Category Archives: 30 Day Question Challenge

What’s your ideal teaching habitat?


This question emerged from a conversation. The Moth podcast canvassed a story told by Molly Ringwald, the famous 80’s actress. She was talking about the difficulties with her young daughter that emerged when schools (and school environments) changed. The punchline came toward the end of her narrative when she realized that her daughter was having difficulties (emerging bullying behavior) at the new school because she was not in her ideal learning habitat. The story was beautifully told recounting how this insight came when she and her daughter were listening to a different podcast hosted by Radio Lab. It was a story about zoos and the first time an adult gorilla named Kiki went outside. gorillaPowerful account of human ignorance, nature and behavior, and the power of natural habitats. It made me give further consideration to the question of teaching and learning habitats.

I began to wonder: What is the ideal (natural) habitat for my kids? Does one fit both? To what extent do we force a particular way of thinking, of learning, of interacting on students who may have different needs and desires? To what extent are the artificial learning habitats we create conducive to the types of thinking and behaviors (e.g. skills, abilities, dispositions, knowledge) necessary to survive and thrive in the world outside the classroom walls?

Britt Watwood has an April 2014 post that addressed the new nomadic learner in the modern era of online and networked learning pondering: How can I cultivate knowledge nomads who learn rhizomatically and create their own knowledge domains? This question places the focus on the student. Learning and living habitats are changing, so what do students need to know and be able to do to adapt to those changes? In a March 2014 post by Jeff Nugent takes a different approach exploring the question: What might it mean to teach like an octopus? Nugent places the focus on the instructor and acknowledges that intellectual flexibility is a desirable quality given the variation in students we encounter.


Today, I want to take a slightly different approach to the question and ask: What is my natural (ideal) teaching habitat? In other words, under what conditions do I thrive as an instructor? What makes me, or would make me, happy and excited? I am driven to ponder these questions because without a clear understanding of the ideal, then I question the extent I can sufficiently manage the realities of the instructional contexts to which I am assigned. In logic and conceptual analysis, this thinking move is termed: Identifying the paradigm cases on either extreme of an issue or idea (see John Wilson’s Thinking with Concepts). Illustratively, I might frame it this way:

The Ideal                              The Real (If I’m lucky)


We are all very familiar with the realities of our teaching habitats. All too often they feel like a zoo: walls, regulations, schedules, and artificial experiences. How, then, might I move toward the ideal….for me? I believe that my happiness as an instructor has direct and maybe even proportional consequences for students. I want to explore ways I can pragmatically move toward the ideal. If that means less grading, then I am going to figure out ways to make that happen while maintaining intellectual rigor.

If we don’t ask, we can’t imagine.

Faculty Development 101: Begin Within


Aldo Leopold writes in his 1949 A Sand County Almanac a chapter entitled “February: Good Oak” of an old tree whose life was brought to an end by one fateful strike of lightning. Eloquently written, the narrative unfolds as his saw bites through year after year of life recorded by the tree’s growth rings.  Leopold writes:

“Fragrant little chips of history spewed from the saw cut and accumulated on the snow before each kneeling sawyer. We sensed that these two piles of sawdust were something more than wood; that they were the integrated transect of a century; that our saw was biting its way, stroke by stroke, decade by decade, into the chronology of a lifetime, written in concentric annual rings of good oak.”

As he writes, he “cuts” through history and lets both his knowledge and the tree’s record craft the narrative. Again he writes:

“It took only a dozen pulls of the saw to transect the few years of our ownership, during which we had learned to love and cherish this farm. Abruptly we began to cut the years of our predecessor, the bootlegger…The reign of the bootlegger ended sometime during the dust-bowl droughts of 1936, 1934, 1933, and 1930. Oak smoke from his still and peat from burning marshlands must have clouded the sun in those years, and alphabetical conservation was abroad in the land, but the sawdust shows no change…Now our saw bites into the 1920’s the Babbittian decade when everything grew bigger and better in heedlessness and arrogance-until 1929, when stock markets crumpled. If the oak heard them fall, its wood gives no sigh…. We cut 1902-3, a winter of bitter cold; which brought the most intense drought of record (rainfall only 17 inches); 1900, a centennial year of hope, of prayer, and the usually annual ring of oak.”

