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Thursday, December 29, 2011

T - 5 days!

I am a bit panicked about the looming launch. I am trying to remember this is my natural state at this point in the year; it might not have anything to do with SUSTAIN. This might actually be less stressful because we are all in this together. I really like working with my colleagues. Linda is an incredibly hard worker. Nina is so full of hope and a positive can-do attitude. Pete is relaxed in a way that sometimes makes me nervous, but I can see the wisdom in it too. Tom is comfortable with experimenting with new course design. Roger can make any moment a teaching moment. And Ginger is so loving and encouraging, not to mention funny. An there is always Neal and Dan who have our back. I don't think there is a better bunch of people to embark on this adventure with.
I do think my challenge is to appreciate the moment and not let my own personal issues decrease to adventure. I hope I can do this.
We are meeting on the 2nd to finalize the first week, but then there is the second week and beyond.....I think I will make a list of things that I am worried about as a kind of data dump:
1) integrating projects into the class mix
2) creating a robust feedback system for SUSTAIN
3) Coordinating the upperclassman who will be helping us out
4) Researching the students (administering surveys, video taping class time, etc.)
5) Researching the faculty and upper classman (surveys and video taping, experimenting and documenting)
6) thinking about next year's classes and recruiting (2013!)
7) planning for Spring quarter with the new faculty who haven't been active
8) analyzing data and writing papers
9) .....

Not to mention the other classes we are all teaching and the committee work and such. Oh, I think that is enough for now

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whoa, I can't believe we're going to start this

I spent the day with Liz, going through all SUSTAINers (this is my new name for students in the program). We ensured via checking their Cal Poly records that all were in fact signed up for the classes and had also taken the required courses outside their major. This was an impossible task, were it not for Liz's amazing powers to manage detailed complexity and her secret knowlege to every "big-brotherish" on-line website.

We then sent individual emails to each of the 42 students.  It was absolutely thrilling to see that only 2 of what we thought were the original 44 had actually disappeared on us!  (I'm thinking this is a small number).

I awoke in the night this week, FREAKING OUT over the level of details that we need to manage in order to prevent an absolute train wreck for the spring courses.

This is how I know that the universe is helping us: There is miraculously no scheduling conflict between the SUSTAIN block of courses and three additional courses that are needed for students to progress.

I would really be crazy if I were not scared about this whole experiment, but it seems that we are now in the right place at the right time...  onward.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Refection Nazi

Since we have shifted a bit from studying the students participating in SUSTAIN to understanding what it takes to be a teacher in this collaborative environment, I have been requesting reflections at the end of each of our design meetings. This last time, someone (it could have been me) referred to me as the "reflection nazi." I laughed, then thought how absurd!!!!

This is so similar to the dilemma I am working through as a teachers. It goes something like this: I want students to be engaged and knowing about research on engagement (Pink), there are three things that will motivate well: Mastery, Meaning and Autonomy. To satisfy Autonomy, I often let students make choices about how assignments are weighted in the final grade, or even which method (constant homework or term project) they would like to do. [as a side note, it feels a bit like when I use to ask my kids, if they wanted a long timeout or a short timeout?]. But what if they choose not to do anything? I think I remember a study of students (maybe at the Waldorf school, I don't know) who were allowed to go to recess for as long as they liked. For several days, the students spent all their time outside playing, until they saw the fun science projects the teachers were preparing. I wonder if education could be like this. So engaging that students choose to learn. Then I go back to us (me - the Refeltion Nazi), could we as faculty be so interested in our own learning that we want to live reflectively? Could we model this for the students? Instead of forcing, we create an environment where learning is the choice? I'm just asking this - to quote Linda.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are we a quilombo?

I have been listening to a book by Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, and this morning I heard this page and it made me think of SUSTAIN and the process we have been going through -- both good and bad and the possible trajectories that could result. Rather than explain it, I will just post the page (forgive the length). See if it speaks to you or you can simply wonder what the hell I was thinking and just forget it.

(from Ch. 9: Forest Fugitives, pp. 329-330)

Christian de Jesus Santana could see the secret city from his window. Known as Calabar, it was at the edge of Salvador da Bahia, in northeast Brazil, on the inland side of a ridge, invisible from Calabar, was the great Bay of All Saints, the second-biggest slave harbor in the world, the first glimpse of the Americas for more than 1.5million captive Africans. The slaves were supposed to spend the rest of their days in Brazil’s sugar plantations and mills. Most did, but countless thousands escaped their bondage, and many of these established fugitive communities – quilombos, as Brazilians called them – in the nation’s forests. Almost always they were joined by Indians, who were also targeted by European slavers. Protected by steep terrain, thickly packed trees, treacherous rivers, and lethal booby traps, these illicit hybrid settlements endured for decades, even centuries. The great majority were small, but some grew to amazing size.

In Liberdade I met a local historian who told me the city actually originated … when slaves had escaped from Salvador down a native path in the forest. The Bay of All Saints is bordered by high, forested bluffs; escapees climbed the bluffs and took over land on the other side, creating a ring of encampments between the colonial port and the indigenous interior. Sometimes their homes were just a few hundred yards away from European farms as the crow flies, but the forest and hills were impenetrable enough to conceal their location. The Portuguese constantly hunted the runaways, but they also traded with them—Calabar’s residents, four miles from the center of Salvador, exchanged dried fish, manioc (cassava), rice, and palm oil for knives, guns, and cloth. In 1888 Brazil finally abolished slavery, yet life in its quilombos showed little improvement. They were still regarded as illegal squatters’ settlements. But the government was too weak to do much about them.

In the 1950s and 1960s Salvador grew enormously. Urban pseudopods reached over the ridges, engulfing Calabar, Liberdade, and half a dozen other quilombos. But these fugitive settlements never fully became part of the city—nobody had legal title to the land. Few roads entered Calabar. Sewer lines were routed around its borders. People had to steal electric power with jury-rigged hookups. By 1985, when Christian was born, the former hideaway was completely surrounded by high-rise apartments.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

E-portfolio papers

I wanted to share the articles that were forwarded to me regarding e-portfolios. Thought you might be interested in checking them out. This selection of articles came out of a conversation that Helen and I had prior to the start of fall concerning my use of e-portfolios with my students. Our conversation focused more of software options. If I recall correctly, Moodle does not have a wiki function or if it does, it is rather poor.

I also have a copy of Ruth Rominger's 25 minute presentation on e-portfolios. Ruth's presentation focuses on the function that e-portfolios serve in a learning environment. I attempted to post that as well, however, the file is too large. I will burn a copy and put it in the SUSTAIN office. (Probably won't be there before finals week.) If interested, you may view it. Ruth is known nationally (if not worldwide) for her work in open source education and e-portfolios. - using Mahara

SUNY Stony Brook -- see example given by Jeff Yan to Molecular Biophotonics Lab

More about SUNY Stony Brook's ePortfolio initiative:

Virginia Tech ePortfolios:

Salt Lake Community College's ePortfolio program

Chen, H.L., & Black, T.C. (2010). Using e-portfolios to support an undergraduate learning career: An experiment with academic advising . Educause Quarterly Magazine, 33(4). Available for download from:

Chen, H.L., Williams, R., & Thomas, B. (2011). Piloting ePortfolios to support assessment FOR learning . Poster presented at the 2011 Assessment and Evaluation Poster Fair, Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Available at:

Florida State's Career ePortfolio

And the ePortfolio community of practice I co-facilitate is called EPAC and is a listserv that is free to join --
join listserv here:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time and our relationship with it

So this morning in a quiet moment, I reflected on an email sent by a former student. The student had attended an alternative, sustainable live-in high school. They grew their own food, caught rain water, used grey water for dish washing, structures were constructed from recycled tires, etc. About two years ago, I told him about sustain-slo and that he should participate in it. He was a freshmen then.

The email that I was thinking about came last month. I had updated him on the status of sustain, asking if he wanted to help. The first line of his email went something like, "I am so stoked that sustain is happening . . ." In that moment, I reflected on us two years ago. Sustain, in its form, at that time, had much work to be done. For me, I simply wanted it to start. In hindsight, sustain had a form lacking lines of clarity around what it might look like. Too many questions were unanswerable. Too much vagueness, except for a simple desire for it to happen for the students and for me (yes, I will label that selfish).

Reflecting on what has happened over that time, I realize how unready I was for sustain to begin last year. I recognize the commitment that faculty have made to add clarity to the project. I am grateful that answers to questions don't simply sound like an answer with a question intonation. I am thoughtful about the vagueness we must talk through so that the first two weeks and the last two weeks have a richness and a fullness and a rigor that I desire from sustain for myself and the students and the other faculty members. In these last few quarters, I have taken small risks in the classroom to test out ideas that might work for sustain. Prior to that, I wasn't willing to "give up" my lecture time for fear of the student not learning the material.

In reflection, I am thankful about the time given to me to try something new with my students. I don't know how I would feel if I tried out new teaching/learning modalities with sustain students without receiving feedback first. My fear would be that I caused a calamity or learning failure. That makes me feel incompetent.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday's design time

It was a glorious time together on Friday. We started by remembering why each of us was there (on a holiday) together. I don't remember everyone's reason, but mine was because this, the SUSTAIN community, is my life. I am not sure if I could continue without working with these people (Remember I tend towards the dramatic). I expect that I am giving you all too much credit, and I think if it wasn't SUSTAIN, there would be other engaging work, but this is truly life-giving for me.

I did take notes at the end and I am not sure where to record these, so here they are:

1) The first week or two might look different than week 2 through 9. During the first week we want to
- spend sometime on capacity building for team success
- have structured face-to-face time so faculty can set the culture in their courses
- have students encounter the projects
- discuss sustainability (we thought of this afterwards)
2) in weeks 2 through 9, we want to start each week with a "checkin" at the beginning of the week and a "check-out" at the end of the week. We have this scheduled for 1 hour blocks, but this could be flexible.
3) We want to have some time set aside for faculty to meet as a group or in triads to plan the weeks ahead. This should occur both inside and outside our blocks of time (M-R 4-6, F 1-4)
4) We haven't developed it yet, but we want to have a general framework for class time. We want to make sure we have a feedback system so we can be flexible
5) we recognize the need to engage community members and students in this whole design process, but haven't discussed how to do that
6) We are committed to the "student prep model" that Linda and Pete are using this quarter in physics and we are committed to supporting that. (it looks something like: Students prepare (watch video or do learning modules or read)-----> students work on something independently -----> students come to class for help and coaching -------> assessment)
7) we don't want to dramatically increase faculty time in class. If we each are to be in class 4 hours with one or two office hours, we want to attempt to honor that.
8) We will try to incorporate portfolios into our work
9) we need to schedule at least two more (3 hour) group meetings before Winter quarter begins.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

how it feels right now to "hold it"

Dear friends,  you would laugh at me if you could see the kind of personal drama I am creating about our design time together tomorrow.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Problem with Hysteresis

hysteresis (hst-rss) The dependence of the state of a system on the history of its state.

Linda and I recently were allowed to give a brief presentation and take questions regarding SUSTAIN SLO to a group of faculty in a Cal Poly department that had initial reservations about our contacting students to attend information sessions regarding SUSTAIN. [We encountered the usual problem of many faculty/administration confusing our request to contact students with a request for approval of SUSTAIN.] The faculty were respectful to us and had some good (if the usual) questions. Linda was transparent and respectful -- as a person who is maybe a little too astute politically, I have an initial worry about admitting to others about the possibility of failure but I am slowly being healed of this.

After leaving the meeting, I followed up with an email to a friend in the department asking if we had covered the bases and if there was any additional information that was needed. Prior to receiving an answer form the friend, I got the email saying that the department would withhold its imprimatur for a year to see if SUSTAIN was successful. Later, I got a phone call from the friend saying that part of the discussion after Linda and I left focused on the our personalities and "history" at Cal Poly. I was characterized as always wanting to go off and do my own thing (not being a team player) and Linda was described as not really caring about GE, that as an engineer all she wanted to do was to get engineers out of the usual GE classes. The friend was a bit dispirited because the department was becoming a group of naysayers.

I learned about the term hysteresis in grad school and it revolved around the idea of a backward rigidity after an event. The application is often around labor hiring after a recession. After so many cutbacks, even when things improve in general, hiring does not bounce back to previous levels. My sense is that the hysteresis here is that part of our current state with SUSTAIN -- that portion over which we have so little control -- is tethered to these ideas about the individuals involved and our (perceived) history that has little to do with the particulars of the current initiative.

It seems as though the path to success is to have been invisible in the past -- but then being invisible could open someone up to not having sufficient experience. This "no win"-"no win" situation is just another issue to deal with.

I'm drawn to my peers

and so are the students.  this is what i discovered by attempting to hang out and attract applicants at the liberal arts dorm.  students wanted to talk with students.

i realize that i occur to them like their parents.  hmm.  we really do need the students if this is to happen.

Monday, October 31, 2011

the pain, the pain...

(not to be confused with "the plane! the plane!" from that bad '70s TV show intro ...Fantasy Island).

After Roger's workshop, I found myself faced with the fact that all my complaining about other people who are "getting in our way" was really a more sophisticated form of me doing the same thing to them that I am accusing them of.

What upset me about the physics advisor is that she didn't take the time to understand what was going on...that she didn't inquire into it, but had a knee-jerk reaction to the thing she didn't understand.  Of course, I did the same to her...had a knee-jerk reaction to her knee-jerk reaction. So I approached her with what I wished for from inquiry, "what are you seeing that we are not seeing?"  It turned out that she totally misunderstood what the initiative was all about and was advising people from that place of misunderstanding.

Then today, I went an offered an apology to the advisor woman who left an angry, swearing voice mail on my machine.  I realized I was criticizing her for being impatient, just as I was impatient with her impatience.  I apologized and she was perfectly nice.  She gave me some advice as to how to approach the CLA students.

It turns out that they save their science courses for last because they believe they are difficult and find that they lack meaning. students feel nearly the same way about their general education courses in the liberal arts.  So she advised me to market it as a way to do more applied work in the sciences (which are the general ed to the liberal arts students).  Funny...that is what engineering students want...a more applied and relevant liberal arts experience.

the pain is about the dissolution of my own ego.  it doesn't really hurt, it's just humbling.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some Ideas--No Theme.

1) I have come across a book at the city library that I just love--and it's made me think of our team and the way that we are aiming to build community in our efforts. Or, actually that our efforts ARE to build community and that whatever we do will emerge from this commitment. The book is IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD by Peter Lovenheim. It could turn out to be something worth offering to students. Writing it down here so I don't forget.

