Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

Begin Again

I’m sure thousands of blog posts about the Inauguration will be going up soon and are being published as I type. They will be posts brimming with joy no doubt, as they should be. Comments on Obama’s inspiring speech and inspiring it was.

But don’t forget that the hard work begins now. Our new President cannot do this alone and I urge us to take advantage of the sense of unity and love that overwhelms us all now. I challenge us all to think and speak out loud what we will do to make this nation and our world a better place. Not just fleeting ideas on how we have to do something about global warming or about world poverty, but concrete actions you will personally take. It doesn’t have to be anything large, but the small little things put together with others makes a difference.

So in the coming days I will put up what my plans are at the advent of this new administration. We all have different interests and passions, let others know it and tell them what you are doing and how they can help. Lets keep each other accountable about this and put aside fear about offending people when we call them out. Please call me out if I forget to blogĀ  about my plan of action.

Lets make all those times we said, “Yes We Can” mean something!



I have been thinking about this for awhile now, but one thing I have wanted to do is have students fill out a survey about higher education and their feelings towards it. I’m not really even sure where to begin on this. So I am going to ask my blog readers to give me and hand on this.

What questions would you ask of students about their feelings towards higher education? I’m not looking to make this a survey where someone would take up a whole page writing a response, so concise questions would be good. What kind of format should this be in? Should there multiple choice, a scale (1 to 5, agree or disagree), some open ended questions?

I don’t see a problem with getting a students to fill it out, especially if you are offering free candy if they complete the survey. Maybe some of you professors would be interested in having students fill it out too, I don’t know.

So let me know what you think. Is this a good idea or bad idea? And if you like it what kind of questions and what kind of format would you like to see this in?

What Is A Student’s Job?

I ask this question, “What is a student’s job?” Besides the obvious answer of “to be a student!”, I am curious to see what others think.

It seems such a fundamental question, but one that is hard to answer, or perhaps has varying answers.

There are some things that came to mind when pondering this question. What is college preparing student’s for? Is it to be academics? Skilled people for the work force? Contributing members of society?

For the most part it feels like college is training us to be academics, but I don’t think the college is really aiming for that, or should be aiming for that. Of course some people will go on to be educators and work in a highly specialized area of their major, but most likely the vast majority won’t. I will also say that besides content there are goals and themes that carry through college, being able to critical think, speak well, write well, etc. But at times college can really seem like k-12 redux where the content is just more in depth and the papers about the content are longer.

So is a students job to study a lot and pass tests? Or is it be creative and do something productive for society?

Don’t get me wrong though, students who don’t study all day long (har-har) are still being productive and creative. You know where it is happening though? Outside the classroom! Mostly in the form of clubs. At Mary Washington we have an active chapter of Students Helping Honduras that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, a Young Womens Leadership Program that mentors middle school girls, and various other groups that get things done. And where is there for the most part a lack of interesting ideas and productivity going on? Inside the classroom! I see a disconnect here.

Of course everyone needs some base knowledge to actually be able to play in the “sandbox” and I am not saying every class on campus is useless. For example there is an Economics class that deals with philanthropic ventures and actually gives away money to a deserving organization. The students in the class obviously need some background in what the class entails and an instructor to help them too. I am also not saying that students don’t put hard work into their papers and other class projects, but for the majority of students, only the professor and the class will see their hard work. And what they accomplished might have little value for the future.

Student’s go to class after class, filling their heads with content, but seldom dealing with real world situations. There is so much untapped talent and creativity waiting to be unleashed on campus. Say for instance Admissions wanted to have a promotional video for Mary Washington, how easy would it be to have some students on campus do it? Maybe give them some credit for it or even money towards tuition! It would probably be cheaper than having a professional do it and it would be better because a student who understands the school would be working on it. It also feels more personal when you know a student worked on it and I wouldn’t be surprised if prospective students liked it more than what a professional could come up with.
Right now in my Digital History Seminar we are building projects that can be useful to people outside or class and even institution. It is exciting to think that what we are doing now could last well into the future. In these project we have encountered problems we couldn’t have foreseen and it has made us think and evaluate. It has been a learning experience more than a paper on digital history ever could be.

There are endless possibilities if people just took the time to think and dare to be innovative. Mike Caulfield blogged a few months ago about what would happen if students stopped working in silos and started working on real world situations, it has inspired me ever since I read it. Mike says, “In a networked information economy, failure is cheap. Production is cheap. And if you produce something worthwhile, distribution is free.

So again I ask, what is a student’s job?

Competition and Reality

When I take a second to put down the kool-aide every now and then I can see reality a little better. Lately I have been thinking about the culture I live in where school is not really cool and learning is great as long is its not taking place in a classroom (boring!). I would even argue that there is such a strong culture of anti-school among my generation. We are brainwashed to dislike school and sometimes for good reason. There just seems to be inherently a negative connotation built in with the word school. Rewinding my brain to just a year ago (it seems to be getting harder) I can remember the feelings of discontent with school, its lifelessness and boring tradition.

Lets be honest the University is competing for student’s attention and it is really an unbalanced fight. For freshman that are getting their first taste of freedom away from parents and the identity they have been living with most of their lives, it is a time to explore new ideas. There are also friends, clubs, parties, etc. Academics are going to take a back seat to these things most of the time. Combine this with the anti-school sentiment and it is plain to see that for most students being a student isn’t really the most important thing. And here is what I am really getting at, when there is no community built around learning, students will not be interested. I don’t believe cool tools or awesome professors could fully convince someone of the importance of learning. It would just be a blip on the radar screen in a sea of tradition, non-controversial, and rote schooling.

People have been trying to take steps towards building a better community through new emerging technologies, but they still face that same culture of anti-school. Even then you just aren’t going to get through to people and sometimes people aren’t that interested in “real school”. This doesn’t mean we should stop trying because their are people out there that do care and some people who don’t even realize yet that they care. A connected community of student learners has the ability to bring people in, but until this happens there will just be little silos of education surrounded by fields of “plain old school”.

I would not say this is a call to arms, a post to point out successes or failures, or even saying that this is an impenetrable wall. It is merely a social commentary of one student on the state of the learning community at an institution.

Forgot Again and I Need Research Ideas

I was just about ready to go to bed when I remembered that I haven’t blogged today. Well technically I have blogged, just not on this blog, so that should count for something.

Right now I am in the process of trying to pick a topic for my research paper in my History Methods course. I’m trying to think of topics I like and that is not a problem, but narrowing them down is a little harder. I’ve gone from ideas about Irish history (Easter rising, Michael Collins, Bloody Sunday) to my interest in wars (more specifically World War II and the Vietnam War) to just about everything in the 20th century. I’ll admit I’m even looking at some intersections between physics and history, studying something a lot will keep it on your brain I guess.

Tomorrow morning we are going around the room to say what we think we are planning to do for our research paper. What is an indecisive girl to do? I’ll probably be running to the Prof’s office before class (nothing like last minute help, right?). I’m not enough of a history junky (yet?) to really be well versed in details and I’m not quite sure what is out there. I suppose people always face the problem of not knowing what is out there when they first start their research.

I’ve got other questions nagging me, but those will be addressed when I am in a more lucid state.

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