The 10th Annual Teaching and Learning Conference held on August 15 at Elon University (NC) is a regional event that attracts teachers, instructional designers, curriculum specialists, researchers, and students interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). The UNC School of Government instructional support team spent a day of professional development there that proved to be a cornucopia of fresh ideas, concepts and insights.
Morning Plenary Session
The opening keynote featured an inspiringly passionate talk by Michael Paige, Professor Emeritus of International and Intercultural Education at the University of Minnesota. Paige’s keynote raised awareness of the multifaceted and multilayered nature of the concept of intercultural sensitivity. In a nutshell: Every classroom is an intercultural experiment. Learners’ cultural backgrounds, values, and life experiences differ. What does it mean to become intercultural? Diversity and intercultural encounters go beyond different nationalities and include sexual orientations, localities, ethnicities, as well as learning and communication styles. “Who is the role model for us?” asked Paige. “In most societies, this is still really a challenge.” Getting students to transcend ethnocentrism and explore intercultural relations is a demanding pedagogical task. Intercultural sensitivity is not innate but needs to be learned and taught. It is normal for students to be in denial of cultural patterns and to feel more comfortable in monocultural environments. Paige introduced the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC) as a useful model to help students navigate intercultural experiences.
After the morning plenary, we split up to attend different sessions: Each of us had a few personal highlights.
Stefanie’s Favorites: Authentic Learning , Motivation, and Big Data
Deandra Little and Paul Anderson from Elon University delivered the next talk I attended. The speakers connected their introduction to the keynote and revealed they both recently moved to North Carolina. They asked the audience, “Well, who else is new?” which led to interesting intercultural discoveries. It turned out that Anderson, academic literacy specialist, had worked as a consultant with the University of Bielefeld (Germany) where I completed my PhD.
Anderson and Little defined authentic assignment as asking students to produce intellectual work (at an appropriate level) that mirrors a typical task that practitioners or scholars in the respective discipline perform. Thus, students are placed in a realistic situation where they use the knowledge and skills they are learning in the course to help someone else outside the classroom – not the instructor. “Think about it from the student’s perspective – you need to write something for someone who already knows more about the subject than you do,” Anderson said, describing the problem of traditional writing assignments. Little explained in more detail their narrative approach towards authentic assignments. The instructors immerse the students in a story in which they use the subject knowledge to help another person or group. This approach comprises seven components: (1) The learning goal of the assignment, (2) the role the student will play, (3) the person (audience) who asks for the student’s assistance, (4) the problem or question, (5) the reason why the audience seeks the student’s help, (6) what the audience will do with the student’s work, and (7) the type of communication (genre) the student will produce to solve the problem.
From authentic assignments I ventured on to the session “Motivating Students to Become Connected Learners.” Catherine Ross, Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at Wake Forest University, explored three levers of motivation: Value, environment and self-efficacy.
My personal conference highlight was Megan Squire’s talk on Big Data. Starting with a collection of various visualizations of the buzz-phrase “Data is the new oil,” Squire pointedly clarified her interest in data analysis: “I am not in the oil business; I am in the knowledge business.” Hence, she focused on ways to help students understand how to solve interesting, real-world questions with open data sources. Her talk explored where to find data, the alchemic process of coming up with authentic assignments based on available datasets or real world situations, and last but not least, ways to publish data sets so that they can be used and found by others. “I think of new assignments all the time. Part of it is to help students ask interesting questions based on available data. Other times a real situation spurs the assignment, like being stuck on the tarmac for hours,” Squire explained. The slides of her talk are available online: http://goo.gl/gtN0FU
For more information on Megan Squire’s research at Elon University, I recommend reading her blog: Apart from interesting announcements, it offers hilarious examples of coding and data visualization mishaps.
Rob’s Picks: Flipped Classroom, A Suitcase Full of Tech Tools & Reflective Assignments
For my first session, I attended “The “F Word: What Flipping Actually Means,” which was facilitated by Michael Vaughn, an instructional technologist at Elon University. This session was standing room only as every corner of the room was filled with conference attendees interested in hearing about this topic. “Flipped” has become a buzzword in higher education, and I have attended several other sessions on this topic at other conferences. This particular session took a different approach, which I noticed was well-received by myself and other session attendees. For one, Vaughn and I are both instructional designers. He took the approach of explaining the pedagogical and instructional motivations for flipping a classroom. He remarked that he was avoiding a discussion about the technology for flipping a classroom as many other “flipped” sessions have done. Instead, he wanted to focus on what was happening in the classroom. Vaughn broke us up into groups and had us identify ways of using several different instructional approaches and brainstorm ideas for how we might use this approach with our specific content areas. This was a helpful exercise as it gave real world application and exposure to ways to structure the “face to face” class. I thought I understood what a flipped classroom was before I attended the session. But I now have a much clearer understanding of not only what a flipped classroom is, but also how to structure the classroom to make it as effective and engaging as possible. My biggest takeaway from the session was that “the lesson becomes the homework, and homework becomes classwork.”
Jamar and I attended the same session for the second concurrent session. This session, titled “Connected Through Mobilization,” was facilitated by Robbie Kendall-Melton, the tech guru for the Tennessee Board of Regents. Kendall-Melton came with a suitcase full of tech tools and gadgets and moved through her presentation highlighting some of these, from an app that could help you take your blood pressure to a camera phone that looked and was worn like a watch. Kendall-Melton shared that the Tennessee Board of Regents is a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) organization, meaning all of the campuses had to coordinate to be able to support the plethora of different devices, and she provided an example of the process. She also shared several apps and a resource (http://www.tbrmobile.org) that she created that allows people to search a database of apps that her group tested, vetted, and approved. She also shared several new and upcoming prototypes such as a rolltop portable computer and Google Glasses. Our biggest takeaways from this session were that technology is rapidly evolving, education as a whole has been slow to adapt to the times, but people such as Kendall-Melton are at the forefront trying to better merge technology and education. There are some really cool apps coming out that blend 3-D, voice, and audio and are creating exciting instructional opportunities.
For my final concurrent session, I attended “When ‘Just Do It’ Is Not Enough: Creating Powerful Reflective Learning Tasks,” which was facilitated by Michael Palmer from the University of Virginia. As an instructional designer, I’ve seen the research and heard the presentations about the importance and instructional value of reflective learning activities. To start the presentation, we watched a short video and were primed to count the amount of times we saw numbers in the video. After the video, we were asked to share what things we noticed and reflect as a group on the experience of watching the video after receiving our prompt. Next, we were asked to work in small groups, depict the number 7, and share what our differences were in our depictions. Following, Palmer provided an example of how he structured a tiered reflective assignment for his students that builds off of their knowledge and evolves over the course of the semester. In his example, students first select three people to interview about the meaning of infinity and are asked to guess what the interviewed people will likely give as their definition. They conduct the interviews, write a paper about what was actually said in the discussions, and participate in a final reflection that compares what was stated with what they thought was going to be said. The students are also asked to reflect about what may have caused the interviewees to give the answers that they did (i.e., their background, age, etc.). All of this was helpful in gaining a new perspective and approach in structuring and developing reflective learning tasks. My biggest takeaway is that the reflection can be integrated within the course content and activities and is not simply something to tack on at the end of the final assignment.
Jamar’s Favorite: Cultural Identity & Multimedia
I attended the Cultural Identity Narratives: Multimedia Projects in the International Studies Senior seminar, which was led by Laura Roselle from Elon University. Roselle spoke about the International Studies program at Elon, which is interdisciplinary and requires both study abroad participation and foreign language acquisition. During her presentation, she described a semester long assignment called CIN. Prior to CIN, graduating seniors were required to submit a 30-page term paper. Instead of demanding the typical requirement, Roselle decided to collaborate with the IT department to create a multimedia project. Students created a multimedia piece that focused on the country within their field of study. This piece required music, graphics, and video production. Students were prohibited from using their own voices, which made them search for other options of communicating their perspectives. Compared to the students who wrote term papers, the students who created multimedia projects were far more engaged in their fields of study. Examples of their work can be found at http://prezi.com/803zifzlih9w/cultural-identity-narrative/ and https://vimeo.com/64417528
Lunch & Learn
This year’s event featured an interesting idea for organizing the conference lunch break. Every participant grabbed a lunch box and was invited to attend concurrent Q&A structured presentations.
Stefanie: I was excited to attend the lunch session entitled “Blogging for Authentic Audiences.” Edublogging is one of my favorite topics, and I am always on the lookout for interesting examples. I was not disappointed. Professor Laurin Kier shared her first-time edublogging experiment. In her global citizen class, she introduced a student blog titled Kindness, in response to the Sandy Hook shooting. It was a way for students to cope with a tragedy that deeply affected their community. Tom Arcaro, a seasoned blogging professor described how he turned a blog into a book: In his class, student bloggers shared stories about their semester abroad experiences. A student editorial board curated selected postings and produced an edited volume of stories. The printed book now serves as the recommended reading of the next cohort ready to go abroad.
The closing plenary was a treat for the gadget-hungry conference goer: Robbie Kendall-Melton, Associate Vice Chancellor of eLearning and Emerging Mobilization Technology at Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), talked about the latest trends in mobile technologies. Apart from her professional role as chief system level administrator overseeing the TBR Mobilization initiatives, Kendall-Melton is a self-proclaimed app-ologist and devoted educator with decades of experience in educational technology and online learning. Her keynote was basically a reiteration of the session Rob and Jamar attended.
Overall, the conference was thoughtfully orchestrated and delivered state-of-the-art input without simply tooting the latest tech trends. What sets Elon TLC apart from similar conferences is the discursive atmosphere, facilitated by a less-is-more schedule that sets aside almost one full hour for each topic. This allowed presenters to include group work, brainstorming, icebreaking exercises and discussions in their sessions. Thank you Elon, and see you next year!
An upcoming event organized by the hosts of Elon TEL is the annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, ISSOTL 2013, held at Raleigh, NC, in October. For those who want to avoid travel but have a deep interest in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, we recommend the free online pre-conference, which begins September 9, 2013, and continues through September 28, 2013. It offers three complementary strands: “Introduction to SoTL,” “Studying and Designing for Transfer” and “Student Voices.”
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