Teaching and Books

Written by Cheryl Frech, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Chemistry – Photo of Dr. Cheryl Frech

I am a big fan of books. Because I commute to UCO from Norman, I constantly listen to audiobooks in the car. My bedside table is stacked with a book-in-progress and multiple to-read titles. I just completed an eight-year stint as the book and media reviews editor for the Journal of Chemical Education. And I am the organizer of a Fiction Club in Norman. I also find books essential for teaching and learning about teaching. Just as there are trends in the popular press, there are trends in books about education. But many of us will gravitate back to our favorite titles, ones that have spoken to us and guided us through the various stages of our teaching career.

What’s that you say? No time to read? Make some. Better yet, join a CETTL Book Discussion Group and meet with others who are reading the same book. Lively discussion is certain to ensue.

What’s that you say? No time to read? Make some. Better yet, join a CETTL Book Discussion Group and meet with others who are reading the same book. Lively discussion is certain to ensue.

Here are five book recommendations that have guided me over the years and into the present.

  1. Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester by Donna Killian Duffy, Josey-Bass, 1995. Once you have mastered the content of your courses, you begin to experience the time dimensions of teaching. There’s that excitement and energy at the start of the semester. There are the inevitable doldrums in the middle when you and your students feel bogged down. And then there is the final push to squeeze everything in before the final exam. This book breaks down the term and forces you to think about how to manage the rhythms of the semester. Technology has moved on since 1995, but the ideas still work to make you think about how your courses play out over time.
  2. Book cover: The Courage to Teach, by Parker PalmerThe Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer, Jossey-Bass, 1998. This book covers another dimension of teaching, one that we don’t often talk about. For lack of a better term, let’s call it the spirituality of teaching. In order to stand in front of a class and work to motivate students to learn, we, as educators, must reveal some of ourselves to the students. Simultaneously, students and faculty together are part of a larger community of learning. How can we navigate both our inner journey and reach out effectively in our classroom? This is an excellent book to talk through with others in a group, and there is a published Guide for Reflection and Renewal available.
  3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Full Our Potential by Carol S. Dweck, Random House, 2006. The premise of Mindset is simple. Most people have one of two approaches to life (mindsets). People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence (or any other kind of ability) is static: either you have it or you don’t. People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence (and ability) can be developed through application and experience. Mindsets do not just impact academic performance, they are apparent in many, if not all, aspects of our lives. Quite a bit of this book is about academic achievement in students ranging from grade school to college, but there are chapters that consider mindsets in business and leadership, relationships, and the interactions between parents, teachers, children, and coaches. The final chapter, “Changing Mindsets”, provides valuable tools to use yourself, or to try with those students who come to your office for help in a course. This book was published in 2006 and some of the anecdotes are about people or events that occurred quite some time ago, but the message is clear and helpful. This is another book to read and share with those around you.
  4. Cover of Oakley, A Mind for Numbers bookA Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley, Penguin, 2014. Early in my teaching career, I thought my job was to elucidate chemistry for others. Over the years, as I’ve changed, and perhaps my students have changed, I have decided the most important thing that a student can learn in first-year chemistry is to learn how he or she learns best. Oakley uses clever diagrams, a variety of strategies, short chapters, and simple exercises to present solutions, or at least approaches to nearly every complaint you have ever heard from students including, “I studied for 10 hours and still failed your test”, “I do really well on the homework but I’m not a good test taker, and “I’m an introvert and don’t like to study with others”. If equations are mystifying and confusing, try using your creative side to write an equation poem, or imagine the information in a short play (Chapter 14). There is a chapter on test taking, and multiple short chapters on memory tricks. This book will help you help your students become better learners, and you may benefit as well.
  5. Teach Students How To Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation by Saundra Y. McGuire, Stylus 2015. “Metacognition” is the latest buzzword in education, but it’s a good one and timely. Many of the students we see in our classrooms need to learn how to learn and this book provides an excellent framework. McGuire presents chapters on metacognition, Bloom’s taxonomy, mindset (see above!), and motivation. There are chapters on what faculty can do, what students can do, and how to partner with your campus learning center. The book is filled with suggestions and strategies: you don’t have to attempt them all, but try one or two that fit your classroom and teaching style, step back, and observe the results.


