We are ALL cut out for learning

“So, what’s all the hype about Baby George?” I wondered as I left GEDI training (aka Contemporary Pedagogy) on Wednesday night.  Our professor had sounded so disappointed that we couldn’t watch a TED talk titled “What Baby George Taught Me About Learning.”  Intrigued, I watched it after I got home from class:

I really enjoyed this TED talk, especially when he highlights how we should see the different strengths that students have.  He points out that we often hear people saying “well, some kids just aren’t cut out for school,”  and yet what that basically means is “well, some kids just aren’t cut out for learning.”  Isn’t that a bit of a ridiculous claim?  Everyone can learn, but not everyone learns in the same way.

During my own experiences in teaching, I have often wondered how to reach a large class of students with a wide variety of learning styles, concerns, challenges at home, and goals for life.  I desperately want to inspire and mentor students through their educational experiences, but how am I supposed to do that when I am given a room full of strangers to get to know in just a few weeks?  How am I supposed to do that within current academic restrictions (e.g. grades, strict policies, departmental cultures)?

I hope that during this semester I will be able to find creative ways to meet the challenges of teaching in university settings.  Perhaps I will even learn how to better use technology in the classroom and Networked Learning to improve the educational atmosphere of my future classrooms.

No matter how far-out or inventive or mundane the solutions I come up with during this semester, I hope to remember this phrase from the Baby George video: our educational journey is less about learning “how to make a living” and more about learning “how to build a life worth living.”

Eschatological Expectations in Education

All of my writings here should be taken with a grain of salt. So let Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall wash over you as I take a hypercritical approach to this week’s authors’ myopic problematization of education.

Education is a loaded word, but I think we get some kind of consensus on its meaning from Michael Wesch and Tim Hitchcock: self-improvement. But for me, the three words that come to mind when I think of education are eschatology, meritocracy, and techno-optimism. This is especially the case after watching and reading Wesch and Hitchcock because they ascribe to the impact of blogging without regard for how these three biases might negatively shape education.

Eschatology brings to mind doom and gloom, judgment--the end of the line of what philosophers might call teleology. Think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “motivational” quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Yea, well, Romanticism is perhaps the opposite of teleology (at least in this instance). Eschatology is really concerned about the destination: the future really doesn’t look to good. In fact, life’s journey should be so fixated on preparing for the destination that you need to find some sort of salvation before getting there. If you’re not scared enough to come to Jesus, than you’re not aptly anticipating the destination’s severity.

For most people, life itself presents people with any variety of doom and gloom destinations. We can call these societal pressures, self-imposed challenges, or familial expectations. Most people might agree that some combination of financial stability, job security, and relationship satisfaction makes up what we might call “the meaning of life.” #eudamonia To achieve the optimal rankings in those categories (as well as others not listed here), you need to have been dealt a good hand in phenotypic, physical, and ideological identities. That is, if you weren’t born a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Heteronormative, Abled-bodied, “Middle”-classed individual, then you are starting life’s rat race from a deficit. In an “ideal” world, if you are born a WASP-HAM, then all you need to do is just play the the game of life “straight up.” Go to school, get educated, and reap the benefits of “working hard.”

That expectation of playing the game well by education and the consequent employment is textbook meritocracy. But I want to discuss a more insidious type of meritocracy. When you’re not born a WASP-HAM, how do you approach the game of life? Is playing a matter of looking past how the game is rigged against you? Is it sticking it to “the man?” Is playing the game a way to defy stereotypes? (Should we try to find our inner hero, like Dr. Wesch suggests, in these pursuits?) Assuming that everyone wants financial stability, job security, and relationship satisfaction, what’s so wrong for non-WASP-HAMs to buy into the promises of meritocracy, to play the game, to buy into education?

Perhaps the problem is making the assumption that meritocracy is a one-size-fits-all solution to self-improvement. Meritocracy works really well if you’re a WASP-HAM; just work hard and climb life’s social ladder. But if you’re not a WASP-HAM, how high can you truly rank in social hierarchies--even when you buy into meritocracy? Glass ceiling much? In other words, can education ever be free from meritocracy? If education is self-improvement (to one degree or another), is that improvement ever free from social realities like racism, sexism, genderism, ableism, classism? Is the education process itself free from biases? Is the end result of education free from biases? Education is something that you quite literally buy into, philosophically and monetarily. There’s the expectation that the doom and gloom destination can be altogether avoided (for WASP-HAMs) if you just work hard enough. Education is a part of that process; pay for that piece of paper and everything will be fine. But for everyone else, the everyday doom and gloom like sexism, racism, and ableism isn’t simply earned by getting educated. Nor are the long term doom and gloom destinations improved through education.

