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Recently, a new faculty member asked me about how David Kolb’s Learning Styles, that developed out of his Experiential Learning Theory, and the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) intersect or relate to course design. Why and when would you use one or the other when designing instruction? It took me some time to think about this question. This is because I don’t totally agree with the concept of specific learning styles as Kolb describes them, however I do think that most people have learning preferences. David Kolb developed an Experiential Learning Cycle and then developed four learning styles based on preference of learners working within this learning cycle.

In contrast, UDL is a way to think about designing a learning environment for all learners and all learning preferences. UDL is based on research in Neuroscience and the principles of Universal Design in architecture. More information about UDL can be found at the CAST website. The UDL model proposes a series of principles based on three brain networks used for learning. These brain networks, called Recognition, Strategic, and Affective, are each correlated to a set of practices that teachers can use to design instruction and learning environments. These practices are described in the UDL guidelines.  Read more about each of the practices here.

One way to identify your learning style, as defined by Kolb, is by taking an inventory. A learning style inventory asks a series of questions about how you prefer to work or learn. Upon completion of the inventory, you total the points to have an idea of what your own learning style is according to the assessment instrument. I think taking a learning style inventory as a group can be helpful, when working on a team. Each member completes the inventory and then the group intentionally discusses how each person prefers to learn and to work. This activity gives the team a common vocabulary to use when discussing each person’s results and preferences. It is also a way of creating team expectations and norms, as everyone discusses and reflects on their own preferences and how that relates to the whole group.

(Kolb’s website, http://learningfromexperience.com/ has inventories available for purchase.)

When discussing learning styles/preferences, it’s important to keep in mind that a person’s preferences are not necessarily fixed; they can change over time or be expanded upon. The process of experiential learning that Kolb discusses is one of experience, reflection, and experimentation. This learning cycle takes into consideration many of the ideas in UDL. Learning by reflection and using critical thinking are key parts of the strategic brain network. As are the ideas and new experiments that come from reflection.

Here are the Stages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle as cited from McLeod (2010):

  1. Concrete Experience – (a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of an existing experience).
  2. Reflective Observation (of the new experience. Any inconsistencies between experience and understanding are particularly important).
  3. Abstract Conceptualization (Reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept).
  4. Active Experimentation (the learner applies new ideas and modifications to the world around them to see what results happen).

Jim Julius, an education blogger, writes about learning styles in this post, on his blog, Education Everywhere. He brings up the idea that students can also use learning styles as a crutch or an excuse.  I recommend reviewing the comment section on this post.  Quite a few commenters on the post bring up UDL as a method they like when designing instruction.

The good thing about Kolb’s model and UDL is that both are getting educators to think about the learners in the classroom and how to design a positive learning experience for them.

References:

Julius, J. (2012). Time for a Learning Styles Post. Retrieved from:http://jjulius.org/2012/06/01/time-for-a-learning-styles-post/ . Retrieved: 2/26/15.

McLeod, S. A. (2010). Kolb – Learning Styles. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/learning-kolb.html .Retrieved: 2/28/15.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2014) What is UDL? Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl. Retrieved: 2/28/15.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2014) What is UDL? Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines. Retrieved: 2/28/15.

Smith, M. K. (2001, 2010). ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from:http://infed.org/mobi/david-a-kolb-on-experiential-learning/. Retrieved: 2/28/15.

 

This is an interesting read by Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University. “Why I just asked my students to put their laptops away.” Shirky holds a joint appointment as an Associate Arts Professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program as well as an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department, and he’s a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

UVM’s Blackboard now has tools that allow instructors to connect their courses to publishers’ online textbook materials and assessments.

Jean Marc Côté, 1899

Jean Marc Côté, 1899

In the past, publishers sometimes offered “course cartridges” to place publisher materials into your Blackboard course space. Recently, however, they’ve been moving away from this method.

What we see most frequently now is that publishers host textbook materials on their own Learning Management Systems and provide a tool in Blackboard for instructors to connect their course spaces directly to the these systems.

You might think of this as the publishers having set up their own Blackboard course spaces for each textbook. When you want to use their online materials, you simply turn on the tool in your course to create the link between your course and theirs.

One advantage is that it streamlines students access—they don’t have to register or enter separate codes because this is handled automatically. They can even take quizzes/tests and use other interactive tools on the publisher’s site, and the results of this activity can be sent back to your Blackboard Grade Center.

