Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Faculty Attitudes Toward Online Learing

A new report came out on faculty attitudes toward online learning.  It is interesting for sure.  Click here to read the interactive article and graphs.

The report suggests that if  faculty have taught a completely online course, they were more likely to be high on online learning than those who had never taught an online course.  If faculty had never taught online, they were more likely to be skeptics if online learning could be as effective as face to face classes.

Lets look at some of the stats:

The orange is all faculty, the light blue middle lines are those faculty that have taught online and the dark blue line on the top is faculty who have never taught online.

The comments at the bottom of the report from readers are even more interesting.  We have come a long way in understanding online learning and they are skeptical of the definition of online learning the report used.

The survey just referenced online courses, not what type of online course.  We have a new word - live online - a course that is taught with a great deal of interaction with students via web conferencing, discussions and other interactive activities.  The comment associates live online with synchronous courses where students and faculty interact together at one time similar if they were in a classroom.   However at the UTRGV Brownsville Campus we have excellent examples of asynchronous courses that would be classified as live online.

As we head to UTRGV, we can expect that technology will play an important part to include students who are on campuses 50 miles apart.  This appears to be a important survey to administer here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Education is For

When we ponder what skills our students need to enter into the workforce, the first one on most of our lists is the skill for critical thinking.  Never has this skill been more obvious now in the wake of the media frenzy misrepresenting the Ebola outbreak.

We had three cases here in Texas  One person who traveled from Liberia who came down with his symptoms after his entrance into the U.S.  and two health care workers who took care of him.  We have a new suspected case in NYC and some states are talking mandatory 21 day quarantine for health care workers.  However, read, listen or watch the news and you would believe a pandemic has occurred.

Fear is taking over.

One of the best times for teaching is when a learning opportunity pops up.  That is linking an event to your curriculum that students can easily relate to personally.  Do a critical thinking exercise with your students about the Ebola situation.  Doesn't matter what subject you are teaching.  Science and humanities all have a link to the U.S. response to Ebola.  Have the students investigate what is true, what is sensation and what is outright lies or manipulations.

Here are some starters:

How big is the continent of Africa?  Click here to see a map of Africa compared to the size of the US, which is not a continent.  Remember, Africa is a continent that: houses the smallest and largest people on Earth, has the largest variances of skin color from white to black and thousands of languages and dialects.  

Where are the Ebola outbreaks and how does this affect us?  BBC News Map

What is the news saying to fuel or smooth fear?  Cable News Commentary.  Fox News Shepard Smith  Rush Limbaugh  BBC New Special Report  Dallas Dining

What are the health care organizations saying?  World Health Organization  US Center for Health Control and Prevention. National Institute of Health

Ask the students to bring in what they are seeing or hearing on the news, blogs and just plain gossip. Do they believe there is reason to fear an Ebola outbreak in South Texas?  Make rules.  1.  The information they bring into the discussion must come from a valid source.  2.  The students must state what their qualifications of a valid source are.  3.  Everyone needs to be respectful of others in the discussion.  The discussion needs to be civil.

For more information about critical thinking activities, contact Betsy Price at the Center for Teaching and Learning.  If you have some examples of critical thinking activities, please share them on this blog.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Growing Pains

Change is the only constant in life. -Heraclitus

My 88-year-old great aunt, the longest living member of our entire extended family (still going strong), has experienced profound changes and challenges throughout her lifetime. Once when I faced a life-defining challenge, she advised, “Life is a grand adventure full of choices…either you grow or you die.”

I choose to grow.

Growth requires change, and growth results in change. Given that change is inevitable, why are people so resistant to change? Why are we not more naturally inclined to embrace change and contribute to growing in productive and positive ways? Why do people dig in their heels defensively when presented with opportunities for growth? Why is change perceived as such a threat?

It has been my observation that fear, insecurity, and ego breeds such ugly defensive behavior and counterproductive resistance to change. Yet, is the fight or flight survival response the only option we have when faced with change? Are the only two options to leave or to behave in a less than collegial manner?

What do we do in times of change? How do we respond to uncertainty, instability, insecurity, bruised morale, loss, a sense of powerlessness, vulnerability and an unknown future? Rather than every man for himself/every woman for herself abandon ship or fight for your turf at all costs, I suggest we all consider an alternative, more productive and collegial approach to challenging changing times.

Here is my 12-step therapy for embracing growing pains in times of change:

         1. Focus on teaching
         2. Provide the highest quality education for students
         3. Invest energy in creating positive learning environments for all involved
         4. Learning makes a difference in everyone’s lives-make a difference daily
         5. Focus on research
         6. Seek out partnerships, collaborations and meaningful projects
         7. Take the initiative to work with integrity with colleagues
         8. Seek first to understand…then to be understood (Stephen Covey)
         9. Focus on service
       10. Extend an attitude of unconditional positive regard to all (Dr. Wayne Dyer)
       11. Seek opportunities to contribute while exemplifying the Golden Rule-it is in giving that we receive (St. Francis Assisi)
       12. Practice random acts of kindness

Let’s embrace change, choose to grow, and navigate this grand adventure together with a spirit of collegiality and integrity. Fight or flight are not our only options.

Thanks to Karin Lewis, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology & Leadership for her contribution to the CTL Blog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What are we doing here?

Good question.  Timely question.  

With each generation educators must look at their mission with an eye on what our graduates should look like.  Gone are the days that colleges were for clergy, doctors and teachers.  Gone are the days when college was for young gentleman to kill (waste, idle by) four years.  Gone is the MRS degree.  Gone is dodging the draft.  Gone is the Cold War and the race for space. 

So, what do we do now?  Just why are kids in college? Information literacy. 

Information is at our fingertips.  The Good information, The Bad information and The Ugly.  The Internet does not supply answers, only information.  There is a huge disconnect on how this factors into our students’ future careers and life ways.

Technology has advanced world cultures in many ways.  However it is not the answer.  Look at Iraq.

 Technology was to make wars different: fast, efficient, easy wins.  We would be the victors in two weeks.  We were not.  Want to know if space aliens built large primitive structures like Stonehenge?  Lots of Internet sources can not only tell you "Yepper", but show pictures of space people busily building them.  Is the world warming?  The Internet shows you “Nope, it is not” and, with another click, shows you “Yah, it sure is”.  Who is right?
Memorizing the planets in order is information.  Figuring out logically, with facts, why space aliens did not, could not, build Stonehenge requires one to identify valid resources and logic it out.  What would the life sustaining requirements be for a space alien to travel to earth, for them to breath our air, find nourishing food to eat, poop and get rid of it, and power the 'dozers they brought?  What is the probability of Earth meeting their life sustaining resources?  The nearest planet we might live on is generations away.  How did they get here?

We are here to make them think.  Not memorize.  Not recite.  Not  passport their way through college.

Their diploma gets their resume on the career application pile.  Their skills win the job and retain them in their career: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

Let's see they get these!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Are We Headed Back to the 60's?

The 1960's education was commonly remembered for student sit-in's, human rights, peace not war, bell bottom pants and a free, whopii, student lifestyle and control.
However the 1960's brought about a lot of innovation in teaching and learning.  It embraced individuality, self paced learning and it was very student centered.  We are headed to that again.

Like most educational trends, it fell away as expectations of students, popular opinion, technology, needs of industry and politics marched toward standardized testing as proof of student learning.    The public schools are now entrenched in a very teacher centered educational system as teachers struggle with measuring learning that more resembles testing the probability of a student becoming a physicist.

Higher education has not been a part of that accountability until recently.  Nationally the
accreditation agencies have pushed colleges to measure student learning.  The State of Texas is pushing aggressively, beyond the accreditation agency standards, to measure student learning and hold colleges responsible if it is not there.  They have also added employability as a measurement.  According to spell check, I think they also made employability a new word.

As we progress toward UTRGV we are designing the college of tomorrow, today; right now.  Our design of classrooms and teaching methods is leaning towards the successes of the 1960's open learning.  Classrooms are flexible for group learning and discussion.  Faculty will no longer be stuck behind a podium barrier, lording over the students.  They will be facilitating learning by using electronic tools and facilities designed to have them working among the students.

Open learning in the 1960's stumbled for two reasons.  One is that education has always been in search for a silver bullet.  All students learn best by _________.  Many solid teaching techniques were thrown out with the bathwater in search of a one-size fits all method.

Educators are smarter now.  We have learned that not all students learn best by one method and not all teachers teach best by one method.  Facilities need to be flexible for all styles of learning and teaching.  Faculty need lots of pedagogical and technical support to produce active, experiential learning.

The second reason is that open learning was introduced like the Beatles.  It was a mad, catastrophic push from England; flashy, new and exciting.  Today we know to investigate new teaching ideas using formative evaluation as we discover and weigh the pros and cons and fine tune our methods.  Teaching is an ongoing process as industry, politics and popular culture expectations grow and change.  We will always be searching for new pedagogical ideas, adjusting for the workforce and exploring new technology.    

Our lessons learned over the years is to be flexible, not only for the ways students learn but for methods faculty teach.  The second is that measurements are diagnostic for improvement of teaching and students learning.  Checking standardized classes off a list is not an effective passport to graduation.

Oh, and the 1960's student centered learning terminology was often misinterpreted.  The term was mistakenly confused with submissive teaching toward student whims.  We are smarter now.  It is student interactive learning firmly guided by faculty.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Gets to Graduate?

According to a New York Times article, it is the rich.  They get to graduate from college.

Those who are less likely to graduate are students from lower socioeconomic areas, less rigorous pre-college schools and whose parents are naive or inexperienced in what they need to do to help their child succeed.   According to the article, only about one quarter of  the students in the lower economic scale will graduate in 6 years.

Compare this with rich students - ninety percent graduate.  Yes, that is 90%.

So, where are we in understanding what we need to do for student success?  We have learned a lot in the last fifty plus years.  As affirmative action and civil rights slowly kicked in, we created an entire new culture of rich.  Rich people became a diverse group of ethnicity as minorities entered into high paying jobs,  per-college schools improved and colleges began actively targeting and nurturing  all smart students.

Ethnicity was once the culprit of preventing students from graduating.  However ethnicity also defined what a population was allowed to do.  We have made a great deal of progress since 1954.

We now realize that ethnicity has much less to do with success as we once perceived.  We can no longer point at a person of color or ethnicity and say they are poor or they have a special way of learning.  Eugenics is out; economics is in.  We can still see differences in ethnic groups, however this gap is closing as more and more make it into the rich category.

The major finding is that students who are rich are more likely to graduate than poor students.  We, as educators, are now able to act on something we can tackle.  Poverty and the lack of educational advantages it fosters.

Read the article, Who Gets to Graduate?,  about one Texas professor who successfully did the numbers and made a difference.

At UTB we have many success stories to share also.

We have fostered first generation, migrant workers, and students from the poorest area in the US and nurtured them on to graduate.

We need to communicate our successful methods to all faculty here and everywhere.

Written by Betsy Price, Director, CTL.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What are you doing with your time?

The stereotype of faculty is often that they are so involved with research, they have little time for anything else.  Students take a second or third seat to more important issues while faculty selfishly slave away in the lab. Weekends, days not teaching and breaks are for lounging in a tan jacket with patches, feet up on the footstool, smoking a pipe and reading poetry.  Ahhhhh.h.h.h

Not so, says a study from Boise State University.  Boise State took the challenge to document faculty's time to learn how they actually spend it.  For those of us already in teaching, we are not surprised when they unveiled their findings.

First we have to look at their days.  The stereotype is correct, faculty do not work five days a week.  They work seven.   Yep, Seven (7).

They also spend much more time with teaching, planning, mentoring, including students in research, creating activities and grading than any
other task.  Boise State is a research university and it is surprising how little time faculty actually devote toward their research.

New teaching interactive teaching styles with many alternative resources take time to create and time to implement.  Class sizes continue to grow as the budgets shrink.  Learning new technology, creating electronic materials, and supplementing over priced textbooks takes time.

Read the article and weep for those of you who went into higher education to do research!