How I (Don’t) Use Social Media

This is an uncomfortable post to write. I’ve never wanted to use this blog to discuss personal issues and it feels very vain and self-important to describe some of my own personal habits and practices. But every time I’ve mentioned the things below people are intrigued and interested. Some people are even relieved to find someone else with some of the same practices. So here goes…

My personality strongly shapes my use of social media. I am introvert and an intensely private person. I am also learning in very profound ways what kinds of relationships I want in my life and I am working very hard to find and nurture them.

Specific ways in which my personality and interests shape my social media practices:

  • Facebook: I don’t use Facebook. Like most people my age (33), I was an avid Facebook user for several years. But I don’t use use it anymore unless I specifically receive an e-mail message or a personal request of some sort. I don’t dislike Facebook or people who use it. I simply reached the conclusion that it was not meeting my needs. I realized several months ago that I didn’t like reading about my friends’ and colleagues’ lives because it was unfulfilling. I don’t want to read about their lives – I want to be part of them. For me, it feels cheap and even a bit hollow to read about and see pictures from someone’s life when I want to be part of that life. Maybe it’s selfish but it’s important to me that we reinforce our relationships in substantial ways. I want to hear about your weekend over coffee, not Facebook. (And I never got anything out of Facebook as a scholar, student, or professional; maybe I just never looked in the right places for substantive information or support.)
  • Twitter: I don’t follow anyone. I typically use Tweetdeck and I have it set up to search for several hashtags and subjects of interest to me. It’s how I try to avoid the banality of Twitter: I don’t care what you had for breakfast but I do care if you have something to say about a passion we share.
  • LinkedIn: I don’t have a LinkedIn account. The idea of pure networking – meeting and “connecting” with people just to use them – is morally offensive to me. People are not means to ends and I refuse to use them in that manner. Yes, I’m sure that I’ve got a very skewed and probably incorrect perception of LinkedIn and how it’s used (e.g. I know some people love the discussion forums and get quite a bit of professional knowledge and support there). But I’m okay with that and with those who use LinkedIn; I just don’t think it’s for me.
  • FourSquare: I don’t have a smartphone so naturally I don’t use FourSquare or other similar tools. Even if I had a smartphone I don’t think I’d be comfortable broadcasting my physical location (although it would simply alternate between “work” and “home” most of the time). I don’t agree that “privacy is dead” but I think that we’re (often unwittingly) doing our damndest to kill it.

I’m not a Luddite or an antisocial recluse. I just have a very good idea what I want out of life and my relationships with others and I don’t care to use tools that don’t contribute to my life in the ways that I believe are positive. I know there is a price to be paid for a refusal to use these tools or an unusual usage of them. I’m okay with that.

Maybe you think I’m wrong or misguided. I’d love to hear from you! And I’d love it even more if we could spend time together substantively addressing and appreciating one another. So let’s not discuss this on my Facebook wall. Let’s discuss this over coffee, drinks, or dinner.

Yes, I know that’s unrealistic and we’re destined to have most of our conversations in blog comments, Twitter messages, e-mail, and – if we’re lucky – Skype. But a guy can dream, right?

Learning and Teaching Class: Second Reflection

This semester, I am co-teaching a graduate class focused on college learning and teaching. Each week, our students will have to write a reflection based on a prompt we provide them. Partially to “pre-test” each prompt but mostly because I believe in reflection and purposeful metacognition, I’ll write my own replies to the prompts in my blog.

This week’s prompts are both intended to get students to consider how they organize information and how that differs from how their students organize information. It follows the second chapter in the book we’re using as our text and it should also link well with the work we’re doing in class right now, particularly the focus on learning bottlenecks (which are often caused by the differences between how teachers – experts – and students – novices – organize and connect their knowledge).

This week’s prompts:

First: As a graduate student, you have become (or are quickly becoming) an expert in your field. And as described in this chapter, you have almost certainly learned to organize your knowledge differently than you did as an undergraduate. How did you did you organize your knowledge as an undergraduate and how does that differ from how you do so now? How did you learn to organize your knowledge in those ways? And how can you best help your students organize their knowledge like you – an expert – do?

Second: Identify a specific moment in your course in which your students face a learning bottleneck, something that is essential for their success but which semester after semester large numbers of students fail to grasp. Describe as precisely as you can what they are getting wrong (i.e. what is the nature of the bottleneck?).

(I don’t feel like this first answer is sufficient. I still have a lot of thinking to do about my own thinking and how I organize knowledge and I fear that my answer is incomplete because my own self-knowledge is incomplete.)

