Free Hugs: Today Only

After watching Dr. Michael Wesch’s video (again), it was obvious that I need to draw my inspiration from the usual source, my students.  So tonight in class, I am showing the video and providing this response prompt:



Please give me one adjective to describe how you feel about the near future, a time and place of:

•Ubiquitous computing
•Ubiquitous communication
•Ubiquitous information
•At unlimited speed
•About everything
•All the time
•From anywhere
•On all kinds of devices


optimistic, excited, excited, scared, uneasy, uncertain, exciting, advantageous, comfortable, confused


Please tell me, in one sentence, how your voice will be heard in this “conversation” when it is ridiculously easy to:



“I will be instantly able to contact anyone who would be able to help me with whatever problem I might have.”

“It will start small but when I say the right thing in the right way at the right time it will radiate.”

“My voice will be heard through social media outlets that connect me to others with similar and different view points to open a conversation that will hopefully lead to a solution.”

“My voice will be heard only through electronic devices; there will barely be any real-life conversations (feeling emotions would be probably difficult).”

“I must set the stage to be heard, use the tools provided to stand out.”

“My voice will be heard through writing.”

“To make my voice to be heard, I will collaborate.”

“By using new technology and social media.”

“I don’t have an answer to this question but I am impressed with how hard it’s getting me thinking about it. ”

“I can converse with anyone at anytime through social media or in person.”

“My voice will be heard in this conversation  is share.”

“It depends on the meaning and the way I deliver my message.”

“It will be heard when I have something to add or when I am confused.”


In one paragraph, please tell me why you are here in programming class, and how this learning will help you:

•Find meaning
•Think critically
•Find your identity
•Go beyond critical thinking

“I am here to learn how to discover and develop skill I may not know I have. If I learn how to touch people’s lives through the medium of tech and the Internet in a more effective way than I currently know how I can change a lot. As seen in the video it only takes one idea one clear thought presented in a new way to start a movement. So I suppose I’m here to learn how to better communicate through technology. ”

“Thinking critically is a skill that is not only important it is mandatory in the world we live in today. With the freedom of information and the means to share and collaborate with others it is quite important for me to be able to sift through the non sense or the “commercials” and find what is truly relevant to me at this time. I believe i know who i am and i know what i want to do with my life, but perhaps this class will be a great reinforcement in the path that i have chosen. I know that this class will help me go beyond critical thinking by pushing me to think not just outside the box but redrawing the box all together.”

“. . . being closer to 30 than not, I have a different view of education than when I tried college the first time at 18. The idea of higher education is far more important to me than it once was. Going through the motions like I did when I was 18 and younger seems like a crime to me now. Every class I take in college is a new opportunity to experience new things. But I’m also realistic. Finding meaning and Identity is completely subjective. I could have found meaning as retail employee. I’m not looking for any of those things at a university and I can’t help but feel like challenging students to do so could be unnecessary pressure. And I’m not sure how one goes beyond critical thinking. Is having a global view the same thing?”

Thank you, ENEE 140 class!

Obviously, my words here are inspired by and borrowed from the ideas presented in Dr. Wesch’s video, which you can find on YouTube here:

TEDxKC – Michael Wesch – From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-Able

8 Replies to “Free Hugs: Today Only”

  1. I really love this idea of showing the video and asking these questions of our students no matter the subject. I think this would be a perfect way to start my Intro to BSE course in order to let the students know up front that I want their voice heard during the course of the semester and get them thinking about why they chose BSE. This was my favorite response from your students –
    “I don’t have an answer to this question but I am impressed with how hard it’s getting me thinking about it. ” It just really makes the educator part of my heart smile. 🙂
    This might also be something that you could do at the start of the semester and then again in the last class as kinda a pre- and post-assessment tool.
    I really love this. Is it okay if I borrow this activity for my future classes??

