Category Archives: General

Florida Schools Should Be Mostly Online

Florida Schools Should Be Mostly Online

Monday, November 30, 2020

Dear reader,

Many of you may not be aware that Florida has long been a leader and pioneer in online learning with the founding of Florida Virtual School (FLVS) in 1997 and our continued focus on providing online learning opportunities to students of all ages. We are global leaders in e-learning, simulation, and remote technologies, home to the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando as well as the Institute for Simulation and Training, the Center for Research in Education Simulation Technology (CREST), TeachLivE™, and more at the University of Central Florida, and the Florida High Tech Corridor cooperative with University of Florida and University of South Florida. We have even gone so far as to pass a state law requiring most high school students to take at least one virtual course!

Why, now, do we find ourselves hamstrung during an unprecedented pandemic that should be Florida’s time to shine—a unique opportunity to demonstrate our expertise in remote instruction and e-learning from our homes, while preventing community spread of a deadly virus which repeatedly and indubitably spreads in our schools? We have an estimated 21,596,068 residents as of this year, and already 18,441 have died of COVID-19—over six times the deaths that occurred in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s one of every 1,171 Floridians who have perished.

These are not just meaningless numbers. Even a small city like New Smyrna Beach has lost 24 souls at this rate, and the worst may in fact lie ahead of us. Sources tell me that nine out of 10 schools in Volusia County have had a COVID-19 infection, and in my four weeks as a Social Studies Core Teacher at New Smyrna Beach High School, I have seen numerous students and administrators quarantined for potential exposure, as well as accounts from students who have recovered from COVID-19 that it was the sickest they have ever felt. There are reports that two paraprofessional educators in Volusia County have died of COVID-19, although these are discussed anonymously and in hushed voices for fear of reprisal—an unfortunate sentiment given that transparency is essential toward combating this crisis.

I have heard my fellow citizens explain that their children must be in school in order for them to work at their jobs and make ends meet. This is a legitimate concern, and is a reason I have advocated for comprehensive federal relief directed chiefly to the American people at large. This pandemic is on track to exceed the 420,000 total deaths our nation endured in World War II, in less than one-fourth of the time. We must not give up, nor consign ourselves to accepting the ongoing conflagration while waving the white flag of surrender on the basis of inevitability and small-minded group think. The importance of learning in a face-to-face, in-person setting is overwhelmingly superseded by the importance of not dying and not causing others to die—deaths which are senseless, preventable, and presently occurring, and should not be permitted to continue to occur.

While waiting for federal relief, we must take decisive action at the state, district, and school levels. My friend on the Volusia County School Board tells me that Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is calling the shots. Well, Mr. Corcoran, where are you? You pride yourself as a public servant, a husband and father to six, and the son of World War II veterans. You say you are a “passionate advocate for improving the education system in Florida” who “fully believes every child can learn and that all children deserve the opportunity to receive a world-class education.” There is a mountain of evidence emerging of the benefits of masking and of avoiding prolonged exposure in indoor spaces to people from outside one’s household. We haven’t even begun to educate our teachers on the science of COVID-19 epidemiology—some of my colleagues believe it is safe to put students in a “mask-free zone” of the classroom with desks precisely six feet apart, and our students and staff regularly flout masking and social distancing guidelines. It is quite difficult to provide a world-class education to a dead child, and furthermore it is best that their siblings, parents, grandparents, extended family, and teachers remain among the living.

As a co-editor of the 2019 academic anthology, Handbook of Research on Emerging Practices and Methods for K–12 Online and Blended Learning, I saw that many states, universities, and school districts across the United States are implementing blended and fully online learning with positive results. Consistency, training, administrative support, instructional design and planning, and ample technology and funding are key to successful e-learning initiatives. Unfortunately, we haven’t done well with these in Florida in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This needs to change. Although it is impossible to deliver a perfect solution on short notice, we just need something workable. Teachers should not be having to simultaneously broadcast to students at home—in fact teaching fully online would be more sensible. We should also be drawing on the expertise and technological resources of our public institutions including Florida Virtual School and the Center for Distributed Learning at University of Central Florida.

