Zoom zoom zoom?

As part of the Spring 2016 VCU Online Learning Experience (OLE), I participated in a synchronous video chat using Zoom. While it was the first time I used Zoom, it was not my first time using video chat for communication. I have used Google hangouts, appear.in, Facetime, and Skype at the very least. That being said, this post is about video chatting in general, not about Zoom itself.

I don’t really love the synchronous video chat, personally, but come to think of it, I don’t really like talking on the phone, either. Video adds the added “bonus” of seeing oneself on camera, which can be lovely for some, but not so much for others (myself included in that last group). Still, it can be a useful tool for varied situations.

The idea in the OLE here is to introduce possibilities. There are many. Some will resonate more than others with participants. Some will get excited and decide they want to USE EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD BECAUSE THIS IS ALL SO COOL!


Yes, I might have been that person at one point. The neat thing is the different perspectives that show up. For example, the conversation that I had in my group talked about various uses of video chat, in small groups and in large groups. Some saw it as a useful tool for one-on-one or small group meetings with students but felt that with more than about 4 people, it becomes unruly. Another possible use was that of recording a chat between a few people and posting it. Another took that a step further and said that it was a good way to get a message out to a large group all at once, where maybe only one to three people were actually videoconferencing while the other hundred folks were engaged in back-channel conversation either within the video chat platform or via something like Twitter. The next thing I know, two of them have figured out how to embed Twitter into their Blackboard course sites to create the back-channel conversation within the LMS they’re required to use. A few minutes after we wrapped up our video chat, one of them tweeted a link with the how-to instructions. As my team leader would say, “Connected learning, FTW.”

Introduction for Fall 2015 VCU OLE

Yep, it’s a work-related post. An introduction of sorts…a short one, I promise.

Hi! I’m the Lisa that a few of you have heard about, probably from Jon Becker. I’m considered, at the moment, the “STEM-H Online Learning Innovation Liaison.”  WHAT? I love science, health related or not. My degrees reflect this. I’ve also spent a lot of time teaching, and have always had an interest in education, teaching, and learning. This has put me in the unique position to become the liaison to the medical campus and science departments on the Monroe Park campus here at VCU. I like to bounce ideas around with faculty who teach in basic and health sciences. We reimagine class sessions, topics, or entire courses, whether face-to-face or online. I wrote a short blog post about myself as a teacher, which may provide better insight.

My mascot is Figment, from Journey Into Imagination at Epcot in Walt Disney World (my happy place). He uses words like “imagine, dream, and create.” This morning, he is eyeing my lavender scone as I write this and bounce excitedly on the exercise ball I’m using as an office chair.FigmentandScone

I look forward to working with you all as you we go through this experience and beyond!

TGIF…but how did I let it get here so quickly?

Tenets of Taekwondo

Tenets of Taekwondo

Today is the Friday of Teacher Appreciation Week. Usually during this week, I choose at least a teacher a day and thank them in some way, be it a gift, a note, a meal, or some other way I can show appreciation. So why on earth has it taken me until Friday to do anything at all this week? As I continue to hang out at work with those I affectionately call “edufolk,” (read M.Ed., Ed.D., Ph.D. in Education) I find myself thinking a great deal about myself as a teacher and learner, others as teachers and learners, and teaching and learning in general. One of the realizations I have come to is that I believe that just about every interaction is an opportunity for learning. This also means that just about everyone has an opportunity to be a teacher. I not only want to learn from my students, I expect it. I learn from my children all the time. I learn from their teachers. I learn from my colleagues, my friends, my family, and my own former and current teachers. It would seem, then, that I have entirely too many people to thank. I am indeed appreciative of all the wondrous learning connections I have! That being said, it is also important not to belittle the title of “Teacher.” The capital “T” there is intentional. These are people who have purposely chosen to be conscious in this act of stimulating our minds with new knowledge and perspective. These are people who have dedicated their careers to that process. These are people from whom we likely learn far more than the subject matter at hand. Two current Teachers come immediately to mind. Dr. Dace Svikis, who was not only my post-doc mentor, but also modeled compassion and positivity beyond what I had experienced, I thank you. Grandmaster Phuong, who not only teaches my family martial arts, but also models discipline, kindness, and the Tenets of Taekwondo, I thank you and all of the Koryo family. It is also graduation day for the VCU School of Pharmacy Class of 2015. I have learned a great deal in the time I spent with you both in the classroom and on social media, formally and informally, and for that I am appreciative. It was with the Class of 2015 that I reimagined a course sequence, tried some things out (some worked, some did not, of course), and embarked on a new path in my own career. Thank you for all you have taught me.

