Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Of Identity, Invisible Audiences, Influence, & Investment

Bradley, a student in Alec Couros's eci831 class, discussed the idea of "invisible audiences" in a recent blog post. His comments sparked a torrent of reflections which certainly won't fit in a single Tweet or even in the comments section of a blog, so I am posting them here instead.

IdentityWho are you? A potentially complicated question often best answered in relation to some person, context, role, responsibility, issue, belief, or perspective. (So, for me, the easy way out of the question would be answers along the lines of: former high school Spanish teacher, professional developer, Assistant Professor of Spanish, supervisor of student teachers, etc.) A quick Google search and perusal of my digital footprints would reveal much more about my personal and professional beliefs and actions over the course of the last 15 to 20 years.

Who am I? In face-to-face relationships, people often rely on age, sex, occupation, title, and other such things to help them know how to behave--selecting comfortable patterns of interaction that fulfill expectations, provide protection, and help them decide how to respond to unanticipated complications in a conversation. Many of those cues are absent online—making it difficult for participants in a conversation to answer the question, “Who am I in relation to you, your expectations for this interaction, and the current topic of conversation?” Consequently, the interaction seems much more fraught with risk and its outcome much less predictable.

Invisible Audiences - Who am I in relation to you? Invisible audiences present even greater challenges in that regard. (I am reminded of Peter Elbow’s reflections on both the positive and negative effects that an awareness can have on the impact of an author’s writing, as well as on the author’s ability to write.) Nonetheless, writing for a relatively invisible audience can also be incredibly liberating—especially for authors who have felt constrained by others’ expectations and/or who are experimenting with their own personal and professional identities. I think a lack of regular feedback may make some authors wonder if participating online is worth the investment.

Influence - Who reads what I write anyway?  I also think that many bloggers significantly underestimate the scope of their own influence.  Many times while in search of something else, I stumble across insightful blog posts written by people I do not know.   Although I frequently read, ponder, and incorporate them into my life, most of the time, I do not comment on them.  Nonetheless, my life has been greatly enriched by reading such blogs.  I don’t think I am unique in that regard.  With that in mind, I choose to “pay it forward,” sharing my own writing (i.e., thinking in process) publicly from time to time as well. 

However, I think writing is a gift of self—one that provides privileged access to the mind, heart, and/or soul of another person.  And, as is true of all gifts of the self, to give such a gift requires a certain measure of vulnerability.  That vulnerability is part of what makes the gift so valuable.  And THAT is a scary prospect when one considers the many issues you raised in your post.

I try to read generously, recognizing that most writing is thinking in process and therefore, probably incomplete.

I try to write with an awareness that my posts are likely to be read by a variety of unintended audiences. This gives me the chance to consider my opinions from multiple perspectives which, although they may not explicitly appear in my writing, certainly strengthen its quality.

I try to respond with an eye toward the person behind the words—remembering that it is likely that most of my online conversations are being “viewed” or “overheard” by invisible third parties who are interpreting not only the words, but also the relationship between me and the other person with whom I am conversing.

Investment - What role do I play and how much am I willing to invest in doing so?  In other words, ultimately, I think conversing online is an act of faith in the sense that it requires people to believe that what they have to offer will, ultimately, matter in some way.  It also demands that writers trust their audience(s) not to misinterpret, manipulate, or misuse what they may share.  Unfortunately, as is true in most face-to-face relationships, sometimes that trust is abused.  I think this is one of the reasons that issues of audience, purpose, context, and community seem to play such important roles in online writing.  A strong community, in particular, can help us mitigate the risk of sharing our best selves with the world (by creating conditions that support that kind of sharing, by protecting those who do share, and by publicly censuring those who abuse the trust of individuals or the community as a whole).  Paradoxically, the strength of such communities seems to come from the committed engagement, investment, and participation of each of its individual members.

Thanks, Bradley, for giving me so much to think about (and Alec Courosa for pointing me to Bradley's post via your link on Twitter)!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

From Imitation to Improvisation

Gotcha! - When we encounter experiences, people, or things that touch us deeply in some way, it is natural to want to hold onto them. We try to "capture" the things that bring us pleasure or that resonate with who we are or who we hope to become and incorporate them into our lives somehow. For most of us, that means snapping a photo, purchasing a postcard, getting the recipe, buying the book, or "friending" the person.

