Wednesday, 17 April 2013

#ocTEL Week 1: reflecting on my practice

Well this is timely. In our institution we are just reflecting on module feedback, marking final assignments, planning for the coming year. I am also personally involved in compiling a portfolio for professional recognition.

Reflecting on my practice is something I do as a matter of course through this blog in particular and I think that in itself tends to shape the way I teach, as well as reflect some of my beliefs.

I trained, many years ago, as a person centred counsellor and later took on the role of facilitator in a course that trained other counsellors. It is only recently, reading about various pedagogical approaches and learning theories that I have come to acknowledge that my approach is essentially person centred.

I generally have a great trust in students' ability to think and decide for themselves  I talk to them as equals and I expect them to respond with equal respect and honesty. Of course at times I am disappointed - first year students in particular struggle with the transition to University and a student/tutor relationship  that may be very different from what they have previously experienced. They seem to either sit quietly expecting to be fed knowledge or switch off from the class and turn on their social networking sites: they don't see themselves as learners so much as hostages trapped in some great anonymous institution.

Getting students to accept responsibility for their own learning is the first, most vital task in year one. So how do we accomplish this?

In my level one module we offer a range of learning activities from sit and listen to the lecture; go away and read something then comment on it in the discussion board; in class paper- or computer-based activities guided by tutor/worksheet;  to a final collaborative group project.

On the teaching styles matrix I would say that over the year I move from directed individual towards social autonomous. It can be a painful journey, but having just marked their group projects, I believe it has succeeded.

For collaborative work to be meaningful there has to be some advantage for the students - although these may not be immediately apparent to them. By working collaboratively, weaker students can get to see how other, perhaps stronger, students write and organise themselves. (Learning by proxy). In my view, lurking can be positive. Equally though it is possible to see quieter students coming to the fore when communication is in small groups and especially in virtual communication. (This has been evident in informal student led social networking groups). They also learn how to work together in teams - the hard way.

The other modules I teach are for final year students. From the outset the module is social/autonomous as students form small groups to research and create an online resource. They get very minimal input from me about the technology - they have to go away and pretty much learn this stuff for themselves  I provide on line learning materials related to the subject, which are a springboard for further research. I ask that they also maintain a personal blog or reflective journal about the process the group goes through. The final grading for the module is split into a peer assessment of the final online project - including leaving feedback via the discussion board for one another - and a short reflective individual piece, based on their blogs, which I grade.

Carl Rogers'  Freedom to Learn is a great read for educators. His basic precepts are:
We cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate his learning.The structure and organization of the self appears to become more rigid under threat; to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat...
The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which 1) threat to the self of the learner is reduced a minimum, and 2) differentiated perception of the field of experience is facilitated.

The greatest buzz I get out of "teaching" is when I am not - that is, when students are discovering for themselves and feel proud of their own achievements. I don't win plaudits from my students about the brilliance of my lectures, but they do say that I am supportive, that I treat them like adults, that they have fun and that they learn stuff without really realizing they are doing so.

I use a lot of tech  in my teaching - videos to bring in other voices and views; Facebook and Twitter to connect to the outside world; blogs, wikis, Diigo, Dropbox and Evernote for reflection and information management. At the moment this is all fairly chaotic (my students also notice that and tell me about it!) and I hope to use the ocTEL course to become more systematic in the way I share my love of tech with my students.