The Forest for the Trees: A Personal Reflection on Transformative Learning and Study Abroad

photo of Charles Gosset

Written by Charles Gosset, ACC; Associate Certified Coach; Full Integration Coaching, LLC. — 

Long before I had ever heard the term “transformative learning,” I was being exposed to educational opportunities that developed my beyond-disciplinary skills and expanded my relationship with self, others, community and environment (https://sites.uco.edu/central/tl/). Looking back, one of the clearest examples was an international studies class I took as part of my Forestry undergraduate degree program at a nearby university.

The course was called International Forestry and Natural Resources (pp. 22-23) and was designed to be a non-traditional course offering within a largely traditional field of study. It involved highly experiential, on campus learning, as well as a 10-day trip to Honduras where we examined the relationship of the people to the use of natural resources.

Class assignments included preparatory research around a specific chosen focus area, along with a student portfolio comprised of four elements: a research paper, an oral presentation, a creative component and a journal. Initial research was conducted on my campus and the rest was completed through direct interactions with the people we met in Honduras.

A photo of a family of 11 in the Honduran forest

A family of rural Honduran farmers demonstrating the results of improved agricultural practices.

While I was well prepared to encounter an entirely new culture with ample classroom knowledge, academic research, and practical tips for traveling abroad, what I wasn’t prepared for is the way that the experience was going to fundamentally change the way I understood my degree program and my relationship to it.

The trip to Honduras took place in the spring of 1999. Just six months earlier, Hurricane Mitch had roared through the country causing widespread devastation and loss. It was the worst flooding Honduras had seen in the 20th century and an estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless.

By the time we arrived, reconstruction was underway but there was also plenty of evidence of wreckage and ruin. My assignment was to research the attitude of the people, especially that of the rural farmers, in terms of their prospects for the future and their way of life through the implementation of both traditional and improved farming practices. Based on my own preconceived ideas, I expected to hear stories of defeat, uncertainty, and even hopelessness given the extent of the damage that resulted from Hurricane Mitch. I remember feeling guilty for what I perceived as being more fortunate than they were, and it created a strong sense of mental and emotional conflict in me.

However, my assumptions were proven to be incorrect by multiple individuals and families who were actually filled with hope, gratitude, and enthusiasm for the future. I was shocked at first. It just didn’t add up to me. How could these people possibly be hopeful about their future based on their present circumstances? I was experiencing then what today I would call a “disorienting dilemma.”

I was being confronted by the cognitive dissonance of two very different beliefs in my conscious awareness – my own, and those of the people that were engaging in conversations with me. The perspectives I heard over and over again were unquestionably optimistic. Reflecting on my experiences with the professor of the course, Dr. Thomas Kuzmic, and through informal conversations with classmates, I had to concede that my previously held beliefs about these people were simply no longer valid or useful. This meant finding new ways of relating to what I now saw as a resilient, hopeful people. But how?

Photo of a class of OSU students in the Honduran forest

Some of my UNACIFOR classmates during a forestry field exercise

For me, it was a matter of shifting my own point of view from one of guilt and pity to one of empathy and compassion. When I began to adopt the point of view of the Hondurans I was interviewing, I noticed that I could relate to them more directly through a shared humanity. They had found ways of remaining resilient and hopeful that I simply hadn’t found in my own life. I remember being deeply moved at that realization, knowing that I had been encouraged by a people who had seemingly lost so much. It inspires me to this day and has profoundly shaped how I view the world and my role in it.

In fact, this course affected me so greatly that I decided I wanted to return to Honduras in order to study and learn more about the people and their relationship to natural resources. Incredibly, in the spring of 2001, I became the first North American student to study at an international forestry school located in Siguatepeque, Honduras. I spent a semester in the forests of a people who would go on to transform my life at increasingly deeper, world-changing levels. And although I’m no longer directly involved in the field of forestry, the lessons learned continue to impact me and my transformational work with those I serve.

