On Why Mindful learning is the most effective way to teaching and learning

For the last blog post of the semester, we were asked to discuss why mindful learning and teaching is important. To be honest, this is the first time I am hearing those two terms. Having now learned what each of them means and why they are important practices in academia, I am ready to do my best and apply them when I embark on my teaching journey.

Mindful learning is derived from the concept of mindfulness, which is defined by psychologist Ellen J. Langer as “A flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context.” Conversely, mindlessness is a state of mind in which one “acts like as an automatons who has been programmed to act according to the sense our behavior made in the past, rather than the present”.

In mindful teaching, instructors are constantly reinventing themselves by trying not to get stuck in past learning methods. In other words, by being mindful, the teacher is able to see how diverse his class is and to tailor his lectures and contents so as to make all students feel included.  By being mindful, teachers are also able to know that they need to update their lectures so as to help students learn skills that make them competitive and prepare them for the job market. Mindful teaching also engages people in what they are learning by using Problem Based or Case Based assignments/projects.  As far as students are concerned, they also need to be mindful learners. Mindful learners know that the knowledge they are acquiring is not applicable in all situations. This is because “facts, whether derived from science or not, are not context-free; their meaning and usefulness depend on the situation.” Being a mindful learner also means that we are using all means and technology at our disposal to stay on top of our classes and learning experience in general.  As such,  with the advent of digital technology, we as students, have the responsibility to develop new learning methods to complement the knowledge we are getting from school. How both teachers and students are willing to seek and understand the best way to apply mindfulness is going to determine how effective mindful learning/teaching will be in a given learning environment.

 

My Authoritarian/Authority Teaching Experiences

The question of Authority versus Authoritarian pedagogy was raised during our last lecture, while we were discussing the key differences between critical pedagogy and the Banking model described by Paulo Freire in his book: “Pedagogy of freedom”. Discussing this specific topic brought back many memories from my Primary and High School years. I will describe some of these experiences in this blog.

According to Freire, authoritarian pedagogy is the form of teaching whereby teachers are the supreme authority in the class. Teachers “know everything and students know nothing”. “When they talk, students have to listen meekly”. Also, the teacher is the only one who disciplines and the students are disciplined. On the other hand, the authority way of teaching is more liberal. The authority (here the teacher) “is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach”.

It is undoubtedly clear that the authority type of teaching will foster an environment conducive to learning. Throughout my primary and high school years, I experienced the authoritarian way of teaching. We were supposed to be perfect in class. A slight mistake or infringement of the teacher’s rigid class rules could be worth a battery. Some teachers even viewed the simple act of asking questions as a challenge to their knowledge and can use that opportunity to punish the whole class. Overall, my college experience was a bit different from my high school and primary school ones.  However, my undergraduate experience was just as awful. Professors were labeled “Semi-God”, to refer to the fact that your future is in their hands. In other words, they could decide to fail you in their specific class if you don’t respect their rules, regardless of how well you perform in their exams.

For the most part, my grad school experience, on the other hand, is so refreshing. I experienced a different way of teaching, whereby the lecture is totally open for students to ask questions and to have a dialog with their teachers. The latter facilitated this dialog by being completely humble and putting themselves at the same level of knowledge as students. Looking back, I don’t regret having experienced the authoritarian way of teaching. On the contrary, I am actually grateful to have experienced both the authoritarian and the authority types of teaching. This has helped me discover the best and most effective teaching methods. And for someone aspiring to go into teaching, I look at these experiences as great lessons that I can build on to be the best possible teacher.

Asynchronous vs Synchronous learning: Which one is better for distance learning?

With the advancement of learning technologies, online learning has become a trend in recent years. While online/distance learning has multiples advantages, its effectiveness really depends on the type of online teaching methods employed.  I would like to focus on the two main types of distance methods discussed in class this week: synchronous and asynchronous learning.

Synchronous teaching involves real-time online teaching, where both the teacher and the student are online at the same time. This is done using video call programs such as Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, etc.  On the other hand, asynchronous teaching does not oblige students to be online at the same as teachers. The instructor just needs to communicate with students via email or other content management systems, about all course-related matters. I believe Synchronous Teaching could be the most effective way to do distance learning, in that it allows instructors to measure students “affects”. In other words, although, there might still be a screen separating the teacher and his/her students, synchronous teaching will allow him/her to still have that personal connection with students since the teaching is occurring in real-time.  However, the flip side is that this type of teaching requires a bit of experience from the teacher and might not be suitable for new teachers.  Asynchronous teaching could be the most effective teaching method for a first-time teacher since he/she doesn’t have to be online at the same with students and could easily manage as in-class questions, which all first-time teachers are petrified about.

