Monthly Archives: June 2010

Wave technology and collaborative learning?

I just received a link to this EDUCAUSE Research Bulletin about Google Wave as a way to foster “computer based collaborative learning”–intriguing!

EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

Google Wave and Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: Impact on Higher Education
by Johanna Hane
Research Bulletin 13, 2010

Abstract: This ECAR research bulletin is based on a 2010 study that was conducted as part of an examination assignment in the course “Introduction to Communication, Learning, and IT” at a Swedish university (Gothenburg). The study focused on the potential benefits and drawbacks of Google Wave for educational purposes. Study participants’ discussions were observed and analyzed in conjunction with literature on computer-supported collaborative learning and the social constructivist view on education.

The Changing Nature of Privacy

I wrote in the past about observations on FERPA and student privacy here at Penn State. Already, I see too many instances where students are seeking jobs and/or internships only to be denied by their inappropriate use of social media. For the most part, I was only thinking of students.

Today, a colleague passed me an article relating to social media and divorce cases. An interesting stat from the article:

“The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites…over the last five years”

I had no doubt people were being singled out in marital cases for their use of social media, but I had no clue the percent would be this high.  In all my time as a teacher I continually stressed responsible use of social media and to constantly be vigilant and up-to-date with privacy settings.  Now, as a faculty consultant working in a teaching center, I really wonder if we should be spending more time educating faculty on the same topics, ensuring they do not have information or artifacts in publicly available social spaces that might get them, or the university, in ethical or legal dilemmas.  Does anyone know if other Teacher Centers in the US are actively educating faculty on the use of Facebook and social media in terms of managing their own identity online?

Research-based info on RI departments that value teaching

Mary Wright, Ph.D. (Assistant Research Scientist and Assistant Director, Evaluation, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) University of Michigan) recently summarized for the POD Listserv, some of the findings of her research on the value of teaching in research university departments (see Always at Odds? SUNY Press, 2008).  She compared departments where faculty reported that they and their departments valued teaching to those where faculty reported their departments did not.  The departments are all science and health science departments where the reward system favored research.  

She notes that in departments with a shared value of teaching:

(1) Teaching and curricular work was dispersed throughout the department and faculty generally shared responsibility for teaching introductory and service courses & doing curricular and assessment work.

(2) Faculty had opportunities to observe each other’s teaching through formal peer review, as well as other team teaching and informal drop-ins.

(3) Discussion of teaching was frequent and widespread.  In particular, Chairs tried to make teaching discussions an everyday occurrence, including reaching out to faculty to talk about teaching. 

(4) There were multiple ways to assess teaching effectiveness and student learning.  In contrast, incongruent departments tended to focus solely on student ratings, and since many faculty dismissed these, this left a void.

(5) They had detailed tenure and promotion policies and procedures around teaching, and these policies were frequently clarified by administrators.

(6) Chairs carefully chose a few time-consuming, but highly meaningful events that resonated with their faculty and involved a personal commitment to teaching on the part of the chair. For example, one chair taught (and taught really well) every year – a rarity in a large research university science department. Faculty noticed.

I wonder if we would see similar characteristics in Penn State’s departments?

Schreyer Institute July Update

Each month we release a short PDF newsletter that is distributed to the various Department Heads across Penn State.  I’ll try and also post the newsletter here each month anyone interested.

July’s newsletter introduces our two new team members, Chas Brua and Larkin Hood.  Although in a new position, Chas has worked with the Institute for a while, including a stint as a Postdoctoral Fellow.  Larkin comes from the University of Washington, where she coordinated educational outreach programming for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Other highlights include New Instructor Orientation, beginning August 19th, and a WikiEducator workshop offered online beginning July 21st. 

Teaching Excellence or Proficience?

Today on the POD Listserv Francine Glazer, VP at NY Inst. of Technology and long time faculty developer, posted a link to an article written by Jim Fairweather from Michigan State for the National Research Council. The article is about promising practices in STEM and whether providing evidence that alternative teaching strategies improve students’ learning is important to the adoption of effective strategies by STEM educators (

See pp. 7-9 for a discussion of strategies used to try to improve student learning in STEM. Fran points us to the strategy he describes as “Improving student learning productivity” (p. 8). Basically, this strategy involves engaging the faculty responsible for “poor instructional outcomes in STEM” (p. 9) to engage in “any form of pedagogy that increases student engagement.” Focusing on the large number of faculty that rely solely on traditional lecturing and getting them to include even a small amount of active learning could have a bigger impact than getting the faculty who already use active learning strategies to use them more often or more effectively.

Fairweather suggests that this population is more motivated by rewards than evidence.  I’d have to agree after successfully using a “baby steps approach” for many years–i.e. focus on helping all faculty to consider changing one thing in one class on one day to involve students in some form of active learning. If we can help faculty do that one thing well, they see/experience the improvement in students’ learning, which is a reward of sorts.

While I don’t doubt that Fairweather is correct that evidence won’t convert the true skeptic, being able to provide evidence from STEM teaching for STEM faculty does allow us to credibly make the case, which allows us to move on. If we can’t provide evidence when requested, it can serve as justification to dismiss us and our suggestions. That is, it is faculty developers’ mastery of and access to the evidence that is important, not necessarily that evidence exists (although I realize that we can’t have one w/o the other).

However, the real reason that this idea caught my eye is that I wonder if any teaching center has ever explicitly approached their programming in this way–explicitly focusing on reducing the use of the worst techniques among the largest group of faculty users? I wonder if one could engage STEM faculty by appealing to their empirical experimental sides? Could one convince a large number of all-lecture-all-the-time to make an across the board shift? Could we have a biggest-bang-for-your-buck or ‘make one small change, reap big reawards’ series? 

Michigan State resources for Teaching in the Natural Sciences

Allyn Shaw in Michigan State’s Office of Faculty and Instructional Resources (F&OD) just sent a link to some rich resources that the F&OD announced to the POD Listserv for teaching topics in natural science, “Teaching in the Disciplines: College of Natural Science.”  This is just one of many Teaching in the Disciplines lists of resources in their Online Instructional Resources (

Workshop Assessment

Mary Wright, Asst. Research Scienctis and Asst. Director for Evaluation at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, posted three articles on assessing teaching center workshops on the faculty development listserv.  For the full post, please visit the POD listserv for 6/9/10.

Connolly, M. R., & Millar, S. B. (2006). Using workshops to improve instruction in STEM courses. Metropolitan Universities Journal, 17(4), 5365.

Plank, K.M. & Kalish, A. (2010). Program assessment for faculty development. In K.J. Gillespie & D.L. Robertson (Eds.), A guide to faculty development (2nd ed.) (pp. 135-149). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

D’Eon, M., Sadownik, L., Harrison, A., & Nation, J. (2008). Using self-assessments to detect workshop success: Do they work? American Journal of Evaluation, 29, 92-98.

Engaged STEM Learning, AAC&U Conference

Please send this information to STEM contacts. Julia Kregenow might be very interested, who is her contact on the grant?

Engaged STEM Learning: From Promising to Pervasive Practices
March 24-26, 2011
Miami, Florida

Call for Proposals Deadline: August 31, 2010

Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), in partnership with AAC&U, announces the 2011 Network for Academic Renewal conference, Engaged STEM Learning: From Promising to Pervasive Practices. This interactive, hands-on conference will help campuses adapt, scale up, and sustain effective practices in STEM teaching and learning.

The conference is designed for participants who wish to develop faculty and institutional leadership in STEM reform, broaden student participation and success in STEM fields, better assess engaged STEM learning in both the majors and general education, and connect the revitalization of STEM learning with ongoing campus work in Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).

We invite proposals on five key themes:

  • Expanding the STEM Pipeline through Student Success
  • Creating Integrative and Interdisciplinary STEM Environments
  • Assessing STEM Learning
  • Enhancing STEM Learning through Technology
  • Scaling Up and Sustaining Pedagogies of Engagement

Learn more about this conference and the call for proposals online.

For more information, please call 202-387-3760 or write to

We look forward to reading your proposals.

Millennials, computer use and you

The New York Times ran a fascinating article yesterday about Your Brain on Computers. The article presents an unbiased view of the rampant technology use by both adults and children, in this era of data bombardment.  We are spending more time researching and talking to faculty about the Millennial generation, their traits and possible methods for engaging them in educational settings.  Below are some quotes from the article that struck a chord with my experiences at PSU.

One recurring theme in the article dealt with data bombardment and multitasking. 

“Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information. These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.”

This is a key theme we run into in many of our meetings with faculty.  ‘Students can’t sit still and focus for an hour in my course, they are always checking their cell phones or laptops’.  I understand the frustrations, but I’m also starting to understand more about how dopamine works, specifically around rewards and learning.  One of my favorite designers, Raph Koster, explains dopamine in the context of video games.  Good games are always built around reward structures, and when you learn how to overcome an obstacle and rewarded in the game, your brain typically releases a dopamine burst.  Essentially, Koster posits, you’re high on natural, biological drugs when you play a good game and, to a lesser extent, learn new things.  Could a class session be structured more like a game, encouraging learning but in the context of this reward structure to keep students interested and solicit this same biological effect?

Another portion of the article deals with multitasking. 

“While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.”

The article goes on to weigh both positives and negatives around multitasking, citing several different researchers.  What I would consider the negatives tended to outweigh the positives, with one example explaining that heavy multitaskers often tend to forgo valuable information that could be leveraged immediately, opting instead to continue searching and sifting through other data sources.  The article also goes on to cite researchers talking about neuroplasticity; that is, the ability for the brain to continue to adapt and change during our lives.  The old school of thought was that the brain stopped adapting after childhood.  The new hypothesis is that the bombardment of data via all our current data sources is actually beginning to change our neural networks of the brain. This could present yet another disconnect in the millennial classroom; the brains of faculty, compared to students, are physically different and wired differently.

My favorite quote of the article deals with the need to always be connected, always checking email, IMs, new sites and other data sources.

“Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain thinking,” said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. “But we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.”

This phenomenon I do witness with some of my students, and to me this is my tipping point.  I can understand the desire to check, with a high level of frequency, email and your favorite interactive websites.  But when that desire to check data sources turns into a ‘I can’t stop myself because I might be missing something’ philosophy…I struggle to find a positive angle to this.