I believe that a student learns by doing and constructing their own knowledge. I believe that the interaction between student and teacher and student-to-student is important because it helps students to integrate new concepts and make connections to existing knowledge. I believe that my students learn when they are required to think about their own teaching.
I have been teaching educational technology workshops for the past eight years to adult learners, academic and general staff. The purpose of these workshops is to teach theoretical and practical skills in the use of technology to support teaching and learning. Most participants come to my workshops because they need to learn how to design and build effective online learning environments. Frequently I am required to teach a specialized workshop for a particular group, for example, to staff from the same faculty who have a context specific need to the particular area they work in. I teach both, in a face-to-face environment and also in an online environment. The learning environment for the face-to-face classes is usually an on-site computer lab with 15 computers and class size is usually limited to 15 participants because of the interactive and hands-on nature of these workshops. I deliver my online classes using virtual classroom technology (Adobe Connect).
The workshops that I teach are provided by the Centre for Educational ICT. Most participants of the workshops are under no compulsion to come. The motivational factors for attending are mostly driven by the participants themselves as they seek to find out how to utilize technology to support teaching and learning. Most of the workshops I teach are hands-on, requiring participants to complete tasks or activities. All of the workshops have a small theoretical component to provide a conceptual background about the technology, to convey its potential use in a teaching and learning situation so participants find it easier to identify and make connections as to how and for what purpose they might use a particular technology. There are several environmental factors that influence the way I teach. One of the factors is the physical environment of the computer lab, with rows of students sitting in front of computer screens. This arrangement has the potential for distraction, i.e. students checking their email or browsing the web during the lesson instead of paying attention and following my instructions. Quite often this goes unnoticed by me as I am standing in front of the group and I can’t see what the participants are doing on their computer screens, until one or more get left behind. Another factor that influences the way I teach is student diversity. Not all students who come to my workshops have the same level of knowledge and therefore some of them require extra time and attention throughout the lesson which adds to the pressure not only to achieve the set learning outcomes but also to keep more skilled students engaged!
In my online (virtual classroom) sessions I teach to a smaller number of students, usually (2-6). I find that having a smaller number of students in the online session increases the amount of student teacher interaction. I believe that this is the case for the following reasons; firstly the fear factor of being embarrassed by asking a question or making a comment in front of a large group of peers is being minimised; secondly there is less opportunity to avoid participating in a discussion. Teaching in an online environment is challenging. Participants can experience technical issues, which can cause disruption, and time can be spent on fixing technical problems rather than on the teaching content itself. To minimise technical disruption, careful lesson planning is imperative. Participants, who are unfamiliar with the technology, may need support with that, before addressing other teaching matter.
I believe that a student learns by doing and constructing their own knowledge. I believe that the interaction between student and teacher and student-to-student is important because it helps students to integrate new concepts and make connections to existing knowledge. I encourage dialogue and discussion amongst workshop participants rather than me being just the transmitter of information. Tyler (1949) noted that “ Learning takes place through the active behavior of the student: it is what he does that he learns not what the teacher does”. Constructivist teaching acknowledges that learning occurs when the learner constructs their own knowledge and understanding, through an active process where the learner is actively involved rather than a passive receiver of content. Constructivist pedagogy values critical thinking, learner independence, dialogue, feedback, questioning, peer teaching, contextualization, and may include experiments or real world problem solving (Pritchard and Woollard, 2010). I value reflection and encourage peer learning in my classes.
Another aspect of my classes, is catering to academics who are required to create an online component in their topics. This requirement is called “a minimum web presence in every topic or webpet”. I teach academics how to utilize the tools available. It is important to understand what the learning problem is before making a decision about what technology to choose so that the intended learning outcomes are achieved. For example, if there is a need to provide an online teaching component, I support academics to translate face-to-face learning ideas into something that makes sense and engages the student in an online environment. Often teaching staff are confused by the number of technologies available, and are not sure which technology provides the best solution to their problem. Sometimes it is necessary to go beyond what the learning management system can offer. My role is more challenging, however, when academic staff are entrenched in old ways of teaching. It is necessary then to educate about the most basic functions of the LMS, and how these can be best utilized towards a more constructivist approach. As Zane Berge suggested, “the greatest barrier to the use of technology involve the people and culture” (Berge, 2005).
