How I Teach?

Teaching and learning are completely integral but my arguments may be clearer by tackling one at a time.

How I Teach
I used to sit firmly in the situated learning camp. Then I began to tilt; I still lean heavily toward the constructivist approach–what I think situated learning evolved into–but I feel that it is essential instructors present students with tasks that scale into real-world activities thus preparing them for their chosen field. Little did I know I’d read about active-learning and forward looking assessments this semester and discover the roots for that well-founded feeling. Fortunately I continue to grow. There is room in my personal philosophy for constructivism, connectivism, and active learning.

  • Students should care about the work they submit
  • Taking my course should help students build a cadre of skills supporting their ability to create websites
  • I believe students need to know how to deliver content online

Constructivist approach
“It appears that Web-based learning may support recommended instructional strategies for improving collaborative activities, a key part of constructivist thinking (Lebow, 1993). Constructivist approaches in education, such as situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and collaborative learning (Sharan & Sharan, 1992) have gained popularity.” (Cavus, 2007, p. 305)

My thoughts on connectivism grew over the past two years. So much so, I could easily adopt Ravenscroft’s conclusion as the framework for future study: “Embracing connectivism means that we need to consider new design metaphors for future learning that place the person, their social behavior, and their community at the centre of the design process and the resulting networked technologies.” (Ravenscroft, 2011, p. 156)

We need to be part of a team.  That’s part of the constructivist approach. “Valid scales that measure the sense of community in online courses are very relevant for the planning of interventions to promote the feeling of being a member of the class.” (West, Jones, Semon, 2012, p. 109) At UAF eLearning we discuss the student drop out rate—at least twice a year. We often encourage instructors to be sure to include participation with peers as well as reflection, but I feel that we can better provide reasons for both to our instructors and therefore see increased adoption. See my companion piece to this post for more information.

Invest in the student: get them connected to the content
In the past, I taught databases (MSIM 3311 for Wayland Baptist) it was way back in 1993. I lectured. They learned. I hope. Just a few short years later I taught Microsoft Word, Access, and Excel for Tanana Valley Community College. Yes, I taught the students the tools. But I also taught them not to fear the computer. As a complete aside, I think the best take-away from those years was teaching students about APRs and loans and how to improve their personal finances. It matters. It was early on in my career that I understood adjuncts (at least) had a huge amount of leeway in the materials we used as well as our approach to instruction. Even then I believe situated learning. I think it comes from studying to be a programmer.

From then to now
I do try to be careful whenever I’m stepping onto a soapbox. Personal finance might be important to me, but it will not resonate with each student. Nowadays I ask students to build websites surrounding what most interests them. I want them engaged. I also want their final product to be something they can really use, a working portfolio piece.

Blend constructivism with connectivism and you just might arrive at a collection of ideas that most closely support and buoy what I perceive to be my current teaching philosophy.

Simulate the workplace
OR ‘I’ve embraced forward-looking assessments as part of my life’

Outside of the classroom both in and out of work, I am trying to improve the Blackboard online orientation—by helping the team to make it better perceived, received, and utilized. If successful, the lessons we learn can be extended to faculty teaching online as an example of how to help their students. Through avenues like face-to-face faculty training and articles I write for work, I may guide instructors in ways to add interactive, community-based items into their course shells to engage the student and improve retention as well as student scores.

What the future holds (?)
Why say current? I really like the active learning information from Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. I connect to the idea of a self-assessment loop. I may be interested in the notion that “good teachers find ways to generate feedback from other students and occasionally even from an outside expert” because I think it might lighten my grading load. (Fink, 2003, p.85) But seriously, I would love to involve future employers that need good starting web masters, entry level folk (Communication Specialist I within the UA system) to review and provide feedback on two of the later assignments in my course.

  • I would love to pair up learners with potential clients.

I think an easy way I might include authentic tasks earlier in the semester would be to provide a template that has the majority of the framework filled out then ask my students to tell a story and embellish it using their own mark-up.  I would give them everything they need (think the cake, the tools, the icing, and the colors) and they would have to deliver the finished, decorated product.

Some of the materials included in Creating significant learning experiences caused me to think of how to marry up the ideas with situated learning (ahem) I mean constructivism with metacognition thrown in. For example, I’d like to have the students think about what they are doing by asking them, ‘Can you use your knowledge of HTML and CSS to do this?’ and write a challenge that takes quite a bit of that module’s material to accomplish. If possible, I’d cap that off with a reflection element by asking them to share with me via Blackboard (or just keep a journal for themselves) their response to this prompt: “How well do you think you accomplished this week’s assignment?”

How I Learn
I love this. I learn backwards. You can take my teaching philosophy and invert it (like a triangle… think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs vs the Food Pyramid) .. I teach to others the way I learn… if you could completely rearrange it. I want to know what the goal is. I want to work toward that goal. Please outline your objectives accordingly, I will take them to heart. I want to make products that are similar to those I would create for my job, for my own enjoyment, for friends, to donate to non-profits. Every course I take should have an element of testing, a safe haven, a proving ground. I want to practice. I want to practice my whole career. I believe in higher education. I am a life-long learner.

Of course I used to write that way too. First sentence? My conclusion. Everything else supports that.

Cavus, N. (2007). Assessing the Success Rate of Students Using a Learning Management System Together with a Collaborative Tool in Web-based Teaching of Programming Languages. J. Educational Computing Research, Vol. 36(3) 301-321.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ravenscroft, A. (2011). Dialogue and Connectivism: A New Approach to Understanding and Promoting Dialogue-Rich Networked Learning. International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(3), 139-160.

West, E., Jones, P., & Semon, S. (2012). Promoting Community for Online Learners in Special Education. Journal Of Digital Learning In Teacher Education, 28(3), 108-116.

So ends my submission… now begins the rumination. Now begins the fun.