Sunday, April 26, 2009

Class Boring? It's (Maybe) Not Your Fault!

I am writing this as a follow-up post to last week's "Class Boring? It's (Probably) Your Fault!" post.

Last week, I wrote about how teachers really feed off the energy the students bring to their classes. In other words, if you as a student find your class to be boring, it might be your own fault. Are you and your classmates being energetic, asking questions, responding to questions and generating discussion? If not, then you are likely a big part of the reason why the teacher or professor doesn't seem energized.

However, I also mentioned that boring classes aren't always the fault of the class members. In fact, as someone who has also been a student, I definitely realize that sometimes no matter how much you want to contribute to a class, some instructors will shoot you down with their negativity or lack of enthusiasm about teaching.

So, if class is boring, maybe it's not your fault after all!

I suppose this post is more for the teachers than the students out there. Though, students might be able to read and agree, disagree or add comments to the post that will enhance it. So, teachers and students alike, don't forget to click on the link at the bottom of the post to give me some feedback.

Here is a list of common mistakes I feel as though teachers make that contribute to dry, uninteresting, boring classes, or maybe just classroom environments that discourage participation and energy altogether:
  1. Picking apart comments/answers — I'll admit, there is such a thing as a stupid question, and not all comments or answers in class are as valuable as others. However, there is a tactful way to acknowledge a student's comments as a good contribution and quickly move on to the next response.
  2. Assigning loads of work without any real explanation as to the benefit — Homework, especially in college, should be challenging. It's also necessary to get the maximum benefit out of a course that just can't be reached in the small time periods allowed during class. However, a teacher has to do a good job of explaining the relevance of the tasks.
  3. Unclear feedback or lack of feedback — Obscure scores with no explanation make students resent you as a teacher, and they don't help anyone learn either. Having a large project due at the end of class that only gets a grade at the end of a semester also doesn't help anyone. Having earlier deadlines for semester projects with detailed feedback and opportunity for revision is a better learning experience for students overall. I've had professors, even at the graduate level, who required projects due on the final class day and assigned a grade but never returned the assignment. This makes students suspicious as to if you ever even read the assignment, and it leaves them guessing as to what they could do to improve on similar work in the future.
  4. Too much Socratic method — Incorporating questions into a lecture or seminar to solicit feedback that advances the purpose of the day's course plan or reviews reading material is a great strategy, and it encourages more involvement. However, once a student has given their answer to a question, don't keep asking them to talk. It wastes precious class time, bores the other students, and it makes that student resent you because it almost feels as though you are picking on them. If you want to ask that student a specific followup question, fine, but avoid stuff such as, "flesh that out," "what else?" or "OK, keep going."
  5. Lack of personality/energy — How can you expect students to have any energy if you do not? As a teacher, I realize that we don't always have bubbly days, and sometimes we might even find ourselves getting a little monotone in front of a class. That's only human, but have some personality! Chat with students about topics not related to class before and afterward, smile and show enthusiasm and passion for your topic, and don't just stare in silence at students if it's obvious they have no idea about what you just asked them. You can draw a line between befriending students and turning them away completely with your lack of social skills — or worse yet, creeping them out altogether.
Well, as I mentioned, feel free to discuss or add to the list in the comments section. Students, remember, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. But teachers, keep in mind, if you aren't enthusiastic about your job, maybe you shouldn't expect anyone else to be!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why 2009 Will Be Worse for Lions

Once in a while, Relatively Journalizing strays from PR and journalism to talk about things such as education, entertainment, and — of course — sports. Today's guest post is brought to us by guest blogger Andrew Johnson. More about Andrew at the end of the post! He says the Detroit Lions will have an even worse upcoming season than their just-past 0-16 season. All indications are that Andrew isn't lion.

Remember when the NFL Draft was designed to help the worst team in the league by giving them the best picks? Yeah, that time is long gone. In order to get a good pick now, a team has to shell out big bucks to unproven rookies. This is usually bad news to teams that have not done so well in the previous year, because they will not have the revenue stream that they had in years prior. As it stands right now, the team that has the no. 1 draft pick this year is the Detroit Lions.

