Parallel Universes | Learning In a Flat World

I’ve been trying to find a way to sort out some of my impressions and thoughts about the University of Mary Washington Faculty Academy. Britt Watwood, an online learning specialist at VCU, may have provided the opening in this post where he compares his experiences at the faculty academy to the those at a VCU faculty development program that was being conducted at the same time.

The focus of the VCU Summer Institute was on the philosophical issues that shape decisions about teaching and learning. The Institute description noted:

Furthermore, absent a cogent, unifying teaching and learning philosophy, many courses appear to students as a maze instead of a roadmap—after all, it is called a course.

Developing a coherent, unifying vision and philosophy is central to good practice and requires a level of thought that goes well beyond decisions about whether allow laptops in class or pay attention to the back channel at a conference. Roger Hiemstra, my former professor in the adult education program at Syracuse University defined educational philosophy this way: “Putting the nature of the universe, including meaning, people, and relationships, into an understandable or explainable perspective”. Students in both the masters and doctoral programs developed personal philosophy statements spanning multiple courses as our understanding of our roles as teachers, researchers and citizens deepened and grew. Roger’s own personal statement of philosophy, personal code of ethics, and statement of professional commitment served as models for my work. Few of us spend much time each day contemplating the fundamental questions that shape philosophical inquiry.

  • What do you believe is the purpose of higher education?
  • What do you believe about the nature of the learner?
  • What do you believe about the nature of teaching?
  • What does it mean to “know” something?
  • What is the right relationship between “content” and “process”?

The end of the academic year provides an excellent time to revisit these broad questions. Venues such as faculty faculty academies, summer institutes, and conferences provide the opportunity for conversations with others in our communities. As Britt points out, getting colleagues to question and adjust their paradigms is difficult and engaging in that kind of deep reflection requires testing our ideas and beliefs in the presence of others who may hold deeply different ideas.

In preparing for my presentation at the Faculty Academy, I noticed that it’s been a long time since I updated and articulated my own statement of philosophy, ethical assumptions and personal commitment. Would we be more convincing in our work with our colleagues if we were operating from more thoughtful, comprehensive frameworks ourselves? To what extent do those of us who work in Educational Technology even have any shared values? Maybe this summer would be a good time for those of us in the ed tech “profession” to think about some of these things in the same cogent, unified way we’re asking our faculty colleagues to think about their teaching.