Adapt, Adopt, Build: Hospitality & #OER

There are so many interesting things happening with open education right now that I just want to find a quiet corner and sit for a week and think. Unfortunately this desire is the total opposite of my upcoming schedule. I’m traveling 18 out of the next 30 days for the jobby job–19 now that my flight was cancelled yesterday–so I need to sort out what I’d like to start talking about more with the OER workshoppery. This post really ties together two previous posts

In my work life, I used to love planning way ahead. Way ahead. My current role keeps me thinking about 9 days ahead,  so it’s a bit tough to keep my strategic planning brain cells working. In fact, looking beyond two weeks is futile. It’s a bit tough to feel like you’re succeeding at anything. (Here comes the hair shirt and self-criticism…stahp it, Indrunas, nobody gives af).

I confessed a career weakness to a friend of mine recently–this is the first year in many that I have not submitted any conference proposals. Nobody is asking me to collaborate with them, I weeped. I have no plans with anyone outside of my job. “Don’t you present for a living now? Don’t you collaborate with people all over the country? What the fuck is your problem?” she said.

True. Yes. Okay. True. But it’s different. It’s all so different. Thankfully I have brutally honest friends who keep me brutally honest. They light my hair shirt on fire before I can even put it on. 

Here’s what I know for sure. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from faculty over the last eight months of running workshops and I don’t have time to keep up with everything like I used to—and I have to forgive myself and share what I have learned. As messy as that all might be. As unknown as it all is from week to week.

As fun as it can be to introduce OER to people who have no idea what it is–I still don’t know what I’m really advocating for. What I really want to see in the world. But holybloodyhell it’s the best feeling to sort it out with all of these generous strangers. I love teaching people that the status quo completely fails humanity and I can open a door to another way of thinking. Nobody can really say what truly works.  

I can say, quite clearly, what does not work. There are many things that don’t work. And I’ll tell you straight up if you ask.

And I have one question that I sit with quite a bit.

Here’s the thing.

How do we create a hospitable experience for faculty who are new to OER? 

Before I get into talking about my theories and practices, I want to pause and talk about the word “hospitality.”

At one point in my life, I had real potential in “the hospitality industry.” I was a good waitress. A quick bartender. A cocktail waitress with moxy. I sold drinks I couldn’t afford to drink myself. Menus I couldn’t afford on my day off. I lied for a living to people who dined in the restaurants where I worked. I wore short skirts on Friday nights. I made a lot of money for others. I won competitions for the most “hospitable waitress.” All the while, I was a good college student hoping that my studies would create a more hospitable environment for me in academia. I never felt at home in my college classes.

So I read. And I read. And eventually others were hospitable towards me as a thinker. Thank all the heavenly stars that I escaped the hospitality industry. I now get to talk about something I care about for a living. Thank all the heavenly stars.

So.

How do I extend the hospitality that I have felt to others? Before I get into all that, let’s take a close look at what the word really means as a noun.

n: hospitality–the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

I meet a lot of strangers. A hospitable gesture as an open education advocate is to make the experience easier and better than it was for you. For me.

I’m not one to advocate for nice neat categories, but when I start thinking about the strangers I’ve met and the perspectives they bring to OER, there is a lot overlap. A lot of messy variations. When I try to share with others “what I do,” I share what I’ve learned from others. Having categories for new-to-OER faculty to consider can be really helpful. Especially when I have six to eight hours with them.

If we have three identities/habits/perspectives/mindsets (I’m not sure of the word) that faculty can adopt/make/choose as they are learning about OER, then I think it will help them consider their own project. Their own vision. What they want to do. What they want to create. What they want out of this professional development. What they want to teach their students. What they want from sitting in a computer lab with me on a Friday afternoon. What they want. Not what I want. 

So let me explain the three choices I use to give faculty a framework to begin using OER. 

Adopters. Adapters. Builders.

Adopters—these teachers are willing to adopt whatever exists already. This was not me. This may not have been you. Most pioneers of OER do not identify with this way of thinking. My greatest perspective shift, in the last two years about OER, is that most faculty want to be adopters.

They don’t want to search the interwebs. Repositories. Databases. LibGuides. Google Docs. They want a straight up starting point. A straight up trade-in for their expensive textbooks. Whether this foundation or starting point is from my jobby job or another source, they are looking for an across the board for a textbook replacement. They don’t want to write content. They don’t want to write assessments. They don’t want to curate. They are not interested in customization. They want a turn-key solution that saves their students money without compromising their pedagogical integrity. They don’t want a repository. List-serves, sharing, tweeting, curating, tons of emails, community and all that jazz–none of that is appealing. Beyond drag and drop capabilities, they could give a rat’s ass about customization.

If you do not understand this perspective as a leader who cares about OER, then you are failing your faculty. What you may have liked about OER as an early adopter is not the majority perspective. I’ve been to 32 schools in seven states in eight months, and faculty tell me over and over and over and over again that they don’t want to write a textbook. You don’t have to, I say. Try to see what you can use, I say. Let’s see what works before we talk about what doesn’t. Then I hop on a plane. Then I move onto the next. Their faces and ideas haunt my thoughts. My dreams. My plans. I have a short list of people who changed my way of thinking. I can only hope that I provide that for others. That hospitality. 

Adapters—these folks are willing to create and curate to get what they want from the use of OER. They are willing to take something that already exists and incorporate it right into their courses. These teachers typically talk about how they never found a textbook that they really liked. They have usually used their LMS for workarounds and they’re quite comfortable with the idea of working to create something. If you present materials and resources that they can start with, they are quite happy to fill in gaps. Starting with what is missing from their current textbook or practice is a great approach with these folks. In workshops, they typically spend a lot of time reading and reviewing. Helping these folks make a plan is crucial to their success. Adapters can usually find a path of their own. The best you can do is help them forgive themselves for not being perfect. Empathize. And get the hell out of their way. 

Builders—these folks either have no resources to start with or they are dissatisfied with what already exists. Most of the time when faculty reject what already exists, I get the sense they want to use the time for scholarly work. The last thing the open education community needs is another Comp I course, but I understand faculty who want to use this moment of professional development to be writers. I try to steer them towards focusing on their activities and assignments. I introduce the idea of open pedagogy without calling it that. 

For the faculty who are teaching in disciplines where very little—if any—resources exist, they have no choice. They either stick with committing to open or they don’t. I’ve had faculty leave mid workshop. “This isn’t going to work” they say. “This is too much work” they say. “This isn’t for me,” they say. I shake their hands. Look them in the eye. Wish them well. “It’s not you,” they say. I know. I get it. 

So once I lay out these murky categories, I have faculty choose what bests describes their course. Not them as people but the course. This is an important distinction because I want them to focus on what they are creating is not part of an identity. I’m sure if I effectively pull that off. I haven’t quite figured out why that distinction is important to me, but it is.

By a simple raising of the hands, I sort them into groups. If there are folks from the same discipline, I’ll put them together. If they are alone with no colleagues from their discipline, I think it’s important to sort them out by what they want to do. Putting the Builder group in between the Adopters and Adapters is crucial. The Builders who have content they could adopt or adapt can still change their minds. Overhearing others may sway them. Maybe not. Maybe sometimes. 

Before we move into groups, I try to get them to think about three questions. If there is time to write, then that’s perfect. If not, listing these questions on the board or projector can help focus conversations. (I don’t have PowerPoints of this. In fact, I’m growing to hate PowerPoints more than spreadsheets. But I digress.)

  1. What do you like about your current textbook? What are the necessities for your students? In other words, what can you not give up? 
  2. What do you dislike about your current textbook? List everything that you do not like. Let’s assume that if you’re in this room that you do not like the cost of a textbook. What else? 
  3. What is the least you can live with for your first round of teaching with OER? In other words, what is the lowest benchmark you can set and still face your students? (This is important. Most teachers are not thrilled with their first round of teaching with OER).  
  4. Bonus Question: What could your students do to contribute to your course? In other words, do you have an assignment where students could create content for your future students? Here I’ll tell an anecdote from my teaching days when I used student essays to teach technical and conceptual editing. It was easier for students to see the mistakes of others before they saw their own. A math teacher I’ve met has students create study manuals for future students. 

My Bonus Question is planting the seed for open pedagogy without calling it that.

I’m setting them up for future OER professional development without going into detail about the ethos of open pedagogy. The examples that I see widely shared about open pedagogy are light-years away from the teaching practices of most faculty I meet. I already offend myself with massive cognitive overload as a teacher-trainer, so bringing open pedagogy into the mix when somebody is just learning licensing, for example, is not setting anyone up for confidence. It’s not very hospitable. I’m there to unlock gates for them, not to create more. 

