Connecting with Students in the Online Classroom

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Bowen (2012) states, “Teaching is about making connections, and the first thing we need to do is connect with our students. Relevance and credibility analogies are critical for good teaching; being unable to understand a fundamental premise of your students’ lives will make it harder for you to teach and to relate to them . . . If you do not have both LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, if you do not tweet or blog (or know that a tweet is like a Facebook status update), if you do not routinely use iTunes or YouTube, if you do not know how to share photos on Flickr, Snapfish, or Picasa, then you have an immediate credibility problem with your students” (p 30).

As an instructor of an online nursing course, I encounter many unique challenges, one of which is how to connect in a meaningful way with my students. Will engaging more actively in social networking circles and online technologies increase my relevance and credibility with students? If yes, which ones should I be engaging with and how best should these be used? And if no, what should I be doing to ensure better connectedness with my online students?

It turns out that for online students, knowing who you are as an instructor may not really matter. Researchers, Kelly and Sheridan (2010), interviewed 65 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in online courses in 2 large universities in the American Midwest and found that “(b)eing able to see or hear the instructor received surprisingly low ratings relative to some of the other indicators in the study. Being provided with a video of the instructor had the fourth lowest mean rating across the 64 close-ended items. Being provided with a website containing information about the instructor had the lowest mean rating across the items, suggesting that these methods of enabling students to get to know the instructor were of relatively little value to the students” (p 776).

In 2012, Orso and Doolittle asked students in their college to list 3 characteristics of an outstanding online teacher. From the 624 responses they received they found that only 18% found that the instructor’s personal information was important and less than 10 % found that other factors such as the instructor’s knowledge, technical competence and creativity were important.

Conversely, Orso and Doolittle (2012) found “communication/availability and feedback as the two primary characteristics that the students found important in their online courses. Students wanted frequent, timely communication and substantive feedback on their assignments” (para 4).

This is echoed by Kennedy (2015) who writes in her blog post that “(o)nline students, physically separated from the instructor and classmates, have a deep need for input, feedback, and attention from the instructor, as well as fellow students” (para 3). She goes on to suggest that “ . . . frequent, short bursts of feedback from the instructor are highly effective; this type of communication in the form of written text, and audio and video clips, is well-received by students” (para 3).

From my readings it is clear that in order to connect with students, I need to be able to be readily available to them, to be able to communicate effectively and to be able to provide frequent and timely feedback. In his book, Teaching Naked, How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning Bowen (2012) has some strategies that I can use to help guide me to meet these goals.

  1. “Establish in the syllabus how you will communicate” (p 32).

I have in my syllabus that students can reach me by my UNBC address and by my phone (call or text) but as I was doing this assignment I realized that I did not include how quickly students can expect a response from me! (I am happy to report that this information has now been included for the winter semester).

  1. “Limit the forms of communication” (p 32).

The primary mode of communication for the course takes place through Blackboard. UNBC requires that any additional written communication take place through the UNBC webmail.

  1. “Create a schedule for yourself” (p 32).

The course has weekly discussion forums, case studies and quizzes that are due every Sunday night. Students receive their assignments back with feedback Monday –Tuesday. Quizzes are marked as they are completed. Muddiest question survey questions are submitted every second module. (There are 10 modules). I answer these questions and post them to the ‘Clear as Mud” discussion forum post Wednesday – Saturday. Based on feedback from students, the schedule, while quite busy, is effective in keeping them on track with their learning.

  1. “Don’t mix the personal and the professional” (p 32).

As I learned from my readings, students do not want to know much (if anything) about me. I will therefore continue to only include information about course content in Blackboard and if students contact me directly, I need to stick to the issue concerning the student. I will not engage with students on Facebook as I feel there may be a risk of mixing too much private information without any extra advantages gained by using this social networking site.

 

  1. “It is fine and even useful to employ multiple methods of communication as long as you are clear and consistent” (p 32).

 I have not used anything except for Blackboard, email, text and phone so far with my students as Blackboard offers me quite a few options including discussion forums, live virtual classrooms that can be recorded and archived for students that are unable to attend the session, email capabilities and announcements that send messages automatically to students’ UNBC email and a grade book with lots of room for feedback.  When I use the virtual classroom, I post the time for the class on the announcements and then post the link to the recorded session on the ‘Course Updates’ discussion forum.

I have just signed up for Twitter which I will be using during this PIDP 3240 course. I am curious to see what advantages and disadvantages there are to using this form of communication.

From what I have learned it would seem that engaging more actively in social networking circles and online technologies will not increase my relevance and credibility with students as what actually matters to them is that I am accessible, that communication lines are open, the means of communication are identified and that timely feedback is provided. As students’ knowledge of me is not seen as an important part of their learning, it doesn’t matter what online technologies I am using personally, only that I am competent using the ones I require to meet their learning needs.

References

Bowen, J.A. (2012) Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass

Kennedy, A. (2015) Making Online Teaching More Effective: Advice from a Student Perspective ValueED Education + Your Life Colorado State University Online. Retrieved from: http://blog.online.colostate.edu/blog/online-teaching/making-online-teaching-more-effective-advice-from-a-student-perspective/

Orso, D. & Doolittle, J. (2012) Instructor Characteristics That Affect Online Student Success Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/instructor-characteristics-that-affect-online-student-success/

Sheridan, K. & Kelly, M. (2010) The Indicators of Instructor Presence that are Important to Students in Online Courses MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 6, No. 4, December. Retrieved from: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol6no4/sheridan_1210.pdf

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A Field Guide to Taking Risk in the Classroom

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Photo: A.McKenzie

In Brookfield’s book, The Skillful Teacher (2015) the 9th maxim of the 16 he lists for skillful teaching is “Don’t’ be afraid to take risks (p 271).

