117. The Productive Online and Offline Professor

Faculty find it difficult to balance increasing demands on their time. In this episode, Bonni Stachowiak joins us to explore a variety of tools and strategies that can be used to productively manage our time and professional responsibilities. Bonni is the host of the superb Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, and is the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Vanguard University. She is also the author of The Productive Online and Offline Professor: a Practical Guide, which is scheduled for release in late January 2020.

Show Notes


Rebecca: Faculty find it difficult to balance increasing demands on their time. In this episode, we explore a variety of tools and strategies that can be used to productively manage our time and professional responsibilities.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer.

Rebecca: Together, we run the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego.


John: Our guest today is Bonni Stachowiak. Bonni is the host of the superb Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, and is the Dean of Teaching and Learning at Vanguard University. Welcome, Bonni.

Bonni: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to have our conversation today.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are:

Bonni: Iced tea. Teva, I believe, is the brand.

John: And I am drinking Bing Cherry black tea.

Rebecca: And I am drinking some Oolong today.

John: We’ve invited you here to talk about your forthcoming book, The Productive Online and Offline Professor: a Practical Guide. Could you tell us a little bit about that and what prompted your interest in productivity?

Bonni: I used to apologize almost for sharing a little bit that I didn’t start out in academia. And I just finished reading the book called Range. I don’t know if either of you has read that one yet.

John: I have not.

Rebecca: Not yet.

Bonni: Oh, it’s delightful. So, I would highly suggest putting that down on your read list. But, one of the many, many things that he talks about is how so many of us got started via non-linear paths. And so I didn’t start in academia, I started with corporate training in a franchise organization. And so we’d help people open up businesses all over the world… and talk about getting a serious degree without paying for it necessarily. I learned a lot, and part of that was this idea around productivity. So, I remember watching Stephen Covey, who has since passed away… but just a wonderful leadership author… and he used to do all these big seminars… and he’d get a big giant glass jar, and he’d fill it with sand and then talk about: “How do we take these big rocks and squish it in there? And of course, if you can envision this, you can’t squish rocks into a jar once there’s already sand in it. And he had this analogy of “What if you put the big rocks in?” Yes, there’s room for some gravel then, there’s room for some sand, and even some water… but, just really this idea of how precious our time is… and how this is a title of one of his books… if we put First Things First, we get those big rocks in there first. We’re really going to have a lot more of a sense of meaning and purpose in our life and get the things that are most important to us done. And then later on, many decades later, came the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. And one of the big takeaways for me, that just echoes almost on a daily basis, is this quote that he says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” And if you think about what our brains are designed to do… Well, we have these amazing creative brains, but then we try to have them hold on to grocery lists and the things we’re supposed to take care of. And it really creates a lot of unnecessary clutter. I’m not using a very technical analogy here, but our mind could be freed up to pursue the ideas around our research, our disciplines, our teaching… not keeping the grocery list. So, those are really the things that influenced me. When I got into academia, one of the things that continued to influence me was the Prof Hacker blog. And that used to be a part of the Chronicle of Higher Education. And I haven’t seen any posts up there since 2018.

Rebecca: I know, it’s so sad.

John: Yeah. I miss that.

Bonni: I do too. I cite them a ton in the book. So, if anyone wants to reminisce, you could go read the book.

John: It often feels like we’re just putting out fires every day. We’re recording this at the end of the fall semester, and there are a lot of fires to put out. So, that notion of focusing on the big things and then filling the smaller things in around that makes a lot of sense.

Rebecca: I know that productivity, and the time squish in general, is a very popular topic amongst faculty here in just trying to find balance. I know that you’ll have a big readership for a productivity book related to higher ed because it’s desperately needed.

John: One of the things we do is we run workshops series here, and we asked faculty what they’ve liked to see workshops on and one of the things they always ask about is time management. And we have trouble finding people to do that. And maybe your book would help serve that purpose. Because, most of the people who are really good at time management just say, “No, I don’t have time to give a workshop.”

Bonni: Saying “no” is a big part of time management. I talked about the big rocks, what big rocks are we going to put in? But so much of it is what are we not going to put in? What are we going to say no to? And this is an incredibly hard thing. We can talk about issues around gender. A lot of times women have been socialized to be helpful and say “Yes,” and I’m sure you’ve probably seen that research about service loads, there’s a disproportionate amount of service that is going to women in academia. And then women of color is where it really becomes stark. And a lot of times those things are not rewarded in our promotion and tenure processes. So it’s something that I do think we have to get pretty real on. And we can just add to that the social norms that say you’re supposed to go to every children’s birthday party that you’re invited to. And I don’t always follow those social norms, I’m afraid to say.