  2. Kudos to you for engaging your students with these ideas, Monica. I wonder how the activity will influence your students throughout the semester and beyond. Will you find ways to reconnect the thoughts to your curriculum? Is there a natural connection to your curriculum? Are you allowed to explore or is your syllabus set by someone else and fixed? One of the characteristics (and one of the weaknesses in my opinion) of many high-impact practices is that they are co-curricular. This condition makes it harder to integrate them closely with the curriculum. Too often, they are not implemented or tried and abandon because they steal time from the curriculum instead of enhancing it. I am excited by the idea of digitally networked learning because, at its best, it could become a method to teach a subject. Still, I know from experience that it is difficult for me to invent a way to do this. Please keep us posted on other experiments you conduct with your class. I am looking forward to updates!

    1. Thank you for the encouraging words! I often try to integrate what I learn in my classes with the classes I am teaching, in real time. This week, I was struggling to formulate my post while teaching all day, and my busy, tired mind pulled inspiration out of the primordial soup when I stopped to rest and re-watch the video.

      Luckily, I am able to make my own syllabus and course content, although there are rumblings about common content; nothing like that ever happens. I continue to do my own thing, responsibly. I like to think that when we have common content, mine will be the model that others must adopt.

      In this programming course, my classes always experience a “digital divide” where exactly half the class earns a C or above, and the other half doesn’t. I have been trying to figure out how to help the half of the class that falls on the wrong side of the digital divide. Since this class is not pure programming, but “programming concepts for engineers,” it makes sense to me that students should reflect on why they are here and how the learning is going to fit into their quest to become engineers. As I tell them in class, they will probably never use C programming. The course has a deeper purpose. I hope that my experiment will inspire me to find ways to connect the class with that deeper purpose.

      I am excited about being able to share my future experiences and results with our class!

  3. So, I’m just jealous that I can’t really try this with my undergrads! What a great idea, and the responses are so telling — they speak to how wide the range is, and how personal one’s expectations (necessarily) are. Wow. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. I really appreciate that you decided to pull your students into this type of collaborative work! I want to invite you to engage in some speculation– Would there responses have been different if they hadn’t seen the video first? How did the thoughts and notions introduced in the video help challenge, or perhaps invite, them to reflect on your questions in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise?

  5. So I typed up a long comment yesterday that I don’t believe posted now… Technology. 🙂

    But anyway, I am in love with the idea of doing this in the classroom. I’ve been looking into trying to incorporate more discussion in my engineering classroom – I’m going to be teaching Intro to BSE – giving my students a voice rather than just talking at them like a majority of engineering classes are formatted. I would love to use this in my classroom if that’s okay if you. I think this might also be something that could be done both at the begining of the semester and again at the end as a pre- and post-assessment tool. I could add or revamp the questions to see how their views as themselves as biological systems engineers in this new world changes by going through the course.

    My favorite response from your students is “I don’t have an answer to this question but I am impressed with how hard it’s getting me thinking about it. ” That’s the kind of thinking and discussion I would love to get students engaged in.

    1. No, it’s me. I’m trying to moderate comments in the car (don’t worry–I’m not driving!). Technology!

      Please try this in your classroom, and we can compare results. It’s really hard to get students off their butts in class. This exercise is great because students can get off their virtual butts while still remaining seated. I guess in programming class being seated sort of comes with the territory, but I have developed one exercise where they must walk around to implement the “program.” As long as it makes them think about new things in new ways and reflect on their role as engineers, I’ll take it!

      Thank you for your comments!

  6. Dear Monica,

    In your post you wonder: “I’m not sure how one goes beyond critical thinking.” If the creation of a concept and an analysis about an observation is critical thinking, then I suggest that affective computing goes beyond critical thinking, because it takes such concepts and implements analyses to recognize human affect. Thus, for example, technology could notify a teacher about how many students are considered to be bored based on certain criteria, instead of the teacher having to routinely check if people are bored by keeping a critical mind during their teaching. Thus, they could resolve (switch) to unconventional teaching when a lot of their student are bored, experiment and get instant feedback about the outcome of a change in teaching style.

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