#NWeLearn2018 Keynote: Change Management & Other Duties As Assigned

This is the keynote that I delivered today at NWeLearn in Boise, Idaho.  I skipped a lot of words and free-styled a bit during the actual preso, and here is a link to my slides. This is what I wrote in its entirety to prepare for what I said today. Thank you NWeLearn. 


Change Management and Other Duties As Assigned

Since I’m standing in front of academics the first thing I want to admit is that I struggled to come up with a title for this talk, and I agonized even more about my blurb. So let me try it out on you now just to see if any of you want to decide to do something else with your life for the next hour.

Here’s what I pitched: Attendees of NW eLearn are all too familiar with the phrase “other duties as assigned” in their job descriptions. Change management, innovation, and thought leadership, to name a few buzz words, end up in this catchall category of our job descriptions. Because student success—especially with educational technology—is in all of our job descriptions, how do we support one another as leaders through this process?  Whether you’re an adjunct faculty member or an executive administrator, you might be spinning a lot of plates to implement changes at your institution. This keynote will address the challenges and joys of our community of practice with other duties as assigned.

Did I get all the right words to sound key-notey?

But here’s the question that I really want to address today: How do we support one another?

How can we be more empathetic and kind towards one another as we try to connect and sort out the future of teaching and learning? Together.

Let me also first start with a bit of truth-telling. I haven’t done discipline-specific research in over six years. I’ve given up on trying to publish anything peer-reviewed about my current work because the last time I saw my name in print concerning educational technology, it felt so out of date that I felt embarrassed to say I wrote about iClickers and cell phone polls. Life comes at you quick. When I read my work in the journal, my ideas were positioned as the dissenting voice or critique of the technology that every other writer praised. The only response I got from readers were from clicker companies who wanted to give me a demo or additional support to “really know their product.”

I suppose I’m qualified because I read a lot and I write almost daily about things that I care about, so I’d like to invite you to take any of my ideas and make them more academic sounding. I’ll post this talk on my blog and license it for re-use. So what do I have for you in lieu of actual research? What makes me qualified to keynote when I’m not an academic anymore? I write a lot of nonsense, and most of my conversations about higher-education center around my rage about adjunctification of the teaching profession or my own navel-gazing reflections about my career path. I’m not affiliated with an institution, I’m not a teacher, not an administrator, or anything that else that really qualifies me to stand up here and inspire you for an hour. But maybe, just maybe, I can entertain you with a few stories, and give you something to think about in your own context. Your own lives. Your own professions. Your own joyous accomplishment with being a part of this community.

I love the NW eLearn community.

This group of people gave me my first chance to change my career. After my very first NWeLearn in 2013, I felt like I had found My People. It was like a magical group of tech nerds who liked to geek out on the dorkiest topics. You understood wikis! You loved talking about workarounds and solving problems. You could out-snark me! You could make me laugh. You could teach me how to be smarter about educational technology. My People. I love the work that I do today, but I really miss this community. So thank you, NWeLearn board, for asking me to be your keynote today.

Prior to working in educational technology, I was a little lost. I was an English Composition teacher for over ten years. An “I-5 Flyer”–a contingent teacher who drove up and down the I-5 corridor in the Seattle area jockeying for a full-time position that never came my way. To make a very long story short, I took advantage of the WA State tuition waiver, and earned a second master’s degree where I focused on instructional design. I took five years to complete a two-year degree and I wrote about the open door policy of the community college, teacher burnout, educational policy, and leadership. I reflected on my own teaching career using fancy-dancy graduate school jargon. I honestly didn’t know that I was going anything innovative or interesting at that time; I was merely trying to figure out a way to make a living.

My first presentation at NWeLearn, I had fo to cancel and I was sure I’d ruined my chances of ever presenting again. My cousin was getting married that same week, and at the last minute his photographer canceled and my mother strongly suggested that I put my skills to use as a favor to the family. I had to make a decision to burn a bridge with the EdTech folks of the NW or be on my mother’s shitlist. Weeks later, I got a phone call from Jerry Lewis that people were interested in my session, and that they’d like me to present what I was going to say via webinar. I said, “Sure, that sounds great” and then I stewed in terror about something that would live forever on the internet. Then I volunteered to do another webinar on my failures as an online teacher, another on being a leader, and then another on open education, and I found myself saying, “Sure, I’ll try that” Or “Sure, why not?” or “Yes, I think I can do that” a lot.

Yes.

And with that spirit, I accidentally found my leadership philosophy without even really trying. It’s a very simple philosophy. Just be the first person who is willing to say yes. Say yes. Just raise your hand and say yes.

While I’m talking about raising your hands and leadership, let’s do an informal poll to get some context of experience in the room. Help me do some informal research.

How many of you have been through an LMS transition? Raise your hands.

Okay, now keep them up if you’ve been through an LMS transition twice.

Three times. Four times.

[Keep counting until I get down to a dozen folks.]

Okay for those of you that have been through a major technology transition like that [X many times] raise both of your hands.

You’re the victors of educational technology leadership! You’ve been through the worst of the worst and you’re still here. You’re still saying yes.

Let’s give these people some applause.

Remember their faces and buy them drinks or give them extra dessert later. Ask them what they are going to do when they retire.

These are the people who continue to say, “Yes, I’ll do it” or “Yes, I’ll try.” And I realize that many of you did not have a choice. You were either voluntold that this was going to be your job or it was just part of that academic year’s mission. Either way, you recognized that this is the future. Whether your faculty wanted it. Whether your administration wanted it. Whether you thought it was the right thing.

You said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” You held onto hope you were helping students.

I have spent the last year or so reading the The School of Life series. These slim little aesthetically pleasing books have been a bit of professional development for me. My own joy of reading on the weekends.

From their website:

The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm, and how better to understand the world.

In How to Be a Leader by Martin Bjergegaard and Cosmina Popa, they remind us that “Leadership is a choice, not a position…and [t]he best leaders in the world find what they really care about, and almost everything else flows from this point” (p. 10-35).

For me, I care about students. And I imagine if you are here today, you do too.

My People.

I care about creating opportunities for people who were born on the wrong side of the tracks. People without privilege. People without capital–social, cultural, economic–I care about students. I care about teaching. I care about learning. I also care a great deal about the people who supports this work in the behind-the-scenes.

The question we do not ask enough is: “Who supports the supporters?”

When I’ve done workshops on open educational resources, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done, I always advocate for time with the support folks so I can listen to their concerns without faculty present. It’s even better if their superior isn’t present. It’s the one way to truly get to know people who work as classified or professional staff in organizations and help them with their jobs. They get a lot of other duties as assigned.

This also gives faculty time to share their concerns about the people who support them. Faculty, by the way, are good at what they do because they don’t particularly like being supported. My favorite quote from a teacher when I worked LMS Admin. support was, “I need you to solve my problem and then get the hell out of my office because I have important work to do.”

Technology is stressful, man.

And this work of managing change–change management– is exhausting.

Before I go too much further, the former English major in wants to pause and put my foot down to reflect on the words “change management” because there is a lot of history in the ways we use these words. In human resources. Organizational change. Technology. Project management. There are 8 steps. There are consulting firms. Self-help books. Certificate programs. It’s kind of a silly phrase when you think about it. How can you really manage change? It’s like the phrase “organized chaos.”

Let me define what I think this phrase means in the context of open education.

Open education isn’t about licensing, adopting, adapting, building, curating, doing-it-yourself, debating about whether free, nearly cost-fee, or partnering with a vendor is the superior stance. It’s about supporting people through change. A pedagogical change that directly impacts the affordability of college for students. It’s a massive shift in our academic tradition.

You have to take this work step by step. You have to look for a path to sustain this work among the cairns. Whether you’re guiding students down new pathways or being tasked to be innovative, this work is about change. Some are resistant. Some welcome the challenge. Some will help you. Some will try to get in your way.

If you return to this question at the root of everything you do, then you will find the path forward.

Ask: Does this help my students?

Either way, leaders, you’re often in a position with your team where you have to admit that you don’t know how something will work out. Teachers, you’re in a position with your students where you have to admit that you haven’t done something before and it may not work.

And it’s exhausting. It takes its toll on people. Change management could be summarized by The Dude from The Big Lebowski when he’s talking to Maude.

Open education and change management is “a very complicated case…you know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.”

A conference like NW eLearn can help recharge you. A conference like this is the rug that really ties the room together. Makes you feel a bit less alone. Some of you may be lone wolves at your institution. Some of you have a solid pack. Some of you are respected leaders in this community and beyond. Some of you are early-career. Some of you are late career. Some of you might be a bit star-stuck, and let me give you some advice. People that you might think are superstars are genuinely nice and dorky in their own right. Just talk to them.

If I’ve learned anything in the last three years it’s that all leaders need people. And it’s hard and dangerous to admit your flaws, your weaknesses, and what you don’t know.

I spent some time reading all the leadership books for this talk. I read about leaning in, finding your why,  the color of your parachute, and how radical your candor must be before I had to stop. Those books, albeit worthy of teaching us all something, they made me feel like leadership was this sacred circle of successful people who had all the answers. All the answers.

The first rule of Leadership Club?

Don’t talk about what’s hard. Only talk about what makes you perfect. Don’t talk about your failures. Don’t share the sordid details about how you totally blew it. It’s more the rage to get up in front of people and talk about all of the wonderful things, but let me tell you, this is the community where you can talk about what’s hard. What’s not working. If you’re doing something right, then make sure you share what you’re doing. Are you killing it back at your home institution?

Share everything with your peers here and then offer to speak at their institution. Sometimes having somebody from another organization speak to your people can make all the difference. There are a lot of schools within driving distance of this area, and there is a wealth of information to share to support one another. We can easily drive to share our ideas in this community. Truth be told, I’m with the character Miller in Repo Man when he says, “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” Maybe take the bus. You can do your best thinking on the bus. Or ride your bike. Just do it in person.

Who supports the supporters?

Let me start with a few of the challenges, and then I’ll get to the joys. All the joys. And then I’ll share some advice that I have not substantiated with research. Something that you can hopefully take back to your institutions. Something that can help make your hard jobs easier.

Allow me admit, I never saw myself–and still don’t see myself–as a leader; I just volunteer. I say yes a lot. Say yes. Maybe you’re the same way.

My first position as a leader of a project, I thought somebody else was in charge, and right before the start of the meeting she shared with me that she will provide the funding from her budget, but I was going to do the work. She got up and left. Told everyone I was in charge. Everyone in the room looked to me to start the agenda. I pretended like I knew what I was doing and that’s pretty much been a skill I’ve honed ever since. So now that I’ve admitted that I’m not an actual researcher and I’m not an academic, I think I’ve got a few good stories today about what I’ve learned since I’ve gone to work in the private sector. Here goes.

Over the last three years, I’ve been to over 100 schools–community colleges and universities–in twelve different states. I’ve talked to a lot of smart people about open education, open pedagogy, and the change they are managing at their institutions. It’s been magical. I owe all of my current thinking about education to the people I’ve met through Lumen Learning, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had representing this company. This company that cares about students.

My People.

Allow me to address three problems that I see over and over again at institutions that I think are a barrier to managing change. The trifecta that makes the jobs of “other duties as assigned” so much harder.

The Ambitious Administrator

The Adjunctification of Teachers

The Always Changing Initiatives

The Ambitious Administrator—for those about to rock up the ladder of leadership, I salute you.

Ambition is a wonderful trait in a leader. Necessary. What’s difficult for the ambitious administrator is that you have to keep that ambition private, or it can kill the morale of your current team. Some of you have your sights on other jobs right now, and this presentation at NW eLearn might be that rung you need on your ladder. In fact, if that’s your goal, tell that to the person you hope to be your future boss. Why the hell not? Connect with them on the LinkedIn. On the Twitters. Invite them out to dinner. You never know.

I just beg of you to do one thing, Ambitious Administrator, leave a list of what to do for the people who will get stuck doing your job as other duties as assigned for the next six-eight months that it will take to replace you. Or what to do should they not replace you and distribute all of your duties to the other duties as assigned. No position in higher education is more destructive to innovative momentum of an institution than that of the Vice President of Instruction. Almost all VPIs or VPAs have their sights on being president. And that’s awesome. During the time that they are on the job market, however, every sexy line on their CV can mean more work for their direct reports who get left behind. So what do we do?

