Friday, August 09, 2013

Social Autopsy

In actual poker, I'm not a very good player.  I have a tendency to smile when I have good cards.  And if another player at the table shows some bluster, I can be intimidated by that.

But used metaphorically and applied to the world of work, sometimes I think I wasn't too bad at playing my cards.  Then good things happened as a consequence.  This was particularly true in the mid to late 1990s where, in essence,  I pursued a "collegiality agenda."  I befriended quite a few people on campus.  More or less, I trusted their good efforts and did what I could to encourage them.  They should get the credit for the good outcomes that occurred, of course.  But some calls were mine alone to make and mainly I made the right ones. For example, when the SCALE grant was to be renewed and we had to move out of Everett Lab, there was a question of choice of our new location - the Armory near OIR or on Fox Drive near NCSA's education group.  And with that there was an associated choice about SCALE's mission - at least in part a utilitarian service provider to support online learning or simply a driver of innovation with online learning via SCALE's internal grant program.  I chose the former and have no regrets on that score.

Yet with the really big decisions, which happened a few years later, I have a feeling I muffed some of them.  I wonder how many other people with responsibility play their cards right, learn the proper lessons that the situation delivers while the situation unfolds, and grow stronger as a consequence.  My sense is that it is rare.  Mostly, I believe, people overplay their cards, get some near term wins, but eventually blow their stash.  Thus, I think there is some benefit in looking backward at this, trying to discern causality in what ultimately happened, in the hope of becoming a better card player in the next game.

From all the crime dramas on TV we're lead to believe that human autopsy can pretty well pinpoint the cause of death.  Whether that is true in real-world autopsy, I don't know.  I believe for social decision making it is much harder to do that.  Invariably you abstract from several factors, some that might actually matter substantively, in order to focus attention on what seems to be important.  With that caveat in mind I'm going to perform this sort of social autopsy on two distinct situations.

(1)  Could President Obama and Congressional Democrats have played their cards better to retain their majority in the 2010 elections?  In this case losing their stash is losing their majority in the House as well as becoming more vulnerable to the Filibuster in the Senate.

(2)  Could Learning Technologists have played their cards better circa 2000-2005 by not embracing a message of diffusion of technology and getting all faculty onto the campus learning management system? In this case losing the stash was taking our eyes off the ball, teaching and learning.

* * * * *

TARP happened while Bush was still President, though it's enforcement occurred mainly under Obama.  Some voter resentment toward Obama that perhaps drove the 2010 Congressional elections was resentment about bailing out the banks but not helping ordinary citizens.  The first stimulus plan happened soon after Obama took office.  It did include a temporary payroll tax deduction, which did benefit ordinary citizens if they were working.  But it may not have been perceived as such because households that were in debt used the tax relief to lower their debt burden.  And as the economy tanked further, there surely was the perception that more should have been done to combat that.  Further, there were early economic forecasts from President Obama's advisers that the recession would not be so severe, which I will interpret here as giving permission to both the President and Congress that after passing the initial stimulus attention could be turned to other matters. 

I want to treat all of the above as unavoidable, not subject to the autopsy.  I want to focus on what happened after that.  The argument was advanced at the time that since the Democrats were in the minority in both Congress and the White House from 2001-2006, a full agenda of issues got built up during that time.  Even in 2007, after the House and Senate had been retaken by the Democrats, their was still a Republican in the White House, so much of that agenda did not get addressed then.  Only after the Democrats also took the White House in 2009 was there the opportunity to do so.

Yet the nation was in economic crisis (and in my view still is even with the official recession ended some time ago).  So there was a clear tension present between addressing the crisis, on the hand, and taking on issues on the agenda, on the other, or if not that then not taking a disciplined approach to what items on the agenda actually would help address the crisis and then suspending support for the other items on the list.