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” – John Muir

 

 

References:

“Assignment Honduras,” OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Cowboy Journal, Spring 2000, pp. 22-23. Extracted from https://issuu.com/cowboy.journal/docs/v2n1

The DEAL Model for Critical Reflection – Describe, Examine, and Articulate Learning, as included in the UCO STLR Training Guide, Summer 2018, pp. 127-128

Following Mezirow: A Roadmap through Transformative Learning | Graduate Program in Training and Development @ Roosevelt University, as included in the UCO STLR Training Guide, Summer 2018, pp. 120-123

This I Have Learned: Diversity of Reflections

Written by Linda Harris, Ed.D.; Associate Professor; Department of Educational Sciences, Foundations, & Research; UCO — 

When it comes to assessing student transformation, providing students with one or more writing prompts that that enable them to effectively reflect on their learning and growth in a critical way is the gold standard—and with good reason! From a student’s own perspective and voice, critical reflections provide us with a ringside seat to students’ experiences with our course content within and outside of classes. In fact, critical reflections often provide course instructors with much better insights into their course design and instruction than the end-of-course SPIES (evaluations) students are repeatedly nudged to complete.

Of course, the challenge to this gold standard is relying entirely on one method of assessment, and we know from the oft-misattributed to Einstein quote, “…if we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Stated another way, writing is not every student’s best means of demonstrating growth. Best practice dictates we assess our students multiple times and in a variety of ways to make the most accurate inferences regarding student learning. Just the same, despite the excellent job that the University of Central Oklahoma’s Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching and Learning does to encourage a variety of assessment artifacts—and our willingness to assign additional artifacts, we often default to using students’ written critical reflections to assess transformation using our campus-wide STLR rubrics. I’d like to suggest an alternative—MP3 podcasts or video reflections.  Here’s why.

Recently, as I was chatting with one of my student participants in a STLR-funded Transformative Learning project on school leadership, I asked her how her interview with a local school administrator had gone. It so happened, this administrator was from the school she would have attended—had she not been selected by lottery to attend a local charter school. The interview went great and she learned much, she reported. Then the conversation meandered to her observations as she walked through the different schools she had visited. I asked, “What do you suppose accounts for the different school climates you observed?” and without hesitation, she replied, “leadership!” Of course, that was the expected answer given her research topic. But she didn’t stop there. In fact, she became more animated and intense as she focused more intently on her own school experience and compared it to what she observed at her neighborhood school.

Of course, my student had much yet to learn, but as she continued to speak, she was clearly becoming more agitated, so I asked why it bothered her so much—and she decried the lack of high expectations and suggested students were being denied an education. I followed up by asking if it was possible she was upset because these were her neighbors and friends, and it was her intended school. She became very quiet and said, “It could have been me.” In that moment, us and them disappeared, and the injustice of unequal educational opportunity suddenly became very real to her.

The conversation ended with her commitment to teach and eventually go into administration in an urban district, but it also ended with a recording—on my phone—to capture what had transpired. Transformation that may not have been captured in a critical reflection was captured in a conversation.

Of course, one-one conversations with all students is not feasible. However, nearly 70 years after first being introduced on NPR, This I Believe, has continued by transitioning from a radio program to student essays to podcasts and can still be found on thisibelieve.org. What if we challenged our students to create a podcast or brief video clip on their growth as an alternative to the written critical reflection?  I’d be happy to start a site called, This I Have Learned… where we can share student voices of transformation. Let me know what you think by commenting below or with an email to lharris29 ‘at’ uco.edu.

When Great Lessons Fail…

“Best if Used By…” – An Activity’s Shelf Life

We have all experienced the process of teaching a lesson semester after semester and one day realize that lesson is losing its value. What happened? Did the examples become less relevant? Is the content not as exciting to students anymore? Are the techniques used to teach the content less effective? Did the characteristics of the audience change? These are just a few of the many questions that arise in a situation like this.

In this article, I discuss how to address those situations in which a lesson seems to be less effective than it once was. Many educators are constantly in the process of refining and adjusting lessons based on observations and testing. We may find an assignment’s description needs more clarity, or a new resource is available. Great educators are always adapting; however, these same educators are faced with the question of, “If I change something, will it be better or worse than the current iteration?” This process of improving a lesson highlights the importance of creativity and innovation in the teaching and learning process.

When educators look to refresh lessons, it becomes important to first examine the various pieces and components that make up the lesson. This means thinking about the lesson as a “learning environment,” made up of multiple connected elements that create the space where learning happens.

