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Tag Archives: Learner engagement

 

educateria server

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third type of digital divide and why mobile devices should remain on

 

Much has been written about the digital divide. And we are now seeing research and publications focused on the “second-level digital divide” as mobile devices become increasingly ubiquitous. Now we’re talking about the structural inequities among not just who has digital access, but rather, the kinds of access and digital access skills.

 

In addition, the pervasiveness of mobile computing means that North American post-secondary classrooms are increasingly a site for a third kind of digital divide: between instructors struggling to wrest students’ attention away from their mobile devices, and students as tied to said devices as day traders to the Nasdaq. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other: mobile computing can add value to any classroom.

 

 

Here are seven ways to leverage mobile capacity from the very first class.

 

1. Ice Breaker: App Show and Tell

People love apps (estimates for 2013 range from somewhere between 54 – 86 billion downloads). Ask students to stand up, mingle around, and query someone they haven’t met “What’s your favourite app and why?” What are the most popular apps represented in your class? What does this say about commonalities and differences?

2. Course Playlist

Playlists are the contemporary equivalent of mixtapes. What song(s) symbolize the themes of this course? Put together a collaborative playlist. Play a song at the beginning and end of every class.

3. In-ClassTwitterchat

Individual reflective activities are regarded as productive and constructive. Why not take 10 minutes and move the conversation into the social-digital realm? #yourcoursename

 

4. Open-search-engine pre-test

Mobile devices are banished from final exams – rightly so. Yet the skill of locating credible information efficiently is essential in any profession. Invite students to preview a modified final exam at the beginning of the course using their mobile devices to access information (they can work in pairs if not everyone has an Internet-enabled search engine on their phone). Extra points for the instructor if the pre-test is designed more for critical understanding/analysis than fact-memorization. Optimally, students will directly experience why attending class is a value-add over just reading the text.

 

5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Collectively develop an innovative idea based on the course content, or identify a community project or cause, and work with them to secure funding. Try to fund development using crowd-sourced micro finance (such as Kickstarter).

 

6. Social Justice

Identify a cause and create an online petition. Or locate, critique, endorse petitions. Reflect on the challenge of consensus building, ethics, values, decision-making.

 

7. Collaborative Learning Assessment

Invite students to collaboratively co-create the final exam throughout the course using a mobile test-maker application.

 

 

All of the above strategies are aimed at addressing classroom engagement and leveraging the reality that students will bring and access their mobile devices, whether sanctioned or not. But most important, these strategies can address the skills gaps identified in the concept of second-level digital divide. And do so in the spirit of new and emerging teaching and learning frameworks:

Paragogy and heutagogy.

(Also on Slideshare)

 

 

 

 

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A small investment that can add big value to your training or workshop

 

People attend courses and workshops for a variety of reasons: some are there to learn, some are forced to attend, and others are curious-but-skeptical. Yet whatever the reason, how can we add value in the form of creating a compelling and memorable experience? An experience that effectively reaches beyond the workshop into the “real world” inhabited by our learners?

An obvious way to help bridge the learning-practice gap is to offer a package of professional, relevant and well-designed handouts. We trainers reassure ourselves that this invaluable resource will serve as an oft-consulted reference for learners post-session. Yet, how many of these things have you unearthed and pitched out in an office-purge years later? It’s a natural tendency to “file it and forget about it”. So…What else is needed?

I have attended two recent faculty development sessions where the speakers employed an ingenious and appealing strategy. So brilliant, so obvious, why have I never done this before? I am decided that I will now incorporate this into every single workshop:

Give each and every participant a small, meaningful token – a symbol – of the underlying meaning or “spirit” of your session.

Don’t tell them ahead of time. Do it near the end of your workshop or talk. Involve them in an activity demonstrating how they might use it.

 

Example:

In the Motivational Interviewing workshops that I facilitate, we talk about the skill of affirming as one of four foundation skills in this counselling approach. Last week at a session I gave for Queen’s University Health, Counselling and Disability Services clinicians, I handed out “saphires” (plastic, from a discount store) to each participant, and asked them to consider an affirmation that they could offer to a challenging student they are working with. Long after the workshop, that “jewel” on a practioner’s desk is a tangible reminder of mindful practice, and more evocative (and concise) than the 40 page handout I provided! (Or even the one page ” MI Tips ” for that matter).

Learners give their time, attention and wisdom to us when we co-construct learning communities. In the spirit of reciprocity, I have decided that going forward, a symbolic token to take away represents a significant value-add for learners and a reminder of what we have collectively shared.

