Ms. Adrian Owens had basically set me loose at the Education, Employment & Training Center (EETC) at Success Centers. I suspect the receding hairline and the greying beard had something to do with it. So when Rey LaChaux approached me about a learning management system (LMS) to deliver the Code on Point curriculum, I thought I might have the chance to write code. Code on Point is a program offered at Success Centers to transition aged youth (16﹣24), giving them access to opportunities in the tech space. I was thrilled at the prospect of applying my training and expertise to a VISTA role. After doing some research on LMS, however, I anticlimactically concluded that I would be re-inventing the wheel. Thus I decided to go with Canvas, a well-established LMS in academia, also used at the University of San Francisco (USF) where I am the VISTA campus liaison. Rey enthusiastically approved my recommendation, and went on paternity leave for three months.
I kept mostly busy in the interim. After getting involved in some necessary, and some unnecessary ideological disputes with certain colleagues, I finished writing up the math curriculum for the Green Construction Program at Success Centers. Following a brief period of thumbs-twiddling, I decided to focus on the assets-mapping project with Engage San Francisco at USF which entailed mapping out assets, such as buildings, spaces, organizations, and institutions in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. While I was scrubbing the extant assets-mapping data, I collaborated with Liz Jackson-Simpson and Vivian Faustino-Pulliam on the Community Partnership Innovation Fund (CPIF) grant application to conduct an entrepreneurship workshop at Success Centers. Liz requested that I write up the history of collaboration between Success Centers and USF as part of that grant application, and so I did with help from Ms. Adrian. Then I proofread the whole application, and pestered Vivian with sundry suggestions.
From time to time I would help with math tutoring at the Early Morning Study Academy (EMSA) at Success Centers, and also attend a weekly case conference led by Maria Rinaldi at EETC. During this time Teandra Johnson expressed the need for a Cantonese interpreter at EMSA, and I subsequently met and communicated this need to Kim Chan, a Cantonese speaker, who graciously accepted the role. Soon after my office was moved to the Career Center, the CPIF application was approved, and Success Centers was awarded 5000 USD. Encouraged and emboldened by this, I applied on behalf of Success Centers to be the recipient of retired desktop computers that were being donated by Information Technology Services at USF, and consequently Success Centers was awarded 8 Dell OptiPlex 3020 SFF desktop PCs. When Rey returned from his paternity leave, I was completing a proposal for creating info-session and orientation slide decks for Success Centers, and was also in the process of formulating a case for creating a Chief Information & Technology Officer role at Success Centers.
In the meantime, I had finished scrubbing and updating the assets-mapping data. Nolizwe Nondabula and I decided to reach out to Education Technology Services at USF seeking guidance on visualization tools for the assets-mapping data, and on Canvas tech/admin support for Code on Point (CoP). That’s how we met Daniel Perez, who gave us a crash course on Tableau, and also floated the idea that CoP could be taught as an open access course at USF. I immediately emailed the Computer Science chair at USF, and also relayed this possibility to Rey who was simultaneously elated and alarmed. Elated because of the possibility of a significantly wider impact, and alarmed because of the less-than-enthusiastic feedback from the graduating CoP cohort. I heroically offered to take on the mantle of instructor, only to quickly disrobe and humbly take on the behind-the-scenes role of instructional designer. The reasons will become apparent in what follows.
CoP had a partial syllabus, had next to no course material and no structure, no permanent classroom, the instructors were disgruntled and basically winging it, and the new cohort was due to start in a few weeks. The first few items we achieved consensus on was to delay the start date of the program, and to procure a permanent classroom. The next thing that happened was that as soon as I was proclaimed the team lead for CoP, we lost one of the lead instructors. He described the situation as being “like watching my girlfriend going out with another man”⏤CoP being the ‘girlfriend’, and I the new ‘boyfriend’. At the time I expressed amusement at the analogy, but had I explained to him that his girlfriend was malnourished, and that she was not dating another man, but rather consulting a doctor, would he have stayed? Not being a Success Centers staff, I was a team lead without any real authority, tasked with leading a reluctant team.