Leopold traces history through the life of the tree until its birth. He writes:

“In 1866 the last native Wisconsin elk was killed. The saw now severs 1865, the pith-year of our oak. In that year John Muir offered to buy from his brother, who then owned the home farm thirty miles east of my oak, a sanctuary for the wildflowers that had gladdened his youth….”

This book, and especially this chapter, is one of my favorites of all time. It’s beautifully written and firmly grounded in both reality and imagination. I have thought regularly about Leopold’s reflections and wondered about the history of my development. What I have learned from this text (and many others of course) is that we are creatures of context. Life happens to us and we to it, but not all that happens affects us. So too with Leopold’s oak.

For the last five years or so, I have challenged faculty from across the disciplines and around the world to think about their intellectual growth rings. I’ve done this specifically to explore the questions:

  • If you were to write the story of how you have come to command your intellect (used robustly here to include the whole person), would it be a valuable resource to guide your pedagogy?
  • Would your narrative be a valuable resource for students to use to develop their own intellects?

tree rings 3

I think of all the metaphorical fires, droughts, periods of plenty, those times of sickness and health as our minds grow and mature, and I have to ask: How much of our development can be attributed to schooling? If a lot, then can I mine those experiences for clues to help students have similar learning opportunities? If little, then what can I do differently? So…

What’s the history of your intellectual development?


I wrote an earlier post entitled: What adult learning theory can teach us about faculty development. In it I argued that it is important that our interactions with faculty come from a place of humility where their experiences that have lead to their expertise can organically emerge and, thus, inform action. Doing so helps us surface the implicit and make it explicit as a guide to crafting meaningful and enjoyable learning experiences for students.

Begin within.


Lenses, Levers and Litheness for Faculty Development: Questions as one Mode

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This website is a place that I, and others, use to stimulate deeply reflective dialogue about teaching and learning. Its essence is one of self-exploration. We use questions to surface and challenge our assumptions about teaching & learning, faculty development, scholarship, etc. We don’t offer answers; rather, we point to resources and throw a few thoughts out there. It is a place for reflection, but using a particular set of lenses: Metaphor and Questions.

This week I had a conversation with another colleague who is in the arena of faculty development. We are at different types of higher education institutions in almost every sense, yet we face similar challenges working with faculty to make the student experience powerful and transformative.

In this conversation, a question re-entered my mind: The sun is the subject. You are the magnifying glass. What do you burn? It led to a fun and, more importantly, insightful discussion. My original brief thoughts on the matter are below.

As a lens we help students take a closer look, but at what? Different perspectives? Different questions? Sure. Do we also “burn” misconceptions? Do we burn erroneous assumptions? Do we burn mis-information? Of course, the fire metaphor is a little harsh, but there is something to be said of crafting cognitive dissonance experiences. That’s the fire as I see it right now.

I like the idea of cauterizing misconceptions and faulty prior knowledge…

Further reflections cause me to re-explore the purposes of education. If we are not helping students surface, examine, and re-frame misconceptions, oversimplifications, inaccuracies, prejudices, etc., then is there a need for a liberal education? Organizations like the AAC&U believe so. All institutions of higher education that have general education requirements believe so. I can’t help but question, then, does general education matter? Are our students the same people (dispositionally speaking) when they graduate as when they entered? If so, have we failed? Ron Ritchhart’s book, Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It, is only one of the calls for placing character transformation at the heart of the educational enterprise.

