Faculty: Living to Love Learning

The word faculty is described by the Oxford English dictionary as ‘The power of doing anything; a kind of ability; branch of art or science; and conferred power, authority, privilege’.  To be considered a faculty member one should have applied their power to do anything in a way that refined a specific ‘kind of ability’ and now be cognizant and respectful of the ‘Conferred power, authority, and privilege’ that come with the position and title.

Your power and authority are derived from the respect that students, other faculty, and society give to people in your position.  Your privilege is the freedom to develop the respected individual into a member of society who…

…inspires others to pursue their passions
…is an expert in their field
…loves learning with contagious ferocity
…pushes others to discover their potential
…can be a mentor to their students
…embodies what they teach and preach
…is a role model on how to live

…is willing to question how things are done in an effort to improve the very systems within which we all operate.  A Faculty Member is an individual component of a larger organization that is instrumental in preparing young people to become active and educated global citizens.  Every Faculty Member should be actively and regularly engaged in asking themselves…Are my students impacted in the way I am intending and how are those impacts helping my students develop into better global participants.

Getting it Right

An excerpt from the introduction to Tim Berners-Lee’s The World-Wide Web in “The New Media Reader:

“The ACM Hypertext conference was probably right to reject Tim Berners-Lee’s paper about the Web in 1991, reducing the announcement of this earth-shattering system to a poster session, just as it was probably right for the technologically inferior Web to eat alive those “superior” hypertext systems talked about at the ACM Hypertext conference”

A friend and coworker who is pursuing a PhD is Mechanical Engineering made a admission to me that what shocked him the most about the conference he just attended was the fact there was lots of nodding, agreeing, and smiling from the general audiences when it was wildly apparent to those who chose to look that 95% of the participants had no idea about how to even begin following the topics that were being presented.

Before hearing this anecdote I was wondering how any panel, conference, committee, or review panel could miss something that would have as large of an impact as the Web.  After reading Tim Berners-Lee’s paper I no longer fault the judges.

How difficult is it to convey the potential of your black box to an audience and panel of biased judges who all bring their own agendas to the table?  Can you ever hope to convey the potential importance of what you have discovered under a time constraint to people whose time is limited?  It’s hard and it seems that the most effective way to tell them is to show them and simply “make” the web the “superior” hypertext system.  It makes you question the ability for the Panel of Judges to actually judge.  Is it possible for them to peer into the potential and accurately assign the awards to the deserving party or does the badge of honor in academia simply go to the student who best fit the criteria.

When you are graded for compliance with the rubric your scope is limited and you are penalized for extraneous exploration.  Can you create a rubric for real innovation?  Some are trying.  Is creating the rubric counter-productive for encouraging innovation?  Can we really quantify innovation or just the steps that have seemed to historically lead to innovation and will the next big leap follow those steps?

Rules: the TWO Sets

This world in which we lived is governed by a set of rules.  Or perhaps more accurately two different set of rules.  The first set of rules is a set of facts that we have come to understand about the physical world in which we exist.  These are often called the Laws of Nature and they include: “Newton’s law of gravitation, his three laws of motion, the ideal gas laws, and the four laws of thermodynamics to name a few.  The second set of the rules are the ones that we have structured to govern society.  This second set of rules, I would like to believe, have been created in an attempt to help us live more harmoniously with one another.

There is a difference between the two.  The first set has been discovered, and our attempts to more deeply understand this set while occasionally transforming our understanding of how the world works ultimately bring us to a more complete image of how the universe works.  These rules are hard and un-yielding (unless we are pushing our understanding of them).  For example if don’t respect the power of a river you might try to cross a swift deep river on foot.  If you aren’t aware of foot entrapment and get snagged by an undercut rock or hole you might be quickly pushed under the surface.  The river doesn’t care who you are, what you have done, or what you plan to do.  She doesn’t care that you might have a family at home who depends on you to bring food back to the table.  You didn’t respect her power and now you are in a deadly situation that will resolve itself in minutes without some type of outside help.

The second set of rules have been created in an attempt to govern, control, direct, manage, organize, simplify, and administrate  for the convenience of all those involved in the system.  As our understanding of the world evolves our second set of laws seem to expand, intertwine, and transform into an ever more complicated set of “Laws” that are enforced by humans.  These rules can be broken by some but not by others, are enforced at times and not at others.  This is essential because our attempt to develop an inclusive set of rules is always limiting and there are exceptions.  When you but up against these laws a genuine smile and honest interest in the person across the counter may determine whether your parking ticket is enforced or waved.  Never forget that the person on the other side of the counter is just that a “person” yet they have the power in that situation.

