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All People > Laura Gibbs > Laura Gibbs' Blog > 2018 > November

The week ran away with me and I missed doing a post here for Week 12 (and I missed out probably on lots of convos here too), but in the spirit of #TotalCoLearner, I wanted to share this great article that I saw via Twitter:

Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes: Try Writing with Your Students


Here's the concluding paragraph, and the whole post is worth reading -- plus it has links to follow up on:

Writing alongside your students will fundamentally alter your relationship with what you teach, how you teach it, and how you relate to students. And as this relationship begins to shift, so will your relationship to the writing instruction that’s going on around you. You will (re)connect with the transformative potential of literacy and the power of words to bind us together. It’s a way to come home to a profession that seems so bent on throwing up hurdles between what we do and why we do it.


My experience being a student in my class has completely confirmed this. Before, I was co-writing with my students through my use of blogs and blogging. My students blogged; I blogged -- we were blogging and learning about blogging together.


This semester, though, it's been even richer and more rewarding: I've been doing the actual writing assignments for my class and sharing those assignments in my class blog and also in a class project website (one's that right there on the list of class projects with the other students'), and I feel so much more in touch with the class that way -- more in touch with the students, more in touch with the assignments, and also more in touch with the rhythms of the semester (I sometimes find myself using the grace period to finish up the work, just as my students do).


I've actually been doing the WHOLE class as a student, not just the writing assignments, but that's an unusual situation because of how my classes are set up. They are online, and no quizzes or exams... just reading, writing, and sharing but no grading, which means I can participate in the classes 100% as a regular student. That's not so easy to do if you teach in a classroom, have quizzes and exams, grading, etc. ... but even if you are teaching in a classroom using a more-or-less traditional course design, you can definitely write side by side with your students. I highly recommend it, and so does Mr. Anderson in his blog post. Here's that link again! :-)


Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes: Try Writing with Your Students


Reflect in the workflow with others.
... and that can mean your students!

I devoted my morning coffee today to reading an EXCELLENT article by Michael Feldstein over at e-Literate:
Toward a Methodology of Change in Higher Ed


And I would also urge people to read the lead-in piece for this one, especially the part about what it means to be a "socially empirical" educator -- I've always considered myself to be a "connected educator," and with the Empirical project Michael and Phil Hill and their co-conspirators are really pushing those of us who have a social network as educators to think about how we can take that to a new level.
Climbing the Ladder of Empirical Education


So in this new "methodology of change" piece, Michael is pushing at the importance of the role of colleges and universities and the EDUCATORS who work there to take the lead in shifting higher education into a strongly student-centric and student-success-oriented mode of operations, which is a very fundamental shift in the way higher education operates.


Michael provides a great overview of how early attempts to make this shift have come from educational vendors, like textbook companies and ed-tech companies, who have been talking about student success and promoting student success strategies for a while now, but without effective ways to collaborate with educators. Michael provides some examples from D2L and Blackboard, although he doesn't mention Instructure-Canvas -- and I would really want to single out Canvas Community here as being a really creative and useful attempt by Instructure to create a space where that kind of collaboration can happen, along with the great boost we get from K-12 members of the Community who are already working in environments that are far more student-centric than higher ed ever will be. People who know me know that I've been a harsh critic of the LMS world for many years, but Instructure has proven to me that they are serious about conversations with and among educators, and the resources they devote here to the Community is proof positive of that. So even though I am an extreme LMS-minimalist, I value the opportunity to learn and share here at the Community, especially the opportunity to learn and share with K-12 educators and also higher ed people beyond the U.S.


So, after reviewing that business context, Michael then moves on to discuss how and where he sees change coming, albeit slowly, to higher ed -- and for people who are not familiar with the e-Literate Empirical Educator project, it's very much worth reading about, and it gives you an idea about the vantage point from which Michael is able to watch some of these developments happening close up.


One observation I want to add from my own school is something that is not covered in Michael's overview. I teach at an R1 research university, and what I see happening at my school is the emergence of a class of para-educators I guess you could call them, student service professionals who are engaged in student-success initiatives even if there is not much movement among the tenured/tenure-track faculty. I'm guessing my school is not unusual in that regard. Our new president has recently made his #1 goal for us to "double our research" in the next 5 years. I don't know what that means (nobody really does), but it's clear that, whatever "doubling our research" means, there will be even more pressure on faculty to spend more time on research and chasing research funding, which almost inevitably means that they will pay a huge price, personally and/or professionally, for spending any additional time on their teaching.


Meanwhile, however, my school has also devoted some serious effort and resources over the past few years by developing some good student success programs. For example, there has been a strong focus on 1st and 2nd year students, with a push for better 1st-year retention rates, based on the assumption that this is going to be the best way to boost our 4-year and 6-year graduation rates. And it's working: our 1st-year retention rates, which we never even used to talk about, are now going up!


So I am excited about the examples Michael has shared here (and other things I've learned from reading about the Empirical Educator project) and I am proud of the student success initiatives at my school, but it is actually still very much the case that at my school the faculty themselves "have been given no reason to change" -- and the resources being devoted to student success efforts are not going into faculty development, but instead into other student success professionals.


And you know, maybe that is a good thing at an R1 school, right? If we have faculty who come out of intensely competitive research-oriented graduate programs who are hired on the expectation that they will be doing ground-breaking research and winning huge research grants, those are not necessarily going to be the most likely candidates for being "empirical educators." Some of them will be, yes, but there are also faculty members who really are going to be researchers first and educators second (even a distant second). And, even among those who see themselves as dedicated educators, they are not necessarily going to pitch their efforts towards students who are struggling. In fact, their educational philosophy may even run counter to that effort, seeing it as pandering, catering, coddling, etc. (I've heard it all). 


But there's the thing: I wish that in addition to hiring all these student success professionals my school would more seriously consider 100% teaching faculty -- and that's where you run into real resistance. If it's a matter of academic hires, the academic departments strongly want those to be tenure-track lines, and tenure is all about research. It's not very realistic to expect that will change. In fact, I was told last summer that I should start looking for another job because my non-traditional / non-tenured instructor position is in jeopardy due to budget cuts and layoffs -- although I did survive the first round of layoffs which happened last week, and I will just keep hoping that my own student success efforts will count for something when they get around to layoffs in my college.


Anyway, that's all I have time for right now, but I do want to come back to Michael's piece here and say something about the teaching of WRITING in particular, since I think it is a really good case in point that is highly resistant to tech solutions. Writing is NOT a content-area, but instead a set of complex and highly subjective skills that are notoriously difficult to teach. But for now I just wanted to say kudos to Michael for this great take on the student success movement in higher ed. If you have any time at all this week to read something, read this essay and see how it resonates with what you see happening on your higher ed campus! Here's the link again:

Toward a Methodology of Change in Higher Ed



Empirical educators:

we're learning about learning together.


two cats paying with mouse on string


I just realized I forgot to do my #TotalCoLearner post here over the weekend, but it's not too late to reflect on Week 11... in fact, it's a good opportunity to snag some times from Twitter conversations that happened by chance yesterday, and some Canvas folks chimed in along with others.


It all started with a post from Kelvin Thompson (I wish we could lure him here to the Community; I have learned so much from our intersecting online -- if you are on Twitter or thinking about giving Twitter a try, connect with Kelvin: @kthompso). He shared this article from IHE with an important pull-quote: Putting Standardization Second (or Lower) in Online Learning (the article itself is definitely worth reading!).


Kelvin Thompson tweet


So I retweeted that with a comment:


laura's tweet resharing Kelvin


So that got retweeted as you can see there, with some good comments back from people too!  Gerol Petruzella chimed in with this note about how things work at his school, which sounds GREAT, the complete opposite of my school: 


gerol's tweet


Here's Steve Covello: eye-opening is exactly what I am talking about! If you are going to be teaching online or designing online courses, you need your eyes wide open to see all the possibilities that you perhaps have never even seen before:


Steve Covello's tweet


And just as Steve made the connection with IDs, Kona Jones chimed in with a great observation about how this is also important for admins:


kona's tweet

I really like Lori Fuller Rusch / Lori Rusch walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes metaphor... which was my excuse to invoke TotalCoLearner:


tweet from Lori Rusch


And the ever-awesome Michael Berman chimed in too:


Michael's tweet


And then Ian Simpson made me realize I had forgotten my TotalCoLearner post for this week, but all this Twitter traffic could make a good topic:


ian simpson tweet


So, there are a few closing observations I will make in light of those exchanges at Twitter:


1. How do we learn online? This #TotalCoLearner experiment is not just about learning about my classes (design, content, procedures, etc.); it is also about myself as an online learner. What are the different ways I can learn online? How can I stretch and challenge myself as an online learner? And then that lets met bring it all back to my classes, thinking about how my own learning online is a way for me to help my students with their online learning.


2. It's fun having online colleagues! One of the best ways to develop the skills you need to connect with your students online is by connecting with colleagues online. If all your colleagues are face to face, it is going to be hard to really connect with your students online. For me, all my colleagues are online colleagues! Of the people I've mentioned on this page, for example, I have only met Gerol and Kona in person (thank you, Instructure, for both of those opportunities!), and even then I was very connected with both of them before we met f2f. I even knew Gerol online from way back when in Classics mode before I had anything to do with Canvas at all! Learning how to connect and collaborate with your own peers online is an essential part of teaching online IMO.


3. Expand your spaces, expand your knowledge. I also think it's important to always be trying out new tools and spaces online so that you can become a better connoisseur of tools and spaces. By being able to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages of a wide variety of tools/spaces, you can then make good choices and also participate in conversations about those choices. Because I use Twitter every day and because I use the Community space every day also, I am aware that there are many things that Canvas as a tool/space cannot do, and I can lobby for those Canvas features which I know would be really valuable, based on my experiences with these other tools and spaces.


So, this post was not exactly about my class per se and what I did in Week 11... but you can always find that out at my class blog (here's the Week 11 label which shows those posts). And I'm glad I had a chance to document this flurry of activity at Twitter. It was a fun part of my day yesterday. 


Keep on learning, people!


And if you want to give Twitter a try, do it! It's fun! You can find me there @OnlineCrsLady or at the account I have for my classes: @OnlineMythIndia. :-)