Sabbatical: My Doing-By-Learning Bucket List

Week after next I begin a mini-sabbatical…almost 7 weeks of time to focus on projects that I want to focus on. I have a giant bucket list of projects I want to work on that I haven’t had time to do in the hustle and bustle of my faculty/dean/mom/spouse/dog-walker/cat box-cleaner life. I see this time as a great gift from my university, and I am grateful for it.

Many of you have asked what I will be doing, and I’ve had a hard time, in the moment of your question, articulating everything on that list in a coherent way. I also am trying to pose this time less as “what I will do” and more like “what I will learn” (as in: doing-by-learning. Natch!).  So how’s this for an idea? Let me write it all down and share it with the world:


1) In October, I will be joining a grant-funded team from DePaul University’s School for New Learning in facilitating learning sessions for faculty and staff at Tangaza College (in Nairobi, Kenya) about adult, competency-based learning programs and Prior Learning Assessment.  I’ll also be helping develop a PLA course … a chunk of my sabbatical time will be working on these projects.

2) I ‘ll be writing an article about the ways that indirect assessment and direct assessment collide and how that collision might support deep, meaningful student learning (hint: reflection).

3) I’ll be updating and pitching my literature review of assessment in academic libraries.

4) I have an idea that I can create some drafts of rubrics to support the process of peer-review in my university’s accreditation region. We’ll see …

5) A colleague and I are soon to launch a “multi-faceted open educational project dedicated to making a life-changing education available to any serious adult learner who would like to participate.” Think that sounds ambitious? It is … and now more than ever, a learning-based model for education is critical. Personally (I can’t speak for my colleague), I am getting sick and tired of the conversations about disrupting higher education and higher education innovations that seem to have forgotten LEARNING (Randy Bass says it all way better than I – read it here).  My colleague and I only partially joke that our uber-goal of this project is world peace (hey – there’s nothing wrong with being an optimist). We also think that a person’s ongoing ability to learn is their biggest, most important asset — substantially more important than their retirement investments, house, car, diplomas adorning their walls, or resume of past experience — and that if we all can learn how to develop and manage our learning assets and help others do the same, we’ll be better off.  So – I’ll be dedicating a chunk of my sabbatical time to moving this project forward. (Stay tuned – you’ll hear about it here.)

6) Heutagogy. It’s cool. Scratch that. It’s AWESOME!!! And if you’re an adult who is a learner (and, well, why wouldn’t you be?), it should change your life. I’m totally compelled to write a something-or-other about how so. (Indeed, this relates to the “multi-faceted open educational project dedicated to making a life-changing education” discussed previously … these projects are all pretty interrelated.) If you can’t wait for what I have to say about it (and why would you?), you can read these excellent overviews:

Blaschke, , L. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71.

Hase, S, and Kenyon, C (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ultibase, RMIT.


  • I am going to try to use all the free online resources out there to re-develop my Spanish-speaking skills. 30 minutes a day … we’ll see how it goes.
  • I am going to do a lot of yoga; thus, I am going to learn how to practice yoga (versus how to fit it into a busy schedule, which is what I usually am focused on).
  • I will be learning how to run at Foot Traffic University – my friend and I enrolled for their training for the Holiday Half Marathon. (If you know me well, you know that this is hilarious…HILARIOUS! But I might as well try even though I doubt that right now I could run a block even if a bear were chasing me.  And I like to hang out with my friend a lot and we don’t get to do it very often, so this is one way we can. And maybe I will learn that I can run a block if a bear were chasing me … for a free pair of cool socks, which is what FTU gives us, I am going to try!)
  • I am going to learn how to  play ukulele  … eventually …  like this guy (but maybe not by September 6th):


  • I hope to paint the bathroom (if I actually do paint the bathroom, then I will learn how to remove wallpaper and fix some major holes in the wall).
  • I’d like to learn how to make a good Prezi.
  • I’d like to remodel this here blog. It needs a new look and feel … feedback welcome!
  • If the right homeless mutt makes herself present to us, I will likely work on integrating her into our lives.


