Author Archives: Alda

Final Plan: Rationale + Online Interviewing Unit

The Rationale

This unit is a set of three lessons. The rationale is based on the taxonomy of “significant learning experiences” from Fink (2013) and the notion of “learning as an enculturation into a practice” from Brown (2006). Both authors put a focus on learning as an active process where the instructor is more of a mentor who engages with learners, who are more than passive vessels. Brown speaks of changing the “epistemic frame” of a course so that teachers show learners “how to be” in a field. The field in this case is business communication. In order to be a competent interviewer AND interviewee, learners need to practice “professional” communication, which will differ from the conversation and discussion styles they use in other contexts. Learners also need to be able to adapt their communication strategies to any technology that may mediate their conversations with potential employers and employees.

Originally, this unit had one set of overarching objectives. However, now that there are three distinct lessons, there are also three sets of more specific objectives. The three lessons are 1. a foundational unit on the differences between face-to-face and online interviewing, 2. practicing being the interviewer (R), and 3. practicing being the interviewee (E). This is a unit that takes place towards the second half of the semester. The learners are assumed to have mastered an earlier unit on best practices of being an R and E and how to write good interview questions. The focus in the last two lessons is on higher-level objectives of adapting what was learned from the first half of the semester to an online environment. To that end, I have responded to peer feedback by adding assignments that “check in” with learners along the way. This will help track progress and provide more opportunities for dialogue leading up to the final project.

I am assuming going into this unit that learners have a background in vocabulary and concepts from the first few weeks of the course (like the definition of an interview) but will also be learning some core concepts specific to interacting in an online environment. My focus in moving through the three lessons is to go from understanding and recall to application and adaptation. By the end of the unit, learners will have written questions and prepared for an interview that will be conducted as part of the “integration” of their new knowledge. The three separate lessons all come together in a “final project” interview when the learners have a chance to demonstrate competency at being an R and an E in an online environment.

One of the core premises of the course is that in order to gather the best information, set up potential employees for success, and ensure a good “fit” with the organization, it is just as important to teach interviewer skills as it is to teach interviewee skills. By having learners practice the process step-by-step and critically reflect on what’s happening, I can help learners build skills that will help them advocate for themselves and feel like they have more agency in the interviewing process. I value the interpersonal aspect of Fink’s taxonomy, so I will also ask learners to reflect on their own performance and that of their interview partner. Learners will also plan how to protect their legal rights, and reflect on the value of this process to them personally by thinking about how they can use interviewing skills to reach their career goals.


The Plan

Situational/Contextual Factors

Physical Context and Logistics

  • held at the main campus of UAF, a 4-year institution in Fairbanks, Alaska
  • 15 to 20 students will enroll
  • 200-level elective offered from the Department of Communication
  • open to all levels of undergraduate students
  • meets two nights a week for 1.5 hours per session
  • classes are primarily face-to-face in a traditional classroom, but online interviewing unit will begin with online class session to orient students to a videoconferencing environment

Social Context and Cultural Expectations

The course will be focused on employment interviews, teaching skills relevant for the role of interviewee AND interviewer. According to Forbes (2012) online, the average person stays at a job only 4.4 years, and millennials are expected to stay for an average of less than 3 years. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that employment interviews will be a recurring situation most people will face throughout their adult lives. Based on my experience, interviewees expect the interviewer to be prepared, attentive and fair. Those of us who have been interviewers expect interviewees to be confident, engaged and knowledgeable.

Because employment interviews can affect one’s income and career progression, it is also reasonable to assume that society places a high value on “good” interviewing skills. The UAF Dept. of Communication, realizing the need for instructional support of this skill-building, successfully argued to fund a class on interviewing. UAF’s curricular goals are reflected in the proposal document submitted for the course, in which the head of the Dept. of Communication wrote, “I do think that it may have a positive affect on programs such as Nursing, Marketing, Justice, or Business to mention a few. Basically any program that has an ‘interviewing’ component or necessity will benefit from the course.”

