Monday, November 26, 2012

A Conversation with Dr. David Voelker

This interview of Dr. David Voelker by Dr. Jennifer Heinert is about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the "coverage model". They discuss the nature of SoTL, its impact on teaching and learning, and the myths and problems associated with SoTL, as well as starting points for doing this kind of research and incorporating it into your teaching practice. The second half of the interview focuses on one of Dr. Voelker's co-authored publications on the "content coverage" model of course and curricular design (see link below).

After listening to the podcast, reflect on these questions:

Regarding the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,

  • In what ways have you used or “done” the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?
  • How does SoTL impact your discipline?
  • What ways might you incorporate SoTL into your departmental culture?
  • How does your department value SoTL?

Regarding the "Coverage Model,"

  • In what ways does your discipline use “content coverage” as a model for curricular and course design?
  • In the podcast, David and Jen talk about a quotation from his article in which he and his co-author argue “ students must actively do history—not just learn it.”  What does it mean to “do” your discipline?  How do your students perform the moves of your discipline?
  • In what ways do students “process deeply” the content of your courses?
  • What role does meta-cognition (or student knowledge about their own learning) play in your course?  How is it assessed or assigned?
Feel free to share your ideas, comments, and questions in the comments below, or email 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Using Rubrics


The first white paper of the 2012-2013 academic year is "Using Rubrics: Improving Evaluation of Student Work & Promoting Student Learning."

The VTLC conducted an unscientific poll on our facebook page and the majority of people seem to use rubrics--in one way or another--to evaluate some aspect of their student's work.

Do you?  What kind(s) of rubric(s) do you use?  On what kind(s) of assignments?  How do you integrate rubrics into your teaching?  Other than giving feedback, how do you use them?

Feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

We Are Not Content...

In January 2012 I attended a conference on Using Techonology to Promote Active Learning, which featured Keynote Speaker Curtis J. Bonk (from Indiana University).  At the end of the workshop, he presented "I am Not Content: The Future of Education Must Come Today."  I assumed, before the presentation, that the title meant we instructional professionals are not the "containers of information and knowledge of our disciplines" that we transmit to our students.  It turned out, though, that a paraphrase of his topic was actually "we are not satisfied" and his surprising reversal was there there are a lot of positive changes technology has brought to education, especially global access, which he enumerated and explained in his presentation.  

Yet, at the end of the conference, I could not get the homograph of "content" out of my mind, precisely because, if the world is open, available, and essentially going to be changed by the role of technology in sharing information, as Dr. Bonk explained so well in his presentation, we can no longer afford to think of ourselves as "Authorities" who possess knowledge and pass it on to our students.  And we can no longer think of courses or curriculum or even the degrees offered by our institutions as information at all when information itself is available ubiquitously--I could not stop thinking that we need to rethink our role as professors and educational professionals.

Increasingly, I see attention to this in various ways: the Chronicle and other publications have published  articles on the idea of lecture failflipping the classroom, and other ways in which technology and our students' familiarity with it should inform new approaches to teaching.  And recently Inside Higher Ed featured an essay imagining the future of academe in some very interesting ways.

It's fair to say that the world has changed; I don't disagree with Dr. Bonk.  But have we, the instructional professionals, changed?  How many of us are still teaching in the ways that we were taught, without any assessment or knowledge of whether those are the best ways to achieve student learning?  And should we?  If we are not content, what are we?  Is there a better metaphor for thinking about our roles as educators?  What ways of teaching, classtime, and skills should we be using?  How should we shift our course outcomes and curricular proficiencies to reflect ways of thinking, concepts, critical reflection, and skills instead of content or information? And, can we change in time to revolutionize the role of education in the not so distant future?

Many of the answers to my questions started forming at Faculty College, an annual program offered by the University of Wisconsin System's Office of Professional and Instructional Development, which I had the privilege of attending last week.

My still-forming answers come from what we know about how learning works.

The keynote speaker, Robert A. Duke (The University of Texas at Austin) called for what he calls "intentional muddling," which is not altogether different from some of the above concepts that have been getting attention in the SoTL world.  Among the many great points that he made was one about content with the following challenge he issued to his audience.  I paraphrase:

Think of the spring semester of your sophomore year of college.  
Choose one class.  
Name two things you learned.  

Can you do it?  I confess I cannot.  I cannot specify content knowledge from a particular class from so long ago.  Does that mean I didn't learn anything?  If not, what did I learn?  The more I thought about this, the more I realized that it was not the content that was important, but the habits of mind, the ways of thinking, and the processes I engaged in at that point in time in my education.