Presently, Volusia County schools are going back in-session for 3 weeks, which will undoubtedly be deadly for some and hazardous for many. Then, we have a winter break in excess of two weeks. Most districts follow a similar schedule. The rest of the school year should be fully or mostly online. Florida is about to surpass one million COVID-19 infections. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with three promising vaccines on the horizon, but in the interim the suffering and deaths of my fellow Floridians is only intensifying. Recent, large-scale research shows that children are super spreaders of coronavirus. There is value in even occasional in-person instruction, but do it outdoors on a cool day, or at 20% capacity for the teachers, students, and parents who want it. Right now, we are sending previously online students back to school. I have 111 students and 105 of them are face-to-face. We already have blood on our hands. We should not seek to fully drench ourselves in blood.

During my Education PhD coursework at the University of Central Florida, I specialized in instructional design, teaching over 300 future teachers about educational technology in blended and fully online settings, working on e-learning projects at national, interdisciplinary, local, and collaborative levels, and working alongside in-service educators and administrators in doctoral courses. Some were assistant principals for schools who funded satellite Internet connections via USB dongles for students to work from home, on their school-provided laptops, in households that did not have reliable Internet connections (Spectrum cable Internet has now gone up to $69.99 per month here). We can provide remote instruction even for disadvantaged and marginalized students with the proper technology and funding. When there’s a hurricane, why is it that we are able to mobilize massive evacuations, cancel school, cancel football games, and suspend tolls on toll roads, for a disaster that kills so few people in comparison? Let’s give coronavirus the hurricane treatment.

Veteran teachers are retiring specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are being forced to make a choice: Your money or your life? I started as a Social Studies Core Teacher at New Smyrna Beach High School on October 26, 2020 because the prior teacher resigned mid-year after more than two decades of service. My dissertation was on the Florida Retirement System. She and other teachers are giving up well over $100,000 each, because to receive a full pension you must work 30 years or wait until age 62. Although making way for new teachers is nice, and new teachers are much cheaper thanks to a decimation of retirement benefits orchestrated by the Florida legislature in 2011, the circumstances under which we are doing so are abhorrent. Our schools are in widespread upheaval, and it is clear that the teaching and learning that is occurring is severely diminished. Our classes are being disrupted with standardized testing make-ups and levels of truancy that are unprecedented in recent memory. We are losing veteran educators and bleeding institutional knowledge. Various people are haphazardly being confined to quarantine, and our teaching schedules continue to morph like Jell-O. At this point, it is clear to all who judiciously weigh the totality of the situation that Florida schools should turn to remote learning for the remainder of the 2020–2021 school year.

Sincerely,
Dr. Richard Thripp
Social Studies Core Teacher
New Smyrna Beach High School

Diary Entry: September 12, 2001

9/11 Diary, Photo 1

In 2001, at age 9 going on 10, I began writing a diary, which was really more of a journal, and continued this practice for several years. For the 19th commemoration of the September 11 attacks, here is my diary entry from the day after the attacks, as well as an epilogue on my childhood and political transformation.

9/11 Diary, Photo 2

9/11 Diary, Photo 3

Date: Wednesday, September 12, 2001
My 36th diary entry.

