Fin.

This entire semester, I kept thinking how interesting it has been taking this class and “Engineering Ethics and the Public” (Ethics) simultaneously. I have been able to use what I have learned in one class to shape assignments in the other, even the required blog posts. I now have realized it makes perfect sense that they are both fulfill the course requirements for the “Preparing the Future Professoriate” certificate offered by the Graduate School.

“Contemporary Pedagogy” has expanded my understanding of some of the vital conversations that happen among futuristic academics and upper-level administrators, often providing concise terminology for some of the concepts discussed in Ethics. Ethics helped me to give a context for these ideas within my own field of study.

Parker J. Palmer’s text, A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited, illuminated that one last time before the semester came to a close. Parker walks readers through 5 “immodest” proposals to help transform the institutions that dominate professionals’ lives:

 

  1. We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.
  2. We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.
  3. We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence.
  4. We must offer students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.
  5. We must help our students understand what is means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.

I found these suggestions made by Parker to be spot-on–especially the understanding of how, as a society, we overvalue the emotions of “anxiety, anger, guilt, grief, and burnout” in our professional lives over emotional intelligence, even in our personal lives. My friends and I say it all the time: “Americans love to seem busy.”

 

Two more things jumped out from Parker’s text that I believe summarized what I’ve taken away from both courses.

Contemporary Pedagogy: “The lesson our students learn is to stay safe by keeping quiet…small wonder that they carry their passivity into the workplace. They have not learned, because we did not teach them…”

This highlights the one term that I feel I obligated to subscribe to if I am fortunate enough to be an instructor: critical pedagogy. The next generation of professionals NEED it. We NEED it.

Ethics: “How do I stay close to the passions and commitments that took me into this work–challenging myself, my colleagues, and my institution to keep faith with this profession’s deepest values?”

Believe it or not, although my field’s primary value is to protect public health, people have acted pretty unethically and I never want to be in the position to do the same.

 

Thank you for contributing to my blog this semester.

Finding My Authentic Teaching Self

I believe I have several traits that would benefit my authentic teaching self. I am laid-back, I am warm, I am a good empathetic listener, I have the ability to project when I need to, I can be quite charming when I rely on safe, light-hearted humor. I say safe because I am not one to tell jokes, rather I know the kind of comments to make that may cause the audience to chuckle. Since I don’t invest much time in setting up the joke, I am okay if they laugh or choose not to. For me, this is a good way to diffuse tension/nervousness in the room and on my end.

However, after my experience this past summer with advising five incoming engineering students, I realized I may only be able to keep the audience attentive if they already perceive the topic as interesting or beneficial. I can be energetic when I present in class after much practice, but these presentations are infrequent. I worry I will not be able to maintain an appropriate level of energy for an entire class period, every class period. I do not have much experience with engaging the audience; not just getting them to listen, but also actively participate. This past summer, I tried to encourage participation by asking the students to read certain segments or share their perspectives, so I was not the only one talking. Mostly, I found that they were disengaged—perceiving the academic advising session as just another block of time forced into their already jam-packed days created by the summer transition program. I would like to ask questions to keep my students engaged—I think students are more willing to respond when the questions are open-ended and do not have one answer. Perhaps there is one answer, but the instructor does not actually know at that particular point in time. When an instructor relies on asking questions to which the answer is already know, it can limit participation because most people do not want to be publicly wrong. I’ve found that students will even whisper/mumble the correct answer because they are not entirely sure. Going back to my roots as a drama/musical theater performer, I would like to work on my enunciation and diction—even expanding my own vocabulary. This often makes me the self-conscious when I present or teach, depending on the audience. Being comfortable with the words that are coming out of one’s mouth is important to effective communication and overall confidence.

Touching briefly on the idea of using physical obstacles on teaching presented by Professor Fowler, I’ve often thought about this. I feel writing on the board with one’s back turned to the class is ineffective in maintaining connection and engagement. I personally like the idea of using a document camera, although this can be an example of an obstacle between the instructor and intended audience addressed by Professor Fowler, such as a podium. However, combined with guided notes that are available to print and bound, document cameras can be useful to fill in key concepts/equations while still being able to look up to interact with the students. I will continue to consider organizing the class in 15- to 20-minute segments to be mindful of the varying attention spans—I thought this was an valuable consideration raised by Professor Fowler.