As such, for my first teaching experience as a graduate student, I would like that to be asynchronous. At the same time, if I only have the opportunity to teach a synchronous class, be it online or in-person I would take it without hesitation. Although it will be challenging for a first teaching experience, I am pretty sure I can do a pretty good job, as I am having the best preparation with the Future Professoriate Graduate Certificate.

 

Ange’s takes on three concepts related to Digital Pedagogy!

Three of the terms that caught my attention while going through the Modern Language Association article titled “Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments”  are Blogging, Affect, and Assessment. I will first briefly describe what was said about each of those terms and then focus the rest of the blog on Assessment.

One of the terms, which I couldn’t help but notice was “Blogging”. This is because there is a strong blogging component to our “Contemporary Pedagogy” class and I wanted to learn how this relates to Digital Pedagogy. Blogging here was defined as being a powerful tool used by instructors to “challenge students to focus on process and audience, and to disrupt patterns and habits developed when writing more traditional essay forms students”. One aspect of blogging that I haven’t thought about, but which was discussed in the entry is how Blogging assignments are equally challenging for instructors, as they are for students. This is mainly because these types of assignments are more difficult to design and grade.

The second term that caught my attention was “Affects”. It was my first time learning about this meaning of  “Affects” in the entry. Affects as it was used in the entry is another word used to describe students’ emotions (mood) in class.  The authors argued that in the case of face-to-face teaching, instructors have to pay attention to students’ affects. This leads to the questions of  how can instructors ensure that students’ affects are accounted for in our current digitalized learning environment. Affects goes beyond the simple emotions shown by students in class. It also encompasses students’ feelings about the lectures, assignments, and other class-related activities.

Another term that I was extremely curious to explore was “Assessment”. Assessment is important because it allows instructors to re-evaluate their teaching, adjust and meet both their and students goals. The author of this entry discusses how there exists two competing ideologies regarding the use of Digital Pedagogy for assessments. While some scholars believe that the use of digital pedagogy could facilitate “attacks” on faculty, others think digital pedagogy could be used to design more advanced forms of assessment. I side with the latter stream of thoughts. I am one of those who believe that students assessments could be very subjective sometimes. All it takes is a bad grade (which is most likely justified) in a quiz, an assignment, or an exam for a student to have some very bad/mean words on an instructor who might have done a very good job during that semester. I believe students assessments should start raising red flags when a considerable proportion of students have bad assessments towards an instructor. Therefore, the more we could use digital pedagogy to help with assessments, the better.

How do we achieve Inclusion and Diversity using PBL and/or CBL?

So far this semester, we discussed three important concepts in Higher Ed. First, we talked about how important it is to have a diverse community, and second and more importantly we showed that it is almost inevitable to maintain an inclusive learning environment. Next, we discussed a few pedagogical methods used to ensure that we are facilitating Diversity and Inclusion. Specifically, we identified Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Case-Based Learning (CBL) as two effective ways to help achieve Diversity and Inclusion in academia.

As far as I am concerned, I see two important things from here. First, from now on, I am going to prioritize taking classes that use either PBL or CBL. As shown in class and discussed in many of the blog posts on PBL and CBL, these classes are instrumental in helping students apply the skills they are learning to real-world situations. Many of the classes we are taught during our training (at least in my field) are so abstract that it is often difficult to really picture how we could apply these concepts and how useful they are for our future professions. PBL and CBL classes have the ability of helping us achieve these goals.

Second, I truly believe that programs should include more courses that use PBL or CBL in their curricula. As argued above, this is crucial for students, as it will help them acquire skills that they can bring on the job market. About two years ago, I attended a professional development workshop on how to be successful on the job market. One issue that was raised during the workshop was that employers are looking for students who have who ready or simply put, who have a specific set of skills. One thing that most people reading this blog can agree on is that courses that do not have a PBL or CBL component won’t be enough to acquire those skills. With PBL or CBL courses, there is an opportunity for students to learn something that could really be useful in their professional careers. Also, given that not everyone has the opportunity to get an internship before they go on the job market, students imperatively need to have such experiences during their training. Furthermore, schools should get invested in helping their programs design these curricula as ways to ease the Inclusion and Diversity process on campus.

