Monthly Archives: December 2017

Open vs Guided Assignments

Some argue that a good blog post has links to other blogs, websites or documents, but why that has to be the case? If I don’t insert a link somewhere in this post, is it bad? The answer is NO, because what should matter is the content. However, if blogs are framed as a collaborative learning tool, then the answer is yes. The reason for this introductory statement, not related at all with the title of this post, is because I am not going to insert any link, even thought to a certain degree I am supposed to do so, according to suggested blogging guidelines provided at the beginning of the semester. Hopefully you will link my blog somewhere for others to read :).

Before I elaborate further, let me provide the definition of “open” and “guided” assignments for the remaining of this post. “Open” will be used in the context of a task or assignment (e.g. a blog post) for which the content/topic can be decided by the student. A “guided” assignment on the other hand, is the opposite, the topic of the assignment is given.

Definitely there are pros and cons for both scenarios. This post for instance, is the result of an open assignment, I was given no topic to discuss, the only instruction was that it had to be related with Higher Education. Out of the previous 9 posts under the GRAD 5104 category, 5 were guided. Through the semester I found that I enjoyed more writing about whatever I felt like, than when I had to write about a particular topic. I am not entirely sure why, but I guess because of the feeling of being free to explore different avenues. However, I do have to admit that determining what to write about was not necessarily easy. Usually I went to The Chronicle of Higher Education  (ok, one link, but not related with the content, so it does not count), and search for an interesting topic to discuss, and then linked that article to my post as well. This time however, I couldn’t find something really fast, so I decided to be creative and think about a topic, rather than look for one. That is another advantage of “open” assignments, they might force you to think more.

Now, don’t get me wrong, guided assignments are not bad, is just that sometimes you might not enjoy discussing certain topics, even though they are certainly important. I am trying really hard to comment something negative about them, but besides not liking a topic I can’t think of anything else. At the end, I guess I did enjoy writing most of my posts, and if you read through the GEDI F17 category, which were all “guided” assignments, you will probably see that they are written in a slightly different tone to the majority of the GRAD 5104 posts, perhaps the fact of having provocative readings as introduction to the content of each post helped my thought process. Not sure.

But anyways, even if at the end it seems like I didn’t say that much, I just want to let you know that I enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone and expressing my ideas to the public, even if most of the immediate audience are my classmates, professor and graduate teaching assistant. Perhaps I should actually make a statement about open and guided assignments. I believe both work, but guided assignments might work better when accompanied by introductory materials carefully chosen to help create interest about them. On the other hand, if the objective is for students to discover their own sources and find readings to support a post, then open assignments are a better avenue.

– Carlos F. Mantilla P.

 

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Internships: degree requirement?

This post is inspired after an assignment question: one thing I believe should change in higher education?

I know it seems like a utopia, for all undergraduate students, independent of their discipline, to complete some sort of internship during their college experience. But don’t you agree with me that seems kind of necessary? After I completed my college degree in Colombia, I was fortunate to already have a job in front of me, partially as a result of my graduation project. But I know that not everyone is able to start right away, and not necessarily for having a bad student record, but perhaps for lack of “professional” experience.

When I moved to the U.S., my first intention was to enroll as an entry-level industrial engineer, which ended up not happening, hence one of the reasons why I came back to school, not a bad turn out… I cannot be 100% sure, but I believe that what mostly hurt me was my lack of experience, since I was not applying to jobs related to my short 6-month appointment in Colombia. Most of the entry-level jobs openings I found, actually had a 0-2 or 0-3 years of experience. And honestly, if I am hiring, I would potentially go with that person with some experience, as long as all other qualifications are also met. This is one of the reasons I believe that internships should be mandatory. Especially to “force” students that otherwise would not consider doing one.

Scott Carlson recently wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Everyone Agrees on Value of Apprenticeships. The Question Is How to Pay for Them”. Apprenticeships and internships are not the same, but yet the question applies for both cases. What is needed to have an education/industry relationship that will allow all (or at least the majority) of students to gain experience before finishing their college education? With internships, students benefit by learning on the job, not just theory, and industry benefits by being able to train potential future employees on what they “really” need to learn.

So, I don’t have an answer. Perhaps it is a utopia. Instead I have an advice for students: try to seek out for internships, you will not regret it. And to industry: keep finding ways to offer more opportunities for those looking to have them. For now, internships cannot be required to graduate, but seems like a good point to start brainstorming how we can get there.

– Carlos F. Mantilla P.

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Teaching for the first time: classroom management

Classroom management is not only about what happens inside the room. It is not only about fostering an environment of mutual respect. It is not only about reducing the unrelated talking and interruptions. It goes beyond, and seems like it is getting harder to do. Classroom management includes dealing with deadlines and requested extensions, unexplained class skipping when assistance is required, effective communication with students, and basically any other aspect related to the teacher/student and student/student relationship.

As expressed in probably many articles, websites, publications, etc… classrooms are becoming tougher environments, teachers not only have to worry about being knowledgeable on the class topic, but also need to be prepare to deal with the externalities affecting how students perform. I am getting ready to teach next semester as an instructor of record for the first time, and would definitely like to have students as engaged as possible. Hence, I am looking at tools/strategies that I can use to reach the majority of students. I am looking at ways to have an effective classroom management. If you are also in my shoes, or for that time when you get there, or if you have taught before but want to see how you can improve the atmosphere in your classroom. Here are two articles for you to take a look at:

Towards a ‘Positive U’  by Beverley Myatt, MA, and Lynne N. Kennette, PhD … on strategies to foster a positive classroom environment.

Helping students make the right call on cell phones by Pete Burkholder, PhD… on offering extra-credit for surrendering cell phones during class

Of course, there are plenty more out there…

– Carlos F. Mantilla P.

 

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