To Ambitious Administrators, With Love

Dear Ambitious Administrator,

First off, let me tell you, I understand you with my deepest empathy, and I write this bloggy letter out of love and respect. You most likely left teaching because you needed the money. That’s a chapter in my memoir too. It’s not something you like to admit, and you certainly don’t share that motivation with your superiors. Talking about money and class status is so vulgar. Shameful. Difficult. I get it. I married somebody who was born into a lower class status than me, and we’ve struggled financially together for fifteen years. We laughed out loud during our marriage vows when the officiator said, “For richer and for poorer.” How can we possibly get poorer, we laughed. It was our way of saying “I do.”

So if you’ve made it this far, can I tell you a secret, Ambitious Administrator?

Your ambition has consequences.

This has been the hardest lesson I’ve learned since I’ve gone into “leadership.” I write this word in quotes because it’s a descriptor that others use about me, but not one that I am comfortable with in my own career. Who I am today is a blend of hard work, really good luck, and the willingness to fail in a very bright spotlight. I raised my hand and said “I’ll do it” at a the right time when a lot of really generous people were willing to say, “Okay, here’s all my stuff and let me know what you do.” (Word up, Quill West).

The word, Ambition, originates from the Latin ambitio (a striving for favor, literally ‘a going around’). It’s a word we value in leadership. In careers.

I want to share a few tips that I’ve learned personally from my own ambition and from my experience consulting with leaders. I need you to understand how your ambition helps and really hurts all things Open. Really hurts Open. Your ambition, in my opinion, can be more disastrous than an LMS transition. Think I’m over-exaggerating? Hear me out.

But before I go on, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this Movement has been good for my career. My ambitions. Quite good. And I’m aware of the criticisms of people like me who’ve made “a career on open education.” I’m so aware of all your criticisms that I sometimes have a hard time sleeping. I sometimes have a hard time getting out of bed.

When I was an administrator, I suffered the same sleepless depressive fate. Now instead of worrying about one institution, I worry about eleven or so (and counting) different systems and consortiums.

Same woes. Same joys. Just at scale. (A Memoir).

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, my beloved ambitious administrator, because I know it’s That Hiring Season in my hemisphere.

Spring isn’t about escaping winter; it’s about getting out of That Job.

Oh ho ho, I know yo.

Good administrator jobs are being posted right now in the US. You’re tuning up your CV. Pitching every conference blurb you can write. Having that “What If” conversation with your spouse. Hiding that Big Change on the horizon from your children until the time is right. Drinking more than you normally do. Curling up with your dog in his bed even though you know it pisses him off. Baking cinnamon rolls that you know will make you gain weight. Listening to the live version of “Stairway to Heaven” from 1975 so you can start crying when Robert Plant asks “Does anyone remember laughter?”

No. Nobody ever fucking remembers laughter. That’s the fucking problem…Wait. This is not about me, right.

You, my friend, are mostly likely pretending at work that you aren’t looking for a new job. Amrite? Yoohoo, I see you!

Executive administrators are the only ones who can’t hide during the hiring process. If you’re a finalist for a president, chancellor, or provost position, it’s a press-release. Colleges love to pimp your accomplishments in order to attract faculty. Look at us, the press releases say, we can have a hiring pool of people with [enter academic credentials here]. When you don’t get the job, your failed ambition lives forever on the interwebs.

If you report to one of these exec-level people, chances are your CV will be sitting on their desks very soon. They are waiting to decide your fate. Chances are they already want to hire you but they have to go through The Process that your future institution created. Takes forever. Is a giant waste of time. Hiring committee? Drink!

You thrive on the hope that your ambition will be recognized and appreciated more by that future institution. People will want to know about your ideas. Your ability to lead. Your ability to get shit done. To innovate. To lead.

Allow me to remind you, my administrator friend, that your success is and always will be contingent. Always reliant on. Always connect to. Always part of. Your faculty.

Let me repeat that.

You are successful only if you have faculty who will say yes. Yes to your ideas. Your innovation. Your ambition. Your leadership.

You are successful only if your ambition connects directly to helping students. Not your career. Not your CV. Students.

Let me restate this point. If you forget faculty and students, then you are failing as administrator. I’m writing this bloggy letter with you in mind.

In my own experience, let me be clear, I haven’t been the paragon of perfection. I don’t know the fucking color of my parachute and I don’t give a shit who moved the cheese. Sorry, I’ve been reading too much on leadership lately. Where was I? Right. Administrators, what up.

As a teacher, I struggled with the thought of leaving the classroom to join you. I looked to leaders who I respected, and thought, “That. Job. Looks. Awesome.” (waves at Connie Broughton and Boyoung Chae).

But I struggled personally and professionally for years.

What saved me? I had very cool deans who hired for me for an Instructional Designer job that I loved and backed me up when students collaborated to get me fired. This was pre-Rate Your Professor, but I’m sure they would have used words that rhyme with “Socialist” and “Bitch” and “Liberal Elitist.” No chili peppers.

Having a dean say to me that I wasn’t the first faculty member who faced this issue really saved me. That was one of the hardest quarters of my life. I was thinking about quitting teaching when he said, “I’ve never seen so many students united with such organization and passion. They really hate you! We must be doing something right as a college. Check out the pathos in these letters about you. They’ve substantiated all their claims, so I’m really impressed. I love Susan Sontag, for the record. Would you like some tea?”

That conversation with my dean took me off the roller coaster of thinking I was going to get fired and that I wasn’t a good teacher to the ferris wheel of becoming a better educator ( you go up, you go down). I improved as a person. Changed everything for me. Made me feel like I had a community of colleagues. That cup of tea was a lifeboat in my sea of loneliness as an adjunct. I changed my approach.

Students will often say what you want to say if you give them time. I hadn’t learned that skill of patience. Pedagogically, that’s the power of the pregnant pause and the super slow stare around the room. Look everyone in the eye.

Ask an open-ended hard question and wait. Anyone care to share their thoughts?

Two years later I was nominated as a faculty member of the year. Three years later, I’d was honored with winning that title. Deans–the middle managers of higher ed–helped me become a better and happier teacher.

That block of time on an administrator’s calendar—one hour—one cup of tea—saved me.

You have a lot of power.

Never forget that, Ambitious Administrator.

That’s the story you want to tell, by the way, should you get an interview for an executive administrator position.

Talk about your relationship with adjunct faculty. Recognize them as humans. Describe how your leadership will directly connect to the people who teach 80% of our courses. Create a clear path from your ideas to their work with students. Full-timers will be on your committee because they are held responsible (and paid) for “service to the institution” so they will appreciate (hopefully) how you’ll help them manage the horror of the slow deterioration of tenured positions. Chances are, they love the students at your future institution, and they’ll have good ideas for you. Listen.

Student success, one very wise administrator said to me, is in all of our job descriptions. “It’s not other duties as assigned. It’s our only job. You drop everything when a student needs you.”

I’d add that you also drop everything when a teacher needs you.

“Inbox Zero,” for the record, is a bullshit strategy that workaholic tech people made up. Email can wait. Focus on your people. Always.

And thus, I realize being a good administrator is a very hard job. Impossible sometimes. Yet you want to keep moving up the chain of command. Something drives you. There’s something you want to do. To be. To accomplish.

Perhaps you’re in school while being an administrator because you need that PhD/ED credential. Perhaps you’re writing a bunch of grant proposals because you know it will help your CV. Perhaps you’re pitching a lot of ideas and writing research articles. Conference proposals.

Perhaps you’re making a lot of plans that you hope you won’t be around to see through because you’ll get That Job. That Position. That Appointment.

And you know the words “Open Education” make eyes slow down while they scan CVs. Cover letters. This I know. This I’ve seen. This I’ve benefited from. This I know.

Ambitious administrator, you bust out your best Jean-Luc Picard and Make It So.

Do it.

Make all the damn plans. Fill out every cell in that spreadsheet. Drop all the names. Bust out all the prose power you have to bring Open to your future school. Project textbook savings. Write lovely poetry about faculty collaboration. Whip up cross-institutional square dance moves to create openly-licenses courses that can be used throughout your state. Your country. Fuck it, why not THE WORLD?! Spin projections of scale. Submit conference proposals for work that hasn’t been done yet your blurb makes it sound like you have all the success. All the success. All the answers.

Make shit up.

But pause for a minute. This I ask.

This I beg of you.

Imagine what will happen if you aren’t there to do ANY of the work. Before you write “OER” or “Open Pedagogy” or “OER Degree” take a moment and envision what all that looks like without you.

This is the oldest cliche question in the Leadership Handbook, right? It’s now sexy to call it “Radical Candor,” but it’s really just being honest. Having integrity. Humanity. Empathy.

Can the work go on without you? Will the work go on without you?

Be honest.

If not, then your ambition gives administrators a bad name. When passion’s a prison/you can’t break free. That’s the song that Bon Jovi should have written, btw. But yes, you give administrators a bad name.

You contribute to faculty mistrust of administrators.

Here’s my main beef with you.

Your ambition adds another brick to all the walls and barriers of OER. Your ambition leaves a lot of people bereft of a good leader. This I know. This I’ve seen.

So what can you do? A better salary may be calling. A new location may be better for your family. A new job might be the key to your happiness. I get it. By all means, connect with me, and I’ll try to help you with every connection that I have if you do me one favor. One thing.

Here’s The Thing.

Let me boss you through this. I have a solution.

Leave a map behind for the people who will get stuck doing the work you dreamed up. Make sure people will still love OER once you leave.

Have checklist of things they need to do to be successful. A one-pager executive summary. A spreadsheet. A stack of 3×5 cards. A couple of Post-it notes. Something.

Let a few people above you know you’re on the hunt for a better future. Prepare them for your ambitions. (If you can, I know that’s career suicide in some cases. Believe me, I know).

Let a few people know below you know that you might leave and that they should read up on OER. Introduce them to the cool kids you know. Promote them as OER heroes. (I also know this is a morale killer, but it’s best to let at least one direct report know that his/her life will suck for six months after you leave.)

Write a letter to your replacement describing next steps. Print it out. Leave it in a file where they will find it.

And most importantly, have a conversation with your best faculty member.

This is the most important. If you do one thing, do this. Please do this.

Talk to that faculty member who got shit done for you so you could write that cover letter. That line on your CV. Your career would not have happened without him/her.

That faculty member who said, “I’ll pilot that OER course. Sure, why not? Sounds fun.”

That faculty member who tried and tried and tried and tried and continues to try to get her colleagues to consider OER. Talks about it at every staff meeting. Reads every email that you send. Asks you questions. Loves Open.

That goddamn unsung faculty hero of yours? He/she is still going to be there.

Your champion.

Tell that person you’re leaving. Or trying to leave. She needs to be on the hiring committee for your position, and the more notice she has, the more likely she’ll say yes to that committee.

