My Philosophy for Online Teaching and Learning EDDL 5141 Assignment #1 Michael Nauth Feb 9, 2014
My educational philosophy, my “comprehensive and consistent set of beliefs about the teaching-learning transaction” (Conti, 2007, p.20), was formed when I was on the learning side of the equation. As young boys in Guyana, we spent hours on the phone collaborating and corroborating our proofs for the theorems of Euclidean geometry. As a high school student in Toronto, I was dismayed by the way my Math teacher was shrouding relatively simple concepts in a cloud of algebraic expressions. Teachers lined students in neat rows, seated them in individual desks, ‘threw’ stuff at them and desperately hoped that some of it would stick. I spent many hours helping my classmates to see their way through the fog. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. I had experienced the benefits of group work, the give-and-take, the supporting each other, and the pulling together. I had seen ‘put-downs’ and the resulting damage to self-esteem. And I saw faces glow when ‘the lights of understanding’ came on.
In my teaching today, I see myself as a partner in the learning process (Kanuka, 1980, p.107), as a mentor, a leader who has travelled the road before and who is able to provide guidance and advice to prepare my students for what is up ahead. “The person I am shapes the way I see more than what I see and where seeing takes place” (Saevi & Foran, p.52), so I am very conscious of the lens through which I see my students and through which they see me and their peers. I establish a safe environment in which we respect each other and express ourselves without fear of embarrassment or intimidation, an environment that is “open, bounded, and hospitable”. (Palmer, 1993). I hold to Plutarch’s affirmation that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I purpose to inspire my students to be better carpenters, in the quality of the work that they do, in their relationships with fellow-workers and clients, and in their interaction with the environment. I model the behaviours that I expect from them. To quote Palmer again,
Good teaching comes in myriad forms, but good teachers share one trait: they are truly present in the classroom, deeply engaged with their students and their subject. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subject, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self. (2007, p.11).
For me, teaching is not just an avocation, it is a vocation. I endeavour to bring out the best in each individual.
My students are carpenter apprentices, that is, they are already employed in a trade that they have chosen as a career, and they are learning from a journeyperson on-the-job. There are two forces driving the in-school portion of their training: the theoretical and practical training that will equip them to perform their tasks effectively, and, the Red Seal Inter-Provincial Certificate of Qualification that will set them apart above others in the trade. Their main job is to interpret construction drawings, estimate time and material required, schedule their work in conjunction with the other sub-trades, and complete the job according to the plans, the specifications, and the Building Code. This entails a healthy amount of reading, calculations, and information gathering. During their formative years, they have avoided academic work and most of digital technology. They have embraced Smartphones, mostly because of Youtube and the camera features. They enjoy working outdoors in a crew, working with their hands, and that sense of accomplishment that is tied to a ‘job well done’. They are almost all white males, French and English, and they tend to be exclusive and competitive. The usual tensions are union vs. non-union, residential vs. commercial, rural vs. urban, and Leafs & Habs vs. the Sens. They are accustomed to doing what they are told to do. They all have the capacity for divergent thinking, though most have had it quashed through schooling and other influences in their early lives. (Robinson, 49.16 mins.)
In school, I am the new journeyman in their lives. I use that recognized relationship to reel them in. I structure my classes in much the same way to which they are accustomed. There are plans, materials, tools, time constraints, and safety concerns. They come to class prepared and equipped to work, mentally alert and physically well-rested and nourished. Each class has a cross-section of a full-sized physical prop that they can see and touch. For example, when I teach basic stair-building, I instruct for about 15 minutes during which time I show slides of jobsite photographs, AutoCAD drawings, and tables and charts. I define terms, I label components, and I describe the traditional ways to determine the number of risers, the unit rise, and the unit run. I fill out an example chart, and then give them a turn to do some on their own. After, I demonstrate how to layout the cut marks on a piece of 2 x 10, using the appropriate tools. We then go to the shop where I demonstrate how to use the tools to make the cuts and I verify that the cut member fits into its designated position. Then it is their turn to calculate dimensions, mark them on the wood, and make the cuts. Together, in pairs, they construct a set of stairs and verify that they fit the intended landing. Assessment is criterion-referenced – they have to fit.
The teaching strategy that I use in my courses borrows heavily from the Maria Montessori who valued the whole child – the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive. Her method is based on the two principles of ‘Freedom within Limits’ and ‘A Carefully Prepared Environment’. (MontessorriMom). The sense of order is captured by “A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place”. (MontessorriAmi). The shop facility is prepared for the apprentices so that, when they get there, the structure and order is evident. Tool cribs are colour-matched to the tools, and each tool has a specific home. Construction materials are organized by type and size and stored in set locations. Their work is ‘limited’ by time, space, safety requirements, and the project parameters, but they are allowed to proceed in their own way, at their own pace. I circulate, manage safety matters, and assist when called upon to do so. They learn from each other and from me, and I learn from them. When we debrief, we discuss the different approach that each one took, the use of materials, and the impact on time, energy, and the environment.
