Mythos and Logos in Transformative Faculty’s Toolkits

Transformative Learning (TL) is an instructional approach well suited to helping prepare graduates for the new world of work, which Reich (2019) and others say is increasingly characterized by contingent contracts and a gig economy. TL helps students discover themselves via reflection, an important step toward being able to narrate themselves successfully when they’re required to bridge from one employer to another, to change positions, or to pitch themselves and their ideas when launching their own businesses.

An education that helps students develop in this manner must be an intentional mix of logos and mythos. As faculty, we are trained in a logos mindset and depend on rationality and the scientific method to determine the objective truths we share with students in the form of our course content.

But to prepare our students for employment in a world that has chunks of their logos-grounded learning obsolete by the time they graduate and where employers oftentimes must value adaptability and resilience even more than content knowledge and skill, our role should include providing opportunities to engage in the mythos necessary to help students “narrate the meaning of their lives”:

The extent to which people can narrate the meaning of their lives indicates how much of what they do will matter to others. This process is referred to as narratibility, and it is about people’s ability to say who they are (narrate their story). (Maree, 2013, p. 52)

woman writing

If what Maree (2013) says is true, discoveries about self and the ‘ah-ha,’ transformative moments we seek to prompt in students are necessary to help students know and communicate their authentic selves.

“Who am I?” “Why do I matter?” and “What is my value?” are precursor questions to the statement that is, “My ability to add value to your enterprise is ___.” Even more importantly, helping our students answer the precursor questions means we equip them to successfully match themselves and their abilities to contribute to the enterprises where their passions lie and in which they will succeed and self-actualize to the greatest degree.

In other words, the logos of students’ programmatic knowledge must be balanced with the mythos of their heroic journey of self-discovery. They can then launch themselves into employment and life by making choices that align with who they really are and which successfully balance head and heart. Hoyt puts it this way:

[L]ogical thinkers have figured out, for example, how to cure illnesses and prolong the average human lifespan, but they have learned through mythical thinking to value human life enough to bother. Products of logos enable us to communicate with the people who matter most to us (even when they are thousands of miles away), but mythos provides the context for us to know which people matter and what we should say to them when we do communicate. (2009)

Graduating student looking out over city

At UCO, our Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) process has us prompting students to reflect on their learning as connected to one or more of our Central Six Tenets when they complete a STLR-tagged assignment. With well-constructed prompts nudging students to consider prior assumptions in a new light, we certainly have seen hundreds of instances in which students come to know themselves better and/or conceive of themselves differently among the more than 26,000 assessments of rubrics-determined badge-level achievement that have occurred to date.

Logos may have sufficed when workers could count on remaining with the same employer for a lifetime, benefits provided, at a livable wage. That age is gone, replaced by one in which employment is a more fluid affair, requiring the mythos of revelatory knowledge of self in order to know and communicate one’s value, regardless the amount of upskilling one manages across a lifetime.

The successful university in the new world of work educates students from both logos and mythos perspectives because graduates who know their stuff and know themselves are better arbiters of the mix among what they want to accomplish, where they can do that, and how they contribute best to self, others, community, and environment.

 

 

References

Hoyt, R. (2009). Mythos and logos: Two ways of explaining the world. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from http://journeytothesea.com/mythos-logos/

Maree, J. G. (2013). Counseling for career construction — Connecting life themes to construct life portraits: Turning pain into hope. Rotterdam: Sense.

Reich, R. (2019, June 2). The gig is up: America’s booming economy is built on hollow promises. The Guardian. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/02/gig-economy-us-trump-uber-california-robert-reich

Countries with the Most STEM Graduates

Graphic displaying the countries with the most STEM graduates. China is at the top with 4.7 million, followed by India with 2.6 million. Next is the United States with 568,000, Russia with 561,000, Iran with 335,000, Indonesia with 206,000, and Japan with 195,000.

Using Web Literacy Skills to Expose Fake News

Written by Mark R. McCoy, Ed.D., Professor, Forensic Science Institute — 

I was recently asked to lead a book discussion group on the open access e-book “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers” by Mike Caulfield. I had not read the book, but I believe I was asked to lead the discussion based on my experience in law enforcement leading a state cybercrime unit and using the Internet as an investigative tool. Upon reading Caulfield’s text I came to realize that I had been using, in my previous work, some of the same strategies he describes. These fact-checking strategies are tools we should teach our students and use ourselves on a daily basis.

