Club Admiralty

v7.2 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Pondering what to learn next ๐Ÿค”

Sticking with the fail whale... for now

 

A lot of digital ink has been used up in the past few days with Elon's purchase of the big blue bird, both in blogs and Twitter itself, and news outlets (not that I think of it) To be fair, it is a little concerning when your social network changes hands, but then again other things are concerning in the land of social media (where "you're the product"), like most social media ownership, privacy, uptime, and what companies are doing with user data.  However, is this most recent panic enough of a cause to move over to another platform (or protocol) like Mastodon?๐Ÿค” Perhaps...or perhaps not.  Earlier this year I created an account on Scholar.social (based on where colleagues seemed to be moving)- which took forever to verify - because their servers were kneeling under the weight of the many people who were "leaving" Twitter after the last Elon scare. I see today that Scholar.social no longer accepts new members.  Just for giggles I also created a mastodon.social identity because I was having issues logging into Scholar after months of not logging in. I did end up logging into scholar eventually, but I haven't really "tooted" much. What to does one say when creating an identity on new network? "Hello, world?  I am eating a ham sandwich!"๐Ÿ˜œ

Migrating is a such pain...๐Ÿ˜•

Having multiple social media accounts isn't the issue. What is the issue is the ability to follow conversations and have an opportunity to be part of the community. Accounts are easy to create, after all, I still maintain accounts on discord (which I rarely use), several slacks (which I also rarely use), Facebook (mostly for family), Instagram (just for photos...although that's been changing lately thanks to Meta๐Ÿ™„), Swarm (for location-based stuff), Untappd and TV Time (to keep track of things), and two Twitter accounts (one of which isn't as active).  Heck...I am still on Plurk (not that I use it...๐Ÿ˜‚)! 

The social platform is just a means to an end. The biggest thing about social media is the social, and it's where your communities are available to connect and share.  The nice thing about Twitter is that the main timeline has everything from edtech, learning, higher ed, VR/AR, language and linguistics, and even silly pet videos. I don't need to go into separate communities to get different sorts of content. I know, that in theory the Fediverse (the mastodon protocol) allows for bringing together such various communities, but only if your communities are part of a service that uses this federated connection. The other thing about Twitter (as it stands) is that I don't get sucked into it the same way Discord and Slack tend to drain your time. There are no "unread messages" on Twitter. Just jump in and engage from whatever point.

In any case, over the years I've experienced a few migrations of the various communities I am (or was) a member of.  Every migration hop is a chance to lose connections, and every connection lost basically makes the new tool less useful.  Sure, some connections are more valuable than others based on your rate and quality of interaction with them, but every so often a connection surprises you (in good or bad ways), Here are three personal examples of migrations from the last 20 years:

MacOS Forums: Back in ye olde days, before social media... at least as we know it and understand it today,  there was a time when the public beta for MacOS X came out (ca. 2000).  At this time, there was a forum that sprung up for enthusiasts and professionals to discuss the next big thing from Apple. The community had a lot of members, and along with technology, software, hardware, and other geeky discussions, there were off-topic forums that hosted general discussions.  These kinds of phpBB-based forums still exist today for various communities around the web. This forum was basically the Twitter/discord/slack of its day because in addition to all the tech news discussions we ended up making friends online over the years. One year the owner of the forum was vocal about something that was non-tech related (something politically conservative if I remember correctly). People got temp-banned for voicing concerns about this (you know, the "owner" exercising power over the community to promote their views), and ultimately it made a lot of members jump ship and join another apple-focused community. The owner of the community did change his tune and members came back, but I did see a breakup of the discussions across two or more online forums at the time, which really changed the tune and feel of the community. The community has rebounded, it seems, over the last 20 years, and the forums are still going strong, but much of my own network seems to have moved on (and from visiting today, I see that some people have passed onto the next realm of existence). While I still maintain my logon info there, it's not a place I frequent much.  It's fun, and nostalgic, to see that some threads that started 20 years ago are still active! To be fair, around this time I also changed jobs, so the forum was less relevant in my day-to-day work life, but I would have stuck around for the off-topic threads if the vibe of the community was different ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ.


RSS & Google Reader: The third big wave (yes third, I skipped #1) of migrations really came when Google Reader was killed off, and more and more social sites (like Facebook and Twitter) entered the scene. The social web brought together individual authors/publishers via their blogs and RSS. I used to read a lot of Greek blogs back in the day, left comments on the author's posts (and some left comments for me), and discussions were had over distributed means and digital places.  In Google Reader, you were also able to follow others and see the items that they shared with others from their RSS feeds. In this way, you were able to discover the blogs they were reading, get an opportunity to subscribe to those blogs yourself, and have a kind of serendipity in content discovery.  This made Google Reader more than just an RSS reader, it was also a social network in its own right.  When microblogs came out (Twittr, Pownce, Jaiku, Plurk, etc.) I do still remember the discussions questioning why one would use a microblogging service to post something that was 140 characters long.  Their regular blog (Blogger, Wordpress, LiveJournal, etc...) would handle 140 characters just as well 1000 characters. Of course, we know how that ended. Many people did gravitate to services like Twitter, Pownce, and Jaiku.  While they maintained blogs, the quicker discussion was happening on microblogs. With the loss of Google Reader, however, I ended up following a small subset of the people I followed on Reader on Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook). I still use RSS, but that social component is lacking in Feedly, and The Old Reader replicates google reader's look and feel, but the paywall means that my community isn't there.


Dead Socials, Abandoned Socials, & Various Messengers: There's no dearth of digital tumbleweed and social tombstones. Like any self-respecting techie, I've tried a lot of services over the years.  Some that come to mind over the past 20 years of social: MySpace, Friendster, Hi5, Orkut, Jaiku, ICQ, Google Allo, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, Apple iChat, AIM, Google+, Whrrl, GoWalla, Raptr, Pownce, StumbleUpon, Vox blogs, Yahoo! 360, Yahoo! Chat, Edmodo, HelloTxt, Path, Meerkat, Del.icio.us, Ning, SocialGO, various IRC channels, and the list goes on... Sometimes platforms just go away, I guess that's the nature of things. Sometimes people migrate platforms.  That's also the nature of things. The one thing that seems different now, compared to then, is that there is a lack of discoverability when switching platforms.  Over the past 20 years, the way to find your contacts had been their email (or in some cases their phone number) in your contacts list. So, when you joined a new service, it was fairly easy for that service to harvest your contacts and point you to who's using their service (yes, I know, there are issues with this).  These days, I have no idea what people's emails are any longer (never mind their phone numbers).  Perhaps for some colleagues that I connect with on a regular basis by email - sure, I have that - but for the most part, people's digital identities are their Twitter or Instagram handles. When switching services, there's no way to link up one identity with another. Switching services for the sake of making a point about a rich dude's purchase of the company seems counterproductive.  My network is here...at least for now. A network developed through conference backchannel tweets, MOOCs, and serendipitous discoveries.

Looking back, I don't fret too much about my lost connections on ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, iChat, or any of those other platforms that shut down. The same goes for social networks and forums that I stopped using, and blogs that I used to read that have since gone dark and whose author's real names I never knew. Ultimately, for me, the big blue bird is about one thing: discussion and discovery. So long as it fulfills those functions and the majority of my community remains there, I'll most likely stick around. After all, there is little use in spending a lot of time migrating and trying to rediscover people on the new platform who might just end up remaining on the old platform anyway.  If and when Twitter becomes a ghost town (or has a spectacular implosion), then it would be worthwhile to expend the effort to find other spots to hang, sip my real life coffee, and engage in discussion over the next MOOC or whatnot.

Just my 2c.  What about you?

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An Alt-Ac's publishing dilemma


A couple of blog posts ago I was pondering my dilemmas about peer reviewing as an alt-ac. This week I've been pondering actual publishing as an alt-ac.  Here's how my pondering started (after a long couple of weeks at the beginning of the semester)...

Given that...

  • As an alt-ac I do not need to have published articles to be promoted in my professional work;
  • As an alc-ac I do not get professional recognition for works published (except for some internal delight when I see my citation numbers๐Ÿ˜…)
  • As an alt-ac I don't get "work release" time from my dayjob to work on this research, so any research work I do eats into my hobby/free time;
  • As a hobby, research publications don't pay (whereas other gigs do, providing an incentive to give up some of your free time in exchange for my expertise);
  • Publication of research is hitting bottlenecks, both with peer reviews and periodic journal moratoria;
  • Even without the bottlenecks, getting through peer review can be a challenge (thanks to Reviewer 2๐Ÿ˜‚) and even with good publications it's been a challenge at times to get published;
  • I have at least two publications (ca. 2018 and 2021 respectively) that I completed but have yet to publish because of journal moratoria or book editors ghosting me after the work was completed - and don't feel like doing the reformatting work (or updating work) to resubmit elsewhere...
The question is: Does it make sense that I continue down this path of research and publication? 

Don't get me wrong.  I do like reading and writing, and I could very likely get a couple of 8000-word manuscripts out each year, I don't think I see the value of submitting these to peer-reviewed publications. I see a bit more value in pursuing book chapters (after all, that process is a bit more staged, and at least there's a book contract in hand!) but getting completed research into peer-reviewed research in journals feels very administratively taxing for something that is essentially a hobby. It's that last mile that feels insurmountable at this point; or at the very least yes it's possible to get over that hump, but the reward for such an effort doesn't seem worth the inputs it needs in terms of time and effort.

