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Clinical Education

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The Future of (Online) Learning

 

I’ve been teaching a fully online graduate course for the past 13 years. It’s been interesting seeing the cutting-edge become mainstream (with some caveats). MOOCS have made their mark on the learning landscape, and the democratization of education is blossoming. Are exemplars like Khan Academy, TEDEd, YouTubeEDU and iTunesU the disruptive innovation for higher education?

These are not easy times for bricks-and-mortar institutions, grappling with a challenging funding climate and a competitive enrollment landscape, alongside student-as-consumer expectations of outstanding service (and sometimes grades). If that’s not enough, a massive cohort of faculty and administration who grew up in “traditional” classrooms come with a decidedly instructivist slant despite our constructivist intentions (I include myself in this). Maybe that’s why most classrooms are still oriented to a podium at the front, even in new builds. What happens when the hyper-connected, online-all-the-time iGen takes over?

Predicting the future is perilous, and I’m no fortune-teller. But my read on the state of higher education leads me to posit the following, “VUCA“-informed, present-vs-future, higher learning trends for 2015 and beyond:

 

Then and Now Up-and-Coming
Instructor-generated content (Instructivism, Constructivism) User-generated content (Paragogy, Heutagogy)
Lesson Plans Gamification
Episodic assessment (occurs throughout a course) Embedded assessment (assessment is “in the water”)
eLearning mLearning, PLNs, Virtual World
Multimedia Immersive multimedia
Siloed Content APIs
Same content delivered to all learners Prescriptive (customized) content
Opaque Transparent
Learning feels like work Learning feels like play

 

 

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Begin with the ending, end with the beginning

 

The best presentations are structured like a really good story, with a clear beginning, middle and end. Dale Carnegie’s famous axiom offers a skeleton how-to: “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.” But starting your talk with “Today I am going to share with you…”  is not the most dynamic or compelling way to capture an audience’s attention. On the other hand, people want a road map – it’s important to orient the group to what they are about to learn and experience.

 

Begin with the ending

So, what does “beginning with the ending” look like in practice? For me, the ending doesn’t reference the conclusion of my presentation. Rather, the real ending – the whole purpose and intent of my presentation – are the implications for attitudinal, behavioural and/or practice change. In other words, I like to start with where I want the audience to end up – not me!

For example, when I offer clinical workshops on Motivational Interviewing, I begin by asking the group to reflect on specific clients that they find challenging: “Imagine it’s Monday morning, and you get to work, look at your calendar, and see that the first three clients you’re scheduled to see are the most difficult individuals that you’re working with. How are you feeling?” Common responses include “stressed”, “anxious”, “hopeless”, “frustrated” , “annoyed with the person who scheduled these clients!”. Then I say: “Now imagine that you’ve finished this workshop, you get to work tomorrow morning, and you see these same three clients booked into your calendar – and you actually look forward to your morning because you get to try out the skills and strategies that we are going to learn today!”

This brief thought experiment gets people involved right away because it establishes not only the relevance of the content, but its application beyond the workshop.

 

End with the beginning

I agree that it’s useful to offer a summary of what I’ve covered as I wrap up a presentation or workshop (“tell them what you told them”), but that’s not the end. After summarizing, I make a point of explicitly circling back to the beginning by inviting participants to reflect on where they were when we started our collective learning journey, where they are now…and where they want to go. Bridging the knowledge-practice gap is a challenge, yet therein lies the value of the whole experience. Setting concrete implementation objectives and a plan for follow-up is key.

I also point to the ending as a beginning, and to our continuing development as an ongoing series of new beginnings. We are always still beginning, each time from a different place.

Finally, ending with a great quotation is always a nice touch. Here’s one of my favourite quotes on motivation and change:

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So…what will you try out in your next presentation?

 

 

 

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It’s not our problem – it’s the group’s problem!

 

Last week I had the pleasure of working with a number of seasoned group therapists around advancing their practice in group facilitation. It is a rare opportunity (and luxury) to all get together and explore what is frequently a solitary job. Busy clinics can leave little time for practitioners to reflect on and process what they do. But it is more a necessity than a luxury to reflect in and on practice (in the words of Donald Schön).

We kicked things off talking about two questions relating to group facilitation:

 

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In other words, what are areas where things are going well, and where are you (individually and collectively) struggling or feeling challenged?

That second question in particular evoked lots of conversation, and I started to make a list. Here are some of the things that people came up with: participants who talk too much or not at all; disruptive behaviour; group engagement (lack thereof); lateness, attendance and drop-out; peoples’ diverse needs, expectations and abilities.

