Friday, 20 February 2015

Teacher Education 2015

The beginning of semester looms and this is an exciting time in teacher education.

Despite the fact we are only about six weeks into the working year, I have taught in two teacher education programmes so far, and the third of my three online classes ‘went live’ in Moodle today. Alongside the teaching, I am pleased to have managed some research time, completing a substantial conference paper, wrapping up a journal issue, and participating in a couple of very productive meetings with colleagues about writing collaborations. It is shaping up to be a good year, and this is a good time to take stock and set goals. This post is about my priorities in a professional context, with a focus on teaching in particular. Thoughts about research can wait for another time.

I am in the midst of meeting the distance students from our MMP programme for the first time. This is a special time, and this morning I heard (and assessed) oral presentations from the brand new teacher education students, explaining what they see as the most important characteristics of the effective teacher they strive to become. With the invitation to link to life experiences and to self-knowledge and role models (as well as literature), this assignment was a very personalised challenge. The speeches were passionate, insightful and powerful, with a large helping of nerves. A good way to begin the course I think, as this expectation pushes new students to unfamiliar places by asking them to step up and articulate values and initial understandings about teaching. A tough ask on day three of one’s degree perhaps, but the career is full of tough challenges, and this one helps us to bond as a class community and to support each other through anxious times when learning is hard going.

The next step for the first year students is to start an eportfolio.

For this time around, we have expanded the number and range of entries, and will give teacher feedback on pairs of entries throughout semester, for formative purposes, while also incorporating peer feedback, prior to final submission. I am hopeful that the eportfolios will be established and maintained in a way that will support the students’ learning throughout their initial teacher education and beyond.

Alongside the eportfolio entries, we have the usual array of online discussion and in our third year class, we intend to extend the student leadership of online discussion so that students lead almost every discussion in the 7-week course. We have crafted assignments around discussion so that students will take turn selecting an article for critique, and leading their peers to unpack and debate the weekly theme. In the second half of the course, we are going to try an exercise entitled ‘Provocative Prompts’, inspired by McDonald et al’s protocols. In brief, the intention of this exercise is to engage with diverse perspectives, and students are asked to read widely and select quotes related to the weekly topic – For example, 'Teachers and professional ethics' looks set to be a relevant and thought provoking topic.

Students are asked to select a quote that is deliberately provocative – one they can imagine others either agreeing or disagreeing with. They enter discussion by posting the provocative prompt in its own thread, and their challenge is then to read and reflect on the quotes posted by group members.

That is, they make three further postings before the week ends:

1.   Agreement – post a response to a quotation that resonates with you. In your post, explain why you agree with the point made in the quotation. Justify your agreement. Provide evidence to support your case. Link to theory and to practice. Deadline: day 3. Title: ‘Agreement’.

2.   Disagreement – post a response to a quotation that irritates you. In your post, explain why you disagree with the point made in the quotation. Justify your stance. Provide evidence to support your disagreement and alternative position. Link to theory and to practice. Deadline: day 6. Title: ‘Disagreement’.

3.   New insights – On day 7, return to read and reflect upon the responses to your own quote, and to the quotes that resonated and irritated. Read all the responses from your peers. Make one final post in which you sum up in the ‘new insights’ thread in order to share any new ideas you have formed as a result of reading other perspectives on the quotes. You may link to further literature and practice at this point.


  • Initial quotations are relevant to the weekly theme, and provocative in terms of inviting a range of viewpoints
  • Quotations are correctly linked and referenced
  • Dis/Agreement is illustrated clearly, with a high standard of reasoning and justification, supported by evidence
  • The response demonstrates understanding of links between theory and practice
  • New insights are perceptive, illustrate open-mindedness, and sum up ideas
  • Postings are made by deadlines set – start, middle, day 6 and day 7
  • Postings are within the word limit (quotes around 150 words, other posts 250 max)
  • A high standard of written presentation, accurate spelling, punctuation, grammar, and paragraphing is evident.
In these ways, we are asking student teachers to lead and teach, and to take increasing responsibility for selecting content and peer mentoring. Importantly, we have established parameters and guidelines, and will be actively present to scaffold throughout the courses.

I intend to help students to structure their studies by continuing with weekly podcasts, including the fun and messy conversational podcasts with my colleague Bill. We chatted and blundered our way through our first Panopto recording for the year just yesterday, and I’ve put a few notes in Moodle to direct students to the link and to summarise the key content. Students in semester A, 2014, told us they enjoyed our casual yet informative weekly casts. I’ll also use Panopto to screencast instructions for the students who are using Moodle and MyPortfolio for the first time. Twitter will still be important, with class hashtags and regular synchronous tweetmeets this semester. POPLN will again be a feature of our communication technologies and lifelong learning option. I am hopeful that the students will find the revised assessments challenging, authentic, creative and a fair test of learning. I know I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with! It is sure to be varied and to contribute to my learning and enjoyment.

Have you documented some of your teaching and learning intentions for this coming semester?

Care to share these?

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