Showing posts with label General Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label General Education. Show all posts

Hybrid Fluxed #03: It Sure Is Easy to Bash the MOOCs Part 1

A colleague brought this article to my attention on the concerns about MOOCs as apply to teaching history at the college level (and more than likely extend to many of us who teach in the Liberal Studies/Arts).  This article like so many written by people concerned about MOOCs are poorly constructed and limited in its value to the discussion.  While some of their claims are things we should be concerned about, others illustrate a failure to think flexibly or understand what they are actually discussing but feel more like reacting for the sake of reacting.  Such articles provide great opportunities to malign these new forms of technology and their impact on education, but do little to actually improve the situation.  In short, these articles are masturbatory acts that help no one when actually considering how to respond to the MOOCs.

The initial problem, I see is that the author, Jonathan Rees conflates the profession of history with the profession of teaching ("To me, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) represent the potential for the Taylorization of the academic workplace and are therefore a threat to the “rule of thumb” judgments upon which the historical profession depends.").  These are two different things.  Yes--many historians teach, but others do not, and still others consider it secondary or even a necessary evil to what their primary work is.  Also, if teaching was considered a serious part of the historical profession, why is there so little official training for it within history programs?  (More on this later.)

His critical assessment of unbundling seems to undermine or ignore what is par for the course for the majority of courses and the practice of history in general.  He asks, "Why should anybody provide content for their classrooms, they ask rhetorically, when the best professors in the world can be piped in via the Internet?"  Isn't the logical extension of this concern making sure all content of the course is solely from the instructor?  That is, are instructors performing an act of unbundling every time they use outside textbooks, articles, documentaries, etc?   Furthermore, then should we not expect historians to use technology to locate and collect the best materials possible when conducting research?  Why should we expect a world-wide scouring of solid evidence and resources when composing a history article but when it comes to students, assume that the instructor knows all and sees all despite having a limited and almost-singular focus on history (that is, a specialization)?  Unbundling is what all of us do every time we select materials that we ourselves did not create such as textbooks, journal articles, or documentaries.  Pretending that using video lectures from others who may have a better capacity to present the material is different is making a false distinction.  

His assumption that "there are very few history MOOCs compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines" because "many other history professors with the opportunity to teach MOOCs have been scared off by the pedagogical sacrifices this kind of teaching would require" is an inaccurate claim with no research.  That would be akin to assuming that since the earliest of films were largely documentary and depiction of the world as it is, it must be because storytellers saw nothing to be gained from storytelling in the cinematic form and never would.  He also seems to imply that no one is interested in doing history MOOCs and yet there are currently over 70 history MOOCS being offered (  Maybe that is "few...compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines"--but his implication that this is a pedagogical choice is poorly researched and understood.  MOOCs started in the sciences which is why he offhandedly notes, "Computer scientists, for example, seem to love them."  In part because that's where MOOCs started in these disciplines in the late 2000s and took time to make the transition into other disciplines.  Yes, there aren't as many but there are clearly more and more coming.  

He describes "flipped classes" as "Loading them [students] down with taped lectures." Again, this appears poorly presented in that if he had researched flipped classrooms or enlisted the aid of an instructional designer, he would discover that when done with pedagogically sound methods, flipped classrooms are not merely "taped lectures."   Believing that a flipped classroom is just "taped lectures" is like believing that watching a recorded theater performance and watching a cinematic adaptation of a play are the same thing.   

He laments that "Unfortunately, any other historian making use of their content will have to adapt to their particular historical content preferences. I can’t help but wonder whether students will understand who their real professor is in this situation."  Well, here's a question: how often are instructors confused for the authors of the textbooks they use in the course?  How often is the instructor confused for narrator or host of a documentary watched in class?  The answer is probably never or so rare that, the question is silly.  

He also grows concerned about the potential use of celebrities in MOOCs.  Well, if using Matt Damon for the lectures (and in truth, this isn't much different from when an instructor uses a documentary with a famous actor narrating it) can show improved student learning and retention, should we not consider using it--just as we have used celebrities to endorse and encourage other beneficial content and behaviors?  Isn't part of what learning is about emotional connection and if an actor can help one emotionally connect, why is that not a legitimate consideration for learning?  How much training of faculty is there before they step into a classroom about emotional connection and engagement?  Unless you have acquired it outside the discipline through out means or training, there's little guarantee that you have this skilset for the classroom.  