And also to say that I see us everywhere I look.

2) Also started IMAGINE DESIGN CREATE and am reading the thing like a novel. It's gorgeous and inspiring and so wonderfully big picture in its talk about design that I feel included in its definition of "designer."

Reading the book has been a nice echo to a realization I made last week. It popped out of my mouth in the experimental film that I made last week when I said, "We are allowed, uh [hesitation at the boldness of what I was about to blurt], I think [and then I paused and looked up--which was me stopping myself to see if I really meant with completely conviction what I was about to say out loud and also to reflect at the speed of light that I do, in fact, believe what I was about to say] We're allowed to call this design [and I was nodding in celebration of what I'd just said AND because I felt relieved to believe it.]

Here is the trailer for the movie, which includes the moment (about 1 minutes in) that I'm talking about here:

I am invigorated to feel included in the word "design."

Friday, October 28, 2011


First of all, October 28th, 5PM is our self-imposed deadline. If I think about it, we have until January 1, or 4th, before we know for sure we don't have enough students. There are a lot of other artificial deadlines before then also. For instance, registration begins 11/8, freshman (without special priorities) start registration 11/17, registration ends right before Winter quarter begins January 4. Let's not give up yet. I know we might not want to wait until the last minute to make a decision in order to be responsible to the students we have already recruited, but we need to be deliberate and not afraid.

Yesterday I spoke to a student who came to my office because of an assignment from the instructor of the introduction to Industrial engineering course for her to see her faculty advisor. I spoke with her for a few minutes about her courses, and then realized she could participate in SUSTAIN. She talked and listened and asked a lot of questions. Then she filled out an application right there.

This is a really great opportunity and I actually believe we will get 75 students to join us in the adventure. Today I have hope and patience.

Waiting on the applications

It is Friday, Oct. 28, 4:46 PM.  I am in the SUSTAIN office, waiting for the flood of applications.

We now have 22, with three additional that were submitted on line, but no paper versions in hand.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

what the provost said

yesterday...2 meetings with the provost.   in the first one, he agreed to teach a joint section of a CHEM class in the SUSTAIN grouping in the spring.  i know he is incredibly intelligent.  as we sat down with the chair of the CHEM department, he listed off his qualifications.  what i noticed was that the word "collaboration" was not on the list.

in the second meeting, he told us that we (the SUSTAIN initiative) have already had an effect on the campus, whether we knew it or not.  the dean's have unanimously agreed that there must be pot of money reserved for learning innovations on campus.  so starting in the fall, there will be $5M reserved for innovations in learning.

i am watching my cynacism around this...that they agreed to do so because they were thinking of their own pet projects, that we will not have any access to that "relief funding" shall we say, since people will view us as rich already, that we have been useful (provost's words, "i used you as an example of how difficult it is to do this in the system and convince them that we needed to set funds aside to do these sorts of things.").

i am noticing what it is like to have worked all this time, for the sake of the journey, only for those behind us to benefit, for us to be excluded from the promise land, so to speak.  interesting. i am not happy with seeing my self pity.

letting go

i feel myself letting go of the possibility that we'll ever get to run the SUSTAIN initiative with the students as we had hoped. i'm recording this so that i can hopefully look back after we've done it and say , "see? one just has to have a little faith."

today was allegedly our application blitz.  we have about 4 completed applications on-line (about 30 people attempting to do them), about 16 in hand, some that are probably duplicates of the ones on line.

we've had all kinds of students (probably now a few hundred) express significant interest.

all of us have bets riding on how many applications we will have by 5 PM tomorrow night. roger and i talked about what we would do if we didn't have enough student interest.  we can't really do it unless we have about 75 students.

i'm feeling like it was my horrible mistep in creating the on-line process that has possibly killed our chance to launch the iniatitive this year.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Borrowing hope

I am in quite a state. I am simultaneously angry and sad and frustrated and tired. Those who are closest to me see this in horrible relief. Roger and Linda and I just had a 45 session where each of us displayed our habitual coping in the face of being overwhelmed....I think.

Anyway, so you have this as a backdrop, I have no hope, but I am remembering what I love about my job. I can observe and feel the hope of the students. At 20 or 22, they believe they can still change the world, make a difference. They haven't had bosses tell them their idea is stupid (too much). They haven't run in to obstructionists (too often). They think things can change. I am hungry for this so I watch and listen. My happiest times are in the classroom, being with these remarkable people.

Today, it is a necessity.

P.S. the course Linda spoke about in the last blog was approved, without me shedding a tear (which if you know me is quite an accomplishment).

every one's an expert

i am writing this in a half-amused, half-crazed state.  as i write, liz in probably in a faculty meeting where her faculty are determining whether or not they will allow her to teach a class for which she is fully qualified to teach.

what we didn't know when we began this rather simple (but complex) experiment in learning is that we would have to change the entire university system to do it.

what we are finding is that when we take a step in the existing system to do something like schedule a class or reserve a room, people mistakenly believe we have invited to sit in judgment over our entire initiative from their place of superficial understanding.  it is quite interesting how consistent the pattern is...from department chairs to academic advisors to deans of graduate research, to colleagues who have no intention of getting involved with is remarkable.

this is not universal.  many people are actually intrigued and want to know more.  in fact, it is probably more the norm that people are interested.  it is just that now we are in the thick of managing the various pockets of resistance.

Marketing & Branding

Our brief discussion of marketing and branding that came about as a result of the comments from the NSF officer has got me thinking a lot about how we approach/come across others (students, faculty, staff) that are not like us.

First of all, as a "self-hating" business instructor (which is to say that my impression of some of the topics in my discipline are not ones that I would necessarily like or embrace), my initial reaction to the suggestion of doing a better job of branding and marketing SUSTAIN outside of Cal Poly was a little negative. Like many others, my sense of branding and marketing is one of "selling" what is unnecessary to others. I come to that sense because of what I see on TV, newspapers and other media -- a veritable tsunami of effort to sell us crap. So, what overwhelms me is the amount of "bad" marketing/branding that I face rather than the fundamental idea of marketing and branding -- which is to convey information in a way that allows people to grasp ideas in an efficient and, often, an emotional way. This is really quite hard to do (hence the amount of "bad" marketing/branding that we witness every day) but this is something that we are struggling with on campus. We are not undertaking improper marketing approaches but we are realizing that doing a "good" job in marketing is pretty damn hard -- especially given our ethic of not imposing out models on others.

As we move ahead with recruitment, we continue to look for that emotional hook for the students. But we also need to find that same emotional hook with faculty and staff since younger students will still seek out their advice. Over the past week I have been trying to find that emotional "hook" for students and faculty in the College of Agriculture (CAFES). There is a lot of underlying information about SUSTAIN that is available that we feel is necessary to inform students and faculty about SUSTAIN. Yet we still run into the difficulty (like all good marketers) of the short attention span of everyone (including us) not to mention the difficulty in managing the common disconnects between espoused models and actual behaviors. In my brief (but intensive) marketing spurt of emailing faculty in CAFES, I tried to focus on SUSTAIN as an extension of the college's history with "learn by doing". LBD is the mantra for all of Cal Poly but in CAFES there is a sense that we helped create it (with the creation of Cal Poly) and that we remain "true" to it in a fundamental sense. This can be seen in how students in CAFES embrace it (and wish they could get rid of all classes and just do LBD). I think that this common ground of LBD -- discussed in a way that doesn't criticize current LBD but which does offer SUSTAIN as a new option in Cal Poly's arsenal (Neal, why all the war rhetoric?) of LBD. I am still trying to figure this out (this is something I have been doing my whole career at CP -- how do I talk about something that is personally important to me but which so many in my college can find "bad" and threatening?) but I have to accept that a good marketing/branding approach (once we figure it out) will make our lives easier. Not because we don't have to think about stuff but because it will get people to ask questions faster and establish a commitment to SUSTAIN that much faster.