Once we have gone over these questions, I show them a list of resources, and I’m pretty selective with what I share at first. Too many resources are overwhelming. I then encourage faculty to talk to one another. Real hospitality is inviting people to share with one another. To teach one another. We know our minds when we explain to others. You know this.

In another life, I was very interested in interdisciplinary mentorship, and I’m bringing that old interest back to life with this exercise. It’s a great joy for me to see faculty from other disciplines talking about their students. Talking about teaching. Talking about technology for teaching. 

If I can invite people who are adopters, adapters, or builders into this style of collaboration, then I am being hospitable. Yes.

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Three Books

You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls. It’s a brutal climb to reach that peak. You stand there. Waiting for the rush of exhilaration; but, it doesn’t come. You’re alone and the feeling of loneliness is overpowering. ~Jacqueline Susann

I desperately need to write and think about something other open education, but I’m just too spent from the week to be brainy. Wait. It’s only Tuesday. Whatever. You have these weeks too. Let me tell you a bit about how I read for over six hours on Saturday and how I only got off the couch to shop for books for an hour. Then I drank coffee and read some more. If you haven’t done that for yourself in awhile, stahp reading my shite and get thee to the bookstore!

Allow me to review or write or ponder a bit about The Page. It’s been so rainy rain raining raining in the PNW that it’s hard to train for the fitness. Tough to get outside and chase the fitness. The Fitness. Oh my god I was lazy this weekend. One week after my first bike race, I know I should be working out and getting after The Fitness. But fuck it, I thought. It’s my birthday and I need to celebrate this cycle of the sun.

I went to my favorite bookstore in Bellingham, WA, Village Books, and purchased three books.

Joan Didion has a new book which thrills me to no end. She’s one of my favorite writers, and I love the way she crafts one sentence to create a stunner moment. Just a jaw dropper. Just a pause on the page. Just the way I’d love to write. I’m trying to read this latest book of hers ten pages at a time to really think about what she does as a writer. To think. As a writer.

In Essays & Conversations, she describes herself as a writer: “Grammar is a piano I play by ear.”

I never have learned to play piano. I struggle with the conventions of grammar. I never learned to read music. But I love to listen. I love to write. Didion has taught me to see the absurd  and the ordinary as peers in my observations. Unlike her, I struggle to figure out how to turn my best sentences into stories. My best observations into narrative.

Didion’s new book, South and West, could be my memoir title. Only it’s not. Only twenty pages in I get the sense she is confused by The South. By her past in California. But then again, I might have it all wrong as a reader. As a memoirist. As a person.

And who really gives flying fuck about me as a reader? (Now that’s a Memoir title, right?)

This weekend I purchased books with intent, and I’m so excited to read them all. Lately I don’t plan for travel reading so I rely on what’s in the airport bookstores, and it’s leading me to read a lot of books that I don’t think I’d normally pick up. But first. First. First! I just finished the modern Valley of the Dolls.

Let me be clear.

I picked up the book because I’m charmed by The HBO Series by the same name. The character played by Laura Dern is so perfect. The giant red wine glasses. The beautiful glass houses. The ridiculousness of modern lives. The ridiculousness of being a woman. The ridiculousness of being a man. The ridiculousness of Being. The Ridiculousness.

Big Little Lies, the book, made me laugh out loud several times in airports. On airplanes. Embarrassingly so. I sometimes laugh loudly. Life is fucking funny. Especially when you travel for work as much as I do. And although Moriarity has created a mass market “chick-lit” book, it’s surprisingly dark. Surprisingly somewhat brilliant. About domestic violence.

My literature teachers and film classes taught me to separate The Mediums. The film is not the book that is not the screenplay that became the television series. I know better.

Yet. I wanted to read the book to see how it may have influenced the screenplay. Would you not read the book if you were going to create a movie? A show? A play. The TV series.

Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. I purchased Three Wishes this weekend, another of Moriarity’s books because I want to see if she has a writerly recipe.

To see if she just perfected The Recipe with Big Little Lies. Fifty pages in I think I’m right.

She seems to take a scene to build a gigantic mystery around The Moment.

A who-done-it-involving-really-awful-people-we-all-know. For an airport mass market novel, it’s pretty good and well worth the pulpy price. Better than those leadership books. And really, who the fuck buys all those leadership books at the airport? I’ve tried reading them and they are so awful I can barely stay awake to write this blog post just thinking about them.

Here’s my theory: Those books play into the fears of people who are flying to interview for jobs. I was one. I see the anxiety in their postures. I see them often. People who are truly leading don’t have time for that reading because they are still working or they are sleeping on planes. I see them.

They see me.

And I dream. Of birds. Of water. Of places that aren’t planes. Of places where I write. Of trees. Of making up places that don’t exist. Of lines that become a story.

Where was I? Right. My third book. I purchased Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.

I spent most of last Sunday reading the entire book. I laid down on the couch and my posture, my eyes, and my soul radiated leave me alone.

I took this course when I was an idealistic English graduate student titled The Word & The Image. We read a lot of theory. We thought big thoughts. We talked about the words. The images. The story without words. The words without pictures. The pictures as the story.

It changed the way I thought about film. Paintings. Art. Story. Over time, I forgot those thoughts. That class. Life rolled on. Frame by frame. Life. Rolled on.

When The Invention of Hugo Cabret was published in 2007, I dug up those notes from that class. I meditated on what I learned from that class and I decided it’s the best marriage of text and image for me. The framing of the image and the detail of the word is Selznick’s strength. I love his work.

Wonderstruck was on the Used shelf and I’m so glad I spent a few hours with that book. I had never thought about how sound in the cinema changed the experience for people who could not hear. I don’t want to spoil the story. For you. Just read it. Silently. To yourself. Or somebody else. [End Scene]

Reading is the best form of self-care. Or maybe you just read. Just read. Just write.

A Memoir.

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#OER As A Concerned US Citizen

Two weeks ago, I was having one of those moments in my home office where I felt so helpless about the current state of affairs with my country. I tried to make several phone calls concerning our president’s latest executive order and all lines were busy. Then I drafted a snarky tweet and that felt shallow in the stream of despair that has become my Twitter feed. I sent some robo-letters set up by the AFT-WA and SEIU, and that too felt less than satisfying. I looked out the window and thought some more. What can I do?

Then I remembered that Whatcom County, where I just moved (back) to, has redrawn its district lines. Oh ho ho! Right. Who are my representatives? Who would have I voted for if I had lived here instead Portland, Oregon during the election? Perhaps I should do some research, I thought.

Well. Well. I discovered that I’m two blocks northwest of the true blue 40th district, and I live on the border of the ruddy pinkish red Republican 42nd District. By Bellingham local standards, I’m in the “Out County” district, which is local slang for the dwellings of the rural folk. Truth be told, the prettiest parts of this area are “Out County” and I love to Go East on the 542 to my favorite brewery. Somebody who uses the word “summer” as a verb in the San Juan Islands has little in common with a person who lives in the rural part of my district. By Whatcom County standards, I’m in the “less-affluent” part of the county which includes Native American reservations, two community colleges, and a very rural border with Canada. By Washington State standards, I reside in the lefty-hippy part of the northwest. By American standards, I live in a solidly Blue State.

This Red/Blue State talk is very American, I know, stay with me as I  describe my Pacific Northwest 42nd District. Perhaps you light up a legal joint and celebrate your gay friends’ wedding while your shaman pal officiates the ceremony with nary a mention of a Higher Power. Maybe you sip small-batch whiskey that’s taxed to support our local schools. Maybe you ride your bike from your garage and never run into a car for miles. You ride by at least seven breweries and three hippy health food stores. You may see toddlers and tweens in Pussyhats. You can see an ocean bay that we’re trying to help recover after decades of corporate pollution. Look up on the hill above our city, and you’ll see a beautiful regional public university protected by a forest that will never be logged.

 

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Mural on the Interurban Trail

 

The 42nd District is not that PNW. It’s more conservative. Churchy. Rural. Back-to-lander hippies, I know you’re there. Yet.

This Out County narrative is the textbook split of demographics and socio-cultural norms that helped create the current administration.

Yes. At the time that I purchased new home, my main goal was to leave Portland, OR (another delightful haven for Blue State heathens that just wasn’t a good fit for me). When we were shopping for a home, I didn’t even think about districts. I only thought of what we could afford as I watched home prices soar. In horror. These last two weeks, all I’ve been thinking about in between pauses with my job is this district I now call home.

