KIERAN: Hey Wired Ivy listeners! Just a quick heads-up that we did have some technical and network glitches during this week’s interview. There are noticeable variations in sound quality between the speakers and some ambient sounds here and there, but we don’t think they undermine the clarity of the conversation or the value of the information shared, so enjoy!
DAN: Our guest today is Dr. Michael Carey of Gonzaga University. Mike joined the faculty at Gonzaga in 1987 and has worn many hats, including serving as the Dean of the Virtual Campus. Currently, he is the chairperson of the Department of Organizational Leadership in the School of Leadership Studies. Mike, welcome to Wired Ivy.
MIKE: Thank you for having me.
KIERAN: It’s good to meet you, Mike.
MIKE: It’s good to meet you.
DAN: I know Gonzaga University has a pretty long history in online learning–can you give us an overview of your department and the programs offered?
MIKE: So I’ve been with Gonzaga, as you said since 1987. The program started the year before, so it was a brand new program and I was the first hire to sort of coordinate the program. In those days there weren’t very many leadership graduate programs in the country. And so the program was invented by a couple of teachers at Gonzaga. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of being a part of the program right from the beginning. And I taught for many years in a face-to-face, one night a week, three hours, pretty standard graduate professional school schedule. We saw it as an alternative to an MBA program.
DAN: Why did you think there was a need for an MBA program alternative?
MIKE: Gonzaga was finding that it was having students look at the MBA program and saying, well, that’s not exactly what I want. I wanted something more to help me with team building and collaboration and dialogue and motivation. And we would get, also, a number of military people that would be in the program over the years, partly because it was less business and more about leadership, and that was something that was very important to them.
Kind of the trigger for us to go into an online environment was, around 2000, we had a number of our military who were at a base very close to Spokane, who were then transferred before they finished their degree work, some of them to missile silo bases in Wyoming, you know what I mean? It was like there was no place for them to finish up their program and transfer credits into Gonzaga. So it was in that context that we began to offer online courses to help them finish the program.
As the main teacher of those online courses, I began to have the realization that I was getting a much more robust discussion among my students when they were all online. I was like, what, what is this? And, and then I didn’t have to think very much about it to realize, “Oh, in the classroom the extroverts talk, they talk and they talk and they talk, and I never hear from the introverts. They probably walk out after the class is over and think, “well, I should have said this, but, but it’s too late.” But online, everyone contributes.
I thought this is a really wonderful learning device, and I was able to convince my Dean at the time that maybe we should look at offering all of our courses online. And so, starting in 2004, we began a process of offering the same exact curriculum, but all in online courses. We went from maybe a handful of students to, very quickly, about five or six hundred all over the country that were in our program. It was a kind of wild growth.
KIERAN: So the initial idea was to have parallel programs.
MIKE: Correct. The initial start was, we still kept our face-to-face, three hours a week class over a 16 week semester, and then we had a parallel track of an online program. At that time, the thought was an eight-week session was more productive for adult students on, online, so we went to two eight-week sessions within that 16 week semester.
By about 2010 or 2011, it was to the point where even if somebody lived right down the street from Gonzaga University in Spokane, they would rather take the online course than the campus-based course, because it was more flexible in terms of their schedule and travel, they were professionals. So within a few years, we stopped saying online and on-campus, we just began saying the Organizational Leadership Program.
KIERAN: The program Dan and I are associated with has a similar origin story. The Master of Natural Resources or MNR degree was initially designed to serve an audience of primarily federal agency employees who work in the District. I was first hired as a post-doc because the plan was that I would create online versions of existing face-to-face courses.
Naturally, as soon as the online sections started to show up on the course catalog, students who had been attending in-person switched to virtual. Pretty soon the face-to-face enrollment dried up, and that model has since been replaced by two different delivery modes–a 100% online program, that’s the one I’m running, and an accelerated hybrid model.
