From the category archives:


Backward Design

by Dr Davis on August 19, 2015

We started with the difference between backward (adjective) and backwards (adverb). Then we got onto the actual focus of the presession. It was very useful.

Backward design that you are designing backwards.

Course design is like soccer/football
Clear goal
Simple, but not easy
Kicking ball into net is really complex

Teach people how to play soccer, varying levels of difficulty
Look at it from player, spectator
Begin with the end in mind. –Stephen Covey

How do we measure success?
How will we measure success?

That is backward design.

Choose textbook ? lecture over book ? use visual aids ? powerpoint ? test
Then send them out assuming they know exactly what to do.

Content ? activities ? assessment

Design with a clear objective in mind… measurable objectives.
How will we measure and assess their learning?

Target identified, acceptable evidence THEN choose learning activities

Identify desired results (essential questions) ? determine acceptable evidence ? plan learning experiences and instruction

Teaching to the test is GREAT, if it is a good measure of what the students should know/believe…

Id desired results:
Big ideas?
Specific understandings?
Predictable misunderstandings? –point of word count…
Essential questions? How do we make it intriguing? How do we make it seem relevant?

Determine acceptable evidence:
Performance tasks? –changing oil, not leaving any parts over
Evaluation criteria? –solid rubric
Student reflection? –help them look back on what they’ve learned, apply knowledge and tie it together
Other evidence? –quizzes for retrieval practice, cumulative exams…

Plan learning experiences and instruction:
Content consumption
Small group discussion
Direct observation
Hands-on interaction
Virtual interaction
Design and prototype
Try and fail. Try and fail. You learn something from it. It’s a learning activity.

Introduction? find examples of good introductions (from student papers?)

What do we really want them to do/know?

Thesis on Facebook…

In doing backward design, we need to think like an assessor.

B&P= come up with what I really care about them learning—that writing/communication is essential for any job and the better writers they are, the better they can do their jobs (and live their lives—writing clearly is important for many other out-of-job experiences…)
Then start with examples of when/where/how that is true.
Back this up with case study experiences/quizzes that are about how to use the information in the chapters.
Connect the writing they are doing with the end of being better x’ers, which is their goal.

Linguistics = idea will be to introduce them to linguistics and all the different aspects of what that means and how these very different areas could impact/improve their lives
Spend more time on the interesting stories and apply those through the work we are doing.
How can linguistics improve their writing? Their teaching? Their reading? Their personal lives? Their care for their children? For their parents?

112 = understanding what credible, educated arguments are—proof = writing credible, educated arguments on variety of topics
stress that

003 = writing skills needed for everything…

We are presupposing some amount of motivation.
How have you made goals for this class?

As a presenter, be positive about our students’ motivation.
I supposed there were things you were willing/able to change.


Make It Stick

by Dr Davis on August 18, 2015

Went to a faculty presession on this topic. Four folks who have attended a reading group on the book Make It Stick and who have begun implementing the ideas.

These are the main points they had up on the PowerPoint:
(with my comments and questions in parentheses)
Not all practice is equal.
Mix up your practice.
Embrace difficulties.
Avoid illusions of mastery. (Don’t just read again and again.)
When the mind has to work, learning sticks better.
Don’t rely on what feels best.
Effortful learning changes the brain.
Making mistakes and correcting them advances learning.
Learning is hard.
It’s not what you know but how you practice.
Learning is stronger when it matters. (How do you make it clear that it matters?)
Use testing as a tool for learning.
Delayed, detailed feedback yields better long-term learning. (How do you get the students to read this? Or do you do something else?)
Sleeping between study sessions improves retention.
Reflection is a form of retrieval practice.
To learn, retrieve.
Design the work the students do, not what your lectures are going to say.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

These are my notes on their talks:
Not going to fix everything you’ve ever taught. Book about learning. Start with understanding how students learn. Lots of studies included in this book. Lots of data.
We are practitioners.

Not all practice is equal.
Lots of folks cram. Evidence shows cramming works, but not in the way you want it to. Students who cram retain 50% of information 2 days later. It is not a long-term solution.

A lot of the practices we use are ineffective.
One that doesn’t help is re-reading.
Re-reading is inefficient AND counterproductive.
When we re-read, we develop an illusion of mastery.

Active methods of studying.
Cornell method for notetaking… not simply underlining, but interpreting them—putting them into your own words.

The people who practiced once a week (not all in one day) were far better.
How to implement? Most people go over the syllabus on the first day; emphasize the most important parts. Second day have a quiz on syllabus. Then come back and have a quiz again.

Learning: acquiring knowledge and skills that are readily available from memory so that you have them to use in future situations

Learning requires a core reservoir of information (memory). You still have to have a repository of info.
Learning is an acquired skill.
Most effective strategies are often counterintuitive.
Focus on what the students are doing—rather than what you are going to say.
Is our goal that the students know the material long term? Often that’s not what happens. We test what they know over x and then we go on to next chapter.

We said “here’s the book and we’re messing with you”…
One example of many practices we changed:
Changed our reading guides to something like Cornell notetaking… lot more reflective…

For retention, there is a level of difficulty.
Quick/fast/easy learning dissipates.
NYTimes article on importance of memorization. Comments… interesting. Memorization is okay; we need that.
Without the memorization, there is no foundation of prior knowledge. You’ll have to learn vocabulary words for a new language. You can’t start building a building from the third floor.

Techniques: retrieval practice
Repetition doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term retention.
Quiz yourself. If students don’t quiz themselves, they overestimate how well they know the materials. Going through and retrieving the information “interrupts forgetting.” Act of retrieving changes memory itself and makes it easier to retrieve.
When mind has to work, the learning sticks better. “Just enough time to begin forgetting” and then reinforce again.

How long should I space out the practice? Long enough to begin the forgetting process.
Sleep on it. Take a nap.

Rather than mass cramming, practicing before class, space it over a week –look at their names 2-3 times a day.
Flash cards.
Quizlet—online resource to create quizzes

Low stakes quizzing helps the students significantly.
We create a quizlet that the students put together over learning each other’s names.
Canvas is marvelous when it comes to quizzing.

Maybe you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again…
Varied practice is one of the foci of the book.
You need to have a variety of tasks that your brain is doing. That helps with the little bit of forgetting, come back to it, repeat…
8 year olds, throwing beanbags into bucket—practiced 12 weeks
How would you teach mastery of this?
One group never threw the beanbags into 3 ft… They’d have 2 and 4 ft buckets.
The people who had never thrown a 3 ft shot beat the pants off the people who only practiced that.

We transitioned from presentation/lecture and then quiz.
We have introduction at end of class.
Then they read.
Then next class we give rest of discussion.
Here’s where we were, here’s where we are going, and here’s what we are doing today.

When we try to solve a problem, we feel uncomfortable if we haven’t seen how to do it. Trial and error. If you pose the problem before you explain, and they work on… They start trying to connect to things they do know. They learn more from the fresh thing (the effort), even if they make errors. In the process they have learned and changed their memory.
We must provide corrective feedback.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

Talk about: Learning should be difficult. Making errors is important/good.
Before everyone failed. Then talked about learning difficult. Next time, the group who had that discussion succeeded, while the others did not.
Babies fall down all the time. You’ve made hundreds, thousands of errors—but now you can walk.

“The better you know something the more difficult it becomes to teach it.”

Students don’t have models or they are faulty.
But we do want them to get to the point where they have mental models.

Why does it matter? We have to up the significance of what we are doing.
Why is it important? Explain the so what. Put it in a bigger context.

How do you respond to failure on an exam? If whole class did poorly…
Think about our assessments and what we are trying to accomplish with those.

