Proposed Format for May 20th Presentaion Day

In today’s meeting, Julia Jordan facilitated a discussion on the proposed format of our May 20th Presentation Workshop.  Based on our discussion, we agreed on the following:

  • ·         the fellows will present in small groups of their choosing
  • ·         each group will have 10 minutes to present
  • ·         each presentation will be followed by 10 minutes of feedback
  • ·         three groups will present first, followed by a 10 – 15 minute break
  • ·         the last three groups will present followed by a short wrap up and lunch

One of the thoughts for lunch that day was Pizza, followed by an Ice Cream Social where each fellow would be asked to bring their favorite ice cream topping.

Please comment on the format of the presentation day and lunch idea for this meeting.

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Readings for April 8 – Kuh and Bean

I was searching last night for the Bean reading assignment and couldn’t find it (thanks for the reminder, Charles!). I located it this morning in the hard copy agenda from last week, and I’m posting it in case others are in the same dilemma.

There are two readings for our April 8th meeting:

  1. Kuh, George D. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. (This is a .pdf — it’s listed on the Handouts page, and here is a direct link to the document).
  2. Bean, John C., Engaging Ideas. Review chapters 5 and 6; read chapter 7, p. 123, 128, 130-132; dip into chapters 7 – 10 and find a few pages particularly relevant to your course (difficult texts, small groups, etc.)
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Today, We Write a Manifesto

I came across this and wanted to share — partly because I think it’s awesome, partly because it has a tricky self-referential nature which appeals to my mathematical sensibilities, but mostly because I was inspired — I think it would make a great short writing assignment (write your own manifesto!).

For the group, I wanted to take this space to encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for assignment ideas, and to pass along those great ideas when you see them. I want your inspiration! Also, if you do write a manifesto I’d love to see it.

How to write a manifesto

ps. I’m not sure of the original source of this — if anyone knows it, please share.

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Jane Jacobs and Baby D

When I was in high school, my adopted aunt, Dorothy Holtz, (Baby D we called her behind her back) introduced me to reading Jane Jacobs. Dorothy was one of the foremost city planners at the time–she created the first urban pedestrian mall in downtown Minneapolis and helped put Minneapolis as a leader in the “new” city beautiful movement. Aunt D was a brilliant urbanist, an eccentric, a wise old lady and a pal of Jane Jacobs.

The Death and Life of American Cities was referred to like fundamentalists quote scriptures. I’m glad we’re reading it. But at the end of her life, Jane Jacobs got pretty depressed about that “life” that was supposed to happen in American cities. She put her critical eye on education, which I think might be germane to our discussion.

In her last book, Dark Ages Ahead, Ms. Jacobs returned to one of the pillars of decay that she heralded for the Dark Ages. Here’s a link to an article she published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, which was in part the basis of the second chapter of her book, Dark Ages Ahead


For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s an excerpt:

After World War II and then the Korean War, the government provided tuition and encouragement for veterans who had the desire and qualifications to attend universities or colleges. Tens of thousands of former GIs, many from families in which nobody had ever before been given a chance at higher education, took advantage of this opportunity. On the whole, the veterans were noted for applying themselves more seriously than students just out of high school. They also swelled student enrollments. When the stream of GI students ran dry, their hunger for education was missed in university communities, along with their government-guaranteed tuitions. Credentialing emerged as a growth industry in the 1960s, just when universities needed it to address problems of their own.

The more successful credentialing became as a growth industry, the more it dominated education, from the viewpoints of both teachers and students. Teachers could not help despairing of classes whose members seemed less interested in learning than in doing the minimum work required to get by and get out. Enthusiastic students could not help despairing of institutions that seemed to think of them as raw material to process as efficiently as possible rather than as human beings with burning questions and confusions about the world and doubts about why they were sinking time and money into this prelude to their working lives.

