trials and tribulations: my experience with Practice Teaching

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personal / UTTP blog

At this time last year, I was registered in the Languages of the Media as an undergraduate student.

Just one year later, I was tasked with leading the class. For just under three hours that evening, I was more or less on my own, faced with a sea of 200 undergraduates for their second class of the semester.

*record scratch* *freeze frame*

“Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”

I should preface by saying that this semester, I have been hired as one of three Teaching Associates (yes, Associates, not Assistants) for this 200-student class in Media Studies. This small switch in title–from Assistant to Associate–in my opinion, totally changed the  environment of the classroom. Languages of the Media, even at this early point in the semester, had a strong learner-centered focus. What this means is that instead of looking to our Professor as the all-knowing God of Media studies, with us TA’s as his evil minions, all four of us, as equally qualified Teaching Associates, are invited and encouraged to collaborate and bring our varying expertise to the classroom. This was my day to bring it. That week, the class was scheduled to set up their WordPress blogs and learn about creative commons video-making, both of which I imagined as a short, hands-on workshops. I was tasked with most of the weight of the lecture, as my skillset matches really well with this content.

I, interestingly enough, had asked Kelly and my peer-observer, Laura, to be on the lookout for my dealings with uncertainty, ambiguity, and the limits of my knowledge. This language actually came from Language of Media’s syllabus, and is a core learning outcome of the course: “(8) Appreciate uncertainty, ambiguity, and the limits of knowledge by creating unique and responsible writing and media works”. My observers did not have to look very far for any of these characteristics: within moments of beginning my lesson plan, the sheer number of users in the class had crashed UofG’s WordPress page. “Okay. That’s fine. Just… keep moving…” was all that came to my mind. So, pushing past the technical failure, I dove into the next section, Creative Commons, much earlier than planned. In my opinion, this section ended up being more of a jargon-heavy romp through definitions of copyright than a workshop. At this point I felt frazzled, my heart was racing, but then, out of the blue there was a hand up for a question:

“So, which parts of this are we going to be tested on?”

I believe my response was to smile and politely tell the student that none of my teaching was for the sake of memorization, and that rather, I was trying to teach students skills that would aid them greatly in the creation of their own transmedia story (which was due the next week). This was a sort-of aha moment as far as I could tell: there was a chorus of laptops being shut, pens being dropped, and I expected that a large portion of the class would leave, confused as to why they were even there if note-taking was not recommended. But no one left. Instead, they sat and actually absorbed what I was saying, asking questions when they arose, and were less afraid to ‘miss’ specific terms–because they could actually put the skills I was teaching them to real-world use. Maryellen Weimer notes this this in her article Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching, where she attests to the importance of explicit skill instruction rather than assuming that students are coming equipped with everything they need to succeed. Though this generation of students is extremely tech-savvy, I learned that they actually know very little about online legality and creative commons.

I want to note that I thought this three-hour class went horribly. In fact, as soon as all of the students had left the room, I burst into tears. I felt fraudulent and like I had embarrassed myself.  It took me a few days to understand that all of these feelings were a totally normal part of a first teaching experience, and that I would learn to harness and grow from them. What really helped me with this realization was rereading Brookfield and using his lenses: the lens of my own autobiography as a learner of reflective practice, the lens of learners’ eyes, the lens of colleagues’ perceptions, and the lens of theoretical literature. Since my autobiographical lens was clouded at the time, I looked to the others. The support I received from from the other Teaching Associates was phenomenal, they assured me that it had not gone as poorly as I had perceived it had. Laura’s feedback was what really solidified my confidence about how the lecture went– she wrote that I seemed approachable and happy to be there, as well as that I apparently made the students laugh at one point, which my mind had completely blocked out.

I am so grateful for coming full-circle with this experience.

Not bad for an MA student who still doesn’t have her undergrad in hand yet.

 

Works Consulted:

Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Profession, 18(4), 197–205.

Weimer, M. (2012). Five Characteristics of Learner-Centred Teaching. Faculty Focus.

 

 

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TPI: the ~teaching perspectives inventory~

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UTTP blog

The figure above depicts my results from the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, a test which can be used to determine which traits or perspectives are dominant within a teaching professional’s practice.