Sabbatical technically means a rest from work.  HA!


What About Jeans On Mondays?

Why have I not written in PrattleNog lately?

Um, work-life balance. (Alas, I’ve written about *that* before.)

Why am I posting now?

Because TED posted a video with Nigel March about work-life balance that I want to share. Marsh’s main message is comprised of these key points:

  • Achieving work-life balance is up to each of us.
  • Wearing jeans on Fridays will not accomplish it.
  • If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you.
  • Make small changes.
  • Take your kid to the park and then to get pizza. (Ok, that’s not really a main message, but I like it anyway.)

Watch more; learn:

Repeat After Me: Be Cool. Be Helpful. Be Cool. Be Helpful.

I never get to say this to anyone — and I would NEVER say it to my students in so many words — but let me say it here, now. Just this once. Because if I don’t say it here, now, just this once, my head might explode and I might actually say it out loud — to a person — which would not be cool or helpful.

And I like to be cool and helpful.

(An aside: my college roommate once described me as true to my astrological sign, Cancer. She said, “Mel, you are totally like the crab. You gently and graciously sidestep around trouble and try to manage it with your thick exoskeleton and all through the crashing waves on rocky shores, but once you become fed up with it all, your claws SNAP and you pinch! Ouch!” She was totally right, and so I am mindful of this tendency. She also should have never taken my last Dr. Pepper right before finals; that was a mistake.)

Thanks to TimeMachine Sailing for the crab picture. It's like looking in a mirror.

So back to my point – I want, I need, to say this now.

Now: when there are only a few days remaining in the 11-week term.

Now: after several messages from me suggesting that you sit down and get some writing done.

Now: after I have offered up my time and support to help you map out an essay outline, brainstorm some ideas, find resources, read drafts, or create space in your schedule.

Now: after your repeated promises of meeting me half-way; of picking up the pace; of getting back on track; of getting your act together; of minding your p’s and q’s; of taking responsibility for your own learning; after your repeated but unfulfilled promises of all that.

Now: when your peers in our course who have been doing the work and participating all along also need my support.

Now: when there is a sudden (and dare I say convenient) announcement of a dead aunt; a sick dog; a mean boss; a crashed computer; a selfish spouse; a fever; a rash; a broken finger; a fever and rash on your broken finger; a cruel instructor in your other course; and a printer out of ink (all of which may be legitimate, but still, you have to admit that the timing of these announcements is interesting).

Now: that you’ve asked for an extension /  incomplete /  exception / anything-so-you-can-get-your-papers-in-late please please please please please!!!

Now. Right now.

Let me say it just once. Here it goes:


Thank you. I feel better.

Now: let’s talk so we can graciously figure out how to navigate the crashing waves and rocky shores together. I promise I won’t pinch. (Well, I promise I won’t pinch hard.) Because that would be neither cool nor helpful.

Productive Procrastination

“Action expresses priorities.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi


And no.

I firmly believe in something I like to call “productive procrastination.”

Thanks to Emilie Ogez on Flickr for making this photo available for reuse!

Productive procrastination is about priorities.  It’s also about mindfully multi-tasking. And it can be done.

Productive procrastination is when I clean the shower while writing an article in my head, instead of actually writing the article on the computer. I sort ideas out as I spray and scrub; I consider the key point I want to make while I polish the shower handle.  I “clean” my thinking as I clean the window. I prepare. I pre-write.  It’s better than sitting in front of the blank computer screen contemplating where to begin. (Or surfing Craigslist for stuff I really don’t need.)

Productive procrastination is when I make cookies instead of grade papers. While I am mixing the dry ingredients with the wet, I think about the assignment criteria and what kind of feedback I want to provide to help my students move forward.  I prepare. I pre-write. It’s better than sitting with a stack of papers, wondering where to start, wondering what to say.