Any fellow alt-acs out there?  What do you think of the peer-reviewed pub lifecycle? Do you find it fundamentally worth it? If not, at what point did it lose the luster for you? ๐Ÿค”

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Faculty CPD: The View from the Bleachers.

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This particular post has been in my drafts folder for a while now.  The post started off as some ponderings, based on tweets from fellow instructional designers (over the summer), that lamented the fact that faculty members really didn't attend professional development opportunities that they had worked so hard to put together. With the start of the new academic year just ahead of us (at least for my campus) it seemed like a good opportunity to return to this post.  This is my local view, framed chiefly from my experiences where I work, but also from chatting about this with local colleagues at other institutions nearby over the last 15 years.  Yes...the problem ain't new!

One thing I've seen over the years is the reliance on bad metrics and other various bad indicators like foot traffic through the ID offices, the number of workshops offered, and butts in seats at the workshops. This isn't new.  Even as far back as when I was a training manager for our academic library, what the administration wanted was butts in seats, in-person, during the hours of our employment (9-5). The same was true when I was an educational technologist.  Here's the thing: it's not 1999. People who want to learn how to do something can't necessarily come when you're scheduled to work. You can either adapt your hours of operation and/or offer more virtual offerings. In a post-emergency pandemic world, the same constraints exist as before, but people are even more reluctant to go to campus to sit in a room to learn whatever. So, what sorts of metrics make sense for the services that we're offering? And, who is deciding these metrics?  Is it managers who are disconnected from the process? (as was the case with me all those years ago?)  Or is it people who are on the front lines of training?

Second, it's summertime, or at least it was when the flurry of those tweets occurred. Summertime is like Schrรถdinger's Training Period: It's both the best time to offer workshops and the worst time to offer workshops. When you do offer workshops, you will find out that it's actually not a good time to offer workshops and other sorts of CPD.  Why is that you might ask? Well, faculty are 9-month employees. They are compensated from September to May. In the summer months, they are not paid (or they are paid from a grant fund for specific grant tasks).  Expecting them to partake in our wonderful workshops is not fair.  It's even more unfair if you have to go to the campus where you're charged for parking. Unless your faculty are 12-month employees, or you're compensating faculty for their time, summer CPD shouldn't be a thing. This kind of stuff should be in the "analysis phase" of the workshop design process ๐Ÿ˜‰.

Next, I'll mention something that fellow instructional designers, especially new ones, might find controversial: CPD for teaching isn't something that faculty care about, at least not enough to add it to their calendar and make a plan for it.  The requirement to be a college/university professor is a terminal degree like a doctorate (or in the case where a terminal doctorate is not an option, a terminal master's, like an MFA). What your terminal degrees prepare you for is either research (as is the case with the doctorate), or some sort of practice (e.g., various kinds of art as is the case with the MFA).  Teaching isn't what you're prepared for.  In fact, it's most likely the case that you're basically just mimicking what you've seen done in classes in your previous educational experiences.  Teaching should be valued, but it's usually something that doctors aren't prepared for, and are not rewarded for once they start teaching.  If you look at a tenure-track faculty member's annual evaluation a big component of the evaluation is weighted toward research and service. Yes, teaching is there, but it's there as a token item IMO.  For non-tenure instructors, they are compensated only for teaching, nothing more and nothing less, which means that they aren't compensated for the hours they spend on professional development.

When there is some value attached to teaching CPD by faculty, I would say that instructional designers and their expertise is really undervalued (or not valued at all). At least at my institution there seemed to be a bit of tension between what instructional designers offer and what grassroots faculty-led initiatives (like centers for the improvement of teaching) organize. Even in my own context, another entity, the office for faculty development is led by a tenure-track faculty member, showcases resources by faculty, and instructional designers and librarians are basically not included. This on top of most resources for faculty development seem to be tenure related. In any case, I would argue that institutions are complicit in the undervaluing and sidelining of instructional designers (and librarians)๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ. When your own institution doesn't support you in this endeavor, are you just part of an elaborate faรงade?

Finally, I would say that there is another element that's really inhibiting the participation of faculty in CPD, and leading to a bit of burnout amongst instructional designers.  That factor is the lack of collaboration amongst campuses. I'll focus specifically on Massachusetts State Colleges and Universities. In our state, we have 15 community colleges and 14 colleges and universities (if I lump the UMasses together with other state schools). While there have been instances of sharing materials with one another (at least between personal contacts in the UMass schools), that only includes the training materials.  Why not foster cross-institutional collaboration between state schools?  A more comprehensive training calendar can be developed and offered. I also think that cross-institutional faculty acquaintances can be valuable beyond training.  By working together, instructional designers at every campus don't have to provide all the trainings.  Rather, training can be shouldered by many institutions, in cross-functional teams, and after training is done, instructional designers on individual campuses can act more like coaches. I don't understand why this is rocket science. ๐Ÿ™„

Finally, I think the elephant in the room that no one is acknowledging is the fatigue from the past 5 years In our case it's three years of COVID that came after a few years of austerity.  Austerity looks differently depending on where you look on campus, but often it means that lines that were previously tenure-track are now not replaced and everyone needs to do more with less. That kind of stuff does tend to wear one out, and when you're tired you aren't in a prime spot for CPD.

I say that this is not rocket science, but it really depends on where you're viewing the field. Having worked in IT, and in ID, and for the Library, and now in an academic department (and as an adjunct for the last 10 years...), these different frames serve to show a more holistic picture of what's going on.  I think instructional designers usually only have one view, and it's hard to break away from the butts-in-seats "let's offer more training and hope they come" model. You need cross-department and cross-functional teams to do better, but those aren't always available.

Just my 2c.  Your thoughts?

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An Alt-Ac's Peer Review Dilemma

Choose your Destiny
Over the past month or so, IHE has published a few opinion pieces about the issues with academic peer reviews; specifically that there is a bit of a dearth of peer reviewers which is holding up the publication of papers.  For lack of a better way of explaining this, it sounds to me that older academics who write these pieces (who had privileges that current-day academics don't) seem to chalk it up to "Darn these young academics! Nobody wants to work anymore!"

I suppose that one take on the current situation, but I think it's a shitty take. I suppose that if I were still an editor at an academic journal, I might be feeling the pressure a bit more, but I am not, so I can ponder some things from a relatively disconnected position. For what it's worth, I think the fieldโ„ข has done this to themselves by (1) artificially keeping tenure-style jobs lowโ€  and (2) increasing the stress, pressure, and sometimes the opaque requirements for obtaining tenure for those few that enter.  In such an environment people will cherry-pick what they volunteer for in order to get (what they perceive to be) the higher yielding outcome.

Anyway, all that stuff is sort of on the side.  We're here to talk about my peer review dilemmas as an Alt-Ac. I've been peer reviewing now for the last 10 years.  When I was first asked to peer review, I did it because it was such an honor to be asked.  As time has elapsed and I find myself on a few journal mailing lists as an expert in certain fields, the requests become more voluminous. I do end up declining a number of invitations due to a lack of time. Sometimes I don't decline right away because there is something in the abstract that catches my eye and makes me curious, so I want to try to make time for it.  As more requests have come in, I catch myself treating peer review as a bit of an early-access bookstore.   If the abstract catches my attention and I am an expert in that area (and I have time), I'll do the review.   Other times, when I catch something that I could technically review due to expertise, but the article looks like it's going to be a trainwreck, I often politely decline and cite lack of time. I suppose that since I am volunteering my time I shouldn't feel bad about declining to read and peer review things for any reason, but I am having a hard time reconciling picking things that seem to be well written and of interest to me (so my reviews are more likely to be shorter and more targetted) rather than peer-reviewing obvious trainwrecksโ€ก  that will get A LOT of feedback and I will end up (most likely) rejecting anyway.

Ultimately, I don't have to peer review, so some reviews are better than nothing, but how much ๐Ÿ’ฉ makes it through when obvious trainwrecks end up getting published and that's now taken as accurate "peer-reviewed" knowledge?๐Ÿค”


Footnotes:

โ€  - By tenure-style, I don't necessarily mean tenure per se.  I use the term to mean jobs that have a modicum of job protection, like tenure-track jobs, and are paid appropriately, like tenure-track jobs.  It's bonkers to me that someone teaching full time, but it's on the tenure track, gets paid lower and has less job security than someone on the tenure track.  Both positions do teaching and service.  Service isn't often credited for non-tenure folks, and even though they do research, the university can boast about the overall publication and productivity of its faculty without supporting that effort in the case of non-tenure folks.

โ€ก I suspect that an obvious trainwreck example is needed.  Here is a short example (made up, but from real life): This study examines student eye movement using AR versus using traditional LMS course designs to determine whether a learner is bored. This study concludes that students are often bored with materials in the traditional LMS, and recommends using AR components to simulate in class lecture halls. Additionally, recommendations are made for eye tracking technology use in lecture halls for real time boredom tracking so that lecturers can adjust their teaching style to respond to learners' real-time boredom.

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ID finds a Monkey paw and a Djinn lamp, what happens next will shock you!

Maybe I shouldn't take the bait, but I guess I couldn't leave this one alone either ๐Ÿ˜‚.  I might as well have a little fun with a clickbait-style title for this post ๐Ÿคฃ. Reading IHE and JK feels like it's bad for my mental health. Anyway, instead of rage-writing, I thought I would expand a bit on his arguments.  JK, over at IHE is opining again about things. This time it's a reaction to the CHLOE7 report (I somehow managed to miss CHLOE1 through 6, but that's OK). It's not that I disagree with JK about what he writes, but I think he is rather naรฏve, he doesn't dig deep enough, and he doesn't question current systems of power and authority.  This, I feel, is a cautionary tale of being careful what you wish for...

