Thursday, May 20, 2010

Teaching and Learning Symposium 2010 - Day 2

When Bad Things Happen to Good Classes – James Wells & Eileen Callahan

Case Study discussions of ethical issues in higher education.

Letters of Recommendation –
Much of these issues have to do with relationship building. Undergrads especially need to know that part of their job as a student is to get to know the professors and, although the onus may be on the student to do this, the professor needs to create a positive and open environment that invites students into this academic relationship. Student need to be interacting with faculty early in their career and not wait until the last year.

However, if an average or mediocre student asks for a letter, how can a professor handle it? In writing a letter, one must be honest about the student in a respectful way as this is an issue of credibility. In addition, this opens the opportunity to have an honest conversation about the student's characteristics.

Group Work -
The most important issue to address in using group work is the pedagogical reason for it. Does group work provide a better avenue to accomplish the task compared to individual assignments? In addition, there is a difference between cooperative work and collaborative work, therefore the task set needs to match the structure. Cooperative work means that students just need to work together, whereas collaboration requires student to depend on each other's work to accomplish the task.

Once a teacher decides on group work, it is the teacher's responsibility to provide the training and tools for students to be successful in the group work. Too often teachers assume students know how to work together, yet few have had the opportunity to participate in or observe positive group work. (Almost all students have stories of horrible experiences.) Various supports could include having students create group contracts which address deadlines, responsibilities and conflict; periodic reflective writing; peer assessment; and practice within class.

Connectedness of Faculty -
How connected should professors be? 24/7? Set times? Part of the advantage of technology is that people are available at all times, yet that can create unrealistic expectations. Instructors need to be especially clear with how and when they expect to be contacted. Face-to-face office hours are typical, which can be translated to on-line chat.

Student Write to Learn: How instructors are engaging their students through online quizzing, writing, and feedback – Robert Jeanne, Lillian Tong, Amber Smith

We know that writing increases thinking, especially when the writing is exploratory and reflective, Yet in large classes, there is little opportunity for writing and instructor feedback.

Feedback Manager, done in Moodle quizzing module, allows for large scale responses from students. The instructor asks an open-ended question online, the students answer. The instructor reads the responses. The instructor creates generic “tags” - ie, Didn't follow directions. Excellent thinking. Did you think about . . . In addition, the instructor can add individual comments. All students then receive comments via email. This is very similar to computerized report cards with a list of about 50 comments. However, the instructor sets the comments for the assignment – which makes it more relevant.

Even though the responses are semi-personalized, students found it useful to know that instructors were reading and commenting on their work. Plus, with more, but smaller writing assignments, student understanding was better developed and assessed.  There were multiple examples of how various instructors implemented this Feedback Manager in large classes (150+) in chemistry, biology, and ecology.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Teaching and Learning Symposium 2010

Learning Partnerships that Promote Learning and Self-Authorship  - Marcia Baxter Magolda

What is the purpose of higher education?  There are several possible  responses to this: to get a good paying job, to create well-rounded individuals, and/or to train someone for a particular job/career.  Yet,  Magolda has a slightly different perspective – to help young adults through the process of self-authorship for their adult lives.  Self-authorship is the ability to personally define a set of beliefs and identity in which to guide interaction with other people and the world.  However, according to her research, some people (in all age groups) stagnate at the developmental stage of “Following External Formulas”.  In other words, depending on experts or authority to define the facts, beliefs and requirements.  This is the student who happily and diligently takes notes in class and can parrot back the information.  It is an easy form of “learning” as it is just information consumption.  When students/people get to the point of questioning experts and authority, they are at the “Crossroads” stage.  As the apt metaphors implies, the person stands in the midst of several possible pathways/beliefs and must consider each.  There is a recognition that no single way is the only way, yet as a student, this becomes frustrating.  It is not easy learning, but rather, mentally exhausting.  Through testing out ideas and sometimes making false starts and back tracking, students are able to articulate their own ideas, beliefs and opinions, yet at the same time, be open enough to truly listen to others.  This, in Magolda’s terms is “Self-Authoring”.  Is higher education the only way to achieve self-authorship?  Certainly not, but it should be a place where this is a major goal.

