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New Centre at SFU launched!

I tripped over news of an exciting change happening at Simon Fraser University in an email I received through the ISW network. On July 15, 2019 SFU launched the Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE) under the direction of Elizabeth Elle, Vice-Provost and Associate VP, Learning and Teaching. This is a major change in the structure and organization of the university and I’ll be curious to hear/see what impact it has for instructors and students in the months ahead.

a simple chart showing the intended organization of Centre for Educational Excellence

The new Centre will include the current divisions: Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE), and the Centre for English Language Learning, Teaching and Research (CELLTR). The launch message from Elizabette Elle indicates that the purpose of the re-org is to encourage better collaboration, streamline the services they provide to instructors and students, assist in the university’s indigenization and internationalization efforts, and add some additional capacity (?) in educational assessment). While I appreciate the recognition of the blurring of boundaries between modes of learning, and the intention to move away from compartmentalized services, I’ll be curious to see which area gets the most attention. I’m not a big fan of an entire area devoted to quality assurance and analysis as so much time and money was spent in Alberta and Ontario to develop guidelines and then they weren’t maintained – will this initiative consider “lessons learned”? But I have been impressed by SFU’s creative and dedicated staff in the TLC and CODE areas in the past, so I’m looking forward to positive changes from the intended focus on teamwork. and innovation.

BC Teaching & Learning Centres

BC’s Teaching & Learning Centres

Have you ever gone looking for inspiring ideas or examples of teaching (and learning) and come up empty? Or wondered about what educators at other institutions were thinking about, working on, or practising that might be useful in your teaching context?

As an educational developer and facilitator I’m often curious about what’s happening. So I started poking at the websites of Canadian higher education institutions. I found it too slow to start from each hi-ed institution’s website so I found various listings. But I wasn’t really thrilled with those either – too many dead links – not enough information to do a quick scan to pick up points of interest. So, I’ve created my own page(s) – organized by province and listed the main areas each teaching and learning centre shared publicly that might be of interest.

It took me far longer than I anticipated and it’s still a work in progress but I’ve got BC done finally! Check it out:

Teaching and Learning – British Columbia

Along the way I’ve found some really interesting podcasts, newsletters, ideas, explanations, images and videos. I’m going to follow my nose and do some blogging about what I find when I do the ‘deep dive’ into the websites of those institutions that still share a lot of their knowledge and activities publicly (sadly many are putting resources for teaching and learning behind a staff/faculty login.

Let me know if you find errors or omissions. And better still, if you find this useful! Enjoy.

Making learning personal

Have you noticed the the increased use of the terms “individualization”, “differentiation” and “personalization” ? While more prevalent in K-12 education conversations, the terms (often linked with adaptive technologies) are increasingly part of the focus within higher education. They are cited as being part of the move to more effectively engage diverse learners and help them learn what they are interested in, and need for their future.

Do you think you know what they mean? Do you feel you are able to offer one or all of these approaches in your teaching?

When I asked myself, I realized I was a little hazy on the differences between the terms and was finding the link to online learning and the power of adaptive approaches and technologies. So, to clarify I turned to my Googlebrain and found what seemed to be a useful explanation (from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology) and discovered that two were actually subsumed in one (i.e., individualization and differentiation are considered a part of personalization).

Individualization Differentiation  Personalization
 instruction paced to the learning needs of each student  instruction to meet learning preferences of different learners  instruction paced to learning needs, preferences and interests of different learners
 learning goals same for each student  learning goals same for each student  learning objectives, content, method and pace may all vary
learning progress allows faster, slower pace for each student  method and/or approach varies for each student, based on their preferences or what research has found works best for students like them  encompasses both individualization and differentiation
Personalization – “Personalized Learning”
instruction in which the pace of learning and the instructional approach are optimized for the needs of each learner. Learning objectives, instructional approaches, and instructional content (and its sequencing) may all vary based on learner needs.

In addition, learning activities are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, and often self-initiated.

Based on my own experiences, I would say I try to offer this kind of flexibility to individual learners as often as I can but I doubt I ever fully achieve “personalization”. I don’t really see how it is possible to address all the aspects described in the definition, within a structured school system built on measurable, demonstrable, similar learning outcomes.

Many of us face increasing class sizes, increasing diversity of learners, and a growing complexity of teaching. Even in the face-to-face classrooms, teachers are hard-pressed to get to know each of their students well enough to provide appropriate flexibility of timing, approaches, and completion options. The laudable intentions of the “personalization” approach assume that every learner is able to identify what is meaningful and relevant when new ideas, concepts and content are shared. While the learner-centred interpretation of the three terms put forward by Bray and McClaskey are inspiring, I have had many students who weren’t focused enough on my course (among all the competing demands in their busy adult lives) to even want to achieve “mastery” or to take the time to monitor and reflect on their own learning.

And a challenge that is never mentioned in the articles and conversations about the benefits of personalization, is how do you keep track of what you’ve done, why, for whom, and whether and what they have achieved and how it relates to the stated outcomes of the syllabus? “Aha,” you might say. “There’s an app for that!” Technology is often cited as the answer to customizing learning for individuals.

Some practical examples of how “the machine” can identify problems (in curriculum) quickly, help to improve curriculum on the fly, and help an online instructor identify emergent or potential problems that individuals were presented several years ago by Stanford’s Daphne Koller in her popular What we’re learning from online education TED Talk. Since then the possibilities of machine-assisted teaching surround every conversation about how to help students learn and succeed. A more recent EDUCAUSE article, “How Personalized Learning Unlocks Student Success” provides a list of ways in which instructors can use machine-generated data to personalize learning activities and includes a Utopian vision of accessibility, enjoyment and positive partnerships between instructors, adaptive courseware and happy students.

If I sound a little skeptical of many of the claims of technology, it’s based on my experiences and observations. While technology makes it possible to provide amazing learning experiences and to manage the outcomes, we’re still learning how to use the tools well. The power, scope and potential of new technologies progresses faster than we seem to be able to respond – both in using those powers for positive effects and to protect our learners (and ourselves) from the potential harm and loss of privacy.

 


Header image: On-screen analytics @Jisc and Matt Lincoln and Teacher and learner group, @tamuc via Flickr, CCBY

eRefs

Alli, Nazeema, Rahim Rajan, Greg Ratliff (Mar 7, 2016) How Personalized Learning Unlocks Student Success, EDUCAUSE review, Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2016/3/how-personalized-learning-unlocks-student-success

Basye, Dale (Jan. 24, 2018) ISTE Blog – Education leadership, Personalized vs. differentiated vs. individualized learning, retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=124

Bray, Barbara and Kathleen McClaskey, (??) for Education Alberta, “Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization  https://education.alberta.ca/media/3069745/personalizationvsdifferentiationvsindividualization.pdf

Koller, Daphne (https://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education)

Lam, Evelyn (Aug 31, 2016) Review:  Weapons of Math Destruction, Scientific American Blog, Retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/roots-of-unity/review-weapons-of-math-destruction/

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, (2010) Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (pdf) – https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED512681.pdf  (see p.12)
Note:  These periodic reports are referred to generally as National Education Technology Plans.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, (January 2017) Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education:  2017 National Technology Plan Update (pdf),  https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/NETP17.pdf (see p. 9 sidebar, Personalized Learning)

Beliefs and values drive design and delivery

looking through scopeAre 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!

  1. Tell a story

    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.

  2. Complete a teaching perspectives survey

    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.

  3. Review Seven Principles of Good Practice in Higher Education

    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.

  4. Write a statement of teaching philosophy.

    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.

References:

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