Tuesday, January 3, 2017


The factory is empty. Schools make factory workers. Now what?

[Reposted with permission from tonyferrar.com.]

In his manifesto on teaching and learning, Seth Godin points out that

Factories didn't happen because there were schools; schools happened because there were factories. 
The reason so many people grow up to look for a job is that the economy has needed people who would grow up to look for a job. 
Jobs were invented before workers were invented. 
In the post-job universe, workers aren't really what we need more of, but schools remain focused on yesterday's needs.
Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams

In the early 1900's the US lead the way to industry. We created something completely new: the idea of mass production, interchangeable parts, interchangeable assembly line workers. The artisan was no longer required to build cars, or toothbrushes. Through this innovation, everyone gained access to more, plenty. The result was the most prosperous century in the history of the world.

A hundred years later, the US no longer holds the monopoly on factories. We've led the way, and others have followed. This isn't a bad thing. The world has raced to the bottom: who can make a toothbrush the cheapest?

Now, we are free to develop a new idea. Creative destruction is never pleasant, but I don't think anyone would argue that they miss the jobs lost to the cotton gin.

A common theme in Utopian literature and film is that technology has reduced the need for people to do many tasks. They are no longer needed to cook, clean, perform surgery, build houses. Yet most of these stories act as warnings, not beacons of hope.

In the post-industrial utopian society, identity is lost. Everyone wears a jumpsuit. Your role in society is decided by a central authority which seeks to optimize. In many of these stories, people are given numbers rather than names.

And in every one of them, the central authority tries to keep things running smoothly by crushing art, individualism, and passion. Pretty bleak.

Fact: we live in a society that is post-industrial. Our great idea panned out perfectly and is in the process of reaching its natural conclusion. Everyone has everything (at least in terms of wants/needs of the early 1900's, which are what industrialism can provide).

Its time to create the next great idea. What is it?

Maybe it has something to do with connection (the internet). Maybe the next great idea involves doing the opposite of what Utopia warns against.

We're living in a moment of time, the first moment of time, when a billion people are connected, when your work is judged (more than ever before) based on what you do rather than who you are, and when credentials, access to capital, and raw power have been dwarfed by the simple question "Do I care about what you do?" 
We build this world for you. Not so you would watch more online videos, keep up on your feeds, and LOL with your high school friends. We built it so you could do what you're capable of. Without apology and without excuse.
Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

We don't need to fit the mold, we need artists. We don't need more interchangeable workers, we need customizers. We don't need teachers, we need guides to show us how to live out our passions. We don't need to create a solution for everyone, we need to create a unique solution for someone.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Freedom is Wasted on the Free

“Youth is wasted on the young.”

I am constantly amazed that every four years in America, we have a “Get Out the Vote” campaign. We give ourselves a good pep rally reminding ourselves that “Freedom isn’t free” and “if you don’t vote, you don’t have a right to complain.” We have to convince ourselves to exercise our freedoms, to get off the couch and say something with our one precious vote.

And time and again we see that one vote actually matters.

Well, voting isn’t the only freedom we tend to overlook. The First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, without the fear of persecution. Rather than exercising this freedom by adding to the discourse, we follow the lead of “them.” We bicker on Facebook and Twitter and the news comment feeds. Safe places where we don’t really stand out from the noise, we do what’s expected, and we enjoy a big dose of digital courage.

Its easy to be a critic: you don’t risk anything. Its much harder to stand up and make something new. Making something new puts your skin in the game. Now you are risking the response of critics. 

Your freedom comes with the something so much more precious than the right to critique: you have the chance to add something new. Not just another armchair quarterback. You can create, and share. We have the tools to reach anyone in the world with our ideas, and yet we choose to limit them to arguments with people we “like” on social media. 

It costs us nothing. Anyone can create a public space to share his or her ideas for free, in 15 minutes or less. And everyone should.

Your voice counts. If a kid saying the word “blood” can catch the attention of millions, why can’t your one precious perspective? Consider writing. You can write something and share it with the rest of the world. 

