Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Big Question

The final blog of this academic year will be short but—I hope—interesting enough to make you think a  bit over the summer as you are developing/redeveloping your courses for next fall.  The focus comes from a fascinating podcast with Ken Bains, author of What the Best College Teachers Do
 I highly recommend the podcast: 
 Bains talks of the importance of allowing students to embrace failures, of giving them lots of do-overs before they actually get a grade, and of stimulating their interest by involving them in a discussion of a  “big question” that draws them into your course, whether that course be a gen ed requirement or a capstone in a major.  He agrees that we need to set high standards, but that doesn’t mean just setting the bar high and telling students to jump over it or else; instead, our role is to help students learn by trying and failing and trying again, having learned a little from each previous failure. And, most importantly, we have to develop an environment in which students want to keep trying. Bains believes that learning won’t take place until we cultivate “deep intentions” in students, the desire to answer a big question because the answer to that question is important in their life outside of class.

Good teaching, Bains argues, involves having students answer questions or solve problems that they find intriguing, interesting, or beautiful.  

How do we do that even in an intro to math or economics or art or composition course?  What is the “beautiful question” that drew you into your discipline that you can help students want to consider, and answer, for your course?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Online? Hybrid? Web-enhanced?

What, from your perspective, should Lincoln most productively be doing with respect to online teaching and learning?  
  • Should we be developing more totally online courses?  (If so, should they be options for our current students or just for new, non-resident populations?) 
  • Should we be developing totally online programs?  (If so, in what disciplines and why?)
  • Should we be focusing mainly on hybrid courses [= classes still meet face to face but some of the normal seat time is replaced by online activities]?  (If so, how do you see them enhancing student learning?)
  • Should we at least be encouraging web-enhanced learning in our classes [= regular seat time but more assignments using Internet-based resources] ? (If so, what training/resources do you need to do so more effectively?)
Please add your thoughts, whether by raising additional questions or by providing your answers for any of the questions posed above.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

How We Learn

Although learning has emotional, motivational, and developmental aspects, any of which might be more important than the cognitive aspect, I wanted to take a minute to focus on cognition this week. 

Arthur C. Graesser, editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology, has cataloged 25 cognitive principles of learning (see below). One that stood out for me as I read through the list was #21, the Goldilocks Principle: Assignments should not be too hard or two easy, but at the right level of difficulty for the student’s level of skill or prior knowledge.

On the one hand, the principle is clear and obvious, the “meet the student where the student is at” idea. On the other, it can be really difficult to achieve sometimes. I’m currently teaching a technical applications course in which students are creating brochures, newsletters, websites, and the like.  The problem I face is that it’s a gen. ed. requirement, and students come to the required course with a wide range of skill and experience with technology and with a wider range of interest/disinterest. I struggle to make the learning “not too hard, not too soft, but just right,” when every student brings a different technical background

Did any of the principles below resonate with you, whether because you struggle with it or disagree with it or because you agree and have developed a good way to address it?

 25 Cognitive Principles of Learning
  1. Contiguity Effects. Ideas that need to be associated should be presented contiguously in space and time.
  2. Perceptual-Motor Grounding. Concepts benefit from being grounded in perceptual motor experiences, particularly at early stages of learning.
  3. Dual Code and Multimedia Effects. Materials presented in verbal, visual and multimedia form richer representations than a single medium.
  4. Testing Effect. Testing enhances learning, particularly when the tests are aligned with important content.
  5. Spacing Effect. Spaced schedules of studying and testing produce better long-term retention than a single study session or test.
  6. Exam Expectations.  Students benefit more from repeated testing when they expect a final exam
  7. Generation Effect. Learning is enhanced when learners produce answers compared to having them recognize answers.
  8. Organization Effects. Outlining, integrating, and synthesizing information produces better learning than rereading materials or other more passive strategies.
  9. Coherence Effect. Materials and multimedia should explicitly link related ideas and minimize distracting irrelevant material.
  10. Stories and Example Cases. Stories and example cases tend to be remembered better than didactic facts and abstract principles.
  11. Multiple Examples. An understanding of an abstract concept improves with multiple and varied examples.
  12. Feedback Effects. Students benefit from feedback on their performance but the timing of the feedback depends on the task.
  13. Negative Suggestion Effects. Learning wrong information can be reduced when feedback is immediate.
  14. Desirable Difficulties. Challenges make learning and retrieval effortful and thereby have positive effects on long-term retention.
  15. Manageable Cognitive Load. The information presented to the learner should not overload working memory.
  16. Segmentation Principle. A complex lesson should be broken down into manageable subparts.
  17. Explanation Effects. Students benefit more from constructing deep coherent explanations (mental models) of the material than memorizing shallow isolated facts.
  18. Deep questions. Students benefit more from asking and answering deep questions that elicit explanations (e.g., why, why not, how, what if) than shallow questions (e.g., who, what, when, where)
  19. Cognitive Disequilibrium.  Deep reasoning and learning is stimulated by problems that create cognitive disequilibrium, such as obstacles to goals, contradictions, conflict, and anomalies.
  20. Cognitive Flexibility. Cognitive flexibility improves with multiple viewpoints that link facts, skills, procedures, and deep conceptual principles.
  21. Goldilocks Principle. Assignments should not be too hard or two easy, but at the right level of difficulty for the student’s level of skill or prior knowledge.
  22. Imperfect Metacognition. Students rarely have an accurate knowledge of their cognition, so their ability to calibrate their comprehension, learning, and memory should not be trusted.
  23. Discovery Learning. Most students have trouble discovering important principles on their own without careful guidance, scaffolding, or materials with well-crafted affordances.
  24. Self-Regulated Learning. Most students need training on how to self-regulate their learning and other cognitive processes.
  25. Anchored Learning. Learning is deeper and students are more motivated when the materials and skills are anchored in real-world problems that matter to the learner.
Arthur C. Graesser,  in “Inaugural Editorial for Journal of Educational Psychology, 2009, Vol. 101 (2), 259-261 Adapted from 25 Principles of Learning, by A.C. Graesser, D.F. Halpern, and M. Hakel, 2008, Taskforce on Lifelong Learning at Work and at Home.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Do you speak SoTL?

