Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Diversity in the Sciences: Is it as difficult as it appears?

Pic snapped of the Jolly Giant Commons while b...Image via Wikipedia

I am still digesting my notes from the Institute for Diversity in Learning and Teaching that was held at Humboldt State University on May 20th and 19th. Our Thursday morning keynote speaker was Dr. Tuajuanda C. Jordan. Jordan has devoted much of her professional career mentoring students and working with programs designed to retain underrepresented minorities in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines. She talked about Xavier University and how why are #1 at getting African American students into medical school. Students have to not only learn to be students but learn to see a career in the sciences as a viable option. She stressed that instructors have to present the human side to science and scientists.

She showed us some real problems in science education in America. There is only a small percentage of students in the U.S. is graduating the 12th grade at the "proficient" level in science (able to conduct simple experiments and draw conclusions). And no minorities are graduating at the "basic" level.

Minorities are underrepresented in the sciences and without differing viewpoints in science we miss new ways of looking at problems. We stifle creativity and innovation. We need a broader-based pool of potential scientists. Minority students tend to come from disadvantaged teachers. Students need more than remedial classes - they need to be non-stigmatized and they need a curriculum that has real science research and experimentation built into it - not "cookbook" science classes where all the experiments succeed. Jordan has started programs that incorporate real research along with committed passionate teachers.

Jordan says that the k-12 schools need to foster the "scientific temper," minds that are creative, rational, open, and tolerant. They need to be taught problem-solving, thinking, and communication skills. Students need to meet real scientists early on in their education - they need outreach, mentoring, and counseling. We need to improve teacher training and not let people who do not care about the practice of science become teachers.

She asked that we increase access to college: it needs to be more affordable; we need transition programs that teach study skills and basics like how to talk to a professor. She discussed peer-led study groups and strong, persistent, consistent, and visible leadership on campuses.

Her presentation dove-tailed nicely into the universal design presentation from the day before. At College of the Redwoods, each online class has a visible link to our 24/7 online tutorial services. I think there is more that we can do here at C of R to promote study groups and peer mentoring.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Applying Universal Design to Large Classrooms

Founder's Hall is the most prominent building ...Image via Wikipedia

In another session at the Humboldt State University's Institute for Diversity in Learning & Teaching, Dr. Janye McGuire gave a very useful and informative presentation called "Applying Universal Design for Learning in Large Classrooms." I was immediately attracted to this presentation because sometimes there seems to be nothing larger than an online class, yet at other times, nothing more intimate. Those who have taught online no what I mean. I seemed to have known more about my online students' children, interests, and pets than in my face-to-face classes. In the online class, students tend to communicate with a consistency and persistence that in lacking in face-to-face classes - especially large classes. And yet, online classes seem to share some of the same problems as face-to-face classes.

"Universal Design" was defined as integrating accommodation, multiple learning modalities, engagement and interaction into course materials as the course is developed instead of as a tacked on after thought. She gave the analogy of architecture: there are architects who build in accessibility into their buildings and make really elegant, beautiful, and functional designs. And then there are buildings that are retrofitted with a ramp in the back.

One of the things that I appreciate about Universal Design is that it does not get bogged down with learning theory: it is a very practical approach that makes no claims to the secret inner workings of consciousness and how the mind supposedly works. I have found a lot of value and usefulness from learning styles and developing materials with an eye on learning styles. Universal Design addresses these issues and allows me to side-step the objections of Behavioralists or other "-ists" and "-isms" that have some ax to grind from pedagogy that does not match up with their pet epistemology. As an instructional designer, I already want and try to do all the things that Universal Design asks - I want to make my courses accessible, multi-modal (e.g. visual and audio), and to increase the interactivity and engagement of the course.

As a former English teacher, I was always asking myself why English teachers only had one way of assessing a students' ability to organize thought and communicate (the paper) when we were moving into a world where they would be asked to do so much more (presentations, multimedia, Skype, etc.). The media is changing and the discipline is not.

