Friday, August 31, 2012

Learning Styles, Personality Types & Generations

by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

If you have a learning style that helps you learn best, does this correlate with the generation you were born in (or perhaps the generation you were raised by) and your personality type?

As in all inventories, tests, and types, it is important to remember that generalities are the norm. First, let’s review definitions for each:

Learning Styles
“A learning style is a student's consistent way of responding to and using stimuli in the context of learning. Keefe (1979) defines learning styles as the ‘composite of characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological factors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how a learner perceives, interacts with, and responds to the learning environment.’ Stewart and Felicetti (1992) define learning styles as those ‘educational conditions under which a student is most likely to learn.’ Thus, learning styles are not really concerned with what learners learn, but rather how they prefer to learn" (Clark, 2012).

Learning Styles and Personality Tests
The Gregorc Style Delienator, the Barsch Learning Style Inventory, and the personality test based on Jung, which was the basis for the Myers-Briggs Personality Type are some of the tools used to determine how learners prefer to learn.

A generation is a 20-22 year span and those born within that span are defined as possessing certain characteristics, shared values, and beliefs. Each generation has their own set of values, ideals, ethics, and beliefs that dictate individuals’ preferences for living, learning and working. A generation is often defined by significant events experienced as a unit. Events of one generation can have a ripple effect on other generations. Generations don’t solely define a person’s behavior, but the generations into which you were born and raised does help define who you are and will most likely have some impact on your behavior.

In working with both teachers in training and learners in the classroom in kindergarten through higher education, patterns have emerged between what the preferred learning style is, what their personality type is, and which generation they were born within.

The major distinction that emerged is that of a relationship between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Gregorc Style Delineator similar to the results found in this study. However, I am convinced that generational attributes can also contribute to a preferred learning style and a personality type.

Perhaps this will be my next research project!

What are your thoughts?


Clark, D. (2012). Learning styles & preferences. Retrieved August 28, 2012 from http:

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Start of a New School Year!

by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

So, here we are again, at the start of a brand new school year. When we were children and young adults, this “start” may have had different meanings than they do now as an instructor; however, I think how we approach the new school year is just as important as when we were younger! 

Do you approach a new school year with anticipation, dread, or a combination of the two? Are you excited about the new students you will have in your classes and the eagerness they may bring to the course? Have you designed your course, planned your lessons, and written you syllabus? Are you ready?

Well, for me, being “ready” is a vague term and so I prefer to be prepared with my course design, lesson plans, and syllabus, which does help me be more “ready” than not! 

This past week, I was working with an instructor on a course that she had taught for several years using an asynchronous online environment and she was frustrated with the way the course was designed. Specifically, she was concerned about the number of assignments that the students were required to accomplishment in the 16 week semester, not to mention the time that it took her to grade all of those assignments. 

My first step was to help her examine the objectives of the course and what it was exactly that she wanted her students to be able to do by the end of the semester. This is one of the first steps when you are designing or re-designing a course (there a few other steps before the objectives, but for her this was a good starting place). After we had reviewed the objectives, using measurable verbs for the successful outcomes, honing in on the assessments that would help her students meet the objectives became an easier process and she walked away with some strategies designed to help her students successfully accomplish the objectives of the course and to help save time for both students and instructor when doing and grading assignments. 

How do you prepare for your courses as you approach a new school year? At the Center for Teaching & Learning at the University of Utah (CLTE), Higher Education Instructional Consultants can help you prepare for your courses whether you are teaching a new course or just need to breathe life into an old course. 

You can also check out our Resource pages to help you with various teaching and instructional strategies!

Friday, July 27, 2012

So many students, so little time (Part 3) 

It is nearing the end of the summer semester, the time when I typically realize that I have approximately 100 term papers awaiting grading, and no TA support. Usually my reaction is to put my head on my desk and think "Why did I do this to myself?". But not this semester, oh no! 

I have finally learned from my mistakes. Not only does having an end-of-term paper in my course open the gates to grading hell, it also means that students don't actually ever receive any feedback (although I leave them feedback, very few ever return to the course to read it, as I can tell from the usage reports from our LMS.) So instead, this semester, I tried something new. Students used to have to write a term paper with a number of components to it: a topic that relates to the course material but hasn't explicitly been covered, inclusion of citations from a number of research articles on the subject that they have found themselves, explicit connections to a specific set of concepts from the course, and recommendations to an audience of their choice (as it is an adolescent development course, the audience is typically parents, teachers, policy makers, or teens themselves). This results in a 6-8 paper per student. And, as you can imagine, not only is there a lot of grading, but a lot of repetition (why is it everyone wants to write about anorexia or teen suicide?).

