A request for some help!

Ok, I’m stuck on this one and I appreciate all ideas that you can provide.  In my tax class I always allow students to bring their textbook into the two midterms and final exam.  I do this to (a) promote using a reference when doing tax and (b) avoid the memorization that would be required if the resource was not allowed.  To keep the “playing field level” I stress that students are NOT allowed to write in their textbooks; they can tab and highlight but no notes can be written in the text.  That is a serious rule and subject to the strongest integrity issues at UBC.  In the past three years I have had very few problems with this system and it seems to have worked quite well.

I also encourage and promote students to use e-textbooks which are becoming more and more common.  Those e-texts avoid students having to lug around pounds of paper (which discourages them bring the books to begin with).  For the first time, students in the tax class have purchased the e-text.  Here’s the problem, well there may be two separate problems: (1) in order to allow them access to their e-texts during exams they will be required to have their laptops and wifi; (2) the e-text allows them to annotate the book with little “notes”.  I have checked with the e-text provider and they have no way of turning the notes feature off.  So how do I try to ensure that the students using the e-texts have similar access to the students using the paper copies?

Thanks in advance for your ideas!

Counting, GDP and Happiness

A double-video post! The first is a very short speech (~1967) by Robert Kennedy about what is included in GDP and what is excluded. He’s got some great points that suggest GDP is a very poor metric.

The second video is a TED talk by Chip Conley (2010) about finding ways to measure what really matters. He uses the example of Bhutan and their movement to think about GNH (Gross National Happiness) versus GDP. I was made aware of GNH about five years ago but didn’t really understand it. As Chip explains, Bhutan is not trying to make everyone in the country happy, rather they are trying to ensure that the conditions to allow happiness to be experienced are in place. Let me put a teaching/learning flavour on that to close: Professors/teachers cannot require that learning happens but we can ensure that we create an environment that encourages learning.

How do we teach “critical thinking”?

Lots of higher education teachers talk about teaching or developing critical thinking skills in students but I’m never sure if (a) we’re all on the same page and (b) if we actually know what we’re doing.  This summary of a great article suggests that some teachers have some good data to make some decisions about how to teach critical thinking.

The original article is Carrithers, D., Ling, T., and Bean, J. C. (2008). Messy problems and lay audiences: Teaching critical thinking within the finance curriculum. Business Communication Quarterly, 71 (2), 152-170.  Available here if you’re a UBC faculty/staff/student. There are five major findings that can help us develop critical thinking in students:

1) Students don’t like “messy”.  They don’t like uncertainty or estimation and try to make the problem as simple as possible.  We need to help students get familiar and comfortable with making decisions with unknowns.

2) Students respond as if the professor is the key stakeholder even when the problem is introduced from a client’s perspective.  We must have them focus on the people involved and make the client central to the process.

3) Strong students write a textbook as their responses.  Students are so keen to show us that they “know it all”, they tell us everything.  Even when such information would not be appropriate for the client.  This relates to #2 above.  We need to get the focus off the professor and the grade and onto the process and the client.

4) Students write textbooks rather than “advice-memos”.  This relates to #2 and #3 – if students write to the professor they want to demonstrate their entire process rather than just give great advice.  Personally I encourage students to show me their thinking process, even if that wouldn’t be appropriate for the client.  Maybe I’m perpetuating #2 and #3 without knowing it?  I suppose I can ask for the process (i.e. how did you come to that conclusion) and the product (written for the client) as two distinct items?

5) Students like words not pictures.  Students do not use graphics effectively, they would prefer to write an entire page when one clear bar graph, pie chart, or table would sum it all up.  Are students unfamiliar with software to produce those graphics or have we focussed on page-length or word-count far too much?

A few thoughts to ponder …




A bit more risque than usual

Thanks to Carlene (great foodie blog btw!) for this one. Philip Zimbardo does a very quick and provocative (but PG rated) discussion of what pressures males are facing and the impact on their education and relationships. If you’re a guy or know a guy watch this, I’m sure you’ll recognize some of the behaviours he mentions. He leaves us hanging without a real solution though, perhaps you can post a few via a comment?

World Hunger + Management Thinking = Potential Solution

An inspiring video about the results of world hunger on brain development and implications for education.  Josette provides evidence that simple management practices can solve world hunger, there is no excuse for us to sit by idly.  We need to be innovative, but solutions are within reach.  If you’re wondering how you can make a difference in the world, this would seem to be an area with tremendous potential.

Education reform? Watch Diana Laufenberg explain why we need reform

Diana discusses a variety of her experiences as a teacher in the K-12 system and encourages all teachers to stop worrying about information delivery and instead to focus education on application of knowledge (real experiential learning), listening compassionately to students and hearing what they are trying to do, and encouraging and embracing failure. That last point is critical – don’t panic when students get something wrong, in fact encourage students to take risks and fail, that’s how they learn. Too often we see students afraid to respond with the wrong answers. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking questions that have one, right answer in public forums (i.e. classrooms), instead ask questions that everyone’s response is valid. How do you encourage risk taking and wrong answers in your teaching?

Brene Brown on compassion and vulnerability

Brene Brown is an academic social work researcher with an amazing personal story. Using thousands of stories, she finds that people that feel love and connected (wholehearted) share four key attributes: courage, compassion, connections, and most surprisingly, vulnerability.

Courage means to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart – imperfections and all. Compassion starts with treating ourselves kindly and then must extend to treating others kindly. Connections were the result of authenticity, that is real connections not connections from trying to be something they weren’t. Vulnerability, well I’ll leave that from Brene.

I have little doubt that we can all learn from these ideas, but particularly educators. As an educator I hope that I am “wholehearted”, the other option I suppose would be “broken hearted” and that’s not where I want to be. As Parker Palmer explains, “As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.” Enjoy.

Ken Robinson on Passion and finding your Element

Sir Ken Robinson does a fantastic job of explaining how each of us must find the intersection of what we are good at and what we love to do. Both are necessary to really shine. In typical Robinson fashion he sprinkles powerful stories with wonderful humour. This is a bit longer than a TED talk (50 minutes) but worth every bit.

Teaching is my Element, I have no doubt. What is yours?