The World Wide Web and social networks are treasure troves of information – much of it true and reliable but some of it false and misleading. How can we help students evaluate the information they find on these sources and evaluate the information’s veracity? In his book, Caulfield provides “Four Strategies and a Habit” to guide us in this effort. While we ask students to critically think about various sources of information, we have not provided them concrete strategies and tactics for properly analyzing the nature and reliability of those sources.

In brief, Caulfield’s strategies are:

  1. Check for previous work: Has someone else already fact-checked the information? He provides sources of reliable websites that do research and fact-check much of the questionable news we read online.
  2. Go upstream to the source: Most web content is not original. He provides techniques to work “upstream” to locate the original source of the information and evaluate its credibility.
  3. Read laterally: Once you find the source of a claim, see what others say about the source and its trustworthiness.
  4. Circle back: If you hit a dead end or get lost, go back to the beginning and start the process over, using what you learned up to that point (p. 5).

In addition to those strategies, Caulfield introduces a habit we should all follow. We should check our emotions. “When you feel strong emotion – happiness, anger, pride, vindication – and that emotion pushes you to share a ‘fact’ with others, STOP. Above all, it’s these things that you must fact-check” (p. 7). When emotion is high, be careful about how you proceed. Propaganda is written to evoke emotion. Don’t Tweet angry.

The rest of the text goes on to detail each of the strategies and provides current examples of “fake news” – propaganda and disinformation that can be easily fact-checked with the strategies. This is an excellent book and easy read of about 120 pages. Our book discussion group had some interesting discussions and some fun fact-checking information we found on our own Facebook feeds and Twitter accounts.

picture of Web Literacy book coverCaulfield (2017) notes, “the web is both the largest propaganda machine ever created and the most amazing fact-checking tool ever invented. But if we haven’t taught our students those capabilities, is it any surprise that propaganda is winning?” (p. 3–4). I would take this further and say that every citizen that interacts with information on the Internet should use the due diligence outline in this book before re-Tweeting or sharing bogus information and perpetuating fake news. The ability to evaluate information in our information-saturated world is a skill that, once mastered, is empowering and transformative. By having better-supported information, both we and our students can check our prior observations and perhaps expand our perspectives on the world.

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Caulfield, M. (2017). Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. Accessed 3 April 2019 at https://d1e2bohyu2u2w9.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/tlr-asset/document-web-literacy-for-student-fact-checkers.pdf

A Student Perspective: A Transformative Learning Course in Higher Education

Written by Sarah Moore, Outreach Specialist, UCO Career Development Center

I never once sat in the metal framed desk with a navy blue chair and a particle board top, in graduate school. My first class was in a room with four small tables arranged into pods where four or five individuals could sit per pod. I bravely took a seat on the side of the room not knowing the individuals in my pod would quickly turn into my own survival team. Individuals may drop out, or be added at a later date but for the most part those who sat near me in the beginning became my lifelong friends and slowly encouraged me to embrace the idea that I was a lifelong learner.

Students sitting in group at classroom table

In courses set up to encourage transformative learning we figure out our professor or facilitator is not just teaching us content but instead guiding us through a learning experience. This means the individual sitting next to me is no longer learning exactly the same as I. Adult learners enter the classroom with experience. Transformative learning uses these experiences to challenge the issue in front of the learner. “The key idea is to help the learners actively engage the concepts presented in the context of their own lives and collectively critically assess the justification of new knowledge” (Mezirow, 1997, p.10). In transformative learning, a change in thinking encourages an idea to coexist with an alternative, in other words, a cognitive dissonance. Critical thinking is used to challenge a frame of reference, meaning one must recognize a new insight to a problem, become aware of the existing belief, and apply critical reflection to the cognitive dissonance.

