The Words Will Come

These past 9 weeks, once again, have renewed my appreciation of the joy of writing. I never considered myself a writer. My wife on the other hand, is a published author, who uses words in a most eloquent fashion in writing the stories she writes. I, on the other hand, usually write whatever comes to my mind. Sometimes I get lucky and it translates pretty well, but sometimes it may give the reader a glimpse of a cluttered mind, with random ideas and thoughts. But the opportunity to write these last weeWrite-1000-Words-In-Less-Than-30-Minutes-–-Writing-For-The-Webks has given me the encouragement to reclaim my appreciation of writing and also has given me the appreciation of my own style of conveying my ideas and thoughts onto paper.

In my Psychology 101 class, students are given a final assignment titled, “Reflections and Insights.” I ask students to write about what they have learned about themselves that reflects a topic or subject that was reviewed in the course. To examine their thoughts and feelings about themselves and reflect it in psychological terms. I encourage them not to think too much about what their writing, just allow the words to flow. It’s kind of becomes a free association of writing, (Freud would have loved that). Students initially get a little anxious at first, but when their final paper are submitted for grading, well, I am in awe when I read them. You can see a differences in the style and manner in how they express themselves when they just “let it flow.” This is how my wife writes, she sits at her computer and creates a vision with words that portray a story and seems to do it effortlessly. When I ask her how did you do that?, her reply is “I just go with the flow and the words come”. Hmm, going with the flow, allowing the words to come?  At the risk of sounding new-age with well-placed crystals on my computer, it makes sense of writing in that fashion. We are taught early in our school years that writing should be done in a style that aligns itself proper structure, complete sentences, and of course, words that are used in an appropriate fashion.  I wonder how my writing style would have been if someone told me early in my schooling, “just go with the flow and the words will come.” Probably more enjoyable and less time searching for the right word or the perfect way of expressing a thought.

This 9x9x25 challenge has given me opportunity to experience that joy of the flow. I found myself typing an idea and the words came. I admit, sometimes I get stuck, but I found if I just allow myself to pull back until  the words return, well, it seems to all come together.  This must be the joy writers’ talk about, the synchronicity of ideas on paper, or most likely, the computer screen. Writing not only gives us the opportunity to express ourselves, but it also gives us the encouragement and confidence to express feelings and thoughts in more creative ways which touch the essence of who we are.  I once read somewhere, “writing about yourself is like biting your own teeth.” Having something to write each week has given me a taste of who I am and the confidence to express that more effectively.

So here’s my final submission for this year’s 9x9x25 challenge. Simply an acknowledgement of my appreciation for having the opportunity to “bite my own teeth”, to prove to myself that I can write in the fashion I feel most comfortable with and I even like the results.

My wife is right (she always is), “let it flow and the words will come.”


I Find It Difficult To Be Sarcastic Enough Anymore

The Internet is the great global connector and often that’s good, but it sure is hard to be sarcastic enough anymore. When I’m in class, often I’ll dance a little jig at certain climactic moments. If you know me, all six feet four inches of me, and my glorious white lankiness, you can imagine that my little jigs are scary. You’re right. After the steppity-steps which might or might not culminate in jazz hands, I used to say things like, “I’m sooo sorry about that amigos, I know that you can’t ever un-see that." I don’t say that anymore, because usually, someone already beat me to some snide sarcastic remark, like, “I actually want cataracts now" or “that dance actually gave me conjunctivitis". The Internet and it’s far-reaching sarcastic zingers has infected us all with a dry sarcasm that even the most dull among us can pull off with aesthetic wit. Even the British are starting to concede that Americans, after all, do have a sense of humor. I don’t do jigs much at all anymore. It’s sad. The Internet, with its widespread blanketing sarcasm, has made almost everything I used say hackneyed.

It’s so strange. The Internet has this uncanny and unprecedented ability to create swirling virality tornadoes of trends, jokes, dance steps, health foods, craft ideas, (etc., etc., etc.) that are literally here today and gone tomorrow. There are micro-climates of trendiness that, like the weather, blow into and out of town just that quickly. It used to take years, at times, for trends to be disseminated, so, often, you might feel connected for a few years, hip, “today". Now, everyone becomes aware of trends in 1/10th the time and so, trends ship out just as fast, like a trendiness monsoon showing up at lunch, but gone by the time your Pop-tart is out of the toaster. It’s a sad way to live.

We live in a time where most of our lives are experienced first virtually, digested digitally, and then discarded before they ever really take hold in the real world. Of course this is a problem with your riding boots and your scarves and your business suits, but now it’s even a problem with people. The website that traffics in hawking not wares, but lives, Facebook, has made a fortune on the backs of making real-life interactions yesterday’s news. You don’t have to catch up with people at your cousin’s wedding, because you’ve already followed the whole scandal enough online to realize that the bride definitely should not be wearing white, and so, you see people and you avert your eyes. You don’t want to talk to those long lost family members, because you already know everything about them and you’re not sure if they really know how much you already know, and keeping track of what you should and shouldn’t really know is going to be complicated. So, you just hang out by the punch bowl and Instagram photos of aunt Linda showing everyone her hidden tattoos after too much bourbon. Our real lives have become cliché and hackneyed because your brother is a post-a-holic and your dirty laundry is already aired for all to see. Imagine two sisters at that wedding again, trying to find someone of substance with whom to sit and chat:

Sister one: “Oh, here comes John! Don’t look at him, you know he’s just going to use the conversation to rub it in your face that he’s already senior partner at his firm and you’re not. It’s all over his Facebook page."

Sister two: “Okay, let’s go talk to Reina, then. I love Reina."

Sister one: “No, no, no. Abort! Don’t talk to Reina. Didn’t you see her post last night? She’s going into rehab again on Monday."

Sister two: “Oh no! Really? I didn’t see that. If that’s true, we definitely don’t want to talk with her. She’s probably going out tonight with a bang and she’s a vindictive little thing when she’s drinking. She’ll bring up Jeff again, probably in front of Mom."

Sister one: “Oh sis, I’m so sorry. I saw your post about him last night. Let’s not talk about that two-faced rat".

Sister two: “In fact, let’s not talk about anything. Let’s just sit here in silence, pull out our phones and let ourselves fall blissfully into Facebook numbness."

Sister one: “I’ve been dying to pull out my phone for the last five minutes. I’ll be right here at the end of the table Instagramming. Text me if you need me okay?"

With our lives publicly displayed online, in our social circles, even the least of us become celebrities and like celebrities, our real-life, in-person, airbrush-free lives, are so much less exciting than our souped-up online lives. Our real selves seem boring in comparison. We can’t possibly be, in person, what that perfectly crafted pouty faced selfie was online, because that perfect selfie took 25 shots in front of the mirror with your glam makeup on before it was deemed acceptable to grace your profile page. We can’t live up to our own hype and so, when we’re live, with the auto-tune gone, we seem boring. Just like when you meet a celebrity in person for the first time, after years of following her movies and making a hero out of her in your mind, you’re crushed when she acts like a snob, or a jerk in person.

Pinterest is the worst. My wife used to walk into someone’s house and say, “Wow, I love that color scheme" or “that craft display". Now she says, “I saw that pumpkin photo tree on Pinterest too. I made the same one for my bathroom". Take that, ostentatious dinner host! You’ve just had your life clichéd by Pinterest.

