Saturday, June 25, 2016


     I am just finishing checking and collecting course outcomes for almost 500 courses at our college. That means over 2,000 outcomes, in an epic spreadsheet, ready to be added to our website. It so happens that this year I have also become a co-facilitator in several Quality Matters workshops offered by our state system as well, all of which focus on course outcomes, alignment of outcomes  with assignments, and assessment. That means that this year I have had the opportunity to take a very close look at hundreds of course pieces; syllabi and modules and rubrics and discussions on how to improve all of the above. For someone who loves building curriculum (I also spend a lot of time developing and facilitating other professional development courses for educators as well) this has been a fantastically fascinating (albeit time-consuming) experience.

     The outcome of this?  I have a new respect for the power of outcomes and what they can do for both faculty and students. They help faculty deeply consider the main aspects of their course and how to best bring that to the students.   To not get too distracted or stray too far off course. They help students see what it is they are going to get out of a course, and - especially with the help of rubrics - what the expectations are for how they will get there. Clear language regarding outcomes helps to bring an immediacy to the learning experience.  Together, the faculty and students strive to work through the activities;  to remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.  (I have made a list of Bloom's action verbs available on our Canvas LMS help tab for faculty to easily refer to when writing their outcomes.)

     Writing outcomes takes some thought; it is a process that is something akin to painting an abstract picture. It requires expressing your thoughts about a whole course in a few succinct sentences. (Later, this helps you to break down each module you teach to support those course outcomes as well.) Many faculty teach with a very general idea of what needs to be done, adjusting as they go based on student needs, time, and materials.  Most have no time to write formal lesson plans, per se. Outcomes should respect this need for creativity and on-the-fly adjustments; they should not confine that very important personal aspect of teaching. They need to convey the general underlying concepts, not the details of any given course. And they are most powerful when they address the truly meaningful aspects of learning.  

    Thoughtful outcomes create an improved pathway for both faculty and students. I look forward to the continued journey in working with more and more faculty on outcomes and their related aspects. Outcomes, like online learning, are becoming a part of the 21st century learning experience, and can be artfully embedded into any course. If we embrace them and allow them to help us teach, our classes will become all the more vibrant. 

PARK | Flickr - Photo Sharing! : taken from - winny biets

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Google Micro-lessons

I just opened google and saw an adorable scene of birds in trees and a birdwatcher looking at them. When I scrolled over the scene, it said "Phobe Snetsinger's 85th Birthday" with this link to further information. There, I could see at a glance that she  was an American bird-watcher famous for having seen and documented birds of over 8,000 different species of birds. She lived from 1931 to 1999. Fron there, another link to me to her intriguing-sounding book,  Birding on Borrowed Time and saw that "Phoebe's quest to see as many birds as possible only began at the age of 34, when she first laid eyes on a resplendent Blackburnian Warble."

So - let's do the math; She lived to be 68.  She started watching birds when she was 34 - halway through her life.  That means that in about 34 years, she documented more than anyone else had at that point: Birds of more than 8,000 different species. Even to a non-bird-watcher, I know: That's a lot of bird-watching! 

That's a lot of determination. People find this kind of thing striking, and inspiring.  And google knows it.  They give us a bit of inspiration, along with some historical facts on people or events every day. They use a visual for engagment, to draw us in. And let us do the rest; relate to our own experiences, think about determination, look at something with new eyes.

Google gives us micro-lessons every day. We take them for granted, but there are so many ways they could be used. A daily writing prompt, or art prompt. Math questions; if she viewed 8,000 species in 34 years, on average how many did she view a year? Each month? Geography questions, science questions....limitless. Next time you need something quick and engaging, remember google. A micro-lesson a day, for any learner. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Inspired, not Driven

Data is BIG nowadays.  With so much information coming to us so much more easily than ever, we can make a million more connections than before. Daily. Educational institutions are dating big data with all the hope of a first date; we are scrutinizing data concerning how our students learn, how our teachers teach, who are learners are, how our messaging works, and oh so much more.  We have shifted our reflections and reporting to be focused on data, which in turn has led us to more data. Along the way we have incrementally become much more inclusive and embracing of those Number People, who used to seem so quiet and esoteric, turned to only at the last minute when a grant was being written. (Still the case. But no longer just then.)

The IR department of many an institution is being suddenly recognized as the most exciting and important department on any given campus, giving them in turn an increase in self-confidence and motivation.  Our own IR team has started Data Summits for faculty and staff, built data glossaries and directories, and started fantastic newsletter in the past year.  So much information to analyze and learn from. Slowly, it has spread across campus to even people like myself, as I cautiously attend data summits - Please don't ask me a numbers question! - and get to know our IR staff, who, it turns out do not bite. The past couple of years has been like a giant ah-hah moment for people like myself, who tend to form ideas, opinions, and construct whole programs, courses, and departmental initiatives based on gut feelings formed from experience, lots of reading and thinking, and a willingness to take risks.  Like rouge detectives, we follow our hunches. 

It is exciting when those hunches coincide with the data. But nowadays we are seeing how data can also lead the way, not just verify and document what we are doing. "Data-driven" (or "data-informed") decisions are thought of as the best approach to making any decision now, large or small.  Data-driven, evidence-based decision-making is how every decision is made. While I see the reasoning there, I feel that "data-driven" somehow take the human side out of our decisions.  These decisions are still about people, and people are complex and sometimes unpredictably idiosyncratic, not to mention dynamic. I want to preserve and honor that. 

Inspired by Data

Words are important, and help define our perspectives. (I wrote a related post on terminology:  The Problem with Problem-Based Learning, where I asked that PBL, Problem-Based Learning, be viewed as SBL, Solutions-Based Learning.) What I need data for is to inspire me.  As an educator, I want to find new directions for teaching and learning, find new ways to connect with students, and new ways to engage faculty. I want to be data-inspired, not data driven. I want a phrase that compels me to imagine.   I want to create and be inspired by data, not be driven by it. Driven feels tireless and exhausting.  Inspired feels motivating and fascinating, full of possibilities. Let's move forward with data-inspired mindsets that embrace a little messiness and allow us to take risks. Sometimes -  even data shows -  those are the best kinds of decisions.