Should electronics be banned during class?

First of all, I think we all agree that using electronics during class for non-class related work is bad classroom etiquette. Students should not be overly invested in their devices during class. Class time should be an opportunity to unplug and focus on the task at hand, learning. Browsing the web, following others on social media, or even shopping are some of the activities students should detach from during class.     

As Darren Rosenblum points out in his article “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom”  that listening and communicating are two skills necessary for students to effectively benefit from classes. Darren highlights studies that prove that multitasking and other distractions during class affects students ability to retain information. Even brief distractions can degrade students ability to keep up with class. This has pushed Darren and others to ban the use of electronics during class. An NPR report highlights how some schools went even further to lock students phones. The school featured in the report uses technology developed by Yondra, a company that provides secure pouches that lock students phones.  The report shows that adopting such policy is paying off as teachers now have students full attention.   

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On the other hand, resorting to such measures may increase some students anxiety. In the current academic environment, students and teachers are expected to be connected at all times. For example, replying to emails is expected to happen promptly. Such academic culture encourages multitasking to keep up with work. Consequently, being efficient and productive is highly valuable. Jim Tylor provides a logical explanation to what we perceived as multitasking. Tylor redefines multitasking as serial tasking where we shift “from one task to another to another in rapid succession.” In fact, serial tasking might be hurting us more than making us more efficient. So, what does that mean in a classroom setting? It means that students who do other tasks rather than engaging in the lesson are lowering their comprehension. Moving from one task to another requires a transition time where the brain needs to calibrate in order to catch up with the lesson. This lag time can significantly cut on our ability to keep up with the main task, which is: attending class.

There is no doubt that with fewer distractions, students engagement will improve. This engagement can also help teachers manage classes better. Simple feedback tools such eye contact can help teachers navigate class smoothly. For me, using my computer during class helps me catch up with concepts and ideas that might not be explained during class. Also, I see an immense benefit in utilizing electronics to collaborate with classmates on tasks.

Electrons are two-edged tools. They can be both distracting and beneficial. It how we use them that defines which edge are we on. 





Inclusive Pedagogy

The global world we live in today demands a great emphasis on diversity. Most universities recognize the importance of diversity of being beneficial for the learning environment. It also enriches the culture within the university campus and extends cross-cultural relations between students. Academic diversity is essential in helping students develop an understanding and appreciation for other cultures. Inclusive pedagogy advocates for incorporating varying ethnic, social, and intellectual elements to the academic environment. In order to create an inclusive learning environment, universities should pave the way to giving a voice for different ideas, thoughts, and opinion. So, in order to be more inclusive, should universities use race as an admission criteria?

A recent poll by WBGH concluded that 3 in every 4 Americans do not want race to be used as a factor in deciding who gets admitted into universities. It is important to note that by the current laws by the Supreme Court, universities are allowed to use race as an admission criteria. The Supreme Court affirmative action policy was implemented to ensure diverse student body. However, many of the people participated in the poll indicated that students should be judged by their merits. Although a lot of support exists on diversity on college campuses, there seems to be a disconnect between diversity and meritocracy. Students grades and achievements are typically influenced by their access to information and how it is presented to them. So, what can universities do to ensure an inclusive and diverse learning environment?

Universities need to go beyond just providing information about diversity. Universities should develop an engaging learning environment that cultivates awareness about bias and inclusivity at their academic resources and the community at large. This should be a collective effort that inspires students to think critically about cultural differences. Universities are leveling fields that have immense leverage in closing the cultural awareness gap.

“Authentic Teaching Self”

Defining one’s own teaching approach can be hard to illustrate in a short blog post. A professor’s teaching style evolves as they develop professionally. Also, I believe that a teaching style evolves in response to course material, teaching environment, and the type of institution where the teaching takes place. Therefore, developing a unified teaching approach to work universally across all learning environments is near impossible. There is no one technique or philosophy that apply the concept of “one size fits all” to teaching. Another reason to avoid adopting one approach is that most subject matters, as with everything, evolve with time. With accelerating advances in science, technology, and social environment, the teaching styles of yesterday may not be as effective today.

One of the key aspects of highlighted in professor Fowler’s paper is effective communication between the teacher and the student. With effective communication skills, a teacher can elicit valuable feedback from students. Such feedback help overcome the fallbacks of following a rigid approach. A professor should play the role of a facilitator in the educational process, and any feedback from the student should guide his/her performance.

