Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Top 10 List: Integrative Learning Conference: Atlanta, October 22-24, 2009

The American Association of Colleges and Universities knows its stuff. I shared breakfast (and a learning activity) with a psychology prof who's been coming to AAC&U conferences for years. He said he just noticed that everything they did was high caliber all the way.

It's true. Every session I attended was so good that one hardly knows where to start. In fact, I've been debating with myself how best to share what I received there. If you have a taste for drinking from a fire hydrant, here's the program (with green checkmarks for sessions I attended). And for the truly gluttonous, here are my (unedited) notes.

With my own work group, I've been sharing a little bit each week and plan on continuing that through next semester.

With the larger CORE group, I'm not so sure. I am inviting my colleagues who attended to also write something here. We'll see what materializes.

I'd hoped that some of the presentations would be available on the conference web site but, alas, that has not yet happened. (I'll post a link here when these become available).

For lack of any brighter ideas and in light of the upcoming CORE convention I've decided to provide a brief sampling of things that stood out for me.

In recent years I've learned that one of the best things that comes out of conference attendance for me is new language. Thus equipped with new search words, I can then shift into research mode and find all sorts of wonderful resources.

So: In classic quick-to-read web form, here's my bullet list of highlights: buzzwords and soundbites with definitions where appropriate and (hopefully) enlightening links.

1. Powerful Ideas. Melissa Peet from The University of Michigan was the last speaker on the program. For me she was the most exciting. I spoke with her afterwards and she told me she was most motivated by powerful ideas which inspired me to include this bullet, even organize this blog post around a series of what I believe to be powerful ideas. Peet oversees the Generative Knowledge and ePortfolio Program at The University of Michigan and talks so fast you can hardly keep up with her. It's impossible to convey the full effect of what she spoke about but maybe this powerpoint can suggest some of the integrative depth that is possible. Some of the "new language" she gave included: three forms of knowledge (generative, tacit, and embodied), the generative interviewing process (whose purpose is to ask questions that draw out tacit strengths, capacities, potentials and possibilities),

2. Authentic Evidence. This is the AAC&U term for "assessments that focus both student and faculty attention on the essential aims and outcomes of a college education. The AAC&U resists — and works to provide alternatives to the use of multiple-choice tests as the primary index of the quality of institutions’ or student’s achievement" (From their mission statement). Toward this end, much of their work centers around advancing the use of e-portfolios.

3.VALUE Rubrics. If authentic student work is to be the evidence for achievement, simple grading systems will not suffice, despite their convenience. Thus the need for rubrics. Again AAC&U has sponsored field testing of 15 rubrics: ten covering the practical and intellectual skills, four personal and social responsibility and one specifically for integrative learning.

4. E-portfolios. "Last spring, Kathleen Blake Yancey suggested that e-portfolios were a leading element in a “tectonic shift” in higher education. Yancey, the Kellogg Hunt Professor of English at Florida State University and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, spoke to hundreds of e-portfolio practitioners gathered at a landmark e-portfolio conference held at LaGuardia Community College in 2008. She argued that e-portfolios radically alter how students learn, how faculty teach, and how institutions assess the value of their educations—that e-portfolios are literally remaking the landscape of higher education"(From Elizabeth Clarks's article in the AACU journal Peer Review). Another rousing roundtable discussion that captures some of the electricity (and challenge) around e-portfolios can be found on The Academic Commons. And for more on the "tectonic shift" see Kathleen Yancey's "Writing in the 21st Century." Among other things the e-portfolio provides a platform for reflection.

5. Reflection. This is an old, old word that takes on more and more significance the closer you look. The term kept popping up at the conference. John Dewey said that knowledge and experience are different things and we learn from processing experience (reflecting on it). Sometimes referred to as a form of "meaning making", reflection is a key component in e-portfolios. But it's not just for students. Reflective practice is what distinguishes the professional who grows and changes based on experience that is continually being reflected upon. The Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning has produced an fine, exhaustive bibliography on the subject. Or browse through a thick tome, Metacognition in Learning and Instruction, courtesy of Google Books. Half the book is devoted to student metacognition and half to teacher metacognition. Chapter 8 "Teaching Metacognitively" is mostly available with only a few pages blocked. Reflection has many purposes but I've come to believe that its most important one for our purposes is to serve as a strategy for facilitating integrative learning.