Coming from a fast-paced, production-oriented industry, I started out my early lessons following the mantra ‘Get ‘er done’. I have slowed down quite a bit since then, and my focus is now to ‘Do it Right’ and make sure that they internalize the process. My challenge is to include all my students in the work, especially the ones that are reserved, or cynical, or know-it-all. I recognize that everyone has his or her own story. I make a point of learning their names by the end of the first week. I try to make eye-contact and to make time for some one-on-one conversation about their job, their boss, their truck, or whatever gets it going. I feel that it is important to win their confidence in order to get their participation. I gauge success by how energized they are in class and how ‘pumped’ they are to learn new techniques. Usually we can maintain a feverish pitch since they are in school for an eight-week term.
The teaching philosophy that I have embraced aligns fairly well with the 2008 Ontario Government’s Literacy Gains Metacognition Guide’s first principle – “Build an inclusive, positive, and stimulating classroom environment, e.g., by exhibiting a positive and enthusiastic approach to learning and by modelling thinking skills and habits of mind”. Matching the unit on stair-building to Arthur Costa’s five points on Thoughtfulness, we get:
- Learning to Think – setting up the framework for stair calculations
- Thinking to learn – looking at alternative solutions, ensuring code compliance
- Thinking together – planning, calculating, and building in small groups
- Thinking about thinking – heightened consciousness about means of egress, safety, line of travel
- Thinking big – environmental impact, use of materials, durability of construction, fire and sound
Online Learning offers the same opportunity as the classroom. Students are in a network and it is not a passive medium but a computational environment (Downes, 2005). The learning takes place through communication and interaction. I feel that the online ‘space’ can also be fashioned in a way that is open (room for growth), bounded (channelled), and hospitable (accepting, not judging). Many of the tools that are available, such as layering, voice-over PowerPoint, videos, and animation are compelling enough to grab the attention of the apprentices. I think that there is a good case to be made for gaming. A ‘fun’, inter-active stair-building game that can be played on a Smartphone will attract attention. We will still need the hands-on experience, but even that can be accomplished remotely under approved supervision. One of the most important considerations when offering online learning for apprentices is the asynchronous mode. When credit is given for a course, it is no longer without temporal limitations. Learners are not allowed to operate at a pace that is convenient to them and appropriate to the learning process (Pringle, 2002, p.2). There are weekly lessons, assignments, and blogging. If ‘life’ gets in the way, the learner is then running behind the bus trying to catch up. Missed or late assignments or comments translate into lower grades, and unfortunately in the Post-Secondary world, it is the grades that count. Taking a non-credit MOOC, the learner has the opportunity to read and reread, to reflect, to experiment, and to formulate ideas and solutions.
The other consideration that I feel is very important is the learners’ comfort level with the technology. It is very important that students (especially the younger adults) be clearly informed about the digital aspects of their program so that they will be willing participants. As social creatures who have grown accustomed to relating to the world through senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch, they will find a difference in the way that learning will take place. Social Development Theory argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end products of socialization and social behaviour and for the most part that will mean f2f interaction. If we espouse Brain-Based Learning, then the digital technology will definitely be more relevant. I think that a move to online training will require a Saturday session up front so that the apprentices can get to know each other, get to learn the technology, and get to understand the level of commitment that is required. The help of an instructional designer is recommended and technical support for trouble-shooting platforms such as Blackboard. A high teacher presence to ensure ‘modelling’ and encouragement (coaching) for the learners means an appropriate allocation of time for courses. The course has to be completely prepared and tested in advance of being offered. I see an important role for me to play in the development of learning resources.
Conti, G. J. (2007). Identifying Your Educational Philosophy. Journal of Adult Education Volume XXXVI, No. 1.
Retrieved from https://www.mpaea.org/docs/pdf/Vol36No12007.pdf
Costa, A. (2010). Five Thoughts For a More Thought-Full Curriculum, California State U. Retrieved from http://www.mysa.org.au/editorMedia/mysa/file/Five%20thoughts%20for%20a%20more%20thought-full%20curriculum%20-%20keynote.pdf
Downes, S. (2005), Are the Basics of Instructional Design Changing? Retrieved from
Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools, 1st ed. 2010. Retrieved from
Jones, J. (2002) Recapturing the Courage to Teach: An Interview with Parker J. Palmer, Teaching With Joy December 2002, http://www.teacherview.com/joyjones/dec2002.htm
Palmer, P.J. (2007). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. (Original work published 1998)
Pringle, R. M. (2002). Developing a community of learners: Potentials and possibilities in web mediated discourse. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 2(2). Retrieved from http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss2/currentpractice/article2.cfm
Robinson, K. (Feb 14, 2010) ,Changing Paradigms, Royal Society of the Arts. Retrieved from
Saevi, T. & Foran, A. (2012). Seeing Pedagogically, Telling Phenomenologically: Addressing the Profound Complexity of Education. Phenomenology & Practice, Vol. 6 (2012) No. 2, pp. 50-64. Retrieved from
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