Learner Characteristics

The course is an elective and will be offered in the evening, so there is a chance that both full-time traditional students and working adults will be attending. The prerequisite is the basic English course, so students should have college-level writing abilities. However, their experience with interviews may vary widely, as can their reasons for enrolling. Some may be using it to bolster their degrees in professional communication or public relations; others may be taking it as professional development. I will survey the class at the beginning of the semester to learn more about their history and motivations.

Instructor Characteristics and Pedagogical Challenges

As the instructor, I am bringing some experience to the table, having taught the course (same book and format) for two semesters at Purdue University; this will be my first time teaching it at UAF. I feel that this is in my “zone of competence” because over the past two years I have presented on this subject for Staff Appreciation Day and for 4-H leaders and youth in order to keep up my skills. Overall, I’d say my “challenge” is that students often feel overwhelmed by or apprehensive of interviews because the power is imbalanced and the stakes can be high.

Sample Learning Objectives

This is a set of 3 lessons for a unit that would occur in the second half of a semester course on interviewing skills. Millennials are increasingly being asked to serve on hiring committees to provide perspective on their generation, so it is likely that interviewing is a responsibility they will face even at the entry level. Thus they practice the roles of both R (interviewer) and E (interviewee).

Lesson 1: Foundational Knowledge

Learners will understand effects of using computer software during interviews by comparing and contrasting face-to-face and online interviewing situations.

Learners will be able to identify potential pitfalls in the use of common videoconferencing technology.

Learners will connect this new knowledge with their prior knowledge by reflecting on their interviewing experiences to-date.

Lesson 2: Interviewer Role

Learners will adapt to an online environment by navigating videoconferencing software while conversing with classmates.

Learners will engage in problem-solving and critical thinking by designing contingency plans for how to address common pitfalls associated with videoconferencing technology.

Lesson 3: Interviewee Role

Learners will discern when best practices are being followed by critiquing peer performance in video-recorded online interviews.

Learners will apply knowledge of self-presentation to an online environment by writing an interviewee preparation plan that includes notes on time management, background selection, technology prep, etc.

End of Course Objectives:

Learners will be prepared for legal issues by discussing protected classes of info that may appear about candidates online, and assessing their own digital footprints for sensitive info.

Learners will apply their knowledge of online interview tactics in a final project by playing the roles of both R and E in an online environment.

Learners will reflect on the value of their interviewing experiences by identifying ways in which interviewing skills can help them reach personal career goals.

Sample Assignments

Using the required text of Interviewing: Principles and Practices by Stewart & Cash (2008), students can work through role-playing exercises with the sample interviews in the text. Then, those same sample interviews can be used as a template for generating learners’ own interview protocols. It is important for students to write out their questions or go-to examples beforehand so they can check for common pitfalls, clarity, and legal issues. In previous lessons, learners would have worked on activities like critiquing this sample interview protocol from Indiana and answering the question of how he or she would streamline some of the lines of inquiry so that both R and E are better able to keep track of what is being asked. The focus of this unit is to adapt that knowledge to an online environment.

Lesson 1:

Create a “Similarities” and “Differences” list of how interviews compare when conducted online versus face-to-face.

Create a “Pros” and “Cons” list of being invited to interview in an online environment instead of a face-to-face environment. Then contribute to class discussion: How do you feel about talking through video chat? What makes you nervous? How might you prepare your environment so you are comfortable?

Check-In Activity: What prior, if any, interview experience do you have in an online environment? What went well? What didn’t go well? What was surprising?

Lesson 2:

Write an interview protocol that will be used to interview a candidate at your most recent place of employment. Reflect on the differences between face-to-face and online, and include a section that describes what extra preparations you will have to make as the interviewer (time differences, equipment, contingency plans in case of technology failure, etc.)

Pick an activity partner and try out Google Hangouts. Have a conversation about a current event of your choice. Relay your experiences on the class discussion board, and answer this question: How would you change the way you spoke with your partner if this were a formal interview instead of a topical discussion?

Check-In Activity: What problems did you have with the technology? Do you have access at home to practice, or do you need class time to explore online environments further?

