In but not of the education system, moving past “as I say, not as I do”

Have you ever felt like the outsider looking in?  Do you hear the words of change fall on the deaf ears around but shrug and do what is needed for your grade anyway?  Maybe I do.  Parker Palmer’s “A New Professional” struck a chord when he brought up the need for change from within the systems of society brought on by its members that are “in but not of” their systems.  It turns out that looking in may not be a bad perspective after all.

We don’t often talk about moral conflicts in our work but I have had an interesting past with such dilemmas.  I was working as a small engine mechanic after getting hired out of my class by a fellow student.  That turned out to be the better of two bosses in the small business that hired me.  The other boss was the salesman.  Time and again he would pit my technical proficiency against a customer to support an upsetting agenda that made me look like his  stooge.  I hated it overtime and began to pick up on when it would likely happen next.  My expectation allowed me to step up my professionalism and be better prepared to be an advocate on the side of the customer rather than a witness in the middle of a cross examination.  If it weren’t for the other boss, my classmate, I would have just had to go along with the badgering every time.  This is also where I found out people do not trust mechanics because of situations like this.

Where do moral conflicts like this arise in research?  The answer is everyday.  Lets look at how  we report our findings.  If our experiment yields significant differences in treatments after our analysis then we can use this to explain all kinds of ideas on how what we measured could happen in the real world.  If our data are not significantly different then we give one line saying so but rarely do we poke holes in our study design in our publications.  This creates a tense edge in research.  On one hand our experimental design should help us to gain insight from our results.  On the other hand, we commonly turn a blind eye to negative data in favor of more publishable results.  Add on the kind of overwhelmed feeling of emerging researchers that is similar to that of the resident from our case study, and we have a recipe for moral compromise that can compound itself.  A different example would be research efforts that essentially set out to prove one preconceived conclusion or another in hopes of more funding. Without such funding, PI’s, Labs, and whole programs can fail.  Without legitimate scientific enquiry… entire ecosystems can fail.  What kind of efforts can be made now to enable the new professionals to be agents of change?  Is there enough protection in play that we can call a timeout and stop the game clock when we know that research is suffering because of ethical compromises?  Or will we be forced to only blow the whistle after the fact and watch our bridges of networking smolder in ruin as a result?


Attention! Error 50…….. ugh, who cares?

Many can assume that information is power, in a positive way.  The UN has gone so far as to say that access to the Internet should be a basic human right.  While I doubt that is so people every where can suffer through mediocre food photography on Instagram, I do think that the access to different cultures is higher than ever before.  Access to this information is as marketable, I mean, greater than ever.  It is interesting then that we would care to take a closer look at who may provide us access to such information and at what cost.  We wonder if Google is making us dumb, or if we are using such crutches as writing and the Internet, but we are not thinking of who it is that provides us informational services.  (We in this case is the average consumer of information, not the engineers, developers, and marketers who actual pose and answer those very questions.)  I bring this up because our Information Age has been just as ushered in by the internet as it has been by mainstream news media channels.  News, as it occurs, is a huge business, and in an effort to maintain its own dominance and keep up with the internet, network new has gone to 24 hr formats that deliver whatever will fill the time.  Since our intuition is to listen to like minded voices we have seen a huge polarization in opinions carried by different networks.  This polarization in the US has led to a new type of ignorance that flies in the face of unhindered access.

Error, failure to connect…

yeah yeah, refresh.

One of the things I have come across here at my second land grant institution, is the realization that one of the largest responsibilities that educators here have is to encourage, nurture, and require responsible consumption of information.  When we give assignments that ask for background sources, we need to embrace our student’s technologically advanced cultures and allow them to be the new centaurs that aren’t afraid to try new things.  I’m not saying Wikipedia is the answer, rather, with our guidance we can train and expose our students to the ways that allow them access to knowledge and realize what new faces of our digital economy are selling them what…  In our readings we saw that the young guns came in with consumer laptops and a defiant attitude and defeated their worthiest of opponents.  Maybe, our largest priority should be to give this newest breed of centaurs the guidance they need to be their own critics of information and credibility.  In my case I am most excited about the chance to work with them and let them learn about the popularization of science as I get to lead them through the very basics of the science that is in question.  I am talking about the bees.  You likely have heard that there is something going on with them, but what did you know before you were sold on that idea?

Surprise! Freire is Still Relevant

Reading through some of Freire’s thoughts and ideas and hearing them from him in an interview has been interesting.  Critical thinking and moving away from the sage on the stage views of education have been going on since I started grad school. Rarely though does this come up in class.  Frequently this is what I hear seasoned veteran professors talking about.  “Talking” is a nice way to put it.   I have always heard how the incoming classes have no capacity for critical thinking.  Only recently have I heard them share the little nuances that make their classes more successful.  Things like letting your personality shine through in you courses.

Mostly though, this banking model of education is interesting.  I have always thought it is such a shame that students are so busy that they can only “learn” material for a test.  So much of the curiosity that compels us to explore is squashed under the pressure of learning for the test.  I think that many courses still employ the banking model.  I have always thought about it as the “bucket theory.”  Where every exam grade requires one specific bucket worth of information to be regurgitated by the student in an ordered fashion that fits the exam.  In filling their own bucket before such exams the students have isolating themselves to that task singularly.  That is to say, they are only capable of fitting one specific goal into their span of attention, and when the bucket has been emptied, the student is left with a void.  Not a knowledge base, a starting point, a different perspective, just a bucket that has been filled and emptied to satisfy grade requirements.

I want to learn more about Freire and what helped him to become so much more aware of what is going on in the current classroom models, especially because I too think of myself as curious.

Ms. Mac and Her Fight for Inclusion

“Ms. Mac” is how she wanted us to refer to her.  She was one of these energetic people that, now that I think about it, was visibly passionate about teaching.  I had her for our state level “social studies” course in middle school.  I remember two things that she told us.

1) ‘Never fill out the space next to “Race / Ethnicity” on your standardized tests.’

2) “I will never put a false  “true / false” question on on a test.  I don’t want to put false information into student’s heads!”

This was probably my first foray into diversity and inclusion.  Being from a slightly rural area (High school less than 1,000 students), diversity for us translated into race.  Back to Ms. Mac.  She was from the low country of South Carolina where she and her classmates had been involved in the Briggs v Elliot Supreme Court Case that was handled as one of the five included in the infamous Brown v Board of Education case.  For her, education had been a fight to be included… at all.  She was quite the fighter.  Her teaching passion may have arisen from having to fight for the same educational opportunities that could be found in the “whites only” schools.  She grew up in a system that could use racial profiling and standardized tests to make a case against her and the “blacks only” schools she attended.  I think that when she warned us about this profiling she was thinking about Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan who dissented against his peers in cases of “separate but equal.”  He said that “Our Constitution is color-blind…“, something I heard in Vendantam’s NPR interview.  Our society would prefer to handle diversity as though we were all blind to color.  While that would be great if we could all just be considered people, Vendantam suggests that it is not enough.  In reading about our “hidden brain” it certainly makes sense that dominance of media by one group or another would create a societal norm that even a 3 year old could detect.  I don’t know what will have to come next to disrupt these norms but I think we are making progress, slowly but surely.  We can’t all have someone as exuberant as Ms. Mac, but we might be sitting beside someone who is just as interesting…  Our role as educators should foster cultural learning through inclusive practices.  To do otherwise would be denying our students the chance to learn outside of their own norms.


As for Ms. Mac’s second thought, she would have loved arguing with a few of my professors about critical thinking and teaching!

“Nah, I was Listening”

Sorry, but I fall asleep like in lectures like it was my job.  I don’t think it’s just being an abnormally large human in a tiny seat or anything do to with the lecture but…

Temperature:  yeah, that does it for me.

Too hot; out

Too cold; out

It keeps changing though.  I can be psyched about a class and have a lecturer put me under within a few minutes.  I had the professor who half tried to “change up” their lectures with jokes, meh…  I do like the ideas in the change up article and can definitely identify with the over observed students described within.  But staring down the barrel of my own upcoming lectures I am less willing to give up my time with the students to change it up and lose ground in the material.  I do have ideas, and an advantage.  I am going to teach a class I have taken and TAed for in the past, so I know where the sleeper sections are.  After a while I think I can sprinkle enough variety into our lectures together that I can keep people guessing and waiting for more.  Grinding through survey courses or highly specialized ones seems like it would be most difficult to change up.  Hopefully my experiences of being a- student for too long will serve as a benefit to my own students.  Remembering the burden of sitting through the lectures should be reminder enough that a course is not something that anyone should have to suffer through.

-Change up and wake up

Unsatisfied Knuckle Dragger

Dan Pink’s words struck a chord for me.  Not because he is a faithful boyfriend in Dr. Who, but because I have noticed a thing or two about motivation in myself.  Like a few other students in graduate school, I have had the opportunity to work outside of academia and been able to develop a professional skill to the point beyond competence.  I quit school and got hired out of a small engine mechanics class to be the first full time employee of a small business.  It was an interesting journey that has undoubtedly given me an entirely different perspective on life, and work.  While in that job I was progressing and even edging closer to mastery of a few mechanical skills, trouble shooting, welding, etc., and after a while my pay began to reflect my value to the business.

Pay, you would think that would be the primary motivator for me, but it turns out that I love to troubleshoot and tackle problems head on at work and even for fun.  Pink (of RSA, not BBC) mentioned that he found in the research, that money was only a motivator until it was no longer an issue.  It’s hard to think about that on a graduate student stipend, but I do remind myself that I am here to train, to get closer to mastery in my studies.  The idea there is that if your pay is enough to satisfy some of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sort of things, your focus can then be on your work.  Work in the sense of application of skill, not force as engineers may think of it.  Work should be challenging, interesting and fun.  Many people tell me to not make career decisions based on money, it seems like an easy thing for them, but it may be more of a realization that their job is not as satisfying as their work could have been.  Sure, they can pay the bills but are they rewarded otherwise?  It doesn’t look to be as simple as motivation to complete the job but rather to excel and make it yours.  I would no doubt look with despair at a career focused on the skill set I have learned to only satisfy the requirements for a pay check.  I’ve done it and I know it does not fit me well.  I think that some businesses are beginning to see that they can motivate their employees in new ways.

I always think of the ridiculous sounding dream-like work conditions at places like the Google Plex , but things would resound when I walked past the Rack Space, RAX, playroom on my way to lunch at the U Mall.  This company was pulling out all kinds of stops to make their employees just plain happy.  I am sure that they were competitively compensated, but that place just looked like fun, and success.  It seems like there is a trend where people have realized that we are not just the new generation that likes to work hard to play hard, but rather a group of people that are capable and unless appropriately challenged, unsatisfied people.  Not wholly unsatisfied, but just enough to make us hungry and to make us yearn to be masters of our own work.  It may be that we have come here to a healthy, unsatisfied state, in spite of our education.  Looking at the ideology behind assessment and learning, I can identify with the practice of immersion but I also see how assessment can detract from learning.  Despite our declared proficiency of certain subjects, many of us will continue to want to learn even after the good test grades.

I have the feeling I will have to save my thoughts on assessment for another day…


Unsatisfied Learner and Recovering Knuckle Dragger->OUT


Socrates and the fistulated cow

You may be saying “what is a fistulated cow,” or you may be wondering about Socrates and cows.  In class so far, we have been discussing connected learning, and as a side note, testing, and how the culture or education relies so much on the final test grades of students as a feedback for educators.  One fellow student brought up an app, Socrative, that they use in class to find out just what content their students are digesting and what cud they have to chew further to be able to digest.  This app is another way to gauge engagement, and. conceptual and functunional understanding in a classroom, based on the various levels of interfacing between the app and the class.

“So the cow?”

Yes, the fistulated cow.  One tool that farm managers and veterinarians can use to manage a herd of cattle is to create a window into what they are consuming and how they are digesting it.  This window is created by making a tunnel into one of the cow’s stomachs and creating an access point that will not interrupt the digestion of the cow.  Often the plug that seals this tunnel looks like a window on the side of a cow.

Socrates supported a method of teaching that engaged the students in a manner that would inspire critical thinking, this app is an homage to that.  This app also acts like the window into the weird digestion by students, hence an interesting tool of feedback like the fistulated cow.  While educators would likely suffer if they thought of their students as grazers of knowledge and learning, they may be able to see that not all feedback gained from testing is indicative of learned material.  The educator is not there consuming with the students and so the level of digestion is a mystery.  Either system allows the manager a glance into what is actually happening in their respective models of consumption, and maybe a more direct route to analysis than testing is a system of feedback, the likes of which are being explored by systems like Socrative.

Connectedness and making your own connections


I fell into connections in learning by accident, and it certainly did not follow common themes of connected learning, but maybe it could help…

Long story short, I quit school my sophomore year because I was no closer to finding a major and I couldn’t sleep.  Fast forward 2 years and I’m back in school.  I decided I would try out science.  So I dove in head first.  I ended up taking courses in one or two semesters, that others would take over years.  All of those nit picky prerequisite and weed out courses that so many loathe.  These courses were taught by different departments.  I was taking wildlife management at the same time as introduction to zoology, chemistry, and ecology.  While they are in different departments they were all conceptually linked.  What I was learning in a 400 level course was based directly on what I heard the morning before in my 200 level course.  All of these terms, concepts, and paradigms would play themselves out in problem posing scenarios in my higher level courses.  The connections just came to me.  I had no choice.  Had I taken these courses at the times my normal requirements would have allowed, I would have had huge gaps in theories, years between introduction and application.  So now I have ideas on connecting these things.