For me, the word risk can invoke feelings of fear – fear of failing, fear of loss, fear of the unknown, fear of making a fool of myself, fear of adversely affecting of my bank account or health – overall, rather stressful stuff. But I also know that risk is the very thing that makes my life exciting: every time I head out for an adventure into the backcountry – which I love to do – I take risks because, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, an adventure “is an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks” (n.d., Adventure definition #1). So how can taking risks cause me both anxiety and excitement? Why are taking risks a part of skilful teaching?

To take a risk is to knowingly put yourself in a situation that will challenge your abilities. If your abilities meet or surpass the challenge, you will succeed and you may even say that it was fun. Csikszentmihalyi as cited in The Pursuit of Happiness (n.d.) states “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (The Pursuit of Happiness, n.d., para1).

Risks will push us to success or failure; they define what level our abilities are at and, when we reflect on the situation, what we need to do to be able to succeed next time. Taking risks is, as Thorton and Harris (2015), state “ . . . how we learn, create, even adapt (para 1). They improve critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and give students more self-confidence (Thorton & Harris, 2015).

If the risk is greater than your abilities you will fail. Failing makes us feel awful. But it doesn’t have to stop there. “People shy away from risks because they fear failure — but what’s so bad about failing? Some of the greatest moments of understanding happen after we’ve “failed”” (para 6, Thorton & Harris, 2015).

“Risk is endemic to skillful teaching. Good teachers take risks in the full knowledge that these will not always work” (Brookfield, 2015, p 271). Just like in life, taking risks in the classroom means we will encounter success and we will encounter failure. We will have times when we will be in flow and times when we feel we are falling into the abyss: the times when we actually learn the most.

Taking risks will help everyone to learn, so as teachers we need to create an environment where we can all feel that these risks will make for a wonderful adventure and not a mission of self-destruction. As teachers we need to create a place where “ . . . kids take chances because risk is honored, because risks are taken from a comfortable platform, and because there’s always a soft spot to land” (para 5, Thorton & Harris, 2015).

Here are some tips I learned about how I (as a teacher and as a student) can ensure that my adventures in education will be a safe, exciting and filled with lots of great learning.

Model how to take risks

Develop the skills to be able to succeed at taking risks.

Critical thinking skills – “When people think critically they try to identify the assumptions that frame their thinking and actions and to check out how far these assumptions are accurate and valid. They do this by looking at their ideas and decisions from different perspectives. On the basis of this they then take what they hope are informed actions” (Brookfield, 2015, p 155).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Share scenarios from maternity where I did and didn’t apply critical thinking.
  • Share critical thinking steps with students.
  • When I encounter failure in the classroom, review my errors in critical thinking with students and what I could have done differently.
  • Review my assumptions about my abilities before I take a risk in the classroom like trying out a new instructional strategy.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Share with peers critical thinking steps for case studies.

Be confident and organized (Svinicki, 1989-90) – “When the students are convinced that the instructor is “in control” and knows where the class is going, they will feel more comfortable about taking risks”( para 7).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Know my material Make a plan A, plan B . . .

Tips for me as a student:

Ensure Soft Landings

Provide risk-taking opportunities (Svinicki, 1989-90) – “Allowing students to struggle and take wrong turns helps them learn something from the process” (para 11).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Ensure that I have created a positive learning environment where students will feel safe to take risks – show respect for them, make them feel valued for who they are and what they know. Value failure as a positive learning experience and opportunity for growth. Ensure privacy and confidentiality with students when discussing failures. Practice and foster a growth mindset.
  • Ensure that I have created a safe learning environment where students will feel safe with me taking risks like trying out a new teaching strategy.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Ask for formative feedback while learning is taking place.

Learn from each other

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Before I try out something brand new in the classroom, talk to my colleagues and find out if they have tried it before. Some of the teaching strategies I used in my online course were exercises I did when I took the PIDP 3250 course online. By trying them out and watching how my instructor managed the class I was able to learn a lot about what worked and why.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Share presentations and problem solve in small groups first before having to go to a large group to share. Reid (2010) suggests having students break into small groups for Think-Pair-Share as a way to increase student interaction and risk taking behaviours.

Start with baby steps

“Not all students have the same level of risk tolerance. We can scaffold risk-taking behavior, beginning with risks most students can participate in (brainstorming questions) before we move to more complex tasks (proposing solutions)” (Reid, 2010, para 5).

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Before I decide to radically change a class, start with a few changes first so that I can gain confidence with how the new changes will impact learning and classroom dynamics.
  • Take time to develop my skills and confidence working with new technologies by integrating them slowly into the classroom.
  • Ensure that the students have the skills to be able to manage the challenge of the learning.
  • Keep the stakes low as students are learning and then increase the stakes as mastery is gained.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Try taking risks when the stakes are lower so that I can develop the skill first before taking on risks with higher stakes. For example, before taking on a simulation that requires multiple complex skills to be successfully completed, start with one complex skill and gain proficiency before moving on.

Get in the flow!

Increased skill means increased opportunity to handle more challenges, which will create more opportunities to get into flow, which will increase learning!

