I have been very fortunate to have so many teaching opportunities. I have taught full year, full semester and half semester courses, undergraduate and graduate courses, I have taught at both major research institutions and small undergraduate colleges. I have taught over a dozen topics in less than 10 years and I have loved every minute of it.
I don’t just want students to learn, I want them to want to learn.
One of my personal (and undeniably ambitious) goals is to encourage students to respect the opportunity to learn. Currently, we have the right to an education, but it is still a privilege to have that right. Too often higher education is seen as a means to an end – a good job, a good salary. I strive to raise students’ awareness of the value in the moment of learning. When a student says, “That 2 hour lecture went by so fast”, it tells me the student was engaged, not looking at the clock, not planning their next activity. I truly believe that when students are able to recognise the value of learning in the moment, they learn more in that moment. Engaging with the material, their fellow students and myself helps students to stay in the moment. Engagement with me requires the development of a safe space, and the demonstration of an open attitude. Engaging with their peers requires creating opportunities for students to interact with each other. In every lecture I try to pause and have small groups of students discuss a concept. This has its trials (redirecting a theatre of students is not always easy) but in my experience it fosters a collegial atmosphere that has a number of beneficial outcomes. Students report they feel more comfortable turning to their classmates for help and more comfortable with group work. Inevitably, there are students who are not comfortable talking to their peers, and we work together to find solutions.
Collaborative learning means acknowledging I don’t know everything and acknowledging the students know something.
University is a scholarly endeavour and scholarly is defined as “for learned people”. Students are not empty vessels into which I pour knowledge. Students already possess a vast amount of knowledge. Indeed, there is a vast amount of knowledge that students have, that I do not. I can choose to defend my knowledge and status and deny student knowledge, or I can work with that knowledge to nurture further learning, for me, and the students. Statistics is not my area of expertise, and inevitably there are always students who are much more proficient in this area than I. In a way my lack of expertise has worked to my advantage when teaching stats to psychology students. The majority of my students dread statistics and only a handful are confident. When students are able to observe my perseverance in the face of mistakes and frustrations, I think it gives them the energy to keep trying too. I think that when students observe when I make a mistake and see how I correct it, they are better able to identify their own mistakes and work through how to correct it. There have been a number of times that it feels more like we, as an entire class, are figuring things out together, than me telling them what to do. In the end, we all have a much deeper understanding of the process. I can say, without reservation, that I have never made a student feel stupid about their ability with stats. Making a mistake is no longer something to be embarrassed about and asking for help becomes much easier. One of my favourite anecdotes came from a student who watched an interaction between myself, and a student who was brilliant at stats. The student was trying to explain a statistical procedure to me and I said at least 3 times that I didn’t understand what he was saying. The observing student later told me that this was one of her greatest learning moments, because previously, she had been too embarrassed to say when an explanation didn’t actually help clarify the issue.
I can teach through assessment
One of my latest interests is formative assessment. Formative assessment is specifically intended to provide feedback on performance to improve and accelerate learning (Sadler, 1998). The majority of assessments are summative – to demonstrate that students have attained a certain standard required for successful completion of a course. This is a critical purpose for assessment, but there is no reason that assessments cannot be both formative and summative. I try to use or design assessments that require the students to apply what they are learning. One example is the assignment I use for Psychology of Personality. Students use the Self-regulation theory to generate their learning goals for the unit. Then they use the Trait Theory and the Motivation Theory of personality to assess their own personality. Finally they combine this information to create a customized plan to reach their learning goals.
Here is an excellent assignment that I’ve used in the past when teaching Health Psychology.
I believe in making use of every resource available
Blended learning is precariously close becoming a buzzword, and as such has its expected champions and critics. At its most comprehensive, blended learning is a combination of technologies, pedagogies and other teaching methods to accomplish an educational goal. I do not support fully online learning and believe that lectures provide learning that may not be tapped by our tests, but is nonetheless critical to student development. Lectures also provide me (and I suspect other teachers) with experience that is critical to my own development. To quote the European Distance and eLearning Network in their 2004 policy paper, the challenge is to “create order in the confused ‘panacea concept’ of ‘blended learning’ by distinguishing between innovative and merely substitutive use of ICT.” I don’t want to be substituted, but I do want to use every possible medium to engage students with the material, their classmates and me. Currently, I integrate online resources (Moodle, Blackboard), laboratory activities, peer assisted learning, formative assessment and traditional classroom lecture time to create an optimal learning environment for all of the students. In the online environment, I use functions such as weekly quizzes, resource pools, discussion forums, and online learning components/classses about Ethics in the research and practice of psychology (has a corresponding lab and assessment task). Laboratory activities are one of my favourite teaching mediums because it breaks down the large lecture group into smaller groups of 20 or students. Many of my labs are discussion/debate based, some are more practical (designing and testing behaviour modification programs), and some activities are fun ways to engage students with topics they are less interested in (The Game of Late Life: Brinker, Roberts & Radnidge, 2013).
Community service is a powerful learning opportunity
In my experience, people want to contribute to their community, and all they need sometimes is for someone to get the ball rolling, and for someone to organize how to help. Using online forums, I announce community service opportunities. These range from the serious (helping with emergency response for natural disasters) to the light-hearted (Stress Reducing Colouring Tables during exam time – typically honours or grad students who have already finished exams). Once 2 or 3 students have responded, I will assign an organiser who will then make arrangements and post the details of participation on the forum, where student volunteers then sign up. This diffusion of labour means that my involvement can be minimal when time is tight, or I can be more involved when my schedule allows. Inevitably, there are a couple of very keen students who would always take on the role of organizer if given the chance, but I do strive to distribute that responsibility. Class community involvement has a number of amazing outcomes: The community gets support from student volunteers, the organizer get experience arranging and coordinating a group of people, students get volunteer experience, the university gets a face in the community, psychology gets a face in the community, I get to know the students and so on. Black and Williams (1998) argue the essential role of a teacher is to be a mediator between students and knowledge and teachers can only do this effectively when they are familiar with both sides of the operation. Most importantly I think the students learn about life and the human condition and that is the essence of psychology.
As a teacher, I can never stop learning.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to complete my Masters of Higher Education while being an academic. When I learned something new, I could not wait to get to my class and share the ideas with the students and get their input and opinions. It was exciting to translate what I was learning into practice and get feedback about it from my students. To maintain this level of enthusiasm and motivation, I try to attend as many teaching related forums, seminars and presentations as possible. I am a member of Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, APA Teaching Psychology Division and APS Teaching of Psychology Interest Group. I have conducted a number of research projects evaluating different teaching innovations and have secured small, local funding to develop teaching materials. These activities fuel my drive to keep learning, innovating, developing and evaluating with my colleagues and students.