Meaning Over Randomness

In How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens  by Benedict Carey, he reminds us:

The brain is not like a muscle, at least not in any straightforward sense. It is something else altogether, sensitive to mood, to timing, to circadian rhythms, as well as to location, environment. It registers far more than we’re conscious of and often adds previously unnoticed details when revisiting a memory or learned fact.

It works hard at night, during sleep, searching for hidden links and deeper significance in the day’s event. It has a strong preference for meaning over randomness, and it finds nonsense offensive.

It doesn’t take orders so well, either, as we all know –forgetting precious facts needed for an exam while somehow remembering entire scenes from The Godfather or the lineup of the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

If the brain is learning machine, then it’s an eccentric one. And it performs best when its quirks are exploited.

Carey’s book makes no mention of absolutes in the introduction. He writes:

Cognitive science …clarifies how remembering, forgetting, and learning are related.


Many Paths To & For Personalization

In “Competency-Based Online Programs Address Needs in New Industries” (source) By Ian Quillen, he has a useful quote to explain a relationship between CBE programs, students, and employers:

Employers don’t want the C student – they don’t even want the B student..They want the student who can work through something over multiple revisions, multiple steps of input, and actually come up with something better.​​​​

In addition, George Veletsianos posted a blog today “Personalized learning: the locus of edtech debates” with interesting questions, questions, and categories about educational technology (source). Here are some questions from his post:

Does it mean different pathways for each learner, one pathway with varied pacing for each learner, or something else?

How do we balance system and learner control?

What is the role of openness is personalized learning?

Both sources cited above examine different pathways for teaching and learning using educational technology. When we want to improve the conditions for teaching and learning, it’s important to remember that there are many paths to the same goal.



See also [Pathways], [New Pathways], [Clock Hours], [Student Control of Learning], [Seat Time], [Pathways to Collaborative Pedagogy], [Legitimize Open and Flexible Time For Teacher Collaboration] Guided Pathways & Professional DevelopmentThe Five Pillars of Motivating Instruction,  and Just Tell Me What To Do from this blog.

See also NotYetness, Invention, and The Dream/Reality WhiteboardMentoring New-ish Faculty, [Chihuahuas Among the New Foundlands: The Need For Communities of Practice 2.0 #dLRN15] from another blog (source).

See also Systemic Change in the Consortium and Final Faculty Learning Community 2015 Report from the SBCTC FLC blog (source).


According to the Wikitionary (source) the definition of the word pathway has two meanings:

  1. A footpath or other path or track.

  2. (biochemistry) A sequence of biochemical compounds, and the reactions linking them, that describe a process in metabolism or catabolism.

Wikipedia has several references to the term, and this one is connected to community colleges and federal education policy initiatives via Career Pathways:

Community colleges coordinate occupational training, remediation, academic credentialing, and transfer preparation for career pathways initiatives.

Career pathways models have been adopted at the federal, state and local levels. Given their cross-system nature, states often combine multiple federal streams to fund different elements of career pathways models.

Pathways bring to mind hiking, garden walkways, and, perhaps an emphasis on choices leading to serendipitous discoveries. When is one’s career path ever linear?

What are the most effective career pathways for community college students?

See also [other links about educational policy here]

Open definition of a word

open (adjective)–a reformatting of (source)

from the Old English open means

not closed down, raised up (of gates, eyelids, etc.), also exposed, evident, well-known, public

often in a bad sense,

notorious, shameless

from the Proto-Germanic

*upana, literally put or set up  (source).

as related to an open road

(1817, American English) originally meant a public one; romanticized sense of ‘raveling as an expression of personal freedom’ first recorded 1856, in Whitman.

open, in the early 13c. meant,

an aperture or opening, from (source) adj.

also defined as

public knowledge [as in] out in the open is from 1942, but compare Middle English in open (late 14c.)

Open up means

cease to be secretive from 1921.


The Ground Truth

In “UW Researchers Estimate Poverty and Wealth from Cell Phone metadata” by Peter Kelley (source), the author cites a recent study from the Information School and Computer Science and Engineering Department.

Joshua Blumenstock, the lead author who is an adjunct, states:

What we show in this paper, and I think fairly clearly, is that phone data can be used to estimate wealth and poverty…

For those thousand people, we know roughly whether they’re rich or poor. That’s the ground truth that anchors the data to reality

They examine habits of cell phone users to determine the divide between the rich and the poor by looking at how people pay for time and when the calls are made throughout the day.

