To DE or not to DE?

Prof Cog. Week 9 Blog assignment: Find an article using UNT’s library databases (or Google Scholar if you want, I cannot tell). The article should be relevant to your current or future work in the area of systems thinking, systemic change, or a strongly related area.

Write a DETAILED summary of it and how you might apply what you learned in it to your particular current or planned area of work. Critique the article as well. Is it useful to you and the field? Is it not? How is the writing? Is it pure academic jargon? What are the research methods like (if there are any)? What might they do differently or better with this piece?

Potts, M., & Hagan, C. (2000). Going the distance: Using systems theory to design, implement, and evaluate a distance education program. Journal of Social Work Education, 36(1), 131-145.

Article available on:

The outline, methodology, and structure of this article may very well serve as a model for my own future research. Their stated approach is to “…describe the use of systems theory concepts in designing, implementing, and evaluating a distance education program…” but, at its core, what they did was compare two teaching methods (face to face, F2F, and distance education, DE) in much the same way I will be investigate two different classroom designs and teaching methods for my research on Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms.


In the article the authors describe the need for a DE program to help students complete the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree at the California State University, Long Beach, to support rural areas of northern California where there are some entire counties that are served by few, if any, MSW.  For example, the authors cite a 1994 survey of small counties in California where of 800 positions that are classified as “social work” positions, fewer than a dozen are filled by MSW. As I look to craft an outline for my research, I’ll take a similar approach and seek to establish the need for a change in pedagogy to better serve our constituents (21st century students in my case, rural California counties in the case of the article under discussion).

The tone of the article is not overly academic or pedantic and there is limited use of jargon, but considerable use of acronyms and I found myself continually referring to the first use of the phrase to remind myself of what the acronym stood for.


The method involved detailed data acquisition over the course of three years, while the first cohort of this part-time DE MSW program took part in the experience.  The inaugural three year program ran from 1995 to 1998 and while some of the challenges they experienced are a product of that time of technological evolution (significant problems with sound quality over the internet) as we ourselves experience d this summer in Orlando, in our attempt at coordinating with colleagues in China, some of those problems persist 20 years on.   The program is still active,


The methodology of the paper was not in a distinct “methods” section but rather it was couched in terms of systems theory.  The authors introduced systems theory, saying it is a “…content-free, highly abstract set of assumptions and rules applicable to many fields of study” and then introducing the ideas of open/closed systems, inputs/outputs, boundaries, negentryopy (the tendency of a living system to “import more energy than it exports,” which allows it to grow and develop) and entropy (which they describe as a condition where “the system exports more energy than it maintains, and the system begins to lose vitality and decay.” There was also a brief (and, after my reading of Banathy, I feel an insufficient) discussion about the relationship between one system of interest and surrounding systems, subsystems, and supra-systems.


In the Input section (which I  took to be a de facto methods section) the authors describe the environment, available technology, and the nature of the program and the students.  In the Throughput section they discuss logistics, financing, and measures of student satisfaction (an 18-item self-administered instrument, completed at various points in the three year program). Finally, in the Output section, we find tables summarizing the results of the surveys as well as descriptions of feedback received from faculty members.


I found it particularly telling that one of the first points the authors made in the Discussion section is one I have already been discussing with colleagues about my proposed research, and that is the topic of generalizability.  The authors immediately stipulate that these results “are not generalizable to other types of DE programs in other geographic areas.”  In my own discussions I’m very clear to state that I seek only to find if the TEAL approach is beneficial to our students, here, in our high school, taught by our teachers, at the present time.  Though this data were first published nearly 20 years ago (at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, Orlando, Florida, March, 1998), and though technology has advanced to the point that many of the specific issues they encountered have been overcome, the approach they took to evaluating two educational approaches, F2F and DE, side-by-side, with largely the same sort of students, demographically-speaking, remains instructive.

I couldn’t help but notice that their references were heavily skewed towards social work researchers and journals.  One of the things I like most about our Learning Technologies program at the University of North Texas (LT-UNT) is the wide variety of research interests of the faculty and the diverse experiences of the members of my cohort.  The LT-UNT program also gives me the impression of paying homage to the foundational thinkers of our field (drawing on our initial courses which had a heavy philosophy bent to instruction design courses emphasizing Gagné and others, and this present course with its emphasis on Banathy).  That being said, and given when this article was written, I was surprised that Banathy was not cited at all.


In a previous course we were encouraged to take several articles related to our area of interest and catalog just the section headings of the articles, to get a feel for how they are organized,  I found this a very helpful exercise and have continued the practice, especially with highly cited articles I come across in my reading.  I found the organization of this article interesting, because of its use of systems theory terms, but I don’t see myself using it as a model because, especially for a new researcher, I think reviewers in journals I’m likely to engage might not be open to atypical structures such as this one.  That being said, this may be a common practice in social work journals and I just don’t have enough experience in that field of study to recognize the level of acceptance of what I find to be a novel approach to section headings.


