Open To Bringing Your Best #Adjunct

If I know this community well, there will be mind blowing bloggy blog bloggery for days after the OpenEd conference. People are going to reflect, synthesize, question, debate better than I can because I had a bit of a different experience. It was my first OpenEd and my time there felt a bit like hosting a party for all of my favorite people. I had a responsibility to be mindful of hospitality. A role that is a great privilege of my life—not just my career—I knew a lot of people in that space. In that community. Some of the faces I got to see are my dearest friends. Many are people I’m hoping to become friends with in the future. I had the privilege of being a woman in this space who has a lot of very cool brothers. My Ed Tech dude-friends are like the brothers I’ve never had. The women are more than sisters. They are my inspiration. The reason I stay in this gig.

One woman, who could be described as one of the major leaders in Open, shared with me her true feelings about her friendship with another woman. “Without her, I would not have been able to live through this year.” And it was honest. Real. Heartfelt. Full of pain. Joyful in the moment of sharing. I had to miss the UnCommon Women session, but it seemed to have had an impact on a lot people so I hope somebody will write about so I can know what I missed.

I know some people so well that I had full conversations with them across the room just by looking into their eyes. I hugged and got hugged more than normal on a work day. People that I think are total visionaries who I planned to fangirl faint and swoon over when I met them, led with saying “Oh my gosh, I love your work so much….” Hey. Wait. What? That’s what I was going to say!

When the morning keynote began, I looked around the room at the faces in the audience. I saw high-level administrators in the room who sacrifice their own careers to help their faculty. Because they care about students. Instead of worrying about their own promotions and reputations, they spend a lot of unrecognized time trying to get more staffing and support for their faculty and students. I know those people have sacrificed a lot to keep this idea moving forward. Sacrifices to their health. Their relationships. Their time. Their own self-care. They sit at a lot of tables where people are unkind to their ideas yet they keep persisting. They stay in this for their people. They lived through hurricanes, shootings, violence, and suffering with their staff, faculty, and students. And on top of all those other duties assigned, they teach. They publish. They research. They resist. They persist. They are my inspiration.

When I looked around the room during the first keynote, I could barely pay attention to his words because I was so nervous for my friends who helped put on that student panel. I had the privilege of having breakfast with that student panel, and they were even more lovely before they got up on stage. They were so comfortable with each other and they were genuinely excited to be there. On the way down to the conference, I gave them my card and I told them that I write really great letters of recommendations. I’d help them if I could when they go on the job market. I told them this conference is a very big deal and they were so brave to talk about their experience. I shared with them that everyone in the room is going to be thinking about how they can hire them once they graduate. This is how it works, I said. People won’t forget you. You’re going to be so loved. You’re so brave, I said.

When Robin DeRosa’s Minnie Mouse ears popped up and she said, “How do we hire them to come to our campuses?” I jumped up and threw them a Yes Yes Y’all with my fist and they smiled so big and laughed. We had a very private moment of sharing in a room full of people. Though I’m sure I looked ridiculous to those around me.

This is all about people for me. It’s about connecting people and ideas. It’s about connecting to this community. It’s about The People. And this work has gotten harder. Really hard. More difficult. More taxing. Yet even more needed.

I looked around the room and I realized that I also knew a lot of people who are very new to this community. Very new. I’ve been to 67 schools in one year. If you count the multiple visits to the same campuses, I’ve been to 73 schools in 11 states. Five giant systems. Small schools. Rural. Urban. Talking about This Idea. All the This in the Open.

They know words like constructivism and problem-based learning, but they have never heard of open pedagogy. They know service learning and communities of practice, but they don’t know how to get started in the digital space to make that work connect to others. They don’t know what a domain is but they know it’s a real pain in the ass when you lose access to your teaching materials. They have adopted an Open course, but they haven’t edited anything yet and they have no idea why that matters so much to some people. They know Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic, but they may not know the 5Rs. They don’t care about the theories and ideas I care about. What you may care about.

They care about their students. This I know from the work that I’ve been privileged to do.

And thus, I knew a lot of people. After this conference, I’m still reflecting on where I fit into this community and my role in it, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to get something off my chest in this space so that I don’t melt down on my husband. This post is a bit of self-care to make sure I’m the best I can be for somebody who truly loves me. My favorite life-long adjunct. So here goes.

I need to tell you a story about leadership.

