A Philosophy of Faculty Development

In my Theory of eLearning class last night, the subject of working with clients came up.  This class is for the Educational Technology track for a Masters in Education in Adult Learning.  This program is designed for individuals who

“…want to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of adult learning theory and practice, specifically in the fields of Human Resource Development and Adult Literacy, and through exploring technology in learning in today’s digital environment. Our graduates and current students work in business and industry, healthcare, government, non-profit, higher education, and community and human service agencies.”

NMC_HzSo, a program that attracts a diverse group of students … and my class is no different.  Last night, we explored emerging trends in technology for learning, using the 2014 NMC Horizon Report as a launch point.  As one might suspect, this track attracts students who are comfortable with digital technology.  During the class session, laptops, tablets, and smartphones were in constant use.  One student texted a resource to another student with his phone as we discussed it…and no one batted an eye.  So while we discussed the cost/benefit of staying with older technologies versus shifting to the new thing that is out … and facilitating those discussions with clients … their questions had less to do with their own ability to stay current and explore technologies as it did with working with clients who might not share their passion for digital technology.

Using Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation, we discussed backwards translation of their early adoption terminology and practice to the early and late majority clients with whom they might be working.  We also began to discuss general philosophies of instructional designer relationships with clients.

DiffusionOfInnovation

This brought back to my mind an earlier conversation I had with Enoch Hale.  Enoch noted that he had a Philosophy of Teaching, and that he intended to work on a Philosophy of Faculty Development.  It struck me as a great idea … and one I had never personally articulated.

My Philosophy of Teaching notes that teaching occurs in a distributed networked environment.  Per my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I see my role as:

  • Promoting positive learning, modeling what I teach and learn;
  • Sparking learner enthusiasm for learning and peer-teaching;
  • And providing a strong foundation for lifelong reflective practice.

My role in faculty development is similar, but nuanced due to the collegial nature of the relationship one has (or should have) with fellow colleagues.  In my role as faculty developer, I hope to both inspire and empower faculty.  To do this, I like how Dakin Burdick framed his philosophy around three goals, and I will adopt them for my philosophical statement.

Digital StudentsFirst, our work in faculty development is a means to an end, and that end should impact student learning.  There is little empirical evidence that can directly correlate faculty development with improvements in student learning, and yet, that goal should be at the heart of what we do.  My first priority is to effectively coach the fellow faculty with whom I work to experiment with new practice informed by what we know about how people learn, evolving theories of learning in distributed networks, and the selection of digital tools that lead to active and authentic learning.  I also wish to partner with them to observe the impact and learn from it.

Happy ClientSecond, what we do should enhance faculty satisfaction.  For me, faculty development is all about the relationships I build with my colleagues.  Jeffrey Nugent suggested a mindset with the term “Consultant for Life” that really resonated with me.  Tom Peters noted once that in any organization, we are “all in sales” … but as faculty developers, I believe that we are all in the Human Capital business.  In working with colleagues, I have my passions … but it is equally important to understand the passions of my colleagues … and look for ways to align the two.  I need to see linkages between the digital affordances of the web and the learning goals of each discipline.  By building relationships, I am also able to bring an interdisciplinary lens to these discussions.  If I can help raise the faculty comfort level with digital processes, while keeping true to their disciplinary passions, I will facilitate faculty satisfaction … and perhaps spark some creative juices!

Social ReputationThird, our work should enhance the reputation of our institution.  In a networked world, we have an amazing opportunity to share our celebrations and share our missteps … learning from each other.  The web has evolved in the past decade to be one that is participatory – what danah boyd in It’s Complicated calls “networked publics.”  Through blogs, through Twitter, through LinkedIn … name your social media … we have an obligation to share … and to build community with our faculty colleagues.  My LinkedIn network map below shows five separate nodes … and I have an opportunity to add to our reputation by interacting across each of these nodes… and to enhance my institution’s reputation by learning from my network.  It is a two-way street!

LinkedIn network map

So, inspire, empower, impact student learning, enhance faculty satisfaction, and enhance institutional reputation.  Am I off base?  How would you add to or modify this for your role in faculty development?  If you have published your philosophy, link to it in the comments.  In this remix world of ours, I am looking for additional models from which to draw inspiration and learn.

