The Misery of Autonomy: From a Student’s Perspective

The lecture ends, we take a break, the next one begins… soon enough the day is over with ~10 hours of material (delivered in 3) dumped on us – for us to synthesize and comprehend. We do our “best” to engage in lecture and make these ideas relevant by salvaging as many concepts and ideas our professors painstakingly presented. Without much more guidance, besides a voluntary time management workshop, on how to engage in lecture and make meaningful connections in class, we’re left on our own… which leads to some detrimental outcomes. During lecture we immediately see if we are meeting the expectations of our professors and how we’re fairing with the most advanced & motivated & hard working students in the class. STEM curriculum is really great at making us feel like we do not belong. This is a gut-wrenching reflection in each and every single 1 of my technical lectures every-single-day. Unless we find a significant reason to engage in unpacking what our lectures have to offer, it’s extremely uncommon to spend the hours outside of class doing so, for some limited-dimensional idea of getting a job 2-4 years down the line. This is actually a much more complicated topic which involves motivation theory, academic trauma, belief, inequities, ethics, vision, and much much more, and the deeper I dig, the more I realize how nuanced and consequential that ~40% of college students are dropping out, truly is.

The ability to exercise intellectual labor in cognitively demanding tasks (such as writing an essay, doing math, or coding a program) requires a game plan if you want to really engage in that activity – sure we’ve all winged it before and we can get by in high school as many do, but the realization that winging it in college, especially if you’re in a technical field, ultimately could lead us to feeling like: is education about just mastering some skill or material? Rather could education offer fertile ground to teach us about ethics all while developing valuable skills that our valuable in our society? It could be about learning how to be an educated member of our community or becoming a professional learner, but instead more often than not, my classes provide a lecturer who knows foundational knowledge to these subjects I’m having to learn, that took 100+ years of development from many human minds, and we’re suppose to make sense of it. But where are the professionals that help us understand how learning works and infuse humanity, ethics, justice into their practices? I recognize even my least learning-focused professors, who are overworked & under appreciated, over-enrolled & understaffed (want smaller student to teacher ratios? well your vote matters) address my learning needs more than most of my colleagues in business & tech. However, a problem we are all too familiar with is, how do we get help on learning what is asked of us in our courses? Autonomy is a keystone of living a happy life as Esther Wojcicki writes in her transformative book “How to Raise Successful People” but, autonomy, something many college students have (arguably) too much of, without guidance coaching and mentorship, leads to serious torment.

One way I invite you to making sense of the autonomy you have in your life as a learner is to begin being metacognitive about what it means to learn. So here are some questions I invite you to chew on and perhaps even write responses for!

  1. What do you know about the process of learning something challenging?
  2. How open-minded are you to thinking about learning more thoughtfully than you ever imagined before?
  3. Are you able to imagine being in a class where you thrive by turning boring topics into engaging ones, all while finding your own sense of belonging through scholarship?
  4. How would you feel if no matter how disconnected you felt with your professor or the material you’re being asked to study, you found joy and meaning in the process of learning?

The way I see it is, we have three options. 

A) Continue to learn to achieve grades and goals set from a self-centered – parent centered – professor centered – “I wanna get that ‘A'” centered paradigm.

B) Always be at the mercy of someone else’s expectations and doing as they say simply because – that’s what you have to do – it’s my way or the highway – others are doing it why can’t you? 

C) Begin developing the intellectual courage and honesty to pursue (write down) meaningful goals, all while challenging and leveraging your prior knowledge to accelerate your learning process. Be proactive for your education and life by beginning with an end in mind and putting first things first. 

Which 1 would you choose?

7 years ago, my mom wanted to open a cupcake bakery in Shanghai with me; we both had 0 restaurant experience, but like many immigrant parents dream – the restaurant hustle is a gamble they want to take. We took a 2-week long cupcake class – thousands of dollars down the drain, where “taking” a course I thought I would learn a lot from and use in my life.

However, I thought wrong.

Had I understood what I know about learning now, I would be able to refer back to my notes and learnings from the 2 week long course and make use of that experience in meaningful ways. But instead, the two things that I remember about that class was one: pistachio cupcakes were delicious – two: chemistry matters. My leader, renowned pastry chef, never guided me to understand the why and the how of what we were learning. Rather he gave a little history behind pastries and we began to bake. I am 100% certain he “taught” us more than those two takeaways… looking back on it I’m quite sad I didn’t leverage my autonomy and curiosity to learn more significantly than I could have had.

So why is it that we struggle with autonomy?

Andrew Huberman a neurobiologist at Stanford Medical School states that, to rewire our brains and our ability to concentrate – in times of freedom – requires that we induce a sense of “urgency” that produces norepinephrine. This hormone, will make us feel agitated, want to get up and go do something less cognitively demanding, as well as less “boring“. Andrew says that we must apply serious focus to fight that urge, ultimately leading to the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that in combination with the norepinephrine can induce brain growth.

Before acetylcholine can release, AKA when we’re in the uncomfortably boring stages of our learning process, Jeff Anderson from The Learning Code advises himself, by extension all of us:

“How might we reframe our boredom so that we get excited about what we are doing?”

  1. How can we make the “boring” stuff in our classes fun? 
  2. Why do we truly think this class is boring? 
  3. Is it boring or is it because we’re cognitively overloaded & distracted?
  4. What about this material I’m studying is interesting? 
  5. What would this education help me do in the long run?
  6. How do I induce Brain Growth & Why should I bother doing so in this class?
  7. How do I become more cognitively fit?

Moral of this story: making pistachio cupcakes helped me induce brain growth and release acetylcholine. Just kidding, but seriously.

I do not want you to pay and sit through classes, get information dumped onto you, be assigned to do stuff without reflecting on what ‘why’ and ‘how’, and get no long term value out of that experience besides a grade on your transcript. Where ultimately that grade could end up murdering your faith in your learning abilities for that subject. Even really unmotivated students – like me in cupcake boot camp – spend a TON of time being ineffective. Think about how you are spending your discretionary time and autonomy. Let your behaviors drive your attitude, behaviors, and knowledge: in turning often boring difficult to unpack & comprehend content, into meaningful tasks and projects that will provide you genuine value and cognitive anti-fragility down the road.

I failed so many STEM courses I can’t even keep count, so leverage my failures, so that you can learn more effectively THEN efficiently. Let’s rewrite our notes, go to office hours, slow down lecture, make some friends, take a honest look at our schedules, delete that app off our phone, and carry on.

Question your Autonomy & Discretionary Time!

Position ourselves to allow our classes to train our Cognitive Fitness!

You are the future that will lead the communities of today!

We Bet on You!

