Of Sketches, Compositions and Flow: Evaluating Higher Education

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. 

This segment focuses on the reality of new methods and their direct impact, and no longer ‘working’ for hours on work that you can no longer access or have a use for in your career.

apple-758334_1920

Of Sketches, Compositions and Flow: Evaluating Higher Education

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

Innovations in high-technology have finally changed the game in colleges across the country and the world. Many of these are digital, from the cloud to sensor to device. They are mobile, in that college students and professionals carry them wherever they go. And,they are social in the way people can reach out, connect and associate more freely than ever imagined. However, these capabilities have been shunned and even banned in classrooms and in colleges around the world. The “Old School” way was to isolate each student, to restrict their movements to sitting at a desk with prescribed learning materials in front of them, and to test them on their ability to retain whatever information was deemed most relevant within some canonical constraint.

Simply put, “New School” methods embrace students as they journey through unfamiliar territory. Their observational skills, how they reach out to bring in resources, how they make sense of what they have assembled, and how they compose themselves so as to create something extraordinary, these are all measurable achievements. By drawing out the capabilities of students through meaningful activities and collaborations they can take with them into their professional lives, adaptation is more rapid as they take on the world around them with fresh eyes.

Today’s students study as they go. They use the devices in their pockets to document what they eat, what they see and how they feel. With a bit of smarts, they search Google, YouTube, Khan Academy, TED talks and Wikipedia to come up to speed quickly. They binge: deep-diving into simulations, scholarly works and breaking news across a staggering spectrum of interests. They don’t need college to learn how to do this. They already do it and college time and resources are best applied elsewhere.

Adaptive, formative assessments might sound plausible when examined from an “old school” context. The emergence of “robot tutor” systems like Knewton promise to guide students through one learning exercise to another, based on what they need to learn. These become secondary when viewed from the “new school” perspective. Simply put, applying technology to learning is not the job to be done. Rather, harnessing technology to get things done should be the job of students. The society of the future requires students who are capable and ready to do things, to make things and to make a difference. They need to adapt to the world around them, rather than working through lessons that adapt to them.

Today’s students create as well as they consume. Students need to be involved in large projects in which they coordinate with others to create things larger in scope than they could have imagined on their own. In the past, this aspect of higher education has been almost impossible to manage, so has been purged from the experience of many students. Classroom exercises have known outcomes in the “old school” way. What is creativity and how do we assess its value? Certainly, no multiple-choice quiz or short essay can suffice. “New school” thinking welcomes students to try and fail until they find something they can work with. They claw their way through perspectives, approaches, technologies and roles. Their resilience and imagination surfaces when forced to adapt to the challenges they face grappling with a problem worth solving.

Above all else, today’s students are social beyond any earlier generation. They already have networks of friends and resources they interact with regularly outside of those in a classroom at a given period of time. They recruit others to join them in projects. They form alliances. They embark on missions. It is this aspect of “new school” that holds the promise that higher education can reach every student, regardless of the level of the institution. In many traditional structures, the very important work of real-world hypothesis development, experiment design and project management has been left to grad students and research administrators. The recent explosion of entrepreneurial courses and other student-led projects reveals the immense resource being ignored across college student bodies. Not only can students develop their own missions while in college, it is critical that they do so in order to participate in the world after graduation, when they have no school support around them.

Metriculation, Not Matriculation, Not Curriculum

For their part, colleges need to measure students as they move, as they adapt, and as they achieve. This is a far cry from attempts to measure “learning” as an outcome. Learning outcomes, such as written and oral communications, critical and creative thinking, informational literacy and quantitative reasoning, can be measured by tests and assignments using “old school” methods. But, when a “new school” approach is taken, students carry with them not only an operating system based on their unique skill set and disposition, but also an ability to commit wholeheartedly to the task at hand. This capacity to give full measure comes only through achievement and the development of successful habits. Higher education, particularly as instilled in college, is not about “passing through”, but about measuring oneself in order to adapt and change, in order to render the best version ones self for any given purpose.