This may be the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week 2015, but gratitude for those who Teach us (and also teach us) is not limited to one week. Thank someone for teaching you something. Teach someone something. And absolutely think about a “capital-T Teacher” in your life and let them know what they mean to you.

What kind of teacher am I?

I thought this question worthwhile to answer. Perhaps one day this will become part of a more formalized teaching philosophy, and perhaps the audience to whom it is written will change. For now, however, my stream of consciousness answer will sit here, for my ponderance, for yours, and your comments.

I am the kind of teacher who believes that learning is everywhere. I am the kind of teacher who wants to know what you bring to the table, so you can use it to cultivate new things from new knowledge. I am the kind of teacher who takes your pulse frequently to see if I need to adjust how I’m doing things. I am the kind of teacher who flips things on end to see what things look like from a different angle. I am the kind of teacher who believes that you can learn where the boundaries of a box are from inside or outside of that box. I am the kind of teacher who lives to see the light bulb flash when you make a connection. I am the kind of teacher who is interested in your process, and believes that YOU are the product of your learning. I am the kind of teacher who blurs lines between teaching and learning, because I am the kind of teacher who helps you unpack and examine something, finds myself reorganizing it in a new way for myself too, and suddenly…I am a learner. I am the kind of teacher who expects to learn from you, and for you to teach each other. I am the kind of teacher who wonders…what kind of teacher are you?

Reimagining the biggest course that never happened

In my prior position, I was in charge of implementing a sequence of courses called “Scholarship.” The charge was to instill a culture of scholarly thinking into the PharmD curriculum. I coded that into getting the students to ask questions about how to improve quality of care, services provided, address workflow issues, and to do so in a systematic fashion. The scientific method is not something to fear, and is not reserved for ivory tower researchers. When faced with 140 budding pharmacists, most of whom are aiming themselves at retail pharmacy, this becomes a daunting task. For three years, I implemented what had been previously developed (a sequence of courses spanning three years of the PharmD curriculum), with some tweaks here and there for following years. Eventually, some larger changes were made. This was, after all, a brand new sequence, and would take a while to reach steady state.

It wasn’t working. I was increasingly unhappy with the way the sequence was going, and the students weren’t happy with it either. It felt disjointed and episodic. When you are trying to accomplish something, and what you are doing is not working, you need to change something, right? Sometimes, having a spouse who is outside your field is a useful thing. Mine tends to put me farther out in left field than I thought I could go, to pick me up out of my thought box and make me look at it from the outside. When I feel stuck, that is the time to consider your out-of-the-box left field ideas with a new level of “what if….” From this process was born the biggest course that never happened.

One hundred forty students. Three years. One real project. Start to finish. Let’s do this! Then, let’s start crossing years…they can participate in each other’s projects, add onto them, critique them…then maybe we can partner with other schools to increase the reach, generalizability, sample sizes…let’s take it interprofessional too! You see where this can get out of control very quickly, in a fun and exciting way, right?

I started to implement parts of this where I thought I could do so without rocking the boat TOO much with the sanctioned course sequence. Instead of pulling in disjointed examples for different topics, I reframed things using the same example…the one they were developing. When talking about developing a research question, we did it. Together, as a class of 140, we developed a question. Sure, they had more than one idea, and this led to those who felt strongly defending the question in which they were most interested. Why was it important? Now we are getting into background and significance. How might we approach answering this question? Now we are talking about methodology and reviewing study designs. What are our measurable outcomes? Now we talk about endpoints, operational definitions, levels of measurement. To anyone who has taught or been through a research methods course, none of this sounds particularly novel or interesting. Doing it with 140 budding pharmacy practitioners, however, who are not training to be researchers, this was a fun process.

Before I could really start to make big changes, though, I ended up in my current position, no longer at the helm of this sequence. All this has managed to do, however, is toss my thoughts even further. Considering my new position, you know where this is going. That’s right, online. How would I do this now? There would be a course website. There would be discussion, links, voting…the written assignments, reflective pieces, guided questions I had them write about this process would be blog posts. I wonder what we might crowdsource. I wonder what collaborators I would find. I wonder what knowledge these budding pharmacists (and whoever else ended up in this space) would contribute to the collective intelligence of the…profession of pharmacy…health sciences community…community at large…Universe.

Why I Teach

First things first – I’m participating in Connected Courses – a connected course on connected courses. Yep, you read that right. The assignment is a reflection on the WHY. Why do I teach?

I am working with a colleague of mine to help me formally articulate my teaching philosophy, as he has said I have a very strong one, which I didn’t know. This discovery process is fascinating, enlightening, maddening, and wonderfully messy.

My daughter, Kayleigh, doing some messy learning herself.

My daughter, Kayleigh, doing some messy learning herself.


I tackled this reflective assignment first with a brainstorm. I teach for my kids. I teach for fun. I teach to learn. I hope to inspire when I teach. I teach to make connections.

Connections. Between people, concepts, courses, groups, life experience….

One thing I do when I teach is to flip things around. So then I asked myself what I do when I am not teaching or learning. Blank screen, blinking cursor moment. In trying to identify times or places where I am not teaching or learning, I got stuck. I suppose one could argue for sleeping, but some of my crazy dreams would indicate that my brain is certainly processing, and I have definitely awakened to one of those “a-HA!” moments at 3AM. Then the blank screen blinking cursor moment became a spark. In another blog post I wrote a while ago, I talked about how the possibility for teaching and learning is everywhere and in everything. Regardless of who I am with, where I am, and what I am doing, I am involved in teaching and learning. I keep using “teaching” and learning” together because I am finding that these two terms are becoming very fuzzy in my head and not so easy to separate. Perhaps another blog post about that is in order, but I need to chew on it for a bit more. At any rate, I came to the conclusion that I cannot really separate myself from teaching and learning, because it is part of who I am.

I teach because I am.

How’s that for vague?


The biggest city in the world

I confess to being one of those people who have (quietly) judged parents who are on their phones while seemingly ignoring their kids. This morning we went out for an early breakfast before work, and I had a very different experience. Here is my story:

The monkeys (my kids, aged 7, 8, and 9 years as of next Tuesday) are chatting away about the weather, as it is unseasonably cool. Kayleigh (8 years) asks, “Mama, what is the temperature?” I pull out my phone and let her know it’s apparently 63 degrees Fahrenheit. McKenna (7 years next Tuesday) pipes in wanting to know what the temperature is in Walt Disney World. Ok, 79 degrees. Now all three of them are spouting out locations.  Aunt Pat and Uncle Lee’s house? 65.  Hawaii? 72, and it’s still night time there.  Brazil? I forget which city I picked, but it was similar – somewhere in the mid-60’s.  Mexico? Ummmmm, where in Mexico will I look? Mexico City. 55. These are all from The Weather Channel app on my phone.