My Case-Based Learning Experience

To be honest, I am not a big fan of classes that require you to write a term paper at the end of the semester. I am one of those who just prefer the old school assignments and in-class exams. Neither do I like classes where you are handed a project on which you have to work the whole semester, and produce a report for that project at the end of the semester.  Paradoxically, those classes are the ones which taught me the most valuable skills, which I am certain, could help me secure a job in the future.

The most valuable and impactful higher ed-related learning experience I had, occurred in Spring 2016, the last semester of my masters training at Michigan State University. I was strongly advised by my supervisor to take a class called Program Evaluation in Agriculture and Natural Resources”. The goal of the class was to teach us the necessary tools and techniques needed to monitor and evaluate agricultural programs/projects. Monitoring and Evaluating agricultural projects allow us to make sure the activities initially planned for the project/program are being implemented so as to achieve the goals that were set for the program.

At the beginning of the semester, we were all asked to evaluate an actual project that is either being implemented or had already been implemented. The aim was to have us write an evaluation report that could be distributed to the project management team. Throughout the semester, we gradually applied different concepts taught in class using other cases as examples. As an assignment, we each time, had to write a section of the final evaluation report based on the concepts we had learned. After discussion with our instructor, I decided to evaluate a program for which he had been the Principal Investigator (PI) in the past. The program was implemented in Cambodia and its main goal to supply environmentally-friendly farm inputs to farmers in order to help them improve their income and strengthen their livelihoods. I was able to write a whole evaluation report for that program, which was distributed back in Cambodia to the project management team.

This remains to date the most impactful class that I believe I have taken. I haven’t got the opportunity yet, but because of that class, I can design an evaluation proposal for a program/project, and this is a very good skill to have in my field of study. This experience simply showed that the best and probably the only way to teach certain courses is to use Case-Based Learning.

Inclusive Pedagogy

For the first blog post of the semester, we were asked to discuss why we believe Inclusive Pedagogy and increasing diversity in our discipline matters to us. My discussion here focuses on STEM fields, but the arguments made could apply to any other field.

According to the Center for New Design in Learning and Scholarship, Inclusive Pedagogy is “A student-centered approach to teaching that pays attention to the varied background, learning styles, and abilities of all the learners in front of you. It is a method of teaching in which instructors and students work together to create a supportive and open environment that fosters social justice and allows each individual to be fully present and feel equally valued”. This definition highlights the diversity and inclusion aspects of Inclusive pedagogy. An Inclusive pedagogy should be designed to account for every student’s background (race, religion, sex, … etc.)  so as to make them successful. More importantly, such pedagogy has to make all students feel welcomed and accepted (inclusivity).

Inclusive pedagogy will help increase the persistence rate for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.

It is well documented that students from underrepresented minorities have the lowest persistence rate in undergraduate and graduate programs in the U.S. While the number of students from underrepresented minority groups who enter college has been increasing over the years, only 20% of those students complete a bachelor’s degree, and half of those students go on to complete a graduate training (Asai and Bauerle, 2016). The obvious question that comes to mind is:  What is the cause of that low persistence rate? How do we explain that minority students drop out of college? Are they dropping out because they find STEM fields too difficult and can’t meet the GPA requirement? One might even argue that minority students, coming from lower income families, find it difficult to make ends meet and therefore drop out to look for a work. All of these questions show that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why minority students studying a STEM field could drop out from school. However, a minority student is still likely to drop out if she/he does not feel welcomed or accepted in her/his school, or if her environment is not diverse enough for her/him to feel that she belongs there.

Inclusive pedagogy is beneficial for the advancement of science

A faculty from an underrepresented minority ethnic group, who has been a product of Inclusive Pedagogy is likely to be engaged in Inclusion and diversity activities, which will help train more students exposed to Inclusive Pedagogy, and the cycle continues. It’s been proven that a diverse and inclusive scientific community is more productive and innovative (Jimenez et al, 2019). As such, schools should prioritize increasing the diversity of faculty and students and implementing effective Inclusion programs. One way to help engage all students and faculty in those inclusion and diversity programs is to offer more course and workshops related to those topics and require all faculty as part of their tenure track to participate or organize those workshops. All students should be required to attend at least one workshop on Inclusion and Diversity as part of their coursework.

 

References

Jimenez, M. F., Laverty, T. M., Bombaci, S. P., Wilkins, K., Bennett, D. E., & Pejchar, L. (2019). Underrepresented faculty play a disproportionate role in advancing diversity and inclusion. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3(7), 1030–1033. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0911-5

Asai, David J. and Bauerle, C. (2016). From HHMI: Doubling Down on Diversity. Undergraduate and Graduate Science Education Programs, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, MD 20815-6789