MIKE: What you’re saying is how it evolved with us as well. Our idea was, uh, we need to step back and not think, “Oh, we’re putting this online.” We need to just think, “What is the learning experience that we want for the students?” The classroom is a medium, and online is a medium.
So the key for us was to understand that what we wanted for our graduate students was a particular learning experience that was relational and interactive, really focused on coming together to understand leadership as a community. Whether we did that in a classroom or online was secondary.
As a result, instead of just trying to take a campus syllabus and somehow just put it up online and do almost a kind of equivalent of our correspondence course, what we really were doing were rethinking, how do we engage students? If this is what we did in, on campus, but that won’t work online, what’s the equivalent? What will work online to get the students to the place they need to be to be able to say that they have some competency in some of these objectives that we have for these courses.
KIERAN: Right, and there’s this converse, which is letting the technology inform what happens in an online class, because it’s available, rather than asking, “What are the learning objectives? What are my choices for trying to achieve those?”
It surprises new-to-onlline faculty but my recommendation is always: Choose the simplest, most familiar technology that will address your learning objective needs. That way, the technology is less likely to become a distraction. So yes, you are speaking my language, man! I don’t get many chances to geek out about online program design and development so this is great!
MIKE: I think the basic idea is “learn anytime, anywhere.” A student should be able to enter our program, and then other than that three day–what we call residency — everything else should be able to be done asynchronously online, unless they choose an elective that brings them face-to-face with other students in some location.
KIERAN: So there are other face-to-face components to your online program?
MIKE: We offer multiple elective options that include what we call immersions, where the students come together for anywhere from a week to two weeks and study together and then complete their work online.
DAN: The immersions are on campus or the immersions are elsewhere around the globe?
MIKE: Both. I have a, a connection from my days when I was an undergraduate student, Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, I used to go up, uh, on the weekends to just spend time at this monastery in the Mojave desert. So I got to know the monks pretty well, and as part of a course called leadership and community, which is an elective course, I began to bring students down there to become participant observers in a monastic community and then to use that as a metaphor for, well, what, what are the essential dynamics in any community? So that was our first immersion.
Then some of my colleagues in the department, they offered things around their own strengths. And so we have a couple of really good team building courses that are on our campus for three days at a time, uh, we have a once, one faculty member who is a pretty skilled mountain climber, has a course called leadership and hardiness in which, for three days, the students climb Mount Hood in Washington State. We’ve taken students for two weeks to Florence, Italy, because Gonzaga has a campus, a building in Florence, and they’ve had undergraduate study abroad programs there since the sixties. And so we were the first graduate program also to say, well, that looks like a good immersion. And so they start online, they spend two weeks in Florence and then they finish online.
KIERAN: I’m interested in the immersion component because that’s another parallel between your program and ours. When the MNR was first rolled out it had a capstone but it turned out to be a real bottleneck for our students. They would finish their coursework, plan to complete the capstone on their own, and then come back to defend… but instead they would fall off the map.
Ok, so what’s something that would be transformative, would allow them to apply what they’ve been learning in a real-world context, would be feasible for adult learners, and, if possible, provide a chance to connect face-to-face with other learners and some faculty as well? We came up with a 10-day study abroad experience that students take at various point in their Plan of Study. That felt like a big leap when we made the decision but dropping the capstone has increased our graduation rate, and global study is a big draw for prospective students.
That said, we had to cancel two study abroad trips for this Summer, due to Covid-19 restrictions. As of today–we’re recording this on June 5th, 2020–we don’t know if our scheduled trip for the Fall term will be able to go–Dan is supposed to be leading that trip to Argentina, assuming travel is feasible. Mike, how has the pandemic impacted your immersions?
