The PIDP Program

In week 8 of the blog assignment, I am asked to reflect on the PIDP courses I have taken and what are the most important things that I have learned. I have taken 6 courses so far, “Instructional Strategies” is left and the Capstone. Instead of reflecting on each course, I prefer to look at the experience as a whole.

I came to the program with zero experience in teaching. On the other hand, I have much experience as a student. I have been one most of my life. It has been very interesting to have a peek on the other side of the curtain and be able, for the first time, to understand why some courses work better than others. Of course, one can always finish a course with a feeling that “they did not learn anything”, or “that it was a waste of time”. Or “this was a great course” or ” I learned so much”.  But I never had the knowledge to understand why. Now I do…

My big “Take aways” so far:

  • I do not consider myself a teacher in the traditional sense. I am working with adults and it would presumptuous of me to think that I know more than they do. I might know more about my subject of expertise, but certainly not of life in general. Instead, I consider myself a facilitator of learning, a knowledge broker, a framework provider. My role is to use my expertise to provide a framework and an environment from which my students can engage, learn and grow.
  • Adults will learn when they are motivated to do so, when the content is relevant to themselves and their lives.  They come to the classroom with a lifetime of knowledge and experience and will use that lens to filter what is presented to them. Learning happens as a building block, as an additional layer to what they already know. Resistance happens when the layer has to be replaced. The classroom has to be a safe environment where those changes can take place.
  • Neuroscience is a tool that we can use to enhance learning. Understanding how learning happens is beneficial in thinking about how content should be presented. Suboptimal learning conditions ( fatigue, content overload, hunger, thirst..) is like using a dull knife in the kitchen. It will work, but not very well… Better get sharpening!
  • Teaching is a science and an art… I am learning many great skills like curriculum development, assessment techniques, delivery of instruction, but I also have to be able to read my classroom and adapt to changing conditions. It will be a lifelong process and I am looking forward to it.

My thinking has not changed as much as it has been enlightened. I had feelings about things that were wrong with higher education, but I was not sure what they were. In a sense, my thinking has changed about the teacher that I want to be and that I believe to be effective. I thought that I just needed to be an expert in my field. Now I know that I want to be that and so much more.

Knowing what I have learned in the PIDP program, every time that I teach a class, I will focus on student engagement. How can my students engage with the content? How can I make it relevant to them?

 

Lifelong learning

I think that the importance of lifelong learning as a professional is pretty clear: To be the best at what you do, you must keep up your knowledge and skills. More importantly, I believe that lifelong learning in itself is the worthiest of goals. As Ghandi has said, “Live as if it is your last day, learn as if you will live forever”.

I would like to share this wonderful Ted talk by a South Carolina College President who talks about the wonderful people he has known in his life and how they have taught him that the secret to a life worth living is to have an endless sense of curiosity and a passion for learning. Enjoy!

How can one assess learning?

Too many times in benjamin-franklin-tell-me-and-ill-forget-teach-me-and-ill-remember-involve-me-and-ill-250x204my life as a student I have sat through a course, memorized the material, wrote exams and moved on to the next course. It is not that I did not learn anything, just not very much. I would have learned some broad ideas about the topic, and maybe a new approach to solve problems. And that can sometimes be good enough.

During my PIDP courses, I have been thinking a lot about “learning”. If the goal is to create a student centred learning environment, how can I know that learning is actually going on?

I have been reading Ken Bain’s ” What the Best College Teachers Do?”. In it, Bain gives wonderful insight into how to put the odds on our side that the students are learning.

1- Knowledge is construed and not received: Good teachers understand that all new material is filtered through each student’s mental models where they try to comprehend it in terms of what they already know. The job of the teacher is not to transmit knowledge but to provide opportunities for students to build new mental models.

2- Mental models change slowly: Good teachers give students the opportunity to try their own new thinking, fall short, receive feedback, and try again.

3- Good teachers encourage their students to come up with their own set of questions, beyond the questions that are already set forth for the course.

4-Most importantly, students have to care about what they are learning. Good teachers are always ready to answer “WGAD”-“Who gives a damn?” Because people learn naturally when it comes to solving problems that concern them.

It does make sense that deep learning can only happen when the student is invested in the process. In my Business Law course, I will keep working hard at personalizing the content for my students, taking the material out of the theoretical realm and into people’s everyday lives. After reading Bain, I have some good questions to ask myself as I teach a course.

Reference:

Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.

Lecturing creatively

Old school lecturing is getting a bad rap in higher education these days. Many are wondering about the benefits of the traditional model where students sit in a classroom and listen to a professor lecture for 1-3 hours. I was a student myself in the last few years at UBC and was amazed that very little had changed in terms of delivery of instruction since the last time that I was in university 20 years prior.

The age of student-centered learning  does not mean that we should do away with lecturing all together. In truth, if we take a creative approach to lecturing, it can be a very effective teaching method. And in many instances, the logistics of class size are such that lecturing is the only available option.

In “The Skillful Teacher”, Stephen Brookfield describes how to lecture creatively:

  • Be clear about the purpose of the lecture
  • Break up the lecture in 12-15 minute chunks of time, interspersed with activities engaging the students, such as visuals, clickers, silence, discussion groups…
  • Make use of the physical space, move around the room, even setting up mini-stations to explain different concepts
  • Plan and prepare every lecture

The “Learning and Teaching Office” of Ryerson University has published a handout to help instructors design more engaging lectures. There are many good suggestions and I think that I will look into the following:

  • The use of Twitter for the classroom: The instructor creates a Twitter handle for the class and uses it to post references, pose questions and engage the class. The students can also use it to ask questions and post material that they find relevant to the class. Studies have shown that classes that use Twitter had a greater level of student engagement and higher grade point averages.

 

We have learned about many of these techniques in the PIDP program. The problem is that it is often time consuming to plan creative lectures. I believe that it is necessary to take the time to do so. As instructors, it is our responsibility to facilitate learning and creative lectures are one of the tools that we have to help us do that.

http://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/lt/resources/handouts/LargeClassesEngagingStudents.pdf

Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Recognition or Accreditation

The prompt for this week’s post was to comment on program evaluation or accreditation. This lead me to look into how post-secondary institutions are accredited in Canada. You might be surprised, as I was, to find out that there is no national accreditation program for Canadian universities and colleges. Post-secondary institutions fall under provincial jurisdiction, the Ministry of Advanced Education in BC. The primary role of the Ministry is to recognize and regulate all aspects of post-secondary education, from adult education to international students and aboriginal education.

Accreditation is a process where a third party recognizes competence and ensures that established standards are met. For example, the nursing program at UBC is accredited by the College of Registered Nurses of BC (CRNBC), meaning that a student graduating from this program will have met the standards established by the CRNBC. Accreditation bridges the gap between educational outcomes and professional standards.

Colleges and universities in BC are not accredited, they are recognized and regulated in accordance to BC laws. I have created a diagram to illustrate the process.

degrees

You can find the regulations for Private Training Institutions in BC:

http://www.privatetraininginstitutions.gov.bc.ca/sites/www.privatetraininginstitutions.gov.bc.ca/files/files/policy-manual.pdf

And the regulations for degree conferring institutions:

http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/post-secondary-education/institution-resources-administration/degree-authorization

 

You have to walk your talk

The organizational code of conduct or the professional code of ethics, most organizations have one. It is where we find the organizational and personal standards of behaviour. The moral code by which we should conduct ourselves. It is always part of the employee contract, grounds for dismissal if violated.

Why do we need one in the first place? Don’t most people have a moral compass? Should we not know instinctively what is right and wrong? And I would argue that a written statement will not make much of a difference to an employee lacking moral fortitude.

An organization needs a code of ethics to clearly state what the obligations and responsibilities are in order to protect all stakeholders from internal and external forces. A code of ethics also says to the world that this is a place of respect and integrity.  But what it does not do is protect against lack of judgment.

Wells Fargo* expects its team members to adhere to the highest possible standards of ethics and business conduct with customers, team members, vendors, stockholders, and the communities it serves, and to comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations that govern our businesses.” (Wells Fargo Team Member Code of Ethics and Business Conduct )

What you read above is the Code of Conduct for Wells Fargo employees. From reading it, it is clear that all employees are expected to adhere to the highest standards. But that is far from the culture at Wells Fargo. Last year, 5300 employees were fired after it was revealed that across the company, employees were creating false accounts for customers and selling them financial products without their knowledge. We are a long way from the “highest standards of business conduct with customers”.

See story about Wells Fargo scandal

The point I am trying to make is that an organizational Code of Ethics is only as good as the organization it serves. The corporate culture also has to live by and exemplify those same rules. I know a mining company whose Code of Ethics is simply “Do no harm”. They decided to forgo all the frivolous language and be clear about their core message: Do no harm to each other, do no harm to our customers and do no harm to the planet. Organizational behaviour has to reflect those values for them to have meaning. Otherwise,  we end up with more organizations like Wells Fargo.