Ends, Beginnings, and All Along the Ways: Invocation for Commencement

Last weekend was graduation here at Saint Joseph’s University. I was honored to be asked to give the invocation prayer at the undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 11.  All went well, as far as that sort of thing goes. (Can you really evaluate a prayer?)

Invocation photo

Melissa Kelly/Saint Joseph’s University

For me, the most compelling thing about the experience was the silence. Several thousand people were there, and yet there was so little to hear. For all the busyness of the day and of our lives, it is nice to have moments where we pause to quiet ourselves and attend to the depth of our experience, even for just a moment.  All the more powerful when it is in such a big group.

Perhaps these sorts of experiences are better left to memory. But I thought I’d post the prayer for those who might like to remember such things.


Holy and loving God,
    We ask you to be with us on this wonderful day;
    a day of transition and a day of transformation.

We ask you to be with us today
    just as you have been with us each and every step of the way.

Be with us as you have been with us each morning,
    as we bent our minds to the rigors of the classroom
    and struggled to navigate life with roommates.

Be with us as you have each noon
    sharing lives with friends over a meal;
    and grading papers and preparing lectures for students.

Be with us as you have been with us each afternoon,
   in the lab, parsing the secrets of creation;
   and at service sites, putting flesh on your call to justice.

Be with as you have each evening,
    training our bodies in practices and games;
   and working overtime to pay tuition bills.

Be with us as you have been with us each night,
    reading the next book and writing the next paper;
   and gathering to praise you in liturgy;

    lying awake, worrying about a son or daughter so far from home;
    and resting our minds and bodies for the days ahead.

Spirit of God—breath of life—continue to be with us today
   as we celebrate the many things we have accomplished together.

Bless this moment, and these lives we have woven
   and the lives that we begin today.

In your name, we pray.

@Pontifex: Spirituality, Twitter and the Complexity of Diverse Audiences

Today marks the entry of the Vatican into the Twitter-verse as the Pope starts tweeting at @Pontifex. As of this morning, he has three quarters of a million followers. As a Roman Catholic who is used to reading papal writing, the tweets have been as expected: short bits of wisdom meant to encourage and support believers in their daily life. In this, he is in line with a great deal of Christian use of new media. From the early days of listservs to Web 2.0, churches have been using even simple things like email prayer requests and daily Bible verses to help support one another in the small things.

Of course, I’m writing this from the perspective of a Catholic. While I recognize the many problems that the Catholic church has created and continued (insert caveats about the fallen nature of all people, the tendencies of all institutions to have problems, and the lack of uniqueness of the RCC in this respect), I’m on board with the its basic beliefs and commitments. I have great respect for the Pope both in his role and as a stellar scholar.

A Tale of Two Audiences

I guess that’s why Andrew Brown’s opening line in this morning’s blog at the Guardian caught my eye:

It was not surprising that when Pope Benedict XVI finally turned up on Twitter to greet his million followers there he should have nothing to say.

Nothing to say? I guess I didn’t find:

pope's tweet

all that vacuous. I thought it was nice. Generic, but nice. But it got me thinking.


Clay Shirky, MOOCs, and Living the Deeper Mission of Education

Seems like the discussion about MOOCs so often gets cast in an “us vs. them” narrative, with people wondering whether or not the new guy on the block will supplant the venerable institutions of higher learning.

Media theorist Clay Shirky wrote a great piece that contextualizes the revolution in education within the “big pictures” of both technological innovation and higher education. It’s a long piece that is worth the read. One bit that particularly resonates:

The fight over MOOCs isn’t about the value of college; a good chunk of the four thousand institutions you haven’t heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan’s and the University of Phoenix enroll around one student in eight, but account for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years.

…In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Well put.

It’s one thing to argue for traditional classrooms against the onslaught of massive online classes.  It’s quite another to remain ignorant of all the people who are boxed out of our current educational framework.


Tech Press Flubs the Ed-tech Story (Again): Minnesota and Coursera Edition

This past week saw some fireworks over changes in the language of the Coursera license agreement. Seems that they were contacted by the state of Minnesota about registration of degree-granting institutions and decided to change their terms of service. Ok.

Here’s my paraphrase of the story that the tech press told: Minnesota won’t let its citizens take online classes. Obviously, Minnesota is a fascist state that wants to control every aspect of people’s lives, including how and when they think. How dare a state stifle innovation!? This sort of stuff was the core of quite a few stories that felt, to me, reactionary, off the cuff, melodramatic, and snarky. Ars Technica seems to have been the first organization to research the situation. The title of their story says it all: No, Minnesota did not kick Coursera out of the state. (Check out the transcript of the letter to Coursera from George R. Roedler, Jr., Manager of Institutional Registration & Licensing in the churnalisticly titled story “Is Minnesota cracking down on MOOCs?” )

So, what gives?


Online Education: Just Like Regular Education, Just Online-ier

It’s the last week in August and I’m back in the classroom. (And back to blogging regularly!) School started on Monday, and suffice it to say that we’re all a bit rusty. Add to that the fact that I’ve been away from teaching for a year, and there are a lot of cobwebs to clear.

For teachers everywhere, the start of a new semester is also a time to revise assignments. Most of the time we’re iterating in order to refine and increase the effectiveness of the things that we do to engage students in the process of critical reflection. Sadly, sometimes we’re just figuring out ways to assign things that will be harder to complete by plagiarizing.

And these days, we are all under a lot of pressure, what with the current surge in articles heralding (or reflecting on) the end of the university at the hands of online education. We are currently in the midst of a surge of excitement of the prospects for digitally mediated learning spaces. Some of this makes sense to me from the standpoint of learning. There are so many more people going to college today—both in terms of numbers and diversity of background—than when the predominant model of the university was developed, it seems more than reasonable that some re-visioning and innovating is in order. (Heck, I’ve never taken or taught a class of more than 35 students, so I don’t know how people even do that!)


Institutional Trust and Silencing a 9-Year-Old Girl

Happy Father’s Day, belatedly! My parents and in-laws were in town this weekend, so I was not able to finish this post on time. But here it is, hopefully still of interest.

Over the course of Friday, we saw an interesting story unfold about an Scottish food blog written by primary school student. John Russell at The Next Web (UK: Local Authorities Silence 9-Year-Old Girl Behind School Lunch Blog) writes:

A nine-year-old British school girl has had her popular blog about school food closed by a local council. Martha Payne, a primary school student in Western Scotland, began posting photos of her school dinners with commentary in May and today ‘Never Seconds‘ passed more than 2 million page views.


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