NANJING, China - One of the challenges we face in higher education in the United States is how to ensure the academic success of the many new international students from China our universities are welcoming to campus each year.
I am here at Nanjing University in part to create a cooperative program to better prepare students coming to Penn State from China for academic success. Because there is not a strong tradition of liberal arts education in China, part of this preparation involves articulating the meaning and value of the liberal arts.
If our American students struggle with pressure from parents to pursue something "useful" and "marketable" when in college, that pressure is yet more intense for our Chinese international students, many of whom have parents paying enormous sums of money to provide them with an education in the United States so that they will be better able to succeed economically.
Add to this pressure an unfamiliarity with the American tendencies in higher education to focus on active learning practices, and the transition to American universities, particularly those like Penn State that emphasize the importance of the liberal arts, becomes daunting.
In order to better respond to the needs of our incoming international students, we in the College of the Liberal Arts, are working with the Institute for International Students at Nanjing University to develop a preparation program to expose students to the traditions of a liberal arts education prior to their arrival on campus in State College.
We normally think of the liberal arts as the study of specific disciplines--history, political science, economics, literature, philosophy.
In reality, however, an education in the liberal arts has always been a certain kind of practice - the practice of living well, of living an excellent life.
As I have argued, the primary virtue of the liberal arts is ethical imagination - the capacity to imagine our way into the position of another, to extend our ability to perceive what beyond our limited perspective.
An excellent ethical imagination enables us to communicate effectively, because we better understand those with whom we speak.
It enables us to appreciate diversity, because we have sought out others unlike ourselves and learned from them.
It enables us to perceive globally, because we have seen ourselves as part of a wider world community.
It enables us to respond to complexity with nuance, because we have carefully studied literature and learned the subtle complexity of the human character.
These are the things an education in the liberal arts enables us to do -- they are the tangible practical values of a liberal arts curriculum.
The hope is that we can develop a cooperative program with the Institute for International Students in Nanjing for our incoming Chinese students to learn these things so that they, in turn, can help us and our students learn them better ourselves.
If, as Michael Bérubé suggested today in his Chronicle of Higher Education article "The Humanities, Unraveled," the situation in the humanities is "a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels," then stitching in any one area just may save the garment as a whole.
By the end of the article, Bérubé is worried that departments will be "eliminated in the next strategic plan" if they take up in earnest the Alternative Academic career (#AltAc) challenge by empowering their graduate students to cultivate a wider range of abilities that would enable them to pursue career paths other than those along the tenure track.
The crisis is real, as is the concern about elimination; but the rhetoric of crisis can stymie creativity at the very moment when we need to be most imaginative. Happily, those of us with disciplinary backgrounds in the humanities have long cultivated our capacities of creative stitching. We should draw on them to begin sewing again, rather than lamenting our collective unraveling.
Take one idea: to create a robust, integrated higher education internship program for humanities graduate students in areas like Institutional Research, Fellowships and Awards, Teaching and Learning with Technology, Admissions, Alumni Relations and Development, Career Services and other aspects the higher education landscape. These areas are in constant need of the writing, communication and imaginative thinking talents our humanities graduate students bring with them.
The point would not be to take students away from rigorous new scholarship in their disciplines; but to recognize, as Bérubé does, that advanced study of the humanities develops powerful analytic, creative, penetrating and broad intellectual abilities that can have transformative effects on institutions and cultures in which they are valued.
The key, however, is to stitch those intellectual virtues together with cultivated habits of collaboration, time management, and institutional awareness - precisely what our humanities graduate students would learn in a robust higher education internship program. Combining these intellectual and institutional abilities will make our humanities graduate students better tenure line faculty, should they land such a job; and if they don't, such combined experience will surely make them more valuable members of whatever institutional community they ultimately enter.
This is just one example of how stitching in one area might help save and transform the entire garment, for the more people with advanced degrees in the humanities serving at various levels of our institutions -- be they in higher education, government, or the profit or non-profit worlds -- the more conscientious and humane those institutions will become.
On Saturday, January 19, 2013, I joined administrators, staff and members of the Penn State Board of Trustees for the Blue and White Vision Council Seminar at the Nittany Lion Inn. The goal of the seminar was to provide the Blue and White Vision Council a broad perspective to develop a strategic direction for teaching and technology at Penn State.
The seminar included two morning lectures, one by Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director of Innosight Institute, the other by Clay Shirky, Partner for Technology and Product Strategy at the Accelerator Group. Horn highlighted a white paper on Disrupting College in which he established an analogy between the demise of the steel industry and the current crisis in Higher Education. Shirky, on the other hand, offered a different analogy, suggesting that MOOCs unbundle courses from curricula in the way Napster and iTunes unbundled songs from albums. The suggestion in both analogies was that Higher Education is an enterprise ripe for disruptive transformation that would likely lead to the demise of many universities unable to respond effectively to the revolution in technology we are experiencing.
The afternoon was focused more on the innovations we at Penn State have already undertaken with the growth and expansion of the World Campus and the integration of strategies of teaching with technology into our residence curriculum.
The day was full and I continue to reflect upon it, but I left with an unsettled feeling that the heart of Penn State was somehow missing from the discussion. That feeling was surely rooted in the absence of the voice of faculty in general, and our research faculty in particular. The seminar focused on teaching and technology, so it would have made sense for our faculty to have been more centrally included. They were, with a few exceptions, largely absent.
This absence signals something of deeper concern, for it suggests that there may be a failure to appreciate the deep connection between scholarly research and teaching.
As I have argued previously, the most effective way for Penn State to defend and strengthen its position in Higher Education is through the research mission that has long sustained and enriched the education we offer students. Only by infusing rigorous academic scholarship into all aspects of the educational endeavor--from general education at the undergraduate level, to our online offerings on the World Campus, to our professional and academic graduate programs--will we be able to offer a more compelling and transformative education than those who seek to deliver courses more efficiently and inexpensively.
