Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: Open Learning Initiative



Reviewed by:  Linda B. Nilson, Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University, USA

The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is a carefully selected collection of free and publicly available online courses and course materials developed at Carnegie Mellon University.  The courses, all at the introductory or intermediate undergraduate level, span a wide range of academic subjects: biology, chemistry, physics, engineering statics, computational discrete mathematics, causal and statistical reasoning, statistics, empirical research methods (e.g., multiple regression), logic and proofs (modern symbolic logic), economics, French (two course levels), and visual communication design.  These courses are designed for the independent learner--none is instructor-led--and have been tested and revised multiple times by an open learning community.  They feature high-quality graphics, videos, interactive animations, interactive games, exercises, test questions and problems, case studies, data sets, experiments, and even automatically graded workbooks.  Most of these teaching tools qualify as learning objects, which students can play and replay until they understand the material. 

Educational developers can refer faculty to the OLI for several purposes.  It offers well-designed teaching tools that faculty can freely integrate into their own classroom-based courses for demonstrations, in-class activities (with computers), and homework.  As the comprehension checks and other exercises are self-grading, students receive immediate feedback and, in addition to saving grading time, instructors can instantly access the results.  Instructors can even play back student laboratories to monitor participation and decision-making.  Of course, these tools can also be used in online courses.  To prepare faculty for online teaching, educational developers may want their faculty to take one of these courses, instead of enrolling in a standard online course, in order to experience being an online learner.  Moreover, both new and experienced online instructors can accelerate the often long process of online course design and development by drawing resources and activities from these course packages. 

Keywords:  online courses, introductory courses, learning objects, interactive

Review: Advice for New Faculty Members



Revised version; first published in the University of Ottawa’s Centre for University Teaching newsletter, Teaching Options p├ędagogiques, Vol. 9 No. 1, June 2004.

Reviewed by:  Eric Kristensen, Director, Teaching and Learning Centre, Capilano University

Remember what it was like taking your first teaching job right out of graduate school?  Perhaps it was decades ago, perhaps just a few years ago, or perhaps you are making that transition right now.  Robert Boice has made a life’s work of studying the experiences of new faculty members, and of academic culture in general.  The summary of his findings, experiences, and advice can be found in this book, expressed in a thoughtful and conversational style.  Boice notes that the magnitude of the transition from graduate student to professor is “far larger than most new faculty anticipate.  Indeed, it may surpass the transition from living with your family and near life-long friends to independent life at college.” (p. 225).  He goes on to point out that this phenomenon is not limited to young new faculty members: professionals arriving on campus after a successful career outside academia face an even more daunting transition.

What exacerbates the difficulty of making this change?  Often, the warmth that potential new professors feel during the recruitment stage is replaced, once they arrive on campus, with a culture of busyness and isolation.  “Almost all the failures and miseries of … new hires owed to misunderstandings about effective ways of working and socializing…. What marked [their] career beginnings … [was] the immoderation and excessiveness with which they worked – with far more misdirection, busyness and disruptive distress than for their successful peers who simplified their work and their lives.” (pp. 1-2)

How then does one survive?  Boice’s mantra is nihil nimus – nothing in excess.  According to his research of exemplary new faculty, moderate and consistent work will surpass constant busyness and late night work binges every time.  He offers invaluable, research-based advice for planning and organizing the early years of your career, and then provides exercises to guide your planning for the three major tasks of your academic career: teaching, writing and social integration into the department and university.

For teaching, Boice found that one of the most reliable predictors of faculty success or failure over the long term was what he calls classroom incivilities.  These include students talking so loudly that other students cannot hear what is going on in class, students who interrupt a lecture with sarcastic comments or disapproving groans, or a classroom provocateur whose “unpredictable and highly emotional outbursts…make the entire class tense.” (pp. 85-86)  In his study of new faculty at colleges and universities, “classroom incivilities dominated many classrooms, and its presence or absence in first classes proved a strong predictor of how teaching careers would proceed, even of how likely new faculty would thrive in the reappointment process.” (p. 82)  The trigger points for many of these scenarios turn out to be the first days of class, before and after the first and second exams, and near the deadlines for major projects.  Boice gives new faculty members sound advice on how to understand and mitigate these events, which can be so corrosive of students’ and teachers’ experience of a course.

Turning his attention to writing and research, Boice again advises that daily, short sessions dedicated to writing result in far greater productivity than setting aside large chunks of time.  Work moderately, but consistently, and one’s success as a writer will increase.  Again, he offers advice based on his research as well as exercises and guidelines designed to stimulate a frame of mind for writing.  His list of exemplary writing habits includes:
  • Awareness of the need for preliminaries before rushing to prose
  • Patience for timely stopping (and, in turn, for timely starting)
  • Seeing what needs doing and doing it with constancy / moderation
  • Calm emotions and low levels of suffering
  • More compassion for self and critics
  • Self-discipline focused on pleasant efficiencies. (p. 112)
This may come off as a bit of Zen for profs, but he backs up his claims with solid research and practical advice on how to realize the benefits of this approach.

