Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below introduces a very promising approach to obtaining feedback on faculty teaching and student learning. It is by Edward B. Nuhfer, Idaho State University and is number 23 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://www.ntlf.com/] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, May, 2004, Volume 13, Number 4, ? Copyright 1996-2004. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. (ISSN 1057-2880) All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.
UP NEXT: Learning Community Models
Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
------------------------------------- 1,444 words -------------------------------
STUDENT MANAGEMENT TEAMS
Student Management Teams: Fractals for Students Too-
Developing in Fractal Patterns VII
Edward B. Nuhfer, Idaho State University
Suppose you don't have a center for teaching on your campus, your travel budget precludes attending attractive workshops, but you still want to do something to improve your teaching based on an action that holds more promise than buying the latest, greatest brain-based-best-practices book. An untapped source of faculty development brainpower sits before you in the classes you teach. You can harness that power through something we've come to call "student management teams" and discover for yourself some of the same ways to improve that a development expert would discover. Readers of recent DEVELOPER'S DIARYs won't be surprised to learn that this approach fits the fractal model. Like most elements in a "fractal" approach, this one applies across scales to improve single courses, your general approach to teaching, the articulation between series of courses, your department's programs and your college's, depending on how fully you want to apply the tool. Like all faculty development, none of this is magic. It takes some work and the will ingness to listen and adjust with changes, but its structure helps that occur. It is an inexpensive approach and one that rests on sound research principles and over a decade of experience from users in every conceivable setting.
Teams' 'Who What Why'
Briefly, student management teams consist of small groups of students, usually four, that represent the class, plus the professor. All team members receive a handbook (for free too ! -see references) for guidance. Teams hold weekly meetings between students, with the professor attending every other week. They meet in neutral areas away from the professors' office, and they maintain a written journal or log that the professor receives at the end of the course. Team members are chosen in a number of ways (detailed in the handbook), and choices can often depend on wanting to solve a particular, recurrent problem.
Discussions are focused but informal. If one asked for a generic answer to what teams talk about, one might describe the trigger question: "We experienced the past week of class, and if we could do that over again, how could it be done better?" In operation, they have some close similarities to cooperative learning groups, and are now getting mentioned in books on cooperative learning (Millis and Cottell, 1998). Faculty are at some disadvantage in promoting students' awareness about teaching, learning, and thinking, because talking too much about these things in their classrooms takes away from their assigned job of providing classroom content (see the previous two DIARYs). Yet, there are great advantages to holding these conversations and looking at the learning process from both student and teacher viewpoints. Student management teams nurture such conversations outside of class. The time spent proves well worth the investment, and the outcomes seem as good or better than short event interventions such as diagnostic formative surveys with single consultations or small group instructional diagnoses.
How Teams Started
Thinking in fractals involves seeing patterns across many endeavors on campus and at many scales. When education is occurring effectively, every component of the generator that affects teaching, learning, and thinking is generally present. The fractal generator is not merely for developers or faculty. It's also for students. It is striking how "good teaching" by any means has long been associated with maximized interaction with students. But development for many years seemed at odds with this philosophy. It promoted development practices that insured teachers would avoid meaningful direct conversations with students about the learning process occurring in their classes. We were taught to go to colleagues', chairs', deans' and developers' offices, to lock ourselves in our own offices reading "how to teach" and "how to assess" books, to view teleconferences and videotapes touting others' successes, and to fly across the country to inspirational workshops (Nuhfer, 1997). "Student feedback" too often meant nothing more than a tabulation of results from questionnaires that students responded to by blackening bubbles on scales of one to five during the last week of classes. In what other enterprise would an exercise of completing such a form be seen as satisfying the requisite for good communication practices? There was a communications gap that needed breaching.
Student management teams began with the descriptions by Edward Deming of the "quality control circles" he developed during his assignments to Japan in the early 1950s (see http://www.deming.org/theman/biography.html). Deming recognized that industries in Japan had terrible communication about process between managers and workers. We often find the same lack of communication between teachers and students about process; so the transfer seemed a natural one.
