The world WHYd web

What is it about the world wide web that has us so enthralled? What is it about people like Vannevar Bush that holds our attention for 70 YEARS? What is is about songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Imagine," and "Stairway to Heaven" that makes them classics?

Wrong Question.

The right question is also the answer: WHY?

WHY does the world wide web have us so enthralled? WHY do people like Vannevar Bush hold our attention for 70 YEARS? WHY are songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Imagine," and "Stairway to Heaven" classics?

Simon Sinek makes the critical observation that we often spend too much time thinking about the WHATs of life. He says that psychologically, we don't ACT on WHATs.


We act on WHY's. The Question of WHY comes from our deepest selves. Its the reason that so many great leaders have been recognized at great: They don't make arguments based solely on logic. Logic focuses on the WHATs. The truly great leaders and thinkers start with a very different message: They start with WHY. And it speaks to our souls.

In his article, "As We May Think" Vannevar Bush makes predictions. That's what we get excited about now that we get to Monday Morning Quarterback his 70 year old treatise on what computers and information could be. Do you think he is the only one to have dreamed? Is he the only one who predicted the information age? Doubtful.

The magic of Bush is that he starts with WHY:
Of what lasting benefit has been man's use of science and of the new instruments which his research brought into existence? First, they have increased his control of his material environment. Thy have improved his food, his clothing, his shelter; they have increased his security and released him partly from the bondage of bare existence. They have given him increased knowledge of his own biological processes so that he has had a progressive freedom from disease and an increased span of life. They are illuminating the interactions of his physiological and psychological functions, giving the promise of an improved mental health.
Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual.
As We May Think
Vannevar Bush
July, 1945

Let's face it. Computers and the internet are just tools. 1's and 0's. Electrons moving about, following very well predicted and understood rules. Keyboards, mice, screens. These are the WHATs of a computer. The WHY is the reason that we're all glued to them. As @GardnerCampbel loves to say,

A computer is a thing that can be any other thing.

Vannevar opens his discussion of WHAT we should do with an incredibly powerful WHY. He elevates us to dream of a better world: free of disease, knowledge that evolves and endures beyond the life of an individual, being released from the bondage of bare existence!!!

Take a look at the media that matters to you. Texts, historical speeches, songs, movies, video games. Which blogs and articles get the most genuine engagement on the web? Which courses in college were most important to you? The things that matter most to us, that we allow to stick with us and shape our identities resonate with the unique WHY that resides in our souls.

Want to craft a compelling argument? Start with your WHY. Share your WHY.

Want to make a difference? Find your WHY. Act from your WHY.

Comments Off on The world WHYd web

Filed under ccourses, thoughtvectors

Poorfeckshun hertz stoodenz lurnang


Hello. My name is Tony Brainstorms, and I am a perfectionist. It has been over 31 years since my last perfect action, but only 31 seconds since the last time I expected perfect action of myself. I've been wrestling with a question lately:

Did I get where I am thanks to, or in spite of my perfectionism?

What brought on these thoughts? Well, I recently completed my PhD. I am in the process of chopping my 346-page dissertation into digestible chunks in an effort to build up my wealth in the most important of academic currencies: peer-reviewed journal articles. It took me about two weeks of re-reading, highlighting, and outlining to identify 19 potential articles.

Along the way I've conducted two "straw polls" that relate: first, I have determined that my dissertation is about twice as long as typical (at least for my field). Second, most people will write somewhere between 2 and 4 articles from their dissertation work. At first I was quite proud of myself. I convinced myself that these statistics showed my PhD to be superior to others (ahem). Now I see them as symptoms of a severe problem: I am a perfectionist.

When I was writing my dissertation, I couldn't stomach the thought that a single good idea or bit of analysis I had done be left out. As I now try to break it into articles, I can't accept the idea that a single potential paper slip through the cracks. I just spent the last 2 weeks writing the rough draft of the first of these papers. 2 weeks.  At this rate I'll spend the next year doing nothing other than working on these articles.

I think it is clear to see that something needs to change or I'll never get on to doing new and important work. And by the way, this isn't a new problem. It took me over 6 years to finish my PhD. I can see now that I have perfectionism to thank for that as well.

How did this happen? First, I am happy to admit that my personality lends itself to perfectionism the way that others' may be predisposed to alcoholism. However, I believe that my educational experience reinforced these tendencies.

Our education system encourages perfectionism and rewards the negative behaviors it leads to. The results are stunted growth and a false sense that perfection is real. If only we worked harder, we could achieve it.

I recently had a conversation about grading. My colleague and I were trying to determine what an 87% (B) compared to an 88% (B+) means. After a bit more digestion, I've realized that the grading system encourages perfectionism.

The grading system tells us (falsely) that we can be perfect at something.

I can know 100% of a subject. Anything less than that is due to a MISTAKE that I made. How many times do well-meaning teachers try to motivate students by telling them, "I believe you all can get A's. You all start with 100% in my class. It is up to you whether or not you keep it."

A common example that we see in engineering: students are wildly uncomfortable with the idea of rounding or estimating values. When solving problems (I hate that language, by the way), students try to (1) find the "right" equation, (2) substitute the "right" values, and (3) compute the "right" final answer. Their calculators spit out a number that looks something like "445.54860302940912" and they write it down and draw a box around it.

If we are lucky, we might convince students that writing down the units of the final answer is important (i.e. "445.54860302940912 miles"). The part that eludes the student is that by writing this answer, they are implying that 0.00000000000002 miles (smaller than 1 quadrillionth of an inch) is somehow relevant when compared to 445 miles. And then we bemoan their lack of critical thinking.

Whose fault is this anyhow? "My students are uncomfortable with rounding and estimating." NO KIDDING! LOOK HOW YOU TEST THEM!

Freshmen courses at large universities have more in common with going to the movies than going to class. 600 students cram into a giant lecture hall and watch a person on stage perform calculus lectures. They go back to their dorms and try to solve the homework problems. The dedicated few email a question, or attend office hours. 3-4 times in the semester they come in and take multiple choice MATH tests that have 10 options per question. Often these options only differ by a small amount to prevent "cheating" or "lucky guesses." Their grade in the course is simply the summation of the number of these questions they managed to get correct.

