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An Administrator Reflects on Technology | Susan Christopher

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Susan Christopher-Assistant Dean, Director of Enrollment

Susan Christopher-Assistant Dean, Director of Enrollment

The rainbow wheel of doom was circling at a slow speed on my computer screen. As I waited for an automated report to assemble itself into the format I had requested, I felt increasingly irritated:

“Why is this taking so long? This computer is so slow!”

And even after the rainbow wheel disappeared:

“How come this report doesn’t provide all the data I need in one place?!?”

Then, I glanced at the message on my new coffee mug:

“Breathe in. Breath Out.”

With a deep exhalation, I tried to remember when I was first introduced to the magic of the data report I was now so impatiently awaiting.  I recalled my amazement that in an instant, I was provided with a long list of up-to-date facts about individual applicants that I could filter and sort in endless ways.  I had been delighted that I had easy and timely access to thousands of records, and that I could display an overview of our application process with a few quick strokes of the keyboard.  Breathtaking, impressive, and so efficient!

As I glanced again at my coffee mug, I reflected on the contrast between that initial sense of astonishment and my current sense of annoyance and frustration.  I considered how remarkable it truly is that so many dimensions of empirical knowledge about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni can be entered in and drawn out from a single location in cyberspace.  How had I lost that sense of appreciation?  When did I stop marveling at the wonder of technological efficiency and start grumbling about how slow and inadequate these tools are in living up to my need for data?

I suppose the answer lies in our collective expectations about technological tools.  Given the astounding advancements in computing capabilities that most of us in higher education administration have experienced over the past few decades, we assume that our computers will continue to gain speed and capacity as we create the need for ever-more elaborate data presentations.  We expect quick and reliable answers to endless questions posed by those from inside as well as outside the College.  And I think we have grown to rely on these tools as extensions of ourselves, of our own capabilities: any struggles with technology may be perceived as a weakness in administrative abilities.

Office in India

Office in India

In a final exhalation, I reminded myself that administrators only one generation before me had managed to oversee admissions processes and track student enrollment without the aid of any computers.  Indeed, that is undoubtedly still the case in many places in the world.  I chuckled as a memorable image from a recent trip to India came to mind.

While taking an unofficial walking tour of the University of Rajasthan, our guide, Acharya, led us through a central administrative building.  In office after office, we saw enormous stacks of paper.  There were stacks on shelves and stacks on desks; there were stacks inside cabinets; there were whole rooms that appeared to be devoted to storing stacks of paper.  As a fairly recent college graduate, Acharya explained that if he requested his records, a clerk would have to manually search through stacks of papers like these.  It might take months to get a single copy of a required document.  His explanation revealed no sense of frustration or outrage, just calm acceptance.

So I put a copy of that photograph on my desk, next to my coffee mug.  When the rainbow wheel next appears on my computer screen, I intend to recalibrate my response.  I will imagine that someone is moving from one office to another, combing through innumerable stacks of paper, and assembling an astonishing array of data for my use.  I will remember that others perform similar tasks with much less powerful tools.  I will be grateful for the remarkable technology that allows me to complete complex tasks on a daily basis.

And I will graciously accept the gift of a multicolored reminder to simply breathe while I wait.

 

Written by collegialconnections

April 14, 2014 at 12:03 pm

“Virtual” Community | Rachel Lefkowitz

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Image

Rachel Lefkowitz is the Coordinator of Educational Leadership MA Program and the Special Assistant to the Dean of School of Education

How often have you heard someone deplore Twitter as the downfall of writing? It happened to me –again—just the other day, when a former teacher carefully explained that because of Twitter, no one stays on topic in a sustained way. I feel that this is a lot to put on Twitter. People used to blame Sesame Street for shortening children’s attention spans by creating too short intervals of drama. Maybe we move, think, and write more quickly now than we used to, but I’m not sure that Twitter and Sesame Street are wholly to blame. For example, there was a time in the olden days when we wrote in short little bursts, a time that was also known for elegant formal writing. How different, I wonder, is Twitter from a telegram?

