posted by Linda, November 6, 2014
Note: It is very difficult to report on what is happening here without it occurring as an investment in the conflict. For my part, these dynamics are not unique to Cal Poly nor specific to individual actors. We report them here for the sake of learning, but realize the report is an incomplete and distorted version of the facts.
Overview of state:
All is going forward with this, our "last" year of SUSTAIN. The invitation process to new freshmen is moving forward. Our staff person has created a Teaching Assistant group of 24 past SUSTAIN participants. The are self-organized in the invitation process to new freshmen.
One of the faculty collaborators is a sociologist whose focus is social change movements. This is likely to lead to interesting places. More to come.
It turns out that our last conversations' critical questions from the 3rd Person Network call (May 2014 entries in red), portended the latest local events. We (Liz and I) sought to step into a position of larger service to our institution by volunteering to author a proposal in response to a CSU request or proposals. This was essentially an act of relinquishing/institutionalizing parts of SUSTAIN to the provost's office; however, those in the provosts' office who were involved (co-PI) ultimately undermined the proposal in a way that led to the provosts' unilateral decision of non-support during the signature routing process. Because of the conflict-avoidant pattern of the actor, we cannot get a "straight" answer about why; the assertion of the provost was that the proposal lacked intellectual merit and we (LV and LS) were non-collaborative and therefore incapable of fulfilling the terms of the proposal. Our assessment is that the real reason is that the grant funds would re-organize power on campus to the PIs and elevate SUSTAIN as a successful example of an interdisciplinary teaching collaboration.
Why STEM educational transformation is so difficult: Efforts to retain self-interests in power.
We are convinced that systemic change happens in cycles and Cal Poly as an institution has now entered a closed, transparent cycle. The latest example of the centralized control is the provost disallowing our recent transdisciplinary STEM proposal from leaving campus. This is a new action for our provost tp appoint themselves as sole-arbiter of the quality and intellectual merit of a faculty-lead proposal. Ironically, "more interdisciplinary learning" is on the top 5 list of strategic imperatives for the provost and she is conducting university wide strategic planning meetings.
One of the patterns in the system is the replacing of strong women in positions of institutional leadership with males who are agreeable. These replacements are unilateral actions often taken toward females with scientific backgrounds and those who have more collaborative, "shared governance" dispositions (5 of 6 cases). This pattern is reminiscent of the "queen bee syndrome" (Staines, G., Travis, C., & Jayerante, T. E. (1974). The queen bee syndrome. Psychology Today, 7(8), 55–60.)
An unusual occurrence was that LV was "warned" by a colleague, close to the provost, that she (LV) was "in hot water" concerning the provost; The provost would mobilize those working for her to find negligence and malfeasance in SUSTAIN. SUSTAIN would be re-framed as an utter failure and that vulnerable people associated with the SUSTAIN would lose their jobs. This person acknowledged that he was benefiting from his status as a white male and that LV did not have the same benefits. Note: We don't think this was a real threat, but it reveals the current culture.
Roger found the work of Frances Westley et al. (Westley, F. R., Tjornbo, O., Schultz, L., Olsson, P., Folke, C., Crona, B., & Bodin, Ö. (2013). A Theory of Transformative Agency in Linked Social-Ecological Systems. Ecology and Society, 18(3), art27. doi:10.5751/ES-05072-180327) and Silvia Dorado (Dorado, S. (2005). Institutional Entrepreneurship, Partaking, and Convening. Organization Studies, 26(3), 385–414. doi:10.1177/0170840605050873) to provide great insight into the opportunity context for change (opaque, hazy, transparent) in our institution.