 

squirrel left

 

Do one thing this year that scares the hell out of you

 

When I think about learning and all it implies, my mind automatically goes to unicorns and rainbows. Phrases like “transformative learning”, “learning community”, “lifelong learning”, “learner-centred”, etc. conjure up an idyll of intrinsically motivated and enriching experiences and endeavors. Don’t get me wrong – this is legitimate and genuine and real. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yesterday I attended a talk focused on institutional commitments in a learning-centred organization. The speaker ended with a powerful call to action: her own. She committed to identifying and doing “one thing this year that scares the hell out of me”. And then she invited everyone in the audience to do the same. This got me thinking: deep learning happens when the going gets tough. Doing something that scares you is a 100% guarantee that you will learn something new.

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle talks about the phenomenon of deep learning. In this mode, peoples’ acquisition of a new skill resembles a herd of deer on an icy, slippery slope: tenuous, tentative, struggling, messy. In other words, deep learning is hard and it’s scary, but it may be the most effective route towards mastery.

A few years ago I gave my undergraduate university class a critical analysis assignment, consisting of three parts: (a) Read a challenging scientific research article (selected by me); (b) Submit a critique of the article, no more than three pages in length; (c) Locate two related research articles from an academic database. I loved this assignment because it so effectively assessed essential professional skills of understanding and critiquing research literature in the field, as well as navigating academic databases and locating relevant research. Practicing professionals need to be able to do this.

My students, on the other hand, hated the assignment. They were up in arms! Some said they had to read the article six or more times before they even understood it. Others struggled with how to even begin to critically analyze a scientific article published in a peer-reviewed journal. And still others had successfully avoided exposing themselves to Scholars Portal, and wanted to keep it that way.

Faced with an onslaught of indignation and outrage from approximately 60 people, I went into reflective listening mode: “So, what you’re saying is, this assignment was incredibly challenging. You hated reading a boring article ten times before it even began to make sense. Scientists aren’t too good at making the products of research accessible. Life would have been so much better if the assignment I gave you involved no more than a couple of hours work the night before.” Nods of agreement and reluctant smiles.

But here was my pivotal question to the group:

“If I had given you that easy assignment (welcome as that may have been), tell me this, would you have learned anything?”

Umm…no.

“And what about this terrible assignment…did you learn anything useful?”

An unequivocal Yes! … even though it was pretty aversive.

And then the conversation shifted – big time.

We talked as a group about why they had come to university in the first place. We talked about the experience of learning. About how, when things are hard, that is exactly when learning happens. Instead of a mutiny on my hands, the experience was an epiphany for all of us.

 

I have to keep reminding myself of that lesson. The challenge to commit to one really tough thing this year and follow through is the challenge to commit to the slippery slope of deep learning.

And maybe among the herd of deer on that icy slope, there will be a couple of unicorns.

 

 

ocean fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every audience comes with varying levels of motivation to learn: What can you do to engage them?

 

A recurring challenge in facilitating continuing professional education workshops is how to respond to participants who do not see a value in attending. This isn’t uncommon, given that training is often mandated by management and the topic or content of your session doesn’t necessarily align with their individual learning goals or perceived needs. It’s easy to get focused on (or distracted by) these less-than-enthusiastic folks, but people participate along a diverse spectrum. A strong facilitator reaches out to everyone in the room.

So, you might wonder, how is an individualized, motivational approach possible with more than just a handful of participants? In my experience over 15 years of leading professional courses and workshops, I have found that groups of all sizes generally coalesce into five sub-groups:

  1. “Keeners”: It doesn’t matter whether they came voluntarily or because their manager made them attend. They are hungry for any and every opportunity for learning: 100% intrinsically motivated.
  2. “On the Fence”: These folks aren’t unhappy to take time off work for your session and are open to learning, but they are looking for a practical demonstration of how and why the topic/content is relevant before they will engage.
  3. “Open-minded Skeptics”: They are generally seasoned and respected experts in the group who are provisionally willing to give you a chance. However, because of their super-strong skill-set they have lots of experience sitting in courses with not much to show for it, and this can impact their motivation for learning in your course.
  4. “Convince Me”: These individuals can be hard core for even the most experienced trainer. They are not happy campers from the get-go, and they are not afraid to show it openly and repeatedly.
  5. “Multi-taskers”: This sub-group has other things on the go besides your training. Often arriving late, leaving early, on their mobile, or otherwise occupied, they are polite and willing to participate when present, but your workshop is not necessarily a high priority.