In today’s learning environment, a static teaching approach has lesser chances of succeeding. The dynamic world we live in requires a flexible approach that reacts to the indicators that define the educational process. These components should cater to students needs as they should be included in how teaching is taking place. Students should feel included, therefore, any teaching approach should be flexible enough to meet students needs. One reason for that is student attention span. With distractions surrounding students, the window of delivering information is shrinking. Any effective teaching approach needs to convey knowledge within the span of students’ attention.

“It’s in the doing that the idea comes”

The process with which we learn and acquire knowledge is complex. At different stages of our lives, we learn in different ways. Even among our peers, learning differs from a person to another. Learning involves receiving, processing, and assimilating information. As we come from diverse backgrounds, enjoy different experiences, and possess various abilities; the collection of information we accumulate define who we are.  Therefore, with expanding avenues of disbursed knowledge, there is no size that fits all in terms of conveying knowledge.

For this blog, I wanted to explore an idea regarding how we learn. In my undergraduate studies, I came across a saying by the famous architect Edmund Bacon that goes, “It’s in the doing that the idea comes.” Being an architect and urban planner, it is most likely that Bacon meant that the process of exploring options either by sketching or modeling help ideas to crystallize. In the context of mindful learning, the act of testing alternatives to reach an intended goal is a useful tool for learning.

To me, this is not the same as training to learn a skill until it becomes a second nature. Unlike learning basics, which often does not involve thinking, the ideas the Bacon presents a visceral involvement between the mind and other senses. His idea of exploring (or “doing”) could stimulate triggers in the mind that when collided with other triggers could lead to a breakthrough (or “idea”). Learning in this light is similar to searching for a missing puzzle piece and the journey of finding it defines what is learned.

An Example of a Hybrid Learning Environment

In today’s world, asking students to sit through a lecture where a teacher deliver course material is proving to become less and less effective. There is no doubt that lectures have their inherent advantage of maintaining physical face-to-face interactions. In his article, Robert Talbert highlights some of what he believes the purposes for lectures as a teaching medium. These include conveying the thought process and the cognitive structure with which facts and problems are viewed and dealt with. On the other hand, many argue that lectures focus on teaching rather than learning. Mark Carnes writes about the emerging lack of motivation and interest in higher education. Carnes advocates for shifting from “teacher-oriented system” to learner-centered process.” Such process, Cranes argues, could help lead a departure from the classic academic experience.

As learning environments trigger different reactions by different people, there is definitely no one size that fits all approach to education. However, could a hybrid of teaching styles be successful?

In trying to answer this question, I will be sharing my experience with such a program. The Business for International Professional Program (BUSIP) offered by the University of Washington English Language Program (ELP) and Foster Business School offers a unique approach to teaching English and Business through a hybrid of lectures and simulations. The program is designed for international students who want to improve their business language abilities and develop their professional business skills. The program accepts international students from any field who completed their undergraduate education. The program consists of two main parts. The first is the lectures where students learn the themes and concepts of business. This is a typical classroom setting that includes lectures, readings, and discussions. The second part is a simulation of global business that runs throughout the quarter outside of the lecture hours.

The goal of the simulation is to prepare students for the global business workplace. The simulation includes a series of interactive workshops designed to mimic real-life business situations. In the simulation, the students are divided into 12 groups each represent a hypothetical entity. These groups are divided as follows: 3 groups represent different governments, 3 groups represent multinational corporations, and 6 groups represent local companies. In the simulation, each group develops strategies and goals that follow best business practices and seek to achieve them. Throughout the course, students apply what they learn in the lectures and test it in the simulation.

I found this way of learning very helpful to convey new concepts to students and push them to put it to the test. As student practice their management, marketing, and negotiation skills in a close to a real-life setting, they can decide what work and what does not work from what they learned from the lectures. This also helps teachers extract instant feedback that makes similar tools very applicable to a wide range of fields.

Networked Learning

As future academics, we are encouraged to produce work that gets published in academic journals. Research papers are a powerful tool to communicate scientific findings. They help to showcase the latest in scientific research. In its own way, academic journals support the theory of networked learning as it communicates knowledge and information between individuals. However, there are a number of other tools that apply to the networked learning theory. The readings touch on blogging as a tool for disseminating knowledge. Micro-publishing platform, such blogs, can grant higher visibility and engage a wider audience outside of academia. It can also bring the audience through the research process. Due to the interactive nature of blogging, it can extract useful feedback. Blogging fall under the umbrella of networked learning by maintaining communications between individuals, and information. I see blogging to be a useful avenue in which ideas can be expressed. It helps build relations between like-minded people outside of the rigorous of scientific publication. Communication in blogging build relationship to other and relationship to scientific outlets which can establish further apatite to it.