Archive for category: Of interest

Creativity Is vs. Creativity As

In developing a course at the University of Illinois on Modeling for Tech Visionaries, I did two lectures on creativity.  The Powerpoint slides from the first lecture are presented in the viewer below or may be viewed on the slideshare page here.

[slideshare id=55929&doc=what-is-creativity-55929-26002]

Slides numbers 5 and 6 have dictionary definitions of the term “creativity,” and for this post, I’ll call this the creativity is perspective.  In other words, when we give a definition we are trying to nail down a concept or term and describe exactly what we mean by it.  Unfortunately for such attempts at precision, terms such as “creativity” are overloaded with meaning, and attempts to say what creativity “is” almost always fall short.

As a result, I chose to take a different approach in my two lectures on creativity. I intentionally chose to view the term from different perspectives.  In other words, I adopted a creativity as approach.  In the ppt in the viewer, for example, I considered creativity (1) as individual thought process. (2) as group brainstorming. (3) as socially enabled/mediated process. (3) as history. (4) as generative vision. (5) as heuristic inventive process, and (6) as eliminating resistance/blocks.  By choosing to view creativity as not a single thing, but rather as a multifaceted concept, I was able to explore it more fully, hopefully getting closer to a fuller understanding of what the complex term “creativity” is really all about.

Of course, taking this approach is not limited to the term “creativity.”  The next time you are having difficulty getting your hands around a complex concept or term, try the trick of substituting “as” for “is.”  You can then explore different facets of the term–X as Y, X as Z, and so on–asking “What else?” after each exploration, and in this way you get a fuller understanding of the larger concept.  This can be especially helpful in multidisciplinary settings where terms are oftentimes used quite differently in different disciplines.  Breaking the logjam of disciplinary expertise requires exactly this relaxation of the expert’s certainty that his or her discipline or profession has the received truth, thereby allowing him or her to listen to how others with different expertise use the same word.

Try it, substitute “as” for “is” and explore the richness of different perspectives, today.

15 Ways to Engage Reluctant Learners

I came across a nice post by John Spencer with the title above (here), and I thought I’d reprint his list of 15 ways to engage reluctant learners below:

  1. Be intentional.
  2. Know where we are going.
  3. Connect it to a real context.
  4. Or better yet . . . connect it to a really imaginary, creative context.
  5. Let them talk. Often.
  6. Allow for mistakes.
  7. Embed intervention and enrichment.
  8. Give more choices.
  9. Give more freedom.
  10. Let them move.
  11. Get rid of Try and avoid punishments and rewards.
  12. Make it meaningful.
  13. Push critical thinking.
  14. Create quiet spaces.
  15. Build trust.

This list was designed for sixth graders and it is remarkable how well it connects to and overlaps with the 31 points in the 51 posters of Big Beacon manifesto (in the viewer below).

[slideshare id=13127563&doc=beaconfinal-120529220334-phpapp02]

Print out the post (here) and the manifesto (here) and compare them side by side.

More Accomplishment, Less Worry: Follow the Epictetus Square

Epictetus was a Greco-Roman moralist who shared practical advice and wisdom with his countrymen.  Once a slave, Epictetus was freed and then went on to influence his followers, who captured his teachings and passed them down to us. One piece of wisdom that comes to us in the Enchiridion (here), is the following:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. 

We can visualize this advice and take it a step further on what I’ve called the Epictetus Square in the poster. On the y-axis, we have activities and whether we control them or not, and on the x-axis we have our internal state of mind and whether we are concerned with the particular activity or not.

In the West, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of accomplishment.  In this quadrant, we can control an outcome, we do, and we achieve something we desire.  A lot of self help is focused here.

In the East, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of peace of mind. With activities we cannot control, we are not concerned with them, and we achieve a peaceful inner state.  Buddhist notions of attachment as the root of all suffering are relevant to this quadrant.

The other two quadrants arise when there is a mismatch between the degree of control we can exercise effectively in a particular situation and whether or not we exercise concern for that activity.  In the upper left quadrant, we could have controlled events and don’t .  In other words, we forego an opportunity, which may lead to regret.  In the lower right quadrant we do not have control over events but exercise concern for them nonetheless.  In other words, we suffer needless worry, which may lead to wasting energy that might have been better spent in the upper right quadrant.

Good coaching helps clients focus toward the upper right and lower left and away from the other two quadrants.  Write to to learn more on how this is accomplished.

