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February's Talking about Teaching forum focused on PSH's rapidly changing demographics, especially in terms of increasing enrollments of international students. We began the meeting with briefly looking at the demographic data, focusing on the period between the Fall 2011 semester and Fall 2012, when the increase of international students on campus was the steepest.


The general demographics of these students on campus are roughly consistent with national trends. The three main groups of students are arriving from China, India, and South Korea. This meeting was one of the first to begin understanding how these changes are impacting teaching and learning in the classroom. Maida Muslic-Kovar, Ana (Patty) Aguilera, and Donna Howard were present to add their insights and to listen to faculty concerns. We used large and small group discussions, and solicited individual written responses to the following three questions:

       What are you observing in your setting?

       What is your biggest emerging question?

       How do international students benefit your class? 

Highlights from the forum

We often do not ask the question, personally or as an institution, about the benefits of having international students in our classrooms/other settings. The value of a diversity of perspectives was a common response in our meeting, and different disciplines had specific insights about the positive impacts in their classrooms. Generally speaking, reflecting on this question is a good place to start and may lead to ideas about how to better engage international students.

By far, the top question(s) are coming from the humanities and social sciences regarding the process of grading written and presentation work. Should international students be graded differently, and how?  Is there a way to create a more discerning system of assessing reading and writing skills? Our group was far from a consensus on this question, and this may be a good topic to explore from various perspectives in a future workshop.

What became clearest during our forum is the need for a mechanism in place for pre-arrival advising or better assessment of students' needs. Some implications of this gap are that many are unaware of entrance-to-major requirements and regulations. There are some students who arrive not knowing that they will spend two years in Harrisburg, or that they may not get into certain programs at University Park. There is a need to do our own assessment of the students' English abilities prior to arrival. Several faculty members across all disciplines are asking whether there will be institutional support to hire support staff and ESL professors in tenure-track positions who will work within the School of Humanities to provide ESL-based classes in writing, speaking, and research. Several participants in the Talking about Teaching forum mentioned the importance of these questions being discussed in the Faculty Senate.

Finally, there was a critical conversation about the problems with well-intentioned curricular and co-curricular programs that only target international students, treating them as different or special in some way. The question was raised: How can we personalize our instruction instead of categorizing students? I will end with the wise words of a teacher and author whom Janice Smith pointed me to after this session: "There will always be a need to address different students' needs, because different students are always going to have different needs" (Lois Leveen).

Check out these stories told by PSH's international students:


Free Online Courses

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It has been over a year since my first post on OERs. Since then, the choices have continued to grow and I wanted to link that old blog post with a short list of some of the most written about and recent OERs. However, this list has some differences from last year's list. Last year, the talk was still more about free online educational RESOURCES. This year, the buzz is more about free online COURSES. That's a big difference!

iTunesU - I'm not sure why it doesn't appear on the old list, but it certainly has a lot of great resources for learning. From their website: "If you're an educator at a university, college, or K-12 school, now you have an easy way to design and distribute complete courses featuring audio, video, books, and other content. And students and lifelong learners can experience your courses for free through a powerful new app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch." (I added the bold emphasis.)
MITx - Although MIT's OCW has been around for quite awhile, MITx is their newest online learning initiative. Whereas MIT's opencourseware (OCW) has educational resources from their courses (various pieces and parts), MITx will deliver free courses. Its first course will be Circuits and Electronics, offered in a prototype form from March 5-June 8, 2012. The course is free, and students will have an opportunity to demonstrate their mastery and earn a certificate. For this pilot, it seems that there is no cost associated with the certificate. 
Coursera - Started by two Stanford professors, Coursera offers free online courses. From their website: "We are committed to making the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it. We envision people throughout the world, in both developed and developing countries, using our platform to get access to world-leading education that has so far been available only to a tiny few. We see them using this education to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in."
Udacity - Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford, resigned from his newly tenured position to build this new online educational venture. The first two courses are titled "Building a Search Engine," and "Programming a Robotic Car" (Thrun worked on Google's robotic cars). Last year, Thrun opened his "Intro to Artificial Intelligence" course to the world and 160,000 students enrolled of which it's reported that 20,000 actually stuck with the course through the final exam.
The Floating University - "What if the world's best thinkers all taught at the same school?" is the message on their website. Although these courses aren't free, they're certainly priced low, ranging from $39.99 for "Is Biomedical Research Really Close to Curing Anything" taught by Douglas Melton, a professor at Harvard, to $59.99 for "Who Wants to be a Billionaire?" taught by William Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital.
Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) - From their website: "SEE programming includes one of Stanford's most popular sequences: the three-course Introduction to Computer Science taken by the majority of Stanford's undergraduates and seven more advanced courses in artificial intelligence and electrical engineering." These free courses include lecture videos, reading lists, course handouts, quizzes and tests, and opportunities to communicate with other SEE students.
Open Yale Courses - From their website: "Open Yale Courses provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University. The aim of the project is to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn." What these courses provide is access to classroom lectures. I just read an interesting Yale Daily News article briefly describing how the online provision of the classroom lectures changed what happens in the classroom.
Udemy - Some of these courses are free, but not all. You can take a course, or create a course. When I visited their site, the top 3 trending free courses were Foundations of Business Strategy, How to Make iPhone Apps (Lite), and Operations Management. I noticed some course authors were from MIT and Stanford.   
Khan Academy - If you haven't already heard about Khan Academy, then you need to check it out now. From their website: "With a library of over 2,800 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 298 practice exercises, we're on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace." These are not free courses, but free topics. However, they could certainly supplement learning in your courses. Their most recent news is that Craig Silverstein, Google's first hire in 1998 (not including the co-founders), is moving to Khan Academy as a developer.
Knowledge@Wharton - This online newsletter also offers articles, interviews, and Q&A's as podcasts to listen to on your mp3 player, iPod or PC. Check out their podcast archive.
Finally, Open Culture has provided a listing of almost 400 free online courses arranged by discipline and title.

Have you taken any of these free online courses, or viewed a Khan Academy video? I've downloaded a few of the iTunesU courses to my iPad and plan to check them out one of these weekends. I'm curious since I design online courses, and wonder what I might learn by investigating this new breed.