Archive for the 'Teaching' Category

The dog ate my computer and other contemporary student excuses

Friday, June 5th, 2009

At IHE, Scott Jaschik has a piece about a site that sells corrupted files to students as a way to get a few extra hours or days to finish an assignment. The idea is that the student submits a corrupted file, it takes the instructor a while to figure this out, in the meantime the student finishes the assignment.

Although I’ve never had students send me corrupted files, I’ve certainly had them supposedly send me attachments that weren’t there in reality. Of course, most people have, at one time or another, forgotten to attach a file to an email so it’s hard to assume it’s always intentional, but one wonders.

The piece made me reflect on what other excuses are emerging in the new digital environment that weren’t in vogue earlier. I’ve had students claim to have lost their Internet connection at home making it difficult to meet a deadline. While on the one hand, I tend to be skeptical of this, ISPs are sufficiently bad that it’s not completely implausible. What’s your favorite digital-era bogus excuse?

As a tribute to old excuses that presumably some still use, here’s a link to the “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” [or pdf] by Mike Adams in case there are people who haven’t seen it yet.

Random email of the week

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

I get contacted fairly often by students at other institutions to help them with their assignments. The message I received yesterday was unlike the usual request though:

Hello Eszter,
my name is [Firstname Lastname]
I’m a [nationality] student in [Country]
It will be really great if you could help me !
Im doing a work about your paper “Second Level Digital Differences in people’s online skills ”
I need to criticism your method of research and your conclusion and I really don’t know how to start..

Waiting for your answer , Thank you very much ….


Since I got this on April 1st, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, but somehow I don’t think so. (BTW, the title of the paper is misquoted.)

Herr Professor Daddy? I didn’t think so.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

I love my MommyAnyone who thinks male and female professors are treated equally by students is clueless. Just recently I came across a couple of examples that are very illustrative of this point. A friend of mine told me that her undergraduate advisees gave her a photo of themselves in a picture frame that says: “I love my Mommy”. (Apologies for the pathetic illustration accompanying this post, but given the time I put into it, I’m posting it.) Then just a few days later, I came across the following note on Twitter:

A friend of mine just bought this (as a gag) for her diss. director

Yes, click on the link. I’ll tell you where it leads, but you’ll appreciate it better if you see the image. The link is to a children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy”. Raise your hand if you’re a male professor and students have given you similar gifts “as a gag”. No one? Shocking.

I can see the comments already: “If female profs are more caring then what’s wrong with students expressing their appreciation for that?”

First of all, students demand much more emotional work from female professors than they do of male profs. If the women don’t provide it, they are often viewed as cold bitchy profs that don’t care about students. Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs. (More generally speaking, there is literature on how gender influences teaching evaluations, here are some older references.)

Second, there are plenty of ways to express appreciation that don’t involve putting the female prof in a mothering role, a role that certainly isn’t emphasizing her academic strengths and credentials. As my friend noted, a gift of this sort makes her feel as though her only contribution to the students’ success was in shepherding them through their projects and not in providing intellectual stimulation, helping them professionally, or contributing to the creation of new well-trained researchers. Maybe, just maybe, she’d like to be recognized for her intellectual contributions and the part of mentoring that involves the research aspects of her job. And while it would be neat if mothering was equated with all of those things, don’t kid yourself. Of course there is nothing wrong with being compassionate and caring, but it’s not what tends to be rewarded professionally in academia.

A day in the life…

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Whoa, I guess I won’t be reading any blogs (or emails for that matter) today.

Here is my schedule:

8:30am – Breakfast with job candidate
10am-noon – 4 one-on-one meetings with students one after the other
noon-1pm – Attending job candidate’s talk
1:30-7pm – 11 one-on-one meetings with students (straight through, obviously)
7pm-? – Dinner with colleagues and job candidate

So yeah, this many meetings is not usual, but I thought the students from my undergraduate writing seminar would benefit from some one-on-one discussions of their research statements.

Just another 12+ hour day. Wish me luck.

Information Society

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Jeremy is not the only one working on his Northwestern courses. I am putting the finishing touches on my junior writing seminar syllabus when I glance over at Yahoo! Music and see this (on 80s music random play):

Information Society

This is generally amusing given the topic of my course (“Adolescents’ Digital Media Uses, Skills and Participation”), but it’s additionally funny since I was just adding an article to the syllabus that appeared in the journal The Information Society.

Link carefully in case people don’t read carefully

Monday, January 15th, 2007

Today’s Google doodle is in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S.. These doodles always link to something relevant regarding the focus of the drawing. I was especially curious to see what the target link would be in this case, given some peculiarities with the results to a search on martin luther king jr. Not surprisingly (to me), the doodle links to the search results of a somewhat different query: martin luther king jr. day, which yields a sufficiently different set of links.

