The Work Finds You. Reflections & Questions from #CascadiaOpenEd

This past week I had the distinct honor of attending the Cascadia OER Summit, and I thought I’d keep up my tradition of blogging about what I learned at a conference since I didn’t do a great job of sharing while I was there. Live-tweeting feels a bit too multi-tasky these days, and I can’t keep up with it all. Plus, I really like to spend quality time with people I never see. The notifications to my social media and email accounts never stop, and although I love to include people who couldn’t be there by hashtagging it up, I can’t do it anymore and feel sane. Selfish, I know, but necessary for me. Thus, I’ll get bloggy with it.

I wrote down major questions that I want to explore, personally, but before I do, I’d like to list out a few things that I need to confess. Confess. Confess. Confess.

1] There were a lot of people at this conference that I really wanted to sit on a couch with and just shoot the shit, but I was working, so I didn’t/couldn’t. If that was you I made puppy dog eyes at, let’s make the time either virtually or in real life. If we don’t, another six months will roll by and we’ll never talk. It was awesome to see your face.

2] I’ve been going through some heavy shit personally that I’m not ready to talk about here, but my life feels like a Polaroid photo that won’t develop. I peel off the protective strip, and I wave the photo to dry but the image isn’t coming in clear. It just won’t develop in words  that form a story yet, but I’m working on it. I think I’m plagiarizing somebody here with this metaphor–but it’s the only way I can spell it out. I’m not sure if there is name for this thing I’m going through–some things are harder than they used to be. It meant so much to me to see a keynote speaker be vulnerable. Thank you, Heather Ross, for sharing your story.

3] While I was in Vancouver, I dropped some cash on some fancy lipstick, and for the fucking life of me, I can’t figure out make-up. My husband doesn’t really dig with my face with make-up so I’m winning, but every once in awhile, I like to rock it. It’s like my inner 13 year old who wishes she was Bjork takes over, and the next thing I know I’m buying really bright lipstick that I know doesn’t work with my skin tone. I’ll probably give it away to my friend’s daughter so now I feel guilty about wasting the money. Why is being a woman so complicated?

4] Wow, I am eternally grateful for the community of people that I lucked into knowing. To the SBCTC people, I’m Alyson. To the BC people, I’m Indy. To some of the Oregon people, I’m both Alyson and Indy, and it was really entertaining to be in a setting where I have two names. I met one woman as Indy and she talked about something “amazing” that Alyson Indrunas said, and I didn’t tell her that was me. It was magic! A girl has no name! 

5] Two faculty told me that they learned so much from a workshop that I did years ago, and they shared wonderful things about their course and their teaching. I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t remember the workshop, what I said, or what I taught. I used to be so good at remembering people and faces and things that I’ve taught, and now I’m not. I just listened and felt really grateful that something that I did made them happy. 

6] One person told me she quotes me all the time in her workshop when she explains open pedagogy to her faculty, and I broke into a sweat because I didn’t remember how I defined it. Shit! Was I having a bad day? Oh dear. Was I optimistic that day? No clue. Like no idea what I could have said. Turns out, I’ve said something kind of useful. Who knew? So nice to hear! What a surprise.

So before I get caught up with the work that I need to do, and before I really get into The Thing of this post–The Thing–I needed to get that ridiculousness off my chest before I can share what I learned during those two days. Thank you if you’re still here. Let me know if you need some fabulous lipstick.


Here are the questions that I wrote in my journal:

1] How do we scaffold/support “open pedagogy” when there is such a resistance/debate/struggle to define it? Why does this question exhaust me? So many people describe it as a way “ditch your lesson plans” or “scrap your plans in the class” or “just adapt to what the students need” or “burn down your teaching practices” and that’s amazing, but how do you teach a teacher to get there?