And so John gets an 87% and Jane gets an 88% and they both move on with their lives. Is Jane better at calculus than Joe? What does "better" mean? One thing is certain. The students are striving for over 93% so they can get an "A," a 4.0 GPA, a B.S. Summa Cum Laude, and a J-O-B.

We obsess over grades as the magic elixir that will unlock (or banish forever) our dreams.

We should be teaching students to learn and live in a way that reflects reality: Exactness doesn't matter.

If you're a non-engineer reading this, don't let this statement scare you out of flying on an airplane or trusting the bridge you're about to drive over. The truth is, there is a reason we have the concept, "good enough."

The idea that the equations themselves are built on assumptions that simplify the situation is very uncomfortable for students. They believe that equations should be able to exactly predict behavior, and so they plug the numbers into their calculators and take the output as exactly what will happen. The big problem is, we can never exactly measure the behavior to prove that we got it right. How far is it across the room you're sitting in? 12 feet? 12.1 feet? 12.01 feet? You can always get a more accurate measuring device and go further. Eventually you are comparing distances at the atomic level.

To make the measurement useful, we need to define an acceptable level of "not knowing" and move forward. For example, when building a bridge, computing the stresses in a certain bolt to exact precision is not only a waste of time, it is impossible. The real question to be answered is: "how should this bolt be designed (material, size, thread count, torque, etc.) so that we can be 100% certain that the bridge won't fall down?" We need to balance that consideration with the economics of the situation (we can't build every bridge with 3-foot diameter, solid titanium bolts). Does answering this question require computing the "exact" stresses in the bolt? No. It involves making an appropriately accurate estimate.

I apologize for the lengthy engineering example, its most comfortable for me. This concept applies to other fields as well. For example, does my grammar have to be perfect? I'm sure it isn't. I, use, commas, way, too, much. The real question to ask is: What is the purpose of my writing? To communicate. The goal then isn't perfect grammar, but communication of the ideas (which is inexact to begin with since everyone consumes every idea through a number of lenses based on the experiences and performances of the message sender as well as the receiver). Yet we grade most written assignments with a disproportionate emphasis on grammar. Loosing a point (out of 100) for a bad comma in a 10-page paper about the civil war teaches students that commas (grammatical precision) are more important than ideas.

Am I advocating grammatical anarchy? Of course not, or we couldn't communicate our ideas. However, we need to teach our students that good enough is good enough. Should a policy maker attempting to solve poverty in our cities spend an hour researching ideas, talking to poor people, brainstorming polices to help, or editing their papers for proper semicolon use?

By encouraging the pursuit of perfection, our educational structure distracts from actual useful thinking.

The funny thing is that (at least in engineering) we start out teaching freshmen this idea. Then we spend the next three years trying to demolish it with grading policies designed to enable large-scale classes.

Freshmen engineering courses teach the ideas of defining requirements and goals for the thing the students are designing. Why do we teach this up front? I get the feeling that the answer is largely that "young students don't know enough physics to actually do engineering yet." So we throw them in this class first. The feeling I had when I finished it was "now I know what my boss will be doing someday while I actually engineer something."

The rest of the engineering program focuses on learning the physics. These courses are taught from the perspective of "getting the right answer." Students are encouraged to "find the right formula" for every problem so they get it right on the test. There is no discussion in these courses about determining the relative importance of the answers, or how accurately we might need to know something. This builds and builds until students want to compute EVERYTHING EXACTLY before ever beginning to build or test an idea.

Finally, we have a capstone senior project that supposedly brings back the ideas of generating requirements, defining the performance of our device. My experience was a group of students who had learned to play the game and get their desired grade with the minimum effort and critical thought. I don't believe the issue is motivation. I believe the issue is perfectionism. By now, the seniors have learned to chase perfection, and they are daunted by the idea. So much so that they don't even want to start.

Education promotes perfectionism, which is why so many of us procrastinate.

We perfectionists have a lot of trouble starting, and then completing projects. Why? Because the idea we have in our heads of what completion looks like seems so far out of reach. We know we will never catch a unicorn, yet we convince ourselves that only then will we successfully complete the project.

Somehow, we need to tear down the idea of perfection and instead learn that: 

good enough really is good enough.

(as a first exercise, I wrote this post in one sitting. I only proof-read once. Normally, I'd go for 10 or so revisions and take 3 writing sessions. Hence the reason you haven't heard from me since 2014. Cheers.)

Comments Off on Poorfeckshun hertz stoodenz lurnang

Filed under Uncategorized

Tony Brainstorms vs the Lizard Brain! (or Motivation in Higher Ed)

Ok, no comic this time, but I couldn't resist the title... Also, a shout out to @shellifowler for the idea, she talks about "Lizard Brains" fairly often.

I had a weird realization as I started writing my last post about the difference between "Online Courses" and "Connected Courses". To be honest, I haven't been contributing (in the form of blog posts) in the substantive way I'd hoped and/or the course designers intended with their prompts. That's not the weird realization. The weird thought I've had is:
I'm not getting any negative feedback.
I've had some very positive discussions and comments come from the posts that I have managed to share, but no one's needling me to "get my productivity up... or else!" This is very strange in the context of a course in Higher Education.

My first thought in response was:
Sometimes I think we need negative feedback.
The Triune Brain: Filters between Thought and Action
To understand why I felt this way, I'll first need to educate you a bit on a topic about which I actually have no earthly idea. But the image works and I like it. I make no claims to scientific accuracy here.



According to this image, the functions of the "Three Brains: are:

  1. Neomammalian Complex: Rational or Thinking Brain
  2. Paleomammalian Complex: Emotional or Feeling Brain
  3. Reptilian Complex: Instinctual or Dinosaur Brain (I love that we've picked dinosaurs as the image for instinct. Why not bees, or tuna fish?)
Let's treat the head as the place where decisions for action occur and the body as the mechanism for action. The path taken by an idea from inception to action passes through 3 filters:
  1. A rational idea based on information we have and logical connection of past experience to new situations
  2. An emotional filter in which we apply meaning to the proposed action
  3. An instinctual filter that alters the action in the interest of self-preservation
In other words, the Lizard Brain stands between logic, rationality, emotion, and action. As educators we seem to target the Rational or Thinking Brains of our students. We're starting to recognize the importance of the Emotional or Feeling Brain in terms of creativity and context-building. Unfortunately, I think most often we only end up appealing to our students' Reptilian Complexes.

