Pedagogo Podcast S4E6 with Guest Kate McConnell

Pedagogo S4E6: Leadership Strategies to Foster Community in Higher Ed

Hear Dr. Divya Bheda’s discussion with Dr. Kate McConnell about the role educators play in teaching students to build and sustain successful communities. Learn how bringing principles of civic engagement to the classroom can instill the attitudes and dispositions that contribute to healthy communities.

Guest Bio:

Kate Drezek McConnell, Ph.D., is Vice President for Curricular and Pedagogical Innovation and Executive Director of the VALUE Institute, AAC&U’s nationwide assessment system that enables any higher education provider to collect and upload samples of student work to a digital repository and have the work scored by certified VALUE Institute scorers for external validation of institutional learning assessment. Prior to taking on this role, Dr. McConnell served as AAC&U’s Assistant Vice President for Research and Assessment and Director of the VALUE Institute.

Before joining AAC&U, Dr. McConnell spent ten years at Virginia Tech working in assessment and evaluation, as well as serving as affiliate faculty in Virginia Tech’s graduate program in educational psychology, teaching courses on cognitive processes and effective college teaching. She received a B.A. from the University of Virginia, an M.A. in history from Providence College (Rhode Island), and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Virginia Tech.

Transcript:

Announcer:
Pedagogo: The podcast for anyone and everyone in higher education.

In today’s episode, we’ll discuss effective leadership strategies for faculty to model community building and civic engagement in higher ed. We’ll identify core skills that students need to be successful in academia, in future careers, and as citizens.

Pedagogo brought to you by ExamSoft, the digital assessment solution that gives you actionable data for improved learning outcomes. When assessment matters, ExamSoft has you covered.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Hello, dear listeners, we have the wonderful Dr. Kate McConnell here with us. Thank you so much, Kate, for agreeing to be part of this interview. It’s so exciting-

Dr. Dr. Kate McConnell:
Oh.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
…to have you here.

Dr. Dr. Kate McConnell:
Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here. I was, uh, flattered to have been asked. So.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing). Uh, I- I will start off with, um, with the first question, which I’m kind of asking all my guests, when you think of community, what comes to mind?

Dr. Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, it’s … Sure it’s funny. I mean, I think there’s, you know, as we’ve chatted about briefly before, there’s lots of different ways of answering that or defining it. Um, for me personally, when I think of community, I do think of it in that kind of affective way of, you know, the spaces or the places in which you belong, or you feel that you have, um, your people, your mission, your environment.

