The true answer to every question: “It depends”.

Chapter III: The Inquiry Method

Continuing with my re-read of Postman & Weingartner:

This chapter put me in mind of my first philosophy course in my second round of grad school. I was an older learner. I had been teaching for a good long while by then. I had had no exposure to the study of philosophy at any point in my formal education up to that point. I knew little to nothing about what philosophy was/is/might mean to me as a scholar. I had the good fortune to sit in that class with a master teacher. She was a brilliant scholar who brought even the most recalcitrant to entertain ways of knowing and thinking that we had never considered. I distinctly remember several sessions when she would chuckle and say that the reason we needed to study philosophy as we were about to embark on programs of research was that we needed to understand an important truth going in: The answer to every question is “It Depends”. Yes, she was a qualitative researcher. She taught us to carefully question the drive to prove with research…and she taught us to hold suspect any expectation that results be ‘generalizable‘. I learned healthy skepticism from her. I learned to ask questions and to interrogate what I read and assumed in entirely new and different ways. I never completed my ‘big’ research or that PhD. But my ability to question is something i have never forgotten.

In this chapter, the authors begin to describe their vision for what classrooms ought to be like. They present ideas for how developing the ability to question is central to education. They describe “the inquiry method” in some detail.

I like this bit as they create their vision:

The inquiry method is not designed to do better what older environments try to do. It works you over in entirely different ways. It activated different senses, attitudes, and perceptions; it generates a different, bolder, and more potent kind of intelligence…It will cause everything about education to change.

Ummm hmm…preach. I love “…works you over“. How about it? A learning environment that does that? Is the result of that work-over measurable I wonder? 😉

I’m picking highlights here and skipping a lot of goodness (you really, really should read this for yourself)…moving on to their assertion in this chapter that the inquiry method “…makes the syllabus obsolete”. Wait, what now? Further on,

All authorities get nervous when learning is conduced without a syllabus.

They sure do. What about mass-produced curriculum and schooling resting on foundations of standards? Compared to what they describe in inquiry environments: “…delightful, fitful, episodic, explosive collage of simultaneous…” They liken this environment to a Jackson Pollock canvas. (LOVE it! Chaotic and yet beautiful).

The crux here, at least for me, is what they get to next. That is the idea that the inquiry method rests upon this purpose: “…to help learners increase their competence as learners.” (It is NOT about covering content, btw). They carry this idea a bit further by listing characteristics of good learners (assuming they are given an environment in which to thrive…and to do the things that they are inclined to do). Good learners:

“…are living, squirming, questioning, perceiving, fearing, loving, and languaging nervous systems…and because they believe and do certain things…good learners

  • have confidence in their ability to learn
  • enjoy solving problems
  • seem to know what is relevant to their survival
  • rely on their own judgment.
  • are not fearful of being wrong
  • are emphatically not fast answerers
  • are flexible…and frequently begin their answers with “It depends” [emphasis added]
  • do not need to have an absolute, final, irrevocable resolution to every problem

Then the authors proceed to a portion of this chapter that is quite relevant to my current work in higher education. They turn their attention to teachers and teacher attitudes.

There can be no significant innovation in education that does not have at its center the attitudes of teachers, and it is an illusion to think otherwise. The beliefs, feelings, and assumptions of teachers are the air of a learning environment; they determine the quality of life within it. When the air is polluted, the student is poisoned.

Got that? The teacher is the air.

This one is getting a bit long. There is more, but I’ll close now with the ending thought in the chapter that if teachers exhibit different behaviors, so do their students.


“Nobody likes a smart educationist.”

Chapter II. The Medium is the Message, Of Course

Ha! Gotcha! I bet you thought I wouldn’t write again for months and months! Back today though to continue my walk-through Postman & Weingartner’s book.

In this brief chapter the authors describe circumstances we create in classrooms – and by intentional design – that are really fail to support learner’s in a most important endeavor. That is, we fail to help students learn how to learn. School design is based upon compliance and control – students are expected to comply with controls imposed by the environment. This control trickles down to everything including attitudes and perceptions as we pay homage to king content. It is what we cover. As the authors say, “…’real’ courses are the content courses, …” This centrality of content keeps us from recognizing that ways of knowing within a given discipline are at least as important as “content” of the discipline.

So, how about a few choice quotes. Following are a few striking ones:

In order to understand what kinds of behaviors classrooms promote, one must become accustomed to observing what, in fact, students actually do in them…Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. Mostly they are required to believe in authorities, or at least pretend to such belief when they take tests. Mostly, they are required to remember…They are rarely encouraged to ask substantive questions, although they are permitted to ask about administrative and technical detail.”

Oh boy. As I read this I recalled (painfully) my earliest days in classrooms where i admonished my students that my notes over-ruled the text, that my answers were the right answers. I was striving to emulate more experienced colleagues who were considered seasoned educators. I taught as they taught (or told me I should). Being tough and unwavering was a badge of honor. And never, ever, ever were we to admit we might be wrong.

So, asking questions is important, eh? I’ve been thinking as I read this about my current “population” of students/learners – and that is my faculty colleagues. I wonder about our ways of approaching things we offer them. I wonder about how well we are supporting their inquiry – into their methods and practices of their own teaching craft. I wonder if we imply that our way (infused with digital tools) is the right best way.

I’ll end this one with a last quote from this chapter:

The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school.

They talk a good bit in this chapter about the learning environment we design. I’m thinking about our efforts here to redesign the physical learning space – and how in spite of our best efforts – some of the response to those new designs continues to be constrained by contents of the room. We have some work to do.

