Am I Prepared for Work

I found the article, “It Takes More than a Major” to be a stressful read.  As a graduate student, when I look back at my undergraduate experience I know I wasn’t successfully prepared for the work force.  My undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering didn’t emphasize innovation, instead my studies focused specifically on mathematical computation of cookie cutter engineering problems.  Furthermore, I was rarely asked to prepare presentations or to compile reports, both of which are essential characteristics of successful engineers.  However, although I’ve grown in these areas as a graduate student, I’m often worried that innovation hasn’t been truly encouraged, nor am I confident that my graduate studies are closely related to real world work environments.

Here’s a list of things I’m sure will need improvements, but unfortunately I’m not confident I’m skilled to complete: a professional and eye catching resume (including compiling a portfolio), proficient writing, and CONFIDENCE in my ability to find unique (innovative) ways of resolving engineering related problems (e.g., creating theoretical models for predicting pavement deterioration).

 

 

Improvement through Technology

 

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I enjoyed the beginning of the article article “The Myth of the Disconnected Life”.  Made me think of everything that upsets me about my visits to Northern Virginia.  You see couples pulling up in their posh cars, and both are staring at their phones.  It’s sad.  Funny, I remember 3 years ago I promised myself that I’d never give in to buying a smartphone.. well I failed, because now I have one, and it knows everything, from what I buy to where I’ve been.

I partially agree with “Is Google Making Us Stupid”.  It relates back to cell phones.  Up until  mid-high school (before I had a bulky Nokia phone), I remembered the phone number of all of my friends.  After several years of having a phone, I remember making the comment to someone that I can’t remember phone numbers anymore, and sometime it’s even worse when I can’t remember names.  We have changed, however unlike the article, I think my reading capability has significantly improved since the convenience of a laptop and the followed purchase of my first smartphone.  Unlike the author, I find new advances exciting.  The author is right, we are changing, but I don’t agree that the change is necessarily negative either.   So, I agree with comment in the article that people read more now than the had in ’70s or ’80s, but that’s the most I agree with.   Because of the ease of information, I hate reading less now than I had growing up.

Unlike some of the authors, I look forward to the future and I openly embrace new technology, even the prospect of having autonomous cars replace drivers.  I’m excited!

 

Disconnection through Diversity Discussion

After reviewing the articles for this weeks reading, I was happy that I couldn’t personally recall a situation in my academic experience where I felt oppressed.  It might have something to do with being in an applied science major (engineering).  In engineering, all subject matter is independent of personal or emotional belief, thus the probability of encountering any form of oppression is significantly reduced.  Even when if I engage this topic as a potential general academic problem, such as the workshops I’ve had to take to be hired as a GRA, I find it hard to understand why we feel discussing these problems solve any problems or potentially create new ones by inviting students to even think about.  BUT,  those workshop exercises I’ve taken for various jobs made me cringe, and wonder who actually has to be lectured about this at any college age.  Perhaps the very people that benefit from these discussions are the same people that have to have an instruction alerting them to the possible danger of eating a cookie that hasn’t been removed from its wrapper.

Generally speaking, when students enter into higher education, regardless of their background, they need to accept the large diversity of students and IDEAS.  If a person cannot recognize this, discussing this topic with them will probably not change their way of thinking, since the root of their issue lies much deeper, where only good psychology may be of benefit.  After, higher education is place to spread and expand ideas that benefit humanity, not ideas that inhibit development.

 

Role Playing in the Classroom

While I was an undergraduate in the engineering program, I found myself often asking the question “why am I being forced to learn this?”.   Looking back at those courses, the thing that was missing from those lectures was motivation through exampled uses (in the workplace) for the content being taught.  If someone had explained why I was learning to program in Matlab, or why I had to understand multivariable calculous, then I would have been less annoyed of completing the work.

Mark Carnes in “Setting Student’ Minds on Fire,” discussed the positive feedback from using what I would call role playing in the classroom.  Engaging students by placing their imaginations in a certain historical setting.  I believe I’ve had several courses that attempted the same course engagement, and both of them were electives.  For example, a freshman history course I took had a test question that asked for me to discuss the type of conversion I might have if I were at a presidential dinner party prior to the Civil War.  I can’t remember the specifics but I do recall being thrown back when I first read the essay question.  It was the first time I’d seen question like that, and the first time I actually had to sit and think hard about this and recall the characteristics of the people attending the dinner.  However, in an engineering introduction course, in class projects would place us in different setting, such as an industrial engineer back-engineering a toy to determine who it was made in order replicate it, or an inventor required to design a device that could improve the mobility of the blind.  These scenarios required actually research current tools used and understanding the problem of being blind. Perhaps the author has a point, that in order to step out of the current lecture-listen system, the manner of engaging students in learning needs to be reimagined.