“Conventional Wisdom” is really just a collection of things that we, as a people, repeat often enough that we remember them. You can add to this collected work. But it requires saying something, risking something, rather than just critiquing the thoughts of others.

We need your ideas! Create a blog. Say something new.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Today is an odd day for me. I am withdrawing from two “opportunities." One is a paper for a conference, the other is a job application.

The paper represents the typical academic currency, keeps the “publish or perish” ledger in the black. The job represents my last offer to enter into the industrial research machine, and make the unremarkable changes that come from a place of absolute safety.

Both represent opportunity to move up a rung in the safe, professional ladder I have been climbing. There is a “typical” or “traditional” track to follow which is the expected and (seemingly safe) trajectory for my career, the natural continuation of the path that led me to this point. This path leads directly into the machine, and offers the opportunity to become a cog. 

Cog (n) /kawg/ A crucial, but easily replaced part of a machine. Only noticed when it doesn’t work.

I can’t help but notice that if I don’t send the paper, the conference will go on. No one will miss it so much that they decide not to attend. The job opening that was “created just for me” came with so little communication and urgency that I have to wonder if this is just a sales pitch, a way to make me feel like a winner as I settle. Someone else will take the job. The factory owner wins when highly talented people join the “cog list” as employees. It is the highly talented new employee who suffers. This person must hand over the keys to his dreams in exchange for a “safe” career, with well-defined promotion tracks based on years of service rather than impact.

In either place, it is easy to test just how cog-like the opportunities are: If I walk away, will the long-term outcome change? 10 years from now, will it matter that someone else published their paper, or someone else took that job? Inverting the question: if I don’t do the work that I plan to do instead of these two “opportunities,” will the world miss that? I think so.

Today is especially strange for me because these two “opportunities” represent my last open lines to that safe track to cubeville. Letting go may actually burn the bridges, leaving me fully committed to the uncertain life of following MY purpose. Not someone else’s purposes. Not the expected path that has been trodden countless times. I’ll have no one to boss me, no one to blame for my success or failure.

But I’ll have a chance to matter.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

There's Someone In My Head

I couldn’t resist. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Pink Floyd inspired post...

For effect, feel free to play Brain Damage as you read the rest of this.

I’ve got voices in my head. They speak to me all the time. They think they are keeping me safe, but in reality they are not my friends. They are not capable of speaking in my best interest. It’s not their fault. They aren’t evil. Just stupid.

We listen to the voices in our heads because of instinct. They started out smart, telling us to stay out of traffic, away from high ledges. They learn from pain, or from witnessing of pain. I burned my hand in fire, so the voices in my head tell me not to put my hand in fire. I am afraid to put my hand in fire. I saw someone fall from a high place and hurt themselves. The voices in my head tell me not to go to high places. I am afraid of high places.

But then we get hurt emotionally. Maybe an idea we have is criticized. Maybe someone tells us we aren’t good at something. The voices learn from this pain, too. And so they start to tell us not to put our ideas out there. Or they tell us not to try something. We become afraid to put our ideas out there, afraid to try something.

Theres a problem with this: physical pain is governed by physical laws. Every time I stick my hand in the fire, I will get burned. The voices are right every time that I think about sticking my hand in the fire and they tell me not to.

Emotional pain is more complex. Maybe you truly had a bad idea. Does that mean that every idea you have is bad? Of course not, but the voices aren’t smart enough to keep up. They are saying, “don’t get burned again.”

Maybe your idea wasn’t even bad. Maybe the person who criticized you had the problem. They’ve got voices too. Maybe you threatened their sense of self-worth, or expertise. What was the criticism, really? Would everyone think it was a bad idea, or was the person you spoke with narrow-minded?

See, every human interaction has an infinite number of possible outcomes and nuances. They won’t always reject your idea. They won’t always criticize you. Which means the voices in your head won’t always be right.

The only way to find the people who want your ideas is to keep putting them out there. And this requires you to be smarter than the voices in your head. This requires you to tell the voices to SHUT UP!

