Friday, March 18, 2016

Spreading Innovations into the Mainstream: Building Strong Foundations

Developing and validating a teaching innovation may be “easy.” But weaving it into the institutional fabric of teaching and learning? That’s really hard.

 At the University System of Maryland (USM), we have taken a close look at a recent series of initiatives piloting course redesign (2006–2014) . . . 

In the past, universities have tried to improve learning outcomes by altering curricula or improving advising. But experience and research in many quarters, including our research on course redesign across the University System of Maryland, suggest that altering courses and programs has a better chance of success if the institution strengthens seven foundations: 

1. Seek and retain senior administrators and department chairs who allocate their time and resources to improving learning outcomes. 

2. Where needed, work across silos to solve problems and seize opportunities, in the process developing relationships that later can be used for larger-scale, more sustained efforts. 

3. Encourage faculty discussion and debate about core beliefs about teaching, learning, and their own instructional roles. 

4. Help a large fraction of faculty gain experience with at least a few of the elements of learning-centered teaching.

5. Provide necessary infrastructure and support systems for more learning-centered and more technology-intensive approaches to teaching. 

6. Provide the kinds of assessment-related services needed to guide teaching and learning. 

7. Examine faculty personnel policies and practices to make sure that they do not subtly discourage faculty, full-time and part-time, from working to improve student learning.

For more information click here...

3 Takeaways From the SXSWedu Conference

Digital courseware and other tools that aim to "personalize" the college experience were all the talk at the SXSWedu conference here last week — along with at least a few voices warning that colleges have so far failed to adequately inform students of how those innovations are being used to track students’ activities. The four-day event, an offshoot of the popular South by Southwest music and film festival, brought together some 10,000 participants from all walks of education: teachers and professors, administrators and policy wonks, and publishers and ed-tech company officials. There were even a few actual students in the mix.

Here are three trends that emerged from conversations among people attending: 

Colleges Need to Better Explain New Data Tracking Colleges are using courseware and advising systems powered by tools that track student activities electronically as they work their way through a course — and in some cases, around the campus itself — via their student IDs. But the norms of the new learning environments are still evolving. That’s true for how the systems interact with students, with professors, and with the designers of courses. 

"What’s the contract that actually exists between the institution and the learner" that spells out "what is shared and with whom and how?" asked Phillip D. Long, associate vice provost for learning sciences and deputy director of the center for teaching and learning at the University of Texas at Austin. In a session on data in education, Mr. Long said colleges have "failed miserably" in letting students understand how deep the "the wake of their digital presence" runs. "We have the obligation to make this more transparent."

For more information click here...

Class, Race, and the First-Generation Student Label

In a recent article for the Atlantic Monthly, “How Low-Income Students Are Fitting in at Elite Colleges” (24 February 2016), Richard Kahlenberg explores the shifting narratives around students who are the first in their families at four-year universities. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action (1973), reports that these “first-generation students” are finding power identifying their (familial) educational backgrounds.

The first-generation label “stakes a broader tent than limiting concerns to students who come from impoverished backgrounds.” This is a significant and timely shift. Whereas earlier cohorts of first-generation students found themselves hidden in the shadows of elite institutions, current students locate a sense of pride in overcoming the significant obstacles to educational access they face. Data show that, in comparison to their “continuing-generation” peers, first-generation students take longer to complete their degrees (Chen & Caroll, 2005) and have higher dropout rates (Engle & Tinto, 2008). As of 2016, only about a third of Americans have a college degree. According to researchers’ best estimates, first-generation students make up over 30% of all of today’s college students. These numbers reinforce Kahlenberg’s own findings. First-generation students are not uniformly the children of impoverished families, but rather represent a kaleidoscope of different backgrounds. At a time when America as a whole is focused on expanding access to higher education and re-thinking current models for the bachelor’s degree­—just think of the current debates around education among presidential candidates—, faculty members must consider the ways that existing teaching and learning practices do, or do not, meet the needs of first-generation students.

In his article, Kahlenberg zeroes in on elite institutions. Rightly so, some might argue. The most prestigious and powerful institutions have long been bastions of privilege, until recently limited to white, middle- and upper-class men. The ongoing democratization of higher education has done little to shake the status quo. Roughly half of all government and corporate leaders, research shows, come from just 12 elite universities. In his widely-acclaimed, antagonistic treatise Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014), former Ivy League professor William Deresciewicz cites the elite educational system for the reproduction of existing class structures. Success in college often means following a series of rules that are largely unwritten. Regardless of the resources available to students from less resourced families, it is often impossible to succeed if these rules continue unwritten. By fostering the success of only those students that have the capital, financial and cultural, to succeed in college, the argument goes, elite institutions limit the pipeline of future leaders to students lucky enough to be born into privileged families.

Read more here...  

