Technology and its Softer side to Learning

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Much has been written on the topic of incorporating technology into the classroom, all in the name of increasing student success through increased engagement. Technology has been an important factor in the concept of the flipped classroom and “teaching naked” (José Bowen) where the students are responsible for viewing lectures and doing the readings beforehand so that the classroom can become more activity-focused and engaging.

It has been an established part of online learning where both access to, and preparation for, the use of technology is critical to learning and participation in this digital environment, especially as a way of reducing the distance between students – each other or between them and the faculty. The results are mixed with many claiming that MOOCs are the new egalitarian education. But the results are mixed, especially when applying this to credit-bearing courses. The engagement of both learner and educator become critical and results often depend upon the increased fortitude from highly prepared students and faculty who are both committed to successful completion.

But technology can also play an important pedagogical role in the area of personal narratives as a tool for increased student engagement. Digital storytelling is the subject of a brief guide published by Educause that provides some food for thought on how to incorporate the digital medium effectively and accessibly without requiring a high mastery of advanced digital tools. Today, students and faculty have access to a digital movie studio in their telephones, and can easily edit on mobile devices or their desktop and save it in a format that can be viewed for free online.

The goal, however, is not just to create another way to utilize technology in the classroom. The real objective is to instill passion in the topic leading to the successful achievement in the learning outcome. Humans are natural storytellers. We can ask students to incorporate research and resources into their projects. But by also allowing them to make it personal, they become more engaged. This becomes not just something they have to study, but something they are immediately making relevant to their own worlds.

Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, would call this deeper learning, something that may be achieved through a series of “goal-based scenarios.” His follow-up book What the Best College Students do addresses the passion that students can find within to motivate their own learning. Hear Ken Bain in this recent NPR interview from May 2015.

What does all this have in common? It is the combination of inspiring student passion and the ability to express a personal connection to the material that creates passion for learning. This makes digital storytelling a powerful tool for student engagement that can be applied within any discipline we teach. To learn more, follow some of the links provided above and discover more ways to be inspired to apply this in your own classroom!

Perspectives on the role of the CTL at the Community College

Ultimately, our success in the CTL is measured by how we support those who make student success possible!

Ultimately, our success in Mott Community College’s Center for Teaching & Learning is measured by how we support those who make student success possible!

By Mara Jevera Fulmer, Ed.D., MFA

As Faculty Director for Mott Community College’s Center for Teaching & Learning, I  had a bit of a learning curve  in order to fully embrace the role the CTL has on our campus. So I thought that with this entry in our blog I would share both the general idea of CTLs and how we have utilized this center at our community college.

What IS a CTL?

This is a conversation that usually begins when someone asks me where I work. In Summer 2014, I was offered the opportunity to be reassigned to Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning on a fulltime basis. Previously, I served as the Program Coordinator for Graphic Design and a fulltime professor for the program that I had developed over 18 years ago. It was my baby and, just like a young adult, it needed a new direction which happily came through the leadership from one of my former students – now a fulltime colleague in the department.

But to answer the question: What IS a CTL? That required MY understanding to grow as I, among many people on campus, did not fully understand the CTL’s connection to professional development. Although I occasionally attended events or offered a workshop through the CTL, I did not understand the center’s more comprehensive objectives and the role it played. I was truly ignorant of its potential utilization. Guilty as charged. What I learned was that the CTL at campuses across the USA have a variety of names, but generally focus on supporting faculty – new and experienced – in improving their teaching effectiveness in order to improve student success. It all comes under the heading of Professional Development.

Everything is framed with two main goals: to improve ALL employees’ effectiveness in doing their job, so that ALL of us can work together to improve student success.

I spent my first few months learning all about Mott’s CTL and what role I might play in its activities. Professional Development seems like such a formal and “enforced” activity rather than the organic nature in which a faculty member usually seeks to “develop” in their discipline, especially in the arts where my roots lie. But at Mott, the CTL does much more than offer PD activities for faculty. There is a concerted effort to reach out to staff from all levels across the campus for their PD needs, to provide a center for gathering for college employee conversations, and to create opportunities for enrichment that can help open up creative and innovative thinking for all of our employees, all of which will lead to improving our job effectiveness.

At Mott, as I’m sure is the case at most community colleges, students, after all, are the reason we are here.

Bridging Departments & Disciplines through Hosted Meetings, Workshops & Special Events

The CTL at the community college becomes an effective tool for bridging departments and disciplines, creating peer-to-peer support, and introducing new techniques and learning theories that can help us with our most challenging students. At Mott, the CTL focuses on faculty and staff, bringing people together to share their expertise, discoveries, and insights in order to help each of us become more effective.

