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?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Standardized Testing

New Education Initiative Replaces K-12 Curriculum With Single Standardized Test
The Onion  NewseducationNewsISSUE 51•07 • Feb 19, 2015 

WASHINGTON—Citing the need to measure student achievement as its top priority, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new initiative Thursday to replace the nation’s entire K-12 curriculum with a single standardized test.

According to government officials, the four-hour-long Universal Education Assessment will be used in every public school across the country, will contain identical questions for every student based on material appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will permanently take the place of more traditional methods such as classroom instruction and homework assignments.

“By administering one uniform test to our nation’s 50 million students, we can ensure that every child is evaluated by the exact same standard, regardless of background, age, or grade level,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, explaining that students will be able to take the test at any time between age 5 and 18. “It’s absolutely crucial for us to know where our kids stand, and eliminating the teaching model will provide us with the most affordable and efficient means of measuring student proficiency.”

“There is no better way to ensure consistency in America’s schools,” Duncan added.

The new test will reportedly cover all topics formerly taught in K-12 classrooms, including algebra, World War I, cursive penmanship, pre-algebra, state capitals, biology, letters of the alphabet, environmental science, civics, French, Newtonian mechanics, parts of speech, and the Cold War. Sources said students will also be expected to demonstrate their knowledge of 19th-century American pioneer life, photosynthesis, and telling time.

“By doing away with the overly complex program of full-length school days and lessons stretched out over 13 academic years, we can concentrate on increasing the reliability of our data and determine just how each student stacks up,” said Patrick Herlihy, an education researcher who helped design the test. “This is the best, most comprehensive way yet of holding our schools accountable.”
“This initiative also has the potential to help level the playing field,” Herlihy continued. “Kids in Mississippi, for example, will have literally the exact same educational opportunities as kids in Massachusetts.”

Officials confirmed the test will consist mostly of multiple-choice questions, though it will also include an essay section in which students will be able to choose from one of several prompts, ranging from “Describe the American system of federalism,” to “If I could be any animal in the world, I would be a…,” to “Write a book report on Lois Lowry’s The Giver.”

Jeff Escudero, a 10-year-old from Winamac, IN who plans to take the test and hopefully complete his primary and secondary education next month, admitted to reporters that the new standardized exam was a source of stress for him.

“There’s a lot riding on this,” Escudero said. “Still, I think I’m pretty set. I just have to learn the periodic table, be able to explain what triangular trade is, and remember that it goes egg, larva, pupa, butterfly. It’ll be hard answering all those questions about Richard III and the New Deal, but at least I’ve already got the numbers up to 20 totally memorized. And once I’m done with the test, I won’t have to go to school anymore.”

Officials said the initiative would also focus on improving teacher performance by tying teachers’ salaries to the test scores of the students they hand the assessment to.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

When Your To-Do List Is Longer Than Your Day

While struggling with the minutiae of daily professorial life—writing those minutes from yesterday’s committee meeting, grading the last few student assignments before class, preparing for the umpteenth meeting of the week, checking lesson plans to make sure they have the right mix of activities, responding to online discussion postings so as to let students know I am reading and valuing their ideas, [fill in your own overwhelming list]—I was struck by the seemingly simple message from Kerry Ann Rockquemore, President of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity: Pay Yourself First.
She acknowledges our need to be super teacher, super researcher, super colleague, super public intellectual, super institutional change agent, etc., pointing out, however, that these needs tend to conflict and overwhelm, and reminding us of the importance of clarifying our long-term goals and then setting aside the time to work towards them.  We need to “pay ourselves first,” finding the time to work on our own personal goals amidst all the demands of others. 

For instance, if tenure or promotion is your main long-term goal, then publications can’t keep being pushed aside by all the short-term demands of the day.  Rockquemore suggests starting every day with 30 minutes of writing, reserving that time before even looking at the day’s to-do list. 

Easier said than done, right?  But I would be interested in knowing what tricks you have developed for working on your long-term projects.  Any good time management tips you can share?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Seat Time or Skill Demonstration?

A short while ago, I got a notice from Facebook that Prof. Dohohue had mentioned me in one of his comments. While I confess that I rarely log in to Facebook and generally ignore Facebook’s messages trying to get me to, I couldn’t resist this time. 

What Bill was pointing out was an NPR program on the rise of competency-based education programs. The article described the growing trend of universities offering credits for skills developed and demonstrable, even though those skills did not necessarily grow out of an interaction between a student and an instructor in a school setting. The obvious beneficiaries of this trend are older adults who can save time and money if they can earn degree credit for skills gained through work and life experience. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education just reported that Pennsylvania’s community colleges have begun a statewide project to let adult learners earn college credit for previous training or work experience, a program called "College Credit FastTrack."

Lincoln is participating in a small way with its Bachelor of Human Services/FLEX program. BHS students can earn up to 45 Prior Learning Assessment credits. 

So Bill (and others), pretend we're having a Facebook conversation. Here's what I would have asked. Is this a direction Lincoln should consider for other programs? Are there other majors that we offer that would appeal to adult learners if we could award them some percentage of credit for skills earned and thus ease their path toward a degree? What are the worries you see if we move down this path? What are the advantages? How is the BHS working? What similar programs might we add? Should we care where a student learned something or just if a student learned something? 

It’s a great topic of discussion and an important issue to explore for strategic planning purposes. I am eager to hear where Lincoln faculty and staff stand.