Category Archives: GEDIVTS17

Striking the Right [Tech] Balance

—This week I read three articles that presented a smorgasbord of positions about human-reliance on techno-gadgets.

In the first article, Carr explored the question is Google making us stupid? The author expressed concerned about our reliance on technology. Carr’s general argument is that tech and/or artificial intelligence is gaining strength and humans are experiencing an all time high of dumb. I would place Carr in the sky is falling category.

In The Myth of the Disconnected Life, Farman discussed how technology can be used to heighten our sense of place; he provided a few concrete examples of how tech has been used to enhance our personal experience with place. His argument could comfortably fit in the camp of tech-advocate.

The third piece is an excerpt from Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Thank You Think. Thompson makes a convincing case for ongoing collaboration between humans and computers. He makes no attempt to promote one entity over the other. I would categorize Thompson’s stance as middle of the road.

I identified more with Thompson’s position. He was equally critical of the abilities of both man and computer. Thompson argued that humans have a unique trait–intuition–which cannot be replicated by computers. For example:

The recent accident between a motorist and one of Uber’s self-driven cars is a demonstration of what can happen if human abilities are absent from reality. A motorist failed to yield to the Uber vehicle, which caused the accident. If we replace the self-driven car with a human driver, we could increase the chances of avoiding the accident. You can read more about this accident by clicking here.

Computers cannot account for the unpredictable behavior that humans express on a daily basis. Yet, I am an advocate for driver assist technology (DAT), which harkens back to Thompson’s description of collaborative chess–humans and computers as chess teammates. I am not comfortable with computers taking full command of automobiles, but a few DAT warnings along the way could enhanced safety.

Much of this was discussed in previous GEDI sessions, so I look forward to rehashing the topic.

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Vivid Bridges to the Hidden Brain

Photo Credit: Salon.com

I just finished reading an article by Vedantam, How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us. My dissertation dabbles with the concepts of biased mental models and implicit bias, so I found myself nodding to all of the author’s points. However, he included an excerpt from his book, Hidden Brain. I found the details of this excerpt highly disturbing. For one, I have found myself in similar situations, and quite like some of the characters in the selected scenario, in postmortem I questioned my reaction to the moment and/or the reactions–or lack thereof–of others.

In the excerpt, a young lady by the name of Deletha jumped from a bridge as a result of a brutal assault from a stranger. While I was reading this passage, I kept asking “why didn’t anyone help this young lady.” I sat with the story and tried to apply the author’s logic of the hidden mind. This is what came up with. If the aggressor and the victim were of the same race, some people may have assumed that they were lovers. And if those people tend to operate on the wisdom my grandmother shared with me–don’t get in the middle of a lover’s quarrel–they may have been acting with their hidden mind. I think the autopilot [hidden mind] the author is referring to is the behavior we express that isn’t always logical, useful or helpful and it can result in harm.

While I don’t anticipate the average class session to be anything like the death of Deletha, educators must make an effort to avoid operating on auto-pilot; we must stay “woke”. We must be aware when someone is being injured, ostracized, singled-out or mistreated, and create the type of environment where every student feels comfortable enough to state when they feel attacked. Sometimes, a toxic environment can be hard to detect if the facilitator of that moment is in a numbed state.

And for Vedantam’s effort to illustrate the hidden brain–I think his use of an extreme case really drove the point home.

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Is Getting to the Finish Line Enough?

Mark Carnes wrote an article where he talked about his learning concept called Reacting to the Past. Carnes description of Reacting to the Past is in alignment with the established descriptions of active learning. However, I have found the term –active learning–lacking clarity. So I have started to refer to [what would be] active learning as lived-learning…with the outcome of lived-knowledge. We are more likely to reach students if we can immerse them in the material. One way to do this is to move the stories we teach closer to their realities and their experiences. Let them touch history. Let them change the outcomes outlined in a lesson with contemporary tools. I purchase this approach.

Now, a slight left turn from active learning. Last semester I wrote a paper asking the question Is education the key to a better quality of life. In particular, I wanted to know if college completion would yield an improvement in the areas of labor and shelter. What I found was a significant difference in the success outcomes and these differences were based on race. After running a few comparisons between racial groups, I found that–even with an increasing rate of college completion–markers of success had not improved for Blacks since 1964.

