Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall 2011 EDC Resource Review

The Fall 2011 Resource Review is now available.  Thanks to all our contributors and sponsors!

Prize giveaway: Shaping the College Curriculum

FURTHER UPDATE:  Our original winner, Nicola Simmons, has opted not to claim her prize, so I have randomly selected another winner.  Commenter #14, V. Mac, you are the lucky winner!  Thanks again for participating, and please contact me to arrange for delivery of your prize.

UPDATE:  The winner of this book, as determined by a random number generator at, is commenter #2, Nicola Simmons!  Congratulations, Nicola!  Thank you to everyone for participating.  Stay tuned for more exciting giveaways!

Thanks to our friends at Wiley Canada, we have a copy of Shaping the College Curriculum to give away to one lucky reader.  Enter to win by posting a comment below, telling us a little about your/your department's/your institution's approach to curriculum design.  And don't forget to read the review of this title in the Fall 2011 EDC Resource Review!

Entries must be received by midnight Pacific time on Friday, November 25.  One entry per person.  Winner will be selected randomly and announced on this blog, so please check back after Saturday, November 26 to see if you are the winner.  You do not need to be a member of the EDC to enter.  No geographical restrictions apply.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Prize giveaway: Journal Keeping

UPDATE:  The winner of this contest, as determined by a random number generator, is Katie Linder.  Congratulations, Katie!

To win a copy of Journal Keeping by Dannelle D. Stevens and Joanne E. Cooper, which was reviewed in the Summer 2011 issue, post a comment below telling us your opinion about using journals in teaching.

Entries must be received by midnight Pacific time on Friday, August 26.  One entry per person.  Winner will be selected randomly and announced on this blog, so please check back after Saturday, August 27 to see if you are the winner.  You do not need to be a member of the EDC to enter.  No geographical restrictions apply.

Thank you to our sponsor, Stylus Publishing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer 2011 EDC Resource Review

The Summer 2011 EDC Resource Review is now available!  Thank you to all our contributors and sponsors.

Review: The Syllabus Institute

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

This free, newly-launched online resource offers sound advice on syllabus design and content, especially for the online syllabus.  It addresses topics such as the information that belongs in a syllabus, legal issues surrounding syllabus transparency, syllabus compliance with Universal Design principles and practices, syllabus templates and in-house systems developed by various universities, and model faculty training programs in online syllabus design.  A syllabus self-assessment instrument is available.  The site developers say that their best-practice recommendations are based on their research on over 2,500 syllabi from more than 500 institutions.  Your feedback about the content, design, and additional materials for the site is explicitly invited, and you can even be a guest blogger.  
This site was recently announced on the POD listserv and caused a bit of a stir.  The Syllabus Institute claims to be built on the controversial belief that excellence starts with the syllabus.  Educational developers could more effectively argue that course excellence starts with a firm commitment to student learning, clear and assessable student learning outcomes, cohesive course design, or consonance between outcomes and methods; the syllabus just maps out the plan to help students achieve the outcomes.  One POD member objected to the site’s focus on the syllabus as a contract, an assessment instrument, and a way to draw students into the subject matter, versus the syllabus as a learning tool.  These are fair critiques, but they do not make the resources on the site any less useful to relatively new faculty and graduate student instructors who are struggling to compose a high-quality, legally-sound syllabus.
Educational developers and instructional technologists, such as learning management system specialists, should find this site useful in developing or refining their faculty and graduate student training programs in syllabus design, as well as in providing individual consultation on the topic.  If the site continues to develop, it should serve as a good resource to keep up with evolving syllabus issues.  Of course, faculty can mine this site on their own for good ideas and models, especially with respect to Universal Design and accessibility.

