My beliefs and how they inform my practices as an instructor

February 9, 2010

In reflecting these past weeks on what I believe as an instructor and educator, I’ve come to the conclusion that I pick my educational theories and philosophies the same way I pick my music preferences and I’m quite eclectic in my approach when it comes to both!  I enjoy a range of music from classical all the way to some heavy metal bands and Top 40 hip hop, and I’ve found that as I’ve been introduced to more educational theories and practices (mostly through the master’s degree program) the more I can see the value in various bits and pieces of different theories.

For example.. in my field of work as an adult educator, I strongly believe in adult education principles, ones based on the work done by Malcolm Knowles and his theory of Andragogy. I believe that adults come into a classroom with a wealth of knowledge and previous experiences and that those experiences are extremely important to acknowledge and to envelop into the teachings of the classroom. Adult learners are self-directed (or have the potential to be anyway.. sometimes it takes a little bit of prodding and practice to get them there 😀 ) and they need what they are learning to be relevant to their daily lives.

I also believe that people learn best when they can make connections themselves, when they engage with material to find out their own answers to questions they form themselves. This is a central tenet of constructivism too, where the instructor plays the role of a facilitator, rather than a know-all font of knowledge.

I further believe that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs plays a fundamental role in the education of adults and that if a lower level need on the pyramid is in jeopardy, then anything that is occurring in the classroom gets ignored until that lower level need is satisfied. I see this repeatedly in adult education classes. If there are financial or security issues or even an unmet nutritional need that isn’t being met, then any higher order thinking skills get shelved until that situation is addressed.

There are other learning theories I see at work everyday in educational contexts. I see still the prevalence of behaviourist principles strongly at work in the way schools are organized and run. Student effort and behaviour is judged quantitatively through the use of grades and the tracking of attendance numbers and students are either rewarded for their efforts or punished for their failures. I don’t necessarily agree that this is the BEST way to do things, but it’s the system that I’m consigned to work in and at the end of the day, there needs to be accountability for everyone. The world at some level operates on behaviouristic pathways too. If I don’t get up out of bed in the morning and do my best at work each day, then I could have the aversive consequence of being jobless and thus unable to provide myself or my family with the necessities we need. I love my job a LOT and I get a lot of intrinsic satisfaction in doing the work I do, but I might be tempted to sleep in a heck of a lot more than I do if I didn’t have that threat of punishment looming over me.

As far as how I see learning theories at work in educational technology, I see particular value in constructivism and social learning theories. Learners learn best when they construct their own connections between what they already know and new information they are learning. I also believe that people are inherently social creatures and we need to connect.. to find one another and learn from one another. I see rants all the time about how technology is eroding the connections that people make with one another, that humanity is at risk for losing the “authentic” connections between people because of the proliferation of technologies. I disagree 100% with this belief. I think technology can expand our borders, provoke and stimulate our modes thinking and increase our understanding of others and thus, ourselves.

Technology aids collaboration. Technology aids in forging connections with others. There is NO DOUBT about that at all. As an example of what I mean, for us at the college I work for, Google Docs have made organizing a complex network of online students at the college far simpler than it ever would have been without that collaborative tool. There are 13 of us who have access and editing rights to the enrollment forms for the online students. Just imagine trying to keep track of 140+ online students across 5 different campuses and figure out who is to do what with the enrollments through an email system or without some sort of electronic collaboration aid! I have no idea how we did this in the past, to be totally honest with you. This is the first year we have utilized Google Docs this way and I simply cannot fathom trying to do without this tool now.

Hmm… this is a long post and I’ve addressed a lot of issues in it. I perhaps should have parceled this out into smaller chunks, I’m not sure. I hope it was coherent to the rest of you as you read it. I found my thoughts rambling a bit with this one.. bouncing from topic to topic, seeing and sensing connections within my own thoughts. I just hope I was able to articulate these in a (somewhat) intelligible manner for others to read!

Web Connections - image by Fir2002 found at Wikimedia Commons

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2 Responses to “My beliefs and how they inform my practices as an instructor”

  1. Katie Bell said

    Hey Michelle!
    I remember talking about how we like to learn and discuss things on MSN when we were meeting about our assignment in the other class. I find that talking about my experiences and being able to hear about others’ experiences is one of the best ways of learning- for me. I think that it can also build confidence and reassure one when you find that you are not doing things wrong, there are others in the same boat and learning about how other teachers handle things. I find it invaluable- way more than if I were to read a text book and answer question given by my instructor.

    And I also agree that elementary and secondary schools are very much behaviorist, but I think that there has to be a balance with the young because they don’t always have that life experience that adults have to be able to have the collaboration.

    I think that one of the reasons that I am enjoying this class more than the other (shhhh, don’t tell) is that this I get to talk, or blog, about my experiences and I get to read about others’. It is independent, yet collaborative. A contradiction, but I’m enjoying it!

    Katie

  2. Michelle Clarke said

    Hi Katie!
    I agree 100% with your sentiments about learning. I find I learn best if I can explain what I’m thinking, etc. to someone else. (Big surprise I’m a teacher, heh?) That is one of the things I love about a blog. I can just write it all out and whoever reads it has an opportunity to respond to it in some way if they want to and we can have a conversation about it. Though I do love the face-to-face and real-time conversations too. Those are extremely valuable to my learning too. Thanks for your comments and perspectives! 🙂
    ~Michelle

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