All posts by Cheryl Colan

Back to Basics

This morning, I am bedeviled by the details. I’ve spent the last 2 hours chasing a microphone problem. I had a lot of equipment running along with the mic the last time I used it, so Jenn (our awesome Office Coordinator) and I tried every combination of equipment and microphone one at a time, eliminating possibilities. These included:

  • lighting: on, and off
  • various cables: touching, or not
  • mic 1, mic 2, or mic 3
  • camera power cable: plugged in, or not
  • camera battery: attached, or not
  • camera mic settings: auto, or manual
  • camera monitor: plugged in, or not, powered, or not, muted, or not

We were chasing a buzz, and not the fun kind. Rather, the annoying kind, where in addition to voices and the sound of the air conditioner, our mic is randomly recording the most annoying audio buzz ever. And spoiler, we did not find the cause.

But our search uncovered another problem. Mic 3 was only recording sound on the left channel.

Disgruntled, we were about to begin trying to isolate that problem.

  • Maybe our camera’s microphone jack is bad.
  • Maybe there is a camera setting we need to adjust.
  • Or maybe the mic is malfunctioning.

Fortunately I had one of those intuition flashes that I get now and then. I’m always grateful when I notice and act on them. In this one, a picture of the headphone plug popped into my head, and I had to go compare the plug of Mic 3 to Mics 1 & 2.

See if you spot the difference:

The plug for Mic2 has 2 stripes, and the plug for Mic3 has one stripe.
Mic2 plug on the left, Mic3 plug on the right

If you noticed the stripes on the plugs, give yourself a gold star. 🌟

In case you’ve never run into an audio plug with only one stripe, here’s what’s going on. One stripe indicates a single (mono) audio channel. If you see two stripes, there are two (stereo) audio channels. This is basic information I was taught in my very first class about microphones.

illustration of stereo audio plug with two black stripes, and mooo audio plug with one black stripe
Image by


So, my “problem” microphone is working exactly as expected.  And my flash of intuition or memory just saved me a chunk of time, because there is no need to test this microphone in different equipment to figure out if the “problem” lies with the mic or the camera I connected it to.

Lesson: No matter what trouble you are troubleshooting, start with the basics.


A fly on the wall inside my skull

Illustration of a housefly crawling into a human skull

The inspiration for this post comes from one of the FUN PROMPTS: “If you could be a fly on the wall on any place on campus, where would you want to be? Explain why.” My response is probably not in the direction the prompt author intended, but here’s where I went with it.

This close to Spring Break, I always feel hectic and frazzled. I am more likely to forget something, “drop the ball”. I’m describing stress, though there’s no real reason for me to be more stressed now than any other time of year. But invariably, I am. It’s a pattern for me when I’m employed in academia. (I almost wonder if I’m picking it up from the faculty and students around me, like the common cold, but seeping into me by empathy or telepathy instead of spreading virally.)

Photograph of a housefly showing the large compound eyes

So right now if I could be a fly on the wall anywhere on campus, I would be a fly on the wall inside my own skull, with my compound eyes showing me the mosaic of what’s happening inside my head, big picture. And I would allow my superb motion detection to spot stress coming, and flit away from it, toward the tranquil places.
I actually tried becoming that fly yesterday morning on the way to work. Here’s how it went:

I turn on the car radio to KJZZ, hoping for a traffic report.

News Announcer: “…our conservative commentator…”

I punch the radio off, darting away. I breathe for a few minutes. I turn the radio back on.

News Announcer: “President Trump had this to say about…”

I punch the radio off, darting away. I breathe for a few minutes more. I tentatively turn the radio back on to hear the news announcer report a story about a woman who was refused service at Starbucks because she rode her horse through the drive-through. It becomes apparent the only reason to report the story is so the news announcer can end with a hipster snarky comment at the woman’s and horse’s expense in order to manufacture a lighthearted moment.

I punch the radio off, darting away from my dismay that the news isn’t really news anymore – it’s facts mixed with lies and lame attempts at humor. This time I leave the radio off.

I insert a CD and drum on my steering wheel, playing along with some seriously windswept Scots energetically attacking drums and pipes. I do this all the way to work and arrive feeling focused and energized.