Okay, my friend, I feel better now. Thank you for reading. Now go write that cover letter. Bring open education to a school that needs you. Get that job.

I’ll leave you with a lovely quote from Rebecca Solnit, from The Far Away Nearby, which is about care taking for an aging parent, but I think it applies to leadership. Yes.

“…you crash into this condition that you have not been warned about, a rocky coast without a map.”

Yours Truly,

Alyson

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Progression Doesn’t Have To Be Painful

My blog title could very well describe the work that I do.

You?

More on that idea another day. Let’s talk bikes! My title is really a direct quote from Angi Weston’s new website. And look, ya’ll, see where her incredible photographer caught me in a pure moment of learning on her website?

In the photo, Angi is describing body position into a turn. A corner. Good golly I struggle with cornering. As she’s talking, my hands are on my handle bars–you can see in the photo. I’m thinking hard standing next to two of my bike teammates who inspire me.

One lesson, with Angi, changed my riding. After 20 years of making the same mistake.

Let me say that again really slow-like.

One.

Lesson.

Corrected 20 years of mistakes. Prior to that day, I would have described myself as an okay rider. This one change–that I could not figure out on my own has made me wonder about how often we get trapped by our routines. How we get so comfortable with our own abilities. How we get so confident about our own limitations. How we learn.

In my last post I wrote about pursuing training to become a mountain bike coach, and I’m pleased to report that I completed Step 1 when I finished my CPR/First Aid training today. Because my jobby job is, uh, a bit time-consuming and I have a lot going on right now with my bike team, I’m going to start with the Bike Instructor Certification Program ride leader course. And now that I’m all legit to do CPR and basic first aid again, I can be a leader of people who want to ride bikes in the woods. Woot! I’m really inspired by Angi; it’s awesome to see a woman take on her own business in a male-dominated field, and Angi’s an amazing teacher–I really wish her all the success.

Thanks to the generosity of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, I earned the certification with 16 other people on a cold, crisp blue-sky day near Lake Padden a few weeks ago. I learned a lot, and I’m really grateful for the experience. Bellingham now has 13 mountain bike clubs for kids in middle school. How rad is that? How different the experience of riding bikes will be for so many young girls.

Here’s a bit of embarrassing and hard truth.

Here’s the thing.

I kind of sucked at coaching.

I mean, I really really really sucked at it. I thought I’d be able to transfer all of my teacherly and trainerly experience with new material, and I’d be good to go. I’m a pretty okay teacher. I’m a pretty okay trainer. I love bikes. I’ll be great at this, I thought. Easy.

Nope.

Turns out, I’m not a naturally gifted coach and I have a really long way to go. In fact, I’m not really sure it’s for me, and here’s why.

You aren’t supposed to talk while teaching techniques. You have to be silent.

I’m going to pause right now for you to make fun of me in your mind if you know me.

If you don’t know me, then let me tell you. I LOVE TO TALK. Love it. LOVE IT.

Words are my business, yo.

I love to tell stories. I love to talk about teaching. Bikes. Movies. TV shows. Bike racing. Vacations. Maps. Hiking. Camping. Cooking. Beer. Wine. Booze. Knitting. Books. Teaching. Learning. Open. The Education. The Technology. All of it.

You name it, I prolly love to talk about it.

Oh, and then there’s what I do for a living which also involves words. A lot of words. Click here. Link this. Try that. Curate these things. Read this. Do these five things. Read this. Here’s some advice for your zombie-themed OER course. Let me connect with my team to see if I can solve that problem for you. Let me use all my damn words to make your life easier. Need to drop some F-Bombs about your learning management system? Drop away. I’ll listen and I’ll add a few myself if it will make you laugh. Feel frustrated by your stubborn department/institution/system when it comes to teaching with OER? Give me all your words. I got a few to add too. Let’s talk about what you want to learn today.

Don’t know what to do? I do, and let me tell how to do it.

I’m either typing on my laptop or talking to it. All day.

I talk for a living.

I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t volunteering my time for my awesome bike community, I would have failed the exam during the ride leader class. Seriously. I would have failed me. I sucked. I was terrible.

Let me explain.

Checking helmets, bike fit, tire pressure, brakes, quick releases, handle bars–all super easy breezy. I can spot what’s wrong with your helmet and your bike fit no problem. I can look at you thirty feet away and assess whether you’re wearing your helmet correctly. Whether you need to lower or raise your seat. Whether you are okay with spending several months worth of mortgages on a bike. I can talk Leave No Trace, staying with pack, Safety First–all that. No problem.

Because it involves talking.

My major point of sucktasticness was in the demonstration. The Demo.

In my work world, I can demo all the damn day. Demo means talk, right? No! This type of demo was really hard because I was to Show not Talk. Their pedagogical theory is that if you talk, people won’t pay attention to your body position. They won’t pay attention to what you are doing. You talk, then you show how it’s done.

Where your feet are on the pedals. Where your fingers are on the brakes. Where your hips are. Where your arms are. Where your eyes are looking.

Students, they claim, will look at your face. Not your body. Because you are talking.

After doing my demo portion of the class as part of the exam, the teacher gave me the zip-your-lip motion, like a kindergarten teacher. So what did I do? I cracked a joke making fun of myself. She made that sign again. What did I do? I made excuses all by talking. She then openly told me not to talk. What did I do? I shared how I was starving and that low-blood sugar set me up for the worst demo. She offered me a bar to eat. Everyone stared at me. I started back–totally hating every moment of this spotlight.

Thank goodness this teacher was kind because I’m pretty sure I would have lost my patience with me. I’m going to cut myself some slack here–I just took my first coaching lesson this past year, so I haven’t been able to observe what bike coaches do a whole lot. I learn best by observing what other teachers do. So this year, I’ll be watching. I will get better.

And then I’m going to use my words to tell y’all about it!

It was such a good experience for me to completely and utterly fail at something that I really wanted to do. I rode my bike home feeling a little defeated and completely exhausted. I mean, I got the certification, I’m going to roll out on my first ride in the next two weeks, and I hope I’ll get better. I just wasn’t good at it from the get-go. I failed at the first try. Humbling for me. So great for me to experience as a learner. I have to forgive myself and move on to the next step. Maybe coaching isn’t for me.

What gave me a bit of hope is that I was pretty good at identifying flaws in other riders and coaching them to improve. For instance, we covered what they call the three essentials of mountain bike riding. 1] Looking where you want to go. Eyes forward. 2] One finger on the brakes. And 3] keeping level pedals in an either neutral or ready position.

The most fun of the course was trying to diagnose the flaws of my students to help them improve. That part was really fun, and encouraged me to continue with this endeavor. And when I was told I could give advice on how others could improve, I asked if I had to show or if I could talk. You can do both! So I was like BA-RING IT CUZ I GET TO TALK again! Yay!

One-by-one my students rolled through the orange cones we had set up as our course. Eyes up! One finger on the brakes, not two. Chest up! Eyes up! It’s not bar hump Wednesday, Eric, get behind the saddle, I sassed. Level pedals. Don’t point your toes. Be sure to feather your brakes. And so on. It was a blend of being able to cheer people on while identifying what they were doing wrong and how they can improve.

That one-on-one-talking-through-steps-to-improving part of coaching, I know I’m going to love. Eventually. That progression won’t be painful, it will be pure joy.

“Much of our life,” writes Bjergegaard and Popa, “is spent of on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151). Yes. Sometimes we just have to track-stand. Right. There. Quietly.

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Pose This Question and Just Listen

Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Hell is other people” reflects the experience of modern day air travel. I wrote this post while stranded in Detroit, Michigan after my plane out of Lansing had a mechanical. The airline made it up to me by putting me up at hotel and booking me on another flight the next day. I waited in lines, and tried to be a bit zen about it all because it’s a necessary part of my jobby job. Would rather they find what’s broken on the plane on the ground than in the air.

During this time in line, I made a new buddy. He and I chatted about his son’s college major. This is a convo with strangers my age almost always happens after I explain what I do for a living. Parents feel compelled to share their horrors about what they spend on their children’s college textbooks. And rightly so, ye parents of Priority and First Class, it’s truly an abomination. Tell it.

I bite my tongue to not snark-splain them. About how I care more about students whose parents can’t afford to foot the bill. I don’t say that. That makes me sound mean and bitter about my comfortably middle class peers (A Memoir).

Allow me to air some academic-ish dirty laundry.

I pitched a conference proposal on a whim with little to no forethought of what I would actually say if I got acccepted. Or how I would substantiate my ideas.

At the time, I needed to feel witty.

At the time, I gave myself full permission to be creative.

At the time, I had just been rejected by a global conference where the committee used words like “simply too sketchy” and “not really clear in its delivery” in the ding letter. I laughed really hard at those thoughtful rejections. You SO get me!

At the time when I submitted this particular preso, I was super-scattered and not very organized. I didn’t really have it together, and now I’m trying to sort out what I’ll actually say, but then again, I kind of want to write about something else. I’ve got a post going about surfing and mountain biking (all the rad). One about my readings on leadership (all the confusing). Another about two articles that a friend shared with me (all the troubling). Another about my sadness concerning one awful event (all the difficult). Another on how I learned to not joke about the worst case scenario (all the painful). Okay, where was I?

Right. Sorry I’m a bit too sketchy and not very clear in my delivery sometimes.

I used to get really exhausted by the airplane travel, and I still do, but I now understand where the exact point of exhaustion circles and swirls in the deep darkness of my soul. In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer (noted philosopher) writes about why traveling for work is so tiring.  Schumer writes about how she feels compelled to be nice to every service worker she encounters because she used to do so many of those jobs. She’s overly nice and tries to make up for the lack of humanity that she experienced as a service worker. Yes.

When I read that passage, I put the book down and thought long and hard about my life. How I see my old self in hostesses, waitresses, caterers, bartenders, cashiers, and cooks. How I see myself in those black aprons and white chef coats and I remember. I remember. I remember. I remember. I remember. And I’m suddenly not so tired from the jet lag and I’m eternally grateful for this life. I remember. I remember. I remember.

Reading her book helped me to curtail the emotional energy that I expel with the small talk with strangers. I don’t engage with service workers as much while I’m traveling for work. I just smile and tip well. I realized I need to save every bit of energy for my work because, you know, it’s so easy-breezy, stress-free, and predictable (that’s sarcasm, btw). So I’ve dialed back the chatty with the strangers. I don’t say much. It helps me.

Okay, here’s the thing. The Thing.

I’ve been thinking about using the 10 Essentials as a storytelling framework for quite some time. One of these days I’ll get to My Big Vision With Said Framework but for now, I’d like to tease out a bit of story telling about Open while also thinking about pedagogy. Have I lost you yet? This post will be a blend of using the framework of the Mountaineering’s 10 Essentials and my own take on the teaching and learning. And some other things that I need to say but shouldn’t during my preso. I’ll have my shit together when I actually present, I promise.