MIKE: You know, what we’ve had to do during the pandemic, we had, uh, about three immersions that we had to cancel the face-to-face part of in the spring, late spring, and we used Zoom, but the recognition was that’s not what we’re wanting to do. We don’t want to just transfer the learning experience that we’ve created, that is asynchronous, just suddenly start having everything on Zoom. For some faculty just lecturing on Zoom is a temptation to call that, you know, distance learning or online learning. And it’s so contrary to how we’re thinking about creating a learning environment using asynchronous methods.
DAN: I will say when I started teaching online about six or seven years ago, I had been teaching in a brick and mortar setting since about 2000, and I found online very innovative. Part of it was exactly what you were talking about, Mike, which is, you’re really going to the learning objectives. What are the outcomes you’re looking for? Both as far as material as well as the learning environment, the soft skills you want the learners, to be achieving. And then you start looking at all the tools in front of you and you start looking at all the resources in front of you because you’ve got the whole internet and you don’t have to structure a 50 minute or a 60 minute lecture. You’re basically structuring a lesson plan that’s going to work out over a week or two weeks, whatever your timeframe is, and the opportunities for creative lesson plans, to me, are just very expansive.
MIKE: I would agree completely Dan, and I, and I, when we started the online program in 2004, I found it in an incredibly creative time period. I remember thinking, at the time, that I was not only trying to do this creative thing, but I was also trying to fight off my colleagues in other parts of the university who were dead set against me being successful.
I remember at, at an academic council meeting I was at, the person said, “Well, you’re bringing down the entire reputation of the university. You’re going to negatively affect having students in my class because you’re doing this online thing.” I was speechless at that point. It was like I was the barbarian at the gate as far as my colleagues were concerned.
You know, there’s that line from, I think the Hebrew scriptures, where the Jews come back to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, and there’s a line about them rebuilding the temple with a trawl in one hand and a sword in the other. And I felt like that’s what I was doing as I was, as I was trying to build this really creative, online experience, I had to also fight off, at all levels, my colleagues who were trying to undermine it.
KIERAN: Oh, that brings up memories for me, definitely! Faculty would stop me in the hall to help me see this online teaching thing was going to be the end of higher education and, more specifically, university faculty. They were so sure, based on a complete misunderstanding of what we were doing in the virtual classroom, that administrators were just going to put a camera at the back of the room and a mic on the faculty member’s lapel, record them lecturing in all their oratorical glory, upload the files to an online drop box, and then tell faculty to find a different career.
MIKE: Exactly. I mean, I think there was a caricature they had in their mind of what well, and certainly there was, at that time, there were online situations that were poorly done.
KIERAN: Oh, and still today. There are courses being taught online that are sorry excuses for education, but let’s face it, there are plenty of examples of apathetic teaching on campuses, too. I took more than a few of those sub-optimal classes myself, both in physical and virtual classrooms, although it was early days for online instruction and universities had been doing face-to-face teaching long enough that I had every right as a student to expect better!
What I’m saying is we have to get past this perception that a physical classroom experience is inherently better than a virtual classroom experience, just because everyone is in the same room at the same time.
MIKE: Oh, yes. During some of these battles, I’d walk down the hallway of our main building and, and see undergraduate students in their rows of desks with somebody lecturing at the front of the thing and I thought, this is what their model of great teaching is?
The other thing that I use, too, which was helpful and did get leverage with is the founder of the Jesuit system ultimately goes back 450 years to Ignatius of Loyola. He was a tremendous innovator. He was like, okay, what are we, what do we need to do here? You do what
, you’re, what you need to do to, to reach your mission, to reach your objectives. So he created a different kind of, uh, educational system that didn’t exist because that, that met the needs of what he was trying to do in terms of, uh, transformational learning and that. I kept saying to my colleagues, you know, Ignatius of Loyola was alive today he would be doing online learning! This is crazy that we are so embedded in a model, and we don’t see the potential for reaching more people that this provides us.
DAN: I guess now that you’ve got 500, 600 students in the program you don’t have as much difficulty convincing colleagues that online can reach more people!