 

How can we best respond to and motivate these diverse groups, all at the same time, over a course that might range from an hour, or a day, through to multiple days? Let’s look at some quick tips for each:

The “Keeners” are on your side. You really need to mess up in order to alienate them. You will know who these individuals are right away because they are quick to raise their hands, offer insights and opinions, and generally smooth your path. Make sure to explicitly thank and encourage them.

Those who are “On the Fence” can (by definition) go either way. It’s important to prepare a strong start to the session by engaging the group in a conversation – or for a large audience, a demonstration –  of the practical value of the topic/course. A quick “Turn to the person next to you and identify the most important take-away”, or a video demonstration, case example or personal story can accomplish this. The key is to spark peoples’ interest and invite them in.

The “Open-minded Skeptics” can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Adult education affirms that learners come with pre-existing knowledge and skills, and that is never truer than for this group. Because they are, themselves, experts, it’s essential to explicitly acknowledge and invite their and others’ contributions to the content you have prepared. These folks often ask specific, technical questions, and they will know if you try to fake it. Probably everyone else will know too. My own approach is to be up front with the group, respectfully affirm where others’ knowledge and skills exceeds mine, and encourage a collaborative learning environment where everyone – regardless of months, years or decades of experience – has something of value to contribute (check out this link for a nice way to establish this climate from the start: First, empty your cup). In addition, I make a point of naming and reinforcing participants who demonstrate their skills and effectiveness – they are a resource to the whole group.

Now let’s consider those who come across as somewhat difficult, or even openly antagonistic: “Convince Me”. I don’t see these individuals in every workshop, but it’s happened often enough to be worth coming prepared. This is where skills in group facilitation and knowledge of group dynamics are essential. I need a large chunk of the group to be “with” me, in order to help manage what can become a facilitation disaster (I am not exaggerating). If the majority of participants are engaged, enjoying themselves, and find value in the material, it is hard for one or two naysayers to sabotage. On the other hand, if the group as a whole are “On the Fence”, the “Convince Me” contingent can bring it all down. If you do run into problems, here is a tried-and true strategy for How to TAME difficult, skeptical, hostile or challenging participants.

Last but not least, “Multi-taskers” should not be ignored. Artful facilitation can help them shift to “Open-minded Skeptics” or even “Keeners”. The thing is, you may never know because they aren’t totally present (literally). But that doesn’t mean your workshop didn’t make an impression – these individuals are often opinion leaders and influencers with large professional networks (that’s why they’re so busy). Articulating everyone’s right to participate however they choose is a win-win. They will do it anyway, and affirming personal choice and control communicates respect and positive regard.

One caveat: The real world is messy and disorganized, and slotting people into categories is perilous at best. Individuals and groups are dynamic, organic and open to complex reciprocal influences from you, one another and the environment. Thus, my most important tip? Don’t stand in the middle of the stream; go with the flow.

 

Check out more learner engagement strategies:

Classroom Management 101

Five Things About Teaching

That’s just how we roll

bowling trophy figures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all about creativity, reflexivity and connectivity

Teaching as informing is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Today, providing information is secondary to engaging peoples’ interest and motivation so much that they will want to seek out more and more, beyond the boundaries of the boardroom, lecture hall or online discussion forum. It’s about meta-teaching…teaching others to become their own teachers.

Daniel Pink, in A Whole New Mind, describes how the information age has undergone a seismic shift to the conceptual age. Meaning that the left brain skills of information management/analysis have been surpassed by the right brain skills of creativity, reflexivity and connectivity.

We’ve progressed from a society of farmers [the agricultural revolution] to a society of factory workers [the industrial age] to a society of knowledge workers [the information age]. And now we’re progressing yet again – to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers [the conceptual age].

In the conceptual age, educators and presenters need to go way beyond informing because:

a. The information that the presenter deems essential may not align with the relevance and priorities of the audience; so that means little incentive for long-term retention.

b. People generally don’t remember much of what they hear. Or if they do, the half-life of information is pretty short, so there isn’t much impact to be realized if our focus is on the content of a presentation.

c. Even if the information is relevant and memorable, our knowledge landscape is a moving target – information changes so rapidly that what is current today quickly becomes out of date.

