“It is unquestionably the function of education to enable people, individual human beings, to operate at their fullest potential, to equip them with the tools and the sense of opportunity to use their wits, skills and passions to the fullest.” – Jerome Bruner
It is my ultimate goal – as a teacher, facilitator, educational developer, trainer, and leader – to lift up others. Achieving this can look many different ways: as a trainer, I accomplish this by empowering faculty to autonomously complete certain tasks with new technical skills; as a teacher, using active learning techniques facilitates high-order learning in students; as an educational developer, guiding and probing a subject matter expert transforms their content goals into an eLearning product vision; as a facilitator, encouraging risk in a safe environment reaps rich rewards for a participant; finally, as a leader, fostering a sense of community creates an environment of compassion and safety.
For me, the essential elements of lifting up others include building connections and fostering community, maintaining high expectations and encouraging adult learning, and utilizing tools. First, I am certain that creating a community-focused learning environment supports learners – students, faculty, and staff alike – in achieving their fullest potential. Furthermore, I strongly believe in the effectiveness of taking responsibility and self-directed learning, and as such, adult learning principles (Knowles, 1984) formulate the backbone of my development style. Finally, to enhance the delivery of my teaching, facilitating, eLearning products, educational resources, and other development outcomes, I rely on one other guiding concept – tools. For me, tools encompass teaching and learning theories that inform what I do, learning technologies that enhance the learning experience, and the strategies, activities, and methods I use to create a learning-centred environment (Barr & Tagg, 1995).
In general, I set high expectations for my learners, encourage them to take responsibility for their learning and participation, and in turn hold myself accountable to creating active learning opportunities, providing feedback in a timely fashion, and appealing to different learning preferences (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). To promote active learning, I use the flipped classroom method, Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs; Angelo & Cross, 1993), open-ended questioning techniques, and design participatory activities for learner engagement. Utilizing CATs allows me to provide (informal) feedback to students on a regular basis, which acts as a great complement to summative feedback. Additionally, I appeal to a range of learning styles (Kolb, 1984) by using different teaching activities, such as reflection, think-pair-share, class discussions, assigned readings, and facilitated experiential learning opportunities. Within this framework of high expectations, effort, and mutual respect (Lieb, 1991), I then foster a positive community environment for my learners using humour, sharing my life experiences when relevant, and – context dependent – facilitating a group contract. Once a sense of community is established, I encourage my students to take risks and act creatively. Only in a safe, community-driven learning environment do I believe students feel comfortable enough to be their whole, authentic selves, and to allow themselves to be vulnerable as they take risks and share their creative talents.
One of the biggest challenges I see in higher education is the plague of passivity that some learners – and instructors! – find most comfortable. A lack of active involvement in class, which is a symptom of the traditional lecture-style, sage-on-the-stage type teaching, all-too-commonly takes place in classrooms. There is a lack of questioning, conversation, and debate, which is exacerbated by dependence on technology such as i>clickers that allows students to remain anonymous. Requests by students for teachers to “just tell them the right answers” allows students to record the “right” information yet delay or perhaps eliminate the learning process that comes with thinking it through. As an educational developer, I look to challenge this passivity and hope to slowly effect change towards making higher education learning an engaging, transformative experience. To address passivity in my own learning environment, I find one solution is to take a risk myself, and when I don’t know the answer to a question asked by a student, I say so. When I first started teaching, I found it very hard to say “I don’t know”, as it sounded, to me, like failure. And to some students, I’m sure it may sound that way to them as well. However, in a room of many brains, I always wonder why it is mine that is considered the only one with a reliable answer! In reality, this is far from the truth, especially with technology at our fingertips. Thus, I endeavour to challenge the concept of experts vs. novices in the classroom, and invite my learners to contribute as curators of content. Teachers are generally perceived as experts by students, however I think the classroom should be a place where knowledge is discovered and constructed by both students and educators (Bruner, 1966), as learning should not be the responsibility of only the instructor.
Overall, I seek to challenge outdated instructional paradigms, encourage learner responsibility and participation, rely on evidence-based tools, and foster community to create an effective learning-centred environment, as I whole-heartedly believe that if we, as learners, took responsibility to be actively engaged, authentic, open to taking risks, and willing to share in a learning community, we’d lift each other up, thereby creating a classroom with heart.
- Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Barr, R.B. & Tagg, J. (1995). From Teaching to Learning – A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education. Change Magazine. 27 (6): 12-25.
- Bruner, J.S. (1966). Toward a Theory of Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. The Wingspread Journal. 9 (2).
- Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: a neglected species, (3rd ed.). Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.
- Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Lieb, S. (1991). Principles of Adult Learning. VISION [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.lindenwood.edu/education/andragogy/andragogy/2011/Lieb_1991.pdf