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Posts Tagged ‘facilitating

This tweet is not just a funny play on “remotely”, it also reveals a fundamental difference between teaching in-person and online. You cannot simply transfer teaching skills and habits from a physical classroom to an online space and expect them to work. 

One reason why classroom humour does not work even in a setup like Zoom is that social presence is not just about immediacy. It is also about the fact that the participants microphones are often muted.

Furthermore, Zoom and other video conferencing software are often set up as turn-taking platforms, not mass audience venues. Even when there are Zoom-based seminars, the speakers often cannot see or hear from their audiences. 

So it is unreasonable to expect the same social effect or to complain about feeling disconnected. The tool simply does not work that way.

An educator who has to teach online needs to choose another tool, change expectations, and/or learn new skills. If getting immediate feedback is critical, then a platform like Twitch is an option. However, the feedback is largely text and emoji-based, and it can flow fast and furious. It takes much practice to quickly split attention between giving and getting.

This is just one of many professional development skills needed by educators who are serious about being online learning facilitators. Perhaps this is why schools and even entire ministries like our own MOE would rather avoid e-learning than embrace it.

They do this even though teachers would learn to teach better thanks to the constraints and opportunities of being online. This move is seriously no laughing matter.

Today I offer another reason why the one-size-fits-all type of end of course evaluations are not valid.
 

 
I have reflected on how I design and implement my classes and workshops to facilitate learning. I do not try to deliver content. The difference is like showing others how to prepare meals vs serving meals to them.

You would not evaluate a chef and a Grab delivery person the same way. Each has their role and worth, so each should be judged for that. Likewise student feedback on teaching (SFT) must cater to the design and implementation of a course.

 
Maybe it is age catching up on me, but I still feel drained from facilitating a four-hour class yesterday.

Maybe I am more used to three-hour modules or workshops. That seems to be the norm and I have forgotten what is it like to play in overtime.

Maybe I should factor in travel time. Depending on where the class is, it takes an hour to an hour-and-a-half each way on public transport. Surely that hustle and bustle has an impact.

Maybe it is because I make it a point to arrive at least an hour before class to rearrange the physical environment of the classroom, check the lighting, and test all audio-video systems.

Maybe it is simply the accumulation of preparatory work and the sheer energy of facilitating over just didactic teaching that consumes my energy.

Maybe I should not overthink it — I am just getting old.

I had a conversation with some students after class yesterday. These were graduate students who are learning to be instructors and facilitators.

After I made a point about just-in-time instruction, one students shared this quote from the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street:

The Wolf of Wall Street: Sell me this pen!

He got my point. Given a problem first, a learner then seeks information and solutions. A facilitator of learning then provides scaffolds and information just-in-time and based-on-need. This contrasts with much of current teaching, which is solutions first and just-in-case.

But there is also a slow and subtle change in university education. It is about focusing on the need to learn something instead of the need to teach it. This is about first creating the need to buy instead relying only on selling strategies.

An educator needs to both, of course. But we might do far too much selling and force-feeding instead of creating conditions for curiosity and hunger.

It is the day before I facilitate a new Masters course on technology for teaching and learning. I have prepared the minimum of slides so that I will do the minimum of lecturing.

My goal is to facilitate learning and I need to set and maintain that expectation. Here are just two of the less than ten slides I have.

Cooperating and peer teaching.

Walled garden.

Enough said?

I am certain these approaches will generate cognitive dissonance and discussion. These are vital ingredients in the pot of learning. I hope that my co-learners embrace cooking instead of simply consuming.

One issue that came up in this Twitter exchange was the difference in teachers being lesson planners and learning designers.

This is my perspective: The two are not separate or dichotomous. They are related and stem from overlapping behaviours. For example, both require deep pedagogical-content knowledge and empathy for learners.

However, there are nuanced differences between the two. I offer just three mindset factors that distinguish designers of learning from conventional instructors.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Messiness
I have long put forward that teaching is neat while learning is messy. A good educator recognises that learners do not have the same content structure and experiences as she does.

Someone with structure and experience has already been through one or more journeys. They can look back and try to guide others through. However, that guiding is not the same as the learning journey.

A learning journey is messy because it is full of trial and error.

Meddling and tinkering
Whereas teaching is structured and logical with the benefit of hindsight, learning is exploring the unknown. The best way to move forward is to take cognitive risks by trying.

Some might call this process tinkering. We are programmed to do this from the moment we are born. Soon after, adults try to reduce such risks — and such a natural way of learning — in the name of efficiency or safety.

When these adults are teachers, they deliver in chunks. This is not wrong, but it is also not congruent with how newbies learn. If teachers are to be designers of learning, they need to learn how to be the meddler-in-the-middle.

Being a lead learner
One key strategy to be a meddler-in-the-middle to the learn constantly. This way you know what it feels like to be uncertain, to struggle, and to empathise with learners.

Some call this being a lead learner. This is an apt moniker because the designer and facilitator of learning is just slightly ahead and around the learners. She is there relating to the struggle and struggling along with them.

