Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning

Sphere College Announcement

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Today was the inauguration of President Obama. I still can’t believe it. Now I can relax just a little. But in his speech he said “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off,  and begin again the work of remaking America”. So do that I will and announce a project I’ve been working on for months:

I intend to start a college. I see a large population of people who are poorly served by the current model of higher education: people with meager financial means, veterans, artists, career changers, and other talented people who simply want to learn. I think these people would benefit from a program that seeks to help each student identify what he or she is passionate about — what they most want to accomplish in life — and helps them gain the skills they need in order to achieve this. So I have devised a curriculum, the Sphere Curriculum, that is intended to accomplish exactly that.

The curriculum of the College proceeds in three phases. In Phase One entitled “Self and Other”, students embark upon a journey to acquire a deeper understanding of self, and to develop their understanding of how differently people think: to discover what motivates the beliefs and actions of humanity. This is accomplished primarily through the reading, discussing and writing about great works of literature and philosophy and their relationship to both contemporary issues and the students’ own experiences. In this phase students will also seek to identify the direction of their future studies. Phase Two, “Tool Acquisition”, involves the acquisition of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that support the student’s goals for having a positive effect on the world. In phase Three, “Action”, students will draw upon their continually-developing knowledge to produce a positive effect in the world. Each phase is cumulative; moving to a new phase requires that the previous phase has become second-nature, and has become incorporated into the individual’s character.

Some possible mechanisms for achieving the goals of the College include:

  • To remove as many obstacles to education as possible, including financial and emotional obstacles
  • To fully engage students in their education by helping them to identify what they believe is most important for them to accomplish toward having a positive effect on the world, identifying the skills and activities that will help them achieve this effect, and dynamically constructing an interdisciplinary curriculum that supports their goals
  • To ensure that graduates comprehend the connected nature of interdisciplinary knowledge
  • To keep program costs low by utilizing existing resources (e.g., by renting/leasing/buying space) in the community while contributing to the local economy
  • To merge multiple educational philosophies, including Progressive Education (“learning by doing”), Waldorf-Steiner Education (“learning is creative and interdisciplinary”) and Constructionist Learning (“learning by actively constructing mental models and theories”)
  • To actively involve students in the fundamental operations of the educational program itself
  • To ensure that students take responsibility for their own education and actively contribute to the education of their peers
  • To ensure that students learn in the mode that is most effective for them, both individually and collectively
  • To identify and produce pragmatic solutions for the problems of humanity
  • To create a structure that can be replicated by other communities that may wish to start such a program, while ensuring integrity of the quality of the program

Clearly, this is an ambitious plan. Some people rightly wonder how I plan to implement such a plan. They wonder what the business model is. Well, it is this: I plan to raise money via donations—online and otherwise. A website is in the works where,  once I achieve federal tax-exempt status I will be able to accept donations. I think there are plenty of people out there who will recognize the societal benefits of such a program and who will want to ensure that this thing happens. I will be finding out for sure in the coming months.

As soon as possible I plan to hire someone to handle some details — someone to look into things like achieving non-profit (501(c)3) status, to schedule classes  (there are already a few students signed up and ready to start!) and Advisory Group meetings. After I see how much money is available, I will hire (I love that word, don’t you?) more people to help implement the vision.

Feel free to point anyone that you think would be intrigued by this—and perhaps may even be a part of potentially making history—to this blog. In the words of President Obama (I still can’t get over that): “…we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task”. So together, let’s find out what can be accomplished through education.

I Wish You All the Best,
Richard Liston, Founder and President
Sphere College

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Author: Richard Liston

Musician, computer scientist, educator. I'm creating a new educational environment for adults.

9 thoughts on “Sphere College Announcement

  1. Wonderful, Richard …

    And it’ll be fun to see how we might/will … intersect/connect!

    Ron

  2. It’s great to see you’re moving on this! I look forward to hearing more 🙂

  3. Why didn’t you tell me you had a blog!? : ) I was interested to see if you had anything up yet and was pleasantly surprised to find this. Sounds great! Looking forward to hearing more about your progress.

  4. Hi Richard:

    Interesting! Reading the description of your curriculum makes me think: have you considered thinking of it as a spiral, rather than as strictly linear? For example, I could imagine that events/efforts in the Action phase might lead to a reconsidering of Self or reveal the need for more Tools (and in fact may motivate better learning of them).

    The notion of the spiral (which is popular in some math & sci curricula I’ve seen) comes from the idea that expertise is a continual refinement of interconnected processes, concepts, & skills through a series of experiences. All of those things have to click together in a way that makes it a non-linear process.

    My 2 cents,
    Colleen
    (from GA Tech)

    • Excellent point, Colleen. I haven’t consciously thought of the spiral model, but it certainly makes sense that an individual’s passions and motivation may very well change over time and it would be wise for the curriculum to support this. I do think the curriculum as presented (which is a strawman at this point) should be a bit more flexible, like beginning some tailored, dynamic portion of the studies during phase one so students can go ahead and begin getting their feet wet and finding out whether what they think they want to do is actually right for them. And I agree that tool gathering would not end with phase two (never ends, really). I’m not familiar with curricula that use a spiral model, though. Could you suggest some (either here or offline) that I might examine?

  5. Very exciting to see this get going.

  6. Richard:

    A few pointers to ideas about spiral curricula:

    The idea was developed by Jerome Bruner:
    http://www.infed.org/thinkers/bruner.htm

    It is implemented in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum (which is widely used), as one example:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everyday_Mathematics

    I can’t find a really great description of it online, but this blog entry does a decent job:
    http://gregcruey.blogspot.com/2007/12/spiral-curriculum.html

    Also see: Harden, R. M. (1999). What is a spiral curriculum?. Medical Teacher, 21 (2), 141-143.

    If you haven’t come across him yet, the ideas of Donald Schoen (or Schon with the dots over the ‘o’) might also be relevant. I am personally a big fan of his book “Educating the Reflective Practitioner.” It presents his ideas for how to educate people to deal with complex, real-world problems in their chosen profession.
    http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-schon.htm

    Colleen

    • Interesting, thanks!

    • Finally getting back to this, Colleen!

      It’s a bit too complex to fully flesh out here, but after reading a bit about the the educational philosophies you pointed me to I really like what I see. It resonates deeply (Jerome Bruner, Donald Schoen) and happily it appears to be quite compatible with the Sphere Curriculum. Perhaps I may envision it slightly differently (or perhaps not). It seems to me that education could be described as a continuous, self-directed navigation through a multi-dimensional thought-space. In the curriculum Sphere is beginning with, each student (co-learner) has already explored well some portion of this thought-space and will gather the tools to explore other portions once the desire to explore is identified. So the knowledge follows the desire. Then, having gained the tools for acquiring knowledge, students will be able to travel anywhere they like in this thought-space. So the Sphere Curriculum is not necessarily spiral in itself, but will enable each student to dynamically adjust their own educational path. And the Curriculum will be revisited and modified along the way as necessary.

      Since there’s nothing new under the sun, all the above has probably been expressed very well ages ago. Perhaps one thing I’ll be doing as a co-learner is solidifying some of my thinking and learning how to express it more cogently by reading Bruner, Schoen, Steiner, Dewey, and many others. I’ll probably also learn welding—welding seems really fun and is clearly useful! (Fire good.)

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