Imperfect Offerings

Next week, I’m headed to Coventry University with Jesse Stommel to participate in Expo 16: University Remixed hosted by the Disruptive Media Learning Lab. For the last six weeks or so, Jesse and I had been regularly talking with the folks at DMLL about the event and planning how we could most meaningfully contribute to their program. The event is designed to bring together people to talk about the future of higher education, with a few featured voices as well as opportunities for the participants to work together on creative responses to a set of critical questions around the topic.

I was asked, in particular, to present at the end of the day in some sort of summative fashion. Knowing that it would be difficult for me to adequately circulate and capture the wide-range of voices and ideas that were likely to be generated on the day of the event, I suggested that I try to pull together a sampling of media responses to the same questions that people would be grappling with. I wanted to gather some of that media on the day of the event — perhaps short videos, audio, captioned photos of the participants. But I also wanted to “seed” the conversation by inviting our larger community of colleagues in higher education to submit their own responses via the Web. Jesse was also planning on working with Sean Michael Morris to have the final #digped chat this week also intersect with the same set of critical questions. All in all, I was very excited about the opportunity to spend the days right up to the event soliciting and sharing responses, with a focussed in-person collection of ideas at the Expo itself.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jesse and I were putting our final touches on how the online part of this conversation was going to unfold. I was planning on a “soft launch” for the Web site I’d built to collect responses on Wednesday morning; Jesse was planning on introducing the topic for #digped sometime later Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday night, the US election results unfolded.

On Wednesday morning at 7:30 I messaged Jesse and asked him how we could we possibly put out a call to our reeling community, asking them to submit media responses to questions about the Future of Higher Ed and to participate in an online chat about the same topic. There was a good chance that the responses we would receive, colored by so much heartache, fear, and anger (all valid and appropriate emotional reactions), would not serve to advance any kind of constructive conversation between now and next week. But, even more importantly, it felt tone-deaf and callous to try to pivot a conversation away from the very raw, human, and necessary processing that was happening in our networks.

Our friends at Coventry have been very understanding about our need to put those plans for this week on the back burner. Jesse and Sean have issued a quiet but passionate request to the #digped community to dig deep and figure out how we can continue the critical conversations in that space as we all move forward.

I’m very much looking forward to our trip next week. I still think the questions we will be asking are important ones, and I’m looking forward to witnessing the work of the Expo participants in grappling with the answers. I also know that our colleagues in the UK have been reeling from their own experiences with Brexit over the past few months, and I want to be in conversation right now with as many people as possible who are struggling to determine how we teach, learn, and lead in times of great uncertainty.

Which I think will likely be the actual theme of my talk next week: How do we teach, learn, and lead in times of great uncertainty? I’m sure I will be inspired by the conversation and responses that the Expo participants generate next week. In the meantime, I’m going to be grappling with this question myself. I welcome any thoughts anyone has.

Photo Credit: Crackled, rawdonfox, Flickr, CC by 2.0