The Plugged in Paradox

Living in a world that is constantly changing and adapting around me, how can I not try my best to keep up with the times, and that means continually refreshing twitter to make sure Sarah Palin hasn’t done anything I need to know about, the Pope hasn’t said some inspiring, or the relative location of the S&P 500 all while ‘paying attention’ to my differential equations class.  We live in a crazy time!  How can you expect anyone to remain seated with so much technology transfer and information flowing into their front pockets, backpacks, glasses and wrist watches!?  This is crazy!  I’ll hear about it from a faculty member every now and again when someone write their entire dissertation without even uttering the word library or card catalog.  

I don’t have an issue with how plugged in we are, but I do have an issue with when we choose to embrace the technology.  Need to write a research paper?  Research using google scholar, call experts using Webex, begin a draft with your colleagues from London on Dropbox, and make the presentation available to everyone through a blog or academic website.  Yet, as soon as you step into my classroom if you even THINK about touching your phone, you are doomed and I will call you to the board to make an example out of you (full disclosure, I don’t do this, but at least one of my professors does/has).  Why can’t I use the device/devices I am attached to all day to interact with the global classroom while I’m sitting in a physical classroom?  If we, as instructors could encourage proper and beneficial usage of laptops and cell phones during class perhaps outside of class more collaboration would happen.

I do agree that we are all to quick to pickup our phone at the dinner table whenever we get a sports center alert, and that is a total different discussion, but I feel it is time for us to use these incredible tools as tools and stop speaking of them as taboo.

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I see the light!

Finally!  Some light at the end of this tunnel we call education!  Prior to this week I had never heard of Paulo Freire, and boy am I glad we were assigned some of his work this week.  I was beginning to think that we would continually discuss what is wrong with education and fantasize about ways to fix it and then move along after the semester as if this class didn’t happen.  Freire has provided us with a roadmap to success, if you will, and it is rooted in empowerment!

We can finally move away from this prepackaged culture of education into a world where we challenge our students to be true students absorbing true knowledge as opposed to being poured into by an almighty professor.  I absolutely loved what the critical pedagogy in school text said, “The process of learning was inseparable from individual empowerment and social change”.  I feel that we are all too quick in this twenty first century to compartmentalize our lives, which effectively removes education from anything not involving a formal lecture.  

I truly believe that education should begin for all persons at birth and end only at death.  We are depriving ourselves if we are not truly leading a life to gobble up as much knowledge and information as we can obtain.  I feel that Freire believed this as well as he was speaking to and working with the terribly oppressed individuals in Chile and in other nations.  I am excited to see what parallels my classmates from other background will be able to pull from this week’s literature.  

Diversity and Inclusion; Keys to Nailing your College Application Essay

I remember when I was writing my essays to apply for colleges, an English teacher at my high school frequently said something along the lines of, “Be sure to include the words diversity and inclusion as much as possible” to better your chances of acceptance.  Aside from not being the best approach, I feel that that really speaks to how our culture currently faces diversity and inclusion/exclusion.  We simply find a few buzz words that stereotype the situation and we try to include them in as many mission statements, objectives, official documents, and facebook statuses as we can.  In the words of the great poet of our time, “Don’t talk about it, be about it” – Rick Ross.

I am really appreciating how eye-opening all of the literature is assigned to us.  I don’t know if anyone else is experiencing this, but it has been wonderful reading all of this and discussing with future educators.  I found what Vendantam had to say in ‘The Hidden brain’ was very interesting.  I feel that discussing issues with children at a young age is a much better approach than building a metaphorical box around them until they experience life outside the home.  I found the article titled ‘Workplace Diversity Pays’ to be very interesting.  I have never really seen any numbers on anything like that, and it was very interesting having diversity spelled out in a way that is very intuitive to my engineering mind.  I don’t know if it was part of the reading or if anyone else read it, but the section at the bottom of the page from the hidden brain which was an excerpt from the book was incredibly disturbing.  It is all too common for news stories similar to the one presented there, to come across the internet and the television, but I still cannot necessarily fathom sitting there and doing nothing.  I have a few more thoughts about this post, but I will wait to see the discussion in class on Wednesday.

The Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces excerpt was awesome!  I really appreciated how all of the ‘rules’ were laid out and discussed.  I remember doing the one step forward one step back activity when I went through Freshmen orientation at Tech.  I don’t want to bash Tech’s orientation program, but I will just say that it was incredibly obvious what stereotypes were called out during this activity and the discussion that would could have had after the activity was non-existent which I feel was a huge shortcoming of the activity itself.  Simply highlighting the background that everyone comes from while throwing the blanket statement “But we’re all Hokies” doesn’t necessarily remove all racial stereotypes or thoughts.

I haven’t had a chance to read ‘Whistling Vivaldi’ but whenever I do, I will update this post.

Who am I…???

2.4.6.0.1!!!!!!

They (whoever they are) say that college is all about finding yourself, and getting to understand who you really are.  Tasked this week with finding my real teaching self was quite fun.  All Les Miserables jokes aside, it wasn’t too terribly easy trying to understand or even grasp what my ‘Authentic teaching self’ was.

I enjoyed the literature this week, it was great, and I really liked what Sarah Deel had to say in ‘Finding my teaching voice’ about the struggle between being the cool professor and being your true self.  I found that very interesting and intriguing.

Dr. Fowler’s outline was incredible and I think I need some more time to really chew on that before giving the outline the blog post that it deserves.  I absolutely love the idea of not thinking about doing something ‘to or at your students’ but doing something ‘with your students’.  I completely agree.  When I look back at the professors that have shaped me, they certainly accompany me in the learning process as opposed to strictly facilitate and observe the process.

Pampert’s idea of yearners vs schoolers is one that is quite familiar to me.  When Pampert brings up the point that yearners are apt to homeschool their kids or seek alternative schools as sources of education it reminded me of a documentary I saw a few years back.  The documentary, entitled ‘Waiting for Superman’ illistrates the woes our inner-city educational system is facing, the fact that we are turning down good quality education from all children due to budget cuts and geography.  I don’t want to go into a huge rant on the documentary, if you have some time please watch it, it is very moving, but I believe that we need more parents to become interested and involved in their child’s education past reviewing spelling words after dinner.  If the education industry is going to face a renewal, it needs to start with the grade school system and that means convincing schooler parents into yearner parents.

However, I want to focus on strengths for this week.  A few years ago Virginia Tech adopted Gallup’s Strengthsquest and I have been involved in that realm for quite some time.  I feel that strengths play a huge role in our daily lives especially when we are trying to find our true voice as educators.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Gallup’s Strengthsquest, I will try to give as brief an overview as possible and I HIGHLY suggest taking the assessment yourself.  Gallup carried out research for years of very successful people in a wide array of fields.  The root question was, ‘What are the traits of naturally successful people and how can we emulate those traits?’.  What he found was remarkable, that there are not specific strengths or traits that each individual shared, however each individual has a unique combination of 34 strengths and it is how they are aligned and used that have the ability to make them truly successful.  This is a very brief explanation, please see the Virginia Tech page on Strengthsquest for a more detailed explanation, it is linked above.

Knowing my top five strengths (Communication, WOO, Harmony, Activator, Adaptability) I know EXACTLY who I am in the classroom.  To be my true self (which Dr. Fowler outlined as being important) I need to rely on my top five strengths and connect them with my students.  So, this is how I see my strengths played out, as an instructor.

Communication:  Relying very heavily on the communication of others, and enjoying communication as a way to express myself I will focus on discussion based learning.  Since this is my number one strength, is is truly something I can be excited about and something that I can bring to the classroom that will engage students and will not be a passive eye-rolling discussion.

WOO:  Woo stands for Winning Others Over, that means that I truly enjoy people.  I will use this in the classroom, I think, as being the ‘cool’ professor that Deel talked about.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that other will like me all the time, but that I will always strive to have those around me engaged and drawn in to what I am doing, which I feel is incredibly helpful in the classroom.

Harmony:  I see my harmony in a different way than normal.  Educationally, I see my harmony being used in a ‘no learning style left behind’ kind of way.  I want each individual to thrive in the classroom and I will use whatever I can to foster that relationship.

Activator:  With Activator, I am constantly excited and pushing forward towards the next thing.  I feel that this will manifest itself in the classroom with a desire to push my students to see them excel through the topic area.

Adaptability:  In academia, a class can go a million different ways, especially when the students are the ones steering.  My adaptability will allow me to ride the learning wave during the class while maintaining an effective outline and mastering the topics necessary.

As strengths have been a huge part of my life and my academic career, I feel that they will continue to be a large part of my journey further into academia.  What do you think?

I guess I did learn something in High school

Watching the film “New Learners for the 21st Century” really struck a few chords with me.  First off, I went to a secondary school that acted quite similarly to a few of those in the film.  I am not from the inner-city, more the outer city.  Very outer city, rural Virginia.  We have our own set of issues that are quite different from those focused on in this film, but we do still have a few schools that pride themselves in teaching using the most up-to-date technology as well as non-traditional teaching styles.  The school I went to was the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School (MRGS).  I am assuming the vast majority of individuals reading my blog are unfamiliar with the Virginia Governor’s School model, so I will do my best to explain it.  I went to MRGS during the morning (6 am until noon) every weekday of my Junior and Senior year of High School.  I took English, Statistics, Environmental Science, and Environmental Biology.  The school focused on getting students together who were excited about learning and teaching us environmental issues facing today’s society.  The greatest thing about MRGS was how we were taught.  Similar to how you get a toddler to eat brussel sprouts, I was so distracted by the fact that we got to go to the river and play around that I didn’t realize how much I was learning about water quality.  My senior year I had a research a country and prepare a presentation and poster on the environmental history and current issues that country was facing.  It was not uncommon for discussion of Irish Sheep and erosion to come up between my friends and I.  Aside from being nostalgic, I guess what I am trying to say is that I went to one of these schools.  It was incredible!  The teachers truly helped me to see what learning was all about, that it is a lifetime passion and something that I have to continue to strive for.  The teachers at MRGS were certainly one of the reasons I have decided to pursue my Ph.D.

Robert Talbert, in ‘Four things Lecture is Good for’ states that a good lecture “does more than convey facts or put problems on the board”, but the issue we are facing today is that is how we define a lecture.  This is what I absolutely loved about MRGS and I am not realizing it until years down the road.  My teachers there did not stand in front of us and speak down to us about topics we have to know for an exam, but they stood with us and facilitated the learning process by allowing us to go deeper into subjects and topics we were interested in and breeze over those that we already had an understanding of.  These schools allow students to understand statistics on a grand scale, a world of trillions of dollars and risk, not of red and blue balls in an urn.  To truly facilitate learning and move away from uninteresting lectures, the education system as a whole needs to begin to shy away from textbook examples and dive into problem based learning because when you show a young person that what they are learning is all around them (math in the stock exchange, physical on the football field) you allow the student to take ownership of their own understanding and they are empowered.

Imaginate the Future

Whether I brought you in because you are interested in what I have to say, or my artistic liberties with the word imagine and Virginia Tech’s tagline ‘Invent the Future’ I’m glad you’re here.  I found this weeks literature on imagination and motivation…well, truly motivating.

To begin, I the TED talk given by Daniel Pink entitle, ‘The Puzzle of Motivation‘ struck a serious chord with me.  I have a confession to make.  I am the product of incentivized learning.  Yes, I received a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut when I read a book over the summer in grade school.  I got $10 from the radio station in High School if I got all A’s on my report card, and I was promised more money after college if I took the difficult courses and ‘applied’ myself.  The reason this TED talk struck a chord with is was because of polar opposite direction we are walking from where the facts are pointing.  If you haven’t had a chance to watch the TED talk, I will summarize it here.  Motivating individuals with incentives or by other means actually DECREASES performance!  Why is this the first time I am hearing about this??  I believe it is because I was raised in an education system that has to give out cookies and smiley-face stickers to students for doing what is ‘required’ of them.  Don’t even begin with the parents at this stage.  This point flows somewhat into a piece of literature that was presented to the class.

Eric Liu and Scott-Noppe Brandon’s Imagination First presents some wonderful ideas but my favorite was the ICI cycle.  The ICI cycle begins with imagination and flows into creativity.  Only after creativity can innovation begin.  This is where my title comes from.  As a university we have focused so much on the innovation section of this cycle to the point that I have never heard an engineering professor tell me to be imaginative.  As students, all through academia, we are taught though a mundane stand-and-deliver approach while being told to be innovative.  We are given rooms with whiteboards and fancy chairs to help us think better to hopefully begin to untie our imaginations that have been bound since our first grade SOL test on how to use a computer.

The problem is not only our testing and assessments, although that is the discussion this week.  The root of the problem is how our education system removes the ability to be imaginative while still focusing on innovation.  In Alfie Kohn’s The Case Against Grades, Kohn states that when students are faced with a book report that is to be graded, they will typically choose a book or at least a genre they are already familiar with, to give them a higher probability of success.  We have to bring back imagination into the classrooms.  Another issue forcing imagination out of the classrooms is the lens we view great minds through.  We view individuals such as Isaac Newton and John Nash as these great minds who innovate and come up with new concepts because it was hard coded into their minds.  Isaac Newton spent as much time and effort reviewing complex topics in physics as he did predicting the end of the world and the coming apocalypse.  He was a doomsday prepper!  John Nash, the founder of Game Theory and the Nash Equilibrium said,  “rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos”, and he was a paranoid schizophrenic!  I am not saying, be a schizophrenic or a doomsday prepper, but we need to stop looking at these minds of great individuals, saying that this level of scientific breakthrough is not possible without a great mind.  These are the individuals who innovated because they imagined.  We need to imagine the future, before we can invent and innovate the future.

I’m Motivated…..Now what do I do?

This last class seemed to spark quite the debate between many individuals.  Writing for this week is a little bit more difficult than it was for the previous week, as I feel that a lot of what I have to say was shared during class and there is no need to hurt this horse any further.  However, I guess that is the point of the blog.  The interwebs are not aware what went on inside our classroom and it is our job as students, learners, and researchers to explain that to those who didn’t have the privilege of being with us.  Ah-ha!  Now I see.

I strongly agree with the statement that the education system is broke, or in death valley as Sir Ken Robinson says in his TED Talk.  However, I also agree with his statement that similar to death valley, underneath the surface of our education system lies a beautiful bed of wildflower seeds and if we only water them, we will be amazed.  The difficulty behind this, of course, is that the answer is a complete overhaul to the education system K-Ph.D.  Now that’s a term, K-Ph.D.  Why is education or leaning so successful for Ph.D students?  Because we want to learn?  Because we understand how to learn?  I feel it is because we are motivated to learn.  We understand the wealth of knowledge available to us and we try to soak up as much as we can as we make our small dent in the knowledge of society.  The answer is simple then, teach all individuals as Ph.D students!  How do we engage kindergartners and seniors in high school so that they push the envelope for themselves instead of having it sealed around them?  How do we create students who yearn to learn instead of striving towards a piece of paper your parents told you would make life easier?  Just like any other revolution, it starts from the ground up.

Now I am not asking people to signup to revolt against higher education or even education as a whole, just simply noticing that the system is broken is important enough.  The conversations need to start at community barbecue’s that the issue isn’t that little Johnny’s history teacher is older than age itself, the issue is that he is standing in front of a group of children trying to shove material into their heads while not allowing them to process what he is saying because as the teacher, he has material that he has to cover for the upcoming assessment.  I know we are talking about assessments at a later period, so I will leave this here for now.

Once conversation starts in communities, we need education on how people learn.  I think one of the largest issues is not class size, or lack of technology, it’s the fact that we as adults believe that the best way to convey material is to stand and deliver.  If we continue down this path and continue to remove creativity from the classroom and problem based learning, we will be left with a group of individuals who test well, but have zero skills to be used in the real-world.