We can do better than exit interviews. We can leave people with a vision. We can help people make a plan. You can fight to promote somebody who you think can lead people through a change. If you can’t do any of that, then leave a checklist or a timeline of what you would do. I’ve had the privilege of helping a group of faculty from three institutions through a grant project where the writer of the grant and the main point person left for another job. No list. No timelines. Just the grant language. When I read through the grant, it was a blend of magical thinking, ambition. A pure brazen mess of open educational grant buzzwords. In other words, in between the lines, I could see this person saying all the right things to win the grant funding. I saw the super sexy line on the CV. And thankfully, I could see a path towards a solution and I could pretend like I knew what I was doing. One of the teachers said of this leader, “He’s burned a bridge with me because this work is impossible to do in one quarter.”

Sometimes the bridges we burn, light the way. I get it.

The next barrier is the ever increasing adjunctification of teaching labor. I have no quantitative evidence to support this theory, but I’d argue that when it comes to technology, we might be saving money short term in labor, but we’re losing tons of money in the long-term. I’d also argue that the labor that we expend in faculty support with technology, it’s actually more expensive to hire adjuncts in the long run. I don’t really have a whole lot to offer in the ways of solutions—it’s too personal to me. We can—and by we—I mean this group—can rethink how we support those faculty.

If you aren’t considering how to help adjunct faculty on a regular basis at your institution, you are failing your students.

In The Weekend Effect, a somewhat depressing tomb about how we have slowly let technology take away the two days that labor activists fought for, Katrina Onstad sums up the current state of our careers. She writes, “We carry our jobs in our purses and packs, on our bodies” (p. 36).

How many of you are checking email right now? Multi-tasking to keep abreast of the inbox. Inbox zero is the biggest lie tech people tell about their work. I don’t believe it ever happens for anyone, but I digress.

Onstad says,

Gone are the days of long-term employment in one organization, with decades of mutual loyalty and a gold watch at retirement; job security is a relic of the past, like a butter churn, or a Slanket. For many, work is painfully insecure, a patchwork of short-term contracts or a series of small jobs that add up to one fragile living (p. 8).

Students see this, by the way, but they don’t quite understand the labor conditions of our faculty. Hollywood movies and television do a nice job of fooling most young people into thinking that teaching is a stable career. And for some of you, it is. For others, you laughed-cried when Tina Faye’s character runs into the Mean Girls at the mall on a break from her night-time restaurant job.

Students trust us to have their best interests–their backs–and I’m not sure that’s always true with the way we run our colleges.

For instance, when I was an eLearning Director, I once had a student who asked me: Who is Dr. Staff and why does he teach so many classes? How to begin explaining to students that that one of the most expensive investments of their lives is managed by contingent workers who have little to no job security? How to explain that we have to enter “Staff” in those schedules because we care about print deadlines in 2018?

The Always Changing Initiatives

Despair not, My People. These initiatives hold so much potential for collaboration! Whether it’s Guided Pathways, Co-reqs, learning communities, there are ebbs and flows that lead to managing positives changes. As the noted philosopher Geddy Lee tells us, change isn’t permanent, but change is.

And this year’s Horizon Report–which I read mainly so I can understand Audrey’s Watters snark-tweets about it–summed up the challenges of leadership in technology and education. If you don’t read Audrey’s work–Hack Education–I am assigning this as another duty for you. She’s the most important journalist in our field. Read her work.

And note the “Wicked Challenges” in the Horizon Report–the use of the word “wicked” really made me happy. I’m married to a New Englander, so the word “wicked” has a lot of uses.

Here’s what those wicked smart people predict:

The experts identified political and economic pressures as those that create a wicked challenge—one that is difficult to define and even more challenging to solve. Similarly, rethinking the roles of educators is also considered a complex problem to define and solve.

For the record, the word “wicked” appears in the report only nine times. And if I can hop up on a soapbox for a minute, the easiest–and I mean the easiest complex problem that we can solve and define is the cost of learning materials. Period. In fact, when I see the word “wicked” I start hearing Public Enemy’s “Welcome to The Terrordome.” I know Chuck D. wasn’t talking about how to save students money on their textbooks, but this works for me:

I got so much trouble on my mind/Refuse to lose/Here’s your ticket/Hear the drummer get wicked

There are solutions from section to system on how to do open education, and I know of one that works exceptionally well. I don’t have The answer, but I have AN answer, and we need to include educators in the conversation about redefining their roles. Wicked. Indeed.