Well, I’ve asked thousands of people over the years, "What do your voices tell you?” and I’ve learned something: no one has a positive internal voice.
START, Chapter 3
Jon Acuff

There’s someone in my head, but its not me.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The world WHYd web

What is it about the world wide web that has us so enthralled? What is it about people like Vannevar Bush that holds our attention for 70 YEARS? What is is about songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Imagine," and "Stairway to Heaven" that makes them classics?

Wrong Question.

The right question is also the answer: WHY?

WHY does the world wide web have us so enthralled? WHY do people like Vannevar Bush hold our attention for 70 YEARS? WHY are songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Imagine," and "Stairway to Heaven" classics?

Simon Sinek makes the critical observation that we often spend too much time thinking about the WHATs of life. He says that psychologically, we don't ACT on WHATs.

We act on WHY's. The Question of WHY comes from our deepest selves. Its the reason that so many great leaders have been recognized at great: They don't make arguments based solely on logic. Logic focuses on the WHATs. The truly great leaders and thinkers start with a very different message: They start with WHY. And it speaks to our souls.

In his article, "As We May Think" Vannevar Bush makes predictions. That's what we get excited about now that we get to Monday Morning Quarterback his 70 year old treatise on what computers and information could be. Do you think he is the only one to have dreamed? Is he the only one who predicted the information age? Doubtful.

The magic of Bush is that he starts with WHY:
Of what lasting benefit has been man's use of science and of the new instruments which his research brought into existence? First, they have increased his control of his material environment. Thy have improved his food, his clothing, his shelter; they have increased his security and released him partly from the bondage of bare existence. They have given him increased knowledge of his own biological processes so that he has had a progressive freedom from disease and an increased span of life. They are illuminating the interactions of his physiological and psychological functions, giving the promise of an improved mental health.
Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual.
As We May Think
Vannevar Bush
July, 1945

Let's face it. Computers and the internet are just tools. 1's and 0's. Electrons moving about, following very well predicted and understood rules. Keyboards, mice, screens. These are the WHATs of a computer. The WHY is the reason that we're all glued to them. As @GardnerCampbel loves to say,

A computer is a thing that can be any other thing.

Vannevar opens his discussion of WHAT we should do with an incredibly powerful WHY. He elevates us to dream of a better world: free of disease, knowledge that evolves and endures beyond the life of an individual, being released from the bondage of bare existence!!!

Take a look at the media that matters to you. Texts, historical speeches, songs, movies, video games. Which blogs and articles get the most genuine engagement on the web? Which courses in college were most important to you? The things that matter most to us, that we allow to stick with us and shape our identities resonate with the unique WHY that resides in our souls.

Want to craft a compelling argument? Start with your WHY. Share your WHY.

Want to make a difference? Find your WHY. Act from your WHY.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Poorfeckshun hertz stoodenz lurnang

Hello. My name is Tony Brainstorms, and I am a perfectionist. It has been over 31 years since my last perfect action, but only 31 seconds since the last time I expected perfect action of myself. I've been wrestling with a question lately:

Did I get where I am thanks to, or in spite of my perfectionism?

What brought on these thoughts? Well, I recently completed my PhD. I am in the process of chopping my 346-page dissertation into digestible chunks in an effort to build up my wealth in the most important of academic currencies: peer-reviewed journal articles. It took me about two weeks of re-reading, highlighting, and outlining to identify 19 potential articles.

Along the way I've conducted two "straw polls" that relate: first, I have determined that my dissertation is about twice as long as typical (at least for my field). Second, most people will write somewhere between 2 and 4 articles from their dissertation work. At first I was quite proud of myself. I convinced myself that these statistics showed my PhD to be superior to others (ahem). Now I see them as symptoms of a severe problem: I am a perfectionist.

When I was writing my dissertation, I couldn't stomach the thought that a single good idea or bit of analysis I had done be left out. As I now try to break it into articles, I can't accept the idea that a single potential paper slip through the cracks. I just spent the last 2 weeks writing the rough draft of the first of these papers. 2 weeks.  At this rate I'll spend the next year doing nothing other than working on these articles.