Then something interesting happened. The conversation started to shift to challenges like: balancing group content with process; agenda-setting; fostering trust and cohesion; appropriate disclosure; boundary-setting. The dialogue moved from focusing on participant behaviour to facilitator behaviour.

This is common in clinical supervision teams – it is so much easier to look at others’ behaviour – yet the most productive troubleshooting stems from identifying what we, ourselves, can do differently. The energy in the room changes too. Focusing on difficult client behaviour feels frustrating, hopeless and stressful. Focusing on new strategies that we can experiment with and implement feels productive and inspiring.

One of the biggest “aha” moments was how we group facilitators tend to take on all of the participants’ behavioural issues or concerns as our problem to solve. It’s kind of like the song “The Weight” by legendary roots rock group The Band: “Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free. Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me!”

Addressing and dealing with stuff that comes up is really the whole group’s responsibility (and problem!). Of course, we are part of the group, but so are the participants. Asking open-ended questions and offering complex reflections about group process (not content) tends to be more productive than asserting our authority and directing traffic. In short, it’s not our job to single-handedly solve every problem that arises. It is our job to facilitate collective problem-solving and dialogue in a supportive and respectful space.

 

I’m thinking how closely this all maps onto classroom teaching. We’re not doing therapy in the classroom (although sometimes it can feel that way). The best teachers – like the best group therapists – demonstrate agility in creating shared accountability for positive norms and behaviours, and do so with authenticity, compassion, partnership, humour and deep acceptance.

 

Related

Reflective listening 101

 

 

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What does it take to be a wizard inside and outside the classroom?

 

1. Respond to student queries ASAP

For good or ill, people increasingly expect (and value) prompt replies to their questions or concerns, especially via email. And students seem to equate an instructor’s response time with instructor engagement and caring. A speedy reply is not always possible, and email communication can be delicate at times, but I try to live by the “24 hour or less” rule and interestingly, students make particular note of how helpful this responsiveness is to them in comments on the course evaluations.

 

2. Overcommunicate

Students’ lives, like ours, are complicated, busy, and sometimes chaotic. People don’t always attend to our verbal communications or instructions, and/or email, and/or written (print) communication, and/or online announcements. Similarly, the more channels that we can mobilize to share information with our students about upcoming assignments, due dates, key information or course resources, the greater the chance that our message will filter through the “white noise” of multiple, competing pressures and priorities.

 

3. Listen carefully

When students express an issue or concern, chances are –  especially if we’ve been teaching for many years – we’ve heard it (or something very much like it) before. And we’ve also responded many times before. It’s sometimes easy to forget that for this student with this issue it might be the very first time, and every person and every situation is unique. Take the time to listen carefully with a goal of understanding.

 

4. Provide the back-story

I’ve found that when students feel like an assignment, an academic decision, a policy, or a course expectation is unfair or unwelcome, it’s usually because they’re not satisfied that there is a good rationale behind it. The trick is, how to communicate this without coming across as defensive, or worse, officious? I’ve found that the elicit-provide-elicit framework in Motivational Interviewing has been helpful in providing information to students: (a) elicit the student’s understanding of why they think I am proceeding in a certain way; (b) provide a brief explanation from my perspective; (c) elicit the student’s response (“What do you make of that? How does this fit for you?”).

 

5. Get excited

Everything in the world is inherently interesting. And everything in the world can be made incredibly boring. If I’m passionate about what I’m teaching, chances are some of that will rub off.

 

6. Don’t work harder than your students

Learning is active. It takes effort, involvement and application. If I’m at the front of the room lecturing and the group is passively listening, who’s working harder? It’s a challenge to create dynamic learning activities that engage students in co-constructing meaning, wrestling with new ideas, and trying out new skills. Admittedly, high quality curriculum design generally takes more work at the front end – so perhaps it’s more accurate to say “Don’t work harder than your students in the classroom”.

 

And yes, highly effective teachers have more than these six habits – but they’re a pretty good place to start.

 

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We all go to school. Every day.

 

Tuition costs are highly variable, and sometimes paid a long time after.

Our teachers are many.

We’re teachers too.

 

Where is your classroom today?

 

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No one likes to feel incompetent, but how else can we learn?

