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In their lively and entertaining weekly discussion of issues related to higher education, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton and Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger explore the topics of higher education, lifelong learning, and exercising the brain. Ed and Jennifer practice what they preach, too, by introducing math puzzlers and brain teasers to keep listeners on their toes.

Higher Ed: Want A Great, Excellent, Challenging Way To Think And Learn More Deeply? Add An Adjective

Wait, you mean adding a couple of descriptive words to a particular situation, puzzle or problem can help lead to clarity and a solution? In this episode of KUT's podcast "Higher Ed," Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton discuss this thought-provoking practice.

Well, OK, it's not quite as simple as sticking in an extra word or two when you are puzzling through a tough situation or question. Ed says it's what you do after the word is added.

"It's not enough to just add the adjective and move on, " he says. "The goal is to add a descriptor, and then hold onto it and keep looking at it until you have an 'ooooh' insight. And then once you have that, then you can move onto another descriptor or, eventually, actually resolve the issue because you will have so much information."

How exactly does this work in practice?

Ed illustrates with an example from history. He points out that what was known as the "Great War" or the "War to End All Wars" was later named "World War I." Ed wonders: What if it had been called the First World War from the very beginning? He says for most people, it would likely raise the possibility of subsequent conflicts.

"That's the point of adding the adjective," Ed says. " That it provokes some thought. And it turns out that often, for us to see things that are in front of us, we have to identify them and spell them out and give them a name. And so by adding the adjective of what we see around us, it allows us to see the things that are there that we otherwise would have missed."

Sounds easy, right? Ed warns developing this practice actually requires an investment of time but is well worth it.

"It is hard to stop and think and stop and describe and stop and engage," he says. "But by practicing that, it becomes part of who we are and then we become better."

Listen to the full episode to hear more about "adding the adjective" and to sample the first new puzzler of 2019. It's delicious!

This episode was recorded on Dec. 4, 2018.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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