Essential questions to inspire engagement during curriculum review

I am currently planning for an upcoming session at the University of Guelph’s annual Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference (TLI). Described by Associate Vice-President Academic, Dr. Serge Desmarais, as our annual “group hug”, this conference provides the academic community with an incredible opportunity to celebrate our collective commitment to teaching and learning.   This year’s conference will focus on celebrating the University of Guelph’s progress related to implementing and assessing learning outcomes.

This year’s theme had me reflecting on the many opportunities and successes I have witnessed in supporting the dozens of curriculum review initiatives across various departments over the last few years. The educational development unit provides consultative expertise and facilitative leadership to many departments on campus as they work to continually enhance the programs that they offer. Our curriculum development practice is fundamentally guided by the following principles, which recommend that successful curriculum review processes should be:

  • Instructor-driven;
  • Evidence-based;
  • Student-centred;
  • Continuous;
  • Collaborative; and
  • Solution-focused.

Like Banta and Blaich (2011), I have come to learn that although data is important, successful curriculum initiatives are less about collecting the perfect data set, and more about the department’s ability to use the data to inform meaningful, collaborative discussion and a clear action plan for moving forward. In short, data does not directly inform decision, rather data informs discussion, which then leads to meaningful and collaborative decision-making.  After attending this year’s Educational Developer’s Caucus Conference at the University of Calgary, a statement from Joan McArthur-Blair’s Appreciative Inquiry workshop continues to resonate and ground my daily curriculum development approaches:

Don’t do anything about me, without me.

Through my curriculum development experiences, I have also come to learn that it is really easy to get wrapped up in deficit thinking when it comes to curriculum review. That is, to focus on, and to become all-consumed by what isn’t working in the program. I have come to a fundamental realization that it is much more productive to take a solution-focused view, and to place emphasis on what is working, building on and leveraging the program’s many strengths and successes.

As a curriculum developer one of the most important areas of expertise that I can bring is not only my knowledge of best practices in curriculum design, but also an ability to ask effective, forward-thinking questions that inspire meaningful dialogue, collaboration and action.   It is not surprising, that my curriculum development practice has been deeply grounded in the principles and practice of Appreciative Inquiry (Cockell & McArthur-Blair, 2012).

Through my own process of self-reflection, my upcoming conference session will focus on some of the essential questions that we have used to help guide curriculum committees through a cycle of program review. I have presented some of these questions below.

Developing a curriculum review and assessment plan

  • What questions would like to answer during this curriculum review process?
  • What data will best help you answer those questions?
  • Whom will you involve?
  • What resources will be required?
  • What are your timelines?
  • What assessment methods are most appropriate?

Developing a Program Purpose

  • Why should students choose this program?
  • How will it be of benefit to them?
  • What is the purpose of the program?
  • What unique areas of focus or strengths does the program offer?
  • What learning experiences are core to the program?
  • Imagine three years from now, that the Globe and Mail has written an article about this program being the best in North America. What does the article highlight? What are students, faculty, alumni and employers highlighting about the program?

Developing Program Learning Outcomes

  • If you were asked to provide a reference for a graduate of this program, what would you like to be able to say about that graduate?
  • What strengths should students who complete this program possess?
  • What should successful students know, value and be able to do by the end of their learning experiences in this program?

Reviewing Program Learning Outcomes

  • Do the learning outcomes align with those defined by the institution and/or other related programs?
  • Could multiple audiences (e.g. students, instructors, employers, administrators, across institutions) understand the learning outcomes? If not, how could the clarity of the learning outcome be improved?
  • Would the discipline be clear if the statement were read in isolation? If not, what additional detail could be added to provide additional disciplinary context?
  • Could you appropriately assess each outcome? If not, how should they be revised? What additional detail/context is required?

Solution-focused Questions to Guide a Student Focus Group

  • Why did you choose the program?
  • What were you expecting of the program?
  • How did you hope it would prepare you for your future?
  • What is one thing you like about the program?
  • What is a key strength of the program?
  • What current strengths should the program build upon?
  • What key improvement could be made to the program?
  • Why do you feel that this is an area that requires improvement? What two key changes would you suggest if you were to redesign the program?
  • What is the most important thing you would like to tell the curriculum committee as they work to enhance the program?

