9x9x25 Challenge: An Introduction and a Plan

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To start off with, let me say that I volunteered the #SquadGoalsNetwork for this challenge and take full responsibility for it. That said, I’m looking for the entire squad to do the challenge in total, not for each member to do their own 9x9x25 challenge. They can if they want but it’s far from necessary. I’m hard but I’m not cruel, sheesh. The SGN is (and continues to grow into) a collection of incredibly talented and reflective people, so the content produced should be impressive.

But first, let’s look at what the 9x9x25 Challenge is. I was introduced to it via Twitter by our own Terry Green. The challenge is “to write about your teaching in 9 posts, over 9 weeks, with a minimum of 25 sentences per post.”

For my first reflection, I think it’s worth talking a bit about the details of my position: I teach entirely online at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at a very large Research-1 institution, and, while I’m at a giant R1, I’m what’s considered “career-track” faculty, which is to say I’m not tenure-track. My contract consists entirely of teaching and service requirements with no research expected (though, obviously, I still do it, which is the topic for another day). My normal schedule is 80% teaching (so 4 classes per semester, each counting as 20% of my time) and 20% service. This is pretty standard at our institution for career-track faculty, I believe.

Teaching entirely online—and I mean entirely, not just hybrid or having an online section; the entire program is constructed and billed as being online—makes for an interesting cocktail of convenience, agility, and distance, for both good and bad. We can collaborate in our pajamas, we can make changes and implement them at moment’s notice, and reach students that couldn’t physically reach us otherwise. It’s pretty phenomenal in that way.

It can get lonely, though. I go to great pains to build community with my students, within the program, and interdisciplinarily across the college and campus, but at the end of the day I’m still sitting in my home office, hitting keys to communicate. Sure, video conferencing has gotten considerably better over the past few years but, just as there’s an experiential difference between paper books and ebooks, it’s just not the same as sitting down in physical proximity with someone.

It’s this distance that actually caused me to accept the invitation to teach an Honors class on main campus every spring semester. But, I think I’ll leave that reflection topic for another day.

The point of the 9x9x25 challenge is, in part, to encourage us to be more thoughtful and reflective about our teaching practices. The hope I have is that I will really begin focusing on this next week as that’s a “new semester” for us (a second 7.5-week session within a larger fall semester) and I can begin with a new class experience. I have a TA (kind of, we call it something different and there are other requirements but it’s easier to just say “TA”) and am looking forward to reflecting on how I orchestrate the inclusion of her knowledge and talent into the class. The class that’s beginning is hands-down my most popular class, which makes it much easier to be positive about reflections. (When students are excited and happy by default it leaves you with more energy to make improvements rather than feeling like you need to put out fires.)

Looking forward to reading others’ reflections as the challenge progresses!

Ryan Straight
Ryan Straight
Assistant Professor, Applied Computing

Rev. Dr. Ryan Straight is an award-winning educator, writer, and researcher. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in the College of Applied Science & Technology teaching in the Applied Computing and Cyber Operations undergraduate programs. He also teaches an annual freshman seminar, Cyborgs and Transhumanism, in the Honors College.
Here you will find a variety, such as travel exploits, reflections, expressions of stylistic pedagogy, reactions to technological and educational current events, and general musings on topics approaching Ryan’s academic research.
He lives in Tucson, AZ with his wife Adriana and their three dogs, Sofie, Menchi, and Chewie.