Practice, Assessment, Feedback; Repeat!

Online Gaming

I’ve had the privilege of attending two conferences this week that furthered the thinking in my last blog post on teaching and learning. The first event was the OER Leadership Day at the North East OER Summit hosted by the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. The second was the 2107 New Media Consortium Summer Conference in Boston.

At the OER Leadership event, Ross Strader quoted Carnegie Mellon’s Herb Simon as saying

“Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks.” [emphasis added]

In short, no doing and thinking implies no learning. Norman Bier supported this claim, citing a recent study (Koedinger et al, 2016) which found that “the learning effect of doing is about six times greater than that of (e.g.) reading.”

Consider the following simple model of learning:

  1. Work with (i.e. do and think about) the material;
  2. Assess the learning;
  3. Obtain expert feedback from the assessment;
  4. Repeat!

Getting feedback from assessment is critical for deeper learning to occur. It’s not (just) the assessment, but the feedback that matters.’ Ideally, the feedback needs to come soon after the assessment.  Important note: assessment & feedback as discussed in this post are not for summative purposes; rather, they are integral to the learning that results. This subtle, but important point, seems difficult for students raised in a conventional learning environment (and many teachers) to grasp.

Back at the OER Leadership day, David Wiley asked why computer games are so compelling? The answer is because they follow the Practice, Assessment, Feedback; Repeat model and the feedback is instantaneous!

Now let’s think back to tutorial learning. Tutorial learning works because it follows this model with near immediate feedback and with the further wrinkle that, before moving on the next topic, the learner must repeat the practice and assessment until mastery is reached.

How does the pedagogy of lecture fit into the frame of the Practice, Assessment, Feedback; Repeat model?  At the NMC meeting, as part of a thought-provoking keynote, Richard Culatta described

“A lecture [as] a really a zoomed out YouTube video that you can’t speed up or slowdown, and the sound doesn’t always work.”  “Additionally, it’s very expensive to produce.”

There’s a lot of truth to that statement, and yet there was also immediate push back on Twitter, saying while it may be overused in teaching, lecture has its place!  Fair enough, but if lecture is not (primarily) for learning, what is its purpose?  Gardner Campbell responded (again on Twitter) “Great lecture is cognitive testimony! ”  Indeed, I agree, though perhaps much of what is described as lecture in university classrooms (speaking from my own experience and practice) is less than great.

Let’s apply our model of learning to lecture.  What is the assessment and feedback on a lecture? Is it the midterm examination?  If so, the feedback, at least early in the term, is not very timely.  If the feedback is negative, I wonder how many students decide it’s too late to review; otherwise, they risk falling behind the upcoming material.  Perhaps this explains the lack of learning most students obtain from a lecture.

In a recent columnJosh Kim stated:

I believe deep in my bones that learning is a relationship. That authentic learning has everything to do with the educator / learner relationship – with the mentoring and coaching and caring that is inseparable from the art of teaching.

Throw down!

I have explored the link between teaching and coaching before, but let me leave you with this: Who is more likely to improve their practice,
someone watching a baseball game from the stands, or someone playing the game?  I agree that we can be inspired by excellent play, and even motivated to work harder on our own game, but it seems clear that practicing the sport is more likely to lead to improved play.  Perhaps attending a lecture is like being a spectator at a sporting event?

Images courtesy of:

  • AIBakker Playing Games via flickr
  • Piers Nie Computer Game via flickr
  • SAG Throw down! via flickr
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On Learning & Mastery

Suppose we define learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills (and habits of the mind) in some content domain, like Principles of Macroeconomics. Learning occurs when a student interacts with content (and with the instructor regarding the content). Perhaps the lowest potential for learning occurs when the student is merely exposed to content, for example by reading a chapter in a textbook or by listening to a lecture. Such examples of passive learning are less effective at facilitating learning than examples that require students to more actively engage with the content.

