#OER & A Letter of Recommendation

One of the mistakes that leaders and champions make over and over again—myself included—is that we assume we know how to move adoption forward based on our own experience. Our own lofty ideas about the future. Our mistakes from the past. Our own research. Our own egos. Our confidence that we have all the right definitions and answers. Don’t get me wrong, expertise is important but the moment you think you’re an “expert,” you are missing an opportunity to learn from faculty.

My complete and utter lack of time to invest in my own professional development is forcing me to rethink my own involvement in the workshop work I do. I’m trying to give myself time to learn by shutting my mouth and listening to faculty. This is the longest I’ve gone without taking a class of some sort in 20 years. I love to learn, and I’m struggling to find time for my own thinking and space for reflection—work is just too busy and I’m spending more time on the bike. All good things but my brain feels like it’s atrophying. I’ve been to 55 schools in 11 months, and I meet a lot of people. I’ve started to think of these conversations with strangers as my professional development—I can learn something from everyone everywhere. The fact that they trust me as a teacher/speaker/trainer still blows my mind.

During workshops, I’ve started to break people into small groups based on platform or discipline interest. I usually take the motley crew of the undecided, the skeptical, or the discipline-with-no-OER. If you think you’ve got the whole OER-as-professional-development down pat, I’d like to invite you to attend a workshop full of nurses and criminal justice teachers. Be like Blondie, and call me. I’d love for you to observe why this work is so hard.

It’s my job to help my other facilitators be successful, so I give myself the challenges. I spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zones both as a facilitator and a teacher/trainer. At my most recent workshop, teachers expressed the need for a letter of recommendation or letter of intent for a textbook review committee.

This is the brilliant idea that I’d like to share with today–mainly because I’m deeply embarrassed I have not thought of this before. Something so simple. Yet.

I’ll admit my experience with this type of textbook selection committee is limited as a teacher. As an adjunct, I usually worked for departments who either gave me complete freedom to choose my own materials or I worked (briefly) for schools who had pre-selected texts that I had to use in order to get hired. I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was an adjunct to have such a supportive network of colleagues. When I see some of the working conditions of my workshop attendees, I see my adjunct career in a whole new light. I was really lucky in an unlucky era.

My work as an administrator was purely centered around eLearning where we had no influence or power over any materials that faculty used in their courses. The real revolution in higher education is in the hands of the LMS Admins, by the way, yet they are typically overlooked, ignored, and under-appreciated by faculty and administrators alike. Edtech companies don’t see that. Policy leaders don’t see that. Visionaries don’t see that. Okay. Breath. Don’t get angry. That’s a whole other post and soapbox, yo. Focus, Indrunas.

That all being said, I’m trying to enter my workshops with an open-mind to learn from strangers. I had a very productive conversation with faculty members who expressed the need for an executive summary about the courseware they are choosing for OER adoption. I asked them specifically what would help them, and I listened and wrote notes like a madwoman.

If you know me well, you can attest that I will talk your ear off when I’m excited about something. Lately I’ve been really trying to be a good listener. I’ve been asking my workshop faculty, “What’s something that you don’t have right now that could make OER adoption easier for you?”

And then I shut my mouth and listen.

I take notes by hand in a paper journal—my magic machine for work blows up with too many notifications. If I use my laptop/magic machine, they think I’m not listening to them. Using a pen and paper invites those teachers to talk. A really good teacher loves to lecture and share what she knows. I love a good story. Good students take notes. Even if they tell me something I’ve heard a million times, I still write it down to respect their ideas.

Before I get into the best idea I’ve heard in months with this question, here’s a top ten list of things they usually say that they need.

