Version 2 June 2006
The Disciplinary Commons was designed for teaching faculty within a single discipline within a specific geographic region to meet monthly, face-to-face to share share knowledge and improve the regional teaching and learning within the discipoine. Course portfolios were used as the central method for structuring both the sequence of topics throughout the year as well as the specific interactions during the meetings. Each participant in the Commons constructed a portfolio centered on a specific course that he or she taught during the academic year. The portfolio was constructed in monthly increments, which were shared, discussed, and critiqued at each monthly meeting. At the end of the academic year, the participants made their entire portfolios public to the wider community of teachers within the discipline.
The Commons was carried out in parallel in two different locations, both within the discipline of Computer Science. Sally Fincher, of the University of Kent at Canterbury led the Commons in the United Kingdom and I led the Commons in the Puget Sound region of Washington state in the United States. Sally and I worked together to develop the basic ideas, rationale, and structure of the Commons, though our region-specific instantiations also reflected our individual conceptions of the project as well as our responses to our individual contexts. This document serves as my course portfolio for the Commons.
Teaching in higher education is governed by a central irony. College teaching is perhaps unique among the major professions, in that its practitioners receive no formal education (in theory or methods) nor practical training or experience in the actual work of the profession (i.e. teaching!) prior to starting their lives within the profession. And, having started, they almost always practice behind closed doors, isolated from the very community of professional colleagues with whom they might (but usually do not) share collective cultural knowledge about how to become better teachers. The Disciplinary Commons project is an attempt to open the doors of the classroom, to not take this irony as a fixed fact of academic life, and to address our human needs to personally and professionally develop, to become better teachers within a community of other teachers.
There are two primary audiences for this portfolio. The first includes the participants in the Disciplinary Commons in the US, and also my partner in this enterprise, Sally Fincher. In this respect it is directed toward the "protected" community of those directly involved. Deliberately and yet somewhat covertly I have been creating my own "portfolio" of the Commons project since the start of the academic year, in a fashion that mirrors what the participants in this project have been doing. Deliberately in that the creation of the same elements as my participants in lockstep with them has been a conscious plan. I have been making these public, and discussing them at each meeting (though occasionally only very briefly). Somewhat covertly, because I have not made obvious nor brought attention to what I have been doing. My hope is that by making this parallel construction overt, that it will deepen the experience for all participants, and lead to continuing interaction between us.
The second audience is other faculty development "brokers" (to use Wenger's term (1988)) who might want to adapt or extend this model, perhaps to other disciplines, within a different context, for different though related goals, and/or using a different structure. It is largely for this audience that I have attempted to provide some narrative coherence, as well as descriptive details, which will hopefully serve as a proxy for the participation (and hence knowledge and context) that we were were not able to share together.
My inspiration for mirroring the work of the participants is what Donald Schon (1987) calls hall of mirrors. What is meant by this in the context of the Commons is that the workshop itself could be viewed as a "course" which I was designing and teaching, and so my "portfolio" could serve both as a model and as a medium of interaction between myself and participants. Just as participants were describing objectives, context, content, and each of the other portfolio parts for their courses each month, I too was trying to articulate and disclose these same elements with respect to the Commons itself. The portfolio increments were artifact/annotation pairs, with the artifact being a descriptive document, for example course objectives, or samples of student work, and the annotation being an interpretive document, explaining the meaning, significance and/or rationale associated with the artifact.
So, for example, during the first session, centered on our Course Objectives, my artifact stated my objectives for the Commons, and my annotation stated why I thought these objectives were important.
I have hyperlinks to these incrementally-generated portfolio elements throughout this document, that were presented each month at the Commons sessions. The URL for each of these documents has http://depts.washington.edu/comgrnd/sessions/ in its prefix, and the intent is that these particular hyperlinked documents be considered essential parts of the portfolio, not peripheral. Additionally, I summarize, comment upon, and occasionally elaborate on these portfolio parts that already exist.
The purpose of this portfolio then is to model, to reflect, to disclose. These practices that I "teach" -- the very practices that the Commons participants engaged in -- are the ones that I use and believe in. They are an inextricable part of me.