MIKE: Right. It fluctuates, yeah, but it’s, we, we had a little downturn a few years back, but we’re beginning to move back up again, yeah.
DAN: So that gives the potential for some fairly large core classes. And I’m wondering, are you running them as small sections or do you run some of your core classes as, you know, a section of a hundred people or something like that?
MIKE: Our goal is a 20 student course, and then at the most a 24 student course. In the asynchronous discussion boards, which are probably the heart of, of the interactive learning, we usually break that group into two discussion groups. Over the course of the eight weeks, we’ll change the membership of the group so that people get an opportunity to really interact with different people over the course of your eight weeks as a student. That allows the faculty member a lot more opportunity to give feedback to the students on their discussion postings or their written assignments, and what we’ve been doing more over the last few years is faculty are providing 20 minute video podcasts that talk a little bit about their observations of what’s going on in the discussion board or themes that are coming up.
I can’t imagine having a hundred people in a face-to-face class. Certainly online it all the more an issue, I think, to have that many people trying to have an interactive experience.
KIERAN: Since your students need to come to campus at the start of their program, is this more of a cohort model or does everyone move through their plan of study at their own pace?
MIKE: Yeah, we don’t have a cohort model and partly that’s able to be done because we have so many students, we’re able to basically offer a number of, of every class. We try to get a little sense of what students are doing. We have progression plans, but they’re not in concrete.
Basically, we say to the students, take this introductory courses, your first course, and we consider that like a gateway course and then take this residency course as soon as you can, after that within the next, you know, a semester or two. And then after that, any order you want to take both core courses and electives, and then at the very end, your capstone course. The flexibility that I think has made the students really like the program. Uh, most of the faculty advisors will say to the students, you know, you don’t need to do a concentration. You can choose electives that will meet your own specific, unique needs as a leader in the context that you are in.
KIERAN: Our program has that same flexibility. We’ve got students who take one class per semester and I have one student who just started this summer and will graduate this December. Wow–Dan’s eyes just FLEW open! It’s a new student so we’ll see if they can actually pull it off. MNR students have the ability to choose electives and I encourage them to make their Plan of Study their own. My take is we’re not in the business of churning out widgets.
Another question for you, Mike… with that many students in the program, and a course enrollment cap of 20 to 24, you must have a pretty large faculty. I’m wondering if they are full-time, if you use contract adjuncts, some combination of the two… can you tell us a little bit about who’s teaching in the Organizational Leadership Program?
MIKE: Sure. When we started the online program in 2004, there were only two faculty in the Organizational Leadership Department. And I remember my colleagues in other areas of the university, mostly undergraduate colleagues, were saying, “Oh, well, you need to, you have so many students now you need to put in for tenure-track.” I actually, at the beginning there, was not in favor of tenure track appointments, because once you do that, you’ve got to have this enrollment every year or, or you’re in trouble. But as we know, in an academic culture, a tenure track faculty member’s a rather key position.
So we did hire, we had, at one year we must’ve hired about three or four additional tenure track faculty. But even in addition to that, we have been hiring what we would call adjunct faculty, not so much on a fixed term contract, but on a more on a one course contract. What they do is they shadow another teacher, teaching the course and get an idea of how the course goes. And then we put them, and as, as the teacher of the course, and there’s usually a, what we call a master teacher for each individual course that, that, that adjunct teacher can talk to if they’re, if he or she hears are having any issues or that kind of thing.
DAN: And I assume those faculty are all over the country?
MIKE: The adjunct faculty are all over the country and the regular tenured or tenure-track faculty are on our campus. Yeah.
And the way I’ve looked at it is that it is valuable to have tenured or tenure-track faculty. And the way I’ve been thinking about them is that they really are the guarantors of the integrity of our program. They’re the ones that are kind of the, for lack of a better term, maybe the elders of the, the program in terms of their responsibility, what they’re getting paid to do. And what they’ve been missioned to do is to make sure that whatever we do maintains a level of integrity for the student learning experience.