On Subversion – Blogging Postman and Weingartner

Subversion: obsolete :  a cause of overthrow or destruction

So, I have a whole bunch of other things I ought to be working on, but I’m going to commit to a low-stakes (as in I am writing in a hurry and not overthinking as I typically do….which is the reason I publish so infrequently) blog-along of my re-read of Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner’s prescient writing – a refresher if you will. My daughter asked me yesterday for recommended reading on pedagogy of resistance and disobedience. She aspires to be an educator herself. She is at the very beginning. Of course this was the first title I thought of. I hope after as many years in her career as have past since this book was written, she will have seen more change than we have. Maybe she can help make some things Postman & Weingartner suggest actually come true.

Postman Weingartner

Cover of Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Intro & Chapter 1 – Crap Detection

In the Introduction, dated 1968, the authors write a bit about what they call “insoluble problems” and whether anything can be done to solve them. The first striking quote for me occurs as they chronicle a lengthy list of those problems. They write this one on p. xii:

Still another problem concerns misinformation – commonly referred to as ‘the credibility gap’ or ‘news management.’ The misinformation problem takes a variety of forms, such as lies, clichés’, and rumors, an implicates almost everybody, including the President of the United States.

Were they looking into a crystal ball? Richard Nixon was elected in 1968. To whom were they referring at this point? Could this sentence be more relevant today?

They refer a bit further in the into to school being something we “inflict”. That is, something to be suffered, something unwelcome and imposed. What do you think? Does that still seem relevant?

They go on to explain that one constant – change that is accelerating and ubiquitous –

is the most striking characteristic of the world we live in that our educational system has not yet recognized this fact.


And finally from the intro – They talk about the few men [I sincerely hope they meant women too]

…working as educators striving to deal with qualitative problems in quantitative terms, and, in doing so, miss the point.

All. The. Time.

On to Chapter 1. Crap Detecting

We believe that the schools must serve as the principal medium for developing in youth the attitudes and skills of social, political, and cultural criticism.

Amen. Is that happening? Could we have landed in the place we find ourselves today if this had actually been happening in schools?

This one made me smile and think of the important work of folks like Donna Lanclos as Postman & Weingartner school us on importance of “the anthropological perspective“.

This perspective allows one to be a part of his own culture and, at the same time, to be out of it. One views the activities of his own group as would an anthropologist, observing its tribal rituals, its fears, its conceits, its ethnocentrism. In this way, one is able to recognize when reality begins to drift too far away from the grasp of the tribe.

Have we entirely lost the empathy born of that perspective? They explain more about this and why they believe it is important, then proceed with 3 particular problems they offer as particularly needing attention as schools remake themselves into “training centers for ‘subversion’.”

  1. Media change – Boy, they didn’t see that coming did they? How VERY MUCH media would continue to change after their writing. They talk in this section about how the addition of something – especially  a technology – creates a totally new environment requiring a whole new set of responses. They note that we have “…more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.” And on censorship they write:

    What we get is an entirely new politics, including the possibility that a major requirement for the holding of political office be prior success as a show-business personality.

  2. The second problem they suggest in need of subversive schools has to do with change and the knowledge explosion“. The lament the state many of us recall from our own educational experiences of becoming well-schooled on already outdated information. This problem is particularly wicked as they note the critical need for individual thought and action rather than blind acceptance of policy without question or dialogue.
  3. The third problem they write in this chapter in need of subversion and crap detection has to do with what they term “burgeoning bureaucracy”

    …bureaucracies are the repositories of conventional assumptions and standard practices.

Sound familiar?

The chapter closes with descriptions of teachers who believe they are in the “information dissemination” business or the “transmission of our cultural heritage” business. Neither of these get at the “future shock” they go on to describe. That is, the realization that the world you were educated for actually no longer exists (if it ever did).

I’m excited to dig into this again…and make my way through recording my own personal nuggets. If you land here and feel so moved, share your own thinking about education, and subversion, and dissent, and pedagogies of resistance.

Artisanal change & the 1 percent-my post-#digped PEI ramble of thoughts

Harbor view in Charlottetown, PEI

Well, to say that the Digital Pedagogy Lab PEI experience was excellent would be quite
the understatement. Chief amongst the many awesome things was being in the same
physical space as long-time Twitter network folks like @Lawrie, @bonstewart,
@davecormier, @Slamteacher, @Jessifer, @hjarche, @amcollier, @daniellynds,
@sundilu, @edtechinsight @actualham, and most especially @autumm And I met many new friends I’ll be following- here are a few: @MrsLoomis , @holtspeak , @clearerworld

Lawrie and I chatted at one point about how ‘familiar and comfortable’ it was to strike up a chat together – as if we were just carrying on a conversation we had been already having…and really that is precisely what happened – as we have ‘known’ each other online for years. Yes, you CAN in fact start, build, and sustain very real connections by digital means. But that’s not really the point of this post. I’ll continue…

I know I missed some, so my apologies in advance….[if you don’t already follow all of these people – click off to their profiles right now and make that connection. It’s okay. I’ll be here when you get back].

I hope I never lose my awe at what Twitter has done for me in terms of enabling connections with the most excellent colleagues all of whom I would never – ever – connect with otherwise. Heck, in one of the sessions in the digital literacies track we brought in session leaders virtually from  Arizona, Egypt, an Virginia. Let that sink in a bit. And there was the ‘hallway’ conversation I was privileged to join in by way of the beautiful force that is Virtually Connecting. There were folks from all over in here, too. Including Austrailia (Hey Wendy! @wentale), New Zealand, Egypt again, Arizona again, New York, New England, and there is my many awesome colleague from just up the road in Charlotte @donnalanclos. She wrote a very excellent post about her distant-yet-present #digped experience here.

I went to #digped PEI in serious need of a battery charge (and then I hear about colleagues losing their jobs/situations and I am newly grateful for my own current situation). I read the assigned readings for our track with great relish…looking for those sparks. I especially love the post from Kate Bowles, Content, it’s us  specifically the paragraph about artisanal change in higher education. defines ‘artisanal‘ as:

“…pertaining to or noting a high-quality or distinctive product made in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.”

