Thursday, 4 April 2013

Encouraging student engagement

Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects.

This program provides a great way for teachers to reach and support the needs of all students today. It is designed to provide a supportive and engaged learning environment, therefor allowing students to gain confidence within themselves. 

I see the flipped classroom as more of learning the curriculum required material at home by the use of video lectures. In this setting, the teacher frees up a lot more time during the day for creative discussions and applying the topics to relevant problems. I feel that, in this way, the teacher can actually make more of an impact on students by showing them ideas rather than concepts.

Lectures that can be viewed more than once may also help those for whom English is not their first language. Devoting class time to application of concepts might give instructors a better opportunity to detect errors in thinking, particularly those that are widespread in a class. At the same time, collaborative projects can encourage social interaction among students, making it easier for them to learn from one another and for those of varying skill levels to support their peers.

The beauty of these ideas is that students get to self-drive their learning. By self-engaging and learning at their own pace and in their own ideal environment, students can start to become producers of knowledge, instead of consumers of knowledge.

My translation class is usually quite large and consists of approximately 100 students, who are coming from different countries and regions. The students have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and language proficiency is very diverse. Traditionally, a translation class comes across as one in which the teacher was the sole speaker transmitting knowledge to students who were eager to find the answers to their questions from the teacher. In such classes, students usually translate a text for discussion chosen by the teacher. Students read their translations one by one, and the teacher passes comments on student's translations and finally the best translation is presented by the teacher to the class. Moreover, students often try to capture what is being said at the instant the speaker says it. They cannot stop to reflect upon what is being said, and they may miss significant points because they are trying to transcribe the instructor’s words. By contrast, the use of video, for instance, video clips from YouTube which reflects the culture background for the translation text, and other prerecorded media puts lectures under the control of the students: they can watch, rewind, and fast-forward as needed.

However, the flipped classroom may not always yield positive results. Although the idea is straightforward, an effective flip requires careful preparation. Recording lectures require time and effort on the faculties’ part, and out-of-class and in-class elements must be carefully integrated for students to understand the model and be motivated to prepare for class. As a result, introducing a flip can mean additional work and may require new skills for the instructor.

Some students, for their part, may complain about the loss of face-to-face lectures, particularly if they feel the assigned video lectures are available to anyone online. Students with this perspective may not immediately appreciate the value of the hands-on portion of the model, wondering what their tuition brings them that they could not have gotten by surfing the web.

Another disadvantage of relying on video lectures, is that students may have little chance to explore any cultural and contextual background information. Therefore, they can not translate in a communicative context, and basically regard the task as purely academic and impractical.

I see the idea of a flipped classroom as a great start in that direction. I truly believe, by integrating this new environment, we will see the change in the learning habits of our students.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Student-Centred Teaching in High Education

Traditionally, research into learning and teaching in universities has focused on what the teacher does (discussing, for example, how to develop effective presentations or how to organise study materials), rather than on the learner's experience. But recent research into student learning indicates what Thomas Shuell expressed so well: "Without taking away from the important role played by the teacher, it is helpful to remember that what the student does is actually more important in determining what is learned than what the teacher does" (T.J. Shuell, "Cognitive Conceptions of Learning " (1986), p429).
In response to this research, educators have developed "learner-centred" or "student-centred" pedagogy, and Monash encourages teachers to take a student-centred and active learning approach to designing, implementing and reviewing their courses.
Why does student-centred teaching work so well?
“Student-centred teaching is not just a different style of teaching” (Margaret A.L. Blackiea, Student-centredness: the link between transforming students and transforming ourselves, (2010 p638). Student-centered teaching focuses on the student. Decision-making, organization, and content are largely determined by the student’s needs and perceptions. Student-centred teaching allows students to create knowledge, as opposed to passively receiving information, and encourages deep learning. A student-centred approach focuses primarily on what the student needs to do in order to learn, rather than on the course content or the transmission of information by the teacher. Even assessment may be influenced or determined by the student. The instructor acts as coach and facilitator. In many respects, the goal of this type of teaching is the development of the student’s cognitive abilities.
How do I, as a language teacher, implement student-centred teaching?
To be student-centred in our teaching, I believe that I need to know the following about my students, particularly in a large class of diverse cultures.

  Who Are My Learners?
Students are individuals. They differ from each other in many ways, including how they like to learn.

  What Are They Learning?
My unit outline will set out the desired learning outcomes of the course, which in turn will be aligned with Monash graduate attributes. Where should I start when I write a unit outline?

  How Do They Learn?
The answer depends on the students themselves, the nature of the content we're teaching and the learning activities we are devising to enable them to construct their own learning. 

With student-centred-teaching, what your students do is as important for their learning as what you as the teacher tell them.

  • Thomas J. Shuell, Cognitive Conceptions of Learning, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Winter, 1986), pp. 411-436
  • Margaret A.L. Blackiea*, Jennifer M. Caseb and Jeff Jawitzc, Student-centredness: the link between transforming students and transforming ourselves, 4 May 2010, pp638