My learning, a little less abstractly this time!

Just for fun, I just posted to ETAP 640 my draft of the class syllabus idea/project thing that existed before I started the course.

I had a subject I was interested in.  I had two textbooks that I had vetted and was happy with, and some minimal use of additional online resources – most notably, the United Spinal Association’s excellent resource document on disability etiquette.  I had built in some flexibility to allow for differing abilities and learning styles – students could choose their preferred four out of seven short assignments, and had the option to complete their final project (paper and presentation) either individually or in a small group.

I thought I was doing a good job at designing a modern, responsive, student-centered course.  Really?  I was probably about as far along that path as the person who believes that “not seeing” people’s skin color is the pinnacle of cultural competence and sensitivity.  (Just in case you’re curious, here’s a good piece of writing on why that’s not so.)  It’s actually a little bit embarrassing.

Here are some of the serious problems that existed in my original draft:

  • I put one of the more difficult and potentially controversial topics (disability’s intersection with other social marginalizations) right in the first module of the course, simply because I didn’t want to come back to it out of sequence.
  • While the assignments had a wide enough variety to be sensitive to differences in learning style, and were at least a step in getting away from all-term-paper-all-the-time, and generally had at least a tenuous degree of “real world” relevance, what they didn’t have in my construction was enough of a tie back to what was actually being covered in the course.
  • I was still very much directing the content, exactly what I thought should be covered and how I thought it should be covered, and in an online version, I would have either written all of the discussion questions myself or posted a general, “Let’s talk about this!” sort of discussion without any guidance.
  • My major assignment, worth 30% of the course grade, was just another paper and presentation on a related subject.  Not something with a whole lot of applicability to most people’s lives; in fact, it had less relevance than most of the short assignments.  Also, though I did at least give the option to work on this assignment either individually or in a small group, this is the exact scenario that has contributed to the disastrous group projects I’ve been involved in – and why yes, there was just ANOTHER one in one of Those Other Classes Over There.
  • It wasn’t very customizable to the needs of the students who signed up for it.  Most students who would take a class with a name like “Disabled in America” are likely to have a personal interest in the subject matter due to personal experience of their own or of those they are close to, a professional interest in the subject matter due to career goals, or possibly both.  If I have students who are interested in careers as ASL interpreters, and I move quickly past issues pertaining to Deaf people and focus a lot of attention on, say, wheelchair-accessible buildings and mass transit, I’m going to lose the attention of my students – and rightfully so!

What changed?  The class discussions, struggle though I always did with them, were often where I realized that the way I was setting something up didn’t have to be the ONLY way to do it, and combined with Alex’s feedback on some of the intermediate versions of the course, I was able to make changes.  Big changes.  And I’ve been making changes that aren’t tiny-sized right up to the end.  Let’s see if I can share with you how some of the unfolding happened:

  • Alex insisted that I have a full-fledged non-optional group project.  Yikes!  Despite my discomfort with mandating group projects because of some of the awful experiences I’ve had, I realized that the two best group experiences I’ve had were in three courses (Human Behavior & Social Environment I and Micro Practice II at U Albany, if you’re curious, along with one of my Public Administration courses at Brockport) where the instructors said, in effect, “On certain dates later this semester, I’m going to sit back and have you teach your classmates about an important aspect of this course.   The sign-up sheet is going around – make your decision quickly, and start thinking about how you’re going to do this.”  The combination of being pushed back on about something I was uncomfortable with, and using the lessons of my own positive experiences, led to the creation of the co-taught modules.  I now believe the co-taught modules are the heart, soul, and single most important aspect of my Disabled in America class, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  This was the most important thing I learned – to hand trust back to my students, and that it is not only OK to do so, but it actually makes a better class.
  • Somewhere along the way in the discussion, the concept of the “virtual field trip” was introduced.  I thought for a while about how, or if, I wanted to add one of those.  I decided that it was worth doing, and that one module’s co-teachers could be our “virtual tour guides” at a virtual museum.  Some of the virtual tour concept also made it into my module that addresses Universal Design.
  • Alex telling us to “first make it work, then make it pretty!”  I remember an old comic strip (maybe it was from FoxTrot?) of a teenager working on a homework assignment who can’t get past changing the fonts on the header.  As my undergrad work-study job was creating presentation materials for teacher in-service programs, I have weaknesses in that direction as well.  However, as someone strongly committed to accessibility, I also have the desire to avoid excess bling and adding this and that just because I can.  I’m so glad she was explicit on that point – it really freed me to focus on the content.
  • The discussion in Module 4 about whether and to what extent we should be rating for spelling, grammar, and usage.  I was forced to examine my own prejudices on the subject very closely, and after a lot of internal debate, ended up speaking up and I hope inspiring at least a few classmates to do likewise.  My original five-point short assignment rubric was a “three points for content, two points for style” setup.  I like my new short assignment rubric, which owes much to the rubric used for GRE writing assessments.This was probably the next major, radical change I made in my thinking about teaching as a result of the class.
  • The atmosphere of the course in general, as well as the MANY resources everyone has in diigo, led to my next radical decision, though I went back and forth about it for a while.  I decided that the course would be better off without use of the physical textbooks.  I had SO MUCH information that I would just be overloading my students at that point, and realistically?  For an online student, the physical book is the thing that is more likely to be ignored than the online-available resources.  (Yes, from personal experience.  Guilty.)  Why even create that problem?  Besides, much as I love Paul Longmore’s work in particular, I really wanted to bring in a greater diversity of author perspectives and experiences.  The virtual course packet I put together allows me to do that.

