Contributing to Cloud Dust
Thoughts about learning and teaching
Thoughts about learning and teaching
I’ve been a proponent of universal design principles since I worked for a national disability research centre many years ago. As I’ve taught and written about the design of learning, I’ve tried to keep a ‘UDL lens’ in place – not always successfully. I ruefully admit that my intentions were often overwhelmed by circumstances, resulting in fewer options for learners to engage or share their learning than I would have liked to offer. I keep trying – while exploring new technologies to aid me and reading and discussing different approaches with other educators whenever I can!
Over the last few years I’ve noticed periodic resurgences of interest and discussion around the three principles of UDL and the growing emphasis on “personalization” of education and learning. (Note: to learn more about the history and development of the concept of personalization, see UNESCO’s 2012 Personalized Learning Policy Brief).
CAST director David Gordon was one of the first to explicitly link UDL and personalization with his May 2015 article “How UDL can get you to personalized learning“. A more recent article in ASCD’s 2017 Educational Leadership journal, “Personalization and UDL: A Perfect Match” by Kathleen McClaskey reiterates many of his original points but presents the application of UDL from both a teacher and learner perspective. McClaskey and her colleague Barbara Bray have been influential in the dissemination and application of the concepts underlying personalization in education.
The strong connections between the three principles of UDL and the underlying perspectives and applications of “personalization” are also found reflected in the various “quality” frameworks that are applied to online learning design. In the upcoming BCcampus workshop, Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) – Design, we’ll take a look at how UDL principles can be integrated within a quality framework.
Gordon, David (2015) How UDL can get you to personalized learning, e-School News, Retrieved from https://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/05/19/udl-personalized-939/3/?all
McClaskey, Kathleen (2017) Personalization and UDL: A Perfect Match, ASCD Educational Leadership, “Getting Personalization Right”, Volume 74, No. 6, Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar17/vol74/num06/Personalization-and-UDL@-A-Perfect-Match.aspx
National Center on Universal Design for Learning, The Three Principles of UDL, Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/3principles
Sharif, Afsaneh, (2016) Quality assurance designing quality online course, UBC wiki, retrieved from http://wiki.ubc.ca/Quality_assurance_designing_quality_online_course
UNESCO Policy Brief (2012) Personalized Learning: A New ICT-enabled Education Approach, retrieved from http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/en/files/3214716.pdf
Whether you’re an experienced instructional designer or instructor or a “newbie” to course development online, the quest to “build a better course” or to find more effective ways to engage online learners is a never-ending story. And part of the fun is that there are so many ways to try.
During the upcoming four week workshop that I’m co-facilitating with Emma Bourassa, we challenge our participants to try a new instructional (or learning) design approach. After a quick review of existing learning theories, we introduce (or review) a variety of instructional design approaches. We present three options (with endless permutations possible within each) and provide a safe, supportive learning environment with weekly Studio sessions to review, suggest and encourage you to develop your design project.
The three course design approaches we offer for you to explore:
Option 1 includes a range of ways you can refocus on your learners, integrate essential course components and align your assessment methods and teaching strategies to help your learners achieve the stated outcomes of your courses.
Option 2 presents the popular IDEO model of design thinking for education and offers two other interpretations of this innovative approach (i.e., from Stanford University or Google design thinking).
Option 3 allows you to explore different ways to test your comfort with open educational design – from a starting point of building with open-licensed resources, to modeling “open” thinking in your design and instructional techniques.
If you’re feeling like you need something new to spice up fall, join us in the Facilitating Learning Online -Design workshop – starting September 18 – https://proflearn.bccampus.ca/flo-design/
As a teacher, facilitator or instructional / learning designer, do you ever think about learning theories? What value do they have in your teaching or design practice?
Do you think back to what you learned about B.F. Skinner’s experiments as you “chain” events in a lesson to help your students learn a new procedure? Maybe you try to reward “good learning” with bonus marks or badges? Or do you recall David Ausubel’s theoretical perspective (cognitive) when you develop a new advance organizer to help students learn a complex concept or theory?
If you apply a traditional design approach (integrated, outcomes-based, structured weekly units with tests and assignments), do you reflect on the way you present information while you remember the cognitivist “information processing model”?
Lave and Wenger introduced us to ideas around group learning with their theories of situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation. Have those ideas influenced how you set up group learning projects?
When we piloted our new FLO-Design workshop in January 2017, we included an optional review of the three major groups of learning theories – behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism (and a fourth technology-focused perspective – connectivism – see below), to ground the participants’ work in selecting and applying different instructional / learning design approaches. But I’ve been reading and listening to discussions about some of the inadequacies of our current education system and our teaching approaches and wondering more and more how relevant or meaningful a “grounding” in somewhat outdated perspectives (and research) is for the increasing diversity of the learners we serve in online and blended learning?
