Room to Fail

By Robert Alan Simpkins

My first job as a community college instructor came about in an unplanned manner due to a combination of three factors: 1) an unexpected need arose at a nearby college; 2) I met the CCCCO minimum qualifications for the position; 3) a faculty member at the college knew me from graduate school and recommended me to the Dean.  But as may come as no surprise to anyone reading this, I quickly learned that my qualifications and self-confidence (mostly stemming from my successful experiences as a student and a graduate Teaching Assistant) were hardly adequate preparation for the job.  In fact, it was a lengthy trial-and-error process with my students as unsuspecting test subjects that slowly led to my improvements as an instructor.  In some ways, over twenty years later, I feel I still have significant room to grow.  What made it possible for me to be here at all, as a tenured faculty member collaborating on diverse campus and district initiatives, was the support of and patience by key individuals who gave me the room to fail – which I did repeatedly.  Looking back, I suspect that it was the evidence that I was learning from those failures that gave them the confidence to continue supporting my evolution as an educator.  I have in turn tried to bring that insight to my work leading my degree program and adjunct faculty, as a two-time division chair during which time I oversaw some of the largest numbers of adjunct evaluations at my college, and working with a cross-section of colleagues across the college in initiatives, in which sometimes there was no precedent for what we were doing, no road map or template, and in which to succeed at times we also needed that room to fail.

I have so many stories of failure that I could probably fill a book with them, not that I am eager to admit them all.  There is one in particular, however, that I will share here as an example.  In this case, it is not a community college experience, but instead an experience as an adjunct teaching at a four-year public institution, where I taught simultaneous to my community college teaching for just over a decade before coming to my current position at Porterville College.  There I was asked to teach a course that was cross-listed in four departments, and was created by a group of full-time faculty members, and part of the Liberal Studies teacher-prep program.  It was a course that required extensive and interdisciplinary knowledge.  My struggle in it was not with the subject matter, but instead with the pedagogy and student culture.

In the case of the pedagogy, I was provided with a sample syllabus and assignments and asked to follow it precisely, including the use of a specific textbook.  I quickly realized the scope of the course required a massive amount of reading each week, and the expected quiz format was insufficient to representatively sample the material.  I gave the quizzes, and students took them, but I doubted that the quiz scores were any representation of their knowledge of the subject and felt arbitrary.  I tried to encourage them to teach each other by assigning chapters for discussion led by assigned students, seminar-style, which quickly turned disastrous as students came unprepared and I often ended up leading the discussion anyway – but not without awkwardness and complaints that students wanted me to just lecture.  A required large end-of-term assignment seemed hard for them to understand, and their research skills seemed inadequate – and being such a large percentage of their grade, it adversely impacted those who waited too long for help or submitted something contrary to the directions.  In the end, scores were low, students were frustrated, and as adjunct faculty were evaluated in every class in every semester there, I ended up with an embarrassing trip to my Department Chair to discuss what had happened.

Two things came out of that experience.  First, the Chair, who had known me for some time, allowed me the opportunity to share my observations of the experience.  Second, due to the course being cross-listed, the actual evaluation was to be overseen by a faculty member in another program, and at that time there was a change of oversight.  The new faculty member assigned to my course asked for a meeting, and since at that time I was a new parent and living only a few blocks from campus, offered to come over for my convenience and talk with me at my home.  That new faculty supervisor turned out to be one of the most important figures in my future career, and that conversation became one of the most important moments in my demonstrating my ability to learn from failure.

That Department Chair asked me very simply, “So what do you think happened?”  Fortunately, I had a lot of ideas, which I discussed at length.  She then asked, “If you could do whatever you wanted to fix things in the class, what would you do?”  I had ideas about that as well, to which she patiently listened.  I was able to show that I had been thinking about it all for some time, and not just because she had asked for the meeting.  I had gone through different ideas, I had researched other kinds of materials to use, and other ways to teach.  What I did not know was if the results would be different, if students would be less frustrated, and if they would learn the subject matter more effectively.  She told me to go ahead and try out my ideas, and we would see what happened.  Fortunately, the class the next semester was a totally different experience, with much stronger student participation and enthusiasm, and enabled me to break the mold of my own teaching style, increasing my confidence in the process. 

It was also important to me to show that her faith in me was validated, and in giving me that room to fail, learn, and grow, was leading to my being a more effective instructor.  Now I was not free from failure at that point – a year later I had some struggles in the same course, as it appeared that some students were figuring out how to work around some elements in my course design, and as I tried to close the loopholes it provoked a new backlash, but she and I again went through the same process of discussion.  We had a meeting, we reviewed what went wrong, I showed my understanding of my role, how I thought it could be corrected, and she again gave me the opportunity to change and improve, which I did, and I continued to teach that course until I left for my current position at Porterville College a decade ago – an application for which she was one of my references.

Because our work as educators does not occur in isolation and is always embedded in a complex web of changing perspectives, expectations, and requirements, some degree of failure is probably inevitable for instructors, regardless of the number of years of experience in the profession.  Achieving success in the long-term then means that faculty need a support structure that expects occasional failures and supports the correction and experimentation needed to ensure the success of the student learning experience – yet that support system is rarely placed systematically and intentionally for all faculty, including adjunct faculty as well as tenure-track and tenured faculty.  Some may have similar stories of supportive peers or supervisors, and understanding and patient students.  But others may have been scarred by experiences that lacked such support, perhaps causing them to leave an institution, or even the profession of education altogether.