As our conversation evolved, I argued that just as we challenge students to identify and critically examine their assumptions about life, career, society, content, teaching and learning, so too must faculty developers surface and challenge their assumptions about what it means to communicate and “develop” faculty. It’s a very touchy subject, and I cannot help the uncomfortable feelings I get from the term “faculty development.” Power dynamics seem to ooze from the words, and I find it potentially patronizing. Nonetheless, it’s currently the accepted phrase. My point, however, is that if we are to see ourselves as partners who are collectively contributing our respective expertise to address a common problem, then we have to position ourselves, when appropriate, to the active exploration of our assumptions, misconceptions, preconceptions, prior-knowledge, and expectations of the profession; of who we are as professional instructors.

An example….at the risk of alienating those reading this blog, I asked my colleague: “Is it ok to upset faculty?”  The immediate reaction was “No!” Well, why not? Of course, we don’t want to close doors, turn people off, destroy opportunities for collaboration that might otherwise have slowly emerged. If this is a given, meaning we don’t want to humiliate, patronize, or dismiss, then what does “upset” look like and is it acceptable? We decided that “upset” in a safe learning / collaborative space is one that engages people emotionally because their sense of identity and prior understandings have been challenged. In other words, we have identified an assumption (or set of assumptions) that point to areas of exploration (“development”). If they get upset, they care!

Back to my original thoughts on the matter: If we are not “burning down” the assumptions, misconceptions and prejudices our students may bring to the classroom and to the subject, then what are we doing? Is being exposed to information alone sufficient? Well, Alfred Whitehead didn’t think so coining the term inert knowledge to capture the dilemma. How else do we help students embrace the valuable lessons of a general education; an education many believe is a waste of time? How else do we help students begin to think like scientists, like historians, like psychologists, like disciplined nurses, like sociologists, etc.? Something more than helping faculty do their important work more efficiently is needed if faculty developers are to be viewed as valuable agents for positive and progressive change.

Intellectual Playfulness and New Perspectives

My colleague, Tom Woodward, and I have been working to populate a new blog-site. This is it’s stated purpose:

What is this? To be brief, it is a place for people to be intellectually playful posing oblique, out-of-the-box questions that help us think about teaching & learning from different vantage points. In a world where education has become, for many, a stagnant enterprise, this is a place to explore the wonder of what makes education powerful and fun.

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We’re hoping to see if we can engage instructors to rethink our traditional ways of thinking about teaching and learning. Hit the “I want more!” page to explore even more questions.

Here’s to hope!


Do you fish or cut bait? A challenge for all instructors.


My colleague, Tom Woodward, and I were talking about a site we’ve been working on. The purpose of the site is two fold. First, how can we develop a space that uses oblique/out-of-the-box questions to provoke faculty in ways that challenge the ways we all conceive of teaching and learning? Second, how can we keep the work already done in this arena fresh, visible and promote dialogue? Here is the link to the site and IT IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION! I’m premature in linking to it, but I respect transparency and constructive conversation.

While working on the technical aspects of the site, Tom asked “Do you fish or cut bait.” Since, until recently, I’ve lived mostly in desert environments (e.g. New Mexico and California), I was unfamiliar with the expression. We didn’t fish. In reality, we didn’t trust things that came out of the water. The question amused me, so I put the question up. Now I am ruminating on it.

My initial thinking has led me down two avenues.

1. More Prep Needed. “I need more bait! I’m not ready!” The fear of poor preparation can cripple action. We all know that it is better to be over prepared. However, there is realistically only so much we can do in a class session and a course for that matter. I recently had a conversation with a faculty member who is known for consuming books on teaching and learning. I was curious if any of the insights gained from these texts have been put into practice. The answer was “no,” and the reason given was that he felt he needed more ideas. With a little conversation and encouragement it was made clear that there was a fear to try new things. One can cut bait all day long, but if you never put it on a hook how do you know if it will work?

