Category Archives: connectedcourses

#Twistedpair : Epictetus | Mojo Nixon.

In the spirit of infinite play I am following a recent prompt from Steve Wheeler:

Choose a strange pairing from above (or make up one of your own, the weirder the better). Let your imagination run wild, go very slightly unhinged and dig deep into your knowledge of those characters. Some of the connections may be tenuous. That’s part of the fun.  Come up with an inspirational, satirical or thought provoking blog post about teaching and learning. Share it and include the tag #twistedpair. Don’t forget to also challenge at least three other people. If we get enough responses, I will create a page that links them all together.

My twisted pair are Mojo Nixon and Epictetus, the profane rocker and the profound Stoic.

OK, I am feeling resistance here.  I have had my fill of writing prompts over the years.  They often feel false.  Other times I recognize them for what they are–pump priming fuel that gets burned up in order to start the engine.  In this case we are asked to play.  I like play, but generating inspired, satirical or thought provoking stuff about teaching and learning?  This feels like managing chaos and a little forced. Isn’t the nature of the imagination that you don’t so much as give it permission as it seizes it?

It is true that both of these figures taught me something. I learned from both of them.  It is also true that I could draw many other connections.


So I get to have cake and eat it and save some for later.

Here’s some Mojo to listen to, his only big hit, “Elvis Is Everywhere”

Here’s some Epictetus to listen to, his biggest hit, “The Enchiridon”

I recommend that you play both at the same time.  Twisted, dude, twisted.

Don’t Just Derive | Engender and Thrive

Just finished reading Tania Sheko’s blog post about Pinterest as well as viewed her SlideShare presentation below. Go ahead and check it. I’ll wait.

You can tell she has thought about Pinterest and its thoughtful uses for quite awhile.  Sometimes you just know someone else has paid her dues just in the self-assuredness that shines through.  Tania is self-assured in her Pinterest practice and knows what it affords.

I commented on her post because I have been thinking about my own tool use of late, and about how I have lost  one of my favorites–Zeega. I feel its loss so keenly because it helped me create.  I got the dopamine rush when I used it and now its gone. I have looked far afield to find something to give me the same feeling, but no joy suffices so far.  This has made me think about how I need to embrace the undifferentiated creative life, the one that cleaves close to the heartwood and releases the Muse there.  Tania’s post made me write the comment below:

Love the uses for Pinterest. Wondering what other wild uses might be made of it not intended by its creators, what re-purposes? Could we make a paper-style Pinterests for the classroom? in the hallway? for parents to create, too. Could Pinterest be like a seed packet? How about a mystery gift used one time and then discarded? Could we collect badges together? or pictures of weeds and wildflowers which we assign ours and others’ names to?

I find myself looking at your blog’s background photo and thinking to myself, “That is a much more authentic Pinterest board than Pinterest could ever muster. So why can’t Pinterest be more like it?”

Back to your post, I find all of these “annotation/curation” tools to be great for helping me to process the world, but I also ask myself, “Why?” You answer so ably here and I want to go …differently,too. I am not saying better, just saying further. There is a natural progression from collecting without comment to curating to creating. I think that creating is where I want to be. I want what Pinterest is and what Pinterest does to serve the Muse. That is what my paragraph above dithers about. Just thinking about how so much of what I do is secondary, indirect and adaptive. I get this powerful voice inside me that says, “Don’t just derive, make and thrive.” Of course, the irony is that I am replicating what you have started. For that I thank you, Tania.

I am struck by this progression and would add a bit more by using a Pinterest template from Canva (is that hopelessly derivative or what?)

lurk (1)


Now the final reveal.  I derived these thoughts from the very interesting ideas here.  Sigh.  Is it habitually derivative all the way down?  Commenters are invited to help me out of this quicksand.



How to Read Slowly

I am trying to practice slow reading over the “end of year” interweek, Boxing Day to New Year’s Day.  I am looking especially at new year’s poetry. My first peek is at Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Burning the Old Year”


Here is an image of the poem that I saved to use in the zeega you will see below.

Poems for the new year


I think that you can sometimes see physical intent in a poem by just looking at its shape.  In this case (although I might be imagining this) I do see the lines burning down and shortening like candles.   The number of lines per stanza ‘burns down’ too.  This may by unintentional , but…it is fun to look anyway.


you can join me on (membership is free) to annotate the poem.

Burning the Old Year Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye : The Poetry Foundation


Here is a zeega that I used to translate her poem into other modes.  I used a totally apt song by Nat Baldwin that just tears me up everytime I hear it.  I edited out some words and replaced them with gifs.  Artistic license in the mashup, OK?


Here’s a Soundcloud reading of the poem.  A few more discoveries from that slow, oral reading.  The images in the fire crackle out to me.  I imagine wrapping paper where I hadn’t before and I see how this poem might have been inspired by a gift on a doorknob that turned into a gift from some Muse.

OK, now I can say that I have read the poem.  It is worth a slow go.  It is a good poem and I can tell you exactly why I think so because as I engaged with it, it engaged right back at me. Maybe you can think of other ways to engage.  I will be using this as an example for an assighment that I will be doing in my online “Intro to Lit” class this spring.  It might even make a fun #dailyconnect or a neat cooperative google doc/hackpad/diigo group annotation.

I Am a Teaching Huckster: Biometric Marketing, TechnoHavoc, and William Gibson’s Curatorial Polymer


I have been listening to William Gibson’s newest novel/cypher, The Peripheral. I stopped and decided that a much slower and more attentive inspection was owed. I am a bit gobsmacked at how much I miss in listening including this descriptive gem at the opening when a character Leon’s old Airstream travel trailer is described as being “the color of Vaseline”.


As so often happens circumstance, particularly the morning catch from my personal learning net, brings up some fresh but unfamiliar fish or two. Two from this morning’s trawl come to mind because they are just as deep in the center of the edge as Gibson is.

The first of these is a post in Venture Beat by writer Vivek Wadhwa on the coming tech havoc, “5 waves of technology disruption that are just getting started“. I almost ignored it because there is so much written this time of year about trends and anti-trends, but I perked up when it mentioned health. One of my daughters is a nurse working in heart monitoring telemetry so when I saw mention of artificially intelligent physicians and zero cost genomic sequencing, my ‘mantennae’ twitched.


It reminded me of the term ‘deep learning’ associated with AI:

[Deep learning concerns] training systems [of] artificial neural networks on lots of information derived from audio, images, or other inputs, and then presenting the systems with new information and receiving inferences about it in response.

Wadhwa’s post makes clear the importance of these big data AI systems especially regarding the burgeoning biometric data market being pushed out through ubiquitous fitness wearables. And why is this data important? That’s what the other article I came across answered.

Cavan Canavan’s Tech Crunch article, “The Future Of Biometric Marketing” says that the data will be opening up “a frontier where we’re pulling laboratory science outside of the laboratory and creating a deluge of new data about human biometrics never before available.”

The rest of the post explores what that means to marketers. What it proves is that there is already a buyer for data from companies like FitBit and that the data will getting better as the sensors in the equipment gets better. Right now this data is not largely open to third party developers, but it is beginning to be shared.

Canavan invites us to imagine some deep learning, biometric scenarios:

1. You go to a movie and agree to share your biometric data as you watch the movie. No more focus groups or previews needed, right?

2. You are playing Candy Crush and your biometric data is flowing as you play. Rewards for emotional peaks might be possible.

3. How about a date where each party agrees to release biometrics afterwards?

4. Or perhaps you aren’t feeling well and Big Pharma gets that info, pre-targeted as amenable to their products?

This is not future distant like Gibson’s seems. This is marketing ready.

Is biometrics learning ready? The complexity of this issue in K-12 is staggering. Just take a look at this anti-Common Core website if you want a taste for the changing world of FERPA and COPPA and biometrics.

Here are just some of the questions that float across my radar as an instructor at university. I invite those in K-12 to bring up their own.

1. Will universities have a genome as a biometric record in the near future?

2. Will students logon with fingerprint scanners?

3. Will educational providers like Pearson have access to that and other wearable generated data?

4. Will I use apps that access student data to determine how attentive students were over a class period? Attentive while online?

5. Will I be required to use these analytics to ‘improve’ my online and face-to-face learning engagements?

I don’t even think I am asking the right questions. But I do know that the market and the money will be there because it already is there.