I thought about that a lot as I watched #digped session leaders model engaging, supportive strategies to include every participant. They were being the best of what we hope our colleagues will be after they work with US in our various faculty development
opportunities on our own local campus. The whole #digped thing was itself quite ‘artisanal’.

A side bar was feeling overwhelmed with the scale and scope of degradation of ‘personal’ ownership on the web today (heck my own blog right here is not on my own domain, for example) – brought by our keynote speaker, Audrey Watters. I leave that wondering what I can possibly do to deal. (And the answer is, not much). Sure, I worry about our data and its fate a lot. I know that much of what we do with technology is predetermined and shaped by nefarious designs. Most of all I worry that most users of technology (myself included) have little awareness of what is really going on behind those screens. (And I think most ppl just don’t really care to know. The cave an be quite comfortable as long as you see out only in shadows).

Back to the artisanal change and the 1%:

Let me frame the artisanal part with a little bit about our travels around Nova Scotia and PEI leading up to #digped. We decided to avoid the usual obvious accommodation choices this trip in favor of bed & breakfasts. We searched and researched planning out pathways and stopping points  months ahead. We read reviews of others, explored photos and the way innkeepers presented their offerings online. And I must say that in each and every case we were delighted with our experiences. Every innkeeper without exception was warm, generous and very attentive to every detail of our experience. Every space was
immaculately clean. Every stop proffered excellent breakfast provisions. Every
innkeeper was ready with advice on local attractions/eateries for meals we were not
with them. At the same time, every experience and innkeeper was different. Their work
is very artisanal. They did their own work to make their places and services the highest
quality with the resources they have and the spaces they work with. Their work is highly

I am thinking that artisanal change….is what I work for…and want to understand more
deeply. Rather than ‘scalable’ macro change at ‘systems’ levels (the stuff our #digped
keynote was about)….I see now that I work at the margins…in a quite artisanal way. And
I am okay with that. Lawrie Phipps created some more idea sparks for me when he
talked about the true merits of making small changes – change just 1% – like Sir Dave Brailsford did with British Cycling.  (Here is a very interesting read about the whole idea of ‘marginal gains‘ applied to the cycling context and several others).

“Brailsford believed that if it was possible to make a 1% improvement in a whole host of areas, the cumulative gains would end up being hugely significant.”

Which brings me to some incomplete but important thoughts I take away from #diped
PEI: I have been wondering a lot lately about what happens in the individual teacher (I
use that term to refer to any educator, whatever level their students might be) once
they are sensitized to reflection as a part of their teaching practice. (I’m not sure that what we ground our local work in is full-on ‘critical pedagogy’, but I believe there are
certainly aspects of it). It is my firm belief that nothing is as important as a teacher
knowing him/herself first and then acknowledging the impact they have on students
and the educational encounter. I think this self-awareness really comes before any
design conversation, before any work to learn shiny technology tools, before exploring
instructional strategies, before talking ‘content’ and assessment. It really must come
first. All else blooms from this understanding. It is why I simply cannot/will not EVER go
straight to where to point and click with tools without (sometimes just gentle whiffs of)
provocations to reflections. (It is one reason #vandr mapping so resonates with me as a
point of departure for that self awareness…that’s a whole other post).

Sooooo….this long and rambling flight of ideas brings me to this:

The most important tech tool you will ever have is the one you see when you look in the mirror.

I want to work harder at focusing on helping individuals change their teaching practice. I want to listen to them carefully. I want to help them reflect upon their own practice and influence. I want to help them make small changes in their practice that honor them and who they are at the same time that it might enrich or enhance their work in general, as well as in digital spaces. I want to understand how those small things will coalesce and merge and grow into larger significant changes over time – if I am patient enough.Maybe they will even become institution level change. So let me challenge you too, to #change1%.

This is the first of at least 2 other posts I have in the works with others about shared #digped experiences. So stay tuned for more.


Sunset in Charlotte, NC when we arrived home from #digped PEI

Small victories.

group of young soccer players one with arms raised in victory gesture

CC licensed (BY) flickr image shared by makelessnoise

I am fresh back from attending the Online Learning Consortium 21st Annual Conference last week. As is my conference habit, I tweeted a lot about sessions I attended (and stuff I thought about during those sessions) at the #OLC15 hashtag. The conference got off to an unexpectedly somber start with the first keynote from Goldie Blumenstyk. Don’t get me wrong. I am no wearer of rose-colored glasses. And the state of finances in higher education and all that means is certainly something we should all care about. I do care about it. Student loan debt alone is a disgrace and terrible legacy to leave our future generations to repair. But it was a challenge to find a lot to celebrate and share in the keynote address. In fact, I found that I disagreed with some of the implied messages. You can find where if you cruise the hashtag. Other sessions were more up-beat and I found places to connect.

Phil Hill & Michael Feldstein with Maha Bali on laptopA highlight was being able to facilitate the @vconnecting hangout with Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein. (They blog at e-Literate). This was a special treat for me-meeting both Phil and Michael after reading them for years (and of course following on Twitter: @PhilOnEdTech & mfeldstein67). It was a true #fangirlmoment to be able to sit with them in the @vconnecting aftersession. T

This conference experience has left me wondering about my own take-aways from conferences in general. I think back to my very first edtech conference experience in early 2008: The ELI Annual Meeting in San Antonio that year. I met Gardner Campbell for the first time there (I am sure he won’t recall that, but boy I did. He opened his session I attended by asking us to move our chairs into a circle. There had to be >50 of us in that room. Hmmm…very ‘untechlike’). Honestly, I don’t recall a lot of what he said. The real impression he left was of just the way Gardner ‘is’ (and was)…his very being….that was what moved me to come home and dig up everything I could find that he wrote.

