Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What does Vulnerability in Learning Look Like?

The word vulnerability in learning surfaced in a recent discussion about teaching in the open world wide web. It's the topic of my visual journal entry for the day.

My reflections on this topic come in the form of questions as these ideas swirled in my head:

1.  I'm glad that someone has stood up for vulnerability and recognize that it is a valid emotion that should not be frequently stigmatized as being shameful to own. Megan Boler's book (1999), Feeling Power, focuses on the politics of emotions. In it, she discusses how emotions are often sites of social control and political resistance in higher education classrooms. How many teachers and students are aware of this perspective on emotion? Or do more people buy in to Daniel Goldman's (1995) concept of emotional intelligence? Vulnerability is a risky emotion. In discussing a pedagogy of emotions, Boler states that it is not equivalent to confession, a baring of one's soul (1999, p. xviii). It is necessary to self-monitor one's emotions, but emotional management does not trump authenticity. Vulnerability also necessitates the presence of an empathic listener, without which the complex contradictory emotions of shame and rejection emerge when vulnerability is not embraced. How then do we represent truth and live truthfully in ways that engage others in the co-production of truth (Boler, 1999, p. 168)? 

2. "Vulnerability is not weakness," said Brene Brown (TED Talk 2012). Whether vulnerability is weakness or strength, is that not a result over time of how we perceive and process the challenges to learning and learn to assign value to emotion(s)? In the context of changing mindsets or attitudes that require paradigm shifts, how much time do we give learners to process the challenges? Or do we expect instant transformation?

3. To see challenges as "desirable" or failure as "productive" requires intentionality. Today, I was reminded by a colleague of the implicit and unconscious biases that we lug along with us daily. How do we live out in reality, consistently, the desire to be indefatigable about enacting positive change? I read of Myshkin Ingawale, co-founder of Biosense Technologies, and how he iteratively developed a mobile device to diagnose and monitor anemia without the use of needles -- the device did not work until his 33rd attempt. I read of grit, resilience, growth mindset, and all the "non-cognitive" factors we need to press on.  Vulnerability is the "birthplace of creativity and innovation" (Brown in TED Talk, 2012). In practice, how do we foster environments in complex social structures to render the appropriate support? How do we support the flourishing of courage?


Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2011). Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. Psychology and the Real World: Essays Illustrating Fundamental Contributions to Society, 56–64. Retrieved from http://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/pubs/EBjork_RBjork_2011.pdf.

Boler, M. (1999). Feeling power: Emotions and education. New York: Routledge. 

Brown, B. (2010). The power of vulnerability. [video]. TED Houston. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.

Brown, B. (2012). Listening to shame. [video]. TED Conference. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.

Kapur, M. (2008). Productive failure. Cognition and Instruction, 26(3), 379-424. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07370000802212669 

Vygotsky, L. Zone of proximal development. [Wikipedia]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_of_proximal_development

Images for collage

Robert Bjork's image from Association for Psychological Science website. Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/redesign/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/bjork_robert_web.jpg.

Megan Boler's book image, Feeling power: Emotions and education. Retrieved from Amazon.

Brene Brown TED Houston still. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

Lev Vygotsky's image from Wikipedia

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