Oliver's Observatory

The Blog & Observations of Oliver H. Evans

MOOCs and the End of the World

"When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over." – Thomas Friedman

"When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over." – Thomas Friedman

I keep intending to say something about my experience with MOOCs--that is, about what I experience when I go into the classroom of either Mathematical Thinking or Model Thinking. And I have just signed up for Michael Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do. But I keep getting sidetracked. This week, for example, I got sidetracked because an argument erupted not as to how, but as to when, MOOCs would spell the end of the world--or at least the end of the world according to the conventional wisdom of higher education.

The rider on the eschatological white horse bent on destroying the world as we know it appears to be Thomas Friedman, whom most know as the author of The World is Flat. By an interesting coincidence, Upper Iowa University, which does not see MOOCs as the end of the world, does invoke Friedman's book as one of the foundations--or sets of assumptions--on which an institution of higher education should base its educational philosophy and mission. But that is a subject for another day.

Friedman rode forth on the white horse of the apocalypse by writing a piece in the March 5, 2013, New York Times, a follow-up to an earlier piece he had written. Friedman believes in the potential of MOOCs to change higher education in some fundamental ways. And to get at those ways, here is a quick summary of what a number of people are assuming at present about MOOCs:

 1. The creation of MOOCs belongs to the premier institutions of higher education and to the celebrity faculty who are the source of the credibility of those institutions. Put another way, institutions in the tributaries of higher education have neither the resources, including the technology, nor the faculty, to mount a serious MOOC effort. Thus it is not surprising that a stir is made when Taylor Branch is going to offer a MOOC or when, as was recently announced, Michael Sandel of Harvard, famous for his course on justice, will offer that course as a MOOC beginning just recently, on March 12 to be exact.

 2. In some instances, the credible institutions are beginning to demonstrate some potential for MOOCs to change not only the way in which students may learn, but the ways in which institutions may understand the nature of the faculty. For example, according to Friedman, Harvard Business School no longer offers first-year accounting, but will make use of the MOOC developed by a professor at Brigham Young University, because of the excellence of the BYU course. As Friedman put it in his March 5 piece, "When outstanding becomes so easily available, average is over."

 3. The implications of item 2 can be exciting and threatening. Suppose, for example, that an institution in the tributaries decides to offer the first year of accounting in the same way that Harvard is reported to be offering first-year accounting. What are the implications for the role of the faculty in the coming years? How will the role of faculty change? How will the classroom change? For some, this is a continuation of what is sometimes referred to as the "unbundling" of the role of the faculty. Traditionally, faculty have been the developers and the implementers of the curriculum, as well as the assessors of students and the evaluators of the curriculum itself. When those roles are "unbundled," new ways of thinking about faculty identity emerge. And new kinds of classrooms become possible,

Suppose, for example, that an institution has both a residential student population and a large population of students at sites spread throughout a given state or even several states. Could a learning community be formed that makes use of a MOOC and that through technology creates a "classroom" of learners different from the classrooms the institution currently creates? And given the pressures on institutions in terms of the question of quality of adjunct faculty--not to mention the impact of healthcare on the costs of continuing to use adjunct faculty--might an institution be drawn to the excitement Friedman feels in imagining a shift in higher education from education as "time served" to education as what a student can demonstrate and to the possibility that students might suddenly have access in some sense to faculty famous in their disciplines, as opposed to those in the local neighborhood? How, indeed, would one keep them down on the farm?

It is important to remember that most people talking about MOOCs and their potential use--including Friedman himself--see the MOOC as giving rise to a blended model of education. But the sight of the white horse issuing forth filled many in higher education with fear, loathing, and anger--emotions that arise when people see a threat to their traditional identity and--identity and work being closely aligned--a threat to their traditional conditions of employment.

Although compared with some academics Rebecca Shuman is an amateur when it comes to high dudgeon and invective, her piece in the March 8, 2013, Chronicle of Higher Education may amuse you if you are new to higher education's version of reasoned discourse. Friedman has upset Schuman, to say the least. 

The potential for MOOCs is very much in the process of being defined. Personally, I am confident that institutions that seek to be part of that definition will discover ways to extend access and value to their students. Friedman ends his March 5 piece by referring to Clayton Christensen's comparison of today's higher education with the General Motors of the 1960's. Interestingly, Maureen Dowd ended her March 9, 2013, New York Times column on Time Warner's "breakup" with its magazines; including Time, by pointing out for journalists what is true as well of MOOCs. "It will be good if this moment provokes a reckoning about what really needs to be preserved in the culture, about what is valuable." Dowd notes that while appearing on the cover of Time no longer means what it once did, the need for reporters and commentators who can provide content for the new forms of reporting will not go away. The same holds true for those professors who know how to embrace the new possibilities of "professing." 

Returning to MOOCs, Part 1


My initial foray into MOOCs was not the most successful undertaking I have made--mostly because I did not manage to complete either one I signed up for--neither the Model Thinking nor the Mathematical Thinking. But MOOCs have loomed larger and larger in my work in higher education, especially after retirement as I have discussed with some institutions ways they might use MOOCs; and I am going to return to them in the coming weeks, but this time with what I hope are fairly well-defined goals. And just to get one thing off the table immediately, those goals do not include successfully completing a MOOC.

To review, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. They are currently being developed by a number of the most prestigious (which is to say credible) Universities, with more institutions becoming involved all the time, especially with Coursera, one of the most famous companies developing them. And the courses themselves are often taught by what are sometimes called Rock-Star Faculty.

