Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Red letter days

Our learning management system (LMS) was upgraded over the weekend, with two immediately noticeable results: (1) new tools and features to keep me busy and (2) red warning messages informing me that work I spent hours putting into the LMS is problematic.  The work is problematic for the LMS...which translates to problematic for me.

Because we have amazing technical support, my red warning messages were tackled quickly. The support folks tried telling me to just stop changing things (since the messages only popped up when I attempted edits), but that's challenging for inveterate tweakers. We found the issue, I'm free to tweak, and the red is gone.

But my response to seeing those serious-looking red messages gave me pause.  Red has long been the color of choice for educators and editors, creating a knee-jerk response that seems at odds with the use of red to signify days or events of import.  How did the color red come to mean danger, importance, celebration, and failure, all at the same time? And whose idea was it to take a color initially reserved for "particularly important or significant information" and associate it with poor work or, worse yet, with feedback?  

As an educator who is currently taking one course and teaching two others, I am both giving and receiving feedback, assignments, and grades.  Learning really should feel more like a red letter day than it usually does...and I am far more aware of the importance of every piece of the academic environment, from tone of voice in a verbal exchange to use of salutation in a written message. 

I want my interactions with students to be significant, to be red letter days in the best possible sense of the word.  And that means taking the time to view everything (syllabus, LMS content, email...) as an opportunity to create meaning and significance.  Here's to red letter days that celebrate the failures that engender learning.