A leap in Consciousness – Discovery in a digital world

Reading Time: 8 minutes

From Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, authors of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe. 

Learning

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California

Something magical happens when students take control of their learning journey. As they develop their observational skills, questions form regularly from their experience, like bubbles floating to the surface of a freshwater spring. They search naturally and immediately using whatever resources are at their disposal. They seek out points of view as they make sense of the feedback they have assembled through their research. They deal with authority and meaning developed from fresh data. With a smartphone, any student becomes an expert in record time. But, what are they seeking? And, how can they prepare themselves to act on what they have learned?

Photo Credit: Anthony Yuan https://www.flickr.com/photos/yyq123/70744379/
Photo Credit: Anthony Yuan
https://www.flickr.com/photos/yyq123/70744379/

Traditional college curricula has become limited in the rigor applied to student-led inquiry. The assumed “rightness” of knowledge being delivered gets in the way, regardless of how esteemed the source. Some very bright students have quit college and gone on to do great things (think Steve Jobs) when they discovered their own methods were more effective for them. There seems to be acceptance that “wisdom” sits at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge.

This is not what higher education is all about. We don’t need “experts”, we need people who can figure things out and do things about what they have learned. It’s fairly easy to describe the hierarchy so as to recognise what students must work towards.

 

Consider the number “100”. It is data. It can be used for many things, manipulated in many ways.

Now add the word “pitches”, so as to say “100 pitches” and we know we are probably talking about baseball. We now have some information on our hands. How we use it becomes more domain specific.

Through research, once a pitcher has thrown 100 pitches in a baseball game, their arm tends to tire. This is proven knowledge within the domain. Experts have delved more deeply into what happens as a consequence. The “pitch count” has become a topic of debate but is regularly used to identify a watershed moment which leads to increased likelihood of injury or at least reduced effectiveness.

In general, a convention has evolved in the game of baseball that suggests that managers would be wise to remove a pitcher from a game when their pitch count reaches 100. If such wisdom were the pinnacle of the knowledge hierarchy, if wisdom itself was the goal and sufficient for success, traditional higher education methods would be far more effective preparing students for real-world challenges.

The fact is, students (and baseball managers) must live by a higher standard. They must seek the truth. They must apply all they know and all they have considered to address whatever challenges they face at a given moment in time. When the temporal aspect of learning has been taken out of the game, students and managers alike face dire consequences for their actions.

This lesson was learned the hard way during the 18-inning playoff game in 2014 in which the Washington Nationals pitcher had been untouchable by the San Francisco Giants through 8 and 2/3 scoreless innings. Jordan Zimmermann had just thrown his 100th pitch by walking a batter with just one more out needed to end the game with a 1-0 Washington win. Unfortunately, the manager relied on the wisdom of his prior experience, not truth in that moment. Rather than riding his ace for one more batter, he brought in a new pitcher and the Giants tied the game and later won 2-1.

The balance between calculation and feel, between task and flow, between composition and improvisation, these are where higher education makes its mark. The truth always lies somewhere in between and it is up to each student, for all of us, to find and strike that balance. This is the essence of critical thinking.

 

Neuroscience And New School

“Old School” colleges have marginalised the arts into very narrow niches while promoting “hard science”. The black and white nature of digital has been championed over the shades of grey that distinguish our analog world. Almost universally, disciplines have been silo’d into their own buildings, their own campuses. What if higher education requires nimbly melding art and science, task and flow? Increasing evidence is surfacing to indicate this is the way into the future.

Ultimately, colleges are actually in the business of creating and fostering specific cultural objectives. When the cultural goal of higher education was to ease the transition from farm work to factory work, the task was to get students to show up and perform on time. The creative elements of factory work was in the up-front design processes. Once in place, workers would repeat the jobs needed to keep the factory humming.

When the cultural goal of higher education was to promote the transition of factory workers into office work, the task was to cultivate “knowledge”. The specialisations of office departments is replicated throughout most college curricula and cultures. The design of organisations, their models of operation and the systems used to sustain them reflect the “command and control” methods honed in military organisations. Work and class experiences replicated the dictates of the “in-box”.

We now experience dynamic change in the world and in work. No longer is there one “box” to work from, there are many. Also, students can expect to be employed by dozens of different organisations over their careers. Today’s organisations are dynamic, regularly restructuring and redefining themselves as they adapt to global supply and market issues. No longer do products ship to customers without being upgraded, improved and replaced on a regular basis. The design process has become central to sustainability.

