Category Archives: philosophy

Phones and Lynda Barry

I found this special insight on technology this morning when reading about my favorite artist/author Lynda Barry. Technology always gives us things and also takes things away from us. As someone keenly interested in creativity, I have had hunches about this before but haven’t ever seen this precise observation on the impact of our use of mobile phones:

“The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from.” - Lynda Barry

“The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from.”

How to best manage a digital footprint

How to best manage a digital footprint so you can get a job.

1) Show your work. Build an electronic portfolio, ideally on a website that you own, that shows the skills you have and the projects you have worked on. ,

2) Create a professional account on LinkedIn with your resume and recent photo. Connect with others there who can help you land a job.

3) Don’t put anything on social media that would be embarrassing to you if your family found out or if it went viral online, appeared in the newspaper or on the national television news. Always assume that whatever you put online can be shared, no matter what the privacy setting is supposed to be.

4) Network with professionals who are doing the sort of work that you aspire to do. Ask thoughtful questions about the work that they do that you admire.

Share Something Everyday

The book “Show Your Work” is kind of a guiding philosophy for our DIGME406 course in Social Media. In this video clip, I read from the book about one of the principles: Show Something Small Every Day.

The people with the greatest social media success tend to share frequently. They give us access to their thinking, their process, even their lives. While there is such a thing as too much information (TMI) having a balanced approach is a good way to build up a digital profile without over-doing it.

 

Reflections on Teaching Online Classes in 2018

I taught several online classes during 2018. In the spring and summer terms, I taught a course on Social Media. In the fall, I taught an online course on Digital Literacy. In all of these courses, I emphasized the use of social media and digital tools. For each class, I required a video teleconference at the beginning of the semester with each individual student. That took many hours to visit with each student for 20-30 minutes, but I think it was a good investment to make that initial connection.

In the spring Social Media class, I initially requested that each student use our Beam+ telepresence robot to video conference with me, but that was not a popular option so I relented and let students use a video chat tool like Skype or Zoom. In one case, the student’s bandwidth was so poor, we just switched to a regular telephone conversation. In that case, the student was interested in using the robot, but simply couldn’t make it work.

Some students downright refused to use the robot, which I guess is somewhat understandable since it was uncharted territory and required installing special software to make it work. However, for those students who did try the robot in several cases, they told me that they appreciated how “real” the experience felt. They visited me during office hours and I was able to give them a brief tour around our building, even introducing them to some other students on campus.

Even though it was a big assignment, points-wise, a few students opted to not do the teleconference at all. Those are the students who consistently did the most poorly of all. I need to think about how to ensure that all students utilize the video conference and build connections with them. Being an online student is a lonely business! It is important to know that real people are out there and that they care.

For both spring and summer editions of the Social Media class, I followed a strategy that I frequently use. I shared my syllabus with the students and asked that they provide feedback and suggestions on some key points on how the course would operate related to grading and participation. I believe that sharing some of the decision making and control with students can assist with helping them to take some ownership of their learning and the class.

With online classes, it is difficult for me to know with any precision the needs of my students and what challenges they might be facing. So in asking them about things like what reasonable participation frequency throughout the week looks like, I’m getting some vital information about what they think is reasonable and we can have a discussion about it.

However, one of my students commented in his feedback on the course that it was inappropriate for the instructor to ask for student opinions about how the class and syllabus requirements should be structured. I think this says a great deal about what that student thinks education should be, what a class should look like and what the role of teacher and pupil should be. Over the years, I have learned that students naturally gravitate towards passivity and when the teacher asks them to think about such things it falls far outside of their comfort zone. They would rather have the teacher do all of the heavy lifting on such things whenever possible. But my belief is that when I share control over some aspects of a course, it is no longer a dictatorship but becomes a form of shared governance. It gives students some agency and responsibility for how the course turns out. That can be a little daunting for some students, I think. But in the end, I think it is a good thing.

The fall 2018 Digital Literacy class was overall a good one. We experimented with using several forms of online media for communication. However, at one point, there was a student who had some major concerns about one particular topic and its content; that of objectification and body image. My response to that situation took a great deal of energy and reflection. I consulted with several colleagues and my supervisor about possible approaches.

