Week 5: The Lab

I thought the lab was a super cool idea. It’s pretty much an educational choose your own adventure story. I appreciated the multi-modal experience, and getting to experience the character’s stories I feel will have a longer lasting effect than if we had simply been lectured at, or if it had been presented as dully as that other video with the two kids from A&M.

I was not expecting it to take as long as it did, however. I’m wondering if a text version would produce a similar experience to the video. The choose your own adventure part could remain, but you could probably read through it much faster than it took to watch. I think the first story line alone took almost an hour to navigate.

Getting to see the process from a couple of points of view was quite helpful. There are a lot of people involved in the process, and they all had their own motivations. It can help to contextualize the complexity of each individual situation, and can help you sympathize with their individual decisions.

I’m wondering, though, what carryover it will have into the real world. Will this video deter people from cheating or falsifying data? It almost seemed like there were too many points that could have resulted in him getting a way with it.

Idiot with the Drill

I must be a “schooler” because the parable at the beginning of Papert’s chapter is ridiculous.

I think even worse how pretentiously he presents that there’s pushback against the idea that teachers shouldn’t be able to recognize the future classroom. Of course there is. Talking about the surgical theater brings up visions of a plethora of electronics all used to monitor different vital signs. We don’t need a pulse oximeter in the classroom to ensure that we are safe. Most people don’t need an oxygen mask. No one needs to be under constant supervision because they have been sedated with a drug the potentially could stop their heart. The comparison intentionally leads people in the wrong direction and then tries to use their obvious confusion at why the classroom would ever need to look like a surgical theater to make a clarion call for megachange.

This chapter was written in 1992, why would the classroom need to change so radically that teachers from 100 years before wouldn’t understand what was going on? Video games can be a great teaching tool, but are they necessary to create most of the change he was talking about? We talked in class two weeks ago, about a group of students that were taken outside and asked to walk around barefoot in order to facilitate a more student directed learning while emphasizing critical thinking skills. Is he expecting the classroom to look more like the matrix where we can plug in and experience new things we otherwise never could?  How much of a role does technology need to play in changing the philosophy of the education system?

Again, maybe my schooler mentality is obstructing my ability to see the future of the machine.

More to the point, however, why is making bad comparison something we should avoid? Example: me. I’m writing this blog post. We had two really good readings about finding your teaching self, and I’m stuck on this terrible parable. I’m not even talking about the rest of the chapter the bad parable came from.

Maybe it’s a flaw of mine, I should be able to look past the parable to see the bigger picture, right? Perhaps, but story telling is a powerful teaching tool. If you haven’t read some of the research on how well humans learn through story telling it’s pretty interesting. The basic gist of it is that stories help us experience things, not just hear and process. Stories stick with us longer. They incorporate more parts of our brain than when receiving facts. They have been a part of human existence probably from its beginning. Keep in mind the earliest cave paintings are more than 40,000 years old. We are hardwired to listen and relate to stories. I’m sure this is why storytelling was listed as something lectures are good for a few weeks back.

Back to Papert though. If the megachange needs to occur in the mindset of educators and the basic philosophies of the education system. The focus of the parable shouldn’t be on technological tools. Because that’s all they are… tools. And tools are only as proficient and creative as the craftsman that holds them. If the craftsman has new tools, but their mindset, philosophy, and creativity hasn’t evolved with the tool then the tool won’t be used to its full potential anyway.

Let’s end with a story about a man provided with the technology that could change they way he does his job. It’s called. Idiot with the Drill.


25% 25% 50%

One thing that I have been told by a few different teaching mentors is the 25%25% 50% rule. The rule goes something like this: 25% of your class is going to be on board with almost anything that you do.  Another 25% will not be on board with almost anything that you do, whether it’s for lack of interest in the subject, or a heightened interest in another subject, or parties, or WoW, they just aren’t devoting that much time to your class. That last 50%, that’s the 50% that what you do makes all the difference whether or not they are on board. For the duration of the blog, let’s assume this is, at least generally, true.

Looking specifically at the “Case Against Grades”I’m wondering how some of the “effects of grading” and the benefits of getting rid of grades would affect the 25%25%50% rule. Would that first 25% who are totally on board no matter what, produce even better work? Think at an even higher level? Maybe. Maybe their already extant self motivation would be augmented and their creative freedom would result in some amazing things.

That other 25% though, what would be the effect of taking grades away from them? Would they magically care a little more? would that 25% become 12%? and the other 13% join the 50%? Would they all join that 50% and there would be no one focused on doing the bare minimum? Or are grades just motivating enough, to get the students that don’t care about the subject to put in a little effort in order to pass? I don’t know.

Before we go any further with this, let me admit that I’m looking at this from a hugely generalized perspective. I know every individual student has their own motivations, and each will respond differently to different scenarios. Still I can’t imagine that getting rid of grades is going to have the same effect on every student, the same way the keeping grades won’t have the same effect on every student.

