Faculty Conversations: 2011-2012

Fall 2011

September 20. Are They Learning Anything? Responses to 'Academically Adrift.' Members of the Spring 2011 CILA Reading Group - Diane Angell, Biology; Jo Beld, Director of Evaluation & Assessment; Luying Chen, Asian Studies; Mary Cisar, Registrar; Scott Godfrey, Evaluation & Assessment; Diane LeBlanc, Director of the Writing Program; Paul Roback, MSCS-Statistics

More and more people go to college, but “almost no one asks the fundamental question: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?” This is the question posed by the book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. The book was read by a reading group at St. Olaf last spring. In this session, members of the reading group will share their reactions and lead a broader discussion of the book’s conclusions. We strongly recommend that participants in this lunch conversation review the basic findings ahead of time (see suggested readings below) so we can begin the session by thinking about the results in the context of the St. Olaf community.

The authors, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, “conclude that most undergraduates don’t learn much at all.” They support their argument by drawing on

“survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills — including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing — during their first two years of college. As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise — instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.” (from the book cover)

St. Olaf was one of the institutions that participated in the Collegiate Learning Assessment. Come join in a discussion of the book’s provocative analysis and share thoughts on what the results of the authors’ study mean for St. Olaf as a community and for those of us in teaching in the classroom.

Suggested readings:

Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa, and Esther Cho, ImprovIng Undergraduate LearnIng: Findings and Policy Recommendations from the SSRC-CLA Longitudinal Project  (attached)


September 28. The 396 Seminar: Another model for collaborative undergraduate research. Grace Cho, Psychology; Jill Dietz, Mathematics; Steve Reece, Classics; and Julie Legler, MSCS and Director of CURI

Collaborative research with students has emerged as a high impact practice. Through creation of CURI (Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry) and its presence on the agenda of the strategic plan, it’s clear that we are working to increase the range and effectiveness of the practice.  A looming question is the form of this research.  Do we do it in the summer? the school year?    The 396 seminar has emerged as one place to do this type of work.  Departments simply list the seminar as one of their course offerings in the class and lab, and a small number of students enroll in the course which focuses on collaborative research.  In this CILA lunch, three professors who have recently offered a 396 seminar will share their experiences.  They will talk about how they planned, organized, and implemented their seminars.

October 4. Fostering a Culture of Assessment in Departments. David Booth, Religion; Sharon Lane-Getaz, MSCS-Statistics and Education; Donna McMillan, Psychology

At St. Olaf, we are committed to making assessment “manageable and meaningful.”  We want a way to collect evidence that does not overwhelm us — and that can improve our teaching.  This goal is arguably most possible at the department level.  In this session, we will hear how some different departments have used assessment data to change department curricula and make their teaching more effective.

October 11. Peer Readers: One Way to Manage Student Writing. Carol Rutz, Director of the Writing Program, Carleton College

While faculty in all disciplines assign writing in courses — as a means of helping students master material, practice new concepts and vocabulary, articulate problems and their implications, work toward effective argumentation, and much more — responding to student writing often creates a time bind. How can we ensure constructive feedback while tending to our many other responsibilities?

One strategy is to share the work load with students. Employing peer review in strategic ways can improve student learning gains while helping faculty manage the work of responding to writing at different stages of the process. Carol Rutz, Director of the Writing Program at Carleton College, will offer a rationale for peer review and some techniques that can mitigate the time requirements for faculty.

October 26. Final Exams and Evaluations in Theory and Practice. Matt Rohn, Art and Art History, with members of the Planning and Policy Subcommittee of the Curriculum Committee

Members of the Curriculum Committee’s Planning and Policy Subcommittee will facilitate a discussion about final exams and evaluations and how they might best serve diverse, good pedagogies without unduly taxing the practical needs and commonality of an institution.  A very preliminary draft of what the subcommittee may propose as new final exam policy will help highlight important theoretical matters for discussion as the subcommittee collects ideas about these issues and considers the practical dimensions of any policy it proposes.

November 1. Provost’s Sabbatical Series Luncheon. Jeanine Grenberg, Professor of Philosophy and Greg Muth, Associate Professor of Chemistry

November 9. On the Road to Life at St. Olaf. Mary Carlsen, Social Work and Family Studies; Torin Alexander, Religion; Devyani Chandran, Social Work and Family Studies; Olaf Hall-Holt, MSCS; Diana Neal, Nursing

How do new faculty find out about “life at St. Olaf”? Panelists at this session will describe a pilot faculty development program carried out in the summer of 2011. The program included a two-day bus trip around the region to explore both the history and the contemporary realities of the college and its surrounding communities. Participants were primarily from two cohorts: faculty who had recently completed 2nd-year reviews, and recently tenured faculty. The group began at the Holden church where Bernt Julius Muus, the founder of St. Olaf College, preached to Norwegian Lutheran immigrants, and ended in the Twin Cities with visits to religious and social service agencies who work with recent immigrants. You are invited to hear about the group’s experiences, and to discuss continuity, and change, and how St. Olaf can fully welcome and orient new faculty to “life” at the college.