Ultimately, I followed the advice of Dale Carnegie and took the blame myself and apologized just to keep the peace, but to no avail. I requested on several occasions to have a real-time visit about the situation because I know through experience that text-based communications can make a sensitive situation even worse, but my student decided that I was in the wrong and that a cold shoulder was the best response for me.

The sad part of that whole business was that I essentially shared the same point of view as my student. I don’t think that people should be viewed or treated as objects. I introduced this topic for discussion because it is an important conversation to have with college students. I don’t think it is considered often enough.

However, it was my first attempt at dealing with the topic and it was admittedly not handled with as much finesse as it could have been. I apologized and tried to explain my thinking, but it ultimately was a missed learning opportunity for that student. However it did open up a good discussion in the class though, and I believe that most of the students ultimately understood the purpose of the assignment, even if they too were surprised by what they saw (some others said they were).

In these classes, I work hard to keep things interesting and relevant. I challenge them with new ideas they might not have considered before. I emphasize critical thinking about the various forms of media they are using on a daily basis. We are using tools and technology in ways that they have never tried before. Learning is hard and it is uncomfortable to be challenged. But I think we are doing some good work in these online classes even though we will never meet face to face.

 

Bias and our hard to reach students

A friend recently posted this article about Critical Thinking:

Critical Thinking is Emotional Thinking: Reflections on a Post Truth Society by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

When the author talks about emphasizing the need for students to begin with examining personal biases, I think he is discussing a very important thing we struggle with in higher education. I know this from personal experience because I was there as an undergraduate student. I get where they are coming from.

I think that here in Kansas, some of our more resistant students are coming from a place where they see academia and professors as liberal, biased, and hostile to their own beliefs. Again and again our students are told to examine their own biases and to question authority, which they understand to mean that they should throw out everything they hold dear. We professors don’t model this behavior very often for them. Why shouldn’t they think professors are hypocritical if we don’t ever show them how to do it?

When was the last time a professor described a time when they changed their mind because new evidence suggested they should? Students are not dumb and they sense that oftentimes we don’t practice what we preach. If we do practice it, why don’t we show them? If we don’t then shame on us.

Teachers As Learners

I think one of my frustrations as a student was with teachers who’ve forgotten what it is like to be a novice learning something new. I have to wonder how many teachers ever intentionally put themselves in the learner seat?

I’ve long felt that it is important to do this regularly so I never forget what it is like to be a student learning something new for the first time. One of the things I like about where I work, K-State Polytechnic, is that we value and emphasize industry experience with our faculty. Everyone who teaches in a technology field here has some industry experience to bring to bear in the classroom.

I think far too many teachers have spent their entire lives in school, never having experienced other contexts for working and learning. That doesn’t fly in computing. You wind up obsolete in a hurry if you aren’t always learning something new. This summer I am learning about ASP.NET. A few years ago I had the opportunity to do some applications programming using MS Visual Studio and .NET framework, but didn’t do anything significant with the web side of things.

I recently took on a new consulting work project that involves updating an existing web application. Let me tell you, this is some of the most challenging learning I’ve ever done. Trying to understand the logic of software that someone else has built well enough that you can make useful changes to it is tricky and takes a lot of time. I’ve spent over a month just trying to get the source code I was supplied to compile and run.

I was finally able to get that to happen this week! At long last, I have a system that runs locally and I can tinker with it without disturbing the actual production system that this business relies on for its livelihood. Wouldn’t you know it—less than a day after I got things working for the first time, I started getting compile errors again. It made no sense. All I had been doing was looking through source code. I hadn’t changed or saved anything (or so I thought).

It took several hours, but finally this evening I figured out how to make the error go away and I am back in business again

I suppose one thing that I’m learning in all of this is basic humility. Computers tend to keep you humble if you work long enough with them. They are constantly changing and evolving. And they aren’t very smart. One small accidental change can upset your whole program.

But over time, you start trusting in your ability to solve problems and to persist through adversity. I suppose if there is one skill I would like to model for my students it is that—you can do it if you stick to it and don’t give up.

If there is one piece of advice I can give other teachers is to regularly put yourself out of your comfort zone and take on some challenging learning. That will help build empathy with your students who don’t seem to be learning quickly enough, or working hard enough or really anything that isn’t working out as planned. Learning is tough business and it is hard to remember that when you are always teaching something that you’ve learned long ago.

 

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:

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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.

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