Tuesday, July 31, 2012

HOTT News Declares Obama Winner

HOTT News, the newest player in cable news, wasted no time in stirring controversy. In its first day on air, the station declared Barack Obama the winner of the presidential contest, even though the actual election is 98 days away. Shauna Falco, the White House Correspondent for HOTT News, said she had enough information to report the winner: "The New York Times has Nate Silver. We have someone like Nate Silver. A few battleground states are too close to call, but we feel confident enough to say Obama has won."

Stunned that a news channel would choose to debut by reporting Obama's re-election as hard news, media watchdogs are hammering HOTT News and encouraging people to boycott the channel's sponsors. But executives at the station are immune to criticism, including station founder Steve Rose. In a press release, Rose defiantly stated: "We're playing to be first, not second, and definitely not last. We care about being out in front...way out in front. It doesn't matter if we get it wrong. Other stations are wrong all the time. They're wrong and boring. Call us what you will, but we'll never be boring."

But isn't HOTT News concerned that nobody will take them seriously? Won't making outlandish predictions hurt their brand? "Making outlandish predictions is our brand," said Che Clinton, the head pundit at HOTT News. "People will have to take us seriously because we're in the news business for the long haul," he said.

So what happens in November, after the real election takes place? What will HOTT News do if Mitt Romney gets more electoral votes? "Simple," said Ms. Falco. "We'll issue a mea culpa, or at least a just kidding, and report that Romney won. It's no big deal. But we think we got this one right, so we're not freaked out about it." For the record, when we asked Ms. Falco about her credentials, she would only say she is a news hound and that she excelled as an intern in her college years.

Criticism aside, the antics at HOTT News instantly paid off, considering it had more prime-time viewers last  night than MSNBC and CNN combined. "We're here to win the ratings game--in all demographics," said Ms. Falco, "So get your popcorn ready." Get your popcorn ready? That sounded familiar, so I asked Ms. Falco what inspired the comment. She replied: "Terrell Owens. When he was in the NFL, he was my fav." I assume she was abbreviating the word favorite, but I was too exasperated to ask. It's not going to be easy covering HOTT News.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Crafting a Cell Phone Policy with Students

I haven't been in a classroom since December 2011. Following the Fall 2011 semester, I enjoyed sabbatical leave. I return to the classroom in September. I'm looking forward to teaching again. I'm not looking forward to cell phones. For an excellent discussion about cell phones and texting in class, I recommend this piece by Nathan Palmer. I agree with Nathan's comment that "you can stop cell phone use, but the costs aren't justified by the rewards." I totally agree with Nathan that I don't want to use up my goodwill by policing students' cell phone use. I ultimately view the War on Cell Phones as a war that can't be won.

For many years I've included a perfunctory statement in my syllabi asking students to not use cell phones during class time. Students respond to the policy by "politely" using their phones underneath their desks, as if I can't see them. Sometimes I ask students to put their phones away, other times I don't have the energy to do it. There's so much cell phone use, I can't stamp it all out. My colleagues generally admit they are also at a loss for what to do, although a few will boast that no student would dare use a cell phone in their class. Maybe it's true; maybe a few people have squashed all cell phone use, but I have a hard time believing that it came with no cost to their relationships with students.

So what am I going to do in the Fall semester? Instead of writing a lame statement prohibiting cell phones, on the first day of class I'm going to ask students to develop a policy about the use of cell phones. I'm going to ask them what they think a reasonable and fair policy should be. I plan to do this in each of my classes. Keep in mind that professors aren't the only ones who dislike Texting While Learning. Students do not uniformly support the use of cell phones in class. Some of my students have complained to me about the use of cell phones in class. Some students find the use of cell phones as distracting as I do. Considering that students bring a range of viewpoints to this subject (as with any subject), it will be interesting to see how it plays out. What do you think of the idea of including students in the development of a policy on cell phone use?

How will this work? I'm not a power-hungry authoritarian type, but I'll have veto power when students design the policy. So if all they come up with is "Cell phones can be used at all times, for any purpose whatsoever," I'll be forced to block it. But I can safely predict that students will design a nuanced proposal. As I work with students to make policy, I'll have them consider several key questions: (1) For what purposes are cell phones appropriate? (2) Should cell phones be used for Twitter, assuming that tweets involve class-related content? (3) What limits should exist on cell phone use? (4) What is a proper way to ask a student to stop using their cell phone? (5) Is it only the professor who should ask a student to stop using their cell phone? (6) What, if any, consequence should there be for a student who ruthlessly and rudely uses a cell phone throughout class? 

Assuming that students work together with me to form a sensible plan, it will become the official policy for the semester. It might take a long time to work out the details (possibly even the entire first session), but I think it's a valuable use of time.

In all, I want this to be an exercise in thinking about the use of cell phones during class time. I hope students will care more about cell phone use after having a hand in shaping the policy. However it works out, students will discover on day one that I value their input and encourage their participation in class.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lost in the Supermarket

I spend lots of time in the supermarket. They are everywhere in my suburban community. My two children behave pretty well in the supermarket. I put my one-year-old in the cart and hand my four-year-old groceries to put in the cart. Once in a while, there's some soothing music from the 1980s to enjoy. In all, it's not a miserable experience, so I always volunteer to do the shopping for our family.

I would shop more happily if people didn't stop dead in their tracks to text or use their mobile device in some other way. It's not uncommon that I'm cut off by a person who stops suddenly to check their phone and start tapping. Today, a woman walked slowly in front of me, barking at someone through her phone: "YOU CALLED BOTH MY PHONES!!!" I don't know why she brought two phones to the supermarket, but I'm sure she had a good reason. And then the idea came to me: maybe one day they'll make the aisles bigger and make special lanes for people to use their mobile devices. Right now, the supermarket feels like a crowded highway. One day, maybe the supermarket rulers will figure out a way to ease the traffic. One tip for those folks: lay off the giant-size carts, but keep those little carts coming. Small carts and lanes for texting and making calls, there's your recipe for success. Thanks. Gotta go now and listen to The Clash.