Imagine This: Doing-By-Learning

Thanks to Mark Brannan on Flickr for making this image available.

Traditionally, higher education has been in place to prepare us to do. And it still seems to be in place for that purpose. First you learn; then you can do. First this; then that. And if you do that first, you will either regret not doing this first and come back to it, or you will continue to do that, but not be happy or find meaning in your life.

Higher ed seems to operate from this idea; its entire structure is focused on it:

  • Learn first; then do. This here piece of paper that says you learned makes you qualified to do, so go forth and do! (Oh – and you can stop learning now. That part is over, unless you want to keep learning, in which case you can go to grad school.)

Thankfully, engaging adult learners in higher education seems to have helped us think a little bit differently:

  • Ah – you went and did first. That’s cool! You’ve done all this stuff; now reflect on it and learn what it means (and by the way you can get credit for that through Prior Learning Assessment while you’re at it), and then learn some more. You think differently about it – about you – now? Great! Icing on the diploma cake! But now that you’ve done all that, and learned more, and now that you have our paper in hand that certifies your learning, you can go do, again. Because our piece of paper here says that you’re qualified to do more, or do different, in a better job for higher pay and a better life. (Oh – and if you want to keep learning, go to grad school. Doing is not for learning.)

I want to turn this upside down, make it do cartwheels, get all dizzy and mixed up. I have no doubt about the power of learning-to-do, or in learning-by-doing. But I have a hunch that there could be more power — more energy, more possibility, more long-term outcomes — in doing-by-learning.

Doing-by-learning is a phrase that I apparently blurted out in a recent meeting, according to a colleague, and I asked her, “Did I say that?” and she said I did, and then I thought, “Of course I did. That’s what I believe.” And since she pointed out to me that I said that, I’ve been thinking about what I meant.

Here’s what I think I meant:

  • Doing-by-learning means that deep, meaningful, significant learning is our partner — it’s not an outcome, but it is; it’s not a prerequisite, but it is. In doing-by-learning, learning doesn’t come after we do, and isn’t in place in order to do. We do/learn, learn/do: together, hand-in-hand.
  • Doing-by-learning means we engage in reflective practice all. the. time.
  • Doing-by-learning means we get to approach our work, our lives, with inquiry and curiosity and freedom to f*8k up. It means we can experiment, try, fail, try again differently.

WAIT! FAIL? (Gulp!) (You mean failure might be learning too? No way!)

  • Doing-by-learning means we can innovate! It means we can change our lives, our circumstances, our ideas.
  • It means we can change our minds.

WAIT! Change our minds? Doesn’t that make us a “flip-flopper?” Huh? You mean it makes us learners? How ’bout that?

  • It means that when we have a problem to solve, we can frame questions through which we can approach that problem. How should we work together in this situation? What do we need to know to move forward through the problem? What are the options? How will we know it worked? What if it doesn’t work? What will we try next? What new problems might we create in solving this one? Wait – are these even problems???
  • Doing-by-learning means there isn’t likely one correct answer to find, one set of “best practices,” or one right process.

Yah yah yah – maybe this idea isn’t new or original (it isn’t). But imagine this: What might higher education look like if we claimed it as an institution that facilitated doing-by-learning instead of learning to do, or doing and then learning, or even (in the case of internships and other experiential programs) learning-by-doing? That’s what I am going to imagine. I’ll keep you posted with what I come up with.

Being Intentional About Being Intentional

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Intentionality is on my mind a lot because I think that assessment can be more interesting, engaging, and powerful (for learners and teachers) when it’s less about measurement and accountability and more about supporting authentic learning practices. In this vein, assessment can be an interesting catalyst for reminding us to be intentional in what we do and how we do it — and in knowing why we do what we do.  Being intentional means thinking about each and every aspect of a course we teach or program we facilitate to do our best to ensure it lines up to what we’re hoping people will learn from it. The short article How To Study Your Own Teaching (And Why You Might Want To), by Janine Utell, speaks to this very idea:

I’ve developed strategies to create good discussion, to facilitate broad and deep involvement, and to synthesize the contributions of the classroom community. I feel like my classes are going best when the room is a bit rowdy, when interactions lead to debates and eurekas. But due partly to assessment work on my campus and partly to collaboration with colleagues in a different discipline around designing a study of student writing, I decided to create a project of my own to investigate the effectiveness of my practice. I wanted a more robust picture of what’s going on in my classroom and whether it’s working.

