Important Things to Learn & Handwritten Notes

What is the most important thing you want students to take away from this course ?

The most important thing for students to take away from this course is that they are the ones who are responsible for their learning. They need to follow what is interesting to them and they need to challenge those who would stand in their way. I also want you to be able to monitor and gauge the effectiveness of your behavior. We will do that in a systematic way.

As I have said from day one, this class is about your behavior. If you are aware of your behaviors and you can direct your will to control your behaviors, there will be a good chance for you to accomplish your goals.

Syllabus questions : 1. Will you be grading our notes?

I typically don’t grade notes, but I will want to see them because I want to know how you are organizing your thoughts.

  1. Will we be working in groups often?

If you haven’t noticed the other people in the classroom already, let me be the first to let you know that there are other people besides you and me in there. Okay, I an being sarcastic and I will stop, but I want you to recognize that you are already in groups. I want you to formally work with those people and I will help facilitate that process. You affect the others in the room and they affect you already. We are going to “ride the lightning” on that.

  1. Do you prefer printed or handwritten work ?

That is going to depend. Research shows that it is better to take handwritten notes than it is to make them on a computer, but with tablets and electronic drawing/writing pads, that’s a tougher call. I would say for assignment, think about getting those done on an electronic device unless otherwise instructed.

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/to-remember-a-lecture-better-take-notes-by-hand/361478/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2014/06/princeton_university_study_finds_students_more_likely_to_learn_by_taking_handwritten_notes.html

Why take “Introduction to the College Experience?”

Online Learning

My question is why everything have to be done online?

The short answer is “behavior.” You don’t NEED to do things online, but if you don’t have that behavior and it is an expectation in the rest of your academic career, then I would have failed by not giving you the opportunity to practice while you are in this class.

Content, as we talked about on the first day, is delivered online. We will be practicing using Connect, LearnSmart and SmartBook in addition to BlackBoard. Many of the classes you will take will have these components and you will be expected to have a level of comfort using them. Your other classes will be diving into the content. We will actually make sure that you know how to use the tools.

And why cannot we bring back traditional way of learning back in school?

I am not sure there is a reason why we couldn’t bring back the “traditional” way of learning back in school. But I am not sure whose tradition we would be talking about. What might seem traditional way of learning to you my be vanguard to me.

I think we shouldn’t abandon tradition for the sake of thing that are new. But I think the measure we should use is that of effectiveness. Teaching/learning in school should be about about becoming more effective in how we learn and teach.

We could make the same demands of other professions. We could go back to a more traditional form or medicine and amputate limbs or apply leaches to let the bad blood out. But our understanding of the human body and the human mind was changed and developed over time so we probably won’t do that.

How is this class important to me?

You will need to decide that for yourself. The good thing about this class is that I will give you the chance to decide for yourself about what you think you need to get from this class, so you grow your ability to direct your own learning.

In terms of your comments about whether or not you need this class. I can honestly say that I don’t know what you need. I don’t know you that well and I am teaching skills you might already have and you could teach me something about them. But the college has decided that this is a good course and one that students need to take in order to prepare them for greater success as they pass through the college. Most student tell me that they learned more in my class that they thought. You have decided to attend PBSC and you are in my class. You are going to have to trust that we know what we are doing. Ask questions along the way and I am sure there will be things you can learn, people you will meet and skills you will acquire or refine. I know that I learn new things about this course every semester.

My motivations, Connect, LearnSmart and SmartBook

 

What motivates you to continue to teach this type of class?

That is an excellent question. Sometimes it is difficult for me to stay motivated when teaching this kind of class. But this class presents a lot of challenges in the form of problems that need to be solved. I like solving problems and that is what motivates me.

How do you come up with the material to grade?

Another great question.  I am fortunate that I have been doing this job for awhile and I have a number of activities and lessons that have worked with students in the past. I also have access to technology like Connect, LearnSmart and SmartBook. Those free me up to do more teaching in class and less of the review for the reading that students should have done.

What if someone in the group don’t turn my assignments in?

Well, first of all, you should be responsible to turn in your work and using BlackBoard and Connect, combined with the fact that you know when things are due, that you should be able to hand your work in on time.  If there is ever a reason when you need to rely on a fellow student, choose wisely

How to ask better question, divergent thinking and personality inventories

How can one be more inquisitive?

Hang around with some 3-5 year old. Seriously. They want to understand the world around them and they question or mess with everything. Not because they are trying to create trouble, but they want to know, They don’t know NOT to ask questions and they will poke and prod until they get what they want. Once kids get into school, they learn that asking questions makes them a problem for the teachers. They learn that the things they think are important are not the subjects they deal with in school

How can you ask effective questions?

Human beings get better at what they practice. Make lists of questions that you might find interesting. If you can’t think of things that interest you, first check your pulse, then Google lists of questions. Short list from NPR’s Story Corps:

  • Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
  • Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
  • What are you proudest of?
  • When in life have you felt most alone?
  • If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What does your future hold?
  • What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
  • If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me
  • For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
  • Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?

Is convergent or divergent thinking better?

It depends on the situation. When do you think it would be more appropriate to use convergent and when would you think it might be better to use divergent? (See how I slipped some questions in there?)

Why take a personality inventory?

A personality inventory is one tool we will use to get you thinking about yourself:  your likes, your interests, your values, your personality, your interests.  Sometimes it is hard to see ourselves in meaningful ways. As the Chinese proverb states: The fish is the last to discover water.

More Opening Week Questions

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What will students find motivating about this course?

I am never sure how to answer a question like this. Since I think all motivation is internal, I don’t know what experiences will cause students to resonate. Frankly, some students won’t be motivated by the course. These are typically the kinds of students who want to know if what I am saying will be on a test, ask how many points something is worth etc.

On the other hand, I do a lot of discussion. I do a lot of activities. You will be working in groups; the way I do it, people have told me that they like it. They like the skills I am teaching. So my honest answer is that I am not sure what you might find motivating. Remember that you bring that to the table too.

What is unique about the course?

The reference number. The make-up of the students. I am not sure what you are asking here. You want to know if I teach it differently than other instructors, probably. I am not sure what others do. I can tell you that I don’t rely on lots of quizzes or tests. I do rely on assignments and the effort you put into them. I rely on you bringing your authentic self into the classroom to engage with what we are doing, whatever that is. I’ll try and make it worth your while.

 

Will there be a curve?

I will throw a few curves, yes. If you are talking to me about grading on a curve then, no. I know of NO ONE who grades on an actual curve. That would be 3% A, 24%-B, 39%-C. 24%-D and 3% F, with grades starting with the highest score. That seems like a silly and meaningless competition among classmates who need to collaborate more than compete.

Will there be extra credit?

Why should there be extra-credit? Why not do the things I asked in the first place?

Are groups assigned for projects and presentations?

Groups are assigned. Selected by you and your fellow students.

Do we have to use Sketchnotes?

Yes. You will all be trying Sketchnotes.

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.

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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.