To The North

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

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

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

To the north.

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t.

Not yet.

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the north.

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Solvitur Ambulando

Solvitur Ambulando~Diogenes of Sinope

It is solved by walking.

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

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

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

Rinse. Repeat.

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

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

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

No pressure.

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

There is nothing left to mine.

No pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

Stop that sass talk.

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

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

Such production at scale.

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

A Memoir.

For example.

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

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

For example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Paperfree Project took place in 2009.

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

Yet it is solved by walking slowly.


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File This Question Under Messy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d ask too much.

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

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

He looked me in the eyes for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

I’d wager more than we know.

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

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

The major question on my mind these days is this:

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

More than we know, I’d wager.

File this question under Messy.

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Sub Rosa Leadership

Today I heard from an OER leader, and s/he described the work of OER as operating “Sub Rosa” at her/his institution. Because I’m learned woman of letters, my brain blew up in a ten different directions wider than the sky. Here’s a sampling of my inner dialogue and how I completely went away into my own thoughts for a good ten productive minutes.

Leadership Sub Rosa. Sub Rosa. Rosa. Rosa. Rosa. Sub Sub Rosa Subrosa. Brosa!

Fabulousa! Rosa Beggeriana, you take over my garden. Lay me down in a bed of your delicate petals, Rosa Beggeriana. Sub rosa. Under the rosa.

Where is my mind? Rosa! Surfer Rosa by The Pixies. Rosa rosa rosa rosa!

Sub of The Rosa: A Sandwich Made Of Red Coldcuts

Under the rose. Secrecy. Clandestine.

Off the record.

Sub Rosa: A Memoir of Lady Leadership

That’s it. Yes. That. Is. It.

How much effective leadership happens sub rosa? Who chooses to operate sub rosa? When do clandestine plans become openly strategic? Why? When? With whom?

Whether it is open education, pedagogy, or organizational change, you sometimes have to make space to meet below the roses. If you can’t find that space, you may need to create a new garden. I’m simplifying–it’s not that easy. Everything is complicated.

Let me tell you a little story. That’s the bloggy blog of blogginess, right? What I write here may or may not connect to any projects or anything at all. Just write. A rose is a rose is a rose.

This is the first summer that I have done zero gardening. Zero. Haven’t pulled a weed. Planted a plant. Watered a garden bed. Nurtured seeds to sprout. Transplanted plants from pots. Hung out in the garden wasting time. My garden. It’s been a very long year in the City of Roses, and this lack of gardening is starting to get to me. This time next year, I hope to be typing with calloused hands overlooking a little garden of my own.

As I started to type this, I remembered my post Tending Other People’s Gardens where I complained at length about my passive aggressive landlord. How odd that I would use my blog to complain. How predictable! I was really writing about something else not just the garden, truth be told.

Here are a couple of highlights:

But I’m tired of tending other people’s gardens. I’m ready to plant my own garden and get so nutty with experimenting with landscaping design. I want to build a little forest with a bunch of different beds. I want to mix vegetables and flowers and let ferns get huge. The clematis would grow all over the railings. The daisies would grow over my head. Sunflowers would grow up to the roof and then slowly fall to the ground heavy with seeds. Then the birds would have a party eating the seeds. Then I’d clean it up. I’d have a whole front yard of tulips right now. I’d have one little patch of the grass for the dog, and the rest would be xeriscaped with plants and rocks. I’d grab a shovel and help the husband build his BMX pump track and then I’d landscape hardy plants around it. I’d sell the damn mower. I’d ditch the awful planters and buy handcrafted pots from art students.

In short, I’d let it get kind of wild and just see where it goes. Every spring and summer it would get better. I’d make sure everything was healthy, but I’d landscape it in a way where plants would benefit from being close to their friends—just like in a forest. I wouldn’t have to weed as much because I’d have every bit of land covered by plants or rocks. Right now there is a lot of weeding because the landscaping is that of a golf-course resort. It’s manicured. It’s tame. It’s predictable. It’s decidedly not me. Or the me I hope not to be.

But I tend somebody’s else garden because that’s my job. That’s what I promised. That’s why I pay less rent. I thought this plan was only going to be a year and now it’s turned into six. And here I am back again at the point where the weeds of winter must be tended. Torn up. Manicured. Tamed. Again. Shaped into a design that I can’t change or control.

At the time, I was frustrated that my “hippy aesthetic” didn’t align with the vision of the person who owned the property. Looking back at that post, I was tired of maintaining something I didn’t own. Looking back at that post, I had no idea then how much I’d eventually miss that garden. Looking back at that post, I was really lamenting how I’ve lost sight of the book I want to write. Again. And again. Looking back at that post, I was brewing up a plan to openly license a grant application so that no institution could own it. So that anyone could use it. Looking back at that post, I’m reminded of how much I used to read about leadership. How I was keeping my best idea of 2014-2015 completely, if you will, sub rosa. Change management is a thorny issue.