  1. Time
  2. Funding
  3. Help identifying material that will replace a textbook
  4. More information from their administration about how they will sustain OER
  5. Details about what others have done in their discipline
  6. Examples of complete courses
  7. Peer review information about the course content
  8. Ways they can use the 5Rs
  9. Instruction on how to license their own work
  10. Guidance with repositories (Here I do interrupt them because I share with them how much I hate repositories and why they frustrated my faculty when I was an admin. Why I thought they were pure crap when I was a teacher. I flat out tell them it’s a bad idea to curate courses from a repository. Sorry if you’re a believer, but that idea is a failure at scale. When I hear “What we need is a repository filled with discoverable learning objects that faculty can search to build their courses” I instantly crave whiskey, gin, vodka, IPA, and/or a nap. I start to sweat a little and a small vein pops on my forehead. I stop listening and try not to put on my ranty-pants, but FFS, enough with the repository-as-solution. Just stahp.)

Here’s the thing.

Two teachers at Nassau Community College who are part of the brilliant SUNY system gave me one of the best ideas to date.

I watched them get super-excited about SOS’s Biology I and II and their Anatomy & Physiology course. I showed them the attributions. How to search. How they can use their LMS to customize for the upcoming year and then we can work on a two-year plan to create their ideal course. I struggled in all of my science classes as a student and I sometimes weep for my younger self that I didn’t have teachers like the ones that I got to meet this week.

After they shared what they think will work, they said, we still have to take this to our textbook committee. Faces fell. Arms crossed. Eyebrows scrunched. A cold wind blew through the computer lab. They stared at me. Blinked. Silence.

That’s when I asked my question.

“What’s something that you don’t have right now that could make OER adoption easier for you?”

They said they needed a letter of recommendation about the course materials they are planning to use. An executive summary about who wrote the course, what other schools have used this course, data on whether it improved student learning, discipline-specific endorsements from colleagues within their system. One endorsement with somebody important from SUNY could go a long way since these are course materials not from a traditional publisher.

We need a short letter that the committee can read that will substantiate our choice, they said. Data on how this course helps retention. A blurb about student engagement. How it works with their LMS. How this is not just random information curated from the internet.

Accreditation standards and documentation of course materials quality is a concern with their committee. How can we explain to them why this is a good option for our students? I felt deep pangs of empathy. Oh, I get it, I thought.

Put yourself in their shoes going to a committee that has no idea what OER means, how Creative Commons licensing works, and no paper text to pass around the room. Those ladies helped me identify a barrier that I hadn’t even considered.

They need documentation that this isn’t just their idea—they need a community of voices to support them with a committee who understands little to nothing about how all this works. All  of the information exists for them–somebody just has to curate it and put it in a medium that has some gravitas.

A letter of recommendation goes a long way. Even in 2017.

I’m getting bloggy here with this idea so that I don’t lose my thoughts as I put together something more useful and hopefully more professional for my busy-as-hell SUNY heroes. This type of letter is not hard to write and it could make the difference between students saving a lot of money and not. Between having money for food and not. Between staying in college and not. Between using OER in the fall and having to wait another year. Or three.

Okay, this is a really half-baked post, but I wanted to share my best workshop question and the sweetest little idea I’ve gotten from teachers. If you have something I can use, then please share. Maybe this is something you already know that’s needed, but it’s a nice reminder to me that all of my best ideas about open education have come from the teachers themselves. Sometimes we just need to shut the hell up and listen them.

For now, I’ll just conclude with a quote I used to read to myself as an undergrad when I felt like an idiot in my classes. When everyone else seemed to get it but me. When I thought everyone was smarter than me because they had so much to say.

Mary Wollstonecraft, tell it, sister:

The beginning is always today.

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Ski To Sea 2017 Race Report

Another Ski-To-Sea is in the books, and thanks to my little network of rad lady friends, I was on Team CorePhysio. We placed 2nd in the Whatcom Women’s Division, 30th overall, and if we had joined the Competitive Women, we would have gotten third place! Wow.

If you have ever been called a “competitive woman” (it’s usually never a compliment), then you really need to race or join a team. Just try it. It’s the only time you’ll feel completely at home with who you are. Women who race are so kind and supportive. I promise. Plus, it’s just really fun. Especially if you work in a male dominated field. I’m taking a break from getting bloggy about the jobby job, so if you’re an EdTech/OER/Teaching and Learning/Professional Development reader, keep in mind that I named this blog using the words “blatherings” and “bikes.”