Help Make Cool Big Beacon Posters

Check out the new Karen Salmansohn designed Big Beacon poster.  In working with the themes of the BB manifesto (here), a number of the posters played with whole brains as a theme.  Help us design the next generation of posters by answering a few questions:

  • What is your single most favorite web poster?  (send a link)
  • Do you like the ? (mind-heart-hands) poster (here) better than the on-switch poster.
  • What themes should we be using for the Big Beacon posters?
  • Describe in words a poster your would like to see.
  • What else should we be thinking about in poster design that I haven’t asked about?

We will use and credit the best ideas in coming poster designs.  Send your ideas to


iFoundry Incubator as Organizational Innovation

Here’s a 2008 video of a video we shot at the UIUC in the early days of iFoundry.


The video captures the essence of a programmatic incubator as a way to (a) unleash innovation and (b) respect faculty governance.  iFoundry continues to this day ( to continue transforming engineering education at Illinois.  Other schools in Asia and South America are adapting this model to promote change at schools in those regions.

Write for more information about the possibility of setting up an curriculum incubator at your school.

Two Student-Centered Success Stories in Brazil

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Belo Horizonte, Brazil to work with Alessandro Moreira, Vice-Director (Associate Dean) of Engineering at UFMG, Universidade Federale de Minas Gerais. During the visit, I learned of a special group of students and how they helped the University in its engineering education transformation efforts.

On the first day of my visit, Dean Moreira and I were touring campus and we went to the entrepreneurial business incubator, where I was surprised to meet students in Junior Enterprise.  I engaged them in conversation regarding the need for change in engineering education, and they were articulate about the need for better pedagogy, more practical subjects, and hands-on projects.  I also learned how they were backfilling what their educations’ were not providing themselves.

Junior Enterprise was started in 1967 in France, and it has chapters in many countries, but Brazilian universities have taken it especially to heart.  At UFMG, most of the engineering disciplines have a Junior Enterprise chapter or enterprise, and each enterprise organizes to do consulting projects for local businesses.  The students organize in functional specialties (marketing, technical, administrative, etc.), and take pride in teaching each other professional skills such as powerpoint presentation and project management.  Enterprise sizes of 25-50 or so with 5-10 or more projects running at time are not unusual.  Enterprises have faculty advisors, but they are largely hands off, and many of the research faculty would prefer that students concentrate on their studies.

I was unfamiliar with Junior Enterprise before this visit, but it is an exemplary model of students taking action in service to their education in a direct way.  Students in design competition clubs and projects get similar experiences, but the connection to markets and work in Junior Enterprise closes the real-world loop in a very special way, and Junior Enterprise students come out of the experience ready to tackle the world of engineering full force.

This would make a terrific end to the story, but the best part comes next.  Dean Moriera had toured Olin and iFoundry and knew that he wanted to bring change to undergraduate education at UFMG.  A good place to start was with a joyful welcome similar to the iFoundry iLaunch (now called iEFX Launch), so he started making plans for a program “Engenharia Recebe” or “Engineering Welcomes You” (FB pager here).  It was a few short weeks before the start of the semester in March, and Dean Moreira didn’t have the staff or resources to pull off the program himself, so he turned to the real-world-ready leaders of UFMG Junior Enterprise for assistance.  A team consisting of Andre Drumond, Guilherme Lage, Jorge Raso, and Paloma Assis, and others put together an outstanding launch program in a very short time with professional social media, handouts, activities, and prizes.  Overall the program was well received by students and faculty alike, and it helped kick off engineering education for first-year students at UFMG in a very positive way.  The program is continuing at UFMG, and now Dean Moreira has brought students into his planning team for curricular change at UFMG.  One possibility is the idea of having a educational transformation Junior Enterprise team to contract projects for social media, training, new course design, and other educational activities using student power and ideas to drive the enterprise.

Junior Enterprise, Engenharia Recebe, students actively engaged in educational transformation, and the possibility of student-run incubators for change are models worth watching and emulating. This blog will keep an eye on UFMG as it transforms and you should, too.

Students and faculty interested in starting these sorts of activities at their schools should contact me at

Write a Book Title for Engineering Education Transformation

Can you help Mark Somerville and me write a book title? We are producing a book connected to the Big Beacon movement and we are trying to come up with titles that reflect the kind of new engineering, engineering education, and change processed needed for our creative, transformative times. Here are some titles and subtitles, but we haven’t chosen as of yet, and your comments or suggestions could help us pick one of these, or something completely different!.