Utell wants to see her practice differently because she wants to make sure what she does is working. (And like many of my best teachers and colleagues, reflecting on her teaching practice and pedagogical commitments is likely part of her DNA and happens with less intentionality as well).

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Intentionality certainly has its role in my yoga practice as well. In early January, my yoga teacher asked a group of us to define one thing we each wanted to focus on this coming year in our practice.  It was a sort of New Year’s Resolution moment. And I knew right away:  I need to focus on squaring my hips in poses such as Warrior 3 or Pyramid.

This is not me - my hips are not this square. Nor do I practice yoga in a place like this. I live in Portland - we practice rain yoga. So thanks to rfarmer on Flickr for making this image available for use!

My hips always want to go way off to the side, and I thus don’t get the benefit of the pose when that happens. By stating this intention, and with self-assessment and my teacher’s coaching and assessment in each session, I maintain that intentionality, and I am improving. I can feel it. It’s on my mind constantly in any pose that requires me to get squared. If yoga is about anything for me, it’s about intentionality. And it’s about seeing myself differently.

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

Parenting my 4-year old is also a practice in intentionality — and learning and assessment — as well. Let me illustrate:

A few weeks ago Mac and I went to the zoo and found a friend in this fellow. Mac had been having a hard time with his own swimming attempts recently, freaking out at the thought of going under the water, so I seized the moment:

Me: Mac, why don’t you ask him why he likes to swim underwater so much.

Mac: Mr. Sea Lion, why do you like to swim underwater so much?

Mr. Sea Lion: blurb blurp bubble blurp

Mac: Mama, he says it’s fun to swim to the bottom and see all the kids down here.

Me: Wow, neat! I wonder what you can see when you swim to the bottom of the pool.

Mac: That’s silly mama. I can’t see anything. My eyes are closed!

WHAT? Mac always wore goggles in the pool – why did he close his eyes? What did he think the goggles were for? A fashion statement? To hold his hair back? I pointed out that with his goggles on he could open his eyes and see the bottom just like the sea lion, and – EPIPHANY!

Mac: Really? If I open my eyes in my goggles I can see down there?

Me: Yep – and you won’t get water in your eyes!

Mac: Cooooool! That will be really good, mama!

And the next time in the water, with his goggles on, he opened his eyes, swam to the bottom, and fetched a toy. Just like Mr. Sea Lion. Intentionality helped us out here, again. It reminded me that we often take things for granted and don’t question them for a long time until we have opportunity to see them differently.

Intentionality. With thought. Deliberate. Designed. Purposeful.

It’s good to see things differently – with our eyes open.  (If you’re in need, Mac has a pair of goggles he’ll let you borrow if you’d like – if you open your eyes under there, you might be amazed at what you’ll find.)

Planning Your Learning Visit

I recently wrote about the great benefits I am getting from learning visits — as visitor and visitee (is that a word? Well, you know what I mean). A few colleagues who read that piece have since had some questions for me, mostly about logistics. So I thought I would jot down some tips for planning a learning visit.

FIRST: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO LEARN?

The first step, of course, is to identify what you want to learn. What would the learning outcomes of a visit be? Surely you will learn stuff you didn’t know you wanted to learn too, but if you can identify a focus for yourself and your institution, proposing a visit and the visit itself will be a lot more focused.