{Graphic:  NMC, Natebailey, Louisa Goulimaki, BusinessOfDesign, ColumbiaTeachingCenter, LinkedIn Labs}

 

 

Some Gems from Week 1 Blogging

During the first week of ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Environments – we looked at the changing landscape of learning (with hat-tip to Jeff Nugent) and the Evolution of Elearning (with hat-tip to Ruben Puentedura)

A term that came up in class when defining “e-learning” was organic…a natural part of the learning environment.  I have never heard it described quite that way, but this really resonated with me.

You can check out their blogs here.  There were some interesting take-aways.

From Julia:

Is there a difference between “online learning” and “learning online”?  Online learning is the buzzword that we use to define an alternative and formal method to learning that is still evolving.  Learning online was what my sons did – fluid, organic, and not associated with school.

…and from another post by Julia:

However, nine minutes of conceptualizing about hybrid thinking in the next 20 years left me even more personally aware that this is truly the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth.  I am at the same time both excited and a bit overwhelmed by the prospect.

From abryk:

So to answer the question: YES! Online teaching is absolutely marked by practices that are different from face-t0-face courses. The two are not equal. I am not saying that one is better and the other is worse, but that the two are distinctly different settings that require distinctly different methods to facilitate learning and engagement. Unfortunately, I feel that many educators prefer the safety of classroom limitations than the risk – no, challenge – of seeking to successfully educating online. (Similarly, many of us learners fear the challenge of adapting to learning in an online environment.)

In a similar vein, Jennifer noted:

There seems to be this great divide between those who are against technology and those who are strongly for it. I personally feel in the middle.

Another student blogged:

Although in-person is preferred for lengthy or certification trainings, I would argue quick hit e-learning is the preference for many people. To increase the popularity of longer e-learning courses educators must figure out how to incorporate the cultural aspects of the classroom into e-learning.

Caitlin posted an interesting observation about elearning she had experienced:

I’ve taken other eLearning classes since.  One was an entirely online course in accounting, not my strongest subect anyway. It also wasn’t what I was hoping for:  I wanted a guide on how to use software to do small business accounting, and instead I was caculating payroll taxes with a calculator.  Bogus.  It gave me a bad impression of online courses because it used the pervasive “post an original post to blackboard, and comment on three other posts.”   The format was really foced and unnatural.  Plus, who wants to comment about accounting? … So now we’re talking about elearning, and I’m looking at it from the lens of an Adult Ed student, one who still has most of her professors use the post-one-comment-three method for most of our reflective blogging.  It begs the question:  who came up with that ratio?  Why is it so pervasve?  Sometimes it begets engaged comment threads, but a lot of the time there are three comments that say things like, “Yeah, great post, I agree!”   or some variation therein.  I think we can all agree, that’s not a conversation.

And from Mo:

The question that needs to be asked is: is technology changing/transforming/redefining how we think of education? The obvious answer is yes if we look at the trends in the use of technology in the classroom. Looking carefully at the current education, however, we can see that technology is used to replace the old ways of doing things in many educational settings. It acts as a direct tool-substitute with no functional improvement.

Lots to chew on….

This week, we explore the learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism as they relate to elearning.

New Courses and New Play Things

Thought VectorsInteresting days here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU.  Today was the roll out of our institution’s first MOOC – Thought Vectors in Concept Space.  CogDog (Alan Levine) and Tom Woodward have been creating magic side by side for the past week – developing a single platform in which six professors, their students, and the world can interact and build learning networks – within a class, within VCU, and within the world wide web.  For an informative “behind the scenes” look at what it took to make this happen, see Alan’s blog post – “Under the Hood of ThoughtVectors.Net.”

On Twitter, people lined up to emulate Douglas Engelbart’s pose.

The Pose.

This course is open to the world … and in talking to some of the faculty teaching it, they truly desire the world to come in and interact with their students.  Check it out.

Today is also the first day of my summer course – ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Environments (and no, I did not make the course name up…just living with it).  In keeping with the “thought vectors” firing around our floor, and in keeping with the practice Jeff Nugent and I have done for the past two years, I am also running my course on the open web, rather than using Blackboard.  The website is http://rampages.us/adlt640/. My students will also be blogging weekly, so check out their links in the Learning Journals tab in about a week.

eLearning is nearly as old as the web itself, but as with any innovation, there have been both early adopters and skeptics. As publishing and managing content on the web has become easier, and as providing online training and courses has become increasingly more popular, interest in providing elearning is high in government, the corporate sector, and education. A common (mis)perspective is that moving instruction online is primarily about designing and sequencing the content. This is wrong.  Rich content is already out there.  Changes on the web in the last decade – toward a more open, social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.  eLearning is not about content…it is about connecting people – as our new MOOC stresses.  New theories are emerging regarding teaching and learning online. We will explore these theories (with a focus on connectivism) and the new practice of eLearning in my course.

This course explores the theory and practice of integrating eLearning into adult learning environments and addresses the many factors that need to be considered in the design and delivery of eLearning.  eLearning offers a great deal of promise to both adult educators and learners, yet eLearning must be implemented appropriately; its use integrated into well established and well-researched pedagogical practices in order to be effective.

ADLT-640 will (hopefully) provide learners with a theoretical foundation and rationale for the successful integration of eLearning into formal and informal adult learning environments. This course begins with an overview of educational theory and social constructivist teaching philosophy before addressing the fundamental issues instructional designers should consider when designing, providing, and assessing eLearning.  This foundation coupled with the practical issues associated with eLearning will set the stage for exploring digital media in ADLT-641, which is taught by Jeff.

My course is a hybrid one, with us meeting face-to-face the first two weeks to explore the theories, then going totally online for a month to apply the theories, and then reconvening face-to-face for the final two weeks to analyze what we do and look at emerging trends.  It is a fast 8 weeks!

3D Lion WeightAs if a MOOC and my own course were not enough, Jeff and I met with Benard Means today to set up our own 3D printer.  Benard and his students have been doing some amazing work digitizing artifacts they recover from the Jamestown / Williamsburg area.  We have a new MakerBot Replicator 5 which Benard helped us set up, and we immediately … and by immediately I mean over the next 45 minutes … printed out a replica of a Jamestown brass lion counterweight.  3D printing and instant gratification are not co-equal terms…but it fascinating to try.  Having a 3D Maker Space on our floor might open up new learning opportunities for faculty and students.

Over the afternoon, Jeff and I played with downloading scanned files from Thingiverse.  Shown below are some practice prints we are doing with Minecraft gear.

3D Printing

{Graphics: Tom Woodward, Alan Levine, Britt Watwood}

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Thought Vectors Firing Up

A grand experiment is launching today at VCU – our first cMOOC.  As it notes on the About page:

Starting June 9, the official course opens for six sections taught at VCU, and the rest of the internet is invited to join along as open participants.

The official name of this course at Virginia Commonwealth University is UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of Argument. Starting June 9, the official course opens for six sections taught at VCU, and the rest of the internet is invited to join along as open participants.

Our special digital engagement pilot name is “Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds.”

thought vector rocketWith the awesome team of Gardner Campbell, Jon Becker, Jessica Gordon, Jason Coats, Bonnie Boaz and Ryan Cales, the course site launched today … with help from Tom Woodward, Alan Levine, and Patty Strong.  Enoch Hale posted on his blog about this experiment.

I am looking forward to observing this thought experiment unfold … and engaging with summer students in the process.  Join us as well!

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Two Weeks, Three Books, and A New Role

In that short period between end of Spring semester, our Online Course Development Initiative, and the start of my summer teaching, I dove into some books:

summerbooks

The first was assigned reading.  The VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in which I have been a member for the past 8 years is merging with our Online@VCU staff to form the Learning INnovation Center – LINC.  Our new tag line for LINC is “Connected Learning For a Networked World.”  It is not coincidence that LINC was the forerunner of the modern personal computer:-)

So last week, our new LINC staff held a retreat with our Vice Provost for Learning Innovation – Gardner Campbell, to begin the process of growing our new organization.  It was a good day to help align each of us with Gardner’s vision for LINC.  As part of the retreat, each of us completed the Clifton Strengths Finder online assessment to find our top five strengths out of a possible thirty-four that we each brought to LINC.

As might be expected, we were a diverse group…though ten people shared the strength of “strategic”:

Strengths List

My own top five strengths – which did not surprise those who knew me – were:

  • Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
  • Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
  • Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
  • Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
  • Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success

LINC themesSo I had no unique strengths…but rather shared my strengths with at least two others…though no one had my combination.

LINC will have four areas of focus – Faculty Development, Student Engagement, Communities of Practice, and Technology Enhanced Active Learning.  Jeff Nugent and I will be acting as the research arm of LINC.

Moving from a role of faculty consultant to one of active research is quite a change!  It was with this change in mind that I read the other two books noted above.

The late Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (1998) was the right book to set a frame of reference for this change.

As Anna Muoio of FastCompany magazine explained:

“…A hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior. It’s bureaucracy, which doesn’t allow much space for original thinking and creativity. It’s the corporate tendency to rely on past policies, decisions, and processes as a formula for future success.

All of this creates a Gordian knot of corporate normalcy — an entanglement that grows over time. As its mass increases, so does its gravitational pull. And what does gravity do? It drags things down. But hairballs can be effective. They provide a necessary stability. It’s not the job of the hairball to be vibrant, alive, and creative…”

By this definition, higher education is as clearly a hairball as the corporation MacKenzie worked at – Hallmark.  MacKenzie suggests that the path to creativity and innovation is to orbit the hairball – benefiting from what it has to offer in terms of stability and resources without being sucked in to its gravitational pull.  As Muoio noted, “…It’s a symbiotic relationship: without the hairball, the orbiter would spiral into space; without the orbiter’s creativity and originality, the hairball would be a mass of nothing.”

Or as MacKenzie puts it – The Hairball is a twisted mass of “policy, procedure, conformity, compliance, rigidity and submission to status quo, while Orbiting is originality, rules-breaking, non-conformity, experimentation, and innovation”.

paradoxOver the coming month, we will all be developing our new job descriptions within LINC.  I loved MacKenzie’s approach when told to develop a job description.  The word “paradox” came to mind, and he looked up the definition.  He turned it in and said, “These are the definitions of the word I would like as my job title.”  MacKenzie thus became the Director of Creative Paradox.

Now, no one knew what a director of creative paradox actually did, but they assumed it was something meaningful.  So people at Hallmark would take ideas to him … and he would validate them.  With that validation, they would then make it happen!

So as part of the research arm of LINC, I see a bit of creative paradox playing out here at VCU.

As I was reading Orbiting the Giant Hairball, I spotted Levitt and Dubner’s latest book at Barnes and Noble – Think Like a Freak.  It was also a fun read, though not as relevant (for me) as MacKenzie’s book.  As noted in their Freakonomic’s website, thinking like a freak means:

  • First, put away your moral compass—because it’s hard to see a problem clearly if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know”—for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
  • Think like a child—because you’ll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
  • Find the root cause of a problem—because attacking the symptoms, as often happens, rarely fixes the underlying issue.
  • Take a master class in incentives—because for better or worse, incentives rule our world.
  • Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded—because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
  • Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting—because you can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.

Good lessons…but not as captivating (or innovative) as MacKenszie.  As I move in to my new role, I will hope to orbit the giant hairball, being more of a creative paradox and less a freaky sideshow!

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Our Fifth Online Course Development Initiative

Next Monday, our fifth OCDI starts, with (to date) 17 faculty enrolled.  This is a one-year investment towards developing quality courses for VCU with the mindset and practice associated with learning on the open web.  As a change this year, we are moving from our traditional LMS to a WordPress open site - http://rampages.us/ocdi/

OCDI web page

Check it out…and as our colleagues blog during the course of OCDI, help them out with comments!

 

Online Learning Summit 2014

Online Summit graphicOver the next two days (thanks to a lot of hard work by Joyce Kincannon), VCU will host its third Online Learning Summit.  The Online Learning Summit invites participation from colleges and universities across the Commonwealth of Virginia, and at last count, we expect about two hundred to participate.  The Summit theme of “Connections and Community: From Course to Commonwealth” reflects the need to engage in critical conversations within Virginia (and elsewhere), and to debate the role of online learning and the future of higher education. This summit provides a timely opportunity to consider and share important ideas about teaching and learning online, as well as issues related to program development, strategic planning and institutional and state policy.

Alec Couros will be our keynoter.  He is conducting a workshop tomorrow morning and then delivering his keynote Wednesday morning.  We are looking forward to hearing his perspective the next two days!

Tomorrow, among other activities, I will be one of three panelists delivering short 10-minute presentations before our combined Q&A session.  My portion is “Discourse in the Open”.

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Looking forward to reconnecting face-to-face with good colleagues from around the state and hearing about experiments in learning that are occurring both on this campus and around the state!

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Innovation in Pedagogy Summit

Newcomb HallYesterday, Joyce Kincannon and I traveled up the road to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia for their second annual Innovation in Pedagogy Summit. We spend a good deal of our mental energy in our learning center focused on innovation in teaching and learning, and so this was an opportunity to see now another university might approach both the topic and the process of faculty development around the topic.  This full day event was a collaboration between the UVa College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Teaching Resource Center, the Office of the Executive Vice President & Provost, and the 4-VA Collaborative, and we appreciated the invite!

