Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning


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What Exactly Is Sphere College?

I gave a talk about Sphere College on Monday at AT&T Labs-Research in Florham Park, New Jersey. The talk seemed to go rather well, and I had some excellent followup conversations afterward, some of which are ongoing via email. One reason we connect with others in this was is because the questions we get help us continue to develop our own ability to convey our ideas to others. During these conversations it became more clear to me precisely what, to my mind, Sphere College really is. In a nutshell…

The system I envision here is of a self-organizing system in which it is not possible for any of the entities—faculty/staff/students, current and future—has sufficient knowledge of the complete system to fully design it beforehand. Human experience is simply too heterogeneous. This implies that the implementation must be discovered on the fly. Communication among the entities begins with rather low fidelity (in the sense of accuracy of reproduction of a signal to its source), complicating the problem. However, the fidelity increases manyfold as the system matures. At all times a sufficient infrastructure must be present to ensure progress toward the common goal, embodied in our mission statement (which was written by the students under my guidance). The function of some of the entities—a minimal number—is to maintain the integrity of the infrastructure. I posit that this system is optimal.

Granted, there are many people to whom the above is not going to make a lot of sense, but think about it while we work on other ways to convey the concept of Sphere College. In the Steering Committee we have been discussing a nice metaphor. More on that at another time.

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Teaching and Learning Funly

With a smile, speaking confidently: “Good Morning.” Pause for response. “My name is Richard. What’s yours?”

I think that’s how I’m going to start my talks to groups from now on. (I’m giving one about Sphere College at AT&T Labs-Research on Monday, then at the Black Mountain College Conference in early October.)

Why? Because it’s funny. Funny ha-ha to some, funny peculiar to others. It should pique their curiosity and bring a smile. There’s actually a much deeper meaning behind it. It reflects how I like to teach—funly. Isn’t that how people learn best? We’re really all just big kids, right?

So what’s being learned with an opening like this? Well, at that point I could talk very briefly about the fact that there are many different media for digital communications networks, some being broadcast media, like a radio network. With this opening, the broadcast medium is sound waves moving through the air. And we just saw that there must be some protocol for determining which device—in this case, the people in the audience—gets to use the medium to avoid collisions. In a group, audience members typically get selected individually or they shout out, knowing the probability of collision with another device—er, person—is quite low. (When tensions get high, however, this probability increases manyfold!) Humans and other biological systems have developed quite sophisticated means of communication that are mimicked by the technological systems we create. This will set the stage for talking about the philosophy behind Sphere College.

We’ll be doing this kind of learning in tonight’s class. We’re on class six of ten on “The Art of Communication”. Classes 5-7 are in the sciences, and one of my areas of expertise is communication networks, so that’s our focus–we’re learning a bit about how computers and the Internet work and applying it to human interaction. Classes 2-4 were in the humanities and 8-10 are in the arts. Three of the students in the class who are trained in art constructed the arts portion, with some oversight by the Steering Committee to ensure things have been sufficiently thought through. They learn a lot during the process of creating the classes, and I’m very excited about what they’ve come up with!


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Top Google Result

I’ve noticed in the stats for this blog that it regularly gets hits from people who are searching on Google for “what does crisis averted mean”. So I typed this into a Google search and, lo and behold, my blog post “Crises Averted(?)” is the first result. Coincidence? You be the judge! But we do seem to be averting crises on a pretty regular basis. Well, that’s what an educational institution must be able to do, right? Prepare people for keeping their wits about them while they navigate treacherous waters.

In other news, we haven’t yet achieved the funding levels that will allow us to flourish as a self-sustaining institution. This surprises me, since it’s hard for me to imagine anything we need more right now than a solid educational system that truly helps the general public be more thoughtful. They vote, you know. That’s ok, we’ll get there.

In the meantime, I must support myself. So I’m starting a sideline business of Pre-College Mentoring. I’ll be working one-on-one with high school students in grades 9-12 prepare to attend the college of their choice. My brochure is available at richardliston.org. Please take a moment to look, and send people my way. I’ll be happy to meet with people to discuss the range of services I can offer.