But, it’s not just Pinterest, it’s everything! The impossibly beautiful versions of your girlfriend on Instagram make dates with her, in the raw, seem boring. A quick YouTube search for “people are awesome" eclipses all of your heroic descriptions of your brush with death when parasailing in México. Even your best and funniest stories about little known Disney facts that always kill at parties are debunked by a bratty little iPhone user with the Snopes app.

So, what am I getting at here? And how does this relate to this writing challenge. Well, if you think real life people are boring, then what are teachers? Students can go online and not only get all of my content off of the Internet for free from Kahn Academy and YouTube, they can also get it from a really interesting looking 24-year-old who wears a striking sombrero and sings with a ukulele. Is that fair? How can I compete with that?

The point is, teachers have always been trite. So are their subject matters, but now, we are “like so uber-over-the top" trite. No wonder students are bored in our classes and never watch the video lectures that we create for our online sections. Students have seen it all before. Or, at least, they think they have. And whether they have or they haven’t their boredom is real, one way or the other, and this boredom is a major learning impediment. You know what’s never boring though? Creating! We used to worry about fast downloading speeds for Internet. Internet download speeds were much faster than upload speeds, but now, consumers are, more and more, creators. We want fast upload speeds. We want to interact with other people online and be not just consumers of knowledge, but creators. We want to contribute to the conversation, not just passively digest it. If we want to be connected, hip, “today" we have to create something new, hip, connected and “today" and we have to encourage our students to do the same. So our role changes now. In today’s educational revolution, we are no longer pontificants, spouting-off information that we have produced ourselves or just consumed from other researchers, we have to encourage our students to take our lessons down off the shelf, manipulate, change, add to, and re-post them for the benefit of others. Are students ready for this? No. Maybe not at first, but our new teaching role is to make them ready. We help them in the higher order process of creating knowledge, not just consuming.

I read an article about break dancing not long ago. It was talking about how the genre of break dancing had stayed quite stable (cliché maybe) for a number of years. That is, until the advent of YouTube. Suddenly, interested young people the world over had access to a vast database of dancers from every style and every country who were trying their hand at break and posting their attempts online. A viral niche community formed. American students of break interacted through videos with Korean break dancers and meticulously began incorporating their unique styles and moves, to which they never before had access. The community was active. The instruction was ample. The practice time was intense and the feedback was frequent and timely. Their bodies spoke through the universal language of movement and in a very short time the genre of break dancing advanced further in just a few short years than it had in twenty.

This is the model of tomorrow’s education. Like the dancers, we use what’s out there, we learn, but then, we must push students to create, manipulate, modify and expand. We push the limits of what’s out there and through an awful lot of guidance and scaffolding on our part, we forge new territories. Since what students create is theirs, it has more meaning for them. They are emotionally connected and these deeper ties make their new knowledge much more resistant to forgetting. They’ve made it their own. We have to stop giving and start guiding. Like the dancers, they’ll need to work hard, practice like locos and get lots of feedback and guidance from us along the way, but what results will constitute a learning revolution, and a burst of new knowledge creation that will grow exponentially, provided that we post enough status updates about our findings. As teachers, we are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hid. We should not light a candle and put it under a bushel (or under a stack of other student work that will never see the light of day) but on a candle stick and posted to Facebook (Matthew 5:14-15)! Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development called not for MCC (more capable computers) but for MCP (more capable peers) to guide the learning process through dialectical interactions, feedback, scaffolding and lots of experimentation.

I have enjoyed the 9X9X25 challenge. As I go online to our community of educational break dancers on the Telswebletter and interact and rub shoulders with my YC “more capable pears", I learn and grow and I produce better and more enlightened work for my trouble. I like what this challenge does for me, both last year and this. The challenge to write helps me break-out, be less cliché, think deeper and begin to look, every day, for deeper connections and then write about them. It’s the looking for something to write about each week that has made me go to the break dancer level and not just the fact regurgitation level. I like the other me, but I love the 9X9X25 me!

Until Next Time…

There are many things to say about the participating in the 9x9x25 challenges. This year, I found two strategies that worked for me to efficiently participate in the challenge. One was to just go with what happened to be on my mind at the time (usually late Sunday night) that needed to be expressed in order to keep a healthy mental balance. The second was using the blogging ideas directly in my class activities. They complemented each other. Of the two, the biggest benefit I see from participating in this year’s challenge is student response to my blogs.

I wrote with my students in mind; choosing topics thinly veiled in academic importance but really making points I wanted them to read. It paid off. “Why Don’t Students Ask for Help” generated requests for help. The class and I expanded on the ideas of “Crosspollination” by relating what they are learning in biology to content in other courses. “How College is Different From High School” gave an opportunity to review the syllabus and course expectations. Stress and Learning opened the door for discussing that end of the semester crunch time and solutions to staying calm. So that is the self-serving aspect, perhaps benefitting students, too.

But who knows the extent of the ripple effect, if any? I would have liked more discussion and commenting from online students. But the semester rolls on and we do have biology to “do.” My feeling is that students liked getting to know their instructor from another angle as I enjoyed learning about my fellow 9x9x25ers.

The project is awesome, very satisfying, and running well. A few thoughts I can contribute are below.

  1. Make a little shorter (5X5X20 or so).
  2. Provide some sort of indexing (key words?).
  3. Link to the original site. This would help us see our colleagues in their
  4. Give one week really off, if it remains 9 weeks in length.
  5. Create discussion threads. Wow, that might be really hard to manage. There is so much to read!

Thank you, everybody!

My 2014’s 9x9x25 Challenge Reflection

The 3 Things I added to

This year’s 9x9x25 Challenge motivated me to add 3 things to my website ( that I would have not added otherwise.

Number 1: I added a ‘Wellness Articles’ Section

During this Challenge, as I was writing about the behavior strategy SMART (How to Start a SMART Workout), I realized that some of the things I’m writing about for this Challenge are specific to wellness. So, I added a ‘Wellness Articles’ section. This section will be for my Personal Health & Wellness and Weight Management students at Yavapai College, for my Personal Wellness Concepts students at Tidewater Community College, and, of course, for anyone who can access the internet.

Number 2: I added a ‘Yoga Articles’ Section

During this Challenge, as I was writing about the new technological Yoga Smart Mat (Two Reasons SmartMat’s Second Promotional Video Ain’t Too Smart), I realized that I have a lot I want to say about Yoga specifically. So, I added a ‘Yoga Articles’ section. Now, before I added this section, I did a little research about the best length for online articles. And based on my research, and the type of website I have, I decided to have this section for Yoga articles that are only between 150 and 200 words in length.

Number 3: I added a ‘Yoga Poses’ Section

For years, I’ve wanted to add a ‘Yoga Poses’ section, especially for my online Yoga students. So, during this Winter Break, I will add a ‘Yoga Poses’ section that will have short videos of Yoga poses and modified Yoga poses. This section will be great for my online Yoga students who will be able to access these videos through their online Yoga course.

In Addition

In addition, I know this specific 9x9x25 writing is shorter than 25 sentences, but this is another thing that I want to mention in this Reflection. Sometimes a subject I’m writing about just doesn’t need 25 sentences. So, since this is my 9x9x25 Challenge Reflection, I will go ahead and make this point by stopping at 13 sentences.


My reflection. Well, I think I missed once week posting, so I feel a bit guilty.

I liked the writing; I found it difficult and interesting and enlightening. I got a bit more empathy for the writing that I ask my students to do. This type of personal writing about teaching left me feeling exposed to my colleagues, and I realize how scary that it is to be honest about frustrations. I think I used my posts to kvetch about some of the annoyances and troubles and to look for a little compassion, comradery, and guidance. I think as an instructor, I want to appear in control and in charge at all times, and admitting that some things are difficult feels awkward and wrong.

It was interesting reading what my colleagues wrote, but here’s where I have a suggestion. I’d like to write one week; then read and comment the next week. There was a lot to read, and I would find myself skimming when I really wanted to read, cogitate, and comment. I am amazed at the ingenuity and creativity of my colleagues. I was able to learn things in the posts that I could never learn in my brief interactions with colleagues.

So enlightening. I liked to watch the thought processes of other people as they played out in the posts. David Graser’s posts were works of art with so much energy. I’ve learned a lot from reading Laura Cline’s posts, and we’re in the same department and our offices are just a few doors apart. The thing is, in our daily interactions we’re cordial, but her posts have given me great instruction and ideas that we don’t have the room for in real time.

But this brings me back to my suggestion: let’s do one week writing, one week reading and commenting. I haven’t gotten through all the posts, and I want to. There’s gold in them thar posts! (<get it?)

Reflections on the Challenge, The Sequel

Accepting the 9x9x25 challenge for a second year was interesting. It was easier; it was harder; it revealed the same personal weaknesses; it highlighted some growing strengths.

Torn Real Paper Scraps On Black Background - stock photoI found it easier to sit down to the computer to write. I felt much more confident in having a voice and having something worthwhile to share. I still faced the looming deadlines and found myself posting on Sunday mornings. Even though it was easier to start typing, I still needed plenty of time to mull, review, edit, revise, mull, sweat, polish. The germ of an idea might come the prior week, but my inspiration took a lot of molding and shaping. I kept scraps of paper in my car, on my desk, and on the bedside nightstand to record any shimmer of an ephemeral idea. (I always appear to be far more profound to myself at 3:00 in the morning. Be thankful that many of those little scraps found their way into the nearest garbage can!)

Even though the ideas did eventually take root in my brain, I found that some of my driving passions carried over from last year. I caught myself repeating themes about students and reading. At times, I struggled to come up with a new topic that had nothing to do with reading or writing. Hence, I attacked dual enrollment one week and fear of my own teaching boredom another. The venture into voicing my views on dual enrollment proved rewarding because I could take the time to ponder my position on an ongoing issue we face in higher ed. It wasn't until I started to type that I could flesh out my concerns and add meat to my arguments.

As was true last year, there is no good time for writing during the semester for me.  I am thankful for the challenge, for the deadlines, and for the rewards (Kudos, Todd, for all the goodies!). And I appreciated the break from the routine post one week to spend time responding to others' posts. Even so, I really did try to read everyone's posts every week, and it was strange to think that I didn't know if anyone was reading my posts. I especially enjoyed examining how many of us repeaters grew in our writing abilities and skills. Enforced practice created greater fluency for us all.

In the crunch for time this year, I had to focus more on writing and polishing the post than on finding sources for cool links and images. So, yeah, in desperation I resorted to copy-and-pasting stock images--how dull! That was disappointing for me; so much for being flashy and innovative.

Ah well, when in doubt, just "git 'er done!" and smile for the camera with thumbs up.

Reflections on the 9x9x25 Challenge

Among his many harangues, the Gadfly of Athens once cautioned: “Beware the bareness of a busy life.”  We have our own gadfly on the Verde Campus, and he’s equally skeptical of “busy.”  For example:

“Do you want to do the 9x9x25 again this year, Jason?”

“I’d better not.  Erin’s in grad school, the kids are a handful, and I just took over the Honors College.  I’m going to be too busy.”

“Too busy.  Bah!  You can do it IF you want to.”

One’s immediate reaction to this sort of retort is not positive.  It feels invalidating and dismissive of the daily struggles of a demanding job and an active family.  Indeed, one quickly gains sympathy for the Athenians that sought to exile the nettlesome Socrates.  However, just as history has given us a better perspective on that famous philosopher, so too have Todd and the 9x9x25 Challenge given me a better perspective on “busy.”

Teachers are rarely idle.  Despite ludicrous claims to the contrary, we don’t knock off every day at three, spend our summers on the beach, and our weekends rolling in ill-gotten riches.  The school year is a never-ending cycle of prep, performance, evaluate, repeat.  Compound this with increasing technological innovations, paperwork, and administrative demands and the typical teacher simply has to keep his head down to get his work done.  This mandate leads to the seemingly counter-intuitive state in which teachers are “too busy” teaching to think about teaching.
Of course, we do think about teaching –but not in the large sense, not in a philosophical fashion, not in such a way that promotes regular improvement.  Innovation may occasionally occur, but this is usually in response to a given problem, the pedagogical equivalent of calling the plumber.  To truly improve our craft we need to move past the problems of the present to think on the possibilities of the future. 

And 9x9x25 provides us with this opportunity.  Yes, I have a stack of papers to my right that need grading.  Yes, I have a committee meeting to prepare for.  However, beyond these immediate drivers, I also have a responsibility, to my students and myself, to become a better teacher.  Writing for 9x9x25 forces me to engage this commitment, and, through my writing, and the writing of my colleagues, to invest in future dividends.  As busy as I am, am thankful for this opportunity and even the not-so-gentle reminder that instigated it.

Here’s to the gadflies!

But… OK: Reflections on 2014 9x9x25 Challenge

I shouldn't.  I'm spread so thin, but..

I can't.  I don't have time, but...

No good this year.  I really don't have anything to say, but...

Why?  Does anyone really read those things?  But...


There are a bazillion reasons why I shouldn't have participated in this year's 9x9x25 Challenge.  The lines above are just the beginning of a very long list.  But...

I knew the benefits, from last year's challenge.  I knew it would be good for me, my teaching, my students.

Added stress?  Yep.

Frustrating?  At times (not so much about the challenging, but just about another thing on my plate, my life).

Here is my short list of why--when I probably shouldn't have--I decided to participate.  And some suggestions for making the decision to participate again not so difficult (hopefully).

Participating in this project causes me to think and reflect.  Between classes, meetings, special projects, grading papers (not to mention a semblance of a life outside Yavapai College), often times I admit I kind of get in "auto-teach" mode.  I really try to be conscientious, progressive, innovative, on the cutting edge, yada yada yada.  But honestly, some weeks its just survival.  Committing to writing about teaching each week forces me into self-evaluation mode.  That's probably the biggest benefit.

This challenge motivates me to try new things in the classroom.  After all, who wants to read about the same old stuff, different day?  (Not me!)  Several ideas that had been percolating in my brain for some time (even years) get an excuse to come out and play.  It's kind of exciting!  And I've felt (justifiably so, I hope) that it is "safe" to share failures as well as successes.

I love pilfering others' ideas.  Again this year I'm reminded of what creative, motivated and brilliant colleagues I work with.  I've stolen several ideas that have been shared through these blogs (although I'm not saying what, for fear of retribution and to protect the innocent).  My teaching is definitely better for it.

The whole deal gives me a chance to write.  I really love writing.  Just seems I don't do enough of it (and it probably shows).  But I get to set aside time to do what I'm passionate about--writing, and writing about teaching.  Ok, I shouldn't need an excuse.  But it helps to have a little "push" from Todd and the folks in TELS.

Most of all, the Challenge inspires me.  I've been doing the full-time teaching gig for almost 30 years.  Seen a lot of things come and go.  And as much as I would like to think I keep myself fired up each semester, the truth is I can use all the help that's out there.  Getting to read the musing of others in the same boat really does fan the flame.  (Although I'm not sure about my mixed metaphor here--fires in boats aren't usually a great combo!)

What would I change?  Not much, but here goes...

* I'd make it shorter--not the length of the blogs but the number of weeks.  It's probably  just me, but I find myself losing steam after about six weeks.  What about a 6x6x6 Challenge--xix weeks, six blogs, six paragraphs?  So "666" may not be the best number to choose, but the product (216) isn't so bad, is it?

*I might suggest that the format be simplified for those who want to read.  I had several people who weren't writers come to me and say that they wanted to read more, but had a hard time finding their way around on our site.  Too many clicks, too much scrolling, too confusing?  What about a Table of Contents of some sort where readers could see the name of the articles (maybe a one sentence abstract) and the author, and just click on what or who they were interested in reading?

*How about, instead of just "comments" on each blog something more interactive, along the lines of a discussion board, where readers could actually dialog with the authors?  And maybe auto-reminders when someone made an entry on your article, so you could go look and respond?

*Maybe don't do it in November.  From a personal perspective, the Challenge competes with National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), which challenges insane persons (present company included) to write 50,000 words in one month.  (I did it last year, but am failing miserably this time around).  I'd love to do both, but it's become a bit much.  Besides, November starts getting crazy when it comes to classes, grading, etc.

That's it.  Should we do it again next year?  ABSOLUTELY!  I can't, I shouldn't, BUT...


1_PNEField Labl_jpg

West Point cadets measuring radioactivity near the academic buildings., USMA PAO photo.

First of all, a special thank-you to Todd Conaway and TeLS for continuing to lead exploration in learning expansion and improvement. The ideas surfaced among us who wrote, as when we attend our seasonal Yavapai College Institutes, are valuable and we grow when we share them. Most important of all, perhaps, is that by initiating such efforts and offerings, TeLS is moving us forward and away from stagnation – and that phenomena does strike communities; I am an eyewitness to this. But that description is for another time. We have it good here and now.

Writing on the theme of the potential of teaching and learning takes more work, as we know, but it has provided a welcome forum for offering and sharing ideas. Personally, I have benefited from being able to articulate my framing of the vocation of online university/college professoring, and learning accomplished by both students and faculty alike. I learned some mechanical techniques as well, with TeLS staff prodding; in particular, finally blogging and also refining the integration of films, images, and videos into items I create for courses and presentation. I enjoyed reading the insights of others in the challenge; when doing so, you can see both good ideas shared and also reflections of the others as people and leaders. For myself, I was glad of the chance to record for public view what I believe I have experienced and learned.

Turning our tables of thought, have we explored all of the phenomena of college/university learning, or have we explored “enough?” One question or the other may be a better fit in relation to our efforts. We will certainly not reach the end of knowledge of how to learn at this adult level, but at times, we may have been effective at learning just something new that brings us to a new level of effective facilitating of learning. Perhaps here I can recall my experiences as an undergraduate myself, as a cadet at West Point, and we can see if we are satisfied for the moment with how far we journeyed in learning.

There are some good books, some entertaining, that you can peruse to get acquainted with the lot of a cadet or midshipman at our nation’s service academies; your taxes have been paying for them, so if you look at matters that way, you may as well! I can recommend the humorous Ducrot Pepys by Ronan C. Grady or To the Point, 1802-1902 by the late George S. Pappas. As Colonel Pappas died without finishing his next book covering the more recallable 1902 – 2002 period and his heirs turned down my offer to write it for now, we have to wait; meanwhile I can relate a few items about learning from a 20th century West Point cadet’s viewpoint.

Cadets are admitted after a competitive application process culminating in a Congressman’s nomination and Academy acceptance, so they historically feel driven to preserve their standing and gain the big prize of graduation. But they rapidly find out they have a deluge of things to accomplish and limited time to do so. Even today, though less so than ever, certain courses are required – and freshman English can be scary when they too, flunk their first paper or two; or math or engineering, when they realize they really did not grasp the details that the exams ask to be demonstrated. Adding to this 147-credits-or-so academic load over 47 months is four-year physical development and military science and leadership programs, and a strict and traditional military lifestyle, and you have cadets who – well – prioritize their efforts and often dream of graduation, perhaps missing out on the richness of their present circumstance as our national-level cadets.

The slight sadness of such an experience that most of us later shared as alumni was in our frequent feeling that we wasted some of our education, here and there, by not taking full advantage of the knowledge being offered. I used to be teased for having retained more of the aggregate content offered than most, and maybe that is why I am writing this now. Back then, most of us knew we had a chance to listen to the best national minds of the day (we frequently would get other university professors as guest lecturers) and read from unique American archives, and some of us felt the opportunity slipping away as we progressed to seniority. We had so little time available to do literally EVERYTHING well we were told we must; and even as we learned how to perfect the skills of time management, we all discovered the equation was an impossible one – certain items had to give. Often, this was coursework.

Can this onerous cycle in higher learning ever be broken? Perhaps. None of us professors appreciate when students practice what we in the military call an “economy of force” tactic – when you’re the “economy” and your project was not submitted, or submitted well, so students’ better efforts could be applied elsewhere. Maybe our courses could all use a periodic, “strategic” review – and continue to ask ourselves the question as to whether or not students have a balanced load in the course that brings them where designers intended at course’s end, even if a few stumbles occur with certain assignments. Enlightened military officers figured this idea out, and altered their courses so there was less impersonal “machinery” to them and more personal sharing; we remember both them and their course contents to this day, even in a different world.

Mirror, Mirror- A reflection of the 9x9x25 experience

This experience began as a chance to put my money where my mouth is. After years of promoting (and yes, requiring) reflective practice with my own students, I figured it was time to practice what I preach. At first, it seemed challenging to know what to write.  My mind swam with thoughts surrounding the justification of my discipline, which sadly is a cause to advocate.  It was a valuable exercise to take the time to articulate those issues surrounding my field.  When I was new to Early Childhood Education, my passion was exploding. I felt like it was necessary to climb  mountain tops to promote the research that validated the need for MORE attention to be given to our youngest citizens of the world. Now, fifteen years into this part of my career twist, I sometimes forget that what I’m teaching, promoting, advocating for is new to my students. Regardless if I have shared the same information a hundred zillion times (I couldn’t resist, that is a ‘kid number’, right?), I have to remember that it may be their first experience with the material. Even IF students feel they ‘know it already’, it remains my responsibility to present it with fresh enthusiasm and passion.

Upon reflecting on the last 9 weeks of writing, I did notice several things about my practice:

*Yes, I like to write! I started out as a journalism major in college.  A mentor suggested that rather than majoring in something about writing, perhaps majoring in something I was passionate about would provide me with a topic for writing. Yep! Those were wise words,and I’m grateful that my career took this turn. Writing this blog rekindled my love of writing and I hope to continue in some capacity.

*I do love my job! Even though thoughts of being worn out, bogged down and over committed does seem to be a theme, coming eye to eye with my chosen profession has reignited a passion.The trick now is to really look at choice I may have to make the position more balanced, and less stretched. I cannot give my students my best if I am stretched too thin.

*We’re surrounded by amazingly brilliant people! I have always known that we can learn so much from one another.  As a matter of fact, our office neighbors, department mates and committee colleagues all have much to share.  The nature of our work at the college level does feel isolating. (compared to working with teammates in the public school setting). It was common practice for my 17 years in the classroom to plan together, use everyone’s strengths to accomplish tasks and most importantly, laugh!  Writing is powerful, but just hanging out with others in a culture that promotes conversation, community, support, humor and care is irreplaceable.

This was a valuable experience for me. An opportunity to look in the mirror.  If my work here is a reflection of me- then I have learned something. Learning- yep, that’s why we’re here.

So Todd, I think you can say, “mission accomplished”. Thanks for driving this 9x9x25 bus along the way!


For me, writing a blog post is a way to self-reflect. It is an opportunity to express feelings, ideas, and possibly vent. With several blogs going, this opportunity presents itself to me many times. When Todd came up with the idea two years ago, my first thought was on all the work to add ANOTHER blog to forefront. The second thought was faculty would not comply.

The first thought has presented just another medium for use in getting information out. Another tech tool which could provide demonstrations on teaching tips. It is a tool which can be housed within the Yavapai College confounds and kept secure from public viewing. It has become a way to reach out and explore a different style of communication.

The second thought has been shot down. Faculty have stepped up to the plate. Some are a little more “wordier” than others. There are a one or two I will begin to “follow” to read more of their wisdom.  Maybe something will sink into this feeble brain of mine.

The best part about the 9X9X25 is learning. Each post shared provides a hint of something new. This “something” can be an idea, a change, and even a simple disguise of a lesson. It is thoughtful, and at times soulful. It can place one into a reflective trance…


Two Years of 9x9x25 = 323 Posts

Well, just by the number of participants this time around I vote we were successful and I have high hopes for next year. We changed things up a bit and I think that the commenting week went ok. I liked the posts from Northwestern Michigan College and I think our posts were read by the folks there. The gifts this time around were good. For me, it was best when it was, “One cookie for me, one cookie for a teacher.” I ate a lot of cookies. bigdata At 1, 261 views, the Webletter had more views in October than it has in the six years it has existed in its present form. That is good. I think that unless I am outvoted, we will return the Title Clicks to direct back to the author’s blog. That way the faculty will have more views on their sites. Not that views are everything, but it is an indication of interaction. I will be moving the Webletter from its current hosting service (Bluehost) to another service (Reclaimhosting). I have never done that before, but I am excited by the new service as it will allow me to add @discourse as a way for faculty to have conversations on the Webletter. The screenshot below is a forum from the connected courses class. ( ) We will have the capability to have conversations on the Webletter using a really elegant and adaptable interface. forum I bring that up because the structure of the 9x9x25 is still overwhelming for a reader. I am not sure if that needs to be “fixed” because maybe when you have 23 awesome people writing at the same time you just end up with a lot to read. But, I am interested in making the whole thing more interactive. Be that with comments on posts or a discussion forum or just bringing in posts from other intuitions, I am interesting in trying to make it better. Of course, the real point of the whole thing is not so much the interaction, but teachers sitting quietly and reflecting on their practice in writing. I think. I am excited to see how our lunch goes. I have some questions for the group about next year and I am interested to see how they are taken. One is about actually charging faculty to participate in the Challenge. The other is to see if we can get some other gifts from the college students/faculty. I really thought the plants from the Horticulture program were great. I like that the college students were involved in growing them. There must be some other items like that that we can use as gifts. I hope I remember to get on the soapbox for a minute or two and talk about the challenge we face in creating sharable web presence as faculty. We have a few stellar examples of faculty using the web beyond adding content to a Blackboard shell. I think that the “digital literacy” that we need to role model for our students includes being capable of defining the purpose of, and creating and maintaining, a presence on the web. So I’ll say something like that.

My Dad and Albert Einstein

education2Albert Einstein, while developing his theories of the universe and time, also gave much thought to the notion of education.  He once wrote:

The school has always been the most important means of transferring the wealth of tradition from one generation to the next. This applies today in an even higher degree than in former times, for through modern development of the economic life, the family as bearer of tradition and education has been weakened. The continuance and health of human society is therefore in a still higher degree dependent on the school than formerly.
Sometimes one sees in the school simply the instrument for transferring a certain maximum quantity of knowledge to the growing generation. But that is not right. Knowledge is dead; the school however, serves the living. It should develop in the young individuals those qualities and capabilities which are of value for the welfare of the commonwealth. But that does not mean that individuality should be destroyed and the individual become a mere tool of the community, like a bee or an ant. For a community of standardized individuals without personal originality and personal aims would be a poor community without possibilities for development. On the contrary, the aim must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals, who, however, see in the service of the community their highest life problem.
To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. It is no wonder that such schools are the rule in Germany and Russia.
…the desire for the approval of one’s fellow-man certainly is one of the most important binding powers of society. In this complex of feelings, constructive and destructive forces lie closely together. Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community. Therefore the school and the teacher must guard against employing the easy method of creating individual ambition, in order to induce the pupils to diligent work”. (Einstein)

My real education began for me at the age of 11 years old. It came unexpectedly and was delivered to our home in 2 large boxes filled with beautifully leather bound books. It was a complete set of the 1960 new edition of Compton’s Encyclopedia. My father had purchased the set, which was at the time a very expensive item, to add to the family room’s bookshelf.  I spent many hours propped up with my legs hanging over one of the oversized worn chair in the family room, turning each page in every volume learning something that fed my curiosity about the world I lived in.

I was an average student in school, did lots of daydreaming in the classroom and was more interested in cars and girls during this time than my studies. I found that many of the things taught in school didn’t spark any interest and was presented in such a way that daydreaming was a more productive way of spending time in the classroom. I would think about some of the things I learned reading the encyclopedia that was in our family room.  It’s interesting now to think that my lazy afternoons or evenings spent going through random volumes of the encyclopedia gave me more pleasure in learning than sitting all day in a classroom, being told what to read and then quizzed on my ability to retain the information. My father was a self-taught man. He attended school up the age of 11 years, but then had to quit school to work to help support his family. He worked in a bakery and in addition to his meager pay was allowed to bring home each day a loaf of bread, which was needed for daily meals in his home.  It’s interesting to think that the purchase of the encyclopedia occurred when I was 11, the same age my father had to quit school to help support his family. Perhaps it was his way of having some completion of his own education or provide some insurance to his family that learning will always be available no matter what.  My father was a steelworker for 25 years and moved up the ranks as a metallurgist for the largest steel plant west of the Mississippi. Not bad for someone with only a 5th grade education. He would make jokes about how he was training new employees with college degrees how to do his job.

Perhaps, Einstein was on to something when he wrote: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”   The notion of learning should be seen from various perspectives, the ability to use critical thinking skills for determining a “truth” within ourselves as well as a responsibility of giving back what we learn in bettering the society in which we live.

My father would frequently ask me two questions when he came home from work; what did you learn today and how are you going to use what you learned?  Our teaching should incorporate these 2 questions.  Information can be useless unless it’s applied to something.  Perhaps this should be a given in making sure each course objective should always include the ability to apply what we learn and use it in bettering our lives as well as bettering the world we live in.  Thanks Dad for providing me with that direction.

Shorten the Chain to Work out After Work

Chaining is a behavioral strategy. It is based on the notion that for a behavior to occur a number of actions must take place. In regards to chaining, these actions are seen as links in a chain that lead to a desired action. The shorter the chain, less links/actions, the more likely the desired action will happen. The longer the chain, more links/actions, the more likely the desired action will not happen.

In this writing, I will give one example of how the behavioral strategy of chaining works.

The Desire Action to Work out After Work

The Long Chain – What you usually do: It’s 5 o’clock pm on Monday. You leave work; you drive home (20 minutes); you get home; you look at the mail (5 minutes); you grab a snack (5 minutes); you get your gym clothes together (10 minutes); you drive to the gym (20 minutes); you work out (60 minutes); you drive back home (20 minutes); you take a shower and get dressed (10 minutes), and you begin to prepare dinner at 7:30 pm.

The Short Chain – What you could do: It’s 5 o’clock pm on Monday. You leave work; you drive to the gym (10 minutes – because you choose a gym close to your work); you pull out your gym bag from the trunk that you packed the night before that even has a snack bar in it; you eat the snack bar while walking into the gym and to the locker room; you work out (60 minutes); you take a shower and get dressed at the gym (10 minutes); you drive home (10 minutes), and you begin to prepare dinner at 6:30 pm.

As seen, the first chain is long, with more links/actions, thus, based on the behavior strategy of chaining; the desired action to work out is less likely to happen. The second chain is short, with less links/actions, thus, based on the behavior strategy of chaining; the desired action to work out is more likely to happen.

On a Side Note

It’s not just about having too many links/actions that may hinder you from working out, but it’s about the types of links/actions that may hinder you from working out.

For example, the link/action of going home first could make it harder for you to leave the house, preventing you from working out. This link/action should not be the first link/action in the chain to work out, but it should be final link/action in the chain to work out.

Another example with the link/action of going home first, it could accidently create more links/actions that were not part of the chain to work out like ‘getting stuck’ talking to your neighbor in your driveway for 15 minutes about the civic league meeting last night.

So, make sure your chain to work out does not just have less links/actions, but it has ‘smart’ links/actions.

Engage Students By Making Them Board

motogBack around 1980, I got my first computer. As I recall, it had the brand name Sinclair and it was connected to a little black and white TV we had in the basement. It had a minimal amount of memory, but I could save programs to a cassette tape connected to the IO port. That computer found its way to a landfill in Alaska a long time ago. It amazes me that almost every one of my students (as well as myself) carries a small computer in their pocket that is hundreds of times more powerful than that old Sinclair. Not only is it more powerful, but my smartphone fits in the palm of my hand. It also amazes me at the growing number of uses a smartphone has in the classroom.

Over the past two years I have organized the students in my classes into teams. Over time, I have been more and more careful about how I assign students to teams. Random assignment of students is not nearly as effective as a systematic assignment based on a questions in a form. I administer the form as Google form and ask questions about leadership, technology, and their preexisting notions of team learning.

One of the primary tasks I give the student teams is to work in class at the board on problems. Typically I introduce the topic in 10 minutes or less including one basic example. Then I send the students to the board (all at once) to solve pairs of problems as a team. The focus is on solving the problem and documenting the process so that the work on the board would be useful later. In effect, I want them to construct notes on the board using all the brains in the team.


As the teams work at the board, I circulate among the teams asking questions of the team members about the work they have created on the board. I use this opportunity to try to include team members who may be on edge of the group and not really contributing. I will ask them for details on the work and if it is not clear, what needs to be added? Often I will ask them to add to what is already there if something is not clear. Eventually, each team creates a correct version of the example.

In my early attempts at this type of team work, students wanted to transcribe what they had created into their notes. This slowed down their progress on the problems and limited the number of problems we could get through during a class period. Also, have you ever looked at the notes students write down? You may think that your brilliant board work appears clearly in their notes, but they do not. Looking over the notes, I noticed that students often transcribe what is on the board poorly.


This is when I began to take pictures of their work and post it online. Not only did the boards appear exactly as they created in class, but it also freed up time in class and allowed the groups to cover more examples in class. Often the groups can cover almost as many examples as I can in class. But now the students are in control of doing the examples. They include the information that they think they will need to do the problem later.

Taking pictures of the boards with my digital camera was tedious. Instead of taking pictures of every board, I rapidly realized that I would focus on the best examples to reduce the number of pictures I would need to take, download, modify, and then upload back to my class. Keeping up with capturing and posting 10 to 20 examples in each of my classes for each class meeting was tough. Most pictures require some correction to increase the brightness or crop out extraneous parts of the picture. I needed to streamline the process.

For me, the answer was to utilize my Android smartphone and its camera. During the class, I continue to take pictures, but now I use the camera on the smartphone. At the end of class, I open the Gallery App and view the picture.


At the top of the screen, you can see an icon for Google Drive. By selecting this icon, you can send the file to your Google account.

I always make sure that I connect to a WiFi network since uploading all of the pictures can take a sizable bite out of meager data plan. Once the pictures reside in Google Drive, I can download and modify the pictures using whatever software I choose. I use Snagit by Techsmith to do this. Although Snagit is designed to do screen captures and make screen videos, it also includes a basic image editor that may be used to clean up images. Once the Snagit editor is open select File and choose Import from Google Drive.


This selection opens your Google Drive folder. Select the image file and choose OK. The image file will open in Snagit. Now you can annotate and correct the image using the Snagit tools under the Tools tab or Image tab. This process enables me to quickly download and process the images of the board.


As you might expect, each team’s board work improves over the semester. Initially, their boardwork is monochromatic. They are simply interested in getting the correct answer, not understanding the problem.


Initially color may be an aesthetic choice or be used to separate the parts of a problem.



I emphasize the use of color and annotation in board work. Color has a purpose and it not to make the board pretty. Color helps to emphasize portions of the board: a value that needs to stand out or algebraic operations on an equation. Annotations help the student to remember their thinking when they were working the problem out. About half way through the semester, most teams turn the corner.



I would have never dreamed that technology would evolve to such a level where the traditional idea of note taking could become obsolete. Now students can focus on paying attention to what is done in class and constructing knowledge by collaborating with their classmates and instructor. These are key ingredients to increasing the retention of that knowledge.

My Top Five Simple Tools and Resources for Teaching Online

I try to keep up with some of the new tricks and tools for online teaching.  I like there to be some bells and whistles in my classes, and I believe in technology enhanced learning.  However, it is easy to want to use everything, and not to be thinking specifically about what is suited the learning and content that I want to happen in my class.  These five things, however, have proven their worth over many semesters of teaching online. They aren’t the fanciest or the flashiest, but they work:

1. YouTube Videos:

I use YouTube videos mostly for weekly announcements and short lectures on “just in time” topics.  For instance, if students are having trouble with an assignment, I will talk more specifically about that assignment and go through the type of illustrative lecture that I would if I were in class.  This weekly announcement for my ENG 102 class this semester is a good example of that.  I also am showing this one because I have recently begun to work on making my videos ADA compliant.  I write a transcript and upload it for closed captioning.  This has made the videos a little less spontaneous and relatable, but I have already had students tell me that having the subtitles and the transcripts is very helpful.  Doing these videos at least every few weeks (ideally every week, but that doesn’t always happen) reminds students that I am moving though the class with them and that there is a face behind the screen.  When I send out these videos in the middle of the week, students often respond by asking questions about the assignment that were prompted by watching the video and which they may not have asked otherwise.

2.  Screen capture videos (I personally use JING):

I had been teaching ENG 101 and 102 online for a while when I first started teaching ENG 100 online.  In the other classes, I had established an introductory assignment that successfully stemmed the tide of technology and computer related questions after the first week.  However, in ENG 100, I used a similar assignment and the questions just kept coming.  Many weeks into the class, I still had students who were unsure about file formats and how to submit different types of assignments.  I was still fielding tons of questions about basic navigation, and I realized that this group as a whole was much less familiar with the online learning environment.  So, to make my life and theirs a whole lot easier, I decided to use Jing to record short videos, showing my students how to navigate each week’s assignments.  My students know to watch the weekly video before contacting me with questions, and this has really decreased my email load.

3. A “Problems and Solutions” Discussion Board:

This is maybe the simplest of all the suggestions on this list, but is another great tool for reducing email load.  I simply always have a discussion board in every online class which is only for students to post questions and where I (or in some, rare, circumstances other students) can answer them so other students can see.  Even if students don’t necessarily visit the board before sending me an email, it gives me a shorthand to tell them that the answer is posted there without having to repost complex instructions.  I’ve also had students tell me here about broken links and other things that I’ve missed, which I appreciate.

4. Google Forms (a feature of Google Drive):

Google forms are awesome and super simple to use.  Google has many features that are useful in an educational setting, but this is the one I use every semester.  It is easy to link or embed these forms in your class, have students fill them out (anonymously –  unless you ask for their names as one of the questions), and all the data is collected in a handy spreadsheet.  This semester, I have used them for pre and post course surveys,  RSVPs for library instruction and RSVPs for PTK induction.  Here in an example of a course pre-survey from my summer ENG 100 class:

5.  The YC library resources:

I have to also take a moment to say that I couldn’t teach online research (I mean, I could, but it would be a whole lot more work, and the content would be much skimpier) without the awesome YC library staff.  I set up in person library instructions for my online students every semester; they are optional, but allow my students to come and meet in person and familiarize themselves with the library and the staff.  I also especially appreciate the subject guides and the plagiarism materials provided on the library website.  Finally, I encourage students to use the “Ask the Librarian” feature, including the chat.  It’s a good thing, and one that students will use throughout their time at YC and beyond

Communitas Rather Than Merely Community

I had the chance to discuss the idea of community in the classroom with a couple people this week. As I’m sure you are aware, the studies show that, for many students, an educational community helps with retention and academic performance. I know this to be true from my own experience as a student and a teacher. We often thrive when supported, and held accountable, by our peers.

So, I looked up the definition of community, and here are the top three (and most relevant definitions):

Community: noun, plural communities.
1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the): the business community; the community of scholars.

Being something of a word geek, I went ahead and looked up the Latin root, which is communitas. Much to my surprise, the following appeared:

Communitas: noun, Anthropology
1. the sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among persons who experience liminality as a group.

I had never seen this definition before. It was utterly new to me, and it immediately dawned on me (in my excitement) that THIS is exactly what I strive to create among my students.

It is not enough that students simply gather in groups, inside and outside of the classroom, and learn and review knowledge.

I want them to change, and I want them to change together. I want my classes to be liminal experiences—that state of existence between entering one person and coming out a different, better person. I want each class to be an intellectual (and, if possible, an emotional) rite of passage, where the students emerge with stronger minds and stronger hearts. This is my ideal, and the word communitas precisely defines what I desire for my students.

I haven’t taken even an informal poll, but I suspect more than a few of you have had classes, or periods in your lives, when this has happened to you. I was fortunate enough to have experienced this “sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among persons who experience liminality as a group” a number of times in my life. In graduate school, both at the University of Arizona and the University of Kansas, communitas developed into academic cohorts with individuals who have become life-long friends. We transformed into better people, better scholars, and better educators together.

Yes, I know there are a lot of factors involved in making this ideal a reality as teachers in our own classes. Once in a while, we get groups of students who, for whatever reason, have horrible group chemistry. In these cases, it seems that no human alive can raise the energy of the class to allow communitas to develop. But, in my years of teaching, I have found this particular dynamic to be fairly rare. And if you are one of the instructors who believe that it happens frequently, or it happens more frequently with “this generation” of students, then I propose that you are not trying hard enough.

So, here are a couple of questions for you all. How and when has communitas developed in your classes? Was it similar to a personal experience you underwent within the framework of your own education? And, lastly, in this digital age, we should ask: how do online classes change the potential for establishing communitas?

Overcoming Boredom with Teaching

During my junior year in college, I took a 300-level Shakespeare class. I was really anticipating this class--finally in the upper echelon and in the smaller, more intimate classes. It wasn't long before I caught on to just how close to retirement my professor was.  Here was a man who truly had job security in tenure alone. Every class we students would arrive early, open our Norton Anthology of Shakespeare, get out our spiral notebooks and pens, and settle ourselves into those hard wooden desks for the torture of the next 90 minutes. The professor (I can't even remember his name), clad in his disheveled grey suit, would arrive right on time with his trusty brown briefcase. He never bothered to take attendance because he knew we had to be there. With the briefcase plopped down on the desk, he would pull out his hefty 3" 3-ring binder--you know the old kind with the blue cloth covering. Next he would pull out his wooden ruler and mechanical pencil. Carrying both to the podium, he would open the notebook to the page with his check mark from the previous class. Placing the ruler on the typed page under the correct line, he would proceed to read his notes for the rest of class, moving his ruler down the page and flipping to the next when appropriate. Needless to say, we students fell into our routine of trying to capture every word in our own notebooks in hopes of gleaning some incredible insight for the midterm. Every once in a while, as if on cue, he would even laugh at one of his own typed jokes, just to break up the monotony. For that class, our grade hinged on the midterm, the final, and a research paper. Shakespeare at its finest!

I am so glad we have moved past those prior definitions of education as filling the empty buckets in students' heads with jewels of great knowledge. It must have been easy class preparation for those professors who had to research or publish in order to maintain tenure, but students certainly did not benefit.

When I taught my first online course, I was highly alert to the tendency for online learning to take on the same characteristics for students--read a chapter and regurgitate the information on a quiz or exam. I wanted as much as possible to design a course that would be  engaging and would create a similar sense of community as found in my face-to-face classes. Even so, I must confess though that after teaching the same class year after year I felt as though my teaching lost its luster.  This is not what the students experienced, having never taken the class before, but I am ever alert to my own boredom.

In other words, I get bored with myself and with my own classroom routines. Now I know my lesson plans are new to my students every semester; nevertheless, I don't want to sabotage my own effectiveness by getting into a set routine. This is one of the reasons I appreciate the opportunity to attend conferences through professional growth. Not only do I get re-energized, I also gather ideas for new classroom activities and more interesting assignments for my students. Having just returned from the annual Conference for College Reading and Learning Association a week ago, I am already envisioning how I will utilize new-found ideas within the remainder of this semester and as part of my classes for spring.

This is also why I appreciate our own Winter and Summer Institutes. I enjoy hearing from fellow faculty about what they are doing in their classes and "borrowing" their ideas. I also like having the opportunity to discuss our common student and/or technology issues. We all need to have that change of pace from our routines and busyness.

My own boredom is also one of the reasons I avoid using textbooks in my courses because I don't want to fall into the rut of skill and drill in my reading classes. I also avoid using the same books every semester by switching up my readers, novels, biographies, etc. Although this is more work for me, it gives me a fresh look at each class each semester. I know myself well enough to know I need to keep changing things to maintain my enthusiasm.

What I am re-evaluating now is my overuse of small group discussions. I am not giving up on them; I just want to use them more effectively to get the most out of the time and to provide the best learning experience for my students.  A work in progress to be continued next semester....

Even though I keep an electronic file of all my previous lesson plans, I hate going back to them unless there is some nugget of a great activity that I want to remember to utilize. When I start copying and pasting the same old stuff into the new semester, I lose the luster of working with a new class and a new challenge. I want always to enjoy teaching and interacting with my students in the present.

I guess as I slide towards retirement, I could let the boredom take over to make my life a little easier. I certainly wouldn't have to put in as many hours toward preparation and giving good feedback on assignments. In good conscience, I just can't do that to my students, or to me.  As instructors, we get to create our own classroom experience; we might as well make it the best experience possible for everyone, including ourselves.

Reflections 2014

Hi everyone,

In this second year of participation, I found the entries were easier to write and that I developed more practice and comfort with adding graphics and links to the posts. Creating posts is an enriching experience because the practice forces me to stop and think for a few moments about what I do that is working, not working, and what I can share with others that may help them along their path to being a great instructor.

This semester I began by writing about two tools that I enjoy using: the iPhone and the iPad. Then I wrote about one free program, Jing, that I use for Screencast videos for multiple purposes. In this post, I focused on how I use Jing to help English reading students to develop better pronunciation, fluency, and comprehension.

Then I went to a conference. I had taken so many notes at TYCA-West in Mesa, Arizona that I felt compelled to pour back over my notes and share what I had learned. First I presented on the value of going to conferences period and highlighted a little of the keynote speaker's comments as well. Next I moved on to presenting three specific presentations that I felt were beneficial to my colleagues here at the college. Just so you know, I have material to write another entire 9x9x25 left in the notebook, so I may continue to write as I get time.

Concerning the experience as a whole, the gifts are great, but they were less of the reason for writing this year as compared to last year. Yes, Todd did go the extra mile to get me sorbet since I am allergic to milk, and it was very good, and the house plant and books were awesome, and the chocolate cookies were delicious, but seriously, I just enjoy being a part of something bigger where I can share with colleagues and actually go through the process of reflecting upon my own teaching and learning process.

Technically speaking, I really liked the opening page on the 9x9x25 blog where we could click on an individual's name and read just his/her posts. That way I could read all of my English teacher colleagues' posts at once, and then move on and read those from FYE classes, and more. The sad part about this year is that I didn't spend as much time commenting on people's posts or on receiving comments. I am not sure what the difference was, but I felt more like an island this time around.

Still and all, it was a great experience, and I will certainly participate again next year. I wish you all the best as we head into the final weeks of the semester. I will miss you all Friday at the luncheon, but I will be with you in spirit. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, and I look forward to seeing you all at Winter Institute.

Speaking of Winter Institute, I hope many of you will come and participate. I have heard there will be a session on December 8 for Quality Matters. There will be an opening panel discussing the new FYE103 class experience. I have also heard of an opportunity to come listen to people who have participated in the 9x9x25 experience, and that is just a taste of what is to come!


Tina Luffman

We are Who We Think We are: or, Fake it ’till You Make It

At the end of every semester I host an open-ended Q&A with my English 101 students.  At this time they can ask me any academic related question.  Typically students attempt to push the boundaries here, dowsing for advantages and sniffing out my pet peeves, but such sallies are punctuated by solid queries –the exact kind my optimistic lesson plan predicted.  Foremost among these is the following chicken soup for the troubled English professor’s soul:

“How can I become a better writer?”

Unfortunately, the answer is decidedly unsexy, consistently failing to offer the type of academic panacea the student is after:

“Read more, write more,” I say with a veteran campaigner’s voice.  

If this sounds like more homework, that’s because it is (hence the often constipated look that comes over freshman faces when this advice is proffered.)

The sad truth is, there’s no magic pen, ivory tower shortcut, or clever secret hidden in the teacher’s lounge.  The wholly mundane and unexciting answer, as so often is the case, lies in hard work.  However, buried within this journeyman approach, there may just be a bit of the sorcery students are looking for. 
Aristotle said that “we are what we repeatedly do.”  This grind-it-out methodology –the “read more, write more” advice offered above- results, over time, in competency.  Taken to its extreme (about 10,000 hours, or so) and it can even result in greatness.  Thus, if you want to be a writer, write every day and this slow accumulation will eventually swell into the skill itself –you’ll be a writer. 

But this is modern America, the land of:

And as much as the old and the wise maintain the contrary, it’s hard to knock instant gratification.  So, it helps to offer students some form of incentive, a little pixie dust to speed them along their journey.  It even comes in a pithy, rhyming quote:

Fake it ‘till you make it.

Imagine that you are a writer, an A student, a better person –whatever your goal is, and you’ll become one.  You don’t even have to wait out Aristotle’s slow-build approach or Gladwell’s temporal equation.  It can happen almost immediately.  The key lies in how identity shapes our habits. Consider someone attempting to become a more sympathetic friend.  Rather than asking himself, “how can I become more sympathetic?” he should assume that identity and then pose the less ambiguous question: “what would a sympathetic person do?”  This provides a clearer roadmap and often suggests a plan of action.  See the following syllogism:

Bill is in the hospital.  A sympathetic friend would go visit him.  I’m a sympathetic friend, so I’ll go visit Bill. 

In this fashion, the change is nearly immediate, relying not on a long and proven track record but rather on a moment’s conceptualization.  And the real beauty here is that while this immediate gratification is taking place, there is also a slow accretion happening.  Take 3-4 identity-driven acts of sympathy and suddenly you have a bit of a habit.  Engage in this habit for a while and you develop a reputation.  Continue to build on this reputation and you arrive at Aristotle’s maxim –you’ve become what you’ve repeatedly done; in this case, a sympathetic friend.

This plan of attack can easily be ported to school and supplied in addition to the long-term “read more, write more” advice.  Encourage students to imagine themselves as writers and then apply this identity to their everyday lives.  In so doing, once idle questions can become actionable practices:

“What would a writer be doing right now?”
“Would a writer ignore this mysterious word, or look it up?”
“Does a writer revise and edit?” 
“How does a writer read?”

By adopting the identify of a writer, even (or especially) if it’s initially a false identity, one can effect immediate life changes based on a sort of subconscious mimicry or role-playing.  Once again, thoughts become actions become habits become reality.  Thus is a little magic offered to students, the light brightened and the tunnel shortened.    
Now, imagine yourself as a commentator, and provide some of your own thoughts and ideas below!