Uh, and I think that I’ve, I’m lucky enough to exist in multiple spaces, multiple communities, um, you know, that can’t easily be segmented in the sense of, you know, oh, this is my work community or my professional community. These are my personal friends over here. I’ve been lucky enough throughout the course of my career to have colleagues who have become close friends, and to have people-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
In, in a professional community where you share more than just the fact that you maybe get your salary from the same place or your job descriptions look the same. You happen to be in the same discipline for your graduate program, where, you know, maybe some of those formalized descriptions of those spaces then bleed into the more affective personal relationships you can have that I think makes the work even more engaging and, and more interesting.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I love what you’re saying about one community becoming part of another community, as well. Right? And, and the idea that the more community overlap there is, there’s almost more that you can get done or it’s more fulfilling, like when your professional circle becomes part of your personal circle. Um, so that’s, yeah, I haven’t heard that yet. (laughing). So that’s wonderful. Um, so what has life over the years and your various experiences, professional, personal taught to you about the importance of community?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, so for me, it’s interesting. I mean, it certainly has elements of my personality mixed into this answer. Folks who know me will not be surprised to hear me describe myself as an extrovert. I certainly get energy from engaging with other people. And so that sense of community has always been really important to me from just kind of that personal gratification of, of a need that I have, you know, maybe.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
(laughing). Uh, in that way. Um, but what’s really interesting and not everyone knows this about me, but I, growing up, was the child of someone who worked for the government, uh, did federal law enforcement and we moved around semi-frequently. And so you know, if people ask me what my hometown is, I don’t have an easy answer. You know, I can say-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Where I was born in Connecticut. And then I lived here and I lived here and we hopped up and down the east coast. And I’ve always really been intrigued by more place-specific communities.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Uh, I love college towns, I think, for that reason, there’s an identity there. And even if you’re only there for four years, or you’re only there based on, you know, working for a particular college or university for a finite period of time, like there’s an identity and markers about what that community is, you know?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Um, so for me, it’s definitely been something that I gravitate toward. I enjoy getting to know communities beyond my own. Um, but I do think that one of the things that I have built into my professional orientation is that sense of trying to build community within the spaces you occupy professionally. It’s one of the reasons AAC&U became very important to me before they paid my salary is it was a group of individuals united by a real focus on undergraduate education. Um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Okay.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
By focusing on the learning piece, not just the credentialing and the-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Degree orientation towards employment. And so that became an important broader part of my community to complement, you know, when I worked at Virginia Tech, for example. Meeting people in the wider world who had these values, and that there was a space for engaging with it that I hadn’t encountered before. So yeah, it’s always been pretty, pretty critical to my own sense of self-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Personality, as well as just truthfully professional satisfaction and success. I mean, I certainly am not the lone researcher sitting in a room by herself. I had a mentor at Virginia Tech who once said to me that she thought I would’ve been miserable on the tenure track because so much of it is just the singular work and singular focus and you save your fun stuff for after you get tenure. Right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Um, and that’s just not necessarily how I’m wired. So, it was interesting to have that perspective.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. And that issue of why should it be a singular, why is that expectation or the, the way of being so to speak a singular enterprise? Right. Um-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Absolutely.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
It’s a conversation that I’ve had with some of the other guests as well saying, why can’t we look at more collaborative ways of producing knowledge, more collaborative ways of being recognized? Um, why is it that promotion and tenure or any achievement, recognition for achievement is always about what you have done individually and contributed and sort of ways in which you’ve built community or ways in which you’ve brought people together. So, you bring up a great point, but I wanted to also acknowledge the point that you made about place-based, because I know as an immigrant having come to the US as an international student, I feel, I felt safest and found my community in those international offices or international-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah, absolutely.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Cultural spaces. ‘Cause you could find people from different cultures, including my own. So, I felt in that physical space, like if you had to map out in the university where I felt the best, it would be in that physical space. And so I always seek that space wherever I go to. And whenever I go to any institution, and then now-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Sure.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I look for institutions, like you said, like, I look for college towns because there’s a familiarity about any college town or any college campus.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Right.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Like that. Oh yeah. I spent five years of my time here in this college town. And then how you talk about how you move from a place-based, but then it’s also about spaces, right? So now in a virtual world and in various relationships, you have to think about the spaces that you’re creating and the relationships. So thank you for sharing those two perspectives. So, my next question is why should people pay attention to community building in higher ed, especially today?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Ooh, you know, I would have never argued against its importance pre-COVID, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
In the last two years that we’ve had. Um, but I think anyone who, (laughing), who seems to think that it’s not critical or not worthy of attention in very intentional deliberate ways. I don’t know where they’ve been for the last two years. I mean, I think-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
We have seen the impact of the, the lacking of that social interaction and sense of community that honestly, being in the same physical space can help promote. I have a younger child. I saw the difference between, um, her experiences going to school every day and having those socialization opportunities versus-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
The kind of emergency remote teaching. Um, now, I absolutely am a huge proponent of excellence in teaching and learning online. And so I- I don’t even wanna pretend that, oh, in person is the only way you can, um, cultivate community. But I think it’s one of those things that we, in many ways were able to take for granted until we saw what isolation actually looks like. Um, so I think the idea is … And, and it is not just an affective piece, right? I mean, if I put on my educational psychologist hat, you know, there is a community component to cognition, to learning, the give and take of ideas, the exchange of not just information, but how one navigates the learning process. Those are community-based skills in-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
In many, many ways. So, I think it’s something that hopefully from, um, a higher education perspective that we increasingly pay deliberate attention to, and not just for our students. When I think about my role when I was on campuses, um, a- as well as at AAC&U, a lot of my role implicated faculty engagement and faculty development. And you can’t open a higher ed publication today, click on, click on their website without seeing something about turnover, burnout, feeling-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Exactly, right?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Loss and feelings of, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Stress.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Being, being stressed or potentially abandoned by what you thought was your community in this kind of emergency space. And now that we are two years into this world impacted by the pandemic, by the other, the racial reckoning issues that we saw the summer of 2020 and moving forward, you know, we’ve had these incredibly traumatic things happen. Um, there’s no “going back to normal.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Whatever this, this new normal is going to be, I think it has to really intentionally focus on building … Either rebuilding, reconfiguring, rethinking what community is and what we do to take care of members of our community. Because the option for people to simply walk away from higher education is a real option. You know, we see students leaving, we see faculty leaving. If you’re on Academic Twitter, there’s all these stories of people leaving higher ed and leaving academia, whether they’re student affairs professionals or, or traditional faculty. Um, so I- I do think it’s one of those things that as a segment of society, as an industry, as much as we may not like that term, higher education needs to think through what community looks like for both our students and by extension, our faculty and our staff. And that’s from the very, very top to the folks, you know, who help care for the campus, who help care for the students who may not be as visible kind of hierarchically as others.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
There’s so much to unpack in what you’ve just shared. And I- I just wanna pull out a few threads for our listeners. And so one for me, ’cause I went again for a recent, I went for a recent conference and the … As we were in the airport, I saw all of these students, I would think they’re middle school or high school students, all on their phones. Like, no, one’s looking at each other, no one’s interacting with each other in the airport. Right. Like everyone head down interacting. And that made me nervous in some ways, because after, you know, two and a half years now, I’m seeing like the full impact of everyone’s head down.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And not having any of that interaction of that human interaction, knowing the impact of your words and not just one sentence I’m done and I shut my phone and I walk away. And so the importance of communication then, and understanding its impact on someone else and building that relationship or having an engaged, prolonged, tough conversation, there are all of these aspects, right? So that made me nervous. And so that’s something that came to mind as you were talking initially about emergency moving online versus in person for your child. And you could see the impact and the differences.

And then for me, the other aspect was I met a colleague who I hadn’t ever met in person, but we had connected over the pandemic and they and I like sat down on the ground for six hours just talking, and like the conversation weaved, it wasn’t a linear conversation saying this, this, this happened, but we could move between personal, political, the current scenario, current affairs, history. Like we could weave in through the conversation, get down on the floor. So the physicality of actually being in a space together made the conversation and made the relationship so much stronger in that short amount of time.

And I’ve been talking with guests throughout the season about the intentionality of building community, especially in a tech world, especially as we move into online spaces and online modes of delivery. It’s been very interesting to see, so what should that intentionality look like? What should that space creation of community look like so that people feel like they are building those relationships, even if that’s not what they may be seeking. But we are building that community online between our students, between our faculty and finding spaces where people can feel safe and can be their authentic self. So any thoughts that come to mind?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah. You know, so it’s interesting and I don’t know that I’ve shared this with you previously. It’s, it’s not a secret. Many people know this. Um, I’ve actually been telecommuting for AAC&U since 2015, when I started with them. I’m very fortunate that they were willing to take a chance on an arrangement that frankly was not common at least within, uh, AAC&U as an organization. So, I’m about four hours outside of Washington, D.C, which is where our home base is.

When the transition happened so quickly and everybody pivoted to working remotely. And, you know, you were terrified to be within three feet of your neighbor, never mind-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
In the office environment, that sort of thing. People would say to me, “Oh, but you’re, you’re used to this, you’ve done this forever. This must be easy for you.” And my response was, “Well, not really because part of what made telecommuting attractive and why I was successful in that is that I had so much frequent travel and interpersonal interactions outside,” you know, so it, and frankly, I’ll be honest, like most of the senior staff, senior leadership at AAC&U on some level, even if they were based in D.C, we were all telecommuters because we traveled so much to campuses-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
To our event, to other, other conferences and, you know, and then that all just stopped.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And we pulled the plug on it. We started back in January with our annual meeting. We had a hybrid meeting. So there was an in person component that had several hundred individuals, um, not the thousands we normally pull in person, but back in Washington D.C. And what was amazing to me was just how excited folks were. You know, there was a little bit of nervousness around being … Honestly being a little out of practice. How does one make small talk? (laughing).

