Sunday, January 29, 2017

The FEW Nexus and the Culhane Relational Summary: How My Classes Work

Instructions for Projects
How Relational Summaries work 

The FEW Nexus and the Culhane Relational Summary: How My Classes Work

Instructions for Projects
How Relational Summaries work 
 Video: Suggestions for how to create a Relational Summary

The above Video, 'Applied Environmental Psychology Relational Summary Explanation', was created by Dr. Culhane in 2012 for a class at Mercy College, NY where he developed his "relational summary" methodology. It helps explain the method to make it easier for you!)
Video: Suggestions for Gamifying a Course

The above Video, 'Applied Environmental Psychology Relational Summary Explanation', was created by Dr. Culhane in 2012 for a class at Mercy College, NY where he developed his "gamification" methodology. It helps explain the method to make it easier for you!

In this class we are unabashedly "project based".
And our class is "gamified".
  Living in uncertain times, in a time of climate uncertainty, where the only things that are certain, beyond "death and taxes", are that "times they are a changin'" and that we are in the midst of the greatest extinction event in the history of the planet earth, we have an obligation to immediately and without hesitation bend all of our learning outcomes toward meaningful product creation that strengthens our abilities to work together in common purpose to solve the very real problems and challenges now facing us.

Life support systems are failing, being compromised, being obliterated.  The relentless march of unsustainable development practices continues to take its toll, and environmental and social injustices are multiplying.

And YET... we have solutions.

There are two main ways to earn credit in this class:

1) The Relational Summary, completed after each class lecture each week
2) Independent and group project progress reports/updates/milestones

Both seek to get your motor running, get your juices flowing, get your mojo working and get you engaged with problem solving and creative solution sharing.

As we point out in the syllabus, each week you should strive to earn at least 20 points to earn enough by the end of the semester to purchase an A.  Some type of an "A" can be bought for 288  to 320 points (90% of 320 to 100% of 320).  Some kind of B (from B- to B+) can be purchased for 80 to 90% of 320 (i.e. 256 to 288 points), and some kind of C for 70% to 80 % (224 to 256 points).  You pass the class with a D for anything between 160 points and 224 points. You can't buy any grade at all (i.e. you "fail") if you earn less than 160.

The Relational summary, faithfully completed, can earn you easily between 8 and 12 points per week, so technically you can pass the class just by doing all the relational summaries well.  In 16 weeks you could get 160 to  192 points maximum just by doing relational summaries.

The rest of your points (an additional 160 or more) can be obtained by creative project based work, and that is how you get "rich" enough to "buy your A".

How you go about obtaining those points has much in common with a video game, like World of Warcraft (WoW!) where side missions and adventures and quests earn you the points you need to level up.  In many video games your ultimate mission is to help save the world.  In the FEW Nexus class this is also our ultimate goal.  The rules of the game, of course, are to use FEW Nexus Systems Thinking to achieve that goal, and demonstrate our mastery of these skill sets.

In this class we are about finding and communicating and implementing and enhancing those solutions.  In this class we are about putting the pieces of the puzzle into coherent focus and creating synergies that offer solutions.  We are about problem solving and actively combining theory and practice into praxis.  We are about NEXUS thinking -- a coming together of heretofore distinct seeming disciplines and thought patterns, through systems integration, into synergistic strategies for success.

The class is specifically about the Food/Energy/Water Nexus, taking those three existential domains that subtend all life on earth and teasing out their hidden relationships, learning to see them in a holistic self-reinforcing fashion and then communicating our nuanced understandings of their interconnections. And this class is about YOU, about how YOU relate to the dilemma of ensuring sustainable and healthy food, energy and water to all in an equitable fashion.

This class takes as its starting point that YOU are important, that what you think and what you do MATTER.  We take seriously the notion that "if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem" and we take seriously that the way you see the world and interact with our models of reality and communicate them has a lasting impact on the whole.  We want to empower you to do your part to be a healthy part of the nexus.  You are a living being who consumes food, water and energy and transforms them, for good or for ill, into other forms.  You are also a consumer and transformer of information which radically affects how food, water and energy are produced and consumed and transformed.

Because of your importance, we want to know HOW and WHY you interact with food, energy and water the way you do.  We want to know HOW and WHY you think about food, energy and water the way you do. We want to know your experiences with them throughout your lifetime, and what ideas and visions you have to improve your relationship with them and with the rest of us who mutually depend on them so that we can count on you to be our ally in seeking a sustainable and just future.

To do this we have created two major ways to earn points in this class.

1) The first is what we call "The Relational Summary".

You are all familiar with the old school demand that you "summarize what you have learned".  You listen to lectures, you do readings, you engage in class discussions and research and then you distill all that work and all your thoughts and findings and create a summary that highlights the most important and salient points, separating the "wheat from the chaff" and communicating to others the essence of what you learned in a way that demonstrates your understanding of the topic, theme or issue.

The problem with "traditional" demands to "summarize" is that they were generally seeking to make you prove you were attentive to your classes through regurgitation so as to grade you competitively against another human being, with the underlying assumption that we were all cut from the same mold and were uniformly manufactured and should trained to see the world in similar ways. The function of most summaries is generally to see if you can be disciplined to  think like your professors or the authors of the literature he or she assigns, with the assumption that there is a set of "right answers" that are worthy of memorization and repitition.

The relational summary is a bit different.


A Relational summary asks you to EXPLICITLY weave your own narrative and model of reality into your restatement of what others have said about the topics you are studying.  A relational summary asks you to INJECT yourself into the subject, to insert your experience into the retelling of what others have said.  A relational summary demands you take ownership and responsibility for what comes through the selective filters of your perception.

A relational summary assumes that there is an objective reality out there, that there are "truths" to be revealed, but that you can't help but add a subjective element to to what you report on because you are not a copy machine, nor should you be treated as such.  A relational summary makes explicit that you are a unique being with something to say about the world, and that each time you learn new information, you have the right and obligation to synthesize it with your own lived interpretation of reality and present your summary with the ADDED VALUE of your own take on the material.

The point is that YOU ADD VALUE.  And for adding that value, which WE VALUE, we add points to your portfolio. We pay you points NOT for spitting back or parroting what we and/or the readings and discussions taught you, but for massaging that information through your subjective filters, through your unique brain and the unique experiences you have had in your life, and returning it to us ENHANCED through your interaction with the material.

So we PAY YOU FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION, we pay you for your interaction and contributions.

How do I write a relational summary then?

We have a RUBRIC that spells out how to earn the maximum number of points for summarizing what went on in class.  It looks like this:

The Culhane "Relational Summary" is the main "assignment" in this course and, if done faithfully, easily and enjoyably earns you enough points to pass the class.  You do a relational summary each time you finish a class, and you are encouraged to start working on it IN CLASS as you observe the lectures and participate in class discussions.
The first part of the assignment is "TAKING NOTE" of your environment.  Because so few people have been taking note of what surrounds them, noticing, observing, relating to and thinking about and engaging with their natural environments, I would argue that we have brought much of our ecosystem services and wilderness areas to ruin.
 In a classroom or online environment, our inability to take note the complexities of interacting with the material, the professor and the other students, and the college regulations often leads us to underperform or harm our GPA too.  So taking note is a generalizable phenomenon of importance, and in school it takes the form of "taking notes". That is how we commit what we notice about the changes occurring in our environment to a useful form.  Then we can incorporate those notes into the "relational summary".
A lecture or discussion in a class is meant to "change the world" at best,  and at the very least have some kind of impact, make some kind of change in your local environment, in your brain chemistry, in your perspective, in your understanding and in your relationships to the material and to the other human beings in the shared classroom environment.   So when you notice those changes occurring in you, in the way you think or express yourself, recording those changes is the best way to prepare yourself to communicate to the world about it.  Communicating your observations is the essence of science.  And we desperately need good science, citizen science, to survive the next few decades.
Your "notes" are the scientific record of your observations.  So you should be taking notes of everything you perceive and observe.

Then, you want to make sense of those notes by RELATING them to YOURSELF.  You relate the things you observe and take note of to your past life experiences and your ambitions and questions about reality. You PERSONALIZE them.

When class ends, you should have a sketch of what your mind grasped during the class and how it CONNECTS with your UNIQUE take on life, with your unique personality, life-history and dreams.

You then take that information and turn it into a RELATIONAL SUMMARY that captures all of that but also ADDS TO IT through the READINGS you do. You mine the readings (some that I suggest, some that you find yourself) and pull out relevant quotes and sections and ideas and put the ones that YOU CAN RELATE TO  in your relational summary -- WITH REFERENCES so that the rest of us can follow up and go down that rabbit hole with you if we find ourselves stimulated and interested and find that we can relate to those readings to. We want to be able to find those readings and read them too.  Your comments on those readings and the  way YOU relate to them is more important to us than what the actually readings say.  We gain insight into YOU through how you choose to use the readings and the quotes.

And since this is about gaining insight into YOU, into EACH OTHER, part of the relational summary involves interacting with and commenting on other student's relational summaries.

My own lectures, in fact, ARE relational summaries, so I am modeling the process for you most of the time!

