Category Archives: philosophy

Authentic Writing Assignments

 

File Photo writing a letter to US Marine
writing letter to US Marine

One of my deepest frustrations that I felt as an undergraduate student were the “contrived” assignments that I was given in the courses in my major of computer science. In my introduction to networking class, we did a lot of readings from the textbook and memorized a lot of facts for the exams we took, all while I was working as an IT director redesigning and installing my first network at the school where I was working. In my database class, we did some case studies of fictitious companies from our textbook, and actually created some databases in MS Access. That was happening while I was working for a municipal utilities department responsible for creating databases that tracked and reported data on water usage in the city.

Now I’m on the other side of the equation, a college teacher. I realize that sometimes we have but little choice but to “make up” scenarios for students to explore and experience. However, when it’s possible, I am a big believer in setting up authentic learning experiences. The more realistic a learning experience is, the messier things can get. I think this may be one limiting factor that makes educators favor the contrived over the authentic. We can make things cleaner and go smoother if we pre-plan every detail in advance. But life never works that way. Usually in life when we embark on a new project, we have no idea of how things will ultimately turn out.

One of the greatest things that our digitally-connected world has to offer students is a learning environment in which the classroom can extend out into the world. This can happen in numerous ways. For example, Mystery Skype is an activity where classrooms in different parts of the world can connect and play a guessing game trying to learn where the other class is located. Experts can interact with students through live video conference, or other online platforms like Twitter.

In many writing assignments, the work is assigned by the teacher, then the student completes the writing work knowing full well that the only reader of the work will be the teacher/grader. If you’ve ever read this type of writing, it often consists of the student writer imagining what the teacher expects, and typically the writing is just as artificial as the assignment.

Early in my teaching career, I was frustrated by my students’ writing.  I wanted to have writing and communication assignments that were more authentic and real than the teacher-as-audience type of assignment.  I read a piece by Connecticut middle school teacher Paul Bogush, describing how his students were motivated by writing for a global audience, rather than the traditional teacher audience, and it spoke to me.

Why not have students write for a wider audience? Why not assign projects and assignments that have potential for having an impact on the outside world? In a world where information is freely available but the quality varies wildly, why not have students share what they are learning with the world? What great practice it is for students to share what they learn and believe, so long as they are asking deep questions, and doing what they can to find evidence-based answers to these questions.

One suggestion I’ve read, and I forget where I found it, is to simply write a letter to a loved one about what is being learned. Explain something complex in terms that a non-expert can understand. I think that is a good place to start. I’m still exploring this idea. How can I create assignments and projects that students will get excited about working on? How can I get them to want to make a difference with the work they are doing in school? I think the more real, the more authentic, the more relevant these assignments and projects are, the better.

 

 

 

Post Every Day

The best way to build up an online reputation is through the regular sharing of original content that provides benefit to others. Ideally, you will post every day, or even multiple times a day. Only through regular posting and sharing will you build up a library of stuff you have thought about and problems you have solved that others can see.

This habit of regular sharing has a couple of benefits. First, you might just provide a solution that can help someone else working on a similar problem. Also, you are showing what you can do to people who might have an interest in knowing more about you. An online portfolio of work that potential clients and employers can see is far superior than a resume or printed portfolio because it shows what you are working on right now (Kleon, 2014). If you can discipline yourself to make regular posts about the projects you are working on and problems you are solving, you are making yourself stand apart from the crowd.

Reference

Kleon, A. (2014). Show your work. New York, NY: Workman Publishing.

Why Mom Was Right About Internet Stupidity

Today, out of curiosity I searched Google for ‘Kansas State University’ and the screencap shown below are the very first results I saw:

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-10-22-48-am

Unfortunately, a K-State student was recently expelled over a very distasteful post she made on Snapchat. This student had attended K-State for three years (a pre-med student), and boom, just like that she was out, three years of college and no degree. Here are some things I don’t know. I don’t know what other school will admit her and let her complete her undergrad degree. I don’t know if she has accumulated debt while in college. I don’t know what she was thinking. There are a bunch of things I don’t know about this story.

