Learning, Exploring, Leveraging, and Living – A Semester of PD (part 1 of 2)

As someone with “fixer” like tendencies, the welcoming staff at Bluedog helped me see the value in pause. I’m not used to pause. I’ve always worked in places and for people who wanted more, faster, now, better. I still do - but I’m learning to approach these challenges differently.

I’m tired. In the best way.

Since mid-February I have attended the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) conference in Anaheim, an invited NSF work group on creating inclusive STEM studio learning environments, interned at an amazing design firm in Chicago for a week, and was the virtual engagement co-chair of the OLC Innovate conference. Whew! Here are a few quick takeaways:

At ELI, I engaged in a number of conversations about data – what we’re gathering as a field, what metrics we’re focused on, what metrics we’re not focused on but should be, and the problematic use of the word “metric” as though something as nuanced as learning is something that can be so easily encapsulated in such a compact term. My eyes are on trends like artificial intelligence and proctoring software, surveillance, and how data patterns are driving what we do as higher education – and who they may be leaving behind. The ethical considerations in these spaces are vast. Who are we leaving behind? And why and how are we doing so? One of my favorite thinkers in this space is Chris Gilliard. I’ve been following his work since the DLRN conference in 2015 and he’s inspired and challenged my thinking since then. It’s great to see others taking up the conversation as well, and watching him challenge them as well.

I captured my experience at the Biosphere 2 designing inclusive STEM studio learning environments in a relatively recent blog post, so I’ll shift focus now to my week as an intern at Bluedog Design in Chicago. To avoid accidentally revealing any of their industry secret magic, I’ll focus on what I learned that week about how to treat other people. For an entire week, their staff welcomed me into meetings, work sessions, answered my questions, offered advice, and challenged me in really key ways that I’m still thinking my way through. As someone with “fixer” like tendencies, the welcoming staff at Bluedog helped me see the value in pause. I’m not used to pause. I’ve always worked in places and for people who wanted more, faster, now, better. I still do – but I’m learning to approach these challenges differently. Note that I said “learning.” I am still working on pause – more to come on that later. The biggest thing I took away from Bluedog is how much better I can be at intentionally welcoming people into my space and some ways I might do that.

Finally, from interactions at OLC Innovate it became clear that, in the field of learning design and others, MSU is challenging some commonly-held practices and asking really important questions. We are less focused on (though well informed about) “best practices” and more focused on the conversations happening around those best practices. My Hub colleague, Michael Lockett, recently asked some really important questions that have had me thinking for several days: “For instance, are we convinced our design work is ethical? How would we know if it wasn’t? And do the ethics to which we adhere differ from those of our counterparts at private or corporate schools? How so?” These are the kinds of questions that guide not only our scholarly output, but our design outputs as well. Michael beautifully and brilliantly distilled a huge conundrum into these approachable (yet difficult) questions, inspired by the OLC Innovate keynote by Dr. Tressie McMillan-Cottom.

Phew. 2019 has been a ride. And, as with all good PD, it got me thinking in unexpected ways. Through the incredible love and support of my PLN , and inspired by a few thinkers I admire (Adam Croom, Amy Collier, and more) I realized that I’ve contributed a lot to my field in the past few years (as has my field contributed to my development). It has me thinking… what good could I focus my energy on locally if I said “no” to more things nationally? What if I was laser-focused and intentional about worrying less about “the field” and more about “my community and my institution.” I am working through Part 2 of this blog post – in which I discuss the idea of the “year of no” as a focused, change-making extravaganza of experimentation and storytelling centered within the boundaries of MSU and my local community of Lansing, Michigan. I’m excited to share as the idea evolves.

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