Critical Instructional Exploration

I will pursue the questions we are asked to address in Assignment #3 in the context of my involvement in a 4th-year research seminar course in Human Nutritional Sciences undergraduate program at the University where I work.

Image of Banking Concept of Education
Source: https://goo.gl/m6hhQy

Background: I have been collaborating with one of the instructors who teach this course over the last three years. The course is a three-credit course, meaning it lasts three months and three hours a week of class time. There are no contents to cover in the class. Students are asked to develop a research question of their choice to investigate the literature and communicate what they have found by writing a paper and giving an oral presentation. The paper is due just before they are completing the course. This course is rather jam-packed with things to do for students. In addition to writing a paper and an oral presentation, students are also asked to do a group project in which they select a consumer health topic and prepare an oral presentation targeting some consumer group in mind as their audience. I will just focus on the research paper/oral presentation.

The overall direction of the course won’t be able to change, but I would like to try something new at the beginning of the course when students have to start thinking about their research question or the focus of their communications. Although our intention has been to facilitate student learning, as they start and work on the project, I realized during this course that we have been focusing too much on the research aspect of the assignment and scaffolding research processes. But we are finding out that not all students are keen on research. In fact, not all of them are keen on research, and in every class, only a handful of students are interested in it.

Students are motivated quite differently. I am not 100% sure what their career aspirations are. Some of them follow more competitive program streams to get professional credentials around the graduation. I know at least that many of the students in the program are interested in pursuing health care or health science fields. I also know that not everyone does fit into this model. I recently ran into one of the graduates of the program who was selling chocolate bars of her own at a local farmer’s market. She successfully manufactured, at her kitchen, her unique chocolate bars that are very smooth and magically melt in one’s mouth. She is packaging them and doing retailing by herself.

"What is Your Story?"
Source: http://goo.gl/GfqlOi Let’s Student Tell Their Stories…

Different Approach  to Experiment: I would like students to think about what they want or plan to do after their graduation. It can be an imaginary situation, but I want students to think about their potential options very creatively. I want students to find someone or a group of people that they want to communicate their interest or passion in any aspects of Human Nutritional Sciences fields that would embody their professional attitude and outlook. They have to define and what they are going to present to their chosen audience. It can be something that they cultivated while going through the program or something that is emerging and they may not know how to articulate it yet. How do they find the audience for their presentation? Students might want to think about possible organizations that they want to work or volunteer. Can they identify someone to whom they want to give a presentation or submit the report? A potential supervisor or boss or a potential business partner? They may want to think about different types of organizations, such as academic, research, not-for-profit, government organizations, or private corporations. Or if they want to work independently, they can think about the kind of business they want to pursue. The purpose of the assignment is to present and report what they have investigated in the literature and their findings to their chosen audience. At the beginning of the project, I want students to explore how their project would look like.

I want to initiate a conversation on what students are planning to do after the graduation or what might be their career aspirations. I might pair them up to discuss and share individual plan. They can write a blog post to explore and define how they want to use the experience of working on research paper writing/reporting and an oral presentation exercise. They can identify who is their audience of their project, what they want to investigate, and what would be the most likely findings. They will be using recent research sources to shape the project.

Instead of simply saying to students, “you are expected to do research and write a paper,” I want to make all the activities in the course more personable to them. They can define to whom they want to present the results, why and what.

In conclusion, although I don’t have much control over the course and won’t be able to change much if I can make the assignment more meaningful and personable to the students, that would be a good effort.

Thinking About Scaffolding …

I am most interested in how to facilitate student learning.    As a librarian, how that facilitation takes place is not always clear.

Source: http://knowyourmemes.com

Giving an instruction about library service or how to use a research database are obvious ones.  However, I don’t find them to be something that I do for facilitating student learning.  Rules and regulations change and the design of service infrastructure would directly or indirectly convey where the authority or the establishment lay and to which students need to comply to get what they are expected to accomplish.   Although they used to be more rigid and longer lasting, with the advancement of web technology, the rules are rapidly changing.  Nonetheless, academic libraries situate themselves somewhere between a part of their respective campus community and a part of the wider digital economy.

So What is My Relationship to the Concept of Scaffolding?