That’s the big stuff.  Then there are the little things I learned from looking at others’ courses, which maybe aren’t so little.  Being clear about technological requirements, setting up the feedback system I use to be a combination of reflection for self and feedback for the co-teachers…I could go on, but since EduBlogs has already kicked me off once tonight, I want to get this post published!

(4)

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – how do you measure a year?

The song line seems appropriate.  I’ll always associate it with disability rights work, after the sermon that referenced it at Pat Figueroa’s funeral.  And, after all, that’s why I’m designing the class that I am – it’s not just an academic exercise.

About that class, though, and where it stands as of now:

  • Ten sidebar links constituting the “deconstructed syllabus”.
  • Four different rubrics for different types of learning activity.
  • Eight to-do lists, all of which still need a bit of revision to bring them into line with decisions I made after I originally drafted them.
  • 14 assignment-submission links, encompassing the peer feedback process as well as regular assignments.
  • 51 discussion topics/questions – not counting the publicly viewable assignment threads.
  • A list of 24 recommended books for the book review assignment.
  • A list of 24 recommended movies for the movie review assignment.
  • 85 specifically chosen-by-me web links (90 if you count the five I highlighted as a demonstration of the “virtual field trip”) – some required for everyone, others as potential discussion starters based on the decision of the students co-teaching a module.

I have probably considered at least twice as many books, movies, and web resources as actually made it into the class.  Maybe more.  And as someone who is easily distracted and LOVES my subject matter, it’s hard not to just go “oh, this is fascinating!” and be off and running into a whole other sidetrack.  Like getting interested in the poor houses of the 1800s and their recordings of their “lunatic” and “idiot” and physically impaired populations.  (That could be its own class!  Maybe someday.  NOT NOW.)

I’ve had documents spontaneously become un-formatted and links I wanted to use disappear from the Internet or behind a pay wall.  I’ve had multiple loud arguments with my spouse, who has felt like this class gets more attention than he does these days and has referred to the class as my demanding mistress.  I’ve stayed up all night to put pieces together because it’s the only time the house is quiet, and spent so much time in our local Starbucks (again, so I can work in relative quiet without constantly having this happen every fifteen minutes or so) that I by all rights ought to be renting office space there.  I’ve curled in a tiny ball and cried, feeling like a hopeless inferior failure in comparison to Alex and to my classmates.

But now, I scroll through the class called “Disabled in America” and realize: I made this!

It was worth it.  I’d do it all again.

Have I made this mistake before? Yes I have!

Suddenly, I find myself reflecting on the fall semester of 1994.  I was a senior by course credits, but was expecting to take at least another year beyond that to graduate (and I ended up graduating in 1997).  I was taking 19 credits, and heavily involved in a number of extra-curricular activities – two weekly shifts on the college radio station (one as a DJ, and the other as a news reporter), the pledge process of a co-ed fraternity, and a few other activities in my copious spare time.

Anyway.  One of the classes I was taking was called Communication Research.  I had this grandiose idea that I was going to go through 90 years of physical archives of three different weekly news magazines, looking for coverage of “environmental issues”, and comparing the trends in that coverage over the years.  Then I “scaled back” to 50 years, feeling like a huge fraud.  Then I realized there was no way even that was happening, and I focused on selected years with major environmental news stories.  I’ve actually forgotten which years those were, or what the news stories were, but I remember paring the project down to focus on about six or seven specific years and on a few specific types of environmental issues.  (Without knowing the term at the time, I created an operational definition of “environmental issue” for the purpose of the paper.)

With a little creative margin-setting, I managed to pound out the required twenty pages plus reference list in a thirty-hour caffeine bender.  I limped into class five minutes late, full of fear and guilt.  I was hoping that, even though I was absolutely sure I had effed this up beyond all recognition or redemption, my instructor would be sufficiently merciful to let me limp out of the class with a C-, or maybe even a C.

