Strategic Planning for Prioritization: Developing the Confidence and Clarity to Say “No”

One of the things I continually hear from colleagues in educational development is that we struggle to say “no” to the ever-increasing demands that we face in our roles.  In order to help us establish our key priorities and goals for 2014, our educational development unit recently embarked on a strategic planning process to help us address this very dilemma.  During a one-day retreat, we used the following 4-step process to help us define our key priorities for 2014.

Step 1: What metrics do we use to evaluate our success?

During this first step we defined and prioritized the metrics that we use to evaluate our success.  We first individually brainstormed the qualitative and quantitative methods that we use to evaluate our success as a unit.

Guiding question: What metrics (qualitative & quantitative) should we use to evaluate our success as a unit?

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After clustering and summarizing the key metrics we used a 2 x 2 matrix (Effort: easy/hard vs. Impact: high/low) to rank these metrics in terms of being able to evidence and communicate our impact.

Guiding question:  How would we prioritize these metrics in terms of being able to evidence and communicate our impact?

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Step 2: What key strategic directions should guide our practice?

Our next key step was to discuss how current strategic institutional, unit and educational development approaches align with our practice.  Here, we discussed our current mandate and practices, 2013 integrated planning goals, institutional strategic directions (e.g. as communicated in the University of Guelph’s Strategic Mandate Agreement and Integrated Plan), as well as some broader strategic approaches affecting educational development practices.

Guiding questions: Which strategic institutional, unit and educational development approaches should most inform our ED practices for 2014? Where are the gaps? Where should we focus? What are our top 3-5 strategic areas of focus?

Some example strategic directions that influence our practice are presented below:

Our Mandate:

Using evidence-based approaches, the ED unit supports educators and provides expertise to enhance pedagogical practices at the University of Guelph.

Institutional Strategic Directions:

  • The development and assessment of learning outcomes, including supporting the creation of curriculum maps for all programs
  • Promoting highly effective learning opportunities that foster deep learning and student engagement.
  • Productivity, efficiency and innovation in our academic programs through transformative program innovation (e.g. transformation of large-first year courses to ensure active learning and student engagement, supporting blended/hybrid models of delivery)
  • Embedding internationalism throughout the curricula (e.g. learning outcomes, courses, and programs).
  • Supporting Community Engaged Scholarship and Community Engaged Teaching and Learning.
  • Accessibility and Universal Design for Higher Education

Educational Development Strategic Directions:

(See for example: Dimitrov et al., 2013; Grabrove et al., 2013; Hubball et al., 2013; Felten et al., 2013; Trigwell et al., 2012; Christensen-Hughes and Mighty, 2010; Gibbs and Coffey, 2004)

  • Translating and mobilizing evidence-based, learner-centred practice
  • Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning,  scholarship of educational development, and scholarship of curriculum practice
  • Supporting Sustained and Intensive ED Practice (> 20 hours) such as: courses, certificates, communities of practice, multi-day teaching & learning institutes
  • Focus on assessment (e.g. promoting deep and authentic assessment practices; assessing & accounting for the impact of our own practice)
  • Supporting program-level curriculum improvement and assessment
  • Strengthening institutional policy (e.g. advocacy, awards, reward and recognition, integrated planning)
  • Engaging students in educational development approaches and practices (e.g. in SoTL projects, curriculum review processes and broader conversations related to teaching and learning in higher education)

Step 3: What should we start, stop (or do more efficiently), and continue doing?

Our third step in the afternoon involved evaluating and establishing our key priorities and goals for 2014.  To do this, we first reflected back on the outcomes of the previous 2 steps and engaged in a process familiar to educational developers – a start, stop, continue exercise.  Not surprisingly, the most challenging area for discussion was what we should “stop” doing.  However, we found that we could negotiate this challenge by expanding our frame of discussion to what we should stop and/or do more efficiently.  During this step it was extremely important to maintain an open frame of mind to ensure there was a free flow of creative thought amongst team members. This is a key step to the process and it is critical to ensure that all ideas generated are recorded without judgement or censorship.

