We recently celebrated 100 episodes of Silver Lining for Learning (see the 100th episode or read my blog post about the journey). In this process we have had an opportunity to speak with some amazing people – educational leaders, innovators, administrators, deans, researchers, students and more. These conversations have touched on a wide array of topics, including but not limited to: student autonomy, remote learning, novel learning organizations, pioneering curricula and programs, innovative ways of teaching, new approaches to education policy, ground-breaking technological inventions and more. Our guests have come from all over the world: Italy, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Bhutan, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Korea, Israel, Malaysia, Nepal, Spain, England, Costa Rica, Thailand (to list a few) and of course the US. And we now have over 100 hours of original programming (available for free through the website).
We, as hosts, have also learned a lot over these past two years and we had an opportunity to write about some of what we have learned and observed. This article was recently published. Below you can find the complete reference, link to the article as well as the abstract.
Silver lining for learning (Sll: silverliningforlearning.org) is an unfunded, unsponsored, bottom-up initiative that emerged as a direct result of the pandemic. The authors are part of a team that co-founded this series of weekly webcasts (starting mid-March 2020), with close to 100 episodes as of March 2022. As the website describes, Sll «is an ongoing conversation on the future of learning» with innovative educators and education leaders from across the globe. The demands of 21st century work, citizenship, and life require a transformation of instruction to foster a very different set of knowledge, skills, and dispositions than those mandated by current national and regional educational governance systems focused on outdated educational goals and methods. This article describes representative Sll episodes and highlights the grassroots innovations that have been featured in them. The episodes on Sll have highlighted bottom-up models for trans- formative innovation that complement top-down initiatives for incremental educational improve- ment in industrial-era schooling. Regional, national, and global policies and reports have some value, but their recommendations lack detail about specific models for educational transforma- tion in which participants experience ownership, cultural relevance, and contextual alignment. These bottom-up cases of innovation have been selected to illustrate educational transformation, particularly those involving digital forms of learning, design, and technology. Sections in this article on Student autonomy and Self-determination, Communities of learners, and Educational creativity and Innovation highlight a range of perspectives on innovation from the co-hosts. The creative tensions among these perspectives drive rich dialogues that help to make the show evocative for new models and methods. Sll demonstrates that, with almost no resources, locally led but globally motivated innovations can be recognized, celebrated, and shared across the world.
I was recently asked to write a chapter for a book that my colleague Ron Beghetto was editing with Laura McBain, called My Favorite Failure. Failure is never fun – and to pick one that was your favorite, is like deciding what your favorite form or torture is. Waterboarding? How about having your nails pulled out?
Anyway, I did end up writing something for the book which I am sharing below. Please note that what I am sharing below is a pre-publication version of the chapter and I have made some edits to the prose as well. For the final version of my piece and all the other stories you will have the buy the book.
The “favorite” failure that I always keep going back to is an extended one—stretching across the four years I spent in the undergraduate program in engineering, back in India. Truth be told, “favorite” is an adjective I can only use in hindsight. Failing was not fun or ever a favorite thing, at the time.
Just to give some context, in high school I was a highly enthusiastic, motivated kid. I read a lot, across the board— science, technology, mathematics, literature, film, you name it. I simply wanted to learn. Though I was partial towards science, and physics in particular, at some level it did not matter what the topic was. I had a vision of becoming a physicist when I grew up, studying the very small (e.g., quarks) or the very large (e.g., galaxies).
The challenge was that in India, if you were good at (or vaguely amenable to) science and math, you become either an engineer or a doctor. These were the choices offered, so I ended up in an engineering college, and that was that.
Sadly, however, I did not enjoy my four years in engineering at all. It was all about exams and quizzes, nonstop, with an all-encompassing focus on rote learning. There was no space or time for understanding or playing with ideas. I remember, in my first semester, in a class on quantum physics, I was writing limericks and poems about the ideas I was learning in the class. Imagine poems (bad ones) about wave particle duality, quantum states and the periodic table of elements. These poems were just my way of playing with ideas—similar to how a cat will play with a ball of yarn. These forays were purposeless in some way, yet meaningful in others. But sadly, that impulse to play was squelched quite quickly, partly because it was not valued and partly because there was not any time for it, given the intense pressures of coursework and exams.
To be clear, I got reasonable grades, but at the end of the experience, none of it amounted to much. It did not help that I could not land a job – despite going for multiple campus interviews. It was clear that I had… failed. And the sad thing was that it was not a one-shot failure. It was like a gradual process of being beaten down, month after month, semester after semester—for four years. It was hard not to take it personally. It affected me a lot in terms of my future career choices and what I would do afterwards.
For the longest time this was something that I always saw as a huge failure on my part. I believed then (though I don’t necessarily believe now) that I was clearly not cut out to be a scientist or an engineer, and this was a huge blow to my self-image. It was difficult to realize this and even harder to accept it. As one might imagine, it was a sad time, which had a huge impact on my self-esteem and confidence. I did many of the usual things that people do in such situations, which is namely to say that I went into my shell, as it was emotionally wrenching to feel that I was letting down my parents and their expectations of me. There are a whole load of aspects to such situations that can affect a person psychologically and emotionally. In that way, I see those four years as the “dark years.” I look at what I went in with, which was so much energy, so much passion for learning and for doing something special—and the experience just beat it all that out of me. This is truly sad when you consider how often excitement and energy are devastated through educational structures—the very things which are (in theory) supposed to support creativity and learning.
One of the most important questions a person might ask would be, what were the positives out of this situation? If we’re interested in learning, what did you learn or how did you grow? The biggest positive, really, is that I became a much better educator because of these four years because I realized that there are people in my classroom, in every classroom, who have energy and passion, and they fall through the cracks. The fact that they’re not doing well is not a measure of what their intellectual or personal worth is, but it is actually the educational system which is holding them back.
There’s a similar issue that happens when techies talk about people struggling with technology and say it’s “user error.” The truth is it’s not user error, it is the technology not being designed well. A similar thing happens in education. It’s not the learners’ fault if they are not doing well—it is our fault. I think my experiences have given me a perspective and a sense of empathy because I could see myself there with every person who was not doing well in my class. It made me a much better educator.
Coming back to the story—there I was in my last year of engineering, without a job, wondering what I would do after I graduated. And, just by chance, I saw a poster for a Masters in Design degree in visual communications at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai (then Bombay). I said “OK, I’m interested in film, always loved watching and reading about serious cinema. I still love science. I love math. I grew up being inspired by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and by Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man.” I knew I still loved this stuff, these ideas, so I thought that maybe, I can make educational films. Long story short, I applied and got into the visual communications program with the intention of making a career in educational film. The goal was to still keep that love of learning, though not as an active practitioner of science or engineering but rather as a communicator of ideas. That shift transformed my life.
It was there at the Industrial Design Center that I was introduced to the idea of design—something that I did not know much about before, but something I seemed to fit right into. In high school I had a group of friends who shared my interests and we sort of pushed each other along—so that I felt that I belonged in that group. In the four years of engineering, I never felt like I truly belonged. I didn’t form that identity. I never became an engineer, internally. But at the Industrial Design Center, I rediscovered a bunch of like-minded people who were all interested in all these different things like typography and visual design, art and literature, psychology and human behavior, and their interconnections.
Everything that I had been doing before, which seemed so haphazard, suddenly came together. It was cool and it resonated with me. Deeply. So even today, I see the world through the lens of design. Everything in the world around me, education, parenting, anything—it’s always through the lens of design and in some ways it was that failure that pushed me in a different direction. Within a couple of weeks, I knew this is where I belonged, which I had never felt in engineering school.
What was also amazing, in hindsight, was how breathtakingly sudden this transformation was—between April of 1988, when I was struggling to figure how what I would do after my engineering degree, to September of the same year, when I had been in design school for a month or so. In just those few months I became a completely different person. For the first time, I found an intellectual home. I found a community. Clearly there was a lot that I didn’t know about design, I still had a lot to learn, but that identity clicked right away. In literally a few weeks.
One of the things about being a designer is that at some level you are a dilettante. You dabble in many things, and I’ve always dabbled in a lot of things. I do photography and I do visual design and I like editing movies and I like to write poetry (however badly) and I love math and biology, and everything in between. What this lens of design has let me do, is take all of these disparate interests, activities and projects, and see them not as distractions but as a core part of my identity. I could be whole as a designer in a way that I could never have been as an engineer—at least not as it was done in India.
So now I can write a poem about math, and that’s fine. Perfectly fine. In fact, somebody recently emailed me asking me, if they could use a poem I had written (on a whim) about the Fibonacci sequence, in their teaching. I said, of course, “absolutely go for it.” How cool is that.
Furthermore, design is a gift that keeps on giving. Design doesn’t live in a vacuum, rather it lives and breathes in the world and is part of our lives. I bring ideas about design into my teaching and research. I bring a lens of design to the work of reimagining schools and education, to my teaching and to my work with technology and with educators and educational leaders. It is a lens that values the pragmatic even while recognizing the importance of the aesthetic. It allows me to recognize and communicate the fact that functionality and beauty (which have different meanings in different contexts) have to work together in any solutions we come up with for the challenges faced by education.
My experience in the Industrial Design Center took me back to who I really was and also made me realize how lucky I was to have stumbled into that line of work. I wonder about all the people who fall through the cracks of our educational system and what a terrible loss that is, both to the individual and to society at large. Some years ago, I was invited to give a talk at Purdue University. Purdue has an engineering education research center which was one of the biggest in the nation. I started my talk by saying: “You know, for the longest time, I thought I had failed as an engineer, I’m here today to tell you that you guys failed me. Your field failed me. I didn’t fail. You guys never gave me a chance. And who are the other people who you are letting down?” I think I’m a much better educator because of the fact that I failed those four years. If I would have sailed through, I would have never had empathy for the ones who don’t get through.
I guess, I call this my favorite failure because it is just so salient and profound in my life, and so sudden. One day I was a failed engineer, and suddenly two months later I was a designer. It touched every part of my life and my future. Clearly, I hadn’t changed in any dramatic way in those two months, but the context around me had. So, this let me see that when there is failure it is important to understand the context within which that failure occurs and think about how you can change that context into something different in order to move forward. Clearly, nothing significant had changed in me, but what changed, dramatically, was the context, what changed was the framing. Which again, if you think about it, is a designer’s way of looking at the world, since a big part of the process of design is how you frame a given problem or situation. And that has been another valuable takeaway from the process of being a failed engineer toward becoming a designer—the idea that how you frame the problem dictates the possibilities and what you are able to do. This matters in education, and it matters in everything really.
So as a broader takeaway, I think it is important to think about where you feel most comfortable and happy—where you feel most yourself. Maybe that’s what you should be trying to do and be, rather than trying to make other people comfortable and happy. If things are not working out, the solution may not be as much about changing yourself as it may be about changing the broader context within which you function.
I know, very well, that this is a privileged point of view. I had the choice to switch my career, that I had opportunities early on in life, of having the right friends and opportunities that allowed me to indulge in my multiple interests. And when I needed, I could, change the context. These options are sadly lacking for many people. Educational opportunities are sadly lacking for too many.
That said, I should also add that it is essential not to take failures personally. Failures are learning experiences. They are not about letting yourself or anyone else down. I think, also that I share one meta-takeaway from this conversation, this conversation about my favorite failure: which is to say that there is no thing such as a favorite failure. Failure is painful. Period. I sometimes get a bit cranky when I hear this Silicon Valley mantra, about failing forward. Failure is never a goal. It is never fun. I don’t ever want to fail, but it happens. But again, life is long and you can look back and say, “OK, I learned X, Y and Z from it,” but if I could get those four years back, yeah, sure, I would grab it in an instance. There is no reason why I had to fail to find my calling. I’m happy with what I do now, the freedom to play with ideas as being part of my job, and the fact that I can dabble things that are meaningful to me. And that’s been very, very fruitful for me, personally and professionally. A lot of joy comes out of it.
But I am also deeply aware that there are many who do not have these same opportunities and second chances—and we don’t hear their stories. So, there should be some humility when we speak of favorite failures, because we never hear from the ones who truly failed—for no inherent fault of theirs, but because the system did them a disservice. It chewed them up and spat them out. Failure, as I said before, is not fun. It’s only the lucky few, who succeeded despite these failures, who can construct a narrative that makes these failures appear meaningful. And that is important to remember. Thus, I guess, I am questioning the very idea of this series, because by its very nature, we only hear from those who, despite some failures along the way, managed to succeed in the end. I worry about all the stories we don’t hear, and that, to me, is an imperative to do better, to create systems that prevent such unnecessary, painful failures from happening in the first place.
We have covered a wide range of issues related to creativity, technology and learning in our almost decade-long series that we write for the journal TechTrends. Over the past few years we have conducted almost 30+ interviews with some of the top scholars in the field. Over the past few issues we have focused our attention to the relationship between mindfulness and creativity, particularly in educational contexts. Our first article set the stage for a deeper dive into this relationship, which the second was an interview with Dr. Viviana Capurso and her work in this area. For our third article we spoke with Dr. Jonathan Schooler, Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California Santa Barbara.
Dr. Schooler directs the Memory Emotion Thought Awareness (META) Lab, which they study a wide range of issues and questions related to human cognition. His own research on explores topics that intersect philosophy and psychology, like how fluctuations in people’s awareness of their experience mediate mind-wandering and how exposing individuals to philosophical positions alters their behavior. He is also interested in the science of science (meta-science) including the replication crisis in the social sciences, understanding why effect sizes often decline over time, and how greater transparency in scientific reporting might address this issue.
As always we covered a lot of ground in our conversation (from mind-wandering to mindfulness; from meta-consciousness to living in a technology-mediated world, and most importantly on the positive and negative aspects of curiosity). In fact, my previous blog post “The darker side of curiosity” was partly prompted by our conversation. And the funny thing is that there were still so many things we did not have time to get into. The article based on our conversation is now published and a citation and and link to the article is given below.
Incidentally I have been playing with some AI based image creation programs and thought that I may try and see what AI comes up with if given some verbal prompts. Below are 4 images generated by different freely available AI programs when prompted with words related to creativity and mindful wandering.
Curiosity, the willingness to learn more, is often seen as a positive trait one that drives learning, and one can argue, it drives creativity and innovation. It has been argued as being important for leadership, among other things. I have prized curiosity in my own life, as a researcher, scholar, educator and parent.
Current research, however, provides a more nuanced picture.
At heart curiosity kicks in when there is a gap between what we know and what we don’t know. Thus, curious people are motivated to learn. That said, this urge to know can play out differently depending on our goals. We could be motivated by wanting to reduce the uncertainty of not knowing something (a deprivation motive) or we could be motivated to discover new information to expand our knowledge (a discovery motive).
If you see the difference between these two motivations, one thing becomes clear, having a deprivation motive actually focuses on finding “filling the gap” as it were – not necessarily to expand one’s knowledge. On the other hand, having a discovery motive to curiosity focuses on learning something new. The former seeks closure while the latter is more open-ended, where curiosity leads to further curiosity. The former is specific, constrained to addressing the gap at hand while the latter is unspecific, focused on exploration rather than a particular topic.
This distinction came up in a recent interview we did with Dr. Jonathan Schooler (for a series we write for the journal TechTrends). As he described it discovery curiosity (which he called general interest curiosity, but it is the same idea), has to do with the childlike wonder or a desire to learn new things. Interestingly, deprivation curiosity is less correlated with creativity and (as he added) “is associated with poor memory and people thinking they know things that they do not know.” Provocatively, he suggested that deprivation curiosity may contribute to people’s tendency to believe and willingness to share fake news.
I was reminded of this line of work while reading a fantastic piece of long-form journalism in the Washington Post from journalist Stephanie McCrummen. This article, titled “The Town Crier” is a profile of a 40-year-old, mother of two, who now lives in Georgia. The article describes her as follows:
Suspicious of almost everything, trusting of almost nothing, believing in almost no one other than those who share her unease, she has in many ways become a citizen of a parallel America — not just red America, but another America entirely, one she believes to be awash in domestic enemies, stolen elections, immigrant invaders, sexual predators, the machinations of a global elite and other fresh nightmares revealed by the minute on her social media scrolls.
What is interesting however, is that at the heart of her how she got to this point is curiosity and a question, as the article says, that she “had been wrestling with most of her life.” In her own words,
“Sometimes, I’d like to know what the point is… The fact that I can’t figure it out is what bothers me. Because I need to understand.”
To me, that sentence above “the fact that I can’t figure it out is what bothers me” is curiosity but it is of a kind that has led to one answer and an unwillingness to go further. Thus, one way of understanding this individual, and others of the same mind-set, is that she / they is/are being driven by deprivation curiosity—seeking to find “the” answer and once arrived it, the search is over.
Litman (one of the key researchers in the field) argued in a study published in 2008, discovery curiosity “is concerned with stimulating positive affect, diversive exploration, learning something completely new and mastery-oriented learning” while deprivation curiosity “involves the reduction of uncertainty, specific exploration, acquiring information that is missing from an existing knowledge-set and performance-oriented learning.”
Moreover, Schooler (and colleagues) argue that deprivation curiosity is inquisitive but not discerning, and is associated with excessive openness to inaccurate information. They summarize that, discovery curiosity has been linked to learning and innovation – associated with knowledge, accuracy and discernment. Deprivation curiosity, in contrast is associated with errors, confusion and a lack of humility. The urge to reduce uncertainty makes them susceptible to fake news, believe disinformation and lack intellectual humility.
As Salman Rushdie said:
I do not envy people who think they have a complete explanation of the world, for the simple reason that they are obviously wrong.
It is rare that I read something in the research literature that connects so clearly to a phenomenon in the world that I had puzzled over. And as an educator, it is clear to me that though curiosity is important, our goal should be to encourage discovery (or general interest) curiosity. As Schooler said in his interview:
I really think that cultivating curiosity is important, but we want to cultivate it in the positive sense of encouraging people to develop a childlike wonder, a delight in understanding, in an appreciation that there is always more to learn, rather than a need to know in order to fill some void.
This is a delayed (by more than a year) posting of the TPACK newsletter #44 (link to PDF). My apologies, I am not entirely sure how I missed that. As always, Judi Harris and team have done a great job. You can find the previous issues archived here.
This issue includes titles, abstract and links to 172 artices, 25 chapters and 34 dissertations that have not appeared in past issues. This brings the total numbers of publications recorded in the newsletter (over time) to a total of 1418 articles: 318 chapters in books; 28 books; and 438 dissertations.
Note: The banner image above may is part of my ongoing series of tongue-in-cheek TPACK diagram (more here).
We have covered a wide range of topics in our ongoing series on creativity, technology and learning (in the journal TechTrends), including 30+ interviews with some of the top scholars in the field. More recently we have been trying to create a series of 2-4 articles on the same theme. For instance, our previous article in the series focused on the relationship between mindfulness and creativity.
This time around we spoke with Dr. Viviana Capurso, a scholar who studies the connections between mindfulness and creativity. Her unique multi-disciplinary background, starting from public relations and advertising/ copy-writing, to her PhD in cognitive neuroscience, as well as her decade long practice of mindfulness, gives her a unique interdisciplinary perspective that informs her research. Our conversation with Dr. Capurso covered a lot of ground, including questions such as: What is the link between creativity, mindfulness and well-being? What does it mean to be creative? How is creativity manifested in different ways? In this way Dr. Capurso has been successful in connecting longstanding Eastern Asian and South Asian cultural traditions to more Western definitions of creativity and creative thinking.
Complete citation and link to the article given below:
I sent the past week in San Diego at the SITE 2022 conference—first face to face conference in over 2.5 years. It was great to get out meet old friends, make new ones, and just spend time together. Below are (for the record) the papers and presentations that I was part of.
March 11, 2020 (a little over two years ago), just around when the pandemic had forced educational institutions across the globe to shut down and transition to remote learning, my friend Yong Zhao reached out to Chris Dede, Curt Bonk, Scott McLeod, Shuangye Chen and me with the question: “What would happen to our global and local educational systems, if the Corona virus outbreak lasted for a year?”
That initial email culminated in a web-series called Silver Lining for Learning, that just had its 100th episode this past Saturday. Scott McLeod and Shuangye Chen stepped away after a while – so the show is now hosted by the four of us (Chris, Curt, Zhao and myself).
Hosting this series has meant that pretty much every Saturday for the past two years we have met and engaged with issues relevant to education, either with each other or with invited guests. In this process we have had an opportunity to speak with some amazing people – educational leaders, innovators, administrators, deans, researchers, students and more. These conversations have touched on a wide array of topics, including but not limited to: student autonomy, remote learning, novel learning organizations, pioneering curricula and programs, innovative ways of teaching, new approaches to education policy, ground-breaking technological inventions and more. Our guests have come from all over the world: Italy, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Bhutan, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Korea, Israel, Malaysia, Nepal, Spain, England, Costa Rica, Thailand (to list a few) and of course the US. And we now have over 100 hours of original programming (available for free through the website).
Over time we have developed a small but devoted following, people from across the world who watch us live on YouTube, and participate in the chat with each other (and the hosts). Many of their comments and questions end up in the show, enriching the conversation. For our 100th episode we reached out to a few of our regular viewers and invited them onto the show, some of whom we had never met or seen. It was great to meet with them and put names to faces. Thank you Dodzi Amemado, Lydia Cao, Gerald Fussell, John Heffernan, Priyank Sharma and Danty Yin (and Shuangye who rejoined us as host).
Speaking personally, it has truly been a privilege to have been a part of this series. It has broadened my horizons and knowledge about educational issues across the globe. It has also allowed me to meet and engage with some amazing, committed, passionate educators and educational innovators.
It has also allowed me to keep up with my design skills since I also designed (and maintain) the SLL website, create unique graphics for each episode and edit the videos (and that includes creating the intro-outro for our videos). Incidentally, the first version of the intro/outro (that we used for approximately 50 episodes) was, musically and visually, somewhat dark and foreboding, in keeping with the insecurities that we all felt at the start of the pandemic. Over time, as the show broadened in scope to provide a more positive view of what is possible, I created a new intro-outro sequence seeks to capture this new more optimistic flavor. That intro/outro was lightly re-edited starting with episode 100.
One of the most fun parts of the being the “in-house designer” is that I am tasked to create a “signature” graphic for each episode. So over the past 2 years I have created over 130 such images, not just for the episodes but for guest posts and more. A “poster” with 100 of these is given below. I recommend clicking on the image to see a higher resolution version, just to see the variety of guests and topics we have covered on the show).
Click to see a higher resolution version (opens in a new tab)
Finally, a huge shout out all our guests for giving us their time and sharing their expertise. And of course, thanks are due to my co-hosts: Chris, Curt, Scott, Shuangye, and Zhao. This has been an amazing journey and I am deeply grateful for their energy, input, camaraderie, knowledge and friendship. Thank you.
Our chapter is titled A Socio-cultural Perspective on Creativity and Technology: New Synergies for Education (full reference below), and I do think we did a good job bringing together ideas from current creativity research, technology theory and education and provided some new ideas for educators and researchers to consider.
We do hope you read the entire chapter, but here are some key takeaways:
Creativity and technology are both essential to educational futures. A synergistic, socio-cultural perspective provides an integrative framework with transformative implications for teaching and learning.
We advocate for understanding these issues in education settings based on Glaveanu’s 5A’s model, which moves away from the traditional 4P’s of creativity (person, product, process, and press) toward the language of actor, action, artifact, audience, and affordances.
This model allows for a language and understanding of creativity based on the interrelation or interaction between its elements rather than the elements themselves.
Technologies as tools to think, work, and create with are part of the social-material world and have different creative affordances (real and perceived). The advent of the internet in particular has unleashed ground-up creativity, which is in contrast to the traditional structures and boundaries of schooling.
Digital devices in general (and the internet in particular) allow for dramatic creative shifts in society and new implications for how we think about teaching and learning.
Here is the complete reference:
Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., & Capurro, C.T. (2022). A Socio-cultural Perspective on Creativity and Technology: New Synergies for Education. In Plucker, J. (Ed). Creativity & Innovation: Theory, Research & Practice. (2nd Edition). Prufrock Press.
Mindful and Creative: Building Educational Systems for Individual and Community Wellbeing
In a technology-immersed world awash in distraction, stress, and often, distress—all of which can affect creativity and wellbeing—mindfulness is increasingly becoming a valuable consideration for supporting learners in educational practice. After nearly two years of an ongoing pandemic that has taxed the emotional and mental well-being of schools, teachers, students, and society—the idea of mindfulness is increasing being seen as an important topic to consider. In this article, the authors look at the relationship between mindfulness and creativity grounded in existing research, then share some of their current work and thinking around possibilities and practices for education, concluding with implications related to technology.