As far as we know, Kogut (1984) was the first to publish on use of quality circles in the classroom. The obvious need and the well-known nature of quality circles by 1984 makes it incredible that earlier reports aren't available. A grant in 1990 from the University of Wisconsin System enabled us (myself and ten pilot staff from every college in that University) to begin our work with these teams. We quickly recognized how student management teams could foster a powerful way to make some faculty development happen-with or without a developer. (No, teams can't replace developers, but they can be a way to enact formative assessment, consultation and provide action plans for improvements in one package). Since our work was completed, faculty in at least 500 universities have employed teams, making them the most widespread structure for the employment of students in faculty development.
Many academics associate Deming with Total Quality Management (TQM), which was based on his work. TQM fell into disrepute within academe when it became a needlessly complex perversion of Deming's applied philosophy. Where "TQM" became more of a time-sink than a practical management system, it was largely abandoned. Deming's simple philosophy was borne out of respect: people within an enterprise, whether manufacturing widgets or education, have the greatest incentive to improve both the enterprise and the work needed to enact it. They have knowledge born of firsthand experience, and they deserve to feel heard, be heard, be taken seriously and to have control over their working environment. Deming's approach was not dependent on "experts" or centered on their interests.
All that real TQM ever required was a formal structure for regular, purposeful exchange of ideas and a means to archive and implement the best ones. The structure adapted for a course is simply a team-a variant of a "quality circle." A short manual provides guidance in how to form the teams, run them and use the pooled knowledge- not much more is needed.
It's in the Book
By 1993, we had a manual with enough collective knowledge from multiple teams to adequately serve any faculty with enough initiative to form a team. We did not need to provide workshops after that. We certainly learned about how teams failed and succeeded and what kinds of professors were suited to using them. We also uncovered bad advice, such as mixing compensation for teams with grades. By 2002, we posted the manual, which we still update annually, in HTML and PDF format at http://www.isu.edu/ctl/facultydev/webhandbook/smt.htm. This made it available free to faculty and even got us out of the hassles of selling manuals. This article will allow NTLF readers to access all of this information. A workshop in a newsletter?
Do It Yourself
Everything you need to do it yourself is in the free manual first posted in 1991. Today's manual is a significant improvement over earlier versions. The basics of how to form teams, manage and compensate them, case examples of use and advice for both student and faculty members remain from the early work. As we developed a unifying picture of development, the manual has become more "fractal" in the sense of being more in accord with a unifying model of education. The major components of teaching, learning, and thinking are all in there now, even though the word "fractal" or "generator" isn't emphasized. Ethical considerations are there, as well as examples of how to use student management teams to assess at scales of departments and programs, and not just courses (Revak and Nuhfer, 2001). Further, some evaluation and assessment techniques, guidelines for chairs, and a growing bibliography of primary sources contributed by others who have published on team use have been gradually added since the early editions. Enjoy!
Acknowledgments: I'd like to thank my early colleagues from the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, more recent ones from the University of Colorado at Denver and Idaho State University, and those from many from other universities who have pioneered uses and added to our knowledge about student management teams. We look forward to contributions of experiences from NTLF readers who try them.
* Kogut, L. S. 1984. "Quality Circles: A Japanese Management Technique for the Classroom." Improving College and University Teaching, 32, pp. 123 - 127.
* Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G. 1998. Cooperative Learning for Higher Education Faculty. American Council on Education. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, pp. 218 - 219.
* Nuhfer, E. B. 1997. "Student management teams-the heretic's path to teaching success." In W. C. Campbell and K. Smith, eds., New Paradigms for College Teaching (Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.), pp. 103-126.
* Nuhfer, E. B., and others. 1990-2003. A Handbook for Student Management Teams. Current edition is available for free download at http://www.isu.edu/ctl/facultydev/webhandbook/smt.htm
* Revak, M., and Nuhfer, E. B. 2001. "Student management teams as assessment tools." Policy Center on the First Year of College, Assessment Listserv, available through the index at http://www.brevard.edu/fyc/listserv/index.htm and at http://www.brevard.edu/fyc/listserv/remarks/revakandnuhfer.htm.