Posts Tagged ‘ teaching and learning ’

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

Twitter Logo, courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

Twitter Logo, courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

by Reynol Junco

The following article was originally published in Leadership Exchange, Vol. 10, Summer 2011, pp. 34. Reprinted with permission by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Because of my research on social media, people often assume I am a cheerleader of these technologies. While I clearly see the benefit of using social technologies to connect with colleagues for professional development and for increasing student engagement, it is clear that these services are not for everyone.

As a senior student affairs officer (SSAO), no doubt you have been exposed to multiple pleas to join Twitter. The 2011 NASPA Annual Conference featured sessions designed to explain Twitter and what an SSAO can do with it, Twitter tutorials, and colleagues sporting “Tweet Me” ribbons. If that exposure to Twitter was not enough, a close friend or a col- league may be cajoling you into setting up an account.

All of these circumstances might have you thinking: “Should I be on Twitter? I am a senior leader in the field, after all.” The honest-to-goodness truth is that you might not be ready to engage on Twitter, and that’s okay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. While you have heard the cheerleaders telling you why you should use Twitter, let me present some reasons why you should not:

  • It is yet another thing you have to do. You are busy with meeting after meeting, an inbox that you can barely con- trol, reports to write, and people to supervise, all of which does not leave much time in your busy schedule. Twitter has a steep learning curve and once you are comfortable with the technical aspects of the platform, it requires ongoing attention.
  • It will make you uncomfortable. Twitter is an environment very different from the world of an SSAO. From the start, the Twitter platform has democratized roles and relationships. For instance, it is not uncommon for a famous author to communicate directly with readers. Twitter blurs the boundaries of hierarchies and allows “the little people” to have as strong a voice as those in leadership positions. Generally, this is not how the workplace operates. The student affairs office has a fine delineation between the entry-level work- force, mid-level managers, senior professionals, and students. Imagine the ramifications of such a technology on cam- pus—students can have both individual and collective voices stronger than your own. Whoa!
  • You will do it wrong. Twitter is a tool better utilized to interact and engage with students, faculty, staff, and other SSAOs, not to broadcast messages. SSAOs who are currently on Twitter are less likely to engage in conversations with their followers than mid- and entry-level professionals. You do not need feedback from your “fans,” and they probably do not want to engage with you in that manner, either. Leave that side of social networking to celebrities.
  • You will be challenged to consider, and in many cases respond to, new perspectives that have very little to do with your substantive work. While that sounds like a good thing in principle, imagine the cognitive dissonance it  will create as well as extra work. I’m sure that when you were in graduate school, Sanford’s notion of challenge and support really resonated with you; however, these days, the challenges you receive are more often related to strategic planning or budget cuts. Engaging with others on Twitter might challenge you in insufferable personal and professional ways. That’s just not fun.
  • Backchannel communications are time killers. A backchannel is a running public dialogue on Twitter aggregated around a specific topic. It is called a backchannel for a reason—it is in the background and not typically noticeable. On top of all of your other responsibilities as an SSAO such as meetings, supervision, strategic planning, and possibly even fundraising, Twitter can open the flood gates for communication with students and other constituents. Most universities have a backchannel, but students rarely share any feedback that a student affairs division could use constructively.
Twitter brand page. Courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

Twitter brand page. Courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

My Twitter followers agree, providing the following comments when I asked them why SSAOs may want to avoid Twitter:

“All of the information sharing from other institutions and colleagues will just complicate things.”

“Why waste your time on Twitter when you can ask the same question in a meeting you attend with 20 people— who needs Twitter?”

“[Y]ou’ll find yourself wanting to consult your network for a better answer than the one you’re getting in person.”

“You may have your way of thinking challenged and be forced to consider new, previously unconsidered perspectives.”

“You won’t like getting instant feedback from students.”

So, my advice is to keep a level head and stay off of Twitter. Your e-mails are waiting.

Rey Junco is a social media scholar and an associate professor in academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University. You can try to reach Rey on Twitter, but odds are that he won’t respond.

If, after all the above admonitions, you still want to try Twitter, the following is a good starting point: momthisishowtwitterworks.com

Beyond Classroom Settings: Collaboration, Connectivity, and Learning with New Technologies

By Dr. Susana Sotillo, Associate Professor, Linguistics, Montclair State University.

 

Image

Image courtesy of Creative Commons/Google Images.

We achieve digital wisdom by enhancing our brain’s capacity through the appropriate use of technology. This is Marc Prensky’s major argument in Brain Gain (2012).  Although many of my generation continue to labor in the traditional classroom setting, with its emphasis on the transmission of knowledge through face-to-face (F2F) lectures, others are exploring the use of technology for teaching content as well as language skills.  In our continuously evolving high tech society, employment opportunities are being redefined as part of a global shift from an abundance of labor-intensive jobs to highly complex technology-driven occupations.  With this in mind, Prensky (2012) points out that today’s students need to master three major skills: “working in virtual communities, making videos (on both sides of the camera), and programming our increasingly powerful machines.” (p. 210).  Ironically, programming skills are what make a difference in Elysium, a recent Science Fiction action quest, where intelligent machines can indeed be reprogrammed to alter the power structure.  All these skills involve a high degree of collaboration and connectivity, whether face-to-face or virtual, which are themes other educational technologists emphasize in their writings.  Collaboration and connectivity also figure prominently among game designers, computer scientists, and high school and college classroom teachers.  These groups are keenly aware of the importance of immediate and effective connectivity. 

Connectivity and flexibility are highly valued in any post-industrial society.  As Oblinger (2013) states, we have moved beyond the Information Age in every aspect of modern life, especially in education, industry, business, and health delivery systems.  We are now in the Connected Age.   In higher education today, whether we like it or not, students and faculty are strongly interconnected.  In my own field, linguistics and language learning and teaching, the focus has shifted from strictly teacher-centered traditional classrooms to student-centered online and hybrid instructional options.  For successful language and content learning to take place in virtual environments, student and instructor interconnectivity is essential.  Otherwise we are merely recycling the transmission model of education as online instruction with instructor designed objectives and assessment tools. 

Uses of technology in areas other than language learning is extensively documented in professional journals and books.  For example, Niess (2005) investigated five case studies and documented the successes and difficulties encountered by student teachers developing pedagogical content knowledge and preparing to teach with technology in science and mathematics.   In the field of Geography, Armstrong & Bennett (2005), made a strong case for mobile, location-aware computing technology in teaching abstract geographic concepts by allowing teachers to take students into the field, thus  contextualizing geographic education. 

Today, students who have limited access to resources for technology-driven learning at the college level can borrow laptops and iPads from their college libraries or Information Technology departments.  This would allow them to participate fully in collaborative assignments and field research with mobile learning tools.  In K-12 urban environments, efforts are underway to provide every child with access to a laptop or iPad (Warschauer, 2011).

In the traditional classroom setting, most faculty stay in touch with students by scheduling F2F office hours or via Email, an old technology in this rapidly evolving digital age.  Some of us prefer to use other tools in order to stay effectively connected with colleagues and students.  In my case, I use SMS texting and our virtual Blackboard Collaborate classroom for staying in touch with graduate and undergraduate students.  When I need to remind undergraduates of upcoming assignments, tests or projects, I text them and they in turn text me when they need clarification of course content or small-group projects. Students also text me to remind me about deadlines for letters of recommendation or to inform me that they will be late or absent from class.  

In the field of language learning, extensive research has been carried out from a variety of theoretical perspectives on the use of technology and its impact on student achievement in foreign and second languages (Stanley, 2013; Stockwell, 2010, 2012, 2013).  Most recently, studies in second language acquisition have examined the impact of technology in the acquisition of intercultural competence (see Chun, 2011; Godwin-Jones, 2013; Kukulska-Hulme, 2010; O’Dowd & Ritter, 2006; Thorne, 2003).  This type of research is very important because it helps individuals working in a variety of professional and informal settings avoid serious intercultural miscommunication problems.

