Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Reflecting on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

The most recent white paper on the scholarship of teaching and learning by the UW Colleges Virtual Teaching and Learning Center.  After reading the white paper, consider the following questions.

What statement best describes your SoTL experience on your campus or in your department?

  • I am personally interested/engaged in SoTL, but I have not found a colleague group or other support for my work.
  • There are faculty and instructors who are engaged in SoTL, but they do not work together and there is no organized approach or coordination of efforts.
  • There is a small but lively SoTL initiativ, but both grassroots and top-down support.
  • We have been part of the larger national and international SoTL movements.
  • The principles and practices of SoTL are woven through many campus initiatives and agendas.

How might SoTL be better supported?

How would you describe the impact of engagement with the scholarship of teaching and learning on with the practice of teaching at your campus or in your department?

What initiatives could SoTL help to advance at your campus, in your department, or across the UW Colleges or UW System?

A broader version of these questions were presented at the UW Colleges Deans and Chairs meeting in  October 2013 by Tony Ciccone (Director of the Center for Instructional and Professional Development at UW Milwaukeee) and La Vonne Cornell-Swanson (Director of the Office of Professional and Instructional Development, UW System). Questions adapted from the appendix to The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Reconsidered, (Hutchings, Huber and Ciccone, 2011).

Monday, May 6, 2013

White Paper on Information Literacy

Our latest white paper on information literacy was compiled by members of the UW Colleges Library Council, Dyan Barbeau (UW Sheboygan), Kelley Hinton (UW Waukesha), and Kelly Johnson (UW Fox Valley).  As a way to facilitate reflection, consider the following questions:
  • What does information literacy "look like" in your discipline?
  • What level of information literacy skills do you expect students to have in your courses? How do those skills vary or build on skills from previous courses or courses in other disciplines?
  • What learning outcomes for your courses involve information literacy? If you had to add information literacy to your course outcomes, how might you describe competency in this skill for your courses?
  • What assessment activities do you assign that require students to use information literacy?
  • How can you more effectively incorporate information literacy into your assignments? Teaching? Class time? Course design?
  • What questions do you still have about information literacy?
Feel free to respond to the questions in the comment section below, email or to join the discussion on Twitter or Facebook.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Teaching the Syllabus

I have taken so much pleasure in crafting my syllabi. It has always been one of the things that I most look forward to planning and writing. Over the years my syllabi have varied from a few pages to twenty (when I included all the assignments for the entire semester), and I have taken great pains to choose just the right font and images, and honed my statements on everything from "Participation" to "Academic Honesty" carefully.

Regardless, I have come to realize that my students do not have the same relationship with their paper syllabi that I did when I was a student.  In general, I do not see students reading it in detail, highlighting and marking it up, or transferring its important dates to their college work planner.  It is entirely possible that after the first day of class they might not look at my beautiful creation ever again.  Most students are what I call "post-paper": it is easier, for them, to email me (from anywhere at any time) to ask me what the assignment is than to find and read the syllabus for the information they need.  I have to admit, it is easier for me to do the same thing--find a copy of the document on one of my many electronic devices within reach instead of locate the hard copy of my syllabus. In my online classes, "covering" the syllabus is conspicuously absent.  There are welcome messages, announcements, and activities, but I never spend time covering the syllabus--it's all there for students to use when they need it.  But the course seems none the weaker for it.

Beyond problems with the nature of the document itself are doubts about its place in my course.  The first day of class is still so exciting to me, and the syllabus is part of that routine.  However, after general introductions and an icebreaker, too much of the first day of class is reading from a document that I have printed for students, and the process of reading or covering of the syllabus is unrecognizable as what I would do in any other class throughout the rest of the semester.

I know that I want to familiarize students with the course on the first day of class, but I'm breaking every rule about student learning to do it in the way I have done in the past.  Especially because of my experiences teaching online, I am starting to think of the syllabus in all classes as a reference text, like an encyclopedia of relevant parts of the course, and therefore reading it in its entirety is not a logical or coherent use of it as a reference: we refer to encyclopedias when we have specific questions, not to read in their entirety from A to Z.  Do I really need to talk about Academic Honesty on the first day of class, out of context and before students have submitted any work?

My question remains: What are effective ways to teach the syllabus?  Part of the answer to this question comes from the individual goals we used to inform the construction of the syllabus as well as what our goals are for the first day of class.

  • What metaphor would you use to describe your syllabus?   Is the syllabus your blueprint?  A map?  Bread crumbs? A contract?  How does that metaphor suggest the role your syllabus should have in your course?
  • What goals do you have for the first day of class?  
  • How can we meet those goals (using a conventional syllabus or not)? 
  • If you want students to "know" it, how should we teach it? 
  • What are better ways to do this (other than reading the syllabus on the first day of class)?

The most important goals I have for the first day of class are starting to learn students' names, establishing the learning environment of the class, and explaining where they can find information about assignments and general expectations.  I'm certain that reading my syllabus does not facilitate any of these goals, and that students don't "learn" the syllabus either.  So many emails, in-class questions, and office-hour conferences have proven this: "When is this due?  What is the attendance policy?  What are the grading criteria?  When are your office hours?"  As we know all too well, those "It's on the syllabus" memes come from a very real phenomenon.

I don't know that I have a solution to this problem--or whether this is even something I would consider a "problem"--but I remain suspicious of a practice that has been an important part of my teaching since my first day in the classroom. Given what we know about student learning, I'm fairly certain that "covering the syllabus" does not accomplish the goals I have.

Because there is a policy, I will continue to write a syllabus, but I also plan to make it a more accessible "text" (for me and students alike) and an increasingly streamlined reference document.  Perhaps treating it like a reference text is a metaphor worth trying out: after introductions, and icebreaker, and a brief overview, I could let student questions dictate its coverage.  Or, delve right into teaching on the first day and use the syllabus as needed.

What about you?  How do you cover your syllabi on the first day? Have you found a different or more effective way to teach your syllabus?  What would you say are the best practices associated with covering syllabi?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Please feel free to leave a comment below or email