Yesterday, Joyce Kincannon and I traveled up the road to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia for their second annual Innovation in Pedagogy Summit. We spend a good deal of our mental energy in our learning center focused on innovation in teaching and learning, and so this was an opportunity to see now another university might approach both the topic and the process of faculty development around the topic. This full day event was a collaboration between the UVa College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Teaching Resource Center, the Office of the Executive Vice President & Provost, and the 4-VA Collaborative, and we appreciated the invite!
During the morning, six faculty shared their innovations in teaching with their peers, while the afternoon was devoted to José Bowen, author of Teaching Naked.
In many ways, what we saw from faculty were concepts we have advocated for the past few years…yet these concepts seemed new to many in the room. We saw Ran Zhao’s Elementary Chinese course that incorporated student-created videos as assignments, Claudrena Harold’s African American studies course which scaffolded mini-assignments before sending student groups out to interview and archive alumni perspectives, and Brian Helmke who welcomed student use of Google before and in his lectures. Mark White discussed the use of spoken stories to motivate students, Stephanie Van Hover used Structured Academic Controversy to encourage the use of multiple perspectives in class discussions, and Dave Kittlesen illustrated how low-tech paper handouts can help students conceptualize difficult genetic concepts.
While the focus for the morning was “engaging students”, I was struck by how few faculty in the room had devices to connect to the internet during these morning presentations. It appeared that digital engagement was lacking. There was no established hashtag for the summit, and little advocacy was apparent for digital engagement – other than demonstrating how a few faculty used digital connections with their students. It hit me as an interesting missing element at an “innovation” summit…or else it highlighted that the web is so much a part of me that I am surprised when it is not a part of my colleagues.
During lunch, each table had a “theme” assigned. I sat with folks who wanted to discuss “collaborative spaces” as a new breed of classroom. I shared information about our Learning Studio – carefully designed by my colleague Jeff Nugent – which seemed in line with some proposals UVa is considering. Our Learning Studio is a state-of-the-art classroom that has been designed to support VCU faculty members and students in their exploration and study of new learning spaces. Located in the Academic Learning Commons, the Learning Studio contains a wide array of technologies and furniture that combine to provide unique opportunities to enhance teaching and learning. For larger classrooms, José Bowen shared a view of a traditional tiered large classroom in which all desks had been removed and replaced with “Learn2″ chairs on wheels to facilitate small group work. This also aligned with changes being considered at UVa. As the welcomed outsider, it was interesting to hear faculty discuss new ways of conceptualizing class spaces with no clear “front of the room.”
For me, the highlight of the day was José Bowen‘s afternoon presentation. He is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of the Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. I was expecting a “close your laptop” focus, but what I heard was the exact opposite. I subsequently read a review by James Lang that summed José’s premise up well:
“The book’s title make Bowen sound like a cranky Luddite, a chalk-and-talk professor who wants the kids to put away their smart phones and get their noses back into the books, and then sit up straight and listen to the professor in class. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bowen actually celebrates the ability of technology to move much of our traditional teaching work out of the classroom, and wholeheartedly embraces a wide range of educational technologies as capable of doing the work of teaching content more effectively than professors.The flip side to that argument, though, is that once we actually get students to interact with those technologies outside of the classroom, we should be spending our time in the classroom engaging in more frequent face-to-face interaction with them. Bowen sees the classroom as the space where we prove our value as educators to students, and argues that we should not be wasting that valuable space by lecturing students on basic content. Let them gain first exposure to that content through podcasts, videos, e-mails, Google searches, and so on. Then let them deepen the exposure in the classroom through human interaction.”
- A digital entry point as first exposure to a topic
- By email, Facebook, or other social media
- First exposure to the topic through a pre-assignment
- Short and focused
- Find open content (or let students find it)
- Use summary sites like Wikipedia
- A short writing (a paragraph on index cards…or Evernote) to reflect before class
- Start with what matters to students…then connect to what matters to you
- Ask the question not in the summary site
- Interpretation…not summarize
- A low stakes exam on entering the classroom
- Use higher order thinking skills from Blooms
- A challenging class – not lecture
- Alter conditions and have students reanalyze
- Complicate and reframe problems
- Have students work on problem solving and “learning to learn”
- Keep it relevant and real world
- He suggested using techniques from Stephen Brookfield
- Digital communication after class to reinforce
- Cognitive wrappers for self-regulation of students
- Self-reflection by students on time they spent preparing, process they used, and what they might do different next time
José’s focus is that the role of faculty no longer involves providing scarce content. Technology provides richer content than any of us could provide. Instead, our role is to prepare students to face the unknown…to be critical consumers of this ubiquitous content. Students pay a lot for class time…and they should get more than a lecture. New technology means that we can focus with our students on thinking and integration.
This aligned nicely with a post this morning by Debbie Morrison – “A Not-So-New Recipe for “A New Culture of Learning”“. Debbie was reviewing a book by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown entitled A New Culture of Learning. Thomas and Brown suggests that this:
“…new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is bounded and structured environment that allows unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries”.
In this new culture, questions are more important than answers, and students learn through inquiry rather than instruction. Debbie suggests that this message is not new…but will be new to many faculty. I would agree. Our work with our GRAD-602 students reinforced that their concept of teaching is rooted in older models…not this new reality. José suggested to me that I remind our GRAD-602 students that they are the outliers – successful in the game of school and looking to continue that game. That no longer matches “the real world” … and José passionately believes we need to help students prepare for this real world – a world of unknowns and a world where unlearning and relearning will be key skills.
So fun day at UVa and a chance to add José to my PLN.
I have been enamored with the concept of bricolage for some time now. French for “tinkering”, bricolage is the building of something from what is available. Sherry Turkle applied this to programming, suggesting less an exhaustive specification than a iterative growth process with re-evaluation loops. Turkle writes:
“The bricoleur resembles the painter who stands back between brushstrokes, looks at the canvas, and only after this contemplation, decides what to do next.”
In the late 1980s, we were all introduced to this concept when each week we tuned in to the television show MacGyver. MacGyver could solve any problem with the materials laying around him.
This idea is a nice metaphor for how the web has evolved in the past decade. There are now many options for content creation, communication, sharing, and community building laying all over the interwebs…as some of my colleagues call it. Over the past five years, we in the Center for Teaching Excellence have tinkered a lot as we explored digital technologies that were now available and probed how they might be useful in an educational context.
Stephen Downes shared a link from Inge de Waard yesterday which summarize a new report released from the Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme out of the UK that explored building online learning solutions that are durable – Beyond Prototypes: Enabling Innovation in Technology-Enhanced Learning.
Stephen’s synthesis of this report:
- “TEL involves a complex system of technologies and practices…it is necessary to look beyond product development and pay close attention to the entire process of implementation.
- Significant innovations are developed and embedded over periods of years rather than months. Sustainable change is not a simple matter of product development, testing and roll-out.
- TEL innovation is a process of bricolage… It also requires engagement with a range of communities and practices.
- Successful implementation of TEL innovation requires evidence that the projected educational goal has been achieved.”
This resonated with me. We are in the process of updating our Online Course Development Initiative at VCU. The OCDI has evolved over the years into a “…complex system of technologies and practices” that does span years rather than months:
- An online sensitizing activity before joining a cohort to surface preconceived beliefs about online teaching and learning.
- A week-long cohort process to build community and explore online teaching practices and processes.
- A three-week online experience to better understand collaborative learning and co-construction of knowledge from the perspective of a student
- A long-term relationship with a design consultant to develop and teach an online course, providing pacing for development and a safety net for exploration.
- Teaching the course for the first time and reflecting on successes and challenges
- Redesign of the course, taking into account the data collected during the first iteration.