Now, students still write all of these same sections, but they do them as part of a discussion with their classmates. Students were allowed to choose groups based on topics that interested them (which I generated from the past 3 years of term paper topics), and they remained with that group throughout the semester. On "even" weeks, students were assigned a role, and each wrote a post that was similar to one of the sections from the previous version of this assignment. So, for example, someone found an article about the topic and provided the citation and a summary. The online discussion forum also provided opportunities for students to provide other forms of information, such as videos and online news articles, or even websites devoted to the topic. On "odd" weeks, students were required to respond to at least two of their group mates' posts from the previous week. So this way, students got exposed to the same (and more!) information, provided one another with feedback throughout the semester, and I had much less grading to do (see Part 2 from this series). At the end of the semester, I will still have students submit a final report, but this will be a 1-2 page summary of what they learned from the group discussions, written in a format that could actually be of use to someone beyond the individual student . For example, one of my students is writing a letter to parents that could be sent home from the principal of the school where she works.

Of course, I didn't choose this approach simply to make grading easier (although it helps!). The new assignment also designed to be more engaging for students; they are exploring the same topic throughout the semester as they learn about adolescent development, and are doing so in a collaborative fashion where they have one another as models, resources, and sounding boards. Students are required to think critically not only about what they read and discover in academic journals and on the internet, but also about their classmates' posts, and have opportunities to provide feedback, a skill that will come in handy in the "real world". From my reading of the discussions, I can say that the depth of thought, particularly as the semester has progressed, surpasses what I was accustomed to reading in the final term papers. Win-win!

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Technology

My Love/Hate Relationship with Technology!

by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

I LOVE technology gadgets! I have been fascinated with technology since the day I walked into a Skaggs Drugstore and saw a display with a black & white television with a PONG game system hooked up to display this fabulous new game! My fascination grew when I purchased the first little computer developed by Texas Instruments, which then led to the gaming systems by Sega and Atari, which then led to my first “real” computer where I learned DOS! My first laptop was a Compaq and it did not have an internal floppy drive so I had to buy an external 3 ½ inch floppy drive so I could load programs. My first cell phone was a “brick” and I never lost or dropped a call! I loved all of these “firsts” of my technology gadgets!

Technology has both improved and exasperated my life!  The word processing software alone has been worth the wait, since I learned how to type on an electric typewriter! I know that having my smartphone, tablet, and netbook have made it possible for me to be more productive and made teaching and learning online a viable reality!  However, there is a hate relationship with technology because so many things can go wrong, all of which I think I have experienced at one point or another while teaching and learning online! 

I am currently teaching online courses, which oftentimes includes students (and myself) taking vacations and traveling for work. My students have been faced with the dilemma of how to travel and still complete the assignments required for an online asynchronous class. 

My first experience with traveling and teaching online occurred a few years ago on a four week road trip vacation to New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington DC. I made meticulous plans that would successfully help me complete the process. I contacted my dial-up provider (yes, I still had one at the time) and made a copy of all the dial-up numbers needed for the various cities and towns we would be visiting just in case I did not have access to a WiFi connection through the hotels, and I practiced several times connecting to the internet using my cell phone and the dial-up numbers (not a PDA or smartphone) so that I would be prepared for various scenarios.  As I think about that experience, it would have been much easier with the smartphone, tablet, and netbook that I now have to make the necessary internet connections, not to mention the unlimited data plans that are currently available through cell phone carriers!

For the most part, my plan was successful and I completed the various tasks required when teaching an online course. However, there were a few memorable experiences (that I can now laugh about) such as sitting in the van in the middle of Jamestown, New York dialing up with my cell phone because that was the only place I had a strong enough signal to connect to the internet, upload my course content, and participate in the discussions.  It seems that resort towns such as Jamestown, which has the Chautauqua resort, do not like cell towers restricting their view. Besides, if you are on vacation, you should not need your cell phone, right? 

One of my students shared her recent escapade while traveling to southern Utah. She had contacted the hotel to confirm that they had WiFi access, which the hotel confirmed, so she traveled to her hotel only to find out that the access was limited to the hotel lobby. The lobby had no available power plugs for her waning laptop battery and her limited data plan had been used checking and sending emails.  Needless to say, she was quite exasperated with the whole experience. Another student shared that she had all the necessary software and hardware to conduct a live Chat session but quickly discovered that her internet provider did not have the capacity to allow for this type of live session. I have had several students lose power during storms, fires, and other natural disasters outside of their control. 

