Curtis Bonk

As a former educational psychologist, accountant and corporate controller turned college professor, Curtis Bonk has become a well-known authority on the intersection of business and education, psychology and technology. Having referred to himself as part global educator, part writer/speaker, part creative pedagogist, part maverick, part educational technologist and part entrepreneur, he holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and is currently a member of the Indiana University Bloomington faculty, where he teaches instructional systems technology.

Bonk has won numerous awards, including the Most Outstanding Achievement Award from the USDLA, and has been listed by Education Next and Education Week as a top contributor to the public debate about education from 2012 through 2017. In 2016, he received the AACE Fellowship Award from the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education for his leadership and service to the field.

He is also a prolific speaker and author, having given over 1,500 talks around the world and written more than 300 publications. Likewise, Bonk’s popular blog, TravelinEdMan, offers his uniquely innovative insights around online and blended teaching and learning.

There’s so much happening today in psychology, and in technology, and in education, and in business. That intersection is fascinating.

ON YOUR WEBSITE, YOUR MOST SUCCINCT BIO STATES “He does stuff.”  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Yes my bio is that he does stuff just because having been a former accountant and then a former educational psychologist and now instructional technology, I have my fingers in a lot of different pies. 

WHAT ARE YOU KNOWN FOR?

What am I’m known for, I guess, mostly, it’s helping people to teach online and think about becoming more creative in their pedagogies.

So I’m trying to distill a lot of information, synthesize a lot of information, so that others don’t have to read everything out there.

WHY IS SHARING SO IMPORTANT?

I try and keep a little bit of a pulse on what’s going on in different countries and bring people together for symposiums and panels so that we can share ideas.   So sharing is extremely important to me and you’ll notice a lot of my websites have the word share in them publication share…training share…surveys share.   So, I believe in the power of sharing.

IN WHAT WAYS HAVE YOU SHARED WITH THE EDUCATIONAL COMMUNITY?

I was publishing as many articles as I can in open access journals and I found that those are the articles that tend to be cited. And those are the ones… If I have a book for, instance, in the past I’d ask for one chapter to go up free to the world. Again, those would be the ones that would be cited, the one that was free to the world.

WHY DID YOU OFFER YOUR BOOK ONLINE FOR FREE?

It was a way to have an influence in other places and extend the network. There are many reasons why one would share contents whether it’s a journal article whether it’s part of a research project or proceedings or this entire book or just a chapter of a book. There are different reasons for all of that. I would say also I can then use that book of my classes and my students don’t have to pay any book fees.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF SHARING CONTENT?

If you have a free and open access book it has greater opportunity to be translated in a quicker fashion and influence folks in parts of the world you might not ever travel to. And part of it’s to make an impact and I think we all want to make an impact in some way. We want to make a dent. We want to have something that we can write home about to our mothers and our fathers and say, “Hey you know actually something I wrote actually was not just bought by a hundred people or a thousand people, or whatever most books in academia are, you know, but actually it was downloaded 90 thousand times.”

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF SHARING CONTENT?

Contents are today available for classes and for our research and for our training of others, our professional development endeavors. And, so, given that, there’s got to be a lot of caveats and guidelines for the plethora of data that’s in front of us today.

HOW DO YOU KEEP TRACK OF ALL OF THE CONTENT AVAILABLE?

For me, what I do is I take a screenshot. I save the URL. It’s a way for me, then, to search back through and hmm… the same idea about robotics has come up before. This idea about blended learning, this idea of augmented reality and lens ware.

The second is, have students evaluate what you did find and made available to them. You can maximize those things that tend to be highly popular and minimize those things that are not. Have students add to the contents. Have them suggest one or two items and have them be what I call the cool resource provider who once a semester has to go to the web and find things that relate to one week of class.   And those ideas you can use next time.

So you’re not the only one acting as a curator. Your students can be. Prior students can be. Other faculty who teach the same class can be.   And when you get all those players making a contribution, you start to see some themes and patterns emerge.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SWITCH YOUR CAREER FROM ACCOUNTING TO EDUCATION?

Oh that was not easy. It was also, in some ways, not hard. It’s not easy from the standpoint in that I had to take psychology classes to give into graduate school and those included some television courses and correspondence courses, some face-to-face courses. There’s a combination. Also being in a cube farm, you know, and just being constrained to those that who you can help.

When you’re an accountant you’re a watchdog for the organization. You’re not allowed to share. When you’re at higher education as a professor, that’s what you do.   And so, in some ways, it’s very easy to move into that side of life, after having been sheltered as an accountant, if you will, and having the same day be Groundhog Day over and over again.   There’s only so much of that one can do. So it becomes exciting and refreshing and exhilarating to be in the field of education today when there’s so much happening.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS E-LEARNING EVOLVED?

Evolution of eLearning, just learning in general, over the past three or four decades has moved from being very didactic, instructor-centered to one that is much more focused on the learner, and the teachers role as a guide in the learning process.   

WHAT IS AN IDEAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT?

The environments, at least in part, should be exploratory in nature and enable students to contribute, to participate in their own learning, to self-direct aspects of their own learning. To find resources as well as to receive them from the instructor and then contribute them into the entire system or community of a class. 

WHAT IS THE TEC-VARIETY MODEL?

The TEC-VARIETY model is a set of ten principles of motivation that kind of evolved over a 14-year span from 2000 to 2014 when the book came out. My colleague Vanessa Bennett and I came up with the idea and then the acronym evolved over time.

TEC-VARIETY model kind of came out of looking at the 10 motivational principles, saying well if I manipulate these a little differently; Tone the T (a climate safe climate), Encouragement (or feedback), Curiosity…then we’ve got Variety, Autonomy, Relevance, Interactivity, Engagement (collaboration/engagement), Tension (dissonance), Yielding products (project-based learning). You get those 10 together it’s spelled TEC-VARIETY.

WHICH PRINCIPLE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT?

Each of those principles, each of those alone could be deemed the most important thing you can do. Yielding products, project-based learning, meaningful authentic learning, feedback and supports, encouragement, and feedback. Each one of these is vital for success and each one could be picked as the ultimate. You do not have to use all ten…a few, but it becomes a reflection point, a way to say hey wait a minute. How am I building interactivity in this class? How am I getting students engaged? Is the content relevant? So, it’s not a checklist per se, but a way of reflecting professionally on what you’re doing. It becomes a kind of a little scaffold, if you will, to support you in as an instructor.

WHAT INTERESTS YOU MOST ABOUT EDUCATION TODAY?

The intersection of psychology, technology, business, and education is where my interests lie. There’s so much happening today in psychology, and in technology, and in education, and in business, that intersection is fascinating, and just the educational technologies alone.

And the third, we’ve expanded the opportunities to network with others, with the Internet today, to talk to folks from any country around the world, anybody around the world, pretty much. I’ve always been interested in working internationally with folks. Technology today enables us to have those kinds of networks and to, you know, share. I’ve was talking to folks in Indonesia this morning, with Thailand this morning, Korea, you know, so Australia, the UK. There’s so many learning related changes happening and people that life whose lives are being changed.

WHAT TYPE OF SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT IN EDUCATION TODAY?

Communicating what you found or what you’ve done, to make your contributions to the space, is a critical skill. And also to respect others who are part of this discipline. To listen to others respect others in a genuine manner is increasingly important in this environment today.

You need a heavy dose of critical thinking skills and abilities, as well as the ability to see new trends…To juxtapose ideas…To think outside of the little square that you’re sitting seated within…Your mindset or your perspective. And so today, we have these opportunities to share ideas with people from other cultures and places and institutions and organizations.

It’s an extremely powerful age of learning. We’re not only juxtaposing ideas on a printed page we’re juxtaposing ideas on a video screen from people in different parts of the world simultaneously.

That is an exciting time to be living in.