“Make Something Interesting”

This is the challenge we each face as future faculty. I truly appreciated Seth Godin’s manifesto and hope that I can meet his challenge. In the field of public administration, I am often surrounded by others who want to measure the value of work on the cost-benefit basis. I think there is far more to governing people than just a cost-benefit. Fortunately, I subscribe to a worldview that allows me to accept other ways of being and thinking. So the notion of leading a class or seminar through an exploration of ideas that allows them to connect the dots is thrilling. I wrote earlier in the semester that I wished there was a place to practice some of the teaching methods we are discussing. Now, I realize that is neither necessary nor sufficient to inspire learning. Being present in the moment and guiding the exploratory process of learning is really the key to inspiring learning. “Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is priceless” Many have identified the challenge with this approach is getting it through the gate-keepers of the institutions at which we might teach. I agree, it is daunting to think about taking a “radical” approach to education. But it is more important to comply for the sake of a tenure position or to inspire learning. As Palmer argues we are the institution. If we don’t speak up and spark the interest and intelligence of our students, then nothing will ever change. That to me is a sad state of affairs.

Not Disney’s Brave

The way in which Arao and Clemens frame the issues around social justice dialogues as brave spaces was inspiring. I have for most of my adult life, loathed facilitated dialogues that were meant to solve the problems of the world, professional standards of conduct, or long time family issues in a 60 – 90 minute talk session. It’s as if Walt Disney had bestowed the facilitators with some magical wand, and bippty-boppety-boo we all walk away with a new, enlightened and single correct view of the issue that would inevitably lead to happily-ever-after.  But real life exists well beyond the bounds of such a fantasy world, not everyone has nor should have the same “politically correct” view of the world, expecting such would be akin to expecting the Seven Dwarfs to be replicas of each other instead of the Grump, Happy, Sneezy, etc version that we know and love.

Now that criticism is not to say these dialogues are useless. We do in fact need to start having conversations, if as the authors noble cause suggests, we are cultivating a space that is conducive to new ways of seeing things. So we join Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass and have a spot of tea. Once there, I was surprised and contented with the framing of the “common ground rules”. In particular, the controversy with civility was a framing that I have never come across. Having my own experiences of frustration with the agree to disagree disengagement tactics, I was never able to unpack why those situations felt so disingenuous and unsatisfying. Now, finally, thanks to the authors, it makes sense… “the conversation is halted… [the issue] is left unexamined”. This new rule goes in Mary Poppins’ suitcase for future reference.


Hearing the Voices of Learners

Reflecting on the material for this week, it occurs to me there is much to these new ways of creating learning with our students. In previous discussions about mindfulness, the importance of being fully present in the learning experience with our students was critical to create the open spaces for learning to occur. This week’s focus on ways of learning outside the traditional lecture offers many different options for opening the learning space up and giving our students a genuine voice in the learning process. My concern is how to do it well. These are all very inspirational and motivating concepts, but where is the discussion about how to take these ideas and really turn them into a real classroom experience. The Reacting to the Past website (https://reacting.barnard.edu/curriculum) does offer a learning forum for teachers who want to or are implementing these games in their classes. But, I want to make sure my students are getting their money’s worth of learning in my classes. It would be nice if there was some sort of test lab where I could try out some concepts and learning models without making my students guinea pigs for a few semesters while I figure out what works or not. And how do we as junior faculty get a fundamentally different learning experience through the gatekeepers given what I perceive are the challenges of course approvals, meeting accreditation requirements and institutional cultures.


** After thought – this list of quotes are phrases that spoke to me, but I have not quite wrestled with, yet.

“The power and importance of play”

“from production to participation”

“collective expertise”

“embodied and situated experiences”

storytelling & exploration



Marilyn Lombardi’s article made me realize that I not only enjoy Public Administration as a field of study, but because it offers such amazing opportunities to create learning with my students in a way that is truly different from other courses (not to mention how different from how I learned). Now, I am imagining shaping an intro to public administration class that is scenario based, focused on learning the traditional theories in applied, contemporary situations. Maybe have students conduct analysis of actual policy issues for a real public officials or agencies. The logistics of such an assessment  process are still a bit fuzzy, but the potential is exciting.

I am also intrigued by the concept of co-creating assessment rubrics with the students. While it could be difficult in to do in a large undergrad class, I’m not convinced it is impossible. Of course, the smaller honors or graduate seminars are much easier to imagine. Has anyone tried this with their class? What are your experiences? What went well or not so well?

The research portfolio is a method that has recently been introduced for master’s students in our department. I am still getting my head around the dynamics of the portfolio, but the way in which Lombardi presents the concept, I wonder if we think about the portfolio not just as an assessment tool for a single class, but whether it could document the work throughout a student’s degree program. Would this long-term assessment give more meaning to the degree in totality?

Much ado about blogging

Whether I enjoy the process of blogging is quite irrelevant. I am not Tom Peters, and I seriously doubt I will remember the exact day of my first blog posting or what it was about. Nor do I believe blogging will become some life changing experience for me. I blog because I have to; I make no excuse for the blunt truth of the matter. That said here is my thought for the week.

I wonder if Scott Rosenburg would still consider blogs as transformative as the telephone, six and half years after his initial musings. He was somewhat dismissive of the genuine erosion of the role and importance of public spaces that resulted from the explosion of technology including the phone and in more recent years technology and social media. Robert Putnam has well documented the phenomena in his book Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000).

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Is blogging just another way to further separate ourselves from genuine dialogue with others about important issues?