2. Learn By Doing.  Sometimes we’ve just got to get out and throw a line in the water. There is a lot of rhetoric that often acts as excuses against taking action. One of the rhetorical points that I have heard many, many times is this: “Is there evidence to show that your suggestions (e.g. techniques, methods, strategies) work?” Although the researcher in me deeply respects this point, the instructor in me cringes at times. If one is asking if there is a body of scholarship that discusses “best practices” in teaching and learning, then pointing people to that scholarship is easy enough. It is my opinion, however, that showing people the evidence is insufficient to change their behavior hence my claim that such a question is mere rhetoric.  If one is asking this question to justify inaction, then question is purely rhetorical and a waste of time. We’re dealing with humans as teachers and as faculty developers, and thinking through this fact can be very helpful in reframing how we approach humans as learners. There is a lot to be said for trying things out even if I do not have all the various types of evidence to guide my actions. My only word of caution here is: Do no harm.  A word of advice: Expect to fail; fail fast; and make adjustments.

The importance of good preparation cannot be understated. However, there is a point where we have to go fishing. A bucket full of bait cannot fit on a single hook. Having a full bucket at your disposal is a useful fallback, but ultimately one piece of bait will fit on a hook and you’ve got to throw it out there to see if the fish will bite it. Having a varied tackle box (bait bucket) can really help…but then again, what do I know about fishing?


What is the coffee enema of education? — Gross, but people do crazy things.

For those who don’t know what a coffee enema is (despite the clear terms) here’s the idea


Not such a good idea after all. In fact, it’s bogus according to those who believe in the importance of scientific research.

Why did I ask this question?! What started out as a conversation about reusable coffee filters and espresso moved to topics of teaching, learning and poor pedagogy. I just made the obvious connection. Disgusting, I know. My purpose, though is much more serious.

In an earlier post, I asked Why don’t bad beliefs die? I also explored the theme for faculty development here and here.  One commonality between these reflections is that they emphasize the utter importance of mindfully and skillfully crafting learning experiences rather than naively hoping that good arguments are sufficient to move minds and change behaviors. We have to live it to know it. This is my point about education and coffee enemas. By this point, we know what not to do, and we have some great ideas of what actually works well.

The What of Education

So what do we erroneously force upon students to “cure” or “treat” what the powers that be consider significant problems? I say erroneously, and I’ll come back to that. First, though, I think of Charles Dickens’ opening lines in Hard Times:

“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”

Oh, how the ideas remain the same! Here is a recent story on NPR about the debate over “WHAT” students should be “learning” and tested on.

The prescriptive assumptions continue to reign.

The How(s) of Education

Paulo Freire called it the banking concept of education. Tom Woodward thinks of it as the foie gras of education.  Didactic lecture, death by PowerPoint, and filling the bucket of education are other commonly used terms along the same vein of thinking. All speak to the process of education as conveying others’ insights to be regurgitated on demand.

What are the consequences? Well, Alfred Whitehead termed it “inert ideas” and what is also discussed as inert knowledge.  Neil Postman attacked the same consequences and testing culture in The End of Education. More recently, David Perkins likened the thinking to that of an intellectual disease he called “elementitis.” Of course, we can go on and on. Those who have directly confronted pathological approaches to teaching and learning are great and continue to be so.

It’s not just the way we “give” or “convey” information to students, it’s the modes of assessment and evaluation. Authors like Bean, Angelo & Cross, and Ritchhart (among many others) have provided so many different ways of conceptualizing assessment and evaluation that it’s difficult to imagine how the dominant didactic paradigm continues. The testing culture is pervasive, in part, because it is convenient.

The “HOW” of education continues to march forward on stagnant and outdated assumptions, largely because of convenience, poor imagination, and the realities of mass education. The modes of instruction vary at times, but the expectations that inform the them often corrupt the best intentions.

The Where of Education

Where do we put insights? Where do we engage students? How many of us care enough to change where we stand so that we may see another perspective?

