Yep, Once in a While a Not-So-Good Day

Ugh – what do you do when your day just does not go the way you thought it would go?  Even worse – what if your class does not go the way you want.

As Sal Buffo blogged, in his Reminder from the Universe, sometimes it’s a good thing in retrospect to just let go.  Okay, I get it, but for those of us always want to be in control, it may be a little more difficult.

OK, I think none of us really blow it entirely, but when the technology ‘farts’, or we forget most of our notes  – always across campus or left on the kitchen table –  or the video blew up  and you get totally off topic.  Worse, students look at you like you’re from Mars, and have no clue as to what you are trying to tell them – it can be a little unnerving for the best of us.   Here’s another scenario: the first half of students entering class tell you how confusing that last assignment was – they didn’t do it.

So what to do?

  1. Admit that some things are not controllable – most students probably liked being off topic a little, and that the discussion may have been more lively than normal. Stop and ask students if they have ever had any bad days.  (Caution here – you may get some opinions on your assignments!)
  2. Admit that others may have questions (comments) on that last assignment.  Perhaps clarify what and how, and have the assignment orally that class.
  3. Find the positive in the situation.  Maybe that confusing assignment becomes the best discussion in class you have ever had.  I asked students what I could do to turn this around, and if they would rather have an oral assignment – yep!  After that, Voicethread was utilized, and I asked for more interpretation of the assignment.
  4. Add some humor – not the self-deprecating sort, but maybe have others tell how they got out of a jam when having a not-so-good day (not ‘bad’).  Not every day can be perfect.  If you learned something about yourself or the world, consider it a good one.
  5. Be flexible and don’t give up (frankly, you can’t until the end of the semester).  The not-so-good day may turn into good days; days that you remember when things seem to not work and yet it become one of the best days.
  6. Have faith in yourself.  Truly, you know what to do, and you are not the only one that had one of those days.

If it’s really not a good day, watch Rita Pierson’s TEDTalk.  You’ll be inspired.

More on (my) “Ignorance”

As a continuation of my previous post on “Ignorance” (You Gotta Be Ignorant to Learn), my new ignorance comes from Iain Davidson in the TeLS office.  Not that he announced my ignorance, but rather gave me a new awareness.

Each week on various days / time, we have an Adjunct Faculty “Alternative” Small Group Meeting in the GIFT Center on the Prescott Campus (will expand to other campuses next semester).  We have anywhere from 2-6 people who attend and have great discussions with campus staff, administrators, and faculty about various subjects that pertain to teaching and student learning.

Blackboard logo

Last week, Iain Davidson, Instructional Support Specialist, came to talk about Blackboard – some tips and maybe how to better utilize it in all types of our teaching – online, F2F, and Hybrid.  We talked a lot about how online classes are set up; how many buttons are too many; or if should the class be by week or by module.  We also talked about really using the gradebook to keep students involved in their classes, creating tests and surveys, and why a Blog or Wiki may be good for a study guide.

But…the BEST information that Iain shared was for all of us to be in a “state of ignorance” when setting up our courses.  That is, be a first-time online student.  A neophyte in an online class who knows nothing about navigation, discussions, or online assignments.  Iain challenged us to really think consider the following:

  • The overall look of the initial page – what should it be?  A bunch of instructions, or something to welcome students?
    – Oh, and the announcements from last semester really should come off.
  • Navigation Buttons – How many do you really need?
    – If you can’t keep up, you can bet your students can’t either.
  • Can they find your assignments?
    – How many clicks in each button must the student make to get to the assignments?  Really?
    – Does it seem like it’s a secret to find it?  If it’s too frustrating, guess who won’t do it.
    – Does your grade book have duplicate (and triplicate) assignments that you’ve copied?
  • Have you ever considered asking students what works and doesn’t?
    – Iain had some great advice for us – keep a running conversation (Discussion Board, Wiki, Blog) of questions students have had and have been answered.  You might see a pattern there.

So, maybe after a couple of semesters teaching the same class, it pays to be more “ignorant “and look at your class with the fresh eyes of the student.  Thanks, Iain!

Confucius quote

Quiet Zones

Ok, with many of the posts last week on being connected (and some overwhelm), I thought this story on NPR, Enter the Quiet Zone:  Where Cell Service, Wi-Fi are Banned, was quite interesting.

It seems that there are no physical signs you’ve entered the National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000-square-mile area that covers the eastern half of West Virginia, but somewhere around the Virginia-West Virginia state line, smartphone services and Wi-Fi stop.

There’s zero service except for one small radio station, which broadcasts at a low enough frequency to avoid being banned.  So, why is everything else banned?  Because they sit within a zone designed to protect the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope, a sophisticated radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).  The telescope is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, protected from interference by federal and state laws, located in sparsely populated area to avoid electromagnetic interference.

(NOTE – the link above will not work because of Government Shutdown, but you can find information on the Telescope here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Bank_Telescope)

Green Bank telescopeWe still have communications. I mean, it’s just … older. Dial-up telephones. We still have phone booths,” says an engineer for the NRAO and a volunteer at Allegheny Mountain Radio.   Seems that for most of the area, life is at a slower pace. Instant messaging and texting are something to see on television or out of state, but folks seem content to stay disconnected.  At least for now.