Acquisition v. Integration - However, acquisition is not necessarily the equivalent of integration. The photos and postcards get shoved in a pile of things we plan to scrapbook someday, the recipe gets buried on the kitchen counter, the book sits on a shelf--unread, and our interactions with people turn into "What's up with you?" and "We should really do lunch sometime." What conditions energize us to the action required to make those experiences a permanent part of ourselves--incorporating them into our way of thinking, behaving, and being?

This video offers an interesting perspective on these issues:

At this point, my mind flashes in a variety of different directions. In an attempt to take the same advice I have been giving to some of my graduate students lately, I am going to share the raw, undeveloped thoughts in a telegraphic manner and see where that takes me.

Concrete Examples:

Picasso -
  • Classical training
  • Internalized rules of the discipline
  • Restless
  • Fought against constraints of the discipline
  • Integrated daily life, travel experiences, influences, and personal associations into his work (blue period, rose period, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, etc.)
  • "Copied"/reinterpreted master works
  • Associated with other "famous" artists
  • Continuous experimentation ("I have a horror of copying myself")
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Vision
  • Intense productivity
  • Epiphanies
  • Pushed the profession
  • Transformed the world.
Albert Einstein - Similar story, similar associations with cutting-edge colleagues, different medium

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien - Ditto

Mozart (and other musicians) - Ditto ("too many notes!")

New generation of web 2.0 businessmen, educators, & scholars - Ditto, but association with cutting-edge colleagues is more prevalent

All had to fight for their beliefs, justify their works because they broke the "rules" and threatened the status quo (among other things)

Additional examples - Dalí, Goya, Rivera, Velásquez, or both Old and New Testament prophets - All addressed different problems, but fought similar battles

The general masses are limited by what they can see - "it isn't possible, we don't do things that way, but traditionally . . . ., that wouldn't be the prudent course of action, there's no precedent for that" are common objections. Does writing to an audience of skeptics change the quality of one's work?


1) Categories of Performance:

  • Novice
  • Experienced
  • Professional
  • Expert

2) Catalysts for Increasing Levels of Performance:

  • Information
  • Experience
  • Access, time, resources, relationships, & problems
  • Abstraction

3) Common Types of Performance at Each Level:

  • Imitation
  • Integration
  • Innovation (often in the form of recombination, typically preceded by reinterpretation?)
  • Improvisation (opposite of "functional fixedness" - requisite conditions do not seem to be the absence of problems but vision, cognitive flexibility, skill, and perseverance to overcome them)
Do exercises like Quickfires facilitate the development of improvisational skills?

A Possible Taxonomy:

When an innovator succeeds, others try to achieve similar results by copying (with varying degrees of success).

Imitators - Copy the appearance of the item, but the imitation lacks the quality, reliability, or substance of the original. (Knock-off watches, handbags, clothing, software, art prints, or books, for example.)

Integrators - Draw on the same elements (books about wizards or vampires, covers that look similar to the original success), some authors try to copy their own success and become formulaic writers in the process.

Innovators - Understand the underlying principles and experiment with recombining them in ways that produce an entirely new, but equally successful product (artists, authors, designers, and scholars who can produce a variety of distinct, but equally good works which often span several genres)

Improvisors - Produce high quality, innovative works that are responsive to the environments in which they find themselves even when their access to time and resources is limited or constrained.

Concrete Application: Fashion

Consider teenagers. Resonance--an emotional, intellectual, and visceral reaction /interaction between who they are (their current identity), who they hope to be (their aspirations), and what clothing styles communicate about those things--seems to motivate them to adopt particular styles.

Imitation - Most simply pick a style that resonates and copy it--typically by buying those same items of clothing (or something as close as they can find that fits within their budgets). When the styles change, they have to start over.

Integration - The fashion-savvy ones are able to analyze the underlying principles, to internalize what "works together" and what doesn't, and to mix and match things well enough that they are able to integrate the style into their lives. They aren't limited by particular items of clothing.

