Archive for the 'Learning' Category



Ascending On Beautiful Foolish Arms

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Thoughts have been flowing through my mind so rapidly the two weeks. End of semester, end of year, end of decade reflections. Life, perhaps slowed down by the winter chill, holds still for closer inspection. I see the grieving, joy, anger, peace and more that this semester, year, and decade has wrought. I do not live my life perfectly but, I strive to be better (don’t most people feel this way?). I’ve come to learn “all experiences can be positive if you learn and grow from them…no matter how bad they may seem at the time“. If you choose to learn from your experience it means being honest and taking the blame for what has gone wrong, maybe it is an age thing or a generational quirk but, this is a hard lesson to learn, “we tend to try to avoid pain generated by the knowledge that were not doing the right thing”. That pain is often felt when I take a look at my grades and is preferably ignored having my choice. Part of it is rebellion against all the years of formal education where all people ever asked about was my grade rather than asking what I learned. The other part of the pain is lack of focus and having to learn to suck it up and do what needs to get done even though I don’t particularly enjoy it (or agree with it). School is the irritating grain of sand in my oyster shell.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by bgblogging

I have had many patient Teachers in my life who showed me the way rather than shoving the answer down my throat. My stubborn nature thoroughly rebels against being told “how I should do x,y, z”. These thoughts always seem to bring me back to my father who “taught by his actions. He showed me how to live…He showed me how to work…He showed me how to die. He didn’t tell me how to do it, he showed me”. I am my father’s child. More than any other lesson in my life, the lesson of my father motivates me to demonstrate in action what I believe. And when I am not at peace I know it is because I am not living my life rightly. I often come up with excuses to avoid the truth but, as soon as I acknowledge the truth the peace returns. I know what I must do.

Sometimes I just want the answer but, like Dorothy, I know I must learn the answer for myself. You could tell me the melting point of wax but, I much rather have the tools to craft my own wings to fly towards the sun and discover the melting point of wax for myself. I do not aspire to fall from great heights like Icarus but, sometimes learning the truth for yourself includes broken bones. And maybe I have more broken bones when it comes to school. School magnifies my flaws. Succeeding in school requires several skills I have resisted developing  (some skills have been resisted for good reason others out of bitterness and laziness). I know what I must do.

Maybe I am just tired of a world that insists on giving me advice on everything, like horoscopes with their vague general statements, empty words. I am not discounting words of wisdom by any means but, I am overwhelmed by the myriad of talking points this world throw at me. I have to wonder, if we silenced the talk for one day what would we discover?

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Dividual Learner

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Rob Shenk

A few days ago while sitting in my anthropology class, taking notes, I was struck by my professor’s description of how the Melanesians understand the person. In Melanesian culture people do not view themselves as individual but, dividual. For example, if an uncle brought food to your mother while you were in the womb then he is a part of you for the nourishment he brought to sustain your development. This idea goes beyond the genetics and even blood relations. To Melanesians a person is formed through the work and effort of people to nourish and develop a person. Like that favorite American saying, “It takes a village”.

What if we viewed learning as such an adventure? What if we went beyond learning to be better than the other students in our class?
Shifting our view of learning could very well change the way we approach many other aspects of our life. The educational system encourages a competitive solo journey and places emphasis on the individual more than anything. I’m not trying to say competition is bad but the danger is the isolating effects that can produce a “Us vs Them” mentality that pervades our thinking (do I have to really point out examples?).

We no longer live in small societies where the work of one person can make a difference. In these small societies it would be in your best interest to make sure your friend knew how to do a craft just as well as you if you wanted to be able to sleep in a safe shelter or eat dinner. Putting in time and effort to teaching someone meant that your quality of life would probably be increased too.

Today we live in an industrialized nation, we no longer inhabit small isolated villages. This change obscures how the actions of one person may not only benefit another but ultimately how your investment in one person will be repaid to you in one way or another. I’m not calling for a Thoreau-esque return to the woods but, I do think industrialized nations have fallen into the trap that allows the way we do our business and commerce to effect other aspects of our life, especially schooling.