Temporally, the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, in January 2010, signified that the Tea Party had arrived.  So it is really 2009 that should be the focus of this autopsy.  The Gulf Oil Spill happened in April 2010.  It certainly contributed to the disaffection with the Democrats, but it wasn't the root cause.  Much legislation was passed in 2009.  But was it the right sort of stuff?  Similarly, with an electorate so frightened by the economy, was the right sort of message communicated to them?  In retrospect a very aggressive message regarding the benefits of deficit spending in a recession was needed, to counteract the narrative that the problem was the Federal government is awash in debt.   Paul Krugman was delivering such a message and arguing that the first stimulus plan was too small.  But, of course, he didn't speak for the administration.  I believe we needed to hear essentially Krugman's message, but from leading Democrats - Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama and we needed to hear it loud and clear in summer 2009. 

President Obama came into office on a campaign theme of hope, but without an action plan well spelled out to the public in advance, and with an image that he was above the fray regarding politics with Congress.  All of that appealed to the electorate in 2008, but it seemed unreal once the President assumed office, given how Mitch McConnell and John Boehner played their cards in 2009, being as obstructionist as they possibly could.  Further, given that obstruction, it created a bias to work on issues that would not require any Republican assistance in passing, meaning a move to the middle of where the Democrats are rather than to the middle of where the entire electorate was.   I know that by summer of 2010 I had wondered more than once if the Democrats hadn't made a mistake in 2008 and instead should have nominated Hilary Clinton, because the Republicans needed to be fought rather than accommodated, and if they had been then some reasonable Republicans would have crossed the aisle. 

I believe many voters wanted to see a 21st century version of the New Deal and were disappointed when that didn't materialize.  In particular, we instead heard about the dearth of shovel ready projects.  And while there was some talk about starting a National Infrastructure Bank as a public-private partnership, for long term public investments even if they wouldn't begin for several years yet so wouldn't provide immediate stimulus, that too didn't materialize. 

The other emotion that accompanies fear is anger.  Rush Limbaugh, in particular, plays to that emotion.  Occupy Wall Street also played to that emotion, but only delivered on expressing a general complaint.  The protesters didn't have specific solutions to serve as palliative.  The Democrats needed a competing narrative to the one offered up by the Tea Party.  By identifying high level people to blame for the burst of the housing bubble and punishing them for the crimes they committed, they'd have delivered.  A counter view is that the financial markets were still too unstable at the time.  Those markets required calming.  So go easy on the Wall Street bigwigs, to assure the market remained orderly.  This view prevailed but made TARP wildly unpopular with ordinary Americans and they were left to struggle on their own about why the system seemed so unfair.

The last of the indictments is that President Obama needed to schmooze up Congress quite a bit and he is not a good schmoozer.  If Congress were a machine with many gears, schmoozing would be the grease that makes the wheels turn.  Without it the machine starts to grind and then stops working altogether.

I hope these arguments are familiar, so readers can agree that I'm not making them up.  The question is: how fair are they as a depiction of reality?   Could things really have been done better?  And if you think we'll see something like a replay of this with the 2016 election and the 2017 Congress, one might then ask, what things should be done now to make it better in the replay?

We are by now used to the fact the information travels very quickly.  We may infer from that that analysis of what is really going on also happens at the same pace.  Alas, it is not always so.   There may be substantial lags before the perception of reality catches up to what's been going on.  That may have been one issue at work in 2009. Then there is the question of how nuanced a message Democratic politicians can give, especially when the opposition's message is simplicity itself - shrink government, no new taxes.  President Obama gave a quite nuanced message on race during the campaign.  He owns that issue, so by all accounts it was a very well received speech.  He is less in his element talking about economic policy.  I have criticized him for producing a laundry list of issues but not delivering on a coherent narrative.  It may be that some other people need to produce that narrative and it may be that it should be an economic team not currently occupied with administration policy.  Democrats like to reserve the right to disagree. But on core economic policy there needs to be some consensus of goals and broad stroke strategies to achieve those goals.  Without that everything gets made up as we go along. Such an articulation of  principles can still leave wiggle room for negotiation for passage of the actual legislation, though I admit its not clear how much wiggle room there really can be.