I introduce all of this as a precursor to the thoughts that have been rambling around in my head lately about accountability in an online course. Most of the classes I teach are graduate level, and I have several times been faced with the dilemma of how to accommodate the technology glitches of an online learning environment, with that of accountability. I also have other instructors asking for my advice regarding the online learning environment, technology, and accountability.  Excuses come in all varieties and my students (and myself on occasion) have used every excuse in the book about why an assignment is late or missing; however, my all-time favorite occurred last semester when one of my graduate students told me she missed an assignment because “CANVAS did not remind her!” 

I have a strong philosophy about constructivism (based on the learning theories of Piaget (1973), Vygotsky (1978), Dewey (1938), and Bruner (1996) and adult learning principles as outlined in Knowles, 2011), which places more of the responsibility on the student for learning; however, over the last few years, I have tried to mesh the glitches of technology with this constructivist view of accountability in an online learning environment.  I have not always been successful and I can think of a few instances where the situation was excruciatingly painful! Because of these experiences, my syllabus now includes a “technology paragraph” that I have developed (and re-developed) over the years of teaching both ground and online courses. 

Should we hold students more or less accountable for their learning in an online class? How have you meshed accountability with technology in your online courses? 

What are your thoughts?


Bruner, J. S. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.
Piaget, J. (1973). To understand is to invent: The future of education.  New York: Grossman.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Monday, July 9, 2012

So many students, so little time (Part 2)

Pie. Yes, pie.

Not only is pie delicious, but it will also help me to illustrate how I go about grading discussion posts in my large online classes. Ah, how versatile pie is!

(Yes, I promised to write about how I adapted my final paper for a large course - I'll talk about that in another post. Pie was just so tempting...)

In any course, it's important for students to have opportunities to discuss the material with one another. This gives them opportunities to articulate their own ideas, be exposed to different perspectives on the same subject, have questions answered, practice providing feedback, potentially negotiate conflict, and hopefully have fun while interacting with others. This tends to be especially important in online classes (and I would argue, large classes of any variety), where students can feel somewhat isolated and anonymous. Regardless of how intriguing or thought-provoking these discussions might be, there are still some students who are not motivated to participate unless you attach a grade to said involvement. (And yes, there are some who are stalwart enough to resist the urge to participate, despite the temptations of interesting conversation, learning, and points earned.)

My typical set-up for discussions is to split students into groups; in one current class students were randomly assigned to groups of 5-6, in the other they were allowed to self-select based on topic of interest. Students are provided with a prompt or a task for their initial post (e.g., post a picture or video that illustrates something you learned about cognitive development in the first two years of life, and write at least a paragraph explaining what concept or stage of development you think it illustrates and why). The next week, students must respond to at least two of their group mates' posts, and are given an additional prompt or task (e.g., make connections between the original post and what you have since learned about psychosocial development in the first two years - for example, how might language and attachment be related?). 

So let's do a little math. 

I am currently teaching 2 courses. In one course I have 81 students, and in the other, 75, for a total of 156 students.
156 students x (1 post + 2 replies) every other week = 468 entries 
468 entries x 5 (that's how many posts I have them complete over the semester) = 2340 entries to grade
Even at 5 minutes an entry to grade, that's the better part of my summer gone.

Okay, so clearly, particularly without any TA support, this is not actually what I'm doing. Instead, I've told students that I randomly select who will be graded each time there is a discussion and reply due, but they don't know when they will get graded, so they'd be wise to produce quality work each time around. 

Think of it this way - I don't have to eat the whole pie to know it's delicious. Likewise, I don't have to taste everything a baker makes to rant or rave about his or her creations. I can eat just a small sample, give a review, and not end up feeling sick.

This semester, I decided that each student will receive feedback from me at least twice, with the first time being within the first 3 weeks of classes. Then I plotted out a spreadsheet with all students and all due dates, and (somewhat) randomly selected who would get graded when. As I grade, I give full marks to those who posted on time but aren't selected for that week (or 0 to those who didn't post or posted late), and read only the entries written by the "lucky few". And I only grade posts once the replies have also been written, so I only go into the discussion boards (or actually, the SpeedGrader, because we use Canvas) once per grading session. 

Some more math:
I average around 12 students per class per grading "session"
So (12 students x 2 classes) x (1 post + 2 replies) = 72 entries per "grading session" on average
OR 156 students x (1 post + 2 replies) x 2 (times each student gets graded) = 936 entries to grade during the semester - that's a drop of 60% in terms of what needs to get graded, and I get my summer (and sanity) back!