I usually write this kind of report in a my training journal, but I’m going to put this on the interwebz just in case it helps somebody else–especially a woman–prepare for next year’s race. I scoured the web looking for videos and accounts of racing my leg, and the reports of the cyclocross leg were pretty sparse. It’s a new-ish leg for the race, so that wasn’t surprising. My goal for next year is to inspire more women to race. More on that later.

If you are unfamiliar with this race, let me sum it up quickly. It’s 93 miles from Mt. Baker to Fairhaven park with seven legs. One person (two for the canoe) races per segment and passes the race chip from one leg to another to register an overall time. It starts with a sea (ha!) of cross country skiers and the race instantly gets sorted by the fastest on skinny skis. The downhill skiers or snowboarders boot pack it up the hill so that they are in position to get the chip from the cross-country skier. That skier passes the chip to a runner who then passes it to a road cyclist who passes it to two canoeists who pass it to a cyclocross racer who passes it to the kayaker. Leg by leg you go from Mount Baker to Bellingham Bay all in one day.

The truly badass ride their bikes AND their equipment to each leg for the Car-Free division. It all ends (as the party signs say) in Fairhaven where kayakers ring a bell. It’s an all day event for both the partiers and the athletes. And I love it. I haven’t been around for this festival for three years because I’ve been at a work-related conference in Texas. This race helped me realize that I’m never missing another again, and I want to get more involved.

Some folks joke that it’s the Bellingham Olympics and the businesses who sponsor teams take it very seriously. There are teams with deep traditions of winning and there are also folks who race just to party with their favorite friends. It’s a wide spectrum of racers–mostly men. And I’d like to help change that–women, you need this day. I promise you.

Racing is not easy, but it’s so fun to be out there trying.

I lucked out this year. I have a friend who knew a team captain who needed a cyclocross racer. This amazing lady captain put her faith in me based on this recommendation. Since I volunteered on April 10 to be on the team, I tried to get my act together fitness-wise as best as I could in six weeks. OMFG.

Teams sometimes shift because of people’s lives, and there can be last minute team member additions, and I was one of them. I needed to get my shit together. The weather in the NW did not cooperate this wintery spring and I spend a lot of time on the road for work. I’d rather watch paint dry than workout in a hotel gym (or any gym for that matter), so every second I had free, I rode my bike or ran. I walked five miles in Chicago’s O’Hare airport every time I had a layover during that time (god, I hate that airport). Then I got an infection from a tick bite and caught a head cold, so for about 9 days, I was trying to recover from being sick while trying to be smart for the jobby job. I’m not making excuses for my current state of fitness–I’ll own losing it all in the last year and half because of work, moving twice, traveling for work, and drinking beer.

I only bring up this list for my own record, and to highlight what a miracle my race was for me personally. My desire to NOT disappoint other ladies motivated me to go faster on the bike than I normally would have. I turned myself inside out for 13 miles to protect our team. I lost two places (we went from 26 to 28) during my leg, but that was awesome for me. Two dudes passed me, and they were ripping, so whatevs. One caught me because my chain bounced off in the grass. Whatevs.

I’ve only competed once at Ski To Sea though I’m quite seasoned at the after-race beer garden party. In my younger college-gal days, I joined parties of folks who would drink before the beer garden party and then we’d stumble back to the pre-party location and drink some more. I have many cloudy memories of several Ski To Sea race parties and stumbling around Fairhaven talking to friends.

Before getting (somewhat) serious about fitness and getting the bug for competing, I loved the Ski To Sea party. Once I figured out how fun it was to train for the race AND then party, I decided I’m in forever until I can’t race anymore. When I get too old or when my body gives up, I’ll volunteer.

My first time racing, I was the runner for my team, and I trained like mad to not completely suck. Being the runner is hard because it’s mostly downhill. You run down Highway 542 for 7 and half miles, and then you have a half mile of gradual uphill to the DOT chalet. That last half mile is the hardest. It’s so hard to transition from downhill to uphill–I felt like a gazelle who morphed into a rhinoceros.

