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Post-secondary Education

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The evolution of teaching and learning

Whether implicit or explicit, we all have a theory of teaching and learning. This gets expressed and enacted in how we engage with our students, the tools we use (or don’t use), and even where we stand in the classroom (F2F or virtually). Traditional theoretical frameworks can be broadly grouped into four domains: instructivism, critical theory, constructivist approaches and andragogy (or adult learning). But the rise of many-to-many, decentred and non-linear networking and communication channels have given rise to corresponding advances in frameworks for teaching and learning in the global classroom.

The 1.0 Classroom

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Instructivism as a standard approach to teaching emerged from positivist and post-positivist paradigms. Characterized by the traditional “chalk and talk” style, instructivist pedagogy is premised on a transmission model of learning. Learning outcomes and curricula are pre-determined and delivered in a primarily didactic fashion. The same information is provided to all learners regardless of their pre-existing knowledge and skills.

 

 

Teaching 2.0

education 2_0Constructivism marked a shift from teacher-centred to student-centred learning, deemphasizing informing (memorizing facts) in favour of transforming: locating, critiquing and synthesizing knowledge in a culture of collaboration and sharing. Curriculum development is based on student query, which acknowledges that students learn more by asking questions than by answering them. In this model, students critically engage with course material by posing questions that further group reflection and debate. Adult learning (andragogy) and critical approaches extend and complement contructivist learning models.

 

Education 3.0

Over the last decade, two models have emerged to challege our existing paradigms: heutagogy (Blaschke, 2012, Hase and Kenyon, 2000) and paragogy (Corneli and Danoff, 2011). These extend constructivist, critical and adult learning theories offering models of learning that are (1) self-determined, (2) peer-led,
education 3_0 (3) decentred and (4) non-linear. These characteristics map onto social media applications and the democratization of knowledge and information. Heutagogical and paragogical approaches also extend traditional andragogical and adult learning frameworks by emphasizing meta learning, or learning how to learn.

 

Andragogy, Heutagogy and Social Media

Andragogy (Self-directed) Heutagogy (Self-determined) Parallels with Social Media
Competency development Capability development Knowledge curators
Linear design of curricula Non-linearity in curricula Hyper-learners
Instructor/learner directed Learner directed Autonomous digital communities
Content focus (what is learned) Process focus (meta learning, learning how to learn) Online collaboration, sharing, crowd-sourcing

 

This shift is radical in challenging the implicit notion that we (educators) know best what students need to learn. As Morris (2013) puts it, the issue of how to modify or reinvent teaching in higher education “can create anxiety, uncertainty, and even resentment toward a shift in the culture of learning that we’ve had little control over, that’s come at us from outside our own domain; for others, this new landscape appears inviting, exciting, and full of possibility”.

Radically self-determined and networked learning approaches (like heutagogy and paragogy) affirm individuals as the experts in their lives and learning trajectories. Nothing less than what has always been.

 

 

Note: Images depicting Education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 were adapted from a blog post by Jackie Gerstein: Experiences in Self-Determined Learning: Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

This post was adapted from a previous article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you want to get out alive, never swim against the current

A few weeks ago a colleague shared a harrowing story of a presentation gone wrong. It was one of those scenarios where you don’t anticipate much controversy about what you have to offer, and the group appears jovial. But beware – large groups can sometimes behave like jungle cats. One moment, the regal beast is basking in the sun and purring, and then suddenly the powerful claws will slash and wound. Perhaps this sounds overly dramatic, but I’ve yet to meet a presenter who – somewhere – does not carry a scar from such an encounter. When it’s just you in the “cage” with a couple hundred slumbering lions, it’s best to keep alert and look them in the eyes!

Now, I am not implying that presenters should fear their audiences. Presentations offer an unparalleled opportunity to inspire, communicate and connect. And I’m not suggesting that it’s us (presenters) against them (audiences). That said, we know that individuals have distinct personalities and moods. And like individuals, a group’s mood can shift rapidly; sometimes without warning. It can feel mighty lonely at the front of the room when the group turns ugly.

I’ve written elsewhere about how to “TAME” difficult or challenging participants. But what to do when the whole group seems against you?

The first order of business is listen to understand. What did you say that triggered discord? What might be behind the objections, concerns, indignation or outright scorn among audience members? Modeling a stance of eager curiosity and a humble willingness to listen is disarming. It is profoundly respectful.

Example: “It sounds like this is something we really need to pay attention to. Would you or others be willing to share more? I’m so glad that you spoke up – thank you for raising this.”

