For the last several years, I’ve shared my personal/professional goals publicly on this blog. It is adds a little accountability. It provides a chance to connect with others who might have similar goals. Then there is also the thought that it might encourage others to think about clarifying their goals for the new year. So, this article is my continuation of that tradition.
Before looking to the present, I’ll also provide a quick view of the past. I don’t technically set goals at the beginning of each year, although I do establish priority projects. For example, last year I had six books as priority projects and I finished three of them, with two more nearly finished. I ended up putting the sixth one on hold, as I’m refining and expanding my thinking on the subject (for those who read my 2016 version of this article, I’m referring to the digital badges book which I expect to turn into a broader look at credentials). Instead of traditional goals, I’ve been going with three words to focus my efforts and thinking for the upcoming year. In 2014, my three words were flourish, bless and befriend. In 2015, they were author, impact and family. The three words for 2016 were write, design and launch. Yet, I’m not sure that I did much launching in 2016. I did more writing than ever.
I didn’t achieve what I hoped in 2016 in some ways. I really wanted to publish more books by the end of 2016, but I only managed to publish three (2 single author and one edited work), with two additional full manuscripts complete (one on self-directed learning and another on feedback and the limitations of letter grades). One of those manuscripts should be published by Wipf and Stock in early 2016. I’m still seeking a publisher for that fifth book.
My continuing education focus for 2016 certainly occupied a great deal of time and effort with mixed results. I piloted the Moonshot Edu show and, while I learned a great deal and received some positive feedback, opted to phase that out after we finished what we committed to, an 8 episode pilot. I started a book on badges but decided to put it on hold for some other projects. Then there is the start of Birdhouse Learning Labs, which is still on my radar but remains a place holder. If you happen to be interested, you can read a bit more about these in my 2016 goals and plans. Yet, looking back, I am proud of the work and results on the publishing front, while recognizing that some of the other experiments were educational but ultimately didn’t produce the desired results. So, I start fresh in 2017, building on past ideas and venturing into new domains. With that in mind, here are my tentative plans for 2017.
January through May of 2017 involves a sabbatical that will take me and my family to Middletown, Connecticut while I serve as the Jonathan D. Harber Fellow in Education and Entrepreneurship. I’m excited to teach a course on education as social entrepreneurship where students have the chance to identify a pressing educational need or promising opportunity and pitch a solution in the form of a startup or some other effort. While teaching that class, I will also spend those five months working on a new book on this same topic.
I have a growing list of books that I hope to write and publish. I plan to finish up on a couple of book projects from 2016, publishing Adventures in Self-Directed Learning as well as a book tentatively called Learning Beyond Letter Grades (inspired by the MOOC that I led on that subject a couple of years ago). The first drafts of both are in progress. Then I have a book with the working title of Digitized that will explore how digital culture impacts our spiritual lives, our beliefs, and values, and what we can do about it. That book will more explicitly explore spiritual themes as shaped by my Lutheran Christian faith. With that in mind, I also hope to start on a book that profiles a variety of different models of Lutheran education around the world (online schools, project-based learning schools, schools in post-communist countries, schools in communist countries, classical schools, etc.), but that is likely a project that will extend into 2018. That will likely be among the more time-consuming projects.
Then I have a few other books that I hope to finish or at least make significant progress on in 2017. One is a collection of fictional stories that describe “awakenings” of teachers, parents, and students to promising possibilities in education. Another is of particular interest and it will likely be a co-authored book. I’m tentatively calling it Self-Education and the American Dream. In that book, we will highlight a series of self-educated well-known figures in American history while also building what I hope to b a compelling case for the importance of self-education in a free republic like the United States. I am still prioritizing these along with a couple of other pending writing projects, so publication of the texts mentioned here may occur in 2017 or 2018.