My dominant perspective (though, as the website says, all teachers embody all five) is clear at a quick glance. I scored 43 out of a possible 45 in the Nurturing category, with my beliefs about this perspective coming in at only one point higher than my intentions and actions. My most recessive perspective, as well, is easy to spot: I scored the lowest in Transmission, with a measly 6 points in my intention for that category. My middle scores are fairly even, with Social Reform hopping ahead a bit to be my second most dominant perspective, and Apprenticeship/Development tying for the remaining middle spots.

These results did not surprise me, as these perspectives (notably, Nurturing and Social Reform) have been modelled for me by many other teachers throughout my life as a student. I notice and accept these perspective into my daily life, perhaps most notably in my recent escapades into teaching. In fact, I typically perform best when my two most dominant perspectives are more heavily taught, as opposed to Transmission, which loses me in the pursuit of right or wrong, with no middle ground. But in an academic world where hermeneutics and the ‘right answer’ reigns supreme, understanding becomes black or white. Yes or no. Right or wrong. What’s a social reforming nurturer to do?

At the very beginning of a transmedia story titled “A Vision of Students Today”, there is a quote from my personal media philosopher hero, Marshall McLuhan:

“Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules.”

When will the system adapt? What does this mean for future of universities, or the future of learning? What does this mean for the students of today today, if McLuhan was writing this in 1967?

We can look to L. W. Anderson and D. R. Krathwohl’s Expanded Taxonomy of Learning chart for a half-answer. Adapted from A Taxonomy for Learning, (and based on Bloom’s Taxonomy), the chart explores the supposed ‘levels’ of learning: from Remembering, which is all about the short-term ability to recall information, all the way to Creating, which allows the students to recognize patterns and incorporate many ideas into a whole. Creating, then, may be our answer to the question of 21st-century learning– it creates a more holistic knowledge, rather than one of memorization alone.

It is inherent to my teaching practice to critique the way the system has been set up. This is not simply to break the rules or to go against the grain, but to teach, (and thus, let students participate in learning) without fear of failure, while promoting a climate of understanding, community, and mobilization towards change. “But, Meg,” you may ask “how can you, a single person, promote change to an education system that has been around for way longer than you’ve been alive, let alone way longer than you’ve been a student (18 years) or been teaching (about 3 weeks, now)?”

If it weren’t for the few teachers who embodied these types of perspectives, who showed me that learning was exactly as abstract and subjective as I had always, deep down, understood it to be, I would not be sitting here writing this blog post for my MA University Teaching Course. I would have lost faith in the system long ago.

Perhaps, someday, I will contribute to one single student’s own personal realization about their own meaning of education. Perhaps it will light a fire inside of them, much like the one that burns inside of me.

Perhaps, that is enough for now.

Works Consulted: 1. Center for Teaching, Expanded Taxonomy of Learning. Adapted from L. W. Anderson and D. R. Krathwohl (eds). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing (based on Bloom’s Taxonomy), 2001.

2. Michael Wesch, “A Vision of Students Today”, Youtube, 12 October 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o&feature=youtu.be

a final letter to mark

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narrative / personal / thst*2450 blog

It’s a Monday, my day off, at about nine a.m., when I say these words out loud to my roommate:

“My weird gay dad almost died.”

This has happened many times, actually. He has what seems like an infinite number of lives, definitely not capped at nine like a feline. I worry. I worry too much, not because of him, but because by all accounts, it appears that the world wants to swallow him whole. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to hear that he had been sucked into a black hole, launched into the void.

I worry for selfish reasons. I worry because I would be lost. Very lost. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the person I have become since meeting Mark. I couldn’t imagine what path I would have taken, or where I would be right now. It all seemed to fall into place.

My family talks about Mark like he is my significant other, rather than my weird gay professor dad. They ask when they will get to meet him. When I’m bringing him home for dinner. My mother is so thankful that I have found someone like him. In all honesty, Mark has been a fantastic distraction for my family. They do not bother to ask about my love life any more.

This time last year was one of the most uncertain periods of my life. What I like about uncertainty, is that it takes reflection to truly realize that it was there. I didn’t know I was so unsure. I was not actively looking for guidance. I was looking for a job, and when this strange man with ornate rugs in his office hired me on the spot, I was thrown into a whole new world.

