800 Word Memoir: Chin Up

Recently I lost a knitting project. Walking in some corridor of one of three airports, I lost a small bag containing a scarf that I was working on here and there. There and here. For months. Row by row. Stitch by stitch. No more.

I didn’t notice that I had lost a few months of memoir as fiber.

It didn’t notice until I had the itch to knit. I reached into my cavernous travel bag only to discover that my delicious yarn and giant worn wooden size 17 needles were gone. Poof. Gone.

Size 17 needles are fat thick big needles for you non-knitters. I like big loops of yarn and I had wound those skeins by hand. So tight. For traveling. My yarn stash for the road.

Silky red fiber, big smooth needles. Gone. Dammit. I hope somebody finds my tiny knitting bag and finishes that scarf. Or makes something else. Something. It pains me to think that yarn ended up in the trash. Wound so tight. Then undone.

Chin up. Let it go. Tell a quick story.

In summers gone by, I used to write “outdoorsy” articles, and my friend would take photos of our adventures. I treated my many trips into the backcountry like research. Like anecdotal fodder for a small magazine. Like chapters of a memoir. Like I was on the hunt to gather the perfect words to describe the forest. Like I was a writer.

It’s a habit I can’t break.

Only these days, I’m in front of a computer more than I am a mountain stream. Last weekend, I went dark (as we say) because I had a backcountry quota pass to the woods of the lovely mossy Olympic National Park. Those woods. That rain forest. Those mountains. That green. Those lakes. That valley. Those waterfalls. That meadow. It reminds me of how much I love (and miss) the Washington landscape. How much I love green mossy woods.

Once I left the backcountry, I packed up my presentation clothes, my notes for the jobby job, and my laptop to fly to Houston, Texas. I’ve only been to the airports in Houston, and it immediately reminded me of Atlanta, Georgia when I stepped outside. The South: hot blow dryer feeling of wind, the sauna-like humidity, the extraordinary heavy feeling of the sun.

While I waited for a ride from the airport, I opened up my email on my phone to see the latest letter from Queen of Cups by Queen of Cups. This week a lovely little story appeared in my email. In the 100 degree heat, I read the following:


 Tarot Card of the Week: Queen of Swords

Queen of Swords: She is, above all, truthful, not interested in tricks or deception and will always tell you how it is. The Queen of Swords is not one to be deceived or manipulated. She is worldly and wise, can size up a situation, and is clever in the way she navigates life. However, she isn’t closed to new experiences and knowledge, quite the opposite, she’s eager to experience and learn. She has a good sense of humor, but is also straightforward in a kind way. She is the queen of direct communication, is highly intuitive and sharply perceptive.

You can count on the Queen of Swords to be candid and tell you how it is in any given situation. In short, she is witty, experienced, astute, and forthcoming.

This card asks us to be honest with ourselves and others, to be candid and direct even when that’s difficult, to retain a sense of humor, and to stay conscious and alert, able to intuit the reality of any given situation.

Instantly I was reminded of the class I took from a community college teacher who wrote a book on astrology. At the time, I had a high-school diploma, a smattering of university credits. A lost college drop-out waitress.

In this class, our final exam was to guess the teacher’s sign. I failed miserably! I hadn’t paid attention to him at all. I spent time studying the art on the cards. Look close at The Queen of Swords.

See the bird. Blue of the sky. Layering of clouds. The gathering of the clouds on her coat. The butterfly on the chair. The butterflies on her crown. Art.

The tarot card is like a well-place adjective among nouns and verbs. A story. Symbolizing nothing. A mirror of what we want to see. Under the stars. Look close.

This tiny letter from Queen of Cups seems like an old idea. Simple for a digital literary magazine. Send writers a prompt. Digital joy. As I read this week’s letter, I thought of an old idea that may still be good somewhere.

Might still be a good idea somewhere.

Like here.

~800 word memoir

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400 Word Memoir: Kickball

If you had asked me when I was seven years old what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I would have said, “Play kickball. Everyday.”

Quick story about playing kickball (a memoir):

Ten years ago, I took my dog, Elroy, for a walk in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

A gaggle of  millennial hipster kids were playing kickball.

I let him off his leash in the park. Click.

Elroy busted into a run towards their game. I yelled for him. He ran faster.

As a heavily tattooed woman unfurled her arm to pitch the ball, Elroy intersected.With all four paws. Pounced on top of the red kick ball. Opened his mouth. Bit down hard.

Before anyone could stop him, he attacked the ball like it was something he needed to kill.


He panted. Laid down to chew on the deflated ball. Avoided eye contact with humans.

Half of the players started cracking up laughing, while the other half looked angry.

There was no other ball.

Game over.

I caught Elroy, clicked his leash. Apologized. Said I’m so sorry thirty times.

I didn’t have my wallet or a phone, I explained. We were a few miles from my house. I offered to come back with money for a new ball in an hour.

No, said one of the team captains, that’s fine.

No worries, he lied. Fake smile.

Eventually Elroy and I walked away. Wished them well.

A guy in the outfield said, “Dude! Now what?”

Geez, I felt bad. Walked away faster.

Fast forward a decade, Elroy is over 11. With five fewer teeth, a lot more gray hair, weakening eye sight, substantial hearing loss and less muscle mass. Still. Something deep within tells him to kill the red ball.

The dog park is not fenced.  I didn’t see the kick ball game happening. Again, hipsters.

I let him off the leash. Click.

He took a 90 degree turn. Bolted straight for the kickball. The pitch rolled towards the kicker.


Some lady yelled “Hey! Little dog!” Raised her hand like she had a treat. Brilliant.

Treat! Elroy made eye contact. With Me. With Her. With me. Ran back. Click.

The woman who distracted him laughed so hard as I shared Elroy’s history of youthful bad behavior with kickballs in city parks. Criminal record.