Ken Kesey: The legendary novelist once told his students they would publish or perish together
Ken Kesey: The legendary novelist once told his students they would publish or perish together

A wonderful graduate course run by the author Ken Kesey in 1987 at the University of Oregon illustrates the value of “new school” approaches. His creative writing course involved students who are mobile, who are measured as they collaborate on a large scale project. In this example, students are encouraged to play: both to let ideas take shape organically and to develop a sense of team dynamics. They then develop a skillset customized for the task at hand and sketch out the elements of each composition. The composition involves development of characters, their roles in scenarios, and the stories that surface through their behaviors. Significantly, once a system of operations is in place, students must render out their contributions to the composition in a professional atmosphere. The result is an industrial-strength outcome from students while in college.

In two semesters, Kesey’s group of students would produce the first collaborative novel ever accepted for publication by an established commercial publishing house, Viking Press. The methods he developed with his students shed light not only what is possible in college, but instills the notion that Kesey’s reasoning was sound when he announced he was discarding his literary career in order to “live a novel rather than to write one”. His methods have been adapted, famously, in many professional endeavors. For instance, the Whole Earth Catalog reflects his way of tinkering, of scrabbling and doing. This “new school” of thinking influenced young students like Steve Jobs and other technologists.

With just a bit of tweaking, this one creative writing course can be replicated in colleges around the globe. It represents a meaningful assignment, a comprehensive challenge with measurable results. It was designed so each student would draw on the experience throughout their professional careers. This passage from the Rolling Stone article reveals the “new school” thinking at the root of the course:

“The idea of collaborating on a novel with a group of students first came to Kesey several years ago. He had been to a couple of university writing programs, doing the usual gig of a visiting author: leading workshops, reading student manuscripts and critiquing them. What he read disturbed him–not because the writing was raw, weird or unsettling, but because it wasn’t. The stories were well crafted; all contained the requisite amounts of character development, dramatic conflict and resolution. But they were empty at the center, dead on the page. They were so carefully designed that they never came truly alive. The problem, Kesey concluded, lay not with the young writers themselves; there was plenty of talent chained beneath the forged-iron prose. The problem lay with the academic system that had produced them.”

The goal was to create a novel in the course and to have it published. To do so, students would be exposed directly to the issues and time-frames required in a professional setting. He organized the course to mentor the students in something of a studio model. They would work together on a real manuscript, from concept to research, character development, plot and style. So, the course would depart from “old school” theoretical underpinnings. It would be messy. It would move the students into uncharted territory. They would have to adapt to complete their assignment within two semesters.

Unlike a traditional approach, Kesey set up his class to work as a group of professionals. He might as well have had them developing an app, a video game or an animated film. The class started with a goal and the students would have to use their wits to bring the project to completion. All the tools the students needed were readily available but the pipeline knowledge, the experience of working a project from concept to execution, was new. The metrics he set in place helped organize the group.

“Old school” boundaries are governed by the clock. After all, the goal of producing factory workers depended on adhering to the time cards in use at the time. Clocks were prominently displayed in each classroom. Students expected their lives to change every hour.

relaxation-games-tamuHow times, and timing, has changed! Students working on an illustrated ebook, a video game, an animation or film fall into time warps in which hours fly by. They imagine ways to animate what they are doing, to inject temporal elements into their work, to elaborate on their compositions. Their tools can be a word processor, a spreadsheet, a digital audio workstation (a DAW), an integrated development environment (IDE) or an animation workspace. Using these tools as part of a team to bring stories to life moves students into worlds they have never imagined before. Before they know it, the sun has gone down. In the midst of creating a collaborative, large-scale composition, they dive into a flow state in which they execute their technique and their work melds into an alternative reality. They step aside from their ordinary reality and lose themselves in something that flows through them, something that shows them who they are in way far removed from what happens in a classroom.

