What leads us to change our teaching so it departs from how we were taught?

A feedback slip at a recent faculty teaching workshop I ran asked the title question of me personally. Some thoughts:
1. A colleague who shifted during graduate school from ecology to science education studied science faculty who made a big change in their teaching (towards being more interactive, activity-based, etc.). He concluded, as I recall it, that each person had their own biographical reasons–there were no generalizations.
2. I have often found myself saying that I haven’t systematically looked at my own development as a teacher. I don’t have a coherent narrative to offer anyone else.
3. It is the case that I have tried to articulate my guiding themes ever since I had to prepare material for reappointment/promotion reviews. Doing this made me, in turn, more conscious of what I was doing (see http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/portfolio05.html and precursors).
4. But being reviewed may not be the explanation — indeed, colleagues advised me to focus on publications because teaching doesn’t really count. At about the same time, I had stumbled into being the advisor for graduate students teaching writing-intensive seminars (because I had started such teaching for extra $$ one summer). In that role, I observed their classes and had to invent ways of reflecting back what I saw — some of my themes about teaching arose from doing that. From that experience I convened a “teaching co-op,” in which faculty and grad. students observed each other’s classes.
5. But commenting on the teaching of colleagues may not be the explanation, given that I had already instituted a practice some years earlier of having students take turns to stay after class and give feedback.
…and so on.
6. I think a key connecting strand here is that my research has always been about problematic boundaries of complex situations and I have sought and made use of opportunities to teach interdisciplinary courses about life and environmental sciences in their social contexts. This teaching gave me the chance — or made it a necessity — to formulate my own distinctive interdisciplinary themes. In short, reflection on my teaching practice was less some virtuous approach to teaching and more something I had to do intellectually.
(More thinking, remembering, reflecting is needed here…)

Research for Writing, Writing for Research: A workshop

Overview of a workshop run for doctoral students in Environmental Studies at Yale University in Fall 2008.

OK, you’re near the end of a semester learning about qualitative research and preparing a research proposal.  This “writing workshop” will look at the role of writing in research from three different angles:

1.  Thinking about what your project (or thesis) is isn’t finished until you finish writing—and you can’t bring writing to a finish without thinking through what your project (or thesis) is really about.  So, what processes can help you with your thinking and writing at the final stages?  We’ll look at “Sharing” and “Revising with Feedback,” guided by chapters 3 & 13 of Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power (Oxford U.P.) and another piece of his (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/ elbowresponses.html).   (If anyone wants to volunteer a few pages for us to give feedback on, please email me and I’ll explain how this will work.)

2.  The course syllabus says:

The idea is to commit to a project quickly and put some effort into it; you may change your mind later, or find that the problem you thought was worth pursuing is in fact a deadend. Congratulations—that is what research is all about.

Is that what research and writing have to be like?  It is too late to change for this semester, but let’s compare your experience with a process that allows more time for finding a project that really engages you.

Before the workshop:

a. Read the introduction to a book (http://bit.ly/TYS2012) that compiles material from three CCT courses:

b. Examine the “phases of research and engagement,” which are overlapping and “iterative”

c. Consider the idea of “dialogue around written work

During the workshop, we will use two of the tools in the book to compare your experience with the ideas/practices in a, b, & c: Guided freewriting, and Strategic Personal Planning.  (Details of how we’ll do this can wait till the workshop.)

3.  (time permitting)  Many of you will be teachers and researcher advisers one day.  If you see your development as a teacher as an ongoing process, then this process is a suitable subject for qualitative research.  In that light, before the workshop please read the compilation of snapshots from my development, and come prepared to give feedback so I can revise and improve this first draft.  (I’ll be asking you to use one of Elbow’s variety of responses in providing the feedback.)


Think, listen, share on our learning process in the 2014 Learning Creative Learning MOOC

With three others (at times that accommodate international participants), we’re planning hangout events in which we will think, listen, and share about the state of our learning in the 2014 Learning Creative Learning MOOC, http://learn.media.mit.edu.

