Tag Archives: pedagogy

Tweak Your Teach: The Super Teacher Chronicles

Wow! It has been quite a while. Since beginning my new position with Valencia College and returning to school, I’ve been unable to blog. Then it occurred to me that I am still designing, still presenting, and still learning. So, why not share that with others? I may not post as often as I did in the past, but when I can, I will update the blog with any new teaching, speaking, or designing projects.

This week, I created a podcast series as part of my coursework for Distance Education: Process and Product. The series is called The Super Teacher Chronicles. I created this series to share some of the best practices and strategies I’ve been learning about as a tenure-track professor and student. The first episode is “I am a CAT person and You are Too!” CATs or Classroom Assessment Techniques are powerful tools for formative feedback and active learning. They take very little time to implement and can help you improve teaching and instruction.

Check out the cast below!

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Data Display of the Day: The Flipped Classroom

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The phrase “Flipping the Classroom” has become a hot topic of discussion among my colleagues–workshops have been offered on the subject, teachers have been implementing flipped strategies in their campus and online classes, and a student even proposed this as his persuasive speech topic several months ago. So what exactly is a flipped classroom? The concept exists at the intersection between the opportunities offered by video and online modes of delivery and a much needed response to the problems with our factory model of education, one that Sir Ken Robinson asserts is killing our creative centers.

The concept was first introduced via MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses), by teachers like Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, and fueled by the rise of online videos and lessons (in large part made possible by presentation software like PowerPoint). In essence, in a flipped classroom, students experience lecture on their own in video format and learn the subjects they study through experience. For schools, teachers, and students who spent countless hours in lectures, delivered those countless hours, or dealt with the ramifications of a failing school system in part driven by a lack of actual learning, the flipped classroom is an open window of opportunity.

One of my big goals for this year is to devote more time to activity in the campus course. While I do not seek to remove the impact a deep socratic discussion of course ideas has on learning, I do see the benefit of keeping instruction and the dissemination of information minimal for the sake of application. One of my big goals for this year is to add even more in class activity and application than is already present in the course. There’s no reason our campus students couldn’t study the same videos as online students as they study their course textbook. This would leave more time for application and activity-based learning and help students see the ideas they learn about in action. Today’s infographic provides a visual introduction to the concept of Flipped Classrooms. Check out this infographic and the rest from Knewton, a learning systems/learning platform company (their adaptive learning platform sounds so cool!)

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All things Infographic

On July 25th, Slideshare.net launched their new infographics-friendly viewer. I was stoked to see an influx of new visualizations begin appearing right away. I’ve recently turned my focus from slide design to infographics as a teaching and learning tool. The process of learning what makes a good infographic has been inspiring for me as a designer, and I’ve enjoyed presenting and communicating ideas in a different way. So, what makes a good infographic, and why are infographics such a useful tool for educators to consider?

Why Infographics?

The many resources available on the web and in print have much to say on the subject. According to the infographic, “What Makes Great Infographics,” infographics are so powerful because we are drawn to formats that are engaging, efficient, and entertaining; because they help us digest information more efficiently, and because they help us retain information. According to edudemic’s 70 Tools and 4 Reasons to Make Your own Infographics, there are three reasons teachers might consider using an infographic as a teaching tool:

1) to grab an audience’s attention (students as we know have short attention spans).

2) to pare down ideas, theories, and content so students can not only understand the information more easily but retain information longer.

3) to challenge students to think critically about course concepts and create a non-traditional mode of composition/communication.

What makes a good infographic?

Okay, so infographics can help our students learn and retain information, but what makes for a great infographic? A good starting point is David McCandless’ What makes Good Information Design visualization. For McCandless, great information design requires four qualities. Notice that all four of these qualities must be present for information design to be successful:

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Daniel Zeevi of Dashburst adapted this visualization specifically for infographics. According to Zeevi, “the key to a good infographic design is to find interesting and reliable data, then come up with an awesome blueprint and visual story to deliver the underlying message.” (Source). Zeevi’s four qualities expand on McCandless’ general comments about design:

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During our recent summer continuing education series, I participated in a poster session on the subject of infographics and how teachers can use them to present information to their students in a way that taps into both text-based and image-based modes of communication. Teachers can use infographics to communicate course concepts, record class notes, and enrich the online classroom experience. I shared this advice with attendees when designing their own visualizations: 1. Consider dimensions; 2. Choose a clear, strong color palette; 3. Display data for impact; and 4. Keep visuals simple.

Consider Dimensions

While the sky pretty much is the limit when it comes to sizing an infographic, experts provide a set of standard guidelines that can help you create an infographic that is easy to scroll through for the audience.