This is another one of those posts that touches on such grand problems that they could not possibly be solved in a blog post. I’m more frustrated then anything with the way we teach students and at times the problem seems so large and monolithic I don’t see how we could ever get around it. Maybe acknowledging the problem is the first step towards change and the more people we get thinking about these issues the more likely things will change.

Or maybe I am just a dreamer.

Has That Always Been There?

Maybe my thinking has evolved since my freshman year (I hope it has) but, lately I tend to notice a lot more connections between classes. Something I am learning in one class will come to mind as I sit in another and I begin to see intersections between two different classes in two different disciplines. Maybe upper level classes are more conducive of such connections because they cover more specific areas? Or is my brain finally able to identify what was there all along?

It is the latter question that has me thinking lately. I can remember blogging in my freshman year how my classes seemed to exist in their own little bubbles and spheres, rarely intersecting. Now I find my brain going back and forth between my different classes and even forgetting what things I learned in what class.

Maybe some of you have gone through the same thing? It’s a genuine question that I have with no real answer, just ideas at this point. And different answers to this questions have different meanings or outcomes. I tend to lean towards the conclusion it has age that has allowed me to see these connections. If this is the answer though what has changed in my thinking, or, rather what was the process that led me here? Maybe I need to go through my old blog posts and follow the stream back towards the source.

I’m curious though what your experience with this? Has age brought you an ability to see these connections and how did you get to that point?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by daoro

The Blog Post I’ve Wanted To Write For A Year

I’ve struggled for a long time to understand why every semester without fail that after the first week or so of classes I’d lose the fervor and excitement for school. Where did my love of learning go? Where was my motivation? Questioning

There have been many days (and long nights) where I wrestled with these thoughts and wrestled with whether I should be wasting my time wrestling with these thoughts. Was my mind wasting time thinking up excuses to avoid work by thinking about my lack of motivation? These nagging questions will not leave me alone though and there are many things that came together for me recently that I need to share. The threads are hard to follow but, I hope you will be patient.

This is a very blanket and vague statement but I believe that the current system of schooling encourages selfishness and an individualistic nature. Learning as demonstrated by our schools seems to be a one man journey with an importance placed on achieving the number one spot. In school you learn because it is important for you to make the the best of yourself. I do believe it is important that there be some internal motivation but the lack of emphasis on community has always left me feeling empty.

Plants Grow on Rocks in the City I will admit I am a competitive in certain aspects of my life (such as sports) but schooling has never been one of those places. And as a human I can not help but be selfish in certain aspects of my life but in terms of schooling I’ve never desired to learn for me and my own advancement. The times I’ve genuinely enjoyed learning were those moments that brought me a feeling of closer connection to and contact with my community of learners.

For example, I spent a good part of the ’07 fall semester reading the poetry of Yeats and others because I felt that brought me closer to certain people in my learning community that I respected. I ended up forsaking some of my “real” work for absorbing the reading material my learning community suggested. Lets just say that that semester ended very poorly for me grade wise. But a whole world of poetry I had never experienced had been opened up to me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was reading new works but, I was experiencing them in a brand new way.

I have a strong desire to draw closer to those in the caravan who travel with me during this stage of my journey. All of this leads me to say that this strong desire to learn alongside and from these caravanistas does not limit itself to a school context but reaches far beyond. There are many people in my community that I want to talk about but for this post talking about DTLT will have to suffice because it represents so much in one group. Wingshot Descent into Clouds

I easily have the best student employment on campus as a student aide for DTLT. Those who have come before me and currently work with me probably will vouch. I’ve worked at DTLT since the fall of ’07 and I have always looked forward to going to work. Everyone there pushes me to think and challenges me when I need it (which is constantly apparently heh). I have freedom at my job and an expectation that I am responsible with that freedom. I have learned so much more than I thought the job would ever teach me. I get to be surrounded by people pushing the boundaries and doing work that is not found at most universities. Many of the things I have learned on my own while working at DTLT were influenced by my desire to be a part of the community and to contribute the way the staff of DTLT do to their mission. In my mind spending time learning the things they are learning about is my way of honoring their work and the people of DTLT. They probably don’t even know the extent of my insanity on certain things.

Sun Slipping ThroughI’ve never worked so hard to get myself into the lives of people because of a strong desire to know them. As time has gone on the people of DTLT have become my family, a home away from home, and I love them as such. For whatever bizarre reason these people mean a lot to me and so my desire to learn from them carries from work to their lives at home. I know these people and I know their families. Sometimes I feel like I am performing a grand experiment as I observe how each family works and all the millions of intricacies that can occur within one family. I love their kids like they were my siblings. And I want to show their children that people outside their family can come into their lives and love them for seemingly no reason. In fact I can think of no greater joy in my life right now then to be able to love these families well and even though it makes little sense to me why I feel so compelled to do this, I don’t question it, I just do it.

After saying all that I turn back to the question I started off with, where does my motivation for school go every semester? Well, when the solo journey of classes is put up against the community of DTLT is it really that hard to understand why my focus wanders elsewhere? When I have this tangible and meaningful community of people to learn from why would I spend anymore time then I had to on my solo class journey? Again, this is not to say that classes are a complete waste of time, they certainly are not and I have some more thoughts on learning and classes but that is for another post. In short, schooling does not provide the community and meaning-making I desire and in addition, I can easily find that community and meaning-making in abundance in other places of my life.

Maybe I am no closer to a solution to my problem but at least I feel like I understand it better now, perhaps I finally see some sun shining through in what forever seems like a dark cloud hanging over me.

It’s A Matter Of Approach

This morning Laura tweeted about an article by Danah Boyd. I was struck by this paragraph:

“I have become a “bad student.” I can no longer wander an art museum without asking a bazillion questions that the docent doesn’t know or won’t answer or desperately wanting access to information that goes beyond what’s on the brochure (like did you know that Rafael died from having too much sex!?!?!). I can’t pay attention in a lecture without looking up relevant content. And, in my world, every meeting and talk is enhanced through a backchannel of communication. This isn’t simply a generational issue. In some ways, it’s a matter of approach [emphasis mine].”

Besides surprising me with the little fact about Rafael (what a way to go, huh?) it reminds me of how I am a “bad student” too. The key thing to point out is that it has nothing, let me repeat that, nothing to do with being part of the “Net-Generation” (oh how I loathe that label). I had to teach myself to have the discipline to not goof off on my laptop and I had to learn to utilize the internet and its resources to better my education. I wasn’t born with this desire and I certainly didn’t learn it growing up. I learned it when I came to college and became involved with a community of people who loved learning and cared about the role of technology in learning. Being part of a caravan of life-long learners taught me a new approach to my education and it encouraged me to look beyond the basic things I used my computer for.

All of this reminded me of a post Martha recently wrote where she talked about the purple boxes that she had seen on the side of the highway. For her it was not enough to just take note of them, she needed to know what the heck they were. Martha said:

“And I had to know because I pretty much knew I had a way to find out the answer. I guess my point is that in this information-rich world, not knowing is simply not an option for me anymore. If I didn’t have access to the tools to find my answers, I think it would drive me crazy.”

This is the way I have certainly become and have been since high school. I’ve learned better ways to search on Google and if Google fails to help me I can figure out where to go next. While this may be true of me many of my friends don’t automatically think this way. I don’t know how many times I have to say to them, “Why don’t you look it up on Google?” and it is like the thought never occurred to them. These are students my age who aren’t taking this approach to the web, probably because they’ve never been pushed to think about it in that way before.

So can we drop the label “Net-Gen”? Or at least change the definition of it? If you call someone my age a Net-Gen kid you would be right in saying we grew up with the internet and probably spend a lot of time on it. I think it is wrong to say that just because someone grew up using it doesn’t mean they are tech savvy or think of new ways to use it. While the internet is radically different from a lot of technology in the past it is still a technology. Just because you might have grown up with a record player doesn’t mean you know how to work a turntable and DJ. Sure you know how to use a record player but, it doesn’t go much pass the basic. Just because someone grew up with the internet doesn’t mean they know how to make a mash-up or understand RSS; they can probably browse and create a word document though. That might be a poor analogy, I don’t know. I really wish we could forget the labels or actually think about what we mean when we say those things.