Notwithstanding, I pointed the way, and the CoP team complied with decreasing resistance, and increasing energy and numbers. Rey, Dawood Marion and Quincy Reid were there from the outset, and then came Glen Ortiz-Cisneros, a computer scientist with the soul of an artist. We started to have meetings, brainstorming sessions, task assignments, deadlines, and demos. We began creating a curriculum matrix, outlines of topics, daily outlines, list of equipment, 3D models of motherboards, and even the dreaded lecture slides. We had agreements, and we had arguments. Eventually, out of the nebula emerged class structure and three distinct modules: the IT, Design, and Web Development (Web Dev) modules which gradually made their way into Canvas. I created a CoP folder on OneDrive which acquired organization, and began to fill up with course materials, meeting minutes, project and workflow management documents, and other fruits of CoP teamwork. On my advice, Rey and Liz paved the way for Valerie Knight to take ownership of the IT module. Shortly afterwards, Joaquin Rinaldi started offering pedagogic advice and creating course content, and Jakari Montgomery began helping with the slides.
Talks with USF about CoP began to gather momentum as Nolizwe and I persuaded Karin Cotterman and David Donahue at the McCarthy Center to take the discussion up the USF hierarchy. Then COVID-19 struck, stay-at-home orders were issued, USF imposed a system-wide budget freeze, Nolizwe resigned, and the talks faltered and stalled. But CoP mutated into a new strain, and transformed into a synchronous online course with live video lectures. This was made possible thanks to an Instructure-Microsoft collaboration that integrated Teams within Canvas. I had to give the CoP team a crash course, in addition to one-on-one consultations on the use of Teams and Canvas. Following our example many of the Success Centers programs were moved online.
Eventually the time came for CoP to roll out, and Success Centers welcomed its current cohort and the program was launched. Valerie commenced teaching the IT module, and started submitting slides to me for review. Meanwhile, we decided to excise the Sketch curriculum out of the Web Dev module and transplant it into the Design module, where we all concurred it properly belonged. We also agreed to replace the MEAN stack with the MERN stack in the Web Dev module, since React is steadily becoming the front-end framework of choice. Dawood, Quincy, and Jakari rapidly redesigned the whole Design module; Glen, Joaquin and Jakari churned out Web Dev slides for the front-end and version control curriculum; I rotated between watching LinkedIn Learning tutorials on the MERN stack, making them freely available to the CoP team, and creating the outline for the MERN stack curriculum; and Quincy and Nelson Ramos (a later addition to the CoP team, and currently also a CoP participant) worked on producing lecture and activity content for the MERN curriculum.
Now my service term is nearing its end. CoP is in its 9th week, the students have taken the CompTIA ITF+ certification exam, the Design module is almost through, and the Web Dev module about to commence. I am gradually relinquishing all responsibility to the CoP team. Joaquin is replacing me as the instructional designer, and under his able leadership the team is gliding towards the finish line. Insanely enough, we are also interviewing candidates for the full-stack instructor position for the Web Dev module, with Rey and Dawood leading the search effort...and I have just received word that preparations are underway to onboard Jason Davis, the new full-stack instructor! CoP in its current incarnation is a testament to this team’s adaptive and creative willpower. Phase 1 of CoP is nearing completion, phase 2 (project based learning) and phase 3 (subsidized employment) are still in the making. CoP and the team will continue to thrive in my absence.
Before I leave, I have to create a USF blog/website for David Holler’s book, Changemakers. And last but not least, as per Ms. Adrian’s request, I have to submit a portfolio of my accomplishments during my VISTA service term to whom it may concern. This blog will help, so thank you Leslie Lombre for prompting me to write it all down.
The work undone, there’s no reprieve,
Thus bit by bit, this web I weave,
And bytes to go before I leave,
And bytes to go before I leave.