This semester, I am teaching three classes at Georgia Tech: two sections of ENGL1101/English Composition I and one section of LCC3403/Technical Communication.
My ENGL1101 class focuses on learning about rhetoric and multimodality with the neurosciences and evolutionary psychology. My LCC3403 class focuses on a hands-on and collaborative approach to user-centric research, design, testing, and revision.
In both classes, I have revamped my syllabi to try new things such as new parameters for the first major project in ENGL1101 (Twitter, Storify, Poster, and Essay) and a more guided approach to the first major project in LCC3403 (designing a Lego model, creating instructions, testing instructions, and revising instructions). I made changes in both classes based on my observations and reflections and my students’ course survey (CIOS) comments.
It’s the second week of classes and now things are in full swing. I am looking forward to seeing what my students create, do, and learn. If you see me carrying around Yorick to/from ENGL1101 or boxes of Lego to/from LCC3403, ask me how it’s going!
During today’s class, I will present a final lecture titled, “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni.” There’s a lot of things that I wish I had known when I was an undergraduate at Tech. On reflection and through experience, I gained insights that I wanted to make available to my current Georgia Tech students. I am making the PowerPoint file and my notes available below.
Notes to accompany “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni” follow below:
During today’s lecture, I wanted to talk about one big idea that’s been implicit in the readings and discussions that we’ve shared regarding the brain. That idea is: “Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow.” What I mean by that is our biology, experiences, thoughts, and choices shape who we are and who we become each moment of our lives. Sometimes these changes can be small and sometimes these changes can be large.
Another way to think about this is that we are like patterns. Our lives, thoughts, and memories are patterns that form, reform, and change based on a number of variables. Some of those variables, like cats, are outside of our control. These things include our genes, disabilities, economic situation, and past. While there’s a lot about our lives and pattern that we cannot control, there’s also a lot of things about our pattern that we can control. These are the conscious choices and decisions that we make in life.
In this lecture, I would like to talk about those choices that I think are particularly important to Georgia Tech undergraduates but that are often pushed aside, ignored, or forgotten in the forward rush to a degree. Choosing to focus on these important things will lead, I believe, to a more robust, meaningful, and enriched undergraduate experience that will prepare you for success in the next stage of your life.
Learn: Feed your curiosity. Gain as much knowledge in your field and others as possible. Form connections between the many things that you learn. Be interdisciplinary in your thinking and learning. Pass on what you have learned to others–in doing so, you will gain a deeper mastery of what you have learned.
Connect: Form connections with faculty at Tech. Seek out mentors to guide you in your progress. Your advisors and mentors will become your colleagues one day when you enter the field as a graduate of Tech and professional. Learn from your mentors and advisors.
Explore: Explore the spaces you inhabit and work. Explore your major and connected disciplines. Explore how you can connect your major to other disciplines. Open doors and find out what’s going on (as long as you won’t be breaking laws or entering a dangerous space). Exploration is another kind of learning.
Travel: Visiting other places is a special kind of exploration and learning. However, it is also a kind of education that you cannot receive in the normal classroom setting. You will learn new perspectives from those you live around. You will gain new insights from the history, economy, and politics of the places you live. My strongest regret was not taking advantage of the study abroad programs at Georgia Tech. There are many, many study abroad programs here–find out about them and take advantage of them.
Meet: Go out and meet people! Meet famous people. Meet smart people. Meet people in your community. Meet other students at Tech. Meet people in the Atlanta area. Superficial connections are not what you want. The important thing is to expand your network of friends and colleagues and form meaningful relationships with those people. Talk with people. Learn from others.
Help: Make the effort to help others. Help your classmates. Help people in your communities. Help your family and friends. If you contribute to building stronger communities through outreach and doing good deeds, you will build a stronger community that will in turn help you in the long term.
Make: Create things. They can be digital, physical, or abstract. The important thing is to never rest. You should always be engaged making things–professionally or for personal enjoyment. The things that you make will in turn make you through the experience of creating.
Do Good Work: Make things that you are proud of. Put the time and effort into making things that you can stand behind. This is hard to do sometimes in classes, but you should think about how to turn assignments to meet your needs as well as the needs of the class’ outcomes. This means think about how you can create things that will earn the grade you want while also serving your uses outside of the class–such as adding a new document to your professional portfolio or using an assignment as an excuse to learn a new skill or software.
