Half-baked ramblings, spaghetti sauce, and the locus of control

So let me try to trace the outlines out…

–> Feeling a bit uneasy, and fuzzy, I sketch out a post, drenched in undergraduate nostalgia, outlining objections to some discourse concerning the “net generation” and speculating on a counterintuitive role the web might play in family life…

–> The post generates a number of thoughtful comments, some from people I know, some from people who were unknown to me…

–> My friend D’Arcy, who I really got to know via blogging, writes his own post in response, drawing on a Malcolm Gladwell TED talk that discussed the search for the perfect spaghetti sauce and that after crunching the variables discovering that there was no one perfect sauce. He extrapolates from there to postulate three observations of students, including this killer bit:

We need to better understand the variables that affect our interactions with students. It’s not enough to say that students are “Digital Natives” or “Net Genners”. There is no One True Student. Individuals vary by learning style, experience/comfort with various strategies (online and offline), socioeconomic status, maturity, locus of control, etc… and we need to identify common clusters of these variables and develop strategies to support these groups (and the individuals that compose them).

–> D’Arcy’s post inspires Jim Groom — whom I have yet to meet but have come to think of as a friend anyway — to explore what “locus of control” might entail:

To what extent do we need to be moving towards proliferating the locus of control for one’s own “educational learning environment” (to quote a recent conversation with Dr Glu) that enables them to define the space within which they learn. “Spicy,” “Chunky,” and “Extra Chunky” Spaghetti sauces capture a lot more diversity that the prominent, proprietary LMSs we have out there today -but they’re still canned!

One key may very well be working towards a series of unique spaces (with shared tools) that students bring with them to their education experience. Hosting space is cheap enough these days to build it into tuition costs (or require it as a four-year text), and it would work towards allowing students to actively frame the virtual learning spaces they inhabit. Just think about, what if you have thousands and thousands of college students hacking, playing and working towards defining a truly distributed, collaborative, and loosely integrated learning network.

So from an initial, very fuzzy beginning I’ve been guided through a set of responses by a network of peers… and it’s been fun, after all I’ve gotten to communicate with my buds. The whole process in itself something of an object demonstration of how this approach to learning can function. (Now, I suppose to demonstrate that real learning has occurred I should be able to write a sharper post than this one — but this is pedagogy in process.) I’m not the first person to make this observation, in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve made it before myself. But in the face of continued skepticism and sometimes just plain ignorance I’ll assert it yet again.

Jim’s vision is reminiscent of a professor here at UBC who I shared a working beer with last night. A common theme in our collaboration has been trying to develop tools and techniques that allow for coherent management of course weblogs on various platforms chosen and managed by the students themselves. He (I’m keeping it anonymous as I never asked if the conversation was bloggable) related an anecdote of a Spanish lit course he was teaching, taught in Spanish, in which the handful of native speakers tend to be the most enthusiastic participants in discussion, sometimes losing the other students that are still learning the language. Anyhow, one of the non-native speaking students chose to write a blog post, in English, that was framed as a rant expressing her frustration with this state of affairs. In other words, this new blogger already understood the space was hers, and used it as such, but in a fashion that did not divert energy from the academic subject at hand.

A long-winded way of thanking the many people who pushed my own learning along this week.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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4 Responses to Half-baked ramblings, spaghetti sauce, and the locus of control

  1. Brian, thanks for starting off this recent train of thought. I can’t count the number of times a post of yours has caused me to go off and think hard about any number of topics. Thanks for that. I’ve got a follow-up post to the Spaghetti Sauce one rattling around in my head. I’ll try to get it out tonight…

  2. Almost forgot – you missed a link in the train of thought. Glen Davies contributed a bit about “digital naturals”.

  3. Jim says:


    Being relatively new to the ed tech blogosphere, I have to say that it’s nice to have an old soul like yourself anchoring these conversations. Your posts consistently tap into an honest, intellectual vernacular that is rare and invaluable. I read, I try and grok, I comment, I search hungrily for more, and I come back to the source of plenty. Thank you!

    Now enough of this hippie love, check out this craziness. Viva the Great White North!

  4. Brian says:

    Awww, you guys, stop it… I’m getting all teary-eyed.

    Jim — great NV submission, hope it’s your ticket to Van Rock City!

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