Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prize giveaway winner!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our first prize giveaway.  As selected by a random number generator, the winner of a copy of Teaching Today's College Students by Angela Provitera McGlynn, courtesy of Atwood Publishing, is Lynn, who said:

As a computer instructor, I find that today's students are not as amazed by technology as I was as a student. Today's students have grown up with all kinds of technology in their daily life & it is hard for them to imagine life without it. They just expect technology to be there & to do amazing things and they are very willing to try it!

Congratulations, Lynn!  Please contact me to arrange for delivery of your prize.

And stay tuned, everyone, there will be more prize giveaways coming up!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Prize giveaway sponsored by Atwood Publishing!

Dear EDC Resource Review Readers,

To mark the launch of the Winter 2011 issue, our friends at Atwood Publishing are generously sponsoring a prize giveaway! One lucky reader will receive a copy of Teaching Today's College Students: Widening the Circle of Success by Angela Provitera McGlynn, which was reviewed in the Fall 2010 EDC Resource Review.

All you need to do to have your name entered in the prize draw is to answer the following question:

How are today's college students different from when you were a student or new instructor? (Or, if you are currently a student, how do you think your cohort is different from cohorts of years past?)

Submit your responses in the comments and you will be entered to win! One entry per person will be accepted and the deadline for entries will be February 15, 2011 at midnight PST.

Winter 2011 EDC Resource Review

Review: Internet Archive

Reviewed by:  Linda B. Nilson, Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University, USA

Stymied by link rot?  Looking for artifacts of modern history?  Seeking foreign language recordings?  The Internet Archive can probably meet these and hundreds of other needs.  This site a constantly growing, non-profit collection of Internet sites and digitized cultural artifacts--literally millions of images, audio files, animations, and texts--that are freely open to researchers, scholars, instructors, and the general public.  It includes the WayBack Machine, an archive of over 200 million defunct Web sites archived since 1996 in over 40 languages.  It contains more than 150+ billion Web captures (over two petabytes of data compressed) including content from every top-level domain.  Other highlights of the Internet Archive are these vast collections:

·         Moving images: Almost a half million animations, movies, and television shows from all over the world with near-unrestricted access

·         Live Music: More than 87,000 concerts

·         Audio recordings: Three quarters of a million recordings, from Ave Maria to the Grateful Dead to religious sermons

·         Texts: More than 2.5 million works of fiction, popular books, children's books, historical texts, rare books, and academic books

·         NASA images

·         Software and software-related material such as shareware, freeware, speed runs of software game play, and information on software titles and games.

Under Projects, you will find an Education link to the Open Education Resources Library, which gives free access to hundreds of online courses, study guides, assignments, video lectures (subject specified), and other supplementary learning materials from universities in the United States and China.  Many of these lectures are available for download.

This mega-size site provides a search engine for every major section.

Educational developers can draw on the resources at the Internet Archive to find now-defunct sites and course materials of all types of subject matter.  They can, of course, refer faculty to this vast collection as well.  It should be especially useful to those developing online courses and online educational development materials because educational users need not worry about the standard copyright restrictions.  Instructors of language courses will find unusual foreign language recordings.

Review: How People Learn

The first time I heard of John Bransford was in November 2006, when I attended the opening plenary he gave at the 3rd annual conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) in Washington, DC. A lively speaker, John used plain language while at the same time showing compelling research evidence motivating us to be more effective teachers by “watching how learning happens wherever it happens.”

James Rhem, Editor and Publisher of the National Teaching and Learning Forum, wrote a comprehensive overview of that plenary. Speaking of the National Forum, if you have never checked out their website, I encourage you to, especially their comprehensive set of book reviews. And speaking of James Rhem, he and I once danced in the icebreaker of a conference session. And that was quite a fun way to watch how learning happened.

Shortly after the 2006 ISSoTL conference, my friend, mentor and former boss Gary Poole gave me his extra copy of How People Learn. I used it regularly, to plan or update some workshops for members of the University of British Columbia teaching community, in working one-on-one with senior faculty members who sought guidance and assistance, and to organize sections of a week-long program that Gary and I designed and led for faculty members visiting from a university in Saudi Arabia.

So, though I came late in my explorations of Bransford’s and colleagues’ work, I think it will prove to be one of the classics for teachers of any level, discipline or context. New Horizons for Learning, recently adopted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, includes this book in its recommended readings and “predicts that How People Learn will become one of the most influential books ever published on teaching and learning."