I've listened thousands of audiobooks in the last two decades and professionally reviewed well over 800 of them.  Without a doubt, the professional narrator always does better than author who narrates his or her own book.  There are definitely exceptions, but on the whole, the professional narrator is better at communicating in his or her professional endeavor.  Wherein the author usually does exceedingly well is when he or she has a background in broadcasting already.  The fact is, training someone for years in researching, writing, and professionally presenting historical research is poor training for communicating and engaging with a lay audience (i.e. college students who have little to no interest in history).  How often have we been bored to death by a professional presentation or fought our weighted eyelids as we tried--TRIED--to get through some journal article?   

The real thing that scares the author is:  "Yet such sacrifices are only one way that MOOCs could de-­professionalize, or even de-­skill, large segments of the professoriate. Historians who do not select their own content or write their own lectures could easily be replaced by personnel with less training, perhaps graduate students or people with no training in history at all. Or perhaps the schools that license history MOOCs will hire no onsite teaching help whatsoever and simply let students fend for themselves."  

This brings us back to the earlier point about history as a trained discipline.  Rees is largely scapegoating technology for the actual threat: the history discipline.  How many master and doctorate programs are geared towards producing historians (not including those focused on creating middle and high school history teachers) actually spend any programmatic time on exploring pedagogy for teaching at the college level?  And assistantships do not count--given they are working with live specimens, have inconsistent levels of supervision, and largely are thrown into classes without any training about teaching.   The MOOCs are not de-professionalizing anyone; the discipline is doing so if it isn't actively and consciously training historians as educators (if in fact that is part of the purpose of the history discipline).  Yes, history programs often do well at training the historian to study history but studying history and teaching history are about as far apart as being a mechanic and being a race car driver.  Yes, there is bound to be some overlap but the history discipline largely leaves it to chance that the mechanic is interchangeable with the race car driver.  Pretending that one goes hand in hand with the other is a failure to understand that learning is not the same as teaching. 

Here's a great example:  The very university that Rees teaches at has a Master of Arts in History.  
  • How many courses are required by Masters' students on pedagogy to complete the degree?  Zero.  
  • How many courses on pedagogy or instruction are offered even as electives within the history discipline?  Zero.  
Yet, a graduate with an MA in History can often start teaching at the college level.  If Rees is bemoaning the loss of professionalism within the history discipline, he would do better to actually establish professionalism around instruction within the discipline .  With that in hand, maybe MOOCs wouldn't be as big of a threat as he poses them to be.  

However, he is right.  There are many concerns to MOOCs, though most of them are a matter of time and tweaking.  He points to optional readings as a concern or "sacrifice".  That's not a real concern.  One can require readings--they just need to be accessible to students and not externalized costs at the student's behalf.  If he considers this a "sacrifice", then may he should reconsider why he is critical of the idea that using other professionals' resources in his classroom since the books he assigns for courses are just that.  

What I find most damming about the article is that as a leader, he offers poor leadership in this regard.  He bashes the MOOCs (with poor arguments) but offers nothing in contrast.  He agrees with Aaron Bady that MOOCs "could be done well, I think, but it won’t be."  However, rather than identify and paint a pathway towards how it could be done right, he simply condemns the MOOCs and says that MOOCs are something that "no credit-­awarding university should tolerate."  

Whether it's MOOCs or some other use of instructional technology changing the standard way of things are to be questioned, but they are also to be considered for the ways in which they can improve current teaching and learning.  They are an active conversation happening on campuses across the world and Rees (at least in this article) appears to be saying, don't engage in the conversation.  Stick your head in the sand and wait till the threat passes.  I'm sure history abounds with examples of how well this strategy has worked.  

If Rees and others are truly concerned that the MOOC will create a poor product and potentially deprofessionalize instruction in higher education, then it's time to up the game.  If MOOCs are as true a threat as Rees wants us to think, then we better damn well have alternatives in place when administrators come knocking at our colleges looking to implement MOOCs for credit.  It then becomes our imperative to leverage technology, where professionally relevant, to improve and enhance the experiences of our students.  

