I have been selected as a member of the Walter & Pauline Adams Academy of Instructional Excellence and Innovation at MSU. The program consists of an interdisciplinary group of faculty and academic staff who meet once a month to explore literature on teaching and learning in higher education as a means for guiding our own classroom experiences and improving student success in our courses.
During our first meeting, we were introduced to the other participants and discussed “Critically Reflective Practice” by Stephen Brookfield. This article looks at examining our own teaching practices from four different viewpoints:
- From our own experiences as a learner
- From the experience of our students
- From the perspective of our colleagues
- From the perspective of theoretical literature
I found these methods of structuring reflection to be quite helpful. I know I make educational decisions based on my past experiences as a student. I try to avoid recreating situations I once viewed as negative for my students, while also trying to reproduce learning techniques I enjoyed. Specifically, in the digital environment, the first online course I took as a student was awful – reading from PowerPoint slides and then taking exams. As an online instructor, I value teamwork and assign problem sets that require critical thinking and engagement with the content. I use exams, but they are not the only grades in the course.
Viewing our instruction through our students’ perspective may give the most useful insight. However, collecting that data can be difficult. Students must be able to give opinions anonymously, which does open up faculty to criticism that may be unnecessarily brutal in some cases. I find when I explain my motivations for asking students for feedback (I want to improve the course for them and future students), along with making my class a safe space for discussion, students tend to give thoughtful responses. The instructor must also ask the right questions. Our current end-of-the-semester student surveys are unable to distinguish between poor teaching and lack of motivation on the part of the student. Either of those scenarios could lead to low evaluations.
Bouncing educational ideas off of my colleagues may be one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job (and I enjoy my job quite a bit). I love the education-focused community at MSU, and I recognize how fortunate I am to be a part of multiple groups all with different viewpoints about teaching and learning. Some folks focus on science content, some on active learning and flipped classrooms, some on student success initiatives, some on administering programs, some on accessibility (of course, most of these topics overlap between groups). I am surrounded by friends who want to improve their own teaching but are also invested in helping me improve mine.
Finally, we can use education research to reflect upon our teaching. The article focuses on using literature to combat negative situations (self-criticism for failed methods or student hostility), but the literature can be used to make even good classrooms better. By keeping up on evidence-based theories and ideas, instructors can expand their toolbox of successful practices. Repetitive recall helps improve content retention? Let’s give them no-to-low stakes quizzes to help them practice. Immediate feedback is more effective for correcting misunderstandings? Let’s put some automatic structures in place to provide feedback on some assignments and grade others as quickly as possible.
The discussion we had regarding the paper and just getting to know one another was great, and I am excited for the meetings to come this academic year. I am hoping to grow as an educator and be able to improve my courses.