So what does it mean to live in the 42nd? I spent some time reading the republican webpages, blogs, what I could on Facebook (without an active account) and some newspaper articles. I decided to start with Luanne Van Werven because she is on the higher education committee which, ya know, is my wheelhouse. My heart started to race. Surely, the folks who represent me in this district, voted their party’s line. That’s democracy. 

But I’m an open-minded gal. I enjoy learning about ideas. A woman of letters. We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, I like to believe. 

So I listened to Van Werven’s video. I noticed some photos of the 40th district including the waterfront near Fairhaven and Western Washington which is technically not Rep. Van Werven’s district, but instead of taking mean notes of inconsistencies, my heart swelled with pride. I love this area. I mean, I really love this area unlike any other place I’ve lived. Now that I work remote for my company, I could live anywhere. In fact, it would probably work best for us as a company if I lived in Iowa, maybe Nebraska, but this is the place. This is The Place. I’m going to live here until all of my hair turns gray. 

In the video, I could sense Rep. Van Werven loves this place too even if our political affiliation is radically different. 

Then I then read about Textbook Transparency Legislation and my heart really started to race.

The price tag of a college education has grown to become a financial hardship for many students and their families.

House Bill 2796 was part of a package of bills House Republicans pushed to help reduce costs and add transparency to some of the expenses associated with higher education. I have heard from many students about the cost of textbooks and materials. By providing the costs in advance, this transparency measure would have encouraged students to look at online alternatives to expensive textbooks.

A four-year college degree is not for everyone. Industries in Whatcom County have told me there is a real need for people with the skills like welding, agriculture and construction. Career and technical education (CTE) programs play a vital role, especially at a time when many struggle with the affordability of a higher education.  

You had me at textbook affordability AND the mention of professional technical programs. That four-year-degree-not-being-for-everyone business? I’ll have come back to that in another post or this one will be 10k words. Everyone should be given a chance for that four-year-degree even if they were born on the other side of the tracks. Of a district where poor people live. They might think an LPN certificate is what they want, but what if they discover they want to be a Nurse Practitioner? A CTE certificate should open the door to more possibilities to all students not just a one-way path to a job. Unless that’s what you want, of course. Okay, see? I digress. Back to textbooks.

Here in my Out County District, there is a little ray of hope that somebody is working towards something I care about as a citizen. And as much as I loathe republican politics with every cell in my body, her party is in power. 

At the bottom of a newsletter was a phone number, so I gave it a ring. At first I was channeled to the wrong district, and then I got another number to her staffer. I had fully expected to just leave a message yet here I was talking to somebody who was taking notes.

I launched into five minutes of non-stop data and facts about OER and community colleges. (Just try to interrupt me once I get started. I dare you.) I told this staffer that I would never become a republican nor have I ever supported any of his party’s positions, but I care a great deal about open education as a citizen of the 42nd district. I have quite a bit of knowledge to share about textbook affordability and I’d like an audience with Rep. Van Werven.

Perhaps he was thrilled to speak to somebody who wasn’t ranting about Obamacare while simultaneously praising the ACA. Sigh. Hard to say. He asked if I would be willing to come “all the way” to Olympia. Yes, I said, you bet. My average “commute” to talk about OER spans several time zones, so I thought this warning of the meeting being “far away” was pretty cute.

Now let me be clear.

I’m not your “average” citizen in Whatcom who is concerned with textbook affordability. I work for a company where our central mission is to care about students succeeding in colleges. Community colleges specifically–though I’d love to see us grow into serving our regional publics. When I really get into magical optimistic thinking, I see our R1s hopping on board and building on what already exists. I’m lucky. I have access to very smart people who will share their words and ideas with me as if my project were their own. I spend a lot of time thinking, writing, planning, and talking about open education. My pitch is concise. My words are sincere. I don’t have to pretend that I care because this is more than a job to me, this work connects me to people I care about and love deeply. If something like open education had existed when I was student, maybe I could’ve become a teacher sooner. With less debt.

I want your sons and daughters to have a better experience with their educations. I want teachers to enjoy true academic freedom that only open education can provide. I want quite a bit of change in the way education works in this country.

I’ve helped a teacher recently who had calculated how much food her students could buy when they don’t have to purchase her textbook. “I can’t take meals from my students and pretend that book is worth it,” she said. As a scholar, she is not satisfied with what exists in her discipline, but she’s going to adopt a course any way. She did the math based on her students’ food insecurity and I shared that she may enjoy reading  the work done by Sara Goldrick-Rab. “What heart-breaking research,” she said. As if her own working reality was uplifting.

“Social justice” is a phrase I’m hearing more and more from teachers as they consider adopting OER into their teaching. And this to me, my friends, is where it gets really interesting. These teachers are considering adoption of currently existing materials with very little support. Without stipends. Or very small ones. Without tenure. Without hope of tenure. Without job security. Without union representation. Without a safety net. Without a sabbatical. Without any promise that it will help their careers. Without a care that there is such a thing as an open education community. They simply want what’s best for their students.

These teachers, in my opinion, have little to lose in Donny J’s America. They’ve already been practicing for the wave of austerity about to hit our colleges. This political reality has been part of their careers for years. Everyday I hope that Merriam-Webster will feature the word “Adjunctification” to bring awareness to a labor cause that is firmly forever under my skin.

An adjunct said to me recently, “Nobody gave a fuck about my skills during the Obama years, so why will this administration be any different?”

Good times. [Drink!]

My work, as lucky as I feel to be able to do it daily, can be simultaneously uplifting and utterly devastating. Everyday is a new day. Every hour is a new wave. Cresting. Crashing. Rinse. Repeat.

One of my promises to myself in the post-election, is to focus on three areas where I could affect some direct change.

1] I’d commit as much energy as I could to helping teachers adopt OER. Call me. I’m ya girl. 2] I’d support bike advocacy by encouraging more women and girls to ride bikes. And 3] I’d keep a closer eye on my local politicians.

Which brings me back to the 42nd, my Out County District. There are some bipartisan glimmers of hope.  Maybe. My meeting went really well with Representative Luanne Van Werven. I’m sure I overwhelmed her with my enthusiasm. I did most of the talking; she took a lot of notes. She asked if I could put together one page of plans of what could work based on my original document of talking points. You bet, I said, I would love to and I have a lot of ideas for Washington State.

I’m a big fan of the work of my colleagues with the state board. We have one of the best eLearning Councils in the country who collaborate in ways that save tax payers tons of money yet they get very little, if any, recognition for it. I offered to speak to anyone anywhere any time about OER in this great state. I told her that my company has the best solution for scaling OER but the rigorous RFP process prevents any possibility of a state-wide contract. We have the talent here in Washington to make this happen, but there has to be a clear connection between our rural and urban colleges. We agreed that this is a bipartisan issue. We shook hands. I thanked her staffer. I took a mint, smiled, and greeted my fellow citizens who were waiting to see her.

So, dear readers, there is so much to despair about and be worried about with our country. Quite frankly, things have been really bad for a lot of people for a long time and if it’s taken this political horror show to help you see that reality, then I tip my pussyhat to you. Welcome to The Good Fight. 

Feminism taught me that the personal is political. It personally offends me that education is expensive. I can’t fight every injustice, but this is my tiny little corner of the fight.  

My question then to you, my American readers: Have you checked out what your local legislator is doing about college affordability? Why not? This is an easy problem to solve. Low hanging fruit. Easy-breezy. If your politicians’ focus is on textbooks, then treat them the same way you treat your students. Be patient. Start with what’s easy. Build up to what’s harder. Don’t use so many acronyms. Don’t mention open pedagogy or any other future goal we have for higher education and OER. Just focus on saving students money. Tell them what you think works. Explain how. Why. As a concerned citizen. Start there.

We know that open means so much more, but people who are new to this idea do not. They only see The Good Fight for students.

I’d be remiss here if I didn’t thank Mike Caulfield and David Wiley who shared their counsel and their wise words so that I could create this document. It’s licensed CC BY, so you’re welcomed to 5R it and create your own.

I’m still writing my OER Pilot document and I’m not sure if it will make a difference. I’m not sure if my trip made any influence on my representative or anyone else, but I had to try. For my team. For my company. For anyone who has devoted hours and hours into making OER adoption at scale a reality. For my district. For my community. What I do know is that it felt really good to inspect the hyper-local. My backyard. Your backyard. Our backyard.

Call your representatives and speak about OER as a concerned citizen. Let me know if I can help you. My district is your district.

This ethos? This is the machine that kills fascists.