Then I started to listen to the other students give their ten to fifteen minute talks on what they had done for the class.  And I heard a classmate say that she had asked two of her friends (one male, one female) to watch two different talk shows (one hosted by a man, and one hosted by a woman) and talk to her about what she thought of them.  And that was her research project.

And I wondered if maybe I hadn’t effed up quite as bad as I thought.  But I was still terrified of getting that paper back.  Especially since I had gone back and read it over after turning it in and found some truly embarrassing typos.

Then I got it back.  And because this is me, you probably know where this is going.  A 95 on the paper, and gushing compliments written all over it that included “this is good enough to be published in a research journal.”

I couldn’t believe it.  Then again, that’s not surprising.  I was already a seventeen-year-old poster child for impostor syndrome.  (Yes, I was technically a college senior before my seventeenth birthday.  That ought to have been enough to shut up any notion that I was an impostor, but yeah, good luck with that!)

And right now, I’m twice that age and the poster woman for impostor syndrome.  We’re studying impostor syndrome in my Crisis Intervention class, and it makes me think of this class, and how my insecure post about not feeling like an educator was probably the syndrome talking.

So, I started designing my course with elaborate good intentions about this fully-accessible-to-all-people multimedia course of beauty that I was going to create.  Maybe then I, despite my never having been “an educator” could be considered fit to teach a class.  Besides, I’m creating a course on something I feel very passionate about – and more so than usual right now, as a long-time friend of mine has just had to call in a complaint about the lack of accessibility at a conference on accessibility, and was told in so many words that it was too expensive to accommodate people like her.  (What she needed could be made available at no cost to the conference organizers, and could possibly help other people.)

It was going to be educationally rigorous, yet accommodate diverse learning styles!  It was going to have multiple redundant set-ups that were things of dazzling beauty no matter which senses you needed to use to access them!  It was going to empower students and change their lives forever!  And if it wasn’t all things to all students, it wasn’t good enough.

Hahahahahaha NO.

I can’t even fix my formatting and make it do what I want it to right now.  I can’t find the “perfect” resources, even though I keep finding ones I particularly like (my favorite of the moment is Oyez for covering Supreme Court decisions).  And if I keep trying for the course that is All Things To All Students, I’m not going to have a course.  I’m going to have a bunch of abandoned, disorganized notes, and a failing grade in this class, and a faculty adviser who is Very Very Disappointed In Me.

Besides, life continues to happen.  That little miniseries in the PhD Comic-verse, with a small child interrupting the parent hard at work on the computer?  That’s happened to me on a daily basis this week.  Work has also been busy as I try to support agencies who are starting new programs for adjudicated juvenile delinquents in New York City.

I’ve taken several blended learning courses, and their online components have not been creations of multimedia beauty.  Usually, they’ve been links to academic research papers and a few discussion thread starters with instructions for participation.  I’ve sat through several classes in the last few months with plain black and white outline PowerPoints being the feature, some slides straight-up copied from a resource (usually the DSM-IV) that was attributed only orally, and some other slides having spelling errors or autocorrections of spelling errors that completely changed the meaning the instructor was intending to convey.

Surely, I can do better than that, at least?  I’m working on it!

(3)

 

Happy post, as promised!


Custom Glitter Text

(And I love the glitter text, too.  Thanks, Alex!)

Moodle is completely rocking my socks these days.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that?  Well, now I have!

Onward with more questions:

What have you observed about yourself during this process? What have you observed about yourself during your own completion of the learning activities in this course?

Every time, but nowhere more so than in my own course shell, I go from overwhelmed and certain that I can’t do this, that I’ll break it, that I’ll do everything wrong to “HEY!  This is AWESOME!” – usually by a path of many hours of frustration where I don’t get it, I don’t get it, and suddenly something clicks and it all makes sense now and I really can do this and WOW IT WORKS AND EVEN LOOKS HALFWAY DECENT, how did I ever pull THAT off?

It’s the little conveniences of Moodle that I love, that help me go from concept to product.  I’m thinking of things like the different types of “assignment” functions that allow for directly-typed answers, single file uploads, or multiple file uploads being separate things.  Of being able to simply move pieces of my course where I want them, so that when I realized, “Oh crap, I posted something in Module 4 that belongs to Module 3!” I make a few clicks on the trackpad and it’s fixed!

I found something that I apparently can’t break, which is doing a lot to get me over the “But I’ll BREAK it!” fears I’ve posted about before.  OK, I didn’t find it, Alex found it for me.  🙂  It’s OK to experiment, to realize that something didn’t work quite the way I want it – everything I’ve encountered so far can be fixed, or at least remain comprehensible and not-made-worse while I look into how to make it a little bit prettier and nicer.

I’m also glad that Moodle allows users to select their own themes – this is actually something I need to go back and put into my course and make sure students are aware of, because that can really help increase usability for people who do better with non-standard screens or layouts or color combinations – not to mention people who might be accessing the course on a mobile phone!