Reflecting on this 20 minutes spent observing the inside of my own skull while choosing and responding to external stimuli, I remember:

The only thing I can change is me.

illustration of a butterfly with wings spread (symbol of transformation)

I get to choose at least some of the things I’m exposed to. I get to choose whether I stress out in response to something I can’t control.

I understand again, if I want to change feeling scattered and stressed, I need to change myself.

I think in order to do that, I’ll need to carve out time to be a fly on the wall in my own skull, observing, identifying what to change. And then, I have some work to do, making it tranquil in here.

Images used in this post are from:


If I build it, will they come?

I didn’t select a line from “Field of Dreams” just because this week suggests we write about our dreams. I mean, how obvious.

But I’ve been pondering lately over how I can best support our faculty and their professional development. For a long time, the model with Centers for Teaching and Learning is to provide workshops and training so that faculty can learn new technologies and new teaching skills and apply these in their teaching practice. We tend to hope that if we build it (a new workshop), they (faculty and staff) will come.

If you build it they will come

But all the Maricopa CTLs are feeling the diminishing attendance, whether in person or online. Our event attendance looks like Kevin Costner wearing disgruntled face,  standing in an empty cornfield.

Film still from Field of Dreams

I don’t have much of a dream for improving the situation, mostly because the things I can do are limited by time and budget constraints. Sometimes it’s hard to balance supporting the smaller, more immediate needs for help with a big picture approach. I wonder how I’m going to find my way to a fresh path, one where I can help you grow rather than just helping you out of a pinch.

I’m not sure I’m making a lot of sense. But I’m glad you’re hanging with me through the discomfort of my own incoherence. If you are still reading. 😉

I’m a maker. I make things. Hopefully, engaging things. I’m getting ready to try something new, though I’m not sure what it will be yet.

But I need you.  My dream for today is that one person might read this and then talk to me about something that frustrates you, or something you need. One person might want to collaborate and try a new thing or make a new thing. That would help me build a thing I know you’ll like.

And if I build it, will you come?



Facepalm of the Week

When I was a kid, my mom worked in “word processing” at a law firm during their transition from electric typewriters to computers. She often worked 14- to 16-hour days as the system administrator for the new computers. This left her exhausted, so she would spend a whole Saturday in make-up sleep. In my view, computers took my mom away from me. I hated them, and I vowed never to use them. My life being unending irony, I became a web and graphic designer, and later an Instructional Media Developer, who uses computers for every single aspect of my work.

What kept my mom at work for 16-hour days – the WANG.

One of the reasons for my transformation from computer hater to present-day technophile was the world wide web. My heart still expands into a balloon made of light at the thought of all the people of the world being able to share their experiences, find friendship across the world, communicate instantly, and build an amazing collective repository of knowledge – available, searchable by everyone else with a connection. I have friends all over the world I never could have met without the Internet.

I taught myself HTML (hypertext markup language) in 1994. I did this by using a Microsoft product called FrontPage to visually layout web pages. Then I opened the resulting HTML files in a text editor and picked apart how they worked. When I didn’t understand something, I turned to web searches for answers. I soon realized I needed to unlearn everything FrontPage taught me about HTML.

The ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn is critical.

Visual tools like FrontPage created multi-column layouts by inserting text content and images into a table. But the HTML markup for a table was intended to display tabular data. Using a table as a means to create a page layout destroyed the ability of people using assistive technology to access the information on the page. Using tables for layout said “the Internet is for everyone but you” to people who are blind. I couldn’t bear that thought. So I became a web accessibility advocate in 1996, and I’ve kept up with advances in making web content accessible ever since.

Accessibility is more and more on my mind these days, as higher education institutions are finally beginning to take web accessibility seriously. I’ve been presenting web accessibility workshops for faculty and staff since being hired at GCC. I’m currently helping a small team develop accessibility training for Maricopa faculty. I’ll present on web content accessibility at an Ask a Librarian workshop later this month. And yet I still have my own “duh” moments over my own failure of empathy for people with disabilities.

