First things first

Much of education today seems to focus on knowledge and content.  However, there continues to be growing demands for abilities outcomes as the end result of an education, ie. ability to use knowledge.  In a discussion with a colleague of mine, Phil Schanely from the Cedarville University Center for Teaching and Learning, he mentioned David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction.  First principles are the irreducible minimum for teaching.  These are the elements that all educational theories seem to have in common.  He suggests that all of these elements be connected to a real-world problem or task in order for learning to be efficient and effective.

1. Activation: leveraging previous experiences, new experiences, and structure

2. Demonstration: this refers to guided practice; show the learner how to solve the problem

3. Application: let the learner solve more problems with increasing complexity and continued feedback

4. Integration: the learner begins to own the new knowledge and “make it their own” by using it in everyday life.

In looking at many different types of teaching theories and strategies, I think you will see most of these elements.  Which of these elements do you find the most challenging to incorporate?  Do you incorporate all of these in your teaching?  Test it out.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

In previous posts, I mentioned that feedback and practice are essential.  Here are two quotes from Merrill’s article:

“Gardner (1999) and Perkins and Unger (1999) both emphasized the necessity of many opportunities for performance.”

“Feedback has long been recognized as the most important form of learner guidance.”

Merrill MD.  First Principles of Instruction.  ETR&D. 2002; 50(3);: 43-59.   (He also recently published a book that you can find on Amazon.)


You will be assimilated

Technology has become a part of everyday life for most.  I use technology in many different ways.  I use it to deliver content, to give students practice opportunities, to gather data used to give students feedback, to interact with students, and for feedback on my own teaching.  In higher education, there exists a tension between technology and traditional delivery of education.  Here is video that gives some food for thought on the best practices in using technology in education.

As good as it gets

I was conversing with a colleague of mine on the subject matter of faculty development.  Over the years, I have personally needed much development.  Professionally, I feel that one of the greatest barriers to higher levels of care is the lack of development time built in to the average person’s work week.  This leads the professional to choose between personal life and professional development.  Which do you think most often would be chosen?

What would it look like if 4 hours a months were built into a work week for development?  I understand that some go to week long conferences.  But, even then, how much is being used to develop the professional?  If I take just one thing back from a conference, I think I’m doing good.  But, if I had the slow, steady change of more frequent development time, what would be the effects?

Many systems seem to be okay with the product that they produce.  But, the most successful companies don’t rest on their laurels.  They continually ask, “How can we improve?” and “How do we know we are doing our best?”  [This continuous improvement is only one aspect of a professional.]

The tension between good enough and continuous improvement will also exist.  What is one thing that could do today to set you on a path to improve for tomorrow?

Value and the Learning process

As a teacher, I often reflect on my role with relation to student learning. I ask myself what can I do that students can’t get some other way. In today’s blog, I would like to frame the question on the context of the learning cycle.

There are multiple ways that scholars have tried to model or describe the learning process. One is Kolb’s learning styles. He describes four quadrants that reflect a learner’s preference for taking in information and processing information. The corollary to the learning styles theory is that each learner should move from one quadrant to the next until all four quadrants are navigated. For example, if the learner begins with lecture attendance or reading (which could be observational or reflective in processing and abstract information that would be attained), the learner would start in the assimilator quadrant. The next quadrant asks learners to use the abstract information. Examples of this include practice problems, quizzes, and exams. The next quadrant is application of knowledge in a concrete or real world context. Finally, the learner moves into the last quadrant to reflect on the concrete experience. The end result is a return to the original quadrant with new learning material.

I did some surveys to look at learning styles of pharmacy students over the years. There was an overwhelming bias towards the abstract (as opposed to concrete learning). Many questions arose such as why this was – could it be recruitment, place in the curriculum, exposure to traditional teaching methods? I don’t know. From a pedagogical perspective, I think that teaching strategy has a lot to do with this. For example, many programs that I have been a part of traditionally assign reading, expect students to attend lecture to take notes, and pass an exam. There is a strong emphasis on course content. However, two key elements that I feel are consistently missing are practice using newly gained knowledge and feedback on performance.

Teaching effects learning. If the teacher expects learners to acquire a great breadth of knowledge, he/she should set up the course differently than if he/she expects the learner to use that knowledge.  On the contrary, some might argue that there are teaching methods that help learners gain knowledge while applying learning skills.  However, even in this scenario, the knowledge content is limited or defined in some way.  In order for the learner to learn, he/she must receive practice and feedback. These two elements reinforce student learning. I would argue that if we are not interacting with our learners as such, they may be better off sitting in front of a pre-recorded video to learn.

How can you plan in time to give students practice and feedback? In my opinion, this is a key role for a teacher that adds value to an education.

How do I know

The issue of grading and assessment are a real source of trouble for teachers I feel.

Which of the following statements most reflects your opinion about grading?

– It serves to distinguish the good student from the bad students.

– It gives students feedback.

– It is an institutional requirement.

– It gives the teacher feedback.

Perhaps, you feel that grades should be a combination of some of the above.  Furthermore, if you reflect on your grading process within the context of a learner perspective, do you think that the grades are serving their purpose?

Lowman in Mastering the Techniques of Teaching lists several “Myths of Evaluation”

1. The quality of education that students receive is commensurate with the difficulty of earning high marks.

2. Differences in grade point average reflect differences in student quality.

3. Hard grading and student satisfaction are inversely correlated.

4. Strict grading is necessary to motivate students to study.

5. Tough grading encourages memorization, while a nonjudemental classroom atmosphere is necessary for higher-level learning or for independent or creative thinking to occur.

In what ways might grading actually be a barrier to student learning?

Lowman J.  Mastering the Techniques of Teaching.  2nd Edition. Jossey-Bass. 1995.

Wholistic teaching

“This belief in man’s duality has other pedagogical consequences for a perennialist.”

This was a statement made in a book that I’ve been reading. Although it was published just under 40 year’s ago, some of the pedagogical paradigms are still in effect today. In fact, some of the principles still serve as the foundation of education today.

But, I digress. Let’s define a few terms before we proceed. Lapp et al. describe a worldview of man from a dualist perspective.  In other words, man is part material or physical and part immaterial or spiritual. Interestingly, this seems to align mostly with a Biblical worldview.

Next, the authors point out that this view of man has a “pedagogical consequence”. In other words, how we teach intersects with who we teach. The teaching methods or strategies and the learner are intimately related.

Finally, the author describes the teacher as a perennialist. A teacher that takes a perennialist approach emphasizes the past and longstanding principles that have stood the test of time.

What I take from this reading is that who you are as a teacher and who you are teaching strongly influence how you teach at the very core of the teacher’s and learner’s being.  When is the last time you considered the personhood of your students as you developed your teaching strategy? Does it make a difference?

I think it might.

For example, if we see the learner as an empty container to be filled, we may use a pedagogy that attempts to fill that container.  As a side note, implementation of pedagogy is critical as well.  One might immediately think of a lecture as the poster child for filling up the learner.  However, in the hands of a master teacher, the lecture can evoke critical thinking.  But, the lecturer must be limited to a few key concepts or the learner may be overwhelmed.  Back to the issue at hand,  What if you saw the learner as an apprentice?  How would this change you pedagogy?  Is there a difference between a young learner and a returning to college learner?

While we must operationalize teaching in simple terms, it is easy to see that there is a place for the scholarship of teaching and learning.  The interactions between the teacher and learner alone is complex even in the absence of content.  The next time that you set to reflect on your teaching, consider how you implement your strategy and the potential effects on the learner.  Better yet, ask your learner and do some scholarship!