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A Reflection on Teaching

I am writing this reflection for a module that I am taking as part of a postgraduate certificate in teaching. Teaching is a transformative process. From a behavioural perspective, where learning is conceptualized as a process in which the learners acquire new behaviour (Pritchard, 2009), the outcomes of the learning activities are visible. I see this behavioural change as a transformation that results in new behaviours that improves one’s ability to work with his/her environment. This interpretation is equally applicable from the perspective of more contemporary learning theories like constructivism, the view that learning is a mental construction in which new information is built into existing structures of knowledge (Pritchard, 2009), and social constructivism where learning is an outcome of one’s interaction with her/her environment. For me, learning is a combination of cognitive and social processes in which we find the best way to fit in and interact with a given set of conditions. In my first blog post for the LED 4001 module (Rathnayake, n.d.-a), I described learning as a reflexive process where one comes to terms with one’s self and the surroundings as social beings who are part of the natural world. This understanding was informed by the readings on learning theories and the LED 4001 class discussions.

From a conventional point of view, discussions on theoretical perspectives mentioned above may limit to an emphasis on learning among students. Such a limited viewpoint, in my opinion, may ignore the learning that teachers undergo during the teaching process. Teaching process is not limited to the “act” of teaching. It includes reading in preparation for the lessons, planning lessons, delivery (the “act” of teaching), gathering feedback, and revising the practices if necessary. I see this as a transformation of the teacher. From a social constructivist point of view, teachers should understand the dynamics of the class, recognize strengths and weaknesses of student, and identify the best way to interact, so that they can create a stimulating social context for learning. One has to learn how to master this skill.

My teaching philosophy is inspired by the above view that acknowledges the role of teacher as a facilitator who creates suitable learning contexts. The teacher himself/herself improves through this process. Therefore, from a broad perspective, teaching transforms both students and teachers. In my teaching philosophy (Rathnayake, n.d.-b), I defined learning as “a process of reflexive learning of the dynamics of the class, designing and devising a strategy to open the students’ minds to absorb new concepts, critique, develop their own perspectives, and inculcate the habit of seeking knowledge independent of the instructor.” This philosophy acknowledges the above view that a teacher himself/herself transforms during the teaching process. This is, I believe, why some would say that you become great teachers as you gain experience in teaching.

With almost five years of experience as a teacher, four years in the United States and almost a year in the UK, I had confidence in my teaching, but I always had the feeling that I need to assess and reflect on my own teaching to improve it. While the first several weeks in the LED 4001 module focused on conceptual aspects of teaching, the sessions afterwards provided me an opportunity to reflect on my teaching practice and identify areas for improvement. For the last five years, I had never developed a lesson plan. I had a plan in my mind when I designed my lecture presentations. I find the lecture on lesson planning extremely helpful to improve my teaching as it made me realize how important a well-thought-out lesson plan is. I applied this knowledge immediately for my lessons, and started preparing plan for the modules I teach at Middlesex University (please see Attachment 3 for a lesson plan I used in my module). In a way, my lesson plan uses the elaboration theory that highlights the importance of the order in which content is arranged in a lesson. Elaboration theory suggests that lessons should be arranged from simple to complex content so that it creates context subsequent ideas (https://www.learning-theories.com, n.d.).  My lecture presentations (please see Attachment 4 for an example), are organized based on the degree complexity where I define the basic concepts first, provide examples to facilitate understanding, and then move on to more complicated applications. Throughout the lecture, I am in a process of creating the context for my students to understand the next concept. This, however, would not exclude social constructivist elements of the lesson, as I use group activities and other interactive exercises to create a supportive learning environment.

