Re: Asking Questions, Attendance and Exemptions

confused-freshman

1) Do we always have  to comment and questions even if we don’t have any?

I require students come to my Introduction to the College Experience class with questions.

Questions: Ever been around a 3 yr-old? They are question asking machines. You were 3 once. You could be that machine again and you would learn like you did when you were 3. Think about how many things you were taking in because your mind was set to question. I would say that if you cannot come up with any questions, you are on your way to dying. Questions are the things that keep us alive and make us strive. They send us to the moon. They solve crimes. They make art. They create cures for disease. No, questions are the most important thing you can have. They will keep you alive, never doubt it.

2) What will happen if we miss more than 3 classes because of being sick? What can we do if something came up at the last minutes and we cannot make it to class?

My class requires a 90% attendance rate in order to pass. We meet about 27 times so they can miss like 3 times. Students have some bad habits about class attendance they’ve acquired in high school, which this question seems to suppose.

Absence – You fail, automatically. Period. If you are too sick to show up for classes you need to ask yourself how you expect to pass classes.  If you have a major illness, by all means take care of yourself and we can see you next semester. What do you think would happen to the class environment if some people just decided not to show up.  Would that work in a workplace? What happens to people who don’t show up in the workplace?

If something comes up at the last minute, you need to do what adults do and decide what you are going to do about it.  Don’t expect the other adults to accommodate you. If you need to miss, you miss.  If you miss too many, you fail. That is the consequence. Adults get that. Kids expect to have an adult with authority fix the situation for them.

3) Can we be exempt from finals if we have a good grade?

Final Exemption:  No. My final is a actually a self-evaluation where you look at your own work and behavior and evaluate what you did well. Why would you skip that? If my class was a big Easter Egg Hunt for the right answers and you had a full basket of eggs, perhaps that would make sense. But it isn’t and so, no exemption.

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The Trouble with Textbooks

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Students hate buying textbooks. Let’s get that out on the table right now. Professors know this and most of us sympathize with our students. We were students too (that’s one of the usual requirements for us to become professors).  Students will do all kinds of things to avoid buying books or paying full price for them, so let’s have a frank conversation about textbooks. If it is an issue for you or it has been this semester and you want to do better next semester, let’s talk

“I don’t have the textbook”

I just want to say, if and this is and IF and I am not accusing you of anything. IF you didn’t buy the book and you are having trouble affording a textbook or you just thought you could get through the course without a book, you need to just be honest  about that. You would not be the first student a professor has encountered who has been in one of those situations. Just make sure you are honestly telling him/her about what is going on. Keep the communications clear, they might be able to help you. So let’s look at some of the things students say about NOT having their textbooks.

1) “I just lost the book and I have no record of the purchase.” As a professor who cares, I am going to want to know how you came to lose the book and what strategy you have for keeping stuff like that from happening again. As you know, books are expensive and if you are the one paying for them, you don’t want to make losing them a habit.

2) “Okay, I didn’t lose it. I never bought it because I thought I could get by without buying a book for this class. I just didn’t want to waste my money on a book I would not use.” To which I would tell you that I have been working on the affordability of textbooks because I know that is an issue for students. You might need to make friends with the idea of buying books for your classes. Think of it as a cost of doing business. Let’s say you were going to become a business person and everyone in your profession wore suits and and similar professional attire, but you said “Yeah, suits are too expensive and I am not going to do that, but I still want to be in that group.”  You might see where that is a problem.

3) “Okay yeah, I didn’t buy the book, because it was buy the book or buy groceries.” To which I might say that I totally get that. Books are expensive and I really have worked to get the price down, but sometimes even the little extra expenses are too much.  I get that and I want you to know that the book for my class is one of the cheapest. SO if affording textbooks is going to continue to be a problem for you, you will need to know how to address that problem. Professors have some latitude in what they do, they might even have ways to help you get some of your books or access to web content at a greatly reduced cost, but you need to talk to people about that rather than not buying textbooks and hoping for the best. There are options to rent or buy used, but this might be a problem since a book, like ours, might come with online content.

Main thing: Talk with your professors early in the semester about what is going on and see if there are strategies to get access to the books you need at prices you can afford.

Oh and by the way, if you are going to buy electronic copies of your textbook and put them on a tablet, consider getting insurance for your tablet or computer that will protect you in the case of loss or theft. Just like they have insurance for your car in case you are in an accident, your technology is something that needs protecting too.