It seems illogical to call our institutional state both closed and transparent. In this phase, institutional actors have locked in their power (closed) through new policies which they are making transparent. The cycle was thus: The budget crisis of 2008 precipitated a transition from opaque to hazy (when we initiated our SUSTAIN work). That was followed by a huge change in leadership so that of the 14 original upper-level administrators who were present at the start of our work, only 2 remain. In the hazy to transparent phase, which is a time when lots of change can take place, we conducted our SUSTAIN learning initiative and got a great deal done, yet the new upper administration team has neither been interested in or directly supportive of our work. We made annual offers to the provost to share the results, which we saw as directly aligned with institutional imperatives; we got not response to our offers and did not inquire as to why. During this time period, new administrators were re-organizing the campus through fires and hires, new people and new organizational structures, primarily through unilateral decision-making which was reported by those who were replaced to involve a kind of bullying behavior. The institution has now transitioned from hazy to transparent. They are making an attempt to protect and retain their power. A characteristic of this dynamic is a near-police state ("accountability") around actions in the system. These are transparent but centrally controlled (provost level), whereas the institutional culture used to encourage and allow distributed autonomous and creative actions.
Insights from the network
You are facing the neo-liberalism of our times. You have functioned as pioneers and disruptors that have revealed that something needs to change. However, those with power want to be viewed as the source of change, rather than SUSTAIN being the source of change. Also, you all are engaged with passion and in an academic settings (dispassionate), you occur as threatening, bringing un-welcomed emotional expression. In different cultures, emotional expression may be acceptable, but typically not in an academic one. Consider taking care of yourselves so that you can take care of others.
Acknowledging this last year, key questions:
There is no need to consider that your work is dying. What is next for you? Can you be the phoenix and rise from the ashes? Can you be Loki, the trickster?
At minimum, take stock of the institutional changes that you have contributed to, even if you are not the direct beneficiaries of these changes (such as the new interdisciplinary collaboration room), these are successes of your work.
Also, have a party for the dead. Celebrate what you've accomplished. Consciously release the past. Burn something. Have a wake. Is there a way to use art to express the emotion?
Consider your work as social reform.
Models: The World Social Forum
posted by Linda, May 9, 2014
We are about to enter our last "funded" cycle of this work (ending in August 2015) and there are several "tipping points" that seem to be approaching.
Reporting in on patterns & institutional shifts
Students: As in previous years, about one third of the students are thriving, about one third are missing in action and about one third are in between. There are various reasons, to include the systemic conditions in a major (e.g., "archi-torture", academic hazing processes that are culturally-embedded).
Faculty: There is much more appetite for reaching across courses and opening courses, however, we continue to be blocked by the institutional structure, which is set up to "separate" subjects. Some faculty members are cross-attending one anothers' courses. Some faculty are spontaneously inventing ways of creating community, like holding work parties at their houses. Not all faculty are in a position to do this, nor desire it, but those who have made these offers are enjoying the broader sense of community that they are creating.
Institution: SUSTAIN will have a dedicated dorm next year of up to 70 people. Right now, about 25 people are occupying this dorm by choice. Others will be their because they didn't get their first pick.
Space: It appears that the university, by suggestion of all 6 college associate deans, have dedicated a 2400 square foot space to cross-college teaching collaborations. We feel this has come about because of our work in the system. This is a significant breakthrough for us. While we won't be the only group in this space, we are likely to occupy it for 20 hours per week next year.
Cal State University-Wide initiatives: The CSU has just announced a call for campus proposal in response to a private $4.8 M gift from the Helmsley Charitable Trust. This announcement has laid out a call for activities that are nearly identical in form to the work we have been doing in SUSTAIN. We might respond to this call as a way of furthering our work and/or creating a parallel track and possibly serving the wider CSU in what we have learned.
First big publication accepted: You all have been encouraging us to disseminate results. We have been best at submitting manuscripts that get rejected for various reasons, mostly because they don't fall with disciplinary standards of what is believed to be rigor. Our first
Critical questions and insights from network:
Are you willing to let go and allow others to influence the growth of what you've created?
Are you willing to allow administrators to take credit for your work?
Conversation about non-change & what to do about it
The bulk of the conversation was dedicated to the dilemma of enacting change when it is clear that actors are deeply invested in the apparent benefits of the current system. One of the ways that this was expressed was in Liz's scenario of , "What if I am an engineering education researcher and it is suddenly the case that there is nothing 'wrong' with engineering education?" Although this is a hypothetical, my identity is tied to there being problems. Again, if we see ourselves as "problem solvers" everything will look like problems that need to be solved. This perpetuation of identity displaces the ability to creatively move toward shared aspirations. This dynamic seems to be a place where some in the engineering education research domain are "stuck."