I first became very interested in facilitating student learning and the idea of scaffolding student learning as a librarian in the context of one of the foundational courses in Human Ecology.  The course did not communicate to the students not that well about the intention and expectation of the writing paper assignment given in the course.  Although the course was a long-established course, the syllabus of the course had been dutifully carried out one semester to the next for many years.   The writing assignment was well thought out in its design and meant to facilitate students to follow essential steps of writing academic papers.  For example, the first paper assignment was broken down into distinctive steps:  developing a mind mapping, searching library databases, organizing an annotated bibliography, developing an outline and drafting of the paper.   Unfortunately or fortunately, over the years, the course was handed over to sessional instructors to teach, and the pedagogical intention behind the assignment was somehow lost.  As a result, the students did not see each task they were asked to undertake as essential part of writing an academic paper.  They simply saw them just as a 5% exercise for submitting a mind mapping, another 5% for doing an annotated bibliography, and so on.  It was so unfortunate because the intention of guiding students working on an academic paper was in the design, but either the instructor thought it was obvious to students or never thought of adding a few additional efforts to connect students to different steps.

I teamed up with my writing instructor colleague to build a blended learning model around the paper assignment.  We received some campus technology grant and worked in collaboration with the sessional instructor of the course.    The project hypothesis was that if students were more connected to the intention and expectation of the paper assignment and guided with broken-up tasks that constitute the processes of the writing assignment, they would have more appreciation of it as a learning exercise.  We ran it as a pilot project during a summer session, and the class was relatively small.  We interviewed all the students to hear about their learning experience around the paper assignment after the completion of the course.   They all responded positively except one student who was somewhat adamant about the assignment in general.  As such, we concluded that the project was, in general, successful in facilitating student learning.   To contrast the blended learning model with the past practice, we also held focus group sessions with the students who had taken the course during the past four years also confirmed this.  Interestingly, the strong sentiment stood out from the sessions was that students did not quite understand or appreciate the intention behind the assignment.  The sentiment was quite a contrast to the one expressed by the students who were guided by the blended learning model.

In retrospect, the course had an intriguing challenge for students.  In the course, the students were asked to read many articles related to the philosophy and orientation of Human Ecology.  The Faculty was first established as Home Economics and then, later became Human Ecology.  The writing assignment perhaps coincided with this change and thus asked the students to define Human Ecology.   Students were, in essence, asked to align with the new professional outlook or facade that represented three major departments that later evolved into Family Social Sciences, Textile Sciences, and Human Nutritional Sciences.   They were encouraged politically to align their career aspirations with Human Ecology and expressed it in an acceptable academic writing format.  How the students associated themselves with the idea, however, was beyond our blended learning project.

Some Doubt on and Limit of Scaffolding

Borrowed from: https://goo.gl/AJxdsD
Borrowed from: https://goo.gl/AJxdsD

Since the first blended learning project, I have been involved in a variety of courses in different disciplines to scaffold and facilitate student learning.   I also have read about “Constructive Alignment” (Biggs & Tang, 2011) in the process.  It encourages teachers to reflect on and reiterate how better to deliver and develop many of the whistles and bells of “teaching science,” such as articulating intended learning outcomes, teaching/learning activities, assessment tasks, and rubrics for assessment, etc.  The whole enterprise is nicely packaged, and Biggs & Tang argue that the constructive alignment framework would guide teachers with their activities, and it would ensure quality teaching.  There is also an organizational dimension to what they preach.  They encourage the whole universities, colleges and their departments to join in the constructive alignment activities for teaching and they can coordinate accordingly to achieve quality teaching at their institutions.
What Biggs & Tang are saying makes a lot of sense given how the idea of teaching involved over the years in higher education.  When the words such as “learning outcomes,” rubrics, and assessments are used and implied all the time, in reality, however, these are not often communicated to students as something that are relevant and valuable to them.  So what least teachers can do is to convert or translate them to something students appreciate and provide clear connections to what they receive as the evaluation of their works.

