Tag Archives: Community College

Utopia College and the Binary


After noticing the use of the binary argument at so many recent conferences and chatting about it with Mike Caulfied and Alyson Indrunas, I actually then dared, half in jest, to throw out the word “utopia” at NWeLearn’s ending panel discussion. I was only using it half in jest…so I think it is important to clarify how that word is being used, so as to not paint everyone with the same rainbow-and-unicorn-utopian colored brush.

There are those who judge the ideas being offered  by others as utopian. Mike Caulfield describes this experience at #dLrn15 in his recent blog post:

“I think it’s utopian,” they said, “You’re not going to eliminate all online nastiness with a different software format.”

I looked over my presentation to try to find the spot where we reached the Age of Aquarius via some Node server installs. I saw a lot of places where I said we could be doing much better, but couldn’t find the places where we cured all ills.”

Then there are those, like me in my flippant utopian comment during the panel session, trying to make a distinction about the places (physical and mindset) from which some of those ideas are being generated as utopian or, perhaps, elitest (choose your adjective).

When the term higher education gets defined by the likes of a Harvard, MIT, or Stanford, it rarely, if ever, resembles the higher education with which I am familiar and go to work in every day at a rural open door community college in eastern Washington State. The perch from where the monied (and even not-so-monied) four-year, selective entrance schools view issues in higher ed (from the plight of the adjunct to available technology to the abilities of the students in the classrooms) is covered in assumptions that my students are just like theirs, that they enter college being able to read and write at a collegiate level, that they have devices to bring to campus for BYOD initiatives, that they have time to spare between their jobs and their families to attend full time, and the list goes on.

It’s great that we have the likes of Mike Caulfield or Jesse Stommel, who deliver aspirational ideas to address some of the ills of higher ed, and push the boundaries “so far out of the mainstream of practice you have to squint to see them.”  Their ideas, however, start from the mainstream. The Everycollege. And then ask us to push our own boundaries. There isn’t an assumption of privilege to the Federated Wiki or of the Ivy League to rethink a gradebook.

The community college is ground zero of higher education. The canary in the higher education coal mine. No matter the metaphor, until the definition of higher education expands to be inclusive all of us when looking for solutions, the utopia term may still be needed.  Not for those including us in their boundary-pushing discussions like Jesse and Mike, but for those who teach in Utopia College and don’t even realize community colleges are a part of the conversation.



Filed under teaching and learning

In Defense of *gasp* Facebook

Now stop. Stop right there. I know what you’re going to say.

“Facebook? Really? Corporate-sellout-advertisement-blitzing-privacy-invading-newsfeed-tweaking-Facebook? You’re defending it?????”

Oh. The horror.

Bombs blowing up new york

Okay, so not end of the world, maybe?

Here’s the deal. I have no great love or hate for Facebook.  It is what it is. A free, stable social media site that is available on every platform, with a complicated set of privacy settings it keeps trying to simplify.

Buyer beware.

As my friend Jane Bozarth says, “If you don’t like it, ask for your money back.”

For those who didn’t (or haven’t yet) raised college age kids in the mid 2000’s forward, you’re forgiven for not understanding. But when the darlin’s leave for school and they stop calling (or answering your calls) because they are too busy, sometimes the only way to keep in touch or have a conversation with them is to exchange a text or read a post on Facebook.

When my son’s college degree was interrupted by a deployment to Iraq in 2007, Facebook kept me reassured of his relative safety, and that he was finding a way to use humor to cope with the stresses of war (which helped me cope with the stresses of being a soldier’s mom).

soldier in front of broken truck with sign that reads I can fix it

And last summer, when I went to my 30th high school reunion, I spent the weekend with contemporary friends rather than strangers who I once knew 30 years ago.  The experience was so much richer because we had current shared experiences as well as past ones – even though the current ones had been virtual.  (And where a funny image from 1984 – top photo –  could then become the running joke and gold standard by 2014 – bottom photo).

Everyone turned facing backward in bottom photo

What does all of this have to do with this blog’s blatherings about teaching, learning, and higher ed?


When I participate in awesome open learning experiences like Mike Caulfield‘s  Fedwiki Happening or stumble into the new-to-me world of Rhizomatic learning that is Dave Cormier‘s  #Rhizo15, I do so because I have interest not-so-much in the openness of the learning, but in the connectedness of the learning experience (and it’s rather difficult to have the one without the other).

 I am challenged by the research being done and shared by the big R1 schools, and “the University Of’s” , and the Ivy Leaguers, and the international schools through these open learning opportunities. The Big Schools have big staffs and big budgets to implement big thoughts.  I enjoy the experience of connecting with these big thinkers, the creative thinkers, and the outlandish thinkers all.

I, however, work in a small community college in a forgotten part of the southeast corner of Washington State.  We don’t do research. And we aren’t selective. Every 10 weeks, we educate anyone who walks through the door, which means we offer a lot of developmental math and English, ESL, ABE, I-BEST, and the rest of the alphabet soup of programs meant to take people from where they are and get them to a decent paying job or on their way to a four year school.

So this is where I fork Amy Collier‘s Not-yetness and suggest that perhaps we need to make room for a bit of a continuum of emergence. The ideas of not-yetness at an MIT or Standford are so far beyond the realm of my little community college that they would intimidate or even shut down emerging technology discussion for all but a few of the most technologically-edgy of faculty at my school.

But Facebook, good ol’ Facebook, almost the grandpa of social media now, is a kind of “not-yetness” on my campus. (Not to mention it has a nearly flat-line learning curve which is important for a 10 week quarter). The idea of opening a class to social media of any kind is not-yetness here. The use of Facebook groups is not-yetness here. The connectedness of letting outsiders participate with students in a class via Facebook is very not-yetness here.