The goal is more often than not to “put” insight INTO the mind as if it is an empty container. Erroneous. We all bring preconceptions, misconceptions, beliefs and experiences to every learning environment.

We have students place their work in containers waiting for judgment. Erroneous? Even the portfolio can be a dis-empowering structure.

Where do we engage students? We tend to passively inherit the learning spaces we’re assigned. Is this to our detriment? Do we become so accustomed to what we’re assigned that we fail to look elsewhere? Do we care to change? Some do, and there is always hope. I have posted on various ways to make the hope for positive, responsible and transformative change reality not to mention those aforementioned.

We have to move forward, but remember that like coffee enemas, dominant paradigms of teaching and learning can be quite erroneous.

Maybe we should reconsider what, how and where we put things.


30 Day Question Challenge – DAY 30!!! – Thinking directions

This has been an intense 30 day challenge. I liked it. It challenged me for sure. Is it sustainable? I hope so.

For now, I have listed the questions posed during this challenge of which I am aware. I know there are others out there, so post one or many in a comment and I’ll edit the page. I think that the questions tell us about our thinking – our conceptions, the direction, our interests, hopes, and our concerns.  I’ll save the meta-analysis for a later time.

My questions

  1. What would my class look like if every student embodied a sense of intellectual playfulness?

  2. What if we taught like Zen monks?

  3. What do arrowheads and education have in common?

  4. If you were to get a tattoo about your educational experience or general perception of education, what would it be and where would you put it?

  5. Is there an educational machine? If so, does it need to stop?

  6. If we based our teaching on questions instead of answers, would it help the course and student live in a state of surprise?

  7. What if we designed class like a Twilight Zone episode?

  8. How can we make oblique thinking a part of our classroom culture?

  9. Should we build time to help students (and ourselves) successfully manage all the white noise?

  10. What do teachers and serial killers have in common?

  11. To what extent do we build into our courses opportunities to deeply reflect on learning developments and milestones?

  12. How can Indra’s Web be a guide to rethinking teaching and learning?

  13. How often do we explicitly help students map the topography of their learning?

  14. Why don’t bad beliefs die? And what can we do about it?

  15. Given the vast number of technological tools available for supporting and furthering teaching and learning, how do we know which tools will best fit our needs, goals and dreams?

  16. What if I taught like I drink beer?

  17. Why don’t we teach and learn like the Chinese serve tea?

  18. Is trophy hunting killing education (or at least limiting it)?

  19. What does it mean to hack students’ learning experiences?

  20. How do we make something stick but promote creative exploration at the same time?

  21. Do we have to destroy school to rediscover the love of learning?

  22. What can we learn from taking a perspective that is considered is marginalized or even considered vile?

  23. What would a dynamic syllabus built on illustrations look like, and why do it? What positive things could result if students could build it?

  24. How can we realistically create a course (syllabus) that visually and conceptually similar to the exquisite forest project?

  25. Do you have what it takes to make asking probing and fair-minded questions of others a habit?

  26. How often do we journey into the unknown?

  27. What factors mutate learning in a positive direction?

  28. Do we have an obligation to explore the ethical implications of pedagogy that limits or restricts student creativity?

  29. How often do we ask jugular questions?

    1. How often to we teach students seek out jugular questions?

  30. What do my questions tell me about my thinking? Is it oblique enough?


Britt Watwood’s Questions

  1. Is the instructional design for teaching with new media complicated or complex?

  2. What would a course look like if its premise was the hyperlink rather than a linear chronology?

  3. What rules should faculty “break” in order to better enhance student learning?

  4. How might our teaching change if we shifted our perspective of what is “right” or continuing my metaphor, what is “up”?

  5. If today’s hyperconnected communication networks are bringing about fundamental changes to our work and study environments, are the Seven Principles of Good Practice still relevant or in need of update?

  6. What would teaching look like if both the course and every student lived in a state of surprise?

  7. How can we facilitate the ability and skill of our students to move from meta – or abstract – to concrete when it comes to their own learning.

