Loneliness is a Deadly Illusion

I was invited recently to respond to some questions about my PLN from the good folks who put together the Squad Goals Network.

I was invited recently to respond to some questions about my PLN (Professional Learning Network) from the good folks who put together the Squad Goals Network. The questions made me think deeper about the role my PLN has played in my work as an educator for the past 12 years. Ultimately, I believe learning is directly proportional to the depth and quality of one’s own PLN. Read further reflections to their questions below:

Access: Does regular access to other individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives challenge your definition of access and what it means? If so, how?

Access itself is rooted in the concept of ownership. For instance, I am breathing air currently while sitting in a Wendy’s in Jackson, Michigan. The Wendy’s doesn’t own the air I am breathing, therefore I am not paying for it and I don’t think of it as something I have access to as much as I think of it something available to everyone at anytime and anywhere where our atmosphere reaches. Similarly, I don’t think of my connections to other people that work at other institutions as something I have access to so much as I think is something that I would have a very hard time living without.

I do have a difficult time with the concept of “institutional perspectives.” It simply doesn’t make very much sense to me outside of the context of a common set of values the individuals within an organization have collectively agreed to. How can an institution have a perspective outside of the multiple nuanced perspectives shared within the community of individuals within the institution? And what about the perspectives of those who have been a part of the institution in the past, but no longer officially are. Do they come into play somehow? I think of an institution as a construct that contains a culture of many different people sort-of how I think of my car as a construct that carries me and other passengers from one place to another. I wouldn’t say my car has a perspective so much as I would say it carries people with different perspectives. Does this make sense?

Faculty Satisfaction: How has your participation in the PLN benefitted faculty and colleagues at your home institution?

This might be an interesting question for me to ask of the faculty and colleagues around me. I would hope that my engagement in the PLN has directly benefited those around me by helping them to be connected to intellectual discourse around the ethos of the common work and goals we are all espousing to. If anything, it has challenged their thinking by giving them glimpses into perspectives, practices, failures and successes that can be directly informing our own work. Hopefully, we also have been in the continual practice of giving back in terms of sharing our own learning with our own broader professional learning networks.

Learning Effectiveness: When you reflect on your work, how has meeting and learning from individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives helped you to clarify or re-define what it means for learning to be effective?

I’ve always understood learning to be a deeply social phenomenon. This is true even in critical aspects of learning that require independent study and reflection. The learning I’ve experienced with and from my PLN has served to clarify for me this truth. It has done so by reminding me of the power of shared experience and storytelling in the context of a community of inquiry as an essential component of my own ongoing professional growth and development. This is reminiscent of any meaningful learning experience I’ve ever encountered. Hopefully, this richly informs my work creating effective learning experience designs.

Scale: Is the PLN scalable and/or replicable by others at other institutions/organizations? If so, how? What challenges do you encounter?

Scalable and replicable are terms that make me queasy. I might reframe this in a way that describes the PLN as a reality encountered already in any effective educational entity. For instance, if someone were ask me if biodiversity is scalable and replicable, I might reply with a pinch of snark by encouraging the asker to open their eyes and look around them. A better question might be what the effects are of monocultures on ecosystem health? Similarly, I fundamentally believe that healthy learning environments are incapable of flourishing without the presence of a healthy community of inquiry being shepherded.

Most challenges I encounter around the concept of PLN development stem from common lethargy regarding the investments needed to make them a reality. You might think of this challenge similarly to how I encounter challenges with staying healthy, fit and in shape. Most of my challenges with these things stem from me lacking the will or discipline to carve out the time and resources needed to habitually be in the practice of various forms of exercise. Similarly, most of my PLN challenges are rooted in a lack of resources devoted to prioritizing my PLN appropriately in the juggling demands of life and work.

Student Satisfaction: Do you feel that your involvement and/or collaboration with the PLN has helped you create better student experiences at at your institution?