To be sure, rigorous scholarship will mean different things in each of these contexts, but the education we deliver in the future will be neither competitive nor compelling unless we empower our research faculty to infuse rigorous scholarship into all levels of the curriculum and to inspire a new generation of students to take up and appreciate the research endeavor in which knowledge is not merely passed down, but discovered.
This is not, of course, to say that we ought not be innovative, or that we ought to reject opportunities to improve efficiencies and cut costs. Nor is it to deny the economic challenges facing our educational enterprise.
But our innovation must be fueled by rigorous academic research, our curriculum made relevant and compelling by engaged and engaging public scholarship, and our attempts to reach out beyond the physical campuses of the university ought to be animated by a vision of education rooted in a commitment to the transformative power of academic research.
If Saturday was designed in part to articulate for the Board a vision of the future of education at Penn State, I fear they may have left without a deep understanding of what ought to drive that future: excellent academic scholarship.
The impetus for this little Diigo collection is the recent appearance of two articles, one skeptical of MOOCs, the other more sanguine about their transformative power.
In their December 17, 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "For Whom Is College Being Reinvented?," Scott Carlson and Goldie Blumenstyk gather the skeptical voices who insist, as Peter Stokes of Northeastern University, puts it:
"The whole MOOC thing is mass psychosis," a case of people "just throwing spaghetti against the wall" to see what sticks...
Of course, if the MOOC is psychosis, it is born of a deeper pathology; for as Robert Archibald of the College of William and Mary is quoted there as saying:
"At most institutions, students are in mostly large classes, listening to second-rate lecturers, with very little meaningful faculty student interaction. ...Students are getting a fairly distant education even in a face-to-face setting."
It is a response to this deeper pathology of contemporary Higher Education that seems to be at the root of Clay Shirky's analogy between the MOOC and the MP3 file format.
Shirky's Higher Education: Our MP3 is the MOOC is the second article to which I'd like to point as a way to begin thinking through the implications of the MOOC for higher education. Shirky's argument is based on this analogy:
mp3 : album : music industry :: MOOC : curriculum : higher education
Just as the mp3 file format, by making music accessible and sharing simple, unbundled individual songs from albums and transformed the music industry, so too will the MOOC, by making education accessible and massively open, unbundle courses from curricula and transform higher education.
Shirky presses the analogy further: just as the mp3 unbundled individual songs from the albums the record companies forced us to purchase, so too will the MOOC unbundle specific courses from the degrees for which institutions of higher education force students into debt.
Shirky emphasizes that the promise of MOOCs is that "the educational parts of education can be unbundled."
But that, of course, is a packed suggestion itself not so easily unbundled. For there is a difference between taking a course or series of them and being educated.
Just as one swallow does not make a spring (Aristotle, Nic. Ethics, 1098a19), neither does a course divorced from a course of study make an education. The educational parts of education cannot be unbundled like a single from an album, for the education is both in the curriculum and the manner in which that curriculum is delivered.
The challenge the MOOC posses to institutions of higher education is that they will force us to re-imagine the curriculum into which we have placed our individual courses. And institutions of higher education have not historically been particularly nimble when it comes to creating and implementing innovative curricula responsive to new forms of literacy and public communication.
If our courses are not to be unbundled from the curriculum without perverting the education they together offer, then we in higher education will need to articulate and develop new, more coherent, well crafted, and, yes, even efficient curricula capable of enriching student lives and preparing them in a relevant way for a world in which many will have been taught, but fewer well educated.
Words do things. What they do, depends on the manner in which they are said, written and received.
What they did, and failed to do, last night is something that requires some reflection.
That is the purpose of this post on my visit to the Catholic University of America to deliver a keynote address to the 2012 freshman class.
When I was invited, I was encouraged to do something innovative and unconventional with technology, so I invited students to use twitter to participate in a shared experience designed to perform the central idea for which I advocated in the lecture:
The real value of a liberal arts education is political because it teaches us how to speak, act and respond to one another in ways that enable us, if we are willing and graceful enough, to create enriching public communities that are the conditions under which a fulfilling human life is possible.
The lecture was designed as a performance in which students would be empowered to actively and publicly engage with the question of the liberal arts and politics so that we might directly experience our shared ability (and inability) to create an enriching public space of community and communication.
The lecture was designed on three levels.
First, the written text was rather traditional. It was organized around Athena's encounter with the Furies in Aeschylus's Eumenides. I argued that the story illustrated how our ability to imagine our way into the position of others, particularly those with whom we disagree, is the central virtue of a liberal arts education and the key to establishing healthy and flourishing communities.
Second, I used Keynote to create slides with images and quotations that supported and augmented the points the written text made. These slides were not merely designed to reinforce the written text, but were themselves meant to add value to the lecture by exposing students to a rich history of artwork and imagery about Athena, the Furies, and the judgment of Orestes.
Third, through my keynote slides, I was able to live tweet my own lecture: when a slide appeared, I had pre-written a tweet to go with it. These tweets, like the slides themselves, were designed to add another layer of meaning and texture to the lecture.
To give you a sense of how the images and the tweets were designed, I created a specific Storify just with my tweets and some of the artwork included in the lecture.
A Good Plan and a Calculated Audible
Because I had experience using twitter in front of a large audience of first year students at Penn State that deteriorated quickly once students realized they could tweet snarky comments to a screen that everyone would immediately see, I knew I would need a way to moderate the tweets before they appeared on screen. We used the #cuafye hashtag (Catholic University of America, First Year Experience) to curate the tweets, but we needed a way to filter out those that were immature, overly snarky or otherwise impoverishing of the community we wanted to cultivate.
The plan was to have Taylor Fayle use the @MyCUA_FYE twitter account to retweet only those tweets he felt added value to the conversation. The idea was not to censor students--they would still be able to see anything posted to the #cuafye hashtag on their personal devices. Rather, we wanted to add a layer of review to ensure the level of the conversation reinforced the points the lecture articulated.