Preparing students for this increasingly mobile world requires “truth-seeking” as a central aspect of higher education. Students must both calculate and flow in the world they will work in. Colleges must foster performance as well as knowledge, skills as well as disposition.

Todd Richmond is head of the Advanced Prototypes Group at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. He is also a musician. He breaks the challenge down to very simple terms: the analog world and the digital are like mixing oil and vinegar. They are emulsional, meaning they don’t adhere to each other easily (http://emulsionalworld.com). He is exploring the very analog relationship of humans and what gets left out when they become digital.

“Analog sound waves are reproduced most of the time now by digital means, which means by zeros and ones”, he said at TEDxVeniceBeach in 2013.

“This means we take a continuous motion and turn it into stair-steps. Digital is essential black and white, on and off. Humans, on the other hand, are incredibly nuanced. The think that humans do very well is to pick up on subtle variations around them”. He has basically described what needs to be taught in college.

Another musician-scientist is Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University. When interviewed about his book, Information Overload, he talks about the decision fatigue that comes from too many task-oriented processes such as most students encounter during a day at college.

“Every time you make a decision, whether it’s a trivial one or an important one, it uses up just about the same amount of nutrients. The cells doing the work use up about the same amount of metabolic activity. Also, there’s a biological cost of switching from one thing to the next. It depletes neural resources which you need in order to stay focused.” He talks abut the antidote to decision fatigue, which is what he calls “daydreaming mode”. He recommends students and professionals alike should let their minds wander more, which exerts a natural pull on our consciousness. “Our brain knows that it needs that antidote, as a sort of a reset button. When your brain has a chance to wander for a few minutes you can come back to the task refreshed.”

Levitin has hooked up famous musicians such as Sting to brain scanners while they compose music, the epitome of a compositional task. He’s also studied the scans of jazz musicians as they improvise and found their brain activity shuts down to allow their actions to flow. “Whether you are an acrobat, a computer programmer, an athlete, or a painter, you don’t reach the flow state until you have mastered the fundamentals. In the flow state, you don’t have to think about what you are doing. Something takes over. You see this in a transcendent performance in any domain. An actor who disappears into a role isn’t thinking, “I’ll put my right foot here, and I’m standing at a bar, so I’d better put my hand on the counter now.” (https://www.berklee.edu/berklee-today/fall-2015/daniel-levitin)

This mixing of task and flow was also described in Ken Kesey’s collaborative novel written by his University of Oregon students. ”The trick is for us to build character in our characters,” Kesey said, ”to breathe life into them, to get them to stand up, stretch and start doing stuff. We’re not interested in pulling strings, in being puppeteers. We want these people to rise up off the page. Then we sit back and follow them through the novel.”

Deep-dives and Daydreams

The character development process is central to “new school” activities. It is a reflexive exercise. The first characters students create, whether in an art, business or engineering class, reflects their own egos. It’s not unusual for entrepreneurial students to design a product that they imagine for themselves. The key learning for students is that these characters will transform as they come to life. They become living, breathing entities with their own identities and students develop a new relationship with them that can be observed and evaluated as effectively as grading a test.

In a sculpture class, for instance, it is helpful to include the study of écorché. Students develop their initial characters and then peel back the skin to reveal sinew, muscle and skeleton. Through this exercise, characters take on new dimensions. Stories can be developed around each character based on their structure, balance and physiognomy. Explaining how a character lives in the world, their history and path, informs the work done by others on collaborative teams.

The same can be said for UX design. Students in a “new school”, professional setting identity sets of characters who might use a product or service. They develop the characters and the roles they play. From these, scenarios emerge, similar to the plot of a novel. This is the basis of “design thinking”, the discipline refined at Stanford’s “d-School” and other elite institutions. It is a form of cultural anthropology that is taking on new life in collaborative, project-based college classes.

By balancing task and flow within the college experience, colleges can more naturally integrate their growing athletic endeavors with their core curriculum. Consider something as simple as playing golf. As the golfer approaches the ball they calculate a myriad of tasks. Before taking a single swing at the ball, distance, weather, slope of earth, hazards and approaches are factored into a rich matrix of problem sets that each golfer develops over a lifetime of play. The swing itself, of course, must be all flow. The brain is quiet and the body moves with a fluidity that cannot be taught, only learned.

