Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Nightmare on campus

This is a nightmare come true, today at Virginia Tech:

A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows.

The wikipedia article about the event currently reports at least 22 fatalities and 28 injuries.

I had a conversation with someone recently on the issue of college campus security (or insecurity) and the potential for a deadly incident like this to happen virtually anywhere. The fears / potential she was sharing appear to have manifested themselves today in Virginia. Since Columbine we’ve seen lots of security changes happen in K-12 settings, but fewer changes happen on college campuses. That will likely change after today.

I actually wasn’t monitoring any news this morning as I was working, and got an IM from a friend (Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach) who alerted me to this incident. Will this have implications for online and blended learning? As Sheryl reflected, you can’t get shot if you’re in a virtual environment.

This reminds me of the day after the Columbine school shootings in Colorado in April 1999. I was teaching at Rush Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas, at the time. The day afterwards, I was working with a 1st grade class of students and their teacher. Our interconnected / flat world was dramatically revealed that day. The 1st graders didn’t know where Columbine was, and didn’t know all the details of the event, but they knew the previous day some students had been shot at school and they were afraid.

Evil, bad things sadly happen every day in our world. Technology and the mass-media do not always serve to amplify the details of those events to everyone on a regular basis as they do for events like these, however. That is probably a good thing. Just as a person with autism often has difficulty filtering OUT sensory inputs, it seems to increasingly be a challenge to filter out media messages today which come at us from many different sources.

I’m sure we’re going to read, hear, see and participate in a LOT of related discussions to this in the weeks and months ahead. We’ll be talking about campus security, homeland security, gun control, mental illness, local police force response capabilities, concealed-carry laws, and much more.

Here in the United States, we live in a very open society. Unfortunately, part of living in an open society means that we are open to good as well as evil acts.

No matter what the headlines of the day, I do not think we should live in fear. We should be realistic, we should confront dangers, we should follow the law in apprehending, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible for this atrocity, and we should take reasonable steps to be sure our own communities are ready to respond to a similar event.

What we should NOT do, in response to this incident, is live our lives each day in FEAR.


Will this event precipitate a movement to “lockdown” all classrooms on campuses around the nation? I don’t know. I’d bet we’ll see university officials scramble to take some actions, but what forms those actions will take are anyone’s guess. We certainly saw security procedures tighten in most K-12 schools following the Columbine massacre. In most cases, those procedural changes were good. Sadly, however, we are not going to be able to prevent via policies every bad act by every person wanting to commit a bad act. College learning environments are by their very nature much more distributed and openly accessible than many K-12 settings. We can’t just tell all the professors to lock the doors to their classrooms, and keep all entrances to academic buildings locked between 8:15 and 3 pm to protect all the students. Schedules and facility arrangements at universities are very different from what we see in most K-12 settings.

What we DO need and will continue to need are responsible, ethical, and even heroic people who are willing to appropriately take initiative and action when a crisis like this takes place. I’m sure we’ll hear stories about individuals caught in the center of this tragedy in the days to come.

From an information literacy perspective, following the comments on the history page of the WikiPedia entry for this incident is illuminating. What are the authors discussing and commenting on?
– What is the reference for that?
– Are included details and links relevant to this situation?
– Is accurate language being used, or are unwarranted exaggerations being made?

My prayers this day are with the families, friends, and loved ones of the slain and the injured.

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On this day..






10 responses to “Nightmare on campus”

  1. […] OTHERS BLOGGING: Sista Toldja, Hog On Ice (re “gun free campus” issue), Wesley Fryer (”What we should NOT do, in response to this incident, is live our lives each day in FEAR.”), […]

  2. Lubos Motl Avatar

    First substantial rumors who is the gunman.

  3. Eric Avatar

    “As Sheryl reflected, you can’t get shot if you’re in a virtual environment.”

    I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around this statement. Virtual environments are great, but please don’t become so disconnected to believe that you actually leave the real world.

  4. Laura Gibbs Avatar

    thanks for this thoughtful post. I will be sharing it with my students in my online course announcements tomorrow. I really appreciate the perspective you offer here; down here in Norman at OU, the only statement so far from President Boren is that we will be locking the dorms 24 hours a day. that is not an announcement that will give my students something worth thinking about – your post here, on the other hand, offers much more for thought. if we live in fear, the whole educational enterprise will be badly detailed, I’m afraid. thanks very much for this – I’m really not even sure how to collect my own thoughts, but I really appreciate your thoughts here.

  5. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Eric: I agree we cannot retreat from the real, face-to-face world, but must remain engaged in it– working for the good, and struggling against those ideas and actions which harm and inspire fear. I do think blended learning can be used effectively in ways that are better for learning than much of the face-to-face instruction we have experienced in the past ourselves, and continue to see in our schools, however.

    Laura, you are quite welcome. I’m still gathering my thoughts on this too, and am not entirely sure what appropriate responses are and will be, but the exhortation to not live in fear is one that goes back to the 9-11 attacks. It also reminds me of the We’re Not Afraid website and campaign that resulted from the July 2005 London bombings. We face an uncertain future (and always have) but if we face it together, in solidarity to not be afraid or intimidated, and to continue to act based on our shared cultural values: respect for each other, respect for law and the justice it seeks to promote, and an earnest desire to work for a better future, then I think we can channel at least some of our energies and emotions that are activated by tragedies into constructive work which builds bridges and mends fences.

  6. […] Anyway, I won’t dwell on the facts too much here, as plenty has already been written and will be written by the major news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. However, what is interesting is that had this event taken place before the advent of the Internet like the shooting in Iowa City, my information sources (and therefore my take on the tragic events as they unfolded in Blacksburg) would have been very different. I didn’t really watch TV news channels yesterday. In fact, I picked up on the story via a few different blogs in my Feedreader. After a cursory look at the headlines on MSNBC, I got quite a bit of information (and links to a variety of other sources) from this post on Boing Boing, which led me to images on flickr here and here. I also found some videos on YouTube. In addition, quite a bit had already been written in the edublogger community by the likes of Anne Davis, Vicki Davis, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and Wes Fryer. […]

  7. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach Avatar

    btw.. my comment above “As Sheryl reflected, you can’t get shot if you’re in a virtual environment.” was taken a tad bit out of context– but I will let it slide since I like Wes so much…smirk. Trust me like Wes- I too “… agree we cannot retreat from the real, face-to-face world, but must remain engaged in it– working for the good, and struggling against those ideas and actions which harm and inspire fear.” Sheesh…

    However, might want to check out my blog. I have shared a couple letters that help teachers understand how to help students deal with violent acts such as this, one from a mentor of mine, Greg Anderson.

  8. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I know Sheryl, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you’re advocating for 100% online education…. I think your comment was both accurate and thought provoking, however. (Always good things for blog conversations.) I’m checking out your blog posts now….

  9. […] Now, this morning, Wes Freyer linked to the wikipedia article about the shooting at Virginia Tech. I saw plenty of news about this event on CNN over lunch yesterday and on Google News each time I opened my browser. I was of course moved by the senseless of it all, but I didn’t really feel the loss until I saw the list of the fatalities on the Wikipedia page… students from all over the country (and the world.. can you imagine your son or daughter being shot to death when they’ve gone to The United States of America for school? How responsible do our gun laws seem for that?)… and faculty, too, from all over the world, including Liviu Librescu, who (it appears) was both a holocaust survivor and – in the end – a hero. He was killed while holding off the gunman so his students could escape out the window. His major research fields were aeroelasticity and unsteady aerodynamics, and I’m sure that doesn’t begin to tell his story. […]

  10. Jo White Avatar
    Jo White

    I’m a teacher in Australia and have just spent 2 weeks travelling through the US, mainly California. The shootings happened while we were there. I’m shocked by the attitude of most Americans I’ve seen/heard on US media, saying things like “how do we handle this sort of violence?” You talk about arming more people so they can defend themselves (Hello???), and about how to catch people before they go wacko.

    The biggest shock was the table in USA Today, outlining the numbers of people killed in educational institutions over the last few years (from about 4 to something like 24 each year, to now).

    In Australia we have minimal gun violence. I know of absolutely no deaths at the hands of guns at educational institutions.

    America has many wonderful, wonderful things. But that doesn’t mean you lead the world in everything. The best people – and countries – will look to those more successful than themselves in areas they fall short and try to learn. Time for the US to stand up and discover that tightening gun control is the only effective way to ensure the people who ‘lose it’ can’t easily act on their emotions. In Australia, we’ve seen tighter control since the Port Arthur Massacre in the 1990s, and the direct results are obvious, with a reduction in gun-related crime.

    Arming more people doesn’t make you defenders of yourselves. It makes you likely to kill more people. I have no idea if Liviu Librescu would have preferred to have a gun rather than not. I know if I were him, I wouldn’t have wanted to live knowing I killed someone else, no matter what the situation. He is heroic. A true hero.

    I pray that Australia never adopts looser control that will see this sort of thing become something we deal with.