To reach this goal, teacher/mentors need to build developmental bridges at the leading edge of the person’s developmental phase and, as a partner, walk along side them on the bridge.  This metaphor is quite compatible with constructivist pedagogy.  Rather than pulling students kicking and screaming into new understandings,  guidance is provided to lead them through the content and processes needed.  Meeting students where they are, knowing where they want/should go, and providing opportunities for them to achieve this is a tremendous task for teachers/mentors.

Magolda has developed these ideas through a 24 year study.  Quite impressively, the group began with 101 college freshman, then 80 graduating seniors, and just recently, follow-up with 36 of the original group.  Her study has been reported in various books including: Authoring Your Life, Making Their Own Way, and Knowing and Reasoning in College.  The application of these ideas can be found in Creating Contexts for Learning and Self-Authorship: Constructive-Developmental Pedagogy and Learning Partnerships.

I am interested in seeing more about the “Bridges”.  How do I guide students through the various phases of reasoning, and especially when there would be students of all phases within one class?  In a traditional sense, this would be called differentiation of curriculum, but it is more than a focus on ability or skill, but a recognition of individual reasoning and identity formation.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

AERA 2010 - Graduate Student Council

As I am making the transition from student to scholar, I especially appreciate the work of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) at AERA. The graduate student room is an amazing place to meet people, gather your thoughts, and gear up for the next session. In addition, the sessions that the GSC sponsor are some of the best at the conference, with a focus on interactivity and mentoring the graduate student. I enjoyed the orientation session on Friday night, as it gave me the opportunity to get to know fellow grad students who I continued to bump into throughout the conference. This helps me connect to the conference; when I can walk into a session and wave to someone I know and afterwards have a confidant to talk with about the session.

Throughout the conference, I targeted the Fireside Chats, sponsored by the GSC and specific divisions. These sessions are improvisational, filled with timely advice, and interactive. The session GSC Division E Fireside Chat: The In Between: How to Use My Time Wisely was filled with practical and inspirational advice for the student-scholar transition. The panel was responsive to the immediate questions of the audience and clearly take the role of mentor seriously. Here are some of the highlights:
  • Know your own personal path and make choices to keep you on the path.
  • Focus on filling the gaps in your CV – teaching, research, publishing, etc. It may be useful to delay graduation to fill the gap, but don't delay too long.
  • Get published – the sooner the better, even if it is in smaller journals
  • Get on committees (but not ones that are too time consuming). 
  • Do a post-doc only if it will advance your personal path. 
  • Be able to articulate not only your past work, but clearly know your future research agenda.

Another interesting point made was about creating support systems. It is fairly obvious that to make it through graduate school, then as an junior scholar, then through tenure, support is needed. However, one of the panelists had a nice way of identifying the people in her life as supports and recommended evaluating the reciprocity of the relationships. If the relationship isn't working, then it might be time to “prune” the person.

3 Tiers of Support
  1. People who help you get the job done.
  2. People who are steps ahead of you and can mentor you.
  3. People who are social supports – need work/life balance.
 Two Bumper Sticker Phrases:
Rejection is a part of academia. Get used to it. Move on.
Define success for yourself and move towards it. Don't buy into the institution's view of success.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

