Monthly Archives: March 2011

TLT Symposium 2011: Clay Shirky

Last Saturday several of of us attended the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Symposium.  In addition to featuring many presentations by Penn State faculty and staff doing phenomenal things with technology, the Symposium invited Clay Shirky to provide the keynote.  Shirky is a professor, writer and consultant focusing on the social and economic effects of the Internet and social technologies.

The TLT staff will likely have a complete video of the presentation available soon, so I won’t go into a summary of this presentation.  Rather, I’d like to focus on his message that we in education need to start generating a lot of really small ideas about how we can do things differently (and better), and rapidly test these ideas.  Shirky provided two examples of individuals that had a rather small idea at the time, but how these ideas grew into massive, game-changing ideas.

The first example was Wikipedia.  Shirky shared a quote from a founder of Wikipedia that stated something to the effect of ‘Humor me.  Take 5 minutes and go create a page about something that interests you in the wiki’.  Here we are a decade later, and Wikipedia has become one of the first places many of us turn to learn about a new topic.

The second example the open source operating system, Linux.  When the creator set out to begin this project, a simple post to a forum stated modest goals. ‘I’d like to try and build and open source operating system as a hobby, and integrate all the ideas that people have posted on this forum to make it a very stable, reliable OS.’ Again, a very modest, small idea that turned into an operating system that is the foundation for Fortune 500 companies around the world. 

Towards the end of his talk, he said “Take your best people, and lock them out of the building for a month.  Don’t let them back in until they have 100 small ideas, or 10 medium ideas.”  Shirky then went on to stress the need in education for all of us to start generating, and quickly testing, small ideas that might make a big impact in the future.  How we do this is tricky, considering higher education in general is very reluctant when it comes to change. But the idea struck a chord with me, and is something that, at the individual level, we can all aspire to do here at Penn State. 

Schreyer Institute grantees well represented at TLT Symposium

Schreyer Institute Teaching Support Grant recipients were well represented at the TLT Symposium–both as attendees and presenters.  It might be a good idea for us to encourage future and past recipients to consider submitting a proposal next year.  Not only is this an opportunity for them to shine, it helps us get the word out about our support and services. 

Many presenters and attendees also mentioned using our materials or availing themselves of our services. 

Rules-based vs. Principles-based: an idea from the 2011 TLT Symposium

Clay Shirkey, the keynote speaker at the TLT Symposium, used an accounting example in one of his answers to a question from the audience.  He noted that in rules-based accounting it is easy to get around some rules without technically breaking them, but it is more difficult to get away with something in principles-based accounting.  I may not be paraphrasing this well, but his example got me thinking about rules vs. principles relative to instructional development practices and student learning outcomes.

Instructional consultants and faculty developers are sometimes asked to provide what amounts to ‘rules’ that faculty might follow to become better instructors or improve students’ learning.  Instead, we fall back on principles of good practice that can be adapted and flexed for different faculty, courses, disciplines, and contexts.

The rules vs. principles issue also rang true for student learning outcomes assessment.  All too often we hear about outcomes assessment processes that are highly formulaic or that seem to expect all faculty to use a single model.  I see student learning outcomes more as principles than rules.  There are some good frameworks that can be adapted to a variety of curricula and disciplines, but it is not really reasonable to expect all academic programs to approach learning outcomes assessment in the same way. 

This even works at the scale of the syllabus.  If a course has explicit learning outcomes it is a more flexible document than a syllabus focused primarily on the content of a course.  Courses with explicit learning outcomes can increase clarity for students, but maintain faculty autonomy and foster creativity.  If students manage to achieve the learning objectives, it becomes less important that every instructor and every student move in lock-step along a predetermined course pathway.

Teaching in Online and Blended Environments

A few of us are working with Larry Regan, Director of Faculty Development at the World Campus, on a few of his Online Learning (or “OL”) series of courses aimed to get faculty prepared to teach online. Larry has conceptualized an entire curriculum for faculty, with courses on nearly every aspect of online teaching and learning.  We’re looking forward to working closely with Larry, to hopefully help the Institute better serve online instructors and continue to collaborate to make a Penn State Education, whether online or face-to-face, a great educational experience for all Penn State students.

During a discussion yesterday, Larry shared a couple resources that are worth posting.

  • Excellence in Teaching – this is a social site, with nearly 400 members, all interested and interacting around faculty development as it pertains to online learning.  Many members are from Penn State, but the site also has members from around the country (and world).
  • YouTube Channel on Faculty Development – This site contains hundreds of videos, many comprised of interviews Larry conducted with both PSU and external faculty, around teaching online.

If you plan on teaching online, take some time to explore both of these websites.  A great deal of quality information that will help you create a positive experience for your students.

Congratulations to a Couple Hardworking Graduate Assistants!

We are extremely proud to announce that two of our Graduate Assistants, Beate Brunow and Jimmy Xie, have recently accepted job offers!

beate.jpgBeate will be joining Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina as an Assistant Professor of German.  Her teaching duties will include courses in German and in the Humanities.  Working in the Schreyer Institute complimented Beate’s experience teaching in German and Women’s Studies here at PSU and strengthened her experience around teaching and learning.

“My assistantship as a graduate instructional consultant at the Schreyer Institute proved invaluable to being a competitive candidate on the job market. Besides adding teaching experience and workshop presentations to my CV, my work at SITE also provided insights into the terminology and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Being part of the consultant training, consulting independently with instructors, and becoming a certified trainer for student centered discussion are just a few of the many opportunities I had at the Schreyer Institute.”

jimmy.jpgHui “Jimmy” Xie will be leaving the Institute to join California State University at Northridge as an Assistant Professor.  Jimmy predominantely spent time working with me on Institutional Research projects, but also assisted with activities around the scholarship of teaching and learning.

“The discussions and assistantship work with the Schreyer Institute enriched my knowledge about teaching and learning. I’ve also become more familiar with undergraduate education, advising, and administration through interacting with university offices and committees. I believe these make me better prepared for the job market and my new position at California State.”

Everyone from the Institute wishes you both the best of luck as you start your careers at Wofford and California State, Northridge. 

If you (or graduate students you know) are interested in a GA appointment for Fall 2011, please keep an eye on our homepage for details.  We plan to post opportunities in the coming weeks.

Learning Math


Introducing Carnegie’s Work in Developmental Mathematics

April 1, 2011
1 p.m. Eastern


Statway and Quantway: Mathematics Pathways to Student Success in Community Colleges

Please join us for a one hour discussion online with:

Uri Treisman (Introducing the problem via video)
Carnegie Senior Partner
Executive Director, Charles A. Dana Center at UT-Austin

Karon Klipple and Jane Muhich
Statway/Quantway Directors
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Julie Phelps
Pathways Networking Liaison
American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges
Professor, Valencia Community College

Carnegie and its partners are addressing the low success rate of developmental mathematics students by providing alternatives to the current community college mathematical sequence and content. The Statistics Pathway (Statway) is designed to take developmental math students to and through transferable college statistics in one year. Quantway provides an alternate and accelerated pathway with an innovative quantitative literacy focus in which students use mathematics and numerical reasoning to make sense of the world around them.

During the broadcast, the presenters will:

  • Discuss how the Carnegie Foundation in partnership with the Charles A. Dana Center and 27 community colleges around the country are on the leading edge of a movement to disrupt the system that has been an impediment for our developmental mathematics students for decades.
  • Describe the new pathways for non-STEM students that focus on the quantitative literacy and statistical reasoning skills needed in today’s society and for college success.
  • Outline Carnegie’s approach to building a networked improvement community centered around increasing student success in developmental mathematics