Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Well-Played Life book review

Prolific author Leonard Sweet has hit another one out of the park with his book, “The Well-Played Life.” I was sent an advanced copy by the author to read and review prior to the book’s release next year.

Sweet’s strength is his ability to cause people to stop and rethink words, ideas, and concepts that have been held onto without processing. By giving us a “Wack On the Side of the Head” (see the book by Roger von Oech), Sweet takes “work,” a concept often accepted without conscious thought, and moves it into direct reflection. By taking the twin themes of work and play, Sweet gives readers a “wack” with The Well-Played Life.

The subtitle of this book is “Why pleasing God doesn’t have to be such hard work.” I was drawn in by the refreshing and life-affirming message. Having a strong work-ethic passed down from generations in my family I can struggle at times with seeing my relationship with God as making sure I work hard enough. The Well-Played Life reads like a breath of fresh air to me by statements like, “you don’t work a violin.” I came away more convinced like any relationship, walking with God isn’t something I “work at” but rather a joy to “play at”.

On every page I can see Sweet's goal for readers to deepen a personal walk and relationship with Jesus. From the start- where he encourages readers to evaluate their quality of life by their quality of play, to a larger call for a theology of play; Sweet encourages his readers to dive deeper into a walk with God that is beyond rules and work to one of rest and play.

Sweet also finds space in this book to coin two new words, Godplay and Simplexity.
Godplay refers to people who make the world better simply by being in it. Used throughout the book, Godplay is a challenge to those who call themselves followers of Jesus: are we willing to enter into a life of play with God?
Simplexity is the combination of “simplicity” and “complexity.” Sweet attributes this to systems theory and states, “The term simplexity derives from systems theory, where simplicity is complex, and complexity simple. The more complex a system becomes the more simple it’s platform must be.” (pg. 193) Comparing this to Godplayers he states, “In discipleship, the more the soul grows, and grows up in the knowledge of God, the more simple our faith becomes.” (pg. 193)

In the main section of the book Sweet identifies three “ages” of humanity and encourages reflection and growth in each age. These ages aren’t necessarily genealogical rather they can be thought of as stages of play that can happen at any actual age of life. For the remainder of this review I will define these three ages and provide a quote from the book for each.

The First Age is made up of “Novice Players” (0-30)
Obviously, we start as a beginner, and like one learning to play the violin, novices take time to learn the basics of their craft. Similarly, Godplayers spend time learning their call and following Jesus in his mission.
To summarize this section, “The prevalence of love signals the presence of play. When faith becomes all about beliefs and works instead of relationships, then what we’re really in love with is our own thoughts and opinions and doings- not an image of God, but an image of ourselves.” (pg. 43)

Those in the Second Age are called “Real Players” (30-60)
The major role for this section is participation, living and playing out the call and mission to which God has called.
“Love is not work. Love is play… that requires a lot of practice. Now replace the word love with God in that sentence (because God is Love- 1 John 4:8)... and there you have this book in a nutshell.” (pg. 150)

The Third Age is called “Master Player and Game Changer” (60-90+)
This is the season of maturity, of fruit-bearing and legacy passing. This isn’t a time to sit in a rocking chair, but to continue with Godplay as a follower of Jesus.
“In a sense, Third-Age disciples are chaos chasers, because to trust the Holy Spirit is to expect anything and plan nothing. The Holy Spirit is anything but predictable.” (pg. 194)

This book also includes a study guide which would make this easily accessible for small groups.

I found a lot of personal life and joy in this work and would encourage anyone to pick up a copy when it comes out in early 2014.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Promoting Personal/Professional Learning Networks (PLN)

For the past four weeks I've been participating in an open online seminar called: Exploring Personal Learning Networks (PLN's) (#xplrpln) through Northwestern University.

During this time the discussion has swirled around this question, Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

Here's how I've come to define the term: "A PLN is a person's network- a group of people, living or dead who regularly influence and guide that person in learning and growth. In the past a PLN might have included people from one's academic discipline who were consulted once a year at conferences; now with the global reach of the internet, these people can be from around the world and can be interacted with through a wide variety of tools: Twitter, blogging, Google+, or Facebook."

I want to take into consideration that people like my 80+ year old father-in-law- a PhD and Old Testament scholar who belonged to numerous academic networks, who would attend annual meetings and collaborated with his friends through phone or the mail- had a PLN whether he acknowledged it or not.

I also want to note that the "Learning" part of PLN means I have learned a lot in my field from those who no longer walk this earth. For example, in the area of developmental psychology, the writings of Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Lev Vygotsky, have shaped me and I consider them, and others, to be part of my PLN.

