Engaging With A Public Educator

An appreciation of John Warner.

May 3, 2016

The good news is that John Warner is not going anywhere

He will continue to contribute to our IHE community, and he will continue to write essays and books.  (If you have not yet read Tough Day for the Army, then you have a few very enjoyable hours ahead of you).  

The bad news is that John will be quitting his full-time teaching gig. 

It sounds as if John will be just fine. I can think of 3 groups, however, that will be losing out.

First, and most obviously, are the students who will not have the opportunity to learn with John.  John may still teach some courses, but he will not be educating nearly as many students. 

When I think about the kind of professor that I want my girls to have in college (oldest this coming year, the younger one is a HS junior) I think of John Warner.  He has consistently demonstrated through Just Visiting the passion, skill, experience, and curiosity that he brings to his teaching.

The second big loser seems to be John’s school.  What else exactly does someone like John Warner need to do to be a sought after tenure-track faculty?  He is both incredibly productive in his discipline "five books published, dozens of short stories, essays, and interviews”, and he is also a public educator

It would seem to me that everyone at John’s school would benefit from having him as a colleague, and that the institution would benefit from having a leading thinker on teaching and learning as a faculty member.

The third loser is our higher ed profession as a whole.  I have no doubt that John will continue to think, write, and engage about teaching, learning, and the future of higher education.  It may be that he will be even more free to be critical of our industry now that he will be an independent operator - although I never detected any critical hesitation in John’s writing. 

Where I think we will lose in John not being on the tenure track is that he will not be pushing for change from the inside of the profession.

John Warner - who I don’t know personally - is one of those public educators whose thinking on higher education matters.  As a higher ed technology person, I am always interested how John will perceive the work of technology in education.  His writing is something of a public reality check for us digital learning enthusiasts, disruption Kool-Aid drinkers.

I’m sure that John will keep taking on those of us in edtech when our actions get misaligned with progressive values in teaching, learning and access.  He will continue to be a welcome and critical voice in efforts around digital learning and academic transformation. 

The fact that this voice will come not from a full-time faculty member may matter little - but full-time faculty status may have given John more engagement and leadership opportunities at the intersection of learning and technology.

In This Is Not a Quit Lit Essay, John writes that:

"My desire for the tenure track position was so I could enmesh myself more deeply into the cause here, to diversify my teaching portfolio, to be a full part of the team".

If I worked at the same university where John worked, I would seek him out to find out what it would take so that he would feel that learning technology was part of his teaching portfolio, and that learning technology people were on his team.

For the residential face-to-face classes that John teaches, there may be not much of a use for technology.  Sometimes, the best technology is the least technology.  An oval table, with a small group of committed students and a skilled (and well-supported) educator, is the best possible environment for learning that I know about.

But I would have still tried to ask John if there are things that he wanted to accomplish in his class.  I would have tried to hook him up with an instructional designer - as instructional designers are all about the learning - and only use technology as a means to reaching the faculty’s teaching goals.

If I worked with John, I would definitely try to get him interested in online teaching.  Online teaching is not the same as face-to-face, as the affordances and opportunities are different.  Not the same, however, is not worse - just different.  Some of the most intensive, communal, relationship based, challenging, and meaningful classes that I have ever witnessed (or taught myself) have been online classes.

My bet is that John would be as good an online professor as a face-to-face professor - and his status as a public educator would contribute to pushing our discipline along.

We all owe John a debt of gratitude for being so honest, vulnerable, and fearless in all of his writing.

John Warner is the best public writer on teaching and learning that I know - and it boggles my mind that he will not be able to do full-time the very thing that he is best and most passionate about.



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