Friday, August 14, 2015

The Teacher Persona. Is it you?

Lecture 4 and this time Prof A is looking at the Teacher Persona. Not sure about this lecture as some of what he says is good but some of it is quite old school.

He argues that teachers need to develop a teaching persona that is not necessarily the same as your normal persona and that you are to a certain extent playing a role as a teacher. As a teacher you are not a friend or a family member but a teacher and need to keep a certain distance from your students. Although you need to get to know your students this should be more intellectually than socially. He goes further saying that personal friendships with students shouldn't happen and in many instances are a form of professional misconduct. One of his interviewees talks about his early teaching career where as a young lecturer he wore the same sort of clothes he had done as student. The students just saw him another member of the class. When he began dressing differently, in his case in a tie, the students saw him differently and he was able to create his teacher persona.

Prof A continues by saying that you set the rules and are centre of attention. Here I think he is talking about old style formal mass lectures. In fact one of the people he interviews challenges this and says the only rule he has is mutual respect and that he doesn't like taking a parent role in the classroom. Prof A later tempers his ‘you are the centre of attention and set the rules’ argument by saying that it is perhaps more a situation of benign inequality. He spoils this a bit by then showing a clip where he enforces his no laptops rule and makes students print out the readings for the week. One student makes a reasonable argument that it’s slightly ironic to insist on paper printouts for class on the environment. He is then quite belittling of the student in his response saying that there a more trees in America now than there were in 1900. (A strange argument indeed! There may be more than in 1900 but surely there were more trees in America before 1492.) He said that he had resolved the situation with humour. Some might now call this banter but it looked like bullying to me.

Whilst I agree with the concept of the teacher persona, that you have a particular role to play and that you are not there to be friends with the students, I don’t agree with his you are in charge approach. In a previous language teaching role, in the first class one for the activities was for the class to set the rules of the class. Even though class after class produced the same things I might have suggested, they had created them, had ownership of them and made sure they kept to them in order for the class to run smoothly for all of us. It also got them speaking to each other in the target language and began developing a community within the class from the off.

Yes, teachers should not be friends and there is a role to play but surely it’s one of guide and enabler not dictator.

Friday, July 31, 2015

After some delay it's back to 'The Art of Teaching'

The next lecture in the Great Courses series The Art of Teaching is ‘Starting out right’, where he talks about the importance of the first day of class. He argues that it’s really important to set a strong sense of what’s expected right from the first day. Not for him spending the first day outlining the syllabus and telling people what’s going to happen. It’s much better to get students working from the start. As before he interviews a number of teachers about what they do on the first day including one who sets an assignment that need to be completed for the first class and is then used in that class. One person takes a photograph of each student along with their name on the first day and then puts them up on their office wall. Another makes sure that they have learnt as many of the students name as they can before the class! All of them argue that building a relationship with students is key to good teaching and knowing their names shows that you are prepared to put the effort in to do this. The next element of the first day is to let the students know that you find the material fascinating and why understanding it matters. Following this all of them challenge the students from the off, getting them to work early and setting the expectations for the rest of the course. There are some other somewhat ‘interesting’ parts of the lecture where he talks about being in charge and his right to set the rules. Not quite sure about all that.

The basic tenets of the lecture are to get right into the course on the first day and get to know your students.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

So it begins. The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from Master Educators.

The first lecture sets the scene and Professor Allitt talks about the changing nature of education and his own career as a student, a lecturer and as Director of the Emory Centre for Teaching and Curriculum. All very interesting. It’s the second lecture, ‘The Board Range of Learners’ that where the course really starts. Why does everything really start in the second lecture? He argues that we are all teachers in one way or another and that teaching is one of the fundamental human activities. In addition, if you want be a good teacher, you have to be a good learner. To that end he thinks that one of the best ways of learning is to teach and that we should give our students every opportunity to teach each other. Several students are interviewed to say how much they have gained from doing this. Peer teaching? Peer marking? All very MOOCy form the Old Skool Prof :-).

There are various interviews with lectures and students throughout the course who talk about their various experiences in a wide range of disciplines. This makes the watching experience a bit more like a documentary than a traditional lecture and gives viewpoints other than Professor Allitt’s. Professor Allitt's philosophy (his inner teacher?) seems to be to help every student to be their best whereas one lecturer in Business marks on a curve, making marks a competitive process in an attempt to mirror the business world.