Undoubtedly, yes. In fact, if I didn’t benefit in the ways I do from my own PLN, I wouldn’t know the powerful effect it would have on my students. So, I try to encourage and cultivate PLNs for students in ways that are not formally mandated, but that can happen when the right kind of challenges are designed in ways that require learners to navigate them together rather than in isolation. I also try and be as transparent as I can about the positive things I glean on a daily basis from my PLN in terms of having mentors, mentees, sounding boards and critical dialog with folks around the things I am currently dealing with in my educative work or things I am trying to better understand.

It is extremely easy in this work of teaching and learning to fall under the illusive trap of feeling isolated and alone. There is nothing that threatens learning and life more than this deadly illusion. Similarly, there is nothing more opportunistic for learning than to recognize the deeply networked relationships that have always been a constant thread in all of human learning, growth and development. This truth runs deeply throughout history even to the point of a mysterious and little understood notion of collective consciousness.

Day 1, July 9th, 2018

Wow, today was a blast. I am impressed by these educators we get to work with in the next six weeks. I know I will learn a lot from each of them.

Today, one of the main objectives was to get to know each other better through tapping into prior knowledge, experiences and by articulating personal goals for this summer seminar. I’m going through and reading some of the writing the students did today and looking at the artifacts they made and seeing ways in which these main goals were accomplished. This will set us up well for success in this seminar going forward because we will always be able to point back to and iterate on the goal setting that took place on the first day.

I tried a brand new active learning strategy today that I learned at one of the sessions for the MSU Spring Teaching & Learning Conference this year. It is called kaleidoscope. I learned it is much different to experience it than it is to try and facilitate it. Namely, I sort-of botched up clearly explaining the instructions, but I think I was able to adapt on the fly in a way that made it work in the end. Essentially, the goal of the activity is to rapidly scramble groups so that more ideas are shared with random assortments of perspectives across the class. That ended up happening, but I realize now that when I numbered people off by threes, it was assumed that I wanted all people with the same number to join up across the room. Next time, I will explain it better, I’m sure. My approach was simply to renumber the people in the new groups that formed so that the 1s would go clockwise and the 3s would go counter-clockwise for the scrambling. I’m not sure others even noticed the goof, but I did. 🙂

I am reminded this fine evening at the simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting work of the educator. I’m what I would describe as out of shape as it relates to teaching (not to mention other ways). There is a certain type of muscle or stamina that develops when you are in the routine of teaching practice, but when you jump right into a sprint like this one having had a break in teaching, the demands of the work can be jolting. I’m sure every educator experiences this in some ways, but especially those of us who land more on the introverted side of the spectrum.

Tomorrow is another big day with a large focus on learning theories and the concept of mindset or grit.

Ok, back to writing feedback and reading for now until I can stay awake no longer.

Anyone who thinks the work of a teacher is easy either has no idea or has been led to think so by a teacher by trade only rather than vocation.

It’s Hybrid Eve!! #MAET

You know those butterflies you used to get before the first day of school?

I wish someone had told me those never go away.

I’m so excited about tomorrow being the first day of a six week learning journey with the MAET Hybrid year two cohort and my co-instructor Brittany (who is so phenomenal). I just finished watching some introductions that some of the educators recorded on our Flipgrid wall. I am so thrilled and honored to get to learn from and with this community!

Tomorrow is a big day with a lot of important ground to cover in ways that will shape the trajectories of the entire learning experience.

So, no pressure, but it is going to be one of the most important days of the experience.

I’m looking forward to learning more about each educator in the community and getting a sense of where they come from and where they are headed in their careers. This (among other things) is a foundational focus of tomorrow that will start off right away in the first meeting bright and early. Brittany and I are going to be facilitating some activities that we have drawn up and have put a lot of planning into them. Here’s to a successful first run at some brand new approaches for reaching the same outcomes of previous years.

It is going to be epic.