Depending on what report you read, as many as 285 million fitness devices will be on human bodies by 2018, with a 40 percent CAGR. Smartwatch sales are predicted to grow from 1 million devices in 2013 to 92 million devices in 2018


I have been using a FitBit for at least two years to track sleep, steps, flights of stairs, and physical activity. It is not a particularly discriminating or intelligent data stream, but it does explain something. Whenever I have had problems with the hardware, they have replaced it immediately. I just thought they were a great service company, but after reading these articles, I now know why they were so quick to respond. Like a printer company, they are not interested in selling ‘printers’. They want to sell you grossly overpriced ink. Or in FitBit’s case, they want to sell or use your data. And it must be worth a lot. At the very least they are using it to promote their wellness business. Their privacy statements seem pretty strong, but if you give a third party permission to use your FibBit data, well…I don’t know quite how that monetizes.

Back to The Peripheral. Gibson’s new novel has its feet straddled over lots of adjacent futures. In fact his oft-quoted phrase (or Bruce Stirling’s, who knows) has never been more apt than it is right now, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” I am personally living in the biometric era, early days, but I am there. As a teacher, I am not yet there. I am both in the future and outside the future. It’s “curatorial polymer” all the way down to the skin. Spookier words and ways and days are yet to come and there is no getting ready for it.

I am reminded by all of this of one of my favorite 90’s movies– Joe Dante’s unlikely hit about the Cuban Missile Crisis, science fiction exploitation movies, and teen angst–Matinee . I was eight when the Missile Crisis happened. I saw the “duck and cover” movies on 16mm projectors and we practiced those pathetically futile moves under our desks. Today, I feel the same kind of learned powerlessness now as I felt then, trying to navigate in this brave new learning world. Yet I also feel weirdly empowered. I want to say “Bring it!” with all the bravado I can manage. Why? Because I am the movie huckster character that John Goodman captures so perfectly. Part of me knows that the learning landscape is populated by scams. I even realize that I am complicit in some of them. Yet I also know that I love telling the age old story of learning for its own sake. That drives me past the confidence game and into the space I believe in so utterly. Like Goodman’s character in the movie:

I get to scare everybody else. But it’s for their own good. You get people who go like this [he covers his face with his hands] at the scary parts, they’re not getting the whole benefit. You gotta keep your eyes open.

Gene: What’s the benefit?

OK, like, uh, a zillion years ago, a guy’s living in a cave. He goes out one day, bam! He gets chased by a mammoth. Now he’s scared to death, but he gets away. And when it’s all over with, he feels great.

Gene: Well, yeah, ’cause he’s still living.

Yeah, but he knows he is, and he feels it. So he goes home, back to the cave. First thing he does, he does a drawing of the mammoth. And he thinks, ‘People are coming to see this. Let’s make it good. Let’s make the teeth real long, and the eyes real mean!’ [Mammoth roars] Boom! The first monster movie. That’s probably why I still do it. Make the teeth as big as you want, then you kill it off, everything’s okay, the lights come up, ahhh! You see, the people come into your cave, with a two-hundred-year-old carpet, the guys tear your ticket in half—it’s too late to turn back now!—water fountain’s all booby-trapped and ready, the stuff laid out on the candy counter. Then you come over here to where it’s dark. There could be anything in there! And you say, ‘Here I am! What’ve you got for me?’

I feel just like this in the classroom sometimes. I punch through the double doors leading from the safety of the lobby into the theater and say the same, “What have you got for me?” Here’s what I got for you. It is learning distributed across the ages from the Groves of Academe to the one room school house to the citizen schools of Highlander to MOOCs and beyond. The single line running throughout like Ariadne’s thread is teaching. Always the teaching. I am a huckster for teaching. Full stop.


Celebrating Laura Gibbs & t/ #DailyConnect with Weavly


I pulled a quote from this delicious post by Laura Gibbs about her best tech friend forever, Inoreader. I got the quote from the end of the post and the more I dwelled on it with Weavly as my “close reading” tool, the deeper it got. I share this with gratitude for Laura’s work now and into the future.

I made the typography by using Pirate Pad and the timeline tool–>recording the finished quote on Snag-It–>grabbing the mp4 from there and creating a gif with VideoGif,–>putting that gif onto my Tumblr site–> pulling that onto Weavly.

Like most of these multimodal tools there is always ‘hand work’ to be done to make sure you can access your palette. In this case, Weavly is Soundcloud, Tumblr and YouTube friendly. Very like Zeega.

