Monthly Archives: October 2010

Reflection on Teaching

The post below is from guest blogger Aino Corry from the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University.

I have a confession; I have not really reflected on my teaching before…

I thought I had, but it turns out I haven’t, really, deeply, reflected on my teaching. Now, what made me come to this conclusion? Well, first and foremost I had a taste of peer supervision (more on this in another blog post), which made me look at my teaching through the eyes of peers. That was a major eye opener for me. Another thing was reading about reflection in order to write my teaching portfolio.

What is the motivation to reflect on your teaching? That it will improve your teaching? That it will enable others to learn from your experiences? Or, that you will be able to see your own progress? Or, perhaps just that you need some reflection to get tenure? All of these are valid reasons for reflecting on your teaching. Professor Jack C. Richards explains in his paper Towards Reflective Teaching how reflection on your teaching can help you grow as a teacher. His claim is that most teachers find their own ways of coping with teaching issues in the classroom as a response to given situations. That is, they build a set of strategies during the lecture, instead of taking the time needed to reflect over their teaching outside of the classroom.

The reflection in itself goes through three stages; The event itself, Recollection of the event, and review and response to the event. There are numerous strategies for implementing these three stages, one of them is the aforementioned peer supervision, which is also briefly explained in the paper by Jack Richards.
One of the reflections I have done in creating this post, was when reading ProDAIT – Professional Development for Academics involved in Teaching, a web site with advice on how to improve your teaching. One of their pages is on methods for hunting assumptions, in which I found an assumption I have always had and applied in my teaching style: “It’s common sense to visit small groups after you’ve set them a task, since this demonstrates your commitment to helping them learn. Visiting groups is an example of respectful, attentive student-centred teaching.” Read more on why this is not always true. Although they might not be entirely right about this, it did make me recollect some teaching events from my past and review them.

In conclusion, reflective teaching is time-consuming, but our current teaching experience can only take us so far in our scholarship in teaching. To become a really good teacher, you need to reflect.

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Let’s get on Facebook: That’s where the students are

How will you let social media permeate your classroom?

The bank robber Willie Sutton once famously said:”Why do I rob banks? Because that is where the money is!”. Similarly, why should professors get on Facebook? because that is where the students are! This is where that water of attention that burst through the dam has now gone to. To such an extent that the emergence of Facebook is now the focus of a major motion picture, probably already playing in a theater near you.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should befriend all your students and get to view these often disgraceful party pictures. Even if the current Facebook security system still leaves room for improvement, there are ways to be safe on Facebook, by following some simple rules, by taking a few steps to be safe, and by using an independent tool that checks your privacy settings for you. And after all, you don’t have to look at these photos other wish to share. If you’re worried about people accessing secrets on your own personal profile, there’s a simple way to get around that: don’t post them on the first place. What’s private should remain as such. And if it’s not even about secrets but simply holiday photos and somehow the tricks linked above don’t work, all you might get is some amused and friendly looks, perhaps even appreciative remarks from your students (like “it’s great you went to the Canary islands, I would like to do the same…”).

That said, like there are some guidelines for properly mixing learning with playing, there are certain ways to mix educational purposes and the social media. At Purdue University, a team created an e-learning platform called Mixable that aims to encourage students to mix work and play within Facebook. Mixable proposes to organize a study space within Facebook, something that no other application is really doing yet, in spite of the popularity of such type of media.

Several educators are now realizing that social media like Facebook but also Twitter might actually be great opportunities to personalize learning. Perhaps a welcome solution actually to better manage the increasing number of students that enroll at universities. At a conference last week in Washington DC, experts discussed the “use of ed-techs tools for individual education”. During a panel discussion on the topic, the various invited speakers shared examples of how the social media could (and should–remember the name of this blog!) be used to facilitate education, based on their own experiences.

So, just get your user account and start tweeting, your students will praise you for it…

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What should a teaching portfolio contain?

The post below is from guest blogger Aino Corry from the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University.

More universities are putting an increasing emphasis on teaching, which is a good way to promote such reflections. After all, this makes sense as teaching is the academic activity “that gives real meaning to the title professor. But this renewed focus means universities might now expect a teaching portfolio from the people applying for tenure.

Now, a teaching portfolio is not just a list of the courses you have taught and their evaluations. It also includesa number of other items, among this, in particular some reflections on your teaching philosophy.

Guidelines of what to include in your teaching portfolio have been developed at several Scandinavian universities such as the University of Aarhus (also look at some specifics for the Faculty of Science ), theAarhus school of business, the Karolinska Institutet Sweden, the University of southern Denmark, theCopenhagen University, and LTH Sweden. Three levels of teaching portfolios could be organized depending on the institutional requirements, with the following common attributes:

The Minimal teaching portfolio mostly includes courses that were taught, as well as corresponding topics and levels.

The Average teaching portfolio is comprised of the Minimal portfolio plus the following items:

  • Types of examinations, benefits and drawbacks
  • Contributions to the development of fields of study, courses or subjects
  • University-level pedagogical activities, such as education courses and peer supervision
  • Study management and development, such as involvement in continuing education programs, external mentoring, etc
  • Student evaluations.

Finally, if you want to dazzle the university, you should consider adopting the Ferrari Teaching portfolio, which includes the Average portfolio plus the following:

  • Statements by directors of studies, heads of institute/department or course managers
  • Completed teacher training and teaching courses. Written assessment from assistant professor teacher training. Participation in conferences about teacher training
  • Development of new courses and forms of teaching and examination or other development work
  • Contributions to conferences, scientific articles about pedagogical subjects
  • Participation in evaluation work at the faculty or university level in national or international contexts
  • The applicant’s reflections regarding your own teaching work: what where the objectives? which teaching methods did you employ and why? how did you carry out this teaching assignment?
  • Description, using examples, of how you have developed your teaching, supervision and examination methods
  • Give an example of how you planned, executed and evaluated a course, lesson or tutorial
  • Give an example of evaluations of your educational practice, such as student evaluations of your teaching, peer opinions of your teaching, and the views that doctoral students have had about your supervision methods.

If you’re not sure about what your university asks for or if you can’t find it, go for the Ferrari model, or even a compromise between the Average and the Ferrari… It’s more work but it’ll pay off when critical decisions need to be made about your salary, your tenure, etc.

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