A Plethora of Riches

So, let me start by noting that this kind of post is not typical.  People don’t generally write these kind of posts. And, frankly, there are good reasons for that. And yet, here I am writing it.  I’ll explain why shortly.

But let’s start with the context.  I’ve been working as the Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation at the University of Mary Washington since April of 2014.  It’s a great job where I get to be a faculty member (a Professor of History and American Studies) half time and the rest of the time oversee our Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation, our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, our recently created (but thoroughly awesome) Digital Knowledge Center, and one of the coolest student-centered buildings in academia, the Information & Technology Convergence Center (now named after our current president, the Hurley Convergence Center). Although we’ve seen turnover this past year in DTLT (no year when you lose Tim Owens, Ryan Brazell, Andy Rush, Jim Groom, and Lisa Ames can be all good), we’ve also done some amazing hiring, bringing in Jess Reingold, Jesse Stommel, and Lee Skallerup Bessette, and soon Nigel Haarstad, with another superb new colleague soon to be announced.  They are creative, terrific, brilliant people who have joined Martha Burtis, Mary Kayler, Leah Tams, Amanda Rutstein, Cartland Berge, Roberta Gentry, and Zach Whalen in the Teaching, Technology, and Innovation Unit.

So, despite these changes (in fact, partly because of them), I wasn’t looking for a new job.  And yet, one came looking for me.  A search firm contacted me late last fall about a new position at a Research 1 University at the Vice Provost level.  I’m a big fan of this school, having worked for many years with great people there.  The job is a new position that brings together a number of elements that exist at a university that is clearly on the move, clearly on its way upward, clearly at the forefront of the struggle over the soul of higher education.  And after an application and an initial interview with the search committee, I was a finalist for the position with an on-campus interview.  Now, I know that I’m operating from a place of remarkable privilege, a privilege that so many other academics have not and do not have.  I have a full-time position and I love my job, one that has tenure and a good salary and terrific colleagues, and I’m fortunate enough to have developed a reputation within the discipline that has allowed me to travel around the country giving workshops on digital history, digital humanities, and digitally enabled pedagogy, as well as editing a section of a leading journal for one major organization on digital history projects, and leading a digital history working group for another major professional organization.  Most importantly, I applied for this job knowing that I loved the position that I’m currently in with no risk of losing that position if it didn’t work out.

Yesterday, about a month after my on-campus interview, I found out that I am no longer being considered for the position, that they have offered the job to someone else.

Now we get to the point about why posts like this are unusual.  Typically people don’t talk about these positions when they don’t get them, in part because they don’t want people at their current job to know that they were willing to consider leaving, in part because they are worried that they might be embarrassed by not getting the job, in part because they are worried about what the people at the job they applied for will think about them, and in part because they worry about how people at potential future jobs might view someone who talks about the often-closed search process.  These are very good reasons not to talk about jobs for which you have applied but not been selected.

So, why am I doing so?  I spend a great deal of time telling my students that they should create a digital identity that reveals who they are, that makes it clear what they want to do and be, that claims boldly what they believe in and what they want to do, and that acknowledges (even celebrates) failures or incomplete paths as part of the learning and development process.  I was unsuccessful in applying for this job; now what have I learned from it?

You know what I’ve learned? That I’m glad. [Now, I know that it’ll be easy for people who don’t know me to dismiss this as simply me settling, or me rationalizing not getting a job.  To them, I’ll just say, “That’s a reasonable point of view given the evidence you have, and you’re wrong.”]  I’m really happy I didn’t get this job, and not because I have anything against the school to which I applied, but because I’m convinced that I already have an important contribution to make, that I have an amazing team to work with, that I have colleagues who value what matters in higher education right now where I am right now.  [Let’s be clear: there was much to attract me to the school I applied to, and not just the increased money and significant promotion.  It was a chance to work on a different stage, as part of a school that is often mentioned in conversations about higher education. And there were great, terrific colleagues there to work with as well.]  But in the end, as I thought about the two positions in the weeks after the on-campus interview, I increasingly realized that UMW was the place where I wanted to be, a place where I was able to make a bigger difference, a place where my students continue to inspire me every day, a place where my team, my colleagues, and even my incoming president shared the values that I believe in, a place that keeps the focus on students, that believes that a liberal arts education is the best foundation for a changing world, that integrates digital tools into that liberal arts education better than almost any school in the nation (and has earned a national reputation and big grants for doing so), that balances teaching and learning and research and service and community in ways that represent one incredibly valuable path for higher education over the next few decades.