As just mentioned, I stated my objectives for the Commons at our first meeting, as my artifact / annotation pair. In essence, my goals are to bring together faculty members in Computer Science from the same region to document, reflect upon, and talk about the teaching and learning in their classrooms. This is because I see teaching (just as I see so many other things) as engaged social practice. It is active, involving our whole beings, it is "craftwork", and, if we are lucky, it is practiced in a community of other craftworkers.
University-level teaching is the only profession that I know of where the qualifying education involves no practice or theory in the profession itself. The presumption is that depth of knowledge within a discipline constitutes the necessary and sufficient conditions (though it is neither) to teach at a university. And this relies primarily on an implicit model of "content delivery" from teacher to student. What makes matters worse is that teachers do much of their practice alone, isolated from the very peers who could help offset the lack of teaching knowledge.
An alternative viewpoint -- and the one on which this workshop is based -- is that the teacher constructs craft knowledge through active practice in the situated context of classroom and university. And through reflection and externalization of this craft knowledge within a group of other practitioners in the discipline, practitioners can develop as teachers through sociocultural knowledge co-construction.
Context more than anything else is what defined this project -- certainly within the US instantiation, and is what led to the objectives. I sketched some important contextual factors at the October meeting, though these are probably meaningful (at best) to those who already share much of this context.
The most important aspect of context influencing the Commons concerned a history of interaction between the faculty of University of Washington, Tacoma's Institute of Technology and Community and Technical Colleges (CTC's) in the South Puget Sound region of Washington state. This relationship was something of a shotgun marriage, at least initially, primarily for two reasons. First, UW Tacoma offers only upper-level and master-level degree programs, and so depends heavily upon the regional community colleges for incoming students. Second, the formation of the Institute of Technology at UWT in 2001 by the Washington state legislature brought with it a set of obligations for interaction between the Institute and the CTC's that would be part of the student "pipeline". Since that time, Computer Science teachers from the CTC's and the Institute have met quarterly, and have initiated two collaborative projects. The first is called "Teaching Fellows", where community college faculty are released from teaching obligations at their home institution and spend one quarter in residence at the Institute, co-teaching one (and sometimes more) courses. The other collaborative effort was an offering of an Object-Oriented Programming course (TCSS 143), where lectures were "delivered" via television (ITV) from the Institute to four participating community colleges.
Although the Fellows is generally considered successful and the ITV effort is not (as reflected in the hallway conversation and the discussion at subsequent quarterly meetings), they both share some common characteristics. On the positive side, both involve faculty from a variety of institutions, meeting face-to-face (sometimes only occasionally, as in the case of ITV). And they involve a shared endeavor of interest to all parties. But on the negative side, both are characterized by the unequal relationship between the faculty at each institution: UWT faculty clearly are in positions of relative dominance. Second, the knowledge that was shared was to a great extent unidirectional. The assumption is that the Institute has the technical knowledge that it pushes outward in order to improve the technical knowledge of CTC faculty, which in turn leads to improved teaching and learning, and hence a better pipeline of students. That the structural aspects of these joint efforts would embed the established power relationships between community colleges and the university should be unsurprising. What is a testament to the integrity and sincere desire for communication and mutual development of many of the faculty who participated -- at all institutions - is that despite these structural impediments there developed friendship, mutual respect, and camaraderie among participants.
I stated some of my underlying assumptions on which the Commons project was based during the January meeting. But this left tacit most of my rationale for designing this project as I did. I try to make this rationale explicit in this section.