Not much happened to me. I have been doing a lot of algebra. Daddy went to work 3 days ago. Daddy went to work at 10 A.M. I continued making a chain out of paper. On Sep. 9 we went to Big Lots and I got 2 poster boards. I started making a paper chain. On the day after that I got up and Daddy had gone to work. I watched cartoons and continued making the paper chain. I cut poaster [sic] boards into strips and cut those strips in half. Then I make it into an interlocking chain. I did that all day. Daddy got home at 2 P.M. I put the chain up. It starts above the computer and goes left and enters the front room. It goes around the perimeter of the front room. It goes above the T.V. and stops above the air-conditioner. I went to sleep and woke up and played Mickey’s Speedway U.S.A. [Nintendo 64 video game] Daddy had been watching the news. He got up and told me a jumbo jet hit the north World Trade Center and another hit the south tower. One also crashed into the Pentagon. I turned on the T.V. at 8:50 A.M. 4 planes were hijacked. A few minutes later one of the planes, a 767 jet hit the north World Trade Center. A little while later a 757 [correction: 767] jet hit the south tower. Later the whole south tower collapsed. Then a half hour later the north tower collapsed. It looked like winter. 6 inches of dust covered New York City. The towers were each 1,385 feet high. Then, a little later a 757 hit the Pentagon and penetrated through the outer 3 rings. A hijacked 757 jet crashed in an open field in Penn. The whole country shut down. All the air ports shut down. Disney World’s 4 parks, Universal, Sea World, and many other parks closed. I think that the government shouldn’t be able to shut down the whole country. They’re going to damage the world economy and maybe even kill people. *

I just watched T.V. and made my paper chain longer. At 5:57 a 47 story building near the World Trade Center fell. When those jumbo jets hit the World Trade Center, they had a full tank of fuel which caused explosions that weakened other buildings. Today airports are still closed. We went to Scotty’s to see its lumber [a home improvement retailer that went out of business in 2005]. I spent 5 dollars. Now they’ve got toys in there. Really junky toys. I got some toys because they were marked down. It is preety [sic] gloomy in Scotty’s. We went to Big Lots, too. We didn’t do much else.

It’s terrible that thousands of people died when the World Trade Center collapsed.


* Epilogue: I was schooled at home by my father, supervised by a private school, for grades 2–12 after having attended Westside Elementary in Daytona Beach in 1996–1997 for kindergarten and several months of 1st grade (I skipped the remainder of the grade). His views had an enduring impact on me, which were Libertarian and individualistic, including many conspiracy theories and unsavory beliefs, later to include “9/11 was an inside job” (per Alex Jones / Infowars). Our relationship should have ended much earlier, and did end after Kristy and I had our son on February 27th, 2019, at his prerogative being outraged that we vaccinated his grandson. Following this, I switched political affiliations from the Republican party to the Democratic party on March 8th, 2019 as described in this essay, married Kristy on November 22th, 2019, graduated with my PhD in Education at University of Central Florida on December 13th, 2019, started running for Congress on January 1st, 2020, and lost on August 18th, 2020. I lived with my father and my step-mother (his 3rd wife) until age 26. If you spent as much time around him as I did, you may have been convinced of Donald Trump’s greatness, too, along with alternative medicine, the moon landing hoax, the flat earth (he managed to have convincing arguments), and the superiority of white men. My mother moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998 and I did not get to see her much until adulthood. She still lives there now and encourages Kristy and I to move there for the great weather and jobs (although the firestorms are a downside). She is a Chinese immigrant, an evangelical Christian, and a Donald Trump supporter presently collecting petitions to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. I kid you not.

9/11 Diary, Photo 4

You may have noticed a lack of emotion in reading this. Kristy and I think this is a product of my upbringing. We are trying to be better parents to our son than our parents were to us. The September 11th attacks were heartrending, even with no personal connections except having witnessed them on television as a child. But with COVID-19, we are basically having the same as two 9/11’s a week, and a big percentage of the population has managed to downplay and compartmentalize it. You have to, to a certain extent, to get by—but we should be better than this, better than treating our fellow Americans as disposable, with no defensible rationale. Humanity has been down this road many times. No encore performance is required.