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Cairn by Cairn Course Design

“Have compassion for everyone you meet … You do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.” ~Lucinda Williams featured in Brain Pickings

My last post about curating open educational resources went over pretty well with some readers, and I thank y’all kindly. I promised many of you that I would post a follow-up in a few days, and well, that was a month ago. It’s been a bit of a wild month personally and politically. 

Allow me to refer quite a bit to my last post without having to explain everything again.

If you had time to read it, then you have all of my adoration. If you didn’t, then let me summarize. I was thinking out loud on the digital page about how to help faculty deal with the interwebs and open educational resources. Thinking about how to teach a workshop about OER while simultaneously trying to sort out course design. All in disciplines that are not my own. Tall order, right? My goal is to create some way of teaching folks how to get started with OER in a way that works for them. I created a workshop where there are five steps beginning with faculty thinking about their course design and purpose to sorting out materials and licensing. It’s sounds like a clusterfuck of impossible tasks, right? Welcome to my life. Keep reading. 

In this follow-up post, I want to sort through some questions. I have no research or data to substantiate what I’m thinking, but I have been to 26 institutions in seven states since July. I’ve met a lot of teachers. It’s truly delightful to talk about OER. Here are the thoughts that haunt me in the dark hours of the night as I contemplate the multiverse and imagine a much happier version of myself who is a bookstore manager that dropped out of college. But I digress. Focus, Indrunas.

How do we create a more hospitable experience for new-to-OER teachers? How do we assist faculty who are exploring open pedagogy? How do we create adoptable course options and adapt them for local needs? How do we help students as quickly as possible?All that at scale. How do I make this workshop experience better the next time? How do I share what I’ve done with others? 

Well. I suppose I’ll get bloggy with it.

During this wicked first month of the year 2017, I read Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans on a cross country flight. I am not the target audience for this book. I’ve heard about the course the book is based on, and I liked the design of the book so I picked it up. Brainy, I know. Part of it was useful if not simply insightful. The second part was pedestrian and too focused on letting go of The Material. And the last part was close to unbearable, but hey, I’m not a teacher at Stanford. What do I know?

During my second masters degree program, I read a lot of books about education and positive psychology for a class. Positive psychology, as a line of reasoning, does not focus enough on the everyday reality of living in a capitalistic system for my taste. It doesn’t click with my views on adult education. You don’t have time to “fail forward” and “iterate with prototypes,” and “design your life,” if you will, when you spend 12 hours a day working a shitty job only to have half of your income go to the rent. Maybe I’m simplifying things too much. It’s hard to think positive thoughts when your country is run by fascist insect who feeds off the lifeblood of The People. Wait. Where was I? Okay, that design book. Right.

Believe me. This may be a fantastic book if you haven’t figured out what makes you tick. If you haven’t figured your passions. Your true motivation. Your true self. Your path. What you love about yourself. What you love about others. What you love about your life. What you love. 

The authors share their experiences teaching students about this life design process, and I have no doubt that this method of taking a “dysfunctional belief” and “reframing” it as a way to see another perspective is truly helpful to their students. Truly helpful for some readers. 

Their thinking about design is not very specific. That I like. They break down design principles as building something more like a cairn than a spreadsheet. Too often we confuse design with the action of engineering. They explain the difference beautifully with many examples. If I was that bookstore manager, I’d push this book into many peoples’ hands.  

The authors teach readers that having a purpose is akin to a “compass” or “wayfinding” from one experience to the next. Very connectivist when you think about learning. And teaching. Yes.

Maybe I dig this framework because I’m a hiker. I love maps. Walking in the woods. Riding my bike in the woods. Tracing different routes along topographic maps. Routes we have made by walking and/or riding together. 

Few things make me happier than walking past a serendipitous rock cairn on a trail. A stack of rocks are a message that strangers have passed this way before me.

They paused to create beauty.

The Designing Your Life authors invite readers to do various contemplative exercises to find your “True North.”

In the chapter titled “Building a Compass,” they use words like “alignment” and “flow” and “calibration.” Many times I stopped thinking about life and I thought only about the way I work with faculty. About instructional design. About the work of change management. About the work of thinking. 

The following gave me pause:

…as all sailors know, you can’t chart a course of one straight line–you tack according to what the wind and the conditions allow. Heading True North, you may sail one way, then another direction, and then back the other way. Sometimes you sail close to the shoreline to avoid rough seas, adapting as needed. And sometimes storms hit and you get completely lost, or the entire sailboat tips over (p. 38).

If I had to boil down what was useful to me about this book, I’d cite this quote:

“…once you design something, it changes the future of what is possible” (p. 26).

Yes. Purposeful design that invites serendipity. That’s possible. 

Which brings me back to Course Curation in Five Steps. My five steps work for me as a teacher. Trainer. Consultant. Mentor. Whatever. One faculty member told me that she had really been struggling with how to get started and this exercise really helped. She said it changed everything about getting started. Another faculty member shared that he is really excited to design his course in a way that makes sense to him. Another shared he plans to do this exercise for every unit of his course.

Teaching teachers is one of the true privileges of my career. It’s always a challenge.

As my yoga teacher says, “It’s yoga practice not yoga perfect.”

Yes.

So here are my slides for this exercise. I have no images. No fancy pants formatting. Nothing special. Just words. A month ago, I had aims to create something better. To tune this up to be something worth sharing than just the version that I created. Something better. Clever. This is what I created at 4:30am in a hotel room. I’d rather write this post and think than tune up the slide deck. It’s CC BY, yo. Have at it. 

If you make this better, then please let me know what you did. That’s the beauty of this network, right? A True North of Sharing. One rock at a time until we have a cairn.

Here’s the thing. 

In 60-90 minutes, you can create a process for faculty to think about their courses. Encourage them to annotate their notes. To think about their thinking. To fall in love with their own ideas. 

Be patient. Give faculty a chance to think. These are some of the busiest people you’re going to encounter. They rarely take time for themselves. Self-care is getting ahead with lesson plans and grading, FFS. They carry guilt for making choices about their time. It’s either their family, themselves, or their students. Time is a luxury. If they are being paid to be in the room with you to learn something, those minutes are precious to advance what you would like to see in the world.

Don’t expect them to finish the whole exercise. In fact, keep giving them advice throughout the five steps. Try to teach them that they can come back to this idea when they are all by themselves in their office. Advise them to take notes for their future selves. If none of them write, just keep talking. Faculty tell me all the time that they “can’t think in a computer lab with their colleagues.” So yes, I get it. Rene Descartes had his visions because he locked himself in a warm office. Go to your stoves mes chéries. Ecrivez-vous! 

Don’t demand that they share or deliver anything. Ask and see if you have volunteers, but don’t expect people to share their ideas. You just asked them a big question about their teaching. When they do talk, listen. Ask a good question. Teaching is incredibly personal.

I like the idea of building a course just like we would a cairn. That’s circling in my brain these days. Designing something that changes what’s possible. Why not?

Cairns are a type of map by land or sea. You find one cairn and then you have to look for the next one. It’s a method of wayfinding. A compass. Step by step. Rock by rock.

By design, you move from one cairn to the next. Forward. Leaving behind a path for somebody else.

Step by step. Rock by rock. Cairn by cairn.

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Course Curation in 5 Steps

As I fly over this deeply troubled country of ours, my thoughts are on how to best facilitate two days of workshops. I’m going to get bloggy with it because I need to document how I’m trying to improve an iteration of my newest workshop segment. If all goes well, I hope to leave a group of faculty and their support staff feeling like they can do this work on their own. There are so many things I could write about, but I’m just going to think out loud.

In the business of instructional design, we call this workshop mission a Train-The-Trainer. In fact, I’m incredibly nervous because I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good results with helping folks adopt OER with already existing materials, but it’s been really tough helping teachers who either have little to work with in the way of licensed OER or they don’t like what exists. This work is not easy, and what I’m about to share with you may not be innovative at all to any of you.

Keep in mind that I’m working with teachers who are just learning about OER, and they are being empowered to do this work because of a grant. My context may not be yours in the wide wonderful world of OER.

It’s my job to not only share what I know but also to make sure faculty see the pleasure in this work. Redesigning your course using OER is fun. Joyful. Really! I have three points that help set up this workshop I call Course Curation in 5 Steps. I need a better title but I don’t have time for that creative thinking.

The first major point that I try to enforce is that language matters. Using the word “curate” versus “build” or “write” or “design” gets people thinking about how to put things together. Whether it’s from the course catalog of my jobby job or from the interwebs—we can all start somewhere.

