Keeping our lives and our students’ learning organized is a big challenge for most of us. And yet, Holly and Kristina make it look effortless. How do they keep their desks so tidy and inboxes so empty while also swiftly returning messages, facilitating office processes, and generally getting things done?! We talk about tools for keeping ourselves on task, obstacles for the ultra-organized and advice for those who want to improve their own organization strategies.
For those who have read, or otherwise have been influenced by David Allen’s Getting Things Done (or the GTD movement), much of this podcast should ring true.
We empower ourselves and others with knowledge, skills, experiences and perspectives through the practice of education. And this practice involves sharing much of our own story as educators, as individuals, as members of majorities and minorities, and as people. Special thanks to Jimmy Reyes, Dean of Nursing and Juanita Limas, Assistant Professor of Math/Science for sharing their stories and initiatives for the future.
Grading is so ingrained into our academic experiences and systems of education, that is difficult to conceive of alternative cultures of grading. The traditional ranking system of A,B,C,D has served us well for a couple hundred years now in this country. The short-hand nature of the grade appears to communicate all we might need to know about a learner. And it seems the learner too would naturally aspire to the higher marks – an extrinsic motivator, but one that is assumed perhaps to reflect the inner passions and abilities of the learner.
This point accumulation focus is diverting our (my) attention to the actual abilities and interests of students. Most students seem more worried about the number of points acquired than the skills and thoughts they are exploring.
So it was refreshing to talk with Michal Eynon-Lynch, ActiveGrade’s Co-Founder and Director of Meaningful Connections, about their product and goal-based grading (aka standards-based grading, mastery, proficiency, competency…). These ideas push and pull educators (myself included) toward open conversations with students about their learning experiences and skill mastery. And it encourages students to care less about the scores on individual assignments and assessments, and contemplate the nature of their learning and demonstrations of mastery.
It is not every day I have the opportunity to talk to an eager young physicist exploring the potential realities of science in science fiction classics. Maybe I need to get out more. And if I did, perhaps I would discover minds across our institution, city, and the world engaged in discovery and self-improvement. I might find them asking questions of each other on the roof-tops of Cedar Rapids. Or maybe I would just meet some weird and wonderful people, as Sam did on his journey this past Summer as a student in BIG.
Nicole and I also ask Jeff, Sam’s dad and engineering consultant, to share a parental perspective. I think it was clear from our conversation, father and son both enjoy this process of discovery. And why not spend a Summer researching and building and sharing your discoveries?
I once received a 2-page course evaluation comment from a student (she was a teacher taking my Chinese class). In the treatise, she highlighted several elements she found good, but mostly what I remember is her opposition to the several competition-like activities I included. I would ask students to perform Chinese character writing on the board in front of their peers as a kind of race. I felt I was encouraging students to produce their characters fast and accurate. Most students, it seemed to me, enjoyed it. Or at least they were into it, excited about writing, and enjoying the moment. They would share ideas for how they remembered the characters. Seemed like sound pedagogy.
This student didn’t see these competitions in the same light. She saw only embarrassment – a form of public shaming in the guise of motivation. It’s a perspective that has stuck with me.
When I look for it, competition appears to be a pervasive element of the educational experience. We have formal sports competitions, and academic competitions, award lists, and a ranking grade system that seems to communication who won and who lost. We compete for scholarships and even for seats in a classroom.
Yet, there is a wholesome side to our competitive spirit. The coach who inspires the best in us, the teammates who share pride in our accomplishments and support in our disappointment, and the drive in ourselves to improve. This is the side we talk about with Sue Gilbert, a Kirkwood student in the Graphics Communication program. She shares her story and journey through an honors project on the Brotherhood of Competition.
