Posts tagged ‘teaching’
Nick Falkner has been using his blog in a series of posts to address a question that I’ve wondered about here: Why does research influence so little practice (see post here) and policy (see post here)? Nick is taking a novel approach — he’s using the three values of Ancient Greece, brought together as a trinity through Socrates and Plato: beauty, goodness and truth. He’s exploring how we can use these to define high-quality teaching. It’s an interesting series and approach which I recommend.
I used to say that it was stunning how contemporary education seems to be slow in moving in directions first suggested by Dewey a hundred years ago, then I discovered that Rousseau had said it 150 years before that. Now I find that Quntilian wrote things such as this nearly 2,000 years ago. And Marcus Aurelius, among other stoics, made much of approaches to thinking that, somehow, were put to one side as we industrialised education much as we had industrialised everything else.
This year I have accepted that we have had 2,000 years of thinking (and as much evidence when we are bold enough to experiment) and yet we just have not seen enough change. Dewey’s critique of the University is still valid. Rousseau’s lament on attaining true mastery of knowledge stands. Quintilian’s distrust of mere imitation would not be quieted when looking at much of repetitive modern examination practice.
What stops us from changing? We have more than enough evidence of discussion and thought, from some of the greatest philosophers we have seen. When we start looking at education, in varying forms, we wander across Plato, Hypatia, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, in addition to all of those I have already mentioned. But evidence, as it stands, does not appear to be enough, especially in the face of personal perception of achievement, contribution and outcomes, whether supported by facts or not.
Source: A Year of Beauty | Nick Falkner
Posted to the SIGCSE-Members list — I really like this idea! Our work on DCCE showed that communities of teachers was an effective way of improving teacher’s sense of belonging and desire to improve. Will it work for faculty? ASEE is the organization to try!
This is a great opportunity for CS faculty to work with like-minded faculty from across the country to explore and share support for introducing new instructional practices into your classroom. Please consider this for yourself and pass it on to your colleagues.
Engineering education research has shown that many research-based instructional approaches improve student learning but these have not diffused widely. This is because (1) faculty members find it difficult to acquire the required knowledge and skills by themselves and (2) sustaining the on-going implementation efforts without continued encouragement and support is challenging. This project will explore ways to overcome both obstacles through virtual communities.
I’ve just started my subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the first print issue I received had a great article about Carl Wieman, whom I have written about previously (here and here and here, for just three). The story (online here: Crusader for Better Science Teaching Finds Colleges Slow to Change – Government – The Chronicle of Higher Education) was about his efforts to get the White House to measure teaching practices.
At the White House, Mr. Wieman tried to figure out what might actually get colleges and their faculty members to adopt proven teaching practices. His centerpiece idea was that American colleges and universities, in order to remain eligible for the billions of dollars the federal government spends annually on scientific research, should be required to have their faculty members spend a few minutes each year answering a questionnaire that would ask about their usual types of assignments, class materials, student interaction, and lecture and discussion styles.
Mr. Wieman believed that a moment or two of pondering such concepts might lead some instructors to reconsider their approaches. Also, Mr. he says, data from the responses might give parents and prospective students the power to choose colleges that use the most-proven teaching methods. He hoped the survey idea could be realized as either an act of Congress or a presidential executive order.
I hadn’t heard about this survey, but my immediate thought was, “What a great idea!” We need better ways to measure teaching (like with Sadler’s recent work), and this seems like a great first step. I was surprised to read the response
College leaders derided it as yet another unnecessary intrusion by government into academic matters.
“Linking federal funding for scientific research to pedagogical decisions of the faculty would have set a terrible precedent for policy makers,” said Princeton University’s Shirley M. Tilghman, one of several presidents of major research institutions who wrote to the White House to complain about Mr. Wieman’s idea. “It is naïve to think that the ‘surveys’ will not have consequences down the line.”
Wouldn’t “consequences” be a good thing? Shouldn’t we reward schools that are doing more to improve teaching and adopt better practices? Shouldn’t we incentivize schools to do better at teaching? I guess I’m the one who is naïve — I was surprised that there was so much resistance. In the end, Wieman lost the battle. He’s now left the White House, dealing with multiple myeloma.
Perhaps the saddest line in the piece is this one:
“I’m not sure what I can do beyond what I’ve already done,” Mr. Wieman says.
Is it really impossible to get universities to take teaching seriously?
Here’s a repository for videos that teach computer science. Unlike Khan, it’s open to anyone to contribute. Unlike YouTube, it’s only about teaching CS.
TeachingTree is an open platform that lets anybody organize educational content. Our goal is for students to quickly access the exact clips they need in order to learn individual concepts. Everyone is encouraged to help by adding videos or tagging concepts.
via Teaching Tree.
What a great idea! Everybody who goes to University takes a test like the ACT or SAT. Simply give it to them again as they’re graduating! Now you have a measure of impact — the change between the entrance test and exit test is the value added by a University.
Seems simple, but it doesn’t work. Students have a huge incentive to do well on the entrance exam, but zero incentive to do well on the exit exam. A new study published in Education Researcher shows that the motivation really matters, and it calls into question the value of the Academically Adrift study that claimed that Colleges aren’t teaching much. How do you know, if students don’t really have any incentive to do well on the post-intervention exams?