The second major point is that licensing is not that hard. For the love of cats, people, I’ve seen workshops float like a lead balloon when people want to get deep dork about Creative Commons licensing. Starting with the complexities of licensing kills all faculty enthusiasm and it can embolden the skeptics in the room. The symbols and the acronyms are not easy for newbies at first sight. Instead, tell people to find what they like on the interwebs and then help figure out whether it will work for their teaching purposes. Put the creative in the commons, first, and Power To The People.

My third major point is that you may not like what you’ve committed to starting with as an OER curator. How many times have you said to yourself: Wow! Damn, I really love this textbook. (Prolly never unless you wrote it, but even then, most authors I know didn’t love their first edition). You have to see the long game and realize that in the short-term students save money. You have years to continuously improve. Don’t let your ego get in the way of saving students money. [end scene]

So here is my five step course curation exercise/workshop that worked quite well with a group of regional public university faculty who taught criminal justice, African American dance, and business. Smart driven teachers who taught me so much in two days. I rarely get to work with one discipline at a time thus the broad spectrum of questions in this exercise. In addition, I know I’ve curated this idea from a variety of people and sources, but I don’t have time to track all that down right now. I will eventually when I put something together that people can use. For now, I just need to think out loud.

If you see your work in any of these steps, then pat yourself on the back, and feel my smooches of gratitude on both your cheeks. Mwha! Mwha! If you have better ideas or if you want to share what you do, then I’m all eyes. Please share! If you want to criticize me or the work of my jobby job, then I’ll probably block you or not respond. I’m not taking any more of your shit, trolls, in 2017, you’re dead to me. A Memoir.

Riders ready? Watch the gate. beep beep beep.

Here we go.

 

Step 1: Gather your course assessment components and objectives.

Once you have your objectives and/or the major outline of the course (think of chapters of a text or your course modules or units), you’ll then want to gather your assessment ideas.

Now we do some writing! Brainstorm about The Five Big Questions of your course.

Here I have faculty write. What are the five questions you hope students can answer ten years from now? If you asked your students at the end of the course what it was about, what do hope they will say? How do you know students will get what you really care about with your discipline? If you met a former student on a train, what do hope she will say?

Here I’ll share the story of seeing one of my students who had just finished his PhD, and he recognized me in the bar car of an Amtrak train (classy, as usual). I didn’t remember him until he started talking, and then I blushed madly. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing as a teacher back then. He was one of my students when I was a graduate student (the first time). He said, “You know, Ms. Indrunas, you changed the way I have watched film documentaries for the rest of my life. Everything changed for me because of your class and I learned a lot.” That was 14 years ago. He made it to a PhD program. Wow. Seasoned teachers may relate to this story. Newer teachers will think, hope, and reflect. The point is to give them time to reflect on their teaching. Not just OER.

Did you catch that? We’re talking open pedagogy without calling it that. Yet.

Step 2: Refer back to your list of major questions from Step 1.

Think about what you will need to curate/gather/organize readings. Think of this step as part of the research for the course. “Readings” can be text, video, media, blogs, podcasts, etc. Do you have readings from the internet that you already use? Have you written something that you think is the best?

In this step, you answer the following questions:

  • How will my students understand major concepts in this course?
  • What are the core components to support my outcomes?
  • What are enhancements to the core components of the course?

Ideally in this step, faculty will have a conversation in small groups. I don’t try to get them to do anything in particular during this step but I think it’s important to give teachers time to talk to one another.

At this point, it might seem like I’m letting chaos reign and you’re damn right I am. We all need chaos to get to the creativity. Chaos, I’m ya girl.

Step 3: Review the sources you’ve gathered in Step 2.

In this stage, you answer the question:

  • What do we need to license, attribute, and/or cite on each page to adhere to the open licensing protocol?
  • What would my works cited or bibliography look like for this course?
  • What gaps exist that I can fill with my own materials?
  • How can my students help fill the gaps with their research?

Here I think it’s important to empower faculty as researchers and scholars. They know how to do research in their discipline, so this is familiar territory. The practice of using OER, with all its choices and histories, is overwhelming for faculty on a deadline.

For me, it feels like two different tasks to do the research and record the licensing. I don’t like to do both at the same time and I think it’s important for faculty to discover what they like to do. Then we can build from there.

Side note: If you are supporting faculty, then you need to guide them to consider users downstream (What up, Quill West). Help guide them away from freely available but not open (What up, Nate Angell). Help them license their stuff so that others can use it (What up, CogDog). Help them feel like they are autonomous yet completely supported (What up, Alexis Clifton and Alyson Day). Help them see that students can contribute to the curation of their content. (What up, Caulfield and Wiley).

Aside to the side note: Those folks I’m saying “What up” to are some of the people that I need to cite when I have more time to develop this part of my gig.

Step 4: Connect assessments to the content you’ve curated in Steps 2 & 3.

Ideally, you will be able to link several pages in your course to every assignment. Maybe not! In fact, total alignment makes courses feel like robotic MOOCs instead of glorious paths to be discovered by both the teachers and the students. Radical, I know.

This rigid alignment is all the rage these days, and I’m happy to find the workaround with faculty. Back when I went to college, my teachers called that “extraneous” content “Recommended Reading” and those were my favorite rabbit holes. Let’s make extra reading great again.

As long as your pages connect back to those Five Questions in Step 1, then I think we’re on the track. Sometimes teaching and learning is messy (What up, Collier), and if you aren’t down with that then you’re reading the wrong bloggy blog.

Okay, where was I?

In step 4, you want to answer the questions:

  • What will my students do to demonstrate their learning?
  • What are my formative assessments?
  • What are my summative assessments?
  • Why does any of this really matter? (emphasis mine)

Step 5: Identify what the worst you can live with for a few iterations. That’s right. Identify the lowest benchmark you can accept on Day 1 of the course. Yup. Not the highest. The lowest.

Be honest with yourself about the time you have to create the course. You have a deadline for course delivery, but you also have years to “complete” this course. You also have this thing called a life. Be generous. Be kind. You have years to perfect your course. 

Think continuous improvement! Forgive your future self for failing all of your high expectations. Love your present self for being so wise. 

Make a list of long-term necessities and “nice to have” elements of the course.

Here I have faculty write again. Most likely they are going to leave the workshop and not work on anything for a few weeks. This last reflection will help them sort out their next steps.

In this step, you want to answer the questions:

  • What are necessities for my course?
  • What can I live with being incomplete?

If I have time, I might do some pair-share. Maybe we’ll do a big group chat about it. Maybe we’ll run out of time. Maybe the whole thing will devolve into conversation about the value of open education. Maybe they will all wish there was a Train-the-Trainer.com so they could slam the hell out of my teaching. Either way, I’ll learn and get better for the next workshop.

Here’s the thing.

My sneaky pedagogy here is to get faculty to use their Big Questions as titles of their modules, units, or chapters. These questions blow up the notion of the textbook. These questions blow up the possibilities of what faculty can teach their students. And how they do it.

These questions can blow up what a “book” and a “course” looks like. That’s the point.

These questions are really the heart of their pedagogy. If textbook affordability brought them to this point, then the answer is to get them to think about changing how they teach.

We’re creating a living document that isn’t sent in stone. That hopefully, somebody, somewhere, can use.

Truth be told, there are more than five steps. Way more. But these are the steps I can help faculty make.

Step by step by step by step by step.

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Form Before Depth

This title is a common teaching of yoga teachers. Form before depth.

They will tell you that everyday is a new day. Your body cannot do what it did yesterday nor has it done what you’re asking it to do today.

Everyday is new. Skin to bones.

Focus on form before depth. They say.

Stretch.

Breath.

Form before depth.

Does your form dictate the quality of your depth of stretching? They ask.

If you are flexible, then you must work on the form. They say.

If you are strong, you must work on flexibility. They say.

It’s only yoga. They say.

If you can, you must. They teach.

I’ve spent the last week doing yoga almost daily. Now that I’m back to my home studio. Luxury. Joy. It’s mostly all the same people. The teachers are still the best that I’ve met.

My focus is renewed now that I sacrificed 367 days in another city. Practicing there was sporadic. Haphazard. Being back reminds me of the routine practice I left. And then missed terribly.

2017 will be a better year for this fitness. I’ve promised myself.

Here’s the thing.

I plan to reflect on all of that and more when I disconnect from the digital world for the next five days. This post marks my last words on interwebs. This 2016.

Let me tell you a story.