My life didn’t stop unfolding because I was in graduate school. Opportunities and experiences could continue to present themselves, and given time, I was encouraged to make decisions. As my academic career unfolded, I was able to take a step back and see how it comfortably complimented my professional career. Overtime, I was more comfortable with why decisions were being made the way they are, and I could better predict the behaviors of students due to a new understanding of learning and developmental theory. Transformative learning taught me that before action can be taken, testing the new idea and coping with the consequences of the action would occur through further reflection. This process is done to bring meaning or value to the adult (Dirkx, Mezirow, & Cranton, 2006, p. 124).

I walked into my second semester finding the classroom tables arranged in an X and the swiveled chairs strewn about. The syllabus had pictures, expectations, and suggestions for further reading but certainly no linear instruction. There was uncertainty from the start, and whisperings of what really, we were here to do; after all, what does transformation even mean? Trust the process started scrolling over my brain. A phrase we as Student Affairs professionals, often say to students to calm anxiety and encourage engagement. Yet as a student, I was wondering if I truly had to transform right then and there. The truth was, we were there to transform- that was how we were going to learn about transformative learning. But there was no time limit. It turned out there was a structure, and we would in fact be guided, if we were willing. Like most adult learners we were skeptical, we were cynical, we needed ownership, and that was exactly what we were given when we discussed our assigned topics of interest.

Students in Transformative Learning Theory class

Class: Transformational Learning

Within the first moments of class the facilitator was tasked with creating an environment that caused the learner to assess, engage, and find safety. As that process began for the class, the facilitator stayed one step ahead beginning to reveal the identities of the individuals in the room by finding similarities, differences, interests, and dislikes. About the time the class began to see their peers as individuals that could influence learning, the environment was wholly embraced, and the structure of the semester was revealed. This began to cause a stir amongst the relatively comfortable adults now. What do you mean we need to pick, right now, a topic for which we will be creating the content together? What the class didn’t realize at the time was that by choosing, we would later feel in control as we explored uncomfortable vocabulary and much debated theory. These first weeks were heated with intention to create a safe space for learning and listening and to introduce the idea of assessment, recognition, and exploration (or critical reflection).

As we began to dive into the content, the terminology, finding out how transformative learning was being used today versus the past, and even getting to Skype with Dr. John Dirkx, we all began to turn inward. We would read an article on emotional intelligence or what it is like to be a leader and began hearing the stories of our peers. As the content began to grow, stories swelled, we were all making meaning from our peers’ misunderstandings, and wrestling with the words, and/or by seeing the terminology fall into place in our own tales. It was incredible and exhausting. For someone like me, I couldn’t wait to get past this part and dig into what this looks like on a practical level, in the field.

Turns out my desires were right on pace for what the facilitator was anticipating and transformative learning theory reveals. We were beginning to shape meaning, own our knowledge, and find competence and confidence. Right on schedule the facilitator began introducing the ethical dilemmas of transformative learning, global perspectives, and what transformative learning looks like in a virtual world. Once we had experienced how we had transformed in our past experiences, we began to see our experience in the classroom as its own transformative learning opportunity. This framework then was easy to lift and lower onto other environments, audiences, and content. We could then visualize how Paulo Freire could recognize a problem, see the moving concerns, understand the stakeholders, and create solutions from within.

This all occurred by me taking a sixteen week course in the middle of my academic career focused on one theory, transformative learning. I found myself wishing I could take sixteen weeks to unfold other theories, and thrilled that the theory I had the opportunity to unfold had such personal power. As a student, learning the mechanics behind the curtain did not weaken my experience but created an opportunity for respect, understanding, and compassion toward those willing to facilitate my academic experiences.

 

References

Dirkx, J. M., Mezirow, J., & Cranton, P. (2006). Musings and reflections on the meaning, context and process of transformative learning. Journal of Transformative Education, 4(2), 123-139. DOI: 10.1177/1541344606287503

Mexirow, J. (1997). New direction for adult and continuing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass Publishers.

Helping Learners Recognize Their Own Transformations: A Personal Story

Written by Jeff King, Executive Director, CETTL –

What do you recognize now, years later, was a transformative understanding you came to, but which you did not realize at the time? We all have these. Sometimes we express them in a conversation with a colleague that begins something like, “You know, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a turning point for me now that I think about it.”

The turning point, in many cases, is a transformation. But why didn’t you recognize your own transformative realization at the time?

