Are We There Yet?

“All good things arrive unto them that wait–and don’t die in the meantime.”

– Mark Twain in letter to Orion and Jane Clemens, 1889

I wish I had learned things earlier in life that required patience. As a kid I looked for the quick fix. Instant gratification. Not just as a child, but till I was like 27. Or 29. I lived as Veruca Salt. Maybe 36.

“I want the works

I want the whole works

Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises

Of all shapes and sizes

And now

Don’t care how

I want it now

Don’t care how

I want it now”


Some how I survived. I think it is miraculous. Really. Now, a few years later, I have learned the lessons of gardening. That things take time. And care. Are often fraught with failure and messiness. I am sure part of that is age. Part, because I have actually done more gardening. Either way, I wish I had more patience when I was younger. Or just last week when….

I brought that to my students. It was a gift I could share with them, just as I did the world of language and the magical spaces of literature. As a teacher, I have learned that progress is good. I have learned it is easy to miss the progress we make because are are busy looking for the next bit of progress. And then the next. And the next.

The process of progress is a better story than the final score on a quiz or essay. Within the story of progress there are people, places, moments of wonder and disbelief. A good reading of that story is a far more informative description of “what one is knowing” than what one knows. The evaluation is the end of the story. No, it is just another beginning. And these stories take some time to tell, and to hear, to see and to appreciate. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I can’t fix that story. But I can assure you, the only thing we have is this time.

Gardening is a cycle of time. Seasonal. Annual. It moves between time and through it. Each unique and each endless; each tied closely to the last. The great circle of life.

These days I work with faculty. I see them hurried to figure things out. To fix things they believe are broken. To do things they feel a need to do. All too often they are nervous. Worried. Technology is fast like a new toaster oven. If it comes from a computer, it should be efficient and correct. There seems to be a belief that whatever needs to happen, can happen fast. I tell them a different story.

I often tell them I can fix it for you now, or we can learn it together over some amount of time. I remind them that me doing it for them will only put them in the same position next time it happens. I tell them that these digital tools are very complex and that the art of teaching is far more complex. It takes time. I remind them that it is ok to let students know they are learning it too.

I appreciate the need to do things “right” or “on time.” I know faculty want to be seen as knowledgeable and capable. I do too. And the class starts next week. Or We just changed the LMS over the summer and I need to learn the new one, fast! I don’t have time to learn it! I don’t have time! Yes, I know that story.

Part of the circle of life is not knowing. Part of failure is success.

There is little in this small patch of dirt worth getting anxious about. Turn the soil. Give things space. Water the sprouts carefully. Prune when necessary. Let insects in, but pay attention. Share what is grown.

So I suppose I wish I had known that I could just breathe (like my yoga teachers always say) and open my eyes and move forward. Without anxiety. Without so much stress. Without hoping it will be fixed instantly. I have more time! I have more time! I have time!

“Yes” you are saying. Hal Ashby. I know right. Did you know that there is a movie coming out titled Hal. Here is the trailer.

What Visual Aids Do You Use in Class?

I have often joked that my favorite week in school was the “using visual aids” week. When you go to college to be a teacher, using visual aids is one of the topics covered. I learned all about using visual aids in classrooms. Yeah, don’t laugh.

I use my eyeballs a lot and I like to touch things. So when a topic is being addressed I like to be able to touch it, or at least see it. Thank goodness for PowerPoint right? Does all that visual aid stuff for you right? Some colorful bulleted lists and maybe a picture or two and you got some kinda killer visual aids. Well, not really. Ask any student.

Some courses lean more towards easily accessible visual aids. Science courses for example. There are all kinds of cool things you can bring to class for science. Bones you find in your back yard, pretty flowers, or moldy bread. And the classrooms themselves are full of things to play with and touch. To smell and to get hurt using. Other courses, like psychology or advanced business courses may be more challenging. None the less, you can have fancy visual aids to help articulate and detail examples from the field of work you are studying in any course. It just takes some imagination.

Easy Access / Easy Consumption - The Wall E Model

I don’t teach English anymore. But when I did, I used serious visual aids sometimes. We usually call them “field trips.”  To me, they were just another visual aid that helped students better understand the multidimensional topics we covered. I had them draw the rock they saw in Bryce Canyon. I had them read about conservation in Yosemite. I used some big visual aids in my classrooms.


Now I do “teacher training” and I really can’t use the phrase “visual aids.” Sounds like I am talking about middle school right? But not really. I employ fancy colors, big pieces of paper, and sometimes old t-shirts to really bring a point home. Yeah, keep laughing.

Sometimes, I use websites. But not store bought websites. My own websites. The difference there is like bringing store bought cookies to a party versus bring warm homemade cookies. You’re not laughing now, are you? And website are an interesting form of handout that can be shared many times over. Of course a website has limitations like anything digital. No smell. No texture. You can’t throw a website across the room or dance with it.

These visual aids can be employed in a variety of ways. You can use them in one on one conversations or in small groups. You could use them as rewards, or as ways to recognize outstanding performance. They could be online or held in a hand. They can be big or small. Fluffy or prickly. Smelly or cold.

What about visual aids in online classes? Well, you might just use the out-of-doors as a visual aid to help describe something.