Dangers of the Lizard Brain
There's a problem with the instinctual part of our brains. They aren't very smart. In fact, there are many times where we take actions in the interest of self-preservation that are actually more harmful than helpful (see The Prisoners' Dilemma, for example).

The truth of life is that we are in a constant state of deciding what NOT to do. I'm writing this post at the moment. I've chosen (either actively or subconsciously) to not go jogging, analyze the data for my dissertation, or watch TV in front of the fire at this moment. There are actually an infinite number of things that I'm not doing right now, and only one that I am. 

Life is filled with tradeoffs. How we manage them says a lot about who we are and what we value. Keep a log of how you spend your time for the next week and then reflect. Does the way you actually spend your time (the only resource you can never get more of) really reflect your values? Eek.

But there is a finer point on it. The Lizards in us twist the results of this exercise. They don't have any values beyond self-preservation. When faced with a trade between two actions the Lizard steers us toward that which it perceives to be most beneficial. When we chose an action that appears necessary but not truly reflective of our values, the Lizard tunes out our disappointment.


Wait, weren't we talking about Motivation and Co-Learning?
OK, back to where I started this post now. The weird thing about connected courses (compared to other courses I've taken) is that I'm not getting any negative feedback. My lizard brain can tune out my own disappointment with myself in the interest of practicality. My practicality can always find something more important than blogging. So I've participated as a spectator rather than a contributor or co-learner. And this is a course about a topic that I am passionate about! Instructors: do everything you can to create active, awesome, inclusive co-learning spaces. But remember, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Even if he loves it. How do I get past this!!??

Maybe sometimes we do need negative feedback ("you're not living up to your end of the deal, Tony B."). Co-learners need feedback. In a room of hundreds of people its easy to melt into the crowd and get left behind. These types of learning experiences as they exist require extreme motivation and discipline on the part of the student. Perhaps this is a reason for the low MOOC completion rates? There are very few consequences for not engaging fully (just a lump in your stomach, if you care).

To continue the self-deprecation, I thrive on positive feedback. That's how this blog came to exist. People responded strongly to some of the first things I wrote, which made me want to keep digging and keep writing. That's great for a while.  But now I've worked myself up to need to write the next hit over just writing. I'm reminded of the incredibly poignant story of Michael Jackson's crippling fear after "Thriller," wondering how he could ever top it.

External motivation always fails. 
Fear does not breed creativity. 
Neither does praise.
Had the blogging "requirement" for this course looked like a weekly participation grade things may have been different for me. If I knew each week's contribution was worth a certain, unrecoverable, portion of my grade I would have prioritized differently. Do we actually need the fear of an indelible grade to keep us going in the middle of the semester? It certainly produces a response in students. But is it genuine? What would I have to say if I were writing while being held for ransom by some elusive "A"?

On the flip side, we could view high grades as a reward to be earned rather than viewing low grades as a punishment for "poor" performance. This mentality is exactly what lead's to the "Thriller Effect." Fear of not getting praise for your next great work is just as crippling as fear of punishment.

Fear is the business of the Lizard Brain.
And the Lizard Brain isn't capable of reflective thought.
No matter what way we view grades (reward or punishment), they lead students to fear the results of trying, exploring, and taking risks. As long as we try to "motivate" students with repercussions for "getting the wrong answer," or "failing," we are appealing to their Lizard Brains. As long as we try to inspire creativity by rewarding "success" or "getting the right answer," we are feeding the Iguanas hiding at the tops of their spines. We are blocking the reflective thought of their Neomammalian Thinking  Brains. We are stifling the context-building of their Paleomammalian Feeling Brains.

Students are strategizers. Rather than focusing on learning, they game the system. They are forced to. We're teaching time-management and making trade-offs by requiring that students do both.
"I can afford to lose points here so I can focus on earning the points over there that I really need."
How can we elevate students' thinking?

Co-Learning as Co-Motivation
I've already written about the idea that in a co-learning environment co-creation is both a learning mechanism and a learning outcome.

Another learning mechanism and outcome of a connected course is co-motivation. An introspective experience in which the co-learners help each other form and discover their own motivations. This is not cheerleading each other to get homework done. This is reflecting in a co-learning environment on why, on building the context that motivates the individual, and sharing that context with other co-learners.

An important aspect of this is that the instructors are engaged and committed to the experience as well. Not as a game to trick students into opening up. Engagement from the instructors is critical to honestly empower learners, to break down the social structures plaguing most classrooms, and (most importantly) to model the constant flux of life. How many of you are doing what you're doing for the reasons you started out years ago? I'm not. That's OK and our students need to know it.

Imagine the following exchange. You can decide which line is spoken by the "student" and which by the "teacher".
"I hate calculus. I am only here because the Mechanical Engineering department requires me to be."
"Perhaps we can explore that and find a deeper reason for  why you would choose to grabble with a subject that is disinteresting to you on the surface." 
The goal of this co-motivation is to find true motivation that comes from within. Motivation that stems from something deeper than good feelings from peers or grades. Certainly something deeper than avoiding bad feelings that accompany low grades.

My Motivation
(built in my experience as a co-learner)
I said earlier that had this course included a weekly grade based on productivity I would have managed my time MUCH differently. I actually wouldn't have taken the course at all so I could focus on my dissertation. The Chameleon in me would have hidden from ANYTHING that represented a guaranteed distraction. The point here is that I've had an incredible experience. The course structure empowered me to engage in the ways that were meaningful for me and my co-learners. We've created new artifacts that further flesh out the idea of a connected course. We've co-discovered more about our own motivations. 