Fear of Grades, NOT the Task of Learning

In the article, “The Case Against Grades”, Alfie Kohn emphasized the very fear I have had when taking every undergraduate course, and some of the courses I’ve taken as a Graduate student.  Since my late teenage years, for the past 12 years since, I’ve been a perfectionist about my academics.  I was so perfectionistic, that the very fear of making a mistake on assignments and especially on tests resulted in me making ordinarily avoidable mistakes.  Interestingly, this problem is worded perfectly by Marilyn M. Lombardi, when she reports that students make mistakes on work that are assessed with grades than they ordinarily would in ungraded situations.  I found that I was able to quickly make a connect with what she said with my own experience.  On inclass assignments that were only pass or fail based on attendance, or courses that I would audit, I actually found I learned more and I was less likely to make the same mistakes that I would make on graded assessments.

Furthermore, the motivation by grades alone is unfortunately the only focus students should be expected to have.  Afterall, everything from scholarships to student’s first jobs are primarily interested in grades.  This whole process is circular, so as long as the majority of careers and assessments focus on grades, students too will follow the same path.

Anxiety of Thoughtless Learning

In education, there seems to be a belief that testing students is a method of determining what students know.  While I managed to get through all lower education and my college undergraduate studies successfully, I found timed-testing to be a failed way of assessing my knowledge.  I believe the only thing testing taught me was how faulty I’m capable of being under high stressed, timed conditions.   The stress that would accumulate each day prior to the test and then peak during the test resulted in over thinking the problems and resolving them in (incorrect) ways I would never do on homework or in class problems.   For me, asking the question, “what will be on the test?” was inevitably a way for me to reduce the amount of anxiety I knew I would be experiencing in these traditional test settings.

In Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance, Michael Wesch posits that in order for students to learn, we must step away from “traditional teaching” methods, and identify new ways of encouraging students to learn.  Author Ellen Langer adds that one-way (“single perspective”) teaching has become an institutionalized method of teaching students.  This may unavoidably result in students believing the teachers’ spoken word to be unchallengeable and absolute, thus discouraging the students from reflecting on the material and possibly acquiring unique “perspectives”.  Ellen has an interesting point when she suggests that teaching in a “conditional” manner engages true learning.  From my experience, I believe this has generally been the way a majority of my graduate courses have been managed.  In general, these courses provided open-ended testing and writing assignments requiring a pre-understanding (non-memorization) of course material, forcing me to think about what I’d learned, and in-turn providing my own unique response to the question(s) I was asked.  If this same approach to teaching is utilized at the undergraduate level, students may feel more motivated to strive to utilize 100% of their potential to learning, with less dread of upcoming stress-related thoughtless memorization.

 

Social Networking in Academic Research

In the article, “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-ons to Academic Research”, Tim Hitchcock argues that academic progress requires collective participation through the use of social networking.  As a Graduate Research Assistant, I believe the author may have a point that publishing research has become a way of demonstrating status associated with academic success rather than a way of improving the current body of knowledge.  A sizeable amount of published work I’ve read while conducting literature reviews seem to repeat the work and findings of previous authors without a unique contribution.

I don’t agree that openly sharing research in the cyber world is safe in all fields of research.  For example, in my studies, my research into highway safety requires analysis of data that if exposed to the public could result in lawsuits that may harm funding agencies.  Secondly, I agree and disagree with the idea of using blogging as a way of improving academic writing.  Ideally, I believe exposing students to public debate teaches them the importance of finding confidence in what they believe while also shaping their ability to compose their ideas professionally.  However, while this exposure improves their writing ability, it may consequently harm their job prospects.  What they share publicly remains permanently on the internet for the whole world to easily find and review.  Future employers may find these posts and associate them (the writing style) with the students’ level of competency.  If we want to encourage student participation in the academic community, there needs to be safe guards protecting them from potential inaccurate judgements that future employers associate from the their level of writing.