Prof A, as I shall now call him, argues that one of the key elements is building a rapport with your students and then inducing them to think in new ways. Teaching is not just about transmitting a body of knowledge but also a way of thinking. For example students need to know about being an historian as much as they need to know about history itself. Also, as a teacher you need to know when you don’t know and a capacity for self-criticism is an essential part of professional development.

This lecture, and to an extent the one before, made me think about teaching, which is I guess the aim of any lecture. Prof A and the other lectures interviewed seem to care about their subject, teaching and their students. So far all of them seem to see teaching as way of passing their excitement about their subject onto others. The key themes that have come through to me so far are that teaching is a vital component of being an academic and the role of reflection on their professional development. All things that are at the heart of the HEA Fellowship scheme that I’m involved in setting up and in the Post Graduate Teaching Certificate we are about to rewrite.

“Teaching is more than a job. It's a responsibility"

“Teaching is more than a job. It's a responsibility—one of the greatest responsibilities in civilized society. Teachers lay bare the mysteries of the world to us. They train our minds to explore, to question, to investigate, to discover. They ensure that knowledge is not lost or forgotten but is instead passed on to future generations. And they shape our lives in limitless ways, both inside and outside of the classroom.”

So says Professor Patrick N. Allitt of Emory University and the lecturer on ‘The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from Master Educators’, a course from the Teaching Company. The Teaching Company has been running since 1990, based on the concept of finding the top 1% of college professors in the world selected entirely for their ability to teach (now there’s a thought) and using feedback from customers to help craft courses into formats uniquely designed for the lifelong learner. Over 10 million courses have been sold and they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, “If a course is ever less than completely satisfying, you may exchange it for another of equal value at any time. You may also return any course, within one year of initial purchase, for a full refund.” Shall we try that here?

I know I’m a bit sad but over the last few years as I walked to work along the seafront, I’ve gone through the following ‘Great Courses’ -

  • Origins of the Human Mind
  • How We Learn
  • Theories of Human Development
  • Story of Human Language
  • History of the English Language
  • Legacies of Great Economists
  • Economics
  • Understanding the Fundamentals of Music
  • Elements of Jazz: From Cakewalks to Fusion
  • History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev

However, times are changing and what place does the Teaching Company have in this brave new world of MOOC and OER? (I have signed up for numerous MOOCs but sadly never completed any. Their time based nature means if you fall behind you’ve had it. Perhaps MOOCS are the new exercise bikes?) The Teaching Company are still here but do have a 70% sale on all of their courses at the moment. Hence my £29.99 investment in ‘The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from Master Educators’. There are twenty six lectures each lasting around thirty minutes on topics including Teacher Student Relationships, Creativity and Innovation, Dynamic Lecturing and Maintaining Your Enthusiasm. There is also a course booklet with a summary of each lecture, a toolkit of tips for each topic and a bibliography. I get a DVD and online version of the lectures and they can be watched at any point in the future. So far so good but is it any good? Can I learn anything form this ‘course’? Will I make to the end? Does it matter? How does this slightly old skool approach match up in 2014? I bet you can’t wait to find out! I’m going to make notes as I go through and blog about it here.

Wish me luck :-)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Feedback. Hendrix lives?

I completed my assignments and posted them to the course site and the sound files to Soundcloud but then completely forgot that I had to grade 5 other students; until about half an hour before the deadline. I also hadn't quite twigged that we were supposed to write as much for the feedback as we had for the written assignment, as each was an analysis of a solo. I thought the written assignment was hard but this was even harder, especially for beginners. I’m not sure a I really have the knowledge or vocabulary to do this. I think this is a really interesting and powerful way of learning, with the critical analysis of each other’s work being a major part of learning, but in this context I think it is a bit in at the deep end, especially as the next assignment is to play around with some scales rather than a full blown solo and analysis.