Just in case you have been living in a cave or in a delusional state for the past year, the Lions are officially the worst team in the history of the NFL. It’s not easy to go 0-16, but — to be fair — the Lions were the first team that actually tried. You really have to appreciate their dedication to the art of losing.

I remember the Thanksgiving Classic when they faced off against the Tennessee Titans. At this point in the season the city of Detroit knew that the Lions playoff dreams were lost, but they had high hopes of maintaining some pride in their team. The Lions stormed the field in their faded blue-and-gray throwback jerseys, ready to get their first win of the year. In a pregame interview, Daunte Culpepper said that this was going to be the game where they end the losing streak and bring some self respect back to Detroit.

Apparently Chris Johnson didn’t hear this interview, but if he did — he clearly didn’t care. He single-handedly embarrassed the Lions defense when he ran for a six-yard touchdown, then moments later, a 58-yard touchdown. I watched the Lions in their peewee football league throwback jerseys attempt to stop the Titans, who at this point were in what can only be described as “blood lust” as they ran up the scoreboard. The game mercifully ended 47-10, Titans.

I like to think this one game summed up the entire Lions 2008 season. The sullen, defeated Lions did not get excited about another game for the rest of the season, and they seemed to settle into their position as the worst NFL team in history with quiet acceptance. You would think that things can’t get much worse after going 0-16. You would think that, until you look at this year's draft.

Last year, Jake Long signed a five-year deal with the Miami Dolphins worth $5.75 million annually, with a $30-million guarantee. This is the kind of money that gets thrown at the first-rounders. How is a team that not only had their worst playing record, but also their worst financial record in 2008 going to compete with that? Not to mention they are located in Detroit, the economic black hole of America. I’m surprised the bread lines haven’t already started forming, with old men surrounding fire barrels and kids offering to shine your shoes for a nickel.

Editor's note: I sure do wish this would happen, as I would love to be able to get kids to shine my shoes for a nickel.

The Lions do not have the money to pay the asking prices of most of these top draft picks. The Lions would be better off to pass on their first pick and wait so they can knock down the salary commitment. It’s a horrible system, but we live in a capitalist society where those are the rules we all decided were acceptable.

I think what the Lions need to do is move the team to another city worse off than Detroit, (anywhere in Mississippi or Arkansas would suffice) but let Detroit retain the team’s history and name. Then close down shop for a few years, just to see if people really miss them. If the response for them to come back is overwhelming, then build a new stadium and hype up the team's return from exile. After selling out all the season tickets and packing the new stadium with die-hard Lions fans, the team will storm the field for their first game, and lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-0.

What? Another team already did that?

Oops.

If they do follow the Cleveland Browns' method of rebuilding, there would be a new team added to the roster, thus making their season one game longer. This allows the Lions to go 0-17, once again cementing themselves as the worst team in NFL history.

Dream big, boys. Dream big.

Andrew Johnson is an aspiring comic book writer and comedy blogger. He hopes to one day be funny. When not contributing to his blog, he spends time with his imaginary pet cat, Mr. Fuzzy Boots. Check out his blog at the JohnsoNation.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Class Boring? It's (Probably) Your Fault!

I've been in school all my life. As I graduate next month with my Master of the Arts degree, I cap off six years of continuous collegiate education past the required public schooling. So, as someone who has been in school for a long time, I realize that not every teacher or professor is interesting (or even interested, for that matter).

However, as someone who has been a teacher myself for the past two years during graduate school, I have come to realize one thing — in many cases, if you're bored in class, it might be your own fault. Again, I'll throw in the disclaimer that this isn't always the case, but at least give your professor a chance before you think he or she is as boring as Ben Stein solving a sudoku puzzle. (As a side note, sudoku has been known to start unfinished blog wars.)

I've taught two classes each semester since I've been in grad school, and I've always found the differences between each of the two classes to be very distinct and interesting. I am sure time of day factors into things quite a bit, but I actually think sometimes you just get a class full of Debbie Downers and Negative Nancies.