All summer, while Mark traveled, I locked myself in the office and worked furiously to try and prove to him that hiring me was worth it. His emails were so abrupt that I assumed he hated me. I kept pushing forward, fingers crossed that the decisions I was making were considered ‘right’.

Upon reflection, the single greatest thing I have learned from Mark is to trust myself. Right and wrong are entirely subjective. Mark and I agree on most things, which makes it easier. But the biggest change I have noticed within myself is my own initiative linked to my self-esteem.

Mark is contently commending me on my commitment to following through. Usually, this is in regards to my vegetarianism, but I’ve realized that I am consistently following through on things that are deeply important to me. Mark always wants me to take a day off. “You’ve done enough” is probably the most uttered phrase within the Massey office walls.

I’ve realized that I am a very passionate person, and I channel those passions by putting them all on my plate. These interests of mine, however, often take up too much of my plate, leaving little room for self-care and other things that are necessary to keep me functioning. Mark notices this, and admires my dedication but also is a far better judge of when I am running myself into the ground (which, let’s be honest, is almost always). And this is not to say that I shouldn’t run myself into the ground for the things I love, but Mark has shown me that the passion that I put into these projects should be reciprocated somehow. That my labour, including my emotional labour, is not only worth something, but is actually very valuable. I should be supporting what supports me.

If you would have told me at this time last year that I would be starting my MA in English at Guelph this fall, I would have laughed in your face. In fact, the more I reflect on the past year, the more surreal it all seems. I can now say I’ve volunteered at an international conference at UofT, designed a website from scratch over a three-way call with web designers, have had my research work recognized on a national level. I’ve conducted focus groups with young adults and am prepping to begin giving workshops to youth about online privacy. But these accomplishments shouldn’t be all that is discussed, and I think that things like missing grant deadlines, being rejected by big media conglomerates, the never-ending Research Ethics Board process, and the sheer amount of coffee I have spilled, have helped me to deal with failure and not let it define me or my experience.

I don’t know what my life would be like without my weird gay dad.

I hope I don’t have to know for a long, long time.

privacy stories

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thst*2450 blog

As most of you know, I’ve been working as a student researcher studying young adults and digital privacy under the supervision of Mark for the past year. Our research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. In January, this organization challenged students to create a three-minute-long transmedia story detailing a research project at their school, in order to show the impact that humanities research has on the lives of Canadians.

I am ~very excited~ to announce that my video, PRIVACY STORIES, has been selected as one of the Top 25 entries from across the country! I have no words to describe the honour and gratitude that comes with receiving this prize as well as the opportunity to showcase our research at this year’s Congress at Ryerson to compete for Top 5! So proud to be a part of this year’s storytellers!

Find my privacy story on SSHRC’s youtube here.

wikiplay: connectivism

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thst*2450 blog

Using blogs as classroom tools allow students to form a different sort of relationship with the material as well as with each other.

I believe providing online spaces, like Wiki or WordPress, changes the way in which students are aware of one another, and this, in turn, affects the way we connect and learn from each other. This system created new routes of communication and collaboration for students. By allowing users to see the work of their classmates live on their blogs, for example, space was created where users could actively seek out different perspectives on the assignments.  Even just by reading the work of other students, I felt that bits and pieces of what they wrote helped me to understand the material better. In building on and connecting to the knowledge of others, we advance.

At a broad level, this notion of combinational creativity is really a socially connected process of learning. In a networked world, knowledge becomes a network forming process. To be knowledgeable is to reflect how we’ve connected concepts and ideas over a period of time. These online social systems allowed students to seek out the rounding of their perspectives and synthesize their learning on the platform that they typically feel the most comfortable- the internet. Systems like blogs have exceedingly become a component of our human knowledge and further, our overall capacity to know.

 

hub: an innovation in online learning

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thst*2450 blog

Hub is a collaborative project between Tyler, Bruno, Matthew and I.

Hub is an idea for an online learning portal that does more than CourseLink and gets students more bang for their buck. As this infographic discusses, there are many things that our group brainstormed that could be incorporated into a new system.

A perk for administrators is that exams could be facilitated through this system which could hugely reduce academic misconduct in online courses.

