“Hey Dad, can we get a life-sized 3D printer?”

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It all started with my father-in-law sending along a mummified skeleton to my son, Lowell. We were all curious about what the animal may have been, and pitched initial ideas for figuring out how to identify it. A quick image search for squirrels and chipmunks did not yield any clear answers.

At my wife’s suggestion we reached out to the Anthropology Department here at VCU for some possible assistance in faunal identification. Dr. Bernard Means, who directs the Virtual Curation Lab (VCL) here, was both supportive and enthusiastic of my son’s exploration and invited him to the lab. It was a wonderful learning experience, comparing sample skeletons, examining additional artifacts, doing some hypothesis testing and getting an introduction to 3D scanning and printing. The specimen even garnered the attention of Dr. Elizabeth Moore of the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) who was a visitor to the VCL. The skeleton was eventually positively identified as a juvenile opossum…very cool. Dr. Means expressed interest in keeping the specimen, and offered to print a scanned copy of the opossum for Lowell.

“Print a copy?” Lowell remarked…he was more than willing to let Dr. Means keep the actual skeleton…and the thought of a copy was pretty intriguing for him, and me as well.

This idea of 3D printing is something I’ve had to warm-up to over the past several years. When I initially heard of the technology a few years ago I admit I did not readily see some of the possibilities for education. But seeing this through my son’s eyes has totally changed my perspective. He has now had an experience where his “real-life” opossum skeleton, could be scanned and reproduced by a 3D printer…something I never even considered within the realm of reason. This is now a baseline perspective for my son. Mummified juvenile opossum.

He emerged with the idea that anything could be printed. This is a rather profound state of affairs for a 9 year old boy. Not only does he have the view that these “real-life” things can be printed, but that things he imagines and creates virtually could also be printed. Real can be virtual and virtual can be real. This realization completely blew the doors open for him. It is this sense of possibility, of imagining things and having the perspective and confidence that you can actually make it in real life with a 3D printer was a transformative moment for Lowell and I. I think this sense of possibility, creativity and imagination holds some profound promise for education and learning in the digital age as well. A few days ago he was showing me a recent creation he made in Minecraft. His imagination and creativity in this environment never ceases to amaze me, and this day was no different. He had made what he described as a kind of a flying fortress…complete with an enclosed garden and living space. “Very cool” I said…to which he responded…”can we get a life-sized 3D printer?”

It is a profoundly different world…

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What if your course was more like Chipotle?

I’ve been having some initial conversations with my colleagues Enoch Hale and Britt Watwood about how we conceptualize the narrative of innovation as it relates to our work in higher education. We had a wonderful conversation this morning about innovation in the business / consumer world, and used that as a way to map onto higher education (a thought I know will make some of you cringe, but bear with me here). I’m going to steal an idea from our conversation, and use that as my contribution (#3) to the 30-Day question challenge. So here goes:

Question #3: What if your course was more like Chipotle?

What has Chipotle done here that I (and others) find pretty interesting…and I’ll venture to say innovative? They took different pans of well-known taco / burrito ingredients (beans, chicken, carnitas, sofritas, corn relish, salsa, cheese, lettuce) fairly predictable stuff…and empowered their customers to [re]mix and [re]combine them in countless numbers of ways. Choices personalized! As Enoch shared in our conversation, there are exposed and known choices…and then there are the “hidden choices”…or the possibilities and options that folks envision and experience when they come into Chipotle to eat. Let’s face it, the taco / burrito is not a new consumer product. It is a known and familiar entity. But eh Taco Bell “Live Mas” pitch where they stuff the same fixins into a new and innovative wrapper “Doritos Taco Shell” just doesn’t do it for me.

I think higher education does a fair share of claiming new / innovative stuff by putting a new taco shell around old content and practices. Its not appealing…at least not to me.

So is there value in conceptualizing a Chipotle model for courses we teach? I see several potential value options…

1) Bringing imagination of new opportunities to the teaching & learning enterprise…i.e., there is common fare that can be re-conceptualized and shared in new ways.

2) There is opportunity for empowerment and choice for learners right out of the gate.

3) Learning can take on a personalized flavor (obvious pun…sorry couldn’t help it).

4) [Re]mix / [Re]combine…becomes a learning expectation for the course.

Its about option generation…

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30-day Question Challenge (#2)

When you find something that works you tend to stick with it. Sometimes it is simply patterned behavior…no big surprise there. But these patterned practices can also become scripted thinking routines…entrenched in teaching and learning, almost to the point where we don’t question…its just accepted as obvious…its what we do.

We see this in simple ways, students (children & adults) who sit in the same place – all the time – and with teachers who do that same go-to activity year after year. We are comfortable with the routine and the predictable. its not that there is inherently anything bad with routine, but I think it can prevent us from thinking about something new, or trying a new practice – in essence – to sit somewhere else. A change of perspective can be healthy.

So my questions:

Question 2: How can we “sit differently” to gain new perspectives on teaching and learning?

What I’m thinking about here are activities that get our brains to do something different than what we might be used to. Its like trying to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Or walking backward through your house. What are some possible analogues that might help us to think different about teaching and learning? I realize I may really have oversimplified the issues here…but I’m wondering about what benefit we might gain from shifting the way we engage in routine teaching-learning behaviors.

What do you think?

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30-day Question Challenge (#1)

My colleague here in the CTE, Enoch Hale, who blogs over at Archer’s Paradox has issued a call that I found inspiring: “pose an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for 30 days.” So, I’ve decided to take the challenge, noting that my blogging frequency is less than a post per month…this is a very real challenge for me. So here goes…

Question 1: What might it mean to teach like an octopus?

OK, I have absolutely no idea what I mean by this, just yet. But I’ve been fascinated by the behaviors of these creatures…

For example…talk about literally thinking out of the box…check this out –>

I picture myself inside that box and think, “no way…IMPOSSIBLE…I’m imprisoned in here.” What is this octopus thinking that makes this seem so effortless and obvious? Believing in the possible? The implications of this for teaching seem worth pursuing for me…and at the same time a little daunting because I have no idea how the octopus pulls this off.

Or this clip depicting the ways in which an octopus can change color, be a shape-shifter, blend and reappear…

Again…the octopus is fascinating in the ways it thinks itself into the possible. What does it mean to teach like an octopus?

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