The second essential step is to step outside of the content – that is, what you and others are saying – and reflect on the process. Group process refers to the how versus the what. This is expecially important to do if Step 1 results in pure venting and is not especially productive for the group as a whole. The power of reflecting on process as opposed to content is that you make it not just your problem, but the group’s problem. Plus, it is almost certain that while there are dissenting voices in the room, there are also voices that want to help you get things back on track – if you give them the opportunity.

Example: “I want to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening in the room. I noticed that when I said […], there were some strong reactions. I’m wondering what would be most helpful from me at this point? What do others think?”

The third point is to keep an open mind. It may be that you’re pretty invested in the idea or perspective that you are sharing and the audience members’ opposing opinions have provoked defensiveness on your part. This never goes down well. Defensiveness on a presenter’s part can be like throwing gas on a fire. Stay open to the possibility that you might indeed be missing something important, and that the group is offering you a true gift by pointing it out. That doesn’t mean you are obliged to do exactly what others want you to do, or even to change your thinking. It’s simple reciprocity – if I want others to listen to me with an open mind, I need to be willing to do the same.

Example: (inside voice) “Hmmm…I was not expecting this reaction. I wonder if there are others who might have the same reaction. This is worth considering carefully.”

In short, always swim with the current.  Trust me, you will eventually make it to shore with only a few scrapes and bruises!

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Today I happened across a list of 100 best leadership quotes.  A large proportion of these quotes emphasize the relational, inspirational, caring elements that characterize leadership as distinct from management. I started reading the “100 best” from an administrator perspective, and then I began to re-read the quotes substituting “teacher” for “leader”. As you might guess, my thought experiment underscored how the very best teachers are those who demonstrate outstanding leadership qualities.

For example:

#26: You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case. (Ken Kesey)

 

…or put another way…

 

You don’t teach by pointing and telling people some place to go. You teach by going to that place and making a case.

 

I’m not sure that Kesey’s leadership style (or teaching style, for that matter) would fit well in today’s workplace/classrooms. But that quote reimagined is a container for constructivist perspectives of authentic learning environments.  I don’t love the hint of persuasion that “making a case” in Kesey’s quote implies, but I choose to read it as being willing to start where the learner is at and establish the relevance and salience of learning. And the best teachers are right alongside their students as they journey to unanticipated destinations.

 

Actually, that list consitutes quite a gold mine of pointers for outstanding teaching.

 

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Do you remember your very first day?

 

This weekend is move-in time for first year university students living in residence. When my daughter was small, I couldn’t even fathom the day when she flew from her “nest”. It all seemed so impossibly far away, and now here we are on the brink of independence – both hers and mine. Mentioning this impending event to friends and colleagues evokes a gush of memories about embarking on post-secondary education. We are instantly transported back to a transition marked by excitement, trepidation and absolute freedom. Selecting courses, finding classrooms, drinking a lot of coffee, and making lifelong friends. There was some learning there too, as I recall.

All these years later, I can’t recall the advice that my parents no doubt gave me prior to my first year at university. I felt pretty sure I had things figured out, and what I didn’t know I was keen to discover for myself. But the impetus to impart one’s hard-won wisdom is irresistable, so here are my key messages to you, my daughter, as you commence an incredible journey:

  • Be grateful. The fact that your main job in post-secondary education is to learn carries enormous privilege and obligation. People literally risk their lives to get an education. For many in our world it is out of reach. Learn as much as you can and make a positive difference.
  • Keep an open mind. You might think you’ve settled on a path, but look to the left and right as you travel – there could be other options and opportunities that you never imagined for yourself.
  • Keep an open mind about friendships too. The person sitting next to you may be far outside others you’ve encountered and known (and they might be thinking the same about you), but you might find in them an essential part to who you will become.
  • Read the course readings, even if they’re hard and boring. Not only will you learn stuff, you’ll also learn discipline. Sometimes life involves reading hard, boring stuff – the challenge is in transforming it into accessible, engaging, transformational stuff. Alchemy with your mind.
  • Be your real, true self. High school doesn’t generally encourage this, so now is the chance that every high school student has been waiting for.
  • Join clubs. OK, I admit I didn’t do this myself as an undergraduate, but I really wish I had.
  • Ask for help. We all need help, with just about everything. Ask your friends, your professors, the student services people…basically anyone. And it probably doesn’t need saying, but you can always ask your mom. Any time of the day or night.
  • Oh, and also have fun. Actually I don’t need to include that as part of my advice because you will do that anyway. You won’t be able to not do it. You are going to redefine the word fun.

