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Choosing Content: The Use of Imagination in Direct Faculty Instruction

Choosing Content: The Use of Imagination in Direct Faculty Instruction

Part 1 – Content is People

What is content?


but People??

I had a hard time with the week 3 prompt for #rhizo15 at first. Content is People.

The first thing I started thinking about was the problems with defining content in this way: corporate personhood came to mind. Problems of plagiarism would continue to be of issue if “Content is People” and how is that addressed in mashing, sharing, retweeting, and the like? But who are these people? Are they okay? Could they be dangerous? How do I go about vetting these people to decide if they are good for my life? My class? My students? My faculty?

A big part of getting my head around this prompt actually came from a good friend’s mom who came to visit me while she was passing through town doing research on genealogy. In our conversation I was relating to her about how I’m always arguing points and ideologies in my head – comparing and contrasting them based on context and position. And then it hit me, while we were standing there at the rooftop waiting lounge trying to get dinner, that all that arguing (many times only in my own head – cameo to the solitary learner), was not with


but People.

People that created


Content is People.

Part 2 – Choosing Content

And then I realized all of those “problems” that I saw with defining content as people they weren’t problems that were in conflict with making that definition but rather real problems that we have to hash out every day when we deal with content.

What does any of this mean in the “real world”?

Which brings us to choosing content… say for a course. This recently came up at work as we were trying to show that online courses meet the federal definition of the credit hour which here in the U.S. relates to a ratio of “direct faculty instruction” and work completed outside of class. And is it direct faculty instruction to expose students to someone else’s content? Well if they were in class and you played a movie that would not be questioned. However, if you have them watch the movie online (potentially a better use of class time I would argue) that seems to be a harder sell as “direct faculty instruction”.

To what end? or What does it mean to choose content?

While it is great to have these arguments in one’s mind – to what end? This week I read a great post by Keith Hamon in regards to imagination in MOOC ethics but I think that his points are easily extrapolated to online, hybrid, and even face to face learning in regards to choosing content. First, if I am reading him correctly – I hear Hamon agreeing that we need other points of view to grow and learn so it seems like bringing in other people is a good idea. Second, I hear a call for tolerance in confronting beliefs and behaviors (that will often come to us in the form of content) so that we might rethink our own beliefs and behaviors. Finally, I think that Hamon is drawing on the theme of imagination to call for teachers and learners to imagine themselves in those differing viewpoints while evaluating them to find harmony among them.

Going all the way back to week 1 of #rhizo15 I am reading Earnest Becker as I grapple with bias as it ultimately ties to fear and then to fear of death. Becker has this harmony and talks about it in the preface of his book The Denial of Death. He uses the word Eros (one of the ancient Greek words for love) to describe a longing to bring truths together rather than keep then in a perpetual state of discord. He says one of the reasons for writing the book is because he has “had more more than my share of problems fitting together valid truths” (xi). He says that the book is “a bid for the peace of my scholarly soul, an offering for intellectual absolution” (xi). He is bringing together different voices and ideas to create a valid truth. He is choosing content to make a point.

Choosing content.

I would like to posit that the more one grapples with the choosing of content – the more one engages in that internal conversation, uses their imagination to understand that point of view from the context of the person that developed it, compares it and contrasts it to other view points (content) with the end in mind of creating harmony among those ideas to create new ideas – the closer that is to “direct faculty instruction”.

I would love to hear more about choosing content while we are still in week 3 of #rhizo15.  From the prompt I got the feeling that Dave Cormier was struggling with the idea of preloading any kind of content into a course whatsoever. So I am curious what everyone thinks. If Content is People how do we relate to them and how do we choose who we are going to bring into our classes? What is that process like?  When is the best time to do this – more often in my own work I need to help faculty do that up front before the course ever runs. Does this kill some kind of spontaneity in the learning process? How does choosing content work for you?

Becker, E. (1973). The denial of death. New York: Free Press.

11 thoughts on “Choosing Content: The Use of Imagination in Direct Faculty Instruction

  1. There’s a quote from Derrida that has stayed with me over the years: “il n’y a pas de hors-texte”. It’s been misinterpreted by his “enemies” to make it sound as if he thought there was nothing but language, but I think it means that there is nothing outside context. So … I’ve been thinking about it this week, and I think one way of taking “content is people” is to realise that you can’t just dump bits of text, or whatever, into courses, you have to contextualise them.

