My Authentic Facilitating Other

As I take more classes on pedagogy and read more about education in academia, I find myself in favor of the notion of teacher as a facilitator. Whenever I look back to past years, I find lecture-based classes the worst class experience I have ever had. On the other hand, the most enjoyable and memorable classes to me are those in which the teacher spends less time on talking and more time on educational activities. Rarely were there exceptional lecture-based classes that I really enjoyed as a result of my personal interest in the topics. At least in my field, which is environmental planning, design, and construction, many aspects of traditional lecture-based classes are entirely redundant. As a result, I find both useful and redundant takeaways from readings on an authentic teaching self.

This week, I am going to have my first independent teaching experience at Virginia Tech, and my plan for the week includes zero minutes of lecturing. Rather, students are free to use the resources whenever they need them. Interestingly, I find similarities between my plan and Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills”. For example, I have organized each class hour into three segments, each including a 20-minute activity. These activities include independent learning by watching video tutorials, independent working on a CAD project, and watching a video conference as a group. To encourage communication between students, I have considered peer teaching, group projects, and group conversations using ICT in the following sessions. While I agree with Fowler in many aspects, I somehow disagree when she says “ALWAYS engage with your students; do not do something to them, or for them, or at them.”

I don’t think that a good class should necessarily have a teacher who, as Fowler says, always engages with students or, as Deel says, is obsessed with how he/she is read as a “SELF”. Although teacher’s characteristics are to some extent important, a good class, in my view, is the one in which authentic teaching is replaced with authentic learning. Comparing classroom with a movie, I think teacher’s role is being changed from an actor to a director. Teachers are becoming less visible in the classroom and their role is taken more and more by media and virtual content. Teachers are now behind the scene of guest lectures, group discussions, and peer assessments. All in all, I think teachers should be more obsessed with the course objectives and learning outcomes and less on their own personal expression. Again, this is my view as a graduate student in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. How much do you think teacher’s personality affects learning outcomes?

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Goal-Oriented Assessment

With the existing transition from traditional education inspired by the notion of standardization toward more recent approaches, there is an emphasis on treating students as individuals. Taking this individualist approach seems necessary in both teaching the course content and assessing the student work. In “The Puzzle of Motivation” Pink discussed the trio of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the most important aspects of self-actualization, which is somehow missing in today’s world of business and education. Also, Elbow (1993) discussed a number of problems associated with rank-based assessments and the benefits of qualitative evaluation methods. The contemporary way of looking at education and the two arguments made by Pink and Elbow call for a need for individual goal-oriented assessments. In the context of prevalent practice in higher education, there is typically no place for such integrated assessment methods. The common approach is that students take a number of different core and elective courses each with a separate assessment method. Although there are some levels of autonomy in selecting the elective course, the existing teaching methods do not really encourage autonomy, mastery, and any individual purpose other than passing the course and moving to the next semester. Nor is there a goal-oriented assessment attached to a self-development plan based on the gradual mastery of the curricular content. I believe the major takeaway of the Pink and Elbow’s argument for contemporary pedagogical practices is that beyond base-line assessment techniques, instructors need to work with students to develop an individual self-development plan. Then, based on primarily qualitative assessment methods, instructors should help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and move toward their self-set goals. Pursuing a set of goals that have personal meanings while receiving proper feedback directed toward personal achievement could increase intrinsic motivation and lead to student success (Cherry, 2017).

References:

  • Cherry, K. (2017). Intrinsic motivation. (Blog Post)
  • Elbow, P. (1993). Ranking, evaluating, and liking: Sorting out three forms of judgment. College English55(2), 187-206.
  • Pink, D. (2009) The Puzzle of Motivation. (YouTube Video)

Education Against Inspiration

Bob Marley (1945–1981) was an international musical icon who once said: “We don’t have education, we have inspiration; if I was educated I would be a damn fool.” Marley’s quote somehow summarizes Langer’s discussion on the need for maintaining a mindful versus a mindless state of learning. Langer (2000) refers to five psychological states (e.g., openness to novelty) that relate to the same concept: mindfulness. However, the history of education shows that much of human education has been based on mindlessness and a lack of dynamism. There is no wonder why Orwell (1903-1950) doubted whether classical education could be carried out without corporal punishment. Thomas and Brown (2011) referred to the mechanistic view of conventional methods, which are based on standardization, and called for a need for an organic transformation to adapt to the dynamics of a new world.