I hope this hasn't been too off-topic but it was on my mind and I wanted to get more into the "document the hell out of the project" mode.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

the invisible hand of roger

since bill torbert's visit, i've been thinking a great deal about roger. what is entirely invisible to the outside world, perhaps, or even the inside world, is the work of roger.

what we are doing, in my view, has been nurtured by roger burton. he has "held" the aspirations in a way that helps us all believe in the impossible.  i have somehow forgotten this along the way and forgotten to be grateful.

the way i remembered is in seeing bill here. i expected bill to be a kind of hero. what i saw instead was the surgical-like precision and insight of roger. of course, roger has brought himself into our system for two years now, so he has a deeper base of experiential knowledge from which he can draw.

there is something very spiritual and other-worldly that must happen when an initiative is coming into being. someone has to "hold" this possibility in a disciplined way.  it is a practice of constantly returning to "why" we're doing this.

i can see that roger has been invisibly holding this part of the initaitive...probably kind of alone.

i have been rather caught up in the drama of my own life.  i began an experiment in healing about a year and a half ago and i'm a bit in the thick of it.  i feel that i've allowed myself to be irresponsible while i've been narcissistically attending to my "self."  but this has left roger alone and i can see it now.

today i am setting my mind on the task of returning to the discipline of holding our aspirations.

Friday, October 21, 2011

the "help" we are getting from our colleagues

today we learned of the "help" we are receiving from our colleagues: a student who entered college with a year's worth of college math credit, a term's worth of physics and probably some other advanced placement credit, was advised not to participate in SUSTAIN because it would "slow him down."

slow him down from what, we don't know....from going ahead in all the technical classes, perhaps.  he is perfectly eligible, but would find himself taking History, instead of the next Physics class, which would be a year ahead of what he would normally be taking at this point in his college education.

this is the kind of thing that we are suffering now...the risk aversion of the faculty being translated into advice "not to participate", without any substantive reasons.  students can progress toward their degrees without any loss of time, but somehow we find our colleagues manipulating these unsuspecting students with their own biases and fears.

UPDATE: I realized I need to ask the person who is doing the advising if we are missing something. I can see that I'm exhibiting the same kind of knee-jerk reaction that is irritating me in others. I just found out from the person who did the advising had a complete misconception of what it was that we were doing, what classes he could take and so on.  I wonder how many other times we act as experts only to really mis-inform those who have sought our opinion.  Almost always, the student is the loser in our irresponsible "expertise."  I am making a commitment to be more aware of not knowing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The cost of our Silos

Roger came to my Industrial Engineering Graduate Seminar class last Friday. He challenged them to consider their career and life choices, and to make theses choices consciously and with consideration of their mandate or goals in life. It was very thought provoking and many students were engaged with questions and with continuing discussions later in the hall.

But, that is not the point of this blog engry. The point is that my students are very smart successful engineers. Very close to 100% of them will get job offers upon graduation where they will start at $70,000 per year. With this backdrop, one student in class asked a question of Roger that knocked my sox off (in a bad way). Roger was saying that some people think the global and societal problems resulting form the anthropogenic era will be solved by technological or free market solutions. She raised her hand and asked "What do you mean by free market?" Roger was shocked, as was I, and asked someone in the class to explain it. Another grad students said, "I don't know, but I think it is open source or free items available on the web." Roger said that is interesting, but not right. Roger then explained briefly free market, and then everyone did remember learning this in econ....or somewhere.

But my question is how could these students in their 5th or 6th year of college not be able to integrate the concepts learned (probably several times)?

That is all I have to say.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

oh, the occupational hazards of being an engineer...

alright, i am truly embarrassed. what i discovered today from students is that their college advisors are advising them not to participate in SUSTAIN because
  • they don't understand it;
  • it's new;
  • the application process is cumbersome;
  • they are not seeing how courses can be rearranged.
but what i see is that i totally acted like a classic engineer.  i went off in a corner by myself, designed the perfect application process, spent a 4-day holiday weekend teaching myself javascript, programmed and debugged the perfect, interactive set of on-line surveys. well, i didn't initially go off by myself, i went off with another engineer!  (oh, what could be a worse recipe for disaster?)

i engineered the perfectly complex system that met all my functional requirements. it was elegant, it was powerful, it was unusable by the average freshman and staff member. 

i can't believe i did that! i invited feedback but got none. why?  

boy, do i feel dumb. this has been the source of us not having students apply.  the advisors encounter it and say "oh, looks too complicated to me...don't do it."

the lesson learned: Never, never, never, let an engineer work on something alone when the something must be used by humans.

Prodded/Prodding to Write

At our meeting last night with Bill Torbert, Ginger brought up a hugely important point which addressed power and self-censorship among other things. She had earlier offered to help people get going in writing and in writing this I wanted to echo some of her points as well as ask her to post some of the points she made last night.

I find myself in many different situations doing a lot of self-censorship. I often find that in my own department I have become this node of sustainability -- not necessarily in a positive sense but, maybe, in a knee-jerk sense. I bring up issues of sustainability but with this expectation that it will cause a bit of eye-rolling and, often, I caricature myself in the process (as those who know me, I don't usually pass on opportunities to be a little funny). In retrospect, this is me holding back a bit, not wanting to be seen as overly tedious or tendentious. This feeling has also kept me from pushing SUSTAIN with my own department's students as much as I should (which I am beginning to correct). Bill Torbert commented that this recognition of what we do in the face of power and the changes that we make as a result can change that power dynamic. I think Linda commented that it is not that the people in position have inherent power but that we tend to give it to them and that when we recognize it and remove that power that we somehow convinced ourselves to give the people in those positions, we are in fact giving ourselves back the power.

It was a great evening last night, in spite of the exhaustion and headaches that many/all were experiencing. A cleansing laugh, some honest evaluation of where we are at and, best of all, a continuing sense of community.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


synergy |ˈsinərjē| (also synergism |-ˌjizəm|)
the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects 

On Friday, the Mustang Daily (the student daily rag) had a frontpage article on SUSTAIN SLO, thanks to Neal MacDougall's suggestion that we contact the paper and Liz's timely reaction to the reporter's questions. 

