From Temporary Discomfort Comes an Essential Struggle

From Temporary Discomfort Comes an Essential Struggle


“Disequilibrium, cognitive dissonance, challenge—these are the building blocks of learning”. – Tricia A. Seifert, University of Toronto

Librarian as Futurist

Librarian as Futurist

To reimagine the production of knowledge so that it invites sustained play—poetry, dance, theater, games of science and history, role-playing and pedagogy, urban ecology and invention, sustainability and material sciences, questions about the limits of tolerance and difference, immersion in the sounds of natural languages preserved, formal languages refined, ancient music, and future texts—this is the university in the age of delightenment.

Johanna Drucker

Romancing the Rosetta Stone, Love is Blind

Romancing the Rosetta Stone, Love is Blind


I’m taking a MOOC. I already said that, but, there’s homework . . . The gist of the class so far is about the advent of digital technology as a tool for growth – grow your brain, grow your network, grow your idea. Change your mind, change the world. We keep reading these essays from far-sighted people who were articulating a world of artificial intelligence and personal computers in the early days of Dick Tracy. Reading about these utopian uses of technology in the antiquated syntax of the 50s and 60s on my smart phone makes me feel like I’ve been transported to a galaxy far, far away. The 60s wasn’t really that long ago, but it seems like we’re behind the eight ball if we’re only now getting to their ideas about machine aided learning.

Why can’t we adapt more quickly to innovative concepts in education? What prevents the best ideas from bubbling to the surface in the service of the people? (And I do not believe corporations are people). If education were a capitalist system and human empowerment the currency, we’d see more varied solutions, more competition – a real race to the top. It’s easy to criticize capitalism for the way it pits the winners against the losers, but our school systems are doing just that without the benefit of incremental improvement that competition spawns.

This week’s reading assignment, Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib / Dream Machines has some stinging commentary about how schools kill creativity (me thinks Sir Ken Robinson has read this).

The author argues for a technology designed as a creative process to be undertaken with the audience (users) in mind. He sees technology as our ecosystem, claiming we “live in media, as fish live in water.” This was written in 1974. Nelson argues that technology will allow people the right to explore at their own pace and whim and he believes that right outweighs any administrative advantages of creating and enforcing “subjects” and curriculum sequences. We’re beginning to believe him. The Kahn Academy broke one of our molds with the flipped classroom, recognizing that not all students are going to grasp a concept because it was presented in a classroom lecture once.

Here is a list pulled from the reading. It hurts me to hear some of these words, I am a teacher. It pains me to see how much of this still applies forty years later.

1. The human mind is born free, yet everywhere it is in chains. The educational system serves mainly to destroy for most people, in varying degrees, intelligence, curiosity, enthusiasm, and intellectual initiative and self-confidence. We are born with these. They are gone or severely diminished when we leave school.

2. Everything is interesting, until ruined for us. Nothing in the universe is intrinsically uninteresting. Schooling systematically ruins things for us, wiping out these interests; the last thing to be ruined determines your profession.

3. There are no “subjects.” The division of the universe into “subjects” for teaching is a matter of tradition and administrative convenience.

4. There is no natural or necessary order of learning. Teaching sequences are arbitrary, explanatory hierarchies philosophically spurious. “Prerequisites” are a fiction spawned by the division of the world into “subjects;” and maintained by not providing summaries, introductions or orientational materials except to those arriving through a certain door.

5. Anyone retaining his natural mental facilities can learn anything practically on his own, given encouragement and resources.

6. Most teachers mean well, but they are so concerned with promoting their images, attitudes and style of order that very little else can be communicated in the time remaining, and almost none of it attractively.

What is the role of “the teacher” in this new information economy? How can we smooth the transition of this massive technological disruption so fewer teachers and support staff feel attacked instead of inspired? I welcome your ideas.

It’s an Exciting Time . . .

It’s an Exciting Time . . .

It’s an exciting time to be in Higher Ed (or a really scary, messy, fraught with the unknown time). To say that digital technologies are causing disruption in the teaching / learning landscape is an understatement. It feels a little bit like a minefield as new models pop-up daily for hybrid, blended, synchronistic, asynchronistic, self-paced, flipped, and mobile models for learning. Just keeping up with the shear scale of posts, shout-outs, and hyperlinks in blogs, tweets, and chats can seem like a full-time job. The brick and mortar is under attack. We can moan about this, resist the current, or dive in and try to use the new tools to create new schools or at least foster healthy change within our existing institutional structures.

Richard Bland College has created a Center for Strategic Initiatives (CSI) to address the need for responsive, nimble, market driven solutions for individuals and businesses who want skills based training. We are a college within a college. This model allows RBC to remain committed to the tradition of a liberal arts education steeped in critical thinking and inquiry based learning AND / OR to deliver programs geared towards workforce readiness or professional development.

The Center for Innovative Technology, an economic development think tank, has identified industry and research areas critical to the state and national economies. Advanced manufacturing, cyber security, data management and analytics, smart grid and analytics, biotechnology, and medical devices are strategic focusses for the Richmond region. Richard Bland and CSI are committed to serve as a beta site for innovative solutions in higher education instruction, academic support, and management. Because of our small size, we can be very creative with customized programming and are able to deliver courses and programs at times, locations and in modalities that optimize resources and accommodate student schedules and preferences. Our strategic plan RBC-19, builds on the goals of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Higher Education Act of 2011 (also called Top Jobs 21 or TJ21) and positions RBC as a key innovator in meeting the emerging educational needs of the Commonwealth.

The compass isn’t quite as easy to read as it has been and the pathways to success are more varied. Students have more responsibility for their own learning and have to take more ownership of their roadmaps. A straight shot through a Bachelor’s degree doesn’t get you to the gold watch anymore. As someone who didn’t have access to the straight shot or the gold watch, I think it’s really exciting to be at RBC right now and be part of this change. The potential of the new learning landscape looks more like a quilt than an arrow. But, I’m a  wanderer and I think this journey looks rich and full of possibility.