Spring Break / Coronavirus Update for My UCF Students

A message to my students in my online course on educational technologies at University of Central Florida:

Hi class,

I’m working on catching up on grading now. I hope you are all enjoying spring break. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know about the novel coronavirus pandemic we are now facing. Please take precautions. We are lucky this new virus does not target healthy young college students like the 1918 flu, but the danger for seniors and those with health problems is quite high. Therefore, steps to distance yourself from others and stay at home are important not only for your health, but older adults and those whose health is fragile. Young children in particular can have COVID-19 but show no symptoms while simultaneously being highly contagious to others.

As this course is already online, you can continue to work on assignments like before. Please note that the quizzes and Choose 3 of 5 assignments are all due 4/26/2020 and the due dates listed are merely suggestions; however I urge you to get as much work done as quickly as you can in case something unexpected happens such as having to take care of a relative. Please do not wait until the last week to start working. I will be sending out messages in late March or early April to any students who have a lot of work left to do. The next firm due date is the Microsoft Excel Gradebook assignment due 4/05/2020.

UCF has announced that all courses are moving online for at least two weeks after spring break ends. If you have face-to-face or mixed-mode courses, your instructors are working feverishly to move everything into Webcourses and figure out ways to adapt for items such as classroom activities and student teaching. You may see them using Zoom or Adobe Connect in place of lectures. Fully online courses and some mixed-mode courses resume on Monday, 3/16/2020, and face-to-face courses resume as fully online courses on Wednesday, 3/18/2020 and remain fully online until further notice.

Please keep up the good work and let me know if you are facing any hardships requiring special consideration.

Sincerely,
Dr. Thripp

Capital One 360 Money Market OFFER500 $500 Incentive Bait-and-Switch

June 2019 update: Capital One has capitulated. They have issued checks to all affected customers!

Recently I have been in dispute with Capital One regarding a promotional offer for opening and funding a Money Market account. Anyone who has read my website or Google searches my name knows that I am not one to back down when being ripped off by a large corporation. I have gone up against Amazon.com, Bank of America, MetroPCS, and others I can’t even recall, and I rarely lose. It is not that I am seeking being defrauded, but that in America, large corporations basically operate like it is the Wild West, reneging on contractually obligated terms with condescension, glee, and no fear of reprisal or even public opinion. I am seriously considering switching from Republican to Democrat and voting for Elizabeth Warren, as Trump has done nothing but enable the corporate fleecing of individual Americans by gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and many other laws and regulatory bodies.


I opened a Capital One 360 Money Market account # [redacted] on September 7, 2018 using promotion code OFFER500, and fulfilled the requirements of this offer with cumulative deposits as of October 15, 2018. Although the required 60 days have passed, Capital One contends I am ineligible for the $500 incentive due to not depositing $50,000 all at once. However, the terms of the offer were plainly written and do not require the deposits to be made all at once:

Here’s the full scoop on how to earn your $500 bonus: Open a 360 Money Market account and deposit at least $50,000 between 12:00 a.m. ET on September 1, 2018, and 11:59 p.m. ET on October 31, 2018. When you open your account, enter your promotional code—OFFER500. (Please do not share this code with others.) Deposits must be from another bank (transfers between Capital One accounts will not qualify).

My deposits were in excess of $50,000, came from external banks, and were completed on October 15, 2018. I am writing to request fulfillment of the $500 bonus per the offer terms.

Capital One has been nothing but rude and condescending to me. They say on the phone that I’m mistaken, that the terms haven’t changed and always said cycling is not allowed even though I demonstrated orally and in writing that this is false. They rebutted my CFPB complaint which was summarily closed, and I’ve already written up the small claims filing form and sent it to them two months ago but they told me on the phone to go ahead and try suing them. No offer of a consolation $200 like others got, and no offer to be eligible for another bonus in the future (prior account holders are barred from receiving a promotional incentive, even if they didn’t receive a promotional incentive for their prior account).

I am going to go with the Florida and Delaware attorney general complaints, BBB, et cetera before suing, as suing is a hassle with serving the summons on their registered agent and paying a large filing fee. I stated multiple times in letters and on the phone that I know they paid out the $500 bonus automatically to all customers up until September 21, 2018 who did the same sort of deposits that I did, but they wouldn’t admit to this or even address it.