Productive procrastination is NOT going to a movie instead of planning the next departmental retreat. It is NOT zoning out in front of HGTV, plotting what color I should paint the bathroom for optimal light, instead of  … all the other things on my to-do list that I need to do.

Is productive procrastination a cop out? An excuse?

Nope! Not if I am actually being mindful. Not if my brain is actually working on something it needs to work on, while I am working on something I don’t. In other words, to a great extent I disagree with this guy.

The key word? “Productive.” When it’s no longer productive, then I need to get to the work that does need to be done; then my to-do list beckons.

What forms of productive procrastination do you participate in? And, ask yourself this: are they really productive?

An Innovator For The Next Generation

Angela Pernisco, a Psychology major, just completed her PLA portfolio for 15 credits, all in Communications topics:

  • CCM 320 Public Presentations
  • CCM 323 Effective Listening
  • CCM 324 Nonverbal Communication
  • CCM 346 Conflict Management (with the grade of “A”!)
  • CCM 356 Intercultural Communication

Angela wrote this in her final Reflection Essay:

When I began the PLA process, I thought that this journey would focus on demonstrating how my previous experiences reflected the skills that would have been taught in a classroom setting. However, this experience has been much more than that. I have learned a great deal of academic theory relating to what I’ve been practicing for years in the “real world.” . . . This process has transformed my thinking by demonstrating that there is a significant difference between academic learning and experiential learning. On-the-job training provides us the competency to complete a task, whereas academic learning provides us with a history of why we do things as we do. This additional history is what transforms us from being process-oriented participants to innovators for the next generation.

In this video, Angela shares her thoughts about the PLA program in addition to some great writing and time-management tips:


Prioritizing Your Priorities

Thanks to Christine's (TM) on Flickr for allowing this image to be shared!

Time management and the need for constant prioritization and re-prioritization seem to be perennial challenges for adult learners and instructors alike!

In another nifty post, my colleague and friend Harriet Schwartz from The Encouragement Lounge shares some fabulous  strategies for what you can do when you’re so overwhelmed you don’t even know where to begin:

Time Management – The Constant Challenge

I think I can add one:

#6:  Is there a way to combine tasks? For example, can you take the bus to work (or carpool) instead of driving so you can read that chapter for class this week?

Here is one strategy I use a lot, accordingly:  I practice a speech or workshop I need to give while walking my dog. He doesn’t seem to mind, and though he doesn’t always provide the most helpful feedback for improvement, he is generally a good listener.

What tips can you add?

Installment #7: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

Sometimes we just need help.

Adult learners balance precariously on very thin beams. Our attentions are divided among our professional obligations, our kids, our parents, our bills, our pets, our partners, our lawns that need mowing and our laundry that needs washing. And oh, did I mention that essay to write, that study group to attend, that book to read, that research to do? Yeah – all that LEARNING that needs to happen?

Oh, and what about sleep?

And darnnit — as hard as it is to admit — sometimes we need help! As Mac has told me very clearly these days, when he is in the midst of striving for independence and perfection (hmmm – sound familiar?), help is the last thing he wants from me. He wants to do it (whatever “it” is) himself; he wants to be a super-hero; get it all done and done well; and get credit for it all.  He wants to be self-sufficient and strong, just like we do.

I'm glad dad is here to hang on to!

But indeed, sometimes we just need help. So when you need it, ask for it!

  • Ask your partner to make dinner a few nights a week.
  • Ask a co-worker to let you sit and read quietly on your lunch break 3 days a week.
  • Ask your boss for a day off.
  • Ask your instructor for help interpreting an assignment.
  • Ask a trusted study partner to proofread your paper for you.
  • Ask your kids to clean the bathroom (and thank them gloriously when they do).
  • Ask a librarian to help you with a literature search.
  • ASK!


#1 – Learning Can Happen When We Challenge our Perspectives

#2 – Learning is Developmental

#3 – We Learn by Direct Experience

#4 – We Learn by Observing Others, Even If Others Are Not Experts

#5 – The Importance Of Books In Learning

#6 – Selecting the Right Learning Tools