Monday, 30 January 2012

Is global warming over-rated?

An interesting op-ed from the Wall Street Journal from eminent scientists and engineers on whether global warming is real and human activity related.  Perhaps "Green entrepreneurship" isn't needed?

No Need to Panic About Global Warming

Friday, 27 January 2012

A busy teaching week

On the whole, I'm generally comfortable with the progress of my courses this week. I would have liked my Entrep Mgr students to be better prepared for the case that Dr. Gregson presented, but I appreciate that the structure of the term at Edinburgh limits student investment in courses in the first 2 weeks. On the other hand, my Informatics course, aside from being nearly twice as large as planned, has a number of groups that have set up Google Sites and appear to be actively investigating the feasibility of their opportunities. I'm very excited to see how they progress over the next few weeks.

I think I have ironed out most of the major challenges of Google Sites, and my guess is that most of the students in the course have realized that the system is relatively easy to use. Traffic on all the sites is solid, if not extraordinary, and I think the links between pages and sites are holding up well. I'm fascinated to know that nearly 30% of the hits on the Informatics Entrepreneurship site utilize Chinese. I've received invitations to Google sites that have Chinese navigation bars. I'm very lucky that the students speak and write English better than I speak/write Chinese :)

The feedback is generally positive, and students seem receptive to the key concepts and the teaching style. That's all that I can ask for.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Google Privacy Policy

Wouldn't you know that just 2 weeks after I start term requiring students to use Google, as the "lesser" of evils in dealing with access to course content and online-facilitated learning, they change their usage/privacy policy. I tend to think this is a bit less of an issue than companies like facebook and Microsoft would like to think it is, and that Google's policies are, on the whole, better, rather than worse than the rest of the industry. At the same time, it does show the potential problems with 3rd party systems, especially free ones.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Effective Lectures

Effective Lectures

From Tomorrow's Professor

"The posting below, a bit longer than most, gives twelve excellent tips on how to improve your lectures. It is by Jason N. Adsit at the State University of New York, Buffalo and is #57 in a series of selected excerpts from The National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Vol. 20, Number 5, September 2011.© Copyright 1996-2011. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission."