As descried eloquently by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his famous TED talk on flow, this state defines a kind of success. Having flow while you are working has never been the goal of “old school” education. But, to be aware of a mission of improving society, of engaging students in meaningful work, experiencing flow is a desired state for all students. When the state of flow is engaged, the work is being done for its own sake. As students engage in more challenging assignments, even pushed beyond their comfort zone, they adapt by increasing their skill levels so as to contribute more effectively. The think more critically of their part of the overall project. They embark on their work as a mission.

Traditionally, students have been known to “burn the midnight oil” as they cram for tests, and in the process some of them discover this sense of alternative reality. Unfortunately, they often have nothing to show for their work, beyond a grade. “New school” students seek to create things of lasting value, along with a feeling of contributing to the greater good. They use it as a moral barometer. They experience flow even through Instagram and video games. Why should they set it aside when they set foot on campus or sign into a MOOC?

Developing ideas from the earliest sketch through to complex compositions that are available to the world goes far beyond what is called “project-based learning”. It can be described as “projects on top of projects built by other projects”. A video game might have 10,000 files submitted to a version contol system: some art, some sound, some code. A novel requires hundreds of thousands of edits and rewrites. These are the kinds of projects that inspire students to go beyond themselves. Through these projects, students can be measured not only by their achievements, but how they explain their roles and their contributions to the process. They can describe what challenged them and how they adapted through critical thinking and other outcomes that some use to describe higher education.

In short, college students need to imagine, discover, develop and refine their own personal operating systems. Only in college can they best try out what is needed to take with them into their professional lives. Only in college will they compare and contrast their approaches so openly and frequently with peers and mentors. The college experience represents the break from family and friends and the migration to a professional journey in which many missions lie ahead. At the outset, these students have their peers, their passions and their sense of purpose. Throughout their college careers, “new school” students will be challenged to observe themselves and others in order to find their own identity, to imagine what comes next, to develop roles they can play in a variety of environments, and to organize themselves to operate in the world they will step into after graduation.

 

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

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.  This segment focuses on the reality of new methods and their direct impact, and no longer 'working' for hours on work that you can no longer access or have a use for in your career. Of Sketches, Compositions and Flow: Evaluating Higher Education By Deborah...

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. 

This segment focuses on the reality of new methods and their direct impact, and no longer ‘working’ for hours on work that you can no longer access or have a use for in your career.

apple-758334_1920

Of Sketches, Compositions and Flow: Evaluating Higher Education

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

Innovations in high-technology have finally changed the game in colleges across the country and the world. Many of these are digital, from the cloud to sensor to device. They are mobile, in that college students and professionals carry them wherever they go. And,they are social in the way people can reach out, connect and associate more freely than ever imagined. However, these capabilities have been shunned and even banned in classrooms and in colleges around the world. The “Old School” way was to isolate each student, to restrict their movements to sitting at a desk with prescribed learning materials in front of them, and to test them on their ability to retain whatever information was deemed most relevant within some canonical constraint.

Simply put, “New School” methods embrace students as they journey through unfamiliar territory. Their observational skills, how they reach out to bring in resources, how they make sense of what they have assembled, and how they compose themselves so as to create something extraordinary, these are all measurable achievements. By drawing out the capabilities of students through meaningful activities and collaborations they can take with them into their professional lives, adaptation is more rapid as they take on the world around them with fresh eyes.

Today’s students study as they go. They use the devices in their pockets to document what they eat, what they see and how they feel. With a bit of smarts, they search Google, YouTube, Khan Academy, TED talks and Wikipedia to come up to speed quickly. They binge: deep-diving into simulations, scholarly works and breaking news across a staggering spectrum of interests. They don’t need college to learn how to do this. They already do it and college time and resources are best applied elsewhere.

Adaptive, formative assessments might sound plausible when examined from an “old school” context. The emergence of “robot tutor” systems like Knewton promise to guide students through one learning exercise to another, based on what they need to learn. These become secondary when viewed from the “new school” perspective. Simply put, applying technology to learning is not the job to be done. Rather, harnessing technology to get things done should be the job of students. The society of the future requires students who are capable and ready to do things, to make things and to make a difference. They need to adapt to the world around them, rather than working through lessons that adapt to them.