Sometimes, a morning class can be so boring to teach, and then the exact same material can be fun and interesting to teach with a seemingly identical afternoon class. Here's the catch: the energy you as a student bring to the classroom is directly correlated with the energy your professor will have (in almost every case).

When my students blankly stare at me or don't even acknowledge that I asked a question, I tend to move along and get through the class in a more dry manner myself. But when my students ask questions, open up to discussion, crack some jokes before class, and just all-around participate with some enthusiasm, I tend to be more energetic and have more fun teaching the class. For the classes that I know are interested and enthusiastic, I'm more likely to deviate from the script and traditional sorts of assignments so that we can experiment with new learning tools and discuss areas that seem more relevant to those students.

So, just a little something to keep in mind the next time you're scribbling "kill me now" or "I'm falling asleep" or "FML" — try just once to put some effort into making the class interesting and see if the professor pushes back with some of that energy him or herself. It's worth a try because if you don't at least try, the only person you have to blame for a boring class is, well, yourself!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

PRSA, SPJ and Contrasting Ethical Attitudes

Recently, myself and some of the brightest young minds in the field of public relations discussed public relations theory in terms of ethics. In doing so, we reviewed the Public Relations Society of America's Member Code of Ethics. This opened up a discussion of enforcement regarding the code.

From the code:
"Emphasis on enforcement of the Code has been eliminated. But, the PRSA Board of Directors retains the right to bar from membership or expel from the Society any individual who has been or is sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law of an action that is in violation of this Code."
How are practitioners and scholars to take this code seriously if PRSA itself announces that it does not attempt any real sort of enforcement of the code and resigns itself to really only regulating its members through the law. Of course, the code itself probably is unenforceable in many ways, but PRSA might do a better job of at least trying to monitor its members' ethics and letting them know it will do so. And, the organization might frame its lack of emphasis on enforcement better.

It is certainly interesting to see that the Society of Professional Journalists has framed its own ethical code much more effectively, especially because one would expect those in public relations to be much better at framing.

From SPJ's code:
"The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior. The code is intended not as a set of "rules" but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable."
SPJ's code sounds less like an out for a member as long as he or she does not get caught doing something illegal than does PRSA's. In addition, SPJ's code is framed as something that virtually all journalists must embrace, and there is a sort of credibility added by the inclusion of a brief explanation as to why the code is of course not legally enforceable.

Perhaps a readjustment of language in PRSA's code and a focus on renewing a commitment to ethical practice by members would be a smart PR move for the organization — a move away from spin doctoring and press agentry into the building and fostering of true relationships with stakeholders and the public.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wii Wish Nintendo Would Shove the DSi

Introduction

That's it, I've had enough. As a longtime Nintendo supporter and fanboy, I feel as though it's time even I speak out against one of the most significant companies from my childhood (and early adulthood). I haven't really touched a video game console in months, and it's mostly Nintendo's fault. Such entertainment used to be a great stress reliever and all-around good way for me to relax, but it's difficult to relax when one is the owner of Nintendo's products.

Let me get one thing straight — the NES, the SNES (arguably the best console of all time), the N64 (arguably the weakest mainstream console of all time, but still equipped with plenty of solid games) and the GameCube were all outstanding products. Yeah, the GameCube got lost in the fog of PS2 and XBOX, but a great (then exclusive) Resident Evil 4 release near the end of its life gave it added credibility, and Windwaker really wasn't all that bad, cell-shading and all. I can't help but mention the GameBoy (with its many iterations) either, as it has been a staple in the lives of gamers for two decades now. Of course, I take issue in this post with the GameBoy in a way, as Nintendo has moved from actual new models (i.e., GameBoy to GameBoy Color to Nintendo DS) to a silly prototype progression system (GameBoy Advance to GameBoy Micro; Nintendo DS to Nintendo DS Lite to Nintendo DSi).

