As a part of the 2013 Instructional Technology Immersion Seminar several faculty members are learning new ways to incorporate technology into our classrooms. More importantly, I’m realizing all of the ways in which these technologies can help you, the student, too. Being able to include as many technologies into your resume as possible can help you seperate yourself from your peer pack. Here’s a simple example of how you can use SlideRocket from Google.


Dear Students… e-mail edition

Dear Students,

I feel compelled to remind you that I teach communication courses and pay close attention to the nuances of the various types of communication in which we engage. Our abilities to communicate are, in part, what makes us human beings. Too often in our professor-student communication, I find myself frustrated, put off, and generally discombobulated because our interaction isn’t as competent as it could be. Please consider this my request for you to reconsider your communication with me more carefully.
An increasing percentage of mishaps occur via e-mail. Please consider what e-mail stands for— electronic mail. If letters are an important form of written communication, e-mail is then an electronic form of important, written communication.

When writing e-mails, please familiarize yourself with the different parts of the e-mail.
• The subject line is the area that you can alert the recipient what your message will be about. Please make sure that this subject line is pertinent to the message you are writing. When you simply reply to previous e-mails I have sent you, you may send me a message the week of final exams that reads “Welcome to COMM 110.” I will undoubtedly scratch my head as to why you’re just now responding to a message I sent at the beginning of the semester and may not open it immediately since it’s not pertinent to the end of the semester.
• The salutation is the greeting of a message. Traditionally this would be: Dear Dr. Darnell, Dr. Darnell, or Professor Darnell. Hey! is not an appropriate salutation. I’m your professor, not your b.f.f..
• The next section of the e-mail is the body. This is where you address the subject with which you are concerned. Please make sure that in the body of your e-mail you are not showing that you either did not read the syllabus, grading philosophy, or honesty agreement, or simply chose to ignore those documents all together. For example, I do not ‘take doctor’s notes’ yet I get doctor’s ‘excuses’ e-mailed to me all the time.
• The ending of the e-mail includes a closing and a signature, or just a signature. A traditional closing is “Sincerely,” with your name as the signature. Given the medium of e-mail writing, a closing is not necessary in my opinion. When signing your name, make it your complete name. 🙂 S. is not an appropriate signature.

If you’re still confused by the format, consult this image of a traditional letter.

In general, please show common sense when you e-mail me.
• Do not ask “Did we do anything important while I was absent?” If you can’t figure out why you shouldn’t ask this, I’d be happy to explain this in person.
• If you want ‘my notes,’ come to class and listen to them. Ask your peers for their class notes. Class discussions are more than my lecture notes. Understand the difference.
• Spell words correctly. Proofread and then proofread again.
• Do not expect a response to your e-mail immediately. I’m not up at 2:30 a.m. checking my e-mail. You shouldn’t be either.
• Do not demand things of me or use your e-mail to angrily vent. Be careful of your tone. If you don’t mean to be aggressive and inappropriate then do not write an e-mail that can be interpreted that way.
• I do not need to know why you weren’t in class. Your personal life is yours, not mine. I don’t need to know that you were up all night throwing up, that your child had diarrhea all night, or that you’ve just felt really crummy with all your coughing and sinus infections and body aches. E-mailing me doesn’t mean you get ‘more’ excused absences. I understand that you may consider this a courtesy, but I don’t think you’re a bad person if you’re not in class.
• Don’t ask me to ‘look over’ your assignments, via e-mail, since you can’t make it to office hours because you’re too busy. If you can’t talk to me during office hours, then arrange a time to see me in person. You’re not the only person who is busy.
• When in doubt, come see me rather than e-mailing me from your Android/iPhone/smart phone/Segway/Whatever-you-call-the-technological-gadget-of-the-moment.

All of these things relate to our personal encounters as well. When you come to my office, do not walk in and say “I need you to sign this” while shoving a piece of paper in my face. Instead, let’s have a conversation after you have knocked and asked “May I come in?” You can choose to stand or sit while we talk about your speech, your desire to drop a course, or your travel plans that may affect class.

In this technological age where you may be used to communicating n shrt wrds w/no punct & less than 140 charactrs, you need to set yourself apart and show the world that you do indeed know how to communicate appropriately and effectively.