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Choose a clear, strong color palette

One aspect of infographic design that surprised me was choosing a strong background color. Most infographics use lighter backgrounds with subtle textures. This makes the infographic easier to process quickly.

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Display Data for Impact

Charts, graphs, and data display are integral to a strong infographic. After all, one primary purpose of an infographic is the communication and explanation of complex, dense information.

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Keep Visuals Simple

While some infographic designers are experts at programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, the average educator (me, for instance) has less knowledge of these programs. So, how do you create something that is still dynamic and well designed? Check out the resources below!

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My Current Infographic Projects

Educational Infographics

In Professional Communication and Presentation, I use the “Choosing an Ignite” infographic to help students brainstorm and choose a strong Ignite topic.

One of the most difficult tasks for my students is the development of a strong persuasive presentation topic. I combined an article from Six Minutes, Nancy Duarte’s discussion of convergent and divergent thinking, and my 4-year experience with the Ignite-style presentation to develop this “how to” for students.

Currently, I’m also working on a “great speeches” series of infographic that provides students with historical background on a speech, the context in which the speech was delivered, and lessons they can draw from an analysis of the speech. I am beginning with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.” Finally, I’ve been working on a Welcome to Professional Communication and Presentation infographic that provides students with an at-a-glance overview of the course. As Alex Rister and I used her “look” for the course introduction, I used her colors and typefaces for the infographic. Below is a “preview”.

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Professional Persona Infographic

As part of the re-branding/rebooting of my visual resume and teaching portfolio, I created this infographic of my teaching philosophy, approach to course development and instruction, and leadership style. I am using the same color scheme and type for the slide version of my new Superteacher Visual Resume.

 

Want to learn more? Check out this list of resources!

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A Superteacher’s Views on the Learning Divide

This 11th year of teaching has been one of contemplation and reflection on the craft of teaching. Today, I thought a bit about the apparent divide between a teacher’s perspective on learning and a student’s perspective on learning. I believe a starting point to correcting this situation is teachers and students communicating. Here is how I managed to reconcile the two over the course of my educational journey as student and teacher:

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A real teacher’s only job is to serve and help her students. At our core, we want all of you to succeed, to reach beyond the miasma of the average, the just good enough, to true mastery. Mastery to me means more than just scoring well on tests (tests suck. Seriously); mastery is reaching a level of immersion and understanding that leads to true passion, perhaps even the ecstatic bliss of knowing one’s purpose in life. I know this because I’ve experienced it myself with teaching. I resisted for a bit, always remembering my humanities and AP language teacher Dr. Earls, who taught me that learning is the thin veil between human and troglodyte. But yes, teaching is what fuels me, what keeps me motivated to be more. It’s this drive that should fuel your love of learning, but for so long learning has been a chore on a checklist, whose mark is the letter grade, a number on a sterile scale.

So, we come to an impasse. You believe learning is about getting a grade. I believe learning is about earning a grade. You believe your fate is in my hands. I believe only you can determine the course of your own education–you are entirely responsible for the choices you make.

I learned this as an undergraduate at the University of Florida. My first semester, a complete failure, is the one I’ll remember most because it forced me to live with the consequences of the choices I’d made. I reveled in my newfound freedom. I was away from home, living the awkward teenager’s dream of dorm rooms, dining hall food, and 6-dollar football games. I wasted my time sleeping, watching TV, going to the movies, and generally not going to class. I also wasn’t smart enough to save my money to purchase the class notes that semester. I’d chosen to take a particularly challenging course, AST 2037: Search for Life in the Universe because I loved science fiction (naturally), and assumed it would be an easy pass. I was wrong. The class threw so much math and physics at me that I was instantly lost, but instead of helping myself to learn, I gave up. So, after weeks of not attending my classes I earned the lowest grades of my life–a D+ in astronomy, two C+ in biology and to my utter shame, theater appreciation, and a B in art history. I knew instantly my scholarship was gone. I was downgraded from a Florida Academic Scholar to a Merit Scholar, putting more of the financial burden of school on me.

I worked for the next four years with single-minded purpose, never taking a summer off, taking on several concentrations to finally graduate with honors. I never blamed my teachers for my failures, nor did I hold them responsible for what grade I earned–if I earned a C on a paper, it was because of me. If I’d not taken advantage of the time given to me to work on an assignment and turned in what I knew was sub par work, I took the ding to the grade and added it to my list of “do not ever do this agains.”

