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waterlily2 2018

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

 

Start your first class with a question … and a promise

As in any group of diverse individuals, learners come with varying identities, histories, levels of motivation, prior knowledge and experiences, as well as different wants, needs and openness to change. This means that teaching is inherently as much about process as it is content. By that I mean holding a dual focus on how people learn, participate and engage (process), as well as the substantive knowledge, skills and information required to meet your course’s learning outcomes (content).

In fact, I suggest that the process may be even more important than the content, given the rapidly changing landscape of professional practice across virtually all disciplines. The proliferation of knowledge in any given field is so vast and accelerating that the skills of curating, critiquing and assessing knowledge, and bridging knowledge to application, are the most important capabilities students can master. In other words, students most need to learn how to learn. 

It is tempting to approach teaching from a content mastery perspective versus from a “deep learning” perspective. Resist the temptation! By all means, prepare lesson plans, lecture notes and course reading lists. But create a space in the lesson plan for students’ own self-discovery, peer-to-peer collaboration, applied/experiential learning and exploration. Include as many questions as answers in your lecture notes. And approach your students as equal partners in the learning process: you have expertise and professional or scientific knowledge in your field of study, and they are experts in their own lives, including their hopes and dreams for the future.

Whether I am teaching in a face-to-face or an online classroom, I like to start the first class of every semester with a question and a promise.

Here’s the question: “What are you curious about? You’ve enrolled in this class on [insert course title]. What would you most like to learn more about?”

This sets up the expectation that each student has a voice in their own learning, and that they are at the centre of the work we will do together. It also reminds students that the course is more than just another grade or credit towards their diploma. They will actually get to learn about things that interest, excite and inspire them!

And here’s my promise: “My cornerstone commitment to you is my intention for this class to be among the top tier of courses that you have ever taken. I am committed to supporting your success in an outstanding learning experience – so I am eager to hear your feedback as we go, to help me deliver on this promise to you.”

While this may seem a tad grandiose, the promise simply reflects what every student yearns for in their deepest human heart: an opportunity for transformation, discovery and inspiration. I signal from the very start that I want only the best for the class, that I genuinely care, and that we are in this journey together. By modeling my own highest standards, I set an implicit example and expectation that they will bring their “A” game as well.

In short, I think the most important advice for a new professor is orienting ourselves to supporting students’ learning, versus delivering content. That shift changes everything, including ourselves.

 

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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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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.

 

 

SoTL Summary Image Nest

 

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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