Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Co-Creating Value in Education

As I watched one of my students nearly fall asleep in my morning class, I thought about how, sometimes, we are working with students who just refuse to work with us, no matter what we do.  This week, Tenn TLC director Dave Schumann spoke to his department about the co-creation of value in education.  We have been discussing this at the center, about how to increase students' sense of responsibility, how to get them engaged in learning, and thus to deepen their learning experiences.   I can be engaging until the cows come home--arranging for group work, asking students to reflect on course material, calling students up to the board to work on problems--but students have to want to be engaged, at least enough for us to pull them in. 

I had a lesson in business this week, about the "co-creation of value" and how consumers are involved in products and production.  Dave defines co-creation of value in education as "
Students and their instructor(s) working together as a learning community with shared responsibility to create and complete the learning experiences necessary to achieve the desired outcomes of the course."   The idea of sharing responsibility is particularly interesting but also puzzling.  I asked myself, don't I already do this in my class?  Aren't students responsible for reading, learning the material, participating in class, and taking tests? Have I created shared responsibility with this scenario?  

To share implies the act of giving from one to another and perhaps a mutual use of something.  To share learning implies that we are engaged together in the course.  Students need to hear their responsibilities outlined in the context of this dual role.  Define the responsibility for the student and tell the student what your responsibilities are.  Let the students hold you accountable.  One of our roles is to provide students with "time and opportunities to take responsibility at all levels of learning."   So, ask yourself:
  • How do I use time in the classroom?
  • Am I reaching all levels of learning (from memorization to analysis to evaluation and creation of knowledge)?
  • What opportunities do my students have to learn?
  • Do I ask students about their learning and listen to their answers?
  • When I work with students, are we innovative?  
  • Is my classroom student-centered?
These questions parallel questions asked in business contexts about production (to sample that conversation, take a look at this blog entry on involving customers in the creation of value using the internet).  

When I read John Bean's Engaging Ideas, I realized that hey, I don't have to give tests.  I could assign a project instead.  And who says a quiz is the best way to test reading comprehension? I could post a problem that requires using the textbook.  My inventiveness can lead to more student opportunities to think at higher levels.  That's a good way to improve my teaching.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Service Learning as Pedagogy

In honor of the Campus Compact state conference at the Baker Center today, I want to pass along information about service learning.  Visit the link to last semester's Tenn TLC workshop for suggestions and resources.  Also, keep in mind that we (at the Tenn TLC) will repeat our workshop on service learning this spring! Thank you again to the Baker Center for sponsoring these workshops.

The title "Service Learning in Higher Education: Faculty Roles and Rewards" leads me to recall the many rewards that I have received from incorporating service learning into disciplinary classes and also teaching service learning curricular courses.

First, let me be honest about the rewards to self.  I am very busy (isn't that part of every professor's job description?), so doing service alongside my students gives me a chance to get involved with the community. If not for class, would I have spent time outside the classroom in creative work? Nope. Because of service learning projects, I've helped finish a home for Habitat, tutored in East Tennessee rural school systems, helped local churches with their outreach, hiked students through the Cherokee Mountains (to "map" a trail for a regional forest advocacy group), created garden space at Rural Resources, recorded the stories of elderly residents as they recalled their town's history, and  helped a social services organization with their web page.  Yes, I got to do all this because I decided to do service learning in my classes (with the help of Tusculum College's Center for Civic Advancement).  I also got to develop wonderful working relationships with colleagues and community members.  Since coming to UT, I have developed wonderful relationships with faculty and administrators who are passionate about service learning, like Bob Kronick and Sherry Cable, our former and our current Faculty Fellows at the center. 

The second reward is student engagement and student benefits.  I can really speak best about my own experiences, but I know that as enthusiastic as I am about all the projects, I had students who were equally enthusiastic and more so.  Their enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment translated into the classroom and onto our subject matter.  My students were much more willing to delve into the social ramifications of poverty, address professional writing in online environments, examine the healthy functioning of a community, talk about the value of narrative voice, write professional policy papers, and give well-designed presentations to outside audiences (their service recipients).

Given these rewards, why aren't more of us giving students a service learning experience?

To find out about service learning at UT, read a recent update posted on the Volunteer Tennessee site. Read more about the nuts and bolts of doing service learning at Learn and Serve America and on our TENN TLC  workshop page.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Students Take Notes

Do you know if your students take good notes in your class?  How can you facilitate better note-taking? Talk with your students and give them a full rationale for making note-taking part of their learning routine and provide some innovative ideas.

Our students know that note-taking is important, and some of them rely on their notes when they study for tests.  Do they know that they should employ at least two channels for learning (the major ones are auditory, kinetic, and visual)?  IF they listen to you AND take notes, then they have employed two pathways.

Change in Education blogger Dan Hess experimented with showing students the value of notes, by asking them to write down almost everything during one lecture.  Then as a group, he helped them compile information into the Cornell system.  Since class was over, he let them take cell phone photos of the result. 
Students "taking notes" by phone
He not only taught students better note-taking methods, he showed them the value of collaborative note-taking.

Another creative option is to use "visual note-taking" including doodling on the page.  Purposeful drawings help students engage visual (leading to better memory).  Check out these links on doodling and visual notetaking, by Sunni Brown:
and  (this one is only 5 minutes!)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Managing Class Time Well

How do you start class?  This question has been on my mind as I readjust to 50 minute classes after a hiatus.  We all want students to pay attention, to be engaged, and from there, to think creatively and critically--in other words, to learn deeply.  Certainly, deep learning is the aim of higher education; this term points to the ways in which students think about our subjects, mull over concepts and questions, and in short, take time to think. 

The Higher Education Academy points to characteristics that students need to develop and bring to our classes: curiosity, time, and confidence in their abilities. What can we as teachers bring?  We can bring our own enthusiasm for the subject.  We can help students make connections with previous learning and engage their brains through active learning. 

How can this happen in 50 minutes?  The first minutes of class are important.  If you take 10 minutes to warm up to your topic or your students while getting into your teaching personae, then take 10 minutes before class starts to be in the room.  Get geared up by talking with students before class starts.  Ask them about how they are doing with the topic matter, the homework, the class sessions.  Find out what they think about your topic of the day.

When you are ready to start, plan a significant start and get their brains going.  Introduce your goal for the day, your teaching objective.  What do you want them to think about?  Ask them a question or pose a problem so that they are thinking before they start taking notes.  Try "Just In Time" teaching by asking them a question right before class and start class with their answers to that question, tackling their assumptions, and addressing strengths and weaknesses in their thinking. Ask them to do something unusual in their notes.  Start class by asking them to draw a circle and tell them to place five concept words in their from last week's classes. 

If you can startle them out of their routine, then you might startle them into deeper thinking!

For ideas about thinking creatively, here are two interesting sites:
Marelisa's ten techniques (a creativity specialist) at

and an interesting collection of links at

(Einstein played piano to encourage his own deeper thinking.)