We thought we had it worked out too, but about 20 minutes before we started, we realized that the way it was set up would not update and scroll quickly enough to accommodate the tweets we were by then already receiving.
So I called an audible and told Todd to allow the raw hashtag feed to run, knowing full well that the dynamics of the entire lecture would thereby be altered.
It was ... and not for the better.
And yet, strangely enough, I think the shared experience was educationally richer, if intellectually and emotionally more taxing.
Here is the Storify of the event with tweets from the students to give you a sense of what happened.
But this doesn't really capture what was happening in the room. That is partly because students went back and deleted some of the more vulgar and disrespectful tweets (about Penn State, Sandusky, and other immature rudeness). But it is also because the twitter feed did not capture the overwhelming sense of respect and maturity I felt from a majority of students in the room itself. That respect and maturity was felt more palpably in the question and answer period, when we had the chance to reflect upon what we had together experienced.
What we experienced, however, was a failure to use words to create an enriching community. The twitter stream deteriorated quickly into immature snark, and students were not able to pull themselves out of that cycle of immaturity, despite some valiant attempts by some to convince their colleagues to imagine their way into another possibility.
Now, for my part, I knew exactly what was happening, though I could not follow all the posts as they were coming so quickly and I was, after all, trying to speak and tweet my lecture. Still, by calming the students down at specific points, speaking extemporaneously to refocus their attention and by emphasizing the things I had written into the text to invite their generosity and grace, we were able to proceed ... for a while.
Then someone of the faculty decided the twitter feed needed to be shut down.
When it was, you could feel the frustration of the students, but you could also feel their attention turned more fully to me, and I was able to finish the lecture in a much more traditional way - with more passively receptive students for the words I was articulating. Of course, students still had access to the live stream on their devices, but not having the feed up on the "big screen" robbed them of a shared experience and thus diminished the allure of the snarky tweet.
The most rewarding aspect of the lecture for me was the question and answer period, because we were able to reflect together on the experience we'd just had. A central point of the lecture was that a well cultivated ethical imagination is required if an enriching community is to be created.
What we experienced, among other things, was a collective failure of ethical imagination. But it is not only that the students failed to imagine their way into the position of a visitor who had travelled a distance to speak with them and who had put a lot of thought and energy into the design of an interactive lecture. Rather, more fundamentally, we failed together to imagine another possibility for ourselves as a community.
Perhaps once I called the audible to allow the raw feed to roll, the die was cast and we were destined to descend to the shallowest expressions of ourselves.
But even so, there was something redemptive about that failure and the opportunity we had to reflect upon it together afterwards. During the question and answer period, we tried to come to terms with what we had experienced: was it right to have the feed pulled? Did that go against the very points I was trying not simply to argue, but also to perform? Were the students treated fairly by requiring that they attend a lecture in which they would be expected to participate freely and in good faith?
And what about the content of the lecture itself? There were excellent questions in this regard; questions that demonstrated without a doubt that many students were not too distracted by the experience to understand at a deep level what I was trying to accomplish.
One does not often have the privilege to reflect so candidly and insightfully with one's audience about the very dynamics that emerged between us during the performance of the lecture itself ... perhaps that elusive, more enriching community began to take root during those shared reflections reflections at the end. Perhaps those roots are continuing to grow as faculty teach into the experience in their classes.
Here, in fact, is an example of what can happen when faculty do just that:
As I think further about it, and as I continue to engage in ongoing conversations with students via twitter about what we experienced, I have come to recognize that the performance of the lecture itself had all the beauty, and all the ugliness, all the hopefulness, and all the disappointment, all the complexity and nuance and texture of all our attempts to enter into public communication with one another in order to establish a more fulfilling community together.
Words do things; and what they are capable of doing depends on our capacity to imagine an enriching life for ourselves and our ability to put that shared vision into words.
An education in the liberal arts is schooling in the beautiful life.
DancinGirl has fallen in love with words. Actually, she has always loved to play with words, singing, rhyming, mimicking. But now her love of the verbal has exploded into literacy.
She is reading voraciously; book after little book, she reads, sounding out words she does not recognize, learning the joys of story. There you find her, in a chair in the spare bedroom, on the floor in her own, on a sofa, with a book.
She is always under the caring tutelage of her mother, well versed in the ways of Vygotsky, who makes sure she has a book just challenging enough to push her, but not too challenging to frustrate her.
Tonight, however, the reading inspired writing. She had recently read in school a book by Kevin Tseng entitled Ned's New Home, and she took to the chalkboard to write. She spent almost an hour writing her story, after which time, she read it to us.
Here is DancinGirl's version of the Kevin Tseng story with, as she said later, a few words of her own:
On Wednesday, September 28th at 4pm eastern, we in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office will take another step out into the great technological unknown by recording an episode of our Liberal Arts Voices Podcast live on a Google Plus hangout.
I hope that anyone interested in what we are doing in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office will join us. Here is a link to my Google Plus profile where you will find the Hangout when it is available.
The official guests on the episode will be leaders from the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council, a dynamic group of student leaders who have always been willing to engage with new technologies with me in interesting and enriching ways. That they will be with us for this experiment is only proper since they have helped us grow our community through Twitter and Facebook.
The impetus behind this experiment is first to perform what we preach about the importance of practice in learning about new technologies. We will see what Google Plus adds to our discussions on the Liberal Arts Voices podcast, and we will experience directly what it takes away.
The second reason for this use of a Google Plus Hangout is that I think the ease by which this technology makes face to face conversations public is very compelling. It is a simple broadcasting platform that can be used to raise the level of discussion online by adding the ethical dimension of the face. In our attempts to use technology to enrich the undergraduate experience in the College, it seemed timely to try to put Google Plus to work in this way.
