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 . . . ).

Website Wednesday

Website Wednesday is an occasional feature in which we highlight one (or a couple) of sites from the Billions floating around the Intertoobz that just might help you with your Herculean task of educating inquiring minds. Any and all suggestions for future editions are welcome.

Flowing Data is a “Data Visualization, Infographics, and Statistics” site that makes beautiful, fascinating pictures out of numbers. Want to see a visualization of “Where People Run” in a bunch of major cities (such as Chicago)? No problem. Want to see a poster with visualizations of famous movie quotes? No problem. Want to learn about how to make data visualizations or recognize liars or see some great ones? No problem. It’s all there.

Cross Talk: Film Edition

Cross Talk is a regular feature, highlighting three to seven items on some discipline taught at the college. We should all know more about what our colleagues know, teach, and love. Lifelong learning, blah, blah, blah, and all that jazz.

Lots of good stuff related to film out there. Here’s a small sliver of it:

~The oral history of Hoop Dreams (as published on Dissolve–a great Web site for writing about film);

~Henry Louis Gates talks about 12 Years a Slave and America; David Simon wrote some interesting things about it, too. And this was good, as well;

~Last year’s Jefferson Lectures honored Martin Scorsese;

~Also from last year, I collected a bunch of stuff about Django Unchained (here, here, here,  and Zero Dark Thirty (here, here ) and other Oscar nominees (here, ) and other stuff like portrayals of Lincoln, or unconventional story telling trends, or a documentary on representations of women in film,

~Check out a brief treatment (with examples) of the role of music in film and the ways that our perceptions of images are affected by what we hear;

~Enemy of the State is a great, great movie;

~From film class project to hit music video;

Cross Talk: Music Edition

Cross Talk is a regular feature, highlighting three to seven items on some discipline taught at the college. We should all know more about what our colleagues know, teach, and love. Lifelong learning, blah, blah, blah, and all that jazz.

UPDATE: Now with Pete Seeger. R.I.P.

~Take this awesome quiz to find out “how musical you are” as measured across four dimensions. It doesn’t take that long and it’s really interesting (h/t to Erica McCormack for the pointer–and I’ll never tell a thing about what she scored…oops!) Also, check out this tool for making your own music; (before you send out your demo, make sure it’s a hit!)

~Check out the secrets of learning an instrument and efficient practice (short version; full version); and one on why every ambitious person should study some music;

~Maybe it’s time to learn about hip-hop;

~On the meaning of Hick-Hop (by Tressie MC);

~Harmonicas are fascinating, and this piece is too;

~Learn about the new economics of music making;

~Get Bach!

~Meet the woman who signs for rappers (as in does sign language for musical performances) and learn a lot about both;

~Because music can save your life;

~A history of Rock and Roll winners: it starts with Led Zeppelin, working its way through seven installments to The Black Keys;

~Oral histories are big, too: here is the oral history of “Baby Got Back;” and this one on Tom Dooley is really long but awesome.

~Music education is changing–On rock bands in elementary ed;

~This is a great article on Kanye–whether you love or hate him, it’s hard to deny his pop-cultural importance. Also, this bio piece on Dylan and his very public privacy is great, if only for all the unverified stories about the man and his artful maintenance of and cultivation of interest in his private life as is this one on the campaign to get Yes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame;

~There are a mess of great interviews out there to check out. This one of Tom Waits, reads like a work of literature. A sample chunk:

When I was a kid I hung out with a gang of Mexican kids in a town called San Vicente. And in the summer, we used to go out into the desert and bury ourselves up to our necks in sand and wait for the vultures. The vultures weigh about seven pounds ’cause they don’t eat right. They’re all feathers. You wait for the buzzards to start circling over you, and it takes them about a half-hour to hit the ground. You stay as still as a corpse under the sand with just your head showing, and you wait for the vulture to land and walk over to you, the first thing they do is try to peek your eyes out. And when they make that jab, you reach out from under the sand, grab them around the neck, and snap their head off..

I’ll tell you, the best thing I ever saw was a kid who had a tattoo gun made out of a cassette motor and a guitar string. The whole thing was wrapped in torn pieces of T-shirt, and it fit in your hands just like a bird. It was one of the most thrilling things I’d ever seen, that kind of primitive innovation. I mean, that’s how words develop, through mutant usage of them. People give new meaning, stronger meaning, or they cut the meaning of the word by overusing if, or they use it for something else.I just love that stuff.

FT: When did you first get the impulse to write words and music of your own?

TW: Real young I heard Marty Robbins “El Paso” and the fact that it was a love story and that crime was involved really attracted me. [laughs] But it’s not like once you’ve developed the ability to write songs, it’s something that will never leave you. You’re constantly worried that it may not come when you want it to. It still comes down to this: you may like music, but you want to make sure music likes you as well. You sometimes frighten it away. You have to sit in a big chair and be real quiet and catch the big ones. Then try to get something you consider to be innovative, within your own experience. It takes a long time. I’m just starting to feel that I can take some chances now; I wrote in a very traditional way for a long time. Sat at a piano with a cigarette and a drink and did it in kind of a Brill Building style. I was always fascinated with how these guys could go into a room, close the door and come out with ten songs. You may think you’re doing good, but then you hear Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Reed, Keith Richards, or Mississippi John Hurt, and you realize that these guys are all blessed in some way, and when are you going to wake up with the golden fleece?

Or this:

TW: Yeah. And you know what makes you safe and you don’t want to be unsafe. Kathleen has helped me to feel safe in my uncertainty. And that’s where the wonder and the discovery are. After a while you realize that music – the writing and enjoying of it – is not off the coast of anything. It’s not sovereign, it’s well woven, a fabric of everything else: sunglasses. a great martini, Turkish figs, grand pianos. It’s all part of the same thing. And you realize that a Cadillac and the race track, Chinese food, and Irish whisky all have musical qualities.

FT: I heard that Duke Ellington sometimes used to give his musicians a description of something or somebody, rather than technical musical directions, to get them to play the way he wanted.

TW: Yeah, that happened in Chicago when we recorded the Frank’s Wild Years album. On “I’ll Take New York” they approached the whole recording like a Strasberg kind of thing [laughs] I said. “let’s go with Jerry Lewis on the deck of the Titanic, going down, trying to sing ‘Swanee'” I sang the song right into a Harmon trumpet mute and just explained that I wanted the whole thing to gradually melt in the end.

FT: You did that with quite a lot of songs on Frank’s Wild Years. I think you gave some of those songs a nervous breakdown. They were fairly conventional, written for the stage, and when you went to make the album, they got transformed.

TW: It’s a matter of pulling the play into the song; once I separated the music from the story. I felt compelled to put some optical illusions in the songs. Some were more susceptible than others, but I was trying to make them more visual.

I worked with great people. It has to do with the chemistry of the people that you work with. Mark Ribot was a big part of the thing ’cause he has that kind of barbed-wire industrial guitar, Greg Cohen is solid; he plays both upright and electric bass. Ralph Carney plays three saxophones simultaneously. Bill Schimmel doesn’t play the accordion, he is an accordion. They enjoy challenges. Michael Blair will play everything. He plays every instrument in the room and then goes looking for things to play that aren’t instruments. They all are like that, and it’s like a dismantling process-nothing carries its own physical properties by itself.

You can talk to them like actors, and they’ll go with the drug, and that’s what I like. You have to really know your instrument; you have to understand the power of suggestion to be able to do that. I can literally talk colors. I can say, “We want kind of an almond aperitif here” or “industrial hygiene with kind of a refrigeration process on this” and they say, “Yeah. I’m there. I’ll go there.” And that’s exciting. Like Mark Ribot – we were playing after hours in a club in Copenhagen(11) I think it was, and he knocked over a bottle of some foreign liquor; it was spilling all over the floor and he’s splashing around in the liquor, jumping up and down playing the guitar, yelling. “Play like a pygmy, play like a pygmy.” And everybody knew exactly what he meant. When you find who you communicate with on that level, it’s very exciting, because they’ll go anywhere with you.

And the whole thing is like that. Be sure to check out the footnotes, too. Other interviews you might dig include this one with Lorde that is funny and delightful adolescent; or this (short) one on Nikki Minaj; or this classic Lou Reed interview; or this one with Britney Spears; or this one on Johnny Cash (and Rick Rubin); or this one on Lyle Lovett; or this tribute to Earl Scruggs who died in 2012;

~

The Bloom Is Off the MOOC

The big news this week is that Sebastian Thrune seems to have backtracked a bit from his early zeal about their potential. Why is that news? Well, he is one of the original Prophets of MOOC–maybe the best known proselytizer of them who quit Stanford to found a company dedicated to higher-ed disruption–seems to have discovered the limits that Juan Nunez (English) mentions in his comment on the Don’s Desk post.

Surely you’ve heard of MOOCs by now, perhaps vis-a-vis this April Don’s Desk post or coverage in The Chronicle. No doubt the conversation (and innovation) is far from over (nor should it be, as this writer states), but there are some important critical conversations to be had and lessons to be learned about experimenting on students educational reforms.

Call for Assessment Volunteers

Michael Heathfield and the (national award winning) Assessment Committee are looking for help with their efforts to assess student skills in regard to the Gen Ed Objective of “Oral Communication” mastery as measured by the associated General Education learning outcomes. Per Michael:

“Here’s an opportunity to contribute data for something useful, positive, and directly related to improving student learning.”

They need faculty who are already having students do some sort of oral presentation some time between weeks 12 and 16. If you have a class that fits that description, then (unlike in past years where students went and took a test in the lab or something) by volunteering you’d be agreeing to use the committee’s easy to use rubric (in addition to OR instead of your own) to evaluate the student presentations and submit those to the committee. There may be a quick survey for students to take, as well, but I’m not sure about that.

Regardless, you would be volunteering to do an easy (and helpful) bit of bonus data collection that won’t take all that long or be all that difficult to do and will help all of us learn something about where our students are in regard to oral communication skills. That, in turn, will give all of us good information about what we might do in our classes to promote student growth toward this objective.

Imagine that: some data collection that might actually tell us something about student learning and helpfully inform our teaching! Please help if you can.

If you are interested in learning more, contact Michael Heathfield or someone you know on the Assessment Committee (every department has a rep) and find out more. If you are interested in volunteering, go HERE and do it!