Real-world Performance

At the top end of the scale are the efforts Stanford University has invested into their football program. As an elite “academic” institution, Stanford has also created an elite football team. They do not bend the rules for football players, who must be fully engaged as students as well as players. Surprisingly, they have discovered they can have the best of both worlds.

Tech star Larry Page of Google graduated from Stanford
Tech star Larry Page of Google graduated from Stanford

“Stanford football prides itself as a program that not only wins, but represents excellence and integrity in every respect. All-Americans feel humbled and inspired every day by their peers. They come to Stanford to be challenged more than they ever have in their lives, and that desire is shared by everyone who walks on campus, by people who literally will change the world, with a lineage that includes President Herbert Hoover, author John Steinbeck, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Yahoo! co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom and transcendent golfer Tiger Woods.

“Stanford football players are no different in their potential: Derek Belch ’07, a former kicker, created STRIVR Labs, a product of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. STRIVR created a truly immersive, fully customisable virtual reality experience specifically for football teams, one that has exploded among all ranks and was named Sports Illustrated’s Innovation of the Year.” In addition Cory Booker ’91 was a receiver who went on to a Rhodes Scholarship and then a career in politics, first as Mayor of Newark, NJ and now US Senator.

While possibly no other college has the resources to do what Stanford has done, the approach they have taken to football can be adapted by any college using any skill-set. All students needs to animate their knowledge in order to surface the truth that lies around them and to find their place in it. As they integrate a temporal aspect to how they operate, they develop an appreciation for the team around them and the pipelines they work with in order to perform. Developing characters, whether through simulations or through sports and other performances, helps students not only develop their personal identities but also discover the agency they provide.

Prior segments in order listed below:

How Technology Is “Democratising” The Future Of Learning

Adapting To Higher Education: The Identity Struggle

From American Scholar To Global Player

Old School, New School: Anatomy Of A Lecture

Step Into The Future Of Higher Education

Of Sketches, Compositions And Flow: Evaluating Higher Education

 

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From Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, authors of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe.  Inquiring Minds Want To Know By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California Something magical happens when students take control of their learning journey. As they develop their observational skills, questions form regularly from their experience, like bubbles floating to...

Reading Time: 8 minutes

From Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, authors of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe. 

Learning

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California

Something magical happens when students take control of their learning journey. As they develop their observational skills, questions form regularly from their experience, like bubbles floating to the surface of a freshwater spring. They search naturally and immediately using whatever resources are at their disposal. They seek out points of view as they make sense of the feedback they have assembled through their research. They deal with authority and meaning developed from fresh data. With a smartphone, any student becomes an expert in record time. But, what are they seeking? And, how can they prepare themselves to act on what they have learned?

Photo Credit: Anthony Yuan https://www.flickr.com/photos/yyq123/70744379/
Photo Credit: Anthony Yuan
https://www.flickr.com/photos/yyq123/70744379/

Traditional college curricula has become limited in the rigor applied to student-led inquiry. The assumed “rightness” of knowledge being delivered gets in the way, regardless of how esteemed the source. Some very bright students have quit college and gone on to do great things (think Steve Jobs) when they discovered their own methods were more effective for them. There seems to be acceptance that “wisdom” sits at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge.

This is not what higher education is all about. We don’t need “experts”, we need people who can figure things out and do things about what they have learned. It’s fairly easy to describe the hierarchy so as to recognise what students must work towards.

 

Consider the number “100”. It is data. It can be used for many things, manipulated in many ways.

Now add the word “pitches”, so as to say “100 pitches” and we know we are probably talking about baseball. We now have some information on our hands. How we use it becomes more domain specific.

Through research, once a pitcher has thrown 100 pitches in a baseball game, their arm tends to tire. This is proven knowledge within the domain. Experts have delved more deeply into what happens as a consequence. The “pitch count” has become a topic of debate but is regularly used to identify a watershed moment which leads to increased likelihood of injury or at least reduced effectiveness.

In general, a convention has evolved in the game of baseball that suggests that managers would be wise to remove a pitcher from a game when their pitch count reaches 100. If such wisdom were the pinnacle of the knowledge hierarchy, if wisdom itself was the goal and sufficient for success, traditional higher education methods would be far more effective preparing students for real-world challenges.