I have in mind, in particular, the elimination of the Public Option, in getting the passage of the Affordable Care Act.   Many Obama supporters felt betrayed by this.  A very demonstrative example of this is Garry Wills on Charlie Rose (starting at around the 21:00 minute mark).  This aired before the election in 2010, but was a portent of the "shellacking" that would ensue.  According to Wills, Obama did not play his cards right in summer 2009, by not being sufficiently assertive of what he (Obama) wanted.  He gave away too much and didn't get Republican votes in return.  And he made this mistake in other arenas as well (dealing with Wall Street and with the military brass regarding Afghanistan).

But I think Wills also overplays his cards.  On the economic issues Obama needed the cooperation of Congress as he did in dealing with Wall Street and that made things precarious for sharp reform.  For example, see this piece on Charles Schumer and Wall Street.  It's tempting to conclude all the power is in the White House as Wills seems to have done in discussing Obama, since that's where the Bully Pulpit is.  But that might not be the reality.  If Congress is captured by the special interests, with party distinction not mattering all that much in this area, what can a President get done?

Let me conclude this section with one more point.  Our elections appear almost a cult of personality.  So right now there is a fascination with Janet Yellen or Larry Summers for Fed Chair.  But there is essentially no discussion about Fed policy and what the new Chair should advocate during the post-Bernanke regime.   Likewise there is a lot of speculation - will Hillary run?  But there is little to nothing about what policies such a candidacy should entail. Trust is put first in the personality to do the right thing, without specifying in advance what the right thing looks like.  This does give maximal flexibility, ex post, but it also sews the seeds for feelings of betrayal later on, because people feel implicitly what those things should be now, even if they don't talk about them publicly.  My autopsy suggests that is a mistake.  Take a possible hit early from advocating a position firmly, so that there are no surprises later.  But it need not be the candidates themselves who are the first to get these positions out there.  All that is needed is that the positions are articulated and broadly considered and then are suitably modified by the ensuing debate.  And that debate needs to include both the desirability of the ideas and the feasibility of getting the legislation through Congress.  We tend to argue these things separately.    If they could be argued jointly, the President then doesn't have to be Think-Tank-In-Chief.

One of the issues that Democrats, in particular, haven't addressed well is the dilemma posed by campaigning-in-poetry versus governing-in-prose, where the politicians themselves may know how to switch gears but the electorate does not.  Given the dire economic circumstances when President Obama assumed office coupled with the highly idealistic views of many of Obama's supporters, weren't the prospects for disaffection by those supporters high from the get go?  It is conceivable that President Obama could have pivoted much earlier from his more conciliatory approach to one where he rammed things through with support from only Democrats in Congress.  But there are evident risks in such an all or nothing approach.   In the tit-for-tat between the parties what one party does now is often a negative reaction to what the other party did the last time.  Scorched earth politics might feel good at the time, but it may be a very bad way to govern long term.  Further, Obama didn't prepare his supporters for this at all during the campaign. 

* * * * *

My views of the core teaching and learning issues on campus have evolved, to be sure, but are still largely the same as they were when I first got started with SCALE.  Early on I wrote five essays about the various components of these issues.  These are noted on Bob Jensen's site (scroll down a bit after following the link).  Over the years I have lost the third and fourth essays.  I've re-posted the first one on output effects.  The classification scheme I came up with for students in that piece - eager beavers, drones, and sluggos - still makes sense to me.  Where I've changed the most since then is that in the 1990s I thought the issues could be well addressed entirely by intervention at the course level.  Indeed, I've learned since then that early adopter type faculty might very well make significant inroads at the course level, so our initial results with SCALE were extremely promising.   But majority faculty are far less likely to do something substantial to improve matters, especially if left on their own.  Further, more of the instructors in the high enrollment courses these days are adjuncts.  There are a host of concerns unique to adjunct teaching.  For these reasons, I now believe there needs to be a systematic approach to the learning issues across campus.

A systematic approach would get at what effective practice looks like and then make a serious and earnest effort to encourage effective practice.  In my view there would be two distinct but interrelated components to this.  One component would aim at effective practice for instructors.  We normally call that faculty development.  When the Center for Educational Technologies (CET) was formed as the sequel to SCALE, faculty development was the core of its mission.  The other component would focus on what effective practice looks likes for students.  In terms of my schema in the previous paragraph, eager beavers have effective practice.  Drones do not.  So the remaking of a drone into an eager beaver is about giving students better practice in how they approach their own learning.  The further thought is that sluggos emerge because they intuit that being a drone is not really effective (and it is boring and perhaps humiliating).  If they saw drones changing in their approach and thereby becoming eager beavers, sluggos too might opt in instead of opting out.   The "student development" issue is not typically discussed this way.  It is discussed mainly regarding student performance and the Academically Adrift hypothesis, though note that there are a few predecessors to that work, making much the same point.  In other words, the issue is cast in the negative, about what might be but isn't happening.  The issue is not cast as what should be done to change matters for the better.

A couple of weeks ago in the New Yorker, Atul Gawande had a fascinating piece on how diffusion of effective practice best occurs. His focus was how new mothers care for their babies in developing countries.  They often make mistakes - giving water rather than nursing the child, keeping the baby away from the mother rather than lying with the mother.  What works at getting these new mothers to change their ways for the better health of their babies?  What Gawande argues, and he has ample evidence to support his claims, is that technology is not that helpful.  Face to face communication from a credible peer - individualized and slow - does work.  This is particularly true for practice where the reward is delayed, so that the mother does not get immediate feedback from the situation itself to adjust her practice on her own.

I'm going to take Gawande's point and apply it to the faculty development issue and at the end remark a bit on the student development issue as well.  But I want to note first that effective practice in teaching is more complex than how Gawande treats baby care.  Being a mother may be quite complex, but Gawande reduces effective practice down to a handful of activities all mothers should do.  With teaching, effective practice is not so uniform.  The discipline matters.  The temperament of the instructor matters.  A sense of what the students are like matters.  Effective practice then is a kind of professional problem solving, finding appropriate methods while accounting for these characteristics, and testing via perceived outcomes whether it is working, then making modifications in approach accordingly.  In discussing this Schon's The Reflective Practitioner comes to mind.

In this already complex setting learning technology offers another variable to consider in the mix.  It makes certain things possible that were not in the absence of the technology.  For example, students who would not raise their hands in class might participate with vigor in an online discussion forum.  In this way the student thinking becomes known to the instructor where before it was not.  So teaching must be reconsidered in light of that possibility.  It is this reconsideration where the value lies, because that is what leads to effective practice.  The technology is not very useful if it simply is bolted onto extant practice. 

Now to my autopsy. There is the question of where faculty development occurs.  One possibility is that it happens during the normal consulting my CET staff provided for faculty.  Do note that part of such consultation is about the functioning of the technology itself, showing what the technology is capable of and getting the instructor to understand how to use the technology to produce those capabilities.  It is possible that the consulting morphs into tech support only with no faculty development piece.  And in the crush of time that instructors and consultants operate under, this tech support only outcome can soon become the default.  So another possibility is to have concentrated workshops with groups of faculty, perhaps a week long, where the faculty development is primary and the tech support issues are pushed into the background.  It is common to offer such workshops in the summer, when the time pressure is not present.

Since many instructors will not opt into such a workshop without some encouragement, something must be done to signify the importance of the workshop to the instructors.  And perhaps an incentive for attending needs to be provided as well.  At the outset of CET in summer 1999, there were two distinct workshops done in the same vein, with 25 attendees per.  These were sponsored by the Campus Ed Tech Board.  The faculty received a stipend for attending.  Attendance was determined via a competitive proposal process.  One particular bias built into the process was to encourage multiple attendees from the same unit, so a community of practice could emerge after the workshop within the unit.  All of this made sense to me and though the CET staff were just getting to know each other, so they were a little green in putting on one of these things, I think it went well.  We had no outside speakers.  We did get exemplar instructors from the SCALE project to give some talks and we may have had a panel of Ed Tech Board members, all experienced in teaching with technology, to discuss various issues.  With this we conveyed enthusiasm for the endeavor but grounded it in actual experience.

