Not the Worst Learning Theory I’ve Ever Seen

From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a consistently entertaining and thoughtful comic.

Hmm… Stage 3 is a lot like cognitive dissonance.

Kubler-Ross Model of Grief, from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

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Teaching Center with Key & Peele

Key & Peele? Really? Those guys are great! They already put out some hilarious videos on substitute teachers. The first two emphasized the differences between urban and suburban schools with Mr. Garvey, the Substitute Teacher.

The third was on the difficulty of establishing control in a class as a substitute teacher with Mr. Nostrand.

Finally, there was the issues involved with dealing with Jimmy the Class Clown.

So I was really looking forward to the new Teaching Center skit. But their idea of a great teacher was a lecturer who occasionally asks the kid without his hand up. The question she asks is not even challenging, just “Remembering” level on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Our expectations of teachers is apparently WAY too low.

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The NEFDC/Fairfield University CAE Conference, May 29, 2015

Last week’s conference at Fairfield, CT, went very well. Kudos to Fairfield University in hosting the event — everything was exceptionally well organized. Katie Novak gave an exciting and informative keynote on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), filled with analogies and activities. No lecture on active learning, thank goodness! All of the sessions I was in were very informative and thoughtful. If you missed the conference, a number of the presentations are available at Fairfield University’s Digital Commons. Check them out.

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The Closing of the CTE at Endicott College

When the Center for Teaching Excellence at Endicott College closed in 2014, I had been its Director for five years. I was originally hired to complete a three year grant from the Davis Educational Foundation after the previous director had resigned. We did well enough with that to get a second grant. The Center had excellent buy-in with the faculty and was doing great work that admittedly was often unseen by the upper administration. That the CTE was valued by the faculty is demonstrated by their many warm recommendations on my LinkedIn profile. Right up to the end, I was told that my work was excellent, but although I was dismayed and even surprised that the Center was closed, it was something I had anticipated for a while. Why? Because as the Historian for the national organization for faculty development (the POD Network), I had conducted over sixty oral history interviews with both leading faculty developers and with early leaders in the field who had left academia. I learned through those interviews that teaching centers often closed in times of financial difficulty. In Endicott’s case, there had been a faculty hiring freeze for a year and a half, the renovation of the student center had proved more expensive that planned, a new indoor hockey rink was being constructed, and we had brought in so many students that they had to be housed in rented housing in nearby Beverly. When funds are short, teaching centers are an easy target for cuts on campus.

When I was at the Teaching Resource Center at Indiana University, that center had over twenty years of work with the faculty but was eliminated and the staff merged with Campus Instructional Consulting with the explanation that the move eliminated “duplication of services.” In the move, the TRC library was cut in half. The TRC had been housed in a classroom building, while the CIC was in the administrative building. My most poignant memory of that move was a faculty member coming down specifically to tell me, “they can let you folks go, but you have to leave the copier.” This was back when instructors were still using overhead projectors. Copy machines had once been able to run transparencies, but now none of the copiers had a straight path, which meant that overhead transparencies could not be run as the transparencies tended to melt and jam the machine. At this particular faculty member’s request, I had just successfully found a straight path copier that had not been in production for three years, and purchased a “new” one from a supplier for the center.

So the closing of the CTE at Endicott fit most of my understanding of the life of such centers. Still, I had hoped for better. My boss had told me when I was hired that Endicott looked out for its own, and I knew that the previous director had been kept on in another capacity while she looked for another job. I had remained cynical because of the history of centers, but ironically, the day before the CTE closed, I had told myself, “well, I’ve been here for five years. Maybe Endicott does look after its own.” The next day, I was given notice that the CTE was being closed.

I don’t hold harsh feelings for Endicott — it was a nice place to work and I actually still work with a number of their faculty — but I do wish the administration had valued the center and what it could do. When I left, there was little concern with what happened to the center’s holdings and records. The books I sent to the campus library; the records were simply discarded. The CTE vanished as if it had never existed, and that’s a shame.

PS: When I wrote this entry, the CTE web page was still up, a year after the center closed. A day later, that site went away, so it must have just slipped someone’s mind. So the last remnant is my Flickr page about the CTE, which is still available. The video game there is the Endicade, a remodeled Simpsons arcade game for which the Computer Science students practice developing games. The art was done by Simon Stafsnes Andersen, an artist in Norway who specializes in game art.

Two other stories that comment on the closing of Endicott’s CTE are:

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Bridging the Gap: Providing Professional Development to K-12 Teachers

Susan Bastian and I are giving this session at the NEFDC Spring 2015 conference. This page is intended to guide participants to the session materials in digital format, as well as other related materials.

Both of us are from the Center for Curricular Innovation & Teaching Effectiveness (CITE) at Mount Ida College in Newton, MA. Please email us at for more information.

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No More Lectures about Active Learning, Please!

I’ve been in instructional design for fifteen years now, and I’ve gone to more than my share of lectures on active learning. What I mean by that is a presentation where a presenter lectures the audience for one hour and fifteen minutes about leading discussions, and then holds a fifteen-minute question and answer session at the end, IF there’s time. I’ve seen so many, I tend to run when a keynoter appears at a conference, even if I know they’re good (because I’ve already seen their presentation on YouTube!). It is my dearest desire that when someone in instructional design gives a presentation, that presentation should model the basic principles of instructional design. Here’s what it should include (IMHO):

1. Some form of prework (reading, writing, etc.) to allow the participants to prepare for a meaningful discussion.

2. Any PowerPoint should be reduced to inspiring images a la Presentation Zen. No more than 1 image every 10 minutes is a good guide, unless the images are the content.

3. If there is meaningful information to be disseminated, it should be reduced to a brief, easy-to-read handout. People can read at least 2-3 times as fast as people can speak, so reading is more efficient, and saves time for conversation.

4. Time that would ordinarily be used to click through a PowerPoint should be used for asking questions. When questions are not forthcoming, participants should be guided to talk amongst themselves in small groups to generate potential questions.

5. The leader should be a “facilitator,” not a “presenter,” because the latter attitude tends to ignore the prior experience of the attendees) should then wander the room to keep conversations on target and inject expertise where useful.

6. At the end of the session, the facilitator should help the group summarize their conclusions and describe next steps.

I live in hope that someday this dream will come true. And yes, very very rarely, I encounter someone who breaks the rules and lectures successfully. To do this, they have to be either exceptionally brilliant, exceptionally inspiring, or wonderfully entertaining. That’s pretty rare.

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What Can We Test?

There’s an image going around with a list of “personal qualities not measured by tests.” Here it is:

2015 standardized tests can't test for these

But I think they’re wrong. Standardized objective tests can be designed to eliminate or reduce cultural bias, and a lot of this list would fall into that category. But at least one item could be tested that way, “endurance.” Simply make a test that takes about 10 hours to complete, and see who finishes it.

A lot of the others could be addressed by subjective tests like essay exams. Creative thinking and compassion seem the easiest to test for. The Measurement Database for the Social Sciences (MIDSS) has a number of these. Here’s some of the keywords to use on their search engine when looking for such tests:

Collective Emotions
Global Citizen Scale
Interpersonal Efficacy
Interpersonal Support
Need to Belong
Partner Interaction
Positive-Negative Relationship
Risk Behavior
Social Network Index
Social Support

Of course, we should keep two things in mind when using these sorts of tests. First, is it an essential skill for students in this discipline or is an unwarranted invasion of the students’ privacy? Be sure to go through your Institutional Review Board (IRB) for human subject research. Second, is it fair or is it culturally-biased?

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