Should Online Classes Be Fun?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

There’s fun as comic relief, then there’s fun as passion.

The first is temporary and a diversion. In the classroom, it’s the seventh-inning stretch in a long lecture. The piano stairs (see the video below) falls into this category, a diversion from the dreary commute from one point to another in a big city. The jokes in an otherwise long and boring speech, too, are diversionary, sugar coating for a bland or bitter pill. The assumption is that the speaker has a captive audience that requires some form of relief.

The fun that makes the most sense for education is passion. Think of our personal interests, joys, hobbies. These aren’t haha funny. They’re aha fun. And the interesting thing is, we don’t need comic relief in these pursuits because they’re inherently engaging, absorbing. We lose ourselves in them. In a word, this type of fun is what Dewey calls “educative.”

When we have passion for something, we have an insatiable hunger for all there is to know about it. My son, growing up, wasn’t the best student, but I never worried because I knew he was bright. Even in grade school, he knew all the NBA teams and players and was an expert on MJ and the Bulls and, later, Kobe and his Lakers.

Driven by passion, he absorbed tons of information like a sponge via TV, newspapers, and magazines. He didn’t need a teacher. And this is the beauty of fun when it’s a passion. We become our own best teachers. We teach ourselves, or more accurately, we learn on our own.

We also become active participants, and my son played organized ball from elementary through high school. The fact that he spent much of his varsity years on the bench didn’t dampen his passion. Today, he still enjoys watching games and playing ball with his friends.

Think of your own passions. Golf? Travel? Cooking? Gardening? Reading?

Independent learning doesn’t mean we don’t seek out experts. We do, but on our own terms. We might read books on it, attend lectures or conferences, subscribe to periodicals. But we don’t need a teacher or a guide to tell us how to enjoy our passion. We already do, and decisions about what or how are part of the joy that we reserve for ourselves.

aha-haha

How to transfer this p-fun into the classroom? That’s the biggy.

Conventional wisdom says to use pull rather than push strategies, and this means using individual or group interest as a starting point. The common term for this is student-centered practices. The idea is to get students to personally buy into the objectives and lessons, to own them. This way, they’re learning primarily for their own sake and only partially for the teacher or the grade. The motivation is mostly intrinsic.

When motivation is located within the student, learning becomes largely self-directed and fun. In a word, passionate.

In composition, the variables we can manipulate are our assignments — readings, discussions, and paper topics. We need to come up with assignments that allow students to personally connect or engage with the class work, so they’re no longer doing a class assignment but a personal project.

In my English 200 (College Composition II) lessons, I’ve tried to set up a personal connection between topic and self to generate passion. For students who buy in, the results are terrific. For example, here’s a paper from earlier in the semester: “Broken Into Beautiful – Ishinomaki.”

These students were engaged in the learning activities that led up to their final paper. I read this as fun of the aha variety. They’ve made a connection with the objectives and class work and produced a paper that is personally passionate. Now, I have to figure out how to work the same kind of magic with students who don’t buy in and just go through the motions and churn out works with little or no passion. One strategy is our course publication that I use to feature exemplary student works such as the two mentioned above. These works are part of the course content that all students are required to read.
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Note: This article was prompted by a forum assignment in an in-service workshop I’m taking at Kapi’olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii System. The completely online course, Teaching Online Prep Program (TOPP): Spring 2017, is being taught by Helen Torigoe and Marisa Yamada, instructional designers in the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching and Technology (CELTT). The “Piano Stairs” YouTube video was embedded in their lesson plan.

A Cure for Writer’s Block: A Letter to My Students

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Papers play a huge part in my online writing and literature courses. As part of our writing process, I require preliminary and final drafts. Of the two, preliminary drafts are the most important from the standpoint of pedagogy and learning. They must be submitted on time for writers to fully engage in the peer review activity, which is the heart of the writing process.

Thus, meeting the deadline is critical. Early this morning, I received an email from one of my better students, warning me that she may be late in submitting her preliminary draft because she’s hit the wall — writer’s block. The deadline is midnight today. I ended up writing a message to her about overcoming this affliction that most writers experience. After sending it, I decided to refine and distribute it to all my classes. After further thought, I decided that this may be useful to some of my colleagues who assign papers and struggle with students who can’t seem to meet deadlines.

