Disrupting Science Education with Christian Greer
As Chief Education and Programs Officer at the Saint Louis Science Center, Christian Greer is helping lead the transformation of one of the country’s most popular science centers. With new and renovated exhibit experiences, multimodal STEM programming and pop culture-based “geek-out” events, he’s changing the learning landscape of the Science Center.
What’s the difference between science exhibits, education and programs?
Science is our subject matter, education is our tool for engagement and innovative exhibit experiences are our vehicles for exploration. We also consider a fourth dimension, which is the universe of digital interconnectivity. It has become the space where we examine how we conceptualize, ideate and express ourselves socially as lifelong science and technology learners.
What area of science are you trained in?
I studied physics and astronomy as an undergraduate at Morehouse College and I am currently working on a doctorate in emerging learning technologies at Pepperdine University. My primary interest is how social and organizational networks can create collaborative culture through technology.
You do a lot of collaborative projects; can you share some highlights?
One was during my time as Program Director for the Hive Chicago Learning Network, now run by Mozilla Foundation. My job was to get 35 organizations to collaborate on learning projects. We created a networked learning environment which served as a collaborative space to try new things. It was a lot like a sandbox for program innovation.
At the Chicago Architecture Foundation, we created a totally new exhibit experience powered by civic innovation and the open data movement. The exhibit attempted to help make sense of the massive amounts of data produced by a major city every second. Using layers of this data and an elaborate projection mapping system on the largest architectural model in the city of Chicago, we were able to show visitors how Chicago’s digital infrastructure behaves like an ecosystem of information. We worked closely with the Urban Center of Computation and Data and the MIT Media Lab to get the concept right.
In my current work as a doctoral student, I’m using social network analysis tools like Socilyzer and SYNAPP to map organizational learning. I am fascinated by how a combination of social network theory, distributed leadership and online learning circles can create a collaborative culture in an organization.
How you would describe your POV on learning?
We all come into this world with some innate characteristics, but we’re also shaped by our life experiences and social interactions with others. We’re both lifelong learners and social creatures seeking a certain kind of transformation.
What do you struggle with the most?
My work, school and life balance. My life is somewhat complex. I work in St. Louis, my wife and kids live in Chicago, my graduate school is in California. I have a tremendous passion for all three. Connecting them together is a real challenge, but definitely one worth tackling.
When have you failed and what did you learn?
Anyone who studies phenomena in nature through the scientific method can be humbled—even Einstein was pretty open and honest about his limitations in mathematics. For me, it was quantum physics. Even though I could do much of the work, the GRE Subject Exam in Physics provided me with a very convincing argument as to why I should put off graduate school for a while. At Adler, I discovered that facilitating science learning for others was a true passion—and strength—of mine.
Favorite guilty pleasures?
I absolutely love flight and space simulators like X-Plane and Kerbal Space Program. Flying around in jets, blasting off in a rocket on its way to orbit, designing the next Mars lander is what I get excited about. I really love simulated landings on aircraft carriers. I also really love the NFL and pro football. I enjoy the drama, the backstory or coaches and players, and of course the game itself. I go to quite a few games each year. I’m totally bummed out about the Rams moving to LA. What a shame.
What’s your go-to tool for the tough stuff —the critics, those that don’t get what you’re doing and why?
My energy comes from the inspiration I get from believers who came before. There will always be haters and people who just don’t get what you are doing, but that’s where the fun begins. You have to focus on what you believe in and be true to your passion and set an example for others to follow. If your mission is true, trust me, you won’t be alone on the bleeding edge for long. People looking for a new path will find you. I never take for granted how my passion for learning can inspire others.
I think that life is all about doing and reviewing, and hopefully learning from both your successes and your failures. It’s important to visualize what you want to do, be the change you want to see, and use your talents and skills to get you there.