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What about the hats?

It was graduation weekend.  The graduation program has information about the robes and hoods including detailed descriptions of each of the colors and the variants.  There is information on the stripes of a doctoral robe.  But what about the hats?

Tanya Coyle @SLPTanya was the first to ask about this on Twitter after I posted a selfie of me with some other graduates.  We then had a discussion about hats and regalia in general.  I knew that my style hat was actually an “upgrade” purchase with my gown.  There were different “models” to choose from when I graduated from my Ph.D. program and I elected for  the “medium” package which included some stylized accents and rounded hat rather than mortar board style hat.

The same day I had my exchange with Tanya, a unknown person asked me about my hat after the ceremony.  Beyond talking about my “upgrade” I really didn’t have any further information.  In fact on the third instance when someone asked about the mortar board, I was still without any insight.  For me, a three time point of inquiry from different, independent sources within two days calls at least for a Wikipedia search.  So that’s what I did…

Evidently my gold tassel is reserved for the doctoral hat.  The information is from the American Council on Education according to Wikipedia.  Although I frequently thought of my hat as a beret, it actually is a “tam“.  In the deep recesses of my memory I seem to recall tam was the box I checked, but I can’t be sure.  It also was interesting to learn that in some countries a personalized hat is prepared by one’s workgroup members and reflects one’s area with different trinkets and symbols of the profession.  Although the undergraduate ceremony featured a number of customized hat decorations, I did not notice any Ph.D. ones.  An interesting tradition.  As someone interested in symbolic communication, it is definitely something to think about.

Etiquette for the Classroom: Early and Later Opera

The other day in class, I was pushing the end of the classroom time and some students were getting up to leave.  I continued speaking as part of my delivery was relating a few anecdotal experiences. I was trying to deliver them with a more comedic style and even got the occasional laugh. I did not insist that people immediately sit down until I was finished talking.  On Twitter some students complained about how rude it was that people were getting up and leaving. Presumably those actually leaving were not on the feed to tweet a reply.  This incident got me thinking about classroom culture and my role as a performer.  As such I fall back on my singing training and on what I know about the history of opera.  I came out with more comparisons than say actual answers, but thought I would share the threads.

As someone interested in singing and classical singing my mom took me to the opera.  I learned some things about attending opera (or really classical performances) from attending. I learned a lot about classical singing style, and how a huge variety of stories could be told by singing the entire (or most of) the content.  I learned the context of famous arias I had only heard in isolation.  I learned other lessons too.  The lessons included be quiet, sit still, listen thoughtfully, and the idea that everyone else somehow gets this and if I am bored I may just be either too young or not trying hard enough. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the performances, but if there were sections that seemed to drag on or were otherwise inaccessible to me, I learned that I still needed to sit there and be quiet.  At the very least I should confine myself to looking through the program (as long as I did it quietly).  I have more positive memories than negative ones, but the idea of the culture of the performance is an interesting one to me.  I always considered opera to be “high culture” where etiquette was extremely important.

I remember how surprising it was for me to learn in college that early opera was more like a show put on in the middle of a mall than it is now in the concert hall.  The venues were smaller (maybe even large rooms in someones homes at the beginning) and people played cards, had drinks, talked and generally carried on.  The recitatives had clear markings at the end, in part, to alert people that an actual aria was about to start.  The arias themselves were chances to show off.  Interesting performers were rewarded with the attention of the audience.  uninteresting ones were not.

So how did opera go from “all in a night’s entertainment” to “the” nights entertainment?  It has been a little while since I studied the history of opera, but my recollection is that over time one of the reasons for the change had to do with larger orchestras and more complex machinery (something that got increasingly complex in some traditions).  With the move to the concert hall and a changing audience came new etiquette.  I’m sure socioeconomic factors came into play and the system became more and more formalized.

So where is the college classroom on this continuum?  I think it varies, but we are certainly not at the point of early opera.  In general I believe the expectation is something much more formal.  So what is to be done with the student who finds the “performance” dull or inaccessible?  Is the best solution to sit quietly and if you don’t like it to find something else quiet to do?  Is it the student’s obligation to work hard to educate him or herself to more properly enjoy the performance?  Indeed I have found that careful study of an opera before I go greatly enhances my enjoyment and the accessibility of the medium.  So is that the bottom line?