Tomorrow I’m driving west of Stevens Pass to Scottish High Camp. In the heart of the North Cascades in Washington state. Where the snow has been falling for days. Storms galore! In the morning, I will catch a ride partway up a mountain. Then I will don my new (to me) snowshoes to walk the other four miles to my rented A frame cabin.

In the North Cascades. The Swiss Alps of the Pacific Northwest. For the new year.

And what a joy to not have to carry all of your stuff into the backcountry! What a luxury to stand there and watch your version of deluxe camping go up the mountainous road with snow too deep for vehicles. For miles.

For a small fee, good mountain folks load all of your stuff onto a snow-machine and you watch it travel up the switchbacks. Beer chilling. Wood fired hot tub boiling.

The quiet of snow falling. You just walk in the short days of winter.

This will be joy. An avalanche shovel for the tree wells. I remembered this year! No Internet. This year. Just quiet.

I plan to pry apart this past year in my mind. Stretch. Breathe. And then I’ll take stock of possibilities. [A Memoir].

This special place of rustic luxury is just what I need. Horizon remains the same for days. People scarce. Time with no deadlines.

You can see hills and the trails that follow them for miles in this valley. Miles.

You can see hills, sky, and trees. Blue marks on trees to follow. Trails that lead back to a cabin with food, spirits, and books.

There are a great many paths to see the form of possibilities in the depth of snow.

Form before depth.
This place. Thankful.

image

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The Pain Cave of Learning

Over a year ago, I went through several rounds of interviewing for a dreamy position. My favorite part of the interview process involved one team who asked me a question that was off the script. Hot damn!

Let me pause and admit, that for some, this would be a red flag. But. Oh. My. Gawd. Y’all. It made my heart sing and made me feel inspired to work for these people. To work hard with these people. The boss wasn’t part of this interview, so that was another good sign. They knew they could go off script and she would support them. Truth be told, the job they were hiring me to do didn’t have a script, so to speak, and I thought this was a genius way to get to know me as a person.

Anyone who thinks you can stick to a script when it comes to working with faculty and technology is not somebody I trust. Not somebody I want to work for. Serendipity and spontaneity is the joyful work of education. And that’s why I love working with teachers. They always feel empowered to tell you EXACTLY how they feel. You have to be flexible. You have to enjoy being flexible because that’s how you earn the trust of teachers.

After we got through the scripted questions, the committee said that they’d like me to teach them something in two minutes. They would time me, and I could teach them about anything as long as it wasn’t related to technology, teaching, or instructional design.

Mind.

Blown.

It was clearly a question that helped their close-knit team get to know a potential new hire. So creative. So brilliant, I thought. My brain blew up in a million directions. What to say to really smart people? Ack!

Having just helped coordinate a cyclo-cross clinic for women who were new to the sport, my heart was tangled up in racing. The weekend before my interview, my bike team had hired local pros for the main instruction, and then we broke into groups to practice. I was finally in a position to mentor other women, and it meant a lot to me to give back to that awesome little community by encouraging newbies to the sport. When I went to my first clinic, there were only three women. Five years later, we had almost 25 women and girls for the beginner clinic.

So with that little feminist glow hugging my brain, I decided to teach my interviewers about The Pain Cave.

If you aren’t into sporty activities, competing, or being athletic, stick with me, this concept applies to teaching and learning. I promise.

For two minutes during my interview, I described cyclo-cross which is a form of bike racing on a closed race circuit. Cross, historically speaking, was invented to help road cyclists stay in shape during the off-season. The muddy season. A cyclo-cross bike looks like regular road bike but it has knobby tires and it’s meant for the mud and dirt, not smooth pavement. It’s a type of racing that if you slow down for a break, you’re losing. In order to race, you have to go full gas for 30, 40, or 60 minutes depending on your division.

When you are truly in the zone of racing, I described, you enter The Pain Cave.

When racers talk about going into The Pain Cave they are talking about being in complete suffer-mode, yet they continue. Every muscle may be in an anaerobic state and it’s a pure battle between your mind and your body to keep pedaling.

Body says, “No. I hate you. Please. Stop!”

Brain says “You. Must. Keep. Pedaling.”

The great Jens Voigt summarizes this feeling with his catch phrase: “Shut up legs.”

Racers will identify the moment that they go into The Pain Cave as the hardest part of the race. The moment you learned how hard the race is and how it will only get harder to the finish.

The first rule of cross is that you must try to ride everything, and if you can’t ride the terrain, you hop off your bike, pick it up, and run as fast as you can. Weather is always factor since the race season takes place when autumn is duking it out with winter. The worse the weather, the more you have to commit to being in The Pain Cave. For me, it’s the physical joy of suffering. You only focus on one thing: Surviving. Suffering. Pedaling. Breathing. Moving forward. Staying upright. Surviving. Suffering.

The Pain Cave.

I honestly I don’t remember everything I said because I was trying to meet that two-minute mark, and I was beyond nervous that I wasn’t being brainy enough. Later when I was offered the job, the team shared with me how they liked my teaching of The Pain Cave. We joked about The Pain Cave, and it became a bit of a refrain during the too short time I spent with that team. Then I accepted another job, and forgot about The Pain Cave two-minute talk.

This memory resurfaced lately because I’m giving up another cross season because of my job and some other circumstances. And cross is on the mind! A Belgium superstar came to an American race (omg, I love you, Sven). One of my favorite lady racers is killing it this season (get ’em Court). I might be joining a team again (take me back, QoD). Either way, I’m definitely going to get back to it in 2017, and it’s going to be fun to train. I might even hop into a cross country race this winter.

I really miss The Pain Cave–and I really need to find time for it in 2017.

So how does The Pain Cave connect to teaching and learning? Are you still with me, pedagogy folks? The Pain Cave, albeit a concept from cycling, is really a state of mind. It’s the best way I can explain the value of life-long learning. When you’re trying to ride your bike smoothly, quickly, and gracefully against other people, it’s more rewarding when you remember that the race is really against yourself.

Did you catch that? The race is really against yourself. You.

Other people motivate you to go faster, but it’s really up to you to stay consistent. To stay smooth. To stay focused. Being in The Pain Cave is where you find true harmony between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It’s about having a goal (finishing the race) and learning what you can do to improve (staying in The Pain Cave longer).

If you are learning something new that makes you really uncomfortable, then you’re in The Pain of Cave of Learning. If you are teaching something new, then, you guessed it, you’re in the Pain Cave of Teaching. I show people The Pain Cave all the time these days.

It’s never comfortable. It’s never easy. It’s not uncommon for me to teach people what the acronym OER means one day and then the next day, I’m facilitating a discussion about the value of the Creative Commons license CC BY versus CC BY SA with those same teachers.

Mind.

Blown.

Here’s the thing.

Only you can choose to go into The Pain Cave. Whether it’s interviewing, teaching, learning, or going through a major change with your institution as a leader. You have to commit. You have to say to yourself, “I’m going to suffer through this because I know it’s worth it. I need this sense of accomplishment to finish this race. I can do it.”

You have to say to yourself, “I’m going to learn this new thing that makes me uncomfortable because I know it will make me a better. I want to be a better teacher/thinker/learner/person/colleague/friend/teammate.”

Whatever. The Pain Cave is life-long learning.

And it is sometimes very hard to see how all the pieces of pain come together.

I haven’t quite fleshed out this idea hence the blogginess of this bloggy, but when I think about change in higher education, it feels like The Pain Cave.

It’s hard. Challenging. Messy. Unpredictable. Tough. Unknown. Unscripted. Painful. One foot putting pressure on one pedal at a time. Moving forward.

As Amy Collier writes about leadership:

Leadership is heart breaking…and if it’s not, you might be doing it wrong.

Yes.

That’s My Pain Cave, too. I’m not sure I’m doing anything right because I’m constantly doubting what I’m doing. There is no script to refer to for right and wrong choices. What I’m saying to teachers. What I’m advising. What I’m teaching. But I know we have to move forward for students.

One pedal. In front. Of the other. Forward.

I’d like to somehow tie Amy’s incredible blog to Bonnie Stewart’s recent post because I think the most effective part of The Pain Cave is sharing and connecting your experience with and to others. The best teacher leaders teach me this. You make the road by sharing your map forward, if you will.

Whether it’s riding bikes. Whether it’s teaching and learning. We make the road by walking. By writing. By doing. By teaching. By thinking. By leading.

There is suffering if you are doing it right.

Bonnie blows my mind with this quote:

I believe that education is a process of offering people tools – conceptual as well as technical – to understand their identities and possibilities and those of others within a structural framework that points to various paths of possible agency.