Designing and Delivering Effective Lectures
“College is a place where the professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either.”– Mark Twain
“Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while other people sleep.” – Albert Camus
Lectures are often derided as ineffective, outmoded, and anathema to what we know about cognition, engagement, and student learning. As Woodring and Woodring (2001) note, “it has become trendy to ‘lecture bash,’ to describe colleagues who openly espouse the use of lecture techniques as old fashioned and out of step with educational trends” (109). In educational theory, the research literature is bursting with suggestions on how to “move beyond the lecture” by employing methods that are more active, cooperative, and learner-centered (Bonwell and Eison 1991; Brockbank and McGill 2007; Felder and Brent 2009; Lambert and McCombs 1998).
In spite of all the criticism, the lecture method remains the most common instructional model in higher education (Bligh 2000; Charlton 2006; Exley and Dennick 2004). Moreover, the lecture method has been shown to be particularly effective for:
• Setting the context of a topic or field for novice learners. • Disseminating a common set of material to a broad audience. • Providing a synthesis of information from various sources. • Clarifying complex information. • Transmitting conceptual and systematic knowledge. • Offering students a model of professional practice, i.e., the lecturer and his/her approach to the subject.
The key—or better yet, the key challenge—is to design lectures that are informative, engaging, and participatory. In what follows, we will offer some tips and suggestions for achieving this goal.
Tip #1: Plan Your Lectures
Knowing something and knowing how to explain something are different things. A good lecture is the result of planning, preparation, and hard work, and it is essential that you invest the necessary time and energy into identifying resources, organizing the material, developing examples, and preparing supporting documents for your students. When planning for a lecture, it is important to consider not only the selection and arrangement of content, but also the strategies that can be used to communicate, connect, and reach out to your audience.
Tip #2: Avoid the Tyranny of Content
While it is essential that you take the necessary time and energy to prepare a lecture, it is equally important not to over-prepare. In the case of new faculty, or faculty who are teaching a subject for the first time, there is a tendency to cover too much material, and account for every possible facet of a topic.
The quest for completeness, however, can have the following effect: the classroom session becomes a competition or race, that is, a race to see how much content you can cover in the allotted time. It is, in short, a race between you, the clock, and the content you intend to cover, which can result in the following bad habits:
• Talking faster, making it harder for your audience to keep up. • Covering material in less detail, focusing only on the surface-level information. • Limiting opportunities for questions or discussion, because questions and discussions are seen as a distraction or hindrance to your goal.
Regardless of the topic, you should restrict yourself to a few key points, ideally, three to four main ideas. By presenting a manageable amount of information, you provide your students with more—and better—opportunities for processing and assimilating the material, connecting it to what they already know, and situating it within the larger framework of the discipline (Lowman 1998).
Tip #3: Know Your Audience
In the vast majority of our courses, the material we cover is already so familiar to us that it seems “straightforward” or “common sense” or “elementary,” but for our audience, it can seem daunting, opaque, and horrifically complex. When designing a lecture, always try to think through the material from the standpoint of the audience, and remember what it was like to learn this information for the first time.
In addition, it might be helpful to gather some information from your audience about their backgrounds, e.g., their major areas of study, degree/program level, previous coursework, etc., to help you find an appropriate starting point for discussion. For longer term courses, you may even want to conduct a learning styles inventory to find out more about your students’ study habits and preferences, which can help you better “map” or “align” the course content. (See the “References” section for more information on how to access Web-based tools for assessing your students’ learning styles.)
Tip #4: Create a Complete Lecture
A good lecture, like a good research paper, has three key components: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. While this sounds simple, it is often stunning to see how many lectures are missing one or more of these elements, and how often “lack of organization” is cited by students as the key feature of an unsuccessful lecture or course.
It is critical that you make the structure and organization of your lecture explicit to the audience. In other words, you should strive to abide by the simple—yet often overlooked—adage: Tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you said.
The introduction should include:
• An attention-grabber—a statement of the problem, topic, or subject that draws people in. Stories, analogies, issues drawn from current events, provocative quotes, videos, pictures, and graphics can all serve as attention-grabbers. When selecting an attention-grabber, always strive to create relevance, and answer the question, “Why are we talking about this topic?” • A statement of the context that connects this lecture to material covered in earlier sessions. • An overview of the lecture itself, with an outline of what you are going to discuss. As Davis (1993) notes, “Outlines help students focus on the progression of the material and also help them take better notes.” • A statement of the intended goals or outcomes of the lecture—a definition of what you want the audience to know or be able to do as a result.
Some lecturers also like to provide the audience with a list of key terms, topics, or acronyms that will be included in the presentation. The key terms can be posted on the board, included in a handout, or provided in advance via email or an online course-management system.
The body should include:
• The core content of your discussion, including key concepts, principles, techniques, approaches, issues, etc. • The key instructional activities—small-group discussion, review of datasets or problem sets. • Opportunities for the audience to engage, review, and apply the material (See Tip #6 below for more information.) • Formative assessments, that is, tools or techniques that let you know that the audience understands the material. These can range from highly informal and indirect approaches (e.g., looking at the faces of your students to see if they are following along), to more direct approaches such as question and answer sessions, having students solve problems in small groups or individually for the class, quizzes, or short-answer activities (where questions are posted electronically or on the board).
The conclusion should include:
• A summary of the material you covered in the lecture. • A statement that sets the foundation for future class sessions by connecting the material you covered in the lecture to the larger aims of the course. • Suggestions on how best to follow-up on the lecture, including additional readings, assignments, problem-sets, etc. • Opportunities for the students to summarize material from the lecture and pose questions about topics that are still not fully under- stood. (One effective practice is to have the students write down one or two key points from the lecture and one or two questions that they still have about the material, and hand these into the professor before they leave class. This provides the professor with a “snapshot” of what the students learned—or didn’t learn—that can be used to set the foundation for future lectures and course material.)
Tip #5: Develop Lecture Notes
While the most effective lectures are conversational in tone, you still need to stay “on point” and not stray from the lecture’s core topics. Developing lecture notes can help you organize your thoughts in advance of a presentation and provide you with a script or roadmap to follow during the lecture. Lecture notes can also help you manage your time, and manage transitions from one topic to the next.
Developing lecture notes also provides you with a practical advantage. More likely than not, you will be teaching the course (or topic) again in the future, and a strong set of lecture notes can set a solid foundation for future lectures and make the preparation for future talks more efficient.
Tip #6: Audience Engagement and Interactivity
The audience’s attention span tends to wane as a lecture moves on; for most people, attention tends to decrease considerably after 15-20 minutes (Bligh 2000). Therefore, when you design a lecture it is important to create formal breaks to help people stay better engaged with the material. “Activity breaks,” as they are often called, do not simply break up the monotony of a lecture; when done effectively, they provide participants with formal opportunities to process, review, and apply the material.
Some common practices include:
• Asking a question or posing a problem to be discussed individually or in small groups. • Having students tackle a topic or issue in pairs or small groups, and then having them “report back” to the whole class (often referred to as the think-pair-share model). • Reviewing a film clip or multimedia clip that pertains to the material. • Working through a case study that is drawn from professional practice.
Tip #7: Create Visual Backups and Supports
Audiovisual aids augment your presentation—and can help facilitate learning by providing the audience with additional supports, cues, and examples of what is being discussed. The key with any audiovisual aid—drawings, graphics, videos, PowerPoint slides, clips, or even writing on the chalkboard—is to keep it simple, clear, relevant, and uncluttered.
