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Posts Tagged ‘faculty

If you wonder why online courses are perceived to be inferior to in-person ones, this article has some answers.

The author cheekily (but accurately) suggested four “entrenched inequities” that keep the value of online courses and instruction down:

  • The second-class status of pedagogy research
  • The third-class status of online courses
  • The fourth-class status of online-oriented institutions
  • The fifth-class status of the majority of online instructors

The devil is in the details and the author is a demonic writer. Every word sizzled and the full article is worth the read just for its frank critique of the status quo.

Whither online efforts? They wither because they are denied resources.

I heard a few questions from new faculty at a recent pre-semester meeting. The questions revealed how much I take for granted and how much the new folk need to level up.

One person confused academic integrity with general integrity. Academic integrity is normally about how one writes essays and reports research. We want individuals who are models of overall integrity, of course. But when we focus on assignments and reports, we zoom in on specific aspects of academic integrity like citing, attributing, and not plagiarising.

Another person brought up how students might be confused as to why they had to cooperate in class activities (e.g., co-editing Google Docs) but could not do the same with most summative assignments. While such students bring up a valid argument, we should counter that with accountability. We focus on group accountability with shared documents, but we determine individual accountability with end-of-course essays.

I was glad to hear how a few faculty had started using mobile apps to quiz their students. However, I was dismayed that they focused on the bells and whistles instead of the praxis of feedback or assessment. Such application of educational theory could be the need to monitor learning and/or to provide formative feedback. It should not be about a timer counting down or background music adding tension.

All three examples bring up the importance of being an academic who is literate in pedagogical theory and research. Being a good instructor and facilitator is not just about knowing what works. It is also about knowing why it works.

This is not a popular view, but I think that it is important for part-time university faculty and short-contract instructors to be anti-crowd. I mean this literally and figuratively.

Part-timers and short-contract workers in higher education tend to not be covered medically by the institutes of higher education (IHLs) that they work with. Along with the fact that these workers are paid much less, do not see pay increments, and do not get annual bonuses, IHLs save a ton of money.

It makes sense for these workers to literally avoid crowds, especially during flu season, so as not to fall ill. They not only have to get their own health insurance and pay for their medical bills, they cannot work and get paid if they are ill. It pays to be a bit anti-social in this sense.

I am part of this part-time group of people. I have met and work with some of the most dedicated, experienced, and talented people since leaving my full-time faculty position three years ago. I fully understand the pros and cons of working this way.

This is also why I would advise my fellow part-timers not to follow the crowd, but to stand out instead. It is what clients look for — something special that only you or very few have that no one else does.

I only have myself to blame…

I wrote “10 tips for crafting a teaching philosophy” a year ago with the intent to share it with new batches of learners. I forgot and have to deal with poorly organised statements.

It is not that the tips would guarantee good writing. They would have simply provided a scaffold for inexperienced writers to craft a challenging piece of writing.

I am not forgetting this time around. The pain of providing repetitive feedback on disorganised essays has reminded me to create a link in the Google Site that is my workshop resource.

I have two more tips for future faculty or anyone who has to write academically.

One, avoid passive voice. This tweet might help you spot passive voice:

So write “Students perform task X” instead of writing “Task X was performed… by zombies”.

Two, when learning to prepare lesson plans, write for someone else to teach it. This means stepping outside yourself to see what someone else might not understand about your learners, intent, content, strategies, assessment, etc.

Just as you try to teach in a student-centred way, you should write in a reader-centred manner. Aim for clarity, not complexity. You must convince, not confuse.

After reading this review of research on homework, my mind raced to how some people might resort to formulaic thinking.

This was the phrase that seeded it:

Based on his research, Cooper (2006) suggests this rule of thumb: homework should be limited to 10 minutes per grade level.

What follows were examples and an important caveat:

Grade 1 students should do a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per night, Grade 2 students, 20 minutes, and so on. Expecting academic students in Grade 12 to occasionally do two hours of homework in the evening—especially when they are studying for exams, completing a major mid-term project or wrapping up end-of-term assignments—is not unreasonable. But insisting that they do two hours of homework every night is expecting a bit much.

If you assume that people would pay more attention to the caveat than to the formula, you assume wrongly. Doing the former means thinking harder and making judgements. The latter is an easy formula.

Most people like easy.

If those people are teachers and administrators who create homework and homework policies, then everyone who is at home will likely suffer from homework blues.

Am I overreaching? I think not. Consider another example on formulaic thinking.

I provide professional development for future faculty every semester, but this semester was a bit different. There was a “social” space in the institution’s learning management system (LMS) where a certain 70:30 ratio emerged.

A capstone project for these future faculty is a teaching session. The modules prior to that prepare them to design and implement learner-centred experiences. At least one person played the numbers game and asked what proportion of the session should be teacher-centred vs student-centred.

I provide advice in person and in assignments that the relative amount is contextual. My general guideline is that student-centred work tends to require more time since the learners are novices and that the planning should reflect that.

However, once that 70:30 ratio was suggested in the social space, it became the formula to follow. It was definite and easier than thinking for and about the learner. It allowed future faculty to stay in their comfort zone of lecturing 70% of the time and grudgingly attempt student-centred work 30% of the time.

But guess what? When people follow this formula or do not plan for more student-centred activities and time, they typically go over the 70% teacher talk time and rush the actual learning. This pattern is practically formulaic.

Formulaic thinking is easy, but that does not make it right or effective. In the case of the course I mentioned, the 70:30 folk typically return for remediation. It is our way of trying to stop the rot of formulaic thinking.

“Pedagogy before technology” is a refrain that I espouse. I say this in the context of integrating technology for learning and designing mobile apps.

So I was glad to read someone else write about why technical training for faculty is a waste of time. It is a good read!

Such training is a waste of time for many reasons. Teaching well is not important. Churning out research is more important. Technical training is not the same as meaningful, contextual use.

That aside, there are some faculty members who are passionate about teaching and changing with the times. With these folks in mind, there is a word missing from the title of that article. That word is “unless”. Such training is wasteful unless the pedagogical gains are made clear first.

Much of CeL’s training has been technical and this is a historical practice that is difficult to displace. When an outfit set up with only one academic staff member (me) and almost 20 non-academic members (my team), this makes the task of changing mindsets and practices even tougher.

So we began the journey of change.

One change was for my staff to rationalize WHY before telling HOW and WHAT. For example, why do I need to learn this new tool or method? Why is this strategy better?

Another was expanding our audience to include non-academic staff. This not only helped a previously ignored group, it also helped my team see that they need to appeal to the immersive use of the tool. It was another way of appealing to the WHY first.

Now we have revised some of our workshops and sharing sessions.

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The academic staff sharing sessions used to be just that: Teaching staff would share their experiences and stories. In the sessions going on this week, academic staff share their practices (more of the WHY) while CeL staff follow up with the technical HOW and WHAT. We call this the half-and-half sharing sessions.

In a new Blended Learning series, we will offer pedagogical tidbits to academic staff in a bid to get them to bite. We do this by sharing blended teaching strategies in our collaborative classrooms with Web 2.0 tools and Blackboard.

There is at least one more strategy that we hope to implement soon. It has something to do with this…


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