Sunday, August 24, 2014

Flipping the Accommodations Lecture

Most of us are able to move about freely without a thought and get those things done that need to be done. But what if our lives were different? What if, in one moment, everything changed?

Those questions were explored by a "flipped" in-service project at my college this past week called "A Day in the Life." The idea was simple. Rather than present a 500-slide PowerPoint about accommodations services available for students and staff, we placed limitations on selected staff and let them report back to the college.

So on Tuesday morning, the first time that we gathered together for the fall term, six volunteers (three in leadership and three faculty) agreed to be "limited" during the opening eight-hour day. To their credit, they agreed to this project blindly without knowing the limitations (three physical and three cognitive) or who would be assigned to what. They spent the entire day (welcoming speech, keynote, breakfast, lunch, break-out sessions, department meetings and mingling with the masses) in some sort of restraint and then reported back during a Thursday in-service session.

Everyone we asked was an active, self-assured and well-known member of our campus community. That was the point. None of them had a speed less than full-throttle, and at first they accepted the limitations in good spirits. Those spirits were drawn down after they realized how much of their energy would be spent coping with the limitation. The limitation changed everything. By noon, only half-way through the day, most of them were looking at us organizers with sad-eyes, hoping to released early. Rather than enjoying the energy of the first day of the term, they were just focusing on survival.

Those with physical limitations (a temporary leg cast with crutches, an immobilized arm and impaired vision) reported they were annoyed by their loss of independence. The limitations slowed them down and forced them to concentrate on just moving about without bumping into things. This group talked of unexpected physical obstacles around the college. The school is ADA accessible of course, but extended tripod legs from hallway easels can still trip the unwary.

Colleagues tried to help them, but the help seemed an annoyance rather than beneficence. The physical restrictions caused physical aches and pains in otherwise healthy bodies. A male colleague fitted with the shoulder harness talked about unexpected challenges in the restroom and while trying to one-hand type email replies to a slew of messages. His support staff wanted to be supportive, but he said just wanted the freedom to be on his own like always.

Most of the students who come to the Accommodations Office need help with cognitive issues, so those of us who organized the day tried to duplicate those problems in volunteers. Those were the most difficult but interesting limitations to come up with. In order to replicate (sort of) a student who can't concentrate, we asked the volunteer to tune in to talk radio all day long and listen through an ear bud. We asked a second volunteer to repeat everything she said three times. The third cognitive volunteer was allowed one word ("Thank you" he decided upon) but could not make eye contact. The panel feedback from these volunteers was the most interesting.

The talk-radio volunteer said not surprisingly he was distracted by voices through the earphones. It never turned into "white noise" that he could tune out. He found he often asked others to repeat themselves, to his annoyance and theirs. Even normal one-on-one lunch conversations were blocked because the real people around him were competing with voices through the ear piece. "What did I miss?" he asked about the day.

The repeater volunteer complained that she was not able to take part in conversations because of the repetition obstacle. Like all the volunteers, the limitation forced her to drastically slow down. After she had answered questions three time, the conversation was already two or three subjects away. Though normally quite talkative, she said she was forced to listen because she didn't want to three-peat. She admitted that she dropped character during a 30-minute departmental meeting. What would have happened if she had not "cheated" during the meeting? She said she would have not been able to do her job.

The faculty member who had could only speak one word and could not make eye contact seemed the most agitated. He spotted me at the end of an in-service session just before his 3:30 p.m. release time. He tugged on the sleeve of my shirt without looking up and I had pity on him and released him a few minutes early. He burst forward with a variety of surprising stories about the day.

At first he said he thought this would be just a game. But determined to play his part, he soon realized the limitation would be much more difficult than he thought. He particularly said the inability to make eye contact was a massive barrier to communications. To his surprise, after his faculty friends were unable to talk with him in the usual way, they walked away saying they would talk to him the next day when he was able. He was shocked by that rejection. Without the ability to communicate, he said he felt like a "broken person." The next day he did confront his friends, and they told him that they were embarrassed by their reaction and regretted turning away. "Yet they did," he said.

