#OLCinnovate Reflections

As I was leaving for #OLCinnovate I was feeling a bit overwhelmed as I looked at my calendar. It felt more like my work week than a conference. Almost every hour was booked and in several cases double booked.  As I reflect back on the week however, rather than feeling drained, I feel “filled up”.

The themes for me were feminism and space. As a member of the first ever SDS (solution design summit) we (Laura Pasquini, Mike Goudzwaard, Kyle Johnson, Adam Croom, Michael Atkisson) created a space for interdisciplinary teams of people to brainstorm with stakeholders  and work through the process of defining their problem and ideating a solution. The energy, engagement and enthusiasm in the room exceeded any conference space I’ve been. Beyond the SDS I attended and participated in three days of thoughtful and meaningful conversations. Finally a conference where we practiced what we preach-rather than talking at us, presenters were our guides. Why is it we can’t create that time and space in our offices? Stay tuned for the announcement of the winning #OLCinnovateSDS winning team!

I was invited to speak at the Women Leaders in Ed-tech dinner and share my story of a challenge or barrier I faced. I spent a great deal of time reflecting on what story to share. The question was not really about the story, rather how vulnerable was I willing to be? How much of myself should I share? Whenever I’m having a difficult time, when it just seems too hard and I begin to have that suffocating feeling, the story I go back to is my dissertation journey. I thought if those words inspire me and get me through a difficult time then let me share that piece of me. The reaction I received was and continues to be overwhelming. Person after person thanked me for sharing my story and letting them know they are not alone; that I restored their belief in their ability to overcome a challenge they were currently facing. Women I’ve known for years-told me that I had been their inspiration.  We frequently don’t realize the impact our actions and words can have on another and the importance of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

olcinnovate

The next day in our “Women Who Innovate” session (Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Laura Pasquini, Jess Knott, Nori Barajas-Murphy) several women shared stories of the impact words of encouragement had had on them. Similar to my story, a person had “planted the seed of an idea” by suggesting they go back for their PhD. There was no pressure just every so often a hint was dropped. I spoke of how my brother was the tipping point for me. While so many people had encouraged me to go back to school I just didn’t believe I could be successful. It was his words that were the tipping point for me. Who will you be the tipping point for?

Here’s my story:

It is hard for me to comprehend that I am at this place already and that the end of my journey is actually here (little did I know it had only begun). In the Spring of 2007 I unexpectedly found myself in a position where I was about to be a single mother of 3 children. During the next several months numerous co-workers encouraged me to get started on my PhD, yet I was not ready to make that commitment. I had heard so many stories about people not finishing and I did not want to be one of them. I questioned how I would ever be able to find the time to do my school work, whether the added pressure and time spent away would have a negative impact on my family and whether I had the intellectual capacity to be successful (I now know this is Imposter Syndrome). My children and I spent that Thanksgiving with my brother and his family. While at his house I mentioned to him I was thinking about going back to school and tried to justify why I was holding back. His response was “Just do it. I will support you and help you with whatever you need. Just take the plunge and register for classes”. This statement was the tipping point for me. I went home that night and began the process.

This was not a journey traveled alone. Without the immense encouragement and support of my children Nicholas, Anjelica and Rosalina I would not be sitting here writing this today (without the immense support of so many of you I would not be standing in front of this room today). They were and continue to be my inspiration and, on the days when it all seemed too much, what drove me to not give up. Thank you to my bother Jim, my sister-in-law Jean, my parents and my closest and dearest friends who told me “just breathe” and helped to lighten my load when I needed it the most.  

Mothers (and Fathers), and Daughters

During #dLRN15 mothers, fathers and daughters was a theme for me-although my amazing daughters were not with me. Catherine Cronin, Kate Bowles,  Bonnie Stewart & Dave Cormier, Whitney Kilgore (brought her daughter virtually via Facetime) and Andy Saltarelli all gave their daughters an amazing gift by bringing them to the conference. These daughters were surrounded by role models, and had experiences that I expect will change the narrative of their lives. In my previous job my youngest daughter Rosie traveled to Panama with me five times before she left elementary school. While there she attended college classes taught by the other faculty and (mine were too “boring”) participated in class discussions and activities with the students. Each of the students in my classes, and the faculty with whom I taught, became a part of my daughter’s story-they shaped her narrative.To this day, things she learned in those classes have had a lasting impact on the woman she has become. My older daughter Anjelica traveled with me to Panama as well. Her experiences there witnessing the extreme gap between wealth and poverty had a lasting impact on her story. She is currently a Biomedical engineering major hoping to someday bring medical care to developing countries.

