Category Archives: learner

A Vision of Students Today

As it says on the YouTube page for Michael Wesch’s video “A Vision of Students Today”:

[This is] a short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

How similar are these students to your students?

Wesch wrote a post last fall as a way of Revisiting A Vision of Students Today. It’s definitely worth a read.


Letting Students Inside Your Head

When you were in college, did you ever want to know what your professor was thinking or where he or she was coming from? I know I did.

I shared tips on how to arrive, survive and thrive in my classes with my students at Georgia Southern University earlier today. I figure it’s only fair. It helps to get my new students on a somewhat level playing field with those who have had me as a professor before.

Do you ever share tips like these with your students? I’d like to see what you do. Please comment and link to your blogs.


[Cross-posted from Public Relations Matters.]

An Open Note to All of Prof. Nixon’s Students at Georgia Southern University:

We’re off and running in our Fall Semester classes at GSU. This semester, I’m teaching five classes; the classes, with hyperlinks to the syllabi, are listed below:

So that we can make the most of this semester, please (PLEASE) take some time to read through the blog posts I’ve included here. I promise you, it will be well worth your time. (How often do professors let you get inside their heads, letting you know their tips for success and their pet peeves?)

Additionally, here are a few more tips:

  • When communicating with me via e-mail (or Facebook), please put your course number (such as PRCA 3339) in the subject line to help me immediately identify who you are and frame your questions or comments.
  • When submiting an assignment in WebCT Vista, always put your last name as part of the file name, and also include your name in the document itself.
  • Follow me on Twitter, if you really want to get inside my head. (What’s Twitter?)

Let’s make this a great semester together!

Blue Man Group, MagiCans and Rusty Jones

Something I look forward to reading each fall is Beloit College’s Mindset List for the upcoming freshman class. It’s especially important for me this year because I will be teaching a First Year Experience course at Georgia Southern University.

And why is this type of list important for educators? It helps us to remember to keep the examples we use in class fresh and relevant. I recall the sounds of crickets chirping in the room a few years ago when I asked if anyone could relate to having an Arnold Horshack in the class with them. Don’t want that to happen to me again.

Though Beloit College hasn’t posted the one for this year yet, here’s the one for last year’s class of freshmen. As Beloit’s Public Affairs office says, “For them, Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead.” Additionally . . .

  1. What Berlin wall?
  2. Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.
  3. Rush Limbaugh and the “Dittoheads” have always been lambasting liberals.
  4. They never “rolled down” a car window.
  5. Michael Moore has always been angry and funny.
  6. They may confuse the Keating Five with a rock group.
  7. They have grown up with bottled water.
  8. General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
  9. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
  10. Pete Rose has never played baseball.
  11. Rap music has always been mainstream.
  12. Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!
  13. “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.
  14. Music has always been “unplugged.”
  15. Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
  16. Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.
  17. They were born the year Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day.
  18. The NBA season has always gone on and on and on and on.
  19. Classmates could include Michelle Wie, Jordin Sparks, and Bart Simpson.
  20. Half of them may have been members of the Baby-sitters Club.
  21. Eastern Airlines has never “earned their wings” in their lifetime.
  22. No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
  23. Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.
  24. Being “lame” has to do with being dumb or inarticulate, not disabled.
  25. Wolf Blitzer has always been serving up the news on CNN.
  26. Katie Couric has always had screen cred.
  27. Al Gore has always been running for president or thinking about it.
  28. They never found a prize in a Coca-Cola “MagiCan.”
  29. They were too young to understand Judas Priest’s subliminal messages.
  30. When all else fails, the Prozac defense has always been a possibility.
  31. Multigrain chips have always provided healthful junk food.
  32. They grew up in Wayne’s World.
  33. U2 has always been more than a spy plane.
  34. They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker.”
  35. Stadiums, rock tours and sporting events have always had corporate names.
  36. American rock groups have always appeared in Moscow.
  37. Commercial product placements have been the norm in films and on TV.
  38. On Parents’ Day on campus, their folks could be mixing it up with Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz with daughter Zöe, or Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford with son Cody.
  39. Fox has always been a major network.
  40. They drove their parents crazy with the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh.
  41. The “Blue Man Group” has always been everywhere.
  42. Women’s studies majors have always been offered on campus.
  43. Being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.
  44. Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.
  45. They learned about JFK from Oliver Stone and Malcolm X from Spike Lee.
  46. Most phone calls have never been private.
  47. High definition television has always been available.
  48. Microbreweries have always been ubiquitous.
  49. Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.
  50. Smoking has never been allowed in public spaces in France.
  51. China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation.
  52. Time has always worked with Warner.
  53. Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympics venue, not the scene of a massacre.
  54. The purchase of ivory has always been banned.
  55. MTV has never featured music videos.
  56. The space program has never really caught their attention except in disasters.
  57. Jerry Springer has always been lowering the level of discourse on TV.
  58. They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper.
  59. They’re always texting 1 n other.
  60. They will encounter roughly equal numbers of female and male professors in the classroom.
  61. They never saw Johnny Carson live on television.
  62. They have no idea who Rusty Jones was or why he said “goodbye to rusty cars.”
  63. Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities.
  64. Chavez has nothing to do with iceberg lettuce and everything to do with oil.
  65. Illinois has been trying to ban smoking since the year they were born.
  66. The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.
  67. Chronic fatigue syndrome has always been debilitating and controversial.
  68. Burma has always been Myanmar.
  69. Dilbert has always been ridiculing cubicle culture.
  70. Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.