And here’s the thing. The quote I can’t let go:

Shaped into a design that I can’t change or control.

I wrote that sentence almost a year and half ago. Okay, ready for some leadership talk? Here we go.

Recently I travelled to a college, and I got to have 15 minute conversation with one of the most engaging interesting inspiring senior administrators I’ve ever met. I talk to a lot of them these days, and she is the bees’ knees. No exaggeration. I was eager to ask her so many questions that I’m sure I talked too quickly. Jumped around without transitions. Said something ridiculous. Had to stop myself from taking notes as she talked. Had to resist hugging her twice because I loved what she said about teachers. Resisted crying when she complimented me.

No sub rosa collaborations under a leader like this.

No need.

She told this story about helping a student figure out how to register for classes. She took the student to the area of the campus where she could get help, and the VPI noticed that everyone on staff looked unhappy. Everyone behind the counter looked tired. Grouchy. Worn down. Inhospitable to the student.

She said, “I realized then that these were people who had been left out of our transformation as an institution, and I needed to do something about it. So I put together a committee, and we looked at how to include these folks who were on the front lines helping our students. Turns out, they had a lot of really great ideas and moved our initiatives further faster.”

It took everything I had to not drop my jaw in awe. Who was she blaming? Herself! How was she doing it? Productively. Oh my gosh, the things I could learn from this woman!

Here’s another example. Over dinner, a dean was talking about how they had a problem with daycare on campus. A lot of their students are single moms struggling with day care and school. Typical woes of community college students. “We need more room for the babies. There just isn’t enough room for all of the cribs,” he said.

The VPI, his boss, asked about his strategy. She looked at him like he was the only person in the world. Listening. Intently. This is a woman who stops to smell the roses in life.

He said, “I just need to find a building, so I’ll draft a plan and send it to you on Monday. We can fix this.”

“Great!” she said. “Let’s make room for the babies! What a great challenge.”

I about dropped my fork and choked on my food. Wait? No mention of the budget? No mention of what he couldn’t do. No mention of things to consider. No mention of anything negative.

I’ve never witnessed such grace from a senior administrator. Such optimism. Such simple support for the people who report to her. Such faith that they will do the right thing.

Here I was, a vendor taking out a group of leaders for dinner listening to what could have been a mood-killing conversation about budget challenges or staffing issues. Instead the dean pitched an idea for a solution that he knew she would support. He knew he had her support to do his job, and he was going to do it well.

Nothing under the roses here. It’s all out in the open.

How refreshing. How lovely. There is beauty in the sub rosa collaboration. Truly.

But how nice to be open about the thorny issues.

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At The Center of Learning

A few years ago, a colleague gave me the advice that if I was going to become a leader who advocates for the professional development of and for faculty, then I need to make sure that I removed the word “Center” from the name of the place where I wanted to do my work. My main career goal, at the time, was to work towards leading a Center of Teaching and Learning. A Memoir.

Questions haunted me. Can we ever truly name such a location? By having a physical space aren’t we privileging the work of face-to-face teachers? Doesn’t this traditional place cater to the full-timers while ignoring the adjuncts? Would this place become the hub of active ideas that we then share online? The Center of Teaching, so to speak, is the classroom, but where is the center of Learning? For whom? By whom? How will we know? Who is at the center? Where is the center? What is the right mission for this work?

Everything. Everyone. Everywhere. I began to fret about the direction of my career.

“When the budget cuts hit,” my once and future advisor said, “they will look for that word first. Center. Bah! Start drafting the cover letter for your next job before you write your T&LC’s mission statement. Face it. All your good ideas will spiral down the drain the moment you try to send these ideas up the chain.”

Truth be told, I have a tendency to befriend and love optimistically pessimistic skeptics who are brutally honest.

When I shared my ambitions with a teacher who is also a friend, he said, “You know, I don’t need your development. Sheesh! Who the hell do you think you are? That phrase—professional development—it’s insulting. I’m already a professional. I’ll show you what you can develop.”

Dirty jokes ensued. We changed the subject.

To add injury to insult, I was trying to advocate for the adoption of open educational resources and I couldn’t quite connect my vision for student success with faculty professional development. I couldn’t quite communicate that there is always already a center of transformative change by choosing to use OER. It’s not just about training. It has very little and everything to do with educational technology. It’s not that black and white.

Before I elaborate on the various failures I experience(d) as a leader-wearing-training-wheels, I have to admit that I still have so much to learn. A very wonderful organization has invited me to write an article and I’m at a loss. I’ve started a dozen rough drafts and they’re all awful. How do I sound like I know what I’m talking about while simultaneously begging for help? Why do I care about authorship and attribution when I think I’m at my best convincing people (I hope)—it doesn’t matter as much as we have been trained to think. Why do I care about publishing an article?

Here’s a short list of what I feel like saying. I need to borrow a refrain from Dorothy Allison. Here are two or three things I know for sure that will end up in this article.

1] Witnessing faculty members adopt open educational resources is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve had conversations in bathrooms, libraries, parking lots, computer labs, bars, and faculty offices that have altered my perspective about teaching and learning. Forever. I don’t think a center of teaching and learning is a place; it’s The People who gather together. Open education has a history like all uses of technology in the classroom; this we know. What is unique to this center of learning is that faculty members become students again who are learning new ways to hone their craft. As one faculty member said recently, “I feel like we’re taking back the production of knowledge in our disciplines.” YES! Students benefit directly from the adoption of OER—whether that’s financial or pedagogical. If you want to argue whether one is more important than the other, well, you’re reading the wrong bloggy blog.

2] The results of this work are not instantaneous nor can they be captured by budget cycles, spreadsheets, beautiful charts of data, and or glossy brochures. This work is a slow dance. A heavy lift. A joyful discovery. Serendipity. Randomness. Intentional planning. Strategy. Blind optimism. Wishful dreaming. The return-on-investment spans across the academic calendar in unpredictable ways. As long as I’m there to witness the spark that creates the fire, then I know I’m doing the right work. A teacher said to me recently, “I don’t remember anything from the workshop your company did a year ago, but I remember it was awesome. I wasn’t ready for OER adoption then, but now it’s perfect for me. Can we start over?” No need to start over, I said, you’ve already begun by stating that you’re ready to do this work. What do you want to learn? That’s where we’ll start, I said. Flint, meet Kindling.

3] The real magic happens when faculty teach themselves. Think of your work as embodying the function of training wheels on a bike until teachers are ready to ride on their own. Your Teaching and Learning Center should own this work, and it’s all hands-on-deck for this transformative change. The effective adoption of OER needs a center of gravity, as my colleague Nate Angell says. Whether it’s a TLC or your VPI. Whether it’s your best adjunct or your President. There has to be A Person who helps keep everything a and everyone together. Every spoke is only has strong its hub.

The best institutions have a inter-departmental strategies to help faculty. If you can do all of the hard work of organizing the space, marketing the mission, validating the mission, and executing the idea—the better off you are at the center. You have to be patient. You, as the leader, may be ready to do the Lindy Hop, but your dancers are still figuring out their partners and their music. That’s okay. You have to be patient. We pay a lot of lip service about meeting students where they are. Why don’t we do the same for teachers?

Every workshop I have done lately, I’ve started by asking faculty what they want to learn. I take notes. I listen. I try to solve problems. The hard part about writing an article about this work is that I won’t get to ask my readers that question. You hope what you write is of some use. You hope that somebody gets something from it.

Whatever my article becomes, my center of gravity is to tell my circle teachers the same message.

You can do this too.

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The Right Kind Of Eyes

Over the last couple of weeks, I traveled 8, 496 miles by foot, by plane, by car, by thoughts and dreams. I’ve moved into a new role where I travel to do workshops, and I’ll be honest: I love working with teachers so let me show real affection by writing grammatically fraught sentences about my new jobby job.

Before I arrived home, I hadn’t cooked a meal in 18 days. Ridden a bike in 17 days. Seen my mister and our beloved pup in 16 days.

But then again I should see the positive: I hugged someone I haven’t seen in 15 years.

For the first time 14 years, my friends went backpacking without me (don’t hate me y’all, I’ll make it up to you). I suffered 13 days without good coffee. Oh, I tried 12 different new hoppy beers. Traveled to 11 different states. Did not sleep well for 10 days. Helped facilitate 9 very different yet similar workshops. Lost the concept of an 8-hour work day.

Laid on a beach for 7 hours only to scorch the hell out of my skin. Visited 6 different academic institutions. Laughed out loud alone 5 times in public. Told the same joke 4 different ways. Bought 3 cannoli from my favorite deli in Boston’s North End and ate them all while people watching. Got seriously lost 2 times because of a dead cell phone.

All for one thing: I love talking to teachers and teacher leaders about open education.

Teachers fill the hole where the students used to be as my colleague/friend Alexis says.

I’m still processing this trip and another one is about to begin, so let me tell you a story instead.

I had a magical weekend in Rhode Island at Newport. I got blistered by the sun, but let me go on.

I went to First Beach alone at night to listen to the waves and a drink a beer. Tiny little crabs covered the beach. The sound of the tide was deafening. Saw the blinking lights of sail boats on the horizon. Heard sounds of beach parties in the distance. Laughter from a couple I tried to ignore as they walked by. Stars.

