How did we go from learning from the Cosmos to learning by blogging?

There was once a time, before the invention of any means of immortalizing thoughts (art, writing etc.), when our ancestors learned from looking up at the stars. Over eons, they figured out that patterns in stars in the sky coincided with seasons and passage of time on Earth. Discovery was guided by experience and knowledge was passed from generation to generation via word of mouth. All was well.

And then writing and art was invented and suddenly, our species had a way to preserve knowledge and immortalize it. This ushered in the golden age of discovery and learning and it lead to us being more aware of our place in the Cosmos. I have been re-watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and a theme central to the series is the story of human discovery and knowledge creation.

Over time, our learning became confined within four walls of a classroom and unless you were a Pauli, Tesla, Faraday or Einstien, trailblazing the path of knowledge creation, chances were, you were reading about their accomplishments in books. “Formal education” somehow got confused with a rigid system of portioned dispersal of knowledge rather than encouraging free thinking and creativity. This one-size-fits all approach governed the way people learned for generations.

Then, the internet was born and everything changed. Suddenly, we found all of our collective knowledge in the palm of our hands (barring access restrictions, of course) and technology is continuously changing the way we learn. In my relatively short life, I have seen the internet become as universal as radio and TV and the tools such as blogging become a platform for micro publishing our thoughts and ideas. I have seen course materials transform from monstrous textbooks to pdfs on an LMS such as Canvas. I can’t remember the last time I bought a textbook. It is not surprising that this is the 3rd time I have had to blog as requirements for a class. Although I don’t blog outside class, I understand why instructors choose it as a tool to encourage learning from peers and free thinking. It gives me great hope for the future as technology is increasingly used to supplement the deficiencies of traditional classroom instruction.

I am excited and hopeful about how technology is going to affect pedagogy in the next decade, while I prepare myself to be an academic (whatever that might mean).

Reflections on Publicness, Learning, and Teaching

Managing publicness of our roles as an instructor is a challenge. While this admittedly varies by discipline, those of us in the social sciences may use our own perspectives and publicness as opportunities to encourage more meaningful and personalized engagement with the materials. My first year of teaching I sought to restrain and tamp down my personality, but let my charisma, curiosity, and knowledge in the topics (national security and international security) shine through. Yet this year is a completely different scenario. I teach the Arab-Israeli Dispute. This topic has deep personal meaning forged from visceral firsthand experiences complemented by an array of connections to research on the politics of architecture, space, and aesthetics. As a result, I’ve refocused a bit to ensure my personality feeds into the charisma, curiosity, excitement, and knowledge of the topic.

I feel by injecting more of my personality and a heavier fingerprint on the syllabus I have created a more engaging, yet more personalized learning environment for the students in which they feel comfortable expressing themselves in their own voice. While this is apparent in the syllabus – I’ve framed the readings as “provocations” or “pieces of a mosaic that they are to assemble”, and this follows through into the classroom (we have brief reflection exercises and group discussions) and assignments (each of which they are tasked with reflecting on materials and their own position with regards to assembling the mosaic).

Yet the most important facet of this course is to connect their own agency to the creation of history. The last section – of four – is titled: “Israel, Palestine, and You”. This section is dedicated to reflecting on the ways more recent history has shaped their perspectives as well as to shore up the idea that they are participants in the writing of history. In other words, the goal is to shatter the notion that history is an abstract topic, but one in which they not only are shaped by, but simultaneously, have the capacity to shape. I will do this by bringing in (or skyping in) an Israeli and a Palestinian toward the end of the semester.

The hope is the students recognize that they are participants in history, and due to this – the hope is – it fuels their curiosity and confidence to think and engage with topics beyond the classroom not necessarily to become advocates for a cause, but as confident and knowledgeable advocates for themselves and their views.

This very much places students at the center of the learning experience similar to the “experiential learning” advocated by the likes of Kuh. This experiential learning is similar to “research”, but I think the research is more oriented toward their own reflections. It’s a two-way process – the more they encounter those different pieces of the mosaic, the more space they are given to reflect on and wrestle with questions and in so doing, they increasingly feel more comfortable with their own perspectives. This experiential learning approach is modeled on a trip or powerful experience in that the more impactful learning occurs afterward when the trip-goer reflects on their experience.

