Finishing Up at Pepperdine

It’s been one quick summer and I’m afraid I’ve written less on this blog than I originally anticipated. Summers are always funny because they are, to a degree, this false hope that you now have time to get your pet project done. In reality, you take a vacation, important people that you need to help also take a vacation, you get distracted with new, top priority project… Next thing you know its the middle of July and everyone looks like deer in headlights knowing that Fall is right around the corner. Surprise!

I’m teaching the first summer edition of PR Pubs, which is certainly a different pace, and we are getting to roll out a couple fun CTE Digital Learning Team projects, which is certainly very awesome and I’m excited to talk about soon. Last, but not least, I finally wrapped up my masters program at Pepperdine University exactly one week ago. In the summer my mind tends to devolve to watching mindless summer programming and I’ve been watching, dare I say, a significant amount of American Ninja Warrior. Anyways, I imagine finishing my masters is my closest life equivalent I’ll ever have to hitting the button at the end of a ninja warrior course.


For those who aren’t aware of the program I was in, I just completed a Master of Arts in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University. It is an intensive, year-long hybrid program where I made a total of three week-long trips to West LA/Malibu for face-to-face meetups. I really can’t say enough about the program’s quality and the education I received from that experience. It truly pushed me in ways I haven’t felt in years and gave me a wonderful set of lifelong friendships in my cadremates. In the end, I think everyone enters a program with the hopes of being intellectually and socially stimulated and my expectations were exceeded.

I believe there is stigma that online education is poor and takes place in isolation. And I believe this because several people have told me online education “isn’t for them.” And I’d argue that it does take a great deal of self-motivation, Pepperdine has really perfected making it meaningful. It would be hard for me to trade my experience for anything else (particularly when studying learning technologies). Recently I had a conversation with my friend, Rob Reynolds, in which he made a statement (which I agree) noting that online education is often a product of trying to replicate face-to-face strategies which, quite honestly, are even poor strategies for a classroom. We sometimes take for granted of the affordances of the classroom and how it can mask our errors. You are situated within a group of peers who can help you resolve questions, reiterate our points, and geniunely make a classroom experience more enjoyable. These can be lost in an online class–and even moreso a program–that doesn’t build in interactions, sharing/shared experiences, relationships, etc. Again, I’d argue they are often void in the classroom.

The MALT program is different in that you physically meet to kick off the program at what is referred to as Cadre Camp. As Bill Moseley says during the camp, sometimes you have to “be real before you can be virtual.” You then spend four straight days working in small groups to solve a complex problem (which I would not want to ruin for any future MALT students… but for us involved building autonomus robots who interacted with each other to complete multiple tasks and programming a full fledged video game.) Every good camp has rules and the Cadre Camp rules are as follows:

  • Be an involved, reflective learner.
  • Put aside the skeptical observer
  • Leave your comfort zone
  • Have fun
  • Trust us–we know what we are doing
  • It’s the process

So here we are, complete strangers, bonding over shared dilemmas. We then spend the semester working from our residential locations and sharing what we were learning through blogs and discussions facilitated by Google Hangouts, Google Groups, and Facebook, which culimnates in a face-to-face back together in January. And if you want to know what it was like for us getting back together just watch this video below that I recently found on my phone. Here we had just met up for only the second face-to-face meeting and it’s nothing but laughs.

People matter. If you want the best argument against “AI”-driven, personalized learning educational theories, it’s right there. In education, people really. do. matter.

I got the fortunate opportunity to return to Pepperdine a couple of weeks ago to be a TA for the new class’ Cadre Camp and it was easily have been one of the best learning experiences of the year. As a student, camp goes so fast. You’ll find everyone engrossed in trying to collectively solve a problem. I got to attend this time sans the anxiety of the problem and sensory overload. Instead, when I wasn’t talking new students off ledges :wink:, I was analyzing what was taking place both individually and socially. I got to watch how people interacted with each other; how they resolved issues and came to conclusions. I think about it now and realize I’ve never had the opportunity to simply repeat a class I attended. But I highly recommend it. And, would you know it, I felt like their interactions were completely different than ours. It’s something I’ve experienced in my own teaching. You feel like you have teaching dialed in just right and the new class throws a small wrench in there and you got to steer the ship back to safety. But each class should and will be a totally differently learning experience. It’s the people, yo.

There’s a significant presence of dramatic irony as well when you retake a class. You know the protagonist is in much graver danger than they do. It’s fun. But it was also an opportunity for me to renegotiate my role; remove myself as a learner in efforts to better understand my own past learning experience. At time it felt like slow motion. Mediation. A heightened awareness. I snuck away at one point just to photograph campus. One night I left early to walk nearly two miles to main campus to write my paper on the student center balcony and shoot some night photography. I opted-in to taking in every last drop of inspiration I could.

George Pepperdine at Night

With it all behind me now, I feel like I’m much more well equipped to articulate what I’ve always believed to be valuable learning models. Of course, it’s easy when it’s modeled for you, but my passion for what I do as an instructor, and even as a father, has only grown. I’m simply a better human. And I have my faculty and cadremates to thank for that. As I mentioned, we wrote a lot of blog posts which you can view hereas well as my thesis here. But for now I’m going to go spend some time with my family and maybe read a fiction book just because I can.

Cover photo credit: Scott Webb