We plan to use the already existing distance ed. fee to pay for this system’s implementation in the school’s system.

Hub addresses a need within our school community.

 

good green transit

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thst*2450 blog

Working together with Rochelle, Atia and Sopulu, we created this reimagined version of the GTA/Kitchener-Waterloo-Guelph transit system.

I have created this infographic as an example of our marketing for the project. As we discussed in our group, our marketing strategy would be implemented through social media across university campuses. We use bright colours and relatable language in order to entice customers, in the style of Tangerine Bank.

We also discussed ways to incentivize the card system to students, including making the Green Pass like a SPC or Student Price Card. The card would then also provide discounts at participating retailers.

We discussed pricing for the card and came up with a monthly membership depending on the status of the buyer:

Students – $60

Commuters – $80

Public – $70

Children & Seniors ride free!

Good Green Transit solves the local problem of transit offerings and expense. Good Green Transit encourages public transportation for commuters, students, and the public, and will, therefore, cut down on congestion in our area.

algorithms as invisible technology

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thst*2450 blog

Advanced technology has become indistinguishable from magic.

The magic behind many of our favourite technologies, however, actually has a name. Algorithms. They work so seamlessly that often, we do not realize they are there.

We don’t understand the way that our technology works, let alone the algorithms behind it, simply because we don’t have to. We get the satisfaction of technology solving our problems and making our lives easier. The best technology is the one we don’t see.

Or is it? What is it, exactly, that these predictive systems are hiding from us? And more importantly, what biases do they have?

An algorithm is an attempt to technologically simulate the way that the human mind might work. This rational decision-making process produces a certain and simple output from numerous irrational, orderless inputs. Algorithms choose what is shown to us online, and what is not. Algorithms attempt to make our chaotic world tangibly simple.

But our world and our human experience is not simple in the least.

The discussion then becomes about algorithms and neutrality. There are those who think Facebook’s news feed is neutral, because it is produced by algorithms. But those algorithms are ultimately created by humans, who, by nature, have biases.

Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish sociologist studying the interactions between technology and society, believes algorithms by nature have an ingrained bias, simply because they are created by biased human beings and “they optimize output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company.”

When it comes down to it, social network’s algorithms are filters that say ‘Yes’ to some of the content we share, and ‘No’ to others, and these filters follow certain rules. That means there are theoretically as many types of algorithms as there are rules.

Algorithms are an invisible technology that we use everyday. Without them, the internet as we know it now would not exist. But this doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept whats on our feeds- on the contrary, we should be highly critical of this content. Do not trust that your social media accounts are showing you the whole picture, because even if they were, our own biases are typically reflected in our peers (ie, political affiliation).

Break out of the algorithm filter bubble. Stay woke.

Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/19/opinion/the-real-bias-built-in-at-facebook.html?_r=0

how to train a silent tongue

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thst*2450 blog

My mother says that I wouldn’t talk until I could speak in full sentences. She embellishes the story by saying that when I did speak, it was perfect, free of error. I don’t know how much I believe that, but I honestly cannot remember any different.

I was not a babbly child. In fact, I remember not liking children as a child. They were too much for me. I was shy and quiet.

I remember my Nana taking me to get my hearing checked. I think she thought I was deaf or mute or both, and that my mother just somehow hadn’t noticed, and I remember my satisfaction in passing the test with flying colours.

Somehow, in holding back my speech, I was labeled as gifted. Maybe that’s honestly what gifted meant all along, the kids who are too afraid of other kids and all their noise and need a fucking break. I was small and cute and followed the rules, so I was allowed to stay in on recess to reading books above my grade level.

I had always been really engrossed in books. I had been read to every night as a child. My favourite was Beatrix Potter. Maybe it was because for me speaking was so rare, but according to one poignant story, I used the language of these books in my daily, child life. Throwing a tantrum, little me screamed “I AM AFFRONTED” before slamming her mbedroom door shut. I know. Fucking adorable, and really ridiculous. But not to discount the feelings of little me either- I probably knew the words mad, angry and upset, but wanted to make my point. And make it I did.

Perhaps this treatment forced me to appreciate every word. Maybe that’s why I ended up here, working towards my English degree. I just can’t get enough.