Learning about relevant education, the future from NYT’s David Carr


Teaching | Thursday, March 12, 2015

Learning about relevant education, the future from NYT’s David Carr

New York Times columnist David Carr's media course, "Press Play," was forward-thinking. It can inspire and drive our own classes. (Wikipedia / Ian Linkletter)

New York Times columnist David Carr’s media course, “Press Play,” was forward-thinking. It can inspire and drive our own classes. (Wikipedia / Ian Linkletter)

I admit that I didn’t know much about David Carr when he died, but there are several things that endeared him to me.

He was a New York Times columnist and writer. I was a journalism major and wrote for several daily Indiana newspapers.

He was a reporter-turned-educator, serving as the Lack Professor of Media Studies at Boston University. I’m also a reporter-turned-educator, serving as a high school Spanish teacher in west central Indiana. (I know, it just doesn’t have the same flash as “Lack Professor of Media Studies.”)

What has impressed me most recently that he grasped how media and its consumption have changed.

Carr taught “Press Play,” a class on contemporary and entrepreneurial journalism at Boston University. He taught it just once before his death. In his syllabus for the class, he left great gems of wisdom for educators about creating meaningful classes and staying up with the times.

I have to be honest. His syllabus inspires me, but I’m not sure if it inspires me as a teacher, as a creator of content on the web, as a writer or just as a person. My hope is that it inspires you, too.

Here are nine excerpts from Carr’s syllabus for his class, “Press Play”. (Hat tip to Kevin Hogan, content editor of Tech&Learning magazine for his editor’s note that inspired this post.)

1. This course, Press Play, aspires to be a place where you make things. Good things. Smart things. Cool things. And then share those things with other people. I hope that every teacher strives to help students create good things, smart things and cool things. This makes me think of Dan Pink’s three fundamentals of intrinsic motivation: mastery, autonomy and purpose.

2. While writing, shooting, and editing are often solitary activities, great work emerges in the spaces between people. This is so true. The magic, the spark — they come when passionate people work together to create something great. We see it in our classrooms, too. This is a timely reminder for me to create opportunities for quality collaboration.

3. Evaluations will be based not just on your efforts, but on your ability to bring excellence out of the people around you. I would love to make this part of grades for my class, a requirement for graduation and part of the eulogy at my funeral.

4. In order to have a chance of making great work, you have to consume remarkable work. When I worked in newspapers, I read that writers should read exponentially more than they write. Teaching is like spoken writing, so the same advice goes for educators.

5. Don’t work on me for a better grade — work on your work and making the work of those around you better. This should be the gold standard in assessment. When students beg for better grades, there’s often a reason — it works. Stand by the standard you set.

6. Show industriousness and seriousness and produce surpassing work if you want an exceptional grade. An “A” in many classes these days means “doing everything I was supposed to do.” Let’s bring back “exceptional” in an “A” grade.

7. If you text or email during class, I will ignore you as you ignore me. It won’t go well. Carr identified the true result of in-class texting: diminished attention. He clearly put a high value on being fully present in class. (I would have liked to see how “I will ignore you as you ignore me” looked in practice.)

8. You are a beta, which means things will be exciting and sometimes very confusing. Let’s be honest with each other when that happens. Carr’s first “Press Play” class was his last. He wasn’t afraid of embarking on a new course. He wasn’t afraid of being wrong or failing to produce all of the answers. We can also be in a beta state, constantly changing and refining.

9. Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious. If you want to know where you stand, just ask. I love this description, and I love that he became transparent and vulnerable in the same document where he laid out high expectations. I’d like to be considered fair and fundamentally friendly. I’m pretty sure I’m a little odd and not very mysterious. I sincerely hope my students can find where they stand by asking.

If you haven’t read Carr’s syllabus for his class, “Press Play,” I hope that you will. It sheds light on the “present future we are living through.”

[reminder]Did one of these excerpts speak to you? What can we learn from Carr’s syllabus from his course? [/reminder]

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  • HOLY WOW MATT!!! I am so in love with this piece!!! Thank you so much for sharing about David Carr. I am now totally in love with his work too! So much of your reflections are similar to my perspectives. So many of these nine excerpts are not just applicable to our classrooms but for how educators should learn and teach as well (see there you did it…feeling my own blog post being inspired). This piece just fills me full of inspiration and has me nodding my head and saying yes! Yes! that too! I Totally agree! Thank you again for introducing me to this amazing educator and for inspiring me this morning!

  • Pete says:

    Of all the posts that I have read on your site in the past, this one is my new favorite. I am rarely a commenter on posts, but I just have to encourage you to keep up the exceptional work! Thanks!

  • Ken Keene says:

    Number 3: Evaluation should be listed as Number 1 and Number 9 as well as somewhere in the middle. To bring excellence out of the people around you should be the fundamental reason for all teachers to be teachers . . . perhaps all human beings to be human beings. Once again, thanks for sharing a great blog.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Wow … let me echo that for a moment …

      “You should be the fundamental reason for all teachers to be teachers … perhaps all human beings to be human beings.”

      That’s a high standard to set for ourselves, but it’s like they say … if you reach for the moon and fail, you’ll still end up among the stars. (I know astronomically that that point doesn’t work, but I like the sentiment!)

  • John Bennett says:

    I was just talking yesterday with a fellow emeritus professor about the first-year seminar he facilitated, telling him that one of my regrets before our retirement was never sitting in on this class (he did invite me to do so).

    When I skimmed the syllabus (I will return to Consider – http://johncbennettjr.com – it more thoroughly for sure) and read your post, Carr’s course, Press Play, is another I would have found so interesting AND valuable I’m sure!!! What an opportunity those students in his class facilitated only once had. Yes, engineering degrees, 11 years in industrial research and 29 years as engineering faculty; I’m certain I would have learned so much from his journalism class!!!

    • Matt Miller says:

      Thanks for lending your voice and experiences to this conversation, John. I think you’re right — there are certain elements that could have inspired and educated people from all walks of life in that course — including a seasoned veteran engineering professor!

  • Chris James says:

    …THAT is an inspirational syllabus. THAT course, I would have loved taking.

  • Chris James says:

    Check out https://medium.com/bright

    Talk out education discussions! 🙂

  • janet says:

    Informational indeed.

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