So, what did we learn? First of all, each of the volunteers had the option of receiving help from the Accommodations Office to make it through the day. None of them chose to take advantage of that. They said they wanted to make it on their own, much like our students who also do not self-disclose their limitations. Without that self-disclosure, the Accommodations Office cannot help. It's true that this was just one day, but we learned the independent instinct of the volunteers was not much different than that of our students.

Second, we learned that simple obstacles seemed to change the way we see ourselves. I was surprised by that. The volunteers said the limitations don't just impact outward appearance, but reach down into the core of who we are, even when we know we are "playing" at accommodations. Physical and cognitive barriers changed the best our staff into a shell of their former selves. The energy they usually freely applied to problems within the college was held back in order to help them cope with daily activities.

The volunteers stayed in character because they knew this project would end at the end of the day. What would it be like, we all asked ourselves, if these limitations could not "released" at 3:30? What would it be like, we all asked ourselves, if we had to live with these limitations every single day?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mathematical Uncertainty in Classroom Assessments

In simple math, an answer is either right or it is wrong, right? If the problem is 2+3, then the answer is "5", end of question. If the student answers "6", then you probe a little and find out what the student was thinking. In either case, the question is a straight-forward measurement of the student's ability to count.

Let's say the student moves to simple Algebra and is asked to solve the problem, 2+x=5. The traditional answer, of course, is "3" assuming "x" is a positive integer. Yet just stating the answer, that is grading the assessment without review and reflection, may not correctly evaluate a student's ability to handle the material. The student may have remembered the previous questions, may have had a lucky guess or may be able to handle positive numbers and be blown away by negative integers. Can you tell if a student understands Algebra from the answers to one question? Probably not.

So, we move to multiple questions with multiple answers. I know this drives students crazy (especially the ones who just want me to tell them what is the right or wrong answer), but I don't care about the answer as much as I do for the process and discovery leading up to the answer. That's where learning takes place. If we want facts regurgitated, we google them. We don't need students to sub as smart phones.

A common gripe I hear from GED students is that the questions on the credentialed test are not the same as those in class or on the practice tests -- well, yeahhh. Novice students expect a 1:1 alignment of study questions to test questions, which is not going to happen. There's an Urban Legend in teaching circles that after a GED math test a student complained bitterly to a teacher that the class did not teach the algebra material that was on the GED test.

"What do you mean?" the teacher asked.

"In class we learned that if x+2=5, then x=3. And if x-2=1, then x=3," the student said.

"Yeah?" said the the teacher, not understanding the crisis.

"But, the test asked what was the answer to a+2=5 and n-2=1," said the student. "You didn't teach us about 'a' and 'n'. You only taught us about 'x'."

As a colleague once told me, the classroom curriculum is the map and the assessments are the compass. Sure, we teach the facts, the topography of the course, the scale of the region and annual migration routes of indigenous inhabitants, but more important we teach how to use the compass when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Assessments are as much a learning tool as are Power Points and study time.

Problems on the GED test, in college classrooms and in job situations are rarely as simple as 2+3=5 whether the variable "x", "a" or "n".  More often a problem is x+y=z, where 0<x<100 and y is a squared multiple of z depending the latitude of the inverse proposition.  Not only don't you know what the initial quantities are, you may not even know what the answer is supposed to be. Keying in on answers alone assumes that right answers or wrong answers are the most important thing in learning. They aren't. What's most important is the process students use to divine the answer. The best assessments that discover that process are as creative, varied and reflective as is the problem. The answer key to those assessments is rarely in the back of the book.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Green Bay Readers Notch No. 1

The Green Bay area is No. 1 in gorgeous summer weather and City Deck entertainers, No. 1 in Kansas wide receivers and pro-shop baseball cap displays, and No. 1 as an Integrated Newspaper Audience. The first two are in my humble opinion, and the last is supported by a national media and consumer study. 

Last Sunday (July 20, 2014, D1), the Press-Gazette’s business writer, Richard Ryman, wrote about a Scarborough Research study that measured media impact from April 2013 to March 2014 over more than 150 DMAs (Designated Market Areas) across the nation. Green Bay newspaper readers ranked No. 1. I guess the No. 1 shouldn’t have been a surprise since Gannett Wisconsin print and digital products in the Green Bay area had been No. 1 during the previous year and No. 2 the year before. Our area understands the importance of a newspaper.

