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Category: Quotes and Inspiration

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

In 2019, Try a Teaching ‘First’

 

Colorful graphic with the words "Happy New Year 2019"

After an extended hiatus during the second half of 2018, it’s time to dust off the ol’ CTT blog and start posting again: a new year, a new beginning, etcetera. But rather than exhort anyone who may still be reading the blog (you’re still out there, right?) to strap on your willpower and set yourself some tough resolutions for 2019, I’ll get things rolling this year with a gentler suggestion: deciding to try a teaching ‘first’ some time this year.

What’s a teaching ‘first,’ you ask? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: adding to your teaching practices, just once, something that’s new to you. Unlike a resolution, which usually comes with weighty expectations of long-term persistence and forming new permanent habits, a teaching ‘first’ involves committing to nothing more than trying something new. Whatever it is, you don’t have to stick with it. Just try it, see how it goes, and then move on if you want.

I should note that I’m shamelessly borrowing this idea from a Washington Post column by Erik Orton: “New Year’s resolutions are hard to stick to. So try out New Year’s ‘firsts'”. Here’s how Orton describes it:

Just one thing, one time. Once we’ve done it, we’ve met our goal. It’s a win.

Anyone could do this. You could say, “Hey, we’ve never ordered that kind of pizza before. Let’s try it.” Call in the order. Boom. You’re done. Success. You could say, “I’ve never done a triple feature at the movies before.” Get down to the multiplex, buy tickets for three back-to-back movies and settle in. Success. Or, if you’re a little more ambitious, you could say, “I’ve always wanted to watch the sunrise.” Check online to see what time the sun comes up, get out of bed 10 minutes before that, walk outside, and face east. Stand there for 10 minutes. Success.

As Orton makes clear, the real beauty of the ‘first’ is that it can be extremely simple. Sure, you can set yourself the goal of trying something big and ambitious. You might think, for example, “I really admire how my colleague Edna hosts virtual office hours in her classes. I’m going to do that every week in all of my online classes this quarter!” But you don’t have to set goals on so large a scale (and for practical reasons, you really may not want to). You could instead say, “When classes start next week, I’m going to try at least one new technique for learning my students’ names on the first day.” Maybe you want to try using a mid-quarter feedback survey for the first time to better understand how your students perceive their progress in the course. Or maybe you want to introduce a quick active learning technique into one of your lectures, just once, to see how it goes.

If you think you’re ready to set a teaching ‘first’ for yourself in 2019, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Pick a ‘first’ that you care about. It’s easy to pick something that is, well, easy. But to make it worth the effort, it’s usually best if it’s something you find meaningful, that holds genuine interest for you, and that you’ll be able to learn from.
  • Choose a ‘first’ that makes sense for your class or teaching context. The goal of the ‘first’ is to grow and expand as a teacher, so choose one that has the potential to be constructive in your specific teaching circumstances. You know best what ‘firsts’ make the most sense for you, your students, and the course.
  • Select a ‘first’ that involves a reasonable amount of effort. It’s good to be ambitious and to develop new skills in the process of completing your goal, but choosing a ‘first’ that involves too great an effort can be counterproductive. Know what you’re comfortable with and work within that scope.
  • Reflect on what you’ve learned. This is the most important tip of all. After you’ve successfully completed your ‘first,” take some time to reflect on the experience. Even if you vow never to do it again, did your ‘first’ help you learn anything that you can be helpful to you as a teacher?

Are you up for the challenge of a teaching ‘first’ this year? Let us know in the comments what you’re hoping to do for the first time in your teaching during 2019!

Happy New Year 2019 image licensed under Creative Commons, CC-BY 4.0.

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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.

RETREAT
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 https://www.merriam-webster.com/), 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.”

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?

https://www.everettcc.edu/programs/arts/ctt/retreat/

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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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