Environments & Education

Last week, a reading referenced George Kuh’s idea of experiential learning. Where learning can mean something more than just memorization; instead, learning is like an adventure.  A common thread between this description of learning and the examples presented in A New Culture of Learningis the idea that learning should be more holistic. It shouldn’t just stop at simply learning facts by rote and regurgitating them back at a teacher.

There is discussion on shifting away from lecture, and instead, focusing on creating an environment where students are free to explore and interact on their own to learn. I believe that when the initiative to explore (and learn) is given to the students, they become more engaged and in turn, more invested in what they are experiencing. When it works, this is a powerful technique to teach students, not only information, but the process in which they obtain it.

In this environment, failure is not only encouraged, but it is required to explore the boundaries and constraints of the environment students are placed in. The ability to reiterate and experiment without the fear of failure is natural learning at its finest. And it is through that failure where students begin to innovate.

But that’s the trick, how do we make it work? In certain contexts, it is clear that this form of teaching is better for students. You can tell people what happened in the past, or you can design scenarios where students live through it themselves. However again, I’m thinking about how this connects back to teaching mathematics. Can we create that environment of exploration when it comes to higher level mathematics?

I took MATH 3114, Linear Algebra, with Professor Wawro my first year at Tech. Professor Wawro does research in Math Education, so unsurprisingly, her class was not a typical. She set up the topic of diagonalization in a way where we almost “stumbled” upon it by our own exploration. We were presented with a problem before us, and through the process of solving it, we unknowingly described the technique for the change-of-basis matrix. Looking back, this was really the only example of “exploration” in teaching mathematics that I have experienced.

Now, I think it is important to see the strengths of lecturing as a technique as well. I was very glad to see this article about someone who, while not a full proponent of lectures, still finds lectures helpful in certain ways. I really appreciate someone acknowledging both sides to the argument. I’m not sure about fully replacing current techniques with these new ideas, but rather, to use new techniques to support the classic techniques that we use.

Perhaps because I’m so focused on thinking about how to teach mathematics that I, myself, am missing that bigger picture, the holistic framework of learning.

My final thought is on the connection between video games and learning. Reading about  learning theories in video games brings reminds me of a youtube channel I stumbled upon two years ago called Extra Credits. Among other game-related topics, they created videos discussing games in education. Some topics include gamification of educationagency in education, and also include some small case studies. While their videos aren’t necessarily deep, they are an interesting watch for those who have dabbled in video games in the past.

Cultivating Imagination: Bridge Between Thought and Reality

Higher institutions in the United States today host hundred thousands international students, some of them come from a culture that varies in different ways with the U.S. culture. It seems that students need to go through the process of adaptation to be adapted with a new culture. Treating culture as statistic notion, as a product rather than process, one either adapts new culture or reject it. In another word, a foreign student coming from different background may accept and embrace new concept of culture, or reject it, in latter case she may face significant cultural challenges even may lead to abandoning of education. But there is a different notion of culture, which is dynamic and process-oriented. Treating culture in this way, one may question her own culture and background as well as new culture. There is a continuous negotiation and interaction between different cultures which may lead to creating a new reality. Douglas Thomas and John Brown in their book A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change use two categories of culture as metaphor to facilitate differentiating between teaching based and culture based approaches to education. In teaching based approach culture is environment, rigid and individual oriented. It shouldn’t be surprising to see that such approach focuses on the results rather than process. In contrast with teaching based approach, in learning based approach, culture emerges from environment, fluid and community-based. Education in this approach, focuses on transforming the world and recreating reality through engagement with and within the world. How we can move towards the latter approach, granting the benefits of that, which may need elaboration beyond what discussed so far.