In the next post, I intend to do just that: identify different ways we can enhance students experience, maintain professionalism, and save money.  In the end, I agree with Rees that we should be skeptical of new methods but that skepticism needs to be more than just disregard.  We have and create a lot of unnecessary roadblocks and tediousness for our students and as other colleges and alternative to colleges remove these roadblocks, we owe it to our students to make things more streamlined, accessible, and engaging.  

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Recommendations on Learning, Education and Academia Books

Given that I work in higher education, have accumulated a handful of degrees, and have taught about 100 college courses, I've spend a good amount of time about learning, education, and academia (yes, those are largely different things with overlapping commonalities) and having just finished a Master's in Education, I thought I'd take a walk down book memory lane to see what are those different books that impacted my thoughts on learning, education, and academia.

Like I warned in this post on social media books, I don't necessarily agree with everything said within these books, but they build an interesting conversation around ideas on learning, education, and academia.  Again, feel free to ask questions or leave comments about your favorites or those you really dislike.

Recommended Books for Learning, Education, and Academia

Book cover: My Word! by Susan Blum.  Image Source:
  • Anderson, Chris. Free: The Future of a Radical Price. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Print.
  • Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. New York: Hyperion, 2006. Print.
  • Anderson, Chris. Makers: The New Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Business, 2012. Print.
  • Arbesman, Samuel. The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. , 2012. Print.
  • Ariely, Dan. The (honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves. , 2012. Print.
  • Bauerlein, Mark. The Digital Divide: Arguments for and against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011. Print.
  • Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch on. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.
  • Bilton, Nick. I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted. New York: Crown Business, 2010. Print.
  • Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2010. Print.
  • Blascovich, Jim, and Jeremy Bailenson. Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. New York: William Morrow, 2011. Print.
  • Blum, Susan D. My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009. Print.
  • Botsman, Rachel, and Roo Rogers. What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. New York: Harper Business, 2010. Print.
  • Boyle, James. The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
  • Brafman, Ori, and Rom Brafman. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. New York: Doubleday, 2008. Print.
  • Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minn: Hazelden, 2010. Print.
  • Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.
  • Chabris, Christopher F, and Daniel J. Simons. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. New York: Crown, 2010. Print.
  •  Chatfield, Tom. 50 Digital Ideas: You Really Need to Know. London: Quercus, 2011. Print.
  • Chatfield, Tom. Fun Inc: Why Games Are the 21st Century's Most Serious Business. London: Virgin, 2010. Print.
  • Chatfield, Tom. How to Thrive in the Digital Age. London: Macmillan, 2012. Print.
  • Chertavian, Gerald. A Year Up: How a Pioneering Program That Teaches Young Adults Real Skills for Real Jobs - with Real Success. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Christakis, Nicholas A, and James H. Fowler. Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. New York: Little, Brown and Co, 2009. Print.
  • Christian, Brian. The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.
  •  Collins, Gail. As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda. New York: Liveright Pub. Corporation, 2012. Print.
  • Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin Press, 2009. Print.
  • Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1938. Print.
  • Diaz-Ortiz, Claire. Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
  • Dick, Walter, and Lou Carey. The Systematic Design of Instruction. Glenview, Ill: Scott, Foresman, 1978. Print.
  • Donovan, Jeremey. How to Deliver a Ted Talk: Secrets of the World's Most Inspiring Presentations. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace, 2012. Print.
  • Drout, Michael D. C. How to Think: The Liberal Arts and Their Enduring Value. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2013. Sound recording.
  • Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
  • Edery, David, David Edery, and Ethan Mollick. Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business. Upper Saddle River, N.J: FT Press, 2009. Print.
  • Forni, Pier M. Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. Print.
  • Fraser, Matthew, and Soumitra Dutta. Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World. Chichester, England: Wiley, 2008. Internet resource.
  • Freedman, David H. Wrong: Why Experts* Keep Failing Us-and How to Know When Not to Trust Them : *scientists, Finance Wizards, Doctors, Relationship Gurus, Celebrity Ceos, High-Powered Consultants, Health Officials, and More. New York: Little, Brown and Co, 2010. Print.
  • Friedman, Thomas L. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Print.
  • Gallagher, Winifred. New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.
  •  Ghonim, Wael. Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power : a Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.
  • Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.
  • Grandin, Temple, and Richard Panek. The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum. , 2013. Print.
  • Hadnagy, Christopher. Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2011. Print.
  • Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York: Broadway Books, 2010. Print.
  • Herbert, Wray. On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. Print.
  • Hofmann, Jennifer. The Synchronous Trainer's Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings, and Events. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2004. Internet resource.
  • Horton, William K. E-learning by Design. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2006. Print.
  • Howe, Jeff. Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business. New York: Crown Business, 2008. Print.
  • Johnson, Marilyn. This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. New York: Harper, 2010. Print.
  • Johnson, Steven. Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. Print.
  • Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010. Print.
  • Joosten, Tanya. Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. Print.
  • Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. Print.
  • Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.
  •  Ko, Susan S, and Steve Rossen. Teaching Online: A Practical Guide. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
  •  Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. New York: Crown Pub, 1991. Print.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005. Print.
  • Lehrer, Jonah. Imagine: How Creativity Works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print. 
  • Levine, Robert. Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. New York: Doubleday, 2011. Print.
  • Li, Charlene. Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.
  •  Lih, Andrew. The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia. New York: Hyperion, 2009. Print.
  • Mager, Robert F, and Peter Pipe. Analyzing Performance Problems, Or, You Really Oughta Wanna: How to Figure Out Why People Aren't Doing What They Should Be, and What to Do About It. Atlanta, GA: Center for Effective Performance, 1997. Print.
  • Mager, Robert F. Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction. Atlanta, GA: Center for Effective Performance, 1997. Print.
  •  Mali, Taylor. What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World. New York, N.Y: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012. Print.
  • McCracken, Grant D. Culturematic: How Reality Tv, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football, Burning Man, the Ford Fiesta Movement, Rube Goldberg, Nfl Films, Wordle, Two and a Half Men, a 10,000-Year Symphony, and Roflcon Memes Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press, 2012. Print.
  • McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.
  • McQuivey, James. Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation. Cambridge, Mass.: Forrester Research, Inc, 2013. Print.
Book Cover:  Brain Rules by John Medina.  Image Source:

  •  Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press, 2008. Print.
  • Mele, Nicco. The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath. , 2013. Print.
  •  Menand, Louis. The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.
  • Merriam, Sharan B, and Rosemary S. Caffarella. Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991. Print.
  • Miller, Donalyn, and Jeff Anderson. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.
  • Miller, Peter. The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done. New York: Avery, 2010. Print.
  • Moss, Frank. The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the Mit Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives. New York: Crown Business, 2011. Print.
  • Nilson, Linda B. The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. Print.
  • Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. London: MIT, 1998. Print.
  • Norman, Donald A. The Design of Future Things. New York: Basic Books, 2007. Print.
  • Noveck, Beth S. Wiki Government: How Technology Can Make Government Better, Democracy Stronger, and Citizens More Powerful. S.l.: Brooking Institution Press, 2010. Print.
  • Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Print.
  • Pink, Daniel H. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009. Print.
  • Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Viking, 1985. Print.
  • Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.
  • Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Print.
  • Reese, Byron. Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War. Austin, Tex: Greenleaf Book Group, 2013. Print.
  • Rifkin, Jeremy. The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
  • Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. Oxford: Capstone, 2011. Print.
  • Rose, Frank. The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2011. Print.
  • Rushkoff, Douglas. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. New York: Current, 2013. Print.
  • Rushkoff, Douglas, and Leland Purvis. Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press, 2011. Print.
  • Sahlberg, Pasi, and Andy Hargreaves. Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?New York: Teachers College Press, 2011. Print.
  •  Shirky, Clay. Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. Print.
  • Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. Print.
  • Sommers, Sam. Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011. Print.
  • Standage, Tom. Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First Two Thousand Years. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.
  • Steiner, Christopher. Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2012. Print.
  • Steiner, Christopher. $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better. New York: Grand Central Pub, 2009. Print.
  • Stiglitz, Joseph E. The Price of Inequality: [how Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future]. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2012. Print.
  • Sunstein, Cass R. Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge. New York ;Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
  • Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Print.
  •  Tapscott, Don. Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.
  • Tavris, Carol, and Elliot Aronson. Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. Orlando, Fla: Harcourt, 2007. Print.
  • Tennant, Mark, and Philip Pogson. Learning and Change in the Adult Years: A Developmental Perspective. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass, 1995. Print.
  • Thomas, Douglas, and John S. Brown. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. Lexington, Ky: CreateSpace?, 2011. Print.
  • Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.
  • Vonnegut, Kurt. If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young. New York: RosettaBooks, 2013. Print.
  • Waal, F B. M. The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society. New York: Harmony Books, 2009. Print.
  • Waal, F B. M. Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. Print.
  • Wagner, Tony, and Robert A. Compton. Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. New York: Scribner, 2012. Print.
  • Wagner, Tony. The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need-and What We Can Do About It. New York: Basic Books, 2008. Print.
  • Wasik, Bill. And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. New York: Viking, 2009. Print.
  • Weinberger, David. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.
  • Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.
  • Williams, Juan. Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate. New York: Crown Publishers, 2011. Print.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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The Hat Trick: 3 Masters Degrees

I just submitted my final project for my last class for my third (and probably not final) master's degree.  Funny enough, it is just under ten years ago that I started my first Master's Degree.  Having accomplished the aforementioned hat trick, I thought I would discuss a bit about the experiences and kernels of wisdom gleaned about the process.

Degree Breakdown

First, I should clarify what I have gotten.  Mostly because the first issue I'll be talking about is that not all Master's Degrees are equal in a variety of ways and it's important to note that my experience is not likely the same as other people who are pursuing degrees that are substantively different from the ones I've earned (e.g. biology, geography, etc).  Here they are:
  • Masters of American Studies at University of Massachusetts in Boston with a focus on gender and sexuality and popular culture.
  • Masters of Public Administration at Suffolk University with a focus on nonprofit organizations.
  • Masters of Education at University of Massachusetts in Boston with a concentration on Instructional Design

What led me down this course?

Most people go for a single Master's Degree, while others may end up with two by odd circumstances.  Yet I'm signing off on #3.  What am I thinking and why don't I just get a doctorates? All great questions and none of which I think I have a good straightforward answer.  To understand the Master's Degrees, one needs to understand the rest of my educational background.

When I entered into college, my plan was to become a high school history teacher after my mentor and all-around favorite teacher, Mr. Metropolis.  He was an inspiration to many and his class was intellectually intriguing.  In fact, that's what drew me to become a teacher was the draw to ideas, discussing them, relating them, and figuring them out.

Statue of Woman in Thinking Pose: Image Source:
A chance conversation with my adviser in the Honors Program, Dr. Pat Ould made me rethink the plan to go back and teach high school.  "You need to get your doctorate's degree," she declared with a sincerity and matter-of-fact tone that I still hear in my head today.  She quickly explained what it was all about and that given how excited and engaged I felt with the academic nature of college, that more degrees seemed obvious.  This made a lot of sense to me and thus, I re-shifted my focus toward attaining a doctorate and most likely teaching at the college level.  However, by the beginning of senior year, I was facing a bit of burn-out as a result of lots of work on my Honor's thesis and personal drama.  I realized that I wasn't ready for grad school and needed time off, so I got a job in the interim.

One side benefit of this job was tuition assistance for employees enrolled in a degree program.  The money would barely be enough to cover one or two courses a year in a graduate program at most.  However, if I took courses at my local community college, the money could go far.  I decided that since I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do for graduate school, I would go to community college and get an associate's degree (in criminal justice).  This choice did several things for me.  It staved off paying school loans (so long as you are enrolled in two courses or more, you do not have to pay your loans) and it helped me stay in an academic mindset until I was ready for graduate school.

Eventually, I realized that I had several different areas to pursue:  Media Studies, Writing, and Sex and Gender Studies.  Thus I applied to programs at Emerson College, Salem State College, and University of Massachusetts-Boston.  I got accepted to all three but for financial and just driving interest at the time, I went with UMASS Boston's Masters in American Studies, where I would focus on gender and sexuality.  It's still definitely one of the best decisions I made in my life.  The program was hard and kicked my ass regularly, but made me a much better critical thinker.