So to summarize, a good relational summary, which is the constant weekly assignment, involves the following four sections, with are in our Rubric:
1) Relational Summary Includes at least three topics presented by the Professor in class
We want to know what you got out of the lecture, what you were attentive to of all the many things said. What stood out FOR YOU? What resonated with your interests? What piqued your interests? What did your mind consider important or noteworthy? (3 pts) 

2) Relational Summary includes at least three examples/illustrations/connected topics from the assigned and independently sourced readings

How do the readings that are assigned and that you find through your own research into the Nexus related to what we discussed in class? What examples/illustrations from the literature did you find that support/contradict what was presented in class (3 pts)

3)  Relational Summary includes at least three connections to YOUR LIFE -- illustrations and ideas from your life experience that connect to the topic/theme of the class lecture/discussion (3 pts)

The is all about YOU. YOU COUNT. You matter. Your ideas, opinions, dreams, aspirations, fears, imaginations -- they all are important. How does what we talked about in class relate to YOUR life? What life experiences have you had that connect to the material in today's class? 

4)  Relational Summary makes note of at least three contributions made by other students in the class during the class period We are building a community. We are a team. And we are only as strong as the weakest strand of the web we weave to build our FEW Nexus tribe. (3 pts)

We want to discipline ourselves to be PRESENT FOR ONE ANOTHER. To be ATTENTIVE to one another. That is what attendance is all about. We show up for EACH OTHER. And in this assignment we show that we are here for each other, that we paid attention to one another.
This is the basic relational summary assignment.
It earns you 12 points max.  

But if you want more, you can consider your relational summary, as I do mine, to be the start of a script that you use for your independent and group projects,  illustrated presentations, videos, performance art pieces... the list is endless, the possibilities almost infinite.  The relational summary gives you a voice, and chance to express yourself and be heard and make an impact on others.

2) Independent and group project progress reports/updates/milestones

The second way to earn points in this class is to DO SOMETHING with what you are learning!

The joke in the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland is when the rabbit screams to Alice, "Don't just do something... stand there!" showing the absurdity of life when the prime directive seems to vehemently contradict solving problems, urgently exhorting us to do nothing.   School has often been like that.  But not in this class.

Here we reward action.  We ask you to dare to take your knowledge and experiences, both those gleaned from this class and your other classes and your entire life, and APPLY them to problem solving using the Nexus approach.

HOW you do that is really up to you... and your team-mates.  We professors and teaching assistants can give suggestions and we will model the approaches that work best for US, but you are ultimately responsible for how you go about earning your "homework" or "assignment" credit.

Since the course is "gamified" we expect that you will join us in embracing  the video game trope of "discovery to mastery" where you start out with very little information and overt guidance and allow yourself to explore and experiment with ideas and techniques and allow the feedback that comes from the points you earn and the discussions we have about your evolving projects to guide and refine your work.

This method, familiar to anybody who has played most adventure or quest style computer games, is an essential part of the Systems Thinking component of the course.   We want you to LIVE THE METHOD because it EMBEDS the knowledge into your consciousness through real life practice.  As Marshall McLuhan famously wrote "the medium is the massage"... and that is the message we are trying to manifest into praxis.    We encourage you to embrace your confusion and allow yourself to help create emergent properties through various "random walks", similar to how ants and other social insects form their collective intelligence.  We provide a safety net and the reinforcing evolving feedback loops that allow you and your team members to co-create and discover the collective intelligence that emerges through interactivity.

As a safety net, we provide a "minimum wage" point value for the amount of time you spend experimenting with ideas and solutions.  You simply report to us with regular updates/milestones (usually a textual description of the amount of time you spent on a given activity in service of the mission, enhanced and supported when possible with photographic or audio-video evidence or by artifacts showing the results of your investment of time and labor and energy and thought.   In general, for every hour you spend working on a project you earn no less than 3 points.  Four hours of "homework" time/project time per week easily earns you 10 to 12 points, and over 16 weeks that easily pushes you into the A+ category!

So it is a no lose proposition -- you earn points in a myriad of ways that you bank until you are ready to buy your grade, you can't lose points, and the points don't expire.  Point values have a minimum defined by our rubrics to keep you safe, but the maximum is determined through the rubric's provisions for "collective bargaining" as your fellow classmates and team members see the utility of your contributions and role in the social nexus.   Our goal is to teach the Nexus by doing nexus things, to learn about systems thinking by engaging in systems thinking, to literally "be the change you want to see in the world".

To be or not to be? In this class you have signed on to be a part of the solution and NOT part of the problem.  Your journey toward being a leader in sustainability and justice for all starts today.

Ready, set... GO!

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