Promoting Intergenerational Leadership With Natalie Miller (Part 2 of 2)

November 13, 2020

This is the second part of a two-part interview conducted with Natalie Miller, a systems engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, active member of the ShapingEDU community, and a University of Maryland graduate student. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Switching gears, has broadband access been an issue for you and your colleagues in online learning environments?

In a work and personal setting, yes.

In a personal context I have mainly just had connection issues on different days that prevented me from getting work or school done online. It is amazing how much we rely on these connections and how much stops when they disappear.

The hardest situations I have heard today are the power outages in Los Angeles county. The power companies in the area keep shutting off power because of the risk of downed polls and fires, but every time there is a power outage, it sets students and teachers a day behind, keeps individuals from working, and takes away connections for everyone in those areas. At the end of the school year, students are going to be in classes much less than other areas because of this situation, meaning they may be behind other students and may not be meeting the mark as often as other districts.

Seeing how broadband can affect an individual so dramatically shows how essential it is for everyone to have equal opportunity to resources, and how stressful not having these resources could be. I actually took the train up the coast this past weekend, and I know I was stressed when my call was cut out for five minutes! With public locations including libraries and Starbucks being closed for a period of time, it was even more difficult. 

During the pandemic, having outdoor Internet cafes, or opportunities to receive more reliable, battery operated/remote access equipment are two ideas that could be helpful.

One last switch to hit a topic that clearly is of interest to you: I know you have a long-standing passion for and impressive involvement in advocating for open education resources. Care to add anything more to what you’ve already said about how you were drawn to that topic under the tutelage of your dean, and some of the work you’re doing or have done?

Open Education is the future of education, and it can teach everyone so much. In times like the pandemic, creating open materials could help to foster the communities everyone misses, and help individuals to gain development or show progress from opportunities they may have lost. Today’s emotional climate has been so unstable; by working on open publishing or assisting on making materials for students, individuals can provide the assistance and compassion that these students need in times where funds and emotions are tight.

Natalie Miller

From my experience, groups like College of the Canyons Open Educational Resources and ShapingEDU have been some of the most positive and supportive communities I have been a part of, which is why I continue to come back and be a part of them. The synchronized mindset of wanting the best for others, and for the community is what drives them, and that is honestly the type of communities America and the education system need right now. Education will always be the future, and supporting the students in the system is how to support the future.

What have I not asked that you hoped to cover regarding learning, leadership, broadband access, or open education resources?

“How would you advise someone to become a leader in education?” 

One of the most unique things about education is how many different individuals are involved. In the educational community, there are almost no limits to the number of backgrounds, races, specialties, ages, genders, or any other identifiers that exist, but with all this diversity I want to remind everyone that you can be a leader, especially in education. 

“How?”

Find what you are passionate about. Surround yourself with individuals that will support you. Make a plan. Think about what you see that needs to be improved. 

When I just started school, I made the mistake of thinking I was just there for the degree and all I needed to do was show up to classes. When I started doing more than that, I became more than that. When you become passionate about something, like education, you should learn about it enough that you have no doubt in your mind that you are an advocate, and then people will listen. 

Being a leader is also listening. Once we all start listening to each other, we can all lead each other to better systems and processes that will drive us toward equality, equity, and opportunity for all. 

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


Promoting Intergenerational Leadership With Natalie Miller (Part 1 of 2)

November 13, 2020

This is the first part of a two-part interview conducted with Natalie Miller, a systems engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, active member of the ShapingEDU community, and a University of Maryland graduate student. An article drawn from the interview is available on the ShapingEDU blog.

Let’s start with an easy one: what initially drew you into ShapingEDU?

When I was doing my undergrad at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (I was a transfer student), the CSU Chief of Innovation, Michael Berman, had suggested me for this event because of my work in Open Education. Being so involved in Open Education, and just passionate about my own journey, as well as other students’ journeys, I wanted in. I wanted to make a difference in the education community, and the fact that there were others who would be willing to listen to an undergrad student is amazing. The act of listening to students alone is what brought me on board and gives me hope for an education system that listens and caters to their students more. 

You have, since that introduction, actually jumped right into a leadership position in the community as one of two “co-mayors,” with Trevor Ellis, for the “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures” neighborhood. Can you describe what you and Trevor are doing there?

In the “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures” neighborhood, Trevor and I are working toward creating proposals, solutions, and ideas to help integrate different levels of learning and leadership in an educational path. 

There are two ways to look at “Bolster Intergenerational Leadership for Learning Futures:

*Having different levels (i.e., elementary, high school, college) come together to support each other and learn. This could be extremely effective because less-developed-level students could learn from more developed students, and more developed students could prove their knowledge by sharing it with less-developed students. The leadership would also promote confidence.

*The second way one could look at it is simply giving more leadership to students in classrooms, which is closely related to the concept of Open Pedagogy, a close cousin of Open Education. Open Pedagogy is the idea that students should be able to create their own classroom: e.g., make their own tests, help create their materials, and even teach lessons to each other. The professors are still very much involved, but it is more [that] they are encouraging, correcting, and cultivating students minds than lecturing. Students should have more of a say in what their education path is, and by doing Open Pedagogy, they would have more control over what assignments and things they want to learn. 

Detail from ShapingEDU 10 Actions document
Illustration by Karina Branson/ConverSketch

Trevor and I are specifically looking into what communities we could cultivate to meet goals like the ones above, as well as what materials would be helpful in guiding individuals to understand how to encourage leadership at different levels. In the end, I think a toolkit will be helpful in doing so.

Your description of Open Pedagogy very much parallels what I experienced in connectivist MOOCS [massive open online courses], where “faculty” and “learners” were co-conspirators in the learning process. What experiences have you had with that experience of being a co-conspirator in learning?

