Thursday, December 10, 2009

Evaluation of a recent training session in online education

In Defense of  Traditional Face-to-Face Teaching

As teachers who are obligated to provide our students with a deep understanding of our discipline, but also with a visceral event to for students to relate directly to this understanding of our information, we must acknowledge the limitations of online education. We must respect and encourage the ways we deliver and synthesize this deeper understanding, ways that no degree of electronic technology can ever simulate.
 Some examples include:
·         the weight of social and intellectual responsibility that a student feels when called out by the professor in impromptu, Socratic fashion - in a room that is living and breathing with one’s academic peers.
·         the satisfaction a student feels after providing a sophisticated and correct response in this situation.
·         the sound of chalk on the chalkboard, as if the very idea was being inscribed and etched into your head.
·         the smell of the guy sitting next to you, which reminds you of a former co-worker who often espoused racist remarks at your workplace, which helps you to relate to a lecture on racism.
We should also acknowledge that it is fundamentally more rewarding for teachers to teach in a live classroom.  The theatrics and presentation skills necessary to deliver a good lecture require years of practice (and usually no training). The artistic element in teaching a live classroom, in adjusting to moment-to-moment shifts in intellectual energy in a class of forty students, for example, has an intrinsic reward for teachers themselves. This sensation cannot, as yet, be simulated online.
Maybe we are not obligated to provide these things. There is currently no (measurable) evidence to suggest that these experiences are important for learning, or that teachers desire them. But then again, how would we know if these qualities of learning have never been measured, or are immeasurable? Considering the inability of current assessment rubrics to measure such unquantifiable forms of knowledge, and the current reward structure in which only the standard outcomes receive administrative support, should faculty be expected to provide these things?  Further, given the stress and time constraints induced by administrative demands for outcome assessment - for quantification over quality - should faculty be expected to provide this additional service, especially given the median salary for this work? Of course, quantifying outcomes usually yields in stronger courses and deeper learning, at least by our current measures. But should we be at all concerned that providing the intangible learning experiences of the live classroom seems almost superfluous to the ordinary expectations of online classroom instruction?
I’m not sure. But I doubt this question would be posed in an online classroom of any sort, because there is no readily measurable learning outcome and the discussion might not be consistent with the stated course objectives.
Having said all that, I think it is entirely appropriate and valuable for online instructors to complete this Quality Matters workshop. Participating in this training has absolutely improved my understanding of effective online education and has tangibly improved my current online courses. I would not have even thought about many of the quality controls suggested in this collegial-style workshop, so thank you for the opportunity, honestly. Online education today has been constructed primarily through a business lens, for profit-driven reasons and, as such, tends to attract lower-level academics and newbie professors who need extra money. It also encourages sloppy work as a side project for many of these instructors. A poorly-constructed and easy course provides well for the lazy student and instructor and such as course is easily replicated throughout the system. The Quality Matters guidelines are a practical and effective means of raising the bar for online education under these circumstances.

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Speech

A speech is just a speech, but some remarks made today by President Obama deserve consideration. Certainly, he is not the first undeserving character to receive this seemingly tainted award; however, this speech was more than an acceptance - it was a recognition of an imperfect world (including one that would give this award to him) and a call to pursue peace as a moral obligation. As I write this, progressives are criticizing Obama for a peace prize speech full of war rhetoric (and I assume the right wing is bashing him on any grounds they can, toward their own agenda). I'm left wondering this: If I can't get behind this president, is there ANY president I can get behind? Does Obama's decline in popularity across the political spectrum suggest a real seachange in American optimism? More direct, does his decline mark the end of American progressive idealism?

Wondering what you think about Obama's candid remarks about the need for (morally justified) war - and whether we have all just given up on hope?

Some excerpts (the full text is HERE):
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: It merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another — that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen U.N. and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries.Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Three Cups of Tea" Advice for Obama

The link below is to a recent article/interview with best selling author Greg Mortenson. His opinion reflects  moderate, non-partisan perspective from someone who has been living and working among the locals. His views are expressed in this passage I pulled from the entire article that you can read using the link below...

Mortenson: I’m glad there’s been a decision made. I still think it’s very unfortunate that the shura were never consulted and I do hope that as we move forward that they will be brought to the table and that their voices will be heard. I’m going to keep insisting on that. And I also feel that it’s been a great blessing to be able to help the shura meet with some of the U.S. military generals so that their voice is at least being heard by somebody.

Key dates: The U.S. war in Afghanistan
The origins of the war, the battles, and struggle for stability
But I also really admire the fact that President Obama says he’s open to dialogue with Iran and other countries, because I really think that the real road to peace is regional and involves Iran and Russia and the whole region. I’m also a ferocious believer that ultimately, education should be our top priority, especially girls’ education. We can drop bombs and hand out condoms and build roads or put in electricity but if we don’t educate girls, nothing will change in society.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Dump: An Essay on Illegal Dumping on Public Lands

My current research project is a "visual sociology" essay on illegal dumping on public lands - you know, those annoying piles of junk, furniture, construction debris, old cars and such, that you see while hiking or biking along remote dirt roads or open spaces in public wilderness areas.

To see the slideshow and essay go HERE.

Which chart should I use?

Deciding which chart to use (click here)

Is Football Gay?

An actual transcript of a recent football game. Gay? You decide:

Commentator 1:
"My goodness, Christian Thompson absolutely layin' the wood on that play..."

Commentator 2:
"and that means your offense is clicking and that means you are extending drives!"

-SC State vs. App. St. , Nov. 27th, 2009

You Think You Know Ghetto

You Think You Know Ghetto: A paper on bias in academic testing, recently published in Teaching Sociology.

Laundra's Dissertation: Gender and Delinquency

Dissertation: Gender and Delinquency (full paper)

Freeland: Delinquency in Rural America

Link to Laundra's book: "Freeland: Delinquency in Rural America"

Laundra Link

Ken Laundra's Academic Home Page