POST 4: “Teaching is not all about the teacher..”

In reading Shelly Fowler’s piece on The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills, I was presently surprised at the impact Fowler’s perspective had on me. Oftentimes, unless we are forced to stop and actually think about the authenticity that goes into teaching, we forget to actually do it. I am appreciative of this piece because of its ability to force that out of me, regardless of how elementary some of these points may have seemed (no offense to Fowler).

However, with all of that being said, the one thing that really resonated with me was the professor’s fourth point where they explain what exactly being the authentic teaching self means.

In said point, Fowler explains that, as my title suggests, “teaching is not all about the teacher; that is, teaching is not all about you.” Furthermore, the professor explains that as the teacher, you have to be present and aware of who you are in the classroom and what you are doing. However, what I think stood out most to me as a reader and teacher is the importance of taking a “step outside of yourself,” in order to be more,”attentive to the students and not make the classroom your stage with the students as a passive audience.”

As a Public Speaking TA who is in charge of roughly 80 students per semester, that final point has become by far the most important aspect of my role as the teacher.

Oftentimes I get so caught up in the ease of teaching and the relaxed nature that my role provides that I forget how difficult this course can be for people. For clarity, when I say difficult, I don’t mean long and strenuous equations that take hours to complete or full memorization of our upper respiratory system and it’s subsequent functions. What I mean by difficult is that this course is often very uncomfortable and stressful for students and even the most confident of public speakers find themselves uneasy come speech day.

Because of this, my ability to “step outside” of myself has become absolutely crucial to my students success. Furthermore, given the nature of the course and how hard it can be for students, being attentive to students has become a duty of mine, so to speak.

However, the thing about public speaking is that it lends itself to completing this fourth step. I have the flexibility to step outside of myself and be attentive to each and every student because I have to. As Fowler explains, you do have to take the specific course into consideration and I very much do that. My concern is that the completion of this step might not be the case in every course. Moreover, this might not be the case as I continue on in my career (teaching or otherwise) and that causes a bit of concern for me. Personally, I think it is imperative that we are able to disconnect from being the center of attention when it comes to teaching and I place high value on authenticity through attentiveness to every individual.

With that being said, my question is this: How am I to complete this step in the event that my career goes beyond that of teaching? If I hold this step high atop my list of “must haves” in terms of authentic teaching (or leadership), how can I ensure that I am able to properly incorporate it into every aspect of my career, or even life?

If you have gotten this far I appreciate you sticking around and very much look forward to hearing your responses!

POST 3: How do we avoid education’s “death valley” if we are already there?

In listening to Sir Ken Robinson‘s TEDTalk on how our current education system works in the United States and it’s limiting factors, I could not help but feel extremely motivated. Robinson’s mixture of humor and shear logic in explaining the way in which human beings operate makes it easy to feel compelled to go make changes in the world. It was as if Robinson took all of my (and I’m assuming many other people’s) thoughts on education, sifted through them, organized them, and then put them into a cohesive and well-thought out argument.

However, in the same breath, I also could not help but feel very overwhelmed and almost helpless at the same time. While the points he made were valid and as noted, logical, they also seemed far-fetched and unrealistic. In a way, it feels a bit too little too late.

When I think about our current education system, I am also pressed to think about how our education system mirrors many aspects of our daily lives. While I could go on and on about this, I will use the workplace as an example here. For instance, much like standardized testing, when it comes to the workplace, you must also complete certain tasks in order to move forward with the company. Students and employees are motivated by grade increases and raises or bonuses. In addition, there is an established hierarchy within the workplace that is also evident in the education systems. 

Keeping this in mind, the trouble I have with what Sir Ken Robinson proposes is not the idea itself, but more so the realistic-ness of it. If we are to reform schools, does this mean a complete reformation to other institutions, such as the workplace? And if so, how?

It is clear that change is needed, even if it is just one state at a time like Robinson explains. I also believe that it is this change that could be crucial to the overall success of our nation and the future lives of our children. By removing the pressure to pass standardized tests and creating an environment where students feel inspired, as opposed to forced, to learn, we can create that change.

However, while this is easy to envision and even easier to say, it is a tall task to actually accomplish. Beyond the fact that it is a timely and meticulous operation, it is my honest belief that it is hard to avoid the education “death valley” that Robinson speaks of because we are already there.

POST 2: It’s your tuition, it’s your choice…or is it mine?

In the spirit of my recent blog post on connectivity, as well as the additional classroom discussions from this week, I feel it is only right to continue the conversation of connection into another area of the classroom- particularly, our students and their connection with devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc).

