Very creative lecture!

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Teaching and Learning Essential Skills

Objective

When discussing the assumption that skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn, Brookfield (2006, p. 19) states that“…there will be very few standardized practices that help students across the board learn essential skills or knowledge. An approach that one student finds particularly useful or congenial may well be profoundly unsettling and confusing to the student sitting next to her.” These differences may be a result of different levels of intellectual development amongst students. In the first- and second-year courses I teach, many of my students do not have the right mindset in the classroom. Felder and Brent (2005, p. 65) describe the student mindset I witness as expecting their instructors to pose questions, provide the answers, and require these answers to be memorized and repeated on exams. The difference in student acceptance of different teaching practices could also be based on personal, social, or cultural beliefs.

Reflective

I agree that the methods of teaching essential skills such as communication, computer use, and numeracy are more effective for some students than others. However, I do not see the difference in student acceptance of teaching methods as extremely as Brookfield is making them out to be. I believe that many students initially lack the skills to learn when entering university. From my experience I have found that students are not aware that they need to purchase and actually read required textbooks to supplement the lesson material. I find that students like to simplify content into series of steps instead of thinking critically about solving a problem. Because of time constraints, I see students take the easiest route to completing their work which commonly results in incorrect work. It is important that as instructors we not only teach course content to our students but also teach them how to learn along the way.

Interpretive

Perhaps I do not see the difference in student acceptance of teaching methods because I do not regularly survey my class about their learning experiences. Would surveying my class really help though? Hammond (2008, p. 93) says that “[i]f teachers investigate the effects of their teaching on students’ learning, and if they read about what others have learned, they become sensitive to variation and more aware of what works for what purposes in what situations”. So surveying my class would be helpful, but so would researching about what other teachers have experienced when teaching essential skills. I could conduct this research by talking to my colleagues, reading blog entries online, and obtaining relevant journal articles. Talking to my colleagues is a very valuable resource since many of them are teaching in the same field as myself.

Decisional

David and Brown (2012, p. 1059) found an interesting way to teach essential skills, in their case statistical literacy. In order to define what a first-year statistics student needs to know they used the concept of critical thinking. I find this an interesting approach as opposed to other methods of teaching essential skills. A common approach I have experienced and teach is to follow a four-step process: explain why the skill is valuable, demonstrate the skill, have students use and apply the skill, evaluate students on their use of the skill. If I designed my computer business systems courses around critical thinking, I could move the demonstration and practice portions of the skills to online videos that students would be required to complete before class. I could then focus my energy on further enhancing their skills through exercises that foster critical thinking.

References

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

David, I., & Brown, J. A. (2012). Beyond statistical methods: teaching critical thinking to first-year university students. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 43(8), 1057-1065.

Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2005). Understanding Student Differences. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 57-72.

Hammond, L. D. (2008). Teacher Learning That Support Student Learning. Teaching For Intelligence 2, 91-100.

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University of Ottawa oh dear…

I came across the following article in response to a controversial event that was organized and swiftly cancelled at the University of Ottawa. The event in question was a racial awareness event organized by the student union where students were separated into two separate rooms. One room for Caucasians and one room for non-Caucasians. Seriously? Did they honestly think this was a good idea? Imagine if this event was proposed in the workplace. Wait…you shouldn’t have to because this would never happen.

I’m quite shocked that students would organize an event like this, but are they really to blame? Where in university education is ethics taught? Many programs do not require students to take an ethics course. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science and I didn’t have to take a course in ethics. I now teach in a business faculty and a course in ethics is not required by all programs. Look at all the corporate scandals that have been happening lately among companies such as Amazon, Nestle, and Volkswagen.

Students are simply not learning ethics and are even committing unethical acts during their studies and getting away with it. Acts such as photocopying textbooks, copying other students’ work for assignments, and sneaking electronic devices into exams are just some of the examples of unethical behaviour that students commit. Moreover, some instructors let these acts slide under the table due to the overwhelming amount of work required to report, prove, and prosecute students through administration. This is a serious problem that needs to be fixed both for the integrity of universities and for the success of corporate businesses.

 

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Responding to Resistance

Brookfield’s (2006, pg. 211-233) discussion suggests that before responding to student resistance to learning we first understand the resistance. One issue that I have recently discovered is a lack of clarity in my assignment instructions. I don’t tend to realize this until I start marking an assignment I have assigned and realize that my students have misunderstood the instructions. I ask students if they have questions about the assignments and I encourage them to e-mail me if they need clarification but I typically don’t receive any communication. I also notice that a significant portion of students are not handing in assignments.

