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Centering Teaching: the Human Work of Higher Education

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Most higher education teaching practices are unexamined, because teachers are rarely given space to think critically about pedagogy. We need departments of higher education pedagogy (or interdisciplinary clusters of scholars focused on higher education pedagogy) at every school offering graduate degrees aimed at preparing future faculty.

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Centering Teaching: the Human Work of Higher Education

  1. 1. Centering Teaching The Human Work of Higher Education
  2. 2. “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” ~ bell hooks, Teaching toTransgress
  3. 3. Scaffolding can create points of entry and access but can also reduce the complexity of learning to its detriment (e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy,ADDIE, etc.).
  4. 4. Photo by flickr userVictoria Pickering Why do we attempt so often to resolve this...
  5. 5. Into this?
  6. 6. In my first teaching job 19 years ago, I was given a stock syllabus and told I couldn’t change anything.“Why would you need to change anything? Everything you need is right there in the syllabus. Besides, you should be focusing on your research.”
  7. 7. That stock syllabus had one blank line for me to write my name. I did change stuff.And that’s the moment I decided higher education pedagogy would be my research area.
  8. 8. Learning can not be reduced to or packaged as a series of static, self-contained content. Rather, learning happens in tangents, diversions, interruptions — in a series of clauses (parentheticals) … and gaps.
  9. 9. A discussion of pedagogy needs to include a critical examination of our tools, what they afford, who they exclude, how they're monetized, and what pedagogies they have already baked in. But it requires we also begin with a consideration of what we value, the kinds of relationships we want to develop with students, why we gather together in places like universities, and how humans learn.
  10. 10. Most higher education teaching practices are unexamined, because teachers are rarely given space to think critically about pedagogy. They are asked to structure learning as if students are interchangeable. So, they deliver content, demand compliance with course policies, and wield outcomes like a weapon.
  11. 11. I was once laughed at by a fellow faculty member when I argued that most faculty jobs are 40 - 90% teaching, so graduate coursework should be 40 - 90% focused on teaching. It doesn’t seem that absurd to me.
  12. 12. If rich conversations about teaching don’t happen in graduate programs, they are very unlikely to happen among teaching faculty and at disciplinary conferences.
  13. 13. We need departments of higher education pedagogy (or interdisciplinary clusters of scholars focused on higher education pedagogy) at every school offering graduate degrees aimed at preparing future faculty.
  14. 14. This would mean: (1) Offering more courses, or components of required content-focused courses, dedicated to pedagogy. (2) Discipline-specific pedagogies would be a significant component of comprehensive or qualifying exams. (3) As much as 40% of the dissertations or research projects in a field would focus at least in part on pedagogy. (4) And the culture of every department would acknowledge pedagogy as a respected sub-discipline as well as a discipline in its own right.
  15. 15. Additionally, every higher education institution should have robust first-year faculty initiatives aimed at filling the gaps for new teachers.And ongoing development opportunities for continuing teachers.This kind of structural signposting is how institutions convey what they value.
  16. 16. By “pedagogy,” I mean something broader than preparing graduate students to teach university classes. I also mean preparing them for work in libraries, instructional design, public scholarship, and educational journalism.Work that moves beyond content to consider how our study of that content gets shared with others or inflected in the world.
  17. 17. The bureaucracies of education — seat time, accreditation, grades, credentialing, standards, norming — encourage teachers to imagine students work the way machines do — that they can be scored according to objective metrics and neatly compared to one another.
  18. 18. If there is a better sort of mechanism for the work of education, it’s a machine, an algorithm, a platform tuned not for delivering and assessing content, but for helping all of us listen better to students.
  19. 19. We can’t get to a place of listening to students if they don’t show up to the conversation because we’ve excluded their voice in advance by creating environments hostile to them and their work.
  20. 20. 62% of higher education faculty/staff stated they’d been bullied or witnessed bullying vs. 37% in the general population. People from minority communities are disproportionately bullied. (Hollis 2012) 51% of college students claimed to have seen another student being bullied by a teacher at least once and 18% claimed to have been bullied themselves by a teacher. (Marraccini 2013)
  21. 21. The process that makes teachers increasingly adjunct is the same process that has made students into customers.And the gear that makes this system go depends on the pitting of students and teachers against one another. Not training higher education teachers is a powerful lever in this system.
  22. 22. Three years ago, I wrote a blog post responding to a series of student-shaming articles published at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
  23. 23. In that piece, I argued everyone working anywhere even near to education needs to: • Treat the least privileged among us with the most respect. • Recognize the job of a teacher is to advocate for students, especially in an educational system currently under direct threat at almost every turn. • Laugh at ourselves and not at those we and our system have made most vulnerable. • Rant up, not down.
  24. 24. My blog post was read by 50,000 people and spawned articles, more than two dozen blog responses, and hundreds of comments, some from the darker corners of the web.
  25. 25. The Dear Student articles weren’t the first published at the Chronicle to demean students.And they weren’t the last.The first sentence of an article published more recently:“My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives.”
  26. 26. The Chronicle profits by encouraging a culture that pits vulnerable students and teachers against each other. Nobody wins. Not students. Not teachers. Not education in the eyes of its detractors.
  27. 27. Who in our educational system is most vulnerable?
  28. 28. Intersectionality is important when talking about power and hierarchies.Teacher / student is a binary that needs deconstructing but never at the expense of the other identities in play (race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.). No binary exists in a vacuum.
  29. 29. What I listened to intently during the aftermath of Dear Chronicle were student voices, some of whom commented anonymously: • “Part of the reason why I never asked for help was because I saw what my professors thought of those who did.” • “I dropped out of college, in large part due to the hoops I had to jump through to get my disabilities recognized.” • “It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’re not made to feel like you’re stupid or a liar. It’s a lot easier to focus on studying when you’re not focused on having to justify yourself.”
  30. 30. Sean Michael Morris writes,“At some point, we need to stop blaming students for the state of education. If, after so many years of controlling student behavior, analyzing their data to understand and curtail that behavior, we are still unhappy with their performance, perhaps it’s time we turn education over to them.”
  31. 31. For education to work, there can be no divide between teachers and students.There must be what Paulo Freire calls “teacher- students.” Specifically, he writes,“no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught.” So,“teacher” becomes a role that shifts, and learning depends upon a community of teacher-students.
  32. 32. Photo by flickr user mirando Making space for student voices doesn’t start by comparing them to insects.
  33. 33. All of this demands exactly two pedagogical approaches, and these are what I see at the center of the work of teaching: 1. Start by trusting students. 2. Realize "fairness" is not a good excuse for a lack of empathy.
  34. 34. “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine … if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law.” ~ Henry David Thoreau,“Civil Disobedience”