After reading Anya Kamenetz‘s piece, Laptops and Phones In The Classroom: Yea, Nay Or A Third Way?, I could not help but ponder, and even dwell on, how I address technology usage in my own class. And perhaps more importantly, if I address it correctly or if there even is a “correct” way to address it.

Kamenetz does such a great job of offering a number of different opinions and viewpoints from professionals around the country, all of whom are far more credible than me, which I appreciate. However, in doing so, I was left more lost on the topic than when I started. In addition, I kind of felt like I fit into a number of views, as opposed to just one, which further complicated the matter.

To begin, I have always had the attitude that what students do during their time in my class is their choice, I should not, nor can I, control them. While I do not say this explicitly to them, as my title suggests, it’s their tuition, it’s their choice. My only rule is that as long as what they are doing does not distract those around them, they are free to use their phones and their computers as they please. What works best for their learning, works best for me.

My reasoning for this is pretty simple: 1. It is a 50 minute class and pretty much everything I cover will be important, so they really have no reason to be distracted by a computer or phone anyways- aka, I beat them to the punch, 2. Some students do better with taking notes on their computer/tablet/etc. so why deprive them of that freedom and advantage? and 3. Given the structure of the course, much of our time is spent interacting with one another anyways, so the need for them is limited.

However, as noted, in reading the piece I could not help but think twice about my approach. At times I got caught thinking that maybe technology is not necessary and I should ban it, except for in the case of an emergency. Yet in doing this I might deprive a student from their ability to learn to the best of their ability, which is not fair to them. I then thought, what if I involved technology as a tool for learning? Maybe that could work. Regardless of how I spun it, I was flip flopping between views and approaches and honestly even until now, I still do not know what is correct.

Perhaps their is no correct answer. Perhaps it is dependent on the instructor. Perhaps it is more dependent on the group of students that semester. Who even knows. What I do know, or at least what I think I know, is this: technology is only going to advance further and become more pervasive in the lives of our students. What might work now, may not work in 5 years. What works in 5 years, might not work now.

As future classroom leaders I think it is not only beneficial, but also imperative to think about the classroom environment that we plan to create for those students. Regardless of whether it involves cellphones and computers, it is our duty to foster a space where learning and connection can occur, because while it may be their tuition, perhaps we do have a little say in the whole thing.

Thanks for making it this far- I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, or other!

POST 1: Connection and how we get there…

In watching, and then re-watching, Dr. Michael Wesch‘s TED talk on “What Baby George Taught Me About Learning,” I was completely enamored by the level of care and dedication that Dr. Wesch showed to his students. Moreover, the emphasis that he places on continued relationships with alumni, as well as cultivating and sustaining relationships with current students, really got me thinking about my role as a GTA and my classmates’ role as future teachers. In a quick google search on networked learning, I discovered that this means using, “a relational approach that focuses on the connections between learners, learners and teacher and between learners and resources, which does not privilege any particular relationship, either between people or between people and resources, and is supported by a community of researcher-practitioners, who are aligned with evolving, postmodern approaches to teaching praxis.” When reading the above definition, the word that sticks out most to me is connections. More specifically, how these connections can foster successful and joyous learning- something Dr. Wesch does such an incredible job with. As noted, I began thinking about my own class that I teach and the role that connection has on my students and their overall learning. Fortunately, I teach Public Speaking, a class where interaction and connection is imperative to my students success. I have to be able to talk and communicate with them in different and unique ways, depending on the student, on a consistent basis. Now, to be clear, I’m not eating lunch with my students where we avoid small talk nor am I emailing students from the past to ask what they took from my course, like Dr. Wesch does. However, it is a course that provides for closer contact with my students and for more interaction- something most normal lecture classes do not provide or allow for. This leads me to question how those aforementioned normal lecture classes are to close the gap when it comes to networked learning. Michael Wesch has earned the US Professor of the Year Award from the Carnegie Foundation, so one can assume that perhaps he has a little more flexibility and control when it comes to his classroom. Because of this, it may be easier for him to build connections and relationships with 200+ students. However, this is probably not the case for all professors and instructors. With that being said, how are we to foster these environments where learning is actually enjoyable for students and it isn’t just about passing? How do we create environments where students aren’t always questioning whether or not they “need to know this?” How, especially in these large lectures, do we create connections. How do we make learning better? Perhaps most importantly, how do we make teaching an engaging like Dr. Michael Wesch the norm? I understand this post has a number of questions and I apologize for the rambling, but I would love to hear your feedback on both the original video and my thoughts!

