TED Conversations

Kyra Gaunt

Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur, Assoc.Professor, Kyraocity Works


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How does the status quo design of student - faculty interactions diminish innovation in the classroom? How to hack higher ed?

This Live Conversation with TED Fellow Kyra Gaunt will open on June 15th, 1pm EDT.
Note: Conversation has been extended until June 17th.

There are many TED talks about innovation in education, but most focuses on K-12 education. There are also amazing talks about breaking the code on our relationship to work, to learning, and to our application of knowledge (aka wisdom).

Students call me Professor G. I am a professor of anthropology, ethnomusicology and racism studies. I am also a 2009 TED Fellow. My students in cultural anthropology are interested in engaging the TED community in a conversation around how to hack the design of the higher ed classroom where emerging adults and their supposed mentors, if a design was scalable, could truly become the consumers of their own productivity as students.

My aim as a professor is to help students realize they are great students, great citizens and great human beings NOW not after graduation.

To truly explore this question, we need diverse perspectives and we intend to discover the power of extending the classroom beyond its four walls with a weekly TED conversation around a question related to hacking the higher ed classroom.

What if the classroom interactions were designed for sustainability, for curiosity, and for innovating thinking? What would we talk about? What could we talk about? And wouldn't we talk about anymore?

Consider grading (but we do need so way to measure accurate thinking). Consider the power dynamics of the student-teacher conversation around grades, assignments, and dialogue. And consider the role of the repositories of knowledge and experience that often goes unnoticed, the students themselves.

Do we need textbooks anymore? Would Google and the students' experience be enough in an anthropology or social science course? #justaskin

Also consider issues of ethnic and gender representation relative to issues of power and training emerging adults to be leaders in a globalizing world.

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    Jun 15 2012: I got so many great ideas from this. I feel empowered!
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    Jun 15 2012: Linda, I hear what you're saying about letting students know that they are not great. (I even wrote a quick HuffPost article called Why University Students Arent' Amazing Anyone and What They Can Do About it in response to their constant need to distract themselves with Facebook despite my best efforts at engaging them.) I think it's important that students get that message but know you are coming from a point of caring and encouragement that they could be amazing and stand out in this world.

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      Jun 15 2012: I use FB in my class to avoid a lot of that distraction.
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        Jun 15 2012: Yeah, I use FB, twitter, online platforms, linked in, PDA, electronic text, data bases, you tube links. yada yada etc etc. But NONE of it replaces accountability. You either know it or you don't.

        You bet I care. I care enough to have a do-over if they need it. And I encourage and support. I am available to help. But the work is theirs. Like Yoda said, "Do or do not. There is no try."
  • Jun 15 2012: Hi. I'm studying oline for my MA, with two visits a year to the college. I'm a bit charged from just finishing exams and end of term papers, but I was excited to notice that you're having these important conversations. Please excuse if my intonation feels hardened in any way. This is one of my concerns about higher ed. I don't like the on-line format of my program but it has the research I need to follow what I feel is being called to me in my life's work. I find it very hard to stay healthy but I couldn't afford to do the MA any other way. Although my cohort members and I work on holistic health while we work, I have always felt that universities don't structure programs well to support holistic rhythms and balances. I find this especially hard on my female seratonin-uptake neurological system. Feminist research has shown a correlation between the uptake system in women and eating disorders and depression. It shows a very different uptake system for men, and it makes sense that women would have a very different need in a system of higher ed to accommodate their very different experience, even physically. I am in a qualitative and quanititive program which helps somewhat. I am 50, and waited 25 years to find a program that would actually offer some balance for my gender physiology. I don't feel that I've really found it but time is running out for me. Has anyone else had this sense or concern about how to bring holism into higher academia?
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      Jun 15 2012: Yiana, I am SO INTO what you are speaking about. THAT is the sustainable classroom concerns I am speaking to without taking about health and wellbeing with my students. What it means to be a great citizen and a great human being starts with listening for what empowers the whole person. Including wellness. I have such stories to tell. I think we could prevent tragedies like Virginia Tech from happening if we were more sensitive.
  • Jun 15 2012: I guess I would consider myself a wayward doctoral student. The major reason for my leave of absence was not academics, rather relationships and trying to navigate the politics of the academy. Along with a Master's degree and teaching experience in my field, I felt as thought I came with a set of life experiences that grounded me to do this kind of work. I was as much of a grown woman then, as I am now. But I have never been spoken to as I experienced at that institution. I struggled to not come off as an angry black country woman when I felt disrespected and undervalued. When you know that no one has your back at your institution what else do you do? How do you respond to director who tells you that they know what's best for you? Excuse me, the last time I checked I was a grown woman and I have a mom. What do you do when the work you're trying to do is not valued? I decided to walk away after being told that I and my work was a long shot. What I've found is that there are scholars out there who do support the kind of work I'm doing and also promote self-care and innovation.

