Evangelizing Teaching

As we approach the end of Spring semester in GRAD-602, our students are beginning to submit their reflections on the book they read for the course.  They had a choice of five books:

books

It is interesting to see these books through the reflections of upcoming PhD’s and post-docs.  They are just starting the transition from expert student to novice teacher…and the future is both exciting and uncertain.  They have been grappling with their own identity as a teacher through our course.

Our identity as teachers continues to surface in my thoughts…given the interesting times in which we live.  In the last month, as Enoch Hale and I explored his 30-Day Challenge, we surfaced some radical ideas about teaching and learning.  In many ways, we aligned with what Tony Bates noted:

“Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine.”

Here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU, we spend a lot of time discussing both the evolutionary and the revolutionary changes for teaching and learning in higher education.  Our evolutionary ideas probably might make some faculty uncomfortable…and our revolutionary ideas might cause sweat to break out.  At the end of the day, though, I come back to the foundation – what does it mean to “teach”?

Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne and Hamish Macleod – my professors in the Coursera MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures – explored this question in an article this month in the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: “Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy.”  They note that the literature on open courses has focused so far on students or the technology, but has been silent on the “matter of the teacher.”  They note that teacher identity is influenced by discipline, the institution and personal contexts:

“…The lecturer will both feel and project a teaching identity through negotiation of disciplinary, institutional, theoretical, professional, and personal stances. Diminishing or mischaracterizing the teacher role could result in a lack of appropriate attention to the ways in which complex negotiations of people, space, objects, and discourse constitute any educational setting, including MOOCs.”

In other words, it is complex!

Focusing on teaching has been central to what I think we have done for the past 7 years at the Center for Teaching Excellence…but I am not sure we have ever “evangelized” teaching.  I started considering that this morning when I read “The Art of Evangelism” by Guy Kawasaki.  Guy noted that years ago at Apple, his job title was “software evangelist,” and then went on to discuss his involvement with a new design company called Canva (which does look pretty cool by the way!).  What I found interesting, however, was his explanation of how to evangelize a product, which I quote in part below:

  1. Make it great. It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. …Great stuff embodies five qualities:
    • Deep.
    • Intelligent.
    • Complete.
    • Empowering.
    • Elegant.
  2. Position it as a “cause.” A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives.
  3. Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life.
  4. Localize the pitch. Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms …People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.
  5. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.
  6. Let people test drive the cause. Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.
  7. Learn to give a demo. “Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers.
  9. Ignore titles and pedigrees. Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
  10. Never lie. Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of.
  11. Remember your friends. Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down.

Guy explained the difference between an evangelist and a salesperson:

“A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.””

As I reflect on our graduate students and the world of teaching into which they soon will go…I hope that part of their identity involves evangelism.  I hope that they create great teaching and learning opportunities.  I hope that they see their teaching as “a cause”…and love that cause.  I hope that they remember that they are in the business of changing lives, not delivering content.

I hope they teach “Try this because it will help you…”

Peanuts Evangelist

Thoughts?

{Graphic – Charles Schulz}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 30 – The Questions I Did Not Ask

Back on March 5th, my colleague Enoch Hale posted a challenge on his blog:

“I want to pose an open challenge: Post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for 30 days.”

3 month statsI took him up on his challenge…though I suggested “thirty work days”…to which he agreed.  Over the past six weeks, we have each posted 58 questions – 29 each.  In the process, we have both improved in our blogging.  The biggest “challenge” in a 30-Day Challenge is blogging consistently each work day.  It stretched me time wise and intellectually…but it also was a lot of fun.  Enoch and I fed off of each other.  And…not surprisingly, when one blogs daily, one’s readership increases.  I topped a hundred page views for Day 20 (The New Nomads) and Day 25 (The Training Wheel Question).

Enoch noted on his first day that questions can drive thinking forward.  Answers stop thinking, but questions keep thinking moving.  Over the past six weeks, I have paid more attention to questions being asked.  I have started following Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question.  Maryellen Weimer blogged last month about “The Art of Asking Question,” suggesting that if we want students to ask thoughtful questions, we have to model that ourselves.

Tony Bates in his studyTony Bates out of Canada has been asking thoughtful questions for 45 years about distance and online learning.  His post yesterday took me by surprise – “Time to retire from online learning?

