I am realizing how brilliant a thing it is to start with “why” in this Connected Courses kick off week. And many thanks to Mike Wesch, Mimi Ito, and Helen Keegan for getting us started. In a way, starting with “why” means we must start with reflection, something we typically reserve until the end of a project or a course. What a fabulous way to “bring the end forward” as my (now happily retired) colleague Judith Rodby was known to say. “Bringing the end forward” is actually quite challenging in a course (or in life for that matter): you must imagine an end goal while still allowing for emerging ideas and digressions. Knowing the why can support us as we participate in challenging ideas and projects, but too often in school, the why is simply because I need to finish school.

I spent the last couple of weeks thinking a lot about my whys in education. Why do I teach? I certainly started my own higher ed journey with both a less sophisticated (“I just need to finish school”) but also a high stakes why: I had a hope that a college degree would help me out of a terrible marriage and allow me to support myself and two toddlers. “I just need to finish school” can actually turn out to be a profound why. Almost twenty years ago now, my journey started as a sad tale: I was sitting on the floor in the tiny house in Gridley, CA sobbing because my then spouse had not been home in three days, the phone was turned off, I had no gas money—felt completely closed off from the rest of the world. I had these two sleeping toddlers in the other room, content underneath their 101 Dalmatians comforters. I went to my bedroom and pulled out a box of old school stuff, dug through until I found my transcripts and my outdated Chico State catalog, and sat down on the floor. Through tears I flipped through the pages, matching disciplines with coursework I had already completed years before. When I was done, I decided that I could get a degree in English the fastest and believed that somehow with that college degree I’d have a better chance to support myself and these sleeping babies; I never wanted to feel this stuck ever again in my life. The next week, I found a place in Chico we could afford and moved back so I could be closer to my family and their support. When my daughter, Ashley, started Kindergarten that fall, I started Chico State–fall of 1995–and never looked back. A BA, an MA, a PhD, a tenure-track job in my hometown, a new marriage, and happily grown children twenty years later, affords me the gift of time…to think about new “whys.” This gift of time–time to think, time to reflect–is such a privilege.

So, why do I teach? I teach because day after day I get to see the generous work students do for us. They take our (often) confusing assignments and our attempts to create a space for learning, and they generously try them on–write, talk, play, and even forgive us for our failed efforts at this thing we call higher education. And in the moments when they stop doing the work of higher ed for me and do the work for their own goals for learning, they always blow me away. I get to learn from these amazing humans every day and I am so grateful that students are willing to produce and share their creations with us. How could you NOT want to teach, when you get to witness work like this:

Amanda Haydon’s vlog synthesis after a couple of weeks reading about open access:

Sheila’s blog post, wrestling with the “why” of Connected Courses and digital platforms.

My freshman, Matt Mulholland, has an amazing blog this week about gaming.

The films freshmen have created about digital culture:

Stormie’s film looks at the “production” of our persona/identity.

This film from Larly Lee and his team asks how you will use this powerful platform known as the web:

Anthony Miranda’s film gives us a hopeful view of education and some fabulous educators:

Why do I teach? Because hanging out in a life of academia will always be an amazing thing to a first-generation college student like me. But more importantly, see examples above. ^  Students. They rule.