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

1. 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. This isn’t necessarily a challenge for new professors – or those teaching a course for the first time. When everything is fresh for both faculty and students, teaching is an adventure. Maybe it’s not so much getting excited about what you are teaching, as staying excited – after five years, ten years, or longer. Exploring new and innovative ways to get learners involved and promote their autonomy over their own learning, and fearlessly interrogating our approaches to course content and the processes of teaching, can help to keep us in that ‘beginner’s mindset’.

 

2. Overcommunicate

This one is a ‘quick-win’ – not difficult to implement, and has a major impact on students’ experience in a course. Students’ lives, like ours, are complicated, busy, and sometimes chaotic. People don’t always attend to our in-class communications or instructions, and/or email, and/or written (print) communication, and/or online course announcements, and/or classroom handouts. The more channels 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. Respond to student queries ASAP

This follows from Point 2, above. 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 (‘instructional immediacy’). 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 their comments on course evaluations.

 

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. In short, the framework starts with (a) eliciting the student’s understanding of why they think I am proceeding in a certain way; (b) providing a brief (very brief – not a lecture) explanation from my perspective; (c) elicit the student’s response (“What do you make of that? How does this fit for you?”). Reflective listening is an ancillary skill that helps learners feel heard and understood, and makes sure that I am able to engage with accurate empathy.

 

5. 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 practicing new skills. Admittedly, high quality curriculum design generally takes considerable 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 five habits – but after close to two decades, I have found them a strong foundation and a good starting point. Enjoy the journey!

 

This post is adapted from a previous post , January, 2015

 

 

How do you want to travel?

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about individual accountability for engaging in learning, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the course as the instructor does. This means focusing on the process (how learners decide to engage – or not) as well as the content (syllabus or curriculum).

Courses and workshops represent particular journeys for all participants – teacher included. In general, learning facilitators establish and negotiate the content, pacing, climate and structure throughout the course. And yet, learners themselves decide what and how they will learn. Learning can happen in the absence of teaching, and teaching can happen in the absence of learning. The magic happens when the two come together.

Most workshops and courses typically start off with a conversation about:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Course overview or outline
  • Participants’ learning goals
  • Learning assessments.

However, it’s equally important for learners to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how they will learn and participate, what might hold them back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that can feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused beginning to workshops and courses, because a conversation about process sets the stage for reciprocity and co-engagement in the learning journey.

It comes down to a conversation about how we (both the instructor and the group) collectively intend to make the journey together. From a facilitation perspective, this means starting out by asking questions like:

  1. Are you (learner) coming to this class as a spectator or as a participant?
  2. What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
  3. What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
  4. If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
  5. How will you translate and adapt ideas, knowledge and skills in order to apply them in practice?

It’s not essential that we ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions we could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles and on the nature of the voyage they will take with you and with one-another.

And the next time I attend a workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”

 

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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

education 1_0

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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“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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“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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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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