Conducting a Program SOAR Analysis (adapted from: Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley (2003); Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011)

  • Strengths: What are we doing well? What are we known for? What are our areas of expertise?
  • Opportunities: What are our best future opportunities? What are our areas of untapped potential? How can we distinguish ourselves?
  • Aspirations: What are we passionate about? What difference do we hope to make? What does our preferred future look like?
  • Results: What results do we want to see? What 3-5 goals do we want to accomplish?

Evaluating Curriculum Data

Based on the curriculum data gathered:

  • What questions do we have about our curriculum and the data presented?
  • What trends do we see?
  • What 3-5 key areas would we like to discuss further with our colleagues?
  • What data supports these areas for discussion?
  • How should we communicate these data and areas for discussion to our colleagues?

Developing an Action Plan

  • What can we do to strengthen this program? What three key improvements will we implement?
  • What are the key milestones?  When will they be accomplished?
  • Who will help support these improvements? What additional resources are required?
  • How will we know we have been successful? How will we monitor our progress?
  • How will we celebrate and disseminate our success?

Reviewing the Curriculum Review Process

  • What happened?
  • What did we learn?
  • What went well?
  • What could have been better?
  • What will we do differently next time?

Curriculum development is inherently complex.  It is a relief to most curriculum committees to realize that it is more important to ask questions to inspire further inquiry, reflection and dialogue, than it is to have all of the answers.

References:

 

Banta, Trudy W, & Blaich, Charles. (2011). Closing the assessment loop. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 43(1), 22-27.

Cockell, Jeanie, & McArthur-Blair, Joan. (2012). Appreciative Inquiry in higher education: A transformative force: John Wiley & Sons.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.

 

 

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Strategic Planning for Prioritization: Developing the Confidence and Clarity to Say “No”

One of the things I continually hear from colleagues in educational development is that we struggle to say “no” to the ever-increasing demands that we face in our roles.  In order to help us establish our key priorities and goals for 2014, our educational development unit recently embarked on a strategic planning process to help us address this very dilemma.  During a one-day retreat, we used the following 4-step process to help us define our key priorities for 2014.

Step 1: What metrics do we use to evaluate our success?

During this first step we defined and prioritized the metrics that we use to evaluate our success.  We first individually brainstormed the qualitative and quantitative methods that we use to evaluate our success as a unit.

Guiding question: What metrics (qualitative & quantitative) should we use to evaluate our success as a unit?

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After clustering and summarizing the key metrics we used a 2 x 2 matrix (Effort: easy/hard vs. Impact: high/low) to rank these metrics in terms of being able to evidence and communicate our impact.

Guiding question:  How would we prioritize these metrics in terms of being able to evidence and communicate our impact?

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Step 2: What key strategic directions should guide our practice?

Our next key step was to discuss how current strategic institutional, unit and educational development approaches align with our practice.  Here, we discussed our current mandate and practices, 2013 integrated planning goals, institutional strategic directions (e.g. as communicated in the University of Guelph’s Strategic Mandate Agreement and Integrated Plan), as well as some broader strategic approaches affecting educational development practices.

Guiding questions: Which strategic institutional, unit and educational development approaches should most inform our ED practices for 2014? Where are the gaps? Where should we focus? What are our top 3-5 strategic areas of focus?

Some example strategic directions that influence our practice are presented below:

Our Mandate:

Using evidence-based approaches, the ED unit supports educators and provides expertise to enhance pedagogical practices at the University of Guelph.

Institutional Strategic Directions:

  • The development and assessment of learning outcomes, including supporting the creation of curriculum maps for all programs
  • Promoting highly effective learning opportunities that foster deep learning and student engagement.
  • Productivity, efficiency and innovation in our academic programs through transformative program innovation (e.g. transformation of large-first year courses to ensure active learning and student engagement, supporting blended/hybrid models of delivery)
  • Embedding internationalism throughout the curricula (e.g. learning outcomes, courses, and programs).
  • Supporting Community Engaged Scholarship and Community Engaged Teaching and Learning.
  • Accessibility and Universal Design for Higher Education

Educational Development Strategic Directions:

(See for example: Dimitrov et al., 2013; Grabrove et al., 2013; Hubball et al., 2013; Felten et al., 2013; Trigwell et al., 2012; Christensen-Hughes and Mighty, 2010; Gibbs and Coffey, 2004)