Bryan Alexander was there, too. Henry Jenkins was the keynote. Those were heady days for me. And not just me. Here is what Gardner wrote then:

…that’s probably what I treasure most about ELI: the strong and unshakable belief that runs through the entire organization and emerges magnificently in these annual meetings, the belief that we can and must put our heads and hearts together and figure out how to address these core questions. How should we teach? How should we do our scholarship so that research and teaching are truly symbiotic? How do we keep our chins up and our spirits high as we work within the often-frustrating processes and politics in our home institutions? Those are the tough questions, and ELI engages them directly, fearlessly, strategically–and with a tremendous sense of community and goodwill.

I went home from that conference so full of optimism and expectation and excitement for my new career path. I could hardly read and search and connect fast enough. It wasn’t too long after the ELI conference that I ran across this Gardner classic via Brian Lamb:

It is when I really learned about Twitter and started making those connections (many of which I use to this day).

I find that I am still expectantly searching for that same conference ‘high’ each and every time I attend. Alas, I am sorry to write that I have not found it much again – at least not when I attend face-to-face conferences. These days, I leave conferences thinking about all the great work we are doing here at my place – that we don’t share. I think about presentations I could have done myself about that work that others might have found edifying. I watch other conference streams like #dlrn15 this past weekend where it seems that others are experiencing that rarefied air. (And where I might note that the conversation was centered on many of the very same questions about teaching and learning Gardner wrote about in 2008).

I am envious. I am not sure what has changed. I think it is mostly me. In 2008 I was full of expectation for what was ahead. Everything I learned was shiny and new and possible. Now, I find I learn most from my digital connections (most of which are the result of Twitter – which some say is dying. Go figure). Is my mind not open enough? Am I too jaded by my years of trying to engage around these ideas where I feel I am in a perpetual state of beginning? I long for deep engagement on hard questions – like those Gardner set out in 2008….but here…down the hall…with my ‘local’ colleagues. Don’t get me wrong. Were it not for my digital window out, I am not sure that I could continue this work at all. I strive to bring the hard questions here.

And we ARE making progress. Just yesterday in a regular monthly meeting of faculty involved in our active learning initiative we had a most poignant conversation with one of our colleagues where she shared recent experience with her class – and the change in her approach and the accompanying change in how students engage on the traditional ‘content’ she has included to move towards critical thinking and application of ideas – not just recall of fact. She was lamenting student performance on objective tests around terms and names and such. At the same time, her class is doing very well with ‘application’ activities requiring critical thinking and ‘habits of mind’ inherent in the discipline (anthropology). Hmmm…they can’t necessarily ‘name’ stuff, but they can ‘do’ stuff. Is that a problem? We talked at length about that…about the dissonance this creates for her in her own teaching practice. She asked us what we thought. We asked her what ‘she‘ thought. How important is the language of a discipline to the thinking and discourse and ‘practice’ of that discipline?  All the while I was secretly cheering for her willingness to have this conversation in the first place and look her own practice full in the face to regard the changes she is making and the results of those with honesty and candor. Well done.

So, I suppose we ARE in fact having the hard, deep conversations. Small things are happening. Conference messages are coming home.

On being an elder…

The Beauty of Old Age

CC Licensed (BY) flickr image shared by Vinoth Chandar

This fall semester, we are hosting something we are calling the LwT Challenge (that’s Learning with Technology). We have created a series of monthly ‘shares around a guiding question:

How do you mentor and/or model using technology to learn?

(You can learn more about the challenge here on our Populr page. Feel free to join in if you like)!

The suggested September share is a visual representation/answer to the question.

  1. Make a doodle on a whiteboard.
  2. Use colors/charts/diagrams.
  3. Make an infographic.
  4. Use a digital drawing tool.

thephotoSometimes when I walk quickly past a mirror I have this flash of a thought…wait-a-minute. Who IS that person? Hahahahahaha….it’s ME! Gray hair, sagging chin skin, wrinkles and all. I don’t know how I got here – in really late middle age. It is so very trite but so very true …that the years fly by. Both of my children are adults now…trying to find their way. The infant years of sleep deprivation and the elementary years of juggling schedules and the middle school years of angst and the high school years of exposure to so much different from our family’s value system are all behind us. They are pretty much launched. I have been at this place where I work for 30 years. So now what? (I made this image using an iPad app called VisualPoetry using a pic of me I took last week and my favorite poem by Jenny Joseph.

That brings me to the idea of being elder. What does that mean? How do we live differently when we are elder? Most certainly there are many cultural differences in the way we regard our elders. In our Western culture, we tend to isolate and ignore most elders. Other cultures value the wisdom of age and persons who have acquired it. I refuse to accept the projected elder persona our culture forces upon us. I won’t behave in certain ways because I am older. I won’t stop doing certain things because I am older. I won’t dress and style my hair certain ways because I am older. I won’ become sedentary because I am older. I won’t. I refuse to be what I myself used to expect of persons my age. All that said, I AM more audacious now. I AM more powerful now. I AM different, and smarter, and wiser, and all that…the things we usually attribute to being older. I might even tip over into the eccentric from time to time….because I care most about what I think of myself…much, much more than my concern over what other people think.

For this post though, I am really thinking about being elder in the context of institutional situatedness (is that a word?). I am thinking of longevity and influence and institutional memory and how all of that relates to our obligations to persons at points earlier in their careers.

The Hastac/Futures Initiative Peer Mentoring & Student-Centered Learning Discussion for this month was quite timely. As I participated in the live-streamed workshop on peer-mentoring last week I was thinking more about my own role as ‘mentor‘… that ‘thing’ that happens by default and because I am elder. I think about opportunities brought about because of circumstance and unintentional institutional relationships. I’m thinking of daily opportunities, not formalized or formulaic enactments of mentoring. I don’t schedule a time to mentor someone. I don’t make appointments to mentor. It’s more about the offering of a hand up; the encouragement to accomplish; the acknowledgment of achievements; the sharing of expertise and experience. All of these things can (and should) happen as a part of how we work with each other. It’s really an extension of that caring I wrote about in my last post…this caring for each other is a normal and natural extension.

