Mismatches between instructors and students

My second journal entry is a reflection of the statement that “problems…arise when there is a mismatch between the role or style of the teacher and the learning stage of participants” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 118). I will address questions that are objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional with respect to this quote.

Objective

At my university, I teach a microcomputer applications course that provides detailed instruction in the use of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. This is a first year course with no prerequisites, resulting in a broad range of learners to teach. I have learnt from the above quote that an identification as to which of the four learning stages (dependent, interested, involved, self-directed) my students are in can assist me in identifying my role as their instructor.

What caught my attention from this quote, and more specifically, the application of the staged self-direction model to a course by Grow (1991), is that my role as an instructor is variable throughout the semester. I will illustrate this variance with a description of the three weeks of class time I spend teaching Microsoft Excel. The first week is spent introducing the basics of the software through lectures and demonstrations. The students have time to practice exercises in class to ensure they understand the material and to receive immediate corrections from me about their work. This first class is catered towards dependent and interested learners and I am an expert and motivator in the subject matter. The second week of Excel introduces the intermediate material of formulas and functions. Now the class is aimed toward interested and involved learners and I have taken on the additional role of a facilitator. Part of my facilitating role is involving the class in a team exercise to construct a budget worksheet as an application of formulas and functions in Excel. The final week is spent on advanced functions which requires a hands-on experience to fully understand and appreciate the material. At this point in the course module on Excel, I am a motivator and facilitator. Similar to the second week, the class is aimed towards interested and involved learners.

Reflective

I have realized that my teaching is mainly aimed towards interested and involved learners. I must not forget about the dependent and self-directed learners in my class. The dependent learners fall behind during the intermediate material, specifically formulas and functions in Excel. This requires me to lecture and drill material that we covered in the previous week specifically for these students. I also encourage more experienced students to team up with less experienced students during in class exercises. This benefits the weaker students as guidance from a classmate can sometimes be less intimidating than that of an instructor. For the experienced student, demonstrating their knowledge to a peer can help consolidate their learning. The self-directed learners in my classes are the students that are “…quite experienced with technology use, [and] agile with navigation of technology applications (Blue & Tirotta, 2011). I motivate these students with independent projects and discovery learning. I believe one of the best methods of learning computer applications is to experiment and “play” with the software.

Interpretive

My “Aha!” moment was that this quote describes the biggest challenge I face in my classroom, namely, mismatches between my roles and my students’ learning stages. This is such a big issue in my department that I was asked several questions about how I deal with this challenge during my job interview for my instructor position. Specifically, these questions dealt with issues such as helping students struggling with the course material and falling behind in class, motivating experienced students with interesting and challenging activities, and providing relevant, real-world examples and experiences for the class to encourage learning.

This quote has changed my mind about my role in classroom. I have always been aware of the students’ learning stages, but have not always been aware of my role. In a hands-on, highly structured course, such as a microcomputer applications course, it is easy to become focused on the interested and involved learners and lose sight of the dependent and self-directed students in the class. I need to be aware of my instructional role in the microcomputer applications course I teach as well as the management information systems course and any future courses that I teach.

A key insight I have as a result of this quote is that my classroom challenges are not unique to a computer technology learning environment. The same mismatches of instructor roles and learner stages could occur in a mathematics, English, or social sciences class. Furthermore, these mismatches are not always a result of the subject taught or technology used. Problems can occur due to age, gender, cultural, or ethnic factors and there is much research investigating strategies to facilitate independence in student learning. One study by Warring (2010) at a polytechnic in New Zealand aimed to improve independent learning in Chinese international students completing business degrees. The study determined that independence in learning by the end of the students’ degree had not been achieved. In addition, in “comparison to programme beginning, by programme end, students had greater confidence, believed they had greater responsibility for learning but had lower motivation” (Warring, 2010, p. 391). These conclusions are particularly alarming to me as I teach in a mainly Chinese community. I would not want my students to have these qualities on completion of their credentials.

Decisional

I have to continue to focus my attention on students in the dependent learning stage by giving them one-on-one time in class when possible and encouraging them to come to my office hours for additional help. Moreover, I am providing more review material on my course management site for students who need the extra practice and are not being trained enough with textbook and in-class exercises. I also have to not forget the self-directed learners in the class. Challenging problems and real-world exercises can really help these top students stay motivated and enjoy being in the class. Finally, I need to take into account the cultural and ethnic differences among my students. I recently marked a class of midterms that involved short answer responses to various questions and the results were very poor. The students had the language ability, but many were not aware of the expectations of writing during exams. A document comprising of short answer responses of varying quality to a single question could provide some insight to students about how they should be writing during exams. This reflection has raised my awareness of where mismatches between instructors and students come from and has provided me with insight into how I can improve the learning environment for my students.

References

Blue, E., & Tirotta, R. (2011). The benefits & drawbacks of integrating cloud computing and interactive whiteboards in teacher preparation. TechTrends, 55(3), 31-39.

Grow, G. (1991). Teaching learners to be self-directed: A stage approach. Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 125-149.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Warring, S. (2010). Facilitating independence amongst Chinese international students completing a Bachelor of Applied Business Studies Degree. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(4), 379-392.

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About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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