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes. (laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
How does one navigate the hallways? But then it just was this recognition, you know, and we, academics can sometimes be a little cynical or sarcastic. I certainly am myself, I have a very sarcastic sense of humor, but a- a very good colleague said, “It’s so nice to be reminded that I actually do really like people.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Right, there was this idea.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
This idea that there is something to be said about the energy that-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. The spiritual energy, if, if one can call it that. Right?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Absolutely.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
The, the humanity of it. Right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
The idea that, and that’s something that I think is really important to that notion of, um, kind of intentional community building, is the space for people to bring themselves, which, you know, joining a community or intentionally seeking out a new community, you can feel vulnerable. You know, whether it’s a new professional world or you’re making new friends or what have you, but what I, what I really enjoyed about our meeting and what helped just kind of, I think, get people their sea legs back was this sense of, you know what, just being present is actually sufficient.

Just being present is in and of itself a form of, almost of collaboration, because you’re leaning back into those conversations. You’re leaning back into the idea that this is a space that we choose to occupy, to do certain types of work, to learn more, to do things better for our campuses, our students, each other. It was really gratifying to be back in that space.

As a parent, you sometimes it’s that do, as I say, not as I do. I’m very mindful of my daughter’s screen time. You know? And she’s at that, that in-between age where right now she’s advocating for a phone and we’re, you know-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
We’re already.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But she has, she has friends who have nicer iPhones than I do, but I’m like, “No, you’re not even a teenager. It is so not even an option for you.” But at the same time, you know, I find myself in the airport and I have my iPhone and I’m just, you know, not making eye contact, not making the small talk, that sort of thing. So, I think in some ways we just have to remember to put things down, to interact, even in technology-mediated-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Environments, to really be intentional about engaging. There’s a lot written about, you know, on Zoom, do you make people turn on their videos? Do you not make them? I don’t ever like the idea of forcing a student to do something or making someone uncomfortable, but I will say that being able to be on a platform where you can actually see someone smiling, where you can-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Read faces.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Absolutely.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Where you can … It, it’s really important and it’s kind of ironic given that many of our in-person spaces have been masked where-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, you and our conferences were, you know, so I-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yes.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You would see colleagues and I would say, “Oh my gosh, I think that’s so-and-so.” But I’m not sure because I- I’m not used to seeing them in a mask, that sort of thing. You know, in some ways Zoom or whatever platform you might have been using was a lifesaver of a community builder from that interpersonal, you know, affective orientation you’re able to still capture, you know, more than other, other ways. So.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. And I think folks talk about not being on camera on Zoom for equity reasons, as well as like-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Sure.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I know when I’m caring for my little one, I don’t want to drag everyone on the screen with me as the screen moves.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Absolutely.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Into this room and that room. (laughing). But like you said, like the idea that as a presenter or as a speaker, you can see people’s reactions and you can see are they with you? Are they not with you? There is something to be said for that. And then the flip side of that is I think about the Native American philosophy of place based. Like they come from land, there’s a tie to the land that I- I feel like as I’m listening to you, that just came up for me. And it hasn’t before in any of the conversations I’ve had so far in this season, is this idea that there is something to place based thinking or place-based feeling. You know, the spirituality of, “I am from this land,” or “I am in this space,” physical space, engaging with people and being present and feeling connected. And I think there is, there is something to be said for. While Zoom and technology works, there is something to be said for, for the humanity and for the connection to the actual location of where you are. I think, yeah.

So, something that comes up for me is communication, civic engagement, community building in a space where folks are coming together with intention towards a particular purpose. Uh, the civic engagement, community building, teamwork, part of it, which is what are the skills related to community building or related to, um, this idea that of connection of, being in humanity with each other. Do you see that reflected in the current value rubrics, whether it’s in teamwork or whether it’s in civic engagement or in communication, for example.

Is there anything that’s missing maybe that you think that we need to be thinking about in the future, given we are more and more going into a technology world. And then the second part of that question is, as you brought a whole bunch of higher ed folks together to work on building these rubrics, what was that like? Because you’re bringing people in to be in community and say, “Okay, we all agree that these are the important metrics, and these are the important aspects of this particular learning outcome. This is how we define it.” And so, could you speak to whichever one you wanna address first?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Sure, sure. So, let’s talk about the rubric development first. I think that is probably the easier question to answer on a certain level. So first and foremost, I need to say that the, the value rubrics themselves were created, you know, prior to my joining AAC&U. So, I can speak to the process. Um, but what’s interesting is I was actually one of the community members.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Oh, nice.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Who, who helped with one of the rubrics. So the, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
The inquiry and analysis rubric held a special place in my heart because-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I helped, I helped with that one, a ton of credit, all credit, I would say, um, for this goes to Terry Rhodes, my incredible colleague, friend, former boss, mentor, all of, all the good things you could possibly say. Where, you know, Terry’s just this really incredibly creative thinker, who also doesn’t get bogged down in people saying, you know, “Ugh, I don’t think that’s gonna work.” Uh, you know, so he did, he said, “Well, maybe we can come up with the,” you know, the, the value rubrics were created in a very specific political context. Um, when there was much more of kind of a standardized testing modality being foisted, for lack of a better phrase, on not only K-12 and No Child Left Behind which, you know, we’re still dealing with the legacy of that, but within higher education. That was where it looked like things were going-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And that was the- the- the driver of the assessment and evaluation conversation. And, and Terry just asked the question like, “Really, is this what it has to be? What, what are our other options?” And he had had experience with rubrics at his previous institution. And he said, “Well, let’s just see what people are willing to do with us and work with us on.”

And I think part of it within higher education, at least writ large, that I have experienced is good ideas and ideas that welcome conversation and participation, motivate people to participate. I mean, AAC&U didn’t pay folks. This was not a let’s hire the best psychometricians to craft a rubric and give them a consultancy fee. It was, “who in our community?” and by community, it was faculty of all disciplinary homes, ranks, institutional affiliations. It was other higher ed professionals, librarians, student affairs, co-curricular folks, et cetera.