At the center of this thought exercise is a figure (10%), that's the number of online leaders that indicated that their ID capacity as of  Fall 2021 was "fully sufficient" and that given "COOs' projection of significant further growth in online enrollment, insufficient instructional design staffing may be one of online learning's most serious long-term vulnerabilities."

JK first asks whether we should "be worried about ID burnout? Instructional designers were essential university workers in keeping in enabling academic resilience during the height of the pandemic. The question is, have these colleagues ever had a chance to catch their breath?"  Well, yes, we should be worried about burnout in higher ed, but this isn't just related to IDers. This pandemic emergency affected all university staff as their day-to-day work was spun right 'ound, like a record, right 'round, 'round, 'round. Many faculty, including many non-tenure track (and our colleagues in K12 who don't have any ID support!) just needed to make it through.  I suppose schools that had 1-2 IDers on staff probably had it a little better off than places with no IDs, and programs that already had an online presence did better overall with their response to the pandemic (I forget which ERT article I read this in, but it tracks). A healthy work-life balance (pandemic aside) needs to be achieved, and that's important to address at an institutional level.   What I am worried about more than burnout is apathy (which I understand can be part of burnout as well).  During the pandemic, I saw IDers not have a seat at the table at the institutional response to COVID-related ERT. Why?  And, now that we're pretending to be back to normal, IDers are back to being treated like course mechanics. Again, why?  Faced with this, I can see IDers leaving institutions that they don't feel connected to, or lured perhaps by higher pay elsewhere (which doesn't reach the root of the problem but is a temporary pacifier).

Next up, JK comments that "one result of the growing demand for instructional designers is likely to be a re-ordering of the ID labor market. Schools will likely need to offer flexible and remote work options to get the best ID talent" and then follows up with "the challenge will be how to integrate remote IDs into campus culture. I'm sure an instructional designer could backward design an optimal remote working environment, but they are too busy working on courses and programs to do so."  Again, I think that JK misses the point (and this connects to my most recent critique of his fetishization of the campus). Universities need to learn how to operate in a telework/flex environment more broadly in order to be successful. You may entice folks to your work environment with some sort of telework arrangement, but if the rest of the system isn't setup to accommodate telework, that venture will ultimately fail. Yes, faculty may be used to teaching at a distance, and hence their ID links may not be anything new, however we are part of a system. The other parts of the system need to be working together to enable equitable and available working solutions for all employees, otherwise you are perpetuating inequities because of "market forces" that compel you to offer more flexible arrangements for the acquisition of talent. Talent at our schools goes beyond the rockstar profs and IDers.

Next, JK makes the comment that "if you want to make a larger lecture class feel like a seminar, then you should work with an instructional designer. If you are determined to shift from relying on high-stakes summative assessments to formative assessments that encourage learning, then you want to work with an instructional designer" and continues with "the internal competition for ID time will only grow more acute as we look to inject their knowledge, skills, and talents into both our online and residential offerings."  On the one hand, this goes counter to the previous argument of telework. You can't be remote and be coaching someone who is delivering lecture-hall-pedagogies. I disagree with the whole notion that it is possible to make a large lecture class (200+ students) feel like a seminar. The room architecture doesn't lend itself to seminar-style learning. The analog massification of the course doesn't lend itself to that style of learning. The student in seat/row A12 won't be able to have meaningful exchanges with the student in seat/row MN99. You simply can't ID and EdTech your way out of this.  Furthermore, internal competition for meeting with IDs is a bad thing IMO. High demand and low supply will basically turn people away and do whatever they can to get by. 

JK goes on to write a bit about the evolution of "white glove ID services will evolve to stress coaching and consulting" because "with a shortage of IDs across our institutions, it is hard to imagine that a boutique ID setup is either scalable or sustainable." Okay, I can't argue with JK there, but...I want to take a moment to shine a light on the fact that a "white glove" service is really problematic.  On the one hand, in a white glove setting, as JK writes "faculty provide the IDs materials (decks, documents, syllabi, etc.) and have lots of conversations," I highly doubt those conversations are happening. What it probably means is "here's my ๐Ÿ’ฉ, now put it on the LMS and make it pretty for me".  There's no design there and no consultation. The material is made. What you have is a situation where a content developer is needed, not an ID.  When I started my work as an ID, we used to have graduate assistants (ID trainees) do some of these white glove tasks, which included changing due dates of exams, forum posts, and so on manually based on a syllabus provided.  While this repetitive work had some value (getting trainees acquainted with various tools they'd need), I also saw that those who received this white glove service came to expect it, rather than learning how to do things on their own. Of course, you've got the other side of the coin where there is no material to start with and the process does, in earnest, begin with ID.  However, this oftentimes leads to "master courses" where all instructors teaching that course use the same materials. Develop once, with one faculty as the product owner, and teach unlimited times.  I think admin probably likes this but doesn't this present problems on the teaching side as well?๐Ÿค”. Should we not acknowledge this as IDers? I do think that there is a space for white glove services: programmers and simulation specialists can be working with faculty to create some more complex stuff for class.  I don't expect faculty to develop complex sims for their courses, but they should be able to work with a team to make it happen.  More basic stuff, like uploading and arranging materials in the LMS, should be stuff that people get trained on and coached on.

Finally, JK writes that "treating instructional design professionals as valued educators will be increasingly crucial for recruitment and retention."   He continues on to say "and yet, IDs often lack their faculty colleagues' recognition, status, and visible career paths. For instructional designers, there is no opportunity for tenure, academic freedom, or to recharge with sabbaticals. Forward-thinking universities may find that they need to start offering star non-faculty educators the same recognition and incentives that have long been necessary to recruit and retain star tenure-line faculty."  Honestly, I think this is probably the biggest be careful what you wish for moment.  First of all, the vast majority of faculty in the US are not on the tenure track (75%).  Do you really want IDers to be in that situation where 25% have the "benefits" of a tenure (or some tenure-like) system while the vast majority of IDs are gig workers with little protection or job security? Furthermore, tenure is an awful system (IMO, of course) where you are basically on probation for 5-6 years (your pre-tenure appointment) until you're deemed good enough to stay.  A 5-year probation period is bonkers! Tenure seems to be one of those things that is sold as a wonderful thing, employment for life and all that jazz, but the marketers of tenure do a good job of obscuring the fact that no job is ever really safe (as is seen in a recent Chronicle article).  Do we want that for IDers?  Finally, things like sabbaticals do exist for professional staff.  In my unit for example we do have something called professional development leave which we can apply for.  It's basically a sabbatical (1 fully paid semester, or 2 partly paid semesters) to go off and do PD stuff. In my 24 years here I've only known of 1 person who's taken this, and they had a Fullbright scholarship to go explore things. I doubt that IDers would have better luck at taking sabbaticals because the organizational culture isn't set up to nourish staff development. Treating our positions like tenure-track faculty won't change any of that, and puts additional burdens on us for obtaining tenure, whereas in most jobs, if you do your job, and do it well, you get to keep your job. No five-year plans of "we'll have to wait and see".

At the end of the day, I really don't think that JK (and others) truly understand the environment they are working in. The silos that are in place help obscure the complex mechanism that is the modern university, and we need to break down those silos for everyone to better understand and appreciate what our colleagues do. We need to lift everyone up, and not hold tenure as the gold standard for employment in academia. We shouldn't be replicating systems that exploit the worker.

That's all for now ๐Ÿ˜…





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Please stop fetishizing the campus...

 This grew out of a response on Facebook to an IHE column by Josh Kim recently posted, titled 10 Inconsistent Ways That I Am Thinking About the Future of Academic Work. I was content with leaving this response as a social media reaction, but I was prompted and prodded a bit to clean it up a bit and write about it. It seems like I ended up writing more than I intended. Anyway, I am not interested in submitting it to IHE as an op-ed, so I figured I'd post it on my own blog (for whatever it's worth - maybe I can get the google juice instead of IHE ๐Ÿคฃ).  Josh posts 10 things that give him cognitive dissonance about remote work in higher education, but I find the list rather contrived. Worse, I find it to be a list that might live on someone's blog as a quick pondering rather than on something that purports to be a higher-ed news outlet.

tl;dr: For what it's worth, I think the fetishization of campus culture, exhibited both in this article and elsewhere in the world of academia, is what's preventing us from truly integrating new, smart, and healthy procedures that bring different together people, from many different locations, to accomplish goals. I don't think that this article needed to be written. Even as a "devil's advocate" it does absolutely nothing to advance real discourse in modern work and learning by fetishizing a past that may have never existed, or existed only for those with privilege. This is harmful not just to employees but to prospective students who want that "real campus experience" - which again, may have never really existed, except maybe for some very privileged folks.

Suggested reading voice for what follows: Lewis Black (just sayin') ๐Ÿ˜†

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Here are some direct responses for each of the 10 items. I've included the original so as to minimize unnecessary tab-flipping.  Any bolded or italicized text in the original is my own for emphasis.

Meme: "I come to the office for the culture", the bottom panel shows an empty cubicle

#1 -
"I want everyone to be around on campus for casual chats and unscheduled run-ins, yet Iโ€™m flexibly working from home sometimes with no set schedule."