My husband Evan chimes in with a comment. “I think Mexico City is the largest city in the world, isn’t it?”  I look at him with my “blank screen, blinking cursor” face, which is indicative of complete ignorance on my part. Chasby (9 years) wants to look it up. Evan pulls out his phone and looks up the population of Mexico City (19,463,000, according to the website they were looking at). My girls are still spitting out places they want me to look up for weather. My step-son becomes more interested on what the biggest city is. Evan asks us to guess what the biggest city in Virginia is. Kayleigh chooses Richmond. Chasby chooses Norfolk. I was thinking somewhere in Northern Virginia but realized I had no idea the relative sizes of places like Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church….Evan tells Chasby he’s close with his guess. I mentally decide it must be Virginia Beach then. Eventually we are told that is the case.

Now we go global. “What IS the biggest city in the world, daddy?” I smirk at Chasby from across the table and ask him what he means by “biggest.” We talk about measuring a city by area and by population, and how they may not be the same. Evan looks up the biggest cities, and then they start talking about different populations of cities around the world, and I am looking up the current weather in them. Tokyo, Japan. 82.   Shanghai, China. 80.  Delhi, India. 90.

Our lively conversation and learning frenzy is rather suddenly severed by the gruff sarcastic voice of the owner of the bagel shop. “Well THAT’S a nice way to play with your kids,” he sneers. I freeze. My husband looks up and says “I’m sorry?” The man repeats himself, adding a comment about being buried in our phones. The kids are looking back and forth between me and Evan. Evan smiles and says jovially, “Yeah, we were talking about the biggest cities so we were looking some things up,” and Chasby, as if on cue, turns and proclaims “Shanghai in China is the biggest area, with 6,340 square kilometers, but Tokyo in Japan has the most people. Over 37 million!”

The shop owner says “Oh. That’s cool,” with no real inflection in his voice, and disappears into the back.

I relayed my story to my boss/coach/team leader (he doesn’t like “boss”) at work, and he pointed me to a NY Times article about social media use by teenagers on vacation. It’s a beautiful demonstration of being connected to both the here and now and bringing that to others, as Evan and I were bringing the world to the here and now, talking with our children about the here (Richmond, VA) and now (this morning’s weather right this minute) in the context of how it compares to many other places on the Earth.

My husband and I have not yet discussed the incident, so I have no idea about his perception of what transpired. Perhaps I will ask him about it when I get home from work today. I know that next time I see parents on their phones with their kids nearby, I may think “Maybe they’re looking up the biggest city in the world.”

Thoughts on Wikipedia

Wikipedia. The largest encyclopedia in the world. Of the world. For the world. We’re talking over 30 million articles in 287 languages, folks. Yet, in some disciplines and by some people, shunned as a source of information.

How then, is it useful for education?  An encyclopedia, by definition, is a summary of information about a plethora of subjects. There are the obvious things: 1) it’s a great starting point for finding general information 2) it can be useful in leading the reader to other possible sources. How about the not so obvious things? Let’s take healthcare as an example. Even if a healthcare professional holds the opinion that the information in Wikipedia is unreliable, you can pretty much bet that there are patients out there using it for information, and it is useful to know what they come to the table with. For students, this is a great starting point for basic information about a topic (disease state? medication? biological process?). What information is essential for the patient to have? What might they misinterpret? How could it be explained better? What references were used in the creation of the article (evaluate one or two). Is the information in the specific Wikipedia article accurate? If not…EDIT IT. Now we’re getting somewhere, aren’t we? Check out what is happening at UCSF, where they are doing exactly that.

What would you do in your own discipline? How could you not just USE Wikipedia, but PARTICIPATE in it?

Oh the thinks we can think, if only we try! ~Dr. Seuss

Community of Sparks?

Sometimes you just feel like doing something nice.

In my former position, I used to send “good luck” e-mails full of “pharmacovibes” to my students before big tests and during exam week, or congratulate them on big events and countdown to clerkships or graduation with them. I would post messages or Bitstrips on Facebook. It let them know I knew they had things going on other than just my course. It let them know I care.

In my current position, I no longer have a particular captive audience. I don’t have some number of students assigned to me in any fashion. Still, I felt the need to reach out. I had an idea. I would get my colleagues to help me. We would all write positive messages on post-it notes and put them all over the building for the students to read and find as they went through exam week. They could keep ones they liked. I had a vision of walls with hundreds of messages.

Well, that didn’t work out the way I had hoped.

I did get a few notes from several colleagues…not the volume I was hoping for, but they were supportive of my effort, for the most part. The fire code, on the other hand, was not so supportive. Policy indicated that one could not hang things without permission. It would be a fire hazard of epic proportion, to be letting anyone who wanted to hang stuff everywhere. This is not unreasonable, and makes perfect sense, but I had not considered it when I had my brilliant idea.

I would not be daunted – I would spread some positivity – somehow.

I could decorate my door, as long as I didn’t cover more than 40% of it. Here was the result:

The door

The note, entitled “SPARKS,” says “Please help yourself to a spark. Take one for a friend. Leave a new one if you’d like.” There were around 40 different quotes and sayings. Some had instructions: “Take a deep breath. Smile. Take one more. EXCELLENT!” Some had questions: “What are you thankful for today?” Some had messages from characters: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than  you think. ~A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh.”  Some were song quotes: “One little spark, of inspiration, is at the heart, of all creation… ~The Sherman Brothers.”

I don’t get much traffic on the hall where my office is, but the students who came down the hall would stop and read, sometimes take one, sometimes discuss them with each other, sometimes talk to me, which I loved. I heard that it was a great idea, “Thank you for this; I really needed it,” that it was such a sweet thing to do, and other positive comments. It felt wonderful. I have been leaving them on the door overnight. Each morning, more are missing, and I replace them. This morning, someone left a new one! This is particularly exciting to me since I had not left any mechanism to make leaving one an easy task (I have since fixed that), and these students don’t know me at all.

New spark!

Yes, the scientist in me wants to study the phenomenon. I want data. I want to know how they felt before they read it. How they felt right after it. How they felt about the exam they took after getting one. Whether or not they took one for a friend. Perhaps I will ponder this more, but for now, I will just continue to let the sparks fly.

Learning is Messy

We have all heard it. Learning is messy. If you are a teacher, you have probably said it to your students, when their frustration level was at its highest. Learning is messy. Sometimes it is tedious. Sometimes, a question seems simple enough, but in the search for the answer, another question arises that must be answered first. Sometimes, the initial question is just the tip of the iceberg of questions with (or without) answers that plummet deeper into knowledge on a topic than one could imagine. The seeker could go the way of the Titanic, being crushed, broken in half, and left to sink. Learning is messy! The seeker could run down the rabbit hole of unending questions and get lost. Teachers see this in their students and remind them – learning is messy. It will be ok. The teacher will help. As a teacher, I likely focused on my teaching and their learning. Often, I would try to shift the iceberg picture they were feeling so acutely. Going down a rabbit hole into Wonderland can be far more preferable. Just as frustrating at times, but a bit more fun, than say, the Titanic.

The reality is, however, I am no different from them. Learning is just as messy for me. I’ve been given a project in my new job. I have been feeling the Titanic analogy rather acutely. It was a visit form a former student today that helped my perspective shift from the Titanic to Wonderland. As I tried to explain briefly what my iceberg was about, she looked a little amused. I realized that I sounded just like my students do when they reach that level of frustration in learning. At the moment this clicked with me, she said something to the effect of “Wow, you’ve learned a lot in a very short time about this.”

Oh. Right.

I’m a Learner, too, not just a Teacher, and learning is messy. So now, armed with my Figment mug of tea, I will jump back into the rabbit hole and continue this journey…into Wonderland. Perhaps I will meet the caterpillar who fervently demands to know who I am. I am a teacher, but I am also a learner…and well, learning is messy. And I do love being on both ends of it.