As a Nintendo Wii owner, I've been moderately amused but overwhelmingly dissatisfied. The original selling point for the Wii was, well, it's selling point — the Wii was cheap compared to the XBOX 360 and the PS3, and Nintendo promised to offer great titles with a unique control scheme. What Nintendo didn't tell people was how much money it would cost to actually be able to play all of its games, how unfunctional the Wii's online capabilities would be or how expensive their virtual console downloads would be. And, the biggie — how few actual quality games there would be to play.

Cost

Let's take a look at this:

The XBOX 360 starts at $199.99, and that includes a game disc and one wireless controller. Even if you choose the Pro version (which most serious gamers likely prefer), then you only pay $299.99.

The Nintendo Wii starts at $249.99 with one Wiimote and nunchuk, plus Wii Sports, which isn't really a full game, but it's fun enough — then again, it's multiplayer, so you'll want at least one more Wiimote and nunchuk, totaling about an additional $60. Then again, sometimes you'll play a game where you need a more classic controller, the one Nintendo sells for $19.99. And of course, you can't forget to buy the Wii Zapper for the two or three mediocre shooting games out there — the gun (read: piece of plastic that holds your Wiimote and nunchuk in a gun configuration rather than being an actual, fully-functional gun controller) costs $24.99. And don't forget to throw in $9.99 for each Wii wheel to use while you play a Mario Kart title for the Wii that isn't even as good as its DS counterpart. Nintendo also hopes to sucker you out of another $9.99 to buy the Wii Sports pack, a package of plastic snap-ons for your controllers that look like a tennis racket, a golf club, etc. (No, they don't actually do anything.) You should also take note that XBOX 360 allows you to recharge your controllers by plugging them in the system, while you have to shell out cash for batteries every couple of days with the Wii or buy a third-party charging kit that will crap out after about a year.

Online

So aside from potentially sinking more money than it costs to buy a PS3 into being able to play with four players in all of your games, what else has turned me off to Nintendo since owning the Wii? Let's talk online functionality.

The other day I get on my buddy's XBOX 360, and it's online basically as soon as it gets turned on, ready to play XBOX Live. If I turn my Wii on, I pick a game from the channel screen — let's say, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, for instance. Once I tell the game I want to play online, I have to wait a really long time to connect to the Internet. That's if it ever connects. And, oh, by the way, expect plenty of lag when you do try playing the Wii online. And don't even get me started about the lack of voice chat and the use of "friend codes" to be able to play with people you know online. It's all very clunky and downright not very functional.

The same is true concerning virtual console games or using the fun-at-first-but-relatively-boring-after-about-a-week-when-the-newness-wears-off channels on the Wii. Virtual console games were rumored to be relatively affordable before the Wii launched. In reality, WiiWare and virtual console games can cost usually around $10 (yeah, for decades-old games that you have probably already bought once before, and which are probably available online as a free flash game somewhere). And there's still no Goldeneye available for download from the N64. There are also channels where you can vote on a question and see international results or judge and vote on people's custom-designed Miis (though, the lack of overall customizability of the Miis makes this a bad idea in the first place), but these things only distract from the lack of quality games available on the Wii. Which, as transitions often do, brings me to my next point.

Games

Now I knew going into buying a Wii that I'd be missing out on great titles such as Fable II, Halo 3, Halo Wars, Resident Evil 5, Metal Gear Solid 3, Call of Duty 4, etc., that are available on the other systems. Such aforementioned games are console sellers in themselves, and they fall under the category of must-have games for any true hardcore gamer who owns a console on which they can play them. I was OK with this, and I only planned to buy one console this time around, as I don't have enough time to play video games as I did in my early college years anyway. I'm still sticking to my guns so far on that one, even though I've been mostly disappointed in the Wii. I figured Nintendo would keep me busy with plenty of great games, just as they had done with previous systems.

