What happened to the art of note passing?


Daniel Schneider is a professor in the bachelor of public relations program at Humber College. He enjoys sailing, longboarding and strong espresso. When playing Kahoot!, he goes under the alias, Sam Manella.

Note passing is a dying art. For the millennial of the digital age who might not have truly experienced the act of note passing, I will take you back to my teen-tween years as a student in the mid-1980s. During class, we would write a note on a scrap piece of paper (usually something quite unrelated to the learning outcomes of the day), fold it and pass it to a friend. If we were unfortunate enough to get caught, we were asked to share it with the entire class. “I’m so happy that Johnny and Becky are hitting it off,” the teacher said. “Now I will see you in detention.”

What happened to the art of note passing? It went digital; the scrap of paper was replaced by the iPhone, and messages are constantly passed through texting, instant messaging and even live streaming. It’s common knowledge in the teaching profession that digital technology in the classroom is an enormous distraction and challenge, because we need to jump through hoops to keep the students’ attention. For the most part, when the technology has the ability to bring communities together from all corners of the Earth in real-time, it has ironically made this generation feel disconnected.

At Humber College, the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has identified an opportunity to integrate this digital technology into the learning experience. We could tap into a world of games, apps and interactive platforms all for the purpose of education. Furthermore, it provides a medium that students understand. CTL is doing a research study to identify how effective it is as a teaching tool. Firstly, does it help students to engage in the curriculum in an enjoyable way? And secondly, does it help them to learn anything?

As part of my Teaching Excellence Program (TEP) training, I sat in on the classes of two exemplary faculty from the bachelor of public relations program, Lydia Boyko and Anne Marie Males. I specifically observed their use of the digital platform, Kahoot!

Kahoot! is a polling tool. Basically, the professor projects a question onto the large screen, and the students must log in on their mobile device to answer them. As part of the entire package, there is upbeat game-show music, a time limit for each question, a gong when the time is up and even an element of competition. However, if you’re topping the chart one minute, you can just as easily get bumped the next. That’s showbiz kid, or better yet, that’s Kahoot! From my experience, class engagement is 100 percent every time; I’ve never seen anything like it.

Lydia used Kahoot! to engage students in a test review for her class in marketing communications. Test reviews are a challenge to make interesting at the best of times, but she managed to create informative questions that spark memory, understanding, application, analysis, evaluation and even some creation. Her quiz served every level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which will lead to the heart of this essay.


Anne Marie used Kahoot! for a different purpose; she is a program co-ordinator always looking for ways to serve the students better. In her internal communications class, she related the exercise to team building by asking questions like, “How long is your daily commute to school? How many hours do you work a week? How did you learn about our program?” These questions are pertinent to understanding the needs of our students so that we can create a more tailored curriculum and maintain a personalized connection with them. That addresses the second point of this article, the importance of creating a community in the classroom.

Something that I have been struggling with lately is how to get students to engage in more analytical and applied knowledge. They remember information; they understand it well, but they struggle to relate prior knowledge to new learning and to real-life situations. So, if we look at Bloom’s hierarchy, the students are strong on the first two levels, but how can I encourage them to move up the ladder? How can I get them to build on the information they are taught? How can I get them to be the creators of information? One answer is digital technology, and I’ve been using it.

The students know digital technology more than most of their professors do, and I’m OK with that. It empowers them when they can teach me a thing or two; that creates a higher order of learning. Furthermore, let’s look at the skills they are developing when engaging in a game of Kahoot!; in a multiple-choice survey, for instance, they are comparing and contrasting, weighing possibilities, exercising judgement and working as a team. When there is a time limit for each question, it forces the students to think quickly and rely on instinct. But most of all, when we learn in a state of play, our guard is down; we are more relaxed and our creative channels are open to the free flow of information.

The platform is doing exactly what digital technology was meant for us to do (before we lost that personal connection); it’s bringing us together as a community. When we see our pet names (or pet’s names) posted in the top five, we not only feel a sense of accomplishment, but we are connecting with everyone else in the classroom in real-time. It is a true online and offline experience all wrapped into one; we can’t distinguish where the virtual world begins and where the physical world ends.

There is an opportunity for class discussion between each question. I might ask, “Why is A correct and B incorrect? Why did you feel that the answer is all of the above?” I’ve even told the students, “You were actually very correct answering B; it’s just that A is a better answer in this particular context.” Sometimes on Kahoot! the questions can be a little black and white, but it opens the opportunity to discuss the grey areas. Somehow during a fun activity like Kahoot!, people are open to contributing ideas.