For example, for my recent visit to a university in SoCal, I identified these focus areas and shared them with my colleague there:

  • What you are doing with Liberal Arts assessment, specifically using the VALUE rubrics and your institution’s core revision process?
  • What the librarians are doing with their assessment work?  (You’d mentioned that they were using SAILS – I’m wondering if it would be possible to meet with them to learn more about how they are doing assessment?)
  • A sense of how the Assessment Committee(s) work — their structure, charge, participants, etc.
  • More about your Program Review processes and outcomes
  • Your role in building the culture of evidence / assessment

This list helped her know who to set up meetings with and what materials I might be interested in seeing. (Indeed, it was a rather large list, but in all fairness, I was coming from out of town and only had one day to meet with them. I was trying to be comprehensive.)

TYPES OF VISITS

In my experience, there are two main types of learning visits:

1) Problem-based: This kind of visit is intended to help you work on a problem you or your institution has. For example, I arranged a phone visit for myself and 3 colleagues from my university to talk with a person at another institution in Chicago about how they manage the assessment of student learning in an outcomes-based liberal arts curriculum; this was a very real problem for us at the time. (Turns out it was for them too!)

2) Topic-based:  This kind of visit is more focused on a specific shared topic, such as “general education learning outcomes” or “facilitating internships.”  A while back, I set up a session with a person using the Mahara ePortfolio system at a different institution because we wanted to explore this system and see it in action. We used a web-based desktop sharing system and the phone, and she kindly took us on a 45-minute tour of how they are using Mahara ePortfolios. Nice!

IDENTIFYING WHERE & WITH WHOM TO VISIT

Figuring out where and with whom to visit per your desired learning outcomes is likely the next step. Here are some ideas for how to do so:

1) Look to your local network. Are there colleagues with similar job responsibilities at institutions near you? Do you know anyone at an institution near you that can connect you? Do any of your current colleagues have connections at these institutions that they could leverage for you?

2) Look to your distant network. Have you connected with folks at conferences that you can reconnect with? Even if you can’t visit physically, with the phone, Skype, or with other technologies you can visit virtually. I have a “coffee date” about once a term with a colleague from another institution across the country who I met at a conference; we both get a cup of coffee and talk on the phone for about an hour, and just learn from each other.

3) Look to your virtual network. If you use LinkedIn or Twitter, search for and follow people who are in similar roles or who have identified projects they are working on that are similar to yours. This is how I connected with the Mahara ePortfolio person; I had learned a lot from her by just following her on Twitter, and then when my colleagues and I were ready, I sent her a message with a few questions. From this initial conversation came the idea to have a short virtual meeting in which she took us on a tour.

PROPOSING THE VISIT

First, make contact and make a simple initial proposal. It might look something like this:

Hi there – My colleague XX shared with me your contact information because I am interested in learning about what you are doing with blah blah blah at your university; we are trying to implement this at my university as well, and I wonder if we might be able to set up a time to chat briefly about what is working and what’s not. Maybe we can learn some strategies from each other. Etc etc etc …

As demonstrated here, a proposal for a visit might be more compelling if you identify what you can bring to the table. What will be in the visit for them? What might you be able to contribute to the conversation?

Also, start small. You don’t need to visit for a whole day. Maybe you just begin with a short phone conversation, or maybe (if you’re close) you meet for lunch.

Finally, I think it’s useful to learn with others, as a team. If you can, take a colleague or two from your institution with you, or invite them to the phone / Skype conversation. Propose the person you’re meeting with do the same. The more the merrier!

DID YOU LEARN?

After the visit, assess your learning. Did you achieve your learning outcomes? If not, what might be next steps? What additional questions were raised for you, or what other resources should you explore? Likewise, was the person / institution you met with interested in learning more and continuing the conversation? If so, then maybe you all set up another learning visit with each other.

ONE LAST TIP

In the spirit of academic integrity,1) don’t take and just start using what is not yours and 2) give credit where credit is due. We all adopt and adapt ideas and materials all the time in higher education; if you want to borrow something from someone you’ve visited, ask permission and then attribute it. There may be nothing more irksome than being visited and sharing a rubric, for example, and not knowing the visitor adopted it or re-purposed it.

Happy visiting – learn lots!

Meeting The Challenge With Learning Visits

The good folks over at the University of Venus began a networking challenge this fall. I never got around to actually signing up for it, but I thought it was a great idea and I intended to participate. Their challenge consisted of doing one of the following:

  • Go interdisciplinary
  • Go international
  • Go outside your institution
  • Go to a neighboring institution
  • Go to your local community

What a great way to broaden my perspectives and learn new things, and bring back good ideas to my own institution; what a neat form of professional development; and except for “go international,” many of these things I would be able do with low impact on my to-do list and relatively low-cost to me or my institution.

But then I realized that I already do this kind of stuff all the time. These kinds of activities have been integral to my own scholarship for a long time now (if you subscribe to Boyer’s definition of scholarship, which I do). Perhaps these kinds of activities might be defined as networking activities (as University of Venus does) or could even be considered some funny form of academic tourism, but I prefer to think of them as I have experienced them: learning visits.

Learning Visits, Not Academic Tourism

Let me share some recent examples. I will begin, first, with an experience of being visited:

Several months ago, colleagues from an institution similar to mine (but way across the country) contacted me about coming to my campus for a learning visit. I had met a few of these good folks at a conference a year before; we had a healthy exchange of ideas then and had remained loosely in touch. Their institution was planning to take a team of folks to three universities in the Pacific Northwest, just to learn. They came and spent a day with us, learning from and sharing with several folks on my campus.  It turned into a learning exchange within a learning community. Indeed, we asked as many questions of them as they did us, and we learned as much from them as I hope they learned from us.

Since then, one of the members of that visiting team and I have had virtual coffee dates to continue to discuss shared challenges and opportunities (mostly about assessment, but also about implementing liberal arts programs as well as working with adult learners in higher education). To continue our shared learning, next week several of us are visiting again (though this time virtually) to talk about Prior Learning Assessment. And we are visiting with each other just to learn: What’s working and why? What’s not? What ideas might we come up with to improve our programs and our students’ experiences?

This past Friday I completed a learning visit of my own to a university in Southern California (and my university will host them in a learning visit this coming week). This was actually one of the assignments for the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy in which I am participating, but it was a great excuse to spend the good part of a day at another institution learning about what they are doing with assessment and how they are building their teaching/learning/assessment culture. I met with folks from a few academic areas, student services, and institutional research, and also learned how their cross-college assessment committee supports this important work at their institution. I learned about their progress, and their challenges. The visit gave me several ideas for strategies and tools I might bring back to my institution (with adaptations of course), and it also confirmed some of the work we are already doing. I learned.

I am learning so much from these learning visits that I am planning more. With colleagues from our Assessment Program, I am planning a learning visit to a local college to explore their experiential learning simulations lab and think about how such teaching/assessment systems might apply to other disciplines. With a colleague from our Service Program, I am planning to visit another local university to learn about their service-learning program.

I have taken the challenge to heart, and I intend to keep doing so.  I think learning visits might be unique opportunities to higher education (perhaps I am incorrect, but I can hardly imagine car or technology companies doing “learning visits” with other car or technology companies). I also think they just might help all of us get better. If higher education is about learning — our students’ learning and our own — then learning visits are one relatively simple way we can achieve great learning outcomes.

Yah, What They Said!

I can't find a way to credit this picture because I can't seem to find its original source! Research conundrum!

A few of my favorite selections from chapters in Field Guide to Academic Leadership (edited by Robert Diamond), one of our books for the Assessment Leadership Academy:

“The most appropriate solutions to the problems lie in shared commitment to and responsibility for good practice.” ~Michael Theall, Evaluation and Assessment – An Institutional Context

“The opportunity for critical reflection — a chance to put our strong academic values of systematic inquiry and questioning of assumptions to use — is lost in the desire to get the thing done.”   ~ John Wergin, Academic Program Review

“…change is a scholarly act (Ramaley, 2000) … Informed, respectful, thoughtful dialogue is the greatest learning tool of any organization today, and few of us know how to do it.” ~ Judith Ramaley, Moving Mountains – Institutional Culture and Transformational Change

Credit for Experience or Learning? Learning, Please!

