New Semester, New Challenges

This semester will present some new challenges for me.  These challenges will definitely be a lot of work, but, hopefully, will also be fun and interesting. I am doing three “firsts” this semester:

  1. For the first time, I am teaching a course that I designed from top to bottom. The course is called Finance & Investment Law.  In the first class, I told my students that I take both full responsibility and credit for this course.  I love having control over the both the design and delivery, but it is a lot more work and more pressure.
  2. For the first time, I am teaching a course at a university. Up until now, I have only taught at the college level.  Here, in Canada, post-secondary education is organized in two groups:  universities and colleges.  Universities focus on under-graduate, graduate, and post-graduate degree programs and research.  College typically provide applied education in diploma, certificate and, some times, degree programs.  I have a feeling that the teaching challenges at the under-graduate university level are very similar to those at colleges.  At my first university class week, I was pleasantly surprised that most of the class arrived at least 10 minutes early and many students took copious notes throughout the class.  I can get used to that.
  3. For the first time, I am teaching a course in a post-graduate program.  The program is a post-graduate certificate in international business. The students in this program already have at least a bachelor’s degree.  I am impressed with how engaged and enthusiastic my students are.

This semester will be very busy and professionally challenging – in a good kind of way. 🙂

Wayland

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New Year’s Resolution

I recently attended a faculty meeting at which a TED talk by education guru Tony Wagner was shown. Wagner spoke about 7 skills that students need to succeed in today’s society:

1. Problem-solving and critical thinking
2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
3. Agility and adaptability
4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
5. Effective written and oral communication
6. Accessing and analyzing information
7. Curiosity and imagination.

The $64,000 question is how do we, as educators, go about teaching students these skills.  There are no obvious or easy answers.  I believe the first step is to develop and apply all of these same skills ourselves in continually evolving and reinventing our teaching.  This new year, I resolve to:

  • Critically evaluate my teaching approaches and actively solve identified problems.
  • Collaborate with colleagues by sharing ideas and materials.
  • Be agile and adaptable to students’ different learning styles.
  • Initiate change where change is needed in course design and delivery.
  • Always be clear and transparent in my communications with students.
  • Seek out information from influential educators such as Tony Wagner.
  • Apply curiosity and imagination in my teaching.

Happy new year!

Wayland

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Sharing

In this festive season, we freely share our good cheer and, not to mention, our wealth with others. Sharing is the one of the most valued of human qualities. Our ability to share and work cooperatively is what distinguishes us from other species. It is what allows us to achieve and build great things.

When we are but mere toddlers, we quickly learn the concept of “mine!”. Our parents then teach us that it is good to share. However, along the way to adulthood, our capitalist society and perhaps our natural tendencies kick in to instill in us the importance of private property and exclusive rights.  “Let’s share” reverts back to “Mine!”.

In our professional lives, should we freely share our ideas and work product?  It, of course, depends on the situation and your personality.  I have in the past encountered professors who take a very proprietary approach. They are extremely reluctant to share their ideas and their materials such as powerpoints and tests, unless there is a clear quid pro quo for them.  I guess these professors somehow think that this approach gives them some kind of competitive advantage.  It is all too easy to fall into the thinking that this kind of behaviour is the norm and preferred approach.

In contrast, at my current college, I freely share ideas, advice and materials with my colleagues, and vice-versa. Somehow, I think this collaborative approach benefits everyone: me, my colleagues, the college, and especially the students.  It is far better than each of us working separately in isolation.

I freely share my thoughts and experiences through this blog.  However, I admit that it is not an altogether altruistic exercise. What do I get in return?  I certainly don’t make any money from this blog.  This blog requires me to reflect on my approaches to teaching. It motivates me to develop and follow through on new ideas.  I get feedback from other educational professionals. It provides a useful reference as a written journal.  In other words, it helps me be a better educator.

Sharing is good.  Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Wayland

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Excuses, Excuses: “I missed the exam because….”