Their attorney is wrong—they are in violation of laws on deceptive business practices and probably the Uniform Commercial Code too. If it was a business account that charges a fee based on deposit volume and you cycled deposits, they would still charge fees on the full totals of the deposits.

A key part of the terms is that it says $50,000 in “deposits must be from another bank” (plural). Also note that another offer, CELEBRATE (PDF), uses different terms “$500 bonus — you maintained a daily balance of $50,000 or more for the first 90 days following the Initial Funding Period.” But, both OFFER500 (PDF) and OFFER200 (PDF) do not require the 90 days balance nor mention of balance or withdrawals disqualifying one for the incentive. I brought this up on phone calls and in writing and they don’t even respond or address it.

My CFPB complaint was answered by an employee named Jonathan who signed and printed his response letter both with only his first name and would not give his last name on the phone. I then complained by email to Kleber Santos, President, Retail & Direct Bank at Capital One, who referred the issue back to Jonathan. Jonathan called me and was most patronizing and rude in explaining (incorrectly) that I misunderstood the terms and that Capital One will not be paying anything, and he told me to go ahead and try suing them when I brought up the possibility of a small claims lawsuit.

In the CFPB response letter, Jonathan lists all of my deposit and withdrawal activity and states:

As a result of this activity, your 360 Money Market balance didn’t reach at least $50,000.00, the balance requirement necessary for earning the $500.00 bonus. To successfully earn the $500.00 bonus and have it post within 60 days after completion, your 360 Money Market needed to be externally funded and have a total balance of at least $50,000.00 by October 31, 2018, at 11:59 PM ET.

As a result, we will not be honoring the posting of a $500.00 bonus to your 360 Money Market.


At every step in communicating by phone and in writing to Capital One and the CFPB I have explained the mismatch in terms, including attaching a PDF file each time of the terms as displayed when I opened the account which do not contain the language about the balance of the account needing to reach $50,000.00 at any single point in time. As the terms were in actuality written, there is only a requirement that deposits between September 1, 2018 and October 31, 2018 sum to $50,000.00 or more and come from external banks. The terms had no mention of intervening withdrawals not being allowed. Capital One will not address this nor will they address that they were in fact paying out bonuses to all customers up until September 21, 2018, and made no attempt to retroactively debit the bonus from these customers.


Why “Crapital” One is a fitting moniker

Online, Capital One is derogatorily referred to as Crapital One, and this is well deserved. Capital One loves suing its customers in small claims court—they sued more than 500,000 individual customers per year in 2008, 2009, and 2010 for debts much smaller than most credit card issues would sue for. It is no wonder they are not afraid of being sued, as they obviously have an expansive network of attorneys and paralegals to handle suing individual customers en masse. In small claims court, they are almost universally the plantiff rather than the defendant. This is in diametric opposition to common perceptions of small claims court being a venue for consumers to seek financial justice against large corporations. The Center for Responsible Lending has challenged Capital One in an amicus brief to a federal appeals court regarding Capital One’s “misleading overdraft fee practice” to deduct the maximum amount from customers’ deposit accounts. It should not be a surprise that an overdrawn Capital One account, even by just a few dollars, will invariably cascade into hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees that Capital One is happy to sue their customers in small claims court for.

Capital One should be avoided. ING Direct was a fine bank before Capital One acquired them, rebranded as Capital One 360, and changed the modus operandi to ripping customers off rather than helping them. If you, too, are a victim of Capital One, I suggest emailing their executives, and complaining, both publicly and in private, through regulatory agencies, the court, social media, personal websites, et cetera. Not only do they systematically prey on subprime customers in an organized fashion—they brazenly act in bad faith against detail-oriented, rule-following customers like myself.