On technological distractions

Just last week NPR published an interesting little article discussing educators’ and experts’ views with regards to the role of personal technology within the classroom. The article presented a spectrum of views regarding whether student’s access to cellphones and laptops provided a net-negative effect to the classroom learning environment. It’s easy to scoff at this question as technological conservatism. I personally recall the days when elementary school children were free to bike miles to class unescorted, yet ownership of a beeper or cellphone was an expulsion-worthy sign of poor character. The distractions were still present, those wishing to mentally escape class were free to play a few rounds of Decision on their graphing calculators. Barring access to such technology a couple chapters of young adult fiction from a hidden book could make the days go by. Truly, lacking any comparative experience from the teacher’s side of a K-12 environment, I have great empathy for the distracted students who as of yet have little to no true agency in their lives and educational participation.

Still, as was discussed in Pedagogy lecture, one must also acknowledge the very meaningful difference between such passive time wasters and the realities of the open Internet. A ten dollar burner from the grocery store now yields access to an entire ecosystem of apps optimized to capture one’s eyes as often as possible. As magazines die and consumers cut cable, we’ve grown to accept trading a little kick of digital dopamine here and there for the ad-views which make our world go round. Perhaps this beast of technology is a bit less Mickey Mouse and a bit more Joe Camel? As tempting as it may be to view this once more through a generational lens there’s much to be said here with regards to personal learning objectives. Most specifically, is one most concerned with theory or implementation?

For those theory-minded individuals who are most gifted if not pleased to conceive, recognize, and describe problems, rich contemplation on singular matters is key. While this would run at odds to distraction-prone technologies, it’s also important to consider the roles of discussion and debate. How fully formed may a theory be if it has not been contemplated via outsourced perspectives? Truly, is the classroom a simple knowledge dump where one must optimize transmission rates as one would with their wireless router? Perhaps theory is best served as hors d’oeuvres, offering lots of little tidbits to be more properly merged and ingested hours later as the mind slides into REM sleep.

Those most entertained or gifted by implementation have a much different process for digesting knowledge. They may be alarmingly unconcerned with why, yet adept at the granular nuances of how. For these students I see no reason to limit access to any personal technology within the classroom. Lets start with a few base assumptions here. While technology aids distraction, technology also enables the rapid lookup of knowledge. The Internet of social distractions is also the Internet of tutorials, open troubleshooting, and technogeek forums. Using a series of google queries an implementation-minded student may learn the entire methods behind an artistic or technical process without being bogged down by the theory of why.

This brings up a question of equitability. There’s much debate on the role of gifted-education programs, whether they uplift those admitted or suppress those not. Given access to personal technology, the most invested students may explore points of curiosity 5 steps ahead of a lecture for a far richer experience. However, are the remainder of the students differentially distracted by the open web, and does one make up for the other? Technology will always become faster, better, and cheaper. Therefore, any mainstream technology which is sufficiently workable now (I’m looking at you 2005 Google docs) will almost certainly out-pace its traditional peers later. If technological distractions have reached a robust and stable state, perhaps it’s best we accept their intrusion and await the emergence of more captivating educational technology? As computational power and open source tools grow near disposable, the opportunity for simulation and interaction grows for theory and implementation-minded learners alike.


“Inspirational Quote”

– Dead person with above-average SES and a robust social network –



Kamenetz, A. (2018, January 24). Laptops And Phones In The Classroom: Yea, Nay Or A Third Way? Retrieved January 29, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/01/24/578437957/laptops-and-phones-in-the-classroom-yea-nay-or-a-third-way




Made for us

Hopefully no one has to sit behind the projector. Image from EdTech Stanford University, Flickr Creative Commons.

Traditional universities are designed much like the United States Constitution: hallmarks of knowledge and innovation made with the intent to advance and shape society. However, the bones of both universities and our Constitution could not anticipate the nuances and strides of the future. They were constructed in a time, for a time, that is not ours. As such, it is difficult to interpret how some aspects of both of these important pinnacles fit in our present.

Take for example the lecture hall. All of the cramped chairs face forward in a large, stuffy room – some are lucky enough to have air conditioning – and feature small pull-out desks barely big enough for a notebook. What is appealing about this setting? Are students excited to come to this classroom? Maybe, if the teacher can hold their attention.