Jean Piaget (1896–1980), is known as the first psychologist who systematically studied human cognitive development (McLeod, 2015). His constructivist views had profound impacts on the contemporary theories of education and the critical role of experiences (interactions with the environment) in children’s learning. Piaget emphasized that the goal of education is not to make conformists by increasing the amount of their knowledge. Rather, education should make creators and inventors by providing opportunities for students. Accordingly, Thomas and Brown (2011) referred to the obsoleteness of memorization and emphasized the need for the usability of course content and its connection with the real environment. This forced memorization of isolated information and the lack of engagement with the material on a deep level seems to play a role in students’ dislike of conventional education.

Thomas and Brown (2011) discussed that learning through play and imagination is a way to engage students with the constantly changing world. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of proper technological infrastructure to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real-world experiences. Langer (2000) put a heavier emphasis on teaching methods and questioned the prevailing approaches to teaching, such as unconditional acceptance, lack of openness, and the value of overlearning, as the cause of mindless education. In general, new approaches to education seem to commonly insist on inspiration as an important goal of education and the need for an organic connection with real-world experiences. As John Dewey (1859-1952) said: “Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living”.

References:

  • Langer, E. J. (2000). Mindful learning. Current directions in psychological science, 9(6), 220-223.
  • McLeod, S. (2015) Jean Piaget. Retrieved from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html
  • Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (Vol. 219). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

A Prison or A Democracy?

A recent American Psychological Association report alarms about sharp rises in serious mental health problems on campus. Depression and anxiety, as the most common mental disorders, are typically associated with eating disorders, drug abuse, and self-injury in the U.S. universities (Eiser, 2011). In “Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education” Gray (2018) refers to the fact that students normally have no or little power in creating the rules that they are forced to follow. Also, little differences in shallow accomplishments (e.g., an A versus a B) could lead to a great sense of shame, intense anxiety and fear in a classroom, which more or less works like a real society.

Not only are traditional lectures and classroom settings boring, politically speaking, they are comparable with a monarchy in which the ruler may or may not follow a written constitution. The way a classroom is governed typically represents the broader patterns of the governance of its context. Thus, there is no surprise that in more democratized countries, students gain a little more power. Because we spend so many years in school and university, shaping a small scale monarchy in classroom impairs the quality of student life by creating perpetual, toxic anxiety (Lee, 2015) and making a prison out of school. Transforming this monarchy to a democracy may address the aforementioned issues of mental health, and better prepare students for the future.

Traditional lectures are the legacy of our ancestors who had no medium other than their tongue to deliver the course content, and no means other than standard exams to assess student achievement. The legacy, which persists in the form of today’s crowded classrooms with a single source of information, is somehow responsible for killing students’ creativity, motivation, and critical thinking, especially at younger ages. With a decrease in these positive student characteristics, there is an increase in the lack of interest, sense of forced education, and anxiety. There are national initiatives, such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, that address mental health crisis on campus. However, except in pioneering institutions, there seems to be a general lack of interest in planning for and integrating new approaches to education and technology to help address life quality issues and to prepare students for the complexities of the 21st century. Oltermann (2016) described ESBC, a school in Germany, as a prototype of such efforts with the mission of re-inventing “school” based on free learning and bottom-up decision making. In ESBC student work is not graded until the age of 15. The school fully abandoned lecture-style instructions and timetables. Instead, the teachers let their students decide what to learn and when to take an exam. Due to ESBC’s success, more schools in Germany are now adopting the free-learning methodology.