Finally, we now have a number of members of our community out in the "real world' - as if we in Happy Valley don't live in the real world. But I digress... In any case, these friends who were so engaged when they were physically here as students or staff members remain engaged in various ways. It will be interesting to see if that distance can be traversed by the G+ technology and we will once again be face to face, talking about the importance of the liberal arts.
I am looking forward to what this little experiment will bring.
It happened without warning, without any hint that the end was at hand. Suddenly, there it was: May 27th, the day after the last day of the preschool year, the announcement that St. Andrew's Episcopal Church would close the Preschool that was born, lived and thrived within and around its walls over the past 40 years.
Death often comes that way, unbidden, suddenly. But we expected more from a church that had until that date, served as a caring site for an educational community that nurtured generations of young State College students.
Both of our daughters began their lives of formal education in the nurturing environment of the St. Andrew's Preschool. There they first learned to trust adults outside their family; there they were encouraged to express themselves artistically and intellectually; there they found friends and loving teachers and a sense of wonder for all the world has to offer.
The spirit of the place is what drew us to it; for the teachers are dedicated, conscientious and caring; they developed a curriculum that struck just the right balance between guidance and play, structure and exploration. And this spirit has taken root in our daughters as they move out into the world, as it has for generations of students who attended the St. Andrew's Preschool over the years.
That spirit will set no future generation of thoughtful, caring young people onto the path of lifelong learning.
And what makes it worse, even tragic, is that the church handled the demise of the school without even a modicum of the grace, care and sensitivity the Preschool and its teachers embodied over the course of its 40 year life.
The image, which I captured with my iPhone, bears reflecting upon because it displays a the range of expressions that suggest something important about the emotional dimension endemic to all political communication. Each member of the panel has a slightly different look that range from skeptical amusement, to inchoate anger, to concerned disbelief.
As a member of the audience, my heart began to beat a bit faster as I listened to the belligerent tenor of the comment. Plato identified the affection of the soul operative in such situations as thumos, or spirited desire, and he intentionally placed Socrates in situations in which he faced and had to respond to such spirited interlocutors--Thrasymachus in the Republic and Callices in the Gorgias to name the two most famous.
From my perspective, the most interesting and important dimension of the exchange was this: whatever validity this student had in accusing the panel of a left leaning bias was lost by the agonistic manner in which he presented his position. His rhetoric was designed to shame and dominate rather than to question and deliberate. The panel did a nice job of undermining this rhetorical strategy. But the performance of a kind of political speech that erodes the possibility of common understanding served as a very powerful object lesson about how we talk to one another politically.
I was left thinking about how we model political communication in our classrooms and in our lives. When we disagree most vehemently, thumos overtakes us and clouds precisely those capacities we most need for deliberation and understanding: generosity, humility and critical reflection - to name just three.
It was heartening, then, to hear a second student take up the right wing perspective later in the conversation in a more respectful and thoughtful mode. He posed some hard questions that invited us to think further about our own ways of framing the issue, and he did it in a conscientious and considerate way. Professor Hawhee rightly paused at the end to positively reinforce the manner in which he formulated his position.
Sometimes deliberation depends less on what we say than it does on how we say it.
I am happy to report that Mendeley has developed an iPhone app that brings us a step closer to the digital research model I hope to implement in the months to come.
Before I mention a few of the limitations of the application, I want to celebrate its very appearance. This is a huge step forward in mobile bibliographic and reference computing.
About three years ago, I had a phone conversation with a person in the sales department at Thomson Reuters, the company that makes Endnote. The purpose of my call was to see if they were developing a version of Endnote for the recently released iPhone. They told me that they did have plans, once Apple released the Software Development Kit, to develop a mobile version of Endnote. Already at that point, I could see the value of having my references so easily accessible.
Although that application has yet to materialize, I shifted, in the meantime, to Zotero because it facilitated the sort of collaborative research I hoped to put into practice with my students. As I mentioned in my previous posts on digital research more generally and on the way I use of Zotero in particular, a significant limitation to all the bibliographic software was the inability to use anything other than the web browser to interface with my reference libraries when using my iPhone and iPad.
I turned to Mendeley in the hope that I would find an application that would have all the collaborative functionality I required even as it allowed me to organize, read and annotate pdf files in a way that would integrate with my word processing software. I am very happy with Mendeley when I am sitting in front of a desktop computer. However, it is critical to the model of digital research I am trying to establish that all my references be accessible to me on all my devices wherever I am.
This is where the new iPhone application, even if it is tantalizingly labeled 'Lite', adds substantive value to my research workflow. The application syncs with my Mendeley libraries beautifully and allows me to read any of the pdf files I have posted to it. In the photo on the right, you can see the collections exactly as they appear in the Mendeley Desktop application and on the web.
If you have pdf files included in those collections, you can access them via the mobile device, assuming you are connected to the internet, by downloading them individually. This allows you to effectively carry your entire reference library in your pocket, putting thousands of pages of scholarship at your fingertips wherever you are.
For all of this, however, the application's features remain rudimentary. You cannot annotate pdf files via the application nor can you edit any of the tags or bibliographic information associated with the references. The first iteration of the application is clearly designed to establish Mendeley in the mobile space - a place it basically has all to itself at the moment. But is also gives us a taste of possibilities to come.
As for some of those possibilities, I would hope that this is the first stage in a series of upgrades on the road to a single integrated iPhone/iPad application.
Porting such an application to the iPad has enormous potential for scholarship. If it allows for annotation, we will have a powerful new research tool on which to actively read texts related to our scholarly work. Building on solid web and desktop applications, Mendeley for the iPhone and iPad would offer us an integrated way to do serious productive research wherever we find ourselves. This will allow us to move more quickly from the research gathering to the productive writing phase of the process.
In the end, I am very happy to see the first iteration of this mobile reference resource. I look forward to the updates and to the "Pro" version, if indeed, that is the direction toward which the label "Lite" is gesturing.
