Sphere College Project

A New World of Learning

Teaching and Learning Funly

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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!


Author: Richard Liston

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

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