If my professors saw or had a clue to the immersive effects my crowded schedule was having they could guide others to make the same connections.  But how could they?  They were all in different departments.  When prerequisites are set there are assumptions about conceptual proficiency from one course in support of another.  What if you could “level up”?  Say a freshman or sophomore decides to major in Biology.  If all or even some of the professors that teach the courses that support that major could coordinate on a network of connected themes and developments, then that student could discover their way through the connections of these disciplines, level by level.  So much of what is taught in physical sciences relies on real life examples.  Often these examples are drawn from or lead to other disciplines.  Why stop there?  Colleges could have connected theory courses that could have whole incoming classes of students working through their requirements and making discoveries the whole way through.  We always hear of interdisciplinary studies but through large networks of connections and theory students could get so much more out of their schedules.  Connected learning on this scale could provide the ecosystem that would lead students to get more than just the grade, more of the “hows” and “whys” that their studies offer.

Warm Hearth, Trial By Fire

We have been learning about and exercising various small aspects of communication all class long.  Every little thing is set to add up on another to gain confidence and add to our abilities.  Most of them are not specific instructions about ‘always this’ or ‘never that’, but rather pieces of a larger puzzle that fit together as a larger presentation.  This was that presentation.  We have spent time together working on talking and being comfortable as speakers and audience members as a group.  A group of people who have come to find some mutual respect and admiration for each other and their respective research fields.  But now we face strangers, strangers of all types, people we have never met, people who are later on in life, who will ask any question they please.  They weren’t that late in life but we did go up in front of strangers.

Each of us had an introduction, likely a key thing to remember and serve as a distraction.  We all had to be prepared, without memorizing, but with some trial runs.  We went to a retirement community and plied all of our accumulated skills to get our audience to hear and to care about the crazy, complicated things that we research right next door to them.  It went well.  You could see afterwards just how different things were from our first introductory ramblings in the beginning of the semester.  Granted, we were in a much different setting than our first recording, but we still had the same subject.  We had to break something out of the specific vernacular we have to prove that we have mastered on the way to break throughs in our research fields, down to a level that anyone could pick up.  We did not cause any riots but we got their attention.  Afterwards we got to think about it.  No advisors, no grant board reviews, just peers and ourselves going through the actual footage of our talks.  It was very useful.  Most of the time after a talk, I get feedback that I can’t really trust.  “Oh yeah. You did great,” or “you didn’t look nervous at all.”  There are way too many variables involved to get something relevant from someone I know, much less an honest review.  Without having any consequences to how the talk went, and reviewing it with people familiar with the same exercises I had just gone through, gave me a much more useful level of feedback.

Having a willing audience that was mine to loose was great.  I have had others but I don’t know how I could have broken the ice with them because of the value they might expect from me.  It wasn’t really a trial by fire but it was a definite step up from the in-class exercises that we went through before.

In the improv elevator of your life, I’ve been shafted

The man in black was talking about getting dumped but that’s sort of what class felt like, observationally of course.  Early in the semester we talked about relying on positive responses and how that related to being a good audience.  If there are reluctant audiences or negative responding improv “participants” then the back and forth of communication breaks down.  Our exercise was to get into a simulated elevator and through our interactions figure out how to work in our own research.  Many groups had some awkward and humorous interactions in the process.  The best were the ones where people just ran with it.  One thing led to another and they all played well with others.  The objective was tough and almost selfish.  You could see those who were typically more outgoing succeeding because they led, while more introverted people played along.  That was all well and good until my elevator door opened…

I stepped from my floor into a cat fight.  You thought a negative response was bad?  Try that repeated with accompanying body language.  I wanted to disarm it a little bit.  Selfishly I charged in and provoked a round of high fives, a good excuse to individually get a positive response from everyone there.  Then we opened things up a little.  The conflict remained though.  It sort of cut everything short and was difficult to manage.  Instead of engaging the conflict directly I worked with the other, more receptive folks.  Much like I would if I were dealing with a less receptive audience member.  It’s not that everyone in the elevator was negative, just a few.  So the participating audience was not lost.  It got interesting.  There was no big risk for me so I think I was able to react reasonably well.  I don’t how I would do in a more high risk situation like a conference symposium.  Maybe I’ll have a flash back and pull it off.  Once we got the elevator fixed we all breathed a sigh of relief and parted ways, some more positively than others.