Despite some reticence at first, the appearance of the iPhone app tips the balance for me and I am now moving all of my references over the Mendeley in anticipation of upgrades to come.
It is widely recognized among educators that student engagement is a key to academic success. Disengaged students erode the social dynamics in the classroom, have a negative impact on their peers and drop out at a high rates. Thus, it is no surprise that the desire to move students from a disengaged attitude to one of engagement has become a major goal of our pedagogical practices.
Of course, student engagement has many meanings. Engagement might be measured by certain behaviors, as when students write effectively and with nuance; it might be felt in certain emotions, as when students express excitement about the ideas they encounter; or it might be understood by way of certain cognitive activities, as when students demonstrate an ability to analyze and synthesize in sophisticated ways. (For a discussion of the different senses of engagement, see Harris 2008, 58-9).
Yet, despite its many dimensions, engagement itself seems too impoverished a pedagogical ideal. We ought to aspire to something more for our students and ourselves.
Let us move from the ideal of engagement toward that of genuine cooperation.
Strange as it sounds, focus on engagement remains too student centered. Its primary emphasis is on changing the habits, behaviors and attitudes of students, and often fails to consider those habits, behaviors and attitudes of faculty that close off the possibility of cooperative education.
Cooperative education takes seriously the social and reciprocal nature of teaching and learning. It recognizes that students, both individually and in the aggregate, have something to teach even as they have much to learn. It empowers teachers to relinquish authoritarian control, and encourages them to weave their expertise into the community of learning that emerges dynamically in the courses they teach.
Cooperative education understands that the teacher-student relationship is reciprocal, even if it is also asymmetrical. It is reciprocal insofar as students teach and teachers learn, but asymmetrical insofar as the teacher retains a certain privilege as one who has learned and thus has earned a certain expertise.
Cooperative education does not seek to elide this asymmetry, but rather, to invite teachers to carefully consider how their authority operates in the delicate ecologies of learning in which they participate. How we as teachers respond to this invitation is critical; for our authority is operative in everything we do. It can be used to close off discussion and shut down debate, or it can open students and, on our better days, ourselves, to new connections, richer and deeper insights and surprising discoveries.
Cooperative education, then, must cultivate certain excellences in those faculty and students committed to it. It will need to teach and learn openness, comfort with ambiguity, generosity and equity. It will need to affirm the value of difference, embrace diversity and seek common ground. It will need to be animated by mutual respect for the experience of students and for the wisdom of teachers. It will need to empower students to take ownership of their education and faculty to move from imposition to collaboration.
Cultivating these excellences is no easy task, but they can be learned, if they are practiced.
The American philosopher (who was also, I dare say, a Dean at Columbia University), Frederick Woodbridge, has articulated the sense of cooperation that informs this vision of education:
"There is cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge, an interchange of discoveries, opinions, and results, a communication which would put agreement in the place of disagreement. We are not left each to his own devices, but employ the aid of others" (Woodbridge 1940, 209).
For Woodbridge, this sort of cooperation is rooted ultimately in the human ability to work together with Nature in such a way that we are able to respond in meaningful ways to the world we encounter. The pedagogical significance of this robust naturalism is that we humans are deeply cooperative beings who naturally learn by working with one another in order to come to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live, together.
The references below are embedded from my Mendeley collection on cooperative education. It will be updated to reflect new resources as I discover them. This post was written as part of the Hacking Pedagogy project.
Cole Camplese and I were invited to be part of this year's Learning Design Summer Camp at Penn State. The presentation topic that was proposed to us was strong in and of itself, but when we got together to really flesh it out we thought we would try something that modeled the ideas we really wanted to cultivate in the PSU learning design community.
Both of us were very fond of the work done in the Hacking the Academy project at George Mason and wanted to explore how our own community could be part of a much larger initiative. When we really worked to explore our thinking, the Hacking Pedagogy concept was born. Although there is risk in depending on the community to collaborate with us in this endeavor, we felt the only way to truly model what a cooperative learning event could look like was to take that risk.
To move from a teaching practice centered on the pure dissemination of content from teacher to student to one rooted in truly cooperative practice should be the new ideal for us as a teaching and learning community. Our goal is to provide a kind of field guide that is cooperatively developed and edited over time so that we as a community of educators can draw upon the wisdom of this group. Over the next two weeks, culminating with a cooperative session at the Learning Design Summer Camp, we will ask you (the Internet) to share with us evidence that education can be transformed, that it can be designed to empower a shared sense of ownership among participants, that it can be improved when learning spaces are made into genuine learning communities.
We know this evidence exists across both the Penn State and social web. We know this because we read, listen, watch, and engage with it each and every day as we do our work. What we feel it lacks is a center of gravity that serves to coalesce it into a working resource that can be continually mined, edited, added to, and utilized to guide new forms of teaching, learning, and design practice. The recognition that we as a community have more to offer than each of us can contribute individually will guide our cooperative session at Summer Camp.
The content of this series will be created collaboratively in an attempt to perform the dynamic, open and responsive pedagogical practices for which it advocates. Such an approach recognizes the intimate, reciprocal relationship between theory and practice, process and product, student and teacher. The very processes by which the texts, podcasts, videos, and images brought together here are gathered, culled, edited, revised, discussed and disseminated afford us an educational opportunity. Our product itself will be a compelling expression of the power of cooperative pedagogy.
How to Collaborate
It is really easy to be a part of this ... we are simply asking you to lend us your content by tagging it with the tag psuhack across the social web or with the #psuhack on twitter. We will spend time looking through the submissions and see if we can identify a handful of overarching themes around which we can organize our content. At Summer Camp we will present the themes and introduce you to the loosely curated artifacts so that we can hopefully come to a shared vision of how to organize our publication. It is our hope that during Summer Camp you not only think critically about how this can impact your work, but consider adding new submissions live during the session.