The Map--Where do you want take your students in the short term? Maybe that’s your learning outcomes. The Big Question. The Five Questions. What’s the most important thing you hope students will remember about your course five years from now? That kind of thinking. Short-term learning strategy with long-term impact. You only have a semester or quarter, so what can you do with that precious time?

  • I once backpacked 40 miles with a map on my cell phone and when the battery went dead on that last day, my friend and I got really fucking lucky we didn’t end up on the nightly news. I’m willing to wing it on the trail and in the classroom and in my life, but I know that’s not always the best tactic. I love dreaming up plans while looking at maps. That anticipation is sometimes the sweetest part of planning a trip. Don’t stray/My kind’s your my kind/I’ll stay the same…chances are most of my audience will not get the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reference. What’s next?

A Compass! Where do you want to go long-term? Do you want to adopt, adapt, or build? What’s the most important change you’d like to see in your teaching? department? discipline? institution? Where do you hope to be in five years?

  • So if I’m to admit that I’ve gone on a long backpacking trip without a map, then who the hell am I to ask this question? Like I could have ever guessed I’d be doing what I’m doing five years ago. Fuck it. Doesn’t matter.
  • The Mountaineers, who came up with this list in 1974, have since upgraded their language to include modern technology. Instead of a compass, they list a GPS. I think that’s a mistake, Brahs. Fancy gadgets are bullshit. You either know how to find True North or you don’t.

Sunglasses/Sunscreen--When there are so many shiny bright ways to get started, how will you choose what’s best for you? What attracts you? Adopting? Adapting? Building?

  • Okay, let me pause and admit that I’m struggling with this essential for two reasons. I almost never pack sunscreen when I backpack and my skin burns like a motherfucker. I can’t seem to make this essential work without a bunch of crappy-ass sun metaphors.
  • True story: I was once on a trail-crew outing and my leader didn’t have sunglasses when we got to a glacier, and the ancient deep snow was blinding. So bright. He fashioned eye protection out of Wheat Thins box and duct tape. Man, I was so impressed by that quick thinking. And he totally looked ridiculous, but he could see. He adapted to the situation like a badass. I had on fancy sunglasses with interchangeable lens, and I kind of envied his ingenuity. Either that or I’m easily impressed by creative uses of cardboard boxes by men who are skilled with axes.

Extra Clothing–What will you do if something changes in your discipline? This essential is getting at “change management” and being prepared, I think.

  • Okay, also struggling with this one. I’ve been on backpacking trips where I put on every single layer of clothing that I brought just to stay warm and I was close to crying in my sleeping bag because I was so cold. This is another “essential” where I kind of shake my head. At the point where you are freezing or considering if it will ever stop raining or snowing, you can’t have enough clothes. You mentally torture yourself for choosing to be in a freezing tent close to hypothermia instead of in your warm bed. If you aren’t prepared for all weather shifts, then what the hell are you doing out there in the first place?

First-Aid–What if you need help? What will you do when students are struggling?

  • I think this essential is really about self-care and self-preservation. I can’t really think about that right now.
  • I might pose this question and just listen.

Fire-starter–What is your main idea that will spark conversation or creativity with your students? What’s the most fun you have while teaching your course?

  • I’ve been camping many times where there was no hope of ever starting a fire. I live in the Pacific Northwest. It’s damp. Mossy. Soggy. Even with the fancy-ass firestarters they sell at the recreational employee incorporated, there have been times where no flame was going to fire. You have to resign to suffer in every item of damp clothing you have and hope that the buzz of whisky would take you down to sweet sleep. You make do.

Matches—How can you get the fire started? What’s the spark?

  • Recently I learned that one of my favorite OER leaders tells his/her faculty: “Why are you rubbing two sticks together when I’m standing behind you with a Zippo?” Holyguacamole that makes me laugh every time I think of him/her saying that. Fucking genius. (If you’re reading this, my beloved friend, and you want the attribution, let me know. I don’t want to out you here just in case it’s not something want to share beyond your faculty. It’s a beautifully intimate private joke with people who trust you. Really. It’s the easiest way to describe administrative support of adopting already existing OER with some humor, so I had to share. Hilarious).

Knife–Do you know what you’d like to cut? What will you get rid of if you run out of time? What will you sacrifice? What’s the least your students need to know?

  • Here I am struggling with all the shitty analogies again. Maybe this is a bad idea.
  • Truth be told, I never carry a knife. I always depend on other people. In particular, my friend Tami who can catch a fish in 30 degree weather, kill it, gut it, and cook it up in the Panko and olive oil. Mother fucking delicious. She always has a knife, and I mostly backpack with her these days. I am blessed that this woman is in my life.
  • FYI teachers, it’s dangerous to admit that you’d cut anything from a class. But you do. You do. I remember. I remember. I remember.

Extra Food–What do you consider unnecessary in your course? Is there a learning outcome that makes you feel a bit “Meh”? Or is there something that feels redundant? I LOVE talking to faculty about institutionalized outcomes. It’s so entertaining to listen to them slam that system.

  • I’ve run out of food before on a backpacking trip. I shared one packet of oatmeal and three dried apricots with a friend and we had many miles left to hike out. We were also out of coffee. The horror of that day still haunts me when I’m packing for a trip. My friend and I were so broke and hungry together. Hiking towards my old car that I wasn’t really sure would start when we got there. Miles from where we could hitchhike. Good times.

Headlamp–And it’s something quite peculiar/something shimmering and white/it leads you here despite your destination.

  • Okay, clearly I got nothing on this one if I’m quoting The Church–the band.
  • I kind of disagree with this “essential”–I’d rather have clean water and be in the dark any day of the week. I think you always need purification tablets and a pump, but then again, most of the time I’m ready for bed as soon as the sun goes down, so I could get away without having light. I can sleep like the dead when I’m off work and in the backcountry. Love napping in a tent too.

Okay, this post has clearly devolved, but it’s helped me sort out some thoughts. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it to this point. I promised myself to blog more and click “Publish” a bit more often this year. How is it almost April?

Since I’m unsure how to conclude this post, how about a quote from something I’ve read recently?

In “How to Be Bored” by Eva Hoffman, she writes something across my soul with the following:

If we are to remain internally and intellectually alive, we need to make time not only for introspection but for our intellectual predilections, say, or our aesthetic impulses, without keeping an eye on the outcome or the specific goal.

Amen sister.

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Coaching The Nope Girl

“Stay young in the theatre of your mind.” ~Mary Oliver 

It’s Open Education Week, and it’s been awhile since I’ve published a post. In honor of this week of sharing, I’m going to take a minute to tell you about a profound moment of my learning from this past summer when I volunteered for a bike-related event. There’s deeper story that connects to my everyday work, and eventually I’ll tie these ideas together. Eventually: A Memoir.

For now, let me tell you a story.

As some readers may know, I’m on the board of an all women and girls bike team, Queens of Dirt, and our mission is to encourage more girls and women to race bikes.

The Queens of Dirt hosts several events as part of our sponsorship with Liv Cycling and our bike shop sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center. We ask our team members to volunteer for trail days, local events, and our Mountain Bike Weekend as part of the camaraderie and sponsor benefits of being on a team. I decided to step up my volunteering this summer to make up for the lost time I spent living in Portland. When the women decided to split from our co-ed team, and I was like, hells-to-yeah, ladies, let’s do this. Then I said, oh oops, I’m moving to Vermont. I mean Oregon. Whatever. I wasn’t around for a year, so I needed to up my game in 2017, so whenever I could, I signed up to volunteer. 

My first event was with RRAD, my friend Chris Mellick’s, organization who partnered with She Jumps. These two groups give girls a full day of activities such as learning first-aid, Leave No Trace principles, yoga, and mountain biking all for free at Lake Padden. If you have a bike, you’re encouraged to bring one. If you don’t, RRAD sets you up with a bike you can borrow. The girls rotate activities by age group throughout the day, and, I have to admit, I was really nervous about being with girls under 12. I was a baby-sitting machine as a young teenager, but my grown lady years have been childfree save for interacting with my friends’ kids. I’m an adult educator by trade. This was a total experiment for me. 

During the morning yoga session, the teacher described poses using animals sounds and she had the girls join in by being a bit silly. It was refreshing to see a yoga teacher play with poses. As she guided them through a bit of meditation, she said, “Think of your favorite color. Clear your mind and just see that color. I like yellow. I see nothing but yellow. Breathe.”

One girl immediately raised her hand and said, “What if you don’t have favorite color? I mean, I like a lot of different colors. It just depends on my mood. Sometimes it depends on what I’m wearing. Or my dreams from that night. Or a book that I’m reading. I don’t have ONE favorite color. I kind of want think of a unicorn. Can I think of a unicorn? I know they don’t exist but I love them. What should I do?” 

Omg, that was me at 8 years old. And at 18. And 28. And 38. Every damn day of my life. 

I laughed to myself. Girl, I thought, just learn that yoga. Breathe. It’ll help you keep your shit together. I promise.

As each age group rotated through the different stations, and I was there to help demonstrate for the Mountain Bike Group. The coaches took turns teaching the concepts, and I was their Demo Girl. Watch Alyson’s arms in “Attack Pose.” Or we can call it “Strong Girl Pose.” See how Alyson has her elbows out? Ready position means you’re ready to react to the terrain. See how Alyson’s feet are level on her pedals?

The coaches did the teaching. I over-exaggerated all the moves to demo and I led the girls one-by-one so the coaches could give them tips. I was elated to have this train of girls following my every move. Smiling. Sweating. Really trying. Strong Girl Pose. 

Before we started with the 6-8 years olds, one coach went through a series of questions.

Have you ever ridden your bike on a side walk?

Yes! In unison. 

Have you ridden your bike on the road?

Yes! In unison.

Have you ridden your bike in your yard?
Yes!

I noticed one girl looked really nervous. She wasn’t saying a word. She was standing awkward next to a bike that was way too big for her. She had that lost look that was either going to devolve in tears or sadness. She kept eyeing the bike like it was going to bite her. She was having a hard time keeping the bike upright.

Parents often buy bikes that kids will grow into, and I totally get it. Parents are doing the best with what they can afford. It’s really hard to ride a bike that’s too big for you. Scary.

So I rolled over to this girl, and said to the coach, I think we need to review these questions again so that she can answer too. 

The coach walked over, knelt down at the girl’s level, look her in the eye, and repeated. 

Have you ridden your bike on a sidewalk?

Nooooope. She started to smile.

Have you ridden your bike on the road?

Noooooope. She enunciated Nope very distinctly.

Have you ridden your bike in your yard?

Noooooope.

Have you ridden your bike in your house? 