First, Tony turned 75 this week (congratulations!). He has decided he has reached the point in his life to stop nearly all professional activities.  At 75, he feels he has reached the right to stop (…which could mean I now have 11 years to continue, since I will soon turn 64…).  He wants to stop when he is still at his best.  He has not taught a full course in ten years, and:

“Given the pace of change, it is dangerous for a consultant to become adrift from the reality of teaching and management. It’s time to hang up my boots before I get really hurt (or more importantly, really hurt others).”

Tony then expressed some concerns about the future of higher education and teaching.  Four quotes hit me…and the emphasis below is mine:

“…It’s a full-time job just to keep abreast of new developments in online and distance learning, and this constant change is not going to go away. It’s tempting to say that it’s only the technology that changes; the important things – teaching and learning – don’t change much, but I don’t believe that to be true, either. Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine. This is not going to be easy; indeed it could get brutal…

…this is a field that needs full-time, professional application, and very hard work, and I just don’t have the energy any more to work at that level. To put it simply, this is not a profession where you can be half in and half out. Dabbling in online learning is very dangerous (politicians please note)…

…And then there’s MOOCs. I can’t express adequately just how pissed off I am about MOOCs – not the concept, but all the hubris and nonsense that’s been talked and written about them. At a personal level, it was as if 45 years of work was for nothing. All the research and study I and many others had done on what makes for successful learning online were totally ignored, with truly disastrous consequences in terms of effective learning for the vast majority of participants who took MOOCs from the Ivy League universities. Having ignored online learning for nearly 20 years, Stanford, MIT and Harvard had to re-invent online learning in their own image to maintain their perceived superiority in all things higher educational. And the media fell for it, hook, line and sinker. This is a battle I no longer want to fight – but it needs fighting…

…Lastly, I am concerned that the computer scientists seem to be taking over online education. Ivy League MOOCs are being driven mainly by computer scientists, not educators. Politicians are looking to computer science to automate learning in order to save money. Computer scientists have much to offer, but they need more humility and a greater willingness to work with other professionals, such as psychologists and teachers, who understand better how learning operates. This is a battle that has always existed in educational technology, but it’s one I fear the educators are losing…”

I need to reflect on Tony’s post much more, but his very personal reflection lays the groundwork for many more thoughtful questions.  It brought to my mind my final question for THIS 30-day Challenge:

Day 30 – What are the questions I did not ask but should have?

There are obviously many more than thirty good questions left to ask…so while this challenge has ended, the challenge for higher education is only getting more intense.  If more educators joined the open questioning within the blogosphere. maybe we can win some battles.  As Tony noted, this is not a field you can be half in and half out.

Thoughts?

{Graphics: Bates}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 27 – Future Proofing

A decade ago, Ernst and Young led a strategic visioning retreat for the technical college where I worked.  Over three days, a mix of college leadership and faculty met in a big room high above the Atlanta scene, looking out over both the city and Stone Mountain in the distance.  The room was reconfigured each day with moveable white board walls and comfortable furniture.  Toys and books lay scattered around the floor.  We spent time drawing our visions on the walls and then looking for common themes.

markers.
It was one of the best strategic experience in which I have ever participated…and so when I see something from Ernst and Young, I pay attention.

Their Australian branch has a study out on “The University of the Future.”  While focused on Australian universities – the study interviewed 40 Australian leaders from public and private universities as well as policy makers – I believe that the lessons are applicable to higher education worldwide.  It noted that higher education is a “…thousand year old industry on the cusp of profound change.”

In the report, they state that change will be driven by five trends:

  • Democratization of knowledge and access
  • Contestability of markets and funding
  • Digital technologies
  • Global mobility
  • Integration with industry

Any of us in higher education could probably agree that these trends are not coming…they are already here.  From the perspective of E&Y, universities will need to adapt, creating leaner business models and concentrating resources on a smaller range of programs.  They see universities transforming into three broad lines of evolution:

  • Streamlined Status Quo – broad-based public teaching and research institutions
  • Niche Dominators – tailored education, research and service for specific customer segments
  • Transformers – private providers for new markets

Ernst and Young laid out a framework for assessing and designing a “university future model.”

Ernst and Young modelI was struck by the strategic questions – “Is our current model future proof?  Where should we play?  How should we play?

The model explores higher education as a whole, but it opens up for me questions about each course and each faculty member…and their own approach to teaching.  Teaching today should not be about a steamlined status quo.  To be future-proof, I would suggest that we lean more towards the concepts behind the niche dominators or transformers.  My 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 26 – How do I make my course future proof?

