GRAD5114: Know yourself and your students

I have taught online classes and have worked as teaching assistant for four semesters and I’ll be teaching my first in-class course in Spring 2016 semester! I am really excited about it and I also start getting prepared for it this semester. This week’s reading is really helpful for my preparation and makes me think about my own teaching style and imagine myself teaching my own class.

I have given several guest lectures about different topics in aging, and my teaching supervisors have given me great feedback and suggestions about my teaching. I admit that discover my authentic teaching self has always been challenging.

At first, I was really concerned about teaching in English as English is my second language. I wasn’t confident enough about giving lectures or answering students’ questions, so before giving guest lectures, I practiced my lecture many many times, just like preparing for a conference paper presentation. However, after several guest lecture, I found that even though you need to be really fluent in English, teaching needs really more than that! It’s not really the language that I am using, it’s the content, teaching skill and techniques that matter the most. I also noticed that when I was passionate about the topic that I was teaching, I’d be less concerned about the language that I was using, and I could still explain issues and answer students’ questions clearly. Instead, if I wasn’t confident about the teaching content, then no matter how many times I practiced in English, I could still got stuck in certain points. So later on, I concerned less about speaking in English, instead I focused on the content and the materials that I’d be using during classes.

Once I gave a guest lecture about international aging issues,  I realized that even though I was so passionate about the content and I knew it so well that I could talk about in very confidently, the students were not intrigued by my lecture. After the lecture,  I talked with my supervisor who observed my lecture about my concerned, and he told me that my lecture was great, but I didn’t talked about how those issues could be connected with the students in my class. For instance, I talked about the aging population in China was huge, but obvious the the single  statistical number did not really mean anything the students, so next time I added the number of older adults in the U.S. and compared that to the aging population in other countries, then the students had a better idea of those numbers. Later on, I also found that when I know my students better, I can use different ways to get them focused on the topic and have a better understanding of the issues that I want them to know.

I do think guest lectures are quite different from teaching the whole class. I’m still working on discovering my own teaching self, and I look forward to teaching my first own in-class course this coming semester!


GRAD5114: Review of Online Gerontology Courses

I didn’t realize that our blog posts are about the coming week’s reading until last week, so I have been writing reflections after class in previous four weeks! As we did that in our Preparing Future Professoriate class…so I guess I am a victim of rigid thinking that I gained from so many years of education.

This  weeks’ readings are really interesting. I agree with both Robert Talbert about the four good aspects of lectures and Mark Carnes about active learning. From the video “Digital Medias: New Learners in the 21 Century”, we can see that  students in current generation have more opportunities and more access to use technologies like cellphones, laptops and internet and these rapid developing technologies have high impact in their daily lives. For instance, due to the advancement of information and computer technology, online courses are being developed and implemented by many higher education institutions, with a wide variety of methods under development for different academic field. As part of future educators, we should keep ourselves updated about the changes. I have taught gerontology course online for several times, but I want to learn more about current online teaching strategies that can promote active learning, so I read previous research that talked about online gerontology courses.

Online educational courses are relatively new for many residential colleges or universities, and are often offered to supplement or directly replicate classroom-based courses in their content and structure. The majority of online gerontology courses are adaptations of existing curriculums into the online format while retaining adherence to pre-existing course syllabus and procedures, student online learning strategies may be negatively impacted or ineffectively motivated (Carrillo, & Renold, 2000; Henke, 2000). In order to determine the impact of online gerontology courses and inform the potential development of gerontology-specific online course methodologies, several studies have been conducted to explore the implementation of concepts specific to gerontology. For instance, Barrett and Pai (2008) discuss the strategy of teaching ageism through an online gerontology course. The researchers evaluated the strategy of using portrait of older adults created by students as a method to stimulate discussion about ageism in an online forum. Although this exercise received positive feedback from students, the authors found that the portrait exercise, along with other techniques of teaching gerontology concepts adapted from standard classroom exercises, fulfilled the necessary role in stimulating discussion for their online course. However, these teaching strategies were insufficient towards the goal of fostering a better conceptual understanding than would result from classroom-based instruction.

