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Learners Communicating for

Learning Space Development Update | Unplugged! Book Review | Did You Know? Visionary Status: Paulo Freire | Hot 5

Learning Space Development Updates

Moveable Furniture Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman in the book How Learning Works postulated that learning “is not something that is done to students, but rather something students themselves do.” With that idea in mind, BGSU is remodeling a portion of the second floor of Olscamp Hall during the summer of 2013. The redevelopment of this area is being done with the intent to serve as a “test-bed” for future active learning spaces at BGSU. This renovation project is a progression of the design of the Active Learning Classroom (ALC) in 126 Hayes Hall. The resulting remodeled classrooms and common spaces are intended to allow faculty and students to gain experiences in learning spaces that could be replicated (depending on feedback from those who teach in the rooms) throughout buildings slated for remodeling in the future. The current architectural plan for the Olscamp project includes five remodeled classrooms. Plans for these spaces are evolving and the final configurations may be different from what is currently being discussed. The largest of the proposed rooms, designed to seat 100 students, will be modeled to some extent after the Active Learning Classroom in 126 Hayes Hall. The smaller three rooms, designed for 40-50 students, each include moveable furniture that allow for different arrangements. The last room will be designed to support distance-learning courses. Most of the rooms will be equipped with small, portable whiteboards known as “huddle” boards.

Olscamp Hall

“Huddle” Boards

The goals of this project are to provide ample opportunity for faculty and students to: • get experience teaching in different flexible classroom configurations; • provide feedback to architects and administration about what configurations advance instruction and student learning; • continue to explore appropriate uses of mobile technology and tablets in the classroom; and • collect additional data (formal and informal) to inform future learning space development. In addition to some features within the classroom spaces, there are also intentions to enhance gathering spaces and group study spaces near the classrooms to encourage dialogue before and after class periods. If you are interested in dialogue or tips to prepare to teach in spaces like these, consider attending CTL workshops in the Active Learning Classroom in 126 Hayes Hall. Individual consultations can also be designed for you by contacting

Spring 2013: Issue Two

2 Unplugged! Technology is a ubiquitous part of modern life, as is using that technology to stay constantly connected. For a smart phone user, email, Facebook, Google, and all the information of the internet are always just a touch away, provided there is a signal. This puts a wealth of information at a user’s fingertips, but it also provides a constant source of distraction. It is not uncommon in social situations such as a night out with friends, or a dinner at a restaurant, to see people more engaged with their phones than with those around them. There is an ongoing debate over how technology is changing how we work, learn, and socialize. On the one hand are those who see technology and the internet as invaluable tools that can unleash vast human potential. On the other hand are those who fear that the near-constant connectedness that this enables is eroding human capabilities for concentration and contemplation. The concern for college and university instructors is how the internet’s capacity for distraction is affecting the attention span of students and their ability to focus on tasks. Multitasking is a common activity, where students may toggle between doing online research, checking their Facebook profile, writing a paper and texting and talking on their smartphones. While it may seem like a student is accomplishing a lot of different tasks at once, multitasking is not particularly productive. One of the major problems with multitasking is mental “dead time,” the time it takes for the brain to reconfigure itself to accomplish a different task. Because the human brain can only do one thing at a time, the student who divides her attention between Facebook and taking notes during lecture and the student who studies while he is watching TV are rapidly switching their attention between one task and another. The result is often a poor understanding of the material they are supposed to learn. While there are some very real concerns expressed about how technology and the internet have affected habits and attention spans, Professor David Levy from the Information School at the University of Washington has a different take on the debate over technology. Rather than taking a side, Mr. Levy feels that the debate between tech advocates and skeptics is missing a key insight: that we can educate and train ourselves to be more attentive.

Mr. Levy teaches a course at the University of Washington titled “Information and Contemplation.” The purpose of this course is to have students critically analyze their habits in using technology. They are asked to think about how much time they spend using technology, how it influences their emotions, and how it affects or fragments their attention. Class assignments include students watching and scrutinizing videos of themselves while multitasking on their computers. Using the software Camtasia, a student can record what she is doing on her desktop while displaying her face in a window in the corner of the screen, allowing her to see the range of emotions she displays while working. Then the students use these videos as the basis for drafting rules for themselves to improve their habits. Another assignment has students spend fifteen minutes exclusively on reading and answering their emails and nothing else; no opening other tabs to watch cat videos on YouTube, checking sports scores, or updating Facebook. Mr. Levy opens his classes with a few minutes of meditation in order to have students clear their minds and focus before the class begins. The students seem to be responding to Mr. Levy’s techniques. One student described the meditation as a mental “reset button” that allows him to give his full attention to the next task. Other students describe dialing down their Facebook addictions, checking their email in batches at designated times of day instead of every five minutes, and feeling like their smartphones aren’t additional appendages. If Mr. Levy’s strategies seem silly or new-agey to the cynics, there is research to back him up, including a study on multitasking sponsored by the National Science Foundation. A recent article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education further describes Mr. Levy’s course, the science behind attention and multitasking, and includes an extensive reading list of works dealing with information and contemplation. Read the article here:

Spring 2013: Issue Two

3 Book Review

What the Best College Students Do (2012) Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (2004) is a well-researched and inspirational look at college faculty members who are able to engage and challenge students. His most recent book takes a similar tack with college students. Combining interviews with individuals-who by any measure would be labeled as successful and who are by their own report happy and fulfilled-with research findings on learning and personal growth, Bain outlines a set of strategies for learning how to learn and become a lifelong learner. His “best” college students are not necessarily those who earned the highest grades but are “deep learners,” those who engage passionately with material, who question, think critically, and bring an insatiable curiosity with them wherever they go. They challenge themselves and they welcome failure as yet another opportunity to learn. One of Bain’s best students is comedian Steven Colbert who learned to embrace failure while doing improvisational theater. “You have to be OK with bombing,” he says. In fact, “You have to love it. That’s a great freeing experience.” Citing the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, Bain also identifies the best students as having a “growth” or “mastery” mindset. Dweck identifies two opposite mentalities with which people approach life and learning. One she calls a “fixed mindset.” Those with a fixed mindset believe that they cannot improve beyond a certain point. They think of themselves as either “good at” or “bad at” some things. If they have a negative fixed mindset (“I can’t do math.”), these individuals won’t try something they believe they cannot do, thus limiting their opportunity to grow. Even those with positive fixed mindsets (“I am really smart.”) will tend to shy away from challenges because they cannot allow failure to question their self-conceptions. Students with a growth mindset, however, delight in challenges because they believe that they can learn if they try hard enough. Effort is what matters, not innate ability. The best college students are also “mindful,” to use Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer’s term. She says that

mindful people engage in the “continuous creation of new categories” and they have “an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.” Mindful students are reflective thinkers; they think about their own thinking, pay close attention to what is happening to them in and out of class, and question their own and others’ perspectives. This reflective approach to learning and life leads these students to be empathetic and infinitely curious. The more you pay attention, the more you learn about other people and ideas, and in an upward spiral, the more you want to know. Bain’s best students also share a sense of purpose and a need to do something that matters for the greater good of humankind. Often they discover this purpose in college and usually in liberal arts courses that broaden their perspectives and hone their senses of justice and of history. While Bain’s book is targeted toward students, there is much here for educators to consider as well. Classroom strategies that help to move students in the direction of becoming more engaged learners, include presenting students with “illstructured” problems that require creative and critical thinking, creating activities that encourage students to reflect on their learning and make connections among different ideas and events, and framing assignments and problems differently. With respect to this idea of framing instruction, Bain cites a study done by Ellen Langer in which she gave two groups of students an object. To one of the groups she said, “This is a dog’s chew toy.” To the other group she said, “This could be a dog’s chew toy.” Says Bain, “Later . . . both groups needed an eraser. Only those who heard ‘could be’ thought to use the rubber ‘toy’ to erase their mistake. It never occurred to students in the other group.” (Continued on page 4)

Spring 2013: Issue Two

4 Book Review

Continued from page 3 Thus if we frame what we say to students as conditional (“could be,” might be”) we inspire both more critical thinking and creativity. Bain claims that even changing the way textbooks are written can make a difference. “Students who read phrases like ‘which could be’ and ‘may be’ could imagine far more solutions than students who read the same passages without those words.”

In another experiment Langer assigned one group of students to “complete a task” and another group to “play a game.” The activities were the same, but the students who were playing a game consistently outperformed the students who were completing a task. Ill-structured problems, framing, and gaming are all simple strategies that faculty can incorporate into their classes to help engage students.

Did You Know? Professional Development Opportunity for Faculty: “ Applying the Quality Matters™ Rubric” Seminar for Online Courses The Center for Online and Blended Learning (COBL) is pleased to announce that it will be hosting a full day seminar for faculty, “Applying the Quality Matters Rubric” on Thursday, May 9th, 2013. Quality Matters (QM) is a faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online courses. Quality Matters has generated widespread interest and is becoming the national standard for quality assurance and continuous improvement in online education. The May 9th seminar consists of learning about the usage and implementation of the Quality Matters rubric, a rigorous set of criteria based on current standards and best practices in online course development. Faculty who complete the training can opt to take a certification course to become national Quality Matters online course peer reviewers. This is an excellent professional development activity for faculty who teach online or who want to teach online. The Center for Online and Blended Learning has included BGSU as part of a consortium of institutions who are implementing Quality Matters in the state of Ohio. Due to our participation in this consortium, we are able to provide this training locally at no cost to faculty or departments!

The training will run from 9-4 and includes lunch. Seating is limited in this training to 15 BGSU faculty and we will accept reservations on a first-come-first-served basis. Faculty can register online at: QualityMatters_training_register.php For more detailed information on Quality Matters at BGSU, go to: or contact Connie Molnar at

Spring 2013: Issue Two Spring 2013: Issue One

5 Visionary Status: Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire has been touted as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. Freire’s first two books, Education as the Practice of Freedom and Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) were groundbreaking. Freire developed a philosophy of education focused on undoing the systemic presence and teaching of power, privilege, and oppression. He did not hesitate to unmask the injustice in society, based on the oppressor-oppressed distinction in most social systems, and particularly in education where those in power have access to the best, withholding access and cultural capital from the “others.” According to Freire, a “culture of silence” is one creation of the oppressors that disempowers the oppressed and reinforces the silencing of individuals who are not of elite status. Those who hold power refuse to hear the voices of those below them and, in the past, forcibly silenced those speaking out about injustice through incarceration, limiting rights, or removing rights. Today, oppression may not be enacted in such obvious ways, but it is part of the systems of society, as espoused values are taught over time and become deeply engrained in the practices of most individuals. To counter this oppresive tendency, Freire argued for the development of an ability in each person to see that silencing only adds to oppression and power of the dominant culture. This was reflected in his critical pedagogical theory or concept of “banking” education. The premise of “banking” is that faculty fill students heads, or accounts, with information, holding all of the power in a one-way transaction. Freire was deeply critical of the student-teacher dichotomy and insisted on a less hierarchical, less oppressive structure to teaching and learning. This can be compared to Barr and Tagg’s (1995) teaching versus learning paradigm, where the focus shifts away from faculty as authority figures and toward faculty as facilitators. For Freire, education should be more informal and based on dialogue, not a mandated, lecture-based curricula. Dialogue is the key to understanding and making a difference in the world, allowing individuals to construct and mutually construct meaning. Meaning making, through discussion-based learning, is also championed by Baxter Magolda and King (2004) in their “Learning Partnerships” model. Freire believed that the format of education limited students when they were in the classroom and that these limitations on learning were even worse when the student does not have the social capital to be in a classroom where resources and training are abundant. Critical awareness, dialogue, and action are necessary to undo these

limitations and truly make learning an equitable experience for everyone. Freire was born September 19, 1921, in Recife, Brazil. His family was extremely poor, hit hard by the Great Depression and death of his father in 1933. Freire fell four grades behind in school, finding himself more interested in playing soccer with friends than in going to school. Of this time in his life, Freire has said, “I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t a lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge.” Many of Freire’s pedagogical theories and views on education and society stem from his first-hand experience with poverty and his eventual discovery of education as a gateway to liberation and progressive thinking. Freire did eventually get an education, graduating from Law School at the University of Recife. Although admitted to the bar, he did not practice law but taught Portuguese in secondary schools. Freire was then appointed Director of the Department of Education and Cultural Extension at Recife University. This is when he first began applying his theories. The government did not welcome Freire’s ideas, and he was briefly imprisoned as a traitor for speaking out. Eventually, he was able to return to Brazil as Secretary of Education for São Paulo. Returning to Freire’s experiences with childhood poverty, we are reminded of the most basic needs of our students. Overall health–physical as well as emotional and/or psychological well being–is paramount to cognitive development and deep learning. At the 2013 Teaching and Learning Fair, our keynote speaker, Terry Doyle, highlighted how much the lack of self-care, particularly regarding nutrition and sleep, can affect the learning abilities of even the most privileged of our students. More on Freire:

Spring 2013: Issue Two


Hot 5

Here Come the MOOCs! In case you haven’t heard, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are all the rage in educational circles these days. Essentially MOOCs are free online courses that anyone can take whether or not they are affiliated with a college or university. MOOCs are generally free and although grades may be given, most do not offer credit. A number of prestigious universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale , and MIT have opened some of their courses to the public. For those interested in sampling a MOOC, here are some of the top players in the field:



Coursera’s website currently boasts more than 3 million students taking 334 courses from 62 universities. Current offerings include everything from “Underwater Basketweaving” to “The Future of Humankind.”



edX features courses from a number of universities, including Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, and McGill and offers such courses as “The Science of Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science” from Harvard, “Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation” from Berkeley, and “Energy 101” from the University of Texas at Austin.



Udacity offers MOOCS in partnership with individual professors. The courses offered by Udacity are more “plain vanilla” than those offered by Coursera and edX. They are categorized by level (beginning, intermediate, and advanced). Among the beginner courses offered are “Intro to Computer Science” and “Introduction to Physics.”



Udemy is built on a slightly different model than other open online course systems. It is open to anyone to create a course and while some are free, others charge a fee. The topics are somewhat different from the others as well, oriented toward business, computer, and self-help courses such as “Facebook Marketing and Advertising Strategies” and “How to Become a Bestselling Author on Amazon Kindle.”



Also based on a different model from the “pure” MOOCs, Knewton is an adaptive learning platform that “responds in real time to each student’s activity on the system and adjusts to provide the most relevant content.” According to their website, they are currently working with specially chosen partners, “ but soon it will be possible for anyone . . . to use the Knewton toolkit to create continuously adaptive courses or integrate Knewton adaptive learning into any existing course solution or education product.”

Spring 2013: Issue Two

2013 Spring #2  

2013 Spring #2