This is the first time doing this for me, but it's not a particularly new approach to grading. Although some (especially students) seem to think this approach to grading is arbitrary, and thus this approach can be somewhat controversial, I stand by the assumptions of random sampling, and my students haven't complained yet. My experience is also that students are getting more and higher quality feedback than they would have if I were responding to each and every post.

So I can have my pie and eat it too. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online series - Part 8

By Dr. Vanae E. Morris

Teaching online is hard! Ok, there, I said it! 

Not only is online teaching hard but the modeling of online teaching is very similar to what we have experienced in face-to-face classes over the many years of instruction and that is, we do what we have experienced or observed! 

Breaking that paradigm is the hard part! I have talked about (in this blog) what is considered to be the best practices of online teaching. However, should these best practices only apply to an online environment? I think not! As part of my role as a Higher Education Instructional Consultant, I go into the classrooms of instructors and observe their teaching. I take copious notes using a rubric that requests information about the behaviors of the instructor and the students. After the observation is complete, I take the rubric with my notes, and give suggestions to the instructors on ways that they could include more active learning strategies, classroom management techniques, questioning strategies, and many other suggestions for “best practices!” This conversation allows for the “why” of the teaching and helps support the “mechanics” of the notes that I took during the observation.  

Over the last two semesters, there has been a distinct pattern in both mine and my colleague’s observations that precipitated the formulation of a template with similar feedback and eventually the creation of resource pages that we could refer our instructors to for further clarification. Most of our interactions the last two semesters has been with graduate students and teaching assistants, who are now modeling what they have observed in both the face-to-face and online environments over several years of taking classes from “seasoned” instructors, who are also modeling what they experienced and observed  as students.  One of the challenges that we have as instructional consultants in higher education is shifting that paradigm! 

In this blog, I have discussed several best practices based on research, personal observations and experiences, and feedback from my colleagues within the instructional consulting community. All of the best practices can be utilized in a face-to-face classroom as well as in an online teaching and learning environment, it is just a matter a shifting the paradigm using different delivery methods, techniques, technology tools, and strategies. In my role, I encourage instructors to move from what has been modeled for years, to different strategies that take students from passively listening to actively engaging in the content! 

The last best practice that I want to share is that of maintaining enthusiasm! Twelve to sixteen week semesters can sometimes seem like an eternity if we lose our enthusiasm for the content, our willingness to assist our students toward successful outcomes, and communicating that enthusiasm to our students. This enthusiasm (or lack of) is always evident when I visit a classroom, either face-to-face or online, so I like to give my instructors (and myself) this advice: stay organized, be an active presence in your classroom, communicate your enthusiasm frequently, and shift the paradigm to something new! 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online series - Part 7

 by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

In previous posts in this series, I have discussed several of the adult learning principles as posited by Knowles (1980), which includes two that are relevant for the topic of conversation today. From Boettcher and Conrad (2005), in an online course, an instructor should “. . . combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning” and from Ko (2005), learning should be connected to real-life experiences. 

Knowles (1980) believes that adults learn best when the information is embedded in their experiences and adults want the learning to be relevant to their lives, goals, and needs. Making connections to prior knowledge and life experiences makes the learning more relevant for the adult learner.  Finding activities that encourage connections, experiences, and prior knowledge can be accomplished using active learning and promoting accountability

How can this be accomplished? Ko (2005, slide 8) believes that there are four ways to help your adult students make connections to real-life experiences: 
  1. Encourage students to apply real-world experience to course content
  2. Encourage students to draw on personal examples and observations that are relevant to the course
  3. Tie contemporary events or issues to course content
  4. Whenever possible, encourage students to incorporate their own goals into study
Boettcher and Conrad (2005) also believe that encouraging adults to bring their life experiences and prior knowledge to the class can be accomplished by combining core learning with personalized learning. “In practical terms for online courses, it means designing options and choices within learning experiences, assignments, and special projects . . . Discussion forums, blogging, journals, wikis, and similar social networking type tools provide excellent communication channels for engaging learners in clarifying and enlarging their mental models or concepts and building links and identifying relationships” (p. 46). 

I have made changes to my online pedagogy course to include more reflective writing and learning community activities to promote and encourage the learners in my course to bring their life-experiences and prior knowledge to the content and to personalize the learning for my students. I encourage you to examine your current courses for methods you could use to help your students bring and apply real-world experiences to the course content and to personalize your courses for your students each semester.


Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.
Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from

Thursday, May 31, 2012

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (Part 6)

by Rai Farrelly, PhD
I don't consider myself to be 'one lacking voice' by any means, but sometimes I can't seem to find it. The ideas will be swirling around somewhere - in my mind or my heart or coming to life in my emotions, but without voice they just swirl, which makes things a bit muddy. Recently, I've been finding my voice in the words of others - and it makes me happy!

