“What did you do this summer?”

“What did you do this summer?”

It's a common enough question for people who work in academia. Our annual cycle is different -- our years start in September and end in May, and summer is our time to tackle everything that the "regular year" couldn't hold. That may mean research, course refinement, professional education and, of course, lots of reading. And at the start of September, we ask each other: "What did you do this summer?" After working in higher education, in one form or another, for 16 years now, I still have problems with that answer. Summers are a blur of reading, writing, conferences and online courses, and wondering if I should be doing more... or less? The average university professor works 61 hours per week during the academic year. Should academics work less? This brief post is not the first (and surely not the last) to ask that question. There have been plenty of words written about the U.S. work ethic and our refusal to take vacation...
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Creativity and Time

Creativity and Time

It's time to talk about time again. As soon as this video started, I could see its direction. The premise is straightforward and simple: given 10 seconds, a group of kids will draw the most obvious solution. Given 10 minutes, they will come up with something more creative and you'll get a wider range of results. Granted, I know there are people who will immediately point to flaws in the methodology here. That's not the point. The bigger idea is prompt + time = more diverse, more in-depth, and yes, more creative results. I can create a dozen prompts. What I can't do is create time. I know my colleagues in K-12 education feel the time crunch more acutely than I do, but as an assistant professor in a communications department, I find myself dealing with more content and less time each year. There is great need for good, ethical, professional communication - we must teach the fundamentals. There is a wide array of...
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“What do we do with a problem like Brian Williams?”

“What do we do with a problem like Brian Williams?”

If you're hearing the nuns from The Sound of Music right now, I apologize. But the question remains valid. What do we do with a charming, likeable national news anchor who lied? Many people have argued that his intent was good even if the lie was not, that it was an honest mistake even though he was suspended from NBC News for six months. Regardless, his integrity has taken a hit. And because of that hit, he should not return to national network news. When I state this opinion, some people have suggested my take is too harsh. I generally come back with this hypothetical: Imagine a student plagiarizes a chunk of text for a paper. He intended to change it up, cast it in his own words, but forgot. He turns it in, and you catch it. Do you let him off because his intent wasn't to plagiarize? Or do you maintain that academic dishonesty is academic dishonesty, and the penalty...
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If I could save time in a bottle…

If I could save time in a bottle…

If only I had more time... It seems like a lot of people I know say that -- myself especially. If only I could find more time, then I could get "caught up." More time would mean less stress, or higher quality work, or both. So why is it that I'm constantly running to keep up? Easy. I don't need to work harder. I need to work smarter. (Yes, that's cliche. Forgive me). First, it's recognizing that human perception of time is pretty skewed. We're remarkably bad at estimating how long something takes in real time. An organization called "This vs. That" asked 53 people to sit quietly in chairs with their eyes closed for two minutes and 50 seconds. After that, they were asked to estimate how long they had been sitting. Only 17% were close to correct (ranged between 2:45 and 3 minutes). Estimates ranged from as low as 1 minute to as high as 6. TAKEAWAY: If you underestimate how long it...
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A letter to Angela

A letter to Angela

A recent post on PBS’s “EdShift” blog by Angela Washeck has caused a certain amount of buzz in the journalism education world. In her column, Washeck, a professional journalist, talks about her experience earning a teaching certificate in the State of Texas, with an eye on becoming a high school journalism teacher. She writes that her experience showed her “today’s high school journalism curriculum, at least in the Lone Star State, indicates a vast digital deficit and a lack of focus that I believe sets young journalists back.” And further: My observation is simply that we live in a digital world, where journalists are expected to excel technologically regardless of print success. Texas high school journalism educator standards outline old-school tenets that don’t paint an accurate picture of what defines today’s media industry. In a journalism space where social media, mobile journalism and video content prevail, state curriculum isn’t doing students favors by ignoring new technologies. Yes, large state bureaucracies tend to...
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Watching Neshaminy

