While I was thinking about what I wanted to write about to kick off the Experimenter module for the #ExtendWest cohort, I tried to recall my earliest known experiment. I grew up in a farming community, so I’m thinking it involved making mud pies out of various ingredients. If you have ever made a mud pie, you’ll know it starts off looking like raw chocolate cake mix – all smooth glossy brown – but once you put it in the ‘oven’ (mine was a discarded furnace oil tank) and return a few hours later, it’s pretty disappointing as it looks like dry dirt again. I remember trying many different things – dirt from various fields, sticks, stones, a little motor oil, but nothing made it retain its original glory. But I realize now moreso than then, that the fun wasn’t really in the finished product – it was more in the making and re-making. The ‘baked’ pie was usually flung into the field anyway. It was about the gathering, mixing and getting my hands dirty.
That’s what experimenting is – you have to throw yourself into the process of experimentation without really knowing what you’re going to end up with.
I was a teensy part of the development team for the Coursera MOOC “Experimentation for Improvement” (plugging because all of the course videos and resources are CC-BY-SA!). It really is a great MOOC – and it’s all about embracing (and improving) experimentation in your everyday personal and professional life. Kevin Dunn, the instructor and an assistant professor of Chemical Engineering at the time, is not only an experimenter in the sense that he designed the MOOC not only for the ‘masses’ but also used the super-cool videos and resources for the students in his undergraduate class. The undergrad version of the course was built in WordPress rather than the LMS – which in some institutions, is one bold leap toward experimentation. In one of the videos, Kevin says, “if you’ve given up experimenting and trying new things, you’ve given up on life.” I admire his educator-as-experimenter mindset.
The previous “Intro to the Experimenter Module” post by Giulia Forsythe for the ExtendEast group contains a shout-out to another experimenter extraordinaire, Grant Potter as well as a lovely visual on Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. It’s a great way to reflect on the experience of an experiment. Why don’t you take a trip back in time and reflect on the first experiment you did that you can recall. Use Kolb’s cycle as a guide while you turn the cards in the interactive below:
Hopefully now you’re in the zone of experimentation and are looking forward to trying a bunch of things out during this module. I can’t wait to see what you ‘cook’ up!