As for the note passing, I must confess that I feel a sense of nostalgia and a longing to bring it back old-school style. We could even turn it into a game of Kahoot!-gone-hardcopy. But, I will have the students create the rules themselves; it will make for a stronger learning experience.

As for Johnny and Becky, I wish them my very best in their new relationship. And I hope those who endured many hours of detention have finally seen the error of their ways. Now, I turn this discussion over to my fellow colleagues out there, “How do you engage your students?”


How to draw in three steps using problem-based learning

Daniel Schneider is a professor at Humber College’s School of Media Studies in the bachelor of public relations program. He teaches brands how to get their positive message into the press. Daniel loves contemporary art, sailing, longboarding and strong espresso.


Letter of Intent

As part of my Teaching Excellence Program (TEP) training at Humber, I had the opportunity to observe two exemplary professors: Lydia Boyko, bachelor of public relations, and Bernie Aron, bachelor of paralegal studies.

In Lydia Boyko’s class, Writing Lab 5, we learned about the art and craft of speech writing. In Bernie Aron’s Administrative Law class, he covered conflict resolution related to a real-life court case.

After observing both classes, a burning question that came to mind is how can we effectively teach students creativity, instinct and judgement? Whether we are writing a president’s speech or resolving a dispute, these skills are key in the problem-solving process.

What I learned from Lydia and Bernie is the importance of leading through example. Students can see what solutions have been done in the past, what has been successful and what hasn’t worked, and eventually the skills naturally absorb through osmosis.

After studying problem-based learning at TEP, I was inspired to explore this topic further on how students can acquire skills in creativity, instinct and judgement. Reflecting on my former experience in art education, I will springboard into a blog post called:

How to draw in three steps using problem-based learning

If stick figures are your style, you are in good company with some famous icons such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Yes, you too can learn how to draw.

When I studied visual arts at graduate school, we were always taught that the learning begins after we graduate; we were taught how to teach ourselves. After all, artmaking is about tapping into our own personal creativity, not that of our teacher. So, our advisors were always very careful to ask the right questions and guide us, but not tell us the correct answer.

In art, there are no answers; there are no rules, except for the ones that we create for ourselves. We can look to the past, see what has been done successfully and what has been praised in the history of art, but then we have to go on our own personal journey which could last a lifetime.

Now, I titled this post as a three-steps process; the only caveat is that it doesn’t always need to be done in this exact order. You might go to step one, jump to step three, revert back to step two, revisit step one again and so on. In any case, let’s let the creative process begin.

1. Getting started: Define the problem or goal

Amount of time required: 10 minutes to 99 years

I spent a lot of time trying to find a solution in which I hadn’t clearly defined my goal. My advisors in grad school asked me, “What are you trying to draw?” Unfortunately, the visuals were not always so apparent. I was driven to abstract art, particularly the abstract expressionists of the 1950s such as Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning.

My faculty advisors simply helped me to ask the right questions. Have you tried looking at the work of this artist or that artist? Have you tried working larger? Have you tried drawing with both hands? They asked the questions to help me pinpoint what I was specifically trying to achieve.

Along with defining our own problem, we have the opportunity to write our own rules and set our own parameters. I might choose to stay within a certain size, format or medium. Or perhaps I might design a three-step layering process that must be performed in a specific sequence. When there are no rules in art, we need to create our own structure and order.

2. Learn from example: Identify what has worked well in the past

Amount of time required: one day to life

I constantly look at the work of other artists in textbooks, at exhibitions and believe it or not, even on Pinterest. What can we learn from the work of others? Cy Twombly taught me about the action and strength in a gestural line. Betty Goodwin taught me how to draw an anonymous figure with great simplicity. Barnett Newman taught me how sometimes all we need is one stripe to express 1,000 words.  And this is the “osmosis” part of the creative process, when ideas just sink in.

Sometimes I’ll come up with a new drawing style, and maybe it came from somewhere. Or, perhaps it came from several sources. Somehow when we look at enough examples, the solution residually filters through.

3. Experiment: Learning should be like playing in a sandbox

Amount of time required: unlimited

You wouldn’t believe the stuff I’ve tried over the past 20 years in the name of creativity. I’ve drawn with everything from oil stick and lipstick to peat moss and Earl Grey tea. Thankfully I have found my profound direction with pen and ink. The creative process requires an element of play. How can I get more action and speed into a line? How can I get the ink to spatter just so? What happens if I run an ink line through a wet patch? In the end, I’m really the only one who can decide what works successfully and what doesn’t.