Boice’s final subject is the socialization of new faculty members in their department and the university.  This process can be tricky, and he takes pains to be frank about academic culture and to describe how successful new faculty members negotiate this potential minefield.  Unstated expectations, diverse personalities, and stress over retention, promotion and tenure processes can take a toll.  Boice again offers advice gleaned from observing exemplary faculty members, and provides useful exercises and tasks to help new faculty members learn about their department, build relationships with colleagues both within and without the department, and find effective mentors and nurture them.  His research found that successful mentoring resulted in a new faculty member always coming close to department expectations for scholarly productivity, always exceeding departmental expectations for adequate teaching, and always rated by reappointment committees as adequately collegial and cooperative.

When someone on my professional listserv once asked for recommended books to give to new faculty, Judith Miller from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts replied that her center has offered this book to new faculty members for several years.  Many of the WPI faculty members described Boice’s book as “transformative.”  Perhaps you are one of the three to five percent of Boice’s new faculty members who are exemplary role models, and for you this book will simply confirm what you already suspect is true.  But for most of you who are new faculty, and for those educational developers who work with new faculty colleagues, I predict that this book will prove to be full of useful and sage counsel.

Review: The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map



Reviewed by:  Alice Cassidy, In View Education and Professional Development

Try a fresh and creative approach + Really introduce your students to your course = Linda Nilson -> Graphic syllabus + Outcomes Map -> Maximize learning

I attended my first STLHE conference in 2001, hosted by Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland and was lucky/smart enough to attend a pre-conference workshop on graphic syllabi, led by Linda Nilson. Throughout my academic training in the biological sciences, I always found that visual tools, such as maps, charts and diagrams worked better for me than prose, lists, or other large blocks of text. Taking part in Linda’s session and reading this book helped to inspire me to use these approaches in my own teaching and educational development work.

This slim volume (181 pages) is filled with practical information that you can use right away, whether you are designing a course for the first time, or looking for ways to freshen it up and help your students to be as enthusiastic about the course and their part in it as you are about teaching it.

The book reads the way Linda facilitates – clear, organized, concise, helpful and inspiring. It really is a step-by-step guide. You will be shown how and why graphics enhance learning, with reference to the published literature. She walks the talk, providing a graphic syllabus of the book.

Even for those who are familiar with tools such as concept maps, mind maps and graphic metaphors, the syllabus examples Linda includes, using them to show ways to think about the philosophy, structure, process and sequence of your course, are extremely helpful in taking what is in your head, or on a traditional-style syllabus, and turning it into something that, as Linda describes “students care about.”

You will also find a very clear overview of types of objectives, from ultimate to foundational, explaining several frameworks in the literature that you might use to organize your outcomes map.

Many examples of both graphic syllabi and outcomes maps, sometimes masterfully combined, and from a variety of disciplines, instructors and institutions complete a great book. I found myself flipping through looking at the examples first, then Linda’s notes about each one, then starting the book right from the start. What a great way to visually learn something new!

If you are interested in the use of visual tools for teaching, learning and in other useful contexts, you may also want to explore the work of some other fine colleagues, whose seminars I have really enjoyed over the years, people such as Greg Fleet, Alison Mostrom, Jim Hope and Donna Ellis.

I don’t know him personally, but the Thinking Maps work of David Hyerle is well-known.

I have also written a bit about the use of concept mapping, for use in learning portfolios, in Volume 3 of CELT and with two colleagues at UBC, based on some workshops we led there.

Review: Teaching Today's College Students



Reviewed by:  Melanie Santarossa, University of Windsor

Angela Provitera McGlynn’s Teaching Today’s College Students: Widening the Circle of Success provides an in-depth look at the complex make-up of today’s college students. Grounded in current research in education and coupled with relevant insight from her thirty-five year career, McGlynn concludes that for college students to be successful, instructors must reflect the cultural, racial, generational, and socio-economical background of their pupils in their classroom practices.

The central ideas of Teaching Today’s College Students: Widening the Circle of Success parallel Catherine Black’s treatment of today’s diverse student population in The Dynamic Classroom: Engaging Students in Higher Education. Both The Dynamic Classroom and Teaching Today’s College Students claim that since there is no single method to teach the varied demographics of the twenty-first-century classroom, instructors must be willing to try new strategies to captivate students. In comparison to The Dynamic Classroom, which contains a collection of essays aimed at engaging students with technologies or in large classes, Teaching Today’s College Students addresses how consideration of the diversity in one’s classroom changes the educational landscape for both teacher and student; rather than seeing one another as problematic, the diversity transforms each class into a teachable moment.

