Pwning Pedagogy – An ‘Over The Top’ Ignite at #nwelearn

Pwning Pedagogy – An ‘Over The Top’ Ignite at #nwelearn

I had the privilege of providing the final ignite talk at #nwelearn on October 23.  Below is the transcript.  Note:  the musical interlude did happen during the talk.

by Alan Levine – CC BY 2.0

I often ask myself what do I stand for in terms of education.  It’s easy to be against things in the landscape of higher education today:  technological solutionism, rising tuition costs, a greater emphasis on the private good of what has historically been a publically-supported social structure.  Finding something to be *for* often seems trite; good questions lead to some answers and more questions, not simple listicles.   And good answers are relative…there are some times the lecture is highly valuable, part of a balanced breakfast…but I’m not going to go writing a Sunday New York Times exaltation of telling a hall of students about Western Civ for 90 minutes.

But this is an ignite talk, and you don’t ignite people by deconstructing educational hyperbole.

You ignite people with Kenny Loggins.

Not Celebrate Me Home Kenny Loggins.  Not Pooh Corner Kenny Loggins.  Not Loggins & Messina Kenny Loggins.  Not Caddyshack Kenny Loggins.  Not Top Gun Kenny Loggins.  Not reinvented 1990s, “Hey are you on a probiotic diet?” Kenny Loggins.

loggins5I stand for 1987  shrouded by the sunset, pumping the tunes through the cab of an 18-wheeler, love theme from the movie Over The Top Kenny Loggins.

The film stars Sylvester Stallone as a truck driver fighting to get his son away from his evil one-time stepfather Robert Loggia.  He does this through professional arm wrestling, complete with a comeback finishing move where he does this finger wrapping thing to pull back his strength.

Loggins sings the love theme from the movie, a song full in-line with his Yacht Rock meanderings found in many 1980s films — Meet Me Halfway.


I’ve heard Loggins sing this song a bunch of times, I’m not afraid to admit it.  But it was not until recently I asked myself, “Where is halfway?  I always assumed it was in between Loggia’s house in Los Angeles and Stallone’s tournament in Los Angeles. There’s a lot of desert out there…I guess that means everyone meets north of Barstow?  I know the kid goes out on his own…sure, the World’s Largest Thermometer is just north of Barstow in Baker, but that’s just doesn’t seem safe.

Too often, whether as a professor or as an administrator, I find myself frustrated when students or faculty do not meet me halfway.  The faculty members giddily sharing defenses of the lecture with me via listserv?  C’mon, come over here.  The professional development group that wants to learn WordPress but has not yet even followed the directions to register a site?  I mean, it’s like two clicks.  The students who wanted to podcast but won’t write a script and then are frustrated by their recording?  I hate to say I told you. (well, I don’t hate to say I told you so.  And I told you so!

And that got me thinking:  I have a truck.  Why am I asking people to wander out into the middle of the Mojave Desert to meet me halfway?

by Dominic Williamson CC BY 4.0

The thing about halfway – we might want to think it’s absolute, but it’s arbitrary.  What looks halfway to me – someone working on the learning technologies side of higher education – is from a very different perspective than another member of the community whose background is a subject domain, or public policy…or a student in a classroom who might lack tools, might lack knowledge, might lack the cultural capital to be successful in the game of a higher education.  In some cases, this might look to me like 95% of the way…but halfway is different for each person.  This might mean we have to walk all the way to that line where we do everything but the helpdesk “turn the computer to ourselves and quickly solve the problem.”

Student-centered learning is not about a roster of methods with quirky acronyms or an algorithm for individualized computer-aided instruction.  It is about seeing where the person is, where they want or need to be, and meeting them there to guide and scaffold the process.  Empowering faculty is therefore about helping teachers feel confident in their engagement with the tools and instrumentation of teaching so they can let student agency flow through the environment rather than hold steadfast to a sacred ritual of information spilling.

But what about those students, those faculty, those sticks-in-the-mud who would just be fine if they’d take a step forward?  Isn’t this about effort?  Aren’t we placating by going past our definitive halfway…I mean, I had to walk halfway from my comfort to get here.   When provided an opportunity to share thoughts in private, this is what I find they often say:

“I should know this better and I feel like I am way behind.”

“It feels like too much work for the time commitment.”

“I am not a techie.  I use devices, but I don’t understand them.”

Whether our job is on the administrative, support or teaching side of higher education, whether we design or implement learning environments, every interaction we have is an opportunity to be positive and forthright in making learning technologies an engaging space.  We cannot promise ease and economy, but we can promise a partner to lead the way and make it pay off for the better down the road.

526787I all-too-well remember the young adult novel Where the Red Fern Grows, the story of Billy from Arkansas who buys two hound dogs and learns life lessons and friendship through training them to hunt raccoons.  The education system cannot all be broken, because I am about to take a turgid United States language arts common core curriculum foundation and use it to end my talk.  On Billy’s first hunting run with the dogs, they trap a raccoon in the greatest tree, and Billy gets his axe and begins to chop.  And he chops all day and well into the night, and he chops the next day, and his hands start to blister, and he looks to the sky and he says, “God, I have done all I can.”  And out of nowhere a wind blows, and the mighty tree comes down.   And the pessimist analyzing this story might say God did the work and shout Deus Ex Machina! But if God is the pedagogue here, it takes a recognition of Billy’s perspective to meet him and provide at the halfway of Billy’s creation.

As the experts in these situations, the best use of our expertise is to figure out where ‘halfway’ is for our students.  Sometimes the result is something that works well in scalable spaces, sometimes it takes a lot more human touch.  We did not get into higher education to push widgets, hock software and provide training:  we did this because we believe there’s something beyond contents and facts and listicles when there is an opportunity for education.  To get there we need to be willing to meet everyone at their halfway.


Posted on: October 23, 2015admin

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