Monday, December 29, 2008

Anatomy of an unworkshop

This is partly a rant, and partly a reference to an interesting blog piece I read earlier today.

I was reading this blog article about the anatomy of an unworkshop. Now the content within the blog post is pretty interested, what I take issue with is the naming convention: the unworkshop.

Sometimes I feel like academics have nothing better to do than come up with silly names to describe a slightly different name for a slightly different process and it's just not necessary (unconference and edupunk also fall within this category).

His methodology sounds good to me, but I really do not see the need for giving it the 'unworkshops' name. After all when I sign up for workshops I don't sign up for socratic workshops or aristotelian workshops, so in reality the methodology does not matter in the naming convention of the event.

Am I making too much of this?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Modest Program Recommendations

OK, so it's the end of the semester, I've completed two whole classes in applied linguistics and I have spoken to many people about the program - classmates and faculty alike. I've gotten to find out what my classmates' plans are post graduation and so on. Some of my classmates are going into teaching (or remaining in teaching) while others like me are considering a PhD route.

Now, the program is structured in this way:
1. You've got 5 core courses that everyone needs to take

2. Then you must specialize in ESL, Foreign Language teaching or Bilingual education (2 courses + 1 practicum)

3. Then you've got your pick of 2 electives.

4. Pass comprehensive exams

The program is ten classes for an M.A. which is about normal for a Masters Degree. The department, at least in the course catalogs, has plenty of absolutely GREAT courses which have not been offered for a long time. Why? It's my impression that they don't have enough faculty to teach niche courses (such as Asian linguistics or Franco-American linguistics), so they focus their teaching on core courses and courses that students must have for concentrations.

This I see as a major problem with the program that needs to be fixed.

So, AK's modest proposal for the applied linguistics department:

Keep the five core courses. Get rid of the 'three track' system. Make the 10 class degree a 12 class degree.

Forcing people to pick a track is constraining. Some people, like me, would like to apply linguistics in a manner other than the foreign language classroom (although knowing how to be a good foreign language teacher is a good skill to have).

I would say have two recommended paths. If students want to be teachers, recommend the courses that they would need to be good ESL or foreign language teachers, and recommend that they do practicum. If students want to have a more open degree, learning more theory and applying it elsewhere, encourage that too. Recommend classes that would closely align with the students interests, and if a practicum or traditional 'track' courses are good for them, recommend them, otherwise, recommend other courses from the catalog.

By getting rid of the tracks, you will be freeing both students to experiment with courses, and you will be freeing the faculty to teach some of the courses that they have interest in but haven't been taught for a long time - Asian linguistics or cape-verdean linguistics for instance.

Now why 12 courses and not 10? Well, if five are core courses, and if students are interested in a practicum, that leaves only 4 courses to expand their horizons. I am a big advocate of the notion that school is there to not only teach you skills, but to expand your horizons. By having a 12 course M.A. program students will cover the core knowledge they need, expand a bit into ESL, FL Bilingual or theoretical areas and have some extra wiggle room to experiment with courses that they never thought of taking.

Just some food for thought...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

If it's free, why pay for it?

Back to instructional & educational technology during the winter break.

Over the past few months a number of things have happened:

We've seen IT departments bitten by the budget shortfall bug, and IT departments are looking at how they can be lean and mean.

2. We've seen colleges contemplating stopping services like email that students can get for free and often have prior to entering college.

3. Boston College actually stopped providing new incoming students with email addresses

4. UMass Boston ended its "email for life" for students, so when a student graduates they have some period of time to request a permanent email, or else it goes buh-bye!

Finally, UMass Boston announced that it started a blog network (based on the WordPress platform)

Now, the one thing that comes to mind is this: if it's free, why provide the service in house? This is of course in reference to the blog network, and to student email to some degree. Many of us have been using blogs in higher education for a while now, the concept of blogging for educational, personal or professional reasons is not new to us. Some of us (like me for instance) evangelize and let people know of the uses and misuses of blogs so that others may start (or choose not to start) a blog of their own.

