Future professor? Perhaps. Prepared? Not a chance.
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  • Problem Based Learning: Are We Missing Half of the Picture?

    Posted on April 15th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    I have many thoughts on the Problem Based Learning (PBL). Most of them are positive: “This is better for students…”, “This makes for more interesting grading…”, “Imagine the possibilities…” Some not so positive: “What-if-I-do-something-completely-useless-and-disorganized-and-my-students-hate-me??!” But there is one thing that keeps nagging at me about our class discussions of PBL: the assumption that PBL = group work.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for group work. At some point in our lives, we need to learn to play well with others. We need to learn how to share responsibilities, how to lead, how to follow, and how to delegate. We will work in many different types of groups in our careers and lives. There is no question that group work in school is important.

    Individual work is important, too. Frequently, we work alone. It could even be argued that significant amounts of “group work” are actually individual portions of a project that are merely brought together in the end. Unfortunately, it seems that oftentimes we are not given adequate opportunity to work independently and develop our own thought processes. So it is important that discussions of implementing PBL in the classroom also include problems that are to be solved individually.


  • Who Needs PBL When You Have Immersive Learning? (or: There Are No Problems Here, Only Solutions)

    Posted on April 15th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    In case you weren’t aware (and let’s face it, if you aren’t a geoscientist, you probably weren’t), the Southeast section meeting of the Geological Society of America took place last week on the Virginia Tech campus. And while you may believe (again, assuming you aren’t already a geoscientist) that geology class is about as exciting as a box of rocks, it turns out that there are geoscience profs out there who are doing some really cool things in the classroom.

    Enter Ball State University’s Lee Florea (Dept. of Geological Sciences) and  Adam Kuban (Dept. of Journalism). These two recognized the need to bridge the gap between scientists and journalists, and thus GEOL 462/NEWS 397: Environmental Geology in the Lab and Field, was born.*

    The course brings together journalism and geoscience students in a semester-long immersive class. From the syllabus:

    The primary purpose of this course is ‘communicating scientific data to society’. Toward that end, we have established community partners (Flat Land Resources, Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District) to whom we are expected to provide deliverables …. In that framework, my colleague and I have settled upon a consulting format for this project: the community partners are our clients, we are the consultants, and our students are our employees. It will be our role to clearly outline deadlines and benchmarks, establish quality control measures, and serve as mentors to our students and student groups. The students will need to meet assigned deadlines, follow established protocols, and effectively perform on tasks individually and within groups to see the project(s) through.

    Fun, huh? Not only does the class bring together scientists and journalists, but it also includes community groups and businesses in order to create a very practical, real-life experience. Journalism students gain experience in the lab and in the field, and science students get a hefty dose of communication practice across a wide variety of audiences. Results from the pilot semester of the class have been disseminated in several student posters, conference presentations, a website, and radio broadcast.

    *Check out the awesome diversity statement at the beginning of the syllabus. In fact, the syllabus is just plain good reading.

  • On Farman’s “The Myth of the Disconnected Life”

    Posted on March 19th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    There were a few things in Jason Farman’s essay “The Myth of the Disconnected Life” that I felt could have used a little more fleshing out. Farman seems to have two main points: 1) that historical worries about the effects of technology on society did not pan out, and 2) that smartphones, in fact, allow for greater social integration instead of distraction.

    I have heard so many people disregard Plato’s arguments against writing that I now have to wonder, was he really wrong? No, I will not say that I want to live in a world without writing. Rather, I would simply like to point out that I have never read a study about the societal effects of writing on ancient Greece. Maybe there was less conversation after the advent of writing. Maybe bicycles did have a societal impact. We cannot know exactly what these technologies changed about society, but it is certain that they did impact society. And as with all things, it is likely that some was good, and some was bad. It would seem foolish to say that they had only good impacts just because we have never known a world in which they did not exist.

    Farman’s second argument seems to have little to do with his first. He goes from discussing the impacts of technology on personal relationships to pointing out incidences of technology being used for education. While that education may take place on a sidewalk instead of in a classroom, he is still talking about gaining an education in history. I think his argument would have been strengthened if he had stuck with his original topic of person to person communication.

  • Dystopian Distractions

    Posted on March 13th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    While reading Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?,” one passage in particular struck me:

    When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

    That last sentence reminded me of a short story story my class read in elementary school called Harrison Bergeron. The story, written by Kurt Vonnegut, portrays a futuristic dystopia in which everyone is equal. People who are too skinny must wear weighted bags to bring them up to average weight. People who are particularly pretty must wear masks. And people who are intelligent have periodic sounds transmitted into their ears in order to break up their thoughts.