By future proof, I mean that I have made my course a space for connections and learning…not a three-credit credential.  My course would be relevant (a moving target) and grow in students the digital skills they will need to be competitive in their future…no matter the field or place.  My course would integrate ideas developed globally…and help students find their voice in a global world.  I do not want my students to “pass”…I want them to be so distinctive that they stand out.  My course should be an opportunity for students to brand themselves.   My students should embody what  Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead stated:

You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

To me, this suggests playing in the open…using the affordances of the digital web.  While my course might have a start date and a date in which grades are submitted, students would be welcome to stay, continue playing, and play with those that come after them.  The course would be in perpetual beta as I and my students continually updated it to keep it relevant.

Maybe it is….

Drw the Future

{Graphics: CORC, Ernst and Young, Watwood, Gogia}

 

 

 

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30-Day Challenge – Day 26 – Deeper Explorations

Submaring divingAs part of the 30-Day Question Challenge, Enoch Hale posted “Going Beneath The Surface“, where he asked “How often do we journey into the unknown?”

As a retired Navy sailor, I immediately pictured a submarine diving when I saw his title.

Enoch asked:

“When I think about teaching and learning, I have to ask: do we carve out places (a lot of them) to explore beneath the surface of things? I’d rather not carve out those places. I’d rather my course be that place. I’d rather exploration define the learning.”

…exploration define the learning…

We went exploring last night in GRAD-602.  Our topic was “Developing Learning Content: Creation and Curation.”  As the students came in, they found this Clay Shirky quote from Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization in larger than life size on the class wall (thanks Laura!):

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race…more people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation, makes the change unprecedented.”

Laura writing Shirky quote on wall

Through a series of short vignettes, we explored with the class the creation practices of screencasting, audio recordings, blogging, and slide creation, using Screencast-O-Matic, Soundcloud, WordPress, Prezi, HaikuDeck and Slideshark.  We also explored the concept of curation, using YouTube playlists, Diigo, Netvibes, Feedly, and Merlot (the free and open peer reviewed collection of online teaching and learning materials…not the wine).

This morning, Laura, Joyce Kincannon and I continued this exploration in a podcast.  The practices we covered last night were not “new”…they have been out for a few years.  Yet few in the class seemed aware of them or had played with them.  In the podcast, we riffed off of Enoch’s idea of “going deeper” to suggest that our role as academics is to explore, play and go deeper into trying new practices for learning.  We also discussed some compelling uses of digital technology that we have seen in teaching and learning.

This idea of exploration and play…and learning through exploration and play, surfaced several times.  In a hall conversation with Gardner Campbell this morning, I mentioned the conservative nature of PhD students in general, and he noted that breaking the cycle and self-perpetuation of conservative approaches to teaching is a challenge of higher education. If we are indeed “… living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race…”, should that not surface in our approaches to teaching and learning?

Which leads to my question for today:

Day 26 – How can learning in my classes move from covering content to deeper (and playful) explorations?

Give a listen…and the submarine diving alarm is for Jeff and Enoch who missed this recording:
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{Graphics: SubSeaWorld, Watwood}

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30-Day Challenge – Day 21 – Crazy Teaching Practices

trust your crazy ideasIlya Pozin, founder of Open Me and Ciplex, and a columnist for Inc, Forbes and LinkedIn, had an article  in LinkedIn called “15 Crazy Best Practices That Really Work.”

Ilya noted that for entrepreneurs, conventional wisdom does not always work, especially in the disruptive market today.  He posted 15 “crazy ideas” from fellow entrepreneurs who “….dared to blaze their own path.”

I thought it might be interesting for today’s 30-Day Challenge question to look at his ideas through the lens of teaching.  After all, our students are leaving higher education and graduating into a world where yesterday’s conventional wisdom would be suspect.

Day 21 – What “crazy” teaching practices might actually better prepare our students for the digital world in which they will live and work?

Ilya’s Crazy Ideas:

1.  Being Messy With Our Employees

Seth Talbott suggested that being involved with employees is messy but worth it.  By involved, he meant building relationships with meaningful connections.  In today’s digital environment, we need to stop being afraid of building social network connections with our students…and facilitate their building of their own learning and professional networks.  See number 2.

