Week one has flown by like a simile. There are 58 participants on the course of whom 22 are doing the module for academic credit (10 credits, level 7) towards a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE). Sixteen (16) of the assessed participants are from Brookes and six are from other places. So far 20 people have claimed the “Scholar” badge for contributing to the collaborative annotated bibliography. The most distant participant is in Central America, but this year the participants are largely based in the UK.
I am not sure what these numbers tell us. In many ways FSLT is now quite an “ordinary” online course. That doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. It might mean the mooc buzz, such as it was five years ago has vanished into the maw of Coursera and Future Learn. FSLT justifies itself because of the internal members of staff who take it as part of their mandatory PCTHE. We used to run our introductory module twice a year, once in each semester. No we run “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” (P70405) face to face in the first semester and offer people the opportunity of taking 20 credits online in the second semester. Opening the course up to the world for free allows us to widen our audience and expose ourselves to a wider community of teachers in the expanding tertiary education sector. That is, as well as being good for what it teaches, it should be beneficial to our teachers because of the wider community they might meet. And for those from beyond Brookes, we trust it isn’t too bound up with local jargon.
It has been a lot of work this year getting FSLT ready to go. Partly this is because as ever, I start too late. We also pulled the starting date forward from last year by two weeks so not only am I late the course is early. There were several reasons to do this, but mainly we hoped to be able to engage with teachers before (most of) their own teaching started.
But the main reason for the load of work was because the course had become over complicated and a lot of the internal links had broken or degraded. It needed a lot of patching up and this led me to do a root and branch overhaul. We have simplified the assessment scheme, tidied up the activities and are rebuilding the resources. We hope to stay at least a week ahead of the timetable! It is still not perfect, but it is a lot better than it was (in my eyes).
Reflecting mid-week in the fifth and last week of First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT). In four one-hour webinars, two on Monday and two on Tuesday, I have seen and participated in 12 Virtual Conference presentations by participants in week 5 of this open online course. And, for the first time I can remember, I let out rock-and-roll whoops. Not something often said about teaching conferences. In part this was because I can take credit for some of this course design and it didn’t totally break down; in part it was because the platform has just about stood up; in part because the level of digital capability of the participants has for many broken through the novelty barrier. But mostly because these were among the 12 best presentations I have seen and participated in. Well argued, evidenced, structured, illustrated and in scope for time (not over the “wordcount”).
FSLT15 is off to an easy start so far. It will be interesting to see how many attend the webinar on Monday. There are about 60 participants signed up and about 26 are taking the course for University Credit (10 credits CATS level 7, M-level). The course is validated and acceptable on 3 programmes: The OCSLD Associates Programme leading to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; The Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) and the MA Education: Higher Education.
Participants are mostly from the UK, with people from South Africa, Spain, Ecuador, Portugal, Zambia, St Vincent, Ireland also joining. And there are a number who have not yet indicated, suggesting about 20% may be from outside the UK.
The course is feeling like a “traditional” part of what we do, now that it is in its fourth year. It is easy to forget what a step it has been to develop this programme. The big thing is that many of the people taking the course for credit are Brookes Staff who feel that the online option may be more effective for them, even though they are based in Oxford.
So as we work through the Week 0 oddities I trust we will be fully engaged by Monday
There were frameworks presented. Personally I take a checklist approach evolved from a number of frameworks:
Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Principles
Kolb’s (1984) cycle
Brookfield’s (1995) lenses
Activity theory (Engeström 2001, Vygotsky 1962)
Over the years I have distilled a set of terms from these and others, which work for me to capture something of good teaching practice. I presented these terms in #FSLT14: outcomes-led, experiential, activity-based, dialogic, participatory, community learning. I ask myself how what I am doing allows at least some outcomes to be intended in advance. Is it linked to any external benchmark reference? How does it draw on or explicitly use activity to create an experience for the participant? How is conversation enabled with co-participants or collaborators? Where do the tutors stand on the participant-observer axis? I would have them stand toward the participant side. For learning to be authentic and to engage learners, tutor engagement works. And, so does group-work. We may not build persistent communities around any one course but we will use support techniques that are based in community-building practices. Some of this will involve peer evaluation. Previous students are invited back as teaching assistants.
Now I am working on a book idea in a similar vein. The organising principles are emerging from a series of conversations with David Jaques.
Learning in groups, which picks up on themes of activity, community, identity, discipline, teamwork
Authentic learning, which picks up on learning from experience, professional work-based learning, problem-based learning, simulation
Technology and learning, which expands on spaces and places for learning, physical and digital
Criticality and reflection, which picks up on group and public evaluation, incident analysis, direct and indirect objects of learning, diversity, inclusivity, perspectives, models and theories that might explain or predict learning
Brookfield, Stephen D. 1995. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publlishers
Chickering, A., and Zelda Gamson. 1987. “The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” American Association for HE Bulletin, no. March 1987 (and frequently reprinted): 3–7.
Engeström, Yrjö. 2001. “Expansive Learning at Work: Toward an Activity Theoretical Reconceptualization.” Journal of Education and Work 14 (1): 133 –156.
Kolb, David. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
I have just spent a rewarding hour reading initial reflections on teaching by participants on First Steps into Teaching in Higher Eduction. The people on this course are, for the most part, new to teaching in higher education and are entering into the identity of a teaching academic in their many ways. There are many ways of being a teacher. It is not like there is one way that we can teach. But, I suppose there are some broad areas of practice, which might be considered widely useful. And – no surprises – reflection is one of these.
But it is hard. It is especially hard to take a critical perspective on yourself! So we put some structures in place. Brookfield’s lenses and Kolb’s cycle are the two opening moves made on this course. Patience and kindness come out of these writings as virtues for new teachers. I am tempted to add mindfulness and compassion, but that might be for a later stage! Patience and kindness have to be applied to one’s self as well as to students, of course.
History – ones own history – is crucial but sometimes the fact that we have done something for a long time can stand in the way of growth and development. How can we turn our history into critical learning? Self questioning is important. It is not always easy to ask why we did things in a certain way, but if we can’t answer that question, maybe we need to try again. Self-criticism of the negative sort can be unhelpful. Scaffolding helps, and that’s what frameworks like Brookfield and Kolb offer. FSLT is, itself a framework, breaking things up and arranging them propped in a way that they won’t easily fall down, even if we are unsure of our footing.