Why was I not surprised and why do I take such interest in this particular case? It dates back to exactly two years ago when I was teaching my Internet and Society class to undergraduate students. At that time, Northwestern didn’t excuse students from classes for the entire day (it does now), but my class conflicted with several campus events so I decided to cancel class. However, I did want them to do some course-related work so I had them blog about something related to the holiday that they found online. It was a very open assignment, but focused enough to get some of the spirit of the holiday on their minds.

One of the students wrote an entry pointing to the Web site and discussed how she had found the site’s critical approach to the holiday and the man behind it intriguing. She cited the sources featured on the site, prominent media outlets such as Newsweek and The New York Times. I found her discussion interesting, but was a bit skeptical and so I went to look at the site. I quickly realized that it was hosted by an organization called Stormfront, which prominently describes itself as White Pride World Wide on its logo.

At this point, I was confronted with the following dilemma: Did the student choose this site while realizing its origins or did she overlook that information? If she did choose it in full knowledge about that detail, was I in any position to challenge her choice of topic for that blog post?

I decided that it was up to her to blog about that site if she wanted (so no, I would not ask her to remove the entry), but it was up to me to make sure she was fully aware of what she had done. I crafted a careful email explaining that I was not challenging her choice for the assignment, rather, I just wanted to make sure she was fully aware of the details. She wrote back and said that she had not realized the host of the site and was embarrassed about the situation. She noted that after careful consideration, she decided to leave up that entry and follow it up with another post about the interesting learning experience that this case had offered.

We ended up discussing all this in class. Note that the student remained anonymous to the rest of the class since my students blog pseudonymously so only I know their identities. They are, however, required to read each other’s posts so I knew there would be other students exposed to what she had written.

Two years ago, the Web site was the first or second result when you did a search for martin luther king jr on Google (I don’t remember its position on the other search sites). Today, it’s #7 on Google, #1 on MSN (among the organic, non-sponsored results), and not in any prominent position (not in the top 20) on either Yahoo! or Ask. The site’s position on Google’s result list is still sufficiently prominent that it would explain Google’s choice to use martin luther king jr day as the query showcased with its holiday logo. I have no idea if this was a conscious decision on anyone’s part, I am just suggesting that it might’ve been.

Public speaking pet peeve

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Today’s Lifehacker special is a piece I wrote on “Public speaking do’s and don’t’s”. I list ways in which one can prepare for a talk and suggestions for how to make the most of a presentation. I welcome additions to the list, in the comments here or to the original post.

I won’t replicate the entire piece here, but I do want to mention one of the issues I discuss. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to presentations has to do with most people’s inability to stick to the time they have been alloted for their talk.

Few people are such amazing speakers that the audience can’t get enough of listening to them so it is best to wrap up a speech on time. One of the most common pitfalls is to add “brief” introductory remarks to one’s prepared talk. There is usually nothing brief about such comments. Moreover, given that most conference presentations – the ones with which I tend to be most familiar – are supposed to take about 15 minutes, adding just three minutes of intro uses up 20 percent of the time allocation. However, most people are already short on time so this way they get even more behind.

I have considerably less experience in industry and other realms. Is this better elsewhere?

A related pet peeve concerns moderators who are unable to tell people that it is time to wrap up and give the next person a chance to speak.

Come to Northwestern!

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

Northwestern recruitment

It’s that time of year when many seniors in college start having to make decisions about where to go to college. Northwestern puts out an online newsletter to inform prospective students about various opportunities on campus. They decide to write a faculty profile on me for this newsletter. The interview was fun, a bit of a walk down memory lane to figure out how I got to where I am.

I have really enjoyed both teaching and working with undergraduate students here. If you are a prospective reading this, I hope you consider Northwestern very seriously as it’s a wonderful place to go to college (or so I’m told by undergrads).

Class dinner

Friday, December 9th, 2005

I teach a course called “The Practice of Scholarship” whose goal is to teach students how to write a publishable quality empirial research paper. I thought such a course was one of the most useful ones I had taken in graduate school so I implemented it in our program.

Since the students work very hard in this course, I have made it a tradition to have them over for dinner at the end of the quarter. Here are the pictures from this year’s event. Photos are posted with permission.

Expect to see some exciting papers coming out from these students in the near future.

Strategies for successful dissertation completion

Friday, November 18th, 2005

[Also posted on Crooked Timber.]

If you are or were at some point in a doctoral program then you have probably heard the following before: The best dissertation is a done dissertation. But how to get it done?

I am at the annual meetings of the National Communication Association where I have been asked to present on a panel about “Strategies for Successful Dissertation Completion”. It is hard to say whether I have any more expertise in this area than anyone else with a PhD, but I did sit down to come up with a list that I thought may be worth sharing here. I want to acknowledge the contributions of my grad school friend Erica Field who kindly entertained this question over dinner last night and offered several helpful additions to the list. Since we had spent countless dinners during grad school discussing our dissertations her contributions to all this have been more significant than simply talking about it over one meal.