To ensure equity for our educators, then, perhaps the solution is to embed the support for faculty into our institutions from the start of their time with us.  Dedicated mentors who are experienced educators can help faculty experiencing unexpected trouble in their classes.  Specialized instructional designers can work with new faculty to help with their course design choices.  Supervisors can meet with struggling faculty, giving support and allowing for them to have that room to fail, when they can show that they understand why they faced difficulties, and that they are growing as educators in response.  The faculty evaluation process could place a premium on the evidence of this self-reflection, and the evaluee’s evidence of self-directed investment and improvement.  My hope for future educators at my institution is that they can avoid some of the lengthy and disheartening trial-and-error experiences I experienced early in my career with a stronger, institutionalized, cross-college support system.  Although to some degree we all have to learn on our own and in our own way, perhaps failure is better experienced when not hidden from view, but in a supportive, sympathetic room surrounded by those who understand because they have been there too, and remember the support they received, and would have wanted others to also have.

Robert Alan Simpkins has been a Professor of Anthropology at Porterville College since 2012, where he also is currently the Academic Senate President and faculty lead for Guided Pathways.  He previously served two terms as the Social Science Division Chair, and organized PC’s CHAP (Cultural and Historical Awareness Program) series for five years.  Prior to coming to PC, he was an adjunct at De Anza College and at San Jose State University.  He has an MA and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and BA from San Jose State University.  As an Archaeologist, he is interested in the relationship between roads, architecture, cultural landscapes, and socio-political organization.  His particular focus has been the Golconda kingdom in the Indian Deccan region, which was the subject of his doctoral dissertation and on which he has presented his research internationally and published extensively, most recently in the article “Inferring Road Networks and Socio-Political Change from Elite Monuments of the Golconda Kingdom” in South Asian Studies in 2020.  Although a native of the Bay Area, he enjoys the farms and orchards of the central valley and the proximity to the mountains, and going on drives and exploring the region with his family.  He has a weakness for books, toys, classic movies and animation, art, stories, and anything that he finds amusing. 

Having Each Other’s Back

By Ana Ceballos

I recall at a very early age having to take care of my father and support my mother.  I began to work at the young age of 11 helping my parents pick the bountiful fruits of the Central Valley.  And at the age of 15 I started to clean tables as a “busgirl”.  I did this to help support my family when at times my father could not provide due to his constant drinking.  As I grew older, I realized that I had developed a lack of trust in others and a mentality of “do it yourself, don’t rely on others”.  I was determined and perseverant, and I knew that I could count and rely on the survival skills that I had built growing up to help me through any situation.  Despite having been a first-generation college graduate and the first in my family to pursue a professional career, there were times when I did not trust in my own capabilities.  I have had moments where I also felt alone, working in silos, wanting to reach out to others, to ask questions, or ask for help, yet not doing so out of fear that I would burden people, or that I would come across as not capable.  I remember thinking, “Well, I will just have to figure it out and do it myself,” and many times I did.  The experience of accomplishing something by myself was gratifying, but at times it also left me feeling bitter, drained, exhausted, and in need of a break.  Yet I have also worked in various settings of higher education and collaborated with colleagues on projects which have all been fruitful, satisfying, and rewarding.  I now look back and realize some of those experiences opened the door to my own individual personal and professional growth.  From them, I would learn to trust, be resourceful, and rely on others.  From this I would experience what it was like to “have each other’s back” at work.  I sometimes still find myself reflecting on those experiences, the people, the goals, the triumphs and fears – all part of the continuous journey and growth in the profession – and what having each other’s back at work means, how it feels, and how it can be developed.

For example, a few years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to explore this notion of offering and receiving support from colleagues at work when I was asked to form part of a new team – the Porterville College Education Careers team – whose mission is “to prepare, support, and inspire students along a successful path toward teaching and careers in education.”  What I learned quickly through our first team meetings in 2018 is that each member possessed areas of expertise that I like to refer to as gifts.  I knew that I also came with gifts to offer as a Counselor, and while I knew my colleagues had gifts of their own to share, part of me felt that I still needed to trust more fully in my gifts.  Perhaps this feeling of needing to trust more was due to my upbringing where I was taught to be strong, that to get something done you needed to do it yourself, and that no one else would do it for you.

Over the years as I worked with teams, I learned to trust more.  The Education Careers team developed a rapport over time through consistent and constant meetings, and as we did I could feel myself opening more and accepting the other team member’s gifts, as well as offering my own.  As I began relaxing, trusting, and allowing for support to flow naturally – as well as opening to creativity – I found myself actively engaged and excited with our team’s mission and everyone’s willingness to share their gifts freely.  The moments where I felt tempted to figure it out and do it myself diminished as the memories grew of my team, our experiences, and the support each member offered generously.  Trusting became more natural for me, and I found that our efforts as a team continued to strengthen, expand, and solidify.  This experience would challenge me to put fully into practice what I had learned over the years, and let go of some misconceptions I had acquired growing up.

