Memory as a Social Construct

Q.

You talk a lot about memory in your book. Are we augmenting our memories with computers, or are we replacing them?

A.

I would say we are augmenting them. When I started the book I was genuinely worried that I was losing my memory to Google, but the more I studied the way that everyday memory works, the more I realized how much we already rely on other outside sources — books, Post-it notes, etc. — but also other people to remember things. We are social thinkers, and we are also social rememberers, we use our co-workers, our partners and our friends to help us retrieve the details about things that they they are better at remembering than we are. And they’ve used us in the same way. Memory has always been social. Now we’re using search engines and computers to augment our memories, too.

The above piece is from an interview with Clive Thompson about his book and how he believes that Google is not dulling our ability to memorize things, and I agree…kind of. He goes onto talk about how social media is used as a tool in establishing connections and creating ambient awareness. While reading just the interview, as well as the other pieces from this week, it honestly started to remind me of the Black Mirror episode, “Be Right Back.”

In the episode a young woman loses her husband unexpectedly and shortly thereafter discovers she is pregnant.  While at the funeral, a friend of her’s suggests she try this thing where she can “talk” to “her husband” via a computer program (I think?) that takes all the information he ever shared online and creates his personality from it. I won’t tell you what happens after that, but basically it’s not the same person.

The internet gives us an outlet where we can share and post virtually anything we want. Thompson argues that though most of these are insignificant, they add up over a period of time to help develop memories of people. It has allowed us the opportunity to connect with people who otherwise would’ve been out of our lives months and maybe even years ago. We create these memories or personas of people in our minds based solely off of the content they post online. I won’t go into detail about the “highlight reel” theory but know that it exists and that it does happen.

With being the social creatures we are and the ever developing forms of social interaction that are popping up at an alarming rate, I believe it’s only fair to say that our memories will be shaped more and more by our use of technology. It is up to the user to decide how and when it happens. All I ask is that you continue to have an emotional connection to those memories regardless of the platform that you’re saving them on.

It’s all about execution.

“Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end… fearful of  taking a risk, speaking as if  they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community. They repeat what has been read with precision but rarely teach anything of personal value.” – Paulo Freire

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you just feel like the universe has been sending you a message? That’s how my week has been. Here I was, just minding my own business, going through the motions, when BAM! The universe started throwing me all these signs. I started listening to podcasts I had never heard of and every one I did spoke to me. Not only did they speak to me, but they got me excited about my future. Who would’ve thought that could happen in the middle of grad school? I’m pursuing my masters right now and it feels like every other week I have someone asking me whether or not I’ll pursue my PhD and I think I finally have the answer. Yes, but not in Communication. Assuming I can make it through my master’s program, I’m going to try and grit my teeth and get through a PhD program in Public Health.

It all started when I listened to a podcast from a not-so-popular bikini competitor, Lacey Dunn. The episode, which you can find here, is a short interview with another bodybuilder who did her master’s thesis on macros vs. meal-prepping. I know most of you probably don’t know what that is but it’s a big debate in the fitness industry. Listening to this, a light bulb went off. If Laurin Conlin did her master’s thesis on something like IIFYM and meal-prepping, so can I. And this got me excited. I can actually take things I’m passionate about and do on my own time anyways and apply it to my graduate studies? Heck yes! This all happened on Monday.

Then Wednesday hit and the universe decided a nudge wasn’t enough and shoved me harder. I went out on a limb and listened to another podcast that I had never listened to before. The podcast, which you can find here was an interview conducted with Quest Nutrition Co-Founder and Impact Theory CEO, Tom Bilyeu. If you’ve never heard of Impact Theory, I highly suggest you check it out. This podcast has three of my favorite things: fitness, business, and human behavior. A lightbulb didn’t just go off this time, there were fireworks.