To test the impact of motivation, the researchers randomly assigned students to groups that received different consent forms. One group of students received a consent form that indicated that their scores could be linked to them and (in theory) help them. “[Y]our test scores may be released to faculty in your college or to potential employers to evaluate your academic ability.” The researchers referred to those in this group as having received the “personal condition.” After the students took the test, and a survey, they were debriefed and told the truth, which was that their scores would be shared only with the research team.
The study found that those with a personal motivation did “significantly and consistently” better than other students — and reported in surveys a much higher level of motivation to take the test seriously. Likewise, these student groups with a personal stake in the tests showed higher gains in the test — such that if their collective scores were being used to evaluate learning at their college, the institution would have looked like it was teaching more effectively.
I agree with the post below which suggests that MOOCs misunderstand what a good teacher does–that’s what my post earlier was about. I’m not convinced that I agree with the author’s definition of what a teacher does. Yes, a good teacher does all those things described in the second paragraph below, but a key part of what a teacher does is to motivate the student to learn. Learning results from what the student does and thinks. It’s the teacher’s job to cajole, motivate, engage, and even infuriate the student so that he or she thinks about things in a new way and learns. In the end, it’s always about the student, and the most important thing a teacher does is to get the student to do something.
But even if Tabarrok’s model makes good economic sense, it makes bad education sense and misrepresents what genuine teaching is and what the “best” teachers actually do. For starters, unlike TED speakers, they don’t simply deliver lectures and profess. They also work with students to help them become better thinkers, readers, and writers. How?
Through personal attention (such as tutorials) and classroom interaction (such as discussions and the guided close reading of texts). By constantly testing their students’ minds against theirs, forcing them to ask the hard questions and to explain them with significant answers. And by giving them appropriate personalized feedback.
Seb Schmoller had a nice response to my Friday post, where he asked what it will take for MOOCs to engage the student and lead to the learning that a good teacher can achieve. He included a wonderful quote from Herb Simon which really captures the key idea:
“Learning results from what the student does and thinks, and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” – Herb Simon.
During break (e.g., multi-hour long car rides), I gave a lot of thought to MOOCs and the changes that are coming to higher education. I realized that people can only believe that MOOCs can replace existing higher-education classes if they misunderstand what a teacher does.
MOOCs (for the most part, as they are defined in Udacity, Coursera, and edX, and as defined at Wikipedia) provide lecture-like material (typically through videos). These are broken into small pieces, and are presented with interspersed mini-quizzes. There is additional homework. Feedback is provided, either canned (the system knows what’s right and wrong) or through peer-evaluation. There is typically some kind of forum for questions and answers, and is a key part of the connectivist MOOC for “nurturing and maintaining connections.”
So why isn’t this the same as a face-to-face higher education class?
- The main activity of a higher-education teacher is not to lecture. The main activity of a teacher is to orchestrate learning opportunities, to get students to do and think. A teacher does this most effectively by responding to the individuals in the class. I just got my student feedback on the prototyping course I taught in the Fall. What the students liked best was that I led discussions based on their questions and comments on the readings, and that I had stories and anecdotes in response to their queries. A teacher responds to the students, provides scaffolding, and helps the students increase their knowledge.
- A teacher is an expert at teaching the topic, and the teaching is dependent on the domain. Teaching is not a generalized skill. The most effective teachers have a lot of pedagogical content knowledge — they know how to teach the domain. The same general course structure is not as effective as a course structure aimed at the domain.
- The job of the teacher is to educate, not filter, and that includes motivating students. What’s the difference between a book and a University? You can learn from a book. Most students can’t learn as effectively on-their-own with a book as they can with a good teacher. Many self-taught learners who have only studied books lack a general overview of the field, and haven’t read the books that challenge and contradict the books that they have read and loved. A good teacher motivates students to keep going, explains why the topics are important, challenges students, points out where their understanding is lacking, and makes sure that they see more than one perspective on a topic.
If the only educated people in our society were the ones who wanted to learn (at the start, from the beginning of a class), our society would collapse. We would have too few educated workers to create innovations and maintain the technology we have. Our society depends on teachers who motivate students to persevere and learn.
There is evidence that MOOCs do not teach. We know that MOOCs have a low completion rate. What most people don’t realize is that the majority of those who complete already knew the content. MOOCs offer a one-size-fits-few model, unchanging between content domains, that does not change for individual students (I know that they hope that it will one day, but it doesn’t now), that filters and certifies those who can learn on their own. The role of education in society is to teach everyone, not just those auto-didacts who can learn in a MOOC.
Absolutely, it’s worth exploring how to make educational technology (including MOOCs) that provides learning opportunities where no teacher is available. Alan Kay encouraged us to think that way here in this blog. However, replacing good teachers with MOOCs reflects a deep misunderstanding of what a teacher does.
Please note that I am not arguing that MOOCs are bad technologies, or that they can’t be used to create wonderful learning environments. I am explicitly critiquing the use of MOOCs as a replacement for existing courses (with a good teacher), not MOOCs as a textbook or augmentation of existing courses.
How did we get to this point, that people are seriously talking about shutting down schools in favor of MOOCs? Maybe it’s because we in Universities haven’t done enough to recognize, value, and publicize good teaching. We haven’t done enough to tell people what we do well. MOOCs do what the external world thinks that University teachers do.