Guiding Question: Based on these strategic approaches and the metrics we will use to evaluate our success, what should we start, stop (or do more efficiently) and continue doing as an ED Unit?IMG_1238

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Step 4: What are our key ED unit goals for 2014?

The final step in the process was to define our goals for 2014, while taking into consideration to outcomes of the three previous steps.  This collaborative process flowed naturally from the previous discussions that had occurred during the day.

Guiding Question: What specific and measurable goals would we like to achieve as a unit for 2014?

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During this next step our unit was able to successfully define our key goals and priorities for the 2014. One additional step that will help to provide focus is to now take these goals and further prioritize them using a 2 x 2 matrix (importance vs urgency).  This would help us to define our highest priority tasks (High Importance, High Urgency), and where we should be spending our most time (High Importance, Low Urgency).

SUBSEQUENT POST EDIT:

After a much deserved holiday break, our unit DID come together to prioritize our goals based on the above noted Importance vs Urgency Matrix.  The results helped us to clearly define our high priority goals (high importance, high urgency), as well as where we should be spending most of our time (high importance, low urgency).  We were also able to simplify our goals, removing any that fell into the quadrants of low importance.  In the end, we removed 6 of our 25 previously defined goals, leaving us with 19 annual goals upon which to focus our practices as a team.  As and added benefit, the process of coming back to these goals after 2 weeks provided us with an important opportunity to reflect upon and further clarify and refine each of our goals.

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As we work to align our individual goals with these priorities they will certainly provide a key frame of reference for focusing our time on areas that are certain to have impact on our individual and collective success for 2014 (a.k.a. on things that really matter)!

References:

Christensen Hughes, J, & Mighty, J. (2010). A call to action: Barriers to pedagogical innovation and how to overcome them. Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education, 261-277.

Dimitrov, N., Meadows, K., Kustra, E., Ackerson, T., Prada, L., Baker, N., Potter, M.K. (2013). Assessing Graduate Teaching Development Programs for Impact on Future Faculty. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Felten, P., Bagg, J., Bumbry, M., Hill, J., Hornsby, K., Pratt, M., & Weller, S. (2013). A call for expanding inclusive student engagement in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(2), 63-74.

Hubball, Harry, Pearson, Marion L, & Clarke, Anthony. (2013). SoTL Inquiry in Broader Curricular and Institutional Contexts: Theoretical Underpinnings and Emerging Trends. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 41-57.

Gibbs, G., & Coffey, M. (2004). The impact of training of university teachers on their teaching skills, their approach to teaching and the approach to learning of their students. Active learning in higher education, 5(1), 87-100.

Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.  Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Trigwell, Keith, Caballero Rodriguez, Katia, & Han, Feifei. (2012). Assessing the impact of a university teaching development programme. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(4), 499-511.

Learner-Centred Principles for Teaching in Higher Education

In preparing for an upcoming faculty workshop, I was inspired to think about foundational principles for promoting a learner-centred approach to teaching in higher education.  I had an opportunity to reflect back on Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education,  Ramsden’s (2003) 13 principles for effective university teaching; Maryellen Weimer’s 5 key changes to practice for learner-centred teaching, as well as Lizzio et al.’s (2002) conceptual model for an effective academic environment.  Recognizing the limitations in attempting to represent the inherent complexities and nuances of teaching and learning,  I have presented the outcome of this process in the following set of learner-centred principles for teaching in higher education:

  1. Actively Engage Learners: ensure learning material is stimulating, relevant and interesting; explain material clearly; use a variety of methods that encourage active and deep approaches to learning, as well as adapt to evolving classroom contexts.
  2. Demonstrate Empathy and Respect: show interest in students’ opinions and concerns; seek to understand their diverse talents, needs, prior knowledge, and approaches to learning; encourage interaction between instructor and students; share your love of the discipline.
  3. Communicate Clear Expectations: make clear the intended learning outcomes and standards for performance; provide organization, structure and direction for where the course is going.
  4. Encourage Independence: provide opportunities for students to develop and draw upon personal interests; offer choice in learning processes and modes of assessment; provide timely and developmental feedback on learning; encourage metacognition to promote self-assessment of learning.
  5. Create a Community for Learning: use teaching methods and learning strategies that encourage mutual learning, as well as thoughtful, respectful and collaborative engagement and dialogue.
  6. Use Appropriate Assessment Methods: clearly align assessment methods with intended course outcomes; provide clear criteria for evaluation; emphasize deep learning; scaffold assessments to ensure progressive learning.
  7. Commit to Continuous Improvement: gather formative and summative feedback on your teaching; practice critical self-reflection; consult scholarly literature on teaching & learning; identify clear goals for strengthening your teaching practice.

What would you change, add or remove from these principles?  What would your list of learner-centred principles for teaching in higher education look like?

References:

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3–7.

Lizzio, A., Wilson, K., & Simons, R. (2002). University Students’ Perceptions of the Learning Environment and Academic Outcomes: Implications for theory and practice. Studies in Higher Education, 27(1), 27-52.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. New York: Routledge.

Weimer, M. (2013). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice: John Wiley & Sons.

Strategic Directions for Educational Development

As I prepare for the upcoming Faculty Engagement in Educational Development (FEED) Summit to be hosted by the the Council of Ontario Universities, the Council of Ontario Educational Developers and McMaster University, as well as on some recent publications such as Christensen Hughes and Mighty (2010) and Grabrove et al. (2012),  it is incredible to reflect upon the continued evolution of educational development programs across Canada.  I can’t help but reflect on the following “strategic” directions related to our continued evolution:

  1. a shift from just-in-time pedagogical support to evidenced-based classroom practice;
  2. the strengthening of institutional strategy and policy related to teaching/learning;
  3. growing engagement and emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). And, I will add the scholarship of educational development (SoED); and scholarship of curriculum practice (SoCP);
  4. a clear focus on intensive and sustained pedagogical development programming that builds capacity throughout the institution;
  5. a growing emphasis on program-level curriculum assessment and development.

I am curious what others think about the continued evolution of educational development.  What other shifts do you see? Where do you think ED will be in 2025?

References:

Christensen Hughes, Julia, & Mighty, Joy. (2010). Taking Stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education. McGill-Queen University Press, Kingston, ON.

Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.  Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Hubball, Harry, Pearson, Marion L, & Clarke, Anthony. (2013). SoTL Inquiry in Broader Curricular and Institutional Contexts: Theoretical Underpinnings and Emerging Trends. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 41-57.

SOARing through Curriculum Development Processes

As a foundational component of most curriculum review processes, we frequently engage in a Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Challenges (SWOC) analysis with faculty and instructors involved in the teaching and delivery of courses within a major or degree program.  The SWOC analysis framework is also often used as an effective framework for conducting focus groups to gather input and feedback from students, alumni and employers.

I have recently developed a strong affinity for the SOAR process (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011), which provides a interesting alternative to the SWOC process. Based on an appreciative inquiry (AI) approach to strategic planning, the SOAR framework provides an extraordinary guide for conversations related to identifying and leveraging the key strengths and opportunities of academic programs. In collaboration with an incredibly insightful colleague, Dr. Gavan Watson, we recently adapted the SOAR framework within the context of a curriculum review process.  We used the questions below to guide discussion at a recent curriculum retreat (adapted from Stavros et al., 2003; Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011). Allotting approximately 2 hours for this discussion, we first divided the program’s instructors into three small groups.  There were three separate “flip chart” stations organized around the room, each focused on one of the following three SOAR topics:

 Strengths: What can we build on?