As I've engaged in these discussions, I've been thinking of what I will do or say to answer the assignment. Would I go to the Administration at my college and say, "Everyone should have a PLN?" Or would I attend a faculty meeting and try and convince them? What would I say to the President of my college?

This week in a Twitter Chat it hit me, I have developed a PLN out of joy and spontaneity. I started #edcmooc in January and through that experience I emerged with a group of people I interacted with through various forms of Social Media and who over this past year have become part of my PLN.

When I presented my findings in the fictional situation above, I wouldn't want to recommend that my institution to require us to create a PLN. Rather, I would want to share the joy and excitement of journeying with a group of people who have shaped my thinking and been a sounding board for brainstorming and ideas and have helped me to grow professionally. My life and my output as a worker has grown because of my PLN.

It also hit me in the chat this week that maybe we're moving into a place where each of us as individuals is becoming the sum of our PLN's. It reminds me of Rachel Botsman's TED talk titled, "The Currency of the New Economy is Trust."

I like thinking about PLN's in the same context as Botsman describes above. In many ways we operate on trust with people most of us have never met apart from the web.

As part of that trust. I group of us in this experience who are educators worked together on a Google Doc and Slideshow. Here are the links to our collaborative work. It was fun and the comments and suggestions of others definitely sparked my own thinking. A clear sign of a PLN at work.

Personal Learning Networks for Higher Ed- Google Slide

Personal Learning Networks for Higher Ed- Google Doc

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog Action Day- Human Rights

I learned from yesterday that today is Blog Action Day. The theme for this year is Human Rights, a relevant and important topic today.

I've had the privilege of visiting a number of countries in the world, some of whom have very poor human-rights records. I've been overwhelmed by the scenes of immense need as I have stood on a hillside in a slum, or in an open marketplace in a city. I've come to embrace the line from Dr. Seuss in Horton Hears a Who, "A person's a person, no matter how small."

For a class assignment last spring I created a Thinglink to address the question, "What is Human?" We had been discussing transhumanism, the concept that through technology, human beings have the potential to advance beyond what is normal today. All through the discussion however, I kept thinking back to those slums and marketplaces where I had stood and I wondered if the people living there would embrace transhumanism when for most of them, all they wanted was their next meal. Our discussion, although global in scope, seemed to skip over a large majority of our world.

I'm reposting this here today on Blog Action Day to do add my voice to the global conversation. Please CLICK HERE to fully explore the Thinglink image. The embedded photo below is the just the picture, not the full-linked item.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Thinking about Creativity

Thinking about Creativity

My great-grandfather was a master craftsman. He was a general contractor who built numerous structures in and around Long Beach, CA in the 1920’s-’50’s. One bit of family lore- “Pop” (as he was known) was building the Long Beach Mausoleum which features a  Foucalt Pendulum. The story goes that the architect couldn’t figure out how to install the pendulum in a way that it would actually keep accurate time. Pop went home, figured it out, installed the pendulum,  and it still works to this day.

My grandfather was also a craftsman. In later life he demonstrated this skill through his work with wood. If any of us in the family wanted a piece of furniture, all we’d have to do was bring him a picture and he would figure it out and build it. Here’s a picture of a hat rack that he built for himself but which was passed on to me when he died.

This “construction creativity gene” wasn’t passed on to me. I got a C- in woodshop in High School and now the closest to woodworking I get is cutting up firewood with a chainsaw.

For many years I struggled with questions about my own creativity. As I grew older I definitely had moments of creative thinking- like planning out activities for a summer camp where I worked in college. However, these “creative times” usually involved large quantities of Diet Pepsi.

Over the past years there have been a number of circumstances which have shown I do have more creativity within me than I originally thought. I’ll share just a couple here.  

The first circumstance involved living in an entirely different culture. In 1993 my wife and I moved to the UK where we lived and worked for seven years. During that time I was pushed and stretched outside my embedded culture and was exposed to different world-views. I was able to experience life from different perspectives and was challenged to defend the way I thought about a number of beliefs.

During our time in England because I was outside what, up until that point had been my “norm,” I practiced creativity in a variety of new ways. For example, I found I could “see” how a program or plan would work and could make tweaks and changes to that program before implementing it. I also grew to appreciate the unique creativities of others and was stretched by how I might apply what I was learning to my own context.

The second circumstance that helped me accept my creativity came when I took the Predictive Index. When we returned from the UK, my new employer required this inventory of all new employees. The Index indicated I was a “craftsman.” At the time I didn’t think much about this designation, but as time has gone by I’ve come to embrace this description of me and the link it gives me to my grandfather. The Craftsman designates someone who takes existing materials and creates something new and beautiful with them. This fits my experience in the UK.

