Category Archives: General issues in higher education

Imagination by Benjamin, Part 2

A wooden bench in a park, with arm rests placed along the length of it so that you can't lie down.

Image by Nhung Tran from Pixabay

In the last post, I wrote down notes on chapters 1 and 2 in the book Imagination: A Manifesto by Ruha Benjamin. In this post I continue with chapters 3 and 4.

In these chapters, Benjamin talks about multiple imaginaries that support and perpetuate inequalities, and ways to imagine otherwise. Chapter 3 begins with a point that particularly struck me: in discussing how some who are working on virtual reality (VR) technologies note that they can help people to experience better living spaces that they don’t have in reality, Benjamin asks:

But how about a reality where everyone has sufficient resources? Instead of imagining a world where gross extremes between the wealthy and poor are ended, a growing industry fueled by the imagination of the uber-rich is working overtime to create virtual escapes from inequality and sell us on their dreams. (47)

While escape can be very important sometimes, I found her point very important that the effort and expense going into some applications of VR could be instead spent on imagining a world where VR isn’t needed to accommodate for vast differences in wealth.

And yet, VR and AR (augmented reality) can be very important as learning tools too; I can think of some applications at my institution that help students better learn about the brain, that support nurse practitioners to practice their skills with virtual patients, and that provide opportunities for students to practice new language skills with a virtual avatar (to name a few).

Benjamin herself points to a valuable use of augmented reality in Chapter 4, where she discusses an app called Breonna’s Garden, dedicated to celebrating the life of Breonna Taylor. So it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the story, the imagination, that the technology is used to support.

Chapter 3 focuses on a “eugenics imagination,” in which “some lives are deemed desirable and others disposable” (49). Benjamin discusses some topics that many may more easily associate with eugenics, such as forced sterilization programs in women’s prisons, but also prisons themselves as “eugenic institution[s], snatching up and discarding those society deems human detritus” (58). She also points to structures that make play either difficult or downright dangerous for Black and Brown children as supporting an imaginary where some people’s lives are more disposable than others’. This is due to issues such as “under-resourced or understaffed daycare centers,” design decisions in cities and in marginalized neighbourhoods that “make it hard to play freely,” and police “disrupt[ing] Black leisure with stop-and-frisk, targeted harassment, and violence” such as being killed while at play (e.g., Tamir Rice and Raymond Chaluisant) (61-62).

Benjamin returns to design at the end of chapter 3, with another discussion that really stood out to me. She starts out talking about how park benches are often made to keep people from lying down and sleeping, including a spiked bench where the spikes would only retract if you paid money (67). She then points to a creative project called Arhcisuits by Sarah Ross, which are suits that have foam appendages that allow one to get around such architectural designs, such as putting the foam between the arm rests on benches so that you can lie down on top of the foam. This really struck me:

The bench is a great metaphor for the spikes built into our institutions, while the foam-lined suit epitomizes how individuals are made responsible for being smarter, fitter, more suitable, to avoid harm. (69)

Connecting this to education, I think of the various ways that students with disabilities are made to adjust to the spikes in our post-seconday educational institutions; it is often their responsibility get a diagnosis, advocate for themselves, sign up with the disability support centre, figure out what to do if faculty don’t provide the accommodation requested, and more. The burden of work is put onto them to find a way to continue to learn in a system that was not designed for them. Their foam suits are expensive and exhausting, and not within reach of all students who might use them, and who therefore either never go to university or drop out. How can we imagine and create instead post-secondary environments that have fewer spikes to begin with (or, dreaming big, that have no spikes at all?).

