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Hashtag Hesitation: How some at American University are wary, while others embrace social media in the classroom

College students attend lecture with their laptops (Photo/Tulane University)

Note: Article was originally posted April 2, 2011 on American University’s graduate news site,  AmericanObserver.net

American University is hosting a three-day Social Learning Summit this weekend to promote new media and its use in academic institutions.

The event aims to bring together students, educators, researchers and professionals to learn and exchange information on a “broad swath of topics at the intersection of social media, technology, and education,” according to the event website.

The use of social media by AU students may have increased rapidly in recent years, but its use in academic programs has been slower to develop, according to AU senior and SLS coordinator Alex Priest. This weekend’s gathering aims to change that.

Alex Priest, BSBA, AU 2011 is president of the American University Social Media Club (Photo/Jeff Watts, Social Media Club)

Perception

Facebook has taken over as the “social network of choice.” While other outlets such as Twitter have become popular as a social media and networking tool, Pew states that just 8 percent of online teens say they ever use the micro-blogging tool.

According to Priest,  the “advent of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and other mobile apps” is as significant as previous technological milestones such as the “impact of email and the telephone.”   Despite this, he says, many on campus may be “less receptive” to social media in the classroom.

Priest said that the term “social media” is awkward and is sometimes misunderstood. “Any form of communication, any medium that allows for two-way communication… to allow you to interact with each other” is social media, he says. He believes that maybe if people looked at social media in terms of an “engagement” that it will help them to understand it better.

Professors and social media

AU Professor Scott Talan, another AUSMC faculty adviser, said that students “don’t know what they don’t know” about social media. Though younger users may have grown up using social media, such familiarity may not translate to fully exploiting its capabilities. While Facebook has become wildly popular, Talan said, if technology is not intuitive, people — even young people — won’t use it.

Scott Talan, Assistant Professor, School of Communication, American University (Photo/American University)

Talkin’ bout my generation

Talan said some professors still see social media as another way to fracture student’s attention spans. However, he does not see this as a valid argument against using social media in the classroom.

“Students are distracted by daydreaming. There will always be distractions,” he said. But, he also sees SLS as a “big opportunity for [professors] to learn and use social media” in order to understand it better.

Talan added that most staff on campus are “digital immigrants” in that they “haven’t grown up with this stuff.” He said that faculty are the “last generation” in that will be part “analog” and part “digital.”

“Different generations have a different comfort zone with technology,” said John Hussey,
He says some faculty are uncomfortable with social media because of the “barriers of technology” and the “stigma” that may be associated with it. He said that faculty still see Facebook as a place for “posting baby pictures” and Twitteras a tool for letting people know “what they had for lunch.”

John Hussey, Web Communications Manager, American University (Photo/American University)

There isn’t an official AU push for faculty to become more adept with social media tools, according to Hussey. However, he said that there are more that 70 AU offices on Twitter and approximately 40 professors have Twitter accounts.

Hussey said there is no need for a “PR campaign” in order to “pitch” professors on social media. “The adoption of social media has happened all over campus,” said Hussey. “The professors will have to get on board.”

To help ease faculty’s comfort with social media tools, Hussey’s office has held unofficial group meetings durign the past year to answer technology questions from professors and staff. He plans to officially schedule monthly meetings as a place to help faculty feel more at ease with using social media.

“They need to get past the technology to understand what it offers,” said Hussey.

Social media in the classroom

Though some students and faculty may not have fully embraced social media, a few AU professors have incorporated it into their classrooms.

During Fall 2009’s ‘snowpocalypse’ AU Professor Rhonda Zaharna used Facebook to hold class during a snowday when campus was closed. “It was the first time that I ever used Facebook that way,” she said.

Rhonda Zaharna, Assistant Professor, School of Communications, American University (Photo/American University)

Discussion questions were posted and answered via the social network during the scheduled classroom time. Since then Zaharna has used Facebook along with YouTube to “generate discussions” about assigned readings in her class.