Notable recently, for example, was the announcement that starting this past January, Taylor Branch would teach a MOOC on Civil Rights through the University of Baltimore. We can read Taylor Branch's books, of course. We could write him fan mail - or fan email, for that matter. But in theory signing up for his MOOC would allow some direct interaction with him - albeit one would have to wave his/her hand profusely to get his attention from among the tens-of-thousands of students who might sign up for his course. More interesting would be the possibility of joining - or forming - a learning community with whom to interact and with whom (possibly) someone such as Branch might interact.

Having access--even a very limited access--to a person of Taylor Branch's calibre is part of what makes the concepts of MOOCs so exciting to me. Access is for me one of the key drivers in how I view higher education--how to provide an avenue into the opportunities higher education can provide. Engaging in ideas, experiencing great embodiments of human imagination and insight, whether in the form of Hamlet, the b minor Mass, mathematical thinking, model thinking, or whatever, is an exciting and ultimately quite rewarding experience.

And in theory, MOOCs, whatever else they might do, seem to allow the potential not just for eavesdropping on monumental thinkers--e.g., a Taylor Branch--but in some sense actively engaging with them. And how much subtlety can be built into the experience of a MOOC when someone such as a Taylor Branch is doing the course is indicated in his discussion in this article of how the MOOC will work.

Having said all of that, I did not sign up for Taylor Branch's MOOC, but I am signed up for the repeat of Model Thinking and Mathematical Thinking, both of which, depending on your point of view, I either failed or Withdrew Passing from the last time.

Meeting Manon Saudray

The KCRG-TV's Fayette CityCam, from the roof of Alexander-Dickman Hall

The KCRG-TV's Fayette CityCam, from the roof of Alexander-Dickman Hall

The Peacock - UIU's official mascot

The Peacock - UIU's official mascot

The key for me in getting to know Upper Iowa University is discovering the varieties of opportunities the University offers its remarkably diverse students. One of the first I met is Manon Saudray, to whom I was introduced by Dr. Melissa Maier, a faculty member in the Communication Program, who told me of Manon's having had a presentation accepted at the Central States Communication President's Undergraduate Honors Research Conference in April, a juried event that had only a 50% acceptance rate of papers submitted.

Having grown up in France--and returning to visit her family when she can--Manon heard about Upper Iowa University and decided to pursue her education here. She will graduate in December 2013. She made her decision based on exploring schools in general and Upper Iowa in particular through Google, meaning she knew both the town and the University would be small. She arrived on her own, met people from Upper Iowa, and really has come to enjoy the benefits of studying at the University. Manon reminds me of others I have known who launch themselves into unknown new adventures, whether in large cities, such as New York or Chicago, or small communities, and both make their ways there and change the communities they join.

I was really interested in Manon's research project because it involves an issue in higher education--"Students' Perceptions of Satisfaction and Expectations of their Academic Advising Relationship." For many reasons, finding one's way through the many decisions involved in pursuing a University degree can be a journey through a thicket of unknowns as daunting as figuring out the New York Subway.

In addition to the unknowns a person experiences when wondering if he/she is really in the right major, a student is discovering his/here abilities, a well as wondering about the potential for life after graduation. In theory, a key guide to that journey can be the academic advisor, and especially at a small institution, that advisor will be a member of the faculty.

Because Manon's research is based on a solid protocol and included a meaningful sample of people, I got a quick insight into the strength of what Upper Iowa is doing for its students and the generally positive perceptions students have of their experiences. If you seek an advisor, you may find a prescriptive form of advising--to which some of us don't object--"Just tell us what to do, and although we may ignore your advice, at least we know what it is." But most people benefit from, and seek advisors who, engage with us as people and rather than prescribe what we should do, allow us the opportunity to explore options and develop our sense of the choices we want to make.

Thanks to Manon's research, I had a chance to get to know a good deal about students' perceptions of Upper Iowa University. And I had a chance to see through Manon a specific example of what Upper Iowa can offer an outstanding and highly-motivated student.

Pursuing Two MOOCs

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. At present, one of the largest organizations offering MOOCs—Coursera—counts over 1.2 million people enrolled in 123 courses. And depending on whether Coursera’s enrollment numbers are a duplicated or unduplicated headcount, I am one (or two) of those more than 1.2. million people, for I am enrolled in two courses: Model Thinking and Introduction to Mathematical Thinking. MOOCs are college-level course. At the moment, the courses can result in a certificate, but MOOCs do not carry college credit. And although the institutions offering MOOCs are well-known institutions of higher education, I cannot claim that I am now a student either at the University of Michigan or Stanford. Interestingly, the perceived failure of the president of the University of Virginia to jump quickly enough into online educational ventures  may have been a factor in her dismissal, which was quickly followed by her reinstatement, although the issues surrounding the events at the University of Virginia are, as Lady Macbeth once said of hell, "murky" and may have included the her wardrobe.

Massive refers to the number of people enrolled in such a course, partly a function of the global reach of MOOCs, since MOOCs are online. Thus anywhere the internet reaches, people can enroll in a MOOC. And enrollments in a given MOOC sometimes reach into the hundreds of thousands, partly since the course is both free and open to anyone who establishes a user name and password and pledges to abide by the honor code. In other words, a person with or without a high school diploma, with or without the qualifications to be admitted to the University of Michigan or Stanford, and with or without the prerequisite knowledge or abilities (for example, it appears that one needs an ability to communicate through written English, but no one asked me to prove it) can enroll in a MOOC.