One thing I do know. I know that it is possible to earn a degree at K-State without ever taking a class in digital literacies. It is possible in the 21st century to still earn a degree without experiencing any special emphasis on the do’s and do-not’s associated with publishing digital media online. Yet every single K-State student, if they so choose, can publish something that the entire world can see in an instant, by simply pushing a button or two on a pocket-sized machine that they carry with them everywhere they go.

Yes, I will grant, that many of our courses address this topic, along with many others. Perhaps even the core courses that every undergraduate student must take such as expository writing, takes a hard look at this topic. But I find it interesting that digital literacies are not at the center of what we teach in our general education.

A class like what my second-year digital media students are doing in digital storytelling would be an ideal learning experience for all K-Staters. Not only are we looking at the how of creating media, but we also are discussing the whats and whys of digital media. I think a class like what we are doing could fit very nicely right beside the traditional writing and math classes that everyone must take to graduate.

But every curriculum is jam-packed, and many would argue there is no room for another course. But what if such a course was put in place, and we are able to reach many more students early on about the good, the bad and the ugly about online activities? Learning from a bad experience, Kansas State University could ultimately serve as an example of what can be done in the area of digital/media literacy.

Acknowlegements: The idea from this post came from today’s Daily Create activity; an assignment from our digital storytelling class using Portent’s Title Generator.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-10-28-14-am

Getting the Most Out of Twitter Tweets

I have never had anything I put on the web quite reach ‘viral’ proportions, but I’ve had a few online successes. One thing is certain, it is hard to beat having celebrity exposure. Yesterday, a British actor called David Schneider posted a call for “Enterprise Under Attack” videos, and my digital media students obliged with our classroom attack video.

As of this morning, our tweet of the video had 27 retweets and 78 likes on Twitter.

Star Trek Movie Tweet

Some lessons learned include:

  1. Share something fun, timely, and relevant with someone having a large following. David Schneider has 262K followers.
  2. Make it a good idea if not good quality.
    • We only had a few minutes of class time for this activity. We got a new USB Elmo camera in the classroom. It has a flexible stand which made rotating the room a cinch. Also, our new, wheeled chairs have been a student favorite on our tile floors since we got them.  I also added a Star Trek sound-effect to the YouTube video, but it was our soundless animated GIF that is getting the attention.
  3. It is worthwhile to share your work. Sometimes people will pay attention and appreciate it.

I will need to think about my strategy regarding interacting with celebrities. Honestly, I don’t follow many, and haven’t made a regular practice of corresponding with them, but the few times that I have have generally been positive.

 

 

Presidents and Personnel Reliability

ASROC handling
Sailors working with ASROC missiles

When I was in the service, we had a program called the Personnel Reliability Program (PRP), through which everyone potentially associated with nuclear weapons had to be accepted. I recently reviewed those standards; here is an excerpt:

Only those personnel who have demonstrated the highest degree of individual reliability for allegiance, trustworthiness, conduct, behavior, and responsibility shall be allowed to perform duties associated with nuclear weapons, and they shall be continuously evaluated for adherence to PRP standards.

It seems to me that the commander-in-chief should be able to pass these requirements just like anyone in the military having a connection to weapons of mass destruction. I would sure like to have a candidate to vote for who could pass PRP. Primary voters who haven’t voted yet should seriously consider this factor. Unfortunately, this year I’m doubting that any candidate in the general election will measure up to PRP standards. That is a scary thing for the country and for the world.

Communication in the Digital Age

I received a request through an online group for messages to share with young people about “common sense” knowledge. If you have something to share, you can do it through this link. Here is what I said about electronic communications:

When conversing with others online, say only the same things you would say if you were standing in the physical presence of that person. Too often we forget that there is a living, breathing, feeling person receiving our message on the other end of our online communications. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.

To reinforce this mindset, I encourage people to never comment anonymously. Use your real name whenever you post. If you are embarrassed to have your name associated with what you are saying, chances are that people don’t really want to hear it either.

Finally, don’t be drawn in to mediating difficult dialogs through email or other means, if you can possibly speak about it in person. When you have something important to say, and you are uncertain of how it will be received, don’t be a chicken! Ideally, say it to their face if you can, or at least make a phone call about it. Chances are if the news is difficult, it will be better received in person or by telephone than it would be through an electronic message. E-communications are very tone-deaf, and it is all too easy to misinterpret the motives of the sender when you have other ways to communicate that might be better.