Illustration of a woman with her palm to her frowning face.For example, I gave a workshop earlier this week, and one of my attendees arrived in a wheelchair. I hadn’t set up the room to accommodate a person using a wheelchair. I quickly moved a chair out of the way to fix the problem. The situation made me realize the CTLE didn’t have a way for a person to request an accommodation when registering for one of our workshops. So I didn’t know in advance how to best prepare the room to provide an equally independent experience for all my participants. I felt bad, and I indulged in a hearty facepalm after my workshop ended. I’m disappointed in myself that I hadn’t naturally extended my awareness of online accessibility to an awareness of physical accessibility in a space I meant to be welcoming and inclusive.

How have I not thought to do this before now? Me, who’s been urging everyone who will listen to keep accessibility in mind for over 20 years? I realize I am still making my own transition from a designing for the web, to designing an in-person experience.

To address the CTLE’s workshop accommodation issue, I contacted Disability Resources & Services to see if there is any sort of standard accessibility/accommodation wording for event registrations. They told me since it’s for employees I’d need to talk to Human Resources. This made me laugh at humanity’s general tendency to compartmentalize.

I turned instead to my original source of help for accessibility: the Internet. I found some great resources on room set up and other event considerations.  I’ve adjusted the CTLE’s registration form so that participants can tell us about any accommodation that will help them fully participate in our events. I’ve already received a request for free pizza, and I expect I’ll receive a lot of other interesting suggestions for the sake of humor. And that’s okay because we’re doing the right thing by inviting any registrant to privately tell the CTLE what they need to have the best experience with us.

I feel like my facepalm moment this week is one more illustration of how inclusiveness is a practice. Empathy is a practice. I want to be part of a campus culture that is inclusive by design. That means I personally need to step outside myself as often as I can and imagine the experiences and needs of the people I collaborate with and the people I serve. And I need to encourage my colleagues to share their own needs and experiences so that my ability to imagine is multiplied by each of my relationships. With imagination and empathy, we can create a campus where everyone can learn, grow, and thrive.


Get to Know What You Don’t Know

Back when I taught computer graphics and web design courses, I would introduce my students to this concept by drawing quadrants on the whiteboard during the second week of class:

4 Quadrants: Unconscious Incompetent, Unconscious Competent, Conscious Incompetent, Conscious Competent

I was trying to introduce them to the idea that sometimes you aren’t aware when you don’t know something. And that in class they should work to become aware of what they don’t know (conscious of incompetence), and then practice until they became skilled at something previously unknown (conscious & competent).

One student’s explanation of unconscious incompetence: “When you didn’t even know something was a thing.”

When I am in a situation I find difficult, if I’m honest, there is usually something I don’t know, and it’s impacting my ability to skillfully handle the difficulty. I find it useful to try and identify what I’m unconscious of and see if it’s a skill I need to build. I’ve started thinking of the quadrants as a model of learning progression, starting with ignorance and ending with the mastery of a skill:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence: You are unaware of the skill and your lack of proficiency
  2. Conscious Incompetence: You are aware of the skill and your lack of proficiency
  3. Consciously Competent: You are able to use that skill, but only with effort
  4. Unconsciously Competent: Performing the skill becomes automatic

Learning model illustration by Matt Kissick

If I can become aware of a skill that I lack, this model is the way out of a difficult situation, though often over time, since practice is usually required to become consciously competent. Still, it really helps in terms of moving forward. Maybe you can use it, too.


Dreams of Improving Maricopa Teamwork

a team huddles for a sync-up

OK, they’re all standing, but you don’t have to. This is what a Sync-Up looks like.

When I first accepted my job as an Instructional Media Developer at GCC, I was coming from a web development environment that had embraced the idea of the Daily Stand-Up. Nothing did more to help me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself than those daily, lightning-fast meetings my team held to check in with one another. In my new role, I immediately missed this sense of working together toward a shared goal. I felt alone in a silo.

If I could bring anything from the outside world into the Maricopa Community Colleges, it would be a regular Sync-Up. (Literally standing up is difficult or impossible for some people, so I don’t want to call it a Stand-Up. And for some of our teams or committees, daily is too much.) But being truly accountable to and in sync with your coworkers is something I still miss from my last job.

