Reflections on CAST Innovation Week and other musings from the exiting CAST coordinator

I decided to wait a few days to write a reflection of last week’s CAST Innovation Week.  If I had written it at the end of last week, it likely would have included words and phrases such as “disappointing”, “a major disappointment”, “an embarrassment”, “an exercise in futility”,  “hearing President Laackman acknowledge us at the SotC was like twisting the knife”, but I didn’t write any of these phrases, so let’s ignore them and move on.

Distance often leads to some perspective.  Gitte and I have chatted, and will continue to chat, about what can be done to improve CAST Innovation Week in the future (yes, it will happen again.).  For now, I have just a few reflections, though I’m sure Gitte will chime in with some of hers since she attended more of it that I did due to my own schedule conflicts.

1.  The timing was a bit off.  While we were good about soliciting volunteers, we set the deadline too late and as a result were unable to promote the actual events of the week until right before the week.

2. The timing was a bit off.  With many of us going through the tenure and post-tenure processes, last week seemed to be the time for many class visitation and pre-last minute preparations.  (In fact, I missed most of Thursday’s events because I was observing two of my colleagues).

3. Was the timing off?  Maybe it had nothing to do with timing.  Maybe it had to do with something much bigger.  I was reading an article on classroom science assessment by Jim Minstrell and the following passage struck me.  He writes with respect to developing formative assessment in his classroom before it was widely accepted as “good” teaching.

The second point—that I “owned” the process—is probably the more important. If I had simply read “the steps” in some articles (as you are now), I would probably have been skeptical about its success and I am not sure I would have been motivated to develop the skills and classroom culture necessary to reap the positive effects. What I was doing in the classroom was not something I had seen at a workshop or been told by researchers that I should do. Instead, I discovered a process over time that worked for me through my own professional inquiry—motivated by my own curiosity about my students’ learning and a sincere wish to improve my craft. Seeing positive results from those efforts over time with my own students is what kept me going.

So why don’t people come to “CASTivities”.  In particular, why did we have nearly less attendees last week than at our regular Tuesday meetings?

3a) We all care about our teaching but perhaps don’t feel the need to share with others nor do we feel that attending a session will lead to a great change in our teaching (since perhaps we don’t think we need a big change).  This is me.  I’m co-coordinator of CAST, yet I often feel this way.  Funny enough, when I do push myself to attend, I always get something out of it.  So maybe this thinking is flawed.

3b) It’s awkward. Awkward can be very funny in movies and sitcoms (and real life situations I suppose), but attending or leading  a session in which no one shows up is downright demoralizing.  Perhaps everyone assumed that no one would be at the sessions.  This is also a valid concern and I share this as well.  So in the future maybe CAST, now with a definite footprint at HWC and beyond,  will offer less programming to build a fan base.  Innovation Week may have been too much to take in all at once.  It may have appeared desperate and that’s something that we want to avoid.  CAST shouldn’t have to feel like it’s trying to persuade you to attend.  You should want to attend based upon the quality of our offerings and your desire to share with others.

4.  We’re busy.  This is one excuse that I could not fully appreciate until recently, but I still have trouble with it.  I think the biggest disappointment for Gitte and I was that no one showed up in the morning for coffee or cookies or a quick conversation.  I know people use 1046 (the CASTle) at various times, yet Gitte and I found ourselves alone together each morning.  We would have loved just a quick hello from folks.  I got to catch up on work instead.  Back to the main point, I can understand busy.  I thought I did before, but then my wife and I had our first child and childcare came into play.  Every hour I spend at HW outside of my usual hours costs me money and more importantly quality time with my son.  So I can understand busy.  But, 10 minutes to spare?  I don’t know.

If we take the items above, I think they are part of a larger “issue”.  I actually think it starts in departments.  (Let’s see if I can get myself into trouble here.)  I think we need a slight paradigm shift with respect to our campus academic culture.  I think we need to see Professional development (PD) as something that is not onerous, but important.  When I hear the term “PD” or am considering attending, I typically ask myself the questions, “Is this really necessary?” and “Am I really going to get anything out of this?”  Do I need to be developed?  I do that on my own (refer back to the quote above).  Yet, maybe this starts in departments.  How often do you “talk shop” with your colleagues in your department?  How much of your department meeting is spent discussing actual teaching and learning?  Which quantity is greater: the amount of time spent griping about students with your peers or the amount of time discussing how you teach and how they learn (not not learn)?

I feel like I’m channeling my old officemate here so I better wrap it up.

So I find myself a month or so away from exiting as CAST (co)-coordinator.  I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years.  I’m hoping that the effort I put in over those three years leads to the continued efforts of CAST.  I’m really hopeful for the future of CAST.  I’ve been really impressed with the past two FDW’s and our Tuesday’s this semester.  I hope that those who are able to attend agree that the meetings are not your typical committee meeting.  They’re part PD (in a good way), part sharing, part meet and greet and really a lot of productive fun.  I feel that CAST has accomplished a lot and is chipping away at creating a culture of collaboration and learning from ourselves and one another.  We’ll have elections in the next few week. I see great things ahead with our new (or perhaps old) co-coordinators.  CAST is a wholly faculty driven entity.  We were the innovators with respect to PD.  We will continue to do so as long as we continue to have investment from all of you.  We’re thinking of ways to get more people involved virtually.  Keep an eye out.   Thanks for making it this far.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on CAST Innovation Week and other musings from the exiting CAST coordinator

  1. Chris, CASTACTIVITES is in its first year. There will be growth if you continue with the project. I would also agree with you that timing was a problem, plan better next year. Among other things, this is an excellent opportunity for non-tenureds to present their projects which is good for them and increases collegiality.

    Another problem with timing… Cast has some excellent workshops but there are too many. Once a week is exhausting! Remember when the Johns first resurrected this committee they had the occasional Friday all day workshop and they invited ALL CCC. These were VERY well attended.

    I would also like to remind you that there is a lot of apathy with the faculty because of actions taken by current administration. If, outside of class, work is no longer fulfilling, why spend time away from your families? Finally, HWC has had a baby boom. I can think of 10 HWC children under the age of 5 which means people are really very busy!

    So don’t be a Debbie Downer. You did good work, Cast will continue to do good work and our students will continue to have awesome teachers.

  2. Chris, thank you for your reflection on the CAST Innovation Week, reading it helped me organize my own thoughts and feeling on the subject of faculty development.

    I agree with a previous comment – it was a NEW event during a busy time. Perhaps a quick survey is in order to see how many activities faculty attended and whether they would be interested in attending more next year and plan accordingly. View it as a pilot experiment.

    I’ve attended two sessions, more would mean a significant change to my regular schedule and I was not willing to do that for a number of reasons, some already mentioned by you and Busy Bee.
    • small kids,
    • already volunteered a lot of my time lately for various HWC activities
    • prefer a self-driven professional development
    • prefer very small groups (2-3 people) for professional development
    • prefer reflective communication on teaching philosophies, struggles and successes (which do not always fall in the category of innovations)

    Call me selfish but I am extremely satisfied with the POGIL session where I was the only attendee, I got the exact information I needed and all my questions were answered (Thank you, Samar!) I was already thinking along the lines of that approach and, during the session, realized that I am reinventing the wheel. The same week I’ve introduced POGIL in two out of three classes I teach and passed the information to a colleague who is planning to try it out this week. What can be a better CAST Innovation Week success story?!

    The only think I regret is not attending the morning coffee and cookies sessions … 😦

  3. Chris, don’t we always complain that district makes us work to pilot something new, and if they don’t see great success the first time, they scrap it and make us start all over on something else? Don’t do that here! We need to use this experience, build on it, modify it, learn from it, and do it better next time! To be honest, I agree with Busy Bee, there are just too many PD sessions all the time. I find myself thinking, “I should stop by CAST today. Oh, wait, I have 800 million things to do, I’ll go next week.” Follow the law of supply and demand – if we have fewer options, demand for particular options will go up! It’s hard to get people to take on more responsibility and engage in more activities. We’ve talked before about bringing back the Thursday afternoon activity period (which probably isn’t feasible given we’re at practically full capacity enrollment), but even then, a lot of folks would look at it as, “Yay! Thursdays off!” Remember the first couple of FDWs that were poorly attended? With new leadership and Jenny’s hard work, it built up. You took over and continued to build it up, and it has become something that people want to volunteer for and want to attend. The same will happen here. I know you are stepping down, but you’ve left a great foundation for the next CAST leader to build upon.

    • The heck with poor attendance. The heck with seeing the glass half empty.
      The CAST glass is half full thanks to the great cast of faculty that have made contributions.
      Perhaps a TED-style recording of these presentations is in order for faculty who were teaching and could not attend.


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