Showing posts with label connecting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label connecting. Show all posts

My Two Hats in Higher Education: Adjunct Faculty & Instructional Designer

So this winter, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to write a piece for The Nexus, a publication for the Massachusetts College Personnel Association about my work as an Instructional Designer and Adjunct.  I took her up on the offer and here is an excerpt.  You can read the full article here.

The Nexus - February 2015 with an article from Lance Eaton.
"I wear two hats in higher education.  My first hat is pretty beaten up but still invaluable.  That’s my adjunct hat.  It’s a hat that I’ve dawned for some eight years and over 100 college sections.  If that math seems like it’s more the speed of a full-time instructor, you might be right.  Several years of part-time teaching included the adjunct shuffle wherein I scooted from college to college (4-5 per semester), stitching together a living.  These included community colleges, state universities, private colleges and for-profit colleges.  What can I say; I got around.  Much of that ceased when I became Coordinator of Instructional Design at North Shore Community College, my second hat.  I continue to teach courses because I still love teaching and also find that it aids me greatly in my role as instructional designer.

Connect With Us
In the adjunct hat, if there is one thing I would advocate to any part of the college to do in order for us to better help you is to make a concerted effort to connect with us.  The research shows that connecting with someone on campus is a major predictor of completion at a college and that an instructor is one of the most common people a student is likely to connect with.  Thus, it’s worth remembering that part-time faculty teach somewhere between half and two-thirds of college courses nowadays.  Fostering a strong relationship with part-time faculty provides additional layers of communication and support for the students."

Follow through for the rest of the piece in The Nexus.

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The #IceBucketChallege, Activism and Spotlights

So by now, many of us have heard about the #IceBucketChallenge for ALS.  A good amount of us have participated in it and still others have written and reported upon it.  This has been an interesting campaign that has been highly success for the ALS Association in raising awareness of the illness and what the organization does.  I was recently tagged and performed my own #IceBucketChallenge with my fiance since we were both challenged by her brother.  Of course, we followed through with a donation (above the $10 mark for each of us) and we nominated others to meet the challenge and to donate.  Here is our video:

There are plenty of people doing it but there are also lots of questions and concerns being raised about it as can be seen from the Twitter stream:

And of course, it was interesting to see how some people have tried to build upon the success of ALS and encourage support for their own causes such as the #SunBlockChallenge from BexxFine who does fundraising for the Melanoma Education Foundation.  

ALS in the Spotlight

We were nominated on Tuesday and planned to do it on Wednesday (you have 24 hours to accomplish it).  But between Tuesday's nomination and Wednesday's execution, I read a post by a friend on Facebook that got me to thinking differently about the whole thing.

The debate about whether the ALS #IceBucketChallenge is actual activism or slactivism has created lots of writing and reflecting.  There are plenty of examples online wherein the people performing it get it all wrong, fail to mention ALS in their video, fail to donate, or fail to make themselves more aware of what ALS is and the whole reason for the #IceBucketChallenge.  This criticism of the viral movement can be understood and has clear similarities to the Kony2012 viral movement.  Of course, there are differences here too.  Each action (whether you go for the bucket or forgo it) should entail a donation to ALSA and they have reported a significant increase in donations compared to the previous year (currently, well pass double the amount from last year).  While some still argue that more time and money are being wasted, I think that's questionable at best.  Giving and receiving donations are tricky things and there has to be some stickiness to encourage people to do it.  In this case, that people are "nominated" or tagged to do it, that there's some entertainment, and some pressure (24 hours) generates a more rewarding and engaging experience and that's important for both the people donating and the organization.  We have this ideal conception of all giving being this altruistic approach with nothing to be gained from the giver but the reward of giving.  And while there are kernels of truth in this, we also live in a system (capitalism) that repeatedly tells us that this is not the way to operate and therefore, we often need more than just that good-feeling to motivate us to act charitable.  Coupled with this, of course, is the fact that so many different causes pull at our heart-strings, it's hard to decide which ones to pick.  

And Then Robin Williams Changed The Game

The post that my friend posted, struck a chord--not just in me--but in many of his friends as well.  In the post, he raised the question about where we should shine spotlights and while ALS is important, it's sometimes hard to recognize the attention that it is getting and how the discussion around mental health and suicide is much trickier to deal or as easily rally people around.  

Image: Robin Williams.  Source: Robin Williams--a man that made so many people laugh and smile--a man whose movies so often found the inner hope within all of us--should commit suicide is a bit heart-wrenching.  It also reminds of that depression and depression-associated suicide is an equally real and tragic experience for everyone around.  In that, there's a horribly democratic element to depression that can also make it harder to talk about or create a rallying movement around.  After all, if it affects 1/5 of the population, it can be hard to feel like there is much that can be done.  It's also a sinister thing, depression.  It can lie in the shadows waiting to strike hard directly or suffer the person a thousand little cuts. I have another friend who posted the following about depression while writing this post that I thought in many ways got to the center of the challenge.  

Eryk Nielsen - Thoughts on Depression Part 1
Eryk Nielsen - Thoughts on Depression Part 2

Now for regular readers of this blog (all 2 of you), I've mentioned before about the trials and challenges I've had with depression and suicide attempts.  In reading about Robin Williams' cause of death, I took it a bit harder than I would have were it another celebrity in part because Williams was such a centerpiece of entertainment growing up, but also because his roles and messages carried  much meaning for me and were often uplifting.  One of my favorite movies of his and one that had a lot of impact on me while I struggled out of my depression and suicidal tendencies was What Dreams May Come.  It was a film that gave me another way of thinking about death and helped me think differently about a lot of things related to depression and suicide.

My friends both connected ideas that were circling in my head and many others out there who were reconciling their experiences or experiences of people they cared about.  Like Neil, I don't mean to belittle the #IceBucketChallenge but would like to acknowledge the importance of mental illness and the ways it impacts many of us directly and indirectly.  To that end, in addition to donating to the ALSA, I also decided to make a donation to National Association of Mental Illness to help find ways of helping others who find themselves unwell and unable to help themselves.  I would encourage you to donate as well if you have felt the impact of mental illness in your life.  

But more than donating, I would encourage you to reach out not just to people who you know have mental illness but just to everyone in your circle.  I think one of the biggest challenges around depression, suicide and the like is that it often goes unnoticed.  It is often an invisible illness.  I know in my own history, it was cryptic at best.  I left clues, but at the same time, they were clear clues to me because I knew what I was experiencing, whereas to others, they had little context to understand how that one comment or action was part of a larger pattern--part of a bigger call for help. That is all to say that I have no doubt we all have people who are suffering in some capacity and a friend reaching out to them could be just the something needed to help them out.  Finding ways of supporting people we care about in our life is probably the best thing we can do in the wake of Robin Williams' death.

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Letter to the Editor: Don’t blame it all on the cellphone

Here's another letter to the editor published.  It's on texting while driving.  It's not my first one critiquing the discussion the texting while driving.  There was this first one published last year and this other one I had published a few months ago.

Letter to the Editor at Salem News:

"Two letters begged readers to take the pledge not to text while driving. They tell us things like, 'There is nothing more tragic than a death caused by texting while driving.' Really? We can’t imagine bigger tragedies? Let’s use those smartphones (while parked, of course) to find innumerable daily events that are indeed 'more tragic.'"

For reference to the two letters, I'm referring to, check out this link and this link.

For my full letter to the editor, click on through here.

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Thinking about Learning Part 2: Designing for Learning

In the first post, I reflected on what learning is and what it means as an individual to be a life-long learner.  In this post, I tackle what learning might mean for us as instructors and instructional designers. 

Defining learning seems like an insurmountable task.  Ultimately, we’re trying to find a definition for what is an extremely personal and contextual experience.  To me, a self-defined life-long learner, it’s like trying to define love.  There are generic definitions out there that can easily be thrown into the ring and fit some people, but I am doubtful of their ability to capture what it actually means to each and every person.

It’s worth starting with the very basics of learning in order to tackle this challenge.  Learning at its most simple and watered down form, is change.  This change can be internal (e.g. thoughts) or external (actions).  This change can be intentional such as acquiring a foreign language or unintentional such as acquiring your first language (at least early on, it is not necessarily conscious).  The change can be proactive such as training your body to endure a marathon or it can be reactive, instinctively retracting your hand when something gets too hot.  The changes can be multiple or singular in nature.  The changes could also be temporary or permanent.  When learning occurs, a change has occurred in the learner that may or may not be permanent.  The change can be formal (classroom), informal (looking something up), and coincidental (occurring without intention).  And there isn't always direct correlation between setting and experience.  That is, seeking purposeful change (going to class) could easily result in coincidental change (learning about something entirely unrelated to what you set out to learn, e.g. how much gum is under the desk you sit at).

Despite that all kinds of learning occurs in groups, learning is largely situated in the individual and the context which he or she brings to a given moment.  Learning is still an individual experience made meaningful by the individual's own frame(s).  Two people may be able to learn the same thing, but that speaks more to the common experiences (and learning) of the two humans that help them learn something new.  That is, two people in a graduate class have many shared similar experiences and are able to both learn something—not necessarily because they are part of a group per se, but because their experiences may have led them down similar paths.  For instance, they have both assimilated (to varying degrees) the skills required to show they are competent to pass high school (or acquire their GED)—which doesn’t mean they know the same skills since there is still a lot of variation of experience and learning that goes on in elementary, middle, and high school.  They have also acquired the skill sets (again, which could be very different) to acquire a bachelor’s degree.  Within all those experiences, even if they are extremely different, lie many overlapping experiences.  They have a fair share of tacit knowledge about how the system works (or rather, how they as individuals work the particular system).   Thus when they both learn something, they may have learned it and assimilate different things.  That learning experience (change) exists individually in both of them, not mutually.  Another way to think of this is the following.  If John and Jane both learn that 2+2=4, they each hold that model in their own head, able to reproduce it without the other person present or invovled.  They learned it individually in their minds, even if they were both physically present.  Actual group knowledge would seem to only be capable of existing if telepathy were possible. 