The fact is, students (and baseball managers) must live by a higher standard. They must seek the truth. They must apply all they know and all they have considered to address whatever challenges they face at a given moment in time. When the temporal aspect of learning has been taken out of the game, students and managers alike face dire consequences for their actions.

This lesson was learned the hard way during the 18-inning playoff game in 2014 in which the Washington Nationals pitcher had been untouchable by the San Francisco Giants through 8 and 2/3 scoreless innings. Jordan Zimmermann had just thrown his 100th pitch by walking a batter with just one more out needed to end the game with a 1-0 Washington win. Unfortunately, the manager relied on the wisdom of his prior experience, not truth in that moment. Rather than riding his ace for one more batter, he brought in a new pitcher and the Giants tied the game and later won 2-1.

The balance between calculation and feel, between task and flow, between composition and improvisation, these are where higher education makes its mark. The truth always lies somewhere in between and it is up to each student, for all of us, to find and strike that balance. This is the essence of critical thinking.

 

Neuroscience And New School

“Old School” colleges have marginalised the arts into very narrow niches while promoting “hard science”. The black and white nature of digital has been championed over the shades of grey that distinguish our analog world. Almost universally, disciplines have been silo’d into their own buildings, their own campuses. What if higher education requires nimbly melding art and science, task and flow? Increasing evidence is surfacing to indicate this is the way into the future.

Ultimately, colleges are actually in the business of creating and fostering specific cultural objectives. When the cultural goal of higher education was to ease the transition from farm work to factory work, the task was to get students to show up and perform on time. The creative elements of factory work was in the up-front design processes. Once in place, workers would repeat the jobs needed to keep the factory humming.

When the cultural goal of higher education was to promote the transition of factory workers into office work, the task was to cultivate “knowledge”. The specialisations of office departments is replicated throughout most college curricula and cultures. The design of organisations, their models of operation and the systems used to sustain them reflect the “command and control” methods honed in military organisations. Work and class experiences replicated the dictates of the “in-box”.

We now experience dynamic change in the world and in work. No longer is there one “box” to work from, there are many. Also, students can expect to be employed by dozens of different organisations over their careers. Today’s organisations are dynamic, regularly restructuring and redefining themselves as they adapt to global supply and market issues. No longer do products ship to customers without being upgraded, improved and replaced on a regular basis. The design process has become central to sustainability.

Preparing students for this increasingly mobile world requires “truth-seeking” as a central aspect of higher education. Students must both calculate and flow in the world they will work in. Colleges must foster performance as well as knowledge, skills as well as disposition.

Todd Richmond is head of the Advanced Prototypes Group at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. He is also a musician. He breaks the challenge down to very simple terms: the analog world and the digital are like mixing oil and vinegar. They are emulsional, meaning they don’t adhere to each other easily (http://emulsionalworld.com). He is exploring the very analog relationship of humans and what gets left out when they become digital.

“Analog sound waves are reproduced most of the time now by digital means, which means by zeros and ones”, he said at TEDxVeniceBeach in 2013.

“This means we take a continuous motion and turn it into stair-steps. Digital is essential black and white, on and off. Humans, on the other hand, are incredibly nuanced. The think that humans do very well is to pick up on subtle variations around them”. He has basically described what needs to be taught in college.

Another musician-scientist is Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University. When interviewed about his book, Information Overload, he talks about the decision fatigue that comes from too many task-oriented processes such as most students encounter during a day at college.

“Every time you make a decision, whether it’s a trivial one or an important one, it uses up just about the same amount of nutrients. The cells doing the work use up about the same amount of metabolic activity. Also, there’s a biological cost of switching from one thing to the next. It depletes neural resources which you need in order to stay focused.” He talks abut the antidote to decision fatigue, which is what he calls “daydreaming mode”. He recommends students and professionals alike should let their minds wander more, which exerts a natural pull on our consciousness. “Our brain knows that it needs that antidote, as a sort of a reset button. When your brain has a chance to wander for a few minutes you can come back to the task refreshed.”