Use IF-AT Cards…Make Tests Fun!

The 2016 UCO Collegium on College Teaching Practices showcased many different active learning strategies employed by UCO faculty. The below short essay describes the success, Maurice Haff, an Instructor in Innovation & Entrepreneurship, has found using the Immediate-Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT) cards. These cards are free to UCO faculty and available at the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning (CETTL).

Written by Maurice Haff, Instructor, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, College of Business – MHaff_UCO

When was the last time your students enjoyed taking a test? Have your students ever been apprehensive about “bombing” an exam? Can you list a few instances where taking a test taught your students anything about the subject matter? Does the specter of cheating haunt your classroom? Do your exams engage your students in meaningful ways? Are your students relaxed when they show up for test day? In short, do your exams help students learn?  I can confirm from my experience over four years of using the Immediate Feedback Assessment Test (IF-AT) method that IF-AT will address the forgoing issues.

Key Benefits:

  • allows students to continue answering a question until they discover the correct answer.
  • ensures that students’ last response is the correct one.
  • teaches while it assesses.
  • facilitates learning and improving students’ retention of the information being tested.
  • students love using the IF-AT — it makes assessments enjoyable for them!
  • instructor is able to determine how many answer attempts it took for students to discover the correct answer.
  • the instructor who uses the IF-AT is able to give partial credit to his/her students.

Psychological Principles. The IF-AT was developed by a psychology professor whose specialty is human learning and memory. The IF-AT is based on solid psychological principles:

  • Immediate feedback is beneficial for learning (and is superior to delayed feedback)
  • The best test/quiz/homework assignment, etc. doesn’t just assess; it also teaches
  • The last response given by students on a test item are the ones they learn (i.e. the students leave the test item believing they have chosen the correct answers)

Recommended Use Strategy

Assessment of student learning is an essential element in what we do as educators.  If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve on the methods you use.  Our top priority needs to be helping students learn.  I have found student engagement at every opportunity, including testing, can help do that.  My approach is to test often (e.g., 4 to 6 sessions) as follows:

  1. Explain the IF-AT method and how you will use it so that students understand.
  2. Provide study guides that help students comprehend and own the subject matter.
  3. Break each exam into three parts: Out-of-class questions, In-class individual, In-class group; score weighting highest for the In-class group exam (3 to 5 students per group).

The Out-of-class part helps the students understand what you believe to be most important. The In-class individual part is a short set of questions on the key aspects that helps you assess individual learning. The In-class group engages students in subject matter discussion on the questions presented requiring reaching consensus on each answer.  I have made the questions on the In-class group exams increasingly more challenging and found that the students respond well to the challenge, with scores maintained at a high level. Students laugh, talk, and challenge each other during my exams. They come into each session smiling…they usually leave that way!


Epstein Educational Enterprises. (n.d.) What is the IF-AT? Accessed 03/22/2017 at http://www.epsteineducation.com/home/about.

Scaling Transformative Learning Using eLearning

The connections between transformative learning and elearning are rich and create an environment prime for innovation and learning excellence. eLearning is a broad term used to describe the use of technology to empower and support learning experiences.

eLearning strategies can provide unparalleled access to transformative learning experiences through the use of technology. While access and scale are important factors in today’s educational environments, the quality and value of learning experiences should be a primary driver for innovation. Even still, there are practical needs to scale transformative learning opportunities across organizations and elearning offers one mechanism to engage individuals and Girl writinglarge groups of people in transformative learning experiences.

In this article, I outline several high-level strategies educators can use to design transformative learning experiences while leveraging the delivery benefits of elearning to enhance scale and diversity of learning experiences.