I have written already about Walmart’s PLA program, so I am not going to get my knickers in a twist again about *that* topic.

  • My first 2 cents Here
  • My next 2 cents Here

My 2 cents: Thanks for Kiribati on Picasa for making this image available.

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning announced that Pam Tate, the President of CAEL, was interviewed on NPR´s show Here and Now about the use of prior learning assessment nationwide. According to the announcement, “She also commented on the new relationship between the for-profit online school, American Public University, and Walmart to offer academic credit to employees based on what they learn on the job.” Listen Here:

Here and Now

Here at Marylhurst, we intentionally keep our PLA program pretty darn rigorous. Students have to demonstrate that they have the college-level learning, based on specific course outcomes. It’s not an “easier” way to earn credits; it is often, however, a very rewarding way to earn credit.  As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s about so much more than credit. (It also saves our students time and money — both pretty valuable resources for busy adult learners!)

So again, here are links to Marylhurst’s PLA students talking about their experiences — as you will hear from them, the credit is quite often the icing on the cake:

Bumps!

Today, PrattleNog features a guest post from Lorrie Ranck. Lorrie and I have been colleagues and friends since 1996, when we both started teaching at a college in the Bay Area that provided each of us several “bumps” in our professional road.  Those bumps were likely responsible, in part, for the formation of our close and enduring friendship, so although some of them were pretty jarring, I am grateful that they occurred.

Today, Lorrie writes about other kinds of bumps. Enjoy!

______________________________________________________________________________________

Recently, at a job interview, I was asked a question about how I, as a senior member of the leadership team, would handle the challenges of the recent restructure of the academic division. Or, put more informally by a faculty member on the committee,  “you know, the bumps in the road.”  While I had anticipated this question, the “bumps in the road” comment triggered a recent experience and a way to illustrate my approach.

One of the things I really enjoy is bicycling with my son:  when he was younger and smaller, he has a nifty seat right up front and we could easily talk with one another during the ride.  The thing is, every bicycle outing is an adventure: new roads, different smells, all kinds of vehicles and people to observe. The world is a dynamic and ever-changing place and he seems to soak it all in. Inevitably, we hit a few bumps along the way.  Most times, unless it is significant, I hardly notice since I am looking out for traffic. What I love, though, is his reaction: he giggles, says “bump!” and sometimes, depending on the size, his eyes widen and he shouts, “yahoo!” Then we laugh together or talk about the different kinds of things that make for bumps: small rocks, potholes, speed bumps, etc.

Thanks to team_tiara for making this image on Wikimedia

To translate this into more practical use for educational leadership, I focused on three areas:

  1. Be attentive. The bumps may not be something you experience directly, they do, though, matter to the individual who brings it forward.
  2. Our response to these “bumps” says a lot about how we interact with the world; it reflects everything from our years of life experience to our disposition to our emotional and physical state at that particular moment and more. I would bet that the older and wiser we become the more critical we are of bumps, challenges and obstacles. We do not like them. In fact, we often do all we can avoid them. Are you the type of person who drives to the side of the speed bump? Perhaps, you are the one who slows down and takes it straight on. Maybe you are one of those folks who don’t even see the bump and just flattened your tire which presents a whole other set of challenges. Just about any way you look at it, over time, we become skeptics and reticent to change because we have seen or experienced it before. So, while every bump is not a  “yahoo!” what would it be like if our first reaction was less critical and more productive? Less avoidance and more slow and deliberate? More proactive, less reactionary?
  3. Follow up. How do we talk with one another about the challenges? In what ways do we give voice to being uncomfortable or our uncertainty about a bump in the road? Is there opportunity for preflection and reflection? What voices are at the table when talking about the bumps in the road?