A quote from chapter 4 that also struck me is relevant to this question. Benjamin talks about a few organizations dedicated to imagining justice, more just and equitable communities, cities, and institutions, and notes in relation to some of them:

This is part of a radical tradition of people who have no interest in being “included” inside a burning house. Instead, they are sounding the alarm about the treacherous blaze while, at the same time, laying down the bricks for more habitable social structures. (87)

By asking students with disabilities to find ways to be included in existing structures, we’re putting the burden on them rather than changing the structures. This is not to criticize disability support centres, which often do very excellent work and are providing a lifeline to many, many students. Such lifelines may always be needed, as it would be very difficult for any institution to serve every individual. But perhaps we can adjust the environment so the house is more welcoming for more people and fewer foam pads, or lifelines, are needed.

Another quote that struck me from chapter 4 comes from Robin D.G. Kelly:

Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us. (86)

It is not just the house that needs transforming, but we who are changing it, who are building something better, need to be changed in the process or we will likely continue to build rickety structures.



Imagination by Benjamin, Part 1

Hot air balloons going upwards into a blue sky; the one that dominates the view has a rainbow pattern with a triangular basket underneath.

Hot air balloons in Boise, Idaho, 2018 (photo by Christina Hendricks)

As part of Mid-Year Festival 2024, I’m participating in a book circle on Ruha Benjamin’s book, Imagination: A Manifesto. I am going to add a few reflections here on the Introduction and chapters 1 and 2, in preparation for our meeting about those chapters.

I wanted to join this book circle because I have a strained relationship with imagination sometimes. In some ways I feel I have a great deal of imagination (I love drawing even though I’m not great at it, for example, and doing very short, 6-10 word stories), but in other ways I feel like I tend to just continue with things as they are because I struggle with understanding how they might change. This is especially the case with systemic issues that would require very complex work in many ways to even start to approach.

Back in MYFest 2022 I wrote a blog post about imagining higher education futures, and how much difficulty I found with that task because of the interlocking structures that all need to change in order to make bigger changes. I felt somewhat stuck, because while trying to change one thing it bumped up against so many others that made it difficult to move. I’m hoping that while reading and discussing this book I feel even more unstuck.

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Some ethical considerations in ChatGPT and other LLMs

Like many others, I’ve been thinking about GPT and ChatGPT lately, and I’m particularly interested in diving deeper into ethical considerations and issues related to these kinds of tools. As I start looking into this sort of question, I realize there are a lot of such considerations. And here I’m only going to be able to scratch the surface. But I wanted to pull together for myself some ethical areas that I think may be particularly important for post-secondary students, faculty, and staff to consider.


  • This post will focus on ethical issues outside of academic integrity, which is certainly an important issue but not my particular focus here.
  • An area I barely touch on below, but plan to look into more, is AI and Indigenous approaches, protocols, and data sovereignty. One place I will likely start is by digging into a 2020 position paper by an Indigenous protocol and AI working group.
  • This post is quite long! I frequently make long blog posts but this one may be one of the longest. There is a lot to consider.
  • I am focusing here on ethical issues and concerns, and there are quite a few. It may sound like I may be arguing we should not use AI language models like ChatGPT in teaching and learning. That is not my point here; rather, I think it’s important to recognize ethical issues when considering whether or how to use such tools in an educational context, and discuss them with students.

Some of the texts I especially relied on when crafting this post, that I recommend:

And shortly before publishing I learned of this excellent post by Leon Furze on ethical considerations regarding AI in teaching and learning. It has many similar points to the below, along with teaching points and example ways to engage students in discussing these issues, focused on different disciplines. It’s very good, and comes complete with an infographic.

My post here has been largely a way for me to think through the issues by writing.

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Early thoughts on ChatGPT & writing in philosophy courses

Yes, it’s another post on ChatGPT! Who needs another post? I do! Because one of the main reasons I blog is as a reflective space to think through ideas by writing them down, and then I have a record for later. I’m also very happy if my reflections are helpful to others in some way of course!

Like so many others, I’ve been learning a bit about and reflecting on GPT-3 and ChatGPT, and I must start off by saying I know very little so far. I took a full break from all work-related things from around December 20 until earlier this week, and I plan to do some deeper dives to learn more in the coming days and weeks. I should also say that though this is focused on GPT, that’s just because it’s the only one I’ve looked into at this point.