The simple solution would be for them to honor their terms as written for past customers and adjust the terms for future customers. But no—Capital One continues their bait-and-switch scheme even after the backlash they are experiencing on the OFFER500 debacle. They continue to offer a similar promotion, OFFER200, which substitutes a $200 bonus for $10,000 in deposits with otherwise identical terms:

https://www.capitalone.com/offer200/ (PDF)

Here’s the full scoop on how to earn your $200 bonus: Open a 360 Money Market account and deposit at least $10,000 between 12:00 a.m. ET on between December 12, 2018, and 11:59 p.m. ET on March 31, 2019. When you open your account, enter your promotional code—OFFER200. (Please do not share this code with others.) Deposits must be from another bank (transfers between Capital One accounts will not qualify). If you have or had an open savings product with Capital One after January 1, 2016, you’re ineligible for the bonus. This offer cannot be combined with any other Capital One Bank or Capital One 360 new account opening offer. Bonus is only valid for one account.

When will I actually get my bonus? Capital One will deposit the $200 bonus into your account within 60 days after completing the above conditions. If your account is in default, closed, or suspended, or otherwise not in good standing, you will not receive the bonus.

They could easily stipulate that the account must attain a $10,000 balance during the promotion period. Their employees and executives erroneously purport that the terms say that, which they do not. As written, one who does not have $10,000 on-hand should be able to receive the bonus by making deposits from another bank and withdrawals to another bank (e.g., “cycling”) of smaller amounts which in aggregate sum to $10,000 or more of deposits during the promotion period. Although the terms say “transfers between Capital One accounts will not qualify,” they do not say that transfers between Capital One accounts and external banks do not qualify. Moreover, they were paying out such bonuses programmatically and automatically to customers who cycled deposits up until September 21, 2018, when someone in marketing or loss prevention must have noticed they could be saving quite a bit of money by not doing this. But, where is the requisite change in terms? Nowhere to be found, even in Capital One’s new promotions, which makes this nothing less than a bait-and-switch. Theirs is a deceptive and misleading business practice in violation of contractually obliged terms—terms which Capital One could easily adjust and currently are quite concise and clear—in opposition to their contentions to the contrary. Shameful.

June 2019 update: Capital One has capitulated. They have issued checks to all affected customers!

Thoughts on being a university instructor (graduate teaching associate)

While earning an Education Ph.D. at University of Central Florida, I have worked as a teaching assistant and now teaching associate for a course called EME 2040: Introduction to Technology for Educators. In the past two semesters (Fall 2017 and Spring 2018), this means that I have been the instructor of record for 140 preservice teachers as they take this required course in pursuit of their four-year education degrees, with slightly more than half of these students majoring in elementary education.

The two sections I have taught in each semester have both been mixed-mode with 35 students each, with much of the students’ work being completed from home and submitted online, but with biweekly face-to-face (F2F) meetings. The scope of the course is quite broad, covering the basics of computers, the Microsoft office suite, searching online, emerging technologies, curricular and pedagogical integration of technology, and many other issues.

Although I have obviously made it widely known that I am instructing the course, based on my LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, et cetera, I have not yet written about the experience of doing so.

Teaching is certainly my favorite part of being a doctoral student. It’s a lot of work and responsibility, but I was prepared well by TA’ing (being a teaching assistant) for my supervisor for an entire year. Being actively involved in Toastmasters for several years, including being president of a club, helps me to not be afraid of speaking, and gives me presentation experience.

On the other hand, it is difficult to be a teacher educator without K–12 teaching experience, who barely looks older than his students (I am Age 26, but many say I look younger). My technological knowledge is impressive, and I do have pedagogical knowledge from my studies as an Applied Learning & Instruction M.A. student (completed 2016), but it can be hard to pull it all together for the students.

Here, I will briefly share a few observations and thoughts from my experience so far.

First, a bit of context: UCF uses the Canvas learning management system (LMS), and the materials for my course are prepared by the course faculty shepherd and my doctoral advisor and supervisor, Dr. Richard Hartshorne (yes, it is confusing in meetings as we both have the same first name). Presently, there are six sections of the course offered in each of the 16-week semesters (fall and spring), of which four others are taught by four adjunct instructors, and three of those sections are fully online, with the fourth and my two sections being mixed mode (in Summer 2018, I will teach a fully online section).

For our F2F meetings we use the following classroom at the UCF Teaching Academy, which has a desktop PC for every student (photo courtesy of UCF):

UCF TA 303

The room has 36 PCs including the instructor’s, so UCF is maximizing the room’s value by enrolling 35 students. However, face-to-face meetings usually have lower attendance as students can learn about and do much of their work online in the LMS.

I also borrow about a third of my slides from Dr. Hartshorne for the F2F meetings, while making the rest on my own. Here is a set of my favorite slides from one of our last meetings of the semester, posted to SlideShare as “Thripp EME 2040 Slides on Microsoft Education Badges, PowerPoint Quiz, Computer Backups, and Digital Security.” Like many instructors, my slides are text-heavy out of laziness (incorporating images and synthesizing text into bullet points is hard work). But, the course is quite applied; during much of class time I am demonstrating how to do things with PowerPoint, Excel, Weebly, LinkedIn, MindMeister, et cetera using the overhead project which projects my PC’s screen.

It may surprise some that I am actually inclined to be a rather “easy,” forgiving instructor. Although students definitely have to do the work to earn an A in the course, I am more concerned with them learning and applying principles of pedagogy and design, as well as big-picture technological knowledge. This is my aim even if they do not get it right the first time.

Influenced by Schimmer’s persuasive essay, I got rid of late penalties in Spring 2018, as well not requiring attendance. In some ways this backfired, as attendance was low on several meetings, which leads to students not submitting assignments that follow the instructions, even though they are all posted online. Also, many students waited until pretty late to do a big chunk of the work, although not having late penalties also seems to inspire just as many students to work ahead and finish the course early!

My rationale for not taking attendance is probably as trite as the rationales for requiring it. College students are usually adults and preservice teachers, especially, should demonstrate self-regulation. I am actually quite hard on myself so when I see students not attending or leaving early, I chalk it up to failure on my part to capture their attention or teach them something useful. However, in some ways a course like this does not necessarily need F2F meetings, and in fact, the students who attend religiously tend to be the ones who follow directions and put in more effort anyway. This makes grading hard, as submissions from non-attending students often require revisions, not just because they did not come to class, but because they approach their studies differently.

We do have a textbook on technology, with quizzes and an exam derived from the publisher’s test bank, but like with many mixed-mode and online courses, these are delivered unproctored through the LMS. I feel it necessary to explicitly instruct the students that the assessments are open-book. Sure, I could say they are closed-book, but in a way this penalizes honest students with no repercussions for those who reference the web or textbook. I could also offer no guidance on the issue, but this results in the same problem. At the same time, there is a time limit of 1–2 minutes per question (on average), so studying in advance is advised.

As a specialist in financial issues, I am abundantly aware of the costs that college students incur. Although not widespread, a few students fail each semester due to disappearing—they do not participate, respond to messages, nor withdraw from the course. This is disappointing and quite negative. I partly summed this up in this excerpt from an announcement to students late in the Spring 2018 semester:

Please do what you can to take the quizzes/exam and submit assignments, even if they are suboptimal, as it is a shame to leave these points on the table. Even if you are leaving college, it is better to have a higher grade as your grade point average (GPA) will follow you throughout your undergraduate studies if you return to college later, and will be a factor in graduate school admissions if you complete a 4-year degree in the future and apply for a Master’s, doctoral, or specialist degree program.

Another big issue is that these students may have student loans to repay, sans degree or even course credit. Like with damaged credit, failing courses is, in many ways, worse than having a blank college transcript. I, too, had problems getting through my undergraduate studies that damaged my GPA, and I only got to “reset” my GPA in graduate school. I think there are underlying psychological issues here… I speculate that students who are far behind on a course hesitate to even open the LMS or their email out of feelings of shame or regret. In the long run, this may be more damaging than having done the work in a “tough” class like physics, yet failing due to getting the steps and answers wrong.

While only 5% or less of my students fail each semester, there is a larger cohort that shirks part of their coursework, resulting in B’s and C’s where A’s were easily in reach. I am a habitual procrastinator, but since beginning at UCF in 2012, I always get something turned in on-time (usually earning an A as well—thanks in part to grade inflation). It is very sad that many do not make lemonade out of lemons (if procrastination can be likened to lemons).

Teaching EME 2040 is quite obviously easier in many ways than teaching K–12. Nonetheless, I do not offer much in the way of “stern” classroom management. Students listening to music during class or engrossed in their phones or unrelated PC activities are puzzling… why do they come to class at all? My predilection is toward chalking it up to my lectures being boring as hell, even though they are quite interesting to me—I am too interested in showing tools and tricks and discussing technical information rather than how to apply technology to K–12 (and mainly K–5) teaching. For the latter I lean on materials and guest appearances from my supervisor. Another issue, a decidedly first-world problem, is that a classroom with rows of desktop PCs for each student does not encourage F2F engagement or collaboration.

One of my goals is to teach students about copyright and fair use in a nuanced and practical way. This includes recognition that the majority of teachers do not follow the guidelines presented in the class, but that “setting the example” (i.e., social modeling) is a worthwhile pursuit. When I ask students to cite even public domain images, I explain that although not required by law, it informs the viewer that the image is public domain without them having to wonder. When talking about copyright infringement, the practical reality is that being sued is rare, cease and desist letters are more common, and even more important is staying out of trouble with supervisors. I cite university guidance and urge erring on the side of caution.

My vision for EME 2040 diverges from the state’s. The purported focus of the course is on use of technology in the classroom. I think the teacher’s personal use of technology for organization and productivity may be equally important. This is why I cover subjects like Evernote, email management, file management practices, password management, digital organization, and keyboard shortcuts. The dream, of course, is to get more done in less time. The reality often is that “spare” time just gets sucked up by more work. I ask many teachers, administrators, and professors a simple question: Do you get all your work done in under 40 hours per week? I have never heard anything but an emphatic NO! Educators are over-worked, and perhaps work-aholics as well. It comes with the trade.

A big challenge is grading somewhere around 1,000 assignments received from 70 students in a semester. Before, I was the TA to my supervisor sharing the workload with him, but now, I do it all myself. The practical reality is that giving detailed feedback on every assignment would lead me to becoming burned out. Instead, I opt for a policy that I can just give a paragraph or few lines of feedback for students receiving a 90% or above. I do focus on what they did well and what they could do better, but I only pull out the rubric if giving a B or below. I consistently type 100 words per minute, so I can write the feedback up quickly… watching students’ videos and reviewing their websites, PowerPoints, gradebooks, concept maps, et cetera is more work. But, I love it when so many of them go above and beyond the course requirements, and when their work introduces me to new subjects and perspectives.

As a technology instructor, it is surprising how much I prefer text as a medium of communication. I don’t like phone calls or video chats and finding images is hard. I would prefer writing a novella-length blog post to recording a two-minute video of myself. But, there is a place for text that is often lost in our push for multimedia integration. Any avid reader knows this.

I live about an hour from campus, so I put “by appointment only” for my office hours on my syllabus. I answer plenty of course messages and emails from students, but no one ever schedules an office meeting. The challenge, of course, is large, being a Ph.D. student teaching two sections of a course while trying to publish a manuscript and taking three doctoral courses at the same time. Many days, I wish I could just do the teaching job.

These thoughts were in no particular order, and obviously are not comprehensive. Hopefully they were an interesting insight into my work as a Graduate Teaching Associate.