What is missing from the discussion of the constructive alignment framework is students as learning agents.  It is highly teacher-centric.  Along the same line, Maryellen Weimer is advancing student-centered learning approach for many years.  Perhaps she is at least asking teaching faculty to question what works and what may not work for students.  Once we take students seriously as learning agents,  over-emphasis on teaching and teaching roles would cast doubt on the idea of scaffolding.  There is always a danger of over objectification of “learning” without addressing students as agents of their own in a variety of manners.

IMPACT at Purdue

IMPACT LOGO
IMPACT Program at Purdue University

Earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised to find IMPACT, team-based, campus-wide, concerted efforts at Purdue University while surfing the Net.  The program is set to redesign undergraduate courses by “integrating a more enhanced student-centered approach that is informed by research and aimed at enhancing student learning, competence, and confidence” (IMPACT web site, Purdue University, 2011).  The scale of  the program is huge.  The program started in 2011, and currently “62 courses and 72 faculty[are] in the program.”  The University gives a $10,000 stipend per undergraduate foundational course to go through redesigning using the Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education:

  • encourages contact between students and faculty
  • develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  • encourages active learning
  • gives prompt feedback
  • emphasizes time on task
  • communicates high expectations
  • respects diverse talents and ways of learning

The project is led by the Office of Provost and the staff from the five support units work together and help each teaching faculty to redesign the course.  The support units that are involved in the program are:  Purdue Extended Campus, Purdue Libraries, Discovery Learning Research Center, Information Technology, and Center for Instructional Excellence.  The main idea of IMPACT is to “[e]nable faculty-lead course redesign with campus-wide resources.”

This is definitely a huge step up from our humble blended learning project.  This scale of university-wide initiative would easily solve some of the planning and delivery issues we encountered in our project.  This is an enviable project bringing all the learning support professionals as a team to facilitate learners-centered learning of undergraduate students.

Source:

MPACT – Our Mission. (2011). Retrieved April 6, 2013, from http://www.purdue.edu/impact/mission.html

 

Reflection: Preparing for the Webinar

Webinar Picture
Photo Credit: mrsdkrebs from Flickr

I finally delivered my webinar entitled  “Adding more ‘authentic dimension’ in higher education using social media the blog” on the last slotted date on March 26 for webinar presentations by the students in the Digital Literacy course.  This was my first webinar and my first attempt to use Adobe Connect.  When it was the time to start the webinar, I realized that I had no idea how to play each animation effect on my slides.  I noted earlier the link structure of my slides on the right-hand side of the slid display.  A big panic!  I had to ask the instructor and fellow students for help even recording was already in progress.  During the webinar, I also felt somewhat disconnected from my audience.  A day later,  I realized that I completely forgot to share the results of the poll I took from the audience during the webinar.  Sigh!  The instructor specifically reminded me not to forget to click the “display” option.  Talking about entirely a new environment.  The instructor gently reminded me after the webinar that this was all part of the learning process.  OK, yes, that seemed more comforting.  I have to have the first time and it’s all about learning.

http://goo.gl/O1BcRM CC
http://goo.gl/O1BcRM CC

Despite some glitches I encountered and a not-so-good delivery during the webinar, I prepared for this webinar for many hours.  The idea I set out for my webinar seemed to be a very obvious choice at the time.  As I prepared for the project, it became a daunting task!  Since this is a conceptual piece, I had to clarify what I meant by “authentic learning” and how it fit into the context of higher education.  I also wanted to bring in the idea of the pedagogical shift that comes with the use of emerging technologies:  focusing more on learning processes rather than teaching.  I also needed to connect these ideas to my professional experience of being an academic, liaison librarian at a university.  As I reflect back on the preparatory process, what I needed is an additional level of meta-cognition.  There is always a danger of getting too caught up in one’s own thinking process and forget about the actual effects of the presentation to the audience.

The most difficult webinar section to develop was the section for discussing theblog as a potential social media platform to integrate into university courses.   Talking about something that I don’t have any experience of was definitely my weakness.    But I was very lucky to come across a ProfHacker post, “A Better Blog Assignment,” by Mark Sample (July 3, 2012).  A total of 45 comments was attached to his post and generated an interesting discussion about the integration of blogs into university courses.  This provided a wealth of information for my webinar project.  I am afraid, however, that I did not deliver this section of the webinar well.  On the other hand, working on the topic gave me the opportunity to learn about it and it was all positive in that regard.  In the end, because of this research, I was able to put together a join proposal towards the TLT Grants Program, an internal grants program at my university, with a teaching faculty colleague of mine.

