Author Archives: mgershovich

Posts: 6 (archived below)
Comments: 3

About mgershovich

Director of The Schwartz Institue FT

So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities?


Posted in The Profession | 3 Comments

How blunt is too blunt?

The following is a post from cac.ophony by David Parsons, a CUNY Writing Fellow, on a recent email exchange between Scott Galloway of NYU’s Stern School of business and a student, which has begun to generate all sorts of interesting discussion on the ways in which faculty members should or should not communicate with students. The original post is here.

UntitledA professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Scott Galloway, recently sent an email that has gone viral, due largely to its unique approach in response to a student’s particularly obnoxious behavior. The student, who remains anonymous, had arrived an hour late to class and been denied admission, and later emailed the professor to explain that he was late because he had been “sampling” different classes, the last of which was Professor Galloway’s, and that it was within his rights to explore different options at the beginning of the semester.

Galloway’s response has caught attention because of his brutal honesty in addressing what he sees as the student’s overall functional weaknesses. In short, he takes him down a few notches. You can read the full exchange here, but I wanted to focus on a specific piece of Galloway’s final advice:

“Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a live/work balance…these are all really hard, xxxx. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility…these are all (relatively) easy. Get the easy stuff right xxxx. In and of themselves they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential which, by virtue of you being admitted to Stern, you must have in spades. It’s not too late xxxx…”


Posted in Classroom Management, Classroom Rules, Communicating and Managing Expectations, Values | 1 Comment

Back to Basics: Resisting the Allure of Web Technology in the Classroom


Cartoon from Paul Silli's blog post "Why Should School Districts Invest in Technology."

James Hoff, a Fellow at the Schwartz Communication Institute, just posted to the Institute’s blog a provocative argument against teaching with technology entitled “Back to Basics: Resisting the Allure of Web Technology in the Classroom.” Bellow is a snippet.

As a profession we seem to have thoughtlessly embraced the idea of technology precisely because we see it as a way of making learning easier and more accessible for more of our students. Obviously—the logic goes—our students are comfortable using the Internet and social networking tools, so why not allow them to use those skills to learn? This kind of thinking is common among instructors who embrace popular culture because they think it will help their students “relate” to the course material. These are the same teachers who spend class time screening Hollywood versions of Shakespeare because students are supposedly incapable of understanding Elizabethan English or who teach rap lyrics or song lyrics as poetry, because it’s easier for students to get the difference between a tenor and a vehicle when it’s Tupac or Bob Dylan speaking than when it’s Dylan Thomas or Langston Hughes. But our calling as educators extends beyond merely providing our students with opportunities to learn material. As educators we are also responsible for providing our students with experiences which they would not otherwise have access to, such as the experiences that result from finding solutions to difficult problems, engaged and thoughtful conversation, and collegial argument. But even more than this, it is important that we offer our students alternatives to the kinds of experiences provided by the technology of mass media. If we are going to insist on teaching them how to get by in the corporate world they’ve been given, we need to at least teach them that other worlds are still possible.

You can read the entire post and comment on it here.

Posted in Instructional Technology, Student Participation, Students' Thinking, Using Technology | 1 Comment


The Schwartz Communication Institute’s Luke Waltzer just posted to cac.ophony an interesting discussion of one of our most ambitious projects to date, the introduction of student blogging into every section of Freshman Seminar. In Luke’s words, “every Freshman Seminar at Baruch currently is blogging. That’s roughly 60 sections, populated by over 1200 students. Yowser.”

The idea of the FRO blogging project, a collaboration with our colleagues at Advisement and Orientation, is to provide first-year students with an online, public space for reflecting on a number of required projects and activities as well as their experiences of acclimating to college life — to give our incoming students yet more curricular opportunities to write and, in the process, to increase engagement and deepen their thinking about what they are learning and experiencing in their first year at Baruch.

Luke’s post details some of the nitty gritty of the project, which is one big experiment (a full-scale pilot, if you will) that we hope will teach us quite a bit more about the pedagogical potential of online personal publishing in introductory programs and courses. We hope, for example, to look closely at the tremendous variety of writing we have seen in the FRO blogs so far (from well articulated, impressively developed posts resembling mini-essays to brief, informal missives written in like SMS text messages) and explore ways in which to better teach students the conventions of college-level written discourse. For now, we’re focused fairly heavily on logistics and mechanics and look forward to building on and refining the programmatic and pedagogical aspects in coming semesters.

Student blogging seems to be a natural fit for typical Freshman Seminars, so I would expect that other schools have tried something like this though it does appear as though we at Baruch are blazing new trails. If you know of other schools doing something similar, please let us know.

