Students: Why You're Smarter Than You Think

One of the biggest challenges I encounter in teaching is seeing students determined to believe that they are poor learners in general or within the particular field of study they are encountering (in my case: literature or history).  It's frustrating because as someone vested in their learning and learning in general, I know that it's not an innate inability to do the work but more often, their mindset that inhibits them.  In fact, too often I see students believing they are not good enough at a subject matter and abandon it without really knowing if they enjoy it or not (nevermind whether they are good at it--whatever that may mean).  
Cast of the 1939 Wizard of Oz

I teach college level students.  They run the gamut from being just released from the imprisoning and often detrimental high school to having been away from school for decades.  Either way, they enter the classroom with some trepidation; even those that believe they are strong learners (whatever that means!).  They often enter the class with the assumption that I (as instructor) am the "expert" and therein have all the right answers (I don't.).  It would be amusing, if it were so problematic for their own learning.  The role of the "instructor" and  our current conception and execution of learner in contemporary education still holds that the instructor is the authoritative known-all, be-all; the Great Oz if you will.  The best of us (and I'm not implying that I am part of the "best") know that we are more human behind the curtain, than giant monstrous projection.  

Teachers, instructors, facilitators, we are more like Dorothy.  We got some advice from strangers one day when we awoke in a fascinating world that we were intrigued by.  Those strangers sent us down a path to get our ultimate answers and though we strayed along the way, we continue to find the answers we're seeking (though ever rarely reach the true end of that path).  That path is the discipline we study, enjoy and find value in.  

Off onto the Yellow Brick Road

So if I could say anything to my students about their learning and get them out of the frame of feeling they are poor learners or incapable of doing great work, I'd tell them something like this:  

What happens when you get interested in something?  Be it a TV Show, a musician, an artistic style, a style of fighting, a local sports team, a new style of cooking, a model of car, a new knitting design, a new phone model, a sequel to your favorite video game, etc, how do you react to this interest?  

You seek out more information about it, you fiddle with it, you ask others for insight on it, you read about it, you tweet about it, you get into arguments about it, you fight for it.  You become invested in it.  And that investment consists of using your power (physical, mental, financial, relational, etc) to get closer to it.  To know it better.  

That energy expended--it's all in the name of learning. Learning is coming to know something or someone.  And you do this constantly in your life.  In fact, you love to learn.  You love to study too; all that time and energy put in trying to understand that interest--is studying.  You love getting one step closer to the object of your attention because learning in itself is rewarding.  In fact, in many ways, you will often pay (in time, money, attention) to get to know your interest better.  You're willing to sacrifice bits and parts of yourself to get to know it better.  

That "aha!" moment when you figure out something new about the object of your attention on your own; it's awesome.  That moment brings you closer to the object of your desire in some abstract way.  Knowing all the stats about your favorite baseball team does not bring you physically closer to the team, but it does bring you intellectually closer and there's an inherent reward in that.  There is reward and benefits in learning.  You are intrinsically rewarded for getting to know it better. 

You sometimes forget that you're a constant learner.  You sometimes forget that the difference between learning in your life is not any different than learning in a classroom.  The major difference is that you may not come to the subject matter with much interest beyond that the course stands as a barrier between you and your end goal (a grade, a degree, a job, etc).  But if you take the time to consider that the same intrinsic rewards that await you in those things you have sought out to study can also be found in these subject matters, you'll find there is value in getting to know it better.  

Some of the most interesting and rewarding experiences await when you find a way to put down your guard about learning and what you can and can't learn.  It opens up a world where the only thing that limits you and your learning is time.  Time to find all the things that you want to get to know better.

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Interview with Michael Goodwin, Author of Economix

Book cover of Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr's Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) In Words and Pictures
About two weeks ago, I put finished an awesome book.  My review of it one-sentence review of it on Facebook was clear and simple: "one of the most coherent texts on economics ever (probably cause it's a comic book!)."  Michael Goodwin & Dan E. Burr's Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn't Work) In Words and Pictures explained economics in a way that made sense--no longer grounded in simple theory but in the actual history through which they developed.  I was so excited about the experience, I look to contact the author and artist to see if they would let me interview them and they kindly agreed.  In this post, I'll interview the author, Michael Goodwin and follow up with the artist, Dan E. Burr next.

Lance:  What inspired the idea for the book?

Michael:  Really, it was my interest in history. History keeps coming back to the same economic patterns, and I thought I should understand them. But when I looked at economic textbooks, the things I was interested in either weren't there, or they were stuck in sidebars without any context.

So I went back to the original sources, especially Adam Smith. I thought I'd known what Smith said--free markets rah rah rah--but he was so much richer than that. He includes everything from Carthaginian history to the price of kelp to the beauty of Irish prostitutes in London. As I read him and others, I realized that there was a whole story there that nobody was really telling.

Lance:  So did Smith end up your favorite economist or is there another?    (And did you ever imagine you'd be laying claim to a favorite 'economist'?)

Michael:  Hmm. Smith is up there, but I'd say that my favorite economist is probably John Kenneth Galbraith. Not that he was right about everything, but he's the only economist who really tried to nail down the modern corporate economy the way Smith nailed down the economy of his day.

In another sense, my favorite would be the 19th-century social thinker Henry George, just because he was so much fun to read--clear, moral, and lively. I would save his books to read as a treat for when my eyes were glazing over from reading other economists.

Lance:  Why choose comics to communicate the information?

Michael:  Well, I grew up in a household where comics were taken seriously, even before Maus (my stepfather is the cartoonist Rick Meyerowitz). I knew that comics are just plain more accessible and memorable. That especially mattered because the book was about a really intimidating subject; I was trying to reach the sorts of people who are scared away from the topic normally.

Lance:  Do you read comics?  Which ones?  Favorites?

Michael:  I do; I mostly prefer nonfiction comics, but then I mostly read nonfiction in general. I'll read anything by Larry Gonick, by Guy Delisle, by Joe Sacco, by Harvey Pekar, I could go on.

Lance:  Who were influential comics/authors in the creation of your work?  Were you channeling Scott McCloud?  Larry Gonick?  Rick Geary?

Michael:  Larry Gonick was the big one; he was half the reason I loved history in the first place. I'm also a big fan of Scott McCloud's work. I liked Rick Geary's stuff but I didn't know he'd done all the stuff he's done; I'm looking him up now and thinking I have to read some of his pieces.

Lance:  Was Gonick’s Einstein-like Guide the inspiration for creating a similar icon to represent yourself?  Why did you feel the need for the presence of this character?

Michael: Both Gonick and McCloud inspired me to use a narrator, but the reason I made the narrator represent me was to drive home the point that this is my book, from my point of view. If I'd had the narrator be Adam Smith, or a talking coin, or something like that I would have been giving the book an authority that I don't want to assume. There are far too many authors setting themselves up as authorities already.

Lance:  What challenges came up in the use of communicating this as comics?

Michael:  Well, it's a huge subject, and using the comics form meant I had to keep my word count way down. You can actually read Economix in an afternoon. Keeping the story from overflowing its banks was a real challenge.

Lance:  How did the collaboration come about?

Michael:  I always knew that I would have to have someone draw it--my crude stick figures would have gotten old fast. My agent knew Dan and recommended him, and Dad's samples were like ten times better than anyone else's.

Lance:  How did the partnering work for the project?

Michael:  I would write a detailed script with the text and what was going on in the panel. Dan would figure out how things would lay out and send sketches, I would make changes, and Dan would do the inks. Then, half the time, I would change my mind and Dan would have to start over again. (Sorry, Dan.)

Lance:  What challenges did you run into in terms of content and layout?

Michael:  That's more of a Dan question, but the book is still sort of dense; getting everything to fit while still having it visually inviting was a big challenge.

Lance:  How hard was the selling of the idea to a publisher as a comic?

Michael:  Only one place--Abrams ComicArts—wanted it, but one is enough. It specializes in comics (obviously) and particularly looks for unusual comics that don't fit existing categories. So it was a good fit. But still, I had to write the entire first draft before I even tried to sell it, because this is my first comic and my first book; nobody was going to give me a contract on my say-so that I could do it.

Lance:  What was the biggest surprise in the whole experienced of creating and publishing the graphic novel?

Michael:  How many other people have gone above and beyond to help it see daylight. People really got behind this book.

Lance: Any good examples of people that helped along the way to make the book a reality?

Michael: The obvious one is Dan; I think he cared a lot more about this book than he would have about a superhero comic that took the same amount of work and paid the same. It was a relief to know that he was as committed to seeing the book through as I was.  The publisher, Abrams, has been great too; every single author friend I have complains that their publisher didn't get behind the book. I'm like the only author who doesn't have that complaint.

Lance:  How has the book received?   What critiques have you received from the book in terms of content?  political vantage point?  artistic approach?

Michael:  It's been received really well. The reviews have ranged from positive to raves. Some people aren't entirely comfortable with the political content, but the only people who haven't liked it are a couple of conservatives on Amazon reviews.

Lance:  What would you change or revise in hindsight about the book in terms of content, art, voice, etc?

Michael:  Nothing about the art or the voice. I have some content tweaks but nothing major; as Dan can attest, I'm always tweaking. I do find myself wishing that I had like ten more pages of space to put in some stuff I cut out.

Oh, and in one panel I'm talking about how it may not be too late to stop certain environmental disasters, and the illustration is a flooded lower Manhattan. And not two months after the book is published, lower Manhattan floods. So that was a bad example. I would change that.

Lance:  At one point in the book, you step out of the book and speak about how you're directly injecting your values--what let to that decision?

Michael:  Well, as I say early on, every book on the economy reflects the author's values; the typical econ textbook is very political in what it chooses to talk about and what it doesn't. (For instance, since the 1950s the military budget has arguably been the single biggest fact in the economy, but you can read entire textbooks that don't mention it). But when you're dealing with the past, you seem more objective even when you're taking political stances--nobody sane thinks slavery or child labor was a good idea anymore. So my editor thought that the fact that my book is coming from a political point of view needed to be emphasized as the book reached the present day and economic debates that haven't been settled yet the way slavery has. And I agreed.

Lance:  It's probably about 6 months to a year since you finished the book; do you see any other changes or developments in the economy (positive, negative or neutral)?

Michael:  I'm waiting to see what happens with the "fiscal cliff" negotiations; it's a totally artificial crisis, but as Naomi Klein points out in The Shock Doctrine, artificial crises can become real crises if we use them as an excuse to give up the advances we've fought for.

Lance:  Current and future projects?

Michael:  Right now I'm just enjoying not having this book over my head. I'm planning another book; it will basically give some of the parts I had to take out of this book, but I'm not sure which parts yet.

Stick around for the next interview with artist Dan E. Burr.  For more information about their book and future endeavors, check out their website, Economix Comics.

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What I'm Giving Thanks For

Shortly into November, I saw the rise of friends on different social networks giving daily thanks.  They were participating in 30 Days of Thanks.  It's a great idea and one that seemed to catch among friends from one to another.  By the time I came across it, I figured it was too late to start for November.  I'm sure some would say that it's never too late to give thanks and to that I would agree.  However, I figured instead of the trend already established, I would just reflect upon within this blog to consider all the gifts in my life.

So what does it mean to give thanks?  It means to recognize that my life is not my own, entirely.  That for all the great and wonderful things afforded me in my life come from the people and things around me, just as much as it does from me.  Dear friends and loved ones who care and provide for me physical, emotional, and mental support.  Colleagues and professional associates who provide me great opportunities for work and development as well as insights into the world that I don't have.  The social, economic, and cultural opportunities granted to me by the time and place that I live in.  The stability and safety of the areas that I have grown up in.

To give thanks in its entirety is to recognize that while I may be self-evident, the evidence of my continued success in this world is built upon a great many other people, institutions, and privileges granted to me and sadly, denied to billions in this world.  I am blessed in myriad ways and try to live my life in a way that takes advantage of those blessings as much as possible.

So I give thanks on this day and in reflecting about the ways that I have much to be thankful, I hope that I can live a life that is more appreciative and genuine 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tales of Running: Running & Daydreaming

So I'm currently reading (ok, listening to) Jonah Lehrer's Imagine:  How Creativity Works and despite the issues around Lehrer's journalistic practices, there are elements to it that I certainly appreciate.  At its core, the book identifies the manners and reasons in which people come to generate creativity in their lives.  I do believe that in some ways I am creative and recognize some of the actions and ways he describes people's habits for generating creativity active in my daily life.

One element he discusses is creating time and opportunities for deliberate daydreaming.  He explains that it's not enough to just daydream, but to be conscious of that daydreaming to draw upon and bring back into the real world.  For me, this idea is felt most palpably is running.  Running is a quiet time.  It's often me, the music, and the road.  Not much interaction with the world around me beside monitoring for safe cues to proceed.  Running is day-dream time.   The quietness of running affords me great time to think and for great durations.  If I'm doing a run of an hour or more, that's a lot of time to let my mind wander through all sorts of topics.  I don't set out on the path with a determined agenda but I let my mind wander interspersed with focusing on my body's mechanics as I warm up to the run.  Somewhere around mile 2 or 3, I slip into the daydream.  Usually, it's some problem or challenge directly in my line of vision--that is, it's something directly related to immediate life.  Maybe it's a project I'm working on or a decision I'm trying to make.  At other times, it comes apropos of nothing but some random (or possibly not random but not a coherently identifiable) thought that I pursue.  As I ponder the topic, I find that it eats up the miles as I try to understand make sense of it.