2.  Valuing Our Network

Darrah Brustein said that “your network is your net worth.”  My comments to number 1 apply here as well…our role as faculty now involves helping our students cultivate their networks.  One way to do that is modelling networked behavior ourselves.

3.  Making Friends, Not Clients

Vinny Antonio noted that the clear driving factor for success was word-of-mouth advertising, so it was necessary to actually create a relationship with clients and work towards their success.  “Clients” is a loaded word in education…but the intent is spot on.  Parker Palmer, in The Courage To Teach, discussed how teaching is as much about the heart as it is about the content.  Palmer states that:

“…teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal – or keep them from learning much at all.  Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”

4. Obsessing Over Data Analysis

Danny Boice discussed data-driven decisions.  We are just entering the age of learning analytics … yet few of us take advantage of the limited data we now have.  Do you check the analytics in your learning management system to see if any students are not engaged?  What do you do with the data when you have it?  We need to obsess more ourselves!

5.  Being Unforgettable

Dustin Lee’s company takes online learning in a unique direction, offering, in his words, well-crafted courses that are “…insanely fun as well.”  It is a great lesson for those of us in pubic education…and one we take seriously at VCU.  Online@VCU notes:

Focused on distinctiveness, high engagement, and deeper learning, VCU offers quality online programs and courses available wherever you are.

6.  Asking Provocative Questions

Erica Dhawan suggested that tough conversations and productive inquiry lead to success.  That is equally true in the classroom…doubly so if the students are asking the questions!  Enoch Hale’s 30-Day Challenge has this premise at its core.

7.  Building a Culture around Hiring

Matt Mickiewicz noted that recruiting talent can determine success or failure for a company.  We do not “recruit” our students…but a few “crazy” course trailers might attract talent to your courses.

8.  Doing One Thing Well

Ryan Buckley’s company focuses on medium-length blog posts…and that focus has made them successful.  This one is difficult to translate into teaching (other than doing teaching well…but that is a cop out).  So I might spin this to suggest that each course have an opportunity for students to do one thing well…as a capstone project for the course.  After all, is it not our job to help students finish each course with success?

9.  Drinking Our Own Kool-Aid

John Hall is in the influence business…and they leverage their own service to grow their business.  We are in the learning business, and our passion for learning should be evident to our students…and contagious.

10.  Controlling Every Step

Joshua Waldron suggested that one of the keys to his company’s success was to manufacture everything in house.  “…Be lean, be nimble, and don’t let outside vendors influence your bottom line.”  In teaching and learning, I am not for “controlling”…but I am for “scaffolding”…being adaptive so that you can support every student in their learning journey.

11. Documenting the Process

Joe Apfelbaum noted that “…It’s vital to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the step-by-step recipe you’re working with on any project.”  Many of us are in research, so applying the scientific method to our teaching for improvement should be natural.  Given the changes occurring in higher education, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a growing opportunity.  So is the journaling that can occur through blogs.  We each have so much we can offer so that we can learn from each other.

12.  Employing Energy and Persistence

Kayvon Olomi suggested that you can do anything you put your mind to.  Are our courses designed to employ (and build) energy and scaffolded to build time on task (persistence) into the learning processes?

13.  Minimizing Distracting Conversations

Jordan Fliegel noted that focus is critical to success.  I think it is an outdated concept for faculty to complain about the use of digital devices in classes “because students will just be on Facebook.”  If students are bored and on Facebook, that may be a problem of motivation and focus rather than distraction.  Get students excited about learning…and the Facebook “problem” becomes less of a problem!

14.  Split-Testing Ideas

Nicolas Gremion suggested that rather than debating what will work, take the top ideas and split-test them.  What comes to mind in a classroom is the Think-Pair-Share technique to promote higher level thinking.  This adds engagement and focus to class sessions…and potentially surfaces misconceptions.

Gone crazy15.  Valuing the Customer

Wade Foster noted that: “Above all, we serve the customer, and we do our best to give them the tools they need to get their jobs done.”  One can debate whether students are our customers or whether our customers are employees or society itself … but in any case, we need to equip our students for success in a digital world.  We also can value what they bring to the class or program.

Crazy, right?  Thoughts?

{Graphic: Jessica Harvey, A.J. Aalto}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 17 – Teaching Like Penguins

 

PenguinYesterday, I talked about woodpeckers and swifts…today my inspiration is penguins.

