I’ve never been much for nicknames. However, in October 2007 when I began teaching for DeVry University in Bakersfield, students in my first class affectionately (well, I think it was affectionately) bestowed the nickname “Drew” upon me.

Apparently some of my students felt I resemble comedian, actor and current host of The Price is Right, Drew Carey. I don’t know if this is really a compliment, but I am not sure it is a good thing to look like him (maybe looking like him when he was in the Marines is okay)!

Sure, I am a male Caucasian with a few extra pounds and glasses, but Drew Carey is definitely not my doppelgänger. Brad Pitt, maybe, but Drew Carey, not a chance!

Incidentally, a colleague claims I remind him of George Clooney. As much as I would like to embrace that idea, I am realistic enough to know that if I had to choose between the two options, I certainly (and sadly?) resemble Drew Carey much more than George Clooney.

In the months since my “nickname knighting” I embraced my alternate identity, feeling it was a humorous way to relate to my students and provide some comic relief. I felt as if I had been accepted by my students and the nickname, regardless of what it actually was, served as an outward indicator of their “approval” of me in their social circle.

The nickname was a way to break the ice and help them learn. I didn’t mind that the joke was on me if enabling them to call me it allowed them to overcome their fears about higher education.

With the start of each new session I would introduce myself as “Mr. Gilbert, but you can also call me Drew.” Initially, during the first few months after the school opened — when my classes consisted primarily of many of the same students (with a few new additions each session) — the nickname seemed harmless enough.

However, over the past few months the campus has grown exponentially. Impressively there are students and even new faculty members who I now barely know — it is an exciting time to be on campus. Classes have grown to healthy sizes and I no longer see that initial group of students quite as often.

With the start of the most recent session, suddenly introducing myself as “Drew” seemed awkward — as if the joke was old and no longer funny. Although a few students who were in on the initial naming were still around, I felt like most of the students to whom I told my nickname simply didn’t get it.

They seemed to wonder why, if my last name is Gilbert and my first name is Matthew, was I telling them to call me Drew? Besides, having “two first names” is confusing enough — sometimes a student is unsure if I am “Mr. Gilbert” or “Mr. Matthew.” Why make things harder than they need to be?!

Most importantly, I began to realize that there is a reason for titles and formally addressing someone. I am not big on pulling rank, but I did start to feel that having my students address me with my nickname was too casual — and doing so was starting to erode my authority in the classroom. It was not an overt feeling, just an anecdotal realization.

Sure, I enjoy creating a fun and welcoming classroom environment, but just as I know that parents can’t always be a friend to their children, teachers can’t always be friends with their students. Sometimes someone needs to be in charge — even if its just to keep things on track.

I therefore decided to kill off my “Drew” nickname as of Monday, July 28, 2008. May it rest in peace. Burial services will be private. In lieu of flowers please PayPal cash donations!

I am still fine with my “old” students still referring to me as “Drew” because they created the nickname and it still seems to work with them as a term of endearment.

Conversely I prefer that students now call me Mr. Gilbert or Mr. G — which I like because years ago my grandfather, after whom I try to model my life, was often called “Mr. G.” But really, either is fine so long as I am no longer called “Drew.”

Drew is dead. Long live Mr. Gilbert!

Have soaring gas prices pushed online course enrollment past the tipping point? This is a question addressed in a July 8, 2008 Chronicle of Higher Education article titled, “Rising Gas Prices Fuel Increse In Online Learning.” Author Jeffrey R. Young presented some compelling data, including the following:

  • The Tennessee Board of Regents reports that summer enrollment in online courses is up 29 percent this summer over last year.
  • At Brevard Community College, in Cocoa, Fla., summer enrollment in online courses is up nearly 25 percent.
  • Harrisburg Area Community College, in Pennsylvania, saw its summer online enrollment rise 15 percent to 20 percent.
  • At Northampton Community College, summer online enrollment is up 18 percent.

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Noting this increased interest, the article further highlights how certain online schools and traditional schools with online programs are now endeavoring to capitalize on the trend, as explained below:

  • The SUNY Learning Network, the online incarnation of the State University of New York, offers prospective students access to an online calculator that helps them determine how much they will save in gas costs by taking classes online.
  • Colorado State University, which is launching a new online program this fall, has decided to waive the program’s $50 application fee to attract more students concerned about gas prices.

Despite the reported increase in online enrollments, administrators at the University of Phoenix, the largest provider of online education, repot that there has not been a spike in online enrollments this summer nor have representatives heard much about gas prices affecting students’ choice of formats.

This might be due in part to Phoenix’s ground classes being designed to minimize drive time by meeting just once a week for four-hour sessions, with textbooks and library services delivered online.

The evening courses I teach for DeVry are designed similarly: classes meet once a week for four hours with an online component designed to provide two to four additional hours of educational experience. That being said, I still have students who admirably drive upwards of 30 miles to the campus from places like Delano, Wasco and Shafter. I also have one student that drives more than 40 miles from Lake Isabella!