 How are you applying what you have learned so far to your own course?

I’m working on the right mix of links and separate documents and everything else.  I’ve made sure to look in on it from work a few times, because work is all-PC and my household is very much a Mac shop, and sometimes things work differently.

As I watch everyone’s ideas evolve I’m applying the idea that it’s OK to change my mind.  Maybe later, just for giggles, I’ll post the syllabus draft I started this journey with.  I barely recognize my own course, and I like it SO much better now!

I have this discussion from the Chronicle about students not reading the carefully-chosen reading lists of their professor on my mind right now.  And that’s the next wall I’m looking at tearing down.  Do I really want a textbook at all?  Do I really want to go ahead with my original scheme of creating “lecture-lite” notes for every module?

I wrote a few, then discovered that in one instance something better than I could possibly have compiled existed elsewhere.  And now I don’t know what I want to do.  I do know I need to make a decision, but suddenly the “instructor’s online lecture” approach just…it feels wrong to me.  It feels plain and artificial as I write the plaintext notes and cutesy and artificial as I convert to PowerPoint – especially after reading the Death By Power Point discussion and then seeing this on the same theme.  And yet giving it up feels like maybe I’m being lazy and not wanting to construct the notes or maybe I’m just fighting the giving up of those last pieces of control over my course, in the sense of Me Teacher, You Student, You Do What I Say!

On the other hand, the disaster group projects happened when, in my view, instructors were not directive enough about the topic and just sort of had a “you know what this class is about, now show me what you learned!” approach.  And I’ve found as a social worker-to-be that I sometimes get better results when I am willing to be more directive with clients.  But…how can I be directive without being disempowering?

I actually just had to re-watch Dead Poets Society for one of my other classes.  It was one of my favorite movies when I was younger.  I wanted to be like John Keating someday.  Except now as an adult I watch John Keating and groan internally – there was NO WAY his teaching at that school could have ended well.  To give credit where it’s due, he did try to draw the line between carpe diem! and, “Really, dude, don’t do that!  That’s stupid and pointless rebellion as opposed to the constructive kind!”

Wait.  Happy post.  Whoops.  🙂

Anyway.  I love Moodle.  I love the resources I have for this class, and I find more every day, and I know that NO student will read every last thing – that’s why I’m setting up the student co-teachers to vet my selections and choose a worthwhile mix of a manageable amount of reading.  Sure, you might have to go through 15 resources in YOUR module, but you’ll only be on the hook for about five in all the other modules.  It works in its own odd way.  🙂

(4)

 

“So many colors in the flower, and I see every one”

 

Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers Are Red” (watch the video if you can, or read the lyrics) was really speaking to me throughout Module 4.

What I want to do here is write about words, and yet what I am finding hard to do is use my own words to write about words.

Going back to some of the Module 4 blogging assignment questions, I’ll see if I can figure out how to say what I need to say:

What decisions have you made about how you present yourself, your content, and how you will engage and interact with your students and assess them in your own online course?

I have made a decision that would surprise the blankety-blank out of most of the people who have followed my writing over the years.

I am not intending to grade based on “spelling and grammar” unless and until the errors actually destroy comprehension.

Surprised? After all, I used to grammar-snob it up with the best of them.

I’m a little surprised at myself, too.  I held on, in earlier course material drafts, to a token rubric of “three points content, two points style” in my five-point short assignments.  “Style” was mostly about “correct” spelling and grammar, as well as following the directions for the assignment where issues like length and “proper” format were concerned.

I’m SO over that!

Who are you and why are you that way as an educator and a learner?

Oh, that’s not complicated at all, is it?

Well, my undergraduate degree is in communication, with a concentration in cultural studies, and I came very close to completing a second major in English literature.  When I knew I wanted to go on to grad school but not what subject I wanted to study, I took a few English classes, including one in sociolinguistics.  That sociolinguistics class turned the way I thought about language on its head.  I have three memories from that class that have stuck with me:

  1. The story our instructor told of a hypothetical trip through France and Italy.  Apparently, if you traveled slowly enough, you could start out hearing and speaking “correct” French and end up hearing and speaking “correct” Italian, by means of dialect changes so gradual you would barely notice them as they happened.
  2. The concept of a creole continuum and the idea that the upper-class person’s “creole” could be the lower-class person’s “English” without either of them realizing the difference.
  3. The use of tense in African American Vernacular English – this in particular not only forever removed the idea that AAVE was “bad English” or a random-seeming set of broken rules, but also intrigued me quite a bit with the example of nuanced meanings that it takes much more effort to express in Standard English.

For nine years, I lived in a very racially and culturally mixed neighborhood in Rochester, and dealt with well-meaning white friends and colleagues and family members with their comments about “Ebonics” and occasional mocking attempts to replicate some kind of “bad English” that sounded nothing like actual African American Vernacular English – simply throwing “be” around instead of understanding that there is an actual tense system in use (for example, Rickford, 1997):

1. Present progressive: He Ø runnin (=SE “He is running” or “He’s running”)

2. Present habitual progressive: He be runnin (=SE “He is usually running”)

3. Present intensive habitual progressive: He be steady runnin (=SE”He is usually running in an intensive, sustained manner.”

4. Present perfect progressive: He bin runnin (=SE “He has been running”)

5. Present perfect progressive with remote inception: He BIN runnin (=SE “He has been running for a long time, and still is”)

This may not be the communication that I grew up with.  It may not be what you are used to reading, seeing, hearing.  However, it IS communication, and it is not simply a “bad” or careless variant of standard English because it does not follow standard English rules.  I explained this over the years, often, to my fellow white people who felt the need to be rude about my neighbors or my neighborhood on linguistic grounds.

This background knowledge of linguistics has continued to help me as I have encountered people with disabilities who communicate in  non-standard ways as a result of their disability, whether they are autistic kids who communicate by typing,  or  Deaf native signers who may construct written sentences using the syntax used in ASL instead of English, or blind people who may end up not noticing that they typed “hole” instead of “whole” (or vice versa) because it sounds the same on the screen reader.

Can I understand them?  Can I make myself understandable to them?  If so, we’re doing well.  If not, I think I need to consider the ways in which I may be contributing to the problem.

And yes, there’s a deeper reason I’ve found myself with such strong opinions and feelings on this particular point.  I can make the educated arguments all I want.  However, a lot of it is personal, from spending so much life being the person who had “so much potential” but just “didn’t try” enough.  Or, as Isabel, another blogger with ADHD, puts it:

Because people are like, I don’t get it, it’s not that hard to be on time, obviously you don’t care or you’d make an effort. INCORRECT. I care. I AM making an effort. I am making more of an effort than you, hypothetical non-ADD person, ever have had to make in your life to be on time for something, because for YOU, it’s not that hard, but for ME… do you think I do this for fun? Do you think I like missing the first ten minutes of class, or getting in trouble at work, or making my friends wait? NO. IT SUCKS.

It sucks like it sucks to lose your cell phone like once a year, like it sucks to lose your wallet all the damn time, like it sucks to lock yourself out so often that when you walk into the security office of your dorm sheepishly you just get an, “…again?” no matter which of the four guards is on duty right then, like it sucks to forget to do assignments, like it sucks to do assignments and leave them at home, like it sucks to think you’ve left it at home and find it in the back pocket you swore you looked in when you leave work that day.

It’s because of the many things that come easy to me (reading, off-the-cuff writing, public speaking, most academic subjects in general) that people get the mistaken impression that I could be good at the things I’m not good at (like getting places on time or Cleaning All The Things or otherwise resembling most people’s idea of a settled-down responsible adult instead of a ditzy overgrown child, or like things that require sustained physical effort and coordination that I don’t seem to have)…if I would JUST TRY.

It doesn’t work like that for me.  I’m guessing it doesn’t work like that for most of the kids who are not the bright and shining success stories of their schools.  Because, as I quoted from Isabel above, I AM trying, and I am trying hardest of all at the things I don’t do well.  And I bet that’s true of most of those kids, too, at least until they give up and decide that “there ain’t no makin’ it“.

And we, all of us in ETAP 640, all of us in the graduate School of Education and School of Social Welfare and whatever other graduate schools there are out there, we carry this bias with us.  Folks, we’re good enough at school to have made it far enough to be here.  That’s a huge gap of perception and actual experience between us and the kids who struggle, and the more we insist that they need to JUST TRY HARDER, the wider we dig that canyon.

What has challenged you the most in this course? What has been most difficult or uncomfortable and why?

I have a hard time thinking of myself as an “educator”, to be honest.  Researcher, writer, activist, therapist…but not teacher and certainly not “educator”.  I think that’s why I had so much trouble writing – well, anything – during this module.  And what little I was able to write went through multiple drafts to make it sound at least a little bit less defensive.  Not sure I succeeded there.

I was only able to speak when I couldn’t NOT speak.  I sincerely believe in what I said, but I’m still struggling with whether I should have said it and whether I’m just personally attacking people, which is not something I want to do.

But then I think about the things I said.  And I think about the little boy in the song.  And I think about my last-year field supervisor and his story about stopping a police officer from arresting a guy who had just punched him.  The guy was blind and the officer did not verbally identify himself before making some kind of physical contact, which makes all the difference.  “Didn’t he see my uniform?”  “Of course not!  He’s blind!”

My background isn’t in education.  I don’t have all the latest educational theories to back up my thoughts about how we regard young people in the classroom.  I do have some of the latest sociological theories to back up my thoughts about how we regard kids in general – like the idea that “kids do well when they can” instead of “kids do well when they want to” that is the central theme of Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving model.

I just wish it didn’t feel so adversarial sometimes an awful lot of the time.  And yes, even dealing with the Worst Group Project Ever in that other class over there, I still feel that way.  I understand why sometimes it seems like there is no choice for an instructor but to see students as Schroedinger’s cheaters (referencing the concept of women seeing men they do not know as “Schroedinger’s rapist” here) – not that every student will cheat, not that most students will cheat, but that there is no way to pick out of a class which students will be honest (academically, or about situations that come up) and which students will not.

But I think, too, we are all Schroedinger’s Unreasonable Teacher to our students, until they get to know us and what we expect.

As you go through this process as a student in this course and as the developer of your own online course, what are you thinking about?

I would like to think all of the above answers that question pretty thoroughly.  However, I also have happier thoughts – but that’s for next time!

(4)

Not an official course post. Just a head-clearing vent.

A plea to all instructors:

For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT assign group projects in the form of a presentation on a very general “pick something related to the course material” topic due on the last day of class that is an extremely high-stakes portion of the grade – say, 35% or more.

For some reason the School of Social Welfare is very fond of this style of group project.  And it has NEVER gone well for me.

I don’t know what it is about this particular combination of factors, but I always end up with at least one group member going totally missing until the last possible minute and at least one group member who has done a significant piece of the project that does not resemble the parameters of the assignment in any way.  So I feel (right or wrong) like I’m doing the work of three people to straighten this out so that I don’t, you know, fail the class.

I’ve had a classmate show up 45 minutes late to the three-hour class and pass me a flash drive to ask if I can “quickly on the break” integrate her work into the rest of my PowerPoint.  I’ve had a classmate simply not show up to class and text the other group member with “sorry, family emergency” – only to reappear and be upset that she didn’t have more of a role in the presentation.

I’ve had classmates – at the graduate level! – who were supposed to compile resources on a portion of the project use resources that were either outside the specified requirements (usually a date range) or clearly inappropriate in some other way (newspaper articles when peer-reviewed research was requested, multiple resources from the same known-biased source, editorials instead of factual news articles, etc.) and then felt torn between doing a quick search for resources that followed the instruction and “taking over” the other person’s portion of the project.

Some of these things just happened this week, which is why I’ve been comparatively dormant.  I’ve been trying really hard to not fail another class – just in case.

I am so upset right now.  SO UPSET.  I want a good cry and dinner and a nap.  Maybe then I can focus on all the other things I’ve wanted to talk about.

At least I think I managed to not actually fail this course, but it feels like it’s only because I ran myself ragged and didn’t sleep much and snapped at my kids for wanting attention  – oh, and fell behind in my other two classes, let’s NOT forget that!  That shouldn’t be a requirement to salvage my own academic progress because someone else dropped the ball.

So, why DO I do this? (And other questions)

More module reflection questions answered here!

Why do you do things the way you do?

Wow, that’s a complicated question.  But I’ll try.

It’s been a rough day in one of the other classes I’m taking this summer – it meets over two weekends and this was the first of the two – so that is definitely coloring how I am approaching questions.  Especially this question.

I find myself, when I am a fellow-student instead of a teacher, often playing the social role of the critic, the contrarian, the generalized pain in everyone’s rear.  It’s not a role I am particularly fond of, but it seems as though I’m stuck with it.

Why?

Because some people need to learn to check their privilege, that’s why.  Especially when they think they’re helping.

This is actually about that other class over there, not about ETAP 640.  Except where that other class over there, and those OTHER other classes in previous semesters, and my experiences in field internship and regular job and recently even in my place of worship, have informed how I approach class design and how I approach the ideas of teaching and learning in general.

This is about me, a mother who has a mental health problem for which I take medication, having to sit through a class where my cohort is suggesting that the mention of a mother’s mental health problem might be a hint that the child in the case study has Reactive Attachment Disorder.   Having to listen while someone at my place of worship states that we should disregard the (admittedly unkind and inflammatory) words of another, NOT because of their content or merit, but because the author of those words is “crazy, mad, needs counseling, get it?” Having to listen in a civil service workshop about human resources law to a workshop-mate proclaim that she would never hire someone with a mental illness because “you can’t trust those people” and another workshop-mate insist that we should be able to discriminate based on arrest record (to the upset of another woman in the class, who had narrowly missed an arrest for Driving While Black the week before).

