2008-2009 Associates Archive

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The 2008-2009 CILA Associates  

On behalf of the CILA Selection Committee, we are pleased to announce the CILA Associates for 2008-2009. Our Bush Foundation grant provided funding to support these colleagues and other Associates in 2006-2007 and 2008-2009. In addition, the grant provided support for learning communities led by the Associates.

Each CILA Associate received one course-release as well as support for attending a relevant conference. During the year, each Associate worked on a scholarly project that contributes to the broader public discussion (at St. Olaf and elsewhere) of teaching and learning. The Associates concluded their activities by writing articles that document their teaching innovations. These articles are expected to contribute to the growing literature in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

During the academic year, each Associate led a faculty learning community on a topic related to his or her project. Each learning community involved five faculty members who met at least four times each semester to explore a teaching and learning issue of common interest. The group read relevant literature and developed individual projects in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Each member of the community received a modest professional development stipend.


Diane Angell (Biology) and Heather Campbell (Education)

“The Faculty Role in Successful Outcomes for Underprepared College Students”

Project Objectives: (1) Experiment with an educational model intended to improve learning for a wide range of students (UID), and (2) Inaugurate formal discussions about how an elite liberal arts college can best serve students with high potential but significant gaps in their pre-college experiences.

While there has been a history of success for under-prepared students at St. Olaf College, faculty are often ill-equipped to meet the needs of all students in their classrooms, especially English language learners, students with learning disabilities, students who struggle with course material, and students who have not been adequately prepared to enroll in entry-level college courses. This learning community seeks to study and implement best-practices in instructing, assessing, and advising under-prepared students who are enrolled at our institution. We would like to focus our studies on two pedagogical issues and the science, technology and mathematics (STEM) courses in particular.

First, faculty members are often unclear about how to best reach students with different backgrounds. We propose to explore the area of UID and discuss its possible implementation in our classes. UID stands for Universal Instructive Design, whose proponents argue that with universal access to the information in a course, fewer support services are required and more students succeed (Curriculum Transformation and Disability: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education; Higbee, 2003). UID intends to benefit all students enrolled, not simply under-prepared students or students who struggle with course material. Specifically, we would like to consider the role of UID in STEM, as inquiry-based instruction, is a good fit for a universal design model (Universal Design in Science Learning; Curry, Cohen, & Lightbody, 2006).

Second, we could like to explore whether entry-level courses in STEM serve as barriers for some under-prepared students. Although these students may have earned good grades in high school, many high schools do not offer the rigorous courses that would prepare students for college study. This does not mean that under-prepared students cannot succeed in difficult courses, but they may require additional training prior to enrolling in current “entry level” courses. We would like to explore this issues and gather information on models used in other colleges and universities.


Greg Muth – Chemistry

“Improving Critical Thinking, Puzzling and Reasoning (CPR) in a General Education Chemistry Course”

Project Objectives: To improve critical thinking and problem solving in the discipline of chemistry by teaching the students the habits of good problem solving in and engaging them in non-disciplinary puzzle exercises.

Despite a great deal of work in chemistry to improve a student’s problem solving and critical thinking skills both in the classroom and in the laboratory, there remains the fact that good problem solving within a particular subject area relies partially on accessing a broad knowledge base within the subject itself. The gradual acquisition of this broad chemical knowledge base and its maturation into skills that manifest in the ability to solve complex problems is unlikely to occur in a one-semester general education chemistry course. Based on this assumption, this proposal takes a novel approach tom improving a student’s problem solving skills. The Critical Thinking, Puzzling and Reasoning (CPR) model teaches students the habits of good problem solving and has them reinforce these habits using non-disciplinary puzzles. The overall goal is to solidify good problem soling habits using non-disciplinary and disciplinary scenarios. It is my hypothesis that by bolstering general CPR skills in a non-disciplinary context, the skills will seamlessly and naturally transfer not only to problems in chemistry but also to other subjects across the liberal arts. By establishing good habits, students learning should increase by reducing anxiety and improving confidence when challenged with complex, multi-layer or abstract problems.


Jenny Dunning (English)

“A Gateway Course: Fundamentals of Creative Working”

Project Objectives: To design a building-block based introduction to creative writing that would help students develop a better grounding in core concepts and strategies of creative writing and would accommodate 25-30 students.

Introductory-level creative writing workshops push students to compose complete stories and poems rather than first developing facility with the diverse strategies in the writer’s toolbox. The literature of creative writing pedagogy identifies drawback to the workshop’s emphasis on finished product, including that the work produced has surface polish and little core content and tends to be homogeneous. Workshop dynamics can suppress experimentation and discourage risk-taking. Workshops typically ignore the broader scope issues that inform a piece of writing, such as the interplay of ideas, exploration of issues at the personal and cultural level, negotiation of meaning, and vision.
In the gateway course, targeted exercises will be ends in themselves rather than a step toward developing full-length pieces. Shorter assignments will promote risk-taking and experimentation. Students will have a chance to model diverse modes of generating, developing and revising their work to a great extent than is possible when students have to produce a finished produce. The class will also free up more time for reading and analyzing contemporary literature “as a writer, “ in other words with particular attention paid to craft.


Gary Muir (Psychology and Neuroscience)

“To Click or Not to Click? Evaluating the Uses and Effectiveness of Personal Response Systems (PRS) in the Classroom”

Project Objectives:

  1. Review the current literature regarding how PRS can be used in the classroom to enhance student learning (i.e., the different ways people use PRS in the classroom and the different purposes they are used for) in residential liberal arts college context, such as exist at St. Olaf.
  2. Determine what the published data indicated with regard to the effectiveness of PRS and how that effectiveness can be assessed in order to develop best practices and principles around using PRS.
  3. Raise the level of faculty awareness across campus to the current and potential uses and benefits of PRS across disciplines through CILA Faculty Conversations.
  4. Based on the project’s finding, implement studies examining PRS use in the classroom (especially in PSYCH 125), the results of which will be suitable for publication.

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