Thank you, Beloit College, for helping educators get into the mindsets of our students.

Photo Credit:

RSS: Really Simple ‘Splanations

With few apologies to Ricky Ricardo, here’s a Really Simple ‘Splanation of a way to share complex information with your students in a simple way. I use CommonCraft videos in my public relations and public speaking classes to explain a variety of social media tools in plain English, such as

And for a fun meta-explanation, see this video from zoeDisco’s The Medium and the Message blog:

[ ?posts_id=1042420&dest=-1]


Debriefing Dilemmas

After watching a video or doing an in-class activity, it’s important to have some processing and discussion time afterwards. Here’s a technique I learned at The Poynter Institute.

Ask your students or participants these three questions:

  1. What did you learn?
  2. What surprised you?
  3. What do you now want to know more about?

I’ve found it particularly useful to let the students know ahead of time that I will be asking these questions. I also allow time for all students to write down their own answers to the questions before asking them to share their thoughts with others. (This is especially helpful for the more quiet or introspective students in the room.)

Depending on how large the class is and how much time I want to spend on the debriefing, I sometimes have them share their thoughts with the person next to them before opening up the discussion to the whole class.

Are there other (generic) questions you ask your classes?

Would You Rather . . . : Impromptu Speaking with a Twist

Would You Rather board gameThough I’ve taught public speaking for years, I’ve never been quite comfortable with the exercises I’ve found for impromptu speaking, until now.

One approach I’ve seen many professors use is having the students write topics on little slips of paper, and then having the students draw one of the topics. Give the student a few moments to prepare, and then have the student get up and speak. The plus side of this is that it doesn’t require much work for the professor. The down side is that some students draw topics they have little or no knowledge about, which puts them at a real disadvantage over the students who are familiar with the topics they draw.

This semester, I took a new approach. I brought a board game to class with me, and we played Would You Rather . . .? together. On each card in the game, you’ll find four categories, each with one question. The questions are fun and thought-provoking. Below is a copy of one of the cards.

Would You Rather card

For our first and second round of impromptus, I had each person draw a card and choose which question he or she wanted to answer. I encouraged them to use the PRSR (say it like “pressure”) format, where they first state their point, offer their reason, provide support, then finally restate their main point. I went first for each round so they could hear what I was looking for.

For the final round, student could choose the category (orange, blue, green, or yellow), and a classmate would read a question to them. They had so much fun with this, we took turns going through the box and answering questions after we were “done.”

Additionally, before we even played Would You Rather . . .?, I helped them to relax a bit by watching some video clips of impromptu speeches. Well, sort of. We watched a few clips from Whose Line is it Anyway, focusing mostly on the Scenes from a Hat segments.


NOTE: Earlier in the semester, I showed them Miss Teen South Carolina’s answer to why some Americans cannot find America on a map. (This was a classic example of now NOT to do an impromptu speech.)

Reading Roundtable 5B Meeting of April 24, 2008

Chapter 9: Making Learner-Centered Teaching Work

Attending: Bill Yang, , Discussion leader
Barbara Nixon, Recorder
Margery (Marney) Collins
Abby Brooks-Fitzgerald
Virginia DeRoma [Happy Birthday!!]
Stacy Kluge
Melissa Weddell


Bill provided the group with a brief outline of the chapter.

Principles of successful instruction improvement

  • Techniques vs. approach
  • Techniques: piece by piece, “trick” in detail
  • Approach: a system or a set of principles, plans
  • Approach change systematically (not like Pin the Tail on the Donkey)
  • Approach change incrementally
  • Plan to tinker
  • Set realistic expectations for success

Taking a Learner-Centered Approach

  • Study the new approach
  • Develop deeper and more accurate self-knowledge
  • Alter attitude toward assessment
  • Sophisticated learners want specific, focused feedback
  • Self-regulating learners make data-based assessment an ongoing activity
  • Experienced learners ask the right questions
  • Sohisticated learners make selective choice about peer involvement

 Below are some additional comments made by members of our group:

Offering choices to students/learners creates angst.

Students feel uncomfortable making choices. Many seem to want us to tell them what to do.

It’s okay to do a few little things regarding learner-centered instruction; no need to try everything in one semester.

We should provide guidelines to our students for what we’re looking for in class discussions.

A goal for student discussion could be to have them move from simply stating personal opinions to sharing their informed opinions. (Virginia recommends McKeachie’s Teaching Tips.)

TA –> ATA: An old way of doing a class lecture was discussing Theory first, then Application. A newer, perhaps better way, is ATA. Share an application, discuss theory, then discuss more applications.

We could consider treating our classrooms like restaurants. Allow students to choose from a menu of options (assignments, exams, etc.) to create a healty diet (reach instructional goals of the class).

How important is attendance anyway? (Big discussion about this, with no real consensus.)

Faculty members need to walk the talk when it comes to classroom/conference decorum. Discussion about presenting at a conference to peers & how challenging it was.

Finally, I’d like to ask all members of our Reading Roundtable to share two or three things they’ve done or plan to do as a result of learning more about Learner-Centered Teaching. Please post your ideas as a Comment to this blog posting.