Is writing education vital to emerging technology?

In an age of technological advancement, it’s easy to feel obsolete.  I feel confident that education will always be needed; but, occasionally I wonder if writing education has value in a computer-driven world.

Students enter my English classrooms and see the course as a requirement for advancement.  They look at is as one of many “basics” they need until they can study their actual interest.

Katherine Schwab recently wrote an article that not only put my fears at ease, but declared the written word as vital to emerging technology. Schwab profiles a report titled “2017 Designs in Tech” which references writing as among the unicorn skills in design. Paralleling writing with the rare and sought after creature who displays great power dismissed any questions I had about professional relevance. She outlines some critical and practical ways writing is needed when designing user interaction with technology.…Read More

Seeking: Classroom dialogue

I have come to realize that what I seek most in a classroom is dialogue.  Even if discussions take us off topic, I can always rest knowing that students learned lessons about communicating and relating ideas.  When students are sharing, they are learning.  It is a simple equation, yet incredibly hard to develop in a writing classroom.

There are several barriers to dialogue.  Naturally, things like social awkwardness and a lack of confidence hold some people back.  In addition, not being prepared for class on a given night prevents full participation.  Furthermore, some students have the engrained habit of sitting in the back and not speaking.  Late in their scholastic career, It may never even occur to them that they can benefit and help others by engaging.  The old solution would be to hold people accountable through written dialogue.  Yet, that practice reveals a more subtle barrier to dialogue: me.

There is a limit to how much writing I can read and respond to in a given space of time.  I would love to journal extensively every class.  I would love demand that students speak or write out full answers and then hold them accountable to that work.  But, I’ve learned that the amount of time it takes me to sift through those assignments and give meaningful feedback is overwhelming.  Most weeks, I am forced to make a choice between dialogue through writing and formal writing assignments.  The formals win every time.…Read More

Technology’s Promise

The thing I look forward to most about summer is not a lack of work.  As a full time teacher, part-time faculty member, and a new father, work never seems to stop.  It’s not the weather, although that’s nice, or the clothing, although putting socks away for a few months is certainly a perk of the season.  It’s a sense of time.  Summer brings longer days, but it also brings a sense of time.  Days go by slower and allow more opportunity to process what I actually want to do.  I am able to think, and then think about thinking, rather than just reacting each and every minute.  My friends in education often refer to summer as the time when we are “our true selves.”  The reason I can be myself is because I actually have time to think about who I am.

Ezra Klein’s recent article, Technology is changing how we live, but it needs to change how we work, prompted me to ask: with all the technology that pervades education, why don’t I feel this sense of time more often?  Klein takes a broad look about how technology is pervasive in our lives, yet its economic impact is hard to measure.  In other words: we have lots of new technology pieces, but how much better off are we?  His thesis spoke to me as I finish another year in teaching.  Each year brings another layer of technology into the industry.  I learn a new platform, engage my students in a new medium, and adapt assignments and expectations for a new space.  Sometimes I feel like I am an IT student rather than a classroom teacher.  Behind all of these decisions is my assumption that, at some point, life will get easier.  At some point, we will reach the end of adaptation.  Those results will be evident in the work we get from students, but also in how I feel as I work.  I should feel more productive with these tools.  Yet, Klein’s article responds to this assumption by saying: maybe I won’t.

His piece ends with the idea that we have all the technology, but we need to learn how to use it.  He quotes a venture capitalist in the technology industry who states, “It turns out the hardest things at companies isn’t building the technology but getting people to use it properly.”  The same is true in education.  Institutional buy-in, student adoption, accommodation of resources, and technical support all play a part in properly using ed-tech.  All of these things are immense challenges at institutions that are adapting in their own way, with students coming from diverse backgrounds, and societal forces demanding a myriad of solutions.…Read More

Flexible Thinking

As an educator, a father, and a human being, I am always confronting change.  I have often wondered what information, skill, talent, or perspective I need to learn to be successful and find contentment with the continually shifting state of life.  A PBS Parents article by Katie Hurley focuses on educating children on cognitive flexibility.  As I read Flexible Thinking: How to Encourage Kids to Go With the Flow, I realized the tips can apply to many educators as we face the dynamic landscape of ed-tech.

