Categories
teaching workshop

CHEC course: teaching and learning (day 4)

Yesterday was the final day of the CHEC short courses on teaching and learning. While the whole module was useful, I found each day to be difficult in the sense that we were trying to cover some really big topics (e.g. reflection, educational theory, etc.) in a very limited set of time. I think that the course would be more valuable if we could set aside 2 or 3 full days to have some time to grapple with these ideas. Anyway, the workshops are over now and it’s just the assignment to complete. I’ll blog about that later. In the meantime, here are the notes I took today.

The reflective practitioner

Difference among teachers allows you to benchmark yourself against others, you can situate yourself, there’s no one “right” way to “be” a teacher

“Teaching is a science”…but it’s also an art

Teaching is about creating a space where students can learn, but we can’t make anyone learn anything

“The teacher, as the speaker of the specialist discourse, is able to “lend” students the capacity to frame meanings they cannot yet produce independently” – Northedge, 2003

Teachers can’t “make meaning” for students

Dimensions of tertiary teaching (Kane, Sandretto & Heath, 2004):

  • Reflective practice
  • Subject knowledge
  • Peronality
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Research / teaching nexus

What evidence can we provide for the quality of our teaching?
How can this evidence be presented?

What is my philosophy of teaching?

After a lecture, ask:

  • Was I on time?
  • Was I prepared?
  • Was I compassionate when dealing with students?
  • Was I trying to do the best for the students?

Reflection is “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” – Dewey, 1933 (there are many other definitions of reflection)

Reflective practice needs to be systematic, built into your workflow

Content reflection: description of the problem / context / situation (what happened?)
Process reflection: strategies and procedures (how did it happen?)
Premise (critical) reflection: question the merit and functional relevance of the issue (why did it happen?)
(Mezirow, 1991)

When our belief systems are challenged, it forces us to reconsider our understanding of how the world works → new understandings and meanings → change in behaviour and practice

“Reflection is what allows us to learn from our experiences; it is an assessment of where we have been and where we want to go next” – Kenneth Wolf

Everyday reflective teacher → Reflective practitioner → scholarly teacher → teaching scholar (van Schalkwyk, Cilliers, Adendorff, Cattell & Herman, in press)

Categories
conference education technology

Misunderstanding the conversation around teaching with technology

I’ve been going through the collection of abstracts from last year’s HELTASA conference, looking for a citation for a poster presentation that I’d like to use for an assignment. This gave me an overview of the event that I didn’t pick up on while I was there, as I tend to focus on individual presentations while at conferences.

One of the other things I noticed is that when talking about e-learning (besides the fact that there are many interpretations of what e-learning actually means), many presenters spoke of a move towards customised Learning Management Systems, that exist separate to the lecture. There is still a clear demarcation between the classroom and the online space, with little in each space to complement the other. The only thing that changed in some cases was the way in which learning tasks are assigned and marks gathered i.e. how learning was managed.

I think there’s still a strong belief that “teaching with technology” merely involves moving content online and into digital walled gardens, cut off not only from the greater online community, but even from students who aren’t registered for that particular module. There seemed to be a lack of understanding that the most important aspect of introducing technology into teaching, is that there must be a change in practice that is associated with multiple, bi-directional communication channels. Even the addition of multimedia shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself…it’s just a way to add meaning to the message.

This change in communication is what is fundamental. It’s about moving ideas, as well as moving between and through them in a way that’s difficult to do in a traditional lecture format, but which complements the lecture (or small group discussion, etc.). We need to move away from the idea that integrating technology into teaching practice is an either – or proposition. The traditional and the new need to blend into each other, using each strategy to reduce the limitations of the other.

Categories
education research technology

Reflections on improving teaching practice

Up until today, I was kind of maintaining 2 blogs…this one, and a reflective commentary that I included in my teaching portfolio wiki. The portfolio is something that our faculty suggests we keep for when we apply for promotion, etc. but I thought it could be something more. So when I started teaching in 2007, I thought about putting all of my teaching-related activities online in a public wiki, both for my own archiving purposes and for anyone else who might find it useful / interesting. Over time, it grew to become a portal to some of what I’m interested in. For example it’s also where I document my PhD progress, and my Open Textbook project. I’ve decided that since I was essentially doing the same thing in 2 places, albeit with subtle differences (evident only to me), it was time to post those reflections on teaching practice in one place, which from now on will be here.

One of the resources I enjoy most is the Tomorrow’s Professor blog, which is almost always a great starting point for a few minutes of reflection. I’ve just finished reading this post on improving the teaching of poor teachers, taken from the book A Guide to Faculty Development: Practical advice, Examples, and Resources by Ann F. Lucas.

One of the first points made is that poor teachers will often externalise the blame for underperforming students, often citing low student motivation or high teaching loads as the reasons for this. Effectively, this frees the lecturer from any responsibility to improve. When I first started teaching, I remember clearly how my tendency was also to look outside of myself for the problem, and it was only with a great deal of personal honesty that I could admit to myself that I wasn’t always doing a very good job. Having no teaching experience other than the teaching I was subjected to, I had taken on the role that had been modeled to me as a student, with most of my colleagues having the same viewpoint. There was no incentive to change teaching practice, especially not at the expense of research activities. This is changing at UWC though, with both grassroots programmes and upper management policies rewarding a scholarship of teaching and learning.

When you think about the misguided notion that knowledge of a subject conveys some kind of ability to teach it, you begin to understand how deeply entrenched is the centrality of content in a standard curriculum. What the universities are saying is that you don’t need to be able to teach in order to transmit content, an idea that is hardly ever challenged by our students, who seem to accept (and expect) that their experience of higher education will be a continuation of the previous 12 years of learning. Maybe that’s because the voice of the student is often missing from conversations on improving teaching practice? To address this issue in our department, we’ve taken steps to not only formalise our student feedback process, but to implement it in a way that facilitates engagement with that feedback by eliminating the more repetitive tasks associated with it e.g. data capture and analysis. I believe that if students are give the opportunity to be more involved in the teaching and learning process, to see their concerns addressed and suggestions valued, they may move to a space where the rewards for their participation are clear to them, and are no longer things that need to be externally motivated.

However, giving students an authentic voice means having to address them. I’ve had a few students openly reject the idea that they are at university to exercise their minds, and that instead, I should just pour forth the knowledge they require to be good physiotherapists. In these situations, it’s all too easy to throw your hands in the air and shout: “Why should I care if they don’t”? But isn’t the whole point of the job to guide students to a place where where their preconceived notions of education and the world are challenged? If we’re not up to the challenge, should we rather consider employment elsewhere?