Connecting the Dots

As another semester winds down I have found myself reflecting on many aspects discussed in contemporary pedagogy this semester! I know I have walked away with more questions than answers, but they are all questions I am excited to embrace in my future career.

I want to share a few final questions I have begun further contemplating..

How do we escape an emphasis on grades?
Should we completely forgo grades or strike a balance?
If not grades, what will metrics of accomplishment look like at a university setting?
Should attendance be mandatory?
What are effective strategies for evolving your classroom?
What is the future of departmental integration?
How do you effectively persuade your colleagues and department to embrace contemporary classrooms?

Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions you too are wondering about the future of university education!

Smarter, Dumber, or Lazier?

This week I read an article entitled “Is Google Making us Stupid?” 

This article raised some really interesting points. I can say in all honesty, I don’t know how the brain works enough to really weigh-in on a scientific scale; however, I do have some thoughts about how the age of technology manifests in the classroom. While I think the age of technology has revolutionized the world in numerous positive ways, I think it has perhaps created a level of dependency that no one really anticipated. I can’t count the number of times basic math has been on an exam, and students in the classroom panicked because calculators weren’t allowed. There have also been a number of times when working in teams and drafting group documents where a student asks siri how to spell a word (I guess spell check has too many steps)!

I don’t honestly believe that the majority of students don’t know how to do basic math in their head or spell words over two syllables… but the dependency on technology is rather alarming. Given the trends I have observed as well as the changes in learning patterns highlighted in the article, I wonder: are we doing students a disservice by catering to this new era of “technology enhanced” learning? 

What are your thoughts? Feel free to use the comments section below!

Pedagogy of the Oppressed…Freed…or Entitled?

This week involved reading excerpts from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Freedom.

There are two nicely contrasting quotes which I think highlight a key issue as the classroom has begun to modernize.

“….it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.”

“…The teacher who thinks “correctly” transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.”

Many of us will agree, progressiveness in the classroom makes for a wonderful experience when executed well. Many have likely experienced the repercussions of  authoritative instructions on a student’s creativity.

In my opinion, we live in a generation of entitlement. On a college campus, if you do not have a smart device, access is likely not far out of reach. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had instructors make comments like “Kids these days…” and roll their eyes. I’ve also had many classes with an anti-technology policy. I think for too long entitlement has been viewed as a negative by product of technology, rather than an asset in the classroom. In a generation where there is so much innovation that nothing is innovative, I wonder, how to we not only leverage that to our advantage, but adapt it to our teaching style all while maintaining a relevance to the course?

I’m kind of like a prius

Ah, the prius. One of the first truly successful and long-standing hybrid cars. Perfect for in-town and highway driving; tirelessly working to reduce your carbon foot-print (whatever that is) while providing you the reassurance of good old gasoline. With this car, you don’t have to “pick a side” (e.g. 100% electric or gas-powered).

In many ways, I’m kind of like a prius…
As a cusp between “Gen X” and “Gen Y” I find myself with a very mixed view and preference on everything from favorite childhood games (lite brite, anyone?) and cartoons (in case you were wondering TMNT was in my top 3) to music, and even to learning style. I’ve never fully been able to identify with either generation, and instead often find myself with this eclectic mesh of perspectives.

While some my age are entirely Gen Y immersed and consider themselves progressive in all their technologies and “waves of the future,” I find myself clinging tightly and fighting to preserve “old fashioned” sentiments. I find myself annoyed when someone tells me “there’s an app for that;” I hate going through self-checkout at the grocery store; and I loathe when in-person interactions are perpetually disrupted with phone calls, text messages, etc. However, I love that technology has bridged distance with inventions such as facetime, that more and more cars are becoming “hybrid-ized,” and that diversity in all aspects of life is increasing! I really don’t align with one strict point-of-view.

As a student, this really serves me quite well. I think it has made me receptive and compliant to a vast array of teaching methodologies and experimentations.  As an instructor, this has made me receptive to feedback, because, well I didn’t invent the proverbial wheel, did I? However, when teaching it seems student capacity to just sit-and-listen gets shorter with each incoming class… This piqued my interest, last semester actually, and is what inspired me to write my essay in PFP on “how to engage the millenial.” One thing I consistently kept finding, was that of all the generations to-date, the millenial generation has a higher tendency toward boredom and a greater need for variety. I’m excited to hear all the thoughts from the disciplines represented in our class as we progress toward exploring how to engage student imagination in a digitally-based classroom!

Feel free to share insights and comments below!

OMG, I’m Engaged!

“OMG, I’m engaged!!!” A phrase, I wish I thought in each of my classes, and a phrase I hope my future students think in mine!

Sorry to disappoint. This post has nothing to do with tidings of matrimony! Hopefully you are not too disillusioned, and you continue reading.

Alfie Kohn asserts the following in his article entitled “The Case Against Grades“:

  • It’s not enough to add narrative reports.  ‘When comments and grades coexist, the comments are written to justify the grade’ (Wilson, 2009, p. 60).
  • Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.
  • Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.
  • Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.

Let’s assume the above is true. Let’s assume that a qualitative learning experience better prepares students for the real world, instills a sense of purpose, and overall engages students in a more effective and rewarding manner.

My quandary isn’t how you would pedagogically shift the classroom from grade based to experiential, but how you would enforce this from an administrative standpoint? How do you make certain that teachers and instructors are implementing this strategy in a way that is motivating, engaging, and facilitating learning? Would you enforce assessment and measurement for teachers, but not for students? How would promotion work, or tenure if in an academic setting? Perhaps this specific aspect would need to shift…or would unintentionally shift if teachers felt more fulfilled…

When looking at this longitudinally, if I’m teaching a course that some accrediting body requires for my students to go on and become a credentialed professional, how am I held accountable if I’m facilitating the education process in a non-traditional manner? While this article assures its readers of data which support that even medical students go on to be successful, as a university or school, that still doesn’t address the question of how an instructor’s effectiveness is assessed- if not through measurement?

What are your thoughts?

I overthink, therefore it depends

Many of us are familiar with the quote, “I think, therefore I am” by Descartes; however, you’re probably not familiar with the satirical twitter account, @AcademicsSay. This account put out a classically sarcastic, yet all to true tweet earlier today “I overthink, therefore it depends.” Both this classic quote and its modernized parody underly an important mechanism for critical thinking- questioning.. or “overthinking.”  

This week I read “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance” and watched several youtube videos by Michael Wesch. He makes the case that students are adamantly demanding to know “why is this relevant to me?” As a student, I can identify with this. I want to know, “how does this content advance me toward my aspirations? why is it necessary? what makes this content essential and valuable?”

If you can’t answer these questions, you can’t possibly fulfill your role?? If you can’t justify your course content, why are you teaching it?… for the money (insert sarcasm here)?? From a young age, we’re asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The more you ‘know’ the harder that question can become for some people. In fact, most students come to college to figure that out rather than with an agenda from which they never deviate! In some small way, as a teacher, we help them figure this out; therefore, the question “why is this relevant to me?” is more than a question. It is a solicitation to deviate from those stale power points! You know, the ones you really don’t need a power point for… because you basically have them memorized… because they never change…? This question is an opportunity, and one that poses some new and exciting opportunities as future faculty!

What do you think about “Anti-teaching?” How do you, or would you, work to instill empowerment, promote interconnectedness, and facilitate mindful learning?

Technology: Help or Hindrance?

I’ll be the first to admit that blogging isn’t really my “be all, end all.” I often find it arduous to sift through an internet community and field saturated with blogs, reading post after post, like….

However, I will concede, that when executed and managed appropriately in a classroom, blogging can be effective for some as a means of connected learning. In an era where anything you want to know is available online for free or a relatively low price, an academic setting is no longer the only place a person can gain expertise on a given topic. Furthermore, technology as a whole (not just blogging) has revolutionized both education and entertainment. No longer are education and entertainment mutually exclusive. With an ever increasing dependency on technology, and the unique attributes of the millennial era, is it really enough to rely on traditional content delivery as a primary mode of educating? I think not.

Teachers from all settings are in a race to reinvent their relevance, redefine their scope, and remix their content. From this standpoint, I think connected learning (i.e. the integration of various forms of technologically enhanced learning to educate and create classroom community) is essential. This idea sounds fantastic right?! Tell your students to get a twitter, web page, blog, or what-have-you, to increase learning! This is extremely effective, and in-fact, there ARE research studies in higher education that show this (albeit they vary in objectivity)*…. But, yep, you knew it… there’s a “but” (in my opinion, at least).. In my academic experience, specifically in higher education, too often educators assume that their students know what social media etiquette is, or what comprises virtual classroom community. To me, this is a pedagogical pitfall in connected learning. I’ve yet to have an instructor mediate this outside of a short paragraph in the syllabus which encourages students to think before they post. However, I think an effective way to remedy some of the ambiguity and proactively facilitate student enthusiasm related to blogging might be to defines etiquette and virtual community with your students.  Create and facilitate a dialogue with each class surrounding what their perceptions are on etiquette (i.e. blogging, tweeting, or commenting on their peer’s work), and build the classroom’s principles for social media engagement. I think this may be a viable solution because it provide some autonomy to an otherwise captive audience and ensures a safe space for expressing one’s ideas and opinions.

What are your thoughts? How have your connected learning experiences gone (as a student and/or an instructor)?!

*Carlson S. Weblogs come to the classroom. . The Chronicle of higher education. 2003;50(14):A33.
Downes S. Educational Blogging. Educause review. 2004;1-6(18):2-2.
Ferdig R. Conent delivery in the ‘blogosphere’. Technological horizons in education 2004;31(7):12.
Huffaker D. The educated blogger: Using weblogs to promote literacy in the classroom Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education Journal. 2005;13(2):9.
Poling C. Blog on: Building communication and collaboration among staff and students. Learning & Leading with Technology. 2005;32(6):1-5.
Richardson W. Web logs in the English classroom: More than just chat. English Journal. 2003;93(1):3-3.