So, it’s difficult for me to see it any other way, to feel that I should apply rules only in certain instances or occasions, to subjugate the worth of someone’s education by not holding them accountable to the standards everyone is expected to meet and exceed. To me, doing so would cheapen your education, making it worth less, making it less impacting on your immediate community and the larger human community. Yes, I want you to succeed, and I will do anything within my power to help you–within the scope of my responsibilities.  I am a guide, facilitator, evaluator, and cheerleader; I am not the learner, the one who must embark on a journey with a new set of tools, face a series of challenges, and return to the world with a new boon–mastery. You are the learner, the hero on your own journey.  I commit myself to ensuring you learn, to clarifying ideas, providing you with guidance and constructive critique, to constantly updating and polishing my craft to better serve your learning needs. I only ask that you embrace the call to adventure and make your world better through learning.

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Tweak Your Teach: Design Thinking for Educators Vol. 2

My exposure to design over the past four years–TED’s mission of spreading ideas through the marriage of technology, entertainment, and design; the work of those who work towards the cause for cinematic presentations, and the work of instructional design folks like Julie Dirksen–has definitely impacted my approach to building and revising my courses. I am in the process of reworking the online version of Professional Communication and Presentation and redoing my on campus lectures for the course, so, the design treat I found in my inbox on Monday couldn’t have come at a better time.

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Source: Renato Ganoza via Compfight cc

The  creators of the Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, Riverdale School and design firm IDEO, have released volume 2 of this amazing resource. This new volume of the toolkit icludes a basic introduction to what design thinking is, a streamlined process for using design thinking to improve the educational experience (whether it’s curriculum, space, process/tool, or systems-based), and a new workbook feature that takes educators through the design process. The workbook provides educators with a framework for completing short-term or long-term projects both individually and in groups.  Download this superteacher resource at the Design Thinking For Educators website.

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Tweak Your Teach: The Teaching Portfolio

I am excited to continue working on Tweak Your Teach and the rest of my blog in the new year. I’ve just updated the site to include a teaching porfolio section that I will be adding to and growing over the next few weeks. What exactly is a teaching portfolio and what is its purpose?

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According to Rutgers University’s Center for Teaching Advancement & Assessment Research, a teaching portfolio is a “flexible document” that details a teacher’s “teaching responsibilities, philosophy, goals and accomplishments.” This traditionally print document contains the breadth and scope of an educator’s experience and includes three major areas:

1. Teaching Responsibilities (What I do)

2. Teaching Philosophy and Statement of Competency (Why I do it)

3. Evidence of Effective Teaching (Proof that I do what I say)

A strong portfolio is dynamic–it changes constantly and includes both specific goals and measurable data indicating those goals have been met. More than proof of concept, a dynamic teaching portfolio shows an educator what he or she has accomplished and what he or she still needs to grow. There are several excellent print guides as well as examples available. One of the most highly recommended is The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions.

However, several  comprehensive guides to the portfolio process that don’t cost a penny come from reputable educational institutions like Rutgers. Two of my favorites are A Guide to the Teaching Portfolio by the University of New Hampshire and the very comprehensive and useful guide from the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at El Paso.

As I begin this process, I have many great examples to draw from, but find the approach to the standard portfolio to be a bit stale. I am working on ways to make it more dynamic and interactive, drawing from my design skills to further enhance how usable this is as a tool  for me and for others. I’ve added a few preliminary elements to the portfolio section, the most recent of which is my teaching philosophy. I’ve truncated this down from two pages to one, but would definitely like to add specific goals to the end. This draft focuses on my self-definition as a “super-teacher.” I began using this term several years ago when I saw a stark difference between those who teach because they cannot do something in their field and those who teach because teaching IS their field. Those are the super-teachers, at least the ones who call teaching their bliss and work towards the betterment of education for all. Check it out in the new teaching portfolio section under “About Me.”

Are you a teacher? What’s your philosophy on teaching? What do you draw inspiration from?

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Superteaching: A decade in review, a decade in progress

As part of professional development for the English department, my colleagues and I have been tasked with revamping our CVs, creating a teaching portfolio, or developing a professional online presence. As I’ve worked on creating a portfolio and have a website, I, of course, began revamping the CV right away and am currently working on ways to maintain the traditional purpose and format but still make the document more rich than just 11 pages of fluff. The process of creating an extensive body of work has led to a bit of retrospection.

A Superteacher in reflective mode...where am I going? Where have I been? (Source: JD Hancock)

A Superteacher in reflective mode…where am I going? Where have I been? (Source: JD Hancock)

January marks the end of my tenth year of teaching at the college level. I began as a green composition instructor at the University of Central Florida. My first and only UCF class was overwhelming, nerve-wracking, exciting and ultimately rewarding, but I still wasn’t sold on this as my career. I resisted the common “Oh, are you going to teach with that?” question that often came after I stated my major was English. In my mind, there had to be something else I could do with this degree. I was both right and completely wrong.