First, I am an interdisciplinary scholar so the inherent challenge I face is connecting seemingly-disparate bodies of knowledge. As an undergraduate, I usually partitioned my classes, keeping their content separate in my mind just as my class schedule ensured that my courses didn’t overlap. Why shouldn’t I have done this? It seems to have been what was expected by my faculty and making connections between disciplines was rarely if ever rewarded outside of a handful of exceptional classes. Now that I’m a graduate student, I find that interdisciplinary work is indeed valued by many faculty members but it’s rarely taught or practiced so the path is still a solitary one with few guideposts.

It seems that the best thing I could do for my students to help them make explicit connections between disciplines and courses is to publicly practice making those connections myself. In that way I can demonstrate how it can be done as I work to discover broader principles and methods to make this practice easier and more approachable. Moreover, students should be encouraged to draw upon all of their knowledge and experience in their learning and rewarded whenever they make strong connections between disparate bodies of knowledge.

Second, in a course I previously taught undergraduates about identity in the digital age students seem to get tripped up in the readings, especially but not exclusively the more academic ones. Specifically, they didn’t seem to understand the importance of critically reading and evaluating the arguments made in the readings and the evidence presented in support of those arguments. Most students seemed to accept the assertions made by each author as if it were The Truth, even if This Truth contradicted That Truth We Read Last Week. I expect some of this is related strongly to the level of intellectual and ethical development of many younger students who still expect to receive the truth about the world from the anointed experts. But I imagine that much of this is related to inexperience in making such judgments, both because they lack a sufficient knowledge base to challenge factual and methodological inaccuracies and because they lack experience and practice in making these judgments.

(An aside: I wonder if some kinds of bottlenecks are only experienced by experts and easily avoided by novices. It seems that experience places blinders on us and invites trepidation when we approach forbidden areas of philosophy or methodological approach.)

Learning and Teaching Class: First Reflection

This semester, I am co-teaching a graduate class focused on college learning and teaching. Each week, our students will have to write a reflection based on a prompt we provide them. Partially to “pre-test” each prompt but mostly because I believe in reflection and purposeful metacognition, I’ll write my own replies to the prompts in my blog.

Aside from a minor concern about accountability (Did they read the assigned reading? Are we appropriately incorporating it?), the prompt for the first week of class is intended to do two things. First, it will start students thinking about one of the major topics of the course, bottlenecks in learning. This topic is being incorporated in this class by way of research conducted here at Indiana University (e.g. the History Learning Project) where faculty have identified ideas or concepts that are both essential and particularly problematic for students. Second, it will help ground our discussions of learning theory in students’ own experiences, both helping them understand the theories better and reminding them that these theories are not applied to just some students (an “other”) but to everyone, including themselves.

This week’s prompt:

This week’s reading focuses on the experiences and knowledge students bring to class and how that affects their learning. You, too, have experiences and knowledge you bring to this class that have shaped your beliefs about effective college learning and teaching. We will have to work to discover and incorporate those experiences, knowledge, and beliefs and that work begins with this reflection.

Reflecting on your undergraduate experience, which problem was more prominent in your major classes: Inaccurate prior knowledge, accurate but insufficient prior knowledge, or inappropriate prior knowledge? Why was it the biggest problem? Of the possible approaches described in the text, which could have been most effective in addressing the problem? Finally, do undergraduates in your discipline still have the same obstacles and would the same approach(es) work for them? Why or why not?

(I fear that my response may lack depth; my undergraduate degree is in mathematics and although I conduct quantitative research I have strayed very far from my undergraduate discipline and have become almost entirely a consumer of mathematical knowledge. But here goes…)

In my opinion, the biggest problem facing undergraduates in nearly any math class is that their prior exposure to math has given them a completely false image of math. For nearly everyone, mathematics is a large set of disconnected rigid rules and procedures that make little sense and are retained purely through repeated practice and memorization. In fact, the heart of math is creativity and connection. Math is the language of the universe but we never learn to read or speak it; instead, we focus on following often-meaningless rules and memorizing procedures without any context or explanation. Without understanding the role of creativity in mathematics and its inherent interconnectedness, no one can truly understand math and apply it well.

Of the methods presented in the text to help students “correct inaccurate knowledge,” the most applicable seems to be “ask[ing] students to justify their reasoning.” I believe that most students would not be able to justify their mathematical reasoning beyond “that’s just the way it is” which is not a very good reason. So the challenge – and it’s a big one! – would be to help students understand not merely what to do but more importantly why to do it. And that would include explaining that some mathematical conventions are just that – conventions that ensure consistency and help everything else make sense.

Finally, it seems obvious that this problem is not unique to me or my classmates but is a problem that has lasted for generations. Not only is it an inherently difficult and challenging problem but its history has given it momentum that is difficult to alter: Students who were never exposed to the inherent beauty of mathematics and creativity of mathematicians become teachers who never expose their students to those critical elements. And the challenge is passed on to the next generation.