  • Translating and mobilizing evidence-based, learner-centred practice
  • Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning,  scholarship of educational development, and scholarship of curriculum practice
  • Supporting Sustained and Intensive ED Practice (> 20 hours) such as: courses, certificates, communities of practice, multi-day teaching & learning institutes
  • Focus on assessment (e.g. promoting deep and authentic assessment practices; assessing & accounting for the impact of our own practice)
  • Supporting program-level curriculum improvement and assessment
  • Strengthening institutional policy (e.g. advocacy, awards, reward and recognition, integrated planning)
  • Engaging students in educational development approaches and practices (e.g. in SoTL projects, curriculum review processes and broader conversations related to teaching and learning in higher education)

Step 3: What should we start, stop (or do more efficiently), and continue doing?

Our third step in the afternoon involved evaluating and establishing our key priorities and goals for 2014.  To do this, we first reflected back on the outcomes of the previous 2 steps and engaged in a process familiar to educational developers – a start, stop, continue exercise.  Not surprisingly, the most challenging area for discussion was what we should “stop” doing.  However, we found that we could negotiate this challenge by expanding our frame of discussion to what we should stop and/or do more efficiently.  During this step it was extremely important to maintain an open frame of mind to ensure there was a free flow of creative thought amongst team members. This is a key step to the process and it is critical to ensure that all ideas generated are recorded without judgement or censorship.

Guiding Question: Based on these strategic approaches and the metrics we will use to evaluate our success, what should we start, stop (or do more efficiently) and continue doing as an ED Unit?IMG_1238

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Step 4: What are our key ED unit goals for 2014?

The final step in the process was to define our goals for 2014, while taking into consideration to outcomes of the three previous steps.  This collaborative process flowed naturally from the previous discussions that had occurred during the day.

Guiding Question: What specific and measurable goals would we like to achieve as a unit for 2014?

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During this next step our unit was able to successfully define our key goals and priorities for the 2014. One additional step that will help to provide focus is to now take these goals and further prioritize them using a 2 x 2 matrix (importance vs urgency).  This would help us to define our highest priority tasks (High Importance, High Urgency), and where we should be spending our most time (High Importance, Low Urgency).

SUBSEQUENT POST EDIT:

After a much deserved holiday break, our unit DID come together to prioritize our goals based on the above noted Importance vs Urgency Matrix.  The results helped us to clearly define our high priority goals (high importance, high urgency), as well as where we should be spending most of our time (high importance, low urgency).  We were also able to simplify our goals, removing any that fell into the quadrants of low importance.  In the end, we removed 6 of our 25 previously defined goals, leaving us with 19 annual goals upon which to focus our practices as a team.  As and added benefit, the process of coming back to these goals after 2 weeks provided us with an important opportunity to reflect upon and further clarify and refine each of our goals.

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As we work to align our individual goals with these priorities they will certainly provide a key frame of reference for focusing our time on areas that are certain to have impact on our individual and collective success for 2014 (a.k.a. on things that really matter)!

References:

Christensen Hughes, J, & Mighty, J. (2010). A call to action: Barriers to pedagogical innovation and how to overcome them. Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education, 261-277.

Dimitrov, N., Meadows, K., Kustra, E., Ackerson, T., Prada, L., Baker, N., Potter, M.K. (2013). Assessing Graduate Teaching Development Programs for Impact on Future Faculty. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Felten, P., Bagg, J., Bumbry, M., Hill, J., Hornsby, K., Pratt, M., & Weller, S. (2013). A call for expanding inclusive student engagement in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(2), 63-74.

Hubball, Harry, Pearson, Marion L, & Clarke, Anthony. (2013). SoTL Inquiry in Broader Curricular and Institutional Contexts: Theoretical Underpinnings and Emerging Trends. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 41-57.

Gibbs, G., & Coffey, M. (2004). The impact of training of university teachers on their teaching skills, their approach to teaching and the approach to learning of their students. Active learning in higher education, 5(1), 87-100.

Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.  Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Trigwell, Keith, Caballero Rodriguez, Katia, & Han, Feifei. (2012). Assessing the impact of a university teaching development programme. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(4), 499-511.

