A mild rant today.
Yesterday I participated in a training on Drupal, which is a content management system you can use to create web pages. I’ve used different content management systems (Omeka, wordpress) to teach my students some digital history skills. Still, Drupal offers serious, build from the ground up, learn it and you can be a web-creator, options. The White House uses Drupal, as does the University of Minnesota. (If you ever want to know how a webpage is built, use builtwith.com.)
Lots of interesting participants, including a retired artillery officer interested in G.K. Chesterton, several folks from a local web development firm, and a couple small business folks.
One small business owner described herself as an “essential oils educator.” I’m going to skip the ignorance of her medicine (“when you apply oils to the head, the oil has greater access to the brain” – no it doesn’t), and the appearance of a scheme (“I don’t sell retail, I sell wholesale to others looking to start a business”- like Charles Ponzi) and focus on the educator part.
Those of us who are actual educators must protect, advance, and advocate for that term. Salespeople are not educators. Knowledgeable? Of course. Valuable?, absolutely. When I buy a running shoe I ask the salesperson to help me navigate the different models available. But a shoe salesperson isn’t a foot technology educator. And the sales reps from all the ed-tech firms that are on campus from time to time aren’t education technology educators. Educators are those whose primary mission is to educate, not to sell a service or product, nor to tell others how to teach. If we let the term devolve to anyone who wants to explain something, we risk the same problem that news organizations now face with talking heads claiming the mantle of journalists.
Those who can, teach.
This internet thing can be evil, or good, or just a time suck. I do my best to listen to my better angels. And I love the ease of finding useful information.
Case in point: I know that content management systems (CMS) are important. For every college web page, there’s a CMS behind it, and in fact, building digital history exhibits requires a CMS. And I gravitate towards open-source software. A buddy of mine at the University of Minnesota told me about Drupal Camp, which is a meeting of people working on a CMS called Drupal. So I check the Drupal Camp website and see that there’s a free (FREE) training for Drupal this Thursday. I can only go to the morning part as I’ve Normandale meetings in the afternoon. But there is no chance I’m going to find some non-profit running a training session without the beauty of the web.
And then there’s the evil side of the web. I tried to take a MOOC once – just once. It was world history, which I teach. I lasted three weeks. The lectures (by a name in the field) were two hours long and had the content density of a light broth. Even sped up to double time, they were soporific. The discussions veered from mildly on topic to blatant trolling. I fled screaming from the discussion boards.
And now comes an OOPS – an online open participatory survey from the University of Minnesota titled “Mutlicultural/Inclusive Learning and Teaching: when Multicultural Learning and Teaching meet Universal Design for Learning.” It runs about 12 weeks and thus far appears peopled with advanced graduate students and faculty eager to explore the topic, and it’s not huge. And it also is free. It can be taken for credit, by I don’t need more credentials. I’m hoping to learn much, and bring it back to both the classroom and to my faculty colleagues. Already I’m mining the course bibliographies. If it let’s me talk about race to my white students just bit more smartly, I’ll count it a win.
The problem: In the morning when I arrive at work, I boot up my computer and run a routine: read email, check news (academic and general), check twitter. It’s very easy to drop 15-30 minutes on activities that have no direct use to my students. Yes, that article in The Chronicle of Higher Education may be fascinating, yet my students waiting for an email response or grade aren’t helped. I can also convince myself that a half-hour self training session on some sexy new software or website is worth my time. All these things have potential long-term benefits to my students, but aren’t immediate.
A solution: I’ve noted academics on twitter using the hashtag #writingpact as a way to motivate themselves to write. Tagging makes others in their circle makes them aware of the writer’s work (leave me alone), models positive behavior, and solicits support. So my thought is, why not make a teaching pact (#teachingpact) that the first thing I do in the morning directly helps students. The email from my Dean can wait (sorry) as can the local news. I’m responsible for professional development at my school and that can wait too. It’s not that institutional, or self-care, or development needs aren’t important. Only, if I am honest with myself, if I’m an educator first, then the students’ needs should be first.
So, from here out, upon arrival in the morning, I will boot my computer up, and do something for my students. A bit of grading, responding to online discussion questions, responding to student emails. I’ve no formula that requires a certain number of tasks or minutes on task, only to address students first.
Care to join me? #teachingpact