Over the past four years, we have engaged 77 faculty members in the development of 74 courses. Yet I would suggest that we are only in the early days of “sustainable change.” Some of these courses are still under development or have not yet been redeveloped. We have the beginnings of a community. As we move forward, we need to continue the process of bricolage…engaging with and building this community.
As part of that tinkering, we should keep Lisa Lane’s comment this week in mind:
“We think of our online classes as being on the web, but most of them aren’t on the web – they’re inside an LMS, isolated from the internet. New online instructors often sense this sterility and add images and videos. But the images are often decorative rather than instructional, and the videos are now embedded, which is great for convenience and less distraction but less suitable for exploration…
…Where are the structured web spaces, the ones where we as teachers know what’s there, but where students can explore? Databases full of primary sources are boring. Where is the equivalent of installation art, where the artist defines the space but the interpretations and experience are left to the viewer?”
Great questions! The UK report above has some interesting observations:
“…the tools of educational technology have no magical power in themselves, only by being embedded in the practices of teachers and learners do their mediational means come into play…”
“…Technology should only ever be considered as supportive of educational practice, never as core to it…”
“…successful innovations in TEL [technology enhanced learning] are often not new inventions. They more often involve assembly of technological elements and practices, most of which already exist, into novel configurations, applied in new settings…”
The model presented in the UK report suggests the complexity in creating a sustainable online practice:
The UK report suggests that it is a misconception to think of “technology” as the innovation. The innovation is in the mindful use of the technology. Creating that mindfulness takes time, tinkering, and…as the report suggested…”persistent intent.”
So my 30-Day Challenge question today is:
Day 24 – How might my teaching practice be informed and sustainably changed for the better by tinkering with open resources on the web?
…keeping in mind – stay focused on the learning, not the cool tools…
Ilya noted that for entrepreneurs, conventional wisdom does not always work, especially in the disruptive market today. He posted 15 “crazy ideas” from fellow entrepreneurs who “….dared to blaze their own path.”
I thought it might be interesting for today’s 30-Day Challenge question to look at his ideas through the lens of teaching. After all, our students are leaving higher education and graduating into a world where yesterday’s conventional wisdom would be suspect.
Day 21 – What “crazy” teaching practices might actually better prepare our students for the digital world in which they will live and work?
Ilya’s Crazy Ideas:
1. Being Messy With Our Employees
Seth Talbott suggested that being involved with employees is messy but worth it. By involved, he meant building relationships with meaningful connections. In today’s digital environment, we need to stop being afraid of building social network connections with our students…and facilitate their building of their own learning and professional networks. See number 2.
2. Valuing Our Network
Darrah Brustein said that “your network is your net worth.” My comments to number 1 apply here as well…our role as faculty now involves helping our students cultivate their networks. One way to do that is modelling networked behavior ourselves.
3. Making Friends, Not Clients
Vinny Antonio noted that the clear driving factor for success was word-of-mouth advertising, so it was necessary to actually create a relationship with clients and work towards their success. “Clients” is a loaded word in education…but the intent is spot on. Parker Palmer, in The Courage To Teach, discussed how teaching is as much about the heart as it is about the content. Palmer states that:
“…teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal – or keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”
4. Obsessing Over Data Analysis
Danny Boice discussed data-driven decisions. We are just entering the age of learning analytics … yet few of us take advantage of the limited data we now have. Do you check the analytics in your learning management system to see if any students are not engaged? What do you do with the data when you have it? We need to obsess more ourselves!
5. Being Unforgettable
Dustin Lee’s company takes online learning in a unique direction, offering, in his words, well-crafted courses that are “…insanely fun as well.” It is a great lesson for those of us in pubic education…and one we take seriously at VCU. Online@VCU notes:
Focused on distinctiveness, high engagement, and deeper learning, VCU offers quality online programs and courses available wherever you are.
6. Asking Provocative Questions
Erica Dhawan suggested that tough conversations and productive inquiry lead to success. That is equally true in the classroom…doubly so if the students are asking the questions! Enoch Hale’s 30-Day Challenge has this premise at its core.
