CAPSTONE Ahead!

As I finish up my last course in the PID program, I find myself reflecting on how far I have come as a learner and an educator!  I remember the first course I took, Foundations of Learning.  I took this course online, and was given 4 months to complete it.  I had taken three weeks off of work and vowed to complete the entire thing in that time frame.  Boy was I fooling myself!  It took me over a week to figure out what the elusive MOODLE even was, let alone how to navigate through it!  I completed the course 2 days before the deadline!

One of the most important things that I have learned, and a concept that has been evident in every course is assessment for learning.  I had never really been exposed to this idea as a learner, therefore I hadn’t been using it as an instructor.  When introduced to it in the Evaluation of Learning course, I immediately started including some little classroom assessment techniques in all of my courses and will continue to experiment with different ones every year.  My favorite is still using the muddiest point, which is the very first one that I tried.

When I began as an instructor, I had no formal training, so I modeled what I saw around me.  This was mostly lecture style in the classroom, and demonstrations in the clinic.  As I stood at the front of the classroom, I was bored listening to myself, but didn’t know what to do about it!  As I have taken different courses, I have learned different ways to actively involve my students in their learning.  Much of this was not through the information that the courses have provided me, but by observing some of the amazing VCC instructors that I have had a pleasure meeting.  Every single course that I have taken face to face has focused on active learning, putting the student in the driver seat to help direct learning, and fostering a safe and caring learning environment.  I definitely have learned more from observing and,  subsequently modeling the techniques of the instructors that I have had.

Lastly, I think the most important insight I can take away from this entire process is what it like to be an adult learner.  When I did my post secondary education over 20 years ago, that is all I had to focus on.  I had my parents paying the bills, I had my sister making my supper every night for me and I had an amazing network of family in the city where I went to college.  This time around the landscape looks much different.  I have a full time job, a husband, three active children and a decreased capacity to learn!  I have had to learn to juggle all of these responsibilities in hopes that nothing in my life got neglected because of my education.

I now have a true understanding of my students who also have these types of responsibilities outside of college life.  It has made me a more empathetic and caring instructor who truly appreciates the challenges that adult learners are facing!

“Once you stop learning, you start dying” Albert Einstein

Throughout my entire career as a Dental Hygienist, I have continued to take new courses, learn new methods for dental procedures as technology and dental materials have evolved, and been part of an active dental association.  This has been an integral part of my career in order to stay current and competent in my skills.

Now that I am an instructor in a dental program, there is a whole new skill set that I need to acquire and maintain outside of those related to dentistry.  Thus, my commitment to lifelong learning has become two fold in nature, and my goal is to educate my students on the most current methods and concepts related to dentistry in a way that all students can relate to and learn from!

I came across an interesting article about lifelong learning entitled Expand Your Mind: Importance of Lifelong Learning and Continuous Education that defines lifelong learning under three modalities.  The first type of learning that the author, Brian Tracy, discusses is Maintenance Learning.  He defines this as “….keeping current with your field” (Tracy, 2012).  He describes this type of learning as an essential piece of the puzzle to keep people from falling behind in their field, but does not contribute to growth per say  (Tracy, 2012).

Growth Learning is the type of learning “…that adds knowledge and skills to your repertoire that you did not have before” (Tracy, 2013).  Thus, instead of remaining static, this type of learning contributes to moving forward in your field by gaining new insights and skill sets.

Lastly, Shock Learning is described as ” something that happens that contradicts or reverses a piece of knowledge or understanding that you already have” (Tracy, 2015).  This type of learning can be the most difficult or uncomfortable type of the three, whereby a person can chose to ignore the contradiction and move forward, or regard it and evolve to adapt to the new awareness.

As I reflected on my career, I could make connections with all three learning paradigms.  In the first years of my career, I focused mostly on maintenance learning, just hoping to stay afloat and not drown in a puddle of uncertainty.  As I became more confident as a dental hygienist, I began to focus on growth learning.  What could I do to enhance my knowledge and skills?  During the course of my career, I was continually be faced with shock learning, but how I handled it at the beginning versus how I handle it now varies vastly.  Again, as my confidence grew, it became easier for me to adapt my own ideas and thoughts and become less defensive when faced with differing opinions or practices.

I have always loved learning and wholeheartedly believe it is an essential part of not only our professional lives, but also our personal lives.  As Albert Einstein once said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying”.

References

Tracy, Brian. (2012). Expand Your Mind: Importance of Lifelong Learning and Continuous Education.  Retrieved from   http://www.briantracy.com/blog/personal-success/expand-your-mind-importance-of-lifelong-learning-and-continuous-education/

What does struggle mean to you?