A beloved leader teacher friend once shared with me that leadership is about seeing your people as either Weapons or Soldiers. The Weapon does one thing very well. Point. Shoot. Repeat. Keep it clean. Make sure it works. Point. Shoot. Aim. Fire. Your Soldiers, on the other hand, figure how to survive no matter what the orders. No matter what the situation. They can manage five jobs at once to get The Job done. They can make a weapon out of anything. They need orders but once they’re in the field you trust them do their job. You need to have their backs if they fuck things up and you need take the blame should your superiors get angry at your Soldiers. You hope they inspire the Weapons, but you don’t push it. The Soldier needs to stay focused on the strategy and your Weapons get all the shit done to make sure the tactics work.

It’s a simple binary, right? It’s all so confusing. I thought hard as I listened to him tell this story. Am I somebody’s Weapon? Am I a Soldier? As I was listening to my very brilliant friend, all I could think about was that I’m a pacifist who doesn’t see the point of the war.

This life is not the life that I thought I would have. I thought by this point in my life I would be the next Joan Didion and I’m not. When I shared my sadness about not being Joan at this conference, my dear friend Mike Caulfield said, “Well, you didn’t know there weren’t going to be any more Joan Didions back then either so it’s okay. You’re good.” Open bars bring out the best in my Open friends.

This life is not the story I want to tell you about either. I want to tell you about an experience that I keep having at academic conferences. Especially in the last four years. This is not exclusive to OpenEd17.

There is a systemic disease in higher education where somehow people think it is okay to pin their problems on adjuncts, and it’s not.

Let me give you a little pro-tip if I’m in the room with you. Don’t ever blame the state of higher education and all its woes on adjuncts. Let me repeat. Don’t ever blame all the fucked up shit in higher education on adjunct faculty. Ever. It’s like putting pressure on a very old deep wound of mine and I have to say something. I can’t stop myself even though I know I should.

Let me give you two tips, actually. Don’t ever make the claim that a faculty member at a community college deserves less than an R1 researcher. That R1s and regional publics somehow have the ability to determine the quality of materials because of their credentials or the status of their schools. That what they have created in the community college arena isn’t good enough for university students.

Let me give you three tips. Don’t ever shit on adjuncts around me. Ever. Or I’m going to say something to you that you probably don’t want to hear. Even though I’m trying to dial that rage back because it only hurts me. It only hurts me, and I know better.

That person will never hear what I say. It’s not a conversation. It’s a declaration of power from that person and I’m sick of hearing about it. I am really sick of talking about it. Yet I still speak up. Yet I type here.

It happens at every conference when there is a discussion about teaching and learning. With one such interaction this past week, I listened to long tales of funding woes and that adjuncts don’t care about this. That. Adjuncts don’t do this and adjuncts don’t do that. All the negatives. All the negatives. And I get it. Some are not worth defending. I know this.

I snapped a bit when I heard a complaint about not having funding to send an adjunct to this particular conference. This funding struggle is real, but I think there is a way to solve it.

I asked, “You’re here, right? Somebody paid for you to be here. What about giving up your spot at this table to send your best adjunct next year? What about advocating for your best adjunct to be here? You have a year to make that happen. Why not give up your space at this table?”

Silence no response. Started packing up his bag. Note the pronoun in the previous sentence. Conversation over. Thanks for sharing. Fuck you very much lady.

Here’s the thing. Somebody else in the room was listening.

A very quiet administrator walked over to me after this interaction, and she was very soft-spoken. She said, “I overheard your idea. Can we chat for a minute? I’m going to send my best adjunct here next year. She’s doing the best work with her students using online resources that she finds on the internet. She would get a lot more out of this conference because she actually teaches. My boss thought I should be here to represent my college.” (emphasis mine).

I’m going to pause here for a minute to give you time to shake your head.

At the moment that I’m making a new friend, I got this pained looked on my face. This is not the conference where “representing your college” matters. She thinks she said something wrong. She is picking up on my weird energy and at that same moment one of my favorite administrators on the fucking planet bounces by with super-cute-double-hair-buns looking stoked about life. And I want to run after her and say hello but I have to finish this moment with this person. Let the record show that I resisted crying twice after seeing Amy Collier for the first time in two years because I’m a professional when I need to be. Sorta.

I breath. Dry up the tear ducts, Indrunas. Focus. I say, “What can I do to help you?”

She said, “I just don’t want her to be lonely because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of adjunct faculty here. These are a lot of impressive people who are very accomplished in their roles.”

I’m thinking “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I’m going to introduce her to [enter all my brothers and sisters here] who have been adjuncts or they care a great deal about adjuncts.” She won’t be alone, I promise.

I told her I’d try to get more adjuncts here next year. I gave her my card.

She’s a life-long adjunct, she added. We’ll probably never have a position for her but we’d like to keep her.

Here we go.

I know this story. I used to be that gal to several of my department chairs. I broke their hearts when I left teaching. Broke their hearts. I can’t tell that story today. Here is some of the story if you’d like to read it.