And you can find a complete version of it, free, online:

The key ideas presented in the book sound quite straightforward:

1. Learning is facilitated by connections between the new and the familiar, with students coming in with preconceptions or prior knowledge about how the world works. 

2. To develop competence, students need foundational knowledge, built on conceptual frameworks and organized in ways that help them apply it.

3. Metacognition or ‘thinking about thinking’ builds students’ confidence in their own learning and helps them self-monitor progress.

But if you ask any teacher, regardless of their experience, I suspect they would be somewhat or very challenged to tell you exactly how and what they do, through assignments and in-class activities, to address these points and assess the process. Turn to this book to see how theories and insights have been translated into actions and practice. Quarter-page ‘boxes’ present case studies to illustrate ideas put forth in the chapters, making them very real and adaptable to your context. Moreover, they cite sources in the literature for further exploration. A minor annoyance:  the references section (63 pages worth) is organized by book chapter, making it tricky if you want to look up a source and see how Bransford et al. describe or use it in the book. The online search tool helps a bit in this regard.
Two related books are available, with some overlapping material but also targeted examples. The shorter How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice (1999) and How Students Learn: History, Mathematics and Science in the Classroom (2005) are both described as being geared to K-12 teachers, but I think both are very relevant to higher education as well. The latter volume is reviewed by the National Teaching and Learning Forum.

You can find links to these two volumes, as well as a review of the expanded book described here, at

So, a long-time professor seeks my help to become re-energized in his work. “I want to motivate my students and the things I have done in the past don’t seem to be working. What do you suggest?” We look at How People Learn together, starting in the index, at Motivation to learn. We find 17 different pages to explore in turn, each one of them with enough references to make this a week of study for my colleague, which is what he was looking for as a long-term project, but also uncover a few ideas to try right away, such as adjusting an assignment, lecture or discussion around “authentic problems and projects that are frequently encountered in non-school settings”, page 77. Pages 207-213 cite the Jasper series, created at Vanderbilt University, connecting problem-solving ability with attitudes through the use of technology. That last example might not be quite a ‘right away’ solution, but it sure is compelling and provides food for thought!

I could go on, but the other reviews already written (and cited above) do a very good job of telling you more about what is in the book.

I will leave you with an authentic hands-on challenge. Think of one topic in teaching and learning that you want to know more about and perhaps connect to theoretical or empirical evidence. It could be for your own teaching, or to help members of your teaching community through one-on-one work or a seminar. Pick up How People Learn or browse through it online. I guarantee you will find something you did not know before, or know as fully, something you can use right away, and something that may also lead you down a whole new path of exploration in the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning.

As Bransford et al. say in their first chapter, “Fundamental understanding of subjects, including how to frame and ask meaningful questions about various subject areas, contributes to individuals’ more basic understanding of principles of learning that can assist them in becoming self-sustaining, lifelong learners.” (page 5). True for our learners, true for us.

Review: Inspired College Teaching: A Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth

Reviewed by:  Melanie Santarossa, University of Windsor

Instructional vitality is the central message of Maryellen Weimer’s Inspired College Teaching: A Career-Long Resource for Professional Growth. For Weimer, teachers must maintain instructional wellness, just as they would their own human health. Throughout the book, Weimer explains the ideas, activities, incidences, and experiences that can sustain and improve the instructional vitality of one’s classroom.

According to Weimer, sustaining and improving instructional vitality requires us to focus more on learning and less on teaching. How do we make this statement reality? The examples abound. Weimer refers to the power that formative feedback has in changing negative conceptions of one’s self as a teacher and one’s students, ultimately creating a more positive instructional setting for both. She remarks on the criticality of reflection as a means to abandon the ways of one’s teaching mentor in order to find one’s own instructional identity. She also discusses the important role that each student plays as a collaborator in the design of one’s teaching environments and learning experiences.

Simple suggestions with profound consequences, Weimer’s insights offer assurance that once one overcomes instances of weakness and vulnerability, the result is a strengthened and renewed teaching professional.

Review: Exploring Signature Pedagogies

Reviewed by:  Nadine LeGros, University of Western Ontario
Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind is an excellent resource that would be valuable to faculty at all stages of their career and to educational developers for their work with faculty and with graduate students.  

Exploring Signature Pedagogies (ESP) provides an excellent introduction to what  signature pedagogies are, what the state of SoTL is in various disciplines, and how to incorporate signature pedagogies into our praxis.  Signature pedagogies are the types of teaching specific to each discipline that take students from being novices to being experts in their fields.  The authors focus on how to move from a transmission of facts and from ‘covering’ the material that is going to be on the exam to teaching students the disciplinary habits of mind that will transform biology students into biologists and history students into historians. 