Review: Just-in-Time Teaching

Reviewed by:  Colleen Bell, University of the Fraser Valley

Part of the New Pedagogies and Practices for Teaching in Higher Education series, Just-in-Time Teaching discusses a strategy developed for use in (and out of) the physics classroom, but which, as the book so aptly demonstrates, can be adapted to any discipline.
The editors, both economists, have grouped the book’s 10 chapters into two sections: the first four chapters describe the strategy itself, as well as its relationship to a number of other strategies, including peer instruction and collaborative learning; the remaining chapters discuss how just-in-time teaching (JiTT) has been employed in various disciplines, including biology, geoscience, the physical sciences, economics, history, and the humanities.
Before I picked up this book, I had a vaguely formed idea of what might be involved in JiTT – my own daily work with students involves giving them just enough to chew on to move ahead with whatever assignment they’re working on. But in reality, JiTT is so much deeper and more complex than what I had conceived. It involves structuring students’ out-of-class and in-class activities to build on and play off of each other, and it is grounded heavily in theories of student engagement and cognitive learning; the authors in this volume repeatedly cite several key works, in particular Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000), Bloom (1956), and Chickering and Gamson (1987).
JiTT is deceptively simple. Students prepare for class by completing the assigned readings and the JiTT exercises, which most often consist of “short, thought-provoking questions that, when fully discussed, often have complex answers” (p. 6), usually due 10-12 hours before the class. In class, the instructor incorporates students’ responses to the JiTT exercises into discussion and activities that are designed to complement, supplement and extend the JiTT exercises. As the creators of the strategy note, “students enter the classroom ready to participate actively” and they “have a feeling of ownership because classroom activities are grounded in their own understanding of the relevant issues” (p. 6). But JiTT requires that instructors be able to respond quickly to whatever turns up in the student responses. For seasoned teachers, with a repertoire built from years of teaching, this may not be a problem, but for newer instructors, or those just starting out with JiTT, this aspect might prove somewhat daunting. Fortunately, the book offers many examples, and there are also resources available online.
One of the main benefits of JiTT is that it requires students to engage in deep learning strategies – to apply the concepts from the readings, personalize the knowledge in some way, and engage in metacognitive learning. Well-designed JiTT questions “are effective at uncovering misconceptions, promoting curiosity, and encouraging active student engagement in the learning process” (p. 8). It’s almost impossible to argue that these are not desirable effects.
I have two small criticisms of this book. The first is that it is overly repetitive – even though the basics of the JiTT strategy are thoroughly described and discussed in the first section, each of the chapters in the second section, where authors describe how they have applied JiTT within their own discipline, also includes a sometimes lengthy description of the strategy.
The second criticism is that it would have been nice to see more applications within the humanities. Perhaps it’s just that there are more faculty in the sciences and social sciences who have incorporated the strategy into their own teaching, but that just makes me more curious about how it can be employed in those disciplines in which it is not so common a strategy.
In spite of these criticisms, however, I found the ideas presented by the authors intriguing, and I’m already thinking about how I’m going to make use of them myself.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York: McKay.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 39(7) 3-7.

