being ignored in the classroom really hit me hard. The questions, Who am I? What am I going to do? Am I going to make it? I thought the fact that he was having lunch with his students allowed him to advance his research theories but more importantly provided greater benefit to the students themselves. Personally I’ve always felt that having a personal connection with professors and supervisors has enabled me to perform beyond my initial expected capabilities. Similarly, group projects during undergraduate and post-graduate teams allowed me to build personal connections, friendships and networks. Gardner Campbell’s publication discussed networked learning as experiential learning.I interpreted experiential learning as a different approach to sitting in the classroom and collecting (or trying to collect) facts from a professor. Although, not directly tied to this class I also happened to be looking into mission and vision statements of different universities. One thing I picked up in reviewing mission statements is the emphasis universities place in the “experience” they provide to their students. It’s hard to assume that every student will have the same experience individually, but by allowing students the opportunity to work together and by professors being an active presence and resource to student groups, I believe the networked learning & experiential learning can have a greater positive effect. I believe the inclusion or encouragement for students and professors to share their blog can directly contribute networked and experiential learning. Professors can reach a higher audience and “control a corner of the web” as stated by Doug Belshaw, and also speak directly to their students and possibly form a personal connection by praising and admiring the good things the individual students, group of students or student teams do in class.  Similarly, students can gain experience and begin to understand the power in sharing their ideas, communicating their findings and having a presence in the new era of connectivity. Having such a resource freely available to them is an excellent example of both networked learning and experiential learning.