  1. What are we doing well?
    • What key achievements are we most proud of?
    • What positive aspects of the program have students/faculty/employers or others commented on?
  2. What are we known for?
    • What makes us unique?
    • Why do students choose our program?
  3. What key resources and areas of expertise give us an advantage?

Opportunities: What are our best possible future opportunities?

  1. What changes in demand do we expect to see over the next years?
    • What external forces or trends may positively impact the program?
  2. What future external opportunities exist for the program?
    • What are key areas of untapped potential?
    • What are students, employers and/or other community members asking for?
  3. How can we highlight our program strengths and distinguish ourselves from competing programs?
  4. How can we reframe perceived challenges to be seen as opportunities?

Aspirations: What do We Care Deeply About?

  1. What are we deeply passionate about?
  2. As a program, what difference do we hope to make (e.g. to learners, the institution, employers, the community)?
  3. What does our preferred future look like?
  4. What projects, programs or processes would support our aspirations?

Each group had 15 minutes to reflect on the guiding questions presented at the station.  After 15 minutes, the groups rotated to the next station, reviewed and discussed the key points summarized by the previous group, and added any additional points to the flipcharts.  After each small group had rotated through each of the stations, we collectively took 15 minutes to review the key points presented at the Strength, Opportunities, and Aspiration flipchart stations, to ensure that participants had an opportunity to provide additional clarification where necessary.  We then conducted a dotomocray to prioritize the key points presented at the stations (each participant was given 6 sticky dots to vote for what they felt were the program’s most important strengths, opportunities and aspirations). Based on this process, the top “3” points from each station were highlighted.

In the final step, the participants were divided into two groups, and given 20 minutes to discuss the key “Results” that they would like to see based on these priorities (see below guiding questions).  Each group then reported back up to 3 measures of success, goals, projects, and initiatives.

Results: How will we know we are succeeding?

  1. Considering our strengths, opportunities, and aspirations, what meaningful measures will indicate that we are on track in achieving our goals?
  2. What measurable results do we want to see? What measurable results will we be known for?
  3. What resources are needed to implement our most vital projects and initiatives?
  4. What are the 3-5 key goals would you like to accomplish in order to achieve these results?

The SOAR framework and process highlighted above resulted in a collective, collaborative, inspired and engaged discussion, that lead to the identification of key projects and areas of focus for continued program improvement. The strength-based focus of SOAR provides an important opportunity for participants to have meaningful, positive and solution-focused conversations related to the program’s potential, and provides clear direction upon which to create a desired future.

Note: More recently, we used the above SOAR framework to develop a future vision for one of our faculty development programs. I have quickly discovered that the framework is highly adaptable to many strategic planning conversations!

References

Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy. Bend, OR: Thin Book Publishing.

SOARing High: Supporting the Development of an Educational Development (ED) Philosophy Statement

As the profession and practice of Educational Development (ED) continues to evolve and expand, the importance of evidencing the impact of our practices has never been clearer.  Educational Development portfolios provide a powerful means by which to communicate the diversity and richness of our ED practices, as well as to provide evidence of our increasing impact within post-secondary education (Wright & Miller, 2000).

At the basis of any great portfolio is a philosophy of practice, which clearly communicates:

  1. what your fundamental value, beliefs are about educational development;
  2. why you hold these believes and values (grounded in both experience and scholarship); and,
  3. how you translated these values and beliefs into your everyday educational development practices and experiences.

Although highly enlightening and rewarding, it should be clearly stated that developing a concise, articulate and meaningful philosophy statement can be a daunting, challenging, and time-consuming experience.

As we begin to embark upon the process of creating Educational Development portfolios within our ED Unit at the University of Guelph, we recently engaged in a reflective process to support the development of our ED Philosophy Statements.   The process was based on the increasing popular SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) framework (Stavros, Cooperrider, & Kelley, 2003; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2011) – an Appreciative Inquiry anecdote to the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis (Mills, Fleck, & Kozikowski, 2013).   After reflecting upon the following questions, we found that SOAR provided a great framework upon which to brainstorm, and summarize our key claims to our Educational Development practice.  It also resulted in an illuminating, engaging and collaborative discussion related to the beliefs, assumptions and approaches that each of us take to our practice! It became quickly apparent that these questions could also provide an important basis for discussion as part of a well-designed performance management review process (Aguinis, Joo, & Gottfredson, 2011).