Last week I had a conversation with a student (not one of mine) who approached me because she was struggling with an essay she had to write. The obvious question is “Why not go to your instructor to talk about this?” In response, she described how the author’s key points in the literary theory text that she was referencing were hard to grasp, and raised more questions than they answered. The material was so challenging that she was having trouble even framing clear questions. Because she prided herself on being a bright and engaged student, she felt like her inability to wrap her mind around this complex and highly abstract material would colour her instructor’s regard for her abilities. In other words, she valued his positive approval and she didn’t want him to conclude that maybe she wasn’t that smart after all.

Are you thinking “high achiever”?!

In the midst of our discussion two things became apparent:

1. Whether as instructors, managers or supervisors, we invariably tell students/staff/clinicians to come to us when they’re in difficulty. I’m certain that the instructor in this case told his students on numerous occasions that he’d be glad to connect with them outside of class.

2. What we don’t always do is lay the groundwork to make it possible for others to come to us with their questions, concerns or issues. This example made me wonder…what more could the instructor have added to create a climate in which students felt 100% safe to risk looking foolish, clueless, unthinking (and all of the other labels we often apply to ourselves when we’re in the weeds). And what more could I be doing in this area?

It’s a human trait to want others to think well of us. Yet paradoxically, it’s hard to advance our knowledge and skills without venturing into the realm of not-knowing. Our willingness to shine a light on our weaknesses or knowledge/skill gaps might just be the biggest determinant of success!

The next time I hear myself say, “Please feel free to come to me with any questions that you have”, I’m going to add something along the lines of:

“It can be hard to shine a light on things you’re not so good at, but how else do you get good at them? If you’re feeling less-than-competent that’s fantastic – it means you’re learning! What can I do to make you feel totally at ease approaching me?”

Of course, creating a climate of mutual trust takes more than a couple of sentences – it’s a way of being, communicating unconditional positive regard and respect. But making a point to explicitly affirm the value of positive risk-taking might help tip the balance when others are struggling.

Now back to the student – as she talked more about her ideas and interpretations of what she had been reading, she was able to answer most of her own questions. And then I shared my own learning (see above) with her.

Another good lesson: we all possess a powerful innate wisdom. And we all benefit when a caring other takes the time to evoke it.

 

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A conceptual framework for SoTL offers a map to knowing, valuing and acting

 

The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), is, by definition, public versus private, susceptible to peer review and critique, and can be built upon by others (Charbonneau, 2010). But what does SoTL look like? What’s the “roadmap”? A conceptual framework can illuminate and guide how we frame and understand academic scholarship in the context of 21st Century post-secondary teaching and learning.

I’ve been thinking about an integrated framework that incorporates SoTL knowledge, learning and growth, as well as ways of knowing, valuing and acting as academic teachers, learners and scholars. Two recent models seem complementary and enrich one-another when viewed in combination: Randall et al. (2013) focusing on overlapping and dynamic elements of teaching and learning scholarship, and Kereliuk et al. (2013) with a slightly broader conceptualization of 21st Century teacher knowledge.

 

Framework for the Scholarship of (21st Century) Teaching and Learning

SoTL Framework

 

Randall’s original framework represents three overlapping and dynamic elements of teaching and learning scholarship: (1) knowledge of scholarly teaching; (2) learning about one’s teaching; and (3) growth in SoTL. The three domains are represented in a Venn diagram, with points where the domains intersect/overlap. For example, where (1) knowledge of scholarly teaching meets (2) learning about one’s teaching, we see enhanced faculty engagement and motivation. Where (2) learning about one’s teaching meets (3) growth in SoTL we see increased commitment and professional academic/scholarly identity. Where (3) growth in SoTL meets (1) knowledge of scholarly teaching we see concrete SoTL performance and/or action. Finally, the central convergence point of all three domains represents SoTL transformation.

In the integrated model, foundation knowledge (such as teaching skills and digital, research and cross-disciplinary literacies) maps onto the domain of scholarly teaching broadly. Humanistic knowledge (which includes ethical/emotional awareness and diversity competence) corresponds to and enriches the domain of learning about one’s teaching. Finally, meta knowledge (such as creativity and innovation, problem solving and critical reflection, and communication and collaboration across disciplines) relates to faculty growth in SoTL.

I like how, when integrated, this framework affirms multiple and diverse ways of knowing and being.

With all that said, no roadmap is perfect – any GPS user who has been misdirected by the computer navigation guide will attest to that. We are continuously mapping and remapping physical and geographic terrains, and the same holds true for conceptual mapping of the terrains of knowledge, development and application.

A work in progress, like life itself, and our individual and collective learning journeys.

 

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