Empowering Reflection and Self-Awareness

A cornerstone of transformative learning is reflection and self-awareness that is needed to develop a new self-actualization. This process goes beyond simple knowledge acquisition or skill training, but is instead defined by the change of one’s self-perspective or worldviews. eLearning provides a way of support this reflective process by providing a space for idea cultivation and self-connections. This may be as simple as using a digital note to record an idea or growing a digital portfolio over an extended period of time. These digital data points provide a collection of anchors for future learning.

Girl checking phone

Creating Connected Communities

One of the major contributions elearning offers the field of transformative learning is the ability to connect people with few limitations on geography or time. eLearning can empower connections within courses and programs; however, the greatest value for transformative learning is the ability to connect people in contextualized ways. This supports a community of practice approach where learners create a community focused on advancing collective learning.





Supporting Applied Learning Experiencespeople work on project

Related to connecting communities, transformative learning is inherently related to empowering applied learning experiences where learners actively engage in experiences that are embedded in “real-world” situations. eLearning provides a unique opportunity to provide scaffolds and support for helping learners relate what they are learning from a conceptual level, to pragmatic and applied situations. For example, elearning can provide information through the use of videos, online guides, and resources at the “moment of need” when a learner is using a new skill or knowledge. This encourages application and enhanced relevance for the learner.


Summarizing Thoughts

Technology is a defining component of today’s education and learning environments. While technology may be ubiquitous, this by default, does not empower meaningful and valuable learning experiences. As educators seek to grow transformative learning opportunities for students, we should consider elearning as a catalyst and scaffold that can help learners move beyond surface learning, to more deep and integrated learning experiences.

How Important are the Following Factors to Student Achievement?

Survey results among K-12 teachers as published in “Mindset in the Classroom: A National Study of K-12 Teachers,” p. 15, 2016. Student engagement and motivation was the most important (82% of teachers rating it very important), followed by percentages rating as very important: teaching quality (69%), school climate (67%), school safety (61%), social and emotional learning (61%), parental support and engagement (59%), use of growth mindset with students (53%), school discipline policies (39%), and family background (27%).

Survey results among K-12 teachers as published in "Mindset in the Classroom: A National Study of K-12 Teachers," p. 15, 2016. Student engagement and motivation was the most important (82% of teachers rating it very important), followed by percentages rating as very important: teaching quality (69%), school climate (67%), school safety (61%), social and emotional learning (61%), parental support and engagement (59%), use of growth mindset with students (53%), school discipline policies (39%), and family background (27%).

Engaging or Ignoring the Disorienting Dilemma: Entitlement to Opinion?

Recently released results of a survey of K-12 teachers indicate that by a wide margin the factor most often reported as “very important” for student achievement is “student engagement and motivation” (Education Week Research Center, 2016, p. 15).

While the question in the survey related to students’ academic achievement, would your response as a college faculty member be the same, “Very important,” if the question were worded, “How important are student engagement and motivation for subsequent student transformative learning?”

In other words, is engagement a prerequisite for transformation?

The very definition of Transformative Learning (TL) indicates engagement is necessary because critical reflection — or even just thinking at a non-critically reflective level about an encounter with a disorienting dilemma — means you have engaged with the alternate idea:

Generally, transformative learning occurs when a person encounters a perspective that is at odds with his or her current perspective. This discrepant perspective can be ignored, or it can lead to an examination of previously held beliefs, values, and assumptions. When the latter is the case, the potential for transformative learning exists, though it does not occur until the individual changes in noticeable ways. (Kroth & Cranton, 2014, p. 3)

As described above by Kroth and Cranton, one of the options after encountering the disorienting dilemma (“discrepant perspective” in the language they use) is to simply ignore it. In that case, there would be no engagement with the different viewpoint or value or belief.

It’s frequently possible to identify students who are taking the no-engagement route because they say something like, “Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” and leave the opportunity for reflection in the dust of non-engagement. Another expression indicating there won’t be any potential for transformation might be, “Okay, let’s just agree to disagree,” though this statement at least implies there has been an exchange that might in the future have one or both parties reflect on why there was a mutually agreed-upon decision about the disagreement.