Innovation - A select few of those teens become the trend-setters--those who recognize new possibilities and experiment with them, but without fully abandoning the current styles. And then there are those who can improvise--the teens who can walk into a thrift store and walk out looking like they just stepped off of a fashion runway.

Improvisation - The most skilled become the designers who destroy parts of the existing style, combine it with elements from other trends, and ultimately transform it. The ability to improvise seems to be one true measure of deep expertise, but what makes the shift from innovation to improvisation possible?

Transformation - Grenville Kleiser wrote: "Nothing touches the soul but leaves its impress, and thus, little by little, we are fashioned into the image of all we have seen and heard, known and meditated; and if we learn to live with all that is fairest and purest and best, the love of it all will, in the end, become our very life."

Personal Application - But how do we know the degree to which the things that touch us are changing us, and how might we measure their impact? One way would be to look for traces of them among the physical artifacts that surround us. Did we bother trying to "capture" them (digitally, in a journal entry, or as a souvenir)? If so, did the "captured" experience make it into our living rooms, onto our walls, into our journals, or onto our playlists?

Self-examination: A closer examination might require us to ask questions like, "Has my participation in the experience or my interaction with the person shifted my perspective in any way? Do I use words or expressions frequently associated with the experience or used by the person when I speak? Have I adopted tools or materials from the person or experience into my daily work? Do I approach problems in the way s/he does? Do I think or act differently for having had the experience or for having known the person? These questions seem to apply equally well to professionalism, scholarship, friendship, or discipleship.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Schizophrenic Scholar

Student: How can I prepare to be successful in graduate school?

Me: I gave the student a list of things to try, including: Write daily. A blog is a great way to systematically capture your thinking.

Student: I started the blog, but I wouldn't recommend reading it yet as it doesn't seem too professional.

Me: Do NOT (I repeat, DO NOT) worry about trying to make it look or sound professional. That is about the fastest way I know to give yourself writer's block (and to ruin most of the perfectly good thoughts you would be likely to have). Instead, think of it as an informal journal--a place where you jot down your ponderings, your musings, your half-formed thoughts about the things you are reading and experiencing. The rawness of the thoughts is part of what will make it powerful and valuable to you as a source of inspiration for your scholarly work in the future.

Meta-me: I really ought to take my own advice.

Meta-me 2: But my raw thoughts are often random! But aesthetics and design matter! But I'm just a teacher, not a scholar! But now that I have a Ph.D., people will expect more of me! But I'm a perfectionist!

Meta-me: So THAT'S why you don't post more than about once a month!

Meta-me 2: But it won't matter anyway!

Meta-me: And what if it does? You'll never know as long as you leave the rest Unwritten.


I am SO irritated with SONY for disabling embedding of their videos!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Shadow Story

Have you ever thought about the stories that are hidden? You know, the ones that whisper from deep within the shadows of the books that have already been written? What follows is one such story—two “chapters” long, and stitched together from three different texts. Each paragraph addresses one or more issues I’ve been considering over the last few months in relation to my own life, and offers a nugget of insight worth pondering.


"Mysteries, she realized, had their own laws. No matter how marvelous they appeared to common folk, they still followed their own natural order. As a hound couldn't fly nor an apple tree blossom with roses, so those of the green had their own strictures that they must observe" (de Lindt, 1993, p. 88).

“First, look at people and try to find the truth within them. You need to understand people, really understand them, if you’re going to be a hero . . . . Second, beware of things that shine and glitter and make promises, especially promises that play on your weaknesses . . . . Third, you have to have a strong imagination” (Bode, 2007, p. 43).

"But knowing took the sight, to see beyond the world that is . . . and practical as housey-folk were, they believed only what they could hold and weigh . . ." (de Lindt, 1993, p. 92).

" . . . a good thing, to be sure, but a place of limited joys" (Dunkle, 2008, p. 3).


"The witch wanted him to feel again, but feeling encompassed remembering, and remembering only hurt. What use was the gift of the green if all it brought was pain?" (de Lindt, 1993, p. 136).

