Mindfulness, Mindful Breathing, and Metta Bhavana

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Nurturing Loving Kindness through Mindful Breathing

Hearing. Touching. Seeing. Thinking. Feeling. Breathing. These are some of the faculties through which we construct and process the human experience, the human substance. These are the senses that construct what it means to be a human being. But what about the “being” part of being human? How often do we succumb to the pressure to produce things with our time, to do something productive with our time? Bombarded with to-do lists, we multitask our way through our days often at the expense of our to-be list. Our worries are perpetual, sending our minds to hundreds of places, lingering in the past or fretting about the future—but what about the place that matters most? What about the here and the now, the present moment? Where, for example, is your mind while you’re reading these words? You may have thought of a few or dozens of other things while you were reading. Your phone may have beeped or blinked, prompting your attention away from what you’re reading. Or perhaps another tab on your web browser is blinking, and you’re finding it hard to focus on just one thing. But that’s OK. This is not your fault. We live in a world that attempts to sap every second of our attention at every turn, yet there are ways to shape a space for ourselves. First, grant yourself permission to answer any important messages or do any important tasks that you need to do. When you’re ready, come back and grant yourself the permission to focus on just one thing: you.

Mindfulness - Strive to be alive in the presentTake a moment to breathe in gently and deeply, focusing on the feeling of the air passing through your nose and filling your lungs, and think to yourself, I am in the present moment; then breathe out with a soft smile on your face, feeling your shoulders relax as your lungs un-wind, and think to yourself, this moment is beautiful. Repeat this for a few minutes. If this is your first time, you might try breathing and being for, perhaps, two to three minutes, but feel free to go longer if you want. If you become distracted, that’s ok: forgive yourself and use your breath to re-center yourself. In-breath: you are the present moment. Out-breath: the present moment is beautiful.

How do you feel now?

When we bring our senses off of auto-pilot (often driven by our stresses and anxieties), when we bring our body and our minds into unison, we transition, paradoxically, from a doing thing to a being thing. The verbs of our human substance shift from passive to purpose: instead of hearing, we listen; instead of seeing, we look. This is the essence of mindfulness, and if you spend some time breathing a moment ago, bringing your breath into your being, your consciousness, you’ve already engaged in a mindfulness practice: that was mindful breathing. There are no secrets to this. Anyone can do it. And you can do it at any time.

Following is a framework for developing Loving Kindness which I invite you to read. You may also enjoy listening as a guided meditation which you can do from this point forward. I invite you to engage in several minutes of mindful breathing before moving forward from here.

Engaging in Metta Bhavana, or “Loving Kindness,” is—in my view—an extension of mindful breathing. Through mindful breathing we bring our being to the present moment, and in Metta Bhavana we persist in the present with thoughts of empathy and compassion across the spectrum from ourselves to the entire world around us, freeing us from feelings of fear, doubt, anxiety, odium, and the stress that continually cripples us.

The first phase of the Metta Bhavana meditation is to bring your being to the present moment, to bring your mind and body to unison, to make your purpose singular. This and every phase may take several minutes or more, and that’s OK.

Once you’re ready, and you feel like your focus is singular, begin wishing yourself well. Think and breathe:

May I be well.

May I be happy.

May I be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to yourself, imagine your mind and your heart illuminating a warm, golden light. Feel the light’s warmth, its radius growing each time you wish yourself well. Feel yourself settling into the embrace of the Earth as it holds you as the warming lights from your mind and heart converge and join. This is your Metta. Nurture it until it surrounds your entire being.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you are close and have a special bond. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to your kindred spirit, imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending from your being each time you repeat your loving kindness.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you feel neutral. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to this neutral person, imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending even further from your being each time you repeat your loving kindness.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you sometimes have difficulty. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to this challenging person, imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending yet further from your being each time you repeat your loving kindness.

When you’re ready to move on, consider someone with whom you are presently in conflict. Think and breathe:

May they be well.

May they be happy.

May they be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to this person with whom you’re presently in conflict, consider that this person is—like you—a collection of their own world experiences, and that at times, the world has perhaps not always been revealed to them in the same ways as it has been to you. Imagine your mind and your heart further illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius reaching far and wide from your being, now beginning to surround your community.