Questions of relevance
Each learning theory or group of theories has its critics. A consistent criticism applied to learning theories is that they are too focused on one area or perception of the human experience of learning – from visible changes in behaviour (behaviourism) to how information that is collected by the senses is processed, organized and retained for future retrieval (cognitivism) to how to help learners “make meaning” from new material (constructivism) and finally to how people use virtual connections with others and with knowledge (through the Internet or other similar networks) to collect and use knowledge as they need it. Should we be seeking one unifying theory to show us how to understand the different aspects of learning or should we be continuing to develop separate theories that address how we learn different types and levels of knowledge in different stages of our lives?
But assessing the relevance of recognized learning theories goes beyond simply criticizing what is missing from each group of theories or the evidence that supports each proposed interpretation. We have recognized (remembered?) the powerful impact of emotion, beliefs and cultural understandings and the needs of diverse learners to feel empowered to take part in the teaching and learning interactions, environments and outcomes. Certainly in North America, educators are asked to consider “making space” for different voices and ideas to be heard; instead of following a particular theory or group of ideas of how people learn, perhaps we need to let the learners set the pace and identify ways they find helpful in making new learning meaningful?
A growing body of evidence is being shared by neuroscientists as they continue to refine technological tools like fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map the ways the brain responds to different stimuli and conditions such as stress, rest, and exercise. So, should we throw out the established learning theories and just follow what neuroscientists tell us about how they’re interpreting what they “see”? Although many of us are drawn to the science of cognition as a way to help us teach and learn more effectively, scientists have been advising caution in how we interpret their results and a recent article in Psychology Today points out some serious issues with the software that is used for fMRIs.
It is difficult to reconcile the limited scope of early learning theories with the breadth of possibilities we’re seeing in how we can teach and the increasing diversity of learners and what they want and need to learn. A first step is to revisit our reliance on traditional educational theories and to find better ways to support educators and instructional / learning designers to design effective learning experiences and environments.
|How does learning occur?||stimulus -> response; observable behaviour main focus, chaining events||input -> process -> output (learning) structured, computational||meaning created by each learner (personal);focus on social learning||Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns|
|What factors influence learning?||nature of stimulus (reward; punish), timing of events||existing schema, previous experiences||Engagement, participation, social, cultural||Diversity of network|
|What is the role of the memory||Repeated experiences are remembered – timing & type of reward / punishment are most influential||Encoding to long term memory, retrieval||Prior knowledge remixed to current context||Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks|
|How does transfer occur?||Stimulus, response||Duplicating knowledge constructs of “knower”||Socialization||Connecting to (adding nodes)|
|What types of learning are best explained by this theory?||Task-based learning||Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving||Social, vague (“ill defined”) problem solving||Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources|
|Names of some theorists||I. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, J. Watson||D. Ausubel, J. Bruner, R. Gagne||J. Dewey, L. Vygotsky, E. von Glaserfeld||S. Downes & G. Siemens|
Note: If you want to explore even further, check out the comprehensive and interactive learning theories map, created by Richard Millwood for a European Union project: HoTEL (Holistic Approach to Technology Enhanced Learning).
Are you getting ready for a new semester or preparing for a training event? Are you finding it challenging to select a design approach for a new course, to find ways to improve your current courses or your in-class lessons? Despite the long list of tasks you need to complete before you begin a new teaching experience, you should consider taking some time to ground yourself by identifying what you really believe about how people learn effectively and the role you play in helping them do that. I wanted to share a few strategies to help you do that more easily than you might think!
Start from what you know or believe to be true (don’t research – just respond). It’s best to find a partner or a small group to complete this reflective activity (based on a more extensive reflective exercise called the “metaphorical mirror” (Wagenheim, Clark, Crispo, 2009)).
First, ask yourself:
-What is a sport or activity or hobby that I do well and enjoy? Think back to when you first began. How did you get interested in the activity? How did you learn the basic skills? What helped you develop your abilities?
Next: document your answers – write a brief summary, record a narrative video or audio, create something visual – whatever helps you recall the experiences. Be prepared to share them with a colleague (or a small group).
Then: ask a colleague or your small group to listen as you share your story. Ask the listener(s) to listen carefully and ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand. Allow time for them to share their responses to your story and any additional insights that might provide a helpful perspective. You can take turns helping others to clarify their stories.
Afterwards: Revisit your story. Can you identify parts of the story that illuminate aspects of your current teaching approaches? Does it help you to see areas of your practice that you’d like to modify, improve or eliminate? Document your ideas about how this increased understanding can help you redesign your course, workshop or learning event.
Check out the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, developed by Dan Pratt and John Collins (originally instructors at UBC). Take time to complete a series of online questions (free) about your perspectives on teaching. The results of your answers are graphed across five different perspectives: Transmission, Apprenticeship, Developmental, Nurturing and Social Reform. You’ll receive a brief report and interpretation (by email) and you can learn more by exploring the website or purchasing their book.
Suggestion for use: While it’s an interesting snapshot of your perspectives on teaching, you can gain more from the inventory by using it to identify areas of teaching you want to improve or change. Test out your new approaches or modifications and then take the inventory again. You may be surprised by how quickly your changed practices create differences in your TPI results.
The TPI can be a useful monitoring instrument and help you track and be more aware of the choices you make when you teach or develop courses.
Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson reviewed research from various universities in the United States and distilled the findings into the well-known “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” The principles are:
– Encourage contact between students and faculty
– Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
– Encourage active learning
– Give prompt feedback
– Emphasize time on task
– Communicate high expectations
– Respect diverse talents and ways of learning
These principles still seem relevant and meaningful today. You may find it useful to reflect on how many of these principles you employ in your teaching practice and/or course design.
If you’ve completed some form of teacher training or completed recent job applications, you may already have one. If you don’t, here’s some guidelines for how to compose one: Teaching Philosophy Statements (from University of Guelph).
In general, statements (usually 1-2 typed pages) include:
– a statement of your values and beliefs about teaching and learning;
– an identification of different strategies or practices that demonstrate how you see your beliefs reflected in your teaching or course development;
– a list of your future objectives in terms of your professional development
– a conclusion that highlights your commitment to your professional practice
Suggestion for further development: You might consider augmenting your written statement with some form of visual – a collage, an interactive presentation (brief) or a short video. It’s worth creating various forms as each may provide additional insights into your beliefs and how you apply them in practice. The teaching philosophy statement can (and should) be revisited periodically. I also suggest that you revisit them when you change the subject or type of teaching you do (e.g., switching to online or blended forms of teaching).
A closing thought – if you make significant changes in the way you teach (modality, technologies, subject areas, diversity of learners, country, etc.), you may find that your reflection on your values about how people learn may shift and expand. Mapping or charting the journey of your professional development can be a fascinating challenge and provide you with both personal and professional satisfaction.
Center for Instructional Technology and Training, University of Florida (June 30, 2017) Chickering and Gamson: 7 Rules for Undergraduate Education, retrieved from http://citt.ufl.edu/tools/chickering-and-gamson-7-rules-for-undergraduate-education/
Pratt, Daniel D., and John B. Collins, Teaching Perspectives Inventory (website) retrieved from http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/
Pratt, Daniel D., John B. Collins, Sandra Jarvis Selinger, (2001) Development and Use of The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI), AERA 2001, retrieved from https://cvm.msu.edu/assets/documents/Faculty-and-Staff/Development_and_Use_of_the_Teaching_Pers.pdf
University of Calgary, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, Sample Statements of Teaching Philosophy, retrieved from http://ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/resources/teaching-philosophies-dossiers/sample-teaching-philosophy-statements
University of Guelph, Graduate Student Development, Teaching Philosophy Statements, retrieved from http://opened.uoguelph.ca/student-resources/teaching-philosophy-statements?_mid_=1073
Wagenheim, Gary; Clark, Robert; Crispo, Alexander W. (2009) International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, v20 n3 p503-509, retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ869334.pdf
Last year I spent a fair bit of time reviewing my understanding of foundational ideas and research that provide “us” (teachers and instructional designers) with guiding theories, principles, frameworks and guidelines to design “quality” programs, courses, lessons and learning activities. What I found was that, the closer I looked, the more it seemed as though there was no “best way” to recommend. The different ideas or theories each seemed to provide some value, in different learning contexts, for different learning outcomes, to address different kinds of knowledge or thinking/learning process.
I tried to incorporate that perspective in a four week online design workshop I developed for BCcampus and provided a quick review of the major (persistent and/or supported by a significant body of evidence) theories, etc. I selected three design approaches for participants to select (constructive alignment/reverse design, design thinking for education, open education) and asked each of them to think about their own beliefs about teaching and learning and to try to identify the reasons for their choices in their project design.
When we talked about facilitating, teaching, designing for online learners, we considered various perspectives on diversity. One major aspect of diversity that all educators seemed to be wrestling with is how to address the increasing diversity of cultural perspectives that students bring into online learning experiences. And, another challenging aspect identified by participants – how to deal respectfully and authentically with the issues of decolonization and “indigenizing the curriculum.” Although I had acknowledged diversity in my workshop design, I had sidestepped issues of decolonization, intercultural learning and indigenization, as I was uncertain how to address these issues meaningfully in a four week workshop.
One of my participants was Donna Desbiens, an intercultural learning expert currently with Royal Roads University. She shared a recent journal article she had co-authored with Gail Morong “Culturally responsive online design: learning at intercultural intersections” The paper incorporates some thoughtful ideas about “internationalisation” and “indigenisation” and introduced me to some current thinking about “culturally competent facilitation” and “participatory intercultural learning”. Donna and Gail reviewed a wide range of research and provided some recommendations for learning design within online environments, from an intercultural and indigenous perspective. Their Culturally Responsive Online Design Guidelines list the “most critical research-indicated supports” and show how they can be integrated into course design. Although my main focus was to find new ideas for designing culturally sensitive (inclusive?) online learning, the article also introduced me to some new terminology and intercultural concepts that I’ll follow up over the summer to improve my understanding. Various references to AAC&U VALUE rubrics seem to indicate they could be a good place to start identifying ways to update our online facilitation practices as well.
Note: idiocultures: refers to unique small group realities,”a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and employ as a basis of further interaction (derives from G.A. Fine’s analysis of small groups and culture creation 1979)