Life Is A Legitimate Classroom

Life is a legitimate classroom.

Earl’s Library of Universal Knowledge. Thanks to roberthuffstutter on Flikr for making this image available.

OH. MY. GOSH. THIS. IS. GOOD! Read this: A Letter From a Hybrid Student

Then think about these two points that Teo makes:

1) “…it takes courage to assert that one’s life is a legitimate classroom.”

2) “Our lives are our source material; our histories, a text worthy of exploring in community.”

Then consider that Prior Learning Assessment allows this assertion to gain ground and to have higher educational value – that is, that students can articulate their life-as-classroom learning and earn college credit for it.

We could say: “Good for you, you know a lot! You are learned! You are intelligent! You are knowledgeable!” Which is all true.  But the message that often comes with that (mostly from employers) is also, “…but you don’t have a degree.”

PLA addresses this issue – it helps students claim and earn credit for their knowledge (some say it legitimizes knowledge that adult learners come to college with, but I don’t believe that this knowledge is illegitimate prior to a credit or two being associated with it).

Just watch these student videos – hear their perspectives, their voices. Did they get credit for their experience? NOPE – for their learning!

Life is a legitimate classroom.

Here is a recent article that speaks to PLA, and a quote from me about how it can have quality and integrity:

College Credit Without College

Sleazy prior learning practices still exist, says Melanie Booth, dean of learning and assessment at Marylhurst University.

“There are some PLA programs out there that look like credit laundering,” she says. For it to hold water, “you’ve got to translate your experience to academic knowledge.”

Translate your experience to academic knowledge. Because Teo said it:
Life is a legitimate classroom.
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Intersections

Here is another good card from Indexed! If I were drawing this card, I would likely switch the positions of Learning and Progress – with the idea that learning is the intersection between failure and progress. But it is likely the case that progress can be the intersection between learning and failure as well. One of the things I like about this card specifically is that it is about progress and not “success.” To me, progress itself implies a process of  learning, moving toward something in an ongoing way, whereas success implies some end point of achievement. And who ever reaches that?

2nd (and 3rd, and 4th) chances are vital. From Indexed.

Venn diagrams such as this are a great way to show intersections. I’ve been playing around with a few of my own. Here’s my latest:

My experience with downhill skiing

It clearly shows the relationship between three things that should probably never be put together. Sometimes learning and progress are a result of keenly understanding your own limits.

Syllabus For Experiential Learning Camp – OR – Yep, They’re My Relatives

As most of you Nog-readers know, I’m a big fan of learning that can happen through experience. It’s a key element in Prior Learning Assessment of course — that is, that experience is turned into learning by a reflective process — and I, for one, try to learn by experience each and every day. You may call it trial by fire, or learn-as-you-go, but I’m pretty intentional about the reflection part (and for that matter, the learning part). So perhaps it’s no surprise that this concept — this learning approach — might be built into my DNA.

Case in point:

Next week my parents (known for the last 4 years as GG & Bapa) are coming to hang out with Mac while I leave town to do an accreditation visit and then tack on an “only 2 of us” vacation with the spouse.  We’ve been billing this week as “Grandparent Camp” to Mac for a while now and he’s getting pretty excited, especially since he received GG’s syllabus in the mail and we’ve been talking about all the things they’ll do.

Take a look:

Obviously, this is the syllabus for an experiential learning camp.  It aligns nicely with this not-too-shabby wikipedia definition for such:

Experiential learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience.[1] Simply put, Experiential Learning is learning from experience. The experience can be staged or left open. Aristotle once said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”[2] David A. Kolb helped to popularize the idea of experiential learning drawing heavily on the work of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Jean Piaget. His work on experiential learning has contributed greatly to expanding the philosophy of experiential education. Staged experiential learning is often called a Dynamic Learning Experience (DLE) in certain high hazard industries.

It might actually become a Dynamic Learning Experience as sometimes dealing with my willful 4-year old can be like working in a high hazard industry, and because something tells me Mac will excel at “T”. GG may need a long sabbatical after this camp, and Bapa may need more practice in the “N” area to recover.

See? DNA. Now you know where I get it.

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.)

One Year Closer To Graduating Because Of PLA!

Carleen Walsh, an Interdisciplinary Studies major with concentrations in Early Childhood Education, Psychology, and Literature, recently completed her Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio, earning 45 credits for knowledge she gained through her professional and personal experiences – that’s the maximum number of PLA credits a Marylhurst student can earn!  Here is a list of the courses Carleen wrote for:

  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • Introduction to Law – Fundamentals
  • Introduction to Law – Substantive Areas
  • Criminal Law
  • Litigation
  • Evidence
  • Observation and Guidance I
  • Environment and Curriculum II
  • Instructional Strategies – Reading
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Effective Listening
  • Introduction to Christian Bible
  • Nutrition
  • Backpacking: Map and Compass

CONGRATULATIONS, CARLEEN!

One thing of note that Carleen included in her Final Reflection Essay was this:

As I was writing each essay, I was totally caught up in what I was writing about, and became aware how much knowledge I gained through different experiences.  Some of these experiences were over 10 years ago, but I was back at that time as I was writing the essay, and reading material showed me how much I know about a certain subject.

Hear Carleen talk more about her PLA experience here:

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.