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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?

Sunday, May 1, 2011


When I first heard about this project, back in the fall, I was astonished by the hubris of the faculty involved. They circulated a document that listed courses that would be offered as part of the project, including a few in my department. Yet I had not been approached about participating, nor had anyone in my department. I talked with others in my college and in CSM, and they, too, had been surprised to learn that their courses were being targeted without any consultation. I can't speak for the others, but for me the issue brought to the surface the ways in which the liberal arts and humanities are often deemed an "afterthought" on this campus. We offer GE courses to be tolerated rather than valued, and our disciplines aren't seen as important in their own right. And so this lack of consultation read more like a hostile takeover than an invitation to collaborate.

When Linda approached me again in winter quarter, inviting me to participate, I agreed to do so for a couple of reasons. First, I don't want English to appear stubborn or obstructionist; we aren't. We have partnered with other disciplines before and so aren't against such collaboration. And second, I wanted to learn more about the project to discover what sorts of ways we might be able to participate.

I've thought a lot about the differences in disciplines since I've been at Cal Poly, because this is the first time I've been on a campus that doesn't inherently and explicitly value the liberal arts. I attended a small, liberal arts college as an undergraduate and did my graduate work at UNC where, like many universities, the liberal arts shared a college with the sciences (College of Arts and Sciences) and thus were afforded more respect. Coming to Poly was a dramatic shift in my understanding of what a "university" was, and the last 14 years have caused me to become more defensive in my professional life. I often feel like I have to justify and defend my discipline, in large part because so few seem to understand what it is we do. We teach grammar, yes, but that is so small a part of what we do--most people, though, think that's all we do. The first thing someone says after hearing what I teach is almost always, "I'd better watch what I say since you're an English teacher." This sort of thinking about my field limits and narrows it, and it's difficult not to react badly to statements like this. But I also realize that I need to do a better job of explaining what my field is and why it's important. Perhaps it's hubris in me that expects others to innately understand my discipline.