More than 30 years ago, Benjamin Bloom reported on some research that speaks to these issues. He and his graduate students considered three learning environments:
1. Traditional Classroom – 1 instructor teaching 30 students (e.g. lecture), with periodic summative testing (e.g. Chapter tests or midterm exams)
2. Mastery Learning – 1 instructor teaching 30 students. Similar to conventional teaching except for the inclusion of frequent formative assessments with feedback and corrective procedures, then retests.
3. Tutorial Learning – 1 instructor with one student. Frequent formative assessments with feedback & correctives…

Bloom’s findings were pretty startling. He reported:

“[T]he average student under mastery learning performed better than 84 percent of the students in the traditional classroom.”
“[T]he average tutored student performed better than 98 percent of the students in the traditional classroom.”

What this implies is that nearly every student can master the content with tutorial learning. Think about that. Nearly every student, not just the best students, can master the content.  Shouldn’t that be what all teachers want?  Of course, few universities can afford to teach that way. The stories of large lecture courses, sometimes very large lecture courses (at least at the introductory level) are legion. This led Bloom to issue a challenge, which has been called “The Two Sigma Problem”: How can we structure instruction that simulates Bloom’s results more affordably than getting a tutor for every student?

Why do students learn more under mastery learning and tutorial learning?

“In mastery learning, the teacher reteaches topics that the majority of students don’t master, small groups peer-tutor one another on challenging topics, and students individually review materials they’ve missed.

Mastery learning works because it makes sure most students learn prerequisite content before moving on to advanced content.  As Bloom puts it, “the class adjusts its pace and path to ensure foundational topics are mastered before moving on.” By contrast, if a class moves on to more advanced topics when students haven’t learned the prerequisites, any subsequent learning will be built on a weak foundation at best. Can a student be successful taking SPAN 102 without passing SPAN 101? Yes, but it will be harder for most to do. If a class moves on from each topic when some students haven’t mastered it, over time more and more students will fall behind. It will be like jumping into SPAN 300 before taking SPAN 101-102 & SPAN 201-202. Some students could do that successfully, but most will not. (By success, I’m not referring to grades, but to learning.)

Tutorial learning takes it a step further by making learning personalized.

“Personalization is defined as differentiating instruction and providing regular corrective feedback based on the needs of each student. This included personalizing both path and pace–identifying and addressing missing prerequisite knowledge, and spending more time where necessary to ensure students achieved mastery of topics before moving on.”

In short, traditional learning means the instructor follows the course schedule to cover all the content by the end of the semester, regardless of how much students have learned. This is because instructors face two constraints: required content and limited time.  Mastery learning means the instructor makes sure the class learns the prerequisites before moving on.  Tutorial learning is personalized, so every student learns before moving on.

Of course, teaching practice in real life occurs on a spectrum. Traditional classrooms can include some review, but the emphasis is covering the content and summative assessments. Tutorial learning could be one tutor with a few students, not just one student.

Mastery and tutorial learning seem to conflict with many teachers desire/need to “cover the content.”  I hear this most often from science faculty.  It would seem that these better approaches take more time, so that one would teach less of the content by the end of the semester.  Now I know that what an instructor “covers” doesn’t or shouldn’t matter if student’s don’t learn it, and I believe that.  But aren’t we setting students up to fail if we constrain ourselves to the same curriculum with the same traditional length term?  This must mean we don’t really expect all students to be able to achieve mastery, despite what Bloom found.  Or it could be a collective action problem.

My response, at least in my face-to-face courses, has been to teach with something like Socratic-questioning, which I try continue as long as students seem unsure about the material. The result is that I cover less content but teach it more deeply, at least that’s what I’ve hoped.

At the same time, it is easy for me to get lazy when I teach online. Since there are no class sessions, the opportunities for Socratic-questioning are limited. I have weekly Google hangouts for interested students; additionally, I offer twitter for daily discussions. As a result, the hurdles for conversation about the content are higher, and so we probably do less of that. At least that’s the case for some/many students.

Bloom said something else that resonates for me here. He postulates that conventional teaching falls short of what’s possible because teachers only call on some students. This can be true of mastery learning (as he defines it) as well. Perhaps this helps explain lower outcomes (or harder efforts) in online courses.

What could online instructors do differently? That’s something to ponder.


