Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Understand Sarcasm and Satire or You Might be Dangerously Irrelevant as an Educator

As I said in the previous post, we now have 128 students in EDM310. Seventeen did not do Blog Post #5 leaving 111 who did. Of those, 24 students clearly did not understand the satiric/sarcastic nature of Dr. McLeod's post Don't Teach Your Kids This Stuff. Please? found on his blog Dangerously Irrelevant. Another six probably missed the sarcastic and satiric nature of the post. The posts of eight students were so poorly written that I could not tell anything about how they interpreted the post - or if they had even read it. Add all these up and we have 73 (65%) who understood Dr. McLeod's post.

Dr. McLeod Tweeted me on Tuesday September 20 concerned about this: "There's a certain percentage of your students that completely misses the irony in 'Don't teach your kids this stuff' :)"

I responded: "Ah yes! And they want to be teachers... About a third [last semester] and probably this."

My guess was correct. 35% missed it this semester.

The failure to understand the post even drew the attention of m.williams-mitchell. Dr. Mcleod drew my attention to this comment in the middle of the EDM310 comments this semester:
um…could someone please reassure me that the requirement for the class was to respond to this post as though one DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THAT IT WAS SATIRE??? I’m beginning to fear for our future.
Posted as a comment on Don't Teach Your Kids This Stuff. Please? by m.williams-mitchell, September 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm

And Now a Lesson

Let's look at the definitions of sarcasm and satire.

Definition of Sarcasm
sar·casm /ˈsɑɚˌkæzəm/ noun
1: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny
Merriam Webster Learner's Dictionary
Definition of Satire
sat·ire noun \ˈsa-ˌtī(-ə)r\
1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2: trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
Merriam Webster Dictionary

1: a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.
Merriam Webster Learner's Dictionary
As juniors in college I would expect you to recognize sarcasm and satire when you encounter these literary devices. Obviously that is not the case. So it is time for learning!

Dr. McLoed's meaning should be clear to you, if your are able to recognize sarcasm and satire, when you read the very last portion of his Don't Teach Your Kids This Stuff. Please? post:
don't do any of it, please


'cause I'm doing all of it with my kids

can't wait to see who has a leg up in a decade or two

can you?
Remember the Class Motto: I don't know. Let's find out.

That is what we are undertaking to do.


Skull and crossbones


There are now 128 students in EDM310. Seventeen of those did not do the Blog Post #5 assignment. Nine of those who did the assignment did not attempt to answer the question Who is Dr. Scott McLeod? That leaves 102 students who answered the question. Of those, 17 copied considerable portions of Dr. Mcleod's About Me material without attribution and without identifying the material copied and committed plagiarism as it is generally understood in academic communities. Another 17 used significant portions of that same material without attribution and without identifying the material copied and a very strong case could be made that they also committed plagiarism. Consequently, I am absolutely convinced that at least a third of this EDM310 class does not know about plagiarism (or doesn't care, or both). And you hope to be educators.

We must talk. About plagiarism. We will do so during Part 1 of the Mandatory Attendance Week.

Here are two things you must do to avoid plagiarism:
1. Always provide the source of the material (or ideas, conclusions, approaches or concepts). We do this with pictures using the TITLE modifier tag. In blogs, a very easy way is to provide a link to the source material. In papers, and you use footnotes following one of many possible style manuals.
2. Always put quoted material in quotation marks. If the passage quoted is long, indent it in a paper or put it un a blockquote in a blog (the quotation mark icon in the post area of a blog).

Yes, there are some exceptions to these two rules. We will discuss them next week. However, you can never be wrong if you follow these two rules.

Why is it important to know about plagiarism and how to avoid it?
1. You can get an F in a course or be dismissed from the University.
2. You can lose your job in the education community.
3. You can fail to teach your students and they may suffer the serious consequences cited above.

Why am I not bringing charges against at least 34 of you? Because I think you do not understand plagiarism and how to avoid it. I will not have that option if it happens again.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"I'm Scared"

Edvard Munch The Scream

Of what? I asked.

My caller was a new student in EDM310 who feared disclosing anything about herself or her family on the Internet. Why this fear?

There are predators on the Internet was the basis of her reply (she was afraid for her children), in addition to a fear of losing control over her privacy.

How do we, as teachers who have embraced the use of the internet, respond to such expressions of fear?

One response I always give is that if you want your kids (and you as an individual) to have an equal chance at economic (and political I would add) success in the new world, they must be skilled in and willing to use the most powerful communication and information tools available to them and others. Right now that is the internet and the associated communication tools that have been developed to extend our ability to interact freely and at no cost with practically anyone around the world using text, audio and video.