In time, we began to see the fruits of our labor.  The program began to grow, student graduation and retention rates increased, and partnerships within campus, outside of campus with universities, K-12 schools, and community partners solidified.  The work we started and gradually opened ourselves to experience began to pay off not only with students but within us.  I had grown and I knew I would continue to grow as a professional – not alone but with the support of my colleagues.

I like to say that “having each other’s back” at work, for me, means trusting one another, offering our areas of expertise freely to the team, relying on each other, being open to growing together and as individuals.  It also means finding the anchor that keeps us motivated to do the work to show up and be vulnerable, creative, and open to the experience.  In the case of the Education Careers team, I considered our anchor to be our common goal of supporting students in their path towards a career in education.  Another key component of forming a team that has each other’s back is being comfortable with vulnerability to see our own strengths, as well as the areas where we can grow, and in turn demystify.

Overall, I felt that I had found the answer of how it felt and looked “to have each other’s back”.  I felt supported, secure, and confident.  The team offered diverse areas of expertise, experiences, and thought processes.  Such a team can be developed gradually and progressively through openness, trust, vulnerability, and a common goal.  I am grateful for the experience, and for my colleagues – excellent individuals whose strengths have helped me grow in more ways than one, and who have fostered a greater understanding of what it is to form a team and have “each other’s back”.  These great colleagues, humans, and mentors are:  Dr. Robert Simpkins, Kimanthi Warren, Primavera Arvizu, Professor Karen Bishop, Dr. Michelle Pengilly, Professor Jacqueline Pennell-Meredith, Michael Carley, DJ Vanderwerff, Jacqueline Escareno, and Frida Mendez.

I opened myself to the experience of forming part of the Education Careers team, and the experience not only produced fruits for students but for myself as well.  I take the lessons learned to take risks more often, be vulnerable and open, try new strategies, be resourceful, and to trust more in the capability that lies inside myself and others.  I felt that I had grown in leadership skills, creativity, and determination.  I led several of our team meetings, coordinated events, formed and strengthened partnerships, and – most importantly – grew in trusting not only myself but also my colleagues.  I grew in gratitude for the diversity of the Education Careers team that united us in accomplishing a common goal.  Most importantly, the experience also helped me to see myself and my own gifts more clearly which led me to grow in gratitude for my parents and the upbringing that shaped me to be the person I am today.  I always say I would not be here if it was not for them, they are my rock and my motivation and continue to play a positive role in me.  We are all part of various teams in life, and if we are actively open to the experience we will continue to grow.  I can now see more clearly what it means to “have each other’s back” at work – and in life.

Ana Ceballos is a Counselor Faculty member at Porterville College.  Ana was born in Michoacán, Mexico and immigrated with her family to the United States at the age of five.  She attended Porterville College, earning an AA degree in Social Science, before transferring to CSU-Fresno and earning a BA in Psychology and an MS in Counseling, Student Services option, as well as the Pupil Personnel Service (PPS) Credential.  For over 15 years, Ana has dedicated her energy and time in working in the field of education, including the K-12 system as a Substitute Teacher for Fresno Unified School District & Project Specialist for Fresno County Office of Education, and at UC-Merced as K-14 Education Preparation Specialist.  She has also served as a facilitator for Parent Institute for Quality of Education (PIQE) and Parent Empowerment Program (PEP), and the CSU-Fresno College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).  For the past 8 years Ana has supported students at Porterville College as a Counselor for EOPS/CARE & CalWORKs, the Student Support Services (SSSP) program, undocumented student support services, online counseling, and the Teacher Education program. She has also served as Counselor lead for AB705 and assisted in its 2019 implementation. Ana finds it rewarding to work alongside great colleagues at PC who are passionate about providing equitable opportunities and a safe, welcoming, and resourceful environment to all students.

Rethinking My Teaching Policies: What I Learned From the Pandemic

By Rebecca Baird

In March of 2020 I, like so many other instructors, packed up my classroom and left for Spring Break, not knowing that I wouldn’t see this group of students in person ever again.  My office, with its remaining graded midterms and papers for students to pick up, would sit empty for the rest of the semester.  As I walked the last students out of my classroom that March day they expressed fear and anxiety over the growing pandemic, but also hope that we would return to normal in a few weeks’ time.  Little did any of us know at that time that those weeks would stretch into months, semesters, even years. 

While the pandemic certainly upended life, it also gave me time to reflect on my teaching philosophy and the strategies I used in my classrooms, both in-person and online.  For me, the pandemic and the chaos it wrought created a space for me to re-evaluate some long-held teaching styles, policies, and ingrained beliefs about best classroom practices.  Ultimately this self-reflection helped shift my teaching style and enabled me to enact changes in my classes that would benefit both my students and myself. 

One of the big changes I implemented in my online classes centered on due dates.  For a long time, I believed that my goal as an instructor was not only to impart knowledge but also to make students understand the necessity of due dates and to learn time management skills.  I had a zero tolerance late policy, meaning late work was not accepted in my class (outside of certain documented circumstances) and students who missed an assignment would receive a zero.  But as the Covid-19 pandemic progressed, this policy seemed increasingly untenable and frankly rather cruel, given the number of students getting ill, caring for ill family members, or dealing with the myriad of obstacles associated with moving class online or just dealing with the Covid-19 crisis in general.  That first semester, as students (and myself as well) grappled with the constantly changing circumstances, I received a steady flow of emails asking for extensions; by early April I had revised my late policies entirely to allow students to turn in late assignments without having to ask first.  In Spring 2020 it seemed like a small gesture to help us all get across the semester finish line without punishing students for living through such tumultuous events.   

