The Overstory – A cMOOC Un-Introduction

Trees in fog on grassy ridge

I was so excited to stumble upon Equity Unbound, a cMOOC facilitated by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, and Mia Zamora this weekend. Inclusion, diversity, paradigm busting, and openness are at the heart of Contemporary Pedagogy (aka “GEDI”), a professional development course for future faculty I teach every semester.  When I saw that Equity Unbound would use an “emergent collaborative curriculum” to help create “equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences across classes, countries and contexts,” I knew there could be wonderful synergy between it and the intentional, multi-disiciplinary, and diverse learning community that is #gedivt (our Twitter hashtag).

So, if you’re reading this and have any connection to #gedivt or are following along on the hashtag, please think about joining me. Don’t worry about how much time this will take (I know you don’t have any — I don’t either), or how we’ll coordinate the logistics (loosely, of course!), or any of the other reasons you might not want to do this. Just head on over to the Equity Unbound website and see if there isn’t something that works for you.  One of the great things about cMOOCs is that they are somewhat self-paced, and you can engage as deeply (or intermittently) as you like. Of course regular sustained engagement is best, but really anything you  contribute you won’t regret — because these are wonderfully social, supportive, networked learning opportunities that will give you a ton of serendipitous learning experiences and the chance to get to know wonderful people, even though you might not ever meet them F2F. Also, if we get enough folks interested, we might be able to contribute to the emergent curriculum Maha, Catherine, and Mia have in mind.

I’m going to keep this short because I have class in a couple of hours, but one of the suggested introductory activities is an “Un-Introduction, which gives me the opportunity to share some important information about “Where I am Local” and what makes me tick, that doesn’t appear on my “regular” professional bio or CV. So, here goes:

At the recommendation of a veteran of the resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I started listening to Richard Power’s “The Overstory” on my run this morning.  An epic re-imagining of how humans relate to the natural world and to the lives of trees in particular, The Overstory begins with the story of the demise of the American Chestnut, the magnificent tree that once dominated the forests of the Eastern United States.  A lone “sentinal” tree on the plains of Iowa, planted in the mid-nineteenth century by the ancestor of Nicholas Hoel, one of the book’s human characters, stands poised to help its species survive. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoel is leaving his farmland roots in Iowa and heading to art school.

Chestnut Fall
Fallen Chestnut, Montgomery County, VA

I am just starting the book, but the connections between humanity and the natural world and between environmental and social justice are already in evidence.  I’ve been experiencing these tensions and connections most recently in the resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline,  a proposed 333 mile long 42″ fracked gas pipeline that has gouged hideous scars into the mountains of West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, allowed tons of sediment to flow into the water supply for millions of people, and will undoubtedly leak and possibly explode if it ever comes into service. The pipeline is backed by hedge funds based in Pittsburgh and the gas it will carry is primarily for export to India and China.

Chestnut Tree Understory
Chestnut Tree Understory, Montgomery County, Virginia

The signs of human-caused climate change are becoming ever more difficult to deny, and for me, this pipeline represents the enemy at the gates, or the global warming in my backyard, or whatever metaphor works for you. Seeing how the extractive industries prey on rural communities, fragile ecological systems, and historically marginalized and minority populations makes it obvious to me that environmental justice and social justice are inextricably linked. We will not have one without the other. Exploitation of the earth depends on human oppression and visa versa.

Water Protectors, Mountain Defenders
Banner in Support of Tree-Sitters Who Are Resisting the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Montgomery County, Virginia. 
No Prisons, No Pipeline
Environmental Justice and Social Justice are Connected, “No Prisons, No Pipelines”

As  Jeff Goodell warns in The Water Will Come, rising sea levels are a global issue and time is of the essence. How much more can Earth abide?

Difficult Conversations: Report from CHEP

Members of the Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence partnered with the Academy of Teaching Excellence to host a packed session on facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom at last week’s Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy. The write-up below is a (very) partially-processed transcription of the session. For the key takeaways re: strategies, scroll down or click here :

After brief introductions we did a quick round robin: What is ONE word you associate with difficult conversations in the classroom? The answer:

Asked what brought us to the session produced an array of responses from a wide range of disciplines and fields:

In the Social Sciences we avoid these conversations but don’t acknowledge that we are avoiding them; We have them but not enough; need to reinvigorate commitment to having them. Social work is all about difficult conversations; Continue reading “Difficult Conversations: Report from CHEP”

Log Jam No More

Never mind why it’s been so long since I’ve posted (insert long whine here about being over-extended, distracted, and just plain tired….). It’s the first week of #OpenLearning18 and Mindful Learning week in GEDI. Causes to celebrate for sure. And as my planner helpfully notes, “Done is better than perfect.”  So……

While everyone is moving in and getting comfy with #OpenLearning18, I want to throw a couple of nuggets out there for the Contemporary Pedagogy (#GEDIVT) group: Continue reading “Log Jam No More”

Can’t Let it Go — Inclusive Pedagogy With #Gedivt

We are deep in the heart of the Contemporary Pedagogy Syllabus and last week’s session on Inclusive Pedagogy left me reeling — in a good way. Talking with a diverse group of people about how to cultivate inclusive and diverse classrooms is always interesting, and often quite challenging, but this session was especially noteworthy for the thoughtfulness and respect that carried us through the evening. We did not talk directly about some of the issues that usually come up in these sessions, but instead  learned about Prof. Christine Labuski’s classroom technique of “Universal Precautions” and let that framework shape the discussion that followed. Continue reading “Can’t Let it Go — Inclusive Pedagogy With #Gedivt”

Reflections on #OpenLearning17

How will your experience in #OpenLearning affect your teaching practice or scholarship? Why?

#OpenLearning17 has provided lots of inspiration for making my teaching practices more open and accessible. The course has also helped me better understand some of the choices I’ve made about the learning environment I want to create with my students.  I have three partially written posts about specific aspects of the course and have accepted the fact that I’m not going to finish them until after the semester is over.  For now, I want to throw out what I think are three of my main takeaways:

#1: What’s in a Name? I am going to be less concerned about definitions and more attentive to what works and why. At the beginning of the semester I thought I’d come away with a coherent working definition of Open Learning. But (sort of) watching the recent debates about the definition of “Open Pedagogy” has led me to think we should advocate for a catholic use of Open and not insist on one gold star definition that gets held up as the new orthodoxy. Continue reading “Reflections on #OpenLearning17”

Remembering – The First Decade

Beslan Memorial, Open Democracy

Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Russian Government in a case brought by survivors of the massacre of  students and faculty at School Number 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia.  On September 1, 2004, Chechen militants seized the school, fortified it with explosives and held more than a thousand people, including 777 children, hostage for three days. They terrorized their captives, executing several, and withholding water from those who remained. Continue reading “Remembering – The First Decade”