Friday, December 5, 2008

1.4.3: The transferability of 'e'xcellence

I received a copy of the Ako Aotearoa "Excellence" report today, which profiles the 2008 recipients of the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards (PDF report available from the Web site).

What makes an excellent teacher? In the forewords and opening comments, terms such as "...committed, knowledgeable and enthusiastic...", "...enthusiasm... their passion and commitment to their subject, an ability to stimulate their students' thinking and interests... ever alert to the teachable moment and... a profound commitment to enhancing the achievement of their students", "It is about integrity, passion, resilience and continual reflection on the nature and scope of the teaching-learning process". Dr Peter Coolbear remarks that the awarded teachers have approached their calling in contrasting ways, and "were also engaged with their subject and anxious to share that engagement". Students talk of being empowered and inspired, and consistently comment on the good listening skills of their excellent teachers.

I loved this quote from Graeme Fraser:

"[They see their students] not as objects to be stuffed with information, but as creative learners who are exploring their horizons" (p.7).

Each of these principles and observations, in my view, is transferable to the online environment. I am particularly reminded of Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach, and his comments on good teaching:

“...good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (1998, p.10); “Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life… [they] possess a capacity for connectedness” (p.11).

Most informative for e-learning practice are these quotes from the recipients themselves:

  • Dr Lisa Emerson, Prime Minister's award recipient:
"The e-learning strategies I design give students learning opportunities they couldn't achieve in any other way: more access to me as their teacher, the opportunity to be part of a community of learners, and custom-designed tools which allow them to develop mastery of specific skills through an individualised learning path."

  • Dr Hamish Anderson:
"Since 1999 I have explored the use of on-line student support including the delivery of formative assessment. The quizzes provide students with a flexible learning tool which they can attempt multiple times, on demand, at any time prior to the final examination. Every quiz contains a randomly selected question set covering the same learning outcomes and has the same overall difficulty level. Calculation questions covering both elementary and complex problems use randomly generated variables so students must recalculate a new answer for each quiz attempt. In total I have developed close to 1,500 questions and I add to these each year.

The value for students of the on-line quizzes and large questions database is the ability for students to complete them multiple times and receive instant feedback. I encourage students to use the quiz learning tool to target their learning by identifying which areas they are yet to master."

  • Adrian Woodhouse:
"I make use of on-line tools in my day-to-day teaching practice to create an environment of comfort and familiarity as well as provide an expanded access to resources. I have developed a blog site where students can view movies of dishes they will prepare during the course. The site also contains footage of past students training for and competing in cookery competitions (both local and national) and theme dinners held over previous years. While useful as a flexible learning tool, it also allows students to view practical content that is taught during the course prior to it being formally introduced. Recently I have taken this initiative one step further and converted our practical movie clips to a format that allows students to download them to their iPods."

What strikes me about these accounts is that none of them are complex or particularly innovative. Rather, they are useful and meet a particular and identifiable learning need. They are different yet effective strategies.

Want to be a good e-teacher? Then attend to the basics. Know your stuff. Love your task. Serve your students. Take (evidence-based) risks, and learn from mistakes. Take a long-term view of your success. Have the courage to succeed. And, don't expect technology to outshine you or do your job.

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