This post was written as much for the teachers out there, as it is for the budding artists.

How can we teach students creativity? In the letter of intent above, I spoke of my visit to the classes of Lydia Boyko and Bernie Aron. For instance, let’s take a closer look at Lydia’s speech-writing class. How can we teach students to create a lively lead paragraph, decide on what information to include and what to leave out, or weave the words in a continuous flow? By showing us exemplary samples, including Michelle Obama’s famous speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Lydia let us experience Obama’s natural flow of words that so effortlessly rolled off her tongue. Then Lydia assigned us to write a one-minute introduction about a classmate. It was interactive, and for many students it was our first introduction.

I understand that this is not specifically problem-based learning, but for these students, this is when the learning begins.

And now the learning will continue for the students after the course is complete, and they will need to teach themselves. Eventually, they will set up their own goals, ask their own questions and develop their own solutions. Whether we are learning to draw, write a speech, cook or play music, the creative process is a long and rewarding journey.

Even Bernie’s lesson on conflict resolution is a creative process. He presents the students with two sides of a debate, some facts and parameters, and they need to develop a solution so that both parties win.

In TEP, our lesson on problem-based learning really resonated for me, because this is the foundation of how we can teach ourselves through experience. Lydia and Bernie have given their students the tools to self-learn. And when we get stumped, just ask the Oracle.

There is a great online tutorial on how to play the guitar. Apparently, it only takes three steps; I just might give it a try.

And so, I turn this over to you; what will you teach yourself?

Follow me on Twitter @damagecontrol7 and look out for my next blog post on how to manage your students on a field trip.

How Do I know if PR is for Me?

Will it blend? That is the question. In this exciting episode of Will it Blend?, Tom meets his biggest challenge as he turns the iPhone 5s and 5c into pure dust. Known as “the last blender you’ll ever own,” Blendtec is so tough that it can blend anything including mobile devices. It’s such a brilliant marketing campaign because it’s quirky, memorable, fun and has a relevant message. Every episode is consistent…Tom wears the same lab coat; he has the same cheeky grin on his face and the segment always begins with the same 70s gameshow music. I introduce this to my class every semester.

When I meet students who are considering a career in PR (or marketing for that matter), my best recommendation is to look up some of the most current campaigns. They are easy to find; if you Google “best PR campaigns 2014,” a plethora of examples will turn up keeping you amused and informed for days. Here are three of my favourite examples:

The marketing communications firm Cundari did a campaign called Nutrition Naturally. In response to the negative reputation of bread over the last decade, the firm balanced the conversation by raising awareness about its health benefits. They created an online social hub by aggregating public opinion from across Dempster’s social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Users took a nutrition quiz, shared their results with friends and explored healthy recipes. Cundari created a hidden-camera video starring comedian Gerry Dee to remind consumers about the nutritional value of whole grain bread.

Few people know about the town of Obermutten hidden away in the Swiss Alps…well, until a Facebook campaign made “a little village go global.” The idyllic settlement of a mere eighty residents was completely unknown and now sixty million people from around the world have heard of Obermutten as a result of the campaign. The local mayor promised, “Just click on like, and your profile picture will be posted on the community’s official notice board.” News reports about the village have been picked up in over twenty countries.

This discussion would be incomplete without Dollar Shave Club. I warn you that the language might be borderline colourful in this YouTube video, but then again it’s nothing that 17,463,177 viewers haven’t already seen. Dollar Shave Club delivers amazing razors and the “World’s Finest Grooming Products” right to your doorstep for just a few bucks. According to Luke Shiras, an online user who commented on the humorous video, “I just ordered some new blades but when those run out, I’ll probably give Dollar Shave Club a try. While the $1 dual blade plan is a great deal, I’ll likely spring for the $6 quad blade plan.”

Imagine being paid to be a creator of content. It’s work, but fun work; it’s rewarding and most of all, necessary. Companies need communications teams to help manage the reputation of the brand and bring products to consumers. Furthermore, we need to do it in an entertaining and educational way so that customers don’t feel like it’s being pushed on them. They can appreciate it on their own terms and their own time. And then they can share it, like it, favourite it or comment on it; the customer becomes the brand’s best ambassador.

There is never a day in PR when you will be looking at your watch waiting for 5 p.m. to come. So my question to you is how would you like to do this for a living?

Daniel Schneider teaches social digital media in the bachelor and diploma programs at Humber College’s School of Media Studies.