Though Zaharna has been using Facebook she hasn’t discussed her usage of social media with other faculty members. “I’m still too new to it to be advising anyone” on how to use it in the classroom, she said.

Lauren Feldman, assistant professor in the School of Communications, said Facebook is easier to use as an interaction tool with students — such as to extend classroom discussions — because they are on it several times a day anyways.  “Getting students to use Blackboard . . .  was more of a challenge” because students didn’t use it consistently.

Feldman said that the fear some professors have that social media will take the place of actual teaching is due to the educators not “having quite figured out how [they] should embrace social media.”  However, she said that it’s important that faculty “understand that students’ approach to learning is diverse” and that they have to “go where the fish are” to get through to them.

Though Feldman has embraced social media, she said that it would not replace other forms of learning, but will merely be supplemental. “Tweets will not replace papers and blog posts are not going to replace reading,” she said.

Social media redefining the classroom

The social media landscape is constantly changing, making it hard to keep up or determine what will be the next big thing.

Social media beyond the Web will be the next big change, according to Talan. Faculty and students will eventually be using social media tools such as e-textbooks, iPads and smartphones in the classroom.

But real change depends on users adopting new technology. The “real challenge,” says Priest is getting people to have an “open mind.”


Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger Is A Sexual Idiot

This week I received my latest edition of Sports Illustrated (May 5, 2010). The magazine’s cover story ‘The Hangover’ is on the Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The subtitle references his bad behavior, bad judgment and how “entitlement run amok is costing the proud Steelers.” As a Steelers fan this Roethlisberger scandal has been hard to take.

Sports Ilustrated Cover of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (Image: Sports Illustrated, May 5, 2010)

Sports Ilustrated Cover of Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Image: Sports Illustrated, May 5, 2010)

Just in case you didn’t get that he was a total sleazebag SI made sure to pick a photo that showed he hadn’t seen a razor in days. Add to that the prerequisite bank robber/rapist hat and the image is complete. He is a blue collar, semi-white trash, drunken thug who lives to defile the young and nubile.

Roethlisberger has done some dumb things in the past such as riding his motorcycle without a helmet, but this current double-whammy of sexual assault charges is just ridiculous. I use the word ridiculous because his actions were completely unnecessary.

I’m not negating the yuck factor of his actions. I can’t imagine having to fend off the drunken attentions of a man who is determined to have his way. It must be a scary situation for anyone, especially if the man is someone famous. I think that he deserved his NFL suspension because he obviously doesn’t grasp the concept of proper versus improper societal choices.

What I don’t understand is why he felt that he had no choice but to hit on and rough up some underage (under 21) college girls in order to get laid. He is a single guy–not physically unattractive–with loads of money. He could have gone through a low or high rent escort service for sex. He could have found some groupies to help him put his dick to rest. He also could’ve set-up some ‘friends with benefits’ situations to help relieve some of that sexual tension. Of course there are always known groupies whose day he would have made by giving them a “hot beef injection” to quote the Weird Science movie. I’m sure that some of his teammates could have guided him in the right coital direction whenever he really needed to get laid forthwith. I know some of these options are illegal and/or deemed immoral, but it’s done all the time, so there’s no point hiding our heads in the sand about it, pretending this type of so-called sexual decadence doesn’t exist.

Maybe Roethlisberger likes his women young because he still sees himself as a young college kid. Technically he’s only 7-8 years older than the woman he assaulted in Atlanta. But given his life experience and work environment he might as well be in another generation. I know that men usually like younger women because they are supposedly more supple, less of a hassle, less demanding and more malleable. They never think about what that says about them – that they are walking stereotypes of a manchild who can only relate to those younger than themselves.

He tried to put out the bad PR flames by holding a no-questions press conference, but it didn’t turn out well. He should have known that showing up to tell the world that you’re sorry while looking like you just got out of the shower would send the wrong message – again. It only confirmed to many that he was a first class lout. Now the SI story implies that he is a brain-damaged one at that, that his concussions have hampered his ability to know right from wrong, that he acts on instinct without understanding the consequences. I’m not sure which image is worse.

Since we’re a forgiving nation I’m sure that once Roethlisberger returns from his 6-game suspension and wins a few games all will be forgiven. It’s the American way. Hopefully while he is sitting out his time from the NFL he is getting some tips on how to pick up women whom he doesn’t need to assault to get their attention. It’s not that hard, pun intended.

Update: 1) In 2010 the NFL’s initial ‘personal misconduct’ suspension of Roethlisberger was reduced from six to four-games and he was ordered by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to undergo professional counseling and behavior evaluation during his suspension and subsequent reinstatement. 2) In 2010 the woman who accused Roethelisberger of sexual assault at a bar in Midgeville, Georgia on June 5, 2010 decided not to pursue criminal charges against him though she never recanted her accusation. The district attorney did not file criminal charges against Roethlisberger. 3) In 2012 Roethelisberger settled a civil lawsuit with Andrea McNulty who claimed that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her in June 2008 at a Lake Takoe, Nevada celebrity golf tournament. No criminal charges were officially filed in the case. 4) Roethelisberger married Ashley Harlan in 2011; they have two children.

Grant Memorial: The ‘Ugly Betty’ of U.S. Presidential Monuments

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Vietnam Memorial. Arlington Cemetery. Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument. Jefferson Memorial.  When standing in front these memorials, visitors experience a range of emotions. Awe. Hurt. Sadness. Respect.

The United States National Parks Services (NPS) the government bureau responsible for the maintenance of these memorials, wants visitors to notice and feel the beauty of these memorials – not any aesthetic bruises that would detract from the experience.

However, not every Washington, D.C. memorial is viewed with excitement and reverence by its visitors.

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is classified as a presidential memorial, like the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR, but in terms of recognition it is the poor stepchild of local memorials.

Visitors congregate in front of the memorial on a daily basis, but have no knowledge of Grant or his history. Dennis Montagna, Director of National Park Services’ Monument Research and Preservation Program said that it is a “very anonymous memorial” whose site is mainly used as a place for high school classes to get their picture taken because the U.S. Capitol building is right behind it. Kirk Savage, author of Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape said that “it’s amazing how little is known” about the memorial or the man.

The Grant Memorial is located at between Pennsylvania and Maryland Ave, near the west side of the U.S. Capitol Building. It was dedicated in 1921 in honor of Ulysses S. Grant the 18th president of the United States. It is one of twenty-seven presidential memorials in the United States. It is also the first memorial to be constructed on the National Mall.

Unlike other presidential memorials such as the Lincoln or the Jefferson, Grant’s statue was not in honor of his presidential legacy.  Unfortunately, President Grant’s administration from 1869 to 1877 was full of governmental mischief from start to finish. Staff members resigned over a host of scandals such as bribery, extortion, financial kickbacks, embezzlement and causing the gold market to crash.

Grant the President

Grant had a bad habit of hiring the wrong people. He also had an even worse habit of remaining loyal to these malcontents who were steadfastly throwing his presidential administration under the bus, to use a current vernacular.

Grant’s presidency did have some accomplishments such as the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment that allowed African-American males over the age of twenty-one the right to vote, the 1875 Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination and segregation against African-Americans in public settings, his “Peace Policy” for Native Americans and establishment of the U.S. Department of Justice. However, it’s hard to point to your triumphs when your failures are more pronounced and politically salacious.

President Ulysses S. Grant (Photo/History.com)

President Ulysses S. Grant (Photo/History.com)

After his presidency Grant tried to settle back into a normal life, but it was hard due to financial missteps on his part.  However, Grant used this time to write his memoirs, which provided the public with its first insight into the presidency. When he died of throat cancer in 1885 over one million people gathered in New York City to watch Grant’s funeral procession and burial ceremonies.

