Foundations of Teaching for Learning (FTL) Part 1, Week 1, Lecture 1

I am enrolled in the Coursera course called Foundations of Teaching for Learning, Part I. This is an 8-part course that I will work through over the next several semesters. I plan to take 2 parts per semester, which will leave me finishing in Fall of 2015. The purpose of my taking this course is to improve my teaching skills so I will be a better teacher. I feel like I have a natural teacher’s mindset, but my skills are lacking because of lack of training. I do hope to improve over the course of this process.

Today’s lecture was just an introduction to the course, but there were three statements that make me think. They may be a bit paraphrased, but these are the gists of them:

Learning does not begin when you step into the classroom.

I agreed with this statement as soon as I heard it. If a student expects all his learning to occur within the four walls of a classroom, he will miss out on so much. The classroom is meant to introduce concepts, spur thinking, and then the students should go out of the classroom and apply what he has learned and investigate further. In my life, this takes the form of investigating a new idea, process, concept, etc, and then while learning about it, discover something else that I need to know and investigate it. That is sometimes an iterative process and sometimes linear, but it’s always self-driven.

Teaching does not produce learning. Teaching produces the conditions of learning.

I completely agree with this, as well. Especially since my wife is a teacher, I hear her say all the time, there’s nothing she can do if her students cross their arms and say, I’m not listening to you. She can only do so much, so her teaching has to create the conditions, but the student is responsible for learning.

How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?

This is interesting. Especially since I’m an introvert who doesn’t like to speak much, I think I agree with it. I can see the benefit of expressing something in orally, which the ear hears and then the brain process the information differently. If you just read something, you get part of it. If you just think something, you get part of it. But if you read it, say it, and hear it, then you get much more of it, I think. I am going to ponder this statement over the next few days and see what comes up.



I’ve been reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Elizabeth and I tried reading it when we were driving to Chicago. I mean, we tried listening to the audiobook version on the drive up there. We made it through the first 2 or 3 chapters, but for some reason stopped. I’ve been meaning to read it since then. It is an incredibly interesting book. Gladwell is a very talented writer. He tells a story very well. The book’s premise is that all the things we think we know about people who excel at anything is wrong. The book attempts to debunk all that and tell the true story behind how people get to be so good at something.

The first chapter talks about the Canadian Hockey League. Gladwell talks about how the players are groomed for playing in these leagues from the time they begin playing hockey at a very young age. Each level of players get weeded and the good ones progress to the next level, so that the time they get to the major league, the players are the best of the best of the best. Then, a researcher discovered that something like 2/3rds of the players in these teams have birthdays in the first three months of the year in which they were born. So he looked into it further and found that to be the case all across the league and even in the US’s National Hockey League. So what is the deal with the early-in-the-year birthdays? Based on what I remember from the audio book, because I haven’t gotten that far in the book yet, the players with the early birthdays are relatively older than the players born later in the year. When a kid is born in January and begins playing hockey when he turns 5, then he is six months older than a kid born in August who begins when we turns 5 (which would be the same year). That relative age difference gives the kid born in January an advantage. They’re more mature, taller, stronger, and generally better for sports. Apparently, the six months makes a big difference in their abilities. So this advantage follows them throughout because they are always 6 months older than everyone else in their classes.

This also applies to students in their academic classes. The relative age difference allows kids born in January to have an academic edge over students born in August or after. The older ones tend to get better grades and better scores or tests and get into better colleges and get better jobs. All because they were born earlier in the year than their classmates. This advantage has nothing to do with the kid’s aptitude, but the aptitude is affected by the age.

Very interesting stuff. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it as I progress through the book.

How much time and resources have I dedicated lately to improving my writing?

I feel like I have devoted alot of time, effort, and resources to improving my writing lately. I’ve read through books such as On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Writing to Learn by William Zinsser, They Say / I Say, The Practical Stylist, How to Write Alot, and Becoming an Academic Writer. Now, I just need to put the skills I have learned into practice. The book, Becoming an Academic Writer looks like it will be the most useful one I’ve read. Then TSIS will be useful too.

I’ve also asked people to review my writing on one occasion when I wrote a research project proposal. Their comments made that proposal so much better.

I’ve also enrolled in Toastmasters. Although it is mainly for public speaking, I feel like it will help my writing, too.