In my class my primary objective is that students don’t interfere with the learning of other students.  Beyond that I don’t try to be in charge of someone else’s decisions about what they do.  If they come in and get something from what I have said, then that is great.  I work to give them a quality product.  I suppose I land more on the side of the interesting performer.  Some days I “nail it” and others I don’t.  I’m in charge of me and students are in charge of themselves.  They just can’t interfere with anyone else’s path in that regard.  I’m not sure how to encourage people to “study the opera” before class.  I know that it can be useful for opera and for classes.  It was however a realization I came to on my own.

Doctor of Philosophy and Being the Bee

After switching offices this past year I am finally getting around to the more final details of sorting out what to do with what.  In a box with framed photos and other sundries in a place of semi-respect settled on top of a mid-sized file cabinet, I have my PhD diploma.  In looking at it the other day, I was reminded of a student comment after she saw it in my old office.  She said, “Wow I didn’t realize your doctorate was in Philosophy and not in Communication Sciences and Disorders.”  At the time I pointed out to her that PhD that the Ph in PhD stands for Philosophy but that it applies to study across a large number of fields leading to original research.  Ultimately it is a degree to prepare one to conduct research and is different from a medical degree, (MD or DO), an AuD (Doctorate of Audiology), or other professional doctorate.  I think my read of the student’s reaction was a mix of embarrassment and “well that’s the stupiest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Given that mixed reaction, and with the belief that when despite of very reasonable explanation something just doesn’t quite seem to track, I have been thinking about what it means to have a PhD and my role in research as someone who is also interested in direct clinical issues as well.  I’m not sure if I ever considered myself a philosopher.  What I know from Socrates is that confidence in knowledge was not generally related to wisdom.  My dabbling in philosophical readings and outside courses was always intellectually stimulating, but I wondered where I fit in within the realm of philosophy.  I had a piece of paper with the suggestion that I did fit in somewhere, so I explored the idea.

I have two quotes on my website that I think sum up my “philosophy” on the “Ph” in PhD for me.  These aren’t meant to be guidelines for anyone else.  They are just meant to help explain how I reconciled what was at the heart of my student’s question.  To what extent am I a philosopher?

The first quote is by Francis Bacon

“Those who have handled sciences have either been men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes the middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy.”

I remember finding this quote after listening to a course in philosophy from the Teaching Company.  At the time I was relatively new in my research career and was interested in the history of Higher Education.  I liked Bacon for his zeal in challenging established models of thinking and tradition.  I think characteristically my goals “to change the world” involved what were in my mind novel approaches.  Beyond the challenge to tradition in Bacon’s writings, what I think I most liked about the quote was how it exemplified the kind of balance I was trying to achieve with my research.  I wanted something that was practical yet informed.  My friends comments (and even what I recalled were my own perspectives in graduate school) about the “Ivory Tower” were still fresh in my mind.  I resolved that I wouldn’t lose touch and become the reasoner spinning my cobwebs without application.  Similarly, I didn’t want to be the ant who coldly built up tiny pieces with no connection to people.  In the end I wanted to be the bee.  I wanted to be transformative.  I wanted my research to distill what I saw in the field (double meaning intended) with what I learned in my studies.  I don’t know the extent to which I have achieved that, but I suppose the fact that I am asking myself that is positive in the least.

I have another quote on my website.  It is a reminder to me to not take things too seriously…

“Mmmm unexplained bacon…” –Homer Simpson

In my pursuit of wisdom (see origins of word philosophy) there is discipline, deliberation, application and a reminder to slap your head and say D’Oh occasionally when you deserve or need it.

On being tech savvy

I always thought of myself as pretty tech savvy.  What is interesting to me is how quickly I can move in and out of that designation.  For example, I can remember growing up having a Timex Sinclair before others in my peer group, but then I remember quickly falling behind in programming after spending most of my time playing games or just doing print and goto line 10 repeat loops.  I got back on board with an Apple IIc, but then fell behind again with changes in Windows.  I could do word processing, but then had to catch up with email and setting up my own modem and Internet connections. I got into building my own computers (from parts not from raw silicon) and my own websites, but then fell behind again with Mobile devices.  I was a pro in programming Speaking Dynamically and a Dynavox, but blinked and was behind in setting up Proloquo2Go or LAMP.  I shared a pay as you go cell phone with my wife for a while and only used it when I traveled. Now I have a rooted Android phone that I almost always have with me, but can see myself falling behind again in the midst of integrated social media.  I’m not sure how I will ever stay on top of all the AAC Apps short of making it my full time job. Ok it kind of is, but I have other stuff to do too.

My most recent revelation about this waxing and waning came in one of my classes.  I’ve caught up to a level of barely passable competence with mobile devices, Apps, blogging, social media (except FB #noFB), Blackboard, etc., but it wasn’t until I started using Twitter in my class that someone made the comment that it was different having a “tech savvy” professor.  I consider many of my colleagues to be extremely tech savvy by my definitions.  Some can make Matlab literally sing with incredible simulations and programming.  Others can manipulate sound signals to baffle Heinrich Hertz.  Still, the measure of savviness varies.  What to me is savvy to others may be old fashioned.  Coding a website by hand may be seen as archaic and unnecessarily cumbersome although I might consider it the measure of a wo/man in development.  Being able to save a document as a pdf or embed code for a youtube video may be valuable to me, but not necessarily to others.

What I learned is that if I think I’m being tech savvy for my students, I need to think about what their measure of savviness is.  Not that I aspire only to be viewed as savvy by my students.  What I do want though is to find ways to meet students on levels that they personally value and can use without struggling with an interface that I think is important.  If my goal is to increase student interaction, then I need to be savvy on the platforms they value and can use fluently.

The Case of Genie, today for SLPs

Recently a lifelong friend of mine who is now teaching an AP Psychology Course in a Public School in New England asked me about “Genie” (the child born in an extremely abusive environment with severe consequences to her communication) from the perspective of my field.  As with many lifelong friends, we are familiar with what each of us do, but don’t necessarily spend all of our time explaining the nuances of our fields to each other since when we do talk or get together we are looking to get away from work.  He asked me the question about what would happen if Genie were discovered today.  He also asked about where people in speech-language pathology came from in terms of undergraduate background.  I’ve posted my reply to him here (for the most part un-edited).  I ask that you take it in the context of a reply to my friend and not a piece of scholarly work.  I do hope that if you choose to comment you will feel free to contribute scholarship to the discussion though.

Hi Chris
On Genie…
It is an extremely interesting idea to have as a point of discussion what would happen to Genie today were she discovered. I actually find the exercise much more intriguing than my current work queue (I should probably have left that part out). I’d encourage you to have this be a point of discussion and would definitely put it forth myself to push students in my course in Language Development (after giving you credit for the idea). It seems likely that if I post this publicly that several of my colleagues may have already gone down this road. If so, I’ll certainly share the results.

There are generally two contexts for discussing Genie in my field. The first is with the idea of a “critical period” for language development. Genie is cited as an example of someone who because she didn’t have the chance to develop language during childhood was not able to master syntax later in life despite some successful intervention after she was removed from her incredibly abusive environment. The idea is that there is a critical time for learning language which would speak to a “nature” related argument in development. Genie’s case came at a time in language development theory when there was substantial pushback against the idea that principles of behaviorism could account for pretty much anything- including language. Chomsky’s articulation of a more innate framework was gaining some real traction. Linguistics in addition to psychology really started to get some control over the conversation. Now courses in psycholinguistics are regular offerings.

The second major point of discussion has to do with ethical behavior by professionals. In Genie’s case she was extensively studied but was passed around between multiple foster and family sites in guardianship and the researchers working with her passed in and out of her life. Ultimately she was not supported by the researchers and her skills didn’t develop. Although there may have been genuine caring on the part of researchers, the bottom line was that there was not stability in her services to put it in the best possible light.

I believe a speech-language pathologist would be involved in Genie’s case were she to be found today and the extent to which researchers would have access to her would be extremely limited. In addition to research ethics, the extent of involvement with Genie’s case would actually involve Special Education legislation. The question of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) would need to be answered more than the queries around her theoretical contributions. The issues would relate, I hope, to an Institutional Review Board being extremely cautious in allowing researchers to work with such a “vulnerable” person. Her ability to give informed consent to participate in research would be seriously questioned and given the past history in cases like these, whomever was assigned to make decisions about consent on her behalf would be extremely conservative.

That would mean Genie would be engaged in a number of social services. Remember that given her age on discovery she most likely would be engaged with a school system on some level. It would be interesting to see the level of “least restrictive environment” identified for her. Since her communication skills were severely impaired, speech-language would be one of the services she would undoubtedly qualify for in the IEP process.

When she was discovered in the 1970s Special Education Legislation was really in its infancy in the USA, but now in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which services are delivered, it would be the school system for anyone up to age 21.

50% of SLPs work in the school system. Any child whose access to education is limited due to communication qualifies for speech-language services. It is actually interesting to track some changes in how this is interpreted. This leads to a tangential discussion, however. There would be little doubt that Genie’s communication would constitute a significant impairment. The SLP would need to work closely with a Social Worker and Psychologist in her service delivery. Most likely augmentative and alternative communication would be pursued to give her ready access to communication while her speech and language skills were developed in therapy.