This new way of thinking about content followed me to another workshop at Faculty College put on by Dr. Greg Valde, Director of the LEARN Center at UW Whitewater.

Three principles of learning (derived from Cognitive Psychology) that Dr. Valde shared helped me rethink the content of my courses yet again (If you were a member of the 2012 Reading Circle on How Learning Works, these will look familiar to you):

  1. Information that is learned over a short period of time (cramming for a test, for example) is not retained.
  2. Information that is learned over a longer period of time (distributed over a semester and coordinated into the curriculum) is recalled much better.
  3. Information that is processed deeply (made meaningful, connected to prior experience, practiced, or applied) is recalled the best.  

Before Faculty College, I had been worrying about what novels (in other words, content) I should assign for a new course prep on Narrative Literature this fall. Both my ongoing questions about content as well as the workshops at Faculty College have shifted my concern to what I actually want students to be able to do when they have completed my course:

  • What skills do I want students to have after taking this course?  
  • What kinds of questions should they be able to answer?  
  • What kinds of problems should they be able to solve?  
  • What ways of thinking do they need to learn in order to perform these tasks?  
  • What "content" do they need to know?  
  • How can the knowledge outcomes inform course design?  
  • How can I increase the "deep processing" of  in-class activities and assignments?   

I'm going to spend my summer challenging my prior assumptions about content and shifting the emphasis to student learning using these three principles.  So my questions have, as they so often do, led me to more questions, but I feel much more content about content now.

With this first summertime post, I invite you to reflect on these questions and share your responses and answers.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Workshop on Academic Civility - Week Three: Academic Civility by Design

After reading the activities described in the third part of the workshop on academic civility, consider the different ways in which civility was addressed--in the syllabus and course climate, as part of in-class content, and as part of an assignment for a class.

  • In what ways do these approaches to designing with civility in mind reflect rhetorical listening, dialogic civility, or epistemological differences?  
  • If civility is "collaboratively owned," how can designing for civility contribute to academic civility?
  • In what ways do you address in/civility in your classes?
  • How can you enhance civility in your classes, from course climate to assessment activities?
  • Which of these activities has the most relevance for your own teaching? Why?

To respond to these questions, feel free to post a response below. (No login is required.)
Or, email your thoughts to

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Workshop on Academic Civility - Week Two: Analyzing Dialogic Civility & Cultural Logics

The second part of week two of the Workshop on Academic Civility asks you to consider the role that dialogic civility and rhetorical listening play in classroom environments.

After reading the "angry emails" blog posts by UW Green Bay Psychology professor Ryan Martin, found here and here, consider the following questions.
  • What cultural logics inform the use of email and other technology by students? Faculty?
  • How might you incorporate this kind of dialogue in your course about email, technology, or other "hot button" issues of academic civility?

Feel free to post a comment below or email

Workshop on Academic Civility - Week Two: Identifying the Challenges of Academic Civility

In the second week of the workshop, Marnie Dresser shared a presentation that asked us to consider our role in contributing to classroom civility.

The quotation that she used from Robert Boice's book Nihil Nimus: Advice for New Faculty Members indicated that "students and teachers are partners in creating" classroom in/civility.  Several of the

  • What is your ideal vision of academic civility in your classroom?
  • What problems have you experienced?
  • In what ways may you have contributed to incivilty?
  • What are your “hall of shame” stories as a student?  Professor?  What can you learn from them?
  • How can we cultivate academic civility on an institutional level (as is suggested by Hassel & Lourey's article)?

Feel free to leave a response below, or to email 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Workshop on Academic Civility - Week One: An Introduction to Academic Civilty

In week one of the spring 2012 VTLC workshop on civility, you were introduced to the concepts of civility, pedagogical considerations, and best (and worst) practices of civility in the classroom:  Given what you've read and your experiences with teaching:
  • How do you define academic civility?
  • What problems with incivility do you have in your classes?
  • Are there ways in which this behavior extends beyond the classroom to other environments at the university?
  • How can we help students understand when their behavior is interfering with their learning?
  • How do you already do any of these successfully? 
  • Which one(s) do you want to try to improve, and how might you do that?
Feel free to post a comment below or to email your response to 

Monday, March 12, 2012

White Paper on Learning Styles

After reading the VTLC's white paper on Learning Styles, consider the following questions:

Questions for Reflection

  • What ways of thinking are required by your discipline?
  • What modes of instruction do you most often use?  What is the relationship between the way you teach and the ways of thinking required by your discipline?
  • How do you gauge your students' learning preferences? What role do they or should they have in your teaching?

VTLC Reading Circle 2012 (part 3 of 7)

This post is the third in the series on the 2012 VTLC Reading Circle on How Learning Works by Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman.  There are several ways to participate, including reading and reflecting on this series of blog posts.  For more details, see our website.

The previous post asked reflective questions about students' knowledge organizations.  The third concept in the book is "Students' motivation generates, directs, and sustains what they to do learn" (69).

The authors state, "if we want our students to gain the deep understanding that comes from exploration and intellectual risk-taking (a learning goal) but they want only to do what is necessary to get a good grade (a performance goal), we may not obtain the kinds of learning behaviors and outcomes that we desire" (72).

Questions for Reflection

  • What goals do you have for student learning?
  • What performance (or performance-avoidance) goals do your students have?  What affective and social goals do your students have?
  • In what ways are student goals aligned or misaligned with your goals for student learning? 
  • What "outcome expectancies" do your students have?  How do you address these in your course?
  • What strategies to "establish value" and "build positive expectancies" are you using?  Which ones would best address differences between your goals and those of your students?
  • Finally, in what ways have you created a "supportive environment"?  Are there ways in which the learning context (environment) can be improved?  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reflecting on Podcast with Dr. Bill Cerbin

Greetings VTLCers,

I hope you enjoyed listening to Drs. Nancy Chick and Bill Cerbin discuss learning styles.

Here are a few questions for your consideration:

  • Dr. Cerbin mentions several misconceptions about "learning styles," ultimately concluding that "learning styles" as we often think of them, do not exist:  Do you agree?  What have you found in your own teaching and learning that supports or undermines this?  
  • At about the 24-minute mark, Nancy summarized a useful response to misconceptions about learning styles as "thinking less about student's learning styles and thinking more about the ways of thinking that are required by my subject."  What kinds of thinking are required by your subject?  What are the most effective ways to teach students to think in these ways?
  • Dr. Cerbin offers a few practices that enhance student learning: "free recall retrieval practice: "expressive writing" and "solution analysis."  How might you use one or all of these in your courses?
  • To paraphrase Dr. Cerbin's question in the podcast, what makes your field difficult for someone who doesn't know about it? 
  • What background knowledge do students need as a "framework" for your course? 
Feel free to reflect on your own or leave comments below.

UWC VTLC Podcast 3: A Conversation on Learning Styles with Dr. Bill Cerbin

Greetings colleagues and VTLCers,

Welcome to the second UWC VTLC podcast of the 2011-12 academic year, a conversation on learning styles between Dr. Bill Cerbin, Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he has taught for more than 20 years, and between our inaugural director, Dr. Nancy Chick, who is now the Assistant Director at Vanderbilt University's Center for Teaching. Dr. Cerbin also directs the UW-La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching & Learning, which sponsors programs and activities to support teaching and learning. Active in the scholarship of teaching and learning, he has twice been a Carnegie Scholar with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. His work focuses on understanding the relationship between teaching and college student learning and thinking.       

You can listen on your computer by clicking here or always on the title above, or you can subscribe via iTunes and listen there or on your MP3 player.  See here for more details on subscriptions.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

VTLC Reading Circle 2012 (part 2 of 7)

This post is the second in the series on the VTLC Reading Circle on How Learning Works by Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman.  There are several ways to participate, including reading and reflecting on this series of blog posts.  For more details, see our website.

The previous post asked reflective questions about students' prior knowledge.  The second concept in the book is "How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know."

Questions for reflection:
  • What knowledge organizations do students need in order to understand your course content? 
  • Around what knowledge organizations do you organize your course content, syllabus, and/or lesson plans? 
  • One recommendation in the text for helping students organize their knowledge meaningfully around "deep features" of the domain is to give students problems that are already solved and explain the solutions to themselves.  This seems like a strategy that works in any discipline.  Do you employ this strategy?  What knowledge organizations does it/would it reveal to students?
  • In what ways do you make the needed/optimal knowledge organizations "visible" to students in your courses?
  • Which of the strategies suggested by the research do you plan to use? 

Monday, February 6, 2012

VTLC Reading Circle 2012 (part 1 of 7)

Greetings VTLCers and Scholars,

Today kicks off the reading activities for our annual common read, which is How Learning Works by Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman.  There are several ways to participate, including reading and reflecting on this series of blog posts.  For more details, see our website.

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most about this reading is the way this book addresses concepts that I think I knew (instinctively or unconciously, perhaps), but I had not necessarily thought about how to address in specific ways through curriculum, course design, in-class activities, and assessment activities.

The first concept the authors present is "Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning" (13).  Because we all work in disciplines with content knowledge, I would not be surprised if many examples of this came to mind as you read the chapter on this concept.

Below are a few questions for reflection on the first chapter and concept.  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments (which is where I'll share my reflections as well).

  • How do you gauge prior knowledge of students? What assumptions do you make about what they do or do not know when entering your courses? 
  • Do you use activities to “activate prior learning” (15)?  What strategies might you recommend to your colleagues about this? 
  • What examples of inaccurate prior knowledge do you encounter in your courses? To what extent are they “isolated” or “integrated” misconceptions (24)? 
  • When you encounter integrated misconceptions or stereotypes, what strategies do you think best work to unseat, suppress, or replace them? 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Single-Tasking Update (Week One)


As I described in my previous blog post I spent this last week single-tasking with the hopes that it would improve the efficiency and quality of my work.  

I wasn't sure how to go about this, so I spent time thinking about why I was trying to navigate so many things at once.  Essentially, the answer to this question is that, like many of you, I have so many tasks that comprise my daily work (and I will leave out the 24-hour shift of parenting and second-shift of domestic labor, but they often play a role in the problems of multitasking):  

Teaching: researching, reading, prepping, teaching, assessing, conferencing
Professional Development: researching, reading, writing, revising, collaborating
Service: reading, emailing, responding, collaborating, writing, meeting, advising

The other half of this problem, though, is that I have so much "flexible" time in which to accomplish these tasks.  Other than scheduled meetings and one face-to-face class, the large majority of my time is unscheduled, and those flexible times are the ones I fill with multitasking: perhaps the solution is that I need to better schedule my time, so I don't feel a need to do everything at once.  Because I love spreadsheets' ability to categorize and organize things, the first thing I did was to make a schedule of my plan to do all of those things, with the higher-priority items coded in dark colors.  

Is that snorting and knee-slapping I hear from the blogosphere at the omission of Saturday and Sunday?  I will be the first to admit that I will be unable to prevent work from spilling over into weekends, though I hope this process will help me recover some of my weekend work time.  

Problem solved, right?  Not so fast: I was well into the task of programming all of this into my Outlook calendar when I realized I would have to stay logged into email to remind me of the shifts from task to task.  I settled for printing a few copies and tucking them into visible areas at my workplaces.  

Day 1 worked well.  And even Day 2.  But I quickly realized that problem is not just scheduling my time:  the problem is also that the time all of those tasks take is not fixed, but variable.  This first week of class, I had little "grading" to do.  In a few weeks, it will be a much larger amount.  I don't have time to adjust my schedule every week in Excel and Outlook, and even if I would take secret joy in color coding my life this way, I cannot predict with absolute certainty whether it will take me 4 or 6 hours to give feedback on a set of essays.  

So my attempt at scheduling my problem away returned me to basic general practices:
  • Writing one email (or blog post or anything else) at a time.
  • Logging out of email (and Facebook and Twitter) while lesson planning, reading, grading.
  • Responding to email and discussion board questions at planned times, rather than all day long.
In addition, I turned off my sound notifications for email and Facebook on my smart phone.  I found I had a hard time not "checking in" every time I heard them.  

These practices actually seemed to make a noticeable difference immediately.  Logging out and logging in at designated times helped me focus on the task at hand. I felt as though I had a very productive week, and I only worked one half-day this weekend.  I do, however, dislike the emails I feel are lingering in my Inbox for far too long (3 hours!), but I am not ready to concede that is something I can't learn to accept.  In the mean time, I'm going to continue my single-tasking mission.  And though I am loathe to abandon my spreadsheet, it will serve as a "reminder" function for when I am derailed by meetings, tidal waves of grading, toddlers with high-grade fevers, or anything else for which I cannot plan.

If you have other tips for single-tasking (or multitasking) effectively, please share away!    

Friday, January 20, 2012

Single-Tasking: This Teacher's Resolution for the New Year

Greetings, VTLCers and Teacher-Scholars,

Over the winter "break," I attended the UW System Southeast Regional Conferencethe focus of which was "Using Technology to Promote Active Learning." It was fantastic.  In particular, I was impressed with the way in which the presenters focused on letting pedagogy drive the use of technology, rather than using technology for its own sake.  The conference will likely lead to several workshops and showcases for the VTLC.  

But before I get to the great content of the conference, which will be featured in future blog posts, I started thinking about my own uses of technology in and out of the classroom, both as a teacher and scholar, and  how it has made my teaching or research better.  The problem I continue to circle back to, even at the conference itself as I answered emails and text messages, downloaded apps featured in the presentations, and checked Facebook way too many times, is that I have convinced myself that I am fantastic at multitasking when using technology to the extent that I rarely allow myself to focus on one thing at a time.  Case in point: as I type this I have nine tabs open in Chrome and 3 programs running (and it just occurred to me that I wasn't taking advantage of the "quiet time" to listen to a podcast).  A recent study says that 2.5% of people are "supertaskers" who can do multitask so efficiently that not just the productivity, but also the quality of their work is improved.  However, my work time regularly reminds me of this clip from Portlandia.

And that brings me to the reason for this post.  With classes starting next week, the conference made me think about how I could use technology more effectively, and instead of permitting technology to dictate how I do my work, allowing my workload to dictate when and how I use technology.

Questions for Reflection:
  • How can I better organize my teaching into daily components on which I focus solely for a specific duration of time?  
  • How will my teaching effectiveness/productivity be affected if I answer questions, respond to discussion posts, and answer emails during planned times throughout the day rather than  immediately?  
  • How will my productivity be affected by committing to do tasks in a scheduled, focused manner?
  • and... the million dollar question... How do I use technology to make myself a better teacher?
After thinking about these questions and being honest about and aware of what I actually do, it is clear to me that the biggest problems are email and Facebook, which I often have "open" while I'm at work.  I suspect that we send and receive more email than most institutions because the UW Colleges' 13 campuses are spread out all over the state. Email and Facebook, I have told myself, are important for maintaining the relationships with my colleagues, doing work efficiently, and being connected to my students and colleagues.  Because I teach half of my courses online, I feel even more of a need to stay "plugged in."  However, being plugged in affects my teaching while I am reading course material, lesson planning, or evaluating essays--I stop to answer a quick email, read a news article, or see what notifications popped up on Facebook, and I lose the continuity of and the focus on what I was doing. For example, it didn't actually take me 25 minutes to grade that paper; it took me 25 minutes to grade that paper, respond to two questions on d2L, and read and reply to four emails. I have gotten so used to being connected at all times and haven't considered how this connection may have disconnected me from events as they are happening in real time, not unlike my students who cannot seem to leave their cell phones in their pockets for the duration of a class.

The fact is--"supertaskers" aside--none of the research on multitasking would lead me to conclude I am a better teacher or scholar for multitasking.  In fact, it is likely harming me, especially if the quality is affected by the scattered way in which I complete tasks.  For me, at least, it amounts to procrastination and distraction from the task at hand (I've lost count of how many emails and other things I did while drafting this post).  If the research is correct, that means a positive goal I can set for myself is to change my technological habits.  So, to that end...

My goal for the first week of class calls for a retronym: single-tasking. 

I define this as

  • Writing one email (or blog post or anything else) at a time.
  • Logging out of email (and Facebook and Twitter) while lesson planning, reading, grading.
  • Responding to email and discussion board questions at planned times, rather than all day long.
I know these tasks look and sound like easy, logical things to do, but I am a Pavlov dog trained to check email at the sound of a bell ring from my phone, even in the middle of reading bedtime stories to my children.  (Though in this metaphor, I'm not sure how I have developed such a conditioned response to email (other than loving my job, of course).)

Feel free to join me in this challenge, if you are so inclined.  And, feel free to disagree, especially if you are a supertasker. Share the tips and tricks you have for navigating our technology infused professions, whether those may be single-tasking or multitasking effectively.

Wish me luck.  I will report back at the end of next week.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Year, New Semester, New Director

As you can see on the calendar for the semester, the UW Colleges VTLC has an exciting semester planned: reading circle activities for How Learning Works, a podcast interview with UW-LaCrosse Psychology Professor Bill Cerbin, a white paper on learning styles, to name a few of the highlights.

Our outgoing inaugural Director, Nancy Chick, has started in her new role at Vanderbilt University, and Jennifer Heinert, a former Advisory Committee and Executive Committee member, was chosen as the new Director for the VTLC.  Jen plans to build on the excellent foundation Nancy built and continue the momentum of the last year of programming.  

New developments: 

You can now follow us on Twitter: @uwcVTLC 

Subscribe to this blog for weekly blog posts on VTLC programming and pedagogical inquiry.

In fact, comment below, on facebook, or twitter with ideas about conversations you think we should be having.