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Category: Quotes and Inspiration

Brief quotations, inspiring excerpts, and ideas drawn from what we’re currently reading and watching

Helping students get more out of studying

Consider this a companion post to a message sent out just this morning my colleague Peg. Peg brought to our attention a blog post by Maryellen Weimer on the topic of helping students study effectively for final exams. There’s some great student-focused advice in that post. Reading it jogged my memory and prompted me to track down a series of YouTube videos by Professor Stephen Chew of Samford University (Alabama) that I first encountered several years ago. Chew is a psychologist who studies how people learn, and in his videos he uses some core principles of educational psychology and cognitive science to help students understand how to study and learn more effectively.

What are some of those principles?

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A few things I learned at the retreat

In her recent post about EvCC’s Annual Teaching and Learning Retreat, Peg suggested we might consider it an “advance” rather than a retreat. I like that idea. Instead of withdrawing from the world, we seek to engage with and advance into it. It might not stick as part of the event’s name in the future (I’m not sure what I think of “16th Annual Teaching and Learning Advance”) but I can definitely get behind the principle.

Rosario Beach before sunset, with rocks in the foreground and a tree-covered bluff in the distance
Who wouldn’t want to retreat to this place?

Since this was my first year attending the retreat advance, I didn’t really know what to expect. Would it be one of those events that “strike intense malaise into the hearts of people across higher education”? (Credit to Peg for sharing that as well. Some cautionary tales for anyone involved in planning!) Or would it instead be an opportunity to learn about what my EvCC colleagues are doing, thinking about, and inspired by — and to draw inspiration from them in turn?

I’m happy to say the our retreat clearly belongs in the latter category. No malaise here! I enjoyed myself and learned a great deal. A week later I’m still thinking about a number of the sessions. I could go on about them at great length, but if I had to pick just three personal highlights from the weekend I’d choose these:

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Retreat = Advance?

This year marks the 15th annual Teaching and Learning Retreat. Everett Community College has supported this amazing weekend at the beautiful Rosario Beach Marine Science Center at Deception Pass for faculty and staff to come together for a weekend of conversation and community. This structured time is an institutional priority, important to faculty and staff who are overwhelmed with information and by lack of time. The weekend gives us the chance to come together to reflect on the past, do some in the moment reflection, and look to the future.

1: an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable 
2: a place of privacy or safety

Our mission statement says that the annual retreat provides opportunities to share big ideas and best practices by creating meaningful interactions among the campus community. If we look at the first definition of the word retreat (from, it suggests that a retreat is a “withdrawal, especially from what is difficult…” Many of you will agree that the work we do, supporting students on their journey to a successful and meaningful life, is indeed difficult. So let’s look at the second definition of retreat: “a place of privacy or safety.” The Teaching and Learning Retreat is a time and place where ideas, both new and old, can be discussed without fear of push back, a time and place to explore new ways to support our students as well as ourselves, a time and place for powerful experiences, all in a safe environment. In The Slow Professor, the authors Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber write that “when we are rushed, we’re simply not the people we’re capable of being.” The retreat is a time and place for being our best selves. Maybe instead of retreat, we should call it an “advance.”

1. to move or bring forward
2. to bring into consideration or notice; suggest; propose
3. to improve; further

The retreat offers time and space to improve our relationships with our colleagues, to propose new ideas, and to move forward with ideas that we’ve been thinking about but have not had the time to discuss with anyone in a meaningful way. Want to know more about the retreat, and why these colleagues are smiling?

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What can massive online courses teach us about peer-to-peer learning?

If you have 10 minutes to spare and feel like stretching your mind a bit by thinking about possible connections between studio learning practices, peer-to-peer instruction, and online education, this short presentation by Scott Klemmer might be just what you’re looking for.

Klemmer teaches at UC San Diego and has, in recent years, been conducting fascinating research on methods for bringing peer learning into online course environments. Many of his projects in this area have focused on massive open online courses (the so-called MOOCs you’ve no doubt heard about or perhaps even participated in). As a result, one of his interests is in “scaling” peer learning opportunities to tens of thousands of students, as he discusses here. But I think many of the concepts he’s developing have interesting implications for small-scale online and hybrid courses as well.

My personal highlights from this short talk are:

  • The idea that “studio learning”–the collection of collaborative and frequently critique-based methods that are common in disciplines like the visual arts–can be productively integrated into online courses in many other disciplines
  • The emphasis on self-assessment as a crucial skill that courses can be designed to help students master
  • The idea of peer feedback “fortune cookies”: a simple method for providing structure and guidance for students first learning to perform effective peer evaluations

Which ideas stand out for you? How might you consider applying them in your teaching, whether online or in person?

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On failure and learning

Reacquainting myself recently with Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, I came across this quote:

We need to remove the word failure from our vocabulary, replacing it instead with learning experience. To fail is to learn. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. With success, sure, we are pleased, but we often have no idea why we succeeded. With failure, it is often possible to figure out why, to ensure that it will never happen again.

Revised edition (2013), p. 64

As we embark on a new quarter, hopefully trying new things as we do, it’s worth keeping in mind that we often learn more from our failures than our successes. As Norman goes on to say, It is possible to avoid failure, to always be safe. But that is also the route to a dull, uninteresting life.

What new things are trying this quarter that have the potential to fail in interesting and productive ways?

[Edited 1/4/17: added link]

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