The Innovation of Learning Environments

Innovation is not only about change for the sake of change. Innovation is about creating and optimizing the value created for students through learning experiences. When lessons “fail,” it’s important to first identify what specifically needs to be adjusted to achieve a desired result. Furthermore, we may need to re-define what the desired result is.

Changes in learning environments can be classified by the resulting enhancement of efficiency and/or effectiveness. The combination of these two factors often drive the type of innovation that will be most successful.

The following diagram illustrates nine common drivers of innovation in learning environments. For example, if a lesson “fails” because there are not enough learners participating, the innovation priority will most likely emphasize efficiency as a way of increasing learner participation. This doesn’t mean that effectiveness is not important. It means that efficiency is the primary driver of the lesson refresh.

Learning Environment Innovation Taxonomy graphic

Source: The Innovation of Learning: Visualizing Transformative Learning Environments

The Learning Environment Innovation Taxonomy helps to identify why and how change happens in learning environments. It also provides a framework for planning strategic innovation efforts to enhance learning experiences.

The Taxonomy is a quadrant model displaying two vectors: the drive toward learning effectiveness (along the top of the chart) and the drive toward learning efficiency (along the right side of the chart). Results that fall in uppermost regions of the graph indicate a high drive toward effectiveness while those that fall in the lower sections indicate a low drive toward effectiveness. Results that correspond to the right quadrants signal a high drive toward efficiency while those on the left signal a low drive toward efficiency.

A drive toward learning effectiveness or toward learning efficiency does not equate to valuing the specific driver. That is, the fact that a learning environment reflects a low drive toward learning effectiveness does not mean learner success is not valued in the environment. It means only that learning effectiveness is not a primary driver for change in the setting. It could be that there is a perception that learner success is already high and that attention to that particular criteria is, therefore, not critical when we assess drivers in the environment. Or, there may simply be other goals for change that are more prevalent or critical at the time. (Dodd, 2019)

From Instruction to Transformation

At the core of learning environment innovation is the goal of student transformative learning, which involves both creating environments for transformation and ensuring learners’ engagement in that environment. This fact brings up two questions: How do we create learning experiences that live on after a course or lesson? How do you design for transformation? The answers to both of these questions involves engaging in an ongoing innovation process.

A transformation-focused learning environment begins by shifting from an instruction-centered approach to a learning-centered approach. In referencing the taxonomy above, innovation of transformative learning environments most likely are emphasized on the left side of the diagram. By design, they are inefficient. Educators must create the conditions for a dilemma to occur through engagement with an experience or ideas.  This means encouraging positive curiosity and discovery, not through student frustration to the point of disengagement, but through disorientation along with a supportive instructor and peers to expand their perspectives in the area of study. For this reason, transformative learning environments can be created and setup with prior design and innovation.

Prioritizing Learning Innovation

When the inevitable happens, how can educators use innovation strategies to transform learning experiences?

  1. Collect data. Begin by collecting as much data as possible about the learning experience. This can range from how learners experience the environment to how they perform on lesson assessments.
  2. Create an “as-is” picture of the learning experience. This helps to build an in-depth understanding of the learning experiences and the influencing issues.
  3. Identify strategic points of focused transformation. Don’t feel that you have to change the entire learning environment. Identify the areas that will have the greatest influence on improving the lesson.

What are some assignments or class activities that used to work well, but may need some innovation and design to turn them back into the transformative experiences you desire for your students?  Comment below with your examples.

Mythos and Logos in Transformative Faculty’s Toolkits

Transformative Learning (TL) is an instructional approach well suited to helping prepare graduates for the new world of work, which Reich (2019) and others say is increasingly characterized by contingent contracts and a gig economy. TL helps students discover themselves via reflection, an important step toward being able to narrate themselves successfully when they’re required to bridge from one employer to another, to change positions, or to pitch themselves and their ideas when launching their own businesses.

An education that helps students develop in this manner must be an intentional mix of logos and mythos. As faculty, we are trained in a logos mindset and depend on rationality and the scientific method to determine the objective truths we share with students in the form of our course content.

But to prepare our students for employment in a world that has chunks of their logos-grounded learning obsolete by the time they graduate and where employers oftentimes must value adaptability and resilience even more than content knowledge and skill, our role should include providing opportunities to engage in the mythos necessary to help students “narrate the meaning of their lives”:

The extent to which people can narrate the meaning of their lives indicates how much of what they do will matter to others. This process is referred to as narratibility, and it is about people’s ability to say who they are (narrate their story). (Maree, 2013, p. 52)

woman writing

If what Maree (2013) says is true, discoveries about self and the ‘ah-ha,’ transformative moments we seek to prompt in students are necessary to help students know and communicate their authentic selves.

“Who am I?” “Why do I matter?” and “What is my value?” are precursor questions to the statement that is, “My ability to add value to your enterprise is ___.” Even more importantly, helping our students answer the precursor questions means we equip them to successfully match themselves and their abilities to contribute to the enterprises where their passions lie and in which they will succeed and self-actualize to the greatest degree.

In other words, the logos of students’ programmatic knowledge must be balanced with the mythos of their heroic journey of self-discovery. They can then launch themselves into employment and life by making choices that align with who they really are and which successfully balance head and heart. Hoyt puts it this way:

[L]ogical thinkers have figured out, for example, how to cure illnesses and prolong the average human lifespan, but they have learned through mythical thinking to value human life enough to bother. Products of logos enable us to communicate with the people who matter most to us (even when they are thousands of miles away), but mythos provides the context for us to know which people matter and what we should say to them when we do communicate. (2009)

Graduating student looking out over city

At UCO, our Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) process has us prompting students to reflect on their learning as connected to one or more of our Central Six Tenets when they complete a STLR-tagged assignment. With well-constructed prompts nudging students to consider prior assumptions in a new light, we certainly have seen hundreds of instances in which students come to know themselves better and/or conceive of themselves differently among the more than 26,000 assessments of rubrics-determined badge-level achievement that have occurred to date.

Logos may have sufficed when workers could count on remaining with the same employer for a lifetime, benefits provided, at a livable wage. That age is gone, replaced by one in which employment is a more fluid affair, requiring the mythos of revelatory knowledge of self in order to know and communicate one’s value, regardless the amount of upskilling one manages across a lifetime.

The successful university in the new world of work educates students from both logos and mythos perspectives because graduates who know their stuff and know themselves are better arbiters of the mix among what they want to accomplish, where they can do that, and how they contribute best to self, others, community, and environment.

 

 

References

Hoyt, R. (2009). Mythos and logos: Two ways of explaining the world. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from http://journeytothesea.com/mythos-logos/

Maree, J. G. (2013). Counseling for career construction — Connecting life themes to construct life portraits: Turning pain into hope. Rotterdam: Sense.

Reich, R. (2019, June 2). The gig is up: America’s booming economy is built on hollow promises. The Guardian. Retrieved June 5, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/02/gig-economy-us-trump-uber-california-robert-reich

Countries with the Most STEM Graduates

Graphic displaying the countries with the most STEM graduates. China is at the top with 4.7 million, followed by India with 2.6 million. Next is the United States with 568,000, Russia with 561,000, Iran with 335,000, Indonesia with 206,000, and Japan with 195,000.

Using Web Literacy Skills to Expose Fake News

Written by Mark R. McCoy, Ed.D., Professor, Forensic Science Institute — 

I was recently asked to lead a book discussion group on the open access e-book “Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers” by Mike Caulfield. I had not read the book, but I believe I was asked to lead the discussion based on my experience in law enforcement leading a state cybercrime unit and using the Internet as an investigative tool. Upon reading Caulfield’s text I came to realize that I had been using, in my previous work, some of the same strategies he describes. These fact-checking strategies are tools we should teach our students and use ourselves on a daily basis.

The World Wide Web and social networks are treasure troves of information – much of it true and reliable but some of it false and misleading. How can we help students evaluate the information they find on these sources and evaluate the information’s veracity? In his book, Caulfield provides “Four Strategies and a Habit” to guide us in this effort. While we ask students to critically think about various sources of information, we have not provided them concrete strategies and tactics for properly analyzing the nature and reliability of those sources.

In brief, Caulfield’s strategies are:

  1. Check for previous work: Has someone else already fact-checked the information? He provides sources of reliable websites that do research and fact-check much of the questionable news we read online.
  2. Go upstream to the source: Most web content is not original. He provides techniques to work “upstream” to locate the original source of the information and evaluate its credibility.
  3. Read laterally: Once you find the source of a claim, see what others say about the source and its trustworthiness.
  4. Circle back: If you hit a dead end or get lost, go back to the beginning and start the process over, using what you learned up to that point (p. 5).

In addition to those strategies, Caulfield introduces a habit we should all follow. We should check our emotions. “When you feel strong emotion – happiness, anger, pride, vindication – and that emotion pushes you to share a ‘fact’ with others, STOP. Above all, it’s these things that you must fact-check” (p. 7). When emotion is high, be careful about how you proceed. Propaganda is written to evoke emotion. Don’t Tweet angry.

The rest of the text goes on to detail each of the strategies and provides current examples of “fake news” – propaganda and disinformation that can be easily fact-checked with the strategies. This is an excellent book and easy read of about 120 pages. Our book discussion group had some interesting discussions and some fun fact-checking information we found on our own Facebook feeds and Twitter accounts.

picture of Web Literacy book coverCaulfield (2017) notes, “the web is both the largest propaganda machine ever created and the most amazing fact-checking tool ever invented. But if we haven’t taught our students those capabilities, is it any surprise that propaganda is winning?” (p. 3–4). I would take this further and say that every citizen that interacts with information on the Internet should use the due diligence outline in this book before re-Tweeting or sharing bogus information and perpetuating fake news. The ability to evaluate information in our information-saturated world is a skill that, once mastered, is empowering and transformative. By having better-supported information, both we and our students can check our prior observations and perhaps expand our perspectives on the world.

——————————–

Caulfield, M. (2017). Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. Accessed 3 April 2019 at https://d1e2bohyu2u2w9.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/tlr-asset/document-web-literacy-for-student-fact-checkers.pdf

A Student Perspective: A Transformative Learning Course in Higher Education

Written by Sarah Moore, Outreach Specialist, UCO Career Development Center

I never once sat in the metal framed desk with a navy blue chair and a particle board top, in graduate school. My first class was in a room with four small tables arranged into pods where four or five individuals could sit per pod. I bravely took a seat on the side of the room not knowing the individuals in my pod would quickly turn into my own survival team. Individuals may drop out, or be added at a later date but for the most part those who sat near me in the beginning became my lifelong friends and slowly encouraged me to embrace the idea that I was a lifelong learner.

Students sitting in group at classroom table

In courses set up to encourage transformative learning we figure out our professor or facilitator is not just teaching us content but instead guiding us through a learning experience. This means the individual sitting next to me is no longer learning exactly the same as I. Adult learners enter the classroom with experience. Transformative learning uses these experiences to challenge the issue in front of the learner. “The key idea is to help the learners actively engage the concepts presented in the context of their own lives and collectively critically assess the justification of new knowledge” (Mezirow, 1997, p.10). In transformative learning, a change in thinking encourages an idea to coexist with an alternative, in other words, a cognitive dissonance. Critical thinking is used to challenge a frame of reference, meaning one must recognize a new insight to a problem, become aware of the existing belief, and apply critical reflection to the cognitive dissonance.

My life didn’t stop unfolding because I was in graduate school. Opportunities and experiences could continue to present themselves, and given time, I was encouraged to make decisions. As my academic career unfolded, I was able to take a step back and see how it comfortably complimented my professional career. Overtime, I was more comfortable with why decisions were being made the way they are, and I could better predict the behaviors of students due to a new understanding of learning and developmental theory. Transformative learning taught me that before action can be taken, testing the new idea and coping with the consequences of the action would occur through further reflection. This process is done to bring meaning or value to the adult (Dirkx, Mezirow, & Cranton, 2006, p. 124).

I walked into my second semester finding the classroom tables arranged in an X and the swiveled chairs strewn about. The syllabus had pictures, expectations, and suggestions for further reading but certainly no linear instruction. There was uncertainty from the start, and whisperings of what really, we were here to do; after all, what does transformation even mean? Trust the process started scrolling over my brain. A phrase we as Student Affairs professionals, often say to students to calm anxiety and encourage engagement. Yet as a student, I was wondering if I truly had to transform right then and there. The truth was, we were there to transform- that was how we were going to learn about transformative learning. But there was no time limit. It turned out there was a structure, and we would in fact be guided, if we were willing. Like most adult learners we were skeptical, we were cynical, we needed ownership, and that was exactly what we were given when we discussed our assigned topics of interest.

Students in Transformative Learning Theory class

Class: Transformational Learning

Within the first moments of class the facilitator was tasked with creating an environment that caused the learner to assess, engage, and find safety. As that process began for the class, the facilitator stayed one step ahead beginning to reveal the identities of the individuals in the room by finding similarities, differences, interests, and dislikes. About the time the class began to see their peers as individuals that could influence learning, the environment was wholly embraced, and the structure of the semester was revealed. This began to cause a stir amongst the relatively comfortable adults now. What do you mean we need to pick, right now, a topic for which we will be creating the content together? What the class didn’t realize at the time was that by choosing, we would later feel in control as we explored uncomfortable vocabulary and much debated theory. These first weeks were heated with intention to create a safe space for learning and listening and to introduce the idea of assessment, recognition, and exploration (or critical reflection).

As we began to dive into the content, the terminology, finding out how transformative learning was being used today versus the past, and even getting to Skype with Dr. John Dirkx, we all began to turn inward. We would read an article on emotional intelligence or what it is like to be a leader and began hearing the stories of our peers. As the content began to grow, stories swelled, we were all making meaning from our peers’ misunderstandings, and wrestling with the words, and/or by seeing the terminology fall into place in our own tales. It was incredible and exhausting. For someone like me, I couldn’t wait to get past this part and dig into what this looks like on a practical level, in the field.

Turns out my desires were right on pace for what the facilitator was anticipating and transformative learning theory reveals. We were beginning to shape meaning, own our knowledge, and find competence and confidence. Right on schedule the facilitator began introducing the ethical dilemmas of transformative learning, global perspectives, and what transformative learning looks like in a virtual world. Once we had experienced how we had transformed in our past experiences, we began to see our experience in the classroom as its own transformative learning opportunity. This framework then was easy to lift and lower onto other environments, audiences, and content. We could then visualize how Paulo Freire could recognize a problem, see the moving concerns, understand the stakeholders, and create solutions from within.

This all occurred by me taking a sixteen week course in the middle of my academic career focused on one theory, transformative learning. I found myself wishing I could take sixteen weeks to unfold other theories, and thrilled that the theory I had the opportunity to unfold had such personal power. As a student, learning the mechanics behind the curtain did not weaken my experience but created an opportunity for respect, understanding, and compassion toward those willing to facilitate my academic experiences.

 

References

Dirkx, J. M., Mezirow, J., & Cranton, P. (2006). Musings and reflections on the meaning, context and process of transformative learning. Journal of Transformative Education, 4(2), 123-139. DOI: 10.1177/1541344606287503

Mexirow, J. (1997). New direction for adult and continuing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass Publishers.

Helping Learners Recognize Their Own Transformations: A Personal Story

Written by Jeff King, Executive Director, CETTL –

What do you recognize now, years later, was a transformative understanding you came to, but which you did not realize at the time? We all have these. Sometimes we express them in a conversation with a colleague that begins something like, “You know, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a turning point for me now that I think about it.”

The turning point, in many cases, is a transformation. But why didn’t you recognize your own transformative realization at the time?

Sometimes the answer to that question is that nobody helped you to realize it. Do faculty have the opportunity to be the helper, and if so, is there benefit in prompting a real-time realization that might come on its own accord years later?

One would probably not place the Defenestration of Prague as the day’s topic in a history class at the top of any transformative realization. Yet the triggering episodes for Transformative Learning are often uniquely personal.

Such was the case in the early 1970s for me, an undergraduate at the University of Georgia having landed in a particular history course because, well, it fit my schedule. It was way more important at the time to schedule around the orchestra or brass ensemble or the basketball option among the required Physical Education choices than to place the same prioritization energy on choosing a particular history class at a particular time.

The result was finding myself in a wooden chair-desk in a nondescript classroom on the first day of the course hearing the instructor explain he did not have syllabi to pass out yet because he had only learned the night before that he would be teaching the class due to some departmental emergency that had arisen. It was an inauspicious beginning for one of the most transformative classes I took as an undergraduate music major.

And it was also a transformation not consciously recognized until decades later when the experience resonated with a quote from Richard Feynman found in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999): “[E]verything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” (This quote in the book was reprinted from remarks Feynman made in an interview published in Omni magazine, 1979.)

