From the Director: Bridging teaching and learning – moving from the grey zone to the comfort zone

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Dr. Ann Johnson, Faculty Development director
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When I started my career we all talked about improving our teaching, but rarely focused on questions about how and what students learned; we let exams tell us how well students grasped course content.  In recent years the focus has shifted to questions of student learning – how to understand it and how to assess it on a regular basis.  We all care about student learning, but most of us are not entirely fluent in the language of learning-centered pedagogy – and we may need more support to make that shift.  At least, that is how I’m interpreting the COACHE faculty survey data gathered recently at UST and now being disseminated by Mike Cogan and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness

One interesting finding of that survey has to do with conversations faculty have with each other; UST faculty seem to be satisfied with the kinds of conversations they have among themselves about teaching practices, but are in the grey zone (neither satisfied nor dissatisfied) with conversations about undergraduate student learning -- and some are registering dissatisfaction when it comes to talking about graduate student learning.

One way to build the vocabulary we need is by becoming familiar with classroom assessment strategies.  We all assess learning when we give tests.  But by that point, we’ve likely missed opportunities to address learning gaps and misconceptions.  The assessment movement is motivated by the insight summed up by Angelo and Cross in their classic book, Classroom Assessment Techniques: “Teaching without learning is just talking.”  Clarifying what students are learning as they are learning requires creatively monitoring the flow of the classroom and checking in to see what is being learned (and sometimes it’s really not what we intend). 

That’s why we are sponsoring a series of talks on classroom assessment this semester.  In September Doug Orzolek guided us through a framework for deciding on assessment goals – there’s assessment OF learning (mainly summative and grade oriented), assessment FOR learning (formative) and assessment AS learning (prompting reflection and insight).  This month we are happy to welcome Diane Pike, former Faculty Development director from Augsburg – she’ll teach us a new acronym: CAT (for Classroom Assessment Technique) and have us try out a few that we can take right back to our own classrooms.  And in November Wen Yu (Accounting) and Tim Mead (Health and Human Performance) will show us how to use clickers and rubrics for creative formative assessment.

I’m hoping that we’ll learn to talk more fluently about student learning as we become more familiar with assessment strategies – that we’ll move out of the grey zone and into the comfort zone in our conversations with each other about student learning. If you haven’t done so yet, please consider registering for our upcoming sessions on assessment: Oct. 18 and Nov. 14.  I hope to see you there.

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