I smiled. This story made an impression because while I like being connected with technology and students, being on Facebook with family, texting my granddaughter, and enjoying my Netflix, I also want to just run away sometimes.   I suspect students do too!  We throw both content and technology at them at once.  Are they ready?  Sometimes, I just cross my fingers and hope so. (Oh, a good reminder to look back once in a while to make sure.)

I remember dial-up phones.  I remember writing a note to someone (still do), or sending a real birthday card (still do).  I like holding and reading an actual book (I still do!)  What I really remember is the human, face-to-face and listening communication.  I could see how someone was reacting to conversations.  I heard happiness or sadness in their voice.  It was more important to be tactful and watch words, or to soften a tone of voice.  I could tell when a student was stressed – both by body language and voice. I think it’s harder to tell this online – well, until a student attacks another student in the discussion board, or acts out in class.

So (as Mark Shelley blogged), is being connected 24/7 a good thing, or a bad thing?  Maybe we need to make sure that we not only show and interact with technology with students, but also to find and share Quiet Zones; places to disconnect and slow down.   In my 60’s language, it’s “dropping out” for a while.  I know I need it, and I can’t help think that students do too.  Maybe we just need to model good behavior and give students tools to find their own personal Quiet Zones.  Are there Quiet Zones on campus?

  • The Library  (one of my favorite places)VC Library
  • The Learning Center?
  • The Sculpture Garden
  • The Art Gallery
  • Outside!  (Especially this time of year)
  • Mingus Mountain
  • Anywhere but here (?!)
     Sculpture gardenFall Trees

You Gotta be Ignorant to Learn

So, I was having a conversation with my granddaughter Sunday night after some frustrating homework and instructions from teachers.  She made the comment, “Why don’t some of my teachers know that before you learn you have to be ignorant?  Not stupid-ignorant, but not informed, not aware, or that you just don’t know and want to know”?  I asked her what she meant.  Here’s the gist of her response:

“To learn something, you have to not know anything.  Not knowing about something gives you questions that make you want to find out?  What if early people looked at up at the stars or the moon and already knew how they worked and why?  What if no one wondered how the human body worked, and why just making people bleed did not make them well?    Being ignorant creates the need to want more information about something.  Getting part [of the information] make you have even more questions, which makes you want to find out more, and so on.  Sort of like genealogy.  You want to find out about your ancestors, so you start looking. The more you look, the more you want to know.  School should be like that.  I have one teacher [History] that reads from the textbook, shows a video, and then we have a quiz.  Most everybody does not read the chapters, fall asleep in class, and don’t do well on the quizzes.  We’re bored!  We don’t know why this class matters.  We don’t care.  My art teacher lets me decide what my focus is this year, and how many items I make is up to me.  We watch videos, but we also go to see art; feel art; want more art.  It matters; what do we want to know more about this work.  We don’t have quizzes either.  I wish more of my teachers were like this”.

Well, this got me thinking!  I wondered if there anyone out there is teaching ‘ignorance’.  Guess what?  Turns out there is!  Dr. Stuart Firestein.

Dr. S. Firestein

Dr. Firestein is a professor and a lab director of Biological Sciences at Columbia University in New York.  Dr. Firestein mostly teaches Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, but has delved into the subject of knowing more and ignorance.  His course is called SCNC 3490, Ignorance.

Ignorance classAccording to Dr. Firestein, The class will, in contrast with a more typical science class, focus particularly on what we don’t know.  This is, after all, the essence of science as practiced daily in labs and in our heads. In his Nobel Award remarks David Gross, this year’s winner of the Physics Prize, noted that “the most important product of science is ignorance”.  Can we communicate this vital perspective to students, who I fear currently believe that science is only a game of facts?

In contrast to courses and media that address the “Big Questions” of science this course is to be a detailed investigation of ignorance as a creative force in science.  It will approach ignorance through a series of ‘case studies’: interactions with working scientists discussing the immediate questions that they are working on in their laboratories.  Why do we need to know these things; what can we do if we know them; what can’t we do if we don’t; what are the obstacles; what are the solutions?  We will be interested in hearing what is important to the individual scientist and how these questions came to be central to their laboratories– whether by accident or by design, whether because of their solvability or their intractability, whether by budgetary considerations or by imagination, whether because the field demands answers or because the field is otherwise ignoring these issues.  Or some combination of these and other factors.

I also found a TEDTalks  by Dr. Firestein’s called, The Pursuit of Ignorance.  His comments, toward the end of the talk on Ignorance about where he thinks this will play out  (in education), really struck a chord.   He says, “We just can’t sell facts for a living anymore.  They’re available with a click of the mouse, or if you want to, you could probably just as the wall of one of these days, wherever they’re going to hid the things that tell us all this stuff.  So what do we have to do? We have to give our students a taste for the boundaries, for what’s outside that circumference, for what’s outside the facts, what’s just beyond the facts”.

It made me think about my granddaughter’s comments on her History teacher.  Remember, memorizing those dates in  school?  We didn’t know why those dates mattered to anyone, but it mattered that we knew them.  We just took a test; 20 minutes later, we forgot everything – why?  We didn’t get asked the next question.  The teacher didn’t create a new  ignorance.

The answer on the History test should not be 1492.  It should not be 1941.  It should be – What your evaluation of the event?  Why does it matter?  Do you want to know more?  Where should we go from here?  What is the next question?

So, let’s have a conversation on ignorance and about what those next questions continue to be.