This answer, however, does not get at the fear of danger lurking "on the Internet." Usually the fear is expressed in terms of "being stalked" or being sexually or physically attacked.

We should then ask how often this happens as a result of interaction with the Internet.

If we read the papers or listen to District Attorneys (especially those running for office) you would think it is an extremely frequent occurrence. What do we know about interactions on the Internet? Here are some interesting figures. Chris Gayomali reported on July 1, 2011 that there are 200 million Tweets a day on Twitter. That is six trillion Tweets a month. What about Facebook? In one minute Gary Hayes (August 2011) estimates that there are 699,073 items shared on Facebook per minute! That is 41,944,380 per hour or 1 trillion a day.*

Now pretend that you are a stalker or some other kind or pervert that scares the living daylights out of pour souls just because you exist. How do you select from all the communications traffic whom to pick as your victim? A rather daunting task given the enormity of the communication events that you encounter! The answer is you troll. You fish for a victim. You try and get someone to respond to you. One way is to try and get people to accept you as a friend on Facebook or in chat rooms(or elsewhere) and share their personal stories, desires, fantasies, hopes and attributes. (Yes, sometimes those revelations are enhanced so they are more interesting, attractive or alluring). Now you, as a predator, have a much smaller pool of potential "victims" to work with. You know that they are "interested". They have identified themselves as potential cooperative participants, or at least have spiked your interest in them. Looking at thousands of blog posts, Facebook items or Tweets means fishing in too large a pond. You are now able to fish in a pond where the fish have indicated a possible willingness to bite. Now your efforts are far less daunting than surfing the entire communications network.

How do you protect yourself and your family? Not by hiding entirely from the Internet world. Instead you learn when and where to reveal what about you. My Mother told me over and over again not to accept rides from strangers. But she did not say that I could not get a ride home from school with Susie's mother. I was expected to learn how to make wise decisions and good choices. The same applies to the Internet.

You must teach your children (and you must learn yourself) how to safely use the Internet. Like crossing the street: look both ways before you cross and obey the lights. But do not refuse to ever cross a street!

One more thing. The greatest danger to you and your family is not "a pervert on the Internet." It is an automobile accident. Thirty-three percent of all deaths of 15-24 year olds in the USA come from an automobile accident. Forty six percent from all accidents. Think drinking and driving or texting and driving. Fifteen percent are homicides. The vast majority of these are caused by someone known to the victim. Thirteen percent are suicides. Eleven percent are diseases or congenital conditions.

Be aware. Not afraid. Help you family to learn to drive responsibly (no alcohol, no texting, no racing, etc. help your family to learn to use the Internet responsibly. And remember: The interactions you have on the Internet are a relatively minor part of your life. At least I hope you have a life other than an Internet life!

* Although not directly relevant to my argument in this post, I call to your attention the number of YouTime videos watched as reported by Gary Hayes far exceeds even the Facebook items shared. Are you ready? Here are Hayes' figures for Videos Watched on YouTube (August 2011):
Per minute: 2,097,221
Per hour: 125,833,260
Per day: 3,019,998,240
Per month: 93,619,945,440

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What Do We Want Our Students to Know, Be Able to Do, or Have Experienced?

Book cover of Amusing Ourselves to Death

I recently reread Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. His major complaint is that TV has ended (or is in the process of ending) the Era of Exposition which he defines in this way: "Arguments, hypotheses, discussions, reasons, refutations or any of the traditional instruments of reasoned discourse..." (p. 148, 20th Anniversary Edition, Amusing Ourselves to Death.). He bemoans this change because he feels that the major traits of an educated person will be replaced with amusements. He goes on to contend that classrooms have been converted from educational centers into "a place where both teaching and learning are intended to be vastly amusing activities." (p. 148)

This led me to think about what I want my students to know, be able to do and have experienced. (I will have more to say later on the amusement portion of Postman's view of what has happened to education.) I think most desired outcomes for education can be found in these three categories. Some may question experiences. I respond that some learning activities have objectives which cannot be measured or evaluated immediately (such as art appreciation) require us to content ourselves with a set of experiences, especially when we have reason to believe that those experiences will lead to the outcomes at some point in time when we can evaluate their effectiveness. This deserves more discussion which i will reserve for a later post.

Back to my list. I will start with Do since I think that is the most important list.

