Stacy: Excuse me?
Rob: A rubber duck.
Stacy: I’m not having trouble with your pronunciation, Rob. I’m just not sure what you’re talking about.
Rob: Have you ever heard of "rubber duck debugging?"
Rob: It’s a term people use sometimes in software programming. It comes from a story about a guy would carry around this rubber duck and debug code by forcing himself to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck.
Stacy: Are you trying to be "meta" with this?
Rob: What do you mean?
Stacy: Think about it. We’re having a dialogue about a guy having a dialogue with a duck. A dialogue within a dialogue, with a duck thrown in for good measure.
Rob: Ahhh… got it. We’re using a dialogue to improve our presentation of information and, as an example, we’re describing a story about a guy who has a dialogue with a duck to debug code.
Stacy: To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I would have used a duck if I wanted to talk things through with another person.
Rob: Not a good enough listener?
Stacy: No, I’m pretty sure the duck would be a fine listener. I’m just thinking of Animal Farm. I’d probably feel more comfortable with a pig.
Rob: Hmmm... I shouldn’t be taking this personally, should I?
Stacy: You should be so lucky.
Rob: Very funny. If I were choosing a new partner for dialogue, I’d probably go with… well… you know, I guess it actually depends on what I’d be talking about.
Stacy: Agreed. I wouldn’t want to dialogue about cooking with my pig, for example.
Rob: I would think not. Let me think for a second. Hmmm...Okay, I definitely know who I would want to dialogue with if I were trying to talk about teaching ideas or reimagining the design of the university.
Stacy: I bet I know. Kerry Magruder, right?
Rob: I guess that was pretty easy. In my mind, it would go something like this.
Stacy: Yes, Kerry would be fun. But this brings up a really good point. So many times, when we’re trying out new ideas or trying to make changes, we don’t have that perfect person to dialogue with.
Rob: That’s right. That’s why I think we have to "imagine" them.
Stacy: Like "rubber duck re-designing?"
Rob: Exactly. We need to find someone or something, living or inanimate that we can talk to, share our fears with.
Stacy: Seriously, I like this idea. It always helps to have a conversation, to talk things through. I’ve given class assignments where students have to create their own HTML, for example. One technique I recommend when they have issues is to read each word/line aloud - you can often find little errors that way.
Rob: Going back to the rubber duck debugging example, it can be also really helpful to describe what you think something is going to do (what it’s supposed to do or what you want it to do), and then observe what it actually does. The gap between the two provides important understanding.
Stacy: Of course. Teaching something forces us to see it from different perspectives.
Rob: And, talking out loud about our ideas and worries inevitably reduces our anxiety.
Stacy: Okay, so you’ve mentioned Kerry Magruder as a real person you would like to share ideas with. What about other types of characters for your dialogues?
Rob: Great question. I might go with a western hero. Maybe Butch Cassidy or Rooster Cogburn.
Stacy: Interesting. Very interesting. I was thinking more along the lines of Spock and Data.
- What solutions have you used in the past for "talking through" your ideas and/or concerns when there was no one physically available for you to talk to?
- What characters or objects would you choose to share your ideas with?
- Think about the advantages and disadvantages to talking to an inanimate object or a character that is not really "there?"