Students who are passionate about learning, or could become so, do exist. Faculty members who love their subjects passionately and are eager to teach what they know and to plumb its depths further also exist. But institutions devoted to respecting and fulfilling these needs as their first purposes have become rare, under pressure of different necessities. Similar trends in Britain have begun to worry some educators there. My impression is that university-educated parents and grandparents of students presently in university do not realize how much the experience has changed since their own student days, nor do the students themselves, since they have not experienced anything else. Only faculty who have lived through the loss realize what has been lost.

just keeping up my end of the conversation

The short form

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How many ways can we use Brooklyn as a laboratory?

In preparation for Friday, please think about the many ways we can use Brooklyn as a laboratory to support our courses. There are many possibilities, beyond the ‘field trip.’

For architecture, this is easy. We assign design studio projects for nearby sites, interact with ‘real’ clients such as the Brooklyn BID’s (Business Improvement Districts), we are responding to a recent call from the Borough President for development of a new park to run from Borough Hall to the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, we investigate and develop restoration solutions for deteriorating buildings, etc.

But let’s hear about courses where the lab segment is not so obvious. Do I remember Dan’s assignment to observe people and tooth types? (Apologies for incorrect terminology!)

And I am also interested in WHY we would want to do this, and what it has to do with Gen Ed. What do you think?

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Fellows at the Museum of Natural History

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long list of useful tools

As suggested by Joe Ugoretz during our visit to Macaulay Honors College, here is a list of kitchen sink/kitchen table utilities–basically, anything you’d want to use in your site and links to examples.

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Is Drawing GenEd?

I have been giving this question a great deal of thought as I teach my classes.  I consider GenEd to include those skills and traits I want to instill in my students that help them to be among other things problem solvers.  I also believe that problem solving is often a collaborative effort and to work collaboratively one needs a method of communicating ideas.  As children before real language develops we communicate with hand motions and gestures, expressions on our faces.  Before we can write we pick up a crayon and we scribble…. these scribbles eventually become shapes.

Eventually these shapes become geometry our scribbles become sentences we begin to develop our GenEd skill set.  As adults we all continue to write, to speak and do math.  Why do some of us continue to draw and others not?

As an Architect one of my most cherished problem solving and communication skills is my ability to draw.  I am so connected to it that my problem solving suffers when I do not have a pencil in my hand.  Every day working with my students the one ability I most want to see them develop and nurture is their ability to problem solve and communicate through drawing.

So I ask the question:  Is Drawing GenEd?

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Developmental courses and the First-Year Experience

Michelle called our attention to a recent New York Times article about the growing need for remediation within CUNY, “CUNY Adjusts Amid Tide of Remedial Students.” If you did not have a chance to read it yet, check it out here. I know that Charles is planning to teach a developmental course in the fall semester as his Gen-Ed-enhanced course. Is anyone else teaching a developmental course as part of the Title V program in the fall? The article reminds me to consider the role of developmental courses in the First-Year Experience, since many students begin their coursework with multiple zero-credit courses. What does it mean to be considered a first-year student who has actually been a City Tech student for more than a semester already?

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More Brain activity!

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Brain: The Inside Story

Jonas and I were challenged to:

1) Provide heuristic questions for 5 Minds for the Future

Please feel free to find our questions (as well as pose some of your own questions) about 5 Minds by going to our earlier blog post.  You can access those by clicking here.

2) Preview the Brain Exhibit

You can find out more information about the location of the exhibit by clicking here.

The remainder of this post is devoted to previewing the exhibit for you.  The first link you might be interested in exploring is the Official Brain Exhibit website.

The official press announcement (link below) describes the exhibit as “using imaginative art, vivid brain scan imaging, and thrilling interactive exhibits” to explore “cutting-edge research from the treating of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to the recent studies of more intangible aspects like the mapping of our emotional response.”  The preview continues:

Visitors will learn “intriguing facts about our five senses, our emotional brain, our thinking brain, our changing brain, and our future brain. The action starts with a multimedia presentation that offers a captivating introduction to the brain. Images are projected on a scrim surrounding a clear, 5-foot-tall sculpted model of the brain. Various parts of the model light up as they are described in the narrative, helping visitors better visualize brain structure and function.