I barreled through the program in two years (which I did with all three degrees) and by the time I was finishing, I had shifted away from my first college job in an online retailer to working in youth residential programs.  The shift was significant especially as I thought about my next move.  I learned a lot about gender, sex, and sexuality over those two years and it had me thinking about how and what I could do with that learning.  Another degree made the most amount of sense because while the program was fantastic, it was also largely cerebral and abstract so I wanted some good technical skills to balance it out or at least apply what I learned in the program.  I applied to Suffolk University for a Master's in Public Administration and either Northeastern or Boston University for a Masters in Sociology (I forget which one).  I got into Suffolk University but not the other, so I went to Suffolk.

By contrast to UMASS, Suffolk University was disappointing.  It lacked the rigor and intellectual complexity that I was used to from UMASS.  However, I figured I would at least have a better sense of ways of how to work with the different systems in society to advocate for better understanding and appreciation around gender, sex, and sexuality.  While working this Master's Degree, I was witnessing another shift in my career.  Over the course of two years, I had turned into a full-time  part-time instructor at several colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area.  My involvement with this grew enough that by the time I was done with my Master's at Suffolk University, I turned to focusing on teaching and writing for a few years.

Then, I became the Coordinator of Instructional Design at North Shore Community College.  In acquiring the job, I realized that though I was qualified, I still needed a stronger background in education.  That is, there was much that I intuited from my experiences as instructor and student, but needed a bit more formal training and technical background to fill in gaps.  In looking for graduate schools this time around, I did not bother to search much.  With the new position, state colleges and universities were the best bet in terms of affordability and UMASS Boston has a Masters in Education with a concentration on Instructional Design that fit.

I do plan on getting a doctorate's degree, but I will start the search process next year with the goal of starting in 2015.  I have a few projects to get off the ground in the interim.

Professional vs. Academic Master Degrees

As I mentioned above, my American Studies Master's Degree was much more challenging than my Public Administration master's degree.  My Instructional Design master's wasn't much more challenging than the Public Administration degree.  The reason is that there tend to be (at least) two kinds of Master's Degree:  the Academic Master's Degree and the Professional Master's Degree.

A good way to contrast this different is in the total work per course one expects.  In an academic program, a course usually has at minimum five or more books, minimum reading of 200 pages a week, and requires at least two papers, one of which is likely to be fifteen pages or longer.  The professional program typically has at most two books, requires less than 100 pages a week, and rarely includes more than ten-page paper.

Lance Eaton - Zombie version
Sometimes, this is what it takes to get through
an academic Master's degree.
The professional degree is typically easier and demands less of students, which for some is a winning endorsement.  However, that's where the degree is at its weakest.  In both professional programs, what I found most disappointing is the level of feedback.  If we take that term "Master" to mean anything, I would think it meant mastery of said subject matter.  But mastery is something that takes a lot of work and since we're talking about intellectual mastery, then it should follow that there should be intellectual rigor.

One's brain should get a serious workout.  However, that workout comes in two forms.  It comes in the form of being exposed to new information (reading, viewing, discussing newly exposed content) and it comes in the form of critically revising prior understandings about the content.  The key to this happening is offering up one's take and having it evaluated and criticized.  That is, critical feedback about how the student is making sense of the new content and progressing towards mastery of the topic is needed.  To some, this can feel like a brutal process wherein one funnels their energy, mind, and heart into (what he/she believes is) an awesome paper, only to have it returned with ample feedback that can feel negative (and even petty--and sometimes, that is true).  But the criticism feedback loop is essentially to pushing thinking and understanding of the subject by the student.  And it's this element--critical and articulate feedback--that I've found most lacking in professional Master's degrees.  It's just not there to the degree that I experienced it in the academic degree.

Why I found that so irksome is that particularly the contrast in what I was paying for my first Master's Degree (the academic one) and my second (the professional one), was substantial.  I paid triple the cost for a professional Master's Degree that gave me 1/3 the quality and intellectual return.

