Root to Rise: A #SquadGoalsNetwork Reflection from Janet Smith

Root to Rise: A #SquadGoalsNetwork Reflection from Janet Smith

A reflection by Janet Smith on the power of personal learning networks.

ACCESS – Does regular access to other individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives challenge your definition of access and what it means? If so, how?

Yes, when I encounter different perspectives around the same topic, it highlights how student demographics, cultural norms, and institutional mission change what access means. While access may look different depending on the institution, the desire to see students succeed is a constant that provides a direction in which we can all move.

FACULTY SATISFACTION – How has your participation in the PLN benefitted faculty and colleagues at your home institution?

My personal learning network largely consists of colleagues that I met through conferences and my participation in the Quality Matters community. These interactions has had a direct benefit as we have brought ideas and practices back to my office. For example, after participating in the OLC Innovate ’17 Solution Design Summit we created a similar group on campus to bring together ID’s to crowd source common challenges and solutions in a design thinking framework.

LEARNING EFFECTIVENESS – When you reflect on your work, how has meeting and learning from individuals from other institutions and institutional perspectives helped you to clarify or re-define what it means for learning to be effective?

The opportunities I have had to be immersed with others who have experience in higher ed has been immensely important. When I began working at my institution, it was after ten years as a K12 classroom teacher. Effective learning was largely defined by test scores and skill mastery. While these are aspects of how to define effective learning for any student, higher education is a different landscape when it comes to discussions about course design, teaching, and learning. Being a part of a diverse group of practitioners in higher ed and having the opportunity to share my own experiences and meld them with the experiences of others has been critical in moving from one area of education to another.

SCALE – Is the PLN scalable and/or replicable by others at other institutions/organizations? If so, how? What challenges do you encounter?

My PLN revolves around discussions about quality and inclusiveness in course design. What has made it successful is to define, and redefine, what it is that we are learning from one another; otherwise the network can lack substance and is not sustainable. Technology has played an important role in creating a sustaining my PLN. Once connections have been made, being able to have virtual meetings to share ideas (and laughs) has made all the difference.

As with many things, time and money are always a barrier. A model of building a PLN that is largely based on conference attendance is not available to all. Travel is expensive and often prohibits many practitioners and researchers from attending and adding their voice to the collective. Once you establish a PLN, then finding the time to invest in it is challenging. To overcome the time barrier, it is useful to have a common goal or project that allows all to contribute the strengths and bring their challenges so that the PLN is a vital asset to one’s work instead of a “side project.”

STUDENT SATISFACTION – Do you feel that your involvement and/or collaboration with the PLN has helped you create better student experiences at at your institution?

Absolutely. Through my collaborations with others we have created professional development resources, improved course design, promoted examples of high-quality courses, and shared best practices. By advocating for the student perspective in our design work and serving instructors well, we have a direct impact on student success on our campus. When we root our practices in student success, we all rise.

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