30 Day Question Challenge – Day 27 – We are All Mutants

A couple weeks ago, I read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “We are All Mutants” by Paul Voosen. The article isn’t about teaching and learning, but I can extrapolate a few important lessons on the topic. For example, the importance of a perseverant attitude, the role of theory, testing, and questioning assumptions, but that isn’t the direction I want to take today. It’s too established, too in-the-box (although a good box). For today’s purposes, I want to explore the question: What factors mutate learning in a positive direction? That’s my Day 27 question.



I can unpack this question focusing on students and ask what instructors can do to transform student thinking. But… I want to place the focus on how teachers learn. So, what does it take to change an instructor’s point of view? What does it take to help faculty learn to think and act differently? How can I act as a mutant learning gene for faculty?

This isn’t a post to complain about faculty. NOT at all. After all, I teach. Rather, I want to explore the different learning context faculty bring to the table. I’ve facilitated over 140 full day faculty development events over the last 11 years. I have met some amazing instructors. The most impressive are those who explicitly love to learn. They epitomize life-long learners. These folks tend to be those that pursue follow-up, seek additional resources, recognize the limits of their pedagogical knowledge, and have a genuine interest in student achievement. However, these tend to be the anomalies in my [personal] experience.

Despite our best intentions, everyone gets caught up in our daily routines. As a friend of mine likes to day, 95% of life is negotiating the mundane. True enough, but I long for that 5%. In fact, I want more! My last post pointed to my yearning for adventure, and I don’t see a huge difference here. Why can’t my teaching experiences be extraordinary? Better yet, what can I do to make every class transformative or at least attempt it? So, how can I be the mutant simulator…the learning gene needle pictured below?

mutation injection


I think part of the answer lies in helping faculty (like our students) imagine new possibilities. Faculty are not only experts in their respective academic fields, they are also expert learners. They have proven to be effective at school. Consequently, there are numerous expectations, biases and assumptions they naturally bring to the table. Some call these things “baggage.” Whatever it is, I think faculty fundamentally learn the same way freshman do, but they just have more knowledge and experiences that might just get in the way of new learning. That is what we have to confront first.

Lime Green Labs put out a free document on the web that speaks to students, but uses the ideas of the “zombie learner” and the “mutant learner” as reference points to reflect on what students can do to become more intellectually disciplined. Interesting concepts. I suggest looking it over. They characterize “mutant learners” as those who:

“are rapidly adapting, evolving and changing

to effectively harness today’s explosion

of learning. They are actively looking

for new information and, even more importantly,

contributing and sharing their

knowledge with the rest of the world, with the intent of

helping other people learn as well. These individuals

are the collaborative innovators, the thought leaders of

the future.

What if faculty followed a similar characterization? What might education look like?


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