Students may be resistant to asking for clarifications in-class because of fear of looking incompetent in front of their classmates. They may resist e-mailing me because I can personally identify them. Brookfield (2006, pg. 230) suggests that instructors distribute as much information as they can about the criteria, indicators, and grading policies for assignments. I should also not assume that silence means they understand the assignment. A survey following the first assignment in the class may serve as good information to use to improve future assignments in the remainder of the course. On searching for literature regarding assignment writing a came across the book A Strategic Guide To Technical Writing by Heather and Roger Graves. I’ll have to obtain a copy as it looks like it could benefit me and my students.

References

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Team Teaching

I have only experienced team teaching as a student once. A professor taught the theory portion of a mathematics course for the first half of the semester and his PhD student taught the application portion of the course for the second half. The process seemed very disjointed as I had to adjust to a different teaching style halfway through a course. The second time team teaching arose again was when discussions arose during a department meeting when discussing alternative methods for teaching our courses. The idea was that an instructor taught the theory portion of a course and then a member of our department taught the software application portion. Again, this same disjoint method I had previously experienced was apparent and I didn’t support it.

My misunderstandings of team teaching was made apparent upon reading Brookfield’s chapter regarding diversity in student learning. He regrets to inform us that “what often passes for team teaching is sometimes only an agreement amongst a group of colleagues to divide a course into several discrete and different segments, each of which is the sole responsibility of the team. This is sequenced solo teaching, not team teaching” (Brookfield, 2006, p. 159). To understanding the differences between sequenced solo teaching and team teaching, I’d like to draw your attention to the following Twitter post.

team_Twitter

The next time team teaching becomes a discussion point during a department meeting I will make sure I mention my findings and how this approach to team teaching can benefit ourselves and our students.

References

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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The Five Year Plan

When I started my undergraduate degree in chemistry, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduation. However, after one semester of studying I realized that I wanted to be a professor, specifically in mathematics. The idea of explaining a concept to a class, demonstrating it to them, and then evaluating their knowledge of the concept was fascinating to me. I ended up graduating with a degree in mathematics and computing science, which was very different to what I started studying in. When I began my Master’s degree, I was still fixed on the idea of teaching, but I was unsure how to get into the field. I was lucky enough to be approached during my studies by one of my professors in regards to teaching a class! This is how my teaching career began. I am now teaching in a full-time permanent position (in computer business systems as opposed to mathematics) but this is not the end of my career goals.

I would eventually like to transition into teaching mathematics and statistics for business students which I was able to do for a semester while another instructor was sick. While I’m waiting for this transition to take place I have been completing the Provincial Instructor Diploma to improve my teaching skills, knowledge, and attitudes. I will eventually begin a PhD in adult education, possibly in September next year. If there is any sort of delay starting the PhD I may also complete a Microsoft Office Specialist designation as it is related to the current field I am teaching in. So that’s my five year plan!

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Learning Styles & the Importance of Critical Self-Reflection

I am aware from PIDP 3250 – Instructional Strategies that learning styles are a myth. This TED Talk helped me understand this myth a bit better and made me question my teaching in regards to learning styles. I mainly teach my students how to use Microsoft Office to solve business problems. This process involves visual and kinesthetic learning. A common complaint I receive when teaching this course is that I lecture too much and don’t give enough hands-on time. The problem here is that learning software is not really a kinethistic process. Learning to type is kinethistic, but problem solving is largely visual. When students observe the problem solving process they see the step-by-step logic and reasoning in regards to solving the specific problem. In a computer software course students are very keen to jump into things and start clicking buttons, but much thought needs to be considered in this type of work as well.

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Assumptions of Skillful Teaching

Brookfield (2006, pg. 17) suggests three assumptions of what skillful teaching is:

  1. Doing whatever helps students learn;
  2. Adopting a critically reflective stance towards teaching practice;
  3. Being constantly aware of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions.

The first assumption is a bit troublesome to me. Students could learn by memorizing facts and following routine sets of instructions. Sure they are learning, but is it actually useful to them? If we are going to do whatever helps students learn it should align with the learning objectives of the course and the appropriate level of Bloom’s taxonomy.

In regards to the second assumption, Brookfield (2006, pg. 25) believes that skillful teaching is informed and to ensure this, critical reflection is a must. Critical reflection is an area of challenge for myself. Brookfield (2006, pg. 26) says that critical reflection involves looking through the eyes of our students and colleagues, reading educational literature, and reviewing our personal autobiographies. I find this a very useful method since we are viewing our teaching from all angles. I tend to view my teaching through the eyes of my students and my own experiences, but not necessarily through my colleagues’ eyes and I definitely don’t study any literature in regards to my teaching outside of the PIDP. This is something I will need to work on.