Sometimes the answer to that question is that nobody helped you to realize it. Do faculty have the opportunity to be the helper, and if so, is there benefit in prompting a real-time realization that might come on its own accord years later?

One would probably not place the Defenestration of Prague as the day’s topic in a history class at the top of any transformative realization. Yet the triggering episodes for Transformative Learning are often uniquely personal.

Such was the case in the early 1970s for me, an undergraduate at the University of Georgia having landed in a particular history course because, well, it fit my schedule. It was way more important at the time to schedule around the orchestra or brass ensemble or the basketball option among the required Physical Education choices than to place the same prioritization energy on choosing a particular history class at a particular time.

The result was finding myself in a wooden chair-desk in a nondescript classroom on the first day of the course hearing the instructor explain he did not have syllabi to pass out yet because he had only learned the night before that he would be teaching the class due to some departmental emergency that had arisen. It was an inauspicious beginning for one of the most transformative classes I took as an undergraduate music major.

And it was also a transformation not consciously recognized until decades later when the experience resonated with a quote from Richard Feynman found in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999): “[E]verything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” (This quote in the book was reprinted from remarks Feynman made in an interview published in Omni magazine, 1979.)

Reading the book made me realize that I remembered more from that history class than from any of my other non-major classes as an undergraduate. The reason was because I allowed my interest to follow the love and passion the instructor had for the topic, thereby discovering that 17th century history held some fascinations that would last a lifetime.

Reading the Feynman quote immediately triggered the memory of that history class, and I realized the truth in Feynman’s words as reflected in my own experience. In that moment I recognized the Transformative Learning experience for me as prompted by that history class.

First, how did the professor make this happen? He was a gentleman who’d married a Russian woman who was still in Russia, something that came to light when a student in the front row one day asked why he wore his wedding ring on his right hand. He explained the custom in Russia, which led to the brief discussion about his wife still being there. This self-revelation was part of what I later realized made him a transformative teacher, at least for me: true passion for his topic and an eagerness and willingness to share that with students.

Beyond that self-revelatory moment on his part (which made clear why he could describe Russian history and Peter the Great’s sojourns to Europe with such enthusiasm), he sparked an interest in historical events as he shared the human side of what was happening at the time. As a result, what many students entering the class, myself included, thought would be a chronological slog through the centuries became a fascinating fly-on-the-wall retelling of human foibles, passions, failings, and triumphs.

Getting thrown out a window in Prague and landing in one of the piles of manure that were common on the streets of Europe at the time had vastly different interpretations depending on which side of the event you sat. If you sided with those doing the throwing, your victims not only deserved being thrown out the window, they also deserved to end up buried in manure. If you were on the other side, however, it was angels that suddenly appeared to guide the defenestratees down to a soft landing, thereby avoiding injury or death.

Were you the unfortunate physician accompanying Peter the Great to Europe, where his scientific curiosity led him and his entourage to witness a dissection of a human body, you would have rued the day you made a face at being repulsed at what you were seeing. As the transformative history teacher explained with solemnity, that weak-stomached Russian physician was commanded by Peter the Great to go assist in the dissection — with his teeth.

You can see how these details brought history alive. You can also surmise that such details are infrequently shared in history courses.

Yet this was the reason for the transformative moment I had as a student but which I did not realize as one of my truths until decades later:

Just about anything I encounter can be interesting if I encourage myself to get into it deep enough.

That’s a transformative realization. It has allowed me on certain occasions to forgo motivation-killing resistance to tasks. Yet I didn’t know this until 1) the history class experience, and 2) the decades-later reading of the Feynman book. Further, I seriously doubt the professor knew the effect he had on me. He had surely passed on when I realized my own transformation spurred by his class.

But what if I had seen a question on the final exam in his class that asked, “What has your learning experience been like in this class?” After all, that’s a question that wouldn’t seem out of place on college class end-of-term student surveys, right?

Such a prompt, however, might have launched my transformative realization to consciousness in that moment. If so, maybe I would have approached subsequent classes throughout my formal educational career differently. Instead, it took a chance reading decades later, after all undergraduate, master’s, doctoral work had been finished, to connect the dots for me.