While I like the idea of introducing public writing, the topic of the course could lead to an unwillingness to be as assertive or comfortable with their posts as one may prefer. One of the common threads for all of the students in the course is that many claimed “they wanted to learn more to feel comfortable discussing the Arab-Israeli situation.” I think giving them some space – unimpeded both by their colleagues, and to a degree, me – is necessary for them to wrestle with the personal and wider ethical or theoretical questions.

This does not mean I do not believe in collaborative learning. Quite the opposite, I simply take the stance that collaborative and deeply personal learning share parts in the learning process, but – like different research methods – are more appropriate for difference scenarios and topics at different times.

In a similar vein, I agree that learning and education can be amplified by the reliance on technological instruments, I think the risk is that those devices become distractions in the learning experience. I can relate this to a personal experience.

While I think it is great to have a blog to share research, thoughts, or experiences, I think handing a paper to a colleague for review or having a chat over coffee – much like what Tim Hitchcock claims – are equally effective for developing and sharing research. The fear is that writing a blog entry can serve as a distraction – both in terms of news sites or other looming deadlines. I find that more often than not I do my best work, when I disconnect from the digital architecture within which our lives are embedded. I am not advocating a luddite position, I just think enough self-reflection helped me realize the importance of space, time, and attention in being the best scholar, teacher, and overall person I can be.

If you can’t find the sucker at the table, you’re it

A good portion of the work in any financial transaction is the valuation of the items or services being exchanged.  Basic economic theory teaches us that actors in a marketplace purchase things not because they are intrinsically valuable.  Rather, transactions occur because of the impression  of increased value — the belief that one is better off with the thing obtained than what was traded for it.This is one method of measuring value: the utility to an individual as seen through that person’s eyes.  

The somewhat infamous adage that adorns this blog entry’s title is a concise (albeit coarse) way to remind us of this facet of human nature. Value is constructed. And it is constructed in such a way that our minds can and often do play tricks on us. Who among us hasn’t been lead into disappointment by something we found ourselves so sternly desiring in a period leading up to our disillusionment?  

Our awareness of value is to be trusted only insofar as we might trust the personal  experiences that we draw on to  generate this awareness. These experiences form the basis of any valuation we can hope to generate. We cannot see past the veil that cloaks what we have not experienced.  

In an extended way, this is what Gardner Campbell argues for in his article on Networked Learning. Students cannot know what they have not been exposed to. So why not give them the maximal opportunity to learn by exposing them to a variety of educational opportunities that necessarily include a wider (and perhaps deeper)  set of experiences than the traditional classroom /  lecture based methods?

It sounds great. But perhaps, like the adage reminds us, we should spend some time reflecting on why this sounds appealing to us as educators? What metric do we use to evaluate Campbell’s assertions?  And what types of personal experiences lead us to form this metric?

If you are considering a PhD degree in pursuit of the goal of becoming a professor in order to educate, you have something very much in common with anyone else on the same path . You have acquired a great deal of schooling! So much so that you are now an expert of your chosen subject. In this way, it is likely that you are evaluating Campbell’s assertions in contrast to what you have personally experienced thus far in your education — what worked well for you or your peers, or what didn’t work so well.

But let us remember, just like the students bounded in their learning by a lack of experience with URL’s that Campbell describes in his article, we as the next generation of educators are bounded by what our educational systems have been able to collectively provide us.

And while approaches like Kun’s or Campbell’s might seem extraordinary, they (and the basis we used to evaluate them) are products of two major social revolutions in the occidental world: The creation of a “liberated” class in England during the period of the The Inclosure Acts, and the creation of the merchant class in the various city-states of the Italian Renaissance during the  waring states period. The combination of which, though time, gives rise to what we now know as the Industrial Revolution, modern capitalism, and democratic rule — all of which give rise to the need for, and the negative pressures on, higher education.

Most every academic is a scholastic product of this chain of events. The need for academics in society (both liberal and technical) are intrinsically linked with these historic events — you can’t have one without the other.  Our education as educators, and by extension, the pedagogy we employ — no mater radical it may seem — have for the most part been encapsulated by this impetus for an academic class and the education they can provide fro m the very beginning.

