“Read This First” (A draft)

I’ve been teaching online for a decade, maybe more if I include the hybrid courses, the course which have a traditional recitation (lecture) component and an online component. I always struggle to figure out how to best duplicate the in-class experience in my online effort. I make videos, use web sites, and provide my own home-grown essays based on episodes from my in-class teachings.

My online courses don’t always get the benefit of receiving the benefits of my discourses on teaching and learning. They do, if they choose to read what I write, or listen to my audio files, or watch a video file. Honestly, nothing makes up for the real classroom experience of making real eye contact with a professor badgering students to buckle-down and focus. Just as in the last comment, an online audience may not be sensitive to use of humor and sarcasm a present and accounted for live audience would hopefully enjoy.

Below is a draft of my spring 2014 opening essay for my 100-level world geography course. I expose the essay to any and all interested reading what my in-class students get to hear from me on the first day of classes.

READ THIS FIRST

The details of this course are not difficult to understand, really. But, there are some important details you must always bear in mind. But, first, some advice you should keep in mind for all courses, not merely mine.

You are not only a student. You are a potential employee, a potential supervisor, a potential middle school teacher, scientist, engineer, nurse, or some other professional. About 90% of students in this course are adults; I have some high school students enrolled in the course. I expect all students to immediately stop behaving as if you were still in high school. I also recommend stop thinking of yourself as a student. Approach your education as if your job and financial future depends on your academic choices and how you choose to engage your education. Your life does, actually.

This is the current value of your student loan.

This is the current value of your student loan.

You should know, right now, your future employer will scan the Internet looking for reasons NOT to hire you. Your future livelihood depends on your approach to your academic career. Millions of people spend more time thinking about the 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T ($30,000) they are going to buy after graduation, a car worth $26,000 immediately after it’s driven from the dealership, than they spend evaluating their academic choices. If chosen properly, your education will pay off for decades. The average student loan debt today is about $29,000, which is why I picked a car worth about the same amount. Your investment in your education will earn you money, responsibility, prestige, recognition. Your investment in the Dodge Challenger (or whatever suits you) will cost money everyday.

Pay attention to your classes, think about your major, minor, or area. Start looking at employment advertisements and job responsibilities. What are employers looking for today? How is your career field evolving? Build a resume. Compare your resume of today with the resume you will need. If you wait four or five years to begin thinking about preparing for a career, you are already 3-4 years behind. Start now, while you have the luxury of time (more or less), and protect your investment. Plus, you will stand out among your friends and fellow students. Faculty are far more likely to give you attention than the slacker who shows in class once per week and thinks he is hiding by sitting in the back of the class. By the way, if YOU are the student who appears not to care, here is a suggestion. Leave school. Go find a job which does not have you involved in working under very stressful, boring, monotonous conditions. Perhaps that is your lot in life. When you figure out what you really want to do, then come back to university and devote time and effort to being successful. Otherwise, you are wasting my time, your time, your money, and a bunch of resources which could be devoted to people who actually have a plan, or at least an idea of a plan.

A good portion of people don’t contemplate life after college until their senior year. As soon as you declare a major, you should begin to adjust your life to reflect those people already in your chosen field. Budget your time for classes, homework, and for entertainment. While Facebook may have been created by a young man in college, Facebook was designed by Satan. Any application used to bully, humiliate, denigrate, insult, badger, provoke, promulgates racism and bigotry, and can lead to the break-up of families, marriages, suicide and murder, and generally proves how ignorant Humanity is not a great app, in my opinion. An app which creates an environment where someone stabs or murders someone else because of “unfriending” does not advance society. Delete any stupid images which will prevent you from being hired, and stop making idiotic, ridiculous comments which will do the same. Act like the person you want to become, not the child you were.

