Curiosity, stream of consciousness,
critical thinking, + communities of practice
Sr. Mgr. Research + Design
Open Education & Student Agency:
Empowering the Student Voice & Facilitating Access
When I was a child I spoke in what my parents considered a very frustrating manner — it was stream of consciousness (barely consciousness). They claimed it lacked a
kind of conscientiousness for audience, a regard for those who had to listen to my wandering paths of thought and what seemed like a lot of randomness. I annoyed
people with my chatter — my random revelations and my near constant eureka moments. I learned how to keep most of those moments inside and to ﬁgure out how to
talk in a way that others might understand and tolerate me. Let’s hope I learned enough :)
I was ready to burst with excitement. I couldn’t sit still — I wanted to learn, but I didn’t really want to sit and read! And I was told that’s how you learn. So, I tried, I’d dive
into magazines (Skiing magazines, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Field and Stream, Archeology, National Geographic, Smithsonian — they all played a big role in my
learning). Anyway, I liked the combination of the pictures and the text, the human-interest stories with the exciting discoveries. I was making sense of the social, the
world, the wonder… I was learning.
There’s a TED Talk about a game the speaker (Rives) came up with when the Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped being printed. He called it Chimborazo — it’s a sort of
scavenging game on the internet called Chimborazo. The game consists of a kind of rabbit hole wandering from links within Wikipedia. The ‘player’ chooses a link that is
something they didn’t know (as Rives describes it, “It's like ‘eureka’ and ‘bingo’ had a baby. I didn't know that; that's pretty cool. Chimborazo!” (01:24) From revelation to
revelation the player moves until it all comes full-circle. Imagine my delight when I saw this TED Talk. Rives has made a game that describes exactly what my mind does--
what I delight in which I feel gives it some legitimacy. So, we’re going to do some streams today — I’m kind of giddy about that.
Still, I feel somewhat apologetic about what I’m about to subject you to. How many of you have heard me speak before? How many of you saw or heard or read my
OpenEd Keynote? Ok, I have some homework for you. I ask that you capture two barnacles from what I’m about to say. That way, we’ll have no shortage of things to
chat about later.
No Sales Tax Live Free or Die
So, some free association about NH — I think you should know what I, as a visitor, think about when I think about NH…
Elizabeth Warren, her husband Bruce, and her golden retriever campaigning
Swenson quarry — last one that was NH owned — now owned by a company in Quebec. The granite makes me think of…
This guy in mountains… you used to have this guy there in Franconia Notch
and the mountains make me think of…
And those mountains — ahhhh. This one, Burke Mountain — in a region of big ski areas, I love the way it felt to go skiing at Burke Mountain. There were no bullhorns, no
gimmicky loud speaker things happening. It was quiet, beautiful, and lovely.
Skiing is fun, and it can be functional too!
Model-T with ski kit
Virgil White of West Ossipee, New Hampshire was a successful garage owner that was the authorized Ford dealer in that part of the world during the 1920s. In 1913 he
had come up with the snowmobile concept but it wasn’t until 1923 when he would actually try to make a go at marketing and selling them.
Speaking of Henry Ford and the Model T
This guy has a cast-iron steam engine which once belonged to Henry Ford built into the multi-story center atrium of his house no far from here as I understand it. This is
of course Dean Kaman, an inventor of many things (all very diﬀerent from each other).
By Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry - https://www.dvidshub.net/image/2558554/dean-kamen-visits-team-whiteman, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57456359
Kaman invented the iBot a mobility device (NOT A WHEELCHAIR) that could climb stairs.
Here is Michael Graves, now gone famous designer using an iBot. Graves became paralyzed later in life and in this TED talk he reﬂects on how his design perspective
changed when that happened. This underscores the importance of diverse voices, experiences, and ideas in our design teams and groups.
There’s a wonderful video online about how Graves redesigned his home in Princeton NJ so he could access the rooms, the dishes in the kitchen, the shower and making
it amazingly beautiful design: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adJa0RSAsNA His Tuscan barn sanctuary home in Princeton.
And anywhere in NJ reminds me of my family… though I grew up in the Midwest, my family is from the NY/NJ region — immigrants.
Live Free or Die
And being an immigrant to this land is something I spend time thinking about… I think about how to meaningfully give a land acknowledgement when I speak. And it isn’t
something I want to read from a copy/paste of text from a website with a database of unceded territories. I want to say a little bit about my connection with it. My
commitment to the land…
I was born in Concord, an immigrant of sorts. My family lived here in Manchester for two years. It’s the place where I got chicken pox. And the time I felt most in awe and
connected to this land here in NH was when years later, as an adult, I took my parents on a kayak trip on the Androscoggin River. We paddled through the land of various
Abenaki tribes, NH largely divided between the Androscoggin Abenaki and Pennacook nations. And I imagined the history that took place on this land — who paddled
down that river ﬁrst — where are their ancestors are now? Are they here today at this event? And if not, why? That is my acknowledgement of the land we are on today.