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Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Students in linguistics and teacher education programs who are seeking certification in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) often take courses in Methodology of TESL, Language and Culture, Structure of American English, and Language in Society.  In the past, teaching methodologies were offered exclusively in traditional classroom settings or community centers.  This has changed radically with the development of the Internet and video-conferencing software that allows teachers-in-training and students to learn and interact beyond the confines of localized physical spaces in both K12 and higher education.  Another useful technology is SMS texting.  As Stockwell (2010) has shown, SMS has proven to be very effective in teaching English as a Second-Language (ESL) students.  A simple way to help ESL students build up their vocabulary involves sending mini-lessons or true/false quizzes to their smartphones.  Other creative uses of technology in ESL classrooms involve the use of videos.  I have witnessed how technology-savvy ESL students have effectively collaborated with classmates in the creation of videos for classroom projects that were successfully uploaded to YouTube and shared with a wider audience.  This approach allows ESL students an opportunity to use their second language in context in order to effectively communicate with others and accomplish a variety of goals.

A successful classroom project for English language learners involved tutoring partnerships between students majoring in Linguistics and their counterparts in Shanghai, China.  I had remained in contact with Jie Chen, a professor of English at Shanghai Institute of Technology who was a student in a course that Shufa Li and I developed and taught in July 2012 for the Teaching in English Summer Program at MSU.  Jie and I decided to keep in touch via FaceTime since she plans to return to MSU as a visiting scholar in 2014.   We developed a project to encourage our students to greet and meet via FaceTime.  Five students who were doing well in three of the courses I was teaching in the spring of 2013 volunteered to tutor five English language learners attending college in Shanghai.  Technology played a significant role in these international exchanges, but there were some challenges tutors and tutees encountered.  For example, Internet connections in China were unreliable and the language learning applications used by our students were not available to Chinese students.  One of the most enthusiastic participants in this project, Gabrielle Napoli, expressed her views about this experience: “For 5 weeks I pursued an opportunity to connect with a student across the world. She told me to call her Mao, which was not her first name but her last. I asked why she asked me to call her by her last name and she explained that her first name would be too difficult for me to pronounce. When connecting with students who are not native to the English language, everything must be simplified, not only for them but for the native speaker as well. … I never thought we would become as close as we have. We still communicate and talk frequently over email and FaceTime.” (Gabrielle’s blog http://usatoshanghai.wordpress.com/ ).

ImageAnother project participant, Jonathan Williams, also found these language learning partnerships rewarding, though he chose to work with Skype rather than FaceTime and explore Google documents, slideshows, and occasionally screen sharing.  He writes:  “Working with foreign students on Skype was a fantastic experience, and it’s something that I’ve continued doing throughout the summer and hope to continue doing while studying and after graduation. Being face-to-face with a student, even though you may be miles apart (in this case across the globe) is invaluable for student-teacher dynamics and effective learning. Though there were internet connection issues and technical faults at times, the disturbances never significantly disrupted the sessions. In my opinion, what’s crucial about this is that learning sessions don’t lose anything by occurring online. Despite the distance, students and teachers are still able to convey things like tone and body language – each of which is lost in other media such as phone calls or emails.”  (Jon’s blog can be accessed at http://jwskypetutor.blogspot.com/ ).

Technology made these global projects possible.  It is also changing the dynamics of learning subject matter and languages.  Online and hybrid courses afford students and teachers opportunities to learn beyond the confines of the traditional classroom at convenient times for all involved.  In addition, mobile communication tools (i.e., notebooks, iPads, Tablets, smartphones, etc.)  have made it possible to learn anywhere and anytime, while at the same time increasing the strength of people-to-people connections locally and globally (see October 2013 issue of Language Learning and Technology).  We are indeed witnessing radical changes not just in modes of teaching-learning, but also in the degree of interconnectivity in multiple environments, which include school, work, neighborhoods, communities of practice, and nations. The future of education at all levels offers exciting opportunities for learning with technology and managing time wisely so that we can all eventually attain digital wisdom.

 

References

Armstrong, A. P., & Bennett, D.A. (2005).  A Manifesto on Mobile Computing in Geographic Education.  The Professional Geographer  57(4), 506-515.

Chun, D. (2011). Developing intercultural communicative competence thorough online exchanges.  CALICO Journal 28(2), 392-419.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2013).  Integrating intercultural competence into language learning through technology.  Language Learning & Technology, 17(2), 1-11.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/issues/june2013/emerging.pdf

Kukulska-Hulme, A. (2010).  Learning cultures on the move: Where are we heading? Educational Technology & Society 13(4), 4-14. 

Niess, M. L. (2005).  Preparing teachers to teach science and mathematics with technology: Developing a technology pedagogical content knowledge.  Teaching and Teacher Education 21(5), 509-523.

Oblinger, D. G. (March/April 2013).  Higher Education in the Connected Age.  EDUCAUSE review.

O’Dowd, R., & Ritter, J. (2006).  Understanding and working with ‘failed communication’ in telecollaborative exchanges. CALICO Journal 23(3), 623-642.

Prensky, M. (2012).  Brain Gain.  New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stanley, G. (2013).  Language Learning with Technology: Ideas for Integrating Technology in the Classroom.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stockwell, G. (2010).  Using mobile phones for vocabulary activities: Examining the effect of the platform.  Language Learning & Technology Language Learning & Technology 14(2), 95-110.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol14num2/stockwell.pdf

Stockwell, G. (Ed.). (2012). Computer Assisted Language Learning: Diversity in Research & Practice.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stockwell, G. (2013). Mobile-assisted language learning. In M. Thomas, H. Reinders & M. Warschauer (Eds.), Contemporary computer-assisted language learning. London & New York: Continuum Books.

Thorne, S. (2003).  Artifacts and cultures-of-use in intercultural communication.  Language Learning & Technology 7(2), 38-67.  Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num2/pdf/thorne.pdf

Warschauer, M. (2011).  Learning in the Cloud. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Start with an Appetizer

This exercise is predicated on the integration and application of technology as a learning tool. However, for my freshman FYW students, I find that their access and knowledge of technology is very limited, and I don’t have the proper technology in the classroom to demonstrate and allow them to practice this method. However, the key idea behind this assignment idea is good and can provide instructors with ways to introduce tiny chunks of course concepts in such a way that student’s are able to test out what they know, what they need to know, and get peer-feedback in a low-stakes activity.

 

For those of us who teaching writing, it seems to me that freewriting prompts on particular topics that students will be covering in their former essays is a great way to start them off with an “appetizer.” You could break essay assignments into three or more in-class writing prompts that asks them to freewrite on their

  • claim (what is your claim? what assertion or idea are you arguing for? what position have you taken to argue this claim? what issue do you want to bring to your audience’s attention? Is this a claim of fact, value, policy?;
  • the next one on the evidence they might use to support the claim (what is your personal experience with this issue? what is open to dispute? how will you support your argument? what counterarguments might you address? what types of evidence would best support your claim?;
  • the third on audience (what do people already know about this? what don’t they know? what groups would be most interested in this issue? what do you want your audience to do, think, or feel as a result of reading your essay?);

Once they’ve completed a freewrite, they would discuss their choices and strategies in small groups before applying their ideas to their essay. These steps will give them writing that can be formalized in their essay, gives them in-class writing time, and allow them to discuss their choices with their peers before committing them to paper. I like this idea especially because I find that once a student writes down an idea or takes a stand in their essay, they are loathe to change it. Positioning freewriting prompts around elements of an essay has them test out ideas before fully writing them, get feedback, and then leaves them with the core components of their formal piece. Worth trying!

Experiments in Creative Approaches to Science Education

Experiments in Creative Approaches to Science Education,

by Mika Munakata and Ashwin Vaidya

By Dr. Mika Munakata, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montclair State University
and Dr. Ashwin Vaidya, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montclair State University

“Newton’s second law of motion states…”

In reconsidering the effectiveness of this typical script in any beginning physics course, it strikes us that while the standard method of conveying scientific information may work for the scientifically gifted and motivated student, it leaves behind the majority of the already scientifically alienated. Presenting a discipline such as physics as something external to oneself is therefore akin to alienating oneself from nature. Our understanding and description of nature is intricately tied to our experiences and sensations of the world around us; the Descartian approach of reducing nature to a set of mental rules, while powerful, is insufficient as a pedagogical tool. Along with a recounting of the historical reconstruction of scientific laws, students would benefit from (re)creating science. The rest of this article describes some of our experiments along these lines.