I’m sure by now you’re all like, “what does this have to do with critical pedagogy and Paulo Freire?” Well, while I was reading this week I kept coming back to a theme shared by both Freire and Bilyeu: it’s all about execution. You can read all you want about facts, theories, concepts, and opinions within your field or pedagogy but what it really comes down to is what you do with that information. If you’re not creating a sense of community where ideas are shared and acknowledged, then change will never take place. Knowledge doesn’t mean s*** unless you use and share it. It’s really hard for me to put into words how much of a brain-gasm I had while putting these three concepts together so I highly encourage you guys to look at them. If you’re not into fitness or health or anything, Tom Bilyeu has a lot to say when it comes to “igniting human potential”.

 

Good Morning Class! My Name is…

Good morning class! My name is…

I struggled all throughout summer with how to end that sentence prior to my first day of teaching. Though I’m a GTA, my face would be the only face students would see in the classroom. My youthful, smiling, pretty, 22 year old face was the only face that was supposed to hold some sort of authority within the classroom. My Public Speaking class is a mix of freshman who probably took this class thinking they should just get the requirement over with and seniors who put taking this course off until their last year. I’d be the same age as some of these students. Though I wasn’t intimidated by this, I was unsure as to what they should call me. With such a close approximation in age as most of my students, I didn’t want them calling me by my first name. That was too “chill” for my liking and gave off an impression that I just wasn’t willing to work my way out from under after the first day. So, just use your surname you’re thinking. To many, that’s an easy solution but for me it was not. I’ve always loved my last name. It’s an easy name to remember, to pronounce, and to joke about. However, it’s not a name that conveys authority, professionalism, and expertise in any arena that I would like to be associated with. Friends suggested I use my mom’s maiden name since it was my middle name. Again, a logical answer. However “Ms. Friend” didn’t convey the right type of impression I wanted to give off either. I eventually sucked it up, told myself that my students were going to have to deal with it and that I would take no shit for it. So, on my first day of class, I walked to the front of the room and said, “Good morning class! My name is Ms. Hotter.”

screen-shot-2017-02-18-at-2-27-42-pmI’ve only taught four classes so far, but I have never received any sort of backlash for my name by my own students. The only time my last name has been commented on was by a colleague’s student that I had substituted for. His comments were addressed quickly and nothing more of it was said by him or any other student.

Thankfully, the atmosphere I wanted to create with my classroom is something my students have praised me for in my SPOT evals. They love that I play music before class starts so there’s not awkward silence. They appreciate my relatable and approachable manner. I’ve even had a student comment on how he/she enjoyed my sarcasm and that it made PS his/her favorite class to attend. There’s definitely a lot of issues that can arise when teaching at such a young age but I’m trying to take this as the opportunity to really learn how to communicate and relate to my students (in a professional manner of course). I try not to shut off my own personality too much when teaching. There are a few things I have to catch myself from doing in front of my students but that’s all a part of the learning experience. One thing I have learned is that when I see a student downtown at a bar, it’s best to just duck, cover, and move onto the next bar. It’s not worth having them give you funny glances the whole time.

Compulsive Selective Participation

“WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED IN YOUR FIRST 22 YEARS OF LIFE?

ANSWER:
How to sit.
How to stay awake while sort of listening.
How to organize a few thoughts impressively enough to get decent test grades.
How to talk with people my own age about sex, drugs, games, parents, weather, and nothing.”

This was the first comment I saw after reading Mark Carnes’ Setting Students’ Minds on Fire. My initial thought was “Huh, pretty funny” and then I really thought about it. If I were given a test based on these four “objectives,” I’d ace that thing. When did education
become less about learning and more about participating? Can we even call what our students are doing as participation? Let’s call it “passive participation.” The author of the comment is right. Every day students step into classrooms, sit down, stare blankly, occasionally comprehend a few words, and then wait till test time rolls around to cram as much information into their minds for a 36-hour period. Sounds like a roller-coaster ride but this cycle is apparent in classrooms across the nation.

So how do we take “passive participation” and turn it into, what I like to call, “passionate play?” It’s transforming perceptions of learning into a two-way interaction with engagement and an exchanging of ideas and opinions. Sounds fun, huh? BUT HOW???