And let’s be honest, we can feel the pain of everyone and then we feel nothing.

If I can use the NWeLearn tagline right now, then I can transition to a new point.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

In my mind, there are three broad categories of leadership.

You can be a Champion or a Chicken Little or somewhere in between. In a blog post, I called this in-between space as being a chump.

Forgive me, I haven’t seen the Disney version of the Chicken Little story, but I know the folktale. An acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head and he thinks the sky is falling. He can only see the ultimate worst catastrophe. Chicken Little is paralyzed by fear. Change is hard to manage when you are scared.

A Champion, according to the lovely people who edit and contribute to Wikipedia, can be a noun or a verb. A state of being or an action. Yes!

According to Wikipedia: In an ideological sense…a champion may be an evangelist, a visionary advocate who clears the field for the triumph of the idea.

I love that definition, whoever you are, Wikipedia author. The Triumph of the Idea might be the most perfect memoir title for an academic.

The Chicken Little story stuck with me because it makes a lot of sense if you help people who teach with and without technology. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The acorn is a new LMS! The acorn is new software! The acorn is new courseware! The acorn is big giant budget cuts that are going to gut everything you’ve been doing! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

It also applies to leadership because you can tell your team “Chicken Little don’t work here, y’all.

I didn’t hire him. The sky is not falling. We just need to _________.”

And they laugh. It helps to diffuse the pressure.

A Champion is poetic. A bit more romantic. A bit more heroic. A bit more intelligent. A bit more versatile. I’m thinking Knight In Shining Armor type-champion. Brienne of Tarth-type badassness. Your job is a noun. Or your job is a verb. Thought Leaders champion ideas and people they like. Ideas and people they can trust. Ideas and people worth following. They look up and down to make sure it’s the acorn and not the sky. They don’t use exclamation points lightly.

They don’t run around getting everybody all worked up.

Here’s what I know: I’ve had quite a few Champions along the way in my career and I think it’s worthwhile to champion for people and for ideas. When I spoke to the SBCTC New Faculty Institute a few years ago, I asked everyone in the room to think about the champions who helped them get there. My audience was newly hired tenure-track and FT temps in the CC system. They got that rare full-time job. That even rarer tenure-track position. Here I was talking to the very people I had at one point in my career hoped to be. I stared down a room of teachers and asked them to think of their Champions. I saw some smiles. Nodding heads. Some furrowed brows lost in thought. I paused for silence.

It was the moment I felt a real connection in the room among the group. If there were thought bubbles above their heads, I would have seen photos of their Champions. And then I asked them to champion their colleagues who are adjuncts. Help them get here next year or some place else someday, I said.

What unknown pleasures might lie in advocating for others. This is something I’ve learned from my colleagues in the eLearning Council in WA State.

Here’s my (choke, cough) *leaderly* thoughts/advice:

Don’t call yourself a Thought Leader if you are trying lead people. (That title is for others to decide about you. Don’t call yourself that. You sound like a Chump).

Talk down the Chicken Littles (they are reactive Chumps, not proactive leaders who think).

Be a Champion (somebody was for you, right?)

In another School of Life book, A Job To Love, Alain de Botton sums up a lot of our experiences in our careers and the careers we are helping students discover:

…it’s eminently possible that the kind of work that someone is best suited to (and around which it will be possible for them to love what they do) doesn’t exist yet. One might have a great deal of potential for a kind of job that has yet to be invented (p. 8)

Think about that–most of us do work that wouldn’t make any sense to our grandparents. Most days I talk to my laptop for hours. I interact with people in five different states synchronously on an hourly basis. Who could have predicted this?

Think about the future our students are facing. What their jobs might be like.

Let’s return to other duties as assigned. Do you see a future job in your department? Do you see a lot of little duties that add up as other duties as assigned that could become a job. Like an OER Coordinator. An Instructional Designer. Faculty Technology Consultant. Student Technology Support Mentor. Apprenticeship Project Manager. Digital Equity Consultant. Accessibility Advocate. User Experience Guru. Digital Redlining Destroyer. Open Pedagogy Evangelist.  