An example of such a dynamic is Liz's hostile work environment. Liz's situation of disparate treatment in her department is resolved as far as the university is concerned. The institutional inquiry reported "insufficient evidence" to support disparate treatment based on gender by her department chair. It also reported "insufficient evidence" that she (Liz) is at fault. Liz has also been encouraged to keep all findings secret. However, none of the findings were actually shared with her to date. So, from the narrow perspective of the questions of whether legal action must be taken, nothing will be done. This will not change any of the hostile dynamics in the department.
It is the case that Liz has been portrayed as the problem child in the department for her tendency to ask questions about decisions in the department. Others are invested in her doing so so that they do not have to ask the questions. (As an aside: A transcript of a department meeting has been created for the purpose of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Liz is at fault. However, this transcript, read by an outsider, reveals that she appears to be the only sane one in the conversation. At one point, a faculty member shouts out "I have a Ph.D.!" It is quite amusing and if anyone would like to turn this transcript into theater, we would be happy to provide it).
Critical questions, dilemmas and insights from network:
The more your change effort is institutionalized, the more that you become "part of the system of non-change." Are you ready for this to happen?
This revealed that we are not attached to the form of what we are doing. Yet we have particular biases now about how we see change coming about and what we might do to serve benevolent change in STEM education. We see learning communities as critical, yet the form that the innovation takes is less critical.
- The work that you're doing in this transdisciplinary space is something that is being called for on a larger scale around the country;
- However, there is a big gap between espousing this kind of education and enacting it; attempts to enact it stimulates the sense of scarcity and need to conserve the existing content or perceived skills.
- If you become an "outsider", you lose credibility as a voice of change.
- Do we (SUSTAIN) need to be more intentional about putting ourselves "out there" in order to serve a larger change effort?
- You need to capture the experience in the alumni of the program. Consider a reunion where you set up a video booth to take in the stories (you may need to prompt them with questions).
We are left with this critical question- What is next for us? How can we serve a wider change initiative?
posted by Linda, February 2014
(Regrettably, I failed to take notes on the second call, so I invite folks to add to this if they would like)
Empowering the community
We reported that we (Liz, Linda, Roger) are in a mode of attempting to empower the community of collaborators; this largely consists of letting go of what has been our "service" to the whole initiative. The three of us have held the primary responsibility of convening groups, facilitating collaborative design of our time together, and managing the logistics of the research. In essence, we are at a phase in the work where the "strengths" of the original leadership team serve to limit the growth of the initiative. The process of empowering the community has been quite difficult for the core institutional entrepreneurs (Liz, Roger, Linda) in the way of stress and fear of failure.
Institutional resistance to change and attempts to eliminate innovation
We reported that we continue to experience institutional attempts to prevent our innovations. This has recently come in the form of a department chair changing the locks on Liz's laboratory (for which she has had responsibility for for the last 7 years) in response to she and I rearranging room in preparation for co-teaching. His actions also included the generation of a shared narrative about Liz's instability in the background through private one-on-one conversations where he expressed "concern" for her and sought agreement that she "has changed" and is "unhappy." The insidiousness of this action is that is has the appearance of support for Liz, but has the effect of the opposite. Oddly, this pattern is strongest in the college of engineering (Liz and Linda's home) and least strong in other colleges on campus. Linda faced a different opposition last year, but similar in origin (faculty colleague asserted her research was 'diluting' the engineering curriculum, institution sought to reappoint Vanasupa to a department of her own to isolate the college impact, but it was framed as "support").
Reflective feedback: All those involved in change initiatives have experienced similar acts of resistance by the conservative elements of their institution. Change occurs as a threat to existing power structures. Consider reframing the patterns according to Robert Kegan as "competing commitments." This frame may provide alternative responses to "fight or flight" which appears to be the only current options.
Documentation of change process
Several reported both the need and the struggle of documenting the change process in these conservative systems. There is a need for us to learn from these isolated cases.