While teachers and students are the most important actors in the learning process, technological devices and reading materials also play a crucial role in teaching. As a teacher in the field of digital media, I appreciate the role technological devices can play in teaching and learning. Finding suitable reading materials and acquiring expertise in using appropriate technical resources (e.g., reference management software, video editing software) is a crucial aspect of the learning process. This is particularly the case in working on assessments. Therefore, I consider readings/texts and technological resources as powerful actors in the learning process. Texts or readings can affect one’s ability to understand the subject. As a researcher, I believe that scholars, undergraduate students included, should engage in a dialogue with main texts related to the subjects they study. This involves reading, reviewing, and questioning the narratives. Written assignments, such as critical reviews, are a way to engage in this dialogue. The more a student “works with” texts, the better his/her understanding of the subject. Similarly, tools such as software can help students through the learning process. This view empowers texts and other tools and puts them in a context in which humans (i.e. students and teachers) and non-human agents (e.g., books and software) interact in a learning context. This perspective resembles the Actor Network Theory (ANT) (Latour, 2005). ANT recognizes the fluid nature of interactions, and suggests a “sociology of the social” that recognizes the role non-human agents play in social processes. Accordingly, I see teaching as an on-going series of interaction in which teachers, students, and other elements, such as readings, construct teaching-learning settings.

As I have moved from a research university that emphasizes theoretical understanding of information and communication technology to an institution that highlights the importance of practice-based education, I have paid more attention on improving my skills in practice-based teaching. This is important for my teaching career, particularly because I am the module leader for the MED1001- Media Production module. I observed the camera induction lesson done by a colleague at the Media Department. This observation gave me useful guidelines to improve my teaching. Rob’s induction moved from an introduction to camera to an actual filming activity where students were asked to go outside the classroom, film several shots, return to the class, play the clips, and discuss strengths and weaknesses of each clip. The visibility of the outcomes made this session engaging and enjoyable, and this is a lesson that I can apply in my modules.

Discussing theoretical aspects of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is difficult, especially for social science audiences. I experience this in my Social Media and the World Wide Web module. I used several activities in every session to simplify the lessons for my students. For example, I used a real-world envelope analogy to demonstrate how packets of data travel across the Internet. I used envelopes and papers to create messages and “packets” that travel across the class (the “network”) (please see Attachment 6 for slides that contain a summary of the technology and instructions provided to the students for this activity).

We are living in a world characterized by the advancement of ICTs. The use of mobile devices and certain online platforms, Such as Social network Sites, is very high among millennials. As boyd (2011) discussed, SNSs offer new affordances, such as replicability and searchability, that enable new forms of interaction. baym and boyd (2012) note that the “socially mediated publicness” enabled by modern communication technologies require new skills from the user. Arguably, being the “digital natives”, students in the same age group as my students have the ability to use online communication platforms better than “digital immigrants” (those who were born prior to the rise of online communication). Although we use devices in my classroom for some activities, the use of mobile devices is not allowed. However, I notice occasional use of cell phones. Although I have followed a strict policy and asked those who use devices to shut down their phones immediately, I have been searching for strategies in incorporate electronic devices to my teaching activities. Ziegler, Paulus, and Woodside’s (2014) work suggests moving beyond the view of informal learning as an individual reflective process, and acknowledge meaning-making processes in groups. They demonstrate this using an online forum as an example. Although I am keen on using online communities where my students can interact, I am cautious about disruptions that can cause in the learning process. I always search for strategies to use my students’ interest in online platforms to enhance the learning process.

From an overall point of view, as I mentioned before, teaching transforms both students and teachers. Study of pedagogy provides an opportunity for teachers to evaluate his/her teaching practices, reflect, and make improvements. This is, I believe, the value that I appreciate in the LED 4001 module.

References

Baym, N. K., & Boyd, D. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 37–41.

Boyd, D. (2011). Social Network Sites as networked publics: Affordances, dynamics, and implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 39–58). New York and London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. http://doi.org/10.4324/9780203876527

https://www.learning-theories.com. (n.d.). Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth). Retrieved March 12, 2017, from https://www.learning-theories.com/elaboration-theory-reigeluth.html

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pritchard, A. (2009). Ways of learning: Learning theories and learning styles in the classroom. Routledge.

Rathnayake, C. (n.d.-a). Learning is living. Retrieved March 12, 2017, from http://www.traversingbits.uk/2017/01/19/learning-coming-to-terms-with-ones-self-and-the-surroundings/

Rathnayake, C. (n.d.-b). Teaching is as much learning as teaching. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from http://www.traversingbits.uk/2017/01/29/teaching-is-as-much-learning-as-teaching/

Ziegler, M. F., Paulus, T., & Woodside, M. (2014). Understanding Informal Group Learning in Online Communities Through Discourse Analysis. http://doi.org/10.1177/0741713613509682

Traversing Bits

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