When you’re ready to move on, consider all sentient beings including yourself. Think and breathe:

May we be well.

May we be happy.

May we be free from suffering.

As you repeat these wishes to the world, imagine your mind and your heart illuminating your warm, golden light, its radius extending around your surrounding community and growing beyond it. Now your being is a furnace of understanding, compassion, and empathy. You are the present moment; you are an agent of peace; and, thus, the present moment is beautiful.


The contents of this post grow from my readings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you are interested in further reading, here are some books that may interest you.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2012. Print.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion, 1994. Print.

Hạnh, Nhất, Mobi Ho, and Dinh Mai. Vo. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Boston: Beacon, 1987. Print.

Hạnh, Nhất. The Sun My Heart: From Mindfulness to Insight Contemplation. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 1988. Print.

Why Study English and Literature?

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

English Literature and Literacy as Movement Toward Peace

My immediate and future goals in English studies and scholarship grow, at least in part, as a response to the literacy needs of the communities in which I have been studying. In a variety of ways, my local community is a borderland: generally speaking, the millennials—those who make up the majority of my peers in my local chapter of English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta along with the base population of my own students at the same university—encounter, interact, and experience literary texts through technology in a way that is quite different than I did just a few years ago; the central valley of California is also home to immigrant families from Latin America and is also refuge to several cultural groups recently subject to diaspora, all of whom possess home discourses that are unique yet on the border from the discourse presently valued in academia. Both the hegemonic and non-hegemonic millennials I have mentioned are on borders and are seeking literacy, if only implicitly by their choice to be at the university—thus I see it as my mission to help them, through various literatures, to seek and to have genuine encounters with other minds who may have world experiences quite different from their own, encounters that are independent from space and time though at times contextualized by both. This is at the heart of collegial literacy as I see it.

Through composition and literature, my goal is to help nurture the minds of my students and colleagues so that they become the peacemakers of the future. To that end, I am presently working on my master’s thesis in English literature along with a certificate of advanced study in composition.World Peace My next step is to apply for a PhD program where I hope to extend my work in literature and composition studies with a movement toward teaching language to communities that are technologically and culturally diverse. Ultimately, through my master’s thesis, certificate, and future PhD program, I wish to foster literacy in my communities because I believe in the power of language to do the work of that which has no other antecedent motive or purpose: although reading and writing are indeed practices of self-discovery, literacy in language and literature defragments diverse discourse communities. Literacy is the path from war and separation toward understanding, unity, and peace.

Submerging the Subersive Pagan in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King – Handout

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Jeremiah Alexander Henry | www.jeremiahhenry.com | twitter: @jhenry0302 | jhenry0302@mail.fresnostate.edu

Download a PDF copy of this handout here.

Common Mythopoeic Features: Movement from Chaos (Primordial) to Order | Ambiguous, Anomalous, or Unknown Creators

Selected Passages from Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction

Atum-Ra “acted as both father and mother by giving himself an erection, taking his ‘seed’ into his mouth, and spitting out the first divine couple, Shu and Tefnut. . . . The androgynous nature of the creator was sometimes made clearer by personifying the hand of Atum as a goddess who united with his penis to create life” (Pinch 48-49).

Selected Passages from Metamorphoses (Book 1, “The Shaping of Changes”)

“Before the seas and lands had been created / . . . / Nature displayed a single aspect only / throughout the cosmos; Chaos was its name” (6-9).

“Some god (or kinder nature) settled this / dispute by separating earth from heaven, / and then by separating sea from earth . . . “ (26-28).

Selected Passages from The Popol Vuh

“Whatever there is that might be is simply not there: only the pooled water, only the calm sea, only it alone is pooled” (Tedlock 64).

“Only the Maker, Modeler alone, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, the Bearers, Begetters are in the water, a glittering light. . . . and then humanity was clear, when they concedived the growth, the generation of trees, of bushes, and the growth of life, of humankind, in the blackness, in the early dawn, all because of the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane. Thunderbolt Hurricane comes first, the second is Newborn Thunderbolt, and the third is Sudden Thunderbolt. So there were three of them, as Heart of Sky, who came to the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, when the dawn of life was conceived” (Tedlock 65).