10 Principles To “Lecture” Literacy

Ever wonder why advisors, parents, and professors say, college is a full time job? 😕 “For X units you take, be prepared to spend 3X hours per week to succeed?” – deluded proclaimed wisdom.😨 Well… what they didn’t tell us was where those hours are to be spent, and how to go about doing so – as we are far too familiar with, learning demands vary dramatically depending on the class and our responsibilities of the term. So if you’re a learner struggling to learn what you are working towards understanding, or you’re a student studying X amount of hours without being able to then generate worthwhile ideas from your classes, this post is for you. Namely, just how much we can uncover from a single “lecture”, or more commonly-thwarting, just how much we can miss.

If you’re reading this post, you live in an Information Age and are aspiring to be accepted into the Knowledge Economy. Our quality of life, happiness, income, wealth are largely tied to our cogency and literacy with information. As college students, namely STEM majors, our ability to create significant learning experiences is gravely limited to our ability to capture what our professors’ say, and make use of their words & writing, in achieving the course learning objectives they have set for us. 

Here are 10 principles, derived from the productivity coach Tiago Forte’s principles in Building a Second Brain, have helped me get the grades I “study” to get, all while developing agency and efficacy in my personal and professional life. These principles have been essential for me to generate meaningful & paid opportunities across 4 countries in these organizations below:


Overview 

  1. Loaned Innovation – Walk, Discover & Gather with Giants  
  2. Sticky Dependency – Outsource Memory by Capturing Notes
  3. Salvage Concept Images – Apply Preservatives to Ideas 
  4. Employ and Deploy – Leverage Concepts for Projects
  5. Kindling by Jeff Anderson – Every note can flourish if Nurtured 
  6. Illustrator and Carpenter by Steve Silva- Don’t start with Google
  7. Cumulative Concept Images by Jeff Anderson – Motivation is Scarce
  8. Breakers & Builders – Create Content to See what you (don’t) know
  9. Fortune or Doom – Positive Deltas for your near Future Self
  10. Intentional Ideas – a focus on stream rolling your Learning

Loaned Innovation

  1. There’s rarely a new idea in my world that’s so original that validates me to claim to be completely mine. Near all creative & innovative work is some fusion of other’s work. When we see great accomplishments such as our favorite teacher (our Giants) being able to uplift us and bring us joy while helping us learn, this is a result of a ton of processing, growth mindset, and channeled inspiration. Great classes aren’t built by happenstance. 
    1. Our output is limited to the virtues / crafts-women-ship / and conditions of our inputs. Therefore if you want to create innovative work through deliberate practice and earn satisfactory grades while deriving deep everlasting value from our classes, we must consume (then digest) higher quality ideas & intelligence. Note: this in its very nature takes time to come across, and gather.
    2. We’re living in an overtaxed, oversupplied, overburdened, overwhelmed encumbering amount of “innovation” – from our president’s tweets to the 100th smartphone that came out this year – we must discern how to filter out that noise. 
      1. Trump and Apple (I’m aware they give tuition reimbursements) could care less if we get the grade’s we need to get to complete our degree for transformational opportunity equality, so it’s up to us to find the rare and valuable Giants & information out there.
      2. While it may not seem like it at times, the information (loaned innovation) our professor’s deliver to us warrants closer attention. This is why we may consider creating a lecture note system 
    3. When we create well organized lecture notes in our own writing after lecture ends, we start at a much more favorable starting point than when we were only drawing from Google Youtube or our textbooks (do books still exist in our library? Do bookshelves exist?)
      1. Just like how Trump and Apple doesn’t care if you get a college degree, neither does Google, Youtube, or your textbook
    4. We need to be able to pull on accumulated wisdom and loaned innovation – because lectures and lesson plans take time & effort to generate – so that’s why we’ll find ways to revisit our lecture notes, and make sense of it.
      1. Tiago Forte, a productivity coach, thinks about this as borrowed creativity

Sticky Dependency

  1. Sticky Dependency
    1. I’ve been transcribing as many of the words my professors say (many of my lectures are not recorded), but I am reflecting on how this is not the way to go. Instead I should be writing/typing down these points to engage in active thinking. 
      1. Insights
      2. Relevant Content <-> Relevant Context that students can bring
      3. Questions 
      4. Examples
      5. Definitions
    2. The idea of capturing comes not only from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, but from when I wrote lists of groceries to pick up from Costco a decade ago. 
      1. The similarity is that our minds have limited working memory. This means we can not hold on to ideas and information for very long
        1. Especially when we’re having to continue to look out (capture) and process new information – like we painfully have to do in lecture  
    3. Let’s try to value our (even smallest) ideas 
      1. Instead of “I won’t be able to understand what’s being delivered in lecture” – give yourself a chance to be able to understand what’s being delivered by noting down what it is, you do not understand
        1. If we do not capture the confusion, definition, example, story, or algorithm, not being able to act on the idea presented, will turn into a self fulfilling nightmare of a prophecy. 
        2. To be able to “connect the dots” or mind map concepts together, you have to have dots (concept images & notes) laid out in the first place… 
          1. Much harder to connect nonexistent dots “forward” – however it is important to begin with an end in mind 
    4. Listen to your head & heart on what to your sticky dependencies are – so capture:
      1. What makes you frustrated when you do not understand?
      2. What information excites you to utilize in your own content creation?
      3. What brings you energy?
      4. What do you immediately know you’d like to go to office hours, tutoring, strong study partners for? 
      5. Which questions might I find an answer to when I get specific with the problem statement? 
    5. When you do a project, an assignment, a 2nd draft to your 1st draft of lecture notes, it’s much harder to sit down and pour out valuable insights without collecting, storing, and organizing them from the actual event.
    6. Convert raw materials from lecture, textbook, youtube, google from your note taking system, to be able to do deeper (making the translation of this material to your assignments, assessments, and learning portfolio) 

Salvage Concept Images

  1. Salvage Concept Images
    1. Borrow from your past self: experiences, prerequisite knowledge, notes, tutoring lessons, genuine connection during office hours, study groups 
    2. There’s scientific research literature around cognitive dissonance that proves the ideas 
      1. You do not really remember what your past self knew
      2. You do not know what you do not know
        1. Looking at a math solution in the back of the book is drastically doing the math problem step by step
        2. Looking at someone else’s code and nodding is deceivingly different than coding yourself and understanding each line of code’s purpose
      3. You do not really know what your future self will desire
        1. You may want a bugatti now, but you may value citizenship, service, peace, social & racial justice, friendships, community in the future
      4. What we can do is pass ideas through time (think about a manual for an old school device. while technology has become more user friendly which leads the manual’s becoming slimmer, lets not forget the origins of passing ideas through time in this context)
    3. Many of our greatest ideas start: simple, blunt, premature, pure, candid, sheer
      1. Social media post
      2. Email
      3. Word of mouth
      4. Recommendation
      5. Observation
        1. Now recall how you have taken that concept image, applied “preservatives” to it, and recycled it through various contexts and moments in time, to nourish it into a fuller beauty
    4. Unlike most physical things, Concept Images have the ability to become better when you recycle, reuse, and repurpose them!
    5. Do not try to study for your assignment, projects, or exams from scratch 
      1. Begin capturing and applying preservatives to the concept images from your professor/classmates/tutors guidance and words right away
        1. Freeze dry your notes if you have to, smoke kipper salt pickle marinate jelly candy mummify, whatever you have to do – the idea is to treat EVEN YOUR SIMPLEST of creations with more care – protect guard and shelter them from the naysayers 
          1. “Number 1 person you have to steer and negotiate in your life is yourself” Alexandra Carter professor of Law at Columbia, because our psychology can truly be our greatest barrier. Unfortunately, oftentimes our hearts and our minds are the biggest naysayers. 
    6. Paraphrasing the words of Tiago Forte – build a compounding asset of intellectual capital – in our case, our lecture notes – so that they will last us a lifetime 
    7. Most lectures are composed of components – so understand them to reuse them. 

