Showing posts with label Learning and Teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Learning and Teaching. Show all posts

Recent Post from LETS Blog: A Simpler Solution to Tablets and Laptops

The follow blog was posted recently on the NSCC LETS Blog and it's about my approach to using laptops and tablets in the classroom.

"David von Schlichten mentioned in his recent Conversation blog post on The Chronicle that he is fine with students using their digital devices to do whatever they want in the class and that it is their choice to engage or not engage. I can appreciate that hands-off approach but I agree with some of the commentators that while it may work for the instructor, it is likely to be challenging for other students in the classroom and they may be distracted. This point was made obvious to me when a student was once caught watching inappropriate material in my class. Granted, it was likely way more interesting than whatever I was teaching at the time, but his peers ratted him out by the astonished and bemused looks on their faces."

For the rest of the article, please visit the blog!

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Hybrid Fluxed #02: That's Why We Call It a Pilot

I'm one month into teaching an American Literature I course using hybrid flexible pedagogy.  It's going good overall but I'm already coming up with a list of things to tweak and improve in the next rendering of this course. Before going into what needs fixing and what is working great, I thought I would provide more detail about how the course is running to better understand what's been done (and in the next post, a clear explanation of how to fix it).  

The Readings for American Literature

The readings are the centerpiece of a literature course.  This course is no different.  However, in this course, I changed up the approach to readings.  Several semesters ago, I redesigned the text order into a more thematic structure.  My old approach was to move through the course chronologically but I found the students had challenges around keeping track of it all and making sense how the different texts related.  I switched to breaking the course into four writing styles to explore: 

  1. First Person Narratives and Autobiographies
  2. Essays, Tracks, Arguments, and Speeches
  3. Fiction
  4. Poetry

I moved through them in the order above, believe that worked in terms of their literary challenges from easiest to hardest.  Within each unit, we then move chronologically with each week covering 1 or 2 centuries (e.g. 16th & 17th First Person Narratives & Autobiographies).  This structure was useful because we could layer not only the different types of writing but the different times for contrast.  

The Course Choices

Because I moved into the units identified above, it because less important on the specific works that they read and more important that they sampled and engaged directly with the different types of work.  The shift provided opportunities to create flexibility with the readings.  Now, instead of everyone having to read the same texts, we could have people read different texts but still be able to talk about their texts in relation to the subject matter.  Meanwhile, I could provide a close reading of a text in a given week to help students extrapolate and find approaches to the things they are reading.  So I created a master list of readings for each week and had students select a particular page amount that they were responsible for.  At the beginning of the semester, they would fill out a Selection Sheet for all the readings they were responsible for during the semester.  

Part of the reason I moved into this approach is that American Literature 1 is full of readings that may be important but are boring as all can be to many students.  I figured one way to stimulate interest was to have students have some say in what they were going to read in a give week.  

However, the real choice of the course was what format of learning the student chose.  As I mentioned before, I designed the course so the student could take it entirely online, entirely face-to-face, or go back and forth depending on his/her demands/priorities in a given week.  

Additionally, I expanded their choice in terms of the content of their assignments and even, which assignments they do (see below).

F2F Time vs Online Time

What makes the difference between online and face-to-face time?  In the online environment, students are expected to view the week's minilectures as well as make their way through a learning guide, do their readings, and participate substantially in a weekly discussion (one initial post of 200+ words and 3 peer replies of 100+ words).  

By contrast, in the face-to-face class, students must perform inclass writing assignments, engage in group discussions and projects, and of course, listen to/engage with the mini lectures I give in person.  (A side benefit to students in the F2F, if they miss something or need a refresher, they can always go online and review the videos). 

The Assignments

I've been trying to also play around with the assignments and believe I will expand upon this in the ensuing semesters as there could be some really great things done in terms of providing more choice and opportunity for students.  

All students must be active in the course.  In the face-to-face class, this includes participating in discussions, group projects and successfully completing the informal inclass writing assignments.  In the online course, it means substantially participating in the discussion.  There is also a course blog, where all the students come together and post their initial thoughts and ideas about a particular reading they enjoyed from a given week.  These are all formative assessments that help me understand where the students are at as well as help the students learn from one another.

Finally, we have three major assignments for them to complete.

Article Analysis:  The students must find an academic article that critically uses something they are reading this semester and write a 1000+ word review of it.  Students choose whatever article they can find so long as it meets certain criteria (over 12 pages of text, published in academic journal, published after 1970 and ties to a specific text we read).  Their article selection must be pre-approved before moving forward with the essay.

Close or Quote Analysis:  For their second paper, students can choose from two options.  They can provide a close-analysis of a fictional work that they've ready (at least 1000+ words) or they can analyze a self-selected quote from anything that they've read and then connect that quote to other readings in the course.  Which assignment and which text they chose is up to them; however, like the article analysis, they need to identify what they are doing for approval. 

Final Project:  Students have several options for a final project.  

