Sunday, January 27, 2013

In over my head

Image from Gani01
I remember when new technology filled me with a sense of wonder. Now, it's more like a sense of dread.

Don't get me wrong. I'm amazed about what new communication technologies enable us to do. A decade ago I wouldn't have been able to fathom anything like Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, or a tablet computer even existing. Still, the information explosion that's accompanied the spread of the Internet is overwhelming at times.

The concepts of wikis and social bookmarking aren't completely foreign to me, but last week was the first time I really experimented with them firsthand. Now I've got two more Internet accounts to maintain.

I've got Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to manage for social networking; Delicious to handle bookmarks; two blogs to maintain (and a host of others on Google Reader that I try to follow); two separate e-mail accounts; The New York Times and The Associated Press to follow for news; The Onion, which is good for a needed laugh; and -- because of UGA upgrades -- two distinct versions of eLC to keep abreast of.

And time is just one cost: there's also money. Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and Internet service aren't cheap. It feels like all my money and free time are spent in a hopeless effort to keep up with advances that are supposed to make life easier or better, but mostly I just feel anxious and ill-informed.

Despite my Luddite ramblings, I think all of this technological growth is ultimately a good thing, but there's been so much of it so fast that I haven't been able to properly adjust. Part of me misses the elementary school fights over which kid got to use the color computer as opposed to the machines with the old green and black DOS screens. And that part of me doesn't feel like I'm alone in this either.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Apprenticeship Teaching

Benjamin Franklin apprenticing for a newspaper
Though I enjoyed taking the Teaching Perspectives Inventory and the class discussion that followed, I believe there is an inherent flaw in the process we didn't quite get to.

Let me begin by saying that I was pretty well-rounded in my responses. My dominant approach was developmental, but I also scored high (but within the mean) on transmission and nurturing. Strangely, I had no recessive approaches, though social reform and apprenticeship tied and eked above the mean by less than a point.

I must confess that I was somewhat surprised that I scored so low on the apprenticeship score. After all, I work in Grady College, which offers its students many skills-based courses in journalism, advertising, public relations, and media communications. For most students, these are professional degrees more than academic ventures.

At first I thought this divide was a problem until I started reflecting on my past teaching experiences. I worked at the University of Louisville as an adjunct and I essentially resurrected the PR writing course there. For each assignment I explained the importance of the writing task and how to accomplish it (transmission). I also worked with each student individually based on his or her ability to so that he or she could improve upon unique skill sets (developmental).

But within this mix I found the most useful moments came from relating assignments to my own professional experience and providing students with detailed examples of what these writing exercises should look like and how structure and content work together to achieve a desired goal. If that isn't apprenticeship teaching, I don't know what is.

Seeing as I received pretty favorable reviews for that class, I'm assuming I didn't screw the pooch, so why did I score so low on that scale?

I think the problem is one of perception. Namely, when taking the TPI, the focus tends to be on broader teaching and learning philosophies, not specific strategies or tactics within a given classroom setting.

As I've said before, I don't think learning is necessarily purposive or goal directed. Though knowledge undoubtedly has a use-value, it has intrinsic value as well. My belief score on the apprenticeship scale reflects that.

However, while that opinion reflects a general approach to teaching, a more narrow, course-specific view pulls out the practical side in me. I think the distinction between the broad and specific is important to consider when interpreting our TPI scores lest we pigeonhole ourselves and allow these scales to become self-fulfilling prophecies rather than the introspective exercises they were intended to be.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Want to get sued?

Picture by Editor at Large
Of course you don't. Now don't get me wrong -- everyone likes a heist movie, and who doesn't want to outrun "the fuzz" in an epic car chase? But getting busted for copyright infringement? That's just boring.

I only mention it because of a happenstance learning opportunity that hit me today. I'm a teaching assistant for a communication law class and the topic of copyright came up in this morning's class. Also, in today's teaching with tech course, we discussed using images and other content in blogs and the notion of "giving credit where credit is due."

Turns out that's not enough. According to U.S. copyright law, original work fixed in a tangible medium (including what appears on the Web) may be protected. This means it can't be used without permission of the copyright holder -- or until the work falls into the public domain.

Interestingly, I just noticed today that Google Images displays the following warning each time you search: "Images may be subject to copyright."

Since Google passes the buck onto the user, it may not be your best bet for image searches. There are several sites that offer (mostly) copyright-free work or work you can reuse simply by attributing the work. Wikimedia Commons and FreeFoto are two pretty good ones, but there are a lot more.

Let me know if you guys find anything good. As a prior copyright offender I'm looking to repent.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why do we blog?

Image by Cortega9
Good question. Of course I posed it, but I stand by it, mostly because I wrestle so much with it.

I once taught a course on public relations writing, and one of the principle components was writing for the Web, particularly in the form of blogs. I devised the following set of rules for blogging after reading up on the subject in my free time:

  1. Maintain a defined focus with your blog topics
  2. Maintain some semblance of a schedule with your posts
  3. Use sans-serif fonts (they're easier to read on backlit screens)
  4. Keep paragraphs short
  5. Keep posts under 500 words
  6. Link to relevant information
  7. Foster interactivity
  8. Understand the relatively casual nature of the medium
  9. Engage your audience
  10. NEVER forget to whom you are writing (See how I used proper grammar with the "whom" to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition? My audience is educated. Plus I don't want to look like I ain't never learned nothing. That would be plumb stupid of me.)
Pretty good list if I do say so myself; though of course, I made it. But the reason why I made it was because I was teaching students to blog for organizations in order to attain organizational goals. I never considered that type of writing to be a personally fulfilling exercise, but rather one of professional development.

But aspiring to career goals is only one of many reasons to blog. For instance, I maintain my own personal blog simply for pleasure, which I have shamelessly plugged using several hyperlinks in this sentence. Seriously, you shoould check out my blog.

Thinking about it, though, I use the word "maintain" incredibly loosely. In fact, I follow few of the rules I taught my students: my posts are long, my themes are often disjointed, my posting schedule is erratic -- even my font choice is poor.

Why is my blog so bad?

Well, it's not. The formatting issues are independently atrocious, but they exist because I always follow rule number 10: never forget your audience. 

The audience for my blog is me. I've only had 4,500 page views over 5 years. I'm shouting into the void and listening for the echo, but I'm okay with that.

My blog helps me articulate my thoughts to hold onto a sliver of sanity. And since I write for me, I remember my audience: I don't mind writing that is long-winded, I don't mind that the focus is as scattered as my thoughts, I don't care about a schedule, and I think Georgia is a beautiful font and that serifs are awesome.

So how does this relate to teaching? It does so because it relates to learning. Sometimes we approach a learning opportunity with clear goals in mind for how we will use the knowledge we acquire. These endeavors are purposeful, directed, and pragmatic. Oftentimes, however, we learn about something simply because it interests us and we have no idea how -- or even if -- we will use that knowledge.

In my professional or personal life, I doubt my knowledge of the key differences between Keynesian and neoclassical economics is going the be of much help. I doubt much that I learned from Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War will come up in a communication classroom, though I dedicated over 11 hours to watching it and found it incredibly fascinating. I'm certain that knowing the history of telephone area codes and their developments is utterly useless.

Still, I like knowing all of these things. I liked learning all of these things. And even though I have little practical use for this knowledge, I think it -- like learning -- can be important for its own sake. As teachers, that's something we should not only remember, but remind our students of.

...And that they shouldn't end blog posts with prepositions.