So if Campbell and Kun point out the need for students to be exposed to a broader range of scholastic experiences, I would carry this one further and call on my peers to take control of their range exposure to life experiences in an attempt to steer them away from traditional academic venues. That is, if we truly want to transform higher education and have a metric against which we can measure that transformation, we cannot expect this to happen in a classroom, or with methods that were developed classroom-adjacent.






Inspired on the First Day

Inspired by people and enabled by technology. I believe we’re looking at a revolution in academic information sharing.

A good research topic might be to trace the history of the Blog and describe its evolution as a platform for discourse. I had my first blog in 2002, when I was a high school student and the cool thing to do was create a space to talk about ourselves and life in general.

Fast forward 15 years and blogging is making waves as a cutting edge tool for learning and engagement in the classroom. This year alone, I have had blogging requirements in 3 courses I have taken and a class blog is being developed in the course I am a research assistant for. There are so many different applications for blogs: hobbyists, artists, and poets need a place to share as much as any academic driven by their research. Maybe blogging’s most important benefit is that it provides a space for people to be able to share, collaborate, and discuss the things in their lives that they are most passionate about, as Tim Hitchcock, academic humanist, writes in his article about new technologies like blogs and Twitter benefit the academia. Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin gives a compelling argument in under two minutes in this interview with Tom Peters: there is no better time to be writing than right now. We could all use the practice at communicating ourselves. With a little bit of time and effort, anyone can develop a rich and detailed website.

But it’s more than that, there are droves of experts who have made their life’s work communications and how to utilize them effectively in these modern times.

One of my biggest blogging challenges is myself. I get in my own way, second-guessing and attempting to perfect every piece of writing before publishing. I often spend so much time worrying over how I am trying to make a point, that I waste valuable working minutes (hours) staring at a computer screen and a pile of hand-written notes. I would be better off to just get the words and ideas out–no matter how rough they are–and then take time afterwards to refine. It’s easier to edit if you have something TO edit.

While reading Doug Belshaw’s Working openly on the web: a manifesto I was thinking about my own challenges to blogging and I was surprised because this manifesto was so simplistic. In 3 short points, Belshaw sets up a recipe for effective writing online: 1 control your own digital capital, 2 work openly, 3 create content that both humans and machines can read. Here I am worrying about style, and there are experts who are advising for writers to consider robots who mine the internet for content. And then this got me thinking: what does a robot look for, anyways?

The first day of class was an amazing experience. I am beginning to think of teaching in new ways and we haven’t even dug deep into the course content yet! I see the trend in academia emphasizing blogs more and more–as well as other technologies–instead of solely relying on peer-reviewed published works, I see academics using these platforms as a way to jump right to the point, sharing ideas as they happen in near-real time. There are new, innovative ways to share information and study that are hitting the market every day. Take for instance, a tool designed to annotate the web! With this program, collaborators can take and share notes and ideas right on a webpage! This is the real beauty of Networked Learning, where technology allows students, faculty, and learners alike to all come together in the same sphere to read, comment, write, and share ideas-digitally.

Networked learning: The sky’s the limit

With the development of technology and global networking, the teaching-learning process is no longer limited to text books and traditional blackboard classroom lectures. Learning and knowledge sharing in the modern world has evolved into higher dimensions-only the sky is the limit! Especially, higher education has greatly benefited from networked learning. Some examples include Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC), webinars, and web conferences, etc. Distance, age and time can no longer be considered barriers for people who have a desire for higher education.

Network learning can provide a greater platform and larger audience for those involved in scholarly pursuits. Through the means of social media and other web tools (to name a few: twitter, blogs, online chat forums, etc.) academics can establish a public identity and establish connections with peers and greater public. Through discussions and sharing of ideas, network learning can take the learning process to a whole new level.

Shown below is is a great illustration of the different facets of network learning in the 21st century. by Dr. Alec Couros.



The chain is long

We human are life long learners. From birth to death, we learn from our surroundings and the people we interact with. We need others for living so do for learning. Networked learning plays a big role for effective output in a classroom. We all should have a mindset to learn from others and help others in any academic setting. In a classroom, all the students are not same in talent. Learning by sharing would help a lot. Sharing while learning can help spreading skills among students in an interesting and effective way.