Review: Journal Keeping

Reviewed by:  John Grant McLoughlin, University of New Brunswick

As the title suggests, this is a comprehensive effort to extol the virtues of journal writing.  Stevens and Cooper (the authors) remain true to their mission of addressing the value of journals for personal development, transformational learning, and pedagogical purposes.  The tone of the book clearly informs the reader that the authors are believers and (long-time) practitioners with respect to using journals as both educators and individuals.  They impressed me with their willingness to raise various issues, such as, the implications/tradeoffs in using computers versus handwriting for journal entries, or matters like evaluating journals as being entirely private (and not to be read but marked only for completion) as opposed to responding to individual entries.
The book is divided into three core sections: Journal Writing and its Theoretical Foundations (Ch. 1-3); Using Journals in Classrooms and Professional Life (Ch. 4-8); and A Collection of Case Studies (Ch.9, 10).  However, it is noteworthy to mention what precedes and follows the core.  The Preface provides readers with guidance concerning the content of the book.  Further, Appendices A (Journal-Writing Techniques) and B (Contributor Contact Information) are helpful resources.  The latter is unusual in that it provides the names, email addresses, disciplines, and journal expertise of a dozen individuals including the authors.  This is a neat feature that goes beyond an acknowledgment, per se.   The final feature of the book is References.  The comprehensiveness of the book is reflected in the hundreds of references covering about fourteen pages.  I will touch upon this comprehensiveness in my concluding comments below.
As mentioned, this book has lots in it about journaling.  If you are new to the idea and want an excellent introduction, the material is here.  If, like me, you have used journal writing in classes, or kept journals yourself, then the book will be somewhat uninviting to read from cover to cover.  In fact, I could not get engaged in the book as a formal read but acknowledge its place as a significant resource.  I could see having this book on the shelf of an EDC or in a library, as it is bound to benefit people interested in learning more about journals and/or addressing specific issues pertinent to the broad area at a pedagogical level. 
On that final point, I should mention what impressed me most as a reviewer given my background (and likely that of many EDC members).  The initial chapter, Journal Writing: Definition and Rationale, provided an excellent entry point for this reader.  I was struck by the clear articulation of a working definition: “We define a journal as a sequential, dated chronicle of events and ideas, which includes the personal responses and reflections of the writer (or writers) on these events and ideas (p. 5).”  The authors go on to identify and explain the six defining attributes of journals: “written, dated, informal, flexible, private, and archival (p. 5).”  I appreciated the fact that the authors early along opened with the definitions and relevant language, while acknowledging the tensions between the competing needs for flexibility and definitions.
In summary, I commend the book on the whole as one that belongs in a resource centre to support teaching and learning.  After that opening chapter it is probable that five or six of us would select different chapters (or features such as appendices) as being most valuable to us.  That is the beauty of the book, in that it is a resource rather than a book to be read in its entirety.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spring 2011 EDC Resource Review

The Spring 2011 edition of the EDC Resource Review is now available!

If you would like to win a copy of Catherine Black's edited volume The Dynamic Classroom, reviewed in this issue, please leave a comment on this post telling us one strategy you have used or experienced that made the classroom a more dynamic place.  Contest closes at midnight Pacific time on June 30, 2011.  Winner will be randomly selected.  No geographical restrictions apply.  Thanks to contest sponsor Atwood Publishing.

Review: World History Sources

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

This site is a project of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University that was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.  The materials address every region of the world--some resources are specific to Canada--from the beginnings of human society through the present time.  They include 1) scholarly evaluations of online archives of primary sources with a view toward quality and teaching value; 2) eight guides written by prominent world history scholars on strategies for analyzing major types of primary sources--specifically, music, images, objects, maps, newspapers, travel narratives, official documents, and personal accounts; 3) eight multimedia case studies of scholars interpreting and adding historical context to these types of primary sources; and 4) sixteen case studies written by high school and college instructors describing how they used a particular primary source to teach in their classes. 
Given its broad historical and geographical scope, this site holds value for faculty in literature, classical studies, anthropology, political science, sociology, geography, music, art, and area studies, as well as all for history faculty of all specializations.  However, many of these faculty may not know about the primary sources available and the  most effective ways to use them in the classroom.  This site will help educational developers advise faculty on creative ways to teach with a wide variety of primary sources.  It could even serve as a base for a workshop on teaching with primary sources.