A Word About Sending Emails to Your Professors

Students send me email all the time. For many of them, it is the first time they have had to communicate with someone professionally. It can be difficult for them because they bring casual conversation habits and poor communication skills with them into the experience.  Recently, I had a student with whom I had an exchange.  One thing to note is how little thinking or work when into the student email and how much I had to craft a response. While I know I am teaching, it still shocks me that adults would not read information before sending email. Perhaps my expectation that people try to answer their own questions first is too high: Below is the communication between us:

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Student: You have not emailed me my url for the online book.

——————————————————————————————————

Me (professor):

Thank you for contacting me. Actually, I have sent you the URL. If you look at the email you got from me the same way you got the email you are responding to from August 21, (where it is still available to you. See the VERY FIRST course announcement, August 21,  2015 See the attached picture) you will see the code and an updated ISBN. My expectation is that you are reading the announcements that I email. If you have not, perhaps you should do that first.  My questions for you are:

  • Did you purchase the book?
  • Did you open the book?
  • Why is it that you are asking me about this 3 weeks and 2 days into the course?

If you don’t have the book code: It is in the paper book if you purchased one or you can buy it where the area for your online registration shows a place where you can 1) Use the 14-day trial 2) enter the code that came with the book 3) or use your credit card to purchase it. The bookstore still has copies if you need them.

I need you to know that the tone of your email  sounds like I am a customer service person who has not done his job. It’s not clear to me that you intend to come across that way, but that is how this sounds to me. I can assure you that I have sent you the information that you need. Since I don’t recall having a conversation with you about this before and then you send me an email with an accusatory tone, you might be able to see where I am coming from.  Perhaps you should come at this with a question, rather than an accusation about what I have not done.

If you have a question about the process, then you should ask that question rather than to assume what the process is and that I have not done what I needed. If I have done something that needs to be corrected, I will apologize and take the appropriate action. That is not the case here. As this is an intro course and I an trying to teach you some things about how to behave as a college student (and sending emails and messages to professors is a behavior), I advise you to take the words to heart and know that I don’t hold this kind of stuff against you. I am just asking you to learn and encouraging you to do this to get better results with your professors. Please take the time to go through the process of looking through the information that you have before contacting someone (like a professor) to see if you can answer the question on your own and then come to the conversation with a question, not an accusation. Even if I hadn’t sent you the URL, it would not create a good starting point to say, “You haven’t…”  You might instead say:

  • “I am having trouble finding the URL, can you help me?”
  • “I looked in several places for information regarding the login for Connect. Can you tell me where this information is?”

If I hadn’t sent it I would be able to respond. If I had (and I have) I would be able to direct you. You end up looking like a student who needs assistance.

Peace,

Learning from Ambiguity

There is an unfortunate reality for most students that I see in a college class; they have been taught to avoid failure and ambiguity. Since they were little, whether they wanted to or not, they have been told that the goal of being a student is to make As. Even though many of them don’t they still feel guilty about not making As. It is as if every activity they have ever undertaken has been designed for them to succeed. The trouble is that no one designed the rest of their lives that way.

I had an administrator laugh at me one time when I said, aloud in front of a group of fellow teachers, that I design activities where I know students will fail, at least at first. I want them to regain the ability to struggle to achieve something, to not find the correct answer easily. It has been my experience that struggle in most of our lives is one of the things that causes us to grow and mature into full-fledged adults. But our K12 system wants students to be perfect in a narrow band of academic knowledge that can be recalled for standardized tests so they learn to avoid failure. They learn to avoid struggle and ambiguity.

Adam Smith, the man who is credited with describing the foundations modern capitalism viewed human beings as inherently lazy and needed incentives to labor. A few hundred years later, B.F. Skinner postulated that human behavior could be conditioned through a series of rewards and punishments. These two streams of thought run like a gutter in the ghetto of public education. It really doesn’t matter what students learn if our view of them is that they are lazy and need to be controlled to do anything of consequence.

My experience with students, when they enter my class, is that they are beleaguered by these views. They understand it for the crap that it is at a level almost instinctual. They expect every instructor to take part in this game with a system of tricks and points to coerce them into doing and thinking the right things even though they know they aren’t learning things of real importance. But they know that they will need to get the “right answer” because that has always been the goal. When I don’t play this way, they often get mad at me, at least at first.