Applications for me as an instructor:

  • Finding my own flow will lead to increased personal satisfaction with teaching which will lead to more passion and more enthusiasm which means more learning for students!
  • Provide the right amount of challenge for students and frequent formative feedback so that they can they can get into flow.
  • Provide a positive learning environment where students will feel safe and will be able to focus.

Tips for me as a student:

  • Take measures to create an environment where I can get into flow.

 

Taking risks are part of the adventure of learning. Critically thinking, planning, working together, taking baby steps and ensuring that there is a safe place to land will safeguard that no one gets hurt in the process.

Bring on the next adventure in learning!

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Merriam- Webster Online Dictionary. (n.d.) Adventure definition #1. Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/adventure

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (n.d) The Pursuit of Happiness. Retrieved from:http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/

Reid, S. (2010) Teaching Risk-Taking in the College Classroom Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magma Publications. Retrieved from:

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/teaching-risk-taking-in-the-college-classroom/

Svinicki, M. (1989-90) If Learning Involves Risk-taking, Teaching Involves Trust-building Essays on Teaching Excellence Toward the Best in the Academy Volume 1, Number 2. A publication of The Professional & Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (www.podnetwork.org). Retrieved from: http://podnetwork.org/content/uploads/V1-N2.pdf

 

Thorton, M. & Harris, C. (2015) Creating Space for Risk Schools that work edutopia George Lucus Educational Foundation. Retrieved from:

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/creating-space-for-risk-michael-thornton-cheryl-harris

Scaling the Wall of Student Resistance: Responding to Student Barriers in Learning (Part 2)

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Part 1 The Wall of Resistance: Understanding Student Barriers to Learning reviewed some of the underlying issues that may be the root cause of student resistance to learning.

In dealing with resistance, I think it is important that we keep in mind that “ . . . resistance can sometimes be contained, and its worst effects mitigated, but that is can never be completely overcome” (Brookfield, 2015 p 227).

Here are some ways we can contain and mitigate student resistance (Brookfield, 2015):

  1. Ask yourself if the resistance is justified (p 229).
    • Self-reflect – are there issues with the course content/ delivery of content/ learning activities/ disclosure of agenda, transparency with course expectations?
  1. Research your students’ background (p 229).
    • Learn about the students’ diversity and adjust “ . . .teaching approaches, assignments and forms of assessment accordingly” (Brookfield, 20115, p 229).
  1. When appropriate, involve students in educational planning (p 231).
    • “Consulting students about how the course will be run can also reduce their fear of the unknown and will increase the chances that your teaching will have some meaning for them” (Brookfield, 20115, p 231).
  1. Use a variety of teaching methods and approaches (p 231).
  1. Assess learning incrementally (p 232).
    • “Students have the right to resist but they also have the right to know what the consequences are of this resistance for them (Brookfield, 20115, p 232, 233).
  1. Check that your intentions are clearly understood (p 233).
    • Use feedback instruments to ascertain if explanations are clear. Rubrics help outline assignment expectations.
  1. Build a case for learning (p 234).
    • Provide rationale why the learning is important.
  1. Create situations in which students succeed (p 235).
    • Ensure that level of difficulty of learning matches with the learners’ abilities. Celebrate successes.
  1. Don’t push too hard too fast (p 235).
    • Allow time for the natural ebbs and flows of learning.
  1. Admit the normality of resistance (p 236).
    • Acknowledge the elephant in the room and talk about it.
  1. Try to limit the negative effects of resistance (p 237).
    • Try to minimize the impact the resistance has on learning.

Case Study

Susie is in her final year of nursing school. She is consistently late for the mandatory lecture based class, is known to challenge instructors during the lecture about the content or concepts being discussed, chooses controversial material to write the essays on, sits at the back of the class, chats with those around her during the lecture and rolls her eyes when chastised in class by her teacher for her troublesome behaviours.

In Part 1 The Wall of Resistance: Understanding Student Barriers to Learning, a list of some potential root causes for Susie’s behaviours was made. Let’s take look closer at how the teacher can help mitigate her resistance to learning integrating the 11 points listed above.

Perhaps Susie has a reason to be resistant. Course delivery is lecture based and classes are mandatory. No other teaching methods or approaches are being used. This one-size-fits-all approach does not address diversity issues. Finding out about Susie’s past learning experiences have been, her learning expectations and learning needs may help go a long way to reduce her resistance.

Susie is at the top of her class. Perhaps she could offer some tips on how the course might be improved.

Speak openly with Susie the barriers to learning you have noticed that she is demonstrating and how they may be impacting her and her fellow students. Explore what may be at the root of them if she is willing to discuss it. Focus on the issues and not personality differences. Work out a solution together so that learning can be maximized.

Learning how to mitigate and contain student resistance to learning takes self-reflection and a willing to be open on behalf of the teacher and a realization that sometimes, a harm reduction approach is all that can be done.

References

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

The Wall of Resistance: Understanding Student Barriers to Learning (Part 1)

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Case Study 

Susie is in her final year of nursing school. She is consistently late for the mandatory lecture based class, is known to challenge instructors during the lecture about the content or concepts being discussed, chooses controversial material to write the essays on, sits at the back of the class, chats with those around her during the lecture and rolls her eyes when chastised in class by her teacher for her troublesome behaviours.

Susie’s behaviours are creating a barrier for learning – for her and possibly for the students around her. Although it would be easy to assume that Susie is struggling with content material this isn’t the case – turns out she is excelling in the clinical setting and is at the top of her class academically. What is going on?