And that is where transformative learning comes in…

Introduced by Jack Mezirow in 1997, transformative learning is about engaging peoples’ underlying assumptions and facilitating change in frames of reference. Think of it as that “aha!” moment, when a whole new concept seems to snap into place and suddenly we see things from a new and broader perspective. Signal moments in learning are accompanied by affect – delight, surprise, disappointment, satisfaction, excitement – extending beyond solely cognitive-based insight or understanding.

A defining condition of being human is that we have to understand the meaning of our experience. For some, any uncritically assimilated explanation by an authority figure will suffice. But in contemporary societies we must learn to make our own interpretations rather than act on the purposes, beliefs, judgments, and feelings of others. Facilitating such understanding is the cardinal goal of adult education. Transformative learning develops autonomous thinking.

How can we as educators make this magic happen in our day-to-day work? Well, transformative learning presupposes transformative teaching (if teaching is the right word in this context) (a.k.a. transformative faculty development?). And in turn, transformative teaching implies…teaching about teaching. Meta teaching.

Both the words and the music. Play that funky music.

nest blue eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slideware 101: Tips and Resources

 

We’ve all been there: the uncomfortable chairs, the slightly darkened room, and slide after slide after slide. Each one identically bullet-ed, punctuated by the occasional graph and the speaker stating, “I know that you can’t read this, but…”.

 

The almost ubiquitous use of slideware has rigidified knowledge communication, and the sad part is that somewhere buried in the bullet points and boredom is someone’s singular message, lost. Not only that, sometimes the consequences of information presented poorly can be devastating.

 

Edward Tufte, a Yale University Professor Emeritus and visionary in information design and data visualization, wrote an influential essay – posted online – pointing to the use of PowerPoint slide decks in NASA engineering briefings as a contributing factor in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. In their report, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that the distinct cognitive style of PowerPoint reinforced the hierarchical filtering and biases of the NASA bureaucracy during the crucial period when the Columbia was injured but still alive”. The take-away? Templates that structure information into bullet points can obscure nuance and interrelationships within and between knowledge domains.

 

The way I see it, it’s not slideware that’s the problem, it’s how it is used. Done well, visuals (whether video or static images) can add impact and interest to a presentation. But the design tools and templates of PowerPoint et al. are generally used by folks who have never learned design. Thus we end up with…

 

PC World Article: Worst PPT Presentations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PC World: Worst PPT Presentations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can check out the full article with more examples here.

 

I too have been guilty of multitudinous slideware sins, and found redemption in Garr ReynoldsPresentation Zen, and accompanying resources and slide decks. I especially like the PowerPoint “Before and After” demos to illustrate how good design can transform our visual communication.

 

In a nutshell: 

Simplicity is key to good design. Images trump words. Fewer words are better than a lot of words.

 

Here a couple of my own PowerPoint makeovers, inspired by Reynolds’ work.

 

This slide attempts to summarize (via text) the information and context that should be delivered in a narrative elaboration of the simplified (after) slide

Motivational Interviewing Processes: Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Interviewing Processes: After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was from a slide deck on presentation skills, and offers a good example of how slides and handouts should be two different things

Presentation Skills: Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presentation Skills: After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was quite proud of this next slide, which had lots of text animations (shudder). The second slide conveys the “ACE” acronym via the image

Motivational Interviewing "Spirit": Before

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivational Interviewing "Spirit": After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow this link for more examples of PowerPoint Makeovers.

 

 

 

 

 

Auto repair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foremost decision is the decision to provide treatment

 

Last week I met a colleague who leads a community college program on auto maintenance and repair. This arena of study and practice has always seemed fairly straightforward to me: learn the mechanics of engines and other things that make cars work, and learn how to fix them. I confess it was surprising to me when he shared that the most important skills his students need to learn are critical judgment, reflection and decision-making. That’s partly because car design has changed so dramatically over the last two decades that cars have become complex electronic as well as mechanical systems. Just like in health care, for a good mechanic the foremost decision is whether to provide treatment.

 

Who knew that our most important teaching goals and teaching challenges – his in auto repair and mine in counselling and health behaviour change – were so aligned?

 

This reminded me of another conversation I had with a surgeon a couple of years ago. We were talking about laparoscopic surgery, and I wondered whether today’s medical students had a learning advantage due to their years of experience playing videogames. The doctor stated that it doesn’t take long to teach anyone to how to perform laparoscopies (although video game players might learn a little faster). He said that what takes years to teach and learn is when not to do the surgery.

 

When and how to intervene may be the most challenging things for anyone to learn because the skills are so complex. Education for diverse fields of practice – from car repair to medicine and lots in between – demands that students master three essential foundation skills:

 

1. Critical reflection: Meaning-making and interrogating the limits of one’s knowledge and skills; considering costs, benefits and outcomes of different possibilities

 

2. Attention: Including listening, observation and data-gathering, from a stance of care and concern

 

3. Decision-making: This includes decisions regarding a specific course of action, as well as decisions about what additional information might be needed; acting with integrity and ethics.

 

A nice article on how diagnosis is more art than science features wisdom from “master diagnosticians”, and underlines the importance of the above three skills, along with humility and a commitment to continuous learning:

 

“If you want to be a master diagnostician,”  says Dr. Lewin,  ”you’d better be prepared to be a master student.” It’s a lesson Dr. Goodgold, now in his fifth decade of practice, still takes to heart.  ”Being a good diagnostician means being good at solving problems. It starts with being intellectually honest.  You must admit to yourself that you don’t know everything. Not a week goes by that I don’t see something new. I must continue to be a student of medicine and science.”

[…]

Consider the wisdom of Sherlock Holmes, who was modeled by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (a physician turned fiction writer), after one of the most renowned diagnosticians of his day: Dr. Joseph Bell, professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh.  ”I see no more than you,”  the super sleuth explained to his sidekick, Dr. Watson,  ”but I have trained myself to notice what I see.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 road grass sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five big lessons learned along the way

 

1. How do you feel when you walk out the door?

I’ve always valued the axiom that people don’t remember what you do or say – they remember how you made them feel. Think about your favorite teacher – what do you remember most from that class? The course content? Or is it the passion, inspiration, affirmation, compassion, kindness and care that he or she offered? For the most part, process is way more important than content in teaching and learning.

 

 

2. Transformational learning is about inspiring change, not transmitting information (no matter how “essential”).

Another axiom: “To teach well we need not say all we know, only what is useful for the pupil to hear”. In other words, no course or continuing professional education workshop is ever long enough for all of the didactic content that we regard as essential. Here’s my most important learning objective, no matter what the content:

At the end of this course the learner will…

Be so energized and inspired by the importance and relevance of this topic that he or she will continue to access knowledge and skills development long after the session has ended.

 

3. It’s not my decision.

Learning is 100% volitional. So is change. No matter how urgently I believe that I know what is best, that’s not really the point. Each individual is the expert on his or her life, including the learning goals and activities that may guide growth and development.

 

4. Change is a process, not an event – and so is learning.

Teaching and learning are really about change. By definition, seeing things from a new perspective involves a fundamental shift in standpoint or beliefs. Sometimes a (brief) interaction and connection doesn’t yield any appreciable indication that I have successfully “taught” anything. Then ten years later I randomly see a former student at the airport and am privileged to hear an inspiring story of transformation – initiated by something that I said or did. We plant seeds and only rarely witness the harvest.

 

5. We’re all protagonists (and want to be treated as such).

No matter how ubiquitous the student concerns, complaints, issues, grade appeals, special requests – each of us is at the centre of our own lives. Individual experience is at once singular and universal: all people are “like all others, some others, and no others” (to paraphrase Murray and Kluckhohn, 1953). It’s about listening (on our part) and – more important – feeling heard (on the other person’s part). Which brings us right back to Point #1.

 

 

So…although these are my top five, as Joni Mitchell famously said:

“People will tell you where they’ve gone, they’ll tell you where to go, but till you get there yourself you never really know.”

 

 

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Democratizing education may mean creating a strange and hybridized monster

 

In principle, MOOCs embody the democratization of information and education: open access to leading edge scholarship and learning, facilitated by outstanding leaders in their respective fields. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being described as a great equalizer in higher education (awarded an overall “B” grade in a recent New York Times Sunday Review article). Maybe MOOCs are shaping up to be the “killer app” of higher education?

 

Except…there are a couple of snags.

In her exploration of the Ethics of MOOCs, Nora Dunne questions whether it’s defensible to use institutional resources to create and support MOOCs if this diverts what’s available to tuition-paying students. Unless the money comes from a school’s marketing budget?

Institutions of higher learning care about students. They care about access. They want to make the world a better place by linking students with research, theory, knowledge, skills and applications. They also care about enrollment, to which their funding is inextricably tied. They care about their brand. They are competitive.

Such drivers are not mutually exclusive and are not a bad thing. Visionary thinking drives innovation, and so does competition. But there is a risk if academic institutions start regarding MOOCs as “loss leaders”.

