Advice for the Returning

It is the time of year that the media, newspapers, blogs and higher-ed focused venues put out articles on advice to college freshmen. I was thinking of adding to that collection, but it struck me that there’s an audience that could use some back-to-school advice as well but which seems to be largely ignored: sophomores. It’s an interesting omission, given that missteps, meandering, or general malaise is so common in the sophomore year that there’s an entire phrase for it: the “sophomore slump”. And yet while a Google News search on “freshman advice” returns a top-ten links filled with tips for students starting college (8 … Continue reading Advice for the Returning

Argument for Ambiguity

I got directed to a recent piece about tolerance for ambiguity as a job requirement and a skill education should help develop through this quote from a responding blog post: “To the extent that we can provide assignments and experiences in and among classes that give students the experience of getting a little lost and finding their way back, we may be able to build some of that tolerance for ambiguity in the kind of settings Selingo discusses.” While the original article focuses more on the idea of a “growth mind-set” and encouraging students to think of perseverance rather than … Continue reading Argument for Ambiguity

Exercising my writing muscle

I was flipping through Spolsky’s Joel on Software today and, perhaps because I spent the morning working with our college-wide curriculum and some of our documentation of its outcomes, this passage jumped out at me: So why don’t people write specs? It’s not to save time, because it doesn’t, and I think most coders recognize this. […] I think it’s because so many people don’t like to write. Staring at a blank screen is horribly frustrating. Personally, I overcame my fear of writing by taking a class in college that required a 3-5 page essay once a week. Writing is … Continue reading Exercising my writing muscle

Patchwriting and attribution

If I were teaching a writing skills course this fall, I would be tempted to assign this Language Log post about another recent plagiarism accusation just because of the side-by-side comparison of language and discussion of “patchwriting”. It would probably surprise some students to see the degree of difference between the compared text, and that this is a concern even though the text in question is cited elsewhere, just not for some very specific phrases. Also interesting is the analysis of the older text for whether it too used and attributed patchwriting appropriately – we’re clearly more easily able to … Continue reading Patchwriting and attribution

I’m not confused I lost my glasses

I am always fascinated and creeped out by these stories about adapting system behavior to user emotion. The system described here is being tested out by analyzing facial expressions to detect engagement with educational materials which are then used to predict test performance. I’d love to see some extracted data of what engaged expressions look like. I’ve had too many conversations with colleagues where I’ve asked “You teach X a lot, is that angry look they get their thinking look?” to expect that engaged expressions must look like entertained or pleased expressions, and I know my students have that conversation … Continue reading I’m not confused I lost my glasses

Are you ready for some learning?

I’m about a week out from another academic year starting (my tenth! how frightening!), and so it’s timely to share a few thoughts about learning and being a student… Lots of attention is going to this article about a study showing that laptop use in class results in lower grades. Less press is going to the portion I remember most from when the article first came out – that someone next to you using a laptop also causes scores to drop. I’ll be mentioning this in my explanation for why I sometimes lock the classroom computers when we’re having discussions … Continue reading Are you ready for some learning?

Too many options

I’m finding a lot interesting to think about in this discussion of the Guided Pathways to Success conference and it’s investigation of the benefit to students of guidance/constraints in their educational paths: “Schwartz emphasized that even though it may seem counterintuitive and even paternalistic, students are actually much more empowered by choosing among fewer and more carefully constructed options.” My first thoughts are about the curriculum we just instituted, which I have thought of as giving students more flexibility and choice about how they put together sets of courses to complete a major or minor. We try to make clear … Continue reading Too many options

Using MOOCs to raise the bar

A recent article about how MOOCs might, in fact, increase and not decrease costs on college campuses has been getting a fair bit of attention for its argument that the large lecture classes that it replaces were already the cost-saving venues of higher education and many of the proposals for integrating MOOCs well involve replacing these cost-efficient large classes with free MOOCs and then expensive associated mentoring. Additionally, it observes that even if a college doesn’t choose to incorporate MOOCs, the fact that they exist may make students less tolerant of paying tuition for large lecture courses. The quote that … Continue reading Using MOOCs to raise the bar


I’m helping organize a panel of faculty at my school who have been using a range of different technologies to support student interaction in and out of class. With so many options out there, we want to focus on what has worked for us, what hasn’t worked, and start some conversations around how to make the jump from looking at your course, with its content, outcomes, and pedagogy, and draw on others experience with these tools on the ground with our systems and our students to have some idea what options might be appropriate. Independently of this, I’ve got a … Continue reading Discourses

What are you getting credit for?

A colleague sent me an article about a U.S. university accepting transfer credit for a Udacity course – something described in the headline and the first few paragraphs as being a breakthrough in a school accepting a free, online course for full transfer credit. The article gets interested when you dig into it though. The course in question is a intro level “Introduction to Computer Science” course. And, in order to get the transfer credit, students have to not only get a certificate of completion from Udacity showing that they completed the course, but also pass an exam administered at … Continue reading What are you getting credit for?