Upon Further Reflection

Perhaps its been the miserable weather here in State College or the stress of running the largest and most ambitious TLT Symposium ever, but I think I’ve been grumpy. Things are looking up … today the sun came out, the sky was blue, and to top it all off last night I got to hang out with our guest Andy Ihnakto and it was a blast — so much so that I think it calibrated my perspective a bit. Today I spent the day feeling the amazing quiet before the storm that rolls in tomorrow with the arrival of both keynotes — David Wiley and danah boyd. Both of these folks are people I have followed for years and both of them have had a huge hand in forming my current thinking. I cannot wait to hang out with them. Tomorrow is the start of a killer weekend and I am now mentally prepared for what is to come. Bring it.

After I wrote my last post I felt like I needed to go back and rethink what I wrote — after doing so, I almost regretted it. Here’s why — it was short sighted on several levels. If I am honest, the people at the Chronicle event last week were overwhelmingly positive with my message. So there were a few difficult questions tossed out — and that is where the reflection comes in. I can’t spend energy being defensive or uptight about that. I have to spend my time working even harder engaging those people in real conversations. It is my responsibility and I am willing to take that really seriously.

Wordle of Positive Comments by Cindyu

Wordle of Positive Comments by Cindyu

What the talks showed me is that people are interested. What the posts in the Chronicle space illustrated was something more powerful — that people are really interested in expressing their thoughts on the changes we are seeing on our campuses. If we don’t get beyond an us vs. them approach — and I think we all know who the us vs. them represents (or is perceived to represent). We need people pushing dialogue locally related to the stories that appeared last week so we can all come out of our labs, ivory towers, classrooms, and offices to really engage in some serious conversations or we can’t make progress. All I care about is moving the conversation forward — and my early reactions to my perceived inability to engage that audience goes against everything I believe in … and it sent me into a defensive mode. I believe in pushing people to talk and without real intelligent dialogue we are doomed to spend our existence in education living in a jacked up worksheet nation. We need to forget about the power struggles, the us vs. them mentality, the edupunk need to blow it all up, and spend time finding common ground. If we do that I believe there will be places in the academy for punking, rocking, chilling, reflecting, embracing, and encouraging teaching and learning.

Four of us were having dinner
and I threw down the paper with a curse.
And my wife said, “complaining doesn’t get it,
you gotta do something or you can bet it will get worse.”
–David Crosby, Tracks in the Dust

Upon further reflection, the issues are with me — not the world. When I say that I say it because I am committing myself to the notion of the conversation and the notion of breaking through the bullshit walls so many of us (and I am in that crowd) lean on — walls that make us safe and don’t push us to work towards shared meaning and understanding. We need to forget the no we can’t mentality and move into the future.

See you at the Symposium!

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?