The adjuncts are certainly woven into our discussions and we get feedback from them. But of course, they’re, they often have other jobs. They have other teaching that they’re doing at other universities. So to expect them to have as much skin in the game in terms of the overall picture, maybe is, is not appropriate. But for the tenured and tenure track faculty, um, they’re the ones that make sure that we keep focused on our mission.
DAN: Well, it makes sense that the permanent faculty are the ones who are involved with governance of the program.
MIKE: Right. We don’t want to make it so that the shoemaker’s children go barefoot. You know, we want the leadership program to actually do collaborative leadership. So we try to pull that off, just like we want the communication and leadership program to communicate well.
KIERAN: It speaks volumes to me that you’re hiring adjuncts from diverse locations because that always made sense to me. If your student audience can be distributed, why not your faculty? You have a larger potential hiring pool that way and, besides, If you can offer an entire graduate degree online surely you can run virtual staff meetings.
MIKE: No, I agree. And in the early days of our online program, we would bring all the adjuncts on campus in the summer to go through a kind of a retreat together and talk about online best practices and that. Now, as we’ve gotten larger, uh, it’s gotten unwieldy. But I think our faculty, the tenured and tenure track faculty, will talk about how can we make sure that the adjunct faculty are brought in and feel connected to the department.
KIERAN: This feels like a good time to shift to a related topic. Dan and I were really interested in how a leadership program that has a strong communications component might be using technology, since technology has become so integrated in our modern communications. I’d imagine, your program is also teaching students how to use those technologies as a professional, as a leader; how to articulate the skills they bring as a result of their graduate education at Gonzaga to a potential employer.
The additional challenge, from the perspective of someone designing and teaching online classes, is that this concept of the simplest, most familiar technology changes over time, right? As people get more familiar with using an app, for example, and as the technology becomes more stable, it’s easier for people to use, and easier to fold into the course mix. It doesn’t distract any more.
Can you fill us in on how your program, courses, and faculty use communication technology to create and reinforce a sense of community within your students?
MIKE: Yeah. I can give you some examples of this idea of using the simplest method of communication or sharing. So, you know, at the very basic level, the asynchronous discussion board, what we do is we try to ring the last drop of interaction out of that by helping to work with the graduate students as they enter the program, to understand how to use this. So we ask them for example, to do annotated questions on the discussion board. In other words, instead of just sharing something ell me about how you’re reacting to some of the readings or the other media, and explain and ask a question to the rest of the group that is based on your, that experience and tell us why that’s a good question, you know, given your experience.
We’re trying to prime the pump for a dialogue by asking them to do this. And then by the end of the eight-week period, they’re just doing that. What we’re trying to do is show them that the asynchronous discussion board posts don’t have to be these all very separate, discrete, uh, each person just throwing their own opinion out.
KIERAN: Conversation, not just commentary.
MIKE: Yeah. For me, that’s the baseline of the communication.
But then as we, I think your point, Kieran, is that it’s familiarity with certain technology that allows us to use it more. So for example, our students maybe at the beginning, never would do anything in terms of video of themselves, but gradually we’d been asking students, uh, introduce yourself to the classroom with a video, post that in the discussion board. That adds another element of technology to it but it’s only added because students have become more comfortable using that.
With Zoom, maybe 10 years ago, I would have just made a video that shared my observations each week about what’s going on in the discussion board. Now what I’m doing is I’m having a open Zoom session where I start to talk about it, but my students are invited as an optional opportunity to come and join me. And so maybe six out of 20 students will show up at the optional Zoom meeting, but instead of me, just blah, blah, blah-ing about my thoughts about what’s going on in the discussion board. It’s a, it’s a conversation.
I’ve gotten all sorts of feedback from students that that’s really, really important to them. Not only the students that are able to show up, but I record them. And then I put them on the, into the, uh, course for all students to look at. So students who can’t show up say that was great. That was very helpful. That person asked the question I would have asked, it became much more interactive than me trying to just give my own prescriptions of what’s what’s going on and what, what they should do now.
KIERAN: Do you address issues like the higher potential for miscommunication in email versus face-to-face? Or the accommodations we have to make when talking on the phone, or posting to social media sites, or texting. Is any of that part of what you address in a leadership program?
MIKE: Yeah, well, you know, the, the leadership program, we’ve worked in collaboration with kind of a sister program in communication and leadership. I mean, we’re, we’re literally are our, uh, regular faculty are in the same hallway where you have a lot of interaction.
DAN: You’re the department chair of two programs, correct?
MIKE: No. So we have, we have two programs in, in the School of Leadership Studies that are at the master’s level. One is Organizational Leadership, and so I’m the chair of that, and then we have Communication and Leadership program, that started, the program itself started about the time the Organizational Leadership program went online in 2004. They were created and then they began to do on online work right from then as well. And most of the communication things that you were just talking about Kieran, and are, are something that they cover in a variety of their courses. So looking at, uh, the use of social media, the use of communication using technology rather than face-to-face, and some of our students will take courses in their program as well as electives.
They even offer a strategic communication concentration, which some of the Organizational Leadership students would take. In terms of how do we work with students? I think in the Organizational Leadership courses, I think the faculty work with them to make sure that they understand the nuances of discussion board posts, asynchronous posts and, just as an added note, I would say that in my experience now of having taught online for so many years, the writing of students I have has improved tremendously. And part of the reason I think that is, is because they have to write online and, and they have to look at each other’s posts and know that other people are looking at their posts. They don’t want to be embarrassed by sloppy writing, and, and that has a positive effect on their, uh, paper assignments as well.
Kieran: Different etiquettes are forming organically for how you write in various platforms, correct? There’s a specific kind of etiquette for texting–I learned just the other day that I should not be using a period at the end of my sentences. Who knew? Do your faculty address anything about how to navigate technologies to communicate with other students, with faculty, with professional colleagues, clients or donors or all the various audiences they may need to engage with in their role as a leader?
MIKE: Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think we want to do more than we’re doing right now. We’re limited perhaps by, for example, in texting where we’re limited by having the actual phone numbers of students or faculty. But I think, for example, when I go to either the monastery or to Florence with students, you know, that we share our, our cell numbers. And what I have found is afterwards, you know, we create a WhatsApp group or do something like that. Even three years after we’ve been in Florence, people are still using that as a way to touch base with each other and to ask questions. And, and it’s a kind of a networking community that follows them even after they graduate.
KIERAN: There’s an interesting question I’m kind of afraid to ask but here goes… some of these communication technologies, maybe most, exist outside of the learning management systems–What’s App, for example. We interviewed Dan’s daughter, Olivia Marcucci, earlier in the Season… she faculty in Johns Hopkins’ online EdD program. She mentioned students in their cohorts use WhatsApp. Mike, do you know anything about the potential FERPA compliance considerations? Is that something online programs and faculty should be concerned about as they curate communication tools?
MIKE: FERPA is a legitimate concern but so, for example, we use as our course management tool Blackboard, uh, other schools use a variety of them. And I think there’s good points and bad points for all of them. As we are able to afford to upgrade Blackboard and use more and more of its tools, I think what we’re pro we’re being provided with is a way to do some of these things within a already kind of secure environment. Uh, I’m a big believer in doing as much as we can there, but of course, all our universities are limited in how much money they can throw at Blackboard or other course management tools.
But my sense is, when I, having been involved in online learning now for over 16 years, remembering what Blackboard was like, I’m thinking, well, even just thinking what it will be like a year from now or two years from now, I’m very optimistic that the tools are only going to get better for us. It will become, the technology becomes invisible. It gets out of the way and allows us just to communicate. Uh, it’s like what we talked about earlier about, uh, the online versus the classroom. These are just different mediums. Um, so then if we can get to the point where, where the technology is just instrumental rather than getting in the way and we’re having to think about it.
DAN: In developing the sense of rapport for the online learning community, is it done intentionally at the departmental level?
MIKE: We meet as a department faculty and as advisors to the students to make sure we’re all aware and conscious of what we are doing in terms of reaching out to students and being available to them and answering questions.
We also, through the university, have a, what we call a student services team, that originally was part of the virtual campus and was dedicated to just the online graduate students. They were available almost 24-7 in terms of a phone or email or even web-based contact. The students will tell us that they feel very much a part of a community that is interested in serving them is that… that was our goal. And as a result, that kind of also draws them in to feel like they are part of a… a cohesive community.
DAN: Is community also fostered in the individual classrooms? Would that be left up to each instructor or… how do you go about that?
MIKE: So I’m the master teacher. I create the master Blackboard site, and then it’s copied, let’s say, into three or four sections that are going to be offered. Each of those teachers, I make sure I’m trying to mentor them, but I’m also then learning from them, what what’s going on in the class, and we’re tweaking how the course is set up and structured through that interaction.
But the idea then is, in the old model, the teacher was the scholar-teacher. You created your course and you taught your course in this model here, someone else is creating the course and then another person is teaching it. So what I often do as a mentor to say, you can add things from your own scholarly work and that, but your real main goal is to be a teacher who facilitates these group of students’ learning experience. That’s what we want you to spend your time on is to really interact with them, give them feedback, help them process things that are they’re having trouble with. So it’s a different kind of model than we’re typically used to, I think, in a, in a traditional face-to-face model where even when you would hire a adjunct to teach one course, you’d give them the title of the course and you’d give them the textbooks that were already ordered, but you’d say to them, and now teach that course.
KIERAN: Are there aspects of trying to help students coalesce as a community that you are struggling with, or have struggled with in the past but found a solution?
MIKE: That’s a great question. I think that’s a constant struggle in terms of how we do this as well as we possibly can. It’s connected to what we had talked about earlier in terms of online versus face-to-face, you know, and it’s about the difference between the learning experience and the medium you’re using. I think once you start to say, okay, what’s, what’s most important to us in all of our courses? If what’s most important is for us to develop a true community of learning, which is relational and interactive, then that’s, that’s the bottom line measure of everything we do. And so, basically, as you’re moving through putting a course together, teaching a course, advising a student, thinking about how to reach out to the alumni when they graduate, all of these things, then what you’re thinking is how do I facilitate that sense of learning in relationship, in community with other people.
It’s a matter of individual constant reflection and discernment of, Am I being relational? Am I being in communication? Am I, uh, holding back from holding forth? Am I trying to bring in the viewpoint and understand where the student is coming from? It reflects more on who the teacher is and what, what the attitude of the teacher is towards not only the students, but the subject matter.
DAN: Can you say more about that?
MIKE: We use two books in the introductory course in leadership, we use Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and we use Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. And we tell the students, this is about teaching, but the things that these two authors are saying is also about leadership. And it’s about how do you treat other people? In desiring the best for them are you paternalistic? Are you prescriptive? Are you controlling? Or are you open to hearing what’s best from them as well? That’s Freire.
And with Palmer, you know, when you come together to learn is the subject in the middle and has its own integrity and life and truth, and that we as teachers and students are circling that subject and working together to try to understand it? Or are you an expert that’s dropping down and letting everybody else know what the truth is that you’ve discovered over the years and having to take notes and be able to give that back to you?
What I’m saying is once you have that kind of an attitude towards both learning and interaction with other people, then I think the students feel you’re inviting them into a real community. And, and I would say that my experience at Gonzaga and our programs is that students have felt that, and they feel like they are a part of a community that they don’t want to let go of, even when they graduate.
KIERAN: The exciting thing, from my perspective, is that faculty who had to make that switch this spring are in a completely new education environment. And they seem to either be completely intimidated and have no idea what to do, or their response is, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been given wings! I get to think about teaching and my class from a completely fresh perspective. I can try things that would never work in a classroom environment.” I think there’s potential that some really positive outcomes could result in higher education despite the fact that the impetus has been anything but positive.
MIKE: I agree completely. In fact, one of the immersions that we had to cancel a face-to-face part of in the spring because of the pandemic, one of my colleagues said, okay, what I’ll do is I’ll take the three days that we were supposed to be on campus together and I’ll do a Zoom-based kind of interaction with the students. And then what she did was she thought that through, did a lot of reading and all the things that you’re talking about related to the misuse of Zoom.
And then she met with all the departments and said, here’s what I’ve learned. She was excited! I’ve learned you have to put them in breakout groups within 10 minutes! And when you do that, they really get engaged. So you don’t ever talk for more than 10 minutes, and then you put them in a breakout group and you have them talk with each other, you know? And she was like that excited as she talked about it, and we were all like, well, yeah, of course! So now we’re all very conscious, when we use Zoom, not to forget that we had the same issue with online asynchronous learning. You can’t do it like a correspondence course. You’ve got to have it be interactive. Well, now with Zoom, you can’t treat it like it’s just a, a video of, of you lecturing. You’ve got to get it so that the students can work with each other and, and also you can’t have the students looking at your shared screen for an hour and not expect that they aren’t going to be falling asleep or going out to have lunch or something.
KIERAN: Right. And just to be fair, when we teach online with intention, we have had time to plan. We’ve tried things, had wins and fails, made adjustments. We’ve had given consideration to what we want to do and how we want to try to do it. We might have talked to colleagues… that luxury of time is a completely different experience than when somebody finds out they have to switch to remote instruction in three days.
MIKE: Yeah, and the undergraduate faculty at Gonzaga were forced to go online the second half of the spring semester because of the pandemic. And that was very difficult for many of them, for exactly the reasons you’re saying.
KIERAN: It’s not just for the difficult for the instructors, either. It was a difficult pivot for students, too.
MIKE: No! It was, like, they were given a week to figure out how to do this.
Now they had, they have resources, and we had a staff that was helping them, but still, for some of them, this was something they never thought they were going to be doing, and now they had to do it in order to meet their learning objectives in these courses, and it was a difficult process. But I think you’re right, at this point, now, we’re in the summer and that, you know, the administration is trying to figure out what’s happening in the fall and all of that. So we have time to get ready for it.
DAN: Speaking of pivots… as our time is winding down I want to take a few minutes to return to our discussion on the importance of leadership. It is the centerpiece of your graduate degree. Leadership means many different things to different people — Mike, what’s your definition of leadership, or the definition presented in your program at Gonzaga?
MIKE: You know, I’ve already kind of hinted at what I think about leadership by applying Paulo Freire and, uh, Parker Palmer, and saying that what they said about teaching is true about leadership. But I, what I would say is, although not all our courses are specifically about servant leadership, I would say that philosophy of Robert Greenleaf, you know, operating in servant leadership, is how we understand it. The classic line of Greenleaf was, do people grow as people, do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants of others, and what’s the effect on the least privileged in society, will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? I think that sums up what we’re trying to give to our graduate students in leadership.
You know, there’s a line we use at the very end of the program where Ignatius of Loyola had said to the early Jesuits, when they were going out to all parts of the world, he says, go out and set the world on fire. And we use that term for our students. It’s like, okay, go out and transform the world to make it a better place. I think that’s how we understand leadership.
DAN: Well, I think that is a very positive note for us to end on. Michael Carey. Thank you for joining us today.
MIKE: Thank you for inviting me, it was a wonderful conversation, Kieran and I hope you, as your program grows exponentially, I hope you’ve got your seat belt on.
KIERAN: I’m buckled up. I absolutely am.