Again, our goal is to both model the emergence of a cooperative learning environment and to create a living "field guide" that can serve as an ongoing form of inspiration as we go forward with our work. Even now, you can start to see the Hacking Pedagogy contributions flowing in by visiting the PSU Voices page. We talked a bit about it on ETS Talk 61 as well. Here is the feed from the most recent things being posted as "psuhack" on the Blogs at Penn State platform:
I have been living with the iPad for only a few days, but I am beginning to feel the power and limitations of the device. My comments here are impressionistic and rooted in my own peculiar use case as an Associate Dean and a faculty member who teaches philosophy with technology at Penn State.
It is already clear to me that the iPad does not replicate the experience of the iPhone even though many of the apps serve the same functionality.
The iPad is much less intrusive in collaborative contexts than either a laptop, which tends to come between members of the group, or an iPhone, which isolates individuals, severing each from the dynamics of the whole.
Because the iPad is more like a notepad, it feels more natural and legitimate to use it in the context of a meeting or as a device on which to take notes during a lecture.
Impact on Pedagogy These factors suggest already how the iPad should find a comfortable home in the classroom.
The number one reason my students tell me they don't bring a laptop to class, despite my encouraging them to do so, is that it is too heavy and they don't want to carry it around with them throughout the day.
It will be easier for students to carry an iPad in their bag all day. Further, because it does not intrude on face to face conversation, it will allow us to blur the boundary between the online and in-class dimensions of a course, opening a more porous and dynamic relationship between digital and embodied communication in the classroom learning community. Information from the internet will be more easily integrated into the in-class discussion without disrupting the dynamics of the discussion itself. That discussion too will find its way into the various modes of digital expression online.
I can imagine students easily referring to online information, participating in the back channel discussion via twitter, posting comments on a blog even as they remain engaged in and indeed add to the classroom discussion itself. The fact that the iPad can only do one thing at a time might actually be a benefit in a classroom context with regard to keeping students focused on the material at hand.
Increasing Productivity Across Platforms In my educational role as an administrator, there are a number of very positive advantages of the iPad. I use Evernote to keep all my notes in sync across various platforms - a PC, an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone and now an iPad. This gives me easy access to all sorts of information that is easily searched on the fly.
You will also see a copy of Things on my screen capture. I am a big fan of this program as it allows me to keep track of multiple aspects of a wide diversity of projects. I am decidedly not a fan of paying $20 for the iPad version after paying $49 for the desktop version and $4.99 for the iPhone version. Added to this is the fact that they are still working on implementing cloud sync and I would have given up on Things if it did not allow me to implement my email strategy which involves keeping my inbox clear by doing triage on incoming email by either responding, deleting, filing or adding it to a project or new To Do in Things.
For those at Penn State with an iPhone or iPod touch, integrating the iPad into the WiFi network is fairly straightforward, although I am always surprised to see how many people just turn off the WiFi service on campus with the iPhone because they don't follow these instructions: http://kb.its.psu.edu/article/1310 that describe how to install the wireless 2.0 certificate on their iPhone. The iPad is easy to set up for the Cisco VPN on the pennstate wireless network too: just follow these instructions for the iPhone on the iPad.
In the end, I am happy with the iPad despite some limitations that always come with the early adoption of a new device. I think the iPad will open up a compelling set of new possibilities for educating with technology in the months and years to come.
The TLT Symposium was a dynamic, vibrant and innovative event that used technology and face to face communication to engage participants - faculty, administrators and students - by challenging us to think critically and imaginatively about teaching and learning in a digital age. NCAT has been a rather traditional conference in which faculty and administrators rehearsed some of the ways course and program redesign have been able to "increase efficiencies" and "improve learning outcomes."
The contrast between the two gatherings was striking from the moment I began listening to Kay McClenney, Director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, give the opening keynote address at NCAT. Although she had a number of important reminders, most notably that engagement matters and that we "need to do education differently with technology," one point she emphasized struck me as unfortunate: "Students don't do optional."
This was infelicitous not only because it has become an oft repeated mantra at the conference, but also because it amplifies and reinforces what seems to be a common underlying assumption that students must be coerced to perform academically. This became palpably clear when McClenney reported the results of a survey of community college student attitudes in which 90% of students themselves say they have the motivation to succeed and 84% say they are academically prepared. The audience of administrators and faculty responded to these data with derisive laughter.
It is no excuse here, as I heard in one session, that we are inheriting twelve years of bad educational habituation. This was said in a session in which faculty were at a loss as to what else they might do to engage students in psychology beyond an allegedly innovative redesign in which frequent quizzing with random questions "at least gave the students the structure necessary to retain the information" they needed to proceed. Upon hearing this response, I was completely deflated.
Contrast this with the elevated sense of optimism I felt hearing the ways some my colleagues at Penn State and others, like our keynote speaker, Michael Wesch of Kansas State, are using technology to empower students to take ownership of their own education. The power of the models these colleagues are developing lie in the way they use technology to relinquish some traditional sense of faculty control in order to regain authority, as Wesch so nicely put it, through student discussion. To do this well requires recognizing that students have something to say and that they want to make their educational experience relevant.
Let me mention a two challenges in particular and suggest how three recent trends could in fact help cultivate abilities that help us meet these challenges.
First, they rightly recognize that "the role of the Academy - and the way we prepare students for their future lives - is changing" (4). Under this general heading, they emphasize that it is incumbent upon educators to "adapt teaching and learning practices to meet the needs of today's learners" (4).
The second challenge involves the manner in which digital media literacy (I would substitute "fluency" here) is becoming a "key skill" in every discipline and profession. Because of this, they go on to say that educators who do not help students develop digital media literacy skills are putting their students at a disadvantage. More specifically, they insist that "digital literacy must necessarily be less about the tools and more about ways of thinking and seeing, and of crafting narrative" (5).