UVM currently supports a number of publishers, including Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and Acrobatiq.
Read instructions here on how to add these tools to your course.

pumpkinsApplications are now being accepted for the UVM Hybrid Course Initiative program (phase 3). The deadline is Monday, November 3rd at 5pmRead more about teaching hybrid courses, about the initiative, and the benefits in applying to teach one of these courses.

 

This fall, the CTL sponsored a book group exploring contemplative teaching/learning methods. The book, Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning (Barbezat and Bush, 2013), describes a pedagogy that is based on long-established meditative practices and cites research indicating its effectiveness. The authors explore contemplative teaching practices’ potential to:

  • Deepen student understanding of, and personal connection to, course content
  • Develop student attention, inquiry, and problem-solving skills
  • Support student sense of compassion for self and others

In addition to theoretical background, the book presents practical ideas for applying these practices across disciplines, including mindfulness, deep listening, contemplative reading, writing, and movement.

Led by Kit Anderson, senior lecturer in the Environmental Program, the book group’s ten enthusiastic members, representing a variety of disciplines, shared stories from their teaching experiences. Kit, who has attended seminars presented by the book’s authors and has been integrating these practices into her teaching for a while, was invaluable to the discussions.

We would to like grow this community of faculty who are curious about contemplative pedagogy and plan to offer this book group again early in the spring semester. If you would like to be sent a scheduling poll for this group, please send your contact information to ctl@uvm.edu. Please include in the message that you are interested in participating in the contemplative practices book group. Specific times and dates will be chosen after the poll has been completed and will reflect the most common dates.

[The professor’s] only difficulty … was to get [students] to talk at all. He had to devise schemes to find what they were thinking about and induce them to risk criticism from their fellows.

The Education of Henry Adams

The quote on the right is from the 1919 autobiography by Henry Adams, a descendant of the two Presidents.

If the “difficulty” he refers to sounds familiar—if your classroom discussions could benefit from a jolt of energy and inspiration—you are not alone.

Some of the common class discussion challenges instructors face are:

  1. asking the right questions – ones that spark ideas and elicit thoughtful replies
  2. getting the less assertive or shy students to speak up
  3. the sound of nothing but crickets chirping after a question is proffered

We invite you to attend Tips for Great Class Discussion, from our “Sound (Teaching) Bite” series coming up on Wednesday 9/17 at noon. This one-hour event will be led by J. Dickinson, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the CTL. (Registration is appreciated.)

Helpful Resources:

From Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

From American Astronomical Society Education Office

From Faculty Focus

We welcome your suggestions for more resources on this topic.

Tip #1: Learn names. Jonathan Leonard (CDAE) makes the effort to learn every student’s name, even when he has hundreds of students. His strategy is to open the class roster page in Banner and display the students’ photos and, while studying each face, he speaks their names aloud. Over and over. And over. Occasionally he shifts the page arrangement, by changing the row settings to, for instance, olddesks three across instead of five, and he keeps testing himself. He admits that it takes several practice sessions, but he claims the effort is well worth it. His students are completely astonished when he greets them at the door by first name. A large class it may be, but an indistinct mass of anonymous faces it is not. Individuals are being recognized and this, he says, changes the whole game.

(By the way, Jonathan isn’t the only one to stress the value of learning names. Every year when the CTL holds a panel discussion with the latest winners of the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, at least one of the panelists mentions that this practice is vital to their teaching style.)

More resources and techniques:

Tip #2: Get students talking. Sheila Boland-Chira (English) recommends the turn and talk method in any class, but particularly on the first day when anxiety may be running a little high. She asks an evocative question related to the course topic and invites students to turn to their neighbors and talk about it. After a few minutes, she invites volunteers to share their thoughts with the whole group. Not only does the lively buzz change the atmosphere in the room, doing this on the first day lets students know that the class is participatory and that they are going to be challenged to think.

More ideas:

Tip #3 Make personal connections. Char Merhtens (Geology) asks students to come to her office and meet with her individually during the first week or two of the semester, just to say hi and chat for a few minutes. However, because there are 200+ students in one of her classes, visiting with everyone isn’t practicable, so she invites only the first-years and seniors, the two groups she feels would most benefit from this (although, for completely different reasons). Char says that this simple social gesture has paid off in countless ways and many students go out of their way to thank her.