Students’ perception of creativity and science

Not so long ago, we administered a survey to over 200 MSU undergraduate and master’s science and mathematics students (Munakata and Vaidya, 2012). The aim of the survey was to assess students’ perceptions of the role of creativity in the sciences. The questionnaire, using a Likert- scale measurement from 1 to 5, asked students to indicate the degree to which various disciplines encouraged creativity.

Figure 1: Creativity ratings for different disciplines by CSAM students

Figure 1: Creativity ratings for different disciplines by CSAM students

It first asked students to describe the most creative activity they have been engaged in and to compare various disciplines, events and skills against their standard of creativity. Our data (Figure 1) revealed that even among science and mathematics students, arts-related disciplines were deemed to be more creative than sciences. Further, among the science disciplines, those that were more applied (medicine, engineering, physics) were rated as being more creative than the theory-based disciplines. The somewhat favorable ratings received by these scientific disciplines may not be random or coincidental; several of the students taking the survey were aspiring medical students and enrolled in a physics course taught by one of the authors . These results were also confirmed by other sections of the survey that asked students to describe the most creative activity they have engaged in. The results clearly illustrate the perception that creativity does not play a role in scientific and mathematical endeavors.

Though the results of this survey are not surprising, they are nevertheless disturbing to the science educator and pose a challenge for those of us who encourage our students to be innovative and try to equip them with the tools necessary towards this accomplishment. If we strive to engage students in science in the same way that a scientist approaches it—that is, creatively— it is imperative that we expose students to opportunities to engage in the creative process early on during their education. This is not so easy. Unfortunately, creativity and imagination are seldom emphasized in STEM learning (NRC, 2005) with rote and dry instructional practices often leading to students dropping out of STEM fields (Goldberg, 2008). By and large, students, especially in introductory courses, are taught by lecture and their laboratory experiments are usually predetermined. This may be the case in other disciplines as well.

Some institutions have made a deliberate attempt at revamping their curricula; traditional lecture-style teaching has been replaced by inquiry-based teaching, often encouraging students to fully engage in the scientific process . Others have proposed refocusing introductory science courses to reflect two aims: promote conceptual understanding and showcase the process of scientific inquiry (Meinwald & Hildebrand, 2011). These aims can be achieved by making courses student-centered and encouraging exploration and dialogue (see DeHaan (11)). Yet another way we propose is to engage STEM students in activities that merge science with creativity.

The Art of Science experiments

The Art of Science Project: We recently initiated an experiment in our classroom with the help of a grant from the American Physical Society. The project, which began in the fall of 2012, involves undergraduate physics and arts students in the exploration and development of a hand crank camera and in the subsequent production of sustainability-themed short movies . This innovative activity, or performance, will capitalize on the public’s passion for movies. The moving image occupies an increasingly demanding place in contemporary life.

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

Figure 2: Students working on a simple hand crank mechanism

The amount of energy spent on both the production and consumption of media nowadays is enormous; cinema itself, however, was born of modest mechanical means. Just over a century ago, hand- cranked cameras and bioscopes harnessed human energy to present the visual illusions that still hold our attentions today. This project is a collaboration between the disciplines of physics and art at MSU and is being conducted with the collaboration of faculty and artists from across and outside the campus with the hope of bringing the playful side of science to the forefront of the student consciousness. The project is being conducted in three distinct phases:

  • Development of new technology: In the fall of 2012, physics students from an upper- level course worked together to investigate the mechanics of a working hand-crank video camera as a special project in MSU’s “Classical Mechanics” (Physics 210). The exercise involved discussions about energy generation, the conversion of mechanical to electrical energy and sustainable energy practices . In the laboratory, we took apart hand-crank units, analyzed their parts and worked on putting together one of our own (see figure 2).
  • The second part of the technical project, which is currently underway with the help of students from the physics club, involves the development of a bicycle-powered generator. Power generated by operating the bicycles will be stored in the generator for later use in projecting. With the assistance of a visiting artist, Anuj Vaidya, students from MSU’s art department will soon begin to work with the physics students to create a series of short videos that explore issues of ecology and sustainability. They will use the hand-crank cameras to record images for their work. In addition to these images, students will be able to use recycled sounds and images to complete their short pieces.
  • The culminating event for the Art of Making Science project will be an exhibition and workshop held on the campus and open to the public. The physics and art students will present their product (both the machinery and the movie) to students and faculty during a special presentation at the 4th Annual University Teaching and Learning Showcase event, sponsored by the Research Academy.
Photo credit Anthony DeStefano, 2012.

Photo credit Anthony DeStefano, 2012.

The RAUL Showcase will also feature the Physics and Art exhibition which we initiated as an experiment in informal education to have students see the ubiquity and beauty of science. The exhibition showcases students’ photographs on any theme but with an aesthetic eye.

Students from CSAM are asked to submit photographs and to identify and elaborate on the science behind the art . These are mounted on posters and showcased during the exhibition. In all, more than 100 photographs have been submitted to date. Each year, a group of faculty from CSAM and CART award prizes to three student photographers.

The idea behind the events of the day are twofold: the art exhibition which is student- oriented gives the students a chance to participate in an art-science creation and get the audience in the right frame of mind to discuss the deep connections between art and science, and to reveal the sciences as a very creative enterprise. In the true sense of creativity, these events provide the opportunity for students to shift their paradigms about the nature of science learning. More often than not, we found the students pleasantly surprised to find physics hidden in the pictures that they took.

Photo credit Ashley LaRose, 2012.

Photo credit Ashley LaRose, 2012.

Reactions to these events:

We are in the process of assessing the impact of these events on students’ perceptions of the role of creativity in the sciences. Our hope is to distinguish the effective elements of these types of activities to share with STEM colleagues.

Conversations and the general public mood during the physics and art event clearly indicated excitement over the photographs and appreciation for the theme of the day.

Students in the upper level physics class were asked for reflections on their experiences with the Art of Making Science project and their classroom experience. Students recognized that the structure of the course was different from the typical day-long science laboratory exercises. They commented that the ongoing nature of the project provided incentive to prepare between class meetings and also stated that as opposed to the question-and-answer structure that is common in other classes, this class was open-ended and allowed for the student to ask their own questions and to try to formulate answers to them. One student saw this as good preparation for science after graduation, when textbooks won’t be available to provide answers.

Students also enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the project . They learned how to work on their own piece of the project while keeping the big picture of the group project in mind. Teamwork allowed them to combine their knowledge and to share ideas . For example, some in the group were “better with their hands” while others had “deeper theoretical knowledge .” Although some alluded to different starting points within the group, groups were able to find their rhythm and learn to communicate efficiently and effectively. Students enjoyed that they got to know each other well due to the focused time they spent outside of class.

The importance of such experiments and informal events cannot be underestimated. They can be extremely beneficial in conveying essential ideas which might be difficult in the traditional classroom due to pressures associated with grades. Additionally, even the elementary mathematical treatments of topics in physics is seen by many students as being very burdensome due to previously instilled fears about mathematics and science. Our experiments have proved to be a revelation to students and faculty alike; it has allowed us to provide a forum where talking about science and creating science are both possible and equally valued . It has allowed students to see that science and in fact, even art, are not created in isolation; there is a strong tie between them that often goes unnoticed . In becoming comfortable with failure, we have given ourselves a greater chance of success. The roots of the notion of creativity lie in creation, after all, and our collective consciousness have been shaped by our students’ creation. As our project races to completion with the creation of the short film, we look forward to more shifts in our thinking of what science or art really mean. We invite you to join us for the culmination of this experience on May 3.

References:

DeHaan, R. L. (2005). The impending revolution in undergraduate science education. Journal of Sci. Educ. and Tech., 14(2), 253-269.

Meinwald, J. & Hildebrand, J. G. (2010). Introduction. In J. Meinwald & J. G. Hildebrand (Eds .), Science and the educated American: A core component of liberal education (pp. 1-8). Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Munakata, M. and Vaidya, A. (2012) . Encouraging Creativity in Mathematics and Science Through Photography. Teaching Mathematics and its Applications. 31(3). 121-132.