I'm writing this in the air over Savannah, on my way back from a great SoTL conference.  For those who don't know, SoTL stands for "Scholarship of Teaching and Learning" (the title of this blog is the motto on  the conference t-shirts) and is a great organization to explore. 
After two days of 9 - 5 conference sessions I have amassed lots to think about and hopefully share with you in future blogs.  While all that new info is being digested, though, I will just share a list one of the speakers presented to answer the question, "Why SoTL?"
  1. SoTL fosters student learning:  Teachers who ask "What works?" are more likely to be using activities that do. 
  2. SoTL bridges the gap between teaching and research: It's a false dichotomy to separate teaching and research.
  3. SoTL benefits SoTL-active faculty, helps them fight classroom inertia and invites them to change and improve their teaching:  It helps teachers grow, change, be more interested, stop being complacent.
  4. SoTL benefits other students and faculty:  Teachers can share the findings across disciplines, breaking down some of the silos.
  5. SoTL benefits the institution:  It helps to generate visible analyses of student learning--assessment at course and program level, models of practice for local colleagues, high-quality evidence for internal/external assessment and accessible examples of quality education for prospective students.
  6. SoTL is a model of faculty development:  It provides a space for dialogue about practices that contribute to advancing knowledge
  7. SoTL increases faculty credentials for professional rewards such as tenure and promotion.
  8. SoTL lets us follow our passion:  It helps us learn from our students and learn who our students are, what it is that we are doing, and how we can do it even better.
SoTL starts with a question: Is there any teaching/learning-related question that has been nagging at you that you might begin to explore, either individually or collaboratively?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What Makes a Group Project Work?

Most of us involve our students in group projects at some point, knowing that such projects promote active learning, student motivation, and enhanced retention.  The Galileo Educational Network has developed a comprehensive rubric teachers can use to evaluate group projects.  The rubric contains specific descriptors for each of the following eight general components:
  • Authenticity
  • Academic Rigor
  • Assessment
  • Beyond the School
  • Use of Digital Technologies
  • Active Exploration
  • Connecting with Experts
  • Elaborated Communication
As I read through the article describing this rubric, I was struck by how useful these eight categories can be for evaluating any class project, individual or group, reminding us of the how and the who and the why and the where questions we should be asking as we design learning activities.
Do you have a favorite group project that incorporates all eight components?  What does it look like? Or would you argue that not all of the eight are necessary?  What’s your assessment of this project assessment tool?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Who Will Survive?

At a recent conference on assessment at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, keynote speaker Linda Suskie addressed the question, “Which colleges and universities will survive and thrive?” Her vote went to universities that
  • Have a pervasive, sustained culture of quality.  (Note:  she explained that doesn’t mean being the most selective college; a college might be known for providing the best learning environment for underprepared students, for instance);
  • Focus on what is most important to them;
  • Focus on having great teaching and learning;
  • Fight complacency (talk about innovation and risk taking, honor efforts to improve even if the efforts don’t succeed first time around);
  • Break down silos, giving funding priority to collaborative projects;
  • Build a culture of evidence;
  • Keep assessment useful, simple, and pervasive;
  • Set rigorous, justifiable standards for success;
  • Tell meaningful stories of the university’s success;
  • Keep their promises.
It seems to me that Lincoln measures up well against many of these criteria.  I wonder, though, to what extent we are really focusing on what’s most important to us. 
To focus on what’s most important, we need to agree on what’s most important.  Have we done that?  Does our mission statement do it?  Do we have an academic master plan that operationalizes it? Do faculty and staff all agree on what Lincoln could/should be? 

All of the other points follow relatively smoothly if we have that overall focus in mind, clearly defined and universally agreed upon.  Do we? If so, what do you think that focus is?  If not, what do we need to do to find it?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

How Do Lincoln Graduates Measure Up Against Expectations?

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed, entitled “Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes,” summarizes an Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) survey that found—good news for liberal arts institutions like Lincoln!—that employers care less about student majors than they do about their range of general skills in thinking, communication, and team work.
It also found—here’s the negative side—that students leave college feeling they have gained better job skills than their employers judge them to have.
What struck me more than this perhaps-to-be-expected disconnect between student self-assessment and employer perceptions, however, was the table showing the skills that employers find least available.
Fewer than one-fifth of the employers surveyed agreed that college graduates are well prepared in
  • working with people from different backgrounds (18%),
  • staying current on global developments (18%), and
  • foreign language proficiency (16%). 
The lowest score of all (15%) was given to “Awareness/experience of diverse cultures outside US."

How do you think our Lincoln students fare against this national profile?  What makes you think that? What are we doing to create/develop/enhance our students’ skills in these four underrepresented categories?  What could we be doing better?  If we were creating an academic master plan for the future, what must it include to ensure that our students leave college with the skills deemed necessary for success?