We also host special events coordinated with other local higher ed institutions to bring in nationally recognized leaders in teaching and learning. These events are used to tip off a year-long conversation, additional workshops, and peer-to-peer explorations. To help offset the costs of these speakers, Mott is a member of a local Quad POD with three other post-secondary institutions who share in the planning and programming of these special events.

To connect our work to students, we’ve utilized techniques such as a “Human Library” where individuals with historical and personal experience on an important topic share their stories and help bring history to life. Students attend as part of their coursework because their instructors have coordinated with the CTL to create an experience that will help bring depth and breadth to their learning.

Embracing Service & Experiential Learning

As a CTL at a community college in an urban area, we also facilitate Service and Experiential learning opportunities, including having a reassigned faculty member with leadership in this area. Not only do we offer support for faculty to incorporate S&E into their courses, we also coordinate with community organizations to involve faculty, staff, and even students for Service Saturdays. These special Saturdays can involve anything from building a home with Habitat for Humanity, to cleaning up the Flint Riverfront or Durant Park. And just because we are now into our “slower” Summer season for regular faculty activities, it doesn’t mean we have any fewer volunteer opportunities and participation. Beginning with a Volunteer Fair that occurred near the end of the Winter semester in April, we identified organizations that would fit well with the Service Saturday theme and have promoted these and other community events to encourage college staff, and the faculty still on campus, to be involved in the college’s community. In our regular 2014 Fall/Winter semesters, our Service Saturdays alone included over 900 man hours of volunteer time.

Technology & Work Productivity

Of course, the CTL at Mott offers a wide variety of workshops on technology and work productivity. We have reassigned faculty experts who are available to help their peers get the most out of our Learning Management Systems. Our staff IT experts use the CTL to share broader-based technology content, and there are occasional external experts who share their specific knowledge on a subject. As opportunities and interest arise, we connect with expertise in the community and region to offer training in everything from activities for personal enrichment, to new theoretical teaching models and their applications to improving student success. And, not to ignore health and wellness, the CTL provides a venue for workshops that improve the health and wellbeing of our campus community.

Adapting for Future Needs

The CTL at Mott is continuously updating their approach, scanning the environment for where we can best serve our audience – the faculty and staff of the college. Recently, after hosting a series of large task force meetings on student and employee experiences, we began to address those meeting outcomes in our programming plans for Summer and Fall. In addition, our college is part of the first Cohort in Michigan to implement Guided Pathways, and the CTL has risen to the challenge of providing support for that effort through workshops that help faculty and staff create and understand how to work with students using the Guided Pathways.

The exciting part of working in Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning is that it never stays the same. We have the ability to seek out opportunities to support all members of the college community in ways that can truly have a positive impact. Yes, it can be challenging to find ways to improve attendance amidst the hugely busy schedules of our audience. But that is but one challenge among many, one that we don’t take lightly and are continuously examining ways to deliver our services to help improve access for our programs. Whether we hit it right, or fail miserably, we try and learn from it. Our goal, however, is to be the best resource possible to support our college faculty and staff so that, ultimately, our students will be the true winners. That’s the best way I can think of to measure our success.

Now Some Questions for you!

Do you ever attend programs at your college’s Center for Teaching & Learning (or it’s name variety)?

Are you involved in developing programs for a CTL?

How does your CTL attract/schedule/plan in order to achieve the best attendance and effectiveness?

Write back in the comments to share your thoughts about the questions above, or other things you’d like to share.

Thank you!

The Quest for Critical Thinking – Essays on one of education’s greatest challenges

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It isn’t enough that we train students to put widget A into slot B so they can fulfill the old-fashioned notion of the manufacturing jobs of the past. Employers nowadays are asking for highly skilled graduates to fill their growing number of positions in the post-recession job market. And among the most commonly-stated job skills are really soft skills that revolve around critical thinking.

What IS critical thinking? It is the notion that we can make reasoned decisions, judgements that are based on analysis of a particular situation, that we can synthesize information, context, and experience and reflect upon it in order to guide our actions.

The authors of the essays in a recent publication – The Quest for Critical Thinking – released by Inside Higher Ed, are flexing the very same intellectual muscles in order to examine how to build that capacity into student learning in higher education. For community colleges, we generally have two-year programs that are designed with two outcomes in mind – occupational preparation for entry-level work in a field upon completion of an Associates degree program, or transfer into a four-year program at a university. Many vocational faculty may bristle at the idea that they must include “general education” – liberal arts courses – into their programs while trying to cram in all of the latest greatest training for in-demand skill-sets. Yet liberal arts faculty have difficulty articulating how their courses can help build those critical thinking skills that can expand the longterm employability of graduates.

