Alarms on the side

Scoreboards get us into trouble by their errors of omission. They don't provide warning lights to help us steer clear of situations that are best avoided. A well-equipped dashboard has alarms on the side to forewarn us of trouble ahead or onboard.

Lots of our technologies give us warnings in addition to the metrics. Automobiles show us when we're low on oil or when the engine is overheating. Radar detectors signal when we're approaching a speed trap on a highway. Digital indoor/outdoor thermometers sound the alarm when the temperature is going below freezing. Geiger counters alert us to toxic levels of radiation. Computer game alerts indicate when our supplies are too low, our spending has gone over the limit or we're about to get penalized.

Each of these alarms is hard wired to an objective data stream. Sensors monitor fluctuations in physical conditions. Logic circuits filter out exceptional data. However, when we're on the lookout for the quality of the education we're getting, there's no hard data. The situation requires being on the alert, rather than receiving automated alerts. I expect we will make more effective judgment calls by setting ourselves up to watch for particular kinds of trouble. The dashboard alarms will involve taking time out to assess our situations with particular issues in mind.

As I've continued to develop my design concept for dashboards in higher ed, I'm seeing several alarms on the side of anyone's dashboard. There are particular kinds of troubles to lookout for when getting educated by experts within institutions. These same troubles can easily reoccur outside of institutions where learning happens within chains of value and reciprocation. Here are four alarms that support enduring learning, self motivation and the cultivation of useful insights:

  1. Expertise monitor: We need to be on the lookout for expertise that works against our best interests, as I explored here. When this alarm sounds, we can stop expecting to benefit from the problematic expertise and start locating expertise aligned with our interests.
  2. Freeze warning: When we try to relate to someone with no interest in our own interests, they seem cold to us. They're coming from a Bad or Better place below the line. They come across as controlling, manipulative, deceitful or tormented. When we detect a frosty approach to understanding us, we can create a healthy boundary that "just says no" to this abuse. 
  3. Booby prize detector: When we're baited by extrinsic rewards like points, badges, grades, rankings or stats, our pursuits become senseless. We get caught up in a stupid game to play. We chase after the booby prizes instead of seeking what we find meaningful, valuable and fulfilling to our unique frames of reference. We need to be on the lookout for our judgment becoming impaired, our priorities getting warped and our satisfaction declining. 
  4. Crap detector: When we get caught up in bogus offers, scams and ripoffs, we typically delude ourselves about the value. We talk ourselves into staying with it and avoiding the label of a a quitter. This alarm will call attention to the hypocrisy, false claims and other misrepresentations of value. We can move to solid ground where we have the sense to respect ourselves and to act with integrity. 

Practicing these kinds of vigilance will avoid most of the ways that college can be bad for our brains. When we alert to problems with expertise, cold outlooks, booby prizes and crap, our anxiety will be lowered. We benefit from a better self concept, more self respect and increased confidence. We'll become more self motivated and satisfied with our own accomplishments for our own reasons. Our learning will endure much longer than it does when we comply with requirements, cram for the exam and judge our efforts by the grade we get.

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