I'm not new to teaching in an institution of higher education. In fact, thanks to the power sharing of my early mentors in the academy, I've been teaching classes for over a decade - dating back to my years as a green Masters student. However, it wasn't until this past semester with the class that I've been writing about in this blog series - (Em)Power in the Classroom - that I have actually 'negotiated curriculum' in this way. But it was always in me!

In this negotiated class, the final power sharing act was the grading. At the beginning of the class, we decided on a qualitative grading scale, relying on carefully crafted rubrics with clearly defined criteria that would guide them. Even though we set the grading policy together and it was going to be difficult to get less than an A given the opportunities for multiple drafts and revisions with peer and instructor feedback, they still asked the usual questions toward the end of the semester: Am I in good standing? Do you think I'll get an A? Is there anything else I could do to make sure I have an A? I assured them that if they were slated to receive a grade they wouldn't be happy with, I would be in touch and we would negotiate a plan to help them reach their goal, even if that meant assigning an 'I' (Incomplete) which they would have a year to remedy. You could see the shoulders relax as I said it. I still had a couple of students visit me to make sure they were on track for the A they so desired. We worked together, made some revisions here and there and embarked on our summer vacations worry-free (with relation to this class, at least).

I didn't always operate this way.

Previously, I taught from syllabi that I inherited and I taught with a style that I emulated. I put into practice what I thought to be the 'better' elements of my own learning experiences, supplemented with new techniques and strategies gleaned from my second language teacher education classes. Having taught many English as a Second Language courses followed by teacher education courses for teachers of English language learners, I acquired a large toolbox from which to draw when working away in the classroom. The inklings of 'Atlas Shrugged' - not the book, but the literal shrugging of the world on my shoulders - were also in me, planted by early readings about The Atlas Complex, the teacher as transmitter of knowledge, as 'sage on the stage', the students as empty vessels waiting to be filled - the 'banking method' of education. These were all concepts I was encouraged to discard as I adopted more student-centered approaches where the teacher is the facilitator, the architect, the gardener - cultivating opportunity for rich student experiences and deep learning.

I always viewed myself as a facilitator. I crafted beautiful lessons that promoted student-centered instruction (or so I thought). There was an abundance of collaborative learning opportunities and formative assessment. I was rarely the 'sage on the stage' talking at them, but rather I engaged them in discussions and projects and presentations. Didn't I?

To whatever extent my instruction embodied a student-centered approach, I had to admit at some point - I was still in charge. I was still the one with all the power. I determined the topics before meeting my students. I chose the assignments before knowing how they learned. I crafted a syllabus that read like a contract with policies that were handed down to me by my Department. I assessed them with numbers and percentages that confused even me at grading time.

And then it happened. What many of you have known for years - I discovered Power Sharing in the Classroom. I discovered in reverse chronological order the works of educators who said with their words what had been burning in me ... perhaps since I was a learner planted in a uniform, in a classroom, in a row, at a desk in front of a nun. As I read Stephen Brookfield, MaryEllen Weimer, bell hooks, Susan Hyde, Ira Shor, Garth Boomer, Norma Gonzalez, Nancy Lester, John Dewey, Paolo Freire and many others, I found that they were saying exactly what I was feeling.

I sat with When Students Have Power by Ira Shor and wanted to read every sentence aloud to my colleague. "On the first day, if I had enacted traditional rhetoric as a unilateral authority, I would have begun by narrating the syllabus ("reading the riot act") and by lecturing on the course material (the pre-emptive didactic presentation)" (p. 30). Yes! Exactly, Ira!

bell hooks was like music to my ears as I turned the pages of Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. "It is rare that any professor, no matter how eloquent a lecturer, can generate through his or her actions enough excitement to create an exciting classroom. Excitement is generated through collective effort" (p. 8). Absolutely, bell!

Bringing the critical lens to reflective practice in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Stephen Brookfield had me nodding out loud in my chair. "When we practice critically, we regard curricula as constructed and tentative, as framed by human agency and therefore capable of being dismantled and reframed by teachers and students" (p. 40). Amen, Stephen!

I literally couldn't have said any of that better myself (yet). I'm a young faculty with my Dr. title newly awarded and my voice is growing stronger by the day. As I continue to 'find my voice', I will also find ways to 'make a noise' so that I can continue to promote Power Sharing in the Classroom.

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Shor, I. (1996). When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

"Believe that you can change the world. Find your voice. Make a noise." -Katie Herzig, Make a Noise