The student-centred approach that is the theme of Teaching Today’s College Students: Widening the Circle of Success positions itself alongside Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers as a useful resource for both new and experienced teaching professionals. While the topics discussed in Teaching Tips and Teaching Today’s College Students are supported by relevant theory and research, Teaching Today’s College Students moves a step beyond by its incorporation of sample teaching materials to aid the development of one’s pedagogical practice.

In essence, Readers of Teaching College Students: Widening the Circle for Success will appreciate McGlynn’s dedication to improving the craft of teaching and in turn the education of college students everywhere.

Review: How Learning Works



Reviewed by:  Diana Morarescu, Faculty of Science, McMaster University

This book is an excellent resource for all instructors, but I would recommend it especially to those without a formal pedagogy background. It divides learning into seven principles based on a wealth of research in teaching, learning, psychology and cognition. The book addresses the impact on learning of many factors: prior knowledge, motivation, knowledge organization, mastery development, feedback and practice, student development (intellectual and social), course climate and self-directed learning. Each chapter provides case studies, an overview of the principle and suggested approaches based on research. The appendix section contains valuable resources and examples of tools recommended in these approaches. It is a great collection of information that feels well rounded and a good initial resource. It has an extensive reference list to support the arguments presented throughout.

Personally, I appreciated this book as it highlights issues that are easily overlooked by many instructors, even when we go in to teach with the best of intentions and put in effort to help students learn.  The way that students organize knowledge, and the way experts address problems and come to solutions were an eye-opener for course organization/ planning and skill development goals. At times, all the course aspects that impact learning seemed overwhelming for this instructor. My personal learning style will determine me to create a checklist to make sure I address all these issues in my course designs.

Review: Pathways into the Profession of Educational Development




Reviewed by:  Nicola Simmons, Research and Evaluation Consultant, Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo

I’ve just finished reading this wonderful resource for educational developers, and am so pleased to be writing a review so I can strongly encourage you, regardless of your ED career stage, to immediately take the time to read it. It is eminently readable, and the nine chapters offer a rich array of perspectives on ED history and current practice.

Situated in international ED history, Karron Lewis’ opening chapter provides an overview of the evolution of educational development centres, including the differences in growth in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. She notes the importance of links to the culture of the individual institutions and outlines different models of educational development that have me thinking about where my own centre and my efforts at SoTL advocacy would fit.

Mary Deane Sorcinelli and Ann Austin tease out differences amongst educational developers’ career pathways in their large US and Canadian study. They discuss influences on educational developers’ work, noting that Chairs and Deans have the least influence; faculty members and senior administrators the most. This highlights an ongoing challenge to ED work: Given that Chairs and Deans can be powerful allies when it comes to curriculum work, teaching criteria for promotion and tenure, and the overall valuing of teaching and its activities, how do we engage in conversations at this critical level?

Jeanette McDonald’s chapter on pathways into educational development is work with which many of us are familiar (it has been presented at several conferences and in fact, many ED people contributed to the data). Mapping out summary threads from 18 ‘case studies’, for me, this chapter opens a number of avenues for further inquiry into this recent area of interest: What draws people to become educational developers and with what do they identify?

“Conceptualizing evolving models of educational development,” by Kym Fraser, David Gosling, and Mary Deane Sorcinelli, outlines three models: ED focused on the individual teaching staff member, ED focused on the institution, and ED focused on the sector (p. 50). Under each of these, they map international examples – I admit I wanted a cheat sheet graphic by the time I’d finished reading, so comprehensive is their summary of models!

Lynn Taylor’s chapter brings the educational development focus back to its links within the disciplines. She offers a framework (in use by a number of other authors) for examining ED work in which attention is paid to “substance”, ”language and symbols”, “modes of inquiry”, “organization”, and “values” (pp. 60-61) as a way of understanding disciplinary distinctions. Her recommendations for the ways in which disciplinary processes can influence ED work serve as a good reminder as we work with departments. 

The chapter by Debra Dawson, Joy Mighty, and Judy Britnell conceptualizes educational developers as institutional change agents, promoting the need to move from a consideration of individual needs to multi-dimensional needs. They assert that prior lists of competencies for educational developers have ignored the importance of educational developers gaining skills in leading change. They offer Kotter’s (1996) model of leading change as a framework for ED work – and discuss the importance of step one: framing the urgent issue that would necessitate change.  Herein are excellent recommendations for leading any kind of institutional change.

