Is Your Flip Flopping?

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Sandy Gambill, Sr. Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Have you put in countless hours recording lectures for a flipped classroom, only to find the model isn’t working as well as you had hoped? Perhaps the students don’t seem engaged during classtime or are complaining about the amount of work expected outside of class.

Technology is only one factor in making a flipped model work. If you are interested in more student engagement and retention of content in the flipped model, you might want to check out Julie Schell’s blog, Turn to Your Neighbor.

Schell, who is part of Eric Mazur’s group on innovative pedagogy at Harvard, has just started a three-part series on “Why Flipped Classrooms Fail.” Her blog is a wonderful resource if you’re interested in exploring emerging trends in cognitive science and how to apply them to technology-rich courses.

If you want to talk more about how it’s going in your own flipped course, or if you want to share your own successful strategies, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Divergent Thinking as a Path to Creative Problem-Solving

critical-creating thinking banner 2015by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

Much of the learning students are called to do in academic courses, especially at the introductory level, focuses on convergent thinking—thinking that aims to identify one right answer. At its best, this process requires students to learn how to use logic, analyze choices, and make decisions; in essence, convergent thinking is critical thinking. While one could argue, and I often do, that convergent thinking requires a measure of creativity on the part of students, it can also be said that, on its own, convergent thinking runs the risk of moving students away from creativity into rigidity.

Partnered with convergent thinking, divergent thinking obliges students to use imagination, generate possibilities, and create solutions. At its best, it causes students to experience fluidity among answers and ways to synthesize multiple perspectives to reach a common goal. Lauded by artists, mathematicians, and executives, a pedagogy of divergent thinking is often used when looking for new ways to approach challenges.  When one examines the eight types of fluency characteristics associated with divergent thinking, as classified by Guilford in her germinal text on the subject, it is clear why this style of creative reasoning is appealing in so many different disciplines. These characteristics are as follows:

1. Ideational fluency—the ability to generate many new and different ideas in a situation relatively free of preconceived expectations and restrictions

2. Associational fluency—the ability to produce words and phrases in a new context with individual meaning by transferring vocabulary and concepts from other areas of literacy

3. Expressional fluency—the ability to disassociate from one’s perceived organizational patterns to envision another form of investigation and expression

4. Spontaneous flexibility—the ability to produce a variety of possible ideas, strategies, visual figures, calculations, etc., in the moment freely or in response to a prompt

5. Adaptive flexibility—the ability to reconstruct a problem or situation allowing for and encouraging in-depth investigation, dissection, and understanding

6. Elaboration—the ability to supply unlimited details to complete and/or expand a given outline or initial skeletal form

7. Originality—the ability to produce uncommon, remotely associated, and/or clever responses

8. Sensitivity to problems—the ability to recognize that a problem exists from multiple perspectives and needs attention integrating resources and interconnecting participants (Guilford, qtd. in Gallavan and Kottler, 166).

When designing a divergent thinking project, assignment, or exam, it can be helpful to use the list of fluencies above as a way of categorizing the objectives one has for students. Of course, these characteristics can work both as individual characteristics, as pairings or as a set, depending on the project at hand.

Creative problem-solving that uses divergent thinking strategies can be included in many different disciplines as an approach to active learning. For instance, asking students to find the commonalities between two or three different theoretical approaches, setting up brainstorming activities, assigning students to grapple with case studies that do not have one clear solution, presenting challenges that can be solved through multiple processes, organizing problems as sets that would not ordinarily be solved together, or providing readings from multiple genres and viewpoints, could each stimulate creative thinking. Ultimately, the most holistic approach to learning creates opportunities for students to practice both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, which can be especially effective when used in concert on one project or set of projects. In this way, students learn to use their abilities to think creatively and think critically as part of the same process, preparing them to do the kind of thinking work that will be required of them throughout their lifetimes.

To learn more about how to incorporate divergent thinking into your teaching, contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu.

Works Cited:

Gallavan, Nancy P. and Ellen Kottler. “Advancing Social Studies Learning for the 21st Century with Divergent Thinking. The Social Studies (2012) 103, 165-70.

Guilford, Joy Paul. 1968. “Factors That Aid and Hinder Creativity.” Studies in Educational Psychology, R. G. Kuhlen, ed. Toronto: Blaisdell Publishing. 334–341.

To accompany our 2015-2016 theme of Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, spring contributors were asked to share their thoughts about two questions: 1) What does creative thinking look like in your field or discipline? And 2) How do you teach students to do it?

Reinert Center Fellowships

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is currently accepting applications for two fellowship opportunities for 2016-2017: the Reinert Center Fellowship and the Innovative Teaching Fellowship.  Both are available to full-time, permanent teaching faculty at the University.

Reinert Center Fellows work on specific faculty development projects (that they propose); projects focus on a topic related to pedagogical strategies, course design, and/or research on teaching and learning. Proposed projects must enhance the fellows’ own learning and expertise on a teaching topic, result in a tangible development opportunity for other SLU faculty from a range of disciplines, and enhance/supplement existing Reinert Center programs and/or resources.  Reinert Center Fellows receive a stipend of $1,000 (disbursed at $500 per semester) to support development and time.  Proposals are due Feb. 15.  More information, including sample projects, may be found here.

Innovative Teaching Fellows teach in SLU’s highly-flexible, technology-rich classroom, the Learning Studio. During this two-semester fellowship, faculty spend the first semester (re)designing a course to be taught in the Studio; in the second semester, they teach in the Studio.  This competitive fellowship provides funding to cover a one-course reduction in teaching during the semester of preparation and ongoing instructional development support during the semester of teaching.  The next fellowship period is for a course release in fall 2016 and teaching in spring 2017.  Applications are due Feb. 22.  Interested faculty must register for and attend a Pre-Application Information Session.  More information may be found here.

For more information about the Reinert Center, visit http://www.slu.edu/cttl.

2016 Winter Institute Reflection

critical-creating thinking banner 2015

What does it mean to think critically and creatively about teaching? The invitation to do instructional development at the intersection of these two concepts is what guided my participation in the Reinert Center’s Winter Institute on January 7. As each presenter facilitated discussion on a variety of teaching-related topics, I noticed two themes begin to emerge during my individual and collaborative reflections:

  1. Be critically mindful of the learner(s)
  2. Be creatively responsive to the learning

The critical dimension of my work encourages instructors to be mindful of their students when designing and facilitating a course. The goal is to move beyond universal notions of ‘the learner’ to begin considering how multiple learners, embodying myriad categories of social difference matter for the context in which learning occurs. The creative dimension of my work emerges from the unknown possibilities produced in the complexity of intersecting learner differences. I often invite instructors to imagine the breadth of these differences (e.g., gender, ability, religion, age, race, nation, health, etc.) and how each matters for the choices made in course design and facilitation (e.g., goals/objectives, readings, assignments, rubrics, technology, etc.). In this way, difference informs creativity and creativity affirms difference. This form of reciprocity is an exciting realization of the Jesuit concept of cura personalis, as it attends to the needs of others, their circumstances and concerns, and recognizes their particular insights for the ongoing consideration of how and why we teach.

The Reinert Center’s Winter Institute provided a context for me to re-consider my philosophical commitments as a teacher, but it also afforded me the opportunity to join an interdisciplinary conversation about instructional development in the context of Jesuit higher education. In previous blog posts, I emphasized the important role of communication in developing and sustaining engaged communities of learning. I am proud to be a (new) member of a Center that works to create the conditions for ongoing conversations about teaching, recognizing the powerful possibilities of coming together to critically and creatively support one another in this work. I am also proud to be a graduate (A&S ’05) of an institution that values difference and the unique gifts each student, faculty, and staff can offer in these ongoing moments of togetherness. As such, we must also be critically mindful of the teacher and creatively responsive to the teaching—and seek out contexts, again and again, to question the intentions of our methods and reflect on the lessons to be derived from our experiences.

How Do You Teach Creative Thinking?

critical-creating thinking banner 2015by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As we welcome you back to campus, we’re reminding you of our theme for the year: Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively.  As I explained here, back in the fall, we’re spending this year examining what it means to think critically and/or creatively and how we teach students to do it.  Last semester, we focused more on the thinking critically part; this spring, it’s all about thinking creatively.

Whether or not you teach in a field that explicitly works with notions of creativity, you probably want students to think creatively.  Perhaps you want them to explore unexpected connections in a work of literature.  Or, to think “out of the box” in the lab, or in the clinic, or in their essays.  Maybe you invite them to find a metaphor that captures the essence of a computer system they’re designing, or to imagine alternative identities for themselves as they prepare to enter the job market.

For many of us, in almost every field, there’s a craving for our students to find “new” ways of thinking, of expressing themselves, of engaging with the material and concepts and data of our disciplines.  When we ask them to solve real-world, intractable problems, we entreat students to risk being “wrong,” to risk “failure,” in order to arrive at original solutions.  All of this involves thinking creatively – an inclination toward finding novel connections between seemingly disparate ideas, toward using their imaginations to synthesize data or material in novel ways. And for many of us, this kind of creative thinking is also connected to critical thinking.