Mainly why I’m writing this post is to do some deeper reflection on why I have many writing assignments in my philosophy courses, what I hope they will do for students. And as I was thinking about this, I started reflecting on the role of writing in philosophy more generally, since philosophy classes teach…philosophy.

Academic philosophy and writing

Okay, a whole book could be written about the role of writing in academic philosophy. Here are just a few anecdotal reflections.

Philosophy as I have been trained in it and practice it in academia is frequently focused on writing. We also speak orally, and that’s really important to the discipline as well. Conversations in hallways, in classes, with visiting speakers, at conferences, etc. are all crucial ways we engage in thinking, discussing, making arguments as well as critiquing and improving them. This may not be agreed upon by all, but I still think writing is more heavily emphasized. Maybe I think that partly because for hiring, tenure, and promotion processes what seems to count most are written works rather than oral presentations, lectures, or workshops. Maybe it’s because most of what we do when we do research in philosophy is read written works by others and then write articles, chapters, or books ourselves.

Oral conversations tend to be places where philosophers test out ideas, brainstorm new ideas, give and receive feedback, iterate, discuss, do Q&A, and communicate (among other purposes). Interestingly, even at philosophy conferences, at least the ones in North America I’ve attended, it’s common to read written works out loud during research presentation sessions. (This is not the case for sessions focused on teaching philosophy, which are often more workshop-like and focused more on interactive activities.) For me it can be very challenging to pay attention for a long time by just listening, and I personally appreciate when there are slides or a handout to help keep one’s thinking on track and following along. Writing again! Oral conversations and presentations are also not accessible to all, of course, and one alternative (in addition to sign language) is writing, either in captions or transcripts.

Writing is also a way that some folks (maybe many?) think their way through philosophical or other arguments and ideas. As noted at the top of this post, this is certainly the case for me. I have to put things into words in order to really piece them together and form more coherent thoughts, and though that can be done orally (say, through a recording device), for me it works better in writing.

From these brief reflections, here are some of the likely many roles of writing in doing philosophy. This is not a comprehensive list by any means! And it’s likely similar for at least some other disciplines.

  • Writing to think and understand: Sometimes summarizing works by others helps one to understand them better (e.g., outlining premises and conclusions from a complicated text, or recording what one thinks are the main claims and overall conclusion of a text). In addition, sometimes writing helps one to understand better one’s own somewhat vague thoughts, to clarify, delineate, group them into categories, think of possible objections, etc. (That’s what I’m doing with this blog post)
  • Writing to communicate: communicating our own ideas and arguments, and taking in communications by others of theirs by reading them (as one means; communication of philosophical ideas and arguments can happen in other ways too!). Communicating the ideas and arguments of others, as often happens in lectures in philosophy classes, or when summarizing someone else’s argument before critiquing it and offering a revised version or something new.
  • Writing as a memory aid: Taking notes when reading texts, or listening to a speaker, or during class. Writing down notes to remind oneself what to say when teaching, or giving a lecture or conference presentation, or facilitating a workshop. Writing one’s thoughts down to be able to return to them later and review, revise, etc. (as in the last point).

The point of these musings is that at least in my experience, a lot of philosophical work, at least in academia, is done in or through writing, even though many of us also engage in non-written discussions and communications. And for me, this is important context to consider when thinking about teaching philosophy and writing, and what it may mean when tools like ChatGPT come onto the scene.

Teaching philosophy and writing

I came to the thoughts above because I was thinking about how it is very common in philosophy courses to have writing assignments–frequently the major assignments are essays in one form or another–and I started to reflect on why that might be. It could be argued that writing is pretty well baked into what it means to do (academic) philosophy, at least in the philosophical traditions I’m familiar with. So it could make sense that teaching students how to do philosophy, and having them do philosophical work in class, means teaching them to write and having them write! (Of course, academic philosophy is not all of what philosophy can be…this is another area on its own, but I think at least some of the focus on writing in philosophy courses may be related to its focus in academic philosophy.)

