Learning is Change

#DigPINS Week 3: Where does your Pedagogical Authority come from?

Let’s set the record straight: I do not have a Masters or PhD in Instructional Design.

So, how can I claim Pedagogical Authority with faculty members or my peers who do?

That’s what I would like to reflect upon during Week 3 of #DigPINS. Yesterday, I was a part of a conversation with a subset of Pedigo.me, which is a group of instructional designers and other folks who have a ton of Authority for doing online learning and related work. In our discussion of pedagogy and digital pedagogy and even critical digital pedagogy, the following question came up (I’m paraphrasing): “Do you think that it is OK to do the work that we do, without being steeped in, and deeply understanding, learning theory?”

As it turns out, nobody wanted to argue the point that you didn’t need to understand learning theory or the history of research on learning theories (or at the very least, what good teaching and learning practice looks like). But, multiple folks on the call went so far as to say that their work in learning design was predicated upon the authority they claim from their education on the subject, specifically their advanced degrees (Masters/PhD) in learning theory, Educational Technology, or Instructional Design.

Now, I have always struggled with the idea that going through a Masters program or a particular series of study that is credentialed by an outside institution as the ONLY way to claim authority. (I’m sure my bias is showing here a bit.)

I understand that is the way that a lot of the world works, and that you can claim authority by the education that you accrued from an institution recognized for doing that work. The system of authority is well worn and can be leveraged successfully by many. You took classes in “this topic” and all of “those classes” added up to “such and such degree” in “this concentration”, and you were able to claim that authority. You were able to say to the world that “this institution” will vouch for me, “this place of learning” said I know how to do something and I have demonstrated it to them sufficiently to put the degree on my resume. And in some ways, you are saying that others should listen to you based upon “this credential.” That is the root of a certain type of authority.

And yet, I cannot do that.

So, my Pedagogical Authority has to come from somewhere else. I could say that I know “what is best for learners” or I know “what is best for teachers and faculty members”, but unless I can draw upon a separate authority, those are just words. Essentially, I must rely on a form of validation that is not externally established. I must carry it with me.

So, I would propose that an alternative Authority comes from two things: Expertise and Experience.

Expertise is the ability to demonstrate that you have a particular skill set.

Experience is the actual work of demonstrating that skill set.

Authority, of this type, should come from the combination of your expertise and your experience. I have expertise in instructional design, and I have experience helping to create courses or helping to develop effective facilitation techniques in the classroom and online. I have both expertise and experience for participating and leading online forums, online classes, and on my communities. I have expertise in building things online. Lots. of. Things.

I do not have credentials that say that I do those things. I do not have an engineering degree that says I can build apps or make the next great VR experience. I do not have an instructional design degree that says I know how to make a good course or use universal design for learning. And yet, some folks to grant me the authority to do those things (and pay me for them, actually). They have validated my expertise and provided the opportunity for me to gain more experience. They believe I have sufficiently demonstrated my expertise and shared my experience such that I can engage in the work that I do.

So, I guess I have the authority without the credentials.

As I see it, the credentials simply short circuit the expertise and experience argument. They serve as a substitution for experience and demonstrated expertise. Those with credentials don’t have to share their portfolio to prove they can do the work, but I do. I have to provide examples of the ways in which I have transformed learning environments or made important contributions to the cannon of learning. I have to look at job applications for the line that reads, “substitute an advanced degree for x years of experience in the field.” And, I have to be okay with that being enough.

And yet, in many ways, I feel like some folks use the advanced degree as a crutch. It is a reason not to share a portfolio of work. To “hide behind the transcript” and not have to actually implement the things learned in a PhD program or show that they make sense in the classroom or online space. Now, I don’t want to discourage people from going for higher degrees or disparage people who are doing research or those who choose to demonstrate in a formalized way and cultivate their expertise, backed by an institution of learning. But, I do want to be able to claim my own hard-won Pedagogical Authority and speak to Faculty members, and to even peers, who have those credentials. I want others to be able to see that I have done my research, I have gone through the process of teaching and learning, for myself.

I do not claim the same authority that you have as a PhD holder. But, I do claim authority. It is not the authority of formal research into Learning Theory. But, it is the authority of applied and action research. I do not claim the authority of learning in a graduate level classroom. I claim the authority of applied learning, on the job.