Image courtesy of Anne Davis 773 “learning” via

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Virginia Faculty Collaboratives Panel Presentation at ODU Center for Learning & Teaching Summer Institute

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On the nonlinear way my mind works

I always get a thrill on those occasions where, for a while, many things I read or hear or see seem to be on the same topic. Or maybe it’s just my mind seeing connections. This is a longish post, so bear with me—there is a punch line.

Earlier this semester, around mid-term, I was in New York with several students—each year I take students to present their original research at a professional conference. The undergraduate sessions, which I help organize, are sponsored by Issues in Political Economy, an undergraduate journal of economic research (broadly defined). Anyway, when I saw and read Gardner Campbell’s post Conceptual Frameworks: Some Thoughts, I knew I had to share it with my senior seminar.

{Gardner’s post was a contribution to #OpenLearning17, an open online course that is running this Spring as part of the AAC&U’s Faculty Collaboratives Initiative, which I’ll explain in more detail below.}

This year’s senior seminar follows a model that I’ve used before. I identify an interesting question to which I don’t know the answer.  I organize the class as a research team and we spend the semester exploring the question and figuring out an answer, which we publish online. The process is loosely based on backwards-design: We start from the research question and ask “What do we need to figure out to be able to answer the question?” We divide up responsibility for those things, and the students research them. We report out in class and make note of what we’ve learned. Then we repeat the process in greater granularity. Finally, we draft a report of what we’ve learned (which process we’re doing right now). In lieu of a final exam, I ask students to reflect on two questions: What have you learned, and what have you contributed to the class’ learning? I ask them to provide evidence from their own work (e.g. blog posts, written reports, presentations to the class, contributions to the final report) to support their claims.

This year’s group has great chemistry and I’ve been very pleased with our work so far. After reading Gardner’s post, I emailed the class, told them we would move what we had planned for Monday to Wednesday, and instead I asked them to read Gardner’s post and be prepared to discuss it on Monday.  In class on Monday, I posed three questions to the group:

  1. What is a conceptual framework?
  2. Why should a course have a conceptual framework?
  3. What is the conceptual framework for this seminar?

I have to admit that I didn’t know if the discussion would take, if it would last five minutes or the entire class period, I just felt it had potential. The discussion turned out to be extraordinary. Every student had something to say. Four students had already blogged about Gardner’s post before class without any prompting. I want to highlight the contributions of two students in particular:

B. is the only student in my seminar who is not an economics major. But she keeps taking my courses. She spoke up saying that she was the kind of student who liked to know exactly what was expected so that she could exactly meet the instructor’s standard. She said my classes make her uncomfortable because while they may provide a broad framework, they don’t specify exactly what is expected. But for some reason she has been willing to take these courses that make her uncomfortable, because she has learned that she will get something important out of them.

A. is the only student in my seminar who has not taken a course with me before. In her comments, she quite simply went off on what’s wrong with education today, or as I describe it, the game of school, which she asserted encourages good grades and test scores to the detriment of real learning. She went on to say that the courses where she has learned the most were those that set broad guidelines and then expected students to figure out what to do with them.  We might call those courses examples of “real school.”

Why am I bringing up this seminar? Because by not seeking to convey a specific body of content, and by not knowing the outcomes in advance, the seminar employs a fairly open pedagogy. More on this point later.

A few days after my seminar discussion while meeting with students in my online intro class, many of whom are adult students who need my class for their degree programs, I witnessed a different perspective. These students have jobs and families. They don’t have a lot of free time. Many of these students have a very specific goal in mind, and it’s not education, the way I think of it. They are taking my course to meet specific degree requirements. They are pursuing their degree program because they see it as instrumental in reaching a career goal. In some cases, they merely need a college degree. These students want to have a rubric. They want to be told exactly what they need to know to get the grade: A, or B or C. They don’t want an open learning experience.

They seem to be asking:

Can we just skip the process and go right to the learning that’s going to be on the test?

To be fair, they are not asking for the answers; they just don’t want to spend scarce time on things that aren’t important, which they take to mean things that won’t be on the exam. But what if there are no exams in a course?  Does that mean there’s nothing worth learning?

It’s hard for me to fault these students. They are doing what they’ve been socialized to do. They are trying to win the game of school. They are paying good money to get a job, career advancement, etc., and in many cases they have a clearer idea of what they want out of college than my traditional-age students.  Some of these students are really good, A students. They have great potential to be educated, but that doesn’t appear to be their goal, at least not in the way I mean it.

What about the many students who start college without a clear idea of what they’re here for, what their mission is, what they want to accomplish at school. Some of them find their way and flourish.  Most of them graduate.  Some of them don’t. What responsibility do faculty have here?

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare introductory with advanced courses, but I am left wondering what faculty should do.  University students are adults, after all.  Should we respect their choice and go on with our work?  Or should we assume that students don’t know a different model of school, and then offer them one?

That brings us to general education, and the AAC&U Faculty Collaboratives initiative, of which #OpenLearning17 was a part. Over the last decade, the AAC&U has done terrific work at defining what college graduates need to know and be able to do to become contributing members of society, both in terms of undergraduate major programs and especially general education. This work is largely based on research in the learning sciences, something that few university faculty learned in our graduate programs. The work includes the so-called High Impact Practices, which have been found to correlate with student success.  The AAC&U has also developed guidelines and rubrics for assessment of these goals. So the purpose of the Faculty Collaboratives project is to introduce faculty to these practices, demonstrate how they enhance student learning and success, and encourage faculty to try them out.

In my view, general education courses traditionally haven’t been a good entry point to real school. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t some courses that do the trick. But consider all the general education courses that are primarily designed as introductions to a major. Or the introductory courses which are designed to be gatekeeper courses. These are not courses designed to pique students’ curiosity to think deeply about how disciplines help learners make sense of real world issues and problems. They tend to be about covering content, lots of content. The end result seems to be that students see general education courses mainly as hurdles to be gotten over, impediments to their getting to their real curricula. (It’s not just students with this problem. Think about the language that faculty advisors sometimes use.)

General education courses are not merely courses we are obligated to teach for the institution so that we can teach the upper level courses we want to teach and so we can do our scholarly activity. They are, or should be, important entry points for real school. Students shouldn’t have to wait until senior seminars to get a glimpse of what real school can be.

We can learn how to more effectively teach Gen Eds by incorporating what the Faculty Collaboratives initiatives have publicized and promoted.  Liberal arts and sciences institutions should have a particular advantage here over larger universities with large lecture courses. Compare a research university where only the best undergraduates have the opportunity to conduct research with a faculty member, with a small liberal arts college where all graduates are expected to have done so.

But we can take this a step further if we combine general education with open educational practices. Open education, which has been the subject of #OpenLearning17, is a pedagogical approach that offers extraordinary promise for those willing to try it.  By addressing real world problems that students care about, by giving students agency, by showing students that what they are doing matters, by connecting students to outside audiences, experts and novices who are genuinely interested in what the students have to say, open education and its practitioners can show the power that real education provides to change the world.

That’s my take away from the Virginia Faculty Collaboratives project.


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Using to Help Students Read Scholarly Papers

One of the things I’ve learned from #OpenLearning17 has been the ability to use to collaboratively read something online. is free software that allows one to annotate any webpage as one is reading.  The annotations are a layer “on top of” the webpage.  They do not modify the page itself.  While the annotations are reason enough to find interesting, the software allows one to share the annotations with anyone else using  But wait–there’s more!  A group of people can read the same webpage and annotate it in parallel, each seeing each others’ comments.  This raises some interesting possibilities.

In my upper level courses, it’s not unusual for me to assign students to read scholarly journal articles.  This is not trivial.  Economics journal articles are a particular type of technical writing.  It takes practice to figure out the format of journal articles, but more importantly, the argument contained in them.  This is especially true when the argument is mathematical, or when the argument includes statistical analysis, as are often the case. I imagine professional writing in other disciplines is similarly challenging.  I assign these readings and hope for the best.  When I discuss the articles in class, I ask if there are any questions, and I ask students what they made of the articles.  A few students ask questions or express opinions.  Most are silent, perhaps because they found the task too difficult.  They can’t even say what they didn’t understand.

What if I told students we were going to read the article together as a group?  What if I left signposts in the form of annotations to guide the reading?  What if I asked students to identify things they didn’t understand and asked others to respond if they could?  I suspect it would be a different experience than my previous practice.  It’s possible that students would get more out of it.  At a minimum, it would harder for students to pretend to do the work when they’ve left few or no comments.  I think this is worth trying.