Response: There's really a lot of unpack here, and it all really begins with privilege. You have to be privileged to not have a set schedule. As a staff member, I've worked remotely (at least for some parts of the year) since 2013, and I always had a set schedule.  Even before the pandemic, my campus basically tells teleworking and flex-schedule staff that they need to be available between 10am and 3pm when teleworking and using flex time so that other employees could reasonably schedule meetings with them.  Having no set schedule just speaks to your privilege as a faculty or faculty-like position.  This kind of telework/flexwork is something that campuses are already familiar with.  Faculty have been doing this for as long as I've been in Higher Ed (20+ years). It's really not rocket science. That flexibility has now been given to other staff members of the university, but people are freaking out because they are losing the privilege of being the only ones to telework unquestionably, and possibly having to plan to meet with people (*gasp*๐Ÿ˜ฒ). Prior to the pandemic, I was building a case to make an argument for my own telework. I had a spreadsheet of metrics and work produced both for F2F work and during the periods I was remote (usually summers) that basically showed that I was as productive at home with fewer interruptions. Furthermore I saved 43 days a year in commuting (over 1000 hours in a year, and over $3000 in commuting costs).  As I was chatting with tenured faculty friends, I drew parallels between professional work and faculty.  The response I got was "yeah, but faculty work even when we're not at our campus offices".  I mean...huh?๐Ÿ™„๐Ÿ˜•. Let's normalize the fact that the staff are autonomous beings that can and do work productively when they are not in the office. This "I only think of you working when you are physically present in the office" from people who are highly productive away from the office really floored me๐Ÿคฏ.

Being able to stroll onto campus whenever you want and expect to find folks available to just chat and have unscheduled run-ins is a privilege.  Even if you work a "regular 9-5" those watercooler chats are a privilege. Some positions are just factory-like in the way some supervisors schedule work, which means that even your bathroom breaks need to be planned.  For those folks interrupting them because you walked by their office means that you're an inconsiderate human. Furthermore, asynchronous remote/digital communities have been a thing since the early days of BBS and IRC. Cultivating a community is hard work, and everyone must work at it, otherwise, it won't be a thing. There's no "if you build it they will come."  You can have the illusion that watercooler talk "just happens," hence cultivating a community seems seamless in a F2F context, but you're really not examining the factors that lead you there, and who's privileged.


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#2 - "When colleagues are on campus, I want to be able to come to their offices for unscheduled conversations. At the same time, much of my on-campus time is spent with my door closed and on Zoom meetings."

Response: Excuse me now? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ First of all, this is really an expansion on point #1 for those unexpected run-ins, but...what gives you the right to come to people's offices for unscheduled meetings?  Now, to be fair, when I run errands on campus and I walk by the offices of colleagues whose doors are open (and I am acquainted with), I will pop my head in to say a quick hi or waive a hand, but I won't just expect that they'll be ready for my every whim and need for conversation.  I'm not sorry to say, that I don't want someone coming into my office for unscheduled conversations. I've seen, first hand, the damage these things can do. Half of a day's productivity can be sucked away from these people-pleasers (anecdotally speaking) and really conscientious people stay late at work (without extra pay) to get stuff done that they should have done during their workday if it weren't for interruptions.  If I am working on something that requires my attention these unexpected interruptions are disruptive. This mindset privileges the disruptor. At the same time, you close your doors to attend zoom meetings...sooo... if you don't want to be interrupted, what makes you think others want to be interrupted by you?๐Ÿค”


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#3 - "At the end of each day, I find myself exhausted from Zoom meetings and missing the energy you get from being with smart people in a room. And yet, most of the meetings that I schedule are on Zoom."

Response: Most meetings are on zoom because it brings people in that are not physically proximal. It's an equalizer...and I can also mute the microphone of the dude who monopolizes the airtime ๐Ÿ˜‰. You cannot do that in a F2F meeting.  Additionally, when we have virtual meetings, everyone is able to share their screens, it's not privileged just for the host of the meeting, we can collaborate on documents, and be more productive, in my view anyway, having attempted to bring together faculty who were both on-campus and NTTs who were across the US and Europe. Even last year, when we met on-campus, I connected an OWL camera to the conferencing computer in the room, set it at the center of the conference table, and connected that to a digital projector to bridge the in-person crew with virtual participants. Even though my office is three doors down from our conference room, I also participate virtually.  Why? I don't want to be in a room and masked for 2 hours, and I don't have a laptop to bring into the meeting to get work done during it, unlike all of our faculty.  Being in my office allows me to facilitate a meeting while not wasting 2 hours of my productivity.  Also, your issue isn't feeling exhausted due to "not being with smart people in a room".  Those same smart people are on Zoom.  Your issue is the overabundance of meetings and zoom fatigue.  During this pandemic, we've had a proliferation of unnecessary, and long, meetings.  At the end of the day, could your meeting have been a simple bleeping email? I am sure that if you had to go from meeting to meeting to meeting on campus you'd feel similarly exhausted. Be smarter with your meetings is my advice.


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meme: Maude Flanders saying "won't somebody please think of the culture?" - a take on "won't someone please think of the children"
#4 - "I firmly believe that talent is widely geographically distributed and that we can get the best people to work at our institutions if we are pro remote work. At the same time, Iโ€™m not sure what a critical mass of remote colleagues does to the culture of our residential campuses, and I worry about fully integrating and retaining remote academic staff."

Response: I am happy that you are concerned with integrating teleworkers into the overall organizational culture.  It means that you're thinking and I think this is a good first step. However, the "residential culture" is at odds with telework.  This is something that every manager needs to acknowledge and deal with. There is no question about it.  What is it about "residential culture" that you value? And why do you want to preserve it? Who benefits from it, and who is excluded?   Instead of thinking of residential culture think of a new space that is inclusive of everyone.  And, if your response is "but think of the students!!!!" (I resisted my urge to put that in camel-case, I hope you appreciate the effort ๐Ÿ˜›), who do students really interact with? What sorts of norms are we unconsciously promoting? Let that percolate for a little while.


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meme: dog in burning house drinking coffee, the burning house is company culture
#5 - "If my life circumstances were to change and I needed to move away from daily commuting distance to my campus, I think I could continue contributing productively as a remote employee. At the same time that I want flexibility for myself, I continue to wonder about the costs to institutional culture and innovation of the growing proportion of crucial academic staff members who now primarily work remotely."

Response: I direct you back to points 1 through 4.  What institutional culture? What exactly are you trying to (unconsciously and uncritically) perpetuate?  In my 20+ years in academia I've worked for some great departments (I count my current one as one of the better ones), and some really shit departments. As a union rep, and as an employee comparing notes with colleagues across campuses and other universities, I've also seen and heard of some real dumpster fires.  Corporate Multinationals have been "remote" for decades and have been quite innovative. Why can't academia be the same? I find it hard to believe that people in academia, and people at Dartmouth no less, can't think outside their current box.


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#6 - "Iโ€™m convinced that it is possible to create a high-quality relational education in fully online programs and that these online programs can co-exist (and even add value to) residential programs. At the same time, Iโ€™m confused about how campus culture can be optimized for a mix of in-person, hybrid and remote academic workers."

Response: Welcome to the year 2000. We've just survived the Y2K apocalypse, which never came btw, and we've had successful internet-based distance education. You know what the problem is? Square pegs in round holes. You need to throw out paradigms that aren't working, that's a start to having your eyes open (like our good friend Darmok). If you fetishize campus, you'll continue to be confused. We need to move away from "is campus better than online?" - which has been definitely answered in the last 20+ years.  I mean, look at all of the piss poor "research" that came out of the xMOOC fads of 2012-2020 and the ERT "research" that came out in the past couple of years. Few people were looking back at actual distance education research and everyone was discovering something and now (now! now!๐Ÿ˜ฒ) people are convinced that we can create high-quality learning via distance education.  It doesn't require a leap of faith, look at the literature and practices. The little cynic in me is thinking that learners are seeking alternatives to the "residential experience" that is more congruent with their lived lives, and since campuses that have traditionally shunned distance education now have no option but to confront is as an option. Ultimately, what really grinds my gears is that someone with Josh Kim's credentials should not be publishing this bullshit (๐Ÿ‚๐Ÿ’ฉ). Maybe 14 years ago when I first saw his posts on IHE he could get away with this ๐Ÿ’ฉ but come on! We need some maturity in our field, now more than ever.


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#7 - "The future of residential education seems to be very much hybrid, as norms are evolving toward enabling students to retain instructional resilience even when traveling for sports or if they get sick. And yet, I find the HyFlex model of academic staff meetings (xMeetings) in which some people are together and some on Zoom to be almost always unproductive."

Response:  Yes, the future is Hybrid.  Our colleagues at the University of Central Florida (shout out to Kelvin and Tom) have been saying as much for the greater part of the last decade. Again, this is something that academics in similar positions to Josh should have known.  I am a bleeping professional staff member, a cog in the machine, yet I've known this for a while. I say professional staff member to differentiate from faculty and faculty-like positions, which seem to be higher status than us cogs๐Ÿ˜‘. Anyway,  Why have I known this? Because I've cared to look beyond my immediate bubble and cast a critical eye on what's happening in higher ed (or at least some aspects of it, it's hard to keep track of everything). 