Initially some students thought that the first assignment was an audition piece and that Gary Burton would listen to them all and put us in groups according to our ability, much like a Jazz summer school. It is slowly dawning on some people that the man himself is likely to only listen to a few if any of the thousands of assignments and that it is up to each of us to listen, critique and encourage each other. In the end I went thought the assignments and graded (sorry that should be marked – I've gone native!) them the best I could in the time I had. I must have missed something though as I was marked down 20% for not completing the full grading. I’m not sure what I did or didn't do but it took my mark down to just below the pass mark and there is no comeback. In Coursera world a fail is a fail so suck it up. I’m not really interested in the mark but if I was, I wouldn't be a very happy trumpet player.

Something else I've noticed is how good some of the musicians are. Some are good musicians but new to Jazz but several are experienced jazzers and even Berklee graduates. The might be useful for marking other students but are pretty daunting for newbies that feel their work is up against them. This seems to follow from reports that a high proportion of the students in Coursera and the like are already graduates. You have to be a pretty confident, independent learner in Coursera world. Not quite opening up education to the masses eh Dr Koller? Only two days until I have to submit the next assignment and the week 3 videos are already out. I’ll try not to collect another penalty this week.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

My first Jazz MOOC assignment

This first assignment was in two parts -

Part one was a "solo analysis" of of a solo played by the tutor.

For part two we had to download an MP3 play-along track for a set of harmonies and a chord chart PDF and "Do your best to improvise a solo on the song."

I found the solo analysis quite a hard thing to do as I'm not sure I really have the vocabulary or experience to do this. I don't think I made much of job of it either.

The playing part really daunted some of the other students, some of whom have never improvised before. It wasn't a particularity easy piece either with some quite complex chord changes. We all had to record our efforts and post them to Soundcloud.Quite a tough first assignment.

Week Two is looking at chords and scales, which might have helped some people with Week One but might have put them of before they started. I'll trust the tutors judgement. He is the best in the world at what he does after all.

Interestingly, after my comments about the constructive nature of the dialogue on the course site there has been a bit of change. There is now a fair bit of negativity towards the Tutor and Coursera. Some people haven't quite grasped that this is a free course and also that learning is not all a bed of roses. Learning is a disruptive process. If learning is successful, it changes you and change is never an easy process. However, there seems to be an attitude of I want it as I want it, I want it now and I want it for for free. Hmmm... not very healthy for the future of learning.

Anyway, here's my effort

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A MOOC for International JAZZ Day

I've been involved in a few MOOCs before and have been exploring them from the point of view of my day job. So far I've not managed to complete one but it hasn’t been the reason I’ve been following them. Some, especially the ones on the subject of learning technology itself have had bewildering amounts of information. It seems as though some of the learning technologists on them are spending a good portion of their waking hours reading, posting and tweeting to the echo chamber. However, this one is different. I’m taking the course because I want to take it for itself. It’s entitled ‘Introduction to Improvisation’ and is being run on Coursera by Gary Burton. Not only is Gary a Professor at Berkeley, counts Chick Corea and Pat Metheny among his former pupils and is known to be a great improviser, he is also generally considered to be the best vibes player that has ever lived. Quite a CV eh? It was interesting that in a recent MOOC seminar one of the Professors present said, when looking at a Berkeley MOOC, “Who are these people?” and then argued that the people running the courses might as well just be actors. Well, the teacher being the best person in his field who has ever lived is good enough for me. He has even managed to get Learning Technology into the latest issue of Jazzwise magazine.
One very interesting element of this course is that Gary Burton has long been involved in Berkeley distance education and their online programme. This shows in the opening videos for the course. In fact he spends the first four videos talking about the course, what’s expected and the challenges of learning online. Peer review is a key element of the course and he carefully points out that comments should be supportive helpful and constructive. There should be no ridicule and that in a course of this nature “a lot of respect is called for”. Although there has not been any peer review yet the early comments on the forums seems to be following that advice. Sadly this has not always been the case in other MOOCs I have been on. He also points out that the course will not lead to success overnight or even during the duration of the course. Improvements and success will be seen in the weeks and months to come after the course has been completed. This is something that is true with all learning but that is not always acknowledged in an employability driven, satisfaction survey obsessed and learning outcomes focused world.
There are not as many short quizzes in this course so far. In previous courses there were lots of multiple choice quizzes where by watching the videos you could get the answers correct without actually having to learn anything. Not that I’m against multiple choice questions but using them just as a way of demonstrating you have remembered what you have just watched doesn't seem to be the learning revolution trumpeted by Daphne Koller et al. Instead the assignment for week one is to analyse as short improvisation by Mr Burton himself and then to record your own improvisation of the same tune using the backing track provided. These will then be peer reviewed. Some people are pretty daunted by the second part of the assignment as they are either new to Jazz, improvisation or both. (There seem to be quite a lot of prog rockers on the course. Down with Edupunk. Eduprog lives!) However, others seem to have been inspired by the culture of ‘a lot of respect’ and have already started posting their improvisations. The respect culture seems to be there in the comments as well – these are general comments rather than peer review. Some people are clearly early in their musical careers but the comments have been really supportive and constructive. None of the YouTube style ‘you suck man’ comments.
I plan to blog throughout the course and I plant to complete this one!