The pandemic also required me to be more connected with my students, working closer with them to better understand their needs and the variety of issues they were facing in their lives.  Although we were now physically separated by the pandemic, in some ways we were closer than ever before, drawn together by our shared anxieties, fears, and struggles.  When a student told me it was difficult to find space to work where they wouldn’t be interrupted by their younger siblings, I thought of my own difficulty finding space and quiet in my home.  As students expressed enormous fears about the state of the world, I heard my own fears echoed back at me.   

I used the Summer of 2020 to reflect on my course policies and consider the ways they impacted students.  One of the questions I really began to ask myself was whether I wanted my students to focus on due dates or the course content.  Clearly there were students who were unable to achieve those due dates and now received a zero and could no longer turn in the work.  Was it that important to me to punish them harshly for missing an assignment? Or was it more important for them to learn about Reconstruction, or World War II, or the 1960s, albeit slightly past the due date?  What were students learning from my zero tolerance late policy, and how was it affecting their performance in class long term?  Could a student still keep or raise a grade after missing a deadline?  Did they lose motivation to continue working hard in the course after missing an assignment?  I began to develop a new framework for my course policies, one that will last even beyond the pandemic and will help address both student equity and completion in my courses.   

In the end, it came back to my desired course goals and outcomes, all of which related to History content – the due dates were really secondary to content.  My new policy takes off a slight deduction for late work, which increases day by day, but also has a limit, all of which is managed automatically by my Canvas grade book.  In the semesters that followed I found that students responded really well to this small change.  Students who missed an assignment would still turn it in late 99% of the time.  Usually students were only a day or two late, so it also did not make grading any more difficult for me – in other words, I was not getting a hundred late assignments in the last week of the semester.  And even better, once I made the new late policy very clear, I no longer had to deal with the weekly emails from students begging for mercy, as some measure of mercy was now built into the course policies. 

Best of all, students still were getting the course content and were doing better in class overall.  I have found fewer students giving up mid-semester, and more students making it to the end, often in spite of tremendous personal obstacles.  Students have much more of a safety net now, and one small incident in their personal lives or in another class won’t blow up their whole grade in my class. 

For me, the pandemic has really thrown into sharper focus the variety of challenges our students face on a daily basis and how those challenges impact their work in my classrooms, both virtual and face-to-face.  Knowing these challenges has helped me redevelop my courses to better engage with students and their needs, to grow with the changing times, and to help ensure student success without sacrificing rigor or content.   

Rebecca Baird is Professor of History at Porterville College. Before joining Porterville College in 2013 she worked as an adjunct at community colleges and universities in Connecticut, New York, and Arizona. Rebecca holds a B.A. in European History from UCLA, an M.A. in History from the University of Connecticut, and a Ph.D. in U.S. History from Arizona State University. Her doctoral dissertation centered on health care and the 1960s counterculture in Los Angeles. Before becoming an historian, she worked at veterinary hospitals in Connecticut and Los Angeles, and still has a house full of animals. In her free time, she enjoys reading about history, visiting historic sites, and learning historical sewing techniques. 


By Ed Kollmeyer

Introduction: In this blog post, Cerro Coso ASL Instructor Ed Kollmeyer shares some observations of his students’ habits that alarmed him, and led him to advise his students to change their habits, and his own. 

Did I catch your attention?  I am not talking about Driving School – I am talking about students who are driving while learning in your course.  Sometimes I can see from my students’ background that they are in their vehicle during my class.  I have seen videos on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms, that many people are chatting while driving, and I worry for the innocent people that could be injured or even killed by distracted drivers.  I always let my students know that they should not watch videos while they are driving.  Please when you notice a student who is driving while you are instructing, tell them to find a place to park their vehicle until the class meeting has ended.

Do you doubt that this happens?  I have personally seen a pedestrian trip over a crack on the sidewalk while texting, and injure his nose.  I have seen a boy playing basketball while on his smartphone.  You may have heard about a train engineer who operated a Metro train in Los Angeles and caused an accident while texting few years ago.  Another story involved a distracted airline pilot.  I have learned that they often have video cameras on such drivers, engineers, and pilots to make sure that they stay focused, yet this seems insufficient to prevent such situations.  I cannot believe how addicted people are to their devices.  When I got a smartphone two years ago, I decided to put it in my trunk while I was driving.  Friends tried to text me.  I instructed them to be patient.  Later, my smartphone cracked when I sat on it, and then I quit using it.  I felt such freedom from my addiction.

I personally do not use telephone or voicemail because I am deaf.  I use e-mail to text from my laptop computer, and I now use televideo from my laptop – which is similar to a videophone.  The telephone or wireless companies charge for voice unless you want to add data to billing.  I wanted data only but they do not offer it separately, so I decided Wi-Fi was best.  I have to find Wi-Fi locations to use while I am traveling, which I do not mind, until I find company that offers a data only device to plug into my computer (If anyone has had experience with this, please let me know).   

Thank you for reading.  Please be safe and be sane.