And you’ve survived round one of chimborazo!
Open Education & Student Agency:
Empowering the Student Voice &
why aren’t we empowering student voices?
why aren’t we facilitating access?
what do we want to change?
why haven’t we??
let’s break this down a bit to understand…
I want to start here. Right here. This is the place. This is where we had the “gravel stop.” That’s what my mom called it. Back then there was a train track just ahead. This
is a Google Maps Streetview — clearly the railroad track is gone. But the gravel is still there. My mother skid her tires in the gravel and stopped short. She pointed her
index ﬁnger at me and executed a parent-level tirade. I would go to college. I would stop with this resistance to the structure of education — even if it made no sense — I
would play along and that was ﬁnal. That was the best deal she had to oﬀer me. I felt fairly cheated and severely put-upon.
I can’t remember which time this happened: was it when I refused to memorize the countries and capitals of Africa (I wanted to dive in and explore each place and I
thought memorizing was a waste of time); was it the time I refused to memorize the periodic table of elements (show me, let me experience them — memorizing made
me feel patronized and bored); was it the time I had to memorize all the prepositions in alphabetical order — about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around,
at, before, by, down, during, for, from, in, into… nope… it wasn’t that time. I was in Grade 5 and I did that one and I’m still bitter about the uselessness of that exercise
and how much space it takes up in my brain.
It was early that I learned that education was a series of memorization responsibilities. There was no thinking, no learning, no exploring. Surely success wasn’t just
measured as retention of data! I got more from wandering around in the woods than I did from the classroom. I got more from skipping school to watch my peers build a
half pipe, and watching them work with local authorities to make skating a sport, not a crime. I got more from memorizing song lyrics that expanded my world and my
imagination (and indulged my moody teenage self).
Me, my thoughts are ﬂower strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to ﬁnd my way
Watch the road and memorize
I always had this image when I was in my teens and twenties. There were two trains travelling parallel to each other (in the same direction). I was riding one train (the one
on the right) and when I looked out the window, through the passing trees between the tracks, I could see to the other train.
That train was where the party was. It was where people were free, happy, curious, full of wonder, discovery, experimentation. They were tromping around in Gombe
National Park in Tanzania interacting with gorillas. They were in the Antarctic studying penguins. They were building a Stirling Engine that would convert dirty puddles to
potable water. They were writing brilliant plays. They were the most gorgeous dancers you could imagine. They had great hair, they were cool. There was
Glitter on the mattress
Glitter on the highway
Glitter on the front porch
Glitter on the hallway
— B52s, Love Shack
And I was stuck on boring train memorizing the prepositions in alphabetical order. I was struggling through Advanced Algebra. I was asked to memorize the periodic table
and the countries and capitals of Africa. I wanted to BE in Africa. I wanted to be on that train so badly. And I had no idea how to jump the tracks. I had no idea if/when/
how I’d get to that train. Somewhere (not a speciﬁc moment in time) my life jumped the tracks and I found myself more and more on that train. What happened? When??
I mean, I don’t hang out with penguins, but I got to come here today to talk to you!
I had opportunities that were (in large part) given to me — and opportunities beget more opportunities…
Someone took a chance, then someone else did, then someone else noticed and they too took a chance… that was my career path — that was my learning path — a
There really is no substitute for experience
So, how do you get new experiences? You either take risks yourself or someone gives you space/permission to take risks. Experiences are often given as rewards for
achievement (success) based on following the rules. To get opportunities, and this was my Mom’s point, you have to play the game and ACHIEVE.
You got to know when to hold ‘em
know when to fold ‘em
know when to walk away
know when to run…
— kenny rogers, the gambler
To get onto the cool train you either work really hard or you step into some wicked luck, or both. It’s all just a gamble! Which brings me to assessment and harm.
The Potential Harm We Cause
with the Game
You have to achieve to have opportunities and we know opportunities are how you gain skills, experience, insight — the sorts of things you build a livelihood/career/
upon. Opportunities are the amino acids (building blocks) of advancement. And opportunities often come from achievement.
What is success? How do we determine achievement? ASSESSMENT
The building blocks of all of this pathway to success really do start with memorizing the periodic table?? I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t look like the sexy train
with the people with good hair on it… This looks like a lot of drudgery. And I’m not sure how much learning it represents. Isn’t it just knowing? Learning to me smells
more like thinking, exploring, epiphany, critique, questioning, burning and building.