From Written to Digital: The New Literacy

In his book about the history of the digital revolution, Walter Isaacson contends that the major innovations of the digital revolution—from the first general-purpose computer to the transistor to the iPhone—were all created by individuals who understood how to synthesize the humanities with technology. Yet even though there is much focus in higher education on how we teach using technology (e.g., e-texts, flipped classrooms, adaptive learning, personalized learning), what we teach about technology is just as important. Because technology enables students to solve problems across a range of disciplines, those of us at higher education institutions need to rethink not just how we teach our students but what we teach our students.

Digital Literacy and 21st-Century Success In today's world, college/university graduates come into contact with a quickly evolving range of technologies and have access to a wealth of information. Students can be more successful after graduation if they are digitally literate—having learned how to identify and create digital solutions, adapt to new tools, and discover more effective and efficient ways of doing things in their fields. The use of technology has transformed every discipline and career, from engineers to doctors to politicians. Yet the traditional academic experience does not prepare many students for the challenges they'll face in these professions today. For instance, young campaign managers must be versed in tasks such as writing a blog and analyzing a social networking initiative, rather than just planning traditional stump speeches and campaign rallies.  

This gap between employers' expectations and students' skills is demonstrated by disparities in perceptions of students' readiness to enter the workforce. In a recent study, when students were asked if they felt digitally prepared for work, 44 percent responded that they felt "well-prepared" or "very prepared." In contrast, only 18 percent of surveyed employers responded that students are prepared for entry-level positions.1 Additionally, employers often find digital tools more valuable than traditional tools in evaluating job applicants. In a Hart Research Associates study, employers found electronic portfolios significantly more useful than a college transcript in assessing whether students had the skills necessary to fill a position: 80 percent of employers found electronic portfolios fairly or very useful, but only 45 percent of employers found traditional college transcripts helpful.2

We have heard the same feedback about the value of digital skills to graduates directly from some major corporations. Jaime Casap, Google's Chief Educational Evangelist, told us: "Digital citizenship is the minimum requirement for the new economy. We need strong digital leaders!" Victor Montgomery, State Farm Business Analyst in charge of local recruitment in Atlanta, stated: "Digital literacy bridges the opportunity divide for students. With that in mind, we are looking for students that display initiative, innovation, and creativity while transforming the communities they live in."3

The need for students to learn digital literacy skills should not be surprising, given that this generation of students has known technology only from a consumer perspective. Whereas older technologists first experienced technology in the workplace and then found ways to merge technology into their personal lives, the current generation of students first experienced technology as a means of entertainment and social communication. Despite having grown up with access to an increasing amount of technology, students now need to learn how to use technology to solve problems in academic and professional settings. Historically, we in higher education have not readied students for this transition, even though students are increasingly asked to use technology in their learning experiences. Many students enter college having already used technology to complete academic assignments: 75 percent of high school students have accessed class information through an online portal, 52 percent have taken tests online, and 37 percent have used online textbooks.4

Learning to write, learning to think, and—these days—learning to form computational structures and to think digitally are requisites not only for employment but also for intellectual independence. Traditionally, the liberal arts have been about learning to think logically and to express ideas. The "liberal" in the liberal arts is about freedom. Some people have argued that widespread literacy (understood as reading at an eighth-grade level) was about making sure factory workers could read manuals well enough to keep machines running, rather than about providing for an informed citizenry. The equivalent for digital literacy would be to define it simply as being able to learn software quickly. Instead, digital literacy should be defined as knowing the effective practices suited to the dominant media. We should not teach students just the skills that will prepare them to follow instructions or quickly comprehend a user interface; instead we should aim to help students develop the expertise that will allow them to combine and create technologies to develop new and dynamic solutions. Just as traditional literacy and the liberal arts have been the key to independence since the advent of public schooling, digital literacy today is about intellectual freedom.

For more information click here...    

Teaching Roundtable with Susan Wilson and Susan Hahn, "What Can Our International Students Teach Us"

The two Susans have been collecting and analyzing data about what DePauw International students have to say about their process of learning to speak and write in an American college experience. Come join the lunch session.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Small Changes in Teaching: The Last 5 Minutes of Class

In my experience — having observed many dozens of college courses over the past two decades — most faculty members eye the final minutes of class as an opportunity to cram in eight more points before students exit, or to say three more things that just occurred to us about the day’s material, or to call out as many reminders as possible about upcoming deadlines, next week’s exam, or tomorrow’s homework. 

At the same time, we complain when students start to pack their bags before class ends. But why should we be surprised by that reaction when our class slides messily to a conclusion? We’re still trying to teach while students’ minds — and sometimes their bodies — are headed out the door. We make little or no effort to put a clear stamp on the final minutes of class, which leads to students eyeing the clock and leaving according to the dictates of the minute hand rather than the logic of the class period. 

When it comes to the deliberate construction of our course periods, we can do better.

Read more here...

Walking on a Wire

Interesting piece on the past and present challenges of protecting tenure and academic freedom, published in The Pennsylvania Gazette.