According to Joan Waugh, author of Pageantry of Woe: The Funeral of Ulysses S. Grant, Grant’s funeral was a “spectacle, replete with religious, patriotic, and nationalistic imagery and rhetoric” and that across the country thousands of eulogies and obituaries for Grant “stressed his Christian moral character” and military role in “preserving the Union.” Not much was said about his presidency, which was to be expected.

In the years after his presidency there was a movement to honor Grant with a statue in honor of his work for his country. Though his presidency practically drowned in scandal, Grant’s reputation was saved by one major historical fact. Prior to his presidency, Grant was the magnificent general who led the Union Army to victory against the Confederates in the American Civil War. Grant supporters’ arguments carried the day and the Grant Memorial was built after his death, just like all the other presidential memorials.

Yet the Grant Memorial is not like other presidential memorials. What makes it different is that it is a military memorial that honors a former president.

The Making of the Memorial

The Grant Memorial was made using bronze for the statues and white marble for the platforms. Sculptor Henry Shrady took over twenty years to finish it and died before the dedication ceremonies. Montagna said that Shrady never got a chance to “bask in the glow of adulation regarding the memorial.”

Shrady designed the Grant Memorial to include three sections consisting of Grant in the middle with images of a cavalry charge and an artillery unit on his left and right of Grant statue.

Ulysses S. Grant - Grant Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo/Nathan Culpepper)

Ulysses S. Grant – Grant Memorial, Washington, D.C. (Photo/Nathan Culpepper)

The largest section of the memorial statue at over seventeen feet is Grant posed on a horse with his sword sticking high in the air. The statue exudes strength of character and decisiveness, personality traits that probably served him well during the Civil War.  Savage said that Grant “looms above in majestic isolation” over his troops “in his own world, separated from the ordinary soldier. Montagna said that Grant looks “cool and unflappable while all hell is breaking loose around him.”

The ‘hell’ that Montagna is referring to is reflected in the faces of the artillery unit and cavalry charge statues that are next to Grant. These statues show a different side of war.

In the artillery group the men are readying for battle with their faces set in determination for the inevitable with their howitzer in tow. The leader of the artillery looks as if he was caught giving an order in mid-sentence. The horses are charging full steam ahead, necks arched almost prancing while they churn up water and mud as their hooves try to find traction in the land.

As for the cavalry group their determination has given way to fear and pain. The men are huddled together fighting off the cold as their cart takes them to another battle. A horse has lost his footing and is falling down. Unfortunately it has taken a soldier with him who most uncertainly will be trampled to death. The soldier’s face is crying out but no one seems to hear him. Savage said that if you didn’t know any better you would think that it’s an “anti-war” memorial.

The Grant Memorial was highly praised upon its dedication. It also was seen as a first step in the revitalization of Union Square, what is now the National Mall.  The goal (McMillan Plan), according to the Commission on the Arts (commonly known as the McMillan Commission) at the time was to have more gardens and parks surrounding the memorial. Instead something called the Lincoln Memorial, built to honor the sixteenth president was dedicated in May 1922, one month after the Grant Memorial dedication. Just like that – the dwarfing of the Grant Memorial had begun.

As more memorials and a reflecting pool popped up along the National Mall the view of the Grant Memorial became more obscure. Others such as Grant historian James Goode and the Washington Post’s Paul Richard have championed the Grant Memorial to raise its recognition, but not too much avail. Too add insult to injury the memorial was also getting worked over by the elements.

Rain and snow created a type of rust that coated the pristine bronze statues of Grant Memorial with a green-like coating that oozed its way down onto the marble. The marble platforms and ballasts have cracks and missing pieces. Not much was done about it until the 1980s when the National Parks Services began cleaning and waxing it again.

Catherine Dewey, Architectural Conservator at the National Park Service said in an “ideal world” the memorial would be cleaned at least once a year. However, she said that the cleaning of monuments and memorials are “partially based on need” and the “higher profile” of the monument.