Just a few questions to ponder during your next bike adventure or institutional change.

“P” Is For Problem (Solving)

"Day 202" from A Collection A Day, 2010

Indexed has posted a good one again:

"Zoom Out" from Indexed

How ’bout this for a problem-solving process?

  1. Step back.
  2. Get some perspective.
  3. Let it “marinate” in your head for a little while. Maybe a big while.
  4. Then tackle it again!

Does this work for you, or do you have another suggestion for solving the seemingly impossible problems?

(Yippee! I got to post pictures from 2 of my favorite visual blogs in one post: Indexed and A Collection a Day, 2010. Thanks to Harriet for pointing me to the latter! )

My Third And Final Major Was English

David Brooks has written an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times called History for Dollars in which he advocates for studying the humanities, and it has me nogging.

Thanks to quinn.anya on Flickr for making this image available.

Brooks argues that studying the humanities will make a person more employable because they will be able to read and write well, will deeply understand human emotion, can think analogically, and can “befriend” what he calls “The Big Shaggy,” behaviors and phenomena that are difficult to explain. Of the latter, Brooks writes:

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

I object to his implication that blogs “lack the heft” of critical thought and inquiry, but I have to agree with almost every other proposition of his editorial. Let me tell you why.

My first major in college was journalism. I had spent the previous 3 years in high school tirelessly advocating for Freedom Of The Press and a separation of advertising and editorial (my main objective being to convince the school administrators that placing a Planned Parenthood ad in the student newspaper paper was not an endorsement for having sex). It made perfect sense that I would be a journalism major: I had prior experience on the newspaper and yearbook, passion, and it could be practical. I could get a job.

My second major was speech pathology and audiology. I changed it from journalism about a month into college because I decided I wanted to try to do something different from what I had been doing. It wasn’t an analytical decision at the time; it was more like wanderlust meets “I want to be employable after graduation.”

I liked this new major because I was learning in multiple disciplines: anatomy, language development and linguistics, psychology, neurology, etc. We also got to look at cadavers, which was scary and horrifying and amazing, all at the same time. However, in my first session in the speech clinic, when a distraught but forceful mother of a child with a bilateral lisp was insistent that we “FIX HIM!!!” in time for a speech he had to give at his church, my clinical supervisor turned to me and said, “Welcome to your future.” An off-the-cuff comment, but I listened.

My third and final major was English because I liked to write and I liked to read, and I didn’t want to spend time taking courses that I didn’t like. I temporarily set aside my pragmatic paycheck-oriented concerns and decided to focus on learning. And with that came great freedom and deep engagement and, as Brooks argues and I fully believe, marketability.

I have applied lessons from my English courses — from all of those Australian novels and Middle English Prologues and poems and essays and tree structures and Latin roots –  to every aspect of my work. From supervising and supporting employees, to preparing and monitoring budgets, to writing grants, to giving presentations to friendly and challenging audiences, to teaching and mentoring, to learning new computer programs or programming my voice mail, to communicating with various stakeholders and advocating with fierce grace, I call upon my English major skills and capacities of mind each and every day.

Brooks implies that there is money associated with a humanities education; I suspect that might be true (it has not been, for me). But what I DO have is compassion, creativity, energy, communication, and, in general, happiness with what I can and like to do.

My third and final major was English.  And as for The Big Shaggy? I’ll continue to nog on it, with heft (eh hem!), because, as Brooks asks:

…doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Yes. Yes it does.

Put It In Reverse

I think that when we have set-in-stone ideas (preconceptions, misconceptions, assumptions, or worries), we need help challenging or reframing them, or even, if warranted, reversing them. This video does a great job of demonstrating this principle.

Reframe.

Reverse.

Re-see!

Suddenly a pessimistic future becomes hopeful. Where else might this idea apply in your life?