Category Archives: teaching

Proudest Moments in Teaching

In no particular order, these are some of my proudest moments in teaching.

Graphic Syllabus

I have been intrigued by the notion of creating an infographic style of syllabus, so I have made a couple of them. It takes many hours to create something like this, but I think it is worth the effort to make something so unique for a college course.


Subnetting Song

Subnetting is probably the most challenging topic in my Hardware and Networking course. It isn’t overly complex, but it is unfamiliar to most students who take my class. To provide another way to think about the material, I wrote a silly song about it and do surprise performances of it in class. Sometimes students even sing along with me once they catch on. Having a sing-along in a computer class is completely unexpected, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.


Pumpkin Carving

IMG_3405 DSC_0956

In our Visual Literacy course, we study elements of design. Students conceive of a design to be carved on a Halloween jack-o-lantern, develop it using Adobe Illustrator graphics software, print it out, transfer it to the pumpkin and carve it out to create a complex image when lit. The assignment was so successful that I wrote a paper about it with colleague Katrina Lewis, and even went to Madrid, Spain to present it.


Guest Speakers by Skype

While doing the research for our pumpkin carving paper, I came across a history of Halloween book by Lisa Morton, an author who also happened to be the president of the Horror Writers Association. When we were exploring the horror genre in the digital literacy class I teach, I reached out to Lisa and invited her to visit with our students by Skype teleconference, and we had a really great visit with a well-known expert in her field.

Another great Skype my students and I did was when a national story came out about a teacher who reconciled with a student who had gotten him fired. Josh Kaplowitz was in his first year of teaching when a young boy, Raynard Ware, said that the new teacher had pushed him down. Kaplowitz was arrested, fired and humiliated. Years later, the older and different Ware reached out on Facebook, apologized for fabricating the story that cost his former teacher his teaching career and the two became friends.

I reached out to Mr. Kaplowitz and invited him to have a Skype with my students who were studying Social Media technology. He suggested that we include Raynard Ware and we ultimately wound up teleconferencing with both men.

Over the years, my students and I have had numerous Skypes and teleconference calls with designers, game programmers and even former students who graduated from the K-State digital media technology program. Each time we do, I am filled with awe at how simple it is to arrange such virtual meetings.


Theatrical Teaching

 

I got involved in theatre in high school. My very first musical production, shown above, was The Sound of Music in which I played the eldest Von Trapp boy.  Most people I work with don’t realize how much I am still infected with this affinity for the dramatic. I love to do skits, simulations and role-playing in my classes.

Skit with two cans & string telephone

In this skit, we are simulating a busy network using cans with strings “telephones” and how the CSMA/CD protocol acts as a referee that decides who may speak at a given time.

I created a “dissection lab” in the hardware and networking course in which we examine data packets sent by a device on a network. I dress up like a laboratory scientist with lab coat and safety goggles and a stuffed toy frog. Looking at these data packets is very similar to a high school biology lab in which you open up a frog and recognize a few things you have been learning about, but much of it is confusing and complex. We recognize a few protocols we have been discussing, but real networks, like real life organisms, are messy and complex.


In these parody videos of Spongebob and Shrek, I use my voice-acting skills to make the famous characters talk about technology topics we discuss in class.


Field Trips

A favorite stop for digital media students is the Small World Gallery in Lindsborg, KS, especially when we get to meet the owner, National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson. In the photo above, Jim is telling us about his latest work. Jim is such a treasure here in Kansas. He is always willing to talk with students and even shares technical details of his work with us.

Here are my students, fully immersed in an exhibit at the Salina Art Center. I am continually amazed that even lifetime residents of Salina have never set foot in the Art Center, so we often take field trips here to experience the artwork.


Extraordinary Student Awards

Probably the most rewarding part of my job is working with students who face extra challenges in their college studies because of their life situation. It might be that they are a single mother trying to support a family on their own while attending school. It might be that they have a condition that makes learning and/or social situations difficult. It might simply be that they come from a background filled with difficulty and turmoil. Whatever the situation, when I become aware of these students I do whatever I can to assist them on their journey.

Each year, Kansas State University recognizes about a dozen or so students who have overcome extraordinary circumstances to obtain their degree. There are many nominees and only these select few who are chosen to receive it. I have nominated two individuals who have won this award and it is my privilege to have known and worked with these students.

Manath Leuthiphonh receives the K-State extraordinary student award in 2007. She is doing well in her career and we keep in touch from time to time. Sadly, her classmate Scott Johnson (middle) was killed in a violent crime a few years ago. His was one of the two student funerals I have attended since becoming a college professor.

Sarah Welsch received her K-State Extraordinary Student Award in 2018. She has found meaningful work and is making a new life for herself thanks to her college degree.