6. Integrative Learning. My favorite approach to integrative learning is from Dee Fink who, of course, provided the inspiration and the title for this blog. He was at the conference and I met him, although I wasn't able to attend his session because it was beyond standing room only. I did manage to get in on one he moderated where he distributed a handout on the multiple meanings of Integrative Learning (easy to understand and easy to use in an activity for broader understanding of the concept). I'm pretty sure that activity will be a part of the upcoming CORE conference on January 14. By the way, Fink's new book Designing Significant Learning Experiences brings us up to date with some real world experiences of people trying to implement his ideas on their campuses. They whimsically referred to themselves as "educators who've been finked."

7. Assessing Integrative Assignments. One of the very best sessions I attended was imaginatively entitled "You Get What You Ask For: Connecting Assessment of Integrative Thinking to Improvement of Assignment Design." Janine Graziano-King and colleagues conducted it in classic active learning style. (This is where I worked with the psychology prof who's made a career of attending AAC&U conferences.) Using a superb decision tree that Kingsborough Center for Teaching and Learning developed especially for assessing integration between two content courses, we met in groups to assess a piece of student work from one of the learning community classes. After a bit, the facilitators showed us the prompt that had been used to introduce the assignment. It didn't take much examination at all to recognize that a good portion of the poor results from the student had been "set up" by the poor assignment prompt. Wow! Talk about a powerful learning experience.

8. Assignment Scaffolding. Speaking of assignment design, another practical strategy that impressed me was the notion of assignment scaffolding. This was one of those that came not as a featured session but as an aside that for whatever reason caught my attention. I find it mostly useful as a metaphor/criteria for developing well constructed assignments. If you're a fan of George Lakoff's ideas on the centrality of metaphor, you'll notice we've just jumped into a building and construction metaphor. We can speak about our foundation, about creating something solid that lasts, and much more. The metaphor is generative. You've probably already figured out what assignment scaffolding is. A learning activity begins small by giving a student place to stand, then from that new higher position, a second activity proceeds that builds on the skills acquired at level one. This can be done within a single class but the more interesting challenge for we CORE people is how to create assignment scaffolding that works across courses and through semesters. For a good example from Canada, see this one from an accounting instructor.

9. Shared Pedagogies.There was no special session but the term shared pedagogies came up several times over the course of the three day conference.Apparently, benefits multiply for student and teachers when the same approaches to learning are encountered in different classes. I'd say cooperative learning is a shared pedagogy in several of our colleges.

10. Powerful Keynotes. There isn't time to develop their ideas here, but take my word for it. Veronica Boix Mansilla (Pedagogy of the Contemporary) and Bruce Hutton (The Daniels Compass) are definitely worth a price of admission. I'll post their presentation materials here as soon as they become available.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Deciding What to Teach and Learn

I noticed that the keynote speaker on Thursday night for the upcoming AACU Conference on Integrative Learning is Veronica Boix Mansilla.

Mansilla is Lecturer, Graduate School of Education, and Principal Investigator with Project Zero, Harvard University.

Upon seeing her name in the program and realizing she was part of Project Zero I was reminded of the respect I've held for Project Zero for many years. I've always thought it a shame that not more educators know who they are or what they do.

Howard Gardner, who wrote Five Minds for the Future (which one of the CORE committees is reading) is also part of Project Zero. As is my hero, David Perkins, from whom you shall hear more in a moment.

In case you are curious, the reason Project Zero has the zero in its name is it's founder believed that "... learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that "zero" had been firmly established about the field."

Their mission, then is "to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels."

But I digress.

In Smart Schools which was published in 1992, Perkins included a section he called Theory One.

As we embark on the task of deciding what this much ballyhooed Learning Framework/s? course ought to be, I thought it might be helpful to review what he said.

So here it is straight from page 45: Theory One.

