Tag Archives: change

Pedagogical Rule #7: Do Unto Others As They Would Have You Do Unto Them

Years ago I spent time with renowned tattoo artist, Pat Fish while she was creating a Celtic piece that wrapped my friend’s waist in large black swirls. During one of the sessions, she shared how she kept a fresh perspective on her art. Her secret, she told us, was that each year she traveled to Ireland or Scotland to get inspiration for tattoos from ancient landmarks. And each year she got a new tattoo so that she would not forget the pain of the needle on her own skin. Her skin was a testament to her commitment to her craft. “You forget,” she told me, “how the needle feels.” What dedication. Pat Fish is not only committed to learning new things through her travel, but she continually revisits the perspective of her clients.

I wonder today if this element of lifelong learning isn’t essential in any field that serves others in some way. If so, Pat Fish has an exceptional way to remain empathetic to those who choose her to create intricate Celtic patterns on their skin.

Pat Fish came to mind today because I am once again experiencing first hand the frustrations of being a student. I am in my first year of a doctoral program. A blended format doctoral program at a small private university with an excellent reputation in organizational leadership.

There are the basic frustrations I imagine most students experience. Frustrations like reading outdated articles or having an autocratic professor (“you can use regular APA or you can use my APA”). Frustrations like assignment directions that are confusing or grading rubrics that have more procedural value than depth of learning. These frustrations fall along a tedium range. A range I imagine that varies for each student. Surely most students would rather engage with readings that relate to their coursework as well as increase their understanding, advance their research or challenge their thinking.  Yet, it seems that many of my classmates aren’t bothered enough to rally.

Which brings me to my new pedagogical Rule #7.

Rule #7 states, when teaching, do unto others as they would have you do unto them. This may be a one of the most significant rules in the evolution of higher education. Things are shifting. My professors are counting on us to go along with the familiar delivery model. They are counting on providing us with what students are used to. Students are used half baked slide shows. Students are used to turning their cell phones off. Students are used to course readings with limited perspectives. Students are used to professors who teach the way their own professors modeled.

Yes, I am generalizing- a lot. However, in conversations with my colleagues at other institutions, there is a shared sense that higher education is slow to change. When faculty members choose to rely on their entire suite of familiar teaching strategies, they engage in an exuberant exercise in trying to stay in one place on a moving sidewalk.

So Pat Fish. A new tattoo each year.

What if to be a truly exceptional professor, one took a course from another professor? Not just sat in a course but actually attended all the sessions, read all the course readings, joined in all the group activities, and completed all the assignments.

For me, this year in my doctoral program has been an eye opener about my own teaching. There are subtle things I do that I have not considered from the student perspective. As thorough as I believe I have been, I find my criticism and frustrations mirroring comments I have read on my course evaluations. While I have always taken course evaluation feedback very seriously, and often make changes to my course based on student response, I have done so with a confidence that I know best how to structure my own course.

Now, I have a renewed urgency. My experience as a student this year has spurred an intensive audit of the course I once considered well designed and thoughtfully balanced. Are my readings ready for an overhaul? Do I present a wide enough variety of perspectives and voices through the course media and readings? Are my grouping techniques adequate for balancing underrepresented students? Are the group roles promoting an unintended bias? Do my grading rubrics assess the product in balanced relation to the procedure?

Tattoo Artist, Pat Fish

Tattoo Artist, Pat Fish

So Pedagogical Rule # 7 is driving my course audit. I see my course more clearly from the perspective of a student. And having been one so recently, I know better what I would want in relation to presentation material, online organization, group structure, and media and readings.

Pat Fish was right, I had forgotten the feel of the needle.

Synchronous Learning – Practical Issues

When I was a college student, my favorite parts of class were small group activities where we solved a problem or discussed a critical issue. This was when I connected with my peers and rehearsed my burgeoning knowledge on teaching- done in the safe environment of my teacher education classes. I attended a small school and my classes were rarely over 20 students. In the 1980s it was simply not possible to re-create this intimacy in a distance education course.

Now, as an adjunct instructor, I believe strongly that this can be done. I have been addressing the issue of establishing social presence in the online environment by creating online classes that have an intimate, small group feel to them. My course evaluations usually include comments like, “I got to know people in this class better than my classes on campus”. I know instinctively that this delivery is moving in the right direction for small liberal arts colleges like the college where I teach. Yet there is so much we don’t know and can improve upon.

There are some practical issues that need to be addressed in the area of synchronous online learning. The definition of online learning often implies the asynchronous environment and on demand resources. Defining the types of course delivery needs to be clear and transparent for students. Tools that support synchronous learning are different and often go beyond on-demand content systems.

Consider the university where I teach as an adjunct, we have not fully defined (or embraced) the synchronous learning environment nor are we able to correctly schedule an online course that has weekly meeting times for students. Our current definitions are threefold:

  • Web enhanced: this is a course in which up to 10% the course materials are located in an online environment
  • Hybrid: a course in which up to 50% of the course materials are located in an online environment.
  • Distance Education: a course in which 100% of the material is located in the online environment

I understand we are reviewing these definitions and am hopeful that consideration will be made for for the positive potential of synchronous online courses.

Here is how these definitions make it difficult to clarify for students what type of a course to be taking. For the last several semesters, I have required that my students meet weekly in an online meeting space.  Our course registration system will only allow for courses to be coded using the above three options. If the course is labeled distance education, it will not book a room nor will schedule a specific meeting time. If the course is hybrid, it will schedule a meeting time however it also books a room on campus that will sit empty. In addition, it exceeds the definition of hybrid. Each semester, I have made efforts to communicate with the students that there is a meeting time and that this meeting time is a requirement. This is such a hassle for the students yet I have not way around it. Students often have to drop or reschedule other courses to stay enrolled in my section.

So scheduling is one of the issues that when resolved can really support quality synchronous experiences for students. The other issue however is that of a meeting space to support a quality synchronous experience.

For several years I had access to Adobe Connect, an online meeting tool with an excellent reputation. During that same time I also attended webinar sessions using Elluminate as well as WebEx. The interface of Adobe Connect have the most intuitive and agile design from the attendee standpoint and definitely from the teaching aspect. The chat pod allows for whole group conversations as well as the sidebar exchanges that naturally happen in the classroom. This product also easily create polling ahead of the session so that I was able to open polls throughout the course session without fumbling to create one on-the-fly. The most significant element however, was the ability to create breakout rooms and whatever was on the screen at the time say instructions for a small group activity, would follow each group into their breakout session. Pedagogically, polling  and breakout rooms creates the place for conversation. I have switched to WebEx and haven’t found the same simple experience however, I am able to work around it using their tools. Significantly, the Training Module allows for breakout sessions so that is the main thing I feel is needed to get the conversations going.

table 46Those are the two practical issues that I believe need to be addressed. What excites me much more are the teaching strategies and course materials that can create a powerful synchronous learning for students. Learning experiences in which they are challenged by course topics, have an opportunity to think critically, and most importantly, share a space that creates the sense of sitting at a new kind of table with classmates.

I will discuss those on a future post.