#digciz Blog Posts

And my heart broke a little

image: Taken at the Art Institute Chicago on July 17, 2016 – Conversation in Studio, 1943 by Milton Avery

There are many things happening in the world right now that cause deep heartbreak. There are systematic, deep rooted problems that are hitting a great many people directly and violently and I struggle to express my care, do what I can, and not detract from attention we need to give to those directly involved.

But this story is not about that. It is about a very specific personal story and just a very small heartbreak, followed by a good conversation.

Driving a three hour drive from Chicago to Green Bay after day of brunch, the Bean, the Art Institute, and a two hour long subway ride after a forgotten key mishap, my 18 year old niece and I started a conversation about what happens after death. This conversation led to talk about her upcoming college experience (she is starting her freshman year at a state school with a scholarship). Wait, I may have to explain that jump from death to college, the bridge was more about the mark or the things that people leave and the choices that we make. After marveling at how nobody, absolutely nobody, has the knowledge of what happens to us (or our consciousness) when we die, we then went on to talk about living life.

She is planning on going into Physics. That is what she talked to her advisor about as she planned her first semester schedule. But she also has all these other interests (literature, psychology, and fine art), and is actually excited and wants to take classes in them, and more than just intro courses. So the initial heartbreak started when I suggested that she take all the classes she wanted, even if it took her an extra year, and she told me what her advisor had told her: if she wants to go to grad school, it looks bad if she takes longer than four years to complete her undergraduate degree. And I was like, really? Is this the advice being given? Is this a move for retention?

But the real heartbreak came when she told me that she was really disappointed that she had to take her literature class as an online course. She was disappointed because she was most looking forward to the discussion that could be part of it. And sadly, I knew she was most likely right. That her online course was most likely a cookie cutter online course that focused on getting the content in a flexible way during the semester and not much else, because that is a lot of what is out there. I talked to her some about how online courses didn’t have to be that way. That in fact, they could involve a more diverse group to have those conversations, and that good online courses were about connections and people. We talked about how there could be different kinds of synchronous sessions and that there were other types of discussions that could allow you to think more about something and then contribute when ready. When I read Donna Lanclos’s last post about not attending but absolutely attending Digped Lab PEI, it gave me that nice heart hiccup, and yes, what a wonderful way of having an embodied virtual experience. It is not just myths and dreams, it exists.

My niece then went on to tell me about how good she is with short writings and how she gets lost in longer essays. About how she wished she had more time to write her final paper for her AP Literature course in her last year of high school about free will, because she didn’t get to express what she wanted to say. And I’m thinking, this is a best case scenario for a student entering college. Although she is very aware of not wanting to go out of state because it would include debt, she doesn’t want to get in and out of school. She is interested in a great many things and wants to explore them. And I’m thinking, shit, that spirit might get crushed first year with disposable assignments, intro courses, and efficiency.

And this was my in to bring up getting her a domain for her graduation present. I told her about the Domain of One’s Own, and how it was based on a Room of One’s Own (which she knew about). And how I wanted to give her that online space to have as she goes through her four (or five) years of college. And then she can decide if she wants to keep it. Even if she doesn’t use it at all, it being there as a possibility is enough for me. And going through my mind were possible conversations with her about her frustrations about classes that she expected something and didn’t get it, that her domain could be where she worked on her own processes and development amidst her college experience.

So this week she is thinking about what to name it. She is pretty sure she would like to start out anonymous and I assured her that she should if that feels best, and if she wants to associate with her name later, she can.

This whole experience is closely associated with DigPed Lab PEI and the community, work, and conversations that happened there. That there are things we can do to support a world of learning. Audrey Watter’s keynote about memory and our future lays in the back of my brain and whispers to act when possible. I often get caught up in who I should mention and what threads to connect to a thought process, but in this post I’m not going to do that, because I will then never publish. Instead, I will thank some of the people involved in #digped PEI that I am privileged to know. Bonnie Stewart and Dave Cormier for being kind, caring friends who constantly introduce me to more to think about. I thank Autumm Caines for being my very first strong virtual connection turned friendship. I thank Daniel Lynds for being such a great partner in all aspects of life. And then the new people I was able to meet ITF or see again, or meet for the first time. I thought about listing, but it gets a little crazy because there are that many people!

How long will it take to change the general concept of “online” education, or is it even possible? Or is it just part of the entire change in thinking about learning? What are some conversations you’ve had recently that you were glad to have? Or that were surprising?


  1. Thanks so much for writing this Sundi!

    For me your writing is a potent reminder that behind all the screens and code and blinking lights of online…there are people and relationships and especially aunties having real life talks about what life is actually about rather than the sexy best practice quick fixes that organizations promote because real life is slow and messy and more surviving a shipwreck than walking in a park.

    Though I’m not glad that your heart broke a little…I’m glad for the reminder that hearts and digital spaces aren’t mutually exclusive. Actually…this is what makes me hopeful that the obscure third way of both/and regarding these things rather than either/or might someday win. : )

    1. Nicely said Lisa! I sometimes want to do away with the phrase “online learning” because there is so much attached to it, but it helps to have more and more conversations about the people, the discovery, the relationships involved.

  2. You have a beautiful heart. I love the idea of buying someone a domain as a gift (but you would pay for hosting/DNS for a year? More?) to get that person to start considering what they can do with it…even if their institution doesn’t currently support that. Would it then become like a responsibility for you to follow up on it, have the “talk” with her, etc?
    P.S. I found Donna’s post also v touching and my heart broke a little for your niece as you told the story.

    1. Hi Maha! I approached it like Domain of One’s Own in that I will pay for her domain while she is doing her undergraduate degree (four years, five years whatever that takes), then it is up to her if she would like to keep it on her own. My initial thought was to do the first year, but after talking with her, I’d rather give her more time to either take on the idea fully or not.

  3. What an amazing aunt you are! Your niece will do well with you observing and coaching her along. My twin 21 year old sons who are both fighting different chronic illnesses, are now two years into college and we are struggling with that experience of crushing their passion, so it is a valid worry. Coaching them to protect their health, creativity and passion closely has worked but there still is damage – like the experience you described with about the counselors advice. Grrrr

    One note in this post is the Dave’s twitter link is incorrect. It is missing the “e.” @davecormier

    Otherwise it is brilliant!

    1. Susan, Thanks for replying and sharing your experience with your sons. Hopefully my niece and your sons will find communities and others who foster and support exploring their passions along the way. Best of luck!

      And thanks for the heads up on the missing link:)

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