Oregon Higher Education

News As Experience: Wayfinders Visit the Oregonian

As I sat on the texture-coated concrete steps of downtown Portland’s Crown Plaza building, I grew nervous. I was early--I am always early--but in about eight minutes my class was scheduled to meet with Oregonian reporter Andrew Theen (he reported on Wayfinding in 2016), and so far I was all alone. It was my first time holding class outside of the classroom, and I had confirmed the time and place with Cohort 2 (and Andrew) at least a dozen times. Did I mention I was nervous?


Just then a truck drove past with two familiar faces, and soon enough I saw another Wayfinder approaching on foot and then another and another until ten students stood beside me eager to begin the day’s lesson, which for me had already started. “Relax,” I thought.

Andrew greeted us in the lobby and escorted us up to the offices of the Oregonian, where other reporters were quietly focused on producing the stories that reach more than 1.1 million readers each month. We wound our way back towards one of several conference rooms named after Oregon rivers, and once we settled in, Andrew told us a bit about what he does.

Oregonian Office.jpg

“One of the most important parts of my job is talking to people and building relationships.” He was referring to his contacts on the transportation beat, but this also applied to the people he interviews. A large part of interviewing is establishing trust as well as demonstrating interest, and he talked about the importance of finding out more about people to help show that interest. He also emphasized the importance of asking weird questions.

“I always forewarn people that I’ll be asking some weird questions.”

We needed some examples.

“I’ll ask them how they got to work that day, or what the name of their dog is, or what they did that morning--things that seem unrelated but might make a difference later when you’re writing the story because you never know what might be important or useful.”

After inviting questions from the students, our conversation took different turns as we discussed other aspects of reporting such as bias and how reporters keep that in check. We talked about fake news,and we talked about the challenges of writing. We talked about circulation and readership and the struggles newspapers face, but we also talked about hope and the ways in which the news serves the community. We talked about how to select the best quotes, but more importantly we talked about how to find the heart of a story.

After our talk, I e-mailed Andrew to once again thank him. “It was a fun discussion,” he replied. “You have a sharp group.”

Cohort 2 talks news with reporter Andrew Theen

Cohort 2 talks news with reporter Andrew Theen

It’s true. I have been teaching writing for twelve years, but Wayfinding students are different. They are taught to nurture those qualities in themselves that inspire confidence and fearlessness. They spend so much of their time challenging themselves that they expect no less from others. They are curious to know more, and when given the opportunity to ask questions of a professional, they ask the kinds of questions that get to the heart of what those people do and why they do it. Students at the Wayfinding Academy are the kinds of students teachers wish for. They are interesting, engaged, and  insightful.

I learned a lot that day. We all did.

This is what learning looks like: A Wayfinding Student's Experience


From the moment we take our first breath, we begin processing information.

The tide of information today is often overwhelming, and in last semester's Engaging With Information course, students explored what it takes to understand all of this information and how to think about it meaningfully and critically.

From the beginning, Instructor Tiffany Vann Sprecher designed the course to be “flexible and responsive to students’ interests and needs.” Students pursued final projects that answered the initial questions they set out to explore in creative and surprising ways, and one student, Megan Lamberger, wrote their final paper exploring the initial question, “What is information?”, hoping that they could arrive at an answer that led not to an existential crisis but to “something applicable and real.”

Here is their paper in full,  an example of the kind of intentional, personalized learning that occurs when students have the freedom to explore their own ways of apprehending the world and its information: 

     Asking myself “What is Information” always seems to end in a nihilistic crisis.  I’ve always had a talent for going from panic level zero to one hundred in minutes, sometimes seconds.  I start with what feels like a concrete problem or question and manage to end with the belief that it doesn’t matter and probably wasn’t even real to begin with.  This brings me some sense of comfort - if none of it is real than none of it matters and I truly have nothing to worry about.  However, settling on the idea that it’s fake rarely answers my original question and often creates more stress.  If it’s fake, then why do I still feel confused?  My struggle often lies in the ability to draw connections from my philosophical crisis down to something applicable and real. 

     In Engaging with Information we, as a class, got better at asking the hard questions.  We started class by discussing “What is information?’ and wondered if you could call everything information.  The we started to delve into more analytical questions.  Often deceptively simple, the repetitive “why,” was a common theme.  Why was this written?  Why does this matter?  What is the author’s bias and why is it significant?  What are the implications and why should we care?  We were exploring big ideas and expanding our perspectives the way a toddler explores the world for the first time and it’s easy to arrive at the same answer we heard as a kid: because somebody said so. 

      When talking about museums I explored and discovered almost anything could be a museum.  I compared a large history museum to a small independent art museum.  When I started asking “What actually makes these museums?”  I discovered: they both, independently, decided that they were.  The only thing it really took to start a museum was to start a museum.  There were optional hoops to jump through or associations you could join, but at it’s core all it took was the desire to share content with the public.  I was so surprised at the simplicity of it all.  When we think about museums often we think about a trustworthy, powerful organization that we visit to get information, but my experience showed me all it really took was determination.  This means that museums might not be the authority on the topics that society often thinks they are, because you don’t have to be an expert to start a museum.  It also means that museums and information have the potential to be highly accessible sources for information, and may not be as elite and out of reach as they sometimes appear to be.