How many brand new lecture halls have been constructed within the last ten years? I would wager that investments in student learning space has been allocated more into smaller, more interactive classrooms than lecture halls. These rooms surely cost more than installing several hundred chairs with a projector; many of these smaller classrooms have multiple screens, interactive tablets, tables where students can face each other, and features such as spotlights and smartboards. This could be seen as a highly inefficient use of money – less students fit in these pricey spaces. However, more and more universities are recognizing the value of learning by doing.

A teacher should not be hindered if he or she is confined to a lecture hall not made for today’s learners. Teaching style should also be molded to fit the present.  It may be difficult to accept cellphones and laptops in the classroom and label them as distractions. However, many high schools do not allow girls to wear certain types of clothing, labeling shorter-length shorts and thin-strapped tank tops as distractions as well.

In both of these cases, the real problems are not the so-labeled “distractions,” but rather a lack of discipline and interest in learning. Still, a teacher may do all they can to be inclusive, innovative and encouraging in the classroom and still not be able to reach everyone. They should not be hindered by this either.

For those who wish to learn, it is not fair to deny them the freedom of having their technologies within reach. Rather than distrusting students from the get-go, asking students what keeps their attention, having them close their laptops at certain times, and overall, keeping inclusivity in mind is more important than exerting control over them. Forcing a student to learn on your terms is just as demoralizing as forcing a girl to change into her P.E. uniform because her tank top is “too distracting”.


Against humanity as we know it……no laptops in my classroom!


I’ve been around long enough to understand why some students choose to take notes on a laptop (because it’s the only mechanism they’ve known) or, how recording lectures on a cellphone might help them remember what was said during a discussion; but, in my future classes I will not allow laptops nor cellphones to be present unless it is part of a syllabus activity.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, what I teach (regardless of the discipline area) must be communicated in a manner that is easily formatted for cognitive recollection.  Second, items that are not discussed in seminar will not be tested on mid-terms or final exams.  Third, class participation will be crucial for expanding discussion topics and creating new streams of colloquy.  Exceptions for this as mentioned are for syllabus activities which I could imagine would be three or four times a semester.

In the article linked above by NPR it discussed that 1/3 of a psychology course spent time surfing for non related classroom material.  My guess would be that this is a much higher percentage.   I don’t doubt many areas of education might require the use of a computer  on a daily basis but in my discipline it isn’t necessary so it would be considered a distraction.  If I can’t teach it which results in the student not remembering the material, then I’ve failed.  If I’ve taught it and the student can’t remember the material, then they’ve failed.  The middle ground here is understanding that there are multiple ways of teaching and learning.  As a professor I must be engaged daily with my students to understand where each one is on the learning path.  It is my responsibility to do so.


Cheers, Lehi


Citizen Scientists

Thomas and Brown’s A New Culture of Learning highlights that teachers learn from their students. This reminds me that citizen scientists can make important contributions that benefit scientists. “Citizen science is a rigorous process of scientific discovery, indistinguishable from conventional science apart from the participation of volunteers. When properly designed, carried out, and evaluated, citizen science can provide sound science, efficiently generate high-quality data, and help solve problems” (USGS, 2017). I mention citizen science because it shares a similarity with the new culture of learning. “The new culture of learning gives us the freedom to make the general personal and then share our personal experience in a way that, in turn, adds to the general flow of knowledge” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p.31). Both citizen science and the new culture of learning expand knowledge. It is worthwhile to note that citizen scientists make important contributions to environmental protection, conservation science, and natural resource management (USGS, 2017).

Thomas, D & Brown, J.S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning.

U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS). (2017). Citizen science can improve conservation science, natural resource management, and environmental protection. Retrieved from https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70184968

Not another Bruno grammy

I’m writing this while watching the Grammy’s, waiting for Beyoncé to appear on the stage, but my hopes are dwindling with ten minutes left. ?