I am both very serious in my pursuit of Model Thinking and Introduction to Mathematical Thinking and respectful of the potential of MOOCs. MOOCs are exciting and intriguing to me for a variety of reasons, which I will discuss in a future post. On the simplest level, MOOCs may be an extraordinarily innovative idea in exploring the potential of expanding access to higher education. And as should be the case with innovation, MOOCs are being prototyped and offered before anyone knows whether or not they will work or even what their implications are for higher education. I did smile, for example, when I took the honor pledge because neither Professor Page nor Professor Devlin has any idea whether I really exist or whether I can be trusted. But innovation must be characterized by a rapid prototyping process. If MOOCs, which include a commitment to access, waited to know their outcome, they would never get started, because most institutions of higher education follow the dictum “Do nothing for the first time.”

So I simply wanted to announce through this Blog that I have enrolled in two MOOCs. My commitment to anyone who cares to follow my posts is to report in future posts exactly how I proceed. Most importantly, I will engage in self-assessment as to what I have learned from this experience. Should you already be pursuing a MOOC, or should you have the leisure to pursue lifelong learning and decide to sign up for a MOOC, I would be delighted to be in conversation with you.

Learning to Read Shakepseare

I learned to read Shakespeare for the most basic of reasons: Shakespeare represented forbidden knowledge. I remember there was to be a presentation of Macbeth on TV and thanks to Wikipedia, I can identify specifically what and when that presentation would have been. In 1954, when I was ten and when TV was not only relatively new in and of itself, but brand new in our home, the Hallmark Hall of Fame presented Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson in Macbeth. For me, the Hallmark Hall of Fame was the highest of high culture, although I did not know of such a concept as high culture at the time, and the Hallmark Hall of Fame succeeded in making high culture synonymous for me with Hallmark cards—a lovely example of branding.

But my dream of experiencing high culture in the living room of a Methodist parsonage in a small upstate New York town crashed when my dream met my mother, who, never as interested in branding as I, was also not taken with my watching a play which, as she said, “has murder in it,” never mind that it is one of the monuments of western culture. That would be like thinking it is all right to look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because it is about the Bible.

Without going into the pros and cons of protecting a ten-year old from a play in which the central murder takes place off stage, I was not able to speak reason on this matter to my mother. But the situation was similar to my earlier experience with the comics in the newspaper—my parents would read certain comics, but not others. Figuring out that once I could read, the entire world of comics would open to me, I decided to apply the same principle to Shakespeare and to start reading these forbidden works myself.

We had an edition of Shakespeare in our house because at one time, my parents had belonged to a book club that for its bonus books  gave away copies of classic literature, thereby providing an avenue to culture. For reasons I do not now remember, I decided to start, not with Macbeth, but with Richard II. I quickly discovered two things: first, it takes forever to get to the murders in many of Shakespeare's plays (Titus Andronicus is another matter, but that play was on few people’s radar screens at that time, although it is more popular now. And to digress for a moment, one of the great things about the internet and the ability to search quickly is that I just found out there is now a band named Titus Andronicus).

The second thing I discovered was that the prose sense of Shakespeare did not automatically leap from the page. I now know and love Richard II--in some ways, I chose better than I knew at the time. But my memory of trying to read the first act boils down to some vague sense that there was going to be a duel almost immediately after the play opened and certainly someone would be killed. Alas, the happy expectation of that duel was dashed by King Richard who seemed to like to talk a great deal. And to make matters worse, it was not always clear what either he or the other characters were talking about.

I was fortunate in knowing a high-school English teacher who discovering I was trying to read Shakespeare, advised me on the importance of paying attention to the punctuation and not stopping at the end of each line. She also suggested  that one read Shakespeare aloud (I still subvocalize when reading Shakespeare, but more because of the pleasure of the language than from a need to figure out what in heaven’s name is being said). Nonetheless, I still did not get the hang of exactly what was going on.

Recently, and quite serendipitously, I met Dr. Ellen Hurwitz, who, having retired as a college president, remains active in academia as a leadership coach, writer, and lecturer. In addition to being a scholar of Russian history, Ellen has also served as president of Albright College, New England College, and the American University of Central Asia. Finding ourselves in the midst of discussing the nature of leadership and comparing notes on our experiences, we found that we also shared an interest in the opportunity to re-invent one’s self following retirement. But the most amazing and delightful discovery for me was that Ellen's family originated Classics Illustrated--indeed, working with her father, she was sometimes asked to comment on whether the illustrations successfully integrated with the text in Classics Illustrated Junior.

Through an informal survey of a couple of my friends, I find that whether people know Classics Illustrated is often a matter of when a person grew up, unless a person has an interest in the history of the comic book.  Started in 1941 by Albert Kanter, Ellen's great-uncle, Classics Illustrated was a series of comic books that sought to introduce great literature by integrating text and illustrations. Needless to say, some controversy attached to this worthy endeavor. For most literature--for example, The Iliad or Ivanhoe--the text might sometimes be taken directly from the work, but it was more often a condensation of the original. In other words, the Classics Illustrated version of A Tale of Two Cities did not include every word of Dickens' novel.

The interesting thing about Shakespeare within the format of Classics Illustrated was that in approaching the text, the creator of the comic had no text other than the lines of the play. Thus a Classics Illustrated version of Macbeth or Hamlet--both of which I remember reading--in large measure reproduced and illustrated Shakespeare's words themselves.

"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare; Classics Illustrated No. 128 (1955)

"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare; Classics Illustrated No. 128 (1955)

Classics Illustrated was in and of itself a beautifully conceived and executed set of comics that, in the case of Shakespeare, integrated the text with gorgeous drawings—indeed, in terms of the beauty of its illustrations, Classics Illustrated belongs with Prince Valiant for someone like me, who grew up long ago. Once I discovered Classics Illustrated, I bought every issue I could find, including both Macbeth and Hamlet.