How do I hand a teacher a flamethrower when she has nothing to burn because she’s a new teacher? Or new to using OER? I don’t see how to help somebody teach that way until they have the confidence and faith in themselves to fail in front of people. It takes hours and hours and hours in front of students to feel that confident. I used to script my shit down to the minute as a teacher. As a speaker. As a whatever I am now. I scripted the fuck out of everything before I felt like I could go off script. I planned. TO. THE. MINUTE.

Now, I can’t seem to follow a script if you give it me (sorry colleagues), and I can wing it because I failed a lot as a speaker. And I forgave myself. I still FAIL a lot (present tense) as a speaker. And I forgive myself. It took me a decade to feel like I could teach the way that a lot of people describe open pedagogy, and the idea of it still scares me when I put on my community college adjunct hat who desperately needs a job.

I haven’t seen a way to get there–because I don’t see a there–that I can teach a faculty member. I need to simplify it for myself before I can explore the complexities. I know of a few great projects that embrace the practice, and maybe I should just write about that and let those who actually do research define it. 

2] Why do we discount transactional experiences for students? Why does everything have to be transformational or we’re failures? Why do these questions exhaust me? Or is this just because we are at a conference and everyone likes to share successes? I’m not sure what triggered this question, but I need to think about this more. Heather Ross claimed that the failures felt like “hers” and the successes were “ours.” That sentence clanged like a one ton bell for me. Yes.

3] Why do we spend so much time talking about the Big Pub and their evils? Believe me, I know the market. I know the evil. I know the injustice. I know the racket. We know. We know. We know. What’s next? That’s what I’m interested in. The better question for me is “What’s the workaround? Is there a workaround? Are there disciplines where we just have to live with the shit of exploitative pricing because there are no options? If so, for how long?”  What good has it done to come at this work from a place of anger? 

Let me pause for some context because I’m being a little vague. I stopped tweeting about where I was presenting because those who are competing with what I’m doing for a living starting contacting faculty while I was presenting. While I was presenting, yo. Faculty received emails offering them money to be “content specialists” while I was preaching the word of a better way. Should I ever write a story about Upper-Level Trolls, that’s one story.  

I just can’t work in a space where I feel hatred, despair, and anger at somebody or something else anymore. Karen Canglialosi expressed her anger at the exorbitant prices, for sure, but it’s her undying enthusiasm and joy for what she does as a teacher that I prefer to be the source of motivation for other teachers. That’s the feeling I want to bottle up and send to everyone. She has “shifted the audience” for her students, and that’s what education is all about for so many teachers. Karen’s smile as she talked about her students is the bees goddamn knees, and I want other teachers to feel that way.

4] When will we see that stipends, release-time, and grants only scale so far? They only work for so long. Believe me, I was the first girl in line when there was a stipend or a grant as a faculty member. Yes please, I said. If I calculated that I could make more money teaching another class than I would make per hour for a grant, I politely declined. Nope.  I’m out. Release-time is a luxury that only the full-time and the tenured get to enjoy, so take that privilege and enjoy it while you can. Mourning the lack of release-time is energy expended for a small few.

Some adjuncts experience something like release-time about four months a year; it’s called unemployment.

Time is a barrier of changing to course materials, for sure, I get it. So let’s call it something else. Maybe it’s professional development. Maybe it’s a training with the LMS. Maybe it’s about accessibility. Just sneak that shit in and call it something other curriculum revision. 

And forgive yourself when it all doesn’t happen as fast as you thought.  

5] What will people remember five years from now about this conference? What moment will I remember, and say, “Yes, you rocked that” Or “What was I thinking?” Or “Fuck, why did I say that?” Will I feel shame for stories that I shared? Or will I feel empowered that I learned and changed?

I know I will feel gratitude for the people in my life who helped create this conference.

6] How do I shift gears from being with people who are so far along with the conversation of improving teaching and learning to helping newbies tomorrow? How can I hold on to the faces of people who seemed truly elated to be learning together while I listen to people who turn me down?

7] What’s missing in my work? What don’t I do when I talk to faculty? What do I take for granted when I speak to administrators? What do I miss? What do I miss? What do I miss? What don’t I see? Who don’t I see? 