It really is about helping others find their voice. Cathy Davidson writes:

Formal education is as much about power and compliance, conformity and regulation as it is about knowledge, mastery, intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, innovation or originality. …it is about a system of social regulation where deviation has consequences – advancement, recognition, achievement, graduation and rewards or detention and failure.

Amen. So what do we do to make sure we ‘do the right thing’ where our colleagues are concerned? Well, accept the role of ‘mentor‘ whether it is assigned formally or not. Realize that an important and elemental way to gently, ever so gently push towards more naturally flattening the traditional higher education structural hierarchy is to mentor. As elder. Do it. Well.


Learning does not come first. First comes caring…

beach flower

I’ve been thinking a lot (more) about the role of caring in teaching – and ultimately learning. Caring is a word we toss around without really considering its meaning. Even your bank cares about you. Or your insurance agent. Or your grocery store. But, what about a teacher who cares?

Let me start with a little bit of a back story. As I have noted here before, I started my higher ed career as a nursing educator. I started teaching at a time in my life when I was barely clear on my own nursing expertise (we’ll save a discussion of the wisdom of that for another post). Nursing was/is an interesting profession. Then (and I would imagine now) there was a great deal of conversation (read that debate) over what exactly it is that nursing contributes to health care that is different and unique – thereby necessitating advanced education. We nurses spend a lot of time talking about what we bring that is NOT medicine, or PT, or OT, or you name any number of other health care professions. So reader, let me toss it out to YOU: What exactly IS it that nurses do? See. You get the picture. Some nurses claim caring as that special and unique thing. I won’t quibble over that here. The point is that engaging in the caring dialogue from years gone by introduced me to some thinkers/thinking about caring that I might otherwise have missed.

Like lately, since I have been seeing this thread of caring woven into so many conversations about teaching and learning (some examples a little later) I had occasion to pull out a book we had students in our nursing program read as an entre’ to their understanding and embrace of their nursing-as-caring mandate: Milton Mayeroff’s piece ‘On Caring’ was so worth pulling out and re-reading – given its relevance to an education context. When I read it last, I was thinking in the context of nurse caring for (and about) the ill, or the vulnerable. Now I’m thinking about the teacher caring for (and about) their ideas, discipline (enough to want to share it with others) and caring for (and about) the students (learners) they are sharing with.

In both instances, some of the caring ‘essence’ that Mayeroff writes is the same:

To care for another person, in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself. (I’ll say more about this as I thoughtfully make my way through the book again…but in a future post).

And this further from Mayeroff:

From a loose stringing together of ideas, a tight fabric emerges; ideas intertwine and tend to reinforce each other, making for a mutual deepening of meaning and a gain in precision. With the growth of an idea comes a deeper understanding of what its basic assumptions are, what it can and cannot do, and a clearer sense of what is relevant and irrelevant for its future development.

So, there are important caring relationships when it comes to teaching and learning:

Caring for/about ideas

It seems like this goes without saying. I appreciate the way Mayeroff points out the importance of devotion as essential to caring. He writes:

…it is through devotion that caring for this other acquires substance and its own particular character; caring develops in the process of overcoming obstacles and difficulties…devotion is shown by …being ‘there’ for the other…it [devotion] is shown by my consistency, which expresses itself in persistence under unfavorable conditions, and in my willingness to overcome difficulties.

I’m thinking here about what a faculty member goes through to become a subject matter expert in their chosen field. They most certainly experienced unfavorable conditions but overcame those to reach a classroom and stand before it as teacher. So, caring deeply for one’s discipline and wanting to share that by teaching another seems implied. Can we always assume that? I’m not sure. Should we always assume that? I would like to.

Caring for ‘the other’

To help another person grow is at least to help him to care for something or someone apart from himself, and it involves encouraging and assisting him to find and create areas of his own in which he is able to care…learning is to be thought of primarily as the re-creation of one’s own person through the integration of new experiences and ideas, rather than as the mere addition of information and technique”.

Wow. Let that gem from Mayeroff sink in a bit. I wonder how often we as educators give any thought at all to whether we are helping our students learn to care – about themselves, about learning. Do we?

Ingredients of caring:

Mayeroff (pp. 19-35) offers these interesting ingredients of caring:

  1. Knowing – One important reason, perhaps, for our failure to realize how much knowing there is in caring is our habit sometimes of restricting knowledge arbitrarily to what can be verbalized.

  2. Alternating rhythms – I must be able to learn from my past…there are times when I do not inject myself into the situation…rhythm of moving back and forth between a narrower and a wider framework…wider connections within a larger framework…

  3. Patience – …not waiting passively for something to happen, but is a kind of participation with the other in which we give fully of ourselves. Patience includes tolerance of a certain amount of confusion and floundering.

  4. Honesty -I must see myself as I am; I must see what I am doing and whether what I am doing helps or hinders the growth of the other.

  5. Trust -The teacher must trust his ability to provide a climate friendly to learning.

  6. Humility – …caring involves continuous learning about the other…

  7. Hope – …is an expression of the plenitude of the present, a present alive with a sense of the possible.

  8. Courage – …going into the unknown…following the lead of the subject matter…informed by insight from past experience…

A thing [ingredient] that I might add to this list of ingredients is ‘presence‘ (I’ve written about before).

Further, Mayeroff (pp. 39-50) describes what he terms ‘illuminating aspects’ of caring:

  1. Self-actualization through caring – there is a selflessness…

  2. Primacy of process – work with what we have from where we are
    (I hear Teddy Roosevelt there!) 😉

  3. Abilities to care and be cared for – I must be ‘up to’ caring- willing and able

  4. The constancy of the other – caring is a developmental process
    (there’s that word again – p-r-o-c-e-s-s)

  5. Guilt in caring – In caring, I commit myself…I hold myself out as someone who can be depended on…

  6. Reciprocation – Caring may or may not be reciprocated. Things cannot respond to me as I respond to them; their ‘personality’ has largely been given to them by me.