So what is a Sync-Up? It’s a very short meeting, no more than 15 minutes. The people doing the work are the ones who speak, though interested parties might attend as observers. Each contributing person provides 3 pieces of information when it’s their turn to speak:

  1. What they’ve accomplished toward shared goals since the last Sync-Up
  2. What they commit to accomplishing between now and the next Sync-Up
  3. Any obstacles they foresee that could get in the way

When not speaking it’s everyone’s job to listen closely. Specifically, to listen for points of connection to your own work, and for areas where you may be able to help. If you can help remove someone else’s obstacle you let them know, and then you’ll both collaborate after the Sync-Up – you don’t derail the meeting discussing the solution while everyone waits.

This is not a status report. Each person considers the audience – the rest of their team – and makes sure they discuss accomplishments, plans, and obstacles in a way that is meaningful to their team. The purpose is to assure that each team member’s activity is aligned and progressing the team as a whole toward successful and timely completion of their goal. In my experience, it’s empowering to Sync-Up daily when a team is working together on a well-defined project. 

This is not a planning meeting where a team breaks down all the steps to complete a project. That type of planning meeting usually needs more than 15 minutes. But once you’ve laid out the tasks that need to be done to achieve a goal, regular Sync-Ups are magic for keeping your group energized and on task.

This is what regular Sync-Ups can accomplish (from Bill Hoberecht of Pinnacle Projects in his post The Daily Stand-Up Meeting – A Core Practice for Self-Organizing Teams):

  • An explicit reinforcement of the commitment by each team member to accomplish a goal
  • A means of dynamically adjusting the work by each team member to accomplish the goal
  • A daily synchronization between team members, informing team mates of work activities, progress and issues
  • A method of cross-checking progress with team mates
  • An accountability mechanism that has each team member accountable to other team members for their responsibilities
  • A visible demonstration of the ability of the team to self-manage their project responsibilities

The main benefit I experienced from the Sync-Up meeting style was confidence. I was confident I knew what was going on with my team and our shared goals. I was certain what I should be doing next. I knew who could and would help me out of a jam. I knew how my efforts fit into the whole. I was positive my workgroup would succeed, and I usually knew exactly when we’d achieve our goal. I knew my work was valued. I knew what my teammates needed and how I could help. 

I miss feeling this way every week and hope to find ways of recapturing this sense of shared purpose within my GCC community of collaborators. 


Video Investigations as Assessment

Photo by Cheryl Colan

Sian (left) and Merry (right) at SCC Tech Talks 2017

On January 27, I attended TechTalks at SCC and watched Geology faculty Sian Proctor and Merry Wilson present their talk Video Investigations: Students Presenting Their Understanding of Our World. From their abstract (scroll down the linked page a bit to read it in full):

Video investigations are a unique way of having students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of complex topics and establish accountability in an online learning environment.

I love this idea for assessment in an online class. Merry assigns 4 video investigations per semester, while Sian assigns them weekly. Their students:

  • receive specific guidelines for each assigned video investigation
  • see an example video made by the instructor
  • get a link to the free
  • do not need to be given instructions on how to make a screencast – they figure it out on their own
  • create 1- to 5-minute videos to show knowledge, demonstrate mastery or reflect on course topics
  • embed their videos into Canvas Discussions to share with the rest of their class

Photo of presentation slide on the Design of Video Investigations

Sian and Merry had some goals in mind when they designed the video investigation assignment. One goal was having a way to be sure the students were actually the ones submitting the work in an online environment. A video submission goes beyond plagiarism detection via Turnitin, because you are hearing the student’s own voice, and possibly even seeing the student via webcam. Another goal was to cut down on grading time. You can grade a 5-minute video in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how much feedback you write per student. Other goals included increasing student engagement and learning retention.

Being top-notch scientists, Sian and Merry gathered data about their students before and after introducing video investigations into the courses they teach. If my memory is accurate, they found students tend to report they enjoyed the topics where video investigations were assigned more than the topics that did not involve a video investigation. Students also felt more of a sense of community, because they saw and heard each others’ faces and voices as they shared their videos. The process of creating video also built up the students’ information literacy skills over the course of the semester.

Photo of presentation slide on Engagement and Literacy

I’ve used video in the classroom as a student and as an adjunct, and I can confirm that having students produce short videos is an excellent learning and engagement tool. If you would like to learn more, reach out to Sian and Merry, or contact me in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement for more information.