Consider this example, from the 1960s:

MISS MARGARET BHAL= POCAHONTAS ARK=

CONGRATULATIONS WE ARE VERY PROUD OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT

IN WINNING THE SOUTHWESTERN PIANO AUDITION=

WINTHROP ROCKEFELLER GOVERNOR=

If you remove the address and signature, it’s tweetable. As is this gem:

May 5th 1945

International Moscow via Mackay Radio

To: Mr Joseph Bard

Brooklyn NY

We congratulate you with setting up the banner of victory upon Berlin by the Red Army = Signed Family Phillip Berdichevsky

The first telegram, of congratulations, and the second one, reflecting world events, could easily be on Twitter today, though we would write them a little differently. (If you are interested in recasting your tweets as telegrams, here are best practices.) Both forms limit how you construct your message. One big big difference between them is that telegrams were for special occasions, whereas Twitter is an every day if not every hour sort of thing. Another difference is that a telegram goes to one person, who then has to spread the news. When you tweet, you share your thoughts or news with everyone you know.

Some people don’t like that because it seems self-promoting and -aggrandizing. But social media can be about more than the individual –the way the School of Education’s Twitter feedFacebook page, and blog are. You send us your individual news, accomplishments, or thoughts; we combine them with other people’s news and what we get is a picture of who we are as a community. Scroll through our feeds or check them regularly, and you will begin to see what values we hold and represent, and what goals we treasure.

I love this for two reasons. First, it puts concrete examples to fairly abstract concepts. I frequently stand on a soapbox in SOE meetings and declare that it’s fine to say that we are all about Leadership, Equity, and Collaboration, but the power of the words comes when we show how we practice these values. How do we see and define leadership? How do we collaborate and embody equity? Just as any musical group has its own sound, so we have a distinct take on these qualities. And we can share our interpretation not just by describing it, but showing it in action. Social media is the mirror that reflects that action.

I also love social media because it makes another hub of community for our school. One hub is, of course, the classroom, where you meet and learn with your colleagues. Another hub is the wide world, where you may work with other alums. But social media is broader. It is a place where current or prospective students can learn what our graduates do with their degrees. It is a place where graduates can see what their professors are working on now. It is a place where we can share a video our organization made or news of an upcoming event. From social media, we get a wonderful sense of the variety and depth of our work, both here at Mills, and in the world.

Twitter hasn’t kept me from being able to write, for example, a 700 word blog. Twitter has made it much easier for me to tap into the community I work with. It is a real and compelling reflection of who we are, and why we are unique.

 

Written by collegialconnections

September 25, 2013 at 11:56 am

Social Media & The School of Education | Rachel Lefkowitz

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Rachel Lefkowitz
Special Assistant to the Dean of the School of Education at Mills College

Once, when I lived in Massachusetts, the gas company sent me a flyer with three images on it, asking me which one I thought I’d seen before. I was pretty sure I’d never seen any of them, but I liked the image of the person trudging through the snow, so I checked it. A year later, that image appeared on a notice about how important it is to shovel your sidewalk after a snow storm. I remember this in part because I was right: I had never seen any of the images before; they had been doing market research. But it was also the first time that I saw the results of a survey. Too often, our careful work and deliberate thinking on surveys just fly into the stratosphere of survey-land, never to be heard of again.

Not so at the School of Education. Because of the input we received from faculty, staff, and students to a survey, we have actively changed what we are doing with social media. For example, we learned that more people used LinkedIn (60%) and Google+ (40%) than we had guessed. We’ve increased our posts to LinkedIn, and hope to start a Google+ page soon. Respondents asked for timely event announcements: Now, our Facebook page and Twitter feed should keep you pretty well in the loop. Most importantly, we found that people want to learn more about us on Collegial Connections (42%) and a website (78%). You are here, so you’ve probably already noticed that we are posting more frequently, and Marketing is working with us on a new website.

Everyone who responded stressed that social media at the School of Education should be about promoting what we do and think about professionally –whether that’s professional achievements, links to interesting articles, or events. Social media helps spread the word about what we do at the School of Education, and how we use our degrees or credentials once we leave. It’s how we recruit new students and how we stay connected with each other.

Everyone can help keep our social media vibrant. You may think that your work isn’t newsworthy. But if you let us know that you were just elected your school’s union rep, that you just moved to a new school, or that you got a new job at an agency or hospital, we will share your joy and current and prospective students will see what they can do with their Mills education. If you write a blog post about your work, you may help others with your good ideas. Tell us about an article you just read and loved, with a one-sentence frame about why you found it interesting or helpful. Send us an inspirational quote. Everything is important!

This means, if you are lucky, one day I’ll write a post about the intricacies of databases. In the meantime, please send your ideas to soemedia@mills.edu.

Written by collegialconnections

October 24, 2012 at 10:52 am

A New Year | Vicki LaBoskey

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Vicki LaBoskey
Professor of Education

And so we begin again. In many ways the start of this new academic year is very much like every other year—the same excitements and the same hesitations. But there are two key differences that stand out for me—one personal, one public. What I just realized the other day is that I am embarking on my 40th year as an educator! Certainly not something I imagined would ever happen when I entered my third grade classroom in East Los Angeles for the first time in the fall of 1972—and certainly not so quickly—in some ways it is forever ago, of course, but in others only yesterday!

I also cannot help but think about the fact that this is an election year—an election year that seems very significant to me in many ways, but then, aren’t they all? The combination of these two circumstances has given me pause to contemplate, even more than usual, what matters most in this work that I/we are doing? How should I spend what must surely be one of the final years of my life’s work, especially given the times in which I am doing it? What should my focus be?

I wish I had something more grandiose to offer up, something more innovative, cutting edge, technological, specific. But I am afraid that after all this time—all this practical, theoretical, empirical work—all that I have experienced and read and heard in and out of the educational domain, I am more convinced than ever that the answers, the solutions are much more basic. I truly believe that the only things that can save us and our planet are human connections—connections that embrace, nurture, and embolden the inner spirits, joy, creativity, courage, care, and multiple intelligences of every child and adult with whom we make contact, and certainly with those whom we presume, at whatever level and in whatever context, to educate.

One of the reasons I am so committed to this right now is that in the forty years I have been teaching, I believe that we have gotten further and further away from this, which is especially tragic at the elementary level. An over-emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing via agendas/laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have caused us to rigidify, dehumanize, and narrow the elementary curriculum. Children are being forced to learn to read and compute at earlier and earlier ages, often at the expense of everything else, and in more and more mechanical ways.

As a result, my personal aims for this year and the remainder of my career are to emphasize, even more than I have been, creativity, care, critical thinking, curiosity, initiative—the joy of learning.  As children learn and develop the knowledge and skills they must have, they can and should do so through hands-on/minds-on curricula that is engaging, enriching, and responsive to the learning strengths and needs of the particular children with whom we are working. We have to observe and listen carefully to what they are actually doing, saying, and understanding, and then respond appropriately, over and over again. And we have to let them know every day and in every way that they are wondrous, brilliant, and beautiful—our one true hope.

Written by collegialconnections

September 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Admissions, and Social Media

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Susan Christopher, Director of Enrollment

I was asked to reflect on what I’m thinking about this fall as the Director of Enrollment in the School of Education at Mills.  In this role, I serve as a resource and advocate for those who are in the process of applying to our programs.  I enjoy the opportunity to meet undergrads just starting to explore careers in education as well as experienced professionals; I hear from teachers in local schools as well as from international scholars.  The diversity in interests and backgrounds of our applicants is impressive.

Throughout the admissions process, I get to know some of our applicants quite well, so it’s a pleasure to hear that they’ve decided to enroll and to know they’ll become part of our community.  And each August, it is rewarding to welcome the new student cohorts as they arrive on campus to begin their studies at Mills.  But after that first week of orientation, I’m not likely to see these new folks very often. I’m saying “good-bye” just as others are saying “hello.”

During the fall, when other staff and faculty are starting to forge relationships with these new students, I turn my attention to meeting our future students.  At a time when faculty and staff are engaged in new projects and new classes are underway, I am answering questions from those who are inquiring about the following year and beyond.

So as I shift my attention to Fall 2013, I hope to find new ways to communicate what’s special about the School of Education with a new collection of future students.  In my phone conversations with prospective applicants, I sometimes wish I could better capture the wisdom and enthusiasm of our students, the dedication and vitality of our faculty, and the commitment to equity and social justice that all of us share in this unique community.

It can be quite daunting to serve as the first point of contact and to adequately describe all that our programs have to offer.  I have lots of material to draw from, of course, and our visitors are always impressed when they take a campus tour, sit in on a class, and/or meet with faculty and students.  Our monthly Information Sessions will soon be under way, and I know they will continue to be a highly effective means of introducing someone to the School of Education.  But I wish we could provide this experience to a broader audience.

In the coming year, I want to explore how technology might help us replicate what happens at these monthly events.  For those who cannot attend in person, it would be helpful to provide a digital version, but I don’t want to simply convey factual information with talking heads.  I want to capture the feelings that are expressed, the passions that are shared, the warmth of the faculty and staff who welcome our visitors.

So, here’s one of the things I’m thinking about this fall: how can we best use technology, including new social media, to most accurately and effectively communicate who we are to prospective students?  More specifically, how do we use platforms that may be viewed as impersonal, anonymous forms of communication, to portray the warm, personalized, and undeniably human forms of interaction that characterize this community?

I also hope to broaden the audience itself.  Many of the new students who were welcomed to campus in August initially found their way to us through friends, family members, or colleagues who recommended Mills.  These personal and professional networks will continue to serve as the primary means by which new students discover us.  We now have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and applicants use our website to learn more once they’ve heard about us. But do those platforms best represent what we’re really about?  Under the leadership of our Dean and with the guidance of our new VP for Enrollment Management, I hope to find ways to expand our networks and identify prospective students who might not otherwise find their way to our website.

I invite anyone reading this to participate in these ongoing conversations about recruitment and admissions. I’m reachable by phone (510-430-3170) and email (education@mills.edu), so please be in touch if you have any suggestions.

Written by collegialconnections

September 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Thoughts and Hopes

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Dean Kathy Schultz asked everyone at the School of Education to think about what they would like to accomplish this year –big dreams, small goals, or something else entirely. Below are some of our faculty’s and staff’s thoughts and hopes.

Kathy Schultz. This will be my third year as Dean of the Mills College School of Education. No longer new, there are many projects I’m excited about as we deepen our programs and expand our horizons.  At the college, I’m advising an LLC (Living and Learning Community for first year students) focused on Social Justice. Our goal is to provide opportunities for Mills students to learn more about Oakland and to find ways to contribute to the community. I’m also excited about our continuing projects with the Oakland Unified School District, which includes my involvement with the preschool and transitional kindergarten programs, my planning for a STEM-focused teacher residency program, lesson study with teachers of mathematics, English, and History, as well as various other professional development programs and research projects. We have plans to extend The Center for Urban Schools and Partnerships (CUSP) to broaden both our reach, and the number of students across campus and colleagues across the Bay Area who are involved in our programs.

Currently, education is threatened by many forces, including deep budget cuts, and there is much work to be done. As a school of education, I look forward to our continuing to take a lead in this work through our deep and considered belief in equity and social justice.

Susan Christopher. One of the things I’ll be thinking about this fall: how can we best use technology, including new social media, to most accurately and effectively communicate who we are to prospective students?  More specifically, how do we use platforms that may be viewed as impersonal, anonymous forms of communication to portray the warm, personalized, and undeniably human forms of interaction that characterizes this community?

Susan Marchant. As part of our School of Education curriculum, Child Life graduate students engage in revolutionary research in an effort to continue to uncover the intrinsic value of child life services in the healthcare environment. This research demonstrates the positive impact on the overall quality of care for children and families receiving these services.  Additionally, during times of shrinking resources and limited budgets, Child life services have been shown to minimize anesthesia costs, resulting in cost savings.  I hope that this valuable research will continue to be developed and submitted for publication and for workshop and conference presentations in order to educate not only healthcare providers but healthcare consumers as well.

Julie Nicholson. I am going to work on so many things this year, but among the most interesting to me is strengthening my use of social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, and Edmodo) pedagogically in the policy, leadership, and play courses. Tomas Galguera and I are writing a paper about how we are integrating these tools into our classrooms and it has inspired me to go deeper, truly thinking about the use of social media as requiring new literacies and how we can support the development of these literacies into our coursework in meaningful ways that strengthens students’ facilities with digital communication and supports such skills as efficient information gathering, professional networking, and coalition building.

Greg Tanaka. I continue to harbor a strong hunch that the next 12 months will bring with it a collapse of capital markets and with that, a rare opportunity to remake the social infrastructure of the U.S. like never before. What role, then, might education and education research play–in renewing the democracy, connecting individuals to each other, and providing a wonderful space and era for humanism and the arts? Just my gut sense.

Tomas Galguera. Jennifer, a graduate of our Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools program, sent an email to Anna Richert and me at the beginning of the summer wondering about the possibility of finishing the work she had been doing toward her Master’s degree in Education with an Emphasis in Teaching (MEET). Her partner was completing a residency in Washington DC, and Jennifer had obtained an internship in the US Department in Education. Her original plan was to spend her summer in Washington and then return to the Bay Area to finish her degree while teaching. As is often the case in life, Jennifer’s plans no longer fit her needs and desires, and she decided to stay in Washington DC. In her message, Jennifer asked about the possibility of continuing her research and work and meeting all the requirements for her degree without having to return to attend courses. Unfortunately, after some consideration, Anna and I decided this would not be feasible.

I have thought about distance learning for some time, especially since I rely on a web content management tool (Tiki Wiki) and wikis to teach. However, with the combination of Jennifer’s request and several recent publications regarding distance learning, my goal for the next academic year is to come up with a model for distance learning that builds upon and contains the features that make programs so unique and special for just about anyone who attends our School of Education and Mills College. I realize that the very notion of learning from afar runs counter to what many current and former students value about Mills: the time and space to discuss important issues and build lasting relationships with colleagues; small groups where everyone’s voice contributes to the discussion; a place to venture guesses, try ideas, find one’s voice while feeling supported by the Mills community of students, instructors, and staff.

Valid concerns and criticisms have been raised about distance learning, such as Mark Edmonson’s op-ed in the NY Times. Yet, the world continues to change, especially in technological realms. For this reason, Stanford’s President John Hennessy, in a New Yorker article by Ken Auletta, used the word “tsunami” to describe the magnitude and speed of the trend toward distance learning in higher education. Schools and universities are institutions in which change moves ever so slowly, especially with instructional practices –notice how many overhead projectors are still used in classrooms, including here at Mills. But even though pitfalls exist in distance learning for all involved, it also has the potential to transform teaching practice for the better, especially because of the capacity to utilize media of various kinds to achieve a particular learning outcome. And because so many people interact with others from afar via Facebook and other social media networks, we need to recognize this norm and align it with what we do when we teach.

So, my goal is to map out the set of outcomes, tasks, and endeavors that make the MEET experience successful for students and us, and to consider ways in which some of these might be carried out online. There may be some features of MEET that may not lend themselves to an online environment, which may suggest instead a blended program, combining distance learning with concentrated, in-person experiences. Regardless of the outcome, I am excited about the possibility of spending next academic year figuring out something new. Look forward to a report on this blog of my progress.

Annie Neves. I want every student in any of our programs this year to have a wonderful experience, connect with classroom colleagues in interesting and exciting ways, and really be an active participant in our School of Education community. I will do whatever I can do to help any student achieve this goal, whether it is lending assistance, listening, offering suggestions, kindness, or hospitality.

Rachel Lefkowitz. I realized recently that when I go over to friends’ houses, I never notice if the place is sparkling clean or really dirty unless I reach down to pat a small dog, only to find that it is, in fact, a large dust bunny. So much of what we do every day is like that –it goes unnoticed if it’s done well, and demands our attention only if it’s done poorly. This year, I would like to help us all notice the things that we do well, whether that’s recruiting excellent students, generating ideas that lead to a new research, or completing paperwork for field placements. We are constantly seeking to improve what we do, but we start with amazing strengths. We should revel in them.

Written by collegialconnections

September 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm

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