1. Be able to write. I tell my students they must meet Mrs. Yollis' 3rd grade standards for grammar, spelling and capitalization. And they also must be able to effectively argue a position and be an effective peer reviewer.
2. Be able to read. Yes, we can now listen to most written works. And I listen to a lot of material that is also in print form. But listening is now enough. I want my students to know how to read. And I would that add I want them to want to read. I guess I need a values category for my objective.
3. be able to find information using the most effective tools available. We are nearing the time when "all information will be available at all times in all places." (Guttenberg II)
4. Be able to assess and validate the credibility of information.
5. Be able to apply the scientific method in his or her scholarly activities. More precisely
a. Be able to Ask Questions
b. Be able to Observe
c. be Able to Describe
d. be able to Compare
e. Be able to Contrast
f. be able to Categorize
g. be able to Analyze
h. be able to Hypothesize
i. Be able to Ask Questions

Now the Know:

I have no absolutes here. It all depends. More important are points 3 and 4 in the list of skills above.

And the "Have Experienced" list?
1. Have engaged in developing and maintaining a personal Learning Network or PLN. Why? Because the sources of our intellectual support are critical for a successful career and life.

Nothing we have to know? Well, we have to know a lot. But there is no universal list unless it is our name, address and phone number.

But what do we test for in school? In most cases what is known. And that seems to me to be a fatal flaw in our educational system.

Needed to complete this discussion are the levels or standards to be attained in the skills identified above as well as ways for evaluating them. But the points I wish to make here are two:
1. We do not articulate clearly the learning outcomes or objectives that we wish to address.
2. If what we test for defines those objectives for us, which it indeed does, then we are not focusing our efforts as educators where we should be!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Teaching in the 21st Century

Uncle Sam Wats You

Last Friday I posted notice of the Watson vs. Jeopardy Stars Event. Forty students left comments prior to my writing thispost. Over and over they wrote something like this: “I don’t want my students to depend on technology to gather information.” The suggested substitutes or additional methods for gathering information were libraries, classrooms, books, encyclopedias, hard work, pencils, paper, teachers. One student made it crystal clear: “A teacher’s job is to provide information.”

I have two response.

First, and most importantly, the assumption that underlies these responses is that learning = information. That is absolutely not true, even though our educational system has forced you to believe that it is true with its emphasis on burp-back education and machine readable tests. It makes me ill to think what our educational system has done to you. DO NOT LET IT CONTINUE IN YOUR CLASSROOMS!

Second, a sense of fear pervades at least half of the responses. What are the sources of those fears? First there is a fear that all information should not be available to everyone. One student compared the information available as a result of the new technologies as in need of restrictions similar to the restrictions we attempt to place on nuclear weapons. (He did admit that his position was a bit extreme.) Others suggested that "inappropriate" information might be available, or connections made with unsavory individuals. Still others suggested we could undermine the ability to write and spell, we could lose our jobs to machines, the emotion and excitement of human responses would disappear, students would become lazy, hard work would not be valued, thinking would be undermined, we could encounter severe difficulties in case of electronic or political actions that shut down technologies, we might become “robot chow,” intelligence would decrease over time, people would be less willing to learn facts, machines would take over thinking, “humans would become obsolete.”

Wow! What a list of fears. A few respondents, but only a few, expressed the fear that without the technologies their students or their children would be faced with severe economic difficulties and extreme competition from those who did have and use the tools to their maximum advantage. But several more admitted that they would not like it at all if they were separated from their cellphone tools!

Look again at the video assigned for last Sunday (2/13) - Kevin Robert’s Teaching In the 21st Century. Even though this video was renamed by one student Mr. Very Long Video , it is worth your attention for the full 9 and 3/4 minutes (my, how short your attention spans have gotten!) it takes to watch it. And then it deserves some additional time while you think about what it has to say about teaching since you intend to be “teachers.”

Here’s a quick summary for those of you without 9:49 to spare:

•If teachers are mere dispensers of information, our jobs are obsolete!
•We must teach our students how to validate, synthesize, leverage, communicate, collaborate with, problem solve with information.

A Strange interruption: How well can you do these things? Has anyone ever taught you how to do these things? Are you learning these things now in the College of Education?

We return to our program in progress:

•We must teach skills not facts.
•In addition to teaching students to remember, we must also teach them how to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. Yes create!
•And we must teach them about responsibility, reliability, integrity, collaboration.
•We must rethink our classrooms. What tools should we and our students use? What problems should we ask our students to solve?
•Ask your students to explain, evaluate and justify their positions about contemporary, interesting issues that affect them.
•Your classrooms will have to be relevant, challenging, engaging. Not entertaining - engaging!