If you find this useful, please feel free to use it, in part or in whole. No permission necessary. Some of the details may not work for you, so be sure to revise or delete them. -Jim

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Our first review draft is due at midnight today. I know, you’re aware of that and don’t need to be reminded. If you’re like many writers, your draft is not done. In fact, for some of you, it’s barely off the ground. You’ve been grappling against that age-old nemesis, writer’s block.

As a writer, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. Believe me, you’re not alone. Writer’s block is a problem for 99% of all writers. Thus, I know that procrastination is not the cause for a late paper. In fact, it is a symptom of writer’s block.  Continue reading

CFE 2015 Faculty Showcase at UNC: ‘Teaching Less in More Depth’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 5th annual Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) Faculty Showcase at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This event is indispensible for those who want to gain a concise overview of emerging trends, proven approaches, best practices and innovative experiments in Carolina. CFE organizes the gathering to offer faculty an opportunity to learn more about specific instructional techniques or technology from their peers. For many attendees, showcase talks are the spark that ignites interest in considering changes for courses they teach. It also serves as a reminder for faculty to make use of the many instructional design and pedagogical consulting services the campus has to offer.

The day provided a chance to hear firsthand about the capabilities of the University’s Makerspaces, how teachers use Google Earth’s Liquid Galaxy display and Lightboard, which is currently being built on campus. What makes the showcase an exceptional learning opportunity for instructional designers is the mix of cutting edge technological innovation and low- or no-tech tips and tricks – be it gender neutral language, better writing assignments, role-play or reflective teaching practices and course evaluation. The showcase event closed with a presentation format I particularly enjoyed: Five-minute-long introductions to a variety of topics and projects with the explicit invitation, “Steal my idea!”

mary-huber 2The keynote speaker, Mary Taylor Huber, consultant at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, characterized the CFE event as the “greatest illustration possible” for the theme of her talk, “Building an Academic Commons Through SoTL.” Huber stated that the relationship between teaching and the institutional environment has changed noticeably over the past decade. Teaching is increasingly recognized as a valued academic activity in both general public debates and in the scientific communities. “Teaching is on a fast train,” explained Huber, and pointed out several catalysts for change: diversity, technology, new pedagogies (i.e., undergraduate research, service learning), authentic participation and educational research. Throughout the day, many examples of exceptional teaching brought these concepts to life.  Continue reading

Trigger Warnings, English Grammar and Style, Ed Tech and K-12 Teachers

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

warns us that “Students no longer receive their education directly from a person standing in the front of a lectern and the learning experience may now take place virtually or across augmented realities…. Faculty should take proactive steps to address potentially triggering material that they set students to watch or read online, prior to a meltdown occurring.”1 She provides insights into how to integrate trigger warnings into assignments and lectures, e.g., via eblasts and in-line messages.

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If you’re a teacher concerned about your students’ writing or a student searching for a way to upgrade your basic writing skills, here’s a MOOC that might address your needs. English Grammar and Style is an “eight-week course… starting on July 26 [on] how to apply grammar and syntax to ‘produce coherent, economical, and compelling writing.'”2 It’s being offered by the University of Queensland via edX. Last year, it attracted 50,000 students. Thus far, it has attracted 10,000. MOOCs are free, and students can take them in conjunction with their regular classes. They can log in at a time and from a place that’s convenient for them.



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, reporting from ISTE 2015, shared results from a study “released… by the Education Technology Industry Network of the Software & Information Industry Association.” Molnar says, “In general, the study found that the most critical unmet needs for K-12 educators are: Continuous access to adequate bandwidth[;] Access to the level of technology resources common to other professionals[;] Training in technology that is available to other professionals.”3 The dirty little secret in K-12 schooling is that precious little of our education technology dollars trickle down to teachers, who are asked to do more with less every year as the gap between technology and the profession widens. The question everyone ought to be asking is, Where are the tech dollars going?

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1As Learning Moves Online, Trigger Warnings Must Too,” The Conversation, 3 July 2015.
2Tim Dodd, “MOOC Watch: Users Flock to Online Grammar Course from the University of Queensland,” AFR, 3 July 2015.
3Educators Report on Uses, Wish List for Student Data in K-12,” Education Week, 1 July 2015.