Goldberg, D. E. (2008). Last word: Bury the Cold War curriculum. ASEE PRISM, 17(8).

National Research Council. (2005). S. Donovan & J. Bransford (Eds .) . How students learn: History, mathematics, and science in the classroom. Washington, D .C .: National Academies Press.

Using Screencasting for Teaching, by Kirk McDermid

Using Screencasting for Teaching, by Kirk McDermid

by Dr. Kirk McDermid, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Montclair State University

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Quick (boring) facts:

“Screencasting” is recording all or part of what’s happening on a computer’s display, to share with someone at a later date . It’s often used in software tutorials to give new users a visual aid to help familiarize them with the software . There are many different packages out there that can record screencasts, but I’ll be writing about a free service called “Jing” (techsmith.com/jing). Jing allows you to record a whole screen, a window, or a user-defined portion of a screen. It records up to 5 minutes of 10-frames-per-second video (so, not good for actual video, but just fine for showing mouse movements, etc.) and allows you to save them locally as swf (Flash) video files, or host them on screencast.com. (Techsmith also offers “Snagit,” which records more than 5 minutes and adds features, and Camtasia, an even more feature-filled screen-capture and video creator package.) Jing works on Windows (all contemporary versions) and Mac OS X 10 .6 .8 or later.

How I use it:

As with all teachers, I am constantly trying to find ways to improve communication with my students, and give them more effective feedback on their work—especially written work. And, of course, I’m lazy; I’d like to do it efficiently. (I’m also not the fastest typist, so I find that while typed feedback is an improvement over handwriting, it’s still very time consuming). I do use rubrics or other ‘pre-made’ commentary for general or common feedback, but that just doesn’t cut it when you find something that doesn’t fit the categories you defined before reading student work. I also find that I’m not good at conveying nuance in my comments— students find it difficult to distinguish ‘minor’ comments or asides from central, fundamental feedback about their work.

(And it gets worse when I can’t control my sarcasm or humor. For some reason, students aren’t prepared to detect those when they’re reading evaluations of their work.)

So, I screencast.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

Courtesy Creative Commons, 2012.

It’s simple: I set up a Jing window to record an area of a few lines’ worth of their paper, and I record myself reading it . (Yes, I almost entirely accept coursework in electronic form. I always have a copy; we have email records (or other means) to validate submissions, and the writing is always legible.) I skip over the dull parts (the dull parts of my reading, that is) by pressing a “pause recording” button, so it appears that I’ve read sections very fast sometimes, but then the whole screencast is full of commentary from me. (You can see times when I do that in the example screencasts, as my mouse flicks down to the left where the pause button is located outside the recording frame.) Sometimes it takes two or even three five-minute videos to read and respond to an entire paper, but if it’s one-two pages, one video does the trick . Then, just a brief typewritten summary at the end of the paper (mostly to remind myself of the evaluation I just gave in video form) and it’s returned to the student with a link to the screencast. (Total elapsed time is more than just the five-minute video that’s produced; if you screw up something or get interrupted, Jing doesn’t let you edit—you have to start over. But generally I get videos done in a single take, with only a few minutes of paused reading time, so a five-minute video might take 6-10 minutes to produce.)

Here is an example of a short essay that took me two five-minute videos to read: screencast.com/t/6rSmcB9o and screencast.com/t/qN1uIwcEjC .

But essays aren’t the only student work that visual and verbal feedback can help with. I use screencasts in a critical thinking/ informal logic course, where students have to do things like reconstruct an argument into a structured format for analysis. There are many moving parts, and it’s a nightmare to give good feedback just by typing, as your focus shifts from premise to premise as you critique their work. Another benefit: it’s easy to post screencast links as part of a discussion thread, and other students can easily follow along and benefit, too . Here’s an example: screencast.com/t/k6sdQhJ05o1S.

How do students respond? I haven’t done a formal study, so all I have are anecdotes which are generally very positive. I’ve had students describe it as having me “read their paper over their shoulder.” Yes, I thought that sounded creepy too, but they intended it as an endorsement. I find that students can understand me better, as they can hear my tone and emphasis. They can also replay the video whenever they want . (Another under-appreciated benefit, in my view, is that they have to listen to the whole thing to understand my evaluation— they can’t skip to the end or just find “the grade” to see what I thought of the paper.) Like any assignment and feedback, what you put in a Jing screencast is only as good as your feedback, and the structure of your assignment. I typically assign papers that can be revised and resubmitted; students have a good motive to listen to my feedback in that case (whether it was a Jing, or not). I also find that students have fewer misunderstandings about what I’m referring to in my feedback—some errors or problems can’t be easily located using a pen on paper (arrows, circles, everywhere!!) but with a Jing, they can see you draw or scroll to the areas you’re focused on. (See the logic screencast above for a good example of that .) I used to screencast on a convertible tablet, using a pen to scribble on documents as I read and talked (awesome); now I have a plain laptop, but I can indicate passages clearly just by moving the mouse (great, not awesome).

I do also use Jing to screencast tutorials; if you’ve ever had students complain they don’t know where to find something on Blackboard, use a screencast to answer that once, then post it somewhere you know they can find it. I also run an off-campus hosted wiki as a coursework site for students; Jing eases the learning curve, since it’s something they’ve never done before . (It’s a unique type of wiki.) Here’s an example: screencast.com/t/0yUQrYYQYvM.

About the author:

Kirk McDermid is an assistant professor of philosophy at Montclair State University. As a philosopher and physicist (BSc in physics from UBC, MSc and PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics and the University of Western Ontario, respectively) interested in the philosophy of science and epistemology, he has published in Physics Letters A, Religious Studies and Teaching Philosophy. He is also associate faculty at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, team teaching a course on critical thinking for Justice Studies students with a law enforcement veteran. He is always interested in exploring innovative pedagogy and instructional technology as ways to increase student engagement and make differentiated, student-driven learning manageable for instructors. His current research interests center on developing an epistemology of student plagiarism, examining the philosophical import of variational methods in physics, and implementing a semantic wiki to manage student learning and collaboration.

Games for Science: The Scientist Magazine

There has been a growing interest in how teachers can leverage student’s engagement with games to enhance learning. This article summarizes some applications of games in the sciences. To go directly to the article in The Scientist Magazine, Games for Science, skip to here: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33715/title/Games-for-Science/

Our Best Teaching Moments – Writing our Teaching Philosophy

Courtesy of DiscoverySchool.com. Copyright © 1998 Mark A. Hicks. Originally published by Mark A. Hicks. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Our Best Teaching Moments

by Julie Dalley

Our last Teaching Circles meeting of the semester was April 24, a Tuesday. There were only four of us present physically, one virtually, through email. The discussion began with our “best” teaching moment, when we knew we had kicked ass and taken names when delivering our lesson – that one (or more) class where everything just “clicked. I think we can all remember a day where the students talked, where our lesson was BOSS and our delivery was award-worthy, where students “got it” and time ran over but no one cared (or something along those lines), and I choose to close out our meetings this semester with some positive stories and experiences because, of course we want to end on a good note, and because, good – and bad – experiences are what form us as educators and turn us into teachers.

Surprisingly, it was much harder to think of a “best” moment – that is, a moment that stood out. I can remember feeling great about a class, remember wonderful conversations, but it was harder to fill in the details than when I thought of my worst moments as a teacher. Classes gone amok were much clearer, which makes me part of a 2.6% who find positive memories harder to recall, or I could be mildly depressed? Perhaps I was more emotional, and stressed, by the bad classes, which is most likely. Either way, remembering these classes became important to my development as a teacher, and is a crucial way to build our teaching philosophy. My goal was to share these stories, tap into our memories – good and bad – and use this material as fodder for crafting our teaching philosophies.

As my post, Our Worst Teaching Moments, detailed, we have all failed spectacularly in front of a classroom of judgmental and amused students. Mostly though, after the judging and laughter wore off, students felt sympathetic to our struggles, and this show of humanity – we all fail sometimes – helped to ultimately create stronger bonds with our students. We became better because we fell on our faces.