It’s certainly not the case that all disagreements need to be thought of as requirements to transform one’s beliefs. But to simply leave any conversation without considering the difference between the other’s perspective and one’s own — in other words, not to engage with the alternate viewpoint expressed — definitely stops reflection in its tracks.

Patrick Stokes, philosophy professor at Deakin University in Australia, tries to prevent students from avoiding the loss of potential transformative opportunities when they are tempted to use the “entitled to your own opinion” strategy:

. . . I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”

A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument — and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible. (Stokes, 2012)

opinion graphic

By taking this stance, Stokes charges his students with the responsibility of engagement.

If students have the tools to recognize when a belief has become indefensible, then any beliefs they hold that fit that definition become disorienting dilemmas with the potential to trigger a transformative realization.

Stokes closes his article by recommending you ask people who say, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” why they think that.

It’s a challenging question: If the statement is true, then entitlement to an opinion that cannot be supported by the facts means that opinions, even one’s own, are trivial because — clearly! — there are opinions that are factually indefensible. On the other hand, if opinions are not trivial, then the only opinions that constitute a true entitlement must be those supportable by facts and evidence.

Eliminating the “everyone’s entitled” cop-out forces students to examine their own opinions and the opinions of others.

And helping students develop the skill of evaluating opinions primes them for engagement with any number of disorienting dilemmas.



Kroth, M., & Cranton, P. (2014). Fostering transformative learning. International Issues in Adult Education, 14: Stories of Transformative Learning, 1-12. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Mindset in the Classroom: A National Study of K-12 Teachers. (2016). Benthesda, MD: Education Week Research Center. Available: http://www.edweek.org/media/ewrc_mindsetintheclassroom_sept2016.pdf

Stokes, P. (2012, October 4). No, you’re not entitled to your own opinion. The Conversation. Available: http://theconversation.com/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978

Marketing Professor Reflects on President Betz’ conversation on “What are we doing here?”

Author: Dr. Jeri Jones-

The UCO teacher center, the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning (CETTL), holds a monthly informal discussion called the Socrates and Stein Café.  Modeling the early French Salons and Socrates, UCO faculty are invited to come and share thoughts over cookies and tea on a big question in the academy. Every month is a different question. Faculty participating in the 21st Century Pedagogy Institute are asked to write a post-session critical reflection about their experience. Jeri Jones (UCO Associate Professor of Marketing) selected a few themes from the November 16, 2016 session lead by President Don Betz to reflect upon as they relate to her life as a faculty member.


I found this seminar to be particularly interesting as I enter the latter part of my academic career.  It was interesting to hear President Betz speak about the difference in faculty perspectives from faculty at the beginning of their careers versus those at the end of their careers while pondering “what am I doing here?”  During this seminar I jotted down a few phrases that had particular relevance for me and what I learned or thought about them.  I would like to discuss a few of these for my reflection piece.

“Never make a student feel they are not important enough for 30 seconds”

This really was quite profound and I can think back on my career when there were times when I asked a student to come back at another time because it was not a good time for me.  Now I realize that I need to meet students at times that are good for them and it cannot always be about me.  When students wanted to meet me to discuss something I would start the conversation by telling them when I was available on campus instead of starting by asking them when it would be convenient for them to meet me.  Now I also give students my cell phone and let them call me whenever they need help.  I know many of these students are working on homework at night and that is when they probably need the help so I tell them to feel free to call me at night.  In all honesty—it doesn’t disrupt my work life balance to take a 30 second phone call from them or answer a text.

