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Re: Learning Center Theory Was Doctoral Programs in Learning/Academic Support


Nic Voge <[log in to unmask]>


Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>


Sun, 14 Aug 2011 14:11:41 -0400





text/plain (309 lines)

Thanks, Patricia.

We seem to share a similar perspective on a number of issues we face  
in learning support.
It strikes me when I read university mission statements that the work  
of learning centers is
at the core of the mission. Being explicit about that for ourselves  
and explaining that to other
constituencies is crucial for any number of reasons.

One point I'd like to clarify. I  don't believe  we focus too much on  
pedagogy, but rather that pedagogy
is not all that we  do in learning centers and this fact  suggested we  
pursue other conceptual tools to
think about what we do and how we do it. Organizational theory, and  
particularly organizational learning
theory, curiously draws extensively on theories of learning (if not  
pedagogy) which suggests a significant
overlap. I think there is room for other theory as well since learning  
centers are organizations in institutions
which play a broad societal role. These multiple saliencies suggest  
various ways to think about what we
are doing and what we should be doing.


On Aug 7, 2011, at 10:37 AM, Maher, Patricia wrote:

> Nic,
> I am also at a Research I level institution and as I read the  
> beginning of
> your post I was about to suggest that organizational theory,  
> particularly
> Peter Senge's learning organization theory, is the way to go, but  
> you were
> already on that path.  I am very interested in this discussion for two
> reasons.
> First you mention that in our field, and in other areas of  
> education, we
> focus too much on pedagogy and teaching strategies.  I agree, we  
> should be
> the entity on campus that are viewed as the experts in learning, how
> learning occurs, how knowledge grows, how information is structured  
> and
> how each mind might engage adapt in order to absorb and respond to  
> build
> knowledge.  Second, as a learning center administrator, particularly  
> in
> this level of institution, we need to  anchor ourselves deeply into  
> the
> "expertise" of the institutional fiber in support of the overall
> institutional mission.  Otherwise in these precarious economic times  
> we
> could be considered "fluff" and be very vulnerable to the ax. Since  
> I am
> at a state institution, this is even more important right now.
> For example, in proposing our Learning Commons model, our Library  
> Director
> and I went straight to the university strategic plan and identified  
> the
> areas where we thought we would have impact.  This involved not just
> "student success"  issues of retention and persistence, but also the
> development of critical thinkers, engaged learners, etc. We  pointed  
> out
> the benefits of a strong tutorial and front desk staff as  
> opportunities
> for student development, not just about how the students who come to
> tutoring would be helped to "pass" their classes.  For years prior  
> to our
> Learning Commons learning support on this campus was decentralized and
> severely undersupported by the administration.  Not any more.
> So being advanced practitioners in learning support is critically
> important, but not enough.   I agree that we must also build our  
> centers
> as significant structures organizationally.  I would welcome the
> opportunity to develop these ideas further as I believe it will help  
> our
> field grow tremendously.
> For those unfamiliar with Peter Senge's theory here is a link:
> Pat
> Patricia A. Maher, Ph. D.
> Director, Tutoring and Learning Services
> University of South Florida
> 4202 E. Fowler Ave.
> Tampa, FL  33620
> LIB 206
> (813)974-5141
> [log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
> <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
> On 8/4/11 6:03 PM, "Nic Voge" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> [First, I should warn anyone reading that this email truncates the
>> previous conversation and that this post is long and a bit abstract.
>> Read on it your peril!!!!!!]
>> Diana,
>> I think you are probably right that people are using  theories of
>> pedagogy and perhaps
>> development to guide their thinking about the services their centers
>> provide. But, I think I am asking
>> a somewhat different set of questions (e.g.  What does a learning
>> center (as a bureaucratic unit) do?
>> What is its function;  what could it be?).
>> I am not sure that pedagogical and developmental theories are the  
>> best
>> theories
>> to apply to thinking about the function of learning centers--which  
>> are
>> themselves organizations which are part of
>> institutions and not pedagogues. In other words, "centers" don't
>> literally teach, so I want to
>> put in question the appropriateness of pedagogical theories to
>> conceptualize the function of the center.
>> When I was a learning specialist and instructor I used  many of the
>> kinds of theories you associate with the thinkers/practitioners  
>> below.
>> But now that I am
>> a learning center administrator, I find that I need additional tools
>> to think about the center
>> as a whole in relation to  the institution and its constituencies.
>> So, I have begun to think about  our learning (and teaching) center  
>> as
>> a "knowledge-creating