Author Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University and one of the compilation contributors, wrote in his essay “A World Without Liberal Learning,” about the history of American liberal education beginning with Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia. Describing Jefferson’s intentions for having students study a broad range of subjects, Roth said that this built a culture of “free inquiry” that would “help build a citizenry of independent thinkers who took responsibility for their actions in the context of their communities and the new Republic.” Roth argues that we must move beyond the concept of “utilitarian training” warning that if we did not, we would be creating graduates who would be unprepared for a fast-changing world and whose skill-sets would become obsolete before too long.

Asking what America would look like if we were to give up on liberal education in favor of purely vocational training, Roth claims  we would be disempowering students, removing stimulation of lifelong learning and inquiry.

We would become a cultural and economic backwater, competing with various regions for the privilege of operationalizing somebody else’s new ideas. (Michael Roth)

In another essay, Patricia Okker, professor of English and interim deputy provost at the University of Missouri at Columbia, argues that the faculty have an important role to play in making the liberal arts relevant. Titled “It’s the Faculty’s Job, too”, Okker describes how she created a course on career exploration that challenges students to start tying their studies together. Students from many disciplines are asked to do much self-reflection on the transferability of skills gained in their liberal arts courses. Elements of constructive criticism, for instance, provides a skill that builds the ability to provide valuable feedback to employees.

Students still need to identify skills specific to their individual experiences and affinities, and they need lots of practice articulating these strengths to potential employers. (Patricia Okker)

Okker argues that faculty in particular disciplines must become willing partners in the career counseling for students in order to help them recognize and understand the transferability of their skills to the workplace.

Other essays in the compilation address the issue of critical thinking from a wide range of perspectives. Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University, for instance, argues that that this is “A False Choice” in her essay. Her institution conducted a survey of stakeholders that found that employers were “sending mixed messages” that a blend of hard and soft skills were still the most highly desirable from business. The confusion lies in that business leaders would often put soft skills at the top of the list while their actions showed that industry-specific skills helped candidates get the job.

Larson encourages the development of courses that “fuse liberal arts and professional skills” combined with experiential learning opportunities that help reinforce the value of these skills. By way of example, she describes a course called “Ethics of Entrepreneurship” which combines critical thinking, writing, and a semester-long project. Another example of fusion is a management course on Interpersonal relations that she says is combined with an English course on women in film that explores how “women are perceived in film and how this can affect management styles.” She indicates that all of this must be combined with an experiential learning opportunity in order to effectively connect the esoteric to hard-skills and that business and industry should be encouraged to play a part in this active-learning.

In yet another essay by Lee Burdette Williams, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the argument is made that personal maturity plays an important role in education. He breaks this down into four overall equations that exemplify his thinking:

1) A marketable (STEM or other professional focused) major + good interpersonal skills = very likely professional success

2) A liberal arts major +  good interpersonal skills = possible professional success

3) A marketable major without interpersonal skills = possible professional success (some skills, he says, are valuable enough to overlook the lack of interpersonal skills)

4) A liberal arts major without interpersonal skills = not much chance of professional success

His advice to many undecided students:

Major in something you enjoy and do it well. (Lee Burdette Williams)

In everything one does as a student, one should do it well. The campus can be “real world” complete with hassles, disappointments, deadlines, consequences, etc. Williams argues that the discussion needs to shift from an “obsession with the obvious value of a liberal arts education and instead focus on the values of personal maturity, accountability, a sense of proportion and perspective.”

There are many more essays in this publication, all of which are worth the read and tackle the topic of critical thinking from a variety of perspectives. Be sure to download and read the entire compilation here.

Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society

Yes, you heard it here… from me, the art faculty turned faculty director for the CTL at Mott. But I couldn’t resist. There’s a great Webinar from an Adobe series called #CreateEdu which will be held Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 1 pm PDT (about 4 pm EDT) which blends computer sciences with creative approaches to learning.

Led by MIT’s Mitch Resnick, a computer scientist with the famous MIT Media Lab, this Webinar session explores how new technologies can engage students in creative learning experiences. Resnick, author of several books, won the McGraw prize in Education. His focus in this week’s session will be on “Scratch” described as a “new programming language and online community that enables young people to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations” which can then be shared. Just think of the possibilities for YOUR classroom!

Here’s a link to the webinar description and registration.

And here’s a link to his TED Talk that you may enjoy, as well!

 


Young people today have lots of experience … interacting with new technologies, but a lot less so of creating [or] expressing themselves with new technologies. It’s almost as if they can read but not write.


~ Mitch Resnick

You can find more webinars from Adobe by visiting their Professional Development section of their website at: https://edex.adobe.com/professional-development/events