Teaching context and philosophy

Teaching context and philosophy

...It is helpful to remember that what the student does is actually more important in determining what is learned than what the teacher does.

The tenets of constructivism which compose constructive alignment guide my teaching and learning practice. While it may be our role as educators to guide, motivate, and support students in their learning endeavours — I believe it is what the student does that counts.

In practice, approaches to constructively-aligned teaching and learning such as my own, should afford the student freedoms to self-determine how best to provide evidence of their learning achievement to a reasonable extent. In advanced courses with expert learners, constructively-aligned portfolio assessment models allows students to engage and explore in the relevant field, generating authentic and meaningful learning outcomes. In introductory courses with novice learners, a more structured approach to portfolio assessment, such as the task-oriented portfolio assessment model Cain, 2017 guides, supports and verifies the student's achievements in larger cohorts.

    Teacher: How many diamonds have you got?
    Student: I don't have any diamonds.
    Teacher: Then you fail!
    Student: But you didn't ask me about my jade!

    Learners amass treasure, not just diamonds. (Biggs, 1996)

Another way I try to elicit this natural and authentic exploration of study is through the use of custom projects. In my introductory programming education, in addition to providing assignment-style tasks for the students to complete, for students targeting a Distinction and High Distinction grade, they are required to complete and submit a complex custom project. While the education team may provide assistance on specific problems, the idea and execution is entirely derived by the student.

So then what is the role of the educator?

Embracing a student-centered approach can induce a sense of unease in some educators, and indeed once did so in myself. When the emphasis is taken away from teaching, or the sage on the stage, one must reflect on what value they can provide as an educator. In my practice, I embrace the idea that our role is of the guide on the side. I focus my efforts on providing timely, actionable and formative feedback, and engaging with my students to build confidence and motivation. Through the development of a strong student-tutor relationship, we establish mutual trust, improving learning and academic integrity outcomes.

Technology can also play a role in achieving these supportive goals in modern higher education, especially concerning growing online cohorts. An example of this was my development, deployment and evaluation of an audio feedback system in a learning management system, to provide verbal formative feedback to students. In providing spoken feedback, students perceived more to their feedback than just criticism. They are reminded that their tutor is a human who cares about their learning, and the tool conveys more nuanced communication. Interestingly, I have encountered countless instances wherein attrition between an educator and student has been dissolved simply by having the educator speak to their student directly.