My Authentic Facilitating Other

As I take more classes on pedagogy and read more about education in academia, I find myself in favor of the notion of teacher as a facilitator. Whenever I look back to past years, I find lecture-based classes the worst class experience I have ever had. On the other hand, the most enjoyable and memorable classes to me are those in which the teacher spends less time on talking and more time on educational activities. Rarely were there exceptional lecture-based classes that I really enjoyed as a result of my personal interest in the topics. At least in my field, which is environmental planning, design, and construction, many aspects of traditional lecture-based classes are entirely redundant. As a result, I find both useful and redundant takeaways from readings on an authentic teaching self.

This week, I am going to have my first independent teaching experience at Virginia Tech, and my plan for the week includes zero minutes of lecturing. Rather, students are free to use the resources whenever they need them. Interestingly, I find similarities between my plan and Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills”. For example, I have organized each class hour into three segments, each including a 20-minute activity. These activities include independent learning by watching video tutorials, independent working on a CAD project, and watching a video conference as a group. To encourage communication between students, I have considered peer teaching, group projects, and group conversations using ICT in the following sessions. While I agree with Fowler in many aspects, I somehow disagree when she says “ALWAYS engage with your students; do not do something to them, or for them, or at them.”

I don’t think that a good class should necessarily have a teacher who, as Fowler says, always engages with students or, as Deel says, is obsessed with how he/she is read as a “SELF”. Although teacher’s characteristics are to some extent important, a good class, in my view, is the one in which authentic teaching is replaced with authentic learning. Comparing classroom with a movie, I think teacher’s role is being changed from an actor to a director. Teachers are becoming less visible in the classroom and their role is taken more and more by media and virtual content. Teachers are now behind the scene of guest lectures, group discussions, and peer assessments. All in all, I think teachers should be more obsessed with the course objectives and learning outcomes and less on their own personal expression. Again, this is my view as a graduate student in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. How much do you think teacher’s personality affects learning outcomes?

Being your Authentic Teaching Self

As someone that is endeavoring to go into the student affairs side of higher education, I won’t really be engaging students in the traditional style of “in-classroom” learning as often as others in this particular class. However, I have had the opportunity to engage Resident Advisors in a leadership building class, where we discuss challenges they face as a first year RA working with their residents.

When I think about my personality, I consider myself more of a casual and laid back person and I used that style while facilitating this class on a weekly basis. As my first time in this type of setting as the facilitator, I never thought about being anything else but myself going into the class, so this idea of posturing that Professor Fowler brings up was never a thought that crossed my mind. I can see how this could be something that a new professor may struggle with as teaching does not always come natural to everyone and can be something that needs to be developed over time with practice.

The Freire reference about teaching being directive and as a teacher you aren’t on the same playing field as your students I think helps a new professor start to gain the confidence that they are the instructor and the tone of the class is started with them. One the same note, I think that thought also goes hand in had with the banking theory concept, which should be balanced if you are truly to recognize your students as both learners and teachers in various moments.

In my class, we always started off asking each RA how their week was and if there were any issues that arose, we allowed other RAs in the class to offer tips and suggestions on how to potentially handle the situations. Then as the instructor, I can offer additional input if needed. This helped to create an environment where all thoughts and opinions felt valued and considered.

Difficult Conversations: Report from CHEP

Members of the Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence partnered with the Academy of Teaching Excellence to host a packed session on facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom at last week’s Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy. The write-up is below: Standing room only for the @VT_GrATE panel discussion on having difficult conversations in the classroom! @VTCIDER …

Goal-Oriented Assessment

With the existing transition from traditional education inspired by the notion of standardization toward more recent approaches, there is an emphasis on treating students as individuals. Taking this individualist approach seems necessary in both teaching the course content and assessing the student work. In “The Puzzle of Motivation” Pink discussed the trio of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the most important aspects of self-actualization, which is somehow missing in today’s world of business and education. Also, Elbow (1993) discussed a number of problems associated with rank-based assessments and the benefits of qualitative evaluating methods. The contemporary way of looking at education and the two arguments made by Pink and Elbow call for a need for individual goal-oriented assessment plans. In the context of prevalent practice in higher education, such interrelated assessment methods do not typically take place. The common method is that students take a number of different core and elective courses, with each course having a separate assessment method. Although there are some levels of autonomy in selecting the elective course, the existing assessment methods do not really encourage autonomy, mastery, and any purpose other than passing the course and moving to the next semester. Nor is there a goal-oriented assessment attached to a self-development plan based on the gradual mastery of the curricular content. I think a major takeaway from the Pink and Elbow’s argument for contemporary pedagogical practices is that beyond base-line assessment techniques, instructors need to work with students to develop an individual self-development plan. Then, based on a primarily qualitative assessment method, instructors should help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and move toward their self-set goals. Pursuing a set of goals that have personal meanings while receiving proper feedback oriented toward personal achievement could increase intrinsic motivation and lead to student success (Cherry, 2017).

References:

  • Cherry, K. (2017). Intrinsic motivation. (Blog Post)
  • Elbow, P. (1993). Ranking, evaluating, and liking: Sorting out three forms of judgment. College English55(2), 187-206.
  • Pink, D. (2009) The Puzzle of Motivation. (YouTube Video)

Issues with Grading

When your a kid, your parents tell you that if you want to be successful then you need to go to school and get “good grades”. The interesting thing is that, by simply “getting good grades”, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are actually learning and retaining anything. All you’re doing is showing on paper that you can read over some index cards a few hundred times to memorize the answers to a test, take the test and potentially get a passing grade to take back to mom and dad. Mom and dad then take that passing grade and put it up on the fridge and tell their child, that they’re going to be succesful if they keep that up.

While that may very well be true, the child most likely will forget what they’ve memorized from that index card in about a week because then the class will be onto another topic that will require them to probably do the same thing with another set of index cards. The cycle keeps repeating itself in a never-ending process.

Kohn’s reading was intersting as it highlighted the effects of grading, that it diminishes students’ interests in whatever they’re learning, create’s a preference for the easiest possible task and reduces the quality of student’s thinking. I would agree with these points, because as I reflect on my educational experiences, I absolutely looked for the shortest readings, and studied only the information that I knew for sure was going to be on the test.

The issue with this, is that I limited myself to only the information that I needed at the moment verses not taking the time to really understand the concepts fully. As I have gotten older and have started to understand this idea a little better, I do believe that professors should find creative ways to encourage their students to not soley focus on the grades they might or might not get and focus on really understanding what they’re in class learning.

What has been really encouraging for me is taking a class this semester focused on the issues of college pedagogy where we have talked about this very issue. We are talking about the issue of grading and the types of effects that it has on students. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a fully thought out way to combat this issue, however I think by continuing these conversations, we should be able to get there eventually.

 

Education Against Inspiration

Bob Marley (1945–1981) was an international musical icon who once said: “We don’t have education, we have inspiration; if I was educated I would be a damn fool.” Marley’s quote somehow summarizes Langer’s discussion on the need for maintaining a mindful versus a mindless state of learning. Langer (2000) refers to five psychological states (e.g., openness to novelty) that relate to the same concept: mindfulness. However, the history of education shows that much of human education has been based on mindlessness and a lack of dynamism. There is no wonder why Orwell (1903-1950) doubted whether classical education could be carried out without corporal punishment. Thomas and Brown (2011) referred to the mechanistic view of conventional methods, which are based on standardization, and called for a need for an organic transformation to adapt to the dynamics of a new world.

Jean Piaget (1896–1980), is known as the first psychologist who systematically studied human cognitive development (McLeod, 2015). His constructivist views had profound impacts on the contemporary theories of education and the critical role of experiences (interactions with the environment) in children’s learning. Piaget emphasized that the goal of education is not to make conformists by increasing the amount of their knowledge. Rather, education should make creators and inventors by providing opportunities for students. Accordingly, Thomas and Brown (2011) referred to the obsoleteness of memorization and emphasized the need for the usability of course content and its connection with the real environment. This forced memorization of isolated information and the lack of engagement with the material on a deep level seems to play a role in students’ dislike of conventional education.

Thomas and Brown (2011) discussed that learning through play and imagination is a way to engage students with the constantly changing world. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of proper technological infrastructure to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real-world experiences. Langer (2000) put a heavier emphasis on teaching methods and questioned the prevailing approaches to teaching, such as unconditional acceptance, lack of openness, and the value of overlearning, as the cause of mindless education. In general, new approaches to education seem to commonly insist on inspiration as an important goal of education and the need for an organic connection with real-world experiences. As John Dewey (1859-1952) said: “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living”.

References:

  • Langer, E. J. (2000). Mindful learning. Current directions in psychological science, 9(6), 220-223.
  • McLeod, S. (2015) Jean Piaget. Retrieved from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html
  • Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (Vol. 219). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

Game of Phones

In my secondary and higher education, I had a hard time in lecture-based courses. Not so much with grades because I could read the material myself and understand it as if I paid attention in class, but my problems begin with attention. Like I said, I could read the material, as most classes had assigned … Continue reading Game of Phones

A Prison or A Democracy?

A recent American Psychological Association report alarms about sharp rises in serious mental health problems on campus. Depression and anxiety, as the most common mental disorders, are typically associated with eating disorders, drug abuse, and self-injury in the U.S. universities (Eiser, 2011). In “Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education” Gray (2018) refers to the fact that students normally have no or little power in creating the rules that they are forced to follow. Also, little differences in shallow accomplishments (e.g., an A versus a B) could lead to a great sense of shame, intense anxiety and fear in a classroom, which more or less works like a real society.

Not only are traditional lectures and classroom settings boring, politically speaking, they are comparable with a monarchy in which the ruler may or may not follow a written constitution. The way a classroom is governed typically represents the broader patterns of the governance of its context. Thus, there is no surprise that in more democratized countries, students gain a little more power. Because we spend so many years in school and university, shaping a small scale monarchy in classroom impairs the quality of student life by creating perpetual, toxic anxiety (Lee, 2015) and making a prison out of school. Transforming this monarchy to a democracy may address the aforementioned issues of mental health, and better prepare students for the future.

Traditional lectures are the legacy of our ancestors who had no medium other than their tongue to deliver the course content, and no means other than standard exams to assess student achievement. The legacy, which persists in the form of today’s crowded classrooms with a single source of information, is somehow responsible for killing students’ creativity, motivation, and critical thinking, especially at younger ages. With a decrease in these positive student characteristics, there is an increase in the lack of interest, sense of forced education, and anxiety. There are national initiatives, such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, that address mental health crisis on campus. However, except in pioneering institutions, there seems to be a general lack of interest in planning for and integrating new approaches to education and technology to help address life quality issues and to prepare students for the complexities of the 21st century. Oltermann (2016) described ESBC, a school in Germany, as a prototype of such efforts with the mission of re-inventing “school” based on free learning and bottom-up decision making. In ESBC student work is not graded until the age of 15. The school fully abandoned lecture-style instructions and timetables. Instead, the teachers let their students decide what to learn and when to take an exam. Due to ESBC’s success, more schools in Germany are now adopting the free-learning methodology.

Despite the fact that a great amount of flexibility and options could be offered to students, discipline is commonly enforced by required contents and schedules in passive education systems. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and pioneering institutions, such as ESBC, call for the democratization of the classroom by transferring the power of decision making from teachers to students. There is evidence that moving toward this power transfer by planning for flexibility and the proper use of technology prepares students for the future life, improves their motivation, retention rate, communication abilities, and helps them learn at their own pace (Cox, 2017). The ESBC experience showed that this change in mission and strategies, which is not necessarily expensive, improves students’ health and quality of life.

References:

1 2