Then you stop running and you’re trapped in that area until your skier and snowboarder friends can pick you up when the highway reopens. I was pretty close to hyperthermic by the time I got a ride home, and my time was subpar though not completely embarrassing. I lost quite a few spaces for my team since our team time is based on the overall chip exchange. Still, I clocked a 1:02 which shocked me for not being a runner.

My team that year got into the top 100, and my favorite moment of the race was cheering on my friend Katie the Kayaker with my mister and her beau. We yelled ourselves hoarse as she was paddle to paddle with this dude who looked mortified that a woman was beating him. It was awesome when she rang the bell before him.

This year was a surprise that I was not asked to attend the conference during the Memorial Day weekend (thank all the gods we are starting to hire more people), and I had planned to support and cheer on the ladies who were racing for Jack’s Bicycle Center, my shop sponsor. They had a killer team together, and I was thrilled for them to do well. Getting on Team CorePhysio was a surprise, and I’m so thankful that I got to work with and for these ladies. But holyhotdamn was it stressful. Especially riding/running the beach.

Two days before the race, it occurred to me that my “break” from work was just as stressful as my jobby job. The Monday after the race I was booked to fly out in the morning to help put on an important workshop and there was going to be zero time to work that weekend. I put in a lot of time at the desk to prepare for work-so you know–my heart rate was up for like a frickin’ week.

In addition to all the work, I had to purchase a new cross bike and get used to it before the race. My CX bike is beat to hell after four years of racing and one year of rainy work commuting in Portland. My trusty CX steed is on its last legs, but I had just dropped a lot of coin on my mountain bike. What to do?

As soon as the next paycheck cleared, me and the mister went down to Jack’s to purchase an already discounted 2015 Kona Jake The Snake. They gave me an even sweeter discount because I’m on their lady team, and we took home my lovely bright green bike that I have named “Dr. David Banner.”

I’m not a physician nor am I a scientist but I “am searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have.”  Holygod I loved that show as a kid, and I’m pretty sure that Dr. David Banner taught me the life lesson that if you don’t like how things are going and you completely blow it, just hitchhike the fuck out of town and start over. A lesson that served me well in my 20s and 30s. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Okay, where was I? Oh, right, Ski To Sea.

My most poignant memory of the race day was a moment I shared with a stranger.

Here’s the thing.

The kindness of strangers at races.

This may be a memoir I might write someday.

I was cheering on dudes at the barriers at Hovander Park and relishing in the moments being back with my bike community. The CX community in Bellingham is filled with dudes who are nice, sassy, smart, and fun to be around. And the women are even better. As I was watching this whole race come together feeling really proud to call these people my friends, I noticed this woman standing next to me crying.

I said, “Are you okay?”

Yes, she said, I just visited the grave site of my husband. We raced Ski To Sea for years together. I can feel him here today. I wish I was 20 again. You ladies who are doing this race leg are really strong. She said a few other things I didn’t quite hear.

She cried harder. I noticed she had lipstick on her teeth. I hugged her. I thought about how much I’ve missed racing with my mister this last year. Life without him? Unthinkable.

I’m sorry for your loss, I said.

She hugged me harder. Thank you, lady. Now make sure you kick some butt out there, okay! I love bike races!

Then I heard my team’s number. Oh my gosh, I have to run, I told this woman. I’ll come down to the beach to see you off, she said. You must one of the fast people.

Ho-lee-mother-of-fuck. I’m not.

As I ran down to the beach, one of my friends heckled, What the hell are YOU doing down on the beach this early? I said, my ladies are kicking ass, yo.

Go INDRUNAS. Go Alyson. Get it, Alyson. Go Alyson. You got this, lady.

The crowd got really loud. I knew a lot of people. I felt really loved.

I ran down to the beach and realized I was one of two women waiting for their teams. The dudes who were on the beach are super fast. (If you’re from the Ham, I was waiting WITH Jeff Cummings, that badass grandpa who makes CX look easy. WTF, right?). Some dude had on a aero-dynamic helmet. He had giant quads and a skin suit. In other words, I had no business being on that beach.

Then I saw my canoe ladies paddling their arms off. COREPHYSIO WHOOOOHOOO OMG LADIES! WHOOOOHOOOO,  I yelled. They hit the shore and suddenly I had to help them run with a very wet canoe. When the hell do you ever run with a canoe? I haven’t even been in a canoe for over 20 years. Holyshit the sand was tough to run on. My ladies had that blind stare of exhaustion from paddling for two hours. The crowd by the start line was yelling. Hit your chip on the bull’s eye, some guy said. GOOOOOOOO Alyson go gogo gogogo gogogooooooooo. The crowd was awesome. I had to pull back tears as I hopped on my bike and looked at Mt. Baker in the distance. I was HOME. Racing. Yes. Yes. So much yes. Home.

Then I took on the course. Heard the voice of my mister in my mind  like Obe Wan Kenobi to Luke, “Go wide on that gravel turn. Use the grass. Others will crash. Take the line in the grass. Stay upright you will.” I did!

Once I hit full stride on the double-track, I saw a woman I know chasing me. She was not in my team’s division, but I couldn’t let her pass me. No matter what. I love her art, by the way, and she’s a super sweet person. I just really wanted to make sure she didn’t pass me.

By the time I got two miles in, I thought I was going to puke. I was breathing really hard, and all of the Ski To Sea volunteers were super sweet about cheering me on. I was the second woman to come through the course all day. OF ALL THE WOMEN. OMFG. The volunteers were awesome. Ski To Sea brings together over a 1,000 volunteers, and I want to personally thank the folks who thought I would be the 2nd fastest OVERALL. Um, ah, nah, not me, but thank thank thank you for cheering like I was.

The course was super hard and technical. But really fucking fun. Ryan Rickerts and Jeff Cummings (and others, I’m sure) did their best to make a true CX course and it was challenging. Those guys are not messing around when they set up a course with the topography between Hovander and Zuanich. This was no grassy city crit. I had to dismount my bike seven times and tripod twice. I had to wear spikes to run up “Mound Ferndale” (a little steep hill in a field). If you are reading this blog post thinking about racing for the first time in 2018, do the pre-ride. It made all the difference for me. Do the pre-ride with a good cross racer if you can so that you can talk about lines. Have fun talking about the course. Always have fun. You’re riding bikes!

My mister and I scoped out hard parts of the course. He coached me to go fast on the pavement. Tried to mock me into bunny hopping curbs (I’m scared I’ll flat and case my back tire). When to lean into a turn. When to press hard on the pedals. When to recover and when to pin it. How to weave in and out of pot holed dirt roads.

Earlier in the week, other women I know did a pre-ride, and I couldn’t make it because of work. I put a lot of mental energy into that pre-ride, and I was WORRIED. The beach was so hard. A roadie could go so much faster than me on the pavement. What if I flatted? What if I had a mechanical? And should I ride or run the beach? That damn rocky slippery beach. What if I lose a lot of places for these women?

On the day of the race, I decided to run the beach. I’m not a skilled “sand spinner.” The beach was filled with rocks, slimy little rocks, and pebbles. They made you dismount before hitting the beach, so you lose all the speed. So I picked up my bike and ran. I was so in the Pain Cave when I heard, “C’mon Alyson. GOOOOO.” My lovely sweet mister, 200 yards in the distance, was cheering me on. “You look so strong, babe. Go! It’s only another mile. C’mon babe. Go.”

I was so pissed that he was there! Of all the spots on the course to spectate! Fuck you, I thought. I don’t look strong. This is the worst section of suffering. I’m dying. Dammit.

Then he said, “You can still hold her off if you pedal quick to the finish. Go! Go! Go!”

Oh! Right. Good advice. Okay, I love you again. Sorry I just cursed you in my mind. Click. Click. Shoes on the pedals and I went faster. She was not going to pass me now.

One mile from the finish line to the kayaker hand-off the crowd thickened. “Yay, a woman!” I heard. “You’re almost done.” And another “There’s a woman,” I heard again. “You’re almost there.” I heard. “AL-Y-SON. YOU. ARE. KICKING. ASS.” This is a family event but I tend to befriend the crass and zero-fucks-givers-of-the-world.

Photos. Banner of the finish. High-fives. My mister all smiles. My CX friends dirty and tired. My kayaker ran to my bike and ripped the chip off my wrist like she was stealing jewelry. I laughed when I saw her running towards her kayak with her pigtails bouncing. I was too out of breath to wish her luck.

On my ride back to the house, I thought of that woman I met at the start of the race.

I reflected on how few women were in that field at Hovander and how awesome it was to see the ones who were there. My little bike team is all about helping more women race. Helping more woman build confidence. You can compete and be a woman. You can be a competitive woman. You can be on a bike and have fun. You can own being a competitive woman in a culture that tells you that’s a bad thing. It’s not; it might just be who you are and that’s fine.

Smile, have fun, and press hard on the pedals. Go fast on the snow. Glide quick in the water. Turn the pedals quick on the pavement. Look at those ladies below. Strong. Happy. Proud. Relieved. Confidant. Badass. Positive. Super badass ladies on the land, water, and snow. And look at little ol’ squatty me up there with them! If I can do this, so can you.


If this post ends up in somebody queue who is stalking all the CX race reports, then I’d love to meet you. I’m hoping to organize an informal pre-ride and I’ll post on the social media, and if you can make it; join me.

We’ve got a year to scope it out. See you at the beer garden? You bet. Always.

For now, get on your bike and enjoy the summer. Cyclocross season is coming!

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A Love Letter To My Mountain Bike

A handful of types of elementary particles, which vibrate and fluctuate constantly between existence and nonexistence and swarm in space, even when it seems that there is nothing there, combine together to infinity like the letters of a cosmic alphabet to tell the immense history of galaxies; of the innumerable stars; of sunlight; of mountains, woods, and fields of grain; of the smiling young faces of the young at parties; and of the night sky studded with stars (37-38). ~Carlo Rovelli

I’ve been writing for weeks while I’ve been on the road for work, and the quote above is from my journal after reading Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Lately I’m drawn to small thin books that I can read between cities on flights for work. I’m not so sure I can summarize the seven lessons insomuch as I can identify where he used some lovely language to describe the unknown. The best science writing, to my eye, completely devolves into poetry when the writers try to explain the unknown. The Unknowable. Rovelli writes about time as a “Tangle of problems where we are still in the dark” (p. 63).

Sounds like a memoir title to me (wink). All I could think about was mountain biking as I read this book. Mountain biking came into my life thanks to a ex-boyfriend who loved climbing steep fire roads and then bombing down single-track known only to locals in Whitefish, Montana.

He told me: It’s just like hiking on wheels. You’ll love it.

The problem was I didn’t own a mountain bike and everyone we knew who could lend me a bike was at least a foot taller than me. I’d watch him roll away on his mountain bike and come back home hours later silly-happy-dirty-muddy-smiley and I decided I needed to give this bikey hobby–wait for it–a spin.

I paid for my first mountain bike by layaway. Every two weeks, I’d walk part of my paycheck to the bike store during the winter so that I could pay it off by the spring. This was before I had access to credit cards (thank heavens) and I paid down that bike with every extra cent that I had. Once the mud season was over in Montana and my bike was paid for, I fell in love with mountain biking even though I’m sure most of my early rides were more like hike-a-bikes. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved being in the mountains. I loved–and still love–the long slog of climbing and climbing and climbing on the dirt for a view. Being on a bike in the mountains rivals backpacking for me as my favorite outdoor activity.

I’d eventually have that forest green Raleigh hardtail bike for seven years, and I moved it everywhere with me. It got me to work when my car broke down (repeatedly, dammit). It helped me meet two major loves in my life. Eventually I traded it for a hand knit scarf and a matching hat to woman who became one of my best friends. I still wear that scarf and hat. That green bike was my first two-wheeled love, and like all bike geeks, I quickly fell in love with my next upgrade.

My first major upgrade was a Kona NuNu, and I road that hardtail for another six years. When I bought that bike, I remembered seeing a significant change in demeanor with my Mister–the obsessive excitement of buying a new bike (a manic condition I’ve seen many many many times over the years). How this kind of a bookish word nerd transitioned into this wicked smart bike dork. How he instantly turned into a ten year old boy excited for a new toy. How I could learn to mountain bike from somebody who clearly knew what he was doing and cared enough to teach me. I learned how to mountain bike on that Kona and I’m thrilled that I bought it from the shop that now sponsors my bike team.

When we moved to Portland last year, we gave that NuNu frame to friend who is going to build it into a beginner bike for his gal. That Kona was really special to me, but I quickly got over it when I rode my Giant Anthem for the first time. Once again, I was completely won over on the first ride on the upgrade. Fickle love, I know.

My Giant had disc brakes! I finally found a seat that fit. Really fly hand built wheels. A stiffer better fork. But really, it was the change from 27.5 wheels to 29ers that changed my riding. From that moment on, I fell hardcore in love with the 29er. Those bigger wheels rolled over roots and rocks like I was on smooth dirt and I felt fast. My first cross country race was magic on that bike, and I could feel a major improvement in my riding.

For my birthday this year, my mister put some sweet purple handle bars, purple headset, and little purple pegs on my crankset. It looks totally murdered out with a dope touches of purple–to use the slang of the Brahs–which totally makes sense to write that way when you’re a middle-age woman.

That Giant always felt a bit too tall for me, but I loved it anyway. As all of my friends upgraded to more Enduro-type bikes, I kept it real as the lantern rouge in the back of the pack on my cross country bike. It just wasn’t in the budget to upgrade. That Giant Anthem has been a trusty steed in the northwest, and I hope to sell it to some lady or small statured dude who will love it as much as I did.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. I want to personally thank Pivot Cycles for hooking me up with THE perfect bike. The COO of my jobby job and fellow shredder, Tom Chapman, connected me with the good folks of Pivot. I’m now the proud owner of a Pivot Mach429 Trail and it’s so badass. After a confusing exchange between my local bike shop and team sponsor Jack’s Bicycle Center, a Pivot dealer, about a bike for-Indy-who-is-really-Alyson-QoD-teammate-and-Scott’s-wife, my bike was in the mail. (Having two names can be tricky sometimes).

Thank you so much Tom, Pivot, and Jacks! After my first ride on this bike, my cheeks hurt from smiling and I have a deep crush on this bike. Having access to the “Amigo” deal has made me a Pivot fan for life. It would have taken me many many many many moons for me to save up for a full-priced bike from Pivot, so I plan to do what I can to represent Pivot in the land dominated by Kona and Transition–two NW bike companies that I adore.

Speaking of racing and Pivot, my friend and racer for Homegrown (the male bike team sponsored by Jack’s), Ben Shaklee, just won the Single-Speed mountain bike national championships. Congratulations, Ben! Rainbow stripes AND a Pivot? Hubba hubba, Brah, you’re silly-speed flying. During a team ride awhile back, Ben rode next to me on some uphill to have a chat, and you could tell he was struggling to ride that slow while I was turning myself inside out to ride that fast. But okay, where was I? My Pivot. Allow me to pivot back to my bikey upgrade love letter.

For my EdTech friends, I just went from something licensed CC BY NC ND to full-on Public Domain! Anything is possible. For my professional development friends, I just upgraded from drop-in consulting office hours to a fully funded two day-workshop with a marketing budget. For my backpacking friends, it’s like upgrading from all Army surplus to titanium light-ass gear. For my bike friends, you may know directly that I’m not worthy of this bike. And I know you’re jealous as hell (wink).