AAC&U acted as the conveners and the stewards of this process, and said to very smart, engaged, motivated people, “Here are some of the ground rules for what we’re looking for, go forth and conquer.” And resulting out of that are the documents that you see that today we refer to them as faculty facing open educational resources. So OER-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Which is nomenclature that wasn’t around a decade ago. Um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But, but the actual work itself, I think both the importance of it, the topics, the idea of creating something new that was really designed to help raise up the good work taking place within higher ed, even as people were, like today, talking about what higher ed was failing to do. When I think about how we were as an organization able to pull together a community of folks who essentially volunteered their time.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Their expertise, their intellectual capital is that the work itself had to be motivating. It was something people saw as important as relevant to what they were doing. Uh, the way that the work was structured. I think I personally on, on kind of the other side of it, as someone brought in to help with one of the rubrics, it was very collaborative. Um, folks were encouraged to share their opinions, even if you disagreed with someone else on the call. And I think you see the benefits of the collective wisdom through a collaborative project reflected in the rubrics. Now, uh, there are also challenges associated with that.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
What I love is the story that Terry would share with me that when they had finally had all the finalized rubrics from the teams, he brought them to our then-president Carol Gary Schneider, who supposedly picked up a pen to start kind of editing and smoothing out rough spots. And, you know, Terry dramatically took the pen out of her hand and said, “No, no, that’s not what our job is here. Our job is to really reflect the best thinking of these teams we convened even with their imperfections.” ‘Cause this is what they felt was important and rose to the level of being the articulation of these learning outcomes.

So now years later, one of the things we’re getting ready to do is revisit the rubrics themselves. The analogy that I have in my head of that revisiting process is Bloom’s Taxonomy. Uh, you know, so Bloom’s Taxonomy first came about, you know, 1956. And then there’s another version of Bloom’s from the early 2000s. Uh, both are useful and current, and you just get to pick which one you use. So, when I talk to campuses, I- I, on the same day, I can speak to someone on a campus who says, “Oh goodness, you need to revise this rubric. Here are the five things I don’t like about it. Here’s what should change.”

And then I talk to another person about the same rubric who says, “Please don’t revise it. We now know how to use it. And we have longitudinal data.” So, you know, we try to balance this notion of having these resources available. But again, making sure that they reflect the language of today, the needs of today, who our students are and what we want for them, what values do we want for them? Which leads nicely into the notion of the other rubrics that you mentioned.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
What came up for me was the importance of having structure, facilitation, a common purpose that folks get united on. That then, whether it’s incentivized or not, people are coming together to be in community. What you shared about Terry’s experience in trying to say, let’s lift this up and we don’t ha- we don’t get to edit it. It’s that the idea that it’s not gonna be perfect, what’s created by a community is not gonna be perfect. And what’s created by a community may not apply to all members of that community exactly.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Um, and may have to, you know, be adapted, may have to be changed. Um, so it’s just beautiful the way you’ve laid out the process, the way you’ve brought people together, the commitment. All of that for me speaks to when higher ed is thinking about change, or when coming together over something that’s important. How do you build that consensus? How do you go through that process? How do you make sure that there’s enough structure so that you don’t leave people behind? Because the process is so poorly laid out that you can’t have people engaged, be their authentic selves, agree to disagree and engage actively with each other. So I just wanted to call some of those things out for our listeners. So thank you.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Well-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And I think another important piece of that is the respecting of the end product that the collaborative community created. So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Maybe no one else has had this experience in higher education except for me. There have been times I’ve been on committees where we are charged to do something, but really the end product is already predetermined. That there is-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. Oh no, you’re not alone. (laughing). Kate.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, there’s something that someone wants to have done, but they know that culturally in higher ed, they should have a committee and there should be this engagement, but, but the end prior-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
They’ve already predetermined, yeah, what has to happen? Yes.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
They predetermined what has to happen. And I think the thing that Terry so wisely did and AAC&U embraced, and then the community embraced was that these are co-created rubrics, that-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
They are then available. As you said, you can download them, change them, customize them, do what you will with them. But this wasn’t AAC&U’s leadership sitting in a conference room, creating something and then backwards engineering a process to get to their preconceived idea of what success would look like.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
They really had to say, you know, we have to trust. And I think that’s really what it is. There has to be a level of trust.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
In your community members, that the goal is moving in the same direction to have an excellent end outcome, whatever that might be-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But you might have different ways of getting there and part of what you get to may not be what you individually envisioned, if you were part of the team that kickstarted the whole conversation, but-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But being willing to, to be open to that and to the idea that good ideas can come and be contributed from any number of places, any number-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Of, um, uh, individuals with different kind of positionality and, you know, hierarchy and all of that. I mean, it’s, it’s-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah. Different perspectives. Yep.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Absolutely. Absolutely. So thinking about some of the attributes we’ve discussed is actually being elements of some of the learning outcomes that we raise up with the value rubrics. Like civic engagement, uh, teamwork and collaboration, it’s really interesting just to point something out about teamwork and collaboration, which I find like this is one of those things I think we need to think about and wrestle with a little bit in the academy. Teamwork was one of the top five outcomes identified in our employer research most recently, as what employers are looking for from college graduates. The ability to work on teams.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
When we asked campus stakeholders, so primarily faculty respondents, but you know, academic leadership, deans, et cetera, in our Campus Stakeholder Survey, that same question about ranking and kind of positioning the level of importance or emphasis on certain outcomes. Teamwork was in the bottom five. And so, it says something where I think we talk about it as a value, but we don’t necessarily explicitly build it into our conceptions of our courses, our assignment-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Our curriculum.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And that comes up for me all the time as a consultant. Right? So, when I go into higher ed spaces, I think it’s the idea that folks don’t know how to grade that effectively. And then students feel like it’s too much work. So, it goes back to the structure of it. So how do we structure assignments and how do we structure teamwork in a way that actually helps everyone learn, and helps everyone value the meaning and the importance of working together, working collaboratively, that process is gonna be challenging. That it doesn’t-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mean that, oh, I’m gonna get a low grade on an assignment, or oh, it’s so frustrating. That frustration is part of your learning that this is gonna happen in life. Right? Like, and how do we set that up for our students? So, uh, yeah. That’s (laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And I-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I agree with you. Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I think that gets to just some fundamental questions about how our faculty and our students understand the learning process, you know, and this-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Is where I put my educational psychology hat on and stand on my soapbox, is that our students often coming to us, their sense of what makes them successful and what makes them good students from a, from a studying and a learning perspective is often very wrongheaded.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, they have practices that got them, you know, they were successful in, in their high school environments potentially, they’re successful on a lot of the testing regimens that we might have had. But when it comes to then feeling the discomfort of having to engage in more active pedagogies, of having to put themselves out there and work with other people, the biggest complaint you hear about group work is, you know, uh, students just, they hate it, uh, because of-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, they can’t meet at the same time, their lives don’t align. They’re- someone’s picking up the load.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
But that goes back to the point that you made right up front that in higher ed, first of all, it’s prescriptive. That’s what … We keep telling students do what you’re told. And so, in their team too, it’s do what you’re told as opposed to how do we co-create. Like the idea that folks don’t know how to co-create. And so that’s a skill that we have to teach them. Co-creation, we can invite and respect and ideas and build on each other’s ideas.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, it’s my way or the highway and I can’t see your vision for how to finish this or do this. Right? But then the second thing is also the point that you made about recognition. So, students want their grade, they want their work to be recognized because that’s that individual celebration of the individual is what is as a culture in the west. That’s what’s celebrated often, like, what did you accomplish? What did you do? And how do I grade you? And how are you perceived by other people as opposed to, how can we lift each other up? And do we teach folks saying there’s someone who’s gonna be first author, there’s someone who’s just gonna own the project.

