The UniCommons project is completed and the site contents will be closed to the public by December 2014.
Over the last 16+ years of my college teaching, my instructional philosophy has changed. . .and will continue to change. More recently I have been realizing my role as more of a guide or mentor in the students' learning process. This is my adaptation to the ever-changing world we share. Today we have an astounding amount of information readily available. Advancements in technology have provided several convenient, flexible, and dynamic methods of communication that facilitate learning. These are more than just teaching and learning tools, they are media that enhance our lives in several ways. Every professional should embrace modern tools of communication and be an active learner of and contributor to knowledge in their field of study--and others.
Traditional teaching (i.e., the way I used to teach) is too much about the student simply listening, absorbing, and complying (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002). This has limited effectiveness for student learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). Furthermore, this approach does not support the level of learning engagement required by today's citizens. In many regards, my teaching style is an attempt to parallel the shifting nature of the global world. Friedman (2006) characterizes this as follows:
Globalization 2.0 was really the era of mainframe computing, which was very vertical--command-and-control oriented, with companies and their individual departments tending to be organized in vertical silos. Globalization 3.0, which is built around the convergence of the ten flatteners, and particularly the combination of the PC, the microprocessor, the Internet, and fiber optics, flipped the playing field from largely top-down to more side to side. And this naturally fostered and demanded new business practices, which were less about command and control and more about connecting and collaborating horizontally. (p. 208)
My Teaching Styles
Based on the aforementioned premises, in recent years I have attempted to revamp my teaching methodology. My emphasis has moved away from a direct instructor-controlled style (e.g. lectures, teacher controlled) toward more student-directed activities. Both professors and students share responsibility in the learning process (Benton, 2006; Shelley, 2005). Cullen & Harris (2009) state:
The teacher in the learner-centered class is a designer of learning opportunities, one who sets the stage and then steps aside while the students engage in knowledge constructing activities. Particularly in asynchronous fully online delivery, the teacher has to assume the role of designer and create the avenues for students to actively engage with course material and their peers in order to learn, because there is no single point of contact between students and teacher that allows for the teacher to remain front and center, so to speak. (para. 8)
Pangrazi (2007) outlines a range of teaching styles in a continuum from teacher controlled to learner controlled. Using multiple styles is recommended (Pangrazi; Rink, 2006), so I use many of the following in my classes:
- Mastery Learning: Outcomes break down the important skills needed. These are clearly articulated and students develop ways to demonstrate competency in these areas which, in turn, are evaluated. Students react to feedback and make changes to accomplish mastery of the goals.
- Cooperative Learning: Students work together on projects, demonstrating good collaboration as a cohesive group, to develop work that should be stronger than individual work because of the collective effort.
- Guided Inquiry: Emphasis is placed on the process rather than the product. Students monitor their learning process by providing introspection. The teacher serves as a guide in the learning process and attempts to stimulate curiosity. Open communication is encouraged.
- Problem Based: A problem is outlined and students must develop a procedure for solving this problem. During the problem solving process students research, experiment, and present viable solutions. These solutions are evaluated and discussed. Then, the solution is improved. Some solutions are better than others, yet there are multiple ways to accomplish solving a problem.
- Free exploration: Allowing students to examine content-related information and present quality work as they see fitting. This involves activities that go beyond what is immediately available for study. This must be demonstrated. (Pangrazi)
Learning best occurs through active practice by the learner, what I call the "application." This learning-by-doing approach creates much more meaningful and permanent knowledge and behavior change compared to passive learning (e.g. lecture, command-style). This quote by Xun Zi emphasizes my point:
Not hearing is not as good as hearing, hearing is not as good as seeing, seeing is not as good as mentally knowing, mentally knowing is not as good as acting; . . .only when a thing produces action can it be said to have been truly learned. (Bennett, 2007, para. 3)
My Teaching Process (Methodology)
The basic formula for my instruction process is as follows:
- State general Learning Expectations
- Specify course objectives
- Emphasize the Learning Guide
- Interact and provide direction and feedback
- Evaluate and grade
The Learning Guide
The learning process centers around Learning Guides, which contain four important elements of student learning: Plan, Know, Apply, and Check. These sections have a sequential orientation, but are meant to be continually reviewed and revisited in a nonlinear fashion, because they are interdependent. The general characteristics of each component are outlined as follows:
- Plan: Objectives and a general timeline
- Know: Identification of important resources and content topics
- Apply: Required and recommended ways to apply knowledge of the content
- Check: Ways to give and receive feedback on work, performance, and progress
The learning guide is of utmost importance for success in a class. Like a syllabus, it contains the most important elements of the course but the learning guide is not a syllabus. I have been inspired by a call by Singham (2007) to abandon punitive, rule-infested, and controlling syllabi. A traditional syllabus starts class on a negative note, takes the fun out of learning, and often inhibits it.