AERA 2010 Day 1 - Part 2

A National Study of Writing Across the Curriculum in Middle and High Schools
Background to the Study *Arthur Applebee
A Case Study of the Influence of Kentucky State Testing on Student Writing *Linda L. Baker
English-Language Learners and Writing Across the Disciplines *Kristen C. Wilcox
Science and Mathematics Writing *Marc Nachowitz
The Teaching of Writing Today *Judith A. Langer
Appleebee and Langer are major figures in my review of literature, so I was quite excited to be able to see them in person. The study they and their colleagues presented is a massive undertaking involving middle and high schools in five states and in multiple subject areas (hence, “writing across the curriculum” WAC). Data collection includes observations, interviews, and student artifacts and has generated thousands of pieces of work to look at. Langer mentioned that this was an update to studies Applebee completed in the late 1970s.
Baker specifically looked at Kentucky and discussed some of the negative effects of the portfolios introduced a few years ago, which have since been repealed. During the time of the data collection, the researchers found teachers were instructing in limited genres to have student produce writing for the portfolios. In addition, there seemed to be a lack of authentic writing, again, because of the desire to produce for the portfolios. To me, this doesn't seem too shocking. Once a school, district, or state mandates a certain type of portfolio structure, it will create standardized forms of work. If the goal is to compare students against one another, then the forms of writing will be dictated. In contrast, if the goal is to help improve writing, then students need to be actively involved in the creation of their own portfolio – to show growth and revision, best pieces, and reflection on their individual writing process. This can't be standardized.

Nachowitz discussed the ways content area teachers tend to approach the writing tasks required: 1) emphasis on content 2) Domain specific 3) Genre based. For those schools in which WAC was deeply embedded, students were working within domain specific and genre based writing. Writing was used as a means of learning, not just assessing learning and writing. (Writing as a heuristic – how to think like a mathematician, scientist, geographer etc.) In addition, the content area teachers believed writing was an integral part of their subjects, not just as a favor to the ELA teachers. From this, Langer mentioned that the direction for research may be a need to look at what is appropriate writing instruction for the disciplines, rather than a universal recommendation for all teachers.

For more information about the study, go to: The National Study of Writing Instruction,

AERA 2010 Day 1

I was shocked to find so few blogs about the experience of AERA 2010. I'm used to NECC (now ISTE) which lists the bloggers on the home page of the conference. This allows for attendees to catch up on the sessions they missed. There are so many interesting topics here in Denver, and no one can see them all. I appreciate the effort AERA is making to create a paper repository, but it would be nice to see more blogging, webcasting and/or podcasting of sessions.

The first session I attended was tremendous - Reciprocity and Collaboration in Qualitative Research
Building a Stance of Reciprocity Into Research Designs *Audrey A. Trainor *Katherine Bouchard
Creative Nonfiction as an Experiment in Reflexivity, Vulnerability, and Meaning Making *Danielle M. Cowley
Developing Participant-Centered Research Methodologies *Heeral Mehta-Parekh
In Pursuit of Reciprocity: Researchers, Teachers, and School Reformers Engaged in Collaborative Analysis of Video Records *Marnie Curry
Reflective Processes in Qualitative Data Analysis *Luigina Mortari *Chiara Sita
Discussant: Hillevi Lenz Taguchi

Trainor and Bouchard discussed a stance of reciprocity – which means a shared design and implementation of research. Bouchard expounded on several ways of looking at providing reciprocity: as an economic negotiation, as a service/labor exchange, as a collaboration, or as giving back to the profession in general. They both challenge the idea that just disseminating results isn't a fair exchange. In addition, reciprocity should be part of the entire design, not just a part of the recruitment of participants. However, it is also a negotiation, as not all participants wish to be fully or actively involved in the project. Cowley discusses using creative non-fiction as a way to better connect or situate one's self in the research context. Although she confessed she had no idea why she was scheduled with the reciprocity group, her creative story of her as a researcher reaching back to her middle school days, did tie nicely with Mehta's idea of participant centered research. Mehta used several ways to invite active participation in generating ideas, rather than just interviews. She tried using reflexive photography and artifact centered conversations with her participants. Then, to capture the adolescents real words, she created “found poems” of their conversations. Curry provided examples of co-construction of analysis of videos of lesson studies. Not only did the participants look at the video data, but they were invited to view the researchers coding the video data, which opened the process of the research to the participants.

This session brought out a lot of interesting questions for me, when entering a research site. Should researchers strive for reciprocity? Do participants really want it? How does it change the relationship of researcher and participant? Is it really possible to have a balanced reciprocal relationship? Do and/or can both parties get what they want? What are the ethics of reciprocity?

I think this is a sign of a really great session – when one walks out with more ideas to ponder than when one walked in.