Reflection after Nine Weeks

The last nine weeks have been something of a blur. It’s been one of those semesters with too much to do and too little time to do it. But, I think what we, collectively, have done here is exceedingly important.

One of the most unfortunate things about teaching is that we rarely have time to sit down and reflect upon our craft. So many of us run helter-skelter during the school year, and, then, when the breaks finally arrive, we often wish to turn to (or finally return to) those aspects of our personal lives (unrelated to work) that suffer such neglect as we prep, teach, grade, and do the mountains of paperwork that are part of the job.

But we should reflect on what we do. Passing on knowledge and skills, insights and advice, may be one of the most important tasks of the older generation of any society. We should talk about how to teach well. And we should share the pitfalls. We should talk about that to which we have dedicated our lives.

My biggest regret these last nine weeks has been the lack of time and energy to properly read most of the other posts written by all of you. I see these as a treat for me when the semester is finally over. I look forward to the wisdom you have all shared.

Of the eight blogs that I’ve written to date, only two of them have proved satisfactory to me. The rest, well, I needed to get them done, so I did. They were hack jobs.

That said, I don’t regret writing them. Those were the topics that came to mind when writing time arrived. The thoughts were honest and heartfelt.

Of course, on some weeks, my primary thought was reluctance, followed by “What the heck can I write about?” But, then, when it came time to actually sit down and compose, the words and ideas (however sketchy) flowed.

In the end, there are only two kinds of writing: that which is done and that which is not. I like the finished kind.

I stand amazed by the quality of instructors here at Yavapai College. And I remain impressed by TeLS and all that they do. When Todd asked me write these blogs, I readily agreed. And this was not just because I love my job and love to talk about it. It was because I hold Todd, and all the folks at TeLS, is the highest regard.

Kudos for Todd for corralling the cats. and kudos for everyone who wrote down their thoughts and feelings about one of the most important jobs in the world.

I Remember

9X9X25 Challenge – Week 9                         Jim Voska

I Remember

I remember that it was a short nine weeks ago that the 9X9X925 Challenge started.  It was only a few weeks prior that I decided to participate in the project.  I must say, that it was a good decision on my part.  Over the past 63 days, I have had the opportunity to reflect on what I do in the classroom that benefits the students.  I have also reflected on what benefits me as a teacher.  I have also found great pleasure of reading what others are doing in their classroom and then blending their ideas with mine for the students benefit.

I remember that by going through the challenge process, it helped stimulate my gray matter in revisiting techniques that I have used in the past and reintroducing them into today’s learning process with success.  I have also added new material to encourage students’ growth.  I have taken teaching techniques that I have used in some of the business classes I have taught and modified them for a technical audience.  Since individuals have transferable skills, why not transferable teaching techniques.   It has reminded me that when I review my curriculum for the coming term, not to necessarily think outside of the box, but to make my box bigger.

I remember that by sharing our teaching experiences and techniques, it make all of us better teachers.  The process of distribution of the 9X9X25 Challenge offers all of us the opportunity to be in the position of our students and learn.  I appreciate all of the participants in the challenge for helping me be a better teacher.  The value of the challenge for me, and I hope for all of us, is the continuous life-long learning process that we invoke to our students and now have practiced.  I have learned to ask better questions that require critical thinking skills to answer.  I also have learned to stretch, not only the students, but myself.

I remember that what started nine weeks ago, does not end here.  It will continue with my appreciation of what others have taught me.  The adjunct meetings that I attend will be part of the 9X9X25 challenge continuing process.  Having the opportunity to take the time to write what I feel works in the classroom and receiving feedback from peers is priceless, as the commercial goes.  One thing I am starting to do as a direct result of the challenge is to continue with my writing of my classroom techniques, both old and new.  Documenting the process and results and review will be great feedback for self-improvement.    For me, this has been a process improvement.

I will remember these past nine weeks and will remain grateful for all of the contributions I have read and have taken advantage of in my classroom.  Thank you for making me a better teacher.

What is a Blog Good For? Just About Everything!

blog_1_smOver the last 9 weeks I have been posting writing on a variety of subjects. These writings are part of Yavapai College’s 9x9x25 Challenge. What is the Challenge? As the father of the Challenge, Todd Conway, writes:

The Challenge is about writing as a reflective practice in teaching. The Challenge is about sharing your experiences as an educator, discovering new ideas about teaching and learning, creating a deeper sense of community between faculty at Yavapai College. The Challenge is also about learning what the internet is capable of and how it can be used in academic environments.

A blog is the natural vehicle for writing. It is a simple content management system that is easy to use. Whether you use a,,, or other blogging platform, it is easy to post text, music, pictures, video or practically any other type of content.

blog_5_smThe amount of content posted in the two 9x9x25 Challenges is immense. There are hundreds of post by my colleagues at Yavapai College. And other colleges are also blogging in their own challenges. That amount of quality information about teaching (and some other subjects) is hard to come by. Sometimes it was funny. Often it was spontaneous. Mostly it was thought provoking and useful. And we did it in nine weeks.

