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.