  8. What would it mean to bring the intensity, passion, and zaniness to teaching that Slash brings to music?

  9. What would teaching and learning look like for students if classes emulated the crowdsourced concept behind Wikipedia to co-develop the class textbook, rather than purchasing an already printed book?

  10. If growth in the internet in users and applications continues to expand exponentially, why has growth in online learning been linear?

  11. In a digitally mediated and data-driven world, what practices will leverage what faculty do best – “…facilitating inquiry, guiding learners to resources, and imparting wisdom that comes with experience in the field” (to quote from the Horizon Report) while taking advantage of the affordances of the web to add value to the higher education student experience?

  12. How can I as faculty make myself unnecessary?

  13. How do (or should) we balance online accountability with anonymity?

  14. How could I craft my teaching so that students surface and interrogate competing fantasies in the search for today’s truth?

  15. Do the ways I approach learning inspire those I teach?

  16. As a teacher, do I want to approach teaching (and learning) as a woodpecker or swift?

  17. How might I approach teaching like a penguin?

  18. How can I teach in a way that sparks learner imagination, fosters their creativity, and leads their thinking from knowledge to innovation?

  19. How would my course change if I flipped the roles of teacher and student?

  20. How can I cultivate knowledge nomads who learn rhizomatically and create their own knowledge domains?

  21. What “crazy” teaching practices might actually better prepare our students for the digital world in which they will live and work?

  22. As a community…how do we stop asking the wrong questions?

  23. How can I lead from the rear to build trust and facilitate networked learning as a norm in my class?

  24. How might my teaching practice be informed and sustainably changed for the better by tinkering with open resources on the web?

  25. How do we in faculty development support the digital presence of 3,000 faculty without something like an LMS?

  26. How can learning in my classes move from covering content to deeper (and playful) explorations?

  27. How do I make my course future proof?

  28. Can I create more sharing of student-generated knowledge or faculty-generated knowledge by working less at controlling it?

  29. What would I want listed on my teaching tombstone?

  30. What are the questions I did not ask but should have?


Other contributions

Tom Woodward asked:

  • Scarification led me to dueling scars.That’s my question. Educational dueling scars?

  • How many details do you have to give someone who is interested in doing something?

  • I wonder if lack of reflection equates to lack of thinking and, if so, is not-thinking a kind of thinking? Can not thinking be your pattern of thought?

  • What would happen if abstraction was removed as a feedback mechanism for students?” If you took away numbers and letters (degrees as well as the ABCDF system) as abstractions/badges for knowledge and teachers had to use words, narratives, and evidence to convey what students knew and could do- how would things change?

Jeff Nugent asked:

  • What might it mean to teach like an octopus? (one of my favorites)

  • How can we “sit differently” to gain new perspectives on teaching and learning?

  • What if your course was more like Chipotle?

  • Do students really get the chance to formulate their own questions within the confines of education?

Other questions posed in comments:

  • What are the mythical jackalopes of education?

  • Would students think more deeply and creatively if they had to make their tools?

  • If I was to ask students to develop a map of the organizing questions, problems and concepts of the course and use them to explain other secondary, tertiary and peripheral concepts and problems, what would it look like?

  • What would individual maps look like versus the map that could be collaboratively developed from the collective whole?

  • What is your favorite resource for talking about information literacy for higher ed students?

  • Does pressure and stress within society and ourselves prevent learning? How could we eliminate our fears and pressure through teachings? If we accept to learn, would we then be accepting to live? How can learning become effortless?

  • But what about the magic of the actual space? Inspiring students to think differently or see the world differently just through the physical space?

  • How can we as teachers influence our learning space? How can we create inspirational learning environments in spite of (or with) what we are given in the “typical” classroom?

So what’s next? I have a couple challenges in mind, but I’m going to take a break and organize this site now.

