Dilemmas with the Scholar Module

AHHHHHH! I want to scream out the backdoor and shake my fist in the air!! Maybe it is just me but the Scholar Module is tough! Actually, wait, it is just me!! Please, other Extenders, do not give up on the Scholar Module because I am having a tough time getting my head around it. Here’s why:

As a faculty member who has working exclusively in Student Services for the past 11 years (in August), I don’t have a course or a classroom to work with. This has made figuring out a suitable SoTL research project a bit more challenging. However, through our ExtendWest Lunch dates with @Cogdog, I have found both support and inspiration. It was at one of the Zoom discussions that Alan suggested I stay small and focused on one thing. That helped me narrow down to one aspect of our Tutor Training that I wanted to improve. I also want to give a shout out to Danny who said he thought I was determined! Thank you, I am determined and that compliment helped to push me to continue!

It is scary to practice out loud like this. I have created a few posts about the Scholar Module and my ideas for SoTL and there is a part of me that is afraid someone will come along and question “What on earth is this woman doing??” It is risky and uncomfortable. I would rather just be right all the time and only show things in a perfectly finished product that is sure to get approving nods! Heh, like life is really ever like that!

Man reaching out a hand to a woman to help her out of the water.
Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

Right now, I am giving myself permission to make mistakes, to put out work that is unfinished and maybe even completely wrong. And I am giving myself permission to say – I don’t get it and this is hard! Why? Because I have worked in Student Services for the past 11 years and have been the faculty advisor for tutoring services and have seen so many scared and frustrated students walk through the door thinking that they are stupid because they don’t get it and they think it is hard… AND that is it so easy for everyone else. I think that when I look at the Extend Activities that others have posted. I only see the end results and they all sound so smart and it looks like it was easy. I am going to bet that it wasn’t alway easy for them either!

If you are struggling with any of the modules, I hope you find this and know that you are not alone!

So, continuing on with my post, no course, no classroom, this is hard, AND I have no idea if I could publish the results, or if anyone would be interested in them and finally, who, exactly, am I studying?

First, can I publish the results? I can do the research project because it is looking at improving a process of training that we do for tutors. I have done similar work to examine our processes in order to improve quality and have checked with our research office and did not have to apply for permission or present to the Reseach Ethics Committee. We do other surveys for student satisfaction with tutoring for our own quality control where the surveys are both anonymous and voluntary. The trick is, we don’t publish results outside our department and upper management. It all stays in-house. The guidelines seem to indicate that when the results will be published, permission from the committee in addition to immediate manager approval is needed. However, we are now in vacation time and I can’t begin the process of checking if permission is needed if I am only writing up the results on my personal blog.

Second, would anyone be interested? People involved in tutor training is a pretty narrow field and it might inform people who use similar models for tutors. I don’t think there is a wide interest. That is one of the reasons I consider this for my own professional development rather than worrying about whether anyone would be interested in the results.

Door in brink building labeled Employees
Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Finally, who am I studying? This is an intriguing question. Am I studying students or employees? We discuss this quite a bit within the department. Most tutors are full-time students as a job eligibility requirement. We do have a few contract positions for grads and part-time faculty for some difficulty senior year courses, but most positions are filled by students. Because of the addition of Retention Coordinators as faculty advisors, we have taken the view that our tutoring lab are labs and we are similar to placement or clinical supervisors who are concerned with tutors’ practice and development in tutoring, communication skills and employability skills. We actively look for teachable moments with our tutors. So, Marko and I consider tutors as our students. This adds another layer to the questions of ethics.

This is my second to last post about the Scholar module. I am almost there! If you made it to the end of this post, thank you! It was very satisfying to write! Very wordy! I enjoy lots of words and bristle at the number of reports that I have to write that are little more than elevator pitches because they can only be one page in length or no one will read them! Maybe no one will read this but it felt good to write!