And more than that, I remember the night I was lying in bed reading Macbeth and suddenly Lady Macbeth’s line “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be/What thou art promised” made sense. And once those lines made sense, her wonderful greeting of Macbeth as “Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! Greater than both by the all-hail hereafter!” seemed to become the pure joy of child’s play, as reading Shakespeare ought to be, murders and all.

Thanks, again, to Wikipedia, I see that Hallmark did a remake of Macbeth with Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson in 1960, a production I do remember vividly because—at least in my memory—of Judith Anderson's glorious sleep-walking scene and Maurice Evans’ way with the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech.

And I remember that particular production for another reason. By 1960, two things had happened—first, I could then read Shakespeare and so reading Macbeth in tenth grade was not a walk in the swamp. And, second, I encountered in Flint Southwestern High School an English teacher—Elizabeth Calkins—who required that we memorize both that speech and Macbeth's  speech that begins "Is this a dagger which I see before me."  Mrs. Calkins was the best teacher of all the teachers I had in elementary, high school, undergraduate, and graduate school. Few teachers had, or have, the ability to engage, to challenge, and to communicate a a subject as she did. Because I am about to register for a MOOC, I may encounter a professor more influential on my life than she, but I doubt it. And when the Southwestern class of 1962 meets on September 29 to celebrate fifty years, toasts should be made to her memory.

Memory is a funny thing, as Marcel Proust showed in In Search of Lost Time--sometimes eating a cookie will open a flood of memories. (Yet another digression: I just linked Proust's work to an article on Oprah Winfrey's site on how to read Proust. Think of it! Making Proust accessible through a popular entertainer--an idea as preposterous as making Shakespeare accessible through comic books or painting scenes from the Bible on a ceiling.) Meeting Ellen Hurwitz brought back such a flood of memories. And, in case it is not clear, I think not only that comic books can be an excellent entry to high culture, they may be high culture themselves--assuming high culture still exists.

Overwhelmed by Faulkner

Square in Oxford, Mississippi   

Square in Oxford, Mississippi


When I was in Oxford, Mississippi a short time ago, I was not surprised to be reminded of William Faulkner. The square in Oxford is the square in Jefferson, the town central to many of Faulkner’s novels; Lafayette County, where Oxford is located, is the basis of Yoknapatawpha County. Standing on the square in Oxford and looking at the Courthouse automatically triggers memories of the final scene of The Sound and the Fury. Nonetheless, I was surprised when visiting BTC Grocery in Water Valley, Mississippi, to come across a hummingbird cake made by Cora Ray of Mississippi Mudd. BTC (Be The Change) Grocery has been featured in the New York Times, and Cora Ray of Mississippi Mudd makes a most-excellent cake, but what the name Cora brought to mind was one of the narrators—Cora Tull—in As I Lay Dying—a woman who has come with several other women to keep Addie Bundren company as she is dying and who talks about how she made cakes (not hummingbird cakes, probably) for a rich woman who then decided not to buy them.

B.T.C. Grocery   

B.T.C. Grocery


Addie Bundren has made her husband, Anse, promise to take her from where they live and to bury her in Jefferson, where her people are. One fun question about As I Lay Dying is whether this request and Anse’s subsequent fulfillment of it is Addie’s great revenge on Anse or his great revenge on her. Or—since their children have to accompany the corpse to Jefferson—is it both of their acts of vengeance on their children, who, candidly, don’t have much of a chance against these parents?

Indeed, the entire family is full of delightful dynamics, including one son who is a carpenter and who makes his mother’s coffin as his final gift to her, but does so where she can both hear him at work and—occasionally—see his work when he holds it up at the window to show her. To get to Jefferson, Anse and the children must travel by a wagon pulled by mules. The journey is long enough that the putrefying body attracts buzzards who circle overhead, which is the least of the fun in this novel.

Faulkner statue   

Faulkner statue


But enough of that—during my visit to Oxford, I was most struck by the way in which Faulkner has been incorporated into the town. Given his subject matter, and especially his treatment of the devastating and continuing impact of the Civil War and the relationship between whites and blacks, incorporating Faulkner required some “navigation,” a word useful for describing how people handle the anxiety resulting from a subject that cannot he ignored, a subject that has some degree of attractiveness, and yet a subject that must be carefully walked by, through, or around. While the University of Mississippi hosts the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference, connecting him with the popular world may be a challenge. .

Faulkner is buried in Oxford, and his home, Rowan Oak, located about a mile or so south and west of the Square, is well-maintained and is a lovely place to visit. Downtown on the Square, Faulkner sits on a bench in a small park-like area next to the City Hall. Enclosed by a fence and flowers, it, too, is a lovely, yet somehow inaccessible area. I could not imagine sitting on the bench with him, feeling that he is both present and yet distanced from this spot that for his readers echoes with the moaning of Benjy and the rage of Benjy’s brother, Jason.

Faulkner statue plaque   

Faulkner statue plaque


The University Museum is exhibiting Estelle Faulkner’s paintings. During her life, Estelle Faulkner said that she was reluctant to seek to show her work because she could not tell if people wanted her work or were simply responding to the fact she was married to William Faulkner. Candidly, she is not fortunate in how the paintings are exhibited. And it is impossible to approach her paintings other than as the work of the wife of an overwhelmingly powerful literary artist. They are being shown in a “lecture hall,” which does not lend itself to exhibiting paintings. Fascinating, too, is that the exhibition does not touch on what was a stormy relationship between Faulkner and Estelle, whom he believed regarded his writing as a hobby. Her own side of the marriage emerges from her letters. I do not speculate—not being a Faulkner scholar—on how this marriage colors the romance of the family portrayed in As I Lay Dying.

At the opposite end of the Museum, John Shorb has an exhibition of work that reflects upon Absalom, Absalom! I am not certain how much sense the works make to someone who has not read the novel, but I fear the works only made me wish to re-read the novel—again that massive presence of Faulkner overwhelms, unless enclosed in a fence and flowers. Indeed, so overwhelming is Faulkner’s presence that the only competing voice I could hear was Eudora Welty’s.

An Invitation to Keep in Touch


I have now been retired for almost three weeks; and while I am still in the process of discovering what that will mean, I am committed to continuing my blog. From here on, the blog is mine and has no relationship—official or unofficial—with Kendall. I will blog about whatever interests me. In the coming weeks, those interests will include a good friend—Ozzie Zehner—whose book on sustainability is creating a most-excellent stir.

I also plan to blog about another friend—Sue Caulfield—whose art fascinates and intrigues me.

And my great interest since childhood—music—will also appear here, especially since Kalamazoo—where I have lived for thirty years—hosts two major musical events: The Gilmore Keyboard Festival and The Stulberg International String Competition.

And just to keep in touch with higher education, I am searching for a MOOC. If you know of one you think is interesting, let me know. Perhaps we can take it together.

Finally, I do plan to continue to blog about Kendall alumni, and so I hope that people will keep in touch.  Let me know what you are up to; and I will try to work it into this ongoing series of observations. You can keep in touch through my TwitterFacebook,  or via email oliver@oliverhevans.com.

I do want to say a word of appreciation to a person who has worked with me on many projects, most recently being the videos related to ArtPrize: George Bradshaw. I met George and his wife Carey in NYC when they were considering moving to Grand Rapids; and I hoped from that first meeting that George and I would be able to end up collaborating as colleagues on one project or another.

To me, George is a creative visionary who has benefited me with his nearly two decades of creative experience, both as a creative director and as a filmmaker. George’s extensive experience includes time with Disney and GEM Group (global experiential marketing), where he directed marketing communications for four Olympic campaigns on NBC Universal, culminating in the 2008 Beijing Games as the most-watched U.S. TV event of all time with 211 million viewers.

George is one of those people who—if I did not know him—would intimidate me with the extraordinary range of his experience. What I have found him to be is a person who brings that experience to bear on projects and who allows someone to collaborate with him, to work together to achieve some common goal. And one that both he and I enjoyed working on very much was the series of ArtPrize videos. And one thing he has certainly worked with me to understand is social media, as witness his profile on LinkedIn, his Portfolio, and your can follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and check him out on Vimeo. And check out his film company, as well as the short film posted on the Public Museum's Facebook page. I encourage people to “Like/Share” them all and then to stay connected with George as a friend/fan. Candidly, I am a friend and a fan of George.

So, I end this “invitation” with words from the Persian poet, Rumi—“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field: I’ll meet you there.

Observing ArtPrize, Part 2


One of the things that's interesting about ArtPrize is that it's changing even now. In fact, we're hearing announcements about 2012 and how it will differ from 2011. It's evolving in many ways, and I think one of the things that is very intriguing about it is the way in which it challenges artists to think about what they want to do during ArtPrize; how do they want to be involved with it, what's the role of public and popularity during it, what's the role of expertise in it, and how do artists create contexts in order for people to have an opportunity to view their art.  

My Commencement


This is my last blog post as Kendall’s president, although I plan to continue “Oliver’s Observatory” after I retire.  And I am posting this last entry two weeks after returning from NeoCon 2012 and the sixteenth NeoCon class that Kendall has offered its students.  2012 was an interesting year to attend NeoCon for the last time as Kendall’s president, especially since Rob Kirkbride has described this NeoCon as one of the most important in years. This class started as the vision of Beverly Russell, whom some will remember from the Beverly Russell International Lecture Series, named for, and organized by, Beverly between 1995 and 2000. Like that lecture series, the class held during NeoCon invited significant designers to speak to Kendall students during NeoCon in Chicago and then to tour a showroom associated with the designer.  Those of us who were there will not forget trying to tour showrooms with such famous designers as Bill Stumpf, designer of the Aeron Ergonomic Office Chair, Margaret McCurry, Eva Maddox, or Carl Magnusson.

Since Beverly handed off responsibility for organizing the class, the class has been carried on by such wonderful friends of Kendall as Georgy Olivieri and—for the past several years—Michelle Kleyla and is now supported in part by an endowment from the estate of G. W. Haworth.  This class remains one of the many ways Kendall seeks to connect its students with the professional world of art and design.

I was especially delighted this year that at the opening reception for this class, two recent alums spoke about their careers and what they have been doing since graduation.  Lauren Mitus, now with Material ConneXion, and Yana Carstens, of Elevate Studios, spoke about their challenges and success in navigating the current economy.  And I was especially delighted that Erli Gronberg, formerly the Chair and now Professor Emeritus of Interior Design, was there to introduce students to NeoCon.

When I was a faculty member and later an administrator, I personally always welcomed a change in the presidency in the institution where I happened to be.  Sometimes, of course, presidents do not leave on their own volition—and usually that meant a sense of relief as a new president arrived.  But when a president leaves because, as in the lyrics of the great George Jones song, “[his] heart tells [him] it’s ready,” the possibilities for a college or university are wonderful.  A new president brings new experiences and a new point of view and is himself a new audience for people who have dreams and visions of what they would like to see the institution do.

The 2012-2013 academic year will be an exciting one for Kendall, not only because it will continue the kind of tradition represented by the class the College does at NeoCon, but because three new undergraduate initiatives will also get fully underway—the BFA in Fashion Studies, the BFA in Medical Illustration (done in collaboration with Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine), and the BFA in Collaborative Design.  With these kinds of new programs and building on its past successes, Kendall College of Art & Design will continue to be an important part of design education.

From the point of view of sustaining Kendall’s traditions and the excitement of inaugurating new opportunities, I celebrate that Kendall has an exciting new president in the person of David Rosen and exciting possibilities for the future.  But candidly, my heart has told me “it’s ready”; and I look forward to hearing from a distance about the wonderful places Kendall will go and the wonderful things it will do.

Observing ArtPrize, Part 1


During ArtPrize 2011, I wanted to do a series of videos that would feature ArtPrize, but would also have some interest once ArtPrize was over. I wanted to avoid the whole issue of who might win, and focus instead on why people would participate beyond whether or not they were trying to win the grand prize, and learn what is was that made them want to be part of this experience. Here is the first video in a series I like to call, Observing ArtPrize.  

From Class to Kiln: Kendall Clay Collective


There is a group of students that many of you may notice the next time you walk past the new UICA building. On the bottom floor, something great is taking place between a small group of Kendall students (from all concentrations) and a selfless Assistant Professor - all of whom share a wonderful interest in ceramics. They are known as the Kendall Clay Collective. And they have created quite a reputation for themselves. I say this in a good way, of course. And I say this primarily because of the extensive amount of dedication and effort these students and the alumni before them have demonstrated to pursue their interest in ceramics. Since the collective's start in 2009, nearly 15 students per semester have met regularly to not only create great work, but also to strategize, delegate, vote, and brainstorm for new ways to raise funds for many special trips and workshops that they hold throughout the year. In 2010, Davis and the group attended the National Council on Education for the Ceramics Arts (NCECA) Conference in Philadelphia. The group has also attended the Michigan Mud Conference. However, the most involved, and more regular, of the clay collective's outings takes place twice a year at Ox-Bow, in Saugatuck, MI.

I have mentioned Ox-Bow in previous posts, as they offer many wonderful workshops and courses in many concentrations, many of which the students I have written about have attended. However, the clay collective's bi-annual workshops involve an intense study of ceramics, including guest speakers. Rebecca Hutchinson (UMass - Dartmouth) spoke at the collective's most recent fall workshop.

Collective members working in the studio.   

Collective members working in the studio.


It is gratifying to see this group of students working together, and working so diligently, to make these workshops possible. The collective, ran democratically, includes four elected officials.  Current club president, Andrew Doty, says of the collective's initiative, "It shows that everyone involved has a genuine interest in what they're doing." Evan Shurlow, the club's president elect added, "It kind of comes down to who wants to put in the work."

And work may be an understatement. During each Ox-Bow workshop, club members take turns splitting wood, firing and managing the kiln, cleaning, and learning. Davis says of this,"I really want [students] to do it for their interest in ceramics, not as an assignment. It's a great event and folks really enjoy being out there." Davis has mentioned, however, that he does offer the experience as extra credit in his class.

Evan Shurlow - President-elect, Kendall Clay Collective   

Evan Shurlow - President-elect, Kendall Clay Collective


It's impressive because collective seeks to go beyond formal education to create a brand of interest and achievement, all their own. In an effort to further inspire collective members, Davis brings a handful of ceramics enthusiasts from the around community to Ox-Bow. Davis says of this, "[Students] are working with people who aren't driven by a grade at that point. They're driven by their own desire to learn more. It's a great exchange of information and where people's passions are. They get a fine education at Kendall, but they also have to know how to get past school."

Doty has been awarded two two-week scholarships this summer. One at Penland School of Crafts, and another at Ox-Bow. Jessica Shelton (Metals / Jewelry '12) also received a full two-week scholarship at Ox-Bow this summer. Many other members have been awarded scholarships, instructed classes, and have continued their involvement with ceramics between semesters. Davis will also be teaching a course on screen printing on clay this summer at Penland. In August, he will travel to Muggia, Italy, where he and a colleague designed and built a wood kiln.

It shows that everyone involved has a genuine interest in what they’re doing.
— Andrew Doty - President, Kendall Clay Collective
Israel Davis checking kiln temperature   

Israel Davis checking kiln temperature


The Kendall Clay Collective has a website. Its homepage states that "The Kendall Clay Collective is a student group dedicated to the advancement of art education through ceramics."  It really is a remarkable mission; one they certainly continue to live (and learn) up to. "We're working on an online presence," says Davis. They hope to raise more funds for future workshops by working with local retailers, as they begin prototyping a signature line of ceramics that will soon bare the stamp of the Kendall Clay Collective.

Video: A Visit to Black Cloud Gallery


I hope that alumni will stay in touch with me, and let me know what they are up to. Recently, one of our alums in Chicago, who is involved with a gallery called Black Cloud Gallery, told me about it. He told me about the area of Chicago where the gallery is located. He told me about the kind of revitalization that's going on there. And, as a result, I had an opportunity to go and visit.

I found it fascinating. And it's fascinating for several reasons. For one, it is a way in which a person is following a career path that involves the arts. But secondly, it involves the way in which young artists are connecting with the community and enriching the place in which they live. Black Cloud Gallery was a real find. And I know that many alumni are involved in a variety of other interesting projects. I hope they will let me know about them.