ESP is divided into units on the humanities, fine arts, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, for a total of 14 chapters.  Each chapter includes examinations of the traditional pedagogies and conflicts in different disciplines.  The authors discuss traditional or generic ways of teaching  and examine traditions within academe such as PhD students learning to teach by osmosis. The authors challenge teaching methods of expedience such as cookbook labs in the sciences or “pseudo-Socratic discussions” in literary studies in which professors elicit their own interpretations from their students.  In addition, the authors’ examinations of the traditional pedagogies question whether what undergraduates learn in their classes bears any resemblance at all to what is expected of them in the larger fields.  

While each chapter contains discussion of where future work is needed in SoTL, this is not a how-to book.  The chapters do contain nuggets of gold that would guide instructors to seek the hidden assumptions behind their teaching and that would inspire future direction.  Moreover, the book is a call for instructors to document and share their strategies.  I also recommend reading about other disciplines for hidden threads that can be woven our own teaching.  

Exploring Signature Pedagogies will be an excellent read for all involved in teaching in higher education.  Experienced faculty will benefit if they are looking to re-energize their teaching by helping them reflect upon their own praxis.  The book will also be of enormous benefit to anybody wishing to engage in SoTL research.  Educational developers who need to work in disciplines different from their own will benefit from the overview of disciplinary pedagogies.

Review: Designing Courses for Significant Learning: Voices of Experience

Reviewed by:  Rosemary Polegato, Mount Allison University

This book is a collection of exemplary teaching and learning experiences based on the application of Fink’s (2003) vision for significant learning experiences through Integrated Course Design (ICD). The 12 well-written chapters in fewer than 115 pages make the book comprehensive for its size. The ten specific teaching and learning experiences (one per each of the first ten chapters) span the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and professional programs. Most are in undergraduate settings, but community college, hybrid and graduate courses are included, as well as a curriculum project.

Each chapter addresses with enough detail the (re)design of the course for the desired change in learning, an assessment of the changes, and the overall lessons learned in the application. In most instances, assessment is based on more than one iteration of the course or project. Chapter 11 is about three new ideas based on Fink’s experience with his model. More importantly, the last chapter is a comprehensive evaluation of the collection of experiences in the previous chapters framed by three questions:  (1) Can it be done? (2) What does it take to make it happen? (3) Will it benefit us, the teachers, as well as our students? There is also an index, which would be most useful to those who have read at least two chapters in this book and to those who are already familiar with the ICD model.

Reading Fink’s (2003) work is not a prerequisite to reading this book because his key ideas are covered in the preface, as well as reiterated succinctly in each chapter. The chapters can be read in order one sitting at a time, selectively (after reading the preface), or in a couple of sittings. I recommend the first option to allow time to reflect on each experience. Truth be known, I found myself making two sets of notes: one for this review and one to flag examples and ideas that could be applied in my courses. (Notably, none of the experiences are in my discipline, an indication of the broad applicability of each experience.) Further, there are many very good approaches to assessment of the merits and shortcomings of each experience; although the authors are enthusiastic about applying Fink’s model, they are not pollyannish. Beyond the plethora of good ideas one can glean from this book, this balanced approach is another reason why discerning educational developers and faculty members should read it and share it with their colleagues.

Proponents of Fink’s ICD model are certain to advocate that educational developers and faculty members use this book to apply the ICD model in its entirety to create and redesign courses and curricula. Clearly, the book contains carefully selected examples of teachers who were inspired to apply the ICD model in its entirety, had the resources to do so, and were successful. While most of the reported experiences were not resource guzzlers (even the resource of faculty time ranged from low to moderate), course and faculty circumstances (in other words, the academic context) can delay or impede total immersion in the ICD model. Nevertheless, both new and seasoned teachers may be surprised to learn how easy it can be to adopt the ICD model in a modest way with impressive results for learners and teachers. If you are so inclined, Fink’s Self-Directed Guide for Designing Courses for Significant Learning can be downloaded free of charge from the Internet.

Still wondering if this book is worth reading? If you want students to share your enthusiasm for your discipline; loathe the thought of students cramming for exams and retaining little; wince at ineffective group work; respect students’ diverse learning styles; want students to learn more than foundational material; want to increase student engagement; wish that students would see the connections among courses; and/or are simply searching for a fresh approach to your own and students’ learning, you will be inspired and energized by the experiences reported in this book.