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Thinking about the future.

While I still have two-and-a-half months left, as faculty fellow my time with the instructional design group is eventually going to come to an end. While I look forward to bringing back to the Thayer School community everything I have learned during my six months fellowship, I will miss the opportunity to quickly stick my head into another instructional designer’s office for an exchange of ideas or to run an idea by them. I will miss the ability to chat about something seemingly irrelevant next to the coffee maker only to see the conversation turn into a brilliant new approach I didn't know existed to solving a problem in my teaching. I will miss brainstorming with a group of enthusiastic educators who are passionate about guiding instructors to find the best approach to improving learning outcomes for their students.

Of course I will still be able to talk with the instructional design team: I can simply ask for a meeting or send an email, maybe even pick up the phone (though my kids tell me this is so old-fashioned). But it won’t be the same. And who in the world needs another meeting?

This got me thinking that I can’t possibly be the only person who’d love the opportunity for informal idea exchanges with colleagues across campus without yet another meeting. Thinking more broadly, creating opportunities for informal exchanges between various constituencies across campus might be a great way to counteract the sometimes siloed structures we can observe on campus. By spending these last few months outside of my ‘normal’ faculty world I have had the opportunity to meet a large number of people and learn about their work. I have discovered parts of campus I didn’t previously know and I have learned about offices whose functions I wasn’t aware of before. These kinds of connections that I have been able to build are invaluable, they may form the basis for future fruitful collaborations and help us all understand each other better.

So how else can such cross-pollination be fostered? While I don’t have all the answers, I have a few ideas. Maybe we can start a conversation on campus and jointly brainstorm? Here are some ideas:

  • Take a Coworker to Lunch: No, not someone you already know, but someone on campus whom you don’t know (yet). Such a program could be organized via interested participants signing up, maybe with a one-sentence description of their work and another one-sentence fun fact about themselves. Maybe we could even find a sponsor for such lunches? These could als be group lunches where participants are purposefully seated next to those whom they don’t yet know.
  • Create opportunities for exchanges or fellowships such as mine: what better way to learn about and get to know another department or part of the college, to make connections and foster collaborations than to step into each other’s shoes for a while? This of course would need careful planning as well as  willingness, interest and patience on all parts.
  • Learn together: Take a MOOC together or read a book of interest or journal articles together.
  • Walking Meetings: This is not a new idea but a way to build some exercise into a meeting. Informal idea exchanges happen much more easily while walking and creativity can get a boost when not seated at a table.
  • Stand up Meetings: Again, not a new idea and not all that useful for meeting people across campus, but possibly quite effective for quick idea exchanges. Instead of meeting once a week for an hour with a team, why not have a 10-minute stand up meeting several times a week? Everyone gets to move around a bit, and in addition, more informal exchanges might happen after such a quick meeting than after a long seated meeting where everybody can’t wait to leave.

Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear about them!

Next up: In my next post I’ll tell you about the course I teach and what I might change about this course after my experience working with the ID team.

Professional Development!Petra Taylor photo

Part of my Faculty Fellowship with the Instructional Design group includes professional development and making contacts with the greater world of instructional design by attending courses, workshops and conferences. So far I have completed the OLC Mastery Series on “Blended Learning”, I am in the middle of an EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) course on “Assessment Beyond Letter Grades”, and as I write, I am currently riding the Dartmouth Coach, returning from a NERCOMP workshop “Instructional Design for Everyone”. If you have never heard of OLC, EDUCAUSE or NERCOMP, do not fear! I hadn’t either, up to about 3 months ago. But if you are interested in digging deeper into the realms of learning and teaching, then it may be worthwhile to check out what these organizations have to offer.

My experience with conferences and workshops up to this point had been limited to those in my area of research, along with some meetings on women in mathematics and a few others on open online mathematics education. Most conferences I have attended followed the well-known format of hour-long plenary lectures interspersed with shorter contributed talks, often in parallel sessions. Some conferences have poster sessions, but that’s not the norm in mathematics.

Today’s workshop had a completely different format. Rather than being lectured at all day long and leaving tired, oversaturated and unable to repeat most of what was said, I came away invigorated, with many things to think about and having made a number of new contacts.

What was this new and exciting format?

This NERCOMP session was run by one organizer and four panelists (one of these panelists being Adrienne Gauthier, one of my colleagues here in the ID group). Each panelist started out by describing a typical problem with which they are frequently presented in their work. Throughout the day, as we were discussing various aspects of instructional design, these problems would resurface and approaches to solutions would be woven into the activities.

No panelist ever spoke for more than five minutes at a time, so that I never hit that urgent need for coffee. The participants were seated at round tables of 8, and whenever the panelists had presented a new aspect of their problems, rich discussion at the tables ensued.  These conversations explored the panelists’ solutions, and discussed their applicability to some other challenges. ‘Twitter-style’ reporting after such discussions was a very valuable way to hear from the other tables.

It was great to see instructional design being practiced in the organization of the conference. The presenters' goals were clear, and as participants we were able to engage in the day's learning together.  But I shouldn’t be surprised: this was a great example of instructional designers practicing good instructional design!

Having Fun!Petra Taylor photo

Now that it’s no longer the beginning of the term and things have calmed down a bit I’d like to take some time to reflect on the many fascinating projects in which I have been fortunate to be involved in my role as Faculty Fellow in the Instructional Design group. If you missed my first post, you can read more about my path to this interesting position here.

Having taught mathematics and scientific computing for many (many!) years, what I find most striking about my new role is the variety of subjects and faculty (and with that, of teaching strategies) with whom I get to interact. By thinking about learning and teaching challenges in subjects different from my own, I am able to leave my own quantitative box and allow myself to imagine scenarios which I would have previously thought not applicable or impossible in my own teaching. I very much hope that my interactions with faculty members have been fruitful for them, but they most certainly have been enlightening for me.

Here are just a few examples of topics I encountered.

Recently, I visited a class in the Russian department, which happened serendipitously: while working with the faculty member on the course site design, my German accent came through. Since the class focuses on cultural understanding, rather than solely studying Russian culture, a variety of other cultures are also explored, amongst them the German culture. The faculty member invited me to class where a really interesting discussion ensued that opened my eyes to some of my own cultural heritage of which I wasn’t previously aware. Sure, there were the somewhat expected topics such as punctuality, precision, etc. (and I presented a perfect German example, showing up 10 minutes early and fretting over the two clocks in the room which showed different times, neither of which agreeing with the actual time). But a more subtle discussion ensued around ways in which managers communicate criticism to employees. While it is common practice in this country to precede any criticism with a compliment to the employee on something they have done well (“I am very impressed with …. However …”), the ambiguity of the compliment joined with the critique would make many German employees quite anxious. I wonder how many times in my teaching career I have made students uneasy by drawing on my own cultural heritage, without taking theirs into consideration.

I've also had the chance to help Mike Goudzwaard (one of my ID colleagues) with setting up some assignments for a Religion class in which students discuss the use of religious rhetoric in political speech. This is a fascinating ongoing assignment in which students count, compare and rate (based upon a lexicon rating system which they derived in class) presidential candidates’ use of religious rhetoric. Here is an example graph, created from the students’ ratings:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.58.20 AM

Students have reported how this type of crowd-sourced engagement has enhanced their participation in the course and their understanding of these issues.

I have also had some really interesting discussions with several faculty members about team-based learning and group work in the classroom, and I’ll leave these for a future post!

petraIntroduction and First Impressions

It’s been six weeks since I started my 6-month Faculty Fellowship with the Instructional Design (ID) group in Educational Technologies here at Dartmouth. Last February I resigned from my tenured faculty position in mathematics at Wesleyan University and joined the Thayer School of Engineering as an Instructional Professor and Designer. The above-mentioned Faculty Fellowship is an innovative joint effort between Thayer School and Dartmouth Academic Computing to foster new collaborations across various disciplines and boundaries.

In this blog I will share my impressions, ideas and newly gained perspectives.


...continue reading "My ID: Six Months As an Instructional Designer"