Carolyn Hoessler, Judy Britnell, and Denise Stockley write about something that is becoming a central theme of both ED and SoTL conferences: How do we assess the impact of our work? They begin with some reflections on scholarly teaching versus scholarship of teaching and learning (I think this will be an ongoing debate in the discipline, especially with founders in SoTL such as Keith Trigwell asserting that SoTL is not about focusing on peer-reviewed publication, but is about impact on student learning (personal communication, October, 2010), but I digress). The list of components (teaching excellence, consideration of existing educational research, reflection on own teaching and own research about teaching, and research on teaching and learning (p. 87) is accompanied by evidence to match each area – this mapping for alignment helps focus a spotlight on particular areas of professional activity.

What values draw people into educational development? That’s the question posed by David Gosling in his chapter that explores the notion of values – and what happens when our personal values are at odds with those of the institutional contexts in which we work. He offers SEDA’s and POD’s value statements as points for consideration: I wonder how each of our centres would map against these value statements? Is it something we articulate in our work? What is our role as public intellectuals in [politely] challenging the institutional values when they seem to be at odds with our work?

Joy Mighty, Mathew Ouellett, and Christine Stanley’s chapter closes the book – and yet, leaves us with challenging concerns as they tackle the question of whose voices are absent from the educational development landscape. Written from their perspectives as past presidents of STLHE and POD, they ask us to ponder how to redress imbalances in diversity in our discipline, and to challenge our own implicit assumptions regarding our status and associated power. We could extend their questions not only to our discipline but also to our work: How do we reach those who don’t come forward of their own accord, and in what way are we framing our work such that some feel excluded?

My overall sense after reading the book is that it provides a wonderful snapshot of where we are. In some cases questions for where we might go next are stated; in some they are left for the reader to explore. One of the rich offerings of this volume, however, is the lists of references at the end of each chapter. For anyone thinking of conducting research into educational development, the references comprise a cornucopia of necessary sources. It will be exciting to have the topic re-visited in 5 years or 10 years time – and examine what progress we have made.

I just want to close with thanking Marla Arbach for soliciting reviewers and sending me this book: I find these opportunities (and my corresponding commitment!) are what’s needed for me to take time to read current literature – something I see as fundamental to doing good work, as it provides me the opportunity to think, to reflect, and to pose questions about where I might next take my work.

Review: Getting Culture



Reviewed by:  Yael Harlap, Strategist: Equity, Diversity and Intercultural Understanding, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia

Getting Culture, an edited volume with 31 short, easy-to-read chapters, frames itself as providing ‘best practices’ in teaching about culture and infusing diversity into the higher education curriculum. The book is organized into six sections, including: 


  • General issues in teaching about diversity, which includes several chapters on defining culture and diversity
  • A short section on Feminism and diversity education
  • The inclusive classroom
  • Diversity and online environments
  • Methods and techniques for faculty and diversity trainers, including a useful chapter on Coping methods for diversity scholars (Kelley D. Haynes)
  • Diversity across educational settings

This book gathers together a wide range of topics – exciting to an educational developer who might want to hand a chapter out here and there to faculty colleagues – but as in almost any edited volume, some chapters were stronger than others. For example, Sandra L. Neumann’s The “why’s” and “how’s” of being a social justice ally is a thorough exploration of social identity and the dynamics of being an ally in the classroom, including reflection tools for the educator. Soya, Dawson, Kanner, Wagoner & Soltano’s Assignments and course content in teaching diversity describes a variety of assignments grounded in theory and scholarship and describes their outcomes from a scholarly perspective.

However, some chapters are not sufficiently reflective about the nuances and even risks in teaching diversity and culture. Although they are written to be accessible and encouraging of any educators interested in teaching culture, they are best suited for educators who already have a fair amount of experience teaching about culture and diversity. Getting Culture does not adequately negotiate the dilemma of encouraging faculty to jump in and teach culture and diversity, on the one hand, and of warning – and helping – them to develop an analysis of the issues and a set of skills to facilitate sensitive discussions before experimenting in their classes.

This dilemma is a challenge for all of us who work in the area of culture and diversity in the curriculum, as one cannot continue developing capacities for handling difficult conversations without doing it, without an ongoing practice. Yet I would hesitate before giving Getting Culture to a faculty member unless I knew they already had some experience, a certain depth of analysis of issues of identity, and a deeply reflective approach to their teaching. On the other hand, for an educator – or educational developer – who has some grounding and experience teaching culture and diversity, this book can offer a wide variety of activity and assignment ideas in different contexts. Some chapters also offer useful theoretical grounding, particularly in social psychological findings about learning and prejudice.

The introductory chapters of the classic text, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Ann Bell and Pat Griffin), would make a stronger foundation for educators just starting out in teaching culture and diversity, as well as providing a coherent theoretical framework for more experienced educators. Worth noting is that both Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice and Getting Culture are strongly rooted in the U.S. context, but are still applicable for the Canadian higher education setting.