And like many academic and disciplinary skills, it can be helpful to build up towards philosophical writing skills by practising the kinds of steps that are needed to do it well. So, for example, in philosophy courses we often ask students to review an argument presented by someone else (usually in writing) and summarize it, perhaps by outlining the premises and conclusion. Then maybe in a later step we’ll ask them to offer questions or critiques of the argument, or alternative views or approaches, all of which are important parts of doing philosophy in the traditions in which I’m immersed. In later stages or upper-level courses we’ll ask students to do research where they gather arguments from multiple sources on a particular topic, analyze them, and offer their own original contributions to the philosophical discussion.

All of this is similar to the sort of work professional philosophers do in their own research, and to me just seems like natural ways of doing philosophy given my own experience. It’s just that we do it at different levels and often in a scaffolded way in teaching.

However, mostly I teach introductory-level courses, and the number of students who will go on to do any more philosophy, much less become professional philosophers, is relatively small. So personally, I including writing assignments not just because they are part of what it means to do philosophy (though it’s partly that), but also because I think the skills developed are useful in other contexts. Being able to take in and understand arguments by others (whether textual or otherwise), break them down into component parts to help support both understanding and evaluation, evaluate them, and revise or come up with different ideas if needed, are I think pretty basic and important skills in many, many areas of work and life. I think this (or something like it) may (?) continue to be the case as AI writing tools become more and more ubiquitous, but of course I’m not sure, and that’s a question for further thought.

Process and product

When teaching it’s much more about the learning and thinking that happens through the process of writing activities that’s important. The essay or parts of an essay that result are not the critical pieces. After all, if I ask 100 or more students to analyze the same argument and produce a set of premises and conclusions (for example), the resulting summary/analysis of the argument isn’t the important piece there, especially when there will be many, many of them. It’s the learning and thinking that’s happening to get to that point. The summary is there as a stand-in for the thinking and learning. And in some cases it’s the same for the critiques, feedback, or alternative ideas that students may offer in response to someone else’s argument–what I may care about more is what they’re learning through doing that thinking rather than the specific replies they produce. Many will be really interesting and thought-provoking. Others may be will be similar across multiple students. Depending on the level of the course and the learning outcomes, all of these may be fine as results; what I care about is that they are putting in the thought and reflection to hone skills of (to use a too-well-worn term) “critical thinking.”

When I think about it this way, I wonder what is the purpose of the actual essay or paragraph or outline of an argument that I assign in courses. It’s often not the actual end product (though sometimes it is, particularly for upper level or graduate courses). The end product is mostly a vehicle and proxy for me as a teacher to review whether the thinking, reflecting, and learning is taking place.

So, thinking about the several ways writing is used in philosophy noted in the previous section, I think largely I’m assigning writing for the purposes of thinking and understanding, and also communicating–maybe to other students, to me, to TAs, etc. And my assumption, when marking writing, is that the written text is actually communicating the student’s thinking and understanding, that the communication and the thinking are linked.

Teaching writing in philosophy, and ChatGPT

One of the things that the emergence of ChatGPT really emphasizes for me is that that end product isn’t really a good communication vehicle to assess whether the thinking and understanding has taken place. This really hit home for me through a post on Crooked Timber by philosopher Eric Schliesser. Schliesser notes that several professors have said that the essays produced by ChatGPT are decent enough to earn a passing grade, if not higher. “But this means that many students pass through our courses and pass them in virtue of generating passable paragraphs that do not reveal any understanding,” Schliesser points out.

This made me think: the essay may not only not be a reliable communication of the student’s own thinking (which we knew already due to concerns about plagiarism, people paying others to write their essays, etc.), but may not be communicating thinking and understanding at all. The link between the two can be completely severed. (This is assuming, as I think it’s safe to assume at this point, that tools like ChatGPT are not doing any thinking or understanding…I know this is a philosophical question but for the moment I’m going to go with the seemingly-reasonable-at-this-point claim that they’re not.)