Reflective feedback: One possibility would be to create an open space, such as a Google doc, and regularly call for what is being learned (e.g., Ruth and her group uses a quarterly process where they ask people to add to what is being learned). This has the effect of not overly burdening anyone with individual contributions, yet allowing the collection of these experiences.
Consider the trend in open source research, as in "radically-transparent" research. Robin Adams' graduate student Mel is working in this space. She may be a good resource.
Consider also the possibility of creating a larger network of collaborators by inviting scholars in residence. These relationships seem to have the greatest impact on change for all involved.
Summary of Teleconferences - October 2013
posted by Linda, October 24, 2013
Summary of Teleconferences - February 2013
posted by Linda, March 3, 2013
Our teleconference conversations revolved around two general themes: the SUSTAIN2 (this year's cohort) structure and health; the dynamic of institutional immune response within the college of engineering to the SUSTAIN efforts.
This year's SUSTAIN differences
This year's structure for SUSTAIN is far closer to a miniature university, where classes are filled by SUSTAIN and non-SUSTAIN students. We only connect with them on Mondays and Fridays as a king of "check-in" and "check-out". The consequence of this structure is that the students are burdened with the task of integrating, rather than the faculty. Additionally, it is easier for students to "drop out" of the experience. We have had about a 20% drop rate (in practicality, this is similar to last year). It is as if we have added a project on top of all their courses, rather than what we had desired, which was that the project would serve as a container for the learning that was taking place in their courses. Why did we do this? Simply put, the university is not set up to enable a multi-course collaboration. So this structure exists because it was the least disruptive to the system.
On the flip side, there is more desire within the faculty group, with 6/11 members new, for integration across the courses. We continue to struggle with how to do this.
The students report that they are doing well and really enjoying being in SUSTAIN. The primary measure is that they told us if we were to open up SUSTAIN in the spring quarter, we would get twice as many students to participate, as many of their friends who are not in SUSTAIN said that they wish they knew about it and would like to participate, based on the things that they have shared with them.
Research questions from the 3rd-Person Network ("Network"): How did the group form community in the absence of courses that were dedicated? By the time they graduate, do they still identify as SUSTAIN students?
Recommendation from the Network: Consider hosting structured workshops that assist faculty in developing integrated ideas for the linked courses
Institutional resistance and collaboration, faculty patterns
We are experiencing many beautiful collaborations across campus, including financial support from Student Life and Leadership for the courses because they include community engagement. The greatest resistance has come from the College of Engineering (see blog entry "The Unintended Consequences of Success"). In essence, the SUSTAIN research and learning activities have undermined the mental model of teacher as Sage, which occurs as an indictment of all that they are doing and committed to, especially if it is the only way that they know how to be.
We are currently relating to the apparent efforts to expunge our emergent activities by the conservative elements of the college as an opportunity to strengthen what we are doing.
Network observation: This identity threat within higher education is national in its scope, with many people fearing the impact of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and open education resources like Udacity. We can either shut our eyes to these systemic changes, or work with them as you are doing in SUSTAIN.
Network suggestion: As you consider designing into the current "collapse/emergence", connect your design to external research efforts in engineering education that are supportive (e.g., Olin).
Our partial conclusion: This type of emergent, student-centered way of teaching/learning appears to consist of nothing but actually requires a deep personal structural development, particularly with respect to one's own human needs and disciplinary expertise. There appears to be a pattern that those who do well in the model are those who test as Kohlberg's "post-conventional" level of moral development. At the level of "conventional", one is concerned with one's acceptance by a community of peers. Student centered teaching requires that one's attention is quite literally on the students' development, which might occurs as challenges to one's classroom authority. Those with "post-conventional" development can better maneuver this upheaval.
Network urgence: Document your observations of these emergent patterns for others!
We reported that at this point (week 7 of 20), 42 of 42 students report working harder than they have ever worked, yet finding the work meaningful, especially in contrast to their non-SUSTAIN peers, who appear to be working hard on what appears to be "busy work." SUSTAIN students are deeply engaged in their community projects with project partners reporting their satisfaction with the partnership. No student has asked to drop out for next quarter; students have asked if they can add their friends to the SUSTAIN cohort for next quarter. Summary: high engagement; high satisfaction; strong peer-to-peer relationships.
