Lee Gass


Been doing it for three
years, and every time I recite the name of the series,
I have to consult my notes. We need to shorten the
name of this thing. OK. It’s the Seminar on Higher
Education, we could say. So welcome to this event. This is the final section
in this year’s series. This is the seventh. And I think each
year we’ve done this, we’ve tried to change up
the range of topics covered and the partnerships which
bring our speakers here. So this session today
is a partnership between the president’s office
and the Master Institute for Innovation and Excellence
in Teaching and Learning, which I find trips nicely
off the tongue now. MIIETL, as it is called. So we’re really grateful
to MIIETL for collaboration on this, as on so
many things which are essential to the quality
of international life in this institution. Before I turn over
to Arshad Ahmad, who is going to introduce
today’s speaker, I want to just take the
opportunity to thank Mary Koziol here, who
has, for three years, organized this and many
other fabulous– in fact, a few innovative things
that come out of my office, Mary has been behind these. And thanks, Mary, for all
the work you’ve done on this. Mary is [INAUDIBLE]. [APPLAUSE] In a few years,
if you’re looking for an outstanding physician
with a profound social conscience, there she’ll be. So let me turn it
over to Arshad. And good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the McMaster Seminar
on Higher Education presented by the Office of the President. So my name is
Arshad Ahmad, and I have the pleasure of serving as
your AVP Teaching and Learning and as the director of MIIETL. Stop right there. To cosponsor today’s
event and to introduce to McMaster a truly
one of a kind speaker, and that is Dr. Lee Gass. Now, depending on how
Lee shapes his remarks, which I really don’t
have any idea– I don’t either. But what I do know is
that he will tell us stories on transformation
in higher education. And these stories are
about students, faculty, and administrators
who can sometimes create magic together. That’s, in fact, the
title of his talk. That’s about all I can tell you
as to what he’s going to do. But I can share with you that I
met Lee more than a dozen years ago, and he and I were a part of
a small team of colleagues sort of wandering about Canada
to talk about teaching and technology that was then
sponsored by McGraw Hill Ryerson. But to this day, I have never
heard Lee talk about technology until this morning, where he
briefly said one sentence, and he said,
remember, it’s a tool. Period. But he also confirmed
this last night when I got a call from him
and he said, rather matter of factly, that he missed his
plane, and what should he do? So I said, well, OK, we
will get you on a plane. It might be that you
have to do the red eye. And that’s what he did. But he also said something else. He said, you know,
Arshad, this is the first time I’m going
to be using slides. So this will be a
first in Lee’s career, and we have the great pleasure
of experiencing that with him. Well, despite the choices
that Lee will make, I think you would you will
find a very unusual website that he has authored and
archived many of the stories. I think he’s a
master storyteller. And in one of those
stories about what he titles “The Currency of
the 3M National Teaching Fellowships,” he starts
with the following, and I want to just quote
him just for a bit. Quote, “‘We are hiring
you for your teaching,” Peter Larkin told
me on the phone, “but we’ll fire you
for your research. And don’t you ever forget this.” I never forgot it. How could I? But I learned to live with and
understand it and eventually turn it to a great advantage.” So Lee Gass has earned
his PhD In biology from the University of
Oregon, and he is currently a professor emeritus of
zoology at the University of British Columbia, where
he was a leading research scientist for three
decades, a research scientist with a particular
interest in hummingbirds. But for the last
decade in particular, his focus has been on his career
as a professional sculptor, in his own words, on,
quote, “transforming how undergraduate science
education is conducted by students and professors,
particularly in building true communities of
scholars,” unquote. This is a man
after my own heart. He played a key role in
developing UBC’s Science One program and the Coordinated
Science program, both initiatives built
around innovative learning environments. He was also a lead
advocate for the developer of UBC’s Institute for the
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. It has really taken off. He has several awards. I do want to mention three. One is the Killam Teaching Award
for the Faculty of Science; another, the CCAC Canadian
Professor of the Year Award; and then the Currency Award,
the 3M National Teaching Fellowships. So Lee Gass, a sculptor,
a hummingbird researcher, gifted teacher, a learning
innovator, a good friend, and this afternoon’s
guest speaker. So please help me
welcome Lee Gass. What an honor it is to be
here for several reasons. You need to know a little
bit about what I do. This winter, my wife was in
the city a lot of the time, and sometimes I didn’t
see a human being for a week or 10 days. I didn’t hear a car. I live out in the woods. I go to my sculpting
studio in the morning. I come back at night. And the other day I realized
that, in the last five years, I’ve spoken to more than three
people at the time zero times. So this is a treat
for me, because that’s what I was fueled
by for 40 years. And I get fueled by it. This morning was wonderful. So I want to start
just by showing you some pictures of some of
the work that I do now. There’s some lessons in it for
what I’ll talk about later. But I also want to give you
some homework about Forward with Integrity, because in
developing sculptural forms, I’ve been using the term
“integration” for a long time. The work that I have
to bring a surface– not the texture of the surface,