"We all carry the dark places inside us . . . ." "'I'm not . . .' Angharad began, but then she thought. Not what? Not a bad person? Perhaps. But had she never known anger? Never held unkind thoughts? The stranger's observation was valid. No one was innocent of darkness" (de Lindt, 1993, p. 85).

"She turned, not sure she could bear another of his sorrows. He might be able to forget them, but she could not. They were a part of her now. She took them willingly--for that was part of a poet's task--regretting only that in taking them, she did not lessen his burden" (de Lindt, 1993, p. 98).

"So Angharad sang to him before she left, a song of the loneliness that wisdom can sometimes bring--when the student won't listen, when the form is bound to the earth by its roots and only the mind ranges free" (de Lindt, 1993, p. 54).


Bode, N.E. (2007). The slippery map. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

de Lindt, Charles. (1993). Into the green. NY: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

Dunkle, Clare. (2008). The sky inside. NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Freedom to Fly

I attended the International Association of Language Learning Technology Conference (IALLT) in Atlanta, Georgia last week. (For a synopsis of session content, view the tweets.) The experience of spending time in Georgia provided me with a great deal of clarity about many paradoxes in my life, leaving a residue of overflowing gratitude for what is present in my life, in spite of unfulfilled desires. It is so easy to take life for granted and to misunderstand our place in it.

When my life feels like this

Entrance to Georgia State University Dorms

And the point of each step

Stone Mountain, Georgia

Is invisible to the eye

Cable Car Ride, Stone Mountain, Georgia

The joy in the journey is easily missed

Kite Flyer Atop Stone Mountain, Georgia

As I long for the freedom and strength to fly

Bird near Stone Mountain, Georgia

So I ponder as I stop for a rest

Stone Mountain, Georgia

Those who came before

Granite Carving, Stone Mountain, Georgia

And pray for the light to see how best

Atlanta, Georgia From the Top of Stone Mountain

To help those around me soar.

Birds float on the air currents at Stone Mountain

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Diversification of Social Investments

During tax time, one can't help but think about finances. However, I find the topic a rather tedious one. It comes as no surprise, then, that I found my mind wandering away from the numbers and into other realms such as social capital--specifically, investments of a social nature. If you were asked to describe your cadre of friends and acquaintances in terms of an investment portfolio, what would you say?

Have you invested your resources into a series of "pre-set mixes"--default groupings determined primarily as a matter of convenience, but somewhat aligned with your prevailing perspective on social investment? After all, it is easy to add the people who occupy the places in which you spend the most time (church members, colleagues from work, neighbors, etc.) to your portfolio of acquaintances. Then again, perhaps you make your social investments based on the degree to which you can comfortably and easily slip into a pre-defined role? The adult world isn't all that different from high school in this regard. There is always some person or organization looking for someone to be their all-star athlete, cheerleader, coach, clown, teacher, techie, etc.

Perhaps you prefer to have a bit more control over your social portfolio, so although you avoid the pre-set mixes, you play it safe--investing in very stable, low-risk, but also low-yield friendships? On the other hand, maybe short-term, high-yield relationships constitute the majority of your social portfolio? This strategy can be risky, and requires constant vigilance and adjustment.

I have also been thinking about the recent credit crisis, market crashes, and ensuing recessions. It seems to me that these events also offer lessons about social relationships. For example, one-sided friendships are not generally sustainable when crisis hits. One cannot live on social credit (i.e., indebtedness) in the long term any more than one can indefinitely live on financial credit. Putting all one's eggs in the same social basket carries its own set of risks and potential consequences. It not only makes us vulnerable when a crisis, emergency, or natural disaster shakes the social group, but also limits our access to information, new perspectives, and ultimately, to growth. And how is a person to recover who has been burned when a "company" in which they have invested everything fails and there is no bailout available to salvage the relationship? And on a larger scale, what about social recession? What happens when people stop participating in the social economy, when they are afraid to invest in the larger social economy, or when they withdraw their social resources from society?

My own musings have led me to the conclusion that it may be time to diversify my social portfolio. This has some pretty interesting implications--in terms of how to identify potentially worthwhile investments, how much to risk, and the degree to which it is possible to protect against catastrophic loss.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Graveside Games

Death--seldom convenient,
Still, there's life yet to live
Knowing this
Children wandered away

From the grief to the graves
Where they searched for and saved
49 drowning worms that day.