 

Are MOOCs at risk of becoming brand advertisements to drive enrollment?

From an education research and theory perspective, best practices in online learning emphasize the importance of interactivity, both with peers and with faculty. Conversely, the one-to-many model, whether delivered in a massive open lecture hall or in a massive open online course, focuses more on information delivery than knowledge construction.

The ideal would be a customizable and dynamic MOOC that integrates high-quality learning objects, pre-recorded or streamed video of outstanding instructors, asynchronous and synchronous small group discussion, simulations, and individual tutoring. But taking it back to budgets, how is this sustainable from a cost perspective?

Unfortunately it’s just not. And the problem with the one-to-many approach is its fundamental incompatibility with 2.0 anything. But…what if all of the above learning tools/strategies were crowdsourced? Not just across institutions of higher learning but from students themselves (past, present and future)? (Representing an authentically paragogical/heutagogical approach, a.k.a. “Andragogy 2.0“).

 

The Digital Frontier

If we venture into the frontier of digital open-access territory, we need to understand that MOOCs, by their nature, are free, open and out there. Positive institutional branding becomes a by-product of bleeding-edge, innovative curricula co-created by outstanding faculty and students.

And might this mean the creation of a strange and hybridized monster – a WikiMOOC?

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Teaching as effortless action

 

Course evaluations can provide helpful feedback about what we’ve done well and where we can improve. The confusing part is when we see polarities in evaluation data (too much group discussion, not enough group discussion; too much time, not enough time; etc.). But the solution isn’t necessarily working harder at the front of the classroom.

The Eastern notion of “effortless action” implies action aligned with our authentic selves. The harder we try to exert influence and control, the further we get from the fundamental essence of what it is to teach and to learn.

 

IMG-20130505-00090

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tao of teaching is the unity between: 

Thinking and doing 

Speaking and listening

Working and playing 

Teaching and learning.

 

Consider: Each of these contains elements of the other. Thought is itself a form of action, and action embodies elements of thought. As we speak we are responding (to), and we listen to ourselves. As we listen our mind is speaking. Work and play are not distinct from one another. As we teach we learn, and we learn as we teach. 

Effortless action in a Western frame might be conceptualized as the psychology of flow.

 

Whatever name we give to something essentially un-nameable, for me the Tao of Teaching means finding that place inside and then reaching out and connecting with what is true and authentic in others. That’s when magic happens. 

zen stones water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging can facilitate the convergence of reflection-in AND reflection-on

Reflective practice is a cornerstone for continuous advancement as academic educators and scholars, and we all engage in reflective practice: with our students, with our colleagues, and with ourselves. Donald Schon, in his groundbreaking and influential theory of knowledge generation and learning, posited two reflective processes:

Reflection-in-practice

Reflection-on-practice.

In the moment (reflection-in-practice) we respond and make decisions based on a complex inter-weaving of practice wisdom, experience in classroom teaching, our integrated observation and enactment of what has worked for others, and evidence-based knowledge and skills. In the aftermath (reflection-on-practice) we mull over what worked and what was less effective. We talk things over with colleagues, seek supervision, and/or we journal or otherwise record our reflections.

Traditionally these two processes (reflecting-in and reflecting-on) have been seen to occur as separate but related. Further, the “products” of reflective practice – journaling, goal-setting, dialogue – have been constrained by physical geography and the limits of our professional networks.

Enter social media: thanks to “reflective practice 2.0” reflecting in / on are no longer necessarily distinct. Blogging may well represent a kind of “reflective practice power tool” in its ability to facilitate the convergence of reflection-in and reflection-on.

Digital communication has qualities of speaking and publishing together, and students are part of the conversation. Commenting enables an extended, many-to-many dialogue and blurs the boundaries between in-the-moment (i.e. in-the-classroom) reflection and post hoc reflective discourse. In other words, the act of blogging is itself teaching (in) even as it represents a reflective process (on). The classroom has become porous. Reflective practice is “unboundaried”.

We are all students, and we’re all teachers.

(See an excellent summary of Schon’s work, thinking and contributions at this link).

(Check out the presentation version of this post on Slideshare).

Toronto-20140510-00694

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what the ultimate teaching challenge might look like…and in the future it may be the rule rather than the exception

A new book, Motivational Interviewing in Groups (Wagner and Ingersoll) outlines motivational approaches and strategies in group facilitation. While the book’s emphasis is on clinical practice, the principles and applications are also relevant to education settings.

The book’s authors present a table illustrating different types of group format, structure, composition, size, length and admission arranged along a continuum of difficulty (for facilitators) from easier to harder:

Slide1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This looks different for educational groups, but the essentials still apply. Here is my modification of Wagner and Ingersoll’s framework calibrated for teaching and learning:

Slide1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other words:

Elective courses are easier to teach than mandatory courses. Students generally take electives out of interest, as opposed to being forced to take mandatory courses. Teaching students content that someone else thinks they ought to know is tougher than content in which they’re already interested.

Instructor-led courses presuppose a “script” (i.e. lesson plan), versus collaborative or student-led curricula. Paragogical approaches posit peer-to-peer learning and individual autonomy, and demand a proportionately higher level of finesse and facilitation.

Classes where students share more similarities than differences can be easier to work with than heterogeneous class compositions. For example, students who differ widely in age, ability or pre-existing knowledge and skills present more of a challenge in ensuring that all learning needs are met, and establishing an inclusive, cohesive and positive community of learning. Of course diversity, including culture, sex, gender and lived experience, enriches everyone’s learning exponentially – but demands artful facilitation on our part.

Student engagement and interactivity are more straightforward in classes of 25 or less. As class size increases so does the challenge of promoting opportunities for practice and integration of knowledge and skills.

It’s easier to keep peoples’ interest and attention for a single class of 2 or 3 hours than it is for a whole day or for multiple days. The latter demands both a varied menu of instructional strategies as well as formidable stamina (on the part of the instructor and the students).

Strict and highly competitive admission criteria can yield the “cream of the crop” of high-achieving and highly motivated learners. On the other hand, classes where admission is unrestricted means addressing the needs of the best and the brightest alongside those with academic struggles and other challenges.

Like any framework, this conceptualization tends to oversimplify and blur the many complexities and nuances of artful classroom teaching. Real life is always messier than the manual (if there even is a manual). But in general, teaching a mandatory class using a student-led curriculum, among a highly diverse cohort of 100 students or more, over a multi-day course that is freely open to all could well represent the ultimate teaching challenge.

We haven’t added the layer of classroom-based versus online teaching and learning, but does this scenario represent what may well be future of higher education…MOOC 2.0?

 

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Six surefire ways to lose an hour in the classroom

Each spring 60 minutes evaporate when we set the clocks forward. Daylight Savings Time (DST) signals the start of long days, fresh colour, smell of earth and birdsong. But still, it hurts to lose that precious hour, especially when there are few enough in the weekend to begin with.

Of course we get an hour of DST back again in the fall, so it’s only a temporary loss. But for educators and students, how many precious hours of learning opportunity are lost in the classroom? Hours that add up to days, weeks, months and years over the course of a high school and post-secondary career. We could argue that this is a student issue based on motivation, attention or capacity: after all, learning is volitional and each of us is personally responsible. Still, I see this stance as at least somewhat disingenuous.

Even the most motivated, attentive and able students can find themselves wishing there was such a thing as what I call Classroom Savings Time (CST) during boring, irrelevant or unproductive “learning” activities. Here are a few tried and true instructional strategies to make them want to fast-forward the clock:

1. Give too much information (because “To teach well, we need not say all that we know, only what is useful for the pupil to hear.”)

2. Teach people what they already know

3. Lecture for more than 10 minutes at a time (TED talks might run twice as long, but after all these are some of the world’s most compelling speakers)

4. Permit student presentations in excess of 10 minutes each (see previous point)

5. Play a video for longer than eight minutes (and that’s still probably three minutes too long)

6. At all times stick to your script (textbook and/or lesson plan).

There is truth to the old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” However, you CAN make him thirsty! There may be no getting away from DST, but we can all avoid CST. Students everywhere will be grateful.

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Why it’s less about managing the class than joining with the group

Recently overheard in a high school classroom: “F#*%  you…sir!”    Wow: Did I just witness respect + disrespect expressed simultaneously? How does that work exactly?

Teaching is a tough job whatever the age group. Adults may be less “out there” than teenagers, but the group dynamics are the same. Groups tend to behave like unitary entities: they can be your best friend or your worst enemy. But if they fall into the latter category they are a many-headed hydra who cannot be vanquished.

Here’s how I see it: If you have to actually “manage” the class that is not a good sign. Now I am not talking about classroom management in terms of providing guidance or direction with respect to learning content or processes. Every group needs a guide to stay on track. What I mean is that if students act out, tune out or walk out, things have already gone bad. At that point it’s likely not so much a student issue as a group issue.