Beyond student learning, I am also responsible to the university, future employers, and society in general to accurately verifying the level of knowledge and skills students have demonstrated in a class. I believe in the importance of differentiating between student performances. All grading aims to operate under the following criteria: 70%=Satisfactory, 80%=Good, 90%=Excellent, 100%=Outstanding. Any grade lower than 70% represents various degrees of inadequacy or inaccuracy.
A key grade component in knowledge testing is the use of online exams. During exams, students are encouraged to use all resources available to them, including collaborating with others during the test. This makes the exams more like a real-world test of information filtering and dissemination. I also require relatively constricted time limit for completion of each test. The time limits encourage students to thoroughly prepare for tests, rather than plan to go into the test and look up every answer without having thoroughly studied the information. Many of the questions are expected to be answered from memory, without referring to other sources. Other answers may require the use of sources to quickly supply answers. This motivates student to gain proficiency at organizing and accessing information, a very important skill in today's information saturated world. Also, strict time limitations teach and reward efficiency in test taking skills like time management, and anxiety management. These skills are necessary for performance on high-stakes exams (e.g., GRE, GMAT). Many questions require the test taker to synthesize information and rationalize alternatives, rather than merely recall facts.
Basing a student's performance solely on knowledge exams would be inaccurate. That is why I have other components that factor into the grade, usually more heavily than exams. Many of the other components emphasize and reward effort in a class. Criteria for grading these components are usually outlined in grading guides (rubrics), especially the "Application Rubric" and "Paper Rubric."
The Case for Holism and Fluidity
Despite my shifting philosophy on teaching over the years, the foundation remains the same: the course objectives guide everything. With the course objectives set, there are several ways to go about achieving these objectives. It follows that each student is free to achieve the course objectives in different ways. Each student has a unique learning experience that, in turn, is shared with other students, creating a cumulative learning effect that is amplified for a class. This is a departure from the traditional style in which every student is usually expected to know and do the same things, and then present it so that only the professor can evaluate the work. At best, there is a one-on-one interaction between professor and student. This traditional approach is much too reductionist to honor or facilitate learning--which is a very complex and dynamic task. In an effort to get away from teaching being a series of minor, unconnected student experiences, I have sought to make my methods support a more holistic and interconnect ways of learning.
Consistent with the dynamic nature of learning (and life in general), my guidelines, teaching styles, "assignments," and content are not static. A major advantage of web content (compared to print) is the ability to be fluid, adapting to the latest needs, problems, and new information. Knowing that "the rules" can change may be unnerving for some, but that is the nature of life. The Learning Guide in a class is meant to be referred to often and I do update it occasionally if I see a need to clarify something or add new content or ideas. A student's ability to stick with the program in real time, including being adaptable, is an important characteristic to demonstrate as a student. The "goals" of a class do stay constant in a given term, and that is the most important focus for everything that is done. Likewise, I keep the grading criteria constant throughout a term so the evaluation criteria is understood early on.
It is very import to collect and document class work in an organized and accessible place. Furthermore, it is important that a system exists to facility collaboration and communication. In many ways my shift in teaching philosophy paralleled, and in some ways inspired, my efforts to create my own content management system at UniCommons.com. This system allows me more freedom to set up a class environment supportive of my philosophy. It also allows me to be more responsive to future needs of the students and adaptations to changes in my teaching philosophy. Furthermore, I am better able to implement several course-management-system aided concepts recommended by Theall (n.d.) including monitoring student progress, discussing difficulties, discussing progress, and teaching beyond the content by emphasizing "learning how to learn." According to Cullen & Harris (2009):
The tools available for online learning lend themselves to community building, sharing information, seeking information outside the confines of the course. Simulations, group research projects, discussion forums, chat and group functions, and wikis are the kinds of activities that foster deep learning and transactive learning experiences. Online learning by its very nature requires active participation on the part of the student and a great degree of learner discipline, motivation, and control. All of these facets of the online experience foster engagement, reflection, and create an environment where deep learning is possible. (para. 9)
The platform seeks to exhibit student work, rather than hide it. Students are able to publish meaningful professional contributions with their work. Each class (or "group" as I prefer to call it) is set up to feature the presentation of work and make the rules, grading, and guidelines as transparent as possible--so they will not get in the way of the fun of learning. As the mission states, the site is meant to enhance togetherness and a return to a sense of community of scholars.
Adaptability is a desirable characteristic for humans. According to Alcorn (2000), ". . .Two things are necessary for an organism to survive in nature: the ability to fit into the structure of an environment through natural selection and specialization and the ability to adapt to changes in the environment" (p. 8). It is the concept of balance that allows for long-term survival, the balance between specialization and adaptability defines one's fitness.
Technology is a key element of adaptability, and has been throughout history. Technology is, "The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area" ("technology," 2010). Today's technology requires an ever-increasing use of electronic gadgets, computers, computer software, and Internet-based communication. Adaptability and technology have a reciprocal relationship: adaptations require technology and technology requires adaptation--the ability to quickly change and adopt new technology or abandon old technology.
Effective use of technology is especially important in my field of instruction: physical activity & health. "Balance" in a variety of human "dimensions" is a foundation concept in health & wellness. Unfortunately, of the 7 commonly listed dimensions of wellness--spiritual, social, physical, environmental, mental, emotional, occupational--technology is not widely accepted as a distinct dimension. This oversight is grievous in today's world, for the aforementioned reasons. Technological wellness is consistent with the rationale for the other dimensions because they address a variety of important human aspects beyond the narrow focus on physical wellness by the uninformed. There are several important wellness concepts that support "technological fitness" as an important dimension. Each of the following benefit directly from proficiency in technology:
- “Fitness” for interaction with society, including the social (e.g. Facebook) and occupational (e.g. electronic communication, software use).
- The concept of balance and capability
- Time management skills
- Behavior change
- Stress & coping
- Fitness logging
- Feedback and learning
- Analysis of fitness
- Fitness testing
Physical education authorities have directly recognized the importance of technology. The National Association for Physical Education and Sport (NASPE) includes the following in the National Initial Physical Education Teacher Education Standards:
- Standard 3: Planning & Implementation
Element 3.7 Demonstrate knowledge of current technology by planning and implementing learning experiences that require students to appropriately use technology to meet lesson objectives.
- Standard 4: Instructional Delivery & Management
Element 4.1 Demonstrate effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills across a variety of instructional formats.
- Standard 6: Professionalism:
Element 6.2 Participate in activities that enhance collaboration and lead to professional growth and development. (National Association, 2008a, pp. 1-3)
Technology is defined as, "Tools appropriately used to work effectively with students and increase student learning and performance. Technology is either discipline-specific or tailored to achieve lesson/unit learning goals and objectives." (p. 25).
The technology competence is also emphasized in NASPE's Advanced Standards (National Association, 2008b). NASPE defines technology there as,
"Technology: What teacher candidates must know and understand about using information technology to work effectively with students and professional colleagues in (1) delivering, developing, prescribing and assessing instruction; (2) problem-solving; (3) school and classroom administration; (4) education research; (5) electronic information access and exchange; and (6) personal and professional productivity" (p. 17).
Furthermore, within my specific specialization in sport management the ability to use technology is even more integral. The globalism of sport as a business requires worldwide communication using various internet-based technology. The use of electronic platforms for marketing and web content abound.
Adaptability and technology use require personal change. Starr (2009) emphasized the importance of mastering change, something that most people find difficult. "There is a continuum of responses expressed by typical statements of people when confronted with the need to change: Never–Someday–Soon–Maybe tomorrow–Perhaps later today–Shortly–Now." (Starr, 2009, para. 9) Moving to the right of this continuum is important, but the forces of status quo are significant. There is a phenomenon known as homeostasis, referring to the stoppage of the flow of change in some system, or status quo (Alcorn, 2000). "There are numerous examples of the homeostatic reactions of people to changes in society in general and in the technological base in particular" (p. 19). Yet, a college educated-student must display the characteristics of adaptability and fitness for their personal well-being and to be an effective contributor to society. Thus, change is essential in the learning process.
There is No "Distance" in Education
It would be misleading to classify any of my classes as "online," "face-to-face," "hybrid," or "oncampus." These terms are based on some faulty premises: that teaching is place specific, that online is a place, and that only one place should be used for teaching. The bottom line for me is that each class has specific objectives and these objectives should be accomplished with a variety of tools. Online is merely a communication channel that has recently become popular; and it is a very effective channel that helps to transcend time and place. In the broad sense of the term "hybrid," I would classify every university class I ever taught as hybrid. Research supports the use of online instruction--including online only and blended (face-to-face and online)--as superior for student performance compared to traditionally taught classes (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009).
Two postings on the Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List have reaffirmed my aforementioned beliefs on "distance" education. In one, Sarah Scrafford (n.d.) states:
The term education is no longer bound by the traditional concepts that shackled it for so long - we don't have to rely on the traditional methods of information access and content delivery that formed our staple learning diet all these years. Thanks to the Internet and associated technology, there have been rapid advances in the way we access and assimilate information. What was earlier available only at a premium cost is now open to all at no cost at all, what was earlier limited to the heavy, printed and bound version is now digitized and easier to access. In spite of these and other advantages that digital content offers, there are certain drawbacks that make this form of information delivery a little dicey, especially when it's related to data where authenticity is of prime importance.
The other posting by Michael L. Rodgers (n.d.) addresses online courses. Much like I set out to do with my "online" classes, his university attempted to make online courses were equivalent to face-to-face. Interestingly, he found the reaction very similar to what I have experienced:
Students have a solid set of expectations of face-to-face courses that have been built up over generations in our culture. Indeed, it's been often said that one of the biggest impediments to pedagogical reform lies not in faculty unwillingness to teach in new ways, but students' unwillingness to be taught in new ways. If student expectations of the face-to-face learning environment aren't as flattering as we might like-i.e., many don't expect intellectual excitement, interactivity, or to feel the joy of learning- they are firmly set. So what was missing in our online versions of courses that left them feeling dissatisfied? As we thought about it more, we came to suspect the dissatisfaction lay more in expectations they have of an online experience than expectations they have of a course experience. . .
100% of the Time
I also recently decided to adopt a different approach with my attentional focus on students. This was in response to ongoing introspection and auditing of how I was spending my time teaching. One problem was that I was spending too much time grading and not enough time teaching. A shift toward rubric-based holistic assessment of work, rather than grading each assignment individually, has allowed for more concentration on guiding and engaging students.
The other realization was that I was spending too much time with problem students (e.g., slackers, minimum-work-to-pass doers, disrespecters) at the expense of the majority of the class--the dedicated learners. Much like the Pareto principle (i.e., 80-20 rule), a small number of students were taking up a large percentage of my time. Unfortunately, in education the best students are the ones that usually receive little attention in a class because they are autodidactically meeting all of the expectations of the instructor. Thus, I decided it would be more important and beneficial to begin focusing my attention on helping the students that were giving appropriate effort to their learning experience. Under idea circumstances, everyone gives 100 percent effort and receives an equitable allocation of my 100 percent attention. When this does not happen, my intention is to move toward reversing the 80-20 theory. In turn, others will benefit from the elevated learning experience because of the shared nature of the learning environment. The danger is that some may get left behind. My expectation is that everyone does their best so the result will not only benefit teacher-student interaction, but also the learning of the entire class. This is the aforementioned responsibility that we all share in the learning process.
Advantages of My Method
- Individual flexibility for each student, which results in a more meaningful learning experience.
- Teaching flexibility.
- Providing a venue for managing online reputation.
- Technology experience and practice for student.
- Less one-on-one email interaction between professor and student. Communication is handled on web platform in a more communal way so everyone can participate.
- Better quality work is presented
- Better feedback and interaction is provided for students
- More inclusive of "outside" information.
- Presenting information publicly cuts down on plagiarism because students feel a sense of accountability when their work is public with their name as author
- The advantage of the platform I've designed are described on the "About" page of UniCommons.com.
Disadvantages of My Method
- The student must make a commitment to fully engage in their learning. A passive learning approach results in poor performance and much difficulty in getting caught up.
- Confusion in students, since I am not telling them exactly what to do and when to do it.
- Technology dependence. This involves both a learning curve for the students and also me as the teacher. I spend much more time in the technology development, time that could be spent interacting. However, the technology is the learning, as described earlier as technological fitness. The technology is learned within the context of the subject.
- Risk of presentation of poor quality or inaccurate content on the Internet.
- Rules and penalties are not clearly defined, so ambiguity can result.
- Confusion for new students, due to lack of familiarity with a new environment.
The Scholarship of Teaching
I strive to consistently develop my own scholarship of teaching and stay abreast of current research and trends in teaching methodology. I subscribe to Boyer’s belief that teaching is a legitimate form of scholarship. As such, I have consistently focused on implementing new and progressive techniques in my classes. The following is a list of recent evidence of my scholarship of teaching:
- One challenge was learning how to effectively teach physical education classes online. When I started teaching at Eastern Oregon University in 2002, I had never taught a distance education class.
- Implementing objective and knowledge surveys to measure student learning and outcomes.
- Online testing for all: challenging open book (i.e. open life, open source) exams via Blackboard and later Moodle in both on campus and online classes.
- Exam statistical analysis: spreadsheet files that help analyze exam results.
- Faster responses and better documented email conversation using Gmail in 2005
- Website development: Becoming proficient at website design and content delivery.
- Video production: I taught myself how to capture, edit, and produce video for pedagogical purposes. Learned Dartfish and other video editing software.
- All electronic: All of course information, documentation, and student assignments are stored electronically.
- Added organization and planning using Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Remember the Milk todo lists. Also allowed for sharing of information easier online and ability to work seamlessly from multiple computers.
- Learning how to implement open-source content management systems of Wordpress, Drupal, and Moodle.
- Continued research and investigative work on teaching methods and assessment in education.
- Development of video websites for use in instruction.
- Biomechanics research on cycling.
- Ongoing publications and presentations regarding online teaching techniques.
- Revamping of PEvideo.org with several new features in Summer 2010.
- Undergoing a project to document Physical Educator biographies online at PEbiography.com
- More qualifications outlined on my vita
My future plans include
- Getting away from textbooks presenting my own content and capturing links to the most applicable and reliable content freely available to the world.
- Introducing more international involvement in my classes.
The End Result
The primary focus of my teaching is the learner, hoping to help him or her become a lifelong learner. That is why my method is aimed to develop an internal locus of control for each student by using techniques that foster intrinsic motivation rather than teacher-driven extrinsic motivation. Beyond the basic knowledge of the content of a class, students must know how to learn, solve problems, make informed decisions, and support the learning of others (Malone, n.d.). The outcome of good education must be that learning has a lasting change and continued value in life (Fink, 2003).
In today's world, there is definitely a need--a calling--for excellence. Friedman (2006) states, "In sum, it was never good to be mediocre in your job, but in a world of walls, mediocrity could still earn you a decent wage. You could get by and then some. In a flatter world, you really do not want to be mediocre or lack any passion for what you do" (p. 277). It becomes important for students to be untouchable with their skillset. I am trying to prepare students for a new globalised world. As Friedman (2006) states:
The convergence of the ten flatteners has created a whole new platform. It is a global, web-enabled platform for multiple forms of collaboration. This platform enables individuals, groups, companies, and universities anywhere in the world to collaborate--for the purpose of innovation, production, education, research, entertainment, and alas, war-making--like no creative platform ever before. This platform now operates without regard to geography, distance, time, and, in the near future, even language. Going forward, this platform is going to be the center of everything. Wealth and power will increasingly accrue to those countries, companies, individuals, universities, and groups who get three basic things right: the infrastructure to connect with this flat-world platform, the education to get more of their people innovating on, working off of, and tapping into this platform, and, finally, the governance to get the best out of this platform and cushion its worst side effects. (p. 205)
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