But thinking about it, isn't enough, I often need to follow through upon returning home--something that doesn't always happen.  I act on many of these thought journeys but not always.  I sometimes forget.  I sometimes do not feel as ambitious or brave after I've returned home, showered, and am sitting on the couch.  But some of my best ideas do come from this quiet time.

In many ways, as I contemplate writing a book, I feel these runs are helping me tweak and devise what Stephen Johnson would call, "the long hunch."  As I have put the miles behind me, it's a topic I come back to and deliberate on, adding elements that I think would be useful and tweaking just want it is that I want to say and how to say it in the most effective way possible.

Another opportune time comes in the minutes before sleep.  In general, I'm quick to fall to sleep. 10 minutes and I'm out.  But that's not always the case and even when it is, those thoughts in my head do swirl and again, ideas come to the forefront.  Acting on these are harder.  My goal in lying down is to go to sleep.  If I don't capture the idea before falling asleep, I will lose it.  But if I do capture the idea (either writing it down or vocally recording it,), I am pulled out of the sleepy revelry.  So it's either lost sleep or lost ideas.  And sometimes, the lost idea wins out (or rather loses).   

Before Lehrer, I've always been a fan of unplanned thinking time--time to just enjoy reflection and following the different strands of thought that move through our synapses.  I've always known it to be valuable, but I'm glad I'm not the only one who recognizes it.  There is a joy in thinking and being aware of the strange way the free-thought process works.  As elusive and abstract as it can be, it can also produce some really great insights and ideas.

Soooo...that's just something to think about...maybe on your next run?

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Adventures in Learning : Transforming Learning Moment?

This week’s class focused on transformational learning and how that can instructors can facilitate that experience in learners in a loosely structured manner.  The group presenting led us down an activity where we broke into pairs and worked through the first three stages of the process:  Experience, Critical Reflection, and Reflective Discourse.  The final stage was Action to which we were directed to take up the conversation by writing about it.  With that in mind, what follows are my reflections on the questions posed.  I did like this activity as it made me pause and think about something I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while and better understand what stands in the way of that (and how to address it).


  • What positive change would you like to make that would impact your life? This may include work, home, community, relationships with others. Anything.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to write a book (and by now, have probably written the equivalent therein with over 150 posts on this blog).  I know there’s numerous books in me to write and many know that writing has been a passion of mine for decades, ever since I took up writing on a computer in eighth grade.
  • Based on the situation you are in right now, what prevents you from making that change?  
Focus is the primary challenge.  There are many projects that I am involved in right now that distract me from focusing on the book.  From working on Masters #3, to the miscellaneous writing I do here, to running, to the extra teaching gigs I enjoy, to developing other skills (cooking, gardening, etc).  There’s also been a lack of focus on topic.  Do I write fiction or nonfiction?  Do I go for a collection of short stories or a collection of essays?  However of late, I’m honing in on a memoir that as I said to my group talks about health, weight, identity, and all that cultural shit that comes with it (they thought that would make a great title; I’m leaning towards Fatboy Shuffle for various reasons connected to the content).

Critical Reflection:

  • What has led you to this desire to change?  This may include historical or biographical, cultural and familial, political, geographical, financial, spiritual reasons. 
I feel like I have something to say, a good grasp of how to say it, and the skills to say it in a book form.  Ultimately, there’s a cross-section of things that have come into place to make me feel that I could offer, through reflection about how I have made sense of and move through the world, some useful things for others to think about.