Experimenting with Friends (AKA, Connecting)

Simon and Kevin have been riffing back and forth with Soundcloud and I wanted to play around with what they did. I used their sound files and put them into a different container–Explain Everything.  It is all part of my attempt to do more in mobile spaces.

Here is Simon’s work, “CellFormatting”.

I am always so surprised when I translate others’ posts into a zeega by how much it resembles very close, slow reading. I get the same feeling here. I sometimes feel the same way when I memorize. Slow consideration is often the most efficient consideration. It is inherently playful as an activity. Well…it is for me.

Here is Kevin’s draft of a new song done on Garageband and uploaded to Soundcloud.

I only use his song at the end of my piece when it also enters into the end of Simon’s piece, but this is tied to some very interesting back and forth these guys have been sharing all weekend.

Here is my piece that I uploaded to YouTube using the iPad app, Explain Everything.  This is more proof of concept that the tool was capable of more, a sort of raw practice using a tool I had never thought to use in this way before. The emphasis is on raw.

Here are some discoveries.

1. Explain Everything (EE) is pretty good at sucking in digital objects.  In this case it accepts sound files from Soundcloud (mp3’s), animated gifs,  ad hoc recordings on the fly, and hand annotations.  I can do more.

2. EE allows for an odd kind of layering of different media.  Odd because, for example, you can see the sound files being turned on and off.  You can spin stuff.

3. As I mentioned above, I get the same feeling of close reading/translation with EE that I get with zeega and popcornmaker. I certainly feel closer to the ‘texts’ Kevin and Simon provide.

4. I get a powerful sense of play, that a game is happening.  I feel that product is not what this is all about.  It is about process and making as much as finished product (thank God). I am reminded of a tweet that Susan Watson shared this week via …well, it got around. Thanks to Sean Junkins and Karl Hooker.



And that brings me to Ian O’Byrne who really did exemplify above.  Instead of just consuming the new Star Wars Trailer like 45 million other people did in the first 24 hours, he posted on how folks were mashing and mixing the trailer including creating gifs from the movie (damn, I coulda done that) to lego-fying the scenes.  Brilliant.

I am so thankful to be connected like this.  I think that making might be our salvation.  I hope it is because…I am worried.  Why?  Because in the larger context–as in global context–what does it matter how connected we are if we are just preparing the next generation to preside over a slow ecological crash.  Dave Pollard in his most recent blog post divides the apocalyptic vision into two camps, the ‘Collapsniks’ who believe that collapse is inevitable and the ‘Salvationists’ who believe that civilization can be fixed.  How does connected learning fit here.  I am going to spend a lot of time thinking about this over the month of December.  I think that connected learning may well be the story that straddles this divide.  If it is then we should pour every bit of what we are into it.  If not, then let’s party like it’s 2099 when the population of the planet is 11 billion plus.

This is how my life online has been going online.  One damned thing leading to another. Or as  our rhizomatic friends Deleuze and Guattari are paraphrased by Davis and Sumara,

They point to the need to be aware of multiple interacting flows that , like the concealed root structures of some plants, give rise to similar structures of some plants, give rise to similar structures in diverse domains, even though the interconnections and shared reliances of those structures remain hidden from view.

Mindsets…are fractal-like, concealing intricate patterns of supposition and conjecture beneath a veneer of coherence (161-162)

Davis, Brent, and Dennis J. Sumara. Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research. Psychology Press, 2006. Print.

Hell, yeah!





Teaching Stories & Mindfully Learning



“Be mindful to your teaching story. Always learning. Always growing.”


I celebrate the idea of being conscious of your teaching story. Here is one about my lost wallet.

In all my years of owning a wallet I had only lost it once before (and that was at a restaurant where I met my in-laws for the first time–yeah, first impressions, not. ) Yes,  I had good wallet habits yet I lost it in my morning walk from car to office.  I did not realize it was lost until after my last class of the day. I had no hopes for recovering it, but I waited a bit before I  doing the manic, St. Vitus Day, cancel the credit cards dance.

The next morning I got an email from a former student of mine saying that she had found the wallet and would I like to pick it up.  All the money and cards and irreplaceable ephemera and cruft of lots of years was undisturbed in there when I got it back. Happy day and rewards all around and karma generated by the kilo.