- Oliver

January Illustrated

Illustration by Amy Bates   

Illustration by Amy Bates


There is much ado about illustration this month at Kendall. Since the 9th of January, Original Art, has been showing in the Kendall Gallery. The show features works from 40 artists. Among them are Wendell Minor (Wendell spoke at the gallery earlier today), C.F. Payne, Mary GrandPré, and last year's Caldecott winner, Erin Stead. Originating from the Society of Illustrators in New York, the show has made its way to Kendall, and will be up until February 4th. Visitors are welcome to see the fine illustrations, as well as sit and read  a collection of children's books that feature the very works they came to see. KCAD Director of Exhibitions, Sarah Joseph, says of the show: "I've enjoyed seeing a variety of people interact with the show, both by viewing the pieces on the wall and by spending time in our 'reading nook' poring over the books that came with the exhibition. Not only do they get to read the stories, but they have the chance to see all of the illustrations for each of the books."

Illustration by Erin Stead   

Illustration by Erin Stead


It has been exciting to see such an elaborate, inclusive illustration show at Kendall, but the well-known illustrators aren't the only ones with works in our gallery; the Student Gallery also features the works of both current and past illustration students. Joseph says of the student show: "We've included works that have been published as well as projects from the Children's Book Illustration class.  Professor Molly Alicki Corriveau did a great job of curating the exhibition." The student show wraps up this Saturday. I encourage everyone to visit the galleries before these shows close.

Honeysuckle: A Hue in Review


As I look each year to Pantone's color of the year forecast, I came across a post today (via Trendir) that made me want to take a closer look at the 2011 color of the year, honeysuckle pink. The Papillon sofa bed, by Bonaldo, is just one beautiful example of the color's effect in design. See more examples here (via A Designer Spot).

As Pantone puts it:

A Color for All Seasons. Courageous. Confident. Vital. A brave new color, for a brave new world. Let the bold spirit of Honeysuckle infuse you, lift you and carry you through the year. It’s a color for every day – with nothing “everyday” about it.

Photo via Trendir.com   

Photo via Trendir.com


I happen to agree; it seems the pinks that kept us colorful in the spring continued to "carry [us] through the year," as it still brightens the design landscape. However, a changing of the guard is in the future, and I look forward to Pantone's selection for 2012.

Oliver's 2011 ArtPrize Itinerary

What if I don’t see my venue on the itinerary?  Send an email to hello@oliverhevans.com and let me know. You will be immediately added. My hope is that some artists will meet me at their work so we can talk about their work and about ArtPrize itself.

Follow my tour via Facebook or Twitter.


152 - The Lyon Den - 200 Ionia NW

50 - Fed Sq Bldg "The SPOT" - 29 Pearl NW

158 - Waters Bldg - 161 Ottawa NW Suite 104

51 - Fifth Third/ WN&J - 111 Lyon NW

105 - Mojo's - 180 Monroe NW

12 - Amway Grand Hotel - 187 Monroe NW

90 - JW Marriott - 235 Louis NW

164 - Z's Bar - 168 Louis Campau NW

98 - Louis Campau Promenade - 125 Monroe NW

3 - GRAM - 101 Monroe Center

112 - Open Concept Gallery - 50 Louis NW

102 - Mercantile Bank - 48 West Fulton

14 - Arts Council of GGR - 38 West Fulton

131 - San Chez - 38 West Fulton

43 - Dept of Corrections - 1 Division NW

72 - GR Police Dept - 1 Monroe Center NW

159 - West Coast Coffee - 55 Monroe Center NW

97 - Louis Benton Steak House - 77 Monroe Center NW

128 - Royal Securities - 89 Ionia NW

37 - Cornerstone Bldg - 89 Ionia NW

46 - Diversions Nightclub - 10 Fountain NW

56 - Fountain Street Church - 24 Fountain NE

65 - GRCC -Collins Art Gallery - 143 Bostwick NE

137 - Saint Mark's Episcopal Church - 134 North Division


Thursday Morning

67 - GR Children's Museum - 11 Sheldon NE

161 - WMCAT - 98 East Fulton

52 - First (Park) Congreg Church - 10 East Park Place NE

6 - St Cecilia Music Ctr - 24 Ransom NE

53 - First UM Church - 227 East Fulton

8 - Women's City Club - 254 East Fulton

75 - GreenLion Gallery - 150 East Fulton

160 - Westminster Pres - 47 Jefferson SE

1 - Diocese of GR - 360 South Division Ave

20 - Bethlehem Luth Church - 250 Commerce SW

27 - Calvin Coll Gallery - 106 South Division, Suite 1

34 - CODA - 44 South Division Ave

127 - Rockwell's Kitchen - 45 South Division Ave

123 - Pyramid Scheme - 68 Commerce SW

140 - Stella's Lounge - 53 Commerce SW

76 - Grid 70 - 70 Ionia SW

101 - McFadden's - 58 Ionia SW

9 - 25 Kitchen and Bar - 25 Ottawa SW

147 - The BOB - 20 Monroe NW

119 - Plaza Towers -- Eenhorn - 201 West Fulton

47 - Downtown Courtyard - 11 Monroe NW

84 - Huntington/ 50 Monroe - 50 Monroe NW


Thursday Afternoon

4 - GR Public Museum - 272 Pearl St NW

59 - Gerald Ford Museum - 303 Pearl NW

93 - Kent County Republicans - 725 Lake Michigan NW

110 - O'Toole's Public House - 448 Bridge NW

155 - Vander Hyde Mechanical - 1058 Scribner NW

29 - Carpe Diem Volleyball - 1010 Front NW

31 - City Art Gallery - 1168 Ionia NW

106 - Monroe Community Church - 800 Monroe NW

45 - DeVos Place - 303 Monroe NW

86 - Immanuel Lutheran Church - 2 Michigan NE

134 - Spectrum/Butterworth - 100 Michigan NE

135 - Spect./Lemmen Holton - 145 Michigan NE


Observing ArtPrize

Illustration - Greg Oberle   

Illustration - Greg Oberle


On Wednesday, September 28th, and Thursday, September 29th, I plan to visit each work in ArtPrize that has a Kendall connection, starting with the work by outside artists who are exhibiting at Kendall itself. Most of the time, however, will be spent observing work—and when possible, visiting with artists—who are associated with Kendall, either by being current students, staff, faculty, alumni, including artists associated with Kendall through the Continuing Studies Program.

