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!


Don’t Text in Class . . . And Here’s Why

Text Messaging in Class

As a professor, I'm not ROTFL about cell phones in class

Like many educators, I have a short statement in my syllabi stating that I do not want my students to be spending time in class text messaging or surfing the web. But many of my students probably believe this is just because I want them focused on me instead of elsewhere. And that’s partially true.

Why don’t I want them doing other things in class? Read this syllabus excerpt by Professor Cara A. Finnegan. (Cara gave me permission to reproduce her article from her First Efforts blog.)



Technology and the Problem of Divided Attention

In recent years the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops, combined with the broad availability of wireless in classrooms, has produced something I call the problem of divided attention. A March 25, 2007, article in the New York Times summarized recent studies of productivity in business settings. Researchers found that after responding to email or text messages, it took people more than 15 minutes to re- focus on the “serious mental tasks” they had been performing before the interruption. Other research has shown that when people attempt to perform two tasks at once (e.g., following what’s happening in class while checking text messages), the brain literally cannot do it. The brain has got to give up on one of the tasks in order to effectively accomplish the other. Hidden behind all the hype about multi-tasking, then, is this sad truth: it makes you slower and dumber. For this reason alone you should seek to avoid the problem of divided attention when you are in class. But there’s another reason, too: technology often causes us to lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior and, as a result, perfectly lovely people become unbelievably rude.

For both these reasons, then, turn off your cellphones or set them on silent mode when you come to class; it is rude for our activities to be interrupted by a ringing cellphone. Similarly, text messaging will not be tolerated in class; any student found to be sending or checking text messages during class will be invited (quite publicly) to make a choice either to cease the texting or leave the classroom. You are welcome to bring your laptop to class and use it to take notes, access readings we’re discussing, and the like. You are not welcome to surf the web, check email, or otherwise perform non-class-related activities during class. Here’s my best advice: If you aren’t using it to perform a task specifically related to what we are doing in class at that very moment, put it away.

Thanks, Cara, for explaining why texting in class is not a good idea.

Photo Credit: “Spink!” was originally uploaded to Flickr by apples for lylah

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mark_boucher/

E-mail is for Old People

“E-mail is for old people.” 

I heard that sentence spoken two times (in two separate workshops by different presenters) at the New Faculty Forum at Georgia Southern University last week.
On the surface, that made sense to me, based on my experiences teaching “traditional college students” over the past year. Most of my students only check their e-mail a few times a week, but check Facebook or MySpace several times a day. I wondered why this was so. Last night, I read a tweet by Beth Kanter that led me to a great explanation of why Millenials prefer communicating through their social networks to using e-mail.

Beth provided a link to the blog post by Alex Berger, titled “Social Networks, E-mail and User Behavior.” Below are a few of the reasons, from Alex, that our current college students have gravitated away from e-mail:

  • By high school some of us were forced to register a new school e-mail address.
  • For some the spam we’d accumulated from signing up for web surveys and the like caused us to abandon one e-mail in favor of a freshly registered restart.
  • As the offerings evolved many of us also re-located from one provider to another – eg: from MSN to Google.
  • By College we had our college e-mail and were forced to switch over, or balance several accounts simultaneously.
  • As we began to search for internships and look for professional opportunities many of us then were forced to register new more professional e-mail addresses. Things like Alex.Berger@email.com to replace the old SunB4be1312@email.com.
  • By graduation most of us then had to adopt new work e-mail addresses with our employers.
  • Meanwhile our University e-mails eventually expired.

That said, at Georgia Southern University, e-mail is the official communication channel between the university and our students. So what I’ve been doing for the last semester or so is sending out “official” messages to my students at their Georgia Southern e-mail addresses. THEN, I immediately follow that up with a Facebook update or Facebook message letting them know to check their e-mail for a message from me. In most of my classes, there are several students who are my Facebook friends. They help spread the word to their classmates.

What do you do to communicate electronically with your students? I’d like to know. Please share your comments.

And in the meantime, read Alex’s entire article. It’s worth your time.

Photo Credit: “Still in love? I think so ; ),” originally uploaded to Flickr by Henný G

Facebook & Skype & Twitter . . . Oh My!

The new technologies available today make it easier than ever to meet our students where they are. And where are they? Connected, 24×7. In a workshop created for the New Faculty Forum at Georgia Southern University, I demonstrated how I’ve used available – and free – technology to connect with my students, both academically and personally. Participants from the workshop, and all other interested faculty members, are invited to participate in this blog following the workshop to continue the conversation.

NOTE: If you click on the SlideShare logo at the bottom right of the presentation, you’ll go to the SlideShare website, where you can download the presentation in PowerPoint format, complete with speaker notes.

The Last Lecture

If I knew that I was facing my students in class for the last time, what would I say? And would if be different if I knew I was dying, as Randy Pausch did?

Randy Pausch passed away last week at his home, surrounded by people he loved and who loved him. Rest in peace, Randy.

For the complete hour-plus lecture as he gave it at Carnegie Mellon, see http://youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo.

My Freshman Year: 25 Words of Wisdom

[Cross-posted from Making Connections: Facebook & Beyond]

Thinking back to your college experience, what do you wish you would have known about your freshman year? What did you do just right? What do you wish you could get a “do-over” on? Topics could include:

  • Studying (or lack thereof)
  • Alcohol consumption (or lack thereof)
  • Reading textbooks
  • Reading syllabi
  • Time management
  • Involvement in campus activities
  • Making friends
  • Using library resources for research
  • Maintaining a personal budget

Using the model created by Liz Strauss at The Successful Blog, share 25 Words of Wisdom for first-year college students in my Making Connections class. Use exactly 25 words, no more, no less. Full sentences are not needed. Here’s a slight adaptation of Liz’s guidelines and a link to her completed project:

  1. Think about your freshman year in college.
  2. Write a sentence about it.
  3. Count the words you have written.
  4. Edit the sentence until you have 25 words exactly. Notice how your idea changes as you edit and how your feelings change with each rewrite.
  5. Post your 25 words as a comment to this blog posting OR on your blog by July 31st.
  6. Link back to this post (from your blog) or leave a link to your post in the comments section. (I don’t want to miss yours when I compile all of them.)

Oh yes, if you have some wonderful thoughts and can’t make it fit into 25 words, that’s okay, too. I’d still like to know what they are. Simply comment below. No worries.


Photo Credit: Photo “seat number 25” originally uploaded to Flickr by Leo Reynolds