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Posts Tagged ‘advice

It took a few semesters of sensing and planning, but I eventually implemented something that helps future faculty write better.

Every semester I provide feedback and grade electronically-processed assignments. Every semester I am reminded how brilliant graduate students do not necessarily know how to communicate properly in writing.

I have suggested to administrators that a writing course be a prerequisite to the one I am involved in. But this doing this is neither easy nor a priority.

What is a priority is graduate students reading a resource and taking an automated quiz on plagiarism. This is important and it is easy to do in an institutional learning management system (LMS). But an LMS, no matter how advanced, cannot show graduate students how to write better and provide timely feedback on authentic writing.

Knowing that institutional change takes an inordinately long time, I provided a series of tips in my blog. I reminded my classes to refer to them before writing and embedded URLs to the same in my online feedback.

I also made a concerted effort this semester to highlight the resources in class and set aside time to talk about the importance of writing ability.

The ability to write clearly, logically, and critically is vital to future academics. They might not only need to prepare teaching philosophies and curricula, they also need to write reports and apply for grants.

The future faculty I have met seem to forced to play writing gambling game. If they get a supervisor who is nurturing and cares about how they write, they hit the jackpot. If not, they struggle from course to course or they reinforce bad writing habits because no one tells them otherwise.

Studying at the doctoral level requires an immense effort and truly independent work. However, this does not mean that graduate students should do work blindly or without scaffolding.

I have already discovered how effective my simple resources are. I have not torn out as much hair this semester as previously. Many of my learners have followed basic reminders like shaping a premise and writing in paragraphs.

I did this without doing anything contrary or disruptive to the course I facilitate. If anything, the tips add value to it. This could be an example of how not asking for permission first is a good thing.

Change is not about asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

In Singapore, we have a saying: No money, no talk. This means that if someone approached you to work for free, you were entitled to not entertain them.

Now if only that was true. Some people work pro bono out of choice or are tricked into working for free. If they do the latter, they were out-negotiated by someone else. So I advise saying no to work-for-free unless you want to become a permanent volunteer.

Some things should not be negotiable. One of those things is personal well-being. I say: No health, no work, no money (the exceptions might be being paid to be a convincing corpse or patient in hospital).

Another thing I do NOT negotiate with is a lack of empathy or basic courtesy. Over the last few years of being a consultant in the fields of education and educational technology, I have met my share socially inept people.

Here are some clear signs of poor negotiators or representatives. They are:

  • rude and/or slow to respond
  • quick to speak and slow to listen
  • full of themselves or like to name drop
  • likely to make promises that they do not keep
  • self-proclaimed experts instead of relying on reputation

I say: No manners, no talk.

Yesterday I shared some advice on how novice facilitators might put more thought into cooperative group work.

Today I focus on how they might write better lesson plans.

Lesson planning is not a chore, it is a discipline. With practice, it becomes a habit that gets internalised.

Even faculty members in institutes of higher education (IHLs) need to lesson plan. Especially faculty members need to lesson plan because they might not have had teacher preparation.

Novice facilitators should not simply walk into tutorial rooms or laboratories and try to repeat what they experienced as undergraduates and graduate students. The didactic pedagogy they perpetuate is based on the transmission of information.

While information might be transferable, knowledge is not. Such meaning is negotiated cognitively and socially. Facilitating such negotiation first takes the knowledge and skills of writing learning outcomes, designing learner-centred activities, and providing feedback on performance. All these should be developed in a lesson plan.

Lesson planning is essentially a writing process. Like any writing process, there is drafting and revising. Novices should not expect to get a plan right on the first attempt. The process can be painful, but as the adage goes: No pain, no gain.

The programme I am involved in requires future faculty to write course descriptions, lesson plans, and personal teaching philosophies.

No matter the academic subject, there are disciplines to hone when writing. One is chunking thoughts in paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea. Ideally, one chunk should link to another in a logical series.

Write tight
Another discipline of writing is not to write the way you speak. A conversation between two people can meander and even get lost. It is informal and interaction is immediate. Elements of a lesson plan need to be written clearly and concisely.

I find that it helps to imagine that you are planning a lesson just in case someone else needs to take over your class in your absence. You need to write simply and directly so that another facilitator might read your plan and lead the class almost like you would.

Do not be lazy
When writing, use the autocorrect tools in word processing programs. They help you avoid spelling and grammatical errors. However, they cannot correct lazy or ill-disciplined writing.

The screen capture above shows how I highlighted and corrected a lesson plan element. The lesson plan was about bits and bytes, hence the tongue-in-cheek comment about ones and zeroes.

My comment might come across as mean. It is not. Being a disciplined writer means not taking the reader for granted. What you say is not necessarily what someone else will hear. It is about taking another’s perspective.

Disciplined writing is also about caring for the small things that matter. If you cannot get these details right, how can you be trusted with the larger picture?

Autocorrect tools do not understand context or detect all errors. So another aspect of disciplined writing is proofreading. Such reading is not just for spotting and correcting spelling and grammatical errors, but also for addressing flaws in logic and bumps in flow.

I find that it helps to walk away from a piece of writing and return to it with a fresh perspective.

Practise and transfer
Like most skills that are developed over time, writing takes practice. Future faculty who wish to be good facilitators should invest time in writing good lesson plans because this is a skill that transfers. Disciplined writing can help with the composition of dissertations, grant proposals, conference submissions, research papers, etc.

But the most important purpose of disciplined writing by novice faculty is lesson planning. Such writing might seem burdensome initially, but when practiced iteratively and reflectively, it becomes a habit. This habit pays off when students benefit from learner-centred design that is held together by disciplined writing.

Educators who have flipped their classrooms or moved on to actually flip learning invariably have advice for those new to the journey. I share just three of many I have learnt by practising what I preach.

My first piece of advice is to make it as ordinary possible. If you attempt the extraordinary or if you need similarly special conditions in the future, the initial effort not sustainable.

I am not saying keep the bar low. I am saying you should not overthink or complicate designs, plans, or resources.

For example, refrain from designing home-based learning that requires a vendor’s proprietary platform. Instead, you could look at mobile strategies, tools, or platforms because these tend to be more accessible and intuitive.

You should also avoid relying on a long weekend, an e-learning day set aside by the school, or an academically off-peak period. If you need such special circumstances or so much time, you are not likely to try it again.

My second nugget is plan for success, but learn from failure. Even if you take my first piece of advice and keep it simple, you should not expect everything to work.

Simple does not mean doing the same thing in a different context. It means taking a risk to do one or more things differently. You will make mistakes and these are the most valuable lessons for a teacher.

For example, you might have designed in desktop mode, but tried implementing in mobile device mode. There will invariably be mismatches in expectations and results. Go full mobile the next time around.

My third pointer is to focus on the learner and learning, not on curriculum or teaching. The latter should be the means to getting at the former.

Teacher-related aspects of flipping could mean preparing resources and scaffolds. These are good and necessary most of the time, but these are not the most important aspect of flipping.

To flip learning is to nurture a more independent learner. This means preparing the learner to work with online resources and manage social interactions. Teachers should model how to read, watch, pick out, respond, and reflect (amongst a host of other important skills).

For example, it is not enough to tell students to just watch a video. You might show them the difference between an annotated YouTube video on a desktop (annotations present) and a smartphone (annotations absent). Depending on the desired outcomes, it may be necessary to show them how to identify key segments, where to take notes, and how to respond.

If you take a step back from the advice, you might notice they apply in other technology-mediated learning contexts as well. They should because my practices are not isolated efforts. They blend one into another and form a continuum of strategies. If you are clever about it, yours should too.

I found this social media advice for teachers.

I hope teachers do not take the advice like it is gospel truth because there are exceptions.

For example, I am all for keeping it “light and positive”. But sometimes there are heavy or serious matters that might be discussed on social media. The mostly asynchronous nature of social media affords time and space for thoughtful reflection and these might not be light at all.

You also cannot always be positive. Sometimes you have to be point out flaws, be a critical friend, or simply provide balance. But you can do it professionally and after you have established yourself as a trusted entity.

