Teaching & Learning

Change

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“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  –George Bernard Shaw

In the past 3 months I have moved 1870 miles, left a position of 12 years, started to build a new home whilst living in an apartment for the first time since college, and said goodbye to a state I have lived in for almost 40 years. 

I hope the weight of everything I just wrote is powerful enough to sink in.  I am talking about serious change.

Co2FlI now understand why a move is on the list of the top 5 hardest things to undertake.  I get it!  If it had simply been a move like the fifty I performed in college from one dorm to another or from my house of 3 roommates to the house of 8 roommates, no problem.  It was more of an episodic nuisance than anything else.  But to take my 4th generation Colorado native wife and my 5th generation daughter (and don’t forget Nana and Papa who came too), load them into a rental van, pack all of our stuff in multiple trailers and pods, rip them away from family and friends, and drive them to Florida has proven…well, beyond challenging.

And it’s not just the overly bad stuff that has peppered the experience.  You know, the stuff that under normal conditions may seem like unfortunate events but magnified by the moving lens are just plain bad.  Stuff like having our credit cards (or at least the numbers) stolen – multiple times.  Stuff like multiple people in the family getting hit with Influenza A.  Stuff like the movers putting our temporary apartment stuff in different pods than the one we had delivered, which contained almost nothing we needed.  You know…bad stuff.

Again, I implore you to understand the severity here.  I am talking about change of epic proportion.  Not change like switching breakfast cereals or taking a different route to the mall.  Change of a grand nature.  The kind of change that will likely be referred to as life “Pre Florida and After Colorado” forever in my family.

Why am I telling you all of this?  It’s not solely to lament my own misfortune or to make you feel badly for me.  We moved for a plethora of reasons, many of them quite good and very important.

No, I write this to make an important point about change.  You know, that concept that so many people abhor.  I have heard, quite literally, my entire life that people dislike change, cannot handle change, and do everything so as to avoid change.  Those kinds of life disruptions are seen as annoying at best, but more often as a threat to normalcy or even existence.

I took the opportunity during this move to listen Kahneman’s book reporting his work with Tverskey regarding thinking (“Thinking Fast and Slow”).  In the book he describes their seminal work on Prospect Theory, describing people’s (often) irrational aversion to loss, despite potential gains – even great ones – to create risk aversion.  In other words, people will stick with what they know, even if it’s bad and even if the potential outcome is better, so as to avoid any risk of failure.  People will not choose change.

So it was with great interest that I watched a confluence take place in my life.  (I had a wise mentor coach me to seek out these serendipitous connection points in life…but that’s another blog post.)  After settling in Florida, I took one last overseas trip to Australia to speak at an education conference.  The conference – Frontiers of Education – had a litany of solid speakers, thinkers, and idea generators, so as to jump start some initiatives for Higher Education’s brand down under.  Australia is (rightly) concerned about many of the same things other countries have struggled with in the higher education arena – brand, value, teaching and learning, research, status, retention, enrollment, etc.

But during this conference, I had opportunity to hear a fantastic educator and researcher describe something remarkable.  Susan Mackie, CEO of the Elevo Institute, is currently working with Stanford’s Carol Dweck (of Mindset fame).  They have created a national curriculum for the K-12 students in Australia specific to the Mindset concepts.  So, they are not only crafting a curriculum to elicit help for students with regard to motivation, esteem, and a belief that they can learn anything (aka – the Growth Mindset), but important to this blog, they are also teaching students to live…no, to thrive in an environment of constant change.

After all, how else can you describe our world?  Every year it seems we have abilities and capabilities never even considered before.  I’m not talking about something trivial like New Coke or replacing Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men.  (Do you remember how much hullabaloo surrounded those two changes???)  I’m talking about changes in medicine, finance, technology, education, and communication.  I’m talking about changes in life situations that can vastly improve a person’s situation.

I’ve heard it said before that change for the sake of change is never the point.  And generally this is true – change must be meaningful, strategic, and appropriate.  But maybe, at least in a learning context, change for the sake of change CAN BE the point?  Perhaps sometimes changing a learning paradigm or methodology is just what is necessary to help students with life-centric learning.