 

In short: fly free, grow your mind and heart, enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to call home.

 

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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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“At the edge of the digital ocean”

 

A recent publication titled Impacts of the Digital Ocean on Education (DiCerbo & Behrens, 2014) talks about our transition from “digital desert” (limited, ephemeral and fragmented data collection systems and processes) to “digital ocean” (massive and exponentially-increasing reservoirs of data). Our day-to-day actions and movements generate a continuous exhaust cloud of data. The ‘Internet of Things’ will make data-gathering even more ubiquitous, personal and pervasive. How can this inform our granular understanding of students’ learning processes and learning needs?

Looking into the future digital ocean, we can imagine schools and individual learners harnessing ubiquitous and naturally generated data to support decisions about learning. In this emerging space…learning is personalised based on learners’ knowledge states and trajectories, and the creators of the systems improve them over time as data helps them to understand the processes of learning. (DiCerbo & Behrens, 2014:2)

DiCerbo and Behrens predict a shift from episodic, individual assessments that are disconnected from ‘real life’, toward seamlessly integrating assessment with learning processes. Learning is inherently collaborative, non-linear, self-determined. A new ‘language’ of assessment means harnessing “data in the wild”:

The digital ocean “is a world in which data are a side-effect, not the primary goal of interesting and motivating activity, and perhaps a world where ‘testing’ is a rare event, but assessment is ‘in the water.” (DiCerbo & Behrens, 2014:15)

The idea of assessment being “in the water” is, in many ways, the killer app for educators, given how hard it is to develop valid tools to measure authentic learning. For example, are multiple choice exams really relevant to 21st Century education and learning? They’re still widely used, and even when we use alternate assessment tools, we’re used to segregating learning from assessment. A data-saturated learning environment makes us uneasy, especially if we’ve grown up in the digital desert. It’s like seeing the real ocean for the very first time: beautiful and scary.

Of course, insitutional Learning Management Systems already harvest data about how often students log into the online environment, what they do, how much time they spend, and how much they contribute. Imagine extending this to seeing how students engage with the e-textbooks used in our courses? We can look at what text they ‘highlight’, where they go back and review, which pages are electronically marked and which are ignored, and how long it takes students to read a page. Game-based environments offer even richer data about time on task, interconnectedness and collaboration, persistence, and motivation. What’s ahead? The classroom is a computer. The lived environment is a computer. Everything we touch and do is a data point.

Right now, our systems are largely disconnected and siloed. But once they work together to present rich and textural understanding of student activities we are really into some serious conversations about ethics and boundaries related to privacy and data ownership. We also run the risk of conflating data with meaningful knowledge, and designing learning environments driven by data-gathering imperatives, versus students’ learning needs.

Like any good discussion paper, DiCerbo and Behrens pose more questions than they answer. That’s a good thing, because this might be right at the top of the education field’s most critical dialogues. Our feet are wet and the tide is coming in.

 

 

Related:

educateria: Higher education’s biggest challenge? 

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Educating the heart

 

It’s the end of another academic year, and summer stretches tantalizingly forward. A good opportunity to reflect on the past year’s teaching practice, what went well, and what can be improved.

Here is a wise metric to guide reflective practice on teaching and learning:

 

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

                                                                                                                         – Aristotle

 

Well-written learning objectives tend to be concrete and measurable, guided by what students should be able to do at the end of a course. But it’s equally important that we not lose sight of supporting students’ learning how to be.

Compassion might just be the most important course learning objective, regardless of our discipline or field of practice…and the most important life learning objective?

This summer, I will be thinking about how to more intentionally integrate compassion as an overarching and foundational objective in my own teaching – and learning.

 

 

 

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“Twitter 101” for Academic Managers

 

At today’s Academic Managers Meeting, we spent some time talking talking about the value of Twitter in education, and why academic leaders – including faculty and staff – are finding Twitter to be a valuable tool to help make us smarter and to strengthen relationships. Although many of us (myself included) are actively using Twitter, an equal or greater number are less enthusiastic for a variety of reasons. These include concerns related to professional boundaries, time, content, relevance and general comfort level. All of which are valid.

Here are some key take-aways from today’s dialogue, reflecting the diverse ways that Twitter can help us to realize added value for ourselves, our colleagues, our institutions and our students.

