Learning as Networking as Learning

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As I watched Dave Cormier’s Success in a MOOC video I found myself making mental notes about how I might translate the learning-as-networking principles back into a f2f classroom. In so many ways I think these principles for online learning get overlooked in bricks-and-mortar classes. Despite all our efforts at engaged and experiential learning it seems to me that we don’t do a good enough job helping students experience networked learning in conventional on-campus environments.

For example, Cormier explains that once you’ve begun learning something in an online class the next step is to declare yourself by writing something about what you’ve learned in, say, a posting to your blog; then you deepen your learning by finding and making a connection to someone else’s learning by, e.g., posting a thoughtful reply to their blog.

In f2f and hybrid classes many of us try to do this through in-class conversation, short writing assignments, and/or postings outside class to an online discussion board or blog. The actions are analogous but relatively superficial. It’s just homework, in other words. Just an activity.  What’s missing is the [social] networking energy–the thing that makes it satisfying and even addictive to repeatedly visit, read, and comment on someone else’s thoughts. That’s the hook I’m wanting to activate, somehow, in all my courses–f2f, hybrid, and wholly online.

Also, when we declare ourselves online there’s an underlying assumption that we’re inviting a response–and, increasingly, that we’re not just saying one thing (i.e., one blog posting, one YouTube video) but sharing a body of work and inviting others to consider and respond to some or all of it. So Cormier’s MOOC video is the thing I’m looking at now, but YouTube tells me there are 118 more videos in his library, and I can subscribe to updates and comment on what I’m seeing. But in a f2f class a student composes one text at a time and the rest of us may never see anything else she has created on a kindred topic in the past nor in the future. We may glean some of her insights through class discussion but her body of work is invisible. I’m looking for ways to make all that other significant thinking and making more a part of the person we meet during our f2f semester. Like a multimodal portfolio of thoughts and experiences or a D&D style avatar that summarizes the diverse skills and traits likely to be activated during the course. Something that helps us better appreciate who is in the room (literally or figuratively) and how they have come to think and know what/as they do.

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Synthesis (more thoughts on writing as craft)

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My arts-immersion sabbatical concludes this weekend with a final digital photography workshop. Though my project continues I wanted to pause here to synthesize some of the important points I’ve discovered (or re-discovered) for framing an academic writing course as a course in wordcraft:

My Context
The principles I’m assembling are intended to be portable. Even though for now I’m approaching this work mainly as a way to enrich my own classroom experiences, I’m hoping to share what I’m learning with other teachers in the future. I realize that my teaching style tends to be much more hands-on and improvisational–an approach that has been supported by fairly privileged circumstances: most of my college teaching has been done at small, private universities where my administrators have been highly supportive of [responsible] experimentation, community-engagement, and arts-integration, and where my classes have been relatively small: 16 to 22 students.
I also periodically teach courses at an overseas institution with larger enrollments (now around 30 per class) and numerous restrictions (logistical and otherwise), but I’ve managed to retain my core approach there while also getting a “reality check” about how much of this stuff one can do as a normal, busy teacher with lots of writing students and not much time or help.
Right now I’m concentrating on incorporating this approach into a first-year composition course that meets in a conventional face-to-face classroom, supplemented by a web-based course site. But I’m also interested in adapting some of this work to my web-based teaching and as time goes by will discuss that in more detail.
Some Components of Craft
Here I should also mention that I’m deliberately culling these principles from sources outside the “craft of writing” genre. I have a stack of those books–some read long ago, others waiting for me to finish this stage of my work before cracking the covers. But I opted to ignore them temporarily in order to give myself as fresh a perspective as possible during my mostly-non-verbal sabbatical. In other words, I wanted to see what artisans in other fields had to say about learning their craft(s), ruminating on that to see where it would take me before reading likely-analogous observations by writers. This seemed especially important because as a word-person I’m so accustomed to turning everything into a metaphor for writing. It happens automatically. I needed to breathe in a different space.
So to the extent that I can isolate or sort of universalize the notion of craft, here’s what I found:
Craft has these components:
  1. Heritage
  2. Materials, Tools, and Instruments
  3. Rituals and Routines
  4. Techniques and Strategies
  5. A Community of Peers, Mentors, Apprenticeship, and Heroes
  6. A Making-Based Learning Structure
  7. Models, Counter-Models, and Radical Innovation
  8. Dispositions
  9. Habits of Mind
  10. Lots and lots of practice
Heritage
The craft has a history. Even though individuals may discover a particular craft on their own (ex: a child whittling a stick or banging a pot like a drum) the activity itself has a heritage, often one that crosses many cultures and regions. Over time, the fortunate craftsperson encounters more and more of the lore and traditions connecting her work to that of many generations. This background also helps her understand why others did the work–for what purposes and audiences, and with what consequences.
Materials, Tools, and Instruments
Customary materials, tools, or instruments are associated with the craft. The craftsperson may work with alternative materials, tools, or instruments as well, but her craft is built on or enriched by experience in and with the fundamentals (as when a laptop-habituated writer learns to use a notebook and pencil for anywhere, anytime writing).
Rituals and Routines
Whether self-taught or required by mentors, certain processes are essential to work done well. Most often these processes are related to the preparation of the craftsperson herself and her workspace, particularly when sharing a space, tools, or materials with others. Sometimes the materials and tools themselves necessitate the ritual or routine (as in the grinding of ink for oriental calligraphy or spinning yarn for knitting or weaving or the tuning of a guitar). The quality of these preparations is manifested in the completed work.
Techniques and Strategies
The craft has its “best practices”–tried and true ways of working with the materials. Here as elsewhere, the innovative and “original” craftsperson is likely to have mastered the customary approaches as well as and prior to developing her alternative techniques and strategies.
A Community of Peers, Mentors, Apprenticeship, and Heroes
At some point the fortunate craftsperson encounters colleagues–historically in the artisan-apprenticeship arrangement or by birth into a family of craftspeople, today also in school, local organizations, or on the Web. This group becomes the craftsperson’s first creative circle or network, expanding over time, and it contains fellow novices with varying degrees of expertise as well as masters who become mentors. Some form of mentorship or apprenticeship enables the novice to be guided as she develops her skills, knowledge, and identification with the craft and its culture. Through this experience the craftsperson gains exposure to exemplary people and/or their works.
A Making-Based Learning Structure
Learning by doing. That is the heart of craftsmanship, whether learned alone or as part of a community. In either case, experimentation, trial-and-error, are key to improvement and understanding. When learning is done as part of a community or mentorship, the basic structure is likely to follow this process: demonstration and/or explanation, hands-on work or practice, critique by mentors and peers. Work is visible to others, often simply because they are sharing the space. Casual observation and feedback as well as more formal critique are habitual experiences that enable the craftsperson to benefit from other perspectives before, during, and after the creation of each work.
Models, Counter-Models, and Radical Innovation
Often done by the Heroes (see above), particular works serve as sources of inspiration for craftspeople. Novices learn by replicating the originals and experimenting with alternatives. The most conventional and revolutionary ideas often become the basis for a dialogue or dialectic regarding the nature, contexts, and significance of the craft itself.
Dispositions
Within the craftperson herself are three basic dispositional categories important both in terms of what she brings to the work and in terms of what her mentors will attempt to cultivate. (I culled the following directly from the book Studio Thinking by Lois Hetland et al. and will post a more complete citation later. Their work concentrates on visual artists working within a studio environment but translates well to other craft scenarios.) (1) abilities (both in handling tools/materials and in handling the planning and decision-making components of the work); (2) the craftperson’s intrisinsic and extrinsic inclination to use her abilities; (3) her alertness to opportunities for employing these abilities.
Habits of Mind
This component involves the craftperson’s approach to learning in general and to the craft in particular. It’s a collection of ways of engaging the world. Like everything else on this page, the habits overlap with and are influenced by one another and with the other 10 components. The following list is a synthesis from a variety of sources–interestingly, many of these can be found as characteristics of active learning in K-12 education–but the sources most influential to my current version of the list are: Lincoln Center Institute’s “Capacities for Imaginative Learning,” Hetland et al’s Studio Thinking (which uses the term “Habits of Mind”), Donald Schon’s Educating the Reflective Practitioner, and Keri Smith’s How to Be an Explorer of the World.
(Note: This is a very rough draft. I’ll need to return and re-synthesize this list to reduce its length and perhaps to separate those that are specifically about craftsmanship vs about the creative learning in general.)