Employ & Deploy

  1. Employ & Deploy
    1. Knowledge presented in lecture is like a high performing operating system or factory ran with people who had too many Redbull energy drinks, NOT a quiet peaceful library
      1. If we are lucky enough to have the insurance of a recorded lecture, it does not make the pain points of lecture that much more comfortable
    2. Like an overworked operating system – things are coming at us at rapid unprocessable speeds 
      1. unless you have strong prerequisite knowledge and deep values-based reasoning behind studying the material that’s presented – you will feel quite flustered
        1. Fortunately this can be cultivated and earned 
    3. Remember we’re not taking notes for the sake of taking notes, we’re taking notes to improve our own personal knowledge management and begin developing our concept images!
      1. So that we can better meet our professors’ expectations while moving along to building mastery
    4. Projects (learning portfolio) that displays our concept images is a great unit of measurement for our output as a college student and future knowledge worker. Projects can be creative, specific, concrete, and something to be really proud of when you look back on it – this is not the case for “grades” by themselves
      1. Ideas are not as concrete
      2. SMART Goals at times are overwhelming
    5. Categories vs. Projects
      1. Categories of information are consumption oriented 
      2. Projects are production oriented 
        1. Therefore let’s organize our components of our lecture notes according to projects:
          1. Homework 
          2. Assignments
          3. Assessments
            1. Midterm(s)
            2. Final 
          4. Learning Portfolio (wordpress)
            1. Especially valuable when your professor doesn’t assign homework or assignments

Kindling by Jeff Anderson

  1. Kindling by Jeff Anderson
    1. Heavy lifting is when we cram past midnight to finish a project (please refer above for The Learning Code’s examples of projects)
      1. However, over time, heavy lifting has its toll – compounded when life gets in the way, which it inevitability does.
        1. The consequences are no longer the fact that you forgot to bring your homework to your 5th grade English teacher before recess 
          1. The consequences now are: 
            1. academic probation, losing financial aid, spending an entire academic year longer to get a degree, feeling stupid (don’t worry, you are NOT no matter what the haters say – point your haters to literature on learning science or media on Limitless Mind or The Little Book of Talent)
    2. Kindling by Jeff Anderson is quite the opposite of heavy lifting. We gather information, exercise problem sets with a focus on learning, read-think-write critically, and strategically plan to get the grades we work for, while setting ourselves up for success in the near & far future. 
    3. This is the impetus, shade, and distinction from physical labor to intellectual labor
      1. Intellectual work can be spread out over time with refined working systems – which are habits and skills 
      2. This allows our school work to be more enjoyable, creative, meaningful, significant, critical, and filled with less Redbulls
        1. Ps. Redbull corporation doesn’t care if you pass your classes either 
    4. Tiago Forte’s analogy is that predators need to eat now – they work fast and intensely w scarcity. Scavengers work in abundance – we live in a sea of creative inputs – we do not have to look super hard to find inspiration and gold
      1. Consider looking in office hours, tutoring centers, and success centers 

Illustrator and Carpenter by Steve Silva

  1. Illustrator and Carpenter by Steve Silva
    1. Steve and I use to start my homework, assignments, assessment review with a blank canvas – we use to start my work with scarcity, insufficiency, and sparseness.
    2. Now, we assemble components from our lecture notes so that we can illustrate our concept images while working like a carpenter/plumber/electrician
    3. Store as many notes as you can from your professors words to give yourself the best shot to meet their expectations
      1. Big breaks of the light bulb moment do not wait for you to be ready
        1. They tend to happen when you start your work with abundance with your own swagger and mood
    4. Make the decision to become wealthier when you “read and notetake” lecture 
      1. Leverage intentionality to cultivate this wealth of knowledge your professor has accumulated over the span of their lives
        1. While the ideas they present may seem free, plentiful, and trivial
          1. The concept images they accrued took many years, so store them forever and teach it to somebody else!
          2. More likely than not, they had to take the very classes we’re having to take to get our degree!

Cumulative Concept Images by Jeff Anderson

  1. Cumulative Concept Images by Jeff Anderson
    1. Transitioning from unconscious incompetence -> unconscious competence is not necessarily your professor’s job
      1. Unless we’ve taught and are responsible for 100+ students grade’s during 1 academic term, we will never fully understand why there’s a minimal focus on learning compared to assessment.
        1. Therefore it is up to us to develop our consciousness and learning habits, slow and steady 
          1. The straight A students have done so much earlier in their academic journey’s 
        2. If we rush this process, we will shoot ourselves in the foot
          1. Just imagine if I gave you a degree of comp.sci. today and placed you in an engineering role. How effective will you be in your job?
    2. Instead of doing your entire assignment in 1 evening, break apart the lecture, then understand the objectives and specifications your professor outlined for you
      1. If they didn’t outline any, go to office hours and ask what they are looking for exactly after reviewing your lecture notes. 
      2. Do you think the textbooks you’ve seen were written in a sprint? 
        1. No they were developed using cumulative concept images
    3. If we are cumulative with developing our own concept images, do you think you will learn more meaningfully?
    4. Invest effort in making each concept image consumable for your (very near) future self 
      1. Turn perishable lecture notes into longer lasting ones by taking the time to save them down in the right place, and adding metadata to them by expanding and further researching the ideas from the lecture. 
      2. “To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they learned” – Ambrose

Breakers and Builders 

  1. Breakers and Builders 
    1. Learning is quite similar to working – and the best way to learn (build) something is by making something (breaking apart what we know)
    2. I was ecstatic to hear that many of you are conscious in the importance & value of learning how to learn
      1. My student-centered leaders at The Learning Code, Foothill, SJSU and TechCore believe the same 
    3. Creating significant learning experiences (Fink 2007) is no easy task 
      1. But it’s a task worth pursuing. I bet an apple that the people you idolize in your life have engaged in some form of these categories narrated by me, written by Jeff in the comment field 
    4. When you begin breaking things apart to build content – all the practical difficulties and holes in your concept images come to life 
      1. Note I do not think you are contributing to the achievement gap when you do not get 4.0 GPA, but rather the system owes you a fulfillment debt for not engaging and inspiring you to learn the material to the best of your ability
        1. 1 time management and 1 binder organization workshop is not enough to help us develop student skills and learning habits, therefore The Learning Code was birthed 
    5. An example of breakers and builders are Tiago Forte’s book summaries 
      1. Check out how deeply he goes… He’s saving notes, diving into ideas, applying the ideas in a book summary, immersing himself with the ideas of each book, adding interpretations and metaphors 
        1. We can do the exact same with our lecture observation & lecture notes 

Fortune or Doom

  1. Fortune or Doom
    1. Many of us feel the imminent doom in our current day and age, from not being able to graduate college or even if we do graduate not being able to find a worthy job. 
      1. However some people work harder and harder, some others work less and less, while becoming more fulfilled!
      2. Make things easier for your future self by focusing on the learning starting today. 
    2. Accumulate leverage with your concept images you’re introduced to in your lecture – to be able to generate good grades, learning & work portfolio, scholarships, degrees, blogs, true fans, savings, larger return on investment 
  • Intellectual leverage compounds over time – which makes it easier for future selves
      1. An example of this is placing our keys in a spot where we don’t lose them, finding a nugget of information from lecture or office hours that would have taken 10x longer on google, 
        1. or drawing right angles to calculate the hypotenuse (from “Change is the only Constant” by Orlin)
          1. By the way the object on the left is an apple and the right is Earth, which is why Orlin does not want NASA to use his sketch, lol.
    1. Treat your fortune as if that fortune is as in your control as possible
      1. This treatment will impact the way you eat, sleep, believe, workout, learn, and get grades. 
        1. Making things easier for your future self will help us act with more direction in life
          1. Ps. netflix and instagram could care less if you earn 6 figures or 5. 

Intentional Ideas

  1.  Intentional Ideas
    1. Spend less time being frustrated when you’re stuck – realize this is symptom of a systemic problem when society doesn’t treat teaching and learning as a legitimate science – move on and recall these principles
    2. Lectures are not designed for active learning or to make you feel smart – unless you really previewed and anticipated the lecture, and you’re hella hyped to learn – for which I applaud you but still advise you to humble yourself and revisit the 10 principles here when times get tough.
    3. You will get stuck so keep your ideas moving by being intentional with what it is you want to do with those ideas
      1. Want to work in criminal justice system, want to go into social work, want to go into tech? 
        1. Empower yourself first and break down those glass ceilings along the way with your education and focus on learning
    4. Limit multitasking – Cal Newport, PhD in comp sci from MIT and a tenured professor at Georgetown, has published a TON about this idea so just search his name and listen to him speak for a little. 
      1. You lose progress as you can not keep everything in your head
“The use of a distracting service does not by itself reduce your brain’s ability to focus – It’s instead the constant switching from low stimuli high value activities to high stimuli low value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge – that is what teaches our mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty… it’s like dumping Sand in the gears to the machinery, that is our brain.” – Newport
  1. To stay in flow – enjoyment, creativity, immersion – requires movement, keep moving and develop those concept images 1 letter 1 word 1 phrase 1 sentence 1 function 1 equation 1 example 1 lemma 1 theorem 1 algorithm 1 program at a time

While google, netflix, redbull, poop-to-coffee startups do not genuinely care if you earn your education and live out your life to its fullest potential the people who make you feel good about yourself, support you, and love you DO CARE. While it may not seem like they do due to the assumptions, opinions, and assertions they (parents, educators, friends) make about your capabilities may have lasting damages on our self-worth and values, I promise they do care about you (even if they don’t know how to) more than most tech companies and Philz Coffee. 

This post was geared towards making the most out of lecture, but my hope is that you integrate these principles in your professional and personal lives. Whether that’s reading an article, watching a video, listening to a podcast, arguing with your parents, debating with your friends… making sense of what we’re “consuming” is an essential part to providing something of value in our lives.

“Mentally strong people don’t metaphorically dust themselves off and get right back on their horse. They pause to figure out why they fell off in the first place before getting back on.” – Amy Morin. 

Don’t fall off the horse, aka discount lecture and resources provided to you by your instructor, and expect to meet their expectations. While their expectations and metrics are sometimes flawed, The Learning Code wants to see you earn your college education, reimagine & redefine & reinterpret learning, so you can empower yourself to solve the more demanding problems you hold most dear to your 🤎. Figure out how to get back on the horse, reduce the chances of falling off, and carry on. This post contains roman keystone principles on how you “read” what’s around you. For more on that check out Jeff Anderson, my finest math and learning doctor’s remarks on reading here.

Quarantining our Learning Needs

I’ve had incredibly good luck meeting the people I’ve met at Foothill College, SJSU, and at OpenStax – but having a good experience with higher education shouldn’t be a matter of luck.

“There are students so afraid of what the emancipatory practices are, so afraid of being able to live freely, so afraid of having a voice, so afraid of pursuing agency – that they would rather be normalized into a system of oppression”

Chris Emdin, at Teachers College of Columbia.

I am currently integrating teaching praxis, a year’s worth of research – without meriting my 8 years of hospitality work experience – in productivity, learning science, and critical race theory in my embedded learning assistant role with 30 students of the TechCORE Science Learning Institute program at Foothill College. I am helping my students feel like they belong, cultivate motivation, develop learning habits, exercise study skills, and most importantly, leave them feeling like computer science is learnable – even though our 3 week long summer crash course is quite demanding as the timeline suggests. In times of disequilibrium and unrest, the challenges to learning what we’re being asked to learn in college are perpetuated and magnified. 

My STEM instructors, particularly in an online learning setting, often assume that students have both the content-specific prerequisites and the necessary general learning skills “handled.” There are massive consequences to these assumptions, especially when professors do not have policies or practices in place to guide students to address any apertures in their knowledge and motivation. This kind of college culture is oppressive in its very nature. It’s sort of like throwing someone who’s never swam before into a body of water where their toes don’t touch the bottom. In order to “swim” – to learn the information the professor is delivering – students need effective & efficient learning habits and skills – so they witness how to learn what they are being asked to learn. But what about the students who might not have the same foundation of learning skills as those with college-educated parents, or those who went to rigorous well-funded high schools? Many students who’ve struggled with finding their academic identity have negative emotions when learning what they are being asked to learn.

