educational development

Revising (or writing) your teaching philosophy statement

2 pencils on yellow, teaching portfolioI’m facilitating a session on the teaching philosophy statement (TPS) next month. The entire focus of the session is to look at samples of strong TPS and “analyze” them in order to better understand how to write a TPS. This session is being designed in response to requests by faculty members who are part of the Teaching Development Program and who must, as part of the program requirements, write or revise their TPS.

Below are some useful (I hope) first steps. The steps were written with the new(er) faculty member in mind and/or for the person who is new to an institution. My thinking behind these steps is “How do I support faculty members in moving past the anxiety they feel as they think about revising or writing their TPS?”.

Steps:

Reacquaint yourself with your TPS.

  1. Find your TPS.
  • Highlight all the phrases or sentences where you describe your beliefs about teaching.
  • Highlight (in another colour) all the phrases or sentences where you give succinct examples of how you enact these beliefs.
  • Reflect on whether the teaching activities you provide as examples align with your stated beliefs. (If they don’t, revise)

Inquire into your department’s expectations and/or guidelines for teaching dossiers for your specific appointment type.

Find out:

  • Are you required to have a teaching philosophy statement and dossier?
  • If so, for what specific purposes (merit, promotion, tenure, other?)?
  • Who reviews your dossier and when does that happen?
  • What constitutes a strong TPS or dossier in your department?

Connect with a few colleagues within your department and ask if they would be willing to share their teaching philosophy (or entire dossier) with you.

Other questions to consider asking your colleague(s):

  • Would you be willing to provide feedback on my TPS?
  • How have you used your TPS and/or dossier in your career progression?

 

Your (the reader’s) feedback and comments welcome! How do you support the faculty members you work with to get started?

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Self-Explaining

(This post was originally written for and published on the BC Campus Online Reading Club site). The book being referenced is Small Teaching by Dr. James Lang.

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I was attracted to facilitating this chapter because, as a learner, I make minimal use of self-explanation and was curious to see how it might “serve” me to do so more often in my educational developer role and as I consult with faculty members.

Spiral

10/365 Spiral by clogsilk

 

What is self-explaining and does it work?

(The nutshell and punchline for those who are pressed for time and/or impatient.)

The basic premise of self-explanation is that learners benefit from explaining out loud to themselves or others what they are doing during the completion of a learning task.  The best self-explanation techniques prompt learners to articulate what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Lang concludes this chapter by pointing out that research has yielded mixed results when it comes to the learning benefits of self-explanation; in some cases, learners with minimal knowledge of a subject benefit, whereas in other cases it is those with more knowledge who benefit.

How self-explaining works

In previous chapters, Lang underscored that mindful practice and mindful learning during practice foster learning and retention.

Self-explanation is a technique for fostering mindful learning during practice. It can help with that vexing problem of far transfer (or lack thereof)–that ability to carry theories or principles from the initial context to a new context.

Self-explanation can also help improve the learner’s comprehension when it requires individuals to make connections between their knowledge and their skills.

Summarizing research done in this field, Lang writes that the practices below foster learning during self-explaining.

Students:

  • tie specific problems to general principles and connect knowing and doing
  • monitor their own comprehension and can admit to being stuck
  • actively seek to fill in the gaps in their understanding when they feel stuck
  • are able to re-state different aspects of the problem in their own words

Self-explanation fosters learning because this approach helps learners:

  1. “Fill gaps and make inferences in learning productive ways” .
  2. “Modify and improve their existing perceptions or knowledge of a subject matter” (p.147)

Does self-explaining that is prompted by instructors foster learning?

One of the questions that especially piqued my curiousity in this chapter is the one that asks “Do self-explanations that are generated by teacher prompts have the same effect as self-explanations that are spontaneously generated by students?” (p.143).

According to the research that Lang reviewed, self-explanations generated by teacher prompts enhance learning and understanding when students receive immediate feedback.

The small teaching strategy that was cited several times in this chapter, as an example of a teacher-generated prompt, was that of asking students to select, from a drop-down menu, what principles are at play. When prompts are inserted into an assignment at key points, students must reflect on how certain principles are being applied in a specific context. This then helps with the issue of transfer because it requires students to make inference rules.

Citing Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reiman, and Glaser (p. 178, 1989) Lang writes “Inference rules ‘spell out more clearly the specific conditions or situations in which a specific action is to be taken.’”

Ways to use self-explaining in your teaching

“When using self-explaining, create opportunities that require students to select or articulate principles as they are making choices, searching for solutions, or revising their work” (p.156).