Featured Image: Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

 

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Working through SoTL questions

Continuing my quest to complete the Ontario Extend Scholar module, I am adding my responses to SoTL research planning questions here:

Plan for a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Project

Research Question(s)

  1. How can I increase the number of tutors who use a modelling approach when tutoring students in Math.
  2. Will adjusting the present Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) model to Model-Coach-Fade (MCF) increase tutors’ understanding of the approach?
  3. Will adding a role modeling exercise during training increase tutors’ comfort levels with approach?

Identify challenge/outcome related to learning that is related to your question.

  • Using the survey method, poll tutors in the Spring Semester on their usage of the current SIM model to develop a baseline for tutor usage of the approach.
  • During the initial Fall Tutor Training sessions, present MCF using an exercise/practice session where tutors use the model with another tutor and experience being tutored with the model by another tutor.
  • Using the survey method, poll tutors two weeks and six weeks after training on their usage of MCF.
  • Experienced tutors who would have received training on both models will be asked an additional question regarding whether MCF was easier to understand than SIM.

Ethical considerations: tutors may choose to participate in the surveys and will be informed of the study and its purpose. If results are published in any way, prior approval by Administration and Research Ethics Committee is required. If results are not published, only Administrative approval is required. The role of tutors is considered an employee role but given that 95% of tutors are also enrolled full-time students and the study examines a portion of training, tutors should be treated as students in terms of ethics considerations.

Describe the instructional activity, assignment, or teaching strategy that will promote student learning on the outcome you identified.

The current approach to presenting SIM is to provide tutors step by step information through the Tutor Manual and to lecture on the model in face-to-face training with a faculty member who also demonstrated one problem set.

The new approach will be to present MCF information both in the manual and with a short, portable handout. In face-to-face training with a faculty member will include a short explanation and demonstration of MCF, a discussion of how using MCF will increase student independence, and an exercise where tutors will work with MCF as both a tutor and a tutee followed by a discussion of the experience.

Describe the evidence that would persuade an external audience that the new or modified teaching strategy improves student learning on the targeted learning outcome.

The results of the first survey would constitute the baseline of usage for SIM. The results of the two-week and six-week usage rates would be compared to the baseline to determine if usage rates increased.

Limitations: There is a concern that a positive increase in usage of MCF may only be because of observer effect. There is also a limitation in terms of sample size as the Spring cohort of tutors would be drawn from a pool of 30 tutors and tutors could be chosen by their willingness to participate. The pool of tutors for the Fall semester will be approximately 100 tutors and the sample would be created based on tutors’ willingness to participate. Because of this, it would be unlikely that the results could be generalized to other populations.

How and where would you publish, present, or disseminate this work?

As this project is intended as a professional development exercise, I would be requesting permission to publish the results on my personal blog.

Questions adapted from: C. J. Stanny, E. M. El-Sheikh, & H-M. Chung (2009) Getting Started with an SoTL Project Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment http://uwf.edu/cutla/

Featured Image & Disclaimer: If you are not involved in Ontario Extend, you may find this blog post very boring so I have added a cool picture of a cat to distract you! Photo by Federica Diliberto on Unsplash

Focusing the SoTL Research Area

My next step in SoTL is to focus in on a Research area. I have decided to focus on an area of tutor training, specifically, the technique I share called Simulated Instruction Model. This turned out to be incorrect, the actual name is Strategic Instruction Model.

Because I am focusing this project on tutors, I want to evaluate the impact of changing my approach to teaching this model to see if tutors will be more likely to use the model with students. Therefore, using the UBC SoTL Explorer, I have chosen to frame my project as follows:

  • Practice: Short Active Learning
  • Impact: Attitude and Motivation
  • Evaluation: Survey

To be clear, I am not studying whether the model leads to better outcomes for students. My focus is on whether making changes to presentation of the model to tutors will lead to better adoption rates by tutors as an alternative practice to direct instruction and explaining. Both direct instruction and explaining put students in a very passive role and appears to be the fall back position of tutors who relate these techniques to the teaching practices they often see in the classroom. One of my underlying themes in tutor training is that tutoring is fundamental different from teaching and that tutoring does not take the place of in class participation or use of professor’s office hours.