The first week (March 18-20) we will pay special attention to a “Prepare” step valuable for subsequent participation in the MOOC — or for deciding not to participate this time around. Participants will discuss what type of learning experience we are looking for; what we could put in place to minimize the barriers or challenges; and so on. The hangout will support us to take the time to address these and related questions.

In following 6 weeks, as long as people keep joining the sessions, there will be similar hangouts about the state of our learning, paying special attention each week to 6 more steps of MOOC involvement: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster, Focus, Reflect. (The sequence here combines 5 steps identified by Dave Cormier, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8avYQ5ZqM0 with pre- and post- steps added by Felicia Sullivan,http://bit.ly/moocsteps .)

The hangout hosts are return LCL participants, whose experience in LCL 2013 led to http://collabex.wikispaces.com, which addresses the needs of online learners who want to dig deeper, make “thicker” connections with other learners, and connect topics with their own interests.

Hangout times during the week: Tues 7.30am, Weds 4pm, Thurs 9am & 8pm. Note: The USA will be on summer time.

RSVP on https://plus.google.com/communities/106132864609383396284/events

Half-time lectureship in Critical & Creative Thinking–Please spread the word

Please spread the word about a half-time lectureship in Critical & Creative Thinking (CCT) graduate program and the Science in a Changing World track for a person with ability to teach online and blended courses that span psychology, conceptual development in math and science, and research and writing for mid-career professionals around reflective practice and CCT in general.  More details: http://bit.ly/CCTjob

The position could increase to full-time with additional teaching options if a proposed doctoral program in Creative and Transformative Education gets approved or if CCT student numbers increase.  This possibility, of course, can’t be committed to in the position description or initial appointment.


Full description

The College of Advancing and Professional Studies (CAPS) at the University of Massachusetts Boston seeks applicants for a half-time, non-tenure track, Lecturer in the graduate program in Critical & Creative Thinking (CCT) and the Science in a Changing World track, to begin fall 2014.  The CCT program has, for more than thirty years, helped mid-career students involved in a wide array of professions and endeavors to develop clarity and confidence to make deep changes in their learning, teaching, work, activism, research, and artistry.  Of particular interest for this position are candidates with a doctorate; ability to teach online and blended courses that span psychology, conceptual development in math and science, and research and writing for mid-career professionals around reflective practice and CCT in general; an active presence in activities and forums through which attention could be drawn to CCT course offerings and degree tracks; and experience in program development and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration.

Responsibilities include: teach three (3) online or blended graduate courses each year; develop and maintain relationships with practitioners (including CCT graduates) in a wide range of professional and online forums for the purpose of program promotion and pedagogical innovation; with the Director and Assistant Director, develop marketing strategies, evaluate the impact of various efforts and adjust future plans accordingly, and actively participate in new student recruitment; evaluate students’ capstone projects; prepare grant proposals for external funding.  Faculty may also contribute to the University’s urban mission, to university and college committees, to professional associations, and to collaborations with faculty colleagues on teaching and scholarly work.  The blended courses meet once per week in the evenings or in a 3-week summer semester; apart from that, there is considerable flexibility in the time and place where duties are performed.


A doctoral degree or A.B.D. in a relevant field is required. Applicants must have: at least three years of graduate-level experience in teaching and curricular development in online and blended modes; content knowledge that spans psychology, conceptual development in math and science, and research and writing for mid-career professionals around reflective practice and critical and creative thinking; an active presence in activities and forums through which attention could be drawn to CCT course offerings and degree tracks; experience in program development and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration; and strong awareness of emerging trends in the preceding areas in multicultural and international contexts.

Additional Information:

UMass Boston provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment.

Application Instructions:

Please apply online (via links to http://bit.ly/CCTjob) with your curriculum vitae, cover letter, and three professional references.

Review of candidates will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.

Drawing people into Collaborative Explorations

Collaborative Explorations (CEs) are an extension of Problem- or Project-Based Learning and related approaches to education in which participants address a scenario or case in which the problems are not well defined, shaping their own directions of inquiry.  (More details at http://cct.wikispaces.com/CE)  Online CEs have been running since early 2013 and seem well appreciated by participants.  This post floats some ideas about how to draw more people into CEs.


  1. Not everyone who registers for the CE joins the g+ community and participates in the CE.
  2. Not everyone who starts the CE follows through on the commitment made in registering (i.e., come to 1st session and 2 of the other 3).
  3. #2 means that the autobiographical introductions of session 1 are shared with some people who do not stay in and build the 4-week CE community.
  4. Few people have been drawn into a CE connected to a connectivist-MOOC (c-MOOC).
  5. The most active people on c-MOOCs seem content (perhaps “addicted”) to a twitterish-scale brevity, frequency, and off-the-cuff-ness.  These people are often involved in educational technology not simply in the topic of the MOOC.  They and other not-so-active participants appreciate the shared links and sometimes create blog posts that show how they are digesting what is discussed and shared.
  6. Some of the not-so-active c-MOOC participants indicate that they are not getting that much from the twitterish-scale exchanges or shared links, but it doesn’t follow that they jump at the invitation to join a CE or establish a balance between input and digestion (see no. 6 in tips for g+ community life).

Possible approaches to drawing more people into the CEs:

A. Slight modifications of CE arrangements:

  1. Emphasize at the start of each session that what is shared is not for wider sharing or attribution.
  2. Set the CE time to fit schedules of those who register, but share an initial session of the CE more publicly.  Have that initial publicly shared event start 15 minutes before and as a separate hangout from the 60-minute session.  The idea is to a. draw in people who want to experience something before registering; and b. carry them over directly from the 15 minutes into the CE proper.
  3. During that 15 minutes, a. do a warm-up freewrite and check-in on the case; b. provide the real session’s hangout URL on the stipulation anyone joining or watching the streamed version abides by #7; and c. explain that registration is needed to join the private g+ community and to be informed of the URLs for subsequent sessions.  At the start of the 60-minute session, inform people that #7 has been emphasized, but participants need to take into account #3.

B. Collaborate with a high profile MOOC:

  1. Get a high-profile and large-catchment MOOC to agree to an experiment: During signup for the MOOC, students would be asked whether they want to participate in a facilitated small learning community within the MOOC that meets on hangout for 60 minutes each week for weeks 2-5 of the course. The overarching topic of the small learning communities would be “exploring how to support deep learning — for ourselves and others — during a MOOC.”
  2. Those who say yes go would to a google form to indicate times that they prefer and times that are possible and to specify whether they want to apprentice as a facilitator.  The CE organizers would have to be prepared to divide up hosting these small learning communities using the CE structure and processes and to train the apprentices.
  3. Around week 4, invite apprentices to create and advertize their own g+ communities for weeks 6-9 using the CE structure and processes, specifying topic and/or hangout time.  (Of course, the apprentices or anyone in the small learning communities — indeed, anyone in the MOOC as a whole — is free to establish a g+ community at any time using whatever model they choose.)

Deep learning about deep teaching?

In the narrative evaluations of an experimental course on Creative thinking, in which the students read the explanation of the experiment before going into the course, was a negative one from a student who hardly did any assignments and didn’t show that they’d done reading or other preparation.

My first response was to discount the evaluation in the sense that it wasn’t something I could learn from.  After all, what is a teacher to make of comments that the processes x, y, and z used during the class-time didn’t work for the student when the student hadn’t given them a chance to work?

My second response was a chicken-and-egg one: If lack of preparation and submitted work was a consequence of the student not being engaged in the experiment, how should I have interacted with the student so we could both have learned about changes we needed to make?