Despite the fact that a great amount of flexibility and options could be offered to students, discipline is commonly enforced by required contents and schedules in passive education systems. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and pioneering institutions, such as ESBC, call for the democratization of the classroom by transferring the power of decision making from teachers to students. There is evidence that moving toward this power transfer by planning for flexibility and the proper use of technology prepares students for the future life, improves their motivation, retention rate, communication abilities, and helps them learn at their own pace (Cox, 2017). The ESBC experience showed that this change in mission and strategies, which is not necessarily expensive, improves students’ health and quality of life.

References:

Personality Traits, Learning Styles, and Academic Achievement (2)

The study of the factors that affect performance in both work and academic settings has been a prevalent research topic in many fields, including education and psychology. Poropat (2009) referred to capacity to perform, opportunity to perform, and willingness to perform as the three broad categories of factors which determine performance at work and educational settings. Capacity to perform refers to the individual’s knowledge, skills, and intelligence; opportunity to perform refers to all external resources and limitations, such as those of environmental and socioeconomic nature; and finally willingness to perform reflects motivation, cultural norms, and personality. The purpose of this post is to focus on personality traits and their effects on academic achievement.

The Big Five personality traits are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism (the acronym OCEAN). Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swann (2003) define the Big Five as “a framework of a hierarchical model of personality traits with five broad factors, which represent personality at the broadest level of abstraction.” Each of the traits is a bipolar factor which refers to a range of more specific traits (Determine your own OCEAN here!). Conscientiousness, which has often been linked to academic performance, was discussed in the previous post. In their meta-analysis, Poropat (2009) found that agreeableness and openness had practically much less significance than the validity of conscientiousness. In addition, he noted that age moderates personality–academic performance correlations.

In terms of the practical importance of studying personality traits, Poropat (2009) referred to the importance of the measures of personality in the identification of the students who are at the risk of failure and thus need assistance programs. Low conscientiousness leads to less effort and poor goal setting. Students who are identified with neuroticism, respond worse to stressors. Students with low conscientiousness or high neuroticism may benefit from extra training and guidance, and adjusted teaching modes (Poropat, 2009). In addition to the importance of training programs, teaching methods could further align with student personality traits for better performance. According to Komarraju, Karau, Schmeck, & Avdic (2011) students prefer different styles of thinking, processing information, and acquiring knowledge, and matching these individual differences to teaching methods positively affect student performance and academic achievement. However, Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork (2008) emphasized that all humans have the potential to learn and encouraged investigating strategies that enhance learning and recall for all students, rather than matching teaching techniques with specific learning styles, which is more viable and practical too.

References:

  • Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B. (2003). A very brief measure of the Big-Five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37(6), 504-528.
  • Komarraju, M., Karau, S. J., Schmeck, R. R., & Avdic, A. (2011). The Big Five personality traits, learning styles, and academic achievement. Personality and individual differences, 51(4), 472-477.
  • Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological science in the public interest, 9(3), 105-119.
  • Poropat, A. E. (2009). A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance. Psychological Bulletin, 135(2), 322.

Personality Traits, Learning Styles, and Academic Achievement (1)

There is obviously a range of factors that contribute to successful academic performance. Nevertheless, personality traits are among the most interesting which account for a significant portion of them (Caprara, et al., 2011). For example, in a research by Furnham, Chamorro-Premuzic, & McDougall (2003) personality traits were associated with as high as 20% difference in exam results and 30% in essay grades. In the case of scholastic success, the first trait that comes to mind is usually intelligence. However, after controlling for education, Poropat, A. E. (2009) found that the strongest predictor of academic performance is conscientiousness. According to Caprara, et al. (2011) conscientiousness is associated with continuous goal setting and sustained effort toward achieving the goals. “Conscientiousness is exemplified by being disciplined, organized, and achievement-oriented” (Komarraju, Karau, Schmeck, & Avdic, 2011)

Caprara, et al., (2011) also referred to self-efficacy beliefs and its impact on motivation as the driver of taking action to achieve goals. Perceived self-efficacy is associated with the perceived ability to master course content and with the perceived ability to self-regulate one’s academic performance. Studying the effects of both personality traits and learning styles, Komarraju, et. al (2011) found that personality traits account for 14% variance in grade point average (GPA)  and learning styles explained an additional 3%. In their research conscientiousness and agreeableness, were positively related to all four learning styles (synthesis analysis, methodical study, fact retention, and elaborative processing).

