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Teaching and Learning

Publications and Presentations

In my classroom...

Teaching in Circles

teaching circleEarlier this week I listened in fascination and envy while three professors reported on their experience as an unlikely teaching circle. Teaching circles, here, are groups of three faculty from different departments who team up to observe each other outside the normal departmental observation schedules. This particular teaching circle sounded like a those old “walked into a bar” jokes: a volleyball coach, a ceramics artist, and a computer scientist walked into a classroom…

What could three professors from such different areas learn from each other? Turns out quite a lot. I’m so jealous. I want to be in a teaching circle!

Here are the three things that stood out to me in the context of my own teaching.

The pedagogical importance of team spirit

The best work happens when there’s teamwork. This is pretty obvious when you’re talking about a team sport, but apparently it’s also a powerful thing in an academic classroom. In the CS classroom, students are incredibly engaged in working together to solve the “puzzle” that the professor sets up for them, shouting out options and editing other people’s suggestions until finally the code works. They support each other and hold each other accountable for the group’s success. Boy do I ever want that dynamic in my classroom.

Part of being a team is dealing with public success and failure. If people are shouting out suggestions, some of them are bound to be wrong. But if the team is strong it seems that it will kind of take that in stride and correct itself. I wonder what it would look like to build this kind of trust during a one-shot instruction session. There must be a way.

One thing I’ll hang on to is the CS professor’s mantra that what is important is NOT the individual succeeding or failing, but that the group arrives at success. Perhaps just keeping my eye on that goal will help shift the classroom dynamics a bit.

Physical context matters

The coach and the artist were both jealous of the CS prof’s classroom context where students knew what was expected of them academically and even took notes. I’m in a similar context where my classroom doesn’t have the trappings of a room in which you take notes and concentrate hard. So I asked the faculty if they’d come up with any strategies to combat their non-academic-classroom-looking-contexts. They suggested being very up front and just saying “You’ll want to write this down.” So I’ll try that!

Making sure they know what matters

In their own ways, each of the faculty talked about having conversations with their students in which the main question was “Do you understand why this matters?” I love this. LOVE it. So much of the stuff I teach can look an awful lot like busy work. Discussions like this could function similarly to my “do you understand why citation styles look different” module and get students on board with the larger goals of information literacy.

So yeah, I really want to be in a teaching circle.

sticky clients… no, not those clients

wifiI’m talking about computers, not people, and especially about getting wifi on those computers. Like lots of large places built in a pre-networked era, our building presents special challenges for our poor network staff. IT has worked long and hard configuring and reconfiguring, and yet we keep having trouble getting reliable connectivity. And now I know way more about wifi connectivity than I ever expected to.

So in case your library is having a similar experience, here are the three factors that seem to be/have been causing our dropped connections.

First, networks were not invented with the idea that a single person is likely to have at least two devices pinging the network all the time — a phone plus the laptop, plus maybe a tablet or an ipod or who knows what other wifi-enabled device. IT here added a bunch of capacity for this and so it seems no longer to be an issue for us. Thank goodness.

Second, unless you get dual-band radios for your signal, the radio has to go with the lowest common denominator for signal type: a, b, or g. So if one person with an older laptop comes in needing an “a” signal, the whole area bumps down to “a” signal. So our IT department got us lovely new radios so everyone could be happier in the same space. Thank goodness.

Third, and this is the kicker, it turns out that there’s a sticky client issue built into the very foundation of networking. The way it was explained to me is that back in the day when they were first inventing wifi, they couldn’t conceive of people moving around while also needing wifi. They could only conceive of local networks among stationary computing stations. Flash forward to today, and you have computers who basically mate with their favorite wifi radio and will desperately hang onto that signal however weak and far away, meanwhile completely ignoring the beautiful strong signal of a nearer radio. There’s even a whole paper about it and how people are trying to solve it. So our IT department is working on this fix in hopes that it will make everything work a lot more smoothly.

Oh, and if you’re on a Mac, you’re a particularly sticky client. Also the little wifi signal strength indicator could be interfering with your actual signal (headdesk) so I’ve disabled mine. Kind of a pain, but I drop signal a whole lot less frequently.

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