Brookfield (2015) acknowledges that while some students may fit the stereotype of “ . . . individuals who just can’t be bothered to work and who have no natural aptitude for the struggle and tedium that learning sometimes entails . . . it’s a simplistic and somewhat lazy cop-out from taking resistance seriously. Resistance is a multilayered and complex phenomenon which several factors intersect” (p 219).

Let’s take a look at what some of the root causes of resistant student behaviour are (Brookfield, 2015):

  1. Poor self-image as a learner (p 219). This learner has a lack of confidence in their abilities as a learner and will resist efforts to move them forward (Brookfield, 2015).
    • Barkley (2010) describes these students as “failure avoiders” who will avoid tasks that are perceived as too challenging as a way to preserve their self-worth (p 12), or as “failure acceptors” who have resigned themselves to failure and are disengaged from learning (p 13).
  1. Fear of the unknown (p 219). This learner is afraid how the learning will affect their status quo and will therefore be resistant to learn.
    • Brookfield (2015) states that “(t)he ground zero of resistance to learning is the fear of change. And learning, by definition, involves change” (p 213).
  2. A normal rhythm of learning (p 220). Learning something new takes learners into uncharted lands and can lead to feelings of confusion during the process of integrating new concepts and/or skills. It is during this time that learning something new is overwhelming.
    • Interestingly, Brookfield states that while this processing state is temporary, it is “ . . .experienced as permanent until some external prompt reignites forward movement” (p 220).
  1. A disjunction of learning and teaching styles (p 220)
    • While teaching to the preferred learning style of the student has been shown to be ineffective for improved learning, it still can be a problem as Brookfield explains, “ . . . an anal-compulsive, extremely organized learner who is taught by an improvisational intuitive teacher will resist that teacher’s tendency to make changes in the middle of a planned activity because of some change in the classroom mood or teachable opportunity she detects” (p 220).
  2. Apparent irrelevance of the learning activity (p 221).
    • Knowles’ 6th assumption about adult learners that that they need to know the reason for learning something (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). If there is no purpose to the learning activity, adult students will be resistant.
    • Pink (as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014) makes the case for humans as “ intrinsically motivated purpose maximizers” (p 147). According to Pink, purpose is one of the three principles that drive motivation along with mastery and autonomy (Merriam & Bierema, 2014).
  3. Level of required learning is inappropriate (p 222).
    • If the level of the learning is too hard, students will resist learning. “Enthusiastic teachers who travel too far, too fast, for their students and don’t’ regularly check in to see if students are keeping up with the pace, quickly leave learners behind” (Brookfield, 2015, p 222).
      • Interestingly, “ . . . students’ belief about their ability to succeed at a learning task is more important than their actual skill level or difficulty of the task. If a student is confident in her ability to perform a task successfully, she will be motivated to engage in it” (Barkley, 2010, pp 11-12).
  4. Fear of looking foolish in public (p 222).
    1. I really don’t think that there is anyone who isn’t horrified of making a fool of themselves in public. Brookfield states that “(s)tudents’ egos are fragile creations . . .” (p 222). I would suggest that all of us have fragile egos so it can hardly be a surprise if students resist engaging in situations where they fear embarrassing themselves.
  5. Cultural suicide (p 223).
    • Pairs with root cause #2- as the students’ status quo is challenged by the learning, cultural supports may lost. The realization that this is occurring may cause the student to resist any further learning.
  1. Lack of clarity in teachers’ instructions (p 223).
    • Students want transparency and full disclosure of expectations. Anything            less may feel to the student that they are “ . . . being set up for failure”               (Brookfield, 2015, p 223). This will lead to resistance.
  1. Student dislike of teacher (p 224).
    • These can come from personality mismatches (see root cause #4) or from             inappropriate behavior from the teacher (Brookfield, 2015).

11. Going to far too fast (p 224).

  • See root cause # 6.

Brookfield (2015) suggests that the first step to dealing with resistance is to sort out the cause. Let’s take a closer look at Susie’s case study to see if we can come up with a list of some of her potential causes of resistance.

  1. Poor self-image as a learner. Susie is at the top of her class. It does not appear that she has a poor self-image as a learner.
  2. *Fear of the unknown Susie may have a fear of the unknown. This is her last year of classes and she will be graduating soon. I wonder, have her behaviours been consistent like this for her entire undergraduate program or have they been escalating in the final year?
  3. A normal rhythm of learning Susie’s marks and clinical performance seem to indicate a solid understanding of the material. I think it would be safe to say that whatever challenges she has encountered with the normal rhythm of learning she seems to have been able to adapt to so far.
  4. *A disjunction of learning and teaching styles A disconnect between how Susie likes to learn and how she is being taught could be an issue here.
  5.  *Apparent irrelevance of the learning activity Susie is a strong student. Perhaps      she does not see a purpose to the mandatory class lecture. This may explain her rebellion by coming in late.
  6.  Level of required learning is inappropriate As Susie is a strong student, I do not think that the material is too hard. Perhaps it is too easy.
  7. Fear of looking foolish in public It does not appear that there have been any situations that would indicate that Susie is worried about embarrassing herself in front of the class.
  8. *Cultural suicide This could be an issue.
  9. *Lack of clarity in teachers’ instructions Has there been full disclose of class expectations by the instructor?
  10. *Student dislike of teacher There may be personality conflicts with the teachers.
  11. Going to far too fast Given that Susie has not attending class regularly but is still top of the class makes me think that the content is not over her head or that the pace is too fast.