Today’s students create as well as they consume. Students need to be involved in large projects in which they coordinate with others to create things larger in scope than they could have imagined on their own. In the past, this aspect of higher education has been almost impossible to manage, so has been purged from the experience of many students. Classroom exercises have known outcomes in the “old school” way. What is creativity and how do we assess its value? Certainly, no multiple-choice quiz or short essay can suffice. “New school” thinking welcomes students to try and fail until they find something they can work with. They claw their way through perspectives, approaches, technologies and roles. Their resilience and imagination surfaces when forced to adapt to the challenges they face grappling with a problem worth solving.

Above all else, today’s students are social beyond any earlier generation. They already have networks of friends and resources they interact with regularly outside of those in a classroom at a given period of time. They recruit others to join them in projects. They form alliances. They embark on missions. It is this aspect of “new school” that holds the promise that higher education can reach every student, regardless of the level of the institution. In many traditional structures, the very important work of real-world hypothesis development, experiment design and project management has been left to grad students and research administrators. The recent explosion of entrepreneurial courses and other student-led projects reveals the immense resource being ignored across college student bodies. Not only can students develop their own missions while in college, it is critical that they do so in order to participate in the world after graduation, when they have no school support around them.

Metriculation, Not Matriculation, Not Curriculum

For their part, colleges need to measure students as they move, as they adapt, and as they achieve. This is a far cry from attempts to measure “learning” as an outcome. Learning outcomes, such as written and oral communications, critical and creative thinking, informational literacy and quantitative reasoning, can be measured by tests and assignments using “old school” methods. But, when a “new school” approach is taken, students carry with them not only an operating system based on their unique skill set and disposition, but also an ability to commit wholeheartedly to the task at hand. This capacity to give full measure comes only through achievement and the development of successful habits. Higher education, particularly as instilled in college, is not about “passing through”, but about measuring oneself in order to adapt and change, in order to render the best version ones self for any given purpose.

Ken Kesey: The legendary novelist once told his students they would publish or perish together
Ken Kesey: The legendary novelist once told his students they would publish or perish together

A wonderful graduate course run by the author Ken Kesey in 1987 at the University of Oregon illustrates the value of “new school” approaches. His creative writing course involved students who are mobile, who are measured as they collaborate on a large scale project. In this example, students are encouraged to play: both to let ideas take shape organically and to develop a sense of team dynamics. They then develop a skillset customized for the task at hand and sketch out the elements of each composition. The composition involves development of characters, their roles in scenarios, and the stories that surface through their behaviors. Significantly, once a system of operations is in place, students must render out their contributions to the composition in a professional atmosphere. The result is an industrial-strength outcome from students while in college.

In two semesters, Kesey’s group of students would produce the first collaborative novel ever accepted for publication by an established commercial publishing house, Viking Press. The methods he developed with his students shed light not only what is possible in college, but instills the notion that Kesey’s reasoning was sound when he announced he was discarding his literary career in order to “live a novel rather than to write one”. His methods have been adapted, famously, in many professional endeavors. For instance, the Whole Earth Catalog reflects his way of tinkering, of scrabbling and doing. This “new school” of thinking influenced young students like Steve Jobs and other technologists.

With just a bit of tweaking, this one creative writing course can be replicated in colleges around the globe. It represents a meaningful assignment, a comprehensive challenge with measurable results. It was designed so each student would draw on the experience throughout their professional careers. This passage from the Rolling Stone article reveals the “new school” thinking at the root of the course:

“The idea of collaborating on a novel with a group of students first came to Kesey several years ago. He had been to a couple of university writing programs, doing the usual gig of a visiting author: leading workshops, reading student manuscripts and critiquing them. What he read disturbed him–not because the writing was raw, weird or unsettling, but because it wasn’t. The stories were well crafted; all contained the requisite amounts of character development, dramatic conflict and resolution. But they were empty at the center, dead on the page. They were so carefully designed that they never came truly alive. The problem, Kesey concluded, lay not with the young writers themselves; there was plenty of talent chained beneath the forged-iron prose. The problem lay with the academic system that had produced them.”