The Wii doesn't really have any games I would consider to be a system seller, though. It doesn't have an equivalent to Halo, though Super Smash Bros. Brawl might be that game in some circles. Zelda games have the potential, but Twilight Princess failed to do it for the Wii. The biggest selling point for the Wii seems to be its initial ease of use with family-friendly games such as Wii Sports, Mario Party and ridiculous periphreals such as Wii Fit, which isn't even a game at all. (Note: Quit trying to fool yourself into thinking that you work out because you use Wii Fit. You're still fat. Go get some real exercise. If, however, you want to be lazy and play a video game, you should have the right to do so without being forced into looking like an idiot while standing on a flimsy white board.)

If you are stuck in the boat of Wii owners, are there at least some of those must-have, awesome games? Well, there are a few. Very few. And therein lies my real problem with the Wii — a lack of those exclusive games that everyone is playing on the other systems. Nintendo has failed to deliver quality first-party games in a timely manner, and the third-party games feature much more realism and better gameplay functionality on the other systems (or companies refuse to program for the Wii's controls and don't do a port at all). Here are must-haves for Wii owners:

  1. Super Smash Bros. Brawl — Every Wii owner should own this game. It has unlimited replay value, multiplayer functionality and medicore online capabilities. The graphics are sufficient for a side-scrolling fighter, and the selling point is that you get to play as your favorite Nintendo characters, plus Sonic and Snake from Sonic the Hedgehog and Metal Gear Solid!
  2. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princes — Almost every gamer who is also pretty intelligent loves the Zelda series. The combination of puzzle solving and action with great storytelling is timeless. However, even though the return to more adult graphics after Windwaker's cell-shadedness was welcome, this game turned out to be half as good and fun as Windwaker. Have someone beat the first grueling, boring half of the game where you play as a dog, then take over and play as Link for a few fleeting moments.
  3. Super Paper Mario — Though there isn't much to keep you playing through this one more than once, it's one of the only RPGs you're going to find for the Wii. So take advantage of how good it actually is.
  4. Super Mario Galaxy — There is quite a bit of replay value here, but you don't hear much discussion about this game. Likely, it's because Super Mario Galaxy is the same thing once again from Nintendo. Mario hasn't changed in years, and while it's a formula that works, it's one that leaves you wondering what's next.
That's it. There are really only about four necessary titles for Wii. Now, honorable mentions could go to Metroid Prime 3, Mario Kart Wii or Wario Land: Shake It!, but none of those titles even make the top five on GameRankings.com for the Wii, and they all have their flaws — Metroid fans alone will truly find the third iteration of Prime to be a satisfying shooter; Mario Kart Wii actually lacks modes that previous versions of the game had, and the number of tracks is pitiful; Wario Land is very fun and utilizes the controller well, but it is beatable in only a day or two.

On the above list of four good games for the Wii, the most recent one came out more than a year ago and until very recently still adorned the main Wii page on Nintendo's Web site. What games are featured as front-page material by Nintendo as of the time of this post? Bonsai Barber, Roogoo Twisted Towers, Excitebots, Hannah Montana, Dance Dance Revolution (Disney edition) and Don King Boxing. All of those titles, with the exception of the last one, are rated E (everyone), with the boxing game rated T (teens). In fact, did you know there are only about 17 M-rated games on the Wii, only one or two of which are even worth playing? Not a very grown-up console at all. After becoming the best-selling console, you'd think Nintendo would at least try to appeal to some mainstream gamers and not just children and families who couldn't beat Yoshi's Story if they tried.

I Know This is Long for a Blog Post, Especially for Relatively Journalizing


I've given the Wii a lot of attention in this much-longer-than-usual blog post, but I'm not finished yet. The whole thing that started me on this tirade against Nintendo was today's release of the Nintendo DSi.