    In a way, hyperlinks and internet browsing can act in a similar manner to the fictional sound “handicaps.” I can’t begin to count the number of times I have read an interesting article, and clicked my way around the internet until I can’t remember where I started. Perhaps these aren’t distractions that are maliciously placed by a dictatorial “Handicapper General,” but they operate in the same way. Instead of creating well-formed, articulated thoughts and opinions, we meander aimlessly across the Web.


  • Roots of Revolution

    Posted on February 28th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    During a TED talk, Ron Finley makes the statement that, “Gardening is the most …. defiant act you can do.“ This brought to mind a natural food store in Eau Claire, WI, where I attended college. Their logo is as follows:

    Accompanying the picture is the line:

    The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”     — Paul Cezanne

    In a nation where nearly everything we buy is mass produced, it is somewhat unnerving that our food is often in the hands of large agricultural corporations. The things that are most basic to our health are produced by companies that (by necessity) are significantly concerned with the bottom line. Forget about banks that are too big to fail – what about the industrialized agriculture on which we are almost entirely dependent?

    During World War II, home grown “Victory Gardens” produced nearly 41% of all the vegetables in the United States. At the time, it was considered a matter of national security. Now, it is more a matter of health equality, as well as environmental sustainability. As human beings, we should all have access to fresh, healthy food that isn’t controlled by companies concerned with making a profit.

    File:Sow victory poster usgovt.gif

     (Victory Garden picture from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_garden)

  • Better to Say Something Nice…

    Posted on February 18th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    We are taught, early in our education, to “think critically.” We learn how to point out the problems in an argument, the logical missteps, and the missing pieces. However, one thing that is not so deeply imbedded is how to offer and construct solutions. It is a scene that can be witnessed at any conference: a presenter states their piece, and then the “questions” offered by the audience serve more to point out minor flaws than to further the research and discussion.

    I might suggest, that we instead default to optimism. Barring some obvious gross negligence on the part of the speaker, I think it is far better to give them the benefit of the doubt. As Shushok and Hulme wrote, it is so easy to default to pathology and point out the problems. Even though there will always be shortcomings, they must not be allowed to eclipse the validity of a work.

    Also, I think that while it is important to know and develop our strengths, this should not be hold us back from learning new things. In all likelihood, something that is now a strength was once a weakness. Anytime we start to learn or do something new, we are going to be pretty bad at it.


  • Forgetting to Remember

    Posted on February 14th, 2014 sarahann No comments

    During class last week, one student made a point that I think warrants further investigation. We were discussing the merits and drawbacks of Langers’s teaching myths, specifically the that it might be a myth that forgetting is a problem. Our colleague commented that forgetting can be an opportunity to refresh or reset one’s memory, and may lead to better understanding in the long run.

    We’ve probably all had some experience along the following lines: You’re in school, and the teacher asks a question. You rack your brain. You should know this. You do know this. But it’s just not there. When the teacher finally (mercifully) supplies the answer, you mentally kick yourself. And you never, ever forget it again.

    Now, admittedly, being traumatized into remembrance is probably not the best way to learn. However, forgetting doesn’t have to be traumatizing, as long as it is handled gently in the classroom. Also, new research is showing that, without forgetting, we wouldn’t be able to learn new things.

    So, if you don’t know the answer, “fuggedaboutit”!

  • What do Blogs Have to do with Rocks?

    Posted on February 3rd, 2014 sarahann No comments

    I’m in geology. With any luck, someday I will teach geology to myriads of young minds who do not yet know just how wonderful rocks can be. But when teaching about a world that is 4.6 billion years old, how do you incorporate media that has been in common use for (arguably) less than 5 years?

    When I first had to write a blog for a class, I was resistant. And to be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure that I agree with blogs as an effective online “conversation.” Sure, people can leave comments, but only after reading a full article. That would be like a “conversation” in which I delivered a 5-minute monologue, and then asked, “Questions?”.

    I more agree with Gardo’s interpretation of a blog as an essay. An attempt. So what shall I ask my students to attempt? There aren’t many opinions involved when it comes to learning the 15 most common minerals found on Earth.

    But a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s where blogging comes in. Generally, people get into geology because they want to be outside. However, the epic field trips experienced by upper classmen are usually not available to introductory students. So if I can’t bring the students to the outcrop, perhaps I can bring the outcrop to the students.

    One of the things that I have found is that students seem to enjoy seeming pictures of famous places, followed by an explanation of why the geology of the area is so important to their fame. Perhaps one option would be to have students post pictures of their travels, and point out some of the geology that they didn’t know they were experiencing at the time. We’ll call it social geology.

    So, questions?