Alain de Botton outlines five distinctive skills which [he] believes are key for effective leadership (p. 86). The instructional designer in me loves a good list of verbs:

  1. Inspiring, storytelling, enlisting and selling
  2. Understanding what others are saying
  3. Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings
  4. Being open and transparent, including about the difficult stuff
  5. Creating a space where others will feel safe to tell you the truth

Hopefully you know this. You practice this. You can take these ideas back to your team.

Some of the best lessons that I have to share about leadership, actually come from cycling. In my spare time, I advocate for girls and women to ride and race bikes. It’s really more about the camaraderie than the competition, and this community-building has taught me just as much as my work in open education.

  1. You are only as fast as the slowest rider in your pack.
    • What this means is that if you are truly working as a group, you can only achieve what’s possible for the slowest rider. A ‘no drop ride’ means you make sure that person is okay with your pace and your distance. It’s really not about who is in front, it’s about who is the last in the pack. For me, in open education, it’s about the early adopters or even the second generation, it’s the people who have yet to join who will influence this movement in ways we have not yet seen.
  2. If you can’t ride the course or the trail, run with your bike as fast as you can.
    • Every trail–initiative, policy, practice–has a bail out line. You can make it down any trail you want.
  3. You can win (or lose) right up until the last corner.
  4. Every great ride or race usually has more suffering that you lovingly reflect on as fun later.
  5. Riding and racing is always safer and more fun with friends.

So what can I offer you here, my dear leaders? What can I give you that will set the tone of the conference? Let me give you some Hot Tips. My grandmother played the lottery pretty much everyday of her adult life, and the Pennsylvania Lottery put out Tip Sheets based on myths, ridiculous statistics, and trends.

Hot Tip, Baby Doll, she’d say when she felt good about a number. And really, everyday held the potential of hope until they drew those three numbers at 7pm. So here we go. Hot Tips.

Hot Tip #1: Count The Students Not The Teachers

If you work in professional development of any kind, and faculty members attend your session, count how many students they teach with your reporting to the Budget Big Dogs. Don’t just list how many faculty are in attendance. Count the students that they teach.

Let’s say you JUST have four faculty members in your session. You loser! For the record, I’ve flown over 2,000 miles to have that happen to me. Good times.

Before you cue up the sad trombone and don that hair shirt, consider that each of those faculty members might teach 125 students per term. Each.

So that’s 500 students with those four faculty. All those students. Or 1500 hundred students a year if you’re on a quarter system. Or 1000 per semester. The return-on-investment with professional development dollars go way up when you calculate it that way. If you want to account for the labor you and your team invested in to create that one hour workshop, it looks a bit more worthwhile if you count the students that you’ll reach.

Hot Tip #2: Keep Everything So Simple. Easy.

So what do you do for your faculty to keep their learning about technology simple? If you’re a teacher working with students, what do you do to help your students? For your workshops? How do you think of small solutions that will have a big impact? If you have one match to burn, what fire do you want to start?

For instance, if there are thirty things that you think is really cool about Open, just talk about five things. Maybe less than that. Tone it down, man, you’re overwhelming people.

In fact, I’ve learned from a colleague who teaches math that maybe you just focus on three items. Five things, Indy, are just too much when there are a lot of hard things to learn. Give me three things, he says, I don’t have the attention for five. That’s all I can remember when things are hard. So okay. Yes. Three things. Simple. Just not in this blog post.

In fact, get faculty to teach other faculty. That’s how I got my start. I was a faculty member who won a grant to teach my peers about technology, and I found a whole new passion. Faculty members in attendance, these are the people to tell that you want to do that work, and it should count for your professional development.

Hot Tip #3: Start with what faculty want to learn.

It’s super scary to teach teachers. Holy mother of all the gods I don’t believe in. So hard.

They are the best and worst students. Mean. Direct. They are the best because they care about their work. They love learning.

They are also the worst because they multi-task and they talk while you’re talking. They don’t like the vulnerability of appearing like they don’t have all of the answers. They’re used to being the smartest person in the room. They’ll sass you. Put you up against the ropes before you can even make fists for the fight. And they get angry when you waste their time. Gloves off if they do not agree with your version of Open. Your version of teaching. Of learning.

So I recommend starting by asking for their questions.

What do you want to learn today?

Just roll with the questions. If you don’t know something, admit it. The best facilitators I’ve seen use this approach. You can establish a clear ethos from the start. People stop checking email and they listen.

The willingness to go off script changes everything sometimes. Or this is the lie that I tell myself most often.

For those of you speaking in session over the next two days, I’d love to see you start by asking why people chose your session. What did they see about your session that they thought they could learn? Be willing to bounce around a bit, and you can use your pretty PowerPoint as a follow-up. Pass around a sheet. Get people’s email addresses. Start a slack channel. You need this support when you go back to your gigs. I promise.

Most importantly, ask people who are attending your session what they wanted to learn from you. They read your blurb, decided to be in the room with you, so they must have some ideas. Even if it means totally scrapping your presentation just roll with their questions and have a discussion. Your powerpoint and notes will make a brilliant follow-up email and continue the conversation.

Hot Tip #4: Explicitly include your adjuncts.

State directly “Adjuncts are encouraged to attend.” For every event on your campus. And don’t remind them that they won’t be paid for attending the event. They know. It’s insulting.

Better still offer the same training/professional development online. Asynchronously, you radical. Or hold online office hours. You can work while you’re waiting to hear from somebody. Be consistent with those hours and be patient.

Are you skilled enough to virtually connect people with face-to-face folks? Check out what Virtually Connecting does–you could easily adopt that model if you’re confident with the technology. Their on-site/remote buddy model is one of the strongest examples of online hospitality that’s adjunct-friendly that I’ve seen. I just wish I had more time to participate in what they are doing. Maybe you do. Maybe someday for me.

If you’re not up to that style of facilitating, that’s okay. It takes does take some practice to run it all smoothly. But why not jump in? What the hell? Nobody needs to know it’s your first time.

And honestly, if everything goes off the rails, have a real honest to goodness heart-to-heart with the people in your workshop. At the point where everything is falling a part. Pivot to these three questions and pretend like it was part of the plan the whole time.

Have them fill in the blanks for the statements below:

  1. What scares me the most about teaching with technology is__________.
  2. This year I would like to try _________.
  3. When I was an undergraduate, my favorite teacher helped me understand_______.

Listen. Write things down. Look everyone in the eye and tell them that it’s probably “other duties as assigned” for you, but you’ll try to help make this happen.

Because there are no easy answers to any of this work. There is no handbook for what it means to be an effective leader in these austere times. So what can we do for one another during these next two days? We can be kind and open when we’re listening to one another’s ideas. We’re trained as academics to parse out differences, unpack difficult ideas–to point out what’s missing. We live in exhausting times–let’s use these two days to be generous towards one another. For instance, if you are presenting ideas from a well-funded university with a team of support staff, make sure you present the alternative for a leader who has no support, no funding, but wants to bring that ideas to his students.

If you are presenting from an urban school with a massive population and your enrollments are up, share a strategy of what you would do if your enrollments were down. Imagine how what you’re doing might work at a rural school.

If you’re presenting a strategy for professional development, share all of the details and make sure it’s something that you can also do for an adjunct who gets hired on a Thursday to teach a class on a Monday. In fact, all of our professional development should stem from that very reality.

Who supports the supporters?

Me.

Just remember that things are going to change. It’s the nature of our field. Remember and be quite aware of what you’re going through. You can watch the ripples change their size but they never leave the stream (really poor David Bowie remix).

I’ll conclude today with a bit more Alain de Botton because I think this quote gets at the heart of what it’s like to be a part of change management in your other duties as assigned in educational technology:

“Much of life is spent on the cusp of uncertainty and ambiguity” (p. 151).

One thing is for certain, we’ve got a great conference for you. Enjoy it and your time together.

Thank you.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, #OER, professional development, adult education & writing. Travels to talk about Open Education during the workweek. Advocates for more girls on bikes during the weekend. Bike racer w/ @queensofdirt A Memoir.
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