Selected Passages from The Prose Edda

“’Niflheim was made many ages before the earth was created, and at its center is the spring called Hvergelmir. . . . First, however, there was that world in the southern region which is called Muspell. It is bright and hot. That region flames and burns and is impassable for foreigners and those who cannot claim it as their native land. . . . Just as coldness and all things grim came from Niflheim, the regions bordering on Muspell were warm and bright, and Ginnungagap was as mild as a windless sky” (Sturluson 12-13).

Selected Passages from Idylls of the King, “The Coming of Arthur”

“For many a petty king ere Arthur came / Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war / Each upon other, wasted all the land; / And still from time to time the heathen host / Swarm’d overseas, and harried what was left. / And so there grew great tracts of wilderness, / Wherein the beast was ever more and more, / But man was less and less, till Arthur came” (5-12).

“I know not whether of himself [Arthur] came, / Or brought by Merlin, who they say, can walk / Unseen at pleasure” (345-47).

“And Arthur and his knighthood for a space / Were all one will, and thro’ that strength the King / Drew in the petty princedoms under him, / Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame / The Heathen hordes, and made a realm and reign’d” (514-18).

“. . .he heard of Arthur newly crown’d, / Tho’ not without an uproar made by those / Who cried, ‘He is not Uther’s son’ . . .” (41-43)

“. . .‘Who is he / That he should rule us? Who hath proven him / King Uther’s son? For lo! we look at him, / And find nor face nor bearing, limbs nor voice, / Are like to those of Uther whom we knew” (67-71).

Then from the castle gateway by the chasm
Descending thro’ the dismal night – a night
In which the bounds of heaven and earth were lost –
Beheld, so high upon the drery deeps
It seem’d in heaven, a ship, a shape thereof
A dragon wing’d, and all from stem to stern
Bright with a shining people on the decks,
And gone as soon as seen. And then the two
Dropt to the cove, and watch’d the great sea fall,
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
‘Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in flame:
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin’s feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried “The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!” And the fringe
Of that great breaker, sweeping up the strand,
Lash’d at the wizard as he spake the word,
And all at once all round him rose in fire,
So that the child and he were clothed in fire (369-89).
‘And there I saw mage Merlin, whose vast wit
And hundred winters are but as the hands
Of loyal vassals toiling for their liege.
‘And near him stood the Lady of the Lake,
Who knows a subtler magic than his own –
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful.
She gave the King is huge cross-hilted sword,
Whereby to drive the heathen out: a mist
Of incense curl’d about her, and her face
Wellnigh was hidden in the minster gloom;
But there was heard among the holy hymns
A voice as of the waters, for she dwells
Down in a deep; calm, whatsoever storms
May shake the world, and when the surface rolls,
Hath the power to walk the waters like our Lord (279-293).‘There likewise I beheld Excalibur / . . . / rich / With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt, / Bewildering heart and eye . . . / . . . / Graven in the oldest tongue of all this world, / “Take me,” but turn the blade and ye shall see, / And written in the speech ye speak yourself, / “Cast me away!” And sad was Arthur’s face / Taking it, but old Merlin Counsell’d him, / “Take thou and strike! The time to cast away / Is yet far-off.” So this great brand the king / Took, and by this will beat his foemen down’ (296-308).

Works Cited

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Martin, Charles. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.

Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print

Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Trans. Byock, Jesse L. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh : The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Idylls of the King. New York, New York: Penguin Putman Inc, 1983. Print.