    This is a very timely conversation. I walked away because I just didn't believe in higher ed at the time. I did not enter a program and take a loan to be beat down, especially when I know that I do good work. I thought to myself, I could still be a writer and scholar without a PhD. But what about the students that are to come and need someone who values radical and transformative education? Without addressing the power dynamics between teachers and students and students and administrators, things like this will continue to happen. Simply put, I'm a human being first; grown black woman second, and student last. I expect to be treated as such.

    When we discuss intersectionality, oppressions, and privileges, we often talk about race, class, and gender. Age usually falls on the end. If maturity has nothing to do with age, we must find a way to reconcile our educational politics to reflect such.
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      Jun 15 2012: I so hear ya Salandra!! This is my take on the sustainable classroom. Student-as-adult. Esp. emerging students but also that we faculty are emerging in our thoughts about you and we are not fully-grown in our social sustainability skills for life not just classroom. I tried to leave academia for same reasons but i LOVE teaching emerging and grown adults.
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    Jun 15 2012: I wrestle with finding the balance between encouraging innovation/experimentation and having them produce work that has actual value.
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    Jun 15 2012: Here it is. It's written from my own experiences
    • Jun 15 2012: Thank you! I enjoyed that. I must learn more about class wikis. I have not taught in a couple of years but hope to be again for the Fall semester.
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    Jun 15 2012: I teach a few classes (two quite large) at Michigan State including Visual Communication and The Creative Process. I just wrote a HuffPost article on five uses for Twitter in large lecture courses and I want to find even more ways to personally engage my students.
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    Jun 15 2012: Thank you all for joining in!! I think this was a great starter convo. Lots of issues raised by visitors. I hope you follow me on Twitter at @kyraocity or FB @Kyra Gaunt, Ph.D. and we can continue the conversation. Would you be interested in an #highered chat on Twitter?
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    Jun 15 2012: Diminishing people is easy. One professor told me that it wasn't his job to 'engage' his students. He says his lectures give them the information they need and if they choose not to absorb it that wasn't his problem. I suggested he might save himself the trouble and just put a tape recorder out.

    I see teaching as somewhat parallel to parenting or managing a dept at a company. The instructor is in charge and sets the tone, and there are many things they can do to uplift students, to encourage participation and growth using simple rules like praising in public, criticizing in private.
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      Jun 15 2012: we just talked (2 sections of 20 adults) about "who's in charge" and how that shows up in who can move and how in the classroom (doing ethnographic work on ourselves in a way) and who gets to define just about everything even in so called innovative classes.
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      Jun 15 2012: You know, I tested out of so many courses that I know I don't even need that professor. Give me a syllabus and a text, and I can pretty much test out of anything. So he is partially right and you are partially right.
  • Jun 15 2012: To respond about the Ken Robinson videos, I think it would be a good idea to allow the student come up with his/her own assessment task, as long as it is approved by the teacher as being rigorous enough. The important thing is that the curriculum does not enforce a "one size fit all" model; emphasizing an inventive as apposed to an analytical approach.