My learning has been augmented through the use of the web because people older than me pushed me to think outside my “browse the web & create word document-box”. Like Danah Boyd said, “It’s a matter of approach”. And personally, I have had to learn a new approach and make a concious decision to take responsibility for my education. I did not magically become this way just because I grew up with the internet.

Family History, Public History and Digital History. Oh my!

So earlier today I tweeted that I had talked to Jeff McClurken about an idea I have for an individual study. My family is fairly interested in our family history and various members have taken the time work on genealogies, recovers photos, and record other things. For some time now I wanted to create some sort of online depository to collect memories, photos, videos or whatever to create a kind of family history. A few weeks ago I started wondering if I could possibly work this into some sort of individual study. Although I knew it didn’t seem like the typical 400-level class idea I had already had a taste of one class that was quite unusual in our department, so I thought I’d give it a chance. As a side note, have I mentioned how lucky I am to be a major in a department that has someone like Jeff as the Chair? Well, I am because he entertains my craziness and has already pointed me in the direction I need to go. Being an amateur historian I still need that guidance and I am very thankful to have it.

First things first I need to figure out the methodology I will use to tackle this project. Obviously I couldn’t do this just about my family history, there needs to be some academic rigor involved with this too. One of my first tasks will be to research literature to assist me in my project. I will have to find text on family history, public history, and digital history so I can create a bibliography for this project. I will probably be enlisting the help of UMW’s very knowledgeable reference librarian Jack Bales, who has already helped me so much in my history research. I want to find some way to weave together what was going on in my ancestors lives and what was going on in the world too. There are so many questions I want to explore I don’t even know where to begin. A big component of this project will be the structure of the actual site and more than likely I will be using Omeka (oh, how I’ve missed thee!) and with a little help from Patrick Murray-John I’m sure we will kick code butt. There will surely be many more posts on this in the future.

One of the purposes for this project is not only to create a cool site for my family but, that I will create documentation so that others can create these sort of family collections and have my site as a sort of model for those interested in doing something similar. The internet has made doing family history research so much easier and because of that people have been increasingly interested in family genealogy and tracing roots. I would hope that whatever my project turns into that it will in some way enable others to do what I did so that they too can create a place to record family history. One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced during my time at college is knowing that some of the work I have done has been beneficial to others in some way.

This is still more to say about it and I’m only at the tip of the iceberg here. But I am excited to see where this takes me and if you, my dear readers, have any suggestions about anything I’d love to hear them.

Critical Engagement on Both Sides

This is my third Faculty Academy (I can’t believe it!) and even in the three short years I have seen a progression and trend in thinking.

I see both professors and students thinking even more critically about the integration and intersection of technology and pedagogy. There is classroom implementation of amazing projects and idea in all disciplines and students are responding in awesome ways; it is making my head spin. There is bold experimentation, failures and successes, creativity and numerous other adjectives that can describe the work Mary Washington faculty, staff, and students are doing. This is a wonderful place to be and I feel incredibly lucky and honored I get to learn from and be a part of such a wonderful community.

It gives me great joy to see professors being so thoughtful and innovative. It gives me even greater joy to see students come to a new understanding of their learning and actually caring about it.

The Week Long Experiments

I have this strange idea in my head and I’m throwing it out there to hear what you guys think and too see if you have any ideas.

Ever since I watched the movie Hard Promises (a bad 90s romance film) I identified with the male lead, Joey, who can’t deal with doing just one thing and his wander lust takes him to jobs all over the country. I knew that was how I felt about doing jobs. I’ve always been interested in learning a mile wide and an inch deep; I always wanted to move on to the next adventure.