8] How can I become Canadian?

I sat next to a friend/leader from The States when they celebrated the money that BC Campus got from their government, and it was hard to be from Washington and Oregon in that room. Don’t get me wrong, the gratitude that I had for for my friends outweighed my shame of being American–that opening ceremony was truly a highlight of the conference for me. That 3 million is well-deserved, and I can’t wait to see what becomes of that work. All the congrats, BC Frens! 

9] What must it be like to be a politician who is kicking ass and taking names? Is that where the work really gets done? What must it be like to be in political power and use your capital to support educators? How brave are you to share your personal story while getting weepy? 

10] What would I be doing now if I had stayed a teacher in the WA system? An administrator? What would I be doing had I gotten the jobs that tried for and didn’t get in that system?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, and I’m not sure it’s worth the energy to try to answer most of them. And I certainly do not have the energy to defend my ideas, but I wanted to pause and record my thoughts here as gratitude for this experience to learn and share. I wrote this all by hand, so I wanted to share it here. I’d love to hear your unanswered questions too. 

Let me leave you with a little story that I think attaches to this context.

I recently volunteered at a charity event, and I think I’ve uncovered some thoughts about leadership. About learning. About teaching. And wait for it…I’m gonna talk about bikes. 

I volunteered for the morning shift of this event so I could ride my bike in the afternoon. I woke up before dawn, put on all the warm cycling clothes, rode to the event, and gathered around with the group of early birds. I was assigned to do data entry because the event planners saw me as “techy person who could help others with computers.”

Dammit, I sighed. Wanted to cry. The last thing I wanted to do was train people how to use fucking Google fucking Sheets on my fucking day off. The last thing I wanted to do was data entry. But I smiled. I had offered to help; the event was for a good cause. I can’t stand people who offer to volunteer for a job, and then complain when you assign them a gig, so I accepted my assignment and started to count down the minutes until the end of my shift. I advised the Excel users to utilize the skills they have, and I sat ready at my lap top when the first person showed up to donate her stuff. She’s a sponsored pro, and I know her from bike coaching so she came to my table. I chatted with her while the other volunteers started to unpack her boxes stuff. 

I heard one of them say, “What’s this?”

Some looks of confusion. Shoulders shrugging. Confused brows.

“I don’t know. This doesn’t look like a bike part.”

That’s a bottom bracket, I said.

What’s this? (I looked around. Nobody knew).

Those are brake pads.

What’s this? (Still I paused to see if somebody else knew the answer).

Those are road cleats.

I watched a line form at the door. Fuck it, I thought. I’m taking over and if I don’t get it right, somebody else can correct it on down the line. My lady pro friend had other boxes. I spotted another pro balancing his toddler on one hip and a bag full of stuff on the other. 

What’s this? I heard.

Those are vintage bar-ends from the 90s that are super dangerous. Throw those away. That bad idea should stay back in 1995. 

And with that, I left the laptop, the spreadsheets, and I started helping the data entry folks identify The Bike Things. For the next three hours, I didn’t type a damn thing, but I helped identify and sort donated bike gear from dozens of people. I loved it. I taught people. Talked shit. Bounced around helping several teams. Got to see every bit of bike gear that came in.  

The job that I was meant to do presented itself once the work started happening. I just had to show up, be patient, and wait for the right opportunity. I had to participate with what I could do rather than complain what I didn’t want to do. 

Here’s the thing.

If there had been a job to identify bike parts I would have never ever never ever ever signed up for it because I live with a skilled bike mechanic who has a photographic memory and knows all the parts. All. The. Parts. Compared to him, I don’t know shit.

Compared to the lovely volunteers that morning, I knew a lot.

I found my role once the work started happening.

The work found me.

I don’t think we know the work that we need to do until it starts happening. And when it does, you have to be there. Ready to take the job or create the job.  

The work finds you. 

About Alyson Indrunas

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