    Personally I would like to see more of the Socratic method used like it is in law school, but perhaps giving the student the option to discuss the subject later in private instead of in front of everyone else; what often prevents class participation is the other students. I think the immediate feedback for defending their line of thought on the spot is extremely important, and could be employed more often.
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      Jun 15 2012: I used a socratic style along with improvising off what students share to point to things we are supposed to be learning anyhow. Yesterday's lesson was how language shapes thought. Great readings but analysing the text is boring. Analyzing ourselves dealing with language -- now that gets interesting. We talked about gender and the how boys are taunted by being called pussy . My classes are ethnically diverse so had to explain what "cunt" was for Chinese students or new immigrants for whom such language is not relevant.
      • Jun 15 2012: I definitely see the value in including the other students in the conversation, diversity and the shock factor can really can be quite effective. I also think you make a good point to establish a valuable relevance to the material, perhaps this is what makes something inventive. I think generally teachers have some recognition of all of this and many already regularly do this, but now it becomes an issue of how do you make it more conducive universally? What prevents this from happening all of the time? To be fair though, it does happen.
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    Jun 15 2012: Educational insitutions should find means of intergrating the benefits of the online medium to the learning experience.
    Classroom interactions provides means of sharing ideas among scholars and to gain from the diversity of perspectives.
    Online interactions via a 'meeting' webpage could broaden the scope of scholar participation and raise fresh questions.
    But without a doubt the internet has changed with way learning is done in recent years, and schools will do well to find ways to benefit immensely from this.
    Now a lot can be learnt via online textbooks, online videos and even self-proclaimed professionals.
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      Jun 15 2012: Thanks for joining Feyisayo! How does this spark innovation (whatever that means to you) and you, I assume, Learned in a classroom? How did that diminish what you now see online learning provides? Curious.
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        Jun 15 2012: It does not diminish innovation. It enhances it when properly utilized.
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    Jun 15 2012: Interesting. My job as a professor is to do an attitude adjustment in my students to make sure they understand they are NOT great. The product of the k-12 leave no child behind has resulted in students that think they can just show up and pass a class. They want to know WHAT IS ON THE TEST! And they are aghast that I don't give it to them. That is the cumulative result of standardized testing. Time for reality check. This is college you better know it or I will see you next semester.
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      Jun 15 2012: Thanks for sharing your view Linda> I teach them they are great and empower them to fulfill on that with their actions not feelings about themselves. I do a lot of correcting "Oh, great one. let's try that again!" using a lot of play, enticement and challenge but not of individuals. I am trying to teach HOW culture works by using our own interactions as models. We do and don't adapt to our greatness.
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        Jun 15 2012: Yes of course but that happens later. You MUST set the bar first before you can help the student achieve it. I am limited in innovation by the courses I teach. The program is heavily test based because the program ends in board licensure. A huge part of what I do is help students learn how to study and how to pass a test. And I have taught upper division courses.

        I think part of the problem is that you cannot compromise innovation for accountability. That always needs to be part of higher ed. Accountability and integrity
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        Jun 15 2012: You said, "Oh, great one. let's try that again!"

        What would be your thought process if those words came out of the surgeon instructing the doctor performing a procedure on your mother? Nobody is playing.

        My students must become accomplished learners and quickly. They must know more than I can teach. In an average semester I am teaching out of 5000 pages of text in just 2 course. Yes 5K. They must have outstanding study skills and I need to measure their mastery and hold them accountable. That is a huge part of my accountability to my discipline. The bar is set by my discipline and translated into the classroom.

        Or as I said, I'll see you next semester.

        Innovation in my discipline is centered around simulation. High fidelity mannequins to assist the student in application of knowledge. We are finding limitations in the use outside of psychomotor application. It is useful iin the complex management of patients with multiple comorbidities but has limitations in the actual learning of content. I have seen some fabulous affective phenomena in students during simulation. Students crying after the mannequin 'dies' because of their error. The debriefing has to be done very carefully and the student must be assisted to frame the experience within the context of practice.
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    Jun 15 2012: Better question: How are we diminishing people with our design between student-faculty?
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    Jun 15 2012: So many of my fellow professors call female students 'girls.' I and others call them women, and for some of the undergrad students I get the feeling that isn't something they're used to, but they like it and it sends a message to them that we see them as mature adults. I have huge respect for my students just because they're on this planet.
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      Jun 15 2012: Too many profs and students themselves refer to students as "kids" and I wonder from a linguistic standpoint of cultural learning how much that is affecting the environment in academia and in classrooms. We need to watch our words from our mouths as much as we attend to them on paper.
      • Jun 18 2012: In my opinion it affects the environment a lot. If students are being called: “kids” they might have notion that the professor doesn’t treat them seriously. It is interesting that even students sometimes refer to themselves as “kids”. Probably it happens because they don’t feel as adults (at least in school). An easy example might be attendance. Professors check the attendance with great scrutiny (at least in public colleges) which indicates lack of trust. Since college is for adults the perception should be that “I don’t have to take attendance because they are all responsible and they go to college to expend their knowledge.”
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    Jun 15 2012: What a horrid experience, Salandra.
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    Jun 15 2012: The classroom is a basic lecture hall, but we go outside when possible. But there is still a lot one can do in such a large class that engages and captures the students. Regarding creativity, I threw out six beach deflated balls to 300 students and just watched what happened. within minutes they were batting them all around, laughing, but shortly after they were bored, and the balls were grounded. I asked them how many of them were done with the ball thing and they all raised their hands and I said, "this just shows that good ideas have a shelf life and new ones are needed all the time." But still, too many linger on Facebook, no matter how much i try to engage them!
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      Jun 15 2012: Hmm. One of the TEDFellows from Bahrain invented her company on FB during a class. I am a big social facilitator in large and small classes. I don't have that problem of distractions from FB. I am intent upon making sure students are learning about and from one another. One to many in a standard classroom set up IS boring. But even in a traditional lecture hall I can get 90% of students engaged within 2 weeks in a class of 95 reliably.
      • Jun 15 2012: How? Examples?
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          Jun 15 2012: First you have to leave the front of the class and circle about. Second, pair sharing with neighbors daily in each session have them apply the content to a context they have lived. Third, ask them to tell you teh truth about being bored and suggest things IN CLASS. And then take their coaching.
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    Jun 15 2012: Looking forward to our conversation this afternoon!! Hi I am Kyra. Students call me Professor G. I was an inaugural TED Fellow 2009.

