Textbook breakdown

This infographic entitled The College Textbook Shakedown brings together a lot of information in a small space. For whatever it’s worth, we in the speech program have asked this question (“How much does this book cost the student?”) of publishers for years, and they have always answered the question–they just don’t volunteer it unless asked. We switched textbooks a few years ago from one that was co-authored by some of the program faculty partly because of the cost issue. Continue reading

Here’s why we want to get you speaking a lot

John Zimmer uses a story in A Public Speaking Lesson in a Pot of Clay to make a point that helps explain why we have students do as many speeches as we do here at Pellissippi State. The story tells of a pottery class in which a structure that encourages lots and lots of pottery making led to the development of skill. The post includes several suggestions for ways to crank out even more speaking experiences–including joining Toastmasters.

Why current education models don’t work: it’s in our genes

Peter Gray at Psychology Today has posted a thoughtful blog article entitled Why Children Protest Going to School: More Evolutionary Mismatch. I find it an insightful argument in favor of homeschooling and several other education methods that do not lead to a factory model of schooling.

Among many useful bits:

From a biological perspective, we are all still hunter-gatherers, doing the best that we can to cope with the conditions of life that exist today…. One of the most cherished values of all band hunter-gatherer societies that have ever been studied by anthropologists is freedom. Hunter-gatherers believed that it is wrong to coerce a person to do what the person doesn’t want to do—and they considered children to be people….

The hunting and gathering life required great personal initiative and creativity, and it required trust that people would share and cooperate because they wanted to. Hunting and gathering people seemed to understand that—and they also seemed to understand that children would best grow up to be free, trusting, cooperative, creative adults if they were permitted freedom throughout their childhood, in the context of the moral community and models that the band provided.

I might also point out that extreme freedom was seen as the best way for people to develop a sense of responsibility to the community. To be the most effective human, we need to do the exact opposite of what we are required to do in the compulsory school system.

What do we do about this? Grays says:

We can continue stumbling along with our coercive system of schooling and continue to fight our children’s instincts, using drugs or whatever other means we must to dampen their cries for freedom.  Or, we can adopt what to most people today seems like a radical, even crazy approach to education, but which to hunter-gatherers seemed like common sense.  This radical approach is to let our children educate themselves, while we provide the conditions that make that possible.

This runs counter to current assumptions, but Gray says the evidence is overwhelming that is can and will work, as shown by the success of homeschooling and such initiatives as the Sudbury Valley School.

I can see the effect of this forced system that counters our biology every day. Further, I can’t help but connect it to the research on learned helplessness, as explained here and here. It takes quite a bit of effort to overcome learned helplessness (the behavior that results from being completely unable to affect your circumstances), and the passive, stoic attitudes that result from it absolutely characterize many of those in college classrooms, even though they now have the ability to affect their circumstances.

Sir Ken Robinson supports these ideas in many talks, perhaps best seen in an increasingly popular RSA Animate production.

What do you think? Is it possible to change the paradigm? What has to happen for this to come about?

This post has been cross-posted here.

New posts on sister site: conference and “what’s a degree worth”

I’ve posted a couple of articles on my personal site that might be of interest to readers here:

  1. In Publishing student work via Flipboard I have a short post for pointing to resources mentioned during my presentation at the Innovative Professor Conference at Austin Peay State University.
  2. I also posted What’s a Degree Worth that points to an interesting infographic that shows the relative financial worth of a given degree level (e.g., a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s, etc.).

Construction: Integrating Twitter and Flipboard

I should probably apologize to regular readers for some WordPress experimentation, but I hope it’s for a good cause. On Tuesday I’ll be doing a presentation at Austin Peay’s Innovative Professor Conference (does that establish me as an Innovative Professor?) about publishing student work, and some tools to make it easy or even automatic. The idea is that students write differently (better, we hope) when the audience goes beyond just the professor, but teachers have enough to do without having to become publishers also.

Why the apology? I’m trying to set up one of the tools I’ll be showing, because the blog I had intended to use isn’t feeding correctly, and I don’t want to muck around with that one since it has a lot of readers. I’m assuming anyone following my personal/academic blog will be more forgiving. I hope that’s the case. :)

Note: it’s possible you’ll see several tweets or other notifications about “new” posts that aren’t really new as I republish some older posts in order to generate the feed I need. Once I have everything worked out, I’ll share the information from the presentation on this blog as well.

Why games are great for learning

There’s a lot of interest these days in games for learning–playing games to learn stuff, or figuring out how to take the characteristics that make games effective and apply those principles to education. Here is one article that gets at what must surely be a major factor:

Games offer a psychologically safe environment within which to learn new things. There are no sanctions for failing – but there is the chance to try again and try again.

Thanks to Steve Wheeler for Permission to Fail.

You must be willing to create crap…

…in order to find the good stuff. That’s sort of what Anne Lamott advised in her book Bird by Bird. One of her chapters was titled pretty much that (using a stronger term than crap).

Daniel Pink posits a similar idea in his piece entitled Why you should come up with at least 1 bad idea today, based on a Wall Street Journal piece by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Believe it or not, Adams (not known as an optimist) puts an even more positive spin on the idea.

Lamott seems to me to be saying you have to write crap to get it out of your system, and if you’re willing to just let it flow, you will find amid the effluence some worthwhile material. Adams, on the other hand, says that coming up with bad ideas a) gets you started on the process of coming up with something good, and b) provides quality raw material for good ideas. Not just fertilizer, in other words, but seeds.

As I watch speech students struggle to come up with “the” right idea, right structure, right approach, I wish I could communicate this principle. Perhaps Mr. Pink will help do so.

Taking part in evolving model of education

I’m taking part in a course that illustrates in a lot of ways the changing face of education. Just as I don’t know exactly how that face will change, I don’t know yet exactly how the course works, but I get the feeling that the not know will likely be an integral part of both this course and that changing face.

The course is called Digital Storytelling, through the University of Mary Washington (I think). Here are some of the ways that (it seems to me) the course is emblematic of this cultural shift that is going on. Note that I’m using both “traditional” and “current” as amorphous terms. Much of what we now think of as traditional classroom education isn’t really all that traditional. Continue reading

Finding your passion

There’s a lot of discussion around passion and finding it for college students. No, not that kind of passion–get your mind out of the gutter. Passion as in caring deeply about.

Cal Newport’s guest post on the Zen Habits blog goes into many aspects of this. Here’s a quote from The Minimalist’s Guide to Cultivating Passion that summarizes a practical insight:

As Caldwell’s research reveals, true passion can’t be forced. You can participate in personality tests and self-reflection exercises until you drop from exhaustion, but it’s unstructured exploration coupled with aggressive follow-ups that most consistently leads people to a life-consuming interest.

He gives several practical examples. It’s worthwhile reading the article, and then thinking about what it means in your life, which is probably cram packed with activities. In light of Newport’s ideas, no wonder we have trouble finding or remembering our passion in life!