So, today, I’m incredibly glad to be at the University of Mary Washington with my colleagues and my friends and my students.

Confirmation for “Uncomfortable, but Not Paralyzed”?

Since my first Digital History class in 2008, I’ve been telling students that I wanted them to be “uncomfortable, but not paralyzed” based on my sense that it was only when one struggled a bit that deep  learning occurred.  The concept has explicitly shaped much of my teaching since then.  Now the Mindshift blog at KQED is reporting that there are several studies that back up my reasoning.

In one study, published in Learning and Instruction, psychologists Sidney D’Mello and Art Graesser found “that even negative emotions can play a productive role in learning.”

Confusion, D’Mello explains, is a state of “cognitive disequilbrium”; we are mentally thrown off balance when we encounter information that doesn’t make sense. This uneasy feeling motivates us to restore our equilibrium through thought, reflection, and problem solving, and deeper learning is the result. According to D’Mello, engaged learners repeatedly experience “two-step episodesalternating between confusion and insight.” Back and forth, between perplexity and understanding: this is how the learning of complex material happens.

In fact, deep learning may be unlikely to happen without the experience of confusion, suggests a study conducted by another researcher, Arizona State’s Kurt VanLehn. The students in his experiment were not able to grasp the physics concepts they were learning until they had encountered, and surmounted, an intellectual “impasse.”

Still another study, this one led by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, found that students who observed a demonstration in science class understood the relevant concept no better than before—unless the students were asked to predict the outcome of the demonstration in advance. When their predictions turned out to be wrong, the resulting confusion motivated them to consider the concept more deeply, and they learned more.

On a related note, Stephen Ramsey at the University of Nebraska has a wonderful post that eloquently makes the case that attitude is more important than (initial) aptitude in learning programming.

Nearly every programmer I know – and I know some great ones – started out not with a course, or a book, or a teacher, but with a problem that was irritating them. Something in their computational world didn’t seem right. Maybe it was broken, or maybe just missing. But being comfortable with not-knowing-what-the-hell-they’re-doing, they decided that getting a computer to do something new was more-or-less like figuring out how to get the chain back on the bike. They weren’t trying to “be programmers” any more than the parent determined to fix the kid’s bike is trying to be a “bicycle mechanic.”

All of these suggest that cultivating mental habits among our students (and ourselves) where we are okay with being unfamiliar with a subject, okay with struggling to master a concept or tool or problem, okay with working in new formats, okay with failure and trying again is important for intellectual and academic development in school and with the work done outside of school.

Confirmation for "Uncomfortable, but Not Paralyzed"?

Since my first Digital History class in 2008, I've been telling students that I wanted them to be "uncomfortable, but not paralyzed" based on my sense that it was only when one struggled a bit that deep  learning occurred.  The concept has explicitly shaped much of my teaching since then.  Now the Mindshift blog at KQED is reporting that there are several studies that back up my reasoning.

In one study, published in Learning and Instruction, psychologists Sidney D'Mello and Art Graesser found "that even negative emotions can play a productive role in learning."

