Start with one

Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in a lot of different professional development initiatives on my campus.  Whether it’s instructing faculty on using Web 2.0 technologies with their students or providing guidance with teaching with iPads or helping faculty set up online classes, I have tried to inspire and challenge my colleagues to take risks and try new instructional methods.  Regardless of the venue or the topic of the professional development session, the conversation always leads to the same question:

Where do I start?

It’s a simple question, but it’s not just about beginnings. In its essence, the question is about the apprehension of tackling something difficult. It’s about seeing a giant mountain in the distance and knowing that the journey is going to be challenging.   Instead of providing a specific starting point, I’ve adopted a more Taoist approach to answering the question:

Start with one.

Taken from a quote credited to Confucius and Lao Tzu, “start with one” channels the basic idea that any long journey begins with that first step.  So take it.  Start walking.

Instructional change can seem like a journey of 1000 miles, but don’t get caught up in the magnitude of it all.  Start small.  Focus on making one small change.  Pick one lesson to embed some new technology or some new instructional approach.  Thinking of trying out flipping your classroom?  Don’t change your entire semester.  Start with one.  Pick one lesson and try it out.  Considering adding some blended learning into your class?  Start with one.  You don’t need to worry about the 1,000 miles ahead of you.  Just take that first step.   Then take another and another.  After a while, those 1,000 miles won’t seem so overwhelming.

Sure, the road is going to be a little bumpy at times.  Just focus on making small steps and evaluate your progress as you go.  I explain to my colleagues that perfection shouldn’t be the goal right out of the blocks.  That’s setting an almost unrealistic expectation for something you’re attempting for the first time.  Focus on being effective and work from there.  I’ve developed lessons that were absolute train wrecks from some point of view yet were still effective in helping my students learn.  Strive for effectiveness first and then worry about perfection later down the road.  After all, you have 1,000 miles ahead to worry about perfection.

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5 thoughts on “Start with one

  1. Great post Ollie. Not every experiment is a success, but they all teach us something. The only thing I would add is involve the students in even the smallest of steps. My experience is that students will be a lot more forgiving of our missteps if they are involved in the process. Our willingness to experiment is tangible evidence that we care.

  2. Another thing you might try is to use an idea on one section of your course first, then try it out for the other sections. This gives you an idea of how to introduce it after it has been tested. Use one of your sections for a course as a pilot program. This way, some medium or big size changes might seem more manageable.

  3. Pingback: Flipping for Flipping |

  4. Pingback: This Week in the DE Initiative | The WCU DE Initiative

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