A rather good theory of teaching and learning can be stated in a single sentence.The theory is not terribly sophisticated. It does not require elaborate laboratory research to test and justify. But pursuing its implications can take us a long way toward a much improved vision of classroom practice. So simple is this theory, so much a rough-hewn, first-order approximation to the conditions that foster learning, that we will call it Theory One, saving higher numbers for fancier theories.

Theory One says this:

People learn much of what they have a reasonable opportunity and motivation to learn.

How could so outrageously bland a statement about teaching possibly imply anything about better classroom practice? Admittedly, Theory One seems entirely too mousy for the job. But this is the Mouse That Roared. To see its power, we need to elaborate somewhat on the implications of the one-sentence version of Theory One. What is "reasonable opportunity and motivation to learn."? Without resorting to any technical knowledge about learning, one might commonsensically put down the following conditions:

--Clear information. Descriptions and examples of the goals, knowledge needed, and the performances expected.

-- Thoughtful practice. Opportunity for learners to engage actively and reflectively whatever is to be learned -- adding numbers, solving word problems, writing essays.

-- Informative feedback. Clear, thorough counsel to learners about their performance, helping them to proceed more effectively.

-- Strong intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Activities that are amply rewarded, either because they are very interesting and engaging in themselves or because they feed into other achievements that concern the learner.

So there it is, Theory One, a commonsense conception of a good teaching practice. Theory One aims simply to establish a baseline. For any performance we want to teach, if we supply clear information about the performance by way of examples and descriptions, offer learners time to practice the performance and think about how they are handling it, provide informative feedback, and work from a platform of strong intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, we are likely to have considerably success with the teaching.

Perkins, David. Smart Schools: From Training Memories to Educating Minds. New York: Free Press-Macmillan, 1992.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Their Characteristics, Our Perceptions

Step 1 in Fink's course design process calls for us to "Identify Important Situational Factors." Question no. 4 on the worksheet asks for us to characterize the learners.

In trying to think about this, I remembered the campus wide e-mail I had sent in June 2009 just as the Learning Frameworks Committee was getting started. I read through all the responses, of course, when I first received them, but I wanted to present them in a way that might reveal the larger picture and maybe facilitate some sort of analysis.

So I re-sent them to this address:

I lightly edited the results and applied labels as best I could. The right hand column shows those labels sorted so that the issues mentioned most often are at the top of the list. Of course, this is not a scientific survey (as they say) but I thought the responses did provide a rich overview of our students (and, incidentally, of our perceptions.

What do you see? (Don't forget you can look up a particular word with the search box in the upper left corner of the screen.)

I don't think there are many surprises here but perhaps seeing all the perceptions organized this way will help us think through the material better and also to give proper attention to the most imposing factors.

Here's the text of my original e-mail...

The Question: NEW TO RICHLAND STUDENT - What does she look like?

The answer is not blonde and 5 ' 2". Well, I guess it sometimes is, but that's not the point of the question.

I'm on the district committee that is charged with developing a new required course for students who enter college with less than 12 credits. This was one of the recommendations of the DCCCD Core Curriculum Group headed by Becki
Williams last year. It's currently called the LEARNING FRAMEWORKS course and is scheduled to begin in Fall 2010..

Our first assignment is to come to the next meeting and tell the committee what the "new to college student" looks like at Richland.

Since that covers a lot of territory I thought I'd get some help. From YOU. If you're game.

The idea, of course, is to build a profile so we'll KNOW who we're going to be teaching. So we can tailor the course to their real needs.

Feel free to contribute just a little piece or an extended dissertation. Thanks in advance :)

Gary Duke, 6/4/2009

Other opinions can be added by sending an e-mail to: The subject line will become the heading for the blog post.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Opportunities for Learning and Change

In July I visited a friend in Boston who is in her last year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Being both the nosy type and a book lover, I did my usual routine -- I browsed her book shelf. My eyes fell upon a thin green book, The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives by Robert Marzano and John Kendall (2nd ed).

Of course, this isn't exactly bed side reading material -- but it immediately caught my interest because of my involvement with the Learning Frameworks Committee.