November 15. Teaching from the Sidelines or Off-Stage. Chris Aspaas, Music; Cindy Book, RESA; Gary Gisselman, Theatre

The pedagogical literature suggests that teachers should teach more and more with their mouths closed. Good educators focus on student learning, not teacher performance in a “sage on the stage” style. Coaches, directors, and conductors already do this. They are very limited in what they can say during the concert, game, or performance, and even during the rehearsal or practice. In this lunch session, we will hear from a coach, a theatre director, and a conductor. They each will describe how they teach “from the sidelines” to improve the performance of their students.

November 30. How do they Learn? Responses to 'How Learning Works.' Wendy Allen, Romance Languages; Shelley Dickinson, Psychology and Neuroscience; Maria Kelley, Education; Mary Walczak, Chemistry

Student learning is at the top of any academic agenda, yet many faculty are torn between turning to empirical research and adopting practical teaching strategies.  How Learning Worksaims to bridge this gap.

As educators, we care deeply about empowering our students to learn. How much attention do we pay to providing them with tools necessary for success? What specific actions do we take to determine the ways in which students organize the new information they are reading about or discussing and to improve these processes? What opportunities do we provide for students to integrate skills and practice applying what they have learned? What kinds of feedback do we offer students to guide their learning? What opportunities do we provide for students to reflect on how they are contributing to the learning environment?

In this session, members of the CILA reading group will provide some specific examples of strategies implemented in our courses that focus on these and other questions addressed in the book we read together last spring.

The book:
How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, Marie K. Norman, Jossey-Bass: San Franscisco 2010

“In this volume, the authors introduce seven general principles of learning, distilled from the research literature as well as from twenty-seven years of experience working one-on-one with college faculty. They have drawn on research from a breadth of perspectives (cognitive, developmental, and social psychology; educational research; anthropology; demographics; and organizational behavior) to identify a set of key principles underlying learning – from how effective organization enhances retrieval and use of information to what impacts motivation. These principles provide instructors with an understanding of student learning that can help them see why certain teaching approaches are or are not supporting student learning, generate or refine teaching approaches and strategies that more effectively foster student learning in specific contexts, and transfer and apply these principles to new courses.

For anyone who wants to improve his or her students’ learning, it is crucial to understand how that learning works and how to best foster it. This vital resource is grounded in learning theory and based on research evidence, while being easy to understand and apply to college teaching.”  (from the inside flap) 

Spring 2012

February 14. Meeting in the middle: closing academic and social gaps through writing. Diane Angell, Biology; Kathy Glampe, Student Support Services; Diane LeBlanc, Writing Program; Anne Walter, Biology

WRIT 211: Science in World and Word was designed to build on and advance students’ reading and writing skills while reading a range of popular science literature to increase the conversational awareness of the scope of scientific questions and practice. The initial impetus for this new course was a grant to enhance success of financially needy students in the sciences, students who often arrive underprepared in a variety of academic skills.  We will describe the expected outcomes, and then discuss on the surprising ones, specifically 1) the egalitarian community developed among widely diverse students, 2) the ways in which the students’ experiential and major discipline learning enhanced their connections to the content, and 3) the extent to which external motivations to learn evolved into deeper internal ones.  We think these outcomes may be a consequence of being willing to “meet in the middle,” where varying levels of expertise in science and writing, as described in the attached article, enable shifting authority. Students who originally thought they were taking this class for WRI credit or to do better on science tests crossed a motivation gap as they found their voices through writing about what they know.

The outcomes of this course raise a number of questions for further discussion, some familiar and some new, related to teaching and to inclusiveness in the classroom.  For example:

  •  What level of disciplinary expertise do writing teachers need in order to teach literature from that discipline?   How much should discipline specialists know about the teaching of writing?
  • What are the possibilities for collaboration beyond traditional models of team teaching?
  • What specific factors promoted the sense of equality within the classroom?  How did students find their voices?
  • Are there other courses/venues where some of these same principles of meeting in the middle do apply or might apply?