There is an emotional aspect in delivering these workshops in that there is a lot of planning ahead of time and you care a lot that the workshop goes well.   The emotion itself may impact the subjective judgment of how it went.  And on the first day of the second workshop my father passed away.  I was notified right after I gave my opening talk.  So I missed the rest of the workshop as my family went to Florida for the funeral.  As a consequence of the emotion it makes sense to evaluate the impact of the workshop with some lag, if possible.  Wait till in the midst of the fall term, where the instructor can reflect on how the workshop impacted their current teaching.  I did meet individually with a few attendees in my office sometime later and I encouraged such meetings.  But I didn't also do an email survey of the attendees, which in retrospect was a mistake.  I needed as much evidence as I could amass about the effectiveness of the workshops.

There was a different faculty development activity, Faculty Summer Institute (FSI), that was more conference than workshop.  Originally FSI was intended as a way to spread the knowledge about teaching with technology that was on my campus to the various other public universities in the state and in the first couple of years there were 10 faculty attendees from each of these universities present plus support providers from the various campuses.  I was the head facilitator for FSI, which started in 1997.  I did that for 10 years.  FSI was held the week after Commencement, in May.  The ETB workshops followed that with some time in between for me and my staff to regroup.  FSI is important in this context because it had its own separate funding, which is why it is still ongoing.

Now let me try to complete the picture to get at the card playing issues.  I thought CET to be substantially under funded from the outset.  Part of that was that SCALE and CET overlapped for a year and SCALE staff were integrated in with the other CET staff members from a functional point of view, but they were on soft money.  So an immediate priority was to get them into permanent positions.  Then, too, I thought we simply didn't have enough people for the work we were supposed to do.  And last, some of the staff in CET came from another unit where they weren't paid well.  So there were salary compression issues that needed to be addressed.  Presumably these various funding issues would be resolved the following year, when the campus would get its first permanent CIO.  That first year of CET we had an interim CIO.  He gave us $50K for a computer lab for hands on faculty training, but he wasn't in a position to address the recurrent funding issues.

The following summer we repeated the ETB workshops (with reduced stipends for faculty but the rest of the structure intact).  I thought it went well, but again I failed to gather data about the effectiveness of these workshops.  Let me give a partial justification for why.  CET was involved in many distinct and idiosyncratic activities.  The philosophy at the time was - if there is an enthusiastic faculty member who wants CET's help and is doing something novel with learning technology then CET wants to support that person and showcase the work.  Much of our approach to faculty development during the rest the year was to showcase what these budding stars had done and hope it inspired others to follow in their lead.  This was fun and engaging, but also quite time consuming.  And as with the workshops, I didn't have anything but anecdotal information on whether the showcasing of the innovators spawned imitation.  All these years later I believe the ETB workshops were more effective than the showcasing the innovators because the workshops were pitched at where the attendees were at the time - just getting started with using technology in their teaching.  But that belief is more guess than anything else. It is not based on the accumulation of overwhelming evidence, as Gawande has done.

A different sort of criticism of me and CET that I think fair is that we had too much variety in what we were about and not enough core competency.  This was further reflected in that we supported five different applications that did similar things but were still distinct - the conferencing applications WebBoard and FirstClass, the course management systems CourseInfo and WebCT, and the sophisticated quiz system Mallard.  My view was that more customized use would lead to better learning, but it undoubtedly stretched the small CET staff. 

When the new CIO came, starting in fall 2000, some things had to give.  In essence he took the funds for the ETB workshops and redirected them to shore up CET's budget and I believe he injected some funds from elsewhere as well.  He told me at the time that the Deans were not happy with the campus paying for faculty development with stipends, so those funds needed to be redirected.  That seemed sensible to me.  Yet I viewed those workshops as the best in what CET did for faculty development.  So the issue was how to best respond to the CIO's plan.