Thanks for reading.

p.s. I totally believe that the day I stop asking questions is the day my thinking dies. The same is true of any academic discipline. If question posing is so essential, then why doesn’t it define classroom culture?

30 Day Question Challenge – Day 29 – The Jugular Question

In my opinion, this challenge captures the essence of where creative thought begins. Genuine questions drive thinking forward. Extraordinary questions inspire and often transform. I read that Nobel Laureate Arno Penzias once stated: “I went for the jugular question!” That’s what I want to see more regularly…a jugular question. It reminds me of shooting stars.

I once thought that seeing a shooting star was an exception; something that was rare. So, I thought I was lucky to see one – “make a wish!” This was my thinking until an astronomy professor challenged us to stay up all night and chart shooting stars. Equipped with nothing more than a high mountain top, a pen, a constellation chart, coffee and a blanket, I took the challenge. It was an average night, and I charted over 75 shooting stars. It was an eye opening experience. For the first time I considered the possibility that my previous idea that shooting stars were exceptions was wrong. Imagine what a night filled with an asteroid shower would look like?! This was transformative because I then asked: “What other of my beliefs are like that of shooting stars?” Had I held these beliefs because I had failed to look? In my experience the answer was “yes.” I began looking and life changed dramatically.

I see a jugular question as something that gets to the heart of the matter. It cannot be denied or ignored. It is so intense that it must be dealt with. It is significant.

Day 29 Question: How often do we ask jugular questions?

Moreover, how often to we teach students seek out jugular questions?

There is a good article by Vogt, Brown and Isaacs (2003) and entitled The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation and Action. This link takes you to a free download. It’s a simple, but conceptually powerful, and I think inspirational article. One I can always go back to.

Waiting for the chance to see a shooting star is nice, and when you see one, it’s exciting. I want more, and I think students are capable of more.

We could go so far to say a jugular question is equivalent to death by questions. I’m sure we can all relate to the gatling gun spray of questions. That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean a jugular question is one that kills old paradigms because it hits the heart-line of the issue. You feel it. What would class look like if it was organized around jugular questions? It makes me queasy.

If you have a jugular question…. let’s see it!

30 Day Question Challenge – Creativity et al?

Who doesn’t want unbridled creativity? It sounds amazing! Imagine the creative powers that students may collectively bring to the classroom if left to freely explore and develop. I can see students posed with a problem developing all kinds of creative solutions. Cure It comes to mind.  a-sengeh.jpg


Of course we can cite so many examples of valuable innovations.


These are testaments to the amazing intellectual ingenuity and flexibility. But what happens when ingenuity and flexibility serve ethically questionable purposes? I remember visiting a museum exhibition of medieval torture devices.  Guess what this one was used for. torture.jpg

Then there are those innovations that are more a matter of function or utility: chicken factory.jpg

There are also those that are so pervasive we often don’t think to explore the ethical implications. Colton mining and its effects on the Eastern lowland gorilla article by Amy Costanzo, University of Baltimore Law School highlights some of the problems with the technological tools we use daily.

I’m not trying to advance a particular agenda. Rather, I’m merely highlighting a very complex and often overlooked dimension innate to multi-layered issues.  Additionally, I’m highlighting the thinking that we bring (or don’t bring) to these issues. Do we have a responsibility to address the ethical implications of creative work regardless of the discipline?

To take this question a little further, I’d also like to ask: Do we have an obligation to explore the ethical implications of pedagogy that limits or restricts student creativity? That’s my Day 28 Question.

This blog is for reflective purposes, in part, so I cannot answer these questions with any definitive conclusions. That doesn’t tend to be the nature of ethical discourse anyway. My goal today is to reflect on the nature of innovation and attempt to expose some of the assumptions we project on the topic.

Food for thought (and the table depending on how you think about the chickens).

In any case, I’d like to show that humans are not the only innovative thinkers on this planet. Crows, for example, are pretty damn innovative.



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?