Taking a leadership rather than operational stance

I returned from IELOL energized and encouraged to do something… but what?

I didn’t get a chance to do an elevator speech, but I had an even better opportunity – 15 minutes with the microphone at our campus opening meeting of the faculty. But would I have the courage to do it? At this yearly meeting, I usually just report what the fall workshops are going to be, introduce myself to the new faculty, describe my role on campus, and they move onto the next speaker. It is a 100% operational response – In my job, I normally try to find out what is happening – what we need – what workshops or resources I can deploy…

But I took to heart the IELOL challenge to come up with a leadership response, and I thought long and hard about what that might look like in my context, and how I could kick it off using my 15 minutes with the mic…

The night before the meeting, I was unsure and apprehensive about what to say. My husband and I brainstormed for a few hours and suddenly it all started to come together (for the next day’s talk at least).

One of the things I realized about my local context was that collectively (while there are plenty of people using technology in effective and innovative ways), we aren’t ready to jump into online or even blended learning until we get our collective technology skills up to date…I also realized that it has felt like I am trying to push this boulder, trying to get it to move, and it isn’t budging…so how do I get the boulder to start to roll? Operational approaches haven’t been working fast enough or been appealing to all the groups…. Hmmmm… maybe something else?

I started to pull the pieces of my talk together and get ready for the next day. My heart was pounding as my turn approached… Positive self-talk – You WILL do this talk you prepared… You WON’T chicken out and do your normal schtick…

I approached the podium – a sea of faculty looking glassy eyed, waiting for lunch…

I give a brief background of our IELOL experience. (People were crossing their arms, looking a bit peeved as I mentioned online learning).. and I said, “You know, we spent a lot of our time at this institute talking about the current reality of higher education. The pressures of competition for enrollments and accountability to outside organizations and stakeholders – the dismal retention rates – I marveled at the level of experience and expertise at the institute, and the generosity and magnanimity of these same folks to share and mentor and listen to our local issues, who then tried to think of ways to help us to keep up and stay competitive….”  I said that one thing that stood out for me – over and over again was this… “If we can’t be innovative and reach out to respond to modern students’ needs, then other schools are going to snap up these students.” I felt apprehensive about our future if we couldn’t keep up and respond in meaningful ways.

Then I said, “I’ve been thinking about this non-stop since I returned from the institute. The leaders of the institute challenged us to take a leadership rather than operational stance to what we do on our campuses…  and so, knowing what we know about the current state of affairs, instead of saying what I normally do up here –  I’m offering this workshop etc blah blah blah… I want to start with a question…

If we (individually or collectively as a campus)had to write our resumes today, where would the gaps be? Would we get the job? “

I then read through a list of tech skills/tools and asked them to tally which they had heard of, which they used personally and which they used in teaching – our course management system, blogs, wikis, YouTube and digital video editing, etc….to get a sense of where we stood at that moment.

Then I told a story… I had watched a PBS special at the beginning of the week about a day in the life of marines/sailors on an aircraft carrier – I asked if anyone had seen it – No… For me, the story was very apropos of our current situation and illustrated the decision we had before us (at least as as I saw it)…Here’s the story…. There’s this aircraft carrier, headed towards Australia (Hi Kate!) in rough seas – decks pitching 30 feet up and down from the horizon and … at this moment, the captain has 2 choices – cancel the training flights scheduled because it’s too dangerous – tie everything up, go below decks and wait for it all to be over…. Or say, “Get out there! We need to train. We need to be ready in all kinds of seas – that gives us more options, more confidence to move about in any kind of weather…We’ll be more agile and ready to respond”

So what did the captain do?  He said, “Get out there!”  I was surprised at the candor with which the marine pilots expressed their fears. Moved by their trembling hands when they returned safely… the harrowing nature of the exercise… but they did it, and as a result had more confidence and were better able to respond to more complex needs.

Then I asked… How ready are we?… to be innovative, to respond to the technological needs of our students today.  Our campus lies in this small neighborhood, insulated from the world…It is easy to get complacent… but when we travel outside, we realize there is a bigger world out there, impacting us. Rough seas… Are we ready to respond?  I personally think it is better to get started…maybe we aren’t where we want to be, but we can get there… then I gave a few operational things I thought we could start with and invited their participation in a survey that I was going to send out about current tech use so we could get a better idea of where we really are – so we can plan for the future (I got almost 50% response!) and then quickly stated the few things we could do so that … bottom line, by next year, when I stand at the podium, we can say this is where we were… and this is where we now are – look at how far we’ve come… AND look at what we are now ready to do. The more we know/can do – the better able we are to use that knowledge to be innovative and creative with programs and offerings…. I thanked them… then I did the best thing I could have done… TOLD LARRY’S  joke about ornithology – they laughed and so did I… I’m sure this all looms so much bigger in my mind than in reality – because it was such a huge leap for me (and I was really scared to do it)… but anyway, I think we budged that boulder… and now I want to keep it rolling…

POSSIBLE NEXT STEPS…

1)      Disseminate the data from the survey  – what does it all mean?????

2)      Send out a call for participation in a teaching with technology certificate program – encourages faculty to choose one new technology –join a community of faculty doing the same thing for the purposes of sharing and support -  implement their technology in a class – evaluate it, reflect on it and post it to an e-portfolio (blog) – tally the number of new faculty involved with new technologies and compare to the survey data – time frame – fall – get started – choose projects – design the project – SP 2011 implement the project – SU 2011 – evaluate and publish the results – blogs or elsewhere….

My goal is to get help with taking the energy we got going and not lose that – to understand what leadership moves might still need to be in play before I go into the operational side of things? Any input/feedback is appreciated. I don’t want to lose momentum – I’d like to schedule the first meeting of all those interested in joining the group for October… with spring implementation in mind and summer reporting out…

I’m trying to think of the different faculty groups on campus: tenure line – making sure their projects move towards publication; contract faculty – something to boost their annual evaluations; adjuncts – equitable opportunities for professional development; the tech phobes – getting started/catching up?

Thanks to IELOL and the kindness and dedication of my own local faculty for listening and choosing to act.

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