but the form of the surface– into a state of what
I think of as integral or having integrity or being
one thing perceptually, that’s central to what I do. And what I want you to
do is look at the forms and just meditate on
the notion of integrity. And maybe we can talk
about that at the end. When I was putting
the slides together, I was really struck
by my own history and how important
integration has been for me, not just as a
sculptor but as a scientist and especially as an educator. So I want to start with
something I wrote in a notebook during the week of my
40th birthday in 1982. I was by myself at the
north end of Galiano Island. I took six weeks during my
first sabbatical to just carve. My grad students knew they
could come out and talk to me. They could phone me any time. But I was not going to town. I didn’t even go to
town for Herbert Simon the first time he came. And during this week, I
did a lot of arithmetic, like two times 20 is 40, and
what have I accomplished? Two times 40 is 80, and
I better get a move on. And it was sort of your
existential crisis. And during that week, I realized
that, in the four or five weeks leading up to then,
I’d had a great time. It was the most time
I’d ever spent carving. But I didn’t seem to be
accomplishing anything. I stayed up all night,
just worrying about this. How come? What’s wrong? And it was starting
to get light, and I realized what was wrong. I had my art in the
recreation category. And I’ve never been
very good at recreation. I never understood
what it was about. Work, I understand. I picked my sculpting up,
put it in the work camp. It was light enough to work. And I went out,
and I learned more about carving before
lunchtime that day than I had in my whole
life before that. I started when I was five. It was amazing. And the key is
what I wrote down. And let’s see if
this thing works. That’s the first part of it. Behaving as if sculpting
were my life’s work. That’s a mantra for me. And as long as I remembered
that, everything worked. Whenever I forgot it, things
started falling apart. I’d make mistakes that
I didn’t need to make. So there’s something there
for you to think about. What is there– and
we’ll come back to it at the end– what is
there about behaving as if– in our work with
students and the university, I think there’s a lot there. “Life’s work” identifies it
as something important to me. And the combination of those
two parts of that declaration just totally changed my life. And it changed my
life in teaching, too, because I was able
to recognize how important that
kind of statement, that kind of declaration
is to students. It changes their lives when
they can gather the courage to make something like that
statement for themselves. Now, we’re going to need these
lights off for the slides. This was a rock. When we were clearing
for my studio, I saw this rock tumbling
in front of the backhoe. And I said, Roy, stop! And I went out and
rescued this rock. It’s one of my favorite rocks. I love rocks. I mainly carve rocks,
but I also make bronzes from the stone originals. What do I mean when
I say to myself that I’m integrating a surface? I know what I mean in
terms of perception. I know what I mean in
terms of mathematics. I know what I mean
now in terms of what I want to accomplish
in observers through that integration. A lot of these are
rocks picked up off the beach, carried
home illegally. Not quite dark enough in
here for these slides. Sorry about that. That’s one ton of basalt,
and it’s on the UBC campus, right across from the bookstore. I use this tool to
find imperfections. And you can see
some imperfections in this finished piece,
imperfections of form. That’s another simple technique,
just a piece of graph paper reflected in a surface of
bronze that I’m working on. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] -I love the correspondence
between the curvatures of the outer and inner surfaces. They’re obviously very different
surfaces, but they’re related. And somehow, that
just turns me on. From my perspective, the
most interesting thing about this sculpture
is that it is stable in three different ways. This way– I call it right side
up– it looks like a Madonna. Looks like a Madonna to me. I think it looks like a
Madonna to most people. Upside down, it seems like the
same form, the same sculpture, the same person,
the same Madonna. And then when it’s
on its back, it looks to me just
like a little baby. [END VIDEO PLAYBACK] So that’s it. That’s what I want
you to think about. There’s nothing much
magic about sculpting. The magic is in the declaration. How do we get
students to the place where they’ll make that
kind of declaration for themselves as first year
students, first day of class? It can happen. So that’s it. It can happen, but
it didn’t happen at the beginning of
my teaching career, and I want to start with a story
from the first year of UBC. It was in the dead week,
the end of classes, right before finals
in the spring. Nice spring day. I was in a whole
World War II hut where they kept the ecologists. And I had one of those
swing-out windows by my desk with
bathroom-type glass in it. Can’t quite see through
it, but you can see shapes. And I was in there
trying to write a paper. And the way I wrote
papers back then is I’d write it, scribble out a
few words on a piece of paper, then I’d wad up
the piece of paper, throw it at the garbage can,
get another piece of paper, write a few more
words, throw it away. And I did that all afternoon. That’s how I wrote papers. But I was aware that there
were two people sitting on the front porch of
this old hut on the steps, just talking with
each other quietly. Window was open. I could tell they
were female people. And then after a while, my
stomach started growling and I thought, well,
that’s about enough writing for the day. I’ll get my motorcycle and
go home, have some dinner. And on the way out to the back
where I kept my motorcycle, I thought, I’m going to stop
and look out the front door, see who that is out there. Well, it was two women from