  1. Standard Essay.  Students have three different essay options to chose from to write a 1500 word essay on American Literature.
  2. Librivox recording and reflective essay.  Students must find a text they wish to record and narrate the text for as well as write 300+ word reflective essay.
  3. Wikipedia entry.  Students must write an entry for Wikipedia on one of the readings or authors that isn't already on the site.
  4. Digital presentation.  Students must create some kind of digital presentation that substantially covers an idea throughout certain texts or substantially covers a particular reading from the course.
  5. Pitch an idea.  Students can pitch their own ideas for a final project.

That's what I've got going on in the course and I think thus far it's going well for the first round.  I expect to have some more thoughts about how to improve it in the future.  Also keep an eye out for future postings as I intend on making my materials accessible to those that are interested in using/borrowing them.

Check here for a full listing of posts on Hybrid Flexible Pedagogy.

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Hybrid Fluxed #01: The Semester of Hybrid Flexible Teaching (And Learning!)

As some may know, I just finished another Master's Degree (that's #3 for those that are counting).  My final project for said degree was to develop a hybrid flexible course for an American Literature I course that I've been teaching for a while now.  

What is Hybrid Flexible Pedagogy?

There are other definitions such as Dr. Brian Betty's work that has influenced my thoughts on understanding hybrid flexible but here's my stab at defining it:

Hybrid flexible pedagogy seeks to maximize the amount of choice (i.e. flexibility) for students within a given course (or even program, ultimately), with regards to class format (online vs. face to face), content (learning resources), and evaluation.  

That's the best definition I can come up with.  So what that has mean for my course is that I've developed a course in which students can take the course entirely face-to-face, entirely online, or move back and forth between the face-to-face course and the online course in any given week. 

I came to create this from y experience with teaching evening classes.  These classes meet once a week and if a student misses a class, they are likely to fall seriously behind.  In my experience, students in evening class often miss class for serious reasons (or at least more often than not).  Often, it's because their life has gone into crisis mode (sometimes small, sometimes really big).  Thus, they hit obstacles in life and missing class only adds to it.  So I thought about what could be done so that they could potentially be caught up to speed by the start of the next class.  That led me down the road of hybrid flexible pedagogy.  

Online and Face-To-Face

The course as it stands now, ready to launch entails students coming to the physical classroom and engaging in different activities around the course content or going online and moving through activities that should be similar to the face-to-face activities.  To make sure for this balance, I have create a series of videos (narrated powerpoints) for students to view.  The full playlist of videos for the course has been put on Youtube.  What I like about this part is that students can attend the face-to-face but also benefit from the online content for reinforcement and further clarification.  

Choices Abound

Coupled with the above format, I have also pushed to develop the resources so that students can choose what readings they want to read for any given week out of a larger selection of readings.  One benefit I have with doing this with American Literature I is that all of the works I want to use are in the public domain.  So rather than assigning a textbook with everyone reading the same text, I have provided 5-10 readings for a given week and have students choose which ones to read (requiring a certain page amount read).  Coupled with this, I have expanded choice in terms of their assignments and what they can write about or the different ways they can do an assignment.  For instance, their final project they have several different choices including a traditional final essay, a Wikipedia entry, making a Librivox recording or even, pitching their own final project.  

Particularly around courses that students have little to no choice in taking, it makes sense to provide them with some opportunities to express their preference and choice.  However, I also thought about how this concept worked perfectly with some of the themes of American Literature and how it is a continually attempt to widen choice and opportunity (a focal point for a good deal of our readings).  

Where Do We Go From Here?
This is a just a brief introduction to what I'm doing.  I plan on writing and reflecting about the experience here on the blog and also providing materials and updates for people that are interested in creating this format as we move forward.

If you would like further information, please contact me, Lance Eaton.

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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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. 

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

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?

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Recent Blogpost on LETS Blog: The Digital Assignment

Here's a recent blog post I did for the NSCC LETS blog:

"When I look back even 5 years ago, I've seen a significant change in the ways in which faculty take assignments. I know faculty have been taking digital assignments as far back as the 1990s but it often seemed the exception whereas now it feels much more like the rule. We all remember the frantic whirlwind of getting an assignment to an instructor (often after waiting until the last minute to write it) by battling printers or lines at the printers, traffic, crowded hallways, etc just to get that paper in before the end of class, only to repeat this several times each semester.

While there are many benefits to taking online assignments (less chance of losing it, time stamps, environmentally friendly, less redundancy, etc), there are definitely some drawbacks and every person has their own method of doing it.  Below are some of the different methods of taking digital assignments that you may be using or considering using."

For the full blogpost, click on through to the NSCC LETS Blog.

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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Thinking about Learning Part 2: Designing for Learning

In the first post, I reflected on what learning is and what it means as an individual to be a life-long learner.  In this post, I tackle what learning might mean for us as instructors and instructional designers. 

Defining learning seems like an insurmountable task.  Ultimately, we’re trying to find a definition for what is an extremely personal and contextual experience.  To me, a self-defined life-long learner, it’s like trying to define love.  There are generic definitions out there that can easily be thrown into the ring and fit some people, but I am doubtful of their ability to capture what it actually means to each and every person.