Learner-Centred Principles for Teaching in Higher Education

In preparing for an upcoming faculty workshop, I was inspired to think about foundational principles for promoting a learner-centred approach to teaching in higher education.  I had an opportunity to reflect back on Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education,  Ramsden’s (2003) 13 principles for effective university teaching; Maryellen Weimer’s 5 key changes to practice for learner-centred teaching, as well as Lizzio et al.’s (2002) conceptual model for an effective academic environment.  Recognizing the limitations in attempting to represent the inherent complexities and nuances of teaching and learning,  I have presented the outcome of this process in the following set of learner-centred principles for teaching in higher education:

  1. Actively Engage Learners: ensure learning material is stimulating, relevant and interesting; explain material clearly; use a variety of methods that encourage active and deep approaches to learning, as well as adapt to evolving classroom contexts.
  2. Demonstrate Empathy and Respect: show interest in students’ opinions and concerns; seek to understand their diverse talents, needs, prior knowledge, and approaches to learning; encourage interaction between instructor and students; share your love of the discipline.
  3. Communicate Clear Expectations: make clear the intended learning outcomes and standards for performance; provide organization, structure and direction for where the course is going.
  4. Encourage Independence: provide opportunities for students to develop and draw upon personal interests; offer choice in learning processes and modes of assessment; provide timely and developmental feedback on learning; encourage metacognition to promote self-assessment of learning.
  5. Create a Community for Learning: use teaching methods and learning strategies that encourage mutual learning, as well as thoughtful, respectful and collaborative engagement and dialogue.
  6. Use Appropriate Assessment Methods: clearly align assessment methods with intended course outcomes; provide clear criteria for evaluation; emphasize deep learning; scaffold assessments to ensure progressive learning.
  7. Commit to Continuous Improvement: gather formative and summative feedback on your teaching; practice critical self-reflection; consult scholarly literature on teaching & learning; identify clear goals for strengthening your teaching practice.

What would you change, add or remove from these principles?  What would your list of learner-centred principles for teaching in higher education look like?

References:

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3–7.

Lizzio, A., Wilson, K., & Simons, R. (2002). University Students’ Perceptions of the Learning Environment and Academic Outcomes: Implications for theory and practice. Studies in Higher Education, 27(1), 27-52.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. New York: Routledge.

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice: John Wiley & Sons.

Strategic Directions for Educational Development

As I prepare for the upcoming Faculty Engagement in Educational Development (FEED) Summit to be hosted by the the Council of Ontario Universities, the Council of Ontario Educational Developers and McMaster University, as well as on some recent publications such as Christensen Hughes and Mighty (2010) and Grabrove et al. (2012),  it is incredible to reflect upon the continued evolution of educational development programs across Canada.  I can’t help but reflect on the following “strategic” directions related to our continued evolution:

  1. a shift from just-in-time pedagogical support to evidenced-based classroom practice;
  2. the strengthening of institutional strategy and policy related to teaching/learning;
  3. growing engagement and emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). And, I will add the scholarship of educational development (SoED); and scholarship of curriculum practice (SoCP);
  4. a clear focus on intensive and sustained pedagogical development programming that builds capacity throughout the institution;
  5. a growing emphasis on program-level curriculum assessment and development.

I am curious what others think about the continued evolution of educational development.  What other shifts do you see? Where do you think ED will be in 2025?

References:

Christensen Hughes, Julia, & Mighty, Joy. (2010). Taking Stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education. McGill-Queen University Press, Kingston, ON.

Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.  Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Hubball, Harry, Pearson, Marion L, & Clarke, Anthony. (2013). SoTL Inquiry in Broader Curricular and Institutional Contexts: Theoretical Underpinnings and Emerging Trends. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 41-57.

SOARing High: Supporting the Development of an Educational Development (ED) Philosophy Statement

As the profession and practice of Educational Development (ED) continues to evolve and expand, the importance of evidencing the impact of our practices has never been clearer.  Educational Development portfolios provide a powerful means by which to communicate the diversity and richness of our ED practices, as well as to provide evidence of our increasing impact within post-secondary education (Wright & Miller, 2000).

At the basis of any great portfolio is a philosophy of practice, which clearly communicates:

  1. what your fundamental value, beliefs are about educational development;
  2. why you hold these believes and values (grounded in both experience and scholarship); and,
  3. how you translated these values and beliefs into your everyday educational development practices and experiences.

Although highly enlightening and rewarding, it should be clearly stated that developing a concise, articulate and meaningful philosophy statement can be a daunting, challenging, and time-consuming experience.