Levitin has hooked up famous musicians such as Sting to brain scanners while they compose music, the epitome of a compositional task. He’s also studied the scans of jazz musicians as they improvise and found their brain activity shuts down to allow their actions to flow. “Whether you are an acrobat, a computer programmer, an athlete, or a painter, you don’t reach the flow state until you have mastered the fundamentals. In the flow state, you don’t have to think about what you are doing. Something takes over. You see this in a transcendent performance in any domain. An actor who disappears into a role isn’t thinking, “I’ll put my right foot here, and I’m standing at a bar, so I’d better put my hand on the counter now.” (https://www.berklee.edu/berklee-today/fall-2015/daniel-levitin)

This mixing of task and flow was also described in Ken Kesey’s collaborative novel written by his University of Oregon students. ”The trick is for us to build character in our characters,” Kesey said, ”to breathe life into them, to get them to stand up, stretch and start doing stuff. We’re not interested in pulling strings, in being puppeteers. We want these people to rise up off the page. Then we sit back and follow them through the novel.”

Deep-dives and Daydreams

The character development process is central to “new school” activities. It is a reflexive exercise. The first characters students create, whether in an art, business or engineering class, reflects their own egos. It’s not unusual for entrepreneurial students to design a product that they imagine for themselves. The key learning for students is that these characters will transform as they come to life. They become living, breathing entities with their own identities and students develop a new relationship with them that can be observed and evaluated as effectively as grading a test.

In a sculpture class, for instance, it is helpful to include the study of écorché. Students develop their initial characters and then peel back the skin to reveal sinew, muscle and skeleton. Through this exercise, characters take on new dimensions. Stories can be developed around each character based on their structure, balance and physiognomy. Explaining how a character lives in the world, their history and path, informs the work done by others on collaborative teams.

The same can be said for UX design. Students in a “new school”, professional setting identity sets of characters who might use a product or service. They develop the characters and the roles they play. From these, scenarios emerge, similar to the plot of a novel. This is the basis of “design thinking”, the discipline refined at Stanford’s “d-School” and other elite institutions. It is a form of cultural anthropology that is taking on new life in collaborative, project-based college classes.

By balancing task and flow within the college experience, colleges can more naturally integrate their growing athletic endeavors with their core curriculum. Consider something as simple as playing golf. As the golfer approaches the ball they calculate a myriad of tasks. Before taking a single swing at the ball, distance, weather, slope of earth, hazards and approaches are factored into a rich matrix of problem sets that each golfer develops over a lifetime of play. The swing itself, of course, must be all flow. The brain is quiet and the body moves with a fluidity that cannot be taught, only learned.

Real-world Performance

At the top end of the scale are the efforts Stanford University has invested into their football program. As an elite “academic” institution, Stanford has also created an elite football team. They do not bend the rules for football players, who must be fully engaged as students as well as players. Surprisingly, they have discovered they can have the best of both worlds.

Tech star Larry Page of Google graduated from Stanford
Tech star Larry Page of Google graduated from Stanford

“Stanford football prides itself as a program that not only wins, but represents excellence and integrity in every respect. All-Americans feel humbled and inspired every day by their peers. They come to Stanford to be challenged more than they ever have in their lives, and that desire is shared by everyone who walks on campus, by people who literally will change the world, with a lineage that includes President Herbert Hoover, author John Steinbeck, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Yahoo! co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom and transcendent golfer Tiger Woods.

“Stanford football players are no different in their potential: Derek Belch ’07, a former kicker, created STRIVR Labs, a product of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. STRIVR created a truly immersive, fully customisable virtual reality experience specifically for football teams, one that has exploded among all ranks and was named Sports Illustrated’s Innovation of the Year.” In addition Cory Booker ’91 was a receiver who went on to a Rhodes Scholarship and then a career in politics, first as Mayor of Newark, NJ and now US Senator.

While possibly no other college has the resources to do what Stanford has done, the approach they have taken to football can be adapted by any college using any skill-set. All students needs to animate their knowledge in order to surface the truth that lies around them and to find their place in it. As they integrate a temporal aspect to how they operate, they develop an appreciation for the team around them and the pipelines they work with in order to perform. Developing characters, whether through simulations or through sports and other performances, helps students not only develop their personal identities but also discover the agency they provide.

Prior segments in order listed below:

How Technology Is “Democratising” The Future Of Learning

Adapting To Higher Education: The Identity Struggle

From American Scholar To Global Player

Old School, New School: Anatomy Of A Lecture

Step Into The Future Of Higher Education

Of Sketches, Compositions And Flow: Evaluating Higher Education

 

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