I’m on a train, heading into London, where I’ve got a meeting.
I’m not planning to do any teaching today, nor even to give a presentation or a briefing.
And yet, on a quick check through my bag, I’ve got the following on me:
My laptop, including the power cord and the adaptor for connecting to output devices;
My voice recorder, should I want to record a podcast;
My workbook, where I keep notes on what I’m doing;
Post-it notes; and,
Board marker pens
In short, I’m ready and poised to do a whole bunch of teaching-type activity.
Partly, this is because I hate re-packing my bag each time I leave the house, but much more it’s because I’ve found myself in situations too often when I don’t have the things I would like to have on me.
I do wonder if this is because I’ve had my professional development during a period of rapid technological change, when resilience really mattered.
When I started out, it was all acetates and overhead projectors, unless they were broken, in which case it was the blackboard.
And then data projectors arrived, if you could get the computer booked out and then get it to connect to the projector.
I spent several years working with a dual system: a computer with powerpoints and a bag full of acetate (plus some chalk, just in case, because, well, I’m me).
(and yes, I do still have those acetates filed away, somewhere in my office)
Nowadays, even though I’ve not had a tech problem for several years, I still try to be prepared should one occur. In fact, the last time it did happen, I was giving a keynote at a conference, and I just had to wing my talk without my slides for the first half: unpleasant, but not fatal.
The message here is that your teaching can be delivered in more than one way, but to make that possible, you need to be ready and able to use those different ways when needed.
If you don’t want to learn by bitter practical experience (ahem), then I offer this technique: sit down and consider what you do and what could go wrong. That might include technology problems, or problems with the room you’re in, or too many/few people turning up, or not having the time you thought you did, or any of that.
Now think about what you can do about it.
In pretty much every case, there’s plenty you can do, adaptations you can make. I’ve not yet had a class that had one of these problems that I could get something useful out of, from the time only one person turned up to the time when none of the lights worked. Or the time my train got really delayed (like now).
And before you worry too much, just remember that most of the time things work just fine.
And that’ll be in part because you’re ready for anything.
As my day-job stumbles from one bizarre episode to the next, it’s been great to have the relative stability of my teaching.
Yesterday was our last class of the semester, so we spent a bunch of time on wrapping things up.
In so doing, it occurred to me that I’ve not been particularly systematic about this, so I tried this time to make sure I went around the houses.
First element was to try and draw out the overarching learning outcomes from the module: the stuff that’s been there most of the time, but which hasn’t necessarily been at the forefront of any one session.
When we focus on individual sessions, it’s easy to also focus our attention on the specific outcomes, without making the connections up to the higher-level points.
That fed into the two major part, namely the assessment.
In my case, students have a single piece of work to do for assessment, which requires them to integrate their reflection and learning from the whole module, so talking about those kind of things is doubly-useful.
In both cases, I tried to start from students’ questions and concerns: I’ve been touching on key points throughout the module, but I know from long experience that often that’s not enough. Just because you think you’re clear, doesn’t mean you are.
That’s particularly relevant here, as the assessment is a personal reflection, so I want to emphasise that only each student can determine what is central in that, since they known themselves better than I can.
Finally, I encourage students to give feedback.
No session is perfect – or even close – but the more feedback you can get from students, the better. That can be through the formal channels your institution uses, or more informally in class.
I didn’t use it this time, but the ABC system can also work well for generating ideas.
They don’t know it yet, but as I bump into students in the coming period of time, I’ll be asking for their views on how it all went.
Which just leaves the last task: putting my paperwork in order now, so that I have less to scrabble through next autumn. Much as there’s a temptation to just park your stuff on a shelf somewhere and forget it, it’s hugely more efficient and effective to sort it all out now, while it’s still fresh in your mind.
In short, practise what you preach to your students.
A few years ago, I had a student who kept walking out of class.
He did this because he’d decided that, in several of the various negotiation scenarios into which I had placed him, his optimal strategy was to literally walk away from the table.
During the semester, he did this about four times, usually to snippy comments from his classmates.
We talked about it a fair bit, as a group, because I felt it was really useful to unpack the merits and demerits of this approach, which I’d not seen before (or since, for that matter).
I was remembering this case the other day, as my current group of negotiation students once again decided to hold a closed door meeting of principals, kicking out most of the class to the corridor outside.
As one student noted in the debrief: “why does this keep happening? Every time it does, it just really alienates people and makes it harder to reach an agreement”.
And that’s my question here: how and why do cohorts get stuck in patterns of behaviour?
During last September’s annual conference of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) in Bath, Simon kicked off the teaching and learning afternoon gathering with a teaching and learning bingo.
I enjoyed this a lot. It was nice, active, fun. I got to meet new people and learned new thing about teaching and learning. Based on this (perhaps somewhat subjective) experience, I decided to hijack Simon’s idea and use it in two similar, but different settings. This is what happened.
Problem-Based Learning workshop Bolzano
Maastricht University is known for its application of Problem-BasedLearning (PBL). New staff have to attend a PBL introduction training session upon starting at our university. All teaching staff also need to complete the so-called University Teaching Qualification (UTQ) trajectory (this, in fact, applies to all higher education institutions in the Netherlands). One of my duties is to coordinate UTQ at my home faculty. And it was this – plus my teaching experience – that lead me to being invited to convene a workshop entitled ‘Tutors in problem-based learning from distant facilitator to approachable coach’ at the University of Bolzano early October.
Since I did not know any of the people there, I thought this would be a great opportunity to use the T&L bingo.
I adapted Simon’s bingo to my own needs. The instructions are relatively straightforward and the items of a diverse nature, including more light-hearted ones.
It worked surprisingly well. I got to know the participants, plus they got to know each other a bit better too. It also provided me with some input for the workshop (‘The one thing they’re hoping to learn more about today’). Considering it was a day-long workshop, this helped me to focus on specific points and also, towards the end, to check if everyone thought that we sufficiently covered their needs.
University Teaching Qualification workshop Maastricht
I already wrote that I coordinate UTQ at my home faculty. This year 13 colleagues have to complete the trajectory. The group of participants is very diverse in terms of disciplinary backgrounds and teaching experience, and included teaching assistants, PhD students and a professor. Not everyone knew each other, so once again the bingo seemed like a good idea. And once again, I thought I could use the input for the workshop.
This time too, I adapted the bingo to the setting,with specific questions about the topics that we were going to focus on during the day.
Even though there was some hilarity as to whether this was really a serious exercise (see this tweet),participants actively engaged in it. As they will be working together throughout this academic year, it was important that they got to know each other – the usual round of introduction is a bit boring, especially because it usually does not result in new information. Once more I included a question that gave me specific input as to the expectations for the day (‘Your colleague’s personal learning goal for today’).
What I learned
The good: after a bit of hesitation everyone got really involved. Some colleagues did their utmost best to talk to everyone; others decided for a longer talk when the issue at hand was interesting. Reason enough to do it again, though I’d probably want to explain the exercise better in order to avoid awkward moments at the start.
The bad: timing is an issue. In both cases, we took much more time than I had anticipated, as everyone really got into it and because I had encouraged them to try and talk to everyone. Next time I might consider using a timer or buzzer. Or perhaps offer a prize to the person who gets most boxes filled within a set time.
The ugly: I enjoyed it so much that I also got completely carried away. And subsequently lost track of time… As such, a timer is definitely needed! Someone needs to keep track of me too. I might ask one of the other participants to be in charge of time instead.
I’d love to try this exercise with students. I think it would make a great course opening. I mostly teach in a programme with +300 students, so they do not always know each other despite changing tutor groups every 8 weeks and every course. Plus it would be a great way to have them discuss a course topic in a more informal setting and get to know more about the course’s intended learning outcomes. Obviously, I would have to adapt the bingo to the course itself. I would include a debriefing so that we all get to know more about students’ pre-knowledge about the topic and our expectations of the course, the group and the tutor (i.e. me).
This guest post is part of a series linked to the publication of G. Pleschova & A. Simon (eds.) Learning to teach in central Europe: Reflections from early career researchers. This post comes from Sarah Holz.
a teacher who aspires to student-centered learning, increasing student class participation
and involvement in seminars is a central concern for me. Reading Michal
Tkaczyk’s book chapter offered some insightful and thought provoking
ideas for me because the chapter addresses the question in how far enhanced
student participation, interest in the subject matter, and the acquisition of
key concepts are linked.
In his chapter, which is part of the newly released online book Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon, Michal Tkaczyk offers insights into the findings from a teaching innovation introduced in a seminar on semiotic analysis of media contents. The innovation aimed at (1) improving student knowledge-acquisition, (2) enhancing their skills to apply key concepts of semiotic analysis and (3) promoting student participation.
I’m doing some training on negotiation in Belgium this week, building on what the organisers imagine is my expertise in this subject and Brexit.
Of course, when I said ‘yes’ to the offer six months ago, I had to hedge against making too many promises that reality might break all too obviously.
What I’d not banked on was finding myself just a day or two beforehand still not being sure what might happen by the time I found myself in front of the group.
With that in mind, I made a little negotiation exercise that tackles Brexit, but at a distance, to protect against the vagueries of it all. The text of the scenario is below and you’re welcome to comment on, and use, it as you see fit.
After last week’s class discussion about participation, I decided to run an exercise that made it really easy to show the marginal benefit of preparation.
I told students to prepare for a meeting about putting together an agenda for another negotiation, and gave them all specific roles, plus some rules of procedure.
(For those who are looking for Brexit sims, this was a Council working group, putting together an agenda for the Commission to take to the UK to discuss the Political Declaration).
Because it was about formulating an agenda, I hoped that students would see they didn’t need to get too deeply into substantive positions, as long as they could frame the general areas to be covered.
Plus, but giving clear roles and rules, I incentivised everyone to push out their own draft agendas prior to the meeting. In so doing, I hoped they’d see that even a small amount of preparation could have big effects.