Lesson 3:

Keep practicing with the technology by doing a mock interview with a peer using Google Hangouts on Air. This time, make sure you are recording and that the Hangout feeds to YouTube. You will be matched with another activity pair and provide peer reviews of each other’s interviews. Pay particular attention to how you will appear on video, what background you choose to sit in, time management, the clarity of your audio feed, etc.

Check-In Activity: Turn in a draft of your interview protocol (as R) and your prepared examples and questions for the “company” (as E). The instructor will give you feedback on these documents and your sample video two weeks before the final project so you can make adjustments before the live role-playing event.

Final Project:

Apply your knowledge of self-presentation in an online environment by playing the role of interviewee in a mock employment-style interview. Your partner is interviewing you as a potential teaching assistant for this class. Each learner will subsequently serve as an interviewer for another student’s mock interview, and will receive feedback and points for doing so as well.

References

Brown, J. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the
edge. Change, 38(5), 18-24.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Meister, J. (2012). Job hopping is the new ‘normal’ for millenials: Three ways to prevent a human resource nightmare. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/

Stewart, C. J., & Cash, W. B., Jr. (2008). Interviewing: Principles and practices (12th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill

Teaching Philosophy as Welcome Letter

I wrote a teaching philosophy back in 2009 and this class presented a great opportunity to revise it and reflect on how my pedagogy has changed since then. Some of the wording remains the same, while a new paragraph emerged because of the literature I’ve read this semester. I really liked the idea described on iTeachU of the Welcome Letter, so I tried something new and wrote my teaching philosophy as if I were writing to my students, instead of a hiring committee.

Welcome!

To help you learn more about the course and what to expect this semester, I’d like to start by telling you more about myself. A key objective of my teaching is building and maintaining a sense of self-efficacy in our classroom. To accomplish this, I need you to understand that I believe in you. More importantly, the skills-based assignments are designed so that you come to believe in yourself. I follow the maxim that the greatest competition in life is against one’s self. Think of me as a coach. I’m here to help you discover that you are capable of what I ask in this class, and encourage you to set goals that tie in to what you want for your future. Sometimes it will be a long process of small steps. But if you believe that you can be an effective speaker in my speech class, it is then easier to become an effective speaker outside of class.

I feel fortunate to have the experience of teaching skills courses. In my view, learning how to manage your relationships, work in groups, and give presentations helps you believe in the power of self-presentation. In teaching these communication concepts and terms, I am offering you the chance to develop a more precise language for your experiences. When you learn the language for something, you begin to conceptualize it more completely. To aid that conceptualization process, I make an effort to help students set objectives and track improvements. I also track your progress by collecting mid-semester feedback in order to adjust the course as we go along.  For example, many students have indicated that they find quiz games an entertaining memory aid, so I adapted a slide version of Jeopardy! to help them build team spirit in groups as well as actively review course material.

The objectives I set and the activities I choose are guided by theories of learning that emphasize learning at multiple levels in both cognitive and interpersonal arenas. That means I will challenge you to go beyond recalling vocabulary and thinking of hypothetical examples. You will integrate research-based concepts and best practices to generate original speech outlines and visual aids, and will present them live to an audience. In addition, we will always be mindful of the human element of the communication process. Perspective-taking and considering diverse needs is important to bring context to the class.

In this communication course, you will practice how to explain your craft, support your positions, and express your passions. I am humbled by the responsibility of fostering that expression, and the activities I conduct in class are geared toward maintaining a supportive environment for it. The first rule on the policy statement for all classes I teach is about respect. Although you are learning for yourself, you also are learning with others. Peers provide an invaluable resource as each of you builds self-efficacy in a community of knowledge-seekers. It is my hope that if we believe in each other, that support will help us continue to rise to new challenges.

References

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing

college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 University of Alaska Fairbanks. (2014). iTeachU- Welcome Letters. Retrieved from

                         http://iteachu.uaf.edu/online-training/manage-classrooms/welcome-letters/

Extended review of Skitch, Moodle and Mango

Here is my follow up on initial impressions of three web-based learning tools.