The talk of "skill" here strikes me as too limited, for we are really speaking about a whole set of abilities, indeed, of actively cultivated habits of thinking, learning, acting and teaching. If we understanding the challenges as involving abilities in this more active sense, then the key trends in technology the NMC identifies can be seen as holding some of the keys to the very challenges we face.
Here is what I have in mind.
Take three of the main trends:
"people expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to;"
"the technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and ... decentralized;" and
"the work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature" (4).
Current trends are leading us toward and habituating us to a digital world in which learning and teaching are ubiquitous, decentralized and collaborative.
It seems to me that if we can cultivate the habits of teaching and learning in such an environment, we will be well on our way to "adapting our teaching and learning practices to meet the needs of today's learners." I would insist, here, however, that faculty too should be included under the heading "today's learners."
If teacher and student alike can enter into digital community with one another in collaborative and dynamic ways, we can cultivate together the abilities to think and see things differently, to tell new narratives and to respond to one another in more relevant and productive ways.
It may just be that the key trends in social media technology are cultivating in us, when they are used in imaginative, innovative and nuanced ways, the very habits we will need to meet the challenges we currently face.
On November 18, 2009, Nancy Tuana, the Director of the Rock Ethics Institute, moderated a roundtable discussion of Penn State's energy future with students, faculty and members of the Office of Physical Plant.
Viewing these interviews, I was struck by how thoughtful and concerned each of the stakeholders are as they talk through ideas about how to act as good stewards for the institution and the environment.
It seems to me that this is a model of dialogue in which academics, students and engineers come together in a thoughtful way to address an issue of common concern. Our community is enriched by it. Whatever we ultimately decide, we will know we have done the difficult work necessary to make an informed and thoughtful decision together.
I embed here the video from my friend Paul Moser, Superintendent of Steam Services, who is about as thoughtful a person as I know on these issues:
After talking to trusted people, thinking things over and otherwise working through the transition I am making to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the College of the Liberal Arts, I have decided to embrace the model that Dean Chris Brady uses over at the Schreyer Honors College at PSU and tweet in two voices.
Both twitter accounts will be written by me, but the LAUSDeanLong will be used to speak directly to undergraduate students, highlight the things we are doing in the Office of the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies in Liberal Arts, and reach out to alumni. LAUS is Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies. The cplong account will continue to be the more personal voice I have cultivated over the past few years of twittering. I hope many people will follow both voices.
Now, there is another transition I am making on this Long Road. It is time to allow my daughters to determine their own web identities, so I have asked them what they would like to be called as I talk about them online. We have determined that my five year old will be referred to here as ArtGirl because, as she says, "I am into art." My four year old will be "DancinGirl" as she loves to dance.
These changes reflect the changing dynamics of my web presence as I move into a new professional role. Although I will continue to blog about my life as a father here, I have started a new password protected Posterous account to chronicle some of our everyday activities. For those who are interested, please email me for the password.
Just two weeks before, a group of us had been in Prague where we met a number of students from Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. They told us in no uncertain terms that something momentous was happening. At the time they and we did not know whether this was something to welcome or fear.
Upon our return to Vienna, we discussed the question in our European History course. The professor was a former Ambassador who assured us that whatever changes may or may not be underway, the overarching paradigm that held European powers in the grips of the Cold War would not change in his lifetime. (This marked an early realization of a truth that has borne itself out over the course of the last twenty years: professors don't always know what they are talking about and the more certain they appear, the less their words should be uncritically accepted.)
Two and a half weeks later, many of us were on a train to Berlin to witness first hand the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Berlin the excitement those of us gathered at the wall felt that day remains palpable. Borrowing a sledgehammer from a local German, I can still feel the thrill that came as I knocked off the large chunk I still have set upon my bookshelf.
I recall too, a discussion I had with a very thoughtful and earnest young Lutheran pastor from East Germany who watched the scene unfolding before us with trepidation. His hope, as he expressed it to a young American student genuinely concerned to try to put a context to the history that he was witnessing, was that the West would not simply view this development as an opportunity to impose capitalist values and culture on the Eastern bloc. It was, of course, unclear precisely how things would progress, but there remained a sense that a genuine meeting of the best ideas of the East and West might have an opportunity to converge.
As I think back on those days, I am once again made aware that ideas have the power to transform reality.
But for me, this had less to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, than with the students and teachers I encountered and the experiences I had during my semester abroad in that fall of 1989. To meet students and educators who actively sought to imagine what life was like in another culture, to learn a new language, and to open themselves to the transformative possibilities of education was of decisive importance to me at a formative time in my life.
And although I did not take a philosophy course when I was in Vienna, when I returned, I was convinced that my course would tack toward education and that philosophy was the path it would have to take.
One of the great privileges of my summer faculty fellowship has been the opportunity to work with creative and thoughtful educators and designers who were able to help me think more holistically about my identity on the web.
I have been blogging here on the Long Road since June 10, 2007, attempting to give voice to certain dimensions of my personal, political, academic and teaching life. Over time, however, it has become clear that my attempt to "blog the philosophical life" involves multiple dimensions that are somewhat separate even if fundamentally integrated.
Perhaps this is simply the digital articulation of the deeper, existential question of personal identity.
In any case, the redesign of the website that we have rolled out in the course of the last few weeks grows out of an ongoing dialogue with all the great educational designers and IT managers at Education Technology Services, but in particular with two who deserve special mention and thanks here: Brad Kozlek and George Webster.
George has patiently and expertly worked with me to design the font, colors, look and feel of the site. He was always willing to change things I found problematic and willing too, to change them back when I realized that the way we had it first was best.
The design itself is based on this image of an antique map of the arctic I found online as I was searching for an inspiration for the colors and feel of the site. The map captured the spirit of the central metaphor around which the long road is organized: the attempt to chart in words the course of a life.
