My most favorite thing…leads to my least favorite thing

My most favorite thing about my job is when I have the opportunity to facilitate a great discussion.  I got the chance to do this, World Cafe style recently with colleague Jan Johnson and assisted by our intrepid co-op student Victor Ng.  We posed 2 questions to learners and teachers on separate occasions:

  • what are the qualities of a really great learning (or teaching) experience you’ve had lately?
  • what are the necessary ingredients to make a great learning experience from your perspective?

Here are some of the results in graphic form (thanks to Victor and Wordle). Teachers on the left – learners on the right.

Detailed results were assembled on our  wiki

And talked about (yes, this was my least favorite part) during the Learning Conference last week – here’s the video:

If you have any responses to those questions – I’d love to hear them.


creativity, innovation, mystery and the bottom line

Often connections reveal themselves in most unexpected ways. Today, it was on my drive home from Northern Voice with Amanda Coolidge. We were talking about creative stuff we liked to do as kids (pretending, drawing, making stuff up) and how we forget about some of that when we become self conscious teens and overburdened adults. Amanda had observed earlier that the most interesting speakers at NV this year were storytellers and I agree. No ppts necessary, just a compelling story, interesting point and the courage to share.

After I dropped Amanda off,  I started thinking about my world as a kid – I had time, space, and minimal supervision. Sure, a recipe for trouble – and I brought on my fair share of that, but that space and time gave me something much more. My friends did not all share my interests or my culture – but we shared a neighborhood. We played in the construction sites of suburban Calgary, unknowingly slept on beds of fiberglass, told scary stories in bedroom closets with flashlights, waded through giant mud lakes, rode our bikes through gulleys and culverts, pulled up the floorboards of abandoned buildings to find old, yellowed news clippings, discovered Southern comfort, boys and the sophistication that only a menthol cigarette could provide.  I was steeped in an environment that was full of mystery, unexpected turns and opportunities to create and innovate – that was just my life as a kid.

What are the connections between that reflection of a past self and what I’ve learned from some smart people over the last few days?  I think they are (somehow) related to a bottom line about what we need to thrive as fully functioning human beings.

Today, Bryan Alexander led off a great day at Northern Voice with a keynote about (among other things) the power of mystery and the unexpected for keeping us engaged in discovery.  What do you do when you are watching a film and the central event is implied but not known? Or when you are reading a story and something unexpected happens?  What are the questions you ask yourself? out loud? to others? Does it make you want to go further and find out or shut down in favor of something more “known” and (perhaps) comfortable?  Mystery and our response to the unexpected can teach us alot about ourselves. I suspect his bottom line has something to do with facing fear, being brave and observing the shadows.

Yesterday, I tuned in to Stanford’s Office Hours on FB to listen to George Kembell (from talk about creating the kinds of environments that make innovation possible.  His action list included: level status, increase diversity, be open to risk taking, focus on people, get out to do new things (out of the office and into unexpected experiences) and make time. His bottom line? “Who can I talk to  and what can I try?”

David Suzuki (in a recent CBC interview) recently described his new show the Bottom Line as stories about people who love the earth. The bottom line for him it seems is (ultimately) if you love the Earth – you won’t screw it up.

So, in drawing a few connections between the wise words of these smart people  I don’t know (but admire), I may have gleaned a simple (not easy) plan for regaining a little of what fed my soul as a kid:

  • be brave, fear not and observe the shadows
  • talk to new people and try new things
  • love the earth

My bottom line? Life is complicated – suck it up – there is no “easy button”.

Backcasting and PLE building

At UBC’s annual Educamp session yesterday, I listened to keynote, Duane Elverum talk about sustainability education, and was particularly intrigued by the concept of backcasting – a term I hadn’t heard before but an approach I use often in my own life.

Where forecasting imagines a future based on the way we are currently operating and are likely to operate in the future based on the technologies available to us, backcasting works from the ground up. It recognizes that tools and solutions to problems are never pre-determined, and so starts with a stated vision and then invents/adapts/leverages technology to achieve that goal.

Although the strategy is used often in design, urban planning and resource management, I think it can be highly effective for personal development and learning as well. In the context of thinking about and developing a PLE, here’s how it might work.

  • imagine/envision a future picture of yourself that you like.  What kind of work are you involved in? What are your interests? What qualities/attributes/skills do you have? How are you contributing to a world you want to live in?
  • consider your current situation.  Where are the gaps?  What do you need to do to develop into the person you imagine yourself to be?
  • employ or invent the approaches/technologies/learning resources to support the path to that vision.

For me, the process of decision making, thoughtful planning and conscious reflection are central components in the making of my own personal learning environment.

As Duane points out, students “see the things they are learning as disconnected from the increasingly urgent and dire warnings they hear and talk about everyday.”  At some point, those of us who have the potential to help learners grow into their responsibilities as citizens in an increasingly complex world, need to be stepping up as guides and facilitators in this process.

Desperately Seeking Solitude

You cannot hear God when people are chattering at you.



Somehow this passage hit home for me as I read The End of Solitude by William Deresiewicz in a recent edition of the Chonicle Review.   Lately, I’ve experienced a sort of yearning to be alone, with my own thoughts, without interruption or interference, to go on a long walk in the mountains or though the winter gardens in my neighborhood. The interferences keeping me from that are making me sad. What’s weird is that I began to think the universe was speaking to me in some kind of cosmic act of serendipity – given that I had just been transported while reading Greg Delanty’s translation of an old poem by George of Corkus Dropping Names .

So, I’m pondering:

  • what if solitude disappears as a social value – or has it already?
  • are we losing our capacity to be alone?
  • if we can’t be in solitude – how will we really learn to appreciate the natural world?
  • isn’t solitude just as important to learning as connection? and why don’t we talk about that anymore?
Alone, but not lonely
Image by wanderinghome via Flickr


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Seeing the forest or just the trees?

At least a part of every day, I seem to get so caught up in the details that I lose sight of the big picture.  Apparently, there is a term for this – at least as it relates to visual perception. It’s called inattentional blindness.  I’m making the loose connection with what happens when I focus so intently on the tasks at hand that I loose sense of the purpose and (consequently) miss the incidental yet important pieces of the bigger picture.  Maybe this is a different thing, but somehow it seems related.

I was reminded of an earlier post on Mind Hacks on this topic and a link to .

Click on the photo below to take the test and see what I mean…

image of a group of people about to play basketball.

image of a group of people about to play basketball.