When it comes to our best moments, often they are connected to true engagement with you, the instructor. Yes, you! Not just the material, the content, but how you deliver it, how you invite them to challenge, explore, experiment, or even be shocked by, the lesson is what made that day, that class, special. Our first story came from a professor in Classics & General Humanities. He talked about how he asked students to compare the United States Constitution with the ancient Greek Athenian constitution. Their surprise on how similar the two documents were resulted in a lively debate about the roots of our country’s ideas about democracy borrowed from the ideals perpetuated in ancient societies.

Our next speaker talked about her experience teaching Music Theory. This topic – rich in dense vocabulary and foundational knowledge – became personally viable to her students when she invited them to bring in their own music which they then connected to the theory or practices they were learning at the time. This made the class more engaged and personally connected to what was otherwise dry instruction.

Our computer science faculty member shared that his best classes came when students could engage in hands-on application of knowledge. Once past the point of introduction or theory, applying what they knew and trying out concepts, building programs, really became the nexus of pedagogy and student engagement.

My best moment teaching came during a discussion about the roots of racial inequality in the United States. I was teaching an American History junior high school class, and we were role playing the Civil War. When the conversation turned from then to now, a student made the statement that race “wasn’t a big deal anymore” because “I have lots of black friends who I don’t view in any different way.” She was shocked when several of my black students spoke up and quickly rebutted her statement with “just because we hang out with you, doesn’t mean we’re friends or equal.” I let the conversation roll, despite my internal fear that it may get out of hand and it was a topic I wasn’t sure I was capable of moderating with poise, but it turned out to be one of the best learning moments I’d ever had in my classroom – for me and my students. We really talked, without anger or recriminations, and we discussed perspective – personal, biographical, historical perspective. Everyone was respectful while connecting the issue at hand – racial inequality in the United States and its historical roots – with their own personal experience.

The four stories above share a common element: engagement with the personal. We surprised our students with knowledge they didn’t expect (finding similarities between the old and the new, always a shocker to the young, who invented everything!), we went off plan in our lessons, and we invited them to engage personally and emotionally (sharing their personal taste in music).

This post is related to my post of Worst Teaching Moments because these are rich stories that make for a wonderfully personal orientation when developing our teaching philosophy. For faculty hoping for tenure or re-appointment, or for new graduates looking for a full-time appointment, teaching philosophies are critically important in articulating our experience, our goals, and our understanding of what it means to teach and learn in our disciplines. By reflecting on our experience with both success and failure in the classroom we are conveying that we paid attention to what worked, what didn’t, and what we learned from it. It needn’t only be limited to our teaching experience either; new graduates may have limited teaching experience, but as this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, we’ve all been students. We know what we liked as students, what we didn’t, and why we chose to become educators.

These two meetings were meant to be exercises to help us frame our teaching philosophies. In the Fall, we will hold a formal workshop with hands-on writing exercises to polish and get feedback on writing our teaching philosophies. I hope these ideas of reflecting on what worked and what didn’t were helpful in at least getting you thinking about your teaching experiences, and to perhaps write a few sentences on what you considered a success, and what you thought failed, and what you learned from each. Every stand-out teaching philosophy has, at minimum, those three elements. For more resources on writing your teaching philosophy, please check out the following resources. Have a wonderful summer!

“How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy” by Gabriela Montell, retrieved from the Chronicle of Higher Education, May 11, 2012: http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Write-a-Statement-of/45133/

“Writing the Teaching Statement” by Rachel Narehood Austin, retrieved from Science Careers, from the Journal of Science, May 11, 2012: http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2006_04_14/noDOI.14633728089694563528

University of Minnesota, Background and Contexts for Teaching Philosophies: http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/philosophy/background/index.html

The Ohio State University, University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. Writing a Philosophy of Teaching Statement: http://ucat.osu.edu/teaching_portfolio/philosophy/philosophy2.html

 

Learning How to Learn: A Mandate for Change in Today’s College Classroom

 “It is not the subject per se that is educative or conducive to growth…There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract.”
– John Dewey, “Criteria of Experience,” in Experience & Education, 1938.

“Students’ long-term success does not depend upon short-term business cycles or the technical demands of the latest ‘hot’ industry.”
– Carol Geary Schneider, President, American Association of Colleges and Universities, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2011.

Author and Professor Neil Baldwin

Author Neil Baldwin

Author and Professor Neil Baldwin

I. What kind of essay this is; and to whom addressed. 

Learning How to Learn is a wake-up call directed at those who care about the perplexing challenges involved with educating today’s college youth in our interconnected world: Where is the common ground? How should we be talking to — and with — these mercurial young people? And how can we convince them that learning how to learn should be their ultimate goal?

This essay avoids the debilitating ideological “war” between utilitarian education for a job (vocational), and general education for well-rounded citizenship (liberal arts) fueling the crisis mentality that pervades media conversations, blogs, and articles about American higher education.  The time has come to focus the scatter-shot, overheated debate about what is “wrong” with college and “the system,” and to bear down instead upon the most intimate arena in which education actually occurs: the classroom.

Learning How to Learn encourages teachers to draw upon what they know, with confidence — their expertise — then take a crucial step beyond, making use of common sense pedagogy that recognizes the unique mind-set of their generational audience, aged 17-22.

This is not a utopian dream about what could happen if we had all the money in the world.  We must work with what we have been given. The American public higher education landscape is commonly portrayed as impoverished and out of balance financially and intellectually. Therefore, what can the everyday classroom teacher be expected, supported — and inspired — to do, without sacrificing standards and ideals?

Let me also say at the outset that Learning How to Learn is not predicated upon any authoritative, longitudinal studies. It is documented with a rich and varied bibliography of current literature on American higher education that I have been tracking down, reading, writing about, and commenting upon from the web-based vantage point of the virtual Creative Research Center at Montclair State University.

As a tenured full professor and classroom teacher with a “3-3” curricular load of undergraduate introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses as well as graduate seminars, I have given deep thought to what should be going on “on the ground;” why, and toward what desired ends.

II. The Current Crisis. 

My simmering contemplation of the current crisis was crystallized by two chance readings that, on the surface, seemed unrelated. The first began as a conversation about teaching I was enjoying with a friend in the Philosophy Department who glancingly referred to “the only essay on education that Hannah Arendt ever wrote – and it’s all about the American educational system” — did I know of it?  I raced home and pulled Arendt’s classic collection, Between Past and Future, from my shelves.

Arendt’s major concern in her essay “The Crisis in Education” (1954) was that our much-vaunted school system, at all levels, was “helpless before the individual child,” that we were in danger of forsaking the “obligation that the existence of children –  human beings in the process of becoming — entails for every human society…One cannot educate without at the same time teaching,” she wrote, but “an education without learning is empty.” The ultimate iteration of freedom as action — in Hannah Arendt’s hopeful words — would be only through education to inspire and encourage “care for a world that can survive us, and remain a place fit to live in, for those who come after us.”

Soon thereafter, I was rushing through Newark Airport when a headline on the cover of The Atlantic caught my eye – Scenes from the Class Struggle, by Joel Klein, recently retired chancellor of the New York City public school system.  I grabbed the magazine and read the piece on the plane. “President Obama was on to something in 2008,” Klein wrote, “when he said, ‘The single most important factor in determining student achievement is not the color of their skin or where they came from. It is not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.’ ”  Klein warned that, “Time is running out. Without a citizenry willing to insist upon reform, our schools will continue to decline…Shocking as it may sound, the cost in human terms, to our nation, and to the kind of people we aspire to become, will be even greater.”

Fifty-seven years apart…and yet, both Arendt and Klein are saying the same thing: Our educational system, designed in another time for other purposes, is in a state of emergency; and something needs to be done right away, or we will suffer the loss of future human capital.

The urgency of the language in both cases emanates from fear on the most personal level that we as teachers and parents are in danger of literally losing our youth – abandoning them – by not serving them as well as we should; and that we, as a society, on the largest level, are neglecting our mission as adults, forsaking our obligations to the young, chastising ourselves for being unresponsive to what Arendt calls “The New Ones,” the newest generation — new at whatever stage they may be, from pre-school toddlers to college freshmen.

A powerful element at the core of the current cultural crisis is the intensified pressure upon higher education professors as “content-deliverers” who must justify and quantify the ultimate applications and uses of the information and knowledge acquired (or not) by their students.

But remember: Information is not knowledge.

My vigilant classroom anthropological “fieldwork” has led me to try to come up with new ways to elicit and legitimize the affect of college students, encouraging them to take enduring values and morals to heart that originate in content and subject-based arenas, and extend beyond them.

III. The American Idealist Tradition and Its Pedagogical Legacy. 

As an historian and biographer steeped in American culture (works on William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford) my current teaching behavior and beliefs grow out of decades of writing books that identify and elucidate redemptive qualities in our native imagination, most recently The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War. 

This American chronicle [see  http://www.neilbaldwinbooks.com], combined with immersion in teaching, inspired me to revisit — with rejuvenated appreciation — our mainstream pragmatist pioneer, John Dewey (1859-1952). No self-respecting examination of American higher education can be complete without (re)encountering Dewey – prolific public intellectual, exemplar of progressivism, hailed by The New York Times as “America’s philosopher.” As Chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago, Dewey founded an experimental elementary school and launched his quest to “define democracy in all its phases – political, economic, social, and cultural.”

The pragmatic philosopher celebrated what makes us most human. Dewey encouraged every American student to explore his literal and figurative neighborhood, “just local, just human, just where we live.”  Indeed, the original name for pragmatism, as coined in 1898 by Dewey’s faithful correspondent and friend, William James, was “practicalism.”

Henry Steele Commager praised Dewey as “the guide, mentor, and conscience of the American people.” Here was a teacher who predicated his life’s work upon empiricism, the supreme value of experience in all domains of life, spanning from primary education to the imperative social contract that connects every one of us to each other.

My affinities as a classroom teacher resonate with Dewey’s lifelong intention to “reach beyond the academy and speak to a wide range of citizens…[in] the general march of events…outleadings into the wide world of nature and man… of knowledge and of social interests…”

I am impelled forward by John Dewey’s endorsement of ways of knowing that carry across the boundaries between disciplines; his melding of the ethical and the practical; his conceptualization of teacher-as-learner (particularly pertinent today); his faith in process before product; his view of the institution of the school as the proper spawning-ground for moral sensibility and the development of role models; his healthy opinion of the child’s affection for the teacher as a suitable foundation for learning; his belief in the organic relationship of disparate subjects to each other; his conviction that art is a form of praxis and that the quality of the thing made far outweighs quantity; his insistence that the “machinery of thought” must be kept moving for reflection to exercise its greatest influence; and that the teacher demonstrate correct learning through daily behavior – not only through what he says, but what he does.

John Dewey’s greatest follower, Jane Addams (1860-1935), declared, “The sphere of knowledge is the sphere of action.” In that same spirit, I endorse converting pedagogical thought into purposeful action.  Dewey’s vintage writings have much to tell us now about remedying systemic problems in higher education. America’s philosopher is due for a vigorous revival.  His prescient and seminal studies including Experience & Education and Art as Experience provide timely reading for today’s teachers, parents — and millennials.

Social MediaIV.  The Challenge of Social Media.

College professors are constantly reminded of our obligation to teach – to be “exposed to” — the many (as expressed through calculation of Student Semester Hours, or, colloquially, “butts in seats”).

I am constantly asking, “how I can get to know my students as individuals?”

The administrative/economic-productivity mandate to reach more college undergraduates is at odds with a constant succession of observed behaviors in our students – resentment of high school and the legacy of No Child Left Behind of teaching to the test; individual and quirky cognitive gaps and lapses; continuous partial attention; vicissitudes and inconsistencies over the course of a semester, during which time a teacher occasionally finds himself wondering why some of his students are even there in the first place.

We read nowadays about how teachers are trying to incorporate social media into the classroom instead of heading in the other direction, which is to outlaw it.  Every teacher needs to ask himself, when in front of the class, how he honestly feels about looking out over the students and seeing them on their laptops, wondering if they are texting, tweeting, or Facebooking.

One short year ago, the girls used to hide their phones inside their purses on their desks, and text with one hand; and guys in the back of the room leaned against the wall, baseball cap brim pulled down, and cradled the phone just below the edge of their desks.  Now, they are unabashedly overt, nestling the phone in their laps or laying it in plain view on the top of the desk and texting “unobtrusively.”

What does this behavior signify? Insouciance? Rebellion? Habituation? Ignorance? Instinct? How are teachers supposed to interpret and act upon such behavior? Are students conscious of what they are doing when they do it? Do they understand (or care) that their habituated mediations infringe upon the pedagogical atmosphere? What does it mean if, in fact, they are not conscious and/or do not see anything wrong with incessant electronic chat?

The virtual is real to this distracted and (self-characterized) omniscient generation (i.e., “It’s all on the Web whenever we need anything).  The great danger for the teacher is automatically reading such multi-tasked immersion as indicating that students are not paying attention. Could it be that their mode of situated cognition has conjured up an utterly different definition than mine of what it actually means to “pay attention?”

To what degree should teachers be willing to accommodate the technology? To what degree should we resist or (even) criticize it? When I start to call them out I feel a twinge, as if I am acting like a high school teacher or disciplinary monitor. When I tell the class how awkward I feel, they may tone it down for a day, but texting and surfing invariably return.

When the investment of the teacher and the mental disengagement of the student are at odds, my going-around-in-circles with the dilemma is compounded by reluctance to downgrade my status at the front of the room, which is, after all, where I belong. Each disciplinary comment I put out there is one more incremental departure from the reasons we are supposed to be in the room.

My inner monologue goes something like this: They are in my class, well-aware that they, or their parents, are paying to be there; they are experiencing first-hand contact with a noted author, and making a choice to do what they do. If it is impossible for students to stay off their phones for an hour and fifteen minutes, or to sit in the seat without getting up, eating, drinking Starbucks, going to the bathroom, dropping their highlighters and hand-held devices, and other random gestures, then what is to be gained by my trying to stop them coercively, as opposed to permitting them to behave in customary ways?

This past year marked Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday. His dictum that “the medium is the message” applies to this pedagogical dilemma. Case in point: To discuss my ideas — and assuage my apprehensions — about the format of an online graduate course I agreed to teach, I met with a well-meaning instructional designer.  It was self-evident to him that anything I taught face to face could be accomplished and executed equally well through technology. It was going to be a matter of my providing learning objectives for the course and the structure of the syllabus; then he would work with me to devise the technology that would “best convey the desired content.”

He used a container-analogy, explaining that teaching a class online was just like choosing between a “truck or a van or a car” to “deliver” a package. I countered that this translation did not hold up.  Learning is a cognitive process of uncertain duration that transpires between the time a concept or idea is launched and whether (or not) it lands in the student’s mind in a way that will be sustained beyond the moment.

V. The teacher as mentor.

Arthur Levine’s trenchant observation in The Chronicle of Higher Education strikes a responsive chord: “Graduate-level teacher training programs created by schools and school districts tend to emphasize practice over theory, clinical education over academic instruction, pedagogy over content, and faculties of expert teachers over university professors.”

Rather than legislate abstract, over-arching national curricular standards for the common core, the best way to improve our educational system is to start at the classroom level, with teacher preparation that bridges the metaphorical “widest street in the world” between colleges of education and colleges of arts and sciences. Classroom teachers should be singled out and trained based upon their commitment to developing a positive classroom ambience and emotional climate; at the same time, the affective quality of classroom life must be enhanced in support of the teacher’s level of expertise in a specialist subject area.

Teachers need to reallocate their energies, draw upon empathy rather than cultivate resistance, and re-evaluate how subject matter is conveyed.  In the classroom, at that point where the expert meets the novice, there needs to be an unforced lamination of subject matter onto meaningful engagement.

Students expect the classroom teacher to place greater demands upon himself.  This is a message many professors do not like to hear. The contrarian dimension of my manifesto is an appeal to change our ways, as difficult as that may be for those of us further along in years.

Today’s college teacher needs to be a guide and a coach — not a judge. He must learn a new cognitive language when he steps into the classroom. He must muster up the energy to leap over the generation gap; possess behavior-modification strategies of other-directedness, empathy, patience; understand the students’ brains and accept that they operate differently than ours.

