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Showing posts from November, 2015

Do I have to draw you a picture?

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I love the podcast 99% Invisible, which looks at the design of everything from buildings to flags, to coins, even election ballots. Let's face it: the butterfly ballot design for the 2000 presidential election in Florida was fairly consequential. Design matters. 

If I had the money I would love to hire designers for all of my course materials.  There are just so many ways my stuff could be better, smarter and more effective at eliminating the confusion and white noise that forever surround teaching and learning. 

But even if you're not a designer (and I'm certainly not), thinking visually can increase the clarity and effectiveness of assignment instructions and performance expectations.  Case in point: I like title pages on student papers.  Everything about a paper is part of its rhetoric: the title, the white space, the subheads, the pagination.  So it frustrates me when students don't put thought into a title and instead write something like "Paper 3."  …

Pimping the syllabus

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Most colleges have some requirements for course syllabi.  We have to list office hours, contact information and assignment calendars, but increasingly we have to tack on federal attendance guidelines, institutional grievance procedures, academic honesty policies, even assessment measures.  Lots of dreary stuff.

Add to this our own lawyerly and idiosyncratic boilerplate (much of it hard-won from tedious hairsplitting with past students), and a syllabus becomes one damned unattractive document.  Worse, it may set the entirely  wrong tone for the first class meeting:

"Welcome to Whatever 101.  Now allow me to frog-march you through 17 pages of rules, caveats and the codicils.  Hope you enjoy the class."

For the past few years I've been trying to avoid the first-day syllabus frog-march.  I've tried to start day one with a big question, or an in-class exercise where students stake out a position by occupying a place in the room.  Sometimes I'll focus on a poem or a quo…

You're welcome. I'll bill you later...

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I really have to get out of this Liberal Arts racket and into the more highly-renumerated world of management consulting.  You know, the place where 'old-as-dirt' Liberal Arts ideas go to be reborn, repackaged and resold to the private sector.  Case in point: the "executive coach" and management consultant Ira Chaleff, author of Standing Up To and For Our Leaders (now in its third edition) and Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You're Told to Do is Wrong.  

Chaleff is paid to tell MBA programs teaching leadership that--wait for it--leadership needs followers.  More importantly, he stresses the value of followers doing the right thing in the face of pressures to do wrong.  And where did Chaleff gain this deep insight?  Here, I'll let him tell it:
The idea comes from the world of guide dogs.  One of the things guide dogs are taught to do is called a counterpull.  If the leader is about to step off a train platform, for example, they pull in the o…