As we begin to embark upon the process of creating Educational Development portfolios within our ED Unit at the University of Guelph, we recently engaged in a reflective process to support the development of our ED Philosophy Statements.   The process was based on the increasing popular SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) framework (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011) – an Appreciative Inquiry anecdote to the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis (Mills, Fleck, & Kozikowski, 2013).   After reflecting upon the following questions, we found that SOAR provided a great framework upon which to brainstorm, and summarize our key claims to our Educational Development practice.  It also resulted in an illuminating, engaging and collaborative discussion related to the beliefs, assumptions and approaches that each of us take to our practice! It became quickly apparent that these questions could also provide an important basis for discussion as part of a well-designed performance management review process (Aguinis, Joo, & Gottfredson, 2011).

The SOAR framework (Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011) adapted within the context of an ED Philosophy of Practice:

Strengths: What are your greatest skills, capabilities, and strengths as an Educational Developer? What do you provide and do in your role as an ED that is of benefit to others? What have been some of your greatest accomplishments over the last year or two as an ED? What are you most proud of in your role as, and approaches to ED?  When have you felt most engaged/affirmed in your ED practices and approaches?

Opportunities: What opportunities do you see for yourself as an ED? What are some of your greatest areas of interest in ED? Within the context of higher education, what opportunities currently exist that you can respond to in your role as an ED?  What do you see as your greatest opportunities for growth in your ED practice?  What new skills and abilities will help you move forward in your ED practice?

Aspirations: What do you care most deeply about in your role as an Educational Developer? What are you deeply passionate about as an ED? What difference do you hope to make as an ED? What does your preferred future ‘look like ‘ in your role as an ED? Where do you hope to go in the future?  What projects and initiatives do you hope to engage in as an ED?

Results: How do/will you know you are succeeding in your practice as an Educational Developer?  What  ‘tangible results’ do you hope to be known for in your role as an ED?

References:

Aguinis, Herman, Joo, Harry, & Gottfredson, Ryan K. (2011). Why we hate performance management—and why we should love it. Business Horizons, 54(6), 503-507.

Mills, M.J., Fleck, C.R., & Kozikowski, A. (2013). Positive Pscyhology at work: a conceptual review, state-of-practice assessment, and a look ahead. The Journal of Postiive Psychology, 8(2), 153-164.

Stavros, Jacqueline, Cooperrider, DL, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy: Thin Book Publishing.

Wright, W Alan, & E Miller, Judith. (2000). The educational developer’s portfolio. International Journal for Academic Development, 5(1), 20-29.

A shift from Active Learning to Active Assessment

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Sourced from the ever brilliant: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8204963410/sizes/z/in/set-72157626965187420/

I think there is an important shift happening in higher education today.  Just as there was a shift from passive learning to actively learning, much inspired by Barr & Tagg’s (1995) seminal article From Teaching to Learning A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education, I believe there is a current shift happening from Active Learning to Active Assessment.

We have long known that assessment has an enormous impact on what, when and how students learn (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004), and that when assessment is explicitly aligned with the course learning objectives (also sometimes referred to as intended learning outcomes) that student learning experience AND the outcomes of those experiences are greatly improved (Lizzio, Wilson, & Simons, 2002).

Even the most thoughtful, dedicated teachers spend enormously more time worrying about their lectures than they do about their … assignments, which I think is a mistake.

(Wieman, 2007, p. 13)

Boud & Associates’ (2010) Seven Propositions for Assessment Reform in Higher Education provide an effective foundation for ensuring that assessment is implemented to enhance student learning throughout our course and program curricula.   I have presented a somewhat paraphrased summary of the principles below.