    Welcome to your new home 🙂

    1. Thanks for coming by Sarah – it is really great to see you here. 🙂

      I don’t know if it so much that we can’t just dump bits of text, or whatever, into courses – I actually think that there is a fair amount of that going on. It is what happens when we do? I think this is prime for creating a hollow course experience.

  2. Last weekend I went to the mall with my wife. As I would have preferred to go the auto wrecking yard and find some parts to build a harness system so the dog could ride safely in the car this was a very distant second on the reasons to go to the city list for me but I cooperated. Because I get distracted and apparently lost in the presence content assembled in large quantities as in squirrels amassing in the park, roadside trash, thrift stores, museums, etc. my has grown into the habit of texting me every few minutes while I wander. The messages usually have to do with directions of things she thinks I may be interested in and this is becoming an intrusion–a kind of structuring laid over my interaction with the ‘content’ of the mall or the world.
    Though her calling me is meant to be helpful it feels like I can’t listen to what things are telling me without directions and distractions. Could it be that by explaining content as a deliberate product built from a certain logic we silence someone else’s attempts to make contact with it?

    1. Scott!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really like what you have posted here – it has some of my earlier thoughts about the solitary learner in there as well.

      I think that you are on to something with your question around explaining content. I wonder how this might fit into a game theory of sorts – there is really no reward or ah ha moment if everything is spelled out for you.

      Disclaimer: I would in no way relate this to your wife texting you – I am sure that her texts are nothing but helpful and informative. 🙂

  3. Autumm, game theory is a good prompt. Thinking in terms of a game there are a lot of possibilities including some gender differences where males seem better at seemingly purposeless wandering where women tend to plan–a theory blown hell, especially by my younger daughter who jumps into complex situations out of pure bluster.
    Leaving that aside, content is made up from a world of incomplete ideas sewn together over time into complete explanations. Having everything connected is not how the world presents. All those in-between twists and turns, failures and successes are usually left out of content resulting in a coming to make sense as if by magic.
    What does it feel like to be told things without participating in making them? Feels to me like believing, not reasoning. It might even damage our natural ability to make sense if everything is too tidy?
    The need to stay in contact with me for my wife is understandable. My second heart failure involved air ambulance, multiple organ collapse and my awakening prior to surgery in a panic to see her, but she was in a different area of the hospital with her cell off. After 5 weeks of surviving with a hole torn out of my heart I couldn’t hang on any longer. So, after a short break, as I understand it, she came back to a husband in a coma to save him from dying again. Not easy to shake that.

  4. Great post, Autumm. What a nice voice to bring to the #rhizo choir.

    I like what you say about achieving harmony, as it brings peace to those who find it, but I’m also reminded what Edgar Morin says about the dialogic: that irreconcilable positions are often the engine of change and creativity. It’s the tension between order and disorder that fuels evolution and keeps it all moving along. Not so peaceful, but very productive.

    1. Keith – you came by and left a comment! How exciting!

      So, bear with me because the harmony thing is very new to me. I’m normally right there with the discord in hand and arguing that the argument is what keeps us hopping.

      But Becker has me wondering if perhaps I have had it wrong all along. I just have to wonder – is this quest for harmony really peaceful? It seems to me that perhaps it can be just as irreconcilable. The quest for harmony among differing views does not have to lend itself to the submission of one view to another. The argument still exists – it may even be more fervent.

      It seems to me the difference is just in end game. In one scenario, two views are pitted against one another where there can only be one winner. In another scenario, two views are pitted against one another with the admission that they are both true in complex and nuanced ways. The battle is in creating an articulation that gives them each their due.

      Please forgive me too long of a comment here to quote Becker to make my point – this is from the preface to Denial of Death:

      I have had the growing realization over the past few years that the problem of man’s knowledge is not to oppose and demolish opposing views, but to include them in a larger theoretical structure. One of the ironies of the creative process is that it partly cripples itself in order to function. I mean that, usually, in order to turn out a piece of work the author has to exaggerate the emphasis of it, to oppose it in a forcefully competitive way to other versions of truth; and he gets carried away by his own exaggeration, as his distinctive image is built on it. But each honest thinker who is basically an empiricist has to have some truth in his position, no matter how extremely he has formulated it. The problem is to find the truth underneath the exaggeration, to cut away the excess elaboration or distortion and include that truth where it fits

  5. This really made me think, Autumm…especially this paragraph:

    “I would like to posit that the more one grapples with the choosing of content – the more one engages in that internal conversation, uses their imagination to understand that point of view from the context of the person that developed it, compares it and contrasts it to other view points (content) with the end in mind of creating harmony among those ideas to create new ideas – the closer that is to “direct faculty instruction”.”