Review: The Dynamic Classroom and Win Them Over

Reviewed by:  Trevor Holmes, University of Waterloo

At first I wondered why, with many extant standard works in the areas of active learning and preparation for teaching, we need two more to give us scholarly and practical advice about teaching in higher education. Two recent books from Atwood Publishing prove to be useful additions for our new decade with immediate application to the field of practice, though for different reasons and written in quite different tones.
Riding the wave of “engagement” as a precondition for learning (these days, I often find that people will pin such high hopes on engagement as to make it in fact a PROXY for learning, but that’s another story), The Dynamic Classroom: Engaging Students in Higher Education invites any postsecondary educator to consider how best, from design principles, to support all sorts of students in active and deeper learning. I find that from introduction to conclusion, Catherine Black’s edited collection is welcoming, inclusive, and respects practitioners and students alike. The book’s strengths include its diversity of authors and strategies, as well as its often-seamless movement between theory, principles, and practice. 
Divided into four parts, Black’s collection offers practical advice (some of it research-based) for tertiary educators who are either new or considering teaching in a new way:
  • Preparing the Ground for Engaging Students (Questioning, Universal Design, Mind-Mapping)
  • Engaging Students in a Variety of Settings (Discussion in small and medium classes, teaching large classes, inquiry circles)
  • Engaging Students with New Technologies (Blogs, discussion boards, LiveJournal, Online Teaching, ePortfolios, Personal Response Systems, Podcasting)
  • Assessing Students’ Engagement (Online Participation, Portfolio Assessment)