But a blog is not limited to reflection. It can also be the backbone of an online course. For the past few semesters I have used several blogs to deliver just about all of the content in College Algebra, Finite Math, and Survey of Calculus. I still use a learning management system (LMS) to deliver homework and quizzes, but everything else is offered on the blog. ca_01_smThe same blog is also the Welcome page in my LMS. My students have the best of both worlds. If they need to consult the calendar for a due date or find a formula in the textbook, they can find it on the blog without logging into the LMS. For doing homework or quizzes, they log into the secure testing environment in the LMS.

My blogs are also a tool for marketing my classes. When prospective students email me during the semester to know what the course is like, I direct them to the blog. Prospective students can get a taste of the online class before they register. Students can view the videos, textbook, calendar, syllabus and weekly learning plans without the hassle of logging in.

blog_3_smWere you surprised by the fact that the textbook is available through the blog? If you can type it as text, put it in a picture or video, or link to it, then you can put it into a blog. I even run the Arizona Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges through a blog. The possibilities are infinite!

Over the past week I have been reading the ebook, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, Media Education for the 21st Century” by Henry Jenkins. You can find this free ebook on Google Play. When I first began reading this book, I was intrigued by what the author called by “participatory culture”.

A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices. In a participatory culture, members also believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, members care about others’ opinions of what they have created).

My experience in the 9x9x25 Challenge is a manifestation of this participatory culture. Blogging is a technology with a very low entry barrier. This technology allows us to share our academic creations and learn from others with a similar interest. This definition suggests a powerful new way of professional development. Each of us can learn from each other but we need the low barriers provided by technology to do so.

Ten years ago this would not have been possible. I remember using Dreamweaver to create web pages for my site Because of the time and effort required to craft the web pages, I was limited in what I could share. The nuggets I did share were often the results of several years of work. I only posted what was ready for prime time, not my crazy ideas. Now I am able to post the crazy ideas in an extremely short time. I am only limited by the speed with which I type. If the ideas are crazy, the community of readers can call me out. The idea is to get those ideas out there.

Now here is the interesting part of the ebook. It is oriented toward using new media to teach children, not adults. It looks at the skills and competencies students need to succeed in a participatory culture. The book examines how the individual focus in education needs to shift to a community focus and what students need to be able to do to be able to access this culture. This culture is not limited to our students. It applies to everyone. Each of us needs to foster skills that help us play a role in learning from each other as well as helping our students learn from each other. Move beyond coffee conversations in the hallway and contribute to the community. Blogging, whether it is the 9x9x25 Challenge or in another context, is the perfect way to enter the new participatory culture.

Reflections: 25 sentences on the 9 x 9 x 25

1.  I began this challenge by writing a post about how it would help me to learn to meld my public and private self in an online space.

2. I think that it has done that … and more.

3. Teaching can be a very isolating profession.

4. We often find ourselves in our separate offices, with the doors cracked just a little bit, quietly working at our computers.

5. It is easy to forget that there are colleagues with fantastic ideas and great strategies for solving  the very problems that we are having, who are sitting mere feet away.

6. Through this challenge, I have been able to read some of those ideas and strategies and learn from them.

7. I have also been able to refine my own ideas about some of the more theoretical aspects of my teaching, as well as to share some of the more specific strategies and tools that support me in the classroom.

8. Since I have been at Yavapai, some of my favorite professional development opportunities have been the summer and winter institutes.

9.  Doing this challenge has replicated that experience in many ways.

10.  This challenge opens up the opportunity for faculty to share with one another without the time constraints of attending an in-person session.

11.  I can simply sit on my couch in my pajamas, and share my best practices and reflections with my fellow teachers.

12. I think to improve the challenge, it could be even more visible to faculty and staff across the campus.

13.  One of the biggest challenges for any activity happening at YC, whether it is a student activity or something for the faculty, is marketing.

14. I would like to see this challenge being talked about at welcome back day by the administration, and also by the deans at division meetings.

15.  I think faculty can be ambassadors for the value of the challenge, but when we are in our offices, grading with our doors closed, our voices only go so far.

16.  I think some faculty may also be more comfortable participating if it didn’t necessarily require them to create their own writing spaces online.

17. Perhaps there could be a central group blog or Wiki that faculty could post to without setting up an individual space, sort of like a “class blog” or “class wiki” like some of us may use in the classroom.

18. Posting that could even be a slightly different challenge, maybe with shorter posts (or even a Twitter challenge).

19.  I would also be interested in having the flexibility to do video or audio posts along with written posts.

20. That would give me the opportunity to try out some of the technologies that I would like to use in the classroom in this environment.

21. In the end, although it is somewhat time consuming to participate in something like this, it was worth it.

22. Not only did the challenge allow me to refine and explore my own ideas, but I’m not sure that if I wasn’t participating myself, I would have looked at any of the awesome posts from everyone else.

23. I will most likely participate again (and not just for the free ice cream) and encourage other faculty to participate as well.

24.  I think that it is in the interest of having an open line of communication and a culture of sharing at the college.

25. So, thanks to Todd and TeLS and all the other participants and

Happy holidays!

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