I wonder what other possibilities there are for using in one’s teaching?

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A New Model for OER: Anthologies Instead of Textbooks?

I have heard that sometimes adjunct faculty are assigned to teach a class at the last minute, often with the textbook already chosen and sometimes with a syllabus to follow. No one should argue that this is an ideal situation. But I also wonder how often instructors teach their courses to meet the align with the textbook they are using, rather than teaching the way that works best according to their context (e.g. students and their understanding of the subject)? I know I did it this way when I was a new faculty member. One of the claims regarding open source textbooks is that they lead faculty to think more deeply about their pedagogy and their contexts. This is what popped into my head when I read Cathy Saunder’s wonderful thought-provoking post: How Good Can a Course that Follows a Standard Textbook Be?

For some years, I’ve wondered why there tend not to be open textbooks in English Literature or Composition. OER publishers have told me that they prefer to publish open textbooks that have a large market. English faculty have told me they don’t typically use textbooks, but rather anthologies with commentary. Cathy made two points in her post that caught my interest:

“The class is, however, a huge one, with over 100 22-student sections taught each semester, and the instructor community is correspondingly large (even with many of us teaching 3 or 4 sections a semester).”

“Because 300-level composition courses with similar learning goals are rare, we don’t really fit into an existing market (though this doesn’t, of course, keep textbook reps from trying to convince us that they’ve got the perfect book for our class).”

These points made me think that there is indeed a large market for suitable English OER, and that we might be able to expand Cathy’s model of creating and sharing resources as follows. An OER publisher connects a group of interested instructors, who work together to develop not a textbook, nor an anthology, but a collection of readings, annotations, commentaries, and other resources. The OER publisher creates a platform that would allow instructors to easily create their own anthology, by picking and choosing from the collection of resources, which the platform would then turn into a finished book.  The book could be made available in a variety of digital or print formats for free or modest prices. One could imagine asking students to contribute to the collection as well in the form of renewable assignments that David Wiley has discussed and Robin DeRosa has experimented with. The platform would also keep the master copy of all finished books created, for use by those adjuncts who are hired at the last minute or anyone else who didn’t wish to create their own customized anthology.  What say you @OpenStax & @LumenLearning?

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Welcome to OER Week of OpenLearning’17

OER, which is an acronym for Open Educational Resources, seems like a no-brainer to me. In my 30+ year career teaching Principles of Economics, I have used a variety of books, including traditional commercial textbooks, books written on economic subjects for lay audiences (in lieu of a standard textbook), and no text book at all. I’ve concluded that most intro books are pretty much the same, and that any experienced instructor can teach effectively using pretty much any intro text. Why then should we ask our students to use commercial textbooks that cost $75, $175 or $375, when there are free or very inexpensive alternatives available? Yes it takes some time and effort to adopt and transition to using a new text. I don’t discount this, but as professionals don’t we have an obligation to do that if we think it would be better for our students?

Over the last few years, I’ve adopted OER for my intro courses. Before we go further, let’s get a few myths out of the way. When I talk about OER this week, I’m not referring to class materials, bits of content, what used to be called learning objects. I mean open source, complete printed or digital texts edited and published by organizations with solid reputations. These are not self-published books.

For faculty who don’t have experience with OER, there are five key questions we will explore this week:

1. What is OER?
2. How good are open source textbooks?
3. What do instructors and students who use OER think of them?
4. How do we find OER in our discipline?
5. What comes after adoption of OER?

Monday: What is OER?

Open educational resources are much more than simply free resources. In addition, OER give students and teachers the following five rights:

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

While you may not yet fully understand the “5 Rs,” as David Wiley calls them, but understand this: they dramatically change the role of a textbook in a course (or at least they offer the potential for that).

  • Read FAQ for Policymakers: Open Educational Resources


  • What is OER?


  • David Wiley, “On the Relationship Between Free and Permissions in “Open”


  • Join in – Open Dialog Session: The Open Textbook Library
    Are you concerned about higher education access and affordability? Open textbooks can help ease the burden of textbook costs for students and provide faculty with high quality, customizable course content. Join us for a discussion of textbook costs and student success.