In the ideal classroom environment, students will notice and emulate thoughtful, well-considered, authentic modeling behaviors. The fact is that until teachers are committed to adaptive behavior (as distinguished from the dangerous pitfalls of trying to act “cool” or to talk like the students; and not unlike insisting upon speaking English in Paris) we will never be able to convey any “major” or subject matter successfully.

More importantly, again invoking the precedent of John Dewey, any useful praxis must continue beyond the limits of a semester. We must pay more attention to the definition, cultivation and reinforcement of lasting epistemic virtues that cross subject boundaries – attentiveness, benevolence, creativity, compassion, curiosity, inclusion, objectivity, tenacity, and wisdom.

Today’s college teacher, whatever his specialty, must inculcate and encourage in his students an inquisitive, associational, imaginative mentality through habits of mind dedicated to – yes, even obsessed with — the continuous pursuit of knowledge, linked to the positive implications of that pursuit for the greater society.

This broad path supercedes particular courses for which students have willingly and/or unwillingly registered. As I tell my (required) Play Script Interpretation class on the first day of the term, “It doesn’t matter to me what subject I teach.”

The student needs to understand that memorizing is not learning. Neither, for that matter, is abstract intellectualizing. Giving a quiz to make sure that everybody has at least read the assignment works on the reductive, essential level.  The only way for a teacher to find out if students are learning is to ask them to apply principles or themes or ideas from a wide range of perspectives to creatively devised hypothetical situations, challenges and prompts.

Unless students feel emotionally comfortable with the teacher, they will not learn in a sustained fashion; they will only acquire information expediently and transiently. They must be reminded by the strategically self-conscious teacher about the ongoing narrative/through-line of the course, where they are located within it, and how the course will eventually pertain to their lives in the day to day larger society.

Students need to trust from the first class meeting that the teacher knows the syllabus-as-narrative best of all, because he has conceived of it and written it, and will keep writing it as it goes along. The teacher must remain confident of this classroom “story,” welcoming the students in on it from time to time, so that they begin to think of themselves as co-conspirators.

Hence, what I call…

VI. …the Existential Curriculum.

When I reference “existential” I am drawing upon aspects of the empathic theory of Hannah Arendt’s student, Maxine Greene. I envision a curriculum created with the understanding that, although it is purported to be and presented as a plan, it will still be in a state of continuous formation. The existential curriculum exists to be modified, elaborated and clarified as you forge ahead through the term.

The decisive, adaptable, aware, questing/questioning and observant teacher — active observation being among the desired attributes for any nimble teacher of young people – will be the most effective bearer of any subject embedded in the fluid, evolving situation of the classroom that he/she must be mindful of and control.

Once the plan is in place, teacher and students, together, construct and make the course.

The teacher’s performative cues must be presented openly so the class will perceive what they value (in their words) as the teacher’s “passion” and “caring about / respecting the students.”  The reciprocal degree to which students feel the passion and trust the teacher’s feelings as being sincere will have a salutary influence upon the depth and extent to which the subject-matter is learned.

John Dewey distinguishes illuminatingly between content-value and form-value. Students in the throes of an existential curriculum must be made aware that their sentient teacher has not only a pedagogical methodology but also a moral stance. The behavioral medium is one in which the teacher projects confidence that the students have the capacity to take on and learn difficult concepts. In such an environment, the subject matter will have the optimal chance to traverse the distance from the teacher.

The existential curriculum coalesced in my imagination when I was trying to arrive at a more methodical, “not-rushing,” self-regulating, better-paced way to move through the syllabus as a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle and end. The existential curriculum had roots in the realization that, as is my nature, I had been pushing through recent semesters at a high metabolic level, putting forth one intense idea after another without respite.  I became anxious that, even though my intention was to challenge them, the students were having trouble keeping up.  Conceding that it sounded somewhat “hokey,” I told them, “We are all on the same journey.”  This was a metaphor I had actually learned from them; they approved of my epiphany and began to relax somewhat.

My personal strategies of behavioral self-modification include, for example, but not definitively:  “show and tell,” talking the class out loud through whatever I am doing — even something as simple as using chalk to write on the blackboard; conscientious avoidance of flashy media in the classroom, such as Powerpoint (of which students are quite critical); handing out questionnaires halfway through the term to get their feedback and establish mid-course corrections; encouraging legitimized confusion by trying out new questions, experimenting, and readily admitting when they do not work; pointedly acknowledging my mistakes; using constant interrogation as a primary mode of discourse; accepting all student answers as valid perceptual and learning moments; collapsing the readings syllabus into fewer required works in order to spend more time on each one; impromptu elimination of an exam or exams; shifting emphasis to reading aloud; and establishing a final, collective project embracing contributions from the entire class, such as http://www.montclair.edu/creativeresearch/studentcenter/index.html

VII. Pure epistemology.

Transitioning from the existential curriculum that advocates intellectual and affective development in the college classroom, I propose initiating a conversation about learning at the outset of every class, every semester.

The subject matter of the conversation is heightened awareness of the nature of learning itself – “pure epistemology.”

Start a course – any course — by reading and talking about how learning occurs, and what it means.  Use the discussion of the actual meaning of learning as the common denominator, the obligatory entrée.

This initial conversation requires an accompanying assessment of the students’ “knowledge base.”  Take informational inventory, coming to terms with their prior knowledge of whatever book or subject you are discussing, without placing a value-judgment on the discrepancies different students bring to class from varied high school days and real-life experiences.

Through this collective exercise in metacognition, the teacher helps the students confront the meaning of learning and draw out its connotations.

I frame learning – it should be obvious by now – as an inherent asset, something desirable. The incoming student often needs to be convinced of this value.  Maybe you “have to take” this course, I say to the class, because it is required (as so many general education courses are). Instead of resisting, I continue, you might think about looking at the class as an opportunity to develop your learning skills beyond what the catalog says the course is about. You may end up discovering that there are classes you have to take that you actually end up liking. With more than one-half of the typical college curriculum made up of general education classes, shouldn’t all such classes embody some useful meaning?

In the process of teaching students to learn how to learn, we must revisit the unresolved debate about Liberal Arts education – the oft-invoked canon: what belongs, what doesn’t, according to whom, and how this gatekeeping stricture can be adjusted – not sacrificed, not jettisoned — to reflect the times in which we live and the fragmented mentalities of our students.   In the enlightened future I want for my students, and never stop trying to articulate, there will be skills, attributes, and qualities they will always need out in the world.

It is also a fallacy to decide that a teacher absolutely must cover everything laid out in the proposed curricular terrain. The millennial mind finds it tedious to bear the pedagogical burden of an over-regulated syllabus. Up-front, we should be wary of the oversold or pre-packaged promise of a course because, by the end of the term, what we really want to generate is the realization that.

VIII. …Pedagogy is for Life. 

The college professor and his students face pressures to show documented, measurable outcomes. I am not discounting these out of hand; however, we must also seek to get beyond the hermetic idea that when a course runs, it de facto serves its purpose when it is over.  We must demonstrate greater permeability between the higher education world and the rest of the students’ worlds.

We must guide today’s students toward the understanding that their college education is an opportunity for them to develop and to become indoctrinated to new, better, humanistic, more valuable and sustained mentalities — beyond utilitarianism, choice of majors, getting that piece of paper, and the need for a job.

By the time they graduate, students’ self-centered attentions and energies should be applied outward and forward, to a sense of social responsibility for the collective and common weal, an understanding of the democratic experiment — engagement with their society, their Zeitgeist – because it will be theirs to inhabit, survive, and ameliorate.

“I do not wish to close, however,” John Dewey emphasized in the final pages of Experience & Education, “without recording my firm belief that the fundamental issue is not of ‘new’ versus ‘old’ education, nor of ‘progressive’ against ‘traditional’ education, but a question of what anything whatever must be to be worthy of the name education.”

As Hannah Arendt wrote so movingly, “School is not the world, but it represents the world for the child when he is there.”

The “existentials” need to find better ways to aim for and reach the moving target of the “millennials.” Abandonment of authority will not help teach anybody anything. Nor will free-floating theory divorced from grounded real-life application. From where I stand as a classroom teacher, detached abstraction is of little interest to the average college student.

Rather, learning how to learn is the most urgent higher education challenge in the twenty-first century.

