Current Projects

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Social Pedagogies and Their Relevance to Liberal Education

Funded by the Teagle Foundation

Randy Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, Co-PI’s

Click here for a pdf of a recent presentation on social pedagogies at University of Queensland, 11/05/09. UQ_SocialPed2009


Through the close examination of the evidence of student learning, this project will create a framework for designing better general education experiences where students develop flexible and integrative thinking in communication-intensive contexts. This project will create a framework for designing better general education experiences through social pedagogies, a set of teaching and learning practices that share certain goals and signature design elements, and which can be applied and adapted in diverse fields and curricular levels. The project will explore the idea that social pedagogies can be particularly effective at developing in students certain qualities of “adaptive expertise” such as the ability to use knowledge fluently and flexibly, to manage and proceed confidently from uncertainty, and to have self-awareness of one’s knowledge. Our purpose is to capture the essential assignment structures of social pedagogies, and to create a clear, commonsense schema that demonstrates parallels between pedagogical practices and assessment issues. A collaborative core working group will document successful examples of social pedagogies with close attention to the evidence of student learning and development of usable rubrics for evaluating the criteria of successful student work. These core faculty, along with additional colleagues from participating institutions, will test the framework in the classroom with new implementations. Findings, cases, and a robust archive of student work will be documented through a guide that will be both print and digital.

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Thresholds of Writing Project: Making Student Learning Visible Through Writing and Electronic Portfolios

Funded jointly by the Teagle and Spencer Foundations

Randy Bass, Eddie Maloney, Norma Tilden and Maggie Debelius, Co-PI’s

One compelling challenge facing teachers of the first-year college experience is helping students encounter the difficult dimensions of subjects in ways that lead beyond short term memorization or acquisition of surface skills. How might we design learning situations that help students encounter dimensions of intellectual work that are “necessarily difficult,” in ways that are formative to students’ thinking, habits of mind, and even their identity? One way to approach the idea of difficulty is through threshold concepts, an approach to disciplinary thinking that proposes there are certain foundational ideas that serve as “gateways” to subjects that students must understand in order to progress in that field. These thresholds are more than just core concepts but often serve an integrative function within fields because they draw on the “hidden interrelatedness” of knowledge and otherwise serve to help “reorganize the subject landscape” or even in some cases the students’ sense of identity. We think that threshold concepts could enable faculty to think productively about intellectual development in integrative ways that can not only help focus students’ initial encounters with subjects (including writing), beginning in the first year, but also serve as productive places of return throughout the undergraduate career.

Electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) are a promising environment where students can make this return to difficult threshold concepts visible over time, especially if they are conceived as a pedagogical environment and not narrowly as an assessment tool. In this proposal we want to cultivate ePortfolios as a student-driven, course-supported space for tracking progress in learning through a broad range of artifacts, representing the processes of composition, through works-in-progress, drafts, reflection pieces, and finished work. Through this project we plan to develop the use of ePortfolios as a core strategy for building an institutional culture of evidence, but doing so by emphasizing the developmental and pedagogical uses of ePortfolios as a vehicle for student invention, exploration, intellectual growth, and expression of integrated identity.

January 8, 2009