Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning

Off We Go!


Whew! What a wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating and rewarding week. Sphere College effectively began on Monday, April 20 as small groups of potential students (co-learners*) and other interested parties came together at various times and in different venues. Everyone had an opportunity to learn more about the current status of the College and to get all their questions answered before deciding whether to sign up. And sign up they did. We even started reading Gilgamesh together!

The eleven students who have signed learning agreements thus far will bring a very broad range of life experience and world view to the discussions. More students may also join over the next day or so, further enhancing the mix.

My primary responsibility from here on out is to act as caretaker** of the project, a responsibility I look forward to with a mixture of excitement, trepidation, wonder, and probably some indescribable mixture of feelings that have been experienced by all those who have ventured before into unknown territory. I imagine the students will also experience this—maybe some have already begun to experience. And I applaud them for taking this first step with me. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I hope to prove myself to be a worthy caretaker, and that my co-learners will be forgiving along the way.

Once I have the signed applications and learning agreements from as many people as I believe are planning to join the first group, my next task is to schedule the class(es). It is highly unlikely that all members of the first group will be able to be scheduled at the same time, so they will probably have to split into two groups. Perhaps smaller groups would be good in the beginning anyway, although it would be nice if all the students could learn from each other. Tradeoffs—always tradeoffs.

At this point I should probably think of some cogent remark to give the College a nice sendoff. I can come up with nothing better than “Let the fun begin!”

* Still looking for a good word to describe those of us—“students” and “teachers”—who will be part of the College curriculum. A pre-existing word would be fine, but somehow I suspect there’s no word in our language that captures the expectation that the teachers will be no different than the students in many ways. The teachers will learn as much as the students—perhaps more—and the students will teach the teachers as well as each other. Maybe I just can’t think of the right word, but it seems as though the lack of such a word in our language would speak volumes on our assumptions concerning the nature of learning.
** Thanks go to Joe Laskowski, one of the students, for suggesting the word “caretaker”.


Author: Richard Liston

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

5 thoughts on “Off We Go!

  1. A Greek word for “learner,” mathetes, implies “thought accompanied by endeavour.” The word for “co-learner” is symmathetes.

    Those who take part in classes offered by the delightfully-named Sphere College can be called “symmathetes” and the process of participation can be called “symmathetic conversation.”

    Submitted for your consideration.

    • Many thanks for your thoughtful suggestion. In keeping with the philosophy of the College, I will request feedback from the current set of students.

  2. Regarding calling yourself “caretaker”:

    Is there a better way to phrase it? I suppose “caregiver” may be too patronizing, but “caretaker” reduces participants other than yourself to mere objects being passively acted upon, albeit with “care.”

    I understand that you are trying to avoid appearing as though you hold some higher position than others involved with your laudable project, but given that it was you who initiated the whole thing, you hold a certain status that cannot be denied. I recommend that you embrace that status and find some way to refer to yourself that need not erase who you really are.

    To teach is a good thing and to be a teacher is a noble calling. A good teacher realizes one’s own need for continual learning and a good student will appreciate a good teacher’s humble acknowledgment of such need.

    The relationships that will be on-going in the process will entail any number of status transactions that will actually be a vital part of the process. Consider including Keith Johnstone’s book, IMPRO, as part of your curriculum; he has good things to say about “status” that I think you will find very helpful for the success of Sphere College.

    • Perhaps a group of interested participants could be formed to make recommendations regarding the language associated with this College. This would likely make for a very effective learning experience. If this does materialize, I will accept whatever they decide.

      Regarding texts, I have selected several that I believe form a solid intellectual framework. This set of texts is drawn from the CIE (Common Intellectual Experience) syllabus at Ursinus College. After wrestling with these texts, it makes sense for the students to select from a pool of texts depending upon current interests and needs. I just read a bit about Johnstone’s book and it sounds as though it would make for an excellent addition to this pool. Perhaps this could also be required reading for anyone participating in the ‘language group’ and for me as well.

      Again, your observations and feedback are appreciated.

  3. a name i have been enjoying lately is wonderwanderer.

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