She also said, “I need data to help me support that OER works so that I can secure the funding.”

Data. Sigh. What do you mean that it works? What the hell does that even mean? For whom? Why? How do we measure success? I can’t unload the Ranty McRanty Pants Indrunas on her.

So I say, what do your superiors want to hear about the data on OER?

I get it. Numbers are an easy way to substantiate claims. The Quant always wins street cred over the emotional Qual. I’m a mixed methods thinker. Numbers aren’t enough for me and words don’t work up the chain of command. A beloved friend and colleague summarizes this battle well with one of his best quotes: “Data is for the weak.”

So instead I said: Open education makes people happier and they stay where they are when they feel respected and excited about their teaching. The feeling transfers to the students. A transactional learning experience becomes transformational. It rescues mid-life career adjuncts from burnout. It’s my hunch on things based on many conversations I’ve had with people. I can’t substantiate any of this with numbers, but I’m happy to talk to your superiors. I can help you get a lot of data if that’s what it takes to get your best adjunct here. Let’s figure out what your superiors care about and then let’s find the data. If that’s what it takes to help you keep your best adjunct here.

We can (maybe) help them be happier people as life-long adjuncts.

I want to respect a “life-long adjunct” because I was one. I’m married to one. Many of my good friends fall into this category.

Let me tell you now about one of my worst mistakes as leader.

I shared my career story once at a workshop by saying I got into learning about open education and thinking about education and technology because I wanted to escape being a life-long adjunct. I didn’t know my audience—I was talking to a room full of life-long adjuncts.

At lunch one of them said to me, “I’d love to be full-time faculty but I’ve accepted this is the only skill I have. At least I’m a life-long adjunct in a unionized system. That makes a difference.” Ab-so-fucking-lute-ly, I almost said and then stopped myself. Instead I shared that I had a retirement plan and benefits thanks to the faculty union in Washington State. I’m here because they invested in professional development for their faculty. I admitted that I worry a great deal about the power of administrators and the private sector in non-union states. He and I then had a spirited discussion about educational policy and open education. That night I kept my frigid hotel room warm with the heat of my shame. My regret of telling my story about “escaping being a life-long adjunct” to people who do not have options–I don’t tell that story anymore.

I sometimes overhear my Mister sharing what it was like for me circa 2003 when people ask him about his career. He shares that his current experience is so unlike mine. Back then, we would let the answering machine grab every call and we’d listen to panicked administrators calling on a Friday afternoon to staff a class that started on Monday. I had an application at every community college—and I’m not exaggerating—from Bellingham to South Seattle. That’s nine community colleges. I chose not to answer the phone two weeks before the start of the quarter because I worried that if I turned down a dean who was in pinch, she’d never hire me again.

We’d sit on the couch sipping beers and calculating if I should accept the offer and thus screw over the people who were already depending on me. I decided to stay loyal to two colleges, and that served me well in my career. My heart breaks when I hear him describe the radio silence during these recent hiring seasons. The phone, he says, never rings. They don’t even email me back a rejection, he says. They can’t even bother to automate a rejection email in 2017, he says. A part of me wishes we had never chosen to become teachers. A small part of me hates myself for feeling that way. A larger part of me can’t imagine a life that is disconnected from academia. A small part of me knows my life would be easier if I didn’t care so much. But I do. Okay, where was I? Right.

Bring your best adjunct to a conference. Your best life-long adjunct.

Had somebody done that for me, I might have stayed a teacher. Maybe. Or I would have been smarter faster about educational technology. I wouldn’t have been so trusting. Maybe. Or I would have done more creative things. Maybe.

Here’s what I wouldn’t have been: I wouldn’t have been so lonely.

Maybe I would’ve found my brothers and sisters as a teacher instead in this community of  whatever it is I am now. I would have found My People. I would have been happier.

I have one idea to throw out there, and if you’re listening and you’d like to share your ideas, please do.

What about bringing your adjuncts who are doing some sort of open pedagogy without even knowing it’s a thing? And by all means don’t tell them to research prior to coming. They should just tell their stories of how they work with their students and their faculty.

I attended two presentations at OpenEd17 where the teachers were killing it with ideas about involving their students and colleagues and they never used the phrase “open pedagogy” once. They shared rich stories of faculty collaboration without using any of the lingo. The jargon. The Ideas. The acronyms. The camps. The sides. The debate.

I need more of these stories in my life. This to me, is bigger than Open.

So how do we make this Idea of sharing happen?

At local conferences. At regional conferences. At the Big Dances like OpenEd? In your teaching and learning center? In your library? In campus coffee shop? And then how do we virtually connect to what you are doing?

How do we bring more adjuncts to the table?

I don’t know, so I’m just going to end this bit of self-care post so I can walk my dog and enjoy my home before the work week begins again. I’m going to cook for my favorite life-long adjunct and we’re going to talk about movies and bike racing.

I’ll conclude with Joan Didion:

“I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”

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Supported & Autonomous

I have been consulting quite a bit these last few weeks with teachers all over the country who are preparing for the fall term. Some of them I’ve met before. Some of them have been in workshops with me. Most are new voices over the web or through my phone with questions that I can (thankfully) answer. I can suggest workarounds or strategies to help them save time. Or I can stall long enough to ask somebody else who can help me (I work with really smart people. Every. Damn. Day.) It’s an incredibly interesting jobby job.

Unlike being an administrator who is preparing for Welcome Week or other campus events where you actually get to chat about people’s summers, their research, their plans for the upcoming year–my recent meetings are strictly business. I’m a stranger with answers for busy teachers trying to get work done before the term starts. We’ve all got shit to do. Every once in awhile, I get a delicious peek into how a teacher really thinks. How she really works. What she’s excited about. What exhausts her. What she wants to change. What she wants to keep the same. What frustrates her. And even though I know I should cut it short and stick the agenda, I’d rather sacrifice my personal time to have these calls go long. I like to hear a good story just as much as I like to tell one.

Here are my best two stories from the last two weeks.

Story 1–How Did You Get That Job: A Memoir

A teacher asked me directly how I got my job. I don’t have an easy answer for this question. Ever. It’s too long to summarize. It’s too weird to be a strategy. It’s a hard question for me. I want to respect an educator who may be looking to change her career. I usually get asked if we’re hiring for my job. Weekly.

Quick side note: I try to make what I do look like it’s all fun-easy-breezy work but it’s actually really fucking hard and exhausting. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not easy and it’s not always fun. For every hour I can predict, there are seven hours that are completely unknown. For every whimsical thing I try in workshops and presentations, I can subtract six months from my life because of the worrying and fretting. Then I top off that experience of worrying and fretting with worrying and fretting about what I should have done. Sometimes I drink. Sometimes I ride my bike really hard. And then I worry and fret about all the things that I haven’t been able to do to support my colleagues. And then I waste a bunch of time blogging about something that nobody will read and care about. Healthy, I know.

I take that question “Are you guys hiring?” very seriously. Here’s why.

It’s always an adjunct who asks me this question. Always. And my heart breaks.

Story 2–Roombas & Innovation

When I work with teachers, I write down their best quotes, questions, and ideas so that I can share them with others. So I can remember. So I can laugh later when it’s appropriate to laugh harder. Teachers slay me when they get honest and comfortable sharing their real selves.

You don’t have to burn everything down to use OER.

To change your curriculum. To spice it up.

Teachers get a lot of pressure to jump into the deep end with licensing their materials, embracing open pedagogy, revising their pedagogy, flipping this, flipping that…it’s too much. Small steps are sometimes easier and more manageable.

Here’s an example I’ve been using lately when the pressure “to innovate” is clearly stressing out a kind loving teacher.

Everybody loves the idea of Roombas.

You know, the robot that was going to steal the job of your vacuum and broom?

People love buying them on sale at Costco and coming home to put it to use. Cats riding Roombas totally kill it on the Internet, right? Roombas will automate your vacuum. Poof! You’ll never have to vacuum again. Just like that. Buy this product. Save time. Poof!

But let’s face it, you have to break out the fucking broom every once in awhile to really clean the corners.

That damn robot is a circle and our houses are filled with square rooms. Dust gathers in the corners. Fur from our pets become tumbleweeds too big for the vents of the Roomba.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good robot, but it doesn’t leave the nice satisfying rows in your carpet like a vacuum.

That robot solves the problem of feeling guilty about not vacuuming, but it doesn’t quite do the job.

The broom and the vacuum were once “innovative” and now we can add the Roomba to that arsenal of cleanliness if we want. We now have several tools to keep our floors clean.

Either way, somebody or something has to clean the damn the floor.

Truth be told, most people I know who own Roombas get more joy out of terrorizing their pets than rejoicing that their that their floor is clean.

Here’s the thing.

A teacher shared with me one of the most brilliant points of feedback I’ve ever heard about educational technology.

We were talking about what will work best for the fall. What will happen in the spring. What the future might look like for his teaching with OER. He said, “I want to be fully supported when I need it and I need to be completely autonomous.”

Fully supported and autonomous.

In short, help me when I need it and then get out of my life.

That’s a tall order if you work in a support role. Seems impossible. Some support folks may take this feedback personally.  I totally get it.

So.

Questions arise.

How do we prepare for the “when I need it” while respecting autonomy? Is this just-in-time support or something else? How can honor autonomy while fulfilling the “faculty support” job description? How do manage everyone needing support at the same time? How do we create collaborative communities when most faculty want to be left alone? How does this all work?

I don’t know.

I struggle with conclusions of all of my posts because I just want to keep writing.

Let me end this here with a favorite quote from Mary Oliver’s Upstream, that I finally finished reading this past weekend.

For me the door to the woods is the door to temple.

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Thoughts on Open Public Art

“…what if these fading languages contain words we never realise we need.” ~Ella Frances Sanders, one my favorite illustrators who participated in the #100DayProject

I just had four glorious days of being out with two friends who I enjoy sharing time with in the backcountry woods (it’s a small club). I have the blisters, bug bites, and sore muscles to prove it. It’s my second backpacking trip this month–once to the coast and once to the high alpine of Glacier Peak. Another glorious set of days in this fabulous July. I haven’t been to an airport in a month, and I’ve been able to ride my bike more than I have in two years.

I’ve spent a lot of time curating and cleaning up planning documents during the workdays and in the evenings, I’ve gone through a lot of old writing. Planning documents. Checklists. Outlines. Some of it I decided to end for good, and one project I’ve committed to finishing (again). I’ve scoped out a nice project for the jobby job and the hobby job.

Let me get to a few threads I’ve been toying with in my mind as it relates to writing–this will help me transition back to front country/workaday concerns.

I’ve been following Ella Luna’s 100DayProject with great interest and I need to mourn that it’s over. For now. A daily practice for me since it started back in April. I’m a fan of the idea of practice as a path for life-long-learning. Self-efficacy. Reflection. Meta-cognition. Choose your educational paradigm.

I’d like to explain these ideas without using theoretical lens at all. How do we do that? Well, I feel like I’m truly learning when I can let my mind fall into a few rabbit holes about things I love doing. Things that I love thinking about. I lose all track of time.

Sometimes it’s hiking in the woods–the hours I’ve spent looking at maps. Measuring. Usually incorrectly.

Doing yoga. Writing. Riding my bike–the trails that used to be so hard only to become easier–so fun now.

Knitting. How many rows will have to rip in order to learn I can’t drink and do math? It’s always such a great idea at the time.

Researching places I want to see. Reading. Reading. Reading.

Whatever The Practice–whatever one is valuing most at this time as a learner. 

This is why structured curricula based on the academic clock hour does not make sense when it comes to life-long-learning. The italicized words above capture what I’m trying to sort out. Time and place–those are usually the themes my kaleidoscope-like brain twirls around and around when I’m in the woods.

1. Time.

The-practice-something-for-100-days idea is popular with motivational speakers, theorists, yogis, and anyone who may be trying to sell you something. It’s got a catchy title. Like a good memoir.

What fascinates me about the 100DayProject is threefold and beautifully simple.

1] It’s hospitable for all walks of creativity with no rules for participation,

2] It’s free and open to anyone who is willing to commit the time, and

3] The only thing that binds together the common experience is a hashtag. Just a hashtag, yo. Nothing fancy. Brings together any platform that uses a hashtag.

Brilliantly low-tech with high-culture. Wiki-like. Easy.

A long-term schedule of daily practice around an idea. That’s it. If you can make it, wonderful. If not, that’s okay too. Just do what you can when you can. You’re never late. You’re never early. You’re right on time when you want to show up.

My inner-Ed-Tech-designer-trainer–in-higher-education voice frets a bit and says, “How scary, nobody can own a hashtag! [wrings hands nervously] Things will get messy. Who will own the project? What will it become? What if somebody mean hacks the good intentions of the artists?  What if somebody starts using the hashtag to sell__________? What if____________?” You know, those kind of thoughts.

My inner-teacher-writer-Self says, “Excellent. [taps fingers like Mr. Burns] Wow. Yes. Hotdamn. Where do we begin? This is going to be awesome.” And it was. Every damn day. I didn’t participate but I felt like I was a part of the communal practice by following the hashtag everyday mainly through Instagram. It was a reading practice for me. Meditative.

My favorite collection was from the illustrator that I cited in my epigraph. I love her work and I can’t really sort whether her work is ekphrastic or something in between. Mostly, I admire her practice–it’s something I haven’t been able to perfect in my life. I once tried to write for 100 days publicly and I got 58 posts with five drafts. It’s my best attempt at brevity to date though I didn’t make it to 100 days.

If you search for the words “100 days habit” you see a lot of “challenges” and “motivations.” When you start to dig into the advice literature, you see mentions of “automaticity” and “habits.” I’m also reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a book that I read only to congratulate myself for not needing since I’m writing The Rage Project (jk). I was simultaneously in awe of how much people loved Rubin’s work and how utterly boring the whole enterprise was to read. A lot of the advice/self-help genre involving time, practice, and/or habits can be too Eat, Love, Pray which makes me want to Puke, Fight, and Sin.

2. Practice

Merriam’s Dictionary defines the word “practice” to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient. I’m not sure “proficiency” is satisfying here when one considers the pure joy of creating. The pure joy. The 100DayProject brought together a lot of entries of pure joy. Learning. Contemplation. Reflection.

Okay, so where am I going with this? I had a moment of pure serendipity–joy– two weekends ago that hasn’t quite left me. After spending time with a friend doing a gorgeous sunset mountain peak hike, I drove home the next morning, and decided to stop at a Co-op. I was reading The Stranger and stuffing my face when I looked up to see an installation of a Before I Die public art, the brilliant and visionary global art project by Candy Chang.

I’ve never seen one in person yet I look in every city I go to. Every city. There it was in Mt. Vernon, WA of all places.

I stared out the window at its sweet simplicity. I watched a shop owner and his daughter wipe down the chalkboard surface clean with a brush and water. I wondered if they just maintain it or if they helped build it. I watched three people stop and write on the board. When I finished my salad, I walked over and wrote “Learn to Surf.” Drew a heart. Instagrammed my thoughts. Reflected on how surfing is the only sport I haven’t tried in life that I know I’ll love. Yet. Drove home thinking about the things I’ve done. The things I haven’t done.

3. Space

When I got home, I immediately read up more on Candy Chang.  Her Looking For Love Again located on an abandoned building in Fairbanks, Alaska is pure genius. She somehow blends the vulnerable with architectural– the word, the image, and the poetic.

Chang is unabashedly sentimental in situations where cynicism makes more sense.

She takes (in her words) the “neglected space” and turns it into a “constructive space.”

From her website:

By drawing emotional attention to the neglected building and providing residents with a platform to share, the project explores the impact that buildings have on our lives and how they can become meaningful again.

Italics mine.

You should listen to Candy Chang describe her work in this lovely Ted Talk:

So. I’m trying to sort out something here, and I’m not sure what it is.

Truth be told–this scattering of blatherings is to help me sort out what I want to say at the PechaKucha Night La Conner: Communities and the Commons at the Museum of Northwest Art.  I’ve been asked to talk about open education to a community of artists at one of the sweetest art museums in the PNW (my friend works there). I’m humbled and so honored. And I’m so excited! I want to talk about something different than higher education while teaching about open education, art, and curation.

I want to teach people about open education without ever calling it that until the very end.

Open. As in public art. As in Public Art. Wish me luck. If anything, I get to confuse people in a really beautiful art museum.

For now, I’m going to record my thoughts here until the preso. During these last few days of July as I research for this talk. While the sun still takes a long time to set. While I have a few days to climb mountains. While I let my body heal from my month of adventure. While I’ve had some luxurious time to think.

For now, let me end on this quote from the Association for Public Art:

What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means.

Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions.

Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression.

Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.

Remove “public art” and enter “(open) education.”

Spacing of the words? Mine.

Emphasis on the italics? Mine.

Thoughts on Public Art? Ours for the next few weeks. Here.

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Aperture & Open & Creativity

Awhile back, a post of mine took off in wild wonderful ways, and I did plan on a follow-up post on all the workshoppery. But then a lot of travel for work happened and this post sat in my drafts folder. It’s somehow already July; we are on the cusp of a new season. 

We like to think of the academic year as being organized by semesters or quarters. Course outlines. Contracts. Paychecks.

Time.

For those of us who are trying to support faculty–both in the private and public sector–there are really two seasons. The busy-as-fuck autumn and the busy-as-hell early spring.

Conferences consume The Winters (which are always coming) and the off-contract/research time swallows The Summers. We have two seasons of connection potential, and truly, I applaud all faculty who use the other two seasons to completely ignore us. 

Today I want to reflect a bit on a somewhat recent post by Alan Levine, Mr. Cogdog. (this post has been in draft form for weeks?) Like many of you, I read and ponder the twittery debates between and among my OER heroes and heroines. I usually don’t respond to any of them but I read. And then I watch many others weigh in. Conviction via posts. Snarks. Links. Explanations. Annotations. Empathies. Questions. It’s been quite The Season with the engagement with Open. I haven’t engaged at all with the questions of defining anything–not because I’m worried that people won’t treat my ideas with respect or that they scare me with their genius brains. I’ll just be honest–I can’t distill my thoughts into a witty engaging tweet unless it’s about beer, bikes, or Boston Terriers.

I need more space to think, and thus, I convince myself to not tweet. But I read. I think. I jot down notes in my journal. I watch the frayed threads of defining words and actions overlap, resonate, and expand. The stream turns into a garden of thought for me (high-five, Caulfield).

I’m not one to cherish one definition of any word, and I don’t think that one side—or in this case—all sides are that much different. I see many Venn Diagrams spiraling and engaging with important ideas for teaching and learning. Where they overlap pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they diverge pushes us towards the change I’d like to see in higher education. Where they get confused pushes us towards the unknown and somewhat frightening. 

We (meaning anyone who cares to see some change in higher education) need conversations like this and ways into thinking about the history of and state of open education. For example, maybe you high-five Wiley when he posts. Maybe you push an EduPunk fist-bump towards Groom. Maybe you nod enthusiastically with Caulfield. Maybe you can’t keep up with hitting “Like” with everything Maha posts. Maybe you cry reading the stunning beautiful words of Catherine Cronin (wait, that’s me).

These are just a few names–I could go on and on and on.

Maybe you were and continue to be lost as fuck about what any of them are even talking about. Either way, you thought a bit about your own context about teaching. You considered what you care about. What you do. What matters to you. What you need in your little corner of academia. What you need from Open. What you need from being open. What you want. What you need. 

Open, OER, Open Pedagogy, Open Teaching, OERs…whatever you want to call it is really too new to be named in my humble opinion. I’ve written about this too-new-to-be-named before and thank all my lucky stars the fabulous Lee Skallerup Bessette wrote about my thoughts. To watch one of my favorite writers/bloggers use my train wreck of thoughts was so special to me. You may disagree with me about “The This” as it relates to all things open that I think is too new to be named and that’s fine. To me, The This is all about teaching. And learning.

The majority of the teachers that I work with are new to the whole concept of open anything. ANYTHING. These folks that are just learning—just like all us at one point—and like it or not–they are going to shape what open will become. What it can be. I’m honored that I get to tell people that I have a few answers but I don’t have THE answer.

What open was and why it matters is not the most important aspect of questioning the definition(s) of open. Forgive me for conjuring up my go-to way to substantiate my ideas, but it’s all the not-yetness (#Collier&Ross4Evah). 

If you truly subscribe to one way of thinking and defining words, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from people who are new to these concepts. To me, that’s the beauty of open everything. I learn from you and you learn from me in the open. Out in the open. Open to suggestions. Open mind. Open to what works. Open to what does not work. Open to hearing that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Words are just words. I’m interested in the action. I’m interested in the inertia. 

And let me be clear, I am not without strong opinions about open education. I cringe daily—sometimes hourly—when I read grant proposals, RFPs, DMs, policies, emails, tweets, and blog posts. I’m more comfortable stating what it is not than what it is. But that’s not what I want to get into today. That kind of thinking is Big Picture. High-level theory. Being 30,000 feet high. Scholarly. Searching for horizons. Big ideas. 

Let me take you down to weeds. Let’s dig a few holes.

Which brings me to the barkings of the Cogdog. In my little corner of the open landscape (Maybe it’s a seascape because it’s so big. Whatever. Damn, I’m the queen of the mixed metaphor.)

I teach people about Creative Commons licensing almost weekly as part of the jobby job. I’ve been to 57 institutions in ten states over the last year. My jobby job sends me all over the place. I meet a lot of interesting people. I talk to a lot of teachers. And I love them. I adore teachers and administrators equally when they begin by talking about students. Creative Commons licensing, to my target audience, is something very new and all about naming. 

Institutions are paranoid about being sued and many grant projects have strict licensing rules for expanding the use of OER on campuses. I introduce the concepts of CC licensing and why it matters, and I’m advocating for folks to participate in the CC course when its done. I can share my perspective on all things Open pretty easily at this point. I struggle, however, with licensing—not because it’s particularly complex–it’s just always contextual and fraught with history. Fraught with human error. Like words and definitions. Licensing forces binary thinking about a very creative endeavor–teaching and learning. It’s either CC BY or it’s something else.

Teaching licensing and how to use an editable platform is the perfect marriage of pedagogical praxis as it relates to educational technology (oh crap, this might be another blog post. Focus, Indrunas, focus). The CC licenses are the theory behind how to enable sharing and we need dependable platforms to enable that sharing. If I have 90 minutes to open the door, so to speak, on licensing as a practice, then I’ve got to make it easy-breezy-peasy. Dare I say it? Yes. I like to make it fun for faculty.  

Here’s the thing.

Finally.

I’m always searching for anecdotes or some sort of story to explain all the CC BYs. You can haz all the CC BYs. 

To explain all the CC BYs.

