What I’ll do better next semester

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At the beginning of the semester, I talked about how I wanted to do a better job of encouraging my students to engage critically with ideas and to work with social issues that they are passionate about, inspired by Friedman’s discussion of creativity and ingenuity in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Last week I had my teaching observation, which led me to reflect on what we’ve accomplished thus far and what still remains. Overall, I feel as if I haven’t lived up to the expectations I set for myself in teaching the students critical thinking about real world situations. Sure, they learned to think critically about a speech, a couple of journal articles, some sample student papers, but – I didn’t bring opportunities to them to discuss much that’s happening outside of our classroom. And that disappoints me. I think I got so wrapped up in trying to make the hybrid class experience as effective as possible that I forgot about my other goals.

Now that I’ve gotten the first semester of hybrid teaching (nearly) under my belt, I’ve got plans to revamp the material. I’m teaching the same type of section in the spring, still the 100-minute class time, and I plan to use the first ten minutes of each class to talk to students about something that’s happening at that time in the news or at NCSU and have them engage in critical thinking about these issues every class. I know this isn’t a new or novel idea and that many other instructors incorporate something like this in their curriculum already.  I was inspired last week after re-reading some of Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps to tackle something along these lines. I thought going in to the reading that I was doing what he advocates for, but after finishing, I felt as if I fell short.

So, over break, I’ll re-work some of the syllabus to accommodate more time for class discussion about current issues and maybe come up with a system for having the students bring in articles and ideas that they want to discuss. If I start “exercising” that component of my students’ brains early on, I have a hunch that it might improve my students’ ability to think critically about the texts they analyze for homework or for their unit projects. I also hope it will teach them a little maturity, too, by exposing them to ideas that they are uncomfortable with initially or showing them alternative ideologies that they may not have considered before. Another benefit that might come out of these discussions is a greater connection to the students. This semester has been difficult for me, only seeing students one day per week. I don’t know the students as well, and overall, the vibe is just different from other semester (where I would teach them four days a week!).

Do any of you do some kind of critical thinking activity/discussion in your classes before you begin the lesson for the day? How do you introduce outside topics to the class for discussion? I’d love to hear suggestions about what works and what doesn’t.

Colbert’s take on my last post

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It happens fairly often that after I post something, I stumble upon an article or video touching on the same topic. After I posted “Why I love grad school,” I was reminded of this video that Jeff sent to me a while back. Colbert does such a great job at summing up the importance of challenging each other’s ideas and coming in contact with ideas that make you uncomfortable that I thought I’d let you hear it for yourself. (Apologies, but the code for embedding the video into the post is broken on the show’s site. Linking to The Colbert Report instead!)

The Word: Heated Debate 

Of course, my favorite line – and that which has become a driving force for a research project this semester – “Sure, there’s a vast consensus on global warming science, but doesn’t the opposing 5% deserve 50% of the time?”

What I love about grad school

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Don’t read the title of the post and get the wrong idea. Earning your PhD is a long, complicated, difficult process. As a beloved professor told me when I was first applying, “No one ever went to graduate school and said it was the most fun they ever had.” But amidst all of the grumbling and complaining that we collectively do about the hoops we’re jumping through and the struggle to find sources, there’s something that gets me excited and confirms for me that I’m in the right profession.

I love the exchange of ideas that we engage in every day, how we challenge each other’s thoughts and constantly re-negotiate our knowledge. I love hearing from scholars outside of NCSU; when they come to visit and present their arguments, they challenge my current thinking on the topic and force me to reconsider my stance. In essence, I love when people make me uncomfortable with ideas. I love when I come away from a talk or reading questioning my current stance and trying to reconcile the new with the old. I’m inspired to talk about the concepts, synthesize, and share what I’ve learned. And I particularly like being uncomfortable with new ideas so that I don’t take for granted the knowledge that I do have. When asked why I believe something, I never want to answer, “Just because,” or “because of x theory,” or, “so and so said so.”  I feel that polemical views are hard to support and even harder to engage others with, so I’m constantly trying to balance – and that’s a never ending process.

It’s an every day reminder that no one can ever know everything, but together, we can share ideas and make sure that we never settle with what we know. We should always strive to learn more. And that’s exactly why I’m in grad school.

Halfway through the Hybrid (or Blended) Class

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An article published earlier this week by the Chronicle, “Tomorrow’s College,” prompted me to think more about how I am teaching my hybrid academic writing class this semester and the impact that the format has on students. Until now, I’ve really only been thinking about how my teaching has to change and how I’m trying to take advantage of technology to teach a blended course successfully. My thoughts are that the students in my hybrid classroom are learning new and different skills from the students in the traditional ENG 101 classroom

I’m confident that my students are learning to use different technologies, software platforms, and website tools to accomplish tasks in our hybrid class. In August, they had no idea that you could use Google for more than searching or email, and now they are adept at using Google docs and sites for classroom purposes. I’ve introduced them to Mendeley for organizing their files for the literature review, though I didn’t make it required for them to get it (more on this soon, with an update on grading with Mendeley). Obviously, they’ve mastered Moodle, the learning management system that our school uses. Next semester, I’d like to show the students even more ways to use technology to help them accomplish their school work. Some possibilities: blogs (either reading or writing them, or both), Twitter, and Reddit or Diigo. Any other suggestions of useful technologies/software/websites that I should consider for the spring?

This is not to say that students in the traditional classroom don’t use these tools (because I know that they do), but that the tools are embedded into the format of the course. I’d like to think that this benefits them – they are learning that the Internet is useful for things other than Facebook. I think that’s a win!

I’d also really like to think that being in a hybrid class for their first semester of college encourages them to develop the self-motivation necessary to succeed in future courses. Again, that’s not to say that traditional class formats don’t – but a hybrid class forces it on the students from the get-go. If they don’t do the work online and turn it in, twice a week for every week of the semester, they’re “absent” and would eventually fail (due to the First Year Writing program’s attendance policy, which holds all students equally accountable for attendance). It’s painfully obvious when students leave work to the last minute, but I’ve noticed that many of the students turn in the work up to a full day before it’s due. Those assignments are less likely to be rushed and are unequivocally stronger responses than those that are posted the minute before the deadline. I’m not a social scientist, but that’s correlation, people.

So, is hybrid (or blended) format the future of college teaching? I don’t know. But, it’s here, and I’ve been asked to continue teaching in that format for the spring, so I’m going to embrace it and use the opportunity not only to diversify my teaching portfolio and technology repertoire, but also to show my students how to use technology and Internet tools to help them succeed while they’re here.