Carnes is concerned with students completing college, and the anecdotes he provided are great examples of how we can re-engage students. In addition to Carnes’ concern, I am concerned about what happens after college. Keeping students interested and engaged is just one step towards preparing them for success in life. There are other hurdles our students will have to overcome, and we can help them by finding ways to address the aforementioned disparities.

I would love to hear your thoughts about lived-learning and success beyond college.

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Deconstructing the Grading System

In Alfie Kohn’s article , The Case Against Grades, the author deconstructs the traditional grading system. The author opens up a big wound, pours salt in it and offers lukewarm examples as the balm. While I agree that teaching towards the grade is not the best learning strategy, I am also aware that the traditional grading system is subject to larger systems and bigger issues. For example, if the school system, as a whole, does not agree to change how we evaluate learning, then the individual teacher that elects for a “non-grade” learning environment runs the risk of being terminated or they might jeopardize their school’s position. Now, there is a larger way of being and doing that modern society participates in…and that is risk culture.

Risk culture is fueled by fear. Fear of losing one’s job, fear of failing school, fear of disappointing one’s parents, fear of lawsuits, fear of not getting into college. The list of fears is neverending, and risk culture is what drives us closer to quantifying success with a rigid grading system. So if we are going to deconstruct the grading system, we should consciously take steps to deconstruct the larger systems that will eventually undermine any advances taken at the sub-system level.

This article left me wondering what was occurring at the higher levels of society—like the school board and the college systems that review the applications of the students participating in a non-grade environment.

Questions to Ponder: What type colleges were willing to accept narrative summaries instead of grades? Did the non-grade teachers have the support of their leadership?

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Kellyanne Conway & Ellen Langer, They Must Know Each Other

I just finished reading an article by Ellen Langer entitled Mindful Learning.  As I was reading the article, what came to mind was Kellyanne Conway’s mention of “alternative facts” on Meet the Press.  This particular sentence is what made me draw the connection between Langer’s work and Kellyanne’s alternative reality:

“Facts, whether derived from science or not, are not context-free; their meaning and usefulness depend on the situation.“-Langer

This statement illuminates the power that an instructor has over the learning process, and it highlights the importance of grooming students to be mindful.  For example, Langer offers an alternative way of thinking about facts and the learning process.  If an individual typically operates in the mindless track [as described by Langer],  a savvy spin doctor such as Conway—and I’m sure Conway has read Langer’s article–can influence the mindless masses with a well-argued alternative perspective.

Now, shift this example to the classroom.  If a professor’s agenda is to promote a set of specific facts, they could fall into the same colorful bucket as Conway–aliens from the alternative universe.  But if we encourage students to consider multiple perspectives–shift them towards mindfulness–they will be prepared for characters like Conway and have the ability to co-sign alternative facts or detect the intent to manipulate information.

I think mindfulness and critical thinking are pretty much the same, and we definitely need more of it in contemporary learning.

A let’s talk about it note: “Mindfulness coupled with ill-intent = Conway.” -Me

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To Blog or Not To Blog

During my time as a PhD student, professors have shared mixed comments about blogging.  Some professors have encouraged me to blog and others have deemed the practice as a waste of time.

What I noticed about those who were from the pro-blog camp is that they are either assistant professors or senior professors who happen to be tech savvy.

The anti-blog camp are typically older and committed to the traditional expectations of academia.

Even those from the pro-blog camp struggle with the act.  One professor asked me to chime in on a potential post.  The content was soooooo thick [wordy].  For some, making the transition from hefty manuscripts to brief and succinct commentary is a major challenge.  Here are a few other troubling comments that I have heard from students and professors:

  • I’m long-winded, and there’s no way I can cram all of what I have to say in that box.
  • Blogging will call into question my status as a serious scholar.
  • Who actually reads that %!#&?

Maybe it is time for universities to offer training on contemporary sharing platforms. Reboot?

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GEDI

I am going to have to visit Blacksburg a few times this semester…clearly a lively bunch!

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