Town Hall Meeting Remarks

Hi All,

Below you’ll find remarks I made to the Vice Chancellors at the Town Hall meeting last Thursday. The VC’s began with a half-hour of slides, which they said they would share.  After their half-hour presentations, our students asked questions for the next hour. They were very engaging and mostly respectfully listened to by the VCs.  Finally, faculty had a one-half hour block to ask questions. I encourage others to post on their experience at this event. I know Dave has already solicited comments.

Approximation of remarks made:

Congratulations to you all for overseeing the death of liberal arts at the City Colleges of Chicago. You have determined that our students only need specific courses and majors to succeed and you have arranged it to your satisfaction that only those courses and majors will be offered. Within three years we expect that courses which do not propel our students to jobs of economic value will be gone. You have determined that our students don’t need courses on art history to learn about great works of art, our students don’t need courses in training of the speaking voice to learn better diction and pronunciation, our students don’t need courses in acting to learn how to better present themselves. Music, philosophy, religion are all in jeopardy because of the actions you are taking. You have decided that those courses belong to the more entitled students at four-year colleges, that learning is for the elite, and that our students don’t need, can’t handle and don’t deserve a fully rounded education. What you don’t seem to understand is that our students deserve all that we can offer them.

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Collegial Consent for Spirit Lifting Only

Michael Heathfield, the one and only Michael Heathfield, sent  the following to me with a request to post it in order to gather input from anyone willing to offer some, and I am only too happy to, belatedly, oblige in the hopes of seeing a good old-fashioned, English style cod-walloping gobsmack of a rant with a bunch of words I’ve never seen in that particular order (or at all)! And so, here you go. Help the man out:

My birthday has passed and my delusion that I was going to gracefully glide towards retirement has gone. I have a stack of grading at my side, some of the best students ever, a poor old dog who will not be with us much longer, and a fast approaching publisher deadline. I have long subscribed to the belief that humor in the face of adversity is a much-needed skill. So I am going to practice it…

My survival strategy (meaning avoidance) is to ask my unbelievably stellar HWC compadres which distracting activity would lift our communal spirits more? I have the urge to write a small piece for the Harold Lounge but I am not sure quite where to start or where to go. Those of you who know me will understand this is why I don’t drive.

I have a tempting palate of posting possibilities but have been told by colleagues, too many times, to cut the words and focus. So I want to enlist your support and guidance as to which one should actually exist (cue catalogue floating out of view). Dave is brilliant at handling the technology of electronic voting, so I trust he can help in this respect. Here are my imaginary posting headlines as I seek democratic community consent as to which one should exist in our realities:

I invented seven to symbolically represent the individually accredited institutions that make up our system and then added one for District. I never said I wasn’t clever! Molly Turner will no doubt explore with me my overuse of the exclamation mark when I try to slip into journalistic mode!

Please join me in my spiritually uplifting task and take a little time to vote. Let’s hope we can have a turnout over 35%! I promise to get Dave to post the winning article before the end of the year when, regardless of the consequences, a Mexican margarita has my name on it. Again. Again.

Mike Heathfield

Using Smart Phones in Smart Ways: Cell Phones as Economic Equalizers and Stuff

Before I drift too far into my dissertation research while on sabbatical this spring, I wanted to express some ideas that have taken root in my teaching philosophy regarding the equalizing power afforded by smart phones as computers.

If you had asked any student of mine between 2006-2010, you would have found out that I would give a “surprise quiz” if there was a cell phone that went off during class. I asked students to put them away and keep them away. And I meant it. NO CELL PHONES.

Then I thought about cell phones in a wildly different way; and my thoughts began to change while taking Classical Rhetoric in the spring 2012 semester then progressed further in the summer 2012 while taking a course in Advanced Issues in Composition. Both of these courses were taken with now emeritus faculty member Fred Kemp for my PhD program. He really got me to think about smart phones in a different, more productive way.

So, before I am beyond my ankles in dissertation research, I know there was some talk regarding the HW and CCC cell phone policy earlier in the semester, and I understand the resistance to letting students use them in the classroom.  But, this is was Fred Kemp had to say about it.

He remarked that cell phones (i.e., smart phones) contribute to lowering the bar of inquiry. What he meant by this is that if you want to know something, you can Google it on your smart phone in an instant, depending on your connection speed. You don’t have to look it up in the library or elsewhere anymore. While our student may not be able to afford PCs or Macs, I think I can’t be the only one who has noticed that our students have smart phones with operating systems capable of working like computers in the palms of their very real hands.

And I am sure I am not the first to articulate ideas like this regarding cell phones as smart phones being an economic equalizer, allowing students who couldn’t normally afford computers to access the same advantages.

And I embrace them now (well, not now, but when I am teaching I do).

I tell students that they are allowed to use their cell phones in class to look up words or do anything class-related, like checking to make sure they have access to the technology we use in class: Blackboard, Drop Box, Google Docs, etc.

And, mostly, with only a few exceptions, my students do use their phones appropriately. Yes, I am sure they check Facebook every once in a while, and yes, I am sure that they send text messages, too. However, by and large (and the vast majority of the time), I think the basic psychology of not making it a forbidden activity prevails here, and they use their cell phones to access the Google Doc I am working on during class in a room with a black box on the 6th floor.

On the first day of class, I have students download a free Quick Reference (QR) code reader called inigma to scan the QR codes I have made for the syllabus and other first day of class papers they need. No more paper copies for them (unless they specifically request one, and then I request copies from Reprographics). The QR code allows students the ability to scan multiple codes with links to documents (and a history of the downloads) to access documents on the train or bus or wherever.

And they use their phones to make sure they have access to documents they need for class on Blackboard or Drop Box; and they use their cell phones to clarify information during class. I think they use their cell phones to learn; however, I had to show them how to do just that: use the Internet and apps to learn and lower what Kemp called “the bar on inquiry.”

[I once had a group in class (during class) take a group selfie to send to a missing classmate and post it on Instagram; the missing classmate showed up for the remainder of the class sessions devoted to the group work.]

I do not think technology should drive our pedagogical choices. I’m not going to use the latest bells and technological whistles if they don’t fit what I am trying to accomplish in my classroom (and I strongly urge you not to either), but if there is a pedagogical function that smartphones afford us as instructors for our students, then I think we should try it out, at the very least.

And here are a few ways you can (along with some other accessibility tips).

  • Post everything on Blackboard or wherever (even e-mail attachments) as Portable Document Formats (PDFs). This allows students who do not have Microsoft Office and programs to open the documents on their smartphones.
  • Use Google Docs, if there is writing involved. Not only does Google Docs (when a user is logged in to Google) provide a history of their writing contributions, if they share the documents with you, then you can see who contributed what.
  • And, oh yeah: you can download a Google Doc as a PDF or docx or rtf. Students do not have to own, once again, Microsoft Office. There’s not only docs in Google, but spreadsheet and power point, too (or use Cloud On—another free app).

There are issues with privacy and Google owning content or whatever, but there’s so much on there (on Google) that I don’t think it’s a real worry, although I don’t (and would never) store private information on a Google Doc. I’m sure others are more knowledgeable about this.

You don’t have to use these, obviously; however, letting our students know they have access to free technologies to meet some of the writing demands (and via their smartphones) is worthwhile, I think.

I’m sure this may be contentious. I know there are some of us who will never welcome cell phones—no matter how smart they are—in the classroom. It is just as harmful to endorse as it is to reject all technologies, I think. If the technology fits your pedagogical aims for your students, it might be worth a shot, right?

Somewhere, in the history of teaching, there had to have been someone who consistently lamented the change from chalk to chalkless chalk to dry erase markers, don’t you think?

And even if you disagree, we know the job market our students will be entering, regardless of the current unemployment rate—it’s damn competitive. By showing our students smart ways to use their smartphones, we may be helping to be more competitive in the job market, thinking of using technology in professional ways to suit their learning needs.

Okay, now I return into the research recesses of my sabbatical (and I’m thinking about evaluating information, now . . . ).