My third response was too (mis)recall the title and lesson of educator Herbert Kohl’s essay about a student who refused to learn.  I had remembered him saying that there are students who, if they refuse to assent to learning, you have no way to make them learn.  The essay, “I won’t learn from you,” does include that idea, but only in the context of a deeper lesson: We have to “distinguish not-learning from failure and respect the truth behind [the] rejection of schooling by students from poor and oppressed communities.”  Or the truths (plural) that the students see.

My fourth response is to chew on the idea that Kohl’s lesson might include students not obviously from “poor and oppressed communities,” but nevertheless carrying the burdens of being given a hard time by their situation in life.  Of course, part of my privilege as a tenured professor is that I can avoid going beyond chewing on the idea.  After all, my plate is very full and it would take a lot of effort to delve into and respond to the truths of the student.

My fifth response is to share this with other participants in MOOCs that I’m part of and see what effect their responses have on my going deeper in my learning about deep teaching.

Jostling among tensions in relating to audience

Do not expect to learn or change without moving among or being jostled by the interplay or tensions between these different considerations.

The quote refers to a “mandala” of six considerations in learning where you take initiative in relationships, such as those with your advisors and peers (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/MakingSpace.html; animation).  It applies equally well to the very first draft of considerations in relating to audience when you want to convey a position that runs against the mainstream, as depicted here:


Suggestions welcome to refine or develop this.

(Thanks to Constance C. and MaryLou H. for this morning’s writing support group discussion, out of which this new mandala emerged.)



Springy cube version:


To de-emphasize grading in a non-traditional assessment system the instructor should provide a succinct picture

This post is a reworking (aka friendly amendment) of the learning contract (aka grading system) for Dave Cormier’s ED366 Educational Technology and the Adult Learner (http://bit.ly/1hXy4oP) (drawing on my standard practice–example).
The following features in this reworking should be noted:

  1. The requirements are divided into 2 categories–Written assignments and presentations, which are commented on and then the student revises in response, and Participation and contribution to the class process, which are fulfilled without instructor comments.
  2. Grades and points, as well as students explaining absences and lateness, are pushed to the background. This is achieved by giving an automatic B+ for 80% completion of each category. Only if the automatic B+ is not reached, do points get tallied.
  3. During the semester, students keep track of their own work (and revisions) and can tell whether they are keeping up simply by noting whether they are getting 80% of assignments and participation items done by the due dates.
  4. Due dates are needed for many of Cormier’s assignments and participation items and (imho) these should be spaced so that things are not crammed at the end.
  5. Students can take in the overall assessment and requirement picture by reviewing the summary below. Notes in a separate linked section (indicated here by underlining) would provide details about each assignment (and possibly examples of submissions from previous students [with their permission]).
  6. Within this assessment and requirement picture–and with the attention off grades–the instructor and students can dialogue around written work and during office-hour meetings in a way that addresses each student’s dispositions, aspirations, baggage, and so on. (Comparison with the ideals of “independence” or self-directedness are not helpful for the students; “contracts” and “enforced” behavior are not [imho] sympatico with the desired teaching/learning interactions.)
  7. I appreciate from his #rhizo14 videos, blog entries, live sessions, and the course contract that Dave likes to be chatty. Again imho, to de-emphasize grading while using a non-traditional system means the instructor should provide a succinct picture. Confusion–or resistance to change labeled by student as confusion–tends to perpetuate a passive (aka instructor is setting the rules) disposition in some or many students.

