Jeff Borden is the chief academic/VP of academic affairs at D2L. As one of the hosts of D2L’s new Teaching and Learning Studio, Dr. Borden will provide practical, researched and intentional strategies for changing learning.
You’ve probably noticed by now that the internet is rife with blogs penned by experts, pseudo-experts and outright poseurs proclaiming what is so, what is right or what is important. It’s not easy to know whom you should really pay attention to, especially in the realm of the educational blog.
So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share my criteria for credible, reasonable and even passionate content to make a case for why I might make your short list of bloggers. As a professor of communication and education—including teaching in areas of leadership, innovation and connection—I hold people, arguments and assertions up against a very old framework.
Centuries ago, Aristotle gave us a solid formula for evaluating communication. It’s taken on hundreds of various forms over the years, but it still remains relevant today. It seems that, while our methods and tools change over time, our philosophies and drivers stem from the same root.
My High-Quality Framework: Ethos, Logos, Pathos, Mythos
The framework is straightforward, with only four parts.
First, does the presenter or information presented have credibility (ethos)? Or in this context, am I credible? I put ethos first, as it is typically the canon I weight more heavily than the others. We could spend hours talking about what is or is not credible today. We live in a day and age when people claim credibility left and right, yet they often have none. Similarly, we have more and more audience members giving credibility to people, ideas and arguments that are not deserving of trust at all. But as perception often determines reality for individuals, this important notion is ignored. In my framework, I typically want to know that a person has internal credibility (they have personally acted in or around the thing they are promoting) and external credibility (they show their work via expert testimonials, quotes, statistics and studies).
The next thing Aristotle claimed was crucial is to ensure that the message presented is logical (logos). My favorite boss used to talk about the “smell” test or would often suggest that his Spidey-Sense was tingling. What he meant was that something he was hearing did not seem plausible, reasoned or lucid. If a message seems too good to be true or if a person is unable to articulate the pros and cons of both sides of an issue, their logic should be questioned.
Aristotle’s third canon is simply about passion (pathos). My personality is not often swayed by excitement or exuberance, yet that is not to say I have never been moved to act or think differently by something inspirational. Not at all! I try hard to look at all aspects of a message and avoid being caught up in the moment, whenever possible. But again, I know of people in my own life who need to see and hear passion to care about an argument.
Finally, Aristotle added a fourth canon later in life, just prior to his death. He noted that effective stories (mythos) could not only encapsulate the other three canons, but also help convince an audience that a person or message had logic, credibility or passion even when, through either ignorance or manipulation, that might not be the case. A powerful story can convey a number of important messages to which audiences, myself included, can connect.
Ethos: Am I Credible?
If you agree that my framework is a worthwhile lens by which to view your valuable blog-consumption time, then it begs some questions. Am I credible?
I have taught students since 1997, when I was a grad assistant at the University of North Carolina. Since receiving my master’s degree in communication, even before my doctorate in education leadership, I have only taken one semester off from teaching (including summer terms). I have held positions with both companies and universities, including as chief academic officer, chief innovation officer, and VP of teaching and learning strategy. I have delivered hundreds of keynote addresses and have very often been asked to return to speak again and again for K-12 districts, community colleges and higher education institutions and at regional, national and international conferences. I’ve visited more than 40 countries in 20 years doing just that. I’ve written chapters in academic publications, delivered and facilitated webinars, and consulted with educators at every level. I have advised and counseled ministers of education, politicians, presidents, provosts and other constituents regularly about how to create optimal learning conditions and the best learning.
Logos: Am I Logical?
My favorite teaching and learning framework is something I call Education 3.0. This is a dynamic model for teaching and learning strategy and not a step-by-step recipe. I do not feel there is any evidence whatsoever to suggest that one size fits all when it comes to education. Importantly, my model highlights aspects of learning that have gone unaddressed for decades. We finally have scientific, replicable evidence that the learning triangle matters. That means that student success is not solely a matter of cognition or “academic readiness.” Two-thirds of the student success equation have often been left out because until recently we struggled to measure it (at scale) and therefore fix it. But the other two angles matter. Take affection for a moment. We now know that prior to COVID-19, 7% of college dropouts left simply because they were lonely. We know from neuroscientific research that when some people (about one-third of students) walk into an environment feeling unfriended, disrespected, disconnected or unsupported, they are going to fail, as they are generating too much of the wrong hormone (glutamate) and too little of the right hormone (oxytocin). In other words, academic success is about nurturing and supporting the learner as a whole person, not just their mind.
Pathos: Am I Passionate?
My daughter is 14 years old and a freshman in high school. Throughout her educational journey—from when we lived in Florida where I was working as the chief innovation officer at a university to now, as we’ve returned to Colorado—I have offered and provided free academic, teaching and learning workshops to every school she has attended. I have brought in supplies and materials for each, leaving dozens of teachers with assets and resources to use over time. I do this for the same reason I get up every day: I know that the educational system needs to transform. We can sit on the sidelines and lament all the problems we see, or we can try to get in there and make a difference. I’m taking the latter approach.
Through the work we’re doing via D2L’s Teaching and Learning Studio, I will do my best to showcase credible, logical, passionate arguments, concepts and strategies bolstered with stories and examples that you can take and use immediately. I plan to write pieces both for teaching practitioners at all levels and for administrators and executives looking to make tough decisions. I will do my very best to make the posts engaging and even entertaining while always being informative. In fact, I hope you find them valuable enough to share with your networks where they might elicit deeper conversations or provide fodder for your own workshops and trainings.
I hope you’ll join me again for the next post.
Good luck and good learning.
Jeff Borden is currently the chief academic officer at D2L, a professor of communication and education, a Davis Scholar in Residence awarded by the Akilah Institute, and a speaker/consultant/leader across higher education. As a former chief innovation officer and a lifelong advocate for effective e-learning, Dr. Borden has spoken to educators and influencers at every level, from professors to politicians to presidents to principals, in 38 countries and 49 of 50 U.S. states. A passionate teaching and learning expert, he is focused on transforming learning at scale. As a host of D2L’s Teaching and Learning Studio, Dr. Borden will provide practical, researched and intentional strategies for changing learning.