Final Thoughts in Connecting the Dots

We read a couple interesting articles this week that each carried their own impact. In “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited”  by Parker Palmer, the author talks about how current individuals of institutions give said institutions more power than they should. Additionally, the author describes a few “must haves” when it comes to developing the “new professionals”. The second one talks about taking students’ emotions as seriously as their intellects. Palmer then cites the example of the surgical resident being referenced throughout the article mentioning that her feeling overwhelmed at work in the institution pushed her to shut down and shut up. In response to both points I mentioned about power and emotions, I must say that I see this EVERYWHERE. It is like a poison seeping into the veins of all the nascent graduate student from any and all departments.

I love this push back towards allowing values and honor to have a stand in our role as the “new professional”. I have seen an astounding lack of values and honor in some of the classes friends or I have either taken. I think there is a level of value and honor that comes with taking on the responsibility of being a teacher at any level. We all have some connection with the rest of the people in our little world. What we say, how we teach, who we push, will have more of a rippling impact than we can truly comprehend.

In Dan Edelstein’s “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy“, the author discusses the power of humanities education and using it to teach innovation. He is preaching to the choir with his rationale. I thoroughly believe in the idea of a well-rounded student. I would be arguing for the other side too if needed. This will sound cheesy, but is a tree not stronger with roots that are thicker and numerous?

I would very much like to become the “new professional” discussed in Palmer’s article. I have a lot to learn and do to become what he describes, but I see that as an opportunity for growth, not as a hurdle.

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An ADHD-driven Post

And yet- more word vomit. This is written as it spews from my brain and has no order. Apologies in advance. There is no cohesion.  It’s more like… a rant? No…… yep word vomit is appropriate. Again, apologies. Perhaps, you should not even read this.

You learn quickly that I am a spastic, ADHD, intellectual, and fueled-by-chaos kind of human if you spend more than half a second with me. My paranoia alarms go off with technology, but at the same time I love it. Isaac Asimov didn’t help things any. I have definitely seen and reaped the benefits of using a computer, Google, and the like. On the other hand, I also kind of feel like brain is mushier than it used to be. I also feel an overdependence on technology. It is also not lost on me how, for lack of a better word, pathetic it is that my roommates and I will sit in a room together with the television on and we will be on your phones talking to people outside of the room, playing Candy Crush, or just lingering on the Internet. Then again, my phone has saved me from forgetting numerous meetings, and it also serves as my archive for basically my life. It is almost like it is the physical form of Jonesy’s mental library from Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher”. For those of you who do not know what I am talking about – Jonesy is a character from a sci-fi/horror novel where his friends and him each gained some sort of mental ability at a young age. Jonesy’s was the coolest. He could go into his brain as if it were a physical library. He could research, throw things away, move file boxes around, and all sorts of other nifty things.

Each of the readings come from a different perspective regarding humans’ cognitive abilities, how technology has come into play, and if it is a good thing that it has. I appreciate where some of the arguments are coming from. For example, one author says this is just another step in the line of development that impacts cognition just like when a writing system came into existence. That, in fact, all we need to do is find a way to manage it and utilize it effectively. Others fear technology is taking over our cognitive abilities making us zombies. Meanwhile, one argues that computers and humans must work as partners for a more optimal result. I am not sure what I cognitively deduce about this, but I know what I feel. I feel that technology has helped us, but I feel it has separated us.

In the “Smarter Than You Think” article, the author says we are more socially aware regarding civic issues in the world. This is true, but at the same time, I am not sure this is making people actually DO anything. They just see the video/read the article, say “wow this is wrong” and keep going on with their lives. In some circumstances, the trolls crawl out of their dark caves and they decide to post their input. The same author brings up the question of if we are losing our humanity due to our reliance on computers. I am wishy-washy with my answer on this. Yes, we are losing our humanity. One need only to look at one case of cyberbullying to see that truth. I think this constant use of technology and exposure to everything, and being always “on” has numbed us to so much. Then again, these articles are focused more on technology’s impact on cognition, not on our affective states so that argument is moot here. I think more so though, that we are losing our cognitive ability to think for ourselves. Yes, we can be “centaurs” and work in partnership with a computer to be more than we can be, but at the same time, we are losing that confidence in ourselves to think independently and form our own thoughts. Instead, we google, read our friends’ posts accepting them as fact, etc. I agree that technology has made it possible for us to think ON it, like writing on paper or the long division example. I definitely depend on that to exist basically. A lot of people seem to inherently trust what they read on the Internet, and that bothers me. Here is where people are more the problem. Then again, is Googling not another form of me looking an answer up in a book?

I was a Communications major in my undergraduate life. I was told by several teachers that we future professionals control the message. This is true for user-generated content on the Internet, but again I know the debate lies more with how we use technology itself to think. I am not qualified to make an assessment with that. Really not. Again, I can only say what I feel. I feel like my generation and those before me started our lives off without these technological advances with the Internet and now we are adapting. Future generations will be born with it, and that is where it will be interesting to observe the cognitive abilities. I think we “older” folk are stuck at a precipice. The new generation’s brains will evolve with technology and know how to use it to think from the start instead of having to mentally reprogram. Whether this is good or not remains to be seen.

Nicholas Carr wrote an article asking if Google is making us stupid. I think that is a fair question in some ways. I do agree with the other readings that technology has helped us advance in some ways, but I also think things like Google have made us overreliant on technology, like we can’t exist with out it. Like we can’t answer a question without it. I have heard the following sentence from so many different people it’s amazing: “I don’t know. I am going to Google it”.

Side note: Nicholas Carr used the character, Hal, as an example in his “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” article. From a movie buff perspective, Hal is a terrifying example to use on readers. Hal makes people want to never trust computers or technology again. Just saying.

Then there’s the conversation as to  what all of this has to do on ADHD and multi-tasking. I see where Carr is coming from when he mentions that he is no longer to make it through 2 or 3 pages of a book. It does not take long for me to be distracted by a shiny object if you will. In fact, as I was writing this, I had to play several games of Candy Crush (I am a grand master of Candy Crush), watch a Youtube clip (not school-related), play with my cats, get a snack (an apple), and check my emails (all junk). On top of that, I am basically incapable of reading over this post again to make sure it is actually logical. Soooooooo, here’s hoping it either makes enough sense for a reader to get through it, oooooor people’s technologically-induced ADHD and multi-tasking habits have them skim this so that they can produce some half-hearted comment at the end. In terms of multi-tasking, it is evident that all I do is multi-task, and I confess I am not nearly as productive because of this and my ADHD. I personally however cannot blame these attributes on technology. I have had these all of my life. Try having a conversation with me, it’s entertaining.

As for other people though, I have noticed a shift in some people. I cannot tell you if it is because of technology or not. There is only a correlation, not a causation. It doesn’t help any that our computers are so multi-faceted and our phones are mobile and as smart as our computers. I can tell you that PhD students are glued to their computers. I wonder if you compared today’s graduate students with those of the past. How would we compare? Is multi-tasking even a thing to compare? I think that is just a habit people develop no matter the era. How are our attention spans? How do our cognitive abilities match up? Can we do what they can do without a computer?

Anyway, basically this post has been about nothing, so hopefully you were doing something else at the time.

I think I have been to the bank too much

See below for my word vomit.

I was introduced to  Paulo Freire this week. Interesting dude. Freire is who we have to thank for the concept of critical pedagogy where basically students are finally seen as something other than trash cans for rote knowledge.

As I was reading through the course materials, one quote kept popping up that just felt like a lightning rod to my academic soul.

“Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end . . .fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if  they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community.  They repeat what has been read with precision but rarely teach anything of  personal value.”

This quote about sums up a large bit of my undergraduate and graduate experience. I wish this were not the case, but it feels that way. This is also the very thing I am trying to combat now as I am shaping myself up to become a teacher. Man, is it challenging. After so many years of being in the back seat of the car (not even the passenger seat), it takes a lot of energy and willpower to muster up the courage to teach applying a critical pedagogical style. I fortunately function in an academic-verse where critical pedagogy is a bit more tangible then perhaps the “real sciences” might be.

In Freire’s work, he discusses how teachers have often applied the “banking approach” wherein teachers dictate knowledge as fact and students accept it as verse. I can safely say that has been my experience for a number of classes, but I also ashamedly admit that sometimes I just wanted to accept the deposit as a student and move on with my daily life. I try not to be that way, but sometimes it is an unchangeable feeling. I also grew up in a world where my teacher was my authoritarian figure, but then as I aged I knew it had to be challenge and changed. I can see why Freire is considered an empowering force for teachers and students alike. His pedagogy opens doors not previously accessible to everyone, especially marginalized populations. That is all rather exciting, and, I feel, in spirit with what education is meant to be: freeing.

It sounds like Freire is trying to change the world’s mind that instead of programming our tiny human robots, that we should be fighting this. Freeing this mind. I can only think of a handful of my teachers that even attempted this approach with us students. I think most are generally going through the motions either because they have taught the class 900 times before, or it is a material they do not feel can be taught in any other way but in a banking approach, or that they think the students are just there to be told information and move on.

I must admit that I am not fully sure how I can properly incorporate this pedagogical style into my classes, and I would welcome some guidance on that. Given my area of expertise is tourism and events, I think I am meant for this pedagogical style.

Who am I?

I appreciated that Sarah Deel emphasized that there are many ways to be a good teacher. One size does not in fact fit all. I have gone through several rotations of “I can’t teach like them, thus I will never be a good teacher” during my time here. After these readings, I feel a bit more self-affirmed in believing that I have the potential to finally find my own stride and be an effective teacher. Alas, I am but a novice at this point in the realm of teaching.

I have officially taught 3 lectures as of this point in my graduate career (second semester of second year of PhD). The lectures were for 3 separate teachers that I was working for, and they all had different expectations. For the sake of respecting their privacy, I will assign them the pseudonyms of Matthew, Lincoln, and Adam.

The first teacher I subbed for was Matthew. When he requested that I teach a lecture he instructed me to use his assigned readings and apply his teaching/power point style. His teaching style (honestly) consisted of him talking at students until the clock ran out. It was not often that his students could get a word in. He is an intelligent and kind man who is respected in our field, but I would not classify him as an above-average listener. When my turn came around to teach, I applied his method and felt very uncomfortable. Talking at people is just not who I am. It was good that he was not there, for about 3/4 of the way through I had to rebel about and asked the students if they had questions. Also, I developed an in-class group activity on the spot in order to combat the monotony. After the class was over, several students actually came up to me to thank me for enabling them to speak and move around. This surprised me, for I had always seen Matthew as the academic giant and research guru. It finally helped sharpen my understanding that being a good researcher does not mean that they are also instantly a good teacher.

My second experience in teaching was when I was working for Lincoln. Lincoln was an “industry person” recruited by department as an adjunct professor. Lincoln had never taught before. She was wise in the ways of her industry experience. I think it was this experience that had some students willing to listen to her. Overall, she was not very organized. At one point, she had to go out of town and said she would need to me to sub for her. She then proceeded to give me a previous teacher of the course’s lecture materials and asked that I follow it to the T. This was a bit aggravating. Verily, as teachers we are teaching preexisting material, but generally teachers have the luxury of shaping the vehicle that conveys this information. I found it difficult to use somebody else’s words. This experience taught me the value of not only having a good grasp of the knowledge at hand, but communicating it in such a way that you feel comfortable standing by. You need to own your words.

My third teaching experience has been by far my favorite. Adam is a newer teacher with somewhat of a “hippie” mentality. She asked me to teach a lecture because she felt that as a PhD student I need to take opportunities to teach with a safety net. She gave me the general subject material, but then she told me I am free to identify the readings (if I wanted to assign any) and to teach in the way that I deemed acceptable. She told me that as a teacher you have to find your style, but not lose the students in the meantime. The only other hard line she set for me was that since this was a 4000-level course, she expected her students to participate in deeper discussion. This meant that I needed to also function as a facilitator. With this knowledge in hand, I created my lecture. I owned it. It was mine. I picked the readings. I walked into that classroom for the first time feeling like an actual teacher. I felt that I had something to teach them. The discussion went well, and the banter was active and intellectual. Afterwards and to my surprise, I had several students come up to compliment me on my teaching. This was a confidence boost I very much needed.