Reflect: Above all else, reflect on your life, on the things you do, and on your successes and failures. Learn from the choices that you’ve made before so that you can make better and stronger and more effective decisions in the future. Reflect on all aspects of your life–not just on your writing or major-specific work. Reflect in writing–public or private–for the maximum effect on your thinking and brain wiring. Make your reflections a part of your daily practices. It takes time and energy, but the results over time to improving your likelihood for success is tremendous!
Graduate: Certainly, keep your eye on the prize. It might take you four years, five years, or even longer. No matter how long it might take you or how winding your path might be to graduation, be tenacious in your progress to completion. In the words of Commander Taggart from Galaxy Quest (1999), “never give up–never surrender.” If you find that you need to take time away from school, there’s no reason not to return later. I did that and I believe that I am the better for it. The experience that I gained during those years away from Tech were tremendously useful to me. Anyways, if I can do it, I know that you can, too.
I revised my “Maximizing the Brain” Project 2 Assignment for my current ENGL1101 students at Georgia Tech. It is currently in its third iteration, and I have ideas for its fourth iteration with more radical changes.
In the meantime, my current students have delivered their unique takes on their chosen chapters from John Medina’s Brain Rules. I have included their YouTube-based videos below.
For each project, a team of 4-5 students collaboratively wrote an outline, a script, a revised script (after receiving feedback from another team whose members collaboratively wrote their suggestions/questions). Then, they all contributed to drawing a storyboard for shooting and editing the video, which was also revised with feedback from another team. Finally, they shot and edited their video using equipment from the Georgia Tech Library’s Gadgets Desk (run by Justin Ellis) and software on their computers or in the Library’s Multimedia Studio. Individually, each student completes the project by writing a reflection essay explaining the rhetorical decisions made during each phase of the project.
These are my students’ videos that teach us how to maximize our brain’s potential through lessons learned in Medina’s Brain Rules.
A year has passed since I began my three year tenure as a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow in Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program of the School of Literature, Media, and Communication.
During my first year, I taught six sections of ENGL1101 (English Composition I), which gave me a unique and welcomed opportunity to refine and revise my approach to composition. I made changes to class readings, organization, assignments, and projects. During the process, I invited students to reflect on and comment on their work. This demonstrated their mastery of the outcomes, concepts, and processes of the class. This information, combined with student opinion surveys at the end of each semester, guided my thinking on my class revisions.
Over the summer, I had a very special chance to teach an upper division LMC class: LMC3214, Science Fiction. When I was a student at Tech, I originally tried to take this class from the legendary Professor Bud Foote, who went on to found Georgia Tech’s Science Fiction Collection in the Library. Unfortunately, his popularity combined with my minimal accrued hours, I was unable to take his class. However, in the summer of 2002, I took Science Fiction from Professor Lisa Yaszek, who inspired me to become a teacher and researcher.
My experience teaching Science Fiction at Tech was the realization of a dream long held–to teach a subject specifically in my field and training. As I blogged in earlier posts, I enthusiastically led my students to discovery of the historical and cultural relevance of Science Fiction through a panoply of layered, multimodal approaches to learning–ranging from lecture, active learning, team-based discussions, research projects, and a final haptic building project involving Lego bricks. From my students’ feedback, I believe that I provided them with rich learning outcomes and fueled their interest in the genre, and it brought me great joy to teach SF and to give back to my alma mater.
Now, in Fall 2013, I have a slightly different schedule than what is typically given to Brittain Fellows. For the most part, Brittain Fellows are given one prep per semester on a 3-3 load. However, several of us who have shown an interest in teaching Technical Communication (e.g., I took part in the Fall 2012 Tech Comm weekly seminar–something required for those teaching Tech Comm for the first time at Tech but voluntary for everyone else) were given a choice to have two preps–one for Tech Comm and two for ENGL1101. I opted to do this, because I wanted to expand my teaching skill set with a topic that I was already very aware of and thought about from my experiences at Tech as an undergraduate and my experiences in the workplace at IT companies.