Currently, I work in Higher Education. I’m designing an online Master’s program from scratch which allows me a lot of flexibility and opportunities to be creative.  In the next two weeks I have to complete a proposal to send to our accreditation body and I’m almost finished with the design for the program. Last week I was talking through my plan with the President of our institution and he affirmed my progress and the creative direction I was headed.

Then this week I took the Creative Style Estimation Exercise. I scored in the mild adaptive category which again confirms the creativity I express comes out in more conventional means. This exercise was a good tool to help me explore my own unique expression of creativity.

In the past few years as I’ve become older (and hopefully wiser) I’m coming to see that although I’m not a master carpenter or woodworker, I have been wired with creativity that comes out in different ways. I’m looking forward to pushing that creativity one step further through the Creativity, Innovation, and Change MOOC. #cicmooc

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Online Education- Today's Correspondence Courses

It was the summer of '84 and I was looking to add 6 units to my undergrad degree. We had an Apple II computer at home but the Internet was about 10 years away. With no other options, I took the equivalent of today's online class. I participated in two correspondence courses from UC Berkeley. One class was fantastic- "The World of Mystery Fiction" with Elliot Gilbert. The other I've completely forgotten.

I had workbooks and textbooks for both and as the summer progressed I would read the book and complete the assignments and mail them to my instructors. I would wait a week or so to get the feedback and then move to the next section in the course. It was sooo slooowww.

Fast-forward to today. In our interconnected world, students like I was who are looking to add courses, and students who don't want to attend a brick-and-mortar school at all, are turning to the internet for classes.

 I recently participated in a webinar that discussed this trend and backed it up with data on what online students are looking for in a school. Below is a graphic with a summary of the findings.
  Online College Students 2013: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences - Infographic
The Learning House, Inc.

Couple of thoughts: 
It appears that online programs are highly rated as valuable for both time and cost. I was also pleased to see that Theology was on the rise for graduate students since I'm working on an online MA for Tabor College.

If you're interested in finding out more, I'd encourage you to download both the 2012 and 2013 reports, they are definitely worth the time to read.

Or, one could always try to restart a trend and promote correspondence courses.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart

During the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about issues of contemplation and silence.  Today I took a retreat morning and decided to read Nurturing Silence in a Noisy Heart by Wayne Oates.

Since the version I have was written in 1979 the book has some funny moments where for example the author, talking about being on a houseboat in the river says, “… to discover a place of privacy, … where telephones cannot reach you, …” Unfortunately, that ship has sailed; telephones reach us all the time, in every place. Which is why, more than ever I need books like this one and others who call me to places where I can be alone in silence and stillness.

Yet, not everyone is comfortable with silence. Oates quotes Blaise Pascal, “The eternal silence of the infinite spaces terrifies me.” Pascal’s comment makes me ask, “Why?” what are humans so afraid of in silence? Oates does a great job unpacking some of the issues and distractions that cause people to be nervous about silence. Dr. Oates was Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine so he knows from experience about what makes people tick.

Because I’m an introvert, I’m drawn to silence and stillness. I need this space to recharge my batteries throughout the day. I know quite clearly when I’m not nurturing my soul in this way.  Yet even though I crave silence, I agree with Oates that silence is something, “you hunt for… that calls for investment and a sense of adventure.” I love that image, pursuing silence like stalking a timid animal, seeking the adventure of nurturing space.

Toward the end of the book, Oates provides a helpful checklist for creating space for silence. To see them click here: 

Finally, Oates states, “Silence is not just not talking. Silence is a discipline of choosing what to say and to what to listen.” This is the key to nurturing silence in the midst of a busy day. For me, I do need extended times away to recharge, but I can also nurture times throughout the day where I can be discerning in what I listen to and to whom I speak. Oates goes on to say, “If you limit what you say to what is true, if you limit yourself to what can be spoken in love, then you will have much less to say. What you do say, though, will have a hundred times more influence.”

I purpose anew to speak what is true with love.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Reflections on a month of Creative Exploration

I’ve been participating in a Creative Exploration (CE) with a group of 6 people for the past month. We’ve been thinking and talking about themes of Critical and Creative Thinking, and exploring how a course might be developed focused on these themes. Below are headings for the major categories I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve had a lot of fun thinking about the teaching of creative thinking. I’ve been inspired by one of the participants’ use of “studio” as a metaphor for creative space, safe space, a lab, workshop, group, or team. Thinking about an educational endeavor through this lens is innovative; it turns the classroom into a place to experiment and try new things rather than a depository of knowledge for the teacher to impart to the students. This is especially relevant for adult and graduate students who already bring knowledge and insights to the educational process. Thinking of “school” as “studio” makes space for the instructor to be someone who, as my doctoral advisor Leonard Sweet always said, “organizes learning.”