My motivation for co-participating in this course turned out to be the motivation for almost all of my  current professional efforts. It's deeply personal and hard to put to words. But here's my best try:
Dear future students, I'm doing everything I can to get ready for you. Someday we are going to learn much more than how Thermodynamics works together. We're going to teach each other the meaning of it. We're going to create the meaning of it.
We can see what happens when we act out of self-motivations rather than external pressures in this passage from "Michael Jackson: The Pressure to Beat It".
It's March 1987, and it's getting late. Westlake Studio is deserted except for Michael, Quincy, Bubbles the chimpanzee, and a few technicians. "Smelly," as Jones calls Michael (possibly because the singer is so obsessively clean), still wants to lay down more vocal tracks. On the recording console in front of Quincy sits a comic strip clipped from a newspaper, the punch line to which reads: "Michael Jackson is 30 years old and he's never had a date." Michael picks it up and reads it. Then he puts it back gently and turns away. He seems hurt by the words. Half a beat passes, then he giggles like a schoolboy, and walks into the recording booth. 
Alone in the semidarkness, illuminated softly by a single spotlight, he starts to sing. This, finally, is what it's all about. Somewhere out there Prince has finished his new record and Run-DMC are thinking about theirs and Walter Yetnikoff is learning to live with the CBS balance sheets. But that's some other place. Here, for now, none of that exists; there are no problems, no merchandise deals, no deadlines, no family rivalries. It's just Michael and the song. 
Suddenly, he is no longer the dreamy, whispering recluse. He is no longer soft. He attacks the song, dancing, waving his hands, moving with unexpected power. He is in his own world, but for once, it's a world that others beside himself can believe in. For these few moments, at least, he is neither a joke nor an icon, just a very, very talented singer.

Comments Off on Tony Brainstorms vs the Lizard Brain! (or Motivation in Higher Ed)

Filed under ccourses

Tony Brainstorms vs the Lizard Brain! (or Motivation in Higher Ed)

Ok, no comic this time, but I couldn't resist the title... Also, a shout out to @shellifowler for the idea, she talks about "Lizard Brains" fairly often.

I had a weird realization as I started writing my last post about the difference between "Online Courses" and "Connected Courses". To be honest, I haven't been contributing (in the form of blog posts) in the substantive way I'd hoped and/or the course designers intended with their prompts. That's not the weird realization. The weird thought I've had is:
I'm not getting any negative feedback.
I've had some very positive discussions and comments come from the posts that I have managed to share, but no one's needling me to "get my productivity up... or else!" This is very strange in the context of a course in Higher Education.

My first thought in response was:
Sometimes I think we need negative feedback.
The Triune Brain: Filters between Thought and Action
To understand why I felt this way, I'll first need to educate you a bit on a topic about which I actually have no earthly idea. But the image works and I like it. I make no claims to scientific accuracy here.



According to this image, the functions of the "Three Brains: are:

  1. Neomammalian Complex: Rational or Thinking Brain
  2. Paleomammalian Complex: Emotional or Feeling Brain
  3. Reptilian Complex: Instinctual or Dinosaur Brain (I love that we've picked dinosaurs as the image for instinct. Why not bees, or tuna fish?)
Let's treat the head as the place where decisions for action occur and the body as the mechanism for action. The path taken by an idea from inception to action passes through 3 filters:
  1. A rational idea based on information we have and logical connection of past experience to new situations
  2. An emotional filter in which we apply meaning to the proposed action
  3. An instinctual filter that alters the action in the interest of self-preservation
In other words, the Lizard Brain stands between logic, rationality, emotion, and action. As educators we seem to target the Rational or Thinking Brains of our students. We're starting to recognize the importance of the Emotional or Feeling Brain in terms of creativity and context-building. Unfortunately, I think most often we only end up appealing to our students' Reptilian Complexes.

Dangers of the Lizard Brain
There's a problem with the instinctual part of our brains. They aren't very smart. In fact, there are many times where we take actions in the interest of self-preservation that are actually more harmful than helpful (see The Prisoners' Dilemma, for example).

The truth of life is that we are in a constant state of deciding what NOT to do. I'm writing this post at the moment. I've chosen (either actively or subconsciously) to not go jogging, analyze the data for my dissertation, or watch TV in front of the fire at this moment. There are actually an infinite number of things that I'm not doing right now, and only one that I am. 

Life is filled with tradeoffs. How we manage them says a lot about who we are and what we value. Keep a log of how you spend your time for the next week and then reflect. Does the way you actually spend your time (the only resource you can never get more of) really reflect your values? Eek.

But there is a finer point on it. The Lizards in us twist the results of this exercise. They don't have any values beyond self-preservation. When faced with a trade between two actions the Lizard steers us toward that which it perceives to be most beneficial. When we chose an action that appears necessary but not truly reflective of our values, the Lizard tunes out our disappointment.


Wait, weren't we talking about Motivation and Co-Learning?
OK, back to where I started this post now. The weird thing about connected courses (compared to other courses I've taken) is that I'm not getting any negative feedback. My lizard brain can tune out my own disappointment with myself in the interest of practicality. My practicality can always find something more important than blogging. So I've participated as a spectator rather than a contributor or co-learner. And this is a course about a topic that I am passionate about! Instructors: do everything you can to create active, awesome, inclusive co-learning spaces. But remember, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Even if he loves it. How do I get past this!!??

Maybe sometimes we do need negative feedback ("you're not living up to your end of the deal, Tony B."). Co-learners need feedback. In a room of hundreds of people its easy to melt into the crowd and get left behind. These types of learning experiences as they exist require extreme motivation and discipline on the part of the student. Perhaps this is a reason for the low MOOC completion rates? There are very few consequences for not engaging fully (just a lump in your stomach, if you care).

To continue the self-deprecation, I thrive on positive feedback. That's how this blog came to exist. People responded strongly to some of the first things I wrote, which made me want to keep digging and keep writing. That's great for a while.  But now I've worked myself up to need to write the next hit over just writing. I'm reminded of the incredibly poignant story of Michael Jackson's crippling fear after "Thriller," wondering how he could ever top it.

External motivation always fails. 
Fear does not breed creativity. 
Neither does praise.
Had the blogging "requirement" for this course looked like a weekly participation grade things may have been different for me. If I knew each week's contribution was worth a certain, unrecoverable, portion of my grade I would have prioritized differently. Do we actually need the fear of an indelible grade to keep us going in the middle of the semester? It certainly produces a response in students. But is it genuine? What would I have to say if I were writing while being held for ransom by some elusive "A"?

On the flip side, we could view high grades as a reward to be earned rather than viewing low grades as a punishment for "poor" performance. This mentality is exactly what lead's to the "Thriller Effect." Fear of not getting praise for your next great work is just as crippling as fear of punishment.