The long road is now composed of three blogs feeding a main home page, which serves as a pathway into the larger site. George worked with me to design the icons that go with each dimension of the site.
the long road is the site on which you will find my attempt to put things personal, political, remarkable and mundane into words.
digital vita is the site that gives voice to my academic life, including information and resources related to the various presentations I make.
One of the main purposes of redesigning the site was to host the Digital Dialogue, the podcast I developed during my faculty fellowship. The Digital Dialogue is designed to generate discussion around questions concerning but not limited to the nature of digital dialogue, its political possibilities, the excellences associated with it and the impact it might have on our pedagogical practices.
Today you begin a great and wondrous journey. Today, you begin Kindergarten and with it, the formal education that will open you to a world of ideas and experiences that will shape the person you become.
Your Mom and I have sought over the course of these five years to prepare you well for this adventure. You know your colors, your letters, your numbers; you are empathetic and thoughtful, reflective and open. You make friends easily after you wisely assess them in their relations to you and others. You worry, but not too much. You have a passion for art, for new experiences, for writing, and for sharing your life stories with others. You try new foods with joyful anticipation and are not less willing to taste new things after you have experienced something bitter. You have a wonderful imagination and welcome others, especially your sister Hannah, into the worlds you create. You love easily but not indiscriminately; and you are fiercely loyal to those who have won your affection.
So, you are ready for this journey.
As you begin, know that your Mom and I, your sister and your family, are with you even when we are not physically present. We are there in the classroom when you feel uncertain; on the playground, when you need to stand up for yourself or your friends; in your heart and mind as you are enriched by the educational experiences that will sustain your life.
Yet although we are here to support you, now it is time for you to step into a new phase of the journey and to make a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself.
I am so proud of you and love you more than I can say. I look forward to the adventure to come as I have delighted in your life thus far. You have taught me to see the world anew and the world is made better by your encounters with it.
Go now into this next phase with the joyful integrity that has marked your life from the beginning.
I am beginning to notice something about my course blog for PHIL298H: Patriarchal Force and Political Power. As we discuss the material we have been reading for class and engage with one another online through the blog we are creating a communal document, a digital artifact of our work together this semester. I am struck by this more this semester because of the structure I am using in which we all co-edit one blog rather than each editing a blog of our own.
As students post and comment, as they add links through delicious to articles and online resources, we are developing a community of communication that is at once dynamic and lasting. I find myself responding to the ideas of the students more as I attempt to weave the themes found in the text into our discussion. I realize, however, that the blog format allows them to become partners in thinking and it forces me to respond in multidirectional ways that I find exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
The weekly round-up podcasts adds a completely different dimension to the class that forces us all to think of this as a common endeavor more than as a unidirectional process in which knowledge is transfered from teacher to student. I am not sure where we will find ourselves at the end of the semester, but I am beginning to feel like the journey, although to a large degree directed by me, will take us all into unexpected territory.
It is good to know that wherever it takes us, we will have an eloquent record that maps our progress.
A Liberal Arts Education is committed to cultivating habits of thinking and acting capable of responding to the world in ways that open new possibilities for human community. It is oriented in part by what may be called the reading life and the writing life.
The reading life is animated by an attempt to enter into dialogue with the ideas, thoughts and actions of the past and present.
The writing life is animated by an attempt to contribute to the dialogue by synthesizing, criticizing and publicizing ideas, thoughts and actions capable of transforming the future.
Technology can play a powerful role in a Liberal Arts education by cultivating the skills associated with the reading and writing life. Here are some examples of how I have sought to mobilize technology to support the Liberal Arts education.
Podcasting the Reading Life
Locate an academic secondary source that presents an interpretation of the assigned section of Plato's Gorgias. Produce a podcast that summarizes the interpretation.
Stephanie Marek's podcast on the Gorgias with Casey Cox.
Find a picture on the web or take a picture that grows out of your experience reading the Oedipous trilogy.
Post the picture to your blog and write a post that explains how the picture relates to your experience with these texts. Present then a "reading" of the picture.
One of the many great privileges of teaching here at Penn State is the opportunity I have to work closely with faculty and staff committed to thinking creatively about teaching and learning. One place where there is a vibrant and exciting community of people dedicated to thinking creatively about innovative teaching techniques is the office of Education Technology Services (ETS). Cole Camplese, the Director of ETS, has cultivated a culture of creative experimentation that is transforming the pedagogical use of technology here at Penn State.
As part of the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) unit, ETS supports faculty willing to try new technologies to determine what does and does not work in the classroom. For the past two years, I have been using blogging and podcasting in my philosophy courses to encourage students to articulate and disseminate their ideas in ways that relate the philosophical content we discuss in class to a wider community. I will present some of my experiences at the Spring 2008 Symposium for Teaching and Learning with Technology here at Penn State.
Nat and David have something similar in mind as they reactivate the group, though dialogue is only one dimension of the group's mission. They seem also committed to the idea that the best argument against the notion that atheism and agnosticism are nihilistic positions that annihilate the values on which good deeds are done is to work with other religious organizations and charities to be a force for positive change in the local community.
I am very happy to see that they and the group are receiving substantive and fair coverage in the student newspaper, the Daily Collegian. It is disturbing, however, to hear that Nat and David have been threatened with physical violence as they held their sign that reads "Non-believers Unite in Disbelief" by students claiming to be Christians. The irony of such threats does not lessen their repugnance.
My experience as the faculty adviser of the Atheist, Agnostic Association is that the students involved in the group are responsible, thoughtful and dedicated people who embody one of the most important dimensions of life at the university: the willingness to investigate tenaciously and evaluate critically one's own core beliefs and the beliefs of others.
The quotation from Nat that concludes today's piece in the Daily Collegian bears repeating here: "People say 'what meaning can life have if there is no God?' But I believe that this one life is all we have. There is no permanence and that makes it more meaningful."