Teaching connects the world

Over the last year, I have been co-leading a MOOC (massive open online course) with my colleague Marina Harvey. Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching is a free higher education teaching induction open to all. You may be interested if you are:

  • new to university teaching
  • would like to review topics to advance your teaching, e.g. scholarly teaching
  • interested in scoping modules for your institution’s professional development program (MOOC content is available to universities to share and adapt under a CC Attribution Share Alike license)
  • a sessional, contracted or continuing academic or higher degree student.

You can enrol for the current semester here.

The course was developed as part of an Australian National Learning and Teaching Fellowship led by Kym Fraser. Kym was inspired to create the course after her research found approximately a quarter of Australian universities provided a day or less teaching induction for new academics. It is a collaborative effort with over fifty contributors as authors and reviewers. Kym retired in 2021 and handed over leadership of the MOOC to Marina and me.

Since its launch in 2018, the course has had over 7000 participants from 106 countries. Here is a map of the coverage — please share with colleagues in countries we have not reached!

This international coverage is one of my favourite things about it — I have learnt about new countries (hello to the cohort from Suriname, the smallest independent country in South America!) and I have seen commonalities in how new teachers approach the challenges of higher education classrooms, especially the transition to teaching online during the pandemic. The title of this post, Teaching connects the world, was inspired by one of the participants this semester.

I have been impressed by participants’ engagement with scholarly teaching and student-centred practice. I particularly enjoy reading reflections on teaching in response to prompts such as Ellen Liang’s The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad first day and sharing of favourite ice breaker activities. Here are some ideas:

  • I found a blog on ‘13 fail-safe icebreakers to use in class today‘ and enjoyed reading the ‘Blobs and lines’ activity.
  • I’m always mindful of students who are a little shy or introverted. I like the ‘Three things in common’ activity. I think done one-to-one, it might be good.
  • I had a slide of 9 different positions of a rubber duck from upright to drowning and asked them which represented how they were feeling.
  • I have found the ‘Found the Pair’ icebreaker, which I think will be really fun to try next: https://tophat.com/blog/classroom-icebreakers/
  • I prefer an icebreaker related to the course content, or at least the discipline. Maybe one thing they are excited about, one thing they are nervous about for the subject or why they want to study the discipline.
  • If there’s no space for an icebreaker that will get people moving around the room and talking to each other, the simple “introduce yourself with your name and a thing about yourself” is a classic for a reason. I think it’s more fun to ask for a boring fact about yourself than an interesting one.
  • I don’t really like icebreakers myself, so I avoid them in teaching. However, I liked [the idea] … of using groupwork as an initial activity to get to know each other and reduce information overload in the first classes.

Thank you to the participants for sharing these ideas!

Join us here.

What’s in your reflection toolkit?

This is the 5th post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching to prompt you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche. Original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

There’s one tool that Stephen Brookfield still uses regularly 25 years after the first edition of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher: the Critical Incident Questionnaire. The CIQ invites anonymous feedback from students in response to five questions:

  • At what moment in class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in class were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class surprised you the most? (This could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs).

The CIQ is included in a comprehensive scholarly practice guide written by Marina Harvey, Kate Lloyd, Kath McLachlan, Anne-Louise Semple and Greg Walkerden for AdvanceHE. The short evidence-based activities are designed to support reflective practice for student learning. I highly recommend this as the go-to resource on reflection for learning.

The brief of Over a Cuppa is to focus on your practice as a teacher, rather than your students’ reflections for learning. With this in mind, we will revisit many of Harvey and colleagues’ ideas in future posts (storytelling, feeling, listening, exploring, dreaming). Of course, many practices apply to students and teachers, such as:

Give your brain a break: Instead of checking email between classes, spend some time watching out the window or mindfully walking with senses open to notice sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.

Here are two other tools I regularly recommend and have revisited many times (free but login required):

  • Teaching Perspectives Inventory – a 45-item instrument that explores your orientation to teaching.
  • ImaginePhD – designed for humanities and social sciences, three assessment tools – Interests, Skills and Values – offer an excellent tool for reflection.

Wishing you many happy reflections.

Over a cuppa

This is the 4th post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching to prompt you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

On my bookshelf is the foundational text Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (2nd edition) by Stephen D Brookfield, which shares a wealth of practical tools and examples. In a recent interview, Brookfield reflected on 50 (!) years of teaching in higher education:

I began my career feeling as if my responsibility was completely to decentre my own authority and almost remove myself from the classroom … and just let the students get on with it … I was very interested in self-directed learning for a while … As I got a little bit more experienced, I realised that, well, your body is always of significance in the class, you always do have some power, the question is: is that being exercised responsibly and supportively and authoritatively?

… I’m like everyone, I’m in a process of constant evolution.

You may be familiar with Brookfield’s four lenses: “students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, theory, and personal experience” (2017, p. vii). Inspired by a post from the Teche archives (thanks to Lilia Mantai) here are ways of looking through these lenses:

  • the autobiographical lens: write a teaching philosophy, collate a portfolio, watch your lecture recordings or try blogging for reflective learning;
  • your students’ eyes: revisit evaluations, gather informal feedback in a minute paper;
  • your colleagues’ experiences: talk about teaching, join a community of practice, undertake peer review;
  • the theoretical lens: read literature, participate in professional development, sign up for the MOOC on Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching.

Future posts will share other models for reflective practice such as Hatton and Smith’s four levels of reflection, Gibbs’ reflective cycle, the 4R framework and more. We’ll travel deeper to explore Mary Ryan’s work on reflexivity and Marina Harvey’s ecology of reflection. As promised, the posts will include practical resources as well.

Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher 2nd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. D., Rudolph, J. and Zhiwei, E. Y. (2019) The power of critical thinking in learning and teaching. An interview with Professor Stephen D. Brookfield. Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching, 2(2), 76-90.