Within and across sections are a few different approaches. There are course-specific stories of techniques and how they have worked, together with suggestions for how they could work for you. A number of chapters set down principles to improve instruction or guide instructional choices. Some of these and several additional chapters offer specific tools or recommended elements of tools and how to implement them.
The book closes in an innovative manner: authors of five of the chapters provide questions for further reflection and integration. They are of mixed quality as prompts, and perhaps most enlightening for those for whom such thinking isn’t already habitual or instinctive. I would consider moving each back to its own chapter or section as a means of effecting both closure and door-opening at once.
One gem among several excellent articles is T. Haffie’s article on “broadcollecting” using clickers. It is compelling not only because of his nine principles for personal response system use, but also because of his obvious respect for the capacity of professors and students to sustain engaged intellectual inquiry together. He asserts that the proper role for clickers is formative feedback, and acknowledges the vulnerability involved in changing one’s practice. Also, and this is I hope not because I have some deep-seated need for NINE principles, J. Specht’s chapter on engagement and learning disabilities covers important history and explains well the reasons behind Universal Design, Universal Instructional Design, and Universal Design for Learning. Her work will, I hope, find its way into workshops on my own campus.
While separately each of the articles was strong, I would have appreciated a little more alignment between E. Wood’s delineation of questioning modes and K. Cawsey’s later thoughts on pauses, question posing, and discussion. As well, I remain befuddled by the inclusion of the E. Meyer et. al. K-12 ePortfolio chapter (with its examples of parent feedback and comma-abusing teacher feedback). Recommendations for higher education in that chapter seem an afterthought, and there are many tertiary education examples that could have been pressed into service instead for this important emerging tool.
For a text authored by so many Canadians, I noted the North American hegemony of its research base. The majority of cited literature comes from the U.S. paradigms, when a great deal of wisdom exists in international research. This gives us the occasional glimpse of behaviourist and mechanistic underpinnings. Thank goodness there are counterexamples in a few cases; wisely, the editor neither sought in advance nor demanded afterward fidelity to any particular theoretical norm.
At the same time, the volume is unapologetically practical; in fact, it is a (mostly) good example of what Maryellen Weimer might group under “Wisdom of Practice” (1) pedagogical research. Some of it relies on educational research, but some chapters seem to have little added value among the cited assertions from other experts (a conference paper here, a website there, some respected guide unmoored from its original research base). And, ultimately, that is fine. Those of us seeking ways to re-energize or invent anew in our own classrooms or help others do the same will find, for the most part, clear descriptions and principled designs from which to learn. The variance in cited studies need not concern readers who can accept that chapters within each section do different kinds of work.
One nagging sense I have is that the book is more optimistic than it ought to be about the individual teacher’s role in causing engagement and learning; I would almost want to see a companion piece written by the same authors, with the same topics, FOR the learners themselves. Teacher-doing is only part of the equation, and not always the sovereign part; learners (not just “millennials,” natch) need to find their own internal motivation and independence sometimes, not be seduced or tricked into doing so by overscaffolding course designers and deliverers. Disengagement is not something always to leave at the doorstep of course design or delivery; there are multiple reasons why those in the role of “student” may not be participating in their own education, many of which might or might not be mitigated by individual instructor behaviour or design skill. I’d like to see a collective responsibility in a community of learners, so that whole programs share books like this in designing wider curricular approaches in full cooperation with students. Dream on, I guess, especially in light of the second book under review.
In contrast to The Dynamic Classroom (in which learners and teachers are often represented as journeying together),  Patricia Linehan’s Win them Over: Dynamic Techniques for College Adjuncts and New Faculty sets up a less positive tone from the outset. The very title Win Them Over situates learners as resistant beings, difficult and suspicious, perhaps consumers in need of a sales pitch. Higher education comes off as a contest with winners and losers (among the professoriate and among learners). This adversarial construction, while perhaps reflective of some hard truths in our era, rubs me the wrong way, and is part of the book’s larger problem with tone. It is written in one of these wisdom-of-the-trenches, shoot-from-the-hip rhetorical styles to which some will respond favourably, and for those people, its unadorned honesty will be both entertaining and useful. There’s a bit too much of “what could go wrong” fearmongering throughout (in funny illustrations, a few of which could be quite panic-inducing); luckily, there are equal portions of helpful solutions. After something like 16 years of teaching, I have encountered all those things that could go wrong, so it’s not invention on Linehan’s part, but it does set a somewhat negative tone for instructional improvement.
Having said that, on the ground doing consultations with instructors and workshops about course design, I have already found people responding well to the format and content of Linehan’s explanations and tools. Based on experience and some educational literature, she has distilled need-to-know nuggets about every aspect of teaching and learning from basic logistical strategies to complex ideas about motivation, objectives, assessment, and active learning (always written in a humorous way). Sacrificing nuance and deferring divergent theories to a utopian future when you may have the time, Win Them Over’s worksheets, tables, and checklists have already found their way into my own practice as a faculty developer and as a sessional instructor. And although the bibliography is both short and eclectic, weighing in at fifteen texts of different sorts, at least we are invited to make use of these further resources and can get a sense of where some of the advice comes from. 
Generally, then, if you are a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, sessional instructor or new full-timer beginning to teach within the next few weeks or months, or if you are looking for immediately applicable tips and organizers, Win them Over will oblige happily and honestly. Even as someone with a lot of experience, I found myself picking it up to double check my own approaches during a recent teaching term, and finding it instantly valuable. It is exactly what it aims to be: no-nonsense and practical; I need to cover my ears to avoid some of its pitch and tone, but that is my problem and certainly will not be universally experienced. I would hesitate to give it out without a warning that we don’t all see students as adversaries!  On the other hand, if you have a little bit of time to digest some solid principles or to learn the how and why of a few new techniques, whether you’re an educational developer or you’re are at a relevant stage of a university teaching career, multiple brief or leisurely dips into the warm waters of The Dynamic Classroom will repay effort for the health of your courses. I hope to see another edition of the latter or even a sequel as we find out more about the intersections between engagement, design, assessment, delivery, and learning.

Review: Teaching What you Don't Know

Reviewed by:  Lori Goff, Instructional Designer, Centre for Leadership in Learning, McMaster University

