Category Archives: Instructional Design

Learning through Parody

(#18 of 27, revisiting “Generic Brand Video: In less than 3 minutes, every global corporate t.v. ad“)

Still funny, still true:

…and here’s another one spoofing a closely related genre of commercial:

(Oh, and someone ought to do a parody of the last 15 seconds of YouTube videos where the authors beg for clicks and follows. Enough of that already, College Humor.)

Gotta love the high quality, well crafted meta-humor.  Also, it serves a useful purpose: cultural advancement.

Parody Improves Art

Great parody demolishes a clichéd genre, forcing it to evolve or die off.

dr evil air quotes rightFor example, the Austin Powers movie series merciless tore apart a set of classic James Bond tropes and ultimately superseded them in popular imagination. That in turn contributed to a great deal of pivoting and now potential re-invention within the James Bond franchise. A well done lampoon can reinvigorate a classic.

As discussed previously (Keeping it Fresh: Why Variety and Novelty Matter in Education, Instructional Design, Leadership Development, and More) for art to remain relevant, it must periodically shed some of its formulaic tendencies. Biting satire provides an acid to dissolve longstanding decrepitude.

repetitive behavior perceptual spectrum

However, none of this improvement can happen until the makers of the art — or carriers of the culture — decide to self-criticize and improve.

Note too that parody is effective precisely because it is playful — or even better, when it’s done with a nod of admiration.

Criticism is most easily heard when it is delivered from a place of affection. With just a bit of warmth and flair, the satirist can aid their subject, if their subject is willing to listen.


Thought du Jour: Clarification

(#17 of 27, re-blogging)

Note: Just to clarify the statement below, by “kinda” I meant “mostly but not entirely” — that was my point. But perhaps that just muddles things even more.

Dan Spira

Any attempt to write a textbook on the subject of how to deal well with ambiguity kinda misses the point.

Dendrite Reflection

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14 Songs About Change — A Trainer’s Personal Playlist

(#13 of 27) — Re-blogged this list of 14 favorite songs related to the theme of change, adding a couple of strummin’ good tracks.

Let’s call this the Classic Guitar Hero Supplement:

#15) Eric Clapton, “Change the World”

…where he sings to his Beloved, over silky chord sweetness. Clapton is a worthy heir in the lineage of Robert Johnson. Perhaps the ‘queen’ he refers to here is none other than the Blues tradition itself.

If i could be king
Even for a day
I'd take you as my queen
I'd have it no other way

#16) Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”

Alternate title for this song is, “Alienated Aging Rockstar Gives In to Midlife Resignation.” Get a grip, Bob. (…but we love you anyway.)

People are crazy, times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm outta range
I used to care, but things have changed

Dan Spira

The idea of Change is a complex topic, with many different “takes,” as you’ll see from the list of songs (with lyrical excerpts) below — about 56 minutes of total listening time if you decide to play ’em all.


iPhone Headphones

When selecting music to play during a training session, I typically use instrumental music, as it adds energy to the session without competing with participant dialogue — both the inner dialogue within individuals and the outer dialogue between individuals.

However, there are times — given the right mix of audience, program and activity — where I’ll play lyrical music, for example popular songs from the radio, or genres of music from the “golden years” (late teens / early twenties)  of the group that I’m facilitating.

Some genres — e.g.  funk — seem to more easily cross generations of workshop participants, but an even nicer “common denominator” is when I can weave-in a series of songs…

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Exploring privilege by throwing bits of Paper: An improved Exercise

This post (#5 of 27), after very careful deliberation, revisits a classroom game supposedly designed to teach about privilege.

…and after very careful deliberation (and a few re-writes), I’ve decided to skip the details and go straight to the bottom line:

The game as it is originally described is ineffective and might even be harmful.

The game requires a more structured debrief discussion, using a text or framework.

Here’s the summary of the game description again:

Throw the paper in the bin - dont tell I put some adhesive on the outer edge of mine

EXERCISE SUMMARY:  Students must throw a crumbled up piece of paper into a bin while staying seated in their chairs. The students in the front row have an advantage but usually don’t realize it… at least until the students in the back row protest their disadvantage. Debrief. 

The problem with that game is that it stops at the level of social awareness and discussion, and doesn’t provide a structure to focus that discussion into important distinctions about privilege, nor about the specific kinds of social action that can help ameliorate social inequities. No, I don’t consider developing a guilt complex or pandering obsequiously with slogans emblazoned onto t-shirts to be useful forms of social action. In fact, those things can backfire… or at the very least, waste a lot of energy and attention on empty rhetoric.

What this exercise needs is a text to read, maybe something like this:

Blum, Lawrence (2008). “‘White privilege’: A mild critique”. Theory and Research in Education (SAGE Publications) (6(3)).

Or if long form reading doesn’t work for the audience, give them following three categories of privilege to structure the discussion:

  1. ‘Spared Injustice’ privilege   – where the privileged person doesn’t have to deal with something that nobody should deal with
  2. ‘Unjust enrichment’ privilege – where the privileged person gains unfairly at the expense of a less privileged person
  3. ‘Non-injustice-related’ privilege – where the privileged person happens to have an advantage that doesn’t come at anyone else’s expense

Each of these has very different moral characteristics, and each suggests different ways of improving social equity.

With that in place, the students could re-design the rules of the game, including chair and bin placements, number of bins, seating assignment processes, etc. and to analogize those back to contemporary social issues.

With just that extra bit of instructional scaffolding, I think this paper-throwing game might be recoverable.

crumpled paper

Exploring privilege versus luck – a classroom game analogy

What’s the difference between being “lucky” versus being “privileged?”  The two terms may be similar in their meanings, but feel very different in their emotional and moral implications. The latter term is showing up increasingly in social and political commentary.  Given the current headlines in the U.S. and the imminent holiday of American Thanksgiving  – a holiday that is all about expressing gratitude – it’s helpful to explore the nuances of these words.

We’re going to do that by unpacking and re-packing a classroom exercise.

A friend posted a link to a simple classroom game which was designed to help students understand the concept of “privilege.” Here’s the link (ht AmyP) …and here’s the exercise in a nutshell:

Throw the paper in the bin - dont tell I put some adhesive on the outer edge of mine

EXERCISE SUMMARY:  Students must throw a crumbled up piece of paper into a bin while staying seated in their chairs. The students in the front row have an advantage but usually don’t realize it… at least until the students in the back row protest their disadvantage. Debrief. 

According to the link, the moral of the story is for the students in the front row to advocate for the back row.

Advocate for what, though?  If it’s advocacy for a single, giant front row then that makes for a terrible classroom design doesn’t it?

The obvious lesson for an instructional designer or classroom facilitator is to consider changing the chair configuration and/or the rules of the game.  Cue the debates on government structures, policies, taxation, etc.

Wait, stay with me on this.

For example, there can be a reasonable discussion about whether it makes sense to reconfigure the seating as a circle or a U-shape with the bin in the middle… or even as series of small table “pods”  (typically better configurations from the learning experience point of view, just sayin’) with separate bins for each table.

The debate on chair configuration will require an analysis of the total demand vs. the capacity per classroom and the number of available classrooms. Seating in rows allows you to fit more students into each classroom, but with less overall participation.  Indeed, autocratic and hierarchical systems are often more efficient with quantity of results but less effective in terms of quality of results.

Or we could change the rules a bit and give students turns where they each can sit in the front row?  Does that completely kill the analogy? Hmmm… or do we descend into a quarrel over whether to adjust the seats to account for the length of each student’s arm? …or the amount of previous paper-throwing practice they’ve had?  I’m not sure how fun that would be… though maybe that’s the point:  In a world of individual differences, at what point do we consider individual advantages as being “fair?”

Note also that in the original version of the game there is an unacknowledged anti-lesson about habits, choices and effort… because although those front row students may feel bad for the back row students, some of them may realize that they have a good habit of choosing a front row seat. As a general strategy, they put themselves in a position to be engaged in the lesson being taught, regardless of what it is about or what game will be played.  Apart from the student who came late and could only find a front row seat (lucky day for them!), students in the front row likely made an effort to be there. As an instructional designer, I try to avoid creating anti-lessons.   (Or maybe the instructor wants to spark a debate about work ethic, social mobility, immigration, etc. …um, yeah, no.)

How about we preserve every aspect of the game – the same seat configuration and rules – but randomly shuffle and re-assign students to seats for each round of the game?  That eliminates the habits/choices/effort anti-lesson. Of course, it also turns the front row into less of a “privilege” and more of an instance of “luck.”

With that in mind, what exactly is the difference between “luck” and “privilege?”  Is it just about the line between “fair” and “unfair,” or is there something else? …and where does “effort” factor into it?  What are the implications for an individual with advantages resulting from any or all of those things?

I leave you, the reader, to think about that… and if you’re celebrating it, Happy Thanksgiving.

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