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Posts Tagged ‘teaching

It was World Teacher’s Day on 5 October, so EthicsInBricks shared this:

The late Feynman’s quote was a masterful way of saying that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. This wisdom applies not just to teachers but to students as well.

Some teachers might know this strategy as peer teaching. It is a step above group discussion because it is a structured method of getting students to teach each other. But teachers may not understand why this strategy works.

Before a student can teach something they have to get the basics right. In trying to teach something, they might discover what they do not know or understand. This is called identifying gaps.

As they teach one another, learners will likely use language and examples that are more relatable. These might not be professionally or pedagogically sound, but they get the message across.

Then there is the transfer of the locus of control. When teaching a peer, each student has the pressure or responsibility to share information accurately.

But a facilitator of learning should not leave the process there. Peer teaching can also include the evaluation of learning. Here a facilitator finds out if students can apply what they think they know, so s/he might issue a performative challenge, e.g., provide problem scenarios that are solved by role play. 

The same facilitator should also consolidate learning. This is an effort to see it learners are in the same place and pace, i.e., have they attempted and attained a particular outcome or standard. The facilitator might conduct round-robin discussions or a whole class discussion to determine this.

One of the best ways to learn is to peer teach it. But only if peer teaching is conducted fully and professionally. 

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I could not have said this any better, so I am sharing what a fellow educator said about the pointless dichotomy of in-person vs online lessons.

The misplaced argument misses the larger point — the design of lessons and how they are facilitated. The debate also distracts from an opportunity to rethink what online teaching entails.

Teaching online might not look like you are teaching IN-PERSON, you are still teaching A PERSON. Very likely a lot of persons. And by this I do not mean mass lectures.

No, teaching online is reaching learners where they are and taking advantage of the contexts they are in. This means courses that are not only pedagogically sound, but also driven by empathy. And that starts with learning to teach a person.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Earlier this week, I stayed back after a Zoom-based lesson so that my students — pre- and in-service teachers — could ask questions or discuss ideas. 

The Q&A session lasted almost as long as our synchronous meeting (1.5h). Near the end of that session, I floated one idea for redesigning the next run of lessons.

My current design divided each 3h class into two parts: A 1.5h asynchronous and scaffolded-independent learning session followed by a 1.5h synchronous meeting. I was toying with the idea of switching to a 1h asynchronous and 2h synchronous design. My rationale: To provide more synchronous time for peer teaching and discussion.

The learners who stayed behind surprised me. They said that they would not mind doing the asynchronous work and follow that up with a full 3h synchronous meeting. 

I was against going beyond the 3h-per-lesson design. Why?

The syllabus is a contract and each class is supposed to last 3h. I am not ignoring the fact that there is much preparation and follow-up for each class for both my learners and me. But if I take liberties to extend class time, be it asynchronous preparation, synchronous interaction, or both, where does it end?

Keeping to agreed upon class durations is a discipline. It might have developed in conventional teaching, but it should also extend online particularly for synchronous sessions.

Extending lesson times beyond what is agreed upon upsets the work-life balance for pre- and in-service teachers. It establishes a wrong habit and expectation, i.e., teachers should just put their heads down and bear with it. This is like how teachers already sacrifice weekends to grade work and plan lessons.

I am also a firm believer that work expands to fit the time given. Within reasonable conditions, I can facilitate the learning of, say, three key practices, within either 1h or 3h. If I can do this in 1h, why do it in 3h?

Finally, I wish to model better expectations and lesson designs. One expectation is that learners need to be more independent and not rely on spoon-feeding or face time. This is why I set tasks to be attempted asynchronously. These tasks are designed to help learners identify knowledge gaps so they can fill them in when we meet synchronously. They must learn to invest in more independent study while managing their time-on-task.

My overall lesson design is particularly relevant to adult learners. This is even more important if the learners are teachers because teachers tend to teach the way they are taught. If they are not exposed to alternative ways of teaching, they will rely on uncritical or outdated approaches. I need to model other viable, relevant, and effective strategies.

One critical practice of facilitating online learning is monitoring learners and learning. If online facilitators do not know where their students are, how are they supposed to meet them there?

I use Padlet and Google Docs as staples. Both provide me with alerts so that I can take actions if necessary.

Screenshot of Padlet banner alerts in macOS.

In the case of Padlet, I get pop-up banner alerts in the macOS Notification Centre (see image above). This is because I have given Google Chrome permission to monitor Padlet updates and send me alerts.

In the case of Google Docs, I refrain from getting alerts every time someone accesses or edits their document. There would be too many notifications I went this way. 

Screenshot of Google Docs list in GDrive. The "last modified" dates indicate if students have opened and edited their assigned documents.

Instead, I visit the folder which holds the documents of individuals or groups, and I look for changes to the “last modified” date/time. The arrows in the screenshot above indicate students whose documents have not been opened by them. This is how I know who has attempted the assigned work.

Both these forms of coarse monitoring give me a sense of the effort that my students are putting into their work. In a normal classroom, I can gauge this by observing them. I can also do the same during a synchronous online session.

But these online tools allow me to monitor behaviours outside a ‘live’ session. It might help to think of this as knowing who is doing their homework or who is putting in the effort to learn. Such monitoring is not oppressive to my students nor does it take a disproportionate amount of effort from me. What is not good about that?

This tweet and its reply succinctly captures one conversation on how universities favour administrators over members like teaching faculty. If you follow the tweeter as I do, you know the pain that shaped the words.

If you were fair-minded, you might argue that continuity is important as an administrator or policymaker. They need to be around long enough to see things through, so “adjuctification” does not make sense.

The same principle applies to those who teach and facilitate courses. These faculty members are not street magicians that do quick tricks for a buck. As an adjunct who was once a department head at a university, I see both sides but argue more for the teaching faculty who need time to design, test, and revise their efforts.

If the argument is that time nurtures experience, then the same could be said for educators. Adjuncts, in particular, need time to imbibe or create the culture of an institution.

If the powers-that-be treat educators like hucksters, you will likely get parasites who are adept at taking quick but harmful bites. They will take and not give back.

Thankfully, not all institutions treat their full and part-time teaching staff poorly. I associate myself with one that provides regular professional development, dialogue, and appreciation events. It has a very bureaucratic administration, but it is staffed with enough people who care.

I do not think that administrators should be “adjunctified” because the good ones need to steer long term policies through. The even better ones also know that administration is supposed to support university functions and not dictate it.

Teaching and facilitating learning are core social functions of a university. Administrators need to support that. They can start by treating full-time teaching faculty and adjuncts right.

SFT is short for student feedback on teaching. There is some variant of this initialism in practically every higher education course.

The intent of SFTs is the same: It is supposed to let the instructor know what they did well and what areas need improvement. However, they end up as administrative tools for ranking instructors and are often tied to annual appraisals.

The teaching staff might get the summary results so late, e.g., the following semester, that they cannot remediate. As a result, some teaching faculty game the process to raise their scores while doing the bare minimum to stay employed.

Using SFTs alone to gauge the quality of a course is like relying on just one witness to a traffic accident. It is not reliable. It might not even be valid if the questions do are not aligned to the design and conduct of the course.

Instead, teaching quality needs to be triangulated with multiple methods, e.g., observations, artefact analysis, informal polling of students, critical reflection.

The tweet above provides examples of the latter two from my list. It also indicates why SFTs might not even be necessary — passionate educators are constantly sensing and changing in order to maximise learning.

The next tweet highlights a principle that administrators need to adopt when implementing multi-pronged methods. Trying to gauge good teaching is complicated because it is multi-faceted and layered.

You cannot rely only on SFTs which are essentially self-reporting exit surveys. This is like relying on one frame of a video. How do you know that the snapshot is a representative thumbnail of the whole video? At best, SFTs offer a shaky snapshot. Multiple methods are complicated, but they provide a more representative view of the video.

You can imagine the number of likes and retweets this tweet got/will get without clicking through to see its stats. But I see that sentiment arising from an uncritical and nostalgic view of teaching. 

The same empty feeling can happen when teaching in person. The teacher might not be reaching her students. The lesson might be at the end of the day in a hot and humid classroom. The class might have an unfortunate mix students who are uninterested.

My point is not that online teaching is perfect. It is that we often romanticise classroom-based teaching even though it has its own set of complex problems. Describing online teaching as faceless or lonely is an oversimplification of what teaching is. It also focuses on the teaching instead of what it more important — the learning.

Teaching should lead to learning. However, teaching does not guarantee learning just like speaking does not ensure that someone else is listening. And even if they have listened, this does not mean they act on it. 

Learning requires change as evidenced by action. A change in understanding, attitude, or belief is not obvious until externalised. Such change is not obvious whether online or off. That lack of sense of change is can contribute to an empty feeling of teaching.

If that is the case, I say we do not reduce teaching to lecturing to empty seats or blanked screens. We might instead embrace nuance and complexity by seeking evidence of learning by asking ourselves:

  • Did the session matter?
  • How do we know or by what measure?
  • How might we ensure that it was impactful?

Consider this for an axiom: Not everything that can be taught is worth learning.

Consider the advertisement above which contained examples of such teaching. At best, this is an old April Fool’s joke. At worst, someone was actually serious about it (it is the US after all).

Now consider something more serious. What are we teaching now that is not as ridiculous but also not worth learning? What else could we be teaching with precious curriculum time?

I have said it before and I will say it again: I do not deliver learning.

Far better and wiser people have said it too. Do not take my word for it, consider theirs.

This honest tweet reply to the original tweeted question reminded me of something.

I wonder if laypeople know how unprepared most university faculty are to teach. If they found out, what might they say? Given how much a university education costs, what might they demand?

This is one major reason why I choose to educate teachers (pre and inservice) and university faculty. They are the toughest customers because they are adults who have their own experiences, baggage, and opinions. But they all need to learn how to teach and educate.

What qualifies me to educate teachers? I have a post-graduate diploma in secondary education. I also have a Masters degree and a doctorate in a field that combines educational psychology, pedagogy, instructional design, and technology. More details near the bottom of this page.

This year also marks my 32nd year in training and education. If this time has taught me anything, it is that the more I think I know, the less I actually do. So I learn constantly.

I have learnt not to lecture and spoon-feed. Instead I shepherd. And I know where the best spots are to explore, eat, and expand.


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