Watching Neshaminy

I’ll be keeping an eye on The Playwickian during the coming school year. For those unfamiliar, The Playwickian is the student newspaper for Neshaminy High School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. This particular student newspaper is currently embroiled in a struggle with its school board over the use of the word “Redskins,” the nickname of the school’s athletic teams. The students don’t want to use the word, calling it derogatory. The administration has told them they must. There has been excellent coverage by the Student Press Law Center of the continuing controversy, including the latest move by the school board of passing a new student publication policy that limits student authority over their newspaper. That policy will likely face legal challenge given Pennsylvania’s state education code, which provides comprehensive protection to student speech In that SPLC article, The Playwickian’s co-editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick is quoted as saying ““We’re definitely going to pursue it, it’s just a matter of how. We need to decide what our next...
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Bake your own bread

Bake your own bread

Everyone should learn how to bake bread. Yes, this is relevant to this blog. About a year ago, I made the decision to stop purchasing store-made bread and starting making my own. At first it was novel, fun. I tried different recipes, played with different places around the house for optimal rising and eagerly watched online videos on optimal kneading methods. After awhile, though, it became something I had to find time for -- from start to finish, homemade bread is about a four-hour process. Not every loaf was a success, and the "duds" were hard to swallow (literally). From time to time I wondered why I was adding more to my already full plate when I could just run down to the store and buy a pre-made loaf. But there's a lot you can learn from the process. When you see how something is made, you understand it far better. You use it more wisely. And you see ways to improve it. For the...
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Define “inappropriate”

in·ap·pro·pri·ate - adjective \ˌi-nə-ˈprō-prē-ət\: not appropriate, unsuitable* I am breaking one of the rules on leads that I teach here -- starting with some variation of "Webster's dictionary defines..." is one of the older schticks out there, and it shows its age. But I thought I'd get that out of the way before jumping into the real reason for this post. "Inappropriate" has no place in modern law and policy. Put simply by Supreme Court Justice Harlan, "it is nevertheless often true that one man's vulgarity is another's lyric" (Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 25, 1971). The word reared its inappropriate head most recently in a Lodi (CA) Unified School District board policy banning social media posts deemed "inappropriate" by administrators. The policy, as covered by the Student Press Law Center, is being protested by students who are crying censorship. The policy applies to students participating in athletics as well as extracurricular activities, including the student newspaper. California has historically been one of...
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“Click” goes the moral moment

Three seemingly unrelated tweets gave me pause today.... First, "Boston University independent student newspaper apologizes after making light of rape." It seems that BU's student newspaper's police column had a habit of creating witty, pun-filled headlines for entries on assault, breaking and entering, and racially motivated vandalism. After one student called the newspaper out on its tendency to make light of serious crimes with real victims, the editors issued an apology and promised to change their ways. Evidently, it's only funny until someone points out that it's not. But these are just kids, right? Adult kids, to be sure, but students nonetheless. We can expect more of our educators, correct? "Middle school principal plagiarizes Forbes column" suggests perhaps not. It's a rough time for plagiarism and cheating in generally. Studies over the past few years have determined not only that more high schools students engage in some form of academic dishonesty, but that they don't really see it as a moral or...
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Nurturing media literacy

Remember Weekly Reader? Every Friday, your teacher handed out a four-page newspaper with the news of the day, but written just for you. I loved it, and looking back over old issues, I love it more. It didn't condescend, it didn't marginalize important topics and it didn't shy away from controversy. It made me want to know more about the world. Looking at the issues my kids bring home, though, I'm disappointed at the direction that this great tool of media literacy has taken. Like so many K-12 textbooks today, it relies on huge images and infographics rather than sharp, age-appropriate writing. There is less "news" and more "nonfiction writing." It's gone in a new direction, but I don't see anything to fill the void. There's Channel One, the teen-oriented 12-minute newscast that is seen by nearly 5 million students nationwide. Visiting its website, I see highlighted articles on surfing, students loans, Comic-Con and parkour, followed by a poll asking visitors to...
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