I’ve also started a writing group here at UT. We meet for the first time next week. This will keep me accountable and improve my writing at the same time.

In all, I do feel like I’ve devoted adequate resources and time to improving my writing. I’ve devoted much more than most people, I’m sure. The simple fact that I write everyday for 30 minutes will put me leaps ahead of the others in the writing group, I’m sure.

What aspects of writing to I especially dislike?

  1. Not having something to say
  2. Sometimes feeling like what I’m writing is not good
  3. Worrying that I will not have enough to write about to really help my career
  4. Not being able to remember words I want to use
  5. Not knowing the right word to use
  6. Getting my words and sentences out of order
  7. Getting negative feedback (though it makes my writing better)
  8. Worrying that I have to write something constantly during my writing time
  9. Sometimes feeling like my writing time is a burden
  10. The pressure of being a prolific writer
  11. Worrying that what I write will be dismissed as unimportant
  12. Wishing I could speak as well as I write (Toastmasters will help that)
  13. Editing something that I spent alot of time write down to much smaller
  14. Not being able to find the right words to use

Time’s up. 5 minutes

What aspects of writing do I really enjoy?

  1. Seeing words on paper (or screen)
  2. Crafting intelligent sentences
  3. Knowing I can write well
  4. Expressing myself eloquently
  5. Seeing something useful develop
  6. Getting thoughts out of my head and onto paper
  7. Giving a voice to that inner voice
  8. Believing that I am a good writer
  9. Thinking through what I will say
  10. Being able to debate word order and sentence order and word choice
  11. Developing a theme in my writing
  12. Letting my voice develop
  13. Letting my style develop
  14. Seeing improvement
  15. The time alone with my thoughts
  16. The coffee sitting in my mug :)
  17. Learning something new about what I’m writing about
  18. Producing something that someone else will read and enjoy
  19. Producing something that will give me name recognition
  20. Producing something that will help my career (tenure, promotion, etc.)
  21. Producing something that maybe only I will enjoy
  22. Having a mode to express myself

Time’s up. 5 minutes.

What keeps me away from writing?

  1. Not having the time to write
  2. Not knowing what I will write about
  3. Having someone distract me
  4. Having email and text messages come in throughout the time
  5. Not having my computer with me
  6. Not having an internet connection
  7. Not having any coffee!
  8. Being worried about something else
  9. Having self-doubt about my abilities
  10. Having self-doubt about my knowledge
  11. Worrying what people will think about what I write
  12. Being too strict with what I need to write
  13. Not having bright enough light
  14. Day dreaming
  15. Being frustrated
  16. Running out of things to say
  17. Not having anything to write about
  18. Not having enough data to write about
  19. Worrying about my writing ability
  20. Editing too much along the way
  21. Stopping too soon
  22. Giving in to desires to do anything but write
  23. Wondering where this writing is going
  24. Not believing I have something useful to say
  25. Over analyzing

Time’s up. 5 minutes.

What does it take to get me to write (to begin and/or to continue)?

  1. Uninterrupted time
  2. Some idea of what I will write about.
  3. A quiet place to write on my laptop
  4. An internet connection so I can write on my blog
  5. Coffee in my mug
  6. Bright enough light to see what I’m doing
  7. A computer that works
  8. Nothing really bothering me (or I can’t concentrate)
  9. Having enough to say
  10. Belief that what I’m doing is worthwhile
  11. Encouragement from my inner self
  12. The goal of being a prolific writer in my field in my mind
  13. Something useful to write about
  14. Having something to say
  15. Being mindful
  16. Not worrying about the timer
  17. Having my email and text message notifications turned off
  18. Blocking out any distractions
  19. Showing up
  20. Setting aside the time every workday
  21. Not letting anyone encroach upon that time
  22. Not worrying about what others think of me
  23. Not being timid in my writing (I am an expert)

Time’s up. 5 Minutes.


Apparently, I have trust issues. I wonder where that comes from. Honestly, I don’t know, but it’s something that I need to deal with. I don’t trust my wife to do things right. I don’t trust her to come through. I get angry with her when she does something stupid. She just informed me that her laptop is missing. She normally brings it home from school, but last night she didn’t, and now it’s missing. Students at her school are thieves. They’ve stolen her iPod in the past, and who knows what else? Now, she has lost all her important files, because she didn’t back them up like I recommended she do. It seems like my issues with trusting her to do the right thing are constantly confirmed by her actions. I don’t want to be this way. I am her husband. I do love her very much. I need to go to God with this problem. Now.