More than that, I claim the authority of passion. I claim the authority of Geeking out about obscure corners of the internet and READING AND ANNOTATING ALL THE THINGS. I claim the authority that can only come from years of demonstrating value to others. It is the years of folks wanting, needing, and using the things that I have created that allows for me to claim Authority. I hope that works for you…

With all of that said, I’d love to ask:

From where do you claim your pedagogical authority?

#DigPINS Week 2: I Cannot See My Network

As I have been cultivating my personal and professional learning networks online since the 2004-05 school year, I struggle with actually seeing online spaces as anything other than a learning network. The 15 years in the interim have so deeply engrained how I interact with connected learning, it has ceased to be novel or even, sometimes, observable. In fact, it is so pervasive in my asking of questions or responding to others online that I struggle to see how other people use the web as anything other than a networked learning environment. And yet, I am continually reminded of the fact that people do not see themselves as nodes to receive and send, as individuals who can reciprocally share ideas or build upon what has come before.

Whether this is because they are only consumers (or Visitors) within this environment, or because they have never had the pleasure of deep connection through textual communication or animated GIF-based discourse, I find that most often others do not see that the hyperlinks that hold the World Wide Web together could, in fact, support their next step in their own learning process, or could provide their next iteration of self within a network of amazing connections.

And yet, I can only speak to my own experience.

And that experience says that anytime I respond to a tweet, I am talking to a real person and building a relationship. Every time I post to this blog, I am doing so on the open web and I am making it easier for someone else to learn more to create in the future.

Sometimes I wish it were easier to show that a network exists.

Then people would not feel as isolated as they do. They would not feel like an individual in a vast sea of information that is overwhelming and far too easily influenced by companies and organizations that are not interested in social justice or empathy. They would see themselves supported by “the net” that catches me every single time I don’t know what I’m doing.

This is the network that I have cultivated over the last decade and a half, and it embraces me and has my back every time I want to try something new. But, that doesn’t change the fact that even though I feel the network of support, others cannot. They cannot see the relationships that I have built or the ways in which I use Twitter or blogs to build them. Unless I make them visible, everyone will continue to assume they are alone trying to do this. They will not understand that a network is available to them at all hours of the day at a moments’ notice.

But, what is the best way to make my network visible?

Is it in using tools like TAGS?

I don’t think so. That tool is great for visualization but not explanation. It doesn’t help someone to know “the how” or “the why”. The best way to show a network and the power of that network is through telling the stories of what a network feels like and what a network can do.

What a network feels like:

  • Conversations that never have to end.
  • An ever expanding group of friends.
  • A party that you get to jump into at any time and you never have to feel bad about leaving early or coming late.
  • Taking the lid off of your brain and pouring in to all of the synapses an energy that can connect things together for you, connections that you had no idea were possible.
  • Holding hands and feeling the warmth of the other person reflected back to you in your unique pulses going back and forth.

What a network can do:

A network can also just make me happy. (Not sad and angry, as many others claim of social media.)

And, just because I can’t always see it, does not mean it isn’t there. I need to make sure I remember that and help others to remember that too.

My Digital Identity during the week of the #StemShooting.

This was going to be a different post filled with all kinds of rich artifacts of my digital identity during a regular week of life and work. It was going to be a reflection on the past decade or so of sharing my experience within the many social and private spaces I inhabit, but that isn’t this post. Instead, this post is a reflection of my digital identity during the week that my two older children (10 and 12) experienced the most extreme form of violence within their school. You see, they go to Stem School Highlands Ranch. And, on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, they did not have a normal day at school. This post is the result of the day that they had. It is a result of the one that my wife and I experienced. And it is a result of the day and week that the community around us shared. I don’t have any intention for it other than to record this information. I want it preserved for myself and for all of the other #DigPINS participants that are endeavoring to reflect upon their own Digital Identities and make things for others.

I believe there are some events that fundamentally change the ways that we see ourselves and our community. This is one of those events for me.

First, this is a visual representation of my digital identity this week (according to the format laid out here):

My Digital Identity this week. The only change I would make is that Ferrite should be further to the right in the resident column. You can watch me make this in Explain Everything on this Youtube Video (sorry about the audio cutting in and out at the beginning of the video).

