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Reading reflections

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1. How would you describe your “research problem(s)” to the Research Scholars group?

A major goal of my college is to help students develop critical thinking and creative problem solving skills.  As part of that and especially because of the students I teach, I want to examine the best methods to enable students to develop those skills.

Research question: How can we teach and assess creative problem solving most effectively and efficiently in a diverse student body?

My students are very literal thinkers and have a lot of difficulty seeing that open ended problems can have more than one answer, and often early on in a course cannot even address an open ended problem, frequently saying “I don’t know where to start!” They want the one “right” answer to all problems and if the problem presents a novel situation but is about material covered in class, they have trouble seeing the connections. They are also very diverse along any number of axes, so there likely isn't one right answer to MY question either.

2. What theme(s) based on your readings, resonate with your “problem” and/or your proposed approach to address your problem?

The idea that "teaching" is not some monolithic activity where teachers impart knowledge into students but is an approach involving many moving parts that may have different effects across time scales is a notion I've been thinking about for some time.  Bass in particular describes this especially when describing mastery vs mimicry of mastery.  Students may learn jargon and go through the motions of various skills without really understanding the reasoning behind those motions for some time before the skills are truly internalized.  In my classes, I emphasize using appropriate levels of detail to support solutions to problems, and I almost always see the same pattern in answers through a semester - minimal detail straight from the book with little integration --> every last detail that can be found about an idea regardless of utility in the problem at hand --> some integration but still overly detailed "to be sure" --> better integration and some true synthesis.  There is also almost always a student or two that starts paring down details in ways that to my eyes seems random, but they are truly trying to fulfill my expectations of finding the "right" details - they just have no idea how; they are mimicking what they think I want to see.

Another theme was that teaching must account for learning.  The idea that any activity we do imparts learning is clearly false, as we see students that do not meet our learning objectives after such an activity, and in fact that we have students fail exams, etc.  It's here that I think we know too little - how students learn is the black box.

One major theme that did NOT resonate was the apparent conflict between teaching and research at my institution (both Bass and Hutchings discuss this).  I am very lucky in that if I asked or was asked about problems in my classes, it's not an accusation nor would it be taken that way.  SoTL is embedded in our program and almost all members of my department are actively engaged in it at some level.

3. Based on Pat Hutchings article, what taxonomy would you use to describe your research question and why?

My question is clearly a "what works" though it bleeds into all types described.  I need to understand "what is" to be effective, I hope to develop a "vision of what is possible" to enable my students to be creative problem solvers no matter the challenge, and I would be very excited if this work could help create new conceptual frameworks.

4. Do you have any questions/concerns/comments that have evolved from your reading?

I am already sold on SoTL and so is my institution, so spending a lot of time on "why do this" isn't going to help me much.  I am much more interested in pursuing the idea of emerging practices mentioned by Hutchings, and by working on how best to approach SoTL to be effective.

A major problem I had with Mettetal was the idea of practical significance vs. statistical or theoretical significance.  The idea of practical significance was undefined and bothersome.  I agree that the methods described in SoTL may not work equally well in all classes, both within and between class types, and having flexibility to meet the needs of a given class or even a given student is important.  This concept of "practical significance" may therefore be valuable, but it must be clearly defined and it must be measureable.

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