God, you know my problem. There’s no reason to expound upon it. I just need your help. I need your help to get to the root of why I can’t trust her. So what if she does something that messing things up because she doesn’t do it right or she doesn’t come through. I just need to trust her to do it and then just deal with it when it happens. But I can’t seem to let go. I want to control it. I have a problem and I need help. I know you can help me, that’s why I come to you. Bring to my attention the root of this problem and show me how I can let go. I love her, God. This is not good for our relationship for me to distrust.

As for the laptop, God, it’s just a stupid laptop, but she has so much important stuff on it. Please let it turn up, God. If we have to buy her a new one, then we have to buy her a new one, but she will lose all her important information on there.

Today’s writing time is hard, because I don’t want to write. I am preoccupied with this issue with my wife and her lost laptop. I want to just quit, but I don’t want this habit to break. Maybe today’s time just needs to be short. I’m done.

Maneuvering Library Relationships

Maneuvering relationships with my coworkers in the library is an interesting task. Some of them are very easy to get along with, very encouraging, very helpful, and generally happy people. But others, not so much. I know of a few who have generally bad attitudes. It’s not that they’re mean people, not by any means, but they default to a pessimistic view of everything. I’ve decided that if I want to know about something within the library world, I should go to two people: one to get the optimistic view and another to get the pessimistic view. That way, I get both sides of the story and can then make up my own mind about the situation.

Since relationships in an organization like this are so important to having a successful career here (i.e., tenured faculty have a say in whether or not I get tenure, and even if my tenure dossier looks very impressive, if I don’t get along with the people here, then I won’t get tenure), managing those relationships is crucial. I make it a point to stop in at the research assistance desk and just shoot the breeze with whomever is sitting there so that I can get to know a wide range of people. Actually, that is my goal for this year, and I wasn’t that great at it last semester. I’ve decided I’ll just go by and whoever is there, I’ll sit and talk for a few moments, if they have time. Generally, people are amenable to that.

I am also doing alot to maintain relationships I built while a student in SIS. I am collaborating with some of my previous professors and am hosting a practicum student this semester. That builds goodwill from the academic side of the coin. I am sure I’ll need their support in some way in the future, so best to cultivate those relationships now when I don’t really need the favors. Then, when I do, it won’t look contrived.

I am also cultivating relationships to others outside my school, too. Part of the tenure decision is recommendation letters from others in my field outside of UT. I am not sure how many I will need, but I want to have alot of support when that time comes. I have developed relationships with some prominent people in my field, even while I still a student. For example, Jake Carlson, from Purdue University, is someone who anyone with any knowledge of the data curation world would recognize as a “heavy-hitter.” I reached out to him while still a student and asked him questions about some of this work. He was very nice to respond and offer advice to a student. I’ve since been able to meet him and some of his colleagues at Purdue. I also reached out to another person I consider a heavy-hitter, Andrew Sallans. I think I emailed him or Sherry Lake at UVa and asked if they had any advice for someone wanting to get into their line of work. I wanted to know what I could do to encourage UT to get moving and get their data curation stuff started so I could eventually work here.

Thankfully, it worked out the exact way I imagined it would. I know God was in that process all along. Otherwise, how could it have worked out so well? It look alot of faith on my part, though, because I had to wait on him to provide the job he told me he would give me, all while getting job offers at other universities and declining the offers. Thinking back on that time, I am sure it looked stupid to pass up on job opportunities, but I had a promise from God. It came one day when I was freaking out over my job situation, asking myself, what am I to do? Why am I passing up on these opportunities? I could end up with nothing in the end! Then, as though he were standing in the room next to me, God said, “Chris, you asked me for the job at UT. Now, stop worrying and let me do my thing.” That was a huge, big deal to me. I felt like that was his way of saying, “Sit tight and I’ll give you UT.” Don’t think that completely eliminated the freak outs, because it certainly didn’t, but it gave me something to hang onto when I was feeling freaked out. I just remembered that word and pushed through it, because of the promise. It’s almost like Abraham being called to leave his land and go to a place where God would show him. God didn’t tell him where to go, just to go. In this case, God didn’t tell me which job he would give me, but just to wait. It turned out to be the one I really wanted, but I never knew it would be until the day UT offered me the job.