The model I use does not quite match the SIM model for learning strategies so I am considering using Model-Coach-Fade which seems to be connected to the Flipped Classroom concept. This will mean that the technique does match activities in a flipped classroom and the actions of a flipped professor but will move tutors away from the traditional lecture model that they are familiar with.

I have collected a few resources for Model-Coach-Fade:

Cognitive apprenticeship. (2018, April 4). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cognitive_apprenticeship&oldid=834109143

Dixie. (2009) Cognitive apprenticeship(Collins, Brown, Newman). Retrieved from https://dixieching.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/cognitive-apprenticeship-collins-brown-newman/

Honeycutt, B. (2014) Flip it with the “model, coach, fade” strategy: Changing roles in the flipped classroom. Retrieved from http://barbihoneycutt.com/model-coach-fade-flipped-strategy/

Marin, R. (n.d.). Modeling, coaching, and scaffolding. In Encyclopedia of Educational Technology.  Retrieved  from http://www.etc.edu.cn/www/eet/eet/articles/learnstrategy/

 

Featured Image: Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Connecting some SoTL dots

As I continue with the Scholar Module, I need to set a foundation for my SoTL research question. I want to focus on my work with Tutors in the college setting. When I became a Retention Coordinator, about 10 years ago, and took on the role of Faculty Advisor to Tutoring Services along with my partner, Marko Jovanovic, I thought about a “vision” for tutoring and what we could offer our “stakeholders.” Very businessy of me, but you draw from what you know.

We developed a Purpose Statement. Not a mission statement, because the college already has one, but a statement that would describe how Tutoring Services could fit into and advance the college’s overall mission. This is what we came up with:

The purpose of Tutoring Services is to develop and maintain a credible and responsive system that:

  • Gives students access to academic support in course specific material and core skills through individual and group tutoring, workshops and resources that support success and independence in learning;
  • Encourages tutors to develop their tutoring practice and job skills through training, guidance, resource and support services while respecting their personal academic goals;
  • Provides accurate, timely data and information to administration, the Student Services sector, and the Academic sector regarding student needs as well as individual and institutional barriers that impact academic success. (St. Clair College, 2017)

I talk about the purpose at every training session and every meeting. I tell tutors that the most important aspect of what we provide for students is the opportunity to become more independent in their learning – so that they don’t need us anymore. I toss out maxims like “work your way out of a job with your student” and “never do something for your student that they can do for themselves.”

In tutor training, I present different techniques tutors can use when working with students that includes direct instruction and explaining, the two techniques that new tutors often start with and fall back on, but explain that these tools should be used sparingly. I move on to other techniques such as modeling and anchoring.

Math text open to part of a math problem
Photo by Deepak Gautam on Pexel
 

It is the modelling technique that I am interested in exploring with SoTL. The modelling approach I use is based on SIM technique I learned as part of the Learning Disabilities Specialist program at Cambrian College. (Thank you Jessica O’Reilly from Cambrian for helping me find the document). Basically, it works like this for Math problems:

  1. Choose a problem that is similar to the homework problem the student is struggling with. Solve that problem and talk out every step you take, every thought you have as you work. The idea is to make your thinking real for the student so that they can see and hear your process.
  2. Have the student tackle the same problem on a fresh page. Ask the student to talk out their steps and their thinking. Listen for mis-steps and misunderstandings. If the student is missing information or steps, review that with the student and point out where they can find that information in their notes or text (or online).
  3. When the student is successful with the first problem, ask them to try a new similar problem on their own and with out your help or prompting. Repeat process until student is successful in solving those types of problems.

This technique works well, but in the past couple of months, I am seeing tutors fall back on direct instruction and explaining without giving the student an opportunity to try the problem, confirming their understanding. My thought is to first research if there is a better but similar model to this and then determine an active learning process to teaching tutors this technique to see if we can get better uptake.

References

St. Clair College. (2017). Tutor manual 2017/18. Windsor, Ontario: Author.

Featured Image: Photo by Rafael Lodos on Unsplash

 

Amateur Work in SoTL

Hmmmm…. so what is the Amateur work in SoTL. A quick search on my favorite engine brought up a few perspectives:

Peter Felten (2013), in Principles of Good Practice in SoTL, describes an “amateur culture [that]  of­ten makes US SoTL more of a methodological and theoretical mutt than its cousins from other countries” (p. 121).

Michael Potter and Brad Wuetherick (2015) concluded in Who is Represented in the Teaching Commons?: SoTL Through the Lenses of the Arts and Humanities that  “as a result of social science dominance in SoTL, many humanist faculty members and educational developers find that they are either excluded from participating or forced to adopt a different identity … to be considered “legitimate” SoTL scholars” (p. 2)

Okay, so amateur work is this idea that folks do participate in SoTL activities from different disciplines and others may think they are not doing it right. I can live with that. I am reminded of Douglas Hubbard’s How to Measure Anything. I read this for personal professional development a few years ago and plan to review it again in the July/August period. There are a few ideas from Hubbard’s work that stick with me:

  1. You can measure anything, even things you thought could not be measured.
  2. Making decisions with some data is better than relying on gut instinct or expert opinions.
  3. When you know nothing, anything you find out will lead to a better decision.
  4. Use a model and a plan.

One of the stories he uses to illustrate this is of Emily Rosa, a nine year old girl who designed an experiment to measure the validity of therapeutic touch. She was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Am I intimidated by OntarioExtend’s Scholar Module? Yes. Am I going to keep doing it? Yes. Because after reviewing SoTL the value statements, I am going to focus on:

  • Faculty development opportunities.
  • Renewed faculty excitement about teaching and greater self-awareness.

So what if I am an amateur. So was everyone else the first time they tried SoTL. Even if folks were able to generalize their skills from other research or they current disciplines, there was still their first time. Like a child coloring a picture, I am not going to worry about going outside the lines. I will aim for joy in the process and something I can hang on my fridge!

Featured Image: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Scholar Module: A Beginning

OntarioExtend’s Scholar Module begins with a review of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). So what is SoTL?

Here are a few definitions:

  • Randy Bass, in the video Key Characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, describes SoTL as “faculty undertaking systematic inquiry of learning in his or her own classroom” (0:07).
  • Boyer (1990) defined SoTL as “is an emerging movement of scholarly thought and action that draws on the reciprocal relationship between teaching and learning at the post-secondary level” (as cited in What is SoTL?, n.d., para. 1).
  • According to the Journal of Financial Education (2016), “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) considers teaching as a scholarly endeavor that is worthy of research designed to produce a body of knowledge open to critique and evaluation. SoTL uses reflection, discovery, analysis, and evidence-based procedures to research effective teaching, with the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes.” (para. 1).

What is my personal take? I think SoTL is the process of trying out something new in your practice to help students, checking to see if it worked, modifying and trying again if it didn’t, and sharing with others if it did. Rinse, repeat. Is there is terribly simplified take on SoTL? Darn right, skippy, because otherwise I am going to be too chicken to try it. It seems awfully intimidating a thing to try and now I am afraid of amateur work as noted by Nancy Chick (approx. 8:38 minutes) in the Key Characteristics of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning video. I don’t know what amateur work is but now I am freaked out that anything I try would be considered that and that sounds bad. I am going to research that next and I will be sure the put it in italics whenever I mention it. 

The first exercise asks for three SoTL Characteristics the resonate with me. That part was easy so let’s get that out-of-the-way:

  1. Inquiry – I already have a lot of questions, some of them interesting, some are why and most are what if.
  2. Closing the loop – If I do this in the class, this will happen. Did It? Let’s check, modify and do it again.
  3. Being public about the findings – seem to fit with an Open Educator persona.

There, I have a beginning!

Featured image(I call it “Time to get science-y”): Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash

Two Years of Farming and International Students

Recently, there have been concerns expressed about cheating on tests and International Students. This has been rattling around in my brain for the past couple days. That rattling around and Father’s Day came together for me. What if, for some International Students, this is their two years of farming??

Confused? Let me explain. My parents emigrated from the Netherlands in 1952 along with my two older brothers (they had many girl babies in Canada but that is another story). They went through a pretty strenuous vetting process, three months of ESL classes and had to find a sponsor. The deal was that they would work for this sponsor, a farmer, for two years.

Appelscha Dunes, Netherlands – June 1942. My father, Kees Feyen, is in the back row with his arms on the shoulders of two others. He is 22 years old here, about the age of many of our International Students.

In 1952, my dad was 32 years old and had been farming for at least 25 years (yes, he started young on the farm, don’t all children of farmers?). While my parents were grateful for the sponsorship, my dad was frustrated with this farmer. There wasn’t much, if anything, this farmer could teach him. My dad was already a better farmer. He could care for and handle the horses better, plow straighter and faster, build or repair what was needed. When the two years were up, my parents moved to North Buxton and worked for the Prince family for better pay and better living arrangements.

Those two years of farming were the price my parents had to pay both to the farmer and to the government of Canada for the opportunity to become Canadian citizens and, after the two years were up, for the opportunity to make choices about where to live and where to work and who to work for.

So what does this have to do with International Students? Well, for many of our International Students, a two-year diploma means the opportunity for a two year work visa in Canada. This is their opportunity to find work and, hopefully, begin their process towards emigration. Many of our International Students already have degrees, sometimes in the very fields of study they are enrolled at in our colleges and sometimes in other fields, even more than one field. I have met doctors in the nursing program, dentists in the dental assisting program,  engineers in the civil engineer technician program, and previous business owners and accountants in the business program.

Like my dad, there isn’t much, if anything we can teach them, at least not in the same way as domestic students right out of highschool. Many of our programs are set up for helping domestic students learn skills they don’t already have and build a body of knowledge that they can take into their first career. I am suggesting that this may be different for International Students where the body of knowledge they need to learn is customs of Canada and to hone their communication skills, in some cases. By customs, I don’t mean learning to drink lots of Tim Horton’s coffee. I mean to learn the practices, procedures, policies and legalities of their profession within Canadian society. For communication skills, I mean honing speaking and listening skills, as many International students already have strong reading and writing skills, as well as honing social conventions common in Canada. Have we considered this in our programs and courses? Are we giving International students opportunities to learn what they need?

We talk a lot about how a diverse population of students is also good for domestic students for a wide variety of reasons including helping our domestic student be better prepared for a global economy but are we giving our domestic students real opportunities for this learning in our classrooms outside of seating them beside an International student?

I want to be clear about one aspect before I conclude my musings. I am not suggesting that International students much give up their heritage. My parents didn’t. My parents were part of a wave of immigration from the Netherlands after WWII that found a place in Canadian society. They started their own churches, build their own schools including colleges and universities, founded their own companies – they even started a union and a political party. This may have been part of the reason my parents choose Canada over America.

I don’t have any answers yet. I am still at the rattling around in my brain stage. I am not even sure I have the right questions yet. But I do know that the issue of cheating is a complex issue and that we need to do something different that what we are doing. I believe that adding more security and proctors for tests is not the silver bullet solution. Finding the answer will require consideration of International student needs and perspectives. One resources that I found helpful, in spite of the heavy US content, is Recognizing Cultural Variation in the Classroom from Carnegie Mellon. If you have a good resource, I hope you will share it with me.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven, Dad. Thanks for immigrating to Canada so that I could be here today pondering this.

My dad loved plowing with a horse team. Featured image: Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash