So Many Posts; So Little … Posting

I have about 50 posts started, but none finished — or at least none worthy to post. As usual, I’ve been prattling (though only in my head, so far) about change in higher education; about the importance of leaders-as-learners and teachers; about technology, learning, assessment, teaching; about heutagogy; about access; etc. etc. etc.

So many posts; so little posting.

While not posting, I have been contemplating the lessons in two poems by Marge Piercy: The Seven of Pentacles and To Be of Use.

And I did take this picture of a lovely spring flower while out on a bike ride with my kid:

Meditation on a spring flower in the forest.

Meditation on a spring flower in the forest.

So there’s that.

Instead of posting my own ramblings right now, I’ll share a few links to others’ pieces that have really inspired my nog as of late.  I’ll also share a few quotes from each that I mentally highlighted – may they inspire you to inquire and reflect, too.

How Disruptive Is Information Technology Really? by Judith Ramaley – EDUCAUSE Review

The act of teaching is becoming more about designing the educational context and engaging students as they learn to approach material in more insightful and demanding ways. We are not transmitters of knowledge very often today, although an occasional superb lecture by a remarkably perceptive and even prescient speaker or a carefully crafted blog contribution can open up new ways of thinking about things.

We all know these simple things about how the educational experience is changing, but how recently have we paused to think about how truly wonderful it is to be able to use our smartphones to answer a question right immediately? My real concern is that not all questions have a quick, well-researched, and easy-to-find answer. Many, perhaps most, questions in today’s world are hard to formulate, are seen in very different ways by different people, or simply do not have good answers at all. That is why we still need real people who interact with each other in real time in order to frame questions that matter, to explore the ideas that come from those questions, and to work together to find solutions. No longer, however, are those people confined to the knowledge and experience that they carry in their own minds or that they can bring along with them on paper. They can tap into a true universe of material whenever they wish.

Good Teachers Become Less Important by Bernard Bull – Etale – Life in the Digital World.

When I think about the role of what we traditionally think of as teacher, one of the most important roles of teachers is to work hard at making themselves as unimportant as possible, not unimportant in the sense of lacking value, but unimportant in the sense that they are eventually no longer needed.  In other words, the goal of the teacher is to aid the learners in becoming self-directed learners.

Notes on social learning in business by Harold Jarche

Training and instruction are all about control, with curricula, sanctioned learning objectives, and performance criteria. This works when the field of study is knowable. But fewer fields remain completely knowable, if they ever were. Many institutions and professions have been built on the premise that knowledge can be transferred in some kind of controlled process. If you question that premise, you threaten people’s jobs, status, and sense of worth. This is why you see some violent reactions to the notion of informal and social learning having validity within organizations.

A major difference between communities of practice and work teams is that the former are voluntary. People want to join communities of practice. People feel affinity for their communities of practice. You know you are in a community of practice when it changes your practice.

And finally, a post from the Heutagogy Community of Practice: The PAH Continuum: Pedagogy, Andragogy, & Heutagogy, by Fred Garnett

When we collaboratively developed the ideas of the open context model of learning, Wilma Clark had pointed out that in Russia the word ‘obuchenie’ means both teaching and learning, and the PAH Continuum might be seen as a way of scaffolding ‘obuchenie’ as a move from teacher’s control to learner’s control. I would see it as axiomatic, as I did when I was ‘brokering’ learning, that teachers, whilst delivering their subject expertise, should be enabling learners to better understand the process of learning for themselves.

So many posts; so much learning. With great appreciation for all my teachers out there. As Bernard Bull wrote:

In one sense, a teacher is anyone or anything that contributes to our learning.

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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.

Compliance Or Learning: What’s Accreditation For?

It must be accreditation season. This spring I served on two regional accreditation teams (one for WASC, one for NWCCU) as a peer reviewer. Wait – did you say peer reviewer???

— WE BREAK HERE FOR A TEACHABLE MOMENT —

Hear that students of mine? Peer Review! Yep – just like we do in our class, this process asks us reviewers to use criteria (“standards”) to assess how well we think an institution is doing based on their self-assessment report (called a “self-study”), interviews with lots and lots of people (including students), and direct evidence (such as meeting minutes, syllabi, catalogs, etc.) And you all thought I came up with peer review as a way to lighten my paper-reading load. NOPE – it’s about learning with and from others.

BACK TO MY POINT …

First, let me share with you a few fun facts about serving on an accreditation team. For one thing, you get to travel to beautiful and exotic places. For my first visit, this was my office:

For the second, this:

(Ok, ok. I took those pictures while on accreditation visits, but I really didn’t get to hang out and work right there, in the midst of that beauty. Well, except for the top one. I really did write half the report looking at that view. But of course, that’s not always the case. To be fair, I’ve heard colleagues talk about writing accreditation reports from truck stops and Denny’s restaurants.)