Blog providers are many. Google (blogger), WordPress, Tumblr, TypePad, Vox, and LiveJournal are just some of the names of free (or in the case of TypePad for pay) services that people have access to. Why pay to maintain a blog network on campus when things are already setup for you, for free, elsewhere? My modest recommendation would be to focus efforts on training and outreach to let people know that blogging software exists for free, and train people on how to use it. In addition, I would say that effort is better spent creating a blog aggregator for people to list all college related blogs in one place. A good example of this is, an aggregator of Greek blogs.

Now of course the benefits of having it in-house, are such that by focusing on one platform:
1. people can log-in with their university credentials so they don't have to remember yet another username/password, can be handled by the help-desk because they don't need to know multiple platforms,
3. and you don't need to do anything other than logging in and writing (whereas with my model you would have to take one more step to list your blog in the university directory).
It's all half a dozen of this, or six of the other. In the end, the question remains, if it's free, why pay for it?

The second thing is email. I've seen lost of students (myself included) who don't check their student email! I have mine forwarding to mail gmail, but many students don't, thus missing out on important notifications from the campus and their professors.

Many students, like me, feel that they don't need another email because they have one yahoo, another on hotmail, and yet another on gmail, and they check them daily, why add another email? Yes you do have FURPA to worry about, and whether or not something does get to the recipient (or ends up in a spambox) but aren't those risks that you take on if you forward email?

Before email was ubiquitous (and free!), it made sense for universities to provide student email (oh VAX...those were the days...), but in today's world it seems like an necessary expense.

Now an email with an does have its benefits. For instance people can signup for value added services which are free, if you have an EDU email, how does one reconcile that with students coming to college with an existing email? I don't have an answer - just thinking out loud. I just know that most students aren't checking their email and there may be a better way than what we, as academia, have been doing for a while now.

I think it's time to think in the Not Invented Here way of though for some things :-)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another semester done!

Another semester is done!
I completed my final and handed it in for grading (I think I did well).

With Linguistics (Apling 601) under my belt, I feel confident that things will make more sense from now on ;-)

In any case, in retrospect this semester was not bad. I only had one class which I did well in. I did spend a boatload of time working on GIDA (graduate instructional design alumni association) with both the online and face to face component of the organization - and I have to say that it is a lot of work. Our social network, sadly, does not yet support RSS, so people can't get a friendfeed in their RSS reader to see what's going on. Hopefully this will be fixed with future versions of the service.

We do have a large number of member (137 as of this writing), but it's hard reaching out to alumni since we don't know who they are. The weird thing is that students are also reluctant to join unless you give them a presentation and explain the benefits. It's not easy being the president ;-) LOL

I've approached my unofficial INSDSG advisers to see if I can start working on my capstone project. I am half-way done with the curriculum, but I've sunk in so much time and effort into the social network that I think I need to get all of this documented (in case others are interested in doing the same thing) :-)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quiet again...

Paper due in one week.

The paper is kind of, sort of done. It just needs two or three rounds of editing. I guess I will be silent on here until next week :-)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kids blame technology for homework hand-in failures

I was reading this article on the Register a week or so ago.
I think that this is pretty interesting because one of my friends is having problems (technological ones) with his kids' assigned homework and the electronic aspect of things.

‘My dog ate it’, ‘I left it on the bus’, and ‘someone stole it’ – they were the classic excuses in our day for not handing in homework. But modern youth are increasingly blaming absent homework on technology, a survey’s revealed.

Online electronics retailer Pixmania surveyed 1000 teachers during the past 12 months and found that of the total 6.5m excuses thought to be have been heard by UK teachers each week, roughly 1.3m - 20 per cent - centred on technological problem.

The most popular tech excuse heard from pupils was that they’d done the work, but then the computer crashed and they lost it. Don’t kids learn how to make back-ups these days?

‘I lost my laptop’ and ‘I finished my homework, but then deleted it by accident’ were also used by kids. Printer problems is another justification preferred by prepubescents.

The internet figured too, an inability to connect proving a frequently offered explanation for a failure to hand in homework.

Sue Cooke, Assistant Headteacher at Wallington County Grammar School, Surrey, said: "We are definitely wising up to their tech trickery.”

via the register

Of course this reminds me of Ellen Feiss from the Mid-late 90s Apple Switch Ads