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

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