In order to try out new approaches to ENGL1101 and LMC3403, I redesigned my ENGL1101 syllabus [Fall 2013 ENGL1101 Syllabus] while building my new LMC3403 syllabus [Fall 2013 LMC3403 Syllabus] so that the first unit of both courses would overlap in readings and a similar assignment. This year’s First Year Reading Experience book is Donald A. Norman’s Living with Complexity. I used this as the framework for this shared unit across the two courses. My freshmen would already have this book–something given to them by Tech over the summer, but my LMC3403 upper classmen would have to purchase the book. I thought that it was well worth the investment for them, because I choose to adapt Norman’s idea of managing complexity as a way of thinking about what Technical Communication is: managing complexity through communication. In both courses, students were asked, following a week long discussion of the book, to propose a plan to manage some kind of complexity that they identified around Tech or related to Tech (it could extend to applying to school, the Atlanta area, etc. as long as Tech provided an anchor for their proposal). My ENGL1101 students were asked to propose their plan for management in a 2 page essay that could include photos or illustrations of their making. My LMC3403 students were asked to write a more detailed proposal memorandum that thought through all aspects of the proposal from identifying the problem to a plan for action to costs. I plan to write a pedagogical paper about the types of thinking and composition that my ENGL1101 and LMC3403 students created, but it suffices to say here that the students in the two classes approached the task with enthusiasm and produced sharp proposals.
I want to thank Rebecca Burnett, Andy Frazee, James Gregory, and Emily Kane for their advice and suggestions while I was building my LMC3403 syllabus and assignments.
For the second major project in my ENGL1101 class at Georgia Tech titled, “Maximizing the Brain’s Potential,” students work in teams of several students each to produce collaboratively an entertaining and educational video based on a single chapter from John Medina’s Brain Rules.
Building on the success of my students’ work on this assignment in Fall 2013, I revised the assignment to make it more streamlined and process-driven by building a weekly, recursive structure into the peer review schedule.
During the first half of the semester, my students had already read Brain Rules and individual students had presented on the readings during class. The remainder of the class had also written Tweets (outside of class) and short summaries of these chapters (during class).
With this project, the students demonstrate their understanding of the material by transforming their chapter’s content into a video of their own creation. They went through the steps of creating an outline, script, and storyboards before filming and editing the video. The outline, script, and storyboards are peer reviewed on a team-to-team basis at the beginning of each week of this project’s duration.
Today, we will conclude the project by showing the videos in class and having each student write a review of the video (what works, what doesn’t work, suggestions for improvement, etc.). Each student also wrote and submitted a three page analysis of their use of WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) modalities used in each deliverable of the composition process.
I am currently teaching three sections of ENGL1101 at Georgia Tech. The class’ theme, “Writing the Brain: Composition and Neuroscience,” remains the same as my earlier syllabus that I taught in Fall 2012 [available here]. However, I have made some fundamental changes to the reading list (two books instead of only one: John Medina’s Brain Rules and Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal), reading schedule (began with WOVENtext, then three fundamental essays/excerpts from O’Shea’s The Brain, Gary Marcus’ Kludge, and Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind), and major projects (still three major projects, but now the first project incorporates Storify and ComicLife and the third project is an individual Pecha Kucha presentation instead of a group presentation–students will continue group work on the second project’s video). In the readings, I am encouraging more discussion about WOVEN and rhetoric in addition to discussion about the content and its application to composition. I have also integrated Twitter into the class’ daily rhythm and added daily reading presentations as a core component of the class. I have given the new syllabus a version 1.1 designation. Find out more by reading the new syllabus here.
I should also note that I had planned on teaching ENGL1102 in Spring 2013, but the school asked for a volunteer to teaching ENGL1101 again. This seemed like a terrific opportunity to put some of my ideas from reflection into practice right away. I do plan to teach ENGL1102 in the future, and I will be ready with this syllabus (unless, of course, I find the time to develop another syllabus, which is something that I would like to do by continuing the “Writing the Brain” theme into the second tier class with neuronovels and neuronarratives).
For the second major project in my current ENGL 1101 classes, I guided my students through the revision process of creating an educational video based on what they learned from a chapter of their choosing from John Medina’s Brain Rules. They used the revision process to develop an outline, script, and storyboard. Throughout the process, they received feedback from their peers to develop each shooting component of the video. We worked together as a class to think through the methods of filming and editing to construct rhetorically effective videos. Today, they have completed their videos and we will be watching them in class. We will discuss the videos as a class during the viewing–providing praise, criticism, and constructive feedback. While I am not requiring students to revise their videos, they do have that option. Each student is required to think through and provide a plan of revision in their final portfolios due at the end of the semester. Their videos are included after the jump (I will update the page as I receive YouTube video links from my students).
During today’s class, I would like us to watch these videos and discuss what these videos attempt to accomplish rhetorically using WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) modes of communication.
