Revisiting Our Recent Wicked Past: Malcolm Brown, John Cleese, Creativity, #etmooc, and Light Bulbs

February 28, 2013

If we want to learn at a deeply significant and long-lasting level, we clearly need to keep re-walking familiar paths while remembering, each time we recreate those journeys, to look at them as if we’ve never seen them before this moment.

This becomes more obvious than ever to me earlier today when I have an unexpected opportunity to re-view EDUCAUSE Director Malcolm Brown’s stimulating “Ideas That Matter” presentation from the New Media Consortium Horizon Project Summit on the Future of Education held in Austin, Texas in January 2013. I enjoy the presentation when Brown originally delivers it. I take notes that I reread with fresh eyes a few days later. But it isn’t until I watch the newly-posted video of that discussion of the creative process needed to address wicked problems—those complex and ambiguous problems requiring innovative approaches—that I see how much my perspective on the topic has evolved over the period of a single month.

What makes the viewing of that video transformative is that it places me, in a very visceral way, in two distinct yet interwoven moments and frames of mind. The original moment, environment, and frame of mind is the one created by the act of being part of a summit where all attention is focused on a single, spectacular theme—the future of education. The contemporary moment is the one that is here and now, just one month later, when I continue to be part of a group absolutely transformed by participation in #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013.

etmoocBrown, like Couros and his associates (his “co-conspirators”), lays the foundations for explorations without establishing a clear vision of the outcome. We know we’re going somewhere, we know it’s going to be a journey well worth taking, and we know we’re going to experience unexpected pleasures along the way, but we have no idea what the destination is until we help create it through our own participation. It’s a learning process, and the most successful learning processes are those that the learners themselves—ourselves—help define, create, and complete. We allow for successes far greater and more significant than we can envision at the beginning of the learning process; we create an expectation and acceptance of the possibility and likelihood of failures along the way; and we create the most wonderfully odd juxtapositions that in and of themselves serve as the sandboxes capable of producing results worth seeking.

Brown, at a key point in his presentation, draws our attention to John Cleese’s lecture on creativity—a spectacularly entertaining and thought-provoking presentation that was originally delivered in 1991, yet continues popping up via online links with great regularity and proving itself to be as timely today as it was more than two decades ago. Being onsite with Brown means that we experience Cleese second-hand; watching the video of Brown’s presentation provides the invitation (consider it a command performance) to take the time to actually relive Cleese’s lecture in the moment, in juxtaposition with what Brown is offering. And we’re all the richer for this opportunity to re-walk both those paths again as frequently as we allow ourselves to be drawn to them, just as we’re able to re-walk some of the paths we’re creating, visiting, and revisiting through the various platforms that #etmooc uses (Blackboard Collaborate presentations; blog postings; live tweet chat sessions; postings in a Google+ community; and a variety of other settings limited only by our own imaginations and the amount of time we have to give to our continuing education efforts in a vibrant community of learning).

But let’s stay with a key point that Brown makes by quoting from Cleese’s earlier yet virtually contemporaneous presentation: creativity “is not a talent; it is a way of operating.” Every time we creatively pull ourselves back into an inspiring learning moment by re-reading our notes, or re-viewing an online presentation, or re-reading a blog posting (and, perhaps, adding to what is already there by posting a new comment that draws the original blogger back to what he or she wrote days/weeks/months/years ago), we keep our learning moments alive, productive, and fertile.

Jumping from Brown to Cleese also takes us deeper into that fabulously Cleesian world where he begins by telling his audience (which, thanks to the video, now includes us in the sort of wonderfully synchronously asynchronous moment that I’m attempting to create with this article) that he can more easily explain humor than he can explain the creative process. Then proceeds to do both by talking about creativity while continually interrupting his own presentation with a seemingly endless string of light bulb jokes. Then finds a way to connect the learning dots by helping us understand how the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas (like creativity and light bulb jokes) can move our minds from a comfortably closed state (that is antithetical to creativity) to one open to unexpected possibilities (which provides a field where seeds of creativity can sprout, grow, and thrive). He makes us laugh repeatedly by reminding us how important these absurd juxtapositions are, and then producing more of them to prove the point. By the time we leave Cleese and Brown, we have strengthened our ability to engage in the process—and even make sense of the sort of juxtapositions I calculatingly create in the headline to this article.

N.B.: This is the fourteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


NMC Horizon Project Summit 2013 (Future of Education, Day 2): Fun and Wicked in Austin

January 24, 2013

Wicked problems, a high-tech Shark Tank, a survey of ideas that matter, and fun provided the foundations for an inspiringly overwhelming second day of the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” here in Austin, Texas.

nmc.logo.cmykLev Gonick, Vice President, Information Technology Services and CIO at Case Western Reserve University, laid the foundations for the discussion of wicked problems by reminding summit participants that those challenges are complex and ambiguous; require disruptive thinking; and require innovative solutions that actually change the nature of the problems and the contexts in which they operate. They are not generally subject to perfect solutions, but they can be fun to tackle. And that’s where Gonick, summit graphic facilitator David Sibbet (President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International), and NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson led us in an exercise designed to identify wicked problems we thought would be fun to address in the world of teaching-training-learning.

By early afternoon, we had identified a core set of 10 of those wicked problems in learning:

  • Reducing risk aversion in education
  • Finding ways to set aside time for learning innovations
  • Rethinking roles and identities for students, faculty members, and administrators
  • Reinventing education
  • Creating successful all-device interfaces in learning
  • Addressing the need for social and emotional development in curricula
  • Reinventing online learning
  • Addressing the challenges and benefits of learning from around the world
  • Fostering an ecosystem for experiential learning
  • Defining ethical boundaries and responsibilities in learning

There were a variety of other playful ideas, including one inspired by one participant’s mention of laws in several countries (Costa Rica, Estonia, France, Greece, and Spain) guaranteeing internet access to every citizen: advocating for a constitutional right to internet access as strong as the constitutional right to bear arms.

Joining the discussion on reinventing online learning, I was impressed by the range of options compiled during that brief segment of the daylong proceedings:

  • Start with a goal of creating engaging online course that address subjects to be taught; don’t just transfer onsite courses to online settings
  • Include lots of choices, e.g., collaborative and individual study, and synchronous and asynchronous, that provide learner-centric experiences
  • Use social media to engage learners, and foster plenty of interaction
  • Design courses that move learners out of a learning management system and into online communities that continue to exist after courses formally conclude
  • Engage in blended learning by using asynchronous courses to serve learners world-wide, and build in live online and onsite interactions whenever possible
  • Partner with other teaching/learning organizations
  • Strive for more authentic learning opportunities
  • Provide more project-based learning opportunities that produce learning objects
  • Involve learners from all over the world so that the learning experience is enhanced by increased exposure to diverse perspectives
  • Entice faculty into online learning by creating faculty communities of learning to draw upon the knowledge base of that faculty
  • Develop flexible formats for crediting learners’ accomplishments
  • Capture and document teaching and learning for repurposing
  • Provide more just-in-time learning experiences

Comments from all of the breakout discussion groups were to be compiled this evening so discussions on the final day of the three-day summit could be used to propose plans of action in addressing these various wicked problems.

Interspersed throughout the activities conducted during the second day of the summit were wonderful presentations on a variety of “ideas that matter,” and the culmination of that process was the Shark Tank competition in which eight predetermined competitors were each given 10 minutes to describe an education-tech initiative under development and make a pitch for support (including a $2,500 cash award) from the New Media Consortium.

It was a winning exercise for everyone. The eight competitors involved in the first round (round two, with three survivors, was scheduled to be conducted at the beginning of the final day of the summit) had an opportunity to finely tune their project pitches, and audience members had an opportunity to learn about eight wonderful cutting-edge proposals that combine creativity, learning, and collaboration in ways designed to further our approaches to educational successes.

A sampling of the proposals provides an enticing glimpse into the state of tech and learning innovations:

  • Learning from experience through the Scroll Ubiquitous Learning Log
  • The One Million Museum Moments social media tool providing museumgoers and museum professionals an opportunity to document their museum experiences
  • A learning analytics project centered on “X-Ray Analytics”
  • The Taking IT Global project designed to cultivate future-friendly schools and foster global collaboration in addressing the world’s greatest challenges
  • The development of digital technology supporting educational software simulators and other products through Axis3D
  • Global collaboration among students through the Global Efficient Cook Stove Education Project
  • The FLEXspace community of practice, centered on an interactive database that serves as a flexible learning environment exchange
  • Capturing learners’ information and analytics through Citelighter, a free social media tool that allows learners to store, organize and share research data and other educational information

The entire round of presentations left many of us not at all envying the tough choices the judges had to make, and we’re looking forward to seeing how finalists Citelighter, Taking IT Global, and X-Ray Analytics fare when the summit resumes in the morning.


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