Where does this drudgery come from? The University determines the minimum requirements (often GPA and SAT scores). The department determines the requirements
to graduate with a degree (core and subject-speciﬁc). The syllabus lays out the rules. The Grammar Book lays out the rules. RULES RULES
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?)
— Five Man Electrical Band, Signs
I met a man at the OpenEd 18 conference who came up to me and told me he’d been rethinking his visceral reaction to grammar errors in his students work. He teaches
in a poor community in Southern Florida — the kids are often non-native English speakers). He and I both grew up in households full of English speakers with a ﬁrm
respect for grammar. My mother was a grammarian. In addition to teaching me to lose the stream-of-consciousness chatter, they broke me of using the work ‘like’ as a
You see, we in this room are the ones who design the game. And we know the deep relationship between form and function. I can design a pathway to encourage you to
walk in a certain way — IKEA does it with the arrow on the ﬂoor. The way things begin matters. Each decision is a design decision — this and not anything else — and
those have a deep impact on how we function in the spaces (literal, virtual, and conceptual).
Put them in chairs all lined up and staring at you and you’ll get silence and focus entirely on you. And very little engagement.
Give them a strict rubric, they will function as though that strictness is a barrier between them and success.
Give them a strict path to success, they will focus on the path, not on the things all around them — the things just oﬀ the path.
Give them a go/no-go, some will simply crumble under the pressure.
Lead them through something exploratory — they might sink right back into the rut of what they’ve always done, not knowing how to do it diﬀerently. Doing it diﬀerently
doesn’t come in a recipe. It isn’t some one way — it should be the outcome of creativity, context, thought, and engagement. One Size does not Fit All.
My sisters: a case study in birthday cakes
An interesting thing happened during a co-design workshop I facilitated.
We created in an open, exploratory, intersectional, messy, collaborative, creative way and then it got boiled down to…
a. Definitions (C. Blake / CCDI)
i. Defining Diversity
ii. Defining Inclusion
iii. Defining Equity vs. Equality
b. What is the Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion? (C. Blake / CCDI)
c. Guiding Principles (C. Blake)
i. How to Engage Collaboratively / Respectful Relationships
iii. Shared Authority
iv. Making Time for Mindful Reflection
d. Self-Assessments (C. Blake / R. Myers / CCDI)
a. Core Questions (C. Blake)
i. What are my lenses?
ii. Am I just confirming my assumptions, or am I challenging them?
iii. What details here are unfair? Unverified? Unused?
iv. What’s here that I designed for me? What’s here that I designed for other
v. Who might be impact by what I’m developing?
vi. Is my audience open to change?
vii. What am I challenging as I create this?
viii. Whose voice is here? Whose voice is missing?
b. Case Studies (Catalyst / Advocate Teams) – as museums use the guide, opportunities to
add case studies / stories to site
i. *see Toronto Ward Museum mock-up for example
(R. Myers / T. Pinkofsky)
a. General Resources
d. Community Organizations
e. Employer Tools
a. Blog / Forum
i. Ask Questions
ii. Create space for reflection and discussion
iii. Address failures and access support
We ﬂatten them and formalize them and seek to validate them! This is what was presented as the outcome from the collaborative info architecture session.
We dressed up that creativity, combed its hair, gave it a starched button up, and some serious shoes.
And in doing that we lost all the great work we had done. The people who weren’t at the design session began questioning the taxonomy of what we’d done and got
bogged down in form and function we’d created.
We all do this…
We like structure.
We often fall back on it when we’re most
We like certainty, completeness, simplicity, we like knowing. We approach the world with a transactional check-book accounting expectation – if we document our inputs
and outputs, it should all reconcile neatly in the end. If I eat a healthy diet, if I exercise, if I sleep well, if I do all the things the doctor recommended, then I should know
my outcome will be good health. If I memorize all the things the professor said, then I should get a good score on the exam.
As a result, our institutions have adapted to contend with this fundamentally ﬂawed, oversimpliﬁed causal thinking. For example, medicine contends with a patient that
thinks a visit to the doctor should result in a tangible something, a new prescription, a referral, a plan; and education contends with a student who thinks that if she does
everything the syllabus says, then she deserves an A (she’s done her part of the contract, she has learned).
Rubrics tell us: Adherence to the rule
is success; deviation from the rule is
So we codify the transaction in structure!
This is the syllabus — this is what you’ll be measured on
Strict adherence with little to no spark will get you a B, full-borne deviation will get you a D — because an F is really brutal.