“Maybe he has something against hipsters. Or kickballs. Hilarious either way–I love this little dog.”

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Caring Is Sharing Is Caring

This week I did several workshops with faculty that I met for the time first time, so I want to update my blog to be a bit more hospitable with the bloggery. Thank you so much for trusting me with your ideas about OER, pedagogy, and the future of your institution, new friends. I see nothing but good things ahead for us. Nice to meet you, dearest faculty.

As readers of my bloggy blog know, I am beyond thrilled to meet people who are interested in open education, and I try to remain true to my roots as a teacher in order to meet faculty where there are about open education. LMS transitions, new initiatives, administrator churn, and the adjunctification of your colleagues is tiresome–this I know. My role with Lumen Learning, as I like to see it, is to make your job easier.

Here’s a confession: I’m mildly horrified that I’m seen as “an expert” when I’m so eager to learn something new from people I’ve never met before. Always. Where the real magic happens for me is when strangers teach me new ideas and we eventually become friends. Colleagues. Comrades. Confidantes. Allies. Learners who trust one another.

As I write this confession, I realize it’s my humble way of saying that I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I’m not sure what the right question is but I’m willing to sit next to you and figure it out. I’m willing to listen until we figure out the right question together.

Let me confess something else to you: I’ve somehow been able piece together a living talking about the one single thing that saved me from myself. The one single thing that made me climb up a mountain of happiness out of a valley of despair. The one single thing that saved me from teacher burnout. The one single thing that I think I did well as a teacher. The one single thing I think succeeded at as an administrator. The one single thing that brought back me to life the writer in me that I had mourned as dead. The one single thing that blew up my network. The one single thing that has helped meet so many incredible people. The one single thing I think will change higher education in my lifetime. The one single thing. The one thing. The only thing.

The one single thing that makes me work harder than I know I should. If you are a faculty member, you may identify with this feeling as being in love with your discipline. It feels like your region of expertise.

Here’s my region, so to speak, summed up in a title of title of book that I’d love to write. Someday.

Open Education Changed Everything For Me: A Memoir

It really started with knitting for me. Knitters are incredibly generous, and I think I caught the contagious sharing bug by investigating the communities of Ravelry. The fabric of transformative change is a story that we weave together. As a community.

So let’s talk about how it’s fun to plan as a community.

Let’s talk about what you might be planning as a faculty member. What you are planning as a teacher. What you are planning. Your plans. Your teaching.

When I’m not working, I try to read as much as possible. You do too, right?

Have a book suggestion? Share it with me! I picked up a book recently titled Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger and I’m 100 pages in. So far there isn’t anything Earth shattering that I didn’t already know (Merci beaucoup, English Literature teachers. Once you’ve read Proust and Nabokov, what can really surprise us about existence, am I right?)

Berger’s book is a quick read, as I would’ve said when I worked at a bookstore. So far, there are two points that I think are worthwhile. One rooted in capitalism (which I have a hard time finding palatable) and the other rooted in networking (which I love). When I look at the Library of Congress categories for this book, it reads as follows:

  1. New products 2. Consumer behavior 3. Popularity

Berger mentions the vente privée, or the exclusive french company who embraced the online private sale (p. 52). Stay with me for a minute perhaps you were not one of the Favor’i des Internautes’–moi aussi.

In the book, Berger gives several examples about creating the illusion of scarcity for consumers. My mind goes to horrid images of people stampeding one another at big box stores for a sale television during the holidays. Long lines during the Friday before holidays. Consumer behavior that disgusts me, I’ll admit. Saddens me. Pas moi.

However, it’s interesting to note that the vente privée makes people feel like “insiders” which connects to their sense of social currency. People like to feel special. How do we feel special? By sharing something with somebody else. Lo and behold, I know a smarty pants who tells faculty all the time that education is sharing. It’s a thing that makes people feel special. People like to feel special. We like to feel like we are the chosen one.

What if the vente privée feeling was about a good idea for teaching? Only the resources aren’t scarce. In fact, the ideas are so damn abundant on the internet that they can be difficult to harness.

When I think of the faculty who have really succeeded with OER, they felt special. Like they were on a mission. Like they had something unique to contribute to the world. Like they were the ones. Like The One. The felt joy of seeing their work used and remixed by somebody else is something special to witness. They felt the joy of feeling chosen to do this work. It’s contagious. It’s worth sustaining.

Berger writes:

Making people feel like insiders can benefit all types of products and ideas…The mere fact that something isn’t readily available can make people value it more and tell others to capitalize on the social currency of knowing about it or having it (57).

This feeling, he writes, is a source of motivation. For me, my motivation is to someday experience a workshop where I did not have to explain to a faculty member that there are no OER for their discipline.

There is always one discipline where there is nothing readily available. Not even a failed repository. Nada. Rien. They either lose interest or they become motivated to create something. They want to feel special by contributing. By creating. Something.

The next point that I’m just now getting to in Berger’s book is a reference from The New York Times article “The Mysterious Cough, Caught On Film” by Denise Grady. Berger describes her ethos as a writer as someone trying to give readers “just a little bit of that excitement that she had felt back in chemistry class decades before. An appreciation for the magic of scientific discovery” (95).

The rest of Berger’s book can turn to complete crap and I’ll still find it worthwhile to have read the following sentence as it relates to why Grady’s article went viral:

When we care, we share (96).

When we care about education, we share.

When we feel special, we share.

It’s happy feeling that makes us feel special. That’s contagious, right? That’s worth sustaining right?

Truth be told, I dwell in Possibility.

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In Medias Res

Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever. ~Will Self

Many years ago, I attended a typical committee meeting as one does in higher education. A beloved colleague leaned over and said, “You really should ditch that paper notebook.” He paused to wrinkle his brow to look like he smelled something awful.

“People in technology won’t take you seriously if you write by hand,” he said.

People In Technology.

He meant people in The Field, of course. Ed-tech. EdTech. Educational technology. The field of Education in technology. Of technology. With technology. Alongside technology. 

I tried to take his advice to heart. I begrudgingly typed in boxes to record “Events” and “Tasks.” I made lists on electronic documents. It lasted for about two weeks and the next thing I knew I had piles of bar coasters with notes in my purse. Matchbooks from gas stations with quotes in the glove compartment of my car. Notes on the back of grocery stores receipts. 

Then I tried to not carry a pen. That lasted for two days.

I can’t give up the paper notebooks I’ve now have kept for decades. 

Over the past several months, I’ve been getting to know my new job and how this position connects with educational research, courseware creation, curriculum development, and open education. And lucky for me, all four of my interests collide during the work hours. And still I carry the paper notebooks. 

My last two posts have been a smattering of thoughts and I’m still working on that longer thread of an idea. Today is not the day to weave those together.

Here’s the thing.

I took two really intense yoga classes this past weekend, I struggled to do three of the poses well because I injured my leg earlier in the week during a mountain bike ride. It was a stupid crash–a slow-motion-over-the-handle-bars-knee-slam-into-a-rock-kind-of-crash. Bruised bone. Bruised ego.

During my struggle to kneel comfortably in the yoga class, my teacher told a story about how she changed her method of teaching by listening to another teacher. She said that she used to instruct from a place of fear. Advising students to work through the pain. Avoiding pain. Living through pain. What she learned from this other teacher is that pain is just another sensation. Why avoid it, she asked. Why not see the pain as message from our bodies as another sensation that we are getting stronger. More flexible. Better. It’s just another sensation.

I wrote that anecdote down immediately in my journal when I got home.

Here’s the other thing.

Someone I love dearly shared with me that he’s had a writing break-though lately. He’s often oppressed by the blank page. The blinking cursor. The blank stare of a lit keyboard. The expectation of the finished project.

This I understand.

Copying down a passage and then taking notes of my thoughts about the passage makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, he shared. As an aspiring writer yourself, he said, this is something you can do. Something you can understand. Copying down this passage makes me feel like I’ve written something good.

In my mind, I thought of the phrase in medias res. Having a passage to tease apart feels like you’re a writer in the middle of things. In the middle of something.

I’m in the middle of reading this incredible memoir titled The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. Here’a passage I wrote in my notebook:

Have endless patterns and repetitions accompanying your thoughtlessness, as if to say let go of that other more linear story, with its beginning, middle, and end, with its transcendent end, let go, we are the poem, we have come miles of life, we have survived this far to tell you, go on, go on. 

You will see you have an underlying tone and plot to your life underneath the one you’ve been told. Circular and image bound. Something near tragic, near unbearable, but contained by your irreducible imagination–who would have thought of it but you–your ability to metamorphose like organic material in contact with changing elements. The rocks. They carry the chronology of water. All things simultaneously living and dead in your hands.

Having a passage to tease apart feels like you’re a writer in the middle of things. In the middle of something.

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The Warp & The Weft

I struggle with the warp. It gets tangled. I loathe the math. The endless knots. The noisy spindles. A loom requires a delicate touch that I have yet to master. Someday.

Unlike measuring the warp, I find building the weft is pure joy. It’s an easy motion of back and forth. The shuttle moves quickly between the rows. You can “throw the shuttle.” Meditative. Deliberate. The ups and downs of tying the warp is necessary, I know. The warp will eventually support the weft. They’ll eventually need one another. You can’t prefer one over the other. Weaving on a loom requires a delicate touch that I have yet to master. Someday.

The different fibers, the loom as machine, the creation of fabric is all so satisfying. So interesting. So appealing.

Here’s the thing.

I really have nothing to say (a memoir) but I want to write about weaving. Eventually–wait for it—I’ll weave the following ideas together.

1] My friends @ordinarysublime and @nooksackknitter participated in this amazing project! Humble brag that I know two of the 51 artists. From the looks of this review it’s a pretty stunning show. My favorite words are in bold.

From The LA Times: For Ellen Lesperance and Helen Mirra, the message is woven into the art

The works of Ellen Lesperance and Helen Mirra on view at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena lay out a quietly powerful network of ideas around work, bodily presence and activism.

The show opens with a collaborative project initiated by Mirra in which she asked 51 weavers each to create a textile according to her specifications. Each piece is roughly square, made from undyed yarn, in dimensions that match the length of the weaver’s arm. Each has seven stripes, whose width is determined by that of the weaver’s hand. The works are little self-portraits, recording the measurements of the hands and arms that made them.

The pieces highlight how physical labor is measured and embedded in the warp and weft of weaving, which is essentially a grid. This typically impassive structure here serves as a meeting point where the impulse to reduce everything to numbers meets the irreducible physicality of the body.

2] I wrote about weaving on December 10, 2015. Here’s the post:

The Warp & The Weft

In a search for an image to explain the warp and weft in fabric, a simple image appears from wikipedia:

An artist named Kumi Yamashita also appears in the same search (source). She removes part of the warp and the weft in fabric to create something new.

She describes her delicate and precise art:


Sometimes there is something beautiful about things falling apart. Undoing one thing while simultaneously creating another.


Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 10.13.54 PM

(Note to self, here are more threads from the warping board) See also Many Paths To & For Personalization (source).

3] Walter Benjamin: Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.

Until then, here are the frayed fibers/words that I have yet to tie together.


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Two Thoughts

I’ve spent the last week sorting and sifting through the various places on the interwebs where I’ve posted ideas about learning. At the time, I didn’t tag, categorize, hyperlink, or organize any of this work but I did take notes in my paper journal. This vapor trail of my ideas is thankfully recorded somewhere. Some of it connects to the jobby job while most of it connects to the hobby job. Lately, I’ve completely lost the hobby job, so indulge me with this post. I need a bit of thinking aloud with my magic machine on this lovely Sunday morning.