So, my story is just another example of the Golden Rule: teach as if someone you are helping might find your lost wallet someday (or change your IV or keep an eye on your kid or make your dinner). Teach humanely, thankfully, and humbly.  It is its own reward, but…it can’t hurt to do so just in case you lose your wallet.  This is not the first time karma has reared it rollicking buddha laugh in my teaching life, nor will it be the last.

One last think.  One of the ways to be a mindful teacher is to constantly remind yourself of what your teaching stories are.  Maybe I need get that first tattoo for that permanent reminder.




Teddy the Porcupine VS Myster E or Failing Incandescently

Tl;dr: I did some stuff. It sorta failed. Maybe I learned something. I suspect so. Maybe not. Kept on. You keep on!


One might call it the “James Dean” effect–die young and make a beautiful corpse.  Unfortunately, I am neither young nor beautiful. Fortunately, I am not a corpse.  Yet this week has already seen some incandescent failures or as some might say in kindness–some fiery results.

Maha and Kevin both were concerned.  I wrote back to Maha indicating that all was in flux but OK and to Kevin I responded to his voice with my own.  I have promised more reports from the field, more feldgangs (field walks).  This is one.

So much pride cometh before a pratfall.


So proud of myself that I had created a YouTube playlist for my freshman comp classes that would reinforce what we were working on this week-argumentation essays.  Now that I look at in the clean light after the storm I see it for what my students saw it as–just another foisted thing, another dull scene in the saga of being a strategic student.  I created it as a gift, but to their eyes it was just another intrusion in the zero sum game of academia.

Above  is my  pride and joy, utterly scorned by my students.  Well, not utterly scorned by my students as you can see below.


But almost utterly.  There is a glorious brutality to numbers that forces you with a slap to the face to wake up.  But to what?  In part…to the foolishness of excessive scaffolding, to the impossibility of managing chaos and the unknown unknowns that float through our lives like black swans paddling furious and unseen.  Nicolas Taleb would say that I need to wake up to  “the critical issue … the artificial suppression of volatility — the ups and downs of life — in the name of stability.”   I think I do that.  I think I am aware of it in my teaching.  I know that the more locked down I approach the classroom and the more I try to “teach”, the more volatile it gets.  That volatility appears in the my playlist through disaffection. They ignore me. In no uncertain terms, they ignore me. And I know this because I asked them in class about it.  What playlists?  The data of the analytics doesn’t lie. What playlists?

But crickets are a good source of information about the ecosystem.  Their absence tells us even more.  Perhaps email has failed.  One student mentioned after class was over that she subscribed to so much stuff via email that she often missed important signals–out of sight, out of mind, never seen, neglect benign.  Or perhaps when confronted with my playlist, students saw noise not signal. Or perhaps it was and is noise.  Just bad vids.  Here is a copy of the email I sent them but with my reflective annotations for this post. Should I send this to them?  Probably.


But I do know that a sizeable minority saw the little throwaway at the end of my email., hence they saw my email. They told me they enjoyed it so we all watched it again in class.

Lesson learned?  I originally learned this lesson from Vizzini in The Princess Bride, but obviously have forgotten it.

When you go up against a talking porcupine, expect to lose.  But all is not lost.  Today I will send another email reminding them of the playlist as a way to take another look at a template on how to write an argument paper and as an opportunity to send me questions if they have them.  But that’s not all.  If you read on you will get two free Google 20% projects that arose from my debacle.


Students have been doing this assignment at their own pace all semester.  Some have presented publicly and some privately.  I had two present yesterday.  Both made me proud to have made this open-ended and  ‘odd’ assignment  (or so  both colleagues and students alike tell me).

Derek’s was simplicity itself–a comic

He approached me before class to ask if this was OK as a Google 20% Project.  I said sure, but… I wanted to know more about how it came about.  And he proceeded to tell me about his art universe, a peek into the rich and full world of his imagination that I would have had no way of accessing without the assignment.

It is the memory of his voice and his excitement and his authentic self being validated that is what I wanted from the project. Sensing an open vessel,  he filled me full with the story of the kinds of tools he used and how much time it took to make this  and his own history with comics and on and on.  At the end he was startled that anybody cared about what he was interested in.

While Derek’s presentation was a private one, James’s was public.