Back in the Fall, Elizabeth and I had a party, which we called “God is Always Faithful Party.” It was to be a celebration of how God is faithful, even though he did not, and still has not, given us a child as we desire so much. I am not sure it will ever come, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t faithful. In that party, I spoke a bit about how if God had not given met he promise of UT, then we’d be living in Providence, Rhode Island right now. Brown University in Providence was the first one to offer me a job about this time last year. I declined, because I knew God was working on something better for me. It wasn’t easy though. He is still faithful and will give us the things we need. Sometimes what we want and what we need coincide, like they did with my WANT for a job at UT. He gave it to me. But our WANT for a child has not been fulfilled yet. I am not convinced that he will never give us a child, but I am convinced that he has decided that now is not the right time. When he decides is the right time, we will get the child, no sooner or later. The child may come naturally, or it may come through adoption, or it may not come at all. Just because we want something doesn’t mean he must give it to us. But even then, he doesn’t do it to hold out on us or to punish us. He has the best in mind for us. One of God’s words to Elizabeth through this whole time is “God, in his infinite mercy, knows the timing of everything.” We wondered why he said “mercy” and not “wisdom.” It finally came to me: “God is merciful, and by making us wait for a child, it is his mercy that is motivating it. All we can assume is that if he gave us a child now, it would not be the merciful thing to do, so we wait.” I can’t answer why it is this way, but it is.

It’s funny how topics can change over the course of a post. I started this post talking about navigating relationships with my coworkers and I ended up talking about God’s mercy and providence in our lives. Apparently, I really needed to talk about that and I’m really glad I did. It was very therapeutic expressing it all again because I have not thought about it much over the last few months. I am glad he reminded me about his promised. I love Elizabeth so much, God, and to me a mother would give her so much joy. Please provide the child we’ve wanted. I want it now more than I ever did. I know you will prepare us (as much as you can be prepared) to be parents. I don’t have to be afraid. I am ready. (This is also new to me! Apparently, I needed to say that, because it’s causing a few tears to swell up.) I think this is enough writing for one day. Now, I’m going to make some coffee.

Trip to Scotland

I was trying to decide what to write about today when I looked at my photograph of the Old Man of Stor on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. That reminded me of that trip, so I’ll write about that trip.

My wife and I went to Scotland in October 2012. We decided around April of that year that we wanted to just go. We would just spend the money on the plane tickets and go because we didn’t know when we’d have the chance again. So we looked for tickets online. We figured surely it would be cheaper to fly to London and then ride a train up to Scotland. But we discovered it was actually cheaper for us to fly right into Scotland in Glasgow. So we booked two tickets on US Airways to Glasgow.

We looked around for hotels and found a really nice budget priced hotel in downtown Glasgow city centre called Hotel Ibis. It was somewhere around 45 pounds/night, which equals about $60. It was a nice hotel, not a dump at all. The staff were all friendly and the place clean. They had a full Scottish breakfast every morning, which cost extra, but was a good deal. The menu was mostly meat — bacon, sausage, etc. They also had cheeses and jams and bread and little fruit. My favorite part of the meal was the little packets of Nutella. I would put it on apple or banana.

Glasgow was our home base. We booked the hotel for the whole time from Friday to the following Saturday — 8 days. Since Glasgow was our home base, we took day trips out to various parts of the country within a day’s train or bus ride. But we also had plenty of time to explore Glasgow. Many people say Glasgow is not a very pretty city, especially compared to Edinburgh, but I disagree. It’s not Edinburgh, that’s for sure, but that’s what makes it nice. It’s a very pretty city, architecturally speaking, and it’s unpretentious like Edinburgh is. Edinburgh has the castle, so all the tourists flock to it. Glasgow is just a working city, which I liked alot.

