Teaching and Learning With Technology Institute

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We have completed two days of our TLwT Institute and are having a ball! Over the five days, we take a cohort of 18 diverse faculty from multiple disciplines on a journey of Web 2.0 exploration. During the first two days, my colleagues Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I have worked with this cohort to define instructional applications for Web 2.0 sites, analyze the syntax of the web in developing search strategies, establish social bookmarking accounts, put RSS feeds to work towards building personal learning environments, and explore ways of connecting and collaborating through Google Docs, Wimba Voice tools, and wikis. I was reminded of the classic Farside cartoon yesterday afternoon when one said her brain was full!

I need some time to reflect on some of our interactions and know that Jeff and Bud will also want to post their perspectives. Jeff’s call on who gets to do one of “collaboration”…but this cohort developed a pretty powerful map of academic collaboration that we will be sharing!

Last night – as a way to unwind after a full day – I started reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007). Bad mistake…as I immediately saw a lot of relevance to what we are doing this week. I am not very far into the book, but here are some early take aways. The book takes its title from the “fact” that Europeans knew for a fact that all swans were white until black swans were discovered in Australia – which immediately upset the established norm. Taleb says that there are numerous black swan examples, and that they carry three characterisitcs:

– It is unpredictable,

– It carries a massive impact, and

– after the fact, we concoct an explanation to make it appear less random and more predictable.

9/11 was a Black Swan, as are many of the applications we use online such as Google. In fact, I was thinking last night that Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat was just such an after the fact explanation of events that were not predicted and carried a massive impact.

The lessons from black swans according to Taleb is that we should pay less attention to what we know and more attention to what we do not know – as it is the unknown, unpredictable things that have the huge impacts. We focus in on specifics when we should focus on generalities. As Taleb noted, predicting the future based on the known is a somewhat silly exercise, as it tends to be the unknowns that drive the future.

Okay…this does put a different spin on things. Yet, as one who spins a lot of time immersed in Web 2.0 apps – most unknown by the field at large, I begin to wonder whether I am swimming with black swans or am I just seeing the world through a different lens? It makes you consider faculty development (or workplace development) a little differently if you focus in first on the unknowns and their potential impacts before jumping to the specifics of how to upload a powerpoint to SlideShare. Jeff often notes that I have been transformed this past year in part due to the social nature of the web. To me, the social side of the web is a big black swan that none of us saw a few years back and yet take for granted today.

Food for thought as we move in to day three of our Institute!

[Institute logo designed by William “Bud” Deihl]

4 thoughts on “Teaching and Learning With Technology Institute

  1. Great book and very thoughtful post. Keep at it: the book is as good at the end as it is at the outset. I also think about Taleb’s insistence on thinking about outliers, on rejecting bell-curve metrics of “scalable” stuff, and especially his condemnation of “domain-specific” education. Much, much wisdom there. I started working his stuff into my own practice and presentations immediately. Even brought the book in to the last day of one of my classes, to talk about how poetry is a tool for bridging and juxtaposing domains.

  2. Thanks, Gardner. I am picking up on the wisdom and appreciate your perspective (and examples of use) of this book.

  3. Thanks for bringing Taleb’s book to my attention Britt, I’m always on the lookout for another ‘lens’ trough which to consider the world of ideas. (Particularly liked your confession that you started reading the book to unwind & look where that got you!)

    The idea of taking the risk to look into what we don’t know – or at least focus in that direction is very powerful and a first step on a learning journey. Very different to sitting around agreeing on what we know. Isn’t the tricky thing finding time to think about what we don’t know – I suppose that’s what your institutes’s about. A few days out to go beyond the boundaries…

    I’m looking forward to seeing the map of academic collaboration. Hopefully it will provide me with some ideas on how I can further develop our use of Web 2.0 for that sort of work/activity…

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