Fear is the business of the Lizard Brain.
And the Lizard Brain isn't capable of reflective thought.
No matter what way we view grades (reward or punishment), they lead students to fear the results of trying, exploring, and taking risks. As long as we try to "motivate" students with repercussions for "getting the wrong answer," or "failing," we are appealing to their Lizard Brains. As long as we try to inspire creativity by rewarding "success" or "getting the right answer," we are feeding the Iguanas hiding at the tops of their spines. We are blocking the reflective thought of their Neomammalian Thinking  Brains. We are stifling the context-building of their Paleomammalian Feeling Brains.

Students are strategizers. Rather than focusing on learning, they game the system. They are forced to. We're teaching time-management and making trade-offs by requiring that students do both.
"I can afford to lose points here so I can focus on earning the points over there that I really need."
How can we elevate students' thinking?

Co-Learning as Co-Motivation
I've already written about the idea that in a co-learning environment co-creation is both a learning mechanism and a learning outcome.

Another learning mechanism and outcome of a connected course is co-motivation. An introspective experience in which the co-learners help each other form and discover their own motivations. This is not cheerleading each other to get homework done. This is reflecting in a co-learning environment on why, on building the context that motivates the individual, and sharing that context with other co-learners.

An important aspect of this is that the instructors are engaged and committed to the experience as well. Not as a game to trick students into opening up. Engagement from the instructors is critical to honestly empower learners, to break down the social structures plaguing most classrooms, and (most importantly) to model the constant flux of life. How many of you are doing what you're doing for the reasons you started out years ago? I'm not. That's OK and our students need to know it.

Imagine the following exchange. You can decide which line is spoken by the "student" and which by the "teacher".
"I hate calculus. I am only here because the Mechanical Engineering department requires me to be."
"Perhaps we can explore that and find a deeper reason for  why you would choose to grabble with a subject that is disinteresting to you on the surface." 
The goal of this co-motivation is to find true motivation that comes from within. Motivation that stems from something deeper than good feelings from peers or grades. Certainly something deeper than avoiding bad feelings that accompany low grades.

My Motivation
(built in my experience as a co-learner)
I said earlier that had this course included a weekly grade based on productivity I would have managed my time MUCH differently. I actually wouldn't have taken the course at all so I could focus on my dissertation. The Chameleon in me would have hidden from ANYTHING that represented a guaranteed distraction. The point here is that I've had an incredible experience. The course structure empowered me to engage in the ways that were meaningful for me and my co-learners. We've created new artifacts that further flesh out the idea of a connected course. We've co-discovered more about our own motivations. 

My motivation for co-participating in this course turned out to be the motivation for almost all of my  current professional efforts. It's deeply personal and hard to put to words. But here's my best try:
Dear future students, I'm doing everything I can to get ready for you. Someday we are going to learn much more than how Thermodynamics works together. We're going to teach each other the meaning of it. We're going to create the meaning of it.
We can see what happens when we act out of self-motivations rather than external pressures in this passage from "Michael Jackson: The Pressure to Beat It".
It's March 1987, and it's getting late. Westlake Studio is deserted except for Michael, Quincy, Bubbles the chimpanzee, and a few technicians. "Smelly," as Jones calls Michael (possibly because the singer is so obsessively clean), still wants to lay down more vocal tracks. On the recording console in front of Quincy sits a comic strip clipped from a newspaper, the punch line to which reads: "Michael Jackson is 30 years old and he's never had a date." Michael picks it up and reads it. Then he puts it back gently and turns away. He seems hurt by the words. Half a beat passes, then he giggles like a schoolboy, and walks into the recording booth. 
Alone in the semidarkness, illuminated softly by a single spotlight, he starts to sing. This, finally, is what it's all about. Somewhere out there Prince has finished his new record and Run-DMC are thinking about theirs and Walter Yetnikoff is learning to live with the CBS balance sheets. But that's some other place. Here, for now, none of that exists; there are no problems, no merchandise deals, no deadlines, no family rivalries. It's just Michael and the song. 
Suddenly, he is no longer the dreamy, whispering recluse. He is no longer soft. He attacks the song, dancing, waving his hands, moving with unexpected power. He is in his own world, but for once, it's a world that others beside himself can believe in. For these few moments, at least, he is neither a joke nor an icon, just a very, very talented singer.

Comments Off on Tony Brainstorms vs the Lizard Brain! (or Motivation in Higher Ed)

Filed under ccourses

Co-Learning: An Act of Creation

I've finally figured out what a connected course is. And how different it is from an online course. I'll start by talking about what a connected course isn't. And then move on.

Connected Courses are not:
-A way of streamlining learning to make things more convenient for professors.
-Automated content delivery
-Scaled content delivery

My experience is that these are things you'll find in most online courses. A busy professor spends some time automating her class as he does in everything research-related. (Side note: automation doesn't always save you real time). After all, the First Law of Thermodynamics hasn't changed in centuries, why should how we present it? So we get some recorded lectures, slap together some homework assignments and reading materials, and we have an online class. I never have to give a lecture about the First Law again, sweet. Oh, you want me to handle bigger classes? No problem, recorded lectures don't lose impact when there are more students watching them.

Ok, let's be fair. There are some really great online classes, not everyone approaches them with my sarcastic attitude above.

Connected Course are an Act of Creation:
The distinction between an "Online Course" and a "Connected Course" for me is the co-learning environment. Its a question of motivation (more on that later). Co-learning environments blur the line between teacher and student. Its the TEACHER that approaches the course from a different perspective. And that changes how the students approach the course as well. Rather than throwing a bunch of materials out onto the web for students to consume and REGURGITATE in appropriate chunks, the teacher and students enter into an environment marked by DIGESTION that leads to CREATION. A result of a co-learning environment is the production of artifacts beyond a stack of graded assignments. The teacher recognizes the ability of the student body to contribute to his or her own learning. And inspires the students to do it.

A Challenge to Co-Learning:
The challenge of a co-learning experience is that it requires the investment of the students not only in the digestion of content, but in the creation of it. It's not enough to sit back and consume the information that's presented. And that can be challenging to achieve.

You may note that I should be pointing that last statement in the mirror. And I am. I've been faithfully watching the #ccourses video sessions, reading the online materials, and.... thinking about them.

Why? Same reason I use for most excuses in my life: I'm busy trying to write a dissertation. "Yeah, we get it."