my first year biology class. So I went out on the
porch, and I said, are you trying to
work up your courage to come in and talk to somebody? And they said, yeah. Well, was it me? And they said, yeah. We’re not going
to take the final. And I said, what? They said, not going
to take the final. And I said, why? You came to class every day. You participated. You took all the tests. You’re doing fine. What’s the problem? They said, well, but we
didn’t learn anything. And I thought, I’m not very
good, but I’m not that bad. I mean, you can’t have not
learned anything in my class. So I said, oh, come
on, give me an example. Give me an example of
something you didn’t learn. Now, that works. I’m telling you. I didn’t know what I was
doing that first time, but I’ve done that a
million times since. It works. And it even works if they
know what you’re doing. So I said, give me an example. And they said, well,
just everything. And I said, no, I
need– come on, please. And I was starting to cry. Give me an example. Tell me, what didn’t you learn? And they said, well,
photosynthesis. And I said, OK, what didn’t
you learn about photosynthesis? And they said just everything. And then they start
talking to each other. They say, well, it’s in
plants and works on sunlight. Not all plants,
one of them said. Just some plants eat dead stuff. Just green plants. And it’s just the green
parts of plants, in fact. And, well, some of the
plants have green stems, too. And back and forth,
like I wasn’t there. And they said, well, you know,
it’s mainly in the leaves. And way down inside
the leaves, there are these little bitty
things called chloroplasts, and that’s the green part. And then inside the chloroplast
are these little stacks of pita bread in there,
green pita bread. And there are molecules embedded
in these pita bread pockets. And they’re just
talking to each other. And they say, well, there’s
all these different– there’s chlorophyll, and there’s
all these accessory pigments, and blah blah blah blah blah. All these details that they
didn’t learn, supposedly. And they went on and on
and on, and they said– and then they got all excited. And one of them looked
up like that in the sky and somehow managed– because
she said, now, imagine a plant. So I imagined a plant. And then she looked up
there, and I looked up there, and the plant was up there. And I’m looking at
this plant while she’s telling me what to look at,
about all these pita breads and things, and
I could see them. And then she’d zoom it up,
and I could see the molecules in there. And then she says, and then
there’s a photon of light, comes winging in from the sun. And most of them just
go flying right by and warm up the atmosphere and
warm up the dirt and all that. Some of them hit the plant. Some of those go just, zoom,
right through the plant. But if they hit the green part,
then all hell breaks loose. Said, for example, if it hits
the chlorophyll molecule, that chlorophyll molecule
start resonating like this. And she started shaking like
she had some kind of disease. And then she said, and
it gets all excited, and it kicks off a
pair of electrons, and this other molecule that’s
right there in the membrane picks up those electrons
and starts passing it along like this. And it keeps passing
it and passing it, and then it’s a
glucose molecule. And it’s silent. And I thought, what
is going on here? Because they knew everything,
and they didn’t think they knew anything. And I said, what’s the problem? And they said, well, you
keep talking about energy, and it’s energy and energy that. Everything’s energy, and
the physics teacher talks about energy, and the
chemistry talk about energy. Even sociology, they
talk about energy. But what is it? And I thought, well,
I don’t have a clue. I didn’t know. I still don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. And I said, well, it’s just
what does stuff, right? Isn’t that what
your textbook says? I never read the textbook,
so I didn’t know. And they said,
well, yeah, sort of. It doesn’t say it like that,
but that’s what it says. And I said, yeah, OK, well,
that’s what it is, then. Is that what it
means in physics? And they’re like, well, yeah. Yeah. Chemistry. Yeah. What about sociology? Yeah, it’s what does
stuff there, too. So, well, that’s
what it is, then. And then they
started crying again. They said, well, we’re still
not coming to the final. And I said, oh, come on. Just come to the final. How about this? How about this? What about– if I ask you
something you don’t know, just make it up. And they looked at me like that. You can’t talk like that. This is science! And that’s the
end of that story. But what they didn’t realize,
that’s what we do in science. We make stuff up. That’s our job. And they didn’t know it. So I learned a big
lesson that day. I can feel it right now. The most important
thing for them to learn in terms of the content
of science and the process, especially, of science,
they didn’t get. And they didn’t get
it because I didn’t share any of that in
my own experience. And I didn’t ask
them to share it. And things changed
after that because I started sharing my own
experience as a scientist from 20 minutes earlier when I
was struggling with something. And I started listening to them. This morning in a meeting, we
were talking about a new book that I started reading yesterday
by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. And he proposes two different
cells in each of us, one of the– he called it
experiencing self, the other the remembering self. The experiencing self is fast. It’s intuitive. It’s very often wrong, but
it generates possibilities. The remembering self is slow,
hyperrational, risk averse, but very good at keeping an
eye on the experiencing self. What I learned
that day, I think– most important part
of what I learned– is those students’
experience has to be central in the courses. And I’m greedy, man. I don’t just want them to
learn a list of content. In fact, I don’t care