In a section exemplifying how the brain changes with age, an interactive video lets visitors try pronouncing words from unfamiliar languages, a task that is more difficult for people whose brains weren’t exposed to these sounds in early childhood. Relaxing in the “Brain Lounge,” visitors will see how different parts of the brain are stimulated by various activities—like listening to music, sporting events, or foreign languages—by viewing colorful functional brain scans, or fMRIs, of people as varied as musicians, athletes, and U.N. translators.

Additional highlights in the exhibition include an installation by artist Devorah Sperber that brings hundreds of spools of thread into focus as an image of a world-renowned painting, a dramatic metaphor for how the brain organizes the visual world; an interactive map representing the streets of London that explores how the brain stores long-term memories; and a 6-foot-tall sensory homunculus, a figure sculpted with enormous hands and lips to demonstrate the proportional amount of the brain devoted to the sense of touch in different parts of the body.”

The official announcement can be found in its entirety by clicking here.

Reviews of the Brain exhibit

New York Times Review

The Huffington Post




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Museum of Natural History and You

This post covers the pragmatic information that you’ll need for the trip the Brain exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.

What:  Tour of Brain: The Inside Story

When: Friday, March 25th at 10AM

Where: The “Rose Center of Earth and Space

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

*** You can click the “Rose Center” link above to see the location using Google Maps.

We’ll meet directly inside the doors to the Rose Center (we will have tickets for you). Here is a picture of the entrance to the Rose Center.

You can access specific directions to the Museum of Natural History by clicking on this link to the Directions Page of the Museum’s Web site.


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“The New Humanism”

At our last session, I expressed my view that “General Education” is too generic a term to permit meaningful dialogue especially when it comes to “reforming” education.  Yes, it’s important to have our students be broadly educated, to make connections across disciplines, and for educators to create pedagogical tools that will serve our students well in an increasingly global and technological age.  But to achieve these goals, I actually like using more concrete terms such as “The New Humanism,” which Brooks refers in the article below.  Here Brooks speaks to the importance of developing both our reason and our sentiments (feelings) for a better understanding of the political and social worlds we all inhabit (this piece actually meshes nicely with Five Minds, which we are reading for our next meeting).   With Brooks, I believe that educational reform needs to attend to the ways we think and how we teach thinking.  Alongside this notion, it is crucial to have an environment that not just permits–but WELCOMES–the free expression of ideas, especially differing views–an issue I will take up at another point.

The New Humanism

By David Brooks

New York Times (3/13/11)


Over the course of my career, I’ve covered a number of policy failures. When the Soviet Union fell, we sent in teams of economists, oblivious to the lack of social trust that marred that society. While invading Iraq, the nation’s leaders were unprepared for the cultural complexities of the place and the psychological aftershocks of Saddam’s terror.

We had a financial regime based on the notion that bankers are rational creatures who wouldn’t do anything stupid en masse. For the past 30 years we’ve tried many different ways to restructure our educational system — trying big schools and little schools, charters and vouchers — that, for years, skirted the core issue: the relationship between a teacher and a student.

I’ve come to believe that these failures spring from a single failure: reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature. We have a prevailing view in our society — not only in the policy world, but in many spheres — that we are divided creatures. Reason, which is trustworthy, is separate from the emotions, which are suspect. Society progresses to the extent that reason can suppress the passions.

This has created a distortion in our culture. We emphasize things that are rational and conscious and are inarticulate about the processes down below. We are really good at talking about material things but bad at talking about emotion.

When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.

Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view. It is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on.

This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.