Conclusion: Despite the busy lives of our students, we as educators have an obligation to encourage good study habits, and discourage potentially harmful ones.  We can add a short message to our syllabus and course Canvas pages, and a gentle reminder in weekly announcements.  We can also ensure that we offer students flexibility in our course requirements and our own policies, so that those who feel faced with the dilemma of missing class or attending live sessions where their focus is divided and their safety and that of others are at risk do feel pressure to make such choices.  As much as technology provides access options that were once simply not possible, we can create the conditions for students that ensure that more flexible access options are also safe options. 

Edward Kollmeyer has been an adjunct professor at Cerro Coso Community College since Fall 2014, where he has taught American Sign Language at the Lake Isabella and Ridgecrest campuses.  He is a Certified Deaf Interpreter with federal immigration court system, and a pastor, an evangelist, and a missionary.  He has been to Brazil, Canada, Grenada, Guyana, Mexico, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad, and has learned and taught sign language from each country – which is why Federal Judges used him to interpret, because most interpreters who use American Sign Language and cannot translate foreign sign languages.


The Solitude and the Camaraderie of Teaching

By Robert Alan Simpkins

During my now more than two decades as a college instructor, I have often felt that teaching can be a surprisingly lonely profession, considering how much of our work involves interacting with others.  Part of that feeling may derive from the nature of the interaction, and part of it may derive from the reality of how our time is actually spent, but some experiences in the past couple of years have changed aspects of those long-standing feelings for me.  To explain, let me share in more detail what I mean about these experiences.

As a former adjunct instructor for a dozen years, that feeling of loneliness was sometimes due to being a ‘freeway flyer’ and crisscrossing Santa Clara County to my different institutions, unable to have the luxury of time among colleagues at any one place.  In the classroom, it was sometimes due to the imbalance in the relationship of instructor and student, in which interaction is so unlike that of peers, friends, or family members, and no matter what teaching style one employs – friendly or distant – the fact is that we hold significant power over their education and future, and as such are authority figures to our students in a way that impacts our interaction with them regardless of the style of interaction one employs. 

As a tenured professor over the past decade at Porterville College, I have felt that even with my most familiar and trusted colleagues, our shared time in meetings is not truly social because there is work to be done, and an awareness that this time is taking us away from time spent working on our classes and other responsibilities.  And then there is the unfortunate fact that our classes themselves – the thing that is the primary expectation for work under our contract – requires significant labor outside of the classroom time in the form of preparation, research, grading, and – increasingly – knowledge of instructional technology and pedagogy.  This work may occur at all hours of the day, and any day of the week, and many of us in our dedication spend far more hours doing the work than perhaps makes economic sense – yet we do it to be sure it is being done well and to meet all of our professional expectations.  This devotion may keep us from other forms of social life, including our family and friends, our hobbies, and other forms of personal fulfillment.  And for many of us, it continues during the ‘breaks’ between sessions as well, when that investment in anything new is most likely to occur, as well as final grading after classes end and pre-semester preparations before the new semester starts.  And in those long and quiet hours over the past two decades, I also often wondered if all this work hindered or helped my own ability to make myself better at the work I was trying to do.

Recently, I watched The Beatles docuseries Get Back, and in being provided an opportunity to ‘sit’ in the studio with the Beatles as they rehearsed songs for what would be their final public performance in January of 1969, I saw things in their interactions that reminded me of some of my own experiences as a teacher.  I saw George Harrison trying to find his place in rehearsals while John and Paul played off each other, with George standing to the side looking sad, lonely, and uncertain of his future – at one point quietly quitting the band, before reluctantly returning.  I saw Paul trying to encourage them all to be more ambitious, and feeling like the others did not share his motivation.  I saw Ringo show up to daily rehearsal – sometime the first to arrive, sometimes the only one to arrive – ready to do the work even while the others were frustrated or distracted.  I saw John trying his best to keep the mood light, and ready to play any song and support any one of them.  And I saw how they all seemed to feel happier, and more able to play together with enthusiasm, when their old friend from their Hamburg days, Billy Preston, stopped by and joined in the sessions, bringing a new sound to the compositions, and a new energy to the room. 

Like a band that has spent years together, faculty in an institution may work side-by-side for years – sometimes harmoniously, sometimes acrimoniously.  Some faculty, like myself, have a ‘one faculty program’ in the sense of there being only a single full-time faculty member – although supported by outstanding adjunct instructors – but work within a larger unit (in this case, an academic division) collaboratively with full-time faculty in other disciplines.  Other faculty work within the same discipline alongside several other colleagues, sometimes collaboratively and sometimes independently.  These differences impact decision-making and what kinds of social interactions we have, yet at some point we have to work with others, collaborate and support each other’s work.  But we can develop entrenched habits that prevent us and our colleagues from growing, which may be to the detriment of the individual, the institution, and ultimately, the students we are charged with educating.

Several times in Get Back, George arrives to the studio to share a song he had been working on, and when we hear it, we as the audience looking back fifty years have a perspective on it that they in the moment it is happening do not.  We know, for example, that one of those unfinished songs will become ‘Something’ and perhaps one of the finest pop songs of all time, but at that moment George is stuck on that first verse and his chorus is initially different, even if the melody is the same.  He is growing as an artist before our eyes in that footage, but to John and George, he is still the youngest of the group, who has lived his adolescence in their shadow.  George later notes with some frustration that now he has so many songs he could release his own album – and soon after would, in the majestic form of All Things Must Pass.  But at the moment we see him in this footage, he is just struggling to be recognized and feel like a peer and equal to his bandmates, John and Paul.