Reflection: Designing This E-Portfolio

My E-Portfolio Theme
WordPress Coraline Theme
My E-Portfolio Theme

Main Task

The most time-consuming aspect of putting together this e-portfolio was definitely writing the materials and I in fact had to leave my opinion piece as the last piece to work on.  I needed the time to do some thinking. Indeed, writing and developing the e-portfolio content required a lot of thought.  Going over the guidelines of the assignment and also the rubrics really helped me keep working at it.  It helped me to make sure that each contribution in the e-portfolio is well connected to the theme.  I also realized at some point that I didn’t specify who would be the audience of my e-portfolio.  This was a very important piece.  Without a clear audience in mind, everything becomes blurry, out of focus.  In the end, I had to articulate my audience to be any teaching faculty, librarians, learning specialists, instructional designers, or technologists who can contribute to and can make important impacts on student learning in higher education.

How to disseminate my e-portfolio was one of the last things I worked on.  It would be very convenient to attach my e-portfolio url, say on my business card, or my signature line for e-mail messages.  I also chose to use my Mendeley profile.  Initially, the obvious field assigned by Mendeley for my e-portfolio entry to be included is Bio section.  Unfortunately, it is a text box and I could not make any hyperlink to the e-portfolio site.  I decided to include my e-portfolio under Publications so that any visitors can click it to the site.  In addition to Mendeley, I also looked into ResearchGate.  Unfortunately, there was no easy way to include the hyperlink for my e-portfolio in the profile database at this network site for academic researchers.

 

WorldPress Twenty Ten Theme
WordPress Twenty Ten Theme

Design Framework

I first looked into a couple of WorldPress themes with “clean design” for my e-portfolio, such as Twenty Ten, Twenty Eleven, and Twenty Twelve. A clean and simple design works best for an e-portfolio.  I selected the Coraline Theme.  I initially made it into one column format, but it accentuated my texts too much.   In the end, I put back the sidebar on the right and eliminated some widgets such as a widget for comments or metadata, to make the blog design into a stand-alone e-portfolio.

 

WordPress Twenty Eleven Theme
WordPress Twenty Eleven Theme

Images

We need to have interesting images in any web pages.  Locating usable images that were not copyrighted or in public domain proved to be a time-consuming process. I could easily search Google Images with keywords and could retrieve many images, but many of them were either copyrighted or the copyright status not certain.  I eventually relied mainly on the Creative Commons Images Search (you can search 13 different resources covering images, music, and media), Open Clip Art Library, and Public Domain Clip Art to locate potential images for this project.   I initially went through the frustration of dealing with the fee-based image library sites that market their sites emphasizing on the availability of free, public domain images.  They in fact let you search free images only for the first couple of times.  But when you are convinced that this site is helpful, they start mainly pushing fee-based images.  Very tricky.

 

WordPress Twenty Twelve Theme
WordPress Twenty Twelve Theme

 FINAL REFLECTION:

Looking back when I started this e-portfolio project, I had a vague idea of what it entails.  Establishing a blog site and establishing the main menu helped me get started with the project.   It would be accurate to say that the objective of my portfolio probably became more realistic when I focused on the audience.  Even after the identification of the audience, I still had to write each section by trial and error, drafting and editing, and finally putting all together ensuring that each contributes as a part of the e-portfolio.

My topic, how higher education is adapting to the new learning opportunities presented by the emerging technologies and accompanying social changes, by its nature has a moving target.  My webinar theme was authentic learning in higher education.  I struggle for a while to identify clearly what my opinion piece would be for the e-portfolio.  I brainstormed similar concepts to authentic learning.  There are, “student-centered learning” and “self-directed learning.”  The overlapping characteristics of these similar concepts lead to the concept of “life-long learning” or “learning-to-learn skills.”  I understood all these different concepts  to be the new labels or keywords helping us identify the new ways to organize learning environments.  I eventually chose to write about the ideal type for the 21st century learning environments and learners as my opinion piece.  This helps us visualize how learning takes place in the new learning environments that sharply contrast what we have become accustomed to in higher education.  The ideal type presented by Barr and Taggs, and John Seely Brown help us set in the new direction.  In the end, my opinion piece helped to tie various pieces I prepared for the e-portfolio.