What I enjoy the most is that time holding something that represents an actual artifact from the content being discussed. Then giving it to students to look at, to touch and feel. A tangible element to add dimension to the conversation. I know, I can think of a lot of examples for science or botany or anatomy. Even some for physics and math. But what about English? What about those times in psychology where you do role playing? Do you bring in hats and big horned rim glasses to help with the visual elements?

I have more questions about visual aids. Like is a guest speaker a visual aid? Is a field trip a visual aid? Is Skyping someone into the room a visual aid? Is asking another faculty’s class to come share some time with your class a visual aid?

Do visual aids make any difference? Learning is about making connections. Connections between ideas and things known and newly discovered. And these things are not just words in a bulleted list, they are often things that exist and can be touched. And that touching can be part of making connections more concrete. Because we remember what our senses encounter. And we sense the world with more than our eyeballs.

Getting Some QM Rolling Along

Last week we had 18 faculty in a seven hour workshop about Quality Matters. The title of the workshop was “Applying the Quality Matters Rubric.” It is described by QM as,

“The Applying the Quality Matters Rubric (APPQMR) workshop is QM’s flagship workshop on the QM Rubric and the process of using the QM Rubric to review online courses. It is intended for a broad audience, including but not limited to faculty, instructional designers, administrators, and adjunct instructors who wish to understand more about the QM Rubric and process of course review.”

What excites me the most about Quality Matters is not so much the rubric itself, but the peer reviewing process that is part of the implementation of course reviews. While all the faculty who go through the Applying the Rubric workshop have access to an online self–review tool from QM, there is also a peer review process that can be done at the local college level or by having qualified faculty from other QM institutions review a course and get a course “QM Certified.”

Either way, I am excited to get some of our faculty involved in an organized process of peer reviewing courses. I have been part of the “Blackboard Exemplary Course” process over the last few years and it is always really a great learning experience for me. I see course from other institutions and can see how they are organized and designed. I can see the different tools used and how the faculty see the delivery process of the class. And Blackboard has its own rubric.

In fact, it was the Exemplary Course program from Blackboard where we first got the idea for our “Faculty Course Tours” on the Webletter. While the tours are not a peer review process, at least you can peer into a colleague’s course and see how they describe what they do. I think that is important. Particularly important in the online environment where faculty do not often see what others are doing well. Maybe you can do a course tour of your awesome class and send it to me! Here is our awesome Jason Whitesitt’s contribution.

At the QM workshop, it was great to see that many faculty wondering about improving courses in a systematic way. It is not as if we do not have pretty good participation at our summer and winter institutes, but it is not often that 18 faculty spend a whole day on a topic regarding online teaching. We will be doing the workshop again. Hopefully, within a few months.

I think it is important that we take this opportunity with QM and really leverage the interest in it. I hope that when the workshops are offered they are mostly full and that some faculty continue on with other QM workshops that allow them to become certified reviewers. I hope that the division deans take the workshop so they can be better informed when looking at faculty courses and making informed decisions about them. I hope our upper management take the workshop so they can better understand the challenges and intricacies of teaching online. I hope that the QM rubric and the peer review process become part of the teaching culture here at Yavapai. I think we can learn much and make some good strides in improving our courses.

Upgrading or degrading?

You know how these things change. I mean these computers and stuff. One day you are just figuring out Windows 7 and then it is gone and replaced with Windows 8. And you are lost. Again. (Repeat cycle)

And soon enough and sure enough you are fed up with all the changes and long for the good ol’ days when things worked like you understood them to work. And our hands shake with anxiety and frustration over the new features and new look of an old tool that essentially does the same thing but now looks completely different.

And it usually happens that the parts removed are some of the ones that you found the most valuable. You are left with an “upgrade” that you neither understand not does the very things you wanted it to do in the first place. (Repeat cycle)

And we curse at the inanimate machines and the “them” and “the “they” that are responsible for our endless nightmare of “updated”” “upgraded” and “improved” tools at our disposal to conquer the world around us.

It is at these times I am reminded of the “Going back to simpler times” and CK Lewis with his take on how everything is amazing and nobody is happy.

So I smile for a moment at the thought and go back to my white knuckled grip on my machine that is not doing exactly what I know it used to be able to do but now seems no longer capable of doing. And I curse them. Whoever the heck they are?

Most of the good things I have learned, like most people did not happen in a building and happened over an extended period of time. I think that may of my personal revelations happened standing alone on a trail in the Grand Canyon. On a hot trail. With no one around. And I stood there thinking “I’ll never get to the top.” Real and deep dismay. After doing that for some years every time I hiked in the Canyon I came to discover a thing I like to call “Patience.”

It helps me relax a bit when it comes to computers and machinery in general. It even helps me with politics. Lots of things work, like “just walking away.” Or maybe I finally actually ask a human for help rather than an endless search on Google and help forms from five years ago. And of course I’ll never actually think of interacting in real time with another human as I struggle with coming to some new understanding of how to make things happen. I’ll email someone and wait. And while I wait I get even more frustrated. I think about the CK Lewis clip. I smile for a moment.

More shaking and cursing and anxiety. It is as endless as the upgrades.