Serving on a peer review team is a fabulous learning experience. I learned not only from the institutions I visited, but also from my teammates. I have new ideas and strategies to bring back to my institution, and a new set of colleagues in my network. When serving on a team, you get to know other folks from other institutions who are serving with you, and because you may be tackling tough problems together in a condensed period of time (often working together into the wee hours of the night), you tend to get to know each other pretty well. In both cases this spring, I developed neat collaborative relationships with the team members, and many of us still keep in touch.

The peer review part of accreditation can present learning opportunities for an institution’s students too. A student at one institution covered the accreditation visit by writing two stories for her campus newspaper to help her fellow students know what was happening. The first was a “hey, they’re coming” story, and the second was a “hey, I had lunch with them” story. Read them here:

University makes progress with accreditation renewal

Food for thought: Accreditation luncheon

Finally, if institutions are amenable to constructive feedback (as we all should be) and if they see the process as one of genuine self-reflection and assessment in order to keep doing what works and change what doesn’t, they learn and improve too. To be clear: the reports are not easy to write or put together; looking in the mirror and calling attention to your flaws isn’t exactly a party (though you also get to call attention to your beauty marks, and identifying those can be rewarding). My own institution is a great example of the learning and improvements that can come from the process.  We have made huge improvements in how we educate and serve students since our last accreditation visit as a result of our self-assessment and feedback from peers about our practices. And it’s all good because it’s all learning.

All in all, accreditation sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s tangled into real and legitimate issues of compliance, accountability, and in some cases fear. A recent column in The Chronicle of Higher Education makes a compelling point for why faculty should get involved accordingly:

But it’s time for college and university faculty to start paying attention to this seemingly dry issue. Further, it’s time they joined the effort by administrators and accreditors to resist the government’s increasing intrusion into accreditation. That intrusion endangers both academic freedom and the unique American system of separation of the academy from the state.

Ultimately, if we really want to improve higher education, and if we want opportunities for learning and developing networks with others, participating in a regional accreditation process can be a great way to do so. If anything, through our participation and engagement, we can help accreditation be focused on learning and improvement for everyone, including regional accrediting agencies themselves.

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.

Learning From Colleagues

One of my colleagues is attending this ELI  conference that I’d really like to be at as well. Alas, I can’t be in four places at once this week (three will have to do), but thankfully, he’s using his blog to share his experiences and reflections with us at home. Here’s the link:

Consider This Out Loud

The conference has an online option, which I’d seriously considered registering for, but the reality is that things here on campus would get in the way and it wouldn’t be worth it.

His first post begins with “Assessment Assessment Assessment.” It’s like he packed me in his suitcase and took me with him.

Weaving Threads Into A Tapestry

I’ve been thinking a lot about my professional path lately, for no particular reason other than the fact that I am surrounded by people (mostly students, but also several friends and colleagues) who are doing the same. As I consider the jobs I’ve held since I began working in higher education 15+ years ago, there are several threads that are apparent to me.

JOBS – MORE OR LESS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

  • Tutoring in a writing center
  • Working in writing, study, and technology center for students with disabilities
  • Teaching college English / writing
  • Coordinating faculty development and mentoring programs
  • Developing English curriculum and assessment programs
  • Creating and delivering professional development programs for educators
  • Creating and managing writing and learning resources for adult learners
  • And what I do now

THREADS

  • Teaching
  • Facilitating faculty development
  • Assessing student learning
  • Providing learning / learner support
  • Facilitating access to learning (in my mind, included in this thread is educational technology)

WHAT WILL I WEAVE NEXT?

tapestryLooking back over the last 15+ years, these threads seem significant in that they have not all been fully present in each position, but they have reappeared in different forms. Maybe it’s the kind of work I am attracted to within higher education, what I am “trained” to do, or what I am good at, or maybe these threads represent my true passions (I think that is probably true). Or, more likely, a combination of all of that.

Now I wonder — will these threads remain constant, even though my positions and job titles and passions  may change over time? Will they evolve? Would I have been able to identify these as being significant to me 15+ years ago? (Probably not – so I have no way of knowing if they will be 15+ years from now, but it’s an interesting question.)

I also think that the tapestry I am weaving with them is really starting to take a more defined shape. There is a clearer “picture” forming from the tangle of multi- colored strands littering my floor. The outline is well-defined, and though the details are still a bit blurry, so far I like what I am weaving. It fits me as comfortably as my favorite sweater does — like a second skin.

WHAT TAPESTRY ARE YOU WEAVING?

What are your threads? Are you adding new colors, new strands, new textures? Are you carefully considering the threads that you already have on hand and how you can use them in your tapestry? Is the outline or picture in your tapestry clear yet? What will your tapestry become?