I’ve seen the future and it works

At the beginning of February, I participated in a panel at ELI 2016 on “The Future of Place-Based Learning in a Virtual World.” We’d originally conceived of this session as a “debate” (or perhaps a “discussion”), so while I prepared some remarks, they weren’t delivered paper-style. In fact, I had so much fun talking with and listening to Raechelle Clemmons, Diane Graves, and our moderator Bryan Alexander than I wasn’t entirely sure what I actually said.

So I went on Twitter to find out, and made this Storify story with the results.

(EDIT May 12, 2018.)
Well, Storify got bought out, and they’re shuttering their website. Fortunately, Alan Levine laid out a path for migrating a story off their servers, and then even built a tool to extract the content in an actually usable fashion. So I can still save this thing and include it here.

On Feb. 3, 2016, I participated in a panel on the topic of “The future of place-based learning in a virtual world” with Diane Graves, Raechelle Clemmons, and moderated by Bryan Alexander. This is my attempt to go back through the Twitter record and figure out what the heck I said.

This is not a complete record of the Twitter conversation about our panel. Elements may be out of chronological order for any of a variety of reasons. Some of the reading we did before the session is available at:


Bryan’s first question laid it right out there:

My answer was based on the tendency of digital education initiatives to focus on the individual – which is good and right, but does risk losing the benefits of coming together for learning.

And Raechelle promptly called me out for dichotomous thinking. (I think this was the most contentious moment at a session which was, at one point, considered as a "debate".)


We continued to plumb the question of face to face as a distinctive niche for liberal arts colleges:

We even suggested that high-touch schools might be able to stem the tide of the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” which is the comments section.

Even as the backchannel caught us in a couple of blind spots in our argument…




And some very good questions about campus and community life

Onstage, we had a discussion of what liberal arts colleges can bring to the table in technology discussions, given our generally small staff and resources. Parrotting Berea College professor Matt Jadud, I argued that people with the holistic thinking and interdisciplinary translation skills of the liberal arts education should be highly valuable in product design and support processes.

And my colleagues pointed out interactions highlighting the success of people with liberal arts backgrounds in the tech sector.

Bryan’s next question was about faculty development on liberal arts campuses, given that our faculty are substantially more tenure-track than average for the industry. I fielded this one, as the person on stage most directly charged with faculty development, and my response centered on the way that my center fills a social niche for cross-campus connection and interdisciplinary discussions of teaching and learning.

Technically, I was calling out to Laurie Richlin and Amy Essington’s work in “Building Faculty Learning Communities”, New Directions for Teaching and Learning #97 Spring 2004.

We moved into Q&A before Bryan’s last question for the panel. (A masterful design move for the session, keeping us from just ending because people ran out of steam. More people should consider it, though I suppose it’s harder to do if you’re giving a more formal paper.)

A fascinating design question from Andrew Bonamici – given how much liberal arts colleges talk about the beauty of our places, has anyone really translated that into beautiful online tools? I answered that Kenyon’s got a neat curriculum path tool in development which tries to help students relate their experiences – but no, right now at least, it’s not beautiful.

We had a question about adult learners, and about the best we came up with was Bryan’s comment that maybe focusing on 18-22 year olds is one of the signatures of the residential college sector.

But from the backchannel:

We had a terrific question from Hari Stephen Kumar about inclusivity on liberal arts campuses and in their online environments:

And then Bryan brought us home:

More interesting comments from the backchannel:


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