Collaborative Syllabus Design – Students at the Center

Update March 19, 2019: This post is now part of the Open Pedagogy Notebook.

Together We Create!
“My Life Through A Lens”

“Democratically co-creating learning outcomes with students, based on their goals for the class, situates them at the center of your pedagogy.” – Christina Katapodis

I have been meaning to write about collaborative syllabus design for ages. This week’s workshop on learner-centered syllabi in GEDI / Grad 5114 combined with a very cool article by Christina Katopodis on Writing Learning Outcomes with Your Students finally got me going. (Thanks to Meg Mulrooney for sending Christina’s article across the Twitterverse a couple days ago.)

We are used to thinking about the syllabus as a kind of “contract” that explains what the course is about, specifies what the requirements are, lists what kind of assessments will be used, and sets out a schedule of activities, lectures and assignments. While these documents serve a purpose, they are often formidable and make for dry reading. And they can marginalize students from courses they should be co-creating rather than taking.

In keeping with a broader shift that I made several years ago to build more collaboration and interaction into the classes I teach, I now think about syllabi as “invitations” to join a learning community. I use the first person plural to indicate that we are all in this together. I set “priorities” for the semester but indicate that the group will have a say in determining how we achieve those goals and that we may identify other topics or issues that warrant exploration along the way. Continue reading “Collaborative Syllabus Design – Students at the Center”

The Overstory – A cMOOC Un-Introduction

Trees in fog on grassy ridge

I was so excited to stumble upon Equity Unbound, a cMOOC facilitated by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, and Mia Zamora this weekend. Inclusion, diversity, paradigm busting, and openness are at the heart of Contemporary Pedagogy (aka “GEDI”), a professional development course for future faculty I teach every semester.  When I saw that Equity Unbound would use an “emergent collaborative curriculum” to help create “equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences across classes, countries and contexts,” I knew there could be wonderful synergy between it and the intentional, multi-disiciplinary, and diverse learning community that is #GediVT (our Twitter hashtag).

So, if you’re reading this and have any connection to #GediVT or are following along on the hashtag, please think about joining me. Don’t worry about how much time this will take (I know you don’t have any — I don’t either), or how we’ll coordinate the logistics (loosely, of course!), or any of the other reasons you might not want to do this. Just head on over to the Equity Unbound website and see if there isn’t something that works for you.  One of the great things about cMOOCs is that they are somewhat self-paced, and you can engage as deeply (or intermittently) as you like. Of course regular sustained engagement is best, but really anything you  contribute you won’t regret — because these are wonderfully social, supportive, networked learning opportunities that will give you a ton of serendipitous learning experiences and the chance to get to know wonderful people, even though you might not ever meet them F2F. Also, if we get enough folks interested, we might be able to contribute to the emergent curriculum Maha, Catherine, and Mia have in mind.

I’m going to keep this short because I have class in a couple of hours, but one of the suggested introductory activities is an “Un-Introduction, which gives me the opportunity to share some important information about “Where I am Local” and what makes me tick, that doesn’t appear on my “regular” professional bio or CV. So, here goes:

At the recommendation of a veteran of the resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, I started listening to Richard Power’s “The Overstory” on my run this morning.  An epic re-imagining of how humans relate to the natural world and to the lives of trees in particular, The Overstory begins with the story of the demise of the American Chestnut, the magnificent tree that once dominated the forests of the Eastern United States.  A lone “sentinal” tree on the plains of Iowa, planted in the mid-nineteenth century by the ancestor of Nicholas Hoel, one of the book’s human characters, stands poised to help its species survive. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hoel is leaving his farmland roots in Iowa and heading to art school.

Chestnut Fall
Fallen Chestnut, Montgomery County, VA

Continue reading “The Overstory – A cMOOC Un-Introduction”

Difficult Conversations: Report from CHEP

Members of the Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence partnered with the Academy of Teaching Excellence to host a packed session on facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom at last week’s Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy. The write-up below is a (very) partially-processed transcription of the session. For the key takeaways re: strategies, scroll down or click here :

After brief introductions we did a quick round robin: What is ONE word you associate with difficult conversations in the classroom? The answer:

Asked what brought us to the session produced an array of responses from a wide range of disciplines and fields:

In the Social Sciences we avoid these conversations but don’t acknowledge that we are avoiding them; We have them but not enough; need to reinvigorate commitment to having them. Social work is all about difficult conversations; Continue reading “Difficult Conversations: Report from CHEP”

Log Jam No More

Never mind why it’s been so long since I’ve posted (insert long whine here about being over-extended, distracted, and just plain tired….). It’s the first week of #OpenLearning18 and Mindful Learning week in GEDI. Causes to celebrate for sure. And as my planner helpfully notes, “Done is better than perfect.”  So……

While everyone is moving in and getting comfy with #OpenLearning18, I want to throw a couple of nuggets out there for the Contemporary Pedagogy (#GEDIVT) group: Continue reading “Log Jam No More”

Can’t Let it Go — Inclusive Pedagogy With #Gedivt

We are deep in the heart of the Contemporary Pedagogy Syllabus and last week’s session on Inclusive Pedagogy left me reeling — in a good way. Talking with a diverse group of people about how to cultivate inclusive and diverse classrooms is always interesting, and often quite challenging, but this session was especially noteworthy for the thoughtfulness and respect that carried us through the evening. We did not talk directly about some of the issues that usually come up in these sessions, but instead  learned about Prof. Christine Labuski’s classroom technique of “Universal Precautions” and let that framework shape the discussion that followed. Continue reading “Can’t Let it Go — Inclusive Pedagogy With #Gedivt”

Contemporary Pedagogy at VT: A Conversation with Shelli Fowler

Orange Sneakers

Working with the Open Learning cMOOC  (#OpenLearning17) has given me the opportunity to re-connect with one of the most inspirational and talented educators I know. During her long tenure at Virginia Tech Dr. Shelli Fowler developed and taught a graduate course  called “Pedagogical Practices in Contemporary Contexts.”  A jewel in the crown of certificate programs in Transformative Graduate Education and Training the Future Professoriate, Contemporary Pedagogy brings together graduate students from across the university in a seminar devoted to developing a distinct teaching praxis. Shelli designed the course, which is known across campus as “GEDI” (the Graduate Education Development Institute) to help graduate students acquire the diverse and flexible skill sets they need to succeed and lead as teacher/scholar/professionals in the changing landscape of higher education. It works at multiple levels — as a professional development forum for early-career teachers, as an interdisciplinary discussion of the challenges and commonalities of engaging undergraduates at a Research I university, and as a site of critical engagement over the connections between the philosophical underpinnings and practical application of pedagogy (praxis). Continue reading “Contemporary Pedagogy at VT: A Conversation with Shelli Fowler”