These findings reinforced the earlier observations of Carrillo and Renold (2000) of student activity in University of Southern California’s online and traditional gerontology coursework. Carrillo and Renold (2000) emphasized on the importance of using localized contextual considerations of both students’ and instructors’ separate expectations and goals during the development of online gerontology courses. As indicated by previous researchers (Kittleson, 2009; Siegal & Kagan, 2012), a generational gap exists between millennial undergraduates’ expectations for online courses and previous undergraduates enrolled in classroom-centered coursework. Siegal and Kagan (2012) identifies three key aspects for these differences: the structure of the modern educational landscape, millennial communication patterns, and disparity between the technology backgrounds of students and their instructors. As a result of generational differences, traditional education strategies designed for use in classroom instruction, such as didactic lecture or small-group discussion, are unlikely to stimulate desired educational outcomes for millennial students enrolled in online courses (Ehlman, Moriello, Welleford, & Schuster, 2011; Haber, 2008; Henke, 2000).

While there is ample discussion of development for online-learning methodologies, there has been limited discussion for developing techniques specific to gerontological concepts and theories. So I think that will be my future research work in gerontology education.



Thoughts about mindful learning

In this week’s class, we learned about mindful learning and anti-teaching. I also learned about Wordle which looks really cool,  even though it didn’t work on my computer. I liked the  articles we read in class.  Among those, I really like Langer (2000)’s article about mindful learning, as it makes me reflect on my own education history and teaching experiences.

As he stated in the article mindfulness is “a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context”, I realized that I have been mindless in learning for so long, even though I am in my third year of my PhD program, because I have treated my education as a rigid and structured process. I take it for granted or mindlessly that after primary school, I should go to high school, and then college and then graduate school, without even asking why. I also agreed with how the author discussed about the ways mindfulness come about: repetition and single exposure. When I was younger, I learned knowledge and skills by repetition and we were taught that repetition was the golden way to memorize information. So if we did something in the “wrong way”, the teachers would asked us to repeat in the “right way” multiple times until we memorized it.  In the end, we rely on our mind-set for how to accomplish the goals. We have been given information in certain ways that don’t encourage us to ask questions.

Mindful learning advocates for learning information from different perspectives and be aware of the uncertainty inherent in the facts. Like the author indicated when he talked about the first myths about learning: “the basics should be learned so well that they become second nature”. We have learned so many Basics even from primary school, and we were asked to learn about them instead of how to use them in creative ways. As educators in the future, we should encourage students to think about variation from different perceptions.

I also liked how the author discussed about the attention issue among children and adults, as it intrigued me to connect that with my research interest which is about older adults with dementia. I think mindful learning and training could be a good way to help  improve attention in older adults with memory problems.


GRAD 5114: Thoughts about Standard Test

In our second class, we watched an interesting TED talk and debated about whether we should keep standard tests and what are the best ways to evaluate learning process and the qualification of students for college or graduate programs.  It was a good discussion, even though I agree with many of the opinions about why we should remove standard test, I still think there are many reasons that we should keep them.

First of all, we need to think about the specific field of study, for instance, for field like math, biology, chemistry or physics, I do think that standard test is a still good way to show whether students have gained the skills and knowledge, especially for elementary or foundational education. However, it might not be a good way to evaluate students’ learning in arts or literatures by standard tests.  So we cannot simply say that standard tests are all not good educational methods, as they can serve as a good tool to help students learn and memorize knowledge and practice basic skills, like mind calculation in math. Personally, I have good memories and experiences about the standard tests that I took along my education path.

Second, to some extent, from the social perspective, standard test maintains some equality in the society. As I studied social work for my master’s program, I always think about the social equality issue in our lives. As getting higher education is still a privilege for certain percent of people in many societies, not everyone has the chance to go to college.  Standard tests like SAT, GRE in the U.S. and the national standard college entrance test in China play an important role in college admission process. Currently, many people both in the U.S. and China are complaining that we focus too much on the scores of the tests and we should change the admission process by adding other evaluation tools or methods. I agree that we should not evaluate students’ qualifications for college or graduate programs merely based on their test scores, but we should also be cautious about the factors that could potentially lead to social inequality, when we think about revising the admission process or get rid of standard tests. For instance, in China, all of the best universities are public schools currently, and the students from lower social economic status (SES) background could still be able to and have the opportunity to take the national standard college entrance test and go to the best universities in China. If the standard test is cancelled and replaced by other means of evaluation, like cumulative evaluations through out high school years, or add some interviews to the admission process, many those students will be put into a disadvantaged situation only because of their lower SES background, which is a very complicated issue. It’s might be the same in other societies, as we cannot eliminate potential inequalities due to human weaknesses, money, power, family relationships, etc.

I have always been a little conservative and cautious when thinking about education process, so my thoughts and opinions could seem very “old” and traditional. I expect that many people might be disagree with me, so thank you for your understanding and discussions are welcomed.