Unfortunately, this salvational characteristic of education is exacerbated by techno-optimism. While I want to add the (obvious) caveat that there are certain technologies that can be of great use to some populations, there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to any type of technology. Nor should there be an expectation that technology unilaterally improves, or saves, us from the impending doom and gloom of life. While I don’t think that Seth Godin and Tom Peters should be accused of suggesting that blogging is a universal good for self-improvement, highlighting the fact that two white men who have played the game of life very successfully are telling us to buy into blogging should warrant some skepticism. We shouldn’t be skeptical of blogging itself. Rather, I find it difficult to view blogging as something outside of the scheme of self-improvement masked as self-expression.

I can hear someone saying that blogging is “about the journey, not the destination.” While this may be true, the Internet as a whole has evolved from its “simple” beginning. Take Ben Schmidt’s blog, Sapping Attention, as an example of skepticism. Hitchcock claims, “[Schmidt] has crafted one of the most successful academic careers of his generation – not to mention the television consultation business, and world-wide intellectual network.” Well, allegorically, we might say that the internet no longer remains as innocent and simplistic as Blogger’s interface--the template that Schmidt still uses today. That is to say, the list of -isms that exist IRL unsurprisingly exist on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter alike. (Anonymity may lead to an increase in the severity of -isms, but anonymity isn’t mutually exclusive to social media). Nothing published on the web goes unnoticed...

Hitchcock writes, “By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves.” This blind, naive optimism placed on technology’s educational (and social) impact might have been appropriate during Blogger’s heyday over a decade ago. But Hitchcock’s 2014 publication date mirrors the blind trust that’s placed in meritocracy: there’s no regard for the people who don’t fit into WASP-HAMs one-size-fits-all online. Despite the internet’s invitation for faux-sense of individuality and accessibility on social media sites, we’re never really free from the social biases that tell us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. I mean, what’s the point? #slacktivism

So, maybe we should listen to Pink Floyd’s lyrics: we don’t need education. But on the other hand, if education is self-improvement, then look no further than Socrates: “Know thyself!”

(And yes, I know that ironically, I have to be in a position in education to name drop Socrates…and write everything above).

cliché galore

thu-berchs-st-louis-destroyed-cityscape-14.jpg Eudaimonia? 




egyptLateStageCapitalism.jpg   Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 5.23.15 PM.png trolling.jpg

Twitter & Blogs as Publication Outlets

Reading the article by Tim Hitchcock, he talks about using blogging as a way to publicize your research and not to be afraid of others using this as a way to steal your work/research. He mentions that the most successful academics are the ones who are so passionate about their work that they are basically quick to publicize on every outlet.

Now as someone who does not care for blogging and will typically only blog when required for a class, I do actually see the benefit of using this platform as an outlet to present your ideas and opinions on certain topics in a classroom setting and even on published and peer reviewed topics. However, I personally would not go to a blog site to look up works for my own research, because I simply would not think that it would be credible. If I end up seeing the same research on an accredited site, then I’d be happily proven wrong and use it if it is of use to what I am working on at the time for sure.

Hitchcock also mentions two rules on participating in this “academic sphere”, I’d like to highlight the second rule he mentions where he says “remember that everything from Academia.edu, to Twitter, to Facebook and Flickr, is a form of publication, and should be taken seriously as such”. I use my social media for my own personal use and I see people’s posts on different topics of discussion. I will read articles that come across my timeline if I find the title interesting, but rarely would I say that I take them seriously unless I’ve seen a related topic in the news or on other sites that I trust to be a proven site.

Again, I see blogging as useful to vent and give your own personal thoughts and opinions on certain topics, but I would be skeptical about using any publications within my own work/research.


The Last Gedi

The timing of everything is too perfect to not include this short bootlegged video. Basically sums up blogging for me. Maybe I will also change like Luke did in the movie.  Anyway, the real thought provoking content begins below. Please push play on the video though, it might give you a good chuckle.


If you are curious as to what Kuh’s high-impact practices are, please follow this link. I like the ideas presented. It seems like it would make for an undergraduate experience that would actually feel like you did something, rather than simply getting a degree to check a box on applications. The one idea I want to focus on is collaborative assignments/projects. The class I TA for, ecological agriculture, could benefit greatly if we practiced that more. There are many writing prompts to be completed, but everyone does them on their own. Then when we have class discussions about them, it is the few strong voices in the room that continue to dominate discussions. By having a collaborative writing environment, it could be possible to get more people to participate in classroom discussions since they have had to express their ideas to at least one other person.

Likewise, the hypothes.is tool seems like a good way to get ideas flowing for the papers that are assigned to the class. We read a lot of science literature in the class, and not everyone is familiar with those types of articles. It could be helpful in creating a better understanding. While it isn’t anonymous, it might be easier to ask questions when one isn’t in front of the class. Maybe that provides an opportunity for a student to answer a question rather than wait for the instructor.  I know it is about building the network and sharing ideas and experiences, but I also see it as a way off accountability for actually doing the readings that doesn’t involve the instructor threatening to take off points for not doing an assignment. I see myself incorporating this into the class and it seems to be a worthwhile use of technology.

Network learning from the tower moat

It’s happened: the joyless, workaholic millennial generation has continued its mad spree of metaphoric murder. We have slaughtered diamonds, buying houses, buying cars, and the US birth rate. Soon we may kill listicles about things millennials have killed. With single minded zeal, we’ve largely elected to stop spending money on most every non-survival imperative thing that those gifted with the comforts of time, money, and economic certainty tend to indulge themselves in.

With this in mind, I summarize my reactions and offer counterclaims to Gardner Campbell’s assertions in his 2016 piece, Network Learning as Experiential Learning. Campbell’s article begins with a summary of similar views expressed in George Kuh’s 2008 monograph “High-Impact Educational Practices.” Campbell registers his agreement with the problems expressed therein whilst suggesting alternate solutions thereto, stating the problem thusly:

Education was becoming more about careers and “competencies” (a word Kuh himself used, although in a larger sense than others have) and less about inquiry, meaning-making, and a broadly humane view of human capacity. Kuh’s essay implicitly recognized that one of the great costs of abandoning these more expansive views of the purpose of higher education was that students might become alienated from their own learning experiences. He was right. Even as “student-centered learning” became the mantra, the increased attention to outcomes and objectives served (and still serves) to enable a narrowing, behaviorist focus on easily measured, easily described outcomes linked to detailed prescriptions, policies, and penalties, all contained within the course contracts (i.e., course syllabi). [1]

It feels petty to attack the article solely from this premise, but I would love if such a problem was the greatest that I had to solve. To suggest that current issues are a matter of cynical calculus or co-opted passions rather than a reflection of the larger forces at play smacks of heralding from the ivory tower. Further, there is a delicious irony in citing a piece from 2008 to contend such a point – millennials operate from the moat, ipods and nintendos be damned. The romans were able to indulge themselves with art, philosophy, and maths as they were fattened by the toils of others. This is a lifestyle afforded to relatively few millennials. The vast majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, a single unexpected bill portends doom, and the inevitability of becoming ill is a challenge few of us are prepared to face.

For anyone in doubt of the dire economic circumstances facing millennials, I heartily encourage you read huffpo’s brilliant article “FML: Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression.” I also strongly encourage you to share said article with any boomers, gen-x’ers , or otherwise fortunate acquaintances still beholden to the just world fallacy with regards to American social mobility. Success is an apparent zero sum game, and like medicine, it is offered at rates the market will bear, not those it needs. The spectre of technological unemployment looms before us all, and rather than sharing the bounty of past generations’ technological achievements in automation we will remain as a nation beholden to the puritanical notion that labor is the requisite exercise of virtue. Due to our knee jerk aversion to all forms of socialized good, this behavior will continue far past the extinction of such labor. When seeking to compete in such an arena, is it any surprise that we meter our efforts with respect to the potential rewards, that we who are burdened with such problems seek to develop our skill in implementation rather than our love of theories?

Returning to the article of discussion, Campbell finds agreement with Kuh and follows traditional boomer tropes in lauding free labor as an opportunity for experiential learning, citing “study abroad, internships, service learning, and community engagement” as well as undergraduate research as opportunities for students to improve their inherent value [1].  Campbell does however thumb his nose at Kuh’s narrow dedication to the more tangible repositories of knowledge and the networks therein, suggesting it be supplanted by the endless bounty of the internet. But of course, students/ millennials are once more accused of naval gazing whilst missing the spirit of the endeavor:

Yet our ideas about digital literacy are steadily becoming more impoverished, to the point that many of my current students, immersed in a “walled garden” world of apps and social media, know almost nothing about the web or the Internet. For the first time since the emergence of the web, this past year I discovered that the majority of my sophomore-level students did not understand the concept of a URL and thus struggled with the effective use and formation of hyperlinks in the networked writing class that VCU’s University College affectionately calls “Thought Vectors in Concept Space“—a phrase attributed by Kay to Engelbart and one that describes the fundamentally experiential aspect of networked learning.

Within my own narrow silo, I contend that millennials in higher education perfectly well understand the value of online networks, albeit not from the same perch that Campbell does. The human world has developed in complexity and competitiveness such that many problems are beyond the grasp of singular minds. Further, good minds are expensive and seldom loaned freely. These social networks and walled gardens Campbell dismisses are a marketplace where friendship is exchanged for the services of strong minds. Our network is our friends and colleagues who understand the theory of our problems well enough to guide us in the implementation of solutions. Nodes in this network may take the form of the veterinary student able to provide a presumptive diagnosis for an ailing pet, the statistician able to explain why our answer is meaningless at present, or the salty field-veteran whom helps us navigate the politics of publication.

If those born of more fortunate circumstance suggest you lack the spirit and gumption to see things as they did, laugh freely. If you’re not angry right now, be angry. It is far better to accept the poverty of your situation and strive forward with cynical pragmatism than to indebt yourself fighting to maintain the appearances of one gifted with a world and circumstance which no longer exists.



  1. Campbell, G. (2016, January 11). Networked Learning as Experiential Learning. Retrieved January 18, 2018, from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/1/networked-learning-as-experiential-learning

*Please feel free to interchange all instances of “student”, “millennial,” and “those darned kids” at your leisure

Networked Knowledge

The only reason I have a blog is to (and has been) to fulfill course requirements. I would say that the main reason for this non-preference has been a lack of understanding on what the purpose of using another avenue to disseminate professional thoughts and deliverables is. Isn’t that what journal articles are for?

The readings assigned this week were quite thought provoking, personally, regarding the utility of using non-academic avenues to reach a broader audience on your own terms. Beyond that, the usefulness of multi media tools to engage students and foster better writing habits, that are important for any career path, was another facet of blogging/networking/digital learning that I had not considered before now. I hope to learn more about using such methods in order to enhance my effectiveness as an educator.  Somewhat like what this professor has achieved (see this presentation ) through direct, meaningful feedback from students.

Ultimately I think the structure of university systems does not facilitate the application of these ideas well. Both in the student and professional context – again, students seem to be concerned with how they will be assessed, and meeting the minimum requirements in order to move on to the next obstacle. Also, in Academia the prospects for hiring and promotion are frequently discussed and of great import to many who seek faculty positions. How does blogging, for example, which takes away time from writing journal articles and conducting research contribute to the possibility of hiring and tenure?  While I can now understand the importance and perhaps the utility of defining a broader audience for my academic work and professional pursuits, I still feel that research productivity and peer-reviewed publications matter more — and time is short. What do you think?




Dilemma: To Blog or Not to Blog!

As I am interested in joining academia, I have had this dilemma of having an academic/personal blog or not.

There are lots of reasons for an academic to have a blog. It has always been important for academics to introduce their work and its importance to the audience. Whether you are seeking for another academic job, looking for new students, or just want the world to be aware of the work you are doing and how significant it is, blogging would give you the chance of publicizing your work. Moreover, by posting regularly in your blog, you build an audience for yourself. Knowing that there are someone who follow your posts forces you to think harder and try to be a more passionate writer. You can also share your public presentations, talks, and some of your projects in your blog. Blogging gives your audience the chance of knowing you and your professional achievements. However, keeping the blog up-to-date would be a time consuming procedure.

On the other hand, I am not fond of sharing my personal life to public audience. Some would argue that social medias, and specifically blogs are all about communications and getting to know each other. However, personally speaking, I prefer to keep my professional and personal life separated. And I would rather use my blog only for professional purposes.

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