Reflecting On Some Things: A Memoir

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen

I’ve been writing three blog posts for months, and I just need to post one. My mind is buzzing with all of the conversations that I got to be a part of this past week. I learned a lot from a bunch of really smart people that I’m honored to call my friends. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about leadership, change, and open pedagogy. For a lot of folks who are dog-tired of hearing the same soundtrack about how to do and be Open, it’s a conversation they are hungry to have. What’s next? Now what? How do you define open pedagogy, they ask. What do you say to faculty who are interested, they ask. What are some great examples that you can share with me, they ask. Is this the way we get people interested, they ask.

I don’t know. Maybe. Here are few things I do know.

The first thing I share is that I think we need to quit calling it open pedagogy when we’re introducing faculty to The Idea. For a faculty member who doesn’t know Open and hasn’t had much experience with pedagogy, we’re using jargon. Meaningless words. We’re asking faculty to play “Icky Thump” when they haven’t mastered “Love Me Do.” We’re asking them to knit complex cables when they haven’t even combined knits and purls. We’re asking them to bomb down a black diamond run when they haven’t figured out how to stay upright on the green run. We’re making things harder before we even get started. Throw in licensing, the 5Rs, and some technology into your talk, and you’ve lost the whole goddamn room save for a few people. How do I know? Because I’ve done it.

After that Shit Show Preso, I started by asking teachers how they get students to collaborate. Didn’t use the words Open or Pedagogy for most of the talk. I listened to them talk about their craft. Chances are faculty are doing something already that is either very close to the principles of open pedagogy or they are doing really cool work but they don’t know what to call it. Usually without getting compensated for that time.

The third thing I share is that I don’t trust anyone or any research that claims to have it all defined. The ones I trust are still questioning. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing projects that work towards those definitions, but it’s all too new to be named. If you know my bloggy, you know I’ve written about this idea before and if you want all 20,000 words, it’s here. In sum, when REM played David Letterman for the first time, he asked them what they were going to play and Peter Buck shared that the song was too new to be named (It was “So. Central Rain”–love that song). Such chutzpah–I mean what the fuck Peter Buck–you’re on Letterman and you don’t have a title for your song. Wut? BRAZEN. BADASS. Just got up on stage and killed it. If you watch that clip or if you were old enough to remember that night on TV, note/remember Michael Stipe. Interesting. Okay, where was I?

Here’s the thing.

If you’re a leader, you gotta be like Peter Buck back then. Be willing to be a rock star while your Michael Stipe figures out how to own the stage. You sometimes need to let your drummer quit and become a farmer. Accept that you need a Mike Mills back-up and that’s okay. You can’t do everything. Just play the damn song and do it. I’m not sure what I have to say in this post but I just need to process some ideas before I get started on things I promised my frens this week.

So maybe here’s The Thing. I just need to reflect. Here goes.

A few nights ago, I was scrolling through the Instagramajama and somebody had put together a clever remix of the 24 Lessons for Filmmakers.

But they called it Lessons for Life. Ooooohh, do I call them out for getting the wrong title? Do I slam them for breaking copyright practices? Do I judge them for not doing what I’d do? No. Who gives AF? The post made me think. So here’s what I thought about most of the night when I couldn’t sleep so I drank and wrote. Totally healthy. I’ve been on the Hemingway’s advice of Write Drunk, Edit Sober wagon quite a bit lately. So here goes. Let me remix some Werner Herzog wisdom (in bold) in the context of trying to figure out what I think about opening the pedagogy. And other things. Mostly other things.

  • Always take the initiative. 
    • Ya damn right. Just try. It doesn’t have be perfect. Admit to your students that you’re experimenting with some new teaching methods. There might be a dork like me in your class eating up everything you’re doing while dreaming of becoming a teacher. Dreaming of what she’ll do as a teacher.
  • There is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it means getting the shot you need. 
    • Seems a bit extreme, Werner, but what I think he’s saying is that you need to take chances. And be held accountable. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and try something new. Ask your students about the assignment and what they got out of it. Chances are if it failed they can help you fix it for the next batch of students. Our best resource is often the students themselves.
  • Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.
    • Okay, I’m not going to write anything about this one because I think Werner probably stole this one from the one and only Linda Williams.
  • Never wallow in your troubles; despair must be kept private and brief.
    • Good goddamn this work is hard. It’s really hard. I’m not going to write about that today.
  • Learn to live with your mistakes.
    • Some of the best examples I’ve seen of opening the pedagogy is where students create materials for other students. One teacher shared with me that she has her students write short letters of advice on how to cheat in her class. She said when those assignments come in at the end of the term, she reads them after she submits grades. They all get credit, she said, and I learn more about my own teaching then any peer observation or self-reflection. She let’s her students read the best ones from last quarter at the start of the next term. Simple yet genius. And before you get all, “I don’t want my students to cheat…” and start assessment-splaining me, I invite you to rethink cheating. We might call it saving time or collaboration in other realms of adulthood, like say, in the jobs that students hope to get when they graduate. Just sayin’
  • Expand your knowledge and understanding of music and literature, old and modern.
    • Viva The Humanities. I prolly shouldn’t write about this one or I’ll get Ranty McRanty Indrunas fired up and she needs STFU and take a little holiday break.
  • That roll of unexposed celluloid you have in your hand might be the last in existence, so do something impressive with it.
    • This is one of my favorites because it’s about being brave.
  • There is never an excuse not to finish a film.
    • I have to politely disagree because sometimes life gets in the way. Shit goes down. Maybe you’ve had an idea that you’ve wanted to do for quite some time but you haven’t found the right moment. Maybe this is more about overthinking the finished product. Just finish it.
  • Carry bolt cutters everywhere.
    • I’m pretty sure this one is connected to the statement about being willing to go to jail, but maybe that’s just me. Tell it, Werner.
  • Thwart institutional cowardice.
    • YES. Figure out the work around! Want some help? I’m ya girl. When you hit a barrier because of an institutional policy or tradition, ask the people in charge if there is a way to change the policy. It’s easier to change policy than tradition, and that’s a longer conversation. You’ve got to be in the long game. There are no pedagogies to open if everyone loses their jobs because institutions close. Enrollments are down. It’s scary for a lot of people who are contingent. Budgets are tight. People are making hard decisions.

The next four are just too perfect for me to muddy up with my thoughts. Just read them.

  • Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  • Take your fate into your own hands.
  • Learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.
  • Ignite the fire within and explore unknown territory.


Walk straight ahead, never detour.

  • So connecting this one to opening the pedagogy, I’d say this has to do with confidence. If you are uncomfortable admitting to your students that you’ve never done something before, then keep your chin up and pretend like you’ve done it a million times. Fuck it. Are you an aspiring leader? Fake it till you make it, baby.
  • Also I feel like focusing on renewable assignments from the get-go is a major detour and it’s hard. Or pitching a framework where “contributing” is the first step towards changing your pedagogy is a lot of pressure. (See Icky Thump/Love Me Do comparison above). Faculty are very insulted when you tell them they have assignments that are disposable. They are very insulted when you tell them that what they are doing isn’t good enough. Disposable and Renewable are terms that are brilliantly–visionary and useful–but really hard to conceptualize for faculty. At first.
  • An easier question might be: What’s something simple you have your students do every term? Make them think about connections with your previous and future students. Let them define it, not you.
  • Maneuver and mislead, but always deliver.
    • So let me be clear here, I can’t lie to teachers. The work of teaching and learning is too personal for me. I can’t look myself in the mirror if I maneuver and mislead teachers. For example, if you are an instructional designer, you have to earn the trust of faculty to do your job. It takes time to do that work effectively (unless you have a top-down initiative and then chances are they think you’re the Learning Outcomes Police or the EdTech Soul Killer). When you are working with a faculty member, what about sharing an idea that YOU know is open pedagogy? Just don’t call it that. Cut the jargon and just talk to faculty about good teaching ideas. Save the cool theory talk and fun facts for your Open Frens.
  • Don’t be fearful of rejection.
    • Don’t overthink it. Don’t take it personally if your students tell you they hate the assignment. If you’re a leader and you feel frustrated that faculty say no to your ideas, be patient with them. Don’t give up. If it makes you feel any better, I sometimes have more people turn me down by lunch time than you might in six months. I translate the phrase “I’m not ready to do ________” in my head as “You should talk me next term.” It’s my own bit of self-care to stay optimistic.
  • Develop your own voice.
    • So let me tell you a quick story. True Confession. This maybe should be another post, but I don’t have an editor and who cares.
    • I got an F in English 101. Fer realz. Failed that class as a college freshmen. Failed THE class that I couldn’t wait to take. You know I had visions of Dead Poet’s Society type shit where we were going to read, think, and be DEEP, man. I was trying to be an English major. And I got an F. Instead of having a teacher who cared about me and my learning, I had a very opinionated teacher who was a fascist about the way we interpreted everything in the class. Two weeks into the class, my teacher was on some windbag lecture about Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. A depressed woman writing Big Thoughts was my jam! Let’s rap! And this teacher had it all wrong. All wrong. So I raised my hand and asked why we were talking so much about Plath’s life, the teacher’s research, and not the book. I had a few sentences I underlined and annotated that I wanted to talk about that. Let’s talk about the art not the artist!
    • If you teach writing, you know that I was an ideal Book Nerd right? Not to this Joy Murderer. She destroyed me in front of the class. Told me that we were setting up a discussion and that I needed to be quiet and take better notes. You could use some practice focusing on directions, Miss Inder-Ind–In–however you say that last name of yours, she said. Then she returned to her “research” and the windbaggering. During the break, I left the class and never came back. I didn’t know I had to fill out paperwork to drop the class in order for it to not appear on my transcript. I knew nothing about being a college student. Nada. Neither did my friends. I got two As and an F that term. When I taught College Success, I told that story to every class. It blew their minds. How did a college professor get an F?! I told them that I kept reading. I kept writing. My next English class I was invited to be in the Honors program, but then I dropped out to take a dreamy job. I found my own voice outside of class, and so will you, I would say to my College Success class. Graduate first. That dreamy job will still be there. And I taught them how college worked (I hope). I’m more ashamed about wasting my parents’ money than I am about that F. I should have just stuck it out and got the credit.

If you pause and read the next five lessons as a poem, it’s awesome. Find your poet voice:

Day one is the point of no return.

A badge of honor is to fail a film theory class.

Chance is the lifeblood of cinema.

Guerrilla tactics are best.

Take revenge if need be.

Herzog, so poetic!

The Herzogism below made me go back and look at the mission statement kind of thing that I wrote as an idealist future instructional designer four or so years ago.

I would like to be an instructional designer who advocates for the poor, the underserved, and the underprivileged. I’d like to examine the necessary balance of power and influence to support open education in my corner of the world. But maybe what I want to do is just too new to be named.

So I’ve lost thread of the opening and the pedagogy here, but I’m really just thinking aloud about leadership. Just thinking out loud, really. My hope is that we think about the words that we use when we talk to faculty. The words are the lesson.

I’ll let Werner close it out because this one is my favorite.

Get used to the bear behind you.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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