My Mapping Journey: Lessons in Focusing In, Challenging the Assumed, and More

By Rachel Oppenheimer|June 1, 2015|Reflection|1 comments

I joined the Mapping course with excitement, passion, and, admittedly, a discomfort with the unknown. As I surfed the web of Google docs and freeform, free wheeling open source materials we were asked to preview and add to and engage with in preparation for the course, I felt ill-equipped to have mastery over this world. What exactly are we being asked to do? I am used to structure, and I like it. The lack of structure in the making and development of this course is its greatest asset, and also the source of the ways in which this course challenged me. It challenged me intellectually, yes, but I have experienced intellectual rigor before. The difference with Mapping was that it challenged my boxes, my comfort level, and the parameters within which I am accustomed to thinking. Further, I was challenged to remove parameters altogether. And though the ‘thinking outside of the box’ is cliché in its usage, it is most appropriate here. Mapping the Future of Higher Education, has indeed, been about mapping our own path for higher ed, utilizing one another and the wonderful CUNY and other worlds within which we operate. Mapping has been about grappling with out realities and yet not feeling or existing as if we are beholden to them or their supposed limits. Mapping has been about creating and employing the ideal, experimenting, releasing fears or challenging them… within ourselves, for our students, for one another, and for our institutions as a whole.

In my first public blog post, I explored my own journey with assessment and a fixed mindset.

And so, I began my Mapping course journey trying to figure out how I would fit in given that I’m an Administrator of a High School Equivalency program, that I don’t have a course to teach or a group of students to test out pedagogies with. I put in a lot of pre-work meeting with Katina and my Supervisors at work, proposing a solution that would for both my professional life and my life as a Mapping Student. Could I push into my Instructors’ courses on weekly basis? Could I ask them to be actively engaged in the Mapping course homework assignments as well? Would I teach growth mindset and grit? How could I fit into the box of the Mapping course? I think I imagined that, yes, my difference would be an asset to the seminar, but still I worried that in some important ways the course and I might not be relevant for one another. I settled on Bridge Scholars Seminar, a weekly selective club seminar for first and second-semester college freshmen at Laguardia CC (in other words, alumni of our Bridge HSE program) to act as a student-driven College Knowledge meet-up. The students would design the curriculum by participating in structured activities that would help them determine what they wanted to know and learn about throughout the semester. Or what their academic support needs were. But also hear from us, the staff, about important deadlines, tutoring opportunities, how to buy their books and re-apply for financial aid, and on and on and on.

 

I had bitten off more than I could successfully chew, and would be asking my students to do the same. But it was more than that. I wasn’t undertaking successful, promising pedagogy, or philosophically sound planning, and it would take some self-reflection prompted by the Mapping course itself to help me realize this.

My blog post on Teaching the first Bridge Scholars session.

When John Mogulescu came to speak to our Mapping class in April, he said something rather simple to say and understand, but impactful to hear and process, and quite difficult to do. To paraphrase: Whatever you do, do it damn well. That sound advice combines well with advice I hear from my own supervisor a fair amount, that in educational structure and lesson planning – as in many aspects of life – Less is More. Of course, the more education the better. But the point is that we need to learn and teach deeply, and do deeply, and have a clear and concise vision in order to succeed deeply. New initiatives are important, but we must take stock of what we have and what we need first, and be thoughtful about how to re-structure and make more meaningful the good and powerful of what already exists.

 

When I started the weekly Bridge Scholars Seminar, I wasn’t clear on my vision and I was trying to do too much. It meant that I couldn’t focus in on a clear goal and thus there was no concise objective that was clear to me- and in effect, nor to my students. As a result, I asked my students to develop a new-fangled alternative Success course for them and for me, before they even knew what a traditional college course looked or felt like, or how to do it. I thought I was empowering them, but I was giving them a weight to carry and more questions unanswered. I left them with less guidance when what they needed was more. They needed scaffolding in their Scholars work, to be propped up through specified academic content and academic behavior instruction. If I were to start fresh with my Mapping-driven student-centered project, I would have developed Study Hall during the same period and provided MetroCard incentives to attend. This structure would have been freeing, allowing our students to get help without asking as they developed the skills to ask and to know what to ask along the way.

Another example of my learning the lessons of the importance of focus and explicitness in the classroom.

Along with these pedagogical Less is More lessons, I can easily apply this same philosophy to my own work and school life. I learned throughout the Mapping course the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of our personal, professional, and academic lives. We should not be creating more work for ourselves in order to trying to fit the mold of what we think is expected of us. I did not need to create a course to fit a box (the class) that I worried asked me to accommodate it. Cathy and Bill insisted over and over that it was exactly that kind of needless box-fitting we were there to challenge and avoid. The point was to find what innovation and equity-inducing structure benefitted me and my program and my students. We must invest in what works and enhance it, not add and add and add.

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By the far, the most meaningful and powerful part of the Mapping course for me was our group work, our unit.

To start, the way in which the students of our course were charged with developing the course itself from Day 1 was thrilling, empowering, and effective. All students and people at every educational level and in every setting thrive when given both opportunity and flexibility to be their best selves, and to pursue their own interests, and when their are expected to create and perform at a high level. This is what Cathy and Bill did for us. And we delivered. From Day 1, my classmates inspired and humbled me. They respected me, and I them. We all engaged with one another as strong listeners and contributors and were neither afraid to challenge each other or question one another nor were we rash in judging one another. It felt and was a safe environment throughout, where we made ourselves vulnerable in our comments and questions and were rewarded with caring and serious responses.

Working with Evan and Natalie was the best group work experience I have ever had. We became friends, meeting over a Lower East Side brunch, sharing our own stories with one another, and spending hours building off each other’s ideas before starting to put anything to paper or keyboard. I learned a ton in terms of content, and just as much in terms of what I can learn from others. I really didn’t realize how much I could learn from other people until this course. There was inspiring and realized equity between students and professors, and an unparalleled widening of worlds.

Our Professors & Persistence Unit:

Week 1 Assignments

Week 2 Assignments

Unit Re-cap

And bringing out unit to the greater GC community.

My other Mapping blog posts:

The Power of Relationships

How should we be in the classroom?

And my Bridge Team Meetings Syllabus – Fall 2015

 

Signing off, with gratitude and excitement for future collaboration,

Rachel

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Mapping the Futures of Higher Education Year-End Celebration | The Futures Initiative

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