Category Archives: teaching

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!