We’ve all heard them: “My grandma died”, “I was vomiting all last night”, “My third cousin had a wedding”, “I had pink eye”, ….   If I was a grandparent of a college/university student, I would be afraid for my life around exam times. Then again, the grandparents of some students seem to have the miraculous ability to reincarnate and die many times over.

Whenever a student provides an excuse for missing an exam or missing a deadline for an assignment, as a professor, I am put in a difficult situation.  If a student’s excuse happens to be valid and honest, I do not want to be insensitive to the student’s challenges.  I am aware of the reality that many students must cope with many stresses in their school, personal and work lives. On other hand, I do not need a sixth sense to realize that too many students fabricate excuses as a part of their MO for success in school. For those students, I want to ensure that they do not get an unfair advantage relative to the other students in the class.  However, I also do not want to take on the role of Professor PI to check the veracity of students’ excuses.

It is a constant challenge to not become so jaded that I doubt the integrity of every student that has an excuse for missing an exam or assignment. Count me now as being a little more jaded. I heard an interview of Jane Collins, a nurse at the student health centre at Saint Mary’s University. After 19 years of writing sick notes for students, she recently said she had had enough. She said,

“It just seemed like there were the same students coming in all the time. Usually it’s, ‘I’ve been throwing up all night’ and they looked so well. I’m like ‘What, you’re throwing up all night? You look awesome.’ Or students say, ‘I have a really bad cold, I couldn’t possibly write my exam today and I have two tomorrow.'”

She also said she was spending at least an hour every day dealing with students requesting sick notes.

Hmmmm…

Wayland

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My Teaching Philosophy

The_Thinker_Musee_Rodin

Recently, I had to express my teaching philosophy in 1 to 2 pages. This was for an application to teach a course at another institution. I have a lot of thoughts about teaching, but I have never before had to express those thoughts in a coherent fashion as a “philosophy”.  The process ended up being quite enlightening. Well, here is what I wrote:

What is my teaching philosophy? In the five years since I started teaching at the post-secondary level, I suspect that my teaching philosophy has evolved substantially. A couple of months ago I started on a personal reflective journey by starting a blog (reflectiveprof.com) to share my thoughts and experiences in teaching college students.  I wanted to create a written chronicle of the various disparate thoughts and ideas I usually have throughout a semester.  Forcing myself to put my ideas in writing on my blog for everyone to see has made me much more proactive and motivated to implement new approaches in my teaching. As well, at a more profound level, I wanted to use the blog as a tool for reflecting on who I am as an educator.

I recently completed a Teaching Perspectives Inventory (“TPI”) (teachingperspectives.com).  The TPI is a reflective online tool for assessing an educator’s approach to teaching based on D.D. Pratt’s five teaching perspectives:  Transmission, Apprenticeship, Developmental, Nurturing and Social Reform.

My TPI results indicate that my dominant perspectives are, equally, Transmission and Developmental. This is consistent with how I see myself as an educator.  With regard to Transmission, I consider myself to be an expert in my field with an ability to communicate complex concepts in understandable and relatable ways.  From the Developmental perspective, I challenge my students to develop their abilities to problem solve and to critically analyze situations.

Overarching my teaching philosophy is my personal philosophy of “kaizen”.   Kaizen refers to a philosophy of continuous improvement. The degree of each improvement may range from incremental to substantial. Every semester, I re-evaluate how I teach a course with a view towards improving how knowledge is explained to my students (i.e. the Transmission perspective) and how I can better engage my students to develop their problem-solving and analytical skills (i.e. the Developmental perspective).

What have I done to improve my “transmission” of knowledge?  These are some examples:

–          Bringing real and current examples and issues into the classroom.  In the aftermath of the US financial collapse, I brought in a guest speaker to help my students make sense of what happened. Most recently, for my online course, I created case problem discussions on Charter of Rights and Freedoms issues arising from the proposed Quebec Charter of Values and defamation tort issues related to the news stories on the Rob Ford crack cocaine video.