Some suggestions:
• Less is best. Use audiovisual aids to support, summarize, and highlight what you are saying, and resist the temptation to make the aids a verbatim transcript of the discussion. • Don’t distract the audience. Avoid using too many “bells and whistles,” including unnecessarily dramatic transitions, moving graphics or text, or sounds. • Focus on the key facts and only include two to three main points in any slide.
Tip #8: Quality Control
Take a few minutes before each lecture to conduct a “quality control check.”
• Check the technology in the classroom, including the computer, overhead projector or visual display, and Internet connection. • Review the order of your presentation materials and visual displays. • Check your spelling on handouts, overheads, and PowerPoint slides. • If you are using a series of hyperlinks or Websites, check to see if the links are correct and up to date. • Always have a backup plan, and be prepared to deliver your lecture using alternative tools, techniques, and supports.
Tip #9: Enthusiasm
Many faculty members like to describe their teaching style in the following way: “I teach content.” That is, they characterize their role in the classroom almost exclusively in terms of information dissemination, where it is their job to present the material, and the students’ job is to learn it. While this is certainly one of the key features of our work in the classroom, how the material is presented plays an important role in how it is received and understood.
Expressing enthusiasm for a topic, and for one’s field in general, can have a positive impact on student engagement with the material. Alternatively, if you appear bored with a topic or with the questions that arise concerning the topic your audience will quickly lose interest. As Bligh (2000) notes, the best way to generate interest in a subject “is to display interest oneself,” and the only thing more contagious than enthusiasm “is the lack of it.”
Suggesting that you should show enthusiasm for a topic or field should not be misconstrued as a call for diminishing the topic’s seriousness or importance. In other words, enthusiasm should not be understood as “wackiness” or “silliness” or unnecessary “frivolity.” Rather, it should be understood as a call for demonstrating the relevance and significance of the material and for answering the question, “Why are we talking about this?”
The following phrase occurs again and again in the literature on presentations: Don’t be boring. While it must be admitted that “boring” is largely in the eye of the beholder, there are some practical strategies that can be used to increase audience interest:
• Establish eye contact with your audience, and don’t spend all your time reading directly from your notes. • Get out from behind the lectern and move around the room. • Use movement and gestures to emphasize points. • Project your voice, and make sure the audience can hear you. • Vary the pace and tone of your speech to add interest and “dramatic effect.” • Use colorful anecdotes, examples, and analogies.
Tip #10: Ask Questions
Asking provocative or open-ended questions is a helpful way to engage the audience and gather feedback on student learning. But it is important to ask questions that are conversation starters and not conversation stoppers.
Some typical conversation stoppers:
• “Are there any questions?” is probably the least provocative question you can ask your audience. Students have been conditioned through years of schooling to recognize this question as a specific type of marker or signal, i.e., as a signal that you are finished, or ready to move on to another topic. In some cases, the students will not answer this question because they, too, would like to move on, while in other cases, students will be reluctant to pose a question because they do not want to “bother” you (since you have indicated that you are ready to move on) or “bother” their classmates (by “interrupting” their instructional time). • Questions that are too vague or general and lack (or are perceived to lack) a direct connection to what is being discussed. • Questions that are too detailed or complex and require the students to piece together the notes they have just taken.
Some techniques for developing conversation starters:
• Asking the audience to answer a multiple choice question or to select the best response from a range of possible options. • Asking the audience to complete a sentence or “fill in the blank”.. • Asking the audience to apply the new concepts to a case, problem, or example. • Asking the audience to rephrase a concept or idea in different terms. • Making the question “Are there any questions?” into something more specific and meaningful, such as, “Are there any questions about how X (theory, concept, idea, argument) relates to Y?” or “Are there any questions about how this approach might differ from other approaches of tech- niques discussed in class?” or “Are there any aspects of this theory (or approach, or concept) that remain unclear?”
Tip #11: Answer Questions
Questions are a vital part of any lecture or presentation and provide opportunities for the whole audience to clarify, consolidate, and enhance their understanding of the material. It is important to treat the question and answer session as a formal part of the presentation that requires as much careful planning and control as the delivery of the core material.
Here are some suggestions that will help you be more effective at answering questions:
• Be patient and mindful of the fact that people in the audience are encountering the material for the first time. They are, in essence, still “processing” the material and their questions will often reflect this fact. • Listen to the entire question and make sure you are clear what the question is about before you offer a response. • Clarify, and ask for additional information or background if you are unclear about the question. • Repeat the question for the whole audience. • Answer the question you were asked, not the question you wish you were asked. • Answer the question you were asked, and then stop. Adding too much supplementary information, or worse yet, rambling, can confuse the audience. • Strive to involve the rest of the audience, in the framing of the question itself (e.g., “How many other people here were wondering the same thing?”) or in the response (e.g., “Does anyone else have a suggestion or insight that might help us clarify this problem?”). • Learn to admit that you don’t know the answer to every question. Not knowing the answer to every question isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign of being human, and actually has a lot of instructional value. For example, it can be used to help further discussion and engage your audience (e.g., “I’m not really sure, but that is certainly an interesting question. Would anyone else in the audience happen to have any thoughts on this?”) or to create a mini-research project for your students (e.g., “I’m not really sure, but that is certainly an interesting question. Perhaps you and your neighbors would like to look into this topic and report back to the rest of the class next week”). • When you are confronted with a question that is considerably off-topic, or one that will take the discussion too far afield, simply inform the student that an appropriate answer to the question might be better handled outside of class (after the class session is concluded, during office hours, via email, etc.).
One final item: Many instructional manuals recommend that you avoid answering a question with a question. While this can be troublesome if used too often, my experience has shown that answering a question with a question, particularly one that is posed to the entire audience for consideration, is an excellent way to help generate discussion.
Tip #12: Reflection
There is always room for improvement, and it is important to make reflection a formal part of your instructional routine. It is often helpful to jot down a few ideas while the lecture is still fresh in your memory and ask yourself: What could I have done to make this discussion more engaging, or meaningful, or clear? Student feedback (based on formative assessments, questions asked in class, or student evaluations) and feedback from your colleagues can also serve as a key source for ideas on improving your lectures, and can help you identify any areas in the lecture where there might still be gaps or shortcomings. Finally, you may want to videotape or audiotape your lecture review and evaluate your performance.
• Bligh, D. A. 2000. What’s the Use of Lectures? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. • Bonwell, C. and Eison, J. 1991. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. AEHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 1. Washington, D.C.: Jossey-Bass. • Brockbank, A. and McGill, I. 2007. Facilitating Reflective Learning in Higher Education. 2nd ed. Buckingham: SRHE/ Open University Press. • Charlton, B. 2006. “Lectures Are an Effective Teaching Method Because They Exploit Human Evolved ‘Human Nature’ to Improve Learning - Editorial.” Medical Hypotheses 67: 1261-5. • Davis, B.G. 1993. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. • Exley, K. and Dennick, R. 2004. Giving a Lecture—From Presenting to Teaching. London: RoutledgeFalmer. • Felder, R. and Brent, R. 2009. “Active Learning: An Introduction.” ASQ Higher Education Brief 2(4), August. • Lambert, N. and McCombs, B. L., eds. 1998. How Students Learn: Reforming Schools through Learner-centered Education. Washington, D.C.: APA Books. • Lowman, J. 1998. “What Constitutes Masterful Teaching?” In K. A. Feldman and M. B. Paulsen, eds., Teaching and Learning in the College Classroom, 503-14. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing. • Woodring, B. and Woodring, R. 2007. “Lecture Is Not a Four-letter Word.” In M. Bradshaw and A. Lowenstein, eds., Innovative Teaching Strategies in Nursing and Health Related Professions. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Helping Difficult Students Read Texts

From Tomorrow's Professor

Helping Difficult Students Read Texts

Whenever teachers discuss problems with student writing or critical thinking, they inevitably turn also to problems of student reading. Just as speaking and listening skills are intertwined, so too are writing and reading skills. Many of today's students are inexperienced readers, overwhelmed by the density of their college textbooks and baffled by the strangeness and complexity of primary sources and by their unfamiliarity with academic discourse. Armed with a yellow highlighter but with no apparent strategy for using it and hampered by lack of knowledge of how skilled readers actually go about reading, our students often feel overwhelmed by college reading assignments. The aim of this chapter is to suggest ways that we can help students become stronger readers, empowered by the strategies that we ourselves use when we encounter difficult texts.

Causes of Students' Reading Difficulties

Before we can help students improve their reading skills, we need to look more closely at the causes of their reading difficulties. Our students have, of course, learned to read in the sense of achieving basic literacy. Except for an occasional student with a reading disability, college students do not need to be taught reading in this ordinary sense. Rather, they need to be taught to read powerfully. In the words of a sociology professor collaborating with a reading theorist (Roberts and Roberts, 2008), students need to become "deep readers," who focus on meaning, as opposed to "surface readers," who focus on facts and information. Drawing on cognitive research in reading, Judith and Keith Roberts (2008) explain that deep reading is processed in "'semantic memory' (rooted in meaning) as opposed to 'episodic memory' (tied to a specific joke, gesture, episode, or mnemonic to aid recall) (p. 126). Deep readers, they claim, interact with texts, devoting psychological energy to t
 he task:

A good reader forms visual images to represent the content being read, connects to emotions, recalls settings and events that are similar to those presented in the reading, predicts what will happen next, asks questions, and thinks about the use of language. One of the most important steps, however, is to connect the manuscript [they] are reading with what [they] already know and to attach the facts, ideas, concepts, or perspectives to that known material [p. 126].

The question we face as educators is how to teach and foster this kind of "deep reading." In this section I identify eleven contributing causes of students' reading difficulties.

1. A School Culture That Rewards Surface Reading

Roberts and Roberts (2008) make a powerful case that our current school culture, which allows savvy students to get decent grades for minimal effort, cultivates surface reading. They argue that the prolific use of quizzes and other kinds of objective tests encourages "surface learning based
in... short-term memorization for a day or two... rather than deep learning that is transformative of one's perspective and involves long-term comprehension" (p. 127). Moreover, they argue, many students don't value a course's "big ideas" because deep learning isn't needed for cumulating a high GPA. (They cite evidence that nearly half of college students spend less than ten hours per week on out-of-class study, including time for writing papers and studying for exams.) Students like multiple choice tests, the authors say, because most objective testing allows students "to skim material a few days before an examination looking for the kinds of facts, definitions, concepts, and other specific information that the particular instructor tends to stress in examinations" (p. 129). When students apply a cost/benefit analysis, they see, quite rationally, that deep reading "may be an unwise use of valuable time if there are no adverse consequences" (p. 129). In short, unless we as te
 achers evaluate student performance at the levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, "reading at that deeper level will not occur" (p. 129). (For an in-depth critique of school cultures that promote surface learning, see Weimer, 2002.)

2. Students' Resistance to the Time-on-Task Required for Deep Reading

Roberts and Roberts rightly identify students' desire to avoid the deep reading process, which involves substantial time-on-task. When experts read difficult texts, they read slowly and reread often. They struggle with the text to make it comprehensible. They hold confusing passages in mental suspension, having faith that later parts of the text may clarify earlier parts. They "nutshell" passages as they proceed, often writing gist statements in the margins. They read a difficult text a second and a third time, considering first readings as approximations or rough drafts. They interact with the text by asking questions, expressing disagreements, linking the text with other readings or with personal experience.

But resistance to deep reading may involve more than an unwillingness to spend the time. Students may actually misunderstand the reading process. They may believe that experts are speed readers who don't need to struggle. Therefore students assume that their own reading difficulties must stem from their lack of expertise, which makes the text "too hard for them." Consequently, they don't allot the study time needed to read a text deeply.

3. Teachers' Willingness to Lecture over Reading Material

Once students believe that a text is too hard for them, they assume that it is the teacher's job to explain the text to them. Since teachers regularly do so, the students' reading difficulty initiates a vicious circle: Teachers, frustrated by their students' poor reading comprehension, decide to lecture over the assigned texts ("I have to lecture on this material because students are such poor readers"). Meanwhile, teachers' lectures deprive students of the very practice and challenge they need to grow as readers ("I don't have to struggle with this text because the teacher will explain it in class").

4. Failure to Adjust Reading Strategies for Different Purposes

Inexperienced readers are also unaware of how a skilled reader's reading process will vary extensively depending on the reader's purpose. Sternberg (1987) argues that college students?facing enormous amounts of reading? must learn to distinguish among different reading purposes and adjust their reading speed accordingly. Some reading tasks require only skimming for gist, while others require the closest scrutiny of detail. Sternberg gave people a reading comprehension test consisting of four passages; each of which was to be read for a different purpose?one for gist, one for main ideas, one for detail, and one for inference and application. He discovered that good readers varied their reading speed appropriately, spending the most time with passages they were to read for detail, inference, and application. Poor readers, in contrast, read all four passages at the same speed. As Sternberg puts it, poor readers "do not discriminate in their reading time as a function of reading
 purpose" (p. 186). The lesson here is that we need to help students learn when to read fast and when to read slowly. Not every text requires deep reading.