Let me add here that I have some aversion to being pushy.  In the interest of promoting collegiality, I like to get along with others.  In some circumstances that works well.  In other circumstances being pushy is better.

There were two possibilities for continuing with the workshops.  One was to convert FSI into a workshop structure and have more of the attendees come from my campus.  The original goals of FSI had been achieved.  It needed redefinition in any event, since some of the original participants had dropped out.  But I didn't control the funds for FSI.  The money was in Conferences and Institutes, part of our Continuing Education unit.  So they would need to be convinced on this score.  It is also true that the steering committee for FSI was comprised largely of representatives from other campuses, who would undoubtedly view such a change as my campus being stingy.  So that would have been unpleasant.

The other possibility was to run separate workshops apart from FSI, but to pay no stipends.  I had a bit of a slush fund left over from SCALE that could cover the facilities and food costs.  And by then I had been making presentations about online learning for various colleges, either for new faculty as in the case of LAS and Engineering, or generally for faculty, as in the case  of ACES and AHS.  So I had a network of people who invited me to make such presentations and I could have engaged them in inquiry to find out whether they'd be interested in sending folks to a workshop like the ETB workshops, but without the stipends.   This might have failed either because my contacts wouldn't show interest or even if they did because they couldn't get a sufficient number of faculty to attend.  But it might have succeeded if it were tried.  It never was.

Instead what happened is that the summer workshops dropped off the CET radar.  It is the first experience where a significant faculty development activity was abandoned, not because it was ineffective, but because of cost and because faculty stipends became politically incorrect.

More or less at the same time it became required that I produce progress reports on CET.  In those we counted beans quite a lot - number of courses in each of our various products and number of student users in those courses.  Those numbers had an upward trend, so it could be argued we were doing well, just for that reason.  But I didn't believe that argument.  As I've stated above, it is effective practice that counts.  We did get anecdotal information on that and we did try other approaches to faculty development, but it is was all small bore stuff, not systematic at all.  So while that is what I valued, it was difficult to communicate the importance of the activity in a meaningful way to others who didn't already share my beliefs.

I have belabored my own personal story on the faculty development activity because it presaged what would come later.  There were other pressures that would move CET activity away from faculty development and toward tech support.  These other pressures were not unique to my campus.  They occurred at peer institutions in the CIC as well, and probably nationally.

One of these was the move to an enterprise learning management system.  This necessitated a lot of instructor training up front and online support during implementation.  Those activities crowded out some of the faculty development, even as the staff got professional development based on a principle that training and demonstrating effective pedagogy should be done in an integrated way.

The other of these was the merger of CET with the much large campus computing organization.  There is then the question of whether the rest of the organization is clued into what faculty development is about.  Mainly they weren't.  So while CET became CITES EdTech, the rest of CITES viewed CET as the supporter of a specific application, the LMS, but otherwise not different from the rest of CITES.  As more of EdTech's function became help desk like, that conformed with the vision of the rest of CITES.  There does need to be a help desk function for the LMS.  But it is no substitute for faculty development.

It is very hard for me to tell whether peer institutions did better in managing these pressures.  I have a suspicion that they did because my earlier decisions, based on circumstances unique to my campus, impeded getting better balance later.  In particular, I believe that the staff react more to actions than to words and that the abandoning of the ETB workshops was a message to the the staff that faculty development is not so important or that we were too chintzy to do what we should be doing, a message I didn't want to send but probably did.  I left CITES after summer 2006 because I couldn't see how to buck the trend and because more and more of my time was spent giving the "faculty view" on IT issues that concerned CITES but that otherwise didn't have to do with teaching and learning.   I know of one other peer in the CIC Learning Technology Group who moved onto other things, but for somewhat different reasons.  Most of my generation stuck with it till they retired or are still doing it even now.  Presumably that persistence is supported by a belief that some progress is being made.