Mango is a language-learning platform. The free version is limited. Mango claims that it is better than other programs because it is utility focused: “Mango teaches through examples like ‘What time are they arriving?’ instead of much less useful phrases like ‘The dog is under the table.'” I have to disagree. Learning how to say a dog is under something or a parrot is flying above something are both key concepts (under and over) just like other directional words, foundational in any language. Mango’s focus on “intuitive and contextual” language learning assumes that the contexts they provide are relevant to whomever signs on to the class. The context of Tom trying to party with Rosa wasn’t working for me. As I mentioned last time, there are some good interactive elements like being able to record your own pronunciations and compare them to the native speaker. However, I don’t find the free version of this tool robust enough to use it as part of classroom assignments.

Skitch is a creative tool that allows people to manipulate photos and screenshots. I can see it being useful for assignments like having students critique digital images, or make a collage that represents their understanding. I attached an example of how I could use it in the classroom to highlight certain aspects of sample visual aids. Skitch allows you to add arrows, commentary, pixellation and more in a variety of styles. I am not an EndNote user so I was not able to test Skitch’s integration with that particular organizational tool.

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Lastly, Moodle is an alternative to content managment systems like Blackboard. You can host online course material in Moodle, an open-source platform. I thought I had found a simple download link for the free version at https://download.moodle.org/ and opened version 2.8.1. Unfortunately the first link offered is if you have your own server, which I didn’t realize. I also didn’t appreciate the extra “junk” that the program tried to install, attached to a VLC media player download I didn’t realize wasn’t the main file. I had to click “decline” on several “browser enhancers” including one that BullGuard automatically blocked for me as a potential virus/spyware.

After all that, I finally sought help from my husband John, the resident IT person in my house who found the right download link for my PC. Make sure you click on the one that’s labeled for people who don’t have their own server. Sadly, as the screenshot shows below, I still wasn’t able to get very far. John used to work for SERRC and provided support for their Moodle. He said it was a nightmare due to coding issues back in 2008, and apparently not much has changed. So, I have to give Moodle a thumbs down for newbie accessibility. If you want to see what it can do, here is a sample course page you can check out since I wan’t able to make my own. It is appropriately themed “New to Moodle” at http://samplecourses.apcapps.alphaplus.ca/course/view.php?id=48

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Preliminary impressions of Skitch, Moodle and Mango

First tool: I tried Skitch once before, on my Android phone. I had heard about it at TechFest on campus, and the demo was impressive. Of course, navigating it on a smartphone screen was a little less exciting than what I had seen up on a projector screen. So, I gave up after tinkering with it once or twice. This time, I downloaded it to my Mac instead, assuming some upgrades have been made in the two years since I last tried it. There are a few cool features, like a pixillation layover that makes it easy to obscure names if one wanted to share a Facebook or Twitter post for critique. I’ve included an example where I’ve used that and added an arrow, alert icon and text. The program also integrates with Evernote, which could be huge if you use that to organize your stuff (I don’t). Saving the photo wasn’t smooth for me (I had to screenshot my result to my desktop because the version it allowed me to share to iPhoto wasn’t uploading). I will think of a more teaching-focused example for next week.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.27.11 PM

Second tool: Several land grants within the Cooperative Extension system, as well as the e-learning arm of eXtension, use Moodle to deliver content to clients. One example is at http://campus.extension.org/. So, I decided to finally check it out myself and download Moodle 2.8 for Mac. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work. The instructions might as well be written in Sanksrit. Seriously, it contains lines like “You can start the new cron service in the Terminal.” WHAT? My ability to “install” something on a Mac is limited to knowing I need to drag an icon into my “Applications” folder and hit “Open.” Except it tries to open Moodle in a web browser and I get messages about a server error. I get that “open source” usually involves more effort (like the difference between R and SPSS), but this is like asking a restaurant reviewer to taste a meal that’s been placed inside a firesafe– with a broken off key. I will have to enlist some help from IT to be able to review this more fully for next week’s post.