They aren’t used to failure. They aren’t used to anyone talking about it with them honestly. It is disorienting. They don’t know what to do when the “right answer” does not spring forth from the back of the book or from their instructors’ lips the moment they don’t understand something. I help them exist in that space, to navigate it with inquiry and patience.  In short, I create a place to struggle and fail and then struggle some more. But in the end, they begin to realize that they aren’t lazy and they don’t need to be controlled. They need to have a process to deal with questions with no apparent “right answer” or several answers all of which could be the right answer. They learn to deal with that failure. They make friends with that ambiguity that is a hallmark of adult life. In a small way, they grow up just a little in my class.

How to Leave VoiceMail for Your Professor that Gets Results

Dear Student,

I think I got a voicemail from you. I think you need assistance with the class. I would like to tell you what I got:

  • Only your first name, so I had to figure out who was calling. I have three classes online and you aren’t the only person with that name in my classes.
  • Your phone number was garbled so I could not call you back without guessing who had called.
  • A vague idea about what was wrong.
  • No time that would be best to call you back or any other way to reach you.

This is actually one of the things I have been teaching: How to leave an effective voice mail for a professor,

  • State your first and last name clearly.
  • Indicate the course name and section number.
  • Give the professor an indication of what you need.
  • Leave the professor an some options for reaching you with a response like best time to reach you by phone or an email address. Saying your phone number or email twice slowly helps.
  • Follow up the call with a quick email with your contact information and the question you have.

This is how you practice professional phone behavior AND get results from professors or other professionals (like employers) with whom you wish to communicate. Many students get poorer results than they should because they don’t use the best communication strategies. Follow these steps for better results. Professional people value their time. If you leave good messages, you are likely to get your situation dealt with.

Why don’t you call me back and follow these steps and we can take it from there.

First Year Student Questions: Learn without Cheating, Taking Notes, and Types of Thinking

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  1. Exactly how are we going to learn how to get correct answers without cheating?

You are going to learn by thinking critically.  I am going to show you the process of how to be curious and skeptical.  I am going to show you how to verify answers you get from sources so that you will know when they are right, or you will at least of good reason to believe that they are right. That’s the thing about cheating; how do you know the answers you have are correct? They might be correct or they might not, but the cheater cannot tell. He/she is only going on faith that this information is correct.

Imagine that you broke into a home in the dark.  You might know that there are some valuables in the house, but unless you know for sure what they are and where they are, you run the risk of getting caught or stealing some worthless object or both. If you knew what you were looking for, you would have a greater chance of success. Heck, you might be smart enough to get your own valuables so you don’t have to steal from someone else.

Questions for the syllabus.

  1. What is the difference between Divergent thinking and Convergent thinking?

Divergent thinking is being able to think in different ways or to think of lots of possible solutions to a problem. Convergent thinking is bringing many ideas together to create, from the best options, a good solution to a problem.  Really great places to learn or work seem to have a nice balance of both things. My opinion.

  1. Do we have to take notes the same way that is shown in the syllabus video, or can we take notes however we like?

You can always use notes in any way you like, but if you only have one way to take notes, there will be some times when that one way is what is called for and another time that it is exactly the wrong thing.  Think of note-taking as a tool. The more kinds you have, the more likely you will be able to complete different jobs. If all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

A Student Question: Is public education a lost cause?

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I want to ask you if you see our primary public education system as a lost cause?  Do you feel like our government policies are enforcing rules to create drones rather than free thinkers?

Great question. I actually think that we do a pretty good job in elementary school, if that is what you mean by primary. If you mean the “main” or “typical” education system, I think that the job of a public education is more it’s implied education and less about the overt subjects that are taught.

For example, we teach English in the same 55 minute period in high school as we do for field hockey as we do for chemistry as we do for introduction to Spanish, right? So the subjects we are to be learning are implicitly contextualized to be of the same importance. Another way of seeing it is that nothing is important if all things are the same. We must want people to accept this method as “learning” even though most of the important things we learn are outside of school and don’t follow this pattern.

We must want drones. Free thinkers are a pain in the butt, frankly and the school system, as I see it, even though it claims to want “free thinkers” or “critical thinkers,” would be loathe to accommodate the thinking that would happen and the ideas that such thinking would bring with it. So we want to have students who are compliant and dissatisfied with themselves and waiting for an expert to show them the way. What great consumers that lot would make.   No, I think we have the system we have for a reason.