VoteNoMy first week at Saint Leo, I had a faculty member stop by my office.  He wanted to introduce himself and welcome me to campus.  But he also wanted to get something “on the record” immediately.  He knew my mission and purpose – to support new ways of teaching and learning at the school.  But he told me a story of misfired disruption so as to inoculate me a bit.  See, he had tried to ‘flip’ his classroom.  But he found that on day one, when he announced to his students that the class would employ this new methodology, his students were not on board.  In fact, during the first class they took it upon themselves to vote.  And after this vote, they told the instructor it had been decided to go back to the “normal” way of teaching.  What did that mean?  That meant reading the key areas and suggested questions in the back of the assigned chapters, then reading the textbook to discover that information, and then taking a test.  (Rinse and repeat of course.)

This blog is not about student motivation, a lack of desire to learn, or about facilitate of new concepts.  All of those (and more) need to be addressed in that particular educational ecosystem.  But what it screams to me is an aversion to change that is extremely detrimental.  That a flipped model (or any other new / experimental method) is instantly dismissed is not just unfortunate regarding learning, but exemplifies change aversion, no?  These students were enculturated into believing there is only one way to “school.”

There are obviously many ways to look at change.  If change equates to giving up control, it’s likely going to be seen as negative.  If change is seen only as risky, it will likely be avoided.  But once change is viewed as a meaningful, important facet of everything from learning to progress, it takes a new role in our lives.  Not the role of the taker, but of the giver.

To me, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation all require change.  From changing your mind to your paradigm, change may not be a catalyst in and of itself, but it definitely is a help.  The person who embraces change lives life fully.  Masters of change are leaders, artists, innovators, and discoverers.  Let us push our students to embrace change.  We must do, tell, show, review, and ask our students about change.  Why?  Because if learning is a recipe, then change is at least a spice, if not an ingredient. 

Working at Saint Leo is a big change for me.  I hope to share my challenges and solutions with you, but I will also share the changes along the way.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to call the pod company and track down my living room furniture…

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”  –Winston Churchill

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University

About Jeff Borden

My title at work is ‘Chief Innovation Officer.’ So I'm trying to transform teaching and learning at scale. How do I do that? Through my "life" jobs. Primarily, I'm a dad and husband. But I'm also a professor, writer, professional speaker, comedian, researcher, lifelong learner, musician, dog-owner, and even a ranked disc golfer... I've spoken to, trained, or consulted with hundreds of thousands of educators at all levels, in numerous countries, K-20, about how to teach and learn effectively in the 21st Century.

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  • Will Hamilton

    Excellent post. Schein’s (2003) Dec is Dead, Long Live Dec touches on some of the same issues that plague higher education, where culture is so deeply entrenched and embedded—especially with more mature organizations—that organizational adaptation to changes in the external environment are akin to trying to execute a U-turn in a battleship going upstream in the Colorado River (think: Austin Powers trying to do that three point turn). As Schein argues, the founding values that lead to success
    can undermine an organization’s ability to shift to broader external changes.

    As your flipped classroom example shows, students are also susceptible to inertia.

    Clearly, the problem is not due to a shortage of brilliant ideas, smart innovations, or good intentions. A potential problem for students confronting a new teaching method, approach, or modality, is that there is an explicit added cost (e.g., more energy, more time, etc.) that comes with adaptation/change—there is a non-trivial and potentially significant cost to unlearning and relearning. At the same time, for many students there is no clear sense of the potential payoff to change (it is either ambiguous or uncertain). Under such conditions, sticking to the status quo is perfectly rational behavior.

    As you mention, change needs to be viewed as meaningful, and meaning is, of course, socially constructed; it is derived from the framework of meaning ascribed by the members of the institution, as Gioia and Chittipeddi (1991) astutely point out (p. 435). Thus, teachers and administrators can help lead the sensemaking process for students by framing change as both meaningful and important.