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Trends in Education Technology, Journal #9

Although I have been a teaching associate with my university’s first year writing program for three years now, we all have an orientation at the beginning of each academic year. During my orientation this fall, one of my colleagues presented an altered curriculum—or rather an altered approach—to teaching English 5A/5B. The most significant alteration was that her course was part of a larger faculty cohort across the disciplines that is piloting the university’s DISCOVERe program—an initiative to run classes 100% through tablets. Throughout her presentation, she kept referring to this idea of the “flipped” classroom, and while I found the term fuzzy at the time, I got the sense that it was something of a colloquial term for a constructivist approach to instruction—an approach that redirects or “flips” the emphasis in the classroom from the teacher/lecturer/professor/master to the student/learner. While my intuition was close, further investigation in the 2014 Horizon Report neatly bridges the gap between the idea of a “flipped” classroom and a constructivist approach to instruction.

The idea of pointing learners to objective knowledges outside of the classroom is not new to me. Jordan Shapiro (2013) talked about this in his article on forbes.com when he shares how instead of delivering the materials for objective knowledge inside of the classroom, he “flips” this paradigm by delivering those materials digitally and outside of the classroom. This enables us to redirect our face-to-face energy from ingesting material to digesting material. In the reading and writing classroom, for example, instead of focusing our time on reading a text together, we do stuff with texts together—together as collaborators, teachers and learners make meaning. As Johnson, Adams, Estrada, & Freeman (2014) explain, this paradigm “[enables] students to spend valuable class-time immersed in hands-on activities that often demonstrate the real world applications of the subject they are learning” (p. 36). So “flipping” the classroom is essentially a move toward a constructivist paradigm, utilizing digital technologies as a mediator to serve instructional materials to learners outside of the classroom.

Flipping the Classroom Word Cloud

Johnson et al. (2014) points to a resource on flipping the classroom which I have found particularly useful. Jennifer Demski (2013) offers a list of 6 tips from experts on how to flip a classroom. One thing she points to which I believe takes considerable skill and energy on the part of the teacher is to anticipate what students need during the first moments of class, letting the students decide what the particular foci will be during class time. She offers some strategies from Robert Talbert—professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University—including having students use clickers to take a quick quiz at the beginning of class. This is essentially a quick kind of formative assessment, one that requires a certain flexibility and agility in class planning. To be successful with this strategy, instructors must have the ability to respond to their learners needs at a moment’s notice, and if they teach the same course more than once concurrently, different groups of learners may have different needs on any given day with any given topic, adding even more demand from a teacher’s curricular agility. The benefit here, though, is that you always enable students to pursue not what you think they need but what you know they need. Because they tell you exactly what they need. This approach is not without its perils and pitfalls, however.

Unless curriculum and assessment has built in to it a way to value and evaluate the labor that must take place outside of class, this flip is destined to flop. Flipping the classroom depends on student labor outside of the classroom, so if they show up to class not having done the assigned labor, they’re not able to do anything because they do not have the foundation on which to do anything. Suddenly we’re back to the classroom and lecture being the point of delivery of instructional materials. Essentially, if students have not been motivated to do the labor outside of class, they are not likely to do it. This is why I believe implementing a grading contract is crucial. Grading contracts nudge evaluation away from the product and put it on the process; it asks the question, “Did you do the labor (outside of class) to the letter and in the spirit in which it was asked?” and so long as you construct that labor as something that is assessable, i.e. have them turn something in electronically in advance of the class that’s scheduled to do something with that labor and attach that labor to their grade for the course in some way, students will be motivated to do the labor they need so that we can collaborate and construct meaning with those materials in class.


References

Demski, J. (2013, January 23). 6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom. Campus Technology. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Shapiro, J. (2013, August 26). We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom. Forbes. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Accessibility in Mind with Curriculum Design

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #8

As a teacher of composition and rhetoric, I feel as though I already have a special affinity for the concept of universal design for learning. In the composition classroom, we spend a lot of time and energy with unpacking our attitudes and assumptions we have about the things we hear, see, and read; along the same lines, we spend equal amounts of time and energy in developing tools to unpack (i.e. detect and question) attitudes and assumptions held by the writers of texts that we encounter. This is a major piece of my curriculum on analysis. Additionally, as my teaching is aligned from a rhetorical perspective, I’m always urging my students to be conscious and considerate of their audience when they compose something. The only way they can give their audience what their audience needs is to first know who their audience is and what their needs are. It only makes sense that as a teacher I do the very same thing: I must be aware of who my audience is (i.e. my students) so that I can figure out what they need from me. To that end, I completely identify with Lewis & Sullivan (2012) when they assert that when students encounter barriers with the curriculum just as those with disabilities encounter problems accessing a building, it’s not the fault of the student or the disabled but of the curriculum and the building (p. 348-49). Curriculum that fails to acknowledge the diverse needs of its audience is not the audiences’ problem, it’s the curriculum’s problem. As such, curriculum must be revised in order to be more universal for learning.