 

 

Personal Reflecton: Attending Blended Learning Task Force Focus Group Session

The image is from the openclipart site
The image from http://openclipart.org

On March 27, 2013, I attended one of the faculty focus groups arranged by the Blended Learning Task Force of the University of Manitoba that was recently struck by the Vice Provost (Academics).  Eight other faculty members who attended the focus group beside myself were two instructional designers from Extended Education and the rest consists of one teaching faculty member from each of the Faculty of Education, Social Work, Nursing, the Business School, and the Department of Computer Science, and Geography.  All the participants were referred beforehand to the background report prepared by the Task Force, which consists of a long list of SWOT analysis of blended learning.  We were reminded by the Vice Provost at the beginning of the focus group that they are neither for or against blended learning.  So they want to gather different opinions and views about blended learning in order to come up with a university-wide plan or strategy.  I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed in this armed-length approach to blended learning at the University.  But we need to begin somewhere.   I still could not help and wonder what if the Task Force was led by a passionate advocate for supporting learning with the use of new technologies.  It  clearly would have given us a different starting point for our discussion.

During the task force group gathering, as we became more familier with each other’s view and experience of blended learning, we began to share the same view:  The University needs its commitment and resources in technical, pedagogical, and research & development supports around blended learning.  As soon as we thought we warmed up, it soon came to the end of 90 minutes, the time allocated for the focus group.  I also agreed with one professor who expressed his view that the planning for blended learning should come from the bottom rather than the top.  All the experimentations and teaching and learning experiences are happening on the ground and adopting the bottom-up approach makes a lot of sense.  As the Faculty of Education professor pointed out just before he left, the group’s discussion inevitably ended up focusing mainly on “teaching” aspects of blended learning.   We were nowhere near “learning” effects or what students think of blended learning.  Let’s trust that the students who will be recruited in their focus group get their voices heard.

Cathy Davidson

 

Portrait Picture of Cathy Davidson
Cathy Davidson, portrait by Artie Dixon
CC:
http://alturl.com/3xpn2

“Technology is always about the human factors in addition to the affordances.”  Cathy Davidson, [comment to her own HASTAC blog Entry]

Cathy Davison* is Professor of English at Duke University and a co-founder of HASTAC among other things.  For me, she is the author of 36 Views of Mount Fuji where she colourfully depicted many  personal and interesting encounters she made in Japan while she taught English at an all-women university.  Her enthusiasm is very catching and I remember my English professor friend somehow pointed out to me that she might be too “Japanofile” for his taste.

Since her book on Japan in the 80’s, Cathy Davidson has become the strong voice and important player in the ongoing higher education reform movement.  She is a very interesting figure because she is successfully capitalizing on her leadership positions at the Duke and in her larger scholarly communities in bringing about noticeable impacts on the discourse of changing higher education.   Her ability to drive the changes by actively involving and engaging herself in the front line of educational experimentation and then, communicating about them in her blogs and her book, is definitely the key to her success.

She was one of the people who drafted a “Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in a Digital Age” to generate a further discussion.  My understanding of what motivated somebody like Cathy Davidson and other concerned educators and scholars to draft the Bill is that the sudden rise of privatized MOOCs**, especially Coursera during 2012.  Considering its sheer technological power to gather student information by so many numbers, it is not too difficult to imagine that the company wants to capitalize on it.  Cathy Davison is now going into the enemy’s ring and is proposing to teach a course, “The History and Future of Higher Education” on Coursera next spring.

She shares her thinking around how she is going about developing the Coursera course on her blog.  For example, she writes about how to organize peer reviews among students.  Whenever the discussion of peer reviews is being raised, there are inevitable concerns raised, and the typical one is plagiarism.  But I think that encouraging peer reviews among students would bring some reality into the closed “schooling” model we became so accustomed to.   Here  (same as the above hyperlink) in her blog, she is modelling how the instructor can go about organizing activities for students.  Here she writes about how to turn multiple choice testing into a learning tool for students.

