Confirmation for "Uncomfortable, but Not Paralyzed"?

Since my first Digital History class in 2008, I've been telling students that I wanted them to be "uncomfortable, but not paralyzed" based on my sense that it was only when one struggled a bit that deep  learning occurred.  The concept has explicitly shaped much of my teaching since then.  Now the Mindshift blog at KQED is reporting that there are several studies that back up my reasoning.

In one study, published in Learning and Instruction, psychologists Sidney D'Mello and Art Graesser found "that even negative emotions can play a productive role in learning."

Confusion, D’Mello explains, is a state of “cognitive disequilbrium”; we are mentally thrown off balance when we encounter information that doesn’t make sense. This uneasy feeling motivates us to restore our equilibrium through thought, reflection, and problem solving, and deeper learning is the result. According to D’Mello, engaged learners repeatedly experience “two-step episodesalternating between confusion and insight.” Back and forth, between perplexity and understanding: this is how the learning of complex material happens.
In fact, deep learning may be unlikely to happen without the experience of confusion, suggests a study conducted by another researcher, Arizona State’s Kurt VanLehn. The students in his experiment were not able to grasp the physics concepts they were learning until they had encountered, and surmounted, an intellectual “impasse.”
Still another study, this one led by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, found that students who observed a demonstration in science class understood the relevant concept no better than before—unless the students were asked to predict the outcome of the demonstration in advance. When their predictions turned out to be wrong, the resulting confusion motivated them to consider the concept more deeply, and they learned more.


On a related note, Stephen Ramsey at the University of Nebraska has a wonderful post that eloquently makes the case that attitude is more important than (initial) aptitude in learning programming.
Nearly every programmer I know – and I know some great ones – started out not with a course, or a book, or a teacher, but with a problem that was irritating them. Something in their computational world didn’t seem right. Maybe it was broken, or maybe just missing. But being comfortable with not-knowing-what-the-hell-they’re-doing, they decided that getting a computer to do something new was more-or-less like figuring out how to get the chain back on the bike. They weren’t trying to “be programmers” any more than the parent determined to fix the kid’s bike is trying to be a “bicycle mechanic.”
All of these suggest that cultivating mental habits among our students (and ourselves) where we are okay with being unfamiliar with a subject, okay with struggling to master a concept or tool or problem, okay with working in new formats, okay with failure and trying again is important for intellectual and academic development in school and with the work done outside of school.

Vote now on the UMW decade sites

The research sites on the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that my US Women's History students have created as part of our project to re-create the Mary Washington college classroom experience are now up on the course site.

Please check the sites out, and vote for the site that you think provides the best set of resources for our class to actually re-create the classroom experience.

Thanks!


Vote now on the UMW decade sites

The research sites on the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that my US Women's History students have created as part of our project to re-create the Mary Washington college classroom experience are now up on the course site.

Please check the sites out, and vote for the site that you think provides the best set of resources for our class to actually re-create the classroom experience.

Thanks!


The Assignment for Recreating the historical MWC Classroom

As I discussed in this post, my US Women's History since 1870 class will be working on a project in which the ultimate goal is to be able to recreate a class session or two from the middle of the 20th Century.

Here is the assignment that I developed for the course, in three stages.  Note the use of individual and group work, online and IRL activities, and deep research in the archives of the school.

As always, I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions.  [The full course syllabus is here.]