This does not mean that a lead learner is uncertain or poorly skilled. Quite the opposite. A lead learner models thinking skills and problem-solving. A lead learner thinks out loud. A lead learner teaches reflexively and reflectively.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. — Alexandra K. Trenfor

The takeaway from my descriptions should not be that these are prescriptions. I have just described mindset change. This is something that is shaped from teacher preparation to professional development and from policy making to systemic change management.

It would be an understatement if I said my last week was a tiring one. I balanced classes in the evening and evaluations of novice facilitators in the day.

I was glad that I had the flexibility to arrange the evening classes early in the week and negotiate evaluations later the same week.

When I was a young faculty member, I was treated like a number on a schedule. I recall having to leave home at 6am to get from one end of the island to the other to set up for early morning classes. Sometimes this was on the back of a class the evening before or I had a string of tutorials throughout the day. It was not that much better with seniority because the timetable was king.

Now I get to choose what to be involved in as a consultant and only because I relate to the causes of those I collaborate with. But this does not mean that the work is any less strenuous.

My evening classes are typically from 6.30-9.30pm in a central location. I leave home at 4.30pm to take into account time for travel, an early dinner, and setting up the classroom. After clearing up and chatting with people who stay behind, I might leave the venue at around 10pm and am lucky if I am home at 11pm.

This is a sacrifice that no amount of renumeration compensates for: This takes away from family time. This week was exceptionally painful because it coincided with a week-long school vacation that I could not enjoy with my wife and son.

I make sure that the sacrifice is worth it. I keep the sessions as lively as possible and refrain from lecturing. The entire three hours of each class is driven by learner-centred activities, technology-mediated strategies, and individual reflection.

Jigsaw method of peer learning and instruction.

The photo above might look static, but it is actually a snapshot of groups hard at work during a jigsaw of peer instruction. It is a joy to see energy levels high and questioning minds active even at the end of the session. Sometimes I feel bad that we cannot do more or because I have to stop discussions in order to move on to other important activities and topics.

The evening classes are particularly draining because the body and mind want rest after a day of work. But my learners and I keep our energies up and I employ active learning strategies to help in this regard.

An equally draining activity is evaluating novice facilitators. I do this as part of a cumulative assignment that future faculty develop over approximately two months. They plan and implement a self-contained 10-minute lesson that showcases their ability to be learner-centred.

Evaluating microteaching at NTU.

I am always encouraged by those who make the effort to teach in ways that they were not taught when they were undergraduates.

The other facilitators and I have the unenviable task of changing or shifting mindsets over a very short period. The reception and abilities of our learners spans the spectrum of the militantly resistant to the devoutly willing. Yet we have to help all of them manage their expectations and coax performances that meet the high standards we set for them.

All this makes for taxing, but fulfilling work. Even though I am technically paid to be with these learners three hours at a time, I do my usual early start and late end. The latter is often a result of staying back to discuss ideas, overcome stumbling blocks, or debate philosophical differences.

A while ago, a contact of mine asked me what I did. I described my teaching and facilitating work in less detail than I did above. However, he was sharp enough to label what I did “unbundling”. I understood what he meant immediately.

I had dropped the unnecessary meetings and the regular interruptions. I was able to offer specific services to my clients and collaborators that I was well-versed in as a professor and was also able to focus on these tasks exclusively instead of being torn in different directions.

I have always made time to read and write (I started this blog when I had less bandwidth than I have now) and the unbundling now affords me more. In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now about unbundling. It would have given me something to look forward to.

Over the next two days, I share two things I do to start and end modules. I start with how I end one. 

I shared this photo yesterday on Twitter

We took a series of shots and all of them feature us in different modes: Mundane, mobile, and mad-cap. The photos covertly illustrate different course designs. I made sure everything was mobile-friendly or even mobile first.
 

View this post on Instagram

My "ICT for Inclusion" class.

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

 
I was also not front-and-centre in the photos. I was literally and figuratively the guide on the side. I designed activities where my participants collaborated with and taught one another. 

If I moved to the centre, it was to be the meddler in the middle to stimulate reflection or to help participants rise above. 

I am thankful to my administrative go-between for not only seeking me out via my blog and old TED talk, but also for giving me the freedom to design learning experiences instead of teaching ones. 

I take workshops seriously. I have a reputation for making people actually work towards their learning during workshops.

I find it helps to project a timer to keep people on task and to maintain the pace of workshops. It is a visual reminder of a social expectation.

Timers come in many forms: The ones in smartphones, an assortment of online timers, setting a Google timer (e.g., Google “timer for 5 minutes” if you need a 5-minute timer), and even YouTube videos.

YouTube videos of timers are the easiest to embed in web pages and that is what I have started using in a series of workshops I am facilitating this semester.

The only disadvantage I have experienced is that YouTube keeps track of the videos I watch and recommends other timer videos for me. They make for very boring videos to watch at home!

Here is an example of a workshop page in Google Sites. I provide all the resources in plain and sequential view for my learners: Instructions, resources (e.g., links to websites, embedded videos), a timer, and a task to complete.

This not only creates an advance organizer, it also provides a scaffold for me to remember what to do!


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