Actually, my inspiration was a blog post by Garr Reynolds last week – “There’s no shame in falling. The key is getting up!

As Garr noted:

“…What inspires me most about this flightless bird is their resilience. They make the best of a difficult situation with what they have. Penguins may be better suited for the sea than the land, but on the land they must also navigate if they are to survive. …They make mistakes… They slip, they slide, they bump, and they fall. And yet, even after these little blunders they do not seem to care at all what other people—I mean penguins—think. They simply get up, shake themselves off, and try it again.” {Emphasis mine}

As we work with future faculty in GRAD-602, I am struck with the notion that many of them do not want to make mistakes. Yet, in my own teaching, I like to experiment. Experiments mean trying new things…and sometimes, new things means that I make mistakes. When I do, I try to learn from them and – like penguins – I simply get up, shake myself off, and try again.

So my 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 17 – How might I approach teaching like a penguin?

A year ago, Harold Jarche blogged about “The Risky Quadrant.”  Harold was focused on business training departments…but this could equally apply to centers like mine that focus on faculty development.  Harold forwarded questions Don Taylor had asked about training departments:

  1. Are you unacknowledged prophets, with a manager or executive who understands that you need to change, but the organization lags behind?
  2. Are you facing comfortable extinction, like the once dominant but now bankrupt Kodak?
  3. Or are you in the training ghetto, disconnected from the business and unable to be part of any change?

Risky Quadrant

Harold suggested that the reality is that we should be in the quadrant of risky leadership.  He quoted Don Taylor:

“…If both the department and the organisation are changing fast, this is a great opportunity. We can invest in new procedures and systems, build our skills and experiment with different ways of working with the business, and the business – because it is also changing fast and open to new ideas – will respond. It’s in this quadrant that we find really progressive L&D teams that are making an impact. While they are undoubtedly leaders, this quadrant is also risky, because that’s the nature of change.”

I would like to think that we have occupied the risky quadrant for the past five years, issuing our white paper on online teaching, rolling out our Online Course Development Initiative, and experimenting with iPads, digital storytelling, and online faculty development.

The world, however, continues to change fast.  This summer, we are potentially moving further into the risky quadrant with a new online initiative. In a news release yesterday, Gardner Campbell was quoted discussing experiments VCU will be conducting in online learning. He noted that:

“…untidiness and uncertainty are not to be feared, nor do they necessarily signal problems. “It’s all a work-in-progress,” Campbell said. “All of it has the potential to be messy and risky, but it’s a lot like life that way. And the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.”

The academic environment in which our future faculty members will live and grow is quite possibly going to be very different – and risky – from the academic environment in which I have worked for the past two decades. Learning to simply get up, shake themselves off, and try it again will be the norm.

And that can be quite exciting!

Garr shared a great video in his post, so I am replicating that here. Enjoy!

{Graphic: Gilad Rom}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 14 – Competing Fantasies

nix01Divergent thinking typically comes out of  annual SXSW conference.  Earlier this month, the conference featured Bruce Sterling, a noted science fiction author, as a keynoter.  Bruce used a phrase from his and Jon Lewbowsky’s  State of the World 2012 post that he had previously used…and which got a bit of buzz:

The Future Is About Old People, in Big Cities, Afraid of the Sky

“The future is about old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky. How do I know that? Well, it’s because demographic change is very obvious — people are gonna get older. And the urban change is very obvious — people have been moving into larger and larger cities for several decades. And climate change is super obvious. People can deny all three of them. You can say, ‘Oh, well my town will never get bigger.’ Okay, Austin’s getting bigger by 100 people a day. Or you could say, ‘Oh, well I’m never going to get older.’ Okay, you are gonna get older… I have the feeling I’ve spent enough time talking about it. I’m actually bored with writing fiction about it. I think I’m gonna spend a couple of years trying to get to physical grips with the problem — What kind of life would old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky actually have? I think it’s time to try some prototypes.”

As someone who has reached his Sixties, this pessimistic view is not what I hope my children have in store!  Yet, for today’s post in the 30-Day Challenge, it is instructive to go back to Sterling’s 2012 post.

Bruce and Jon noted that different groups see the future changing in different ways:

  • Right-Wing Talk Radio
    • Threats to the Constitution
    • Imminent collapse of currency
    • Rise of anarchists
    • Hordes of immigrants
    • Rants against health-care and gay rights
  • China
    • Continued dual rise of production and pollution
    • Increase in infrastructure
    • Collapse of intellectual property
    • Defeat western ideas of law and commerce
  • Cyberculture
    • Smartphones!
    • Moore’s Law
    • War on SOPA/PIPA
    • Social media drives revolution
    • Quietly ditching stuff that is obsolete
  • Additional Fringe Beliefs
    • “…all fringe beliefs about the future seem to be more or less equivalent, like Visa, American Express and Mastercard.”

Multiple perspectives all looking at the same future.  Lebkowsky then noted:

“…I’m thinking H.G. Wells would never have written the hyperpessimistic “Mind at the End of Its Tether” if he’d had a televison set, 24-hour cable, high-speed Internet access and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Our heads are buzzing with possibility, spinning ever faster into the alternate realities that your various futurisms suggest. I say “realities,” but I’m not sure the word “reality” has much weight these days – more like competing fantasies, in the sense that Kesey et al talked about “the current fantasy” and others of us talked about “believing your own bullshit.” Conflicting, competing narratives are the real games we play…”

DiversityAs “experts”, we as faculty spend a lot of time focusing on reality.  We craft lessons with “right answers” rather than competing fantasies.  Yet, with the affordances of the web, both our heads and the heads of our students ought to be “buzzing with possibilities”!  It should be instructive that much of the research in physics today points to alternate realities.  Rather than focusing on answers, how can we bring that buzz into the learning in our classes?

Day 14 – How could I craft my teaching so that students surface and interrogate competing fantasies in the search for today’s truth?

In one of the first global online courses I taught for the University of Nebraska, a Nebraskan gave a textbook answer to a question on educational leadership.  The next post was from a gentleman from the island of Guam, who started his post with “I am Chamorro, and we do not think that way…”.  It was a huge lesson for me on the lens we bring to our discussions.

What buzz do you bring to the discussion today?

{Graphic: Lori Nix, Envision}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 11 – Relevancy

NMC Horizon ReportThe NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition for 2014 lists six challenges which the review panel believes are very likely to impede technology adoption over the next five years.  These challenges are sorted into three categories defined by the nature of the challenge — solvable challenges are those that we both understand and know how to solve, but seemingly lack the will; difficult challenges are ones that are more or less well-understood but for which solutions remain elusive; and wicked challenges, the most difficult, are complex to even define, and thus require additional data and insights before solutions will even be possible.

These challenges will impact policy, leadership and practice…and it is the area of practice that I find most interesting.  The report raises an interesting point:

“Each of the six challenges identified by the expert panel presents numerous impediments for advancing teaching and learning, but perhaps the most wicked challenge related to these practices is keeping education relevant. Employers have reported disappointment in the lack of real world readiness they observe in recent graduates who are prospective or current employees. With both technology and the value of skills rapidly evolving, it is difficult for institutions to stay ahead of workforce needs.”

The challenges listed for this year:

Solvable Challenges

  • Low Digital Fluency of Faculty
    • “…digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.”
  • Relative Lack of Rewards for Teaching
    • “…There is an overarching sense in the academic world that research credentials are a more valuable asset than talent and skill as an instructor. Because of this way of thinking, efforts to implement effective pedagogies are lacking.”

Difficult Challenges

  • Competition from New Models of Education
    • “…As these new platforms emerge, there is a growing need to frankly evaluate the models and determine how to best support collaboration, interaction, and assessment at scale.”
  • Scaling Teaching Innovations
    • “…Current organizational promotion structures rarely reward innovation and improvements in teaching and learning. A pervasive aversion to change limits the diffusion of new ideas, and too often discourages experimentation.”

Wicked Challenges

  • Expanding Access
    • “…expanding access means extending it to students who may not have the academic background to be successful without additional support.”
  • Keeping Education Relevant
    • “…As online learning and free educational content become more pervasive, institutional stakeholders must address the question of what universities can provide that other approaches cannot, and rethink the value of higher education from a student’s perspective.”

Relevance has lots of layers, like an onion.  Relevance of discipline, relevance of skills, relevance of path.

work4relevanceClay Shirky in “The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age,” focused on the unsustainable fiscal model of higher education, stating:

“…The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.”

It seems that there are connections across these challenges.  Increasing digital literacy of faculty could help address challenges of access, scale, and relevancy.  My question for the 30-day challenge for today is:

Day 11 – In a digitally mediated and data-driven world, what practices will leverage what faculty do best – “…facilitating inquiry, guiding learners to resources, and imparting wisdom that comes with experience in the field” (to quote from the Horizon Report) while taking advantage of the affordances of the web to add value to the higher education student experience?

Figuring this question out could help address our relevancy.  Doing nothing would be wicked indeed.

Thoughts?

{Graphics: NMC, Steve Heath}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 8 – Teaching Like Slash

I saw a tweet from my Vice Provost this weekend that got me thinking (not his intention I am sure).  The Moody Blues were in town for a concert, and he tweeted:

Gardner tweet“Dad Rock”?  Really?  I mean, I was in high school when the Moody Blues were big…and my dad was more of a Glen Miller person than a Moody Blues person.

So I suppose that means that Gardner was alluding to “my” generation.

SlashYet, while I drove my dad crazy playing rock and roll, I was more in tune with the hard rockers.  And as I grew, got married, and had kids, it was not the Moody Blues that rocked me – it was someone my kids listened to – Slash of Guns n Roses fame.

Yes…my secret ambition was to be Slash, wailing away on his electric guitar while standing on a grand piano!

So my 30-day challenge question for today is:

Day 8: What would it mean to bring the intensity, passion, and zaniness to teaching that Slash brings to music?

After all, think about what Slash brings to music.  Time named him runner-up on their list of “The 10 Best Electric Guitar Players” in 2009, noting:

“A remarkably precise player who had to put up with more crap from his lead singers than any other guitarist on this list. Does he make the cut partially because of the hat? Yes. Yes he does.”

I have to admit the hat does it for me as well!  He has evolved and continued to rock over the years, with him recently creating the theme music for Angry Birds SpaceTotal Guitar placed his riff in “Sweet Child o’ Mine” at No. 1 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Riffs” in 2004.  Rolling Stones, naming him one of the top one hundred guitarists in 2011, quoted Slash as saying his music “…was a stripped-down rock & roll sound compared to what everybody else was doing,”  adding, “It’s hard to play those solos any other way,” says Slash. “It will sound wrong.”

What if – as we enter classrooms – we brought that same intensity to our teaching, because, to teach any other way would be wrong?

Where is my top hat?

And to close this post out, one of my favorite “alternative” pieces done by Slash in 1996…that even my dad would have liked:

Thoughts?

 

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30 Day Challenge – Day 6 – A State of Surprise

anchorGrant McCracken, in “The Corporation is at Odds with the Future,” noted:

“Here is my present idea of the corporation, give or take. The corporation is a thing of people, processes, places, and products (give or take). And these 4 Ps are relatively well-defined, organized, boundaried, and anchored (more or less).

In many ways, this describes most classes in higher education – well-defined, organized, boundaried, and anchored.

But McCracken goes on to suggest that – for organizations – this is a problem, because the corporation is:

“…deeply at odds with the future. Because the future is never defined, organized, boundaried, or anchored. Really, it’s all just hints and whispers. Fragile melody, no refrain.”

McCracken then suggests that if the future is a world of “speed, surprise, noise, and responsiveness,” then corporations need to visit the future frequently, and strive to create the future within their sphere of influence – “…make pieces of the future happen inside the corporation…”.

Surprise!Very suggestive for the future of higher education as well.  As I work with faculty, I am struck by how many view the future as “the enemy”, as McCracken suggested.  They look to keep their basic teaching model and retrofit educational technology in ways that do not disrupt their teaching approach.  Yet, their students will move into a world of increasing disruption.  Clayton Christensen has published examples of disruptions – surprises – that upended established businesses.

So my 30-day challenge question for today – Day 6: What would teaching look like if both the course and every student lived in a state of surprise?

A state of surprise might suggest that our content is not defined but continually evolving and in need of discovery.  A state of surprise might suggest that knowledge within our discipline is not organized but messy and in need of organizing (or even crowdsourcing).  Wikipedia would not be the enemy but the model.  Our class walls and clocks on the wall will no longer be boundaries defining our course.  We as teachers and our students will no longer be anchored to the past but sailing over unknown horizons to look for (and create) the future.

Granted, teaching based on the past is safe.  Teaching based on surprise is risky.  Yet, do we move our students’ critical thinking and capacity for learning forward is we are “safe”?  How would you build “surprise” into your class?

Thoughts?

{Graphic: Serps, EcoCatLady}

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