MARY WASHINGTON CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE RESEARCH PROJECT
This project will be based around researching Mary Washington College classes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s (including course topics, pedagogical approaches, majors, gender stereotypes, technology, and clothing).  As our class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, our parallel goal will be to understand what college meant to women who came to Mary Washington in the four decades in the middle of the 20th Century.
Each group of 6-7 of you will have a decade to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Rather than writing a traditional individual research paper, you’ll keep a research blog and work with your group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Primary source resources (many available in UMW Special Collections)
  • The Bullet
  • Course Catalogs
  • Academic Department and Faculty Files
  • Student Handbooks
  • Photographs (Centennial Collection online plus those digitized, but not online yet)
  • Alumni/Faculty Interviews (talk to me about interview waivers)
  • Resources from Historic Preservation (?)
  • Scrapbooks/Aubade/Alumni Magazine/President’s files
Secondary Sources
  • Crawley, William B. University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008. Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington, 2008.
  • Key UMW faculty and staff (Parsons, McClusky, Thaden, Snyder)
Decade-based Research Groups
I will assign each of you to a group of 5-7 each with a different decade at MWC to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Each person will keep their own research log/blog and work with their group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Part I — Individual Research Logs
Each student will take a particular set of primary sources (or will interview alumni) and research classroom experiences for their group’s decade.  Each student will share her/his work in progress in the form of four individual research log-style blog posts posted before class starts on four consecutive Tuesdays (1/31, 2/7, 2/14, 2/21).
Part II — Group Research Project
Building on the research done by each of the group members, each group will construct a site for their decade in UMWBlogs.  The design, format, and presentation of these sites will be determined by the group, with a broad audience in mind.  These sites are due by 11:59 PM on Monday, March 12.
Grading for Parts I and II – 30% overall, with an individual grade for research logs and group grade for the research project.
Part III – Class re-creation
Based on those group research sites, we will collectively decide (with the help of some alums), which decade we will then use for the final project, a re-creation of a course session or two from that decade.  The form these class sessions will take is still yet to be determined (depending in part on the decade picked), but they will involve everyone in some way in preparation and presentation.  Specific tasks will be determined after the decade is chosen.  This recreation will take place during the week of April 17.
Grading for Part III – 10%, with individual grades defined by student’s participation in the re-creation process.
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout these projects, all ideas, phrases, and quotes must be cited using footnote-style citations and bibliographies done using the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) or Turabian’s newest Guide (7th Edition).   

The Assignment for Recreating the historical MWC Classroom

As I discussed in this post, my US Women's History since 1870 class will be working on a project in which the ultimate goal is to be able to recreate a class session or two from the middle of the 20th Century.

Here is the assignment that I developed for the course, in three stages.  Note the use of individual and group work, online and IRL activities, and deep research in the archives of the school.

As always, I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions.  [The full course syllabus is here.]


MARY WASHINGTON CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE RESEARCH PROJECT
This project will be based around researching Mary Washington College classes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s (including course topics, pedagogical approaches, majors, gender stereotypes, technology, and clothing).  As our class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, our parallel goal will be to understand what college meant to women who came to Mary Washington in the four decades in the middle of the 20th Century.
Each group of 6-7 of you will have a decade to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Rather than writing a traditional individual research paper, you’ll keep a research blog and work with your group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Primary source resources (many available in UMW Special Collections)
  • The Bullet
  • Course Catalogs
  • Academic Department and Faculty Files
  • Student Handbooks
  • Photographs (Centennial Collection online plus those digitized, but not online yet)
  • Alumni/Faculty Interviews (talk to me about interview waivers)
  • Resources from Historic Preservation (?)
  • Scrapbooks/Aubade/Alumni Magazine/President’s files
Secondary Sources
  • Crawley, William B. University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008. Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington, 2008.
  • Key UMW faculty and staff (Parsons, McClusky, Thaden, Snyder)
Decade-based Research Groups
I will assign each of you to a group of 5-7 each with a different decade at MWC to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Each person will keep their own research log/blog and work with their group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Part I — Individual Research Logs
Each student will take a particular set of primary sources (or will interview alumni) and research classroom experiences for their group’s decade.  Each student will share her/his work in progress in the form of four individual research log-style blog posts posted before class starts on four consecutive Tuesdays (1/31, 2/7, 2/14, 2/21).
Part II — Group Research Project
Building on the research done by each of the group members, each group will construct a site for their decade in UMWBlogs.  The design, format, and presentation of these sites will be determined by the group, with a broad audience in mind.  These sites are due by 11:59 PM on Monday, March 12.
Grading for Parts I and II – 30% overall, with an individual grade for research logs and group grade for the research project.
Part III – Class re-creation
Based on those group research sites, we will collectively decide (with the help of some alums), which decade we will then use for the final project, a re-creation of a course session or two from that decade.  The form these class sessions will take is still yet to be determined (depending in part on the decade picked), but they will involve everyone in some way in preparation and presentation.  Specific tasks will be determined after the decade is chosen.  This recreation will take place during the week of April 17.
Grading for Part III – 10%, with individual grades defined by student’s participation in the re-creation process.
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout these projects, all ideas, phrases, and quotes must be cited using footnote-style citations and bibliographies done using the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) or Turabian’s newest Guide (7th Edition).   