Assessment and Requirements

  • For the different assignments and participation items take into account the guidelines supplied in the Notes on Assignments as well as the general expectations conveyed in the rubric below.
  • The central part of the course involves weekly blog posts and other written assignments and presentations. Participation requirements included active participation during class based on preparation between classes, meeting with the instructor on your assignments and projects, etc. It is expected that you will spend at least 9 hours per session reading, researching, and writing.
  • Drafts of the assignments are commented on, but not graded. You are expected to read comments carefully, consult with instructor if you don’t understand a comment, revise thoughtfully in response to the comments, and resubmit. Not grading keeps the focus on interaction around written work and presentations that emerge from participation in the unfolding dynamics of the course.
  • You should aim for 16 of 20 writing/presentation assignments submitted by the due dates as well as 25 of 32 participation items fulfilled. (Allowing a fraction of assignments to be skipped without penalty or explanation accommodates the contingencies of your lives.) If this 16 & 25 level is reached—and the goal is to work with everyone to achieve that—you get at least a B+ and a rubric is used to determine B+, A- or A. If you don’t get to that level, the grade is based on points given for what has been completed (as described below).
  • The course works by building from one session to the next so late submissions detract significantly from the learning process for the student in question and from the learning possibilities for the other students. Each student can ask for extensions–no explanation needed–on two assignments or participation items, moving the due date as far back as the last session. Beyond the 2 extensions, submissions more than a week late don’t count; instead, focus on doing the best you can with the remaining assignments and participation items.
  • Use a personal copy of the checklist to keep a log of assignments and participation items completed. You keep track of due dates–do not expect class-time or meetings with the instructor to be taken up reminding you. Similarly, if you get behind, you take the initiative to submit a plan to catch up or reassure the instructors that you have, in light of your other commitments, chosen to take the grading consequences of missing assignments or due dates.

Written assignments and presentations (2/3 of grade)

A. Weekly Blog Assignment, 300-500 words, due 11.59pm Sundays (=12 assignments)
B. Participatory Peer Presentation and Write-up, due xx (=2 double-weight assignments)
C. Learning Network Plan, due xx (draft & final =2 double-weight assignments)

Participation and contribution to the class process (1/3 of grade)

a. Building learning community through attendance and participation at class meetings based on reading and preparation between meetings (=13 items).
b. Contributions to Group Learning Document, due xx (1-6+ edits = 1-6 items)
c. Public Contribution to Knowledge (Simple & Complex) (aka Open Educational Resource), due xx (= 1 double-weight item)
d. Public Discussion Sessions, due xx (=6 items)
e. Article Discussion, due xx (=1 item)
f. Twitter Chat, due xx (1 item)
g. Minimum of two in-office or phone conferences on your assignments and journal/workbook — one by session 5; the other by session 10 (=2 items)
h. Submission in last session of filled-in copy of assignment checklist, including planned dates for any further submissions or completion contract if needed, and student’s self-assessment on rubric below (1 item)

Overall course grade
If 16 of 20 writing and presentation assignments are submitted by the due dates as well as 25 participation items fulfilled, you get at least a B+ and the rubric below is used at the end of the course to add points to 80 for final grade. If you do not reach the level of the automatic B+ or above, then for each assignment submitted and presentation made 3.33 points are given (minus 1 point for each week or part thereof late), and 1 point for each participation item, up to a maximum of 80.
Minimum points for letter grade: A 95, A- 87.5, B+ 80, B 72.5, B- 65, C+ 57.5, C 50. (adjustable to match the conventions of instructor’s institution)

Rubric: For each quality “fulfilled very well” you get 2 additional points. If you “did an OK job, but there was room for more development/attention,” you get 1 point. If this was “not notable in my work for this course,” you get 0 points.
1. A sequence of written assignments and presentations clear and well structured, with supporting references and detail,
2. paced more or less as in syllabus (including timely revisions),
3. often revised thoroughly and with new thinking in response to comments.
4. Assignments, presentations, and participation items carried out with considerable initiative,
indicating that I can extend tools and processes from the course to my specific situation, especially in the sense of
5. making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies, i.e., developing guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies can be of significant educational benefit,
6. planning to learn through ongoing personal and professional development and interactions how to use the technologies I decide to adopt or adapt, and
7. developing Learning Communities in which we help each other to learn about learning and think about change.
Active, prepared participation and building class as learning community, including
8. prepared participation in class activities,
9. comments and engagement in outside-class discussion on each other’s blogs, and
10. contribution to the Group Learning Document.