I think it is clear to see that something needs to change or I'll never get on to doing new and important work. And by the way, this isn't a new problem. It took me over 6 years to finish my PhD. I can see now that I have perfectionism to thank for that as well.

How did this happen? First, I am happy to admit that my personality lends itself to perfectionism the way that others' may be predisposed to alcoholism. However, I believe that my educational experience reinforced these tendencies.

Our education system encourages perfectionism and rewards the negative behaviors it leads to. The results are stunted growth and a false sense that perfection is real. If only we worked harder, we could achieve it.

I recently had a conversation about grading. My colleague and I were trying to determine what an 87% (B) compared to an 88% (B+) means. After a bit more digestion, I've realized that the grading system encourages perfectionism.

The grading system tells us (falsely) that we can be perfect at something.

I can know 100% of a subject. Anything less than that is due to a MISTAKE that I made. How many times do well-meaning teachers try to motivate students by telling them, "I believe you all can get A's. You all start with 100% in my class. It is up to you whether or not you keep it."

A common example that we see in engineering: students are wildly uncomfortable with the idea of rounding or estimating values. When solving problems (I hate that language, by the way), students try to (1) find the "right" equation, (2) substitute the "right" values, and (3) compute the "right" final answer. Their calculators spit out a number that looks something like "445.54860302940912" and they write it down and draw a box around it.

If we are lucky, we might convince students that writing down the units of the final answer is important (i.e. "445.54860302940912 miles"). The part that eludes the student is that by writing this answer, they are implying that 0.00000000000002 miles (smaller than 1 quadrillionth of an inch) is somehow relevant when compared to 445 miles. And then we bemoan their lack of critical thinking.

Whose fault is this anyhow? "My students are uncomfortable with rounding and estimating." NO KIDDING! LOOK HOW YOU TEST THEM!

Freshmen courses at large universities have more in common with going to the movies than going to class. 600 students cram into a giant lecture hall and watch a person on stage perform calculus lectures. They go back to their dorms and try to solve the homework problems. The dedicated few email a question, or attend office hours. 3-4 times in the semester they come in and take multiple choice MATH tests that have 10 options per question. Often these options only differ by a small amount to prevent "cheating" or "lucky guesses." Their grade in the course is simply the summation of the number of these questions they managed to get correct.

And so John gets an 87% and Jane gets an 88% and they both move on with their lives. Is Jane better at calculus than Joe? What does "better" mean? One thing is certain. The students are striving for over 93% so they can get an "A," a 4.0 GPA, a B.S. Summa Cum Laude, and a J-O-B.

We obsess over grades as the magic elixir that will unlock (or banish forever) our dreams.

We should be teaching students to learn and live in a way that reflects reality: Exactness doesn't matter.

If you're a non-engineer reading this, don't let this statement scare you out of flying on an airplane or trusting the bridge you're about to drive over. The truth is, there is a reason we have the concept, "good enough."

The idea that the equations themselves are built on assumptions that simplify the situation is very uncomfortable for students. They believe that equations should be able to exactly predict behavior, and so they plug the numbers into their calculators and take the output as exactly what will happen. The big problem is, we can never exactly measure the behavior to prove that we got it right. How far is it across the room you're sitting in? 12 feet? 12.1 feet? 12.01 feet? You can always get a more accurate measuring device and go further. Eventually you are comparing distances at the atomic level.

To make the measurement useful, we need to define an acceptable level of "not knowing" and move forward. For example, when building a bridge, computing the stresses in a certain bolt to exact precision is not only a waste of time, it is impossible. The real question to be answered is: "how should this bolt be designed (material, size, thread count, torque, etc.) so that we can be 100% certain that the bridge won't fall down?" We need to balance that consideration with the economics of the situation (we can't build every bridge with 3-foot diameter, solid titanium bolts). Does answering this question require computing the "exact" stresses in the bolt? No. It involves making an appropriately accurate estimate.