Confusion, D’Mello explains, is a state of “cognitive disequilbrium”; we are mentally thrown off balance when we encounter information that doesn’t make sense. This uneasy feeling motivates us to restore our equilibrium through thought, reflection, and problem solving, and deeper learning is the result. According to D’Mello, engaged learners repeatedly experience “two-step episodesalternating between confusion and insight.” Back and forth, between perplexity and understanding: this is how the learning of complex material happens.
In fact, deep learning may be unlikely to happen without the experience of confusion, suggests a study conducted by another researcher, Arizona State’s Kurt VanLehn. The students in his experiment were not able to grasp the physics concepts they were learning until they had encountered, and surmounted, an intellectual “impasse.”
Still another study, this one led by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, found that students who observed a demonstration in science class understood the relevant concept no better than before—unless the students were asked to predict the outcome of the demonstration in advance. When their predictions turned out to be wrong, the resulting confusion motivated them to consider the concept more deeply, and they learned more.


On a related note, Stephen Ramsey at the University of Nebraska has a wonderful post that eloquently makes the case that attitude is more important than (initial) aptitude in learning programming.
Nearly every programmer I know – and I know some great ones – started out not with a course, or a book, or a teacher, but with a problem that was irritating them. Something in their computational world didn’t seem right. Maybe it was broken, or maybe just missing. But being comfortable with not-knowing-what-the-hell-they’re-doing, they decided that getting a computer to do something new was more-or-less like figuring out how to get the chain back on the bike. They weren’t trying to “be programmers” any more than the parent determined to fix the kid’s bike is trying to be a “bicycle mechanic.”
All of these suggest that cultivating mental habits among our students (and ourselves) where we are okay with being unfamiliar with a subject, okay with struggling to master a concept or tool or problem, okay with working in new formats, okay with failure and trying again is important for intellectual and academic development in school and with the work done outside of school.

Confirmation for "Uncomfortable, but Not Paralyzed"?

Since my first Digital History class in 2008, I've been telling students that I wanted them to be "uncomfortable, but not paralyzed" based on my sense that it was only when one struggled a bit that deep  learning occurred.  The concept has explicitly shaped much of my teaching since then.  Now the Mindshift blog at KQED is reporting that there are several studies that back up my reasoning.

In one study, published in Learning and Instruction, psychologists Sidney D'Mello and Art Graesser found "that even negative emotions can play a productive role in learning."

Confusion, D’Mello explains, is a state of “cognitive disequilbrium”; we are mentally thrown off balance when we encounter information that doesn’t make sense. This uneasy feeling motivates us to restore our equilibrium through thought, reflection, and problem solving, and deeper learning is the result. According to D’Mello, engaged learners repeatedly experience “two-step episodesalternating between confusion and insight.” Back and forth, between perplexity and understanding: this is how the learning of complex material happens.
In fact, deep learning may be unlikely to happen without the experience of confusion, suggests a study conducted by another researcher, Arizona State’s Kurt VanLehn. The students in his experiment were not able to grasp the physics concepts they were learning until they had encountered, and surmounted, an intellectual “impasse.”
Still another study, this one led by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, found that students who observed a demonstration in science class understood the relevant concept no better than before—unless the students were asked to predict the outcome of the demonstration in advance. When their predictions turned out to be wrong, the resulting confusion motivated them to consider the concept more deeply, and they learned more.


On a related note, Stephen Ramsey at the University of Nebraska has a wonderful post that eloquently makes the case that attitude is more important than (initial) aptitude in learning programming.
Nearly every programmer I know – and I know some great ones – started out not with a course, or a book, or a teacher, but with a problem that was irritating them. Something in their computational world didn’t seem right. Maybe it was broken, or maybe just missing. But being comfortable with not-knowing-what-the-hell-they’re-doing, they decided that getting a computer to do something new was more-or-less like figuring out how to get the chain back on the bike. They weren’t trying to “be programmers” any more than the parent determined to fix the kid’s bike is trying to be a “bicycle mechanic.”
All of these suggest that cultivating mental habits among our students (and ourselves) where we are okay with being unfamiliar with a subject, okay with struggling to master a concept or tool or problem, okay with working in new formats, okay with failure and trying again is important for intellectual and academic development in school and with the work done outside of school.