I welcome additions to the list. I plan to share this with students in the future so the more helpful pointers the better.

It is probably fair to note that I did not follow all of these points, but if I had to do it all over again, I likely would. The list is presented in no particular order.

Also, several of the items are likely helpful for people who are at more advanced stages of their academic careers so you may get something out of this even if you already have a PhD.

Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 31st, 2005
Halloween costume

Halloween costume,
originally uploaded by eszter.

In true geek fashion I wore an Internet-related costume to class today. I put all sorts of signs on myself that said things like “Enter your password here”, “Click here to update your account”, PayPal, eBay, some login screens and emails. I also held a plastic fish in my hand. That was the main clue perhaps.

I had never dressed up as a verb before. It had its set of challenges.

In case you’re still wondering, my costume was “phishing“.

A few students also came dressed up to class. We had a mouse with ears and “right click”, “left click” buttons, which I thought was really funny. And we also had a superwoman, someone who put on an actual real costume. I supplied the candy and had posted a flash ghost animation game on the class blog a few days before so we were definitely in Halloween mode.

The winning guess

Monday, October 17th, 2005
Board notes in class

Board notes in class,
originally uploaded by eszter.

We were discussing portals and search engines in today’s Internet and Society class. I had various statistics to show the students, but first I had them guess the figures. I find that this gets them more engaged. Moreover, because I ask them to justify their guesses, I think it gets them to think about the issues more than if I were to inundate them with a bunch of data points without any discussion.

Pictured here is the prize for the winning guesses. No, there is no physical award, just the drawn prize. Today they were a car and a trip to Hawaii. No, this was not preplanned, it just evolved from the interactions.

I haven’t drawn much before in class, but students seemed to enjoy it so I may be adding more cartoons in the future.

A propos cartoons, I already start each lecture with a cartoon on the slides. I try to have them relate to the day’s material. Those cartoons are a “bit” higher quality though being drawn by professionals and all.

Office hours

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

At the end of my grad seminar today one of the students said to the class: “Everyone should go see her during her office hours.” I looked at her puzzled. She looked at me and added: “Your office hours complete me.”

I thought that was funny. Maybe you had to be there.

Student blogs

Monday, January 31st, 2005

This on CT.

A while back I posted about my plans to teach a class in which each student would be required to maintain his or her own blog. We are now halfway through the quarter (really) and so I thought it would be a good time to get some outside readers to take a look at the students’ blogs. If you happen to have a moment and wouldn’t mind surfing over I am sure the students would be delighted to get some comments from people not enrolled in class. has a link to each of the blogs in the right-hand menu.

As you will see, the quality of student posts differs quite a bit. This is not particularly surprising since once can expect some level of variation in the work of students for most classes. To give a bit of background on the content of the blog entries, students are required to post to their blogs each week discussing at least two of the reading assignments covered that week. Students can use their blogs to post other material as well. They are also required to post a comment on a peer’s blog each week. The syllabus also includes some additional blogging assignments (finding and discussing various online content).

Judging from midterm feedback, it sounds like most students are enjoying the blogging experience although some find commenting on others’ blogs a bit tedious. At the same time others find it disappointing that they are not getting more feedback so it’s hard to satisfy everyone. Having students blog about the readings is certainly helpful for an understanding of how they are processing the material. Their blog entries have guided discussion in several class sessions.

I’ve learned a lot from this experience and plan to write up a detailed description of the course logistics later. For now, feel free to take a look at how the student blogging is going by visiting some of their sites.

Smith Princeton engineering student exchange

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

My two alma maters are working together to create new opportunities for women engineering students.

Computers and grandmother mortality rates

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

This on CT.

As Adams (1990) suggests a college “student’s grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year”. I’ve been contemplating – but have yet to conduct rigorous data-collection to test this hypothesis – that perhaps the increasing importance of computers on university campuses may benefit the health of college students’ grandmothers. The number of crashes and other computer-related problems (“the dog ate my computer and my roommate’s computer, too”) seems to be surprisingly high when projects are due. Of course, it may just be that computers are crashing all the time, students never have online access, but it is only when assignments are due that we happen to hear about it. In any case, if all this means fewer deaths in college students’ families, that’s probably a nice side-effect of growing IT uses at universities.

Blogs by students

Thursday, December 16th, 2004

This on CT.

I am teaching an undergraduate class this Winter called “Internet and Society”. [1] I am going to require each student to maintain his/her own blog. This poses some challenges from keeping up with the amount of written material to assuring a certain level of privacy for students (as per related federal laws). I still have a few weeks to think about the specifics and thought would see what experiences and wisdom others may have accumulated in this realm.