Send me your comments in an email to


  • A Whole New Engineer
  • Engineer 2.0
  • Beyond Brains on a Stick
  • The Shift
  • The Innovative Engineer

Subtitle (or subtitle themes)

  • A shift in mindset for a creative era
  • Responding to the imperative for a creative era
  • Meeting the challenge of a creative era
  • A different approach for a different time
  • Engineering and engineering education for a creative era
  • Engineering and engineering education are broken
  • Engineers are whole (mind/body) people

Help us crowdsource this title by writing to today.

Engineering Education Economics: The Goldberg-Laffer Curve

In discussions of why engineering education is so hard to reform, any number of culprits are often identified: stronger interest in research than teaching, lack of familiarity with or interest in active learning, experiential learning, problem-based learning or other pedagogical techniques, insufficient interest in the cultivation of our young people, and so on.  A factor that is rarely brought up is money. 

To get a handle on the economics of education transformation let’s turn back the time machine to the Reagan presidency and to an economist named Arthur Laffer.  Laffer suggested a theoretical construct, the Laffer curve, that postulated a relationship between government revenue and tax rates that first increased and then decreased as a function of marginal tax rate.  Laffer argued that if taxes were sufficiently high, and that if tax rates were reduced, that government revenue would increase.  Laffer was and is controversial, but whether he was right or whether he was right for the right or wrong reasons is unimportant to us here.  The shape of his curve, however, inspires our discussion.

Goldberg-Laffer Curve of Engineering Education

Consider the curve at the right.  Here we imagine that the cost (or time) invested by a faculty member in teaching as a function of student engagement.  At the left, a professor walks in with well-tested and well-worn 2o-year old course notes and gives the same lectures he or she always has given.  This is low cost, relatively low in student engagement, and in engineering education circles this situation is called the sage on the stage. 

In reform efforts, we encourage the sage to adopt experiential, active, problem-based, or some other form of enhanced learning, and if the instructor does so, we say he or she has become the guide on the side. He or she does so, however, at some personal cost, as shown on the curve with some increase in student engagement.  Since the faculty member is already fully involved in other actitivies,  the ΔC invested by the faculty member, of course, comes out of his or her discretionary time at home, in the lab, or doing other things the faculty member already values. Reformers suggest that this investment is important for the young people in the class room, but the individual instructor may or may not share their enthusiasm and commitment, and the cost is arguably the fundamental barrier to reform.  Dedicated missionaries like Rich Felder and Karl Smith have been teaching us all how to be more engaging in the classroom for two decades or more and yet, the classroom, especially in research universities, remains stubbornly resistant to wide scale and sustained change

Returning to the Goldberg-Laffer curve suggests another way out.  What if we could jump to the point on the curve labeled the learner with fervor where high student engagement is present and faculty-neutral costs are required?  This suggests we can have our cake and eat it, too, but is such a point even possible?

Cooperative experiments between Olin College and iFoundry at the University of Illinois at UIUC suggest it is.  For two semesters, Geoffrey Hermann has been leading a team conducting experiments with intrinsic motivation conversion on an existing lecture course in an introductory 2nd-year digital circuits.  The early returns are promising, and a subsequent post will examine them in more detail. For now, simply put, by reframing the discussion sections as intrinsicially motivated, students are more engaged from the get go and they shoulder more of the cost of that increased engagement.  For the faculty member, the experience requires little additional preparation and if he or she gets involved in the discussion sections, the increased interaction is more like that of a graduate-level seminar, requiring coaching and extant expertise, not additional preparation or work.

This possibility is very exciting to effective transformatio efforts, and it is one tool in a kit designed to bring about effective change without a faculty uprising. Watch for additional posts on intrinsic motivation conversion, and if you are interested in IM conversion or other effective means in transforming your program, write me at

Ten Steps to the Whole New Engineer

Dan Pink called for a Whole New Mind in his book on creativity of the same name (here).  Mark Somerville and I call for a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education in our latest Huffington Post article:

We live in a technological time. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet (and counting), we depend upon technology in almost every aspect of our lives. Billions are clothed, healed, fed, transported, connected, entertained, and employed through increasingly complex products, processes, and systems. And while technology is in one sense the gift that enables life for billions, its unintended consequences cause environmental and sustainability problems that are increasingly a concern.

As such, engineers and engineering are increasingly necessary to sustain and improve our way of life. Unfortunately, engineering is increasingly not the career path of choice for many who would otherwise make terrific engineers, and even if it were, the kinds of engineers being turned out by colleges and universities around the globe are too narrowly technical to address the complex and integrated nature of the opportunities and challenges of our times.

Read the full article here.  Read the Big Beacon Manifesto ( and its 31 points leading to a whole new engineer, a whole new engineer, and an education change process (rewire) that will get us there.