This is about me, the newbie social work intern, hearing that I’m going to get a new young adult client who received services back when he was a teenager, and all about how socially immature this client is because he’s never on time and can’t budget.  And then reading the case file more thoroughly, talking to the client a few times for myself, and realizing that he’s incredibly forthright with me about everything and anything – EXCEPT when there are numbers involved – and it occurring to me that the likely problem is not “social immaturity” but a mathematics-related learning disability.  And working with another young adult, this one with autism, who was trying to express that he would rather be autistic than be the kind of person who blows up buildings, while the other people who had been working with him for a while were sure that what he was really saying was that if he blew up a building he’d get away with it because he’s autistic.

Here’s your paradox, then.  As a fellow-student, with people at or “above” my own life-station, I can be impatient and irritable.  I can be the class clown, the court jester, that uncomfortable person that you wish would just shut up and sit down.  (And in one of the OTHER other classes, I continually got graded down on papers for being “too much of an advocate.”  In a social work class.  Right.)

When I have a young person or a parent, someone who is in trouble, someone who is trying to make things better, in front of me?  I have patience I never knew I had.  I have seemingly endless forgiveness.  I take a hard line on a very few things, mostly on unquestionably deliberate academic dishonesty.  Other than that?  I’m a giant softy.  I want everyone to succeed.  I want to be welcoming, to be inclusive, to be accommodating, to be that person who cares.  I want to find the strengths of those I work with and let those strengths shine – whatever they may be, even if they are not the ones I planned for.  I do not want to make a class I’m running about something that it isn’t about, or assess something that I am not teaching.  I want to tread very carefully there.

What’s the saying?  “Comfort the disturbed; disturb the comfortable”?  That’s why I do what I do the way I do it.

And that’s a lot more than I meant to say, yet I still feel it was needed.  On to more questions, then.

What did you learn that you did not know before?

I learned from one of Lisa’s posts (and a study to which she linked) that most instructors in higher education consider critical thinking important, but few can define what they mean by “critical thinking”.  It seems as though we are firmly in the realm of Potter Stewart’s infamous line, “I know it when I see it.”

I learned that I wasn’t sure how to define critical thinking, either.  And that really gave me something to think about (critically, I hope? 🙂 )   I’m not sure yet where I’m going with this, but it’s something that has really made an impact and I’m going to sit with it for a while.

I also learned from the discussion this week about the value of good, non-generic icebreakers.  My ideas for the opening module were completely transformed by the fact that this discussion occurred, though I never did end up posting to it.  The line that stuck with me was: Which ice are you breaking?

How will you apply what you have learned to your own course?

Based on the icebreaker discussion, I completely changed the direction and tone of my opening module.  I changed from a generic introductory icebreaker to one that has more focus, and I also plan to have my students discuss and set the classroom etiquette for themselves in the first module, rather than simply handing this down as set policy.  I’m feeling really good about these changes!  This is why I’m here and what I’m hoping to get out of the course.

What decisions have you made so far about your online course?

Besides the things I’ve said about the opening module?

One thing I decided was that the short assignments I use in my course could use a little bit more continuity.  The idea of having the students pick a fictional character with a disability to focus on, and to think about how a similar individual would live day-to-day in modern-day New York State, seems to be forming a helpful core for how I am organizing things.

I also decided to have each module except the first and last co-taught by a small group of students.  There are six modules and I would have the students divide them relatively evenly.  The students will have a framework for each module, and a list of suggested resources, but then they get to pick what they want to focus on within the framework and list.  This keeps the class relevant for them, and if I end up running this class over and over again, it keeps it interesting for me because I doubt I will see the same focus twice!

I barely recognize my class now from what I started with.  At this rate, I may even be dropping the one paper textbook I was planning to use (which was down from two textbooks in the original version).  There is so much out there online, everything from the Berkley Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement archives to the ability to conduct a virtual visit in the Museum of disABILITY History to the extensive resources, including book previews, in the Disability Studies section of Temple University Press to the list of Disability Tropes on TV Tropes.  And more, of course.  Much more.

I feel very good about how my course is taking shape, and how far it’s moved from trying to fit awkwardly into a vaguely chronological-history model.

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On to #3: Resistance and overcoming!

Some of the reflection questions for the module, and my responses:

What if anything has been difficult for you?

I talked about a lot of that in my previous post.  Specifically, I’ve been having difficulty with anything that required me to change formatting rather than content, as well as with making effective use of the various audiovisual resources.  I’m fighting through this, and while I won’t say it’s exactly comfortable yet, it’s getting better.

With respect to the discussion threads, I find that I’m torn between wanting to just jump right in with what’s on my mind and the feeling of needing to say the perfect thing at the perfect time with the exactly perfect citations, or otherwise what’s the point of participating and cluttering up the thread?  Every day I’ve looked it over, I’ve thought I should jump in on the discussion about icebreakers, because I found it incredibly helpful and inspirational for what I was doing – that question “What ice are you breaking?” really got me thinking.  But there were all these good links and I couldn’t find any link I thought was as good as what was already there.  And several Google searches later, I didn’t want to just start pasting links for the sake of pasting links, when they wouldn’t be as useful.  So that felt like lots of time put into “working on” the class, with NOTHING of value either to my grade or to my peers to show for it.  The word that comes to mind is disheartening!

I know, rationally, that this is all (or mostly) just in my head.  As someone identified as twice exceptional (intellectually gifted alongside ADHD), I know I’m going to struggle with paralyzed perfectionism.  When I’m supposed to be BRILLIANT!!! (and imagine that not just all-caps, bold, italicized, but also with sparkles and ever-changing rainbow colors that I don’t know how to put in), there is no such thing as good-enough.

What, if anything, do you find yourself feeling resistance to?

…hitting that “post” button!  It’s a scary, scary thing to do for all the reasons I just stated.  And then made worse because I haven’t done enough yet, so whatever I do now has to be even more brilliant and perfect, so I think about it and write it in my head but I can’t find just the right links to back up my point, so I don’t post…so I go to work on another part of the course, and that’s not good enough either…

🙁

I think part of the problem for me is the requirement for links, the idea that somehow I have to perfectly balance the thoughts of EXPERTS!!! (imaginary sparkletext here too) with my own (insignificant?) ones.  And the antidote to that, this module, has been to force myself to post a couple of the level 2 posts without any links or anything, just talking about my own experiences and observations, with the idea that it’s better to have something than nothing.

What is working for you in this course?

I am (slowly, but I’ll catch on!) realizing that, as we talked about process vs. content, all that applies to this class too.  Because this is a process, and it’s new for a lot of us, and we’re all coming to the table with different experiences and concerns, there are and will be opportunities to re-do, to improve, to get it right.

And by the way?  I’m so grateful for that!  If it wasn’t for the chance to do things over, I’d have dropped this course in a fit of panic three weeks in.  And I’m glad I didn’t, because the course idea I came in with is improving so much from the interactions with everyone!  More about that in the next reflections post – right now, I have to go to another class!

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Module 2 redux: “But I’ll BREAK it!” and other mental blocks

As I’ve struggled, and struggled, and struggled to get caught up with the last parts of Module 2 that I had trouble with (doing the course resources, and fixing my blog), I figured something out.

I’ve been awake at night knowing I needed to do this, staring at the computer, wanting to fix things…and then doing something else instead.  Sometimes working on the Module 3 stuff that could go into regular old word processing documents, sometimes looking at links, sometimes getting wrapped up in other corners of the net that had nothing to do with this class.

Why?

It can’t be that hard.  No, really, it can’t.

So I sat with it, and I sat up and stared it down.

I can create content, happily, off the top of my head, in my sleep or nearly so.  I’m a lot more leery of making changes to style.

It seems that I have this irrational but strongly-held fear that as soon as I “mess with” any format beyond the default, I will break it somehow, lose all my content, and not be able to get it back.  That I’ll be just one more dead link polluting the webstream.

I guess that’s the big thing I’ve learned about myself as I’ve tried to get through these activities.  I’m really scared of screwing up.  (And yes, I know that my very fear of screwing up is making me “screw up” worse.  Hence why it took so long to actually fix the blog, and why I did literally everything else first before I’d even let myself look at it let alone touch it.)

I know it’s not unique to the environment of ETAP 640.  It’s also a long-running half-joking dispute between myself and my spouse.  Where computers are concerned, he’s a compulsive tinkerer, always wanting to get just a little more performance out of his machines, happy swapping out parts and testing new ideas.

Me?  I start and end with a simple question: Does the darn thing work?

(Yes, for those of you who are familiar, this is the cleaned-up version.  I’m not quite that crass in EduSpace!)

I associate any bells and whistles outside of a simple standard template with cluttered web design, with inaccessibility, and with pages that don’t work correctly in a would-be reader’s web browser of choice.  Possibly even with malware and viruses and other unwelcome additions to my computer.

This is unfortunate, because I want to have a course space and a blog and an Internet presence generally that goes beyond the basics.  This desire is not very compatible with the fear I have of breaking things and of creating potentially inaccessible space.

I think this is what has also made it more difficult for me to engage with the videos.  That, and for some reason I had trouble with the sound quality on a few of them, and it was hard to concentrate on the voice giving information when my brain wanted to zero in on the odd popping noises in the background, either to remind me of my days on the college radio station or to simply taunt me with the old Rice Krispies jingle: Snap-Crackle-Pop!  (Note to brain: NOT HELPFUL!)  One bothered me enough that I ended up turning auto-caption on and sound off.  Not that auto-caption is without flaws.  Far from it!

This is hard, too, because one of the things I explicitly do want to work on for my own class is audio content.  And now I’m worried that I’m going to sound all wrong to someone else’s sound system.

I’m overthinking.  I know I am.

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