The acquisition of knew knowledge and new skills is challenging for most people.  It requires us to step out of our comfort zone and face the possibility of failure, while we hope for success.  What I try to remind my students is that sometimes we need failure in order to be successful.

Every year as we move into the clinic after we have reviewed the theory in a traditional classroom, I secretly pray for a little FAILURE!!!  I have always believed that we can learn so much more by making mistakes than we can if we get it right the first time.  For the last couple of years I have noticed that the students who begin the clinical sessions with success can’t problem solve later on when they are faced with more challenging tasks.  Those who begin the year having to work through the easier tasks have figured out how to break the exercise down into to smaller pieces and think critically to work through the issue.

I recently read an interesting article that discusses how Western educators differ in their belief about struggle compared Eastern cultures.    In the article, the author quotes Jim Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA in saying that in Eastern cultures “it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle” (Spiegel, 2012).   Spiegel further quotes Stigler as saying; “I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart” (Spiegel, 2012).

The article points out that how you perceive struggle is directly connected with how you deal with struggle.  Spiegel suggests that  “if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it” (Spiegel, 2012).

I completely agree with the later of the two theories and believe that instead of seeing struggle or failure as a bad thing, we should accept it as a opportunity for further learning and growth.  It is all a matter of perspective!

Please follow the link below if you are interested in reading the article!

http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/11/15/struggle-means-learning-difference-in-eastern-and-western-cultures/

References

Spiegel, Alix. 2012.  Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures.  Retrieved from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/11/15/struggle-means-learning-difference-in-eastern-and-western-cultures/ .

Group Work Woes

I can honestly say that I do not use group work in my classroom.  My only rationale for this was my own poor experiences with group work through my educational path.  There always seemed to be a struggle with keeping all members on task and dealing with one or more person who doesn’t share in the same work ethic.  Yet, the final grade is given for all members, no matter what they actually contributed.

Unfortunately, during this particular course (3260), I faced the same issues that  molded my attitude over 20 years ago.  When doing the Ethical Dilemma assignment my partner did not engage in the forum or contribute to the group report at all.  I am sure that there must be a reasonable explanation, but either way my frustration was hard to control.

I got to thinking about why this strategy exists.  As long as I can remember educators have been using group work as an educational strategy, so something must be working. What is the benefit?

According to The University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence, “Group work can be an effective method to motivate students, encourage active learning, and develop key critical-thinking, communication, and decision-making skills” retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/alternatives-lecturing/group-work/implementing-group-work-classroom.

The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation points out that group work can allow instructors to “assign more complex, authentic problems to groups of students than they could to individuals” retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/benefits.html .  This same website points out that ultimately group work decreases work load of the instructor as there are less assignments to grade.

Although the benefits seem to outweigh the cons, all of the literature I read points to careful planning and implementation to make group work successful.  The following link outlines some important steps in planning and implementing a group activity;

https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/alternatives-lecturing/group-work/implementing-group-work-classroom

References:

Eberly Center. Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation.  Design and Teach a Course.  Retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/benefits.html .

University of Waterloo.  Centre for Teaching Excellence.  Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/alternatives-lecturing/group-work/implementing-group-work-classroom .

Why Lecture?

I lecture because that is what my students want!  I have tried (and still do) many different strategies, from flipping the classroom to debating to role playing.  Nine times out of 10 my students say they want me to return to lecturing.

Thus Chapter 6 in the book The Skillful Learning will be a great resource for me when trying to make my lectures more interesting and engaging!  Brookfield’s suggestion to break the lecture up into smaller chunks, whereby introducing different strategies to reflect on the material covered is brilliant! He  gives examples such as having the students do a minute paper, posing a question or a pair and share activity (Brookfield, P. 73).

His next point to making lectures more engaging is to have “buzz groups interspersed throughout the lecture” which will “ask students to make some judgments regarding the relative merits, relevance, or usefulness of the constituent elements of the lecture” (Brookfield, 2015, P. 74).  He points out that he purposely  will make an error in his lecture and have the students figure out what the error might be (Brookfield,2015,  P. 74).  I love it!

Another interesting point he made to spruce up lectures was to use social media.  After taking the Media Enhanced Learning course, I have wanted to start using social media in the classroom.  Brookfield proposes having a Twitter feed running during the lecture and allowing students to make comments or ask questions throughout the lecture, making sure to check in frequently to address the feed (Brookfield, 2015,  P. 78).

As with all new learning, I like to start simple and work towards more complex strategies.  I think these are few great ways to start!

References

Brookfield, Stephen D.  (2015).  The Skillful Teacher.  On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the

Classroom.  San Francisco:  John Wiley and Sons.