I'd also be curious to know if there are campus meetings that Josh does find productive.  As I mentioned above, personally, at times, I find them as black holes for my productive time. That said, in a zoom meeting I can find documents, share my screen without hassle, and have conversations without the need to move closer to the HDMI cable, plug in, configure resolutions, and then project what I want to show. I can also have conversations in the chat/backchannel without interrupting what's happening in the main verbal mode of communication. I can also share a document where we can swarm with my colleagues and do stuff productively. In F2F meetings, we talk for 2 hours and at the end, I feel dazed ๐Ÿ˜‰.   

But, let's turn our attention to HyFlex for a moment.  HyFlex, both in the classroom and in a professional meeting setting hinges upon capability, capacity, and critical mass (3Cs if you will).  If you don't have critical mass for the F2F modality, HyFlex just doesn't work in my opinion (as someone who has tried it both in teaching and in meetings). To make HyFlex work you need a good system where people RSVP for their chosen modality, and people can pick their preference based on their life situations (so no browbeating about coming to campus if you're local).  If people can honestly state their meeting preferences we can determine if Hyflex is really an option or if it should be fully online - again, this has to do with critical mass!  In AY21-22 there have been several meetings where someone caught something and they changed their RSVP last minute, or something came up and they couldn't make it in person, or had other meetings to make it to off-campus, or whatever. In years past they would have been absent, yet today yhey benefitted from the virtual meeting.  yay!  You know what's not so yay? The fact that I have a 2 hour commute to get to work (and another 2 hours back) to setup for a HyFlex meeting that ultimately moves online 1 hour before it's set to begin!   Remember what I said about privilege?  Percolate on that for a while.  

Ultimately here, your problem with HyFlex meetings isn't HyFlex. Those can bring people together.  What you probably don't have, and why your meetings suck, is an honest dialogue with your collaborators about meetings, good meeting procedures, and good meeting practices.  It's like saying "I suck at speaking Greek" but you've never tried to learn Greek.  What's your ultimate goal? To complain about how bad HyFlex meetings are? Or to actually make them productive?


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#8 - "The new reality of work everywhere is hybrid, and higher education must compete for talent across industries. The best people will go elsewhere if we donโ€™t offer employment flexibility. How might we square this new workplace reality with the feeling that part of what makes academic work so fulfilling is the density of face-to-face interactions?"

Response: OK boomer...Josh, I know you're not a boomer, but that's certainly one boomer take on the situation.  Again...welcome to...the 1980s? Because that's when we first start to see things emerge for Computer Supported Cooperative Work. I would go a step further and say that Hybrid isn't the reality of work everywhere.  Remote is probably the "new normal" that many employees want (anecdotally from what I see on various social media platforms), but Hybrid is really the pull of the old guard trying to hold onto p-Work (my workplace equivalent to Dron's p-Learning) tooth and nail, so Hybrid is the uncomfortable compromise that just doesn't work for everyone.  You know what would make a difference?  Actually looking at the work and interactions we have with our colleagues and institutions and seeing what smart and healthy changes we can bring to the work so that the place isn't the primary means of identifying work. Ultimately, what works for you isn't necessarily what works for others. I'll go back to #1 and doing the hard work of cultivating communities.  Lastly here, I challenge you to think deeper about that last point - fulfilling academic work.  I've had my most fulfilling academic work be at a distance with colleagues from Scotland, Canada, Turkey, Egypt, Gyana, Greece, and many other places.  I've only seen one of these folks IRL, but we certainly "see" each other virtually all the time.  I guess I'll ask a question I typically ask graduate students: What is exciting about academic work?  Why do you do it?  If it's because it's a social club, then think deeper, and more critically, about what you do.  I think the social aspect is important, and I care for the folks I collaborate with, but academic work always (for me) starts with some personal curiosity, and it's more fun to explore what makes things tick with others.  I learn a lot from them (and I hope they learn something from me), but I don't need to be F2F for them (and I certainly don't need to commute 3-4 hours per day for it). I always wonder about the campus fetishists: how close do you live to campus, and is your parking free?


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#9 - "We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink almost everything about the university as a place of work. We are finally free to figure out what will work best for the people that constitute our institutions of higher learning. We can create new ways of working based on what we know about productivity and inclusion, and community, all facilitated by ubiquitous communication and collaboration platforms. But despite this opportunity, a large part of me longs for things to return to the campus-centric before days."

Response: Dude! Stop. Freakin'. Fetishizing! Just stop it! Bad academic! Look at your privilege. What are you longing to go back to exactly? Looking at it from the perspective of a graduate student, at my university, here's what campus-centric means:

  • You need to come to campus to physically sign things
  • You need to fax things in
  • You need to meet in person with your advisor
  • You need to deal with Boston traffic (which thanks to the MBTA these days will get worse!), and possibly pay tolls.
  • You need to pay $15/day to park on campus
  • You need to leave work early to come to campus to meet with someone who could have just zoomed you
  • You need to take classes until 10:00pm to complete your master's degree. You arrive at 6pm (if you're lucky) after work, you need to scarf down something from the cafeteria quickly, and when you leave campus, you go home, sleep, and get prepped for another 15-hour day away from home/family/whatever.

Furthermore, from a staff perspective, those who make higher salaries can telework and had flex schedules prior to the pandemic, while those who were not paid as high (clerical work for instance) needed to come into campus, pay the $15/day, pay for gas, tolls, and take a hit on sacrificing personal time to commute so that someone can just come in when they like for those watercooler talks. Even if you took public transportation, like I did, that has its own challenges.  And, Yes, /s tag here...๐Ÿ™„. So, tell me again, what are you longing for - just asking for a friend...


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#10 - "Iโ€™m convinced that the opportunity for flexible, hybrid and even remote work is optimal for individuals (including myself) who work in higher education. At the same time, Iโ€™m becoming less persuaded that flexible, hybrid and remote work is good for our colleges and universities."

Response: Would you please share with our class your rationale for your "it's not good! I feel it in my bones!" conclusion?  What sorts of evidence do you have?  Let me remind you that you need to point to evidence that is not confounded by COVID, Smallpox, general fatigue, poor pedagogy, under-prepared or un-prepared faculty members, and generally operating under uncertainty and doubt for the past couple of years.  How exactly is "good" defined?  And, good for whom?  And, if in-person working (read: inflexible, on premises) work is not optimal for workers, what does that mean, ethically speaking, for forcing people.  Even if anti-flexibility is good for colleges and universities, is it ethical to pursue that knowing that it's not good for the worker? 

In the end, Anti-flexibility is a weird hill to die on.

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Alumni Engagement at the micro-level

 

decorative image - stylized image of people sharing knowledge

A while back a tweet caught my eye that really piqued my interest. I don't remember who posted it, but it was responded to by someone I follow with a confirmatory story of their own.  The tweet went something like this:

I finished my [graduate] degree x-many years ago. In this time, I have not been contacted by my [alma matter] department to participate on panel discussions, webinars, submit updates on my professional activities, articles I've authored, write a guest blog- or newsletter-post, give a talk, facilitate a workshop, etc.

Let me say that I can totally understand! If my experience is any indication it's probably not you but rather how the organization functions.  As most blog posts go, I have some anecdotes! These are both from my experiences as an alumnus of an organization and as a staff member of that organization. 

Student & Alumnus Perspective

Let me start with my experiences as an alumnus. I graduated from my programs in 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010 (x2!) respectively. The computer science department (2004) actually had a sort of "homecoming" even for quite a few years after I graduated.  It wasn't a dance, but rather an informal get-together for alumni of the BA, MA, and PhD programs of that department. I remember getting the notice each year, until one year they stopped. Every so often I would also get requests from the department to share achievements and professional updates.  These usually coincided with departmental review cycles. I am not sure why this stopped, but I do have some hunches (more on that later).  

The College of Management (2007 + 2008) didn't immediately have alumni reach out. After a new director was hired, there was a departmental Facebook page and many alumni were part of it.  Through that page, the CM invited us to events to reconnect, but no additional invitations.  I did get an invite from a colleague who was teaching the intro course (required of all graduate CM students), to present on collaboration technologies.  The course (and the degrees in general) focused a lot on collaborative work, and since I had a background in it (and already worked for the university) it was less of an alumn ask, and more of a colleague-ask. I am sure being an alumn helped with relating to the newbies in class. In 2008 I won the academic award (awarded to 1 graduate of the MS in IT who wins at academics, for lack of better words). It's weird that they wouldn't reach out to award recipients (since there are way fewer of us), but I digress (more on this later).

Finally, in 2010 I graduated with 2 degrees. Both programs only had Masters-level offerings, so no undergraduates and no doctoral students (unlike CM and CS). In one program I won the book award (again one student who wins at studenting during the graduating group gets this), and in the other program I got nothing, despite being good at studenting...turns out the "winning at studenting" award is only given to people who both complete a thesis and already have an acceptance to doctoral programs...phooey!  Awards are not an a priori motivator for me, but it's surely nice to be recognized, and be recognized for things that you actually accomplished rather than on things that are seriously gate-kept [most students don't do a thesis or continue on to doc programs]. Again, I digress.  For these two departments, I haven't really gotten anything in terms of alumni engagement.  However, as life would have it, I actually work with both of these departments (either full-time or gig) so I have some idea of what happens internally... 

I will say this, in the intervening years the alumni relations department has really stepped up its game.  They regularly have events, local, regional, and national, where alumni can meet, network, exchange ideas, and so on.  It's the entire alumni body, so you may not see fellow alums from your program or even your old faculty members, but it's still something that provides regular engagement opportunities, both physically proximal and virtual, that didn't exist at this level in the past.