I have two regrets. First, I never had the opportunity to communicate this to that professor. Second, I regret not having had the realization at that point in my educational career.

My personal experience leads me to believe it is a very powerful, positive thing to provide learners the opportunity to reflect on their own learning. Doing so may bring to conscious awareness a life tool that might otherwise lie unused for decades.

 

References

Feynman, R. P. (1999). The pleasure of finding things out. New York, NY: Perseus Publishing.

Four Steps to Designing Micro Learning Interactions

Article by Bucky J. Dodd, Ph.D. –

When designing learning experiences, many educators tend to focus on designing overall formal learning environments such as a courses, seminars, or workshops. Within these formal learning processes, there are often many dynamic opportunities to support learning based on the unique needs and experiences that learners encounter. Responding to learners’ needs is something that great educators do every day. These opportunities may include helping learners remediate on a particular topic, or expand and challenge learners to stretch beyond the formal goals of a course. These “micro learning interactions” are the spontaneous design skills that great educators use to help students get back on track, extend their learning, and reinforce learning skills.

In short, micro learning interactions give educators a tool for responding and adapting to learners needs while still supporting the overall goals and intent of a formal learning environment. In this article, I explore four steps to designing “micro learning interactions” that are intended to help support and augment learning experiences.

 

What are Micro Learning Interactions?

The concept of micro interactions emerge from the study of user experiences. Micro user experiences interactions are made up of triggers, rules, feedback and loops and modes.

This article uses the discussion of micro interactions as inspiration to explore how educators might leverage small, focused, and planned experiences to support learning. For the purpose of this article, micro learning interactions are planned learning experiences that occur dynamically within a broader formal learning environment.

Let’s assume a learner in a math course is struggling with a particular procedure or concept. Often, mastery of a certain skill is needed before other skills can be developed. Instead of reviewing an entire module, an educator may use dynamic micro learning interactions to help learners address inaccurate understanding of the concepts in order to get back on track.

These micro interactions provide an essential tool for educators in advancing transformative learning. Often the start of a micro learning interaction is a misunderstanding, challenge, or dilemma. By using micro learning interactions, an educator can help learners engage in transformative learning experiences in ways that are personalized and driven by the interests and experiences of the learner. In other words, this tool helps build a learner-centered environment.

The next sections of this article outline four steps educators can use to design and facilitate micro learning interactions that support transformative learning experiences.

 

Step 1: Determine the learning goal.

The first step to designing any micro learning interaction is determining the desired result. This is often more specific than a pre-determined course goal. For example, if a learner is trying to develop a specific presentation skill but is struggling with consistency performing the skill, the learning goal may be focused on building consistency of performance. An alternative learning goal may focus on mastering the first step in a process consistently before practicing the next step.

Determining the learning goal needs to be connected to an overall formal learning goal, but may be a smaller step towards that result.

The following diagram illustrates the relationship between a micro learning goal and the evidence that the learner will need to demonstrate.

This diagram illustrates the relationship between a micro learning goal and the evidence that the learner will need to demonstrate.

 

Step 2: Measure current progress towards learning goal.

The next step in designing micro learning interactions is to determine the specific knowledge, skill, or attitude gaps between a learner’s current abilities and the intended micro learning goal. For example, if the goal for the micro interaction is for the learner to experience a new culture or see a problem from a different perspective, understanding their current perspectives is important to determining what would be a meaningful learning experience.

Consider the following questions when measuring a person’s current learning progress.

  • Does the person have the ability to accurately talk about the knowledge or skill?
  • Can they demonstrate the knowledge or skill consistently?
  • What is the person’s overall attitude towards learning the skill?
  • Why would learning this skill be important to the person?

These questions help in measuring the gap between the learning goal and the learner’s current abilities. This can be framed as simple interview questions or through more formal data collection methods.

 

Step 3: Plan micro experience to bridge the gap between goal and current state.

Step 3 focuses on planning the micro experience to bring the gap between the goal and the learner’s current abilities. Keep in mind, this design is only focused on the gap, not reviewing the complete learning sequence. The reason for this is the micro interaction is intended to focus on solving a specific learning opportunity.