In my education path, I have had more opportunities to be a co-inspirer than most students, but I hope to not be the exception one day. 

One of the best classroom settings I was in, a professor split us into groups of three to four students to teach different lessons throughout the quarter. This was great because it made sure that the group presenting knew the material front and back, and it also gave the class a slightly different style of learning each period that would keep it interesting. The professor would look at our lesson plan ahead of time, advise us, and bring up anything that we missed, but it allowed students to control what was talked about a little more, and make it in a language that was relevant to their peers. 

Outside of classrooms, I have been so fortunate because I was pulled into Open Education by the Dean of the Library and Distance Learning at College of the Canyons in Valencia, California, James Glapa-Grossklag. When I was nineteen, James pulled me into a position where I had no idea what Open Education was, and told me to run with it. I ended up creating a full program: a workflow, marketing materials, and a website [Zero Textbook Cost] that grew so fast that five individuals had to replace me when I left the program. Seeing a previous teacher—and current Dean—give me that opportunity and responsibility so young in my educational career allowed us to be inspired by each other and opened up other opportunities like public speaking, faculty assistance, and heading grants. This allowed me to believe there is no limit to what a student can do. [Note: the website has changed, but still all work is done by other students.]

Returning to the theme of leadership: would you mind telling a story of how a leader in education or elsewhere has fostered your own interest in promoting leadership for learning futures?

Open Education Consortium logo

Honestly, the Dean at College of the Canyons, James Glapa-Grossklag, is the individual that inspired me to want to promote leadership for learning futures. After working with him at College of the Canyons, he continued to promote me: helped me to receive the Open Education Consortium’s first global student award in 2018 for my work at College of the Canyons, continued to introduce me to individuals in education who helped me on my journey, allowed me to give advice to one of his sons and mentor him, and advocated for me to be a keynote at multiple conferences. He had so much confidence in me and spent a large amount of time mentoring me even after I left College of the Canyons, I knew I wanted to help empower and encourage others. It was all for the wellbeing of others and my peers, and he just made it look so easy. He also mentored many individuals after me which was amazing to see as well. 

At Cal Poly I also got involved in Entrepreneurship. Seeing my peers inspired me to promote leadership for learning futures because I could see how ready and eager they were to learn, and they were creating startups while in college, which is very ambitious. Seeing how my peers hadn’t had the same opportunities of having a voice in their education as I did, I knew I wanted to take on the role of raising awareness and empowering these incredible students who were already capable of so much.

This all sounds closely related to the ShapingEDU “Connecting Student Voices” initiative that ShapingEDU Innovator in Residence Anita Roselle is beginning to develop. Do you have any connections to that initiative?

I don’t think I have any direct connections to that initiative yet, but I can easily see how it would connect. What I love about ShapingEDU is how closely everything is connected because it has the intention to improve education for students. 

[The] “Connecting Student Voices” initiative sounds inspiring because a consistent gap in student’s education is often that there is a limited span of two to four years to accomplish things in school. If there was an opportunity to help students come together and unite their educational thoughts, their education would be improved even more!

“Coming together” has always been an issue for students, and it has become even more challenging given our current pandemic/shelter-in-place situation. How is that affecting you and your colleagues in school? 

The pandemic has been a hard time for everyone, and it I have seen individuals from my undergraduate degree, workplace, and graduate degree suffering because of the lack of social interaction. I actually signed up for online classes knowing I would be starting my graduate degree in the pandemic, and although they are not in person, I have been able to chat on the phone with many individuals, chat online, attend online classes, and still make a few friends. 

The difference between pre-pandemic classrooms and post-pandemic classrooms for me is that I was able to meet strangers just by asking for the homework, or greeting them, where now it seems more direct. I am still learning a lot, but losing the lessons of social interaction are rough because in undergrad, the social interactions are often where one learns the most. At my workplace, I have been fortunate because in all of my undergrad I was able to practice communication in person, over email, in stressful situations, and public speaking in front of others, but so much of that connection between individuals is disintegrating and it is hard to gain if one does not already have it. 

Education is so strongly based on personal connections, convincing and critically thinking together, and pushing the limits together, and online education has not pivoted to meet that fast enough. Seeing students suffering because they are limited to individual paper projects is isolating and lacks the human nature education needs. Education needs to make sure it continues to shift to bring individuals together and keep it collaborative and approachable to everyone involved. {done}

What steps would you recommend to anyone (instructor or learner) who is struggling to succeed in our current learning environment?

Disclaimer: I have become more of an extrovert over the years. 

Individuals who are currently struggling in this isolated learning environment should start with the basics of forming or assigning groups. Throughout my whole education, having individuals to talk to and ask for support on missing assignments, or not understanding topics, has been essential. Most individuals were not made to function alone, and everyone needs a support system. Plus, everyone’s learning style is different, and the kinetic and auditory learners (because they often like to have conversations and visuals to think through things) are the ones suffering the most. Being away from a traditional learning environment is most likely limiting everyone’s learning abilities. With groups, each individual could get the attention they need, collaborate, ask questions in a more private setting, and socialize virtually. Be sure to also organize meetings just for socialization because it is just as essential! 

Besides groups, I think it is essential to understand how to step away from screens. Lately, I have been finding myself on a screen for 10+ hours a day, and when things don’t make sense, it is essential to stand up, stretch, and get some fresh air. One thing many individuals who are not on computers as often may not realize is how positioning to the computer can cause pain, and to remember that humans were not built to live on a screen. Getting up from a screen and doing a little exercise is a great mental reset.

N.B. — Paul is one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU (July 2020-June 2021).


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