    When learning about wikipedia we debated the validity of information that anybody could edit, even altering a few pages ourselves to prove how easy it is to spread incorrect information.  There were wikipedia guidelines and a process for removing false information, but it was all dependent on the community.  As a result of wikipedia being self regulated,it is only as dependable of a source as it’s community.  During our fake news unit, we discussed how fake news spreads similarly.  Sometimes the news is propaganda and intentionally fake, sometimes the person is misguided and is creating fake news accidentally, and sometimes the news is real but is being taken out of context.  And while their are journalism standards, a lot of news is created and spread by people.  We talked in class about how Facebook had to revise the way it posted news because there was a viral spread of fake news stories.

     I realized throughout these units that people were creating a lot of fake information.  Between fake standards, fake facts, and fake articles, it seemed that people were at the heart of the inauthenticity.  After determining that information could be pretty much anything, and that a lot of fake information came from people, in the style of our class discussion, I asked another question; what does it mean and why does it matter?  So much of our society seems to revolve and rely around information and constructs that are socially created.  They fill some sort of community need, but does that mean they’re good?

     When Kaycie Lopez Jones came to speak to our class we talked about how media representation impacts society.  She showed how the stereotypes of people of color in media can perpetuate racism and prejudice in society.  Her presentation highlighted how subtle it can be, just the wording of the title or the pose on the movie poster, and how significantly that effect is.  Not only does it sustain the racism in society, but it has the ability to shape how an individual sees themself.  These fake ideas about people of color in the media has the power to make an impact on both a personal and public level. 

Meg's "Engaging with Information: Flowchart Edition"

Meg's "Engaging with Information: Flowchart Edition"

     This means that the information that most Americans engage with regularly, news, media, informational articles, have the power to shape society.  Fake information matters because it’s forming who we are as people, and we should care because it’s not just affecting us personally but it’s affecting our communities. 

     After realizing that information is anything we engage with, and by engaging with information we make it vulnerable to being fake, which creates a risk for the spread of false information, which has the potential to negatively affect and shape both individuals and the greater global village I asked one last question; what does that mean for me?  I stress the importance of understanding how fake things can be, but what am I supposed to do about it?  Thankfully, we touched on that in class too.  I found hope in learning about the radical role of libraries in the resistance, exploring zines and learning about how to critically analyze articles to get the most out of what I was reading - real or fake.  Figuring out what’s fake and what’s real feel important to me, it gives me something to hold on to and helps me navigate the information that's all around me.  It’s constant, over-stimulating, confusing, and often I still don’t have the answers.  The analysis model we used in Engaging with Information provided a structure to ask these big questions I’m often thinking about, and a way to draw connections from whatever my current philosophical crisis is to something more applicable in connection to the real world around me. 

At the intersection of society and self is 'Futures and Citizenship'

This term, cohort 1 have been dreaming, being, and participating in the Futures and Citizenship core course alongside internships, independent study, and other projects. Wayfinding Academy Faculty member Sarah Iannarone led this course. This Wayfinding blog shares more about the intersection of society and self.

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Here's what Wayfinding students' parents have to say ...

At Wayfinding Academy, our core values are being human, welcoming adventure, and living life on purpose. In all that we do, we strive to embody these core values. 

We are proud of this new college we created from scratch and our alternative, intentional approach to higher education. As we near the end of our first student year, we asked parents of students in cohort 1 to share their perspective on the Wayfinding experience.

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The Fun and Challenge of Starting a New College


For us, it all starts with this question: What is the best, most beneficial experience we can give to people finding their way?

As our five task teams have started tackling the application for the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Office of Degree Authorization (we fondly call it the OHECC application), it's been a bit like trying to fit a star-shaped peg into a smaller, square-shaped hole. Creating something new within a traditional framework is challenging, but it has also strengthened our resolve and affirmed our conviction to reimagine what higher education could and should be. 

We appreciate that certain practices and standards are in place to protect students. At the same time, we are trying to reform and reimagine many of these rules, regulations, and assumptions about higher education.

One example of this is the student transcript. While we believe that students should have an official record of work completed, we also believe that it should tell a more comprehensive story about the student. One of the hallmark elements of the Wayfinding Academy will be an online portfolio that will capture and share the breadth of their experience, interests, talents, and skills in a creative, visual way. We believe this will be a more authentic and accurate representation of the student than the traditional list of grades.

The OHECC application process has forced us to be intentional in all aspects of our organization. It has challenged us to not settle for the easier way, but to truly reimagine and rethink all that we know regarding higher education. More importantly it reminds us that whatever we create must reflect our missions and values to be innovative, excellent, and unafraid to be different, all for the sake of the student's experience. 

As we work towards our Fall 2016 launch will continue to share with you updates about our journey. Stay tuned for more exciting things to come. 

Introducing.....Wayfinding Academy Labs

Starting in November 2015, we will be having our monthly Lab series. The Wayfinding Academy Labs are opportunities to participate in small workshop-style classes regarding topics and interests that reflect our mission. In the future, students will be asked to choose several Labs per year that interest them and the remaining seats will always be open to the entire Portland community. Some of the lab topics include how to learn a new language quickly, people skills, social entrepreneurship, and Wayfinding 101. 

As we prepare for the launch of our Lab series, we'd love to hear from you what potential topics you might be interested in. Please go to the following link and fill out a short survey regarding your interests:

Wayfinding Academy Lab Interest Survey