There’s someone who’s gonna be second author. Who’s gonna do, you know, so we don’t teach them. So, a lot of times in my trainings, that’s what I tell people. I’m like, when you set up a group project in your transparent assessment design, do you sit and think through, who’s gonna be first author, who’s gonna be second author. So help students understand that there is someone who’s gonna do more work. There is someone who’s gonna look at it from this lens and this-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
So I totally, you know, I’m getting on my soapbox. (laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
No, no, but it, you know, it, it’s that notion of disequilibrium and discomfort.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Is, is good for your learning. That-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
That, that if it feels like it’s coming too easily to you, if it feels too fluid and fluent, initially it probably isn’t sticking. You know, there’s that great book, Make It Stick, when it comes to what we know cognitively about how humans make meaning, and how that relates to our teaching. It’s through no fault of faculty themselves. Most of us, you know, were not trained in the learning sciences or how to translate what they’re doing in their area of expertise, into, you know, teaching broadly.

Never mind how do I structure this for first-year students, for gen ed versus the majors? And what does that look like? So, um, I think that part of what I hope the value rubrics can do, apart from any measurement and assessment tool, is provide a vocabulary and an entry point to that conversation for faculty who say, and very sincerely mean, I want to integrate more personal responsibility, civic engagement, social justice aspects into my teaching, but I don’t quite know where to start.

It’s less intuitive to most faculty than things like our critical thinking rubric or written communication in their field. Right. So, and, and even those can be challenging, but when you start talking about these other pieces where the complexity is pretty high, uh-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Not just for the faculty member, but for the students, I look at the, the value rubrics as being a conversation kickstarter and a teaching and instructional tool before they’re ever a measurement tool in those spaces.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, that’s a nice-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Tool.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Nice way of looking at it. I hadn’t ever thought of it like that. Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So, the person, for example, at AAC&U who’s really steeped in this work right now is Ashley Finley, who’s our VP for Research and Senior Special Advisor to the president. I’m partnering with her on our big civic evidence grant that we have funded through Lumina and what a lot of our work in that space has done. Like one of the deliverables will be that we sample and score student work using the civic engagement rubric. So, of course the data side of me is very excited about what that’s gonna look like, and what we might find and all of that.

But before we even get to any data and anything we can run through, you know, SPSS and create cool data visualizations for it, it is that relational teaching and learning conversation, it’s helping faculty identify. And in so many places they’re doing really excellent creative work, uh, but hadn’t had the vocabulary or the tools to wrap around it, to talk about it in the aggregate, or to talk about it in a way that was more than feeling like it was a one-off just in their program, where we can say to them, what you’re doing is really important. And it could be a model on your own campus.

It potentially could be a model for other campuses. Let’s get some evidence of what you’re doing to legitimize it in that space to help others, not just to get the paper or the publication, but legitimately to say what are the lessons you’ve learned? How can we talk about these things and build out tools, whether it’s an assignment framework, teaching and learning strategy within a community-based program, et cetera. Like what are some concrete, examples and tools we can provide so that folks on a community college and an HBCU and an R1, you know, what have you, regardless of structures and orientations towards their students, that there are these tools for, for others to engage in this really important work as well.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm. So given our conversation and our, you know, definition and your definitions or understanding of community and how it kind of overlaps with teamwork, with identity, with self, you know, personal responsibility, with all of these aspects, do you think building community is something that should be … I would offer as a learning outcome? I know we’ve already talked about that. It should be part of the process of teaching and learning, but any thoughts on that, whether it should be a goal or a part of the process or both or?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So, so I wanna own my lack of, um, you know, I’m not a sociologist.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Right. Own my, own my lack of expertise in a formalized way in this space. So just own-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Absolutely.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
That from the very beginning. Here’s where I struggle with that question, a particular kind of catch phrase or buzzword phrase that I would see in a lot of, and I was guilty of using it, grant applications and proposals, you know, over the last decade has been, “And one of the outcomes of this will be that we will create a community of practice,” right? Pulling from Lave and Wenger’s work this idea of like, okay, we’re going to socially engineer this community of practice as a result of, whatever it was we were getting funding for.

First year experience, a new gen ed program. What have you. I think what … Having, having spent some time with their work, one of the cautionary notes is you can be a community of practice and be pretty dysfunctional.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing). Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You can be a-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Oh, wow, yes.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Community. You, you can be part of a community that has some pretty toxic behaviors. Right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So, when I think about what, so then going back to your specific question-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I think for me, part of the outcomes may not be, say focusing on community or community building should be the outcome. It’s taking a step back and talking about the skills, orientations, affective dispositions, that lead to kind of a healthier sense of what that community might be.