Dissertation Defense

Words are inadequate to describe the feeling of this day; the day of my successful Ph.D dissertation defense. It is called Exploring the Impact of Media LIteracy Instruction and Video Projects in a Computer Technology Course. It details the research I did on using student-made video projects as an expanded form of literacy.

If you would like to see my students’ video projects, you can see some here.


Digital Media Degree Program

Last, but certainly not least, I am extremely proud of the K-State Polytechnic degree in Digital Media technology that I conceived of and helped to implement. The degree combines computer technology with the creative arts resulting in graduates with an extremely unique and marketable set of skills.

In the photo above are some of the very first students in the Digital Media degree, taken in 2010. From left to right are myself, Will Jones, Trista Bieberle, Sarah Woodruff, Brandon Moberly, and Kristin Scheele. Except for Brandon (anyone know where he is nowadays?) I am in touch with them all and they seem to be doing very well for themselves.

For example, Sarah Woodruff is now employed at Fervor in Kansas City as a senior graphic designer and user experience (UX) expert.

I am so proud of all of my students.


So there you have it; the list of my proudest moments in teaching. Anytime you try to create something like this, you will undoubtedly forget something important. But this gives a good overview of what I’ve been able to accomplish as a college educator.

Practice What You Preach

Oops!

I justify using external services instead of courseware discussion boards so students can always refer back to previous discussions if they choose. However, I just deleted all of last year’s students from our private DigMe406 LinkedIn group. Doh! I shouldn’t have done that!

Thankfully, not much happened for that group on LinkedIn, more happened on Twitter, which can’t be deleted. I’m hopeful that this year more private discussion will happen on LinkedIn because we are starting our discussion there. Last year we started on Canvas discussions then I tried to get them to move to LinkedIn and it didn’t work well. People want to stick with what they started with.

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.

 

Teach On Conference – 2006

inter-institutional professional development

In August of 2006, K-State Polytechnic (then called K-State Salina) hosted an inter-institutional day of professional development for faculty from multiple institutions of higher learning in the region. The two main collaborating partners were Cloud County CC and K-State Salina.

It was at this conference that I first met Ruth Moritz who was then working at Barton County. Ruth eventually found her way to teach on the K-State campus in Salina. We became good friends and I was deeply saddened when she left to teach for Kansas Wesleyan.

 

 

My Feeble Attempt At Media Literacy

For several years I have been interested in doing some lessons in media literacy with students. This first became an interest of mine while I was doing my doctoral research on using digital video as an alternative form of writing and literacy. Anyone who knows me and my approach to teaching very well knows that I frequently like to experiment with new ideas and techniques. This semester in our #DigMe256 online class on Digital Literacy, we have been working with the theme of Superheroes.

One of the themes I have been interested in exploring with students when interpreting media messages is the theme of human objectification, particularly the objectification of women. We see these messages frequently in the everyday media we encounter. Honestly, I have been a little timid about diving into this one. However, the idea has been simmering in my mind for some time, and I’ve spent a good amount of time collecting examples we can discuss, so this week I took the plunge.

This week I gave an assignment that shows superheroes in their most private, awkward and intimate moments. The artist who created these images is Greg Guillemin from France. The work of this artist came to my attention several years ago, and since we are doing a superhero theme in our class, it made sense to include his work for our media literacy analysis because it does in fact show objectified, comic hero men and women.

Captain Doubt
Captain Doubt

Here is the assignment.

Look at the work of Greg Guillemin, a French artist who paints behind the scenes images of superheroes and other cartoon characters. Check out the Secret Life of Superheroes to see Guillemin’s work. (Caution, some of these are risqué, depicting superheroes in unexpected ways.) Think about how answers to the key questions of media literacy might look with this body of work. Discuss.

I thought since I gave the assignment, I would complete it myself as well. My response is as follows.

The five key questions of media literacy are:

  • Who created this message?
  • What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  • How might different people understand this message differently from me?
  • What lifestyles, values, points of view are included; or omitted in this message?
  • Why is this message being sent?
Rhianna wears Greg Guillemin tee dress
Rhianna wears Greg Guillemin tee dress

Who created this message? French artist Greg Guillemin is the man who created the Secret Life of Superheroes series. I have been unable to find a great deal out about him, but I did find this interview after the singer Rhianna was seen wearing a shirt with one of his images. From what I could glean from his website and the interview, Mr. Guillemin studied graphic design and worked in advertising for two decades before introducing the Secret Life series to the world. He originally began creating digital images and shared them on the Internet. As his popularity has increased, he has expanded into creating acrylic on canvas paintings and sculptures of his unusual superhero imagery.

What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?  Guillemin’s work is reminiscent of pop art icons like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. He creates crisp comic book style imagery of bright colors and halftones and combines it with familiar brand names and superhero characters in private, intimate or awkward scenes. Guillemin gives the audience a voyeur’s glimpse of the everyday life of his superheroes. His work is unique because it provides such an unusual view of these very familiar characters.