>> organization" and am using organizational theory to explore new ways
>> of thinking about what we
>> do and actually doing what we do. For instance, if you imagine a
>> learning center as a knowledge creating
>> organization, what do we do with the knowledge we create?
>> Additionally, how would we organize
>> tutoring and train tutors differently if we described their role as
>> knowledge creators rather than aids
>> to student learning? Thinking of a learning center as a knowledge-
>> creating organization is particularly
>> appealing to me in my position because I work at a research  
>> university
>> and knowledge creation and dissemination
>> (not teaching) is, arguably, the core of its mission. Does it make
>> sense to explicitly align the mission of the center with the core
>> mission
>> of the institution which houses us? I think so; but what would that
>> look like? This theory is opening up whole new
>> ways of thinking about my center and it makes me wonder what theories
>> (if any) undergird more
>> conventional conceptualizations of learning centers.
>> Let me give you one concrete example of the line of thinking I'm
>> developing. If we think of tutors as knowledge-creators in a
>> knowledge-creating organization who create knowledge of their own and
>> with  student(s) about the discipline, about the discipline,
>> about learning and about tutoring, then it makes sense to try to
>> capture that knowledge. It follows that we might seek to collect the
>> knowledge
>> they are creating, combine it with the knowledge other tutors (and
>> students, for that matter) are creating, and then circulate this
>> combined knowledge
>> within the organization and the institution as a whole. That's a
>> pretty different way of thinking than what appears to be the tacit
>> conception of learning centers which is as places where students come
>> to receive or develop their knowledge. Organizational theory
>> focuses on the knowledge in or of the organization and ways to  
>> utilize
>> it, whereas pedagogical theories focus on how students
>> can receive, develop, acquire (etc.) knowledge. As a result of this
>> shift in focus, I'm thinking about new ways for tutors to communicate
>> with one another and capture their often tacit and ephemeral  
>> knowledge
>> for use by the center and the university. That can be as  simple as
>> creating a blog or wiki in which tutors
>> report their observations (knowledge) to one another and then
>> analyzing those entries as artifacts or data sources that tell us
>> something about,
>> for instance, the learning demands of the courses we're tutoring. No
>> one else on campus is creating this kind of knowledge in any
>> systematic way,
>> but the center creates it individually, if  haphazardly. Would
>> advisors and academic departments benefit from having more specific
>> knowledge about
>> the learning demands of particular courses? Administrators and
>> professors? Students? I think so.
>> Hope that clarifies some things.
>> Nic
>> On Aug 4, 2011, at 11:33 AM, Diana Bell wrote:
>>> Eric and others--Oh No--please don't feel as if I'm marginalizing
>>> DE--quite
>>> the contrary; it is a significant and important field of study. AND,
>>> the
>>> programs I've looked at do address important learning center issues
>>> such as
>>> learning styles, multiple intelligences, etc. I just wanted to
>>> emphasize
>>> that DE is only part of learning center pedagogy and that instead of
>>> enrolling in a program that a student would have to "make fit," it
>>> would be
>>> nice to have a program that specifically addresses all of the issues
>>> in
>>> learning center pedagogy and administration.
>>> As for learning center theory--like writing center theory, I would
>>> expect
>>> that practitioners use theories of pedagogy. I use, for example, Lev
>>> Vygotski (zone of proximal development, sociocultural education,
>>> scaffolding, cognitive development); Bell Hooks (critical pedagogy,
>>> feminism, marginalization); Paulo Freire (critical pedagogy,  
>>> informal
>>> education, banking model of education); Mina Shaughnessy (critical
>>> pedagogy,
>>> student-centered learning), Mike Rose (critical pedagogy, cognition,
>>> student-centered learning);  and Mihaly Czikzentmihaly (Flow theory,
>>> creativity, psychology of discovery and invention) just to name a  
>>> few.
>>> Have a great day everyone!
>>> Diana
>>>> I think it¹s worthwhile remembering that many of us view
>>>> developmental
>>>> education broadly and holistically, not narrowly; NADE¹s
>>>> perspective, for
>>>> example is that developmental education ³promotes the cognitive and
>>>> affective growth of all postsecondary learners, at all levels of  
>>>> the
>>>> learning continuum² ( ). At any
>>>> rate, I
>>>> think the point folks were making when they responded with info
>>>> about Texas
>>>> State¹s new program was that one of our three concentrations is
>>>> Learning
>>>> Support.  It seemed to be related to the question about
>>>> specializations in
>>>> doctoral programs that was posed earlier.
>>>> Eric Paulson
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> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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Dominic (Nic) J. Voge
[log in to unmask]

Associate Director
McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning
328C Frist Campus Center
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

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