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Posts Tagged ‘rising above

In the first three parts on novice teaching mistakes by future faculty (FF), I reflected on flaws in implementation, planning, and mindsets.

In this final part, I rise above those reflections.

Why share these thoughts only after three semesters of working with FF?

Part of the reason was the time to interact with FF and evaluate their work. The mistakes repeated themselves and they became more obvious. They also reminded me of what I noticed as an educator of student teachers during their courses and practicum. So I wrote down what came to mind, was most recent, and most repeated.

The most important thing to address when trying to change behaviours is mindsets. A short series of modules cannot change mindsets overnight.

Part of me shrugs and thinks that doing something is better than nothing at all. The other part of me is convinced that we provide powerful and meaningful enough experiences to affect some FF for years to come.

Yet another part of me is saddened by how most universities operate. When I suggested more modules and alternatives to address diversity, I was told that the university did not want to invest in this effort because research output is what matters.

The rationale from a systemic point of view was this: Dedicate more time to developing FF pedagogically and their doctoral studies research will suffer. I can see that. Funding, rankings, and reputation are at stake.

But some FF and I also see that high quality and progressive teaching also matters. Prospective students and parents do not realise that university rankings are not based largely on teaching. Furthermore, the quality of teaching is very hard to measure compared to research output.

To use an analogy, measuring research output is like grading the quantity and quality of factory products. There are few grey areas, but doing this is relatively easy.

On the other hand, trying to gauge the quality of teaching is like trying to measure the factory’s staff morale and their bosses’ leadership abilities. These not only have indefinite shades of grey, they also have rainbow colours.

One of the most important international university ranking systems, QS, relies on proxy measures of teaching, e.g., student satisfaction, student/faculty ratios, course completion rates. These are not measures of pedagogical effectiveness, change, or innovation.

This is why it is important to improve teaching at the university level even though it is not measured precisely. The indicators at an administrative or report level look good, but the reality on the ground paints a different picture. I would rather point out mistakes and make the effort to deal with them than hide behind a ranking or number.

Today I had a unique opportunity to leave the workshop while the participants engaged in a round-robin, modified jigsaw writing activity.

I used the time to visit the National Museum in Paro with Karma Chewang as my guide. The museum used to be a watch tower for the fort that is now the Paro (aka Richen Pung) Dzong.

This is the view of the valley from the museum grounds (click to see larger version).


Being high up allowed me to appreciate the city from a different perspective and to take stock of what I have experienced so far. I have been trying to do the same with my workshop participants.

When I conduct similar workshops in Singapore, I have less time and I rarely have the chance to get the participants to “rise above” the details.

Not so with the the group in Paro. After each main phase of the workshop, I planned for and was able to engage them in critical thought and broad discussion of the design and pedagogy of the workshop.

I think that it is essential for me to do this because modelling and making explicit the underlying pedagogy is the greater takeaway. There is much new content in the form of various Web 2.0 tools for them to digest. Their current infrastructure limitations also make unfettered implementation very difficult. But the ideas and strategies I employ are things I think they can implement now.

I think that most of the teacher educators here I have listened to have already done some rising above of their own. While they cling on to traditional ways of doing things, they also recognize the need to stay relevant. They lift themselves out of the muddy details and focus on where they need to be.

I draw inspiration from their dogged persistence and vow to do the same.

[image source, used under CC licence]

While Byrne is away, his guest bloggers are actively populating his blog. An entry that I enjoyed was Using Technology to Find Students.

The educator, Kristen Swanson, shared how she used The Week in Rap and Etherpad to engage her students in writing. But I thought that she modelled a far more important process: Rising above.

As part of the activity, Kristen asked her students:

  • How did you help each other?
  • How did you respect each other’s ideas?
  • Do you think your collaborative response was better than your individual response? Why?

I think that doing this was crucial. Students might forget the technology or the content or the writing skill taught. But they should be reminded of and eventually internalize the thinking and “soft” skills behind the activity.


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