What is interesting to note is how cell phones are used between friends:

[They examine] The degree to which a person is more likely to make than receive phone calls. Since in Rwanda the caller pays for the call, poorer people tend to receive more calls than they make.

This also reflects a phenomenon called “flashing,” where a poorer person calls a wealthier friend and quickly hangs up, thus sending the signal that they should call back.

The researchers conclude this type of data could be used in policy decisions and may be an alternative to expensive census reports.

The questions were designed to learn where those individuals fell on the socioeconomic ladder and what the “signature” of wealth is in the metadata — that is, what cell phone habits are particular to those who are relatively wealthy.

“For those thousand people, we know roughly whether they’re rich or poor. That’s the ground truth that anchors the data to reality,” Blumenstock said.

Broader applications for this type of research could be to examine student use of cell phones–for those who lack consistent Internet access–for completing or not completing online classes.

Goals & Objectives

Goals and objectives are often used interchangeably, but if you consider the etymology of the words, you’ll see a meaningful similarity.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (source), here is the etymology of the word Goal:

in 1530s, [it meant the] “end point of a race,” of uncertain origin. It appears once before this (as gol), in a poem from early 14c. and with an apparent sense of “boundary, limit.” Perhaps from Old English *gal “obstacle, barrier,” a word implied by gælan “to hinder” and also found in compounds (singal, widgal). That would make it a variant or figurative use of Middle English gale “a way, course.” Also compare Old Norse geil “a narrow glen, a passage.” Or from Old French gaule “long pole, stake,” which is from Germanic. Sports sense of “place where the ball, etc. is put to score” is attested from 1540s. Figurative sense of “object of an effort” is from 1540s.

It is interesting to note the list of definitions associated with the word Objective (source).

Here is a short etymology of the word:

from 1738, “something objective to the mind,” from objective (adj.). Meaning “goal, aim” (1881) is from military term objective point (1852), reflecting a sense evolution in French.

Some may say that you can differentiate between goals and objectives simply by remembering that objectives are measurable, while goals may be intangible.

In teaching and learning, sometimes the target–or what we want people to learn–changes in a course, much like the connotation or denotation of a word over time.

See also (source)

Read also the “Who did this?” page. Here is an excerpt:

Etymonline is a can-opener, an imaginary labyrinth with real minotaurs in it, my never-written novel shattered into words and arranged in alphabetical order. I knew poor students and poets would use it, and writers of historical fiction (and stoners). I did not anticipate ESL learners, but I can see how someone already arrived at an adult understanding of the world and learning a new language would look at the third dimension, history, as an aid. The most astonishing thing to me has been the use of this material in classrooms by students as young as elementary age. I never anticipated still working at it daily ten years later, but it’s been a marvelous ride. I hope you have as much fun using it as I do making it.


Wearing a Dress and Heels

In “The Professor Is A Drag Queen,” by Domenick Scudera, he discusses a course and a conference presentation (source). It is worth noting that this teacher has tenure and writes about many worthwhile points  for further investigation.

Here are three quotes:


Drag, a distinct art form, brings into focus issues of identity, authority, agency, gender variance, and masculine/feminine constructs. Judith Butler states that “Drag fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer psychic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity.” By viewing drag through this lens and by exploring the diverse and fascinating history of drag performance, students are challenged to question a gender binary and to break through social norms.


RuPaul says that “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” Upon reflection, the question at the symposium made me realize that the clothes I wear to be a professor are a sort of drag. They are my “professor drag,” so to speak. I am dressing for my interpretation — or my performance — of what a professor should be. Is wearing a suit and tie to teach any different than wearing a dress and heels?


I have been more open with my students about my drag life, and other aspects of myself. Revealing more about my experiences builds a different, stronger trust between us.

Prophetic Imagination

In Our Band Could Be Your Life, Micheal Azerrad uses a line from the William Blake poem,  “Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion,” as his epigraph:

I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.

When one searches for this poem, a link appears to the William Blake society connecting a reader to a campaign to preserve his cottage.

The people behind this project remind us:

Poets transform reality. They are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

By saving this cottage, they describe their vision:

The Cottage is to be an exemplar of a way to live a life through courage and creativity. We are inviting support from everyone who is strengthened by the knowledge that somewhere in the world such a place exists; a home for the prophetic imagination in England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

The Cottage will be a refuge for everyone who asks great questions – the outsiders, the prophets and the visionaries.

People will be able to stay in the Cottage and in turn the Cottage will emanate their creativity back into the world. Its programme may include a space to function as a House of Refuge for persecuted writers. It will offer Blakean events and it will also welcome visitors.