–          Improving powerpoints by presenting information more concisely, and by using animations to graphically explain concepts. The latter is especially helpful for more visually-oriented learners.

–          Using storytelling to illustrate abstract concepts.

–          Providing lecture videos in the form of narrated and animated powerpoints. I have received very positive feedback from my students about my videos, especially from students whose first language is not English.

–          For my face-to-face classes, I create a course website that is as useful and easy to use as a website for an online course.

–          Creating crossword puzzles as interesting review exercises.

The Developmental side of me continually tries to challenge my students to think in ways that they may not have done so before.  These are some examples:

–          In a face-to-face course, I incorporated weekly online discussions of case problems.  While we still have in-class discussions, the online discussions always involve many more students and have a higher quality of interaction since students’ thoughts must be put into written form.  Students learn by preparing their posts and also by reading what other students have written. I also provide my students with detailed written feedback.

–          I recently experimented with a “flipped classroom” approach which required my students to learn the course material on their own before coming class by watching lecture videos and to apply that material in class by working through case problems.  Under this approach, I noticed that my engagement with my students became more interactive and more personalized.

–          To facilitate better classroom discussions, I have used various online tools such as Socrative (socrative.com), Today’s Meet (todaysmeet.com) and Twitter.

My overall teaching goal is to reach and develop as many students as possible by continually improving how I teach.  In so doing, I recognize the different learning styles and needs of my students.

Wayland

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My Experiment with a Flipped Classroom

In a previous post (Sept. 16, 2013), I wrote about my plans to try out the flipped classroom format with one of my business law classes. I teach three sections of a business law course. I chose one of those sections as the guinea pig for this experiment.  The other two sections could be said to be the “control” subjects.

Over two weeks, I taught contract law to the three sections.  For the two control sections, I followed the traditional format of covering the material in class with a lecture mixed with interactive exercises.

For the guinea pig or “flipped” section, I provided my students access to lecture videos and told them to watch these videos before coming to the classes. In class, we worked on and discussed case problems which applied the material covered by the lecture videos. I had my students work on each case in small groups (3 or 4) and then had full class discussions. While they were working in the small groups, I went around the classroom to provide individualized guidance and feedback to each group.

Last week, all of the sections were assessed with a test which combined multiple choice questions and case problems.

How did it go?  Here are my observations:

– For the flipped section, I noticed a drop in class attendance of about 20%. This is probably because I had stressed to my students that if they did not properly prepare for class by watching the videos, they would not benefit much from coming to class.

– The energy level in the flipped class was high and positive. The students were engaged and inquisitive.  I could sense the gears turning in their brains. However, a very small minority of students sat on the sidelines and did not engage themselves in working through the case problems.

– A number of students commented on how much they liked watching the lecture videos, especially the ability to replay parts they did not initially understand.  One particular student who is older and whose native language is not English sent me an email saying that the lecture videos were “marvelous” and a much better way for him to learn than standard class lectures.

– It was much more enjoyable for me to teach the flipped class, compared to the traditional classes.  I spent less time listening to my own voice and more time listening to and interacting with my students.

– How did they do on the test?  The class average for all three sections, including the flipped class, were pretty much the same.  However, the students who attended the flipped classes scored on average 6% higher than the overall class average.

Overall, I feel very good about this experiment and hope to incorporate more of this flipped approach in the future.

Wayland

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Malala

Today, I heard Malala Yousafzai speak. She was being interviewed on The Current (CBC Radio One). To listen to Malala is to be inspired. I am awestruck by her courage, her humanity and her force of conviction.  It is no wonder that the Taliban were so afraid of this teenager that they tried to silence her with bullets.  She said in the interview, ““They wanted to silence one Malala, but instead now thousands and millions of Malalas are speaking.”  She has indeed given a voice to millions of girls deprived of basic education.  Malala is a role model not just for all girls, but for us all. 

Wayland

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