Find My Authentic Teaching Self from Four Classes

I have worked for professors as teaching assistant and taught different classes for four years. It’s the first time I think about authentic teaching self after I have read the reading materials in this week. Ironically, to find my teaching self, I’d like to start with four teachers I know in my department.

The first professor I’d like to mention is a research faculty who teaches both undergraduate lecture and graduate classes. I was both his teaching assistance and students in his classes. One feature of his teaching is emphasis on information and details. When I did TA job for him, some undergraduate students ask me how to grasp the gist of the professor’s lecture. The students complain about so many details they need to memorize for quizzes and exams. Speaking of his quizzes and exams, the grade of his lecture is made up mostly of quizzes and exams. I was also his students in graduate courses. The professor would modify a little bit in graduate courses or seminars, but to memorize knowledge and information is very important. These make sense to you if you are in the classes. He has B-type personality and is always at a slow pace.

I was also a student in the second professor’s graduate class. This professor, in my opinion, is definitely A-type personality. He seems to do everything very efficiently and fast: grading papers, conducting studies, writing manuscripts, and so on. In his graduate level class, we were asked not to memorize much information but to read research papers; and, there were always discussions and even debates in the class. He would lead discussions and debates. Instead of quizzes and exams, he gave us take-home midterm and finals. We could write anything related to the question in and just need to defend our arguments in the exams. As students, our participation is the most important part of his teaching.

The third teacher is my colleague. I invited him to give guest lecture to my class and observed his teaching. He likes to use multiple media and digital methods in classes. Interestingly, he took Contemporary Pedagogy class. He always tries different methods to attract students’ attention and get them engaged. He is an outgoing person and loves communicating with other people.

The fourth teacher is an old professor. I talked to him about his teaching and sat in his class to observe his class. He always told me he see teaching as performance and see students as his audience. He gets himself prepared for every class physically and mentally. Although he doesn’t use a lot of modern techniques, he will also try as much as he can to make students engaged in class.

I found my teaching self in all of these teachers. We always think the first professor’s teaching is old fashion and not efficient to facilitate learning. And, sometimes students wouldn’t like his teaching. However, I found the students in his class benefits from this old-fashion teaching most. The second professor’s teaching most fits graduate seminar. The students need to prepare for the discussions and debates very well in the class. You wouldn’t expect to obtain knowledge and information from the discussions but would get training on how to think a question from different perspectives. Personally, I did’t enjoy the third teacher’s class very much, because he used too much technologies and didn’t treat students as active learners. I think to cover materials will decrease students’ motivation no matter how fancy the teacher covers the materials. As the fourth instructor, I admire his passion and effort to make the class vivid. In contrast to the third teacher, the fourth professor does use modern technologies as lot, but he is still able to engage his students and make them learn from the class. Therefore, I think whether use technologies is not the most important in teaching, but how to effectively facilitate learning of these active learner is crucial for successful teaching.

Give A Fish or Teach Fishing

Four Things Lecture Is Good For conveys a simple, but always being overlooked, principle: instructors should teach students thinking in lectures, rather than cover materials. It has been recognized that modern education changed from “teaching-centered” to “learning-centered”. This means that the primary purpose of any forms of teaching, including lecture, is to improve the ability of the learner. The role of instructor in learning becomes minimum and learner is the center of learning. In a lecture, Robert Talbert thinks, to model thought process, to share cognitive structure, to give contexts, and to tell story are the four missions of the lecturer. As far as I am concerned, all these four missions are to teach students how to think. Just like the old proverb, to teach students how to think will benefit them for a long time.

However, how to teach students how to think is an interesting topic. When all efforts of an teacher is to tell student the steps of thinking in an abstract way, to draw knowledge maps, or to make categories of cognitive units, this information itself becomes “materials”. In these times, examples including facts and general knowledge are important. I do agree with that telling stories is a good approach to fulfill the purpose of teaching students how to think, but video games seem to go too far. James Paul Gee’s arguments have some reasonable points. For me, it is okay to use video games as a sort of metaphor, video games themselves are not transcendence or extension of reality but escape or distortion of reality. We should by no means learn any thing from or through video games. Moreover, Gee’s arguments are very easy to be misunderstood. In my opinion, the best expression of ideas in the reading articles in this week is still “learning through action, and reflection”.

Manage Short-Term and Long-Term Goals in Learning

As a student, I did ask my teacher the typical question mentioned by Lambardi in her article; as an instructor, I also did get the same question from my students. The issue of grading in teaching and learning is not as simple as the statement that grading is hindrance from learning. Borrowing the concept from Welsh’s article of last week, I’d argue that we should balance the “significance” and grade in learning. In a sense, connecting significance with learning is the long-term goal of learning while achieving good grades is the short-term goal. So, to manage the long-term and short-term goal is important in motivating student in learning.

In psychology, there are two types of motivation: internal and external motivation. External motivation is more effective in simple tasks whereas internal motivation plays a more important role in complicated tasks. Too much external reward as external motivator will decrease internal motivation of people when they are engaging in complicated tasks, which is detrimental to the performance in the complicated tasks. These are reviewed in Dan Pink’s videos.

I’d like to think the long-term goal, connecting significance, as the internal motivator and the short-term goal, achieving better grades, as the external motivator. Applying the results in psychological research, the balance of these two types of motivation is the key to motivate the students. As we discussed in class for multiples times, which teaching methods or methods to motivate students depends on what the discipline is. In basic science, I still think the short-term goal and external motivator are more important. However, when the class requires more complicated work, the long-term goal and internal motivator will be more useful. Moreover, although teachers should respect individuality of all education receivers, the current education still needs in-class teaching. So, it’s unrealistic to discard the external motivator. Instead using only internal or purely external motivator for all students, teachers should teach students to find the balance point of their own motivations.

Last but not least, using grade as the assessment of learning may be not the perfect way but is the most effective way for teachers to evaluate the learning at present. I’m looking forward the discussion on this point in the coming class.

Demystify Demystification about Learning

In this week, we were introduced with new topics in GEDI — teaching and learning. Ken Robinson’s TED talk and reading articles criticize the traditional in-class teaching. Ken Robinson talked about the importance of regarding individuality and creating learning environment. The article “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance” echo the TED talk, Michael Welsh also emphasizes on learning instinct in human and the role of teachers in encouraging students to learning. I do appreciate that the two authors found the fundamental distinction between teaching and learning. For teaching, we take the perspective of instructors and see students as passive and uniform information receivers; whereas, we take the perspective of learner when using the term “learning’ which entails uniqueness of every student. No matter whether I am an instructor or a student, I strongly agree with it.

Michael Welsh’s point about finding the significance in learning is similar to¬†Maslow’s argument about means and ends. Maslow discussed the motivation in his popular work “Motivation and Personality” (1969) and argued that some behaviors are just means to fulfill certain goals, whereas other behaviors themselves are the ends. Michael Welsh seems to suggest to find a purpose or significance for learning is important, which also relates to connected learning we covered in last week. However, Maslow noted that enjoying doing something just for its own sake is a more sustain motivation. Apply it to learning, to find significance in a bigger picture is good, learning itself might be fun and the motivation to learning.

We can also find its root in Maslow’s work in the article Mindful Learning. Ellen Langer suggests that focusing on present learning have better effects in learning, which is similar to Maslow’s concepts. However, close examination reveals that Ellen Langer’s argument is contradictory to Michael Welsh’s points in some ways. Mindful learning not only means not relying on past learning but also means not being influenced by future. Past learning, by Ellen Langer, is stereotype. Future, here, is the significance in Michael Welsh’s paper. Therefore, learning with mind is more like Maslow’s concept than¬†Michael Welsh’s argument. Moreover, my own experiences tell a different story from Ellen Langer’s demystification. Practice is necessary for understanding knowledge and any types of creation. only after I master “basics” and skills and do not need much mental effort to think about these “basics” and skills, do I have chances to build something on them, to create.

Taken these together, I think these authors provide with different perspectives to look at learning and teaching, but while they are trying to explain away the myths about learning we should not mystify their arguments.