It is just amazing to me to see everyone's contributions coming together. Tom, a historian, is going to engage some honors students he knows in documenting the history that we are making...Ginger has just begun a new blog to tell the story in real time from a first person perspective.  Nina, Pete and Roger continue to be the face of the recruitment effort.  It is quite amazing.  We are really functioning as a team now.

notes on the field tests with physics

pete gave the first midterm. the mean was about 63, which he says is historically higher than in the past. but he did an amazing thing right after it was graded... and maybe ...he does this every time, i don't know. He sent a message to the students, telling them the class average and invited them to pick up their exams and redo it over the weekend for 25% of the score of the exam (75% was in-class score).  I was amazed by this because it is so focused on the students' and their need to learn, to demonstrate the learning through earning a higher grade.

one of his observations was that this performance is higher than the historical average!

he has almost entirely shifted to group learning.  he discovered that his lecturing was preventing the very thing that he wanted: stronger classroom relationships, where peers were functioning as thought partners.  Now, they'd rather work with one another than listen and watch him do problems.

but i have to say that pete is an entertaining showman around demonstrations!

what is amazing about the on-line tools is that we can get immediate feedback on the students' behavior around the homework.  For example, we can see when people are investing time.  What this shows is that half the class did not invest in the homework:

We can look at trends, to see whether there are increased or decreased investment in the work. So we can use this information to adust the assignments.

We've attempted to make this public to the class and the students have said that they really appreciate the care that is going in to meeting their learning needs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A student voice

Garrett is a freshman who we met during the summer orientation. He loves SUSTAIN and has been helping us recruit. He and I were asked to contribute some information for an article in the Mustang Daily (our school newspaper). I thought you might want to hear directly form him about his experience.

my name is Garrett Schwanke and I'm a first year mechanical engineer.

1) I come from a high school that put a strong emphasis on group learning which had obvious benefits for me and my classmates. Apart from this program making me feel at home with group work, I want to see more students succeed from teaching and being taught by their peers.

2) In our meetings I've tried to serve as the freshman voice, sharing fears, questions and interests that I hear from my classmates with the Sustain team. Besides that, yesterday I presented to a class of 25 freshmen, informing them about the program and events we are holding (this happened to be coms class and they probably criticized the shit out of my speech). And sometimes I can actually offer an idea that we end up implementing, like formats for learning what classes freshmen want to take with us, or revisions to an email that gets sent to a few hundred mustangs.

3) I've already gained some invaluable connections with professors and team members, and I've learned a load about problem solving at team meetings. But I expect to improve my speaking skills, Improve my leadership, construct something that will have a lasting effect in SLO, network more, and build a resume.

4) I am most excited about the idea that our students can use their skills and expertise for more than just busy work on tests, but rather use them to benefit the community. Our brains are more valuable than we give ourselves credit for..Usually.

Bill Torbert

I am so excited to spend time with Bill Torbert. He is an expert in organizational change and development, but mostly he is one of the nicest men I know. He arrives on Saturday and will be with us until Wednesday.

Here is a flyer about his public venues. We will also be spending time speaking to him individually and as a group.

This visit is a huge blessing.

Advisor meeting

The meeting was ok. At one point one of the advisors said "to tell the truth, my main concern is the students, not your program." I looked her in the eye and said, "me too!" SUSTAIN-SLO is about the students. Where did is ever become anything else?

I did state the background conversations, the same one I have last night, I told them that I was afraid to meet with them, that if they gave me a hard time I might cry. They all said "Oh no! We wont make you cry." That was true, I did not cry.

I think they understand it better and will be helpful with the students. That is all we are asking for really.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another day

I am not sure I have much to report. Maybe only Linda and I read this anyway - I don't know. It is near midnight. I am very tired, but cannot sleep.

We are continuing to talk to students about the initiative. Several come by the SUSTAIN office every day we are there. Pete, Roger, Nina and several students are meeting with student each Tuesday.

I have to meet with the College of Liberal Arts advisors tomorrow. I am a bit nervous and not sure I can be as ready to state the background conversation as Linda did with the Physics faculty. To tell the truth I feel like I might cry. I might say something like: "why do you imagine we are doing this? do you think we are getting some prestige or profit? Why are you making this so difficult?" See I am not very articulate when I am emotional.

I have been asking myself, what if this doesn't happen? the 100 student cohort part? Because today, at this time of night, I am pretty sure it isn't.

I do promise to write if things go well tomorrow.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Once again, onward!

I keep thinking I need to regularly blog because so much is happening. These are just snippets to capture some of what is happening.  I invite others to edit my blog entry by adding what you all are up to.

This is going to read like a police log.  It is for the sake of posterity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The field test from physics

Pete and I are attempting to trial our collaboration of next quarter in this quarter. The first week was rocky. This is what we learned:

  1. Prior to the quarter, we need to have students test our on-line materials to ensure that they are functioning as we had expected;
  2. We need a clear structure in place prior to the start so that students can figure out how to navigate through the material.
I have to say that it has truly been a beautiful thing to work with Pete.  About a year ago, it would have been disastrous for both of us.  But since that time, both of us have gained some facility with seeing into our own assumptions and suspeding our viewpoints.  From my assessment, Pete is far better than I at noticing his feelings and articulating them. This is an area where I really need to grow. 

We sort of tripped on the starting line by not being ready with the students and they were angry by day 4, in my view. The primary problem was that the tool to help them learn physics was not showing them the answers, so it was an exercise in pure frustration.   :O!

I am also working with three honors students on pulling together content for posting: learning objectives, video tutorials, homework problem sets for practice (not graded).  It is remarkable what letting go of control will do to open up new possibilities.  I have been thinking this was all my task and I am so amazed by how quick the students are.  They can work circles around me!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Volatility...can we ride it out?

I am tempted to only track the positive experiences in this journey. But I have to say that I experience a great deal of volatility, cycling between excitement and despair.  I don't know that we're actually going to do this until it starts.

Roger suggests that we are likely to increasingly encounter repeated roadblocks to the actual start of our small little experiment.  We are genuinetly intervening in a collapsing system.

The Project fair...a ray of hope

Today's project fair felt like a success.  It was really largely organized and advertised by AmeriCorp member Evan Razor.  We had about eight groups show up as potential SUSTAIN partners. There were about eight additional groups representing agencies either looking for volunteers or looking for volunteering opportunities, as in the case of Alpha Phi Omega.

We spent three hours talking to students who were walking by.  We also talked to many honors students who were sent our way by Tom Trice.

As the crowd filled up, I had great difficulty taking pictures of anything but peoples' backs.

I was pleased to learn that although many students knew nothing about SUSTAIN, they were interested in volunteer opportunities with the agencies. This was a win-win situation for some of the groups who really wanted student help to advance their activities.
In the morning, the faculty were milling about, looking for potential projects to adopt for their classes.

Again, this seemed to be a positive outcome.

It was very inspiring to learn of the students' interest and their experience!  Many of these young people are coming to us, having already accomplished a number of things, including things like designing and building energy capture systems.

The students always remind me of the value in what we are doing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The pinata has burst!

I often don't care for pinatas...for me, there is a strange message about the rewards of violence...small children blindly beating an animal effigy--or perhaps worse...a human effigy--until they successfully destroy it and are rewarded with the gifts that burst forth, competitively scrambing to amass the most for themselves.

I have to admit that what we have done over the past year with SUSTAIN has not been a whole lot different from the process of breaking a pinata!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recruiting (not quite the right word - maybe Inviting)

Linda and I had the pleasure to talk to 700 Freshman Orientation Leaders today. It was great fun! We are hoping these leaders will talk to at least a few freshman who could be potential SUSTAIN-SLO participants. It is one of the many ways we are trying to get the word out about the initiative. We are trying both mass distribution (fliers) and concentrated events that we hope will demonstrate SUSTAIN.
We are participating in a Project Fair in a week and a half. As part of this we met with some community members to help them formulate their projects. One women asked me how the project fairs were run in the past. I told her this was the first time we have done this....that we are making it up as we go. I am not sure that engendered confidence in her! But, this is sure how I feel.
Back to the Orientation today. I forgot how much I like out students. I think I have been suffering this summer not interfacing with enough young people. I want to remember how much I like teaching as I am cramming to get ready for classes this week.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Liz, Roger and I met with the Provost this morning. Well, I don't want to keep anyone hanging.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

the calm before the storm...and confessions of the squall-ble

I'm not proud of this, but I know that I can store only so much frustration before it bursts forth in all its self-righteous fury.

Liz was entirely too politic (my assertion) in her last entry. I was violent during Liz's half-hour meeting with the Associate Vice Provost and we now have a meeting tomorrow morning with the Provost to essentially "call the question" of whether the "university" is going to direct its institutional divisions to support the SUSTAIN learning initiative or whether we need to send the money back to the National Science Foundation.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

systemic and interpersonal

I have resisted writing this blog entry, trying to think of a good reason for keeping the difficulties private. I can think of none except my own ego. So here is a summary of what I learned this last week. This has a bit to do with others on campus but I am doing my best to see that this is my experience, not anyone else's.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Our office

SUSTAIN-SLO has an office! I use "office" very loosely. It is a 10 by 8 foot room on the fourth floor of the library. Linda had the very bright idea of it not looking like an office at all...which it does not. Imagine this: white boards on two walls (floor to ceiling), butcher paper and large post-its on one wall and a window on the last. A small table with five small stools (think pre-school) and a thrift store orange naugahyde chair. I hope to post a picture here too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The road to hell is paved with good intentions....

I used to think this saying was a commentary on how one often doesn't act on their good intentions, that in a scenario where "good works" gets one in to heaven, the chronic "not doing" good works would lead you to hell.

Now, the saying occurs to me more as a statement of reality...that by actually acting with good intentions, your journey will be hellacious!  This is a perfect description of what we seem to be encountering at Cal Poly as we attempt to "do good."

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lunching together

It was so nice to meet with the faculty collaboration for a potluck lunch this last Monday. It helped me remember the reason we are doing this.

1) We believe the way we are educating students right now will not prepare them for the world we are leaving them
2) We ourselves are longing for a community where we can talk and learn together
3) We love to be with students

Thanks all for helping us remember these things.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Students Learning About Learning

I had meant to track down Linda's email about the side-class that I (and Liz and John) could teach to support SUSTAIN but I am a little impatient to get some ideas down about how I envision the ideas that such a class could incorporate.

As I recall, the idea is for us to have a 2-unit class to provide some additional direction to students in our department/major to help ensure that the SUSTAIN experience is linked back to the major curriculum. In do some reading about learning portfolios ( Zubizarreta, John and Barbara J. Millis
The Learning Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning, Jossey-Bass; 2nd edition 2009) I came across multiple times discussions about how important it was to get students to reflect on their learning. One set of reflection questions for students that was brought up (and reinforced throughout the essays in the book) is as follows:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Walking in a students' shoes--physics

It looks like I'll be playing a support teaching role to Pete in the physics courses that we'll be teaching in the winter.  Right now, these courses look like a range of courses on mechanics, and a "concepts of physics" course. Of course, this requires a great deal of review for me, especially in the mechanics area.

So, this summer, I am attempting to re-learn physics as if I were a student in SUSTAIN-using open education resources.  Here, I record some of my thoughts of this experience. First, I should point out that I have every advantage in (re-)learning physics:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chance's thoughts

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
We got 10 or 12 faculty together for 10 weeks talking about teaching. That is a real achievement. I am motivated to know that so many others are interested in trying new ways of teaching and getting students engaged with something, anything.

Colleen's thoughts

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
I first heard of Sustain when Linda and Pete came to a Math Department meeting to describe the initiative to us. I thought then, and I still think, that it is a great concept. I see enormous value in tying a student’s coursework directly to meaningful projects in the community.

Bringing up the rear

It seems fitting that my entry arrives on the final day to complete our homework, since I walked into our "parliamentary" meeting an hour late on a weekly basis. First, thank you for this opportunity to be part of this group process. Since my involvement with SUSTAIN began two years ago, I have met and forged wonderful relationships with faculty on campus, with this group being no exception. It's a privilege to work with you on a project that excites me.

On to the questions:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reflecting: Neal/laeN

I am finally getting around to my requested reflection (before the deadline even)

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
In general, I always celebrate the learning that I have undergone (and continue to undergo) as I continue participating in the SUSTAIN project. The ability of a disparate group of faculty to convene on a regular basis to talk about something very risky and poorly understood demonstrates a commitment to try new things and even learn. Much of this learning has been painful given the seeming misunderstanding that often seems to happen but I even celebrate that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Research basis of the SUSTAIN initiative

Hi all, Ginger requested a look at the research basis of the SUSTAIN learning initiative.  This isn't the best description, but it brings together many of the ideas.

Download the file here: (To download page)

Recreating the experience of English...

It occurs to me that Kathryn might not have the experience of being heard.  I'd like to recreate what I understand as the experience of the English folks at a polytechnic (Kathryn, please feel free to and all have administrative power so can edit any message, just click the little pencil icon at the bottom of the entry).

What is it like to teach a "service course" at a polytechnic university?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm too wordy for a "comment"


I do not mean to suggest that "my contribution to a student's education is more valuable than yours." I am saying that my discipline has years of research to demonstrate small class sizes promote better student learning with respect to writing.

Further reflections: Kathryn

I’d like to respond to Pete’s posting, but my “comment” turned into another entry, so I’m putting it here instead.
I really appreciate Pete’s thoughts, but I think maybe I wasn't as clear as I could have been.

Pete's posting

Hi all, I'm posting this for Pete because his account is somehow cursed.  This does happen in cyberspace sometimes.  I myself have terrible technology karma.

In the words of Pete (verbatim):
When I said that I want to start over, I really meant it.  I mean, we can’t go back to March, and we have other plans for summer, but I can’t go forward as if this meeting never happened, and I don’t agree with Linda’s “we’re finished”.  I’m not finished.  I have a relationship with Kathryn and English that needs attention.  This wounded conflict is underpinning what we’re trying to do.  Furthermore, it also represents the foundation of what we stand for – that is working together in trust.  We can list a number of things that need to be done such as setting a schedule and recruiting freshmen, and I agree that this needs to be done.  However, the fact that English and possibly Math don’t trust us is an ongoing discussion that I feel compelled to continue.  Questions for Kathryn, Ginger, English, anyone else.  Do you want to trust Engineering, other departments?  Do you want to work on this?  What would you like to see happen? Is there any structure that could be put in place that would help this?  What metrics could we use to measure progress?  Did you like the idea of a writing requirement for a physics lab?  I am concerned that isolating English in the curriculum will identify it as something less important – do you have this concern?  What could we do about it?  Could we aim fall quarter to reassess where we are for Spring Quarter to consider if English and/or Math would like to (not be willing to, but would like to) join the “flock”?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Samuel's Reflection

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?

The thought partners communicated effectively enough to develop a general framework for the learning experience. It may not be the case that we developed what was desired or intended, but it worked well for what was achieved.