Another Strange interruption: You cannot, you must not teach the way you were taught! You must be a different kind of teacher in a different kind of world. If I thought you would, I would urge you to go back through Teaching In the 21st Century again. Slowly. Taking more than 9 3/4 minutes. It is worth you most careful consideration! We must also learn from our students. Thanks to Teri Hampton (Fall 2010) for bringing this most important video to my attention!

We return to our program in progress:

•These changes must start with YOU!

What Does It Mean to Teach in the 21st Century?

Saturday, January 29, 2011


My Aunt Mary Margaret Jessee Mayfield loved the word "serendipity." She taught it to me when I was very young. And I have been lucky to enjoy the fruits of serendipity all my life.

Serendipity struck again this week. Anthony Capps called to my attention a new post on the EDM310 Alumni Blog A light bulb moment by EDM310 alumnus Dina Tillman. I watched the movie and read her commentary and decided to have my EDM310 students watch the movie, read the post and answer a few questions.

There were four reasons for making this Special Assignment #1:
1. I wanted to make sure my students were regularly reading the EDM310 Class Blog
2. The video was short, fun and Dina's message emphasized an outcome I wish to foster: creativity
3. The assignment would draw attention to the EDM310 Alumni Blog, the only alumni blog (or even any activity) associated with an undergraduate course of which I am aware.
4. The video was supported by Volkswagen and the activity being shown in the video took place in Stockholm, Sweden. One of my objectives in EDM310 is to get my students out of Mobile, Alabama - at least virtually. This assignment furthered that objective.

Simple reasons for a relatively simple assignment.

But the responses of my students amazed me. You need to read the comments on the Assignment Post as well as Dina's original post on the Alumni Blog. Here is a sample of a very few of the most interesting comments:
"I realized that in order to lead people in a positive direction or to get a certain reaction, sometimes you have to find fun, creative ways of showing them how.:" (Whitney Hale)
"I hope that the red tape/requirements of teaching in high school won't keep me from remembering to make learning fun." (Lisianna Emmett)
"What an excellent thought to tie together! I know for myself, the teachers that I remember the most, the ones who really got through to me, were the ones who made learning fun. This should be our goal as future educators." (Erin Holton)
"I think that creativity is a great way to inspire "improvement" on many levels. And there's no doubt in my mind that we are perfectly capable of such 'light bulb' moments here in the U.S. as well, however, there are too many limiting factors here that prevent these types of innovations. Something like this would be met with hostility surrounding liability, possibility of injury, insurance responsibility, building code, etc...I think that with our current way of doing things under the constraints that we have willingly placed on ourselves, our 'light bulb' moments will be limited strictly to the arts and to the internet." (Richard Howell)
"Lets open up imagination in teaching and in our life and career. Sometimes as teachers it's easy to get caught up in the same everyday routine and you can use so many things to add imagination and fun into learning and in my opinion that's what you did here. It's this type of learning that we hang on to forever and always remember and not just 'burp back'!" (Lara Bishop)
"I will definitely try to think outside of the box. Especially after watching this video. Love, love, love the video!" (Tiffany Blanton)
"This video is so awesome and inspiring to me, and should be to all soon-to-be teachers. This video makes me realize that if we just take the time to think for a second we could make so many tasks in our daily life fun!" (Jessica Battles)
"I think this video is a really great example of how we as future educators can make it really enjoyable to do the right thing or learn to do new things. I'm glad that Dina posted this video to remind us all of how our classrooms should be run. This is also a good example of how we can motivate ourselves to do things we don't normally like to do." (Rebecca Warnburg)
"It inspired me to open my mind and think outside the box while also giving me the desire to enable my students to do the same. Thank you to Dina" (Jennifer Kelley)
"I completely agree with Dina about being a creative teacher who actually challenges students. I want to inspire my kids to not only learn my material, but to look for knowledge on their own as well. If I can make learning fun, exciting, and important, more children will excel and get the most out of life. These people simply made stairs into a piano and 66% more people took the stairs! Everyone has the power to change the world and we need to start now!" (Skye LaDart)
"The connection you made is awesome, and of course, I totally agree! Let's think of a fun-theory way to teach equivalent fractions. Maybe we can engage them at the lunch tables? Possibly incorporate their lunch menu... I wish we had time to just "play" with concepts with the kids. Like, 20 minutes or so just to explore academic ideas and strategies for teaching them....Speaking of 'light bulb' moments... Our brains probably just 'glowed' a bunch having thought about these stairs and their academic application! Thanks for helping me to get my glow on ;-)" (Anthony Capps)

And on and on and on!

Serendipity is alive and well in EDM310!