A QWERTY Life

One of the best pieces of advice I received during college was from my physics professor. This professor was my introductory physics professor as well as my biophysics professor; he taught me during my first semester of college and my very last semester, so he saw me grow from a wide-eyed freshman to an overwhelmed senior trying to keep straight A’s. He recognized my motivation, but also recognized that it was being channeled in the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on learning as I initially did in college, I started to fixate on grades upon gradation. He said to me that I should not allow fear to intercede between my eagerness to learn and seeking to challenge myself. He said I should take risks, even if those risks could jeopardize getting an A. I was reminded of this advice in Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades” when Kohn discussed students’ hesitation toward intellectual risks due to grading policies. Without these intellectual risks, however, we will never venture outside of a comfortable zone surrounded by what is known and we will never escape the fear drifting too far from our current understanding.

Imagination First by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon challenges the reader to brainstorm “imagination killing moments.” After reflecting on these moments in my life, I realized that- as stated in the chapter- there were many moments, not just one. I look back to my list of research ideas when I was in college compared to my research ideas now, and I see how they have been greatly narrowed by what is deemed feasible. Although I understand the necessity in feasibility, I also believe that “big ideas” are the world-changing ones. The first chapter in Imagination First discusses “path dependence”, and uses the example of the QWERTY keyboard. This keyboard was established without consideration for user needs, but the QWERTY norm will likely not be replaced due to its extensive use over many years. “It’s this way because that’s the way it’s always been.” But we do not need to continue to promote this QWERTY life through how we conduct our research nor how we teach the next generation of learners.

I do believe that path dependence is difficult to avoid given our education system and constant exposure to the “accepted” ideas. This exposure, however, can then be used to expand our ideas versus limit them. Rather than fully depending on another path, paths can intersect and interact to spark even greater ideas. At the end of the first chapter in Imagination First, the authors list key capacities of imagination. These capacities emphasize interacting with the object of study in new and innovative ways. With use of imagination, QWERTY keyboards have been replaced altogether for people with disabilities. The innovation shown in these keyboard creations is an example of path interaction; the concept of a keyboard is used, but manipulated and interacted with in unique and beneficial ways. I believe that we can escape path dependence by interacting differently with commonly accepted objects. Daniel Pink discusses studies that show creative thinking is not motivated by money, nor any “if-then” relationships (such as grades). Instead, he concludes that autonomy as well as purpose motive will allow our creativity to flow. In other words, we can escape this QWERTY trap through free-flowing creativity that is purpose-driven. How can we help others find the motivation to escape this QWERTY life? How might we find new angles to explore and new innovations that depart from our norm?

6 thoughts on “A QWERTY Life

  1. I like your point that accepted ideas can be interact to generate new ideas, especially in current diverse learning environment that open connected learning and multi-discipline cooperation are encouraged. We can not innovate based on nothing. Solid foundation of fundamentals will drastically facilitate with learning more advanced stuff and spark innovation from different perspectives. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. Catchy title, so i could not resist reading your post. The Qwerty example stated out to me also, when have been going down that path of carrying on the traditions of our predecestors even though its not necessarily best for us. I believe we need to break tradition and think of innovative solutions to identified problems in our educational system.

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  3. Awesome post Krissy! I completely agree with everything you said. We need to imaginative, think outside the box, and even be critical on the basics (my major professor loves it when I do that…*sarcasm*). Our current system causes mindlessness. It narrows our focus to just the grade, or accomplishing a task. I’m a big believer in autonomy and making your own path.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg and the same really applies to many other spheres in life. Its basically cultivating a risk averse attitude and one where moving out of the comfort zone is a no-no. The more you think about how we are “programmed” to be risk averse and follow the herd, the more you will see the presence of “accepted” norms around us and in a way they stifle our self expression and creativity because it is not approved. Good post

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  5. Actually I am always thinking why i come to get a PhD program, even though I have some ideas before I joined the program. Learning is my intrinsic motivation to join the program. However, in the beginning of my program, when courses work come to me in an urgent schedule, I lost heart in learning more knowledge and exploring the essential ideas of each subject. I only focused on the final grades. As you said, i would not like me to take a risk in challenging myself and jeopardizing my grades. I felt that is not what I wanted and pursued in my program. Later on, I changed my strategies of learning and keeping my motivations always in my mind. Learning is not for a “A” grade. It is what we want to make something different from others or existing research.

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  6. Great point of view and I like your reflection! I think grades to some extent are seen as a representation of who we are as learners and fear manifests itself into a ball of doubt, because its like our self-worth instead of the investment we input into our learning, so we fail to take risk. I think going outside of the box expands the endless possibilities of learning and academic exploration.

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