Some people might label providing an opposing view as “negativity” and the author advises disconnecting with it. This is not always advisable because you might suffer from group think or delude yourself into thinking that there is no thought contrary to your own.

The author also advises teachers not to follow students on Facebook. On the surface, this seems like good advice. Dig deeper and it is still good advice. Teachers should be never appear to be establishing and nurturing inappropriate relationships. However, following such advice blindly relies on fear instead of common sense.

Here is an alternative: You can be connected in monitoring mode without being in conversing mode.

For example, when I was a teacher educator at a university, I followed my student teachers on Facebook if they asked to friend me. I was able to monitor their morale and get informal feedback because they would share things openly on Facebook that they would not do elsewhere.

That is how I found out how one student teacher was contemplating suicide. If I did not read what she wrote on Facebook, I would not have been able to intervene by connecting her with an institute’s counsellor.

Bottomline: The list of social media do’s and don’ts are not rules, especially if they are grounded in fear. There will be exceptions based on the care you have for your learners.

Trawl the Web for tips on how to use Twitter and you will be inundated. There are tips for businesses, marketers, celebrity-wannabes, teachers, etc.

Perhaps a bit less common are tips on how NOT to use Twitter.

I have one such NOT tip and I use a segment of an Edutopia-produced video of Ngee Ann Secondary School to illustrate. But some disclaimers first.

No video paints a complete picture of the story it tries to tell. Ngee Ann Secondary is definitely not representative of schools in Singapore (no matter what Edutopia titles it). Some brushstrokes are wrong too (e.g., Ngee Ann Polytechnic is featured in the video).

Back to how not to use Twitter.

Video source

I get that we want to leverage on the mobile tools that learners already have. I support that cause.

But I am critical of strategies that are not rigorous and I refer to this segment in the video above (2min 29sec to 3min 15sec).

Anyone who has been on Twitter long enough knows that an egg avatar indicates a very new account, a mass-created account, or an account whose subscriber takes little or no ownership of it. If you are going to leave a digital trail in the form of a video, leave a wise one.

The example also showed a teacher asking a question and telling his students to tweet True or False answers. What value is there in doing that?

Do we want to leverage on the mobile tools that learners already have? Yes. Should we ask them to tweet when they can answer yes or no more immediately? I think not.

The teacher may have linked Twitter to a poll or quiz and that provides statistics, but the value was added to the teacher. The teacher might state with greater certainty that, say, 62% of the class understood the concept and 38% did not. What is the real value to the learner?

This is an example of technology use in the classroom. But there is no technology integration. It looks cool on the surface, but I think it is harmful in the long run if this sets the standard for practice and if the practice is perpetuated as acceptable or even sold as a “best” practice.

For technology to be integrated, it must be indispensable and bring value to the learner.

If there is some other way of answering a true/false question, then Twitter is not integrated. If Twitter is used simply because it is available as a mobile app, then it is not integrated.

How might Twitter bring value to students?

The cop-out method is to say students prefer short-form communication and to use that in class. That meets students where they are at, but it also keeps them where they are.

What students need to learn is how to be concise, how to summarize, or how to reflect on learning. The brevity imposed by Twitter is a means of achieving that.

To do that requires learners to move from simple understanding to complex and back to “simple” again. There is a construction of information and a deconstruction. The second process of simplification is a reconstruction. These are thinking skills that are far more important than content knowledge.

How should one NOT use Twitter? To do something you can already do plainly, traditionally, or with some other better technology.

How might one integrate Twitter into learning? Take advantage of the technical affordance of Twitter (140-character limit) to create social affordances (negotiate meaning) and pedagogical affordances (teach summarizing or critical thinking skills).

How should we NOT use Twitter? To pander to superficial needs.

How might we leverage on Twitter? Use it to teach students when NOT to use Twitter and how to use it responsibly.

In short, you should not use Twitter because it is cool or because students prefer short-form communication. You use it to teach them how to struggle with a problem and distill concise solutions.