  1. Use assessment to engage students in productive learning:  align assessment tasks explicitly to what needs to be learned and to the activities that will lead to this learning; assessment tasks should be appropriately scaffolded to encourage progressive learning.
  2. Use feedback to actively improve student learning: provide clear, helpful feedback; provide specific and timely feedback such that students can continue to grow and improve. Nicol & Macfarlane‐Dick (2006) also provide an enlightening summary of the critical role that feedback plays in the assessment process.
  3. Students and teachers become partners in learning and assessment: students progressively take responsibility for their learning and develop their meta-cognitive abilities to enhance performance over time; students develop confidence in their ability to judge their work and that of others against criteria and standards; students and instructors actively dialogue and interact about assessment, and associated criteria and standards.
  4. Students are “inducted” into assessment practices and cultures in higher education: assessment practices are structured progressively to support student success and progressive learning throughout their curriculum; assessment practices are universally designed to respond to student diversity.
  5. Assessment is placed at the centre of program design: assessment is recognized clearly, as an integral part of curriculum design.  Assessment is integrated and embedded strategically, consistently, progressively and complementarity throughout the curriculum.  Assessment and feedback methods are directly aligned with program learning outcomes and teaching/learning activities that support the development of these learning outcomes.
  6. Assessment practices are a focus for instructional and institutional development: academic development activities are provided (and appropriately recognized and rewarded) to ensure that faculty, administrators and instructors develop the skills necessary to implement effective assessment practices in their courses and curricula.
  7. Assessment provides inclusive and clear evidence of student achievement: Opportunities are provided that allow students to demonstrate their coherent, enduring and integrated learning.  Documents that provide evidence of student learning provide a “richness” that is conducive to the integrated and complex nature of learning.

If there is one focus for improving our teaching and learning environments in higher education today, it should be on improving our collective ability to provide assessment practices that truly result in deep and sustained learning throughout our curricula.   The resulting impact on student learning experiences and the outcomes thereof would be simply extraordinary!  It will take a shift in our thinking of the critical role and impact that assessment has within our curriculum – but I truly believe that the time has come!

References:

Barr, Robert B, & Tagg, John. (1995). From teaching to learning—A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6), 12-26.

Boud, D. , & Associates. (2010). Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Retrieved from http://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/teaching-and-learning/assessment/assessment-futures website:

Gibbs, Graham, & Simpson, Claire. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1(1), 3-31.

Lizzio, Alf, Wilson, Keithia, & Simons, Roland. (2002). University Students’ Perceptions of the Learning Environment and Academic Outcomes: Implications for theory and practice. Studies in Higher Education, 27(1), 27-52.

Nicol, David J, & Macfarlane‐Dick, Debra. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

Wieman, C. . (2007). Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 39(5), 9-15.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

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Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/5617505546/in/set-72157626965187420

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in the three-hour graduate student Winter Teaching Workshop, offered here at the University of Guelph.  This year’s focus was on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).  SoTL has certainly received increased attention in higher education, and is said to combine the experience of teaching, the scholarship of research, and the dissemination of this knowledge to the broader benefit of the academic community.  In preparing for the workshop, I had the pleasure of revisiting The Scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments (Hutchings and Shulman, 1999).  Although now considered somewhat dated, Hutchings’ and Shulman’s elaborations about SoTL still clearly resonate with me – with a somewhat elegant simplicity.  They describe SoTL scholars as those,

who are eager to engage in sustained inquiry into their teaching practice and their students’ learning and who are well positioned to do so in ways that contribute to practice beyond their own classrooms. (p. 12)

They further state that although SoTL is a mechanism to advance the profession of teaching, it is clearly not synonymous with excellent teaching. The process of SoTL requires,

a kind of “going meta,” in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning – the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth – and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advance practice beyond it. (p. 13)

They further ask us to imagine institutional research that asks complex and difficult questions such as:

What are our students really learning?

What do they understand deeply?

What kinds of human beings are they becoming – intellectually, morally, in terms of civic responsibility?

How does our teaching affect that learning, and how might it do so more effectively? (p.15)

They conclude by stating that,

[SoTL] creates new meanings through integrating across other inquiries, negotiating understanding between theory and practice. (p.15)

Indeed, Hutchings and Shulman provide a strong foundation for helping to define what has become an evolving and essential practice for exploring the intricacies of teaching and learning in higher education – as well as for furthering our collective commitment to sharing that knowledge for the broader benefit of academe.

Reference:

Hutchings, P. and Shulman, L.S. 1999.  The scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 31:5, 10-15.

What is Learner-Centredness?

OK, I have to admit that I am guilty.  I work for an institution that describes itself as learner-centred, and I teach a course on University Teaching in which I aspire to create a learner-centred environment.  Until this point, I don’t think I have taken the time to ACTUALLY articulated (yes, I would say that I have reflected upon it!) what I truly mean by this term that seems to be used so elusively in higher education today.  So, here goes…and as a disclaimer, I truly hope that this personal exploration continues to evolve!!