This is still a rather cold projection. The psycho-social aspects of her case would necessitate a significant commitment to careful consideration of socialization. The long term status of Genie in a secure environment would be critical to consider. Obviously Genie’s ability to engage in trusting relationships would be compromised. Her speech-language development could not be conducted in isolation in some research room somewhere. Communication is contextual and her skills would need to be developed in a functional way in the context of meaningful social exchanges. The language debate of the 70s and since has left out the importance of context that in the case of speech-language pathologist is at the heart of language development theory. In the ideal case, ways to integrate Genie would be seen as paramount and the idea that cases like Genie are a problem for our whole society rather than a system within it would be confronted (social commentary mine).

You can find a recent example of high profile involvement of an SLP outside of the school setting with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Again speaking to the idea that a speech-language pathologist figures into the idea of communication related recovery.

In answer to you other question related to the background of speech-language pathologists… Although the are some that come from psychology as an undergraduate major, there is a major in communication sciences and disorders accounting for many. In other cases, some might even come from music- yours truly.

I appreciate the chance to explore this in the context of some education related to my field and hope that your students will seek out some additional avenues of inquiry. At the very least they can follow me on Twitter… @sayitanywayou

The Death of Discussion Boards

When I first started at Ohio University in 2004, I taught a class as a live lecture that was also broadcast out to Ohio University Regional campuses.  Although there was a mechanism for students to ask questions using a microphone (that at the time they had to press to activate), I wanted to find a way for students to interact with each other more.  Blackboard was and still is the Learning Management System (LMS) at OU, and I thought the Discussion Board feature had a lot of promise.  I worked to find a reasonable way to grade student work that would encourage active participation and wouldn’t be too onerous for me.  Basically points were assigned based on entries placed on different days, that covered a minimum of posts (5 posts on at least 3 different days), and that demonstrated reading of other posts on some level (at least one post as a reply or a question posed to the group).  This seemed to work ok for the first year.

About a year later, a student asked me a question about the Discussion Board.  She asked me to take a look to be sure she was doing it right.  What I noticed was that she had over 50 unread posts in her forum and was on her last posting.  I concluded that participating in one large group was not going to work and decided with larger classes it made more sense to divide the class into smaller groups.

I expanded my use of this system and even wrote up some findings on my experiences using it with large and small groups in a graduate course on AAC.

Other iterations included invited vendors and other guest speakers to participate, giving points for posts rated by others as high quality, and having members rotate in their responsibilities for grading the posts of members of their group.

As time went on, what I found was students were expected to participate in more and more online discussion boards and were reporting general fatigue and a lack of enthusiasm for engaging in them.  I too fell victim to this.  My active participation also fell off in the discussions.  Students did not like posting when there wasn’t a response.  When many online outlets are capable of delivering at least a personalized auto-reply, putting work into a discussion board post that apparently no one would actually read did not seem worth while. They also found it odd to engage in a online discussion with students they either saw on a regular basis or had contact with in media outside of discussions.

Students had a basic formula for writing posts on whatever days were expected and with whatever key words the instructor appeared to be looking for.  Basically everyone seemed to “phone it in” which led me to believe that the utility of this particular mechanism was on its way out.

Personally, I think it is time to let this particular mechanism go as I don’t see it actually promoting any kind of meaningful discussion in the class anymore.  I believe we should look for other ways to promote this both in online and other classroom formats.  I will just give an example of one potential direction, but will discuss this topic more in the future.

For about the past year, I have been using Twitter in my classes. As with discussions, assigning points to posts and my active involvement is key.  I also don’t want to force anyone to sign up for a third party social networking site if they don’t want to, so I do give students the option to use the blog tool in Blackboard if they prefer.   I’ll talk more about my use of Twitter in the classroom in another post.

Brave New World

Ohio University 1804 logo with augmentative and alternative communication above

I was a self taught coder of html back in the 90s.  I learned mostly to find a platform for trying out different AAC interfaces.  I valued those skills and enjoyed coding in simple text editing programs.

When I started at Ohio University, I decided to make a page for myself and then for my lab with pretty basic code that would be highly accessible, but still represent a personal touch.  For me, making a page was also an advertisement of my skills.

It’s that last sentence that leads me to where I am now… There is a whole new world of interactivity in websites that I want to be a part of.  Although I’ve read about this, much like in the 90s, I will learn by doing.  This leads me to the sentence I am currently writing and to what I hope will be may sentences in the future.