I suspect that as gas prices continue to climb there will be increased demand for online classes. Anecdotally speaking I have seen an ongoing increase in the advertisement and availability of online courses — both individual classes, certificate programs and degrees.

While I can’t verify this, I feel as if I have seen more schools offering additional programs during the past few months. Likely, if it is true, it is merely a coincidence, because developing and launching an online learning experience is not something you can do in just a few months.

Nevertheless, as an online adjunct instructor and as someone who feels technology can both increase the availability of education and enhance a student’s ability to learn (in classrooms or online), I am pleased to see the increase in online education — whatever the reason might be. Personally, I welcome additional opportunities to teach online because I would appreciate a chance to save a few (hundred) dollars in gas!

If you’ve ever been curious what a Scotsman wears under his kilt, don’t as Wikipedia!

According to a June 21, 2008 Scotsman article by Martyn McLaughlin the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC)contends that Wikipedia and similar online research sources were to blame for Scotland’s falling exam pass rates.

Excerpts of the original article follows:

Wikipedia and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland’s falling exam pass rates. The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and Internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work.

The group singled out online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which allows entries to be logged or updated by anyone and is not verified by researchers, as the main source of information.

Eleanor Coner, the SPTC’s information officer, said: “Children are very IT-savvy, but they are rubbish at researching. The sad fact is most children these days use libraries for computers, not the books. We accept that as a sign of the times, but schools must teach pupils not to believe everything they read.

“It’s dangerous when the Internet is littered with opinion and inaccurate information which could be taken as fact.”

Alan Johnson, the UK Education Secretary, was lambasted earlier this year for suggesting the website could be a positive educational tool for children.

He described the Internet as “an incredible force for good in education”, singling out Wikipedia for praise.

A disclaimer on Wikipedia states “it is important to note that fledgling, or less well monitored, articles may be susceptible to vandalism and insertion of false information.”

Boasting over two million articles, Wikipedia is used by about 6 per cent of Internet users, significantly more than the traffic to more authorised sites, such as those of newspapers. Its articles are mainly edited by a team of volunteers.

Wikipedia was really a trailblazer in the current trend of virtual communities of practice, an area of my academic research interests. However, I know full well that whatever I read might not be accurate.

I once heard it said that Wikipedia is a great place to start your research, but a bad place to end it. I feel that is an accurate assessment. I personally enjoy exploring Wikipedia and often find I end up on a page I never imagined I would find.

As an adjunct instructor, I go to great lengths to explain why Wikipedia is not an ideal source for research information — precisely for the reasons mentioned above.  I explain that they can begin their research at Wikipedia — as it is usually one of the top five pages to appear following a Google search — but I tell them to follow the links to the resources cited on the page itself.

However, I am admittedly a bit of a hypocrite as I frequently link to Wikipedia pages in this blog due to the ease with which pages relevant to my topics can be found. Without question, Wikipedia pages are a great clearinghouse of information — a true crossroads of knowledge — and for that reason alone the site is a useful tool.

But, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness — one that will forever exist so long as the site remains as it is now.

Carrot-TopI recently demonstrated how easy it is to change a page on Wikipedia to one of my English classes by changing the Wikipedia page for comedian Carrot Top to indicate that he had died unexpectedly on that date.

I was even able to change to biographical information in the box that appears in the upper-right-hand corner of the page.

In fairness to Wikipedia, one of their editors discovered the false entry and deleted it within seven minutes.

Still, seven minutes is plenty of time for someone researching comedians to have found the page and added a citation to their paper that Carrot Top had indeed died.

So I really can see both sides of this issue — though as an educator I make sure my students understand the pros and cons of Wikipedia. Just like the students mentioned in the Scotsman article, I am likely to conduct my research virtually instead of physically in a library.

It is hard to not do so with resources such as ProQuest making almost anything you need available at the click of a few keys.

The main issue is to teach students how to properly conduct research and to ensure they understand why certain sources are more credible that others. Sometimes this can be difficult to communicate, especially when it comes to controversial topics for which there might not be a great deal of mainstream research materials available.

Clearly technology offers education an immesurable advantage, but the key is to learn to control it without letting it control us.

One of my research interests is the metoric rise social networking services: LinkedIn.com, Facebook.com, MySpace.com and others. Typical social network services use software to help users create on-line networks with people who share interests and activities  or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others.

My particular curiosity is learning how entrepreneurs and small business owners use social networking services to effectively make contacts, share information and build business.

So it was particularly interesting to me when I stumbled across a great post on a blog called “The Thinking Stick” titled “Moving from Consumer to Producer of Information.” It focused on the rise of social networking sites and blogs as the primary means of entertainment, information gathering and knowledge production (primarily among 18 to 24 year olds).

The blog presents research conducted by MySpace and reported by Netimperative this past January as follows:

  • Social networks are now so integral to daily life, for some, they have surpassed the TV as the entertainment media of choice.
  • Nearly half of 18-24 year old social networkers (45%) told Future Laboratory researchers that if they had 15 minutes of spare time they would choose spend it on social networking sites rather than watching TV, reading, talking on their mobile, or playing video games.  
  • The impact of this trend is so significant that a quarter (25%) of respondents state that the rise in social networks has decreased the amount of traditional television they consume.