Recommended reading:
Lee Gutkind, “The Age of the Expert,” in Creative Nonfiction, Issue 41 (Spring 2011) – download 

February 22. Imagining Civic Engagement in the Arts. Dan Dressen, Associate Dean-Fine Arts; Nate Jacobi, CEL-Civic Engagement; Meg Ojala, Art and Art History; Matt Rohn, Art and Art History; Zoe Klosterboer '11, 2011-12 Art Apprentice

By the late 1990s, the national conversation about the civic purposes of higher education was well established, reinvigorated during the previous decade, in part through the creation of national engagement associations, such as Campus Compact, and by a number of influential reports and articles on the topic, such as the writings of Ernest Boyer.  Much of the engagement infrastructure in the academy was operating out of newly created centers for service-learning and community partnerships. Such spaces signaled a desire to align campus activities with institutional rhetoric concerning higher education’s mission to serve the public good. However, values of reciprocity and mutual benefit sometimes went unrealized, and these centers were typically separate from the academic units grounded in specific knowledge content. While the critique of traditional “service” was leading to a more developed “engagement” framework, scant attention was being paid to the intellectually generative power fostered through partnership between university-affiliated scholars and their community-based peers. Most importantly, humanities, arts, and design were underrepresented in both institutional and national conversations about engagement.

The above introduction is taken directly from the Imagining American web site. Imagining America is a consortium of around 90 colleges and universities focused on artists and scholars in public life, emphasizing the possibilities of civic engagement found in the humanities, arts and design. A number of St. Olaf faculty, staff and students attended the 2011 national conference in Minneapolis and St. Paul last fall. Inspired by the quality of that experience, St. Olaf currently is applying to become a member of the Imagining America consortium. This week’s CILA Faculty Lunch Conversation will be led by several of those who attended the fall conference, who will share information about experiences of successful projects in civic engagement and frame a discussion about how faculty and students in the arts might pursue civic engagement opportunities.The Imagining America web site includes articles and position papers on the subject, some of which can be found at:  http://imaginingamerica.org/publications/foreseeable-futures/ 

Febuary 29. The 'Main Street' Initiative: Preparing students for life after college - How are we doing? What can we do better? How will we know? Paula Carlson, VP and Liaison to the Board of Regents, and Interim Director of the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL); Scott Godfrey, Institutional Research and Evaluation; Elizabeth Leer, Education; Steve McKelvey, MSCS, and Interim Director of the CEL, Fall 2011-Jan 2012

Paula Carlson, VP and Liaison to the Board of Regents, and Interim Director of the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL); Scott Godfrey, Institutional Research and Evaluation; Elizabeth Leer, Education; Steve McKelvey, MSCS, and Interim Director of the CEL, Fall 2011-Jan 2012

For over a year, under the auspices of President Anderson’s “Main Street” initiative, St. Olaf faculty and staff have been working to enhance and expand programs and practices that help Oles plan for and then transition successfully into the next phase of their lives as new college graduates. To support this initiative, a working group has been gathering and reviewing a broad array of evidence about students’ learning experiences and outcomes related to their preparation for life after college. Our portfolio of evidence includes a rich mix of survey and interview data, drawn from incoming students, graduating seniors, and alumni, and contextualized by comparisons with other institutions. What are we learning from this work, and what are the implications of the findings for advising, classroom teaching, co-curricular programs, and the emerging Center for Vocation and Career? Join members of the study group for a look at the evidence and a lively discussion of its significance for the way we support our students’ preparation for life as college graduates.

For reference:
Main Street Initiative:  http://www.stolaf.edu/president/mainstreet/
The 2011 Strategic Plan:  http://www.stolaf.edu/president/strategicplanning/ 

March 6. Teaching with Clickers for Deep Learning. Derek Bruff, Director, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University

CILA Faculty Lunch Conversation – 11:45-1:15,  Sun Room

Classroom response systems (“clickers”) are technologies that enable teachers to rapidly collect and analyze student responses to multiple-choice questions during class. Although clickers can be used to ask students the kinds of multiple-choice questions you might put on a test, other kinds of questions can often promote deeper learning. In this talk, we’ll explore ways to craft clicker questions that help students to engage more meaningfully with course content, including questions designed to address student misconceptions, surface student opinions and experiences, and foster critical thinking skills. We’ll also discuss strategies for leading class discussions using clicker questions that frame and motivate those discussions.

CILA Faculty Workshop – 3:00-4:30, RML 250 (computer classroom)
Asking Good Questions: A Hands-On Clickers Workshop

Teaching effectively with classroom response systems (“clickers”) requires faculty to write good questions, ones that foster student learning and provide useful feedback, and to use clicker technology before, during, and after class. In this workshop, you’ll get some hands-on practice with both of these tasks: writing questions and using the technology. We’ll discuss ways to handle technical problems that may arise, and experiment with a few non-routine question types made available by the Turning Technologies system. You’ll leave ready to put together your own clicker-enhanced lesson plan.

Derek Bruff is Director of the Center for Teaching, and Senior Lecturer in Mathematics, at Vanderbilt University. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Harvard University.He consults with faculty in a variety of disciplines about educational technology and other teaching and learning topics. Bruff’s research interests include classroom response systems (“clickers”), visual thinking, student motivation, and social pedagogies. He blogs on these topics on his website; his book, Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2009. His website, “Agile Learning,” is at http://derekbruff.org/ 

March 28. CILA-IIT Teaching and Technology Showcase.

April 4. Neuroeducation: Neuroscience implications for the classroom. Shelly Dickinson, Psychology & Neuroscience; Gary Muir, Psychology & Neuroscience

Recent advances in brain imaging technology enable us to look into a human brain “in action” in ways that were unimaginable until the late 20th century. These technologies, in turn, have allowed huge advances in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience, which seeks to understand the brain’s role in mental processes and cognition (or “thinking”). But what can Cognitive Neuroscience and brain imaging tell us about the brain’s role in learning and what are the implications for education? Can current knowledge gained from neuroscience be used to change how we teach students in our classrooms? Neuroeducation, a new and rapidly growing area of neuroscience, seeks to bring together research on neuroscience and education in order to address these questions. Join the presenters as they discuss Neuroeducation and uncover some learning-related “neuromyths.”

For reference:
Neuroscience and Education, Issues and Opportunities: A TLRP Commentary (2007). Teaching and Learning Research Programme, Institute of Education, University of London. 

April 11. Provost’s Sabbatical Series Luncheon. Irve Dell, Associate Professor of Art and Art History and Elizabeth Leer, Associate Professor of Education”]

April 17. Will the iPad transform higher ed? Mobile devices and the changing campus. Nancy Aarsvold and members of the iPad Learning Community

In January, staff in IIT and the Libraries received one of the Provost’s Innovation Grants to set up a collaborative faculty/staff iPad Learning Community. The goal of the learning community is to explore how mobile devices, specifically iPads, can be used to access and create digital materials as well as how they might be integrated into teaching and research in higher education. The learning community is divided into two groups that meet on alternating weeks and include faculty members from various disciplines as well as staff from IIT, the Libraries, CILA, World Languages Center, Academic Support Center, and Carleton IIT.

Join the presenters (a subset of the 2 Learning Community groups) from the iPad Learning Community as they discuss how to set up a collaborative learning community, show how iPads are being used at St. Olaf and other institutions, present some apps that are useful in higher education, and look ahead to how mobile devices might impact higher education in the future.

For reference:  Website for the iPad Learning Community, including the two lists of participants, at http://stolafipad.wordpress.com 

April 25. Data-based Decision Making: A Case Study in Adopting a Web-based Assessment System. Maria Kelly, Education; Heather Campbell, Education; David Booth, Religion

Members of the Education Department will present an overview of the Tk20 Assessment System and how the department is using it to track program applications, course-based assessments, portfolio completion and student progress toward required standards and intended learning outcome completion. The web-based system makes it possible to use data for program improvement at the same time as it supports tracking of individual students as they progress toward a teaching license. Although implementation is still in its earliest stage, Heather and Maria will share specific examples of how the department is currently using the system, including the use of e-portfolios. Because e-portfolios and web portfolios have been used in various ways in other programs of the college, there will also be some discussion of the purposes and effectiveness of portfolios as learning experiences and as assessment tools.

Tk20 offers two online systems: HigherEd™ is an assessment; accountability and management system to help colleges of education meet requirements for accreditation. CampusWide™ is a comprehensive assessment and reporting system for a single-source, seamless view of the all the performance data of an institution. While the Education Department uses the system designed for teacher preparation programs, several colleges use systems like Tk20 across campus in both academic and non-academic offices. For example, St. Thomas University uses Tk20 as their overall campus-wide assessment system. Departments, programs, and offices across the college are invited to explore how they might incorporate the use of Tk20 to more efficiently track student learning and collect data.

Link: http://www.tk20.com/products/campuswide_casestudies.html 

May 1. What are the 'Digital Humanities'? Exploring a growing interdisciplinary field of research and teaching. Richard Allen, MSCS; Kasia Gonnerman, Library; Alora Killian ‘13; Solveig Zempel, Norwegian

While there is no agreement on how to formally define “Digital Humanities,” there are strong common threads weaving through most definitions: interdisciplinary, collaboration, computational technology, interaction, and innovation. The presenters will examine trends, tools, and provide some examples of projects as they share their experiences with the field of Digital Humanities in their courses and collaborative research with students. Join us for a conversation about this emerging (and thriving!) field of research and teaching, and how the Digital Humanities may be used as a model to inform us about collaborative interdisciplinary inquiry in other disciplines.

For more information about Digital Humanities, see:   http://libraryguides.stolaf.edu/digital_humanities_CILA 


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