The Learning Curve

In an era of performance charting and standardized tests, it seems infeasible to expect students to demonstrate any more pride and individuality than we attribute to them in the first place. When students are “trained” instead of taught” and when they must be “productive” instead of “enlightened,” we can expect these persons to see themselves in the same way that we see them: as a dot on a performance curve. George Kuh (and Gardner Campbell by extension) present an admirable perspective in opposition to this trend. Exploration and student-centered learning initiatives are mantras that may hope to commandeer classrooms in the near future. Campbell’s suggestions concerning digital literacy may prove to be particularly palatable and enjoyable for a digital audience of current and prospective students. However, these tactics while creative appear to only mitigate student interests and results unless they are also able to definitely establish a “why” for these individuals.

As we saw with Baby George, the learning process can be and likely should be fun. The moment of discovery is but one cathartic moment at the end of a long chain of pleasurable trials. Baby George knows what most of us in higher education do not: he knows why he is trying to walk. He knows what he wants to accomplish, and he is free from distractions and frustrations. George has nowhere else to be, nothing else to do but to keep trying. “What” he is doing and “why” have consumed his very interests. We have not created this same environment for our students. They have grades they want to meet, not subjects they want to learn. Furthermore, we cannot even tell them why these grades are worth meeting. Michael Wesch was able to tailor the work of the university towards the interests of the student, but that does not mean he is able to make that work meaningful. That responsibility lies with the student, to understand and know why doing these tasks differently interests them. In short, getting away from the objective learning curve that has defined student performance in recent decades is but one step on the learning curve that we as educators have yet to make. The environment must not be about distinguishing excellence from the average, the complacent, and the base. Rather, it should be a place of exploration where individuals can find their “why” and find those tasks and work which helps them realize such ambitions.

If performance is a concern, let the students determine that for themselves. Their future and education do not belong to our metrics, charts, and curves.

Becoming a Node in Networked Learners

I have benefited a lot from network learning since my first year in college. Although most work still require independent efforts, higher-level learning is always challenging and takes long time to digest and understand.  Only focusing on textbooks or readings that time can hardly arouse my passion for studying deeply and thinking broadly. And for the knowledge that is more practical and experimental, it is almost impossible to master it without an effective experiential learning that involves experiments, discussions and feedbacks. Luckily at that time, we had study groups and online platforms for collaborating with classmates, solving problem together, sharing our learning experiences, and getting feedbacks. For several times at the end of semesters, I felt the same as Prof. Michael Wesch introduced in his TED talk that “…but in fact that final project was not so final and the real project was themselves.”

Now for my graduate education in this digital era, it is even more important for me to communicate opinions and get feedbacks in a broader context. I appreciate that many courses, like GRAD 5114 Contemporary Pedagogy, have involved blogging via social media as a main tool to force me to think deeper and help me learn in a network with more inclusive study culture. Moreover, for this course itself, learning the experiences and opinions from peers with different education background is a very necessary process to understand the pedagogy from diverse perspectives. It is also beneficial when I become an educator in the future in terms of establishing a public position, communicating my research, and evaluating the effectiveness of my teaching.

Moved to a point of cathartic release…..

I just watched Michael Wesch’s TedTalk about his baby and the learning curve one goes through when not being afraid to fail.  It is completely different when the age of innocence has been lost and we as a society are forced into boxes of performance milestones which when not successfully passed means some students are literally left behind.  As a future professor these are topics I address quite a bit in my blog (amongst other things), but, most importantly I challenge archaic methods of teaching.  I’m so pleased to see that Mr. Wesch can verbalize with character depictions some thoughts that I’ve had locked away in my head.

Some professors in PhD programs are so stuck in how “they progressed” through a program of study that they aren’t willing to allow new generations, albeit the future generation of professors, to explore innovative ways of doing things.  So many are living the “if I had to suffer then you do as well” mentality.   Sorry Charlie, we will not allow you to continue the destructive nature of repeating an inept cycle.  Some of us did come from challenging life experiences as stated in Mr. Wesch’s video and we know dysfunction when we see it.   Let alone the complete disinterest that undergraduates are subjected to when taking a course from a “brilliant researcher” who has zero capacity to express empathy.  We must continue to have valid and relevant conversations addressing these concerns.  As a top educational facility we are shaping the next generation of this country and we owe it to society to think outside the box and allow all forms of expression which result in real leaning, not just the checking off of milestones.


Cheers, Lehi

PS. I apologize I did not follow the prompt…

Connections*. That’s what I got from Dr. Michael Wesch’s TED Talk. The reason he was successful in working with students and helping them learn is that he took the time to make connections with his students. I wholly admire his technique and ability to get to know his students to help make them more engaged in class. I too have struggled with the notion that students are taught to just see the end goal of a grade. I’ve told people before that when (if…?) I get a job as a professor at a university I don’t want to give out grades; I don’t want to keep track of points. All I want to know is that the students are learning to process information and ask questions based on that.

I am a PhD student in geosciences and in my experience, I’ve found this technique is often easier to apply in humanities courses that tend to be more discussion based than STEM courses which are much more lecture based. My question is, do they have to be? Why do we feel we have to teach STEM by lecture? Why can’t we have a discussion? Why can’t we get the students involved?

I’ve had two courses that have shaped my view on pedagogy, or at least what I understand of pedagogy (I’m sure that will change over the course of the semester). The two classes that engaged me the most were not in my discipline at all, ‘History of African American Music’ and ‘Invertebrate Biology.’ History of African American Music was fascinating to me because it made the connection between how society and history had so closely driven the style of music produced at the time. They married so well together and it made me listen to music in a whole different way. I sometimes listen to music being produced today and wonder how it will sound in thirty to forty years when it’s being taught in classrooms. It’s hard to see history as it is being made, but it is so interesting to reflect upon and discuss. Even now, four years after I took that course, I still have lingering questions and it sparked my interest in how I can make my subject more interesting and accessible to students outside of STEM fields.

The other course, Invertebrate Biology, was the first experience I had with nontraditional grading and teaching style. This course was taught by a very charismatic Russian biologist who graded our weekly labs based on the drawings we made of the organism we were studying that week. He also tested our lecture material by oral exam. We had a list of potential prompts, went into his office where he randomly chose one prompt, and we had twenty minutes to prepare. The actual exam was a conversation. While we had one question prompting that conversation, he wanted to know more. He wanted to test the bounds of our understanding on the subject matter. He didn’t want us to feel stupid, he simply wanted to assess what connections we had been able to make based on what we had discussed in class. Now that I think about it, this is similar to a graduate student’s preliminary exam, where you are asked questions to test your knowledge and forced to make connections with everything you have learned. This to me is the skill that is most important in learning how to learn and how to think critically, it’s all about making connections.

I guess that sort of brings me full circle with where I started this rant, connections. Long story short, I’m looking forward to a semester of being forced to think about new ways to connect with students and engage them in STEM.

  1. *I apologize I did not follow the prompt and did not talk about networks, but I did do the readings. This will probably be the theme of me blogging for the semester.

Social media: distraction or education?

Being overwhelmed by the amount of useless information that I was bombarded with and the unnecessary details shared about personal lives, I abandoned the realm of social media. Despite recognizing the trend to introduce social media as tools for education, I always looked at them with a degree of suspicion. With the development of social media, a new culture and language have come into existence. The current social media culture provides the space and opportunity for sharing for everyone with the price of eliminating the concern for credibility. The diverse but shallow nature of the content shared through social media makes it more an addictive and distractive place for entertainment rather than a place where meaningful connections and communities are formed for learning. Also, the constant exposure to the stream of relevant and irrelevant, reliable and untrustworthy information keeps us from the quiet and reflective time which is the birthplace of ideas and inspiration. Given the current dominant culture of social media, and the well-known quote from McCluhan: “the medium is the message”, the preceding step prior to introducing these media as educational tools should be to reform the manifested culture.

Education and the goal of learning? Is it really connected?

Complacency. This one word describes my academic journey so far. An education with a B.A, an M.A.,working on a P.h.D would not seem as a product of complacency, yet in my view it is. These pieces of paper cannot define my education. They do provide an understanding that I completed the requirements for the degree, but what else do these degrees describe about academia? Pedagogy is seemingly bureaucratic in the way it shapes and molds individuals becoming what is required. There is a need for structure, yes, but the vociferous claims of these patterns do not always develop strong well rounded minds, rather there is a breeding of dissonance and heartbreak at your own failures. This is a rather anecdotal understanding of pedagogy and higher education, but it is true of at least me, and perhaps others. Data cannot present the wider whole of an argument such as this. But, the article  by Gardner Campbell, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning”, provides insight into how one can get out of this funk (if that is the proper terminology). I tend to agree with Campbell on some grounds when he states, “Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond “schooling.”” Although, there is a bigger question, that I think Campbell tends to ignore, that is how do you change these processes and should we? There is meaning behind the system of learning we have today, it works toward its on purpose; graduation and job production. But where does that leave the individual in all this? Perhaps they have an education, one that requires a rigid work ethic, and understanding of key concepts. An education that neglects rather than molds certain aspects of the student in question.

These decisions belong to the student, and if it becomes a part of the pedagogical practices that create problems, will this not be more of the same. Connected, or networked, learning requires outside engagement with the practices not only of the class, but with others and yourself. As Dr. Welsh discusses in his video, it is about the ability to learn in ones own way with others. Blogging, twitter, Facebook, college, all are connected, but what is taken out of these connections is wholly up to the student. Blogging, twitter, and class discussion can encourage creativity and help one’s own personal goals. Hitchcock’s assumptions of blogging and twitter is correct, in that it creates a place of reflection an area of learning that is not addressed in a classroom. Connected learning is empowering because it presents an opportunity outside of the classroom, and it helps synthesize what actually matters in an education.  My field requires rigorous practice in reading and writing, and blogging, as well as twitter, help in articulating thoughts with others. Public connections and collaborations help with education and understanding of the internet as well as our own personal obstacles. Connection and collaboration helps more than a crippling grade ever could, because with the grade you learn how not to write, with a connected writing experience others demonstrate how to write better.

Moreover, networked learning provides practice in skills that are not taught, but are rather learned. Talk to any professor and they will say it takes practice.


Patrick Salmons

Open up, but be careful!


Several years ago, Jon Udell published his thoughts about how it would be useful for the global society to work openly on the internet, and the procedures to improve the distribution of the information efficiently.

Working openly would raise some concerns, despite many nice advantages! I remember I had a conversation with an IT man who is working for our organization. He told me the only way that you could get rid of the piece of information that you posted before on the web is not to post anything at the first place! Well, it does not make sense at first glance but if we take a deeper look, I would say he is right! To show that his statement is true and as a part of the activity, he asked the class to find his oldest posts on the internet, and to everyone’s surprise, folks in the class found old posts and pictures that he did not even remember when he wrote them.

I tried to find a decent example of information distribution method. One of the good examples of disseminating information fast and efficient is to use hashtags, which we have discussed in our class as well. Since Jon Udell mentioned about these phenomena too, I would like to elaborate on this a little bit more. All of us to some extent are familiar with the functionality of the hashtags and how effective and fast the information could be distributed by using hashtags. We all probably know about the nice sides of using hashtags, but there are some hidden downsides. For instance, what I have observed previously is some folks are using hashtags to get more followers, meaning that they do not use it for the searching purposes, or disseminating knowledge and awareness. These folks might want to hashtag everything in a sentence they come up with. Alternatively, we know some people might use hashtags for the everyday work. For example, someone might say something like “let us go out and play soccer hashtag going out hashtag soccer!”  which would decrease the strength of the hashtag technology that is initially designed for higher purposes.

One of the nice concepts that Jon Udell mentioned is to publish materials in a clear format that could be readable not only for human beings, but also for machines. We all know in today’s world the number of ‘reads’ on someone’s published article are considered and reported in some websites too. Having a clear tag, appropriate name that makes it easier for the searching machines to configure, well-structured URLs help scholars to develop their thoughts more efficiently in less amount of time. “Working on a corner of the web” that you control, would give everybody the opportunity to constructively criticize the work for further improvement.

In overall, the fact that working openly could be beneficent, and trying to publish in a right and appropriate manner is important, but it is better for us to be careful about these posts, since we are not able to delete or terminate them even if we thoroughly would want to do so after a while.  In this regard, how openly do you think we have to be when we are sending posts and ideas on the internet? Do you consider working openly harmful or helpful or even both?

Of Tools and Goals

Drawing on Kuh’s work, Gardner Campbell in his paper “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” differentiates between learning as a “tool” versus  learning as an “objective” itself. He mentions that even though student-centered learning is the new mantra in the pedagogy arena, yet in most cases “learning” is considered as a tool to achieve certain quantifiable goals and objectives.

Built on Amartya Sen’s human development theory, one can explain Campbell’s perspective regarding education as a tool or as a goal. Sen’s believes that in human development, humans are the final goals of development projects. That means if a person gets educated, although she/he can serve her/his society better (human capital), however, that education will not be considered as a step towards human development, unless it creates new “freedoms”. Sen defines freedom as the capability to choose from different choices, so one can live a dignified life as he/she wishes. This said, the question is what constitute a transformative educational experience which can develop one’s choices and capacities in life.

Throwing Yourself Out There in a Networked World

Interesting reads this week for our blog post.  One of the comments I thought most interesting was taken from Tim Hitchcock’s article about twitter and blogs (  He said:

“One of my favourite blogging experiences involves embedding blogs in undergraduate assessment.  By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves.  From being characterized by the worst kind of bad academic prose – all passive voice pomposity – undergraduate writing in blogs is frequently transformed in to something more engaging, simply written, and to the point.  From writing for the eyes of an academic or two,  students are forced to imagine (or actually confront) a real audience.  Blogging has the same effect on more professional academic writers – many of whom assume that if the content is good, the writing somehow doesn’t matter.”

I thought that was an interesting comment on the how and why of involving students in networked learning and public discussion.  We teach students to work on homework assignments, tests, essays, etc. that will only be seen by the students themselves, their teacher, and maybe by a limited handful of classmates.  Particularly given the public nature of professional practice, teaching students to effectively communicate to broader and more diverse audiences can’t help but have a positive effect on their future success.  I think too, as he mentioned, that blogging can be beneficial to us as well because it forces us to evaluate our confidence in our own findings, practices, and approaches and determine how to represent those to others.  I worked in engineering practice for several years before coming back to school and I saw the positive impact that community of practice forums could have on my practice and on the community in general.  When we practice, study, research, or otherwise act in a vacuum, we often find (or don’t) ourselves re-treading wrong paths or stagnating in our development.  When we become more comfortable tossing ideas out there and bouncing them off others, I think, in spite of the potential for exposing our mistakes or maybe looking foolish on occasion, we end up learning far more and improving our work far more quickly than working in more secure, isolated conditions.

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