I now want to take this story and tie it to the student development issue.  The thought is that it takes a community of like minded faculty to make for a substantial change in how we go about undergraduate education.  The Chancellor and perhaps the Provost can act as a voice of one in initiating change.  Lower down in the hierarchy, that can't happen without many other voices lending support, even when its just for a pilot offering.  The thought is that faculty who have gone through a faculty development process that they themselves regarded as well done will be mindful about their teaching and the issues they are confronting as they teach.  For a while their universe will be their own classes.  But as they find they are invested in the learning of their students, they will have conversations with peers to benchmark their own experiences and to see if they can get helpful suggestions on how to improve practice.  If in those discussions there is some agreement that there are too many drones among the student population, that observation will sow the seeds for a student development program of some sort.  (As I'm writing this piece a Facebook friend posted a link to this "letter" from February in the Washington Post, A warning to college profs from a high school teacher.  It might be that lamentations about NCLB will be the driver toward such a student development program rather than the mechanism I sketch here.)

I don't want to expand on what a program would look like.  Let me simply report that several early adopter type faculty I know have used peer mentors to good effect in their teaching, but the practice has not diffused on its own beyond that.  During the SCALE years, I used online peer tutors in my class and got good results from it.  I paid those students as hourlies using SCALE grant funds.  After the grant ran out I was able to get the Econ department to pick up the tab.  I was teaching a section three times the normal size and that "efficiency" paid for the peer tutors, still leaving a surplus.  But after the last time I taught the large section, spring 2001, the practice stopped.  It was a special deal and hadn't become the normal way of doing things.

Several years ago I wrote seven posts on Inward Looking Service Learning about a systematic approach to peer mentoring across the campus.  (The title is from the mentor's view, not the mentee's.)   These should be interpreted as a vision, not a programmatic plan, as there is a lot of wishful thinking in these essays.  Others might conceive a student development program quite differently.  The point I want to make here is that there are indirect consequences that we often don't factor into our original assessment on how to play the cards.  Ultimately, I hypothesize, student development will be more important than faculty development in getting good learning.  In this autopsy, that makes the near term pursuit of faculty development critical, as it seems to me to be a necessary intermediate step.

* * * * *

What lessons are there from performing this exercise?  The fourth stanza of Kenny Rogers' The Gambler reads:

You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done

I like that as a basis for the executive decision maker and will take it for sound advice, though it is scant on when each of the contingencies should obtain.  The analysis in this essay, I hope, sheds some light on this.

For me there is one big take away.  It is to reconcile your decisions with your beliefs.  Sometimes you can't do this in prospect, because you don't know what those beliefs are in advance.  That's fair enough.  But when you do know and you do believe in something strongly, then leave no stone unturned in finding actions that support those beliefs.  Bemoaning lack of resources, usually with some truth in that, masks the personal obligation.  Sometimes we say this as, "fight for what you believe in."  I don't like the word fight as it is used here, particularly since collegiality is another value I believe in strongly and fight suggests abandoning collegiality.  Note that my second alternative for possibly continuing the ETB workshops was a purely cooperative approach.  There would have been no fighting in it, in the sense of demeaning others.

Put another way, the lesson is to pursue the unlikely though possible alternative if it offers some chance of success in something you believe in strongly, rather than make assumptions about the outcome ahead of time, thereby cutting off all possibility.  If fighting describes that sort of choice, then I'm all for fighting.

Yet I want to be careful here.  Jim Valvano's line - never give up - was originally uttered when he he was combating the Grim Reaper.  I have nothing to say here about that battle.  The assumption in this essay when using the poker playing metaphor is that there will be other games to play in the future.  Valvano may be spot on in giving advice about the game he was playing at the time.  For the rest of the time, however, Rogers' song offers better advice. 

So folding the cards remains a possibility.  It is an important option to have.  Yet it is an alternative to use with extreme reluctance.  For those of us who value collegiality greatly, it seems an important lesson to learn.

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