In one respect, this is an extension of previous academic integrity concerns: if what we want to be assessing is the student’s own thinking and understanding, then ChatGPT and the like are similar issues in that a student could submit something that does not communicate their own understanding–it’s just that in this case, rather than communicating the understanding someone, somewhere, at some point had, it’s not communicating understanding at all.

But of course, we have academic integrity concerns for a reason, and for me it’s not just that I want to be able to tie the writing to the individual student for the sake of integrity and fairness of assessment (though that is important too), it’s also that I want to engage students in activities that will develop skills that will be useful to them in the future. And it’s seeming more and more the case that the written texts I have used in the past as a vehicle to review whether they have developed those skills is less and less useful for that purpose.

At the moment, I can think of a few options, some of which could be combined for a particular assignment or class:

  1. Continue to try to find ways to connect the writing students do out of class to themselves–an extension of academic integrity approaches we already have. These can include:
    • using plagiarism checkers (which right now I think do not work with tools like ChatGPT
    • comparing earlier, in-class writing to later, out-of-class writing
    • quizzing students orally on the content of their written work
    • asking students to do multiple steps for writing assignments, some of which could be done in class, and also ask them to explain their reasoning for the choices they are making (this one from Julia Staffel–see more from her below)
  2. Find other ways for students to show their thinking and understanding than assigning written work done outside of class.
    • E.g., Ryan Watkins from George Washington University suggests (among other things) having students create mind maps (which ChatGPT can’t do … yet?) and holding in-class debates where students could show their thinking, understanding, and skills in communicating.
    • Julia Staffel from the University of Colorado Boulder talks in a video posted on Daily Nous about alternative approaches in philosophy courses, such as in-class essays, oral exams, oral presentations (synchronous or recorded), and assignments based on non-textual sources such as podcasts or videos (but that only works until the tools can start using those as source material).
  3. Use ChatGPT or similar in writing assignments

    • Numerous people have also suggested assignments in which students need to work with ChatGPT; if we think of it like a helper tool that can generate some early ideas for us to build on or critique, or that can provide summaries of others’ work that we can evaluate for ourselves, etc., then we could still be supporting students to build some similar kinds of skills as earlier writing assignments.
    • Still, inspired by a blog post by Autumm Caines, I’m wary of doing this until I look more into privacy implications, who has access to what data and how it’s used. Autumm also talks about the ethics of requiring students to provide free labour to companies to train tools like this. And what happens when the tool or ones like it are no longer offered for free?
    • Finally since ChatGPT can already mark and provide feedback on its own writing (albeit not perhaps the best), it’s not clear to me that having students have the tool draft something and then comment on it/revise it is going to necessarily get around the tie-the-work-to-a-mind issue.

A number of the ideas above have to do with doing things synchronously, in a way that the instructor and/or TAs can witness. Some are alternative approaches to providing evidence of thinking and understanding done outside of class that work for now, just based on what the tech can do at the moment. And maybe those will continue to work for some time, or maybe not. It feels a bit like trying to do catch-up with an ever-changing landscape.

I have many more thoughts, but this blog post is already too long so I’ll save them for later. For now, a takeaway is that maybe one of the things that I’ll need to do in the future is spend more time in class on activities that develop and allow students to communicate the thinking and understanding I’m hoping to support them in. If I have to assess them (which I do), then I’d like to bring the communication and the thinking parts back together. I want to think through pros and cons of a number of suggestions noted above, and similar ones, particularly around what they are actually measuring and whether it’s connecting to my learning goals in teaching (which, incidentally, is an important exercise to do for out-of-class writing too of  course!).

I also have some ill-formed thoughts about the value of teaching students to write philosophy essays at all, if they can be written so easily by a bot that doesn’t think or understand. But that’s for another day!