One thing I have been doing recently to make my class more universal is making sure that every single electronic document I generate meets accessibility standards (as assessed by the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker)—this insures that all of my documents can be read accurately and efficiently by a variety of eReaders and other assistive technologies. Just as Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest, I find that I save quite a bit of time designing those documents with accessibility in mind rather than having to revise old documents where I did not have accessibility in mind (p. 348). I also quite like the way it forces me to think about accessibility and my audience as I generate materials for class consumption.

In my ongoing interests in the conversation of whether or not to incorporate tablets into the classroom and beyond, this chapter helped me realize that tablets have the capability of decreasing the both the learning distance and the social distance between disabled students and non-disabled students. Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest that in addition to assistive technologies being expensive and bulky, they can often alienate or distance the user from the rest of the students not using assistive technologies (p. 349). Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of doing the same things that a variety of assistive technologies can do. So not only are they multi-function devices in the sense of having a multiplicity of assistive features: they’re also the same devices that everyone else is using. That being said, I can only conclude that tablets, being a universal technology, would eliminate the problem of “assistive distance.”


References

Lewis, J., & Sullivan, S. (2012). Diversity and Accessibility. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #5

I believe that assessment is about more than merely providing a kind of currency-value to students’ learning—assessment and evaluation should also be used to help teachers and instruction designers assess and evaluate themselves and their own curriculum so that they can revise it. Formative and summative assessment are tools that I’m already familiar with, and since I became aware of these assessment methods during my time in English 270 back in 2012, I frequently use them as tools to tweak my curriculum on week-to-week, unit-to-unit, and course-to-course bases. Of course we need ways to assess and evaluate what our students are doing—we are subject to educational structures that demand an accounting of students’ learning, but if 100% of our evaluative focus is on something as slippery as “student performance of learning outcomes,” we miss critical opportunities to see that if students are failing curriculum, there may be problems with curriculum. To that end, Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation has given me something to think about.

Evaluation and assessment of instruction design and curriculum should take into consideration each piece of Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation, but I would extend that strategy to be even more reflective. Scriven (1991) defines evaluation as a “process of determining the merit, worth, and value of things” (p. 97). So in terms of curriculum design, we must figure out a set of learning objectives or outcomes and have a way to assess the degree to which learners are able to perform those objectives over time. What I particularly like about this model is that designer’s should think about the merit of those learning outcomes. Indeed, learning outcomes should be those things which have intrinsic ed-u-ca-tion, evaluation, assessment value within a given system. And in my own thinking, I believe that another important step in this process of designing and revising curriculum should be to constantly ask the following questions: Why do we value these learning outcomes or objectives? What is the nature of their merit? For example, Stufflebeam’s CIPP Evaluation Model calls for an evaluation of context, “the assessment of the environment in which an innovation or program will be used to determine the need and objectives for the innovation” (Johnson & Dick, 2014, p. 97). I would take that a step further and suggest that we must ask why that environment (context) has those particular needs. Concerning my post-structuralist analysis of these evaluation models, the same thing holds true for Rossi’s Five-Domain Evaluation model. The first dimension of that model is the needs assessment: “Is there a need for this type of program in this context?” but that question neglects an equally important question: “WHY does this context have this particular need to begin with, and is that need justified based on value systems that are of intrinsic value and benefit to everyone?” In other words, we should constantly seek to understand the underlying structures that attempt to justify the connection between a thing and that thing’s merit. This is especially crucial if we think about how those structures change over time or how the objects within those structures change over time.