To climb to the top of the newspaper pile, the Press-Gazette recorded a market "reach" of 62-percent. This means 62-percent of our local adults read the printed newspaper, the newspaper’s website, or a mix of both during a typical week. In comparison, according to Ryman, the big dog of journalism in the state, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ranked a respectable seventh with a 52.6 percent overall weekly reach. Considering how newspapers are getting pounded by other media, neither ranking is bad -- though ours is better. Scott Johnson, president and publisher of Press-Gazette Media, was naturally pleased, “Our readers continue to value and appreciate our content and we are grateful to them…”

All this is to the good. I am happy to be part of the No. 1 Integrated Newspaper Audience in the nation. I started the newspaper habit as a journalism student in college and have continued that habit through a variety of careers. Newspaper reading has been a personal and professional advantage. And, I believe, a responsibility of an informed citizenry. If one does not read the newspaper, how will he or she know what is going on? 

I look forward to the morning dose of the world and I expect continued success in media studies in future years since in the past year, the PG has noticeably improved by adding USA Today and other Gannett features to the Press-Gazette. Now the paper takes two cups of coffee in the morning, rather than just one.

Congratulations to Johnson, Ryman and all the other newspaper workers at the Press-Gazette. Together, I think we have the makings for another Green Bay dynasty.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Better You in Five Years

Self-help lists are a dime a double dozen on the Internet. What do they boil down to? Eat right, get plenty of sleep and exercise each and every day. Right. Been there. Done that. Have the Bellin Run t-shirt -- in fact, I have drawer of Bellin Run t-shirts. But has this advice inspired me to create a new improved version of myself? How about you?

Then I came across a post from Drake Baer of Business Insider who asked a question on behalf of a 23-year-old physics student: “What can I do today to help out my future self in 2019?” Baer compiled the answers from a website called Quora and summarized the 20-something advice into 17 categories. I almost clicked through the post, but was pulled in by the first couple of suggestions. They were easy (see #17) and made a lot of sense even for someone who is a multiple of 20-something.

Now, I don't advocate starting all seventeen ideas right after you read this blog, but there are enough ideas here that if you can make one or two of them a habit (see #17, again) during the days of summer that are left to us you may achieve better personhood in five years. I am borrowing more or less direct from Baer's article so I am crediting the people who came up with the ideas. We do need to know who to award the t-shirts to.

Here are the seventeen ideas.

1 Pick up an athletic hobby that you can do over your lifetime. Coed rugby and mountain skateboarding will only last so long. On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle will do awful things to you. David Cannon.

2. Write down key points of what you did each day. This may seem trivial and a bit middle-school journal-ish, but Harvard Business School research shows that taking as little as 15-minutes of written reflection at the end of the day can make you more productive. Stan Hayward.

3. Talk to one stranger every day. Strangers = opportunities. Opportunities = more opportunities. And, more +++ opportunities are better than fewer :-<<. Who you know (in other eras this was called networking) can accelerate your career, happiness and health. Ashraf Sobli.

4. Learn to listen well. People love to talk about themselves. Listening allows you to build #3 and gives you something to #2 about. Charles Tips.

5. Waste less time. Zig Ziglar (my quotation, not Baer's) points out that each of us have twenty-four hours each day. Lack of direction, not lack of time is the problem of those who waste time. Anonymous.

6. Find happiness in the process of accomplishing your dreams. Avoid a "deferred life plan." Find a way to do what you like to do today, or, like what you have to do. Attitude is always key. Dan Lowenthal.

7. Build strong friendships and be kind to people. See #3 and #4. That will also help #6. Edina Dizharevic.

8. Diversify your experiences. See #3. Dan Lowenthal.

9. Save money. Put a little bit away with each paycheck. Do it automatically so you don't miss it. This is called the miracle of compound interest. India L.J. Mitchell.