John: Actually, the economist Gary Becker, in some of his later writings talked quite a bit about that, that one of the reasons why women were having trouble moving forward in their careers is they were spending so many more hours in total working than men were. So, it’s a general problem. What are some of the types of productivity approaches you recommend?

Bonni: When I think about productivity, I tend to think of four broad types. There’s one that even the editors weren’t sure… does this belong in a book about productivity and I was like, “Clearly this hasn’t happened to you before.” But I call this type, the “avoiding crashing and burning” type of productivity approach. So, if we’re not backing up our computers, for example, our hard drives… I had a colleague who had worked at my institution for 15 years…. gone, all of it gone, due to a theft and the computer that was stolen wasn’t backed up anywhere. So, those are some recommendations that I have that are essential to get right. But, once you have it right aren’t that hard to maintain. Then there’s the time-saving types, and this can be hard for some people because I don’t want productivity to seem like this is all some kind of a hack. I’m very sensitive to the plight of contingent faculty and we know there’s so much work to be done around making our workplaces equitable. And so I don’t want to seem like that we’re just playing a game. Yet, at the same time, when I am able to have these approaches that save me a little bit of time, but add up over the long haul, then I get to spend that much more time being fully present for my teaching and also being fully present for other people. So, this might be things like creating templates for letters of recommendation and a process for how to spend the time writing the rich feedback, but not spend the time looking up the address… and who should this be sent to and when is it due… that kind of thing. And then there’s also the kind of productivity is where we really need to get real with ourselves. And one of the things I studied in my dissertation was around something called locus of control. And locus of control is a construct that says, “How do we explain what happens to us?” People who have an external locus of control say “I was late because I got caught in traffic…” “I didn’t turn it in because I had this other conflict come up.” And people with a paradigm of an internal locus of control tend to describe what happens to them based on something that they did. So, getting real with ourselves to me says we all have the same amount of time, and so carving out the time to reflect on our goals… on our priorities. And like I stated earlier, what are we not going to do? Because we can’t do it all. So, being really conscious and intentional about where we’re going to spend our time. And those are really difficult decisions that can only happen through effective reflection. And then the last one goes back to that David Allen quote that I mentioned, “Our mind is for having ideas not holding them.” So, this last type of productivity approach is having a trusted system. So, when things getting ready, and you mentioned, we’re recording this at the end of the semester, and I also just recently took on a new role at my institution. Yes, things are overwhelming right now. But, I have a list. If anything’s going to fall through the cracks… and almost on a daily basis, I can’t get everything done that I want to… but I know what needs to be done. I know what I’ve committed to do. I have it all in a list and I can defer parts of those lists so it’s not in my face all the time. But, I have a trusted system, I’m not relying on my brain to be good at remembering those commitments, remembering those priorities. Instead, I have a trusted system that helps me do that well.

Rebecca: How do we get started with a trusted system?

Bonni: Well, getting started to me is having two basic tools. One would be having a calendar that you use for what calendars are meant for. So, calendars are meant for appointments that have a start time and an end time. I need to be somewhere, or at least I’m committed to that time. We can block out time on our calendars. I do this all the time, where I’m going to spend this amount of time grading on Tuesday, and then I’m going to follow it up on Friday with some more grading. But, what happens is people try to make a calendar act like a task list, and also make their email act like a task list and never actually have a list of projects and tasks. So, if I were going to say get started, use a calendar and use a task list and have that task list be what drives your time and attention in terms of those commitments around projects and such. Don’t try to do that via email. And don’t try to do it via the calendar. By the way, the specific reason why I say don’t use your calendar as a task list, once that day goes by, the task is on yesterday’s task and it’s hard to keep pushing these things through that we never ended up getting finished with. So, blocking time, I think is an effective method, as long as we have it on our task list as where it’s actually being tracked, whether it’s made it through to completion or not,

John: Is there any specific task list manager that you use or that you’d recommend?