What about the implications for education in general and higher education? College students shouldn’t be treated the same. Not only are they different in personality traits, but also there is, in fact, a difference between them in terms of how they process, encode, recall, organize, and apply the information they learn (Komarraju et. al, 2011). Komarraju, et. al (2011) concluded that conscientiousness is positively and significantly associated with all four learning styles. They suggested that instructors should design course assignments and assessment methods that foster conscientiousness (e.g., requiring drafts of assignments to be submitted in small parts). Instead of pushing all the assignments and exams to the end of the semester, regular assessments could help non-conscientious students keep up with the pace of the course content. However, conscientiousness alone is not the only personality trait that has been studied as an indicator of educational achievement. Other personality traits that affect both preferred learning style and academic achievement are the subject of the next post in this thread.

References:

  • Caprara, G. V., Vecchione, M., Alessandri, G., Gerbino, M., & Barbaranelli, C. (2011). The contribution of personality traits and self‐efficacy beliefs to academic achievement: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(1), 78-96.
  • Furnham, A., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & McDougall, F. (2003). Personality, cognitive ability, and beliefs about intelligence as predictors of academic performance. Learning and Individual Differences, 14, 49–66.
  • Komarraju, M., Karau, S. J., Schmeck, R. R., & Avdic, A. (2011). The Big Five personality traits, learning styles, and academic achievement. Personality and individual differences, 51(4), 472-477.
  • Poropat, A. E. (2009). A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 322–338.

Characteristics of an Effective Teacher

Almost all of the Ph.D. level graduate students who consider a position in academia could be interested in knowing what personal characteristics and traits an effective teacher should possess. In this post, I have summarized the results of three studies conducted to answer that question at different educational levels. Before reading the following paragraphs, spend a few minutes to think which of the following behavioral categories could be the most important characteristics of an effective teacher from a student’s perspective: caring for students’ learning, teaching skills, teacher’s motivation, fostering student participation, developing helpful rules and grading methods.

Watson, Miller, Davis, & Carter (2010) studied middle-school teachers’ perceptions of the effective teacher across 3 years (2006-2009) through 66 focus group sessions. Among 25 response categories, the top five categories based on highest to lowest significance were caring, dedication, interactions, enthusiasm, and content knowledge. In this research caring and dedication had the most responses which together constituted more than 25% of the total responses. Interactions and enthusiasm were the second two categories each with about 9.5% of the responses. Content knowledge had 7.50% of responses and the rest of the characteristics each had less than 5%.

Walls, Nardi, von Minden, & Hoffman (2002) asked 90 participants including beginning teacher education students, novice teachers, and experienced teachers to respond to their survey about the characteristics of effective and ineffective teachers. The ability to create an emotional environment was rated as the most important theme. “Warm”, “friendly”, and “caring” were used to describe the characteristics of an effective teacher. Conversely, “cold”, “abusive”, and “uncaring” teachers were thought to be the most ineffective who tend to create a tense environment in the class. The second important theme was the teacher’s skills. Effective teachers were believed to have the competency to create an effective learning environment by the use of organization, preparedness, and clarity. On the other hand, ineffective teachers of this theme were described as those who have inept and boring pedagogy with an unproductive learning environment. The three other themes were rules and grades, teacher motivation, and student participation, with the first one being the most important and the last one the least important characteristics.

Martinazzi & Samples (2000) asked about 90 university students to answer the question: “What are the characteristics and traits of an effective professor?”. In this case, their research question was designed to be open-ended to allow for a wide variety of responses. They did not offer any clues or definitions about “effective professors”. An analysis of the data resulted in identifying three distinct areas classified as “Character ”, “Competence ” and “Connection”. According to Martinazzi & Samples (2000), an effective teacher possesses the characteristics inherent in each of these areas. For guidance on the identifiers of each of the three area, see Martinazzi & Samples (2000).