I am not the first to offer Twitter tips nor will I be the last. But I thought I should offer some tips, one educator to another.

What prompted this? A few educators new to Twitter found me online and via email, so I sent them some resources that I had archived in Delicious.

What really pushed me to write this was what I read yesterday at the Guardian: Tweeting advice for Gwyneth Paltrow. In my haste, I read this as Tweeting advice from Gwyneth Paltrow. Thankfully the movie actress wasn’t actually adding “social media consultant” to her CV; it was just a journalist trying to make headlines.

There are lots of advice and tips for using Twitter for marketing, advertising, public relations and feedback, but there aren’t many focused on education. The following are some tips for the education professional who wants to establish a personal learning network (PLN).

1. Identify yourself
When you get a Twitter account, two things to do immediately are a) replace the generic egg profile picture Twitter gives you with a clear and decent picture of yourself, and b) describe yourself or your purpose for using Twitter in 160 characters or less.

Show yourself: Twitter is a social platform and other people want to attach a face to a Twitter handle.

Describe yourself: Doing this shows that you are serious about using Twitter and lets other users know who you are and whether you are worth following.

2. Don’t play the numbers game
I mention this in the context of your follower count (who follows you) or following count (who you follow). Companies and celebrities are all about high follower counts. Both want as many eyeballs and as much attention as they can get. They do not really care if a follower is a bot, a marketer or a pervert.

Quality trumps quantity. If you follow too many people, you get information overload. You might be followed by many, but do you know who they are? See the next two tips.

3. Follow wisely
Don’t follow everyone that Twitter recommends. Follow the folks you recognize or come recommended by someone you trust. Then look at who they follow.

The Twitter system might make some recommendations based on some social algorithm and this might be useful as a first cut. But it is people that decide who they want to be friends with, who they listen to or who they get married to. Apply the same principle on who to follow on Twitter.

4. Cull if needed
There are two ways of looking at this: Unfollowing someone and blocking followers.

Don’t feel bad about unfollowing someone. You might have followed someone by mistake or you might find their tweets irrelevant. Think of your Twitter stream as a customized newspaper or news programme. Unfollow so that you only get the sections of the paper or news that you want. This also helps reduce information overload.

I block some 20 to 30 followers a day. Why? First, my Twitter name is @ashley so I get followers thinking that I am someone else. I do not want to further mislead the already misled.

Second, I get followed by bots, marketers, spammers, etc. The more seasoned Twitter user might refer to my list of followers to see who else to follow, so it is my responsibility to keep out as much trash out as possible.

Third, I tend to block followers who have locked or private accounts. A Twitter-based PLN is about openness and sharing!

But I tend not to block those who are teachers or in the educational technology line.

5. Find your voice
It is OK to lurk and listen for a while. You learn the ropes and imbibe the culture of tweeting. But like blogging, tweeting is about finding your voice and sharing your passions.

Twitter used to ask “What are you doing?” This encouraged inane navel gazing. Now it asks “What is happening?” This cast one’s eye from one’s navel to perhaps someone else’s navel.

Many educators on Twitter use it as a PLN. To contribute, you could consider answering these questions:

  • What did you find?
  • What did you learn?
  • What can you teach the rest?

Share inspiring YouTube videos, informative SlideShares or thought-provoking readings.

6. Consume critically, then tweet or retweet

Before you tweet or retweet a resource, make sure that you have read, listened or watched it. Others are relying on your recommendation.

Where the resource is not your own, retweet (RT) someone else’s recommendation. This not only gives credit where it is due, it also amplifies to your PLN what is emerging or important.

7. Monitor or converse with #hashtags 

This Google Doc contains a list of education-related hashtags that you can monitor. You can read and participate in conversations with educators all over the world. Locally, please use #edsg to contribute.

I have one more tip that is optional but highly recommended. Link your Twitter account with a social bookmarking service like Delicious or Diigo. This will help you automatically archive and curate all the wonderful resources and ideas you discover on Twitter. I recommend to make this link.

What other tips might be useful for educators who want to take charge of their own professional development?

Click to see all the nominees!

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