Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning is questioning what I "know" to be "true"

Last week I sat in on my very first doctoral class. During that class I found myself in disagreement with the professor. Thinking back logically on this experience, I know that my professor is "smarter" than me. What I mean by that is that he has progressed further in his educational process than I have. All week I have had difficulty focus on the ideas presented in this class because I believed I had a fundamental disagreement on what education and learning mean.

Today a former colleague and trusted friend posted an article on Facebook. That article backed my professor's position on one issue with which I had found myself in disagreement. However, because of my trust in my colleague, I took the time to read the article and found myself changing my mind on the issue entirely and seeing my professor's point.

Now on one hand I make the observation that this is what doctoral work should do. It should make me question what I "know" to be "true" and provide me with a vehicle for navigating and advancing my progress on my own educational path.

On the other hand, it made me wonder, why does it seem that we are not encouraging students to do this at the undergraduate level? During my EdS program, I took an entire course on how to determine if what I was reading was "good." There were many characteristics that we developed in that course, the one that stands out in my mind is whether the source is a "classic" (as simply defined as possible, a well-accepted and oft-quoted source). Another was to look at who had published the work and if that person/organization had a reputation for carefully publishing well-researched information.

My brain meltdown occurred when I thought about the fact that students (myself included) are more likely to begin research online, where self-publication makes everyone's ideas available and that new information that hasn't yet been canonized is abundant.

So, how do we determine if information is "good" or "bad" and how do we facilitate our students' understanding and critical thinking skills in this area? This has led me to begin developing ideas around this issue.

As a part of one of my doctoral courses, we are developing an Instructional Design Model (based on research by Morrison, Ross, and Kemp (see this link for more information: http://www.quasar.ualberta.ca/edit573/modules/module4.htm).

I'm using this model to attempt to work through the idea of helping student become more critical consumers of information. Skills that I believe become more and more important during the age of Internet research.

I will post my model on this blog as I continue to develop it. I believe dialogue and the exchange of ideas is one of the most important processes of learning. That being said, my question is what do you think? What do you believe? What do you presume to be true?

But how do you know? Who says? Well who is that? Why does what they say matter? Would you interpret their data differently? Did they structure their study to really measure what it should? How do you know? Who says? Well who is that? … ad infinitum …

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is a break a vacation or an opportunity for more study?

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discussed Cornell University’s faculty senate’s creation of a policy to help reduce student stress by discouraging surprise homework assignments before an academic break. The policy is meant to encourage faculty members to describe in detail large assignments on syllabi at the beginning of the semester and not to assign previously unannounced large homework assignments a few days before academic breaks due only a few days after them. The policy is currently being revised to emphasize that what is being discouraged is only “surprise” assignments. The decision to work on assignments over break can then be left up to individual students.

I think the policy is a wise one. Some students will work better on assignments spread out over long periods of time. Others prefer to work uninterrupted through a break. Having the entirety of spring break to work on my comprehensive exams made the process a more productive and enjoyable one because I could plan to be in the library all day every day of break. Some of my colleagues preferred to take break as a time to relax and reflect and either completed the majority of their work before or after the week off.

Cornell is cited as being a leader among colleges trying to identify and support troubled students, especially after several students died in apparent suicides in a short period of time. This policy is meant to be a step in the right direction toward helping students deal with stress by measuring out their workload in a way that works best for them.

The policy is not meant to force faculty one way or another according to Dr. William E. Fry, dean of the university faculty at Cornell, but instead to promote best practices. He also emphasized that academic breaks existed to allow students to relax and recharge. If faculty plan out major assignments in advance, students can plan their work accordingly and prevent the stress of last minute assignments. This should be considered best practices because highly stressful study is rarely productive in products or learning experiences.

Mr. Bruce Levitt, author of the policy to discourage surprise homework over breaks, hopes the faculty will continue to “focus on ‘specific and targeted ways’ to reduce some of the stress” and that the real core of these issues will need to involve a conversation at the administrative level of the university.

Student leader, Vincent P. Andrews, commented in an editorial for the campus newspaper, that though this is a step in the right direction, more will need to be done to address the root of the problem of student stress levels. He worries that this policy may encourage faculty to cram additional work into the weeks before and after break instead and, in turn, to cause students more stress. One other option Mr. Andrews addresses is the possibility of faculty within colleges collaborating on dates for midterms and major assignments, as there is currently no school-wide date for midterms.

I think it is important for faculty to be cognizant of breaks when working on curricular planning. For example, I schedule my classes so that students have almost no work over midterm break. I also attempt to organize my schedule so that the last week of classes is spent on review with no new material to be learned as students are completing final projects. It’s also been my experience in the higher education program that faculty tend to plan well to give students ample time to complete assignments as they see fit. I'm curious how other educators handle the issue of scheduling academic work around school breaks.