Profanity in the Classroom- What do we think?

I stumbled across an article today published on Inside Higher Ed titled, Cursing in Class and in said article, the authors explain, in short, that a professor in New Jersey is under investigation for cursing at a student in response to something the student said. While this article addresses an entirely different issue than what I thought the title suggested, it pressed me to consider all aspects of cursing in the classroom- especially since I am not only a student, but also because I am a TA.

As a TA, I personally do not “allow” cursing in my class- this is in quotations because while I do not specifically address the use of foul language, when I hear it I am quick to ask students to watch their profanity. My reasons behind disallowing cursing in my classroom is simple; for what reason, in a public speaking course, would anyone need to curse? Perhaps more importantly, many of our speeches are centered around professional development, thus I attempt to steer clear of language that might come across as unprofessional. 

However, I have also been in both undergraduate and graduate courses where teachers and professors allow profanity and even encourage it as a form of expression. Although I often refrain from engaging in this form of expression (my mom would lose her mind if she knew I used profanity in a classroom), I can completely understand the benefits of cursing and the outlet that it can provide for students. 

As a TA, my views are pretty dead-set on avoiding profanity in the classroom, but as a student, I see the potential rewards of its usage. This begs the question, how do I handle disallowing it as a TA, but also being okay with it when I am the student in the class?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am a graduate student now and classes are smaller and more close-knight or perhaps its because I am now in charge of 80 students and I intend to leave a good impression on them. Regardless, I am delighted to hear how you all feel about profanity in the classroom- as a TA do you have different rules and expectations than you do as a student? Does cursing in the classroom bother you either way?

Blog Post 5: Future of the University

I must admit, I don’t know an extreme amount of information when it comes to higher education- I’m not super familiar with all of the in’s and out’s and the hidden nuances that occur behind the scenes (or even on the main stage). I don’t tend to overthink or question how things operate or why things are the way that they are, I usually just go with the flow and do what I believe is necessary for me to succeed. With that in mind, this final blog post made it a bit tough for me to decide what I believe should change in higher education.

However, after a discussion in one of my other graduate courses last week, I think I might have a pretty good idea of one thing that may need changing. In said class, we discussed how a lot of the information we are being presented in class is very theory based and lacks practical application. I feel as though a lot of attention is paid to how said information can be used in later PhD environments, however not everyone is on the PhD track. With that being said, I want to learn how I can apply what I am being taught to the real world and how and why these theories matter in the grand scheme of things.

Now, this is not to say that other programs and departments don’t focus on application, this is just something I have felt personally. I oftentimes leave class more confused than when I entered, as I never really get a good grasp of how it is used in real life settings. While I am totally aware of why theory based discussions are important, so too are expanding those discussions to apply to other areas of student interest and potential future careers. If I am sitting through a two hour and forty five minute discussion, I believe I should leave knowing how I can take what I have learned and use it not only in my career, but also in life situations.

As noted, I may be the only one experiencing this, but I would still love to hear feedback regardless. I look forward to hearing all of your thoughts not only on this post, but in your own posts about the future of higher ed!

Should required classes be…required?

I must admit, my title might be a bit misleading, as it probably lacks a bit of context. However, I thought it fit this blog topic, as I am currently teaching a course that is required by a number of majors in order to graduate. More specifically, it is a course that is often found outside of their major and their typical course work- Public Speaking.

As a Public Speaking GTA I often hear the constant back and forth from my students (and others) about whether or not they should be required to take courses such as Public Speaking. Some students are aware of the practicality of it and others just suffer through it in order to earn their diploma.

Not until recently, when a student proposed whether or not students should have to take public speaking as a speech topic, did I even consider a potential deeper meaning of required courses. As noted, because a number of majors at Virginia Tech require Public Speaking to graduate, I thought I might as well open up the can of worms that is required classes.

Let me be clear in stating that Public Speaking is the only course that I am personally aware of that is required for students in other majors to take. However, I think the discussion can apply to others similar. With that being said, my students speech topic really pressed me to question the deeper meaning of forcing people to take Public Speaking.

When I hear arguments supporting being required to take Public Speaking, they often include its practicality, it’s professional application, and it’s overall use as a life skill (and those select few who will just say it’s an easy A). On the flip side, those against the required Public Speaking credit will argue that they will never need it professionally, most people are already good when it comes to speaking publicly so it’s useless, and that it simply isn’t fair- especially for those with severe speech anxiety.