Posted in Communication Skills, Instructional Technology, Student Participation | 9 Comments

Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger

Those of you familiar with cac.ophony, the Schwartz Communication Institute’s blog, know that our Fellows consistently offer intelligent, insightful commentary on a host of topics including, teaching, technology, communication, culture and media. Below is a recent post on teaching with blogs by Hillary Miller, which has gotten a fair share of attention, including a couple of plugs on Prof. Hacker, a new, high-volume, high-profile blog on teaching and technology. Hillary’s instructive and provocative post, entitled “Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger,” is reproduced below.

. . .

I’m finally looking back to Spring ’09, when I had my first experience using Blogs@Baruch in two sections of COM1010, Intro to Speech Communications. I used the blog for the midterm, in which students write critiques of speeches they’ve found online. In past semesters, students have been inventive in their speech choices and committed in their critiques. But the question of how to best enable their classmates to see these videos still lingered. Curious about Blogs@Baruch, I decided to migrate this assignment onto a blog, allowing students to watch (and comment upon) each other’s videos and share their critiques of the speeches. Having learned from the adventure, here are a few words of advice to potential Blogs@Baruch-ers.

1. It’s not difficult. Considering the gong show of Blackboard’s tech problems this semester, it was almost comical how smoothly the blog functioned. A handful of students ran into some problems accessing it at certain computers, but often I found that problems encountered by students were frequently due more to lack of time and preparation on their part than any issue with the blog itself.

2. Don’t be conservative! I was. As one of my students told me at the end of the semester, “the blog was just there.” It wasn’t as dynamic as it could have been, in part because I didn’t use it to capture anything in progress. Students cut and pasted their work onto the blog, and then made the requisite comment on a post, creating a static space outside of the classroom, not a particularly engaging one. While it was satisfying to see this vast collection of interesting video clips assembled in one place—along with frequently cogent, in-depth analyses of them—I see now that I used the blog to solve a problem (that of my midterm assignment) rather than tailoring it for uses that would really suit the nature of the blog. Recent conversations with my students and others have highlighted a range of ways that it could be used in an Introductory Speech course– sharing audio files or outlines of student speech drafts that could be revised as the “audience” comments. On a related note, the public forum really does elicit strong work. When students feel the watchful eyes of their peers, the bar is set somewhere different. This makes my mouth water for the possibilities of the course blog—like facilitating peer review, for example—that I didn’t explore.

3. Be forewarned: out of sight, out of mind. In part due to #2 above, the blog can feel like that side dish you ordered but weren’t quite hungry for. It’s easy to lose track of the blog, and its implementation should be planned with an eye towards avoiding this. Usually, the material nature of grading compels you to eventually plop down on a long train ride and hit it out of the park. With the blog, not so easy. I had good intentions—I wanted to comment on posts frequently, but commenting is time-consuming, especially if students are posting 40-minute inauguration speeches. This in turn leaves less time to evaluate the work for grading purposes. From the student side, they were assigned a date for one post; once students posted, they didn’t have a strong incentive to return, which would leave me begging them to “visit the blog!” when I myself was embarrassingly behind on reading their old posts.

4. Students might be less excited about instructional technology than you are. (…How to get them more excited is part of the task.) Take ‘tagging,’ for example—it was harder than I might have imagined getting the ‘tagging’ to happen. Some assume that the ‘Sidekick generation’ will tag as if it were natural as breathing. Not so– every nineteen-year-old might know how to search YouTube, but they’re not all writing Facebook applications or even their own blogs. Making some class time available to teach students the rhyme and reason behind some aspects of the blog is arguably essential, and yet somehow easy to overlook.

The Com1010 Public Speaking Award Goes To...

The Com1010 Public Speaking Award Goes To...

5. Students love Pacino. As in past semesters, his speeches were cited with a remarkable frequency, rivaled only by Randy Pausch. This is perhaps not a surprise, since the first hit from googling “inspirational speech” is Pacino’s “peace by inches” monologue from Any Given Sunday, but still. City Hall has a less predictable—and arguably far better—dramatic monologue that I’m glad one of my students spread around.

I’ll end here with a question. As Luke articulated so well in his WordCampEd post, these open source technologies are blessedly DIY. But I can’t help feeling a little protective of the adjunct in this discussion– don’t adjuncts “do it themselves” enough? Can the full potential of Instructional Technology really be unleashed with the real limitations of the adjunct labor force operating in higher education? I’m in a distinctly lucky position as a dual-hatted Communications Fellow and adjunct; working with people jazzed and knowledgeable about these technologies has taught me tremendous amounts about how to use it and why. But how will Jane Q. Adjunct learn about the potential of a course blog, after tearing her hair out over Blackboard for months and missing the departmental meeting that announced a later workshop about blogs, all time she’s not paid for? How will Jane Q. Adjunct get excited about the potential of these tools, and why will she motivate to prioritize the time required to integrate them thoughtfully and productively in her course?

