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.

Posted in Academic Development, PowerPoint, Workshops | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Affective Domain, Assessment, Evaluation, Learning Outcomes, Testing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Episodic Assignments

I’m giving a presentation on episodic assignments on Nov. 19, 2014, as part of the Fall 2014 NEFDC Conference. What I mean by episodic assignments are small mid-week assignments that serve to keep students thinking. They are intended to be fun or at least interesting additions to my first-year surveys, to build historical competencies like textual analysis, photographic analysis, use of evidence, and research skills. They are also intended to give students a taste of other types of history that might follow.

First, here’s primary handout I’m using. This includes all of the material I’ll be covering the session. If there’s one handout you should download for the workshop, this is it.

Here is a handout of the PowerPoint presentation for the session:

Below are four examples of those assignments, including the instructions given to the students, appraisals of student work, and my personal reflection on the effectiveness of the assignment.

Posted in Cartoons & Illustrations, Cognitive Domain, Critical Thinking, Higher Education, History education, Teaching Tips | Leave a comment

Designing Dynamic Discussions

I’m giving a presentation on designing online and F2F discussions at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Below are the handouts used in the presentation.

Prereading for Dynamic Discussions: This is what I usually share out when I do the extended version of this presentation.

Elements of a Dynamic Discussion: This is the outline I’ll be following for the session.

20 Small Group Discussion Protocols: This is my primary research, on which I’m preparing a book for publication. I’ve included twenty protocols arranged in order of the amount of time they take in a F2F class. I’ve also included ideas for using them in an online setting.

Examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques from Angelo & Cross: We aren’t going to be spending much time on CATs, but they are an important part of a discussion, so I’m including a couple here. Be sure to read Angelo & Cross’s book though!

Developing a Sense of Community Online: This topic is essential to online instruction, because when we teach online we lose a lot of social cues.

Exercise: I am from: One of my favorite icebreakers. At the session I’ll share out examples of student responses.

Posted in Discussion Methods, Online Instruction, Peer Instruction, Teaching Tips, Tools for teaching, Workshops | Leave a comment

My Philosophy of Faculty Development

I took a few minutes out of the day to write down my philosophy about the work I do. I hope you find it useful.

For me, faculty development is about three goals. The first of these is the improvement of student learning. There are a variety of contexts for learning (lecture, discussion, lab work, performances, clinical work, etc.), a host of disciplines, and as many ways to teach as there are people. There are a variety of learning theories, including behaviorist, cognitive, social cognitive, constructivist, and connectionist. None of those theories are perfect, and teaching is still more art than science, but we do know a lot more about how people learn than we did a hundred years ago. We can identify goals and learning outcomes for courses, departments and institutions. We can use modeling, active learning, authentic frequent assessment, scaffolding, and fading to structure the courses to support what we understand about student learning. They find modeling helpful, along with active learning, scaffolding, and facing to help them improve their teaching. Assessment of faculty performance, though, is the domain of the chairs and deans, not the faculty developer. The faculty developer provides access to current knowledge and methodologies of teaching to the entire faculty, and helps those with whom he is working to make incremental, progressive changes to their teaching that reflects who they are and what they are teaching. The changes they make should be based on their own beliefs about teaching.

The second goal of faculty development is to enhance faculty satisfaction. Most faculty members will spend at least half of their professional lives in the classroom, so improving their teaching experiences will improve their satisfaction and hence their retention at the institution. Moreover, faculty members are clever, independent people and if they do not want to do something, they will find a way not to do it. Any change in instruction must be one of which the faculty members approve. There are a lot of factors that go into getting that approval. The innovation must first make sense to the instructor, and it should preferably not add greatly to her workload. Most faculty care about their students and their teaching, and if those two aspects are addressed, they will at least consider adopting the innovation. That decision is eased if the faculty developer has a friendly relationship with them, if their faculty friends are also making the innovation, or if the administration is rewarding the use of the innovation.

The third goal of faculty development is to enhance the college’s reputation. The best way to do that is to celebrate the victories of the faculty and help them celebrate the victories of their students. Workshops by faculty who are championing a particular innovation are a way to celebrate those victories and simultaneously help convince others to do the same. Action research on one’s classes (i.e. SOTL) should be encouraged if it is simple, effective, and not too time-consuming. Not everyone will have the time or inclination to do this sort of work, but those who want to should be supported and as many barriers to that work lowered as possible. All of this should be done creatively (to maintain interest) and relatively inexpensively (to ensure sustainability of the program).

Ideally, all three of these goals are part of any faculty development work. Together, they ensure that teaching innovations are effective, that the faculty supports and champions the work, and that the institution can celebrate meaningful improvement.

Posted in Academic Development, My Thoughts | 1 Comment

The Lively Discussion workshop

In preparation for my workshop on small group discussion protocols coming up at Simmons College, I’m posting two of the workshop handouts here. The first is Pre-Reading that I would like participants to do before the workshop. It will save us some time. I’m also making one of the handouts available online, namely Twenty Discussion Protocols, in case people want to access it online.

Posted in Discussion Methods, Higher Education, Online Instruction, Tools for teaching, Workshops | Leave a comment

Quantitative Reasoning with Nathan Grawe

Nathan Grawe (Carleton University) visited Endicott College today and presented on Quantitative Reasoning. It was the same presentation that can be seen through the Quantitative Reasoning channel on Vimeo. He gave out two handouts. The first was version 6 of the Quirk rubric and the other were The 10 Foundational Quantitative Reasoning Questions. Functionally, what Dr. Grawe was proposing was Quantitative Reasoning across the Curriculum, where disciplines that did not use quantification as a central strategy would teach peripheral quantification in their classes, while classes (like Dr. Grawe’s) were centered on quantitative reasoning (QR, or quantitative literacy, or numeracy, or statistical literacy, etc.) would add authentic figures to their charts and authentic contexts to their problems. Those teaching peripheral strategies would have to ramp up their understanding of quantification and be sure that any QR was embedded in their work and not extraneous. Those teaching QR as a central strategy would need to make their calculations and data more authentic (i.e. more messy), which would make grading more time-consuming but hopefully much more rewarding. The presentation was entertaining and the proposal made sense. The rubric felt like it needed work though, and the sample QR assignments available through SERC did not seem as extensive as one might hope. There are Six Examples of QR across the Curriculum from the Numeracy Infusion Course for Higher Education (NICHE) program and a number of K16 teaching materials at another tab at the same site, but I would have preferred for these to have been indexed at MERLOT, since it would allow one-stop shopping for learning objects (and RLOs).

Posted in Higher Education, Learning Outcomes, Quantitative Reasoning | Leave a comment