Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Design is to Teaching Like Teaching is to Learning

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(This is inspired by something Patrice Torcivia wrote about in our work in the Educause ELI course we’re taking together – thanks Patrice!)

I realized what I felt was wrong with the whole faculty development and instructional design model esp w regards to teaching online or w tech – we focus on helping faculty design their courses, maybe even assess them, but we don’t necessarily prepare them to teach that way.

Last summer when giving our workshop I tried to articulate what I felt was missing by calling it something like “develop confidence and flexibility to modify approach during the implementation/teaching of the course” – but it occurs to me that faculty development that focuses on course design does not equip them to do this.

As we all know, teaching something is no guarantee that anyone will ever learn it. Similarly, designing a course well is no guarantee it will be taught well.

The trick is that faculty developers and instructional designers cannot possibly fully understand the following (though we may and should try):
A. The students (even if we do needs assessments etc we are not interacting with them on a weekly basis). I want to encourage faculty to respond to their students more than the course design
B. The subject matter being taught (because let’s face it, while most ppl know introductory math, history and economics we can’t really all know what it is like to teach advanced level courses in those subjects). I don’t want to make assumptions on how a discipline should be taught
C. The teacher’s teaching philosophy – most will not have articulated it, but even if you put them on the spot and have them write it, you don’t know if it is different or has evolved or they say what they think will look good to others. I don’t want to make a teacher think they need to do something that conflicts with their deeply-held values or teaching philosophy unless they get truly convinced it will help them teach better.
D. Comfort – you cannot know how comfortable a faculty member will be once they’re in the middle of it. On one hand you want to encourage them to take risks; on the other hand, you don’t want them to appear uncomfortable in front of students unless they know how to handle that. I don’t want to be the cause of that discomfort.

This might all relate to my own approach to teaching which is very responsive to students and very spontaneous – i design my course every semester and put up a syllabus. Then for every class, i keep changing what i am doing up until 1 minute before we start and sometimes i change things during the class as i see how students respond. This is what makes me comfortable in my classroom. Maybe others are more comfortable sticking to designs – but then if it’s a design supported by an external person like me, how comfortable are they implementing it?

Because it is not just support we offer. There is a small power we seem to have as if we are the keepers of pedagogy or something. Gosh I hate it, even as I know that I exert it – or else how would I justify my existence?

But stepping back to Patrice’s original point – i think there are ways to help faculty develop their ability to teach online other than teaching course design :
1. Role play game: put them in a situation where they pretend to be teaching an online course and have certain “incidents” occur and let them react (eg student misses a deadline; student claims they have had no Internet for a week; Blackboard is down for the day, etc)
2. Trying out some teaching functions like facilitating an online discussion, giving feedback to others on a google doc, and of course the more obvious one – recording video lectures (this last one we do but that’s not at all the essence of teaching)
3. Trying out being a student (this one we do)

The role play game would be a development of our initial faculty development game based on Ana Salter and John Murray’s feedback – but we’re not there yet 🙂

Will write again on this soon

2 Comments

  1. I have some similar thoughts brewing, and what I hope flows into a possible article for Hybrid Pedagogy about the mix of what a course has as structure and what you allow to have flexibility/improv and especially the power of having a narrative or metaphor in a course.

    I had a great experience a few weeks ago teaching audio editing to a small group. I had a specific series of things I wanted to demonstrate, like an outline of 5-8 things I felt are important. But when the participants started asking questions, that were not what was in my list, I did not keep to the list as gospel; the session was maybe 80% made or done on the spot w/o knowing in advance what I was going to do. This is what musicians do often, there are the notes and there are things the fill in in the moment because it… fells right.

    The last two times I taught ds106 and continuing into the You Show I’ve had a “theme” that plays out each week or unit. In 204 for an online course with students who were full time consultants, it was a “go to work” theme. The thing is that I end up spending a few hours each week producing these videos that are not course content. If students do not watch them, they are not coming up short.

    Nearly all the course video I see is either lecture video or talking head trailers- it is nearly always driven by content, content, content.

    Why would I spend time producing things that are not in the syllabus? Because in doing so I reflect and think about each week/unit in a different way then if I was “covering content”. I am thinking about a metaphor for the course, an arc of a story.

    But it need not be performative, or showpersonship, there are the topical theme flavors Jim Groom uses for ds106 (The Wire last semester, Noir literature this time). It’s not so different from your typical Service Learning approach; a comp sci teacher at the university I am spending time now, where a capstone course is students producing a real software product or application for a client. Kevin says something like “if the software does not work, they don’t pass”.

    I’m thinking like the games and simulations you have done, there are ways to create an overall course thread that is not just content.

    Oops, I just rambled all over your blog. I’m just juggling a pile of ideas.

    • Love this comment Alan – happy to have you reflect “aloud” on my “reflecting allowed” space 🙂 looking forward to seeing how you take these ideas further 🙂

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