Seeing those “various paths” is an individual choice with the collective. Yes.

I stand in front of a lot of teachers lately with a conflicted heart. I can’t ignore the unrest and joy that many of fellow citizens are experiencing right now post election. The fear. The victory. The challenges. The horror. The assaults. The false news. Connect that anxiety to the reality of dropping enrollments. The cancelled degree plans. The rise of guided pathways. The strategic plans. The pressure of accreditation.

The unknown.

The line ahead is not so easy. Yet we pedal. We identify the obstacles and we pick up our bikes. We choose the line, if you will, by riding.

One pedal. One foot. In front. Of the other.

We pedal towards unknown future of a lifelong learning Pain Cave. Our Pain Cave.

Forward.

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To The North

There is this scene in David Peace’s Red Riding Trilogy that I can’t quit thinking about.

The police are celebrating a horrendous victory. Of Corruption. Of Capitalism. Of capitalistic corruption. Patriarchy. Privilege. It’s a horrifying scene that popped into my head when I heard that Clinton had called to concede to The Monster who will be our president for the next four years. In that scene of The Red Riding Trilogy, the cops raise their crystal glasses filled with expensive brown liquor. Defiant. Confident. Cocksure.

They say with great jubilance: “To The North. Where we do what we want.”

To the north.

In four days, two hours, and twelve minutes, I am moving back to Bellingham, Washington. To the north. Where I went to college. I’ve negotiated to work remotely for the same company, and the mister will be an online teacher. This is it; we’re heading back to The Ham.

Prior to this horrifying election, I was going to write about my joy and elation during this monumental time in our lives. We blue collar kids are going to purchase a little place of our own. Off the bike trail. Near the bay. Close to the best mountain biking in the lower 48. Killer hiking. Wonderful snow. Safer road cycling. Our friends. Our bike family. Our community. Our old life we have missed so deeply over the last year. Again. To the north. Sweet, sweet Bellingham. The only place I have ever felt at home.

Prior to the horrifying election day, I started packing up my books and I felt very happy. Optimistic. Some of the books in my library I’ve moved from Georgia to Wyoming, to Montana, to Colorado, to California, to Washington, and to Oregon. Red state. Red state. Red state. Recently blue state. Traditionally blue state. Solid blue states. Blue States. Just because of the cities. Mind you.

On the eve of the election, I walked around northeast Portland with my dog, and I deposited some of those books in the little free library boxes. I’m tired of moving them. I won’t reread any of them. Why carry them again? On the eve of the election, it felt like a nice thing to do. Generous. I laughed at my joke of putting my most radical books in the boxes where I found Scientology books. Bibles. Wedding planning books. I was the little Jill Apple Seed of Banned Books, I thought. Screw you, Xenu, I’ll poison the minds of children with literature, I thought. Oh look, a book on how to bring Jesus into your marriage! Here’s The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin to balance the bullshit, I thought. It seemed like a nice thing to do. Lighten the load as we pack up the moving van to head to the north. Again.

Prior to this horrifying election, I was going to write so much about open education, pedagogy, teaching, learning, bikes, joy, life. I have written so many posts waiting for clarity. Waiting for connection. Research. Substantiation. Writing to do. But no. I admire those of you who have continued with your work.

I can’t.

Not yet.

Here’s the thing.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting at a bar and some stranger-man started talking to me. Here we go, I thought. I just wanted to get out my hotel room and type someplace else. Fuck.

He works “In Tech” too, he was so eager to tell me. He asked me questions. I was a bit drunk. Bored. Sarcastic. He was blunt. Direct. Dull. Told me he was lonely. Oh dear. I was not.

But I was curious about this Silicon Valley spawned wunderkind. A perspective from a man from “my field.” So very opposite of the men I usually talk to. In tech. These days. A supporter of The Monster that nobody thought could get elected just one week ago, I’m sure. I like to debate. It’s good to know the perspective of others. I thought.

He then offered me some career advice. Here we go, I thought.

“You know, a woman like you shouldn’t ask so many questions so quickly. You seem sharp. Bright. Men like that in their partners. Like your husband, I’m sure. But when you work in technology, it’s best if you don’t come across so smart. It intimidates men in tech. You could go really far while you still have your looks. Trust me. You should pretend you’re not so smart.” He ordered another bourbon. Asked if he could buy me one.

No.

WTF. Prior to this horrifying election, this would have been just another story from this sometimes horrifying “field.” Business as usual. Business. As usual. Strangers I’ve met in hotel bars rarely become friends. How do I “hold on to my looks?” Will they fly away in the middle of the night? How does one “seem sharp?” You either are or you aren’t, right? What does it even mean to “go far” in this field? Why do stranger danger men always want to give me career advice? How do I pretend I’m not smart to dumb-asses? In tech.

Really, I just want to be left the fuck alone so I can work with teachers. A Memoir.

And I’m lucky, I know. Privileged. Lucky. The men I trust in this field would dislike that guy too. Find him repugnant in the business as usual. In Tech. This is I know. Prior to this horrifying election, I would have filed that conversation as another sociological experiment while I’m traveling. Fodder for the stories I tell. Fodder for the memoir of sexist interactions that have punctuated my life. My career. My business as usual. Try as I might, I can’t write anything of worth lately. I think of this man feeling victorious right now. I think of those cops in Red Riding Trilogy: “To the north, where we do what we want.”

I think of your daughters. I think. I think. I think. Until I can’t.

But then somebody very close to me shared that he can’t give another four years of his life to depression and rage like he did during the Bush The Second years. During the Years of The Gipper. He can’t let the things he can’t control paralyze him. Again. He’ll do what he can where he can. He’ll keep doing. What he can. Where he can. Yes.

This horrifying election. I know people who wrote in candidates. Voted third-party. Didn’t vote at all. I love these people. They have their reasons even if I don’t agree. Even if I’m horrified by their choices. I’m easily exhausted when I try to wrap my mind around the results. I can’t find the optimism that I had when I blackened the arrow on my ballot, but I will. I can’t find a way to understand this election. I can’t find a way to understand a lot these days. That asshole at the bar that I described above?

Him I understand. Crystal clear. And I hate that he and his keep winning.

I have to live and work to see them lose. Someday.

Until then, I’m going to pack. Think. Work. Write. Reflect. Rewrite. Redirect. Reroute to the north. Back to my beloved Washington State. Home. Bellingham. Bellinghome. Yes.

To the north.

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Solvitur Ambulando

Solvitur Ambulando~Diogenes of Sinope

It is solved by walking.

I’ve travelled a lot of miles since July to talk about open education. OER. Open pedagogy. Course mapping. Design. Assessments. Outcomes. Courses. Open. Free. But not open. Sharing. Teaching. Education. Pedagogy. Design. Curricula. System. Section. Change.

I’ve been on the road quite a bit. These days.

I pack up my presentation clothes, my notes for the jobby job, and my laptop to fly or drive to various institutions. I smooch my regular sweet life goodbye, and I travel to the airport, to a taxi, to a hotel bar, a hotel room, a taxi, a computer lab, and then again to a taxi that takes me back to the airport. The mister picks me up at the same spot. We drink beer, talk, sigh, stay up too late. Catch up. Complain. Joke. Laugh. Parse the details of the household. For the next week. Look no further. Celebrate that at least one of us is The Breadwinner.

Rinse. Repeat.

Sometimes as I travel I gaze out the window of taxis and planes to see areas of the country I have never seen. I travel to mostly community colleges, which are not usually in the most scenic parts of America. The open door policy of American education does not usually drop one off where there are beautiful vistas of hope, optimism, confidence, wonder, magic. I always love the people, however, and I’m lucky to meet them. Learn from them.

For example. One leader welcomed me to her campus and pointed to the very large penitentiary across the field to the east. The nicest building for miles.

“Our students,” she said “either end up in the prison or working for it. I’m glad you’re here to help us change that.”

No pressure.

I’ve worked with teachers lately who have said, point blank: Our students should be fifth generation miners, but there is nothing to left to mine.

There is nothing left to mine.

No pressure.

How do we help these students out of generational poverty? Abstract. Real. Tacit.

I’m no stranger to the exploits of the fossil fuel industry. I come from a long line of Pennsylvanian miners of copper and coal. My dad was a steel worker. His first job was in a copper mine. I can’t listen to Grant Lee Buffalo’s Bethlehem Steel without crying.

To these teachers I say, “Here’s what you do.”

To these teachers I say, “Here’s a plan.”

To these teachers I say, “Here’s a strategy that I think works. Here’s what does not.”