Obviously, I see day in and day out the benefits of Public Speaking, so I have my thoughts on the subject. However, I am open to and understand the arguments against it’s requirement. So, this begs the question, should students be required to take classes such as Public Speaking? Regardless of a student’s future endeavors, is taking a course such as this still applicable? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

How does a University handle misconduct among athletes?

If you are familiar with or follow Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, TMZ or news sources similar, then you have probably stumbled across the video of the Virginia Tech lacrosse team singing racially insensitive lyrics on a players Snapchat. In the event that you are not familiar, a quick Google search will provide you with all the information needed.

Following a game over the weekend, a player posted a snapchat in which fellow players were singing the lyrics to Lil Dicky’s top-10 hit, “Freaky Friday.” Such lyrics, as noted, were racially insensitive. Being that it is very easy to find and has been shared on many news sources, I will refrain from posting it on this blog post, simply due to the possibility of it being removed.

Given our conversation in class a few weeks ago, I believe the topic at hand is mighty relevant and worthy of continued exploration. However, I am interested not only in an exploration from the side of the Athletic Department and coaching staff, but also from the university itself.

In a public statement, the coach apologized on behalf of the team, calling it a, “teachable moment,” and vowing to, “make it right.” However, when it comes to the university itself, there has been no official statements regarding the matter, only a tweet referencing the Virginia Tech lacrosse team statement.

With that being said, while the team and Athletic Department did issue a statement, in situations such as this, is it wise and perhaps, necessary, for the University to issue a statement as well? In addition, based on conversations we have had previously, how might you suggest the situation be handled?

Beyond statements of apology, what level of disciplinary action is necessary following an incident of this type? As the title notes, how should the University handle athlete misconduct- especially of this magnitude. While I have my own opinions on the matter, I am genuinely curious as to how my fellow classmates feel and what your opinions are? Please feel free to share.

Blog Post 4: Tech & Innovation In Higher Ed

I recently stumbled upon an article from Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Dr. Nick Bowman who works at West Virginia University. In said article, he discusses the role of social media in a 21st century classroom and more specifically, how he has used it in his own classroom. Given the positive interactions that I have had with social media in my own college courses, I found it rather enjoyable to read of his experiences with its implementation.

Dr. Bowman explains that many professors and teachers have gone so far as to ban computers and social media from the classroom, in an attempt to, “cut off access to what some consider to be weapons of mass distraction.” However, he sees no point in doing so. In fact, Bowman notes that he uses his students obsession with social media and their smart phones to his advantage. Given how large classrooms can be, using social media allows his students to connect to one another when they otherwise might not be able to.

He notes that he uses social media in a number of ways, such as being, “their problem-solver, sometimes as their opinion leader, and sometimes as their peer learner.” He continues on to say that some of his favorite moments with his students have come through social media, including when his classes Facebook page took their final exam discussion and “morphed” it into a tribute to the class and another, when a student took to social media to explain how his course and its materials helped her land a job.

Dr. Bowman urges his peers to consider using technology and social media in the classroom because, when used correctly and strategically, it can allow course concepts to become more real and more relative for students.

As noted, I have had extremely positive experiences with social media in the classroom. In reading this piece on how other professor’s and institutions are applying social media, I could not help but be confident in the future of social media and its applications in the classroom. Much like he says, if it is already such a prevalent part of students lives, why wouldn’t professors continue to use that to their advantage?

Blog Post 3: Open Access

Being that I majored in Multimedia Journalism as an undergraduate and am currently pursuing a masters in Communication, I decided to explore open access journals in the “Media and Communication” category. Because I have an interest in communication, as well as the media, I thought this journal was the most conducive to this blog post.

The Media and Communication journal is an international open access journal who looks to provide, “a research forum on the social and cultural relevance of media and communication processes.” Run by Cogitatio Press in Portugal, the peer reviewed journal has an editorial board whose members span all across the globe. In addition to exploring media and communication processes, the journal also aims to apply and advance qualitative and quantitative methods, while also pressing onward towards new and innovative theoretical perspectives. The journal is open to proposals of book reviews, commentaries, special issues, and essays.

Like many of my peers have pointed out, these open access journals can be beneficial to up and coming researchers and more specifically, students in the field. Being that Virginia Tech has an institutional membership with this journal, I too am capable of reaping the benefits of Open Access. However, being that it costs €900 (plus VAT if applicable) to publish, which is just over $1,000 USD, the burden is then placed on the researcher. I cannot speak to other Open Access Journals, as I know too little, but perhaps this is just the nature of the beast. However, I ultimately think very highly of said journals and I think they have great benefits for all fields, not just that of communication.

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