Category Archives: #blimage

Twisted Pair / Blimage Challenge – Learning Transformation or Chindogu?

Today’s post is in response to a challenge put forth to me by Steve Wheeler. 


It is a combination of the #blimage challenge and the  #twistedpair challenge. Clearly I like challenges. My question for today: Is it learning transformation or is it chindogu?

SOME CONTEXT: The #twistedpair blogging challenge asks you to put together an unlikely pairing of characters – these can be historical, contemporary or fictional – and write about the connection they have (however tenuous) and how it relates to teaching and learning. Here is the original challenge. The blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

My twisted pairing for the day comes from a conversation with my colleague Tom Woodward. The original question we framed is this: Is it real work or chindogu?  Since that fateful day when the question became a reality, I have not only mulled it over myself, but I have challenged faculty at multiple universities to do the same. Let’s just say that it has got a lot of intellectual traction. Here is more on chindōgu, but the gist of it is that you create things for novelty sake or your invent things that seemingly solve one problem, but in the process create many more. The featured image is of a man jogging with a robot monkey on his back feeding him tomatoes. Hmmmm???

So, what does this have to do with teaching and learning? It’s an issue of perspective.

tug of war

One one side, the instructor (me) desires to cultivate particular skills, dispositions, attitudes or insights for every activity and assignment I create. For example, when I want students to critically read an article, I’m looking for them to enter into a dialogue with the author and ask that author questions that explores her purposes, agendas, assumptions, conceptual choices, claims, evidence, conclusions, contexts and contrast that with alternative interpretations and perspectives (not all at the same time of course, particularly for undergrads). HOWEVER, students often come at it from different perspectives and agendas. They might think: “How can I read this as quickly as possible?” This is the other side: how students see the work.

When student goals are not in line with the instructor’s goals, then neither is going to be accomplished with any significant degree of satisfaction. Moreover, it can become a terrible tug-of-war.

As instructors, we have to think through the structures of the content, pedagogical structures and the logic of student thinking (their assumptions, preconceptions, expectations, prior knowledge, skills and agendas). As instructors, I have to help students understand my goals and dreams for their intellectual development; otherwise, I run the risk of students seeing the work that I assign as chindogu: aka busy work.

What I see as significant, students may see as chindogu. What I see as a necessary step in developing a skill, students may see as chindogu. What I see as necessary for developing insight, students may see as chindogu. How do I minimize the risk of chindogu?

Well, one way is to surface those assumptions that characterize student expectations of what their responsibility to learning is and compare it with their expectations of what the instructor is “supposed” to do. Then disrupt it.

Here is one example, and its complement.

Is it easy? No. Is it important? Yes.



Blimage Challenge – Bow Tie as Content


[This is the blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

I have taken a few days to think about this one. Admittedly, I am trying to interpret this image through the lenses of education, but  that is just too broad. I could focus on an individual vehicle arguing that we are all just trying to get somewhere in a larger system that dictates our direction. This interpretation might betray the 10,000 foot view, not to mention the clear overtones of critique. Rather, I am going to use this image as a metaphor for CONTENT.

How many times have we said and heard other instructors say something like: “I have too much content to cover and not enough time!” Although I have not only heard this sentiment, I have said it and felt it deeply. Nonetheless, it is a misconception of what content is and what it means to “cover” it.

If I may take license to generalize, humans are excellent at compartmentalizing. We chunk information to best suit specific tasks. It is a very efficient way of thinking….for short term gains. For numerous reasons, many of which can be contributed to a beautiful combination between human nature and subsequent educational systems, students often fail to see (organize, conceptualize and visualize) the purposes, key questions, point(s) of view, assumptions, methods and key insights of a given course. In other words, if I wanted my students to address a single question at the end of a course, what would it be? If students cannot organize their thinking in this manner, can they see alternative constructions?

I want students to see my course as a product of my reasoning. Just like any article, book, blog, or television program to name a few constructs. Moreover, I want them to see their work in the course as a product of their reasoning.

A former colleague of mine, Gerald Nosich, argued in his book, Learning to Think Things Through, that content is a system of interconnected meanings informed by claims, information and methods that help us reason through problems and issues unique to the discipline. When we teach students content, we are introducing them to the reasoning that makes the thing what it is. Like Adler and Van Doren argued in How to Read a Book, when we read critically we are engaging in a dialogue with the author: we explore her assumptions, her lines of inquiry, her conclusions, her concepts, her choices, we ask her questions, etc. Ultimately, we begin to construct the 10,000 ft view. Gardner Campbell explores this idea for education as a whole here.

Another way to metaphorically express this concept is found in David Perkins’ book Making Learning Whole.  When it comes to intellectual engaging in the construction of content understanding, we can ask: What do searchlights and lasers have to do with student intelligence?

What’s the alternative? Well, we can cover material, data and even information. That’s easy, but if we want students to see the relationships between the information and the conclusions and interpretations that it informs, then something more than passive exposure is necessary.

I see the bow tie highway intersections as a strong metaphor for what content is. If we tell students what it is, they will not necessarily experience the logic that informs the what and the why. They might be able to passively follow a path, but they will not be able to understand what is going on around them. Moreover, only by thinking through the content as a system will they be able to explore options: those exits and side roads that illustrate new lines of inquiry and contribution.

It’s a move from passenger to driver, or from user to designer.

#blimage challenge – Spelunking Education


[This is the blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]

My focus throughout this blog is firmly fixed on issues of education and faculty development. With that said, this photograph calls up Plato’s cave analogy. However, instead of going out, I want to go in….deeper. Let’s briefly examine the role of exploration and adventure within the typical day of class.

I really like taking adventures. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to go caving (spelunking) in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. I got the idea from a National Geographic magazine. My friend and I repelled into pits, crawled through small tunnels, squeezed our bodies through plates of limestone all for the purpose of exploration: How deep could we go? What, if anything, lived down here? What does it feel like to be in complete, all consuming darkness? How would we manage our fears (e.g. claustrophobia)? What new structures and natural oddities might we discover? How do you prepare for unknowns like mud, water, cliffs, hydration, nutrition, broken limbs, etc.?  In the process, we saw things that most people will never get to see. The best part of it is that these caves never seemed to end. There was always more, which left us (to this day) wanting to go back.

3.29.12 215
(Look closely and you can see me)

When I think about teaching and learning, I have to ask: To what extent is my course a place of exploration? In the macro sense, I will move students deeper into the caves of the subject matter and their intellectual development. There are big questions that we can always revisit. In other words, if my course had one question that all our material would seek to address, what would it be? For example, I teach Inquiry and the Craft of Argument to undergraduates. One big question for the course next term is:

To what extent do people make decisions about what to believe and do based on sound reasoning?

One cave in this course is the exploration and examination of what it means to have confidence in sound reasoning.

On a micro, day-to-day, level, we find ourselves moving through questions (like tunnels) that may splinter off or end. We find ourselves back tracking, setting markers to find our way back out. We create mental maps by noting features and experiences in certain places. We manage our expectations and desires so that we can come out safely, but inspired. We periodically stop to assess our resources, progress and goals. We collaborate with partners to choose lines of inquiry, to check our egos, and to share the enjoyment of discovery. We see things that we may wish to explore later.

3.29.12 125

I know these are metaphorical abstractions, so what might an example look like?

Assumptions are a always a good place to start. A key to teaching students to think critically and creatively is to help them identify and examine their assumptions relevant to the the subject, course and teaching and learning responsibilities. How often do we crawl into the cave of a text and ask students to uncover the author’s assumptions? How often do we challenge them to explore the extent to which their assumptions direct their behaviors and, therefore, what they see when they read, write, listens, build? How often do they fair-mindedly examine my assumptions about what they are to learn and do?

The right frame of mind, the right network, the right resources, and the right tools (even if we have to make them) can help us do amazing things. In the caves of inquiry, we find parts of ourselves that had we not ventured in might be unknown forever. So, with respect to Plato’s cave, I say there is a time to go deeper inside.



#blimage Challenge #1: The Chalkboard


This is the blimage  (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.

My first thoughts jump to John Locke and his epistemological notion of the blank slate. However, I don’t totally subscribe to that idea any longer due to my years of teaching, emerging understanding of genetics and two kids. Next thoughts surface my critical pedagogical side that wishes to discuss privilege and access to education; a worthy topic and one that continues to be documented.  Ryan’s Five Miles Away, A World Apart is a contemporary example that places my city in the cross-hairs. It is a perspective that reminds me of Fyodor Dostoevsky when he lamented  “those who philosophize, their bellies are full.” (roughly recalled).  Although both perspectives are significant and interesting, I’m going to take a different path. Today, I want to discuss the hand in motion, motivated to make thinking visible (I’ll call this my pragmatic idealistic side).

I have often reflected that there is a sense in which thought not applied is useless. If we want to measure something, to determine its worth, then we have to see how it acts, who it influences, how it’s built, what it looks like. I hold myself to this standard as a scholar, instructor, partner and parent. I also hold my students to this standard. I wish I counted how many times I’ve heard something like: “I haven’t written the paper yet, but it’s in my head.” That’s useful. Likewise, since I work with faculty to build new things (courses, pedagogy, conceptions, assignments, philosophies, websites, etc.), I want to actually see change. Specifically, I want to see development, innovation, growth, experimentation, and happiness.

To get there, we must act. It reminds me of this photo originally brought to my attention in a tweet from Gardner Campbell.


The slate and chalk are experimental mediums. We write and draw in a public space that is erased, reconfigured and shared. We often work with others to call upon the powers of collective intelligence to build and demonstrate understanding, to build new ideas, and to be intellectually playful. I have seen how young children gravitate toward the slate with chalk in hand merely to see what comes from within.

So, I have to ask, what’s my chalkboard?