My friend explained that this was her professor's choice as the best update of Bloom's work. The original publication came out in 1956 and I knew that there have been many attempts to correct and revise Bloom. But given the prestige of this recommendation, I decided to spend some time with Marzano and Kendall.

To make a long story short, I was incredibly impressed.

And I instantly saw an application for Frameworks since I knew that Bloom was one of the theories included in the Russ Hodges material.

I make no claim to have absorbed the whole book. But just reading the first chapter (which is conveniently available in Google Books) was enough for me. Actually pages 10-12 were enough. The authors call it the Model of Behavior that undergirds the New Taxonomy.

I can't say for sure why it resonated so perfectly for me. It's probably because of the way that it brings motivation and metacognition into the forefront. Learning and change begin with the self-system and a decision whether or not to engage. The strength of that engagement determines the extent to which a metacognitive system is employeed, and finally the cognitive system does its work. Each of the three "mental systems" works on and with the individual's store of knowledge.

I'm an intuitive so perhaps I'm making too much of a leap here. But what I saw in this was a compelling way to organize the material in the Learning Frameworks course. Begin with the self-system, then move through the other components. There's a logic to this if Marzano is correct when he says these are steps and represent "how information is processed once a decision to engage has been made. (11)

Here's what he says about the primacy of self-system thinking.

"The self-system consists of an interrelated arrangement of attitudes, beliefs, and emotions. It is the interaction of thee attitudes, beliefs, and emotions that determines both motivation and attention. The self-system determines whether an individual will engage in or disengage in a given task; it also determines how much energy the individual will bring to the task. Once the self-system has determined what will be be attended to, the functioning of all other elements of thought (i.e., the metacognitive system, the cognitive system, and the knowledge domains) are, to a certain extent, dedicated or determined. This is why the act of the self-system's selecting a task has been referred to as 'crossing the Rubicon.' " (55)

Once the Rubicon is crossed, the next system falls naturally into place. The metacognitive system is the system of goals, strategy, and self monitoring that provides the structure which enables the cognitive functions (retrieval, comprehension, analysis, and utilization) to succeed.

Knowledge is a whole other thing probably deserving it's own separate blog post. And that's convenient because I've run out of writing steam and I expect you're probably nearing your supply of reading steam as well. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why I Think The Fink Road Map is the Way to Go

I've made no secret of the fact that I believe the course design approach championed by Dee Fink is the one we ought to use as we design the Learning Frameworks course.

There aren't many times in life when you have an chance to spend a whole year with colleagues creating something that can potentially help many, many students for years to come. If we get it right, it'll be hugely important in the history of this district. If we give it less than our very best effort, it seems to me, we miss a real opportunity.

Sadly, I could write way too many pages describing why I believe this. I won't.

Here are my reasons -- in a nutshell.

1. Because it's theory based.

The 150 item bibliography in his book Creating Significant Learning Experiences and his frequent references to the literature of the scholarship of teaching and learning bear witness to the fact that he has done his homework. And 25 years working with the faculty at The University of Oklahoma and in consultancies across the country means this is not just ivory tower stuff.

Here's a simple example of how the theory based part helps. At our next committee meeting we'll be discussing the gathering of information from stakeholders -- students, instructors, community members, etc. Because we can connect that to what Fink calls identifying situational factors, we know the real reason we're doing it. He makes that clear: We need to know which factors are important for us and which we can safely set aside. If the identified important factors aren't accounted for well, we could end up with a course that doesn't work.

2. Because it actually is a course design method.

That may sound silly, but when one reads Fink's description of the method that most instructors use in developing a new course (Creating, p. 61) it becomes pretty obvious that something more systematic might be in order. Rather than doing the natural thing -- which is to start listing major topics to be covered, integral course design begins by asking more fundamental questions and building strong course components that will function together as a real system. His 12 step program and the order in which these are done insure that we'll not overlook anything important and that our concern with content won't overshadow other important aspects.

3. Because it makes explicit the pathway we're taking.

By demystifying the processes we're using to create the course, we make it possible for others to improve on what we've done. And if we've made any missteps others can more easily come along and do "course correction" because they'll know not only what we've done but why we've done it. And those who will ultimately teach the course will be able to understand much more deeply the decisions we make which will, in turn, free them to adapt (as all teachers will) in a way that does not depart from the spirit of what we're all trying to accomplish.