Research has become multidisciplinary in nature. Multidisciplinarity is the key of today’s research success.  For having a complete scenario of a problem and comprehensive solution, the different facets of it need investigation. In other words, multidisciplinary research has become Networked Research. Experts need to act together for finding a solution to a complex problem. In getting funding for a project, the project must be comprehensive, which calls for networked learning and research.

Bumper to Bumper Learning


A computer read me the essays for this week’s post while stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of Manhattan. A friend’s wedding took me nearly 500 miles from Blacksburg and I knew I would have to multi-task a bit to stay caught up with my coursework.  I discovered an app called VoxDox that takes article URLs and dictates them with a robotic voice reminiscent of Kraftwerk albums from the mid 1970’s. When a big build up at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel stopped me dead in my tracks I just pressed play, turned up the volume, and listened to a tinny rendition of Gardner Campbell’s “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” (2016) drown out the honking horns of far too many aggressive New York City drivers.

At first it felt incredible. While most people may have lost their cool in the two hours it took me to drive from Brooklyn to Jersey City, I had an enormous smile on my face the whole time. I was beating the system. I was getting work done while driving. Multi-tasking and simultaneously mastering the 21st century educational system. But as I swerved to avoid a massive bus that had to weave at weird angles through a grid-locked intersection, I realized my situation was not so ideal. I was distracted. I was absorbing about every other sentence at best. And I was about 90 minutes late for the rehearsal dinner.

And so I came to the conclusion that just like George Kuh had warned against in his monologue mentioned in the first paragraph of Campbell’s post, I had alienated myself from my own education. In my case it was not due to a desire to meet minimum syllabus requirements or to the university’s focus on developing core competencies. My alienation was due to the extreme accessibility of technology and an irreverence to the importance of contextual learning. I am continually amazed that we now have nearly unlimited and unrestricted access to information. But sometimes there is just too much of it and when we find it in the wrong places at the wrong times it can be very counterproductive. This is the crux of procrastination and the danger in distracted learning. It was also remarkably similar to my situation in traffic. Too many cars on insufficient roadways, ill-prepared to handle the flow of traffic.

I love the idea of networked learning. You can learn absolutely anything. You can learn it absolutely anywhere.  You can gain insights from brilliant minds regardless of physical proximity. It has the potential to transform access to knowledge and the collaborative creation of truth. It’s miraculous. But we all need to keep asking ourselves how much bandwidth we really have. When and where are we best suited to learn? In what ways can we best tap into these seemingly infinite wells of information? Every person has their preference and every person is different. The more we ask and probe the better chance we will have to design the next generation of adaptive platforms for networked learning that organize and present the material in more manageable, personalized ways.

How many uncoordinated honking cars can you really shove down the throat of the Holland Tunnel? But once those cars are connected and correlated, aware of the space around them and the best collective way to get to their respective destinations, there’s no slowing them down. The same goes for learning. Once we perfect networked learning and give it more awareness and intuition, there’s no bottleneck. Give it contextual awareness and make sure it is delivered in an appropriate place and an appropriate way for each individual and suddenly there’s no more concerns with bandwidth. There is just an awe-inpspiring capacity to drive forward the collective intelligence of the human race.

\\ For the record I had to re-read the essays before writing this post and I did indeed make it across the Hudson River in time for the wedding. //

Peanuts and barfblog: Influential in Networked Learning

Before classes began last Monday, I decided to take a pre-fall course where I traveled to various farms, processing facilities, and Agricultural Research Centers (ARECs) throughout Virginia. Being a bit new to the state, I thought what a better way to get more familiar with what Virginia agriculture has to offer than by being physically present and seeing it with my own eyes. As a Food Scientist, my classmates and I are often taught about how to excel within the food industry in a classroom setting, however, it is not uncommon for Food Science students to have never set foot in a food processing environment. Through this course I was able to take peanuts right off of the line and watch them be packaged into their containers. This was experiential learning at its finest. I probably got more of out of this three-day course than I would have a course lasting the duration of the semester. I was also able to meet Weed Scientists and Plant Pathologists that I otherwise would have probably never crossed paths with. These individuals serve as microbiologists in some capacities and therefore our work intersects quite frequently although collaboration is just beginning between departments.

Gardner Campbell’s “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” article connects both experiential learning with facets of the Wide World Web. I enjoyed the comment that “one does not need permission to make a hyperlink.” This is true. It takes intrinsic motivation to go out and do this on one’s own. Some things like this just can’t be taught and it often takes trial and error rather than reading from a manual.