Identifying with your work: approaching each project as an experience in which you are intentionally developing a craft and your own craftmanship.

Noticing deeply: making it a practice to observe your surroundings closely, expecting to see things worth seeing and when choosing something to observe, devoting substantial time to the experience, and returning to the site or object repeatedly to observe it from different perspectives noting new details.

Using all your senses: being open to your embodied experience of any source of inspiration, both in terms of how it affects you (ex: a delightful fragrance, a painful emotion) and in terms of how you can use your body to experience it more fully (ex: representing your experience through movement or using senses other than your eyes to encounter additional dimensions of it.

Questioning and dialogue: continuously questioning what something is what else it might be, being attentive to the ways it responds to your questions as well as to other sources of potential questions and responses.

Persistence and resourcefulness

Identifying patterns and making connections

Experimenting / envisioning possibilities

Experiencing, using, and exhibiting empathy: Seeing your work as having consequences for someone other than yourself—as a representation of social conditions, as an object to be used and/or enjoyed, as a product dependent on shared resources, as a touchstone for dialogue, etc.—and composing your work in a way that is responsible, ethical, and compassionate.

Synthesizing / making meaning

Taking action / expressing your insights and experiences

Reflecting and self-assessing

Contextualizing: Working in a way that is mindful of how your exploration and creation connect to works done by others and to sources of inspiration kindred to those informing or inspiring your own work.

Lots and Lots of Practice
Malcolm Gladwell explains it best in Outliers, but you’ll find the same criterion in numerous other sources: the baseline for mastery of anything is 10,000 hours of practice (around 4 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 10 years). One semester of college coursework is a drop in the bucket, but it’s also potentially 300+ hours of practice.

Contemplating Collage

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Later today I’ll meet with my colleagues again to explore the uses of collage–specifically as a heuristic or as a way of doing critical thinking during (as well as through) visual composition–for our upcoming workshop with educators.
I’m still resisting the commonplace: I don’t want this to be simply (yes, yes, I understand it’s never so simple) a metaphorical exercise but instead an activity that draws upon a kind of aesthetic instinct as well as other dimensions of the composing process.
I don’t want to over-talk the exercise and yet somehow I want the participants to experience (within a very short time frame–eek!) a way of exploring ideas that transcends verbal and visual and that culminates in a composition that speaks to them in complex ways over time.
The image above is one of my early experiments. My original plan for the workshop was to have everyone do something very much like this. It’s modeled after Joanne Leonard’s “Hand In” series, which was an exercise in constraints: she challenged herself to complete a series of collages that used a single, simple, repeated image: an outline of one hand in white pencil on black silhouette paper.
I love the basic design: it’s simple but potentially sophisticated (at least, in Leonard’s execution of it!) and for a workshop with mostly novices it seems like a lovely to create something complete and aesthetically pleasing guided by a model in a process that although somewhat imitative yields a work as unique as the hand of the artist outlined on the page as well as her choice of imagery.
But I worried that participants expecting to do collage (a genre associated mostly with masses of images rather than spare ones) might find this approach too limiting, and my colleagues agreed. So today we’ll be exploring with alternative methods, visuals, options. I’m hoping to at least retain the hand symbol as a common constraint.
Beyond all that, though, remains the purpose: how do we communicate that this activity is intended to help us tap into a way of knowing that is aesthetic, cognitive, intellectual, emotional, instinctual?
I’ve been reading more of Maxine Greene’s work on aesthetic education (as part of a course through the Lincoln Center Institute) in which Greene seems also to be struggling to find clear ways to explain, in layman’s terms, what happens when we use art to learn. Her writing style is so fluid and her voice so authoritative that you might not perceive her composition as a “struggle” (and indeed she might not describe herself as “struggling” either) but as her reader, as someone who has thought about this sort of thing for years and is combing through Greene’s writing to find a clearer expression of the academic and rhetorical aims of aesthetic education, I must say that I’m finding lots of lucid explanation that ripples through the subject without yet clarifying it. At least not in the ways I need. She is concerned mainly about art education period: What it means (or really ought to mean), why we should do it, how it works.  My concern is this: how does the process of making and engaging art help us do a better and more interesting job of teaching rhetorical ingenuity: identifying potential sources of insight, locating/mining/interacting with those resources, tapping into one’s own prior knowledge and experience as ways of knowing and not-knowing, determining what kinds of knowing are needed by and for one’s audience/oneself/those beyond who might benefit from your work, plus all that other rhetorical canon stuff (invention, arrangement, style, delivery, memory, taste).
Of course any educated rhetorician can rationalize the use of art to teach composition. What I’m looking for is more information: research data from other disciplines, explanations I haven’t already thought of or read about elsewhere, and also I’m looking for more discussion of the creative process as something novices can authentically do with satisfying outcomes that aren’t purely responses to “real” art done by experts.
But I digress. Sort of. Not really. As I search in Greene for a way to articulate the collage workshop I come across this from her “Notes on Aesthetic Education””

Surely we can learn to articulate more clearly what it is about making
and attending that so often opens up new perspectives, that allows people to
perceive new experiential possibilities, that offers them new symbolic
languages through which to express themselves. Surely, when we are
aesthetically educated, we can break through the either/or [of cognitive vs affective learning]. (19)

So far that’s as close as I’ve come (see what I mean?) to what we’re supposed to be doing with the collage. And perhaps “critical thinking” is too specifically Schonian a term for that process.  I am more comfortable calling it “deliberation.”  I’m hoping that the collage-composition experience will be a deliberative experience in which the participants:

  • Keep their minds open to sources of insight and inspiration from unexpected sorts of artifacts.
  • Approach the collage activity as one of contemplation as well as of creativity.
  • Work with a “believing game” attitude: expecting the process to reveal something to them.
  • Produce something that feels complete and satisfying.
  • Generates an artifact they will want to look at again and again, one that intrigues them and speaks to them in different or nuanced ways over time.

All of that is true of my collage above:
Although my underlying purpose the day I made it was to compose a complex image that in some spoke to myself-concept as a teacher, the images I gathered were chosen rather serendipitously. I ended up cutting the above image from a full-page photograph of a group of masqueraded revellers in Spain from a National Geographic magazine.
I drew my hand-configuration first and selected the image later as one that might lend itself to the composition As I slowly snipped the image and as I shifted it around on the page the activity became a meditation on not only what should go where but why and why not. I made decisions about the positioning of my hand or hands on the page that would ultimately feature the image and whether to keep the reveller’s hand visible; I asked myself about the significance of the masks and about the fact that the mask remaining in my image is really on the top of a reveller’s head rather than on his face. Is that somehow relevant to my self-concept as a teacher? And so on.

Ultimately, I completed an image that I could explain in a variety of ways but, to be honest, I am still listening to what it has to say.
Image source: HB Hessler