4pm EDT; Tune in via Zoom & submit questions via Twitter.

Tuesday: How good are open source textbooks?

How can we be sure that the quality is equal to that of traditional commercial textbooks? Are open source textbooks peer reviewed? Do they go through a comparable quality control process?

  • Read How Good Can a Free, Open-Source Book Really Be?


  • How Good is a Free, Open-Source Text Part 2:


  • Join in – Conversation with John Hilton III about the research on OER efficacy.
    12 noon via Zoom conference

Wednesday: What do instructors and students who use OER think of them?


  • Join in – Twitter chat 2:00-3:00 pm

Thursday: How do we find OER in our discipline?

  • OER libguide from TCC
  • Interview with Open Textbook author, Caitie Finlayson (recorded video) Twitter


  • Join in: Q & A with Caitie Finlayson, TIME: 11am-12noon EDT

Friday: What comes after adoption of OER?

Some have called open source textbooks as the gateway drug to something more bigger. As the week comes to an end, we can pursue two possible threads

1. Perhaps the best attribute of OER is not that it’s free, but that it makes instructors think profoundly about how they teach the course.


2. Digital Courseware as a textbook alternative

  • Read Digital Courseware


  • Courseware


  • Waymaker: Personalized Learning Meets Open Education

Join in – Twitter conversation 2pm – 3pm

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Civic Engagement + Digital Literacy = Liberal Learning in the 21st Century

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head so far in 2017. This week, they are starting to come together. As I try to articulate them, you may wonder what this has to do with open learning, but please bear with me.

Dr. Troy Paino, our new president at the University of Mary Washington, gave a speech last month in which he presented his vision for our future. I found his remarks both traditional and progressive. He asked what UMW should become, given our history, culture and geographic location.

UMW is a public liberal arts and sciences institution. While we have colleges of business and education and a growing number of masters programs, liberal education is our core. UMW was originally created as a normal school, a women’s college to train teachers. Subsequently, it became the women’s college of the University of Virginia, and then a public liberal arts & sciences school in the mid-1970s. Located in Virginia, half way between Washington, DC and Richmond, UMW has had a rich background in American history, from colonial times when George Washington grew up nearby, to the American Revolution with Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and others who built this republic, to the civil rights movement in which former UMW faculty member James Farmer played an important part.

President Paino argued that UMW should build a future using a two-pronged approach: First, to create students who are civically engaged. Second, to create students who are digitally literate. These, he argued, are substantially related.

Students, Paino said, should understand the relevance of their liberal education to the problems of the world. But that’s just the start. Students need then to engage with the community, to make the world a better place, initially as part of their undergraduate studies, but then implicitly through their lives beyond university. This is what civic engagement means. A few years ago, I asked students if they had come to UMW because it was a liberal arts & sciences institution. Almost none of the students said yes. We need to do a better job of helping our students understand why that matters, and why fundamentally higher education at a school like Mary Washington is more than just completing one’s major.

Students also need to become digitally literate. UMW has a long and well recognized history in this area led by our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies and encompassing UMW Blogs, which provided a blog server for faculty and students who wanted to engage with the digital world, our Online Learning Initiative, which sought to imagine what liberal learning could be in a blended or online course environment, to the Domain of One’s Own Project, which started at UMW, giving all students their own web domain and the resources to build those out in whatever way they chose. Despite a new major in communication and digital studies and a minor in digital studies, I think it’s fair to say that digital literacy does not currently play a central role in our curriculum, and most graduates do not take advantage of the opportunity to incorporate this into their degrees.

President Paino asked how can we adapt the liberal arts and sciences education provided at UMW to the digital world in which we now live. He observed that the world has changed from one where information was scarce and the goal of education was to provide that information, to one where information is abundant. In the latter, a key role for education has become to help people critically evaluate and filter the flood of information. How then, can we teach students to be critical thinkers in the world today? This is not a trivial question. This week, the Association of American Colleges & Universities released On Solid Ground, the initial results of a study of student achievement as measured by the AAC&U’s VALUE Rubrics. The study included results from 92 universities and looked at, not standardized test scores, but actual student work to evaluate learning in three areas: Written Communication, Critical Thinking and Quantitative Reasoning. The findings were encouraging, but also showed room for improvement. To quote from the press release:

“In the area of Critical Thinking, students demonstrate strength in explaining issues and presenting evidence related to the issues. However, students have greater difficulty in drawing conclusions or making sense out of or explaining the importance of the issue studied.”