10. Drink with old people (see #3, #7, #8). They've been there, done that and have the t-shirts (see #4). Ben Hinks.

11. Start meditating. It trains your brain to be able to deal with the madness of each day (see #6). Anonymous.

12. Learn to work with shame and doubt. Those emotions probably mean your are stretching beyond your comfort zone (see #11). That's a good thing. Diego Mejia.

13. Go outside: hikes, walks, running, that new lifelong sport you are taking up (see #1), anything. Cognitive psychologists prescribe a little "wilderness bathing" to counteract depression and burnout. Non-cognitive sorts say you need a dose of fresh air to chase aways the blues. Stephen Steinberg.

14. Get to know people who are different from you (see #3, #4, #8, #10). You might even meet them during a #13. Judy Tyrer.

15. Date everything (see #2) — no, not that kind of “date.” Whether you're connecting with a person, taking notes during a meeting, or labeling takeout boxes in the fridge, knowing the date when something happened is useful in ways you can't predict. If it could be predicted, we might mention it here as incentive. Dee Vining.

16. Read novels. Fiction is emotional and cognitive stimulation. Novels train you to recognize, understand and model other people's experiences of life. It's almost as good as #3, #8, #10 and #14. It’s even up there with #1 and #13. Anuany Arunav.

17. Set minimum goals. Read 15 pages a day, do 20 push ups each morning (see #1-#16), floss a different tooth each day (???). Starting the habit, even a small habit, is key to changing your life.

Pick only one or two of the group to try for the rest of the summer but don't delay (#6). We’ll check back in five years. T-shirts to the finishers.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Success Myth: Pick a College, Any College

Flash quiz: What is the best strategy for a high school graduate? 1. Pick a college, any college. 2. Align your talents and strengths with career exploration and the relevant education and skills training you will need to get a job in your first preferred career choice.

If you, or the graduate, are not sure of the answer, watch this excellent 9-minute video from Citrus College, a community college in the Los Angeles, California, suburb of Glendora. The video is written and narrated by Kevin Fleming and directed and animated by Brian Marsh.

Success in the New Economy: how prospective college students can gain a competitive advantage:

OK, now that you have watched it, you can probably answer the first question. Can you answer a few more?

  1. What percentage of recent high school graduates enroll in higher education: 22%, 44%, 66% or 88%?
  2. What fraction of new university graduates are underemployed: 12.5%, 25%, 50% or 75%?
  3. Comparing the job market of 1960 with 2018, what percent of jobs in 2018 will require a four-year university degree?
  4. Comparing the job market of 1960 with 2018, what percent of jobs in 2018 will require a one-year certificate or two-year associate degree?
  5. What is the ratio of jobs in the economy in 1950 that required a graduate degree compared to a bachelors degree compared to a one-year certificate or two-year degree.
  6. What is the ratio of jobs in the economy in 1990 that required a graduate degree compared to a bachelors degree compared to a one-year certificate or two-year degree.
  7. What is the ratio of jobs in the economy in 2030 that will require a graduate degree compared to a bachelors degree compared to a one-year certificate or two-year degree.
  8. (T/F) "Getting a bachelors degree in Business is always better than getting an industry-based credential as an Electrician."
  9. Community colleges are in an ideal position to provide (PICK ONE: 40%, 50%, 60% or 70%) of tomorrow's workforce with the education they need.
  10. What two items will be the new currency for the new economy?
ANSWERS: In the video, of course. And, a passing grade is 80%.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Disadvantage of Auto-Cloud Backup

I was not paying attention to my knitting, as my grandmother might have said.

I was updating a school to-do list in Evernote on my phone: assignment due dates, ideas for new classes, websites that I copied but not had gotten around to viewing yet, and so on. The digital detritus of a modern working guy. The "Cloud" ties the Evernote app into my phone, iPad, home PC and Mac and the various desktops at school offices and labs. I have categories for school, home, and garden; a quote list (I write them down as I see them); a daily to-do list; a list of books I want to read and I list of books I have read during the current year.