It’s learning.

It’s connecting.

It’s kind of messy.

And it’s definitely not-yetness. Here. On my end of the continuum.

Note: In Cormier’s opening post to #Rhizo15 he states, “FacebookI have so many mixed feelings about Facebook… but i do know that it totally works for some people. The course group for #rhizo15 is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1516869091918393/

It’s okay, Dave. The posts are flying in the RhizoFbGroup. And so far, it’s the only place I’ve connected with #Rhizo15. It seems Rhizo’s not-yetness in Facebook is just about now.


Filed under teaching and learning

Finding the Right Road – Brick Yellow or Not

I’ve got a busy quarter going on, busier than my usual super busy.  I needed to refresh my time in the online teaching trenches. Too much time in the old administrator’s seat makes a gal forget what grading is like, I thought. (Quit laughing, I can hear you). I convinced the Computer Science department to let me take over an entry level course on Microsoft Office applications and proceeded to design the course in my style.No biggie! No sweat! Half of it is graded by Cengage! (Note to self: Exclamation points do not make it true!)

Holy crap.

Did you know redesigning a course from someone else’s style takes longer than if you just start from scratch? (Insert sarcastic eye roll).

Anyway, I managed to get the course together in time, in my style, and on January 6th we were off and running…on top of my overly full time jobby job (as Alyson Indrunas would say) as the elearning admin.

Holy double crap. You’d think I’d know better.

Flying MonkiesMoonlighting is hard – I don’t care if it is online. What the hell was I thinking?

For the first month of juggling my 50+ hour full time job and a new-to-me online course, I felt like Dorothy in Oz…there were flying monkies of chaos everywhere!

Flash forward a month or so, and I’ve kind of found my rythm on that brick road. Don’t get me wrong…I won’t do this  again for a long while, but it has been good for me to dust off my ruby teaching slippers (okay okay, I’ll stop now) and get back online with students.

In the past I’ve always taught composition, literature, or professional development classes online.  These were all heavy discussion-based classes and, naturally, building a strong community  was important to get the students talking both with each other and with me. Wanting to keep the community together, I’d always released modules (and their discussions) just one week ahead – so early bird students could get started on the assignments, but they couldn’t leave their discussion community behind.

This course, however, is more independent. It’s each student versus Microsoft Office 2013…a grudge match.  (Most students were winning the fight, btw, until the tag team of Excel and Access entered the ring…now it’s a toss up).

Because of the nature of the content and the sheer quantity of skills to be learned in ten short weeks, there is little time for discussion and no real time for group work. I decided to go against my usual style and I opened the entire course from the beginning.  There are due dates for each module, but there is nothing preventing students from working ahead…in fact I encouraged them to work ahead on stuff they knew, to give them more time to deal with the data brothers who I thought might give them a harder time…

My more Type A working style students have loved it – no one is holding them back.  My more Type B working style students are being pushed by regular deadlines to progress through the course in a timely manner.  For this content and these community college entry level students, this sort of differentiated pacing seems to be just about right.

As you may know I am participating in the Fedwiki Teaching Machine project – and while writing about SRA cards for that, I actually started thinking about my CS 110 class.  I loved SRA as a 4th grader (shout out to Mark Twain Elementary!) for exactly the same reasons my  students like the lack of closed modules in my online course– I didn’t like being slowed down to someone else’s timeline. I loved reading, and I liked the challenge in accumulating those little colored cards and moving to the next color! Other students needed the due date push — I didn’t. My teacher needed to accomodate all of us learners. With SRA we had flexibility. With other content, our community was more structured as the content and students dictated interactivity requirements.

We’ve changed a lot of things in education and ed tech, but in the end, the trick always has been about finding what works to get the content connected with the students, and the students with each other when needed.

And just like Dorothy, we’ve known what works all along.


Filed under teaching and learning

Today is a Different Reality

This is the start of a new quarter at my community college and we, like many, are mired in budget issues, enrollment issues, hiring crises, etc.  You know, the usual kerfluffles that make up higher ed.  To escape the quagmire, I look for inspiration among my super smart writer-type friends who add their thoughts about leadership, learning, and other areas I am interested to the blogosphere.

Yesterday, I read a post on Marcia Conner’s blog that has stuck with me all day – I even forwarded it to my dean. (By the way, if you aren’t following Marcia, you should be).

The full post is here, but the part that hooked me is this (written by Garry Ridge, CEO of the WD-40 company):

“You have to separate those responsible for today from those responsible for tomorrow.” A light went off in my head as I realized the implications for WD-40. The company had gotten where it was with a team of people responsible for today. The company had done the same thing for more than 40 years–and its culture, management style, and leadership were deeply embedded in maintaining the status quo. If we wanted to develop a culture that could take us into tomorrow, we’d have to expand our tolerance for risk, devote more energy to learning, and actively court change.

Bam. Mind blown.

Substitute “higher ed” for the word “WD-40”  and “college” for “company” in that quote, and…and…and what?

There are Tomorrow Culture team members in higher ed – but we lack critical mass, both nationally, and in our own little community college backyards. To move forward we have to recognize that today is a different reality and we need to try different approaches.

The question isn’t whether we want to expand our TC team or not – that ship has sailed – we must, or risk becoming irrelevant.

The real question is how?


Filed under Uncategorized

Muppets Revisted (Again)


If you haven’t read this already…consider it my Christmas-Chanukah-Fetivus-Thursday gift:

Confessions of Community College Dean: Muppets Revisted

You’re welcome.

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Filed under Uncategorized