5. Difficulty in Adjusting Reading Strategies to Different Genres

Besides adjusting reading strategy to purpose, students need to team to adjust reading strategy to genre. Students tend to read all texts as if they were textbooks?linearly from first to last page?looking for facts and information that can be highlighted with a yellow marker. Their tendency to get either lost or bored results partly from their unfamiliarity with the text's genre and the function of that genre within a discourse system. Learning the rhetorical function of different genres takes considerable practice as well as knowledge of a discipline's ways of conducting inquiry and making arguments. Inexperienced readers do not understand, for example, that the author of a peer-reviewed scholarly article joins a conversation of other scholars and tries to stake out a position that offers something new. At a more specific level, they don't understand that an empirical research study in the social or physical sciences requires a different reading strategy from that of a theor
 etical/interpretive article in the humanities. These genre problems are compounded further when students are assigned challenging primary texts from the Great Books tradition (reading Plato or Darwin, Nietzsche or Sartre, or an archived historical document) or asked to write research papers drawing on contemporary popular culture genres such as op-ed pieces, newspaper articles, trade journals, blogs, or websites.

6. Difficulty in Perceiving the Structure of an Argument as They Read

Unlike experts, inexperienced readers are less apt to chunk complex material into discrete parts with describable functions. They do not say to themselves, for example, "This part is giving evidence for a new reason," "This part maps out an upcoming section," or "This part summarizes an opposing view." Their often indiscriminate, almost random use of the yellow highlighter suggests that they are not representing the text in their minds as a hierarchical structure. To use a metaphor popular among composition instructors, these students are taking an ant's-eye view of the text?crawling through it word by word?rather than a bird's-eye view, seeing the overall structure by attending to mapping statements, section headings, paragraph topic sentences, and so forth.

7. Difficulty in Reconstructing the Text's Original Rhetorical Context

Inexperienced readers often do not see what conversation a text belongs to?what exigency sparked the piece of writing, what question the writer was pondering, what points of view the writer was pushing against, what audience the writer was imagining, what change the writer hoped to bring about in the audience's beliefs or actions?why, in short, the writer put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. They have difficulty perceiving a real author writing for a real reason out of a real historical moment. Also, inexperienced readers often fail to appreciate the political biases of different magazines and newspapers or the theoretical biases of different academic journals and presses. These problems are closely related to the following one.

8. Difficulty Seeing Themselves in Conversation with the Author

Possibly because they regard texts as sources of inert information rather than as arguments intended to change their view of something, inexperienced readers often do not interact with the texts they read. They don't ask how they, as readers in a particular moment in time, are similar to or different from the author's intended audience. They don't realize that texts have designs upon them and that they need to decide, through their own critical thinking, whether to succumb to or resist the text's power.

9. Difficulty in Assimilating the Unfamiliar

Developmental psychologists have long noted the "cognitive egocentrism" of new college students who have trouble walking in the shoes of persons with unfamiliar views and values (Kurfiss, 1988; Flavell, 1963). No matter what the author really means, students translate those meanings into ideas that they are comfortable with. Thus, to many of our students, a philosophic Idealist is someone with impractical ideas, whereas a Realist is praiseworthy for being levelheaded. The more unfamiliar or more threatening a new idea is, the more students transform it into something from their own psychological neighborhoods. The insight of cognitive psychology here is that these problems are related neither to stupidity nor to intellectual laziness. To use language from brain research, learners must build new concepts upon neural structures already in their brains, and sometimes older structures need to be dismantled before new ones can be built (Zull, 2002).

10. Lack of the "Cultural Literacy" Assumed by the Text's Author

In the jargon of reading theorists, students do not have access to the cultural codes of the text?background information, allusions, common knowledge that the author assumed that the reading audience would know. Knowledge of cultural codes is often essential to making meaning of the text (See Willingham, 2009, pp. 25-52, for a review of cognitive research on reading comprehension and background knowledge.) So significant is this cause that E. D. Hirsch has tried to create a national movement promoting "cultural literacy," lack of which he claims is a prime source of students' reading difficulties in college (Hirsch, 2006; Hirsch, 1988; Hirsch, Kett, and Trefil 1987).

11. Difficulties with Vocabulary and Syntax

Inadequate vocabulary hampers the reading comprehension of many students. Using a dictionary helps considerably, but often students do not appreciate how context affects word meanings, nor do they have a good ear for irony or humor. Moreover, the texts they read often contain technical terms, terms used in unusual ways, terms requiring extensive contextual knowledge, or terms that have undergone meaning changes over time. Additionally, students have difficulty tracking complex sentence structures. Although students may be skilled enough reading syntactically simple texts, they often have trouble with the sentence structure of primary sources or scholarly articles. When they are asked to read a complex sentence aloud, their errors in inflection reveal their difficulty in chunking grammatical units; they have trouble isolating main clauses, distinguishing them from attached and embedded subordinate clauses and phrases.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Apple and textbook?

Can Apple change the market for textbooks? My own opinion is that something needs to be done about the university course textbook market. I'm not sure whether iBooks2 is the answer, but I'm pretty sure that it's a good thing (for students and instructors) for Apple to give it a try.

Apple makes a new play for education market
San Francisco Chronicle

First week of classes

The first week of lectures is complete, and I have a couple observations. First, the single most common feedback from students was that they liked the level of interactivity in the sessions. Obviously, it differs across courses, but that seems to be a generally positive outcome.