Source: gumuz via Flickr

Source: gumuz via Flickr

I entered the world of editing, copywriting, and marketing eager to prove myself, to dive into my favorite activities: consulting, editing, revising, and proofing others’ work. I applied for every job I saw on Monster and Career Builder; I bought a suit, a red pen, and waited…and waited….finally, I realized no one would hire me! Why not? Not awesome enough at English? No. No experience with professional writing outside of academia? Yup. That was it. So, to gain some experience, I worked as marketing writer and editor for my step-father’s A/V rental company and did freelance work for a local design firm, Lapiz Design.

To make ends meet, I also picked up an instructional assistant/writing center consultant position with Valencia College (Valencia Community College at the time). A short time later, I was offered the opportunity to teach English composition. Being the completely broke and desperate post-grad, I took the class, thinking it would serve as a good source of income until my editing ship came in. What I didn’t realize right away (but learned by the end of that summer semester) was that this would be my calling, that the hours I spent creating transparencies of poems, hunting down vinyl recordings of Dylan Thomas, and coming up with ways to engage beyond the assigned textbook for my course, would lay down roots that are now so ingrained in who and what I am that I cannot imagine my life without teaching.

Source: Mr. T in DC

Source: Mr. T in DC via Flickr

I was offered a full-time contract at a smaller campus of Valencia College. My acceptance would mean five wonderful years at the Winter Park Campus of VC. It was here that I really found my way, a mentor in my department chair, and learned important lessons about classroom teaching, curriculum development, and community and college involvement. It was here that I also began a love affair with the community college (RIP) model. I absolutely thrived in an environment committed to learner-based methodologies and initiatives. I also learned the impact faculty, staff, and students can have on the quality of education the entire community receives.

After five years and a poor judgment call, I was adjuncting, teaching 7 classes per semester with little room for growth at a small campus, so I accepted a position at Full Sail University, where I’ve had the pleasure of further expanding my skills as teacher, presenter, course developer, and now presentation designer. Regardless of challenges (teaching for a for-profit university is at times a sharper learning curve than at a community college), I would not trade the most amazing opportunity of my professional career so far, teaching Professional Communication and Presentation. I have developed a love for new subjects, public speaking and presentation design, that infuse every aspect of my professional and personal life. I have become a crusader for beautiful slides and dynamic delivery.

The last ten years have yielded a body of work I am proud of, and a constantly re-stoked fire for learning and responsible, sustainable education that I cannot wait to share with others. In the past decade, I’ve:

  • Taught 5,500 students
  • Taught 20 different courses or versions of courses
  • Developed 11 different courses either independently or in collaboration with amazing teachers
  • Have attended 30 final project presentations
  • Authored and delivered 17 presentations
  • Sponsored three student organizations
  • Have been inspired by amazing teachers, among them, Christin Upshaw, Sophia Buggs, and Alex Rister
  • Have been mentored by two incredible humans, Kim Murray and Chris Borglum
  • Immersed myself in three new subjects, the most current being my absolute bliss and joy

The first ten years have been fruitful and productive, but I have a few more goals to accomplish in the coming decade. Among them:

  • Truly bring my blog up to speed
  • Work on the balance between mastery and failure in the online environment
  • Continue to seek out opportunities that are learner-centered
  • Earn an Ed.D. in teaching and curriculum or educational leadership
  • Move into instructional design and administration

So, final words/thoughts on my first ten years: I’ve only just found my groove. I am stoked for more!

Source: pwbaker via Flickr

Source: pwbaker via Flickr

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Do you engage in a community of inquiry?

As part of a faculty committee at my school, I have been tasked with studying the Community of Inquiry concept developed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, which studied the role of three key areas in the development of students in the online or computer mediated model of education. Their seminal study, which ran from 1997-2001, identifies cognitive presence (the extent to which a student uses his or her critical thinking skills to internalize concepts), social presence (the extent to which students identify as individuals and as members of a community), and teaching presence (the teacher’s role in learners’ development as well as teacher participation) as three areas that are key to a successful educational community of inquiry. I am reading the study that began this community of inquiry in preparation for sharing this worthwhile model with colleagues. I find the interplay between the three areas to be worth further analysis, particularly how these three areas function to help create lasting learning for students.

Check out the community of inquiry model here (I am cooking up a version for my presentation Thursday)!

 

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Losing my Superteacher Way and Finding it Again

This month has been the most challenging of my teaching career since my first class at Valencia College. At that time, my naivete about my audience’s willingness to discuss and openly question their political views ended up creating a pretty negative rapport between myself and several students. I have since then learned much about how to better navigate audience values, how to take command of my classroom and create a culture of respect, and how to still have fun while pushing students to really apply their critical thinking skills.

This month, though, this month has really tested not only my skills as a teacher, but my desire to continue doing this. I am used to apathy, disinterest, and dismissal as a teacher of both writing and speech. Students often don’t see the importance of strong communication skills, though they believe they definitely possess these excellent writing and speaking skills and know employers look for this in candidates. What made this month so much more challenging was extreme resistance and what I can only describe as a complete disregard for what it actually means for one to be a professional. As my class is called Professional Communication and Presentation, I feel it is important to hold students accountable for the attributes they will be held to in the workforce.

Being a student is one of our first tests as professionals. One’s ability to follow instructions, provide clear referencing of information and image sources, respectfulness for others when they are presenting, speaking, or teaching, timeliness and attendance, respectful language, and a commitment to quality are all skills we grow first as students. This is part of what is meant by professionalism, a term which began as a reference to the devotion with which an individual approached the church’s work in the 13th century. Students consistently showed up to class late, were openly disrespectful, and focused only on the negatives of having a challenging set of classes (this is too much work–you don’t really expect it to be good, do you?). Students seemed surprised when they were held accountable for work they’d committed to. Students illustrated (up to today, the last day) that they’d read none of the assigned readings, listened to very little of the in-class lessons, and internalized only the bits they had to to pass the class.

The situation deteriorated so far that I lost all gusto and fire for the subjects I love so much. My audience in turn lost all interest in the subject. So, what did I do to create this situation? From my perspective, it was my vehemence for following basic rules of attribution, respect for classmates, respect for the subject, and accountability that created an adversarial relationship between myself and this group of learners. So, what do I do? Be more lenient? Forget about things like attribution, strong credible sources, and respect for class time, instructors, and class members?

What I found ironic about the complete disconnect between my students and myself is that these students were actually insanely smart–one had been one semester away from an aerospace engineering degree. Another’s fascinating presentation on the role of chaos in the formation of the universe, while too focused on information to truly be a persuasive presentation, captivated me nonetheless. Several of the students were voracious readers, not the norm in young people these days. But, it was the entire structure of education that alienated them. These students wanted the freedom to ask questions and determine the course of their educational journeys–this is commendable and a quality that should be nurtured in young people. However, they were ill equipped to self-direct their own learning journeys because they cannot function in the academic model (and, yes, though I believe in creativity, autonomy, and conceptual thinking, I do believe that education should in a sense be academic, at least in the sense that students are educated to understand their responsibilities as leaders and experts in their chosen field of study). Ken Robinson, one of my educational heroes, claims that we are getting our students through education by anesthetizing them, working to serve the interests of industrialism. I call this fast food education–this focus on making education the same for everyone. This model leads to the belief that school is just a mandatory process of indoctrination that must be suffered and endured. I believe we must reinforce Robinson’s concept of divergent thinking and change educational paradigms–we must continually push our students to “think laterally”, to go beyond the standard solutions to the increasingly complex problems of the 21st century. However, every individual deserves respect and we cannot escape our responsibilities as professional stewards of our expanded knowledge–both students and teachers. Check out the rest of Robinson’s RSA talk below.

This month was a serious bummer, and a real wake up call to me. Not everyone wants to learn, not everyone cares, and sometimes, no matter what we do, once an audience is completely closed off, it’s best just to focus on how to better serve future learners so that the situation is not repeated. I’ve spent a good two weeks castigating myself, considering and questioning every pedagogical and instructional decision of the past three years, and generally thinking of ways to engage students in the process of becoming better speakers, finding opportunities for them to autonomously develop their strengths and areas of improvement, and developing a stronger definition of professionalism and the importance of strong communication skills. I am happily working on a new first day discussion of the term “professional” and helping my amazing online students develop their PechaKucha presentations. I also found out today that a club I am co-sponsoring, the Young Democrats Club, has been approved. I cannot wait to get to work with a new bunch of students in support of the YDC’s platform.

I am still a superteacher and this is the learning revolution!

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Deck of the Day: Corinne Weisgerber and Shannan Butler Reinvision Education

In today’s Deck of the Day, educators Corinne Weisgerber and Shannan Butler illustrate how they use Twitter, Diigo, YouTube, blogs, and the myriad of web tools out there to create personal learning networks and truly engaging and dynamic online experiences. I am stoked to expand my pedagogy to include Pinterest and Twitter, but have had no real direction to move in. Weisgerber and Butler provide tangible techniques and real world examples. Welcome to the educator as curator!

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