I apologize for the lengthy engineering example, its most comfortable for me. This concept applies to other fields as well. For example, does my grammar have to be perfect? I'm sure it isn't. I, use, commas, way, too, much. The real question to ask is: What is the purpose of my writing? To communicate. The goal then isn't perfect grammar, but communication of the ideas (which is inexact to begin with since everyone consumes every idea through a number of lenses based on the experiences and performances of the message sender as well as the receiver). Yet we grade most written assignments with a disproportionate emphasis on grammar. Loosing a point (out of 100) for a bad comma in a 10-page paper about the civil war teaches students that commas (grammatical precision) are more important than ideas.

Am I advocating grammatical anarchy? Of course not, or we couldn't communicate our ideas. However, we need to teach our students that good enough is good enough. Should a policy maker attempting to solve poverty in our cities spend an hour researching ideas, talking to poor people, brainstorming polices to help, or editing their papers for proper semicolon use?

By encouraging the pursuit of perfection, our educational structure distracts from actual useful thinking.

The funny thing is that (at least in engineering) we start out teaching freshmen this idea. Then we spend the next three years trying to demolish it with grading policies designed to enable large-scale classes.

Freshmen engineering courses teach the ideas of defining requirements and goals for the thing the students are designing. Why do we teach this up front? I get the feeling that the answer is largely that "young students don't know enough physics to actually do engineering yet." So we throw them in this class first. The feeling I had when I finished it was "now I know what my boss will be doing someday while I actually engineer something."

The rest of the engineering program focuses on learning the physics. These courses are taught from the perspective of "getting the right answer." Students are encouraged to "find the right formula" for every problem so they get it right on the test. There is no discussion in these courses about determining the relative importance of the answers, or how accurately we might need to know something. This builds and builds until students want to compute EVERYTHING EXACTLY before ever beginning to build or test an idea.

Finally, we have a capstone senior project that supposedly brings back the ideas of generating requirements, defining the performance of our device. My experience was a group of students who had learned to play the game and get their desired grade with the minimum effort and critical thought. I don't believe the issue is motivation. I believe the issue is perfectionism. By now, the seniors have learned to chase perfection, and they are daunted by the idea. So much so that they don't even want to start.

Education promotes perfectionism, which is why so many of us procrastinate.

We perfectionists have a lot of trouble starting, and then completing projects. Why? Because the idea we have in our heads of what completion looks like seems so far out of reach. We know we will never catch a unicorn, yet we convince ourselves that only then will we successfully complete the project.

Somehow, we need to tear down the idea of perfection and instead learn that: 

good enough really is good enough.

(as a first exercise, I wrote this post in one sitting. I only proof-read once. Normally, I'd go for 10 or so revisions and take 3 writing sessions. Hence the reason you haven't heard from me since 2014. Cheers.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tony Brainstorms vs the Lizard Brain! (or Motivation in Higher Ed)

Ok, no comic this time, but I couldn't resist the title... Also, a shout out to @shellifowler for the idea, she talks about "Lizard Brains" fairly often.

I had a weird realization as I started writing my last post about the difference between "Online Courses" and "Connected Courses". To be honest, I haven't been contributing (in the form of blog posts) in the substantive way I'd hoped and/or the course designers intended with their prompts. That's not the weird realization. The weird thought I've had is:
I'm not getting any negative feedback.
I've had some very positive discussions and comments come from the posts that I have managed to share, but no one's needling me to "get my productivity up... or else!" This is very strange in the context of a course in Higher Education.

My first thought in response was:
Sometimes I think we need negative feedback.
The Triune Brain: Filters between Thought and Action
To understand why I felt this way, I'll first need to educate you a bit on a topic about which I actually have no earthly idea. But the image works and I like it. I make no claims to scientific accuracy here.