In the delightful and illuminating book Teaching What You Don’t Know, Therese Huston exposes a growing trend in academia - that university professors are increasingly finding themselves in situations where they are teaching outside of their area of expertise.  Teaching outside or at the edge of one’s  understanding is  a practice that is prevalent not just with sessionals and junior faculty members, but, as Huston shows, it is a common dilemma experienced by university instructors at all stages of their careers.  While graduate education often prepares faculty members to be experts in a very specific area of their field, undergraduate courses are simultaneously becoming more interdisciplinary and expanding in breadth to provide students with a survey of a field that is rapidly advancing in knowledge.   Thus, according to Huston, undergraduate university instructors are finding more and more that they need to learn or relearn content or skills in order to teach their assigned courses well.  The practice of teaching what one doesn’t know well is often coupled with teaching students whom one doesn’t know well.  Students from the millennial generation are different than students ten or twenty years ago and they are certainly different than their instructors especially in how they learn and how they prefer to receive information.   Huston gently suggests that the sooner instructors realise that their students are very different from them, the easier and happier their teaching life will be.
Through academic research that involved over thirty interviews with faculty members combined with real-life experiences, examples, profiles and case studies, Huston addresses an issue that is seldom discussed and helps take the shame out of teaching outside of one’s understanding.  Her compassion, empathy, and commitment to providing students with the best learning experiences possible are evident in the countless practical examples and strategies she suggests to help instructors manage and thrive in situations where instructors find themselves outside of their comfort zone.  The sensible tips, appealing examples, and strategic suggestions that cover a vast array of disciplines and learning experiences can help novice and experienced instructors alike to calm their anxieties, reduce stress, and improve the quality and impact of their teaching overall.  She identifies several pedagogical advantages that the new instructor has over the seasoned expert, while urging mid- and late-career faculty members to  revitalize their passion for teaching by looking for and recognizing the new and unknown elements from every teaching assignment.  Huston’s passion and respect for students is paralleled by an equal regard for instructors who face the challenges of teaching content with which they are not completely comfortable and for teaching students whom they don’t fully know.  
Teaching What You Don’t Know is a fun, easy-to-read, and hard-to-put-down book that I would recommend to anyone who is new to university teaching or who has an interest in improving their teaching.  This book would make an excellent text to distribute to new faculty or engage in the services and programs provided by educational developers at teaching and learning centres.  

Review: How Professors Think

Reviewed by:  Isabeau Iqbal, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Educational Studies and Educational Developer, Centre for Teaching Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia
How Professors Think is a book about the work of committees who conduct peer reviews of fellowships and research grants. The book is based on an empirical study of multi-disciplinary social science and humanities competitions in the United States. As part of her research, Lamont conducted interviews with panelists, program officers and chairpersons and she also observed three panels.  In her study, Lamont, who describes herself as a “sociologist of knowledge” seeks to examine “how the worth of academic work is ascertained” (3). 
 Because this book doesn’t scream “educational development,” I feel compelled to explain that I was drawn to this book for one specific reason: to see if Lamont presents ideas that might coincide with, and help me better understand, the summative peer review of teaching.  The short answer is that she does but, admittedly, there is limited overlap between how multidisciplinary panels go about assessing research and how departmental colleagues evaluate teaching for tenure and promotion. So, in order to get the most from this book and then be able to apply it to the peer review of teaching, one needs to have a fairly solid sociological background or be prepared to do much follow-up reading.
Nevertheless, there are ideas in this book that would be of interest to educational developers who wish to deepen their understanding of academic culture.  Namely, Lamont refers extensively to a body of literature on “evaluative cultures” (a new term to me) and, in doing so, provides illuminating information on how academics from different disciplines approach evaluation.
Given that peer review is a central aspect of academia, this book is relevant to educational developers who want to expand their knowledge of the context within which they work. However, for the educational developer seeking a more straightforward introduction to academic culture than that provided in Lamont’s somewhat complex book, I would suggest:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How Learning Works prize winner!

Thanks to all who entered the draw to win a copy of Susan A. Ambrose et al.'s How Learning Works.  The winner, as selected by a random number generator, is Terry, who commented:

I think having students reflect on how they learn best will help them know themselves better and empower them to seek out information in a format that will help them to "put the pieces together" so that they can place the information in a context that will allow them to recall the information learned in a situation where it is required. In this way they will "learn" the information, rather than just memorizing facts, which is not learning.
Congratulations, Terry!  Please contact me to claim your prize.

Stay tuned for another exciting book giveaway coming up soon!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Prize giveaway sponsored by Wiley Canada!