Friday, July 29, 2011

5 years on

I’ve been in my current post over 5 years now and in a recent office move I found notes from a series of meetings from when I first started. After the previous VLE officer moved on, two e-learning support officers were employed, with one of the roles to expand the use of technology to support and enhance learning and teaching from a pedagogical rather than technology perspective. When I arrived, I discovered that the prevailing view in the department was that e-learning and the VLE were one and the same thing and anything outside that definition was not what would be happening here! One of us took on the VLE support role and the other one, me, was left in a kind of limbo. The VLE support didn’t require two people, even when training was included. So there I was, fresh off my masters, in a new city, an interesting sounding new job and ready to go but nothing to do. However, I’m not put off that easily. With the help of a keen and very supportive academic, I searched around for people with an interest in e-learning (I’m going to use e-learning as a term because I can’t be bothered to keep typing "technology to support and enhance learning and teaching" ) and asked if they would be happy to meet and share their thoughts. My aim was not to tell them what I wanted to do but just to listen and find out what was going on. I managed to find 10 people who were willing to give up some of their time. The notes I found have each person's comments divided into three categories - positive comments, negative comments and areas to explore. I'm not sure why I chose those categories but it obviously seemed like a good idea at the time.

So what did they say?

The positive

"It has changed out of lecture teaching. It's more efficient - I do different things."
"Initially it was time consuming but later not so bad."
"I use the VLE to deliver lecture notes, PowerPoint slides, spreadsheets for modelling and links to web resources."
"Some lecturing staff are very keen"
"The school has a group of believers."
"It's useful for seminar groups."
"Useful for links to websites."
"Nearly all lectures in my school use the VLE to some extent."
"It's useful for visually-impaired students who can print off in braille beforehand."
"I think many lecturers would be keen to move to the next level."

The Negative

"The VLE interface can be clunky."
"The VLE interface can be clunky." (No i didn't type this twice by mistake)
"Classes are too big for e-learning."
"Some lectures have problems such as the time it takes, not wanting to learn new skills, thinking 'it's not for me' and worrying that student won't come to lectures."
"Many lecturers are very anti the VLE."
"At the moment it's all about the tools in the VLE and not what the benefits of e-learning are."
"e-learning at the University is all just the VLE!"
"Not keen on the VLE. I don't see the point!"

The areas to explore

Virtual classrooms, podcasts and video for tasters of upcoming lectures
Virtual whiteboards
Interactive whiteboards
Blogs and wikis.
Collaborative social spaces for networking
More research into the effectiveness of e-learning
The University to run an MSc in e-Learning
JISC Plagiarism tool
As students have little contact with tutors during projects, explore the use of blogs and wikis to improve interaction.
Tools to ease content creation
Online surveys for module evaluation.
Use of audio to support students with accessibility issues
Would like to know more about what e-learning is.
Examples of good practice
Collaborative work
The use of video
Tools for content creation
More training
Want to provide something different for in and out of lecture time. Want to encourage students to think.
Keen to explore tools for formative assessment.
A question of knowing what's available
More flexible training schedule - one-to-one, department wide etc
Content creation tools
JISC plagiarism tool
Collaborative e-learning
Problem based learning
Easier content creation
Collaboration with outside partners such as the NHS
Use of streaming video in class - through the VLE?
Move beyond document store use of VLE
Learning objects to supplement class teaching
More advanced use of e-learning

So what does it all I mean? I'm not sure really. I'll take some time to think about this - about what's changed over the last 5 years, what's hasn't changed, what's new, what's worked and what hasn't - and return to it in another post.