about the content. And I made a promise
to myself when I interviewed for my
high school teaching job before I started teaching–
because the principal took me into this guy’s classroom,
who was a genius. I made a promise, I am
never asking anybody the name of anything. And I never once
did in 40 years. I never asked anybody
the name of anything, and that is a sin in biology. But it’s important because what
I did was I took away from them the remembering self. I forced them into
their experiential self. And just yesterday, I think I
came to understand something that I had not understood
for 30 years at UBC. That was that female students
had the advantage in my class, and it was a strong advantage
for at least several weeks. The young males couldn’t
deal with uncertainty. They couldn’t deal
with ignorance. And in my course, we had
to embrace ignorance. It doesn’t take
long to demonstrate that has to be true, because it
doesn’t make any sense at all to learn stuff you already know. And that’s what the
young males wanted to do, because they wanted
to know stuff. I took it away from them. The first year before I
learned how to do this, half the premeds walked out. This is the first day of class. They walked out. If you’re not letting
us memorize stuff, we’re out of here. Then I learned to
keep the premeds. Then I learned to get a little
bit more emotional maturity into the young males. I should tell you about these
two diseases, too, by the way. I used to talk about
the young male disease and the young female disease. I said some people have both. The young male
disease characterizes people who are either unable
or unwilling to acknowledge their own ignorance. The young female disease,
which was especially rampant several decades
ago, characterizes people who are either unable
or unwilling to embrace their own intelligence. And like I say, some
people have both. So a big part of my work
with first-year students was to do whatever I could
do to cure them of those two diseases, because
it kills learning. Both of those do. Especially it kills
lifelong learning where nobody’s making you
memorize anything anymore. And I think there are good
ways to encourage people out of those two selves,
encourage them into their experiencing
selves, display their ignorance in public, and get down
to the work of asking powerful questions that
point to their own answers. Now, that was one thing I
think I understood yesterday in reading about 20
pages of this book. The other one that I’ve sort of
understood for 10 or 15 years, but it came much more clear
to me yesterday– things always started out
slow in my courses. Really slow. And by the end of
a course, they’re learning at the speed of
light and accelerating. And I didn’t get that. Like, I was thinking,
aw, god damn it. How come I’m so slow? At the beginning. I was slow at the
beginning because there’s a lot of training that has
to happen in using intuition, in speaking clearly in public
about ignorance, in asking real questions– a
real question for me is a question the questioner
doesn’t know the answer to– and asking powerful questions. That is, questions that
point to their own answers. That’s a lot of work. And in my courses, we did no
administrivia the first day. No office hours, no
prof’s name, no– what do you call those lists of stuff? There’s a name for it. Syllabi. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, all that. None of that. I didn’t have it anyway. None of it. We started thinking like
scientists the very first day. They didn’t know how to do it. And I would break out groups. But before long, they were
doing it in a room with 260. And it’s possible. It works. It’s not hard for
us to encourage them to be real learners right
there in public, behaving as professional
scientists, in my case. So I had to teach them things
like, we tell the truth in here about our experience. If the dial says six,
we write down six. That’s the rules. And there are
various other rules. And when I began to work in
interdisciplinary settings with other scientists, I
learned the rules in biology are different than
the rules in physics. The rules in physics are
different than the rules in chemistry. One of the big problems for
the students in Science 1 is the physicists
like Greek letters, and the chemists
hated Greek letters. And the students thought
that made a difference until they finally got it. Oh, these are just symbols. And Luis Sobrino started
changing symbols on them in the middle of a
lecture, and they got it. Said, oh, he’s just
playing a trick on us. So what I’m talking
about here is culture. There’s a culture
of the discipline, the professional
discipline, that we need to introduce
those students to. Because if they’re going to be
what Buckminster Fuller thought he was, which was a verb,
they’ve got to do process. I don’t mean due process. I mean they have to
perform processes that are legitimate
processes in that discipline. I think that’s true
of all disciplines. We’re cultures. We have language. We have protocols. Students can learn that
stuff, and they learn it fast. When we invented
Science 1, Science 1 happened when we got a
new dean, Barry McBride. You know Barry? He’s fantastic. We had to train him
when he was dean. But he’s trainable. And when he came
in as dean, they had a thing at
UBC called Arts 1, and it was maybe 18 or
20 years old by then. It was very successful,
interdisciplinary program in the humanities where they’d
get a small team of profs from different humanities,
worked together, and they’d make up
some course name like Aboriginal
Notions of Whatever. And they’d do a
whole year on that. And they’re writing–
they just did everything. Arts 1 students are no different
than other arts students when they come in. Coming out, they’re
the best writers in the whole faculty of arts. They’re the best
thinkers, and so on. Something about
interdisciplinary discourse, both in terms of content
and in terms of process and in terms of social