DSi

I bought a DS when they came out because I trusted Nintendo to continue the GameBoy's tradition of dominating the market and making great handheld games. I snubbed the prettier, flashier PSP, which offered more features. As it turned out, that was a good move. The DS sold well and quickly became the hottest thing on the market, and Nintendo kept pumping out plenty of fun titles. However, it wasn't long before the DS Lite was released. So, I traded my DS in for the sleeker, more-functional new version. I was getting rid of my old XBOX and PS2 at the time, so I made the trade at virtually no new cost for myself and got plenty of games at the same time. There have been lots of third-party periphreals for the DS Lite during the past year or so, though the game releases have slacked off a bit (aside from the new Pokémon game every week). I suppose people modifying their DS Lite to surf the Web or play movies led to the creation of the new DSi, which offers a built-in camera, a la Apple's iSight, and many other functions such as downloadable games and Web browsing. The DSi seems like a complete package, and it looks amazing. I'm not faulting Nintendo in any way with the DSi, other than to ask, why didn't you just release the finished product initially? Instead of suckering your devoted customers into buying the same product three different times, you could have waited until you finished the product and sold it to us initially without selling us unfinished prototypes!

Give Credit Where It's Due

Nintendo created gaming. Sure, there were Atari and various others before them, but Nintendo made gaming what it is today. It would be difficult to find a loyal gamer today who didn't get his or her start on an NES, and Nintendo is betraying those dedicated fans by selling them multiple prototypes to see how many times they will buy the same product (hm, sounds like virtual console too) in addition to failing to provide hardcore gamers with the games their age and experience groups want. It's all par for the course I guess from the makers of a console that doesn't look near as impressive as it did when the white on the Wiimotes was still gleaming and the feel of motion-sensing technology still had that new Mario Kart smell.

Note: Cost estimates mentioned in this post were taken from Gamestop.com.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Have a Question? Ask Facebook.

I decided to run a little social media experiment again. So many people tout the ability of their chosen favorite social media site to deliver news in a quick fashion, whether it comes first- or seventh-hand from following CNN breaking news or hearing something reiterated by a friend. I have enjoyed this aspect of social media myself, which just adds to the fun of connecting with old and new friends. However, I think that only through diverse usage of various social media sites can one truly experience the real potential of taking in all of the information available out there.

But what if you had to choose only one? What if you had a pressing question and needed an answer fast?

This is what I decided to informally test using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

I asked the following question on all three sites, "What do you think is the #1 skill that employers want?"

Here are the results:

Twitter
  • Boobies.*
  • Willingness to work more than expected for less than offered.
  • Communication skills.
Facebook
  • Dependability.
  • Ability to think.
  • Ability to communicate.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Speaking and writing skills.
  • Leadership.
  • Being able to get along with others.
  • Oral communication skills.
  • Leadership and adaptation.
  • Being able to ask good questions.
  • Responsible.
  • Self-motivated.
  • Outgoing.
  • "Shari Baloch."*
LinkedIn
  • 61% — Dependability.
  • 23% — Leadership.
  • 15% — Oral communication proficiency.
  • 0% — Researching/writing/editing.
  • 0% — Technical (computer, etc.)
As you can see, Facebook generated the most responses during the five-hour time period I allowed after almost simultaneously asking the question on each social network. I was surprised, as it is a general point of pride among Twitter users and the service itself that getting answers to questions is quick and effective.

I also enjoyed how my Facebook friends were able to discuss and have a conversation on my wall, some even commenting about what others had said. Some were even curious about why I wanted to know the answer to the question, unsuspecting of my little experiment initially.

With LinkedIn, there's no real sort of feed, so I resorted to using a LinkedIn poll. These polls present a little bit of a problem because there is no "other" option, so I had to give the options of the above responses (and you are limited to five). People can comment on the poll if they want to do so, but there really is not much of a mechanism for collecting original responses or encouraging conversation.

Now, admittedly, this experiment could have been skewed by the size of the networks I have on each service. I have 531 Facebook friends and only 37 LinkedIn connections and 41 Twitter followers. However, 13 of my LinkedIn connections voted in the poll while only nine of my friends commented on my status asking the question on Facebook (though some of them commented more than once). Therefore, even though LinkedIn generated more responses from a smaller pool of participants, I am led to believe that Facebook's presentation of the news feed — combined with its ability to allow conversation through the commenting process — really makes Facebook the best social media site through which to get answers to questions from experts in your field. Or in some cases, at least novice advice from your peers.

*Note: Social media networks are also good places to find smart-ass comments such as these.