The studio also becomes a sacred space. The word holy means “set apart for a specific purpose/use.” A program designed around students coming to a studio (whether actual or virtual I would argue) that has been specifically identified as a location to learn, grow and express creativity becomes “holy” in the set apart aspect. This can have deep meaning for students.

Finally, this metaphor of studio very much reminds me of my personal metaphor of a “ropewalk,” the long alleys in a industrial-era town where rope was made by taking various strands of hemp and braiding them together to create a strong rope.

Transformative Experiences
As this group has shared a bit of our stories around the Google Hangout space, one piece that many of us have in common is a transformative experience that has involved travel to another country or culture. For me, I have been shaped and profoundly changed by travel to war-torn countries, places of extreme poverty, as well as countries where I didn’t speak the language. Sometimes one location encompassed all three.

Upon further reflection, it was these trips and locations that provided clarity for a sense of vocation and call. Away from the familiar gave space for God to speak and for my heart to be open to new possibilities.

In an innovative educational setting, creating spaces and experiences for students to move outside of comfort zones and visit another culture would be beneficial.

Creative Thinking
This past week I reflected on how one becomes “creative.” In a class I’m teaching, we discussed the formation of creative ideas. The list the class came up with basically fell in to two categories: under pressure, and in times of quiet and space.

As I thought about facilitating a course that focuses on creativity, I wondered how in this current technological climate one might find the appropriate space to allow creativity to find it’s voice. Coupled with this I also started thinking about the spiritual practice of “attending” or listening. How does an academic program prescribe times of silence and solitude in order to foster critical and creative thinking? With the lure of 24/7 connections will students unplug?

I’m part of another G+ community that has been discussing the role of meditative science and there are interesting conversations happening around the ideas of meditation and focused brain activity.

Challenge: Moving
The challenge from my colleagues in the CE was to think of a way for a group to move from the studio out into the world or to move from contemplation to action.

I think this movement forward happens through the power of community. Creating cohorts in higher education, especially cohorts where the students are concerned about the learning of their peers is one way to create but also to move people outside the studio.

This is a challenge in an individualistic, research-based PhD program, but if implemented would make this program stand out in a creative way.

Ideas for implementation could include: 1) having an online component to every course where the students would be encouraged to share research and ideas, sort of a G+ community for feedback and conversation around their studies. Include a place for students to share personal “how’s life” type events so the group can cry or celebrate with the student. Create community in the Studio.
2) Involve fellow students by providing each other with feedback and evaluation on research. Invite collaboration on student projects and create a sense of team.

In March 2013, I created a Prezi and shared it with my administration for a theological MA program that I am proposing at Tabor College. I attach the link here knowing that it needs adjustment and I need to make changes to represent some of what I’ve mentioned above, but it’s a visual representation of what I’m thinking could be done to implement some of these concepts.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bigger on the Inside...

“It’s bigger on the inside than on the outside.” This is a now iconic line spoken by numerous characters on many episodes of Dr. Who when they first encounter the inside of the Tardis- a police phone box that serves as the Dr.’s time machine/ship. Recently, I could relate to that sentiment as I participated in my first Coursera MOOC through the University of Edinburgh, what looked small on the outside suddenly opened up into something beyond my imagination.

Less than a year ago I had never heard of a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC. I knew about innovative delivery systems, I did my DMin through a hybrid/online format and I found it perfect for me at that time. I enjoyed working from home, at whatever time I wanted; but with the structure of weekly assignments and readings to keep me on track. Our major professor was somewhat engaged with us as students, we interacted with him weekly for an hour; however the majority of my learning came from interacting with the course materials and with the twenty other students in my doctoral cohort. It was these peers who taught me as much or more than the instructor. I learned later that the course was designed in a constructivist educational philosophy. As our major professor used to say, his role was to “organize learning.”

Last September I was reading Fast Company magazine and came across this article about Coursera, one of the top three platforms for MOOC’s (Udacity and EdX being the other two).  I had just accepted a new job at Tabor College’s Wichita campus to design an innovative online MA program and I thought it might be useful research to take a MOOC to gain firsthand experience. I signed up with Coursera and looked around at the course offerings to find a class that might be useful.