I will be touring ArtPrize because, on the simplest level, I love the excitement and diversity of ArtPrize—so many people looking at so much creative work. And I want to recognize and celebrate the Kendall people who are participating in ArtPrize. There are too many of them to try to hold a reception or a similar event—and besides, such an event asks busy and committed artists to come to me, whereas I would rather go to them.

I will be publishing an itinerary of the tour early next week. I will also announce when I am heading to a given venue or to the work of a given artist on Twitter and Facebook.

What if I don’t see my venue on the itinerary?  

Send an email to hello@oliverhevans.com and let me know. You will be immediately added.

My hope is that some artists will meet me at their work so we can talk about their work and about ArtPrize itself.

If I meet you, what are you likely to ask me?

In addition to celebrating the quality of your work and simply discussing it, I am interested in how an artist decides to participate in ArtPrize, how much advance planning went into that decision, what was the process that led you to submit the work you chose, what expectations/hopes do you have of the audience for your work? And we might talk a little about ArtPrize and the democratization of art. ArtPrize is absolutely right when it says that the important thing is the conversation about art. So what I really seek is a brief conversation—preferably videoed with you and probably lasting fifteen to twenty minutes.

Last Wednesday, for example, I had the chance to start this kind of conversation with Jonathan Brilliant, who is showing in the Kendall Gallery. Tuesday was his last night in Grand Rapids; and his answers to my questions, his perceptions of ArtPrize, and his interest in being part of ArtPrize were intriguing and illuminating. I look forward to sharing them next week when the tour itself will appear in video, images, and text here on my Blog.

I am intrigued by the questions I just outlined and by the kind of conversation those questions can trigger.  So I look forward to Observing ArtPrize in a very special way the middle of next week.

Follow my tour via Facebook or Twitter.

- Oliver

The Founder of the Feast

Helen and David Kendall   

Helen and David Kendall


The photograph of Helen Miller Kendall and her husband, David Wolcott Kendall, intrigues me. The temptation is to begin by talking about David Kendall, of whom many people have heard because of his work as a furniture designer and his association with the American Arts and Crafts movement.

I have always regretted, however, that despite his association with American Arts and Crafts, he is not as famous as Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), who lived to be eighty-four years old, whereas David Kendall, born seven years earlier in 1851, died in 1910, in his late 50s.

McKinley Chair   

McKinley Chair


Nonetheless, David Kendall was famous enough in his time to be referred to as the Dean of American Furniture Designers and if/when you are in the Art Institute of Chicago, you can see his armchair, sometimes referred to as the McKinley Chair, manufactured by Phoenix Furniture Company—a company he is credited with saving in his role as the Company’s chief financial officer. And, of course, integrating the pursuit of a career in art or design with an understanding of business is a hallmark not only of David Kendall, but of Kendall College of Art and Design. He knew how to navigate what George Beylerian calls the “romance of the commercial and the intellectual.”

If you are in Grand Rapids, you can see evidence of another of David Kendall’s interests by visiting his grave in Oak Hill Cemetery (Eastern and Hall), where his grave is marked by a huge carved boulder, reflecting his interest in sculpture.

As you can tell, I have completely succumbed to the temptation to focus on David Kendall, who, interesting though he was, is not that Founder of the Feast that we know today as Kendall College of Art & Design of Ferris State University. The Founder of the Feast is Helen Miller Kendall.

Helen Bookplate   

Helen Bookplate


Notice that the photograph presents her as audience to David. She is seated, he is standing; she is observing, he, decked out in a costume and with a prop that reflects his travels, is presenting. She is in her own costume, of course, and has several props of her own. From her costume and manner, we would infer—if we did not already know it—that she was a leader of the community, and in her time she indeed played her role as a supporter of the arts and the cultural life of the community.

And, then, eighteen years after his death, she honored and memorialized David by providing the initial gift that established the David Wolcott Kendall Memorial School, a school which her will describes as being for “boys and girls”—which we today interpret to mean college-aged men and women. From its beginnings, it was a school with a professional purpose—it intended to prepare people for professional lives as artists and designers, a purpose shared by many other colleges of art and design in the United States at that time and that continues today.

One thing I have always liked about Helen is that she knew how to combine vision and resources. Many people over the years have told me that they have wonderful ideas—or visions—for Kendall. And I always think that visions are easy; it’s the resources that are the challenge. Helen provided both.

David Kendall   

David Kendall


We have many photos of David, not as many of Helen. Yet in terms of a direct influence on American furniture manufacturing and design, she is the actor, not the audience. In terms of the number of people who have pursued lives as artists and designers, she is the actor, not the audience. She is the Founder of the Feast. (And interestingly, although I could research this issue and someone, I am sure, will tell me where Helen is buried, her grave is not near David’s. He is buried near his first wife.) But Helen reminds me of what George Elliot says about the heroine of her novel, Middlemarch: “the effect of [the heroine’s} being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”