What Changes our Teaching?

This is our second guest post by Felicity Prentice.  Felicity has morphed from being a Lecturer in Health Sciences, to Primary and Secondary teacher, to Marketing in the Commercial World, to Curriculum Designer, to currently being an Educational Developer in DSC College RMIT University. Apart from her career indecisiveness, she is passionate about learning in any space.

Image by: Memotions from Flikr

There have been a number of drivers and critical incidents that have changed my approach to, and practice of, teaching and learning. Each powerful, and equally valid.

The Expert Outsider
To begin with, I taught the way I was taught. It was BC (before computers), and I would spend hours carefully writing text on sheets of acetate. These sentences of all-knowing were then revealed to the students line by line (courtesy of a piece of paper progressively pulled away). In sepulchral tones I recited the text, while students with idling brains diligently transcribed the words. These were called “Lecture Notes”.

What made me change? It took an almighty shove, courtesy of a Diploma of Education (Tertiary) conducted at the, then, Hawthorn Institute of Education. Bunch of hippies, with their new fangled ideas about small group work and Butcher’s paper. Trying to peddle the notion that students can construct their own learning, collaborating with others to share and develop the growing body of knowledge. Rather grudgingly, I wandered into the large tiered Lecture room, with index cards in hand, broke the students into professional role groups, and we staged a “Grand Rounds” case study meeting. Resistance was futile, we were all assimilated into the collective, we all wanted more. I discovered that the sound of humming chatter in the lecture theatre was as warm and welcome and productive as a hive of bees. The students had time to recover from their note taking inducted Repetitive Strain Injury. From then on every lecture would be a gymnasium of pedagogy.

What changed me? Being introduced to new ideas, by someone (my lecturer) experienced and bold. I discovered that I wasn’t the font of knowledge, the restricted source that dealt out facts bit by bit. I gave up the delusion of power and importance, and joined in the journey.

The Fellow Travellers
And from there, the students had tasted the blood of being the centre of the learning experience. They were given a voice, and they used it. They wanted organisation and structure so they could freely and confidently navigate their learning. They wanted the notes available so they could stop scribbling and start interacting in the large lecture. They wanted to know what was coming, assessment had to be clear from the outset, and had to make sense of what was stated in the learning outcomes (damn, there goes my famously cryptic essay questions on exams).

There was, of course, the day I arrived with yet another roll of Butcher’s paper and they collectively revolted. Apparently there is a caveat on educational aerobics, occasionally students appreciate the quiet and reflective opportunity to sit still and listen. I heard that too.

The Harsh Reality
Although it would be ideal if all pedagogical change arose from the actual experience of teaching and learning, often the pressure comes from the outside. The Large Class had been the zone of amazing change, now it was time to tackle a new site of learning. Diminishing resources and increasing student numbers meant that the traditional approach to clinical learning, through direct and supervised patient contact, could not be financially sustained. The annoyance and frustration led to an opportunity for change, and once the resentment that change was imposed rather than inspired, the opportunity was seized upon. Enter a new approach – creative situated learning outside of the clinic. We trained the students to be SimPats (that’s “Simulated patients”). The students were given the resources and guidance to learn how to act as patients (with a wonderful myriad of conditions), and in hastily reconstructed learning spaces, they played out the scenario in pairs. Each taking the role of the patient and the practitioner, learning how to take histories and conduct examinations, with peer support and feedback featuring large. Good Lord, I had nearly written myself out of the picture!

Peer learning expanded from there, with small group problem solving happening in so many ways. Now it was PC (post computers), and multidisciplinary groups of students were undertaking entire units through collaborative case studies presented online. They still wanted to regroup in the occasional lecture, to become a cohort and experience the face to face interaction that augmented their online identities. But it was all about them, and I could not have been happier.

So, it is nearly thirty years since I abandoned my overhead projector. I can’t say that there wasn’t a bit of kicking and screaming as I experienced the revolution and evolution of teaching and learning (and sometimes it was the students doing the kicking), but I have changed, and I think I would like to keep changing.

What has stimulated you to change your approach to teaching and learning?

Resources to inspire you: