Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Paradox of success

It is believed that Yogi Berra once said about a restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore, it is too crowded!"
This is what is happening to new technologies in pedagogy, people are becoming fed-up with the down times and other issues with websites providing services to academia. There are also issues with the inter-communication between servers. One case in particular is making me go mad. As our provider's firewall is keeping our students to access "bad" sites it is also impeding them to have access to textbook's websites that use a lot "handshakes". I guess this is just normal with the rapidly changing world of technology and as it has always been we will just get used to it in the same way we now use old technologies like electricity.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Time and space for learning

In our analytical mind we tend to separate, dissect, and categorize phenomena that is complex and transcends simple definitions, as important things are. One of those is learning, so many books have been written about it and have tried to, and to so some extent have accomplished, describe the steps and conditions in which learning take place. For me learning about the realm of hard sciences, within which the basic understanding of how the "world" works is so fundamental that represents the only way to find the elements necessary to move forward in what appears to be an incoming pedagogical revolution. Specially in higher education. This applies directly to the interaction between the teacher and the pupil. In the old tradition instruction takes place synchronously in what we call the classroom. Today with cyberspace being part of our reality synchronicity evolves into a new meaning. And asynchronous teaching starts to make not only sense in the economic world but in the pedagogical arena. One example of this is Khan Academy which has received support from Microsoft's Bill Gates and it is creating a new paradigm in transmission of information. So the challenge for higher ed is how to create an environment where information is assimilated at the same time (as it has been the objective so far) develop in the student the ability and skill to solve problems by critically thinking about the circumstances and relationships related to the issue. Not only for the short term, of course, but more important for the long term in the understanding that the solution will affect society as a whole. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Creativity from Chaos

Reading the Book Chaos, Creativity, and Cosmic Consciousness by Sheldrake, McKenna, and Abraham one gets a feeling of pedagogical liberation. For a preview link here. Science has evolved in the last centuries to accept and frame change as a fundamental element in our understanding of reality. This change has not been incorporated in the way the we teach in higher education. Why do I say that? Because in many instances we continue with the old paradigm of lecturing in class as did our ancestors centuries ago. Some cosmetic changes have occured like the use of small group discussion and the introduction of electronic tools like data projection of "power points", videos, and clickers. But the fundamental relationship between teacher and learner has not evolved to satisfy the needs of today's students or -by the way- professors. One has to ask again and again what is the fundamental need or purpose of education. Oh yes, I know many will say that question has been answered so many times that repeating it only justify bad pedagogy. We all know what the purpose of education is! We all know that we need to train useful people to become citizens in today's economy, in today's society, and in today's wars. Both mission statements and values of higher education institution articulate how in an orderly fashion students will get rid of the chaos in their life but seldom will they embrace "chaos" as an accepted state in nature, as the uncertainty principle so well described by Eisenberg in physics is able to relate the knowledge of the position of a particle in space by sacrificing the knowledge about its motion.
One can understand the need for creativity in our society as our students look for a way in which they can be of service, in most cases this implies being able to be creative. Low income jobs will -as have always been, be for those incapable of creating. Those able to be creative will -as they have always been, be able to participate not only in the production process but in the benefits of these processes as well. That of course will mean being compensated in a way that will satisfy their standard of living.
(As I am preparing for my next assignment teaching general chemistry as well as organic chemistry next fall I am looking for ways to transform my teaching techniques in a way that will be liberating for my students.)
When one prepares for the change in the way we look at things finds that is hard to define what has to be changed. Unless we know that, how are we to know how to change it. Using the metaphor of a broken car we see that the diagnosis is based on functionality if something is not happening, if something is not doing what is supposed to to then we know what the part is broken, thus knowing what piece has to be replaced. In pedagogy this is more nuanced and most times is of course more difficult to diagnose.
Every course should start with a diagnosis of the relationship between the students taking the class and the program (syllabus- or as I call it syllabook) for that class.
What should be included in this diagnosis? That is what I'd like to know!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Best Practices and Cool Tools

There are a lot of worth looking videos online about online teaching and learning this is one

This is one about first time online teacher:

This is about using simulations:

This is about audiovisual aids (multimedia) to enhance learning

About online teaching

Have a look at this video 

and this one

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pulling students in

As we finish the semester I find that some students were willing to dip in and some were waiting to be pulled in. I feel like some students taking the class were thinking that they had to take it for some external reason unfamiliar to them, this of course is not the first time! It looks like every year with a new set of students we face the same'ol issue of motivation. Now motivation is a product of self-knowledge and maturity, and is necessary to produce engagement in the class. As engagement is the product of motivation and active learning and not an ingredient provided by the teacher. This is a common misconception: good teachers produce student's engagement in the classroom. Good teachers provide the conditions for engagement within an active learning setting, but will not be able to engage the student if the student is not motivated. And there are many reasons why the student might not be motivated, one is lack of self-esteem! Here is were a good teacher might be able to do something, there are according to Jack Canfield 100 ways to enhance self-concept in the classroom  and 100 ways to build self-esteem and teach values but at the end is for the student to take ownership of their performance, their education, and their future.    


Commencement is a long tradition in the academic world, represents the transition from student life to that of a "professional." So one expects that the ceremony will give an insight of how those years spent as a student make a mark on the character and ethos of the individual. When one observes the changes in those who one met a few years back and then see how they have matured and evolved, there is no other feeling but the satisfaction of being a participant in that process.
So how would "Commencement" look when students get their education through online programs, what king of relationship will be developed between students, instructors, teachers, and professors; not to mention administrators? Will it be possible to witness the evolution and maturation of a young student through the critical years of traditional college?
Or is the new paradigm of online education only effective when educating adults? These are questions that many in the academic world are addressing.
My feeling is that with the complicated and diverse nature of humans, no one system will fit all. Hybrid systems will always be more effective and will have the advantage of adaptability in a fast changing world.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

“How much do students here learn? How do you know?”

These questions posed by David Brooks in an article in the NY Times are symptomatic of the need to assess education, but Brooks is missing the point when tries to use some pseudo  quantitative information related to the "amounts" learned by students in college.
This misguided attempt to measure gain is skills using Arum and Roksa's study “Academically Adrift", where they "found that, on average, students experienced a pathetic seven percentile point gain in skills during their first two years in college and a marginal gain in the two years after that." But then Brooks mention that the numbers are "disputed" and continues by saying "but the study suggests that nearly half the students showed no significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during their first two years in college." So why use the suggestion of the study if the numbers are contested?
There are other ways of knowing how education is affecting one's life and ways to quantify the benefit of higher education for instance the average income of tax payers with or without a four-year college education. The percent of unemployed with or without a college degree and so on. So when Brooks ask parents to ask the question to college administrators "How much do students here learn?" is misguiding them as a more appropriate question would be: How do you assess the quality of the education provided here?
This question will make parents more involved in their children's education and will also help them to see the need of hard work and commitment when choosing a career more so today when STEM majors are lagging way behind other industrialized nations.    

Saturday, April 21, 2012


What it takes to learn?
One of the most talked virtues in teaching is "making difficult concepts easy to understand". One can struggle with this idea for it not only requires engagement from the teacher but also from the student, and the objective (might be course content) not being easily accessible to a simple interpretation.
As a metaphor one can use the idea of a symphony: how can one understand even enjoy a piece by Stravinsky if one hasn't a basic knowledge of harmony, melody, or rhythm?
Stravinsky Conducts Firebird
You can teach making it fun and using games like this video can show
but it will always be necessary for all to be engaged! Here is where "talent" becomes part of the learning "equation" as talent will be an individual attribute. Not everyone has "an ear" for music, or "a leg" for soccer! So how can we know what kind of talent is needed for a particular subject? And once we know what king of talent is required can we (teachers and councilors) help students develop such talent?
As we all we do in life everything is connected so one way to address this issue would be to find the links to the motivation needed for the development of such talent. Also we have to know the scope of the requirements in that particular field, for example a student seeking a degree that would allow him/her work as a pharmacist in retail might not need a course in quantum chemistry but one working in research might need. So can we know what the future will be for that student? Or by not teaching quantum chemistry to pharmacy students are we restricting the scope of the student's future?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mrs. McVey's class

I got a very encouraging email today from Mrs. April McVey telling me that she has been using some environmental references from my website at Warner Pacific College. This is one of the wonders of the internet that you design your writings and postings targeting a narrow audience and you never know who else will be part of it. I want to openly thank Mrs. McVey for taking the time to let me know about this and also for letting me know of a broken link that I had there. It is through this kind of ineraction that we can improve continously our endevour in teaching and learning. Thanks so much Mrs. McVey!   

Monday, February 13, 2012

Video lecture

It is becoming indispensable in teaching science the use of video clips to make a point. More time should be used in class to solve problems and more time outside class should be used to read about the theories behind the concepts and to watch videos to enhance the interest of the student. The following video
is a great example of what people can do.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Discovery and innovation have many avenues

This video! shows how a middle school science student playing with molecular models creates one that later on is subject to research. One never knows how a new idea is going to be developed, when is going to happen, or who is going to do it. Either by him/herself of as a group. But there are some critical keys for this to happen and they are around the fact that community support, and mentorship is always involved.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Teaching Metaphors

It is well known that metaphors are very useful when teaching, specially when teaching scientific concepts. One tries to simplify concepts by relating them to more familiar situations building bridges will be a good metaphor for these kind of explanations. Even to describe what teachers do has relied on metaphors, such a hicking/travel guide, sport coach in a reference to learning as a journey or a game. But this one is new for me: Professional Cook! This article by Natalie Houston in The Chronicle of Higher Education's blog "ProfHacker" really makes a point about this metaphor. Hope you enjoy reading it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

It Is About Relationships

Learning is not an isolated endeavor, nor is an individual event. Learning and thus teaching is a relational activity that has to be developed over time. How long it takes? is hard to answer and will be dependent on what the learner and teacher bring to the relationship. As with any relationship there are bidding actions as described by Gottman and DeClaire that produce counter-bidding. And the way we respond with the counter-bidding will determine the outcome of the relationship. There are -in general- three was we can reply: positively or turning toward, when with the reply there is an engaging counter-bidding; turning away, when the response denotes ignoring the effort done by the one engaging; and turning against, when the response implies some kind of offensive, dismissive, or in any way negative and in some cases contrarian to the interest of the relationship. Gottman and DeClaire argue that most of the way in which one responds to these bids comes from the ways we learned early in childhood and is difficult to change as they are so imbedded in the sub-conscience. 
In the classroom one can find these three was if turning to a lecture or learning activity. The student brings his/her preconceived idea of what s/he needs and how s/he is going to get it. But is science there is one advantage over other topics that do not have a hands-on laboratory experience. In these activities teachers can remove to a certain degree the student from his/her familiar attitudes as there activities do not replicate the realities of growing up. It seems that "lecturing" follows a parallel more attune to the traditional up-bringing that one is exposed.
More laboratory, and hands on experiences have to be included when teaching as the old idea of learning through doing appears to be well proven. 
John M. Gottman and Joan DeClaire. 2001. The Relationship Cure. Three Rivers Press, NY ISBN: 0-609-80953-9