4 phases of Intentionally Equitable Hospitality

Screenshot of the title of the workshops I'm participating in: Intentionally Equitable Hospitality Series, January 2023

From a slides from the Intentionally Equitable Hospitality Series, licensed CC BY-NC, Bali, Tammer, Maweu, Zamora, Sorenson-Unruh.

I’m participating in a series of three sessions on Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, organized and facilitated by Maha Bali, Yasser Tammer, Irene Maweu, Mia Zamora, and Clarissa Sorenson-Unruh. You can find out more about the series from a blog post by Maha Bali. IEH is something I learned about a bit while participating in Virtually Connecting, a community that has brought together people who were attending conferences in person with people who were not attending, to have informal conversations about the conference, about the topics being discussed, about each others’ work, etc.

IEH is a way to facilitate and teach that supports equity and inclusivity, that intentionally works make a space where everyone feels welcomed and can participate equitably (as an ideal to strive for; making this work for everyone can be challenging but we can always keep working towards it). IEH is particularly focused on relations of power, on oppression and marginalization, and how these play into classes, workshops, and other events.

Here’s a brief overview of IEH from Bali & Zamora (2022):

IEH begins with the notion that the teacher or workshop facilitator is a “host” of a space, responsible for hospitality, and welcoming others into that space. IEH requires intentionality about who is involved in the design of that space, noticing for whom the space is hospitable and for whom it is not. IEH is iterative design, planning, and facilitation in the moment. It also includes the interactions outside of formal gatherings that influence formal, synchronous interactions.

You can also find out more about IEH from Bali, Caines, Hogue, Dewaard, and Friedrich (2019), focused on Virtually Connecting. And Maha Bali also has a short video explaining the concept.

As someone who teaches and also facilitates workshops and other events, I am very interested in learning more about IEH and how to put it into practice in my own context.

We had the first session on January 5, and I wanted to write down a few thoughts about one thing that stood out to me (there are many others!), namely the four phases of IEH that were presented in the session.

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Notes on Brown’s Emergent Strategy

During the last three months (June, July, August) I participated in Mid-Year Festival 2022, organized by Equity Unbound. This was a wonderful space of learning and conversations, in which I got to know new people and new authors/resources/ideas.

One of those is adrienne maree brown and her works on emergent strategy. I recently finished reading her book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (AK Press, 2017), and I found so many important and helpful ideas in that book I wanted to write a few down here to be able to refer back to them later.

I was particularly interested in learning more about emergent strategy because I thought it might address some questions I have about being an educational leader during a time of significant change and transition–what are some helpful leadership practices for times when things are quickly changing and we are facing situations and conditions that are new to us, when the future feels more unknown than it might have earlier? How to support myself and others to act with intention in such a situation, rather than mainly being reactive? How to support myself and others to appreciate the opportunities this kind of situation opens up, in addition to feeling apprehensive? How to do all this without the common refrain I felt myself saying to myself and others over the past couple of years (something along the lines of: “thinking about how to do this is making my head feel like it’s going to explode and I’m trying but I’m not sure exactly what to do”).

The blurb on the back of the book grabbed me:

… The world is in a continual state of flux. … Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. … [This is] a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

Sounded like the sort of thing I was looking for, and I have indeed found it very interesting, thought-provoking, and useful.

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Moving boulders: Dreaming higher education futures with MYFest22

I am participating in Mid-Year Festival 2022, a set of professional development workshops, events, and asynchronous activities run by Equity Unbound and facilitated by many different people around the world. One of the sessions in August is “Dreaming Higher Education Futures,” in which participants take time to vision, re-vision, and dream what higher education could be like in the future. Between the two synchronous sessions, participants are invited to create artifacts to explain their visions.

I struggle with articulating a clear vision, though I do have thoughts on what I’d like to see more of in the future (e.g., more equitable access, decolonization, anti-racism, flexibility of approaches and teaching modalities, more focus on care and wellbeing…). Instead of designing a dream of the future, I ended up focusing on the barriers I struggle with when I think about large-scale change. And I took a few photos on a weekend long walk to illustrate.