During the morning, six faculty shared their innovations in teaching with their peers, while the afternoon was devoted to José Bowen, author of Teaching Naked.

In many ways, what we saw from faculty were concepts we have advocated for the past few years…yet these concepts seemed new to many in the room.  We saw Ran Zhao’s Elementary Chinese course that incorporated student-created videos as assignments, Claudrena Harold’s African American studies course which scaffolded mini-assignments before sending student groups out to interview and archive alumni perspectives, and Brian Helmke who welcomed student use of Google before and in his lectures.  Mark White discussed the use of spoken stories to motivate students, Stephanie Van Hover used Structured Academic Controversy to encourage the use of multiple perspectives in class discussions, and Dave Kittlesen illustrated how low-tech paper handouts can help students conceptualize difficult genetic concepts.

While the focus for the morning was “engaging students”, I was struck by how few faculty in the room had devices to connect to the internet during these morning presentations.  It appeared that digital engagement was lacking.  There was no established hashtag for the summit, and little advocacy was apparent for digital engagement – other than demonstrating how a few faculty used digital connections with their students.  It hit me as an interesting missing element at an “innovation” summit…or else it highlighted that the web is so much a part of me that I am surprised when it is not a part of my colleagues.

ALC 4110 Learning Studio

During lunch, each table had a “theme” assigned.  I sat with folks who wanted to discuss “collaborative spaces” as a new breed of classroom.  I shared information about our Learning Studio – carefully designed by my colleague Jeff Nugent – which seemed in line with some proposals UVa is considering.  Our Learning Studio is a state-of-the-art classroom that has been designed to support VCU faculty members and students in their exploration and study of new learning spaces. Located in the Academic Learning Commons, the Learning Studio contains a wide array of technologies and furniture that combine to provide unique opportunities to enhance teaching and learning.  For larger classrooms, José Bowen shared a view of a traditional tiered large classroom in which all desks had been removed and replaced with “Learn2″ chairs on wheels to facilitate small group work.  This also aligned with changes being considered at UVa.  As the welcomed outsider, it was interesting to hear faculty discuss new ways of conceptualizing class spaces with no clear “front of the room.”

Teaching Naked bookFor me, the highlight of the day was José Bowen‘s afternoon presentation.  He is the author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of the Classroom Will Improve Student Learning.  I was expecting a “close your laptop” focus, but what I heard was the exact opposite.  I subsequently read a review by James Lang that summed José’s premise up well:

“The book’s title make Bowen sound like a cranky Luddite, a chalk-and-talk professor who wants the kids to put away their smart phones and get their noses back into the books, and then sit up straight and listen to the professor in class.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Bowen actually celebrates the ability of technology to move much of our traditional teaching work out of the classroom, and wholeheartedly embraces a wide range of educational technologies as capable of doing the work of teaching content more effectively than professors.

The flip side to that argument, though, is that once we actually get students to interact with those technologies outside of the classroom, we should be spending our time in the classroom engaging in more frequent face-to-face interaction with them. Bowen sees the classroom as the space where we prove our value as educators to students, and argues that we should not be wasting that valuable space by lecturing students on basic content.  Let them gain first exposure to that content through podcasts, videos, e-mails, Google searches, and so on.  Then let them deepen the exposure in the classroom through human interaction.”
José Antonio Bowen is currently dean of the School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, and was recently named to be the 11th President of Goucher College effective in July.  He is a dynamite presenter, passionate about good teaching and even better learning.  He suggested that much of the focus on technology in teaching has been misplaced … and that the opportunity exists to create “Massively Better Classrooms.”  To do this, he suggests “teaching naked”, which involves:
  • A digital entry point as first exposure to a topic
    • By email, Facebook, or other social media
  • First exposure to the topic through a pre-assignment
    • Short and focused
    • Find open content (or let students find it)
    • Use summary sites like Wikipedia
  • A short writing (a paragraph on index cards…or Evernote) to reflect before class
    • Start with what matters to students…then connect to what matters to you
    • Ask the question not in the summary site
    • Interpretation…not summarize
  • A low stakes exam on entering the classroom
    • Use higher order thinking skills from Blooms
  • A challenging class – not lecture
    • Alter conditions and have students reanalyze
    • Complicate and reframe problems
    • Have students work on problem solving and “learning to learn”
    • Keep it relevant and real world
    • He suggested using techniques from Stephen Brookfield
  • Digital communication after class to reinforce
  • Cognitive wrappers for self-regulation of students
    • Self-reflection by students on time they spent preparing, process they used, and what they might do different next time

José’s focus is that the role of faculty no longer involves providing scarce content.  Technology provides richer content than any of us could provide.  Instead, our role is to prepare students to face the unknown…to be critical consumers of this ubiquitous content.  Students pay a lot for class time…and they should get more than a lecture.  New technology means that we can focus with our students on thinking and integration.

