Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ramblings and then some really good stuff...

For this week, these 2 blogs really caught my attention. I think you will find them interesting. I also think you might find my thoughts in the rest of this post enlightening. and

I am still trying to analyze how this current semester is going since it is such a different experience from last semester. Not bad, just different. I think one of the biggest differences between this semester and the previous class is that this semester we only meet once a week, whereas last time we met twice a week for 6 weeks... And I only had 22 students in all for that semester (this semester I am teaching 108, last semester it was 120, and they are all hands-on courses...) So last time I was able to focus on just the Seeing Sideways course.

Maybe it is better to do exercises like we do in this class in a compacted period of time where everyone meets face-to-face more often. This class should be a symposium/seminar and not taught in front of a bunch of computers in a room where no one can see each other... I also think the number should never be more than 20-25 students. That is actually a little too large. 15-20 would be ideal. I think the factory method of teaching that happens during the semester is not conducive to learning and I know that when students take 12-18 credits at one time plus have jobs and families, serious learning becomes very difficult... Hmmm... stuff to think about.

BTW I am not slamming this semester's class, just looking for the differences and how to best reach everyone. I think seeing sideways is very important but it takes unstructured time to work best. So how can we have a creative experience in class that will reach beyond the confines of the classroom and still do everything else we need to do during the day??? This is my challenge... I will keep looking at this from different angles and see what happens.

I think I have located the source of my itches with this class... The world wants us to be worker bees in a factory environment (regardless of whether we actually work in a factory.) Each person is given a slot and a job and expected to act like all the other slot-fillers around them. And if one of these drones sees the sky above and wonders about the light and starts to question if there is more than what is just in the every day routine, then the others start to look at that slot-filler and worry... What if they stir up trouble by looking at the sky? What if someone important notices that the worker bee looking at the sky is not "working" as hard as the others? What if no one else can see the sky? What if the others can't do what they need because the one looking at the sky is in their way? What if the others begin to see the sky and it scares them? What if people get mad at the one who can see the sky? What if - OH MY GOD!

This has turned into a "what if..." exercise with a story line!!!! Isn't that interesting? Seriously. I did not plan that. I am just ranting on and on and suddenly find myself using this exercise for real. That is really pretty cool! I know it looks rigged, but it isn't... Hmmm.... That is most interesting (and yes, I do sound like Mr. Spock - so what?!?) I have been seriously doubting the practical uses of this course, but... If I am using this idea (What if...) in my everyday life to help solve a problem maybe my students might find themselves doing the same thing... Now that is pretty cool! Maybe this class might have more value than I had anticipated...

But how can I help others see it that way? How can I find a way to overcome everyday mundane issues and duties? Someone who has so many responsibilities (like most of our students) is not going to give much time to a "Mickey Mouse" class where all we do is talk about stuff and try weird experiments with New Media... It is a brush-off class and calculus or Java programming has real, tangible outcomes, so it must be more important. Besides, those kinds of things show up on standardized exams so society values them. Right? If we are being tested on quantifiable skills all the time, and if that is what employers want, then they must be more important. We are so conditioned to live our lives a certain way that eventually that pattern becomes a trap and we don't even want to see past it. Even what we want from life (a family, a good education, a good job, money, love, fame, etc.) is part of the potential trap that we can fall into. If all we want in life is good job, for example, then we become very focused on getting that job and the minutia of achieving that goal takes over our lives. If it is not a logical, concrete step toward that goal then it doesn't have any meaning. We have to worry about impressing the right people, making the right connections, preparing ourselves for this "perfect" job by educating ourselves, etc. And for what? The day we finally get the job and everything is perfect? I have a job that I think is perfect, so I must be in a position to not worry about it. Right? What about when the economy tanks and everyone loses their jobs? At this point, I am on a yearly contract and I am not guaranteed a job for more than the next year. What if my contract does not get renewed? Does that keep me from thinking about the sky? If you always ignore the sky and only focus on what is in front of you, then where are you when that thing in front of you disappears? Where does that leave you and what of all that time and energy you spent trying to attain and keep the thing with which you were so obsessed? The sky is always there, whether or not you choose to see it. That job, or that person, or that other goal may not always be there. And if you are so used to doing something in just one way how will you handle the day when you have to do it another way? Now there's a cheery thought for you!

I really think this is why I had the students read Plato's cave allegory. I didn't see this connection at the time, but... I guess my own goal is really to just help open people's eyes to what is going on around them and the fact that each and every one of us is capable of doing something that will honestly make the world a better place. Because, when it comes right down to it, what is the world except for your own experiences? If you can make your own experiences as meaningful and fulfilling as possible, isn't that changing the world? Of course, this kind of thinking leads to more and more debate and the others around you begin to look at you strangely and worry... They worry things like: What if they stir up trouble by thinking these thoughts? What if someone important notices that they are spending so much time thinking and not "working" as hard as the others? What if the others can't do what they need because the one looking inward for an answer is in their way? What if listening to these kinds of ideas makes you start to question your own life? What if people start to blame the person who started them on this quest for all the unsettled thoughts they are having?

That is why some day I will probably just become a farmer and say to hell with it all! :-)

Sometimes it is difficult being the one who sees everything sideways. It takes a willingness to let go of fear, anxiety, and discomfort so you can experience things in your own way, share what you think is important, and communicate effectively.

Sometimes it is lonely when you first start seeing sideways, but man is the view good from here!

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