Third tool: The home page of Mango Languages features some very cute mango fruits dressed up in various scenarios. The sign-up process includes tests for Java and Flash, which are pretty standard. I had no problem accessing the lessons on my Mac. I have taken Spanish before, so I figured I’d be in better position to judge the utility of Spanish lessons than I would any language completely new to me. I was disappointed when the only available lesson on the free version appears to be “A Language Love Affair” which trots out the tired old youth and hetero centered boy-meets-girl dating scenario where you practice how to invite someone to a party. I wish Mango had stuck to its cute and neutral mango fruit to represent the two sides of the conversation.

Guiding question 1: How many of the proposed tools are contextualized primarily for teacher presentation (passive learning)? I think one could post a lot of passive (sit and read) content on Moodle. It’s really up to the teacher to put in the time it takes to make hyperlinks, videos, quizzes, and other interactive content. Just like Blackboard, it is as static or dynamic as you make it.

Guiding question 2: Which have potential for active learning or afford students opportunity to display a product of their learning? Mango does ask the learner to practice the phrases out loud and offers a chance to record your own voice and play it back, so you can compare your pronunciation to the instructor. It shows you a voice pattern comparison and you can even play both recordings simultaneously. It doesn’t score them though; you must interpret.

Guiding questions 3 & 4: Which of the tools have potential for developing or enhancing the community of learners? Which features most actively support learner engagement in a community? I like the sharability of content made with Skitch. I think it could be integrated into collaborative projects. Just have a chat with students about “fair use” first. Moodle has the most potential simply because it can be used for any content, not just for language learning or photo editing. Since I couldn’t try creating my own, I went to http://moodlecommons.org/ to see what others have done. One example was a literature class that noted “peer evaluation and review is done by an add on software that passes the essays from person to person” so students can interact over their readings of Pride & Prejudice.

Digital Reputations and Posting Classwork Online

When it comes to the issue of students posting things publicly online, my focus (as a student AND a teacher) is how it will affect the online “self” we are all curating. Is the classwork attached to our full real name? Will it show up on the first page of search results because it is recent?

Many people likely think it’s paranoid to worry about one’s class choice and discussion contributions showing up in an online search. I agree that there are few scenarios that jump to mind where the risk is high. But I still like to think critically about any digital footprint I leave.

If I am a non-degree student and I enroll in an ECE class about infants, or a special topics class on a certain religion, that may lead people to make certain assumptions about me. Normally no one would find out what classes I’m taking in a given semester. But a publicly available class forum does mean a potential employer or nosy acquaintance could run across that information if the class requires public posting online.

I think the other posts this week have already pointed out many of the pros and cons of public posting. On the “cons” side, some folks discussed intellectual property concerns (my name is attached, but it’s a class blog not a journal article; does that mean anyone can “steal” my curriculum now?) Others mentioned the knowledge and maturity gap of grade and high school students compared to grad students (how do we encourage free flow of ideas and discourage bullying?)

On the “pros” side, the “public” label of my posts encourages me to think a little more carefully about my arguments and dig deeper for evidence I can link to. Being able to have hyperlinks and tags is nice for when I want to revisit content later. I think this blog archive could come in handy in the future, so it’s nice that it is searchable and I could easily share it with colleagues if I wanted to.

As people we are all evolving; a student’s opinion going into a discussion may change by the end after he or she has heard the stories and evidence others provide. So, I’d rather they have the opportunity to revise things. I have a friend that teaches critical race theory, and has some very tough and productive discussions in class. But they are non-recorded discussions, and students are asked to keep things “inside” of class. Am I just not giving students enough credit in thinking they won’t speak as freely if they know their words will be posted publicly? I guess I come from a community where, if you’re going to blast your opinion on the internet, it’s because you are comfortable being an “outspoken activist.”

