Monday, December 29, 2014

Observing the observed observations

My head is in a funny space these days.

I'm interviewing for jobs that would start in the fall, and to do so I have to focus on my past professional experience, the current project that is my dissertation, and my plans for the future.

And all of that needs to be considered from the rhetorical perspective of, "How could this make me look like the guy you all want to hire?"

It's fun, nerve-racking, exciting, tense... It's a lot of things. But like I said, it's put my head in a funny space.

You see, I've never really done this before.

The search for a long-term position as a Ph.D. is completely new to me, but a critical part of this process is appearing competent--appearing as though I know what I'm doing.

The result is a kind of constant 'stepping-back-to-reflect' habit, a non-stop metacognition combined with intense observation of the rhetorical environment, all intended to help me learn this process as I'm working through it.

It is enlightening, but it is also exhausting.

And that is interesting to me as a teacher, because this is what I ask my students to do.

I have sections of my lectures dedicated to describing the act of "reading for composition while reading for content." I tell my students that learning to write in a new setting means learning to read texts with an attitude of "How or why did the authors do that?"

The style of teaching works. I see students learn new genres without mimicking the model texts. It's great, but I don't think I have had to do this very often myself.

It's crazy hard.

Here is an excellent "Extra Credits" video on how aspiring video game developers can work on this process:
I like how that video acknowledges the effort it takes to do the kind of observation described. It is not enough to enjoy gaming if you want to learn how to create a successful game for an existing audience. The effort to learn the conventions and limitations of games - to consider the expectations of audience - to effectively utilize the tools at a developers disposal, all of that requires so much more than simply appreciating the genre.

Although, appreciation is where things start.

The same is true for students learning to write in new places. The parallels are striking.

I'll have to find a way to work this video into my courses.

Negative Transfer?

#teamedward - Imgur

Friday, December 12, 2014

How I Make Ed Tech Work for Me

From The Educators 

The content of this US News and World Report article on education technology in higher education is great.

Sadly the headline is not. 
Professors Grow Weary of Idea That Technology Can Save Higher Ed
Using the word "save" is inappropriate. Sure, higher ed in the US might have a cost control problem and a few other bugs, but suggesting that the whole system needs salvaging is way off base.

That said, I like this kind of critical coverage of ed tech in the university.

I think there's a lot of "silver bullet talk" when people discuss ed tech. But it's not enough to purchase new technologies or software.
[...] professors say they don’t have enough help to use this technology effectively, haven’t seen results from it, and fear that the cost savings administrators keep insisting that technology will bring could mean their own careers are on the line.
I've had some great successes using technology in my composition courses, but I'm always in hacking mode - using a tool in a way that is slightly different than what the designers intended.

I draw up a draft of my course before I ever look at my institution's ed tech toolkit. Once I have goals and student/teacher workloads sorted, I go to see if there are any tech tools that could help me meet my goals more efficiently or add a new dimension to what I had planned. Often there are.

But that order of events is crucial.

I do not open the course management software until after I have my term planned out. I use the software to get my students where I want them to go. I don't let the software frame the tasks or the objectives.

The problem a lot of people are running into is simple.
One of the most common complaints from faculty is that much of this technology creates more work, not less, a 2012 survey of 42 professors at three large universities by David R. Johnson, a sociology researcher at Rice University, found.
If that is happening, then you're doing it wrong. The goals and workloads need to be decided before we introduce learning technologies.

If we want efficiency, quality, and access, then we need to make those goal clear at the outset, only then should we explore what kind of technologies we can bring into our classrooms.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Truths Obscuring Truths

So this meme popped up on one of my social media feeds this morning.

Even though the statement is true, it's not really a fair statement.

It was posted by another writing instructor, and I certainly understand the sentiment, especially on those days when my students' writing is less-than-inspiring.

It's a nice example of how a little truth can feel right, but still obscure a larger and more important truth.

Or in this case, two larger truths.

My first response to this meme was based on the history of our education system. Because the other side of this fact is that in the past 100 years, we have extended the opportunity of education to a much larger part of the population. 100 years ago, most white people got an education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 5% of white people were illiterate in 1910. In comparison, 30.5% of non-whites were illiterate. By 1979, those numbers dropped to 0.6% and 1.6% respectively.

When compared to the one from 100 years ago, our education system today does more for more people. It is far from perfect, and no one should be complacent. However, just because rich white people used to know Latin, doesn't mean our society is sliding into disrepair.

And what about that Latin and Greek?

That question is what prompted my second response.

You know why we used to teach Latin and Ancient Greek? Because those languages are hard to learn. We used to think the brain worked like our bicep - if you make it work hard, then it will get stronger.

Then we realized that was incorrect. That argument was part of what led to the creation of the Modern Language Association. Today, the only people who need to study those languages are people who want to study the Classics. That's not a bad thing. It leaves more room for people to study languages that are still spoken today.

That response to the Classical languages is what led me to the other larger truth I think this meme obscures.

In the last few decades, researchers have demonstrated that direct instruction on grammar doesn't improve student writing.

Here's a quote from an concise summary of the research on this point:
Research over a period of nearly 90 years has consistently shown that the teaching of school grammar has little or no effect on students.
-George Hillocks & Michael Smith, 1991
Asking students to know terms such as subject, predicate, relative clause, appositive, or any other discipline-based term for describing text will not help them write. It will only help them describe texts in the same way scholars in writing studies describe texts.

Personally, I enjoy learning, using, and examining terms related to grammar and composition, because I like to analyze texts and talk about the writing process with people in my discipline. I think a lot of people who teach writing also enjoy that; which is probably behind the decision to make those skills the focus of so many writing classes.

But writing teachers should not be trying to teach students to talk about grammar using our specialized jargon. We should teach students how to compose texts.

I do think we should always push for higher standards, but I don't think making econ students diagram sentences is what those standards should look like.

So, while I think that meme is provocative, I also think it unfairly undermines what teachers, educators, and students are working to achieve.