Read more here...

Teaching Faculty Forum with Dr. Owen Lewis, "Narrative Medicine and the (re-)Education of Health Professionals

Come listen to Dr. Lewis talk about the three semester course for medical students at Columbia University where the capacity for reflection and empathy are taught alongside of anatomy, pathology and other basic sciences.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Faculty members unfamiliar with Open Education Resources, skeptical of digital course materials

No Rush to 'Go Digital' Quality, cost, reputation -- in that order. Those are the top three factors that influence how faculty members pick which textbooks and course materials they assign, according to the results of a survey of faculty at two- and four-year institutions. 

Virtually every faculty member surveyed (97.1 percent) for “Going Digital,” a report being presented today at the Independent College Bookstore Association retail conference in Orlando, Fla., said their own assessment of the quality of a textbook is an important or a very important factor influencing their course material selection process, followed by the cost (86.3 percent) and a near tie between comments from colleagues (71.2 percent) and students or teaching assistants (71.1 percent). Less than one-third of respondents (31.6 percent) said the availability of digital supplements played an important role in that process. 

 But responses to the central question of “Going Digital” suggest faculty members are in no rush to get rid of physical textbooks. Only 15.1 percent of faculty members said they used primarily digital materials last fall. Of those who are still using print, 7.4 percent said they intend to make the switch this fall, while 27.3 percent and 17.1 percent see themselves switching in the next three or five years, respectively. Nearly one-quarter of all respondents (24 percent) said they will never primarily use digital materials in their courses. 

Open educational resources, meanwhile, remain unknown or unused by all but 15 percent of faculty members, raising further questions about the lack of awareness about free or inexpensive alternatives to commercial textbooks. 

For more click here...

Why Do Colleges Still Use Grades?

From as early as kindergarten, students are told that their academic efforts rank somewhere between an A and an F in any given subject. But as new technology in higher education has changed how teaching and learning happen, and as many educators place a heavier emphasis on learning outcomes over GPAs, professors like Trudy A. Milburn wonder why institutions still rely so heavily on the traditional grading system.

Ms. Milburn, an adjunct associate professor in communication studies at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, says she’s much more concerned with what students have learned than with letters. And, to some extent, she feels that grades have become so inflated at many colleges that they have lost their meaning. With more institutions relying on adjunct instruction, she can’t help but wonder whether grade inflation might become even more pronounced since instructors are judged partly on student evaluations. 

"No one ever questions it," she says of the grading system. "You can’t get into college if you don’t have a certain GPA from high school, and you can’t get into grad school if you don’t have a certain GPA from college." 

To her, it would be better for instructors to simply require students to demonstrate a certain level of mastery to pass a course, rather than to do the extra work of assigning grades to the skills students have learned.

Over the last 16 years, Ms. Milburn has worked as a professor at Baruch and at California State University-Channel Islands, and has also held the position of director of campus solutions at Taskstream, a company that helps institutions with the outcomes assessments they provide to accreditors. In her experience at those different institutions, she has often wondered: If grades aren’t a good indicator of student learning, why do we keep using them?

 For more information click here...

HBCUs: an Unheralded Role in STEM Majors and a Model for Other Colleges

For an interesting Chronicle piece about the role of historically black colleges on fostering STEM majors follow the link

Making Learning Spaces Work: Designing a Comprehensive Support/Faculty Development Program for Active & Collaborative Learning Spaces

We invite you to the Educause Learning Initiative's 3-part series on learning spaces, "Making Learning Spaces Work: Designing a Comprehensive Support and Faculty Development Program for Active and Collaborative Learning Spaces," which may be of special interest as renovation efforts on campus move forward: 

While new learning spaces, like Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs), create exciting new teaching and learning opportunities for instructors and students, they also create unique challenges. Successful teaching and learning in these new spaces necessitates that instructors rethink their approach to teaching and students rethink their approach to learning. The structure of support and development work with instructors on how to use these spaces to help improve teaching and learning is critical.

March 9 at 1:00 - 2:30 pm in the CTL/FITS area, Roy O. West Library lower level 
March 16 at 1:00 - 2:30 pm in the CTL/FITS area, Roy O. West Library lower level 
March 23 at 1:00 - 2:30 pm in the CTL/FITS area, Roy O. West Library lower level 

Read more about these sessions here...  and feel free to come for 1, 2, or all 3 sessions. 
If you cannot make any sessions but are interested, let us know.

 Please RSVP for refreshments here...

Teaching Roundtable - Narrative Medicine: An Introduction

In anticipation of Dr. Lewis's Faculty Forum on 16 March, the first Writing Curriculum Committee event is a teaching roundtable to introduce Narrative Medicine and discuss how we might apply the practice of teaching "narrative competence" in our own disciplines. 

Reading materials for this lunch session were distributed by Rebecca Schindler, on behalf of the WCC, on 25 February 2016.