[* Possible additions to Cormier's course goals: Understand and Respond to the Push for Teachers to Use Educational Technology; Examine the Wider Social Changes Surrounding Computer Use Technology. These goals drawn from a 2001 document on educational technology education, which also informed the wording of the rubric above.]

What are you doing with “rhizomatic learning”? (#rhizo14)

1. The first question I ask of anyone proposing or using theory to interpret observations is: What can you do with the outcome?  (aka What is the relation between the representation and its implicated practices of intervention in the world?)  Trying to answer that question helps keep use of theory grounded and guides you in deciding how deeply you should get into the work of any give theorist (e.g., Deleuze and Guattari).

2. There are two levels of what you might be doing with ideas about rhizomatic learning:
a. exchanging ideas and affirmations with others who are keen to explore new internet and digital technologies;
b. facilitating learning by others you interact with [and by oneself] in some sphere of work, life, or education (other than exploring new internet and digital technologies).
(I am not averse to a bit of a., but I am hoping for more of b. than we’re yet getting in #rhizo14.)


What’s the use of it? (Complex maps of science in society), http://wp.me/sPWGi-2116
What if everything is always already unruly complexity?, http://wp.me/pPWGi-xF


p.s. The contrast between a. and b. has a parallel in the different responses of a. the Media Lab and P2Pu’s Phillip Schmidt vs. b. the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program and myself to the same observation, namely, that during the Learning Creative Learning MOOC in 2013 very few of the groups formed by the mechanical MOOC or formed by individuals around a topic ended up with an (inter)active life.  The Media Lab and Schmidt have gone on to create unhangouts — a cool adaptation of google+ hangouts — while CCT created Collaborative Explorations (CEs) (http://collabex.wikispaces.com).  CEs come with a distinct vision of learning that we want to facilitate; unhangouts leave the processes of learning through interaction to whoever joins a given unhangout.   In a sense, unhangouts are more about TECHNOLOGICALLY-mediated learning than technologically-mediated LEARNING (http://wp.me/p1gwfa-gf).

(A relevant elaboration: blog post suggest[ing] a way that participants’ interests and energies could have been [more] engaged over the five hours of [an Occupy movement] “dis/Conference”: http://wp.me/p1gwfa-rS).

Mycorrhizal learning (#rhizo14)

This post addresses the key questions and themes of each week as laid out by the organizer, Dave Cormier, for the P2PU MOOC on Rhizomatic learning.  “Rhizomatic learning is a story of how we can learn in a world of abundance – abundance of perspective, of information and of connection.”  (Rhizomes are not mycorrhiza, but my image of rhizomatic learning is more like the latter, thus the title to this post.)  Cormier states the key questions as:

What happens if we let that[*] go? What happens when we approach a learning experience and we don’t know what we are going to learn? Where each student can learn something a little bit different – together? What if we decided to trust the idea that people can come together to learn given the availability of an abundance of perspective, of information and of connection?

* =decisions, in advance, about what it is important for students to learn + check[ing] if they all did and compar[ing] them against each other

He breaks the exploration of these questions into 6 weeks:

  1. “Cheating” = Abandon rules and expectation of answers given by some authority
  2. Self-assessment, including assessment of relationship to the community [before the topic morphed into enforcing independence]
  3. Declaring your work = responsibility to other learners
  4. Collaborative continuum = how knowledge is made
  5. Community as curriculum
  6. Practicalities = course contracts, personal learning records, problem-based learning.