These three experiences have taught me a little bit about who I am. I have a long ways to go before fully knowing what my teaching voice is. I do know that I can’t teach a script that is not mine. I do know that I like to apply a contemporary context to the material. I do know that I like to extend beyond the words in a book. I do know that I can’t just talk at people for an hour and 15 minutes. I do know that I want to allow for a certain level of autonomy among my students. I do know that whether I like it or not, my awkward sense of humor will come out in a classroom setting. Most importantly, I do know that the classes I will teach in the future will have a certain level of co-creation going on between myself and the students.

I have a long ways to go to knowing what kind of teacher I am. I need more time in the classroom to be able to fully test the waters. It’s time to learn to walk.

 

 

Stop Talking To Me

I love school. I have always loved school since the very first day of kindergarten. I even tried to trick my mom that school started earlier.

That being said, I am not a very good listener for learning. When I came to college, I had a bit of a panic because I sat (aka slept) through many of my lectures because I struggled to pay attention. I was worried that I was unintentionally wasting college. I did attend 99.8% of my classes unless I was at death’s door ill.  I worked hard outside of class. I am a kinesthetic learner, and learn by writing and by doing. I basically taught myself what I needed to know to advance. It served me well. I graduated cum laude in my undergraduate career and summa cum laude for my Master’s from Virginia Tech. That being said, I still greatly value the concept of a physical class.

I get frustrated when I am talked at. I get frustrated when discussion is forced. It is just not how I learn. I agree, for the most part, with  Robert Talbert’s four things a lecture should be used for. There is no advantage to a lecture that just repeats its reading. It needs to expand and enhance. My roommate, an intelligent and upcoming biological engineer, intentionally skips a class every week. She doesn’t do this because she is uninterested or a bad student. She does it because all the teacher does for the class period is present a power point lecture of the chapters that he had the students read. She asked me, “why do I need to go hear exactly what I just read?” My roommate is also in the course we discussed in class last week that was described as a “triple flip with a twist”. Every week, I see her actively engaged with the work for this class. She will sit down on a Friday night and watch the videos or complete the “pre-class” activity. This is a class that she never misses.

Shifting gears now, I want to talk about Mark Carnes’ post about Setting Students’ Minds on Fire. I am all for active learning and contextualizing it for a subject area. I love the idea of incorporating a game like the one he mentions. I still fondly remember my AP government class from high school where our teacher had us divide into table groups and become countries. My group kidnapped another group’s leader for the sake of bargaining for better trade from his country.

I am a PhD student in the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and I am specializing in the area of events management. Events management is not something that can just be read about. Students need to be actively engaged in an experiential learning process in order to properly learn the elements of event planning and coordination. I hope to develop classes that reflect this.

Tying back to the start of this blog post, I hope as a future teacher that I can avoid the booby trap of “read the power point” classes. I don’t want to sit there and just talk at people almost as much as I don’t like people just talking at me.

Something Has Got To Give

Warning: the following post will come out as a jumble of thoughts and words. Prepare yourself.

I can’t even tell you how many classes that I have been a student of where the conversation has meandered over into the debate over the value of grades. Every time the feeling of the majority is that grades are bad and qualitative assessments are good, and yet I have never seen anybody (including the instructor) make efforts to move in that direction. This all sounds well and good. A healthier educational environment sounds great. Students that love to learn and are intrinsically motivated to do so sounds cool. I am a little hesitant in fully throwing out the grading system without some actual plan in place that is not the exception to the rule, but a lot of people are complaining for it.

I’m not calling anybody out. I think that I am so exasperated with the current environment (politically and academically), that I am hoping to eventually see a shift in the current. I hope to see my peers or instructors listen to their own opinions and take action.

This torch is once again picked up in Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades“. Overall, I understand Kohn’s points and where they come from, but some parts of me are frustrated. I have been feeling a shift in the students I see as schools shift to being gentler. Everybody gets a trophy. Don’t use red ink. Etc, etc, etc. As such, I have students walking in with a sense of entitlement that they have already earned an ‘A’ in the class just for being present. I wonder how students would take to being qualitatively graded. Right now, the studies mentioned feel like they are the exception to the rule. I hope they are not.

Either way, I think the focus needs to be on influencing students’ intrinsic motivation.The intrinsic motivation is an important, if not the most, important element to consider. Having students be intrinsically motivated is not only good for their education, but vital for their existences as well as our cultural existence as a whole.In Liu and Brandon’s book “Imagination First”, there is much discussion over the need to allow for imagination to thrive. Right now, it seems to be suffocating. Perhaps, if that feeling of intrinsic motivation is instilled in students from the get-go, imagination will become an abundant resource once more.