There are students who prefer not to participate at all, and others who expressed concerns about cold-calling. I understand those, although there appears to be a fairly clear difference in expectations between Europe and the U.S. at Business Schools. In the courses I taught in the U.S., American students expected cold-calling, whether they liked it or not. I taught a strategic management course that had a small group of Italian students along with the majority of Americans, and the Italians were very resistant to the idea of cold-calling. It was, in fact, quite frustrating, because although the Italian students were clearly extremely intelligent, they also were, on the whole, much less prepared for class each day (ie, they were less likely to have done the readings than the American students). This is, of course, only a single example, so I've no idea how indicative it is of broader trends.

I was also surprised by feedback from students stating that they preferred not to give feedback. After all, it's totally anonymous (post-it notes on a board), and it seems to me that students only have something to gain and nothing to lose by expressing their opinion. It's a small minority of students, but I surprised to see an example from each of my classes. I'll delve into that some other time, I suppose.

I'm also generally pleased, so far, with the Google Sites I've set up to manage course content and interaction with students. Over the weekend I'll take a look at the page visit statistics to see what is going on. One small indication that the sites are getting used is simply the fact that prior to January 1st, this particular blog had received about 35 page views, almost certainly most of them mine. But in the past 2 weeks, it's gotten 500 views, almost all of them within 48 hours of notifying the students that their courses would be hosted on Google Sites (that have links to this blog).

In any case, there remains much to be done, and hopefully a positive and learning-centered term still to come.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Grading (assessment) of creative work - from IdeaLab / Tomorrow's Professor

Encouraging creative student work requires students to have:
- Knowledge
- Freedom to experiment
- Time
Assessing creative work requires instructors to :
- measure intended creativity outcomes
- be clear about student expectations, and
- allow students to personally connect with the discipline
Projects, Tests, or Assignments That Require Original or Creative Thinking
Original, creative, higher-level thinking is seen in many forms of personal expression in all disciplines, from writing, music, and art to a unique design in the social sciences or an original experiment in the natural sciences. However, this synthesis can come only after students have mastered the declarative and procedural knowledge (1) in a particular discipline, and even then, only under conditions that encourage the freedom necessary to think creatively. Creative thinking involves an integration of past learning to produce and organize new ideas. Thus, student motivation is enhanced as students experience the personal satisfaction that comes with creating something that is their own. When students are asked to think outside-the-box (2), divergent processes and projects emerge, with no two student efforts looking the same and no clear right or wrong answers being sought. Creativity occurs when students are asked to become deeply absorbed in complex tasks and problems in order to create new forms and styles of expression (3). These tasks are effective and they also provide tangible evidence of student accomplishment and learning. Item #19 highly correlates with IDEA learning objectives #26 (developing creative capacities), #28 (developing skill in expressing myself orally or in writing), #29 (learning how to find and use resources for answering questions or solving problems), #31 (learning to analyze and critically evaluate ideas, arguments, and points of view), and #32 (interest in learning more).
Helpful Hints
If students are to show original or creative thinking in your course, their projects, tests, and assignments must be designed to encourage this. Conditions for stimulating creativity include 1) a solid foundation in the discipline, 2) open-ended and flexible projects, tests, and assignments, and 3) time to create.
Creativity generally begins with a solid understanding of the knowledge base upon which it flows (learning about aerodynamics precedes redesigning the tail assembly of a 747 jet) (4). The greater the student’s knowledge about the discipline, the more capable (s)he is in creating with it. This requires that students learn facts, concepts, and generalizations before they venture into creative projects. Moreover, you may need to determine if these building blocks of creativity are in place at the beginning of your course. A simple, teacher-made diagnostic test may uncover students’ knowledge gaps and signal the need for you to review essential elements leading to student mastery of basic principles.
A second necessary condition for student originality and expressiveness is the freedom to experiment (4). Designing open-ended projects, tests, and assignments, as well as establishing a classroom climate that accepts trial and error and consciously takes steps to build students’ self-confidence accomplish this. Students should not feel pressured to adopt a specific viewpoint or be stifled by too much control over their creative work. Although we often show models or demonstrations of expected student products in order to further learning, when creativity is our goal, the display of previous outstanding projects may inhibit student creativity, either by blinding them to think only along the lines of the example or by intimidating them with a “perfect” model.
Time is another important condition if student creativity is your priority. Students must explore various approaches, interpret and analyze materials, and experiment with various schemes of organization. Because this may take weeks, our challenge is to stimulate creativity over the course of the semester. Students might develop multiple drafts of a project or complete it in segments, followed by feedback. Because writing often shapes our thinking, encourage students to write out their plans where appropriate, as a draft, journal, log of activities, or 3 x 5 card update, often followed by peer-group discussions. It may be possible, under special circumstances, to assign creative work without the foundation of basic knowledge. For example, in an introductory course in photography, students might be given cameras and asked to document campus life. This task might provide a pre-measure of native composition and subject selection skills and as the course progresses, students could revisit the original assignment to make changes and improvements, thus documenting their progress and developing sophistication. In other fields, there may be fewer opportunities for such work, but there will always be chances to engage even beginning students in creative activities such as brainstorming possible solutions to problems or devising work plans.
Assessment Issues
Who is the judge of creativity? The answer depends upon the standards of quality that have been set for the project, test, or assignment – all three being forms of assessment in themselves. Moreover, when we design our graded assessments before the first day of class, we can align our student-learning activities throughout the course to appropriately “teach to” these assessments (2, 3).
Good assessments 1) measure intended creativity outcomes, 2) are clear about student expectations, and 3) allow students to personally connect with the discipline (6). Although it is what the student produces that matters, our directive verbs can signal creativity, for example: students will “compose, construct, create, design, perform, produce, or rearrange,” to identify a few. For projects and assignments, you can increase students’ understanding of your expectations by constructing a rubric with the students, identifying 4 to 6 essential characteristics of the final product, and including qualitative statements for an excellent, satisfactory, and below standard product. This student-learning activity not only clarifies student expectations but also gives them a voice in determining what is being assessed as well as the rationale for how quality will be judged. Authentic performance assessments, where students create in real-world contexts, are preferable in order to increase student engagement and retention of learning (2, 3, 5, 6). Although performance assessments are common in art, music, or drama, they can be designed for all disciplines through creative written expression, oral presentations or poster sessions, portfolios and webfolios, exhibitions, or experiments.
Creative tests, considered here separately from creative projects or assignments, can be take-home exams. They give your students the time needed to create, and reduce the likelihood that you will administer the test on a creatively bad day for some student (even literary geniuses have dry spells). However, if an in-class exam is necessary, students should be given readings, materials, and key questions to analyze well in advance of the test, so they can do the necessary idea percolating required for original and creative expression.
References and Resources
(1) Bloom, B., et al. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay. See pp. 162-183. (2) Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. See pp. 40-41; 165-166. (3) Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993) Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. See pp. 181-212. (4) Zull, J. (2002). The art of changing the brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications. See chapters 6, 7, & 10. (5) Wiggins, G. (1998). Educative assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. See chapters 2, 7, & 8. (6) Allen, M. (2004). Assessing academic programs in higher education. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing. See chapters 2, 5, & 7. IDEA Paper No. 16: Improving Multiple-Choice Tests, Clegg and Cashin IDEA Paper No. 17: Improving Essay Tests, Cashin IDEA Paper No. 18: Matching Instructional Objectives, Subject Matter, Tests, and Score Interpretations, Hanna and Cashin IDEA Paper No. 19: Improving College Grading, Hanna and Cashin
©2005 The IDEA Center This document may be reproduced for educational/training activities. Reproduction for publication or sale may be done only with prior written permission of The IDEA Center.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Ten Reasons College Administrators Should Support Small Group Instruction

