Tag: Robert Talbert

Faculty Offices As Learning Spaces

At the 2018 UBC Okanagan Learning Conference, keynote speaker, Robert Talbert talked about the rights of students, based on the work of Crystal Kalinec-Craig. Student have

  • the right to be confused
  • the right to make mistakes and revise one’s thinking
  • the right to speak, listen, and be heard
  • the right to write, do, and represent what makes sense to you

Robert’s particular take on these rights is how the physical learning space can promote (but more often, restrict) these rights. Simple example: in classrooms where the seats have built-in tablets, left-handed people have to sit in special lefty-seats, usually along an aisle or against the wall. They can’t sit with their peers and can’t choose to be inconspicuous in the middle of a big block of seats.

Robert gave another example that caught a lot of conference attendees’ attention: despite a course instructor’s pleas to their student to come to office hours, faculty offices are rarely welcoming spaces for students. If a student can overcome the apprehension and anxiety of the clutter and the feeling like they’re invading their instructor’s living room, the typical office does not permit active, collaborative learning. The instructor sits in a big chair on one side of a barrier — their big ol’ desk — and talks at the student sitting on the other side of the desk in a crappy chair.

He teased us with some new office designs and furniture that create a welcoming, collaborative learning space. I mean, who wouldn’t want an office like this, right?

Steelcase “Faculty Offices of the Future”

A number of UBC Okanagan faculty spoke to me after the conference, wondering how they could renovate their offices. All it would take, it seems, is a few $1000. But who has that kind of money to spare – certainly not the instructors, themselves.

I’m on an learning spaces advisory committee and I pitched an idea: a competitive grant program where each year, say, 5 faculty members could receive up to $3000 to renovate their office. Let’s call it a FOALS grant:

FOALS (Faculty Offices As Learning Spaces). Kinda’ cute, huh, even if @gdumanoir doesn’t like my horsey 😉

The advisory committee said, sure, take it to Deans’ Council and see what they say. Whew, passed the first hurdle. Or keeping with the horsey theme, cleared the first jump.

Fast forward 2 weeks.

The meeting went something like this:

Ha ha ha ha! Nope.

No, seriously, this is a great group of people to work with and they give me some good feedback and legit reasons why they were laughing:

  • It’s hard to justify an expense that doesn’t have a clear connection to the core teaching and learning mission of the university.
  • This would introduce even more inequity into an culture that’s steeped in seniority, status, who has a window, and whose office is next to the washroom.
  • What happens when someone move offices? Is the new furniture theirs to move? Does it stay with the room (which is probably would if the reno includes big whiteboards.)

So, while FOALS won’t be coming to UBC Okanagan any time soon, it sparked some ideas that might:

  • Deans could bring this idea into conversations with new faculty members when they’re talking about start up funding and opportunities.
  • focus on shared spaces like atriums, foyers, open spaces at the ends of hallways: if those spaces had whiteboards, work surfaces, wall-mounted monitors the instructor and students to jack into, comfortable task seating,… course instructors could hold “office” hours there with groups of students
  • there might be some smaller, affordable items faculty could purchase on their own – if only someone would source good stuff at good prices. (Psst – I think I’ve got a line on Steelcase’s awesome verb whiteboards.)

Let’s see where it goes from here!

Flip or flip not, there is no try to read Chapter 3 before class please pretty please

Every learner needs to build new concepts into their own pre-existing knowledge. That’s the constructivist model for teaching and learning and ultimately, I believe, the rationale and justification for active learning. Like I said on Twitter a few weeks ago,

So what goes into that “prep” to support every students? Here’s my train of thought:

A guide for preparing students

For now, I want to focus on these steps:

To manufacture time for active learning and to create the guide for students, the instructor should look at the topics, section, ideas, learning outcomes — whatever unit of knowledge they’re using to plan the course — and decide which of these are easy enough the students can learn on their own, and which are challenging and need to be explored together in class. There should be clear distinctions between what students are responsible for, what will be covered together in class, and what won’t be covered. My friend, Robert Talbert, gives a nice description of using Bloom’s Taxonomy to classify his learning objectives and picking a cutoff between what students can do on their own and what they need to do together.

Here’s how I picture it, with students responsible for the blue topics, leaving the orange topics for class:

Students are responsible for learning lower level (blue) topics before class, leaving the higher level (orange) topics for class. (Graphic: Peter Newbury CC-BY)

I have privilege of teaching a large group of UC San Diego graduate students and postdocs about teaching and learning. At the end of the course, each student backward-designs a 50- or 80-minute lesson with learning outcomes, assessment, and instructional strategies. They also select readings and other pre-class activities, including guidance for their students about how to prepare for class.

They’ve all done a great job recognizing students don’t need to read all of Chapter 3 and 4 in order to prepare for tomorrow’s class. But many wrote guidance like, “Read Chapter 3, paying attention to the notation and the differences between the 3 theories presented by the author.” Full disclosure: that’s how I suggested they write the guidance and and that’s how they did it. Only after listening to my own faulty advice 50 times did I realize there’s a problem:

To me, that kind of guidance looks like this:

Students are asked to learn a little about everything before class. In class, the instructor goes over everything in more detail. (Graphic: Peter Newbury CC-BY)

To prepare for class, the students learn a little about everything. Then in class, the instructor goes over each topic, expanding on what the student started to learn. And that can lead to problems:

  • students don’t know how much they have to learn about each topic – there is no definition of mastery — and so they don’t know if they’re ready for class
  • the instructor is probably asking students to learn conceptually-challenging concepts they’re not capable of learning on their own — that’s why they come to class!
  • if a student doesn’t do the pre-class readings, that’s okay, the instructor will go over most of it in class. In other words, why bother reading next time?
  • a student who does the pre-class readings may not see the value of that effort because the instructor went over it anyway. Again, why bother reading next time?
  • there’s a risk in the “clear distinction” version of guiding the students, too: if a student doesn’t do the pre-class reading, they will struggle in class because the instructor is assuming they have the required background knowledge.

How to you get them to do it?

If you’re going to ask your students to invest a considerable amount of work in the class, they need to know why. “Because I said so” isn’t sufficient. Here are two ways to get buy-in:

  1. Show them it’s valuable by letting them use their new knowledge and skills in class. If a student prepares for class and gets to, or better yet, has to, contribute to their and their classmates’ learning, they’ll do it again next time. And similarly, if they didn’t need to prepare,  because the content wasn’t used or because the instructor went over it anyway, they’ll think twice about preparing for the next class.
  2. Along with the pre-class guidance, instructors should plan for a pre-class reading quiz. The quiz questions assess students’ mastery of the (blue) topics they’re responsible for learning. A student who follows the guidance should have no trouble getting 100% on the quiz and a few percentage points toward their grade. Bonus: the instructor can check the students’ success on the reading quiz to ensure they’re prepared for class (or plan to cover a topic that was shown to be too difficult for students to learn on their own.)

Guided Practice and Preparation

Robert Talbert wrote an excellent description of the guided practice he gives his students before each class. I’ll leave the last word about supporting in-class, active learning to my friend, Beth Simon. She’s infectiously enthusiastic about flipping her class in order to create an engaging and rich learning experience when she and her students meet face-to-face.

(Graphic courtesy of Beth Simon, UC San Diego)
(Graphic courtesy of Beth Simon, UC San Diego)