The article laid out a clear problem and a clear approach to addressing the problem.  The authors were candid about the limitations of the study and the related findings.  Their penultimate point was particularly interesting:  “…such research should move beyond a deficits model (i.e., merely comparing DE programs against standard programs) to a strengths model (i.e., focusing on the particular strengths a DE program might offer.”

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“Who are you?” — Pete Townshend

This task #1 was, in a word, exhausting. Not because of the time of day I worked on it (for a change) or the complexity (the assignment was ambiguous enough that I figured I could make of if what I wished… we’ll see if I was right), but rather because it forced me to think about a subject I talk about often but don’t tend to think about very much…. me.

I was previously exposed to the idea of mind mapping about five years ago, at a presentation of the Dallas chapter of the Project Management Institute, PMI ( It was captivating! In a short time, though, came to realize that it was largely due to the skill in finesse of the presenter/sales person that it was so effective. The guy was good. Very good. And I bought the $400 package, with my own money, because I thought it was really help me on my then-new job. But without Slick the salesman there to push the buttons, I was overwhelmed by the tool and quickly put it in digital mothballs. Until last week.

I found the license key, re-installed the software, and spent a few hours on youtube and gave the tool another crack. Maybe it’s because of the implicit confidence one gets by being a second year doctoral student (sort of the opposite of the imposter-syndrome some of us had in the first year), I felt as though I could make the tool work this time. And while I’m not as slick as the salesperson, I did okay. Not great, but I definitely saw progress and made some connections. And, of course, if nothing else, systems theory is about connections.

Because I wanted to annotate my mind map with pictures I had to spend a lot of time in my own online image archives, on Facebook, on hard disks, and in email, to find the images I wanted to use. That was exhausting but also a fun (read: distraction-filled) trip down memory lane, especially as it related to the various jobs I had and their direct or indirect impact on me today (and my various roles within each formal job, all of which also required considerable thought). I had to continually remind myself that the reader (Prof. Cox) doesn’t know me at all, so I couldn’t assume much and had difficulty trying to figure out how far back to go to establish a particular thought or pattern (and, further, whether or not it mattered to who/what I was today, but because I ended up going on the assumption that it all mattered, I found myself going off on tangents all of which were fascinating to me but perhaps not so much to any reader).

The challenge was somehow mapping (pun intended) all of this personal perspective to Banathy’s observations on systems theory. In one sense it’s an impossible task because even if I were somehow able to articulate all of the connections and relationships between the various systems/sub-systems/supra-systems that comprise the system of which I am the center, they might ultimately be only interesting or relevant to me (and, on a good day, maybe my wife or children). It’s all just too specific, if not outright too personal. I do understand, now, why Dr. Cox didn’t have any examples of this paper to share with us.

So what’s the upshot? The outcome? The bottom line, to this task? Even though I’m going to submit it tomorrow, I think it’s still a work-in-progress. This is a start. It has me thinking, which I suppose may have been the intent (it seems to be the intent of many assignments and more than one entire course in the program, so far). But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know where this assignment fits into the system of this course, any more than that I would presume to know how my experiences in the travel industry inform my new career in education. I do know this, though…. There are some constants. For me, one constant is how I treat (or at least endeavor to treat) people. In past careers the people were coworkers and employees who I managed. Now the people include fellow teachers and students in my class (and sometimes the people in their systems and supra-systems). This past week, for example, I prepared informal progress reports for students in my class. A couple were failing, which might make them ineligible for certain activities, including athletics. A few were doing exceptionally well (with a numeric grade of 97 or higher). I was obligated, by policy, to make contact with the parents of the poor students, to ensure they understood the consequences of the situation. But I took it upon myself to also call the parents of the exceptional students. I said something along the lines of “as I was preparing the email to send you with a report of your student’s progress in my class, it occurred to me that an email alone wasn’t enough to let you know how well your student is doing and what a joy they are to have in class.” As a manager I always tried to be as quick to compliment as to counsel my employees. I made sure my employees were never surprised during a formal performance review because they already knew exactly where they stood. I took that same philosophy to the classroom. One student’s mother was taken aback at my call. She said her student had anxiety issues and school was a significant challenge for them. The mother said she had never before received a call from a teacher like this one because the student, more often than not, struggled in school. I told the parent I observed nothing of the sort in my class and their child was, at least in my class, a model student. She said “you’re going to make me cry.” I still don’t think I did anything extraordinary but this parent apparently did.

So upon reflection, the thread that flows all the way through my various formal and informal roles, from dad to husband to techie to Boilermaker, from employee to parent to manager to teacher, from son to friend to poker buddy to acquaintance is that I always try to be honest and consistent in my dealings with other people. I think I always knew that, because it’s been a part of my (previously uncodified) moral code, but it wasn’t until I wrote the paper that I’ll be submitting tomorrow that I realized it’s the one true constant in all of my systems.

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What is “Darko’s Law?”

Write a reflection about how your system of interest (micro) compares in terms of complexity with the Donnie Darko analysis we did as a group in Week Three. What is different? What’s similar? Any patterns emerging about human behavior/cognition?

You may be familiar with some of these sometimes humorous pithy adages:

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong

Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics: Things get worse under pressure.

Godwin’s Law:  As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1

Occam’s razor : Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better.

Cunningham’s law: The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.

Cole’s Law: chopped cabbage

I wonder what Darko’s Law might be?

By way of background, my system of interest includes me, the teacher, at the micro level, my classroom at the meso level, and at the macro level, the school, nearby community, as well as our two governing bodies, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

I work in a high school, perhaps not too different from Donnie’s.

  • Though not explicitly stated in the film (shocking… I know), one can infer that Donnie attends an academically rigorous, private, parochial (perhaps Catholic) coeducational high school.
  • I work in an academically rigorous, self-described college-prep, coeducational private Catholic high school.
  • He has thoughtful and engaging discussions with his English teacher and Physics teacher
  • I fancy myself as having thoughtful and engaging discussions with my students.

Though my school is primarily Catholic, there are a variety of religions represented. It’s predominantly, but not exclusively, white/Caucasian and though English is spoken by all students, nearly half are bilingual, with a majority of those speaking Spanish but with a significant number of other languages, particularly from Asian countries, spoken in the homes of our students.

As you might imagine, when you create a community of some 1,100 students and nearly 200 staffulty (a real word in the eyes of our school’s president), there are lots of systems and sub-systems and supra-systems and boundaries and, of particular interest to me, interactions. Students interact with other students, with teachers, with administrators, with members of the community, with the surrounding environment, with alumni, and so on.  Most of these interactions are positive, constructive, and safe.  Most, but not all.

In the past year or so we’ve had a number of students leave the school because, for one reason or another, they didn’t feel welcome or, in rare instances, safe.  This is a brutal realization for my school and one which the administration is tackling head-on.

We’re a community like any other.

  • Which means we’ll have a lot of nice people but a number (a small number, we hope) of not nice people.
  • We’ll have mostly honest people but a few dishonest ones.
  • We’ll have a lot of effective teachers and a few lemons.
  • As a whole, we’ll do many things that bring pride and esteem to our community
  • and we’ll do some things, as a whole, that we regret and cause pain and embarrassment and bring dishonor to our school.

A movie set in the year 2016, as opposed to the 1980’s setting for Donnie Darko, would, like my school, have to deal with the issue of social media and, not surprisingly, it is in this arena where most of our hurtful, immature, and unwelcome behavior has taken place.

Social media can be a positive force, in that it can bring people together and ideas into the open but, as with any system, there are multiple forces exerting pressure on the system and some of those will be negative influences.

Perhaps a rhetorical question, but if one student mocks another student on social media and the student being mocked has no idea that the assault took place, is there still a wrong to be addressed or a punishment to be meted out?


  • What if it was just a misunderstanding?
  • What if it was truly a joke that took a wrong turn?
  • What if it was an inside joke that all the insiders knew and understood but an outsider saw it and was hurt or offended?
  • What if a child grew up hearing a term used to describe members of a particular social group and had no idea it was offensive and had they known, they never would have used it?
  • What if a term used to be socially acceptable and is now no longer? Is there any context where using the term would be permissible?
  • Should there be limits on free speech in a school setting that are different from those found in the “real world?”
  • Whose place is it to judge what a student (or teacher) finds offensive?
  • And, lastly, what role do I as the teacher, play in the meso-system of my classroom and the macro-systems described above in the regulation of behavior, including speech, of my students? Is it even conceivable that I could effectively monitor and correct deficient behavior?  Is it my job?

Which brings me to the as-yet-unstated Darko’s Law.  Almost.

Viewers often struggle to interpret the meaning of the movie.  One poor sap, Matthew Bishop, was so moved, he wrote an undergraduate thesis on the topic. Symbolism and explanations vary wildly, calling Donnie everything from superhero to messianic figure, from troubled, suicidal teen to God himself.

Fans analyze and pick apart every scene, image, sound, and word of the file, often ascribing meaning to some aspects (dare I call them patterns?) that the filmmaker thought were innocuous and perhaps missing vital clues that the filmmaker planted (for example, it wasn’t until my third viewing that I heard the car honking as it drove away from the house at the end/beginning).

An example from 20th century literature is this line:

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.” — Douglas Adams,  “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

The choice of the number 42 proved to be a turning point in literature as all sorts of theories emerged as to the reason for that choice.  These included including that 42 is 101010 in binary code, that light requires 10−42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton , and that light refracts through a water surface by 42 degrees to create a rainbow. Adams himself rejected them all. On November 3, 1993, through the magic of the internet, he gave an answer on the USENET board (Google it, youngsters!)

The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.

In our culture of social media, 24/7 news cycles, hypersensitivity and political correctness, together with the inevitable backlash, it’s difficult to go even a full day without hearing about someone taking umbrage at a word, image, sound, or thought of another and subsequently taking some sort of (usually irrational) action.  These interactions of systems can be all-consuming.  The boundaries that are supposed to support or protect the system can instead serve to isolate them.  One’s social media circle can become an echo chamber of confirmation bias overtly hostile to any thought not congruent with one’s own.

But what if it’s not that.  What if the click bait headline promising an epic takedown of so and so isn’t a vast conspiracy of some sort but just some Bigendian marketer’s stupid idea.  What if the red and blue divide this country finds itself in isn’t a Machiavellian plot portending the next civil war but is just the result of technology giving voice to racist, uneducated sots who become keyboard brave like the rude and immature students at my school.

What if when Jim Cunningham asks Donnie for his name, and the answer is Gerald is it possible that Donnie was being a wise-guy and it’s not actually a reference to former President Gerald Ford but could instead be a reference to the liquid spears Donnie sees, given that Gerald is a masculine German given name meaning “rule of the spear” from the prefix ger- (“spear”) and suffix -wald (“rule”) —

Or could it be that Donnie was just being a wise guy and giving a fake name… to be cute or funny or clever or because he thought chicks might dig it.

Darko’s Law:  sometimes a thing is just what it appears to be; with no hidden meaning, agenda, reason, explanation, pattern, stenography, coded message, or parable, so quit overthinking stuff.

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Did you really just get a doctoral lesson from the movie Stir Crazy?

Write a reflection about what you learned about analyzing education/learning systems from the in-class activities and readings. How do you feel about the complexity? Are you starting to see a different picture of your own and other systems and what makes them up? Are you seeing any inherent challenges to understanding even small systems like those of an individual student?

I hired an experienced computer programmer in 2005, when I was a manager at American Airlines.  This guy was amazing. He had run his own software company (prior to September 11, 2001) and had held a variety of management and executive positions during his career. But he really just loved to code and create software that he knew would be used and, lucky for me, was in a position to work for the salary I could offer.

And work he did… it was tremendous.

He brought years of experience to the otherwise young team and served as a mentor and technical leader. One of the things that was most interesting about this guy was how much of an impact he had on the entire department in just a few short months, winning several employee-of-the-whatever awards and gaining a good deal of notoriety in the department.  The surprising thing, to everyone but me, was that prior to joining my team from outside the company, he had absolutely zero experience in the airline business (except as a passenger).  But given his years of work experience, and phenomenally analytical mind, he and I talked about it and we realized that if I fed him the right instructions, he would write the code.  He said “the specifics of this company or industry might be different, but I understand complexity.”


Much of the work my team and I did revolved around automating functions that used to be done manually.  For example, certain international airports had a requirement that the airline send in a daily report of the nationalities of departing passengers.  For years this meant printing out a paper passenger manifest that included the passport issuing country and tallying, by hand, the figures for this mandatory report.  This programmer wrote a relatively simple program to pull up the manifests on a screen, instead of paper, parsed the information on the screen and put it into a database, and created a report that was emailed to the station manager.  This took him about ten hours, including testing, and now, instead of a human employee spending up to an hour per flight per city per day doing this mind-numbingly boring task, they were free to do other, more meaningful, things.

Was there anything complex or even noteworthy about this achievement?  I submit there was not.  But in all the years of this mandate, no one else had thought to write this program.

Why not?

In this case, it was not the solving of the problem that was challenging but rather it was the identification, codification, and change management aspects (“But this is the way we’ve always done it”) that were the challenges.  And I think that is also the case for many of the problems with the education systems that are the subject of this course.

In the case of our nationality report, no one with the skills to write the computer program was ever aware of the need.  And the folks doing the report were just doing what they were told.  And the managers giving the directive to do the report were doing the best they could under the circumstances. No one in this company was doing anything “wrong” per se but neither were they doing it right, until we wrote this program and saved the company 40 man-hours per week.  My programmer“created” the productivity equivalent of one full-time employee, out of thin air, with ten hours of work and a bit of direction. His program was used, alright, and saved the company thousands of dollars annually.

Taken in isolation, it might be easy, perhaps even trivial, to solve any single problem faced by a given educational activity system (Banathy’s EAS).  But that’s not the real world and therein lies the problem.  What problem(s) to solve?  In what order? With what impact on other parts of the system or the whole? At what cost (human, financial or opportunity)?

You asked:  Are you seeing any inherent challenges to understanding even small systems like those of an individual student?

Sheesh!  I’m seeing nothing BUT challenges!!

So what’s the next step?  I believe it’s that we proceed with caution.  We take time to observe and absorb what we can about the system (not forgetting that we’re seeing the equivalent of the theatrical release of Donnie Darko and thus not getting the whole picture).  But it’s especially important that we be realistic and not delude ourselves into thinking we’re having an impact when it might be something else entirely.

Sometimes I get the feeling that as a teacher, I am like the character Skip played by Gene Wilder in this short clip from Stir Crazy (I can’t do anything about the watermark/advertisement….)

As the scene goes on, Skip is under the impression that he is solving the problem and creating a dialog between the two combatants, much like I sometimes feel like I might be teaching my students something.  But, as the longer clip clearly (and painfully) indicates, there are other, ummm…. “factors” at play in the timely resolution to this particular dispute.


Skip leaves the scene under the mistaken impression that he has made a difference.  I wonder what percentage of my teaching effort is similarly mistaken.

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Did you really watch Donnie Darko three times on Saturday? (Yes)

This assignment for LTEC6210 is a trap.

The assignment is to watch the 2001 movie Donnie Darko and I contend that it is a veiled metaphor for our largely futile attempts at educational research.

I watched the movie three times on Saturday.

  • Once alone, contrary to Prof. Cox’s recommendation,
  • once with my wife where it was her first viewing,
  • and once again with my wife but listening to the director’s commentary.

I then did some Internet research seeking guidance on the meaning of the movie.

I got theological perspectives and cinematic perspectives and philosophical perspectives and more than one YouTube video that self-described as an explanation of the movie (,,

I learned that there was a director’s cut, different from the director’s commentary that I watched, and that that director’s cut included screenshots of the book “The Philosophy of Time Travel.” I learned that there was a website devoted to the movie that included excerpts of that book that serve to explain some portions of the theatrical release, which was the version that I watched three times. I further learned that on the DVD that I did have there were deleted scenes that also shed additional light on the explanation. But what I realized was that no matter how much research it into the meaning of the movie I did, even if I had all the information I thought was available, and knowing that some of that information would be contradictory, I wouldn’t really have a definitive answer. Ever.

This, in a nutshell, is educational research.

Walk into a classroom. That’s the theatrical release.

Just by watching the classroom (the theatrical release), the observer can’t possibly know everything that’s going on in the classroom (just by watching it). Not even once not even twice not even three times. All the information you need to understand what’s going on simply isn’t there.

Fine… what if I watched the Director’s cut, whatever that might mean in a classroom. That’s a greater investment of time and energy. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the definitive answer will be there. It’s the opposite of Chekhov’s gun. There are still opinions and different interpretations of the same set of facts. Again, this is intended to be a constructive if not wholly un-cynical view of educational research. You will not, I repeat not, have all the information you need to make a definitive statement about whatever educational system you encounter.

One of our assignments this week was to list the various educational systems that touch us. This is akin to Donnie’s multiple parallel intersecting or at least tangential universes. What is true in one may be true or different or wholly untrue in another. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter… We will never have all of the information about any of that.

Even if we do find a highly correlated set of circumstances that are true and even if we do find an actual cause-and-effect in one, specific setting, that does not mean it would be generalizable to other settings. That also doesn’t mean that it will stay true for the one that we have initially observed. See Schrodinger’s cat

It’s like trying to describe the position of an electron, harkening back to the Mindwalk movie from last week.  You don’t know where an electron is, you only know where was and you can only assert with some probability where it might be again but as soon as you know where it is, it is no longer there.

I once had a theologian say to me that the only statements you can make about God are false statements. If you were to make one statement about God, if it’s a definitive statement, it is wrong. And if you make the opposite statement… it is also wrong. He asserted that the only things you can say about God are wrong things. That assertion may be a little extreme for the confines of this course, and that may also be why in educational research we don’t speak in terms of definitives but rather probabilities.

And because education research involves irrational beings, that is to say human beings, research in the social sciences is described using levels of probability that are much lower than in the so-called hard sciences. I contend that that may be enough.

One might be tempted to suggest that the movie is about systems theory and the interconnected nature of people as systems and families as systems and systems as systems. I believe that’s borderline trite. By this time in our graduate studies we have been exposed to those notions and have largely accepted them. I maintain that this assignment was a trap designed to have us focus on just those concepts when the reality is that the lesson of the movie is an experiential one designed to expose us to the futile nature of our chosen area of research.