Performance goals = goals that validate what student knows
Learning goals = goals that see what students have learned/are learning


HOF: Not Plagiarizing Metaphors

by Dr Davis on December 21, 2014

On quoting folks in conversation:

Here’s how I explain it to my students: if you dress in sweats every day, but suddenly you show up to class in a ball gown, I’m going to notice. Generally speaking, it’s the same with writing.

Love that analogy, Dr_A. May I steal it from you in a non-plagiarising sort of way?

Of course. I prefer to be cited in MLA format, which means you must gently cup your hands to form parentheses as you say my name aloud to your students. I am not paginated.

Just as well you don’t prefer footnotes, or poor Llanfair would have to leap in the air after presenting your analogy, and only reveal your identity once she reached the bottom of the page several paragraphs later.

And I have two left feet, so that leap would be ungainly and possibly result in personal injury. Not to mention that my students would flee the room in terror of this weird woman at the front of their classroom.

From dr_alcott and llanfair


HOF: Practice.

by Dr Davis on December 18, 2014

student-listening-to-musicLearning music and language are not primarily cognitive skills. They are primarily athletic skills. You have to practice, you have to work out. Even when you have learned it, practice to retain the skills. Practice to be physically fit in anything that requires a physical response.

From mdwlark


HOF: Keeping Standards

by Dr Davis on December 16, 2014

I will not see the light. I will not.

I expect a single PDF attached in the CMS before midnight and it better be. I shall have my single PDF.

I expect one inch margins, stapling on the lop left, and a 12 point serif font. I shall have my staples, margins, and fonts!

I expect debits on the left and credits on the right, no matter what your mother or therapist told you about free expression. Debits, left. Credits, right. Forever.

I expect a salutation in every email. I expect a student name in every email. I expect proper grammar and standard English. I even expect complete sentences, b!tch that I am.

I expect that deadlines are deadlines. Better to learn that from me than your soon-to-be former boss, the IRS, or the SEC. Or, even the county probate judge or your ex-wife’s alimony lawyer. Deadlines are deadlines.

You will take my standards from my cold dead hands and then they will choke you in return because you didn’t read the part of the instructions warning you about the boobytrapped hands.

I will not see the light because I have a dream.

I have a dream that young adults can learn not only to read and follow instructions but also to solve their own problems. We start with small problems to give them some warm fuzzy feelings, then we move on to progressively more difficult situations. It’s called education and personal growth.

I have a dream that young adults, despite a myriad of disadvantages and a modicum of easy breaks in life, will rise up and learn to meet and even exceed the standards we set for them and that such young people will eventually look for higher standards to achieve and exceed, far beyond our wildest dreams.
From octoprof


Connected Courses

by Dr Davis on September 10, 2014

An invitation to join an online learning course about connected learning:

I’m so thrilled to extend a heartfelt invitation to all my fellow learners and educators out there who are intrigued by the proposition of “open education”. “Connected Courses” is a new online learning experience being put together by a group of amazing educators from the Connected Learning community. We are a collaborative community of faculty in higher education developing networked, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web. Starting September 15th we’re going to be talking about openness and blended learning in a 12 week course that aims to help people run their own connected courses. The course is free, open, and you can jump in at any time. Everyone is welcome and no experience is required.

From, the blog has more information.


Tech to Support Learning

by Dr Davis on June 14, 2014

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0Bransford and Brown.“Technology to Support Learning.” How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000. 206-230. Web. May 2012. .

“[T]here is a strong argument for electronically linking students not just with their peers, but also with practicing professionals” (212).

Scaffolded experiences can be structured in different ways. Some research educators advocate an apprenticeship model, whereby an expert practitioner first models the activity while the learner observes, then scaffolds the learner (with advice and examples), then guides the learner in practice, and gradually tapers off support and guidance until the apprentice can do it alone (Collins et al., 1989). Others argue that the goal of enabling a solo approach is unrealistic and overrestrictive since adults often need to use tools or other people to accomplish their work (Pea, 1993b; Resnick, 1987). Some even contend that well-designed technological tools that support complex activities create a truly human-machine symbiosis and may reorganize components of human activity into different structures than they had in pretechnological designs (Pea, 1985). (214)

This is an interesting set of options. I am most likely to use the first set, even though I know that often my students will need to re-visit the idea of learning. While always having a solo approach is very unrealistic, there are lots of instances when that is exactly what every single one of us has to do.

[T]he mere existence of these tools in the classroom provides no guarantee that student learning will improve; they have to be part of a coherent education approach ” (216).

This is absolutely true and not the way we consistently use technology in the classroom.

An added advantage of networked technologies for communication is that they help make thinking visible. This core feature of the cognitive apprenticeship model of instruction (Collins, 1990) is exemplified in a broad range of instructional programs and has a technological manifestation, as (220) well (see, e.g., Collins, 1990; Collins and Brown, 1988; Collins et al., 1989). By prompting learners to articulate the steps taken during their thinking processes, the software creates a record of thought that learners can use to reflect on their work and teachers can use to assess student progress. (221)

I like the idea of thinking being visible. I have always liked the apprenticeship model.

The introduction of new technologies to classrooms has offered new insights about the roles of teachers in promoting learning (McDonald and Naso, 1986; Watts, 1985). Technology can give teachers license to experiment and tinker (Means and Olson, 1995a; U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). It can stimulate teachers to think about the processes of learning, whether through a fresh study of their own subject or a fresh perspective on students’ learning. It softens the barrier between what students do and what teachers do.

When teachers learn to use a new technology in their classrooms, they model the learning process for students; at the same time, they gain new insights on teaching by watching their students learn. Moreover, the transfer of the teaching role from teacher to student often occurs spontaneously during efforts to use computers in classrooms. (226)

Sometimes we forget how long it took us to learn to do something because it’s been so long since we learned it. Learning something new, even if it isn’t technology, keeps us involved and remembering the process.

“At the University of Illinois, James Levin asks his education graduate students to develop web pages with their evaluations of education resources on the web, along with hot links to those web resources they consider most valuable. Many students not only put up these web pages, but also revise and maintain them (227) after the course is over. Some receive tens of thousands of hits on their web sites each month (Levin et al., 1994; Levin and Waugh, 1998)” (228).

While I think this is unlikely to continue, unless students are considering the net their memory space, the more practical we can be in our assignments, the more likely our students are to find them useful. …Unfortunately sometimes they are very practical but the students are not yet aware of that.

“The process of using technology to improve learning is never solely a technical matter, concerned only with properties of educational hardware and software. Like a textbook or any other cultural object, technology resources for education—whether a software science simulation or an interactive reading exercise—function in a social environment, mediated by learning conversations with peers and teachers” (230).


Digital Literacy Pedagogy

by Dr Davis on June 12, 2014

“Digital Literacy Pedagogy: An Experiment in Process-Oriented Publishing” at the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy has some very interesting information.

I particularly like the interactive timeline. That is very impressive.


Gaming the Classroom

by Dr Davis on June 11, 2014

Having had some success with gaming the classroom in my spring 2013 British literature course, my eye was caught by “Why Gamification?” when I was reading a different post on Metawriting.

gamification_learning brain on games

The article begins:

Gamification, the use of game-design elements for a non-game purpose, interests me because I do not want my classes to be about the grade. I want my students to stop obsessing over what will please me enough to give them an A and instead focus on exploring and experimenting. Every semester and every class I find myself adding more elements of gamification to my classes because I believe gamification supports learning by motivating and engaging students and it supports writing development. And there is something about gamification that encourages community and collaboration that a traditional grading structure does not.


Learning from Students

by Dr Davis on June 6, 2014

I’ve been thinking about the question of learning from our students (what do we learn and how do we learn it). I saw a post on Twitter that caught my attention.

3 students studyingDeanna Mascle posted a link to a blog post she wrote last year. However, as many blog posts, its relevance is not time limited. “What Can You Learn From and About Your Students?” talks about doing IRB approval for pedagogical research each semester. That is something I had not considered before.