“You have to cultivate the kind of community you want to be in”    

This really hits home for me as a faculty member. I really cannot stand it when a faculty member only complains, as I shared a lot of this behavior in my own past. The culture of a place is a direct result of the kind of participation, respect and attention we give to each other.  Now,  I try to jump in and become involved with many things on campus and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  Criticism has always come easy for me but being part of the solution is something with which I struggle.  Now, I volunteer, I do a lot of training and workshops as it keeps me connected with faculty/staff and innovation and allows me to see not only the problems but work on solutions at the same time in a positive environment.  I try not to align myself with complainers but with people with positive attitudes.  I want to be in an innovative and positive environment where NOT attempting to try something is frowned upon rather than attempting something that failed.  This is a culture that needs to be supported and encouraged and I want to be in a place that does this.  Toward that end, it is my responsibility to help cultivate this environment.  Embarrassingly, this also made me reflect on times when I was not cultivating the kind of environment that I wanted to be in.  There were times when I was the rain storm and now I have to reflect back and wonder why I did that when there were probably other things I could have done better to bring about positive change.

“We have responsibility to continue on in the right spirit”

While we have a responsibility to cultivate our own environment, sometimes it is still not the right place for that person anymore.  This was quite impactful for me.  Sometimes we need to move on and change can be a good thing when you feel you no longer fit where you are.  Tenure is not a prison!

“The learner thrives in times of great change” 

I think this sums up my thirst for faculty development and my desire to participate in the UCO’s 21st Century Pedagogy Institute.  Change is difficult for me and I have found that immersing myself in faculty development activities reduces my stress.  First it makes me ready for the change.  I feel I am better equipped to deal with change when I have been trained to not only expect it– but embrace it.  Second I feel like I am staying current with the flow and not being left behind.  I hate when I attend something of relevance to me and I feel like everyone else knows what they are talking about except me.  I have learned I can change that by keeping myself informed.  It is also a great way to keep connected and not feel alone in a place of a thousand people.

Evolutionary and Revolutionary Transformative Learning


Kroth and Boverie (2009) developed a 4-cell grid to conceptualize the mix between the speed of Transformative Learning (TL, which they characterize as “Discovering”) and whether the TL occurred because the prompt to change was imposed from outside or because the learner intentionally put herself into the transformative scenario:

4-cell grid. Vertical axis shows speed with which TL happens, horizontal axis shows whether the TL has been imposed from without or from within. Top left cell is "Initial Trauma, Major Shock." Bottom left cell is "Series of Disturbances to Belief Systems." Top right cell is "Epiphany, Enlightenment." Bottom right cell is "Series of Generative Explorations into Beliefs."

Quadrant 1 represents a transformative event that is imposed on a student. In other words, she has no control over whether she is exposed to, or part of, the event or not. Experiencing the event, though, causes a lasting change in her sense of self or how she relates to others, community, and/or environment.

The same imposed approach can happen incrementally and over time (Quadrant 3) when she experiences events that become cumulative to the point that the progression and/or the repetition of these experiences forces a change. Again, this happens not because she actively sought out the engagements, but they nonetheless create a transformative effect in her life.

Our college student at an institution with a mission based around TL such as UCO will certainly be working on the right side of the matrix. She will have Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR)-associated assignments in her classes, she will attend STLR-associated Student Affairs events and potentially participate in STLR-associated student organization work, and she may participate in a student TL project. All those activities are intentionally designed by UCO faculty and staff to help prompt TL. This is shown as Quadrant 4.

What we faculty love to have happen is what’s shown in Quadrant 2: epiphany and enlightenment. This is “the big a-ha” that Kroth & Boverie (2009) describe as an “epochal” change. Stephen Brookfield described it as “tectonic” (Brookfield, 2016) to get at the same description of impact. It is a transformative change that is fixed permanently in the student.

Below is the same matrix, but with examples added in each quadrant:

Same as Fig. 1 but with the addition of examples in each cell: Top left cell: "9/11: shocked into a new perspective." Bottom left cell: "Moving into dorm, interact w/others who are different." Top right cell: "Student views, "A Class Divided," has A-HA moment." Bottom right cell: "STLR-tagged assignments, SA activities, TL projects."

We work to help students reach important understandings about themselves and the world; about how they can function most successfully as employees, citizens, and family members; and many other realizations worthy of educated and ethical contributors to society. Kroth & Boverie’s heuristic (2009) is a helpful tool to conceptualize that process.

(A note: The Quadrant 2 example is evocative. If you have not viewed this documentary, please click on the link below to do so. You may have your own a-ha moments as a viewer and/or discover powerful prompts for Global & Cultural Competency-associated Transformative Learning.)



A class divided. (1985, March 26). Frontline. Arlington, VA: Public Broadcasting Service. Available: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/class-divided/

Brookfield, S. (2016, April 1). Making transformation visible. Keynote address, 2016 Transformative Learning Conference, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Kroth, M, & Boverie, P. (2009). Using the discovering model to facilitate transformational learning and career development. Journal of Adult Education, 18(1), 43-47. Available: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ891076.pdf

What’s Your Biggest Teaching Challenge?

Source: Top Hat’s 2016 Professor Pulse Survey was conducted between August and November 2016. The 21,558 respondents are primarily employees of public and private colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and Australia. Click on the image for more information from the source.


Biggest teaching challenges ranked 1-8 from the Top Hat 2016 Professor Pulse Survey: 1: Students not paying attention or participating in class; 2: Students not comprehending the material; 3: Not enough time to do research; 4: Students not coming to class; 5: Other; 6: Not enough time to prepare for class; 7: Administrative overhead; 8: Pre-lecture anxiety.

Exploring Applications for Blended Learning

Recently, the preview of the 2017 NMC Horizon Report was published listing emerging trends and issues facing higher education learning environments. One of the “short-term trends” highlighted in the report was exploring blended learning designs. Blended learning is the process of combining multiple learning spaces, such as online or classroom spaces, in a single unified learning experience. This approach allows educators and learners to leverage the “best of” online and off-line learning experiences.

Blended learning is a strategic vision for how learning environments are designed and developed at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). Blended learning connects multiple types of learning spaces in ways that are intentional and strategic. At its core, blended learning advances the application of transformative learning by connecting students across spaces that support applied and contextualized learning experiences. This allows learners to engage and reflect in more critical ways, leading to an expansion of perspective and redefinition of who they are as a learner.

As we extend the possibilities of blended learning, there are many exciting ways educators at UCO are leveraging and advancing blended learning experiences.

In this post, I share one such experience and provide resources you can use to advance your own blended learning skills and ideas.

During fall 2016, the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments facilitated a unique learning experience for the EDU-Innovator faculty members at the University of Central Oklahoma. The purpose of this learning experience was to provide a survey of various blended learning methods and strategies that can help inform the design and facilitating of blended learning activities, courses, programs, and broader experiences.

Each blended learning topic began with reviewing online materials posted on a public blog with an application exercise to provide an opportunity of applying blended learning skills in real-world teaching situations. We then met as a group to share progress on the application exercises and discuss ways the blended learning skills can be applied at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Exploring Topics

The program began with a general exploration of “What is blended learning?” During this topic, we explored the basic dimensions and perspectives of blended learning environments.

Next, our focus turned to exploring how blended learning can be applied to designing learning activities. Here are provided several blended learning patterns offered as examples.

We then examined how courses could be designed using blended learning methods. This, not surprisingly, is a major area of interest for people in higher education as courses form that majority of how we deliver formal learning experiences.

Next, combining activities and courses, we discovered ways programs could be designed using blended learning strategies.

Finally, we examined the broader role of blended learning in designing experiences that connect beyond formal learning contexts.


This experience provided a broad survey of different ways blended learning can help inform the way we design and facilitate learning experiences.


You can find the complete listing of blended learning topics and activities at the Blended Learning Certification category page.

My visit to Tacoma, Washington for the International Transformative Learning Conference 2016

Written by Ed Cunliff, Ph.D., Professor, Adult and Higher Education


I discovered the International Transformative Learning Conference through their proceedings about twelve years ago and was as impressed with it then as I was during the recent gathering in Tacoma, WA. This biennial conference was held on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University, outside of central Tacoma. I was probably identifiable as a “tourist” by the expressions of awe for the trees – 60 feet and growing!

The biggest awe though was the people who made up the conference. This was my second time to attend and present with my colleague John Barthell, and the participants were as eclectic and varied as the topics and presentations. Participants ranged from business entrepreneurs to academics to therapists. They came from all parts of the US and many places around the world, and all with an interest and curiosity about transformative learning (TL). There were “experts” in the field, and those with minimal exposure and maximum curiosity.

One presenter, familiar to many on the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) campus, was John Dirkx from Michigan State University. John has been to UCO a couple of times and has great appreciation for what we do. He is one of the early scholars in the field of TL, and his interaction with Jack Mezirow in a 2006 published dialogue is representative of a lingering debate between those who see TL as essentially a cognitive process and those who understand it with more of an affective nature. Mezirow, in his early studies, identified a step-wise, very rational approach to transformative learning. Dirkx, who has a strong background in Jungian psychology, considers the emotional side to be involved in any individual or group paradigm shift. Another significant debate about TL amongst many scholars and practitioners: are there necessarily steps within the process of transformation or does it present in a more random fashion?

Transformative learning is often viewed as a significant social justice process, though this is not addressed by all proponents. One of the international presenters was Alessandra Romano, University of Naples Federico II, who led an intriguing discussion on “The Theatre of the Oppressed as an Imaginative Metaphor for TL.” This qualitative study reflected on the experience of students involved in an examination of constructed meanings and inequality from individual backgrounds. This type of personal – social reflection is similar to that of the well-known Brazilian adult educator, Paulo Freire. Freire’s works and thinking on social change through the power of education were reflected in other presentations, such as “Learning Cities Interaction: Connecting Lifelong Learning through Transformative Action Research,” a session from Leodis Scott. Scott makes a connection between the idea of learning cities and collective transformation theory as a means of building positive social change for low-income communities.

The business perspective surfaced in one session titled “The Intersection of Business and Ethics” focusing in TL as a process to increase sensitivity to ethical issues. One of my enjoyable meetings outside of a session was with Angela Parker who is a co-founder of a company called Realized Worth. This group works with large corporations and helps them develop volunteer programs that allow staff to work in the community, what higher education refers to as Service Learning – a transformative opportunity for all.

There is also a very strong humanistic, self-reflective process nurtured in these conferences – Sessions on self-transformation using values-based tests, embodied learning and social transformation, and understanding vulnerability. Identity and spiritual beliefs, intersections with the environment, and creative movement were other sessions focusing more on personal growth. As part of one of the plenary sessions participants were asked to move non-verbally to a shared open space and to acknowledge each other through eye contact – something that may become a lost art as so many make eye contact only with their smart devices! A story was told about Mezirow avoiding these more experiential and emotive sessions until a colleague took him by the hand and led him into it. Supposedly he decided such moments weren’t so bad and he no longer ran from them.

The conference organization was a bit different than many, though there were also familiar elements of plenary and concurrent sessions. They also organized a large group–small group process in which issues identified by participants were discussed in interest groups and then reported out in the whole. This was an attempt to organize the impromptu conversations that are often so productive in conferences…and did still happen in Tacoma. I was able to touch bases with a couple of known colleagues like John Dirkx and Dan Glasinski (who has also visited us on our campus), and to meet some new ones such as Ian Corrie from the UK who spoke on “coaching for resilience” after a tragedy – brought to mind the work done by counselors in Oklahoma after one or our devastating tornadoes. I also had the opportunity to chat with Don Proby, a dispute negotiator, whose session made connections with TL and neuroscience, one of my personal interests at this point in time.

My notes, handouts, some print outs and scribbled ideas for further research and study are sitting on the porch – waiting for warmer weather and some more reflection time. It’s rewarding to consider what UCO faculty and staff have done with TL, and I find it healthy to remember that there is much more to explore In the theory and practice…we make the road by walking.




John M. Dirkx, Jack Mezirow and Patricia Cranton. (2006.)  Musings and Reflections on the Meaning, Context, and Process of Transformative Learning: A Dialogue between John M. Dirkx and Jack Mezirow. Journal of Transformative Education, 4, 2, pp 123-139.