This is not to say we’re wasting our time. This is to say that we need to be careful when making statements about research, ours or that of others, that we understand, to the extent possible, the systems and forces that impact those systems, and that we are clear and precise about the environment and changes to that environment, intentional and unintentional, measurable and nonmeasurable, and especially about the outcomes. When the medical researcher seeks to develop a vaccine they want that vaccine to be safe and effective, but also marketable to the largest possible population. In our field, it just ain’t so. We will be lucky to come up with a set of clearly defined and clearly communicated circumstances where we can have a positive impact on learning outcomes for a clearly defined segment of a student population. That’s all we can hope for realistically. This doesn’t make it not worthwhile but rather we must make it narrowly applicable,  and recognize it’s not a panacea, it’s not a vaccine that will help 75% of the population. It is a treatment that when properly applied may, may, help 30 to 40% of the target population improve a defined set of learning outcomes.

I’ll call that a win

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Did you really flunk Chemistry twice? (Yes)

Part 1: Write a reflection about your experience in the class discussion during the Week 2 synchronous meeting. What did you learn? What do you want to learn more about? Did you do anything about it and start to investigate on your own? If so, what resources did you locate? If you didn’t, what does it say about your way of learning and motivation? What might you do differently in the future to make your learning and understanding more effective and efficient.

Part 2: Describe the primary educational systems you are involved in currently and your role in these systems. This will include the UNT doc program as one of those systems. The other could be one you teach or work in, a school your kids attend, or some other educational system that is less common.

Part 1:

Upon future reflection, I suspect it’s going to be in this class, if not this precise week, where the value of the cohort model in general, and the characteristics of our cohort in particular, really became apparent to me.  In past classes we’ve gotten to know each other, a bit, and that was nice.  There was some comfort to seeing familiar names on the roster and even in those classes where we didn’t speak during synchronous sessions (but rather contributed via the chat feature) we “heard” each other’s voices.

But by the time we broke into small groups this week, we all knew each other and were able to hit the ground running. We knew, even if the professor didn’t, where each other worked, we remembered comments from past participation in class or during the two weeks we spent together (in NJ and FL).  We knew, or at least recognized, biases in others and, hopefully, ourselves.  We had bonded in the past and, though there’s no photographic evidence, maybe an adult beverage or two had been shared.

I recognize that this familiarity we have with each other is:

  • Necessarily and healthily incomplete
  • A double-edge sword as it may also lead us to make assumptions about the position someone else holds
  • An evolving work-in-progress

In terms of Bruce Tuckman’s notion of Teamwork Theory (Tuckman 1977), this sub-group of our larger group blew through the forming, storming, and norming stages of group formation and got right in to performing.  Jess took the lead and nominated me to be the spokesperson for the group (and the others immediately agreed, thus making a fair election for a spokesperson impossible).  We shared the Adobe Connect whiteboard and after a few moments of wrestling with the tool, we started taking notes and making comments.  Tech-savvy as we are, though, we hit a few speed bumps as when some people spoke there was a lot of feedback and we had to work around that.  I mention that in the context of this assignment because it took both time and mental energy to address those issues and subsequently refocus.  There was an opportunity cost to the time and energy those episodes, short though they may have been, and we had to ramp up the discussion again.

One of the characteristics of this cohort that I really enjoy is the diversity… in ages, geography (though we are Texas heavy and all five of the people in the group live in Texas, even if several had worked in other states/countries), undergraduate degrees and current professional careers.  Our group included teachers in elementary, high school, and higher education, so as we examined the assigned questions, we did so from a variety of perspectives.

I learned that we, at all levels of education (our own and where we work/teach) share a sigh-inducing level of exasperation with government involvement in education, from the youngest preschoolers to those of us whose children who are in college now.  I work in a private school and we are not subject to the high-stakes, state-mandated testing that many teachers must contend with.  But even my students take the recognized college-focused exams like the SAT and ACT.

I would have liked to learn more about how different teachers, at different levels, deal with varying class sizes.  One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed in education is that some ideas work very well in small settings but they don’t scale effectively.  This could be because as you increase the number of people in a system, you also increase the variability, introduce more outliers, and dilute the talent pool of those teachers who were heavily involved or invested in the decision to pursue a particular plan and subsequent “generations” do not benefit from the training and inculcation that the originators and first generation implementers had.

I’ve never been diagnosed formally but I’ve had a number of people suggest, sometimes humorously, sometimes not, that I have adult-onset ADHD.  And I think there may be some truth to that.  I find myself sometimes flitting from idea to idea or task to task, eventually returning to each of them and completing them (usually…).  At my day job I was tasked with testing a wireless camera that we were going to use to make a time-lapse movie of a construction project.  I turned it on in my office and forgot about it for few hours.  I was stunned when I went back and previewed the test movie…. I found that I never sat still for very long at all and was constantly moving back and forth (granted, this was a time-lapse movie).  Similarly, I sometimes step back from my computer at work, where I have three full-size monitors on a stand-up desk, and realize how many windows I have open with files in various stages of completion.  This usually panics me (what if the computer crashes) and I finish up and close as many as I can.  This sort of fast-paced, high energy work motivates me and I maintain I can actually get a lot done, with a relatively low error rate.

So what does this snapshot of how I work at my day job say about how I learn.  Unfortunately, a lot.  I find myself flitting about from idea to idea, with several ideas in various stages of completion and though I have made this approach functional at work, I suspect I am not being as successful in the learning arena.  I was not happy with my performance in Dr. Knezek’s class this summer and my reflective root-cause-analysis of the summer indicated to me that this lack of focus hurt me in the class.

The last question for part 1 hits home “What might you do differently in the future to make your learning and understanding more effective and efficient?”   Well, that’s the $64,000 question for me isn’t it.  We’re nearing the midway point of our classes, our class of 2019 cohort, and you would think that at this stage of my career (academic or otherwise) I would have figured out the most effective and efficient way to learn.  But the material I’m charged with learning now is very different than that which I had to learn in the past, and my own mind has changed over time and the same strategies that were effective when I completed my Master’s degree in the late 20th century simply won’t work now.  When I figure out what does, I’ll let you know

Part 2:

The tagline on this blog is “lifelong learning.”  The man for whom the graduate school of management at Purdue that I attended is named for, Herman Krannert, once said he wished that diplomas could be issued with a statement reading “this diploma is void after 7 years if not renewed.”  I took that to heart and a few years after I finished my undergraduate degree, I undertook the Master’s degree.

  • I got married during that 18-month degree program and spent a few years getting to know my wife and learning how to be a husband.
  • Then a few more years learning about my kids and how to be a good father.

But during this time I continued professional development, earning certificates, though no formal degrees or recognized certifications, every few years.  These were usually vendor-related courses or company-sponsored training sessions that directly (or at least theoretically) benefited me at whatever job I had at the time.  I am particularly grateful to the one vice-president who chose to invest many thousands of dollars in training that applied to the job I had at the time but also gave me skills that were transferable and benefit me to this day.  This VP was a veteran of the airline industry and perhaps he echoed Sir Richard Branson’s feelings on training, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Once my kids were a bit older, I resumed more formal education activities and earned industry certifications in the travel industry (Certified Travel Counselor, CTC), software development (Professional Scrum Master, PSM, level 1) and project management fields (Project Management Professional, PMP).  None of these are as widely recognized as, say, my brother’s CPA, but each had value to me at the time and served as a mechanism to formalize my continued learning every few years and allowed me to keep my implicit promise to Herman Krannert.  This PhD thing takes that to a whole ‘nuther level.

Being a self-professed lifelong learning, I am involved in a number of educational systems.

  • Obviously the UNT LT program as a student.
  • Additionally, I am a participant, with varying degrees of rigor, as a student, in a number of MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) through Coursera, EdX, OpenCourseware (MIT’s initiative that put a lot of their curriculum online), and free Canvas courses.
  • I’m also an educator, teaching and supporting teachers & students at Bishop Lynch High School in east Dallas.  I have a role that touches every aspect of the school, from the athletic trainer to the guidance suite to every teacher and every student and their parents.
  • I’m the spouse of an educator, as my wife teaches at Brookhaven College, so I have a chance to see her interactions (now mostly online) with her students.
  • And, finally, I’m the parent of two college students which means I get to foot the bill, financially and emotionally, for two girls undertaking an academic challenge, engineering at Purdue, that when I tried it (Purdue school of Science admittee ’81), I couldn’t do it.  Both of my daughters have passed the very same Chemistry class (CHEM115) that I flunked.  Twice.  Same for that fracking Calculus class.

I have this dream of finishing my PhD, taking a one semester sabbatical from my job and going back to Purdue and taking, and passing, Chemistry and Calculus.

One day.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. (1977). Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited. Group & Organization Management, 2(4), 419-427. doi:10.1177/105960117700200404


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Did you really work in a convent? (yes)

Tell me about your current perception of the education system that is most relevant to you. What is good about it? Bad? Who makes it up? What are its resources? What economic and social aspects impact it? Give me details. 500-1000 words

In 2008, after a 20+ year career in the business world, my then-employer unilaterally decided it was time for me to make a career change. I don’t you if you remember or not but in 2008 there was this thing with the global economy… you may have heard about it… it was in all the papers, and they even made a movie about it.

Some people who were in my similar situation sought “positions” commensurate with their past title and salary. I had two kids in private school and needed a damn job. And I found one, doing something no one, especially me, would have imagined… I went to work in a Catholic high school < insert obligatory joke about the Jewish boy having an office in what was once a convent >.

It was essentially a technology job and I was a tech guy, working in a school, looking for the next thing. I had an affinity for systems, having tamed the archaic computerized reservation system used by travel agencies (it was the 1980’s…..) and related systems used by airlines (yes, there is one that’s really called “dispatch environment control system,” DECS), so their puny little student information system was no big deal to me. I brought my business analyst and project management eyes to the non-profit world and found a fair amount of low hanging fruit. A report that used to take several steps and nearly an hour to prepare could be, with the right SQL magic and ODBC wizardry, embedded in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and refreshed with the mere right-click of a mouse. I was a hero.

My boss had joined the school seven years prior, after his own career in the business world, and he knew what I was seeking to escape. I had one standing meeting a week. That was it. I didn’t know non-profits and I didn’t know education (beyond being a bit educated myself and helping my kids get themselves educated), but I knew computers, and how to unjam printers, so that made me pretty well qualified. Long story short, much as I enjoyed the job, I left the school after about two years for an opportunity with a tech company that provided automation to airlines. It was a BIG bump in salary and I couldn’t really say no. But I should have.

Within a few months it became apparent that this was a bad fit and without going into the gory details, I had maintained my relationship with my old boss from the school, by having lunch every few months, and at one of those lunches he said “you look awful.” I explained a bit about how the job I had was, in a nutshell, killing me and there was little hope for improvement. He suggested I take a dramatic pay cut and save my life. He was right and I returned to the school… but this time with the agreement that I wouldn’t be a tech guy working in a school… I needed their support to reinvent myself as an educator who uses technology as a tool.

The school hadn’t changed too much in my absence and in all candor, it felt good to be back. It’s still the largest, co-educational private high school in Texas and it’s still a college prep school.  My role was tweaked and now, 3 years into my second stint, I’m teaching a class for the first time, I have been invited to attend the Senior Retreat (an annual rite of passage for our high school seniors), and have played a modest role in the implementation of a new teaching perspective at the school (Technology Enhanced Active Learning, or TEAL classrooms, if you must know… Does someone smell dissertation topic?).

I still don’t self-describe as a teacher, though I’m quick to point out that I aspire to be one. I have attended a number of professional meetings and conferences relating to my new chosen profession and each time I return from one of them I hug my boss and my principal and thank them, and my lucky stars, that I don’t work in a public school. Don’t get me wrong… I went to public school, my wife went to public school, and my kids went to public school for grades 7-12…. But in today’s economic, political, and philosophical environment, me and my big mouth wouldn’t last long in a public school.

My view of school (public or private) is that it’s the parents’ job to educate their kids. And my wife and I did that. But we outsourced those aspects of the kids’ education that we weren’t qualified to properly teach… like calculus, for example. I like my math with ya know, numbers… maybe the occasional letter (like X or Y) but none of those Greek letters or squiggly lines. And I don’t know my 18th amendment from my 21st amendment so maybe someone else should teach history. [Lest you think any less of me, I actually do know what the 18th and 21st are…. Do you?].

I disapprove of parents who envisage dry-cleaning education…. They figure they’ll just drop the kids off and pick them up when they’re smart. It doesn’t work that way. At least not effectively. That’s not education, it’s childcare at best and warehousing at worst.

In working for the Diocese of Dallas, I’m essentially part of one of the largest bureaucracies in the world, the Catholic Church. But owing largely to the leadership of my school, decisions can be made and implemented at a pace that’s faster than just about any place I’ve ever worked. And that’s simultaneously motivating and empowering. If I have an idea, I can do it, or at least try it. I have friends in public schools who don’t dare dream of that sort of autonomy. I feel lucky but also recognize that with power comes responsibility and if I make enough poor choices, that power will be rescinded.  For example, a few years ago our school became a BYOD (bring your own device) school and we now require every student to have a laptop computer in class.  Teachers vary in how they use the tool, but it’s available and is one of the things that differentiates us from many public schools (oh, that and the tuition…. and, not trvially, the fact that we can rather easily suspend or expel students who chose not to conform to our community standards).  The students are not homogeneous in all respects, of course, but they all wear a uniform and are held to standards of behavior largely unfathomable in most public schools.

Being a non-Catholic in a Catholic school carries the potential for some awkwardness. I’ve rarely felt insulted or slighted here (honestly, it’s happened far less often here than at the airline at which I spent 13 years). I am open and honest about the things I don’t know and am equally open to learning new things

This is not to say that the job has no negatives or the school has no challenges. We’re in the midst of a slight dip in enrollment, which translates to a challenge to our marketing efforts, and we find ourselves continually challenged with finding the best ways to reach our evolving and dynamic students. Large organizations change slowly and I admit I sometimes feel frustrated by some aspects of corporate culture. But it’s a heckuva lot better than nearly any other place I’ve ever worked.  So I’ll be here for as long as they’ll have me.


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