People often think that I’m better than I am as a mountain biker because my Mister is such a skilled rider. He flies downhill in ways that terrify me; he spends half of every ride waiting for me. He shames me (in jest) for not riding something, and on my worst days on the bike, he’ll ask me if I stopped for a sandwich. Years ago when we were still dating, he took a lot of time to teach me very basic skills on a bike. I’m forever grateful; he’s a great teacher. I have to thank him for building my bike for me AND agreeing that we should postpone on several household projects so that I could afford this beauty.

For the first time ever, I have a bike that has the perfect geometry for my hobbit-like stature. Think Gimley meets Smurfette and you get the sense of my squatty nature. I have short legs and a squatty torso. See photo below for evidence and proof. As Jay-Z says, I wuz who I wuz ‘fore I got here.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 4.18.09 PM

Me: photo credit unknown

The small Mach429 is the best frame I’ve ever thrown a leg over. I have almost two inches to the top tube as standover, and the cockpit feels like it was costumed designed for me. As of this post, I’ve almost put almost 100 miles on it, and I can feel the brakes getting stronger and settling in perfectly.

Even the stock seat is comfortable and a keeper which has never happened for me. Saddle sores have plagued me for years, so the combo of the WTB saddle and Hoo Ha Ride Glide will keep my lady parts happier.

I had originally planned to transfer my cool Chromag purple bars to this bike, but when the mister took the stock handle bar from the box, we ooohed and aaahed over how light and stiff it was. In fact, we dorked out over all of the parts as my Mister built it in our shop. We have a garage where no cars go so there was plenty of space to lay out the bike part by part. Totally fun for us while drinking a beer. Even the handle bar grips fit my meaty little paws, and they are so pretty with a splash of blue.

What about the fork you ask? Bottomless. Buttery. Stiff and responsive on the berms. Light and bouncy on the roots of the NW. Makes babyheads feel like pebbles. The fork made me want to sing the first time I went over the medium-sized roots over boulders.

And yes, a dropper post is a game changer. Who knew that getting the seat out of the way would help with cornering and going downhill? Everyone but me! A good lady friend gave me kudos that she was impressed that I could ride some trails without a dropper-post and has been telling me to get one for years. I didn’t know what I was missing, and I now agree that’s it’s a must for riding downhill. I just need to remember that I have it on trails I’ve been riding for 15 years without one.

The biggest joy has been getting a PR (personal record–I admit to being a Strava dork–whatevs) on the Bob’s Full-Pull segment (I love Bob’s, it’s one my favorite trails). I’ve been riding that trail for almost 15 years, and I know it well. I can’t believe how the smooth and fast this bike can go downhill. I’m just in awe every time I ride it.


Here it is on the Wonderland Trail with Mt. Baker and the Sisters in the distance. The photos below are yours truly on Lair of the Bear. Shortly before the tick bit me, that bastard parasite, but let’s focus on the bike love.


Like I said, I’m still getting to know this bike. It’s so powerful and efficient that it blows my mind. I dream about riding it. I used my shop sponsor discount to buy blue Crankbrothers Candy pedals that look really sweet, but they have a bit of a platform on them which is upgrade from the eggbeaters that I love for racing cyclocross. Everything is new. Being back on my home mountain in Bellingham while being able to do work that I love makes me feel so lucky. The other night I worked until 7pm and still had time to ride my mountain bike and drink beer. Woot!

Originally I was going to weave brainy stuff from my book reading about Physics but I just need to post this and move on. I had big plans to connect my love of mountain biking to meditation and yoga. To teaching and learning. But then I got an infection from a tick bite, got really sick, and had to go on medication that made me ill for 10 days. Plus I couldn’t drink coffee or alcohol and I had to avoid the sun. Pretty much a death sentence for me. And holyhotdamn I have so much work to do that I feel bad pausing to get bloggy.

But really, the daylight’s a-wasting and there are trails to ride today. Right out my backdoor. Mountains. Yes.

Here’s a quote of Rovelli’s that I know is about physics, but it works for those of us who love the bike:

“…on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking” (81).

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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.


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.



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.”


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.



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.


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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.



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.



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.


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.


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