In Simak’s “Immigrant” earth finds itself encountering another race that is just a bit ahead of us humans and a lucky few are invited to join them on their home planet where a human quickly finds their understanding of how the world works unraveling at the edges.  The Kimonians seem to have gained a much deeper understanding of the first set of rules and in doing so have been able to eliminate many of the second set, or at least on a level that people interacting with our current understanding can grasp.  In this world the human is required to live by the physical laws of nature but this time another tangible being can occasionally hold the strings on when to enforce our limited understanding of those laws and when to intervene in an attempt to maintain a more harmonious Kimonity.

It leaves a human wondering how he could gain an understanding at that level.  It could be learned, perhaps it’s a current limit on our ability to perceive.

“But it wouldn’t be a school—at least not the kind of school he’d ever known before”

“You’ll want to get up early” said the cabinet “so you aren’t late to school”

One Buttock Learning

In the widespread discussion of educational reform perhaps something we want to create is “One Buttock Learning” if you don’t know what I’m talking about you should explore Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk.

Ivan Illich in his work Deschooling Society brings to light some of the issues with the current educational system

“Everywhere this same curriculum instills in the pupil the myth that increased production will provide a better life”

In an attempt to protect this myth perhaps the teachers inadvertently dangle the secret bag in front of their pupils.

“Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets.”

What is great is that Ivan Illich goes further to suggest that there may be a way to unravel the bag earlier such that it is no longer required as a motivator in the schooling system.

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.”

A system like this would need to be integrated into all aspects of a life.


The Nature of Discomfort

The majority of Humans trend towards comfort.  This makes sense.  We build houses so we don’t have to sleep outside in a rainstorm.  Many houses are elaborate but at their base level their purpose is to provide shelter, one of Maslow’s basic needs.  A shelter is something that offers protection from the elements, a dry and warm place to sleep at night.   It should be a place to recover from the day’s adventures, a place to relax, a place to be comfortable.  These additional functions of a shelter are dependent on having something to recover from.  A mildly uncomfortable experience of my own is included below in an attempt to visualize the importance of exposing yourself to discomfort on a regular basis.   DSC_0218

It is the view from the top of the mountain that is remembered, not the strenuous climb to reach it.  Yet without the struggle you can never experience the view.  If we forget to leave the comfort of our shelters we will forget the reasons the struggle is worth it.  We will forget what the view from the peak looks like.  We might become content with a picture in a magazine or on a screen.  We might miss out on the chance to uncover a new perspective.  Our homes are comfortable places and they should be, but without something uncomfortable to recover from their function may become irrelevant.

Perhaps our educational systems should be a series of uncomfortable experiences that build on one another in an attempt to uncover new perspectives for the pupil.  Perhaps the system should be something that lets you acclimate at your own pace yet encourages embracing the uncomfortable experiences in an effort to grow the mind and the body.  To build a muscle you must tear some of the fibers on a molecular level.  If the tear was of the right magnitude the fibers heal stronger.  If it was too great it might cause permanent damage.  The trick is finding the right level of stress to expose to the muscle in order to achieve maximum growth.  Do our minds operate in a similar way?

The Contents of this package are….

…Liable to break or be broken…

Like a twig, your mother’s prized china, or your child’s toothpick art project

…Easily snapped or shattered…

Like a birds wing, a wine glass, or the window when introduced to the baseball.

…weak, perishable, easily destroyed…

Like flesh, tropical fruit, or important documents too close to a bonfire.

…in need of special treatment.

Why label packages this way?  What is it we want to happen with the contents?

I would argue that the labeler is interested in ensuring that the contents of this package reach the intended destination Just as They Are.  No rough handling, nothing should change, extra care should be taken to avoid sudden shocks, unpleasant experiences, or generally harsh conditions.  A great goal if the contents of the package are a glass vase you are sending to your grandmother but what if that you have labeled as “FRAGILE” is a bit less physical.

Why has the graphic of a globe been included in the label?  Could it be possible that we are considering all things on our globe fragile?  I don’t think so but it brings to mind several points that Taleb is making in his book Antifragile.  Dr. Gardner Campbell is responsible for introducing me to the book and while I am at the beginning I am so far struck by the discussion of the special treatment something that is fragile gets and the potential that our behavior around those fragile items, ideas, topics, systems, are inadvertently preventing them from growing.  He is exploring the value or shocks in the system and the fact that systems that respond well to random, unpredictable events are actually “Anti-fragile”.  They are the opposite of fragile in part because of their ability to morph, adapt, change, and let parts perish so that new things can take their place.

I wonder what aspects of daily life on which we have stamped the red label and if some of them could perhaps benefit from unexpected shock, blow, or catastrophe as considered from a particular perspective.   Do you have anything you consider to be Fragile?  Is it imperative that that item reach its final destination completely unchanged? If not then why have we labeled it as such?


As a veteran of the Virginia Tech Engineering Program I had the chance to battle amongst the trees of the Tech’s Curriculum for Liberal Education (CLE).  Of the seven arenas’ only four were not spelled out in my Enlistment | Contract and I am proud to say that I took full advantage of my 16 credits of freedom.  I chose my optional skirmishes as follows:

COMM 1014 (3cr. Area 3), ECON 2005 (3cr. Area 3), TA 2014 (3cr. Area 2), FA 2004 (1cr. Area 6), NR 3954 (3cr. Area 3 & 3cr. Area 2))

These are simply a set of symbols which contain little to no meaning to you as the reader unless you happened to have taken one of these courses.

The CLE’s are described as “Comprising 25 – 30% of an undergraduate’s credits toward graduation” and if the requirements for each subcategory are summed you will uncover that 36 credits are required to complete the CLE’s.  I wonder if this might be a bit misleading because while 36 credits make up 28% of the Mechanical Engineering’s required 130 credits I only consider that 16 of those credits as pushed me outside of my required course load.

That means that only 12% of my education here at Tech was devoted to this “Vital Component of my undergraduate education”.  What do they mean by Vital? How important is it to develop into a well-rounded professional when trying to get employed or is it more important to do a deep dive in your subject area?  I didn’t know so I’d thought I’d look around.

Here is what I discovered:

Credit Hours




Scientific   Reasoning and Discovery

Area 4


Writing and Discourse

Area 1


Ideas, Cultural Traditions, and Values

Area 2


Society and Human Behavior

Area 3


Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning

Area 6


Critical Issues in a Global Context

Area 7


Creativity and the Aesthetic Experience

Area 6

Certain Areas are weighted more heavily than others.  Why is only 1 cr. committed to creativity and eight times that to Scientific Reasoning?

 I uncovered two sites that masquerade as the homepage for a committee known as the UCCLE and discovered a schedule of meetings and list of minutes indicating that there is a “strong desire for ( A complete change) –to consider where the university might be going in the future and fundamentally restructure the CLE in accordance with that future trajectory.”

In an attempt to uncover what the university intends to do during this change I started to explore some meeting minutes and discovered that the postings for those minutes are not up to date on either site.  The first shows the last entry in 2011 and the later in October of 2012.  I am curious as to what has been going on since their October meeting and why I have had trouble tracking it down.  I guess time will tell what the Controllable Learning Experiment decides the future of Virginia Tech’s Curriculum for Liberal Education looks like.

A Future Project

There is a project that has set out to Revolutionize Education.  They started in 2011 and they seem to be headed in the right direction.  The Future Project as they call themselves believes that in order to reverse the educational crisis we as a country need to refocus our view on the real problem.

The crisis they point out is that:

“70% of students in this nation feel school isn’t relevant to their lives. One in every four drop out. And worse, three in four check out.”

If 25% of the students are leaving the school system for good and the other 75% have checked out then I would agree that we have a problem on our hands.  In fact it leaves you wondering who the 7.2 million teachers in this country have left to pass on their knowledge too.  This project offers a potential solution to the crisis that revolves around reenergizing the school instead of rebuilding it from the ground up.  Their hope, as I understand it, is to instead rebuild the school from within by empowering the students and focusing on the real problem.

“We trusted our gut that the real problem was the way we think about and structure school – as places of achievement, not aspiration; exams, not exposure; grades, not growth; performance, not passion.”

When achievement, exams, grades, and performance are considered as a representation of what schools are made up of they look like shallow metrics when compared against aspiration, exposure, growth, and passion.  If you had to choose four words you would want to describe the place that your child will spend over 157,680 hours of their life which ones would they be?