norms, something about that that’s powerful. Well, when we started doing
it for research professors, in the first year, we
only have 36 students. 100% buy out to the
departments for the people who were in that. So that’s all we did. 21 hours of class a
week, and we all went. And we didn’t sit there
and do our other stuff. We were there. We’d butt in. We’d argue with each other. We’d start
interdisciplinary fights. You can’t talk about that
except in the context of thermodynamics. Well, you get up here
and talk about it, then. And the students
are hearing this and think, oh, they’re
going to get in a fight. They didn’t realize that’s
what we do all day long. So they started learning that. But in one day, if
it was Wednesday, we had four hours of
class on Wednesday. So the students
would have to put on their biologist
hat for an hour. Then they’d have to put
on their chemist hat. Then they have put on
their physics, math hat. They’re changing
cultures during the day. Very quickly they learned to
speak the different languages. And when they were challenging
us– say challenging me. I was easy to challenge
because I didn’t know anything about chemistry or
math or physics– if the students challenged
me on some chemical point, they’d use the
language of chemistry. If I didn’t understand what
they were challenging me about, which I didn’t sometimes,
they’d translate that into the language of biology
so I could understand it. That was early. That was before Thanksgiving. So they had it. And it was magical. It was magical
for them when they came popping out of first year
and hit those big, ugly second year courses. You’ve got those here? Big, ugly second year courses
with a million students and somebody up there in front
talk as fast as they can talk. Get it all down. Spit it back. Those Science 1 students hit
second year, it was awful. These profs would come to us. What are you doing in there? We can’t shut those kids up. Said, what are
they talking about? Well, they’re just
asking questions. Are they good questions? Oh, yeah. And Linda Matsuuchi
came to me, and she said, what are we going to do? And she was, like,
a second year prof. What am I going to do? What am I going to do? And I said, what’s
the matter, Linda? And she said, those kids are
getting closer and closer and closer to the
part I don’t know. And I said, I don’t know what
you’re going to do, Linda, but you’re going
to do something. I have faith. And meanwhile, I’m whipping up
those students with a stick, because they’re doing what
they’re supposed to be doing. And you’re going
to do what you’re supposed to be doing, too. So it worked. But it worked for us, too. It took us two years
to plan this thing. The first year, all we did
was fight with each other. You member Khrushchev
and his shoe? The chemist– does anybody
know Bob Thompson in here? Bob Thompson was the chemist
in this planning committee. And he was the representative
of the chemistry department. And he essentially took off his
shoe and pounded on the table. It was his first, actually. He said, the chemistry component
of the Science 1 curriculum will be exactly and completely
the chemistry component of the first year
courses in general taught by the same
people in the same way and in the same sequence. And then we’ll talk
about integration. Well, I was just
as bad, because I didn’t realize these things I
just told you about culture. I thought those
people were crazy. Well, they were, but I was, too. We didn’t listen to each other. The only thing we liked
was eating lunch together because we could tell jokes
about each other’s lunches. And then the second
year, we realized we sort of liked going
to these meetings, even though we didn’t
accomplish anything. And somebody– oh,
it was me, actually– I said, hey, what about this? What if we did duets? Can you imagine saying that
to a bunch of scientists? So what do you mean, duets? We don’t do duets in science. No, I mean, like,
little partnerships between two different
disciplines. And they didn’t understand. Well, in Science 1,
the first year students were doing the wave equation. First year students don’t
do that, science students, Schrodinger’s equation. But they can do it if there’s
a physicist and a chemist and a mathematician
all working with them and working with each other. That was fun. It wasn’t all fun, though. Like, for example, when I was
introducing a big, long unit on energy, and I
was giving my thing. I’d get on my horse,
and I’d do my thing that I’d been doing
forever, telling lies. Teachers tell lies. All of them. They call it simplification. They’re not ready for that. We’ll just give them the
watered down version, and we do that by lying. Well, that’s OK for
students, because they don’t know you’re lying. But try to lie to these
colleagues who are sincerely trying to understand this
crap you’re stuffing down their throats. They can’t understand it. Why? It’s not understandable. That’s why. So I’m doing this, and I didn’t
mention thermodynamics once. Then Luis Sobrino stood up. We never stood up. We never raised our hand. We just butted in. But Luis stood up, and he
waited for me to call on him. I said, Luis? And he’s in his last
two years of teaching in his thick, thick
Spanish accent. He’s from Cadiz, and he’s
a theoretical physicist. He’d never taught
first year before. And he stood up when I called on
him– Luis?– and he said, Dr. Thompson and I,
the representative of the department
of chemistry and I, we’re sitting here trying to
understand what you’re talking about, and we don’t have a clue. And one reason is you can’t
even talk about these things without thermodynamics, and
he invited me to defend myself in front of the students,
which I stupidly tried to do for a few minutes,
until I realized he had me. I couldn’t. I didn’t know enough
about thermodynamics even to understand why this
was important to him. And so, finally, I just
said, OK, Luis, you got me. You’re right. But I can’t do that by myself. I need your help. He said, you sure do. And you need Dr.