Employee Perspective

It's hard to believe, but around 10 years ago I started working for an academic department.  the cherry on top of this cake was that I was also an alumn of that department! After learning the ropes of the core duties of the job I started to examine areas in which I could provide something new.  Having been a student of this program (and a few others at the university), my goal was two-fold:  improve the student experience, from start to end, and try to get alumni engagement. My program, at the time, only offered an MA degree, so my experiences reflect trying to engage MA alumni.

I started by trying to revitalize some communities I had begun as a student.  As a student, I had created a LinkedIn group for alumni, a GoodReads group (I wanted to start a linguistics book club), and a Ning community for current students and alumni.  The goal was for alumni to join these groups and engage with one another,...and in the process of engaging with fellow alums share information about their accomplishments, any job openings their organizations had, recommendations for PD, and anything else that came up.  I didn't have a list of alumni to invite, so I reached out to our alumni department to see if I can get a list of program alumni that I could invite to our community, create a mailing list, or get some means of engagement between our alums and our program.  I was politely declined.  Seems like the alumni department is protective of their contact lists and wants everything to go through them.  I get it, it's a reputation-related issue for the university. If an individual department stuffs up and sends spam to their alumni (or that list gets compromised by a phishing evildoer), it's the university's reputation on the line.  OK...so what's Plan B?  I ended up focusing on current students, while at the same time reaching out to my own classmates (now alums) to invite them, and have them invite their own old classmates.  This way, through overlaps, we'd start a community. I had marginal success.  In my time in the department, I've seen about 500 students graduate. Very few choose to remain engaged with the department after they graduate. Some do come back later, as their needs change, but there isn't consistency. Perhaps the issue is engaging with them on a site owned by the university that it's part of their day-to-day life rather than engaging with them where they are... In the end, neither GoodReads nor LinkedIn proved much use. I closed down the LinkedIn group because it was siphoning off resources I didn't have.  GoodReads still exists and I hope one day we can get our book group going...Ning still exists because it's part of our student onboarding, information sharing, and community building, but I am constantly re-assessing it.

Still, I wanted to give it one last try (at least for now).  So here's Plan-C. This last try had a few prongs. First, there was an institution RFI for alum information (name and date of graduation). This was easier to get than current alumni information. Using this information I could do some cyber-sleuthing and use LinkedIn to find our alumni and connect with them (and invite them to the LinkedIn group before I shut it down). This was a lot of effort, and in reality, it was hard to do that kind of "snooping" work. You can find some people, but it's a lot of looking for needles in a haystack.  Not to mention that (in retrospect) it is rather creepy...  I did create a Facebook page and a Twitter profile to share news and information about our department and the discipline and through this, I left it up to students and alumni to connect with us, rather than the other way around. On Twitter at least we can find out about all the cool stuff our alumni do and we can amplify and โ™ฅ what they post since it's all in public [it should be noted that organizational entities doing this can still be perceived as creepy on social media!].  Facebook eventually killed our page in December 2011 for some unknown violation (which they still refuse to tell me), but I've resolved to not resurrect that. I don't have the bandwidth for it.  When I started in my department we had more staff, so it was easier to do some exploratory work and experimentation like this, today it's a bit of a luxury.

What about webinars, panels, and guest blogs?  Well, I tried getting some of these things off the ground as well! None of these got off the ground for a variety of reasons. Some of it is timing...well, most of it is timing IMO. Given that my focus is distance education, I started pitching the idea of us hosting webinars and virtual panels as early as 2012. Back then we had access to cludgy software like WIMBA and Illuminate on campus, so nothing as fancy as Zoom, but we could make a go at it - either with our cludgy software or through less-cludgy software webex and adobe connect. Getting people to think (and dream) beyond F2F panels was a challenge (and still is!).  Even in a case (or two, or three...) where a presenter falls in your lap, they still need to be sponsored by a faculty member to make things happen (and that's beyond my sphere of influence). I've had a campus event that I helped organize (for someone who had a presentation ready to go!) and it fell flat on its face (no attendees!) because no faculty advertised the event and didn't release students to attend. It was so embarrassing ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ณ.   Blogs, where faculty and alumni, got an opportunity to disseminate their literature and findings in more accessible ways, and an opportunity to boast about their achievements, but again - crickets ๐Ÿฆ—๐Ÿฆ—๐Ÿฆ—๐Ÿฆ—. 

I also recall a situation in the department I adjunct in: We were proposing a "capstone panel" for current students.  The idea was to have 4-5 panelists (alumni from the past 4-10 years) come back and tell current students about their experiences with the culminating student assessment (aka "capstone"), how they designed for it, the connections between work and school, and reflect on the educational journey and where they are today.  The person in charge of the department at the time said something "oh we just did this last year, we won't do that again".  Why? ๐Ÿ™„. Last year's students graduated.  This year there is a new group that is capstoning and would benefit from this ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™‚๏ธ. Around the same time, that department had a 2-page Quarterly Newsletter in PDF form (which included alumni stories) which was student-run. It may have also been tied to a class.  Once people changed (majority adjunct department), so did the newsletter.

This is not to say that alumni don't come back to give a guest lecture every now and again or be invited to class to present a module that they've become even more expert on after they graduated, but many of these hinge upon timing and one-to-one relationships with individual faculty members. If you're Fb friends or Twitter buddies with a former professor, and the department needs to offer a lecture for a seminar or colloquium, you may be asked to participate! But, it's very ad-hoc!

Key take-aways

Okay! Lest I sound like an old fogie who says "We tried that once, back in 1998 and it didn't work! We ain't trying that again" ๐Ÿ‘ด, let me just give you my brief lessons learned from the last 15 years...

First of all, alumni engagement at the micro (department) level is one of those situations where it takes a village to make engagement successful. It can't be one person's job (or in my case a small part of my regular job). You just won't succeed. Everyone in the department needs to do their part by nurturing alumni connections, staying in touch, actively encouraging shameless self-promotion from our alumni, and ultimately inviting them to become part of a continuous conversation between members of the department community.

While it does take a village to do this successfully, it also requires strategic planning and the ability to adapt. Individual members of the village can take initiative to invite folks to present to, and engage with, the community (whether they are alumni or not), but the departmental village needs to amplify that voice.  Adaptation may mean doing events virtually because alumni move, hence enabling and amplifying voices beyond your proximal physical location, or it may mean canceling a class (or part of a class) to enable students to attend a virtual or physical webinar or panel. It's probably not feasible to do this on an ad-hoc manner, so strategic planning is important to ensure that classes don't get canceled too many times yet people can attend a variety of events.  Adaptability might also mean a weekend event or something.  

Timing and commitments of staff and faculty are also important to keep in mind.  This goes along with strategic planning. Tenure-track faculty have a lot on their plates: some are trying to get tenure, others trying to get promoted, and others still (past all those gauntlets), might be working on other important department work.  Acknowledging that you can't do it all, where does alumni engagement and community nurturing fall in a faculty member's workload?  Similarly, non-tenured lecturers are paid by the course, so work done for community nurturing falls outside of established payment (and acknowledgment) structures. This type of care work (and community nurturing is care work) doesn't get the recognition it deserves, and expecting people to do care work without compensation is just wrong.  So, this ties back to strategic planning. In departments that are majority adjunct (something the average students don't know), this type of continuity and community nurturing is not feasible (this is the topic of a future blog). Organizations need to adapt to better support the people who do the work of nurturing student and alumni communities at the micro-level.

Self-Promotion and Blogging are learned practices, and faculty and mentors need to prepare students to do this. I've come across a number of fellow alumni who've penned articles, done research, written op-eds, and generally do fantastic work! Very few people share this work with their departments.  They may share the work with individual professors they connected with, but not with the department grunt admin (that's me๐Ÿ˜…). This is because this type of sharing is relational and you need to build those relationships in order to have someone trust you enough to share things with you. This type of humanizing connection begins in the classroom, and it gets amplified by the social aspects of a degree program (the ones that are strategically planned and take a village).

Finally, this stuff needs to be baked in, not sprinkled on! It needs to be part of a department's core identity and core ethos. As new employees come on board, both staff and faculty, need to be future alumni ambassadors. The type of humanized learning experience and community nurturing that survives graduation and day-to-day life, the connections that bind alumni to programs need to be part of everyone's ethos.  It also means that organizations need appropriate levels of staffing, high employee morale, and a willingness to share with others.  After all, if we don't share with our colleagues in the department, how can we ask our alumni to share with us? And how can we continue to be part of each other's evolving story?๐Ÿค”

My final word on this (for now), is that academic departments don't have the background, training, and oftentimes resources required to do this type of community building, and there are organizational silos to contend with.  I'm lucky that my background allows me to observe this, but others don't have this insight. That said, this doesn't need to be this way. How can we improve so that we can reach a virtuous cycle of engagement with one another?


Thoughts?

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When MOOCs turn into Self-Paced eLearning...

decorative image showing the letters MOOC

It is true that, as of this writing, there is much more serious stuff happening in the world today, both in the US and abroad, but this has been percolating in my brain for a while, so I thought I'd jot down some thoughts on one of my favorite topics: the MOOC.

Now that I am done with my dissertation, and I've had a little time to rest my brain and refocus on what I want to geek out on, I've wanted to do a retrospective piece on MOOCs. I was going to call it a post-mortem because I think that the time of the MOOC has passed. Don't get me wrong, I think there is still gas in the tank of companies like Coursera, Edx, and Futurelearn, but I wouldn't call them MOOCs. The innovative pedagogical stuff I saw early on doesn't quite seem to be there these days, with a focus going to AI, massification, and Machine Learning.  

In any case, my idea for a post-mortem was particularly poignant because 2022 is the 10th anniversary of the year of the MOOC (time flies...๐Ÿ˜ฎ). To be fair, MOOCs existed prior to 2012, with classics like CCK (connectivism and connective knowledge) debuting in 2008 and arguably defining the genre of a MOOC (of the connectivist variety), but as is the case with media, even in academics you need a little popular awareness to spice things up, so the post-mortem would have started from the debut of the xMOOC. If you're interested in a curated collection that provides a retrospective on the decade of MOOCs, check out Katy Jordan's co-edited JIME issue which came out this May.

While I did do some lit-review on the MOOC for my dissertation, the MOOC wasn't the focus of my work, so there was a bit of a gap that I wanted to address for my own personal knowledge, and in turn, use that top-level view to write something. Alas, while I was away the MOOC seems to have turned [even more] into your standard self-paced eLearning ๐Ÿ™„. A learner can log in, view the content provided by the design team, complete some multiple-choice formative and summative assessments, and log out.  Sure, in the heyday of the cMOOC it was possible to lurk in a MOOC, get what you wanted to get out of it, and not interact with anyone, however, many people did blog, tweet, and reflect in their own spaces, and that those were aggregated via the MOOC, which allowed other to engage with you in those spaces. There was more content, ideas, and ponderings (and opportunities for connection) permitted in the cMOOC days.  

In the xMOOC I tend to avoid the only place for connection, the forum, because it is one huge mess. Contributions get lost in a forum with that many people, and it really is a demotivator when it comes to participation.  Why put the effort to write anything cogent when you don't own the platform and people may not read it? To make things worse, mandatory participation by means of forum posts (borrowed, no doubt, from smaller-scale online classes) invites short responses such as "agree" and "nice job!" or, perhaps, a regurgitation of what was in that 10-minute mini-lecture.  The xMOOC has tried to be "innovative" by shutting off access to past courses (unless, of course, in some cases, if you subscribe...), so it ratches up FOMO forcing you to participate in what is essentially a self-paced eLearning course. 

Of course, when you're focused on "completing" the materials by the end of the access period you cram, and in the end, you remember nothing ๐Ÿ™„. It's just wasted time. Some of my more memorable xMOOCs were ones from the early days of Edx and Coursera where I could sign-up for a variety of courses, and actually treat them as self-paced eLearning without worrying about expiration, and immersing myself in the content (and cMOOCing it a bit by writing about it). 

Finally, being the MOOC expert that I am (๐Ÿ˜…), I am invited to peer review articles on the subject. People seem to be treating MOOCs as a technology, which they are not.  People also treat MOOCs as self-paced eLearning or content-dumps, which IMO they shouldn't be.  I guess the MOOC has evolved and moved on...or perhaps I've stuck with a more idealistic version of the connectivity variety while financial interests have morphed the MOOC into something that might make money.  Either way, I am having more engaging conversations on spaces like MyFest, DS106, and tweetchats than the ecosystem that was once called a MOOC.

So, my question for MOOCers current and past is this: what do you think?  Is the MOOC as a concept done? or is there something there that can be salvaged?  Or, do we just pick out the parts that we liked and then remix them into something new?๐Ÿค”


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Graduate Students as OSCQR reviewers

OSCQR Digital Badge

In the beforetimes (summer 2019), I had access to some graduate assistant hours and I needed to find a project for them.  Since this group of graduate assistants was destined to become educators, I thought it would be an interesting idea to train them on the OSCQR rubric and have them be " reviewer 1" and "reviewer 2" on a few course reviews that I wanted to undertake. I took on the role of the instructional designer in this exercise (reviewer 3).  Now, I know that the faculty member who is teaching these courses also needs to be part of the conversation, but more on that later...

My original goal for this exercise, beyond the actual review, was to conduct a collaborative autoethnography of the process of having graduate students conduct OSCQR reviews of courses that they had themselves had most likely taken as a learner. Content-wise the material should have been similar even if the instructors and modalities were potentially different.  Well, the Fall 2019 semester got very busy, and then we've been living in COVID world since 2020. Additionally, those students graduated and moved on with their professional lives, so such a paper is no longer possible. I was considering using an autoethnographic approach just with my own reflections on the process (after all, I still have most of my notes), but I've got several other irons in the fire, and I am not sure how useful it would be to go through the process of trying to find a journal to get a peer-reviewed version out.  Recently, I was inspired by Maha though, and her blogging of an unpublished paper, that I thought I would give this approach a try.  So here it goes!

The Need

It's been my observation over the last 15 years in higher education that there are many silos that just don't connect.  One might expect silos to exist between departments, but through interactions with various departments I've come to the conclusion that many faculty know what they teach and have a vague idea of what other courses exist in their department, however, they don't have deep knowledge of what goes on in those courses. Additionally, even if faculty are "peer reviewing" a fellow colleague's course (including courses of colleagues in other departments), there is a reluctance to address issues with pedagogy or material because of "academic freedom" ๐Ÿ™„. Even things like accessibility get rolled into the avoidance technique of academic freedom, which makes course improvement an issue. I suppose there is a curriculum committee in each department for this, but as a designer every time I've brought it up with academic departments I always get the audible grunts or roll eyes.  No one wants to peer review someone else's course, even with a rubric.  In any case, for this project, I was interested not in what course materials faculty were using in their courses, but in things like the alignment of objectives and readings and activities (making sure the connections were clear to learners), accessibility, design, and tool usage. My main focus was the student experience, and the goal was to present findings and recommendations in the Fall semester. This would be a good opportunity to open up a dialogue between the faculty on course improvement and cross-course communication in general.

The Assistants

The graduate assistants who were my reviewers for this project were students 25-30 years old, who were mostly done with their degrees, so they had experienced most of the curriculum that they were reviewing from a student lens already.  Some courses were new to reviewers. None of the assistants had any instructional design experience and their pedagogical training only included face-to-face contexts.  My hope in training them on OSCQR during this review was that they would also be able to take what they learned, both from OSCQR and from reviewing all virtual classes into their face-to-face classrooms (and virtual classrooms if the need arose). Each assistant had 10-12 hours per week of work (if I remember correctly).

The Process

The process started with a virtual training session on OSCQR 3.0. This took place over zoom since, even in 2019, we had a hard time getting everyone to campus at the same time.  It was also not necessary to meet face-to-face for this. I walked the three assistants through the OSCQR rubric and its annotations and provided a quick instructional design for online learning BootCamp. This was the highlights of the highlights version of ID for OL.  To demonstrate the rubric I used one of the soon-to-be-reviewed courses as an exemplar.

There were 18 courses to be reviewed.  These were the most commonly offered courses in the department, so they represented the biggest bang for time spent.  With two reviewers per course, this meant that each reviewer would review 12 courses over the summer.  This also meant that we were reviewing about one course each week of the summer, and once a week we tried to have a debrief about our findings. I was available for questions throughout the week. At the conclusion of this review, each of the 18 courses had qualitative feedback from the three reviewers. 

What worked in the training and what didn't?

One of the areas of improvement is definitely the demo course used to train the reviewers on OSCQR. I didn't have much of an opportunity to create a sample course to run the training, so we all evaluated a course from the pool of courses that were going to be reviewed that summer. I think there are pros and cons here.  One pro is that you tend to get one course more under the microscope than what you might normally have, but on the other hand, you risk reviewing every course in that collection similarly to that initial course, so reviews of courses might end up recommending that courses look like that first one (if the reviewers thought it was particularly well designed). 

In retrospect, I should have used another course, for example, I could have reached out to a colleague in another department to see if they'd volunteer their course as a course to train on.  I did end up using one of my old INSDSG courses to provide exemplars or alternate ways of addressing elements of the different categories of OSCQR. I think the zoom training session worked well, and the weekly debriefs worked well enough. If I were to do this again, I'd formalize the debrief a bit, maybe ask reviewers to show and tell some things that they felt worked rather well in courses that they reviewed and any questions they may have had.  I might also include a weekly reflection.  

One of the things I wanted to get to with some sort of ethnographic component in the original project was to see if student reviewers had any trepidations about reviewing courses in their department, if they felt like they needed to be positive, or if they felt that there might be fear of retaliation. I didn't sense a lot of this, but it would be good to have some data.

Finally, I think that 18 courses was a little much for the reviewers we had available.  I think the reviews felt a little bit like a conveyor belt rather than an opportunity for review and conversations, which I hoped to foster.

How did the courses fare?

Most courses made it through the OSCQR review with minor or moderate changes being suggested. I think that this is partly a sign of the maturity of the program (courses have undergone many revisions over the last 15 years), and partly due to faculty familiarity with things like Quality Matters and OSCQR. Also, in order to teach online (at least back then), faculty needed to complete some coursework to prepare them to teach online. Additionally, our ID group had begun an accessibility campaign the year prior to the review, so I have a sense that many of the inaccessible elements were handled then.  We did find some accessibility issues, but I think there would have been more had our colleagues in ID not been proactive with their initiatives. 

Some of the things that came up as elements for review included onboarding information, including technological requirements for the courses, links and information about campus services (library, accessibility office, tech support, etc.), contact info for the department,  and of course accessibility of attached documents and presentations.  My two big takeaways here are these:

1) Some common elements of courses (such as access to campus services, department contacts, and so on), can go into a template that every course can use.  While I don't think one template could apply to every single course a department uses, at the very least some common things that you want every student in the department to have and know should be included. Each onboarding for a class will vary depending on the topic, the course, and the instructor, but some things can be standardized.  I think having faculty develop their own department's template(s) would go a long way to help learners recognize the signposts in each course so that they can wayfind with more ease, yet still retain faculty voice in the decisions made in those templates.

2) Accessibility is an ongoing effort! It needs to be baked in, not sprinkled on (as my old friend Margaret used to say).  Even though we worked hard in 2018-2019 to address accessibility issues, there were still elements of courses that were inaccessible. I think that this is one of those battles that require a few stakeholders to be involved.  The faculty member should certainly strive to make the content as accessible as possible right from the start, but maybe there could be a team in the department or the college that helps out with ensuring last mile compliance. Automation has certainly helped a lot, for example automatically generated closed captioning, but those should be verified by a human.

Reflection: Technolutionism and Faculty Learning Communities

Over the past decade (or more), our ID group has been great! They've nurtured faculty who've been teaching online (at least from what I can see from my end) but there is a certain spirit that seems to just stick around. That is a faith in technosolutionism.  From automatic AI transcriptions, to "plagiarism detection" tools like Turn It In, to remote proctoring. From chats with other colleagues, some departments seem to see cheaters and plagiarizers everywhere.  This isn't healthy.    Another issue arises with adjunct faculty. There needs to be a way to welcome our adjuncts into the overall discussion and training around teaching and learning, but it can't be uncompensated. Full-time faculty can count this kind of thing toward their PD and be paid for it, whereas adjuncts are only paid for the time they are in the classroom.  If we want to include our adjunct colleagues into these discussions (which in turn translate into classroom pedagogies) we need to compensate them for their time, and encourage (or require?) participation in faculty learning communities, both intra- and inter-departmentally. I also think it's a good idea (at least for graduate students who will be going into teaching after they graduate) to prepare them on how to review courses and offer constructive feedback, even for people who they know.  I am not sure how to get current faculty members unstuck from the fear/concern of making suggestions to their colleagues (you know...because of "academic freedom"), but maybe we can break that cycle with the next-gen of teachers and IDers.

That's it for now.  Your thoughts?



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What Dual Modeing Taught me about Remote Work

person sitting in a cubicle amongst many empty cubicles.
"I go into the office for collaboration" - the collaboration...

I suppose the title should be "some of what I learned...," since I probably can't fit everything in a blog post, but let's begin and see where I end up ;-)  

The TL;DR: be careful about the word "choice," while choice is good, you might get results that you didn't expect and are ill-equipped to handle.


I follow a Twitter personality who evangelizes about the remote office. I admit, I am biased and lean toward positive views of the remote office and remote work in general.  This morning one of the Twitter posts went like this:

~~~~~~~

Personality:

Old people: young people need the office for social contact

Young people: actually we'd like to live closer to our friends and family

Respondent 1 (toward personality):

My 20-year old son old prefers to go into the office and doesn't enjoy working from home the one day a week. People need choice. Working from home is not for everyone. Would I go back to an office? No.

Respondent 2 (toward respondent 1):

That's the point: choice. Employers, instead, impose office or hybrid. Should be a choice. X wants full time/hybrid office? go ahead. I want full-time remote work. Employers can impose office/hybrid, but they will lose talent attraction over time, and die.

~~~~~~

I think that choice in life is important, but what overrides a choice (or personal preference) sometimes is a critical mass!  Take my dual-mode institution for example. Back in 2008, I was pursuing my last 2 master's degrees concurrently.  Both programs had an on-campus variety and an online variety. If you lived within 20 miles of the campus (within the I-495 belt, for those familiar with the region), you were required to apply to the campus program, you were simply not going to be accepted into the online variety. I suppose that some small exceptions were probably made for people with disabilities or "extraordinary life circumstances," but those students really had to parade their special needs to be accepted into the online version (or so it seemed to me). At the time, I was working on-campus so leaving work and stepping into the classroom 50 meters down the hall wasn't a big deal. The late nights were a bit of a problem, but I still had the energy to just do it. There were differences between the two master's programs, of course. Here's how things started when I was a student:

MEd program: More courses were offered online than on-campus.  On-campus offered 2-3 core courses (required) regularly, and the 1-2 electives per semester.  Online offered 2-3 core courses each semester and 3-4 electives online.  The electives on-campus and online were never the same, so students picked both based on modality and on the topic (if they could make it to campus).  You could complete the majority (75%) of your degree online (as an on-campus student) if you wanted to since there were only 4 core courses.  As an online student, there were two classes you needed to complete in person, but they were offered in a blended format with a 1 week residential (for each course). You could not complete the degree purely on-campus, some courses needed to be online (course offerings were not as plentiful on campus, so you always needed at least 1 elective online). I was a campus student but completed ยพ online. Campus classes had a healthy number of students (about 15 per class), but the late nights eventually got to me.

MA Program: Distinct on-campus and online populations. Online students were in a cohort setting, and there was no class variation possible.  Everyone took the same courses. No electives were offered online (electives were essentially preset, canceling the notion of an "elective").  Campus students had more flexibility in their electives, and more electives were offered. Classes both online and on-campus had a good number of learners in each section (about 20), but some of the campus numbers were sustained by external funding which attracted more students to campus. I was a campus student and completed all courses on-campus. By and large campus and online populations didn't mix

  ~~~

OK, so - fast forward a few years (circa 2013).  The being forced into a specific modality based on your location element was dropped for both programs (and mostly across the university I think). Do you know what happened?  More people started applying to the online programs while fewer applied to the campus programs! This was true for people who lived a few miles from campus! How did this impact the two programs?

MEd Program: Campus core courses were down to 1-2 per semester, and maybe 1 elective.  Electives had a hard time getting enough students to run.  Eventually, all electives ran online-only, and by 2015(ish?) all courses were also online-only.  The program still required a blended residential component, but as soon as other institutions started offering similar programs without the residential component, that was dropped as well. It was undeniable that student enrollment had gone down, and the attitude that some folks had of "oh, but students crave the social experience of in-person, so we need to keep our residential requirement" rationale didn't have any proof to support it. Currently, the program is fully online. Some folks do need a campus residence component for work/grant/financial-aid requirements, but it's not possible to offer that to folks. There simply isn't a critical mass of people to offer that.

MA Program:  More students applied to the online program than on-campus. External grants also dried up during the Trump years. More electives were offered online, online students now had options for electives, and ultimately electives were offered only online (so the elective situation flipped from the original state in 2008). It became easier to offer electives online because both learner populations (campus and online) could participate in an online format. Additionally, there was a critical mass to offer more than 2 electives per semester if student populations combined, and to try some new things out!  Alone, the campus population wouldn't be able to sustain 1 elective offered on-campus. All core (required) courses were offered in fall and spring for both online and on-campus, but eventually, the campus had to pare down and offer courses in alternating semesters.  There just wasn't enough of a critical mass to make courses run on-campus.

~~~

Now, from my examples above, it might seem like there is no interest in the on-campus programs.  That's not the case.  For both programs, there is interest by some learners to be on-campus. The problem is that there aren't enough people to have a critical mass to run the courses and to have a learning community. Personal choice is important, but it doesn't mean that the economics and the community mechanics work out to the degree needed to make the learning experience happen.  It's like having a *flex class where the instructor and 3 students are in a room, while 25 other students are on zoom or asynchronous.  At that point, you decide that the weekly F2F doesn't make sense for the amount of effort you put in.

This is my parallel to remote work: You can have employees who can work remotely (based on the job needs) but want to be in the office.  Fair enough (I have colleagues like that), however, is there enough of a critical mass within an organizational unit (those people you work closely with) to be in the office? 

Many people who talk about remote work seem to frame it as a matter of choice.  I suppose it can be a matter of choice whether you are 1 day, 2 days, 4 days or 0 days in the office, but it depends on which direction you are coming from.  If you're coming from a "butts in seats, on-site" mode of thinking, sure - remote is probably a choice.  However, if you're coming from a remote-first frame of reference, then I am not convinced that for your average team that choice + critical mass complement one another.  The numbers might be there for an organization to offer hot desking accommodations for anyone in the company who wants to work at an office setting, but being in a space, and actually cognitively being with a community of peers is not the same.  If you work with others this kind of flexibility means that unless there is a critical mass in the office you are essentially a remote employee but not at your home (or preferred location).

For certain jobs remote (with maybe a little hybrid) is the future, and people need to develop interpersonal and managerial skills to work in both environments.  Just going into the office won't be the panacea that you are looking for, if what you are seeking is collaboration. The physical office could provide a quiet space, a non-distracting space, a whatever space to get your work done. It may provide you with a cognitive break between work and life (if you haven't developed that and need some external stimulus to activate it), but it's important to understand that there needs to be a critical mass of people who want to be in-person to make it happen, and this takes critical leadership skills to make telework and in-person work seamlessly together.  This comes not just from observations during the pandemic years, but from observations working in an academic department for the past 11(ish?) years with mixed-mode faculty, being a learner both online and on-campus, being an adjunct who teaches online, and a person who collaborates and chats with colleagues across campus academic programs.



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