 

1. Don’t judge Twitter by your first impressions. To new users, Twitter content can appear pretty mundane. As one of my colleagues pointed out, “Do I really care what you had for breakfast?” The quality of what you see in your Twitter feed is directly related to the personal/professional relevance of the people and organizations you follow. This leads to Tip #2:

 

2. Curate your Twitter feed. Where can you find great content? Check out the people that your colleagues and others follow. That’s like finding related research literature in the bibliographies of highly relevant articles. Search out academic superstars – in your and others’ fields – and follow them. If someone follows you on Twitter, chances are you have common interests – follow them back. In short, build your own personal learning network.

 

3. Be yourself. Although it’s tempting to separate “public Twitter” from “private Twitter”, this may not be a great idea for a couple of reasons. For one, social media thrives on authenticity. We most want to engage with people when they are genuine and real. Also, since Twitter is public, anything you Tweet should be consonant with how you project yourself as a person and a professional.

 

4. Drink when you’re thirsty. Twitter (like social media broadly) is a gushing torrent. (So is email for that matter – but that’s a different topic). When you’re thirsty, you drink enough to quench your thirst – same goes for Twitter. The thousands of tweets that you don’t see don’t matter – there’s lots more where they came from, and lots get repeated anyway. Just dip your cup into the stream whenever you have the time or inclination.

 

5. Call people by their names. Just like IRL (in real life), using peoples’ Twitter handles (user names) gets their attention and is more likely to evoke a response. If you’re sharing a link/observation/quote/question via Twitter, consider including @Person’sName. See #4 (above) for why this is especially helpful.

 

6. Show your work. People are generally more interested in your process than the polished, perfect product. Twitter is a quick way to communicate what you’re working on, where you’re getting stuck, and the solutions or resources that you find. Thank you Austin Kleon.

 

7. Give props. Students and colleagues are tweeting their own and others’ accomplishments, events and stories. RT (retweet) them! Click on the little star to favorite these tweets! Reply to these tweets. Because it’s so visible and public, Twitter is a powerful way to show that we care and that we’re listening.

 

8. Don’t fear #hashtags. Hashtags are a way of organizing tweets by subject area, and make your tweets searchable. There is no secret code. There are no rules for hashtags. If you make up your own as you go along, chances are a million other people are using the same hashtag. One important caveat – if in doubt, search your hashtag to make sure that the content you’re #-ing is consistent with your message.

 

9. Explore the terrain. There are a host of resources on how to use Twitter effectively. Search around, and make sure to tweet what you find.

 

10. Stake your claim. Depending on how commonly-used your name is, you might need to get creative to claim your personal Twitter handle. Plus, check out examples of effective Twitter bios to compose yours – in 160 characters or less. Hashtags are optional, but why wait?  #myfirsttweet

 

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education = meta-learning + change

 

I’ve been looking at the 2015 NMC Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition, which charts the biggest near- and longer-term trends across the post-secondary landscape. One of the key directions is advancing highly flexible and innovative learning environments..

With change comes challenge. According to the NMC Report, post-secondary institutions will struggle with how to create these flexible, customizable and personalized learning environments (as students increasingly want and demand). Related challenges include: teaching complex thinking in the context of digital information proliferation, and addressing/resolving competing models of what higher education should/does look like.

The mainstreaming of radically student-centred learning represents a massive disruption to the traditional “broadcast” model of education (one instructor + many students). Just as one-to-many “Web 1.0” gave way to many-to-many social sharing, collaboration and self-curated content consumption (“Web 2.0”), will higher ed institutions see a similarly tectonic shift?

And yet…moving toward student-centred and customizable learning may bring us closer to education in its truest sense. Carl Rogers, the influential humanistic psychotherapist, education theorist and founder of client-centred therapy, stated:

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”

Learning how to learn – the capacity to curate and critically reflect on new information and knowledge – is especially crucial at a time when ‘data never sleep’ (check out this infographic showing what happens during one minute on the Internet).

And, at its heart, all learning is really about change.

In other words: education = meta-learning + change.

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Order’s up!

 

Educators agree that it’s good practice to foster scaffolded learning. We want individuals and groups to incrementally build on progressively more complex and sophisticated knowledge and skills. And we typically ‘serve it up’ over a multi-week course, comprised of two or three hour classes. For several years. Higher education is the equivalent of fine gourmet dining.

At the same time, a gushing torrent of digital information makes accessing ‘just in time’ learning seem attainable in short bursts of focused content. Interest, relevance and engagement are measured by clicks and eyeballs. If higher ed is a fancy restaurant, then YouTube is fast food.