In his book Virus of the Mind, Brodie (2009) tells us how ideas spread quickly because they are connected to our survival or prosperity. He argues that we are hard-wired to pay attention to things like danger, food, and sex because our very survival depends on it. Indeed, these things are the basis for what is now becoming recognized as memes, or ideas that spread quickly because of their content. As a former graphic designer in advertising, Guillemin is an expert at pushing our biological buttons.

Some of the Secret Life images are surprising, possibly even disturbing or offensive to some viewers. The food and sex memes are featured prominently in this body of work. It might be a bit of a stretch, but danger might also be playing a role in grabbing our attention, as voyeurs who could be caught spying in this secret superhero world.

Snow White Lolita
Snow White Lolita

How might different people understand this message differently from me? Let’s begin with my own perspective as a college professor. I thought it would be worthwhile for my students to view The Secret Life of Superheroes because we are studying digital literacy through a superhero lens. From my perspective, it is a struggle to keep students engaged and interested. I chose this body of work precisely because it is edgy and tinged with controversy. I was thinking of this very question, how different people might interpret the images when I included it in our classes exercises. Educated people must be able to consider multiple perspectives on controversial ideas, being fair about considering different points of view and ultimately believing in something because the available evidence supports that position.

So what are some of the other ways that people could understand the message of the Secret Life of Superheroes? I can imagine a sort of person who is comfortable with sexuality and along with being a complete pacifist, abhorring any form of violence. This person sees the irony in parents who shield their children from any form of suggestive imagery but are perfectly fine with their children subsisting on a media diet of gore, death and violence. (My hunch is, although I’ve never been there, that people in France might lean in this direction.) Such people might see this body of work as humorous and entertaining. Some people will use these images to make a hip fashion statement (See Rhianna above).

There is also the type of person whose sensibilities are deeply offended by Mr. Guillemin’s work. He portrays the women as sex objects, sometimes showing only their body parts and not faces. He shows the men engaging in behaviors like smoking and popping viagra pills. He shows various characters holding sex toys and birth control. Some superheroes are shown brushing teeth, taking showers, using the toilet. Most of the subject matter he shows is taboo for discussion in polite company.

Some people feel our culture is media-saturated, often with highly sexualized imagery showing up in a flood of media messages. They feel this is adversely affecting us as it manifests itself in a variety of ways. Schools have long since abandoned time-honored mandatory showers for PE and sports teams because of the sexual connotation. According to some, we have a hookup culture that doesn’t include dating. We have a culture of slut-shaming, that blames women for how they dress instead of the young men who are distracted, attracted, or even perpetrating assaults on them. People who are concerned about these developments in our culture will not view The Secret Lives of Superheroes as innocuous.

Xanax Grumpy
Xanax Grumpy

What lifestyles, values, points of view are included; or omitted in this message?

The main lifestyle depicted is hedonism. Included in the imagery are condoms, viagra pills, smoking, drinking, lovemaking of all types, masturbation, guns, bodily functions and maintenance, dressing and undressing. Many of the things shown are everyday occurrences that we would hardly ever see outside of our own lives. There are some hidden visual jokes like Robocop drinking motor oil and Poison Ivy drinking weed killer.

An omitted point of view is that of people who value modesty and temperance. Another omitted point of view is one that thinks women should be valued as human beings, not as objects of desire.

Why is this message being sent?

The two primary reasons media messages are sent are 1) to obtain money and 2) to obtain power and influence. Guillemin began working with The Secret Life of Superheroes by creating digital images and sharing them online for free. He used the world wide web and social media to gain notoriety and influence. Once he established a following, he was able to begin charging for prints and expand his art business into making paintings and sculptures for exhibit in galleries around the world. The reason Guillemin is successful is because he provides a service to his audience of entertainment, amusement and perhaps even provoking thought through the works of art he creates.

 

Hardware & Networking Class – Fall 2018

 

class photo - Fall 2018

We have a small but mighty group of students in my Hardware and Networking class this semester. I’m sharing this picture for two reasons. Because 1) It’s the smallest group I’ve ever had for this class since I started teaching it about 14 years ago and 2) They have been really fun to work with and this picture makes me smile.

We are going to take the opportunity to try some new ideas this semester. I have ordered in some Raspberry Pis and we are going to experiment with doing networking stuff with that kind of computer. I’m really excited about how this semester will go.

 

 

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.

 

Using Live Video Conferencing

I remember the first time I did a live Skype call with someone. I was acquainted with him, but didn’t know him well—only through the Internet. I had no camera on me because my computer was old, but I still felt very awkward looking at the live video feed of him. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of doing live video conferences because it was new and strange to me.

