Fireside Chat explores the value of the unknown in education


Courtesy / GVSU

Sara Collins, Staff Writer

Dr. Aithan Shapira spoke to the Grand Valley State University community on Oct. 27. Welcomed by President Philomena Mantella and Interim Provost Chris Plouff as a presenter for a Fireside Chat, Shapira’s presentation and discussion was fifth in a series dedicated to designing education for the future.

Shapira is an acclaimed artist, an expert at the intersection of creativity, culture and transformation. Along with those roles, Shapira is a lecturer at MIT Sloan and founder of Tilt, a firm that focuses on the artful transformation of leaders and cultures. 

The conversation focused on the value of the unknown in education and how it can open new doors of creativity, a topic Shapira has explored throughout his career. 

Shapira said that while students prioritize knowing, it’s not knowing that leads to learning.

“We prioritize knowing over not knowing,” Shapira said. What you can do is practice the not knowing part.” 

Shapira said that learning happens when things are changing, but that you must be willing to let go of preconceived ideas and plans. Shapira connected this point to the COVID-19 pandemic on the topic of change and adaptability as important learning tools.

“We are built in a system where the system tells me ‘I need to know and I have data out there so there has to be a TED Talk, maybe some kind of article I can read’,” Shapira said. “The factor is, there isn’t a TED Talk about what to do in a pandemic.”

Shapira said that as you become an expert at anything, you begin to practice some things and lose the ability to relate to other things. The goal then becomes to work and learn across disciplines, to cross-pollinate and cross-connect. 

“What do I bring back and forth between people?” Shapirs said. “One of the things I do is translate and meet the person, the community where they all are and then ask a bunch of questions when I can. The idea is to mirror each other, to reflect back what we see, and there are no problems to fix, it’s just to become aware of what I’m doing.”

Plouff said that Shapira’s attitude towards learning and change aligns with GVSU’s values as well as future goals for the university. 

“Here at Grand Valley, we value inquiry, community and innovation,” Plouff said. “We are rooted in the liberal education tradition, but we are also blending it with our professional skill-building and I see and hear the things that you’re doing and it really resonates with me in terms of what we are trying to accomplish here at Grand Valley.”  

Shapira said that the liberal arts approach is a natural fit, as it aims to explore the connections between multiple disciplines and subjects.

“The way we lead each other is a lot about how you relate to yourself and how you relate to others, and that’s what liberal arts are all about,” Shapira said.