This is where teaching gets tricky.  Because we're teaching to many individuals, but we're often referring to them and thinking of them as a group.  We refer to them in their entirety instead (the class, the course, "them") instead of individually.  While inevitably some reader will say, "that's not true, I think of my students as individuals," our means of referring to them are as a group and we often shape the class around managing, guiding, and facilitating the group.  Occasionally, we defer to the individual (e.g. student-teacher conferences) but that's the exception to the semester engagement, not the rule (unless it's an independent study).  

Given the multiple facets of learning--some which are objective and some of which are subjective--it remains a challenge to capture it and to plan for it in any legitimate sense, but only superficially.  It reminds me of what a Professor Michael Drout, said about writing and audience.  One cannot really write for his or her "audience," if the audience is more than a handful of people because it is impossible to hold those individuals within the mind while crafting.  Crafting learning experiences tend to be the same way.  We can try to craft for the group, but ultimately, we can't craft a learning experience that fits right with all the nuances of any individual (This is part of why adaptive learning programs are all the hype because they--in very limited capacities right now--hone into the individual learner, recognizing--or at least trying to--that he or she has a specific context and experience).  

Shaping learning experiences beyond the individual is extremely limiting and complicated.  And yes, many instructors are successful at it, but nearly all of them can pinpoint or identify a class that it just didn't work out.  Something didn't click.  

All of this is posited even before opening the Pandora’s box of learning styles, types, modes, modalities or whatever other buzz word we want to throw in there.  Therefore, all elements of learning can affect the instructional process, but in all likelihood, only a  fraction of said elements are going to be acknowledged, never mind addressed in teaching.  That learning still occurs speaks more to the adaptability and learning dynamics of the learners more than the purposeful practice of the instructors.  That may sound like a harsh judgment of instructors and instructional designers but it has more to do with the systems in which they are placed to create the best learning experience, despite a range of variables that must contend with, making them akin to meteorologists, accountable for the weather when all they are trying to do is predict outcomes when there is so much to account for.  Because in the end, instructors and instructional designers are assigned to create or help create learning experiences that are for a large audience (bigger than a handful of people) and not a singular person. 

This is not to say it's a lost cause, but it is one that I think we're currently flailing with.  At the college level, we complicate an individual's learning in many unnecessary ways.  For example, many of us dictate the terms of learning to the student without taking into consideration who the students are (except at a very superficial level).  We often say that it is the student's responsibility and if things don't match up, then it's the student's responsibility to change classes.  Of course, we ignore that most instructors wait until the last possible moment (the first day of class) to share anything more about the course than the generic course description.  Thus, after the student has arranged his or her schedule to make sense, the student is left either trying to re-arrange his or her schedule again at the last minute or deal with the class even if it doesn't fit.  That doesn't sound like we're setting the student up for learning but for failure.  Why put such unnecessary obstacles in students way?

There are ways we can find to individualize the course without detracting the from the quality.  In the end, this is probably going to mean a bit more work in terms of how we craft our courses, but it's also going to mean a better reward in terms of student success.  If we continue to craft for the group and not for the individual learning, we're going to continue to be challenged by other nontraditional forms of education that have recognized this and are impacting education.  

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Social Media & Educational Usage: Some (very) Preliminary Results

Today, I will be presenting at the Massachusetts Community College:  Teaching, Learning and Student Development Conference on the topic of social media and higher education.  For those that attended the session or are interested in looking at some of the resources such as the social media and higher education survey, its results, the presentation resources or the presentation itself (also embedded, down below), check out these links.  I will have a follow up post about the presentation and bit more details about the results.
The presentation abstract was as follows:  The rhetoric of social media boils down to being a miracle of the modern age or a clear sign of society’s self-destructive tendencies.  To this end, faculty and schools often fail in engaging their students through social media in meaningful ways.  So while colleges help equip students for the physical world, they poorly prepare them for the digital world.  This presentation looks at the ways and the whys for faculty and colleges to maintain a strong social media presence to aid and act as a role model for students in the digital world.  Just like faculty role model in students’ physical worlds, it becomes increasing important for faculty to be role models as digital citizens and work to develop students’ digital identities.  In an age in which applicants are Googled by interviewers, it’s important that faculty guide and encourage students to consciously maintain a public identity that both speaks to who they are and how they conduct themselves in this ambiguous and emerging new public sphere.  This workshop will address some of the concerns and misaligned fears about social media, identify some of the reasons and ways faculty can role model good digital identity, and provide some ways of constructing clear guidelines about productive social media between faculty and students.

The project as a whole has been a fascinating look at the experiences of students and faculty with regards to their interactions via social media.  It's a project I will continue to pursue and explore most likely as a central piece to a doctorate.

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