Back in December, I posted Many Paths To & For Personalization as a start to collect ideas for an article. Or for future bloggy blogging. Whatever. I didn’t finish the hyperlinking. Looking back now, it’s a record of my thoughts from that day. I wrote:

Both sources cited above examine different pathways for teaching and learning using educational technology. When we want to improve the conditions for teaching and learning, it’s important to remember that there are many paths to the same goal.

At the time of that post, I was planning to come back to it and sort out those thoughts more. Cite more of the sources. Explain more about why I care. Something.

Here are two thoughts from my weekend adventures that I will connect to this December post. It’s an idea I keep chasing in my mind with the hobby and jobby jobs.

Thought 1: Last week my yoga teacher said, “there are some bodies that are strong but they have problems with flexibility. It’s satisfying for the body to be and feel strong for those folks. Flexibility is a challenge. The flexible, however, they struggle with not feeling strong. They envy the ease with which strong people can hold their poses.” She looked at me, and said, “I bet you struggle with flexibility.”

There’s something here with a connection to the way we teach and learn. But I don’t want to talk about that today.

Thought 2: Because I have really smart friends, I like to borrow a book from one of them and fall down the rabbit hole of what they’re into as thinkers. It’s a good way to catch up with people. I’ve borrowed The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse by Shih-Wu, Red Pine (Translates) from Tami, and it’s beyond lovely. I’m particularly drawn to the translator’s explanation about what it’s like to translate poetry. Everything is beautiful about this book. He writes:

But just as there is no perfect dance, there is no perfect translation. It can always be better. But not today. Today it feels perfect. Just don’t ask me tomorrow (xxv).

There’s something here with a connection to the way we teach and learn. Today it feels perfect to not write about that.

I’ll leave you with my favorite poem, thus far:

Stripped of conditions my mind is at rest

emptied of existence my nature is at peace

how often at night have my windows turned white as the moon and stream pass by my door

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This Giant Sea of Information

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” ~Roger Ebert

Tonight I watched Life Itself, the documentary film on Roger Ebert. I’m a sucker for old photos, Werner Herzog anecdotes, and incredible film clips, so it’s a good documentary in my book. I learned quite a bit. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched a film, but I’ve thinking about writing a lot today. How much I miss it. How I write plenty of words throughout the day– it’s just not the same as telling one story. Sitting with one idea.

During the documentary, Ebert describes how blogging helped him retain his voice in the last years of his life. The epigraph above stuck with me throughout the film–especially his mention of a machine that generates empathy. It’s such a lovely way to describe film. Writing. Stories. Teaching. Learning.

Prior to heading to work today, I decided to read and comment on one blog post. It was a radical act of self-care on my part to just read and think about one thing. I was reminded of my experience with writing with the Federated Wiki and the post brought some thoughts together for me.

Here’s the thing.

Without realizing it, I use music as an example when I explain open education to folks who are new to the idea. As much as I love the open education community, I’m most interested these days in the people who are new to conversation. When I try to teach them how it all works, I find it’s easiest to talk about music. I can be quite the broken record (yay puns). I think it works because everyone understands bands who cover songs. They understand that a band can at once attribute the origin of the song while they aim to make the song their own.

A year ago, I  wrote a post titled Creating our own personal little lakes. Or ponds. Or puddles. It’s a monster post full of digressions about my experience  about the smallest federated wiki. Allow me to quote the best part as it relates to explaining cover songs. I started with describing Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs singing “Old Salty Dog Blues.” Then I move on to Doc Watson’s version. This is an American folk song from the 1900s, and I wrote:

Check out the folks dancing in this video. I am totally busting those moves on New Year’s Eve! Those cats know how to party—check out the skirt on Doc’s daughter and the champion step dancer’s shoes. Pay attention to how he breaks it down at the end–style, my friends, is dying art.

Now check out Cat Power’s version from her Covers Record. Critics diss on her for this album because it’s not original (note the album title, Sir Geniuses). I beg to differ–it’s such a creative album. All of these songs are her very own.

I might have a hard time stepping to this tune, but I love Cat Power’s version all the same. Just for another reason. I don’t always feel like stepping. 

People practice by imitating songs they love—that’s how they learn how to play. Art students practice by imitation. Knitters follow patterns created by somebody else. Cooks follow recipes written by others.

Maybe I just have fun talking about music, but I think this framework can work. By the time you’re ready to talk about platforms, licensing, customizing, etc. folks new to open education already understand the concept of adapting and adopting. Just as a band adopts a song to cover.

I recently shared another new set of songs with somebody new to open education yet very familiar with Cat Power covers. Buddy Holly’s-Crying Waiting Hoping is perfection pop and the origin of the song’s lyrics. It impressed me that the person knew about the Buddy Holly song. Even The Beatles got in on a cover with an early demo, he told me. 

My favorite iteration/adoption/remix of this song is Cat Power’s.  Maybe I’m just nostalgic for a southern voice. Maybe I’m crying, waiting, hoping that we’ll live in a world where people won’t kill other people. Crying, waiting, hoping that my queer friends will be safe. 

In the blog post I mentioned above, I asked how we can take this giant sea of information to create our own personal little lakes. Or ponds. Or puddles. It’s an idea that I can’t let go of yet I don’t think I quite articulate it well either.

I started this post with a quote from Ebert because I was so smitten with the idea that film can be “a machine that generates empathy.” Maybe how we teach and learn with this giant sea of information needs to have a machine that generates empathy to empower us to create our own little lakes. Or ponds. Or puddles.  

[Something that] lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.

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None of Us Ever Become Experts

About two weeks ago, I attended yoga for the first time, I’m sad to say, in months. I walked to the studio seeking out two hours of suffering and total escape that I can’t seem to achieve on my bike. When I’m on the bike commuting, I’m worried about cars. When I’m on my mountain bike, I’m worried about how long my companions have been waiting for me. When I’m living my daily life, I’m easily distracted, and that style of yoga is the only elegant reprieve from the gerbil wheel of my mind and thoughts.

When I got to the studio, I laid my mat on the floor, and promptly fell asleep until the teacher turned on the lights to start class. Turns out, everyone in the room except for me and one other person were there to celebrate the last class of a fellow yogini. The teacher began by apologizing for the tears that were going to fall during our class. Apologies, she said to the two of us, this was not going to be a typical class, we’re losing a member of our community. She complimented the yogini, a beautifully fit woman leaving Portland for a job in Seattle, for her unwavering dedication to the studio. To their community. This final practice was going to be the yogini’s 2,704th class. Clearly by the tears in many peoples’ eyes, she was going to be missed.

The departing yogini then spoke up and said, “It may sound impressive that I’ve taken so many classes, but I want all of you to know that it’s never gotten easier. This yoga is never easy. Everyday feels like my first class. It’s important to protect this space as a place where we all feel safe to learn. None us ever become experts yet we continue to do this together. That’s what  has mattered to me. We continue to do this together.”

None of us ever become experts yet we continue to do this together. That is, truly, what matters. I was pretty moved by her little speech, and of course, I left studio thinking about teaching, learning, and leadership.

Here’s the thing.

When I work with folks newly interested in open education, I’m sometimes seen as an “expert” and it’s an uncomfortable place for me. I’m kind of a hack and charlatan who is willing to stand in front of people—like that yogini above—to share what I know. To share what I don’t know. To fail in front of people. To share ideas that I can’t prove will work. The most important part of what I do (hopefully) is to try to improve the conditions of where and how we learn. Together.

A year ago, I had a meeting with a book publishing agent, and ten minutes into our meeting, I could tell she was totally confused by what I care about as an educator. We met at a coffee shop, and I was presenting about OER as professional development.

Here’s my title and blurb:

Book Nerd, Meet Tech Geek: The OER Movement Improves Faculty Development

In my work as the Director of eLearning (tech geek), people are often surprised to learn that my background is in English studies (book nerd). Learn how open educational resources (OER) provide pathways for student-centered success while fostering collaborative professional development among faculty members. Discover strategies learned from starting a small grassroots OER movement on campus that will help you avoid common pitfalls and failures.

I need to admit that I remixed that title several different times in 2015 (it was a busy year). I now know that sometimes book publisher folks send agents looking for “talent” at academic conferences. She was a lovely gal, and she bought me a coffee. So tell me, she said, who is your ideal reader?

Anyone who thinks I remind them of Joan Didion?, I thought. Community college leaders who are looking for ways to substantiate funding for professional development centered on OER. I want leaders to care about adjuncts since they teach most of our courses, I said oh-so-academically.

Describe your perspective on OER. What’s your most effective method of gaining that audience’s attention?

I stand up on the table like Sally Field as Norma Rae with a sign that says UNION & OER, I thought.

Well, I try to understand their local barriers to this kind of radical change in pedagogy. I try to empathize. I talk about decreasing textbook costs as a catalyst for major change in higher education. I think this movement will progress in three phases. We’ll start with textbook costs, then we’ll address pedagogy, and then we’ll save adjunct teachers from burnout. It’s not that cut and dry, of course. There’s more to it than that, and it’s not a linear progression of transformation. It may not happen in my lifetime. When I can, I generate data from both the students and the teachers, I said oh-so-academically.

Hmm. So let me get this straight, how does OER connect to professional development? How does a teacher put a line on her CV about this work?

Somedays, I think CV should stand for Crap-tastic Vocation instead of Curricula Vitae, but I didn’t say that. Well, it’s not work that is directly valued by institutions at this point in time, but I believe in the future it will be. Someday. In the meantime, it’s the only meaningful professional development that I see that directly connects to the student experience. More importantly, it’s the only radical choice for adjuncts seeking true academic freedom in horrific labor conditions. I don’t have the data to support this, but I’d like to tell a story about why this work is valuable. How I’ve witnessed real change in the way people teach.

Okay, she said, so would you provide a business plan or some sort of metric for administrators to follow? Do you have charts that would accompany your narrative?

Who would ruin a good story with a chart or a business plan for the love of cats? Sheesh! The Quant Kills The Qual in My Heart: A Memoir. No. If that’s something you think is necessary, I think I could create something like that with a little help of my friends. (Oh my gawd, I’m citing Ringo Starr. Deep swallow of the coffee to end this meeting. I looked at my watch).

Chances are, if we publish this book, she said, it will take three years or more to publish. How will you work to keep this idea relevant in the meantime?

Wow. Is it too early to start drinking? I started packing up my things. I’m not sure what I’m doing is like that. I don’t own this idea–there is a community of people who care about these goals. Hopefully in four years things will be a lot different than they are now. Somebody somewhere could have a much better idea than me, and I’ll help them.

We shook hands. Exchanged cards. Smiled pleasantries. Promised to be in touch. I never heard from her again.

Here’s the other thing: I’m kinda done with academic publishing cycles. It’s part of that Crap-tastic Vocation (CV), and it’s part of the gig. You see, I had this realization playing Giant Jenga in a bar in Austin with two lovely colleagues. As we played a good game while chatting and laughing, I got to thinking. I think I’d rather focus on the piece-by-piece of what feels like progress rather than focusing on the performance. The game of the academic performance just seems like a waste of time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jenga, it’s a game where you start with a tall tower of blocks and you take one block from the bottom few rows and you add it to the top. Eventually, you end up with a precarious mix of balance and hope (like yoga). Depending on who you play with, you might get help from your competitors. It’s a fun group game where you accept that one of you will lose with great flair and spectacle. The tower will fall. It will be messy. A group dynamic can take over where you help one another. Best of all, you can have a conversation and digress as long as you remember who’s turn it is. You can heckle and help one another. It’s fun for a community of people.