My previous Principal Investigator (PI), Dr. Ben Chapman, runs a food safety blog titled barfblog. This blog works to communicate food safety news and information to the general public in a way in which is quick and easily understood. Dr. Chapman first began to construct the blog format when he was a student himself. Him and his PI have since grown the blog to have about 60,000 followers. The blog posts are converted into tweets and other forms of social media outputs. Dr. Chapman is able to use the analytics to support receiving funding to continue to run the blog as the way we communicate our research findings is changing. In return, Dr. Chapman always encouraged his students to pursue these types of their endeavors on their own. I currently write for the Institute of Food Technologist Student Association blog, Science Meets Food, and additionally contribute to Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience, a science-based seeks to workgroup that seeks to make food easier to understand for everybody in a fun, personable, and relatable manner using videos and social media platforms.

This might be one of my favorite statements of all times.

[“The best (and most successful) academics  are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.”]  -Tim Hitchcock

I will be honest in the fact that I Snapchat-ed this quote to my group of peers that I collaborative with on research. Even one of the individuals responded with “this is so us.” Hitchcock is spot on when he says that we become better and more successful researchers when we align with others. Through conference networking and being introduced via other students, we have created a small group of food science students involved in food safety work that remain virtually connected pretty much at all times. We have friends from across the nation and even in other parts of the world that I often call on when I get questions that I cannot answer.

I also enjoyed when Hitchcock acknowledged that social media provides an audience that is ready to “cite” your work. The work typically does itself when people become interested in the work you post on social media. Shares and retweets are simple and are almost second nature to the majority of individuals. Although Hitchcock seems to get it, there are still many researchers, especially in the hard sciences, that may not fully accept the idea of implementing social media and using daily life in general to promote research. It can sometimes be deemed as being unprofessional although I believe that these ideals are beginning to catch on.

Networked learning

Currently being so technological and mobile, the world has greatly impacted education and the learning process. Whether that impact is positive or negative depends on how the technologies are used. For instance, technology sometimes becomes insignificant and a distraction to students if not well integrated to the old school learning methods. On the other hand, network learning stemming from the presence of technology is a promising means through which the learning process and environment can be enormously enhanced. Through the development and maintenance of different connections, more opportunities are made possible. For instance, through network learning, a much larger audience is addressed compared to the smaller sized group in classroom settings and face-to-face learning in general. This also becomes an advantage since those delivering and sharing the work, ‘the teachers’, are better motivated to improve the quality of their work and become more passionate about it knowing that the benefit is reaching more people. From the learners side, an outside the classroom related learning environment, such as learning through service experiences, study abroad, and internship opportunities better enable students to explore and awaken their real interest, acquire new ideas, and simulate their intellect. Through this, students are offered a broader, more realistic, understanding of the world. In a similar manner, having access to a wider scope of learning outlets to work with saves students from environments that do not sustain the demands for competencies like interpersonal relations, communication and leadership skills that students have.

Information production is key, but readers’ role matters

In an era where academics, students, professionals, families and citizens are constantly adapting to new emerging technological and communication modes, it is worth reflecting what does this adaptation means and what are the parameters that should be taken into account. Campbell, in his “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” article published in 2016, establishes the significance of a digitally mediated network of discovery and collaboration in experimental learning. However, despite all the benefits that have been recognized by an existing vast body of literature, Campbell assures that without a clear understanding of the organizations principles behind the digital era, users could be excluding vital information.

The reliability of the used sources, for instance, is a critical component that although it determinates the validity of the used information, is often ignored in the digital world. Since digital anonymity -and the tensions it brings to the table- is not the only dimension that is often avoided in emerging technological and communication modes, it is important to reflect on how does the reliability of information has been validated in the past and why is it that it is easier to avoid it now.

Is it that the current digital revolution has convinced us that what happens behind scenes when information is digitally produced is not worth of our analysis? Or is it that in an attempt to avoid our own commitment -often exhausting- to seek reliable information we have chosen not to? Seems to me, that as far as citizens’ commitment to seek deeper remain a discretionary choice, our current and future understanding of the world will very often be based in unreliable and biased information.


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