IX. Selected Bibliography.

Arendt, Hannah. The Crisis in Education (1954)

Dewey, John. “A College Course: What Should I Expect from It?” (1890).  In The Early Works, (Vol.3, pp.51-55). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.

—-. Art as Experience. New York: Perigee Books, 1934, 2005.

—-. Experience & Education. New York: Touchstone Books, 1938, 1997.

Greene, Maxine. The Dialectic of Freedom. New York: Teachers College Press, 1988.

Hickman, Larry A., ed. Reading Dewey: Interpretations for a Postmodern Generation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Klein, Joel. Scenes from the Class Struggle. The Atlantic, June, 2011.

Levine, Arthur. The New Normal of Teacher Education. Chronicle of Higher Education, May 13, 2011.

Mirel, Jeffrey. “Bridging the ‘Widest Street in the World’: Reflections on the History of Teacher Education.” American Educator, 35.2, Summer 2011.

Webster, Scott. “Existentialism: Providing an ideal framework for educational research in times of uncertainty.” In AARE 2002: Problematic Futures. Coldstream, Victoria, NSW, pp.1-15.

[Note: The central theme of this essay originated in my Keynote Speech presented at the Montclair State University Student Research Symposium, April 16, 2011. I express grateful appreciation to my first readers, Susan Albertine, Vice-President for Engagement, Inclusion, and Success, and Karen Kalla, Director, Network for Academic Renewal, Association of American Colleges and Universities; and for their generous critique and editorial commentary through successive drafts of Learning How to Learn over the past twelve months, I would like to thank Ada Beth Cutler, Dean, College of Education and Human Services; Jennifer Robinson, Executive Director, Center of Pedagogy;  Linda Davidson, Associate Dean, College of the Arts; Erhard Rom, Professor, Department of Theatre & Dance, College of the Arts; Cigdem Talgar, Acting Director, Research Academy for University Learning and Julie R. Dalley, Assistant Director, Research Academy for University Learning — all of Montclair State University.]

Neil Baldwin, a widely-published cultural historian and critic, is a Professor in the Department of Theatre & Dance, and Director of the Creative Research Center http://www.montclair.edu/creativeresearch in the College of the Arts. Prior to joining the faculty of Montclair State University, he was the Founding Executive Director of The National Book Foundation, sponsor of The National Book Awards. His teaching interests cover the span from dramaturgy and danceaturgy at the undergraduate level to arts management at the graduate level. His current areas of research include interdisciplinarity, the history of the imagination, Web-based modern dance documentation and archival practice, and the pedagogical centrality of the arts in American liberal education.  Dr. Baldwin also serves as co-chair of the NYU Biography Seminar. His Web site is http://www.neilbaldwinbooks.com

 

Our Worst Teaching Moment

Siddhartha Bautama by Suta Sila Dham. Courtesy of Fotopedia.

Our last Teaching Circle meeting, I decided to try a more guided discussion, and asked guests to bring their worst teaching moment to share with the group. I have to admit, I think we probably had worse ones than the ones we actually shared, but that’s okay, because the point was two-fold:

  • Build community through stories;
  • Identify our weaknesses as teachers and how they’ve made (or can make us) better.

The reason for sharing our worst stories first is so we can – right out of the gate – admit that we are all human and that every educator has moments, or days, possibly a full week, when they don’t, exactly…shine.

Sharing our stories was cool, and I mean that in the sense of Chester Cheetos-like cool, because we laughed at ourselves without feeling our stories diminished us at all as educators. How we handle these moments became the take-away from this meeting, and how they can form, and inform, us as educators became teaching philosophy fodder. Because this is the point: none of us is perfect and it’s important for us, and our students, to know that. Don’t lose your cool! Students love it when they can bond with you over a little SNAFU in class, come to your assistance, or otherwise pull together as a group to solve a problem (I’m quite surprised technology implosions didn’t feature much more largely in our discussion – we did have one instructor discuss her experience with full system failure though). Though some students may view it as an opportunity to dismiss you as an authority with knowledge to share, most students will rally around you if you show a sense of humor and some humility about life’s little jokes.

Here is a brief rundown of the funny and humble stories featuring times we felt less than great about our teaching or inter-action with students, with each of us presenting different moments revealing our unique yet 0h-so-common teaching bonds. No matter how long you’ve been teaching, how well you know your topic, how utterly fabulous you are as an instructor, you will at some time have the teaching gods frown upon you. I began by owning up to a particular lesson in a high-school economics class, where my students ended up schooling me on a simple math equation. Don’t remember the context, the exact lesson, or the math I couldn’t do that day, but I distinctly remember the embarrassment. We then talked about how to handle these situations; I handled it badly by NOT addressing it with my students and pretending I wasn’t a complete math ignoramus, but it was okay, because eventually I could look back and recognize how I should have handled it, and how I would be better prepared for these moments in the future. Something to write about in my teaching statement, which I have done. Nothing says, “I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned from them” than an honest story that reveals what we don’t know about teaching and what we want to learn, yes?

Next came stories of language barriers – especially relevant for our international scholars and professors who struggle with accents and pronunciations in front of American students ( and for the record, I myself have practiced pronouncing many words that I don’t speak regularly but are difficult for any English speaker; for example, homogeneous is often mispronounced, still can’t confidently say the names of Tacitus or Aeschylus; just about any word with a lot of vowels…); “things students say in class” that catch us unawares -forcing some quick thinking and instant ability to react wisely! (“Oh, prof, I won’t be here for that class; I’m going to Coachella.”; “Oh, okay. <long pause> Have fun.” = awkward!); lapses in basic knowledge (see my math freeze above), inability to answer a student’s question coherently, razing by jerky students who know you are “fresh” – this WILL happen to you as a new or younger teacher. We heard a story about a mathematician of renown, possibly still teaching, but the story is of old, who simply shrugged off his calculation errors in front of students, and put the onus of knowledge on the students (that is, he let them figure out the problem; he already knew how to do it, why should he do it for the students?). Would that we all had that confidence and aloofness, yes? We discussed our frustration when students don’t “get it” and how we struggle to make meaning for them – is it us? them? How can we make it clearer? It seems so OBVIOUS!  We decided that we – yes, us teachers – are of the homo sapiens species after all, thus prone to error. We were able to turn these mini-crises into really pivotal and critical teaching and learning moments, ones that we ALL share as educators.

We also talked about the Flipped Classroom, Google+ versus Facebook, whether or not we should interact with students on social media sites (that was a resounding NO as I recall, but we did agree that setting up professional “teacher/colleague” profiles were a good idea when you did want to create a space online with your students). We ran out of time before we got to some writing exercises for tying all of this into our teaching philosophies, but I hope we can get to that next time.

For our next meeting, I plan to guide us to the flip side of the teaching coin-  our best teaching moment – that one (or more) class where everything just “clicked. I think we can all remember a day where the students talked, where our lesson was BOSS and our delivery was award-worthy, where students “got it” and time ran over but no one cared (or something along those lines), and we pictured Cate Blanchett playing us in the Oscar-winning movie of 2026 on inspiring teaching stories that bring a tear to the eye (dream sequence)…so, I thought, let’s end our semester with some positive stories and experiences, and what they can tell us about our teaching, about our students, and how these experiences (good and bad), are integral parts of being awesome educators.

We’d love to hear from you out there: what was your best or worst teaching moment? What did it teach you about yourself as an educator? Join us!

Work That Matters | High Tech High

Via Scoop.itEducation and Social Media

From the website

“The teacher’s guide to project-based learning” Free for download

How to design and run projects for students that begin with an enquiry and end with a tangible, publicly exhibited product. This guide has grown out of the partnership between High Tech High, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Innovation Unit.”

This newly published 100-page guide is available for free download. It is the product of an extensive collaboration primarily between High Tech High (a 10-year-old network of 11 public charter schools in San Diego) and Learning Futures (a UK-based non-profit organization that has worked with over 40 schools on innovative methods of teaching and learning, focusing on student engagement). -JL

The guide “offers step-by-step advice on planning and managing extended, interdisciplinary projects as well as useful protocols for critique sessions, templates for important documents such as project plans, and examples of high-impact projects.”

Via www.hightechhigh.org

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