My mind is still spinning after speaking with Shawn Cornally of the Big Ideas Group. In some ways our discussion leaves me feeling sad that I didn’t have much educational choice. But it’s not about me and my learning any more. I can choose to learn in any way I want now. I find many of the big ideas discussed in this podcast exciting: inquiry and problem based learning (actual problems, not odd numbered activities), moving away from grades and toward feedback as a model to encourage learning, choices in educational venue, partnering with local entrepreneurs, competency-based assessment, public input on achievement, the hiphop model of education where we experience all the best parts over and over and over. So, yes Education is BIG. In its enormity, there is room for choice and exploration and much discussion.
Todd Saville wrote a novel. He had a story to share, and thought that might be end of that endeavor. But it was just the beginning. Now, it’s expanded into a research project on self-publishing and social media marketing. The inspiration for this journey? His students. They were responsible for showing Todd the importance of these current marketing trends. And he knew that having first-hand experiences to share with his classes would be invaluable to their learning. And so the cycle continues. We think of ourselves as teachers, but we are experience seekers ourselves. We put our best theories and pedagogies forward so that they might be torn apart, exposed in all their messiness. And in this process, we meet others, we share, we talk, we question, we hold fast, we change minds, we grow, we teach, we learn.
After listening to this interview again, I am about ready to dust of that first NaNoWriMo novel I shared with only family members. Maybe others would enjoy that story too. I am curious what the experience of putting that into the world will be like and where that might lead my own instruction.
As teachers/educators/mind developers, we encourage students to hang out on the boundaries of their skills and knowledge. We want them to consider new perspectives and experience the novel. We support them as best we can with activities that carefully build upon structures they already know. Perhaps it makes perfect sense that we, as educators, would want to challenge ourselves beyond our usual comfort zones, take some risks and continue our learning. Taking a trip to India as professional development certainly qualifies in my mind. That’s what Prof. Alissa King did last Winter (2012/13).
What are the support criteria necessary for faculty and learners to venture outside their comfort zones? How can we facilitate and manage such growth and support? Study abroad (or domestically distant) experiences are incredibly enriching. What are some other approaches? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.
Every Fall, the faculty and staff of our college get together on the two days before Thanksgiving break for what we call Collaborative Learning Days. This year, Alan and I had a raucously good time facilitating sessions. We were lucky enough to do one on Play, in conjunction with our colleague Kate Hess, a librarian and play researcher. (Stay tuned for a podcast on play!) Alan did a session on solutions to puzzles within Angel, our campuswide LMS, and Nicole attended a session on common problems in teaching. The more we thought about these days, the more we realized that an awful lot of being an educator is solving problems. Students texting in class – is it a problem, why, how do you “solve” it? Students not attending class and their learning suffering? What do you do? Got tech trouble in the LMS…ack! Fire drill during a face-to-face class, or Internet outage during a distance one…OK, we’ll handle it…
Education is about solving problems, or at least approaching puzzles with a solution-oriented mindset. Recently Alan and I sat down with Jane Grabowski, an instructor in Communications, to chat about inquiry-based teaching methods, and how for her, it has helped resolve some of the traditional complaints about attendance, attention, motivation, and learner investment. We think inquiry-based models are pretty intriguing, and hope to explore them more in future podcasts.
In the meantime, have a listen to the podcast, and let us know how you’ve solved a particularly tricksy problem in your classroom, your teaching, or your learning. Comment or email us today!
I recently called up Alan and informed him that he’s my “idea friend.” He politely said that he was honored to be so, but he knows it comes with the joy/burden of being subject to wacky ideas about education, student motivation, faculty professional development, teaching and learning shenanigans, impassioned rants about library stuff, and all sorts of other flotsam. In fact, Alan and I share a passion for ideas, fun projects, and learning. So we got curious about all the other folks we know who have passion for education, and a particularly passionate lecturer at our school sprang to mind as good for a conversation on passion in education.
Dr. Laura Yost is passionate about many things – military history, central America, microfinance, teaching, and understanding cultures. Learn more about her here: http://faculty.kirkwood.edu/lyost/. We invited her into our studio to discuss passion in education – and learned quite a bit about history and sociology along the way.
How does your passion for education find outlet? What are you passionate about when it comes to teaching and learning? We want to hear your stories – comment below or shoot us an email.