I would say that I think it is important to cover the key topics in a class, especially an engineering class. Thus, in order to not prioritize coverage over meaningful learning (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard my professor say this semester “I have 45 slides to get through in 45 minutes”), it might be useful to plan a “condensed” and “extended” version of the class. The extended version of the class would provide additional topics the class can choose to explore, perhaps with a research or industry focus. It is also crucial to actually schedule in “workshop” classes/practice sessions, to work on problems throughout the course, not just the class before the exam. Scheduling them in allows the students to prepare problems and does not leave them with the feeling that the instructor “sacrificed” a class period to answer questions.

Source: Google

The “Googling the Error” section of the “Arc of Life Learning” chapter in Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown’s A New Culture of Learning resonated with me the most this week. Possibly because these days I am Allen and he is me. I was not always this way. When I arrived at Virginia Tech as a graduate student in June 2017, my fellow lab mates suggested I learn the program R as this allows for graphing data in the format my advisor prefers. Apparently Excel graphs are deemed a bit unprofessional in the world I only recently became a part of—who knew? I saw that there was book available to teach all there was to know about R, thus I asked if this was the best way to learn the program. I was a new graduate student eager to learn things the “right way”. In summary I was told “No. Just google anything you need to know.” They were not wrong. Even after taking a class in my department which essentially teaches R in the context of environmental sampling and monitoring—still not wrong. I would absolutely argue that the class was helpful for two of the reasons Robert Talbert lists in “Four things lecture is good for”: modeling thought processes and giving context. However, now that I am beyond the class and actually to the point where I have my own data to work with, it is nearly impossible and time-consuming to search through the course material for the specific file which contained a specific example of how to change the range on the y-axis. I try, I really do—primarily because I want to actually make use of what I learned and the work I put into the semester, but my priority is producing results not holding on to principle.

In the same section of A New Culture of Learning, a passage caused me to reflect on my understanding of what we discussed last week: “by ‘googling’ the error, he was able to tap into—and learn from—large, diverse networks of programming and hobbyists who all faced similar issues.” Networked learning. But the thing is, I often overlook the people in the process that comprise this network. Often, Google is viewed as this omnipotent being that has all the answers. Too many times I’ve seen people cite Google Images (not even going to talk about Wikipedia). In reality, Google is simply a search engine that directs us to questions and answers provided by real people. When I “google the error,” I unfortunately don’t make any attempts to be a part of the conversation. I get my answer and I get out. Really, I should be more grateful to all the people who were helpful enough to take the time to answer questions for people like me and of course, the brave answer-seekers.

Networked Learning and Inclusion

The third suggestion presented by Doug Belshaw in “Working Openly on the Web” is to ensure data is readable by both humans and machines. This statement reminded me of a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago. The workshop attendees were advised to make sure any file we upload is also readable by machines. However, this was addressed in the context of how graduate teaching assistants may further accommodate students with disabilities.

Seth Godin argues that blogging is a means to force oneself to become part of the conversation.

Reflecting on all of these points, I have come to conclude that making data readable by machines does not just allow for “network effects”, as suggested by Doug Belshaw, and blogging is not just a platform to participate in the conversation if one so chooses. Rather the idea of “networked learning” allows for any- and every- one to be an active participant in one’s education. It includes those students whose learning needs may otherwise be overlooked by traditional pedagogy.

I was most inspired by Michael Welsh’s presentation of a “scaffolded” final project that makes the process “worth it” for each individual student. I have been in a few classes, both graduate and undergraduate, that have included checkpoints by which my instructors could give feedback for the next phase and the final submission. I’ve found this helpful due to the instructor feedback and that this does not allow for leaving a final project until the last moment. I’ve even experienced not submitting one deadline to my expectations, and it was reassuring to know that I would be able to recover as I progressed.

I am interested to learn ways to incorporate networked learning, “scaffolded” assignments, and ultimately inclusion in my own teaching practices.