The Messages We Send

How to Read My Comments on Your Paper Drafts:

Every once in a while I read about some educational practice that makes such perfect sense I can can’t help but wonder why everyone isn’t doing it. Steve Greenlaw periodically directs posts in his blog specifically to his students. In a recent post he addresses the purpose of the writing students are doing in his freshman seminar.

“Writing is the tool most scholars use to think about ideas. You don’t write when you have your ideas figured out; rather, you write to figure out what you think. Writing, revising and rewriting is what scholars do. Completing the first draft of a paper is the beginning of your thinking; it shouldn’t be the end.”

When I read drafts, I try to read them as I would a colleague’s paper who is asking for help in improving their work. What that means is I’m not pointing out what’s “wrong” with the paper. Rather, I’m making suggestions about what isn’t clear to the reader, or what I think might make the paper stronger.

I had to contrast Steve’s message to his students with the one we’re sending to our graduate students. We’re in the midst of the comps season, and my colleagues and I are dutifully preparing questions for the two days of exams that will determine whether the students that we’ve spent the last couple of years (or more) working and learning with should be allowed to begin their dissertations. As I look at the fascinating questions my colleagues have prepared, two thoughts immediately pop into my mind.

First, I thank the design of the universe that I’m not being expected to answer them. The thought of having to enter a room with a computer and no notes and synthesize two years of thinking, reading and writing about leadership or planning or policy–much less all of them together–would be terrifying. (It might be interesting if we had a qualifying exam for those who are reading the comps–just a half-day in which we are expected to synthesize all the research in our fields since we took our last closed-book comprehensive exam. It might make it even harder to find readers than it is now.)

The second thought is to try to find some rational reason for subjecting students to this experience. Once they’ve jumped through this hoop, is there any professional situation where they would be expected to do this again? Comps were the most worthless step in my own doctorate–largely because the key research in the field suggested that the only thing timed exams measured was the the ability to take timed examinations.

As I understand Steve’s message to his students, he’s telling them that it’s worth learning the conversation that shapes professional writing because it will be at the core of their education. I can’t help but wonder what message our graduate students are getting from us through the comps requirement.

Bar Association Web Redesign

IT Conversations: Edward Adams

This is an interesting discussion of the process of redesigning the American Bar Association Journal. Previous versions of the site featured one story a day with no persistent links. The new versions features a number of updated features to move from a fairly traditional professional magazine to site that is clearly user-focused

  • Dozens of new stories written by professional journalists each day.
  • Analysis from more than 1,000 legal blogs, written by lawyers who are experts in their fields.
  • Full text search of the 1000 blogs in the directory.
  • Mobile Edition for the smart phone.

This isn’t a podcast I normally tune into, but I decided to give it a listen anyway because of the web development project we’re working on as part of the class. Turned out to be a good summary of the the thought process involved with rethinking a major professional site, with lots of lessons for us to consider in our research site. Definitely worth firing up when doing some serious time on the Arc Trainer or the commute to/from Richmond.

A Guide for the Stubborn Intelligence

Ron Gross’s book The Independent Scholars Handbook is one of the my favorite adult education works of all time. The book, which was first published in 1982 and then re-released in 1993, contains the stories of individuals from every background whose lives contained a serious commitment to research, investigation, theory building and other intellectual enterprises. In addition, the book provides a resource guide with specific suggestions on how to move from “Messy Beginnings” to the finished product of research–whatever your field of endeavor.

One of my favorite stories in the book comes when the author, beginning his career as the “lowest of the low” in the world of New York publishing, comes face to face with editorial giant Max Schuster…

Continue reading “A Guide for the Stubborn Intelligence”

How Mack Ended Up in Skinny Jeans

Swem Review of Technology
How to Explain RSS the Oprah Way

Mack Lundy has posted a nice example of how using RSS technology can lead to finding some excellent resources that you might otherwise miss. Using an RSS aggregator, like BlogLines, is one of the key skills for making the most of the collective wisdom of the blogosphere. His post refers to an article that introduces a complete novice to the idea of RSS in the “Oprah way” posted on the Back in Skinny Jeans bog.

When you go to Back in Skinny Jeans you might ask yourself, “What earthly reason does Mack have for going to a web site about beauty and weight loss?” My arrival there is an example of how information is distributed across the Internet and how unlikely connections are made. The sequence went like this:

  1. Stephanie posts the article to her blog
  2. Steve Rubel on the Micro Persuasion blog posts about it later that day.
  3. Jill Stover picks up the story from Micro Persuasion and blogs about it today on her blog, Library Marketing-Thinking Outside the Book. Jill is the Undergraduate Services Librarian at VCU, by the way.
  4. I’m a subscriber to Library Marketing, I read Stephanie’s “how to …”, and wrote this blog entry.

While I don’t read as many blogs as Mack–113 to his 154–I agree that it’s a good investment of some time each week to “read a lot, read broadly, and follow links – there is a lot of good stuff out there.”

