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Thursday, June 30, 2011

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.

Of course, the details and logistics of such an initiative are very important to its success. One of the aims of the spring quarter meetings was to address many of these details. I do think that some of the logistics were addressed: a general structure for a typical week was designed; a collection of courses was chosen to fit the needs of a broad range of students; the initial scheduling framework for these courses was addressed. Of course, many details have not been tackled, which leads to Question 2 below.
I enjoyed meeting folks from outside of my own department and learning about their approaches to teaching. Even though I have been at Cal Poly for a decade, I haven’t met very many people outside of COSAM.
I admire the bold approach taken by Linda and Liz to changing the way we teach our students at Cal Poly. I can see that it would be easy to become discouraged as one tries to move forward because of the many challenges. I am glad that they are not easily discouraged.
I hope and expect that the Sustain experiment will be successful next year and I look forward to hearing the thoughts afterwards of students and faculty involved.

2. What is missing or yet to be done in order for the 100-student freshman initiative to be successful?
Many of the day-to-day details of the interactions of faculty/students still need to be worked out. As others have mentioned, this can really only be done by the actual faculty who will be involved in the courses to be taught. A number of those faculty members have already been involved in teaching courses involving project-based-learning and/or involving online components. For them, the process of fleshing out the details may be made smoother and aided by their previous experience. For others who have not yet taught in such a manner, it may require more preparation.
Exactly how the projects will be incorporated with the learning objectives of the courses still needs to be addressed. Again, this will need to be dealt with by the participating faculty and community project members.
Students will need to be recruited in the fall to participate in winter. From reading other posts at the Sustain site, I see that students will be informed of Sustain during various events (such as SOAR and WOW) over the summer and in the fall. Those are good venues. The October 8 deadline does put pressure on this recruiting process.
Since the math courses that students will take will lie outside of the Sustain cluster, the following comment does not impact the 100-student initiative for Winter, 2012. With respect to including Math participation in Sustain in the future, I still have many of the concerns that I have had since the beginning of the quarter. These concerns have to do with the types of math courses offered (as I wrote about in one blog comment I posted in May), the number of different math courses for which one teacher might be responsible at one time, and the amount of self-directed and/or online learning expected to be undertaken by the students. I think that many others in the Math Department share these concerns. However, I don’t think any of these concerns are insurmountable.

3. What are your reflections on our last day's conversation?
I am glad that you, Linda, brought up your frustration so that we had a chance to discuss it.
In regards to Math: It surprised me when I thought I heard you say that CSAM’s dean and/or Math’s chair required release time in order for someone to participate. That wasn’t the case to my knowledge. (However, it is true that lack of time due to other demands is a concern that could limit participation. I assume this could be true in other departments as well, since everyone has many, many demands on time.) It was you who suggested the class reduction in exchange for participation during the spring. I initially declined that offer because I felt I couldn’t provide the commitment you wanted (or provide enough in return, in general) since I would be gone the coming year. It was only after you approached me a second time that I agreed to become a ‘thought partner’ for the spring quarter.
I was glad that everyone in the room was able to discuss things honestly and respectfully.
I appreciated Roger’s input in the conversation. He is able to summarize and to make explicit other participants’ thoughts and concerns, ones that are often only implied or buried within other comments. This allows the important central concerns to be more readily addressed.

4. What did you learn? Was there anything valuable?
I learned about some of the innovative approaches to teaching that are taking place on campus already. I had heard of some of them before, informally and through some CTL seminars I had attended.
I benefited from hearing about the experiences of others who have incorporated community projects into their courses. Also I was interested to find out about the experience others had integrating various degrees of online learning into their classes.
I can see that initiating a radically new approach to teaching is not an easy endeavor. Such endeavors are important, however. So, as I wrote previously, I am glad that Linda and Liz are not easily deterred.


  1. Colleen, I very much enjoyed getting to know you. I also appreciate your integrity in all that you do. It is great to hear you were able to learn about other approaches to teaching, I was too. I think we are already changing the world.

  2. Hi Colleen, i've finally gotten round to read your comments. It really was a pleasure to know you a little better. I feel encouraged by your belief that this is a worthy experiment in education. I hope we'll be able to report good things to you on your return from sabbatical. Take care!