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Thursday, June 30, 2011

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:

1) What worked? What would you celebrate?
The process works for me. In my mental model, a meeting can become about the "thing" that needs addressing/accomplishing without giving much attention to the people in the room. I value my relationships with people and time is carved out to cultivate those relationships. Check-ins and check-outs may seem time consuming, but they prove beneficial in building relationships which require trust. (I'll leave more about this in my response to #3.) I celebrate that my network on campus got bigger.

In my mental model, I value learning, success, and failure. Learning comes in many different forms, shapes, and sizes. I got to learn about how people think through details. Typically, I don't consider myself a detail oriented person, so listening to those folks that laid out very clear details about SUSTAIN was valued by me. It let me see how people can fill in details about a project that has been "developing" over the last couple of years. Several times, I found myself saying (to myself), "oh yeah, we do need to think that detail through more carefully." Sometimes, those details got a little monotonous too, and having worked on several service-learning projects there will be issues that we can't address until we are in the moment. Scary as it sounds, there are issues that come up that you'd never expect. Letting go, a little bit, and letting the process happen has surprising outcomes-some that far surpass any expectations I had-in that positive, no harm comes to the student sort of way.

I celebrated that the "other elephant" was talked about in the room, that being the tension between different colleges on campus. (The first elephant Pete mentioned earlier on in the quarter regarding math.) Linda, I appreciated your earlier post about this. I truly valued how you expressed the ideas and tension that people experience on campus (students, faculty, staff, etc). My hope is that SUSTAIN might function to begin to repair previous damage done between disciplines. There is so much benefit that can come about from working collaboratively together, not only on this project but on others in the future.

I enjoy watching students grapple with project based learning. It is so much fun to watch the success stories unfold before your eyes. It is fascinating to watch students trip all over themselves only to realize that they can complete something that seemed "impossible". At times, it is frustrating for everyone involved in the process, because of various issues that arise. In the end, learning happens in a magical unforeseeable way. I celebrate that we will provide students with such opportunities in their coursework at Poly.

2. What's missing?
The obvious missing piece is the student. I'm working on a presentation that we can use in the fall for recruiting. When I have larger chunks complete, I will show it to you.

I'd like to begin finding material that would benefit the links between the courses that students will complete. How can one or two assignments be benefited by the linked classes? That would be a detail to begin thinking about and then thread it through the service projects.

One student answered a final exam question stating that they were still a little unclear about the difference between a speech and an essay. He went on to say, "it would be really helpful if we wrote a paper for, say Eng 134 and then had to turn it into a speech for this class." Sometimes, students have really cool ideas!

3. Reflect on our last day's conversation.
Unfortunately, this conversation is not a new one for me. I was told when I first started teaching here ten years ago about the "engineering discourse" of our classes in communication. "Don't take it personally, just get the students through it." Since then, I have worked with engineering faculty, and in an engineering department and the discourse I've had with engineering faculty is very different. I met a civil engineer in San Francisco and he pleaded, "please teach engineering students how to speak in public. They are so bad at it." He learned how to give pubic presentations and went on to head the Toast Master's group in SF. These are just a few of the conversations I've had with people regarding the value of my course and the impact it will have on their careers. Funny enough, even though I teach a freshmen level course, I don't know if the student values its' life long impact. That probably isn't a politically correct statement. Am I suggesting that it get thrown away as a course in their senior year, no! I am suggesting that the student be thoughtful about taking it rather than simply checking a box. If course requirements in other disciplines mandated polished public presentations (so that students see if on their flow chart), then those of us teaching it can speak with authority that it is valued in said disciplines.

Regarding my comment earlier about valuing relationships and trust, I don't know how the conversation would have turned out had that information been disclosed earlier in the quarter. It's a conversation that needs to take place so we can forge ahead with this project and other types of cross-disciplinary experiences that might be hesitant to begin can occur on campus.

4. What did I learn? Was anything valuable?
One question that kept popping up in my head was, "what if the students learn more than what we expect?" It's a funny notion, but conversations seemed to focus on failure and not on greater success. The possibility is equally as likely, as is the student learning about the same amount of material that they would in a traditional classroom. That is puzzling to me. If my intent is to provide an environment that cultivates learning, then I would hope that the students walk away from the experience having learned some new material, in addition to learning something about themselves in the process. In some sense, slowing down on new material a bit to see how the information fits in their mental models, and gets integrated into everyday action.

I learned that I really want this to get started and not pushed back any further. I hope to see you all soon.

That's about it for now.


  1. Nina, Thanks for developing the presentations for recruiting. We definitely need it. We will be presenting during SOAR, WOW and in the dorms.Let's talk

  2. Nina, I really enjoyed reading your insights. It's an good observation: we keep talking about failure, rather than success. I'm so glad to be on this adventure with you. You have a great calm in the face of uncertainty.