The goal was to create a novel in the course and to have it published. To do so, students would be exposed directly to the issues and time-frames required in a professional setting. He organized the course to mentor the students in something of a studio model. They would work together on a real manuscript, from concept to research, character development, plot and style. So, the course would depart from “old school” theoretical underpinnings. It would be messy. It would move the students into uncharted territory. They would have to adapt to complete their assignment within two semesters.

Unlike a traditional approach, Kesey set up his class to work as a group of professionals. He might as well have had them developing an app, a video game or an animated film. The class started with a goal and the students would have to use their wits to bring the project to completion. All the tools the students needed were readily available but the pipeline knowledge, the experience of working a project from concept to execution, was new. The metrics he set in place helped organize the group.

“Old school” boundaries are governed by the clock. After all, the goal of producing factory workers depended on adhering to the time cards in use at the time. Clocks were prominently displayed in each classroom. Students expected their lives to change every hour.

relaxation-games-tamuHow times, and timing, has changed! Students working on an illustrated ebook, a video game, an animation or film fall into time warps in which hours fly by. They imagine ways to animate what they are doing, to inject temporal elements into their work, to elaborate on their compositions. Their tools can be a word processor, a spreadsheet, a digital audio workstation (a DAW), an integrated development environment (IDE) or an animation workspace. Using these tools as part of a team to bring stories to life moves students into worlds they have never imagined before. Before they know it, the sun has gone down. In the midst of creating a collaborative, large-scale composition, they dive into a flow state in which they execute their technique and their work melds into an alternative reality. They step aside from their ordinary reality and lose themselves in something that flows through them, something that shows them who they are in way far removed from what happens in a classroom.

As descried eloquently by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his famous TED talk on flow, this state defines a kind of success. Having flow while you are working has never been the goal of “old school” education. But, to be aware of a mission of improving society, of engaging students in meaningful work, experiencing flow is a desired state for all students. When the state of flow is engaged, the work is being done for its own sake. As students engage in more challenging assignments, even pushed beyond their comfort zone, they adapt by increasing their skill levels so as to contribute more effectively. The think more critically of their part of the overall project. They embark on their work as a mission.

Traditionally, students have been known to “burn the midnight oil” as they cram for tests, and in the process some of them discover this sense of alternative reality. Unfortunately, they often have nothing to show for their work, beyond a grade. “New school” students seek to create things of lasting value, along with a feeling of contributing to the greater good. They use it as a moral barometer. They experience flow even through Instagram and video games. Why should they set it aside when they set foot on campus or sign into a MOOC?

Developing ideas from the earliest sketch through to complex compositions that are available to the world goes far beyond what is called “project-based learning”. It can be described as “projects on top of projects built by other projects”. A video game might have 10,000 files submitted to a version contol system: some art, some sound, some code. A novel requires hundreds of thousands of edits and rewrites. These are the kinds of projects that inspire students to go beyond themselves. Through these projects, students can be measured not only by their achievements, but how they explain their roles and their contributions to the process. They can describe what challenged them and how they adapted through critical thinking and other outcomes that some use to describe higher education.

In short, college students need to imagine, discover, develop and refine their own personal operating systems. Only in college can they best try out what is needed to take with them into their professional lives. Only in college will they compare and contrast their approaches so openly and frequently with peers and mentors. The college experience represents the break from family and friends and the migration to a professional journey in which many missions lie ahead. At the outset, these students have their peers, their passions and their sense of purpose. Throughout their college careers, “new school” students will be challenged to observe themselves and others in order to find their own identity, to imagine what comes next, to develop roles they can play in a variety of environments, and to organize themselves to operate in the world they will step into after graduation.

 

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid