What is good teaching?

I was reminded in a student-panel session last week that just maybe I have to deal with the ‘ethics’ committee before recording the views of volunteer students. Academics enrolled in a Foundations of Learning and Teaching course were there to listen to the ‘student perspective’ on what is good (and bad) learning and teaching at University.

Their views seem to be echoed online, as this High School student video, buried in YouTube talks about – so I’ll just use this instead.

  • Leading learning, not controlling the class.
  • Having Teachers that THEY can connect with
  • Teachers who realise (though action) that a student is a human being with a range of interests and ideas to share.
  • Allowing students to connect to the teacher without reinforcing the power teachers have over them.
  • Teachers who connect with the content and shows passion for what they are doing – and saying.
  • if they don’t take an interest, then why should you” – teachers faking interest is obvious!
  • Students know that good teachers have a DRAMATIC impact on positive learning experiences
  • They remember ‘good teachers’ because they recognise ‘good teaching experiences’ (and visa versa)
  • Good pupils hope to be remembered

The ‘student panel’ were critical of both the ENTRY and the EXIT events, but also positive about  well designed courses that take into account the ‘learning load’, motivation and learning preferences of the students.

A teacher writing on a blackboard.
Image via Wikipedi

They were giving the room really valuable feedback on instructional strategies that work or don’t – for them. To reinforce the fact that often highly knowledgeable teachers fail to engage students … another YouTube clip … time to spot the strategies here. This clip really engaged the cohort, and pulled together the student panel session and the need to consider much more than content when teaching.

Students highlighted over reliance on summative assessment to grade students. This was later reinforced when the cohort learned about the Solove Method of grading.

They further talked about the assumptions teachers make ” students are there because they are ‘into’ the subject” – when in fact they are curious, interested but not (yet) deeply engaged in it. This assumption leads to issues of engagement if the teachers does not do adequate ‘oil dipping’ for prior knowledge – or motivation.

I was quite amazed to learn that many teachers (higher education) won’t use ‘online learning’ such as a discussion forum, as they have a 1000 students and insufficient resources. I’ve heard that from teachers with 20 students before too. Building effective learning communities remains one of the most important professional development sessions that teachers can attend in my view.

I think that is is great question to ask students ‘what is a great teacher’ (class) or ‘how can teach you better’ (personal).

It was great to see how keen students were to give positive, constructive feedback in the session – and how seriously that is taken as a key element of curriculum renewal. Students are the mirror that we need to look into more often I think.

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They are just not that into you

http://teachpol.tcnj.edu/amer_pol_hist/fi/0000...
Image via Wikipedia

More ‘yeah buts’ … and more solutions.

“I’d love to give students more personal feedback, but it’s impossible! I have 900 students!” … “there’s no way I could deal with 900 students in on online discussion!” … “if I put my lecture online, half the students stop showing up!”. So, here we go, let’s find some solutions …

Student concerns about linear learning approaches

From the student perspective, they are often critical of the ‘entry’ event into learning – too much information, too little information, lack of consistency etc., and just as critical of the exit point – lack of feedback – “I put my heart into the essay and all I got was a grade, not even a comment!”, “I don’t know what I need to do to get a better grade?”,”why is this 18/20 not 19/20?”.

Technology as the middle ground

I have to think that what happens in the middle is best supported by a discourse community, and in fact attaining large numbers of participants is a great thing, not a bad one. We all know that group activities suffer the long-tail. In a group of 900 students, realistically 90 will be active voices. Not all of them will be ‘creators’ of conversations, some will join existing ones, some will be critics – the vast majority will be spectators – they will read lots, but often contribute almost nothing. They are however influenced by the behaviors and views of the group.

Renewing Motivation and Participation in learning

It all comes down to motivation – intrinsic or extrinsic, whether they are interested in deep or surface learning in the context of the topic. So in reality a teacher will not be dealing with 900 individual conversations, more like 10% of that, and not at the same time, nor do all posts and replies need addressing. The teacher is a mediator who threads together ideas that steer students in the right direction and occasionally ‘jump start’ the conversations. The value of participation is in the feedback and shared learning experiences of the community itself, not because that is where the ‘answer’ is.

Renewing Pedagogy

Imagine a year 12 HSC Advanced Mathematics class, with 24 students and 1 teacher. They are successful learners, deep knowledge seekers, intrinsically motivated and hungry to solve advanced problems to attain sufficient knowledge to ‘ace’ the exam. Now imagine the same class – but with 240 students and 10 experienced mathematicians. The class has a set of problems to solve and can do so whenever they feel like it. They can work with each other, or work alone – but whatever they do, they solve it in an open space online. Does each teacher need to spend as much time ‘teaching’, will more students mean less or more learning? Can students learn – without the presence of a teacher? Can they learn from more than one teacher after the end of the school day? Would they want to?

The point to me is that it is not a 900:1 ratio unless that is how you perceive it. Lectures could be more engaging on the personal level if some of the ideas the discourse community generates are addressed. If a lecture is merely a monologue, then I have to say, I probably would not show up either. What if a lecture was a hybrid – live conversation and online discussion? What if it was perfectly acceptable to do both. What if the lecture was ‘live blogged’ – and driving questions asked online and in the theatre.

Renewing Delivery

Web2.0 makes it easy to deliver a lecture online – live. Let’s say there is an hour ‘lecture’. Rather than present yet another killer PowerPoint (which is debate in itself), break up the time into delivery, challenge and reflection. Bring in the ‘online’ learners – allow them (and encourage them) to form sub-groups to answer questions and drive further discussion online later or at the time. Get a volunteer to ‘live blog’ the hour with a laptop.

Renewing Work Practices

The idea that there are tutorial discussions, lecture monologues and ‘online’ is not the preference of many students. By being flexible in delivery and support, we can accommodate students better. Sure it means changing the way, when and where we work, but not necessarily how long or how hard. Going ‘digital’ does not mean ‘more work’ at all – yet this is a continual argument to avoid change.

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Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency Part 3

Science Cafe Seminar @ 21st Century Kaitokudo
Image by skasuga via Flickr

The final part of this three part look at how we got here, looks at engagement.

In just a few years, Web2.0 has re-energised teachers to discuss and share ideas about learning frameworks on a global scale. Learning is changing on a global scale, the personal learning network is the learning management tool for many educators. These teachers see more than software and more than the internet. They see an opportunity to recreate learning frameworks, adapt technology and the re-engagement of students. The generosity of these people allows the rest of us to understand how they are doing it, and to me, these people demonstrate some common traits.

How effective 21st Century teachers tap into student interest.

  • Creativity: Cognitive skills applied to creating and making using technology – that the activity allows interest driven opportunities to remix, remake and construct understanding by ‘doing’.
  • Curiosity: Enquiry approaches, not knowing all the facts and not needing to have all the answers. Encouraging students to ask their ‘own’ questions is more important than answering the teachers’.
  • Consideration: How students learn using technology. How they collaborate, what it means to be a global citizen and develop an ePortfolio to build a positive digital reputation as a life long learner. Preparation for examination and assessment, balanced with our responsibility to adequately prepare novices to become life long learners.
  • Consistency: Establishing pedagogical ‘norms’ that allow students to learn inside frameworks that support learners, using relevant language, protocols and mediation.

Insistence that a teacher has to include ICT in an assessment task is just a bad idea if they are not able to do it. It doesn’t matter if the school is instructional based, inquiry based, under or well resourced. If schools are going to use the Internet, and offer students access to information and services on it – then these are criteria in which they can assess their learning frameworks. We simply need to admit that might have to start again, to accept that building planes in the sky is not working. We may need to accept that we are no longer able to teach effectively with ICTs until we re-evaluate how we use them in the 21st Century Context.

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Leadership 2.0

I listened this week to people talking again about the ‘skills’ students need as 21st Century Learners. They spoke of their frustration that their community leaders didn’t ‘get it’. This made me think about the polorisation they were discussing; advocates talk of media literacy and collaboration while many schools focus on ‘skills’ that deliver the current measure of attainment – examinations. So what makes a ‘great’ leader?

picture-31Firslty I think they demonstrate an understanding that‘skills’ are a continuum that ranges from ‘reproductive’ to ‘productive’. Reproductive requires students to repeat a set performance to required standard. Productive requires students to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations that may be unique in that context. While technology that is powering social media and connected learning makes productive not just possible, but easy – we still have to recognise that to do so they need reproductive skills to be learned and practiced – and curriculum leaders that can understand that relationship – not just do as they are told – they have to know it.

In this regard I don’t support the ‘either or’ approach to learning. I get a chill when people talk about a ‘model’. We live in times where schools have to take new risks and media literate curriculum leaders need to be installed to  inspire, advocate and bring new ideas to what has been essentially a reproductive approach to learning. Chris Lehmann leads by doing – and the culture that he creates fuels the wider community. You have to ask – does yours? if not, what can you do about that?

Your childs curriculum leader should be talking to parents and staff about

  • Students interpreting situations;
  • Calling up knowledge of strategies and procedures to solve problems;
  • Students planning their responses – setting their own goals and asking their own questions;
  • Students performing – delivering on the continuum – demonstrating collaboration, social sensitivity, fluidity – whatever may be characteristics of skilled performance identified.

If they are not creating opportunities to talk about these things with parents and staff – then don’t be suprised if little changes in anything they ‘control’. We need to design learning better and deliver reproductive skills by teachers who do that well, and pass productive skill based activities to others who are more media literate and understand how to leverage Web2.0 technologies. We don’t need to be ‘either or’ or ‘model’ something that has worked in the past, in another context. That is a huge risk and huge strain on everyone. We need people who can assess risks, take a change, but not be polarized or paraluysed by their decisions. “Risk recovery is more important that failure avoidance” as the guy from Pixar says. PBL is not a panacea for learning in the 21st Century any more than technology, the internet or laptops are. It’s the degree to which the curriculum leader can understand and mange students on the skills continuum.

Skilled curriculum leaders are using frameworks:

  • to allow self-instruction;
  • intensive reproductive learning workshops;
  • workplace and authentic experiences to apply productive learning.
2nd half of 14th century
Image via Wikipedia

They must be talking clearly about the limitations of resource-based learning and the benefits of embedding flexibility in the programme of study. The must place value on the preparation of materials for resource based learning and offer flexible delivery options. For example – discipline intensive workshops, online self-exploration, and practical constructive.

Students need to select how best to learn – and not be placed into ‘either or’ situations, or no choice at all. I don’t think one teacher should be pressuring another is a productive use of time. They should want to do it, and understand why – because of the leadership. You simply don’t need ‘everyone’ – but you do need to elevate people who do amazing things with technology and renewed pedagogy to positions where they can influence. Right now, we still appoint people on time served and qualifications, and that is no longer a valid indicator of leadership ability.

I sympathise with the comments I listened to this week. Change in teachers, or even in groups of teachers – must be recognised, valued and enriched. In 2009, though the number of teachers who have extended their own continuum is growing, sadly the furstrations I am hearing have changed little in the last few years. How do we infuse curriculum leaders? How do we break the glass ceiling? How do we get then to authenitcally join the conversation?.

I think this is a powerful conversation we need to have again and again this year.

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