Nooooope. 

In the playground?

Noooooope.

Have you ever ridden a bike?

Noooooope. That’s why I’m here! 

We all started laughing so hard, and the other girls started saying “Nooooope” the same way she did and everything melted into chaos like things do with that age group. Or like with adults in a computer lab trying to learn something new. But I digress.

Same chaos. I loved it. 

Chris came over and asked her if she wanted to try a smaller bike.

Nooooooope. I want to ride my bike, silly! 

He said, okay, throw a leg over your bike and let’s see how you do.

She fell over immediately. He caught her.

Nooooooope. 

He said, okay, let’s take your pedals off so that you can just roll around.

Okay, she said. I could tell she had no idea what he meant until he started to remove the pedals.

He lowered her seat, and as soon as she got on her bike, she started rolling around like mad. He turned her bike into Skuut-like substitute. Her eyes were bright and she was suddenly very excited. Riding my bike, she yelled!

The coach said, okay, time to come back together. 

Noooooope. Just kidding, she said, and she scooted over to the line-up. 

At that moment, I loved that girl so much, and I now say Noooooope just like her every time I can. 

Later in the day, she was burning up the grass kicking those legs around the field. The Nope Girl loved her bike. She just needed somebody to help her get started. She just needed somebody to help her find the right tool for her ability.

When the next group rolled in, we had the 9-10 year olds, and they weren’t as into the unison-answering-question thing. Not cool. So we got right to the coaching and the demo moves. I loved how the coaches adapted their approach with a new group. Same lesson plan and goals, different delivery. Some of these girls had a lot of experience riding. 

Part of the mountain bike segment of the day was using wooden stunts that imitate bridges or rolling terrain. There are a few “skinnies” to ride which are really long wooden boards about three inches off the ground to help build balancing skills. When I demoed the skinnies, I pretended like I couldn’t ride them to show how to bail safely. Plus, it’s awesome when the girls can do it and they think they are better than the old lady doing the demos. Super fun.

One girl pedaled like crazy, hit one of the rollers with speed, and crushed big time. Total yard sale. Bike went flying. She went over the handle bars. Endo City. Everyone stopped to stare. 

Me and two of the other coaches looked at each other like, “Faaaaawk! Broken arm. OMFG. Parents are going to hate us. Ack!” Eyes wide. We ran over to her.  

Then the girl bounded up like a gymnast who just stuck her landing pose and screamed, “I DID IT!” 

Arms in a V. Looked around for praise. We clapped and said awesome. Then we started cracking up. 

She did that exact pedal-like-she-stole-it-to-yard-sale-endo seven times. Every time yelling “I DID IT!” She actually never rode over any of the stunts successfully. Crash-tastic Girl was brave as hell and having the time of her life. She had zero fear to go fast. Her knee was bloody, but she was still pedaling fast. Once she learns how to control her bike, she’s going to be amazing. 

After the event, when the coaches and I were reflecting about the day, I brought up Crash-tastic Girl. You guys, I said, she was so incredible. To her, she was totally DOING it because she was trying. Her “I did it!” moment wasn’t about failure, but rather, she was trying and thus totally doing IT in her book. We should all learn from her, I said. The head coach shared that she was happy that Crash-tastic didn’t break her arm and she’s never seen such fearlessness and joy in crashing. We laughed really hard together and imitated her gymnast-I-DID-IT-pose.

What really got me hooked on the idea learning how to coach wasn’t the Nope Girl or Crash-tastic, it was one of the mothers. When she arrived to pick her daughter up, I encouraged one of the girls to show her mom what she learned.

“Look at me, Mommy, I can rip the skinny.” 

Her mom said, Uh, I don’t know what that means.

Don’t worry, I said, just watch her.

The girl was out of the saddle balancing her way across the skinny. Then she hit the bridge. The roller. Joked with another girl. Stopped to make sure Crash-tastic knew she saw her totally doing it too. They high-fived. You ready to go home? Noooooope.

The mom had tears in her eyes.

I don’t even recognize my daughter, she said. She’s like a different person. I’ve never seen her so happy and confident. What did you do?

“Mommy, I’m going to rip it again. Okay?”

The mom said I’m going to go video this. Her dad won’t believe it. We’ve had a hard year as a family. I guess we need to buy her a bike. Thank you, Coach. 

I’m not a coach, technically speaking, but I will be someday. I’m going to do it.

I found a new love thanks to that mom, Nope Girl, and Crash-tastic, and I’m going to use this bloggy to share my learning on my path to becoming a Level One Coach as part of the Bicycle Instructor Program. On March 17, I’m going to take the WMBC ride leader certification with March Northwest and thanks to generosity of the bike community of Bellingham, I won a scholarship for this certification. I can’t wait to give back. 

Thank you, WMBC, and Mahalo for reading, my friends.

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Winter Solstice Scarf

A plea for the spinning wheel is a plea for the dignity of labor. ~Mahatma Gandhi

A few plane rides ago, a ball of yarn flew out of my lap just as we were landing.

The weather was awful and there had been turbulence for most of the flight. Just as we were about to touch down, the plane jolted forward and my ball of yarn went flying.

I was in that row right behind first class. You know that row.

That first row behind first class–the loser row–where you can smell all the mediocre food they don’t bother to serve to you. The thin curtain separates you from The Swells. The row where you can hear the ice cubes in the weak yet free drinks they don’t serve to you. It’s not the worst row on the plane–that’s the one by the bathroom–but it’s not the best. Honestly, I don’t mind this you-are-not-first-class row. You get to deplane faster than those who sit in the back, and you get some sort of treat in a shrink wrapped box. A free drink or two. You get to ride next to hardened work travelers who aren’t interested in talking with you. Nobody is on vacation and ready to make friends. My ideal seat mates.

On this particular work commute, I sat there knitting quietly during the entire trip, and just as we were about to land, the ball of yarn flew from my lap and pin-balled between the four rows of first class passengers. It zigged and zagged between people’s feet and carry on bags. Rolled continuously like it was guided by an invisible cat who batted it around through several rows.

I sat there stunned. Helpless. Shocked. With my needles in my hands.

I was in the middle seat so I had to crane my neck towards the aisle to see what had happened to my yarn. Crap! The yarn was dark purple, very thin, and kind of delicate. Expensive. It blended in perfectly with the airplane carpet. I tried to stand up to retrieve it and the flight attendant yelled at me that I was in violation of the FAA. Ma’am, you need to take your seat, she said.

I side-eyed her with all my rage. Sat down hard like a scolded toddler.

Just then a guy in the front row held up my ball of yarn, and said, “Who’s is this?”

Mine, I said. I’m so sorry. I held up my needles as proof. The yarn got really tight as he held it up the air. Dammit!

He reached into his pocket and took out a small nail file to cut it. I was wide-eyed. Stunned silent. Just then three women in first class yelled NOOOO in unison.

What. The. Hell. I thought. How did that guy get on board with that aorta slicer in his pocket when I got felt up by the blue gloves just to confirm that the underwire in my bra was not a semi-automatic weapon. TSfuckingA.

NO! Another woman said. Wait. Let’s untangle it, slurred a woman who drank a bottle of merlot by herself glass by glass during this flight. She drank three glasses to my one. I had already decided I liked her before this yarn debacle. Her lips were as purple as my yarn.

The guy next to her said, “My wife is a knitter. You don’t cut the yarn unless you have to. Let me help. We can do this.”

Then the woman who sat next to the Nail-File-Yarn-Discoverer took charge. “Give it to me,” she said.

The man beside her said, “Send it this way.”

“No, pass it under the seat not over.”

“I’m next.”

“Here.”

This type of exchange went on for what seemed like eternity to me but was probably more like five minutes. If I could’ve made myself invisible, I would have.

These complete strangers worked out a tangle of yarn between feet, purses, carry-ons, flight blankets, and seat rows. They laughed. Helped one another. Corrected one another’s next move. Touched hands as they passed the yarn. Looked each other in the eye as they passed the ball under their seats. Stretched in odd ways to guide my wayward yarn between their legs. Coached the next row of yarn guides from their own unique perspective. Bossed one another around. Turned into a team right before my eyes.

I sat there helpless since I was on the hit list of the flight attendant. She seemed annoyed that she had to stop reading her Kindle to keep an eye on me and Team Yarn. She was right to watch me.The second she looked down, I was going to get up. She had my number.

I did not like her as much as the Merlot Drinker.

By the time the yarn made it back to me, it took almost a dozen people to help untangle the fiber strand. When the last person handed it back to me, the entire first-class broke into applause about their work. They laughed. High-fived. A few raised the roof. The Merlot Drinker Whoo-hooed.

I sat there mortified and somewhat in awe. I packed up my yarn carefully. I’d untangle the mess in privacy of my hotel room later. Said thank you. One person asked me what I was knitting.

A scarf, I said. Felt mildly embarrassed that I wasn’t creating something more complex. They didn’t seem to care. They were quite pleased with themselves. Team Yarn got the job done.

Then the plane bell rang. People unclicked their seat belts. Grabbed their bags. Deplaned. Joined the masses of bodies in movement. Strangers all on their way somewhere.

I walked to my next flight in silence. Marveled at how my mistake brought the joy of collaboration to a few rows of traveling strangers.

I finished that scarf yesterday shortly after reading an airline offer on my phone congratulating me on flying so many miles this year. Thanking me for being a valued customer. You flew 123,047 miles this year. Congratulations, the algorithm told me, hope to see you in 2018.

That scarf was a project that I carried in my purse for most of 2017. I carried it to several different states. Airports. Hotels. Restaurants. Bars. Libraries. Universities. Colleges. Parks. Train stations. Taxis.

Just a thin gorgeous thread of purple. Garnet stitch row by row. Size ten needles. Simple. Something to do when I was too tired to work. Too stressed to sleep. Meditative. Easy.

Thinking about that flight now, it makes me laugh. Spontaneous joy. How absurd life can be. I might be missing an opportunity here to say something about the kindness of strangers. Spontaneous collaboration. Team work. Empathy. Generosity.

Maybe this is all an anecdote for a larger point. Someday.

Originally I thought I’d gift this scarf to somebody, but after all that work from the strangers in first class, I’ve decided to keep it as my own.

A gift to me on this Winter Solstice of 2017.

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Open To Bringing Your Best #Adjunct

If I know this community well, there will be mind blowing bloggy blog bloggery for days after the OpenEd conference. People are going to reflect, synthesize, question, debate better than I can because I had a bit of a different experience. It was my first OpenEd and my time there felt a bit like hosting a party for all of my favorite people. I had a responsibility to be mindful of hospitality. A role that is a great privilege of my life—not just my career—I knew a lot of people in that space. In that community. Some of the faces I got to see are my dearest friends. Many are people I’m hoping to become friends with in the future. I had the privilege of being a woman in this space who has a lot of very cool brothers. My Ed Tech dude-friends are like the brothers I’ve never had. The women are more than sisters. They are my inspiration. The reason I stay in this gig.