Thompson’s help here. We didn’t call him Dr. Thompson. You need Bob’s help. And Leah Keshet
in the back said, and you need my help, too! Well, I got it. I got their help, and we
did every part of biology that had to do with energy on
a much, much, much deeper level than I’d ever
managed to do before. And they remembered it
forever, partly because we used so many stories
in our teaching, and once a story gets into
you, you can’t get rid of it. It’s just there. They remembered it forever. They still remember it. So the magic that I’m
talking about so far is magic that
happens when students talk with other
students about things they only partially understand. That’s Hake’s study of
first year physics students who showed that, in 66
courses or something– they used these two measures
of conceptual understanding in Newtonian mechanic–
that courses that had some significant
component of what he called interactive engagement
among students, defined as students
talking with other students about stuff they only
partially understand, courses that had a
component of that, whether it was in lecture,
whether it was in discussion sessions, whether
it was in the lab, didn’t matter– twice as much
conceptual learning as what he called traditional, which
was stand and deliver content. It’s no surprise now. But when I read that
paper, I thought, this is the very first
time I got some fuel to use on my colleagues,
because my colleagues are research professors. They got to have data. They’re not going to believe
some [WHISTLING] stuff that comes out of
education, even if it’s a scientist who’s speaking it. But you show them
Hake’s study and invite them to interpret it,
they think, oh, my lord. What am I going to do now? Because I’m traditional,
and I know my students don’t learn anything. One of the courses
in Hake’s study was at someplace in
Arizona, and they had two courses that were using
these measures as a pre-test and as a post-test. One of them was the most famous
professor on campus, lecturer. People flocked to his course. They loved it. The other one was just a nobody. One of them was
traditional, the lecturer. The nobody had twice
as much learning. And when Hake went to talk
to the famous professor– the other guy wasn’t
there anymore because he got fired– talked
to the famous prof. The guy said, yeah, I know
they don’t learn anything in my class. But they sure love my lectures. And they did. So part of what MIIETL
is going to be doing is somehow trying to get a wedge
in between the experiencing self and the remembering self,
between stand and deliver and interactive engagement,
between creative engagement in content and– I used
to say to my students, about my students,
about studying, they got a little
switch in their bums. They sit down in a chair,
their brain goes off. Their eyes go back and forth. They read the same
page 16 times, and they wonder why they
never get anything done. Because they’re not
studying actively. They’re not looking
for something. They’re doing what they
think they’re supposed to do, which is– oh, god, I don’t
want to say it– memorize all that stuff so they can
spit it back on a test. And we get paid for
doing that to them. You should be ashamed
of yourselves, and I am ashamed for me doing
that for such a long time. How we doing for time? Good. I’m trying to decide
where to go next. OK. I’ll tell you a story
about Singapore. A team of scientists from
the National University of Singapore came to study
Science 1 for a week. In Singapore, they are serious. If they come study
something, they’re either going to
reject it, or they’re going to adopt it right now. So at the end of that
week, they invited me to come to give a talk
at their annual faculty development day and
help them design their own version of
Science 1, which is now called the Special
Program E in Science. Did they spell it
Program E in Pakistan? No? And then I got worried. I got worried because my
way of approaching students is culturally grounded. Maybe it can’t work
in an Asian culture. So I started asking
people– there’s a lot of Chinese
people in Vancouver, a lot of people who
have lived in Singapore. There are a lot of
Caucasian people who’ve worked in
various places in Asia. I started asking them. They went, oh, no way. You can’t do that shit there. They’re not going
to risk anything. So I got on the horn, and I
talked to people in Singapore. And I said, I got to have
a session with students. I’ve got to have at least a
two-hour session with at least 40 students because I’ve got
to test my assumptions before I help you make something
that’s not going to work. They said, well, we
can’t get students. That’s dead week before finals. They’ll be home studying. I said, food. Food. That’s all you gotta do. I said, good food, too. They know how to
make food Singapore. And they know how to bring it
in in steam tables real slow so the– like that. It was amazing. But what happened at the
beginning– this is dishonest, and I’m proud of it. But I had to see if they’d trust
me, so I had to lie to them. So they introduced me. I got up, and I’m
mumbling to myself like– this is a trick that I
always did to my own students. I’d talk to myself just loud
enough so they could hear, and then if they said
something, I said, I wasn’t talking to you. But I wanted them to hear it. And I was saying,