The article starts off with an anecdote about a boy charging out to recess to play soccer only to find the game has been changed to kickball.  He is unable to cope with the change due to his cognitive inflexibility and spends the rest of recess sulking.  How can this apply to education?

There is no greater divide between perception and reality, between training and practice, between expectation and realization, then in education.  The first few years of teaching are a revelation to theory learned in the classroom.  Furthermore, the job is so dependent on variables like institution, student body, faculty group, and even more basic things like time of year and time of class.  Technology has emphasized this chasm even more as core structures and assumptions are challenged.…Read More

The Business of College

I recently attended a winter meeting for a small, private college.  As with most institutions, the school is continuously reassessing its programming to maximize financial viability.  Currently, It offers a healthy amount of online coursework.  The school articulated a vision of technology and their future that was both ironic and refreshing.

I expected to hear all sorts of rhetoric about maximizing the use of online course work.  The internet offers economies of scale that have never existed before.  It can reduce overhead for a college and allow them to offer appealing, flexible classes to students across the country.

Yet, this institution is pursuing a different mission.  There is no question they plan to continue their online offerings.  Yet, they are concurrently seeking to establish a stronger campus identity.  They have recently built dorms, offered more classes on campus, and held events which attempt to unite the student population in a physical meeting space.  These decisions felt antiquated until they explained the rationale.…Read More

What writing and coding have in common—Part 1

Having spent most of my adult life working in the software industry, I see many parallels with writing and coding. What’s interesting is how these two subject domains differ in approaches to teaching—and what can we learn from both that can enhance how each subject is taught?

On an abstract level, both writing and coding involve encoding and decoding strings of symbols for intentional purpose, and both have highly evolved production processes with feedback loops. In addition, both have traditions and precedents that have spawned genres and styles.

On a deeper level, the metaphor holds up: First, both involve translating what’s in someone’s mind into actionable results—in the case of coding, to compile and execute a computer program that creates certain application behaviors and computational results, and in writing, to inform, persuade and entertain. Second, both deal with “languages,” “syntax” and “logic.” Inside these broad terms, the specifics are also similar; for example, word order, grammar, punctuation, internal and external references, and logic structures appear in both. Third: both require multistep production processes: although writing is usually thought of as an individual enterprise, to publish or post a finished product usually involves editorial and production processes. Coding is mostly a collaborative enterprise that involves multiple contributors and production processes (code management, compiling, testing and distribution).…Read More

Three ways to help online students succeed

New survey reveals what factors influence high- and low-performing online students

online-collegeA recent survey of 28,000 students yielded three specific factors that could influence online academic performance, with many stakeholders saying online student success really depends on effective learning design.

The survey by Eduventures, Inc., a research and advisory firm dealing in higher education, involved mostly adult learners over the age of 25 who are enrolled in an online degree or certificate program.

In conducting the study, Eduventures researchers hoped to help institutions understand the various factors that contribute to high or low academic performance in an online learning environment.…Read More

A note for the Blackboard Help-with-a-capital-“H” Desk

I wish I could be a computer genius. I also wish I could be a chess champion and an Olympic diver, but I’ll leave all these wishes to my daydreams. At this point in my life, I figure I’ll do what I know and leave the rest to the pros.

I’d like to take some eCampusNews blog space to recognize some pros on campus: the Blackboard Help Desk. I don’t know what I’d do without them. When I send them an email, they often respond within the hour. If I’m in a moment of near-panic (post-panic, as the case often is) and have to call, even their outgoing voicemail message—“You have reached the Blackboard Help Desk…” brings me calm. This is rare for a recorded message.

The best part of this Help-with-a-capital-“H” is its availability. Sometimes I’ll be stuck clicking something over and over to no avail—banging my head against the Blackboard, you might say—and want to call. But wait, I say to myself, it’s Sunday! No one is on campus now! I look up their webpage and see someone is there. Wait, it’s lunch hour… no problem. Wait, it’s almost eleven at night… no problem. Wait, it’s eight in the morning—OK, no one is there, but just wait a half-hour. Someone will pick up the phone at 8:31 am (yes, I’ve called at 8:31 am before—and 10:50 pm). I’ll tell her or him my problem, and without fail they figure it out.…Read More