One woman, who could be described as one of the major leaders in Open, shared with me her true feelings about her friendship with another woman. “Without her, I would not have been able to live through this year.” And it was honest. Real. Heartfelt. Full of pain. Joyful in the moment of sharing. I had to miss the UnCommon Women session, but it seemed to have had an impact on a lot people so I hope somebody will write about so I can know what I missed.

I know some people so well that I had full conversations with them across the room just by looking into their eyes. I hugged and got hugged more than normal on a work day. People that I think are total visionaries who I planned to fangirl faint and swoon over when I met them, led with saying “Oh my gosh, I love your work so much….” Hey. Wait. What? That’s what I was going to say!

When the morning keynote began, I looked around the room at the faces in the audience. I saw high-level administrators in the room who sacrifice their own careers to help their faculty. Because they care about students. Instead of worrying about their own promotions and reputations, they spend a lot of unrecognized time trying to get more staffing and support for their faculty and students. I know those people have sacrificed a lot to keep this idea moving forward. Sacrifices to their health. Their relationships. Their time. Their own self-care. They sit at a lot of tables where people are unkind to their ideas yet they keep persisting. They stay in this for their people. They lived through hurricanes, shootings, violence, and suffering with their staff, faculty, and students. And on top of all those other duties assigned, they teach. They publish. They research. They resist. They persist. They are my inspiration.

When I looked around the room during the first keynote, I could barely pay attention to his words because I was so nervous for my friends who helped put on that student panel. I had the privilege of having breakfast with that student panel, and they were even more lovely before they got up on stage. They were so comfortable with each other and they were genuinely excited to be there. On the way down to the conference, I gave them my card and I told them that I write really great letters of recommendations. I’d help them if I could when they go on the job market. I told them this conference is a very big deal and they were so brave to talk about their experience. I shared with them that everyone in the room is going to be thinking about how they can hire them once they graduate. This is how it works, I said. People won’t forget you. You’re going to be so loved. You’re so brave, I said.

When Robin DeRosa’s Minnie Mouse ears popped up and she said, “How do we hire them to come to our campuses?” I jumped up and threw them a Yes Yes Y’all with my fist and they smiled so big and laughed. We had a very private moment of sharing in a room full of people. Though I’m sure I looked ridiculous to those around me.

This is all about people for me. It’s about connecting people and ideas. It’s about connecting to this community. It’s about The People. And this work has gotten harder. Really hard. More difficult. More taxing. Yet even more needed.

I looked around the room and I realized that I also knew a lot of people who are very new to this community. Very new. I’ve been to 67 schools in one year. If you count the multiple visits to the same campuses, I’ve been to 73 schools in 11 states. Five giant systems. Small schools. Rural. Urban. Talking about This Idea. All the This in the Open.

They know words like constructivism and problem-based learning, but they have never heard of open pedagogy. They know service learning and communities of practice, but they don’t know how to get started in the digital space to make that work connect to others. They don’t know what a domain is but they know it’s a real pain in the ass when you lose access to your teaching materials. They have adopted an Open course, but they haven’t edited anything yet and they have no idea why that matters so much to some people. They know Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic, but they may not know the 5Rs. They don’t care about the theories and ideas I care about. What you may care about.

They care about their students. This I know from the work that I’ve been privileged to do.

And thus, I knew a lot of people. After this conference, I’m still reflecting on where I fit into this community and my role in it, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to get something off my chest in this space so that I don’t melt down on my husband. This post is a bit of self-care to make sure I’m the best I can be for somebody who truly loves me. My favorite life-long adjunct. So here goes.

I need to tell you a story about leadership.

A beloved leader teacher friend once shared with me that leadership is about seeing your people as either Weapons or Soldiers. The Weapon does one thing very well. Point. Shoot. Repeat. Keep it clean. Make sure it works. Point. Shoot. Aim. Fire. Your Soldiers, on the other hand, figure how to survive no matter what the orders. No matter what the situation. They can manage five jobs at once to get The Job done. They can make a weapon out of anything. They need orders but once they’re in the field you trust them do their job. You need to have their backs if they fuck things up and you need take the blame should your superiors get angry at your Soldiers. You hope they inspire the Weapons, but you don’t push it. The Soldier needs to stay focused on the strategy and your Weapons get all the shit done to make sure the tactics work.

It’s a simple binary, right? It’s all so confusing. I thought hard as I listened to him tell this story. Am I somebody’s Weapon? Am I a Soldier? As I was listening to my very brilliant friend, all I could think about was that I’m a pacifist who doesn’t see the point of the war.

This life is not the life that I thought I would have. I thought by this point in my life I would be the next Joan Didion and I’m not. When I shared my sadness about not being Joan at this conference, my dear friend Mike Caulfield said, “Well, you didn’t know there weren’t going to be any more Joan Didions back then either so it’s okay. You’re good.” Open bars bring out the best in my Open friends.

This life is not the story I want to tell you about either. I want to tell you about an experience that I keep having at academic conferences. Especially in the last four years. This is not exclusive to OpenEd17.

There is a systemic disease in higher education where somehow people think it is okay to pin their problems on adjuncts, and it’s not.

Let me give you a little pro-tip if I’m in the room with you. Don’t ever blame the state of higher education and all its woes on adjuncts. Let me repeat. Don’t ever blame all the fucked up shit in higher education on adjunct faculty. Ever. It’s like putting pressure on a very old deep wound of mine and I have to say something. I can’t stop myself even though I know I should.

Let me give you two tips, actually. Don’t ever make the claim that a faculty member at a community college deserves less than an R1 researcher. That R1s and regional publics somehow have the ability to determine the quality of materials because of their credentials or the status of their schools. That what they have created in the community college arena isn’t good enough for university students.

Let me give you three tips. Don’t ever shit on adjuncts around me. Ever. Or I’m going to say something to you that you probably don’t want to hear. Even though I’m trying to dial that rage back because it only hurts me. It only hurts me, and I know better.

That person will never hear what I say. It’s not a conversation. It’s a declaration of power from that person and I’m sick of hearing about it. I am really sick of talking about it. Yet I still speak up. Yet I type here.

It happens at every conference when there is a discussion about teaching and learning. With one such interaction this past week, I listened to long tales of funding woes and that adjuncts don’t care about this. That. Adjuncts don’t do this and adjuncts don’t do that. All the negatives. All the negatives. And I get it. Some are not worth defending. I know this.

I snapped a bit when I heard a complaint about not having funding to send an adjunct to this particular conference. This funding struggle is real, but I think there is a way to solve it.

I asked, “You’re here, right? Somebody paid for you to be here. What about giving up your spot at this table to send your best adjunct next year? What about advocating for your best adjunct to be here? You have a year to make that happen. Why not give up your space at this table?”

Silence no response. Started packing up his bag. Note the pronoun in the previous sentence. Conversation over. Thanks for sharing. Fuck you very much lady.

Here’s the thing. Somebody else in the room was listening.

A very quiet administrator walked over to me after this interaction, and she was very soft-spoken. She said, “I overheard your idea. Can we chat for a minute? I’m going to send my best adjunct here next year. She’s doing the best work with her students using online resources that she finds on the internet. She would get a lot more out of this conference because she actually teaches. My boss thought I should be here to represent my college.” (emphasis mine).

I’m going to pause here for a minute to give you time to shake your head.

At the moment that I’m making a new friend, I got this pained looked on my face. This is not the conference where “representing your college” matters. She thinks she said something wrong. She is picking up on my weird energy and at that same moment one of my favorite administrators on the fucking planet bounces by with super-cute-double-hair-buns looking stoked about life. And I want to run after her and say hello but I have to finish this moment with this person. Let the record show that I resisted crying twice after seeing Amy Collier for the first time in two years because I’m a professional when I need to be. Sorta.

I breath. Dry up the tear ducts, Indrunas. Focus. I say, “What can I do to help you?”

She said, “I just don’t want her to be lonely because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of adjunct faculty here. These are a lot of impressive people who are very accomplished in their roles.”

I’m thinking “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I’m going to introduce her to [enter all my brothers and sisters here] who have been adjuncts or they care a great deal about adjuncts.” She won’t be alone, I promise.

I told her I’d try to get more adjuncts here next year. I gave her my card.

She’s a life-long adjunct, she added. We’ll probably never have a position for her but we’d like to keep her.

Here we go.

I know this story. I used to be that gal to several of my department chairs. I broke their hearts when I left teaching. Broke their hearts. I can’t tell that story today. Here is some of the story if you’d like to read it.

She also said, “I need data to help me support that OER works so that I can secure the funding.”

Data. Sigh. What do you mean that it works? What the hell does that even mean? For whom? Why? How do we measure success? I can’t unload the Ranty McRanty Pants Indrunas on her.

So I say, what do your superiors want to hear about the data on OER?

I get it. Numbers are an easy way to substantiate claims. The Quant always wins street cred over the emotional Qual. I’m a mixed methods thinker. Numbers aren’t enough for me and words don’t work up the chain of command. A beloved friend and colleague summarizes this battle well with one of his best quotes: “Data is for the weak.”

So instead I said: Open education makes people happier and they stay where they are when they feel respected and excited about their teaching. The feeling transfers to the students. A transactional learning experience becomes transformational. It rescues mid-life career adjuncts from burnout. It’s my hunch on things based on many conversations I’ve had with people. I can’t substantiate any of this with numbers, but I’m happy to talk to your superiors. I can help you get a lot of data if that’s what it takes to get your best adjunct here. Let’s figure out what your superiors care about and then let’s find the data. If that’s what it takes to help you keep your best adjunct here.

We can (maybe) help them be happier people as life-long adjuncts.

I want to respect a “life-long adjunct” because I was one. I’m married to one. Many of my good friends fall into this category.

Let me tell you now about one of my worst mistakes as leader.

I shared my career story once at a workshop by saying I got into learning about open education and thinking about education and technology because I wanted to escape being a life-long adjunct. I didn’t know my audience—I was talking to a room full of life-long adjuncts.

At lunch one of them said to me, “I’d love to be full-time faculty but I’ve accepted this is the only skill I have. At least I’m a life-long adjunct in a unionized system. That makes a difference.” Ab-so-fucking-lute-ly, I almost said and then stopped myself. Instead I shared that I had a retirement plan and benefits thanks to the faculty union in Washington State. I’m here because they invested in professional development for their faculty. I admitted that I worry a great deal about the power of administrators and the private sector in non-union states. He and I then had a spirited discussion about educational policy and open education. That night I kept my frigid hotel room warm with the heat of my shame. My regret of telling my story about “escaping being a life-long adjunct” to people who do not have options–I don’t tell that story anymore.