well, I don’t know whether I should tell them. If I tell them, they’re probably
going to think I’m stupid, and– oh, well. And I said, well, when they
invited me to come over here, I got so excited
to come over here. And first thing I did when I
got home, I got my atlas out, and I looked up there
at the top of Malaysia for Singapore, where it
was, and I couldn’t find it. And they were polite over there,
too, especially to professors. They didn’t smirk or anything. They thought, why
would anybody ever look for Singapore up
at the top of Malaysia? Because it’s not. And I said, I kept
looking for it. And then I started making
bigger and bigger circles, and I got all the way over
to Bangladesh and all the way over the Vietnam. And, finally, I found it down
at the bottom of Malaysia. Isn’t that stupid? And their face said one
thing, and their silence said the same thing. And then I said, but
don’t get too arrogant, because we’re
going to be working on a problem on the
west coast of British Columbia, on Vancouver
Island, in fact. Does everybody know where
Vancouver Island is? Everybody knew where
Vancouver Island was. And I said, how big is it? They said, big. Real big. I said, well, bigger
than Singapore? And they had to
talk with each other to see if it was
bigger than Singapore. Singapore would fit into some of
the lakes on Vancouver Island. And they decided it was
bigger than Singapore. And then they had to
get into a big argument about how much bigger
than Singapore it was. It was, like, maybe even
twice as big as Singapore. Well, that broke it loose. And those students
were going nuts. They were challenging me. They were challenging
each other respectfully. They were just
like our students. It was wonderful. And at the end of it, all these
profs that were in the back came running up–
what did you do? What did you do? I said, I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention. What are you talking about? They said, well, how did
you get them to talk? I said, uh, I don’t know. Uh, what do you
mean, get them talk? They said, well, you
must have done something to get them to talk. And I said, no. No. Maybe the only
thing was they knew I wanted to hear
what they had to say. Which is the
correct, true answer. They could tell I wanted to
hear what they had to say. Well, it was an
interesting three months working with the
profs, because it was really hard for the profs–
just like it’s hard for profs here– to be what Carl Rogers
called transparently real. It’s really hard to listen
to a question that’s expressed clumsily and mistake
it for a stupid question and say so. There’s nothing hard about it. Emotionally, it’s hard. And so in working with
those profs over there, I realized there was
really important work to be done with
the profs at home, because we all got those
attitudes, like, jeez, you have to ask a
question like that? But it’s always a real
question, unless it’s a question that’s not real, a
question the questioner already knows the answer to. And you’ve heard that
kind of question. Well, you’ve got to get rid
of that kind of question. It’s easy to get rid of it
by respecting the real one. They learn really fast. They love it when you love it. And that’s something
everybody can learn to do, to
really, really listen. And I had to learn to listen
before they said anything because their body language
is speaking all the time. Their eyes are
speaking, and you can see their eye closed
down a little bit if you say something wrong. I say things wrong a lot. Like Luis Sobrino said–
I can’t do his accent– but he said, the probability
of me getting the sign wrong in an equation– that
is, a plus or a minus– is approximately 50%,
so keep an eye on me. What I think I learned that day
in Singapore is all students are the same. They want to learn. They want their lives to get
deeper and richer and more powerful. Sure, they want to
get good grades, but they want their
lives to be transformed. I gotta say something
else I just thought of. What’s the most
common question you get from students about exams? What’s going to be on the exam? OK. Here’s something that works. You kill it. You just kill it. You say, oh, that’s a really
hard question for me to answer. Now, remember, I never ask
you any detailed questions. They’re usually, like, write
this much about some problem you’ve never seen before
but that maps into things that we’ve done. That’s the difference between
knowledge and understanding. Understanding is
the facility that we use when we enter a situation
we’ve never been in before, and we recognize in
that situation elements of what we do know
well and operate with those old elements
in the new situation. If I was serious about
understanding– and I was– I had to– I’m going to
use the word “invite”– invite students to deal with
stuff they’d never seen before on the final. And it was a challenge to
write good questions like that, because they really did have
to map into the old things. But they couldn’t map
in a superficial way, or they’d get it
too quick, because I wanted to sit there
and watch them sweat. And they’d just sweat and
sweat and sweat like that, and then they’d look
up at the ceiling, and then– poof–
something happened. They start writing. And I asked them when they hand
in the class, how’d you do? And they went, I got it. I can just keep