According to this image, the functions of the "Three Brains: are:

  1. Neomammalian Complex: Rational or Thinking Brain
  2. Paleomammalian Complex: Emotional or Feeling Brain
  3. Reptilian Complex: Instinctual or Dinosaur Brain (I love that we've picked dinosaurs as the image for instinct. Why not bees, or tuna fish?)
Let's treat the head as the place where decisions for action occur and the body as the mechanism for action. The path taken by an idea from inception to action passes through 3 filters:
  1. A rational idea based on information we have and logical connection of past experience to new situations
  2. An emotional filter in which we apply meaning to the proposed action
  3. An instinctual filter that alters the action in the interest of self-preservation
In other words, the Lizard Brain stands between logic, rationality, emotion, and action. As educators we seem to target the Rational or Thinking Brains of our students. We're starting to recognize the importance of the Emotional or Feeling Brain in terms of creativity and context-building. Unfortunately, I think most often we only end up appealing to our students' Reptilian Complexes.

Dangers of the Lizard Brain
There's a problem with the instinctual part of our brains. They aren't very smart. In fact, there are many times where we take actions in the interest of self-preservation that are actually more harmful than helpful (see The Prisoners' Dilemma, for example).

The truth of life is that we are in a constant state of deciding what NOT to do. I'm writing this post at the moment. I've chosen (either actively or subconsciously) to not go jogging, analyze the data for my dissertation, or watch TV in front of the fire at this moment. There are actually an infinite number of things that I'm not doing right now, and only one that I am. 

Life is filled with tradeoffs. How we manage them says a lot about who we are and what we value. Keep a log of how you spend your time for the next week and then reflect. Does the way you actually spend your time (the only resource you can never get more of) really reflect your values? Eek.

But there is a finer point on it. The Lizards in us twist the results of this exercise. They don't have any values beyond self-preservation. When faced with a trade between two actions the Lizard steers us toward that which it perceives to be most beneficial. When we chose an action that appears necessary but not truly reflective of our values, the Lizard tunes out our disappointment.

Wait, weren't we talking about Motivation and Co-Learning?
OK, back to where I started this post now. The weird thing about connected courses (compared to other courses I've taken) is that I'm not getting any negative feedback. My lizard brain can tune out my own disappointment with myself in the interest of practicality. My practicality can always find something more important than blogging. So I've participated as a spectator rather than a contributor or co-learner. And this is a course about a topic that I am passionate about! Instructors: do everything you can to create active, awesome, inclusive co-learning spaces. But remember, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Even if he loves it. How do I get past this!!??

Maybe sometimes we do need negative feedback ("you're not living up to your end of the deal, Tony B."). Co-learners need feedback. In a room of hundreds of people its easy to melt into the crowd and get left behind. These types of learning experiences as they exist require extreme motivation and discipline on the part of the student. Perhaps this is a reason for the low MOOC completion rates? There are very few consequences for not engaging fully (just a lump in your stomach, if you care).

To continue the self-deprecation, I thrive on positive feedback. That's how this blog came to exist. People responded strongly to some of the first things I wrote, which made me want to keep digging and keep writing. That's great for a while.  But now I've worked myself up to need to write the next hit over just writing. I'm reminded of the incredibly poignant story of Michael Jackson's crippling fear after "Thriller," wondering how he could ever top it.

External motivation always fails. 
Fear does not breed creativity. 
Neither does praise.
Had the blogging "requirement" for this course looked like a weekly participation grade things may have been different for me. If I knew each week's contribution was worth a certain, unrecoverable, portion of my grade I would have prioritized differently. Do we actually need the fear of an indelible grade to keep us going in the middle of the semester? It certainly produces a response in students. But is it genuine? What would I have to say if I were writing while being held for ransom by some elusive "A"?

On the flip side, we could view high grades as a reward to be earned rather than viewing low grades as a punishment for "poor" performance. This mentality is exactly what lead's to the "Thriller Effect." Fear of not getting praise for your next great work is just as crippling as fear of punishment.

Fear is the business of the Lizard Brain.
And the Lizard Brain isn't capable of reflective thought.
No matter what way we view grades (reward or punishment), they lead students to fear the results of trying, exploring, and taking risks. As long as we try to "motivate" students with repercussions for "getting the wrong answer," or "failing," we are appealing to their Lizard Brains. As long as we try to inspire creativity by rewarding "success" or "getting the right answer," we are feeding the Iguanas hiding at the tops of their spines. We are blocking the reflective thought of their Neomammalian Thinking  Brains. We are stifling the context-building of their Paleomammalian Feeling Brains.

Students are strategizers. Rather than focusing on learning, they game the system. They are forced to. We're teaching time-management and making trade-offs by requiring that students do both.
"I can afford to lose points here so I can focus on earning the points over there that I really need."
How can we elevate students' thinking?

Co-Learning as Co-Motivation
I've already written about the idea that in a co-learning environment co-creation is both a learning mechanism and a learning outcome.

Another learning mechanism and outcome of a connected course is co-motivation. An introspective experience in which the co-learners help each other form and discover their own motivations. This is not cheerleading each other to get homework done. This is reflecting in a co-learning environment on why, on building the context that motivates the individual, and sharing that context with other co-learners.

An important aspect of this is that the instructors are engaged and committed to the experience as well. Not as a game to trick students into opening up. Engagement from the instructors is critical to honestly empower learners, to break down the social structures plaguing most classrooms, and (most importantly) to model the constant flux of life. How many of you are doing what you're doing for the reasons you started out years ago? I'm not. That's OK and our students need to know it.

Imagine the following exchange. You can decide which line is spoken by the "student" and which by the "teacher".
"I hate calculus. I am only here because the Mechanical Engineering department requires me to be."
"Perhaps we can explore that and find a deeper reason for  why you would choose to grabble with a subject that is disinteresting to you on the surface." 
The goal of this co-motivation is to find true motivation that comes from within. Motivation that stems from something deeper than good feelings from peers or grades. Certainly something deeper than avoiding bad feelings that accompany low grades.

My Motivation
(built in my experience as a co-learner)
I said earlier that had this course included a weekly grade based on productivity I would have managed my time MUCH differently. I actually wouldn't have taken the course at all so I could focus on my dissertation. The Chameleon in me would have hidden from ANYTHING that represented a guaranteed distraction. The point here is that I've had an incredible experience. The course structure empowered me to engage in the ways that were meaningful for me and my co-learners. We've created new artifacts that further flesh out the idea of a connected course. We've co-discovered more about our own motivations. 

My motivation for co-participating in this course turned out to be the motivation for almost all of my  current professional efforts. It's deeply personal and hard to put to words. But here's my best try:
Dear future students, I'm doing everything I can to get ready for you. Someday we are going to learn much more than how Thermodynamics works together. We're going to teach each other the meaning of it. We're going to create the meaning of it.
We can see what happens when we act out of self-motivations rather than external pressures in this passage from "Michael Jackson: The Pressure to Beat It".
It's March 1987, and it's getting late. Westlake Studio is deserted except for Michael, Quincy, Bubbles the chimpanzee, and a few technicians. "Smelly," as Jones calls Michael (possibly because the singer is so obsessively clean), still wants to lay down more vocal tracks. On the recording console in front of Quincy sits a comic strip clipped from a newspaper, the punch line to which reads: "Michael Jackson is 30 years old and he's never had a date." Michael picks it up and reads it. Then he puts it back gently and turns away. He seems hurt by the words. Half a beat passes, then he giggles like a schoolboy, and walks into the recording booth. 
Alone in the semidarkness, illuminated softly by a single spotlight, he starts to sing. This, finally, is what it's all about. Somewhere out there Prince has finished his new record and Run-DMC are thinking about theirs and Walter Yetnikoff is learning to live with the CBS balance sheets. But that's some other place. Here, for now, none of that exists; there are no problems, no merchandise deals, no deadlines, no family rivalries. It's just Michael and the song. 
Suddenly, he is no longer the dreamy, whispering recluse. He is no longer soft. He attacks the song, dancing, waving his hands, moving with unexpected power. He is in his own world, but for once, it's a world that others beside himself can believe in. For these few moments, at least, he is neither a joke nor an icon, just a very, very talented singer.