The two seem diametrically opposed, but I’m thinking that YouTube has some good lessons for teaching and learning in higher education, such as:

  • Viral is good (we want learning to replicate and spread)
  • Every minute is precious – make each one count
  • Keep things moving
  • If it’s complicated, break it down
  • Surround the learning experience with lots of opportunities (banner ads!) for further, self-directed exploration
  • And…make it totally accessible to anyone and everyone.

This last is a challenge when higher education is very much a business (see Richard Wellan’s book review: Grappling with Academic Capitalism in Canadian Universities, reflecting “the logic of commercialization and corporate models on the behavior of essentially public institutions”). Similarly, a fabulous and expensive dinner out is a luxury few can afford.

It occurs to me that lots of fancy restaurants are putting artisanal versions of  ‘fast food’ basics on their menus. I wonder what my courses would look like if I were to break them apart and YouTube-ify them? (I’m not talking about MOOCs – I’m talking “wiki-MOOCs”).

Food for thought.

 

 

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Six ways to make your online course even more awesome

 

I love classroom teaching. It’s hard to beat the opportunity to connect with a group of learners face-to-face. But just as there are many ways and experiences of classroom teaching, online teaching is every bit as variable and demands some unique strategies to create engaging and transformative learning environments. Plus, anyone who has ever designed and taught an online course can attest to how time-intensive online teaching can be. How can we structure a positive and engaging course climate while also finding ways to make more efficient use of our time as faculty?

A few months ago I came across a delightful little book by artist Austin Kleon, titled Show your Work. Kleon’s basic premise is that our internal creative process can be even more helpful and engaging than the polished, finished product of our work. In that spirit, here are my top six ‘trade secrets’ of online teaching, gleaned from 12+ years as faculty for a Masters-level online social work course.

 

 

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The most important things that students want to know are: what the expectations are, how to access the course, where to get help if they need it, and how they can succeed. I make a point of addressing these questions by mobilizing multiple communication channels: A detailed “Welcome” email to all registered students sent out approximately one month before the course start date; “Welcome” announcement (the first thing they’ll see when they access the course for the first time); “Welcome” post in the small group discussion forums; “Welcome” video uploaded to the course materials repository; and an outline of “Frequently Asked Questions” in the Course Syllabus itself. People access and attend to information selectively – this way I make sure that the important information cuts through the “static” of students’ other, competing priorities, and I also get fewer panicked emails and phone calls in the first weeks of the course.

 

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Institutional Learning Management Systems tend not to be the most intuitive or visually appealing. I create folders for each week’s content, populated with the same kinds of materials in the exact same sequence:

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This offers a sense of continuity to the online classroom – analogous to holding a face-to-face course in the same room every week.

 

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We live in an online culture of continuous and immersive sharing and collaboration. The trouble is, as course faculty, I’m not able to be accessible 24/7. It’s important to be explicit about how often I check in to the course (typically 6 days per week in the first two weeks of the course, and 3-4 days per week thereafter). I also let students know that I don’t always respond to emails on week ends. I do make a point of responding to emails/phone calls the same day or within 24 hours.

Even better, I ask students to share their questions in the small group discussion forums in a new thread titled “Question for Marilyn”. This accomplishes three things: (a) Other students can benefit from seeing the question and my response; (b) This cuts down on my having to respond over and over to the same question from different individuals; (c) If I only have a few minutes to dip into the course, I can quickly see questions and get to them as a first priority.

 

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Incorporating a short video of myself at the beginning of each “class” (weekly module) helps to establish instructional immediacy, a key component of effective online teaching and learning. We’re not talking high production values, but just helping students to put a face and personality to my name helps foster a sense of connectedness and engagement.

It’s also good to mix things up and harness the rich array of web based applications and resources that are out there: videos, websites, blogs, news aggregators, and more. I also encourage students to find and share their online discoveries.

 

1 Online Teaching Trade Secrets PUB

This took me a shockingly long time to figure out. I am embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until 2012 that I began to personally archive all of my postings in the group discussion forums, and I now use these as a base from which to continuously adapt and reframe year over year. Although I refresh and update the course content every year, many of the same issues, discussion points, questions and reflections come up. Having a resource archive to draw from has immeasurably enriched my own contributions to our online conversations.

 

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This is no big secret, but paying close attention to the affective dimension is key to learning and teaching. The majority of online courses at this time are still largely text-based, so I pay special attention to the nuances and emotional tone in all of my communications with students, whether via email or in the course discussion board. I also encourage students to reach out to me by phone or video chat in real time when they get stuck or more complex issues arise.

 

Check out the complete slide deck here.

 

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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?

 

candle tin dark

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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