From Tomorrow's Professor

Ten Reasons College Administrators Should Support Small Group Instruction
It is no secret that resources available to colleges and universities are very limited, with little prospect for relief in sight. It is equally true that the demands made on these institutions by the unique composition of our student populations are straining our capacity to cope. Faculty members are graying and most were never trained in pedagogy, particularly the pedagogy most effective for the diverse students who have come to us in recent years. Administrators are attempting to address a myriad of faculty, community and student concerns in an era of downsizing. Structured, research-based small group instruction (hereafter called small group instruction) is a relatively cost-effective method for dealing with a substantial number of issues confronting college administrators and faculty. Unlike many of the interventions already in place for dealing with the ten issues described below, there is a firm empirical and theoretical base which indicates that small group instruction can have an impact on these issues.

Reason 1. Increasing student retention. Why students leave school has been studied by Vince Tinto, Lee Noel and others for several decades. The most powerful predictor of student retention is the nature of his/her involvement with the institution. Students who report positive interactions with other students and with faculty are much more likely to continue in college, particularly in the first few months when most attrition occurs. Well-structured group work builds in the kind of positive interactions for which Tinto, Noel and others have argued.

Reason 2. Appreciating diversity. This issue continues to confound college administrators and faculty. We would like to create an environment in which tolerance, if not appreciation, of diversity is the norm. Racist, sexist and homophobic incidences continue to plague our institutions of higher learning as they do society at large. Most administrators and faculty want to foster appreciation of diversity. But what can faculty and administrators do that is both effective, cost beneficial and within their comfort levels? Many faculty members are uneasy speaking directly in class about issues relating to diversity. Small group instruction is a relatively straightforward teaching technique that most faculties can manage and which holds great promise for fostering positive attitude change toward women, minorities and others. And it doesn't require the major shifts in curricular content implied in some interventions designed to foster appreciation of diversity. Research by Light, Tobias, Kagan, Triesman, and others suggests that women and some minorities prefer and may perform better with cooperatively-structured small group tasks. These findings extend from elite institutions to colleges with open enrollment, and content areas such as freshmen success courses, traditional liberal arts classes and science, mathematics and engineering content.

Reason 3. Using technology in the classroom. Researchers at Concordia University (Montreal), North Carolina State, San Diego State and Cal Poly Pomona have completed syntheses of the impact of television, two-way interactive video and other forms of technology in the classroom. Based on hundreds of comparisons, they found that these technologies were about the same as more traditional instructional formats in fostering achievement among students. In cases where televised instruction surpassed more traditional forms of instruction, Witherspoon (1994) found that it was the frequency and quality of student-student and student-teacher interaction that distinguished the more effective from the less effective televised classrooms. Those who look to technology to solve the cost problems of traditional instructional approaches need to take a close look at the pedagogical underpinnings of the change they are examining. Simply televising a lecture to 1000+ students is not a means for fostering quality instruction, whatever the cost. It is encouraging that much of the recent research on distance education, such as that of Philip Abrami and his Concordia University (Montreal) colleagues' points to carefully planned student-content, student-student and student-faculty interaction as powerful ways of humanizing and enlivening many technology applications to the classroom and producing higher levels of achievement.

Reason 4. Developing critical thinking. There is a difference of opinion in the professional literature regarding the specific definition of critical thinking (Kurfiss, 1988). But such diverse theorists as Kurfiss, Paul, Halpern, Martuza, Palincsar and King all agree that small group problem solving is a powerful way to foster critical thinking and deeper processing of course content. Carefully-structured small group instruction requires students to actively and deeply engage with academic content. Pupils are challenged by peers who stimulate cognitive processes such as problem clarification, justification, elaboration, and evaluation. Researchers and practitioners interested in the cognitive development theories of Perry, Belenky and Vygostky have also called for small group instruction (Cuseo, 1993; Gabelnick, et al., 1990; Kurfiss, 1988).