Kaleidoscopic Composition

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There are days–most days, actually–when I thank my lucky stars I’m a liberal arts professor. This is how I make my living: thinking and learning and experimenting with ways to help people compose and communicate constructive visions of the world.
If I’ve done my job really well, they compose texts that generate knowledge for themselves and for others. The infrastructure of all this is a process that only partially reveals itself in words–it’s a process of posing questions and exploring possibilities through research and cogitation and putting ideas out in a space or on a page and then translating those ideas into sentences perhaps with images or other media–the intellectual, ethical, and imaginative process itself is a substantial part of what we teach when we teach writing. Students should complete that process with greater insight and more substantial resources and information than they would have achieved without my help. That’s what I mean when I say my job is to help them generate knowledge, not just communicate it. And if they’ve generated knowledge, something meaningful to themselves and others, they’ll be better equipped to compose an artifact that articulates what they’ve learned. At that point it’s my job to be sure they do so with style and precision.
[In teaching as in weaving, at least 50% of the work is preparation, and good or poor preparation reveal themselves in the completed cloth.]
But the raw materials come from finding and mining possibilities. The single question or problem or topic is magnified, narrowed, turned upside down, divided into bits and re-assembled, all to give the researcher-writer-artist an interesting way to approach the project.
This is why I spent yesterday afternoon at a big table with two colleagues, sifting through pictures of yoginis and monarchs and a desert cougar atop a cactus, contemplating collage and metaphor and teaching and writing.
What we’re after is a way to create a short workshop experience that will enable us to share with other teachers the experience of using visual composition to generate insights. This is not a new idea in our field, which is one of our challenges, actually. Our workshop isn’t intended to teach our fellow teachers that using images is a fruitful invention strategy (duh) but instead to foster an experience we can share with the group, who will have assembled at a conference to generate and exchange ideas about teaching and learning.
As we ponder a fresh and relevant approach to this workshop, one of the interesting things we’re working on is the words we use to describe the purpose of the workshop. For example, if we say, “compose a collage that represents you as a teacher” or even “make a visual metaphor that expresses your teaching philosophy” we run the risk of encouraging people to concentrate on the product rather than the process. Each of those instructions sparks an answer, an outcome. A classically structured analogy of [A] in terms of [B].
And that’s not our goal, really. People already know how to do that and do it pretty automatically, which means the generative process is truncated by the wording of the instruction. Granted, even if you have a preliminary idea in mind, the process of visual composition pretty much requires a period of deliberation and reflection (ex: my teaching philosophy is derived from constructivism and emphasizes experimentation and collaboration so I’d want to use images that somehow represent those qualities), the constraints and materials on-hand would lead me to make some decisions and slow down and think in some detail about the various dimensions of my philosophy that might be illuminated by my collage.) But we’re not satisfied with that version of the workshop. We think we can do more.
So what’s more?
For one thing, more = composing an image that moves or that lends itself to a complex or multidimensional interpretation. (Here too a challenge because most smart people can generate multiple interpretations of any image, so what we need to push for is a surprise, I think, an insight or way-of-seeing that comes from the process rather than from pure wit.)
For now, we’ve decided to describe the workshop’s collage *not* as a “metaphor” but as a “complex image” in the hope this will help us all avoid leaping too immediately into a witty [A] as [B] mode (nor a Burkean ironic [A] in terms of [not B] mode 😉
In my own collage experimentation with this project, the image I consider most successful is one I’m still unable to clearly articulate. It’s a tracing of my two hands touching, fingers extended to create a triangle, with a masked character in the center (snipped from a National Geographic story about a masquerade festival in Spain). I like the aesthetics of the collage, and I like the way it resists a simple explanation. I’m not sure whether this is a kind of collage experience others would find meaningful, especially within a short workshop time frame, but I’m still considering what it might suggest or inspire.
Generally speaking, as a learner I’m extremely comfortable with ambiguity. It gives me lots to chew on. Although collage can be a wonderfully rich food for rumination, it’s also such a familiar genre that I think people sometimes overlook its richness or perhaps become overwhelmed by it.
This is one reason I’m very much attracted to the kaleidoscope as a collage vehicle. People are familiar with kaleidoscopes and might take them for granted as toys but if you hand someone a kaleidoscope they’re irresistibly drawn to make multiple images with it. In other words, it’s rare that a person will look through the eyepiece at the image handed to them and then put the scope down. They’re compelled to make their own image–usually again and again.
So let’s think about what’s happening there: the container of “stuff” is the same each time; the image is always different; the person holding the scope is making ephemeral art (I’m carefully avoiding lots of postmodern references and explanations here but go ahead and plug them in if you like) but its components are constantly there for further consideration, albeit from multiple perspectives, generating further ways of seeing; the artwork is inherently collaborative, facilitated by the maker of the scope and the user of it; if you diddle with it long enough (which may only be a few minutes) you’ll encounter some surprises, some combinations or juxtapositions that are beautiful or unexpected.
THAT is what I want my students to experience from research and writing.
THAT is what I want the workshop experience to accomplish.
THAT is my metaphor.
What shall I do about it?
Is the process of composing a collage sufficiently kaleidoscopic?
Image: Hibiscus Kaleidoscope by ifijay

Research as a Design Problem

I’m listening to Mozart’s Requiem and I’m almost too captivated by it to read or write another word. Let’s see if I can write within it.

I logged on to record another development in my summer project. A colleague found a marvelous site on reflective writing in visual sketchbooks and it has me inspired to re-try using sketchbooks/journals with my fall students with an emphasis on the nature of researched writing as a “design problem.”  I’ve taken this approach with my students before but never felt that I adequately conveyed the idea that I don’t mean it as an artistic metaphor for the research process but as an adjective. Design is visual and it is conceptual and [academic] research is those things also.
Anyhoo, in an effort to walk the talk and to give my students a couple of [hopefully] clear models, I’ve decided to compose a digital sketchbook (a blog) and a tangible one, dedicating each one to a specific research project that is not directly tied to art.  (I have so many different projects underway that this commitment doesn’t change my life much except to extract two of those projects from their existing journals/blogs/sketchbooks for the models.) Since anything I do for students tends to get done long before anything I do for myself this commitment is also likely to help me be more productive as well.
As I do the sketchbooks elsewhere I’ll report on them periodically here on this blog, at least in terms of my evolving thinking about research as a design problem. (Update: I’ve begun a separate blog as a possible model of a digital research sketchbook for my fall students. There I’ve also done some thinking and writing regarding the design problem approach.)

A Meaningful Next Step with the CIQ

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An earlier post included a laundry list of things I wanted to achieve through formative and summative assessment instruments in general and with the Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) in particular.

(Who wouldn’t want to read a posting that begins with that sentence?  Ah well.)
The one I want to think about now involves the CIQ.
I’d like to see if it’s possible to use them as, in some cases, first drafts of paragraph-length, critically reflective text. Perhaps assigning one CIQ as a not-entirely-anonymous text and having them select one of their responses as a starting point for deeper reflection.
I’d also like to revisit Yancey’s cautions against the “schmooze-factor” (1998) to see if it’s possible to have students examine samples of critically reflective writing (perhaps through genre analysis or perhaps in the way craft-apprentices approach and emulate models) and generate their own in ways that are demonstrably transferable. I need to look at their arguments more closely, but Beaufort and Yancey seem to be saying that if we steer students towards a particular vocabulary for discussing what they’ve learned then we’re setting them up to compose texts that aren’t authentically reflective.
But my exploration of arts-instruction seems to be pointing me back to the use of models and the benefits of asking novices to adopt the styles and vocabularies of “masterworks” –to use imitation and prescription–as an important step toward developing one’s own style and mastery. I’ve been emailing colleagues who work at the intersection of creative writing and academic writing to see what they have to say about this approach.
In a nutshell what I find curious is that the rise of genre studies made it OK to refer to models–to dissect and in some ways to emulate them–but generally speaking in composition studies the use of imitation is considered old fashioned and downright uncool. We in rhet/comp tend to scorn the 5-paragraph essay because so many first-year writers seem to believe it’s THE way to compose an academic argument–the real danger presumably being that in teaching (or perhaps even tolerating) one model we exclude variations and discourage originality. I get that, of course, and also understand that if we’re going to use models there’s only so much time in a 16-week semester to cover multiple models and therefore no matter how much we might intend students to improvise their final paper it’s possibly unrealistic to believe that a model-oriented approach would truly foster improvisation.
But then again it’s a generally accepted Best Practice to co-develop rubrics and to use past papers as exemplars for rubrics.
So when we return to the subject of critically reflective texts is the issue somehow ethics as well as pedagogy?
Image source: Whitney McKim

Critical Reflection in 3D

For several years I’ve using Stephen Brookfield‘s “Critical Incident Questionnaire” (CIQ) in my writing classes to get a clearer perspective on what my students experience in our classroom each week and also to help all of us (my students and me) become more critically reflective, collaborative learners. I’ve been joined in this work by research partners at other institutions and by a variety of predecessors who shared our interest in making this tool work best in their own classrooms and practices. In the language of pedagogical theory, what we’re doing is good ole student-centered constructivist teaching and learning: we view knowledge as something constructed by all those participating in the experience, and the CIQs (and/or portfolios, 1-minute papers, etc.) record that collective process of meaning-making.

With so much of my scholarly and creative trajectory evolving through hands-on craft-work I find myself wondering what my constructivist pedagogy would look like if I took that term literally. What if “constructing knowledge” involved observable construction of stuff instead of (or perhaps in addition to) recording in words what we remember of what we learned. Or what would happen if reflection happened nonverbally? What if we built something to represent that week’s insight or pitfall?
When I visualize a 3D alternative to the CIQ, even if done in a rotation with the usual verbal CIQ, I worry that my students would consider the process too kindergartenish and that I’d find the experience too time-consuming, given all the word work to be done.
But then again, 3D reflection might include words . . . transverbal compositions.
Or am I just restless? Am I just bored with the CIQ and seeking a novel alternative? Yes, that too.
But I do need to change something.
What the CIQ Does Consistently Well
As a quick, weekly-ish activity, the anonymous questionnaire gives me a glimpse into my students’ perceptions of what that week’s learning was about, and how well I (and they) facilitated the learning.
As a collection of responses, the students’ carbon copies of the questionnaire give them a way to identify patterns in their own likes and dislikes, successes and pitfalls as learners. They can then use this collection as a source of data for analyzing their own learning experience at the end of the semester. By the same token, the responses give me a way to observe overall patterns useful for refining my pedagogy and curriculum over time.
 
What the CIQ Doesn’t Much Accomplish
The act of completing the weekly-ish questionnaires doesn’t teach students to become better reflective writers or critical thinkers. If I choose to devote additional class time to the teaching of critically reflective thinking and writing, the CIQs can be a useful artifact. But that utility greatly depends on my skill at integrating the responses into the curriculum and conversations of the course, and the students’ perception of that work as being a meaningful component of the course. And because many students pragmatically equate “meaningful” with “graded” I risk attaching some sort of grade to some sort of document that draws upon their anonymous responses. At any rate, the CIQ itself is not a means of teaching thinking or writing–at best it’s a tool for other activities that attempt to teach those things.
The CIQ responses don’t much assess whether students’ writing is improving as a result of the course experience. Nor is it assessing the students’ grasp of other course content. In conventional terms, a formative assessment instrument assesses what students are learning. Depending on the wording of the questions, the CIQ might assess the students’ perceptions of the teacher’s effectiveness, and it might somewhat assess the students’ perceptions of their own learning, but for the most part any formative assessment being done is of the teacher rather than of the learner.
In these ways the CIQ is sort of a handmaiden to teaching and learning assessment, but will always require some other instrument or activity to make use of it.
 
Why I’m Tempted to Experiment with a 3D Version
By 3D I mean a version that would somehow transform the CIQ from a flat questionnaire to something that challenged students to draw upon other cognitive, verbal, and visual resources to compose their impressions. What tempts me is the fact that I’m increasingly using multimodal and aesthetic pedagogies and projects in my courses and it seems fitting that my assessment methods be similarly multi-dimensional.
And yet often the simple tool is best. And CIQs are fairly simple.
Of course, complicating the tool is not the only way to bring the CIQ into another classroom dimension. A simpler solution would be to add this component: discussion. I could do a better job of reserving class time for CIQ-prompted discussions and of [co-]facilitating those discussions.
Imagine the best possible CIQ-prompted discussion: does it constitute critical reflection? does it teach critical reflection? Perhaps. Sometimes. It can fairly reliably serve as a way to teach meta-analysis. It brings us a step closer to overtly teaching critical thinking.
At her CCCC presentation last March Anne Beaufort discussed the pitfalls of prompting students to articulate their learning in “teacher talk” terms such as “reflection.” If we make it clear their task is to demonstrate they’ve learned X they’ll generate anecdotes or assertions accordingly–but doing so is less likely to be an act of “mindful thinking” or of critical reflection about the specific realities of their learning experience. Instead, it may be more of a “fill in the blank” response, no matter how earnestly expressed.

Self-reporting successes in terms of X is a time-honored method of assessment at many institutions, especially in the absence of more dependable ways of demonstrating the learning of complex content within a single semester.

 

So What Do I Want that’s Different?

This is really a two-fold question. What I need is an assessment method that demonstrates the extent to which my students have actually learned what I attempted to teach them. (This is Assessment 101–the thing every teacher everywhere needs.) What I additionally want is an assessment method that helps me do a better job of teaching during the semester, so I can respond to my students’ needs, interests, and inspirations. (This is what that imperfect instrument the CIQ gives me.) And beyond that I also really want some sort of assessment method that helps my students and me learn more mindfully, drill more deeply into the course content that intrigues us most, and to articulate where we are in the process of coming to know better. Furthermore, I want a way to gauge the effectiveness of my pedagogical experimentation. Finally, I want to teach my students to approach research and researched writing (in any chosen discip
line) as a critically reflective and potentially reflexive enterprise.

Is that all?
For now.