Absolutely vital to the design process is Stufflebeam’s input process in the CIPP Evaluation Model. It calls for an accounting of all resources that are required to make a program’s goals attainable (Johnson & Dick, 2012, p. 98). Growing from my experience in having to teach the Early Start English program in summer 2014, this is definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future. One of the reasons why I believe this program failed is because it failed to deliver on what was agreed upon during the program’s input process. During the input process, we were promised specific spaces and equipment, thus we designed our curriculum and it’s learning outcomes with those spaces and equipment as a key component thereof. When the university failed to deliver on that space and equipment, the curriculum could not adapt. Ultimately, if the input process fails, an entire program could also be destined to fail.


References

Johnson, R., & Dick, W. (2012). Evaluation in Instructional Design: A Comparison of  Evaluation Models. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #4

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Constructivism

First and foremost, I will absolutely acknowledge my bias toward the reading from Chapter 5. Since day 1 in the teaching associate program for this university’s Department of English, I have taken a constructivist approach to teaching and instructional design (as do my mentors). Reiser and Dempsey also show their bias with sentences like “Some of the negative response to constructivism was due to statements like ‘learners construct their own reality’ and ‘assessments should be goal free’ that traditionalist appropriately perceived as over the top (my emphasis)” (46). I understand that phrases like “learners construct their own reality” sound ambiguous and not quantifiable, but—as Kenneth Burke writes about in his book Language as Symbolic Action, the nature of language is such that the words we use to name things, describe things, and communicate things, at once is a selection and a deflection of reality. This is what Burke refers to as Terministic Screens and, by extension, The Negative. For example, in the United States, we refer to the America’s separation from British colonial powers as the American Revolution whereas across the Atlantic, the same historical event is referred to as the American Rebellion. Like it or not, language does construct our reality. Though learn through a variety of means, we learn largely through language. So learners do construct their own reality through language vis-à-vis terministic screens.

“Like all approaches, constructivism solves some problems while perhaps creating others” (47). I hear Dr. Bohlin in the back of my mind asking, “Really? Do all approaches create problems?” I understand that this is merely a transitional move so that Reiser and Dempsey can bring up their concerns with constructivist approaches to instructional design, so I’ll let that one go for now.

Incidentally, I agree with their primary concern: are students prepared to have the “hardest work” and “most interesting decisions” put on their plate (47)? I think having an awareness of these questions and working through them forces teachers to become more aware of their audience, a rhetorical move that teachers themselves ask students to do in reading and writing classrooms. Having said that, one way to further address this concern is to work a system of a “gradual release of responsibility” so that at the beginning of your curriculum (on the large scale) or of your lesson (on the small scale), you gradually release the responsibility of making the “most interesting decisions” and the “hardest work” as your students become ready for those tasks. But this does require teachers to pay attention to who they’re teaching.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #3

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

The Problem with “Increased Performance”

While I still have certain linguistic and rhetorical problems with starting a topic at the level of definition, I am pleased to see Chapter 1, “What Field Did You Say You Were In?” take up the question as to what we mean when we attempt to define the field Educational Technology (or, rather, Instructional Design and Technology by using terms like “improve performance.” According to the 2008 take on the definition, the phrase “improve performance” seems to mean the ability for learners to apply what they learn (4). (I realize I’m using MLA style documentation for these journal entries, but since this is informal writing, I’m using the style that’s familiar to me so that it’s easy for me to appropriate citations and such for later uses).

That being said, the word “performance” is still rather contentious, especially when the authors conflate student performance in an educational setting with performance in the workplace. Do the authors really mean to conflate “performance” in a workplace under a capitalist business model with “performance” in an educational setting where, arguably, capitalist business models do not serve the best interests of academics? Is the motivating factor behind academia a for-profit one? I’m doing my best to suspend my disbelief and to read with the grain here, but I have to say that Reiser and Dempsey are already on shaky ground. Perhaps what they describe as “meaningful performance” later in Chapter 2—“thus, there should be a high degree of congruence between the learning environment and the setting in which the actual behaviors are performed [in the “real” world]”—is what they mean when they conflate “improved performance” as hand-in-hand in educational settings and in the workplace (11). With this, I wholeheartedly agree and foster this very constructivist practice in my own writing classrooms. My students never read, write, and think solely for their English teacher: we collaborate together concerning topics and issues that matter to them, and they are always given the opportunity to research and, think, and write about what is important to them (just like how writing exists in the “real” world where no one actually writes a 5-paragraph essay).