We also reported that faculty are all undergoing differing levels of personal change and interpersonal conflict. Physics as a subject, taken by half the students, is displacing much of students' attention now on projects and other courses. There is on-going conversation about this amongst the faculty.
The faculty spent insufficient time, leading up to the collaboration, on accounting for integration of their courses with others and with projects. We are "falling back" on managing our separate courses. However, within the scarcity of time that we have, we are doing our best to make room for assignments across the different courses. We are operating in a sub-optimal design of faculty who are teaching a whole different set of courses in addition to SUSTAIN, when our actual design was to have faculty with their full attention on the SUSTAIN courses. However, ...life goes on.
The suggestions from the network researchers are:
- While it is important to capture the faculty change process, don't miss the opportunity to collect some kind of data on the student change process. We can sense students are "doing better," but there is not enough rich data on the stories of student change in these kinds of experiences. We were encouraged to use the e-portfolios as a means of capturing students "AHA!" moments. We were also encouraged to engage students as partners in this process of capturing their change; consider that we'll be needing to stand before administrators to tell the story of whether this is working and present evidence--collect that evidence now.
- We should also consider collecting a similar set of evidence from the community partners.
- In the structure imbalance of students attention on fulfililng STEM requirements, consider an open dialogue on the disciplinary MYTHS that we are living. We self-perpetuate certain myths through our pedagogy, experienced by the faculty in the process of being enculturated into their own discipline. Example: STEM is a difficult and requires an enormous amount of work to be proficient in it. (This could be said for any discipline, such as History, or Philosophy). We perpetuate the myth and develop value systems around fields that are "tough" to learn, and therefore demand high salaries. These myths are systemic. The pedagogy of drill and kill, voluminous repetition, provide the illusion of mastery when in fact one has functional ability to "solve known puzzles," rather than practice a discipline.
- Consider the tide pool metaphor: This is a region of high innovation and activity, as well as a dangerous place of rapid changes in environment. It requires the tide to also go out occasionally, leaving a calm, meditative space. Can you make that space in what you are doing so that you can learn from the unfolding dynamics.
I will record here that the September teleconference was incredibly powerful in helping us get to where we are now. Of the six bullet points below, we did all but "Thoughtfully consider the identity shift..." (this one may have been critical!).
We first reported that we are at a "Go!" state, with about 40 students committed to signing up and an additional 16 or so outstanding invitations.
Last week's calls were equally insightful. What we learned from you in the calls is:
- Recognize that the draw for the students is meeting a hunger for authentic community. Begin to provide that for them prior to next quarter. They will then serve as your recruiting network;
- Expect conflict (for faculty and students). Frontload the experience with building the skillful means of working through conflict;
- The shift in research focus suggested by the NSF site visit, from student learning (primary) to the process of faculty change process, is critical and timely. An emergent view of eduation is one of a complex adaptive system that is intimately linked with the experiences outside the classroom. However, the unchangeable nature of faculty, i.e., conserving past ways of knowledge creation and values, often occurs as a barrier to change in education;
- The recommendation from the NSF officer for better branding/marketing for our work is tied to the notion of dissemination and impact. Consider hiring a Public Relations consult and making clear the value that we are contributing to the larger education enterprise. The intent here on broader impact (rather than personal recognition);
- There is a high value in inviting other researchers into the existing activity center. Consider beginning with a targeted, relationship-based network, rather than an open call for participation. A first step might be to articular the 3 or 4 things that we want to better understand. We can use existing projects in the open education arena were research data-sharing is common.
- Make explicit requests in existing partnerships within populations of interest (e.g., liberal arts) to critically evaluate the language and story that we are currently using about SUSTAIN? (e.g., "field work" vs "projects" )
- Adjust the current plan to strategically target the needed groups of students?
- Leverage your existing web and other assets to connect to those who we want to engage?
- Thoughtfully consider the identify shift that we are trying to call forth in participants and somehow be sensitive to this process?
- Connect with student networks?