I sometimes overhear my Mister sharing what it was like for me circa 2003 when people ask him about his career. He shares that his current experience is so unlike mine. Back then, we would let the answering machine grab every call and we’d listen to panicked administrators calling on a Friday afternoon to staff a class that started on Monday. I had an application at every community college—and I’m not exaggerating—from Bellingham to South Seattle. That’s nine community colleges. I chose not to answer the phone two weeks before the start of the quarter because I worried that if I turned down a dean who was in pinch, she’d never hire me again.

We’d sit on the couch sipping beers and calculating if I should accept the offer and thus screw over the people who were already depending on me. I decided to stay loyal to two colleges, and that served me well in my career. My heart breaks when I hear him describe the radio silence during these recent hiring seasons. The phone, he says, never rings. They don’t even email me back a rejection, he says. They can’t even bother to automate a rejection email in 2017, he says. A part of me wishes we had never chosen to become teachers. A small part of me hates myself for feeling that way. A larger part of me can’t imagine a life that is disconnected from academia. A small part of me knows my life would be easier if I didn’t care so much. But I do. Okay, where was I? Right.

Bring your best adjunct to a conference. Your best life-long adjunct.

Had somebody done that for me, I might have stayed a teacher. Maybe. Or I would have been smarter faster about educational technology. I wouldn’t have been so trusting. Maybe. Or I would have done more creative things. Maybe.

Here’s what I wouldn’t have been: I wouldn’t have been so lonely.

Maybe I would’ve found my brothers and sisters as a teacher instead in this community of  whatever it is I am now. I would have found My People. I would have been happier.

I have one idea to throw out there, and if you’re listening and you’d like to share your ideas, please do.

What about bringing your adjuncts who are doing some sort of open pedagogy without even knowing it’s a thing? And by all means don’t tell them to research prior to coming. They should just tell their stories of how they work with their students and their faculty.

I attended two presentations at OpenEd17 where the teachers were killing it with ideas about involving their students and colleagues and they never used the phrase “open pedagogy” once. They shared rich stories of faculty collaboration without using any of the lingo. The jargon. The Ideas. The acronyms. The camps. The sides. The debate.

I need more of these stories in my life. This to me, is bigger than Open.

So how do we make this Idea of sharing happen?

At local conferences. At regional conferences. At the Big Dances like OpenEd? In your teaching and learning center? In your library? In campus coffee shop? And then how do we virtually connect to what you are doing?

How do we bring more adjuncts to the table?

I don’t know, so I’m just going to end this bit of self-care post so I can walk my dog and enjoy my home before the work week begins again. I’m going to cook for my favorite life-long adjunct and we’re going to talk about movies and bike racing.

I’ll conclude with Joan Didion:

“I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”

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Supported & Autonomous

I have been consulting quite a bit these last few weeks with teachers all over the country who are preparing for the fall term. Some of them I’ve met before. Some of them have been in workshops with me. Most are new voices over the web or through my phone with questions that I can (thankfully) answer. I can suggest workarounds or strategies to help them save time. Or I can stall long enough to ask somebody else who can help me (I work with really smart people. Every. Damn. Day.) It’s an incredibly interesting jobby job.

Unlike being an administrator who is preparing for Welcome Week or other campus events where you actually get to chat about people’s summers, their research, their plans for the upcoming year–my recent meetings are strictly business. I’m a stranger with answers for busy teachers trying to get work done before the term starts. We’ve all got shit to do. Every once in awhile, I get a delicious peek into how a teacher really thinks. How she really works. What she’s excited about. What exhausts her. What she wants to change. What she wants to keep the same. What frustrates her. And even though I know I should cut it short and stick the agenda, I’d rather sacrifice my personal time to have these calls go long. I like to hear a good story just as much as I like to tell one.

Here are my best two stories from the last two weeks.

Story 1–How Did You Get That Job: A Memoir

A teacher asked me directly how I got my job. I don’t have an easy answer for this question. Ever. It’s too long to summarize. It’s too weird to be a strategy. It’s a hard question for me. I want to respect an educator who may be looking to change her career. I usually get asked if we’re hiring for my job. Weekly.

Quick side note: I try to make what I do look like it’s all fun-easy-breezy work but it’s actually really fucking hard and exhausting. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not easy and it’s not always fun. For every hour I can predict, there are seven hours that are completely unknown. For every whimsical thing I try in workshops and presentations, I can subtract six months from my life because of the worrying and fretting. Then I top off that experience of worrying and fretting with worrying and fretting about what I should have done. Sometimes I drink. Sometimes I ride my bike really hard. And then I worry and fret about all the things that I haven’t been able to do to support my colleagues. And then I waste a bunch of time blogging about something that nobody will read and care about. Healthy, I know.

I take that question “Are you guys hiring?” very seriously. Here’s why.

It’s always an adjunct who asks me this question. Always. And my heart breaks.

Story 2–Roombas & Innovation

When I work with teachers, I write down their best quotes, questions, and ideas so that I can share them with others. So I can remember. So I can laugh later when it’s appropriate to laugh harder. Teachers slay me when they get honest and comfortable sharing their real selves.

You don’t have to burn everything down to use OER.

To change your curriculum. To spice it up.

Teachers get a lot of pressure to jump into the deep end with licensing their materials, embracing open pedagogy, revising their pedagogy, flipping this, flipping that…it’s too much. Small steps are sometimes easier and more manageable.

Here’s an example I’ve been using lately when the pressure “to innovate” is clearly stressing out a kind loving teacher.

Everybody loves the idea of Roombas.

You know, the robot that was going to steal the job of your vacuum and broom?

People love buying them on sale at Costco and coming home to put it to use. Cats riding Roombas totally kill it on the Internet, right? Roombas will automate your vacuum. Poof! You’ll never have to vacuum again. Just like that. Buy this product. Save time. Poof!

But let’s face it, you have to break out the fucking broom every once in awhile to really clean the corners.

That damn robot is a circle and our houses are filled with square rooms. Dust gathers in the corners. Fur from our pets become tumbleweeds too big for the vents of the Roomba.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good robot, but it doesn’t leave the nice satisfying rows in your carpet like a vacuum.

That robot solves the problem of feeling guilty about not vacuuming, but it doesn’t quite do the job.

The broom and the vacuum were once “innovative” and now we can add the Roomba to that arsenal of cleanliness if we want. We now have several tools to keep our floors clean.

Either way, somebody or something has to clean the damn the floor.

Truth be told, most people I know who own Roombas get more joy out of terrorizing their pets than rejoicing that their that their floor is clean.

Here’s the thing.

A teacher shared with me one of the most brilliant points of feedback I’ve ever heard about educational technology.

We were talking about what will work best for the fall. What will happen in the spring. What the future might look like for his teaching with OER. He said, “I want to be fully supported when I need it and I need to be completely autonomous.”

Fully supported and autonomous.

In short, help me when I need it and then get out of my life.

That’s a tall order if you work in a support role. Seems impossible. Some support folks may take this feedback personally.  I totally get it.

So.

Questions arise.

How do we prepare for the “when I need it” while respecting autonomy? Is this just-in-time support or something else? How can honor autonomy while fulfilling the “faculty support” job description? How do manage everyone needing support at the same time? How do we create collaborative communities when most faculty want to be left alone? How does this all work?

I don’t know.

I struggle with conclusions of all of my posts because I just want to keep writing.

Let me end this here with a favorite quote from Mary Oliver’s Upstream, that I finally finished reading this past weekend.

For me the door to the woods is the door to temple.

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Thoughts on Open Public Art

“…what if these fading languages contain words we never realise we need.” ~Ella Frances Sanders, one my favorite illustrators who participated in the #100DayProject

I just had four glorious days of being out with two friends who I enjoy sharing time with in the backcountry woods (it’s a small club). I have the blisters, bug bites, and sore muscles to prove it. It’s my second backpacking trip this month–once to the coast and once to the high alpine of Glacier Peak. Another glorious set of days in this fabulous July. I haven’t been to an airport in a month, and I’ve been able to ride my bike more than I have in two years.

I’ve spent a lot of time curating and cleaning up planning documents during the workdays and in the evenings, I’ve gone through a lot of old writing. Planning documents. Checklists. Outlines. Some of it I decided to end for good, and one project I’ve committed to finishing (again). I’ve scoped out a nice project for the jobby job and the hobby job.

Let me get to a few threads I’ve been toying with in my mind as it relates to writing–this will help me transition back to front country/workaday concerns.

I’ve been following Ella Luna’s 100DayProject with great interest and I need to mourn that it’s over. For now. A daily practice for me since it started back in April. I’m a fan of the idea of practice as a path for life-long-learning. Self-efficacy. Reflection. Meta-cognition. Choose your educational paradigm.

I’d like to explain these ideas without using theoretical lens at all. How do we do that? Well, I feel like I’m truly learning when I can let my mind fall into a few rabbit holes about things I love doing. Things that I love thinking about. I lose all track of time.

Sometimes it’s hiking in the woods–the hours I’ve spent looking at maps. Measuring. Usually incorrectly.

Doing yoga. Writing. Riding my bike–the trails that used to be so hard only to become easier–so fun now.

Knitting. How many rows will have to rip in order to learn I can’t drink and do math? It’s always such a great idea at the time.

Researching places I want to see. Reading. Reading. Reading.

Whatever The Practice–whatever one is valuing most at this time as a learner. 

This is why structured curricula based on the academic clock hour does not make sense when it comes to life-long-learning. The italicized words above capture what I’m trying to sort out. Time and place–those are usually the themes my kaleidoscope-like brain twirls around and around when I’m in the woods.

1. Time.

The-practice-something-for-100-days idea is popular with motivational speakers, theorists, yogis, and anyone who may be trying to sell you something. It’s got a catchy title. Like a good memoir.

What fascinates me about the 100DayProject is threefold and beautifully simple.

1] It’s hospitable for all walks of creativity with no rules for participation,

2] It’s free and open to anyone who is willing to commit the time, and

3] The only thing that binds together the common experience is a hashtag. Just a hashtag, yo. Nothing fancy. Brings together any platform that uses a hashtag.

Brilliantly low-tech with high-culture. Wiki-like. Easy.

A long-term schedule of daily practice around an idea. That’s it. If you can make it, wonderful. If not, that’s okay too. Just do what you can when you can. You’re never late. You’re never early. You’re right on time when you want to show up.

My inner-Ed-Tech-designer-trainer–in-higher-education voice frets a bit and says, “How scary, nobody can own a hashtag! [wrings hands nervously] Things will get messy. Who will own the project? What will it become? What if somebody mean hacks the good intentions of the artists?  What if somebody starts using the hashtag to sell__________? What if____________?” You know, those kind of thoughts.