It’s worth starting with the very basics of learning in order to tackle this challenge.  Learning at its most simple and watered down form, is change.  This change can be internal (e.g. thoughts) or external (actions).  This change can be intentional such as acquiring a foreign language or unintentional such as acquiring your first language (at least early on, it is not necessarily conscious).  The change can be proactive such as training your body to endure a marathon or it can be reactive, instinctively retracting your hand when something gets too hot.  The changes can be multiple or singular in nature.  The changes could also be temporary or permanent.  When learning occurs, a change has occurred in the learner that may or may not be permanent.  The change can be formal (classroom), informal (looking something up), and coincidental (occurring without intention).  And there isn't always direct correlation between setting and experience.  That is, seeking purposeful change (going to class) could easily result in coincidental change (learning about something entirely unrelated to what you set out to learn, e.g. how much gum is under the desk you sit at).

Despite that all kinds of learning occurs in groups, learning is largely situated in the individual and the context which he or she brings to a given moment.  Learning is still an individual experience made meaningful by the individual's own frame(s).  Two people may be able to learn the same thing, but that speaks more to the common experiences (and learning) of the two humans that help them learn something new.  That is, two people in a graduate class have many shared similar experiences and are able to both learn something—not necessarily because they are part of a group per se, but because their experiences may have led them down similar paths.  For instance, they have both assimilated (to varying degrees) the skills required to show they are competent to pass high school (or acquire their GED)—which doesn’t mean they know the same skills since there is still a lot of variation of experience and learning that goes on in elementary, middle, and high school.  They have also acquired the skill sets (again, which could be very different) to acquire a bachelor’s degree.  Within all those experiences, even if they are extremely different, lie many overlapping experiences.  They have a fair share of tacit knowledge about how the system works (or rather, how they as individuals work the particular system).   Thus when they both learn something, they may have learned it and assimilate different things.  That learning experience (change) exists individually in both of them, not mutually.  Another way to think of this is the following.  If John and Jane both learn that 2+2=4, they each hold that model in their own head, able to reproduce it without the other person present or invovled.  They learned it individually in their minds, even if they were both physically present.  Actual group knowledge would seem to only be capable of existing if telepathy were possible. 

This is where teaching gets tricky.  Because we're teaching to many individuals, but we're often referring to them and thinking of them as a group.  We refer to them in their entirety instead (the class, the course, "them") instead of individually.  While inevitably some reader will say, "that's not true, I think of my students as individuals," our means of referring to them are as a group and we often shape the class around managing, guiding, and facilitating the group.  Occasionally, we defer to the individual (e.g. student-teacher conferences) but that's the exception to the semester engagement, not the rule (unless it's an independent study).  

Given the multiple facets of learning--some which are objective and some of which are subjective--it remains a challenge to capture it and to plan for it in any legitimate sense, but only superficially.  It reminds me of what a Professor Michael Drout, said about writing and audience.  One cannot really write for his or her "audience," if the audience is more than a handful of people because it is impossible to hold those individuals within the mind while crafting.  Crafting learning experiences tend to be the same way.  We can try to craft for the group, but ultimately, we can't craft a learning experience that fits right with all the nuances of any individual (This is part of why adaptive learning programs are all the hype because they--in very limited capacities right now--hone into the individual learner, recognizing--or at least trying to--that he or she has a specific context and experience).  

Shaping learning experiences beyond the individual is extremely limiting and complicated.  And yes, many instructors are successful at it, but nearly all of them can pinpoint or identify a class that it just didn't work out.  Something didn't click.  

All of this is posited even before opening the Pandora’s box of learning styles, types, modes, modalities or whatever other buzz word we want to throw in there.  Therefore, all elements of learning can affect the instructional process, but in all likelihood, only a  fraction of said elements are going to be acknowledged, never mind addressed in teaching.  That learning still occurs speaks more to the adaptability and learning dynamics of the learners more than the purposeful practice of the instructors.  That may sound like a harsh judgment of instructors and instructional designers but it has more to do with the systems in which they are placed to create the best learning experience, despite a range of variables that must contend with, making them akin to meteorologists, accountable for the weather when all they are trying to do is predict outcomes when there is so much to account for.  Because in the end, instructors and instructional designers are assigned to create or help create learning experiences that are for a large audience (bigger than a handful of people) and not a singular person. 

This is not to say it's a lost cause, but it is one that I think we're currently flailing with.  At the college level, we complicate an individual's learning in many unnecessary ways.  For example, many of us dictate the terms of learning to the student without taking into consideration who the students are (except at a very superficial level).  We often say that it is the student's responsibility and if things don't match up, then it's the student's responsibility to change classes.  Of course, we ignore that most instructors wait until the last possible moment (the first day of class) to share anything more about the course than the generic course description.  Thus, after the student has arranged his or her schedule to make sense, the student is left either trying to re-arrange his or her schedule again at the last minute or deal with the class even if it doesn't fit.  That doesn't sound like we're setting the student up for learning but for failure.  Why put such unnecessary obstacles in students way?

There are ways we can find to individualize the course without detracting the from the quality.  In the end, this is probably going to mean a bit more work in terms of how we craft our courses, but it's also going to mean a better reward in terms of student success.  If we continue to craft for the group and not for the individual learning, we're going to continue to be challenged by other nontraditional forms of education that have recognized this and are impacting education.  

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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