Here are a few tips to help get things off to a good start, and to keep it that way:

1. Mutual respect is an essential precondition for ANY relationship. If it’s lacking there’s no relating. Regularly affirm your respect for each student and for the class as a whole (the “two clients”: the individual and the group).

2. Make it interesting. Easy to say, but how? Three words: make it relevant. OK, but how? The group will tell you if you ask. What do they care about? Why are they there in the first place? What do they want from you and from each-other?

3. But… what if I am teaching a mandatory course that no one cares about? Here’s the thing: There is no such thing as a topic that’s inherently interesting (have you ever gone to a talk that intrigued you only to be bored out of your mind?). And, conversely, there is no such thing as a topic that’s inherently boring (have you ever gone to a talk you were dreading only to be pleasantly surprised?). Why is the course mandatory? What’s the larger narrative? Why is this essential knowledge and learning? These are the primary questions to address as part of an ongoing group dialogue.

4. Show that you care. Not just about what you’re teaching, and not just about your students as people, but about their experience in the here-and-now. Who’s tired? Who’s bored? How comfortable is the room? What else is happening in the world and how does that impact the tasks at hand? This in-the-moment reflection continuously reestablishes the connection between facilitator and class. In clinical practice it’s called therapeutic use of self – tune in to your own experience to help you tune in to the group.

5. Be generous. Generous with your humour, your time, your interest, yourself. I think of generosity as comprised of curiosity, authenticity, empathy and joy. It’s less a focus on how the group sees you than on who is in the group and what you see in them. And be generous with people when they’re having a bad day. It happens to all of us.

Over the last two days I facilitated a mandatory training for a diverse group of health and social service professionals in Halifax, Nova Scotia. What a pleasure – even if some learners started off the day with ambivalence, we all ended on a high note. And just to add…if you ever find yourself in that beautiful city, be sure to check out Cabin Coffee on Hollis Street for a latte and a killer cinnamon bun!

 TO LISTEN

Ears + Eyes + Undivided Attention + Heart

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Group facilitation is more about listening than speaking

Facilitating groups is a delicate art: groups progress through certain well-defined stages of development, and our style as facilitators needs to be pitched to where the group is at. Furthermore, facilitators need to respond to the “two clients” – the individual, and the group – and attend to both content and process. This multilayered complexity, whether in education or clinical contexts, is a big part of what makes groups so energizing and exciting.

What is reflective listening?

In its simplest form, it’s a response that paraphrases or mirrors the spoken content of a person’s statement. Reflective listening is a way to check back and make sure that we’ve understood what someone else tells us. This type of response is also a good alternative to the “Righting Reflex”!

Done artfully, the skill of reflective listening looks easy but is far from it (at least in my own experience). Really impactful reflective listening goes further than paraphrasing, and mirrors back the implied meaning beneath a person’s words; exploring the emotions, assumptions, ideas, hopes, concerns or wishes. These types of complex reflections demand our full listening attention and focus on the other. We all want to feel understood, and reflective listening helps bridge the communication gap in a respectful and validating way.

Here’s an analogy: simple reflections are like the tip of an iceberg – the content “above the waterline” – while complex reflections go deeper.

This video example of an angry client demonstrates how the practitioner uses lots of reflective listening to establish understanding and build rapport.

Reflective Listening in Groups

Reflective listening in groups ups the ante because of their interpersonal complexity. But, looked at another way, groups give us even more options and opportunities to use this important skill. I’ve come up with three general categories for practicing reflective listening in groups (and I’m sure that there are more):

1. Simple versus complex reflections

2. Reflecting an individual’s comments versus content taken from the group’s overall contributions

3. Reflecting group content versus group process.

Note that a facilitator might decide to use any one of these approaches (and within each category are a myriad of alternate ways of responding)…that’s the artful strategy part!

Here’s an illustrative example of a hypothetical client who is coming to the first session of a support group for people living with heart disease. The facilitator has asked group members to share their goals for attending, and the last client to speak says:

“I’m only coming to group today because my doctor and my wife are both pressuring me.”

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Reflect 2

Reflect 3

Notice how each reflective strategy builds on the next – but they aren’t sequential (or prescriptive for that matter). Just some pretty powerful tools that are appropriate across a spectrum of clinical, educational, professional and other kinds of groups. Because in the end, the best facilitation is more about listening than talking.

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