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Oh, yes, Zuckerberg did sort of drop out of college to run Facebook, and so did Apple’s Steve Jobs. And, if you can create something worth billions of dollars while in school, maybe you will need to drop-out, too. Then, send my department a check so we can afford to keep helping people learn, since our government doesn’t seem to appreciate the importance of education. Otherwise, consider Zuckerberg and Jobs did not go out and hire other drop-outs, but hired people with BS/BA, MS/MA, and Ph.Ds to help their respective companies succeed and become global leaders. Also, those guys used their college time to learn programming languages, some engineering, some design, and networked with other geniuses (real geniuses, like Steve Wozniak). Realize the complete ecosystem of your education.

Twitter, on the other, if used appropriately, is a great tool for becoming connected and informed about your profession. If you use Twitter, stop following family, friends, and other unnecessary accounts. Use Facebook for those tasks. Follow people and other accounts on Twitter accounts you can learn from. Follow authors, writers, scientists, government agencies, professional organizations and any one you can find in your chosen field. Learn from them. Examine the info they “tweet.” Read their blogs. Investigate their web sites. Discover what they are doing right. You might even get lucky and strike up a conversation with a knowledge leader in your field.

Also, your involvement in social organizations faculty do not care about. Having been the president of my fraternity years ago, and academic chair, I accept no excuses from students who use their social organization as a reason not to submit work on time. Those are extracurricular activities which should have no bearing on your ability to complete not only homework, but your degree program. Faculty will usually support your interest in professional organizations, such as IEEE, Kappa Delta Pi, or other honor societies, but expect zero consideration for social organizations.

Finally, online classes are all about YOU. You provide the energy and perseverance to succeed, not me. Online classes are not for people who do not have the discipline to designate time to study, time to read, time to do homework. I have plenty of people each semester who fail my 100-level geography course because they do not respect the course nor their investment in the course. Students must follow directions, must read the syllabus, must devote time to the course just as if the course was a traditional, in-class course. Students must also accept the responsibility for conducting their own learning experience.

geno_uconn

Geno Auriemma, UConn WBB head coach, and one of the best coaches in the country.

I provide materials, exercises, homework. I say I “coach” this course. All faculty are coaches, essentially. We tell you what we need to see, we tell you how to improve techniques, methods, writing, and thinking. But, like any college basketball coach, we cannot play the game for you. I cannot shoot, defend, or run the court for you. You have to use the skills, knowledge, and criticism to adjust your skill set, your knowledge, and thinking.

So many students say, “I’m not going to do that. I don’t care what Professor X says, I’m going to do it my way.” Yes, because … how many years of experience do you have compared to a faculty member coaching the course? The idea behind learning is to set aside preconceived biases and ideas, suck it up, Buttercup, and pay attention, take the criticism, adjust, and get better. Faculty are here to help you leave the classroom better than when you entered, better after graduation than when you first stepped foot on campus. That is our job, to be critical, hard, and push you to be better tomorrow than you were when you climbed out of bed this morning. The idea is to listen, pay attention, follow instructions, do as well as you can, make more good choices than bad ones so you can be productive later in life.

Every course is a learning experience. Every instructor is an entertainer. Most faculty will balk at this label. We stand in front of adults every day, talk to adults every day, try to capture adult attention every day. I’ve been called “irresponsible,” “delusional,” “absurd” for suggesting faculty are entertainers, at least in part. Why? Because faculty are people, too, and fall into the same perceptual traps as anyone else. As you sit in the classroom, be a participant. Analyze how the instructor has the course organized, the day’s lecture topic, the material.

  1. How do they address the class?
  2. What mannerisms do they have?
  3. What do they seem to do right? What needs work?

While you may not have much experience in the discipline, and may not have much background in the material, you can still ask yourself some questions:

  1. How would I teach this course?
  2. What seems to be important?
  3. What lessons can I learn?
  4. Is there a broader lesson, or over-arching theme present?

In being an active participant, even a C-average student might become a B-student, or A-student, simply by re-framing thought processes, and taking the perspective being the instructor.

Girls are gamers, too.

Girls are gamers, too.

Otherwise, why else are you taking out thousands of dollars in student loans? So I can harass you for skipping class because you’ve spent the last 18 hours playing “Call of Duty” online against a gamer-girl team living in the Czech Republic?

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