My emphasis is less on abundance of connections and more on individuals engaging with/in the context in which they are learning.  To this end, I would recommend being reserved–or slow-food-like–about abundance on the internet.  As quoted in the previous post:

Envisage the google+ [*] community as a container, a space that you enter and leave mindfully. That is, set limits and give yourself a structure so involvement in the community does not lead you to feel swamped or fragmented or unsure that you can synthesize or keep in mind all the interesting items you are coming across. To this end, you might allow yourself a delimited amount of time per day, say 30 minutes, to explore online offerings or sharings but you would also preserve an equal amount of time (preferably when you are fresh at the start of the day) to gather your thoughts based on whatever is currently in view or in mind, which may be quite different from what you have to do for your work or project or studies. Such “refractive practice,” in which you give yourself space to “connect, probe, and reflect,” makes it less likely that you feel left behind when you don’t follow or respond to every thread that is offered, however worthwhile they seem at first sight (adapted from http://bit.ly/1dQJh8p).

* or facebook or connectivist-MOOC

Indeed, beyond this point, my emphasis is on learning-in-context with little direct reference to what the internet or connectivism make possible.  After all, technologically mediated learning environments should be modeled on best practices for teaching-learning without computers, yes? (elaboration, http://bit.ly/etguide).

Week 1–Abandon rules and expectation of direction given by some authority

Promoting slow-food refractive practice does not, however, prevent the unsettled experience that most (all?) newcomers to non-programmed learning, such as rhizomatic learning or project-based learning (of the ill-defined problems variety, in which students can explore their own interests in relation to the scenario and learn from each other).  Notwithstanding the appreciative evaluations from the end of my PBL courses (e.g., http://grst.wikispaces.umb.edu/Evaluations), students always say at the end — and these were the students who did not drop the course — that they were overwhelmed, confused about expectations, etc. at the start.  After hearing this again last May, I sketched out a plan for the first session next time (=a week from today), which involves a diagram of the rhythm of the course and a short but very open PBL with alums of the course participating (http://wp.me/p1gwfa-xp).  Indeed, having new students interview an alum of the course (with me out of the room) has been a regular feature of all my courses–not only the rhizomatic PBL ones–for many years now.

The deeper issue here is moving from receptive learning to learners taking themselves seriously, which can be seen as “align[ing] their questions and ideas, aspirations, ability to take or influence action, and relationships with other people” (http://bit.ly/TYS2012).  Equivalently, in the terms of a recent course I co-led on creative thinking: “The measure of creativity… is not the quantity or quality of products but [how much you think and feel], every day or every moment, that it is no longer possible for yourself to simply continue along previous lines” (http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yJ).  There is a bootstrapping problem here–learners have to be at least a little self-directed or creative to take themselves seriously and to engage with the relevant context in order to shape it to support their developing creativity.

Week 2–Self-assessment

One way for a person to bootstrap into self-directedness or creativity (in the sense above) is to:

have someone do a plus-delta evaluation at the end of any activity you are involved in and hope that the experience will, eventually if not the first time, lead to a routine of plus-delta evaluation.  Paying attention to the things you appreciated (the plus) makes it more likely that you—or the people responsible for the activity you are evaluating—will work on the things that need improving or changing (the delta).  Eventually something that arose as a delta becomes a plus and you are ready for some further deltas (from #2 in http://wp.me/p1gwfa-yJ).

Weeks 1 & 2 together

Learning in a context of interaction with others (“community”), but without expectation of direction given by some authority can be seen as “taking initiative in and through relationships” (http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/MakingSpace.html).   In this, do not expect to learn or change or develop your creativity without moving among or being jostled by the interplay or tensions between (at least) six different considerations: negotiating power and standards (a “vertical” relationship); building peer (or “horizontal”) relationships; exploring differences and diversity among people; acknowledging that affect (i.e., emotion) is involved in what you are doing and not doing (and in how others respond to that); developing autonomy (so that you are neither too sensitive nor impervious to feedback); and clearing away distractions from other sources (present and past) so you can “be here now.”  Inhabiting the jostling tensions looks complicated or feels unsettled, but combining it with plus-delta evaluation can help.  At the end of any learning-related activity you are involved in, you would complete the plus-delta for each of the six aspects.  Presumably, if you focus on one or two of the aspects during the activity, there will be room for deltas on the others.  At the same time, the pluses for the aspects on which you did focus will provide a base from which to pay attention to the others.