7. Building a Culture around Hiring
Matt Mickiewicz noted that recruiting talent can determine success or failure for a company. We do not “recruit” our students…but a few “crazy” course trailers might attract talent to your courses.
8. Doing One Thing Well
Ryan Buckley’s company focuses on medium-length blog posts…and that focus has made them successful. This one is difficult to translate into teaching (other than doing teaching well…but that is a cop out). So I might spin this to suggest that each course have an opportunity for students to do one thing well…as a capstone project for the course. After all, is it not our job to help students finish each course with success?
9. Drinking Our Own Kool-Aid
John Hall is in the influence business…and they leverage their own service to grow their business. We are in the learning business, and our passion for learning should be evident to our students…and contagious.
10. Controlling Every Step
Joshua Waldron suggested that one of the keys to his company’s success was to manufacture everything in house. “…Be lean, be nimble, and don’t let outside vendors influence your bottom line.” In teaching and learning, I am not for “controlling”…but I am for “scaffolding”…being adaptive so that you can support every student in their learning journey.
11. Documenting the Process
Joe Apfelbaum noted that “…It’s vital to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the step-by-step recipe you’re working with on any project.” Many of us are in research, so applying the scientific method to our teaching for improvement should be natural. Given the changes occurring in higher education, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a growing opportunity. So is the journaling that can occur through blogs. We each have so much we can offer so that we can learn from each other.
12. Employing Energy and Persistence
Kayvon Olomi suggested that you can do anything you put your mind to. Are our courses designed to employ (and build) energy and scaffolded to build time on task (persistence) into the learning processes?
13. Minimizing Distracting Conversations
Jordan Fliegel noted that focus is critical to success. I think it is an outdated concept for faculty to complain about the use of digital devices in classes “because students will just be on Facebook.” If students are bored and on Facebook, that may be a problem of motivation and focus rather than distraction. Get students excited about learning…and the Facebook “problem” becomes less of a problem!
14. Split-Testing Ideas
Nicolas Gremion suggested that rather than debating what will work, take the top ideas and split-test them. What comes to mind in a classroom is the Think-Pair-Share technique to promote higher level thinking. This adds engagement and focus to class sessions…and potentially surfaces misconceptions.
Wade Foster noted that: “Above all, we serve the customer, and we do our best to give them the tools they need to get their jobs done.” One can debate whether students are our customers or whether our customers are employees or society itself … but in any case, we need to equip our students for success in a digital world. We also can value what they bring to the class or program.
Crazy, right? Thoughts?
Last week, I stumbled upon an EdTechReview blog post out of India on “How Curriculum for 21st Century Must Look Like?“. One of the things I treasure about my PLN is the alternative viewpoints that come out of Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. Granted that while different, higher education is really not that different…we are all trying to solve similar problems.
In this post, Santosh Bhaskar K has a quote from the former President of India:
“Imagination leads to creativity, Creativity blossoms thinking, Thinking provides knowledge, Knowledge results innovation and Innovation makes the nation great.” – Abdul Kalam.
Santosh goes on to suggest that, for higher education, this means that the following aspects should be folded in to their curriculum:
- Research and Enquiry
- Creativity and Innovation
- Use of technology
- Entrepreneurial leadership
- Moral leadership
I like the quote. Kalam spent much of his presidency advocating for the development of India as a knowledge superpower, But for me, the process he described is more circular than linear – and is more global than simply applying to India alone.
So my 30-Day Challenge question for today is:
Day 18 – How can I teach in a way that sparks learner imagination, fosters their creativity, and leads their thinking from knowledge to innovation?
I definitely do not have the total answer to this…but one partial answer might lie in giving up control…a theme I will return to this week. Paving the way to intrinsic motivation (what students want to do) rather than extrinsic motivation (what I tell students to do) might go a long way to unleashing student imagination…and innovation.
ps – If you want your brain expanded and your imagination to spiral, check out my colleague Enoch Hale’s questions during the first half of this challenge:
Day 1: Intellectual Playfulness
Day 2: Teach Like Zen Monks
Day 3: Arrowheads and Assignments
Day 4: Educational Tattoos
Day 5: Stopping the Ed Machine
Day 8: Thinking Oblique(ly)
Day 9: Manage White Noise
Day 10: Killing the Serial Monologue
Day 11: Equinox Learning
Day 13: The Topography of Learning
Day 14: Why Don’t Bad Beliefs Die?
Day 15: Choosing the Right Digital Tools
Funerals always bring out thoughts about time. I am on the road today to attend the funeral of a old family friend. Bill Schriefer passed away at the age of 89 after fighting lung cancer. His wife of 61 years passed away last year. Bill and Laura lived next door to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, and his daughter Doris was a bridesmaid in our wedding. Ties that go back 42 years, when I was just a midshipman. Bill was one of the few people I knew who served in the Navy in World War II, and he became a shipmate for life.
As I have hit 63 years old, and with my own dad passing a couple of years back and my mother growing weaker, it seems natural to think about life lived. So, an article that crossed my path this weekend that could have not come at a better time.
The September/October issue of MIT Technology Review magazine arrived, with its annual 35 innovators under 35. Always good reading and always inspiring. But what really grabbed me this weekend was the opening editorial from Jason Pontin – “Seven Over 70.” Jason reminded us that we meet older innovators all the time. Seven of his favorite were:
- George Whitesides, 74, a chemist who wants to “fundamentally change the paradigms of science.”
- Carver Mead, 79, still thinking about better ways to teach freshmen physics.
- Barbara Liskov, 73, leading MIT’s Programming Methodology Group.
- Leroy Hood, 74, looking to understand human biology as a “network of networks.”
- Nick Holonyak, 84, still a full-time researcher at the University of Illinois.
- Mildred Dresselhaus, 82, who authored 39 papers in 2012 and starts work by 6:30am most mornings at MIT
- Stewart Brand, 74, writer and editor who founded one of the early electronic communities
- and as a bonus, Robert Silvers, 83, editor of the New York Review of Books
Pontin noted that Silvers once replied when asked why he did not retire – “I don’t have a very full sense of time.” I love how that captures life! And it sums up my shipmate Bill’s life. When he passed, some of his grandchildren were with him. Bill lived life to the fullest, and will be missed. A Navy man, steelworker, father and grandfather, farmer (his garden was an acre wide and took a tractor to maintain…which he drove up until a few months ago), a proud Elk, and a friend. Bill’s life and example illustrate a life lived with a very full sense of time indeed.
“I don’t have a very full sense of time.” Back in July, NPR had a story about Guy Clark, who at 71 said “”I know it’s still there to be done,” he says. “I haven’t written my last song, for sure. Nor my best one.” It reminds me that I have not yet had my best blog post … or taught my best class…or had my best innovation – they are yet to come. True for all of us.
Fair winds and following seas, Bill.
One aspect that I suspect holds true for faculty developers worldwide is the myriad of excuses one hears in the course of working with faculty on why these faculty can not adopt technology as part of their teaching and learning.
So, thanks of Jane Hart, I checked out this interesting posting by Mitch Ditkoff on The Idea Champions Weblog – The Heart of Innovation blog. He lists the excuses he hears again and again on the front lines of corporate America when he tries to help organizations innovate. There are some amazing parallels to the excuses we hear, but what I found helpful was Mitch’s suggestion for overcoming these excuses. His recommendation:
1. Make a list of your three most bothersome excuses.
2. Turn each excuse into a powerful question, starting with the words “How can I?” or “How can we?” (For example, if your excuse is “That’s R&D’s job,” you might ask “How can I make innovation my job?” or “How can I help my team take more responsibility for innovating?”
3. Brainstorm each question — alone and with your team.
This technique could easily be applied to education!
Quoting from Mitch’s blog, here are the 100 lamest excuses (and his number one is also our number one):
1. I don’t have the time.
2. I can’t get the funding.
3. My boss will never go for it.
4. Were not in the kind of business likely to innovate.
5. We won’t be able to get it past legal.
6. I’ve got too much on my plate.
7. I’ll be punished if I fail.
8. I’m just not not the creative type.
9. I’m already juggling way too many projects.
10. I’m too new around here.
11. I’m not good at presenting my ideas.
12. No one, besides me, really cares about innovation.
13. There’s too much bureaucracy here to get anything done.
14. Our customers aren’t asking for it.
15. We’re a risk averse culture. Always will be.
16. We don’t have an innovation process.
17. We don’t have a culture of innovation.
18. They don’t pay me enough to take on this kind of project.
19. My boss will get all the credit.
20. My career path will be jeopardized if this doesn’t fly.
21. I’ve already got enough headaches.
22. I’m no good at office politics.
23. My home life will suffer.
24. I’m not disciplined enough.
25. It’s an idea too far ahead of its time.
26. I won’t be able to get enough resources.
27. I don’t have enough information.
28. Someone will steal my idea.
29. It will take too long to get results.
30. We’re in a down economy.
31. It will die in committee.
32. I’ll be laughed out of town.
33. I won’t be able to get the ear of senior leadership.
34. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
35. The concept is too disruptive.
36. I won’t be able to get enough support.
37. I don’t tolerate ambiguity all that well.
38. I’m not in a creative profession.
39. Now is not a good time to start a new project.
40. I don’t have the right personality to build a team.
41. Our company is going through too many changes right now.
42. They won’t give me any more time to work on the project.
43. If I succeed, too much will be expected of me.
44. Nothing ever changes around here.
45. Things are changing so fast, my head is spinning.
46. Whatever success I achieve will be undone by somebody else.
47. I don’t have enough clout to get things done.
48. It’s just not worth the effort.
49. I’m getting close to retirement.
50. My other projects will suffer.
51. Been there, done that.
52. I don’t want another thing to think about.
53. I won’t have any time left for my family.
54. A more nimble competitor will beat us to the punch.
55. Teamwork is a joke around here.
56. I’ve never done anything like this before.
57. I won’t be rewarded if the project succeeds.
58. We’re not measured for innovation.
59. I don’t have the right credentials.
60. We need more data.
61. It’s not my job.
62. It will hard sustaining the motivation required.
63. I’ve tried before and failed.
64. I’m not smart enough to pull this off.
65. I don’t want to go to any more meetings.
66. It will take way too long to get up to speed.
67. Our Stage Gate process will sabotage any hope of success.
68. I’m not skillful at building business cases.
69. Summer’s coming.
70. The marketplace is too volatile.
71. This is a luxury we can’t afford at this time.
72. I think we’re about to be acquired.
73. I’m trying to simplify my life, not complicate it.
74. The dog ate my homework.
75. Help! I’m a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory
76. My company just wants to squeeze more blood from the stone.
77. My company isn’t committed to innovation.
78. I don’t have the patience.
79. I’m not sure how to begin.
80. I’m too left-brained for this sort of thing.
81. I won’t be able to get the funding required.
82. I’m getting too old for this.
83. We’re too competitive, in-house. Collaboration is a rarity.
84. Spring is coming.
85. I’m hypoglycemic.
86. That’s Senior Leadership’s job
87. I’m thinking of quitting.
88. Market conditions just aren’t right.
89. We need to focus on the short term for a while.
90. Innovation, schminnovation.
91. What we really need are some cost cutting initiatives.
92. Six Sigma will take care of everything.
93. Mercury is in retrograde.
94. IT won’t go for it.
95. Maybe next year.
96. That’s my boss’s job.
97. That’s R&D’s job.
98. I would if I could, but I can’t, so I won’t.
99. First, we need to benchmark the competition.
100.It’s against my religion.
What are the top three excuses you hear from faculty?
How might they be reframed into questions for mutual exploration?
What excuse do you have not to try?