One day we took an overnight trip out to the Isle of Skye. We rented a car in Glasgow and drove (on the left side of the road, no less) all the way to Skye. It was about a 4 hour ride. We visted the Talisker Distillery. It is one of my favorite Scotch Whiskys. We decided to stay the night in the little fishing village called Portree, so we knocked on doors of bed and breakfasts until we found one with a room. That was actually pretty fun. I wasn’t worried that we wouldn’t find a place to sleep because there are bed and breakfasts all over that island. We knocked on one door and a nice lady came to the door. We asked if she had any rooms, and she said she did, but none of them were ensuite, which means with a bathroom in the room. She said if we wanted ensuite, go a few doors down and knock on Ben Lee Bed and Breakfast’s door. All their rooms are ensuite. So we did. We knocked on Ben Lee’s door and an old man came to the door. We asked if he had a room and he did, so we placed our things in there. The price was 35 pounds per person. Then went out to eat. We didn’t know where we’d eat, so we just walked around and found a nice little seafood place called Harbor House. They had a table available (dinners often require reservations in the UK), and we sat down. We were at a table with another couple of ladies who, we later found out, were from the US! They were from California and Michigan and were best friends since childhood and were vacationing together. It was nice talking to them.

The next day we left Portree and drove to Inverness. Along the way, we stopped at the Urquart Castle, which mostly ruins, but it was just beautiful on Lock Ness. Then we drove on up to Inverness and found a pub to eat lunch at. Most pubs have tapas available on the menu, so we ordered some tapas. We then walked around the city for a while and explored. Inverness was OK, but not great. We had to get back on the road because we had a long drive ahead of us.

We stopped on the way home from Inverness at Tomatin Distillery. They weren’t giving tours that day, but they let us taste the Scotch. It wasn’t that great, in my opinion. Then we continued to drive and stopped in at Dalwinnie Distillery. We missed the last tour there, so we just tasted Scotch, which also wasn’t that great. Then we kept driving and stopped in at a small town called Perth and found an Indian restaurant to eat at. It was pretty good. We ate alot of Indian food in Scotland, because it’s mostly safe (read, gluten free). When we were done eating in Perth, we had to find the road back home, so we stopped in at the bus station and asked a cab driver. It was sort of difficult understanding him, but I finally make it out that we had to get on the A9. We finally found it and drove it all the way back to Glasgow.

Another day we went to Oban via train. That was a very nice little trip. Oban is a small village on the western coast of Scotland. They have a distillery there called the Oban Distillery. The Scotch there has a salty flavor. They don’t do anything to get it, it just happens because of the salty air. I like Oban Scotch alot. I might buy a bottle one day. Oban was a nice little village. We walked all over that little town. We found an old abandoned school house that we thought would make a nice place to live, but alas, it’s in Oban! At the end of the day, we rode the train back to Glasgow.

We next took a day trip by bus to Edinburgh. I enjoyed my trip to Edinburgh. We walked all along the royal mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is where the queen stays when she’s in Edinburgh. The Scotlish Parlaiment building was right across the street, which we got to go in a tour. It’s a very modern building. We rode the bus back to Glasgow.

Another day we went to Sterling via train. That was a nice little city, too. Sterling Castle is really pretty. Plus there is a monument to William Wallace (Braveheart). It was really pretty too. We walked all over the city and even took the city bus around a bit, too. We rode the train back to Glasgow.

That is all the day trips we took in Scotland. Around Glasgow, we explored the city centre. We caught the subway to University of Glasgow and I had a short meeting with some people from the Digital Curation Centre. That campus was beautiful! That same day we visited the Kelvin Grove Art Museum. Kelvin was a professor at the University of Glasgow and he’s the person who developed the Kelvin temperature scale, which is in use all over the world in the scientific community. Kelvin is approximately 273 degrees higher than Celsius. It’s used for very hot and very cold measurements. We stopped in a restaurant and had bunless burgers (also another safe food), with chips (french fries). Their fries are always much better than ours for some reason. I need to find out way.

That was pretty much the whole trip to Scotland. It was Saturday and we had to catch a plain back to the US. In the airport on the way out of Glasgow, we bought a mug with the Scottish flag on it for a memento. We got back to Knoxville and chilled out for a while since we were a bit jet lagged. Oh yeah, I was also in classes during this whole period we were in Scotland. I think I may have attended one class online and then realized it was too difficult, so I told my professors I wouldn’t be there. They were all OK with it and a bit envious!