The “just go figure it out” attitude is unrealistic and unendurable. Only ~20% of San Jose State University’s 1st generation STEM students graduate in 5 years. Some people in positions of power act like these achievement gaps are okay, are the norm – but I refuse to allow myself and my peers to be a part of this manufactured reality. The reality and narrative we work towards producing here at The Learning Code is that anything is learnable, and we’re going to empower students so they can articulate for themselves: what they are learning, why they are doing so, and how to go about that studying process – step by step. No flawed assumptions that ultimately turn into dehumanizing assertions onto a students’ belief, hope, and faith in the future.

Movements can change how we think and how we see the world, creating more evolved social norms. What was once accepted and thought to be normal may become unthinkable. What was marginalized or dismissed becomes honored and respected. What was suppressed becomes recognized as a principle.” Paul Hawkin from Drawdown.

Think about a time when you had to learn how to do something new, and you felt lost – maybe because the pace was too fast, there wasn’t a psychologically safe space for genuine inquiry to happen, or there simply was not enough feedback. When I started working at In-n-Out burger (and my 7 other jobs throughout the years) as an associate, there were times I certainly felt like this. I felt like there were principles to obey that were hidden and never explained thoroughly to me, so I was just to put my head down and work. That type of culture and environment is okay, but it’s really just that – okay. And at In-n-Out, the managers are paying me. This is not the case in college. When I’m paying my leader to teach, but there’s so little guidance and feedback, namely in the STEM fields, I sometimes feel cheated out of this education. I’ll be writing posts in the future on the assumptions and assertions by my professors, which lead to self imposed oppression on the students. 

In-n-out.JPG

Working at In-n-Out before COVID

When STEM leaders in academia teach theory so abstractly that only the most advanced learners and the most privileged get to understand that theory, it feels dehumanizing. The few students who are excelling in TechCore this summer all have either a large amount of prior programming experience, spend a ton of time outside our 10am-5pm days, 5 days a week self-learning because they are genuinely curious, or a parent who does their assignments for them. When professors assign so much to students who do not have strong learning skills (the how) and understand why they’re asked to do this work (the why) this leads to students just keeping their heads down and trying to get through the course, without ever even defining what they are solving or learning. It’s no wonder so many students lose faith in themselves; this is by perceptive design – unconscious incompetence: you don’t know, what you don’t know. Many of those students will think that this style of taking classes –  where we disregard the learning process (of ourselves and our peers) in the pursuit of grades –  is the norm. Then, students leave with the mindset that learning is something that people should just figure out on their own. And no, telling students to form study groups when you grade on a curve and give a limited amount of A’s, is not enough to address students’ learning needs. 

We maintain inequalities and inequities if we assume that all students must have skills we never explicitly teach. Just think about any time you had to learn something you ultimately felt really proud of. There was most likely some resource along the way that guided you in that process. Right now, those resources in an institution are office hours, tutoring, classmates, and study skill workshops; all of which are great, but fall short in meeting the students who need the most help where they are at. Teaching and learning must be considered as a legitimate science if we really want to empower more students; pedagogy must be considered an art form and skill just as much as content knowledge. Think about the art and skill of asking good questions. When the majority of students ask questions that make you facepalm yourself, this is not a coincidence. It is because we never taught many students how to ask critical questions.

As we invest and experiment with more distant & online learning, we need to think about how to make students truly feel like they can learn what they are being presented, by teaching learning habits and study skills, to level out the playing field with the advanced motivated learners in the class. When students are paying to inhabit a new space – higher education – we should help them learn the requisite skills and mindsets instead of telling them to “just go figure it out.” This advice only serves the most privileged in the system.

We have to ask: what are the essential skills that students of varying backgrounds are deficient in? Should they just figure it out, should I just point them to resources, or could I find ways to do better, such as making transparent the process of learning lectured material, and the long term value of getting grades, all while rewarding the peculiar curious head and heart developed along the way. This is not hand-holding – this is literally how learning works. There’s mountains of scientific literature published on this idea, if you would like me to point you to some. Susan Ambrose introduces her principles from her book How Learning Works here. Learning is demanding, as we all know; we have to rewrite the code of our subconscious and our beliefs all while healing from the trauma we all have due to an educational experience. However, what if we were to incentivize and motivate students to get work done outside of class so in class it becomes an active review session (assuming the professor is using a traditional lecture content delivery model). This is what I’ve found advanced learners in my classroom do for themselves, so we might actually want to teach that process and learning skill! 

I have the utmost respect and empathy for my instructors, but when instructors have the beliefs & attitude that “prereq is not my problem – learning how to learn is not my problem – scheduling is not my problem – motivation is not my problem – making the material engaging is not my problem,” students will believe that they are “not enough”. This is a travesty in the short term, and a source of major eminent societal problems in the long term. This type of leadership in the business world has led to problems like rank and yank, shareholder supremacy, hitting arbitrary quarterly projects while sacrificing the community, and mass layoffs.

A goal of my advocacy work with The Learning Code is to train embedded tutors and learning assistants to meet students where they are, and bring about some transparency behind what learning means, why we need to help students cultivate motivation and understand context, and how learning works. The work I’ve done in helping students cultivate motivation, learning habits, and study skills has become even more relevant in this time of disequilibrium and unrest, when challenges to learning are perpetuated and magnified.

If we cannot incentivize overworked and under-appreciated professors to think about pedagogy more critically, I know we can train fellow students as embedded tutors and place them in the classrooms to address the challenges that inevitably arise. Then and only then will we have more equitable classrooms – when learning in college can feel like learning how to ride a bike. With our safety pads on and our training wheels in place, we’ll be willing to make the investments we’ll need to make, to learn complex high-stakes content – all while beginning to experience the relevance and joy behind the process of learning, because we’ll see how to go about that journey. As Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist from Stanford said here, “urgency and focus must converge for deep work and flow to happen, so we must accept the periods of high stress and agitation in these high focus states.” So we might actually want to teach students how to accept those challenging times, to give them the agency they need be able to navigate out of them. 

I’ve worked in hospitality long enough to see the commonalities between shady business practices and what I’m experiencing in the education system. Students are being taught to be grade-centered, AKA product-driven.

“This similarity may be surprising to those with a vested interest in education systems remaining as they currently are, but it is one that powerfully exposes the role that business models, neoliberalism, and capitalism play in structuring what count as normative relationships, pedagogies, assessments, and learning outcomes in education. And when we dig deeper, as many students and faculty inevitably begin to do during budget crisis, we’ll quickly begin to unpack just how invested higher education systems are in predatory banking and lending practices, the accumulation of personal wealth at the expense of community wealth/resources, etc. Especially as is the case in the UC system where many of the regents are quite literally millionaire bankers, investors, etc.” – K. Lee, my academic mentor.