In the example below, the learning goal and evidence is identified along with a simple sequence of learning resources and activities aimed at nudging the learner towards the desired learning outcome.

In this micro learning diagram, the learning goal and evidence is identified along with a simple sequence of learning resources and activities aimed at nudging the learner towards the desired learning outcome.

 

Step 4: Recalibrate and launch future learning experiences.

Once the micro learning experience is complete, it is important to assess the success of the intervention and recalibrate the model as needed. Ideally, micro learning interactions launch future learning experiences because they are used to address embedded learning barriers.

Each micro interaction will likely be slightly different between learners; however, over time a library of micro learning interaction patterns can be created to help address common learning needs.

 

Summary

Micro learning interactions give educators a tool for responding to the needs of learners and to help people achieve success towards a learning goal. This article explored four steps to designing and facilitating micro learning interactions and offered several examples for how this method can help educators dynamically respond to the needs of learners. Where have you seen micro learning interactions in your classroom and/or where could you take steps to integrate this approach?

Growth Mindset in STEM

Bar chart showing gaps between White/Asian students and Black/Latino/Native American students in STEM classes if their professors have a fixed mindset compared to if they have a growth mindset, with the gap being .19 GPA for faculty with fixed mindsets vs. .10 for faculty with growth mindsets.

Summarized by Jaschik, S., in Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 18, 2019, based on research by Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science Advances, 5.

Misbehaving: What behavioral economics means for education

Written by Linh Pham, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Economics, College of Business –

Misbehaving by Thaler book coverI recently finished reading “Misbehaving: The making of behavioral economics” by Richard Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago and the 2017 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. The book is Thaler’s personal documentation of the history of behavioral economics, a field of economics that applies psychosocial insights to explore human decision-making process. As an economist and a teacher, I find the book very interesting, not only because it provides an account of economic concepts in a fun and approachable manner but more importantly, its insights into human behavior are very useful in helping us become more effective teachers.

One of the main themes of the book is that in many circumstances, human decisions are influenced by factors that may seem irrelevant to rational people. Thaler starts his book with an example of how he gets fewer complaints from students about their grades when he gives exams out of a total score of 137 instead of 100, even though grade distributions, when converted to percentages, are similar in either case. This phenomenon is puzzling to a rational person, as someone who is unhappy when he gets 70 out of 100 (a 70%) should still be unhappy when he/she gets a 96 out of 135 (also a 70%).

In fact, humans are subject to a number of cognitive biases that limit our ability to make rational decisions. For example, we have time-inconsistent preferences. That is, a choice about an action or decision in the future may be less preferable at a later date, when the future becomes the present. This explains why we often procrastinate unpleasant tasks for as long as possible or why many new-year resolutions to eat more healthily or to go to the gym often end up not being fulfilled. Time inconsistency implies the inability to consistently follow a good plan over time. In the context of teaching, I am sure that many students start their semesters with good intentions to perform well in their courses, yet such intentions often fade away over the course of the semester. A simple way to deal with time inconsistent preferences is to reduce the cost of “unpleasant actions” such as studying or completing assignments. For example, breaking large, end-of-semester projects into smaller assignments improves student overall performances on the projects; or, utilizing various in-class activities such as games, practice questions, or readiness assessment quizzes at the end of each topic helps students better prepare for exams.

“Psychologists tell us that in order to learn from experience, two ingredients are necessary: frequent practice and immediate feedback….Because learning takes practice, we are more likely to get things right at small stakes than at large stakes.” (Thaler, 2015).

…it is necessary that we acknowledge our own cognitive biases and keep an open mind when interacting with students.

Another important lesson I learned from the book is that to be effective teachers, it is necessary that we acknowledge our own cognitive biases and keep an open mind when interacting with students. Sometimes this can simply mean actively listening to students, carefully analyzing their thoughts before jumping to a conclusion or making any suggestion. After all, trust and safety have to be established first in order for real conversations to emerge. And to me, conversations are at the root of effective teaching.

Inclusion and Transformation at ITLC

Written by Trevor Cox, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Organizational Leadership, Adult Education and Safety Sciences

Introduction

Photo of Columbia University Teacher's College, NYCFor me, the beginnings of a transformative experience is when I have new questions — questions I had never thought about before and questions I do not quite have the answer to yet. So I want to share some of the new questions I gained at the International Transformative Learning Conference (ITLC), because I think they are questions we all can benefit from as educators.

I had the opportunity to attend ITLC in November 2018 with several colleagues from UCO. This was my first time attending and presenting at the conference, and I was excited for the unique perspective of the conference itself.

Located on the campus of Teacher’s College at Columbia University, this year’s conference was the 20th anniversary of the conference. In a way, it felt a bit like a Transformative Learning pilgrimage: taking the New York City red line subway, walking the beautiful orange, red, and yellow tree-lined streets of Riverside Park, then finally entering into the very building where Jack Mezirow did his TL work.

I had several questions going in: Will the conference be true to transformative learning? Will it be any different than other conferences I have been to?

Most of the conferences I go to are leadership conferences. They are the traditional conference format where there are multiple options to sit through where 3 or 4 people take 10 minutes to run through a paper they wrote. The conference had these options for sure (which raises some questions about the traditional system of research and conferences, but we don’t have space for that here), but a majority of the sessions I attended were creating space for transformation.

You always wonder in a setting like this: Do the people who we rely on in research actually put it into practice? As I sat with some of the “big names” in the field, it was encouraging to see the ways these scholars and practitioners were putting transformative learning into practice.

 

An Open and Honest Conversation

One of the standouts of the conference to me was an interesting moment at the first morning keynote. ITLC had formed an inclusion committee trying to think about how the conference itself could be more inclusive. After a quick skit of how to welcome new community members (the highlight of which was the acting of UCO’s own Dr. Ed Cunliff), the chair of the committee went on to share the feedback they had received about the conference itself.

This was striking because much of the feedback was about the ways people did not feel included. I found this to be so refreshing – an open and honest conversation about the realities of the ways things are done and the actual experiences of the people participating. Not too many conferences begin with a PowerPoint describing some of their flaws. The inclusion committee then explained how they were working to address the feedback they had received, and how they were going to continue to listen to the participants’ perspectives.

Sessions of Questions

One of my own primary research areas is inclusion, so I attended several sessions which were in that realm. The first was a group of professors from a social justice and transformative learning based institution doing research around the question: Are we really as inclusive as we think we are? They talked about how social justice, inclusion, and transformation were a part of the way they talked about the school, but they had been tasked with asking students: Do you experience that here? As it turned out, many did not and so the research group was also part of the task force to address the issue.

Another session asked questions about the way we teach students about privilege. We were walked through all of the traditional ways of teaching about privilege, then asked about what it felt like to go through those experiences and then collectively critiqued the effectiveness of these methods.

Finally, I went to a session on inclusive leadership and we were led through a heartfelt discussion on what the experience of inclusion was like and began to identify the ways our identities exclude or include us in various settings. Tears were shed and we were all given the space to be honest about our fears in different settings and what prevents true authenticity.

Conference Reflections

Photo of Dr. Trevor Cox

As I reflected on what I needed to walk away with from the conference, I realized this strong theme of making sure we are listening to the voices of others, specifically those we are educating.

I realized this strong theme of making sure we are listening to the voices of others, specifically those we are educating.

We can easily begin to convince ourselves that we are transformative educators or educators who seek to include everyone. But are we really? And how do we know?

Even if we are genuinely gifted educators who have a track record of transformation, or inclusion, or whatever kind of education we value, we still need to be listening to the voices of our students and a broader range of voices informing our practice. We need to know that our educational and even institutional practices are doing what we hope they are doing. And the only way to do that is continually ask the people with whom we are engaging.

My new questions that I want to share with you are: How do we continually put things in place to make sure we genuinely hear the voices of our students when it comes to their experience of us in the classroom? Are we willing to create that kind of space? Are we willing to hear what they have to say? What are their experiences in our classrooms really like?

My time at ITLC opened me to these questions both by the experiences I was able to have, but also by observing people I greatly respect model the willingness to answer these questions well. As I continue to reflect on the conference and ask these important questions, my hope is that the answers I receive will serve as further disorienting dilemmas to continue to transform me as an educator.