That leaves the 50%, or the 63%, How would getting rid of grades alter their education? Personally I think this is where the lack of grades would have the most effect. I think they would be the ones that would relish in the autonomy, and be more focused on the task. They would spend more time thinking about how to accomplish the task than how the teacher wanted them to accomplish the task. They would be thinking more critically, more invested, all the things that getting rid of grades is supposed to accomplish.

All that being said, leads me to the question. What about that 12-25% that just aren’t going to care no matter what? Can we let them not care and give them credit for completing the class? Or would that lead to a decrease in the value of VT degree? Can we grade them more on a gut feeling about how much work they put in, or how much they participated? Or would that create legal issues if they decided to protest the grades, having nothing but the teacher’s opinion to go on? Also, how would that affect the university’s graduation rate? Do the politics or the university play a role in how all of this would go down if it were allowed to happen?


Week 4: Honor Code part I

The honor code is very thorough, and very extensive. It really covers all the bases.

I’m wondering how much the thoroughness and extensiveness of the honor code really discourages plagiarism and cheating. My first thought is that most students know that these two violations of the honor code are wrong. I say most because I know there are different rules governing citations and plagiarism around the world. But still, I think most students here know plagiarism is wrong. So, I would think that most would not do it on their own integrity.

The students that would find themselves on the fence about cheating would probably be dissuaded by a simple statement like “cheating will result in failure.”

The students that are going to cheat and knowingly plagiarize are probably thinking they won’t be caught, and may be thinking very little of the consequences regardless of how simple or thorough they are.

I understand that in a legal sense they need to be very thorough and outline exactly what the institution means by cheating, and what constitutes cheating. And they need to be very specific about what the penalties are for cheating so they can say that students should have known. I understand all that. I’m just not sure that the extensiveness does much more to dissuade cheaters than just a simple, “if you are caught cheating you will fail.”

Week 3: Plagiarism

The CCCC’s position exactly what I have been taught in the classroom, and what I have been taught in the Honor Code presentations we have seen. The CCCC’s statement also is very similar to the concerns of the Virginia Tech IRB.

The CCCC says that rules about plagiarism and intellectual property are governed by federal law implying that the penalties for plagiarism could extend beyond the institution you are attending.

The CCCC also makes guidelines for how to properly cite other’s intellectual property so you can use their work without penalty of law or a failing grade. Most of the plagiarism I have seen comes from improper citing practices. Citing is hard. Knowing when to cite and what needs to be cited can often be difficult to discern. Some plagiarists know what they are doing, and know that it is wrong. This also makes it hard to know how to deal with plagiarism.  Do we follow the letter of the law? and report all plagiarism? Or do we try to discern the spirit of the action and use it as a teaching moment? We can have students fix their improper citing techniques so they learn how not to make the same mistakes in the future.

How would you like CPR to be taught?

In the last paragraph of our first reading by Ellen Langer she brings up a scenario where a friend’s seven year old daughter needs CPR after an accident in the pool. She poses the question about whether we would want our training to have been conditionally rather than “mindlessly sequential” and then asked how should we teach CPR? I’m having trouble answering her questions.

Without a doubt, I think the mindful learning as a whole is a great concept. The example she provided about the musicians that were taught “mindfully” performing better and enjoying their practice shows how tasks that are so traditionally rooted in memorization (oh god all those scales… up and down up and down…. now D minor…. up and down) and repetition don’t necessarily have to rely on those two factors.

But, in the case of CPR I think it gets a little muddled. While I’ve never had to perform CPR and hope that I never will, it’s a high stress situation. You essentially have a corpse in front of you, and CPR alone is not going to revive them. Perhaps you’re the only trained person in the vicinity so it’s on you to act as their heart until medical help can arrive. Every step can potentially make a large difference in whether they are able to be revived and also in the quality of life if they are revived.   Would small “mindlessly sequential” methodical steps taught absolutely work in this situation? I think so. I think that could help a person work through the stress. There’s a reason they include easy to recall acronyms-ABC airway-breathing-compression.

Now maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Maybe Langer is saying that there should be a mindful component to CPR training. She specifies that the young girl is much smaller than your average adult at only 50 lbs. So the mindful component would focus on how hard one would have to push to achieve the proper compression. Maybe there is a mindful addition to the ‘assess the scene’ component. A restaurant is  a very different location than a crosswalk. These I will agree should be taught in the CPR class, but I don’t think that they take the place of the small mindless methodical steps.

Maybe a sort of hybrid style would work better in this situation. One that teaches the sequential steps that must be met, but expands upon those steps as well.


Passive sitters: “they make excellent cannon fodder”

The one thing that intrigued me the most from this week’s readings didn’t actually come from the readings themselves. It was, rather, the contrast produced by the first comment following the “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire” article and the article itself (I’d link straight to the comment  if I knew how).

The article painted this colorful picture filled with students that were excited about learning. They were invested in the content, and they were invested in the game. They were so invested it was hindering other students’ ability to party, which as we know is the priority of weekend college nights.