This aligned nicely with a post this morning by Debbie Morrison – “A Not-So-New Recipe for “A New Culture of Learning”“.  Debbie was reviewing a book by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown entitled A New Culture of Learning.  Thomas and Brown suggests that this:

“…new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is bounded and structured environment that allows unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries”.

In this new culture, questions are more important than answers, and students learn through inquiry rather than instruction.  Debbie suggests that this message is not new…but will be new to many faculty.  I would agree.  Our work with our GRAD-602 students reinforced that their concept of teaching is rooted in older models…not this new reality.  José suggested to me that I remind our GRAD-602 students that they are the outliers – successful in the game of school and looking to continue that game.  That no longer matches “the real world” … and José passionately believes we need to help students prepare for this real world – a world of unknowns and a world where unlearning and relearning will be key skills.

So fun day at UVa and a chance to add José to my PLN.

 

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Evangelizing Teaching

As we approach the end of Spring semester in GRAD-602, our students are beginning to submit their reflections on the book they read for the course.  They had a choice of five books:

books

It is interesting to see these books through the reflections of upcoming PhD’s and post-docs.  They are just starting the transition from expert student to novice teacher…and the future is both exciting and uncertain.  They have been grappling with their own identity as a teacher through our course.

Our identity as teachers continues to surface in my thoughts…given the interesting times in which we live.  In the last month, as Enoch Hale and I explored his 30-Day Challenge, we surfaced some radical ideas about teaching and learning.  In many ways, we aligned with what Tony Bates noted:

“Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine.”

Here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU, we spend a lot of time discussing both the evolutionary and the revolutionary changes for teaching and learning in higher education.  Our evolutionary ideas probably might make some faculty uncomfortable…and our revolutionary ideas might cause sweat to break out.  At the end of the day, though, I come back to the foundation – what does it mean to “teach”?

Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne and Hamish Macleod – my professors in the Coursera MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures – explored this question in an article this month in the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: “Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy.”  They note that the literature on open courses has focused so far on students or the technology, but has been silent on the “matter of the teacher.”  They note that teacher identity is influenced by discipline, the institution and personal contexts:

“…The lecturer will both feel and project a teaching identity through negotiation of disciplinary, institutional, theoretical, professional, and personal stances. Diminishing or mischaracterizing the teacher role could result in a lack of appropriate attention to the ways in which complex negotiations of people, space, objects, and discourse constitute any educational setting, including MOOCs.”

In other words, it is complex!

Focusing on teaching has been central to what I think we have done for the past 7 years at the Center for Teaching Excellence…but I am not sure we have ever “evangelized” teaching.  I started considering that this morning when I read “The Art of Evangelism” by Guy Kawasaki.  Guy noted that years ago at Apple, his job title was “software evangelist,” and then went on to discuss his involvement with a new design company called Canva (which does look pretty cool by the way!).  What I found interesting, however, was his explanation of how to evangelize a product, which I quote in part below:

  1. Make it great. It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. …Great stuff embodies five qualities:
    • Deep.
    • Intelligent.
    • Complete.
    • Empowering.
    • Elegant.
  2. Position it as a “cause.” A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives.
  3. Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life.
  4. Localize the pitch. Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms …People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.
  5. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.
  6. Let people test drive the cause. Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.
  7. Learn to give a demo. “Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers.
  9. Ignore titles and pedigrees. Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
  10. Never lie. Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of.
  11. Remember your friends. Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down.

Guy explained the difference between an evangelist and a salesperson:

“A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.””

As I reflect on our graduate students and the world of teaching into which they soon will go…I hope that part of their identity involves evangelism.  I hope that they create great teaching and learning opportunities.  I hope that they see their teaching as “a cause”…and love that cause.  I hope that they remember that they are in the business of changing lives, not delivering content.

I hope they teach “Try this because it will help you…”

Peanuts Evangelist

Thoughts?

{Graphic – Charles Schulz}

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