Moving Boulders

When I think about radical change in higher education, I often get a bit stuck by realizing how hard it is because of so many interconnecting structural systems. It’s difficult to change thing A because things B, C, D, E, etc. are tied to that and limiting/upholding limits on what can be done in A.

For example, I recognize that workload, stress, and burnout are significant problems for many people at the institution. Addressing that can be challenging because it’s tied into financial issues (can there be more people hired?), institutional expectations that increased during the pandemic and don’t seem to be abating, as well as a general culture of accepting that more and more work just is part of what we have to do (those who would push against that find themselves wondering if it means they might be viewed as less valuable). Many of these are not specific only to post-secondary contexts, of course. But they seem to be bigger issues that make it hard to address the problem without addressing many others.

As I was taking a walk this weekend I was thinking about how to visualize this situation, and one idea is to consider it like rocks in a wall:

Tightly packed rocks

It feels difficult to really change each one because all the others are pushing in around it. How can you change one thing without altering all the others? It feels “stuck.”


Sometimes it can seem like there’s a bit of wiggle room at least, such as here, where one might be able to expand some of the rocks in the spaces between them and the others. But there is still a limit if one doesn’t change other other rocks; there could be some squishiness between, but then you hit rigidity again.

I don’t have a photo for this one, but another sense one can have is that there could be some changes, but the movement is elastic, like a rubber band–one can expand outward, or change shape somewhat, but it’s temporary and eventually things get pulled back into their original shape, their usual grooves. For example, I think this is how many folks may be feeling as we went through changes in teaching and learning during Covid-19, and while some changes from those may be continued, in many other respects we are pulling back into the “way things used to be” even if in some cases more radical changes would have been better if we had worked harder to ensure they could happen.

Pushing through the rocks

I also found signs of hope, though, on my walk. Plants have an amazing ability to push around and through what may seem like impermeable barriers and attempts to keep them away.

When systems seem stuck and blocked by deep structural interconnections that appear hard to change by pushing outward, sometimes it takes movement in a different direction–in this case, upwards and downwards through the stems, leaves, and roots of plants pushing their way through walls of stones in a seawall. If movement seems really hard, perhaps one way to think about it is to not stay within the usual confines of systems but to move in a different direction/dimension. Work underneath or around in unusual ways. It may not make sense at first, and one may not be sure what the results could be, but perhaps this will lead to movement of the stones themselves. Sometimes, it may

Tree sprouting in rocksSometimes, it may even be possible to grow whole trees out of the floors and walls, reaching far above and below.

What could be the result? Eventually, the boulders may become more moveable, jumbled, no longer stuck in the same places, more malleable. And by being closely connected together, this could be an advantage to change–by changing one or a few, those nearby may have to change, causing ripples outwards and loosening what was stuck in place.


Though they may be, at first, still stuck in a larger structure that keeps them from bursting out into something new.

Rocks in a cage

But even those wire cages may not last, and in the end the boulders may roam more freely, able to be moved and shaped into new configurations.

Loose boulders

Shaping Boulders

This is as far as I’ve gotten so far–I’ve managed to free the stones but haven’t begun building with them.

Yet, one of the resources shared during the first Dreaming Higher Ed Futures session has really resonated with me–Radical Tenderness cards created by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective, an arts/research/teaching/practice group including people from UBC, a group I didn’t know about until now.

The cards are invitations to approach modernity and decolonization in ways that invite the death of the old and movement towards something new:

Radical tenderness is an invitation for us to learn to hospice modernity/coloniality dying within and around us, and to be taught by these deaths. Through learning from the gifts, harms and limits of the modern/colonial politics, radical tenderness also invites us to assist with the birth of a grammar of politics OTHERWISE, without suffocating the newborn with blankets of projections and idealizations.