“Sometimes it’s hard to pick and choose which memorials and monuments deserve funds and which will have to wait a while.” said Montagna.

Dewey said that the National Park Service is seeking funds for the restoration of the Grant in the next few years. In the interim, since the Grant Memorial is not the Lincoln, the Vietnam or the Jefferson it has to wait for its turn in the cleaning rotation.

It is highly unlikely that the Grant Memorial will ever see the number of visitors as the Lincoln or the Jefferson. Savage said the area around the memorial is not set-up for visitors, with the reflecting pool blocking access to the memorial. Plus he said “it’s Grant – not Lincoln” and that “each has a much different place in our memory.”

Yet there are people out there who think that the Grant Memorial still has a shot at recognition. Savage said that the memorial needs to be “interpreted for contemporary use” with kiosks, podcasts or audio and “create a whole new physical circulation to the Mall area” to include the Grant memorial in its foot traffic. Or maybe the memorial should be rebranded as a statue-like movie as described by Richards “offering horses at full gallop drama, ceaseless action, bugle calls, grunts and screams.” Also, Grant has become pretty popular in the publishing industry, with some authors saying that his presidency wasn’t all that bad. But is that enough?

Maybe the Grant Memorial one day will get the recognition its supporters thinks it deserves. But as long as it is staring across the Lincoln Memorial that recognition will always be hard to find.

But hope springs eternal.

Needy, Nerdy Geek Squad Alert

The past two issues of GQ Magazine have feature the actors Shia LaBeouf and Jake Gyllenhaal on their covers. They are not bad-looking guys. I would go so far and say that they are cute, possibly adorable. But when I hear people refer to them as ‘hot’ I have to draw the line since is simply not true. I know that many will disagree with me but I must stand my ground. You’ll say that I have something against nerds or you’ll remind me that still waters run deep. It’s not that I have anything against men who lean towards the nerdy side, but if you want that vibe with an edge you should take a look at Edward Norton. He is hot and I wouldn’t mind rolling around the hay with him for a weekend.

Shia and Jake just give off a ‘good friend’ vibe that I just can’t shake. Also their waters are pretty shallow, not in the emotional sense but in the levels of fascination that neither of them exude. I like men who don’t look like that I can knock them out. I’m not saying that I’m only attracted to über heterosexual men such as Schwarzenegger or some other muscleheads. When I think of strong, fascinating men Daniel Craig, Terence Stamp, Morris Chestnut, Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Hill Harper come to mind. It’s time that GQ get back to basics and start putting some seasoned men back on their covers instead of these puppy dog types who look like they need a box of tissue.

Crappy Headphones and Riding the Metro

Since I live in the Greater DC Metro area I ride the metro (aka subway to those outside the area) to/from work several times a week. For the most part the train rides aren’t that bad compared to other subway systems in the United States such as Chicago’s which is absolutely atrocious. Anyway, I digress. The one thing that really bugs me about the DC metro are riders who have subpar quality headphones hooked up to their music player. Their headphones are so fucking shitty that you can hear every note and lyric as if you were wearing the headphones as well. Obviously if their music is up this loud this  means that their headphones are a piece of shit, yet the wearer doesn’t seem to know this which is why they compensate by having the volume at maximum setting. What’s so funny is that I’ve noticed that most of these bad headphone perpetrators are Black females under 30. What’s up with that? Yes, I said it and I’m Black so sue me. Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out this interesting anecdotal statistic, but to no avail. What is so terrible about this situation is that good headphones don’t really cost that much. My Sony headphones cost me less than $20 and I can blast away my music sitting next to someone without destroying their metro equilibrium. Don’t tell me that all these crappy headphone wearers don’t have the money since their music system is hooked up to their smartphone which they use to text message and have moronic conversations with their idiotic phonemates ad nauseum. I have seriously thought about contacting Sony to let them know that they have a good marketing campaign right at their fingertips. They should have reps going up and down the train with a camera looking for people in need of quality headphone intervention. They should go up to these fools while on camera and let them know that Sony is there to help them break the cycle. Well, since that is not going to happen I think that these riders should simply be kicked to the curb or maybe just punched in the face.