A learner-centreded approach clearly places the learner at the centre of their education, by supporting student development & autonomy, and creating a shared-climate for learning (Newmaster et al., 2006; Weimer, 2002).  Learner-centredness puts a clear focus on the outcomes of learning, and recognizes that, “students must be active discoverers and constructors of their own knowledge” (Barr and Tagg, 1995, p.21).  Learners are guided by a philosophy of self-efficacy and autonomy, where they develop the knowledge and abilities necessary to embrace learning challenges, to succeed, and to continuously improve.  Learner-centred environments facilitate active, enduring, integrated and authentic experiences that, “…enabl[e] the learner to remodel and revise ongoing theories in a manner that makes sense to them” (Newmaster et al., 2006, p. 108).  Simply stated, learner-centred environments provide students with an opportunity to actively engage with and to take ownership of their own learning.


Weimer’s (2002) 5 Key Changes to Promote Learner-Centredness (LC) provide an effective framework upon which to articulate a LC approach to higher education:

  1. The Balance of Power: Key decisions about learning are shared between the instructor and student (e.g. course activities, assignments, setting a climate for learning)
  2. The Function of Content:— Content is used to develop learning skills, to promote self-awareness, and to develop a sense of self-efficacy in their ability to solve learning task
  3. The Role of the Teacher:—  To guide and facilitate the process of learning; and to create and maintain conditions that promote student development, autonomy, and a shared-climate for learning
  4. The Responsibility for Learning: Students take responsibility for their own learning and are motivated to succeed; students do the discovering. Activities and assignments become the vehicles for learning.
  5. Evaluation Purpose and Process:—  Generate grades AND promote learning (what I like to refer to as “active assessment”). Aside comment: As there has been a fundamental shift in higher education from passive to active learning, I think there is an evolving shift from active learning to active assessment currently occurring in higher education.  As we all know, assessment has an incredible impact on What, When and How students learn!!

Perhaps even more concisely stated, Paris and Combs (2006, p. 576) simple meanings of learner-centredness resonate clearly with me:

  1. The student is the starting point for curriculum making
  2. The instructor and students are co-participants in the learning process
  3. The instructor strives toward intense student engagement with the curriculum

Like I said at the beginning,  I am quite certain that my personal reflections regarding learner-centredness will continue to evolve!

References:

Barr, R.B. and Tagg, J. 1995.  From Teaching to Learning – A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education.  Change.  Nov/Dec: 13-25.

Newmaster, S., Lacroix, C.A., and Roosenboom, C. 2006.  Authentic learning as a mechanism for learner centredness.  International Journal of Learning 13(6): 103-112.

Paris, C. and Combs, B. 2006.  Lived meanings: what teachers mean when they say they are learner-centered.  Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 12:571-592.

Weimer, M. 2002. Learner-Centered Teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

On Critical Reflection

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Source: @giuliaforsythe http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/7132198243/sizes/z/in/photostream/

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Stephen Brookfield present at the University of Guelph’s Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference. Dr. Brookfield’s presentation modeled the way.  He reminded us of the importance of silence in the classroom:

 silence is an endemic, essential part of the rhythm of the learning process.

 

We were also reminded of how important it was to reflect critically on our own experiences as learners, as we, ourselves grow as teachers.

How we study our own autobiographies as learners is essential to our development as teachers.

I was left most inspired by Brookfield’s humble and real reflections on the feelings we all face in our teaching practice, and how difficult it is to look beyond our assumed ‘faults’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ as we teach – no matter how experienced we are in the classroom.

So what is critical reflection anyways?

Critical reflection occurs when we analyze and challenge the validity of our presuppositions and assess the appropriateness of our knowledge, understanding and beliefs given our present contexts (Mezirow, 1990).  Brookfield (1990) explains that critical reflection involves three phases:

  1. Identifying the assumptions (“those taken-for-granted ideas, commonsense beliefs, and self-evident rules of thumb” (pg. 177)) that underlie our thoughts and actions;
  2. Assessing and scrutinizing the validity of these assumptions in terms of how they relate to our ‘real-life’ experiences and our present context(s);
  3. Transforming these assumptions to become more inclusive and integrative, and using this newly-formed knowledge to more appropriately inform our future actions and practices.

Becoming a critically reflective thinker and practitioner can be challenging. The process of critical reflection may be conceptualized through the descriptions and questions contained in the following two figures (adapted from Brookfield 1990, 1995; Mezirow, 1990).

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References:

Brookfield, S.D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.  Jossey-Bass, CA.

Brookfield, S.D. 1990. Using critical incidents to explore learners’ assumptions. In pages 177-193 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.

Mezirow, J. 1990.  How critical reflection triggers transformative learning.  In pages 1-20 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.

Let’s not take the constructive out of constructive alignment

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Graphic courtesy of Doug Schaefer

Constructive Alignment is an approach to course design which begins with the end in mind (i.e. what should students know and be able to demonstrate at the end of the course).  It assumes that when learning objectives, assessment methods, and teaching and learning activities are intentionally aligned, that the outcomes of learning are improved substantially (Blumberg, 2009). The process of constructive alignment emphasizes that students are central to the creation of meaning, and must be provided with opportunities to actively select, and cumulatively construct their own knowledge (Biggs, 1996).  Meyers and Nulty (2009, p.567) provide 5 curriculum design recommendations to designing a course based upon Biggs’ approach to constructive alignment.

To maximise the quality of learning outcomes, we, as academics, need to develop courses in ways that provide students with teaching and learning materials, tasks and experiences which:

(1)    are authentic, real-world and relevant;

(2)    are constructive, sequential and interlinked;

(3)    require students to use and engage with progressively higher order cognitive processes;

(4)    are aligned with each other and the desired learning outcomes; and

(5)    provide challenge, interest and motivation to learn.

The effect of applying these principles is to [create a] learning system in ways that require students to adopt a deep learning approach in order to meet the course’s assessment requirements – which, in turn, meets the desired learning outcomes.

They further emphasize that teaching is inherently complex, and that these principles must be adapted to each instructor’s individual teaching approaches, strengths and to the realities that we face in the many varying contexts in higher education.   Fink’s (2003) 5 principles of course design also provide some practical insight, which can be adapted to the many varying context that we may face:

(1)    Challenge higher level of learning, by defining learning objectives at a high cognitive level

(2)    Use active forms of learning

(3)    Give frequent and immediate feedback

(4)    Use structured sequence of teaching and learning activities to scaffold learning

(5)    Use objective and fair system of grading and assessment

Backwards Course Design

There is little doubt that individual instructor’s can have an enormous impact on the quality of students’ learning experience and on the outcomes they achieve, “…high level engagement ought not be left to serendipity, or to individual student brilliance, but should be actively encouraged by the teacher” (Biggs, 1996, p. 353).   The process of constructive alignment begins by defining clearly the course learning objectives, such that both the students and instructor are aware of the essential knowledge and abilities that they should be able to demonstrate at the end of the course.  Once the learning objectives are clearly defined, the feedback and assessment methods which provide an opportunity for the students and instructor to formatively and summatively assess their achievement of these objectives, should be articulated and developed.  Meyers and Nulty (2009) emphasize that assessments tasks should hold together and sequence all other course components. Once the alignment between the learning objectives and assessment strategies has been established, the teaching and learning activities that best support an active and deep approach to learning should be planned.  Knight (2001) describes this stage as drawing together the processes, encounters and engagements that best make for effective learning, given both the context and the subject-matter content.

We have heard much in academe about the importance of an outcomes-based approach to education.  We must continue to add voice by discussing the importance of quality learning environments that emphasize an active, deep and student-centred approach to learning.  Although they provide an effective and efficient means upon which to organize, structure and account for learning, quality higher education goes much beyond outcomes and objectives.  We must consistently strive to communicate the inherent complexities embedded in the many disciplines and contexts within teaching and learning in higher education.  By not taking the ‘constructive’ out of constructive alignment, I think that each of us has the capacity to inspire excellence in student learning.

References

Biggs, J. 1996.  Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment.  Higher Education 32:347-364.

Blumberg, P. 2009.  Maximizing learning through course alignment and experience with different types of knowledge.  Innovative Higher Education 34:93-103.

Fink, L.D. 2003. Integrated Course Design.  The Idea Centre. Accessed at: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_42.pdf

Knight, P.T. 2001.  Complexity and curriculum: a process approach to curriculum making.  Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 6: 369-381.

Meyers, N.M. and Nulty, D.D. 2009.  How to use (five) curriculum design principles to align authentic learning environments, assessment, students’ approach to thinking and learning outcomes.  Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34: 565-577.