I had the opportunity to attend COHERE’s 2013 conference in at Kwantlen in Richmond, with the theme, “Open Resources, Open Courses: Their Impact on Blended and Online Learning”. It was fantastic: a measured look at the themes of open resources and open learning with opportunities for breadth during one afternoon of break-out sessions, and opportunities for depth during two mornings of keynotes + panel responses.

My notes from Thursday’s keynote by Cable Green with the panel responses:

Cable Green's Keynote
Cable Green’s Keynote


My notes from Friday’s keynote by David Porter with the panel responses:

David Porter's Keynote
David Porter’s Keynote
Panel Responses to David Porter

In conclusion, adoption and diffusion of OERs can learn a lot from how we approach the adoption and diffusion of elearning with many of the similar issues: impact on systems/ecologies of large institutions, faculty take-up, pedagogical implications, the $ imperatives…

Teaching Squares & Lesson Study

Teaching Squares and Lesson Study are both facilitated peer-group approaches to improving instructors’ lesson preparation and delivery but both take very different approaches. Teaching Squares lends itself well to heterogeneous groups who come from different disciplines while Lesson Study is primarily for instructors coming from the same discipline or wanting to integrate the same theme into their particular discipline (eg. sustainability across the curriculum).

Teaching Squares follow this process:

  1. Group of 4 instructors meet with facilitator and decide a schedule for class visits. Individual instructors decide what guiding questions they have about their own instruction before the visits.
  2. Each instructor visits the others’ class during class time to observe the instructor. The purpose is to observe the other instructor (and not participate in the class). The observing instructor is to focus on her own guiding question about her own instruction, comparing herself to the observed instructor. She is not evaluating the teaching instructor.
  3. Each instructor reflects on the observations, comparing to their own instruction to determine if they can themselves make any changes.
  4. The group meets to discuss what they learned based on their personal reflections.


Lesson Study follows this process:

  1. Group of instructors meet with facilitator and plans the study.
  2. The group determines what guiding questions will determine the focus of the observations. These take the form of research questions that the group would like to investigate and improve upon.
  3. Design the lesson. The group determines the learning goals and a lesson to achieve this goal. It seems that not all lesson studies operate at this level of uniformity, though, as some are just looking at bigger questions – eg. teaching a particular curricular theme, as opposed to teaching the exact same lesson.
  4. Observers visit the classes of the instructors during the time the teaching instructor is delivering the lesson under study. Observers document all their observations regarding the lesson, the instructor, and the students, to inform the evaluation of the lesson under study. It seems that all participants deliver the lesson in their classes and are observed.
  5. The team meets to analyze the results and evaluates whether or not the learners achieved the learning goals.

A New Culture of Learning

I recommend this book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change especially for those who are in or who care about education but are not education professionals, eg. managers, vice-presidents, etc.. Thomas and Seely Brown nicely and concisely encapsulate current thinking and research without once mentioning distributed cognition, social constructivism, inquiry or any other theory-talk.

Reading novels can change your life

Changing Beliefs and Behaviour Through Experience-Taking

G.F. Kaufman & L.K. Libby

Finally, some research to support what every fiction-fan knows, that readers will live vicariously through the narratives of well-developed lead characters.

“This immersive phenomenon of simulating the mindset and persona of a protagonist is what we refer to as experience-taking. Through experience-taking, readers lose themselves and assume the identity of the character, adopting the character’s thoughts , emotions, goals, traits, and actions and experiencing the narrative as though they were that character.”

Brecht knew that and didn’t like it, inventing Epic Theatre as a way to prevent audience identification with the bourgeois values of theatre and to be able to engage critically with topics and themes (ie. agendas) rather than characters. Muriel Spark knew it too, adopting a distancing technique that makes The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie all the more deliciously wicked.

But for teaching, where we are trying to manipulate and change in our ‘safe’ environments, it’s good to be able to point to research that supports simple but well crafted narratives as a means to affect change. As I continue to work on digital storytelling learning objects with single narratives told in the first person, I feel as though I have to defend myself and my prudent approach in the onslaught of data-, labour- and bandwidth-intensive ‘interactive digital storytelling‘ where every possible choice the reader (user?) makes needs to be pre-programmed under the illusion of reader(user?)-driven experiences.

Kaufman GF, Libby LK. Changing Beliefs and Behavior Through Experience-Taking. Journal of Personality and Socical Psychology. 2012 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22448888.