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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

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.
I also celebrate the group’s belief in the value of interdisciplinarity, the cross-pollination that happens when students connect ideas from different subjects and create knowledge.
2. What is missing or yet to be done in order for the 100-student freshman initiative to be successful?
What’s missing for me: I’m still not clear on what will happen in the “Sustain” hours of the week, though I know that we can’t know that until we have the partners in place. I think that we need to have a tentative plan in place for that time before we begin to recruit students, though. As a student, I would want some concrete information about what my schedule would look like. (On the other hand, I realize that many students aren’t like myself and might appreciate a more flexible schedule.) It seems like the tasks here are limited to the faculty members participating in the project in winter.
The whole group, however, might be involved in recruiting students for the project. I think the group needs to talk about how it will recruit students—will individual faculty recruit through fall classes? Will there be a booth during UU Hour? How and when will recruitment need to take place to ensure that students have time to work with their major advisor and the Sustain group? Is it possible to get students from current project-based courses (like the one Nina showcased at Growing Grounds) to help us recruit? The student who attended one of our meetings (I don’t remember his name) was quite persuasive and compelling; students might respond to other students’ enthusiasm more than to our enthusiasm.
What I still need to do: English has committed to two English 134 sections in winter. I need to talk with Ginger and our director of composition to figure out a way for Ginger to participate. I also need to see if there are other faculty members who are interested in participating.
3. What are your reflections on our last day's conversation?
I was surprised by the conversation on the last day, though I don’t think I should have been. What I mean by this is that I think there were two simultaneous threads to this project: the actual program design and the process by which colleagues collaborate. I thought more about the former, but I think Linda was in some ways more interested in the latter. I wish I had been more aware of that thread, though in looking back through emails I see that it was there. In thinking about this thread and the last day’s conversation, I think what was missing was a sense of intentionality and explicitness about the collaborative process. I think Linda and Liz were acutely aware of this process, but I wonder whether the others of us were. And I think being aware of it might have been useful as we worked on the program design.
Like others who posted before me, I think the last day’s conversation might have been useful as a first day’s conversation. I probably should have talked earlier about English’s participation in interdisciplinary “linked” projects and the ways in which our discipline was undervalued. These projects have happened in the past five years, so they are fresh in the department’s memory. By its nature, composition is a collaborative discipline (writing across the curricula programs are an important component of that discipline), but the experiences our department has had at Poly have made us more suspicious of such collaboration. I spoke briefly at an early meeting about this concern, but I see now that I needed to be more forthcoming about it. I was very appreciative of Pete’s comment that after hearing our experiences he wanted to “start all over again” because he had a new understanding.
I think I was surprised by Linda’s comments that she was afraid to question me because she was afraid I “wouldn’t play.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that, wondering what I should have done differently to indicate that I was committed to being a “thought partner.” When I had to miss a weekly meeting because I was at a conference, I offered to meet with her earlier in the week. When I had to come late to a meeting because of an IDHC conflict, I asked her to tape the conversation so I could hear everything (which she did, and which I listened to). When I raised questions about the class schedule, she invited me to her house to explain, and I willingly went. So I was surprised when she said she wasn’t honest with me about the questions she had regarding English’s participation. Perhaps my being more up-front about our prior experiences with linked classes would have helped her feel more comfortable; I wasn’t consciously withholding those experiences, but I see now that I could have been more forthcoming and open about them.
All in all, the last day’s conversation was honest, I think. I wonder if it actually could have occurred on the first day, simply because of the issue of trust I raised in a previous blog posting. As I said earlier, I think everyone involved in this partnership has the best motive possible—to provide students with a meaningful educational experience. But building trust takes time.
4. What did you learn? Was there anything valuable?
In addition to the above, I learned about the way I approach issues. I have always known that I’m a detail person, but this project highlighted that attribute in me. Details are important, but I think I probably came across as more negative about the project than I am. It’s hard for me to fully support something unless I understand the components of it, which is why I asked so many logistical questions. So it was valuable for me to see others approach the project differently.


  1. I have been thinking about this idea that we "should have had that conversation on the first day." I agree with you that we actually couldn't have had it, because we didn't have the container/space for our interactions (trust). Roger is always saying this takes time. So now that we have it, should we stop talking? I wonder.

  2. Kathryn, I am thinking about your comment about wanting to see more of the detail, yet knowing this can only come from those who are going to do it (and you don't see yourself as one of them). This dynamic is teaching me how our "position" in a human system "conditions" all our thinking about it. You saw yourself "outside" of it, so were looking for something in particular. There were others who were "inside"...e.g., Matt. He was looking to do something together that we never quite got to. Interesting. I can see now how a greater awareness of this can help in any group task.