Teaching Practicum Reflection – Vancouver Summer Program 2016

I had the wonderful opportunity to co-design and co-instruct Package J: Medical Laboratory Science at the Vancouver Summer Program this summer with Dr. Amanda J. Bradley – it was my first experience of being so intimately involved in all aspects and stages of the teaching process; it was so energizing and exciting!

In the few months leading up to the program, we collaborated in tailoring the course curriculum to international students from diverse (cultural and disciplinary) backgrounds, with special consideration given to our learners’ varying competence with the English language (Course Syllabus). We created numerous opportunities for peer teaching and learning through in-class small group discussions, student team presentations, and use of two-stage quizzes and final exam; all with the intention to offer ample formative feedback through active learning and varied formats of assessment. We maintained an asynchronous learning environment through forums and discussion boards using an online platform (e.g., Blackboard Connect) with goals to facilitate transparency in communication and to empower students to engage in self-directed learning. Moreover, we spiced things up with a hematological laboratory session to offer unique hands-on experience for students to anchor and to integrate their knowledge, a presentation skills workshop in preparation for one of their summative assessments, and site visits to Pathology Education Centre and Canadian Blood Services Network Centre for Applied Development facilities to highlight the real-life relevance and clinical impact of course material.

Despite having a structured framework and having articulated our teaching intentions for the course, I found it challenging to simultaneously zoom in and out on as I prepared individual lesson plans to ensure alignment between intention, beliefs, and action. In preparing teaching materials (PowerPoint slides, visual aids, handouts, assessments, etc), I was surprised to find how crucial every minute detail and how impactful the phrasing of instruction are in making each lesson as clear and accessible as possible for our learners. This was especially transparent in implementing in-class small group activities, perhaps due to differences in what academic behaviours are valued culturally and differences in English competency – the learners seemed hesitant in verbalizing their understanding and in sharing their opinions with one another without step-by-step structured instruction and clear expectation of what will be shared back with the class at the end of each activity. Risk-taking was not embraced or welcomed by them. It was interesting to experiment with different facilitation techniques to fine-tune our mutual definition and expectation around participation; it turned out to be a rather collaborative process when I informally inquired about their emotional reactions to the classroom dynamics. I think the pre-assigned teams allowed a more even distribution of diversity and “expertise” throughout the classroom, which created a more supportive environment and challenged student to step out of their comfort zones in becoming more active participants in the classroom. The two-stage quizzes and the team-based small discussion activities also seemed to help build individual confidence and a sense of camaraderie between each student team; the shifts in group dynamics were intriguing to observe over time – peer-teaching organically took place without explicit direction or influence from the instructor half way through the course!

What stood out to me in this teaching experience was how integral and impactful transparent communication of my high expectations, of my believe in their ability to achieve high standards, and of my sincere effort in helping them deepen their learning were in motivating my learners. I found it extremely rewarding to engage my students beyond the classroom and to be connect with them individually with authenticity and beautiful vulnerability; their words of appreciation made all the hard work worthwhile (and yes, including the dreaded marking of the final exam!).

Sample Syllabus – Aligning Course Goals, Activities, and Assessment

GCP Sample Syllabus

I think the “big idea” helped to provide a coherent voice throughout this document and it served as a framework for the content structure. However, I think the details need to be better flush out to make the big idea more salient for the students in all aspects of the course, including content, learning activities, and assessments.

Observation: Introductory Biochemistry on Nitrogen Catabolism

Something that stood out to me in my mentor’s 8am 3rd year introductory biochemistry class was the format of delivery – he framed the lecture through a series of question and answer and scribed everything in real-time on the doc-cam.

It provided a logical flow and leveraged astudents’ previous knowledge (assuming from his frequent reference to previous lectures and problem sets) throughout the lecture – I think he hoped to convey how scientific inquiry is heavily based on relentlessly asking increasingly complex questions and continually connecting dots within your current network of knowledge. It also helped to pace the lecture and encouraged students to take notes while in class. He was very energetic and owned his space in his confident movement around the classroom. He even used a relevant and appropriate bathroom humour narrative throughout the lecture (e.g., how does toxic ammonia end up in the toilet) to motivate his students. He also incorporated normal physiology to explain why the biochemical reactions are proceeding in one direction, despite most of them being reversible – which I thought was powerful to emphasize to always zoom out and see the bigger context.

Given the large classroom and the tight time budget, he only pitched a few questions to the class throughout the lecture. He acknowledged each student response and elaborated on them as needed.

Overall, the delivery really seem to reward students’ ability to recall relevant information. The question that lingered for me after the observation is: how would he assess students’ level of competency and critical thinking in final exams?

 

Connectivism and Networked Learning

  • Identify an emergent, idea, product that has developed through the GCP Network.

An emergent idea that has developed through the GCP network is the impact of my teaching decisions/approach, often unconsciously influenced by my assumptions/beliefs/values (however well-intended),  on learners’ sense of identity and learning process. Frequent exploratory discussions with diverse opinions has expanded my reflections around my responsibility as an ethical instructor.

  • How does this related to your understanding of Connectivist learning based on your readings?

I view the GCP network as an anchor in my learning process, where I feel safe to explore, to make connections, and to shift my baseline, in order to continuously adopt and accommodate new ideas into my practice. The pre-readings and blog space are starting points for me to establish connections on my own; the classroom sessions are where I revise my connections based on others’ insights. These are valuable opportunities for me to reflect and to either deepen or alter my knowledge landscape to better inform my decisions in engaging with my students.

  • Consider broadly your understanding of how networked learning impacts your learning in the GCP.

Networked learning resonates well with me – it empowers me to take ownership of my learning process, humbles me in my unknowing without creating fear or sense of inadequacy, encourages me to continually take risks and experiment with new ideas in a supportive environment.

Teaching Practicum Reflections – Lymphoid Tissues and Lymphocytes

Third time’s a charm – I felt noticeably less anxious standing in front of the classroom.

The objectives were – By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the origin, subsequent development, and role of the two major classes of lymphocytes
  2. Differentiate between primary and secondary lymphoid tissues
  3. Relate the structures of secondary lymphoid tissues to their function
  4. Summarize the recirculation of lymphocytes and its relationship to the sequence of events involved in antigen capture and presentation, lymphocyte activation, and the initiation of an adaptive immune response

In order to assess students’ prior knowledge, I asked them to identify features that differ between innate and adaptive immunity before we dived into the bridge between the two systems. It seems that jotting their responses on the board and asking them to elaborate on their responses for the benefit of their fellow classmates resonated well with the group. I lectured briefly on the lymphocytes, inviting contribution from the class throughout. The majority of the class was focused on discussion around the secondary lymphoid tissue structures, focusing on their vasculature and cellular composition, and their relationships to tissue/organ function. I helped to provide more structure by assigning a scribe and a presenter to each group, so that students were more likely to feel accountable to stay on task during the time allotted. The participation seemed more lively as their comfort to engage in activities grew over the three lectures. One thing that I would do differently is to have the students hand in their notes taken during the discussion, so that they could be made available to the rest of the class and become part of their study material!

I wish the students had fun and felt that they learned during class, not only from myself but from one another! I’ll have to find out how I did on the program’s instructor evaluation after the term comes to an end.