I could also say ...

... that that the whole thing just rings true to me and that it holds out the possibility of our creating something truly great! But I won't say that. Instead, I'll just shut up (finally).

Have a nice day. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What is an SLE ?

The road map provided by Dee Fink's approach to creating new courses is premised on two powerful ideas : 1) Integrated Course Design and 2) Significant Learning Experiences (SLE's).

The first idea -- Integrated Course Design-- means you design all the key ingredients (goals, activities, and assessment) from the very beginning so that everything functions as a balanced system. This is rarely done. It's nearly always the case that content (what is to be taught and learned) takes precedence over everything else.

The second idea -- Significant learning experiences -- means ... Well, what exactly does it mean?

Setting aside Fink's technical definition for the moment, what does it mean to you? And what in your experience illustrates it?

If we were sitting together and wanted to enrich our understanding of significant learning experiences, I'd recommend we do one of two things (or maybe both).

First. A sentence completion using the following stem: "A significant learning experience is ... "

Or you might like this one better: "You know its a significant learning experience when..."

If we were then to share those personal definitions, we'd find that each one of them would add some small dimension to our shared perception of the concept.

Second. If some of us were willing to share a particular memory of a significant learning experience, that too would enrich our understanding and become part of our shared, constructed meaning. And if we'd put on our "analytical hats" just for a few moments and share specifically what made those experiences significant, we'd move forward a tiny bit more. The more we did this kind of thing the deeper our understanding of significant learning experiences would become.

Ummmmmm. It occurs to me that we COULD do this ... using this blog.

If you're willing to share, send your definitions and stories to The e-mail will be immediately posted to our blog DCCCD Significant Learning Experiences. The subject line will be the post title and the text of your e-mail will be the text of the blog. This is the quick and easy way to do it.

If you want to contribute to this blog, contact Gary Duke and let him know you'd like to be an "authorized blogger." He'll send you an invitation.

PS. If you're not sure of any of this, but you'd like to comment on something here, all you have to do is click on the Comment link. The comment will appear without your name unless you type it as part of the comment. If you're logged into your Google account, your name will appear automatically.

Come on. Join in the fun. :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Creating Significant Learning Experiences

In the summer of 2003 I was lucky enough to attend Teaching for a Change, a week long conference for community college folks focused entirely on the improvement of teaching. That year it was in Park City, Utah, a not too shabby location for a professional conference.

Though the conference is small -- Richland is one of the sponsors-- it is incredibly rich. I met people there from all over the world who had uncovered it in a web search and decided to take a shot. I talked to many of them and they were never disappointed. Lots of folks said it was the best conference they'd ever attended.

It was there that I was introduced to the work of Dee Fink.

It wasn't like there was a whole program on him. He was really only mentioned in the context of a class that Al Schroeder and I attended about "Constructing Good Tests." It sounded like a real snoozer. We only went because there was absolutely nothing being offered that hour. It turned out to be incredibly enlightening. I eventually realized it was because it was built on the principles of something called "integrated course design" which is the brain child of Dee Fink and his associates at The University of Oklahoma.

Fink started as a geographer but soon realized he loved helping other instructors improve their teaching. He founded the Instructional Development Program at OU in 1979. Most of his work these days is traveling the country giving workshops on how to create new college courses using the principles of integrated course design.

It wasn't too long after the conference that I got notice of the publication of his seminal work, Creating Significant Learning Experiences (Jossey-Bass, 2003). As always, the book provides the most in-depth, sophisticated presentation of the ideas. But there are other ways to get the basics including a powerpoint and a web site. A think that probably a close, careful reading of the 34 page A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning is the very best way, short of reading the whole book (which I plan to do this summer). Anyone else up for the challenge ?

I consider myself privileged to serve on the Core Curriculum Committee charged with the design of the new Learning Frameworks class to begin in 2010. I think The Self-Directed Guide provides the best road map I've seen for creating a class that can be "truly significant" in the DCCCD.