The Tao of BoJack

I have been teaching in a way that suggests I believe learning is episodic. I’ve been designing learning events as discrete points in time with a beginning, middle and end, as if the learners had been intellectually born into this one particular session and with my final Powerpoint slide they will pass peacefully away never to be thought of again.

My actual belief about learning is that it is continuous and interconnected, that it is collaborative and subversive, but my actions have not lived up to that belief. This inconsistency between my philosophy and actions has been highlighted in my mind by “Bojack Horseman,” the animated series on Netflix.

I watched the first couple of episodes when the show debuted in 2014, but I never really connected with it. I think I expected something different from an animated show for adults, possibly something more pointedly “joke-y”, like “Archer.” I went back to the show last year on the recommendation of my son. What I found, after sticking with it for more than a couple episodes, was funny, dark, beautiful, sad and thoughtful.

In his excellent video essay about the show, Will Schroder argues that one of the things that makes “Bojack Horseman” so good is the fact that it is serialized, not episodic. Instead of resolving the problem or question of each episode in that same episode like most sitcoms, it “shows life going on with all its complexity and uncertainty.”

Schroder, using “Bojack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s own words, makes the case that stories that give us fully-resolved endings lead us to chase endings of our own where everything will make sense. Instead of endings, life gives us a series of positive and negative moments in time.

By focusing on those positive and negative moments, Schroder says, “Bojack Horseman” asserts that “happiness is ephemeral. There is no one thing, or experience or person that is going to make us permanently happy. The best we can hope for is temporary happiness.”

I think it’s the same with teaching and learning. There is no one course or workshop that will result in us achieving our learning goals or in us becoming a better or more learned person. Teaching and learning are a series of positive and negative moments to be experienced, connected and leveraged in an effort to take better care of each other.

So, how can I practice teaching and learning in a way consistent with this philosophy? I’m not exactly sure, but I can take another lesson from “Bojack Horseman.”

“It gets easier. Everyday it gets a little easier, but you’ve got to do it everyday. That’s the hard part, but it does get easier.” – Jogging Baboon

Featured image: “Lisa Hanawalt” by Rachel Lovinger CC BY-NC

2017 in Review: A WDinExt Podcast

On the last podcast of the year, regulars Jamie Seger (Ohio State University Extension) and Paul Hill (Utah State University Extension) of the eXtension EdTech Learning Network join us to look back on 2017 and forward to the new year.

Paul and Jamie spent a lot of time this year encouraging innovation in Extension. We talked about the innovation challenge or as Paul called it the crisis Extension faces. We also touched on the upcoming eXtension Designathon One events, the Ed Tech Learning Network tweet-ups and the new book, “We’ve Tried That Before: 512 Years of Extension Wisdom.”

Happy New Year!

Encouraging Civic Engagement: A WDinExt Podcast

I found out about the “Get Engaged! A Guide to Getting Involved in Your Community” program on Twitter. Eric Walcott, a State Specialist with Michigan State University Extension’s Government and Public Policy programs, was sharing his experience offering the program in Grand Traverse County, Michigan. Here are the 2 tweets that prompted me to reach out to Eric.

Our conversation for the podcast covers the “Get Engaged” program, but also Eric’s work talking with local governments about real engagement. As we talked, I was reminded of this Gapingvoid illustration:

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Eric referenced the Public Participation Spectrum from the International Association for Public Participation as a resource for increasing public engagement. I think it’s a great resource, not just for governments, but for Extension programs. Eric wrote a series of articles on the public participation spectrum. This is the first article in the series: and here’s the last onewith links to all the prior articles:

Listen to the podcast

Helping 4-H Kids Learn About Healthy Relationships

Alex Chan, University of Maryland 4-H Youth Development Educator for Prince George’s county, is teaching high school students about healthy romantic relationships. He’s a great example of bringing one’s whole self to Extension work, bringing his experience as a marriage and family therapist to his current work.

I found out about Alex’s workshops through this NPR Education article. Here’s our conversation.

Redefining Learning: A WDinExt Podcast

An important article came out in the June 2017 edition of the Journal of Extension.