Reflective Discourse:

  • Is there someone or something in your life that would provide a model for you so you can ‘see’ what this change would look like? Explain.
The most relevant models I would have to look to are friends who have completed a dissertation.  After all, it’s a yeoman’s task.  Pouring years of one’s work into an effort that in the end may result in very little (may not even result in a doctorate or an improved chance in employment or other “returns on investment).
  • What are they doing that you admire? 
Mostly, I admire the large amount of energy they have put into a wholly intellectual task of capture the knowledge within their realm of their study and pushing it forward in some new, interesting, different way than previously put forth.  I don’t know that I would claim the book I want to write has that same merit, but it’s still a serious act of intellectual rigor (insomuch as I conceive of the ways I want to talk about the ways I understand my life and world around me).
  • What are your perceived limitations to this change? Is there a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) for how you’d like to change?
The limitations are largely ones I’ve put upon myself.  There are other projects that I’ve prioritized (training, gardening, degrees, teaching opportunities, writing opportunities that pay directly, etc).  I know the ability is within me; after all, as I already said, I’ve written probably a (disorganized and crazy-range) book’s worth of entries on this blog.  I also wrote a (poorly written) book in high school… 2.5 times.  So I’m not sure I need external help; though I would imagine external nudging would certainly be encouraging (as I learned from my running experience).
  • Are there any resources available to you to help make this change? 
I have all the tools and resources I need; the only others that I can think of are some additional connections in the publishing industry; but I think I may have a few out there, willing to help.
  • What level of self-effort or resources do you envision necessary to make this change? Explain.
It’s mostly about making a conscious effort to dedicate time and energy to this project and put it on the priority list.  I think there are ways of doing that and I need to sit down and map out the project
  • What motivates you to make this change?
It’s time.  I also want to see what actually putting thoughts to paper will lead me in understanding myself and the world around me more.
  • Do you think the people around you think you need to make this change?
No.  Or if they do, they know that like many things in my life, when I’m ready to make the change, I will.
  • Are there any reasons why anyone around you would not want you to make this change? 
No.  Those around me tend to be supportive.
  • If you don’t make this change will there be any consequences?

Nothing, beyond self-disappointment.
  • How will making this change improve or enrich your life?
I will feel that I’ve been able to contribute something meaningful to the discussion of health, identity, and culture that I would hope be helpful to many others grappling with the same issues and challenges.
  • What impact will this change have on your daily life? 1 month from now? 6 months from now? A year from now?
It would be one more parcel of time I need to plan and account for over the next year or longer.  Beyond that, I think it would further enrich my own daily experiences in how I make sense of what I experience and what I do.
  • If you had to guess the likelihood of successfully making this change; are the chances high, medium or low? Please explain.
High.  That I’ve made it this far in the self-examination has certainly triggered a mixture of ways of approaching it and conceptualizing it.  That I am posting it on the blog is another means of making it more likely to happen since it creates a public account; something no longer within me solely but made available to anyone (yea, all 3 of you) that read this.  It’s something I’ve learned to be very powerful in pushing me (and people in general) to commit to certain things.

So there are the questions.  Honestly answered.  Now I have to go…and start thinking about that book.

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On Meme'ing Hurricane Sandy

In a previous post, I talked about my attempt to capture and/or create a meme.  I have blogged elsewhere how I was fascinated with the fast-pasted meme of the New England earthquake on 10/16/2012.  As Hurricane Sandy soon descended upon New England, I set out to see if I could mimic what I survived the 10/16/12 earthquake Facebook page did with a page of my own: Thanks Sandy The Frankenstorm, No School/Work Today and Maybe Tomorrow.  Much of my work and thoughts around this was inspired by Bill Wasik's And Then There's This, a great book about the nature of memes.

How did it go?  Meh.  Not great but interestingly nonetheless and I learned some interesting things that are useful in this regard.  My observations and thoughts are as such.

Facebook page cover.
It reached 67 likes at its height.

Lesson 1:  Consider Your Topic

What made the earthquake enjoyable and amusing was that it was done and over with before most people knew about it and did very little in terms of actual damage to humans and buildings alike.  Some are likely to have heard of the Facebook page before the actual earthquake.  Thus what was a potentially cataclysmic event was largely amusing.  By contrast, I took on something that was still ongoing and was actually life-threatening (death toll was over 100 last I checked) and did serious damage to many parts of the Eastern coast.  It was poor judgment to be bemusing the storm that was having serious effects.  No one actually called me on this one surprisingly, but in hindsight, clearly, I missed that piece.  Thus in the future, I'm likely to tread a bit more lightly and think more big-picture.

Lesson 2:  Making Is Not Enough; Spread It Everywhere

If you build it, they won't come.  In an age of digital bits, being found is half the problem.  So there were numerous things I did to get people attracted to the page.  Of course, I also blew this lesson and bordered on (and crossed right into) spamming.  Some of those tactics included:
Twitter and Hashtags:  I tweeted regularly from my account and also at particular popular Tweeters from news organizations to other individuals who were talking about Hurricane Sandy, some of those tweets included:
  • enjoy the day off by visiting the #Facebook #Sandy #DayOff Page & #sharing your #pics #experiences & #memes
  • now's the time to start #praying or #hoping for #noschool or #nowork tomorrow--join the #fanpage and thank #Sandy the #Frankenstorm #dayoff
Google + & circles:  I posted regularly similar posts like those for Twitter on my Google+ accounts.
Other Sandy Facebook Pages:  I joined other Hurricane Sandy pages and encouraged them to join us and also would often share their posts with my group.
Blog:  I wrote the aforementioned posts and it too served as a launching point.
Facebook  Page analytics at its peak.
Its reach

Lesson 3:  Promote Useful Information

What I saw on other Sandy pages that I didn't do as well was post useful information and updates.  Though at one point I did post links to state by state school closings, but that was largely irrelevant--fitting with the page but actually generating much interaction.  In hindsight though, I think if I were making an information-related timely site, I could see pulling in a great deal of internet resources to provide timely information to the fans of the page.  That seems a useful lesson to consider; how to be timely and relevant for the page-fans.

Lesson 4: Interact

In order for the word to spread, there needs to be interaction on the page.  I did this sporadically in bursts, so there would be a bunch of posts and then nothing for hours.  A more regulated amount of interaction would do better.  I also should have regularly created more interesting images to post.  Rather than sharing them from other places, I needed to do more than share content; I needed to make and post content.
Facebook page analytics for gender and age
Gender and Age range for the group

Lesson 5:  Pay Attention to But Try Not to Obsess about Numbers

Many know that watching numbers can be a rather addicting trap.  Hitting refresh and seeing what's changed.  I remember the first time I fell into this trap was the Donate count on's website days after 9/11.  It just kept growing and growing.  My numbers didn't but I still kept looking.  It's important to look at the numbers, but might have been more useful to do so less actively.  The numbers can show you a lot.  Digital analytics on facebook and google are pretty good at showing you what's going on.  They're important; but don't obsess over them. 

Lesson 6:  Next Time:  Plan Better Before Executing

The rush in my excitement about doing it meant I didn't step back and reflect a bit more substantially about how to go about it.  There are a variety of things I could have planned better with (including the things above).  I think even if I gave it an extra two hours of strategy, I could have captured more interaction and had a clearer purpose.  However, my attempt to launch first and think later just meant I didn't think all that much.

In the end, more strategy to develop a clearer message and plan, coupled with consciously producing content and fostering relations with out social media are key take aways.  I peaked at about 67 users (31 of which were friends of mine) and that was only through borderline spamming which tells me it didn't catch any viral waive but just overexposure from me.

Thoughts about education:  I think meme-making would an interesting tool for learning.  Organizing and orchestrating a campaign around a concept  (I'm The Real Shakespeare; Science Will Make Me a Superhero, Environment-The Only Thing We Have to Protect Us From Aliens) and pushing students to make it catch on could be an interesting challenge that encourages them to get invested in material and use it as a means to connect with other people through social media.  I think that just might be my next experiment!

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Adventures in Learning: Breaking Out of the Box

As we're more than 2/3 of the way through the course, I find myself a bit disappointed about the execution of the course.  In a course on adult learning that focuses on theory, there has been some positive elements employed such as empowering the students to conduct the class and become much more involved in the learning process.  And yet, we largely fell into the default positions of a typical undergraduate class (we're all guilty of this; the learners, the group instructors--I'm not divorcing myself from it--just reflecting on it).

Virtually, all of the classes have been this format: Start with a small activity.  Move into a lecture format wherein the group tells the class about the different people in the field and how the theory works.  This is followed by another activity and maybe some discussion.  End of class.   This is an adequate format.  We've all been exposed to hundred of classrooms in our lives that are conducted in very similar ways.  It's safe and relatively acceptable.

 Therein, there seems to be a great disconnect from what the groups are teaching and what they are doing.  Many of the theories argue and encourage different approaches to instruction.  They also encourage us to think about communicating the information differently, yet we all seem to default to the behavioral method illustrated earlier in class and in our own educational experience.  We ingest facts and do an exercise, but we don't necessarily ingest or experience the theory at work.  The exercise is nice, but it isn't enough on its own.  The layout identified above seems to say, "here's the information, do what you want with it, but it hasn't been interestingly enough to us to actually try it."

