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.

Connecting through reflection

This is the 15th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which offers prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche blog with an original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

As anticipated, Over a Cuppa reflection posts have been sporadic this session. The previous post, Continuing to reflect (or how full is your cup?) was written in August, in lockdown while working and learning from home. After 106 days, we are slowly emerging. The intensity of this time has changed what reflection looks like, with limited air and light and time and space (to borrow Charles Bukowski’s words).

This post is a shout-out to many colleagues across the university, and is inspired by a comment from Rex di Bona in a post on tips for online teaching : “I found that the students were lonely [during lockdown].”

On our university blog, in a series of Spotlight on Practice interviews, teachers reflected on what worked in the transition to teaching fully online, and the value of connection was a recurring idea:

Janet Dutton summed it up well: “The notion of connection and care … is really a core dimension of my work as a teacher. I found that was heightened in the shift to online learning – the students really needed that connection.” Others echoed these words, with Andrew Burke emphasising the importance of “just really caring about the students.”

Shifting online changed the ways in which teachers connected. John Knox saw Zoom as a valuable tool but noted “the lack of non-verbal feedback from students is challenging – you can’t ‘read the room’, and you miss all those subtle clues.” Max Harwood spoke of “trying to replicate the physical presence of the teacher/student dynamic as best you can.”

There were also advantages to Zoom, as Fay Hadley revealed: “I really feel that as a result of COVID I got to know those students so much better than I’ve ever got to know them in the past. It is so wonderful with Zoom; their name is there – it’s just so good.”

For Yi Li, building an online learning community was critical: “I show students that I pay attention to them. Students easily feel left out, alone, and invisible in the online environment.” John Burrt’s performance students reimagined group work online, creating videos “where they were passing objects from one frame to another, or juggle in patterns, or do hand stands together. They explored things like connectedness, identity, and how they felt because they were all in isolation.”

With twenty years’ experience teaching in distance mode, Phil Chappell’s “golden rule … is regular communication with the students, and a flexible approach to their circumstances.” Similarly, Zara Bending discussed the importance of “connections in the room; you read expressions, gestures, emotions” and saw the role of teachers to “meet our audience where they are (and that includes their headspace).”

Connecting with colleagues is also important, as Nathan Hart reminded us: “My suggestion would be to reach out to your colleagues and find out how they are doing things because that sort of combined knowledge can be really useful.”

Today’s prompt is to practice reflecting in company with students and colleagues.

I’ve been doing my own connecting through reflection by meeting with the Reflection for Learning Circle (an invitation prompted by this blog series): Marina Harvey, Kate Lloyd, Kath McLachlan, Anne-Louise Semple and Greg Walkerden.

Their work includes a YouTube channel of exemplar videos guiding online reflective practice for student learning. There are 32 videos (and counting) available, and they offer ways to practice reflection in company.

The exercises are readily adapted to engage with concepts in various disciplines and offer prompts for students preparing for exams, moments of calm during challenging times, and some novel approaches to connecting with students.

Invite your students to ‘Give your brain a break’ and move away from the computer.

Reflect on learning with ‘five main points’

Ask ‘how mindful am I?’

More detail on the research behind these exercises is available in Reflection for learning: a scholarly practice guide for educators from AdvanceHE.

As we transition out of lockdown, socialise more and return to campus and face-to-face learning, finding opportunities for moments of calm will be important.

Reflection as a circle

This is the 12th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which offers prompts to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

Writing these posts over the last three months has provided the opportunity to read a body of literature on reflective practice. One shape dominates models and frameworks for reflection: the circle. Gibb’s (1988) cycle for reflection has been influential:

Image: Harvey, Lloyd, McLachlan, Semple & Walkerden (2020)

In developing his model for reflection, Gibbs was influenced by cyclical models of learning, Kolb’s (1984) for experiential learning:

Image: Harvey, Lloyd, McLachlan, Semple & Walkerden (2020)

A circle is a way of representing the ongoing and iterative practice of reflection in action, on action and for action (Schön, 1983; Killion & Todnem, 1991). It invites repeated experimentation and learning from experience. Kemmis and McTaggart’s (1988) action research spiral takes it to the next level in a model of multiple circles:

Image: Koshy (2011)

Does your reflective practice feel circular? What do you need to put in place to make it an ongoing practice?

Next week, the last over a cuppa post before a pause for the session break, I will reflect on this series of posts, the experience of writing them in a hurry, and unfinished reflections to continue next semester.

_______________________________________________________________________

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University. https://thoughtsmostlyaboutlearning.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/learning-by-doing-graham-gibbs.pdf

Harvey, M., Lloyd, K., McLachlan, K., Semple, A-L. & Walkerden, G. (2020). Reflection for learning: a scholarly practice guide for educators. AdvanceHE.https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/Learning-to-reflect%E2%80%93a-guide-for-educators

Kolb, DA (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Koshy, V. (2011). Action Research for Improving Educational Practice, 2nd edition. London: Sage.