In order to quench my insatiable urge to learn about a wide variety of things. I am instituting for myself the week long experiments experiment. I will spend a week learning about something and learning about it through what ever methods necessary. For example what is it like to be a vegetarian? I would probably spend the week as a vegetarian and researching the history of vegetarianism and asking all sorts of other question too. Naturally I would blog during the week about my experiment. There are a myriad of possibilities here and  I want you to help me think of more ideas. Hopefully once this project gets off the ground you could also help me form my research into each subject. I would also encourage anyone who would want to participate to try it out too, the more the merrier right?

So as of right now I have a few ideas for week long experiments, but I’d love to hear from you. So leave a comment (or multiple comments!) this experiment depends on help from you guys. If everything works out I would start this project during the summer when I have a little more free time to experiment.

Here are some ideas are I have so far: Learning about photography, Buddhism, week as a mute (crazy I know), practice parkour. Again anything and everything that you think would be worth investigating or maybe something that is just wacky and would make for an interesting week.

Teach Me Meaning Making

“We’ve got information in the information age. But do we know what life is outside of our convenient lexus cages?”
-Switchfoot ‘Gone’

All of this is a plea, a desire, a timid question, and confession.

Why has it taken so long for school to teach me meaning making? The how of pulling at information and weaving it together in a deeper understanding.

I have grown up in a world that is over-flowing with information and has taught me few skills on how to filter it all. Maybe I was born at an inconvenient time, a point in history where the world is working out what it means to have almost the whole world at our fingertips.

Post-Katrina School Bus by <a href=Through years of excessive information I’ve grown an intolerance and my palate for the rich taste of knowledge has grown dull. Yes, there can be too much of a “good thing”. Even when information is served in a unique way I’m often too jaded to savor it or care. This is not intended to be an excuse or a whining cry of a “net-gen” student, but an attempt at an honest confession by one 21 year old. I’ll admit to being an under-achieving student, the bane of some professors existence and yes I do regret not working harder in some classes. I’ll also admit I often don’t care when a professor tests me on pure information, on my ability to regurgitate, because those tests are almost always easier than other options and require little engagement from me.

How do I reconcile my belief in education and real school and my praxis that seems to rarely reflect that? Why do I even care when I could slide by? Why do I want to take the “long way around”? It makes no logical sense in the setting of school. I do not play by the rules of the game and suffer for it.

I do not want to conform to the patterns of this world, I want to be transformed through the renewing of my mind through a different model of thinking and learning. Teach me meaning making and I can go forth and do more than just be a passive observer. I can’t do this on my own though, this adventure was never meant to be a solitary journey. I am meant to be a caravanista traveling through time with you, measuring time and being measured by it. I want to do something of value in this short time span we call life. Is that too much to ask for?

Am I Paying Attention or Reading Facebook?

There is often debate around whether laptops should be allowed in the classroom. While I am no expert, I can share my experience with laptops in the classroom.

So, what have I used my laptop for in class? To take notes. To have readings for class handy. Look up an answer to a professors question. To look up answers to related thoughts that pop in my head.

But that isn’t all, is it? I’ve checked my Facebook. Have Twitter open. Google chat open. Check my Google Reader. Worked on work for other classes.

Do I ever get distracted to the point where I miss what is going on in class? Yes, but that is almost always intentional.

If I am staring at the screen intently am I paying attention to what is going on in the class at all? Yes, of course! I could be doing a myriad of things from taking notes to checking my e-mail. I know that professors hate the whole “I can multi-task” argument, but sometimes it is true.

How would I quickly summarize my experience with laptops in the classroom? It has been a process learning how to use it in a classroom setting and what classes necessitate a laptop and which ones just need a pen and paper. I’ve learned how to not get distracted and how to take notes. Most importantly though, I have learned how to use laptops to expand my learning in the classroom and that has been the toughest and most rewarding part.

Most students have not had guidance on how they can utilize their laptops beyond a FB checking device. My unscientific hypothesis is most students see laptops as a way to get out of the classroom while still being physically present, or, as a way to take notes and do other school work. Maybe students don’t realize the potential they have right at their fingertips because no one has given them the inspiration to see it any other way.


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