I grabbed some hours to myself in Newport because I’ve always wanted to check out that slice of America. Lovely. Hectic. Touristy. Humid. History-rich. Hot. Expensive. Nice place to visit. Beautiful. It felt glorious and lucky to be close to an ocean that won’t give you hypothermia when you walk into it. The Pacific, as much as I love the Northwest, does not fulfill the need that I have for warm waters. Hot springs. Baths. Showers. Beaches of the Atlantic.

Being at the ocean felt particularly wonderful since I had been reading Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan.

Finnegan witnessed the surfing craze of the 1960s in America while growing up in Hawaii and California, and he went on to travel the world chasing waves while discovering his inner rider and writer. I envy him. Not for the time period with which he lived, but for the days he lived just chasing waves. His memoir is a bildungsroman from male middle class America. Having never surfed before, I’ve always been intrigued with the beauty and the grace of riding a wave. As a fan of the “arm-chair travel writing” genre and, wait for it, the memoir, I fall for a writer who can make me understand his passion. His love. His motivation. His vision. Her passion. Her love. Her motivation. Her vision. You see. You know this.

Finnegan’s book reads like a really lovely long New Yorker essay.

There is one chapter that I love from Finnegan where he reflects on a picture that frustrated him because the photographer captured the moment after the moment that felt special to him.

Did you catch that? The moment after The Moment.

What he owned. What he cherished. What he wanted to remember. For fans of Roland Barthes, the photographer celebrates the studium while Finnegan mourned the absence of the punctum. To another viewer, I’m sure both could be present. Or absent.

Finnegan describes The Moment he wishes was captured:

[he] disappeared into that wave. That was a shot that [he] coveted: not this moment of anticipation, was the heart of the ride. But pictures are not about what a ride felt like; they are about what ride look like to others…[this shot] shows a dark sea; my memory of that wave, meanwhile is drenched in silver light (p. 314).

What the ride looks like to others. The wave. The surf. To others. What the photo captures. What he remembers. His memory of the wave “drenched in silver light.” Gorgeous.

He goes on:

Style was everything in surfing—how graceful your moves, how quick your reactions, how clever your solutions to the puzzles presented, how deeply carved and cleanly linked your turns, even what you did with your hands. Great surfers could make you gasp with the beauty of what they did. They could make the hardest moves look easy. Casual power, the proverbial grace under pressure, these were our beau ideals. Pull in to a heaving barrel, come out cleanly. Act like you’ve been there before. Make it look good (p 334).

It’s easy to see his New Yorker essay style here:

gawking at the transformation of ordinary seawater into beautifully muscled swell, into feathering urgency, into pure energy, impossibly sculpted, especially edged, and finally into violent foam (p. 335)


He claims that surfers are oceanographers, and there is pure no science to understanding the sea. At this point in the book, he’s really hit the sweet spot of helping a non-surfer see how surfing is music, science, art, and skill (p. 335). Although he is not comfortable with calling surfing a religion, he’s at his best when explains how he learns to see the ocean during his best days surfing. How the ocean is never predictable. Never the same. Never easy to predict. Never easy to claim. Never still.

And guess what? All I could think about was the art of teaching and learning. How many teachers are facing the same challenges. How there is no pure science to understanding how to teach. How learning is never predictable. How technology feels like this unpredictable wave getting in the way of teaching. How there is an ocean of choices.

As I’ve met teachers all over the country, I can’t help but put myself into their shoes. How I want to leave them thinking, I can do this too.

Nobody has summed up this feeling for me better than the recent post from Sean Morris:

Pedagogy is an agile business, and it is also the demesne of compassionate labor. Without agility and compassion, the management of technological infrastructure doesn’t support learning.

…we forget that the most valuable technology in education is people, and their willingness and capacity for invention, discovery, and reinvention.

With the right kind of eyes, you see the people first, not the technology. Always. Yes.


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800 Word Memoir: Chin Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a habit I can’t break.

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

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

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


 Tarot Card of the Week: Queen of Swords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Might still be a good idea somewhere.

Like here.

~800 word memoir

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400 Word Memoir: Kickball

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

Quick story about playing kickball (a memoir):

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

A gaggle of  millennial hipster kids were playing kickball.

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

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

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

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


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

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

There was no other ball.

Game over.

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

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

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

No worries, he lied. Fake smile.

Eventually Elroy and I walked away. Wished them well.

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

Geez, I felt bad. Walked away faster.

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

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

I let him off the leash. Click.

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


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

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

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

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

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Caring Is Sharing Is Caring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Education Changed Everything For Me: A Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. New products 2. Consumer behavior 3. Popularity

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

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

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

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

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

Berger writes:

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

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

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

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

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

When we care, we share (96).

When we care about education, we share.

When we feel special, we share.

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

Truth be told, I dwell in Possibility.

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In Medias Res

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

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

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

People In Technology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

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

Here’s the other thing.

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

This I understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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