Ideas and Storytelling on the Screen
Then there is a growing and new interest. I’ve kept this one quiet as I’m definitely a novice. However, I”m beginning to explore the possibility of venturing into documentary film making. I’d like to explore this as a new way to examine pressing issues and promising opportunities in education. I’m still not quite sure about the form that this will take, but I have committed to learning by doing, so I am already in the research and scheduling phase of my first attempt at a documentary, an exploration of the letter grade system in education. It will explore the history, why letter grades persist, critiques of letter grades, arguments in favor of letter grades, along with an exploration of alternatives that people embrace in education. I’m excited to tell this story, and my hope is that it will be a useful tool for discussion among people who are interested in exploring promising practices in education. I already have a tentative lineup of incredible interviews with some of the leading and more insightful minds on this subject. I plan to complete as many interviews as possible during my fall sabbatical in 2017. Granted that all goes well with that, I will move on to the next phase over the summer.
I want to have the documentary finished by August or September of 2017, but again, I’m learning as I go, and I may well run into some glitches along the way. Many documentaries take $30,000 – $300,000 to create, and I’m going for a much more modest self-funded budget, while also striving for a high quality end product. I want to be as hands on as possible with this first project, so I will be doing at least part of the directing and producing myself, while hopefully connecting with some great existing talent in the world of documentaries. I’m still learning about how to connect with talent to help with video and audio of shots as well as the post-production work. This will make for a fascinating learning journey at the least.
Birdhouse Learning Labs
You may recall reference to a LLC that I started in 2016 called Birdhouse Learning Labs. You will likely see that name show up in 2017. Depending upon what I learn from this first documentary project, I also have a few other ideas at work that I think would benefit from a documentary format. These documentaries are likely to be some of the first products coming out of that startup. I’m also looking at starting a boutique publishing arm for BLL. As an academic, going through traditional publishing routes is still important for me, but I’d love to experiment with starting my own publishing arm that still includes a robust editing and some sort of peer review process. I’m planing to figure some of this out in 2017 and get started with it.
Some subscribers to my newsletter already know a little bit about this, but currently distinct from Birdhouse Learning Labs are the early explorations of a possible think tank devoted to championing some of the key ideas that I reference in my book, What Really Matters? Ten Critical Issues in Education. Much of my writing and the new interest in documentaries can fit in this work, but I would like to product at least two quality whitepapers in 2017 as well. I’ve been experimenting with one right now that examines community concerns related to what is often referred to as a “brain drain”, top college graduates leaving for other parts of the country. That project is not high on the priority list in the first quarter of 2016, but I plan to return to it later in 2017.
In 2016 I experimented with the MoonshotEdu show, an exploration of the fun, forecasts, foibles, and frontiers in education. That was a great experiment from which I learned much, and I was humbled by the ongoing interest of viewers. Yet, it was an 8 episode pilot that concluded. Now in 2017 I’m ready to bring it back, keeping the same name but now refining it as a more traditional podcast. I already recorded and published the first episodes and it is on iTunes. It is also available through SoundCloud, on the MoonshotEdu Facebook Page, and on the MoonshotEdu Website. I welcome your partnership in spreading the word about this. I will be refining the technical quality of the recordings as I move forward with this. I have decent equipment, but I’m still learning about how to optimize the sound along with developing a distinct and authentic style for the show. If you listen to the first episode, those familiar with my work will not be surprised by what you hear, but I hope that you will be inspired and aided in exploring the possibilities. I’m also looking for people to contribute questions, stories, and comments that I will gladly incorporate into future shows. You can do that with the link at the top of the MoonshotEdu show, but sharing something on the Facebook page, or by emailing me through the Facebook email contact button.
Three Words for 2017
Then there is the final part of my 2017 plans, the three words to guide and influence my work. Last year the words were write, design and launch. This year I remain focused on some of the same ideas. As such, my three words for this year are curiosity, creation, and compassion. I intend to be deeply curious about lire and learning, allowing that curiosity to take me in any number of directions. This first word isn’t about production or results. It is about getting back to the love of learning and being deeply curious about this world and the people in it. Creation is an extension of past efforts. Writing is a passion and will continue to be a significant part of what I do, but I will also be venturing into new and different forms of creation, expression, and storytelling; formats like documentaries, podcasts, and more. Finally, the third word for 2017 is compassion. From its Latin roots, this is about about suffering with or suffering together. It is about connecting with others, about not hiding from struggles, conflict, or suffering. Even as I invest much time in creative endeavors and being curious, I aspire for a 2017 that is closely connected to learning what it means to live with compassion.