Or you can play with competitive types who offer no assistance. You’re on your own. There will only be one winner. The process is not as fun with these folks. Winning–or forcing somebody else to lose–is the most important action of the game. That’s not so fun to me. You focus so much on the tower that the block-by-block seems a means to the end rather than the purpose.

The tower will fall no matter what. Block by block, we will figure it out by trying to build something different. Block by block, we will figure it out. Either way, it’s going to be messy.

I’m kind of stuck on this Jenga metaphor about leadership, but I’m not sure what I have to say about it. For now. Maybe you will, dear reader, and that’s the beauty of open education. We share as we learn. Block by block. If I can go back to the words from the beloved yogini above, then I have my conclusion. For now.

This ______ is never easy. Everyday feels like my first class. It’s important to protect this space as a place where we all feel safe to learn. None us ever become experts yet we continue to do this together. That’s what  has mattered to me. We continue to do this together.

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University Folks, Explain Community Colleges to Me

“There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.”
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

First of all, let me admit, this post has been in draft form for almost six months. My new job and my new life have taken up all of my attention these days. In fact, I’m in a bit of guilt spiral right now taking one minute away from the goals of my new job. Because I love it. Because I’m so thrilled to work with so many smart people who care so much about the same things I do.

I know this about myself: If my eyes strain too close, I lose focus. Taking this break to finish this post will feel like stretching a bit. It’s like gazing out at the window when I’ve been focused on the laptop screen for days. For weeks. For months.

Here’s the thing.

I have this fantasy that community college teachers have the time to debate on Twitter, blog, and go to conferences to share their experiences. I have this fantasy that adjuncts are the ones debating about what open education means and who it can help. I have a fantasy they are the ones talking about how to teach with open materials creatively in order to save their students money. I have this fantasy that people were more generous when they discuss the needs of our poorest students. Our poorest colleges. Our community of colleges.

The loudest voices aren’t always the ones who have the best answers. I’m riffing here, of course, with my blog title on Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me.

Men (Still), Explain EdTech To Me, (why didn’t I think of that?!) is a refrain that Audrey Watters returned to twice last year with her keynotes. And it’s awfully awesome for feminists while at the same time reminding me about the sad state of journalism.

Allow me make a connection here.

My very good friend T. Andrew Wahl is a journalist and a comic book historian, and I’m incredibly thankful for all of his wisdom that he shared with me during the almost two years we were office neighbors at a community college north of Seattle, WA.

He and I have talked extensively about the history of the newspaper industry in the last twenty years and how it connects to some of the current challenges in educational technology.

So much of what frustrated me as an eLearning director/administrator, he experienced when the newspaper industry was trying to move from paper form to digital print. From the analog to the digital. From the known to the unknown. From the past to the future.

I’m beginning this blog post with a nod to the work of Audrey and Andrew because they are both journalists. Both writers. Both very influential to me as a thinker.

Andrew said to me one day about a year ago, “You know, you’re like the Cassandra of your field.”

I laughed hard and blushed brightly. “That title’s already been taken. Have you heard of the name Audrey Watters before? She’s the one. Not me.”

I got to meet Audrey IRL in 2015 at NW eLearn when I was on the planning board for that conference, and of all the work we put into making that event happen, I’m most proud of the introduction that Lisa Chamberlin read to the audience that I helped write with her and Maria Erb. Here’s our best paragraph in that introduction, and Lisa delivered it beautifully:

Audrey often gives voice to the things we cannot say in our daily work lives while she critiques institutions and philosophies around the intersection of education and technology. As someone who claims to be a serial dropout, we’d like to give her an honorary degree in Feminist Radness. And men, if you feel excluded, allow me to remind you that feminism is for everyone.

The Open Door Policy: A Memoir

Community colleges accept everyone who walks in the door. Students sign up. Community colleges say yes no matter what. They say yes. Look up Open Door Policy.

Universities, on the other hand, say yes, maybe, or no. Community Colleges always always always say yes. Never no. Never maybe. Yes. Programs that are in demand create a waiting list.

Come on in, students. Let’s see what we can do with you. Let us see.

I just want to make a point here to defend my colleagues who support online education at community colleges. I am no longer a part of a community college system yet I want to help online education succeed in every state. In every corner of this country. In every county. Of every state of every region.

I’m having a very hard time not writing “We” when I talk about community colleges. I’ve been struggling with this for months. So I’m just going to own it and use that pronoun.

A while back, another Twitter hero turned IRL pal Kevin Gannon @TheTattooedProf posted a link for some discussion for the folks at the POD Conference. Here’s the link:

The digital revolution in higher education has already happened. No one noticed by Clay Shirky. 

Right. Sigh.

This is the writer who was very public about not allowing students to bring their laptops to his class.

This “no laptop in my class” article, and the praise (the likes/the hearts/the favorites/the retweets) that surrounded the popularity of that edict made my blood boil at the time. I’m sure he’s a swell guy, but his assertion about the reality of teaching assumes that every student has a laptop to bring to class. And his students, no doubt, in fact do own them, and that’s wonderful.

But. Remember the open door policy of your local community college. These students are not always so lucky. So privileged. So connected. So supported.

Shirky’s article is the type of online journalism that a dean or an upper administrator reads and then emails to faculty as “professional development” or as a “must read” before department meetings. Check this out, they’ll say.

When really, these edicts about pedagogy, deserve a broader conversation. This idea deserves more than just a stance, a policy draft, or a forwarded email that says, “Aha! Technology allows students to multi-task. So bad! We don’t have to pay for it after all! Ban them in your class. This reinforces what I’ve always believed in about [enter banal assumption about teaching and learning here]. Technology, Bad. My Way, Good.”


And to me, when I read Shirky’s work, he’s not saying that technology is universally bad at all. He’s asking meaningful questions about the value of seminaring in the face-to-face setting. He’s questioning the value of presence in real time with a group of people seminaring together.

Note in that last sentence that “seminar” is used as a verb. To seminar. To seminar with students is something I believe in. To seminar with people is something I believe in.

But it’s not entirely yet possible with asynchronous learning, is it? It’s a luxury that only a certain percentage of students may enjoy. Online education, however, can step in to fill this void. Asynchronous learning, like it or not, depends on technology. How do we get the educational value of the synchronous seminar in an online setting? How do we make this style of learning meaningful? How do we get to the feeling of seminaring in an asynchronous setting? How do we help every student that walks into the open door at a community college?

Shirky brings a lot of useful  research to his post, and I’ve already read much of what he linked. Let’s face it, he has a Wikipedia page and I don’t. A list of publications. Credentials. A Ted Talk. A boatload of credibility. And, well, I don’t.

He writes about online education:

You wouldn’t know this from public conversation, where online courses are discussed as something that might be a big deal some day, rather than as ordinary reality for one student in four. The dramatic expansion of online classes has been largely ignored because it’s been driven by non-traditional students, which is to say students who are older and have more responsibilities than the well-off adolescents college has always stood ready to serve.

If you’re reading this, you were probably a smart kid who did well at a good school, and that description extends to almost everyone you know. The gap between the conversation about college and its reality exists because the people who drive that conversation — you and me and our friends — mostly talk about elite schools.

Perhaps I’ve been living too long in the “ordinary reality” of working at community colleges. I wasn’t a smart kid who went to a good school and I rarely get to talk about elite schools. His best point and the idea that thrills me is what he says about online education: it’s been driven by non-traditional students. 

Like Audrey Watters. Like Andrew Wahl. Like me. Like the students I’m working to try to help.

The conversation about these students isn’t as public because the people who support these programs are too busy doing the work. Too busy to blog about it. Too busy to research and substantiate it. Too busy to have a conversation. Too busy serving the needs of the students in their local communities. Too underemployed. Too busy applying for unemployment to make it through the summer.

It’s (some) university folks, honestly, who miss an opportunity to talk about online education with community college folks.

It’s (some) university folks, honestly, who think they own the only version of higher education worth talking about.

It’s (some) university folks, honestly, who make claims about the “public conversation” when really, there are a ton of people already talking about this issue say, going 15 years back.

There is a research center devoted to community colleges.

There are state agencies such as Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges and Virginia Community Colleges leading the way for open education. The focus, to some, may be too centered on the price of textbooks, but for every fire there is a spark. One can only be so radical in austere times. Open pedagogy matters little to a student who can’t afford tuition, books, and rent without getting into substantial debt.

From time to time, articles in appear in newspapers about community colleges. Here’s the kind of quote that’s helpful for the public. For The People. For the teachers. For the students:

Community colleges have the students with the greatest problems — yet they get the least resources, said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. It’s unrealistic to think we can have a better outcome without investing more money.

Better outcomes are sorely needed. That is, if education is to recover its role as a motor of opportunity for those who need it most.

The conversation is very public. Very local. Very political. Very personal.

The people doing the work, however are just too busy to publish. Too busy to blog. Too busy to present. Too restricted by budgets to attend regional much less national conferences. Too busy to engage in a public conversation.

Worse still, their institutions do not see the value in engaging in such a scholarly conversation because they see themselves as entrenched in the community. As institutions who have no competition in either the face-to-face, hybrid, or online setting. They are, to be frank, quite cozy being an institution.

It’s been deeply troubling to me meeting many of my OL scholar heroes IRL over the last two years only to discover they are under-appreciated, under-funded, and under-utilized at their local institutions. Audrey Watters, without an institutional affiliation, for example, may not have access to academic databases to do her work.

These are realizations I wish I could unlearn.

But really, university folks, keep focusing on the failures of community college. The gaps in data. The limits of what we don’t know. Our focus on open textbooks rather than open pedagogy (as if you can separate the two, but I digress). When really, you need to be looking at what community colleges have done well to support a variety of learners during very austere times. How they try to respond to the needs of their communities without knowing if they have the right answers.

Watters, as usual, honed in on this exact reality in her keynote from NW eLearn about the Pacific Northwest:

Austerity looms over so much of what is happening right now in education. Between 1987 and 2012, the share of revenue that Washington State University received from Washington state, for example, fell from 52.8% to 32.3%. Boise State University saw its state support fall from 64.7% of its revenue to 30.3%. The University of Oregon, from 35.8% to 9.3%.

This austerity at the university level has trickled down to our community colleges. We need to look at what community colleges have done to meet the needs of their communities. Look at what community colleges have tried to do to help their students. On a shoe string. On a dime.

I’m heading into TL;DR territory, so let me return to a favorite passage of mine from Rebecca Solnit’s “By the Way, Your Home Is On Fire:”

Sometimes the right thing to do in ordinary times is exactly the wrong thing to do in extraordinary times. That’s easy to understand when something dramatic has happened. It’s less easy to grasp when the change is incremental and even understanding it requires paying attention to a great deal of scientific data…

The problem is: How do you convince someone who is stubbornly avoiding looking at the flames that the house is on fire? (Never mind those who deny the very existence of fire.) How do you convince someone that what constitutes prudent behavior in ordinary times is now dangerous and that what might be considered reckless in other circumstances is now prudent?

Change is incremental. My community college teachers taught me that.

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Gatekeeper Courses

It’s an endless rotation of conversation. About open education.