When I really want to say, “I have not a fucking clue of what really works, but I know everything is broken. I know you are not happy with the materials you are using to teach. I know your students deserve better.”

Here’s the thing.

When I was a kid, I asked my elementary school teacher what we will do when fossil fuels run out, and my question angered my teacher. I got detention for my “sass talk.” My little lady brain was processing the learning outcome that taught me that there would be no dinosaurs ever again.

I wanted to know. What will we do when it all runs out?

Stop that sass talk.

These days, as I travel in my beloved Pacific Northwest, I take note of the huge refineries next to our lovely oceans. Our lovely forests.

Until I visited Texas, however, I had never ever never ever seen such production at scale.

Such production at scale.

For example. It reminds me of my young self who asked what will happen when it’s all gone. I thought I was learning. Questioning. I didn’t realize I was challenging authority.

A Memoir.

For example.

The Houston Ship Canal is a shocking sight in real life. From end to end on the horizon as far as one can see in the polluted air, there are ships, smokestacks, refineries. It reminds me of the first time I saw a clear-cut of old growth trees in the Northwest. The first time I saw a logging truck filled with the logs of dead big beautiful trees. The first time I saw huge holes in the earth from mining. I can’t remember the first time I noticed air pollution.

It seems that by now, we would have figured out a better way. I see billboards for fracking materials and I buy bottled water. Privilege. I don’t ask questions because I’m a guest. But I tell stories. I like to tell a story.

For example.

These days I tell a tale of my early engagement with teaching teachers about technology circa 2009. Circa.

Back then I collaborated with a woman at my former college who was in charge of recycling, the grounds crew, and service management. She’s a badass lady leader who gets shit done. She funded me to create a project to reduce handouts on campus, and I gathered up the best adjuncts I knew to create the “Paper Free Project.” Hippy leadership. It was my first success with organizing and legitimizing funding to pay teachers to redesign their courses to reduce their use of handouts and printers. To maximize technology. To minimize their department’s budget using the LMS. A solution.

A German teacher I worked with made thousands of handouts per quarter for all of the classes she taught. Every quarter. Every year. Students didn’t have to buy a textbook, but she crushed the budget of the Humanities department with her printing. heilige Scheiße!

By giving her the tools to laminate and organize her handouts, we paid her to do the work she never had time to do but always wanted to as a teacher. Intentional funded curricula redevelopment.

Did you catch that? We paid her to do the work she never had time to do but always wanted to as a teacher.

At the conclusion of the project, I visited her classroom as her students were filling out laminated verb conjugation charts. They practiced conjugating with erasable markers, checked each others’ work, erased what they wrote, and then filed the exercise for the next class. It was magic. Laminate is petroleum product, I know. Hippy leadership is not perfect.

I shared that story recently as small-talk conversation with some leadership folks, and I could see light bulbs going off. They started mentioning people who might be into that idea on their campus. Today. As in 2016. I thought they were making fun of me at first.

They started talking about excessive printing on their campus. How teachers made handouts instead of scanning files because they didn’t know how to use the technology. Didn’t have time to learn it. How to learn to scan. How to upload. How to digitize some resources. How to save themselves time. My off-the-cuff story seemed like a good idea to these folks.

My Paperfree Project took place in 2009.

It’s 2009 somewhere. All. The. Time. Yet we want to run. So. Fast. Change so fast.

Yet it is solved by walking slowly.

Step-by-step.

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File This Question Under Messy

We fail to appreciate the virtues of the messy—the untidy, unquantified, uncoordinated, improvised, imperfect, incoherent, crude, cluttered, random, ambiguous, vague, difficult, diverse, or even dirty. ~my favorite quote thus far from Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford

These days, I tell a lot stories about the messy path to adopting open educational resources. For a selective extrovert like me, it’s a dream come true to hold court about a topic I love to talk about, and I embrace a little chaos. As I’ve travelled these last two months, I struggle a lot with being seen as a vendor-salesy-person in the eyes of faculty. My People.

In fact, when I attended conferences as a teacher, I only went to the vendor hall for the free drinks and appetizers. Rarely did I make eye contact with salespeople. When I introduce myself to teachers these days, I feel hyper-aware of how they see me. People who are vendors like me.

I try to gain a little pedagogical street cred by telling some stories about my frenetic path to my latest gig. How my best work is not with technology, but with people. Teachers.

For instance, my favorite little ditty is about an adjunct faculty member who has a beautiful OER course. Gorgeously interesting course—freely available but not open (I’ll get to that later). He’s currently working on the third iteration of the course, and I’m very proud to say that I talked him into it. Using all of the powers of persuasion that I could muster, I convinced this teacher years ago that this course would be good for his students. Good for his teaching. Good for his career. Good for his discipline. Good for the job market. Good for me. Good for him. Good for ye ol’ curriculum vitae.

The only textbook of quality for his discipline is the same book my teacher required me to purchase back when I was but a wee lass in college. Turns out, it’s the same book he had a buy as a student. Our own teachers, we marveled, probably struggled to teach with the content. Yet there was no other textbook on the market. No alternative. There is still nothing that competes with it. Yet.

We high-fived about still paying interest on that book thanks to our student loans. [Drink!] That 20% “resale” we got back from the bookstore is long gone. As a favor to support my fervor as an administrator, he committed to creating an “open” course to save his students money. What a guy. Look at me getting all leaderly-like with the teacher folks, I thought. Oh, the unpaid hours he spent between contracts to create this course. I could count it as an “OER” course on my list of teachers that I supported.

In hindsight, I thought that era of my career was stressful [pause for hysterical laughter here. Drink!]. His students saved $11,000 the first time he taught the course. Yay! He felt happier about his lectures. Confident that he was finally teaching from materials he owned. Excited by the ease with which he could remix and revise his content. Jazzed to see it come together in the LMS. Inspired by owning his teaching materials. Appreciated endlessly by people like me.

Then I asked him if we would be willing to license the course using a Creative Commons license.

“So that anyone can use it?” he asked.

“Of course! It would be amazing to share that course. Surely you’re not alone with being dissatisfied with your textbook. You are an amazing writer. So inspiring!” I said gleefully. Jazz hands. Sparkles, sunshine, supersonic sweetness. Big smiles.

“And when I attribute my work, which institution should I add to said license?” his eyes scrunched in suspicion. Happy Teacher vanished. The light from his eyes faded. The Administrator-Hater took over my Happy Teacher. Boom. Just like that.

I’d ask too much.

He’s an adjunct. Precarious. Casual. Without tenure. Part-time. Contract-to-contract.

I didn’t know what to say. The old horrors of my own adjunct era resurfaced. Empathy killed my ambitions. Self-doubt circled. Words escaped me. “Well, you don’t have to, I suppose. But…”

He looked me in the eyes for a long time.

“So what if I’m on the job market and somebody uses my textbook, you know the one I just wrote on my own time, as his own? What if that person gets the job I want using my work? Explain why I would want to give somebody else an edge when I’m competing on the job market.”

Here we go. Queue the broken record that we call higher education.

“Right, I get that. But still, think of the students who will benefit from saving money. Think of how approachable and good your work is for other teachers.” I sounded so desperate. The moment I start to doubt my own words, I’m transparent like a window.

“Yes, thanks. Kind of you. Your praise won’t pay my bills. The day I’m hired as a full-time teacher, I will license that course. Until then, I’ll worry about my students and my courses. I won’t let somebody steal this line from my CV.”

Oh dear. He’s right. He’s wrong. He’s right. He’s wrong. He’s right but wrong. Sigh.

Here’s the thing.

How many adjuncts are hoarding good courses because they don’t feel invested in by institutions? How many adjuncts think that their OER course will give them an edge on the job market? How many adjuncts use OER materials without their administrators knowing it? How many adjuncts share my colleague’s perspective?

I’d wager more than we know.

And I’m always on the side of the teachers who do not feel like stakeholders in the very organizational structure they help sustain. The very organizational structure that exploits them. The very organizational structure that made me choose another career. To this day, I side with teachers and I try to support administrators. It’s never easy. None of us feel comfortable in our skin in this complicated moment of change management. It’s messy.

I chalk my collaboration with this teacher up as part failure and part success. Yes, his students get the benefit of his work. They save money. They won’t be middle-aged people paying interest on books that didn’t improve their learning like me and many of my friends. However, nobody else will benefit until/unless he’s hired as a full-timer. Until. Unless. Until. Unless.

The major question on my mind these days is this:

To what extent does the adjunctification/casualisation of the labor/labour slow the adoption of OER?

More than we know, I’d wager.

File this question under Messy.

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