repost of Wired Campus guest blog, March 20, 2009: Randy Bass and Bret Eynon
How do we move from innovative but often isolated classroom practice to more far-reaching changes in institutions and the field as a whole?
In our first post we called for “an R&D division for teaching in higher education,” because one of the problems in higher education is that we have “no tradition of connecting the edge to the center, no established practices that enable us to turn the individual breakthrough into something more than idiosyncratic.”
Diana Laurillard, in an essay on Academic Commons, takes this further and argues that innovation “will accelerate faster in a teaching community that acts like a learning system—one that makes knowledge of what it takes to learn explicit, adapts it, tests it, refines practice, reflects, rearticulates, and shares that new knowledge. Teaching must become problematized, innovative, and professional, taking research as its model.”
Yet, that kind of research model will not transfer to teaching unless we can imagine it in other than individual terms.
First, to do this we need to take advantage of the ability of new digital systems to support what Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar call Open Education, a sweeping combination of open content, knowledge, and tools that provide ways to generate and easily share teaching resources. Digital, Web-based repositories such as Merlot make it easy for faculty to contribute their ideas and borrow from others.
But Open Education resources will really only be useful if we find ways to integrate them with “pedagogical content knowledge.”
Tom Carey, formerly of Merlot, suggests that “we should think of a dynamic knowledge exchange network,” which will allow us to “harness the collective wisdom of a community of practice” where “we should focus less on resources as reusable components and more on resources as focal points for interactions within a social network.”
Second, we need to bear in mind that digital resources and social networking can only work if we are creating layered faculty-development communities that link local conversation to broader input and exchange. In many cases these will be campus-based, where the sustaining power of face-to-face community and the need to reckon with specific institutional realities shapes and energizes faculty’s effort to grapple with the complexities of teaching and learning. These conversations must be inclusive of adjunct and contingent faculty as well.
Local might also mean focused communities of faculty (and students), place-based or virtual, who are linked together by shared questions about learning, such as the Lesson Study Project at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, or the Faculty Inquiry Network linking California Community Colleges.
At their best, such collaborations share a critical focus on the evidence of student learning. In many ways, this is new and unfamiliar. Moving faculty-development communities from a focus on teaching to a focus on student learning is not easy. But it is crucial. And one of the ways we can advance it is by making better use of emerging tools like ePortfolios to collect and analyze the evidence of learning. The rich exhibits at Inside Teaching, from the Carnegie Foundation, and the Digital Storytelling Multimedia Archive are two different examples of projects that use Web-based tools to focus faculty conversations on the evidence of student learning.
Our notions of faculty work on teaching must expand as robustly as our changing conceptions of learning, best understood beyond isolated courses and compartmentalized notions of the curriculum. Is this a good time to make this shift?
We may not have a choice. Structures of higher education, the needs of society and our students, and new forms of digital media are all in motion. Can we fashion “a teaching community that acts like a learning system?” The challenge is on us.