Hacking the Transformative Experience

Written by Jeff King, Ed.D. –

In Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal (2017) survey various fast-tracking methods to transformative experiences. It is little wonder in a fast-lane culture that humans, especially in a high-tech age, would seek tools and processes to shave off as much time and effort as possible along the way to the Great A-ha.

Stealing Fire Book Cover

Are there any hacks for Transformative Learning that could work in our classrooms?

Maybe.

Near the end of their book, Kotler and Wheal (2017) offer a cost-benefit equation for hacking transformation (p. 211):

Value = Time x Reward/Risk

Translated, this means one must gauge the potential reward against the risk while also factoring in how long the transformation-prompting process will take.

The authors’ categorization for potential routes to fast-tracked deep insight yields processes built on psychology, neurobiology, pharmacology, and technology. Using the cost-benefit equation above, if one places a high value on transformative insights, then the extreme end of the continuum representing the algorithm would be that the experience is so highly valued that any short-cut possible to reduce the time to get to the experience at any risk is worth it.

Pharmacologically, an example might be someone taking unsupervised LSD trips, courting psychological damage, while considering the risk worth it.

The other end of the continuum might be the highly cautious seeker who opts for ten years in a monastery as the route to master that brain- and mind-state necessary for a blissfully transformative realization, an example of a neurobiological approach.

Neither LSD trips nor monastic retreats are particularly manageable in the college classroom. On the other hand, helping students get into a flow state (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) is a potential route in the classroom to help students toward transformation. In such a case, the risk is far lower, though the guarantee of ecstasis is iffy, at best. Still, seeking flow by building a learning environment that supports it is good practice no matter how frequently or infrequently students get into flow or reach ecstasis.

Ecstasis, incidentally, is the word the ancient Greeks used to signify “stepping beyond oneself” (Kotler & Wheal, 2017, p. 11). It was a highly valued ability, and the famous tale of Alcibiades, who stole kykeon, an apparent hallucinogen, for a party attended by, among others, Greek historian Plutach, ends badly for party-boy Alcibiades. His bright idea that his party would be memorable for the group bliss-out that would ensue offered the opportunity for political rivals to have him tried in absentia for a crime punishable by death — that of blaspheming the Mysteries, an initiation ritual into transformative states.

One realizes how important the route to a transformative state was to the Greeks when considering that the Mysteries were lauded by the likes of Plato and Pythagoras, who referred to them as essential to the launch of insights underpinning the world of forms and the music of the spheres, respectively. Cicero described them as the mechanism allowing one to “perceive the real principles of life, and learn not only how to live in joy, but also to die in better hope” (Cicero, as quoted in Kotler and Wheal, 2017, p. 2).

So the Greeks were on to something with this quest for transformative states, and they were willing to participate in a 9-day ritual that would put them there. The Mysteries, however, are also not a practical method in the college classroom.

Flow

And that gets us back to flow, Csikszentmihalyi’s term for a highly focused mental state. One key characteristic of such a state is that the learner (whether in a formal education setting or not) has moved into a mental space such that distractions do not cut through, certainly a plus in the classroom. In addition, learners’ sense of time can be lost — what may seem only minutes in duration is actually an hour, so focused are the students on the topic or the work at hand.

Don Wettrick (2017) has four suggestions for inducing flow in the classroom. You can find them here. The first, teaching students mindfulness techniques such a focus on breathing for a minute or two at the start of class, is good for students in many ways, and pays dividends far beyond two minutes’ worth of class time devoted to this practice instead of ‘covering the content.’

After all, if you successfully facilitate a flow-state environment in your classroom, it is absolutely the case that students will accomplish more in 58 minutes than in a non-flow-state hour.

One thing Wettrick does not mention regarding flow state induction, but which is a great resource here at the University of Central Oklahoma, is the labyrinth. If as a faculty member you want/need a little personal stress relief and mindful focus, walk the labyrinth in the beautiful outdoor setting on our campus.

 

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Kotler, S., & Wheal, J. (2017). Stealing fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and maverick scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Wettrick, D. (2017, March 28). Flow states: Ecstasis in the classroom? Retrieved October 19, 2018, from https://medium.com/@DonWettrick/flow-states-ecstasis-in-the-classroom-342b3cfa30ba