Redefining the Concept of Learning in Cooperative Extension” is a thoughtful, challenging conversation starter. I recently discussed it with the NDSU Extension Innovation team, and it sparked several questions from the practical to the existential.

After that conversation, I could hardly wait to talk with the authors, and they were kind enough to oblige. Here’s my conversation with Steven Worker4-H Youth Development Advisor, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources; Kristy OuelletteAssociate Extension Professor, 4-H Youth Development, University of Maine, Cooperative Extension; and Alexa Maille4-H STEM Specialist, Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension. I hope it gets you thinking.

What’s a Community of the Problem? – A WDinExt Podcast

The latest Working Differently in Extension podcast features a conversation with Dave Campbell, Community Studies Specialist in Cooperative Extension and associate dean for social/human sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of California-Davis.

Dave says the goal of his work is “to deepen the practice of democratic citizenship in California communities.” That goal speaks directly to my interests in equity, engagement and collective action. It also speaks to Extension’s legacy of empowering citizens. We talked about whether that legacy still plays a central role in Extension.

We also talked about what Dave means by forming a “community of the problem.”  It’s really about turning a private problem into a public problem. Can people faced with the same problem come together to define the problem and work on it together? Dave is looking at that possibilities around the issue of food waste.

Here’s our conversation:

Backhauling to Connect Small Farms With Wholesale Markets: A WDinExt Podcast

Kathy Draeger and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota had a brilliant idea.

Every week or more a loaded semi truck arrives at every rural grocery store in Minnesota to deliver the food needed to stock their shelves, but all of those trucks return to the food distributor’s warehouse empty. Kathy and her colleagues wondered if there was a way to load those trucks with the garlic, potatoes and strawberries being grown on small and medium-sized farms near those grocery stores. It’s a powerful idea that could significantly impact the sustainability of the farms, while benefiting the grocery stores and the wholesalers. So they set out to do it.

I spoke with Kathy to find out more. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

How Extension Enabled a Community Foundation to Save Lives: A WDinExt Podcast

I had to hold back the tears in a small meeting room at Big Sky Resort. Jennifer Anderson, Montana State University Extension Agent in Rosebud and Treasure Counties, was wrapping up her incredible presentation, “Community Foundation and Extension Building Capacity Together: One Community’s Story,” at the 2017 NACDEP/CDS Conference. Her enthusiasm and sincerity had the room mesmerized. When she said, “We know our community foundation has saved lives,” the emotion in her voice had people leaning forward in their chairs. At the end, she quoted Devine Carama. At our general session just a hour or so before, Devine had said, “We are arrogant to believe we will see the impact of our leadership while we are alive,” and he challenged us to build a legacy that would live beyond us. As Jennifer ended her presentation, she said she knew this, the Community Foundation of Northern Rosebud County, was her legacy. I wasn’t the only one moved to tears.

Please listen to Jennifer’s inspiring story below.

Brokering Relationships Around Critical Community Issues: A WDinExt Podcast

Myra Moss, Ohio State University Associate Professor & Extension Educator, has been involved in helping Ohio communities plan for sustainable development. In our conversation (below), she shares her insights about and experience in that work, as well as her work building collaborative partnerships as the city of Columbus and the ag producers from outside the city try to understand each other’s concerns about the watershed they share.

Shaping Cities with Locally Sourced Capital: A WDinExt Podcast

Image: Fostoria 4 by Willy Nelson,, CC BY_NC 2.0

I met Partick Kirby at the 2017 NACDEP/CDS conference. He participated in a pre-conference session on Working Out Loud, and his contributions to the conversation were so valuable that I had to find out more about his work.

He presented at the conference on crowdfunding real estate development, which as you’ll hear below not only provides important funding for projects in rural cities, but can also give the community a sense ownership and pride in a project.

After hearing about that work, I knew I had to get him on the podcast, but later I learned he’s also directing perhaps the only legislatively-created, state-focused brownfield assistance center in the nation. In short, Patrick is doing important and innovative work, and he kindly shared some of his experience below.