Info Age Assignment # 3 — The advertisements

[Though I still need to go back and blog about the first two assignments in my History of the Information Age senior seminar (the creation of our class timeline and the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline), I decided to go ahead and post about this assignment anyway.]

For this assignment, the class split into four groups, each to work on their own fictional advertisement.  The goal of this assignment was to have students explore what went into advertisements in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and/or 1960s.  We read several pieces on the history of advertising as part of our weekly class reading on the history of communication and information, and students did further research before they actually created their projects.  [Some of the ads juxtapose topics that are chronologically out of the time period of the ad style, but I think that actually helped, in that it forced students to do more than just copy previous advertisements.]

Students threw themselves into researching the way that advertising was done in terms of themes, colors, wording, images, stories, tone, even font.  And at the end I think that they learned quite a bit about the difficulty and possibility of communicating in ways that go beyond text itself.

Check them out and let us know what you think.

Info Age Assignment # 3 — The advertisements

[Though I still need to go back and blog about the first two assignments in my History of the Information Age senior seminar (the creation of our class timeline and the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline), I decided to go ahead and post about this assignment anyway.]

For this assignment, the class split into four groups, each to work on their own fictional advertisement.  The goal of this assignment was to have students explore what went into advertisements in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and/or 1960s.  We read several pieces on the history of advertising as part of our weekly class reading on the history of communication and information, and students did further research before they actually created their projects.  [Some of the ads juxtapose topics that are chronologically out of the time period of the ad style, but I think that actually helped, in that it forced students to do more than just copy previous advertisements.]

Students threw themselves into researching the way that advertising was done in terms of themes, colors, wording, images, stories, tone, even font.  And at the end I think that they learned quite a bit about the difficulty and possibility of communicating in ways that go beyond text itself.

Check them out and let us know what you think.

History of the Information Age Syllabus 2.0

So, over the last two weeks, the students in this senior seminar on the History of the Information Age have worked with me to fill in the broad outlines of the syllabus.  This syllabus, version 2.0, has the discussion topics and the assignments set, though I still need to sit down with the weekly discussion leaders to decide on the readings for the week.

The assignments include a variety of ways that, as groups and as individuals, students will contribute to the class timeline set up using the Simile Timline plugin for WordPress.  First they'll work in groups to create the events that go into the timeline (a process we discussed as a class last Thursday), their other assignments (again, suggested and/or modified by the students) are as follows:

Part one & two – Select one of the following by September 15.
  • Actually use an early system of communication to convey information (demonstrated to the class)
  • OR describe the process and complications of using such an early system to convey information.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR research and discuss the significance of an information technology in the life of a specific individual before 1950.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR create an infographic with information about an early system of communication from Parts I or II (with sources, posted to your blog)
  • Individual project – Value is 10% of course grade
  • To avoid overlap, each topic must be submitted for approval by September 15.
  • Project due September 29


Part three – Create your own advertisement/commercial/print ad related to the history of information to be shared. – Group – 10%
  • Due Thursday, October 13
Part four – Make a documentary (5-10 minutes) on topic from this period – Group – 15%
  • Due Thursday, November 10
Part five – 5% – Help improve the timeline – Aspect must be preapproved before work starts on it.
  • A) Work on the overall structure/format/presentation of the timeline.
  • B) Pick any point on the timeline to expand on (with research) – Can take form of video, brief, essay, infographic, oral history, etc.
  • Individual, unless a case can be made for group work here.
  • Due the last day of class, December 8.

As always, questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.  I'm excited to see what projects the students come up with as they begin to explore the concepts of historically located information and communication through a variety of tools.

History of the Information Age Syllabus 2.0

So, over the last two weeks, the students in this senior seminar on the History of the Information Age have worked with me to fill in the broad outlines of the syllabus.  This syllabus, version 2.0, has the discussion topics and the assignments set, though I still need to sit down with the weekly discussion leaders to decide on the readings for the week.

The assignments include a variety of ways that, as groups and as individuals, students will contribute to the class timeline set up using the Simile Timline plugin for WordPress.  First they'll work in groups to create the events that go into the timeline (a process we discussed as a class last Thursday), their other assignments (again, suggested and/or modified by the students) are as follows:

Part one & two – Select one of the following by September 15.
  • Actually use an early system of communication to convey information (demonstrated to the class)
  • OR describe the process and complications of using such an early system to convey information.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR research and discuss the significance of an information technology in the life of a specific individual before 1950.  (300-500 words, plus sources, posted to your blog)
  • OR create an infographic with information about an early system of communication from Parts I or II (with sources, posted to your blog)
  • Individual project – Value is 10% of course grade
  • To avoid overlap, each topic must be submitted for approval by September 15.
  • Project due September 29


Part three – Create your own advertisement/commercial/print ad related to the history of information to be shared. – Group – 10%
  • Due Thursday, October 13
Part four – Make a documentary (5-10 minutes) on topic from this period – Group – 15%
  • Due Thursday, November 10
Part five – 5% – Help improve the timeline – Aspect must be preapproved before work starts on it.
  • A) Work on the overall structure/format/presentation of the timeline.
  • B) Pick any point on the timeline to expand on (with research) – Can take form of video, brief, essay, infographic, oral history, etc.
  • Individual, unless a case can be made for group work here.
  • Due the last day of class, December 8.

As always, questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.  I'm excited to see what projects the students come up with as they begin to explore the concepts of historically located information and communication through a variety of tools.

A Professor’s Legacy

This weekend I attended a memorial service for one of my Mary Washington college professors, and later colleague, Dr. Richard "Doc" Warner.  Dick had died suddenly a couple of weeks ago while in New York to talk to an editor about the historical novels he'd been writing since he retired.

Dick Warner spent 36 years at Mary Washington, teaching classes in Russian, French, and maritime history.  When I first came to the school as a prospective student he was the one who spent nearly 90 minutes talking to me about the school and the history major.  This was in stark contrast to the other schools I had visited at which I was lucky to get even five minutes with any faculty members; I don't know if he ever realized it, but he was a big reason that I came to (then) Mary Washington College.  [Over a decade later,  when I applied after graduate school for a tenure-track teaching position in the department, Dick told me that he would only support hiring me if I agreed to become chair someday....  Something tells me he's still got a smile and a twinkle in his eye about that one.]

Although a dedicated teacher, his real passion was men's rugby.  He was instrumental in starting the club sport at MWC in the 1980s and was, as one of the participants this weekend noted, the "Godfather of Mary Washington Rugby".  He advocated for resources with the administration and raised money from a wide variety of sources.  He recruited constantly, boldly poaching athletes from more mainstream sports at the school.  He attended almost every match for decades and continued to come to many games, even after his retirement and move out of state in 2004.

I knew most of this before this weekend.  Frankly, you couldn't be Dick's colleague (or student) without getting a major rugby update at least once a week.  But this weekend's memorial service was a powerful sign of Dick Warner's impact, of a remarkable legacy.  At the service, on the rugby pitch that really should be named Doc Warner Field, nearly 100 people remembered his life and his impact on them.  As we went around the large circle, we heard from alumni from the classes of the 1980s to 2011, from people who had traveled thousands of miles or just a few blocks, from teary middle-age men to proud recent graduates, all to pay tribute to Dick.

But the tales that were told of Doc Warner this weekend went beyond that of solely a sport.  Of course there were stories of recruiting phone calls and of conversations about various aspects of a student's rugby game, of the enduring passion and love Dick had for the sport and its players.  But even more powerful were those stories of Dick mentoring students about their classes, working out structured schedules with young men who were having trouble adjusting to the rigorous demands of Mary Washington's courses, introducing them not only to the library, but to the specific cubicle in which they would henceforth be studying.  Several alums spoke to the fact that, rather than being easier on rugby players in his own classes, that he expected more of them.  And that attention to their success as students and as men didn't stop with their graduation.  We heard of countless recommendation letters written, or phone calls to potential employers; we heard of the community of people (students, alumni, parents, friends) bound together ostensibly by rugby, but really by Doc Warner's unrelenting energy and interest; we heard about Dick recognizing former students on the street decades later and remembering key details about their lives.  We heard from Dick's own family about the importance of "his second family" to Dick, of his pride in them and in their successes.  We heard about his generosity, his quiet support of students in financial straits, and his wry sense of humor.

I was talking with other faculty members at the end of the memorial, wondering at the powerful impact Dick had had on these student-athletes.  Few faculty have the kind of impact, inspire the kind of devotion, leave the kind of legacy that he did.  Many of us who teach would be thrilled to have a memorial service to which so many of those we advised and taught came, where there was as much joy and laughter as there were tears and sadness, a sense of a life well and fully lived for both family and work.  It was a fitting tribute to Richard Warner's career and life.