Friday, June 24, 2016

Project Based Learning: Recursion with the Past and Present


Recursion with the Past and Present


Recursion is a  common dynamic across living systems.  Patterns that repeat and repeat, but are never exactly the same can be seen in biology and physics as well as in themes and style across literature, national histories and our individual lives. "Reinvention" is recursion, sometimes sans a salute to precedent.

Whereas individual fields of study may address their respective subjects in similar ways, they do repeat and repeat in ways that are similar and yet not quite the same. Indeed, scholars do "reinvent" the wheels of thought as a matter of professional practice. These dynamics are precisely how we assimilate and internalize new ideas and ways of doing things, to paraphrase Jean Piaget, how we make ideas our own. However, "reinvention" also illustrates our reluctance to "travel cross country" to other disciplines, fields of study and practice as Alfred North Whitehead puts it.  "Reinvention" without a nod to those who have come before is a principle of sound scholarship. However, our digital environment is stretching our egos further.... as we have access to so many addressing our very same questions and subjects of inquiry in the same time frame.

The case in point I have in mind is the emerging interest in project based learning among online learning enterprises...ie MOOCs and not for profit, social change oriented trainings.

There are rich online resources pertaining to the constructivist rationale and philosophy of PBL as well as elaborate guides for designing and integrating PBL into face2face, blended and online only curricula.  For example, http://bie.org/

Interestingly, most if not all of the PBL sites have been formulated for and by K12 educators, and teachers of teachers with wide experience in what works to engage young people in learning and discovery.  Imagine the implications if post-secondary faculty and social change not-for-profits were to acknowledge the work of K12 educators!  Since we are in the realm of imagination, think about the stratified world of occupations and fields of study at stake in this challenge to business as usual in the use of what has gone before....or what is ongoing!

In the spirit of PBL self-discovery, conduct your own web search for PBL for step by step guides to what it is, best practices and research pertaining to pre and post-secondary schooling.

What is new to you about PBL? What about PBL challenges your current teaching methods? Are you interested in learning more about PBL? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Learning Readiness as Self-organizational Fitness





As a political activist I frequently contemplate how activist organizations pursue strategies over long periods of time, even when the situations they seek to rectify or reform become increasingly dire.   One key to the puzzle is the dynamic of self-organization, a phenomenon of complex adaptive systems. Applied to social experience, self-organization is expressed through the tenacious integration of individual capacities with social organizational needs.

Here’s the conundrum in personal terms.  You have a leadership role in an advocacy organization that engages your talents and gives you great satisfaction…. Your colleagues appreciate your contributions, you receive recognition for your work, either through gratifying personal relationships and/or monetary compensation and your efforts are your personal, intellectual, political and/or spiritual investments in what you believe. 

In these circumstances there are limited if any incentives for you or the organization to change course…even if the strategies are not bringing about the change envisioned in the mission.  This example of self-organization resonates with Einstein’s remark, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results….”

Self-organization is the sine qua non of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’  The challenge is where to find the levers to reconfigure the parts that a newly formed whole can emerge.

Under what conditions can the values, interests and skills of individual participants be tapped to contribute to a modified vision, new set of strategies and/or a different tactical approach? Or, at what point do reflection and discomfort among participants provide the stimulus for rethinking organizational direction? And, how open are participants to acknowledging that what they know best is not good enough and to unlearning what they know best as they learn new best ways?

Bifurcation points and gaps are concepts from complex systems theory that depict moments where a system is hovering between directions, where the current situation is not tenable, but a new direction or configuration has yet to emerge.  Our capacity for self-reflection enables us to be both witness and participant in these adaptive processes.


The symmetry of individual reflection and personal challenge with organizational effectiveness is a common experience in tumultuous times.  Bifurcation points, individual and organizational, social and cultural are moments of intense ambiguity, ambivalence, uncertainty, anxiety and fear. In such times we are particularly vulnerable to manipulation and easy answers to assuage the discomfort of knowing the status quo is not holding and where we are going is not clear and pretty much beyond our control.