Odd Week

Last week was strange on several levels. It was an odd set of experiences that have left me more confused than usual … so much so that I have been unable to figure out how to write about it all. I attended and presented twice at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Tech Forum event in Washington DC and while I was really excited to attend I left feeling a bit down. I don’t think it was the event that did it to me, I just think the overall vibe was way outside of my sweet spot. It was a crowd that seemed to be much more interested in yesterday than tomorrow — and as a critical reflection, that may seem a bit short sighted or jaded but that is how I left feeling. If you look at the Twitter search results from the hashtag I introduced I think you can see a bit of the tension, although there may have only been a dozen of us using our Internet voice while things were happening. It felt like an event that was working really hard to connect with fresh ideas, but was not quite ready to let go of old constructs and have some really difficult discussions. With that said, I did learn quite a bit and I met some really interesting people while there … to top it all off, I got to present and spend time with a great friend and make some new ones. I am honestly hoping the CHE does this again and maybe invites some of us to be a part of the planning for the event. I would definitely go back — if they’ll have me.

As a personal aside, I firmly believe my talks did little to stir up the crowd in any sort of proactive ways — there were lots of folks who dismissed what I had to say as being fluffy and not based on the perceived rigors of traditional scholarship. Of course I was running a risk by showing youtube videos of Charlie getting his finger chomped on, but I wasn’t using the videos as the message — I was using them as a metaphor for the explosion of new forms of conversations happening all over the social web. I know for a fact I missed the mark with at least one audience member who had his hand up even before I finished … his comment created a strange segue into the open discussion portion … and he was serious.

If that is scholarship, we are all doomed.

Never mind the session was titled, “Building the Classroom of the Future” … these folks wanted to hear something else. It was very comforting when a woman in the audience raised her hand and told an amazing story about her 8th grade son who decided to (on his own) create a new religion. At first I was nervous where it was going, but the way she described his passion and his intensity as he researched existing doctrine to come to his own conclusions was the exact right kind of example we needed to get back from the edge of being “doomed.” Interestingly enough I spent time talking to one of the other people in the audience who really challenged my notions and he was far more interested in having a dialogue in a more private setting, even telling me he found the talk “engaging and interesting.” He didn’t seem that way during the session as he told me that all this was fine and good for the soft sciences, but there is no room for distractions in the real sciences (he was a mechanical engineer). Not sure I agree and when we did talk he told me how he does use youtube to show difficult concepts.

But perhaps the biggest stir came after the event when the Chronicle ran two separate stories on my message … the first was titled, “Web 2.0 Classrooms Versus Learning.” I was a bit upset with the use of the word “versus,” but I am guessing conflict sells — I felt as though a more appropriate title might have used the word, “supports” or even “and” as a replacement. Oh well … it created some dialogue. The thing that seemed to blow the doors off it all came about as Jeff Young from the Chronicle called me as I was driving home to talk to me about some things I mentioned about how my colleague, Scott McDonald, and I used Twitter during our classes. In the piece titled, “Professor Encourages Students to Pass Notes During Class — via Twitter” my ideas come off as a product of a crazy mad scientist using my students as guinea pigs and my class as an out of control research lab. The comment stream speaks for itself — this is a heavy debate and one that I am really hoping to engage in here locally. I think we have a lot of new opportunities to capture students imagination and engage them in new ways — if we are looking to be a bit crazy … well, here’s to the crazy ones!

And so it was an odd week that has me wondering if what I have to say really does resonate with people or if I am getting the polite nod because people actually think it is all bullshit. Not sure, but I am working to check my own confidence level and working hard this week to get my mojo rising for our own TLT Symposium. I really need to hang out with a group of really engaged and excited educators to get my head back on — and trust me, we have them here at PSU! Maybe I’m not ready to deal with the truth that nothing we do will matter outside these walls — or maybe that is the bullshit in it all. Perhaps those who call it all fluff are holding onto something that no longer exists, maybe notions of control, or maybe that never did exist? I don’t know. Do you?

8 thoughts on “Odd Week

  1. Keep on the path you are on!

    As far as the comment from the raised hand, if *that* is scholarship is all about (dismissiveness from the tower window), then… f*** scholarship.

  2. I wasn’t at these events, so it’s hard for me to comment in any substantive way… though I’ve seen your work. I’ve also been on the receiving end of the kind of reactions you describe, not to mention a pervasive sense that the ideas and emerging realities that strike me as essential are not garnering the attention that I feel they deserve. Afraid I only know enough to commiserate, not enough to offer actual advice.

    I believe change is coming, the only question is how much of it will be on terms that are dictated by the existing order. There seems to be a disparity of opinions on that…

    I suspect you’ll get your mojo on for TLT… and here’s hoping it gives you enough jam to keep punching a while longer.

  3. I read the one article on the Chronicle and sat here shaking my head and at one point even screaming out loud in my living room simply out of frustration for the people that “just don’t get it”.

    I’ve seen the passion, the excitement and the community built from these tools. I’ve seen the friendships and relationships grow out of a simple twitter introduction and a welcoming of a new person into our group. I’ve witnessed how the Penn State community is no longer separated into students, faculty, and staff – but one large community. Through twitter I can chat with students and learn about what they’re doing – and they can do the same with us.

    Learning should be excited and passionate – learning should be about growing, changing, and figuring out how things work. When I look at my 4-year old and watch and listen to her talk about something new she learned in school, the excitement in her voice and on her face is brilliant and vibrant and she can hardly control herself. She can’t wait to tell us what she’s learned – and I hope she always feels that way.

    You know how your students felt in that class when they used twitter – you saw it and and WE saw it. As a good friend recently told me when I was frustrated about things,”Don’t let anyone push you off your square.”. I *love* being one of the ‘crazy ones’. I’ll take crazy over closed-minded any day of the week.

  4. @ Alan Levine, @ Brian, @ Shannon Ritter Thanks for the comments! I think on a lot of levels it is just pure frustration with the minority view — and I think it is the minority view probably b/c of my home court. What I mean is that I see such amazing things happening right here at PSU and I am so encouraged by it. Sometimes looking outside I see the parts of my own Institution that I shy away from — those who aren’t willing to talk about thinking a little differently. I think I notice that perspective more when I am away — maybe it is b/c I spend a lot of my time here at home talking to really interesting faculty and staff who are pushing forward?

    I’m as excited as ever and I think the spring and summer are going to rock … if you can’t get up to have David Wiley, danah boyd, Alan Levine, the Symposium, the Learning Design Summer Camp, and our emerging blogger con all within the next couple of months you might not have a pulse. And the best part is I get to stay home for them and hang out with people who do amazing work. I can’t wait to share that vibe with CogDog when he comes calling in May.

  5. I think you should look at the CHE experience as an opportunity to fine-tune your message to groups like this. Like the guy you talked to privately, some are simply seeking a way to connect to these concepts that make sense to them- but keep in mind, they are not yet aware they are seeking this connection. They want to be heard first and not told what they must do. It is similar to how I persuade my Dad to do things: feed him just enough information and subtle persuasion and before you know it, he truly thinks it was his own idea!

    You’ll never “win” them all over, but just think of the momentum you could build when you ‘convert’ just one of them. It’s an interesting challenge and keep in mind, as you engage them in dialog, there may very well be some usable nuggets that extend the conversation.

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