Spotted on Slashdot: A Silicon Valley School That Doesnt Use Computers

Slashdot linked to this New York Times article about the Waldorf school in Silicon Valley. It is a school that rejects the idea that students learn better or should learn at all with computers. Personally, I think that a measured approach to technology in K-12 is better than an all-in approach. The Waldorf school apparently takes an all-out approach. You might find the comments on Slashdot interesting here: A Silicon Valley School That Doesnt Use Computers – Slashdot.

KSU Writing Classroom Improvements

Thank the maker–my first class students had unimpeded wireless access in SFH, and our peer review exercise went off largely without a hitch. I’m very happy that I was able to use that computer classroom without any technological hiccups.

My second class is busy working on their peer reviews now, and they are all busily engaged with each other’s essays. But what would this post be if I were not to complain about something–the desktops in MOU should have the default Microsoft Windows XP games disabled. I would rather my students have “underlife” talk after completing an assignment rather than playing a throw-your-brain-into-neutral game of solitaire.

And one concluding question: Why do computer support folk have to be jerks? This isn’t a universal rule, but it a widespread malaise that appears with a variety of stenches. I encountered the kindergarden teacher routine today, when I asked for help getting the projector to mirror the computer monitor. If the podium in these otherwise nicely equipped computer rooms wasn’t a Frankensteinian agglomeration of multiple breakout boxes and wires that must be configured in just like a sudoku puzzle for the proper video source to be projected. I wouldn’t be quite as upset about this if the tech didn’t use a normal tone of voice with her assistant and would code switch into a condescending cutesy voice when she would turn back to me.

Pitfalls of the Computer Classroom, Again

I had another unfortunate encounter with the computer classroom in SFH, but I think I stumbled on the solution. The students who couldn’t login to the wireless network hadn’t yet updated their passwords with Flashword. Apparently, this needs to be done before they can login to other services on campus besides Flashline, Vista, or campus email. It was very frustrating to discover this during class when I would have preferred to focus on the writing assignments. As with last time, I had students work with pen and paper when they weren’t able to login to the wireless network. Even though they should have updated their passwords in order to access the wireless network, I wish that the computer classrooms in SFH had wired connections to the Internet as they do in MOU. I understand that this requires more infrastructure investment, but a wireless access point connected to a switch with wires snaking around the room to each laptop wouldn’t be that expensive and it would remove the added “cost” of having students login to the wireless network each class.

Recap–For other KSU instructors in SFH, make sure that  your students have updated their passwords with Flashword if they trouble connecting to the wireless network.

Bottom line–I’m glad that I was able to roll with this (second) punch, and that I had a plan b to offload the writing to more traditional media.

Supposedly Different College Writing Classroom Dynamics

My hypothesis walking into my two classrooms in Moulton Hall at Kent State University this semester was that my morning classroom would facilitate discussion better than my afternoon classroom.  The reasoning behind my assumption was that the morning classroom has a great big central table with almost enough room for my 25 students to sit around it, and the afternoon classroom has “United Nations” style forward facing rows of tables in a distance learning enabled room.  My experience as a student and hearing others’ experiences led me to believe that sitting in a circle, so that all classroom participants, students and instructor, may see one another, produced better discussion.  It seemed like the traditional classroom layout of students facing forward and seeing the backs of one another’s heads stifled inter-student discussion and promoted instructor led lecturing.

img_0535Morning Classroom


Afternoon classroom

Now that we’re about to begin week 11, I have found over the semester that the conversations and discussion in the classrooms are nearly the same.  I suppose that it comes down to the students and the instructor.  My morning students talk just as much as my afternoon students.  In both cases, sometimes the conversation takes off organically, and other times I employ wait time, begin with writing prompts, or call on individual students to begin the conversation.  The one thing that I have noticed the most is that students in my afternoon class might develop sore backs from turning around in their chairs to see who’s talking or to address another student directly.  

There are a myriad of other possibilities that could contribute to the way my two classes engage in discussion despite the different classroom configurations.  My concern about the different classroom layouts may have contributed to both classes having good discussions, because I may have tried to get the afternoon class more energized or my observation and reflection on the earlier class may have honed my approach in the afternoon class.  Additionally, the students in the afternoon class may be a group of students that don’t need face-to-face contact to engage in lively discussion.  

This is certainly not an extensive survey of classroom dynamics, but it was a lesson that I was glad to learn and wanted to share.  I want both of my classes to be active and I want my students in both classrooms to have an equally positive and enriching experience.  I’m very glad that my assumptions about the classrooms didn’t come true.  

A short note on recent classroom activities:  This past week, we had a slow march into Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey, because I wanted to engage the students in two short writing assignments based on a documentary on the film version of 2001 that showcases the technology they would encounter in the book and film (which we will begin watching Friday), and a passage from the book on dissatisfaction and using our imaginative foresight to devise personal plans for overcoming person dissatisfactions.  This past Friday, my students shared their short dissatisfaction essays out loud in class, and we had some fruitful conversation in both classes based on that work.