Building Pedagogical Intelligence

Carnegie Perspectives: Building Pedagogical Intelligence

It’s been eight years since I taught an (explicity) adult education course, so I’m spending quite a bit of time reviewing the literature and trying to find an appropriate framework for the class I’m teaching this fall. In the past I’ve always taught as part of a specialized graduate program, and students either entered with some exposure to the field or were looking to my course to provide the basis future work. This class is the only one on the topic at William and Mary, so it will probably be the only exposure many get to adult education as a field of practice. Packaging a field that includes everything from adult basic education (ABE) to continuing professional education (CPE) into a single course is no small task.

One key goal of my classes has always been to help participants become more effective self-directed learners and more confident in their abilities in “learning how to learn”. Pat Hutchins, at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, calls the enhancement of this ability of students to become more aware of themselves as learners “building pedagogical intelligence.

More important, having a voice in matters pedagogical would make students better learners. It’s easy for those of us in “the business” to forget that getting educated isn’t easy. Just jumping through the hoops is not enough. Students need to be able to make connections between what is learned in very different, and typically unconnected, settings. And to do this they need to be able to step back and see what their efforts add up to, to take stock both of what they have learned and what it will take to get to a next level of understanding. In a word, they need to be agents of their own learning.

Since this will be a graduate class in the school of education, we can probably justify a little more obsessing about the topic than the typical undergraduate course:

This is not to suggest that Econ 101 or 19th Century American Lit be turned into occasions to obsess about the learning process. But the disposition to be thoughtful about one’s own learning, to be an active agent of learning, to find and even to design experiences in which learning is advanced—these are goals that should be central to undergraduate education.

Sharing the Sense of Wonder in the Classroom

Gardner Writes » Blog Archive » Surprised by YouTube

Gardner writes about his experience with students in his film studies class finding an illustration for a critical essay–on YouTube. As usual, Dr. Glu extracts some important lessons for himself and his colleagues.

As the information abundance spreads, and if we are brave and curious enough to embrace it, we will find our own serendipity fields dramatically expanded. And we will find our students bringing archival gems into the classroom, casually and crucially. At that point, the professor’s role as advanced learner, one who models the “ah, what do we have here?” that’s the result and nursery of a good education, will be explicit and essential as never before.

My students constantly put me in that role of advanced learner (and sometimes not so advanced–just older) when 8-9 of them are using their notebooks to find resources, update our wiki, check facts, and Skyping and IMimg with folks all over the continent. (Picture sitting in a technology planning class talking about personal learning environments when one of your students says, “I’ve got Darren Kuropatwa on Skype and he has a different perspective. Darren, do you want to share your thoughts with us? I actually don’t remember exactly who Sheryl was Skyping with that night, but I remember being impressed.)

One of the shortcomings of traditional college teaching is that I probably know more about what’s happening in that film class at Mary Washington than I do at almost any of the summer school classes at William and Mary. I know that lots of faculty are using PowerPoint or Blackboard, but I know almost nothing about how they are making sense out of these new tools as they use them in class each day. What insights are they taking away from their interactions with their studens? Are they intimidated? Energized? Humbled? I wish there were more mainstream faculty who were sharing there reflections more broadly.

“Tribes of the internet” The Critical Role of Higher Education

Link to: Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: Tribes of the internet

One of the most important messages I’ve taken away from this semester’s class is the critical role that higher education has to play in helping students learn how to more effectively use the internet. One of the phases that I’ve used over and over has been “left to their own devices”, as in:

  • Left to their own devices most students won’t do the hard intellectual work that will be required to use blogs as one effective tool for their own intellectual development.
  • Left to their own devices most students won’t have the skills to contribute effectively to a collaborative writing project –such as a wiki– that requires them to critically and comfortably edit their classmates work in accomplishing a common goal.
  • Left to their own devices most of our students won’t question the authority of either the Britannica or the WikiPedia.

The good news is that students don’t come to our universities to be left to their own devices. We can help them learn through meaningful class assignments under the mentorship of faculty members who themselves understand the potential and the dangers of our networks and infrastructure. Through those assignments students can move beyond seeing the internet as Google, IM and P2P and see the larger implications for themselves and the society. Our students (and faculty) need to be explosed to the important issues raised here by Nicholas Carr, both as part their general education and in the specialized work of their majors.

Research shows that very small biases, when magnified through thousands or millions or billions of choices, can turn into profound schisms. There’s reason to believe, or at least to fear, that this effect, inherent in large networks, may end up turning the internet into a polarizing force rather than a unifying on.

Overall, I’m a little more optimistic than Nicholas Carr on this point. It’s unrealistic to assume that our students are not going to use their internet connections to interact with others who share their tastes in music, politics and culture. It’s realistic, however, to expect that colleges and universities can be an effective force to counteract some of the balkanization that can well result from billions of thoughtless clicks; we have the opportunity to help make them at least a little more thoughtful.