So that’s where, like I look at things like civic learning, civic engagement, communication, you know-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
It was interesting when I was speaking at a campus, someone was going through the list of the essential learning outcomes for which we have value rubrics. And he said, “You know, the one that’s missing is listening.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And then actually at, at our annual, at our annual meeting, we had a presenter do kind of a Ted Talk format presentation. He was a, a younger, early career colleague out of the University of Alabama talking about a class he taught on listening and the concrete skills of listening. And he brought down the house, and this was a great presentation. People were asking him for his references, his resources, et cetera. And so I- I guess that’s where I come back to is that there are some embedded in these learning outcomes. And it’s, it’s very easy for a conversation about assessment and learning outcomes to completely go down the rabbit hole of accountability, where it’s-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
All about the measurement. It’s all about the psychometrics, and it’s all about proving our worth.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But when we take a step back, some of these skills, they’re not, we call them essential because they are, and they’re essential, not just to proving we’re good actors when we take tuition dollars, and all of that kind of institutional survival mode stuff. But like these are life skills. These are conditions through which, not just students, but people moving forward are going to either struggle or thrive.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And lacking capacity in some areas is going to create difficulties for individuals professionally, personally.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, socially, et cetera. And so, when I think about that notion of our mission statement, historically, our tagline is that we try to help college graduates be successful in careers, work, life, and citizenship. That notion of community building, that notion of being a good civic actor doesn’t mean you all have to agree. You don’t have to have the same political orientation, the same faith-based or lack thereof or educational background.
But you have to have some of these core abilities that allow you to be tolerant of ambiguity, be tolerant of difference, productively work with and collaborate, cooperate with people other than who you see when you look in the mirror. And so, I think there are aspects of that on any number of our value rubrics, and certainly those aren’t the only ways to measure and frame them. Um.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So, so I- I think that’s how I would answer. I’m not sure I answered your question to be honest-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
(laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
(laughing).

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, but I think it’s more questions than answers though, right? I think there’s so much to unpack in terms of thinking through and goes back to what you said. We have so many ways of being, and we have now technology weaving in through those ways of being, and are we preparing our students for the future in all aspects of the future, whether it is working together, whether it is being a good citizen, whether it’s lifelong learning, whether it’s critical thinking, right? Are we preparing them for that future in all the ways that matter, which means pulling various elements together?

I had one colleague at a workshop that I led, he talked about democracy as dialogue. And so, for me, when I think about building community, and when you talked about toxic ways of being like communities are functioning dysfunctionally, (laughing). Right? It goes back to, are we training and teaching our students in how to engage in dialogue, in how to engage across difference, in how to find common ground and meaning with each other, and to build together, to lift each other up? And so, I go back to, again, is that a value, do you think that’s a value that higher ed needs to intentionally explicitly address?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So I do, and I think it’s not only something we need to address in that sense of like addressing it for our students. I actually think it’s something we need to be better at modeling. And I have very concrete examples of this being in the assessment world.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Like, let’s be honest if, you know, there is a lot of rhetorical nastiness within the academy. That doesn’t model, uh, civic discourse, that doesn’t model respect for diversity of viewpoint or all, you know, just the whole like administration versus faculty, you know, going over to the dark side. There’s a lot, I think that we could jettison from some of our default rhetorical choices in the academy. Um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Absolutely. Yep. I

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I’m pretty active on kind of like Higher Ed Twitter, you know.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I mean, I’m certainly not like some crazy poster, I don’t have a ton of followers, but certainly keep up on the conversations there. And sometimes I’m just like, woof, it’s just not kind. Um, you know, there’s a reason why Inside Higher Ed turned off their comments function for their articles. Like if you ever read through those comments, you know, I wrote something in there once and, oh my goodness, there were some comments that you would’ve thought that like, I was gonna be strung up alive.

Um, and you know, people have a right to their opinion, but there’s again, and they have a right to say nasty things. Like I’m not even, you know, I’m- I’m not getting into the censoring of speech here, but the choice of an individual to engage in that level of rhetoric, I’ve, I have made a very conscious effort. And in sometimes it is a real effort, right? When you get a little heated under the collar yourself to not go, you know, as they say, go low, go high instead.

But to keep the conversation at a level that models the values that I would hope our students would see in us, or would get from us. So, it’s that, you know, avoiding that awful, “Do as I say, not as I do,” you know.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
If we expect our, if we expect our students to engage in these things, then we should be modeling it ourselves, as well.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And then going back to this point about writing nasty comments, and it goes back to again, how are we training our students? How are we exemplifying that in how we engage with each other where it’s like, I have to have the last word, or I have to say it the best, or I can say it and not worry about the impact it has on someone else. So, as I’m saying this, for me, it comes back to community being about that relationship that do we see-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Absolutely.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
That we are connected and in relationship with whoever it is that we interact, right? And trying to figure out, okay, so I’m in community with you. You are part of my higher ed space. You are part of the folks with me, like me who are impacting student success. How do I then engage in conversation with you, and how do we live our values and showcase that to our students to say, this is how we connect with each other. This is how we lift each other up. Any other thoughts that come to mind?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Well, you know, I mean, the reality is, is that having seen these experiences and having been on the receiving end of them or witnessed them. I’ve seen it done grad students, I’ve seen it done to folks, you know, who privilege teaching over research. There can be this-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Or the other way around. Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Or, or the other way around. Right. What I will say is, in my experience, those voices are decidedly in the minority. They’re the fewest, but they often are the most vocal.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Beautifully put. Yep.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
They can burn some of the oxygen in the room. What really gives me hope, and what’s one of the most wonderful things that I would say, um, I agree with you, I think before any of this work, it is a relational piece. Before you get into the technicalities of the collaboration of whatever it is you’re trying to do, one of the things that’s such a privilege of working at a place like AAC&U is getting to know the individuals at different institutions, in different institutional communities and seeing how in the midst of the last two years, in the midst of all of the challenges, how different campus communities have really come together to support some of their students.

There’s a great example. I’m just, um, over the moon in love with this school, Odessa College in west Texas, I think it’s in Odessa, Texas, kind of in the Midland, Texas area. I’ve never been there. Absolutely have never been there. Um, my only interactions has been through social media, and their president does this wonderful Wednesday Twitter chat on questions around community, on questions around identity, on yourselves, as a learner and what we do for our students. And all sorts of folks from their community chime in from their academic leadership, to students, to faculty.

And so, you’re seeing folks continue to innovate in this space of creating community and being there for each other and being there for their students, and for the mission of their institutions. And, but just thinking of different ways of expanding and/or doubling down on the notion of, of their community and connecting to it, and creating different mechanisms for it. So, it’s really exciting to see, you know, and that’s just one example that I’m familiar with, and I know there’s innumerable ways that community plays out on different campuses these days to help support the students and to, you know, continue the work of educating folks for future success, for lifelong learning, and yes, for employment and career and socioeconomic mobility. And so, the good stories outweigh the bad, um-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But I think being intentional in terms of building the values and then the skills that can lead us to these productive kinds of relationships with the people that we’re engaging with in this, this educational enterprise is really important.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Um, just one additional question, we’ve covered a lot of ground. You’ve just shared so many nuggets of wisdom that I wanna just, again, highlight for our listeners. You’ve talked about how we need to emulate what we want our students to be able to do. We need to be doing that. That signs of effective leadership for community building. When we are able to showcase them part of relationships, engage with each other respectfully in dialogue, you’ve talked about that.

You’ve talked about how folks, when as we teach students, there are skills that are elements of civic engagement or skills that are elements of teamwork, skills that are elements of communication and listening or critical thinking that all go into thinking of community. When we think about building community as a skill that we wanna teach our students, we’ve talked about that. You’ve given a couple of examples, one with your AAC&U example, as well as with Odessa College. Ways in which structure, processes, activities, innovative ideas like a Twitter chat. Um, folks can engage in various ways to make people feel like they belong, to bring different perspectives to the table, to highlight that, elevate that and to co-create in the process, right?

‘Cause that’s such an important aspect as well, that it’s not, somebody’s, it’s co-created from a community, it’s generated by a community and you invite everyone into it. So, the big question that I have is what, how do you build consensus in a community? Um, (laughing), uh, when you have different opinions, and what are some ways in which we need to come together as higher ed given our siloed ways of being that you think that we are not currently. So I know there are different strategies, but spaces in which we can do a little bit more maybe, um, to, to impact student success in a way that creates this feeling of belonging, that creates this feeling of relationship, uh, a positive experience.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So I- I don’t know if I have, um, again, kind of that, uh, empirically validated answer, (laughing).

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
For you. Uh, I mean-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
No, it’s just your opinion. I mean, given your expertise and Kate, you have a lot of experience and expertise being, you know, consulting and relationship building in so many institutions and with AAC&U, as well.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
So maybe I’ll center my answer in what I love about doing kind of like in the weeds faculty workshops. In person or virtually, we’ve got some, some good virtual options down, but, uh, what I will say is, is that one of my, like my sweet spot, like you, you know, people will invite me to campus sometimes to do keynotes, and I’m happy to do that, but like give me 40 faculty in a room where we actually for two days get work done, and I’m a happy camper. Um, and there’s this interesting phenomenon. If I’ve been on a campus for say, you know, if I’m there for like a day and a half, versus just dropping in for an hour or like a- a one off workshop where folks hopefully rightfully start to feel comfortable with me.

And like, they can tell me things about different dynamics around the work that they’re doing or their campus environment, and what I think I have developed some skills at which I will say early in my career, I did not have these skills. (laughing). When you’re talking, teaching, and learning, you’re talking about vulnerability, particularly for faculty, for people who are so skilled in a very particular area, but are also very much and intentionally trying to help students learn, which is a whole messy construct in and of itself, right?

There’s a bit of vulnerability and you want people feeling vulnerable in these spaces where they can actually raise issues and ask legitimate questions, even if they’re kind of sticky ones. One of my favorite sticky questions that we get to like after hour four or after lunch, when people are feeling a little more relaxed is I- I often will have a faculty member or two, uh, from across the disciplinary range, say something about like, “Well, what about rigor in all of this? What about high standards, right?” Which like I first blush, you know, I’ll be honest, kind of gets my back up and sets, sets my hackles going a little bit, because I think there’s a lot there sometimes.

And sometimes rigor is used as a kind of strawman argument for things that are really about equity issues, diversity issues, um, a sense of who should or should not be allowed to come to this institution. You know, the very old schooled-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Absolutely.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Look to your left, look to your right.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Mm-hmm.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
As I said, I moved around a lot as a kid, but originally from New England, you know, like the Boston area. So that can be pretty direct. So, I used to just kind of slam that door shut and maybe deservedly so for some folks. That being said, um, what I have found, however, as I’ve gotten older is giving space for folks who are legitimately asking questions in that space. And they’re not looking to challenge. They’re looking for often an answer that they can use back with their other colleagues. Like the colleagues who don’t show up for the workshops, the colleagues who are not-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Leaning in to these conversations where, you know, they’re almost afraid to say it out loud with me, but at the same time, they know that’s the question they’re gonna get when they go back and they suggest something radical, like, should we rearrange our prerequisites to try to address this DFW rate issue? Or could we do more active teaching and learning in this class? Here’s some pedagogical strategies instead of lockstep all having to use the same test bank or those kinds of things.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And I- I think, in my experience, allowing folks to ask risky questions and then give time for and, and often it’s just then responding with a question that then they unpack even what they meant by rigor, for example, or they talk about what they’ve seen and what their challenges are. Or in some ways they end up answering their own question. Like I’m not actually there to provide an answer. It’s more of a vehicle through which someone can think aloud and get some reactions and test ideas. And so, if I try to extrapolate from that experience that I love, and I find very powerful and feel very privileged to have on campuses.

It’s this sense of how do we create these safe spaces for risk taking where one can be vulnerable, admit you don’t have all the answers, even ask questions that on a face-value level may seem antagonistic. I think we have to get back to a space where we do recognize intentionality behind something. So not just intentional design, but like, what is someone’s motivation for asking that question? There’s a difference between someone struggling with this and trying to think through what to do for their students, knowing there’s different issues coming at them from different places, versus someone who is raising it to shut down the conversation.