Forget about glitter, forget about good hair — these are marching orders.
And that will be how we measure success. We will measure you all by exactly the same criteria — because that makes us feel fair; no exceptions — and there will be no
substitutions to your pizza order.
But we know this does damage… this is NOT A NEUTRAL ACT.
knows the ﬁght is ﬁxed;
the poor stay poor,
the rich get rich.
That’s how it goes.
Everybody knows the deal is rotten;
old black joe’s still picking cotton for your ribbons and bows
and everybody knows
- Leonard Cohen
The over-reliance on metrics and measurement has
become a tool used to remove questions of
responsibility, morality, and justice from the language
and policies of education. [It’s] a kind of mind-numbing
investment in a metric-based culture that kills the
imagination and wages an assault on what it means to
be critical, thoughtful, daring, and willing to take risks.
The distinction between information and knowledge
has become irrelevant in this model and anything that
cannot be captured by numbers is treated with disdain.
This was our little xmas present last year — in an interview with Henry Giroux he said the following…
These are the tools of accountants and have nothing to do with larger visions or questions about what matters as part of a university education. The overreliance on
metrics and measurement has become a tool used to remove questions of responsibility, morality, and justice from the language and policies of education. [It’s] a kind of
mind-numbing investment in a metric-based culture that kills the imagination and wages an assault on what it means to be critical, thoughtful, daring, and willing to take
risks. Metrics in the service of an audit culture has become the new face of a culture of positivism, a kind of empirical-based panopticon that turns ideas into numbers
and the creative impulse into ashes. … The distinction between information and knowledge has become irrelevant in this model and anything that cannot be captured by
numbers is treated with disdain. In this new audit panopticon, the only knowledge that matters is that which can be measured. Henry Giroux
Many syllabi are the rules by which we
measure success or failure. Adherence
to the rule is success; deviation from
the rule is failure.
When measurability is success, it becomes an end in itself. We begin asking questions that lead us to measurable answers. We begin measuring those things that are
easily measured. And those are not neutral acts. We act on our measurements – data become the tea leaves for decision-making, the map for change, the path toward
advancement (data-driven decision-making in Education). And we feel a sense of comfort having followed the directions given to us from the disembodied data.
a pushmi pullyu
Data Will Not
What do we measure now? We’re measuring admissions; we’re measuring retention; we’re measuring graduation; we’re measuring in a micro form the regurgitation of
if it’s hard to measure we often ignore it; because without measures/data we can’t make claims about it.
Strong leaders teach the hard stuff.- Vala Afshar @ValaAfshar
sense of urgency critical thinking
creativity customer empathy
team commitment humility
unselﬁsh giving judgement
grace and dignity positivity
optimism bias towards results
do you measure?
what you measure is what you value:
Strong leaders teach the hard stuﬀ.- Vala Afshar @ValaAfshar
Chief Digital Evangelist @Salesforce
Adherence to the rule is success;
deviation from the rule is failure.
We measure what we value. Who is
deciding what to measure?
Let’s go back to that social justice issue: equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The horrifying truth is, we perpetuate and amplify existing cycles of exclusion and further exclusion for many.
Who is making the rules? Are the rules revisited as culture, humans, the economy, health, the environment change? Do the rules ﬂex for edge or special cases that they
don’t ﬁt? What about current events?
Adherence to the rule is success; deviation from
the rule is failure.
Achievement is deﬁned by adherence to the syllabus — because we need to measure to feel fair, validated, and objective. No bias here folks!
Opportunities are based on achievement over time.
Opportunities help build skills, gain experiences, which parlay nicely into a career.
If you’re disadvantaged or excluded or left out of the measures at the beginning of this game, you never catch up.
a high school student in Detroit and a high school student at phillips exeter will not have the same chances at any part of this equation. The playing ﬁeld is not level.
And we’re all diﬀerent. Adherence in many cases is merely conformance with the form of the game to give the intended output or (function). Draw a person — how would
you evaluate Picasso, or Miro, or Kandinsky? Have you done so equitably?
• Pace, Path, Content, Delivery Method
• text, visual, soniﬁcation, video…
• individual, group, didactic, participatory
• Motivation – external, internal, positive,
• Social support – peer, instructor, other
• Degree of structure
What if Kandinsky took longer? What if Miro wanted to do it alone, rather than in a group? What if Picasso wanted to do it somewhere else all together — from another
Pace, Path, Content, Delivery Method
text, visual, soniﬁcation, video…
individual, group, didactic, participatory
Motivation – external, internal, positive, negative
Social support – peer, instructor, other
Degree of structure
These are just some of the diverse needs or preferences for learning. How do these ﬁt into your rubric? Does your syllabus ﬂex to these? Advantage some? Disadvantage
others? Is the preferred mode even available?
Who do the rules limit?
Adherence to the rule is success; deviation from the
rule is failure.
You must report on your department’s success using these
Only English speakers can learn from this material
Only graduate students can take this course
Your thoughts must be organized in a 5 paragraph essay
You cannot use Wikipedia as a reference
And why do we create and tolerate these rules? How else can we get good numbers with which to make our data-driven decisions?
And how worried are we that we’ll lose you through a false negative in our assessments?!
False positives I worry less about. Perhaps you’ve been innovative in gaming the system — perhaps it will all catch up with you.
False negatives I worry A LOT about. Not just the diamond in the rough, but the pearls, the sandstone, the sparkles that we squash out.
Adherence to the rule is success; deviation
from the rule is failure.
• We fail to go anywhere.
• We often fall back on the way it has always
• comfortable ruts of thinking and doing
This folks, is failure.
But we say we want other outcomes. We don’t want stagnation. We don’t want to do it the way it’s always done without critique. Who likes ruts? Besides deer?
how we design matters;
and every decision is a
For change to happen within any institution, the thing you want to change has to be a value; something you practice and continue to challenge and nurture. Inclusion is
not a checklist item. It’s like breathing and bathing — you got to keep at it evermore.
Nothing is neutral.
every decision is a design decision that either contributes to or challenges existing structures of privilege, power, and presence. Each decision is an opportunity and a
responsibility we have as leaders in these public spaces
What happens if we take a diﬀerent approach to designing our rules?
What if adherence to the rules
is failure and
deviation is success?!
What failure should be:
• adherence to a rule
• knowing without
Ask of your students that they understand the rule and then go beyond it. That they undo it from the inside. That they express something in the following of the rule. This
is a place for a critical mind. For discover, wonder, curiosity, creativity, love of learning.
3 cheers for the atypical
let’s look at this model for a moment. Indigenous ways of knowing often characterize movement and progress in circles. The linear might just be a measure that isn’t
universal, that isn’t fair.
What is Failure then?
What is Success then?
We should be creating only as much structure as is absolutely needed to move thinking forward and no more. We shouldn’t feel as though this means we’re unprepared –
we should prepare ourselves with our instincts, our own experiences, and more than anything our ability to listen, hear, and change.
3 levels of structured structurelessness we need to focus on:
3. Individual goals and deﬁnition of success
We need to get better at balance (somewhere between structure and less structure). Are there disciplines for which this wouldn’t work? No.
Architects need to build stable bridges though! Yes, and they need to make design decisions that impact all of us – the building shape us and we shape the buildings –
Scientists need to adhere to the scientiﬁc process! Yes, and that process includes an awful lot of wonder, experimentation, failure – science gets wonky when it ignores
the things it doesn’t know yet… All scientists should be natural experimenters.
All of these things, you see, exist within our social and political structures. And each of these disciplines, teaching opportunities, and the individuals within them require a
diﬀerent and unique balance of structure and structurelessness. And so if we’re training people to follow the rules, then stick to structure. But if we want people to learn
concepts, to understand history, to embrace diversity of thought --- then use barely the amount of structure that is absolutely necessary.
Individual goals and
deﬁnitions of success
3. Individual goals and deﬁnition of success
We need to design the syllabus so anyone can “walk through it” – like an architectural dreamland where the building adapts to your needs and preferences.
We need to create teaching and learning environments that are focused on the goals and notions of success of the learners.
We need to treat people as people, not as numbers that we’re afraid to touch.
measure is what
When information is more important than knowledge, and certainty and measurability are more important than thoughtfulness, risk, exploration and discovery, what do
we lose? What are we relinquishing? If to value something we have to be able to measure it and vice versa, what are we overlooking and missing? What is the byproduct
or waste that is created by our need to have neat, simple, exact corners (in education)?
• What do you measure?
What do you measure?
Who does it advantage?
Who might it disadvantage?
What are you measured against?
What do you measure your students against?
We start here — a computer-generated hopscotch ﬁeld
Then we go here — a chalk-drawn and worn hopscotch ﬁeld
But this is what we know is actually the context we live, work, grow, and learn in.
Julie Mehretu — dimensionality; complexity; intersectionality; cyclical; global
HOW THINGS ACTUALLY ARE:
When we let go of notion of clarity, we see differently. This is the sexy train. Now let’s talk about how to do this and answer these questions:
why aren’t we empowering student voices?
why aren’t we facilitating access?
what do we want to change?
why haven’t we??
beware the taxonomy
beware the binary
beware of completion