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Posts Tagged ‘teaching

I have a one-word response to this Chronicle article — amen!

I also have a longer response.

I wish there was “teaching online” when I started teaching 30 years ago. Back then I was a military instructor and then a classroom teacher. Trainers and teachers were gauged largely by how much they knew, how well they explained, and how likeable they were.

I barely knew a thing about pedagogy or educational psychology. It was only after I left and pursued higher degrees that I realised that I had to become an educator.

My studies gave me labels for what I might have practiced blindly before, and highlighted gaps in what I knew. But it was only when I was a distance and online educator while I pursued a Masters in Educational Technology and then a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology that I learnt to put everything into practice.

So, yes, online teaching throws you deeper than into the deep end. But it also forces you to rethink what you know and do. It can make you a better teacher. Better still, it might transform you into an educator as you learn how to be a learner first.

The title of my reflection today might read like an oxymoron, but you would be surprised how many novice teachers and new professors do not distinguish the two.

What sparked this reminder? A tweet from Alec Couros.

Teaching (however it is conducted) does not guarantee learning (however it is measured). This does not discount the importance of good teaching; it emphasises how other factors influence learning.

Bearing this in mind, we might realise not to use teaching as a shield against change.

The danger of lectures...

If students are to learn, they must be actively and meaningfully involved.

Learning is not a spectator sport.

One active learning strategy is to get learners to peer teach.

To teach is the learn twice.

As teachers provide these learning opportunities to their students, they need to recognise that an expert’s knowledge and experience allows them to see how separate pieces fit together. Novices to the game do not.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Teaching is not learning and does not guarantee that learning happens. The first thing teachers forget is what it is like to struggle with learning. It takes empathy, humility, and an open mindset to unlearn that.

Recently I had the opportunity to provide my perspective on a policy and administrative design (PAD) of university courses. I call it a PAD because the pedagogy and learning design seemed secondary.

Consider two institutes of higher learning (IHLs). IHL A is more typical in that it offers 24 hours of class contact time over 12 weeks (i.e., 2-hour classes); IHL B offers 24 hours of class time over 6 weeks (i.e., a truncated semester with 4-hour classes).

Despite the stress place on learners in IHL B, its leaders rationalise that the number of teaching or contact hours from the truncated semester is effectively the same as a typical semester.

How? If you factor in public holidays, semester breaks, exams weeks, and other calendar interruptions, you might get similar numbers of contact time. If you design a curriculum on a spreadsheet, you might buy in to that argument.

Now consider some nuance by focusing on learning. Learning is like baking cookies. You might need to leave them in the oven for 15 minutes at 180°C. If you play the numbers game, you argue that you can bake the cookies in 7.5 minutes at 360°C.

However, you cannot bake cookies faster by simply increasing the temperature. You will burn them because rushing the physics affects the chemistry of baking.

Learning also takes time. Teaching might enable learning as does time allocated for learning. Teaching ability and time during and between classes are within the control of designers of courses. If we rely more on PAD and not on what research and practice tell us, we risk burning out our learners.

Students will still learn, but they will feel the heat of being rushed and overloaded. Assignments and assessments become even more dreaded deadlines (emphasis on dead). Left unchecked, the learning that happens, if any at all, becomes strategic and superficial instead of reflective and deep.

You need only take a few minutes to observe how kids and some young adults use their bags and other property to reserve tables in food courts or fast food joints. So I wonder if parents or schools have not taught kids to value their belongings.

I resumed my teaching semester at a local university recently. During lunch, an undergrad sharing my table left his iPhone X in his place. If he had done this anywhere else in the world, he would be an ex-iPhone owner.

Maybe I am just getting old and judgemental. But maybe I am right and should offer what I once taught were unnecessary life lessons.

Then again, maybe I do not need to teach anything for someone else to learn. Experiencing loss is a harsh but effective lesson.

Video source

This needs to be said: No one should assume that movies depict teachers and teaching accurately.

No one should learn from movie depictions of the same, except to critique said depictions. All that said, there are two truths about such representations:

  1. Movies often do not show how teachers decompress. This is mirrors life and is boring or ugly, so viewers seeking entertainment might reject it.
  2. The best teachers listen first, listen again, and listen some more, before offering anything of substance.

When I read this tweeted teaching tip, I sniggered and shuddered.

When I was a student teacher I learnt about black and whiteboard tips and strategies. I became a part-time teacher educator just one year into my full-time teaching and passed on the same tips. But I did not share anything about shaking hips.

Most student and beginning teachers seem to appreciate practical advice from those more experienced than themselves. But there are issues with when and how they learn these tips:

  • Tips like the board-erasing one are as much about professionalism as they are about image. Some teachers focus on the latter instead of the former.
  • Young teachers learn such tips and strategies at the beginning of their careers or jobs. The learning is not continuous because there is no continuous professional development.
  • The tips and strategies are contextual, but teachers are not always taught when and why. The tips and strategies might not be relevant in other contexts or they cease to be relevant over time.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2018 results of its Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

The Today article summarised some TALIS data.

Taken at face value, the sample of lower secondary school teachers in Singapore spent less time teaching but more time marking student work than their OECD counterparts.

So might the 2005 initiative to Teach Less, Learn More become Teach Less, Mark More now?

I jest. Here was another tweeted article on TALIS.

As I read both articles on survey findings, I wondered:

  1. How were “working hours” of the sample of lower secondary school teachers calculated?
  2. Did these hours include work done outside school, e.g., grading student work at home or at a Starbucks?

Why ask these questions? If the working hours were only based on official time tables and co-curricula commitments, then the figures did not capture the extent of work.

Even if we assume that there was a valid and reliable way of collecting outside school work across various OECD countries, how meaningful is an average for each country?

Consider how much more time a language teacher takes on grading and feedback than would a teacher who relies on online quizzes and scanned bubble sheets.

Consider how one teacher might be able to enjoy practically the whole of the June vacation while another has to chaperone students on an overseas trip, stay in touch with school leadership and parents, or prepare university admissions materials for graduating students during the same period.

I revisited my second question after reading both articles: Did these working hours include work done outside school?

The CNA article claimed that the working hours included “those spent working out of school” while the Today article did not. Both articles mentioned time spent marking and efforts to reduce administrative work. However, they did not stipulate whether this was marking and administration done in school or outside it.

Consider this anecdote from the Today article (I emphasised the key finding):

Four teachers teaching the lower secondary level, who spoke to TODAY on the condition of anonymity as they were not supposed to speak to the media, said that they did not feel their working hours have been reduced.

Most of their time is spent on administrative work, planning lessons as well as co-curricular activities and other school activities, they added.

Those interviewed said that they clock from 47 hours to more than 52 hours a week, taking into account the hours spent on some Saturdays due to co-curricular activities.

This did not clarify the hours of in-school work and outside school work. Both teachers and administrators probably did not see a need for such a distinction. But a data collector and analyser should. That is lesson number 1 on research.

Lesson 2 on research: When the quantitative and qualitative findings paint different pictures, we should give pause. Both might not wrong. Instead, both might be spotlights on a larger and more complex picture. We should embrace nuance instead of simplicity.

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