Category Archives: philosophy

Cutting Down a Big Tree

I am in the process of cutting down a large but dying ash tree in my backyard. I was advised that it needs to come down for safety’s sake. So what did I do? I decided to cut it down by myself. With hand tools.

You might ask questions like:

Why do such a foolish thing? Why not hire professionals?

Well, I like to feel useful. I like to feel needed. I like to feel like I have a purpose for being. An important reason is that I like to save a buck when I can. I like to teach my kids some life lessons now and then. The lesson I am going for is that you can do a large, seemingly insurmountable job if you break it down into small, doable parts. Hopefully, I don’t teach them a lesson in Darwin’s survival of the fittest, but I suppose I could. I am going very slowly. I am taking it down branch by branch. I’m using tie-down straps to secure my ladder and myself. It may be a stupid project but I have been enjoying it and so far it has been going well.

Here is the latest edition from the ongoing saga of Bill’s ash tree removal.

Liberty and Justice For All: An Evening With Dr. Onalee McGraw (part 3)

***Editor’s note*** This event has been rescheduled for Monday, April 20, 2020.

A Raisin in the Sun: Liberty and Justice for All –
A Classic Film Series with Dr. Onalee McGraw

Come join us in a night of online learning with Dr. Onalee McGraw. 

What: An interactive discussion with Dr. McGraw about the film A Raisin in the Sun (links to Amazon Rental for $2.99).

When: Monday, April 13 20, 2020 – 7 pm Eastern / 6 pm Central (for 1 hr)

Where: Via Zoom Meeting Room (Register below to receive instructions and access)

Why: “To explore together the mysteries of our human condition and the longings of the human heart with one of the greatest of the films of Classic Hollywood.” – Dr. Onalee McGraw


Dr. Onalee McGraw is Director of the Educational Guidance Institute, which helps instructors use classic films to present universal truths about Character, Virtue, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. In the 1980s, Dr. McGraw was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the National Council on Educational Research. She earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from Georgetown University.

Dr. McGraw appeared on Turner Classic Movies as a guest programmer for the film, 12 Angry Men. We are so very honored to have access to her wisdom in these uncertain times.

Join us on Monday, April 13 20, 2020 at 7pm Eastern / 6pm Central. To be sent details about accessing this unique opportunity for learning, please register below. Don’t delay, space is limited! For the best experience, be sure to view the film A Raisin in the Sun prior to attending.

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.