Had Grandma been there
She would have agreed
The game that they played was worthwhile

For she never liked tears
And throughout all her years
God's creations made her smile.

Cherice Montgomery, 4-19-2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

25 Random Things

Well, I haven't done a very good job of keeping up with my blog these days, so perhaps this will serve as penance (and will kill 2 birds with one stone--my blog and Facebook).

1) I have always loved my name, which comes from the song My Cherie Amour.

2) I wanted an easy-bake oven when I was little . . . cooking a cake with a light bulb—so ingenious!

3) I am amazed and grateful that my parents let me spend 2 weeks as an exchange student in Mexico even though I was only 12, had taken just one semester of Spanish, and couldn’t conjugate a verb yet.

4) I can type (in English) almost as fast as most people talk.

5) I know from personal experience that it is possible to intend to go to Kansas City and end up in Nebraska instead. I am hopelessly, perpetually lost—even (especially) in a parking lot.

6) I enjoy thinking—especially on a meta-level (and yes, I suspect that has something to do with #5).

7) I have never been hospitalized, but hospitals fascinate me. I used to want to be a nurse and even volunteered in the blood bank at the Red Cross for awhile, where I quickly determined I didn’t have the stomach to make medicine a career. Still don’t, but I do enjoy helping other people.

8) I like to camp (in a tent), fish, and waterski (slalom), but I don’t like dirt.

9) I tend to be somewhat reserved, very task-oriented, and rather perfectionistic, so people often express surprise when they discover that I can be extremely playful and witty.

10) I have always had an affinity for the aesthetic and enjoy creative pursuits, but I am rather clumsy when it comes to translating what is in my head into something that others can understand. One of the reasons I love technology so much is that it makes it possible for me to be more “myself”—by extending my reach and compensating for my lack of artistic skill.

11) I care deeply, so things hurt deeply.

12) I put myself through college by working as a live-in housekeeper for an incredible woman. My family jokes that it was a private finishing school, with lessons in domesticity, deportment, and social graces. I'm not sure how "finished" I was when I left, but I definitely learned a lot.

13) I love talking about ideas—to be deeply immersed in a scintillating conversation for a long period of time with someone who can make quantum leaps from concept to concept is one of my greatest pleasures in life (although unfortunately a rather rare one).

14) I worked as a customer service/security dispatcher for a mall--it is scary when you call 911 and the phone rings 9 times and no one answers!

15) I really want to begin every reference section in my academic papers with the following epigraph from one of Emily Dickinson’s poems: “How dreary to be somebody, how public like a frog, to tell your name the livelong day to an admiring bog.”

16) Some of my high school friends’ parents used to worry that I had an eating disorder because I have always been very thin, but I have just been blessed with a very high metabolism (a fact I never fully appreciated until I hit graduate school and gained 20 pounds).

17) I love to read and sometimes feel like I’m “Johnny #5”—on a constant quest for input. I am generally full of questions, much to the chagrin of my friends.

18) I absolutely LOVE to sing—especially where harmony is involved--but dropped out of choir in high school because I disliked the teacher.

19) My favorite time of the day is when the world shuts down, funneling my concentration into a single, focused beam.

20) I loved my debate and drama classes in high school because they gave me permission to be myself.

21) Presently, one of the great ironies of my life is that I love to write, but academic writing currently makes me physically ill.

22) Spiritual things have always been important to me, but are also an ongoing source of great personal struggle. My understanding of such things has come at a very high price.

23) Teaching is truly one of my greatest passions and my deepest joys.

24) The mentors who have been most influential in my life taught me simply by being themselves.

25) The things I like best about myself are also the things that most other people don’t understand.

The Understatement of the Year

"Students who are living and learning with technologies that generate dynamic forms of content may find the current formalism and structure of scholarship and research to be static and “dead” as a way of collecting, analyzing and sharing results" (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2009).


Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The 2009 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2009-Horizon-Report.pdf

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Random Ruminations

"Her restlessness was not easily appeased. . . . Everywhere she turned there was a blinding sameness. She could no longer distinguish one moment of her life from another, and the events of each day were forgotten as soon as they had passed" (Graham, 2001, p. 99).

In transition? Clearly. But transition to what? While waiting, I've polished off a number of books, but so far, the nuggets I've encountered in them haven't coalesced into a particularly coherent set of understandings. However, it occurs to me that many may prefer the raw data without the commentary anyhow. Sometimes it is safer that way too. ;-) So, think of what follows as random graffiti that various authors have spray-painted on the walls of my mind. As is the case with graffiti from time to time, at least some of these quotes have artistic qualities that extend beyond the functional purposes they were intended to serve within the context of the books in which they appeared.

"All educational growth is loss ... teachers in higher education are pressured to construe their work in oppositional rather than relational terms, pitting teacher against student, separating knowledge and identity, and describing the world in black and white terms" (Stengel, 1998).

"Living matter and clarity are opposites--they run away from one another" (Gilder, 2008, p. 100).

"John had always been drawn to the invisible: more specifically, the invisible connections between things. As a child he had puzzled over the phenomena ordinary men take for granted in modern life: the connection between a flick of a switch and the sudden appearance of light, or sound, or image. He tore things apart--looking for the connections. But his interest went beyond the engineer's obsession with mechanical cause and effect, with deconstructing and reconstructing physical reality: he searched for things that would leave him awestruck, things residing in mystery and obscurity. Invisible connections" (Graham, 2001, p. 106).

"Co-existence is not the same as communication or connection" (Montgomery, 2009).

"When two particles interact with each other, they exchange energy and/or momentum" (K.C. Cole in Graham, 2001, p. 98).

"It is a gift, you know, to see and to be moved" (Graham, 2001, p. 14).

"Schrodinger nodded . . . 'And matter is like light,' he said, 'and it diffracts'" (Gilder, 2008, p. 89).

"Everything . . . starts with a fall" (Guedj, 2000, p. 17).

"I'm in a constant state of beta...perpetually reinventing myself..." (Adam Schokora)


Fleischman, Paul. (2001). Seek. Chicago: Cricket Books.

Gilder, Louisa. (2008). The age of entanglement: When quantum physics was reborn. NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Graham, Janice. (2001). Sarah's window. NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Guedj, Denis. (2000). The parrot's theorem. NY: Thomas Dunne Books.

Montgomery, Cherice. (2009, January 11). A random thought.

Schokora, Adam. (2008). 56minus1::

Stengel, Barbara S. (1998, Sept. 10). Review of Burbules, Nicholas C. and Hansen, David T. (Eds.). (1997). Teaching and its Predicaments. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. EdRev. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from http://edrev.asu.edu/reviews/rev37.htm<

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Practices Makes . . . Daffodils?

"On this Sunday afternoon I keep playing the notes anyway, running through every piece. Because that's important too, to have each note of each score burned into my mind and my fingers. The physical part of the performance needs to feel as natural as pouring water from a pitcher. Still, with just two days to go, I should be feeling actual music. It should feel real. The composer's ideas ought to be burning the paint off my practice room walls. The emotions should be vaporizing the muscles and the violin and the fingers and the bow, until there's nothing left but pure thought. Because that's what a true performance is, and nothing less will do" (Clements, 2006, p. 100).

As I prepare my mind for the new semester on this Sunday evening, the fact that I have not yet finished the revisions on my dissertation weighs heavily upon me. It seems that after having written 10 chapters (586 pages), "I should be feeling actual music. It should feel real." My ideas ought to be burning SOMETHING up! However, instead of "pure thought" I currently have a muddy, slushy mess that isn't that much different from the winter roads outside. And, just as snow loses its appeal after one has been entrapped by it for several months, I have a terrible case of cabin fever with respect to these ideas. I am SO ready for Spring in every sense of the word! I can only hope that as it draws nearer, the frozen extremities of my mind will also begin to thaw, nurturing mental crocuses and daffodils that will assure me that this wretched winter will not last forever.


Clements, Andrew. (2006). Things hoped for. NY: Philomel Books.