Thus, if I have one nugget of wisdom to bestow upon people looking for Master's Degrees, it would be to spend some time thinking about what kind of degree do you want.  Are you looking to be fundamentally challenged on a subject matter or merely for more professional opportunities?  More than anything else, that could significantly help you find a program that fits your needs most.

What have been your experiences with your Master's Degrees?  What did you like or dislike about them?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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When The Lightbulb Flickers

These are inevitably my two favorite moments in a given semester.  I experience one as an instructor and I experience the other as a student.  I should note that both of these moments are not restrictive to the semester--they are bred into our lives in many ways.  However, it's the instructor and others in those places of studying and engaging in human development that are so moved and driven by these moments.

We, educators, all crave that moment.  The transcendental moment when a student goes from not understanding it to "getting it."  It's a wonderful moment for instructors to experience the tell-tale signs:  the prolonged blink, the widened eyes, the shake of the head, the mouth drawn open, the head jilted back, the ejaculative sigh as if exorcising a demon of ignorance.  It's a validation of the lesson; it's a validation of the work we do.  We leave the classroom that day and we want to do our own celebratory touchdown dance.  

We do our best to plan for it each class and of course, the actual moment may not happen the way we anticipate.  But in every class, it lingers in the back of our heads in the hopes that it will surface.  We're astronomers out in a field during an asteroid storm, waiting for each and every epic streak across the sky.  Bearing witness to such events are wonderful.  A testimony to learning and its value.  A recognition that learning is not just an internal experience but one that can vicariously lift many of us.

This brings me to the other favorite moment of the semester as a student.  At some point in a given semester, I always hit the point where I can feel my brain expanding.  Granted, I have a large cranium and I don't mean this literally, but while engaged in a mixture of reading from different courses and of course, my own ceaseless knowledge quest, I can feel what Steven Johnson refers to as "ideas having sex" in my head.  It's this awesome swirling mix of ideas and thoughts, some new, some old, some reconfigured in ways previously unrealized.  This isn't the same as the light bulb turning on--though plenty of that tends to follow.  This is the point where I feel my understanding has just been pushed a bit further.  I've been opened to few different ideas that are quickly interlacing with the other thoughts in my head.  The neural web spreads, widens and thickens simultaneously and I feel it.  The learning itself is powerful but the to be cognizant of it happening is even more potent.  I feel simultaneously small in the face of so much I do not know and large in that I have just taken in so much more.  I've drank my body's worth of water but still look amazed at the lake before me.

As a life-long learner and self-professed nerd, these are epic-win moments of my life; where I see someone else get it or that I feel my own learning happening.  It's what I hope I always bring to my classes--an energy and excitement about learning that is authentic and engaging.    

What about you?  What does it feel like when you are engaged in learning or observing someone else's inner world expand?

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Social Media Project Update#2

So great news on this project front.  I will be presenting at the Massachusetts Community College Teaching, Learning, & Student Development Conference 2013 in April.   The focus is on social media and faculty/student engagement and I plan on bringing this research into the discussion. Below is the title and abstract.

Title:  Where Faculty Fear to Tread:  Role Modeling Civility in a Digital World

The rhetoric of social media boils down to being a miracle of the modern age or a clear sign of society’s self-destructive tendencies.  To this end, faculty and schools often fail in engaging their students through social media in meaningful ways.  So while colleges help equip students for the physical world, they poorly prepare them for the digital world.  This presentation looks at the ways and the whys for faculty and colleges to maintain a strong social media presence to aid and act as a role model for students in the digital world.  Just like faculty role model in students’ physical worlds, it becomes increasing important for faculty to be role models as digital citizens and work to develop students’ digital identities.  In an age in which applicants are Googled by interviewers, it’s important that faculty guide and encourage students to consciously maintain a public identity that both speaks to who they are and how they conduct themselves in this ambiguous and emerging new public sphere.  This workshop will address some of the concerns and misaligned fears about social media, identify some of the reasons and ways faculty can role model good digital identity, and provide some ways of constructing clear guidelines about productive social media between faculty and students.

So there has been some great response through email, Facebook, and in the comments sections by people about the project.  Since the last update on this project, I am now just under 140 participants that have filled out the survey.  That's great, but I'd really like to get more.  To that end I'm making March 1 the last day for submissions and I'm hoping that I can double the number of entries that I currently have, if not more.  So please, keep sharing this along and sending it to faculty and students.