One side argument regarding pure qualitative grading: I know how much public elementary school teachers work. I know how much is demanded of them from their administration and government. I know what stress standardized testing has placed on them. If qualitative grading is enforced then something has got to give. Teachers are not paid or respected nearly enough as is to then expect them to adopt this qualitative grading model with ease. I think that most teachers who have “heard the call” would love to incorporate it, but like I said something would have to give somewhere else. Writing 30 qualitative grading reports on a semi-frequent basis is extremely demanding. Yes, maybe research has shown students benefit from this, but what about the teachers? They do not receive nearly enough support to enforce such a system at this point in time.For the most part, teachers want what is best for their students and to provide them with a “learning community”. That being said, that is a lot to just place on their shoulders. Reflecting back to last week’s Ted Talk by Ken Robinson, I think there needs to be more discussion regarding the government and administration’s role in curriculum planning and testing. If we want real change, we can’t just pester poor teachers to follow along with what we think is best for students. Something has got to give.

This Post is Mindlessly Mindful or Mindfully Mindless

This week’s set of readings and videos struck a chord for me. I am by every interpretation of the phrase a product of my environment. My parents are both in academia/teaching (father in research and mother in public education). I grew up in a household where I was encouraged to figure things out similar to the mindfulness discussed in Langer’s book. I also grew up hearing my mom’s fellow elementary school teachers discussing the state of curricula in their schools and the curse of the SOLs. I learned to resent administrative involvement and protest the idea that somebody can be assessed purely through standardized tests. I saw some schools, like my mom’s, fight back against this expectation. Ken Robinson drives straight to the heart of the matter with his principles and recommendations for escaping education’s Death Valley.

I am still chewing on the thoughts presented in Langer’s chapter and article. Distinguishing between mindlessness and mindfulness is simple enough, but there is a lot that goes into these designations when you throw in teaching a lesson.  At some points in the writing, it is almost as if Langer leaves it up to semantics, but I know this is not simply the case. It appears that Langer is challenging teachers to change out the toolbox, but still teach the tools, just with some flexibility. I would like to try such practices in a lecture that I teach, but I definitely need to sit down and think of how that could be done given the nature of my area.

It really struck me to see in print in Wesch’s anti-teaching article that, “students are struggling to find meaning and significance in their education”. This resonates with me on some level. I served my term in public schools and I completed my undergraduate and Master’s degrees here at Virginia Tech. Often after finishing a class I have questioned its significance and contribution. Thinking back to Langer’s chapter in complement to Wesch’s article and Robinson’s Ted talk, I can’t help but wonder what I would be thinking if some of these proposed methods such as the use of mindfulness were incorporated.

One class that I feel emulated this philosophy for me was John Boyer’s “World Regions” held here at Virginia Tech. It was by far my favorite undergraduate course. I also feel like it was the one that I learned the most from, remember the most, and feel that I can apply tools to the future for without that “one time learning”. Ironically, this class was not part of my major. I took it in order to satisfy a degree requirement in core education. I think it is rather sad that the only class I can legitimately remember anything from is not even remotely related to what my major was at the time.

That being said, I fear that pedagogical enthusiasts might wrap themselves in the nuances of mindfulness and mindlessness. Heck, some might even decide to play the troll arguing for the need of a foundation of “mindlessness” in order to allow for “mindfulness” in later learning. Again, I think aptitude for an area is also up to the individual and how they learn. It will be interesting to see where this research will go once it jumps into the nuance of “how a person learns” (i.e. kinesthetic) in a mindful setting. I can safely tell you that no matter how you talk to me (in a lecture) or read at me, that I generally do not learn as successfully as I do in other forms. How can the use of mindfulness be adapted to this?

I combat a lot in my mind as someone in the process of becoming a teacher. I support the notion of mindfulness and anti-teaching, understanding the culture, and seeing students as individuals. On the other end, I also see that education is also a system with a lot of students to contend with. Where is the balance? Where should it start? How can we build up this momentum without destroying the sanity of teachers nationally?