¡Viva la Differencía! Thoughts on Online Teaching and Learning

This semester, I’m teaching a fully-online course for the first time. I’ve had experience with all sorts of flipped, blended, and hybrid models of teaching with technology, but fully online? That’s a first for me. And I have to admit, in the beginning of the process which led to this course’s development, I approached the whole endeavor with a significant amount of ambivalence. I wear my tech-geek credentials proudly; and despite not really having the legs for it, have been an unabashed cheerleader for teaching with technology–as you can see here, for example. But taking the plunge into designing, and eventually having to teach, a fully online course made me realize just how much I needed to intentionally think about some of the larger questions swirling around the idea of teaching online and discern my own answers to them. Continue reading “¡Viva la Differencía! Thoughts on Online Teaching and Learning”

Of Hammers, Nails, and “Deficient Students”

Oy, these kids... They don't even know what II plus II is.
Oy, these kids… They don’t even know what II plus II is.

Lately, I’ve been a part of several discussions where faculty colleagues have lamented our students’ unpreparedness for college. And by ‘lately,’ I mean ‘my whole career,’ and by ‘several,’ I mean ‘mind-numbingly constant.’ But recently, though, these discussions seen to have acquired an extra edge of frustration, whether it’s in the articles I’ve been reading online or the meeting and hallway conversations at my own institution. Some of that I can chalk up to end of the semester angst. LOOK AT THESE FINAL ESSAYS DID THEY NOT LISTEN TO A THING I SAID WHO ARE THESE ILLITERATE HEATHENS. Some of it comes from external stressors, like budgetary climates that are only slightly less hostile than Syria. And maybe I’m just in the middle of a weird cluster of anecdotal data. Whatever the reasons, though, recent opinion seems clear: our students are deficient. They don’t know stuff. They’re unprepared. Their high school education blows. They don’t even have basic, functional literacy in math/composition/science/history/whatever field my degree is in and thus is most vital.

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We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

Well, we’re at mid-November, and in college and university campuses near and far, faculty members’ Grump-O-Meters are pinned to the maximum. In the immortal words of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel, “this one goes to eleven.”

Maxed out. Hide the sharp objects.
Maxed out. Hide the sharp objects.

It’s a fundamental maxim that if you give an academic the opportunity to list his or her grievances/pet peeves/to-the-barricades burning causes, they will fill any and all available space to do so, like air rushing into a vacuum. Nothing exemplifies this more than the time-hallowed tradition of complaining about students. It’s a routine so consistent as to be performed unthinkingly in the hallowed halls of higher ed: the later in the semester it is, the worse “today’s students” are compared to those predecessors. In August, the new crop of students looks great; they’re engaged, talkative, and have that new car smell. In September, the luster’s off a little bit, but they still show up and do most of the work, so good for them. In October, the thrill is almost gone; they start to skip class, discussions become anemic, attention spans have shriveled. And come November, OMFG HOW DID THESE MOUTH-BREATHERS EVEN GET INTO HIGH SCHOOL MUCH LESS COLLEGE THEY ARE WHERE CIVILIZATION WILL GO TO DIE A SLOW AGONIZING DEATH I HATE THEM ALL.   Continue reading “We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us”

What’s the Point? Thinking About Learning Outcomes

Recently, I’ve been re-tooling a couple of my courses to align with the common outcomes of my institution’s new core curriculum. I like our new core–a lot, actually–but I always squirm a little bit when confronted with the dialect of assessment. “Outcome” can connote, I think, the result of some discrete process that begins and ends with my course. Like I’m supposed to open students’ heads, put in some History stuff, and POOF–there are certain “outcomes,” just as a new Buick is the “outcome” of the production process in the Buick plant. I know that’s not what we mean when we use the word, and I am actually a huge proponent of intentional course design and robust assessment–but I am also a word geek–and “outcome” sticks in my craw a little bit. It smacks of the business-speak, corporate lingo that is creeping into higher education, asking us to have “deliverables” and “measurables” that lead to “successful outcomes.” I’ll tilt at that windmill on another occasion perhaps, but here I’d like to unpack the idea of “outcomes” a little further.55935713




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Stop Making Excuses: Overcoming Your Inner Luddite and Teaching with Technology

One of the most contentious issues in pedagogy, at least in my experience, has been the proper use and place of technology–both in and outside of the classroom. Enthusiastic proselytizers of All Things EdTech argue that we should ALL be using these KILLER TOOLS to ENGAGE STUDENTS because DIGITAL NATIVES INTERACTIVE PEDAGOGY CONNECTED CLASSROOMS. On the other end of the spectrum is the anti-EdTech crowd that argues that all this emphasis on technology detracts from the Real Work of the Teacher, that it’s all smoke and mirrors that dilutes effective pedagogy (Full disclosure: I am a recovering Luddite, and made that argument repeatedly earlier in my career).  Of course, these opposing ends of the spectrum eventually degenerate into self-caricature, but there is a rousing debate in between these two poles. Yet, it’s become  a debate that generates more heat than light.

Yeah, that’s awkward.

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The Civil War Did Not End Slavery: Teaching through Confusion

One of the greatest challenges I face teaching history is students’ dogged insistence–not always consciously held or explicitly articulated–that history is the story of progress. It’s an article of faith for most of them that, sure, things were bad ‘back then,’ but through luck, pluck, and hard work, THINGS ARE BETTER NOW YOU GUYS AND IT’S SO AWESOME THAT WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE IS EQUAL. And, at least in my experience, it’s the whole spectrum of students who’ve embraced this history-as-progress teleology: immigrant or native, across racial and ethnic lines, often straddling class boundaries. Continue reading “The Civil War Did Not End Slavery: Teaching through Confusion”