Blog Post

Open, Innovative and Agile

I have been working on this project for months now: what began as a bullet list is now a monograph, perhaps approaching a book. I warn you that as with all of my writing, I am truly trying to stretch the fences (which is why I sometimes end up tangled up in them). Essentially, I am the dean of the School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State College.  The president asked me for a bullet list of what role a graduate school should play in an open university.  It is clearly not open admission as some, such as the Open University of the Phillipines, have graduate accepatance rates as low as 12% (we run about 69%).  As noted above, the project grew.  In the midst of being a dean, I do not always have the time I would like to research and write, so I decided to share as one of my concerns about closed systems is that ideas don't leave institutions until a long delay.

To motivate myself, to eliminate the delay and to add depth via conversation, I am going to post the work in sections.

Without further apology, grab a helmet, let's go:

Open, Innovative, and Agile:
A Promulgation of Subversion

This is not a fad which will fade. Resistance will only speed up the change.


All systems are in a tail spin; their fundamental natures are caught in vortices of change. An essential shift of cognitive awareness like Alice as she became aware that her two dimensional world was falling into a three dimensional rabbit hole. The standard measures and rubrics begin to fall apart, as grammar check did not recognize the previous sentence as a fragment.


Where once all wisdom sought the all powerful single force of the universe—be it divine or a unified field theory, all now turns toward the infinitely small—the human genome, nano-technology--the focus gets smaller and smaller. Even when we turn outwards towards the heavens, we find ourselves looking at the infinitely small again. We look for DNA in meteors from Mars. Yes, we are looking outward, but the evidence is in the refraction of light and atomic composition. Not only the evidence, but its meaning, our perception of it, and the context it exists in is all changed in very fundamental ways. In short, the very concept of reality shifts as the realm of possibilities opens exponentially. There are some who still yearn for a world where there is no science, no complexity, no wonder, a simple world where there is an answer key to every test.


Our economy is also changing. We no longer live in a factory driven economy of pure capital and easily replaced, cog-based labor. The fact is, we live in an age of information which thrives on the work of wizards and magicians. Not those who wave wands, but those who possess the magic of creativity and find the ability to create something in a way or place that no one thought possible. Their tools are not wands but systems of communication and the ability to bridge connections within complex systems. Ours is not the world of the linear assembly line—ours is the world of multiple connections: one which relies on the ability to see, find, define, and create meaning, whether that meaning be in the spin of an electron, a series of matrices, the structure of an amino acid, or the move of a dancer.


It was not only the Hindenburg that burned that Thursday afternoon in 1937—it was an entire mindset and way of looking at the world. Imagine a world where the Hindenburg had not burned, where the skies of New York are filled with airships tethered to sky-scrapers--a world in which air travel is based on the quality of the service and experience, as opposed to how fast this over crowded airplane can get you there. The Hindenburg's burning is not causally related, but functions on a more symbolic level--perhaps more a sign that there is no turning back.


In a world subject to this much change, the idea that educational systems can remain the same is absurd at best.Abelard founded his university in the medieval age which Ralph Adams Cram describes as on “a parabolic curve” that describes its trajectory out of ‘chaos and old night” (Abelard 2004).We too are on a parabolic curve—the speed at which the world knowledge doubles halves with each repetition (ASTD estimates that it is currently down to 18 months [Siemens 2004]).


Yet as with all cultural change, there are challenges to every argument—nothing new in a post-Hegelian world. Following such though, this essay does not present the end of the dialectic; rather, it poses a position from which to engage in discussion to continue the evolution of higher education—a vocation to which I have committed my life.


In endangering that, I have also chosen a unique system of both writing and citing this essay.It does not conform to any publicly recognizable standards, for the most part; however, we sometimes have to turn and fire into the castle to keep the defenses viable and ready.It has familiar elements, but all revolution requires a fixed point to rebel against.I will avoid the traditional digression into the idea of the term essay originating from attempt or try... that's been said too many times.The real challenge you will see in the body of this text is that I do not simply face the challenge of synchronicity, but one of dimensions.Undoubtedly these are issues which many writers have struggled with.We live in a three dimensional world and write in two dimensional linear logic.We produce thoughts in brains with three dimensional synaptic structures, replicated and related through the double helix of DNA, and we wish to describe it in terms and structures appropriate to intestines laid against a ruler on a lab table.The diachronic nature of the language act means that there is not an immediate overcoming with an alternative structure; what I have created is another subversion.Education is a subversive act; higher education is a subversion of education, and Empire State College is a subversion of Higher education itself.


My text is who I am: a compilation and interpretation of all signs which I have mediated in my life.[1]As a mediation, it seeks, as I do, to emerge from under authority.Writing styles, as Keith Fort (1971) notes, represents a form which not only frames in the writing, but also creates a framework for the classroom itself.He writes: “The form in which a classroom is conducted is related to what is learned and has its own psychological implications in shaping a student’s development….Form is a ‘strategy’ for establishing a relation to reality.”This principle of form manifests itself in the way in which courses are structured as well as the ways in which individuals are allowed to write.To write about opening up strategies of learning and to follow within the traditions of formalized writing would be a contradiction and a concession which I refuse to make.I seek to overthrow existing authoritarian practices both in learning environment as well as in writing.Fort explains: “Formal tyranny in essay writing , as in any other expression is based on the need of those who are in control to make the appearance of the expression conform to a desired idea of which there is no doubt.”For example, the existence of a thesis statement assumes that a student can only have one idea which will be tested.All of the traditions of writing that we recognize and practice restrict and limit what can be said.What I wish to say is not in the margin or even on the desk, it is somewhere beyond the walls and over the fence.


With the threshold of the challenges of such an essay as this one, I must enter into my purpose (which is a purpose and not a thesis) as well as caveats. My purpose is to consider the role, nature and place of a graduate school in an open university--in particular, the place of the School for Graduate Studies of SUNY—Empire State College within the Open University of New York.


The danger is that because this argument will be controversial, each vulnerable place opens up a new point of potential challenge. To avoid the discussion getting side tracked, let me acknowledge that a graduate school in an Open University, and particularly one in SUNY—Empire State College, will still be all three, so some parts may seem redundant in that to migrate to such a position is not to renounce all existing factors, precepts and principles. Let me also identify the fact that there will be many seemingly overlapping characteristics implied because this is the testing of many hypotheses based on many conditions and many unique forms of relationships between ideas not often subscribed to in academic environments. Given the nature of the discussion, many points are homologously related and thus do not fit into the neat linear argument required of an essay. Finally, this text (for lack of a better term) has required a great deal of projection about the future of all of the complex issues which interconnect with Higher Education. These are conjectures. As a child, I was promised domestic space travel in the year 2000; likewise, my Weekly Reader also said that by 2000, every home would have a computer in its living room. The complexity and current pace of change make such projections even more difficult. I have, where possible, based my forecasts on current trends and practices which are themselves subject to momentary change as well. Finally, these issues are put forth as discussion questions.

[1] I know it has been said before, but DesCartes is Dead!  DesCartes' “I” implies an all, an end-point, and an edge.However, the individual who thinks is not an autonomous I as thought itself is the mediation of the ideas of others and mediatable points of existence outside of the I.The Self can only be mediated and determined in its relationship to the world and language.Just as I cannot oerceive the world without a body, , my mediation of world defines my body.The same homologous relationship exists with language.The language defines the self, and the self is the point of interaction with language.


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