talking about this. I could just keep
telling stories, but it’s all the same story. Every one of these
stories is the same. Here’s one about
Roger Donaldson. Roger Donaldson is just
this brilliant kid. He’d been to Physics Olympics. He’d been to Japan mathematics
competitions and things in high school. And he’s just this kid, like
a 17-year-old kid with his hat on backwards. And I sat against
the wall in the back, and Roger sat right
in front of me. He didn’t say much,
but he got every word, and he didn’t take
very many notes. He just listened. Somebody would say
something wrong. He’d say, Luis, I
think you got your sign wrong on that equation. But one day, Juliet, the
director of Science 1, said, you’d better
talk to Roger. He’s really scared
he can’t do biology. I said, what? Roger? She said, yeah. He’s scared. He’s been to talk to me every
day for the last few days. He even said he had
a dream about it, and he says he’s going
to come talk to you, but it looks like he
might be putting it off. I said, OK. I’ll talk to him. And then I forgot about it. I came in her office the next
day, and Roger’s standing at her desk, talking to her. So I just stood in
the doorway, waited. And then, he got through, and
he started backing up like this, talking to Juliet. And then he turned
around, and there I am. And he’s headed out, so I
turned sideways in the door, and he starts doing
this to get past me. And we got stuck,
like belly button to belly button in this
doorway, like, this far away, and so he couldn’t move. And he said, well, I’ve been
meaning to come talk to you. Can I talk sometime? And I said, yeah, how about now? He went, uh, well, OK. And he told me this dream. And he said, in this dream, you
know those questions you always ask, and you bring
up these situations that have all these
parts to them? Biology is so complex. He said, you can’t
solve biology. Physics you can solve
because it’s only got two or three variables. How many variables
does biology have? And so he’s really,
really worried about it. I could see it in his face. I could smell the fear in him. And I said, oh, Roger
don’t worry about it. They let me be a biologist. You think they’d let me be
a biologist if it’s hard? And he thought about
that, and he went, oh, OK. I guess I can do it
if you can do it. And that was it. OK. That’s the first
part of that story. The next year, a bunch of
associate deans in the science deanery– they call
them deaneries here? It’s kind of a weird
thing to call them, but they call them
deaneries there. They wanted me to be part of
their skit on the first day of school when all these
first year– 1,500 new science students come, and they
go to the Chan Center. And I said, I’m not going
to be part of your skit, but if you want me to hold a
discussion with them, I will. They said, you can’t hold a
discussion with 1,500 students. I said, you watch, but I’m
not going to be in your skit, because I know it’s
going to be silly, and I don’t want to do that. They went, OK. It’s your life. And we had a discussion. And they were asking me real
things from way up there. But one of the things I
said there in that day, I said, if anybody ever calls
you stupid or implies it, I want to know
about it, because I don’t want any of that kind
of thing in my university. Barry was there. Maria Klawe was there, and
all these 1,500 students. Well, meanwhile,
Roger’s in second year. And he took a third
year math course. He didn’t have the
prerequisites for it, but he’d just been
reading, just for fun, reading second year courses. So he’s in this first
day, third year course. The prof said something that
contradicted the reading for the first day of course,
and Roger said, well, I don’t understand. The book says this,
and you just said that. Can you help me understand that? And the guy called
him stupid and said, you shouldn’t be in this course. Roger’s now got his
PhD from Caltech, and he’s doing very well
as a private consultant in Vancouver. They called him stupid. Well, I found out about
it– not from Roger, from Mark MacLean– in
first year in Science 1. And I said, get Roger. Send him. I’ve got to see Roger. Roger came, and I said, were
you being a jerk, Roger? You can be a jerk sometimes. He said, no. I wasn’t. I said, were you’re
asking it respectfully? He said, yeah. I just wanted to
resolve this difference. I said, OK, I’ll handle it. It was late afternoon. Barry had already gone home. But Barry had heard
me say, I don’t do this in my university
the day before. I didn’t have Barry’s phone
number, so I sent him an email. He phoned me at 10:30
at night or something. He said, OK, what’s the story? I said, well, it’s what
I said in my email. He said, was Roger being a jerk? I said, nope. I talked with him. He said, OK. I’m not going to tell you
what’s going to happen, but something’s going to happen. And it’ll stop, and it will
stop for the whole department. Is that good enough for you? Because I told him
in my email, I’m going to meet my first year
students tomorrow morning, and I’m going to
have to tell them I lied if you don’t fix this. He fixed it. That’s what I mean by
Barry being trainable. But he was provost by then. I get mad about
things like that. Do you want to take questions? Yeah, I do.

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