Second, these are the posts that I made and the reactions that they received from my community:

I posted this to my Twitter Community. I hope it was valuable to some.

Messages Shared in (Semi) Private Spaces:

My short reflective writing pieces that I wrote with the help of the Writing Prompts App:

(Note: Prompts from the app are in bold.)

1: A signal of time is how often I think about my children being locked in a classroom, waiting to find out if someone is coming to kill them. The further I get away from it, the less often this thought occurs. But, when it comes back, it stays and is still just as visceral. I want to protect those kids just as much. I want to save them from this moment. And I feel the teacher’s fear as my own. It is real. 

2: To me, a good life means knowing that you will not outlive your kids. That they will not be taken from you and that you will have to survive with the idea of what they could have been and done with their lives. You should not bury your children. You should live to see them free. 

3: Whenever I start writing I go to a place in the upper right corner of my mind, remembering what I have to say, as if each time I make more words they come from the same source. They are right there, just waiting to unspool and be put in the right order. All my metaphors are all memories. The statements so sticky that they hang on to one another and drop to my fingers only when they are ready and when I think to call upon them. 

4: The color purple reminds me of my youngest son. It is the purple in his unicorn robe. It is the purple in his fingernail polish. It is the purple in his chosen stuffies. It is a purple twinkle that I see creeping into his tooth-missing smile. He is a purple boy, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

5: I always knew that school shootings would be a part of my kids’ lives. I just didn’t think it would be this intimately intertwined. I didn’t know they would experience the terror first hand or that their school would be internationally recognized as one of the epicenters of tragedy. 

6: If I were to disappear I know that the sphere of influence I have built would miss me. It isn’t large, or particularly deep in the moment, but it would be an impact. I have made myself known to others enough that they would feel the absence. And I don’t want to be absent, at least as long as I can help it. I want to be present. To make an impact as deeply felt while I am here as when I am not. I don’t need to be remembered for all time. I just want to fill up the life of those around me and I want to pour into them a love that is more than they would expect. 

My Audio Reflection on the days since:

Some Advice on Buying Macs and iPads at my School

I had an incoming student ask for my advice on which devices to buy as they start their learning career at CU’s School of Dental Medicine.

This was my response:

As you are asking for my personal opinion, I will give it to you based upon how I do my daily work and how I have seen effective students work this year (our first year of using both iPads and Macs together). First, I love my iPad Pro. I have been using an iPad since the original generation because I love iOS and the way you get to think about “Apps and Actions” instead of “Files and Storage.” The more that I can use my iPad for productive purposes, the happier I am. I often find that I am better able to concentrate on a single productive task while on the iPad because of the way it is set up (there aren’t a nearly infinite number of windows that I can keep open at any given time). With that said, there are still things that I cannot do as easily from the iPad. And so I often find myself remotely accessing my MacBook Pro in order to accomplish a variety of tasks such as extensive work with spreadsheets and accessing desktop only applications. For this setup, I do not need the latest and greatest Mac. Rather, I just need one that I can always leave on to be there whenever I need it. If this setup sounds like you, I’d go for the best iPad Pro for your needs (either a 12.9 or 11 inch with Apple Pencil Gen 2) and go with a lesser Mac that you can defer to when you need it.

Second, I have seen students in their first year really like using iPads for note taking and annotating powerpoint files. They are often drawing on top of PDF readings or recording and annotating lectures. These are iPad-first students, and some of them rarely use their Macs. However, I see lots of students who prefer to type on their Mac laptops and make use of the massive storage they have, while leaving their iPads for only accessing the content-based apps that we have provided for specific classes. If you are the type of person who really does prefer to type extensive notes, a laptop is far better suited to the task. The exams for each of the courses are currently given primarily via Mac Laptop, but there are some students who are more comfortable on iPad, so they do that there as well. It really is a preference thing at this point, but we are moving forward with the idea that you should be able to do these exams from anywhere. 

Last, I think it probably comes down to what you want to invest your time in. There is A LOT of content coming at you in the first year, and you want a setup that is going to be easiest for you to learn that content. If you know how to use the iPad already and are familiar with navigating the mobile-first paradigm (I launch this app to do this thing), then it may make more sense to invest more there. If, on the other hand, you find yourself thinking about keeping a series of Word docs or Powerpoint files for each of your courses to help organize your learning, investing in the laptop is going to be easier for you. Ultimately, the technology should just be a tool to help you learn. It should not “get in the way” of your learning. So, I would start with the following tasks that a first year student does frequently and see which tool you might want to use most often. Whichever device feels more comfortable to you, I would invest in more heavily:

  • Taking notes during class
  • Taking pictures of your work in lab
  • Reviewing slides from your faculty members
  • Making powerpoint “cases” to present in class
  • Making flash cards/review materials
  • Accessing an LMS (Canvas, in our case)
  • Taking an Exam with multiple choice questions
  • Messaging your classmates
  • Reading a digital textbook and taking notes
  • Accessing an Electronic Health Records system

There are a lot of other tasks that you will obviously be doing with these devices (I haven’t spoken about any personal uses, so consider those too), but I hope that helps a bit for making your decisions. The only other suggestion I have is to wait until at least the end of June before buying anything. Mac laptops should get a refresh this summer, and you may have an easier time deciding after that point. Let me know if you have any further questions, and I’d be happy to follow up.

The Music Collection that Doesn’t Quite Feel Mine

I have been carefully curating my music collection for over 20 years, now. In that time, I’ve amassed thousands of albums that I have loved and listened to countless times. For a long while, there was some physical representation of this music. I owned CD’s. I collected records. But, all of it got dumped onto a hard drive at one point, and for the most part, that library of music hasn’t been touched since about 2010. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest one is the accessibility to Youtube/Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music.

I am not the first to recognize the seemingly incompatible metaphors of “owning” vs. “renting” music, but until this year, I don’t think that I realized just how much my music collection is no longer mine. I no longer treasure music the way I used to because I didn’t purchase it. I no longer work to find new music or dig up some long forgotten collection by a band I half remember because there is no worry that it won’t be there tomorrow. All music is always accessible. And it is simultaneously amazing and awful.

I don’t think that my kids will ever really possess the music they love. They will make playlists and they will stream their favorites. They will surely have far more opportunities to experience music than I ever did when I had to go to the record store and pick up the latest album, but I do need to make peace with the idea that access is not the same as ownership.

Access is not the same as ownership.

And maybe it doesn’t have to be. But, as I look at the thousands of songs I can turn to at the touch of a screen, I miss what ownership gives me: the ability to call these songs, and the experiences I have with them, mine. I’ll get over it, but I’m not sure I want to just yet.

The Commute

My commute is long and I’m trying to make it shorter.

I’m looking for any route I can find that will shave off an additional minute. I just hooked up my bike rack (and put my Gary Fisher on it) to cut down the time between my car and my office. I am experimenting with different times to leave in the morning and afternoon.

My personal best is 27 minutes driving and 10 minutes walking in the morning, and just three minutes more in the afternoon. This may not seem like a lot, but when you are wanted home by three lovely children and wife, there is no amount of time that I can cut out that will be wasted.

And that is why change is hard. I don’t want to waste time and certainly don’t want to give more of myself to things that don’t provide lasting value for myself or others (most of all, my family).

I can listen to podcasts and books and music on my cummute, but it isn’t the same as seeing my kids for more hours of their waking lives. They will only be 4 and 9 and 11 for so long, and I can’t imagine missing any more of it than I have to.

And Kara…

I want to provide for our needs. I want to be with her. And not just for the moments when we are both exhausted from our days.

So, I strive on to cut out another 30 seconds on my commute. Let me know if you have any time warping techniques.

The Next Chapter


I’ve been looking forward to making this announcement for 2 and half months, and I’ve finally gotten approval to make it happen. After 5 interview rounds and two on-site visits, I can say these words: I have a new job!

And in so many ways, it is truly NEW.

  • Working in Higher Education will be NEW.
  • Working with Post-graduate Instructors will be NEW.
  • Working in and developing a VR/Simulation lab will be NEW.
  • Working on a Medical Campus will be NEW.
  • Working with students who pay tuition will be NEW.
  • Working with a single school to achieve their outcomes for Digital Education will be NEW.

My new gig is as the Program Manager of Digital Education and Academic Technologies at the University of Colorado Anschutz campus.

My job description says I’ll be doing this:

The Program Manager of Digital Education & Academic Technologies serves as the School’s digital academic technology officer/lead. The Program Manager is responsible for managing all aspects of digital education, digital media, and faculty, staff and student training on new academic technologies introduced to the curriculum. In order to support an integral component of the Innovation Initiative, the Program Manager is responsible for creating an innovative teaching and learning environment. The Program Manager provides strategic leadership in planning for and implementing new digital learning technologies, providing expertise in instructional design, digital media, and project management, as well as the assessment, deployment, and management of emerging educational innovations. The Program Manager is responsible for developing and directing the School’s digital education and academic technology strategic plan.

That is a whole lot of NEW stuff to be thinking about and creating, but I am so looking forward to learning and leading in a brand new arena. I know I have a long way to go before I am an expert in this new context, but I have a strong foundation for teaching and learning from my K-12 experience. I am looking to leverage my entire network to better support my new stakeholders: Students and Staff in CU’s School of Dental Medicine.

Thank you to everyone who supported me in my search for a new gig. It has helped more than you can ever know!

Unlimited Vacation!

As you may know, I’ve been looking for a new gig.

In my search, a friend of mine recommended that I check out this company. I was incredibly intrigued by one of the “Perks” that they claim: Unlimited vacation (with a 2 week minimum.) While I’m still not sure how that would work exactly, it made me think a lot about the culture of a place that would advertise this.

How could we trust one another more that this could be our culture too? I wonder…

Thank you from TodaysMeet, and goodbye

TodaysMeet was one of the very first tools I ever used with kids to create a backchannel, a living conversation that was in direct opposition to having a single voice of authority in the classroom. As of June 16th, TodaysMeet will no longer exist. It makes sense why it is going away. It never had a business model and never gained much more traction than those first years of early adopters. And yet, I look at its destruction as yet another sign that we are in a different era of modern learning. When an old generation of tools die, what are the tools that will replace them?

50 questions for 2018

Although we are in May now, I still can’t quit asking questions about 2018. How did we get here and how do we move forward? These are 50 more questions worth asking about the current state of things, both in education and elsewhere. The very first of which is worth spending some time on: “Is being online compatible with being awake?”

Bad PD is Sometimes Your Own Fault

Dean Shareski speaks some truth about our personal responsibility for making Professional Learning work. It resonated with me because I speak often about our need to Trust Teachers and allow for them to take ownership over their own growth. And yet, this requires a significant amount of work from each educator, and without models for doing so, it is incredibly hard for many. We should be gracious with one another, and know that our best way forward is to be learners alongside other learners. We are responsible for ourselves, and in many ways, it is a truly awesome responsibility.

An Image for Further Inquiry:

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Are You Inspired Yet?

It isn’t often that I get truly excited by email, but with the new updates to the Gmail interface and the inclusion of a standalone Tasks app I am no longer dreading my inbox. And, for someone who spends a decent amount of the day there, that isn’t nothing.

Whether I get any more done as a result… Well, that remains to be seen.


Although this is only a partial idea from Dan Meyer and David Coffey, I was so completely taken with it. What would happen if we took inspiration from the “Song Exploder” podcast and we created a “Lesson Exploder” podcast/vlog? What would happen if we looked at the art of a great lesson plan or learning experience from all of the angles and tried to understand it the same way that we might try to understand and appreciate music?

We Need Diverse Books

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult literature of late, and I ran across this organization that aims to provide more books to everyone that are “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” I really like the approach here, as more students deserve to see themselves in the books they read in school. And we could all use some more experience in empathizing with others! (I try to do exactly that in my reading of The Hate U Give, here.)

Googlink: Creating Interactive Posters with Google Drawings

There are few people that I respect more than Eric Curts for their forward thinking and creative use of technology. In this exploration of Google Drawings, Eric makes the case for creating hyperlinked and interactive images as a way to explore topics and demonstrate understanding with students.

An Image for Further Inquiry:Dabbing at The Spelling Bee