This body of research suggests the French enlightenment view of human nature, which emphasized individualism and reason, was wrong. The British enlightenment, which emphasized social sentiments, was more accurate about who we are. It suggests we are not divided creatures. We don’t only progress as reason dominates the passions. We also thrive as we educate our emotions.

When you synthesize this research, you get different perspectives on everything from business to family to politics. You pay less attention to how people analyze the world but more to how they perceive and organize it in their minds. You pay a bit less attention to individual traits and more to the quality of relationships between people.

You get a different view of, say, human capital. Over the past few decades, we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing I.Q., degrees, and professional skills. Those are all important, obviously, but this research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.

When Sigmund Freud came up with his view of the unconscious, it had a huge effect on society and literature. Now hundreds of thousands of researchers are coming up with a more accurate view of who we are. Their work is scientific, but it directs our attention toward a new humanism. It’s beginning to show how the emotional and the rational are intertwined.

I suspect their work will have a giant effect on the culture. It’ll change how we see ourselves. Who knows, it may even someday transform the way our policy makers see the world.

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keeping up my end of the conversation. . .

At the end of this beautiful Saturday afternoon, I decided to take a stroll through CUNY Commons. I thought linking to Jim Groom’s site might be a lively way to spend cocktail hour.

Join me —
“Going Looney (sic) at CUNY: A Presentation
Posted on March 1, 2011 by Reverend

    So going loony at CUNY was an improv. Taking a cue from Jim Groom, maybe one strategy for developing gen ed curriculum might be to. . . like improvise–riff like Myles Davis. Sure lightens up the class prep time

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Possible writing assignments

In an attempt to organize myself for the fall semester course I tried to write down some of the ideas circulated in the today’s seminar, discussed in Bean’s book and also from my own experience. Here are the assignments structured by week:

1.Week 1.

I would start my class with the following question: What do you expect from this class? (5-10min).

To foster an environment where students become more independent and learn how to teach themselves I will also recommend them to create double entry notebooks as described by John Bean on page 108 of his book. This is particularly useful for students in sciences and engineering who need to question the physical phenomena behind the mathematical formulas and prove them.

2. Week 2

Assign a short essay about electronics & art with a possible field trip to MOMA. If a field trip is to be organized I would ask the students to relate what they have seen and learned during the field trip to what they are currently learning in the classroom and also how it relates to their personal interests.

3.  Week 3

I would assign the students group projects which should be presented in both oral form (in front of the class) and written report. Their colleagues will have to comment (critique) on their findings

4. Week 4

I will also assign them to read at least one paper related to the course material and ask them to summarize it, find positive things and negative points about the paper, make connections between the paper and what they learn in the class etc.

5. Week 5

I would encourage them to apply for internships and prepare the essays required in the application process.

If the course has a lab component I would insist on having the students write more on their conclusion part (the students will be prompted to the ideas that should be discussed here). Best reports would be posted on bb or the open source website.

6. Week 6

In the middle of the semester, when the students are already comfortable with the course material I would ask them: Where do you think “the main topic of the course” (for example: AutoCAD or the parallel electric circuits or a logic gate) is used outside your field of study? Students will be encouraged to make connections between the topics discussed in their classes and others offered in different majors.

7. Week 7

Assign homework questions in which students are required to synthesize and use more critical thinking than simply replacing numbers in mathematical formulas.

8. Week 8

Ask students to comment in writing about a social controversy in engineering. For example students would be asked to discuss global warming due to anthropogenic sources versus biogenic sources or if the wars helped with the developments in engineering.

9. Week 9

It is my intention to invite a guest speaker to lecture in one of the classes. If a guest speaker is participating in the class I would ask the students to talk about how useful was this particular lecture, what did they like most etc etc

10. Week 10

Organize a field trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard? where students will get exposed to the technology existing there.

11. Week 11

At the end of the semester I would ask the students to reflect on what they have accomplished in the class and if this meets or exceeds the expectations they had at the beginning of the semester.