    Want to help set the tone for our conversations today but anyone can lead here. I invited some friends to come join us. Christopher Emdin/@chrisemdin http://www.chrisemdin.com/, Melissa Pierce/ @melissapierce http://melissapierce.com/, and Lee Skallerup /@readywriting https://twitter.com/#!/readywriting to help us along. My special guests are my students, the adults in my Intro to Cultural Anthro class this summer at Baruch College-CUNY in NYC.
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    Jun 4 2012: I have been involved with higher ed on and off for the last forty years on one side of the fence or the other. 1970s and 1980s it would have been Stanford, Berkeley, UW. Since 2000 it would be UW and Harvard. I also have daughters who are recent college graduates.
    Because I have spent so many years in the classroom, answering "what was it like" is a pretty big question! I'd say my education was about learning to think rigorously, to find problems worth solving, and to be ready to act in the face of uncertainty and in an adaptive way. I'd say my teaching has that same character. As I don't like memorizing stuff, I avoided courses where there was much memorization. Like almost anyone my age, I needed to learn to write clearly and directly. Being at Berkeley in the seventies meant everyone expected questioning of authority and that we all needed to prepare to be change agents.In teaching I have had more experience with graduate students than undergrads, so grades never loomed that large. Interacting with the class and getting students to interact with each other was typical practice in the 1980s and 1990s and now for graduate students at least. From my daughters I know that lots of discourse is in sections.
  • Jun 17 2012: (Continue) I still remember a report said that “China’s best schools may produce the world’s best test-takers, but the United States’ best schools produce the world’s most creative talent.” Even though, I hate to admit it but it really react the difference between this two countries. In my country, students learn through memorization. Teacher enjoys a very high reputation and student believes that what he/she says or does is always the truth. In American education, however, much emphasis is placed on problem solving and discussion. Students are taught to think for themselves. The role of the teacher is to stimulate their thinking, to get them to ask questions, challenge and even argue with the teacher and come to their own conclusions. This is why I like American education better.

    Furthermore, we still need traditional teaching tools such as textbook, homework and exam. Isaac Newton said that he saw further than others because he stood on the shoulder of giants. So we need read the textbook to learn what we don’t know and then explore the unknown. Moreover, we cannot be an armchair strategist. We need to turn our knowledge learned from the textbook and others into practice, and we need a way to test it. That is why we still need homework and exam.
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      Jun 18 2012: I continue to believe that Amerucan education is a hybrid of different styles, with a great deal of interaction and discussion in social sciences and in humanities in the lecture and weekly discussion sections and less discussion in a course such as mathematics or physics that is less centered on interpretation and multiple perspectives. Science classes have discussion sections for clarification and questioning about ideas more than to address diverse perspectives. They often have laboratories, because the skills of inquiry in those fields can be learned only through practice. Social science and humanities classes emulate the processes of the field by engaging students in research and field work.
      I continue to have trouble with the idea of a status quo design of student-faculty interactions, as I believe interactions vary depending on the personalities of the people involved, the subjects they teach, the emphasis in the institution of research relative to teaching, the typical load a teacher carries of courses in a year at that school, and so forth. I would guess that if one talks about typical scenarios, there will be more faculty student interaction at a liberal arts college or small state college than at a major research university, but I have seen a lot of individualized attention at major research universities as well.
  • Jun 17 2012: To entirely explore this question, I divide this topic into two parts. The first part is reformation of the classroom design, and the second part is innovation of teaching.

    The classroom is a space for student to learn, to meet, to think. U-shape is one of the ideal classrooms that gives student a lot of inspires and emphasize the position of teacher/professor simultaneously. Student can discuss with each other face to face, and teacher is more freely to move and help them.

