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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."
We are actually trying to do the things we faculty were hired to do: Perfect our scholarship of teaching.  We are trying to create a process of learning that is more aligned with Cal Poly's espoused institutional, personal and community values.  At every attempt to "honor the institution" and its processes, we are openly punished--someone is angry, someone complains, someone accuses us of ill intent.

Okay, I'm licking my wounds ever so slight here.  But I thought I would record it because it really is the process of change.

This entry is coming off of our recent meeting with the dean's council. We went there to simply provide feedback and ask for their thought partnership on a couple of issues. I spoke with Liz, Joy and Ning there for answering additional questions. We were given 30 minutes on the agenda, but this shrank to 15 as we last within a 2 hour meeting about a new budget allocation model (we should have been prepared for the mood that people would be in).

I will spare you the gorey details, but I do want to capture a few of them just to make clear how one might experience the process of change.  Incidentally, what I feel I did incorrectly, is that I did not, when I began speaking, acknowledge the kind of suffering that they were obviously managing.  I was not compassionate about the difficulty of running a college within shrinking resources. I could have been more present and compassionate, but I just went forward with my own agenda of providing information.

The kinds of things we encountered...
When sharing with them the very positive student response and what students see of value in our learning initiative, we were grilled on how were were telling them about the initiative and accused of "making the rest of us who teach traditional lectures look like putzes."

After making clear that projects would overlap existing learning objectives and we would supplement to meet the rest, a dean who has not taught in her 15 years at Poly accused us of "not doing real project based learning, in real project based learning, the project covers all that is to be learned." This lead to the only moment of comic relief (for the SUSTAIN folks) when I said, "Yes, you can think of what we're doing as fake project based learning."

Upon making clear that we had sought the help of scheduling and registration from the outset, to have them design the least invasive, most efficient system for this initiative, we were accused of "draining valuable institutional resources" that have been optimized for "efficiency."

And then there is the recruiting the students...
We were given workshop times on the agenda for the two weeks in which about 1500 incoming freshmen were brought to campus.  We found out after encountering days where no one showed up, that the students' schedule is entirely filled with other things. The only way they would end up coming to our workshop is if something when wrong with the schedule or that their group leader deemed them sufficiently bored that they wanted to take them to do something else.

BUT, we go on... :)

The good news is that about 3 out of every 4 students who hear about what we are doing actually want to do it.  There is great interest at the student level...that's a really good indicator that what we designed is resonant with today's student.


  1. So, Dolores Umbridge was at the meeting?

  2. In my opinion the meeting went well. Linda did a great job. She listens without getting defensive. We left free to continue. No one said "stop" or "you have to talk to so and so."
    We all got such a laugh out of how we are doing "fake project based learning!"