Clearly, social networking sites have evolved between simple socialization and are emerging as an entirely new cultural paradigm. In fact, they are now even becoming relevant to business.

Having been born in Boston, Massachusetts and sharing a birthday with George Washington, American history, and specifically Independence Day, have always had a special place in my heart.

I also have an interest in pop culture and a decent sense of humor (depending on who you ask!), so I can really appreciate “Schoolhouse Rock.”

So, to celebrate America’s 232nd birthday I thought it would be appropriate to share the following “Schoolhouse Rock” video titled “Fireworks.” Enjoy!

Since 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 the California Vehicle Code (CVC) mandates that all drivers use a “hands-free” device when driving and talking on a cellular phone.  The state actually passed two laws which are now active as Section 23123 and Section 23124 of the CVC.

According to the new laws, drivers caught talking on a hand-held cell phone will be subject to fines of $20 for the first ticket and $50 for subsequent tickets. Additional fees can potentially more than triple the fine — I have heard that the average first ticket will cost $76!

One silver lining in this dark cloud: although the infraction will appear on your driving record the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not assign you a violation point.

Below is an instructional video about the news laws followed by Q & A about them (courtesy of the DMV):

Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect?
A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.

Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency, and I do not have a “hands-free” device?
A: The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fines(s) if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, the fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense, however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.

Q: Are passengers affected by this law?
A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

 

Drivers 18 and Over

Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a “hands-free” device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.

Q: Will it be legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Drivers Under 18

Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone “hands-free?”
A: No. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even “hands-free.” EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities (VC §23124).

Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.

Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.

Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.

Q: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.

Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.

Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my “hands-free” device while driving?
A: For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a “hands-free” wireless device if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

It is hoped the laws will reduce distractions to drivers, thereby mitigating the 4,000 traffic accident deaths that occur in the state each year.

A study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute documented 80 percent of accidents are caused by driver distraction, and 65 percent of near-crashes resulted from driver inattention three seconds before the event. The Public Policy Institute of California anticipates 300 fewer traffic fatalities annually once these new laws take effect.

Yet, there remains great debate as to how much using a hands-free device improves your ability to pay attention to the road beyond what you would experience by simply holding the phone to your ear.

In a June 28, 2008 a Daily Breeze article, California State University, Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen, a specialist in the psychology of technology, is quoted as follows:

“Hands-free phones are no safer than handheld – it’s all an issue of cognitive load, or brain power. If you talk to somebody on a phone, you only get a limited number of cues, as opposed to looking at someone when you can see their demeanor, their facial expressions. When you don’t have those cues, your brain has to work hard to fill them in and having to work extra hard means you’ll be paying little attention to the road.”

Additionally, as reported in a July 2, 2008 Daily News article, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered listening to a conversation while driving reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent!

So, as was echoed in the quote by professor Rosen (above), it’s not how you are talking on your cell phone that matters — it’s the fact that you are talking on your cell phone. You could have two extra hands on the wheel while wearing your headset and still drive like an idiot.

That being said, I think using a headset is a nice option while you are in the car — though I think it actually has the opposite effect: it makes me want to talk more. I find myself more engaged in the conversation because I don’t have to think about holding the phone. I am unsure if I am in the normal or abnormal category for this issue, but it is how I feel.

For nearly the past month I have been using the Plantronics Explorer 350 with my Palm Centro — mostly as I drove to and from DeVry University in Bakersfield, but also around town on short errands. It works very well and it is reasonably comfortable. I like it because it sits in my ear, making it easier to hear the person with whom I am speaking.

I recommend this device to anyone looking for a Bluetooth headset. I do, however, not recommend wearing it outside of your car — you can get away with looking like a dork/Borg from Star Trek in your car, but once you are outside of it, the same cannot be said!

I initially tried a Motorola H500, but either the unit I had was defective or the design doesn’t suit me — becasue I could almost never hear anyone whether I was at highway speeds or even on side streets.

In any case, the results of this new law remain to be seen, but if it has the same effect as most other laws related to driving — or even most laws for that matter — I doubt it will have much of an impact beyond generating additional revenue for the state that can get misappropriated.

I am encouraged by the portion of the law dealing with drivers under 18, as that seems to make the most sense: completely outlawing the use of cell phones while driving is the only way to (at least legally) ensure that drivers are no longer distracted by them.

At the same time I am a realist: making something illegal does little to prevent someone determined to do it from doing it.  I also know that if you aren’t distracted by your cell phone while driving there are plenty of other things to do the job: kids, pets, people, iPods,  the stereo, makeup, food — the list goes on. I once even saw a woman reading a book while driving down the 405 Freeway Southbound in the Sepulveda pass!

But, if you live in California, it is now law, so unless you want to waste a lot of money you need to “get assimilated” and find yourself an earpiece that works for you. Just look at the bright side: now you will have an extra hand free so you can hold your coffee and your breakfast burrito while talking on the phone!