There are a number of things that I always do. Other elements of my teaching have changed over time in response to student feedback. For example, I now always do a quick poll with a new group of students to see how familiar my audience are with the technologies I am teaching about. I find that just asking a couple of questions to find out whether participants have used the technologies before, and, if yes, for what purposes gives me valuable information. This information gathering can be very informal and quick, but is important for me, so I know how to present the teaching material. “Start where the student is at,” is fundamental to constructivist theory. Also, over time, as people return to learn more, I get to know some of them, their background and their goals in attending, so that I can present the material in a more targeted way.
One of the things that I have learnt to do, is to slow down and be very specific with all instructions relating to use of the technology. This has been as a result of student feedback. I could still improve in this area, as my peer review partner, Christopher commented. For example, to walk behind each screen and really check to see how participants are progressing rather than accept a nod or a silence as evidence that participants are keeping up with my instructions.
I also ask myself, do I need to do so much? How can I prepare my lesson so that students can do more of the work? One of the constant challenges for me is accommodating to each participant’s particular needs as expressed by their questions in class. I welcome these questions because they are proof of engagement with my topic, but individual answering of student questions can be time consuming. I find this easier to manage with a smaller class size, and with a larger group this aspect can make it difficult to cover all of the material that needs to be covered. So an ongoing question for me is, how can I structure my lesson so that students can answer more of their own questions?
This is something that I saw working effectively in Christopher’s class. Christopher involved students in the actual teaching process. For example at the start of his tutorial he asked whether someone would be able to volunteer to write down the findings on the whiteboard. Using this strategy he could continuously focus on his lesson and guide the students effectively.
I am now trialling presenting on screen instructions for activities. This decision is a result of the study that I have done on cognitive load theory. By integrating/presenting the information in one location i.e. on the computer screen, visual search is minimized and more cognitive resources can be allocated towards learning. This avoids what is termed the split attention effect which is the result of the extraneous cognitive load (cognitive load imposed by how information is presented) imposed when the learner has to integrate two or more sources of dependent information that are physically separated (Chandler & Sweller, 1992, Clark et al, 2006). For example an activity on a paper handout that the requires the student to use the computer screen to complete the task. Clark et al (2006, p12) describe extraneous cognitive load as “mental work that is irrelevant to the learning goal and consequently wastes limited cognitive resources”.
I think the most important thing that I want students to learn from my workshops is to utilise the skills and ideas from the workshops in their own teaching to design and build more effective online learning environments that benefits student learning. I think it is crucial that participants come out of my lesson feeling more confident and in a position to make a decision about what technology best fits their pedagogy. I want students to learn how important it is to think about their own teaching before choosing a technology and tools to support learning.
There are a lot of choices available when it comes to online tools and technologies. My recently completed post graduate studies in Education - Computer Based Learning provided me with new ideas and concepts which until recently had been unknown to me and have helped me shape my current beliefs around online teaching and learning. I believe that learning occurs when students make connections applying a new ideas and concepts to existing knowledge. According to Anderson (2008, p.19) “learners learn best when they can contextualize what they learn for immediate application and personal meaning.”
I believe that students learn when I get them to think about their own teaching, for example when I get them to think about how a particular technology might be useful and assist them in achieving the intended learning outcomes of their own course and how the technology can be used to provide a learning environment that fosters learning and helps students achieve the intended learning outcomes. Constructivist theory also suggests that a question posed to students must prompt a connection to what they know (Pritchard & Woolard, 2010). I often get participants to introduce each other before a workshop this helps break the ice and it also set the basis for a learning environment where students can express themself without fear of being embarrassed. The way I teach has been shaped by a variety of factors; feedback from students and peers, the environment I am teaching in and the audience.
Anderson, T., (2008). The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Published by AU Press, Athabasca University1200, 10011 – 109 Street Edmonton, AB T5J 3S8
Berge, Z. (2005). Taking the Distance Out of Distance Education. In G Kearsley (ed.), Online Learning: Personal Reflections on the Transformation of Education, Education Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, pp.12-25.
Clark, C,R., Nguyen, F., Sweller, J. (2006). Efficiency in Learning: evidence-based guidelines to manage cognitive load, San Francisco, California: Pfeiffer ; Chichester : John Wiley [distributor], 2006
Chandler, P.; Sweller, J. (1992). "The split-attention effect as a factor in the design of instruction". British Journal of Educational Psychology 62: 233–246.
Pritchard, A. and Woolard, J. (2010) Psychology for the Classroom: Constructivism and Social Learning, Hoboken : Taylor & Francis, 2010
Tyler, R.W. (1949). Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press.