Rae, T. (2011, March 2). Cornell Faculty Senate to Consider 'Strongly Discouraging' Surprise Homework Over Breaks. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://0-chronicle.com.wncln.wncln.org/article/No-More-Breaks-Ruined-by/126562/

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Do We Have To Go To Class?

“Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th-Century.: New learning technologies prompt a rethinking of traditional course structure,” Jeffery R. Young, February 27, 2011.

This article explored the problems many faculty have of student attendance in a face-to-face classroom and how different types of technology are affecting this issue. The author cited that much research has shown learning outside of the traditional face-to-face classroom has the potential to be more deeply engaging for students. He also pointed out that traditional lecture and testing in classes often leads to quickly memorized, and soon forgotten, facts. Students are also cited as valuing learning outside the classroom. So Young asked “Why even have a traditional college course?”

Young touched on the controversial new book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses and the accusation that traditional college education asks little of students and produces small efforts from them. Throughout the article, research and examples promote the idea of linking skills learning in classes to efforts outside the classroom.

Much of my research and experience reinforces the idea that learning must become relevant to students in order to engage their interests. The article discusses an evolution in education that is being driven by student demand, a better understanding of how students learn, and a new generation of faculty members trying tech-infused teaching methods. I would also emphasize that simply using technology is not enough to engage students; these technologies must be used well.

The article cited one professor who uses an anonymous pop quiz, asking students questions like whether they discussed the homework with a classmate and how long they spent on the reading, to demonstrate that class discussion only works when students are prepared. This professor wants his students to see him as a guide, not a gate keeper of knowledge. This is what is essential, instructors simply reading a textbook that students are perfectly capable of reading on their own is not engaging learners. Students need to be co-creators of knowledge, not passive receivers of it. Some other ways this professor used to engage students to collaborate with one another included encouraging them to pass notes in class on Twitter and to create blogs to share their insights on the course material. He then created a “mother blog” to house and link to each student’s blog. This allowed the students to collaborate with one another and engaged them to such a degree that they wanted to continue to use these tools after the course ended.

Another school created 7-week immersion programs with no lecture component that brought students together to collaborate and create. The article expands on one undergraduate student’s efforts to create a social network for “unstudents” to connect to mentors and learn by modules at their own pace, completely self-directed. Online classes that essentially provide the same content that professors regurgitate in lectures are accessible to students seeking alternatives to traditional college settings.

So what is the point of going to class when instructors are forced to use attendance policies and pop quizzes to keep students in their seats? Will the traditional college environment cease to exist? Young argues that colleges will always serve to bring smart, motivated students together in a single community. However, as one professor from Virginia Tech warned, if instructors do not expect much from students, they won’t complain. As educators, we must be facilitators of learning seeking to engage students, not just founts of knowledge now easily accessible online.

Young, J. R. (2011, February 27). Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th-Century.: New learning technologies prompt a rethinking of traditional course structure. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://0-chronicle.com.wncln.wncln.org/article/Actually-Going-to-Class-How/126519/

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Studying Developmental Education in Higher Education

Effective Practices for Developmental Education

The following points are considered the most effective practices in Developmental Education from the text referenced below. In a subsequent post, I will discuss three of these practices in more detail.

Organizational and Administrative Practices:

1.1 Developmental education is a clearly stated institutional priority.

1.2 A clearly articulated mission based on a shared, overarching philosophy drives the developmental education program. Clearly specified goals and objectives are established for developmental courses and programs.

1.3 The developmental education program is centralized or is highly coordinated.

1.4 A comprehensive system of support services exists and is characterized by a high degree of integration among academic and student support services.

1.5 Institutional policies facilitate student completion of necessary developmental coursework as early as possible in the educational sequence.

1.6 Faculty who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about developmental education are recruited and hired to teach in the program.

1.7 Institutions manage faculty and student expectations regarding developmental education.

Program Components:

2.1 Orientation, assessment, and placement are mandatory for all new students.

2.2 Counseling support provided is substantial, accessible, and integrated with academic courses and programs.

2.3 Financial aid is disseminated to support developmental students. Mechanisms exist to ensure that developmental students are aware of such opportunities, and are provided with assistance to apply for and acquire financial aid.

2.4 Regular program evaluations are conducted, results are disseminated widely, and data are used to improve practice.

Boroch, D.; Hope, L., Smith, B., Gabriner, R., Mery,P., Johnstone, R., & Asera, R. (2010). Student success in community colleges: A practical guide to developmental education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.