Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thoughts on teaching - provoked by Connected Courses

Wow, it's not even Wednesday noon (half-way through week 1 of module 1) in Connected Courses and the feed is buzzing with the title (and/or #whyiteach).  Quite interesting.  Lots of things saved to pocket.  I will most likely read through them this weekend ;-)  In any case, I joked on twitter earlier that I should write a post on why I don't teach (who knows, this post may evolve to that near the end), but for now, I thought I would address some questions, and riff off of, or build upon, some comments from Randy, Cathy and Mike from this week's live session.

The first question asked was: What was your favorite class to teach? I've only really taught two classes. I've directed workshops and one-on-one tutorials in the past, however these were really one-offs and there wasn't sustained engagement.   The first class I ever (really) taught was a course that I designed to introduce graduate students in instructional design to research methods.  This was a special topic that hasn't returned to the roster yet.  The course that I generally teach is INSDSG 684: The Design and Instruction of Online Courses.  I think the best class (up to now anyway) was last spring semester.  The reason why I particularly like this group of individuals was because in this specific group more people recognized the contributions that others had made to their thinking. Granted, I did offer a design badge that was voted on by peers, but this was at the end of the semester. I actually saw people acknowledging their classmate's help as early as half-way through the semester, which is something that amazed, and delighted me.

A related question to this was: Worst class ever taught? Since my experience in teaching is limited, I don't really have a worst class taught.  I do have some examples of worst workshops I've taught, and they were all around the use of PowerPoint.   Many undergraduates, and graduates, came to my workshops for Microsoft Office, and PowerPoint was a popular one. Students came in, and the first thing they wanted to know is how to make graphics spin, and zoom, and do all sorts of funky stuff. I had to work really hard at not rolling my eyes.  By the time they left the workshop at least they understood that your presentation doesn't start with the flashy things, but with actual content and flow of information.  What they did after was their own business - I just hope they didn't succumb to the temptation to add pizazz by adding unnecessary animations ignoring their message.

Finally the last question I jotted down was: What is Higher Education about? Oh man, is this a big question! To be honest it seems to me that Higher Education is all things to all people.  It seems to be a universal panacea, and that it is not. In our EdD cohort we recently got an article from our course instructor, from the economist, about trade education.  This generated some interesting discussion among the cohort. I know that when I was in high school higher education seemed like a no-brainer, something you should do, and don't even bother with trades.  Even classes like shop-class (wood-shop, metal-shop, automotive stuff) seemed to be pushed to the side, and things like computers were emphasized. I tend to adopt a more middle of the road attitude.  While not everyone will want (or like to) be an electrician, plumber, auto mechanic, at the same time not everyone wants to be a physicist, or philosopher, or political scientist. I do think, however, that a good mix of the two is what we should strive for.  I'd like to know how to diagnose my own car issues, or fix my own (minor) electrical issues, and I would like to think about things like what it means to be in higher education.  The proportions for me would be different than someone else, but there is still a mix, and the individual determines what that mix is.

So, what is the purpose of higher education?  For me, higher education is not something that you go to in order to get a job. For me it seems like a waste of time and money to get a BA just to enter the workforce. It also seems like an unfair "tax" on those members of society that can least afford to pay for education that would get them a job in order to be "productive members of society".  This is especially egregious when considering that for some fields what one learns as a freshman (as far as content) is outdated by the time they graduate.   Thus, for me higher education is about life long learning.  It's about learning to engage with peers, of various sorts, on a variety of issues.  At the BA level it's also about a lot of content knowledge that will give you a grounding to be a self-directed lifelong learner, but at its very core higher education for me is about that pursuit of lifelong learning. That is timeless.


There are a few things that also stood out in this live session. I think I will pick my top three to discuss:

Purpose drive course vs content driven course 
I don't remember what the context was for this comment, and I do remember seeing it on twitter as well. I  think this is a false dichotomy. Each course has a purpose, and each course has content.  If you look at syllabi, even if it's just a façade, there are learning objectives for the course. In course design there needs to be some sort of synergy between your activities, content, and assessment, and all of those need to tie into the goals set forth by those learning objectives.  You could have some really poorly designed courses that appear to be a major content dump (banking model of education?) but in theory the are purpose driven, not content driven.  Content should support purpose, and purpose is not devoid of content.

Arrrr, it's a mutiny!
Cathy Davidson mentioned that one of the fears of instructors is the course mutiny. What do you do when students take over the course and don't do what you want to? You can always wield the authority stick, but I don't think students will respect you for it. I suppose at the end of the day it depends on why the student's are mutinying and taking over.  If the students just don't want to do any work (and get a grade for it), there are potential issues there (especially if there is no way to pass some assessment of prior learning!). Instead of giving them an "F", you can give them an incomplete grade (which at my institution defaults to an "F" after 1 year) if the students do not demonstrate attainment of the learning objectives for the course through some sort of means that they come up with.  You could then leverage their push-back against what you've designed for the course to have them design their own environment and can nudge them gently to fill any gaps that they have but they are blind to.  Personally I am not afraid of the mutiny since it's an opportunity to work together on a class constitution that is mutually agreed upon and we can go from there. I am willing to take a chance - it's a learning experience. I would just expect learners to be bound by the conditions we agree upon.


You've made the grade!
Cathy Davidson was mentioning an interesting fact: the ABCD grading system didn't enter academia until the mid-1800s and once it entered it spread like wildfire.  Pretty interesting that this grading scheme has been with us for less than 200 years, yet we treat it with reverence. While it is longer than I will ever live, this only goes back to the time of my great-grandfather, so in relative terms it's quite new.  Fascinating!  Cathy was openly braistorming about using Badges as a way to remedy issues with assessment in her courses. Cathy has been lurking on the OpenBadges MOOC for a while now in pursuit of this.  I have to say that I am also considering this for my 684 course.  A good point made was that you: don't fail Karate, you just don't move up to the next rank.  Why fail someone, just  don't give a badge.  Of course, when the University structure gives you a sandbox (the grading scheme) and limited time (a semester), you may have earned so many badges, but when you tally them up, if you haven't leveled up to a certain point, this will be reflected in your grade.

As for my course, the badge experiment last spring was more behavioral in nature.  I did give out a badge to everyone who satisfactorily completed their final project, but  I trid to stay away from awarding badges for things that were evaluated and had point values on the overal course grading rubric.  My course, I think, is in need of a redesign. Now that it's been re-numbered as a higher level course (it used to be 619), I am thinking of removing some early modules that were preparatory (in case people hadn't been exposed to certain concepts in other courses) and reworking the course.  I am thinking of a  1+ 7 + 4 model.  One week of introduction, 7 weeks of content, 4 weeks of development, iteration, and peer review. As I am thinking of making this course into a MOOC (perhaps using Siemens' xMOOC/cMOOC hybrid concept) I think I will re-develop 684 into an open course over the span of the next couple of years (assuming my concept if accepted as a dissertation topic)

Why do I teach?
OK, OK... I will answer your question.  I teach because I want to share what I know, and I want to learn what I don't know.  It's the same reason I joined internet forums like HowardForums, MacOSX.com and PDAlive back in the day :)

Question for all of you out there that are still reading:  Mike Wesch asked this: What sort of social contracts do you need in order to make a connected course work?  What do you think?
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