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!).
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