Monday, November 30, 2009

Summary of Session with Mary-Ann Winkelmes

Courtesy of Team Ewe

Dr. Winkelmes spoke about a wide range of separate but interrelated teaching and learning topics in our interview. She is active in her job as Campus Coordinator for Programs on Teaching and Learning where she acts to unite the missions of the various teaching academies across campus. In this role, she also coordinates the transparency initiative that she has conceptualized and implemented. She is facilitating research on how professors can be more effective teachers through explaining "how and why" to students. In reference to the CHP 395 project on peer mentoring, Dr. Winkelmes suggested exploring peer mentoring programs by Elizabeth Morley of the University of Illinois Writer's Workshop and Michael Loui of the University of Illinois electrical and computer engineering department.

Background and education.
Dr. Winkelmes is a product of the Massachusetts public school system. She attended Wellesley College where she received her degree in English and art history. She received her M.A. from Yale in art history and her Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art and architecture from Harvard. She started teaching Italian art and architecture thinking it would be her calling but became very fascinated by how the students were learning what she was teaching; she was just as curious about their learning as she was about the content. By accident, she stumbled into the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. It is a center for graduate students and faculty to learn about teaching and learning. She was invited to do some consulting work for them, and then became associate director later on. When given the opportunity, she decided to focus on teaching and learning with professors rather than teaching art history to "pretty privileged liberal arts school students." Working with teachers would have greater impact.

What are the differences in teaching and learning across these universities (University of Illinois, University of Chicago, and Harvard)?
Dr. Winkelmes has worked at Harvard, University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois. She considers all three schools to be large research institutions that expect their faculty to publish in their field. However, she feels that the educational environment at the University of Illinois differs because of its status as a land grant institution. Education of the people matters here differently than it does at institutions like Harvard. The issues of diversity and accessibility are upheld in a different way here; this status makes it so that education of all people matters to the identity of the institution.

What do you do everyday? What is your big picture goal?

Dr. Winkelmes's job is to support the teaching work of the teaching academies on campus, and enhance the learning of all constituencies on campus. Every college or school can have a teaching academy; they are discipline specific centers that support the learning in those colleges. They have recently put together a campus-wide faculty forum, that is a chance for faculty across the campus to discuss how teaching innovations have changed the teaching culture on campus. Dr. Winkelmes tries to connect people on campus to see how they can collaborate on these different teaching issues. She describes herself as the "hub on the wheel, connecting all the spokes."

Can you discuss where [transparency] came to be and how you see that affecting [students]?
She states that if you find out something about teaching and learning that works at the University of Illinois, it is much more applicable nationally than it would be if found at University of Chicago. If you produce results about thousands of students at Illinois it is more relevant than results at private institutions. Two challenges in higher education: 1) students need to learn how they learn and 2) there is little career incentive for non-education psychology professors to delve into teaching and learning research.

Why do you feel transparency is necessary?
Dr. Winkelmes finds that in research institutions, the kind of students that are very successful undergraduates are those that have a learning style that is similar to the style of the professor that is teaching them. The problem is that it produces people who think like professors; the structure produces the same kind of thinking all the time. If you have some system that allows for different styles of thinking, you would eventually have a larger variety of thinkers that would influence higher education in the future. For those students who do not automatically think like their professors, transparency allows for the professor to pull back the curtain to let the student know how the teacher is thinking about it and lets the student determine how to grapple with that.

Can you expand on what concrete actions go into this transparency?

Dr. Winkelemes is trying to get professors who are willing to try one single way of being transparent with how they are teaching. There is a nutrition course taught by Rebecca Roach in the College of ACES, and the professor decided to be transparent about how she puts together her lectures. Dr. Roach presents topics she wants to talk about but then polls the students to see what topics they want to explore. Another course is trying to be transparent about phases of intellectual development. This course in the Law school is for second year law students; these students were at the phase that they just wanted to know what was on the test. The professor knew she could train students to ace a test but that would not help them win a case. She utilized Bloom's Taxonomy and translated that into skills needed for becoming a lawyer, she was trying to teach the skills that lawyer's used to win cases not the facts of the case.

Can you talk about the responsibility of the students in facilitating the [transparency] arrangement?
The responsibility for the students is that they become more responsible as students. They get control and power over learning experience in a transparent course. They become judges of their own learning. They control their learning better. If same tools are available to students as to professors, they have more control over their own learning.

Are there other innovations...(inaudible)?
Transparency is a catch-all term, there are many ways to be transparent. "How and why" is the essence of transparency.

In implementing these transparency initiatives, what mechanisms do you use to get student feedback? And on the flip side, what mechanisms do you use to get professor feedback?
This is the first semester that they have had a big group as a test for the initiative. The way they get feedback from students came through a 30 question survey. The faculty get data from their students responses, and they get feedback from their own tests, as in did the faculty get the answers they wanted to get. Dr. Winkelmes realizes she needs to get feedback from faculty. Right now she is interviewing the participants but once there are more participants she cannot interview everyone.

What would an ideal course structure or format look like?
Information available is a limit to answering what an ideal course would look like. Transparency initiatives should help answer this question with data with one or two variables at a time.

Is there any sort of data point that you find most important? Strong correlations to learning most?
NSSE by George Kuh identifies "learning practices" helpful to students: freshman seminar classes, undergraduate research projects, and capstone experiences. The AACU (American Academy of Colleges and Universities) have a list of high impact teaching practices. The AACU is a top-down way. Dr. Winkelmes views her apporach as a more ground up approach.

Have you seen other resistance from students, faculty, and administrators?
Some of the challenges working with the faculty is that they have some fear. It is hard for an expert on a certain content area to try something new in front of an audience. From an administrative level, it is hard to account research on teaching and learning. It is hard to gauge whether it is personal reflection publication or the serious, rigorous empirical research.

Alessandra: If there is one thing you could tell us to be a better learner, what would it be?
One piece of advice would be it is not about the teacher. It is about the students. Don't think: "How am I teaching?" Think: "How are they learning?" Dr. Winkelmes then alluded the adaptive nature requisite in teaching.

Do you have any suggestions about how you've seen peer mentoring used or how it could be effectively used?
Dr. Winkelmes named Elizabeth Morley of the Writer's Workshop and Michael Loui of the electrical and computer engineering department have implemented peer mentoring approaches successfully. "It's not enough for a teacher to teach students how to learn. You also need students teaching students how they're learning." She social residence literature in reference to peer mentoring. Faculty peer-to-peer mentoring is also relevant, but "no single mentor can give you everything you need."

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