It reminds me of why I'm such a big fan of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (check out his great Ted Talk).  McCloud's central point is that comics are awesome and that they have so much to offer.  It was published in 1992; well before people took comics as serious as some of us do today.  But it wasn't McCloud's strong and insightful argument that made the case; other works touting the power of comics had been around for a while.  What changed the game was the fact that it was in comics form.  As I explain it to others, imagine if you were trying to explain all the nuances and elements of poetry, but didn't do it in a lecture or standard essay, but communicated it through a long and well-composed poem.  McCloud created a 220+ page comic book that explained all the intricacies of comics.  He used the form to to talk about the form and did so in a way that made sense to all that read it.  You get to the end of Understanding Comics and you know that there is no better way to engage in learning about the form.  It seems to me that if we are the educators we're aspiring to be; this is what we should be aiming for; a full immersed learning experience based around the theory--not just teaching the theory through a previous model.

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Adventures in Learning: Self Learning....Buttttt

So our reading in the course I'm taking led us into self-directed learning this week.  A topic I know all too well.  Many of my friends know that I'm a self-defined nerd.  My nerdiness knows no bounds.  Apparently, someone told me as a child that I would be a life-longer learner and I took that to heart.  I can remember from a very early age being curious and interested in learning more.  Whether it was learning everything there was to know about Marvel Comics, Star Wars, or stuff that was not so sci-fi oriented, I would constantly seek out knowledge.  I taught myself how to add and take out components on a computer and how to create webpages back in the late 1990s.  I would go to the library on weekends, just to find books to read and learn new things about.  I feel in love with audiobooks in part because I could learn that much more with what little time I had on Earth.  And as many know, I'm a perpetual student, acquiring degrees and taking courses because I'm just nerdy like that.

So as we looked self-learning this week, I felt quite at home.  And yet (to no one's surprise either), I still had some issues with it.  Let's talk about the good first!

Both Tenant and Pogson and Merriam et al recognize the social dynamics and condition that may or may not create self-directed learning.  They recognize that one's self-directed path is going to be influenced by the world in which they have been put (and/or moved into).

"In the life course of any individual, social phenomena like gender and age category are historical givens.  They are arbitrary in the sense that they are human creations but they are nevertheless experienced as objectively real in much the same way that physical objects are experienced as real or natural...we come to know the physical world, but we come to be the social world.  

It is by interacting with others, and reacting to or participating in social institutions--most importantly through symbolic processes--that we come to constitute ourselves as social beings....Like gender, age category is sustained as a seemingly natural element of personal identity and subjective experience by learning the discursive practices in which members of one's culture are positioned on a age-graded continumum" (Pogson, 110).

The key point--extended beyond age and gender in my head--is that as social beings, we're engulfed in positions along graded continua with regards to physical appearance, health, body-mind ability, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, class, etc.  In different ways these construct how being in the social world is and what we perceive as possible.

I can't find the exact quote now but I remember during the course of reading Merriam or Tennant that it describes self-directed learning needed to be a minimum of 6 or 7 hours. This seems a bit arbitrary to me.  f I seek out knowledge and understanding of something, isn't that self-directed learning too?  I'm directing my learning towards specific and purposeful ends.  If I'm teaching myself how to cook over the period of months; does the 5 hours I've spent working through recipes not constitute self-directed learning until I get to 6 or 7 hours?  I also have to wonder what is the different between self-directed learning and curiosity   If I seek out knowledge and understanding of something, isn't that self-directed learning too?  I'm directing my learning towards specific and purposeful ends.

That's more an issue of scale and definition--which we know I tend to have challenges with.  However, the larger concern that I have with self-directed learning is that I didn't see any concerns expressed about where one's self-learning can direct one to.  John Dewey's point about experiential learning that "However, this 'does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative" (p. 13) In fact, some experiences 'mis-educate,' in that they actually 'distort growth...narrow the field of further experiences...[and place people] in a groove or rut.' (p. 13)."  Self-directed learning is indeed an experience and one that can be problematically constructed to sent people into particular grooves or ruts.

Self-Directed Learning and Autodidacticism

If you type in "self-directed learning" into Google (as of 11/12/2012), one of the first returns is Wikipedia's entry on autodidacticism.  I find this disconcerting.  The term denotes self learner, and yet, culturally, it connotes someone we are not entirely sure of in terms of their knowledge in many realms.  There are a few reasons for this.

1. While we celebrate the do-it-yourself culture (and I certainly do), we're still not entirely sure about how people come to know without more formal standards.  For instance, we want food certification for people who handle our food and degrees for people performing our surgeries.

2.  We want those formal institutes's certifications because we recognize that self-directed learning can be an act of misdirecting and there's little or no oversight to that self-direction.

3.  And where that is most concerning is knowing that as humans, we often fall pray to self-confirming biases.  If you have a specific political preference, you are likely to find and promote information that elevates your point of view rather than that which challenges or speaks of its limitation.  We regularly act in ways that preference that which we know, not necessarily that which is entirely correct.  The political realm is best to see this as many fall into this habit of preferring their own news-outlets to certify their version of the truth as opposed to those "other people who don't know nothing!".

Self-directed learning falls into this rut in some ways of privileging information and ways of doing things that may already be preferences within the learner.  Sometimes, this is totally fine as the subject matter may not have any socio-political-cultural-economic-environmental elements to it, but that is increasingly less and less the case.

As a self-professed self-directed learner, I know I am just as guilty of this and continually try to escape it.  Either by purposely and consciously exposing myself to alternative views to the information/knowledge I am acquiring or by returning to formal institutes to see what else I may be missing in the big picture.  That I feel is the key piece is that if learning isn't entirely internal--if there are elements that are social--then it's important to bring one's findings to others or in some way make sure there is social elements to your self-directed learning.

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Look What I Made: Apple Leather

So I can thank Hurricane Sandy for the opportunity to try this new recipe.  I'm a fan of my dehydrator as many of you know.  I've made potpourri and tea with it.  In September, I got into a conversation with someone who has been dehydrating for decades and he gave me some great tips that got me wondering what else I could do.  One idea was apple leather.  Fruit leather was what people made long before there was the classic (albeit unhealthy) child' snack, the Fruit Roll-Up.  It's a dehyrdated fruit mixture that is chewy and sweet (and much more healthy).

Thus with Sandy knocking out work for me for 2 days, one project I took to was making some apple leather and it came out pretty awesome.  I instantly bragged about it on Facebook and had a few people request the recipe.  So I figured I do one step better and capture it when I made it again.  So here it is.


  1. 1 Bag of Apples
  2. Rolled Oates (Optional)
  3. Pumpkin Spice (Optional)


  1. Large Pot
  2. Food precessor (or a really good masher)
  3. Dehydrator
  4. Parchment Paper


  1. Slice and decore the apples.
  2. Put sliced apples into large pot.
  3. Fill water to about 1 inch over the apples.
  4. Boil apples until mushy (10-15 or so minutes).
  5. Pour apple mush into food processor.
  6. Add 1 cup of rolled oates
  7. Add Pumpkin spice (or other relevant spices)
  8. Run processor until it's all mixed well (about 1 minute or so).
  9. Let cool for a few minutes (the sauce thickens while cooling).
  10. Line a dehydrator tray with parchment paper--1 layer preferably.
  11. Pour the apple sauce onto the parchment paper, try not to get it to more than 1 inch thickness.
  12. Add additional trays (usually 1-2 more depending on how thin you make it).
  13. Put on cover and start dehydrator. I generally do the highest temperature (about 155 F) but there's no set rule.
  14. When dried through, turn off dehydrator.
  15. Peel off parchment paper (should be relatively easy).
  16. Tear or cut into smaller pieces and store in dry air-tight container.


Picture of Ingredients and Tools

Slice up apples and throw them in the pot
Slice up apples and throw them in the pot

Fill water to 1" over the apples and boil away.
Fill water to 1" over the apples and boil away.

Place apples and other ingredients into food processor
Place apples and other ingredients into food processor

Run the processor.
Run the processor.

Cover the dehydrator tray with parchment paper.
Cover the dehydrator tray with parchment paper.

Pour the apple sauce onto the parchment paper. (Note: I went too thick with this example)
Pour the apple sauce onto the parchment paper.
(Note: I went too thick with this example)

Turn on dehydrator; check occasionally to make sure that it is dehydrating evenly
Turn on dehydrator; check occasionally to make
sure that it is dehydrating evenly

20+ hours later; it should look like reddish and utterly dry.
20+ hours later; it should look like reddish and utterly dry.

When dehydrated, tear into small bite-size pieces and store in an air-tight container.  ENJOY!
When dehydrated, tear into small bite-size pieces
and store in an air-tight container.  ENJOY!

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