  7. Caring as a matter of degree within limits – Caring is compatible with a certain amount of blundering and lapse in interest and sensitivity to the other’s needs…
    ( We will make mistakes)

Examples/Enactments of Caring

How this all plays out in actual practice is something I think about a lot…looking for patterns of conversation and teaching and ways of being in the classroom that evince those ingredients and illuminating aspects. Of course, caring expressions vary from teacher to teacher. And I should note that some of my own personal biases definitely color how I perceive what I see happening. (For example, I bristle when colleagues start to bemoan ‘students these days’ and list their own pre-conceived judgmental measures of acceptable student behavior. I cannot abide it. I usually don’t respond very well to such conversations. Lists of ‘things that drive your professor crazy’ and syllabi full of prohibitions and negative presumptions that set the bar of expectation at the lowest possible level do NOT – at least in my opinion – express caring.

Rather, the reverse is the kind of classroom environment (and relationship) I hope for. Rob Jenkins writes about that ‘unconditional positive regard‘. He quotes Madeline Hunter:

Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

And they lead me to the inevitable conclusion: If any given teacher/educator does not care – then why stand up in a classroom?

Further, I have written here before about things like the relational, reciprocal nature of teaching and learning. Caring really is the thing that makes those relations possible and genuine. It’s the glue that holds the relationships together. Nel Noddings writes:

I do not mean to suggest that the establishment of caring relations will accomplish everything that must be done in education, but these relations provide the foundation for successful pedagogical activity.

I want to point out some evidence of caring – including the key ingredients Mayeroff proposes- I have noted as shared in the work of a few colleagues. These practitioners of caring inspire a sense of hope and optimism for me that transformation of education can indeed happen. The ‘system’ is in fact NOT beyond hope. Look for the caring ingredients and illuminating aspects Mayeroff proposes in the work of these few selected of my colleagues I have been fortunate to discover – and follow – who do, fill me with hope – for all of the best possible changes in the way we do ‘education’:

(I should probably go ahead and apologize ahead of time for the inevitable and unintended omissions that are a danger of enumerating a list of examples like this):

  1. Michelle Pacansky-Brock has been teaching us about ‘humanizing‘ for a while now. She talks about things like presence and empathy. Yes.
  2. If you have followed the work of Michael Wesch at all, you know that his recent sharing of his teaching notebook is a beautiful continuation of his work and writing about ‘soul making‘.
  3. Ken Bain describes the ‘passionate and compassionate concern‘ that excellent teachers hold for their students.
  4. Would anyone argue that Maha Bali LIVES as a personification of caring – each and every day? This post of her especially resonates with me – where her own self-examination can serve as an example for all of us with regard to our understanding of ‘the other’ that Mayeroff speaks of: Which Kind of Change is Most Human?
  5. Finally, I’ll suggest that caring is at the very heart of what Cathy Davidson describes in her wonderful series on Designing a Student-Centered Classroom series over at HASTAC. So much goodness in that writing that rests solidly on the foundation of the elements offered by Mayeroff (at least in my humble opinion).

Okay, I’ll stop there. As usual, this has become a ramble and has grown much long than I expected. There is much more to say…and I won’t promise there will or won’t be future posts. But, suffice it to say that caring – and caring pedagogy – are important topics and things I will continue to observe and look for patterns of.

A scaffolded sequential faculty development crosswalk

Sharing some faculty development ideas…because…it’s conference proposal rejection season for me. The latest I received today smarts especially – the third attempt to the same annual conference. Jilted again. *sigh*

I decided this time to share what I submitted anyway…here on my blog. I do think this sequenced faculty development experience is worth sharing. I’m putting it here – giving the ideas away as suggested by Seth Godin. Do or make of them what you will. I am licensing them as CC-BY. My one request is that if by some chance you find anything useful here and you want to use, remix, make better, that you hop over to the Google doc I created for my session and tell me. Leave a note. Say what you plan to use and how. Link back to your stuff, if you make stuff. (Our hashtag is always active: #qepfdi. Check it out).

Here goes:


Faculty selected to participate in our Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges Quality Enhancement Plan – the Student Technology Enrichment Program (STEP-UP) are required to participate in a week long immersion development experience where we guide them through a course redesign process with the intended outcome that they complete the week with at least a draft syllabus for their course redesigned as ‘technology intensive’.

We have developed a multi-modal approach to this experience where we model possible assignments and tools they might use in their own courses. An over-arching goal for their work is to move them beyond completing a task list towards engagement in a reflective course re-design process. We challenge them to discover and articulate the very essences of their course. They are further challenged to communicate their discoveries in new and different (sometimes uncomfortable, definitely unfamiliar) ways.

The Cross-Walk

I am calling this a cross walk because faculty move from the main ideas they want to teach/consider in their courses, through and to a succinct digital presentation of ideas as a culminating outcome. Our approach to the course redesign process is loosely based on the Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy proposed by Andrew Churches Using this framework allows us to structure each component of the redesign work around familiar key terms at the same time that we introduce very new technology tools. The suggestions the digital taxonomy offers helps to align possible new tools and approaches to course goals and ideas as they emerge step-by-step.

Step 1: Homework

The first step in thinking differently about their courses and how they might teach them is writing a syllabus… narratively as a 900 – 1200 word story. The assignment – Write the Story of Your Course – is given 2 weeks before our immersion week. In the assignment details, faculty are asked to address key elements in their course from what is important for students to learn through to how they will know students have learned what is intended. (Details of the assignment are provided over at the Google doc linked above). Faculty come to the development week with this writing complete. We also ask them to bring a digital and paper copy of the ‘real’ syllabus.

Step 2: Text Analysis

The next step is a guided textual analysis where faculty are asked to analyze their narratives by creating word clouds. We have allowed different tools for this task, but require that faculty start with using Voyant Tools. We expect that they create a sharable version of their word cloud to present and discuss with the group. Interesting insights emerge. For example, one of our faculty was quite surprised to note the most frequently used word in her narrative syllabus was the word ‘must‘. A very interesting dialogue ensued as others considered their own syllabi presented to them in this new form. At the same time, they gained experience with using word clouds for text analysis and we began to consider options and uses for this tool in their own courses. A further progression of this activity requires that faculty analyze both their syllabus story narrative and their traditional syllabus and compare them for new insights.

Step 3: Infographic

At this point in the cross-walk, faculty are assigned to use their syllabus narrative to create an infographic of essential elements they teased out as a result of their analysis of text (their own writing). Again, we are moving them through the exercises to discover essential elements; creating at the same time that we introduce technology elements for accomplishing the tasks. Again, we ask them to share/explain/discuss their outcomes and decisions as they create a graphic representation of their course.

 Step 4: Syllabus Blackout poem

The syllabus blackout poetry exercise invites faculty to again consider the essences of their course by using a copy (digital or paper) to create a blackout poem. Faculty may elect to use a variety of art supplies to craft the paper blackout poem or explore digital tools and options as they prefer. The blackout poems are shared in dialogue with colleagues to explain design decisions and the final outcome – focusing on how the poem is an expression of their course.

This activity is immersive and requires a creation experience that is new and novel and unfamiliar, but that helps faculty to examine essential elements in their course in ways they may never have considered before.

Step 5: Story Board

From this point on in the work faculty are guided to create a 2-minute course video trailer based on what they have learned. Sample trailers are introduced and we spend a good deal of hand’s on workshop time exploring possible templates and layouts for their story boards and for creating the video artifact of their thinking and work. Faculty can use any video creation tool they prefer. We do make some suggestions of possibilities from plain vanilla to more robust options. We have folks with a variety of levels of technology skill, but we encourage them to push out of their comfort zone to These work products are shared, analyzed and discussed – again interrogating the process of designing and building at the same time that we work with different technology components. I’ve included a list of tools we have used over on the Google doc.

Step 6: Course Trailer

The immersion week ends with an exhibition and celebration of the finished course trailers and dialogue about creation decisions all along the way.

I hope any of my faculty colleagues who participated in these activities recently will comment to share their perspectives on the experience.

So there. You have my conference presentation here and now.

How to abide

a small hut in a green forest

CC licensed flickr image (BY-NC) shared by SOI Toronto Centres

One of the (many) reasons I write here so infrequently is the time it takes me to sort out what I am actually thinking enough for it to make sense when I try to compose it.

Here goes an attempt to capture a few things I have been mulling since my exploration of a domain of my won last spring. First, let me say that I went into the project (buying domain, installing the obligatory WordPress instance, editing, ‘beautifying’ the site to the best of my ability) with an open mind – and fully expecting to be smitten and fall in love at some point and at long last ‘get’ the point of why some people I deeply regard and respect think a domain of one’s own is such a big deal and an essential ingredient to the enactment of one’s digital self.

May I now point out how much editing I have done since that first flurry born of a course requirement I was completing at the time? Wanna guess? How much?

Have you seen me share it anywhere? Have I invited you to take a look?

Well, here’s how much: None, zip, nada, zero, nary a minute have I spent there.

I did not, in fact, fall in love. I cannot even begin to tell you how very NOT in love I am with the whole thing. I can’t even muster up a minimal ‘like’ for the process. (When I finish my program of study in the spring, I will probably initiate divorce proceedings for a permanent severance). Fast forward to more recent weeks….when the site has been hit by spam.

Guess what??

I don’t want to have to keep killing spam comments….does not interest me in the least. In fact, I would rather kill the site than the comments one-by-one….then I won’t be bothered with anymore craptastic emails: ‘Hey, Sandi (my name is Cindy), I totally agree what a great point you made I love your site wow how did you make it this post was just in time for me I can’t tell you how important your work is’. I know this is quite mild and mundane compared to the sort of spam some people get.  I suppose I should count my blessings. And before you tell me all the wonderful ways I can protect my site from spam, let me stop you and say: I don’t want to learn that. I have no interest whatsoever in developing that skill. I don’t want to learn it on my own. I don’t want to learn it in the open. I don’t want to learn it in a classroom….not interested. Okay?

This all brings me right back to some things I have tried to say here before about how I question the ‘one-size-domain-of-one’s-own-fits-all’ idea as a starting point for web creative expression, engagement and participation. With all due respect, I do entirely support the idea of ‘open’ and I have most certainly been the beneficiary of what is shared as a result of that ideal. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the online relationships I have been fortunate to build are some of the most meaningful of my entire professional experience (which is rather long as the years tick by). However…I think the whole ethos of open web-participation/habitation and engagement is predicated upon the assumption that individuation must happen precisely because networks (and singular nodes within them) can and do vary – immensely. So, saying that everyone ought to purchase and inhabit web real-estate as a pre-or co-requisite to ‘being’ on the web just does not ring true for me. Saying there is only one pathway to digital habitation ‘truth’ and creative expression is like saying that all artists ought to paint. We know that is not true. There are as many ways to inhabit digital space as there are people. Owning and sustaining that habitation in the form of staked out turf…is just not all there is. And guilt should not be meted out if one chooses to abide and engage in different (but certainly no less worthy) ways.

Honestly, sometimes it does feel a little dichotomous, as Lisa Lane expresses here:

Those who can, own a domain and populate it as their primary means of expression and participation on the web (and are the cool kids). Those who can’t (or won’t or don’t choose to) are just not (as)cool. She expresses a great deal of what I have been thinking for a long while about why some of my colleagues hesitate where digital participation is concerned. I am reminded after re-reading her thoughtful post that I live my work life quite literally immersed in all kinds of technology. Many (most) of my colleagues do not…and do not want to.  And for good reason. They are part of that ‘cautious majority’ Lisa talks about.