Tip #4: It’s standard practice to review the syllabus on the first day of class, but a few faculty offered tips to make this ritual more meaningful:

  • Before the first class meets, contemplate your schedule again and identify the overarching themes. When you review the syllabus on the first day, share this 10,000-foot view with your students and talk about how the key themes are woven throughout the schedule. This overview provides not only a conceptual map of the course, but a rationale for the work you are going to be asking them to do.
  • Make the syllabus review more engaging by including interesting visual elements, e.g., drawings, concept maps, or a humorous cartoon. Consider playing music.
  • Use Blackboard’s test tool to create a short quiz about the syllabus with multiple-choice type questions (so Blackboard will do the grading for you) and make it a mandatory assignment by the second day of class. Doing this gets them to delve deeper into the syllabus and you can review the stats in Blackboard before the next class, so you can touch upon any murky areas.

Tip #5: Finally, convey enthusiasm! J. Dickinson (Anthropology) offered what might be the most important tip for the first class and every class: that it’s crucial to communicate your excitement about what you teach. Even if you’re not teaching your dream course, you should be able to muster enthusiasm for it. Foundational or introductory-level courses are exciting when you consider the potential for learning and that you just may spark an interest that has a formative effect on someone’s life. Genuine enthusiasm can be infectious.

Recently, President Sullivan announced a new award to recognize staff “who exemplify the qualities of the University of Vermont’s Our Common Ground, the statement of aspirations and shared values for the UVM Community.” In part, this new award seeks to make Our Common Ground a living document, relevant to UVM today and in the future.

While this statement of institutional values was endorsed the UVM Board of Trustees in 1998, the current UVM community may not be fully aware of its existence. In honor of the President‘s effort to bring everyone‘s attention back to these values, there is now a menu link to Our Common Ground in the new Blackboard course spaces, as of the Summer session, 2014. Here is the statement in its entirety:

We aspire to be a community that values:

RESPECT. We respect each other. We listen to each other, encourage each other, and care about each other. We are strengthened by our diverse perspectives.

INTEGRITY. We value fairness, straightforward conduct, adherence to the facts, and sincerity. We acknowledge when things have not turned out the way we had hoped. As stewards of the University of Vermont, we are honest and ethical in all responsibilities entrusted to us.

INNOVATION. We want to be at the forefront of change and believe that the best way to lead is to learn from our successes and mistakes and continue to grow. We are forward-looking and break new ground in addressing important community and societal needs.

OPENNESS. We encourage the open exchange of information and ideas from all quarters of the community. We believe that through collaboration and participation, each of us has an important role in determining the direction and well-being of our community.

JUSTICE. As a just community, we unite against all forms of injustice, including, but not limited to, racism. We reject bigotry, oppression, degradation, and harassment, and we challenge injustice toward any member of our community.

RESPONSIBILITY. We are personally and collectively responsible for our words and deeds. We stand together to uphold Our Common Ground.”

See the webpage.

Blackboard Jungle 7 kicked off this week with a keynote by Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Monday and continues this Friday, March 28th, with a day of workshops and presentations. (See schedule)

In support of Blackboard Jungle, the CTL is offering two workshops in collaboration with Writing in the Disciplines.   They’ll take place on April 4th from 9:30am -12:45pm at CTL in room 303 Bailey Howe. Follow the links below to register for one or both of the workshops.

–April 4, 2014, Bailey/Howe 303
Bridging the Gaps: Creating More Inclusive Teaching Environments

Part I

9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
This workshop will cover techniques and strategies on how to create more inclusive physical and virtual teaching environments.
Facilitators: Henrietta “Henrie” Paz-Amor and Holly Buckland Parker
» REGISTER HERE

Part II

11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
This second part will focus on development of curricula for face-to-face and online courses using the principles of Universal Design for Learning with the goal of making learning accessible for ALL students.
Facilitators: Holly Buckland Parker and Susanmarie Harrington
» REGISTER HERE

If you’re interested in teaching a hybrid course, the chance to apply for training and support from the Hybrid Course Initiative will be available for just a few more days. The applications to be part of the next cohort (starting in Fall 2014) will close on Monday, March 31st, end of day. This cohort will be developing courses to be taught in either the Spring or Fall 2015.

» Read an article about Anthropology Professor Emily Manetta’s experience going through the program and teaching a hybrid course.

» Go to the application information webpage.