Reading the book made me realize that I remembered more from that history class than from any of my other non-major classes as an undergraduate. The reason was because I allowed my interest to follow the love and passion the instructor had for the topic, thereby discovering that 17th century history held some fascinations that would last a lifetime.

Reading the Feynman quote immediately triggered the memory of that history class, and I realized the truth in Feynman’s words as reflected in my own experience. In that moment I recognized the Transformative Learning experience for me as prompted by that history class.

First, how did the professor make this happen? He was a gentleman who’d married a Russian woman who was still in Russia, something that came to light when a student in the front row one day asked why he wore his wedding ring on his right hand. He explained the custom in Russia, which led to the brief discussion about his wife still being there. This self-revelation was part of what I later realized made him a transformative teacher, at least for me: true passion for his topic and an eagerness and willingness to share that with students.

Beyond that self-revelatory moment on his part (which made clear why he could describe Russian history and Peter the Great’s sojourns to Europe with such enthusiasm), he sparked an interest in historical events as he shared the human side of what was happening at the time. As a result, what many students entering the class, myself included, thought would be a chronological slog through the centuries became a fascinating fly-on-the-wall retelling of human foibles, passions, failings, and triumphs.

Getting thrown out a window in Prague and landing in one of the piles of manure that were common on the streets of Europe at the time had vastly different interpretations depending on which side of the event you sat. If you sided with those doing the throwing, your victims not only deserved being thrown out the window, they also deserved to end up buried in manure. If you were on the other side, however, it was angels that suddenly appeared to guide the defenestratees down to a soft landing, thereby avoiding injury or death.

Were you the unfortunate physician accompanying Peter the Great to Europe, where his scientific curiosity led him and his entourage to witness a dissection of a human body, you would have rued the day you made a face at being repulsed at what you were seeing. As the transformative history teacher explained with solemnity, that weak-stomached Russian physician was commanded by Peter the Great to go assist in the dissection — with his teeth.

You can see how these details brought history alive. You can also surmise that such details are infrequently shared in history courses.

Yet this was the reason for the transformative moment I had as a student but which I did not realize as one of my truths until decades later:

Just about anything I encounter can be interesting if I encourage myself to get into it deep enough.

That’s a transformative realization. It has allowed me on certain occasions to forgo motivation-killing resistance to tasks. Yet I didn’t know this until 1) the history class experience, and 2) the decades-later reading of the Feynman book. Further, I seriously doubt the professor knew the effect he had on me. He had surely passed on when I realized my own transformation spurred by his class.

But what if I had seen a question on the final exam in his class that asked, “What has your learning experience been like in this class?” After all, that’s a question that wouldn’t seem out of place on college class end-of-term student surveys, right?

Such a prompt, however, might have launched my transformative realization to consciousness in that moment. If so, maybe I would have approached subsequent classes throughout my formal educational career differently. Instead, it took a chance reading decades later, after all undergraduate, master’s, doctoral work had been finished, to connect the dots for me.

I have two regrets. First, I never had the opportunity to communicate this to that professor. Second, I regret not having had the realization at that point in my educational career.

My personal experience leads me to believe it is a very powerful, positive thing to provide learners the opportunity to reflect on their own learning. Doing so may bring to conscious awareness a life tool that might otherwise lie unused for decades.

 

References

Feynman, R. P. (1999). The pleasure of finding things out. New York, NY: Perseus Publishing.

Four Steps to Designing Micro Learning Interactions

Article by Bucky J. Dodd, Ph.D. –

When designing learning experiences, many educators tend to focus on designing overall formal learning environments such as a courses, seminars, or workshops. Within these formal learning processes, there are often many dynamic opportunities to support learning based on the unique needs and experiences that learners encounter. Responding to learners’ needs is something that great educators do every day. These opportunities may include helping learners remediate on a particular topic, or expand and challenge learners to stretch beyond the formal goals of a course. These “micro learning interactions” are the spontaneous design skills that great educators use to help students get back on track, extend their learning, and reinforce learning skills.

In short, micro learning interactions give educators a tool for responding and adapting to learners needs while still supporting the overall goals and intent of a formal learning environment. In this article, I explore four steps to designing “micro learning interactions” that are intended to help support and augment learning experiences.

 

What are Micro Learning Interactions?

The concept of micro interactions emerge from the study of user experiences. Micro user experiences interactions are made up of triggers, rules, feedback and loops and modes.

This article uses the discussion of micro interactions as inspiration to explore how educators might leverage small, focused, and planned experiences to support learning. For the purpose of this article, micro learning interactions are planned learning experiences that occur dynamically within a broader formal learning environment.

Let’s assume a learner in a math course is struggling with a particular procedure or concept. Often, mastery of a certain skill is needed before other skills can be developed. Instead of reviewing an entire module, an educator may use dynamic micro learning interactions to help learners address inaccurate understanding of the concepts in order to get back on track.

These micro interactions provide an essential tool for educators in advancing transformative learning. Often the start of a micro learning interaction is a misunderstanding, challenge, or dilemma. By using micro learning interactions, an educator can help learners engage in transformative learning experiences in ways that are personalized and driven by the interests and experiences of the learner. In other words, this tool helps build a learner-centered environment.

The next sections of this article outline four steps educators can use to design and facilitate micro learning interactions that support transformative learning experiences.

 

Step 1: Determine the learning goal.

The first step to designing any micro learning interaction is determining the desired result. This is often more specific than a pre-determined course goal. For example, if a learner is trying to develop a specific presentation skill but is struggling with consistency performing the skill, the learning goal may be focused on building consistency of performance. An alternative learning goal may focus on mastering the first step in a process consistently before practicing the next step.

Determining the learning goal needs to be connected to an overall formal learning goal, but may be a smaller step towards that result.

The following diagram illustrates the relationship between a micro learning goal and the evidence that the learner will need to demonstrate.

This diagram illustrates the relationship between a micro learning goal and the evidence that the learner will need to demonstrate.

 

Step 2: Measure current progress towards learning goal.

The next step in designing micro learning interactions is to determine the specific knowledge, skill, or attitude gaps between a learner’s current abilities and the intended micro learning goal. For example, if the goal for the micro interaction is for the learner to experience a new culture or see a problem from a different perspective, understanding their current perspectives is important to determining what would be a meaningful learning experience.

Consider the following questions when measuring a person’s current learning progress.

  • Does the person have the ability to accurately talk about the knowledge or skill?
  • Can they demonstrate the knowledge or skill consistently?
  • What is the person’s overall attitude towards learning the skill?
  • Why would learning this skill be important to the person?

These questions help in measuring the gap between the learning goal and the learner’s current abilities. This can be framed as simple interview questions or through more formal data collection methods.

 

Step 3: Plan micro experience to bridge the gap between goal and current state.

Step 3 focuses on planning the micro experience to bring the gap between the goal and the learner’s current abilities. Keep in mind, this design is only focused on the gap, not reviewing the complete learning sequence. The reason for this is the micro interaction is intended to focus on solving a specific learning opportunity.

In the example below, the learning goal and evidence is identified along with a simple sequence of learning resources and activities aimed at nudging the learner towards the desired learning outcome.

In this micro learning diagram, the learning goal and evidence is identified along with a simple sequence of learning resources and activities aimed at nudging the learner towards the desired learning outcome.

 

Step 4: Recalibrate and launch future learning experiences.

Once the micro learning experience is complete, it is important to assess the success of the intervention and recalibrate the model as needed. Ideally, micro learning interactions launch future learning experiences because they are used to address embedded learning barriers.

Each micro interaction will likely be slightly different between learners; however, over time a library of micro learning interaction patterns can be created to help address common learning needs.

 

Summary

Micro learning interactions give educators a tool for responding to the needs of learners and to help people achieve success towards a learning goal. This article explored four steps to designing and facilitating micro learning interactions and offered several examples for how this method can help educators dynamically respond to the needs of learners. Where have you seen micro learning interactions in your classroom and/or where could you take steps to integrate this approach?

Growth Mindset in STEM

Bar chart showing gaps between White/Asian students and Black/Latino/Native American students in STEM classes if their professors have a fixed mindset compared to if they have a growth mindset, with the gap being .19 GPA for faculty with fixed mindsets vs. .10 for faculty with growth mindsets.

Summarized by Jaschik, S., in Inside Higher Ed, Feb. 18, 2019, based on research by Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes. Science Advances, 5.