The course is a social science course (half the students will be Communication Studies majors, half of them Sociology majors) with a focus on exploring the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of the Internet. I do plan to teach students some technical skills, but that won’t be the focal point of the course. I will provide basic installation of WordPress and then will work with students to tweak the layout and style to their liking. Those who are especially interested in this aspect will have the opportunity to personalize the blog considerably, but that will not be a requirement.

The closest analogy to requiring blogs seems to be classes where students are required to keep journals. I have only seen this done once so I am curious to hear about additional experiences (or, of course, any experiences people may have with blogs by students in particular). The idea is to ask students to comment on their readings and class discussions on their blogs. They would be required to write a certain number of entries (I am not yet sure how many). They would also be required to comment on other students’ blogs (I am not yet sure how often).

One challenge of this method is that it creates a lot of material for the instructor to follow (there will be around 30-40 students enrolled in this class). In fact, it is probably not realistic to expect the instructor to follow all this writing, or even to ask a teaching assistant to read all the blogs constantly. One way I thought to evaluate this amount of material is to ask students at the end of the quarter to submit their best X number of posts for evaluation and perhaps the best Y number of comments they made on other people’s blogs. Nonetheless, I would like to keep up with the material as the quarter progresses so thoughts students express on blogs can be incorporated into class lectures and discussions.

As to why require blogs in the first place, here are some reasons. First, I like the idea of asking student to keep journals. It is hard to get students to do class readings, but requiring constant reaction to the readings and discussions should help. Second, I think asking students to maintain blogs will help convey some points to them about the potential of the Web to help people reach wide audiences. Of course the particular point there is that simply having a Web site in no way guarantees that someone suddenly has a wide-reaching public voice. But I think this will be easier to convey if students experience it first hand. On the other hand, the blogs will be public and it may be that people not associated with the class find them, read them and comment on them, which could be an interesting experience for students. (I have specific plans in mind to encourage such outside involvement.) Finally, knowing that one’s peers are reading one’s writing seems to encourage more serious reflection on the part of students than simply handing in assignments to an instructor so the overall quality of writing should be higher. That’s more of a hunch than a claim I can back up by any systematic evidence.

Due to federal laws about students’ privacy, there is the additional concern of keeping students’ identities private on their blogs. Information about what classes students are taking is not supposed to be made public. My thinking on this right now is to recommend to everyone that they blog under a pseudonym, but if they decide on their own to make public their identities that is up to them. What I have not yet decided is whether I should suggest that everybody stay anonymous to each other. Commenting on course material anonymously may allow certain people to open up more than they would otherwise or express opinions they may not want to if their identities were known. But it may make the incorporation of blog material into in-person class discussions somewhat tedious.

Fn1. The syllabus is not yet available, but you can view a brief class description here.

Voting error in the 2004 elections

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

This on CT.

A friend of mine, Philip Howard, has been taking a very innovative approach to teaching his class on Communication Technology and Politics at the University of Washington this Fall. He and his students have been collecting data about the use of communication technologies in the elections and writing reports about their findings.

The team has released reports on topics from the legalities of voteswapping to the political uses of podcasting. The latest article looks at voting error due to technological errors, residual votes and incident reports. They have collected data on these for all states for the presidential, the gubernatorial and the senate races. They weight the incident-report data by total voting population, eligible voter population and registered voter population. They find that in some cases – see state specifics in the report by type of error – the margin of error was greater than the margin of victory.

What a great way to get students involved, to teach them important skills and to contribute helpful information to the public. They make their data available for those interested in the details. You can download spreadsheets with information off their site. They also offer an extensive list of resources including a pointers to academic literature from the past twelve years on technologies and campaigns.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that they are posting reports now as white papers and are eager to receive feedback. It looks like they will continue to analyze the data and welcome suggestions.

Time to degree

Monday, October 18th, 2004

This on CT.

Kudos to Duke for collecting and making public data about the time to degree and the rates of completion in their PhD programs. I would be curious to see similar data from other campuses. It’s unclear how many schools collect such data systematically and they certainly don’t make them public very often as the details are usually not very glamorous and can seem pretty discouraging. But it’s important information for people to have as they prepare for their graduate school experiences. It can also help students from other campuses as they try to argue for better/longer support for their training.

Congratulations to Caroline Persell

Thursday, September 16th, 2004

Congratulations to Caroline Persell, Professor of Sociology at New York University, for winning the 2005 Contributions to Teaching Award from the American Sociological Association. I studied with Caroline when I spent a year in the Sociology PhD program at NYU. Even after I left the program she remained an inspiring mentor for which I’ve always been grateful. She is both a great researcher and teacher, overall a great asset the to discipline. Currently, she is the Vice President of the American Sociological Association so it is fair to say that in addition to everything else she does she also contributes to the profession at large.