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

VOCAT and the Question of Openness

x-posted from

It recently occurred to me that very little has been written about the Schwartz Communication Institute’s most ambitious and potentially most promising project, our Video Oral Communication Assessment Tool, or VOCAT. I have presented on VOCAT a number of times over the years (most recently at the 2009 Computers and Writing conference in June), but have not yet written about it in any kind of real detail. So it’s high time to remedy that.

VOCAT is a teaching and assessment web application. It is the fruit of a collaboration between the Schwartz Institute and mad genius code-poets at , Cast Iron Coding, Zach Davis and Lucas Thurston. It is still very much in development (perpetually so) but is already in use in introductory speech communication and theater courses as well as a number of assessment projects. Our career center used it effectively a few semesters ago as well. To date, approximately 3200 Baruch students have used the tool.

VOCAT was developed in recognition of the principle that careful, guided review of video recordings of their oral presentations (or of any performance, for that matter) can be remarkably effective for aiding students in becoming confident, purposeful and effective speakers. It serves as a means for instructors to easily provide feedback on student presentations.  It enables students to access videos of their performances as well as instructor feedback and to respond to both. It likewise aggregates recorded presentations and instructor feedback for each user and offers an informative snapshot of a student’s work and progress over the course of a given term or even an entire academic career. Presentations can be scored live, as students perform, or asynchronously once the videos have been uploaded. (Our turnaround time at this stage is between one and seven days depending on how many sections are using the tool at once — once some of the key steps happen server-side, turnaround time will not be as much of a concern.) Built on the open source TYPO3 content management system, it is a flexible, extensible and scalable web application that can be used at once as a teaching tool and as a means of data collection for research or other assessment purposes. (Screenshots are available here. I am also happy to share demo login info with anyone who would like to take a look — please email me at mikhail [dot] gershovich [at] baruch [dot] cuny [dot] edu.)

While VOCAT is quite feature-rich at this early stage, especially when it comes to reporting, data export, and rubric creation, we are always thinking about ways in which the tool can be made more robust and flexible. Currently, we are playing around with adding a group manager feature for group presentations, tagging for non-numeric assessment, moving from QT to Flash video, video annotation, as well as server-side video processing and in-line video and audio recording. We are also considering allowing users to choose to enable social functionality to take advantage of web 2.0 tools for sharing and commenting on one another’s work. And since, at its core, VOCAT is a tool for aggregating and responding to anything that can be uploaded, we’re thinking about other uses to which it could be put. It could easily, for example, be adapted for writing assessment. And someone once suggested that it could be useful for teaching bedside manner for medical students. Adapting VOCAT for these purposes is hardly a big deal.

The platform on which VOCAT is built is open source but the tool itself is not yet open. Right now, it is Baruch’s alone. Whether it should stay that way is a question much discussed around here. Here at the Institute we face several critical issues around open education, not the least of which is conflicting views on student access of Blogs@Baruch. In regards to VOCAT, however, the one thing constantly on my mind is the tension between an internal drive to share the tool as an open-source web application and build a community around it (there are no shortage of interested parties) and the pressures (or maybe a pernicious institutional common sense) that seem to compel us to keep VOCAT proprietary and use it to generate as much revenue as possible. I have heard arguments that VOCAT should be Baruch’s alone — that we should charge for its use and seek private funding for its deployment and development. This is a business school, after all, and I’m sure promoting and marketing VOCAT could be an interesting project for an upper division Marketing course.

Yet, I am inclined to believe that VOCAT should be shared freely and widely with other institutions and that other developers should be encouraged to develop for it.  A great many more students would benefit and development would certainly be accelerated as more and more schools add features they need that could then be adopted for use here. Were VOCAT open, in other words, it would evolve quickly and probably in ways we haven’t even imagined. And that is very exiting.

In the coming months, I hope to continue to present on VOCAT and to gain insights into the roles it can play in communication intensive courses or in a communication-focused curriculum of any sort. More importantly, I would like to move towards opening it up and will work with our developers on the features and functionality that facilitate sharing. I hope also to draw upon the tremendous expertise of my friends and colleagues involved in the open education movement and learn from those who have worked with and developed various open source tools for teaching and learning. Listening to others’ ideas for VOCAT has been invaluable to thinking through what this web app could ostensibly do with the right sort of development.  could be and how to best realize its full potential as a teaching tool — both in terms of deployment, training, and development.

Posted in Assessing Learning, Communication Skills, Student Participation, Teaching Large Classes, Using Technology | 6 Comments