The Power of “Disorienting Dilemmas”

Icon squareby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As regular readers of this blog know, the Reinert Center is spending the academic year focused on the theme of transformative learning. We’re offering a set of workshops and web-based resources that can help faculty and graduate students to create transformative learning experiences for their students.

However, we also recognize that teaching can be a transformative learning experience for instructors, as well. Often, this happens when we encounter a significant disruption in our expectations — a class discussion takes an unexpected and challenging turn, a student encounter in office hours reveals an unexamined bias, a discovery in our research unsettles our whole way of conceptualizing a unit in our course. Such disruptions often involve a shift in perspective; when this occurs, we rarely can go back to our old ways of proceeding.

One essential concept in transformative learning theory is that of the “disorienting dilemma.” Mezirow’s foundational work (2000) lays out 10 “phases” of transformative learning, which originate with some kind of “disorienting dilemma” — an experience that challenges one’s current beliefs/understanding and – importantly – requires a fundamental shift in perspective in order to resolve the dilemma.

For Mezirow, encountering a disorienting dilemma leads to transformation when that encounter is followed closely by other phases, including self-examination of the feelings associated with the encounter, critical assessment of assumptions, exploration of options, planning a course of action, building capacity to pursue that course of action, practice with new perspectives or roles, and, ultimately, an integration of the new perspective into one’s life (summarized from Roberts, 2006). Educators in Jesuit contexts will likely hear echoes of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm in these phases.

As we head into the winter break, we invite you to use the lens of transformative learning to reflect back on your semester. Devoting some quiet reflection time to the following questions may help you move from “disorienting dilemma” to “transformative learning”:

Were there any “disorienting dilemmas” in your teaching this semester? A disruptive moment in class or in conversation with a student that brought you to up to the edge of your own comfort?

What happened in this situation? What are the textures and details of this story?

How did you feel in the moment? How do you feel now, looking back on the experience?

What assumptions did you have leading up to that experience? In what ways were those disrupted?

What are some alternative ways you could have responded in the moment, or afterward?

What kinds of knowledge or skills would you need to respond differently next time? When and how might you cultivate those knowledge and skills?

Finally, what do you know or understand today that you didn’t then? How will this new knowledge change your teaching going forward?

As you look ahead to next term, let us know if we can help you take action based on these reflections.

 

Relevant Resources

Cranton, P. (2006). Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning. (2nd edition)

Mezirow, J., & Associates. (1990). Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood: A Guide to Transformative and Emancipatory Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997 (74): 5–12.

Mezirow, J., & Associates. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Roberts, N. (2006). Disorienting dilemmas: Their effects on learners, impact on performance, and implications for adult educators. In M. S. Plakhotnik & S. M. Nielsen (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fifth Annual College of Education Research Conference: Urban and International Education Section (pp. 100-105). Miami: Florida International University. Retrieved 12/4/17: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.125.6315&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

Book Review: Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

What is feminist pedagogy and how can it advance our commitment to social and gender justice? Feminist Pedagogy in Higher Education (Light et al., 2015) invites scholars from a variety of disciplines to explore this question from both theoretical and practical perspectives. The editors of the volume synthesize the collection of fifteen essays as follows:

“Building on critical advances in feminist theory, feminist scholars have developed innovative ways of teaching and learning that place issues of social inequality and difference at the center of the curriculum. . . . Feminist pedagogy typically critiques traditional received wisdom, recognizes the existing knowledge of students, challenges the hierarchy of ways of knowing (e.g., book versus experiential learning), renegotiates and re-forms the relationship between teacher and student, and respects and values the diversity of the personal experiences of all students while relating the learning in academic classrooms to the real world” (p. 4).

Each author reflects on both the successes and challenges of employing feminist pedagogy in their teaching. What emerges from these reflections are conceptually rich accounts that offer practical classroom tools to incorporate into any course, including assignments, teaching strategies, and assessment and evaluation techniques to support the goals of feminist pedagogy listed above. They also represent different critical approaches for writing about the process of teaching – a technique that may be useful for anyone working to develop a philosophy of teaching statement or various teaching narratives for job materials, tenure and promotion documents, grant or fellowship applications, and so on.

If you only have time to read one essay, I recommend prioritizing “Classroom to Community: Reflections on Experiential Learning and Socially Just Citizenship” by Carm De Santis and Toni Serafini. The authors teach at a small, liberal arts, Catholic, undergraduate university in Canada and many of their examples align with our institutional teaching commitments to social justice and community engagement. Their reflections also provide a useful situation in which to consider the intersection of feminist pedagogy and the values of the Jesuit educational tradition (Boryczka et al., 2012).

Please reach out to the Reinert Center if you would like to discuss your reading of the essays in this book or to learn more about any of the teaching-related topics mentioned in this review.

 

References

Boryczka, J. M., Petrino, E. A., von Arx, J.P., & Currie, C. L. (Eds.), Jesuit and feminist education: Intersections in teaching and learning for the twenty-first century. New York: Fordham University Press.

De Santis, C., & Serafini, T. (2015). Classroom to community: Reflections on experiential learning and socially just citizenship. In T. P. Light, J. Nicholas, & R. Bondy (Eds.), Feminist pedagogy in higher education: Critical theory and practice (pp. 87-112). Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Light, T. P., Nicholas, J., & Bondy, R. (Eds.) (2015). Feminist pedagogy in higher education: Critical theory and practice. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Thompson, L. (1992). Feminist methodology for family studies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 54, 3-18.

Designing Courses to Account for Digital Readiness

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

In the past, much attention was paid to a “digital divide” between learners who had and used digital devices versus people who did not.  While the ownership of digital devices continues to grow exponentially, research in how digital technologies impact learning is needed.  Recently, a number of studies have been published that examined students’ experiences, perceptions and comfortability with using technology for educational purposes.

One recent study published in Studies in Higher Education, surveyed undergraduate students to identify what forms of digital technologies they found to be “particularly helpful” and/or “useful” during their university studies. (Henderson et al., 2017, p. 1570)

Results from the survey indicate that students value digital technologies related to “organizing and managing the logistics of studying.” These technologies are typically learning management systems and other online services that serve as a one-stop repository of resources and information for students. While the use of such technologies may not be the most expansive, expressive, empowering, enlightening or even exciting ways that digital technologies could be used (Henderson et al., 2017, p. 1578), students expressed these tools as “priceless” in providing structure and guidelines, and in staying informed.  (Henderson et al., 2017, p. 1572)

While the value of using online learning management systems and other organizing technologies may not come as a surprise for some undergraduate educators, it is important to consider students’ preparedness to access and utilize digital tools for teaching and learning. In 2015, the Pew Research Center released survey results to examine digital readiness; a term to help describe “the attitudes and behaviors that underpin people’s preparedness and comfort in using digital tools for online learning.” (Horrigan, 2016a)

While past research has shown how race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and level of access to broadband connectivity impacted access to learning (Horrigan, 2016b), the current study strived to assess American adults’ relationship with technology use based on five main factors.  These factors include: a person’s confidence in using computers, ability to get new technology to work, their ability to use digital tools for learning, their ability to determine the trustworthiness of online information, and their familiarity with contemporary “education tech” terms. (Horrigan, 2016a)

Results from the survey show that 52% of the participants exhibit some form of hesitation when it comes to utilizing digital tools for learning.  While the first three clusters; The Unprepared, Traditional Learners, and The Reluctant, reported generally lower levels of digital skill and involvement with using technology for personal learning activities.  31% of those surveyed who report high levels of confidence using technology still need to become familiar with using online tools for learning.

While providing online tools for learning is becoming an essential element for education, it is important to be aware that not every student will share the same ability to utilize learning technologies. As you prepare to start another semester of teaching, consider how students may be utilizing technology offered in your course and make accommodations to ensure “best use.”  Think pedagogically about how technology impacts the learning experience. Have students complete a tech-assessment survey at the start of the class to gauge students’ familiarity, comfort, and experience using learning technologies.  Take time to walk through the course hosted on your learning management system and show students how to use the site.  Consider a video recording that offers an overview of how to use your course site or offer a “tech check-in” outside of class to help students learn about technology.

If you would like to discuss ways to design a course that considers students’ digital readiness and comfort with technology, please feel free to contact the Reinert Center.  We are here to help.

 

Resources

Henderson, M., Selwyn, N., & Aston, R. (2017). What works and why? Student perceptions of “useful” digital technology in university teaching and learning. Studies in Higher Education42(8), 1567-1579.

Horrigan, J. B. (2016a). Digital Readiness Gaps. Pew Research Center.

Horrigan, J. B. (2016b). Lifelong learning and technology. Pew Research Center, available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/03/22/lifelong-learning-and-technology.

Reflection on Community-Based Learning: A Praxis Workshop Follow Up

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Yang Li, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Community-Based Learning has become an effective teaching tool for exposing students to reality-based ways to implement their acquired theories or knowledge. During last week’s Praxis Workshop, Leah Sweetman and James Fortney introduced participants to community-based learning associated with different subjects. Participants were introduced to two models of community-based learning: the project-based model and the discipline-based model, and they learned about the potential benefits of each model from community, university, faculty, and students’ perspectives. Participants reflected on their own learning and teaching experience and designed their own community-based learning activities.

What is community-based learning?

Sweetman defined community-based learning as “a teaching strategy that bridges academic theory and real-world practice. Community-based learning promotes students’ academic learning and civic development while simultaneously addressing real world problems and community needs.” Community-based learning includes two common models at Saint Louis University: The project-based model, in which “students will draw from their knowledge to make recommendations to the community or develop a solution to a problem,” and the discipline-based model, in which “students have an ongoing presence in the community and reflect on their experiences on a regular basis using the course content as the framework for their analysis.”

What are the benefits of community-based learning activities?

There are four potential benefits for the students, faculty, university and community. As a graduate student from education, I have participated in both the project-based and discipline-based activities throughout my master’s and doctoral program. Through the community-based learning activities, I better understood demographic information about the American educational system and particularly urban education in St. Louis. Interviewing and consulting with principals and teachers enabled me to enhance my understanding about administrative theories that I read from my textbooks or journal articles. I gradually understood being an administrator or principal is not only about the decent title or respect from parents and students but the responsibility and unexpected challenges in daily life. Working with teachers and students is also very helpful for me to understand the challenges about budget, resources and professional development. The whole experience made me understand the reality in educational settings.

From a faculty or teacher’s perspective, I found the classroom prepared students with a great foundation and knowledge about their professional field. However, students also should be provided opportunities to implement their skills into practice. Community-based learning enables students to find the deep meaning of the theory by application. Sometimes, community-based learning enable students to find the connections through different courses. Sometimes, instructors can find the same community-based learning activities can be offered through different courses to continuously enhance students’ learning outcomes by providing a chance to implement what they have learned.

Community-based learning also benefits the mutual relationships between university and community. It helps the university to increase students’ retention through the civic mission of social justice. It enables communities to use scholarly decision making to solve problems and provide rich learning materials for future civic leaders.

Two common misunderstandings about community-based learning:

  1. Often, communities or students themselves expect students who participate into community-based learning activities to be experts. However, it would not be true that students will know everything about their professional fields. Sometimes, students are learning through the practice and within the community-based learning.
  2. Sometimes, students are invested in the community service and forget to emphasize their critical thinking towards social justice issues. Students’ reflection should not only focus on the service experiences but also the teaching goals of finding solutions to the social justice issues.

After the workshop, community-based learning course design seems approachable and possible for me to implement in my future teaching. In order to make it effective for my future students, I will consult with Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning about my course design ideas and then work with Center for Service and Community Engagement to reach out to the appropriate community services which will benefit my students’ learning.

Undergraduate Participation in Research: A High Impact Practice

Icon squareby Mitch Lorenz, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

This week, a resource guide related to undergraduate involvement in research is being added to our collection of pedagogical materials on our website [link]. This brief overview includes links to articles detailing how undergraduate students benefit from participation in undergraduate research and ways to improve student involvement in research within your department. As a responsible researcher, I decided to support evidence-based claims with anecdotal evidence by sharing my experiences with undergraduate research.

As an undergraduate, I completed an independent research project and subsequently presented it at a regional conference. “Talking shop” with faculty, graduate students, and fellow undergraduates during the conference exposed me to the field of psychology in ways that are not possible in the classroom. This experience led to my pursuit of graduate study and, having transitioned to the role of instructor, I recognize the potential impact of undergraduate involvement in research.

As a graduate student, I have had the privilege of mentoring undergraduate researchers and observing the way they are able to apply their research experience after graduation. As pointed out by David Lopatto (2010), the benefits for student researchers are applicable in both graduate study and the workforce. These benefits can be enhanced when students’ interests are considered as they participate in research, providing more targeted experience and knowledge for eventual pursuit of employment or additional qualifications for graduate study. Many opportunities for undergraduate research are built into the curriculum but, as a teacher, you can look for ways to maximize the effectiveness of these opportunities for your students’ development.

Undergraduate involvement in research is only one of the high-impact practices outlined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities to provide more standardized, evidenced-based methods through which schools may engage students in active learning. If undergraduate research is not good fit in your department or discipline, you may look for other opportunities to engage students in high-impact practices. Other high impact practices include community-based learning, collaborative projects, writing-intensive courses, and common intellectual experiences (Kuh, 2008). Please refer to the resource guide to access more information about undergraduate research and high-impact practices.

 

References

Kuh, G.(2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and

why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities

 

Lopatto, D. (2010). Undergraduate research as a high-impact student experience. Peer

Review12(2), 27-30.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Symposium and James H. Korn Award

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214November 2, 2017, 3:00-4:30

Pere Marquette Gallery

We invite all faculty and graduate students to attend the third annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) Symposium. The goal of the symposium is to showcase the SoTL work being conducted by Saint Louis University faculty and graduate students, and to promote a community of SoTL practitioners.

Poster presentations by SLU faculty and graduate students will take place from 3:00-3:30 followed by the ceremony and reception for the James H. Korn Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award winner, Dr. Simone Bregni (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures), from 3:30-4:30.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves researching questions about teaching activities and student learning by formally studying the teaching and learning activities of one’s course; answering those questions by assessing student learning and effectiveness of teaching strategies; and publicly sharing results of this inquiry in a setting that invites peer review, such as a publication or conference presentation.

To register to attend, please click here [LINK].

Resources to Support LGBTQ Inclusive Curriculum and Classroom Climate

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University hosted a discussion in October 2013 with faculty and teaching fellows on creating LGBTQ inclusive classroom experiences. As a result of that discussion, the center maintains a website with regularly updated information and resources to support course-, department-, and institution-level efforts towards LGBTQ inclusion at Fordham. You can explore some of their online resources here [LINK] and also download a PDF discussion summary here [LINK]. The discipline specific resources will be particularly useful for faculty teaching courses in STEM, pre-health, business, law, and the humanities.

If you would like to schedule a teaching consultation with someone in the Reinert Center to discuss creating LGBTQ inclusive classroom experiences for your courses, please complete our consultation request form here [LINK].

New Resource Guide

Icon squareA new resource guide on assessing affective learning has been posted to the Reinert Center website [LINK].

If you want to talk with someone about assessing affective learning in your own classes, you may request a teaching consultation by completing this form (LINK).

If you have ideas for resource guide topics you would like to see posted, share them here (LINK).

Autonomy, Structure, and Support

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Self-determination theory (or SDT) is a theory of motivation that articulates the inherent (or intrinsic) factors needed in order for person to exhibit self-motivating and self-determined behaviors.  SDT founders, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan propose there are three intrinsic “nutriments” or behaviors that are not only important for learning, but are essential to psychological health and well-being.  They are the need for autonomy, competence, and psychological relatedness.  Their research has influenced a large body of work on motivation and determination ranging from tips on effective parenting, job satisfaction, and health. (Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 76)

While all three nutriments are important considerations in education, developing structures to support autonomous motivation can have a transformative impact on students. Autonomous motivation can be defined as an orientation where ones’ interest and self-endorsed values serve as an “index” to assist with self-learning and engagement. (Reeve, Deci, Ryan, 2004, p. 21)  Unlike controlled motivation which creates tension and disengagement, autonomous motivation creates opportunities for learning behaviors that support creativity, develop problem solving skills and foster positive emotions about learning.  As a result, autonomous learning is often associated with better physical and psychological health. (Deci & Ryan, 2008)

However, developing mechanisms to support autonomous motivations for learning can be a challenge for most college instructors.  Research suggests that creating an educational environment that includes both support and structure is one of the surest ways to encourage autonomous motivation and also improve student engagement towards learning. (Jan, Reeve, & Deci, 2010)

Consider the kind of structure and support you are currently offering in your teaching.  Do you offer too much structure and not enough space for reflection and autonomy?  Or, do you offer too little structure and invite ambiguity and chaos into your classroom?

One way to reflect on your role as an instructor is to consider how you are representing the course through your teaching style?  What roles am I playing during central elements of the course – facilitator, instructor, lecturer?  Also, consider how you are providing effective communications, goal setting and feedback for your students.

Finally, consider what teaching opportunities can you can create that offer students a place to make meaning out of the course?   Jang, Reeve and Deci (2010) offer a few great suggestions:

“We suggest that teachers might want to initiate learning activities by involving students’ inner motivational resources, communicating in noncontrolling and informational ways and acknowledging students’ perspectives and negative feelings when motivational and behavioral problems arise…. Teachers might want to initiate learning activities by offering clear and detail expectations and instructions, offering helpful guidance and scaffolding as students try to profit from the lesson, and providing feedback to enhance perceptions of competence and perceived personal control during a reflective post performance period.”

If you would like to investigate how to best incorporate structure and support to encourage student autonomy, schedule a teaching consultation with someone at the Reinert Center.

References

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne49(1), 14.

Jang, H., Reeve, J., & Deci, E. L. (2010). Engaging students in learning activities: It is not autonomy
support or structure but autonomy support and structure. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 588-600.

Reeve, J., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Self-determination theory: A dialectical framework for
understanding socio-cultural influences on student motivation. Big theories revisited4, 31-60.

Roth, G., Assor, A., Kanat-Maymon, Y., & Kaplan, H. (2007). Autonomous motivation for teaching: How
self-determined teaching may lead to self-determined learning. Journal of Educational Psychology99(4), 761.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation,
social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

 

Affective Learning

Icon squareby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

When defining transformative learning, Jack Mezirow (1997) argues it is “an active process involving [the] thought, feelings, and disposition” of the learner (p. 10). By drawing attention to the more affective dimensions of teaching and learning, he gives authority to many of the things we hope our students will both experience and remember from our courses. We value caring about the history of art, for example, or feeling something in response to successfully solving a mathematical problem, or even committing to the pursuit of truth and the service of humanity. Whether or not they are explicitly stated in our syllabus, we have affective learning goals for our students both during and beyond the context of our teaching them. Mezirow (1997) suggests “we must assume responsibility for setting objectives that explicitly include [these goals] and recognize that this requires experiences designed to foster critical reflectivity and participation in dialogue” (p. 10). In order to do so, we must first define affective learning and consider its role in our respective disciplines and fields as well as in the lives of our students.

A 2015 forum in Communication Education invited scholars to reflect on affective learning, eliciting a range of perspectives designed to move from monologue to dialogue on the topic. Instructional communication scholars Katherine Thweatt and Jason Wrench offered the following summative definition from that dialogue: “Affective learning refers to an individual’s positive disposition toward a particular subject matter, which changes an individual’s operational framework and value system thus guiding decision making and behavioral choices in all aspects of life” (Thweatt & Wrench, 2015, p. 498). And consistent across forum contributors was the belief that affective learning is a transformative experience – meaning, it allows for “dynamic relationships between teachers, students, and a shared body of knowledge in a way that promotes student learning and personal growth” (Slavich & Zimbardo, 2012, p. 576).

As a continuation of that dialogue, I invite you to reflect on your definition of affective learning and consider how it shapes your teaching. Can you imagine developing affective learning outcomes for your course? What would they be? Why are they important for student learning? How will you talk about them with students? If you include affective learning outcomes on your syllabus, how will you assess that students have achieved them? What type of learning activities and assignments will support affective learning in your course?

Use the space below to share and discuss your responses to these questions – or pose even more questions for us to consider. You can also schedule a teaching consultation with someone in the Reinert Center to discuss developing and supporting affective learning outcomes for your course. In the spirit of Mezirow, these practices help set our “line of action” towards transformation.

References

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. In P. Cranton (Ed.), Transformative learning in action: Insights from practice, new directions for adult and continuing education (pp. 5-12). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P.G. (2012). Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 569-608.

Thweatt, K. S., & Wrench, J.S. (2015). Affective learning: Evolving from values and planned behaviors to internalization and pervasive behavioral change. Communication Education, 64, 497-499.