The question was posed, in which circumstances do the advantages supersede the concerns? I would really like my answer to be “whenever the circumstances will allow true learning to occur.” But I am still wary of having any discussions that would relate to religion or politics in a digital public forum, because screenshots make everything permanent. I guess I’m still working on what is and isn’t “hype.”

Metacognitive musings on interview planning

The unit planning activity has given me a chance to develop lessons that were previously very surface-level. When I taught interviewing about five years ago, the students read a chapter about phone and online interviewing, but didn’t do any as part of the class. The class was standardized across all sections, so although we discussed different formats, the applied activities were all face-to-face interviews in a classroom. Now that I have a chance to teach the class again in the Spring as an adjunct instead of a teaching assistant, I can add activities in different formats. So, it was important to me to incorporate higher levels of learning when we get to the phone & online section this time. With travel costs from Alaska, I think students are quite likely to be offered initial interviews from afar, so this skill-building will be highly relevant.

In “thinking about my thinking” I realized that in my haste to offer my student choices, I’ve also complicated my ability to evaluate them. I want them to practice interviewing in an online environment, and I thought it would be more engaging if I allowed them to choose from a list of online tools that may already be familiar. I suggested a paired activity where they pick two types of software to compare and contrast: Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. However, I realized today that not all of these may have a “record” feature so that the students can document they did the assignment, and so that I can watch both sides of the conversation and apply a grading rubric. For the interviewing class we use the best practices recommended by Stewart & Cash (2013) so I can’t just rely on student’s narratives of what happened; I actually need to sit there with a timer and make sure certain sections of the interview were not too long or short, for example.

I’ve been inspired so far by Fink’s ideas and his premise of “significant learning experiences.” I’m starting to be more aware of my motivations as a teacher. At first I just had this vague idea that I wanted to “share the study of communication” because I personally found it so interesting and useful. But after several years of teaching, I’ve come to really enjoy seeing people’s skills improve and how that in turn can make a difference in their confidence levels and future planning. So, I think part of the reason I’ve become more focused on activities that include problem-solving and synthesis are because those seem to be the activities that help people prove to themselves they “can do” something. Instead of just reading the transcript of a “good” interview in a book, students have the chance to create one. Public speaking and interviews are scary experiences for many, and practicing in a supportive environment can help folks work through some fears that may be holding them back.

By the way, there is a great interview with Fink posted online by the International Higher Education Teaching & Learning Association. My favorite quote is Fink’s answer to how we convince people to change their classrooms: “The most effective way to deal with any resistance to change is to help people understand that a particular change is what they already want.” www.hetl.org/interview-articles/significant-learning-experiences

Weekly Writing: Reflecting on my own Learning

What have you learned about integrated course design, taxonomies of learning, active learning, or problem-based learning?

I’ve encountered taxonomies before, but I did learn more about the different styles out there and how some focus more on the cognitive and others focus more on the interpersonal. I like studying the taxonomies and being reminded of the different “levels” of learning. I think it’s important to have a mix of activities that target more than one level. Often it’s easy to get stuck in a routine or feel pressed for time and go for very surface-level, basic activities. But this backfires later on in the course when students aren’t prepared for deeper thinking and application of the concepts. In my speech class, we have to go beyond recognition of vocabulary and get to an ability to apply and synthesize, because students will be graded on an actual speech performance. So it’s critical I design a variety of activities that build on each other and set students up for success.

How is the online learning environment working for you? What are the advantages and/or the challenges of taking this class in this format?

I signed up for an online class because I do not have time during the day for a face-to-face class. I work full time at an 8-5 day job and then overtime as an adjunct. Usually, online classes allow me to work on assignments when it’s convenient for me, and I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s schedule. Although some people say it’s a negative that online classes “lack” real time interaction, I honestly prefer it that way given that my plate is already full. So the “challenges” for me come in when we’re asked to meet synchronously or do group projects, and I have to incorporate that into my schedule.

What have you learned about yourself during this unit? Have you discovered anything new about your own learning styles or preferences?