Reason 5. Fostering the goals of liberal education. In 1993 Alexander Astin completed a landmark study of what makes a difference in undergraduate education. He published the work in an influential book entitled What Matters in College: Four Critical Years Revisited. Astin's research and more recent complimentary work by Terenzini and Pascarella (2005) have provided small group instruction with significant empirical support for the power of student-student and student-teacher interaction. Astin found that curricular issues were not significantly predictive of most goals of liberal education. Instead, student-student and student-teacher interactions were the best predictors of a host of liberal education goals, including commitment to helping others, interest in cultural events, appreciation of diversity, problem solving and leadership development. These interactions were also positively related to higher scores on the GRE, MCAT and LSAT exams. Joseph Cuseo (2011) writes persuasively of the power of small group work in fostering a number of liberal education outcomes, as do Spencer Kagan (2011), Karl Smith (2011) and David and Roger Johnson (2011).

Reason 6. Preparing students for the world of work. For years, higher education has engaged in a debate pitting the goals of liberal education against more narrowly-focused attempts to train students for the workplace. Small group instruction is a process variable in education in which both sides of this debate may agree. The American Association for Colleges and Universities recently reported a study in which business leaders identified interdependence as a fundamental construct in current business environments, including teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings. Spencer Kagan recently reported on work by the National Association of Colleges and Employees in which interpersonal skills and teamwork skills were rated as among the highest valued worker characteristics by employers. Small group instruction may be one thing that the classics professor and the business professor can agree on in shaping a course of study for the twenty-first century.

Reason 7. Building a sense of community. When we examine the world around us, it is difficult to feel encouraged about the social fabric of the country and the world. Wherever one looks there appears to be a balkanization of interest groups and a sense of us against them. Ethnic cleansing, militia groups and apparently mindless terrorist activities are some of the manifestations of this lack of community. How can educational institutions begin to address these issues? Intentionally-structured cooperative group work is not the solution to all that ails this country and the world. But it is something that an administrator or faculty member can do that can have an effect on a significant number of students preparing to take their places in society. These students are the public school teachers, the nurses, the accountants, the politicians, the CEOs (and perhaps most importantly) the parents of the future. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Concordia University (Montreal) have published research syntheses which document the efficacy of cooperative group work in promoting such outcomes as social support, coping with stress, conflict resolution and psychological health. If we can begin the process of developing a shared concern for others, we may begin to turn back the mindless, egocentric world view that seems to be dividing campuses, communities, and countries as we try to learn from the past and plan for the future.

Reason 8. Energizing faculty/faculty development. Most faculty value teaching and strive to do the best job they can in the classroom. But few of us were trained in pedagogy. Our friend Jack Michael used to say that college teaching was a displaced form of revenge. We do to our students what was done to us. He meant the remark humorously (we think). Reports of teaching practices by Becker and Watts (2008) and others indicate that the overwhelming per cent of class time is spent with students passively engaged with course content. The lecture is still the predominant technique used by a large majority of instructors. When faculty not trained in pedagogy first begin teaching and meet with student resistance, for whatever reason, it is our experience that dissatisfaction with students and with teaching in general sets in early in too many academic careers. On the other hand, if faculty learn skills, such as how to use cooperative learning and see the impact of well-formed cooperative structures on students, the effect on faculty is often dramatic. Once we identify students as willing junior colleagues in a joint intellectual exploration, not as the enemy seeking the highest grade for the lowest expenditure of effort, the effect on our attitudes toward the profession is often dramatic.

Reason 9. Responding to learning styles. The assessment of learning styles and cognitive styles and the empirical base for their efficacy is a subject of some debate among researchers. Nonetheless, many students and faculty do express strong preferences for different modes of presentation, styles of processing information and for differing motivational systems. Women and some minority groups express preferences for more collaborative and less competitive systems of instruction. Meta-analyses concerning the relative success of cooperative versus competitive motivational systems in improving problem solving found that cooperative motivational systems were clearly superior (Qin, Johnson,& Johnson, 1994; Springer, Stanne & Donovan, 1999) and have been replicated by research reviews of Johnson & Johnson (2011) and others. Similar results have been found for a number of other student outcomes in the cognitive and affective/attitudinal domains. At the very least it can be argued that cooperative learning presents a change from an overreliance on more passive modes of instruction that have been criticized by national commissions, accrediting agencies and discipline groups for the last 30 plus years.

Reason 10. Using cooperation in university governance. Alexander Astin wrote an insightful article (Change magazine, 1987) in which he asserted that, although higher education laid claim to such notions as collegiality and community, in fact most levels of academia model competition and striving for status. It is difficult to argue for a commitment to public service and altruism with our students when many members of the academic community are locked in bitter struggles between departments, schools and colleges for limited resources, between faculty for career-making tenure decisions and between institutions for a top ranking in U.S. News and World Report's yearly ratings of colleges and universities. Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University and David and Roger Johnson at the University of Minnesota have begun changing the governance structure of K-12 schools using cooperative learning principles with promising results. Learning communities' proponents have joined the ranks of those seeking more transparent and collegial governance structures.

Obviously there is nothing magic about this listing of exactly ten reasons to institutionalize research-based group work in higher education. There are many other issues which could be addressed, such as assessment, accreditation, writing across the disciplines, freshmen success programs and math/science reform. All are areas in which cooperative learning principles have been successfully implemented or have the potential for successful use. When resources are hard to come by and interventions often have little or no impact on institutions, carefully-structured small group procedures hold great promise for affecting a wide range of outcomes central to the several missions of our colleges and universities.