The third assumption appears to always be the case, but when I think about it more carefully, I realize that I am aware of how my students are experience my teaching, however I am not actually collecting any data outside of end of course evaluations. I am hesitant to give students the opportunity to vent about the course halfway through or even on a weekly basis, but perhaps I need to suck it up and try at least a halfway evaluation that I would create myself.

References

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Interpreting my Teaching Perspective Inventory

The Teaching Perspective Inventory (TPI) helps teachers collect their thoughts and summarize their ideas about teaching (http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/). My results are shown below.

tpi

The five columns are transmission, apprenticeship, developmental, nurturing, and social reform. My highest column is transmission. This definitely matches my personality, since I always want to take the optimal approach to solve a problem. It appears that I lack nurturing and social reform in my teaching, but since I mainly teach how to use computer software I don’t see this as a huge issue. Maybe I could be a little nicer to students…

My dominant perspectives are transmission, apprenticeship, and developmental. These perspectives align with my beliefs and the content of the material I teach. My beliefs, intentions, and actions are roughly equal across all perspectives except for transmission. This is interesting since transmission is my most dominant perspective. I can see that I’m definitely acting on what I believe in regards to my problem-solving approaches, however my teaching is not up to par. This is definitely something I am going to work on.

My intentions are also the lowest among all categories. This is difficult to comprehend. Perhaps my passion in the subject matter is lacking. Indeed, my background and passion is mathematics yet I am teaching how to use computer software. I definitely agree with all these results and it would be interesting to discuss these with other colleagues.

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Reflecting on Experiences

Objective

Brookfield (2006, p. 15) says that“[s]imply having experiences does not imply that they are reflected on, understood, or analyzed critically. Individual experiences can be distorted, self-fulfilling, unexamined, and constraining.” For example, a student may experience an incredible physics demonstration. The demonstration may show how light can reflect differently in various media and how a rainbow can be produced by reflecting light a certain way. The instructor may explain some theory of how these phenomena are occurring and the simplicity of the language may lead to students to believe they too understand the theory of optics. This distortion can lead to overconfidence amongst students when actually solving optics problems in physics. It is important as instructors that we make students aware the need to think carefully about what they are experiencing in class and how their experiences can enhance their learning in the classroom with the appropriate mindset.

Reflective

I agree with Brookfield’s statement and it makes me realize how I myself do not always reflect, understand, and analyze some of my experiences. If I was the student in the physics lab, described above, I would hold on to the positive experience and refrain from analyzing it in fear of discovering I know little about the theory. I tend to avoid thought in regards to positive experiences and dwell on the negative ones. In a New York Times article, Tugend (2012) reports that this is quite a common physical trait amongst people, since negative experiences require more thought than positive ones. So there are two issues I face when analyzing my experiences: I am not effectively reflecting on my experiences and I let emotions cloud my judgment.

Interpretive

How can analyzing negative experiences make me a better instructor? Finlay (2008, p. 2) recognizes that practitioners of reflective practice may find it difficult to approach negative experiences from a different perspective and analyze them. The author suggests that Gibb’s model for reflection, which originated in the late 1980s, is a good model to use for improving self-reflection. The model proposes that when faced with an experience, one should describe it, interpret their feelings in regards to it, evaluate it, analyze it, propose a conclusion for what could have been done, and come up with an action plan in the event that the experience arises again. I believe that I go through this process when thinking above a negative experience but clearly it is not effective. Perhaps I need to start documenting my thoughts.

Decisional

I believe that I can overcome my issues in regards to dealing with negative experiences by documenting my thoughts using the Gibb’s model of reflection and the focused conversation model. I have only used the focused conversation model in the PIDP program, but perhaps I need to apply it towards my teaching experiences and even my personal experiences. The journal entries I would create would be private to myself only. They would not be something I would post on a blog. For example, I had a very traumatic experience many years ago with a class that did not see eye-to-eye with my teaching style. I honestly did not know how to handle the class and I had no collegial support to guide me. It is hard to judge something in the past, but it may have been beneficial to myself if I wrote down my thoughts and reflected on them instead of half-thinking them through in my head. I am actually looking forward to my next negative experience in a weird sort of way, because I think I may be able to approach it differently and improve upon myself as an instructor and as a person in general.

References

Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Finlay, L. (2008). Reflecting on reflective practice. (Commissioned discussion paper) Retrieved from http://www.open.ac.uk/opencetl/files/opencetl/file/ecms/web-content/Finlay-(2008)-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf

Tugend, A. (2012, March 23). Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

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