It's time for another prize giveaway, sponsored by our friends at Wiley Canada.  We will be giving away a copy of Susan A. Ambrose et al.'s How Learning Works, which was reviewed in the Fall 2010 EDC Resource Review.

To enter, leave a comment with your opinion on the following question:  How important is it to draw students' attention to the learning process and have them reflect on the ways they learn best?

Entries must be received by midnight Pacific time on Friday, April 15.  One entry per person.  Winner will be selected randomly and announced on this blog and on the EDC listserv.  You do not need to be a member of the EDC to enter.  No geographical restrictions apply.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prize giveaway winner!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our first prize giveaway.  As selected by a random number generator, the winner of a copy of Teaching Today's College Students by Angela Provitera McGlynn, courtesy of Atwood Publishing, is Lynn, who said:

As a computer instructor, I find that today's students are not as amazed by technology as I was as a student. Today's students have grown up with all kinds of technology in their daily life & it is hard for them to imagine life without it. They just expect technology to be there & to do amazing things and they are very willing to try it!

Congratulations, Lynn!  Please contact me to arrange for delivery of your prize.

And stay tuned, everyone, there will be more prize giveaways coming up!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Prize giveaway sponsored by Atwood Publishing!

Dear EDC Resource Review Readers,

To mark the launch of the Winter 2011 issue, our friends at Atwood Publishing are generously sponsoring a prize giveaway! One lucky reader will receive a copy of Teaching Today's College Students: Widening the Circle of Success by Angela Provitera McGlynn, which was reviewed in the Fall 2010 EDC Resource Review.

All you need to do to have your name entered in the prize draw is to answer the following question:

How are today's college students different from when you were a student or new instructor? (Or, if you are currently a student, how do you think your cohort is different from cohorts of years past?)

Submit your responses in the comments and you will be entered to win! One entry per person will be accepted and the deadline for entries will be February 15, 2011 at midnight PST.

Winter 2011 EDC Resource Review

Review: Internet Archive

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

Stymied by link rot?  Looking for artifacts of modern history?  Seeking foreign language recordings?  The Internet Archive can probably meet these and hundreds of other needs.  This site a constantly growing, non-profit collection of Internet sites and digitized cultural artifacts--literally millions of images, audio files, animations, and texts--that are freely open to researchers, scholars, instructors, and the general public.  It includes the WayBack Machine, an archive of over 200 million defunct Web sites archived since 1996 in over 40 languages.  It contains more than 150+ billion Web captures (over two petabytes of data compressed) including content from every top-level domain.  Other highlights of the Internet Archive are these vast collections:

·         Moving images: Almost a half million animations, movies, and television shows from all over the world with near-unrestricted access

·         Live Music: More than 87,000 concerts

·         Audio recordings: Three quarters of a million recordings, from Ave Maria to the Grateful Dead to religious sermons

·         Texts: More than 2.5 million works of fiction, popular books, children's books, historical texts, rare books, and academic books

·         NASA images

·         Software and software-related material such as shareware, freeware, speed runs of software game play, and information on software titles and games.

Under Projects, you will find an Education link to the Open Education Resources Library, which gives free access to hundreds of online courses, study guides, assignments, video lectures (subject specified), and other supplementary learning materials from universities in the United States and China.  Many of these lectures are available for download.

This mega-size site provides a search engine for every major section.

Educational developers can draw on the resources at the Internet Archive to find now-defunct sites and course materials of all types of subject matter.  They can, of course, refer faculty to this vast collection as well.  It should be especially useful to those developing online courses and online educational development materials because educational users need not worry about the standard copyright restrictions.  Instructors of language courses will find unusual foreign language recordings.

Review: How People Learn

The first time I heard of John Bransford was in November 2006, when I attended the opening plenary he gave at the 3rd annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) in Washington, DC. A lively speaker, John used plain language while at the same time showing compelling research evidence motivating us to be more effective teachers by “watching how learning happens wherever it happens.”