I recently read an article about "The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation." Guess what it said:

WRITE!
If you spend your time trying to get the whole story together before you start writing, you'll severely hamstring yourself. I've spent months now trying to "figure out what my data means," and the best ways to present it. The problem is that:
"The writing is both the learning device and the outcome."
-Tony Brainstorms, on the day he finally got it.

We learn through writing. And we learn writing. OK, now change "writing" to "co-learning community engagement". Watching the class is not participating in the true learning objective. So, I guess now that I know that I've learned the real learning objective? Hmmm.....

The point I'm really trying to make is that motivation is critical. I've been motivated to do a great many things for a great many reasons. In a connected course the real challenge is how to motivate the students properly to engage with the co-learning act of creation.

Summing Up:
A connected course is a co-learning environment that often uses the internet as a tool for connection and creating spaces of shared learning and creation. If we shift our thinking away from "online classes" as tools for saving the professors' time and towards a student-centered approach, we will find ourselves leveraging the power of the web to build powerful connections that reach far beyond the course and produce new knowledge along the way. Co-learning is the act of creation, rather than regurgitation, of content.

A big challenge that I've experienced in this type of course is motivation. Not a lack of motivation in general, but a challenge in prioritizing my efforts in a course with no grades.

Ohhh boy, we've just hit on something....its time for another grading/motivation discussion, and I can't wait.

Thanks for tuning in.

(very soon, you'll find a follow-on post related to motivation in co-learning environments, cheers)

Comments Off on Co-Learning: An Act of Creation

Filed under ccourses

Co-Learning: An Act of Creation

I've finally figured out what a connected course is. And how different it is from an online course. I'll start by talking about what a connected course isn't. And then move on.

Connected Courses are not:
-A way of streamlining learning to make things more convenient for professors.
-Automated content delivery
-Scaled content delivery

My experience is that these are things you'll find in most online courses. A busy professor spends some time automating her class as he does in everything research-related. (Side note: automation doesn't always save you real time). After all, the First Law of Thermodynamics hasn't changed in centuries, why should how we present it? So we get some recorded lectures, slap together some homework assignments and reading materials, and we have an online class. I never have to give a lecture about the First Law again, sweet. Oh, you want me to handle bigger classes? No problem, recorded lectures don't lose impact when there are more students watching them.

Ok, let's be fair. There are some really great online classes, not everyone approaches them with my sarcastic attitude above.

Connected Course are an Act of Creation:
The distinction between an "Online Course" and a "Connected Course" for me is the co-learning environment. Its a question of motivation (more on that later). Co-learning environments blur the line between teacher and student. Its the TEACHER that approaches the course from a different perspective. And that changes how the students approach the course as well. Rather than throwing a bunch of materials out onto the web for students to consume and REGURGITATE in appropriate chunks, the teacher and students enter into an environment marked by DIGESTION that leads to CREATION. A result of a co-learning environment is the production of artifacts beyond a stack of graded assignments. The teacher recognizes the ability of the student body to contribute to his or her own learning. And inspires the students to do it.

A Challenge to Co-Learning:
The challenge of a co-learning experience is that it requires the investment of the students not only in the digestion of content, but in the creation of it. It's not enough to sit back and consume the information that's presented. And that can be challenging to achieve.

You may note that I should be pointing that last statement in the mirror. And I am. I've been faithfully watching the #ccourses video sessions, reading the online materials, and.... thinking about them.

Why? Same reason I use for most excuses in my life: I'm busy trying to write a dissertation. "Yeah, we get it."

I recently read an article about "The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation." Guess what it said:

WRITE!
If you spend your time trying to get the whole story together before you start writing, you'll severely hamstring yourself. I've spent months now trying to "figure out what my data means," and the best ways to present it. The problem is that:
"The writing is both the learning device and the outcome."
-Tony Brainstorms, on the day he finally got it.

We learn through writing. And we learn writing. OK, now change "writing" to "co-learning community engagement". Watching the class is not participating in the true learning objective. So, I guess now that I know that I've learned the real learning objective? Hmmm.....

The point I'm really trying to make is that motivation is critical. I've been motivated to do a great many things for a great many reasons. In a connected course the real challenge is how to motivate the students properly to engage with the co-learning act of creation.

Summing Up:
A connected course is a co-learning environment that often uses the internet as a tool for connection and creating spaces of shared learning and creation. If we shift our thinking away from "online classes" as tools for saving the professors' time and towards a student-centered approach, we will find ourselves leveraging the power of the web to build powerful connections that reach far beyond the course and produce new knowledge along the way. Co-learning is the act of creation, rather than regurgitation, of content.

A big challenge that I've experienced in this type of course is motivation. Not a lack of motivation in general, but a challenge in prioritizing my efforts in a course with no grades.

Ohhh boy, we've just hit on something....its time for another grading/motivation discussion, and I can't wait.

Thanks for tuning in.

(very soon, you'll find a follow-on post related to motivation in co-learning environments, cheers)

Comments Off on Co-Learning: An Act of Creation

Filed under ccourses

The Open Academic Journal


Hi everyone. This is a short one, but I'm riled up and need to share. I recognize that I am late to the conversation and that there are probably MANY facets of this that I am not considering. For all of you who are engaged with this issue already, keep fighting the good fight. And sign me up.

Disclaimers aside, my experience watching a documentary about Aaron Swartz has me deeply moved.

WHAT ARE WE THINKING!?

Here in academics a large portion of our productivity is measured in publications. Conference presentations, conference papers, peer-reviewed journals, books. The publications that I have produced will cost a person $35-85 per copy (no, I don't get any of that). In order to be published I sign away my copyrights to the publisher, and they charge what "the market" allows them for copies. 

Here's the crazy part: ALL of my research was/is funded ultimately by US tax dollars. You read that right. You (presuming you're a US taxpayer) supported my, and many other, research programs. But in order to access the results YOU HAVE TO PAY MORE! Or become a "member" of a university community (i.e. enroll and pay tuition). Even if my research were privately funded we have some serious questions to answer regarding the function of University Research.

The easy way to say this is that many people have zero chance of accessing the bulk of human thought, research, and development. Ever. Would you pay $85 for an article you might be interested in? What if you lived in a country where you were lucky to make that amount of money in a month?

Someday I hope to hold a position as a professor. I have a long and storied set of reasons for this career choice that you can find hidden in my other posts, or in a unified post someday (if I ever manage to put words to all of this at once). In order to earn that position I'll need to produce a number of peer-reviewed research publications.