She discussed the seven principles of Universal Design:
  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexible Curriculum
  3. Simple and Intuitive Instruction
  4. Multiple Means of Presentation
  5. Success-Oriented Curriculum
  6. Appropriate Level of Student Effort
  7. Appropriate Environment for Learning
All of the examples that she gave were very appropriate for the online class as well as the large classroom. She applied these principles to promote multiple means to interact with the material, fellow students, and the instructor. She uses these principles to build community. I also liked that she removes the reliance on tests and exams in her online courses - this ties in nicely to the ideas of Bain and Deep Learning - if your learning is tied to tests, students tend to learn for the tests rather than learn the material in a deep and meaningful way (see previous post).

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Deep Learning

This is Juniper Hall at Humboldt State University.Image via Wikipedia

Over the next couple of days I am at the Institute for Diversity in Learning and Teaching at Humboldt State University. This is an incredible resource. They are offering this free and in this time of some pretty savage budget cuts, this is a great opportunity. The opening keynote was Dr. Ken Bain who talked about the question "What Do the Best College Teachers Do to Foster Deep Learning?" Ironically, he could not make it out to Humboldt and was on live via teleconference link which is what we should be doing more of anyway. Bain distinguishes the "surface learner" from the "strategic learner" and the "deep learner." The surface and strategic learners are those who have basically figured out how to get by. They meet the requirements of the course without gaining any understanding of the subject matter. It is a really fascinating phenomena that he backs up with research into how physics students understand motion. It seems that most students have a decidedly Aristotelian approach in their understanding of physics - the problem with that is that it is absolutely wrong. Students are quizzed before and after their physics classes and they are shown to basically take the new information and wrap it around the old understanding of how motion works. In other words, they take the new information, combine it with the old world-view, and come up with the wrong idea about how things move. The classes that they took did not ask them to change the way they looked at the world. They could take these classes and not change a thousands year-old vision of how the universe works. It is really frightening.

According to Bain, deep learning only occurs when students are confronted with questions that are important, intriguing, or beautiful. There has to be some direct, personal application to the new information.

The students have been creating models about the world based on sensory input since they were born. Students have to construct a new reality based on new input. Teaching has to be more than passing multiple choice tests, competition, high stakes testing, and hierarchical learning in order to change these world views. Students can pass these tests with an "A" and still not make a shift in their basic understanding of the world.

Bain asks that courses be framed around essential questions that change a student's world-view.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Open Textbooks, Open Doors

Steacie Science and Engineering Library at Yor...Image via Wikipedia
On May 6th, from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM in College of the Redwood's Lakeview Room, I held a workshop on open texts called "Open Textbooks, Open Doors." There were seats for 30 and we filled 20 of them. We had a mix of faculty, students, library and bookstore folks. There were great examples of open texts right here on our campus with Dave Arnold's Math textbooks. We also had people from Humboldt State University attend.

I have included our agenda and discussion questions in this posting. This is a link to the resource page for the presentation along with a link to the powerpoint presentation which I based on information from Student PIRG and other sources (it is the slideshare called "Open Textbooks, Open Doors"): http://geoffcain.wikispaces.com/OER

Open Textbooks Agenda

10:00 AM
1. Introductions
2. What is a textbook and why are they so expensive?
3. Copyright, Public Domain, and Creative Commons

10:30 AM
4. The Open Source Concept
5. What is an Open Text?
6. Some Examples
7. Organizations for Open Texts

11:00 AM
8. Advantages of Open Texts
9. Disadvantages
10. Vetting and Reviewing
11. Alternative Business Models

11:30 AM
12. Example: Dave Arnold's Math Text

12:00 PM

1:00 PM
13. Finding Your Text
14. Collaborating with Others

Open Textbooks, Open Doors
Discussion Questions

1. What do you consider to be the main benefit to open texts?

2. What do you see as the greatest drawback?

3. What are some barriers to adoption on your campus or in your dept.?

4. What are some strategies to overcoming those barriers?

5. There is a resource page at http://geoffcain.wikispaces.com/oer for this workshop,
What resources (subject matter, adoption strategies, rubrics, etc.) would you find useful?

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