Please understand that I write this for you, not in retaliation against you. Please be mindful of your communication with all professors. We all want you to leave Columbia College with the best possible skills to help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Competent communication skills are key to achieving those goals.


Photo of the Week, 25 March 2012

The case of Trayvon Martin is troubling for so many reasons, first of which is that a 17 year-old who went to the store for tea and Skittles at the half-time of the NBA All-Star Game was shot dead.  We may never know the truth but enough has come out that leads me to believe that it’s a tragedy all the way around.  The news that Trayvon’s hoodie was part of George Zimmerman’s initial suspicion is even more troubling, akin to rape being ’caused’ by a women’s provocative clothing.  From Marion Wright Edelman to the Miami Heat, hoodies are becoming a political statement.


New Year in Education Resolutions

This post by Paul Stoller in the Huffington Post highlights some of the tiring dilemmas in Higher Education. Among his assertions is that, “Higher education should be more than a system for processing student bodies. Indeed, it should be the serious attempt to teach young people how to be in the world–an attempt that will set a course for the future.” More importantly, I hope that students may take him up on his challenge in the new year and new semester…
Here’s a New Year’s resolution for college students: make a habit of visiting your professors and discussing the world of ideas. Taking such a small step will not only be rewarding for students and professors, but will make the university a little less corporate and a little more humane, which means, that everyone benefits.


Thinking about Teaching

Today is Fall Commencement at Columbia College. As I watch our graduates revel and sigh in relief over their upcoming graduation I think, not only, about how much they’ve changed in the years since I first ‘met’ them, but in how I’ve changed as well.

The past 15 months have felt like a lifetime in regards to the way I view my teaching. In the fall of 2010 I was challenged like never before in a classroom. Daily I questioned how I would approach the next day of teaching. Sunday mornings were almost painful as I realized that in 24 hours I would need to go in to the lion’s den once more. The very next semester I had my first public speaking class in which no student earned an “A.” That same semester, however, I had the very best Film History class I’ve had to date. And this semester I have had the pleasure of enjoying the work of a few students who remind me why I got into this ‘teaching gig’ in the first place. What a short, strange journey it has been.

When I reread the teaching philosophy I so fervently believed in when I stood for tenure, I almost don’t recognize the person who wrote it. So resolute she was. So sure she was about teaching having a definitive formula for success. So certain she was about all things educational. I don’t know how my senior colleagues feel, but the more I teach the more I realize how ambiguous it all is. There is an ebb and flow, surely, in teaching, but the undertow is never visible and at a moment’s notice you can be freed from teaching’s uglier moments and race for the shoreline of bliss and satisfaction.

“On a more serious note I want to thank you for all you have done for me during this semester. I have really enjoyed this class. You are a great professor.

I used to inwardly sigh at teachers who said it was their ‘calling’ to teach. Like the ministry, they would speak about our profession as if some divine hand had reached down and proclaimed, “Thou shalt instruct!” My opinion started to change this summer when I visited the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. Originally, I visited the site because it had been a touchstone in a favorite film of mine. But as I traveled the pathways and read more about Fr. Paul Dobberstein, who began construction on the Grotto in 1912, I began to understand the ministry-teaching metaphor more. Dobberstein worked for 42 years on his hand-made creation. The reward for him had to be in the work itself, because external rewards for such tireless work are few and far between. Much like a bird expending so much energy to find a small seed to eat, we teachers often spend a lot of time and effort in thankless after-class meetings, office hours, and late night e-mails, only to get that small seed at the right time to sustain us until the next bit of sustenance comes along.

I received the above e-mail during the last week of classes this semester. It was the seed I needed and will, most likely, be the seed that sustains me through another semester. It was such a simple offering on his part, but the graciousness of my student’s words served as a reminder that students and teachers are united in the quest for knowledge. What we do really does matter.


Human Language and Computers

When students begin their study of human communication the construction of language is a crucial part of understanding this incredibly complex system of syntax, semantics, symbols, phonology, and pragmatics. This story from NPR highlights how much we humans take our language for granted. Imagine creating a computer to challenge humans at trivia contests. Now you have the contests that will air this week on Jeopardy! between Watson and Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Click the link below to listen to NPR’s report on how human language was a challenge for computer programmers at IBM.