Some that are resonating with me as I think about higher ed futures include:

  • “Make space for the unknown and the unknowable, in ourselves and in others.”
  • “Stop fearing fear, uncertainty and emptiness.”
  • “Assist with the birth of something new, without suffocating what is being born with projections and idealizations.”

One of the things that I have felt significantly challenged by over the last couple of years is a sense of uncertainty–we are going through quite a lot of change; what will the future be like? What will develop out of what we are working through now? How can I get back to a sense of stability?

I’m trying to learn to appreciate the opportunity that change an uncertainty bring, without being exactly sure what will come next. I am starting by recognizing that boulders can be moved, which helps get me unstuck enough to have space to dream about what else we might build with them.

This is one step along the journey. I’m looking forward to learning from and with others who are also dreaming!

Alt CV for DS106 daily create and MyFest22

A couple of things came together today in a way that was just too wonderful to pass up! As noted in an earlier blog post, I’m participating in MyFest 2022 for the next three months, and as part of that a number of folks are participating in the DS106 Daily Create activities.

Today’s Daily Create is to “Introduce yourself with a creative alternative CV”–“something more creative than an dry traditional CV.”

Also, Maha Bali, one of the organizers of MyFest, published a blog post today about a session she recently attended about finding joy at work, led by Kathleen Vinson. As part of the session, participants reflected on three questions:

  • What do you volunteer for, happily?
  • What do you do well?
  • Where do you have flow?

These two things (the daily create and Maha’s blog post) seemed to me to mesh well together, so I’m going to do the former by providing my own reflections on the questions in the latter.

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Joining MYFest

I am exciting to be participating in Mid-Year Festival (MYFest), a three-month series of professional development events and activities hosted by Equity Unbound, June, July, August 2022. There is a fantastic lineup happening throughout all three months, on four themes:

  • open educational practices, open publishing, and digital literacies
  • critical pedagogy and socially just education
  • community building and community reflection
  • wellbeing and joy

There is a lot happening, and I can only attend some of the synchronous sessions due to time zone or other commitments, but there are a lot of ways to participate asynchronously as well. I’m also really impressed by the care that has been put into ensuring people in many different time zones can participate!

Some of the things I’ll be attending in June include sessions on ungrading, on entangled pedagogy, and open learning (among others!). I’ll also be participating in the daily create activities (well, maybe not every day, but will do at least a few a week), and in conversations with others on our blogs through the MYFest blog network.

Anyone can participate in this choose-your-own-journey set of events, and registration is pay-what-you-can.

I’m looking forward to connecting with many folks over the next three months, some old friends and hopefully many new as well!

What I (should not) assume

Road with a sign on the side saying "Welcome to Idaho"

Welcome to Idaho, US Route 91, Franklin, Idaho, photo by Ken Lund, shared on Flickr with CC BY-SA 2.0 license.


This is the third blog post in the 9x9x25 challenge I’m doing (still one behind, as it’s week 4!). See this post explaining the challenge.


I’m part of a book club, and right now we’re reading Educated by Tara Westover. I’m most of the way through the book and hopefully won’t give too many spoilers, but as it’s a memoir and her bio can be seen at the website linked above, the general outlines of her educational journey are easily known. I’ll just add a few more details from the book here in my reflection on her experience and how it has led me to reflect on my own teaching practices.

The memoir

This book is about a young woman growing up in rural Idaho (and since I grew up in Idaho too, a number of the places mentioned are familiar to me, though I am not from the same region as her). Her family, due to religious and other beliefs, chose not to send their children to school (though some went for a time anyway if I remember correctly), and wouldn’t go to doctors if they could at all help it. Tara never went to school but managed to study on her own and get high enough marks on the ACT (one of the exams high school students can take to get into some colleges and universities) to be admitted to Brigham Young University in Utah. There, she went through deep financial and personal struggles, including facing a world where the beliefs she had grown up with were frequently challenged in ways she wasn’t always ready to deal with.

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