I found the course E-learning and Digital Culture (EDC) from the University of Edinburgh and signed up. I was intrigued by the title and the content. I thought this could be a course that would assist me as I sought to learn more about E-learning in my own new context. The description explained the learning goals for the course, “Those goals might include: gaining new perspectives on e-learning; experiencing a MOOC; networking with some of the fascinating people from all over the world who are signed up; experimenting with digital and visual ways of representing academic knowledge; and exploring the connections between education, learning and digital cultures.” 

About two months before the course began I received an email from the EDCMOOC team welcoming and inviting me to join a variety of social media tools since much of the course would be conducted on these platforms. I already had a blog, Facebook and Google+ accounts (although I never touched G+), so I signed up for Twitter and began exploring that new platform.

In mid December I discovered a student-run Facebook group who had been active for over a month. I joined and began to make connections with some of the thousands of students who were to make up EDCMOOC. The Facebook group created connections as well as formed groups to encourage and read each other’s blogs. Many students began posting on their blogs about their pre-course learning and linking that to FB. In January, weeks before the course even started students were generating so much original content it as difficult to keep up with all the posts.

By the time the course began there were over 43,000 students enrolled. It was a five-week course set up around two major themes: weeks 1-2) Utopian/Distopian views of the future; weeks 3-4) What does it mean to be Human? The fifth week was focused on preparing and posting a digital artifact (more on that later).

The main form of content provision was through a “film festival” and readings. The films were chosen to address the theme for the week and were linked from the course website from YouTube or Vimeo. The readings were academic articles that were freely available on the web. The instructors worked hard to provide content that all could access, not only those with access to academic libraries. The level of the articles according to one of the professors, was first-year undergrad.

In many ways, the content provided by the instructors created a jumping off point for the students to discuss and explore a wide variety of issues connected to the themes. Students were encouraged, but not assessed, to interact on the weekly themes through a variety of methods, twitter, blogging, discussion threads on FB and G+, as well as interaction on the Coursera course site. One area for improvement are the forums on the Coursera site. They were difficult to navigate and find relevant posts, it soon became apparent to many of the students that posting there was a waste of time and many navigated to other social media formats for meaningful interaction. During these first couple of weeks I experienced what many of my fellow students did as well- extreme overwhelming feelings as it became impossible to keep up with the content generated by 43,000 individuals. Because the course was global, students were creating and curating information around the clock, there was always something new to read or watch. It appeared that many students dropped in the first couple weeks due to the overwhelming feelings created by the flood of student-generated content.

It was during this time, around week three that I discovered Felicia Sullivan’s VoiceThread.  VoiceThread is an online discussion forum that records asynchronous discussion in a verbal, rather than written form. I had observed VoiceThread in Moodle training but had only seen a sample “thread,” I hadn’t been able to participate. Since one of my learning goals for the MOOC was to find new tools and technologies, I jumped into the VoiceThread and discovered a small group community that provided a personal and human touch to the ‘noise’ of the course. I was able to make connections with a small group that was helpful and encouraging through the rest of the course.  

The personal benefits of the EDCMOOC were:

I was able to continue developing my Personal Learning Network (PLN). I also realized that I had people in a PLN who weren’t being tapped. I have since reached out to some in my DMin cohort for ideas and advice.

I was able to learn about a wide variety of e-learning tools through my peers. In addition, the creation of a digital artifact, which was our final assessment, gave me permission and space to try out a number of tools, which I will use and promote in future classroom settings. I was also reinvigorated to discover the academic potential of social media like G+ and Twitter and plan on continuing to use these tools in the future.

I appreciated the global nature of the course and the interactions with other educators from around the world. I was energized by the cross-pollenization that occurred. I was also impressed by the high level of collaboration and cooperation I observed and experienced during EDCMOOC. People were willing to help and offer feedback in many ways.

I learned the difference between cMOOC’s and xMOOC’s- the first “constructivist” in philosophy and presentation and the second more traditional format with lectures and quizzes.

I can see MOOC’s serving in a wide variety of ways in the future. Some scholars and politicians are saying it’s the end of higher education, others say it’s a new tool that can be used to flatten education and make it more accessible to a global world. I lean to the latter. I think MOOC’s can supplement existing courses, provide professional development and provide content for students working independently, or along with a local faculty member.

Some are afraid that big business will take over Higher Education. Others are concerned that MOOC’s will cheapen degrees. This debate will continue, for now I think they can provide an excellent supplement to existing programs and personal networking.

Because MOOC’s are global, they are bigger on the inside…