Embarking on teaching a nine credit seminar

This is an opening post to a series of daily posts reflecting on my learning as an instructor. This summer, I am teaching an intensive 9 credit hour seminar in 6 weeks on the topics of educational technology, educational leadership, and educational research.

Why do you teach?

I teach to learn. I learn to teach. In some ways, teaching and learning are as natural as breathing. It is essential. It is always happening. Most of the time we aren’t aware that it is happening or appreciative of its importance. I want to study and practice teaching and learning so that I can better understand healthy approaches to it for improving learning experience design.

What’s your next gig?

Next week begins a six week adventure of teaching a nine credit seminar course. This is a mosaic of three courses within the Masters of Arts in Educational Technology program in the College of Education at Michigan State University. It combines courses in educational technology, educational leadership, and educational research. I am excited and nervous.

What are you most excited about?

What I love most about this intensive seminar is it’s convergence within the larger overarching TPACK framework. TPACK has been a cornerstone of the program since it’s inception. It stands for the contextual relationships between three domains of knowledge: technical knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge. As you can see, these three domains match up nicely to the focus of each of the courses in the seminar. In the same way TPACK has a sweet spot in the overlapping circles, this seminar affords a unique advantage of having all three courses interweaved into one common experience.

What makes you nervous?

This high intensity seminar makes me nervous because of all the planning happening in such rapid succession. What helps a great deal is that arrangements have been made for my full-time appointment so that I can focus exclusively on this course for a time. I love where I work and the supportive community that surrounds me each day.

What are you hoping to learn?

This summer, I would like to do a daily recap and reflection on this experience as one of the co-facilitators. It is important that I do this as it is a meaningful learning experience for myself as an educator. Doing so will allow me to have robust notes to remember the things that worked well and the things that can be improved.

What are you hoping educators gain from the seminar?

I would hope that they would remember that good leadership boldly builds on evidence-based practices while simultaneously maintaining humble postures of learning. These practices and mindsets must drive all technical and innovative decisions if there is any chance of them being successful. If the technology alone is expected to lead these conversations, we will inevitably fail. Let the learning commence!

Get serious. Play more.

A quote by a man named Lazer from the 70s got me thinking about science education today.

book coverI love the conversations that happen in The Hub. A few months back, Troy Livingston and I were shooting the breeze and somehow got on the topic of teaching science. Troy recommended a book to me called “Teaching Science to Children” by a guy named Lazer Goldberg. I told him I would read any science book by a guy whose first name is Lazer. The book was first published in 1970, but the content within it feels timeless.

Toward the beginning of the book, a paragraph that jumped out to me as being visionarily prophetic. So much so, I might insinuate that Lazer Goldberg may be viewed as a influencer of science education reform efforts in similar ways that Dr. Martin Luther King was influential to the civil rights movements. The following paragraph gets me fired up about science education in ways that remind me of the reasons I entered into the field in the first place.

“What is wanted is the will to organize a climate for children’s science learning. In such a climate children continue their play. The games whose rules they learn elicit their most intense participation. There is no shame attached to error and failure, and fear has been cast out. Interesting errors are admired, and perceptive questions are applauded. Task governs time, and there is freedom to make, to think, to remake, to chat, and to dream a little. It is a place where dissent and independence are honored, where thought is not deprived of feeling nor art of thought. Above all, it is a place of diverse activity—social, intellectual, artistic, manual. It is a place where children transform bits of their environment and in the process transform themselves.”

I believe that the climate of science learning described here could be applied to any discipline and learning level without sacrificing legitimacy. If we are going to be serious about improving, we need our working and learning environments to be open to more playful energy.

It might seem counterintuitive, but let’s get serious and play more.

If we hold on firmly to our ideas, our practices, our ways of living in this world, this is ironically the quickest way to lose them. If we, instead, play with and hold loosely our ideas, practices and ways of living, this is the only way we find them, grow and move forward toward a brighter future.

Why Go Up There?

As I watched the Falcon Heavy successfully pull of its test launch on February 6th, I was spellbound with awe and excitement. I’ve enjoyed sharing the exhilarating human achievement with friends and family in recent days. I can still hardly believe what SpaceX has pulled off and the future they are helping us charter.

I’ve also been randomly connecting with science songs from the 50s and 60s that were part of a 6 LP set called Singing Science. One of the songs is called “Why Go Up There” talking about outer space. I found it particularly fitting for the recent event.

Here, I decided to tie the beautifully animated video of the event with the song in the background.

Enjoy!

Fitness Coaching Failure

{ …commentary on the traditional over-emphasis on the pedagogy of lecture… }

“I stood in front of that class each day for six weeks and demonstrated perfect form in my workouts. They all took great notes. Why didn’t they get in shape?” -Hypothetical Failing Fitness Coach

Man lifts cats as weights
LOL Cat Fitness Fail Shared by James at FITBODYBUZZ

It is a common misperception about teaching that the educators job is solely to instruct. Placing this concept in the context of an athletic or fitness coach can help reveal the flaw in thinking here. It isn’t that demonstrating good form or good practices isn’t important. Quite the contrary. But if that is all that happens without space and feedback provided for people to practice on their own or with others, the value of that instruction is prone to be wasted in the ether.

Eric Westervelt and Carl Wieman ascertain in this NPR Interview that:

“…undergraduate Higher Ed still worships at the old false idol called the Big Lecture and doesn’t seem to want to ask whether it’s working.”

It is possible to be incredibly in shape and fail at helping others to do so.

Similarly, it is possible to be incredibly smart and unable to impart it on others without a fundamental understanding of how people learn.

Let’s get smarter together on our shared values of teaching & learning as educators.

Reflection on Two Friday Talks

I have a habit of putting interesting events and talks coming up on my calendar and then forgetting about them until the day of. A few Fridays back (September 15th) was one of those days where not one, but two speaking events were on my calendar. It was a busy day, but I was glad I stuck with my plan to attend them both.

There are many of these kinds of events I attend that I will duck out of if nothing of importance is being discussed or happening and I will forget about them and get back to my work. This Friday was different. It was a bit of an anomaly of a day because it had two events I had previously signed up for. One was in the morning and the other in the afternoon which allowed me attend both. That itself was unique, but what was far more fascinating to me is that both of the events were so good that five minutes after they began, I started recording them on my phone knowing that there was rich content being shared that was worth pausing and reflecting on further.

Hence this blog post.

The events were called:

  1. Knowledge for Sale
  2. STEM Alliance Fall Reception

Dr. Busch shares his book conclusions with a room of peopleKnowledge for Sale

Friday morning I attended “Knowledge for Sale: The Neoliberal Takeover of Higher Education”. This was a talk given by Dr. Lawrence Busch who is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology. In the talk, Dr. Busch discussed the contents and premise of his new book in this same title. Here, Busch espouses that higher education has been taken over by a newer pragmatic and market driven philosophy compared to its more historic roots in pursuing knowledge for its own sake.  As he spoke, I couldn’t help but make connections to so many instances and efforts globally in higher education and surrounding me in my own context here in Michigan. I wash shocked by the low number of attendees for this talk and wished as I was listening that the whole university was present. Instead, I decided to hit record about 5 minutes into the talk so that I could share it with others who I knew were interested in attending, but who were unable to (see the link below this section). I have added the book to my Amazon wish list and look forward to reading it this Fall. I’m sure it will continue to give me a lot to chew on related to some of the powerful and yet often invisible forces at work behind the scenes in higher education.

The talk was followed up by a couple of commenters who both reinforced some of the things Dr. Busch highlighted and embellished on them in their own experiences shared.  Dr. Alyssa Dunn from the Department of Teacher Education in MSU’s College of Education and Dr. Stephen Gasteyer from the Department of Sociology shared personal accounts of market-driven decisions being made by administrators that were directly effecting the lives and qualities of education they have given their life vocations to. I was particularly struck by the account Dr. Dunn shared of her own experiences at Emory University in Atlanta where entire departments that were reputable for their excellence were eliminated for claimed monetary reasons by administration. These departments included the education program where she earned her masters and doctorate. They also included spanish, liberal arts, and ethnic studies staffed mostly by people of color. Administration further claimed that these programs were not relevant for 21st century education. You can’t make this shit up.

  • Listen to an audio capture of the talk recorded on my phone.

Improving How Universities Teach ScienceSTEM Alliance Fall Reception

Later in the afternoon, I walked over in very hot weather for Michigan to the Kellog Hotel and Conference Center to hear Carl Wieman speak. Dr. Wieman was the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Physics and has done extensive experimental research in atomic and optical physics. What I was more interested in hearing from him on was with his more recent intellectual focus which is on undergraduate physics and science education. Here, he has been a pioneer for the use of experimental techniques for evaluating the effectiveness for particular teaching strategies in the STEM fields. Among other accomplishments, Carl also recently served as the Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology.

Dr. Wieman spoke on “Taking a scientific approach to the learning and teaching of science.” The focus of his work draws on research on how people learn informing more effective ways to learn, teach, and evaluate learning than what is in use in the traditional college class. He shared his slides freely where he points to examples of some of his work with places such as MSU, U. Cal. San Diago, Univ. of British Columbia, Stanford and others. He pointed to a meta analysis of approximately 1,000 research studies from undergraduate science and engineering classrooms comparing traditional lecture with “scientific teaching” approaches. He went on to explain that the more scientific approaches to teaching consistently demonstrate greater learning outcomes, lower failure rates, and how these benefits extend to all, but most notably to at-risk students. None of these findings were surprising to me in any way, still it is always helpful to have people in the room who are hopefully being persuaded of these things further by evidence.

  • View his slides.
  • Listen to audio of his talk recorded on my phone.

What about you? Have you attended any meaningful talks or workshops lately? Please share your reflections as a follow-up here. I believe that good things were always meant to be shared. 

finish lines

Dr. Andrea Zellner getting signatures after defending her dissertation.
Dr. Andrea Zellner getting signatures after defending her dissertation.

This past week, I was privileged to witness two amazing PhD candidates I know cross the finish line of defending their dissertations. Congratulations, Dr. Andrea Zellner and Dr. Erik Skogsberg! The hours, days, weeks, months, years, and the perseverance people like you demonstrate toward major life accomplishments like this are an inspiration to people like me. You both finished strong and have so much to be proud of. That goes for you and all the people who have surround you and supported you in this. Celebration is now in store, and well deserved, I might add. I hope you both are able to relax, reflect, and enjoy the feelings of accomplishment you deserve to feel.

Dr. Erik Skogsberg with wife Amy and son Ezra at graduation ceremony.
Dr. Erik Skogsberg with wife Amy and son Ezra at graduation ceremony.

I can only imagine all the reading, writing, pouring over data, late nights, meetings, classes, thinking, discussions, revisions, hurdles, and the many challenges you must have experienced these past years leading up to this monumental week. The sacrifices you’ve had to make and commitment you’ve demonstrated are beyond what people are able to comprehend who haven’t gone before you. In fact, even people who have gone before you can’t fully understand your own unique experiences you’ve had and the difficulties you’ve overcome in a venture like this.  I’m sure there were days where you questioned if it was all worth it. I’m positive there were times you wanted to throw in the towel. But you didn’t. You fought through and you’ve crossed the finish line to a degree that maybe 1 in 500 people in the world have received, if that.

Personally, I’ve been considering the possibility of pursuing a doctorate for some time now. I’m apprehensive. Only recently, since Lindsay and my three boys all began school this past year have I been meeting with folks like you both who have gone before and charted new territories such as these. I’ve been gathering advice and continue to do so. One of the questions I like to ask is:

What is it you wish you had known in the early days when you were deciding to do a terminal degree like this? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks, in advance & congratulations,

-dave