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #2

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Educational Technology and Rhetoric

One trend that I’ve noticed as I’ve begun to converse and network with other teachers is that teachers frequently default to a mode of communication that is response-centered rather than understanding-centered. In other words, teachers tend to listen to respond rather than listen to understand. I believe this happens because teachers are frequently put in the position of being asked questions and having answers expected from them. I’ve observed the communication style of my colleagues in this course to hold true to this. To be clear, though, I don’t mean to use this space as a place to vent or complain but rather to use this situation as a springboard into a brief discussion about where I see opportunities for educational technology to shine.

Listening first to understand rather than first to respond is a communication style that is not new: rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke and Psychologist Carl Rogers were talking about this back in the 50s. Both Burke and Rogers submit that in order for all parties in an argument to be able to move forward toward a solution (a solution, for Burke, being movement toward peace), we must make our first priority to understand each other so that we can move toward common ground (peace).

That being said, I want to return to one of the important points from this Forbes article where Shapiro suggests that educational technology has great use outside of the classroom where it can be used to communicate “objective” knowledges, the kind of formal knowledge Heidegger described as stuff that fills the empty vessels of our students’ minds. Educational technology allows for this kind of knowledge exchange to happen outside of the classroom which enables us as teachers to foster healthy rhetoric in the face-to-face classroom where we can make it our first priority to get our students to seek to understand ideas by asking questions, seeking ambiguities, feeling comfortable in spaces of uncertainty where the real thinking happens, rather than pressuring them to have the “right” response on a test.

I see this as one of the most powerful and compelling implications for instructional design and technology, and it is my personal goal to continue to think about how I can design my curriculum and evolve my pedagogy to allow me to continue to trend toward making my classroom a rhetorical space where we privilege grey areas and approach problems from a position of inquiry where our goal is to seek a sense of mutual understanding before we pass judgment when our impulse is merely to respond.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #1

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Things Before Definitions

My inner rhetorician keeps telling me that definitions come after things, after experience. We see instances of things, we come to a general sense as to their qualities, then we attempt to abstract a set of common qualities into a definition. In other words, definitions do not come first: things come first. So when it comes to defining “educational technology,” I honestly believe I’ve observed and experienced too few instances of “educational technology” to be able to arrive at a definition. But this isn’t an exercise in futility. This thinking allows me to do something that is crucial to my own pedagogy, and that’s to get learners to take inventory of their knowledges, attitudes, and assumptions about the topic they’re learning. The definition I came up with in class is as follows:

Any technology that has had, presently has, or has the potential to have an effect on literacy events or literacy moments between any permutation of teacher and student subjects, I would consider as technology that is educational technology. What I mean by any permutation of teacher/student subjects is, for example, teacher/teacher, teacher/student, and student/student exchanges, as well as literacy moments or events exchanged between a reader and a text or a reader and herself. This ranges from a pencil or a fountain pen to the printing press to overhead projectors, tablets, and Twitter.

During this activity, I found out that my assumption about “educational technology” primarily concerned instances of educational technologies—that is, specific pieces of technology that can be used for educational purposes. Though my attitude is certainly open to expanding that definition to include the following, my assumptions had not presently accounted for educational technology as a field of study involving theoretical practice—that is, development, design utilization, management, and evaluation of technologies in learning environments (http://www.aect.org/standards/knowledgebase.html).

The only problem on my radar thus far is the phrase I often see come up when talking about education, this business of “increasing student (or teacher) performance.” Technology is “educational technology,” by definition, if it helps to “increase student (or teacher) performance.” As a language lover (and critic), I’m left asking myself the not-so-obvious question of what we even mean by “student performance.” Exactly what constitutes student performance, and how do we quantify student performance? It’s a slippery phrase that I’m quite interested in deconstructing, and I hope this course will help me—in the context of educational technology—do just that.