I understood that feeling in my past, wanting to do more, to show what I was capable of, and waiting for the opportunity.  I was fortunate when then-President of Porterville College, Rosa Carlson, gave me that opportunity.  I am fortunate now for the opportunities I have been given by my colleagues as Academic Senate President and Guided Pathways faculty lead, and the work I am currently doing with our District Office, our Chancellor, and with the Office of Educational Services.  In this work, I am able to utilize my years of experience in higher education in the hope of investing in my college and my district to produce institutional change to benefit our students.  I am grateful for these opportunities, but watching George Harrison in the Get Back sessions, I found myself thinking – ‘Who are the ‘Georges’ around me right now?  What do we need to do to ensure our bandmates are heard, and given those opportunities to participate and grow?’  At some point, I will not be in these current roles, but unlike a band that can simply break up and its members go their separate ways, our institution must continue and part of our duty is to ensure that we plan for those times when our jobs will be performed by others.

I got my first opportunity to join a ‘band’ of sorts within my college at the time that we began developing our Elementary Teacher Education AA-T degree.  I was asked by then-Vice President of Instruction Sam Aunai to develop the curriculum for the new degree, including some new courses, and help move it through the processes needed for degree approval.  I already had experience in this area, having served as the Social Science division’s Curriculum Committee representative for four years at that point, and also having developed my own program’s Anthropology AA-T degree.  However, what was new to me was joining a team associated with the degree that also included a counselor (Ana Ceballos), an educational advisor (Jackie Escareno), our Institutional Research Director (Mike Carley) an IR Analyst (DJ Vanderwerff), our then-Director of Equity and Education Services (Kimanthi Warren), and our work was overseen by our Vice-President of Student Services (Primavera Arvizu). 

Our new ‘Education Careers Task Force’ was brought together to help launch and promote the degree, and I quickly learned the value of what the other team members brought to the discussion – and how much I did not know.  Our counselor and education advisor knew much more than I did about the student perspective for a program, including issues about scheduling the classes and ensuring students were taking the actions while enrolled in classes that would prepare them for what they would need to be doing after they left our institution.  Our IR members helped us collect that data to identify prospective majors and adjust our estimates for the program’s growth that our Director of Equity and Education Services needed for the Title V grant reporting.  We organized informational meetings for students to raise awareness of the new program and answer questions.  And we had to hire faculty for a program that did not yet exist – and soon those educators (Michelle Pengilly, Jacqueline Pennell-Meredith) would join the team as well.  And like any group, over time its composition would change.  Our Vice-President of Instruction and Director of Equity and Education Services departed from the college for other positions.  I handed off my role to my division’s new Chair, Karen Bishop.  But the group’s work continued and new members helped the continuing members ensure the program’s success.  And the lessons I learned from the experienced re-shaped the way I thought about my work, and the benefits of working collaboratively with campus colleagues across all areas.  One current endeavor, which I developed with my Guided Pathways co-lead Primavera Arvizu, we called the Guided Pathways Academy and it grew out of forging those connections and linking faculty to partners in each area of the campus to develop strategies for program management that are holistic, and student-centered.  We recently also restructured our Guided Pathways committee to reflect these connections across campus, including a place for a stronger student voice.  These are efforts to bring a new mindset to the college, and an effort to increase our support for each other and show the value of working together.  Those pivotal experiences with the Education Careers team made me feel like I wasn’t doing my work alone.

Even in the past two years, under circumstances of isolation, stress, and uncertainty, I found solace in working closely with, being inspired by, and learning from my colleagues.  I want to ensure that we don’t lose the value from or forget the positive lessons that came out of this difficult time.  I hope no one will quit the band, no one’s talent will go unheard, and our new bandmates are prepared, heard, and supported.  This way when it comes time for each of us to depart the institution, we know that those who follow us are ready to lead, and that even in that sometimes lonely work of teaching, we find comfort in knowing that we are part of a group that is dedicated to the common work of educating our students, learning from and being inspired by each other, and that we have used our shared experiences to build a something that will survive and be remembered for the work we did here.

Robert Alan Simpkins has been a Professor of Anthropology at Porterville College since 2012, where he also is currently the Academic Senate President and faculty lead for Guided Pathways.  He previously served two terms as the Social Science Division Chair, and organized PC’s CHAP (Cultural and Historical Awareness Program) series for five years.  Prior to coming to PC, he was an adjunct at De Anza College and at San Jose State University.  He has an MA and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and BA from San Jose State University.  As an Archaeologist, he is interested in the relationship between roads, architecture, cultural landscapes, and socio-political organization.  His particular focus has been the Golconda kingdom in the Indian Deccan region, which was the subject of his doctoral dissertation and on which he has presented his research internationally and published extensively, most recently in the article “Inferring Road Networks and Socio-Political Change from Elite Monuments of the Golconda Kingdom” in South Asian Studies in 2020.  Although a native of the Bay Area, he enjoys the farms and orchards of the central valley and the proximity to the mountains, and going on drives and exploring the region with his family.  He has a weakness for books, toys, classic movies and animation, art, stories, and anything that he finds amusing. 

Reflection, Flexibility, and Mobile Design: A Look to the Future

By Dr. Alex Rockey

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Chancellor’s seminar series on the future of teaching and learning at KCCD. In preparing my thoughts for the seminar, I realized three main themes emerged as I imagined the next 15 years at KCCD: reflective teaching, continued flexibility, and mobile design.

As a faculty member in the Academic Technology department, I have had a front row seat to the innovations that faculty have implemented in their teaching in the last two years to support student learning despite unprecedented disruptions to our teaching, learning, and lives caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One instructor provides a snapshot of the innovation that has been widespread at KCCD. In just 6 months he went from never having used Canvas at all to providing audio feedback in SpeedGrader. After seeing the innovations he implemented after moving to remote teaching due to the pandemic, I asked him what he’ll do when he goes back to face-to-face teaching. He said that even when he goes back to face-to-face teaching, there really is no going back to how he taught before the pandemic. He will continue to use Canvas to support his face-to-face instruction. Faculty have worked so hard to innovate over the past two years it is exciting to see how faculty will take these lessons learned and apply them in the next normal as we work to continually serve our students. The innovation that we have seen in the past two years in large part has been fueled by faculty reflecting on what is and isn’t working as they teach in new environments, and it is this reflection that guides the work that Dr. Bill Moseley and I are doing to build a Center for Learning and Applied Research (CLEAR) that will create a space for faculty to continue to reflect on their teaching in action research projects. As part of CLEAR, we are offering a faculty fellowship in which faculty will conduct an action research project of their choice over a ten-month period. The application is open now for all KCCD faculty and will close April 30th. 

Flexibility has also emerged as a theme that will and should guide our work supporting students now and as we embark on the future of teaching and learning. At BC, we are currently working on designing HyFlex classrooms so that students in HyFlex courses can choose to attend face-to-face or online. And they can make this choice each class session of an entire semester. As we think about building out these classrooms, I am inspired by the stories of students that this flexibility in modality will best serve. I think of a student parent who has to stay home with a sick kid, but can still attend class while their child is napping. I think of the student who suffers from migraines and can attend class in a room with dim lights. And I think of the student whose car dies 10 minutes before they have to be at class, but can hop on their computer to attend class instead. As we’re designing these classrooms, we’re focusing on the students we’re serving to create equitable learning experiences so that whether a student is in the physical classroom or the Zoom room, they are still able to interact fully with not only their instructor, but their classmates as well. 

Finally, as we consider the future of teaching and learning another theme that emerges is the value of learning that extends beyond classroom walls. Designing courses that students can interact with on their mobile device is an emerging strategy for not only creating expansive learning opportunities, but also for designing for equity. We all saw in the move to emergency remote teaching a disparity in access to home internet. At Bakersfield College for example, the COVID-19 impact survey showed that about 20% of our students don’t have access to reliable home internet. Even before COVID-19, surveys by the Pew Research Center showed that many students depended on smartphones for access to home internet and smartphone dependency varied based on age, income, and ethnicity (Pew Research Center, 2019). Creating courses that leverage the technology students already have literally in their pockets has such potential for reducing barriers of access and closing equity gaps. There is also exciting potential for students to fill the in-between parts of their day with course work. Leveraging these in-between moments in a day for course work can be a powerful tool to support our students who are taking care of children, working full-time or just juggling a lot. Imagine for example if a student can read an article for class on the bus to work on their phone or complete a getting to know you survey while waiting to pick up their kids from school. Leveraging these in-between moments provides a powerful opportunity for us to create learning experiences that transcend the classroom.

Preparing for the future of teaching and learning begins with a reflection on what our students need now and considering how these needs will grow in the future. Time and again in speaking with students and faculty, the power of flexibility emerges as a foundational aspect of serving students. I imagine this need for flexibility will only grow in the future as we create learning experiences for students who are navigating a rapidly changing workforce. Mobile design presents another need that one can imagine will only grow. Smartphones are a nascent technology, but have become pervasive in our lives and the lives of our students. Leveraging the tools students already have access to provides an opportunity for us to engage our students with learning anywhere they may be. The innovation that faculty have brought to their teaching in the past two years provides a powerful foundation upon which we can build a responsive learning experience for our students. 


Pew Research Center (2019). Mobile technology and home broadband 2019. Retrieved from


Alex Rockey, PhD, is an Academic Technology Professor at Bakersfield College. As an educator with K-16 teaching experience, Alex has taught online teaching courses to faculty, first-year writing at the college level, and high school English and Puente. Her interests include humanizing online education, accessibility, and mobile learning and design. Alex is passionate about the potential of mobile design to improve student access to high-quality educational opportunities. To read more about her work on online education, check out her website at: or visit the BC Academic Technology blog of which she is Managing Editor.

Teaching-and-Learning, Networks, and Innovation in Kern CCD 

By Robert Alan Simpkins 

Sometimes through our experiences there are things we are intuitively aware of, even if we don’t quite know what they are, what to call them, or what insights someone else may have about them beyond our own experiences.  I reflected upon this recently during a presentation at Porterville College’s Flex Day by keynote speaker Alan J. Daly, Professor of Education at UC-San Diego.  Early in his wonderful keynote address, he introduced us to the concept of tertius iungens – a Latin phrase he explained as ‘the third that joins’.  Although the term was new to me, it is well-established in social network theory and used to refer to the joining of two (or more) previously independent networks.  As I later learned from an article on the topic by David Obstfeld, “Such activity is central to the combinative activity at the root of innovation” (Obstfeld 2005). 

While listening to Dr. Daly, I thought about my own recent campus experience working with a team of faculty on a professional development webinar series we call ‘Quick Tips for Teaching Success’.  The webinars came about from a need to have faculty help faculty during the tumultuous time after moving to fully online instruction in the Spring of 2020.  Our then-Program Manager (and now Title V Director) Reagen Dozier, a key figure in our campus instructional support services, presented the idea to myself and several other faculty (Melissa Long, Rebecca Baird, Elisa Queenan, Joy Lawrence, Dustin Acres, and Ian Onizuka), building a team to lead this critical effort at an uncertain time.  As we started to have planning meetings and conduct the early webinars in the Summer of 2020, we also realized we were getting to know each other in a way we never had before in all of the years of being colleagues and passing each other in the halls.  The seven faculty members were based in four different instructional divisions and from five different disciplines.  We had all developed our own instructional styles and preferences from our years of teaching, but had not all shared them with others, nor had we observed what instructors were doing in their classes in other divisions.   

Creating this ‘Quick Tips’ team then ‘joined’ people who had previously been part of separate social networks, allowing for exchanges to occur, and enriching all of us in the process.  We in turn, through our webinar-and-chat series, were serving as a node in a new network of faculty meeting virtually, in which any campus faculty might join and contribute to the discussion.  And while there was nothing preventing this from occurring previously, the fact is that we had not taken the steps to create these nodes to join these networks and bring previously isolated, siloed, or disconnected people and groups together – and all it took was the initial initiative of one key individual. 

I also thought about my own research, in which my specialty as an archaeologist is roads and road networks.  I am fascinated by the role roads play in linking communities, and how changes in roads correlate to changes in social relations and impact cultural change.  I have spent years attempting to reconstruct the road networks of the kingdom of Golconda, which emerged some five centuries ago in what is now Telangana State in India’s Deccan region.  One conclusion I drew from my studies was that the site that became the capital of this kingdom was connected by a new road that must have been constructed in the reign of one of the earliest kings in the dynasty – even though there is no historical record that addresses this.  There were multiple reasons that I came to this conclusion, but in part it was because a main road well-attested to have been used to reach the kingdom by seventeenth century travelers was, near the capital, in an area where there was little evidence of construction prior to the kingdom’s emergence early in the sixteenth century, but after traveling a distance further on that road east of the capital there is ample evidence of earlier kingdoms and construction.  In the larger context, it appeared that the capital was established in a once-marginal area, and roads were then built to link it to earlier, pre-existing road networks.  The roads then enabled it to function as the hub for a network of settlements with roads that led to it and from it, including to its coastal port that brought many foreign contacts, as well as linking the cultural diversity of regions surrounding it within its kingdom, making Golconda a flourishing land with a capital renowned for its palaces, gardens, markets, and international visitors. 

Our multi-college district is unusual in the size of our service area and the dispersed and often small communities we serve, and at times each can seem far away from the others in physical space, and in our thoughts.  Some of the district’s activities may bring people into the same room (physical or virtual), but this alone does not create connections, and is still limited in who participates.  As a result, although we are one district, we can still lack that ‘third that joins’ which encourages the traffic (physical or virtual) to bring people together, leads to exchanges, and builds connections among networks that were previously separate.  We are three colleges, but what innovations might come out of the interactions if we build more connections?  Our Kern CCD Office of Educational Services recently sought faculty from across the district for new ‘faculty leadership positions’ hosted by the District Office in an effort to create such a new node, generate discussion, and support innovation.  In the coming months, we hope to introduce more such efforts that may not only bring closer together more people and more previously disconnected networks across our vast service area, but also help engineer that crucible of innovation that will help Kern CCD look down the road to the future of higher education and ensure we all are prepared and support each other in our mission of achieving student success with equity, together. 


Obstfled, David.  2005.  “Social Networks, The Tertius Iungens Orientation, and Involvement in Innovation.”  Administrative Science Quarterly 50(1): 100-130. 

Robert Alan Simpkins has been a Professor of Anthropology at Porterville College since 2012, where he also is currently the Academic Senate President and faculty lead for Guided Pathways.  He previously served two terms as the Social Science Division Chair, and organized PC’s CHAP (Cultural and Historical Awareness Program) series for five years.  Prior to coming to PC, he was an adjunct at De Anza College and at San Jose State University.  He has an MA and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and BA from San Jose State University.  As an Archaeologist, he is interested in the relationship between roads, architecture, cultural landscapes, and socio-political organization.  His particular focus has been the Golconda kingdom in the Indian Deccan region, which was the subject of his doctoral dissertation and on which he has presented his research internationally and published extensively, most recently in the article “Inferring Road Networks and Socio-Political Change from Elite Monuments of the Golconda Kingdom” in South Asian Studies in 2020.  Although a native of the Bay Area, he enjoys the farms and orchards of the central valley and the proximity to the mountains, and going on drives and exploring the region with his family.  He has a weakness for books, toys, classic movies and animation, art, stories, and anything that he finds amusing. 

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