My inner-teacher-writer-Self says, “Excellent. [taps fingers like Mr. Burns] Wow. Yes. Hotdamn. Where do we begin? This is going to be awesome.” And it was. Every damn day. I didn’t participate but I felt like I was a part of the communal practice by following the hashtag everyday mainly through Instagram. It was a reading practice for me. Meditative.

My favorite collection was from the illustrator that I cited in my epigraph. I love her work and I can’t really sort whether her work is ekphrastic or something in between. Mostly, I admire her practice–it’s something I haven’t been able to perfect in my life. I once tried to write for 100 days publicly and I got 58 posts with five drafts. It’s my best attempt at brevity to date though I didn’t make it to 100 days.

If you search for the words “100 days habit” you see a lot of “challenges” and “motivations.” When you start to dig into the advice literature, you see mentions of “automaticity” and “habits.” I’m also reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that I read only to congratulate myself for not needing since I’m writing The Rage Project (jk). I was simultaneously in awe of how much people loved Rubin’s work and how utterly boring the whole enterprise was to read. A lot of the advice/self-help genre involving time, practice, and/or habits can be too Eat, Love, Pray which makes me want to Puke, Fight, and Sin.

2. Practice

Merriam’s Dictionary defines the word “practice” to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient. I’m not sure “proficiency” is satisfying here when one considers the pure joy of creating. The pure joy. The 100DayProject brought together a lot of entries of pure joy. Learning. Contemplation. Reflection.

Okay, so where am I going with this? I had a moment of pure serendipity–joy– two weekends ago that hasn’t quite left me. After spending time with a friend doing a gorgeous sunset mountain peak hike, I drove home the next morning, and decided to stop at a Co-op. I was reading The Stranger and stuffing my face when I looked up to see an installation of a Before I Die public art, the brilliant and visionary global art project by Candy Chang.

I’ve never seen one in person yet I look in every city I go to. Every city. There it was in Mt. Vernon, WA of all places.

I stared out the window at its sweet simplicity. I watched a shop owner and his daughter wipe down the chalkboard surface clean with a brush and water. I wondered if they just maintain it or if they helped build it. I watched three people stop and write on the board. When I finished my salad, I walked over and wrote “Learn to Surf.” Drew a heart. Instagrammed my thoughts. Reflected on how surfing is the only sport I haven’t tried in life that I know I’ll love. Yet. Drove home thinking about the things I’ve done. The things I haven’t done.

3. Space

When I got home, I immediately read up more on Candy Chang.  Her Looking For Love Again located on an abandoned building in Fairbanks, Alaska is pure genius. She somehow blends the vulnerable with architectural– the word, the image, and the poetic.

Chang is unabashedly sentimental in situations where cynicism makes more sense.

She takes (in her words) the “neglected space” and turns it into a “constructive space.”

From her website:

By drawing emotional attention to the neglected building and providing residents with a platform to share, the project explores the impact that buildings have on our lives and how they can become meaningful again.

Italics mine.

You should listen to Candy Chang describe her work in this lovely Ted Talk:

So. I’m trying to sort out something here, and I’m not sure what it is.

Truth be told–this scattering of blatherings is to help me sort out what I want to say at the PechaKucha Night La Conner: Communities and the Commons at the Museum of Northwest Art.  I’ve been asked to talk about open education to a community of artists at one of the sweetest art museums in the PNW (my friend works there). I’m humbled and so honored. And I’m so excited! I want to talk about something different than higher education while teaching about open education, art, and curation.

I want to teach people about open education without ever calling it that until the very end.

Open. As in public art. As in Public Art. Wish me luck. If anything, I get to confuse people in a really beautiful art museum.

For now, I’m going to record my thoughts here until the preso. During these last few days of July as I research for this talk. While the sun still takes a long time to set. While I have a few days to climb mountains. While I let my body heal from my month of adventure. While I’ve had some luxurious time to think.

For now, let me end on this quote from the Association for Public Art:

What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means.

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions.

Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression.

Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.

Remove “public art” and enter “(open) education.”

Spacing of the words? Mine.

Emphasis on the italics? Mine.

Thoughts on Public Art? Ours for the next few weeks. Here.

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Aperture & Open & Creativity

Awhile back, a post of mine took off in wild wonderful ways, and I did plan on a follow-up post on all the workshoppery. But then a lot of travel for work happened and this post sat in my drafts folder. It’s somehow already July; we are on the cusp of a new season. 

We like to think of the academic year as being organized by semesters or quarters. Course outlines. Contracts. Paychecks.

Time.

For those of us who are trying to support faculty–both in the private and public sector–there are really two seasons. The busy-as-fuck autumn and the busy-as-hell early spring.

Conferences consume The Winters (which are always coming) and the off-contract/research time swallows The Summers. We have two seasons of connection potential, and truly, I applaud all faculty who use the other two seasons to completely ignore us. 

Today I want to reflect a bit on a somewhat recent post by Alan Levine, Mr. Cogdog. (this post has been in draft form for weeks?) Like many of you, I read and ponder the twittery debates between and among my OER heroes and heroines. I usually don’t respond to any of them but I read. And then I watch many others weigh in. Conviction via posts. Snarks. Links. Explanations. Annotations. Empathies. Questions. It’s been quite The Season with the engagement with Open. I haven’t engaged at all with the questions of defining anything–not because I’m worried that people won’t treat my ideas with respect or that they scare me with their genius brains. I’ll just be honest–I can’t distill my thoughts into a witty engaging tweet unless it’s about beer, bikes, or Boston Terriers.

I need more space to think, and thus, I convince myself to not tweet. But I read. I think. I jot down notes in my journal. I watch the frayed threads of defining words and actions overlap, resonate, and expand. The stream turns into a garden of thought for me (high-five, Caulfield).

I’m not one to cherish one definition of any word, and I don’t think that one side—or in this case—all sides are that much different. I see many Venn Diagrams spiraling and engaging with important ideas for teaching and learning. Where they overlap pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they diverge pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they get confused pushes us towards the unknown and somewhat frightening. 

We (meaning anyone who cares to see some change in higher education) need conversations like this and ways into thinking about the history of and state of open education. For example, maybe you high-five Wiley when he posts. Maybe you push an EduPunk fist-bump towards Groom. Maybe you nod enthusiastically with Caulfield. Maybe you can’t keep up with hitting “Like” with everything Maha posts. Maybe you cry reading the stunning beautiful words of Catherine Cronin (wait, that’s me).

These are just a few names–I could go on and on and on.

Maybe you were and continue to be lost as fuck about what any of them are even talking about. Either way, you thought a bit about your own context about teaching. You considered what you care about. What you do. What matters to you. What you need in your little corner of academia. What you need from Open. What you need from being open. What you want. What you need. 

Open, OER, Open Pedagogy, Open Teaching, OERs…whatever you want to call it is really too new to be named in my humble opinion. I’ve written about this too-new-to-be-named before and thank all my lucky stars the fabulous Lee Skallerup Bessette wrote about my thoughts. To watch one of my favorite writers/bloggers use my train wreck of thoughts was so special to me. You may disagree with me about “The This” as it relates to all things open that I think is too new to be named and that’s fine. To me, The This is all about teaching. And learning.

The majority of the teachers that I work with are new to the whole concept of open anything. ANYTHING. These folks that are just learning—just like all us at one point—and like it or not–they are going to shape what open will become. What it can be. I’m honored that I get to tell people that I have a few answers but I don’t have THE answer.

What open was and why it matters is not the most important aspect of questioning the definition(s) of open. Forgive me for conjuring up my go-to way to substantiate my ideas, but it’s all the not-yetness (#Collier&Ross4Evah). 

If you truly subscribe to one way of thinking and defining words, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from people who are new to these concepts. To me, that’s the beauty of open everything. I learn from you and you learn from me in the open. Out in the open. Open to suggestions. Open mind. Open to what works. Open to what does not work. Open to hearing that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Words are just words. I’m interested in the action. I’m interested in the inertia. 

And let me be clear, I am not without strong opinions about open education. I cringe daily—sometimes hourly—when I read grant proposals, RFPs, DMs, policies, emails, tweets, and blog posts. I’m more comfortable stating what it is not than what it is. But that’s not what I want to get into today. That kind of thinking is Big Picture. High-level theory. Being 30,000 feet high. Scholarly. Searching for horizons. Big ideas. 

Let me take you down to weeds. Let’s dig a few holes.

Which brings me to the barkings of the Cogdog. In my little corner of the open landscape (Maybe it’s a seascape because it’s so big. Whatever. Damn, I’m the queen of the mixed metaphor.)

I teach people about Creative Commons licensing almost weekly as part of the jobby job. I’ve been to 57 institutions in ten states over the last year. My jobby job sends me all over the place. I meet a lot of interesting people. I talk to a lot of teachers. And I love them. I adore teachers and administrators equally when they begin by talking about students. Creative Commons licensing, to my target audience, is something very new and all about naming. 

Institutions are paranoid about being sued and many grant projects have strict licensing rules for expanding the use of OER on campuses. I introduce the concepts of CC licensing and why it matters, and I’m advocating for folks to participate in the CC course when its done. I can share my perspective on all things Open pretty easily at this point. I struggle, however, with licensing—not because it’s particularly complex–it’s just always contextual and fraught with history. Fraught with human error. Like words and definitions. Licensing forces binary thinking about a very creative endeavor–teaching and learning. It’s either CC BY or it’s something else.

Teaching licensing and how to use an editable platform is the perfect marriage of pedagogical praxis as it relates to educational technology (oh crap, this might be another blog post. Focus, Indrunas, focus). The CC licenses are the theory behind how to enable sharing and we need dependable platforms to enable that sharing. If I have 90 minutes to open the door, so to speak, on licensing as a practice, then I’ve got to make it easy-breezy-peasy. Dare I say it? Yes. I like to make it fun for faculty.  

Here’s the thing.

Finally.

I’m always searching for anecdotes or some sort of story to explain all the CC BYs. You can haz all the CC BYs. 

To explain all the CC BYs.

Sometimes I talk about how a colleague gave me her handout and I cut my name and class title out from paper using scissors. I then taped that scrap of paper over the title of her handout to make copies for my students.

Never mind that the handout was on plagiarism and I was plagiarizing my friend (do I say not as I do, students. That’s definitely another blog post).

This is the Remix and the Reuse of the 5Rs. I also Retained that crappyass handout for years because I made a gajillion copies of it as I taught boatloads of Comp courses. I was rocking the 5Rs way before I knew what open meant, yo. I bet you were too.  

Then I share that it wasn’t until my colleague sent me her Word file that I could make changes and revise and retain it.  

I use that same “Ditto-Sharing-Story” in different contexts where the technology is scarce. Like if I’m writing URLs on a chalkboard using chalk. If this surprises you in 2017, I encourage you to travel to a rural community college in your state. If this surprises you in 2017, I can conjure up at least a dozen people from IT and eLearning to substantiate this experience. If this surprises you in 2017 as a high-level administrator, you need to make an appointment to observe a class taught by an adjunct in the evening at your satellite campus computer lab. Watch them struggle with technology when there is nobody around but security to call for help.  

Okay, back to what I say to the teachers–Sometimes I’ll throw an LMS under the bus to get to what faculty hate about LMSs. I’m always willing to host that party, y’all. I do rejoice in introducing folks to writers of e-Literate and their brilliant description of the LMS as a mini-van. This anecdote totally kills a room by the way–kudos to Michael and Phil for the comedy. You guys need to roll that joke every chance you get when you meet faculty who have no idea what the hell EdTech is (you’re welcome). 

Okay, where was I? I’m not a comedian. I teach people. Right. And I have point with this post. Right.

Alan Levine made licensing really easy in his post Open As in Aperture (I’m linking here so that you read it). He admitted in his post that he was “camera-splaining” and I can totally relate to that feeling as a writer. I bike-splain a lot. Maybe this blog is Alyson-splaining (or Indy-splaining) and that’s definitely another blog post I can title “Well Actually.”

I’ve tried several times and failed to explain OER as a bike share. Sometimes I have out of body experiences when I listen to myself heading down the bike-share-lane-as-pedagogical-lens and I see why it all falls apart. Right as I’m about to get out of the saddle, I drop my chain. Every time. I get too deep into the dorkery of all things related to the bikes. I totally get how hard it is to use one interest/love as a metaphor for another interest/love. 

A bike share needs three basic ingredients: 1] policy, 2] infrastructure, and 3] an enthusiastic audience. You need people to carve out the space (policy), make sure it can grow/scale (infrastructure), and people who excited to make it happen (audience). I would also go so far as to say that climate, terrain, and culture also play into the success of bike share. Look at the fucking Dutch culture if you ever want to get depressed about your current town.

What struck me about CogDog’s work—and thus prompted this post—is the short video of the UMW students and his use images explaining aperture. In the video, the first student uses her hands to explain how we “narrow [our] personality down” depending on the social context. Brilliant! Yes, I do that! I may drop the F Bomb here but I would never do that in front of your Provost (unless you want me to. Sounds so fun, btw. Let’s talk).

In the video, the students are discussing online identity—which is connected to our open practice—and I understand how Alan got to seeing the apertures.

I’ve been hunting for a visual for CC licensing, and holyhotdamn, I think Alan captured a framework for me (see what I did? so punny). Without getting into any details about photography, light, and aperture, I think this image works beautifully to somebody who is new to this whole idea. 

From left to right. Everything you own in a box to left. Sorry, that’s Beyonce not OER.

Public Domain (big open space for creativity)

CC BY  (a bit more closed for creativity)

CC BY SA (less space)

CC BY NC (really closed)

CC BY NC ND (if you look really close at this aperture it looks like an anus, amirite? lol)

Admittedly, I have a lot of work to make this visual work both for teaching and learning. But it’s got me thinking.

If you look at this image above, and if you think of the dark space as what’s “open”–meaning what’s available for reuse, then as the shutters close–the less freedom you have to be creative with that work. That’s really what licensing is all about. Creativity.

Moving from left to right, the potential for remixing, revising, and reusing narrows. What does that really mean for teaching and learning? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

I don’t really have an elegant conclusion here, but I know in my gut that this is all connected to the digital space as it relates to teaching and learning. And I just really like this idea and I wanted to share it.

I’m reminded of something Susan Sontag wrote about in On Photography and I’ll leave you with her words.

From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.

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#OER & A Letter of Recommendation

One of the mistakes that leaders and champions make over and over again—myself included—is that we assume we know how to move adoption forward based on our own experience. Our own lofty ideas about the future. Our mistakes from the past. Our own research. Our own egos. Our confidence that we have all the right definitions and answers. Don’t get me wrong, expertise is important but the moment you think you’re an “expert,” you are missing an opportunity to learn from faculty.

My complete and utter lack of time to invest in my own professional development is forcing me to rethink my own involvement in the workshop work I do. I’m trying to give myself time to learn by shutting my mouth and listening to faculty. This is the longest I’ve gone without taking a class of some sort in 20 years. I love to learn, and I’m struggling to find time for my own thinking and space for reflection—work is just too busy and I’m spending more time on the bike. All good things but my brain feels like it’s atrophying. I’ve been to 55 schools in 11 months, and I meet a lot of people. I’ve started to think of these conversations with strangers as my professional development—I can learn something from everyone everywhere. The fact that they trust me as a teacher/speaker/trainer still blows my mind.

During workshops, I’ve started to break people into small groups based on platform or discipline interest. I usually take the motley crew of the undecided, the skeptical, or the discipline-with-no-OER. If you think you’ve got the whole OER-as-professional-development down pat, I’d like to invite you to attend a workshop full of nurses and criminal justice teachers. Be like Blondie, and call me. I’d love for you to observe why this work is so hard.

It’s my job to help my other facilitators be successful, so I give myself the challenges. I spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zones both as a facilitator and a teacher/trainer. At my most recent workshop, teachers expressed the need for a letter of recommendation or letter of intent for a textbook review committee.

This is the brilliant idea that I’d like to share with today–mainly because I’m deeply embarrassed I have not thought of this before. Something so simple. Yet.

I’ll admit my experience with this type of textbook selection committee is limited as a teacher. As an adjunct, I usually worked for departments who either gave me complete freedom to choose my own materials or I worked (briefly) for schools who had pre-selected texts that I had to use in order to get hired. I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was an adjunct to have such a supportive network of colleagues. When I see some of the working conditions of my workshop attendees, I see my adjunct career in a whole new light. I was really lucky in an unlucky era.

My work as an administrator was purely centered around eLearning where we had no influence or power over any materials that faculty used in their courses. The real revolution in higher education is in the hands of the LMS Admins, by the way, yet they are typically overlooked, ignored, and under-appreciated by faculty and administrators alike. Edtech companies don’t see that. Policy leaders don’t see that. Visionaries don’t see that. Okay. Breath. Don’t get angry. That’s a whole other post and soapbox, yo. Focus, Indrunas.

That all being said, I’m trying to enter my workshops with an open-mind to learn from strangers. I had a very productive conversation with faculty members who expressed the need for an executive summary about the courseware they are choosing for OER adoption. I asked them specifically what would help them, and I listened and wrote notes like a madwoman.

If you know me well, you can attest that I will talk your ear off when I’m excited about something. Lately I’ve been really trying to be a good listener. I’ve been asking my workshop faculty, “What’s something that you don’t have right now that could make OER adoption easier for you?”

And then I shut my mouth and listen.

I take notes by hand in a paper journal—my magic machine for work blows up with too many notifications. If I use my laptop/magic machine, they think I’m not listening to them. Using a pen and paper invites those teachers to talk. A really good teacher loves to lecture and share what she knows. I love a good story. Good students take notes. Even if they tell me something I’ve heard a million times, I still write it down to respect their ideas.

Before I get into the best idea I’ve heard in months with this question, here’s a top ten list of things they usually say that they need.

  1. Time
  2. Funding
  3. Help identifying material that will replace a textbook
  4. More information from their administration about how they will sustain OER
  5. Details about what others have done in their discipline
  6. Examples of complete courses
  7. Peer review information about the course content
  8. Ways they can use the 5Rs
  9. Instruction on how to license their own work
  10. Guidance with repositories (Here I do interrupt them because I share with them how much I hate repositories and why they frustrated my faculty when I was an admin. Why I thought they were pure crap when I was a teacher. I flat out tell them it’s a bad idea to curate courses from a repository. Sorry if you’re a believer, but that idea is a failure at scale. When I hear “What we need is a repository filled with discoverable learning objects that faculty can search to build their courses” I instantly crave whiskey, gin, vodka, IPA, and/or a nap. I start to sweat a little and a small vein pops on my forehead. I stop listening and try not to put on my ranty-pants, but FFS, enough with the repository-as-solution. Just stahp.)

Here’s the thing.

Two teachers at Nassau Community College who are part of the brilliant SUNY system gave me one of the best ideas to date.

I watched them get super-excited about SOS’s Biology I and II and their Anatomy & Physiology course. I showed them the attributions. How to search. How they can use their LMS to customize for the upcoming year and then we can work on a two-year plan to create their ideal course. I struggled in all of my science classes as a student and I sometimes weep for my younger self that I didn’t have teachers like the ones that I got to meet this week.

After they shared what they think will work, they said, we still have to take this to our textbook committee. Faces fell. Arms crossed. Eyebrows scrunched. A cold wind blew through the computer lab. They stared at me. Blinked. Silence.

That’s when I asked my question.

“What’s something that you don’t have right now that could make OER adoption easier for you?”

They said they needed a letter of recommendation about the course materials they are planning to use. An executive summary about who wrote the course, what other schools have used this course, data on whether it improved student learning, discipline-specific endorsements from colleagues within their system. One endorsement with somebody important from SUNY could go a long way since these are course materials not from a traditional publisher.

We need a short letter that the committee can read that will substantiate our choice, they said. Data on how this course helps retention. A blurb about student engagement. How it works with their LMS. How this is not just random information curated from the internet.

Accreditation standards and documentation of course materials quality is a concern with their committee. How can we explain to them why this is a good option for our students? I felt deep pangs of empathy. Oh, I get it, I thought.

Put yourself in their shoes going to a committee that has no idea what OER means, how Creative Commons licensing works, and no paper text to pass around the room. Those ladies helped me identify a barrier that I hadn’t even considered.

They need documentation that this isn’t just their idea—they need a community of voices to support them with a committee who understands little to nothing about how all this works. All  of the information exists for them–somebody just has to curate it and put it in a medium that has some gravitas.

A letter of recommendation goes a long way. Even in 2017.

I’m getting bloggy here with this idea so that I don’t lose my thoughts as I put together something more useful and hopefully more professional for my busy-as-hell SUNY heroes. This type of letter is not hard to write and it could make the difference between students saving a lot of money and not. Between having money for food and not. Between staying in college and not. Between using OER in the fall and having to wait another year. Or three.

Okay, this is a really half-baked post, but I wanted to share my best workshop question and the sweetest little idea I’ve gotten from teachers. If you have something I can use, then please share. Maybe this is something you already know that’s needed, but it’s a nice reminder to me that all of my best ideas about open education have come from the teachers themselves. Sometimes we just need to shut the hell up and listen them.

For now, I’ll just conclude with a quote I used to read to myself as an undergrad when I felt like an idiot in my classes. When everyone else seemed to get it but me. When I thought everyone was smarter than me because they had so much to say.

Mary Wollstonecraft, tell it, sister:

The beginning is always today.

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