James Rhem, Editor and Publisher of the National Teaching and Learning Forum, wrote a comprehensive overview of that plenary. Speaking of the National Forum, if you have never checked out their website, I encourage you to, especially their comprehensive set of book reviews. And speaking of James Rhem, he and I once danced in the icebreaker of a conference session. And that was quite a fun way to watch how learning happened.

Shortly after the 2006 ISSoTL conference, my friend, mentor and former boss Gary Poole gave me his extra copy of How People Learn. I used it regularly, to plan or update some workshops for members of the University of British Columbia teaching community, in working one-on-one with senior faculty members who sought guidance and assistance, and to organize sections of a week-long program that Gary and I designed and led for faculty members visiting from a university in Saudi Arabia.

So, though I came late in my explorations of Bransford’s and colleagues’ work, I think it will prove to be one of the classics for teachers of any level, discipline or context. New Horizons for Learning, recently adopted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, includes this book in its recommended readings and “predicts that How People Learn will become one of the most influential books ever published on teaching and learning."

And you can find a complete version of it, free, online:

The key ideas presented in the book sound quite straightforward:

1. Learning is facilitated by connections between the new and the familiar, with students coming in with preconceptions or prior knowledge about how the world works. 

2. To develop competence, students need foundational knowledge, built on conceptual frameworks and organized in ways that help them apply it.

3. Metacognition or ‘thinking about thinking’ builds students’ confidence in their own learning and helps them self-monitor progress.

But if you ask any teacher, regardless of their experience, I suspect they would be somewhat or very challenged to tell you exactly how and what they do, through assignments and in-class activities, to address these points and assess the process. Turn to this book to see how theories and insights have been translated into actions and practice. Quarter-page ‘boxes’ present case studies to illustrate ideas put forth in the chapters, making them very real and adaptable to your context. Moreover, they cite sources in the literature for further exploration. A minor annoyance:  the references section (63 pages worth) is organized by book chapter, making it tricky if you want to look up a source and see how Bransford et al. describe or use it in the book. The online search tool helps a bit in this regard.
Two related books are available, with some overlapping material but also targeted examples. The shorter How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (1999) and How Students Learn: History, Mathematics and Science in the Classroom (2005) are both described as being geared to K-12 teachers, but I think both are very relevant to higher education as well. The latter volume is reviewed by the National Teaching and Learning Forum.

You can find links to these two volumes, as well as a review of the expanded book described here, at

So, a long-time professor seeks my help to become re-energized in his work. “I want to motivate my students and the things I have done in the past don’t seem to be working. What do you suggest?” We look at How People Learn together, starting in the index, at Motivation to learn. We find 17 different pages to explore in turn, each one of them with enough references to make this a week of study for my colleague, which is what he was looking for as a long-term project, but also uncover a few ideas to try right away, such as adjusting an assignment, lecture or discussion around “authentic problems and projects that are frequently encountered in non-school settings”, page 77. Pages 207-213 cite the Jasper series, created at Vanderbilt University, connecting problem-solving ability with attitudes through the use of technology. That last example might not be quite a ‘right away’ solution, but it sure is compelling and provides food for thought!

I could go on, but the other reviews already written (and cited above) do a very good job of telling you more about what is in the book.

I will leave you with an authentic hands-on challenge. Think of one topic in teaching and learning that you want to know more about and perhaps connect to theoretical or empirical evidence. It could be for your own teaching, or to help members of your teaching community through one-on-one work or a seminar. Pick up How People Learn or browse through it online. I guarantee you will find something you did not know before, or know as fully, something you can use right away, and something that may also lead you down a whole new path of exploration in the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning.

As Bransford et al. say in their first chapter, “Fundamental understanding of subjects, including how to frame and ask meaningful questions about various subject areas, contributes to individuals’ more basic understanding of principles of learning that can assist them in becoming self-sustaining, lifelong learners.” (page 5). True for our learners, true for us.