That first comment though, reminded me much more of the reality of my own schooling. The commentor, username richardtaborgreene, described what he learned through his school years, and it was mostly how to sit while being just aware enough to get decent grades. He had learned to be what he calls a “passive sitter.” Which is what the world wants… right? Passive sitters are perfect for corporate jobs, the commentor continues, because “they make excellent low cost machine substitutes… [and] excellent cannon fodder” when wars should arise.  Passive sitters are easy to manipulate and make other people rich. The commentor describes school as a prison forcing students to assume the role of passive sitters while tamping down their excitement to learn about what interests them, and suppressing real learning.

The commentor says that he first experienced a type of inspired learning that more resembles that actual article he was commenting on at a mass research event hosted by IBM 40 years ago.  Where he, along with his team, was able to go “from zero to as good as world best experts in 3 days!!” and said that “NO UNIVERSITY ever exposed [him] to as much learning, as fun-ly gained, and as much educating, as powerfully delivered, in equivalent time periods.”  The commentor seems baffled that universities don’t engage in such events, but corporations do.

My education certainly has looked more like the comment than the article.  Most of my classes were lectures. Some tried to include group work, but it was forced and not terribly effective. I had a few seminars where we the students did most of the talking and were encouraged to “learn from each other,” but that didn’t take much more effort than a lecture. I’ve never felt that inspired learning though. I’ve never been so engaged in a class, or in a portion of a class that I couldn’t switch school off for a while to engage in other activities. I’d like to experience that, though. More than experience it, I’d like to provide my students with that experience. Which raises the question: How do I, having never experienced this ” mind set on fire” learning, teach in that manner? How can I make that transition from perpetuate-or of passive sitters to a pilot light? Where do I find my English classroom equivalent of the IBM mass research event? Or will I have to come up with my own (a daunting task to say the least)?

Week 2: Well rounded students

I think that the role of the university changes depending on what stage of higher education you are currently in. At the bachelors level, I think the university has an obligation to produce well rounded students that have spent only slightly more time specializing in a single subject or trade. Focusing on a well rounded education is key to producing graduates who can function well in the real world both within and outside of their selected specialties. Treating college as a fancy trade school for white collar jobs will eventually turn it into just that. Plus, in many careers and jobs much of the information that needs to be known on the job will be taught through on the job training, and mentorships.

Serious specialization should be left to graduate degrees. Once a student has a well rounded basis and an introduction to their selected specialization they can choose to return to school to further specialize in a specific subject or skill.

As for the role of the university in society, the production of well rounded citizens will ultimately benefit society as a whole. Students with well rounded educations and honed critical thinking skills will be better able to assess and analyze the world around them and  change it for the better. This can pertain to social issues, economic issues, political issues, etc.

Research institutions, I believe, are going to have a hard time balancing the amount of attention it devotes to teaching and mentoring it’s undergraduate body when there is so much emphasis placed on research. This  balancing act that, while tricky, must be addressed to ensure that the students are receiving a sound education, while still fulfilling its obligations to research.

Gedi Week 1: The Ethos is Strong with This One

When I teach Ethos to my composition classrooms I always ask my students for examples of people, publications or things with strong ethos, and people, publications, or things with a weak ethos. Blogs are always brought up as examples of a publication that possesses a weak ethos. From there we unpack that statement and eventually determine that blogs gain their ethos from the authors that write them. For example, Dr. Peter Cochran’s blog, which is almost universally respected as a great resource for those studying Lord Byron, possesses a strong ethos as it is written by a great scholar on Lord Byron. In contrast, the blog written by kittykat92834784391234897234891 probably isn’t the most reliable source regardless of the quality of content they produce.

With this in mind, I wonder where we fall on the blogging credibility scale. I’m sure it varies widely even within this class. Would the third year PhD candidate’s blog be more credible than my being a second year MA credentials? Probably. Would either of our blogs be accepted as a resource in a college research paper as a reliable source? Probably not. If our blogs are not considered a reliable academic source what worth do they hold in the realms of “facilitating academic collaboration, teaching and public engagement”?  The people Tim Hitchcock uses as examples already have academic credibility. They have that strong ethos I talk about in my classroom, and would then do a much better job at “facilitating academic collaboration…” etc.

Seth Godwin might argue that our credibility or our readership is not what is important, but I can’t buy into that completely. Maybe I could justify blogging about my research as practice for when I do have the credibility. At the moment, however, it seems that I would need to publish my work for it to be viewed as legitimate, and I think legitimacy is needed to accomplish Hitchcock’s goals.

If you are already a well respected scholar, I think that publishing work openly is awesome. It’s academic work in an easy to view, easy to read format that is comfortable for people who are not academics. Personally, I’ve benefited greatly from blogs such as Peter Cochran’s, and even been able to share posts with people who would never actually read a scholarly article I sent their way.