Sometimes I talk about how a colleague gave me her handout and I cut my name and class title out from paper using scissors. I then taped that scrap of paper over the title of her handout to make copies for my students.

Never mind that the handout was on plagiarism and I was plagiarizing my friend (do I say not as I do, students. That’s definitely another blog post).

This is the Remix and the Reuse of the 5Rs. I also Retained that crappyass handout for years because I made a gajillion copies of it as I taught boatloads of Comp courses. I was rocking the 5Rs way before I knew what open meant, yo. I bet you were too.  

Then I share that it wasn’t until my colleague sent me her Word file that I could make changes and revise and retain it.  

I use that same “Ditto-Sharing-Story” in different contexts where the technology is scarce. Like if I’m writing URLs on a chalkboard using chalk. If this surprises you in 2017, I encourage you to travel to a rural community college in your state. If this surprises you in 2017, I can conjure up at least a dozen people from IT and eLearning to substantiate this experience. If this surprises you in 2017 as a high-level administrator, you need to make an appointment to observe a class taught by an adjunct in the evening at your satellite campus computer lab. Watch them struggle with technology when there is nobody around but security to call for help.  

Okay, back to what I say to the teachers–Sometimes I’ll throw an LMS under the bus to get to what faculty hate about LMSs. I’m always willing to host that party, y’all. I do rejoice in introducing folks to writers of e-Literate and their brilliant description of the LMS as a mini-van. This anecdote totally kills a room by the way–kudos to Michael and Phil for the comedy. You guys need to roll that joke every chance you get when you meet faculty who have no idea what the hell EdTech is (you’re welcome). 

Okay, where was I? I’m not a comedian. I teach people. Right. And I have point with this post. Right.

Alan Levine made licensing really easy in his post Open As in Aperture (I’m linking here so that you read it). He admitted in his post that he was “camera-splaining” and I can totally relate to that feeling as a writer. I bike-splain a lot. Maybe this blog is Alyson-splaining (or Indy-splaining) and that’s definitely another blog post I can title “Well Actually.”

I’ve tried several times and failed to explain OER as a bike share. Sometimes I have out of body experiences when I listen to myself heading down the bike-share-lane-as-pedagogical-lens and I see why it all falls apart. Right as I’m about to get out of the saddle, I drop my chain. Every time. I get too deep into the dorkery of all things related to the bikes. I totally get how hard it is to use one interest/love as a metaphor for another interest/love. 

A bike share needs three basic ingredients: 1] policy, 2] infrastructure, and 3] an enthusiastic audience. You need people to carve out the space (policy), make sure it can grow/scale (infrastructure), and people who excited to make it happen (audience). I would also go so far as to say that climate, terrain, and culture also play into the success of bike share. Look at the fucking Dutch culture if you ever want to get depressed about your current town.

What struck me about CogDog’s work—and thus prompted this post—is the short video of the UMW students and his use images explaining aperture. In the video, the first student uses her hands to explain how we “narrow [our] personality down” depending on the social context. Brilliant! Yes, I do that! I may drop the F Bomb here but I would never do that in front of your Provost (unless you want me to. Sounds so fun, btw. Let’s talk).

In the video, the students are discussing online identity—which is connected to our open practice—and I understand how Alan got to seeing the apertures.

I’ve been hunting for a visual for CC licensing, and holyhotdamn, I think Alan captured a framework for me (see what I did? so punny). Without getting into any details about photography, light, and aperture, I think this image works beautifully to somebody who is new to this whole idea. 

From left to right. Everything you own in a box to left. Sorry, that’s Beyonce not OER.

Public Domain (big open space for creativity)

CC BY  (a bit more closed for creativity)

CC BY SA (less space)

CC BY NC (really closed)

CC BY NC ND (if you look really close at this aperture it looks like an anus, amirite? lol)

Admittedly, I have a lot of work to make this visual work both for teaching and learning. But it’s got me thinking.

If you look at this image above, and if you think of the dark space as what’s “open”–meaning what’s available for reuse, then as the shutters close–the less freedom you have to be creative with that work. That’s really what licensing is all about. Creativity.

Moving from left to right, the potential for remixing, revising, and reusing narrows. What does that really mean for teaching and learning? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

I don’t really have an elegant conclusion here, but I know in my gut that this is all connected to the digital space as it relates to teaching and learning. And I just really like this idea and I wanted to share it.

I’m reminded of something Susan Sontag wrote about in On Photography and I’ll leave you with her words.

From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.

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#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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

So.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adopters. Adapters. Builders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me be clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They see me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Memoir.

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#OER As A Concerned US Citizen

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

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

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

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

 

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Mural on the Interurban Trail

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let me be clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good times. [Drink!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This ethos? This is the machine that kills fascists.

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