(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

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Inspiring teaching philosophies

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I am writing this post to capture/curate aspects of some of my favorite teaching philosophies written out there. Because of my new job responsibilities, I am particularly concerned about finding deep and critical teaching philosophies about online aspects of learning, as opposed to some of the more traditional institutionally driven approaches (that few good teachers, i assume, really incorporate into their pedagogy). What I have below is a sort of mish mash with little commentary for now, as I think of how I want to go forward.

So far, I am thinking of things written by Dave Cormier, Sean Michael Morris, Jesse Stommel, Kris Shaffer, and the folks who designed/taught the U of Edinburgh eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC/MSc

Here are my favorite quotes/parts:

Sean Michael Morris’ contemplative pedagogy & digital agnosticism:

“…each of us has an obligation to pass on to students not only what we learn, but the contemplative process by which we came to it. I don’t believe as much in subject matter as I do in process. I don’t believe as much in methodology as I do in practice”

Jesse Stommel’s Online Learning Manifesto has lots of great points, including (note these are truncated quotes when i use “…”, APA style):

5. Rigor fails to be rigorous when it’s made compulsory. It can’t be guaranteed in advance by design. Academic rigor shouldn’t be built into a course like an impenetrable fortress for students to inhabit. Rigor has to be fostered through genuine engagement.

8. Don’t wield outcomes like a weapon. Online learning activities should not be overly designed or too-strictly standardized… Improvisation, play, and experimentation are essential to learning.

10. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to online education. Learning is not neatly divisible into discrete chunks (like courses)….

11. Community and dialogue shouldn’t be an accident or by-product of a course. They should be the course. …

12. Content-expertise does not equal good teaching. The internet already has lots of experts in all manner of things. A good pedagogue, rather, relies on a variable mixture of content-expertise and careful thinking about teaching practices….Once a course begins, the growing expertise of the students, and not the teacher, should be the primary focus.

13. Online learning needs less quantitative and more qualitative assessment. Students are not columns in a spreadsheet. …The most important form of assessment, though, is self-assessment by the students of their own learning.

Another manifesto, this one for online teaching, comes from the U of Edinburgh folks who provided the best MOOC experience i have had so far (#edcmooc). Among their manifesto:


Distance is a positive principle, not a deficit. Online can be the privileged mode.

‘Best practice’ is a totalising term blind to context – there are many ways to get it right.

Every course design is philosophy and belief in action.

Assessment is a creative crisis as much as it is a statement of knowledge.

Online spaces can be permeable and flexible, letting networks and flows replace boundaries.

Course processes are held in a tension between randomness and intentionality.

And one that i need to ponder as a former Turnitin.com administrator:

“A routine of plagiarism detection structures-in a relation of distrust.”

Kris Shaffer’s Open letter to his students was inspiring in that it attempts explain the thought behind the teacher’s pedagogical choices. I spend entire semesters trying to explain my teaching philosophy to students. They usually “get it” half way thru the semester, some nearer the end. I suspect explaining it via open letter won’t completely replace that confusion, but it might be more detailed than what i used to do (a couple of minutes talking in our first class). I think it also might help students respond to surprising or unfamiliar aspects of my teaching. So for example, Kris writes ( again, i use “…” for text i removed):


First, education is more than the transfer of information. Education involves the transfer of information, of course. However, there are things more important, and more difficult, than simply memorizing information.

And

In other words, I want you to learn how to learn. That means that at times you will be teaching yourself. This is an intentional choice. One of my chief goals is for you to take charge of your own education. Though I will help set a frame in which this will take place, many of you will feel uncomfortable, even overwhelmed, at this. That’s normal. It’s what independent learning feels like quite often. (Because it’s what teaching feels like.) However, if at any time you feel lost, please talk to me. I have gone through the same process many times before, both as a student and as a teacher. I may not remove the discomfort immediately, or at all, but I will help you learn to manage it and harness it to a positive outcome.

And

Education is about far more than grades…Some of the most important things in a class are things that are hard to assess, so they’re not part of the grade…

I have already blogged about Dave Cormier’s ideas… First here then again more lightly here but i expect as I take #rhizo14 and read Dave’s book, there will be more to reflect on. The main thing Is the whole notion of “community as curriculum”

These are not all the teaching philosophies to ever inspire me, but just recent ones. Will blog about others over time and mybe share my own as I develop it

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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

2 thoughts on “Inspiring teaching philosophies

  1. Pingback: Why #rhizo14? | Reflecting Allowed

  2. Pingback: Community as Curriculum: where i come from, where i am going | Reflecting Allowed

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