    I am taking professor Gaunt’s Anthropology class this summer, and she is the most understanding, creative and friendly professor I’ve ever met. She is trying to encourage student to be the consumer of their own productivity by saying that “Hello, great ones” in the beginning of every class. It really helps students to have good start of a day and value themselves. On the other side, I like this small classroom for a summer course, and we did a lot of communications during class. Without doubt, it is the best way to meet new people and expand our social network. I had a lot of class which professor only focused on lecture, so I did know anyone after finished the whole semester. Prof G. uses Facebook, email and other NetTools to keep in touch with student, and she said she prefers student to text massage to her, so she can respond us as soon as possible. According to my personally experience, there are only few professors/teachers would like students to disrupt their private lives. Therefore, I can say professor Gaunt is the unique! She really cares about student, not only their grade but also their future!
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    Jun 17 2012: Hi Professor G:
    How does the status quo design of student-faculty interactions diminish innovation in the classroom? How to hack higher Ed?

    Socrates had a useful approach but I think demo, challenge, invite, and expand is appropriate and useful too. I have seen and used this on an elementary level, but it is a valid tool for any learning situation. Jazz musicians, surfers, and street skaters will get together and challenge each other this way. Take any performance, spoken poetry, song, game, and demonstrate it. Share the experience with a group interested in that activity. Challenge them to participate. Invite repeat performances. Allow each performance to build on the last and expand the repertoire of everyone.

    What if the classroom interactions were designed for sustainability, for curiosity, and for innovating thinking? What would we talk about?

    Singing and other performance art are their own conversation. Spoken word poetry is a case in point. (See Sarah Kay TED talk "If I Had A Daughter.")

    The underlying principles seem to support what Michelle Holliday said about the pattern of living systems: 1) Diverse parts are required, the more diverse the better. 2) A unified whole is the focus of all. 3) Relationships matter. 4) Self-integration as a motivating force takes over.

    Hack learning. Hack a sustainable future.
  • Jun 15 2012: I am actually a student in Professor Gaunt's Anthropology class for this summer, and her way of teaching actually surprised me. She is open to our ideas and wants us to challenge her teachings, there is a new interaction each and everyday and she lets us try out different methods to see which one better suits our class. She told the class "I'm not in charge of your grades, you give yourselves the grade you deserve, so don't as me during the middle of the semester what your grades are". She gives a new way to teach the class like using Facebook interactions so we save trees, and also because it is the most used social interaction online as of this day.
  • Jun 15 2012: The key in this is recognising that students hold beliefs regarding self-theory and achievement. Tutors also hold beliefs about student ability and these beliefs ( both student and tutor) can become learning inhibitors or enablers for students. I'm particularly interested in notions of fixed ability, which can limit (inhibit) learning. For example, if a student perceives them self as a 'C' grade student, research shows that they are unlikely to achieve highly...they self-limit their achievement. Check out Carol Dweck's work in this area. Happy to discuss further in relation to higher education. Suffice it to say that students can be supported in viewing themselves and 'ability' differently..and this results in incredible achievement levels...and great, innovative students.
  • Jun 15 2012: Senge wrote, "Structure dictates behaviour". The structure of our education system was based on the Prussian model and designed to produce factory workers. It works for about 70% of students and abysmally fails (both literally and figuratively) the rest. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_education_system
    “Our schools are, in a sense, factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life.” (Cubberley, 1917)
    Many theorists, Ivan Illich for example, decry this system; indeed there are a plethora of critiques of institutional education and when writing my thesis I searched for empirical evidence supporting our system. I found nothing, except perhaps some self-indulgent musings by University Deans who figured that because they rose to the top within the system, that the system works!
    So yes, we need to hack the system and stop stigmatizing students who for one reason or another do not, or can not jump through the hoops. We need to begin to provide relevant learning opportunities to all individuals interested in expanding their skills and awareness.
    Thanks for the opportunity to share my perspective.
  • Jun 15 2012: Love it! Thank you! I do not want to bug you about Classroom Wikis...I know you are busy. Do you have a favorite link?
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    Jun 15 2012: I'm easy to find if you need after all this. I'll be checking back again before sunday. Keep the convo going.
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    Jun 15 2012: Thanks, Kyra!
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    Jun 15 2012: I'll be signing off at 2pm EDT but my students are being asked to come back and comment and read and challenge. Hope you and others will too!! I am writing a book about double dutch champs from the late 70s and their role in early hiphop. ON a deadline with that. BUt keep chatting!!
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    Jun 15 2012: I wonder how Active Learning might apply to my large classes. I also like your thought, Jeremy, about setting their own agenda. Next semester might be very interesting...
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    Jun 15 2012: I met a wonderful teacher of teachers, Mel Silberman, who passed away 2 yrs ago. HE's the guy who wrote and trained people in Active Learning (lots of books). He shared that a study was done I think at Princeton about how many students share and how many words a minute they hear vs. WPM a prof lectures in.