Openness to Otherness: Creating Transformative Online Communities
Concurrent Session 1
Based on the 2020 title Creating Transformative Online Communities in Higher Education, this interactive conversation will a) describe the common features of transformative learning experiences; b) explain the importance of course design in supporting transformative learning; and c) review ways to apply transformative principles and practices to instructional design processes.
Openness to otherness.
If ever society needed something, it would seem this might be it.
Today, division and outrage seem to be the norm. Side is pitted against side. Person against person. Relationships fall apart as communication breaks down.
The question we should be asking in higher education is--what role can we play in becoming an agent of positive change in a society of discontent.
Institutes of higher education are uniquely positioned to provide significant value by positively affecting society through the learners with whom they engage. Particularly against the backdrop of post-secondary educational competition from competency-based credentialing and micro-training for technical skills, traditional colleges and universities have the opportunity to develop learners in ways that narrowly-focused training programs simply cannot.
Historically, institutes of higher education stood on the promise of access to otherwise limited supplies of necessary information. However, the internet has replaced colleges and universities as the primary infrastructure for knowledge (Tapscott & Williams, 2008). Adapting to these changes, colleges and universities have more recently prided themselves on developing their learners into critical thinkers (Paul et al., 1997). However, there is little evidence that they have been even remotely successful at this (Schlueter, 2016).
Beyond mere access to information and failed efforts at developing critical thinkers, colleges and universities have the capacity if not to say responsibility to engage learners with and through transformative experiences.
Transformative learning theory provides a lens through which to understand what it means to learn, to grow, to develop . . . to become human.
In this way, the goal of transformation is not to make leaners into anything in particular. So, the aim of institutes of higher education is not to consider transformative learning as a path to inculcating learners into some preferred way of thinking and being. It is not about shaping learners to become more conservative or more progressive; to train learners to think a specific way about some pressing issue; or to reach full agreement on all topics of contention. Rather, the goal of colleges and universities who dare to accept the challenge of creating environments for transformation for their learners is simply to walk alongside learners as they authentically engage in the often messy and always incomplete act of human becoming.
Overall, if transformative learning theory wants learners to become anything in particular, it is simply that they become increasingly open and engaged citizens in a society of increasing intolerance and division. Openness to otherness, that is the goal.
While not the primary purpose of institutes of higher education, this goal seems worthy of the charge of traditional colleges and universities and the achievement of this goal is certainly feasible within this context.
The main challenge, however, is that creating transformative experiences is difficult. Transformation is unnatural. Transformation is unpredictable. Therefore, it is not possible to simply apply a few transformative practices in a few places in a curriculum and assume transformation will result.
Instead, what is needed is a coherent vision of and plan for implementing transformative principles and practices throughout an institution, throughout programs, and throughout courses.
Based on the 2020 title Creating Transformative Online Communities in Higher Education, this interactive conversation will a) describe the common features of transformative learning experiences; b) explain the importance of course design in supporting transformative learning; c) review ways to apply transformative principles and practices to instructional design processes.