The SOAR framework (Stavros and Hinrichs, 2011) adapted within the context of an ED Philosophy of Practice:

Strengths: What are your greatest skills, capabilities, and strengths as an Educational Developer? What do you provide and do in your role as an ED that is of benefit to others? What have been some of your greatest accomplishments over the last year or two as an ED? What are you most proud of in your role as, and approaches to ED?  When have you felt most engaged/affirmed in your ED practices and approaches?

Opportunities: What opportunities do you see for yourself as an ED? What are some of your greatest areas of interest in ED? Within the context of higher education, what opportunities currently exist that you can respond to in your role as an ED?  What do you see as your greatest opportunities for growth in your ED practice?  What new skills and abilities will help you move forward in your ED practice?

Aspirations: What do you care most deeply about in your role as an Educational Developer? What are you deeply passionate about as an ED? What difference do you hope to make as an ED? What does your preferred future ‘look like ‘ in your role as an ED? Where do you hope to go in the future?  What projects and initiatives do you hope to engage in as an ED?

Results: How do/will you know you are succeeding in your practice as an Educational Developer?  What  ‘tangible results’ do you hope to be known for in your role as an ED?

References:

Aguinis, Herman, Joo, Harry, & Gottfredson, Ryan K. (2011). Why we hate performance management—and why we should love it. Business Horizons, 54(6), 503-507.

Mills, M.J., Fleck, C.R., & Kozikowski, A. (2013). Positive Pscyhology at work: a conceptual review, state-of-practice assessment, and a look ahead. The Journal of Postiive Psychology, 8(2), 153-164.

Stavros, Jacqueline, Cooperrider, DL, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Stavros, Jacqueline M, & Hinrichs, Gina. (2011). The Thin Book Of SOAR: Building Strengths-Based Strategy: Thin Book Publishing.

Wright, W Alan, & E Miller, Judith. (2000). The educational developer’s portfolio. International Journal for Academic Development, 5(1), 20-29.

A shift from Active Learning to Active Assessment

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Sourced from the ever brilliant: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8204963410/sizes/z/in/set-72157626965187420/

I think there is an important shift happening in higher education today.  Just as there was a shift from passive learning to actively learning, much inspired by Barr & Tagg’s (1995) seminal article From Teaching to Learning A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education, I believe there is a current shift happening from Active Learning to Active Assessment.

We have long known that assessment has an enormous impact on what, when and how students learn (Gibbs & Simpson, 2004), and that when assessment is explicitly aligned with the course learning objectives (also sometimes referred to as intended learning outcomes) that student learning experience AND the outcomes of those experiences are greatly improved (Lizzio, Wilson, & Simons, 2002).

Even the most thoughtful, dedicated teachers spend enormously more time worrying about their lectures than they do about their … assignments, which I think is a mistake.

(Wieman, 2007, p. 13)

Boud & Associates’ (2010) Seven Propositions for Assessment Reform in Higher Education provide an effective foundation for ensuring that assessment is implemented to enhance student learning throughout our course and program curricula.   I have presented a somewhat paraphrased summary of the principles below.

  1. Use assessment to engage students in productive learning:  align assessment tasks explicitly to what needs to be learned and to the activities that will lead to this learning; assessment tasks should be appropriately scaffolded to encourage progressive learning.
  2. Use feedback to actively improve student learning: provide clear, helpful feedback; provide specific and timely feedback such that students can continue to grow and improve. Nicol & Macfarlane‐Dick (2006) also provide an enlightening summary of the critical role that feedback plays in the assessment process.
  3. Students and teachers become partners in learning and assessment: students progressively take responsibility for their learning and develop their meta-cognitive abilities to enhance performance over time; students develop confidence in their ability to judge their work and that of others against criteria and standards; students and instructors actively dialogue and interact about assessment, and associated criteria and standards.
  4. Students are “inducted” into assessment practices and cultures in higher education: assessment practices are structured progressively to support student success and progressive learning throughout their curriculum; assessment practices are universally designed to respond to student diversity.
  5. Assessment is placed at the centre of program design: assessment is recognized clearly, as an integral part of curriculum design.  Assessment is integrated and embedded strategically, consistently, progressively and complementarity throughout the curriculum.  Assessment and feedback methods are directly aligned with program learning outcomes and teaching/learning activities that support the development of these learning outcomes.
  6. Assessment practices are a focus for instructional and institutional development: academic development activities are provided (and appropriately recognized and rewarded) to ensure that faculty, administrators and instructors develop the skills necessary to implement effective assessment practices in their courses and curricula.
  7. Assessment provides inclusive and clear evidence of student achievement: Opportunities are provided that allow students to demonstrate their coherent, enduring and integrated learning.  Documents that provide evidence of student learning provide a “richness” that is conducive to the integrated and complex nature of learning.

If there is one focus for improving our teaching and learning environments in higher education today, it should be on improving our collective ability to provide assessment practices that truly result in deep and sustained learning throughout our curricula.   The resulting impact on student learning experiences and the outcomes thereof would be simply extraordinary!  It will take a shift in our thinking of the critical role and impact that assessment has within our curriculum – but I truly believe that the time has come!

References:

Barr, Robert B, & Tagg, John. (1995). From teaching to learning—A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6), 12-26.

Boud, D. , & Associates. (2010). Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Retrieved from http://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/teaching-and-learning/assessment/assessment-futures website:

Gibbs, Graham, & Simpson, Claire. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1(1), 3-31.

Lizzio, Alf, Wilson, Keithia, & Simons, Roland. (2002). University Students’ Perceptions of the Learning Environment and Academic Outcomes: Implications for theory and practice. Studies in Higher Education, 27(1), 27-52.

Nicol, David J, & Macfarlane‐Dick, Debra. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

Wieman, C. . (2007). Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to Science Education? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 39(5), 9-15.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

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Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/5617505546/in/set-72157626965187420

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in the three-hour graduate student Winter Teaching Workshop, offered here at the University of Guelph.  This year’s focus was on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).  SoTL has certainly received increased attention in higher education, and is said to combine the experience of teaching, the scholarship of research, and the dissemination of this knowledge to the broader benefit of the academic community.  In preparing for the workshop, I had the pleasure of revisiting The Scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments (Hutchings and Shulman, 1999).  Although now considered somewhat dated, Hutchings’ and Shulman’s elaborations about SoTL still clearly resonate with me – with a somewhat elegant simplicity.  They describe SoTL scholars as those,

who are eager to engage in sustained inquiry into their teaching practice and their students’ learning and who are well positioned to do so in ways that contribute to practice beyond their own classrooms. (p. 12)

They further state that although SoTL is a mechanism to advance the profession of teaching, it is clearly not synonymous with excellent teaching. The process of SoTL requires,

a kind of “going meta,” in which faculty frame and systematically investigate questions related to student learning – the conditions under which it occurs, what it looks like, how to deepen it, and so forth – and do so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but to advance practice beyond it. (p. 13)

They further ask us to imagine institutional research that asks complex and difficult questions such as:

What are our students really learning?

What do they understand deeply?

What kinds of human beings are they becoming – intellectually, morally, in terms of civic responsibility?

How does our teaching affect that learning, and how might it do so more effectively? (p.15)

They conclude by stating that,

[SoTL] creates new meanings through integrating across other inquiries, negotiating understanding between theory and practice. (p.15)

Indeed, Hutchings and Shulman provide a strong foundation for helping to define what has become an evolving and essential practice for exploring the intricacies of teaching and learning in higher education – as well as for furthering our collective commitment to sharing that knowledge for the broader benefit of academe.

Reference:

Hutchings, P. and Shulman, L.S. 1999.  The scholarship of Teaching: New Elaborations, New Developments, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 31:5, 10-15.

External Factors Impacting Educational and Curriculum Development in Ontario

In thinking about some of the external factors which are likely to impact and increase demand for Educational and Curriculum Development at the University of Guelph, the following five came quickly to mind.  All of the factors below will  impact areas that are core to the expertise, services and support areas that we provide including:  curriculum development, review and learning outcomes assessment; faculty and instructional development; evidenced-based classroom practice and research (e.g. student-centred and experiential learning); support for the use of educational technology; and universal instructional design. What other factors would you add to this list?

  1. Internationally, quality assurance processes and pressures for public accountability for academic programs have been increasing.  The Council of Ontario Universities’ Quality Assurance Framework (2010) requires each institution to develop and implement an Institutional Quality Assurance Process (IQAP). The IQAPs are core to quality assurance and continuous improvement, and ensure that all programs are consistent with their Institution’s Degree Level Expectations (e.g. University of Guelph 2012 Senate-approved Learning Outcomes).  The IQAP process has placed an increased focus on program-level curriculum review and development.
  2. PSE is one of the Ontario Government’s highest priority areas. This Government has committed to creating an addition 60,000 spaces in the PSE system and to ensuring that 70% of the population attains post-secondary credentials, while at the same time seeking to improve productivity through innovation and quality in our teaching and learning environments.
  3. In its discussion paper, Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge, The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has called for transformation in the PSE system, with a clear focus on accountability and quality assurance, learning outcomes assessment, on-line/technology enabled learning, experiential learning, employability, acceleration of knowledge creation (e.g. 3 yr. undergrad baccalaureate degrees) and student transferability/mobility (of credits within the system and credentials across systems).
  4. The 2012 Auditor General’s Report evaluated University Undergraduate Teaching Quality, recommending: improved evaluations of courses and teaching; tenure and promotion processes that reflect the importance of teaching; greater participation in teaching development activities for all faculty; and, measuring the impact of various teaching resources (e.g. class size) on teaching quality and learning outcomes.
  5. The Provincial government has committed to ensuring accessibility for all learners through the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation and the AODA, placing increased importance on the practices and principles embedded in Universal Instructional Design (UID).

What is Learner-Centredness?

OK, I have to admit that I am guilty.  I work for an institution that describes itself as learner-centred, and I teach a course on University Teaching in which I aspire to create a learner-centred environment.  Until this point, I don’t think I have taken the time to ACTUALLY articulated (yes, I would say that I have reflected upon it!) what I truly mean by this term that seems to be used so elusively in higher education today.  So, here goes…and as a disclaimer, I truly hope that this personal exploration continues to evolve!!

A learner-centreded approach clearly places the learner at the centre of their education, by supporting student development & autonomy, and creating a shared-climate for learning (Newmaster et al., 2006; Weimer, 2002).  Learner-centredness puts a clear focus on the outcomes of learning, and recognizes that, “students must be active discoverers and constructors of their own knowledge” (Barr and Tagg, 1995, p.21).  Learners are guided by a philosophy of self-efficacy and autonomy, where they develop the knowledge and abilities necessary to embrace learning challenges, to succeed, and to continuously improve.  Learner-centred environments facilitate active, enduring, integrated and authentic experiences that, “…enabl[e] the learner to remodel and revise ongoing theories in a manner that makes sense to them” (Newmaster et al., 2006, p. 108).  Simply stated, learner-centred environments provide students with an opportunity to actively engage with and to take ownership of their own learning.


Weimer’s (2002) 5 Key Changes to Promote Learner-Centredness (LC) provide an effective framework upon which to articulate a LC approach to higher education:

  1. The Balance of Power: Key decisions about learning are shared between the instructor and student (e.g. course activities, assignments, setting a climate for learning)
  2. The Function of Content:— Content is used to develop learning skills, to promote self-awareness, and to develop a sense of self-efficacy in their ability to solve learning task
  3. The Role of the Teacher:—  To guide and facilitate the process of learning; and to create and maintain conditions that promote student development, autonomy, and a shared-climate for learning
  4. The Responsibility for Learning: Students take responsibility for their own learning and are motivated to succeed; students do the discovering. Activities and assignments become the vehicles for learning.
  5. Evaluation Purpose and Process:—  Generate grades AND promote learning (what I like to refer to as “active assessment”). Aside comment: As there has been a fundamental shift in higher education from passive to active learning, I think there is an evolving shift from active learning to active assessment currently occurring in higher education.  As we all know, assessment has an incredible impact on What, When and How students learn!!

Perhaps even more concisely stated, Paris and Combs (2006, p. 576) simple meanings of learner-centredness resonate clearly with me:

  1. The student is the starting point for curriculum making
  2. The instructor and students are co-participants in the learning process
  3. The instructor strives toward intense student engagement with the curriculum

Like I said at the beginning,  I am quite certain that my personal reflections regarding learner-centredness will continue to evolve!

References:

Barr, R.B. and Tagg, J. 1995.  From Teaching to Learning – A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education.  Change.  Nov/Dec: 13-25.

Newmaster, S., Lacroix, C.A., and Roosenboom, C. 2006.  Authentic learning as a mechanism for learner centredness.  International Journal of Learning 13(6): 103-112.

Paris, C. and Combs, B. 2006.  Lived meanings: what teachers mean when they say they are learner-centered.  Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice 12:571-592.

Weimer, M. 2002. Learner-Centered Teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

On Critical Reflection

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Source: @giuliaforsythe http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/7132198243/sizes/z/in/photostream/

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Stephen Brookfield present at the University of Guelph’s Teaching and Learning Innovations Conference. Dr. Brookfield’s presentation modeled the way.  He reminded us of the importance of silence in the classroom:

 silence is an endemic, essential part of the rhythm of the learning process.

 

We were also reminded of how important it was to reflect critically on our own experiences as learners, as we, ourselves grow as teachers.

How we study our own autobiographies as learners is essential to our development as teachers.

I was left most inspired by Brookfield’s humble and real reflections on the feelings we all face in our teaching practice, and how difficult it is to look beyond our assumed ‘faults’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ as we teach – no matter how experienced we are in the classroom.

So what is critical reflection anyways?

Critical reflection occurs when we analyze and challenge the validity of our presuppositions and assess the appropriateness of our knowledge, understanding and beliefs given our present contexts (Mezirow, 1990).  Brookfield (1990) explains that critical reflection involves three phases:

  1. Identifying the assumptions (“those taken-for-granted ideas, commonsense beliefs, and self-evident rules of thumb” (pg. 177)) that underlie our thoughts and actions;
  2. Assessing and scrutinizing the validity of these assumptions in terms of how they relate to our ‘real-life’ experiences and our present context(s);
  3. Transforming these assumptions to become more inclusive and integrative, and using this newly-formed knowledge to more appropriately inform our future actions and practices.

Becoming a critically reflective thinker and practitioner can be challenging. The process of critical reflection may be conceptualized through the descriptions and questions contained in the following two figures (adapted from Brookfield 1990, 1995; Mezirow, 1990).

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References:

Brookfield, S.D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.  Jossey-Bass, CA.

Brookfield, S.D. 1990. Using critical incidents to explore learners’ assumptions. In pages 177-193 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.

Mezirow, J. 1990.  How critical reflection triggers transformative learning.  In pages 1-20 of J. Mezirow (Ed). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Fransisco.