Throughout their childhood, girls develop beliefs about their abilities,  what it takes to complete particular tasks, and what the possible “outcomes” for them are. Their perceptions of what they can achieve are significantly impacted by social interactions with peers and adults. It is through these interactions girls learn about gender roles, stereo-types, and what others expect of them. As girls grow up it is these vicarious experiences  that influence the choices they make and ultimately the story they tell.

Privilege has given our daughters opportunities many don’t have. From the time before our daughters are born we begin to shape the narrative of our daughter’s lives. What happens to those girls who don’t have mothers and fathers to provide them with the role models, experiences and words of encouragement needed to build their efficacy and shape their goals and dreams? How can the digitization of education provide access to role models and experiences for girls across the globe and socio-economic levels? What can we do to change the ending of the story?

Today I am presenting at an AAUW conference on engaging girls in STEM. This presentation will build on one Whitney and I did at #OLC15 with a goal of gaining a better understanding of how we can use digital content such as MOOCs to create on ramps for girls into STEM.

Making Sense of #dLRN15

What is dLRN15 anyway? What is the goal of this conference? These were questions posed throughout our two days at Stanford. For me it is not an easy question to answer or one that can be answered in a single sentence.

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To me dLRN15 was:

Engagement, vulnerability, a safe space, cool kids at the table, identity, how do we get to do the things we really care about, since when is it radical to have boundaries on our time, adjuncts, systemic change, credit hour, different lenses, caring, compassion, empathy, collaboration, humanity, solutions, problems, equity, access, parity, diversity in ed-tech, diversity in the room, how do we define diversity anyway? Hash tags, virtual connecting, faculty development, needs of elite institution, non-traditional, and community college students, and how do we make sense of it all. For me this wasn’t a conference, it was an experience. One shared with those on the ground at Standford and those attending virtually via @vconnecting.

The two things needed to have an experience are: interaction and continuity (Dewey 1938). Based upon this definition I would say the attendees of dLRN15 had an experience. The safe space Kristen Eshleman George Siemens, Matt Croslin, Bonnie Stewart, Dave Cormier and J.T. Dellinger gave us enabled us to question our assumptions, see the world from a different or unknown viewpoint, disagree with one another, be surprised and see that what we thought the problem was might not be the problem at all. I frequently attend conferences where the presenter is “talking at” me about the importance of active learning. This conference practiced what it preached. The presenter wasn’t “the smartest person in the room”, rather, as a whole, we were all the smartest person in the room. Inclusivity was a theme of the conference and something echoed by attendees. There was no feeling of a “cool kids table”. Everyone felt welcome, a part of the discussion and that their voice mattered.

As I listened to the final wrap up, I sat back in my chair trying to make sense of all the emotions I felt, in awe of the capacity and willingness of the people in the room to be vulnerable, to demonstrate compassion and empathy, and their shear resolve to make sense of the changing higher education landscape and ensure all voices are heard. I was, and will continue to be, deeply moved by it.

To invoke change requires a safe space to think, intentionality, pose inquiring questions, share and reflect with others from across a wide range of viewpoints and demographics, experiment, be snarky, thoughtfully disagree, have what we thought we knew torn apart, and resolve to find our Northstar. For me this is all contained in a single phrase – #dLRN15.

Questions we are left to ponder are:

  • How can we create a space for a culture of reflective, engaged teaching and learning?
  • How might we develop personalized learning processes that move beyond content?
  • How might we build a community development process that distributes course creation and centralizes data & research?
  • How can we stop speaking for students and give them a voice?

As part of the sense making process of #dLRN15 conference we are collecting the stories from participants and non-participants. Are you wondering about the following?

What are the most pressing uncertainties, and the most promising applications of digital networks for learning and the academy?

How do we begin to make sense of this change in such a way that we can act in it?

Share your story and let your voice be heard http://us.sensemaker-suite.com/Collector/collector.gsp?projectID=DLRN2015&language=en#Collector