    The more I thought about, the more my synapses went in divergent directions. I do think you can overplan, for sure – I’ve overplanned content for students and found myself stuck in my own script, delivering direct faculty instruction in spite of having wanted to do something entirely different. And imaginative engagement with content possibilities can totally lead to that kind of foreclosure…but I think maybe it’s that goal of harmony that ends up being the culprit here.

    What I realized is that, from my pedagogical position, content as GOAL is really the problem, even more than content as lesson plan or material-to-think-with. Because the truth is, no matter how we try to limit our front-loading of content, we shape the courses we teach. With bits of content, that come from us, but are also singular and not identical WITH us. Even something with this limited rhizo-esque level of front-loading depends on these weekly prompts, these questions. They’re content, in a sense. They’re Dave, but they’re content. They’re what Dave has picked out from the vast entropy of possible Dave-ness to feature, to engage with imaginatively…the only difference – if there is one – is that they’re just not aimed at having everybody come out with one outcome.

    So what I just wrote myself to is the realization that content IS people, sure, but not just on the input side. I’ve agreed with this for years, that Shakespeare is people, that textbooks is people, etc. But I’ve never thought about the learning outcome implications…mostly because I don’t like thinking about learning outcomes a whole lot at all. Yet there it is. The content that comes out of my course is not the outcomes, or the gaps between student outcomes and my expectations/rubric. The content is the students themselves. The people. They take the pieces they have access to back out into the networks of the world. Maybe?

    1. Thanks for coming by Bonnie and for the thoughtful reply. I’m honored that you thought about my post so much.

      In this post I am not thinking of direct faculty instruction (DFI) in terms of over planning so much. I think that can be the case for sure and I can see how DFI (especially how I have defined it here) could lead to or encourage over planning. Left unattended I can even see how DFI could lead to indoctrination especially with a charismatic personality at the wheel.

      However, I still think that we need DFI. As a student I want some level of contact with an engaging teacher – I don’t want to find, take in, and digest unfamiliar ideas inside of a vacuum. I think that we still need it but in moderation. I think this is a situation where you can have too much of a good thing. I really enjoy Dave’s prompts each week for instance – they are enough to get me thinking but not so much that they just give me the answers. Even if it were not Dave I would want someone to give the prompt each week to get me thinking. I do think that is content, I do think it is people, and I do think it is DFI.

      On outcomes… well I have a few things to say. One, (and you may not like this part so much but…) I think that we need to realize that there will be outcomes to our courses and that realization alone is enough justification for us to think about outcomes. I think that what #rhizo15 is teaching me is that there is quite a bit of myth behind the idea that our courses will fail without an outcomes based backward design and an outcomes assessment. That is the world that I live in most of the time but #rhizo15 has allowed me to set that off to the side for a second and say “ok that is one way to do it”.

      It seems like you are taking “Content is People” to the next level with “Outcomes are People”. If I’m reading you right let me just say bravo ~ i think that is totally right on.

  6. Autumm, this makes me think of one of the threshold concepts in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy which is “Scholarship as Conversation”. Librarians spend a fair amount of time teaching students about citation and plagiarism, and often a fair amount of time teaching faculty about fair use and copyright. (I find it especially challenging when students come from other cultures that find it honorable to use someone else’s ideas but leave out naming the source of those ideas.)

    One thing I notice in your post is that refers to people by last name after the first mention. Much like the formats we teach for academic papers. In contrast, it feels natural to me in Rhizo15 to be on a first-name basis with other participants, so I do things like truncating the last name in Facebook responses, or starting my blog comments with the writer’s first name.

    I remember in my previous career that I referred to people I knew from conferences by their full names, not to name-drop but to invite my students to see them as people who they might also meet. One of my great joys was dancing in a large group at a conference with roughly equal numbers of my students and of colleagues and mentors whose articles I had assigned to them. So what kind of conversation is scholarship? I want to find a way to honor the sources of ideas, and also to invite people to dance together.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Lisa! I have a bad habit of referring to some of my closest friends by their last names. I really don’t mean it to come off as stuffy or distant – in my head it is quite familiar. I hope that we get to dance together soon. 🙂

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