*The 2011 Inside Higher Education interview Cathy Davidson when she published a book, Now You See It.

**You can listen to CBC Spark for more detailed discussion on MOOCs as an emerging format for online higher education.  The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Inside Higher Education are the obvious sources for tracking the sudden rise of MOOC’s.

 

To Blog or Not To Blog

A lady sitting on a bench using computer
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr CC

The theme that I selected for my webinar is creating more authentic learning dimension using social media in higher education.  I decide to select the blog as one social media platform as an example and its potentials to incorporate into the courses in higher education.

I was lucky to find Mark Sample’s blog entry, “A Better Blogging Assignment” in the regular ProfHacker column of the Chronicle of Higher Education.   He is a vocal advocate of the use of blog in university courses.  He uses the blog in every course he teaches.  Despite his strong commitment to using the blog and its pedagogical values, he confesses in this blog entry that he is tired of reading student blogs and evaluating blogs week after week .  He writes, “I do want to reignite my sense of discovery and excitement about student blogging.”  He thus asks for his readers to contribute different models of how the blog can be used in university courses.  In response, a long list of comments were generated, some offering their own example, others simply sharing the values of the blog, and also some warning the trap of using the blog as an assignment.  It gave me an amazing wealth of information to see how teaching faculty is using the blog in their courses and how they are experiencing it.  I also found through the conversation created around the Sample’s blog entry that other digital humanities scholars, as Sample is one, are actively integrating the use of the blog into their courses.  They are offering good examples to consider for the possibility of the blog use in other disciplines.

Sources:

Sample, M. (2012, July 3). A better blogging assignment. ProfHacker. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/a-better-blogging-assignment/41127

Sample, M. (2012) Toward a better blogging assignment.  2012 THATCamp, the Humanities & Technology Camp. Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://chnm2012.thatcamp.org/06/11/a-better-blogging-assignment/  (The same material presented at the 2012 THATCamp venue and includes more comments.  I particularly likes the comment from a history professor briging recent graduates to give feedback on the blog.)

Sample, M. (2009). Pedagogy and the Class Blog.  Retrieved April 5, 2013 from http://www.samplereality.com/2009/08/14/pedagogy-and-the-class-blog/ (I found this link from one of the comments made to the above 2012 THATCamp blog.)

Selected Examples of the Blog Use in University Courses (From the comments in response to Sample’s article):

  • Miranda Nesler refers to  her summer course where she opens up her professional blog to her students to do weekly entries.
  • Daniel Greene uses the blog to curate weekly readings  with students taking their turn with this course.  “This means a long post of 500-750 words that integrates 5-6 other pieces of media and expands on some aspect of the week’s readings or activities–adding new stuff, giving us history, expanding it into a different community or political issue, whatever. “
  • anetv uses “blogs to augment papers, and to support writing in more casual, lower-stakes, exploratory ways.”  She curates her class blogs in her Teaching web page.

A Great Experimentation!

Photo Credit: culmsurf CC
Photo Credit: culmsurf CC

Two professors, Cathy Davidson and Dan Ariely are currently running an experimental undergraduate course, “Surprising Endings’ as a Winter 2013 course at Duke University.  It is quite an ambitious undertaking in which the students work in groups and each group is to come up with their segment of a MOOC for public consumption at the end of the course.  In this course, the students are the driver and select their own topics, readings and use two professors as their consultants.  The students meets face-to-face in the class while they are also busy writing public blog entries about what they are learning.  Duke Today published the article, “Teaching 2.0 Make a Class do Cartwheel” reporting about the course.  The video attached to the article gives us a glimpse of what might be going on in the course.  This course seems to be practicing all the principles that applied to student-centered, authentic, and self-directed learning: “Learning by Doing, Making, Teaching.  Very intriguing!  The course also provides one professional videographer and 5 TA’s to help students produce a professional grade video artifact.  Thirty-three (33) students and 5 TA’s?  Wow, this is definitely a resourceful university. YouTube video from the Surprising Endings course is here. Check it out!