Actually, the idea isn’t new at all. AT&T invented a video telephone in the 1960s. They market tested it, and it was a failure. People didn’t like it and I get it. But today, I’m a believer in the video conference. It is so easy to do with the technology we have.

Things are shifting today, actually in the opposite direction I think. In the 1960s, people were quite comfortable with having both telephone conversations and face to face conversations. I’ve noticed that young people today are having less and less of either type of real-time conversation. They are mediating their conversations, so they can consider, parse and edit every word that is said. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but I think it imposes unnecessary limitations on their life and workplace skills to do it this way.

That is why I am always experimenting with different techniques to engage with students. I think it is good for all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zones, to learn new skills and bring them to bear on solving the problems that life presents us with.

This semester in my DIGME406 online class on Social Media, we are experimenting with using Flipgrid. The little bit that we’ve tried it seems to have worked pretty well. We all have different schedules and I think it is difficult to try to do live conversations. Flipgrid seems a nice compromise in that regard. It mediates the conversation, so you can record a video and try again if you don’t like it before you commit it. You can also upload a video that has been edited if you wish. And it is asynchronous so it works with anyone’s schedule. So I’m excited to see how that works out.

Me with a telepresence robot

The previous time I taught the online version of this class, I gave an assignment of visiting with me in real time using a telepresence robot. A few students tried it and liked it, but ultimately, I gave up on that one because I had a really hard time with the tech working for everyone, and also some people simply didn’t want to try it I think. We ended up using Skype or Facetime, and even a POTS (plain old telephone system) phone call. But I still like the idea of having a live chat with each of my online students. Distance education is so isolated for everyone involved.

 

The Graphic Syllabus

For a while, I have been intrigued by the possibility of the graphic syllabus. I was particularly inspired by the work of Lynda Barry and her hand drawn syllabus book. I have seen some of these graphical syllabi floating around the web, and a few years ago I decided to give it a try with my Visual Literacy class. It only made sense that I would employ some of the concepts of visual communication in the syllabus for that course. Here is a copy of what that one looks like in infographic format:

Visual Literacy Graphic Syllabus

click to view Vis Lit Syllabus – Fall 2016

And below is another one I did for my Fall 2017 edition of an online course I taught in Digital Literacy. The theme for that online course was “Superheroes” so I had a lot of fun developing a syllabus in comic book format:

click to view Digital Literacy Syllabus – Fall 2017

Escape Room

escape room
My Escape Room Team

Last night my family and I participated in a fun fundraiser at the high school – an “escape room.” I have been hearing about these escape rooms recently. My kids as well as my students have been talking about them, so when our school set one up we had to try it out.

Although there was a short informational video, we walked into the escape room knowing very little about what we had to do. There was a science scenario, in which the world is going to end by a pandemic disease unless we solved the puzzle within the next hour.

Sorry world, you didn’t make it!

Our team included my wife and two kids, as well as my sister and her son. All of the kids were in the 12-15 age range. We weren’t allowed to bring personal items into the room, including cell phones. I guess most escape rooms are actually locked, and you have to free yourselves, but ours just had the door closed. It didn’t matter. It was still a bit unnerving being cooped up for an hour.

We started poking around the items looking for clues. It was an English classroom, turned into a science laboratory. There were chemicals and books and messages, and several locked toolboxes with multiple locks on them.

Our escape room had a telephone with instructions on how to phone in for three clues that would help us. But the clues were pretty mysterious in themselves.

We managed to get one toolbox unlocked, and inside it were some vials of some colored liquids. Also, there were litmus paper strips we could measure the PH of the liquids with. Somehow, after a couple of tries, we managed to use the numeric PH levels as the secret combination on another lock. But that is about as far as we got.

The activity required good communication, teamwork, thinking and problem solving skills. I think it is an excellent thing for people to be doing, especially young people. For an hour we actually got away from our technology a little while and spent some quality “together” time. But for me, it also showed some of my own shortcomings. Getting frustrated, losing patience, working on a team with everyone tripping over one another, not communicating well.

Some things that would have helped us include:

1) bring a notepad and pencil. I didn’t have anyway to write down information that was needed later.

2) Communicate when we found something new. Several times, somebody found something that would have been useful, but couldn’t make sense of it, and left it alone. Nobody else knew about it. If we announced that we found something to the group, we could have taken turns at it.

3) More time. We probably spent 15 minutes just figuring out what we were supposed to be doing.

Doing this activity has me wondering if there is something here that could be brought into a classroom setting. I’ve read a little bit about gamifying courses, but haven’t done much with that idea yet. The closest I’ve come is using skits and simulations. A full blown escape room, built upon technology concepts we have been learning in class seems like it might have some potential. Stay tuned!