I wanted to build off of last weeks post, where I talked about specific classes that engaged me most in my educational experience, and shift to educators that I’ve seen that engaged well with students. Specifically, I’m thinking of a professor I TA’d for while working on my masters in paleontology at UT Austin. The professor was, and still is, pretty eccentric in the most endearing way. He’s very sarcastic and is known to cut someone off and ask them to start over if they use, uh, um or really any other meaningless filler word while speaking. This professor taught a course in the spring called, Age of Mammals. Most of the students taking the course were non-majors and the professor aimed to make the material accessible and about the students. He always started the first lecture by sitting on a table in front of a 300 student lecture auditorium asking why the students were there. He wanted to know what they wanted out of the class and would write the syllabus with the students, based on why they chose to enroll in the course. He did his best not to sit in front of the class and lecture, and would always end class by asking, ‘Does anyone have any queries, quandaries, qualms, or concerns?’ Like I said, he’s eccentric.

One of this professors big rules in class was no electronics. No cell phones. No laptops. Nothing. As TA’s we were supposed to sit in the back and go up to any student who was on their phone and ask them to please wait until after class. The main reason this professor was so adamant about no electronics was that he felt it wasn’t fair to any student sitting around the perpetrator, because, he knows mammals are attracted to color and movement and this would distract anyone within eyeshot of the student on their electronic device.

This naturally got me thinking about how I would handle electronics in my classroom down the road. For that reason, I loved reading the NPR article Amy found to include in this weeks reading. I really appreciate Allia Griffin’s take on it, where she thinks they are a distraction, but mainly because they cut off social interaction amongst students. This says a lot about how students are not only learning from the person up front who is being paid to speak, but also from the experiences and backgrounds of their peers. I also appreciated Jesse Stommel’s approach to the matter and that technology in the classroom can be a conversation. I think having an adult conversation about it with the students is necessary and likely pretty effective. I really believe that if students connect with the professor, they won’t want to be distracting themselves and others, because they respect the professor and the learning environment.

Ultimately, I don’t quite know my final stance of technology in the classroom, but I love the idea of engaging students with collaborative documents or anonymous polls. I think there is something to be said for a happy medium and I think that develops naturally from class to class depending on the group of students. It’d be great to hear how others have, or have not, included technology in their teaching. Oh, and if anyone knows what the difference is between record of the year, song of the year, and album of the year, lemme know.

Students Are More Than Statistics, They’re People

Teaching statements are a relatively new concept to me but one I find intriguing. I’ve never enjoy academics and in large part, that is due to how teachers/professors saw the classroom. I was raised in one of the most affluent counties in the country, We were actively told that we were being taught a much higher level than our peers. And while in theory this sounds wonderful, we were nothing but statistics to the Superintendents and Board of Directors in the county. I hated this. Within the classroom itself, it was much harder for me to understand and grasp concepts and subjects. I asked for help with the material from my teachers. I went to early morning (6:30am) and afternoon/evening study sessions with my teachers, had tutors, attended study groups at church and nothing seemed to work. And many of my teachers (particularly in high school) did not seem to know another way to approach teaching the material to me. In those tutoring sessions, they would “teach” me the same way they taught their regular classes and still I felt lost. It was not until I came to college, particularly community college, that I took classes and had professors that taught material to students using a variety of formats. The most common format was lecture but many of my professors used video recordings on youtube, made their lectures available on iTunes, classroom games, student teaching, etc. that made the material more engaging and easier to understand. This not only made learning fun for me, but I also began to actually understand the course material. I was encouraged to read, understand and then challenged to communicate my understanding to my classmates in a fun and interactive way. For the first time ever, going to class wasn’t painful. But I noticed the reason behind this was because my professors actually cared about making sure that we understood the material. They engaged with their students and provided an individualized experience for us regardless if there were 20 people in the class or 200.

Reading this teaching statement spoke to me in many ways because not only did it remind me of my experiences but it also gave me hope that there are teachers/professors in the world who genuinely care about their students and are willing to look beyond the numbers to make sure that their students are getting the best experience they can.

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