Six weeks ago, at the end of July, new campus leadership at UBC Okanagan decided to restructure the Centre for Teaching and Learning and eliminated the position of Director, and therefore, me. When the day comes post-covid-19 when we can sit around and laugh over drinks, I’ll add some details.
My neighbour, Raymond, had the best advice for me after he saw the For Sale sign go up in front of my house:
When opportunity knocks, answer the door.
Over the last six months at UBC Okanagan, my team and I helped course instructors pivot to “emergency remote teaching”. Then we turned our attention to preparing them for the Fall, which included facilitating many, many online workshops. That’s when I realized, again, I really, really I love teaching.
So I’m pursuing opportunities that will bring me back into the math classroom. That’s where I started teaching, more than 20 years ago (!) as a graduate student in Mathematics at UBC.
They say I was a pretty good teacher back then, and later when I taught introductory astronomy. I know so much more now about teaching and learning, and I’ve witnessed so many extraordinary course instructors develop and lead their classes. Honestly, I’m a little nervous about being instructor-of-record again, anxious that I can live up to their (and my) standards. Let’s see who’s at the door…
My Centre for Teaching and Learning at UBC Okanagan “supports and promotes teaching and learning excellence, innovation and scholarship.” Many of our programs are offered as a form of professional development for course instructors.
After some conversations with senior people here in my Centre – thanks JP and JH – I’ve realized my Centre staff should have professional development opportunities, too. We fill a special niche: providing teaching and learning support to course instructors (which is one step removed from providing teaching and learning support to students) and we should continue to learn how to do it well. So, I added a second hour to our monthly team meetings: a “lunch-n-learn” for my Centre staff.
This month’s session went really well and I want to share it with the Center for Teaching community in case you’re looking for ideas.
I asked everyone to read The Science of Learning by Deans for Impact. It’s a great report that presents 6 key questions:
How do students understand new ideas?
How do students learn and retain new information?
How do students solve problems?
How does learning transfer to new situations in or outside of the classroom?
What motivates students to learn?
What are common misconceptions about how students think and learn?
The report answers those questions based on current research and provides practical implications, that is, how it can be used in the classroom. The document is well researched and referenced, providing a rich source of the evidence in “evidence-based teaching.”
Two of the activities I facilitated with my team worked really well and led to very rich discussions:
Dig into the misconceptions
The last key question in the report lists common misconceptions about how student think and learn:
Students do not have different “learning styles.”
Humans do not use only 10% of their brains.
People are not preferentially “right-brained” or “left-brained” in the use of their brains.
Novices and experts cannot think in all the same ways.
Cognitive development does not progress via a fixed progression of age-related stages.
Here’s the thing: it’s not clear from the report if these are the misconceptions or these are statements that debunk the misconceptions. (It’s the latter, it turns out – correct, students do not have different learning styles.) So I asked my colleagues to
identify and explain the misconception that the statement debunks, and
talk about the risks of an instructor basing decisions on the misconception
This was good because we clarified the misconceptions about the misconceptions. We had a long conversation about the statement, “Novices and experts cannot think in all the same ways.” The discussion about risk was important, too, because it gave my colleagues ammunition for the conversation with course instructors about why they need to update their conceptions.
Course instructors are our students
After we’d looked over the six key questions and what course instructors can do in their classrooms to help their students learn, I asked everyone to take one step “up” and reconsider the questions, solutions, and implication in OUR niche where course instructors are our students.
For example, when we want to teach them about a new concept, like peer instruction with clickers, we need to remember course instructors, “learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know.” In other words, our clients are not empty vessels, waiting to be filled with our teaching and learning knowledge. And if we teach them by simply dumping knowledge at them, they will not learn it.
It is really interesting and challenging to reconsider each key question and solution and to imagine the implications for how we need to support our course instructors.
If you try one of these activities in your Center, I hope you’ll come back and leave a comment about how it went, so the next Center director can benefit from all our experiences.
On October 31, 2017, I had the pleasure of giving the keynote presentation and also facilitating a workshop at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) School of Transportation Development Day, “Tools of the Trade.” Thanks very much to Chief Instructor Eric Fry and BCIT Learning and Teaching Centre Instructional Development Consultant, Rosario Passos, for the invitation.
Here are the presentations and other resources I used. They’re all shared under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license so you’re welcome to borrow, use, adapt them (and a mention where you got them would be great, thanks.)