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

New Year’s Resolutions

At the start of each year, I, like many others, take time to consider my next step. That includes looking for new teaching opportunities, writing opportunities, or, as of late, technology opportunities. As ed and tech become edtech, one has to be always striving to understand what’s next. This year, I made resolutions in the hopes of publicly declaring my goals.

1) Learn to code-The simplicity of my phrasing reveals how little I know about this subject; all I really know about coding is that I don’t know anything at all. Yet, as education moves more online, I want to have an understanding of how programs work at their most basic level. It’s the difference between being an agent in the field and simply being a user. In addition, I want to have a hand in designing the next platform, program, or tool that is applied in the classroom. It would be exciting to participate in all phases of identifying a problem, developing a targeted solution, and implementing that solution in the classroom.

2) Listen to what students want from technology in the classroom-This has been a shortcoming in my practice. Typically, I teach a class and the institution offers some web tools; so I apply them in the coursework. I have never gone into a semester and asked the students “what works for you online?” or “how can we use all these tools to make this class better?” This year, I want to engage in these conversations. I want the student experience with technology to be enjoyable for them. Many of my students are recently returning to school after some years away. I take the responsibility of acclimating them to the academic climate seriously. Listening to their wants and needs about technology could be the first time they see that the educational space is adaptable for them.…Read More

Visual Fluency—Is it on your radar?

I have often noticed that many of my students have little experience using visual media. Most of them have easy, casual access to photos, videos and a broad set of graphics—yet few of them integrate visuals into their writing, and those who do, often do so with little skill and nuance. Often, when used, graphics decorate rather than inform.

It’s as if no academic subject has taken ownership for visual fluency—certainly standardized tests provide little coverage of the subject. Many of our students are left to themselves to discover how to integrate media of all sorts—how to exploit graphics and media to complement or express their messages.

The irony is that we swim in a visual information ocean; new forms of narrative are emerging that string together images and text, such as Snapchat stories. Visuals provide much of the heavy lifting in business to compare and contrast, show trends, demonstrate concepts. Yet we provide little formal instruction on the subject and few of us require some level of visual fluency.…Read More

Stove-piped curricula in community colleges

One of the most unfortunate organizational issues I’ve seen in academia is the lack of a unified curriculum across the sciences and humanities in community colleges for today’s student. Much has been discussed about the hardening gulf between the humanities and technology and science. These tensions are not new—back in 1959, C.P. Snow lamented the trend in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.

For sure, technology, the sciences and healthcare are driving the jobs markets; parents and students are well aware. Those courageous enough to pursue a doctorate in English or art history know the odds of landing a job that returns a positive value proposition for their investment. Many schools have been exploring “digital humanities” as a curriculum that blends tech, literature and art—it signals an awareness that new careers and new areas of study are becoming mainstream. These new areas live in the netherworld between humanities and tech and science.

Except, they don’t.…Read More

The trouble with critical thinking

Just a few months ago, a Tumbler user uploaded an image of a dress that instantly went viral. Some saw a gold and white dress; others a blue and black dress. A consensus emerged: Everyone Sees the World Differently was the Huffington Post’s take on the phenomenon.

I feel this way when I read about or talk with academic colleagues about critical thinking. We know it’s important and we are confident we are teaching it at the community college level; it’s just: what is it? And more importantly: what is it good for?

I take Justice Stewart Potter’s I-know-it-when-I-see-it approach to critical thinking. With such a broad range of student capabilities and backgrounds in my classes, I operate in a reductive world. I work through sentence and paragraph development like a math teacher approaching a proof, calling attention to patterns and clever technique that students can use in their essays.…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