This gets to an idea that is larger than grades and funding. It’s an idea of who gets to construct truth. Right now in college we are not always taught how to seek truth, and it is difficult to speak out about how we feel when we are in these classes. But if we’ve learned anything from the recent events in 2020, it’s never been a more important time to reimagine and reinvest in communities. In our academy, that means the community of each and every class. Tutoring centers, success centers, and office hours are transformational spaces for the students who know how to navigate them, but they’re not so friendly to the students who haven’t yet been taught how to decode the what, why, and how of learning.

“These days I find myself filled with a strange dark kind of hope. When times grow dark the eyes adjust, what I see stirring in the shadows is people realizing that they neglected their communities, in an age of magic and lost. All around I see people awakening to citizenship. For decades we imagine democracy to be a supermarket where you went in whenever you needed something, however now we remember Democracy is a farm… where we reap what we sow.”

— Anand Giridharadas

The sooner we can guide students to refocus their attention and behavior on the process of learning by leading them how to do so, the closer we will be to fulfilling our mission and equity statements. Helping students learn is not too touchy feeling, artificially incentivizing, or coddling if done properly. Students need tailored, individual guidance, and an embedded tutor learning assistant who is trained with the skills and mindsets while working symbiotically with the professor can act as that untapped asset which rewards everyone involved with deep pockets of humanity and generosity. Students are looking for a learning roadmap that is understandable and transparent. Before we can help students master the discipline, we must engage and inspire them to do so. As so often in teaching and learning, we may end up having to pick up the lock (motivate students) before we understand how the key (student) fits into it (the discipline).

Transformational Tutoring

by Henry Fan

What?

Tutoring and receiving tutoring has enabled me to be a much more well rounded student, but more importantly, a well rounded adult.

“Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep in a room with a mosquito” – Christine Todd Whitman

Tutors often think they are too small to make a difference, but I trust if tutors can be equipt with the authentic skills of collaboration (down below) they will begin to see just how much of a difference they can make… Natalia Menendez, my tutor training professor invited me to think about how to critically understand some of the fundamental differences between a collaborator and evaluator. Without understanding those differences it is really challenging to be an effective tutor, but perhaps more importantly an effective adult. During tutoring sessions there are the tangibles and intangibles.

The tangibles are: getting the thesis statement, getting to the answer, or solving the problem. The intangibles are: true clarity behind the thesis statement, the values behind the answer, or the mission in solving the problem. When I reflect and study the distinctions between collaborator and evaluator, I position students and myself, to achieve the tangibles as well as intangibles throughout our treasured time together on this planet.

CollaboratorEvaluator
Acts as an interested reader

This means as a tutor we show that we really want to know more about the topic they are covering, the prompt, the assignment, whatever question it is that your student is bringing to you.
Corrects Immediately

No discussion No context
No questioning
Ask for clarity

Ask meaningful questions when your student is struggling to explain their thought processes. Generally this means slowing down the process of conceptualization or internalization for your student by guiding and modeling for them what it means to slow down. Without lowing down your student may not have a chance to hear, catch, or correct their own mistakes in understanding.
Points out Errors / Diagnose Problems

this does not get the student to think for themselves which leads to them fixating on correcting the mistake instead of thinking through ideas. Mistakes will then be repeated because they will not understand why or the impact they have
Be curious and patient

It is going to be okay if you do not resolve what they want you to resolve
Get the answer

Bye Felicia, Bye
Help your student(s) reimagine themself(s)

Guide them to see themselves as a catalyst for change. Ideas such as clarification, revision, and re-doing are all seen as positive and should be rewarded as such. Use your words & emotions expresses to reward them
Correctors

Proofreaders, editors, only ones with authority and ‘value’ in the dynamic
Effective Confrontation

Articulate your FBI: Feelings (F), Behaviors (B), and Impact (I) to your student. In no particular order.
short ex. When you are on your phone (B) that makes me feel sad (F) because that means I am not helping you learn what you need to learn, and I should quit my job (I) get specific and creative with your FBIs
Ineffective Confrontation

You’re Wrong, do this way, but actually I don’t care if you do it your way. I’m not going to teach you the right way to do it the first time, figure it out like I had to
Use Mirroring

Paraphrase to your student by reflecting back to them what you think they are saying.
Check and (curiously, authentically, genuinely) ask if that’s what they wanted to say.
short ex. This is a really strong argument because you cited clearly while introducing your citation and reflecting on it all within this paragraph
Does Not Empathetically Listen

Compliments paper with specific Evidence & ReasonsStatements judging Worth of tutees work
Uses I pronoun

Never uses, “you should _” instead use “I did _”.
For example “I see your clear summary here, but this sentence here seems to _” or “I was wondering what you meant my this, may you help me understand your thoughts?”

Do not say “I think you should do ___”
Uses You Pronoun

“you need to fix this error here”
Frequent use of a programmed answer and non-specific feedback (such as yes or no questions)
*TBContinued*

Why?

I find it increasingly important to be a collaborator as I work towards earning my undergraduate degree.

The results of a collaborative mindset leads to the student becoming more of an initiator. This means that the student is empowered to ask meaningful questions, willing to self-think (as opposed to think just because the tutor said so), search for evidence, write and develop sense of self as scholar who wants to communicate specifically and clearly. Students will seek to understand then to be understood. They will be willing to revise for clarity and accuracy.

Students in Evaluator paradigm becomes more of a respondent, who mainly agrees with instructors. This leads to passive and defensive learning which does not promote the idea of becoming self-directed learner. Students also then do not know how to necessarily understand what to revise, why to revise, or how to go about doing so independently.

How?

I actively look for ways to strength my collaboration skills inside of school and arguably more importantly, outside of school. Communication might be one of the more nuanced activities we as humans engage in daily, so the sooner we can begin treating communication with more care and realizing just how powerful of a tool communication is, the sooner we can reap it’s benefits.

Activity

See if you can begin exercising these collaborator techniques in your daily communication. Pick 1, such as “asking for clarity” and try it today. Let me know your thoughts through your own wordpress post, a video, or a comment below!

Mission to Refocus: How to Learn and Why?

by Henry Fan

I Can & I Will – Extended Opportunities Program Summit. Led by Adam del Castillo, Jahmal Williams, and Joshua Kas-Osoka

“Give ordinary people the right tools, and they will design and build the most extraordinary things” – Neil Gershenfeld, American professor at MIT focused on physics and computer science

As a student that has access to many educational materials, I hesitate when I hear people diving head first into making educational resources “free.” The larger problem I experience and witness each day as a student is the grand challenge of turning information presented to us into our own knowledge. Combined with the uncertainty about why we should bother doing so, this is the tool that we lack to create significant learning experiences in our lives. Working to “pass” a course designed by people who I don’t know, and can’t seem to fully trust, to earn a degree that sometimes seems to have increasingly less value in a student’s mind than what the world seems to be marketing to us… I question the authenticity of a college degree’s value from time to time. 

Missing these fundamental “tools”, the nature and skills to learn, is the biggest issue facing students in college. When classmates tell me they don’t feel the need to invest in course materials because they’re not worth the price, that is a small piece of the larger issue – organizations may be able to fix this problem by providing affordable and accessible materials. However, when a student does not understand how the paid or included course material(s) will help them in learning what they are asked to learn, because they are already overwhelmed with all that they are juggling, AND don’t have the skills to learn the material that is necessary to pass, that’s a problem that will necessitate a larger change in mindset to equip students with effective and efficient learning tools. 

I recognize the skeptics and opposing viewpoints may argue that it is up to the student to develop the study skills, tools, motivation, and reasoning behind why they are a student in the first place… but I think we shouldn’t be so harsh on students, the customers of education, if our mission is to sustain and enhance a democratic society to empower students to achieve their goals as members of the workforce as global citizens.

I’ve seen that for many of my classmates that I have tutored and mentored, and for many of my co-workers from low income jobs in construction, In-n-Out, and Nordstroms, their hopes and dreams to bring their family out of poverty ends up coming to an abrupt end due to lacking the mindset, skills, and tools necessary to learn in a traditional college setting. This is the brutal reality that many professional educators and students experience each and every day. The difference is that students usually have a unique set of challenges professional educators do not have in their lives. Succeeding – let alone thriving – in college is not intuitive for many learners, however, I am hopeful because I know we are all on the same mission, and we can be the solution. 

One of the most important factors for myself and my friends, I don’t see being addressed thoroughly enough in college is how to differentiate information from knowledge. While students can get their hands on seemingly more information than they possibly seem to need, it’s never been harder to turn that information into knowledge. The Mission Critical Problem is the unclear understanding of the “why” should students bother creating significant learning experiences, and the “how” to do so, which is heavily reliant on the privileges and study skills, also known as tools, necessary for someone to be able to learn. Everyone reading this right now has skin in the game. We are invested, we want the most optimal outcomes, and not surprisingly to us, we are the solution. Without teaching & coaching students on how to navigate the “why” and the “how” to learn, we will all fall short of our mission to sustain and enhance a democratic society to empower students to achieve their goals as members of the workforce as global citizens. No matter how affordable or accessable our resources may be, when we don’t equip our students with these essential tools, we will fall short of our mission, “Time After Time” as Cyndi Lauper beautifully sang in her song.

In 2020, and moving forward, the design and development of (e)textbook business models have become increasingly important to learn and discuss to resolve affordability and accessibility in education. There are fundamental reasons textbooks require a system and model for them to exist in a competitive market, however I see many challenging problems in the processes of generating and publishing textbooks. Namely the fact that too many students lack the effective tools to turn information into knowledge. The scholars I interacted with at the Open Ed ‘19 conference and the CA STEAM Symposium ‘20 shared many insights with me about the future of textbooks and the future for publishers. I understand that the textbook publishing industry is transforming, which may significantly change how schools and teachers assign their resources for their students. I recognize this change will influence how publishers profit and how students obtain course materials. I have seen this paradigm shift being portrayed by physical textbooks turning to digital course materials; however, this shift does not encapsulate all the underlying changes in how course materials arise. Studying the decisions that professional educators make, which may be influenced by textbook models, have become a critical part of designing meaningful and accessible solutions for many generations to come. However this raises the question: whether or not accessible resources will actually critically address the mission critical problem of students not having the ability and skills to learn. The problems of educating students about “how” and “why” they will be able to learn what is asked of them, so that they can become the critical thinkers and decision makers afterwards, is the true mission we are all on. If we think otherwise, if we think our mission is solely introducing our students to concepts and ideas inside the discipline of course, without any focus on addressing the students ability to learn, then we will fall gravely short of our mission, “Time After Time.”

One of the themes I heard was the concept of subscription-based resource models for students, but I think this is off target of the mission critical problem, which is the how and why students are learning. At first glance, I saw the benefits of such subscription textbook models, but I know I own physical course material that I would not be able to afford to be “subscribed” to. For example, if I know I will be referencing my data structures and algorithms computer science material for many years to come, I would not want to pay a monthly fee just to be able to have access to this information. Not to mention the idea that not everyone has access to electricity, connectivity, and all the other requirements of online resources. This is the case for many of my tutees and peers. This particular circumstance creates a sour situation for consumers and generators. Not only is my investment in this subscription-based resource no longer sustainable, but it also no longer provides meaningful value to me. I understand the idea of being invested in our education, and that the fact that we’re paying for what we’re supposedly learning, makes us more effective. However, many of my peers, including myself, struggle with understanding how to turn already accessible resources into our own knowledge all the time. I have tutored students who can’t compose a single English sentence or solve a algebraic equation, and never did they come to me with a subscription based resource to solve their problem. I find it challenging to see how adding a daily fee to have access to resources will address our demands and challenges of learning: how to learn the material and continue learning from it. 

As my Foothill Community College professor Jeff Anderson articulated, “students have to believe what they do in the class truly matters in their lives. Therefore I will deliberately work to transform the learning we do in our classes to become part of how we think, what we want to do in our life, and what we believe is true about ourselves, as well as what we value.” Having shaper tools such as textbooks that cater directly towards the most meaningful learning objectives in a course is important – but if we don’t help the students understand how to use these tools, we will be missing the mark.

A page from my professor, Jeffrey Anderson’s linear algebra syllabus on his website: http://www.appliedlinearalgebra.com/blog/for-students/welcome-to-math-2b inspired by the book Creating Self-Regulated Learners by Linda B. Nilson

We must address the issue of students who aren’t successfully learning what we’re asking of them. Yes, in theory, students who preview course material before lecture, generate critical questions for themselves throughout a lecture, actively review key ideas from lecture within 24 hours of the event, go to office hours to get those questions answered, have mastery of prerequisite knowledge, have their lives in line to be able to learn etc., should be able to learn just fine. But have we really taught or modeled for our students how to do those steps meaningfully and thoughtfully? I certainly haven’t been taught any of those essential steps I just mentioned, besides from my professor Jeff. Even though Jeff has students who obtain A’s in the class, he refuses to let the majority of his class go through their academic journeys without equipping them with these tools. He refuses to think of his class as a gatekeeper to higher education, because he values his students dreams and aspirations, as well as their learning journey. I’ve heard opposing viewpoints about how students have to figure that stuff out on their own – but many don’t have the tools or the resources. I agree that professional educators also lack resources and time – I can’t imagine how much goes into their work. But without the prerequisite study skills, tools such as scheduling and setting specific measurable achievable relevant and timebound goals, it can be really difficult to learn critically and with purpose. I’m sure we all can empathize with that idea here, right? Even with the assumption that the information we are consuming is credible, vetted, accessible, and academically & peer-reviewed, this does not mean this information turns into knowledge in a student’s mind. And no, not all students should figure this out by having to fail or receive a C- in their class. I trust we can do better. This is where I would like to see a larger investment on: equipping students with tools like mindset, scheduling, lecture note systems, study skills, and understanding the reasoning behind their learning. In my next blog post and at the CreatorFest, I will be sharing platforms where my team and I look to address this issue thoughtfully. 

My math instructor Jeff Anderson, a Foothill Community College professor who has a PhD in Mathematics, has been tackling this “mission critical problem” a phrase he re-coined for me and my peers, by critically studying how learning works, cognitive psychology, public speaking, and neuroscience all while equipping his students these essential study skills and tools. Not only has he demonstrated this by publishing study skill activities and videos on his website, he has also conducted workshops, group office hours, and hosted activities on uncovering what it means to learn. I have shared these resources he has created with my tutees of many different majors, and witness them change their perspectives to learning dramatically during our year long tutoring journeys. 

“Leadership isn’t about being in charge, it’s about taking care of those in your charge” – Ryan Hawk.

My professor Jeff takes care of his students beautifully, by not solely completing a mathematical lecture according to the curriculum “standard”, or by “holding our hands”, but rather by doing his best to create significant learning experiences for his students and slowing down whenever necessary, so the majority of his students may be reminded of the how, which are the fundamental tools of learning, and the why, which is the reason I’m learning significantly in my life. This is a professional educator who has developed deep awareness as well as mindfulness, and has taken action to address the mission critical problem, of students losing hope because their tools are broken, in academia each and every day. 

Jeff’s significant learning experiences that he preaches and practices to his students, inspired from Creating Significant Learning Experiences by L. Dee Fink who he has met at Foothill College, and Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger III, and McDaniel.

I have also experienced Dr. Anderson cater his course material directly to his students by generating his own writing, math, and notation to support his lectures and our learning. This is someone who is willing to get down and dirty to help students connect to the material. What was inspirationally fascinating about this type of work was that the student learning outcomes in the class seemed to have been quite positive, because the sheer fact that students were able to (1) save money as the professor offered these materials for “free”, (2) witness the work and effort put in by the professor who shared his work with his students and articulated what it takes to compose that level of work, (3) help his students understand the concepts in his classes from first principles, which means understanding the how and why and (4) focus on material that directly align with the the outcomes of the class. I realize that asking all teachers to generate their own materials from scratch is unrealistic, because many educators are underappreciated and overworked; however, I do think it’s valuable for me to share this experience, and for teachers to begin thinking about how much of their assigned material for students is really being utilized in a meaningful way. It’s also important to ask how much of the resources they are requiring or suggesting their students to use is even accessible? One immediate step I know students could benefit from is a call to action on study skills and tools they need to succeed. For example: how to stay motivated, how to refine your goals, creating your weekly schedule, creating a lecture note system, organizing your course materials, utilize suggested problems. While trivial to the students who earn the A’s in the course, I would say the vast majority of students struggle with these fundamentals. The irony is that these fundamentals are what’s truly transferable toward their lifelong learning journey and future lives. 

I conducted some research on the Affordable Learning Solutions Immediate Access Program which I was directed to by a student assistant, Jenifer Vang, at San Jose State University’s Library. While this program has yet to be implemented here at SJSU, it has been at SDSU. The program gives student’s instant access to digital course materials until the drop deadline. This is a program that may resolve some issues of students not being “day one” ready. While I do not believe this program is essential nor sustainable for the ecosystem of all (e)textbooks, I think it does shine some light on the issues of whether resources are vital to student success. However, I know we have the skills and ability to develop and model the fundamental tools & resources for our students. I never forget the experiences I have had with those who don’t truly know how learning works (more than just do it), and just how transformative of an experience it was for them when I introduced these ideas tendered by Jeff. 

During my investigation, I came across an inclusive access model that Barnes & Noble College designed which is called First Day™. This is where digital course materials are included as an additional course charge for a particular course or program. This model is convenient for student use, as it provides an affordable option, and supports students to be prepared for the first day of class. How about we generate an inclusive access program that equips our students with the essential tools and mindsets toward learning?

What is not so promising is that textbook costs are still on the rise. According to the Financial aid and Scholarship Office of San José State, students spent an average of $2,002 on textbooks and supplies for the academic year 2018–’19. Previously, it was an average of $1,948. The rising cost of textbooks concerns students and faculty as it proves to be a barrier to student success. Initiated by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, the Affordable Learning Solutions campaign was created to provide access to inexpensive, accessible, and high-quality alternatives. However, I see the cost magnified when we have resources at our disposal, and we can’t seem to turn those resources into our own knowledge. 

Affordable Learning Solutions Principles:

Choice: Enables the discovery of course content, including commercial publisher content, library resources, and a wide array of open educational resources (OER).

Affordability: Technology and partnerships that reduce the cost of learning for students and the CSU.

Accessibility: Every student is entitled to high-quality education with access to all learning materials.

I learned from SJSU’s Archivist Carli Lowe, that the Affordable Learning Solutions (AL$) is operated by the University Library as it provides information on how to lower the cost of classroom materials for students by offering faculty a variety of low and no-cost educational resources known as Open Educational Resources (OER). Other resources include ebooks owned by the library, digital textbooks, open courseware, publishers’ repositories, the book rental program and textbooks on reserve in the library.

SJSU AL$ is made possible in collaboration with our campus partners: Center for Faculty Development, Accessible Education Center, Provost’s Office, Spartan Bookstore.

What is promising is that we are in the middle of a shift of traditional textbook models to innovative ecosystems of resources for students, all in support of our mission; to sustain and enhance a democratic society to empower students to achieve their goals as members of the workforce as global citizens. “Knowledge should not be in the domain of the privileged few,” Amanda Coolidge, associate director at British Columbia Campus. If we, students, faculty, staff, administrators, legislators, publishers can collaborate together to develop and provide meaningful and accessible solutions, such as addressing the why and how behind learning in this ecosystem, then we are solving the mission critical problem. I’d like to emphasize that creating these solutions requires more than Jeff. Engaging in making resources more affordable may feel like we are moving the needle, but regarding the mission critical problem I trust we can deliver more. Our values of lifelong learning must align to the resources we create, market, and maintain. As the journalist Anand Giridharadas observes, a couple of decades ago, businesses had monopolies on steel, now there have been monopolies on our mind and what we consume. Our students are desperate for real change to feel mobilized and actualized in traditional education. Whichever textbook model we may be invested in or are considering… whichever resource we are pointing our faculty and students to… whichever way you are conducting your work in supporting our mission: I encourage all of us to critically think about if those materials and approaches truly align with the student learning objectives. Only then will these resources provide significant meaningful value for all parties involved, and move the needle. 

Thought Activity Below: Where in the Life Cycle of A Book, can you make a difference?