Growing “small change” into “institutional change”

12 Sep

Last week CEI staffer Kris Gorman wrote about small changes with big impact, noting: “If we can focus on one or two things each year and refine over time, I think this could be as powerful as overhauling a course all at once.”

Consider also this: When we as instructors and consultants across a range of colleges and universities commit to making small, impactful changes that we refine year after year, we (re)shape the very landscape of education, so that it might continue to change in ways to benefit learners, teachers, and wider cultures.

connectSmall Change Opportunities

For University of Minnesota instructors starting or continuing to make small changes that matter, the coming academic year offers some unique opportunities through a program jointly developed by learning professionals from the University of Minnesota Libraries, Disability Resource Center, Academic Technology – IT, and the Center for Educational Innovation.  The U’s programming is focused around increasing teacher awareness of key principles in the learning sciences, and on how – based on those principles – teachers can leverage small changes to make a large impact in student learning.  The program leverages the unique talents of faculty development professionals from multiple units around a central theme, providing various options for participation – from online resources, to face-to-face workshops, and on to a faculty learning community that draws both on the key principles and participants’ specific contexts, concerns, and questions.

For faculty, instructors, instructional designers, and teaching learning consultants beyond UMinnesota, as well as here on campus, we want to note that resources from the four learning science/key principles workshops will be shared via upcoming TILT posts. (Scheduled for the first two weeks of October and November 2016, and February and March 2017.)


A key component of our efforts is a workshop series that combines learning science with effective course design and delivery. Four workshops are organized around significant themes in the learning sciences: avoiding overload, motivating, connecting, and reflecting.

Kicking off the series on October 4 is the workshop “Maximizing Student Learning While Minimizing Cognitive Load.” This workshop lays out what the research says about the limitations on human memory and attention, and how this can negatively impact student learning. Imagine that our working memory is like a cup with limited capacity: once that cup is full, anything added flows out of the cup. Like the cup, students in your class can take in only a certain amount of new information in a class period…anything else is runoff.

But there are specific strategies for organizing and delivering course content that you can use to prevent your students from being overwhelmed by the volume of information. And while working memory has finite, quantifiable capacity, you can nevertheless increase volume. This is welcome news for those of us invested in helping our students succeed.

The second workshop in the series is “Fostering Students’ Motivation to Learn” on November 1. Everyone who has ever stepped into the role of teacher knows the frustration of having students react with indifference to course goals and activities. This workshop engages the research on what motivates people to pursue goals, and offers concrete strategies for enhancing your students’ motivation to learn in your course.

Two more workshops will be offered in Spring 2017: “Using What Students Know to Help Them Learn” is a workshop focused on using students’ prior knowledge to help them make connections while also addressing the misconceptions that can disrupt learning. “Metacognition: Strategies for Helping Students Learn How to Learn” draws insights from the literature that  illustrates how novices and experts approach problems differently and offers strategies that faculty, as experts, can use to make their thinking and their processes visible to students.

thumbsup2Change-One-Thing Moodle Site

As a companion to the workshops, UMinnesota faculty who would like to explore ideas for making small changes, may opt to sign up to get access to a curated Moodle site, with access available to UMinn instructors who have, or have not, attended the workshops.

While the curated Moodle site access is restricted to the University of Minnesota community, all  readers of TILT blog posts linked to the workshops will find select resources included in the October, November, February and April posts.  

reflectDesigning for Learning in the 21st Century

University of Minnesota faculty and instructors who welcome the opportunity to learn in the company of others might consider submitting an application to the faculty learning community that will convene in the spring of 2017. This FLC is organized around the same 4 topics outlined above with participants positioned to explore the topics as a cohort, gaining the support of peers as they work to address outcomes each faculty member will have identified. The FLC is project-driven and outcomes-based, and successful completion of the program entitles the participant to a small monetary grant.

Questions regarding the workshops, Moodle site, and Designing for Learning (the faculty learning community)? Check the TeachingSupport@UMN web page for descriptions, or contact the TeachingSupport team via a help request.  

The 2016-2017 program co-leads – Lauren Marsh and Bill Rozaitis – authored this post.


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