What Does “A Culture of Learning” Look Like?

I want you to describe for me the elements that are active in a college where there is a clear “culture of learning” among faculty. Ok, go ahead.

 (time passes and you think about the question above and even have some answers)

What are the expectations of the faculty about their role in learning about teaching and learning? How would faculty respond to, “Tell me what you do to improve your skills as an educator?” I imagine many would say I attend workshops. I imagine many would say I talk to my colleagues. I imagine some would say I attend conferences about teaching. I imagine a few might say I read books about teaching and learning.

How does the institution support the professional growth of the faculty? Well, we have workshops, day long workshops, we bring in some guest speakers. We have monies available to send faculty to conferences. We have yearly evaluations that include professional growth activities.

How to deans support the faculty when it comes to developing a group of faculty who are literate in current educational practices and skills. Do they share books about the profession with them? Do they recommend conferences to attend? Do they send them off to confer with colleagues at other institutions to share best practices with? Do they sit in front of each faculty member and ask, “What can I do to help you?”

Finally, what is the role of each faculty member in this culture of learning? How do they share the valuable things they discover as educators? What venues are available to them to share the ideas and what opportunities might they create to share them? Are they visibly supported to be innovative and experimental in their approach to the work they do?

What can we do for ourselves as professionals in the field of learning?

  • Attend a conference that is about teaching, not a particular subject.
  • Read a book about teaching and learning.
  • Watch a movie about teaching and learning.
  • Have a conversation longer than a few minutes about specific practices in the classroom or online.
  • Take a faculty member you admire out to lunch and ask them 100 questions about how and why they do what they do.
  • Call a faculty member from another college in the state and ask them about how they teach and what works for them.
  • And most importantly, share what you read or discovered with your colleagues.
  • Go visit a local college and just see who is there and what they think about teaching and learning. There are lots of faculty sitting in offices. Some busy, some not so.
  • Take an entire class period to ask students what they need and want when it comes to learning stuff. And make sure to ask them how they know those things are actually true.
  • Pick a portion of a book or a favorite quote about teaching and put it on your office wall. Make sure everyone who comes into your office reads it and shares their thoughts about it with you. No matter what.

Here is mine.


Now, I ask you if your classes have all these same elements? They should because they also should be surrounded by a culture of learning.

From a Tweet to Keynotes to Bike Races

It was just like the playground. You accidently bump into someone while playing kickball and a week later you say hi to them in the hallway. A month later some random circumstance places you near them and you have a conversation. You have things in common. There is a conversation and you find similarities that attract you or differences that push you away.

So it is with the web when you get a reply from a stranger on Twitter or a comment on a blog post that interests you and you also reply. You know the story. That goes on for a bit and maybe you meet the person face to face at a conference or talk with them live in a Hangout. One thing leads to another and you are sitting in the same room with them and talking.

In my case that has evolved into friendships that have benefited me and many faculty at the college I work for. I have been able to find remarkable people to share their ideas as keynote sessions at our faculty workshops and discovered events I can attend that I likely would not have found otherwise. I have even been a speaker at events I likely would not have discovered without those connections. That is how part of it has worked for me. The other part is different.

In my case the twitterverse led me to a group of educators in Phoenix who call themselves the “CyberSalon.” I watched from afar as they wrote blog posts and shared some pretty amazing things with me. I learned so much from just reading what they shared. I still do.

Here is a short piece and a deeper look at who they are what they do.

I was so excited by the idea of a “CyberSalon” I started one here in my hometown. You can read about that a bit here on a site we used as a presentation about the whole CyberSalon idea.

I have had a few of the CyberSaloners up to give the keynotes at our faculty conferences and I have met some really wonderful people. They are so amazing. They are creative and deeply devoted to education. And they are really interested in connecting and sharing ideas. That was the whole idea behind the CyberSalon. Share and connect.

All awesome and all in part because of twitter and the CyberSalon.

For me, I have been able to go out on bike rides with Alan Levine. Races even! It is a very serious affair. We are the Official #ds106 Athletic Club Mountain Biking Team and we take that very seriously. It has been really awesome. We ride around and sometimes talk about teaching and learning. Sometimes we talk about beer. Sometimes we talk about gardening. He is a huge inspiration and I am lucky that circumstances brought us together. The web was a part of that.


I guess that is how it is all supposed to go? We make connections. But we are responsible for seeking them out. We have to take some initiative to get out there. In a room full of people or a web full of twitter, we have to be willing to get out there and share and learn.



Some of the “Why” in EDU 255

The “why” of the course I offer as an example today is because I work with so many who anxious about the possibilities of technology. They are worried about not knowing enough about, or not having enough technology to do their work. The demands of the environment they work in are leaning more and more toward a deeper technological literacy. They worry about that. They are “faculty” and local K12 educators. And they are the people I work with.

EDU 255 (Fundamentals of Educational Technology)

In 2008 we taught the EDU 255 class out of Blackboard and had a bit of the work on public blogs. In 2009 we moved most of the work onto blogs. It was pretty cool. Here is the site. We had a few semesters off, went in and out of Blackboard, and last year we left the LMS for good and did all the work on a blog aggregating the student sites using FeedWordpress. It is here. It was my experiences in The Program for Online Teaching and ds106 that helped me get to that vision of how it could be done.

The current version of EDU 255 is not perfect and we are still tweeking the class and preparing for an October 13th start date this year. It is a seven week course (not my decision) and is billed as “online.” Last year we offered at least four face to face sessions for students at local coffee shops.


The “Why”

I have interest in this class is because I see the opportunities provided by the web and some of the digital tools I am able to use. The learning objectives for the college and K12 educators in this course is to interact with peers and see what others are thinking and doing, to learn more about how the web can work, and to help them see they can use the web in a way that enhances the experiences of students. Be that a simple recording of a video or creating a useful group of links they can easily contribute to, easily access, and share. It is billed as an introductory course and we have made the work accessible to most educators. Cathy Davidson noted in the #ccourse Hangout this week that too often, “our practices are invisible to each other.” I think that running the class the way we have has allowed folks to better see what others are doing.

The class is certainly not “open” though beyond having a public face on the web. We have never intentionally invited others to participate. I sort of like the small size of the participants and I think there is value in keeping it smallish. I never have been a big fan of the “M” in MOOC. I’d rather sit around a tree reading poems with a few folks…

Very nearly without exception all of the participants have really been happy with what they have experienced. It is easy to sell the technology stuff to educators. Usually.

The “online” delivery of the class has been interesting as I know well the value of sitting next to an anxious instructor trying to figure out how to use some tricky tool. We really pushed the face to face class last time and it worked. We had a few people in each meeting and they were very appreciative of having someone there next to them to assist.

Anyway, that is a story about a class I get to participate in.

On Another Note

Here in the middle of Arizona we are also about to launch our second annual 9x9x25 Challenge which is a class really, but it is 100 percent participant driven. Kinda like an EdCamp only different. You can read about it here.

The #whyiteach in the #ccourses

Today, for me, the “Why I teach” is a result of the “Why and how I want to learn” I have experienced in most of my schooling. I was a whiner and very stubborn and I wanted it my way. Of course, I hardly ever got it my way. Nonetheless, I wanted to learn. I had a vision you know!


Spelling error aside, I share the video I below because it is still close to what I think about what I need. I need direction. I need time to think. I need to get somewhere better. I take my “I need” job very seriously.

On a side note I only just now observed. In the video, near the end, I ride my bike into a small wash and the word “challenge” appears. I am currently using that word in my work with the 9x9x25 Challenge. I made the video in about 2005 or 6. Funny how themes and words run through us…