Expect the Unexpected

I’m not very good at that.  I’m a planner.  And a perfectionist (in recovery).  There is something very appealing to me about making a plan and having things unfold as expected.  Cue the hard reality:  life doesn’t unfold that way.  That was the big lesson of my 30s.  And I hated it…until I learned to embrace it, because along the way, I discovered that the unexpected actually made life more fun and enriching.  It led to new paths that I never would have predicted or planned.  And they were (wait for it) better than the things I had planned, in many ways.  And the ones that weren’t, I at least learned a lot from, and (begrudgingly) became a better person for it.  Pretty much without exception.

So here we are, arriving at the end of the week-long university seminar on general education.  And there have been a lot of unexpected surprises.  I delighted in hearing Randy Bass speak about the future of higher education.  And I am incredibly excited now to be (unexpectedly) participating in a symposium about Designing the Future(s) of the University, organized by his group, in a couple weeks.  I loved hearing Amy Nelson speak about the fascinating work she had done transforming her class on Russian history into a hybrid connected learning experience.  But having heard her speak at ALTfest, that was expected.  However, since her talk was live streamed, my fabulous co-instructor Dr. Amy Adkins, who is my co-conspirator on our Spit for Science class (read: she makes it all happen), was also able to tune in.  That was pleasantly unexpected.

Also unexpected for me, has been the diversity of responses to the week:  ranging from despair to delight (OK confession: the latter is me), filled with thoughtful comments and questions.   I really enjoy the back and forth exchange – especially when it happens within the same person!   But I have to confess that I don’t fully understand the depth of concern that has been raised, though perhaps I should have been more prepared, since these debates are not new.  No one is being forced to change their teaching methodologies or to change their course.  The idea of the week was to introduce new possibilities for teaching – things made possible by the introduction of connected learning practices and the use of digital technologies and the web.  And the idea of promoting integrative thinking is not new, as several individuals pointed out during our lively seminar discussions.   So why the degree of push-back and concern?  I admit that I don’t fully understand.  If you don’t want to blog, then don’t.  If you don’t want to make a course trailer, then don’t.  If you want simply to stand up in front of a class and lecture every week, then go right ahead.   Why all the fuss?  In a cynical moment I would say that there is a fear that if others start to embrace new technologies and pedagogies, there is fear that one will get left behind.  Evolution has a way of marching forward and driving behavior over the long term.  Sometimes that’s scary.  Some species go extinct.  But great teachers are great in a myriad of ways.  And universities are filled with great people.  So go be great.  And now you have a few extra tools in your toolbox.

10 thoughts on “Expect the Unexpected

  • June 5, 2015 at 1:42 am
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    Hey Danielle- I think we are all happy with tools. I am not against having new tools and have come away thinking of new ways to engage with both digital and integrative processes into my classes.

    But I am also disturbed by a variety of issues. For one, much of the burden of this program- which even Any Nelson noted- will require more time and effort, as well as more resources than I have. She teaches 40 students with 3 staff members and has a 2-2 load and the benefit of tenure. I teach 300, have 1 TA I need to teach, and have a 4-4 load and no tenure. Yet I am supposed to incorporate digital fluency and integrative education into my class in ways that are not yet specified. Making matters worse, it seems this mandate doesn’t come from the accreditation committee but from our own administration.

    I don’t mind the obligations of Tier 2 and the expectations, and I enjoy teaching a new class. But this is not “use if if you want” but “we need 75% compliance or we lose accreditation” because of a standard we chose. I find this problematic and inequitable, worse so because the administration is not throwing much in the way of resources to make this burden easier.

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  • June 5, 2015 at 2:04 am
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    I said this last night on another blog, but if there was a like button, I would hit it. The conversations have been the best part of this seminar..fear, delight, despair, uncertainty, curiosity…. All of these have me thinking about how I want to use digital fluency and connected learning in my classes. I want to use these ideas but I don’t want to change my course. The realization is that I don’t have to and that I am not going to change anything. Instead, I am going to use some of these idea to try to move my class forward in new directions. I am not going to stop teaching linear and exponential modeling. I will even continue to teach the dreaded logarithm. The change will be in using my students to help me figure out the types of data we should be exploring. (I think my use of home sales and marriage rates just isn’t cutting it anymore.) How do they interpret the meaning behind the data? What predictions can they make? I want my students to help me find data that exists in areas that interest them. I won’t be changing the content but hopefully I will be building lasting connections.

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  • June 5, 2015 at 3:05 am
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    Danielle, I worry that our kvetching may lead you to feel like the seminar hasn’t been a success, and I wouldn’t want you to go there. Rather, I invite you to think of it as a success precisely because we can voice our meagrims and vapors – even a little sturm und drang – while we figure this thing out.

    Nota bene: my post tonight is a little sturmy. I think there are good reasons for this – but then I would. Regardless, I truly do value the time I’ve spent this week in seminar, and all the perspectives and valuable resources shared there. I just think there are real issues to discuss.

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  • June 5, 2015 at 5:58 pm
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    I agree with Kris — ” The conversations have been the best part of this seminar..fear, delight, despair, uncertainty, curiosity….” How truly wonderful to find a community of people with whom we can have those conversations.

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  • June 6, 2015 at 7:08 pm
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    Danielle,

    The “depth of concern” about the new QEP is easy to understand. Earlier initiatives have involved irreversible changes, which meant they were not open to the possibility of failure. For example, the creation of University College generated resentments that were clearly present in the room. Our university has a long history of top-down, “my way or the highway” mandates. Faculty distrust of a new mandate should not be a surprise.

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    • June 7, 2015 at 3:22 am
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      While I would agree with you that a problem with trying new curricular initiatives is that they tend to become irrevocable, I would hardly characterize the establishment of University College as a failure, Bob. Of course the resentments you name are real and regrettable and have an ongoing reality, and of course VCU should take care to address them – that is, both the resentments and the reasons for them. That said, UC was established to meet crucial institutional goals that we have had a huge role in helping the institution to achieve them. I want to be sure this isn’t characterized as a failure.

      Sorry – I love both my disciplines of origin and my inter-disciplinary destination. Just needed to offer a spirited defense for UC.

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  • June 7, 2015 at 3:25 am
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    While I would agree with you that a problem with trying new curricular initiatives is that they tend to become irrevocable, I would hardly characterize the establishment of University College as a failure, Bob. Of course the resentments you name are real and regrettable and have an ongoing reality, and of course VCU should take care to address them – that is, both the resentments and the reasons for them. That said, UC was established to meet crucial institutional goals, and we have had a huge role in helping the institution to achieve them. I want to be sure this isn’t characterized as a failure.

    Sorry – I love both my disciplines of origin and my inter-disciplinary destination. Just needed to offer a spirited defense for UC.

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  • June 7, 2015 at 10:38 am
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    Sorry. I did not mean to imply the UC has been a failure. It has been a tremendous success. However, if it had not been such a success, it would have been very difficult to reverse. VCU has made other such top-down institutional changes that have also generated lingering faculty resentment in the affected departments (Biology for example). As a result, any new curricular initiative is viewed with suspicion. I would like new initiatives to be irrevocable only if they succeed.

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  • November 12, 2015 at 5:01 pm
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    As I was rereading my post from the general education seminar (with the benefit of several more months of learning under my belt), I realized I was remiss not to have thanked everyone for their thoughtful and helpful replies. I have a much deeper appreciation of the history that has led to very justified faculty concerns, and I thank everyone who has helped to bring me up to speed on this history, and to think productively with me about how we can learn from it and ensure that we move forward in a prudent and collaborative way.

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