Week 3–Responsibility to other learners

Taking initiative in and through relationships forms a strong basis for being responsible to other learners.  Another way I picture this is to say that a context, such as a workshop or classroom, is conducive of learning or creativity development to the extent that it starts by creating conditions of Respect (e.g., participants have repeated exchanges with those who differ from them, listening to others and having the experience of being listened to), which in turn makes it more likely for participants to take Risks (e.g., staying with the process even when there is uncertainty about how to achieve desired outcomes). (More details)  Responsibility to other learners involves contribution to the conditions of Respect and subsequent Risk taking.

Week 4–How knowledge is made collaboratively

The picture of Respect leading to Risk continues to two other Rs: These lead to Revelations (bringing thoughts and feelings to the surface that articulate, clarify and complicate their ideas, relationships, and aspirations-in short, their identities), and, as a result of the previous three R’s, to Re-engagement (participants’ “gears” engage allowing them to sustain quite a high level of energy, to engage actively with others, and, equally importantly, to be reminded of their aspirations to work in supportive communities).  In Revelations and Re-engagement knowledge is being made.


Week 5–Community as curriculum

Taking initiative in and through relationships and the 4Rs point to the sociality of learning at the same time as they allow individuals to take themself seriously (albeit a self that is engaged in a context or community).

Another way of saying this is that each of us navigates the distributed complexity in part by trying to impart order according to our sense of our self—our identity, aspirations or goals, and will to choose among goals and move towards them.  We achieve some goals and then have greater capacity, knowledge, skills, plans, and direction to keep moving and developing.  We also have setbacks and revise our goals.  Indeed, our self-directedness can be buffeted or even threatened by the order-imparting efforts of other people navigating their distributed complexities.  Yet relationships with others are a source of resources and support (material, emotional, etc.) from outside ourselves, which help shape how far and in what directions our movement and development happens.  Relationships are also a source of unplanned conjunctions or intersections that we draw from.  Such connections can help us to not simply continue along previous lines and, at the same time, to clarify our sense of directedness as individuals (quoting from a recent post).

Indeed, this post continues:

My current ideal is to be involved in communities of adults that have the feel of Vivian Paley’s classrooms.  Again from The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley: “I need the intense preoccupation of a group of children and teachers inventing new worlds as they learn to know each other’s dreams” (p. 50).  “Kindergartners are passionate seekers of hidden identities and quickly respond to those who keep unraveling the endless possibilities” (p. 4); they “search for the mirror of self-revelation” (p. 8).

The challenge of  learning in a mycorrhizal context is addressed in a suite of schemas given in that same post, each schema intended to be taken up when you see it as relevant to the phase you are in of learning or engaging in shaping the context that supports your creativity.

Week 6–Practicalities (incl. course contracts)

To be consistent with the above the most important shift in teaching is to pursue “Assessment [to] Keep… Attention Away from Grades.” Dialogue around written work makes a substantive contribution to this.

Having students keep their own record of what they have submitted (example) helps ensure that instructor-student interaction focuses on the substance, not the grades.

From my experience, some students construe the keep one’s own record as the instructor being “flexible” about submission of work, with a result that detracts from the learning experience for themselves and others.  I am experimenting with being more hard-nosed (e.g., last two bullets here).

In almost all of my courses, there is a syllabus treasure hunt between the first and the second meeting so that they acquaint themselves with and raise questions about requirements and everything in the course and its online organization that departs from what they are accustomed to.

Note on sources: Links to pages with the Gill Sans headings and Garamond typeface are drawn from P. Taylor and J. Szteiter (2012) Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station, available from online retailers or via http://bit.ly/TYS2012.


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