Let’s go to Part 2 Scaling the Wall of Student Resistance: Responding to Student Barriers in Learning to see how the teacher could work with Susie to help overcome her resistance to learning.

References

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Putting the Team in Team Teaching

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“One of the most predictable contradictions in American college classrooms is that a solo instructor confronts a classroom full of diverse students. No matter how much she might strive to empathize with different learning needs, racial traditions, and personality types, any individual teacher is inevitably limited by the boundaries of her personality, learning preferences, racial group membership and experience . . . As teachers we all bring different gifts and handicaps to the table. A team that works well is aware of the different talents of its members and attempts to mix these as equitably as possible” (Brookfield, 2015, p 102).

The idea of creating a learning environment that capitalizes on the strengths of each member while minimizing weaknesses is so exciting! After all, aren’t ‘two heads better than one’? Brookfield (2015) states, “ . . . when two or three people with different racial identities, talents, and personalities form a teaching team, the possibilities for connecting to a wider range of students expand exponentially” (p 102). Yet, when I reflect on my experiences of ‘team teaching’ in workshops and in the online environment, I must confess it hasn’t been exciting at all – in fact sometimes it has been quite frustrating!

Are two heads really better than one? According to Ludden (2016), it depends on how they interact. In the past, it was thought that group work intelligence was determined by the average intelligence of the members or that one really clever team member who takes over and runs the show (Ludden, 2016). Research from Woolley (as cited in Ludden, 2016) reveals that the group actually develops a group mind and that the determining factor in how well the team performs is not based on “ . . . accumulated knowledge or skill set . . . (but) how well the individual team members can read the emotions of team members” (para 10). In other words, “ . . . a group composed of members who have moderate intelligence but are very good at reading each other’s emotions can outperform a group with high average intelligence but low social perceptiveness” (Ludden, 2016, para 12).

Another factor that impacts team functioning is how alike or diverse team member personalities and cognitive styles are (Ludden, 2016). Too close and there are limitations to the approaches the team will use, but too diverse and there are breakdowns in communication and a loss of empathy amongst team members (Ludden, 2016).

Too great of a diversity in teaching perspectives certainly was the cause for the feelings of vulnerability and frustration Dabbs (2013) had during “ . . .a very tough first year . . . “ (para 3) of teaching with a co-teacher who did not share her enthusiasm for teaching “ . . . in new and authentic ways” (para 1). As someone who is equally and enthusiastic about the very same thing, I can relate!

Team Teaching Advantages and Disadvantages, (n.d) lists the disadvantages of team teaching as follows (para 12):

Team teaching is not always successful. Some teachers are rigid personality types or may be wedded to a single method. Some simply dislike the other teachers on the team. Some do not want to risk humiliation and discouragement at possible failures. Some fear they will be expected to do more work for the same salary. Others are unwilling to share the spotlight or their pet ideas or to lose total control.

Despite the challenges team teaching presents, students do indeed value its impact on learning. Here are the results of a survey of 440 students taking a large undergraduate marketing class in Australia where team teaching was employed (Yanamandram & Noble, 2006, Abstract):

Despite the relatively weak forms of team-teaching adopted to teach this subject, the majority of the students liked the concept of team-teaching. The findings in this study suggest that team-teaching can facilitate student learning through the generation of interest and exposure to ‘experts’, but can hinder student learning if the team fails to act as a cohesive unit and work together to adequately link learning concepts. This study also argues that the most critical factor in determining the success or failure of a team-teaching effort is the actual composition of the team. A key implication of this study is that a team that comprises of ‘good teachers’ (perceived as those skilful in teaching large classes) is far more important than a team comprising of ‘experts’ in different knowledge areas.

Team teaching requires strong communication skills, dedication to ensuring skillful teaching is taking place, commitment to the team effort and a thorough understanding of the key concepts in order to reach the potential it can have on student learning. In order for this to take place, team members first have to be able to work together.

Tips on Working Together

For me, the clearer I am with myself about what is important to me the better I am able to communicate my expectations to team members. Murawski and Bernhardt (2015) suggest using tools to help a supervisor be able to understand how best to pair teams together, but if like me, you don’t always have a choice in who you will be team teaching with, understanding where everyone is coming from sounds like a good idea. Some tools to use to help identify teaching perspectives include:

Murawski and Bernhardt (2015) also acknowledge that sometimes teams may need “ . . . couples therapy” (para 30) if problems continue. For me, I feel that accessing my manager and or the teaching and learning centre in my university may also provide some more ideas of how problems can be worked through.

Once the team in on the same page in terms of teaching perspectives and approach the next step is to implement best practices with the approach. Here is a list of 10 ‘commandments’ that I thought really outlines these key concepts and will help pave the way to successful team teaching.

 The 10 Commandment of Team Teaching

For all of the commandments that Anderson and Landy (Leavitt, 2006) made, I was able to find supporting evidence from Brookfield (2015). I will definitely need to post these in my office!

  1. “Thou shalt plan everything with thy neighbour” (Leavitt, 2006, p 1)
    • “Team teaching is not two or three people agreeing to carve up a course into sections so that each person does 30 or 50 percent of the sessions. Properly conducted, team teaching involves all members of the team planning the course, writing the syllabus, specifying learning objectives, conducting the class, and evaluating student work” (Brookfield, 2015, p 141).
      • For the online course I teach, I need to ensure that my co-teacher and I are involved in all parts of planning by preparing content material jointly – either each taking on different parts and then providing constructive feedback or actually sitting down to the work together.

2. “Thou shalt attend thy neighbour’s lectures” (Leavitt, 2006, p 1)

  • “ . . . (E)very team member is in the class all the time so that she or he can complement and support whatever the lead teacher is doing (Brookfield, 2015, p 142).
  • An online course doesn’t have lectures per se but there are Discussion Forums and a Clear as Mud Post where we as instructors provide feedback to students about their anonymous muddiest survey questions (there are 5 surveys throughout the course). Instead of just having one instructor answering the questions, we could each take turns and then provide comments and debate concepts with each other in the forum (see commandments 3 and 4).

3. “Thou shalt refer to they neighbour’s ideas” (Leavitt, 2006, p 2)

  • “In team teaching we can hear a colleague explain and idea or contribute some information then show students how we connect it to our own stock of knowledge” (Brookfield, 2015, p 145).

4. “Thou shalt model debate with thy neighbour. (Leavitt, 2006, p 2)

  • “One of the meta-agendas of higher education is teaching students how to disagree in ways that don’t shut down further communication” (Brookfield, 2015, p 143).

5. Thou shalt have something to say, even when thou art not in charge (Leavitt, 2006, p 2)

  • “There will always be time when one instructor has more knowledge or experience than another, but when this is the case the teacher with less content knowledge has an important role to play as a skilful questioner and also as an observer of the class to ensure that everybody is getting the chance to participate” (Brookfield, 2015, p 152).
  • While this may be hard to make happen online, there is a face-to-face workshop where case studies are reviewed as a group. Having one person field questions, while the other observes classroom dynamics and takes a closer look at the students’ work would help to ensure that everyone is able to participate.

6. “Thou shalt apply common grading standards (Leavitt, 2006, p 3)

  • “Specifying the criteria by which students work will be assessed is crucial in any classroom but never more so than in a team-taught course. Ideally, it should be possible for either faculty member to slot into the grading role and assign the same grade or number of points for any particular piece of work” (Brookfield, 2015, p 151).
  • In the online course, there are rubrics for marking case studies and discussion forums, but one of the problems could be that my co-teacher and I may mark differently if we identify different issues, recommendations and relevant evidence to support decisions for the cases. In order to mark the same, we need to be able to work through the case studies together first, come up with a list of key issues etc. and then use that when we mark.

7. Thou shalt attend all staff meetings (Leavitt, 2006, p 3)

  • “Team members plan, conduct, evaluate, and debrief all activities together. This is the sine qua non of team teaching.” (Brookfield, 2015, p 150).
  • I feel that my co-teacher for the online course and I need to meet by phone every week to ensure that grading, discussion forums and plans for the next week’s module are discussed.

8. Thou shalt ask open questions (Leavitt, 2006, p 3).

  • “When a solo teacher tries to convey the different viewpoints or theoretical frameworks that exist on an issue, he or she is always working within the confines of being a singular voice . . . Team teaching allows your partner to pose a question or contribute an insight that opens you up to a genuinely new way of thinking about something” (Brookfield, 2015, p 145).
  • The online forums and Clear as Mud post provide wonderful opportunities for both of us to pose questions to students and each other.

9. Thou shalt let thy students speak (Leavitt, 2006, p 3).

  • Team teaching reaches a wider variety of learners. Solo teachers teach out of their preferred learning style. Although we can all expand our repertoire of teaching practices, there is a limit to how much we can change who we are (Brookfield, 2015, p 142).
  • I love researching information and will often take a very theoretical approach to a topic – an approach that may not work for all people. Engaging my co-instructor into the discussion forums will encourage more participation from the students, as it will appeal to a broader range of learning needs.

10. Thou shalt be willing to be surprised (Leavitt, 2006, p 3).

  • In team teaching there is no clear source of authority and knowledge in the classroom. This can create an environment of discovery and inquiry (Brookfield, 2015, p 144).
  • One huge advantage of teaching online is that you have time to think something through before you post it, but this is not the case in the workshops. Team teaching sounds like a very exciting adventure in learning!

 

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Dabbs, L. (2013) Back to School: Teaching with Authenticity Edutopia George Luca Educational Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-with-authenticity-lisa-dabbs

Leavitt, M. (2006) Team Teaching: Benefits and Challenges The Speaking of Teaching Center for Teaching and Learning at Stanford University Fall 2006 Newsletter Vol.16, No.1. Retrieved from: https://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Newsletter/teamteaching.pdf

 Ludden, D. (2016) Are Two Heads Better Than One? It depends on how they interact. Psychology Today Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-apes/201602/are-two-heads-better-one

Murawski, W.W. & Bernhardt, P (2015) An Administrator’s Guide to Co-Teaching ASCD Learn Teach Lead Educational Leadership December 2015/January 2016 | Volume 73 | Number 4 Co-Teaching: Making It Work Pages 30-34. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec15/vol73/num04/An_Administrator’s_Guide_to_Co-Teaching.aspx

Team Teaching – Advantages, Disadvantages (n.d.) Education Encyclopedia – StateUniversity.com. Retrieved from: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2493/Team-Teaching.html

Yanamandram, V.K. & Noble, G. (2006) Student Experiences and Perceptions of Team-Teaching in a Large Undergraduate Class University of Wollongong Research Online Faculty of Business Faculty of Commerce. Retrieved from: http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1238&context=commpapers

 

Striking the Balance: Teaching with Credibility and Authenticity

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Photo: A. McKenzie

David-Lang (2013), summarizes John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012) this way: “The big idea is – know thy impact! Expert teachers are not wedded to specific teaching strategies – rather, they regularly focus on evaluating the effects they have on students, and adjust teaching methods accordingly” (Summary of the Summary).

Of the influences that teachers can have on student learning which ones do you think are the top 3 of the lot? Interestingly, it isn’t feedback or metacognitive strategy programs (they rated highly but not the highest) and it certainly isn’t matching students with learning styles, which rated low – it is (David-Lang, 2013, p 10):

  • Providing formative evaluation to teachers;
  • Teacher credibility in the eyes of the student;
  • Student expectations.

I have already been reflecting on the importance of instructor feedback so that was expected but it was the “(t)eacher credibility in the eyes of the student” (David-Lang, 2013, p 10) that surprised me. Yikes! I had better get reflecting on teacher credibility!

Brookfield (2015) acknowledges the importance of teacher credibility and pairs it with another term – authenticity. So, in a nutshell, what exactly do these terms mean?

Credibility 

“Credibility is the perception that the teacher has something important to share and that whatever this “something “is (skills, knowledge, insight, wisdom, information), learning it will benefit the student” (Brookfield, 2015, p 43). Indicators of credibility include (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Expertise ( p 43) – “students say it is reassuring to know that the person in charge of their learning clearly knows, and can do, a lot” (p 43);
  • Experience  ( p 46) – the perception that the teacher is able to “ . . . draw on a substantial history of teaching the course” (p 46);
  • Rationale  (p 47) – sharing rationale behind classroom decisions- “Students say that it inspires confidence to see that teachers clearly have a plan, a set of reasons, informing their actions (p 48).

It certainly makes sense to me now why credibility is so important to students. When I reflect about teachers I think of as having high credibility, I would say I learned a lot from them because I trusted them; I focused on everything they said and did because I knew I would learn something. In other words, what they said and did mattered to me.

Authenticity

 “Authenticity is the perception that the teacher is dealing with students in an open and honest way” (Brookfield, 2015, p 43). Indicators of authenticity include (Brookfield, 2015):

  • Keeping your words and actions congruent (p 49) – walk your talk! Sometimes we may not even know that our actions and words are incongruous which is why it is so important that we obtain student feedback;
  • Full disclosure (p 50) – “ . . . find ways to communicate your criteria, assumptions, and purposes and then . . .keep checking in to make sure students understand them” (p 50);
  • Demonstrate responsiveness (p 51) – Respond to student concerns;
  • Disclosing Personhood (p 52) – “Personhood is most appropriately evident when teachers use autobiographical examples to illustrate concepts and theories they are trying to explain, when they talk about ways they apply specific skills and insights taught in the classroom to their work outside, and when they share stories of how they dealt with the same learning fears and struggles that their students are currently facing” (p 52).

I can certainly see how the 2 go hand in hand – I need to know my stuff, to share my thinking with my students, respond to feedback, model the behaviour that aligns with my expectations of students and share appropriate personal experiences. I can also see how striking a balance between credibility and authenticity can be challenging, for example being knowledgeable without being authentic could come off as arrogance, and being too frank about your flaws could affect your students’ perceptions of your expertise.

Here is a video featuring Stephen Brookfield  sharing his insights on credibility and authenticity.

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

 

David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from: http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The+Main+Idea+-+Visible+Learning+for+Teachers+-+April+2013.pdf

 

Flattening the Power Gradient: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #4

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It was when I took my first PIDP course 3250 that I learned that Knowles, who, 50 years ago, shifted the educational paradigm of adult education from that of pedagogy– “ . . . the art and science of teaching children” to that of andragogy “ . . . helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1973, as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 46). Brookfield’s Core Assumption #4: “College Students of Any Age Should Be Treated as Adults” (p 23), reflects this key concept.

In his explanation of this assumption, Brookfield (2015) states that even college students who are still in their teens need to be treated as adults. When I reflect back upon my 17 years old college freshman self, I can certainly appreciate why this is a good reminder for teachers because I know that sometimes, I and my other teenage freshman college colleagues didn’t always act in ways that would make one think appropriate of an adult. Below is an explanation from Brookfield (2015) that I think provides a wonderful insight into why, however, this core assumption is so important:

The first is that as they move into early adulthood, 18-22 year old students are becoming increasingly self-aware of who they are as people, who they are as learners and who they are as moral beings. They use college to develop their independent identities (Jones and Abes, 2013) become self-authors of their lives (Baxter Magolda, 2004), find purpose (Nash and Murray, 2010) and create meaning (Daloz Parks, 2011) out of their experiences (p 25).

 The only way that teachers can help students make the changes Brookfield (2015) describes above is to flatten the power gradient and respect college students’ needs as adult learners, which according to Knowles are as follows (Pappas, 2013):

  1. Self-Concept
    As a person matures his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being.
  2. Adult Learner Experience
    As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to Learn
    As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.
  4. Orientation to Learning
    As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
  5. Motivation to Learn
    As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).

As this is the last of Brookfield’s Core Assumptions for skillful practice (2015) I would like to conclude with this final statement: “These four assumptions of skillful teaching are deliberately proposed at a level of generality. How each plays itself out varies enormously from context to context” (p 26).

There is so much more to learn!