I’m an introvert and I prefer to work alone. I am also not a fan of having my personal thoughts, however academic, online for the world to see. I had to make a trade-off for this class. I really, really want to learn more about online pedagogy from an instructional designer. The cost is posting on a public blog. In a traditional classroom, any less than stellar verbal contributions or awkward exchanges can dissipate into the air and be forgotten in time. Online, I must trade written comments with peers publicly in a digital record that may never be truly erased.

Have you developed any new strategies that help you learn more effectively?

Not necessarily more effectively; perhaps I’d say more modernly or efficiently? I’ve finally given in and forced myself to start reading articles on the computer screen. I really prefer to print things out and go over them like a traditional text. However, in the interest of time and printer ink I know I must get used to reading on a screen. I know from communication research that people read better on screens when it’s a dark background with light letters (like most PowerPoint designs). So PDFs with their white background and black letters really make my eyes cross sometimes. Also, manipulating a cursor to highlight is still not as quick for me as swiping a real highlighter on paper. It will take more practice to make these things more automatic.

Article Review #5: Team Learning and Performance Goals

Nahrgang, J. D., Jundt, D. K., DeRue, S. D., Ilgen, D. R., Hollenbeck, J. R., & Spitzmuller, M. (2013). Goal setting in teams: The impact of learning and performance goals on process and performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 122, 12-21.

Since we’ve been reading about writing learning goals and objectives, I wanted to relate the current topic to the class I am teaching this semester. We do a “group” section of the basic communication class, where speech students learn small group theory and must do activities and a speech as a group. I am interested in how to write goals that require collaboration to reach. This article gives a framework for how to test the effect of different types of group goals, but didn’t include explicit examples of the wording used to set goals for the different group conditions. I would have loved to see an appendix that spelled those out.

Nahrgang et al. (2013) studied 80 teams of undergraduates as they completed a military style strategy simulation. Students were assigned randomly to teams of four. The researchers had several hypotheses related to differences in how teams would orient to learning goals versus performance goals. Also, task complexity and specificity of learning goal were varied. In sum, the authors state that “we theorize that the combination of a learning focus and high specificity will cue team members to adopt a more narrow focus on learning specific aspects of the task and therefore impair team coordination. We also expect task complexity to be an important boundary condition of the goal-performance relationship in teams” (p. 12). Also, “We propose that specific learning goals are less effective in team contexts than general ‘’do your best’ learning goals and specific performance goals, and that these differential effects operate through the process of team coordination” (p. 13).

All teams were offered a $40 prize as an incentive for reaching the top level of whatever their goal condition was. Teams were not told what the different goal conditions or hypotheses were. Each team of four met separately from the other teams, in a room where each team member was at a separate computer. Each team member controlled a different “asset” in a situation where they were strategizing how to move friendly military forces into a certain geographic area while keeping enemy forces out. I thought this was a good design for ensuring that the teams were not influenced by other participants in the study. By not having multiple teams in the same room, there is no chance they will overhear the differences in goals for other teams, or be influenced by their decisions.

To illustrate the difference between “learning” goals and “performance” goals, the authors explained that “participants in our specific learning goal condition were told that their team should focus on learning specific strategic aspects of the task” including how to
execute successful attacks” and “understand speed and accuracy trade-offs” (p.15). Performance goals were “specific offensive and defensive goals” based on a points system. As I was reading, this part was a bit confusing. I’m not sure students would automatically be able to separate, in their thinking, what they’re supposed to be learning from what they’re supposed to be doing.

It seems to me like there would be a gray area, tough to define or measure, where students are moving from learning to performing (and back if they are reflecting on successes and failures). The authors did note in their results that groups reacted differently to performance versus learning goals. In their discussion they note that “the best team performance may occur when teams are given learning goals in order to learn tasks or develop strategies for the task, and then are switched to a performance goal after they have mastered the task.” So I think the authors would perhaps agree that students need assistance separating the two types of goals and when to focus on them. I’ve been doing this somewhat in my classes when I have groups go over the chapter and identify what they think are the take-aways and would make good test questions, and how the concepts might apply to their own life. After we brainstorm best practices for application, they move to actually practicing the new information in an outline or speech.