Which brings me to a final point I want to try to make: I would like to see more patience, acknowledgement of and tolerance for variation. I would like to see more encouragement of exploration – even tentative. Don’t want to buy/own/sustain your own domain? Fine. Find your own method of creation, expression, participation, habitation…and be welcome while you do. Not a fan of blogging? Fine again. Join in conversations in spaces and ways that feel right to and for you. Just can’t get Twitter? Okay. Where CAN you digitally connect? May I show you a few things that work for me…and you feel free to try what might be interesting to you.

I am going to stop here. I am feeling this growing into another post about the digital abide. I need to let that simmer a little more. If you made it to the end here, I’d love for you to share your thoughts with me.

A domain of my own – Part 3 – ‘…here there be dragons’ or how do we make sure everyone knows a dragon slayer??

sandcastle dragon consuming a person with a shovel

CC Licensed flickr image (BY) shared by user topgold

I stink at blogging. My later spring semester was CRAZY busy with a swirl of major grant-writing (we won’t know the result of which until the fall), a visit from our accrediting body, taking a course, teaching a course…One big writing thing ended and another began. I am just now coming up for air. What is below is/was another in my post series on my domain adventure. I still want to get these thoughts down….so am posting this albeit late.

Okay, I know that quote (in the title) is a stretch…but I am referring to the notes at the margins of the old world maps where the ‘known world’ ended…and that is precisely where I have been with moving along my site development. (Don’t worry kids, I know some dragon slayers so all is not lost! More on that later…)  😉

What has happened since we last chatted? Well, let’s see. I have a fresh new WordPress install as the overlay to my site. I am building in there (as I mentioned in my last post). I struggled some with naming conventions and file paths and such (and I am certain I have made mistakes in this part already-but learning by making mistakes is a good thing). The WordPress part has been – well – okay, I’ll admit it, even good fun. I lost track of time experimenting with various themes I might select and install that say ‘me’. I have built-out my page structure for the site I need at least for now. And…yes, I am understanding that if I had done this (managed my own doman and all) – from the beginning – (…choose any beginning here: beginning of my work in IT, beginning of my latest ed tech related grad work, at the beginning of DS106 last year….) the task would not be quite so unnerving now. Which brings me to the primary theme for this post:

Part of the whole reason I am trying to capture my swirl of thoughts about this as I go…is that I think  there is something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT at the heart of a personal cyberinfrastructure than the domain of one’s own part (first time writing/saying this outloud, but I have had this ‘gut’ level feeling about it for a while…). There. I’ve said it. (And I must preface what I am about to ATTEMPT to write with the very clear and explicit acknowledgement that this is still an epiphany-in-progress. Read it as such). So, …right now today, I don’t think that a PCI is the only pathway to that central essence.

Now that I got that off my chest, let me attempt to explain. I want to point to some especially relevant excerpts from Gardner (Campbell)’s essay (A Personal Cyberinfrastructure) that get to some of what I am thinking. Here’s the first nugget:

“Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Student’s would frame, curate, share, and direct their own ‘engagement streams’ throughout the learning environment…students would …develop the tools for even richer and more effective metacognition…” (my emphasis added).

True all of that….but especially the part about students shaping their OWN cognition and learning…..So here’s where I (think I) differ about a personal cyberinfrastructure. I believe there are MANY ways to nurture that personal shaping of learning… and to support it. Of course, encouraging curation through a personal domain is ONE way, but I am not convinced that it is THE (one and only true) way. Mike Wesch put it this way in the comment stream on the Chronicle piece about him back in February (A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working):

 “My main point is that participatory teaching methods simply will not work if they do not begin with a deep bond between teacher and student. Importantly, this bond must be built through mutual respect, care, and an ongoing effort to know and understand one another.

Still with me? So, I believe the most important element in distilling down teaching and learning  to the most atomic is the resides in the relationship-that ‘deep bond’. Maybe the nexus that allows for the expression of this bond is around the co-creation  and understanding of cyber-artifacts. But that can’t always and won’t always be the only way the bond can be made evident. I tried to explain this in a post I wrote last spring. I am convinced of it now more than ever. At the heart of the cyberinfrastructure is the connection it is likely to engender. The conception of that connection is that teacher student deep bond. Okay, enough on that. I have to let this ‘sit’ now that I am trying to actually write it. One more thing about the PCI:

I still work with and encounter people every day – faculty AND students – who have no idea about the kind of learning possible through the ‘networks’ many of us (in ed tech) live in and take for granted. Some are even fearful of it. I am here trying the PCI to see where it might take me. I want to experience it …fully (and I have way far to go before I can say I am there)…to see if my theories about the deep bonds are correct. That’s where the dragon-slayers come in. I can tell you that without Tim Owens at  Hippie Hosting, I would have abandoned this whole thing pretty early on-because of the dragons.

IF PCIs are to work, learners need support.
(Gardner says that here:

“To provide students the guidance they need to reach these goals, faculty and staff must be willing to lead by example — to demonstrate and discuss, as fellow learners, how they have created and connected their own personal cyberinfrastructures.”

and here:

“Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal cyberinfrastructures”

Here’s that bond thing again – learners need SOMEONE to help them along the way. Everyone will need their own dragon slayer. They will need some way to construct at least a beginning understanding. Some learners will be able to assume responsibility for this after just a little help. They will ‘get’ that curation thing and run with it. Others will require much longer and more support.  Now, do Tim and I have a deep bond?  Not exactly…except the one that you get when you live ‘in the network’ and you become known around by/with/amongst others of like mind. The ‘bond’ is with the network and because we are both part of it – slightly different nodes, for sure – we ARE  ‘bonded’.

I am not even sure any of this makes any sense to anyone other than me….but there, I have TRIED to write it. And here’s what my site looks like right now: