"What has stood out to me the most about Bre-Anna is her enthusiasm and positivity in her own learning as well as others. These are qualities that I have really appreciated as she has encouraged me to work towards my goals."
(3rd Year Placement Student, nominator for Teaching Award).
The above comment reflects how necessary it is for me as an instructor to direct student learning in ways that encourage learners towards their short and long-term goals while developing my own sense of critical thinking and learning as an instructor. It is crucial that I achieve these overarching goals by fostering a growth in confidence via intellectual rigour, cultivating an environment for collaboration and experiential learning and reflection.
As a critical scholar and pedagogue, I educate, inform, empower, motivate, and assist learners. To fulfill these roles, I share an appropriate balance of power between myself and learners—fostering growth in confidence to eliminate the crippling and constant requests of perpetual handholding learners often fall into.
This shared power relationship is seen through constant encouragement and obligatory engagement in rigorous discussions early on in courses. My observation holds that inviting classroom discussion early-on with continual reassurance and feedback immediately permits a shared balance of power between myself and students. They begin to realize that perhaps minor ‘errors’ are not so detrimental as they may have previously perceived. This encourages them to not only change their perception of their self-worth, recognizing that their ‘mistakes’ do not determine their value as an individual.
Cultivating a Collaborative Environment
Whether a 4-week explorative face-to-face interactive course or a year-long online course, a second principle that guides my teaching is cultivating an environment where collaboration amongst peers occur often via group discussions as I observe the fear of peer-peer interactions dwindle throughout the semester.
Many student testimonials via written reflections have been that their fears and anxieties have been removed because of the implemented group discussions amongst like-minded peers, and the “ability to connect in-class content to the outside world has become easier”. As I encourage students to develop strong theoretical foundations via assessments, I also encourage them to practice engaging with peers and myself as their instructor or teaching assistant. For instance, the beginning of each semester is usually riddled with fear amongst students towards the instructor and fear between peers, perhaps due to a populous Life Science department and lack of strong cohort building.
Linking Theories to Practice via Reflection
"Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (Kolb, 1984).
The notion that we learn via experience has been passed down for centuries. I would not teach a student how to play the piano by simply giving them a lesson book and reading it to them. It is imperative that they sit behind a piano—and play. Similarly, Kolb’s (1984) cyclical four stages of experiential learning:
(concrete experience reflective observation abstract conceptualization active implementation)
maintains this notion while introducing the concept and importance of learning through reflection on doing. To help facilitate this type of learning, I frequently design assignments that include reflecting on future goals/experiences and past goals/experiences. I firmly believe that this teaching strategy often provides students with opportunities to connect theoretical knowledge with applied knowledge, thus solidifying learning. Reflecting in verbal and written form also challenges students to identify their own previous misconceptions regarding the course’s subject matter.
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.