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.