I get paid to talk about and to advocate for open education. Mostly I get to share open educational resources. Can I tell you how awesome that is?

My favorite conversations are the ones with faculty where they learn how open works for the very first time. Their eyes either squint with skepticism or they gaze up to the ceiling pensive in thought.

I just swam in the waters of mathy conversations for almost two days at a regional conference. I did a lot of listening. I did a lot of talking. At a certain point, I changed the conversation back to teaching in some way the best that I could. Otherwise I had very little to say to mathematicians. Though I truly love their brand of dorkery; I just don’t get their jokes.

I got to see one of my former colleagues who I worked with on my very first project with the OER. It was so nice to chat with her, and reflect on very little I knew then about leadership. How very little I understood about making open education part of the conversation for community college educators and administrators. How much I failed. How that work led to the job I have today. How I still love working with/for community college teachers.

And let me tell you. The lone faculty member who is thinking about going rogue is a beautiful thing to witness.

When my colleague and I came arrived at the vendor hall at this small regional mathy conference, it was like an icy wind had blew through the room. I tried to make eye contact and smile at a few folks. I mean, we’re all there working, I thought. My mom taught me to say good morning to strangers. It was my first time not feeling a sense of hospitality arriving some place to chat about open education. Talking about open education and courseware in a crowded room of hard-bound textbook vendors is weird. Let’s just leave it at that.

Our vendor table, however, was constantly surrounded by faculty. They chatted with us, and we loved talking plans with them. Teachers had specific questions. They wanted to get down to it. How does it work? My department isn’t ready for this but I am. My department is ready for this but not my administration. My institution is ready but not the system.

We don’t have the resources to support an effort from scratch. How do we start?

Can you help me?

Hot damn. You bet.

Here’s the thing, I learned how an initiative can create a legitimacy for changing the way we teach. Not just for innovation’s sake. But you know, for the sake of helping students. What a concept! The Completion Agenda from 2010 has generated data that legitimizes some radical curriculum revisions here in 2016. Math and, wait for it–the cost of textbooks–are barriers for community college students realizing their goals. Their dreams.

The guided pathways movement is creating some real momentum for new courses. Interesting courses. Smartly designed courses. For certain pathways.

Community college leadership is looking at programs from a different angle. Curriculum change–at this scale–is made easier through open education. The 5Rs, adapting, and adopting makes a much easier path. The best work of your peers–that is licensed–makes the paths easier to create, design, and sustain.

Administrators and faculty are looking for help and guidance, if you will, and I’m delighted by what I learned from these math teachers. I can’t wait to work with some of them, and I have a stack of emails to write. Follow-up data linking together our great conversations. Plans to write. Before I do that, I need to parse out my doubts and concerns.

What really happens in those guided pathways? Will certain courses be eliminated? Will this redesign be forced on adjuncts who have no say with departmental decisions? I worry for vocational/professional technical programs. Will they lose all access to the humanities? To social science? Is this initiative another way to track poor people? Will the joy and discovery of a liberal arts education only happen for those born with a financial safety net?

As I read more about this policy, my internal Alyson-splainer takes over.

This all seems too much about employment and not education. This all seems too centered on the goals of capitalism. This all seems too aligned with creating good workers not educated citizens. This all seems too good to be true.

Yes. And no. It’s not a binary of right and wrong–as I learned in my humanities courses.

So let me pull out a couple of quotes from “Redesigning Community Colleges for Student Success Overview of the Guided Pathways Approach” by Davis Jenkins. The bolding is mine:

Developmental dead-end. Even before they can proceed with college-level courses, the majority of degree-seeking students in both academic and occupational programs are referred to developmental education. However, research suggests that, as it is typically designed, developmental education serves more to divert students into a remedial track than to build skills for college and help them choose and prepare to successfully enter a college-level program of study in a particular field. The most promising approaches to reforming developmental education involve mainstreaming students in college-level courses with support or providing alternative pathways, especially in math. But improving the success of students in passing college-level math and English is not sufficient to improve completion rates. These efforts need to be tied to efforts to strengthen supports for students to take and pass the key gatekeeper courses for their programs of study, and not only Math and English 101 (p. 3).

Lost in the maze. With so many choices and without a clear roadmap or anyone monitoring their progress, it is not surprising that many community college students indicate that they are confused and often frustrated in trying to find their way through college (p. 3).

Start with the end in mind: map student pathways to end goals. The first step in creating guided pathways is to engage the faculty, with input from advisors, in mapping out programs (p. 10).

Colleges might consider redirecting at least some resources currently spent on conventional forms of professional development toward collaborative efforts, such as providing training, facilitation, and other support as needed by teams of faculty and staff working together to create guided pathways. Doing so would reframe professional development as a strategic activity that supports the collective involvement of faculty and staff in organizational improvement as well as one that supports the professional growth of individual faculty and staff (p.11).



As I read this report and bookmark other sources, I’m reminded of a book chapter that I used to teach in my research courses.

Circa 2006-2008, we read “Shadowy Lines That Still Divide” by Janny Scott and David Leonhardt from the compilation Class Matters. 

Scott and Leonhardt explain:

One way to think of a person’s position in society is to imagine a hand of cards. Everyone is dealt four cards, one from each suit: education, income, occupation, and wealth, the four commonly used criteria for gauging class (p.9).


The open door policy of a community college welcomes students who have none of those cards. Their day-to-day is a roulette of just having enough of the basics. They walk through the community college open door without credentials, a job, or any financial safety net. Generational poverty is the phrase we use to describe their most complex barrier.

My lens, for better or for worse, is concerned with the poor at community colleges. My ideas only get so radical as they intersect with the reality of being poor.

One teacher said to me, “I’m tired of the way my department does things, and I’ve got a grant to write a course. This could change my entire department and be so good for my students. Do you think it’s possible to go that rogue?”

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