Fundamental Questions*

Transform and/or Preserve?

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Information technology can be the excuse and the means to make almost any kinds of change in education and elsewhere.  As you think about the kinds of change that might happen, try to answer each of these Fundamental Questions for your students, your colleagues, your institution, and yourself:

What do you most want to gain?
What do you most cherish and want not to lose?
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Transform or Preserve?

In other words, what do you and your colleagues, friends, and family care most about transforming?  about preserving?  These two simple, powerful questions are the heart of the TLT Group's Fundamental Questions activities. 

Participants identify their most important shared goals and commitments as well as significant differences in their hopes and fears (e.g., boundaries between personal, professional, academic lives;  student/faculty ratio;  for more examples, see: "Dangerous Discussions" ). 

When are the Fundamental Questions most useful? 

  • When significant change is unavoidably imminent (i.e., almost always). 

  • When it is time to review, reconfirm or revise plans for improving teaching and learning with technology. 

  • When it is time to identify newly emerging, converging or diverging goals. 

  • When convening a group of diverse stakeholders. 

These suggested activities provide a good foundation for setting priorities, especially during an initial planning meeting of representatives of several important constituencies, offices, or departments within the same institution  (for guidelines for establishing and supporting such a group, see:  TLT Roundtable).  

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Answers - Individual Recordings

  • Table of Contents for this Web Page

  • Contents of this Web Page Introduction & Background

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    Fundamental Questions
    Steven W. Gilbert
    President, The TLT Group

    Shared Goals and Significant Differences
    Hopes and Fears
    Issues and Priorities

    Since 1994, the Fundamental Questions have been providing the most frequently used and powerful activity within the TLT Roundtable Program.  The suggested activities can provide a good foundation for further discussion, for setting priorities, and the work of a TLT Roundtable or other group.

    Shared Goals and Significant Differences
    These questions help members of a group to identify their most important shared goals and any significant differences in their hopes and fears.  The activity usually demonstrates a reassuring convergence of underlying values.    Alternatively, the results may indicate significant disagreement on fundamental issues;  if so, it is important for the group members to know about these differences sooner rather than later. 

    Transform vs. Preserve
    One of the greatest challenges in any discussion of important change is to distinguish between those elements that need to be transformed and those that need to be preserved.  The Fundamental Questions activity reminds participants that information technology can be used appropriately and effectively both for transformation of what needs to be changed and for preservation of what is most cherished in teaching and learning. 

    Diverse Groups - Dangerous Discussions
    The questions can easily be adapted for many purposes.  They have proven especially effective as the basis for focusing discussion among people from many different parts of the same institution.  Consequently, a diverse group that is beginning to work on a "Dangerous Discussion" topic together should consider adapting the Fundamental Questions for their own use.  To visit the Dangerous Discussions home page, click here.

    Annual, Frequent Use
    The most general form of these questions can and should be asked and discussed by each local TLT Roundtable - or similar group - at least once each year. 

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    Pre-Requisites & Directions
    Pre-Requisites:  Time and space suitable for reflective thinking
    and candid exchange of ideas.

    Directions
    If necessary, revise the wording of the warm-up and main questions to fit your purpose
    - to match the topic, issue, or focus of your work.

    Select and work on one or more of the warm-up questions. 
    Work individually (2 to 4 minutes), and in then in small groups (5-15 minutes). 

    Select and work on two or more of the main questions.  Always include the first two! 
    Work on questions individually (10 to 30 minutes), in small groups (15-30 minutes),
    and then try as a full group to reach consensus on them (15 to 90 minutes).

    Consider first working through the entire process with questions 1 to 3 only. 
    Then begin work on questions 4 and beyond.

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    Worksheets

    I.  Fundamental Questions Activity
    Full 11-page version
    [Revised 10/27/98; Compiled & Updated 6/19/2005]

    Click here for downloadable Microsoft Word version (easy to edit or to respond to questions via a computer)

    Click here for downloadable, printable PDF version (easy to print in intended format).

    II.  List of Fundamental Questions
    Condensed, 2-page, 7-question version

    Click here for downloadable Microsoft Word version (easy to edit or to respond to questions via a computer)

    Click here for downloadable, printable PDF version (easy to print in intended format).

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    Warm-up Questions for "Fundamental Questions" Activity
     [Revised 10/27/98; Compiled & Updated 5/30/2005]

    Learning and Teaching

    i.  Recall one of your own most valuable learning experiences.  Describe it briefly.  [It might have happened in a classroom -- or not.  It might have involved the use of technology -- or not.]

    ii.  Recall one of your own most satisfying teaching experiences.  Describe it briefly.  [It might have happened in a classroom -- or not.  It might have involved the use of technology -- or not.]

