When designing a course, faculty and instructional designers often focus on the course as a discrete entity without considering its role in the institution and society. In this episode, Robin DeRosa joins us to discuss how our classes and institutions can help to support broader social objectives. Robin is the Director of the Open Learning and Teaching Collaborative at Plymouth State University, Robin had long been an editor of Hybrid Pedagogy and is a co-founder of the Open Pedagogy Notebook. She has also published on a wide variety of topics related to higher education, including open pedagogy, remote learning, and value-centered instruction planning.
- Never forget: your course is not only yours – The Campus
- Trostel, P., Walker, I., & Woolley, P. (2002). Estimates of the economic return to schooling for 28 countries. Labour economics, 9(1), 1-16.
- Morris, S. M. (2018). Critical instructional design. An Urgency of Teachers.
- In Era of Sickness, Doctors Prescribe Unusual Cure: Voting – The New York Times
- Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury publishing USA.
- Digitization: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – Tara Robertson
- ACE Framework
John: When designing a course, faculty and instructional designers often focus on the course as a discrete entity without considering its role in the institution and society. In this episode, we examine how our classes and institutions can help to support broader social objectives.
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 Robin DeRosa, the Director of the Open Learning and Teaching Collaborative at Plymouth State University. Robin had long been an editor of Hybrid Pedagogy and is a co-founder of the Open Pedagogy notebook. She has also published on a wide variety of topics related to higher education, including open pedagogy, remote learning, and value-centered instruction planning. Welcome back, Robin.
Robin: Thanks, you guys. I’m so happy to be here.
Rebecca: We’re excited to talk to you again.
John: The last time it was one of our early podcasts and it was in person and that was so much nicer. But we’re happy to see you here.
Robin: It was amazing too, because you guys have really fancy equipment, headphones, microphones. And I still periodically take out those photos of myself recording that podcast because I felt like such a big cheese.
Rebecca: We had such good time.
John: We’ve used that in several presentations, because we don’t have that many pictures of people doing it and it was because you suggested “Let’s get a photo.” You mean most people aren’t like, “Oh, take a picture of me with my fancy headphones on.” And shortly after that, if you remember when we recorded it, it was next to a cafe where there was a cart moving by that sounded like a train going by. And it was a blender, and it was a coffee grinder, and it was a toilet flushing. We moved to a new location, which was an old recording studio, shortly after that, which is really confined and crowded and cramped. So it wasn’t really the most conducive place to take photos. And for some reason, since March, we haven’t actually talked to anybody in person, including each other.
Robin: I wonder why. I, just, who knows?
Rebecca: It’s a weird thing, it’s just a weird thing. But today’s teas are…
Robin: My tea is a very standard and reliable honey chamomile. So if I do doze off in the middle of the podcast, it will be because I’m so relaxed from this very sleepy tea.
Rebecca: We all need a little relaxation these days.
Robin: That’s right.
John: And I’m drinking a ginger peach green tea.
Rebecca: Oh, a standard. I’ve got golden monkey today, because I was looking forward to talking to Robin. So, brought out the fancy stuff.
John: And that is her favorite tea for some of our most favorite guests.
Rebecca: So we invited you here today to talk a little bit about your recent article, “Never forget: your course is not only yours.” And in this article, you talk about course and curriculum development, often starting with course content or course structure without really the consideration of the larger role the course plays in the institution and the larger role the institution plays in society. So, can you first start by sharing the role institutions do play in doing the work of the public good?
Robin: Yeah, that’s a nut of a question because I feel like if we could do a better job in public higher ed, of answering that question, just even internally, we would be in a much stronger position to advocate for our needs in sustaining our institutions. So I’ve really been spending time recently trying to think about not taking the definition of an institution for granted and not thinking about it, I mean, certainly not now post COVID, as a collection of buildings. But what is the work of the institution? We know maybe what the work is of a course. What is exactly the work of an institution? Is it just to graduate and credential people? I think probably not. There’s cheaper and easier ways to get a credential, that’s for sure. So I’m really thinking that the way we understand publics, it’s hard to understand publics without thinking about institutions. Because you have to, in some ways, imagine a collective. A public has to have some kind of shape or structure to it. It’s different than just a mess or swarm of people. It’s got some kind of architecture. And the only way for me to imagine that is to think about public institutions. I think that is where our public’s in here. That’s what a public is. It’s the collection of public institutions that are created to serve. So if that’s the case, I think, as a public institution, I might think about something like public health care, for example. I think, “Okay, not only what do we need to serve the individual student, who we sometimes call the consumer now.” I was in a situation earlier where I heard somebody using that name interchangeably with students. And that is because we do think of college in many ways as a consumer good. Are you going to get your value out of college? And here’s the ROI that college will deliver through the college earnings premium, you’ll make 145% more money. And that’s all true, and it’s fine. But I’m interested in that other corollary question, which is, “What value do institutions deliver to publics beyond the individual consumers or students who attend?” It was interesting to me to think about this during a public health crisis because lots of colleges were involved in vaccinations. And then lots of colleges weren’t. The question to me about, like, “Does a college play a role in public health?” So we know from some of the economic research about colleges, that public colleges, and John, you were actually just sort of, I knew the body of literature you were citing offhand as we were chatting before the show, we’re talking about folks like Philip Trostel, and others who have done studies to kind of demonstrate the value of public institutions to the public good. And that includes things like public colleges delivering longevity, happier marriages, better cognitive functioning to children, regional wage increases whether or not a person goes to college. So I started thinking, like, we can talk about the value of public institutions. But how often do faculty and instructional designers think about any of those things when they’re on the ground doing their actual work? And could we get a more powerful amplification of these contributions we’re making to the public good if we actually design intentionally for that piece of the work? So we’re not just serving our students with their particular learning outcomes. But we’re trying to think about building a course on organic chemistry that also pays attention to these larger ways that the institution is serving, whether it be the region, the state, the nation, or globally. So it’s really a question of how we shift instructional design, to ask about institutional mission and incorporate that into design practices.
Rebecca: One of the ideas that you brought up in your article was this idea of sites of practice, which I really latched on to. Because it moved away from thinking about an institution as something that’s just completely not touchable to something that we help create and participate in and help evolve. So can you talk a little bit about what you mean by sites of practice?
Robin: Yeah, and Lord knows, I often feel like my own institution is untouchable, and I direct faculty development, so to a certain degree, I have a fairly significant administrative job. But I still often feel like it doesn’t matter what I do, the institution is a behemoth that is fully disconnected from anything I do on the ground. That may actually be the case. But I’m trying to think of a new model for defining institutions that come less from some nebulous stratosphere, or some board of trustees or administrative board. And instead, to think, this actually comes from some of my work in English in the early days with critical theory, and God knows, probably even some critical race theory. So feel free to just shut me down now, just cancel me right now. But I think that it’s in the practice, it’s in the being and the doing that we actually create the shape of who we are as an institution. And sometimes you can see this because you’ll, for example, look at some web PR, or hear a tour guide for your institution and realize, like, “Gosh, that really doesn’t, doesn’t seem to be what we really are.” So you can recognize that the thing you really are is a thing and you know it and you know it because you’re working in it. And I guess the hope I have is that, if we can get faculty and staff to talk more in a meta way, or intentionally, actually, about the practices that we’re using, and how we think they set the tone for who we are as an institution, that will be the institution, like it or not. Nobody has the power to make the institution what it isn’t. And so if through the work, if you can make the work visible, and you can talk about the work in intelligent ways, I think that does have the ability to shape what the institution is actually capable of. I think one of the larger problems, though, is like, except maybe in, like, committee work. In general, we don’t have these conversations as academics, and we’re very content focused, and we’re very focused on our majors, perhaps. And then I think staff have an even harder problem, which is they are generally really required to stay in their swim lanes, they don’t enjoy the freedom to ask questions about how their daily work and their tasks could be shifted to create a different shape. They’re just sort of told, “Here’s what needs to be accomplished.” And I think we’re really kind of failing to get the impact that we could be getting out of our public institutions by not letting faculty and staff have more conversations about how their daily work could do more for how the institution serves its publics.
John: What are some specific things that individual faculty members might be able to do to help shift the institution a little bit, sort of like shifting an ocean liner, perhaps, but shifting it in a direction that may be more positive? What are some individual tasks, perhaps, or individual activities that you can think of that faculty might be able to undertake?
Robin: Well, I think first, and this is some work that is really heavily influenced by my colleague, Martha Bertus. And then our colleagues, Sean Michael Morris, and Jesse Stommel, particularly Sean Michael Morris, who’s done a lot of writing recently about what he calls critical instructional design, which comes out of the world of critical digital pedagogy. But really, where they started in asking questions about how to rethink instructional design was to ask questions, instead of a sort of classic, say, backwards design model where you’re starting with learning outcomes and mapping those two activities, and then mapping those activities to assessments, and it’s all very predetermined. There’s a lot more co-learning happening, where students are welcomed into the process of learning design, and they’re encouraged to critically notice the learning environment that they are part of, so that when you talk about, “We teach our students learn how to learn,” it gives some teeth to that, because you’re making the learning process visible, you’re engaging them in conversations about the learning process. And that design just becomes something that you can now also discuss and focus on. So I think, similarly here, I’m suggesting that we take kind of a critical stance, and sometimes that word can be a little bit intimidating, but I think it really means intentional or thoughtful in this regard. So that instead of just jumping to your content, you’re instead asking questions about, “What kind of scholar do I want my students to emerge from this class like? What are the qualities of scholarship that I hope that they’re invested with?” It’s about asking, “What role you hope the work that they do in your course will do in the wider world? And therefore, what role you think the academy is playing?” Is it just job training for the future? Which is certainly one valid possibility. But they’re also, for example, if you teach, we have a very significant number of health majors. It’s a very popular field right now, especially in regional colleges and community colleges. We’re seeing lots of people interested in healthcare, because it’s a growing field. And there’s jobs and there’s need, but also to see that during a global pandemic, there’s lots of students interested in studying health. I think part of the question is, “Okay, what do we think the role is of a public university during a global pandemic? How should it be behaving? What messaging should it be putting out? How should it be related to public health messages?” Our local hospital was putting out lots of public health messages, they did a video every week. And I wondered, why wouldn’t that be the kind of thing that a university health program or nursing program wouldn’t also be involved in? So public health, I think, is a really interesting place to start. But we can think about other things that have been in the news lately, things like housing and food insecurity with social work majors or people who are studying economics, for example, or even studying nutrition. There are some very rich things going on in the world that historians can contribute to at the moment, if you have been watching the news. So I think one of the questions I have is, I’m concerned when I see our public institutions shrinking from those responsibilities to be leaders in opening public debate and amplifying public knowledge in issues that are really important for sustainable healthy communities. And right now, in New Hampshire, we’ve got legislation, it just became law, that says educators can no longer discuss divisive concepts in the classroom. And there are a whole series of examples that come out of this fear mongering around critical race theory. It took me at least three years of graduate school to be able to really explain critical race theory, like I’m pretty sure these people do not mean critical race theory when they say critical race theory. But I’m concerned about public institutions that aren’t stepping up to explain why that legislation is so problematic. So I guess what I’m interested in is, how can faculty and staff in their daily work, start moving the institution into more public relationships on issues the public clearly needs education about? And I don’t mean explaining to uneducated people what’s right, I mean, education in its best sense, which is informed debate, civil discourse, history, science, right. Like the kinds of things that we can bring into the marketplace of ideas and share. But I see now a shrinking of public institutions from those responsibilities, fear that legislators are going to rescind even more public funding if you get perceived as partisan or ideological and those things concern me. I think there’s a, just like public healthcare and public transportation have roles in societies, so do public institutions of higher education. But my question for most people now is, “What role does the public university in your town play?” I don’t know that people could tell you beyond, “Oh, that’s where kids go to college.” That’s important. But, “What else are you there for?” is the question I would ask.
John: Would a starting point be expanding community based service learning type activities, where students directly engage with some of the problems of the community by working with community members?
Robin: I think so. I think service learning is a great example of that. Service learning, of course, is like, you know, flawed and difficult for a whole bunch of reasons as well. But really, what in general, you’re getting out there, I think, is the idea of just a more porous boundary between the public and the academy. And in its best sense, a public academy would really be interested in not just educating the public, but educating the public for the public. So I get a little bit concerned when I see all of our interest being in how to create students who are more marketable for competing against each other for jobs. Like I get that, our students need jobs. I mean, many of my students are Pell-eligible poor students, and they, especially with the debt load they’re carrying in New Hampshire, highest in the nation, they need jobs after they graduate. But on the other hand, there’s other ways to be thinking about creating economically sustainable communities, besides just, “You will be better than everybody else in this field. And so you’ll kick their asses and get the job.” I’m thinking more about, “Can public institutions in areas also be creating programs and things that ultimately, like, are the jobs that the students are going to be inhabiting?” And it’s one of the reasons I like the community college model. An example of this, I think, is, I can’t remember what state it was, but they were allowing people to register to vote at their primary care physician’s office when they went in for their yearly physicals. So one of the questions they were asked is, “Are you registered to vote? No. Would you like us to do that for you right now, like, we can do it.” This idea of, like, integrated care for the public good creating voting citizens and make sure they’re healthy and that they’re educated and they have childcare. My dream of a true community college would be a place where all those services existed together. But those aren’t just like welfare, social services, right? These are social services that give back, there’s return. So I think there’s a lot more potential if institutions could, public institutions in particular, could say, “You know what, we’re okay saying that we have a stake in the public good.” Like, “We are okay saying, it’s on us to make this region/state stronger, healthier, economically viable, equitable.” Right now, I don’t know that I’m seeing our institutions take those positions, we’re very focused on individual consumer success.
Rebecca: Seems like one of the key pieces to that puzzle is treating the local community that you’re situated in, as an expert on the local community, so that there’s some contributions to the conversations and some seeds to what those conversations should even be. Rather than making those decisions and plopping them on to a community because that tends not to work. That’s why we have institutions on hills and things, right, and there’s that divide.
Robin: College on a hill. That’s exactly right. And obviously, none of what I’m saying here is new in terms of pedagogy, and to think about in terms of somebody like Freire, a sort of talking about the revolution cannot be taught by someone external to the revolutionary community. So you are growing things from inside. And I think that’s absolutely true. And I think a piece of that, that hit me with instructional design during COVID, particularly, is as people were moving remote and moving online, you’re seeing much more outsourcing to things like edtech products to assure quality and remote delivery, for example. And there are a million problems with this, for example, like lots of people will tell you that they don’t believe in for-profit, higher education. Even middle-of-the-road people will say, “Yeah, institutions should not be for profit, and they do scam students.” But we have no problem with massive for-profit industries, right in the center of our public institutions, right? And I’m talking about things like the textbook conglomerates, I’m talking about things like edtech corporations that run Canvas or whatever, I’m talking about our dining services ancillaries that keep our public institutions running. And I think we saw in times of crisis, a real falling into the pitch, that some external thing could save us. You can hire a consultant, like Huron, and pay them $700,000 and they’ll tell you what’s wrong with your institution. And you can get an OPM to manage your new online thing and that’ll be great. But I just don’t think this is how publics get built. You cannot serve the public good, unless the public is somehow in that sustainability loop. So it really is about building an institution that’s much more integrated with the world outside. The thing is, faculty are pretty good at this, like faculty now are starting to get really interested in this kind of work. They’re doing project-based work. They’re doing open education, they’re interested in connected learning. But we don’t talk about that institutionally. And we don’t necessarily integrate it with our strategic plans. We don’t necessarily have coherence from one class or section to another. My question is, we might need to start making sure faculty have the vocabulary and education to think more intentionally about what they’re doing in their classes, and how it really is affecting what their institution could be. And if they can talk to each other and we can develop some synergies around that I think we could potentially be, I’m still fairly cynical at this point because so many things are going in the wrong direction in public higher ed, but I do think we actually have the skill in our faculty, staff, particularly staff, I’ll say, but our designers, to do this work. But coordinating it is hard. And we throw a lot of bad ideas after bad ideas that keep us away from what I think is a pure mission, which is really to focus on how we work with students in our communities.
Rebecca: One of the things that we often think about is that power sits with administration. And you’re really talking about the idea that an institution is really about the work that’s being done and who’s doing it. And so we’ve talked a bit about faculty, but I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about both staff and students and their role in creating an institution and also steering an institution. Students are actually a key to all of this. And it certainly has been woven into our conversation here, but not maybe pulled out explicitly. But we often don’t think of that because we think of them as being consumers, or that’s how the conversation goes, rather than they are the community that we’re hoping to serve, because they’re the ones that bring the community forward. They are the ones who will be leading our community.
Robin: And we so undo ourselves by basically training students into a compliance model, which is so much of K12, and higher education. And so when you do open up learning opportunities that are really co-developed with students, or that are very learner driven, you do get pushback from students who are like, “That’s not what I’m paying you for, I’m paying for you to teach me something and I need to get a job.” And I understand that, like, what other response would there be given how we’ve set up the system? But I think that that’s not about blaming students, that’s about understanding. We get what we paid for, so to speak. We designed that. And that’s a designed response. And so it’s going to take some intentional design to create a students-as-partners model. Five years ago, or whatever, we’d say, “Oh, I’m so student-centered.” And we would mean like, “We have class discussion, right? I don’t just lecture the whole time.” I think now we’ve graduated past that where people understand running a classroom where students have agency to speak and ask critical questions and stuff. But now it’s probably time, at least in some of their classes, to say, “You really need to learn to curate materials, you can’t just study what I give you, you also have to learn to figure out what we need to study to get where we need to go.” I also believe that if I’m trying to diversify my curriculum, part of the way I need to do that is to understand that new voices and new perspectives are going to have more to offer than I can offer all on my own so I’m going to need to involve those students. So we need to start thinking about our instructional design as a way of creating the kinds of citizens/members of the knowledge commons that we hope will take our culture to its next iteration. And I think we’re, lots of teaching and learning centers are really good now at helping people figure out activities. I mean, this is kind of what we built open pedagogy.org for, it’s really a website about activities that see students as contributors to the knowledge commons, not just consumers. Staff is another question. I actually think we’re further behind on staff than we are with students because again, that kind of student-centered thing propelled us into the beginnings of some of those critical questions about students and their agency and learner-centered classrooms. But staff, I think, we do a pretty lousy job of understanding the role that staff play in academia. And I don’t just mean in, like, the university operations, but I mean in, like, building a world of knowledge, I just think we could do a lot more. So for example, in the office that I run now, and it makes it sound like such a busy center, there’s four of us, I should specify, we could easily have 40 of us, and it would be amazing. But the four people are here, we have very different jobs. And this sort of faculty development director, someone else directs the student major that lives in our program. Another person is basically a lead instructional designer, and somebody else is more of an administrative assistant and advisor. We are all cross trained on every piece of that puzzle. Every single one of us participates in teaching, like actually teaching, we all do advising, we all do some admin, we all know every aspect. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have our expertise and we definitely have our jobs. But we talked so much about treating the student holistically, but we still really insist on staff staying in their place. I know that sounds awful but I really think that’s how many staff are treated. I don’t think you can have a holistic approach to students without relaxing the boundaries between people, especially people in team-based settings. So I think faculty have contributed to kind of rarifying the academic space a little bit. And I just don’t think, as somebody who comes out of interdisciplinary studies, we’re very interested in transdisciplinarity, the outside world does not have disciplines, right, they just have things. And I think staff can really help us translate some of the academic work of the academy, because staff work often looks more like the community work that we’re doing outside of the college. So there’s some really rich opportunities there to merge teaching with staff operations, and get students partnering more with staff, and staff working more on projects, and staff helping more in classrooms, and faculty, for God’s sake, understanding more about financial aid, for example, the Bursar’s office, the Registrar, it’s just a win-win. So I think a lot of what I’m talking about when I’m trying to think about instructional design is just, let’s be more intentional about designing an integrated university, wherever you are. So if what you do is make courses, it’s time to think about how your course functions with the student life office and the diversity and equity office and the food pantry. And the same thing for staff to be invited in, I think, to those academic experiences.
Rebecca: One of the things that struck me about the subtitle of your article, “The course is not only yours,” is part of what we’ve been talking about is this bigger kind of public knowledge, which is completely tied to all our earlier work about OER’s and open pedagogy. And I was just hoping you might talk a little bit about how those ideas of access tied to this bigger idea that you’re describing here.
Robin: When I first started my work in Open, I was obviously interested in the access issues about the high cost of textbooks and the really significant social justice issue that inheres in what seems like a really stupid issue. But I moved from that to being much more interested in the pedagogy just because I was teaching English and having after 15, 20 years in the classroom, having amazing experiences once I started working with students on creating learning materials and doing non-disposable assignments, and it just really energized students to work more authentically. But I think the next phase of my development at Open was really about thinking like, “Okay, so what about this is public work?” Because there’s a difference, I think, between open and public, and I think open is kind of a neutral word in the sense that I don’t know that it’s always good. I mean, I definitely know it’s not always good. I always think, open is not the opposite of private, private things can be great. And sometimes open things can be really abusive. Tara Robertson has written about this. And it really was like an epiphany for me when I read her piece on this, but it was about a lesbian, and maybe this is, like, not good for your G-rated podcast, so you could edit me out, but a lesbian porn magazine from the whatever 70’s, I think 80’s, called On Our Backs, and it was a print magazine, very feminist magazine. For very obvious reasons, women’s studies scholars are really interested in that work, and they digitized the collection and made it open. What’s interesting, though, is a lot of those women are alive and they were taking those photographs for a very select group of subscribers in a print journal. And there’s some really interesting questions I think about power and consent and what it means. And obviously there’s scholarly value to having those resources open, I don’t dispute that. But I would not argue that it’s a particularly feminist move or a move with social justice at its core. It’s not enough to just make things free and open all the time, we have to really think about what makes our public life healthier for all of us, and I don’t mean physically healthier, but better for all of us. And when I think about better, I think I’ve kind of landed mostly on the question of equity. Because it’s not really about incredible quality of life for certain people, it’s really about, how can we get the best outcomes for the widest and most diverse group of people? And for that, you can’t just think about openly licensing materials, you have to think about the values that are pushing you and you have to think about what the role is of the institution that you’re working in. And that became my next iteration. I still think open pedagogy and OER and open licenses are really big tools for doing a lot of this work, but I think the work is bigger.
John: So it involves taking, not just creating things for public consumption, but creating things that actually are useful for society as a whole. Would that be a good way of thinking about it?
Robin: I think so. My friend, Jim Grimm is an economist, and he describes it in a way that I find very, very helpful. He’s talking about a concept that you probably know the tragedy of the commons, and the sort of debunked idea at this point that you can never have common pool resources, because the second you open the pasture for anybody to graze, it’s going to get overgrazed and destroyed by the richest guy with the biggest cows or whatever, and then you’re done. So don’t even try. But Jim’s point is that commons is not a set of resources. A commons is not a meadow, it’s not a place. The way he says it is that the commons is a verb. It’s a series of agreements that people make about decisions that they’re going to make collectively, in order to get outcomes that work for everybody. I would say that verb, the verb of commons-ing is what we should do in public institutions. That’s the place for that kind of verbing, where we don’t overgraze our meadows, just because that guy’s going to get a good job out of it. We’re thinking more broadly about preserving an ecosystem where we can continue to learn and grow and increase our quality of life. So the idea of commons being a verb has been very helpful to me in moving from the focus in OER, the artifacts, to focusing instead on the practices that, and the collaborations that, keep us working together in sync.
Rebecca: Speaking of tools, we just talked about OER and open licensing as a tool to do some of this work. You’ve also worked on the ACE framework, that also seems like a really important tool for this work. Can you talk just a little bit about that and introduce folks to that tool?
Robin: Yeah, the ACE framework was sort of the first step that Martha and I took into rethinking instructional design. And it was a COVID designed tool, but more broadly than COVID, it’s really for teaching during a time of crisis. So I’ve talked about ACE, sometimes with faculty in California who are dealing with wildfires that have displaced their whole student body from working on campus, for example, or other issues like that. So I think it’s kind of adaptable. But ACE stands for adaptability, connection, and equity. And basically, we designed it to suggest that during a highly misnamed COVID pivot, which makes it sound like it was so delicate and beautiful when we all pirouetted into remote learning…
Rebecca: …and there were definitely jazz hands involved.
Robin: Oh, yeah. Meanwhile, authentically, people were dying, and people’s families were not having enough to eat, just, really. So what we wanted to do was to say, okay, it’s not going to be about Zoom. If this is about Zoom, it is really impossible to imagine that you would not completely alienate your student body. So we designed a framework to basically say, of course, you’re going to probably use some Zoom, and we will definitely support you in learning whatever new tools and technologies you need. But before that, let’s think intentionally about the realities that our students are going to be encountering, and the realities that we are going to be encountering, as we teach.
Robin: Exactly. With our babies on our laps, and whatever else, Rebecca. So the key to the ACE is really that very idea. It has practices, lots of practices, we get very concrete and specific, you know, we’re not just like, “You should care about people,” like, they’ll tell you what to try and how to do it. And it has activities and it has examples, but it’s really saying, start with your values. Start with a framework. Don’t just jump to the tech tool as particularly one that’s sold to you by a for profit company that’s going to give it to you for free for a year, so that you will build up a dependence on it and need it later. Like, there’s nefarious stuff going on. Let’s start by asking, “What do your students need during this time of crisis? What do your courses need in order to adapt?” And then we’ll figure out that other stuff once we’ve asked using our expertise as humans and faculty, not just listening to vendors, and then we can make better decisions. And that pivot had to happen so quickly that it was an obvious pitfall that we were just going to take the first thing that was put in front of us, and that that was going to be considered a solution. The reality is there was going to be no solution to teaching and learning during COVID. So you better have a robust framework, so that you can keep coping for the 18 months that you’re going to be doing this. And let’s hope it’s not, you know, another 18 months.
Rebecca: And there will continue to be crises that follow us. It’s not the same, but we have students who have been traumatized, we have faculty and staff who have been traumatized.
Robin: And so many students who had the worst parts of COVID, especially where I was, a quarter of our students got COVID at Plymouth State. But we didn’t have a ton of illness but we had huge economic fallout, poverty immediately in much of our student body. But what I heard from my most vulnerable students was, “Yeah, this is bad, but it’s been this bad for a long time, I actually feel better, because now people are paying attention. The fact that people care now that I can’t afford my meals, the fact that people see that I don’t have Wifi at home, the fact that you’re thinking about how to loan me a laptop.” So I think the wake up call was really less for the people who are suffering the worst and it was more for the people who had been lucky enough not to be suffering all along.
John: And to be able to ignore the suffering that was going on because it was hidden on our institutions.
Robin: Exactly. And to think, “Hey, I’m an early americanist, it’s not really my gig, housing insecurity is not really my gig.” You know what? It is your gig because 10% of your class is housing insecure, or even homeless right now. So how do you expect them to care about the Haitian Revolution or whatever? So there’s no silver lining to COVID. But it was a helpful wake up call. And I think most people who use the ACE framework both at Plymouth State and in other places, by the time they really had engaged with the framework, they realized, “Oh, yeah, I mean, this is for COVID, but it’s also for anybody who might teach human beings.” Because human beings tend to have challenges and traumas, you’re not going to go through 18 years of schooling, and not have significant challenges and traumas somewhere along the way, almost everybody. So I think it’s good if we build that into how we approach our design.
Rebecca: Although there’s still a lot of challenges, I still feel very hopeful. And I think a lot of the things that you’ve been talking about Robin, although maybe come out of some frustration, I think are a hopeful look at the way that the future can be and the way that we can all contribute to that.
Robin: We had a pretty rich last three weeks in faculty development at Plymouth, we’re running a bunch of different cohorts. And, I mean, I come out of these things and I’m like, “These people are amazing!” We have a staff learning community, and then a mixed faculty and staff learning community. And we, just like you guys, we have a beautiful, beautiful campus, and our students are fantastic. So there isn’t anything here that shouldn’t be working. It’s the same thing we were talking about earlier too. The return on investment and public higher ed, like it’s a no brainer. So it makes it more frustrating, on the one hand, because you do see how much potential there is. But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem like a pipe dream. Just like it doesn’t seem like a pipe dream to vaccinate with a vaccine that’s almost 100% effective. Like, “Hey, guys, you really could make this go away if you wanted to.” So there’s a lot of political will that we’ve got to work on. But the tools are within our reach for sure.
John: So we always end with the question, what’s next?
Robin: So two things are next. The first is I’m going to take a vacation to Monhegan Island, and it’s an island off the coast of Maine and my favorite place on earth. And I had to learn how to put my vacation days requests into the online system that we have. I had never done it before. Even though I’ve had this job for two and a half years. So I was like okay, that’s a sign I need a vacation. So the next thing that’s happening is a break. And I do just want to say to all my colleagues, like, you’ve got to find some rest, because I’ve never seen people pushed to the breaking point like we all have been over the last bunch of months. I’m thankful for my dogs during the pandemic. I have one on my lap right now and she just woke up for the tail end of the podcast so what great timing. But I think after that my interest is probably in working on a new initiative with Martha, she’s calling it now is really in some ways her baby, but it’s called Design Forward. We’re working on it in relationship with John and Jesse and some of the hybrid ped folks. And we’re really interested in seeing where critical instructional design could go in terms of, I think, building a more hopeful and sustainable vision for the future of higher ed. So we’re going to be working on that, particularly internally at Plymouth State but I think maybe some of these partnerships with the hybrid ped folks will allow us to do some nice sharing more broadly as well, with those materials that we’re working on.
Rebecca: Enjoy your rest, well deserved rest.
Robin: Thank you. I definitely intend to even though I have to leave my dogs at home, which just seems terrible. But other than that, I’m really looking forward to it.
Rebecca: We’ll be looking forward to seeing your next adventure come out as it starts being shared out as well.
John: Thank you. It’s always great talking to you. And you’ve inspired a lot of us to try a lot of new things with open education, open pedagogy, and so much more.
Robin: Well, thanks for having me and a shout out to, not just you guys, but really all my SUNY friends because there’s many of your campuses that have been partners with me in a lot of the work especially in OER, so it’s great to see you guys
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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.