To become a professor at a educational institution I'll need to produce new thought, new technology, and/or advance the human condition in some way. I'll then need to take this contribution and write about it. Then I'll hand it off to a series of (much appreciated) peer-reviewers. After we've got it worked out and perfect,

I'll hide it forever, unless you pay my publisher lots of money.

Aaron, I'm sorry. And I promise I'll do what I can. More will come of this.

Comments Off on The Open Academic Journal

Filed under ccourses

The Open Academic Journal


Hi everyone. This is a short one, but I'm riled up and need to share. I recognize that I am late to the conversation and that there are probably MANY facets of this that I am not considering. For all of you who are engaged with this issue already, keep fighting the good fight. And sign me up.

Disclaimers aside, my experience watching a documentary about Aaron Swartz has me deeply moved.

WHAT ARE WE THINKING!?

Here in academics a large portion of our productivity is measured in publications. Conference presentations, conference papers, peer-reviewed journals, books. The publications that I have produced will cost a person $35-85 per copy (no, I don't get any of that). In order to be published I sign away my copyrights to the publisher, and they charge what "the market" allows them for copies. 

Here's the crazy part: ALL of my research was/is funded ultimately by US tax dollars. You read that right. You (presuming you're a US taxpayer) supported my, and many other, research programs. But in order to access the results YOU HAVE TO PAY MORE! Or become a "member" of a university community (i.e. enroll and pay tuition). Even if my research were privately funded we have some serious questions to answer regarding the function of University Research.

The easy way to say this is that many people have zero chance of accessing the bulk of human thought, research, and development. Ever. Would you pay $85 for an article you might be interested in? What if you lived in a country where you were lucky to make that amount of money in a month?

Someday I hope to hold a position as a professor. I have a long and storied set of reasons for this career choice that you can find hidden in my other posts, or in a unified post someday (if I ever manage to put words to all of this at once). In order to earn that position I'll need to produce a number of peer-reviewed research publications.

To become a professor at a educational institution I'll need to produce new thought, new technology, and/or advance the human condition in some way. I'll then need to take this contribution and write about it. Then I'll hand it off to a series of (much appreciated) peer-reviewers. After we've got it worked out and perfect,

I'll hide it forever, unless you pay my publisher lots of money.

Aaron, I'm sorry. And I promise I'll do what I can. More will come of this.

Comments Off on The Open Academic Journal

Filed under ccourses

Time Travel, Recursion, and The Best Instructions Ever

Dedicated to Maurice F Durfee and Paul Montalbano,

January, 2014

So I started writing this post in August (2013). Then the busyness of the Fall Semester hit, and this went on hold. So before I get rolling, I'd like to take this chance to invite you to reflect with me a bit. Picture yourself in August. Where were you? What were you doing? Did you have a good summer? In August, where did you picture you'd be at this point? Are you there?

I'd just come off a summer filled with long work hours at the lab. Anyone who's tried to earn a PhD through an experimental study can probably sympathize. Lots of building, wiring, running hoses, debugging acquisition code, and making plans. At the time, I didn't feel like I had much to show for it all. The project was behind, the experiments weren't run, and when asked the question, "When are you graduating?", I pushed my guess back yet again (come on May 2014!).

Now, I'm happy to say that things are on track. The experiment is working well (knocking on everything made of wood around me), data is flowing, analysis is happening, and I'm actually where I'd hoped to be! In addition, I'm working half time with a group on campus hoping to lead the Learning Revolution, rethinking what we're doing in higher education, and how we might do better than ever before.

May, 2014

So I resumed writing this post in January (2014). Then the busyness of the Spring Semester hit, and this went on hold. So before I get rolling, I'd like to take this chance to invite you to reflect with me a bit. Picture yourself in January. Where were you? What were you doing? Did you have a good Fall? In January, where did you picture you'd be at this point? Are you there?

I'd just come off a Fall filled with long work hours at the lab. Anyone who's tried to earn a PhD through an experimental study can probably sympathize. Lots of building, wiring, running hoses, debugging acquisition code, and making plans. At the time, I didn't feel like I had much to show for it all. The project was behind, the experiments weren't run, and when asked the question, "When are you graduating?", I pushed my guess back yet again (come on December 2014!).

Now, I'm happy to say that things are on track. The experiment is working well (knocking on everything made of wood around me), data is flowing, analysis is happening, and I'm actually where I'd hoped to be! Unfortunately, I'm no longer working half time with a group on campus hoping to lead the Learning Revolution, rethinking what we're doing in higher education, and how we might do better than ever before. I hope I can get back there some day.

September, 2014

So I (re)resumed writing this post in May (2014). Then the busyness of the Summer hit, and this went on hold. So before I get rolling, I'd like to take this chance to invite you to reflect with me a bit. Picture yourself in May. Where were you? What were you doing? Did you have a good Spring? In May, where did you picture you'd be at this point? Are you there?

I'd just come off a Spring filled with long work hours at the lab. Anyone who's tried to earn a PhD through an experimental study can probably sympathize. Lots of building, wiring, running hoses, debugging acquisition code, and making plans. At the time, I didn't feel like I had much to show for it all. The project was behind, the experiments weren't run, and when asked the question, "When are you graduating?", I simply responded by asking "How much do you weigh?" (both questions evoke the same self-conscious feelings). (come on December 2014!)

Now, I'm happy to say that things are. The experiment worked, data flowed, analysis is happening, and I'm actually writing. Did I measure everything I hoped for? No. Did I get enough? I think so. Will my dissertation change the world? Probably not. But I will. Fortunately, I'm back spending some time with a group on campus leading the Learning Revolution, rethinking what we're doing in higher education, and how we might do better than ever before. Best 3 hours of my week.

RECURSION

Believe it or not, there is a day coming in which I will have earned my PhD. I must be getting close, because I've finally realized that my degree has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH JET ENGINES. As with all meaningful endeavors, plans change and iterations happen. The thing we are left with at the end is usually far different from what we pictured at the beginning. ITS OK.

Believe it or not, there is a day coming in which I will have finished this post. I must be getting close, because I've finally realized that this post has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. As with all meaningful endeavors, plans change and iterations happen. The thing we are left with at the end is usually far different from what we pictured at the beginning. ITS OK.