When the Long-suffering Wife Is Worse Than the Mistress

This week John Edwards’ former mistress, Rielle Hunter was on Oprah Winfrey. Hunter talked about the political scandal/affair that involved former 2008 democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, his wife Elizabeth and herself. She espoused about the lovechild she had with John, their relationship and its ramifications.

I didn’t actually watch the program since I was at work. Even if I had happened to be home that day I still wouldn’t have watched it. What’s the point? Would I have learned anything that I didn’t already know? We all know the media spin that was put on this story.  John is a cad who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife. Hunter is a slut who took advantage and along with John could have almost cost the Democrats the presidential election. Then there’s poor, sick, salt-of-the-earth Elizabeth Edwards (John’s wife) who has been embarrassed by her husband’s wayward penis.

I wish I could say that I felt sorry for Elizabeth when this whole sordid news came about, but I didn’t then and I don’t now. Call me cynical, but I just never bought the ‘Poor Elizabeth’ story. Yes, she has cancer. Yes, she had a child die in a car accident, but that does not mean that she is a saint. Let’s be honest, some of the empathy directed towards her is because she is a fat, frumpy and all-around not a very physically attractive person. Heck, her husband might as well have been a Greek god in the looks department when compared to her.

Elizabeth knew what people thought of her and played this hand of cards to its fullest, whether it was lying to the public, the Edwards’ campaign workers or the democratic party.  John was not the only narcissistic person in this relationship, she held her own as well. She wanted to be in the White House just as badly as John did – make no mistake about that. She was completely complicit in trying to keep John’s tryst with Hunter under wraps as long as possible. When the shit hit the fan she was pissed and let everyone know it in a very passive-aggressive manner. If she really cared about her family she would not have written a book or showed up on every talk show talking about her feelings about John’s philandering while never referring to Rielle or her husband’s lovechild by name. Sometimes she referred to John and Rielle’s daughter as “it.” What made the situation worse and downright mean was that during Elizabeth’s interviews John would be sitting next to her quietly, looking absolutely pathetic while his balls were being cut-off on national television. I actually felt sorry for him even though he could have caused the republicans to get back in the White House if Edwards had been the democrat’s presidential nominee when the Hunter-Edwards scandal hit the news world. I’m not saying that John Edwards’ downfall isn’t deserved because this incident shows that he is reckless and his decision-making skills are extremely faulty. Yet, Elizabeth’s behavior is not without fault.

Whenever I expressed my thoughts on Elizabeth Edwards I was told that I had no pity, that I was being harsh towards poor, poor Elizabeth. I must admit that I felt some vindication when Edwards’ former aide, Andrew Young wrote in his book about Elizabeth’s controlling and vindictive behavior. I’m not saying that Young is 100% right since he has his own agenda, but I believe that there is some truth to his allegations. As for Rielle Hunter, she is as clueless as the day is long. I’m not sure if she is in love with John Edwards or suffering from extreme infatuation. Unfortunately for John he allowed his dick to do his talking and he got run over by his wife and mistress. Yet I’m sure that he is surprised by the depth of the tread marks that Elizabeth has left on his back since stereotypically that is the mistress’ job. I guess he didn’t know when to fold them or when to hold them or when to walk away. Oh well.

Note: In January 2010 John and Elizabeth Edwards separated after 32 years of marriage. However, they were never legally divorced. The split could not be finalized until the couple lived apart for 12 months–Elizabeth Edwards’ died of metastatic breast cancer on December 7, 2010 one month shy of the requirement. In January 2011 Elizabeth Edward’s final will and testament revealed that she left nothing to John Edwards. He was not mentioned in her will. The couple’s oldest daughter was named executor and everything was left to the couple’s three children.

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