- Rapid prototype the message, adjust and protoype again?
Things to remember on the journey
Alan Cheville (famous, no so last, and very important words)
"Accept failure as a possible outcome. Document failure, make sure people are accountable. Make sure it is widely known."
Call on sojourners. Pick up the phone in times of despair. The different perspective helps.
Summary of Teleconferences-May 2011
posted by Linda, May 3, 2011
In response to the emerging form of the learning that the faculty collaboration has developed, the network had these critical questions:
If we were successful, what would it look like and what would be the consequences?
- This revealed the importance of needing to manage the transition into and out of the experience, since success may mean that students want more of the same experience;
- We may inadvertently create self-directed change agents, so it will be important to build into the process their capacity to enact change and be resilient in a "traditional" learning setting;
- Another consideration is the burn-out potential for all involved--if you hit the Artesian well of motivation, perhaps people will dive headlong into it at the expense of their overall well-being. It would be wise to build in the detection of the "weak signals," or "leading indicators" of burnout.
The institution requires you to achieve existing learning objectives, but the projects will certainly drive a set of learning outcomes that are not defined a priori. How will you capture what they are learning as a means of assessing the overall experience?
- In both conversations, the notion of e-portfolios, or "folio-thinking," appears to be a way in which we can enable students to both be more reflective about their learning and build their capacity for resilience by fostering the metacognitive skills that are built while creating their own portfolio of learning. This method will provide a richer and self-generated picture of the learning experience by the students.
- While we do not yet have who we believe are all the faculty who will be teaching in this experience, it will be important to frame what we are doing in terms of what is already being done, to create a bridge from current ways to new approaches, so that this way of teaching and learning does not occur as an obliteration of their current existence (which is it not);
- Faculty will need to know that there is support for "failure," and that "failure" is an expected outcome as we attempt to learn something new;
- Burn-out is also a potential for the faculty involved, especially if this work is life-giving--develop the capacity to see the weak signals of burnout before it happens (see entry above about the Artesian well of motivation).
- There may be a need for the "prefigured" objectives of the existing courses to be expressed in a consistent way if students are to manage something about them;
- Need agreement amongst the faculty on communicating them and perhaps the AACU rubrics can serve as a good example of how levels of mastery are outlined;
- Using a portfolio approach and asking students to reflect on where they are in the stated developmental objectives can help build their own metacognitive capacity as well as their agency in their learning;
- Students will also need to see the overarching goals (the four essential learning outcomes) that are intended through participating in this initiative--these do not necessarily show up in the "prefigured learning outcomes" attached to the courses that they are taking in the experience.
- There is a plethora of guided resources for college courses, many of which have formative assessment built into them to help the learner know if they are understanding and applying the concepts;
- This is a national/international area that is rich with experimentation and possibility, based on the emerging shifts in the higher education paradigm;
- The content that is available is wide-ranging but certainly not comprehensive. We'll need to determine if what is available can meet our needs.
- The things that appeal to students will be different than those that appeal to faculty;
- The visuals like the sketch developed by the faculty group are helpful, a narrative of the experience could be more compelling.
Summary of Teleconferences-December 2010
reflections by Linda Vanasupa, posted December 15, 2010
We held two calls. Our intent was to have us meet one another, inform of the current state of the learning initiative, inform of plans for near-term future state and receive feedback from the network members.
The case study on culture provided a baseline for the conversations. This study was done by Alicia Dowd's graduate student and was based on a series of broadcast emails between Cal Poly's Academic Senate and the leadership team of the SUSTAIN-SLO learning initiative.
Several of the network partners recognized the difficulty of cultural conflicts in the process of change. They confirmed their interest in accessing the faculty reflections in the process of change. The National Science Foundation officer expressed NSF's particular interest in how large scale changes occur, the role of meaning in shaping student outcomes, and how we might "turn around our economy through innovation."
From the community college perspective, there were these important data points: 1. freeing time for faculty to enact any classroom changes is an on-going challenge; 2. innovations at the 4-year institutions can affect the transfer students and/or their chances of success; 3. articulation agreements have the potential to help or destroy community college programs.