I want to make sure you all know the status of our recruiting efforts. As I talk to people around campus and they are so open to help us spread the word, I am beginning to feel like this may actually happen. Below are a couple balls that are rolling....

-SOAR info booth during lunch at all the 10 sessions in August
-SOAR information session for students who want to learn more at all the 10 sessions in August
-WOW info booth at SLOBound in September
-facebook: search "sustainslo" and friend us

-Info sessions in the dorms during the first weeks of school

We have a couple students working with us, but could use more ideas and help. If you are interested, please contact me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I need a new phrase

I have been writing a bunch of emails and using the dreaded phrase: "Cluster Faculty." I need a new word for the courses and faculty that will be working together to integrate content with each other and with the projects. How about.......

Gaggle Faculty,
Clump Faculty,
Huddle Faculty,
Flock Faculty,
Bundle Faculty,
Throng Faculty?

Help!!!! Please leave a comment with your suggestions.

John's reflection

Gosh, it's hard to write these things, especially if I have to follow two folks from the English department... Here goes.

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
I thought that the process - to plan for this new way of educating students - worked, though it was slow, awkward, and bumpy at times. Even the process had to be different, because no one has tried this before, so I guess I'm not surprised.

Kathryn's reflection

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
I enjoyed spending two hours a week with colleagues outside my discipline and college. I met some for the first time (John, Liz, Colleen, Samuel, Nina, Pete, and Matt), and got re-acquainted with others (Linda, Ginger, Dan, Chance, and Neal). I celebrate the fact that faculty from across the university are committed to student success and to finding ways to make students’ education more meaningful.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reflecting: Ginger

Here are my thoughts.

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
I celebrate being invited to have a voice in a university project. I celebrate using the voice that I have, even though I am unaccustomed to using it on campus. I celebrate the great welcoming that I experienced from the existing Sustain group and the group's excitement to do something meaningful for students, something not yet done.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My after action review: Vanasupa

What worked? What would I celebrate?
  • I celebrate knowing my colleagues better;

Liz's reflection

I have to say that this entire process of participation in SUSTAIN over the past two years has been life giving for me. Not easy by any means, but it has consistently enabled me to grow as a person, teacher, friend, and co-worker. The only problem is that I am constantly confronted with my own shortcomings in all these areas. This has required a level of courage I never knew I are my reflections

Blog Requests to serve future collaborators

Hi all:
I am requesting that each person, before June 30, complete their own blog entry to enable the future success of other collaborations.

1. What worked? What would you celebrate?
2. What is missing or yet to be done in order for the 100-student freshman iniative to be successful?
3. What are your reflections on our last day's conversation?
4. What did you learn? Was there anything valuable?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pete's offer

I've been really thinking about what I CAN teach. When I consider what I know a lot about and have a lot of experience with, I know that where I am strong is in dealing with the ambiguity and journey of projects, and in creating the ecological classroom conditions that enable people to self-direct their learning in a way that is successful for them.  I've learned this largely through failing to varying degrees  for the last 8 years. (I've published at least two articles on my failures, which I see as a growing area of my expertise :) )

Pete and I met today and he put forth a beautiful offer to collaborate on teaching physics. This is a brave move for him for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that there is a way in which I "set him off." This is kind of a mutual dynamic and we both acknowledged that if we were to work more closely together, we would have to work through this.

Strokes of brilliance...

Okay, I'm up, I'm down.  Whatever.

I need to archive what I believe are the strokes of brilliance from our last meeting.

First, you must know that Liz, like me and Neal, have been thinking all along that we couldn't teaching any of the courses that we've been consider.

At one point, Liz said, "We've been been thinking all along of what we can't teach.  Maybe we're approaching this all wrong. We should be thinking of what we CAN teach..."

A gigantic ball of irritation...

That's what I had created by Friday morning. I was holding this ball so close to my chest that I could not see its contents. I am quite sure that I've created this ball, manufactured these feelings that I have about what occurs to me as our collective, institutional inertia.

I'm afraid of writing all these things because anyone who is participating in the faculty group could read these thoughts and imagine that I'm making some cloaked personal attack in these words.  It is not at all my intent. (I'm not sure this is a comfort, but when I personally attack someone, it is most certainly direct and there is no mistaking it for anything else.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Here is a quote on Change from a book by James Baldwin, "Nobody Knows Me." It made me think of what we are trying to do with SUSTAIN-SLO.

"Any real change implies the break up of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment - unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth - one clings to what one knew or thought one knew, to what one possessed or dreamed that one possessed. Yet it is only when man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished, or a privilege he has long possessed, that he is set free - that he has set himself free for higher dreams, for greater privileges."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How it might work...

I posted my version of "the day in the life" of a SUSTAIN faculty and how I'd prepare to be involved in this.  My posting is at the public site.

I have to say that this process of working with one another is really fun for me...getting to see what others are thinking, how they are thinking...this is really what I thought university life would be like when I came to Cal Poly 20 years ago.  I'm glad I'm finally learning together.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A need for structure

As I think probably became clear last week, I'm a details and process person. I spent my time last week trying to logistically account for the six different courses we're trying to offer next winter. How will we be able to "prove" to the administration and other departments that students are meeting the guidelines for a 4- or 5-unit course? I *think* I figured out a way, and I shared it last week. To me, nothing can move forward until we determine this issue, whereas other people thought I was crazy. But accountability matters in issues like these, and if we want to convince faculty and students to participate, I think we have to show them how it might work. We're talking about 100 students here--the positive impact could be huge, but so could the negative.

I am still struggling to figure out some logistical details, and realize that I still don't have a good sense of how "Sustain" time will work. For instance, if we're saying that 2-5 M-F is Sustain time, what does that mean in terms of classroom space? If Physics 121 and PSC 101 can meet at the same time with the same instructor, where will they meet? Will there be a room big enough for 70 students? And will the space be conducive to active learning (i.e. not lecture, but other types of classroom activities)? Space constraints are a huge issue in my department, as we do a lot of groupwork and are often "stuck" in classrooms that have immovable desks. What about labs for these 70 students? Will there be lab space to accommodate them all during the Sustain times? And, how will students know where to go each day? That is, if HIST 216, PHYS 121, COMS 102, and PSC 101 all meet from 2-5 M-F, how will students know which classroom/lab to go to on which day? And, if some students are taking COMS 102, but others are taking ENGL 134, what will the ENGL 134 students be doing during the Sustain time that focuses on COMS 102? Presumably they will have already had that course, so what would they do with those hours in the day?

These questions seem picky and small to some--like details that can be ironed out later. But in my experience with curriculum planning, it's details like this that can make or break a project. I don't need to know what will happen in each of those courses; I agree that what unfolds will be un-plannable to an extent. But I need to understand the structure for students and for faculty--where they will go when. Or I at least need to see a possible plan for structure, rather like my possible plan for how these courses could be scheduled during those hours. I think a good many faculty are in my position, and I think the project will be more successful if we can demonstrate that we've thought these things through as far as possible. There will always be hiccups along the way, but planning is key.

Statistics Narrative

In the time between the 12 May and 17 May meetings, Linda asked the group to contemplate a narrative about what the experience would be like for our individual fields. I attempted to draft a narrative, but it only yielded a silly tale which leaped around and between class functionality to my/our own preparation. Linda shared her narrative at the 17 May meeting. It appeals to me because much of the process is very similar to my own preparation process. I am eager to see a graphic of her narrative for future visual reference and recollection. From the perspective of the statistics partner, the only preparatory consideration I must mention are the projects. Before the experience begins, the statistics partner must be familiar with the projects, their individual goals, the individual data, and similarities/differences in and between the various data. Ideally, much of the data will have already been collected or will be collected in the first few weeks of the term.
The statistics learning objectives will be best experienced in the second term, an ideal term to support the collaborative effort. The projects will form the basis for student engagement. Having statistics in the second term will allow time for the projects to mature to include data collections. It is possible that not every project will have traditional data or practical data analysis needs to be successful. However, this may result in students collaborating on multiple projects (perhaps good), projects which are too complex, and/or not ideally aligned with the statistics learning objectives.
When the term begins, each student will be given a syllabus for their respective course, which includes the learning objectives and a tentative outline of when learning objectives and/or topics need to be attained. I will show all of the students all of the learning objectives from each course, so that they can see the overlap in learning objectives and topics. I will identify learning objectives which are similar and capable of attainment through projects collectively, learning objectives which cannot be taught through projects, and learning objectives which are specific to their course. Learning objectives in the last two categories are likely to be attained through supplemental online tools, suggested readings, short lectures, and small group discussions as needed.
There are no impossibilities about the structure of student contact time. This could range from traditional/structured lectures, to days/times devoted to small group interactions specific to individual projects/groups. I envision a hybrid approach where all students are present. Students will arrive having done some independent learning, which may not entirely be connected to their project. The independent learning tools will have self-assessment exercises and, perhaps, a formal graded quiz. Students will have to think through and develop questions related to their project. The students will bring their data and questions to the 'class room' which ought to be a computer lab (eg the statistics studio 02-206).
We begin with a real question: 'student X wants to use his/her data to answer question X1.' Connections across the projects will further develop, if not already, when student Y recognizes similarities and offers: 'student X's question X1 is just like my question Y1.' Then, we will talk about about what statistics are appropriate, what are inappropriate, a little theory, some assumptions, software use, and examples in the context of the student projects. The contact time should utilize the statistics partner as a coach or guide, devoting ample time to students working in teams to analyze project data.
I have written this narrative with lots of possibilities, but there are some conceptual and practical impossibilities to consider.
1. Projects
The projects must be well organized, and have a minimal set of diverse data types (qualitative and quantitative variables). Students with projects that do not have this will need to 'partner' with other groups. As a consequence, students may feel like they are working on multiple projects - which isn't necessarily a negative. Alternatively, related data could be identified and utilized.
In general, students will have to accept that concepts learned though projects will occur gradually, somewhat sequentially, and over time. Students will not obtain an ideal, global data analysis rapidly or at the beginning of the experience.
2. Grading
To have support from the senior statistics faculty, traditional grading will have to be used to determine official university grades. This may be some combination of online quizzes, project related homework, a project report which demonstrates mastery of the statistics learning objectives (likely part of a larger report), at least one midterm, and a final.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Isn't this how things go, one moment you think, "how can this ever happen?" and the next, the way through seems so simple? Well maybe "so simple" is an understatement, but yesterday's meeting left me thinking we are making progress.

A student came to our meeting, Emmet. I really like him, he is thoughtful and smart. But what I thought was so great was that we, the faculty, were willing to be completely transparent and honest. We allowed conflict and disagreement, we did not try to manage our image. I want to be part of this kind of community.

Friday, May 13, 2011


The last meeting we had with the faculty collaboration was a bit discouraging for me. I have been thinking on it for a couple days and thought I would blog.....This is suppose to be our honest thoughts and ideas, right? I hope so, because here it goes.

I believe some version of what we are trying to do with SUSTAIN-SLO is what education/community/sustainability will look like in the future. There are many reasons I believe this and would like to articulate them here. 1) We are all (faculty and students) stressed out. 2) We are lonely and looking for community 3) we do so many "made up" projects where we make students do all kinds of things. This seems to me such a waste of resources. We could be making a huge difference for the less fortunate among us. 4) Students retain very little of the things we tell them. 5) I am sure there are more.....

Several people in the last meeting expressed a sentiment about the learning initiative saying "we cant do this" "There are too many unknowns" "I don't see how it will work." Not every one had this sentiment, but probably half of us.

What if we just believed we could create something better and kept working towards that goal? What if we thought of the ways in which it could work instead of the ways in which it couldn't?

I have thought about leadership quite a lot since I attended the leadership development workshop last week. What I believe about leadership is that one role of a leader is to "hold the hope." I certainly don't feel like a leader in SUSTAIN (Maybe Linda can take this role - or maybe each of us), but if I were looking for a leader or if I was one I would want to "hold the hope" of making a difference in higher education.

Thanks for continuing on the journey....I believe half the battle is to just show up.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Life lessons from completing a 1000-piece puzzle

We are now trying to together create the matrix of "courses" that would be needed in order to accommodate 100 freshmen students in up to 66 different majors. I think Liz called this a "puzzle" in an earlier post, by which she may have meant a "wicked problem."  :)

I had the occasion to complete a 1000-piece puzzle a couple of weeks ago. I don't do this very often, probably because I don't very often have a major surgery that renders me incapable of doing anything but sitting and staring at little pieces of cardboard. In any case, I learned so much from this activity that applies to the puzzle that we find ourselves trying to complete together:

Friday, May 6, 2011

At a distance

I have been gone on the East Coast for most of last week. I found myself missing my colleagues in SUSTAIN-SLO. Could it be that we are creating a real community? I have learned so much here about adult development and action inquiry, I cant wait to share it with you all.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Thursday 28 April 2011 meeting was productive, and personally educational. With Linda away, Liz and Roger guided the group's effort to identify courses which can be taught collaboratively and/or through projects. The group used the sticky blue board (hereafter SBB) to support this exercise.
On large index cards, each member wrote down topics/learning objectives from an example course in his/her field. The index cards would be placed on the SBB classified by (i) collaborative to independent, and (ii) project based to independent. Initially, Liz organized the SBB so that largely collaborative and project based topics would be placed on the respective edges, with the independent topics overlapping in the middle. Perhaps foolishly, I suggested that we change the SBB organization so that collaborative and project based topics would overlap in the middle of the SBB, with the independent topics on the edges. I made this suggestion so the group could easily identify topics that are both collaborative and project based. However, my suggestion did not allow for an easy identification of the independent/independent topics.

While we conducted the exercise using my suggested organization, I was not happy unable to simultaneously identify topics that overlapped as both collaborative/projects and independent/independent. I suggested that we consider alternative methods to visually identify natural groupings. The group suggested several alternatives, and Roger asked the group to investigate alternative organizations.

I like doing research. I don't mind sorting through 75 abstracts to find 2-4 papers that are tacitly related to the perceived topic area. In the end, I found two experimental papers loosely related to what I was looking for. Each paper contained examples of different SBB organizational structures, including one that Chance had suggested!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An invitation to all authors--why?

Hi all, we met with the group of researchers who is watching our work unfold.  They asked us why you chose to be engaged in this.

I know people have different reasons. Kathryn shared hers and I'd like to invite you all to share yours if only in a "tweeting" kind of "comment" editing required...

Why did you choose to engage in this initiative?