At this time of the year, the school list has been pared down to essentials: to-dos I want to complete during the summer and to-dos I want to take up in the fall. Still, there were more than two-dozen items on the note. I was rushed one night, multitasking, and made one too many clicks. The entire file was highlighted (select-all is always a dangerous choice) in a pale blue box with one click, and the next quick key stroke replaced the entire list with the single letter, "r".

Gone. Everything. Was. Gone.

I looked around for the salvation of an "Undo" icon -- no icon. I knew if I closed the file, the information (as little as there was) would be uploaded to the Cloud (handy automatic feature that) and the lower case "r" would replace two years of ideas. And, no, there had been no print-out backup. Instead, I fired up another machine in another room and signed into Evernote from there. As I suspected, the earlier file had not yet been updated across the system (the first computer file was still open), so I forced a sync with the Cloud to keep the file from the second machine rather than the r-file. The sync was complete. All was saved, sort of.

What I had were two competing files with the same name on two different machines. Eventually there was going to be a problem. Rather than hope for the best, never a good idea when working with technology, I renamed the second school file as "School 2014-15" and re-synced. Again, successful. So I had the original school file and the second, renamed file.

I turned back to the phone and when I clicked off the file screen, as I suspected, the "r-file" was uploaded as "School" and populated all devices. The Cloud is very thorough. But, I had my original work, other than some rushed tweaking, under the name of the new file, "School 2014-15." I also had the file, "School" with a lone "r" in it. I think I will keep it as a reminder for a while

Losing the original file would not have been the end of the world. I would have eventually recreated the items. But, an absent-minded slip of attention and errant keystroke would have cost me time and anxiety. In an earlier generation, I would have said this was a lesson about backing up, but it's not really -- backing up is an automatic process today. Instead this a story about slowing down, paying attention to your knitting, and then when digital disaster strikes, trying to stay calm and keep on computing.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chiseled Words and Broken Footsteps

The statue-less statue of Arsinoe II (285-246 B.C.) stood out from the 75 other more-or-less intact objects in a Chicago Art Institute exhibit titled, "When the Greeks Ruled Egypt,"sponsored by the Jaharis Family Foundation, Inc. One foot of the statue was formally posed ahead of the other in a typical Egyptian portrait stance. The rest of it was broken off at the top of the foot.

Now, a practically destroyed 3,000 year-old statue is not unusual, but these footsteps on an inscribed rectangular base, seemed especially poignant. When the statue was carved, the Greeks were at their height of power: Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. beginning a 300-year era of Greek-installed Pharaohs. Fascinated by Egyptian practices for immortality, the Greek rulers adapted and amended Egyptian customs especially those promising an afterlife. Who wouldn't want to live forever? According to the museum description of this item, Ptolemy II (309-246 B.C.) "introduced new features into Egypt's traditional religious practices, including the posthumous deification of his sister-wife, Arsinoe II. He decreed that she was to be worshipped in temples throughout Egypt." Immortality by executive fiat.

But the life of a goddess only lasts as long as her disciples and, while some pantheons have been long-lived, none have yet achieved immortality. The Greek-installed Pharaohs of the Ptolemaic Period were replaced by Roman rulers, as were Greek temples with Roman temples and Greek gods with Roman gods. After that, Rome fell to others who fell to still others during subsequent historical epochs. During the chaos that followed, the statue and the memory of Arsinoe II was shattered, buried, and forgotten.

Forgotten? Not quite yet though her memory was not preserved by scripted rituals and carefully constructed chants for the dead. The powerful who relied only on such fantasies lie forgotten beneath the shifting sands of time. Immortality in this case was bestowed by the hammer and chisel of an unknown artist who carved the statue and double-inscribed (just to be safe) Arsinoe II's name in both Greek letters and Egyptian hieroglyphics in its base. Literacy not libations, art not artifice bridged those 2500 years.

This is probably not the immortality that was promised to Ptolemy II by his minions. The mighty pharaoh would not be pleased that he and his sister-wife were of only passing interest to middle school tour groups texting each other in a side exhibit hall in Chicago. What could the young know about the ageless yearning for immortality? To offset their disrespect, I stood quietly before the chiseled words and broken footsteps and wondered.