In the last three days I just attended my first Educational Developers Caucus. In fact, I helped planned the conference. I am not an educational developer (yet), but as one of the hosts of this year's gathering, I was fortunate to attend and participate in the sessions and learn from a wonderful of community of fiercely intelligent and caring educators. I also care deeply about teaching and learning. It's how I ended up here after all - every job I have ever had since I was a young 20-something has been (broadly) in the field of education.
When I was an undergraduate student, studying English Literature at the University of Guelph, almost everyone I knew expected that I would become a teacher, in the conventional sense of going on to complete my B.Ed. But, as an also defiant (and very broke) 20-something, I rejected that assumption and set about getting to work. I worked as an adult education instructor for years - teaching mathematics, ESL, computer literacy, early literacy programs - eventually going on to develop programs that were certified by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities toward retraining adults in a new vocation. I learned a lot. I then went on to work for AFS Canada as the sole program developer in English-speaking Canada. Working in a new high school every day, I would 'take over' a Grade 10 civics or careers classroom and discuss the benefits of intercultural exchange with a group of young people. I always found it frustrating that, (in many cases), the teachers in these rooms seemed so bored - there are reasons that Grade 10 Civics/Careers classes were threatened. One reason is that because often no one signs up to teach these classes - in my experience - they often get assigned to whoever has an opening in their timetable - it's too bad that this isn't a "teachable" in B.Ed. programs as it is such an important one. I digress.
After my contract ended, I found myself unemployed for the first time in my adult life, and I was approached by a large publisher to take on a role as part of their higher education sales team.
I groaned. Sales? Sounded terrible. But, I spent 7 years in that position (in between having babies) and I continued to learn. It is interesting to me that at the EDC when I revealed my past employer at a social event, the first comment out of a fellow delegate's mouth was "I hate people like you". Now, I realize his tongue was perhaps firmly in his cheek, but this is something I have heard often, and it certainly felt unfair.
The truth is, my years in that position offered me a lot - the flexibility to see my young babies more following each maternity leave and to pick them up from school when they started kindergarten. But more, I learned daily, from and with the educators and colleagues I worked with. I learned about the challenges of teaching large first-year classes; I learned about disciplinary considerations and pedagogies; I helped innovative instructors redesign their courses. I also had many a long conversation about the deep care that many university and college instructors have for their students and their students' learning. I never tried to "sell" anything, and yet I did well. I wanted to learn from and work with the instructors with whom I worked. Many days were difficult. Once, when walking the halls at the institution I now call home, I had an instructor remark "any time you see a woman walking the halls around here it is either a book rep or a prostitute". He was trying to be funny. But it was NOT funny. I spoke with my managers about this and I was encouraged to say nothing, which was even less funny. Why didn't I take a stand? Why wasn't I supported to do so? It was shortly around that time that I knew I needed a change.
And now I work at that university - I look back to my early 20-something self and wonder why I didn't just get that B.Ed....or more likely (with hindsight) continue toward graduate studies back then...before I had kids and a full time job. While it may feel like I am rambling, it all comes full circle back to EDC...
This year's conference theme was "(re)Thinking Traditions", and this theme was especially resonant in terms of the choices made by our keynote and plenary speakers. It all started with a series of tweets at last year's STLHE conference -
And so in the very early days of our planning, we asked ourselves, "how can we ensure we invite these critical questions at EDC?". Trevor Holmes, an educational developer at University of Waterloo, along with Joy Mighty, AVPA from Carleton, were invited to help us get there. What started as a 30-minute conversation on day one, culminated in several threads, posed as questions that ran throughout the conference.
We were asked to jot down our thoughts on cards throughout the three days toward a participatory and interactive work as the closing plenary. We were also invited to do some "pre-work" in anticipation of these conversations -
At the closing of the conference, and following a brief introduction from Trevor and Joy, we were invited to assemble in smaller groups to discuss one of the themes/questions raised. I chose to sit at the "white" table (so named for the colour of the paper, but interesting to note just how 'white' EDC is...intersectionality please!).
The white table was the "take a stand" table, on "...being subjective, ideological, political or radical practitioners". I sat and listened for the early part of the conversation. Surrounded by insightful and respected educational developers in this community, I wanted to listen and learn. We reviewed some of the cards that had been contributed throughout the earlier days - many shared a common sub-theme, that of it feeling "scary" to take a stand, and that due to the hierarchal divisions of 'rank' and thus perceived 'safety' at institutions of higher ed, that it often feels risky. We talked about what it is we should be taking a stand for? I found myself sharing that I have been feeling deeply unsettled in this last year. The world, after all, is a deeply unsettling place of late. I shared that I have also been experiencing an immense feeling of change, and of finding my voice. I shared my sense that as humans it is our responsibility to take a stand...it is time to stick our collective necks out.
As we closed the session, we were asked to take a moment in reflection and to think about the ways that we might commit to engaging with these questions in the year to come. As I sat there, I found myself emotional (side note: I find reflection to be HARD work - I do it every day, probably too much, but those moments of quiet when it is a focused practice, I almost invariably cry). I kept staring at the white piece of paper in front of me. I realized that the question we hadn't really addressed yet at our table was the last, "...[how does it feel] not to do so?". As we were invited to share our reflections and commitments, I wished I was brave enough to embody the very question we were grappling, and to stand up and take the mic. As for me, in that moment, I realized that it feels terrible to not take a stand for the values, beliefs and fellow humans that I care about.
My commitment, then, is to take a stand for SOMETHING -many somethings- (in the context of this very long post I find it unnecessary to make you a list) and so I will continue to stand up, even when it does feel risky and scary. As one of my colleagues at the table said, "yes, you might be at risk, but know that you are not alone". This was comforting and empowering. I am not an educational developer (yet). But, it would seem that I am finding my voice and I intend to use it.
I have spent the better part of the last 3 years thinking deeply about the processes and decisions that should guide my work. Recently, I have been asked to make these thoughts more "public" - at least in the context of my organization....but heck, makes for a good first public blog post no?
Before I do, I want to back up around 3 years to when I made the transition from a giant corporate monolith to a public comprehensive university. I made this transition for many reasons. The future of publishing seemed uncertain. I hated sales. In fact, despite the fact that I worked with some truly inspiring and excellent people, I actually didn't really like my job. It seemed like a no-brainer then, when offered a position as an "Instructional Technologist" at a Canadian university, that I should jump with both feet. In that first 6 months, I was constantly asked "how are you liking it here?", "how is the transition?". To be honest, the work was "easy" - easy in so far as I was enjoying it, I love taking deep dives into the praxis of the work, and for the most part, I was still surrounded by inspiring and excellent people. But, the transition was actually hard - navigating the silos of the academy; the seemingly endless bureaucratic processes; meetings upon meetings upon meetings to talk about meetings; the gaps between faculty and sessional instructors; and that as a staff I actually didn't enjoy any academic freedom...it was bumpy.
What I hadn't accounted for in my lack of respect for corporate structures, is that there are few systems and processes naturally built in that make for a (mostly) good work environment. My success was shared success. My team wanted to see me succeed - and yes, partly due to financial incentives, but the fact is, that it translated to a sense of collegiality that felt good. More, there were systems and processes in place to make my work "easier" - meaning that I didn't need to spend time getting tripped up thinking about *how* I should work. This didn't meant that I couldn't challenge the status quo, or contribute new ideas, but mostly, for the mundane, I knew when, how, and why I was making decisions.
At the university, there are of course, many similar systems in place. What I think was different in my experience, is that working in "ed tech" there have been so many changes in recent years that our processes have yet to catch up with the needs of our instructors, vendors, researchers, or indeed the institution itself. Other than supporting our learning management system (I'll save my views on this for another post), we really had no process in place to support hybrid pedagogies. Nothing to guide the work of the innovators on campus, nor help us determine how we best serve the other 90% of instructors. We needed to ask more critical questions to ensure we are implementing technology thoughtfully, to ensure it aligns with pedagogy and/or content, and with the hopes that it will allow instructors and/or learners to become critical practitioners themselves. We need to make organizational decisions around what services we can support, what technologies we should pilot, and what mechanisms for reporting, communicating and evaluating are in place?
All of this to say, that I am quite happy to be empowered of late to make my work increasingly public again. (Of course, the semantics of public and private have many connotations and so of course here I am taking liberty with the words and their meanings). In the coming weeks I will try to work toward synthesizing my views on the work I have done in the last 3 years, and where I see us going ("us" meaning ALL of us) and to try and present an argument for a few evaluative measures that can get us there.