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-2-19-24-pmI think it’s important to meet students in the middle. You’ve got to relate to them in some manner just to get the conversation going. Talk about life, love, the pursuit of happiness. Whatever you need to do to get people talking, do it (as long as it’s professional). I open every class by playing music. Sometimes I’ll ask my students if there’s anything in particular they want to listen to and if not I throw on some 90’s Alternative Rock. This gets them at least out of that awkward silence before class and talking with their classmates.

As my class is already structured for me, it’s difficult to customize it to some extent. I’m using powerpoint to explain the speeches themselves but adding memes or short videos to keep things interesting. Luckily, on the days students aren’t giving speeches, there’s typically an activity of some sort. As this is a public speaking class, it’s hard to move away from talking “at people” rather than talking “with people.”

All the examples Carnes uses about learning through gaming are all related to history. It’s difficult to incorporate games into other fields. If anyone has any suggestions on how to incorporate it into Public Speaking or Communication, I’d love to hear them.

 

P.S. I will not accept the game “telephone” as an answer 😉

I’m Not Judging You, But I am Grading You.

I personally like to view grades the same way I view the number that pops up on my scale: it’s just a number and it holds no barring on my value. I admit that it’s not always easy to tell myself those things after receiving a less than ideal grade on something I studied my ass off for or seeing a larger number than I had expected after eating lean protein and veggies. Just like we are constantly bombarded by media of what “beauty,” “health,” and “attractiveness” are, society tells us that our success is dependent on our education, our GPA’s, and our careers. College is an incredibly difficult time for numerous reasons and some students get wrapped up in letting grades define them instead of focusing on their growth as individuals. screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-9-28-38-pm

Our mindsets have shifted from choosing a major that interests, fascinates, and lights a fire within us to what will be the most lucrative in the long run. These mindsets have almost turned us into intelligent  and incapable robots. We take in information (sometimes), regurgitate it (sometimes), and spit it back out with little to no comprehension of what’s been heard or read. We look for buzz words, formulas, and other people’s work in order to (re)create work of our own.

For example, in the Public Speaking class I teach, there is a set rubric we are taught to follow and then grade from. It includes your basic public speaking skills such as eye contact, articulation, hand gestures, and a clear organizational pattern. These are all good things that I believe are important when public speaking but the rubric itself and the way the course is designed stifles any creativity on the student’s part. I’m obligated to knock off points for memorization, performances, and slam poetry pieces. It’s almost painful to write in the comments “I appreciated your creativity but…”

Something I struggle with is determining whether to grade to the student or grade to the curriculum. Do I punish a student for not performing to the rest of the classes standards even though they’ve improved tremendously? In a student’s mind, is a C+ really that much better than the C they’ve previously received? How am I suppose to motivate and encourage their improvement if I’m bound to “grade everyone on the same scale?” I understand the logic behind this but am still unsure as to how I feel about it.

But Why be Mindful When I Can be Productive?

Mindfulness is something I think my generation struggles with. Of course, saying someone or a group of people struggle with something infers that they actually know what it is. Frankly, I don’t think my generation (1) knows that mindfulness exists, (2) knows what it is, (3) knows how to practice it, and (4) knows why they should practice it. It’s something that I believe a majority of my friends, peers, and colleagues could benefit from and yet none have any inclination to actively practice it.

As I was reading Ellen Langer’s definition of mindfulness, I realized that it differed greatly from my own. So what is mindfulness to me? I had not heard of the term until I visited my aunt in Oregon (we often refer to her as “the hippy aunt”). She expressed to me her concern with my stress levels during undergrad and suggested practicing mindfulness. I  had rolled my eyes and continued on with what I perceived as the more productive daily activities. I eventually came back to the idea of mindfulness after a bout of anxiety attacks. I realized the power of mindfulness and do my best to practice it at least once a day now.

I personally believe mindfulness is an important part of self-care. It’s the ability to mindfulacknowledge and reflect on experiences, emotions, and thoughts without allowing them to overwhelm or control you. It’s giving positive energy to your thoughts, nurturing them, and allowing them to grow peacefully.

Ellen Langer describes a mindful approach as having three characteristics: “the continuous creation of new categories, openness to  new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.” My first reaction to this is “of course I want to be mindful like that,” but I knew intuitively that it takes an internal calmness to have the ability to practice those three things.

In today’s classrooms, there are so many thoughts running through our students’ (as well as our own) heads. “Am I supposed to meet Bailey at 12 or 12:30 for lunch?” “How long will this paper take me to write?” “Did I let the dog out this morning before I left for my 8 am?” We’re all so scatter brained that our abilities to focus are so diminished that it makes learning and retaining information seem nearly impossible. How do we as instructors combat this? We obviously can’t follow them home and make sure they’re meditating for ten minutes or laying in bed without any distractions. We could make it homework but let’s be honest, maybe 5% would actually do it (and even that’s probably being overly optimistic.) We could have a “No Tech” policy within our classrooms but that still does not guarantee that they’re being mindful or focusing on anything we’d like them to be focusing on.

I think it’s our responsibility as educators to meet our students half way. We need to lead by example and not by lecture. It’s the engagement with our students that will keep them focused, entertained, and feeling like their opinions are respected and valued. Showing our students the benefits of mindfulness is something I believe will benefit them for the rest of their lives. It’s not shoving information down their throats, teaching directly from the book, or death by powerpoint. It’s opening up the conversation to include multiple views, backgrounds, and opinions to be shared in a respectful  atmosphere. Through that we will be able to stimulate new ideas and thoughts internally, acknowledging and reflecting on them without allowing them to control us. It’s taking those new thoughts and ideas and transforming and practicing them with a peace that can be shared.

What Kind of Educational Experiences Change Lives?

For someone who is new to teaching, the entire experience can be pretty intimidating. screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-4-52-14-pmAfter taking a week long training session, preparing my Powerpoints, and reviewing my rosters, the time had come for me to step into my classroom. I took a deep breath and kept repeating my own little mantra, “fake it till you make it.” I put on 90’s alternative music in hopes of alleviating some of the first day awkwardness. As students trickled in I pretended to be busy, shuffling around papers, refreshing my email every few seconds, and
occasionally looking up and smiling. Once the door had shut, everything appeared to fall into place.fake-it

Words flowed fluidly out of my mouth and a few students even laughed at my jokes, something I now realize is rare on the first of the semester. I wrapped up a few moments early and the students quickly made their way out of the small classroom.

As the semester progressed, I got better and better at getting my students involved in discussions. They began talking more within their small groups, answering questions without hesitation when I posed them, and even began initiating small talk with me before the class began. My goal before the semester had begun was to make my class as enjoyable for the students as possible. I wanted it to be a class that they didn’t dread and didn’t feel like they were stuck doing busy work for. From my SPOT evals, I think I achieved that.

While going through the assigned readings for Contemporary Pedagogy, the question “what kind of educational experiences change lives?” kept popping back into my mind. I started to think about the classes that I enjoyed during my undergrad and what they all had in common. To my own surprise, a majority of them were writing intensive (something I don’t typically enjoy) and as most writing intensive classes are, they were relatively small in size. But that wasn’t what I liked most about the courses. What I remembered specifically was how much I enjoyed those classes because of my professors. Their teaching styles first and foremost were founded on mutual respective, they were almost always available to meet on and off campus, and they taught us about life and not just the material. I enjoyed going to those classes because it was a safe place to share ideas and opinions, openly discussing different views and perspectives without fear of judgment. My favorite professors were humans with flaws, senses of humor, and kindness within their hearts. That’s the type of teacher and leader I want to be. I want to make an impact.

But how does one go about making an impact? According to Tim Hitchcock, the best way to go about making an impact is by expanding your audience via social media platforms like Twitter and blogging. My immediate reaction to this is “oh no, I’m not really into Twitter and blogging is a hobby I just never seem to be able to commit to.” I don’t know if this is due to a lack of confidence in my writing ability or if I just never seem to be able to think of something interesting enough to really put out there. Most likely a combination of both. Though I am a little reluctant to this mandatory blogging, I’m hoping this course will help to alleviate some of that disinclination. I guess we’ll see.