    Past and Present
    Most likely, important changes have already resulted from educational uses of information technology at your institution.

    iii. What are 1 or 2 important gains that have already resulted from educational uses of information technology at your institution?

    1. For your students? 

    2. For your colleagues?

    3. For your institution?

    4. For yourself? 

    iv.  What are 1 or 2 important losses that have already resulted from educational uses of information technology at your institution?

    1. For your students? 

    2. For your colleagues?

    3. For your institution?

    4. For yourself? 

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    Fundamental Questions
     [Revised 10/27/98; Compiled & Updated 6/19/2005]

    First four are most essential!

    Information technology can be the excuse and the means to make almost any kinds of change in education and elsewhere.  As you think about the kinds of change that might happen, try to answer each of these questions for your students, your colleagues, your institution, and yourself.

    1.   What do you most want to gain? [Regain?]
    What, who do you care about?  What are 1 or 2 important results that you most want to gain in the future from educational uses of information technology?
    [If it is easier, ask yourself “What do I most want to regain?]

    1. For your students?

    2. For your colleagues? 

    3. For your institution?

    4. For yourself? 

    2.  What do you most cherish and want not to lose?

    1. For your students?

    2. For your colleagues? 

    3. For your institution?

    4. For yourself? 

    3.  What do you most want to avoid?
    Which aspects of the more likely futures do you fear? 

    4.  What are you willing (eager?) to give up or cut back? 
    What are you willing to sacrifice in order in order to gain or keep something you identified in questions 1 or 2 above?  To avoid something you identified in 3?

    5.  What “Dangerous Discussion” issues do you most want to address civilly and constructively within your college/university? 
    These issues should have the following characteristics:

    • There is a realistic possibility that holding some respectful, inclusive, constructive discussions might influence decisions about this issue that will have a significant impact on many people.
    • There are several different categories of stakeholders who believe this issue is important to them, but some of them avoid talking with others about this issue - except those likely to agree with them.
    • There are ways in which some applications of information technology and communications media could help this process, and some applications may already be getting in the way.
    This issue is important to you, and fits well with your answers to 1-4 above!

    6.  What do you have to offer?  How can you help?
    What have you already accomplished or mastered?  What are you proud of and willing to share?  
    [What skills, knowledge, and insights can you share with others? 
    Your success in teaching in a traditional environment – or with whatever your professional role might be -- surely reflects some lessons you could pass along to others.  If you have already begun to use some technology – as simple as word-processing and email or as complex as interactive multimedia – you have probably learned some lessons from your own mistakes and found some nuggets of advice in your own moments of success worth passing along.]

    7.  What are 2 or 3 of the most important remaining obstacles? 
    What do you need?

    [What is missing?  What are the barriers impeding your beginning or making more rapid progress toward your goals?  Toward the goals suggested in your answers to #1, 2 above?]

    8.  Whom could you help?  
    Is there at least one person whom you would be comfortable helping to make progress in an area of shared interest, concern, or need?  
    [Not necessarily the most needy or challenging person – perhaps the easiest and most comfortable.] 

    9.  Who could help you? 
    Is there at least one person whom you would be comfortable asking for help with an effort in an area of shared interest, concern, or need?  
    [Not necessarily the most adept or universally recognized  expert – rather, the person from whom you would be most comfortable accepting advice or assistance.  Is there a person you could list in your answers to both #8 and #9?  Perhaps you and this person could form an ongoing “TLT Coaching Partnership.”]

    10Whom can you thank? 
    Who has been providing help to you or to some of your colleagues – above and beyond what would be expected solely based on that person’s professional responsibilities?  
    [Who has been a “compassionate pioneer” at least once?  Whom would you like to thank publicly for being helpful or simply for trying hard to surpass his/her own previous achievements?  Whom would you like to thank for their contributions as teachers, helpers, or learners?]  See:
    http://www.tltgroup.org/CommunityConnectedness.htm

    11. Obstacles and Next Steps
    What obstacles, if any, have prevented you from satisfactorily completing this worksheet and task?
    What steps can be taken to eliminate or work around those obstacles?
    What steps should be taken to continue to move forward?
     

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    Related Resources

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    *Composite version of TLT Roundtable classic activity - revised 6/2005, 4/2007

     

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