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On Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future

Justin Davis and I were asked to pose a question or two about Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future, to give us something to think about as we read and prepare for our next meeting (April 25th). I’ll get us started:

What should a list of different ‘minds’ include?
Are there 5?
Does Gardner make the right choices?
In his own words: “Why these five particular minds? Could the list be readily changed or extended?” (p3)


Edit: Reading Assignment
Just a reminder of the reading assignment for our meeting 3/25/11:
Select one of the ‘five minds’ and read that one chapter in depth, choose one point that you found most valuable and be prepared to share with the group.

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Tweaking the Blog Settings

You may have noticed that there have been some minor changes to the sidebar on the right side of the blog. I’ve talked with a few folks and subsequently we’ve taken out some of the features we used to have in that space in order to (we hope) streamline things a bit.

One of the core features of WordPress, the blogging system behind both the Commons and the digital platform we’re building as part of the Title V grant, is multiple ways to get at content. For example, if you’re looking for a particular post or comment, you can scroll down through the posts on the blog’s homepage or click on the Calendar links to view posts by date.

I also wanted to write a bit about Categories and Tags. These are additional organizational/navigational options common to many blogging systems. I’ve heard Dan describe Categories as a Table of Contents and Tags as an Index (if I can take the words out of your mouth, Dan!), which gets at their navigational relationship. On the organizational side of things (and because I am a librarian) I think of Categories as broad subjects, like the Subject Headings in a library catalog, whereas Tags are more like keywords.

Here’s an example that I hope makes things more concrete: for this post I’ll choose Blogging as a Category (from the list that appears on the right side of the Add a New Post screen), but I’ve tagged this post usability, documentation, support, and navigation.

(Please let me know if this is still unclear — I talk about ways to organize information with students in the library’s Research and Documentation course, and I’m always in search of better ways to explain these somewhat complex topics.)

Both Categories and Tags can be useful for organizing and navigating content on the blog, but again, you can feel free to use either or both — whichever works best for you.

Please let us know what you think about these sidebar changes, and if you have any questions or suggestions for the blog. I’m available to discuss the blog in small groups or one-on-one — please drop me a line if you’d like to meet. Soon I’ll also browse through the WordPress/BuddyPress support and documentation available here on the Academic Commons and will pull out the most relevant to share with our group.

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The open digital platform: what do we want?

I wanted to create a place where we could record our thoughts about the digital platform that is being developed as a part of the Living Lab project. The forum might be a better location for this (please let me know if you’d like to move the discussion there) but as it is relatively little-used at this point I thought I would start here on the blog. Feel free to post suggestions, ideas, and dreams for our digital platform below.

Questions, including “what is a digital platform anyway?” are encouraged.

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Engaging Learning from “Engaging Ideas”, Bean

As the title implies, John Bean’s Engaging Ideas has been quite engaging. The style is easy to learn from and a lot of valuable information that will help our students can be reviewed in a short time.

I already incorporate the use of draft submissions for my most high stakes assignments and learned from chapter 13 ways to make this process of greater benefit to the student. Peer reviews of a rough draft can often provide benefit to both the reader and the writer. Though Bean states on page 222 that results can be disappointing, I have found the opposite to be true. I have found that often students are thoughtful yet appropriately critical of developing their peers writing. I make sure the papers are anonymous and that students work in pairs to review one submission.

Though I have found success with this style of draft review I have yet to try it with first year students. Has anyone else had similar results or has anyone used peer review of high stakes writing with first year students?

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Gen Ed Committee and Gen Ed Seminar combined meeting

I’ve heard wonderful things about the Gen Ed committee and Gen Ed seminar joint meeting on Friday, March 4th. Please share your reflections on, reactions to, or play-by-play, or notes from the meeting.  This will be especially helpful for those of us who could not be there, so that we can catch up before our next seminar meeting on Friday, March 11th. You can reply to this post of write your own post.

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