Our explorations of thinking creatively this semester will happen in various contexts: a faculty panel, a workshop on using non-traditional projects in the classroom, a day-long institute on Ignatian Pedagogy, and our continuing blog series, to name a few.

If you’d like to add your voice to the conversation, let us know.  We still have open slots in our weekly blog series and would love to feature you there; just let us know by completing this form.

Please consider sharing any classroom strategies you use to help students learn to think creatively.

Impactful Reflective Practices

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Ludwig Weber, Graduate Assistant in Reinert Center, Graduate Student in English

Continuous critical reflection is one of the most essential processes effective teachers employ. By constantly reflecting on the choices, successes, and failures experienced in the classroom, we learn to grow as pedagogues, and the impactfulness of our instruction grows with us. While this most likely is hardly news to faithful readers of The Notebook, I would like to use this space to share a specific reflective tool I myself employ: the teaching journal.

I’m sure we are all familiar with the benefits of journaling on the students’ side. While the discussions that I try to promote each class foreground the exchange and creation of knowledge, as well as the group dynamic of language, I also believe that individual reflective writing exercises are essential to the success of my students. In my classes, at the beginning of most class periods, I ask the class to take a few minutes to write in a journal. Sometimes, I do not give them a prompt, and merely ask them to jot down what they find interesting about the reading, what they would like to talk about, etc., putting them in control of part of the agenda for the day. Other times, I will ask them to write on a specific idea or question.

This assignment serves multiple purposes. First off, it is a chance for the students to gather their thoughts regarding that day’s subject matter. By encouraging the individual voice to emerge as often as possible, I am simultaneously contributing to the richness of discussions that will follow in the classroom. Secondly, it is way for me to see that they are getting the most out of this course, as I can verify their progress in the class. Lastly, writing is a craft, and practice makes perfect as we all know.

The same benefits of reflection and deeper critical engagement through short pieces of writing in a journal also apply to us as instructors. I have made it a habit of taking five minutes right after each class, or as close to the end as reasonably possible, and jotting down my observations regarding that particular class period, while they are still fresh in my mind.

Before employing a journal, I often found myself not remembering important things I had learned about certain elements of my teaching, be it the reception of a certain text, my way of introducing specific subject matter, etc., when it counts (i.e., during the preparation of the next class period, next thematic block, or the next semester). Having my reflective notes with me when planning future classes allows me to have a record of the reception of my approaches and materials with me during class planning, and therefore, allows me to make more informed pedagogical choices. Just as I am teaching my students that their writing is a process instead of a product, my teaching as well is an ongoing process subject to constant revision and improvement, and my teaching journal assists me in making accurate and targeted revisions.

For those interested in a larger discussion of various reflective practices and the assumptions that underlie them, I recommend Stephen D. Brookfield’s book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (Jossey-Bass, 1995). Seeing the primary purpose of reflection as the hunting of assumptions (p. 2), Brookfield introduces us to several pedagogical scenarios, and encourages us to critically reflect on what we know works in the classroom, and what we only assume does.

If you would like to schedule a consultation to talk about impactful reflective practices in your teaching, please contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu. Please also feel free to share your take on reflective practices in the comment section below.

Resource

Brookfield, Stephen. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995. Print.

Reinert Center Announces Fall 2016 Innovative Teaching Fellows

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center is pleased to announce Fall 2016 Innovative Teaching Fellows. These fellows will work with the center’s instructional developers in the spring 2015 session to prepare for teaching in the learning studio in fall 2016.

The fellows and their courses are:

Chris Carroll, Ph.D., Civil Engineering “Structural Analysis”

Cathleen Fleck, Ph.D, Fine and Performing Arts “Art and Body”

Amber Hinsley, Ph.D, Communication “Digital Media as Professional Tools”

Dyan McGuire, Ph.D, J.D., Criminology and Criminal Justice “Multiculturalism for Criminal Justice Professionals”

Alyssa Wilson, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, Social Work “Applied Behavior Analysis Thesis”

 

For more information about the fellows and their learning studio courses, please visit our website.

 

Congratulations Fall 2015 Certificate in University Teaching Skills Recipients!

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning honored eight Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients and two Foundations Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients at our Fall Ceremony on Friday, December 4, 2015 from 3:30-5:00 in Boileau Hall.

Long-time board member and professor in the Department of Economics, Dr. Patrick Welch, began the ceremony by sharing a reflection on teaching with the recipients, friends, and family in attendance.

This semester’s Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients are Elissa Cutter, Joseph Espiritu, Elizabeth Jolley, Plamena Koseva, Daniel Pruitt, A. Maureen Wangard, Greg Williams, and Jie Yang.  The recipients of the Foundations Certificate are Aaron Cohn and Maria Habboushi. We also celebrated the dedication to teaching and learning shown by those faculty members who served as teaching mentors to the certificate recipients.

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The requirements for the Certificate in University Teaching Skills are themselves learning experiences that help participants to make deliberate and intentional choices about teaching. Friday’s ceremony acknowledged the time and commitment these participants gave to earning one of the Certificates.

For more information about our certificates visit http://slu.edu/cttl/programs-and-services/certificate-programs.

Communicating Engagement, Engaging Communication: Part 2

Reinert Center by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Earlier this fall, I posted a short entry in The Notebook about the role of communication in developing and sustaining classroom engagement. I described engagement as a “potentially inventive conversation between communities with differences,” wherein members work together to generate new ways of thinking and talking (Deetz, 2008, p. 290, emphasis added). Below, I offer three interactive moments to invite this kind of conversation with students. These moments help raise to a conscious level the role of communication in teaching and learning, with the goal of engaging different identities and experiences in ways that create a stronger sense of community and commitment to understanding.

1.      Provide an example of a code of conduct, statement of ethics, or oath of inclusion at the start of the semester as a way to begin communicating about engagement

 For example, I give my students a copy of the Credo for Ethical Communication endorsed by the National Communication Association. As a class, we discuss reasons why associations, organizations, and communities might produce this type of document, as well as the ways it may function (or not) in practice. I encourage honest reactions from students to each principle (e.g., “We promote communication climates of caring and mutual understanding that respect the unique needs and characteristics of individual communicators”) and invite examples of each principle as a form of communication practice. My goal is to get students thinking (and talking!) about communication in more mindful and intentional ways. The Oath of Inclusion in the SLU 2015-2016 Student Handbook is another excellent resource to help facilitate this conversation.

 2.      Ask students to develop and prioritize a list of best principles for engaging communication throughout the semester

 We do this first in small groups and then as a class, identifying common threads and clarifying differences when needed. We often select one or two principles from the National Communication Association credo to include on our list. However, we almost always tweak the wording to better capture the course goals and the needs of our specific classroom community. Most of the principles on our list emerge from the open discussion of the credo, which results in an inventive, unique list for our course. I truly value this inductive process because it integrates multiple voices and experiences into the formation of community principles for engagement. Once the list is final, I give each student a hard copy and also post the list online. I encourage students to reflect on the list before, during, and after each class. I commit to doing the same.

3.      Revisit the principles as a way to sustain ongoing reflection about the challenges and successes of communicating for engagement

At least twice during the semester, I set aside time for us to revisit the list and discuss how successful we have been at practicing each of the principles. It is important to keep this conversation at the community level and not scapegoat individual students as uncommitted. It is equally important to avoid praising individual students, as it risks diminishing the value of the community practice. Instead, ask students to identify challenges and successes of the entire class – and then work to revise, prioritize, and commit to key principles needed to support mutual learning, growth, and change over time. Communicating in this way can be exhausting, and even frightening. As Stan Deetz (2008) reminds us, there is an element of risk involved because it asks us to open ourselves up to others without knowing where the conversation will lead. I remind students that engagement is a process involving ongoing moments of understanding, reflection, and invention. It is the process that is the reward, and certainly worth the risk.

I hope these ideas for developing moments of engagement will provoke new ways of thinking and talking in your courses. My experience suggests students draw from the list of principles to inform how they participate in the course, but students also find ways to infuse into other course elements the same processes of discussion, collaboration, and creation that helped create the original list of principles (e.g., classroom discussions, group projects, study sessions, etc.). Thus, communicating about engagement is a powerful determinant for supporting its practice.

If you would like to schedule a consultation to talk further about communicating engagement and engaging communication in your teaching, please contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu. Please also consider sharing your perspectives on communication and engagement, or reflections on ideas introduced in this blog post, in the comment section below.

 

Reference

Deetz, S. (2008). Engagement as co-generative theorizing. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 36, 287-297.

Collaborations in Teaching and Learning: A Transformative Experience

by Lenin Grajo, Assistant Professor, Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

In the Fall semester of 2013, I started having conversations about an international teaching and learning collaboration with a colleague and mentor of mine from the Department of Occupational Therapy in the University of the Philippines in Manila (UPM) for implementation in the fall of the following year.  The goal was simple: provide opportunities for students to learn about the influence of culture in the study of occupational science. Now, after two years of implementing this collaboration, I realize the outcomes not only transformed my students’ view of themselves as people who actively engage in daily meaningful activities (called occupations in my field), but also transformed the way I teach and measure my teaching practices.

In a recent editorial for a special issue on Global Partnerships for the Occupational Therapy International journal, Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and colleagues (2015) highlighted how international collaborations in occupational therapy curricula can help transform student learning. Using Mezirow’s transformational learning theory (1997) as a main premise, Balcazar-Suarez and colleagues discussed how students are able to examine and reflect on their own belief systems, behaviors and understanding of themselves through meaningful and guided interactions with international peers during an educational collaboration.

My involvement with the Reiner Center as a 2015 Faculty Fellow provides me a unique chance to survey faculty at Saint Louis University (SLU) about other existing international teaching and learning collaborations. My goal for this project is to share information and promote more teaching and learning collaborations within programs at SLU.  In this reflection post, I would like to broaden Balcazar-Suarez and colleagues’ discussions, share my personal perspectives and emphasize how teaching and learning collaborations can not only transform student learning but transform how educators examine their teaching practices, deliver learning material and measure effectiveness of the teaching and learning process in various courses and programs.  Below, I share three main perspectives.

I.  Planning a teaching and learning collaboration allows opportunities to re-examine and critically reflect on our teaching philosophies and approaches.

After two years of teaching the same course in our undergraduate program, I decided it is time to enrich the learning opportunities offered through the course by thinking of opportunities for a teaching and learning collaboration.  I reached out to my mentor and colleague in the University of the Philippines.  The process involved a redesign for both the SLU and UPM courses.  The collaboration provided opportunities for me and my collaborator to examine the way we teach our courses, how we can seamlessly bridge the objectives of the collaboration with our course objectives, and how our individual teaching approaches can be enhanced and used optimally in the collaboration.

II. Conversations with collaborating peers provide rich discussions about content expertise, current best and effective practices, and new ways of thinking and knowing. Collaborations can also help make educators more creative when thinking about how to measure outcomes of the teaching and learning process.

Several emails and Skype meetings provided my collaborator and I many opportunities to share our teaching practices, how we measure student learning outcomes, and reciprocal and continued mentorship.  The process allowed us to develop creative ways of delivering content (my collaborator and I thought of multiple ways to deliver presentations in live and recorded formats to account for internet connection challenges and geographical time difference), ways to bridge two different curricula of occupational science and occupational therapy programs (the SLU OT program is a master’s program with an undergraduate occupational science program and the UPM program is a bachelor’s in OT program), and various ways to measure the effectiveness of the collaboration in achieving learning outcomes (we developed enhanced analysis and reflection assignments and a mixed-method survey to measure impacts of the activity).

III. Teaching and learning collaborations provide great means for educators to contextualize learning materials, bridging the gap between classroom-based learning and practical learning.

The courses I teach provide me constant means to reflect on how I can scaffold learning of very theoretical concepts to real life applications.  Being in the health professions, students always ask how concepts learned in class can help them pass their certification exam and how they can be used in clinical practice.  When developing the teaching and learning collaboration, I had to be very cognizant of these student expectations and make sure that this new teaching and learning activity is not just a filler activity, busy work, or something that students will just forget after the course run has finished.  The process and the collaboration provided real opportunities for me and my students to discuss similarities and differences in perspectives and practices in the way people perform daily activities.  This is very similar to how my students might encounter clients in the future who will share very different opinions, beliefs, and cultural practices from their own.  Being an educator born and raised with a culture very different from that of my students, I have learned the value of being uncomfortable with differences.  These moments of discomfort, however, provide great teachable moments and reflection points that students always appreciate.

Developing and implementing an international teaching and learning collaboration has made a significant impact in my life as an educator.  Collaborations do not have to be big and international.  Educators can survey existing community-based programs and resources that can be utilized for teaching and learning purposes.  Collaborations can also be within programs, departments or colleges.  I encourage you to reflect on the courses that you currently teach and think of ways you can bring in meaningful teaching and learning collaborations from various resources available to you and your learning community.

 

References

Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74): 5–12.

Suaraz-Balcazar, Y., Hammel, J., Mayo, L., Inwald, S. & Sen, S. (2013). Innovation in global collaborations: From student placement to mutually beneficial exchanges. Occupational Therapy International, 20, 94-101. doi: 10.1002/oti.1341

 

The Author

Grajo pic (2)Lenin Grajo, PhD, EdM, OTR is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Doisy College of Health Sciences.  He is the recipient of the 2015 Outstanding Educator Award of the Missouri Occupational Therapy Association, and currently the Mary L. Stephen Faculty Fellow for Scholarly Teaching at the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.  He is also the Professional Development Coordinator of the Education Special Interest Section of the American Occupational Therapy Association.