No guarantees…

The 7 Principles of Good Practice have become a “go to” frame of reference for me when I think about using and adopting digital technologies for learning. For me, the principles represent a useful lens for thinking about my practice and whether a particular use of technology will be able to support or embody them. It’s not an all or nothing deal, but if I can address multiple principles through the use of a technology then I tend to see the combination as a potential learning benefit.

We’ve been having a similar conversation in GRAD 602, and asking whether we find the 7 Principles to be a meaningful set of guidelines for selecting digital technologies as well as informing teaching practice.

Reviews have been mixed.

Some see the Principles in a positive light,  having immediate application in their current context, or recognize the obvious value, of say, communication between teachers and students.  Others have expanded them to include a few additional principles, and even lamented their absence as part of the professional education of PhD students.

Some regard the Principles with a bit more skepticism, at least with their regard to their being used as a heuristic for teaching. Some urge caution at the use of technology to facilitate contact & communication. Others acknowledge experiences where they have employed the Principles, but did not get the “buy-in” from students. Still others viewed the Principles as an idealized vision for education, and questioned whether faculty teaching practices would ultimately align with them unless they were valued throughout the institution…from the top to the bottom.

Clearly there are no guarantees here. Good teaching practice alone does not lead to enhanced learning, indeed learning can and does occur even in the absence of good teaching.

So, does good teaching practice matter? I guess it depends…

If you care about an answer to that question I encourage you to watch this TED Talk from Sugatra Mitra, and see where it leaves you…


Scholarship of Teaching, Say Hello to the Web…

In a course I’m co-teaching with Britt Watwood, called Teaching, Learning and Technology in Higher Education, we’ve included blogging as a key means of supporting discussion and sharing ideas. The students in the course are part of a preparing future faculty program at our university, and they hail from a variety of disciplines.

We’ve introduced blogging in a two-pronged sort of way, in that we see it as 1) a potentially valuable way to engage in meaningful reflection on learning and practice, and 2) as an academic publishing platform with an eye toward supporting the role of being a public intellectual.

I think this can be a tricky two-step.

As I reflect on the discussion thus far, I think we may have inadvertently emphasized the academic publishing platform notion a bit too much. It seems that this is a slippery slope, as it can quickly tumble into concerns about openness, intellectual property and the like. What happens next is that the idea of an academic publishing platform on the web are often compared to and then conflated with traditional notions of scholarship. Perhaps this is a natural slip…but it misses the point a bit and inspires some FUD rhetoric…at least from my perspective. All the same, the discussion of how future faculty perceive and engage in new media environments – as both scholars and educators – is a crucially important one. It raises critical questions about peer review, authorship, collective knowledge, open teaching and community building that are worth exploring.

At this point, academic publishing on the web (blogs, wikis, video, podcasts, etc.) remains a fringe notion for the bulk of faculty members with whom I work. To suggest that this kind of work can potentially be a form a scholarship is often met with dismissive smiles and the kind of head tilting dogs do when they hear a high-pitched sound. Alas…

What I’d like to suggest here is that while academic publishing platforms (e.g., blogs) may not yet be considered a form of scholarship, I think that the process of writing in the open for academic / scholarly purposes can serve as an act in support of scholarship.

In 1990 Ernest Boyer made an important contribution to the literature of higher education by authoring the book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. In this book, Boyer argued for a broader definition of what constituted scholarship and called upon those in higher education to “…break out of the tired old teaching versus research debate and define, in more creative ways, what it means to be a scholar.” He outlined the following four areas of scholarship, that taken collectively – he argued – represent a more meaningful approach to recognizing and rewarding the scholarly work of faculty:

• Scholarship of Discovery – Build new knowledge through traditional research.
• Scholarship of Integration – Interpret the use of knowledge across disciplines.
• Scholarship of Application – Aid society and professions in addressing problems.
• Scholarship of Teaching – Study teaching models and practice to achieve optimal learning.

It is this last component, the Scholarship of Teaching, that I suggest could be supported and enhanced through open academic publishing on the web. Blogs provide a platform for sharing ideas, offering aspects of peer-review in the form of commenting, and engaging public as well as discipline-based communities of practice. For faculty members, the act of authoring ideas about education can inspire meta-cognition and support the kind of critically reflective practice that leads to the growth of knowledge in teaching.

While open academic publishing is currently in an emergent stage, it seems to hold great potential for thinking through important questions and issues about what it might mean to engage in scholarly teaching practice in the digital age.