This workshop is based on my belief (grounded most firmly in the work of Dewey (1916)) that education has as its goal the full human development of the individual, and that this human development is the basis for a democratic society. As Feenberg states "The goal of a good society should be to enable human beings to realize their potentialities to the fullest" (2002, p19). Within the context of faculty development, I begin with the assumption that teachers (and by extension, their students) are moral, creative, autonomous agents with responsibility for making choices about how to teach and learn. Such choices are always made in response to the specifics of the context-dependent, lived events of teacher's daily lives (McLellan, 1996), and are carried out within communities of other practitioners embedded within and interacting with larger institutional and organizational social arrangements (Wenger, 1998). The argument related to "Hall of Mirrors" suggests that our lives and those of our students are inextricably linked, that the freedoms that we ourselves win -- freedoms to think, to creatively bring our wisdom to bear on the problems of life -- might equally be won by our students. But this will require deliberateness and planfulness on our part. This emphasis on participant autonomy, on shared practice, and on individual and collective development meant that my role was not as "content expert" within the discipline (though in my other professional roles, having this content expertise is important). Rather, my role was to facilitate reflective practice, encourage autonomy, and model mutual critique and peer review.
As citizens of modern, industrial societies, and particularly as teachers of students who will be working with technology, the models and metaphors that we share in conceptualizing the teaching enterprise will shape our collective thinking and hence the developmental trajectories of our students and ourselves. And we should particularly pay attention to how these models and metaphors are embedded in the discourse concerning students within our region.
The dominating discourse concerning the students that the CTC's and the Institute share describes students as objects of control within an industrial order. Students are "product" that flow through an educational "pipeline." Students are acted upon, instrumentalities toward someone else's ends. They are work units in an assembly line. And in becoming so, they are removed from the contexts that give their lives richness and meaning. "Workers on the assembly line are not essentially members of a community, nor are they merely a source of muscle power as a slave might be: insofar as possible, they are components of the machinery" (Feenberg, 2002, p179).
This view of education, particularly technical education, of the person-as-part has a long history in the United States (reviewed in (Kantor, 1986)). The Massachusetts commissioner of education, David Snedden, stated in an article in the New Republic in 1915 "Vocational education is, irreducibly and without unnecessary mystification, education for the pursuit of an occupation" (p. 41, quoted in (Braundy, 2004). This reflects larger concerns involving not just the technological worker, but the role of citizens in a technologically advanced civilization. "We are engaged ... in the transformation of the entire world, ourselves, included, into `standing reserves,' raw materials to be moblibized in technical processes" (Heidegger, 1977) quoted in (Feenberg, 2002).
This implies that we as teachers are instrumentalities of the techno-industrial machine, but one level "up": part-producing parts. And this metaphor of industrial production structures our conceptualizations of "the problem" that community college and university faculty face. The problem is low production (i.e. of technically-trained graduates), which in turn determines our relationship to one another: together we comprise the pipeline, we meet only at the joints (small and thin interfaces), and our only collective task is to make sure that these interfaces are fit closely and seamlessly together to minimize leakage. Or to use another metaphor, we are the learning factory, and we have to ensure the quality of our product, passed along the educational assembly line.
Lest we think ourselves as teachers somehow immunized from an instrumental role in a technological world order, the historian of science and technology, David Noble, provides a cautionary perspective. In Digital Diploma Mills, Noble discusses distance education as part of a larger effort to commodify education into portable, competitively marketed "learning units" that can be aggresively marketed to student-clients, thus deskilling most of the professoriate (Noble 2001, Noble 2002). "The commodification of education requires ... the disintegration and distillation of the educational experience into discrete, reified, and ultimately saleable things or packages of things" (2002).
I recoil against these perspectives of ourselves and our students, both inhumane and anti-democratic. Parts provide function; it would be absurd, inconceivable for parts to reflect upon the machine that makes them, or the system of which they are a part. Irrational to imagine parts wishing to refashion the system in which they function. And yet such a reflective practice (Schon 1987, Dewey 1910), is perhaps our main means for reconceptualizing ourselves and the system in which we exist.
We can replace these industrial models and metaphors of education with those consistent with a Deweyian view of human development. Noble characterizes education as essentially involving a coming into being through conscious awareness of oneself and one's relationship with others (2002):
Education is a process that necessarily entails an interpersonal (not merely interactive) relationship between people -- student and teacher (and student and student) that aims at individual and collective self-knowledge. ... Education is a process of becoming for all parties, based upon mutual recognition and validation and centering upon the formation and evolution of identity. The actual content of the educational experience is defined by this relationship between people and the chief determinant of quality education is the establishment and enrichment of this relationship.This allows us as teachers to supplant shop-floor discourse with a new language so as to characterize our relationships to one another: colleague, partner, collaborator, critic, friend.
