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I’ve had some experiences in my teaching this week that have left me seeking a greater focus in what I choose to teach my students. I heard through a colleague in my department that one of my students in my management information systems course feels like they’re in a snowstorm with so much new stuff coming at them. I keep feeling like 60 minutes is insufficient time, particularly in that class to have a meaningful discussion about even half of the material in the chapter of reading assigned for each day in class. We discussed two major topics (a review of principles of competitive advantage and an introduction to computer hardware), and we didn’t have enough time before the class session finished.  My colleague, who has taught this class, empathized with me, but indicated I’m still trying to cover too much, particularly when taking into account the size of my class and the language barriers we are working with here at BYU Hawaii. He said I’m just going to have to figure out which arm to feed to the shark, because something’s going to have to go.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend trying to get my class sessions more structured and modular, but apparently I need to streamline my overall approach further.  It seems I need to pick a single learning objective to focus each class session on, and to craft learning activities to support that single objective. I’m going to need to be more diligent in making the identification of each day’s learning objective a matter of prayer. Another colleague shared his teaching philosophy with me–that our job is to light a fire of interest in their hearts and to get them interacting with these tools as much as possible and let them direct their learning. It appears then, that I need to have the faith that, if I can motivate my students and provide them with enough of a foundation, that they will be able to return to the text or other reference material as they need more information.

I just watched an interesting video of Bruce Schneier discussing the future of the IT Security industry. His arguments parallel Nick Carr’s discussion of trends toward utility computing. Schneier argues that as outsourcing trends continue, we’ll see the IT security become the focus of firms providing the outsourced services (like Facebook & Gmail) and security will become part of the bundle of services rather than a single product to be marketed to businesses / end users.  He bases his arguments on Tversky and Kanneman’s prospect theory, which indicates that individuals are more willing to accept a reward-based risky sale / option than a fear-based risky sale / option.

In addition to leading me to think more seriously about an important trend in the security industry, the long-term perspective, which Schneier builds by drawing on the past and projecting into the future of computing and IT security specifically, also reminds me of how important it is for me to educate my students for the demands they will face in the future rather than simply the skills they need today.

Preparing for Fall Semester

After a very momentous new faculty training yesterday, I set out today to seriously begin my preparations for my fall semester courses. (Classes start on Thursday). I spent much of the day familiarizing myself with the textbook and other resources for my network services management (with Windows 2003) course. I’ve been very impressed by a book, that was given to me yesterday called What the Best College Teachers Do. The book discusses (among many other things) the perspective that classroom instruction is often most effective when teachers approach knowledge as something that is cocreated rather than transferred. In the spirit of that principle, I’m trying to set the class up so that we can have meaningful knowledge producing interactions rather than passive learning focused lectures. Admittedly, this is a hard task, particularly since I’m preparing this course for the first time. But I really want to interact with my students rather than repackaging the textbook material during class. And I really want them to learn to engage with the topic managing a network server in a way that will help them to both develop technical skills they can use in their future work, but also to understand the personal and leadership issues that are reflected in server configuration.

I’m also trying to find ways to make the classroom time more productive–pushing administrative activities like homework submissions outside of the class time, so that we can use our time together more effectively.  It’s going to require me to be even more prepared for class, but hopefully the Lord will magnify my efforts if my desires are right.

Learning through Tinkering

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get my students to build more and become invested in their work and learn through experimentation. I think this video by John Seely Brown captures some of the things I’m trying to accomplish in the classroom. To me, however, the challenge appears to be that this kind of thinking requires a complete restructuring of class preparation and student assessment. Time is focused on building, sharing and critiquing things. In some classes, like Web Design and Programming, I can see this being more readily implemented. But what about courses with “softer” skill sets? Can we get students in an intro to MIS course to build, share, and critique things that get evaluated based on their functionality as well?

I was inspired by this video I recently viewed on YouTube.  I plan on sharing this with my students next semester and hope to find ways to inspire them to view their activities in the classroom and as future information systems professional as creative work  .

On Improvisation

I’ve been thinking about improvisation a lot lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the increasing number of headlines about the economy encouraging us to make due with what we have.  Perhaps it’s my theatrical training trying to find an outlet in the quantitative and largely deterministic paradigm of my research.  Then again, it could be a desire to learn to think better on my feet, or a yearning to push the learning experiences in my classroom to another level, or a desire to experience and enjoy my academic writing in a more fluid, personal, and perhaps human, manner. 

And then quotes like the following get me thinking that perhaps I should be researching and teaching principles related to improvisation to my students:

“Everyone is at a loss, this is the start of a period of huge improvisation. There is no longer any best practice around to refer to,” says Victor Halberstadt, professor of economics at Leiden [in a WSJ.com article on the attitude at the Davos conference]

I think learning to improvise — to follow general principles with available though admittedly imperfect or incomplete resources in an environment of uncertainty — is an increasingly important skill to develop. I’m also trying to figure out how to align my work with principles such as

“teach [others] correct principles and [let them] govern themselves” (Joseph Smith, Jr.)

and

“Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.” (D&C 84:85). 

As I start identifying the connections between improvisation and my research and teaching, I’ll likely post more here.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share.

Joining BYU Hawaii

 

byuhmedallionsm

The CIS Department of Brigham Young University – Hawaii has invited me to join its faculty, and I am delighted to do so. I will join the BYU Hawaii faculty in July 2009.  I look forward to contributing to the incredible work occuring at BYU Hawaii and to teaching and learning with the remarkable faculty and students there.

I think it’s out of pedagogical interest rather than a nascent love for programming that I’m sharing another tool for teaching programming. This one, DrawBot (Mac OS X) starts with visual experiments (a reversal from the introductory programming courses I took which focused on text-based activities first before moving into graphical interface activities).  According to the software home page,

“DrawBot is an ideal tool to teach the basics of programming. Students get colorful graphic treats while getting familiar with variables, conditional statements, functions and what have you.”

I’ve been reading some works by phenomenologists like Heidegger lately, and I’m starting to think perhaps much of our pedigogical approach to teaching technical skills focuses too much on abstractions and not enough on rich experiences. If expertise can be developed in some cases through experience and feedback without abstraction perhaps there’s a way I can change my approach in the classroom.

In this video, Ira Glass from NPR talks about developing the craft of creating great work. His advice is applicable to scholars as well as creative artists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hidvElQ0xE

image of programming building blocks from Scratch program

I came across some research out of MIT recently featuring an innovative approach to teaching programming to children (ages 8 and up).  One of the products they’ve produced is a application called Scratch. Using this tool, the user fits lego-block like programming modules together to manipulate graphics, sounds, and video on the screen.  The emphasis of the application is on helping children understand and get used to working with programming concepts such as logical structures (i.e, if statements, for-loops), screen coordinates, objects, etc.  without having to worry about syntax. I downloaded the program the other day onto my home computer and showed it to my seven- and five-year old boys.  We were learning how to use the tool together, when after about five minutes, I realized my seven-year old was picking things up faster than I was.  My five-year old also enjoys playing with it and is asking for father-son time so I can teach him to use it.  As a geek, I’m naturally thrilled. As an educator, I’m intrigued by the implications of how this will help children develop math and logic skills, and as a father, I’m thrilled for another way to spend time productively with my children.

In my undergraduate program, I remember that the programming courses were something of a barrier for business students who were interested in information systems, but did not have any background in programming. Perhaps tools like this could be useful on the college level as well.