To me, that’s another way to model or experience what many of our stu- you know, we want our students engaging in dialogues and classrooms. They too are trying to navigate how do I ask this question? Is this a question I should even ask? What are people gonna think when I ask this question?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
What if I don’t like the answer? Or how do I navigate the answer?

Dr. Divya Bheda:
You … This is so beautiful. This is just such a wonderful answer because it goes back again, like earlier you had talked about trust, right? So, it’s about building that space of trust, bringing people into that space, having psychological safety in that space for people to engage in risk, be vulnerable, ask their questions. And it helps where you’re not preaching to the choir. So then you are allowing folks to figure out, okay, how do I respond? Like to make our own implicit biases in some way explicit so that we can change as people. Right. And then that, that, oh, wow, like (laughing), thank you. Thank you for-

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Well.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
And it’s just one of those things. I mean, certainly, like I said, like, you know, (laughing). I’m now, I’m now in my, my, my 40s versus my 20s and 30s and I’ve seen a thing or two, and, and most of the things that I’ve seen, (laughing) and where I’ve seen it, not work it’s because I’m the one who screwed it up or it was my mistake in how I reacted-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
To something.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right, right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
But.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I find myself, I work hard at it, but I will also say that I think part of it’s circumstance and, uh, just the privilege of the experiences I’ve had of becoming more tolerant of-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
You know, the need for, and no tolerant is not the right word. Tolerant implies that like being more-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Become open.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Open to broader conversation.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Exactly.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yeah. ‘Cause I don’t purport to have the right answer, or this is what everyone coming out of this workshop should think these three things that I know to be true. You know, moving away from that, but being open to someone, having the, having the guts to ask a tough question, having.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Having the, the courage to say-

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And modeling that in.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Yes.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Well, having the courage to say it and not being afraid of, I think the hardest thing for me to get over was being afraid of asking dumb questions. And I will say I very early, I’m lucky and I have no idea how I got over it early, but I did. I was always the one who would ask the stupid question. I don’t mind having people look at me and say, “Oh my gosh, how do you not know that?” Right. But I think that something that in higher education, in general we’re not great at.

We don’t want to ask the wrong question or be seen as not knowing something, especially when we’re paid to know so much. We’re paid for our expertise. So, if you are honored and promoted and compensated for being experts and for having expertise, it’s a very different thing to say I don’t know, or to say what about and struggle with it and give yourself space to struggle with it. And I think that above all is really important to trust building, which is important to a functioning community, which is learning, learning takes taking risks. And so, if we’re gonna model anything, modeling what learning looks like with all its messiness for students, I think is a really important part.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
And, and everything that you’re saying also for me, it goes back to that decolonizing ways of being, right? The patriarchal ways of being and how higher ed was built again, to recognize excellence, to recognize expertise, to be an individual contributor. So, this capitalistic imperialistic system and way of being, and changing on that all that on its head to Brené Brown’s work around vulnerability and, and being vulnerable and then modeling that behavior for our students being place-based, focusing on relationship building, as opposed to being right.

Offering the (laughing), offering the space for people to, to ask the questions, just thank you for all of this, all of the (laughing), uh, the nuggets of wisdom that you just so casually put in, in the whole conversation (laughing). With all the examples you shared, any other final thoughts on community building that you’d like our listeners as higher ed folks to take away from this conversation?

Dr. Kate McConnell:
N- no, other than I’m grateful that for the communities that have been so welcoming to me and the communities that I’ve helped to co-create. I mean, higher ed is a very small place when it comes down to it. And the overlapping kind of concentric circles of relationships that many of us have is what, for me personally, it’s what keeps me going. And is what keeps me both connected and grounded in finding this work fulfilling. And I love nothing more than introducing really excellent colleagues to one another.

It’s really about connecting when … I get excited by ideas, I get excited by people with exciting ideas. And so, spreading them wealth to say like, “You’re talking about this, you need to know so and so.” And sometimes it is at an entirely different institution, an entirely different time zone. It’s really about expanding the notion of who’s in this community, because if more and more of us are focused on this work individually in our locations, but then have a network to draw on, for great ideas for collaboration. And sometimes for commiseration, where we can tell our stories and vent and what have you.

We’re just, we’re stronger for it, and I think there’s the assessment community, the teaching and learning community, the gen ed community, like there are these overlapping spheres where good people are talking to each other. And if AAC&U can do anything to just increase those connections, I think we’ll have done our job.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
Right. I wanted to echo what you’re saying in terms of, and this is the work in social justice too, right? Like how do we lift the folks and bring folks into the room who weren’t given a seat at the table, how do we connect folks to resources or to access certain, uh, recognition or achievements or anything like that by connecting folks? So I love that you mentioned that ’cause that’s part of the community building as well, right? When we want thought leadership, when we want idea generation, when we want people to come together to work towards a particular goal, or to build a space that feels safe, or to build consensus around an idea or around a vision of how to get there.

I think that’s so important to find the people who will kind of shoot you down, as well as the people who will kind of lift you up, because you wanna be able to address both and come up with answers for both and be able to see multiple viewpoints, and then move intentionally and comprehensively towards that particular goal. So, thank you for sharing that and for saying that, and I’m glad that you are a connector. (laughing).

Dr. Kate McConnell:
I appreciate that. And yeah, I mean it is, and also having like connections across, I guess the final thing I would say about it is, connecting good people doing work and connecting to campuses that nobody in the Ivy league has heard of, or that nobody, and with all due respect to our, our more kind of top 25 elite higher ed that seems to be the focus of like the Wall Street Journal and subsets of parents in affluent areas. Right?

But the idea that some of the most innovative and radical things you could be doing can be coming from say the community college down the street and not the Ivy-colored, you know, traditional campus, you might be thinking of. That we really need to be thinking about our community and our exemplars in very expansive ways.

Dr. Divya Bheda:
I’d love to leave us on that note. Um, so that we draw from the resources that are there beyond the usual suspects. So, thank you so much, Kate, thank you, Dr. McConnell, for this conversation. We went in so many different directions and so many different ideas, explored various topics. So, I really appreciate your insights and um, your advice. And I hope our listeners did too. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Kate McConnell:
Thank you for having me.

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Published: June 21, 2022

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