As to the specifics of how this translates into a concrete course of action, the predominant influence concerns my experience in co-organizing the Bootstrapping Research in Computer Science Education project. This project had as its goals the improvement of the state of Computer Science education research via the development of skills (in the design, conduct and management of research) of Computer Science educators, and the establishment of research relationships that extend beyond the duration of the project. The main mechanism for achieving these goals was through a pair of intensive 5-day workshops among a cohort of 20 Computer Science faculty members on year apart, with joint work on a shared research study spanning the year between workshops. What this workshop demonstrated was the power of bringing people together face-to-face to engage in collaborative learning on projects of mutual interest. I thus hoped to replicate some of the feel of the Bootstrapping project if not part of the structure.
In the next section, I describe how the context in which the workshops developed and my philosophical assumptions led to particular structural design elements of the workshop.
An overview of the content of the project is given in the Sessions Overview document. This provides outlines for each monthly session (with each "topic" entry being a hyperlink to the corresponding session outline), links to the portfolio increments that participants were to prepare each month (detailed in the Portfolio Deliverables document), and a set of associated readings for each month.
In order to link the context and objectives to the content of the workshop, it will be necessary to point out what I call the key design elements of the workshop. These design elements reflect the deliberate choices that in sum characterized the workshop and determined its content at a detailed level.
Course Portfolio: The central design choice was to use the course portfolio as the main vehicle. I credit Sally Fincher of the University of Kent at Canterbury with suggesting the use of course portfolios when I described to her my desire to transfer some of the structural elements of Bootstrapping into my regional setting.
The course portfolio, well known as a method for advancing teaching practice and improving student learning (Hutchings, 1998), is a set of documents that "focuses on the unfolding of a single course, from conception to results" (op cit, p.13). The purpose of the course portfolio "is in revealing how teaching practice and student performance are connected with each other" (Bernstein, 1998, p77). Course portfolios typically include a course's learning objectives, its contents and structure, a rationale for how this course design meets its objectives, and the course's role in a larger degree program. Importantly, the portfolio also includes evaluations of student work throughout the term, indicating the extent to which students are meeting course objectives and the type and quantity of feedback they are receiving. Not only should a course portfolio describe the "what" and the "how" of a course, it should say something about the "why". Further, its empirical focus on student work should lead the portfolio author to insights into how this course might be taught differently in the future so as to lead to greater student learning of the important objectives. Each participant in the seminar committed to construct a course portfolio for a course that they taught during the 2005-2006 academic year that is on the path for a baccalaureate degree in a Computer Science-related program.
The course portfolio served a number of purposes simultaneously. First, it provided a structure for one year's worth of monthly meetings. Each meeting was focused on a single aspect of the course portfolio: objectives (September), context (October), content (November), and so on. Second, because the course portfolio was centered on the situated activity of an ongoing course, it kept individual reflection and group discussion grounded in the empirical realities of our lived experiences, rather than the generalized (and often meaningless) abstractions of the more common teaching portfolio (Selden, 1997). Third, the process of writing the portfolio inherently required engagement in a number of reflective and collective teaching practices, from introspection about basic assumptions about learning within the discipline, to systematic analyses of student work, to peer observation of one another's classrooms. And fourth, it provided an archival set of documents that represented a collective effort at bringing scholarship to the act of teaching. In this regard, it embodies the ideals of scholarly teaching as defined by Lee Shulman, President of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: "a scholarship of teaching will entail a public account of some or all of the full act of teaching -- vision, design, enactment, outcomes, and analysis -- in a manner susceptible to critical review by the teacher's professional peers, and amenable to productive employment in future work by members, of that same community" (Shulman, 1998).
Safety first, risky disclosure later: this was the primary structuring principle in determining the order in which portfolio increments were constructed and shared, and was suggested by Sally Fincher. The reasoning was that lower-risk documents included those that we are accustomed to sharing -- syllabi, assignments, course objectives -- and that there was little risk in mutual disclosure early in the project before participants had the opportunity to develop trust. What is riskier to share -- such as how we grade, the work that our students do, and our closely held assumptions about learning and teaching -- can best be disclosed once we have established trust, and agreed to keep mutual confidences.
Face-to-face: Another central design element was frequent face-to-face meetings, afforded by the locality of the participants. These face-to-face meetings make possible the human relationships that Noble describes above, provide a natural context for mutual engagement (Wenger, 1998), and are an essential characteristic of successful cooperative learning groups (Johnson et al., 1992).
Making the tacit explicit: Within the context of the Commons, the structure of working in a face-to-face manner provided the context for making explicit our folk pedagogies (Bruner, 1996), those tacit beliefs that we each hold about how our students think and learn that largely determines the ways in which we teach our courses. And, having made them explicit, they were available for critique and change.
As Karl Popper states (1987, p120)
There is a world of difference between holding a belief, or expecting something, and using human language to say so. The difference is that only if spoken out, and thus objectivized, does a belief become criticizable. Before it is formulated in language, I may be one with my belief: the belief is part of my acting, part of my behavior. If formulated, it may be criticized and found to be erroneous; in which case I may be able to discard it.
Face-to-face interaction also provides a natural context in which transactive discussion can occur (Teasley, 1991), key to making the tacit explicit. Teasley borrowed this term from Berkowitz and Gibbs (1983), who analyzed the kind of speech that leads to moral development. "Transactive discussion ... refers to a type of interaction in which each child uses his or her own conversational turn to operate on the reasoning of the partner or to clarify his or her own ideas" (Teasley, 1991, p362). What Teasely found was that students who engage in transactive reasoning, whether alone or in pairs, are better able to engage in critical reasoning about complex scientific proceesses. What the presence of pairs does is to provide a social context, with its attendent obligations for coherence and externalization of speech, that increases the likelihood that transactive reasoning will occur over the individual working in isolation.
Defamiliarization: the portfolio allows us to explicitly focus on those aspects of our teaching that, to a great extent, we have taken for granted (i.e. the underlying reasons for our major course choices, our course objectives). By doing so we defamiliarize ourselves with our courses, thereby "making it strange", and allowing us to look at our courses as though through someone else's eyes. Bell (2005) describes this defamiliarization as necessary for gaining a deeper understanding of what we take for granted. This is part of a process that I call "unframing", that is, reexamining our familiar frames of reference that constrain and bias our design of everyday things. As Lionni poignantly illustrates in the children's story Fish is Fish (Lionni, 1970), our everyday frames of reference can largely determine our understandings, as when the protagonist fish vividly imagines a world of fish-cows, fish-people, and fish-objects when hearing of the dry-land world described by his frog friend who ventures from water to land and back.
Peer Review: Another important design element was the reinforcement of peer review as a key aspect of the teaching enterprise. There were several ways in which this was enacted throughout the project. First, during the week after each meeting, I would spend 30-60 minutes debriefing the session (usually by phone) with the person who hosted the session at their home insitution. Portfolio increments were also peer reviewed during the meetings, sometimes in plenary, sometimes in small groups, and sometimes in review pairs. During the last two months, participants also peer reviewed portfolio drafts via email, and during the last month, several of participants did portfolio reviews and/or had their portfolio reviewed by one of the Commons participants from the other side of the Atlantic. Finally, during the winter months, participants were both observer and observee in mutual peer observations in one another's classrooms.
Grounding philosophy in lived (and documented) practice: An additional design element was the importance for participants to directly examine and interrogate the documents that comprise the physical artifacts used in teaching a course in order to uncover these folk pedagogies. As Bob Broad states in his text on developing authentic assessments in education (2003, p135) "people (including instructors) do not have satisfactory access to their educational values by sitting and reflecting on them. Instead, people need to enter into discussion and debate of actual, specific performances in an effort to reach decisions about them (i.e., to judge them)."
Rotating location: Another design element included rotating the location among the home institutions of each of the project participants. Given the context of inequality in the relationship between the university and the community colleges, the symbolic importance of coming to each person's place of work should not be underestimated, as it puts us all on equal footing. Further, it provided insight into the physical settings in which we each work, allowing us to experience the situatedness of our particular contexts.
To a great extent, many of the design elements above are both content and method. The course portfolio is a case in point: not only did participants construct portfolio increments each month, but they brought the increments to the monthly meetings for sharing and discussing. A few additional explicitly "method" elements are worth comment.
Monthly "routines": In Leinhardt, Weidman, and Hammond's study of expertise in teaching, they note that successful teachers establish "routines", or normalized structures for structuring interaction within the classroom (Leinhardt et al., 1ef "hall of mirrors" for the current Commons topic, discussion of the increment, readings, and host for the next session.
Interactions: In general, I varied the interactions that we used when discussing the portfolio increments, between review pairs, small groups, and plenary. I thought that plenary was important for the initial sessions on course objectives and context, both to build group identification and so that we all understood the courses that each person would be exploring throughout the year. Plenary also seemed appropriate to use for discussions on our philosophies for teaching our individual course, and for presentation of our final portfolios. Plenary sessions were round-robin in format, where each person had 5-10 minutes to present their portfolio increment. Small groups of 3 and 4 were used for discussing the specifics of course content and instructional methods, where each person in the group became the subject of focus for a pro-rated share of the time. This allowed more attention to specifics than would be possible from plenary yet more viewpoints and feedback than possible with pairs. I used pairs for examinations of student work and grading; I reasoned that understanding one another's student work required the kind of close work that pairs enable, and allowed more time for each person to talk through their examination of student learning.
Food: Eating together establishes community. Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate (1992) demonstrates the symbolic value of food in creating conviviality and shared bonds. We had food at each meeting, provided by the host for that session, and made sure to start with food and to take a food break at some point during the session.
Commitment: One of my key concerns was how to sustain the commitment of the participants throughout the duration of the project. I perceived the setting to be one where, if more than a small subset of participants "opted out", i.e. stopped contributing their portfolio increments, that the remainder of participants would be tempting to opt out as well. Why work hard within a group setting when others are not? In this regard, I saw the Commons as being a public good (Ostrom and Ostrom, 1977) that we were creating, and thus free riding -- participating in the sessions but not contributing to commons "provisioning" through portfolio contributions -- was a distinct possibility.
I addressed this in a few ways. First, the commitment to completing the course portfolio was an explicit part of agreeing to participate. Second, I secured funding from the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges and the University of Washington, Tacoma's Institute of Technology for a course release for the community college faculty in exchange for their participation, thus setting up an obligation to reciprocate for the course release (Mauss, 1967). And third, by sharing portfolio increments as an explicit aspect of our monthly meetings, we were mutually accountable to one another on a regular basis. This enabled people to inspire one another to continue to make an effort, and made it more difficult to free ride under cover of darkness.
This project received continuous peer review in two distinct forms. I mean "peer review" not in the sense of a research paper being blind (or double blind) peer reviewed as part of the selection process necessary for publication. Rather, I mean peer review in the sense in which one might send a research paper to colleagues for commentary and critique prior to the selection review. This is also the sense in which the peer observations were carried out among pairs of participants, as well as the paired peer reviews of portfolios.
The first form of review, as mentioned above, was a monthly debriefing of the Commons sessions by the session host (i.e. one of the participants). The session outline is used to structure the debriefing. Each session topic is discussed, starting from the first topic of the session, and moving sequentially through the topics in the order in which they occurred in the session. The debriefer and I each discussed our impressions of how well the activity/discussion associated with each topic achieved its purpose with respect to the session and to the project as a whole. After all topics were discussed, I asked the debriefer "do you have any other comments you would like to make about the session or the project as a whole?" I found this to be a "sanity check" on the sessions, and it helped me to address any concerns that a participant raised at the next meeting.
The second form of review was the debriefing and planning phone meetings that Sally Fincher and I would have before and after each of our sessions. This allowed us the opportunity to articulate some of our reasoning behind particular components of the meetings, and also to see how differences in context led to differences in the approach that we might take to the same topic.
The remarks here are preliminary, as Sally Fincher and I will do an extensive evaluation of this project during the 2006-07 academic year. We will be using a variety of data including the final portfolios, surveys and interviews of our participants. These remarks therefore primarily raise questions rather than answer them.
At the midway point in the project, for the session on Student Learning, I had mirrored participants' exploration of empirical evidence for achievement of course learning goals with a discussion on evidence of participant achievement of Commonsgoals. My raw data included the portfolio increments participants had generated to date, my reflective notes following each meeting, my debriefing notes with participants and with Sally Fincher.
Based on this, I believed that people were engaged in meaningful conversations on teaching within our classrooms. Everyone contributed to discussion at each of the meetings, and each person had the opportunity to have their portfolio increment discussed in some form. Attendance was virtually 100% at each meeting with rare exception. And, despite my leaving most meetings feeling that there was not enough time for discussion, informal feedback and debriefings indicated that participants were finding the sessions helpful in learning about the teaching and learning occuring in one another's classrooms as well as reflecting on their own teaching.
What was less clear was the extent to which participants were willing to critically challenge one another's teaching choices as a means to deepen individual and collective understanding. For instance, I wondered why there were not more explicit "why" questions during the plenary sessions regarding particular teaching choices made by individuals, as there had been when Qi Wang and I mutually critiqued one another's portfolios during the previous year when we ran a 2-person pilot of the Commons. I was concerned that people might be pseudo-agreeing as a way to avoid direct challenges: "It was not until we had worked with the teachers for 18 months that we and the teachers could be said to constitute a community of practice with a joint enterprise. Prior to this, interactions among the teachers during the work sessions that we conducted with them frequently involved what Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth (2000) term pseudo-agreements that serve to mask differences in viewpoints" (Cobb et al., 2003).
Subsequent to the mid-point session, a few artifacts related to goal achievement particularly stand out. The first of these is the summary of our discussion on What We Value based on our examinations of the grading that we each do in our courses (though note that this artifact is only accesible to the participants). I found people's comments particularly insightful about their goals and philosophies. It validates the stance that a useful way for interrogating our own beliefs about teaching and learning is empirically and indirectly, by looking at the ways in which these beliefs are already embedded in the interactions and documents that we have created.
Another important artifact is the Peer observation debrief during our debrief of our paired observations. I was struck by the way in which the experience of being observed - so often done in a high-stakes and sharply judgemental fasion - could be reconfigured into a mechanism for collaborative inquiry. As one participant stated "The observation form we used was really helpful. Our school should use it. It makes the process feel collaborative, like the other person is there to help you improve." The comments also reflected an understanding that this form of critical collaboration involves skills quite different from expertise within the discipline.
The final artifact of significance is the talk that we co-wrote and presented at the Pacific Northwest Higher Education Teaching & Learning Conference. The format that we used to co-write the talk slides in a distributed fashion worked remarkably well: agree at our meeting on a talk outline, different people commit to addressing one of the points on the outline, and one person merges the individual contributions and provided design coherence. I thought that the talk itself also went well. It provided me with a perspective on different people's understandings of the impact of the project. I found the debriefing afterward to be particular important - no longer did it seem that we were pseudo-agreeing. Rather, we mixed both praise and criticism for the purposes of mutual improvement. Finally, everyone's attendance at the conference was symbolically important: it symbolized in a single event people's commitment to the project throughout the entire year, it provided a focus for joint creation, and it served to provide collective closure on the project above and beyone individual completion of portfolios.
Thanks first to the participants in this project - it has been a wonderful journey. Thanks as well to Sally Fincher, not only for her initial idea ot use course portfolios, but for her heroic efforts in securing funding so that she could run a Commons in the UK concurrently, thus providing us the opportunity to collaborate closely. Thanks go to the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges for their ongoing support of this project, financial and otherwise, and particularly to Julie Jacob with the State Board, without whom this project would never have been realized. Thanks as well go to Larry Crum and Orlando Baiocchi, the Directors of the UWT Institute of Technology who both provided material support and wholehearted encouragement.
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