Bonni: The one that I use is not the one I recommend. [LAUGHTER] And that’s because, first of all, it’s only on a Mac. So, if you sit around and you also use a Mac, and you’re like, “Wow, if I could just really enjoy tweaking things to getting this system to work exactly like it is, it’s great.” It’s one of the more advanced task managers; it’s called OmniFocus. So many of them have this where you’ve got OmniFocus on your Mac, you’ve got it on your iOS devices, and they are all syncing back and forth. It does have some automation. So,when I book a new podcast guest, for example, I have a template of a project that says: “What’s the episode number? When’s it being recorded?” When’s it published? …and all the due dates… everything flows out there. If this excites you, as I described it, you might be a good person for one of the more advanced task managers, but I would tell people that Todoist is probably a good starting point if you want a digital task list, and that’s one that works out of a browser, but also can show up on your mobile devices as well. Todoist is one that is recommended… it depends what day you catch him, but Robert Talbert is another big voice in the area of productivity, and he has used it. I laugh because I have to pause because he likes to tinker too. So, he’ll switch around to different tools, as well. But I think that’s a good place for people to get started on a task list.

Rebecca: Now, about avoiding the crashing and burning… what are some ways to get started in a system for that?

Bonni: Well, that to me is about a mindset that says I’m not going to spend the vast majority of my life in the chaos in reacting. I’m going to spend some of my time being proactive. So, we are going to need to think about what kinds of risks do we have in terms of crashing and burning. It shows up in health sometimes, so it’s not always just technology. Although you can tell I tend to enjoy talking about that. But recently, I’ve got an Apple Watch… speaking of technology… and so I’ve been really good about exercising. They have rings on an Apple Watch that track your exercise. And it makes a difference. Talk about stressful times of the semester, when you’re taking that time out, 30 minutes a day, to go for that walk or in my case, sit in the garage and do this elliptical machine that I’ve got going on. That helps me maintain the stress levels, and also to keep perspective. But other kinds of crashing and burning that I talk about in the book are primarily around technology like having your computers backed up. And then having a password manager that is going to enable you to have secure passwords and whenever possible, the… now I’m forgetting what it’s called… the second authentication. There’s a technical word for that…

John: Two-factor authentication.

Bonni: Yes, there we go. That two-factor… something besides just the password that’s going to verify that you say you are who you say you are. So yeah, those are some of the things I avoid in terms of that crashing and burning.

John: And you also use TextExpander, I believe, too, to help automate some of your work, right? I think you’ve mentioned that.

Bonni: Yes, in fact, they’ve been a sponsor on my podcast, but I only have sponsors that I actually use their stuff first. And then they’re like, “Hey, I noticed you wrote this blog about this, would you like to be a sponsor? That’s generally how these things work. But, they’re so essential to my work on a computer, in terms of… I have different roles that I play. So, I’m a podcaster, I’m a Dean, I’m a Professor, and so I have different signatures, and I can just type a few keystrokes and it automatically spits out whatever signature is appropriate for that time. I mentioned I do my show notes for the podcast using TextExpander. I do letters of recommendation. It’s just something essential. And it lets you type in a little snippet of text and then that text expands to something longer and you can even feed it in variables such as dates, or the name of the guest, or the name of the episode. It’s really a smart tool. I like it because it’s easy to get started with… just “Oh, what’s the shortcut? Okay, these are the characters I’m going to type in, and then this is what it’s going to expand to.” but then you can also get fancier with it as you work with the tool more.

John: And I know a lot of people also use it when grading. If there’s comments that they often provide over and over again, they can just expand the text and get richer feedback to students without taking as much time reproducing their work.

Bonni: Yes, I’m what I like about that is you can have the standard text that you would type but then an opportunity to type something in personal as well, which is the best of all worlds.

Rebecca: So speaking of grading, that’s a topic that comes up a lot with faculty about getting your time eaten away and wanting to spend more time or wanting to give richer feedback. Do you have some strategies about being a little more productive or being a little more efficient in grading or providing that feedback.

Bonni: Absolutely. This is a huge area. I want to start with just mentioning what all of my reading all of my research has said we should not do, and that is to correct every single mistake in a paper. I wish I could remember the researcher’s name who’s prominent in this area. But just, that’s not how you’re going to get students to learn to write with better grammar, etc. Like you’re really wasting your time, and in fact, could have a detrimental effect on the student you’re trying to help. Because it’s just too overwhelming. They don’t see every single little fix that you made, what they see is: “I’m a horrible writer, I’ll never be able to do this thing that you’re asking me to do.” So, what we don’t want to do is spend inordinate amount of time making lots of tiny, tiny, tiny corrections and thinking that’s how you help teach someone to do better the next time. To make it worse, by the way, what I see more than 90% of the time is we don’t have iterative assignments. So, the students are never even asked to go back and look at your feedback and then make those changes and have any hope of learning from them. So, that’s a big time waster. And then on the other extreme of things I wanted to mention there are people who have just given up grading completely. And there’s a whole movement, which you’ll see in various social media such as Twitter, under the hashtag #ungrading. And in their case, they’re like, “Forget the grades.” And one example of it might be a specifications kind of grading where you either made it or you didn’t. You met this set of criteria or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, I’m going to give you feedback and allow you to grow and improve the work until you meet the standards for the course. So, I think we can learn a lot about the detrimental parts of grading that aren’t a good use of time and also aren’t good teaching. Having said that, I still, in most of my classes, do what looks to most people like grading. [LAUGHTER] So I tend to try to emphasize really the feedback, but the kind of feedback that will be helpful feedback, rich feedback, for students to take action on. A few ideas for people would be, first, to think about screencasting your feedback. There is some literature that would suggest that when they can see your face, hear your voice, that they’re going to be able to take that feedback in, because they can hear the tone of voice that you’re really wanting to be helpful. You’re here to support them. And of course, there are things around what if they require captions. But at the beginning of the semester, you could ask, you know, what would be your preference? Would you like to have screencasted or audio feedback? Or would you prefer to have the typed out feedback, and then you can negate any of those potential downsides. The other thing would be around having focused feedback. I mentioned don’t go with that red pen approach where you fix every single error. It doesn’t work. It can be really discouraging to the students. And we know that how they feel about themselves as learners, their own sense of self-efficacy, really makes a difference in their academic achievement. And then lastly, I do think that, just like Stephen Covey and the big rocks, grading should be some of our big rocks that rather than going on social media to vent about how horrible our lives are, that we have to look at the work that supports the evidence of our students learning, we might try to find some joy in it. I don’t mean, necessarily, happiness, I get that we get busy, it’s really hard to do. But, thinking of it as a possible way to celebrate the learning that’s gone on. Part of why we can’t do that is because we’re so overwhelmed. So, blocking out time where we’re not doing it for too long, where we’re really not helpful because we’ve passed our point of really being able to provide effective feedback. So, blocking out a few times in a calendar each week, depending on how many courses you’re teaching, and having that as a priority. And those are the big rocks, and we’re going to prioritize that important time for giving that feedback.

Rebecca: You have a lot of things on your plate. You mentioned these different roles and ways of being in the world. And we all have those different roles that we play. What are your strategies for managing those different lives or different paths so that all the big rocks and all of those pathways get taken care of, even though they’re competing for your attention?

Rebecca: A practice that I really enjoy using at the start of every semester is put forth by a man named Michael Hyatt. He used to be in the publishing industry, and now is a leadership expert… that’s the best I could use to describe him. But, he suggests that we put together an ideal week and when I have my students do this, it’s an interesting conversation about what the word “ideal” means. Ideally, I would never have to like put laundry away [LAUGHTER] or ideally, like that’s not quite what he means by ideal. What he really means, Rebecca, is what you just shared of where we have these different roles. We have these different priorities in our life, how might we arrange them to best show up in our lives? he doesn’t use that expression. I’m sort of mixing Brene Brown with Michael Hyatt at the same time, but to think through those things in advance. Sometimes, what this helps us do is get to what we are going to need to say “No” to. Especially when we had younger children, what I didn’t prioritize in my life was going out a lot to movies with friends that weren’t kid movies. Like, I think movies are great. I think friends are great. But, the luxury of having time to spend away from my children, when both my husband and I are working professionals. It just wasn’t a luxury that made it up to my priority list. Now it might make it up to yours. But, at that season in our life, it just didn’t make sense to say “Yes” to invitations I would have said “Yes” to before kids. So, by starting out that semester by going, “Okay, well, here’s the fixed things. Every other week, we have this meeting that shows up so I got to block this time out for meetings in general. And then I gotta block this time out for teaching. And then I’m going to block out time for grading.” So, I’m going to be doing that the vast majority of the weeks. And so, being able to look at it and say, “Okay, well, where’s exercise going to go? Where is time with friends/our kids/ can we have a weekly date night in this ideal week?” …and being able to make those tough choices around those things before we’re in the thick of it. Because when we’re in the thick of it that we might be respond to stress to just whatever’s coming at us. Or, we might not have the confidence to say “No” to invitations that really don’t fit in with those big rocks. So, one way that I manage these different roles is by using that Michael Hyatt ideal week template. And if you just Google “Michael Hyatt ideal week template,” you’ll find it and it’s a wonderful resource.

John: And we can share a link to that in the show notes.

Rebecca: Can we circle back to the social pressures or the ways that women or particular groups of people tend to be asked to do more service, and in the ways of prioritizing that. And I think there’s often a balance of trying to figure out what’s going to help you with tenure and promotion. And sometimes it feels like that service might need to happen. But, then also these other things aren’t happening as a result.

Bonni: Oh, yeah. And I will say I did earn promotion and tenure. [LAUGHTER] And I have had a lot of service. Candidly, some of that comes into that “Do I keep a traditional five day workweek with really tight boundaries around that?” No, I don’t. Do I occasionally work on weekends? Yes, I do. My husband’s chuckling at the use of the “occasional.” But, what I treasure about the way that my life is, is that first of all, I have joy in the work that I do. But, also I have a lot of flexibility. So, next week, my daughter will be a reader for their holiday program at their school. That’s right in the middle of the day, and I’m going to be able to be there front and center. I’ll be as close to the front as I possibly can for that. So, I do think that we can’t always compare ourselves in terms of what a normal job looks like, because I don’t think most of us have normal jobs. [LAUGHTER] So, I think, in terms of service, one thing that I have found helpful is to just say it without apologizing, but also that “I’m not going to be able to participate on that committee because I’m participating this other one…” just as a gentle reminder that I am serving already. So I’m not just a “No” person, but I’m a “No, because I am providing this other service and I wouldn’t want to let them down.” And then also having a suggestion of who might be able to serve. Another good practice that I’ll say I’m terrible at, but I think would theoretically be helpful if I would remember to do it as much as I wish, is to ask people to give me a day or two to think about it. Because sometimes we will feel that in the moment like, “Oh my gosh,” and we lose perspective like that there’s not someone else who could step in and provide the same if not better service than we could. So, that’s a practice I wish I did more. But, I will say I’m pretty darn good at saying no to stuff. I got asked, for example, to be on the Diversity Committee at our institution. If you’ve ever listened to my podcast, you know that is just central core to who I am and my values, but that committee’s work, and what was on their agenda for that year, wasn’t going to be an expression of my values in that space in the way I would have necessarily wanted it to be. That was a hard “No” to say, but looking back, I’m really glad that I did because there are other ways in which I’ve been able to express that value that didn’t require that same amount of time with a agenda that just didn’t match, if I’m expressing that well.

John: in your book, you talk about personal knowledge mastery and how it relates to productivity. Could you talk to us about that a little bit?

Bonni: I was first introduced to personal knowledge mastery by one of the experts. And that’s Harold Jarche. And he has three phases, not even necessarily phases, but three ways in which we can use personal knowledge mastery in our lives. The first is, and you’ll probably recognize that you do this all the time, we seek out information. So, I know that both of you are on Twitter, at least I think both of you are.

Rebecca: Yup.

John: Yes.

Bonni: I feel like I’ve seen you up there. So, Twitter for some of us is a way in which we seek out information. I’m recording this just a few hours into my morning, and I’ve already had a few resources I’ve been able to glean from Twitter and the days just getting started. I don’t, by the way, spend hours and hours but it’s a nice place to check in and be able to seek out information from people I trust. And then many of us also use what are called RSS feeds. That’s a Real Simple Syndication. It’s a way of making a custom newspaper. When I used to subscribe to a physical newspaper, I used to take the sports section, and just set it aside and get to the parts I was interested in. [LAUGHTER] I don’t have to do that anymore. RSS lets me customize and say I want this blog, this blog, this news source, etc. And so that seeking work… I feel like there’s never been such a time in my life as the richness of ways in which we can seek. There’s too much there, as we know, so these tools let us filter. We can make lists on Twitter for just the exact kind of information we might want to dip our toe into or an RSS we can set a filter that says “Yes, I want this blog, but not if it talks about this topic.” I was about to insert a topic there. I’d really get myself into trouble. [LAUGHTER] The controversies that are on Twitter right now that I’m just like, “Okay, I read enough. I don’t need to hear any more about that today.” [LAUGHTER] The second part of it is sense making. So, we seek and we sense. It’s not just about all this flying at us. But, it’s information that we translate into knowledge that then we save and we think about and we begin to wrestle with these ideas. We start to have more of a knowledge map in our heads of how these things fit together. And then the last thing we do is to share, and sharing might be as simple as tweeting about it. It could be as simple as emailing it to a colleague, which I did, by the way, a couple of those Twitter articles because they were about STEM teaching, snd I have a colleague who’s written a number of grants: “Oh, I think this might be a good one for the next grant that you write, it’s a wonderful report.” So, sharing can happen one-on-one and also can happen more broadly. If you’ve got a blog or you want to do micro blogging like Twitter allows. So, in terms of personal knowledge mastery, I would say that the biggest way that I’ve been able to leverage this comes out of using a social bookmarking tool. In my case, it’s called Pinboard, the one that I use, but there’s lots of them out there. pinboard.in. Another big one is Diigo, D-I-I-G-O. Diigo is known because you can highlight on the pages themselves, and those highlights save with your bookmarks as well as any annotations. And some people really like that. I just like the ease with which I can click on my button, tag it, and then I’ve got tags so I can say “Next time I teach this class, what’s a video that conveys this concept around this particular topic?” It’s really, really powerful. So, if we’re ever having conversations about topics that are near and dear to my life, I’ve got at least 100 bookmarks or more on a topic and that really has been a rich learning experience and also enables me to share with other people really richly.

John: And they also come with plugins for most browsers, so you can easily just save them directly while browsing the web.

Bonni: Yeah.

Rebecca: I used to use Diigo quite a bit, and then I found it overwhelming. I just had too much. So I use Pocket now. But the same kind of idea. I put things in my Pocket for later.

BONNIE: Yeah, I have a similar thing happened to me. On Twitter, I have it set up if i star something… I guess it’s not a star anymore, is it a heart? Whatever it is I do [LAUGHTER], it automatically saves on to Pinboard. I used to go in and tag every single one of those. And you can imagine… I mean, it’s not that hard to imagine that you might star or heart 20 things in the reading of Twitter. That just got overwhelming. Pinboard and other bookmark tools…They are searchable, just the raw text themselves. I wasn’t getting that much payoff off of tagging them. Now I just feel so free. If I’m reading the article, I tag it. If it’s important enough to me to have read it, tag it right then. But if you didn’t tag it right, then forget it. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Yep.

Bonni: Let it go in there, and if you miss a couple along the way, it’s not going to be the end of the world.

John: And some of those things can be automated with if this then that [IFTT] and Zapier. We use that to automatically send out tweets about workshops that we’re doing on our feed and it saves a lot of time and things that we might forget otherwise,

Bonni: Yeah.

Rebecca: I do it to post things on my class blog related to the class as well. And it’s automated.

Bonni: And those are talked about in the book as well, automation… the topic of automation. If this then that is a big one. I live here in Southern California. It’s been raining lately, and you know, we get a lot of rain, [LAUGHTER] so we got to be reminded to bring our umbrellas of the forecast calls for rain. And so if this then that will remind me to bring that umbrella the next day. [LAUGHTER]

John: We don’t have as much of an issue with rain this time of the year.

Rebecca: …or snow.

John: Although it was raining today, actually, the temperature went above freezing, so we got a coat of water on top of the ice.

Rebecca: I think one of the things that sometimes impacts productivity is the fear of sharing, not the like one-on-one shares of resources and things but maybe spending too much time trying to overachieve on something or polish it too much and then you spend so much time trying to perfect something or clarifying what it means to you that you don’t share it out. And that sometimes can eat up a lot of time.

Bonni: Oh, yeah. And it doesn’t help that we see examples of people really having their tweets or their blogs really pulled apart in some hyper-critical ways, but it doesn’t necessarily help me. More than a year ago, I started a column with EdSurge. And I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but I’m so grateful now that they don’t have comments, because I look at the Chronicle. And I just think, oh, that would just be awful to just expose yourself that way. And that’s probably just my own insecurity about writing, etc. But, sometimes feedback can be so powerful, but to give anyone on the internet that has any feeling at all whatsoever about what just got written, I don’t think it’s the most helpful way for us to grow our writing skills and our other communication skills. So, that makes it even harder, I think, but yet I see the kind of value that I’ve had by what John Stepper refers to as “working out loud,” but I just changed it to “teaching out loud” because that’s what I feel like I do. It’s really hard work to be that transparent. I think Brene Brown has some wonderful things to say around that vulnerability. But when I listened to her words of wisdom… by the way, her Netflix special if people haven’t seen it is just a wonderful illustration of the kind of vulnerability that she’s talking about… I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have not exposed myself to a lot of vitriol, because I don’t tend to write about controversial topics or speak about it on the podcast. Although, I say that and I laugh because you can just talk about lecturing versus active learning… before you know it, you’re like, “What just happened?” [LAUGHTER] So, I suppose in some ways, I’ve probably been lucky. And in some ways, it’s the style with which I deliver things because I feel like there’s so many ways you could look at issues I don’t tend to just take a really hard definitive line on things. It’s not my style to like try to create that. That’s an important part of discourse. It’s just not what I do well. I like to ask beginner’s mind questions. That’s how I contribute to these conversations. And I’m glad for the people that try to push us a little bit. We need that, too.

John: So in terms of productivity, how have you been able to maintain such a high quality podcast while implementing so many things in your classes and in your new role?

Bonni: Well, specifically, when it comes to the podcast, I want to go back to what Rebecca just asked about, because one of the reasons I’ve been able to do it is because I told myself from the very beginning, it doesn’t have to be perfect every time. And that seems like a relatively small, safe commitment to make to oneself. It’s incredibly hard. And so I will be here today to say there are episodes that just gripped me from the very inside that I feel like are wonderful intimate moments between two people talking about a topic that is so near and dear to me. And there’s others that are, as my husband said the other day, “Eh, not everyone has to be perfect, and especially because it could be perfect for one person who is listening that really needed to hear that information, but maybe not for the masses.” And if I tried to aim for perfection I’ll never get a single episode out. So, part of this to me is doing what Katie Linder refers to often as playfully experimenting, if I think of it as not the best podcast that has ever been created, and every episode will, you know, completely blow you away, I’m playfully experimenting. That’s one of the ways I enjoy sense making like we talked about with personal knowledge mastery and sharing. If I think of it more in terms of that, that also, by the way, helps with the teaching aspect of it. If I try something new, and a lot of times I hear from really large schools, I teach at a place where total student count is less than 3000. We’re a small school. I remember interviewing Thia Wolf from Chico State, and she’s talking about their program that they do. It’s a part of public sphere pedagogy and how they bring together government and business and the students and politics and all this into this wonderful week of events, and I thought like, “Oh my goodness gracious.” Like, “That’s just not gonna happen, at least not on year one.” By the way, small schools can do incredible things. But we can’t do all the incredible things, like we can’t match a huge R1 one-for-one on the innovative things we might try out. So that first year, it was just about, “Oh, well, let’s think about if you had the end-of-the-semester project, if you opened the fourth wall, if you will, to use the theater analogy, if you invited people in to that experience and to give your students feedback.” That’s how I took this huge idea and made it small enough that I could playfully experiment with it that first year. And then the last thing that I really try to remember is that I remember when I first went to an open education conference and Ken Bauer was there and he’s so gracious and introducing me to a lot of people. And he’s about to introduce me to Robin DeRosa, who if you’re not familiar with who she is, listeners, she’s just a wonderful voice in open education and public education. And I just felt like she was just a celebrity I was not ready to meet. So I’m like, “No, please don’t. I’m not ready.” And it turned out, she actually listened to the podcast regularly… already knew who I was… and as surprising as this was to me… I still can’t process it now… was actually apprehensive about meeting me. And I’m like, “What on earth is this world that we’ve come into? And I’m not even telling that story for like the main points because it wasn’t until maybe three months after that, I hear her being interviewed on a podcast. And she’s talking about how she had just gotten started in this movement, going to a digital pedagogy lab, like a year and a half before that.

Rebecca: Yeah.

Bonni: And I thought, “Oh my gosh…” like I thought she had been at this for at least 10 to 20 years. There’s no way she was just emerging in this field. And so I think we’re all starting things. And like, there’s just so many different arenas. If we wait until we feel like we’re ready, you’re never going to start. And so I like to remember Robin, she’s such an inspiration to me. But yet she also in many ways… part of why she can be that inspiration for us is because she sees herself as just getting started.

Rebecca: It’s a really good reminder, I think.

Bonni: Mm hmm.

Rebecca: And I think that it’s okay to just be starting. And it’s okay to share when you’re just starting.

Bonni: Yup… really hard to do, but I think really important. And part of that too, back to my making those huge things down to smaller digestible pieces. My example of doing that with Thea Wolf’s project of just like, “Oh, who am I going to invite to this last little presentation of our projects?” …perhaps that help someone else get started too, because sometimes you just can’t translate it. So, we’re all getting started in our own ways, and hopefully, we’re never done. Because I don’t want to keep doing this if we’re done, right? [LAUGHTER] We’re always learning and always growing.

Rebecca: Yeah, such good reminders. [I’m] finding many of the things that you’re talking about very good reminders before I start my sabbatical, so it’ll be very productive. [REBECCA]

Bonni: Wow, exciting. What will you be doing?

Rebecca: I’m doing some research on accessibility. But, your reminders about getting started on things might push me to do some things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise,

Bonni: …or just for a while and do nothing. That’s always an option.[LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: I might do that too.

John: Robin DeRosa visited here and she had a major impact on a lot of faculty. And I think also a lot of us were surprised to hear her talk about how she hadn’t been doing this all that long. Because it doesn’t seem that way. When you hear her talk and present on this material.

Rebecca: You can be new to something and still be really passionate about it… and committed to it.

Bonni: Yeah, and very good at it as well.

Rebecca: Yeah.

John: When will your book be coming out?

Bonni: The book comes out in January of 2020.

John: So it should be coming out shortly after this podcast is released.

Rebecca: Bonni, we always wrap up by asking: what’s next?

Bonni: Well, since the book is just being released out into the wild, I do plan on sitting and doing absolutely nothing for a while. But, in addition to that, one of the milestones I’m looking forward to on the podcast side is that episode 300 is coming up in March. So, I’m starting to think about how to mark that time as a milestone and think through some of the ways in which I have just been transformed and invite others to do the same. So I’m looking forward. I haven’t quite figured out what that looks like yet, but I am looking forward with anticipation to that opportunity to step back and reflect

Rebecca: It’s a really exciting moment for sure.

John: Your podcast was one of the very first ones I started listening to. Actually, Michelle Miller was here about five years ago, and she mentioned it. She gave it a plug during one of her presentations. So, I started listening and quite a few people I think did then on our campus,

Bonni: And your podcast, how long after that, did it start?

John: A while. We just started that in 2017 in November,

Bonni: I think I must have started listening relatively soon from the beginning, I mean, because I feel like I’ve been listening for a long while and I just enjoy the conversation. It’s like once a week is about all I could do. So, it’s fun to have you know, another regular conversation about teaching. I just love it. And especially because it’s tea, and I don’t drink coffee so Im really looking forward to a tea oriented podcast. [LAUGHTER] Not that I don’t also love that coffee-oriented one, but you know, it’s just fun to have tea get a voice in the matter.

John: TOPCAST actually just released an episode in early December where they were drinking tea. I think it’s the only time I’ve heard them talk about tea.

Bonni: They’re encroaching on your territory, you better watch out.

John: They mentioned that and I saw one of the presenters down at OLC and I got a picture of him drinking tea there.

Bonni: My daughter this morning said “What podcast are you on?” I said “Tea for Teaching.” She was so excited because I said “They always ask what we’re drinking.” She said “Tell them ice tea, Mommy.” “Okay.” [LAUGHTER] I’m actually laughing because I during this conversation, I’m looking aside I had brought my iced tea in ‘cause I hadn’t made it to Starbucks this morning… and look what appeared… the actual Starbucks iced tea. My husband has come into the room while we’ve been talking and left some iced tea, lest you think I’m not a committed iced tea drinker. There’s a second bit here to go. [LAUGHTER]

Rebecca: Awesome. I also really appreciate the idea that one of the big rocks can be sitting and doing nothing.

Bonni: Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca: I just wanted to emphasize that.

Bonni: But I will say, as someone who’s not great at that, but enjoys the practice of attempting it, it’s hard.

Rebecca: I agree.

Bonni: Cause we become accustomed to the constancy of the movement and the thinking that our purpose is to do instead of to be, and so that’s really hard work to do. and can be troubling and unexpectedly emotional. You have to dose up on the ways with which you’ll process what might come out when you actually stop.

John: That’s something I’m not very good at.

Rebecca: No, definitely not.

John: Well, thank you. This has been really fun talking to you and we’ll keep listening to your podcast and we recommend it all the time.

Bonni: I know it’s so fun to talk to our podcasts that we like to listen to.

Bonni: Well, I feel like we’re sister and brother broadcast because I so enjoy listening to tea for teaching and I’m so honored that you would want to have me on the show. So thank you so much.

John: Thank you.

Rebecca: Well, thank you.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.