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

 Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pappas, C. (2013): The Adult Learning Theory – Andragogy – of Malcolm Knowles eLearning Industry. Retrieved from: https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles

Gaining Insights: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #3

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The PIDP 3260 course is opening my eyes to the importance of Brookfield’s 3rd Core Assumption; “Teachers Need a Constant Awareness of How Students Are Experiencing Their Learning and Perceiving Their Teachers’ Actions” (p 22). I see how, in spite of our best self-perceived efforts to create a learning environment, learners may have very different opinions about their learning, so unless we use the right tools to obtain feedback we will never know what our learners are thinking.

Here is a link from the University of Waterloo that lists some great strategies to use as a way to obtain feedback from students. Some of their suggestions are (Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching, n.d.). :

  • Questionnaires
  • One minute paper
  • Muddiest point
  • Blank index cards
  • Suggestion box
  • In-class trouble shooting sessions

Brookfield (2015) also includes suggestions for other feedback tools like twitter, TodaysMeet and the Critical Incident Questionnaire which he has created and has posted online.

An important point to keep in mind is to not let yourself fall prey to the syndrome that Brookfield himself confesses to having, the ““. . . Perfect-Ten” syndrome . . . the unreasonable desire to want to collect a batch of CIQ (Critical Incident Questionnaire) forms at the end of every class that contains no negative comments and a surfeit of compliments” (Brookfield, 2015, p 38). I must confess that I too am afflicted by the syndrome and, even though I also intellectually understand that this not possible in “ . . . the contextual, complex nature of learning . . .” it still happens. I suppose the next time this happens I will go back and apply Core Assumption #3.

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching. (n.d.). Centre for Teaching Excellence Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/professional-development/enhancing-your-teaching/tools-reflecting-teaching

Taking a Closer Look at Brookfield’s Core Assumption #2 : Critical Self-reflection

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Photo Credit: A.McKenzie

For me, Brookfield’s (2015) 2nd Core Assumption “Skillful Teachers Adopt a Critically Reflective Stance Towards Their Practice” ( p 19) hits home; unless you apply a critically reflective stance on your practice as a teacher, you run the risk of not only having students not learn, you could even being doing harm without realizing it, see: Taking a Hard Look at Experience. 

I guess it’s been good for everyone involved that self-reflection is something that I have really grown into. When I took my first course PIDP 3250 my initial self-reflection and evaluation assignment (I had to give myself a mark) felt very awkward and uncomfortable. But the more I learned about learning and the more I practiced it the less awkward it has become. I confess that the discomfort feeling hasn’t gone away but I have learned that those feelings are like road signs that let me know that there is something important for me to learn.

Identifying what it is you want to reflect upon is key. Cox (n.d) states “(t)he first step is to figure out what you want to reflect upon. Are you looking at a particular feature of your teaching or is this reflection in response to a specific problem in your classroom?” (para 7). She then outlines the following ways to get information (para 8):

  • Self-reflective journaling;
  • Video recording;
  • Student observation – feedback from students;
  • Peer observation – feedback from peers.

Finally she suggests analyzing the results by looking for reoccurring themes. To find solutions to these challenges she suggests looking to peers and learning communities.

Here is a great video, called ‘Effective Teacher, Reflective Practice’ by Deb Hill that sums up self-reflective practice this way:

In this video, the author outlines four questions that teachers should ask themselves (1:49-3:50 min)

  1. Is the material worth learning?
  2. Are the students learning what the course or class is supposed to be teaching?
  3. Am I helping and encouraging the students to learn or do they learn despite me?
  4. Have I harmed the students?

The author also encourages teachers to keep a teaching portfolio where they (3:56 – 5:17 min):

  • Keep track of what course learning outcomes are;
  • Reflect on how teaching methods helped foster achievement of learning outcomes;
  • Provide evidence of student achievement/performance;
  • Provide evidence that teaching methods contributed to the learning that took place.

The discussion of how we can use tools to assess how our actions as a teacher are affecting learning also fits under Brookfield’s (2015) 3rd Core Assumption: “Teachers Need a Constant Awareness of How Students Are Experiencing Their Learning and Perceiving Their Teachers’ Actions” (p 22).

 

References

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Cox, J. (n.d.) Teaching Strategies: The Value of Self-Reflection TeachHUB.Com. Retrieved from: http://www.teachhub.com/teaching-strategies-value-self-reflection

Hill, D. (2013) (YouTube) Effective Teacher, Reflective Practice Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUvz_-R5820

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from http://itari.in/categories/ability_to_learn/self_regulated_learnin_g_and_academic_achievement_m.pdf 

Teaching So They Learn: Brookfield’s Core Assumption #1

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Brookfield’s (2015) first core assumption about skillful teaching is: Skillful Teaching is Whatever Helps the Student Learn” (p 15). “At first glance this seems a self-evident, even trite, truism – a kind of pedagogic Hallmark greeting card,” (p 15) states Brookfield (2105). But perhaps, as the cartoon above illustrates, it is a bit more complicated than that.

What I have discovered so far is that learning isn’t just about being shown or told something. It is a complex interplay of cognitive and emotional factors, situational factors including how much sleep we get and when we get it in relation to the learning, and student motivation. It’s about using the right instructional strategies, shifting the paradigm to student centered learning and asking the right questions at the right time. As Brookfield (2015) states sometimes it’s about “ . . . do(ing) things as a teacher that you might otherwise avoid because you feel that somehow they are unprofessional or deviant” (p 17). For me, this assumption means taking risks, opening my mind to be curious about what and how I am teaching and to always be assessing if my students are learning: in other words “(a)dopt(ing) a critically reflective stance . . .” about my teaching practice – which just happens to be Brookfield’s Core Assumption #2 ( p 19).

Reference

Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass