My daughter posted a guide on "how to make paper" on a site called snapguide the other day and showed it to me today. She remarked that only a five or six hundred people had looked at it. So I looked at it (just now) and thought it was pretty good (if you want to learn how to make homemade paper).
I was taken aback by her notion that a few hundred people was not very many. I asked her to imagine all those people sitting in an auditorium watching her demonstrate how to make paper. Still, no biggie.
"Kids these days" (I can't believe I just wrote that) have a whole different perspective on "what constitutes a lot of people."
I'm "in recovery" from running the brutal Megatransect mountain marathon this past weekend in Lock Haven, PA and wondering about lessons learned. It was an all day affair for most of us who finished on average in about 9 hours....clamoring up and down steep grades, hand over hand on boulder fields that seemed to go on forever, passing fellow trail runners injured or just tired out along the way. I was lucky in that I didn't fall, twist an ankle, blow out a knee, like quite a number of my fellow trail nuts. A few scrapes and cuts, total exhaustion, dehyration....but some great local beer and barbecue at the finish line!
What's real interesting to me are the conversations that take place along the course. You meet real interesting people at the aid stations along the way or on the trail...encouraging each other, making funny remarks, sharing a little philosophy. My big insight that I shared with others: In trail running "every step is a decision." And those decisions are important. Unlike marathon or ultra marathon races on roads, trail runners have to watch their feet at every step, working to stay on soft ground as much as possible (easier on the knees and joints), avoiding roots, rocks (or not if you decide that one rock or root might help propel you more efficiently). So in road running you just keep running, while in trail running you look and decide, look and decide for hours and hours...and, of course, you don't stop.
In real life we all make many decisions each day: What should I eat for breakfast? What should I wear? How should I start today's class I am teaching? Should I call that friend I've been meaning to contact? Should I start a new relationship or end an old one? We are constantly making decisions, some good and some not-so-good. But it's important to be mindful of how important those decisions may be! I've never met a trail runner who hasn't make a bad decision (resulting in a "face plant," twisted ankle, or worse). The key is awareness. Each of us is a continual decision maker, and those decisions....matter.
When we are in conflict with others it is often about decisions that have been made that we don't agree with or which are counter to our own agendas. Before we sit in judgement of decisions made by others it may be helpful to reflect on the nature of these decisions including situational and personal factors and the simple fact that none of us can always get it right. After 5 or 6 months of training and surviving the Mega...I'll just consider myself lucky.
The end of summer means the end of another New Hampshire-Vermont clash on the whiffle ball field. We squeeked by this year, but Mick "the Quick" and Joe "the Toe" will surely be back next year:
Having taught the first MOOC (massive open source course) in the state of New Hampshire (ok no big deal we are a small state but we do have a state university system with multiple campuses and a number of private colleges, including an Ivy) I have become a sort of point guy for talking about this type of teaching (perhaps “target” might be a better term).
I’ve touched upon faculty fears in at least one previous post and I continue to wonder about animosity toward this type of larger scale approach to education. My colleagues are understandably concerned about possible erosion of face-to-face education which they value and which, for the most part, they are good at doing. They see MOOCs with their big enrollments as the beginning of the end of what they do. And, to some extent, they may be right. But it’s not the MOOC that is the primary driver of this, but instead the unwieldy cost of both undergraduate and graduate education in the U.S. So many of my students at the College are literally drowning in debt before they even set their sights on graduate education. Just yesterday I talked with a bright young student who will graduate from our state college with over $50,000 in debt and now hopes to enter a professional doctoral program (Psy.D. in Psychology) in which she’ll accrue an additional $120,000 or more in debt. And of course the critical question that confronts faculty: Can we in good faith encourage students to even consider graduate school knowing they’ll emerge with such crushing debt?
While many politicians and others rail against Colleges and Universities for becoming so expensive, the truth is that support for higher education has been slashed, especially here in New Hampshire which ranks dead last in the U.S. for monies for colleges. When we professors look back at our own graduate education we remember free tuition or big tuition breaks, teaching assistantships, government support and Ph.D.’s with little or no debt. We could set about our lives in reasonable fashion, knowing that we could buy homes, raise families, have a life. Not so for the young people we corral through the system.
And while MOOC Land holds out the possibility for, among other things, a lower cost route to a degree, we all fear a two-tier system: Online education for the “have littles” and Middlebury College or Princeton for the “have a lots.” Until we can stem the tide of this growing inequity we will continue to march toward MOOC Land, whether my colleagues like it or not.
A lot of people in our little town of Keene, NH are talking about the problem of a growing group of young people who are hanging out in the Square just off Main Street. Local store keepers and restaurant owners complain that they are scaring off customers while others complain that they leave trash or bother pedestrians or shoppers passing by. And to be honest, it is a tough looking crowd...kinda down and out looking, smoking cigarettes, sitting around not doing much of anything for hours at a time. I overheard some passerbys calling them (rather loudly) "losers."
A friend of mine who I frequently chat with over coffee (we too while away a bit of time sipping a smoothie and hanging out at Keene's new COOP) referred to them instead as "people on prolonged vacation" and expressed some jealousy as he was called back to the office before finishing his smoothie.
I've since shared this "reframing" with anyone who will listen: "Hey look at all those folks on prolonged vacation...looks like fun!" And, I think people like this new way of looking at it....a shift from "losers" to "winners." And so I'm wondering about the power of this new idea. Will it spread? Will folks start to treat these hanger outers with more respect? Perhaps even admiration? As my dad would say, "Only the Shadow knows..."
It's becoming very PC on campus to say that "blended learning" (a mix of online and face-t0-face teaching) might be ok, but that fully online teaching may not. So if you are someone like me who has dabbled in online teaching and MOOCs you are viewed with some suspicion by friends and colleagues on campus who fear that online learning will eat away at traditional teaching, much like McDonald's hamburger chains in foreign lands.
Of course so much of the problem lies in semantics: What does one mean by "online?" or "open source" or "MOOC" or "DROOL" and so on.
I commented today (to a sympathetic staff person who is a tech person/instructional designer): Isn't all teaching blended? He laughed and said, "Yeah."
For those who don't get what's funny...since most of us are using a mix of technology and face-to-face methods, aren't we all doing blended teaching...and if so, why don't we just call it...something like...teaching.
While visiting my old friend Larry Loganbill in Moloaa on Kauai the conversation naturally turns to education. Now retired from Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu where he made educational films and watched their early education programs grow, Larry keeps up his garrulous advocacy of better curriculum and educational opportunities for Hawaiians. Hang out with Larry for a few days and you’ll learn about how education is changing, especially on the Garden Isle.
Larry tells me that many high schools kids on the North Shore no longer attend public school and sure enough he introduces me to such a young student up in Hanalei who is home for the summer after spending her first year at College. Rather than sending their kids to poor schools further down on the Eastern Shore, the kids are online completing high school. They plug in, do schoolwork, meet in groups organized by parents to discuss their work and surf, of course, when they have a break. According to Larry, the approach works: Kids aren’t bored like they are in the schools (he’s taught at some of them after retirement at Kamehameha) and they can leave the island afterward to go to college (either UH on Oahu or schools on the mainland).
After teaching an online “MOOC” (Massive Online Open Source Course) this past summer I’m beginning to think this may not be a bad idea for many students. A new role for College instructors (and others) may be to “assemble” interesting and engaging material for online consumption (iconic media in the form of video, photography, tables, graphs, audio) as well as text and then “stay in the middle” as Socratic styled teachers who ask questions, generate discussions, encourage critical thinking.
Even residential colleges could benefit from such an approach. Let students consume content outside of the classroom, then gather for small group discussions and even in-class writing. The “Show” part can be done asynchronously while the “Tell” part can happen in class or in small groups. Of course this is different from the “stand and deliver” approaches to teaching that have held students captive (literally) for a couple of centuries, but perhaps it’s time to let go of the chalkboard and “go with” rather than “go against” some of the good things that technology has to offer. Why wouldn’t we try this?
Even though my kid is a Junior and not graduating until next year, I joined most of the Monadnock Waldorf High School parents and friends in attending this year's graduation ceremony. Now as a college professor I have attended (not always willingly) more graduation ceremonies than I care to reveal. But never have I been so moved and amazed as today, watching the first ever class of graduates from the relatively new (4 year old) MWHS.
Some of the highlights:
1. Each student walked to the stage to the tune of their own chosen music and carrying their own chosen bouquet (one carried a carrot)
2. Together they sang the same song (Circle Game) they had sung at the end of eighth grade.
3. Several students gave speeches that focused on the school (they pioneered) and the world, rather than just themselves
4. They spoke of the importance of learning and giving to the world
5. A Tibetan Monk delivered the benediction and draped peace shawls on each student
6. The graduation speaker William Edelglass, Ph.D. (Professor Marlboro College) gave a speech on mindfulness, education, and liberty that had the audience hinging on every word
7. Lots of joking, laughing
8. Endless tributes to each and every teacher
9. More music
10. Class recitation (no notes) of a Lakota Indian prayer/chant (which they learned on a recent service trip to the reservation)
11. Great Food (including a gluten-free chocolate cake).
Today one of the students in my MOOC asked me about the difference between online and face-to-face education and I just had to tell her about today's Waldorf graduation. Active engagement, intellectual curiousity, caring about the world, and, as Dr. Edleglass said today, "walking the walk."
Put that in a bottle and I'll buy it.
I've been "teaching" an introductory course in Psychology this summer on Canvas the online courseware site that hosts a number of MOOCs. While I am literally the face of the course (ie, it's my face on the canvas link) the truth is that the course is constructed by a small band of folks here at the College that includes Michael Goudzwaard (our chief technology guy), Ivy Roberts (our educational technologist), Kat Wood (student assistant) and myself (the prof). And so the course is not so much "taught" but instead "constructed" by a team of very motivated and bright people. We meet regularly, make decisions about course materials, solve problems, and email and text each other throughout the day as issues arise. Hence, it's the team that makes this work, not the professor, and each member of the team contributes based on their own knowledge and expertise.
This new role for me, the professor is dramatic: I'm no longer the "captain of the ship" but instead a team member who contributes to this "assemblage" we call a MOOC. Content doesn't pour out of my mouth and in to the brains of students. Instead, we pick and choose and assemble the parts that make the course. Some elements come from the Yale open courseware project (Paul Bloom's lectures in psychology), some from an open source text book, and some from our own work. The final product (which isn't really ever "final") is more like a Joseph Cornell Art Box...an assemblage:
I think the metaphor of "Course as Joseph Cornell Art Box" is a helpful one because it serves as a guide for a new way of "Professoring" in which we are aggregators or assemblers vs. deliverers of content. And, when we cede power to the Team, new ideas percolate and new "objects" for the box are found and inserted. I know that many of my colleagues are worried that such a view may threaten their traditional ideas of how to teach (lecture based). And, I think they have good reason to be worried.