For those that want to familiarize yourself with the original post or take the survey (or send the survey along to others, here is the information on that:

A few people have asked me about what they could do to help to support it and get more attention:

  1. Share a link on Facebook with your endorsement to this post (, the original call for participants (, or to the survey itself (
  2. Tweet about it with hashtags related to your school, discipline, or technology (2 good sources for relevant hashtags are Inside Higher Ed's Twitter Directory and Complete Guide To Twitter Hashtags In Education).
  3. Post it to your Google+ account.
  4. Like it on Stumble.
  5. Give it credit on Reddit (
  6. Post it to your LinkedIn and/or Academia.Edu accounts.
  7. Post it to relevant Groups/Communities that you belong to on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and other social networks.
  8. Write about it or mention it on your own blog (and email me so I can give you props here).
  9. Post it on any other online forum that hasn't yet been mentioned but you are now thinking in your head, "Gee, I wonder if I should post it here."
  10. Take the following message and email it to your colleagues, instructors, or students (past and present).

A colleague/friend/acquaintance/stranger of mine is exploring interaction between college faculty and students via social media.  If you are a faculty member that uses social media with your students OR if you are a student who has used social media to interact with one or more faculty, would you mind filling out this brief (10 questions) survey?

If you'd like to know more about the project, you can check it the description here.


I appreciate all of your efforts and help thus far.  Seeing that people have filled out this survey from all over the world is pretty cool and the comments are absolutely fascinating.  As I move forward, I will be using this blog as a central place to share the data and results.  Be sure to subscribe to the site (upper right hand corner) by email or RSS feed to keep abreast of the future results.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

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Social Media & Education Project Update

So in the first 5 days of the project, I've gotten some decent responses.  I've got just under 100 responses and am hoping that this next week with faculty and students back to class I will be able to catch more people to fill out the survey.  I'd like to see this go to a much larger number of faculty and students in the ensuing month, so please keep forwarding this survey to other people--your help thus far has been great!

The project is looking at faculty and students who choose to interact during or after a course via social media.  Thus I'm interested in hearing from students who have interacted with faculty they have had for their courses and faculty who have interact with their students from the courses they teach.  I wanted to take a brief look at the current findings to show some interesting elements in the results thus far:

1.  Faculty vs. Students
This breakdown shows the different in faculty and students who have filled out the survey.  That more faculty than students have filled this out speaks more to who is more connected in my social networks.  It's also because I've been posting requests to fill out the survey on largely instructor & adult oriented places (e.g. LinkedIn groups, Google+ communities regarding higher ed and such).  If people have recommendation for different student sites and social networks to post on, I'd be happy to follow up with that.
Number and breakdown of respondents among faculty and students.\
(click to enlarge)

2.   Usage of Platforms
This question looked at the different platforms that students and faculty interacted with via social media.  The big one was Facebook with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blogging also putting in strong performances.  Others were not as popular.

Platforms that students & faculty use to engage
(click to enlarge)

3.  Student & Faculty Experience
This is one of the most interesting charts thus far in that it is confirming some of the things I suspected.  For many of us who use social media with our students and vice versa, it is found to be substantially more positive than negative.  Of course that's a premature conclusion and maybe not entirely amazing insight.  Next up will be looking at the actual remarks and thoughts that people shared to see what further insights are useful.

Reactions about experiences interacting via social media by faculty & students
(click to enlarge)

So those are some preliminary insights and thoughts.  However, I am hoping to get even more results, so please continue sharing.

For those interested in hearing a little bit more about the project, check out the original blog post.  You can also take a look at this blog post where my musings and thoughts about social media and education have helped me formulate and design this larger project.  

If you want to go to the survey directly, check out this link.

Finally, I also wanted to mention that during the last few days I've had some great people email me and give feedback or ask for clarifications.  Thank you for doing so as that's helped me clarify different things with regards to the project.  If you run into trouble or need some clarity, please don't hesitate to email me or to comment here on the blog with your questions.

Again, I appreciate all the help everyone has given me in the last 5 days and look forward to seeing more contributions by students and faculty over the next month.

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.