This morning, I met with an ESL student from one of my ENGL 1101 classes. She sought advice about how to improve her English reading speed and comprehension. We discussed various strategies for about 40 minutes. While we were talking, I thought that our conversation might be useful for other ESL students (as well as many native English speakers wanting to boost their reading abilities). I have included the notes from our meeting below.
Takeaway ideas: If you want to improve your English reading ability and reading comprehension, you need to read and think about the reading on a daily basis. Improvement comes through applied practice over time. If you track your progress with a journal written in English, you will be surprised by the advancement after a semester, a year, or longer. Practice and reflect–then, repeat.
Three substantial hurdles to advancing your reading skills are grammar, vocabulary, and confidence. More exposure to English grammar and syntax through reading and writing in English will lead to improvements in those areas. Building your English vocabulary will improve your comprehension and the speed of your reading (i.e., if you spend time figuring out meanings by context or looking up words in a dictionary). Accomplishing more reading (“Yes, I just finished another novel in English!”) will improve your confidence in your English comprehension abilities.
The important things to try is build your confidence by reading everyday and writing a note in English about what you read in a journal. This writing practice reinforces your English reading practice the expression of your ideas in written English. Over time, you will find your ability improving based on reviewing your notes.
Don’t be frustrated by the difficulty some texts might present. It usually takes about 30 pages before you “learn” the author’s writing style. If you can make it through 30 pages, the book will generally become easier to read. Other texts might simply be difficult to anyone–ESL or native-English speaker alike.
Don’t be afraid to skim or skip parts of a text. When you hit a word that you do not know, underline it and keep reading. You might figure out its meaning by its context, or you can come back to the underlined words after finishing the section or chapter. Look up the word in the dictionary, and re-read the sentence or paragraph to capture its meaning.
While it does take extra time, it is extremely useful to re-read sections and chapters in order to gain a better understanding of the text. I do this regularly even though I hold a PhD.
Skim the section headings before reading a chapter (if it has these), because these headings provide clues to the topics covered in the chapter’s sections.
A trick for growing your vocabulary is to write down a list of words that you hear or read during the day that you do not know. At the end of the day–before you go to bed–look up those words, read the definition, and write down a sentence using that word. Putting the word in context will improve your brain’s remembrance of that word.
Instead of aiming for greater reading speed in the short term, you should focus on the quality of your reading. Consider this analogy from weight training: Before you begin lifting heavy weights, it is important to learn the proper form and technique of lifting. By spending time in the short term to improve your form and technique, you maximize the effectiveness of your workouts in the long term. Similarly, by spending time now to develop your English reading skills and effective reading comprehension, you will increase the effectiveness of your reading over the long term. Connected to this technique is the necessity for patience. Improvement will come through practice over time.
Reading novels is a great way to build your reading skill. If you find a novel that thematically interests you (campus narratives, romance, science fiction, everyday life, etc.), you will be more engaged with your reading than if you read something that does not interest you as much. Building your reading ability through enjoyable novels will make reading less enjoyable things easier.
Participate in a book club. I found this one, the Midtown Book Club, which meets once a month to discuss a book at the Georgia Tech Bookstore/Barnes and Noble: <http://midtown.patch.com/events/midtown-book-group>. Book clubs generally pick interesting books to read. Members have one month to read the book. After everyone has read the book, they meet to discuss its story, meaning, and interpretations.
You can find many new books in the Georgia Tech Library on the first floor (see map above). There are other books in the stacks located upstairs.
Young adult novels (a literary genre in which the story usually involves young people and might be perceived as easier to read–though this is not always the case) are a great place to read entertaining and exciting stories as practice in English reading. Very popular examples include the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games series, and the Twilight series. Some of these can be found in the GT Library (see map above), or they can be easily purchased at the GT Bookstore/Barnes & Noble at Tech Square or Amazon.com.
Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and promoter of open culture, shares his novels (some of which are Young Adult–Little Brother is one example) online for free: <http://craphound.com/?cat=5>.
You can find many classic (and public domain novels on Project Gutenberg for free! Click here to find the most recently downloaded books from Project Gutenberg.
For more technical kinds of reading, you likely will have to do research in your field. This will involve reading journal article abstracts, or short summaries of the research presented in the article. Noah Gray, senior editor of the science journal Nature, gives advice about how to break down the abstract into its component parts for easier understanding: <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/noah-gray/abstract-science_b_1923214.html>.
Good luck with developing your mastery of the English language!
Thanks to Y (my wife) for helping me think about some of the strategies presented above. Thanks to my student for making good use of my office hours and for presenting me with a question that led to new pedagogical thinking.