  • Ask students some variation of “Why are you doing that?” as you walk around the class while students are working on their own. (I think this would need to be carefully set up so it doesn’t terrify the students).  (similar to “think aloud” below).
  • Model self-explanation by using the “think-aloud” method as you read a passage or work through a problem. Alternatively, ask students to think out loud as they make decisions (p.154-155 or see Teaching Strategies: Think Alouds [geared to K-12, but useful]).
  • Use a drop-down menu at multiple points during an assignment to prompt students to reflect on the underlying principle at play. Doing so will, ideally, guide their next step.
  • Find ways to provide immediate feedback to students when they are engaging in self-explanation.
  • Scaffold this approach so it does not “over-tax” the students’ brains.
  • Use a “backward fading” approach in which students first observe a problem being worked out, next work out 1-2 steps on their own, and then complete the problem entirely on their own (see p.148 or Teaching with Worked Examples – Save learner time and effort while increasing performance!). (p.148)
  • Ask students to select X (e.g., 3 slides, or one particular section of an assignment) and write a short explanation of their choice. (p.152)
  • Incorporate self-explanation into peer instruction (p.152-153).

1.  I have bolded select in the quote above because it was found that selecting, rather than generating, fostered learning. When students had to generate the principles, it added to their cognitive load in a way that was unproductive (see p.149 for more).

A new twist on caring about good learning and teaching

I have worked in the field of educational development since 2003. I entered this profession by accident–but stayed because I care a LOT about students’ learning.

My own experience of being an undergraduate student remains quite negative–even though that experience dates a long way back. I attribute a 9-year gap between the end of my undergraduate degree and the start of my graduate degree largely to the fact that I associated university learning with joyless learning.

Tomorrow, my 18-year old son starts university. Now, there’s a whole new angle to me caring about student learning and I badly want his courses and professors to further fuel his love of learning.

It’s interesting to be in this place of educational-developer-mother-of-a-new-university-student.

 

A teaching-focussed career in higher education (non tenure-track)

When I am interacting with people who are not familiar with post-secondary environments and they learn that I work at a university, they generally assume I am a faculty member and that teaching is my main responsibility.

I am not a faculty member and have never aspired to have a tenure track faculty position, even when I undertook a PhD. Yet, the focus of my work is teaching and learning.

This spring, because of my professional path as an educational developer, I was invited to be a panelist at two different conference sessions. Both were designed for a graduate student audience. In this post, I’ve captured some of what I shared.

Graduate Students in Teaching Mini Conference 2019

Grad student mini conference panel

The purpose of this session was to highlight different types of teaching-focussed careers in academia. Bits and pieces I shared:

  • If you are attracted to a career the involves teaching, seek out opportunities to teach!
  • Think broadly about teaching. Explore and consider what type of teaching brings you enjoyment. Categories may include: adults, children, classroom, formal, group, one-on-one, facilitative, content-expert, training, planning…
  • Inform people that you want to do more teaching. If volunteering or doing guest lectures are options for you, let people know. Unless you do so, organizers may feel shy to invite you when they know they don’t have a budget to compensate you.
  • Share which topics/areas you’re interested in teaching. If you are teaching people who are not topic specialists, make sure you can speak on the topic in a way that is relatable to others.
  • Get over the belief that teaching is reserved for those with a faculty appointment! Teaching is part of so many roles and positions.

Note: The mini-conference was organized by my colleagues Drs. Shaya Golparian and Joseph Topornycky at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at the University of British Columbia. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this session! Co-panelists were Drs. Rowshan Rahmanian, Lacey Samuels and David Oliver. Conference link. 

 

Life after your PhD: Jobs beyond the academy

The purpose of this session was to hear the career narratives of four people who had graduated with PhDs in Education and whose primary role was not a tenure-track faculty member. Bits and pieces I shared:

  • Within the academy, there exists a strongly held belief that landing a faculty position is the (most) desirable outcome. Even if, intellectually, one doesn’t buy into that belief, I think it still affects the self-perception of those of us who intentionally choose not to pursue traditional faculty roles.
  • Take full advantage of any institutional career support you have for your career growth.
  • When seeking employment, reach out to your network.
  • LinkedIn has many features that allow you to grow your network, share your expertise, and develop your brand. Learn how to use it in a way that feels good to you (and be willing to stretch and/or try things out).
  • If you are lucky enough to have a supervisor who is willing to mentor you, gladly accept and enjoy this partnership in whatever ways are possible (co-publications, conferences, introductions, committees…)

Photo above: Isabeau with co-panelists Ernesto Pena and Lucia Terra (also Shaya Golparian, not in picture).

This session was organized by Dr. Christine Kampen Robinson (below) who served as LLRC 2nd VP along with Casey Burkholder under the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies (which is part of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education). Thank you for inviting me to be part of this session!

Christine Kampen Robinson organizer and Isabeau

Using stick figure narratives in educational development

This blog describes how we can use stick figure narratives in our educational development (ED) work.

My thoughts on this were inspired by a workshop facilitated by Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane who presented at Symposium 2018.  Dr. Motherwell McFarlane uses stick-figure narratives in her role as an instructor and counsellor to explore resiliency.

One of the premises of her work is that everyone can draw stick figures; consequently, it is not something that needs to be taught. Brain researchers, she explained, show that we instantly know when we are seeing stick figures and it is as if “a stick figure visual language app” comes with our brain. “Why not use it?!” she asked us playfully.

Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane led us through several experiential exercises at the Symposium. In this post, I’ll describe these and consider how I could use these in ED.

Materials Needed

Each attendee received:

  • 3 coloured markers, including one gel pen for writing on black paper
  • Coloured donut-shaped reinforcement stickers (the kind used for loose leaf paper holes). Also called “loopy” stickers in the workshop. (10 or more)
  • 5×8 blank index card (1)
  • 5×8 black card stock (1)

Activity 1: “Something unexpected happened…”

Within a few minutes of sitting down, we were asked to “show an image” or “make an image” depicting something funny and unexpected that had happened in our teaching.  We were given a short time (I think it was 2 minutes) and one rule: We had to use at least one loopy sticker in our image–and we could use as many loopy stickers as we wished. We then got into trios and shared our stories and drawings.

I do not remember what I drew; nor what my story was. What I recall is feeling stressed at having to draw right away, having to come up with something “funny”, and the requirement to do so within such a short time limit. I had gone to the workshop because I anticipated it would make me feel uncomfortable–right I was!

When debriefing this activity, Dr. Motherwell McFarlane emphasized the importance of getting participants to draw almost immediately and of giving people only a short time to do so. She also intentionally avoids using the words “draw an image” because the word “draw” can generate a feeling of anxiety in people.

Application to educational development: The activity could easily become “tell the story of something funny or happy or unexpected that happened in your ED work”. This, and the two activities below, could be part of a session promoting reflective practice in ED.

Activity 2: “Emotional X-Rays…”

This was my favourite!

The instructions went something like:

“You are going to create two images using stick figures and at least one loopy sticker. Use the white index card to show a situation in your educational development work (she used teaching), as it might be perceived by the people around you. Use the black card to show the same situation, as experienced internally by you.”

We had approximately 3 minutes to create both images and then shared the stories in trios or pairs.

Below are the two images I generated:

Image 1 (the “outside” view) Explained: My Fall has been very, very, very busy. I’ve had so many projects and have been applying my sharpest organizational skills and efficiency to complete these. The figure in this image is me flexing my ED muscles to keep various projects moving.

What I am projecting to the outside

Image 2 (the “inside” experience) Explained: This fall has been one of the most difficult periods in my life as I have been providing intense support to my daughter in her recovery of anorexia (I am sharing this with her permission). I have been drained and sad much of the time.

What is happening inside me

Activity 3: “Then and now…celebrating change”

This activity invites the image-maker to show and celebrate an aspect of one’s professional evolution.

The instructions went something like:

  • Think about your role as a __________ (you could use ‘educational developer’; Dr. Motherwell McFarlane used ‘educator’; I considered my role as an adult educator).  In the small, middle box, write the number of years that you have had that role (for me, 24 years as an adult educator).
  • Think about a change in you over that period of time.
  • In the top section, make an image that shows a way you used to do things/how things used to be…
  • In the bottom section, make an image that shows what things are like now…

A few people were then invited to share* their Then and Now narratives using the document camera at the front of the room.

*Tip: Dr. Motherwell McFarlane has her own travelling (iPEVO HD USB) document camera and advised that it is helpful to assign one person to be collecting images and positioning them properly so that you, the facilitator, can focus on the storyteller and not on futzing with the image/direction/camera.

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This session was my favourite at the Symposium. If you decide to use stick figures or have thoughts on how you might use them, please send me an email or write a comment — I’d love to hear from you!

I’d like to give a BIG thanks to Dr. Motherwell McFarlane who so kindly read through a draft of this post, added details that I had accidentally omitted, and provided other helpful feedback.