Teaching Using Tech: Philosophy of Higher Education, Part 2

DSC00142 I’ve been filling out teaching/education-related job application and I was met with this little gem:

  • Please describe your knowledge of pedagogy associated with various instructional modalities, i.e. face-­to-­face, hybrid, and online

_gil01-taskmaster 1Having taught students from Kindergarten to eighth grade, freshmen bachelor’s and second career master’s students, the courses I’ve created must be simple to navigate, have numerous interdisciplinary connections and emphasize effort and exploration over “getting a grade.” My first teaching experiences were with a group of second-language, low SES 6th graders and I discovered that I had to find a way to bridge their previous learning and cultural experiences with the state guidelines in the subject(s) I was covering, in this case Social Studies. Giving them the textbook just wasn’t cutting it. So I studied the state framework for the subject (California 6th grade Social Studies broke down to the study of seven civilizations beginning with ancient man and ending with the Roman Empire). For each unit, I found a video or book that covered that civilization. If it was a book, I created transparencies of the illustrations so that there’d be a wall-sized visualization to support the story that we read together. I also created fill-in booklets that would be worked on in class in small groups. Whenever possible I included a hands-on project. When we studied Ancient Mesopotamia, besides the booklets, I read from a child-friendly version of the Epic of Gilgamesh with illustrations and each student learned to write their name on a clay tablet in cuneiform. I had students come back several years later and they remembered names like Utnapishtim from the story.

As an undergraduate student one of my professors, Fr. Herbert Ryan, assigned research journals instead of research papers because he believed that it was more important that students learn to do good research, instead of forcing immature conclusions into a research paper. We were expected to spend the semester researching our subject and writing about what we were discovering and then in the last sentence of the research journal state what the research paper would have been about, had we written the paper. It was the perfect introduction into exploring complex subjects while thinking and writing about the process. When I began teaching I used journal-writing wherever possible and especially used blogging and reflective writing when working with my masters students. Even when I was working with sixth-graders I knew that they would be much more motivated to write if they were writing for each other than if they were just writing for the teacher or a grade. So, while assignments were graded individually the processes were intentionally constructive and collaborative.

As an online student I worked with a hybrid model where we’d meet face-to-face for class sessions about three to five times a year (depending on the program) but work online the rest of the time. I worked in a traditional public school setting for 13-years and as a fully-online-only university instructor for six-years. In the accelerated online program that I taught, it was essential that the course requirements be as clearly understood as quickly as possible, and that the assignments and projects build out in a consistent, easy to understand fashion. There was enough work to do with the reading, research, writing and interaction, that understanding what was due when shouldn’t be part of the work-load.

Stickam Session 2009 - joe bustillos

We would meet online once a week using a web-based platform so that students could see my screen where I could do demos or presentation slides, I would turn my webcam on so that students could see me and there was a text-based chat area where students could ask questions, if they didn’t want to use their audio. Because I wanted the weekly sessions to be interactive and address any questions students might have with the assignments, I’d pre-load videos or links to materials that we were covering that week, so that students could review the material before the session. Anything that looked like a lecture or was a uni-directional presentation I would give to them before our session to increase the efficiency and usefulness of our time. Students who couldn’t attend the session in real time would have access to a video recording of the session.

Instead of seeing the online environment as something less than face-to-face, I felt that consistent use of interactive technologies, like regular announcements and information in LMS platform and sharing our Instant Message/online chat handles to enable communication the rest week worked against the idea that students were working in isolation. I also promoted the idea that students should share their contact information and develop connections with one another because having multiple layers of support beyond the professor was going to prove essential over the course of the whole program. I know as a graduate of an online program that the support I got from my classmates, facilitated by the use of IM/chat/text and email, made my experiences all the more powerful, to the extent that I count several of these classmates to be my best-friends almost fifteen-years after our learning experiences together.

I believe that the use of technology should always be used to support the needs of the learner and open up the possibilities to experience and interact in ways that would not be possible without the technology. Technology is often touted as a way to lessen the cost of the process by making it possible for institutions to reach out far beyond their physical campuses. I have seen my own influence extended far beyond what I could have accomplished in a traditional setting. But this extension should never be at the expense of the human connections made in the learning process. When educators are empowered to communicate their passion, their expertise and their experiences with their students, these technologies properly extend the educator’s reach. But at its core it remains a human endeavor to work together to learn and be educated.