References:

  • Martinazzi, R., & Samples, J. (2000). Characteristics and traits of an effective professor. In Frontiers in Education Conference, 2000. FIE 2000. 30th Annual (Vol. 2, pp. F3F-7). IEEE.
  • Walls, R. T., Nardi, A. H., von Minden, A. M., & Hoffman, N. (2002). The characteristics of effective and ineffective teachers. Teacher education quarterly, 29(1), 39-48.
  • Watson, S., Miller, T., Davis, L., & Carter, P. (2010). Teachers’ Perceptions of the Effective Teacher. Research in the Schools, 17(2).

The Bologna Process

The Europian Higher Education Area (EHEA) includes 48 countries that work together to increase staff and students’ mobility and to facilitate employability (EHEA, 2017). The EHEA common key values include “freedom of expression”; “autonomy for institutions”; “independent students unions”; “academic freedom”; and “free movement of students and staff”. The Area has initiated quality assurance mechanisms such as follow-up group which is supported by the country hosting the EHEA conference every two or three years (See reports here). In the global context, quality assurance in higher education is not limited to Europe. There are organizations such as International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE), the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), UNESCO, etc. which act internationally. The need for these transnational quality assurance organizations is attributed to the biased nature of national quality assurance systems (Saarinen, 2005).

Despite its popularity, the Process, just as it is the case with other international organizations, was not left without criticism. The first point that may stand out to any reader is if the stated key values such as “freedom of expression” and “independent students unions” are achievable in all of the EHEA member countries, and how they are defined by EHEA in general and the countries in particular. Also, as an international guiding organization, the EHEA requires the members to develop their own performance assessment methods. A process which could lead to very different outcomes. Saarinen (2005) refers to the different meanings of ‘quality’ and the role of the stakeholder’s interests in its interpretation. For example, in Germany, quality was linked with the developments of the degree structure and an accreditation organization. In Finland, quality assurance was linked to development in the national policy (Saarinen, 2005).

With a stronger reaction against the Process, Garben (2010) wrote an interesting critique of the Bologna Process and how it may contradict European countries’ values and legal systems.  Garben (2010) concluded that it is regrettable that the EU Parliament has been practically excluded from the Bologna Process, and accused the Member States of choosing less open, less transparent and less democratic manner to Europeanise higher education which is certainly undesirable. Considering the close connection between education and cultural identity, and the traditional desire of EU members to retain their educational autonomy, she argued that adopting the Bologna Process would have led to a “top-down, centralized approach resulting in the bureaucratization of the Bologna Process, robbing it of its flexibility, responsiveness, and creativity” (Garben, 2010). What do you think about the EHEA and other similar international organizations like UNESCO? Do they potentially neglect or confront national cultural values and legal systems?

  • Saarinen, T. (2005). ‘Quality’in the Bologna Process: from ‘competitive edge’to quality assurance techniques. European Journal of Education, 40(2), 189-204.
  • Garben, S. (2010). The Bologna process: from a European law perspective. European Law Journal16(2), 186-210.

Quality Management in Higher Education (3)

Following the discussion on quality management in higher education, this post expands on the development of performance indicators and assigned weights. It was discussed that performance indicators are useful in evaluating an organization’s effectiveness, and based on systems thinking, the indicators could be attributed to inputs, processes, and outputs. A further classification may include measures of general performance, and measures of efficiency in each of the three categories. However, according to Eboli & Mazzulla (2012), what is important is to link those quality indicators to customers, stakeholders, and the society.

While the use of customer/stakeholder satisfaction surveys is strongly encouraged, there are disadvantages in using them. Customer judgments could be highly subjective. Also, care should be taken when sampling the customer since the results may be not representative of the population or may be heterogeneous and difficult to interpret. According to Eboli & Mazzulla (2008), there are two general groups of methodologies for measuring customer satisfaction. The first group includes methods such as quadrant and gap analysis, factor analysis, scatter graphs, cluster analysis, etc. The second group includes the estimation of coefficients by modeling using regression models, structural equation models, and Logit models. Eboli & Mazzulla (2008) developed a set of indicators to assess preferences for measuring service quality in public transport. For guidance on the development of customer satisfaction indicators and weights, see Eboli & Mazzulla (2008).

When the number of customers/stakeholders is not enough to perform these analyses, researchers may assign weight to variables using expert consensus. Expert consensus is a popular method in highly sophisticated topics such as medical laboratory performance assessment. The work of Schull, et. al (2011) is a very good example of how expert consensus can be achieved in developing performance indicators. They first performed a comprehensive review of the scientific literature to identify candidate indicators. Then, they sent the indicators to be reviewed by an expert panel composed of representatives from many different interrelated organizations through a Delphi process using electronic surveys. After consensus was achieved, they performed a gap analysis and a feasibility analysis.

References:

  • Eboli, L., & Mazzulla, G. (2012). Performance indicators for an objective measure of public transport service quality.
  • Eboli, L., & Mazzulla, G. (2008). A stated preference experiment for measuring service quality in public transport. Transportation Planning and Technology, 31(5), 509-523.
  • Schull, M. J., Guttmann, A., Leaver, C. A., Vermeulen, M., Hatcher, C. M., Rowe, B. H., … & Anderson, G. M. (2011). Prioritizing performance measurement for emergency department care: consensus on evidence-based quality of care indicators. Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, 13(5), 300-309.

Quality Management in Higher Education (2)

In the previous post, I discussed that the term quality could be interpreted and defined in different ways. The differences will result in different objectives, implementation methods, and measures or indicators. In the context of higher education, there are similarities in objectives, e.g., education, research, and service. The purpose of this post is to compare and contrast indicators of the same objective.  Chen, Wang, & Yang (2009) and Sukboonyasatit, Thanapaisarn, & Manmar (2011) proposed indicators for the same objectives. Here is how they differ:

For service or social responsibility, Chen, et. al (2009) proposed such performance indicators as “participation in social services”; “participation in local culture”; and “participation in charity activities”. Sukboonyasatit, et. al (2011) proposed such performance indicators as “activities/projects of academic services and professions that respond to the need to develop and increase the strengthening of society, community, nation, and other countries”; “the satisfaction level of people who obtain academic services”; and “the number of academic service sources that are accepted at the national and international level”. Both sets of the indicators refer to similar concepts. However, the first set is less specific, less demanding, and less realistic for the purpose of quality enhancement. Instead, the second set requires not only the participation of the organization in social and cultural services, but also it requires the organization to be judged by people, and not by themselves. Obviously, the second set of indicators are harder to achieve, but they provide a more sincere function of the organization in service activities.

For research results, Chen, et. al (2009) proposed such performance indicators as “integration research and planning”; “average funding, number of grant per teacher”; and “number of paper published in journal per teacher”, etc. Sukboonyasatit, et. al (2011) included the same indicators, and added “satisfaction of research funding providers”, and “satisfaction of researchers”. For graduate’s career planning, Chen, et. al (2009) propose “graduate’s career”; “alumnus performance”; and “popularity of alumnus in business”. Sukboonyasatit, et. al (2011) included the percentage of undergraduates who are employed within 1 year”; “satisfaction of employees”; and “graduates or alumni who obtain prestige in academic, professional, moral, ethical and other related areas.” The two studies have selected indicators to measure the same implementation success. However, indicators selected by Sukboonyasatit, et. al (2011) are results of a more subtle approach toward performance assessment.

Despite the subtlety of the proposed indicators, the work of Sukboonyasatit, et. al (2011) has been far less cited in the literature compared to the other work. How do you think about these differences? In the next post, I will further develop the discussion on quality indicators and the weights that are sometimes assigned to them.

References:

  • Chen, S. H., Wang, H. H., & Yang, K. J. (2009). Establishment and application of performance measure indicators for universities. The TQM Journal, 21(3), 220-235.
  • Sukboonyasatit, K., Thanapaisarn, C., & Manmar, L. (2011). Key performance indicators of public universities based on quality assessment criteria in Thailand. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(9), 9.