As a supplement if folks are interested, here are the verbatim hypothesis compiled, as well as whether or not they were supported. From pp. 16-17:

  • In Hypothesis 1 we predicted that teams with specific learning goals would have lower performance relative to teams with general ‘‘do your best’’ learning goals.
  • Hypothesis 2 predicted that the negative effect of specific learning goals on team performance relative to general ‘‘do your best’’ learning goals would be mediated by lower team coordination.
  • In Hypothesis 3, we predicted that teams with specific learning goals would perform worse than teams with specific performance goals.
  • Hypothesis 4 predicted that the negative effect of specific learning goals on team performance, relative to specific performance goals, would be mediated by lower team coordination.
  • Hypothesis 5 predicted that the negative effect of specific learning goals on team coordination relative to general ‘‘do your best’’ learning goals would be stronger for teams operating in a complex task.
  • Hypothesis 6 predicted that the negative effect of specific learning goals on team coordination, relative to specific performance goals, would be stronger for team performing a complex task.

Hypotheses 1 and 3 were supported. Hypotheses 2 and 5 were supported “in that complexity moderated the negative effect of specific learning goals on team coordination, relative to general ‘do your best’ learning goals, and team coordination mediated the moderated negative effect of specific learning goals on team performance, relative to general ‘do your best’ learning goals.” Hypotheses 4 and 6 were supported “in that complexity moderated the negative effect of specific learning goals versus specific performance goals on team coordination, and team coordination mediated the moderated negative effect of specific learning goals on team performance versus specific performance goals on team performance.”

Objectives for Online Interviewing Unit

My focus when looking at taxonomies and writing objectives and activities was to plan a unit for a 200-level interviewing class in which students would learn and apply skills necessary for conducting an interview in a web-based space. I am a list-maker and that is one of the reasons I appreciate taxonomies. They are useful for grouping and listing ideas.

The Taxonomy of Significant Learning (Fink, 2013, p. 35) was interesting because it was presented in a circular shape. Rather than a line that comes to an end, I liked the circle as parts of a whole that all exist in a learner’s mind and life at the same time. Similarly, Figure 2.2 shows how the categories are “interactive” (p. 37). I wish the chart builder I chose had a circle option. I also appreciated Fink’s discussion of how today’s learning goals must go beyond cognitive learning (p. 34). His taxonomy is similar to Bloom’s with the levels that build on each other and involve increasing cognitive effort, but adds intrapersonal/interpersonal elements. As communication is a social science, affecting our personal lives as well as intellectual, Fink’s categories seemed a good fit for organizing interviewing units.

What follows is a chart I made using the six significant categories presented by Fink (2013). Under “Foundational Knowledge” I am assuming students have a background in vocabulary and concepts from the first few weeks of the course (like the definition of an interview) but will also be learning some core concepts specific to interacting in an online environment (what software exists, how to navigate it). We can then work on some “Application” goals which are characterized by “critical, creative, and practical thinking” and “managing projects.” In this case, students will be writing questions and preparing for an actual online interview that will be conducted as part of the “Integration” of their new knowledge.

I will also ask them to reflect on their own performance and that of their interview partner, and social factors that may have affected the interview, as part of the “Human Dimension.” That also leads nicely into a discussion of the interpersonal side of interviewing, with “Caring” learning that can happen when students reflect on “feelings, interests, and values” including how students can protect their legal rights and use interviewing skills to reach their career goals.

Lastly, I am hoping to engage students in “Learning How to Learn” by showing them how interviewing can be a reflexive process through which they can continually improve. On the first day of all my communication classes, I point out the fact that even though we “talk” to other people every day, we never usually take the time to reflect on where misunderstandings really come from or how we could present ourselves better. It’s like how many of us use a computer every day but have no idea how the parts work or what coding language means. You don’t have to know the theory or mechanics to do everyday tasks, but if something breaks you’re stuck. Taking the time to study what you’re doing and learn the how/why behind it means you will have a better understanding of how to get unstuck.

goals