Influence Plan

Update 2/11/2018: Replaced original concentric circles diagram with an updated, clearer version.

If my innovation plan is to be successful, it will need to be supported by a strategy to influence Sauk stakeholders to take part in the process. For this post, I am focusing on just one facet of the plan–collecting data as part of the advising process.

Currently, the developmental education process at Sauk is pretty cut and dried. Depending on their placement test scores, incoming students are placed in the appropriate course. Incorporating other methods of placement such as the college preparation course I am proposing, though, introduces complexity to the process and so it also increases the chance for error. In addition, judging the effectiveness of the process will depend on collecting and analyzing as much data as possible.

Following Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler’s model in Influencer  calls for finding a “vital behavior” to change and then applying six sources of influence. To achieve the result of having enough data to analyze the effectiveness of the plan, it is imperative that academic advisors collect as much relevant data as possible. While specific relevant measures still need to be defined, some examples of relevant data would include the following: high school GPA and specific course grades, ACT/SAT scores, at-risk markers, and participation indicators in college preparatory course (if applicable).

Therefore, for this influence plan, the vital behavior is to ensure that a complete data set is collected for at least 80% of incoming students. It is not reasonable to expect 100% collection as data may not be available for all students and some students may not be willing to provide all data points.

The Six Sources of Influence

The Six Sources of Influence arranged as concentric circles with Personal at the center.
The Six Sources of Influence arranged as concentric circles.

To be successful, I will need to engage all of the six sources of influence from Grenny, et al. While the matrix in Influencer is useful, I prefer to think of the model as concentric circles as it shows the difficulty of penetrating all the way to the Personal level as well as the relationship between the Structural, Social, and Personal levels.

Changes are easiest to make at the structural level, as they are what McChesney, Covey, and Huling call a “stroke-of-the-pen strategy” , a change that can just be made by saying it needs to be done. Structural changes will most directly affect the social level, which will in turn affect the individuals at the personal level.

Structural Motivation

Structural, or external, motivation could be accomplished by providing printed or digital materials (posters, computer wallpapers, etc.) that remind advisors to ask for all the information, not just the minimum necessary to get the student’s immediate needs taken care of.

In addition, some silly rewards such as “most math scores this month” or “collected 500 high school GPAs” could be given at monthly staff meetings. In addition to turning the data collection into a game, it will also help to encourage…

Social Motivation

…healthy peer pressure among advising staff. Between the healthy competition among advisors and the effect of seeing that other advisors are collecting the information, the social motivation will provide a powerful encouragement for advisors to remember to collect information.

Personal Motivation

Healthy peer pressure will help advisors to be personally motivated, but much more can and should be done to affect the personal motivation realm. One key way to do this will be to clearly contextualize the data by repeatedly discussing the overall goal of the project and sharing data as it becomes available. This will help advisors to see the results of their work and how it is helping to help students succeed.

Structural Ability

To help advisors’ ability to collect the necessary information, the most important structural accommodation will be to make sure the database and collection forms are user-friendly and easily accessible.

Social Ability

Good database design will also enable multiple advisors (and other personnel) to collect and enter information, decreasing the load on each individual advisor.

Personal Ability

Proper training, of course, is paramount to the success of any program like this. In addition to contextualizing the need for the data collection, training sessions can also equip advisors with clear descriptions of what data need to be collected and responses to common objections students may provide. A mnemonic device to help advisors remember the pieces of information that need to be collected could also be helpful.

I believe that, with these measures in place, 80% data collection is an achievable result and will contribute greatly to the success of the overall project.


References:

Why/How/What

In his TED Talk, “Start with Why — how great leaders inspire action,” Simon Sinek proposes a three-step process of Why, How, and What for communicating a product or idea. Here’s my application of Sinek’s model to my innovation plan.

  • Why: We believe that all students have the ability to learn and that we can help them succeed.
  • How: We can help students succeed by providing resources to self-remediate instead of blocking them with developmental classes.
  • What: We help students start college classes sooner so they can complete their program of study.

Starting with the shared belief that our college exists to help students learn and succeed draws on why teachers started teaching in the first place. They really want students to succeed and far more rewarding than the paycheck is the sense that they’ve been a part of changing someone’s life. Starting from there will make an emotional connection with my stakeholders; then, pointing to the fact that developmental education often blocks rather than helping the student succeed will help to create the sense of urgency Kotter refers to and which is so vitally important to creating change in the college.


References:

Growth Mindset and Significant Learning Environments

It is difficult to believe that six months have elapsed since I first wrote about developing a growth mindset plan. Quite a bit has changed since then, but perhaps most notably has been the selection of my innovation plan. When I initially wrote about a growth mindset plan, I was anticipating that my innovation plan would involve working to implement a maker space, collaborative learning spaces, robotics clubs, or something similar. Indeed, I value all of those things and am working on projects in all of those areas. However, somewhere along the line something changed. In retrospect, I see that if I pursued that course of action, I would have been shortchanging myself by spending my whole time in this program in what Briceño calls the “performance zone” instead of engaging in authentic learning . Working toward arranging learning spaces is something that I have expertise and experience doing; it is a project I feel like I can do–a safe project, one where I know I can succeed. I am not sure it was entirely a conscious decision at the time, but the topic I chose is far from safe for me.

That decision has made my studies much more difficult and much more rewarding. It has also affected my approach to individual courses and assignments. For example, when working on the course design assignments, I was certainly tempted to just say that course design isn’t something I’m good at or something I do. Looking at it from a growth mindset perspective though, that is an opportunity and not a hindrance.

I have had opportunities to put growth mindset principles into practice in my department at work as well. Unfortunately, the public nature of this post forces me to omit details, but I have seen repeatedly that trusting employees and nudging them to tackle challenges rather than relying on others. As a result, those employees have performed amazingly well, surprising even themselves with how much they were capable of learning and accomplishing.

As I work toward addressing the developmental education challenge in my college, I will need to incorporate growth mindset principles to encourage learners to continue pursuing college. Many of these students will have had a fixed mindset drilled into them for years and may not believe they have the capability to learn these concepts, which is all too often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I see mindset as the doorway into learning; if the learner believes it is impossible to learn, a constructivist learning philosophy and a significant learning environment will not achieve the results they otherwise could. It is incumbent upon me as the educator, then, to model a growth mindset, seeking new challenges and looking for opportunities to reinforce growth mindset ideas on a regular basis. Changing a mindset takes time, so it is certainly not something that will happen without regular reinforcement and reminders.


References:

Mathematical Order of Operation Course Design

In a discussion with a math professor at SVCC, he mentioned that one of the common concepts he sees students not understand is order of operations (Megill, 2017), so I thought I would use that as a subject to develop a course design.

Course Design Tool Comparison

Having worked with both Fink’s 3-column table and the UbD template, I can see why each would have a following and why both are useful in developing significant learning environments. The 3-column table is most useful in putting down broad, learner-centered goals and aligning activities with those goals. UbD, with its maddening level of detail and specificity, forces the designer to fill out those goals and activities and develop a much more well-rounded course.

I certainly prefer starting with the 3-column table. It’s much less rigid and allows me to get down the learning goals and connect them with activities and assessment. I generally prefer to move from goals to learning activities to assessment because I that helps me frame the activities around authentic learning rather than crafting them to suit the assessment. I would much rather adjust the assessment activities to fit learning activities than the reverse.

Once the broad goals are sketched out, disassembling the structure and rebuilding it in the UbD framework forces me to look at the activities and goals in a different way, helping me to find and fill holes in the course design. Honestly, I find it difficult to imagine going through the whole UbD process for every lesson, module, or even every course, but I can certainly see that at least thinking through the process will result in a better course design.


Updated 10/1/2017 to a new version of the 3-Column Table (prior version) and added the UbD template and course design tool comparison.

Stager on Papert

A colleague of mine, upon discovering my interest in maker education, directed me toward Gary Stager and Seymour Papert (creator of Logo among others). I learned to program a little in Logo on an Apple IIe, so my interest was immediately piqued. Later that night, then, Dr. Harapnuik directed our class to an article quoting Papert.

Little did I know that Scratch (which I recently introduced to my kids) was based on Logo, or how direct the connection was to math education. Here’s a video by Stager detailing some of Papert’s contributions to education. I have a feeling that I’ll be coming back to Papert, especially as I continue to develop my innovation plan.


Learning Philosophy

Learning is unavoidable. From the moment we are born, we humans take in information and experiences, synthesizing them into our own body of knowledge. The question is not whether we learn but rather what and how we learn. This is the role of teaching–to shape the what and how of learning. Whether the parent teaching a life skill or the formal instruction of a school system, the act of teaching tells the learner, “This is something that I think is important for you to know.” Generally speaking there is consensus as to what should be taught, especially at the elementary level; most people agree that children should be taught to read, write, and do arithmetic.

How to best facilitate learning is the subject of much more debate. The sheer number of learning theories is a strong indication that there is no one-size-fits-all theory. That does not mean that all theories are equally valid, but that it is quite possible for multiple theories to be valid to some extent. For example, the behaviorist learning theories of Skinner and Thorndike are perhaps the most widely criticized, and rightly so. As an explanation for all learning they fall way short as they reduce the human mind to a simplistic stimulus-and-response machine. However, even the methods prescribed by the behaviorist theories have some application; some types of learning are served well by drills and memorization. In mathematics, once the concepts are understood, practice and repetition are excellent ways to reinforce concepts and help the student become faster at solving problems, preparing them for more complex problems. Once a student has learned that 7 x 6 is seven groups of six items, it is beneficial to learn to look at 7 x 6 and know that it is 42 without needing to conceptualize it every time. Even as the cognitive theories were recognizing the shortcomings of behaviorism, they acknowledged that some learning is more concrete and better suited to those measures. While Siemens’ connectivism argues that technology is rewiring our brains to make this type of learning obsolete, it will always be faster an more convenient to have commonly-used facts committed to memory than to pull out our smartphone to look them up.

Many theories help us to better understand learning by applying different perspectives and divisions. Rogers’ experiential learning divides learning into “cognitive” learning that is important to someone else and “experiential” learning that is important to the learner. Gardner’s multiple intelligences look at the learner’s propensity in seven different areas. The humanist theories look at motivation and other human elements of learning. These theories help the teacher understand learning and learners better, giving them more “tools in the toolbox” to help students learn.

If I had to choose just one theory that I think is most complete and helpful though, I would choose Bruner’s constructivism. Bruner asserts that learning builds on prior knowledge and experiences and that curriculum can be arranged in a spiral pattern where topics are studied recursively in more complexity. This also provides an opportunity to involve a variety of different approaches.

With all that in mind, what does the teacher do? It is often said that the modern teacher’s role is not to teach but to facilitate learning. While I understand and generally agree, the statement connotes passivity. I prefer to think of the role of a teacher in learning as that of a curator. In the context of a museum, the curator’s responsibility is to select artifacts that accurately reflect the subject matter and arranges them so they are most effective for the intended audiences. An effective curator will present artifacts using several different media and methods, selecting those most appropriate to the subject matter and most effective to the audiences. A teacher similarly selects the learning artifacts and methods most appropriate to achieve the desired objectives from the learner.

The move from teacher as a lecturer to a curator makes the role of a teacher as important and challenging as ever, perhaps more so. Teachers must be ever adapting to new technologies, environments, and learners.


Annotated Bibliography

Play for Learning Environments

In The New Culture of Learning, Thomas and Brown make the case that we have entered a new paradigm in learning. I differ with the authors that the “new culture” is really all that new. For example, comparing Encyclopaedia Brittanica to Wikipedia, they opine that “making knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game”  and that encyclopedias are “a good example of the ongoing effort to preserve knowledge in a fixed form,”  as though encyclopedias are published once and not updated regularly. What has changed, however, is the speed, democratization, and transparency afforded by the medium and metadata .

What is Old is New Again

Similarly, the promise of the late-aughts that blogs would usher in a golden age of collaboration and break the publisher-consumer model  has, at best, migrated over to social media . Some new media empires have been created, some old media empires have adapted, but the blog as it was has all but disappeared. Years of blogging even caused Andrew Sullivan of “The Daily Dish” to “yearn for other, older forms.” 

All this is not to discredit the book’s main points about learning but rather to show that King Solomon was correct, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, English Standard Version). What the World Wide Web has done is less about something new and more about undoing, albeit in a different form, some of the effects of industrialization. So too, what is old is new again in learning methods.

Thomas and Brown reference play as an essential part of the “new” culture, but watching a young child learning the world will demonstrate that nothing is as natural as learning through play. In fact, Stuart Brown notes that the propensity to play well in adulthood sets us apart from animals .

Incorporating Play in Developmental Education

How, then, can I incorporate meaningful play into developmental education? Math, being so concrete, seemed particularly challenging. Sure, plenty of math games have been written, but the vast majority amount to flash cards dressed up with fun graphics. How can the play be more meaningful? Thomas and Brown’s definition of play, “the tension between the rules of the game and the freedom to act within those rules” , provides the framework. To create a meaningful play environment, then, one needs to create the structure in a way that allows freedom for the learner to explore within.

In discussing developmental math with one of the professors here at Sauk, he noted that many math students have learned a foundational principal foundation incorrectly which causes them to struggle in math for years. He suggested that what many students need is “math therapy,” where an instructor could find the source(s) of the error and then work on correcting that root problem.

One possibility might be to have different types of math problems, give the student the answer, and then have work toward that answer. Once the student has a solution, they can then be shown other similar problems and answers to test their solution (of course, demonstrations of the “right” way to solve the problem could be provided as well). By presenting it as a challenge in this way, I think it could help the student understand there could be other ways to get to an answer and open them up to learning a better way than what they may have learned earlier.

This is, of course, just one possible example. This way of thinking about play, though, provides a for how to develop learning environments that provide enough structure and “rules” to challenge the student, but enough flexibility to make the learning environment meaningful for the student.

 


Scratch-ing the Itch to Program

scratch programming blocks photo
Photo by andresmh

I’m late to the party, I realize. I’ve seen the user- and kid-friendly programming blocks before. In fact, I’ve even used a version of them when learning to develop mobile apps. But what spurred me to introduce my kids to the Scratch platform was when I learned about the user community and that all projects are open-source and remixable.

My kids have–like most kids–been developing in Minecraft, so I was looking for a next step for them to extend those skills. Scratch is the perfect fit. They have complete creative freedom. My oldest’s first project is a lab building game, my younger son’s has growing and shrinking dragons and robots, and my daughter’s is a “beautiful ballerina.”

As I begin a class on significant learning environments, it’s helpful to see such a great example of one in action. It’s also a perfect encapsulation of the COVA model. Since they have complete creative control, they eagerly take ownership of learning the platform, use and develop their own voice, and create projects that are authentic to them.

Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Introduction

The area of college developmental education has been an area of focus recently at Sauk Valley Community College, with good reason. The reasearch shows that developmental education in its current form is often not effective and that working with students in high school, before placement testing, is more effective.

I propose studying the effectiveness of an online college-readiness program based on principles in the Maker Movement, namely a self-paced, collaborative program focused on authentic learning.

Development of the program would likely take the majority of the 2017-18 school year, with the first high school students starting to use the program in the spring and summer semesters of 2018. Studying initial results could start as early as the fall of 2018.