Choosing Your Side – Everyday

Never give up. Never surrender.

Still behind on Write 6×6 posts, but not giving up.

People this past week have been writing about kindness, and the opportunity to be vulnerable, as it relates to their work in teaching and learning. Ann Riley wrote about noticing the connection between kindness and vulnerability and challenged us to be the first make eye contact and to say hello as we walk around campus. That’s a challenge I issued to myself at the start of the semester this year. 

Often when I smile and say hello to someone I don’t know, I am ignored. And that’s ok. It doesn’t feel great, but I know that I tried and will try again.

Just as often, I receive a silent smile back, or maybe a returned “hello” or “good morning.” That’s nice and makes me smile.

But I feel like the real opportunities are when I see something I can do. When I ask someone with a confused expression if I can help, and I end up spending five minutes walking them to the right building and finding out someone’s name or what they’re here to study. Or when I open a door for someone loaded down with books, and see that they look surprised and grateful.

A lot of students tend to open doors for me, and I always express my gratitude. But I am really enjoying when I find a true opportunity to be on a stranger’s side. I feel like I have to be very observant and alert in order to make it happen. 

So far this semester, instead of just helping students find the room they say they’re looking for, I’ve made sure several of them know how to search the GCC website to find their teachers’ office location and office hours. I taught one student how to read the campus map. I helped a Muslim woman locate a few private options for one of her daily prayers. I made time to get to know an older gentleman who I see regularly on campus. 

I’m feeling that so much of the time, it’s easy to focus on my own immediate goal, where I’m going, what I need to do next. But it’s so much more rewarding to observe the people in close proximity and look for opportunities to be on their side for a few minutes. And this is a daily choice. Whether I’ll be on my side only, or let go of what I need at a certain moment to make sure I’m on their side when they could use a hand. Focusing only on myself makes me feel like a drone. Being on their side makes me feel like a human being.



What Inspires?

I’m participating in GCC‘s Write 6×6 event this semester. And no weaseling out of it by being too busy. I’m actually scheduling time during the week to write, and you should expect 6 posts over the next 5 weeks (it’s supposed to be 6 weeks, but I’m already late for my first post … late but NOT given up on!).

The suggested first week’s post is to write about what inspires us to do what we do at GCC. That’s what I’m doing.

I’m the Instructional Media Developer at GCC. I work in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement. Our mission is to be a professional development resource for Faculty and Staff. And my job is to help Faculty and Staff professionally develop by helping them to create instructional multimedia. That can be anything from writing, handouts, spreadsheets, audio recordings, video, pretty graphics or flyers, infographics, interactive animations of one format or another, and the list goes on!

So what inspires me to do what I do is: Faculty or Staff with a message they want to deliver to our students in an engaging way.

Elsewhere, and this is just an example of uninspiring multimedia, I’ve seen people try flipping the classroom by recording hour-long lectures from the back of the classroom and posting them into Canvas. The shot is stationary, the sound is awful because it includes all the rustling generated by the students closest to the camera, and the instructor and whiteboard look tiny and can barely be seen. That’s not the kind of thing that inspires me.

Could you watch a scene like this, with barely intelligible audio, for an hour?

Photo: Broad run algebra class by James H Dunning

But here at GCC, I work with Faculty and Staff who are very motivated to help our students succeed. When someone like that comes in with a specific goal, it’s very inspiring to me, and I’ll dig deep to provide the know-how.

Academic advisor Isaac Torres notices students don’t understand the difference between Advisement and Counseling:

Adjunct ESL Faculty member Elizabeth Macdonald realizes her students need help getting their children off to a good start in Arizona’s public schools:

Psychology faculty Dr. Patricia Lavigne wants to encourage psychology students to join Psi Beta without personally making a pitch to every class during the first week of school:

There are so many inspirational faculty and staff at GCC who go an extra mile to help students and engage them in the learning process. You motivate me to do what I do, especially when you tell me your dreams, schemes, wild ideas and if-onlys, and then let me help you make them a reality. Bring in the thing you want to improve and let’s partner up to make it better.