James works in a genre known as “anime music videos”.  Simply put (and believe me there is nothing simple about any of this) AMV afficionados pick an anime episode or episodes and mashup an appropriate song with clips from the anime.  Music and clips are matched for rhythm and appropriate lyrics.  This is serious, next level remixing here.  James said this amv took 8 hours to make.  His first one took a week.  He does it all on a little notebook computer.  Now I do a little mashing up myself with a cool tool called Zeega, but mine is child’s play compared to what James does.

This is all part of a larger universe known as cosplay and I am always very keen to observe how peers look upon each other’s worlds.  I think that James’s peers were stunned into respectful, awed silence.  I know I was.  I would like to take credit for  that, but I can’t.  I just lucked up into having James in my course and in providing him with a public venue.  I got the opportunity to ask him some very public questions so that he could shine on a bit brighter.

I think I failed here, too.  I realized immediately after Derek’s presentation and after James’s that I should have done this at the beginning of the semester.  Instead of  restraining volatility, I should have released this kraken at the beginning of the semester.


What would have arisen from that?  I will tell you. Something even more compelling and unknowable that would have reflected the happy act of faith in the motive power of human beings set free to learn as they would, an act so disruptive that I hesitate to even use that repulsive, cliched term.

All of what I have done is what Sean Michael Morris in a recent blog post calls ‘scholarship in the act’.  I trust that this post complements his abstraction with a messy dollop of practice. I know mine is too long.  That’s why I prefaced it with a “tl;dr”.  Morris’s  post bears quoting at length because it fits my own practice and is a nice emotional conclusion to our recursion, to our feldgang.

My philosophy of teaching assumes a scholarship in the act, and a reflective scholarship at that. I not only believe that the best teachers learn deeply by teaching, but that each of us has an obligation to pass on to students not only what we learn, but the contemplative process by which we came to it. I don’t believe as much in subject matter as I do in process. I don’t believe as much in methodology as I do in practice (one being how we plan to teach; the other, what really happens).

My practice relies on the element of surprise, and upon mindfulness. I believe, as Thomas P. Kasulis put it in “Questioning, that:

A class is … a process, an independent organism with its own goal and dynamics. It is always something more than what even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict.

Because of this, one of the most important skills a teacher can possess is mindful attention, and a willingness to see where a class is really headed, and not stick so tenaciously to his plan that he misses the brilliance of collaboration possible with his students.

The ever-evolving digital learning environments available to teachers today offer up millions of possibilities for instruction, learning, and collaboration. But all of these are only possible if we pay close attention to the technologies we use, the methodologies we inevitably must disrupt, and the innovations available not within our own minds, but within the minds of our students.

So with mindful attention I admit freely to being too clever by half and I admit to losing out to a pumpkin eating porcupine and I admit to enjoying every damned minute of it. I admit to failing incandescently.









Accelerate into the Crash


20141031_170613-EFFECTS (1)

Sometimes I read a post on the net that is so preposterous that it shakes me out of my bias and makes me, it just makes me, stand differently, look in a different direction, and finally see the view through a window I had never seen before.  Very similar to my wife pointing out  how this is the only time of year I can see the sheep in the far pasture. You have to look through the bathroom window and damned if I can’t see little white specks through the poplars and sycamores and river birches.

The post I refer to is one from from Venkatesh Rao’s blog Ribbonfarm and concerns the idea of crash-states.  He draws from the idea of ‘crash and reboot’ in software development as a contrast to what we all call ‘life’.  Or as Rao puts it:

A crash is fundamentally “life going on” even after you lose predictability and control. A recovery is not resumption of life. Life never stops. Recovery is about regaining predictability and control of an uncontrolled, unpredictable process.

Now comes the hard part. I feel like my classes  are in the middle of a crash.  I have tried to connect to my classes this semester.  Tried to use the tools we have discussed in connected courses and the philosophies of  connected learning. The result has been a crash.  The more and better the choices I gave my students the more confused they got or the more recalcitrant or the more … absent.  I modelled the work myself.  Uggghhh. I can’t even begin to catalog all that I tried and all that has happened.  Perhaps it suffices to relate just one example–my version of the Google 20% Project.

I designed this Project to be open ended, passion-driven, product agnostic (i.e. not just text, but all manner of made things), equitable because self-initiated from the learner’s own curiosity.  I justified it because I wanted  there to be at least one way for the learner to gain some control over a life more categorized by downloading the desires of others and re-uploading the  echo of those desires than reflecting their own will.  I wanted my students to have some freedom to learn and share what they might want to learn and share.  The prompt for the project is simplicity itself:  make something that expresses an interest, a passion, a question you seek to answer.  Share it as a product of some kind.  This was to be nothing more than a sophisticated, college-level show-and-tell.

Every week I gave them potential examples of what they might do.  A few students began to do the projects, some with real zest.  Each class had one or more student models to view as examples.  I did one myself by using the seed sharing I wrote about last week as an example.  Yet…I still got students approaching me about what they should do.  Less than 10% of each class has completed the project.  We are entering the last two weeks of the term for completing them. What else can these projects end up being but the same slipshod messes any syllabus assignment would have been as assigned by me?

We are in crash mode.  What to do?  Rao has  some vaguely helpful advice.

You accelerate into the crash. It is one of those counter-intuitive things, like turning into a skid while driving, getting an airplane out of a tailspin by pushing the stick forward instead of back (I think I got that right?), or emptying your lungs when exiting a sinking submarine instead of exiting with a big lungful (the pressure difference can be fatal as you surface otherwise).

Accelerating into a crash helps you regain actual control authority and predictability. If you force a crash into unfolding faster than it naturally wants to, you gain control over it.

What can I do with my students and the Google 20% Project?

I could just ride out the clock and get a “this too shall pass” glazed look on my face all the while blaming others for the crash.

I could rearrange the flowers on the tables of the Hindenberg, kind of a non-sequitur response to cover my own pedagogical ass.

I could try some totally crazy intervention like offering to have conferences with every student to help them find and complete the project on time. Maybe even allow them to come in on any day during their finals week to demo their project, thus giving them more time to hang themselves.

I could go into class and act crazy, blaming them into submission or just telling them to give up and noting I was crazy to have even thought they were anything more than a flock of helpless ‘sheep’le who just needed to be led by the nose and given an occasional smack with my shepherd’s crook.

Rao argues that all of these are possible responses, but they confuse accelerating into the crash with trying to manage it . You cannot manage the crash.

It’s easy to convince yourself you’re doing it when in fact you’re bracing for the crash, trying to get it over with, or wishfully seeking a zero state.


This zero state, this reboot state, this bliss of starting over in a state of grace is only possible in computer software, not life.  We live in a world of relative states of crash and burn.

In life and business, crash-only is not a choice but an operating condition, because both are bundles of entrenched habits without on/off switches. Not only are there no kill commands … to forcibly stop behaviors, there is no equivalent to pulling the plug, short of perhaps some sort of controlled brain damage.

What can I do?

Accelerate into the crash, turn into the skid, push the control stick on the plane forward?  It is like asking President Obama what he is going to do now as a lame duck with his party in the minority?  I would tell him to accelerate into the crash.  Do even more executive orders. Push the Senate toward impeaching him.  Push ahead by forcing the crash to unfold faster?

But is it ethical to do this in a classroom?  Does it reveal what a hopeless zombie the classroom is institutionally?   I can only gain control by giving up control?  Was the Google 20% Project doomed from the start with hidden agendas and trap doors?  Rao is pretty damned Yoda in his ultimate paragraph of advice:

At the moment, the best heuristic I have is this: if a behavior change ( not an event or a single decision) brings you immediate relief from anxiety and makes you busier, but without any immediate material change in the environment, it’s likely a case of accelerating into a crash. Often this means giving up doing certain things you’re used to doing, and giving up your resistance to certain things others want to do (which might cause them considerable surprise).

So, according to Rao, what I need to do is change my behavior in a way  that relieves this feeling of failure. I need to be more active and at the same time not give up the project.  Previous habits and solutions are not allowed so I must open up to what my students and others might want to do.  Surprise might be proof of concept. It’s a crash.  What do we have to lose?

I return to the picture above. Rao isn’t giving me an answer to how I can correct and change course, but he surely is providing a promontory from which to stand and look at the field before me. Perhaps I will come up with an answer.  More likely I will get an unexpected surprise  bubble from the cauldron that rises up and pops.   Perhaps from you.  Perhaps in a dream. Perhaps not now but later as I reconsider all the various crashes of this semester and how they might be a Oiuja Board with a very different spirit message for my future.

I can really see the sheep from here. Wow.  I never knew that.