So what have been trying to say to you for the last year, but never quite getting to it? Here goes nothing...


The Best Instructions Ever

The introduction to The New Media Reader gives two instructions to anyone reading the text:

"Make Something. Rethink Something."
Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort
The New Media Reader: A User's Manual

This is the business of being human. This is our legacy. This is our dream. This is why we talk to each other. This is why we go to work. This is why we go to school. Its scary. Its messy. We won't get it right the first time. But we will get it right.

Along with my friends and colleagues in the Connected Courses (a connected course about connected courses), we are engaging in one of my favorite recursive, meta activities. We're trying to:
Make new ways to make things. Rethink the way we rethink things.

"The End of Higher Education?" 
End. [end]. noun. an intention or aim

This is where we started. What is the End of higher Education? I believe its actually very simple, recursive, meta.

The End of Education is to Make Something, Rethink Something. The End of Education is to Make new ways to make new things, Rethink the way we rethink things.

If someone ever asks me, "How do you get a PhD?" I'll answer, "By figuring out how to get a PhD." Finally I know I'm ready for my final degree. Now I know The End.


"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Albert Einstein

Comments Off on Time Travel, Recursion, and The Best Instructions Ever

Filed under ccourses

Time Travel, Recursion, and The Best Instructions Ever

Dedicated to Maurice F Durfee and Paul Montalbano,

January, 2014

So I started writing this post in August (2013). Then the busyness of the Fall Semester hit, and this went on hold. So before I get rolling, I'd like to take this chance to invite you to reflect with me a bit. Picture yourself in August. Where were you? What were you doing? Did you have a good summer? In August, where did you picture you'd be at this point? Are you there?

I'd just come off a summer filled with long work hours at the lab. Anyone who's tried to earn a PhD through an experimental study can probably sympathize. Lots of building, wiring, running hoses, debugging acquisition code, and making plans. At the time, I didn't feel like I had much to show for it all. The project was behind, the experiments weren't run, and when asked the question, "When are you graduating?", I pushed my guess back yet again (come on May 2014!).

Now, I'm happy to say that things are on track. The experiment is working well (knocking on everything made of wood around me), data is flowing, analysis is happening, and I'm actually where I'd hoped to be! In addition, I'm working half time with a group on campus hoping to lead the Learning Revolution, rethinking what we're doing in higher education, and how we might do better than ever before.

May, 2014

So I resumed writing this post in January (2014). Then the busyness of the Spring Semester hit, and this went on hold. So before I get rolling, I'd like to take this chance to invite you to reflect with me a bit. Picture yourself in January. Where were you? What were you doing? Did you have a good Fall? In January, where did you picture you'd be at this point? Are you there?

I'd just come off a Fall filled with long work hours at the lab. Anyone who's tried to earn a PhD through an experimental study can probably sympathize. Lots of building, wiring, running hoses, debugging acquisition code, and making plans. At the time, I didn't feel like I had much to show for it all. The project was behind, the experiments weren't run, and when asked the question, "When are you graduating?", I pushed my guess back yet again (come on December 2014!).

Now, I'm happy to say that things are on track. The experiment is working well (knocking on everything made of wood around me), data is flowing, analysis is happening, and I'm actually where I'd hoped to be! Unfortunately, I'm no longer working half time with a group on campus hoping to lead the Learning Revolution, rethinking what we're doing in higher education, and how we might do better than ever before. I hope I can get back there some day.

September, 2014

So I (re)resumed writing this post in May (2014). Then the busyness of the Summer hit, and this went on hold. So before I get rolling, I'd like to take this chance to invite you to reflect with me a bit. Picture yourself in May. Where were you? What were you doing? Did you have a good Spring? In May, where did you picture you'd be at this point? Are you there?

I'd just come off a Spring filled with long work hours at the lab. Anyone who's tried to earn a PhD through an experimental study can probably sympathize. Lots of building, wiring, running hoses, debugging acquisition code, and making plans. At the time, I didn't feel like I had much to show for it all. The project was behind, the experiments weren't run, and when asked the question, "When are you graduating?", I simply responded by asking "How much do you weigh?" (both questions evoke the same self-conscious feelings). (come on December 2014!)

Now, I'm happy to say that things are. The experiment worked, data flowed, analysis is happening, and I'm actually writing. Did I measure everything I hoped for? No. Did I get enough? I think so. Will my dissertation change the world? Probably not. But I will. Fortunately, I'm back spending some time with a group on campus leading the Learning Revolution, rethinking what we're doing in higher education, and how we might do better than ever before. Best 3 hours of my week.

RECURSION

Believe it or not, there is a day coming in which I will have earned my PhD. I must be getting close, because I've finally realized that my degree has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH JET ENGINES. As with all meaningful endeavors, plans change and iterations happen. The thing we are left with at the end is usually far different from what we pictured at the beginning. ITS OK.

Believe it or not, there is a day coming in which I will have finished this post. I must be getting close, because I've finally realized that this post has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. As with all meaningful endeavors, plans change and iterations happen. The thing we are left with at the end is usually far different from what we pictured at the beginning. ITS OK.


So what have been trying to say to you for the last year, but never quite getting to it? Here goes nothing...


The Best Instructions Ever

The introduction to The New Media Reader gives two instructions to anyone reading the text:

"Make Something. Rethink Something."
Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort
The New Media Reader: A User's Manual

This is the business of being human. This is our legacy. This is our dream. This is why we talk to each other. This is why we go to work. This is why we go to school. Its scary. Its messy. We won't get it right the first time. But we will get it right.

Along with my friends and colleagues in the Connected Courses (a connected course about connected courses), we are engaging in one of my favorite recursive, meta activities. We're trying to:
Make new ways to make things. Rethink the way we rethink things.

"The End of Higher Education?" 
End. [end]. noun. an intention or aim

This is where we started. What is the End of higher Education? I believe its actually very simple, recursive, meta.

The End of Education is to Make Something, Rethink Something. The End of Education is to Make new ways to make new things, Rethink the way we rethink things.

If someone ever asks me, "How do you get a PhD?" I'll answer, "By figuring out how to get a PhD." Finally I know I'm ready for my final degree. Now I know The End.


"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Albert Einstein

Comments Off on Time Travel, Recursion, and The Best Instructions Ever

Filed under ccourses