Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, October 19, 2008

International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Conference - Edmonton, Alberta - October 2008

Finally, a conference located close to Calgary that I could drive, rather than fly, to. The ISSOTL 2008 Conference was co-hosted this year by the University of Alberta (their 100 year birthday) and Grant MacEwan College at the Shaw Centre in Edmonton Alberta from October 16th to 19th, 2008. Attending and participating in this year’s conference was definitely a growth experience as I was finally able to look beyond my own personal SoTL interests (redesigning courses to increase student engagement with disciplinary concepts and practices) to understand and appreciate the perspectives of others (e.g. narrative and discourse analysis). I facilitated a session on Designing for Student Success and as usual, I made an extensive list of conference notes that I’ve posted to my personal web site but the following is a list of sessions that had a personal impact on me.

On the Journey to SoTL: Moving from Passive Learning to Scholarly Teaching with Student Groups – Ellen Lynch, University of Cincinnati

I was very impressed with how Ellen conducted her study about the impact of a problem based learning approach in her pre-service teacher education courses. Excellent data collection and analysis techniques through the use of student concept maps (pre and post course), surveys (pre and post), interviews and analysis of student assignments.

Community of Inquiry (CoI) Panel

This panel was hosted by Heather Kanuka from the University of Alberta and consisted of Randy Garrison (University of Calgary), Liam Rourke (University of Calgary) and Walter Archer (University of Alberta). This session reminded me of the importance of emphasizing teaching (shared responsibility) rather than teaching (individual) presence and the need to look beyond online discussion forums for looking for evidence of CoI (i.e. course assignments, CoI survey (deploying student and faculty versions to exam for alignment).

The Struggle for Connections by Sue Clegg from the United Kingdom

The a couple of key messages from Sue’s plenary session for me. One, the need to take a “big tent” approach to SoTL by allowing for multiple entry points for people to enter and participate in this research community (e.g. experimental studies, relationships, discourse analysis, personal reflection). Second, that lectures can be an effective way of engaging large groups of people. For this keynote – Sue read from a prepared a text but surprisingly I was “engaged’ throughout her talk and from my perspective, I took an excellent set of notes for comprehension.

Teaching for Learning Network – Cambridge-MIT Institute by David Good from Cambridge

In this session, David did an excellent job of summarizing the “lessons learned” from the Cambridge-MIT teaching/research partnership. He stressed how each institution is focused on developing four capacities in their students:

  • deep conceptual understanding
  • personal & interpersonal skills
  • self-efficacy (confidence in one’s abilities)
  • life-long learners

And, that their overall lesson was that course design really does matter. Other “lessons learned” included:

  • The discovery that thoughtful student feedback serves as an impetus for change.
  • Faculty are sensitive to what students say about them.
  • Emphasizing learning objectives and assessment focused faculty on student learning rather than “covering” the content
  • Faculty are receptive to assessment when it is framed as a mechanism for improvement

Scholarship of Teaching/Learning and Pedagogic Resonance by Keith Trigwell, University of Sydney, Australia

I think this was my favourite session – clear, to the point and in line with my own thinking. Keith suggests that pedagogic resonance is the relationship between teacher knowledge and student learning. The notion of student learning aligning with teacher intentions – being on the same wavelength. What students experience in the act of teaching that contributes to their learning.

Student Engagement Special Interest Group

Kudos to Chris Garrett from Oklahoma City University for being pro-active and starting the very first ISSOTL special interest group. I immediately “hit it off” with Chris and Elizabeth Barkley from Foothill College in California (she is currently writing a handbook on Student Engagement with Patricia Cross for Jossey-Bass). There was a large turn out of people to the inaugural meeting and after introducing ourselves we began a discussion about the variety of definitions for student engagement. I ended up “plucking” mine from Wikipedia:

Students are engaged when they are involved in their academic studies, persist despite challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing tasks related to their studies.

As “take aways”, I created a Google Group and Elluminate space to continue the dialogue and Elizabeth is going to coordinate collecting faculty and student definitions of student engagement from the group.

Transforming Strategies: The Indigenous Struggle for Higher Education by Professor Graham Smith from New Zealand

Graham is the CEO and Vice Chancellor of a Maori University in New Zealand and I appreciated how he emphasized the Maori Learning Values:

  • Knowledge belongs to all
  • All the knowledge goes into the group pool
  • Focus on collective wisdom
  • All the children belong to all of the parents
  • No separation between teaching and learning (ako)

From Collaboratory to Commons: Mobilizing Knowledge for Exemplary Teaching by Tom Carey, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQC) and the California State University System

The focus of Tom’s session was on State wide course redesign projects. A couple points of interest were the idea that often we need to redesign the way that we admit students to courses – not just courses themselves. And, how he is using MIT’s Collaborative Knowledge Networks model to mobilize the knowledge from this projects. This framework includes innovation, learning and interest (i.e. linux creators, maintainers, users). Interesting how the course redesign teams are using Google Groups to document their redesign processes. Here is an example of the Developmental Math Teams space.

Science Education within the Virtual World of Second Life by Tony Cider & Megan Squire, Elon University

I have to admit that I’m still not a big fan of Virtual Worlds but Tony did emphasize that these environment should be used to focus on the process of student creation and building rather than on playing games or simply using material that has been created by others. I also like the suggestion by someone in the audience that higher education institutions should foster an Emergent Technology Community of Practice to critically examine new and emerging technologies and how they can be used to support student learning.

Phew, I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference at Indiana University in Bloomington. Hopefully, we’ll be able to present our Student Engagement and Interactive Learning Technologies study as well as a panel session for the Student Engagement Special Interest Group.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008