Despite what the new U.S. Secretary of Education said yesterday, our job as faculty is to teach students not what to think, but how to think.

I may be the last person to realize this, but as I was participating in this week’s OpenLearning’17 activities, listening to Bryan Alexander’s Monday introduction to information literacy, reading the ACRL Framework for information literacy, and watching the NMC webinar on Digital Literacy, it occurred to me that in this age of alternative facts and fake news, there may be nothing more important than teaching citizenship and civic engagement through information and digital literacy. President Paino claimed as much in his speech, saying that beyond traditional notions of liberal education, “our fundamental purpose [today] is the preservation and advancement of our representative democracy.”

These are strong words. To make them real, we have much work to do. But if not us, who?

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Who is in the Open Learning ’17 Community?

Where is our community? The above google map shows the locations of everyone who was registered, at as of this morning. We will update the map over time so feel free to check back.

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Virginia’s Faculty Collaboratives Project

I am excited to work on the AAC&U’s Faculty Collaboratives project. The project is being implemented at the state level. Half a dozen states were in the first cohort, which began last year. Virginia is in the second cohort, which means we have benefited by learning from the experiences of the first cohort.

The nominal goal of the Faculty Collaboratives project is for each state group to develop a collection of faculty development resources to increase awareness of how to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning, especially in the liberal arts & sciences. These resources will be based on the findings of learning science over the last few decades–findings of which I suspect most rank & file faculty are unaware. I don’t know about you, but learning science was not part of my graduate program. AAC&U has conducted a number of initiatives in this area, including the two I’m most familiar with: LEAP and VALUE. The challenge is to get these resources into the consciousness of faculty.

Gardner Campbell, who is leading the Virginia initiative, expresses the challenge this way: How can we help students (and faculty) see general education requirements as more than checkboxes on the road to the student’s real education (e.g. in the major)? How can we help students and faculty see general education as more than just a set of hurdles to be gotten past? How can we help students and faculty see general education as a foundational part of their undergraduate studies as well as lifetime learning?  In short, how can we do what we’ve always valued, only better.

What approach are we taking in Virginia? We decided early on to use open educational practices as the model for our approach. Virginia has a vibrant open education community, so we have both resources and interest to draw from. David Wiley describes what we’re planning as rethinking general education requirements as if the Internet existed.

Open education can be pursued from a variety of angles, including open pedagogy, open access, open educational resources (OER), and more. There is no universally accepted definition of open education, which allows a diversity of approaches to be tried. It’s probably best to think of open education as a philosophy of teaching and learning, a set of practices, rather than a specific technique or set of skills. One can try some, but not all practices, and that’s fine. If this sounds imprecise, we will be exploring these concepts in more detail soon.

Our project will operate at several levels.

  • We want to create an online platform to showcase a set of teaching resources and practices.
  • We want to make the resource organic and sustainable so that the platform doesn’t die when the project is over.
  • We want to model what we’re presenting, using open educational practices.
  • We want to assess whether the platform makes a difference in faculty teaching practice and effectiveness.

Not too ambitious, huh? Beginning later this month (January 2017), we will conduct an open online course to explore open educational practices. The idea is to give interested faculty the opportunity to learn by doing. The course is designed for anyone who would like to learn more about open education, regardless of your background and experience. Everyone is welcome!

The course will be organized by topic. If you are only interested in one or two topics, you can simply participate those weeks.   Of course, you’ll get far more out of it if you participate in the whole course. If you have tried taking a MOOC (e.g. Coursera, Udacity) before, you will find our course very different. It will be based on the Connectivist MOOC model developed by George Siemans and Stephen Downs and exemplified by DS 106. For additional information on the course and how to participate, check out the project hub at I hope to see you there.

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